Hiding In Plain Sight: 1. Chapter One


“I don’t see why we need some outsider coming in and telling us what to do,” Rodney said, his entire body shifting restlessly, the way it always did when he was agitated.

They were standing in a reception party on the south pier, watching the Daedalus go through her docking procedures.

“Three marines have been murdered, Rodney,” John told him, placing a hand on Rodney’s wrist. The effect was instant; Rodney stilled, and he leaned in towards John, their thighs and upper arms touching. John smiled to himself; he doubted that Rodney had even noticed and that was part of the thrill of having such a complex submissive. After over two years of marriage he thought he had a pretty good idea how to handle Rodney, but his brilliant husband could still surprise him occasionally so he always had to be on his toes.

“Yes, I know, but that’s *your* jurisdiction!” Rodney complained. “I mean, you’ve always handled this kind of thing on Atlantis.”

“This isn’t the Wraith, or life-sucking black shadow entities, or anything else killing our people, Rodney,” John reminded him. “It’s murder – plain, old-fashioned murder, and, despite my best efforts, we still have no idea who did it.”

“Yes, but bringing in these other people, it’s like they’re saying you can’t do your job properly,” Rodney complained. John stiffened.

“Rodney, three of my men have died in as many months, one a month, all killed in the exact same way, and I haven’t been able to find whoever is doing it. I’m not proud – I’ll take all the help I can get,” John hissed. Rodney turned to him, his blue eyes contrite.

“I’m sorry. I know how much this has upset you…I just don’t like the idea of anyone coming in here and criticising you,” Rodney said softly.

“I know.” John tangled his hand affectionately in the long, curly ends of Rodney’s hair.

“And if Elizabeth was still here, she would never have sanctioned this,” Rodney muttered. John sighed – on that, at least, Rodney was right.

“But we’re under new management now, Rodney, and if this is the way Woolsey wants to play it, and if it means I don’t have to go into another marine’s quarters and find him staked out on the floor with his insides gutted and his throat cut then that’s fine by me,” John told him firmly.

John glanced at Woolsey. He felt kind of sorry for the guy; he was a submissive, which wasn’t a problem – some of the best commanding officers John had worked under were subs – but Woolsey was fresh out of what John suspected had been a stifling and unsatisfactory marriage. You could still see the little line around his neck from where his collar had been, and every so often Woolsey lifted his hand to rub the line absently, clearly missing the security the collar had given him. He was a man who liked rules – both in his personal and professional life, and he had a penchant for doing everything by the book. Needless to say, that didn’t always sit well with John’s more free-wheeling style of command.

John was trying not to get into unnecessary confrontations with the man, but, like Rodney, he wasn’t best pleased that Woolsey had called in NCIS to investigate the murders of these marines. He was keeping that to himself though – his wayward sub might pick up on it but John wasn’t going to fuel that particular fire by speaking his mind on the subject. Rodney’s loyalty and volatility were both well known to him – the combination in this instance might be explosive.

“So, Carson, did Steven say what these guys were like?” he called to the doctor, who was standing next to Woolsey in the welcoming committee, a goofy look in his eyes. Carson’s husband had been gone for six weeks doing the scheduled run to Earth and back, and John was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to survive if Rodney was gone for that long so he had no idea how Carson had got through it – although the usually good-natured doctor had become more and more tetchy as the weeks had passed.

“Hmm?” Carson turned towards him, his eyes still far away.

“The NCIS agents Steven has been ferrying over from Earth – did he say what they were like?” Rodney butted in, clearly eager for some gossip.

“Funnily enough, we had other things to talk about in the very brief conversations we’ve been able to have since the Daedalus came within range,” Carson replied, rolling his eyes. John snorted at that.

Rodney was about to open his mouth to dig a bit further so John poked him in the thigh with his finger to get him to shut up.

“But…” Rodney began. John shook his head.

“No need to ask – you’re about to find out,” he said, pointing at the Daedalus’s hatch which was just beginning to open.

“Oh shit,” Rodney breathed.

Yeah, oh shit, John thought, as a man emerged from the ship onto the south pier. John was a confident top, who had collared and kept his own sub for the past two and a half years…but, like all the other tops present on the pier, he recognised an uber-top when he saw one, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.

Almost without realising it he felt the adrenaline surge and a sense of protective possessiveness kick in. He turned to Rodney, took his leash from his belt, and fastened it to Rodney’s collar, pulling him in close. Rodney melted against him, body fitting next to his in a way that was both familiar and reassuring, but John didn’t miss the little whimpering sound that Rodney made in the back of his throat.

The top who had emerged from the Daedalus was a decade or so older than John, and had an air of grizzled experience about him that made John feel like a ten year old standing in front of his father, Gil, in trouble for some misdemeanour or other. This top’s eyes were a startling blue, and you just knew they never missed a thing. He was tall and imposing, with a straight back and a toned physique, but that wasn’t what made him intimidating. No, it was those piercing eyes and the brisk, no-nonsense way in which he carried himself that made John’s hackles rise. He was good looking, with features that might once have been boyish but now, in middle age, had weathered into something harder and much edgier. Even so, John doubted there was a sub alive who wouldn’t find him extremely attractive. He didn’t appear to be making any kind of toppy statement in his clothing, which was a combo of plain black pants, black shirt, and a black jacket, but all the same, there wasn’t any chance at all that anyone would mistake him for a sub.

His hand was hanging loosely at his side and in it were five leashes. He didn’t even tug on them – he was so sure of his submissives’ obedience that he made no concessions to them and simply strode forward without glancing back, trusting them to keep pace. John craned his neck, eager to see the submissives that this man had collared.

They were an unusual bunch – there didn’t seem to be any unifying characteristics about them – this top clearly didn’t have a ‘type’. The one that took John’s eye immediately was the tall, handsome sub with brown hair. He had a mischievous look in his green eyes and John recognised immediately that he was trouble – not in the same way that Rodney had been when he’d first met him, but trouble all the same. He was wearing a pair of ass-hugging faded blue denim jeans and a tight black shirt, open just a little too much at the top to reveal an inviting patch of chest hair. There was a small silver and green earring in his left ear, and a studded bracelet on his right wrist. He was possibly slightly taller than his top, but if so only by an inch or two, and powerfully built, but John saw immediately that his wide grin and laid-back body language hid something. This sub was sharp, those mischievous eyes missing nothing. He was also deceptively strong, and he knew how to game-play with the best of them; it wouldn’t be wise to under-estimate him.

Then there was the pretty girl with the spider-web tattoo on her neck and the bright red lipstick. Her black hair was in pigtails, and she was wearing a short plaid skirt with heavy leather boots and a tight black tee shirt with a skeleton on the front. She also wore a number of studded wristbands and rings, and several chains around her neck, below her collar. She was the opposite to the other sub – her clothes screamed ‘fear me’ but her friendly green eyes and wide, open smile, hinted at a sweet nature. John noticed that of all of them, she stayed closest to Gibbs.

There was another woman, stunningly beautiful, with long, dark hair, deep brown eyes, and a ‘don’t fuck with me’ look on her face. She was dressed in plain chocolate brown jeans and a tight green sweater, and there was something dangerous about the way she moved. There was no subterfuge to her – she wasn’t deceptive, like the male sub. She moved like Teyla moved, with all the power and grace of a warrior, and John had a healthy respect for that kind of person. He was puzzled though – he was getting the same vibe off her that he got off Teyla and it wasn’t the vibe of a collared submissive – maybe there was something deceptive about her after all.

If he wasn’t sure about her, he was very sure about the man next to her, who couldn’t have radiated a more submissive vibe if he’d tried. He had a sweet-face and beautiful eyes, but he looked nervous and strangely out of place in the clunky, formal suit and tie that hid his body. His clothing was in stark contrast to the more obviously provocative apparel of the first male sub. This sub looked as if he’d prefer it if tops didn’t look at him, although John doubted many did considering whose collar he wore. He was tall, at least as tall as the first sub, maybe even slightly taller, and broad across the shoulders, but his hesitant nature made his height and breadth seem less imposing.

Then, finally, John’s gaze fell upon a man older than the top leading him by perhaps a decade. He had a gentle, almost distracted air about him, and kind blue eyes, but John sensed an inner steel beneath the genteel façade. His hair was a faded blond, and his eyes sparkled with an insatiable curiosity. He was wearing a suit, complete with a bow tie, and he had the manner of an affable eccentric.

Colonel Steven Beckett escorted the NCIS agents towards the welcoming committee, and made the formal introductions.

“Mr Woolsey, this is Special Agent Jethro Gibbs and his team. Agents Anthony DiNozzo, Abigail Sciuto, Ziva David, Timothy McGee, and Dr Donald Mallard.

John blanked out the stuttering welcoming sounds Woolsey was making – it would take a submissive of extremely strong stuff to stand his ground on first meeting with a top like Gibbs, although he guessed that Steven Beckett hadn’t been affected by the NCIS chief. Carson’s husband was steady and strong – the kind of submissive John had met many times in the military, and who he knew he could count on in battle. Gibbs wasn’t doing anything to unsettle Woolsey – just his presence alone was enough to turn the man into a gibbering wreck.

John could feel his hackles rising as Woolsey turned to introduce him to Gibbs. Who the hell did this guy think he was, walking onto Atlantis like he owned the place, and bringing his five collared submissives with him? How many subs did one top need anyway? John couldn’t imagine having room in his heart for anyone else – it was so full of Rodney. He didn’t want, or need, any other subs. Besides, he had a feeling that Rodney would be really crap at sharing. John always felt that tops who collared more than one sub were just showing off – trying to big themselves up to cover some basic insecurity. This guy though…well, on first impressions he didn’t seem remotely insecure.

“Pleased to meet you, General,” Gibbs said, holding out his free hand. John took it, and gazed, unflinchingly, into those clear blue eyes.

“And you, Special Agent Gibbs,” he replied, squeezing Gibbs’s hand firmly, showing he wasn’t about to be out-topped by this newcomer, whoever the hell he was. He wrapped his hand so tightly in Rodney’s leash that it cut off the blood supply to his fingers.

“This is my husband, Dr Rodney Sheppard,” he said. “He’s the Head of Science on Atlantis.”

Rodney didn’t say a word, he just stood there, quiet and obedient by John’s side. John wasn’t sure if he was over-awed, or whether the pressure he was exerting on Rodney’s leash was robbing him of speech. Gibbs nodded at Rodney but made no attempt to shake his hand. John was pleased about that – if Gibbs had asked for permission to touch Rodney he had a feeling he might have refused it, and that would have got this whole thing off to a really bad start. He didn’t want this man touching Rodney; he didn’t want this man within ten feet of Rodney if he could help it. Rodney was HIS, and he didn’t like the idea of this man, with his five submissives, trying to collar a sixth.

John gave a low, almost inaudible growl at that thought, but Gibbs had already moved on and was being introduced to Carson. John was suddenly aware of Rodney’s hand stroking his ass, gently but insistently.

“You know…you can tighten the leash if it’ll make you feel better but could you just not hold it so close,” Rodney whispered to him. “I think I’m gonna trip over your boots in a minute if you don’t loosen up.”

It was enough to snap John out of it and he gave his sub an apologetic grin and loosened his grip – but just a little. Rodney continued stroking his bottom, and slowly, very slowly, John felt his sudden, extreme sense of his own toppiness start to recede. It would seem that Rodney had also learned a trick or two about dealing with his top, he thought to himself wryly.

“I’ll show you to your quarters – you’ll no doubt want to get settled in – and then, uh, well, I’m not sure what you want to do next, but you’re very welcome to…” Woolsey prattled on, as the newcomers began walking off into the distance.

DiNozzo turned around, and glanced at John with an assessing look as they went. He looked him up and down, and then his face broke into what John could only describe as a leer, and he gave him a wink. There was a sharp tug on his leash and he muttered a, “yes boss, coming boss,” before running slightly to catch up with the others.

Now it was Rodney’s turn to growl, and the gently stroking hand on John’s ass turned into a prod.

“I’m not looking,” John protested.

“You think he’s cute though, right?” Rodney pressed.

“Yeah, but *trouble*,” John snorted.

“You *like* trouble,” Rodney protested.

“Yes I do – and I have more than enough of it on my hands, thank you very much,” John replied, yanking Rodney’s leash slightly and pulling him in for a quick kiss. “It’s not as if you didn’t go all weak-kneed when you saw Gibbs anyway.”

“If I went weak-kneed it was simply from lack of oxygen because my top was strangling me with my own leash,” Rodney complained.

“So you didn’t happen to notice that we have an uber-top in our midst?” John asked.

Rodney’s eyes widened with feigned surprise. “Who? Gibbs?” he asked innocently. John slapped his ass for that and Rodney laughed and stole another kiss from him. “Seriously, you’re not really jealous are you?” Rodney asked.

John thought about it for a moment. “No,” he said finally. “Just…that guy is unsettling.”

“I think he’s supposed to be,” Rodney said. “But you know me – I’ve never been a fan of that kind of top. All strict rules and leash etiquette – bores me rigid. I much prefer what I’ve got.”

“Which is?” John raised an eyebrow, and they started walking back to their quarters.

“Well, you know, someone laid-back and a bit more casual.”

“You mean lax,” John said.

“No, I mean casual. I’m far too brilliant to be confined by a set of rigid rules,” Rodney said proudly. “You give me room to breathe.”

“And for that – I think a spanking is due,” John told him.

“What?” Rodney’s blue eyes were aghast, but John didn’t miss the little flash of hopeful anticipation in them either. Rodney would go to hell and back to escape a real punishment but when John talked about this kind of spanking they both knew it was for pleasure.

“Yeah…just to remind you that I could impose some more rules, *if* I really wanted to,” John replied.

“And *if* you could be bothered to enforce them,” Rodney muttered.

“And for *that*, I’m gonna get out my clamps,” John said.

“Oh shit,” Rodney sighed, but the sound was swallowed by John swinging him close and kissing him hard until his body melted against that of his top, utterly submissive and compliant, which was just how John wanted him.


“Nice.” Tony dumped his bag on the table and gazed around the suite of rooms. In the centre was a large living space, complete with big dining table. There was a galley kitchen off to one side and a smaller living room to accommodate anyone wanting some quiet time on their own. The bedrooms, all with en-suite bathrooms, opened off from the main living space. “Very nice,” Tony added appreciatively, throwing himself down on the sofa and putting his feet up on the coffee table. “First the ride on a spaceship, which, once you got over how cool it was, was actually pretty boring, and now this! I will be sleeping tonight on a completely different planet. It’s mind-blowing – I feel like I’m starring in my own movie.”

“Would that movie be ‘Zombies from Outer Space’?” Ziva asked. Tony made a face at her.

“Nope. It’d be, ‘Anthony DiNozzo – Intergalactic Hero Cop’,” Tony said, drawing his hand across empty space, imagining the title in his head. “Righter of wrongs, catcher of killers, and the best lay in two galaxies”.

“Even if he does say so himself,” McGee said, rolling his eyes at Ziva. She grinned.

“This, uh, ‘intergalactic hero cop’ – does he solve these crimes all by himself, or does he have any help?” Ziva asked, a dangerous look on her face. Tony shrugged and leaned back on the sofa, arms stretched along its back.

“I expect he has a couple of sidekicks,” he said confidently. “But he’s the hero – the star. They’re just there for show – they do a bit of fetching and carrying for him but he’s the man.”

“Uh huh,” Ziva said, her face a study in straightness. Tony knew that look all too well. He stiffened.

“Gibbs is behind me isn’t he?” he squirmed.

“Yes he is,” a voice said into his ear. “Nice to know your ego has room for a couple of sidekicks though.”

“I didn’t mean…that is, I mean, you’re not one of them! I’m just…I’m referring to probie here, and Ziva. Not you. I mean obviously, if anyone is the man, you’re the man. I’m just…that wasn’t what I meant at all,” Tony waffled helplessly.

“Glad to hear it,” Gibbs said. Tony braced himself…and just when he relaxed, thinking it wasn’t going to happen, it did – and the smack landed square on the back of his head. “Now, perhaps the intergalactic hero cop would like to do some work,” Gibbs said dryly.

“Yes boss.” Tony got up quickly, grabbed his bag, threw it into the nearest bedroom, and returned to the living room.

“Okay,” Gibbs said to his subs. “I know this is all very new and exciting, and yes, DiNozzo, the idea that we’re in a different galaxy is mind-blowing – but, we have a job to do.”

“Yeah…about that,” Tony said. Gibbs raised an eyebrow.

“It’s just that…I spent quite a bit of time talking to Colonel Beckett while we were on the Daedalus, and he was telling me about this stargate thing.”

Gibbs’s eyebrows crawled higher up his forehead.

“Okay…I don’t understand much about this kind of technology but was there a reason why we just spent eighteen days cooped up in a glorified tin-can when we could have stepped through a gate and got here in nano-seconds?”

“Tony has a point,” McGee butted in. “The stargate programme is top secret but seeing as we’re out here, I’m guessing we have clearance – so why not send us through the gate?”

“Three marines have been murdered,” Ducky mused. “You’d think they would want us out here sooner rather than later – is there a reason why we weren’t allowed to travel through this ‘stargate’, Jethro?”

“I was told they had some kind of a glitch with it and it wasn’t considered safe to travel between galaxies with it,” Gibbs shrugged. “They weren’t sure how long it would take to fix it so they made arrangements for us to travel here on the Daedalus instead.”

“Which was cool for the first three days but then got really dull,” Tony muttered.

“Okay, this isn’t our usual environment and that puts us at a disadvantage,” Gibbs said tersely. “However, I expect the same high standard of you out here as I do back home. We won’t have access to the same information or technical equipment but that’s no excuse for not doing our jobs properly. Ducky…” Dr Mallard looked up, and straightened. “Go and make friends with Dr Carson Beckett – he’s in charge of the medical facilities on the base. He’s also Colonel Beckett’s husband. I want you to set up an examining room and start autopsying the bodies.”

“I believe Dr Beckett has already conducted autopsies,” Ducky said, glancing at the file of notes in his hand.

“Do it again. Remember, everyone out here is a suspect at this stage,” Gibbs told him. Ducky nodded, and got up to leave.

“The rest of you – get out there and start talking to people. I want to know all about these dead marines – who their friends were, who they were sleeping with, whether they were collared or had collared anyone else…and, most, importantly, who their enemies were.”

“Yes, boss,” they all said in unison.

“Uh, Gibbs – what about me?” Abby asked. “I mean, I’m not technically a field agent so…”

“You can talk, Abs. And god knows, you know how to ask questions,” Gibbs told her, flashing her one of his rare smiles. She smiled back, basking for a moment in the sunshine of his smile. Tony envied her. Gibbs tipped her chin up and planted a soft little kiss on her lips and Tony felt the knife of his envy go even deeper. He shook himself. This was Abby for god’s sake – Abby who he adored just as much as everyone else on the team, including Gibbs.

“Just go out there and be yourself – you’ll do fine. And be careful,” Gibbs added. “All of you. We are out of our environment and it’s unclear what the dangers are. If in doubt, speak to me – do not, I repeat, do not take unnecessary risks. Now go.”

They all got to their feet and made towards the door.

“Not you, Tony,” Gibbs said. Tony hung back, wondering what was coming next. “General Sheppard is married,” Gibbs said, not even looking at him as he rummaged through his luggage for something.

“Oh come on, boss. He’s a good-looking top. A sub can look, can’t he?”

“Not if it causes problems,” Gibbs said firmly. “We’re here to solve some murders, not cause any.”

“You wouldn’t let anyone murder me, boss,” Tony grinned. “Besides, I noticed he didn’t seem too happy to have you here.”

“So did I – and you’ll remember I didn’t exacerbate that situation by shaking his sub’s hand. Now, the question is, is he unhappy we’re here because we’re muscling in on his territory – or is there another reason? Does he have something to hide?”

“Good question, boss. I’ll get out there and find the answer.” Tony started walking towards the door again.

“Not yet, Tony. First things first.” Gibbs found what he was looking for in his luggage and Tony’s heart did a little flip.

“You have already spanked me once today, boss,” he said, gazing warily at the hated strap that was dangling from Gibbs’s hand.

“I didn’t know there was a limit on the amount of times I could spank my sub in one day,” Gibbs replied, stone-faced, just a hint of a challenge in those blue eyes. Tony sighed.

“No boss, there isn’t,” he said.

“Good – into the bedroom, pants down,” Gibbs ordered.

Tony did as instructed. For some reason, and he had no idea why, he was the only one of Gibbs’s submissives who got a daily spanking. Every day, without fail, the boss turned him ass up and delivered a spanking. Sometimes it was long and arduous, other times just a couple of swats, but Gibbs never forgot. Tony thought he’d be kind of upset if he ever did.

Gibbs’s bedroom, was, naturally, the largest in the suite. It held a massive, king-sized bed although Tony doubted Gibbs would be needing that. Still, if the man went around with five leashed subs then people had to suppose he was sleeping with them and make appropriate arrangements.

There was a large armchair in the corner of the room. Gibbs motioned with his head towards it and Tony undid his pants, and lowered them to his ankles. He never wore underwear – it saved time when presenting himself for daily spankings and besides, it was part of his own particular dynamic as a sub that he enjoyed feeling naked and available under his clothes. He bent over the back of the chair, and rested his hands on the padded arms. God he hated the strap! He longed for a spanking that would involve Gibbs’s hand on his ass, and Gibbs’s knees beneath him – sturdy, intimate and reassuring. He didn’t like the impersonal feeling of being draped over a chair, and he sure as hell didn’t like the hard feel of firm, unyielding leather on his bare skin. Gibbs had never once taken him over his knee or spanked him with his hand though – he’d spanked both Abby and Tim in that way but not him. Never him. Tony wasn’t sure why but it was hard not to feel envious of his fellow subs.

Gibbs tapped his ass with the strap and Tony opened his legs wider, as instructed. This was kind of a game they played. Tony knew well enough what Gibbs required of him and the exact position he was supposed to assume, but he was naughty sub enough to not always want to give it to him that easily. Gibbs only ever spanked on the bare and Tony was used to offering up his ass for his top’s attention, but even so, he always felt like this, every single time; exposed, apprehensive, excited. The cool caress of the leather lasted for only a second before being transformed into a sharp sting as the strap thwapped across his buttocks.

“Oh shit,” Tony said, gripping the arms of the chair tightly. Another thwap, and then another, and then it was over. Just three strokes – barely more than a caress by Gibbs’s standards, and yet, despite his dislike for the strap, Tony couldn’t help but feel disappointed. He stayed in position, waiting for permission to rise, and then felt Gibbs’s hand tousling his hair.

“Good boy,” Gibbs said, and Tony felt himself glowing at the praise. He stood up, and turned.

“If you wanted to throw me down on the bed, I could show you just how good a boy I can be,” Tony said, in a soft, low tone. He knew the inevitable answer, but hell, they were in a whole different galaxy – maybe the rules had changed here.

Gibbs gave a little grin and shook his head.

“You never give up, do you, Tony?”

“Never will, boss,” Tony replied, pulling up his pants and fastening his belt.

Gibbs looked at him with that unfathomable look in his eyes, the one that made Tony feel he was going to say something – but he never did. They stood there, face to face, for a long time, neither of them speaking, and then Gibbs reached out, and briefly, for just one tiny second, touched the side of Tony’s face with his fingers; gentle, soft and caressing. Then the moment was gone, and the hand was withdrawn.

“Get out there and find this killer, Tony,” Gibbs told him, brisk and business-like again.

“Will do, boss,” Tony sighed, turning to go.

“And don’t forget who you belong to,” Gibbs warned. Tony let out a yelp as Gibbs swatted his sore ass lightly.

“Never could, boss,” Tony replied. “Never could.”

He wasn’t sure what that spanking had been about, just as he wasn’t sure what the usual daily spankings were about, and god knows his inscrutable boss would never tell him, but Tony felt a warm glow spread out from his smarting buttocks and up into his heart.

He belonged to Gibbs. However unsatisfactory and downright frustrating it was to be one of Gibbs’s subs, Gibbs took the time to tell him, with every daily spanking, that he belonged to him. It might not be much, but it was all that was on offer so he’d take it. He set off, determined to do his job to the utmost of his ability and make his top proud of him.


“I just don’t see why I have to have them in my lab,” Rodney said mutinously as John dropped him off at said lab on his way to his own office.

“Rodney – be nice,” John warned. “I don’t suppose they’ll be here for long.”

“You don’t know what it’s like to have non-lab trained personnel hanging around, getting underfoot, *touching* things,” Rodney grumbled. “It’s bad enough having you in there and at least you’re not totally stupid.”

“No I’m not and neither are you,” John retorted. “These people are here to do a job, and as part of that job they have to ask questions – now be nice and answer up or they’ll wonder what you have to hide.”

“What? Oh my god! You don’t think…they won’t suspect ME, will they?” Rodney asked, horrified. He hadn’t even thought of that.

“Well I don’t know – I suppose it depends on how suspiciously you act,” John told him. “And right now you’re acting pretty suspiciously. Got anything to hide?”

“Well, there’s the experiment you and Elizabeth expressly forbade me to work on – they wouldn’t be interested in that, would they? I mean they’re here about the murders, not that. Um…oh, shit…did I just tell you about the ‘on pain of severe punishment’ experiment? Oh god, I think I did.”

“Yes you did, Rodney, and we’ll talk about that later,” John said, rolling his eyes. “And this is another reason why I don’t think they’ll be hanging around your lab for long. Frankly, five minutes with Gibbs and his team and you’d confess all your sins at once. You’re not exactly hard to break, are you?”

“Break? Are they going to interrogate me? Oh shit…” Rodney glanced around his lab, horrified.

“Relax.” John put two calming hands on his shoulders, deposited a kiss on his head and then shoved him into his lab. “And don’t think I’ve forgotten about the forbidden experiment.”

“I was kidding about that!” Rodney lied to John’s retreating back.

“No you weren’t,” John threw back over his shoulder.

Rodney sighed and then glared at the pretty girl, her dark hair hanging in pigtails, sitting in HIS chair.

“Hi. I’m Abby,” she said, as he prowled over.

“Yes I know who you are,” he snapped, grabbing the back of her chair and wheeling it out of his way, then drawing up another chair and setting it in the vacant place he’d created in front of his workstation.

“Cool!” Abby said. Rodney ignored her. “You’re Rodney Sheppard”, she said.

“I can tell you’re a trained investigator,” he muttered. She grinned.

“Well, to be honest, I’m not. I’m kind of along for the ride. Gibbs knew we’d be gone for a few weeks and didn’t want to leave me behind, so he brought me along.”

“What, like some kind of trophy sub?” Rodney said maliciously.

“Not really. Anyway, I’m glad he did. This is SO cool.” She reached out a hand and touched the magnetic imaging spectroscope sitting in front of her.

“Don’t touch!” Rodney yelled. “Do NOT touch anything. This is a highly sensitive piece of equipment, calibrated to an exact equation and it must not be touched. God I hate it when non-scientists start playing around in my lab.”

“Me too!” Abby said. “It’s so annoying isn’t it? You just get something set up the way you want it and some idiot who doesn’t know the first thing about it comes in and presses buttons, or stands in the wrong place and just gets in the way.”

“You’re a scientist?” Rodney asked cautiously. “You have a lab?”

“I’m a forensics scientist.” Abby nodded. “And I definitely have a lab. In fact…” She glanced around, a sad look on her face. “I really miss my lab.”

“You don’t look like a scientist,” Rodney said, glancing at her attire which to his mind looked like an odd mix of leather sub and baby doll. Not that he was an expert on fashion.

“Neither do you. They’re usually old and boring, not hot with nice asses,” she said, glancing appreciatively at his posterior.

“Hot?” Rodney said. “Really?” John thought so of course, and it was true that when he dressed up for a night out he could turn heads but even so…it was always nice to hear it from someone else.

“Oh yeah.” Abby grinned at him. “Definitely. Did you calibrate the spectroscope using Vant’s Theorem or the Helsinger Tables?”

“Vant. Helsinger is an idiot,” Rodney said. “Wait – you know about them?”

“Sure.” Abby laughed and he felt himself relaxing. She really was impossible to hate for long. “And I totally agree. Helsinger got all his math back to front.”

“That’s what I always say!” Rodney exclaimed. They grinned at each other happily.

“I haven’t seen this model,” Abby said wistfully, gazing longingly at the spectroscope. “It’s the latest stuff and I never get the latest stuff, not even when I do my best begging for Gibbs. Could you show me the features?”

Rodney felt himself going to a happy place in his head. He demonstrated all the features on the equipment in detail, humming as he did so, pleased to have a chance to show off to someone who actually knew something, rather than the usual dimwits he had to put up with in his lab.

“It must be so weird to live out here, in a totally different galaxy,” Abby said later, over their mid-morning coffee and donut break. “What’s the weirdest, freakiest thing that ever happened to you here?”

“You mean apart from the life-sucking vampire monsters? Well, John nearly got turned into a bug once.”

“Really? No way!”

“Yeah. Or…oh no, I remember the freakiest thing ever – John and me were once sucked into a completely different universe where the people were…well, I grew to like them eventually, but they were a bit weird.”

“Weird how?” Abby asked, licking donut sugar off her fingers.

“Well, they were like us but they only slept with people of the opposite gender – they had some kind of taboo about same-sex relationships – and they didn’t seem to have any concept of dynamic at all. They just wandered around with no idea about whether they were dominants or submissives…now *that* was weird.”

“You’re making that up,” she said, eyes wide as saucers. “How would that even work?”

“I have no idea. They didn’t seem to have a lot of sex though,” Rodney said with a shrug. “It was strange, seeing myself in this other universe…”

“Wait – there was another you?”

“Yes – and another John, and another Carson. It was very like our own universe and yet so completely different.”

“I wonder if there was another me there,” Abby said.

“Probably.” Rodney shrugged.

“I wonder if she’s happy. I wonder what her life is like,” she pondered. “I hope she’s got a Gibbs looking out for her there, like I do.”

“Is he a good top?” Rodney asked. “He seemed kind of scary from where I was standing.”

“Oh everyone says that and I don’t get it,” Abby replied, shaking her head. “Wow, this coffee is nice – it has a real hit to it. I usually prefer soda but I’ll settle for this.”

“Caffeine – the drug of choice for scientists,” Rodney grinned.

“Yeah. But going back to Gibbs – he’s the sweetest guy.”

“How can you share him with all those other subs?” Rodney asked. “I know I couldn’t share John.”

“Well, it’s not really like that,” Abby replied.

“Don’t any of you get jealous?”

“Not really. At least I don’t think so. Maybe Tony does. And maybe we all would if he was sleeping with any of us,” she mused.

“He’s not sleeping with you?” Rodney asked, shocked. “But he’s collared you.”

“I know – but that’s just the way Gibbs likes to work. He kind of collects subs. Besides, he doesn’t really like having anyone on his team that he hasn’t collared. He says there can only be one boss, and that boss is him. He doesn’t want any of his subordinates answering to anyone else, or having divided loyalties – not in our line of work.”

“But…how does that work?” Rodney asked, genuinely curious. “You’re his collared subs but…”

“Ziva isn’t – a sub I mean,” Abby interrupted. “She’s a top.”

“And she let him collar her?” Rodney was totally confused now.

“Yeah – you’d be surprised how many tops would accept Gibbs’s collar for the chance of working with him. The man is a legend,” Abby said happily. “It’s not forever – Ziva knows that. But for now it suits her.”

“So how does it work?” Rodney asked helplessly. He had heard of arrangements like this, where a high-flying top collared colleagues for purely professional reasons, but they weren’t very common. Also, he didn’t get the feeling that Gibbs’s relationship with his subs *was* entirely professional.

“Well, he’s in charge, and he can discipline us, obviously. He’s…somehow he gives each of us what we need. With Tim it’s a sense of protection and belonging – he’s always wanted that and Gibbs makes sure he gets it. With Ziva, it’s maybe kind of a refuge, while she figures some stuff out. Heavy stuff. She never talks about it but he knows – he knows all of us really well. With Ducky – well, those two go way back. Gibbs collared Ducky years ago. I never heard the whole story but there definitely is one – if either of them gets close to talking about the subject they give each other these weird looks and clam up, and afterwards Ducky gets really clingy and Gibbs seems extra protective.”

“And DiNozzo?” Rodney asked.

“Ah Tony,” she grinned, shaking her head. “Where do I start? Tony needs a strong top. He’s looked all over for one but none of them are strong enough to take him on. He might not seem it because he’s such a wiseass but he’s smart, Rodney, and strong. Gibbs almost gives him what he needs, but he can’t – or won’t – give him everything because he can’t give him what he wants most – which is himself.”

“Why not? If he’s not sleeping with any of you surely there’s room in his life for someone?” Rodney asked.

“I’d like to see him happy, and I think Tony could make him happy,” Abby sighed, “but he won’t go there and I have no idea why. He just…won’t. Something to do with his past I think. He’s been married before, several times, and it never worked out. Maybe he’s just been burned too often.”

“And you?” Rodney asked, intrigued by this young woman’s life.

“Oh well…I have a history of getting into really bad relationships. Gibbs kind of saves me from myself,” Abby said, with a little smile. “He insists on meeting any top who wants to date me. If he says I can’t see them, then that’s it. Kaboosh. No dating.” She shrugged.

“But he doesn’t claim you for himself?”

“No. With him and me it’s more…paternal. He looks out for me and takes care of me. Not that I’d say no – I’m all for the daddy/girl roleplay.” Abby gave him a big grin, and Rodney felt himself flushing slightly at her openness. He was used to having some pretty frank conversations with people about their preferences, but this was a bit too much too soon. He was intrigued though, and genuinely interested in the strange setup these NCIS agents had.

“To be honest, I don’t think it’d work between us anyway,” Abby said. “I don’t think we really see each other that way, and it’d ruin what we have if anything happened between us. Don’t get me wrong – he’s still my top – he just chooses not to exercise some of the rights that come with that. It may seem weird to you but it works – for all of us. For now at least.”

“What happens if you meet someone who wants to collar you?” Rodney asked.

“I dunno. It hasn’t happened. Well…just once.” Abby grimaced.

She was silent for a bit, and Rodney wasn’t sure if she was going to say any more, but then she turned to him, took a deep breath, and started.

“There was this guy. His job was cleaning up crime scenes which I thought was totally cool, and we got talking and…well, Gibbs was away for a few days, and I was falling for this guy so I didn’t want to wait until Gibbs got home. I thought it was just going to be a fling but then it got more serious…and, you see, I just knew Gibbs wouldn’t allow it.”

“Why not?” Rodney asked, finishing the last drop of his coffee and scraping his finger around the rim to scoop up the dregs of the foam.

“I dunno – I suppose even though I was crazy about Mikel – that was the guy’s name – there was something about him that was setting off alarm bells. But instead of telling Gibbs about him, I started creeping around behind his back. I got it into my head that it was none of Gibbs’s business who I slept with – which was dishonest of me. If I want to wear the man’s collar then I have to abide by his rules.” Abby gave a little sigh. “I owe him that – and really, he never makes any demands on me. He’s only ever wanted my honesty, and I let him down. Badly.”

Her clear green eyes looked suspiciously glassy as she said that, and Rodney wasn’t sure whether to pat her arm in an attempt to offer clumsy comfort of some sort. Luckily she saved him from that decision by continuing with her story.

“Mikel wanted to take me away from Gibbs. He said all this crap – that Gibbs was using me, that I’d look better in his collar, that Gibbs was an abuser. None of that was true. I woke up to it eventually, and told Mikel I didn’t want to see him any more. He went ballistic, took me prisoner, took my collar off me and put his own on me.” She shuddered.

“Oh shit,” Rodney said, horrified, because a similar thing had happened to him once and he still woke up screaming from the nightmares. “He took your collar? That happened to you too?”

Abby’s eyes widened. Rodney waved his hand.

“I’ll tell you about mine some other time. I want to hear about yours.”

“It was just so horrible. I don’t know what would have happened if Gibbs hadn’t busted a gut trying to find me. He showed up, just in time, because Mikel was saying that if he couldn’t have me then nobody could and I really thought he was going to kill me. Gibbs shot Mikel in the shoulder and took him into custody – he had him up on charges for abduction, removing another top’s collar without the sub’s permission, and coercing a collared sub.”

“Man – this sounds like a movie or something,” Rodney said.

“Yeah. It does kinda,” she said, but her eyes were sad.

“What did Gibbs do?” Rodney asked.

She took a deep breath. “Oh it was bad, but then I guess you know that.”

“Yeah.” Rodney gazed at her, one sub to another, both of them sharing an understanding of what she had faced.

“I let Gibbs down. He trusted me and I let him down.” She bit on her lip. “Once he’d taken care of Mikel, he just lifted me up in his arms and hugged me and hugged me. Then he took me home and put me straight to bed. I slept for hours and he never once left my bedside. Next day though…” She made a face, and then continued. “He gave me a choice. Said I could have my collar back if I wanted it, but I had to mean it, because he couldn’t go through this again. And if I accepted it back then I had to accept whatever punishment he was gonna hand out too.”

She trembled a bit when she said that, and Rodney watched her, transfixed.

“I wanted that collar back so badly.” She gave a wry little smile. “I went down on my knees, no question, and he put it around my neck and buckled it on and it was such a relief, you know? Then, without saying a thing, he grabbed my wrist, walked me into the bedroom, sat down on the bed, swung me over his knee, lifted up my skirt, pulled down my panties and gave me a spanking I’ll never forget until the day I die. He never said a word the entire time – just spanked my ass to kingdom come.”

“Oh shit,” Rodney breathed, empathising with her for all he was worth.

“You don’t understand,” she murmured. “He’d never spanked me before – never. And he hasn’t spanked me since then, either, other than a stray swat here or there. So it was just the once, but man…it hurt. He didn’t stop until I was sobbing my heart out, and my ass was burning every single shade of crimson you can imagine. He didn’t use a strap or anything, just his hand, but he’s got one hell of a strong spanking hand!”

“I can believe that,” Rodney said, and then he frowned. “But what I can’t believe is that we’re sitting here, and I’m having one of those subby chats – I never do subby chats! Ever!”

Usually the very idea of sitting with a fellow sub and droning on about their latest spanking or the latest way their top had been annoying or demanding was his idea of hell, but with Abby it was different. She just had something that made you like her and want to spend time with her. And her story was different too – he’d never heard of a relationship like the one Gibbs had with his subs, and he was intrigued by it.

“Me either!” Abby said with a wild, bright grin. “I can’t stand them. All they do is go on and on about how terrible their lives are and how boring their tops are. I don’t even usually like to hang out with other subs – well, except Tony and Tim because they’re cool – but that’s only because we don’t usually talk about sub stuff.”

They sat there in silence for a moment, grinning at each other, both of them flushing slightly from the embarrassment of being caught doing something they never usually did.

“So, about the spectroscope,” Abby said eventually. “Got anything else as cool as that to show me?”

“Oh, I have a whole lab full of stuff,” Rodney said, relieved that the subject had been changed and he was back on more familiar territory.


Ziva watched the small, slender woman swing her batons high, turn, and then deliver a swinging blow to the massive bear of a man who had been pursuing her. She was clad in a long leather skirt, split to the thigh, the golden skin of her bare midriff glistening as she fought. Her breasts were encased in a tight fabric that accentuated every single curve, and they heaved, plump and appealing, as she moved. He was wearing only a pair of plain hide pants, his feet as bare as hers. He had a broad chest and wide shoulders, his entire body was solidly muscled, and his hair hung from his head in a curtain of wild dreadlocks.

He lost his footing and she turned again, lashing out her baton towards him and catching him just behind the knee. He went down, swivelling, so that he at least landed on his back, batons held aloft, ready to continue the fight, but it was too late. She was too fast for him and within seconds he was immobilised on the floor, her baton held tight beneath his chin.

“You should not have fallen so easily. Is your ankle still sore from the injury you sustained last week?” the woman asked.

“No. I was just slow,” the bear-man replied. The woman reached out her hand and pulled him to his feet.

“We will repeat this exercise until I am satisfied,” she told him sternly. Then she turned her attention to Ziva.

“Welcome. I am Teyla Emmagan of Athos,” she said, walking over to where Ziva was standing, and bowing her head slightly in greeting. “And this is my submissive Ronon Dex of Sateda.”

Ziva felt a surge of envy rise in her gut, and tried her hardest to push it away. Teyla moved her hand, a gesture so small as to be almost unnoticeable, and Ronon Dex immediately came over to where they stood and dropped to his knees beside her, shoulders back, hands resting on his meaty thighs, back straight. He was so big that even kneeling he practically reached his top’s shoulder. Ziva felt another spike of envy at how beautifully trained he was, and she had no doubt at all that this diminutive woman had been the one to train him.

“I am Officer Ziva David,” she replied, giving a formal little head bow in return – it seemed appropriate in the circumstances. “I was wondering if you knew the three marines who were murdered,” Ziva said, feeling strangely flummoxed. “I am not asking you this because you are not from Earth. You should understand – I am also an outsider where I come from. I know how hard it is to fit in, and how easy it is for the finger of suspicion to point at what – or who – is unfamiliar and unknown.”

Teyla gazed at her steadily. “Thank you,” she said. “But I have had many positive experiences of working with your people. I have never been made to feel like an outsider among you.” Her eyes were piercing as she gazed, and Ziva had the uncomfortable feeling that this woman was getting the measure of her. “As for the marines – I knew them only by sight but I am saddened by their deaths. I do hope that you are successful in finding this killer, Officer David – I know that General Sheppard is extremely anxious about the safety of his people.”

“Sheppard is a good commander then?” Ziva asked.

“The best!” Ronon said vehemently, and Ziva turned to him, surprised. Teyla placed a hand on his shaggy head and he calmed a little, gazing up at her with an expression that could only be described as devoted.

“Ronon is correct,” Teyla affirmed. “Sheppard is a good man and a great leader. He is more worried than anyone about what has happened to his men. Having you here is not easy for him – but he will swallow his pride if it means the killer is caught.”

There was an intense pride in the way she spoke and Ziva thought that she looked like a creature from mythology, caramel skin glistening with a fine sheen of sweat, so exotically beautiful that it almost hurt to look at her. Beside her was this magnificent man, clearly as wild as a lion and yet as obedient to his mistress as any of the best trained Shinzoic submissives Ziva had witnessed in the show ring back on Earth.

Ziva snapped out of her reverie to find Teyla’s brown eyes fixed on her, a curious expression in their dark depths.

“I have never seen these weapons used in combat,” Ziva said, gesturing to the batons Teyla and Ronon had discarded, trying to distract herself. She couldn’t help noticing that Ronon’s nipples had been pierced, and he was wearing his mistress’s jewels in them – gold and red entwined.

Teyla clipped her leash to the chain joining the piercings and then to her belt. Ziva hoped Ronon was good at anticipating his top’s every move because otherwise he’d get one hell of a jolt of pain.

“I could show you how they are used if you wish,” Teyla said.

“I would like that.” Ziva nodded. “How about now?”

Teyla hesitated. “Combat practice will no doubt entail physical contact,” she said. “I notice that you are collared. Would your top be happy for this to take place?”

Ziva smiled. “Gibbs will not mind. It is true that I wear his collar, but I am a dominant – not a submissive. We do not have that kind of relationship.”

“I see. The ways of your people are often strange to me but this is something I understand,” Teyla said, making another of those subtle moves with her hand.

Ronon got to his feet and they walked in unison to where they had left their batons. His nipple leash was still attached to her belt, but he was so in tune with her movements that there was no question of it tugging on them.

“Among my people, it is common for a young top to take the collar of an older one as an apprentice for a fixed period of time. This helps them learn how to be a good top, as well as giving them the opportunity to study the top’s trade. Is that how it is with you and Agent Gibbs?” Teyla asked.

“It is…similar, yes.” Ziva nodded. Actually, that summed up her arrangement with Gibbs pretty accurately.

“Then I hope you learn well,” Teyla said. “He looks like a man who has much to teach a pupil who is prepared to watch, and listen.”

Then without warning she unclipped her sub’s leash, picked up a pair of batons and threw them at Ziva. Ziva only had a couple of seconds to react, catching the batons out of nowhere, before Teyla was upon her, her own batons slicing through the air with the precision of a dangerous weapon.

Ziva brought her baton up fast, deflecting the first few blows, and then turned and kicked at Teyla’s midriff. She just about caught flesh but then the Athosian woman had turned and was after her again, barely giving her time to breathe.

Ziva felt herself click into training mode, easily accessing the instincts that made her such a successful killer. She left thought behind, and tuned in to the sound of her own breathing and the smooth, polished moves of the woman standing in front of her.

Some part of her brain noticed, coolly, how beautiful Teyla looked as she fought. She was so graceful, elevating her fighting to an art form. Ziva didn’t waste her energy on grace – she was all sheer physical efficiency, darting and swinging, all her attention focussed on the woman in front of her and on how to outwit her and bring her down.

Ziva kicked out with her foot, catching Teyla a glancing blow that sent her stumbling towards the floor. Scenting weakness Ziva went after her, like a dog after prey. She could feel the darkness rising within her and revelled in it, taking it, twisting it, making it her own. This was who she was, and this was what she did.

She was shocked, a second later, to find herself on her back with Teyla’s knee pressed to her windpipe.

“You are good,” Teyla told her. “But you mistook my feint for a stumble.” She gazed down into Ziva’s eyes for a long moment, and Ziva felt as if all the darkness of her soul had been laid bare. It was the way she often felt around Gibbs too and she didn’t like how it felt. “You are more than you think you are,” Teyla told her mysteriously, and then she moved back, allowing Ziva to get up.

“I want what you have,” Ziva blurted.

Teyla gave her a questioning look.

“You are a killer, like me,” Ziva said softly. “Do not deny it – it screams from every pore of your body. And him.” She pointed at Ronon. “He is a killer too. You understand the darkness – both of you. I want that. I want someone who understands. I want someone I can go there with, someone I will not hurt with what is inside me.”

Teyla stared at her for a moment, and Ziva wondered if she’d got it wrong or gone too far; she frequently misread people.

“You and I, Ziva David, must talk properly,” Teyla said, and there was a kindness in her eyes that Ziva hadn’t expected. “But not now. My people are holding their annual Festival of Deliverance from the Wraith on the mainland tonight and I am to officiate at the ceremony. However – I would very much like to welcome you as my guest.”

Ziva blinked, taken aback. “I…I am not sure. I should ask Gibbs. We are here on an investigation so…”

“All from NCIS are welcome at the festival,” Teyla said firmly. “It is a good place to get to know people – and to ask the questions which I am sure would aid you in your enquiry. It would give me great joy if you would accompany Ronon and myself to the ceremony.”

Ziva felt that she would offend this noble warrior-woman far too much by refusing. This festival was clearly some kind of big deal – and Gibbs had asked them to mingle and get to know the people on Atlantis.

“I would be honoured,” she said at last.

Teyla nodded, and then came close. Ziva felt her stomach tighten – she didn’t like anyone getting in her personal space. Teyla ignored her body language and took hold of Ziva’s face in her hands, and then gently tipped her head towards her so that their brows were touching. Ziva felt oddly comforted by her touch and started to relax. Teyla drew back, smiling.

“Tonight, Ziva David,” she said, and then she took hold of her submissive’s chain and led him gracefully from the room.

Once alone, Ziva sank to her knees feeling utterly drained. This woman knew her on some level she couldn’t begin to articulate. Teyla understood her, the way nobody else had ever understood her.

Except Gibbs.


“So, will you be joining in the festivities on the mainland tonight, Dr Mallard?” Carson asked, moving a lamp so that it was shining at a more helpful angle in the makeshift morgue.

“I will not, my dear boy, no,” Ducky told him, peering through his protective goggles at the innards of the body on the gurney in front of him. “How about you?”

“Me? No.” Carson shook his head.

“Not a fan of revelling?” Ducky asked, glancing up.

Carson grinned, and shook his head again. He had only known the Medical Examiner for a few hours but he liked the man. He was Scottish for a start, and they’d swapped endless stories of the old country, chatting non-stop since Ducky’s arrival.

Carson had been pleased to assist him in the autopsies of the murdered marines, pointing out what he’d found first time around and generally acting as Ducky’s assistant as he’d had to leave his own assistant behind. Carson wasn’t used to dealing with the corpses of people who had been murdered and he was fascinated by the process, listening eagerly as Ducky outlined the clues that each body provided.

“Ah, I forgot!” Ducky said, smiling at him. “Your husband is the delightful Colonel Steven Beckett – I got to know him well on our journey here. He keeps an extremely well stocked Captain’s table – clearly a man who likes the finer things in life! And as tonight is his first night home in six weeks, I presume that you have plans for him.”

“I do, Dr Mallard, yes,” Carson grinned. “Extensive plans”.

“I’m sure,” Ducky chuckled. “And please, dear boy, do call me Ducky. Most people do. Besides, I feel as if I’ve known you for years – your sub is a man of great discretion but he missed you, and after a glass or two of fine Scottish malt he could be prevailed upon to talk about you. I have to say that it seems to me, having now met you, that every word of it was true.”

“Should I blush, Ducky?” Carson asked.

Ducky chuckled again. “Your sub thinks you are the finest doctor to ever graduate from medical school and he clearly admires you very much as a human being, even aside from being his husband and his top,” he said. “But don’t worry, Dr Beckett – he said nothing to embarrass you.”

“Ah now, if I’m calling you Ducky then you must surely call me Carson.”

“Thank you, Carson.” Ducky looked up from his work again. “I’d like that.”

“So why won’t you be going to the festival tonight?” Carson asked. “Would Gibbs not allow it?”

He privately thought that Agent Gibbs looked like the kind of top who kept his subs on an extremely short leash so he could imagine him refusing Ducky permission to go over to the mainland for the party.

Ducky looked up, a bemused expression on his face. “I hardly think Jethro would mind one way or the other, Carson,” he replied. “No, that’s not it at all. I want to mull over my notes, while they’re still fresh in my mind. There’s something about these bodies – I’m not sure what – but something is ringing a bell with me somewhere. I think I’ll retire to our quarters to go through my findings – see if I can piece anything together. I would also – no offence to you, Carson – but I would like some time alone with the bodies. I’ve very much enjoyed talking to you but I feel I’ve very much neglected talking to *them* in the process.”

“You talk to dead people?” Carson raised an eyebrow.

“Why not? You talk to your patients, don’t you?” Ducky replied.

“Aye, but for the most part they can at least talk back!”

“Indeed…but you’d be surprised what a dead body can tell you, Carson, if you’re prepared to listen,” Ducky told him. “Now run along, man! I can tell you’re itching to get your hands on that handsome husband of yours.”

“It has been a long six weeks,” Carson agreed with a laugh, pulling off his lab overalls. “And I’ve barely had time to say hello to him today what with all the post-docking checks he’s had to do on the Daedalus, and with all of NCIS being here – no offence, Ducky.”

“None taken,” Ducky chuckled. “Now go – I’ll be perfectly fine here. I do understand about love you know, Carson. I might be getting a bit long in the tooth but I remember the heart-stopping joys and agonising ecstasies of it all too well!”

“Remember?” Carson raised an eyebrow.

“Well, it’s been awhile since I really indulged myself in that respect,” Ducky sighed.

“Is Gibbs neglectful then?” Carson asked. In his opinion, any man who had five subs had to be spreading himself too thin and he thought it was a shame if Ducky missed out just because he was older than the other subs in Gibbs’s harem.

“Good lord no!” Ducky replied. “The man is as good-hearted as they come. A little reserved, and, uh, overly focussed at times to be sure, and undoubtedly strict but with that lot on the end of his leashes he has to be! But our arrangement – his and mine – is a little bit more complicated than you might imagine. It’s best not to enquire, dear boy. Now go – your husband will be waiting for you!”

Carson couldn’t argue with that. He’d had six long weeks in an empty bed and he was itching to start running his hands over his husband’s body, reclaiming him as his own again. The mysteries of whatever arrangement these NCIS agents had between them could wait – he had a submissive to attend to.

“Thanks Ducky – my deputy, Dr Keller, is next door in the infirmary – if you need anything, just ask her. I introduced you to her earlier.”

“Ah yes! The twelve year old,” Ducky grinned. “Is it my imagination or are they letting children take medical degrees these days?”

“She’s nearly thirty!” Carson objected. “And quite a high flier. But…” He gave a broad, conspiratorial grin, “I do know what you mean! Having her around makes me feel like an old man!”

“Well if you feel old that makes me positively ancient,” Ducky lamented. “But I’m sure she can take care of me if I need anything so off you go, and don’t worry any more about me.”

Carson gave Ducky a quick, excited smile, and then left the surgery almost at a run.

There was a mouth-watering smell wafting out of his quarters when he got there. He stood a moment on the threshold, savouring it, and then entered. Steven was standing in the little galley kitchen, stirring something on the hob. He was clearly freshly showered, the little fringe of hair on the back of his neck curling wetly against the clean blue Henley he was wearing. His long legs were encased in tight blue denim, which clung perfectly to his superb ass.

Carson took a moment to gaze at him hungrily. God he had missed those long legs, that beautiful swivel-hipped motion of Steven’s body when he moved, the way he prowled more than walked, and his ass – firm and sweet and just aching to be fondled.

Steven was humming to himself and clearly hadn’t heard him come in. Carson tiptoed stealthily across the room, and then stole his hands around his husband’s body, and rested his chin on his shoulder. Steven gave a little start, and then glanced at him over his shoulder, a grin on his face.

“Something smells good,” Carson said, sniffing at Steven’s aftershave and noticing how he was freshly shaven. Steven was that kind of sub – he thought about his top, and liked to prepare himself nicely for him. The same service extended to food and the quarters they shared.

Steven’s dynamic was that he liked to serve by cooking good food, and keeping a clean living space. He positively enjoyed ironing Carson’s shirts, and would happily spend an hour or two on his knees beside the bed, polishing Carson’s shoes while Carson sat and read a medical journal in the evening. Every so often, Carson would reach out a hand and trace patterns on his submissive’s beautiful scalp, and Steven would press up into his hand, enjoying the caress.

Carson had never dreamed he’d find someone so companionable. He had always been the care-taker before, thinking up treats to surprise and delight his submissives. His romantic streak had often left him feeling exposed, as if he was the only one taking any pains in a relationship, the only one giving while his partners always took. It wasn’t like that with Steven.

“You’re home,” Steven said, his deep voice rumbling in his broad chest. “As for the smell – it’s your favourite.” He gestured at the pan in front of him, where two chicken breasts were nestled side by side in a creamy sauce.

“Aye, it is,” Carson said, “but I wasn’t referring to the food. I was referring to you. *You* smell good.” He could feel his cock hardening already as he pressed up against Steven’s perfectly peachy bottom in its denim prison.

“You want to use me first, or you want to eat?” Steven asked, with a grin in his voice.

“Both!” Carson nibbled on his ear and Steven threw the spoon down, turned around and enveloped his husband in his burly arms.

Carson had never had a submissive who was physically so much bigger than him before. He was no lightweight himself, with sturdy thighs and broad shoulders, but Steven was several inches taller than him and well built – although his long legs had a certain elegance to them that belied the general beefiness of his body.

Steven’s sheer, imposing physical presence wasn’t a problem between them though – onboard his ship, he was a surly, no-nonsense commander, giving orders with the best of them, and supervising his subordinates with a rod of iron. But in private he was not only happy to submit himself to Carson he positively craved it, and Carson guessed that he had seen a side of Steven that none of his subordinates even knew existed.

He took hold of his husband’s face in his hands, and pulled him down for a long, deep, exploratory kiss. Steven opened up obligingly, and Carson’s tongue darted hungrily inside his mouth. His hands went to Steven’s peachy ass and he held it firmly, reacquainting himself with its fine contours.

“I missed you,” Carson sighed when he released his sub.

“Not as much as I missed you. I’d dream about you holding me down while you slid into me, and wake up to find I’d come on the sheets like a schoolboy!” Steven told him. “Sometimes I’d kneel beside the bed in my quarters, close my eyes, and imagine you were there.”

“Oh Steven.” Carson took hold of his husband’s head again and kissed him firmly. He could feel Steven shaking slightly under his fingers – his husband was a man of deep emotions and it had taken some time to coax those emotions to the surface. Steven wasn’t a man who gave anything up easily, so those times when he shared what he was feeling were often hard won but with Carson he no longer put up any pretence. He was who he was, and he trusted Carson not to hurt him.

“Here.” Steven led him over to the table. It was beautifully laid, decorated with several lit candles, and a bottle of wine stood next to two glasses, ready and waiting. “Your favourite,” Steven said, a smug little smile playing on his lips as he opened the wine and poured it. “And I got this.” He nodded his head in the direction of the sound system where a plaintive melody was playing. Carson saw the CD case lying on the table and snatched it up.

“Latest recording,” Steven informed him, still looking smug. They shared a love of classical music and Steven knew exactly what to buy on his trips back to Earth.

“Oh love, you make me feel bad. I can never buy anything for you except the occasional bunch of Athosian cherries!” Carson exclaimed.

“Well that’s one of the perks of the job – I get to go back to Earth,” Steven said. “Besides…I love bringing you back these gifts. You know that.”

“Aye, I do.”

“Now sit down – let’s eat.”

Steven served up one enormous plate of dinner, and sat down opposite Carson. Carson took a bite of the food and sighed.

“Exquisite – as usual. I’ll have to start running again now you’re home or I’ll balloon!”

“You could always train with me,” Steven said, with a sly grin, as Carson loaded more food onto the fork.

“Not likely! No offence, love – you’re a fantastic commander of that ship of yours but you’re a complete harridan as a personal trainer. I’m fit enough to run an infirmary and that’s good enough for me.”

He held out the fork and Steven dipped his head and took a mouthful. Carson smiled at him – it felt so good to have him back. He’d missed their long conversations and the way Steven looked out for him. He’d never felt so sure about someone’s love before as he did about this sub’s love for him.

“What do you make of this Gibbs?” he asked, as they swapped stories of their time apart, and Carson fed them both their dinner from the shared plate. “Are his subs scared of him?”

“Maybe a little,” Steven said. “But then again he’s that kind of top. Half the subs on the Daedalus were scared of him – when they weren’t falling at his feet that is.”

“Were you?” Carson asked, looking up, suddenly feeling a little bit threatened.

“Scared of him or falling at his feet?” Steven queried, with an amused look at him.

“Both – either,” Carson said quietly. There was something about Gibbs – even the strongest tops found him unsettling.

Steven frowned. “Neither,” he replied. “Carson, are you jealous?”

“No. Well, aye, a wee bit,” Carson sighed. “Tops like him always seem to attract the subs. I’ve fought that losing battle all my life – it’s hard to snap out of it.”

“Carson, I’ve been in the military my entire adult life,” Steve told him firmly. “I’ve met tops like him before – well, maybe not *quite* like him but I’ve met the ones who totally believe in themselves and inhabit their top-space the entire time – like him. If I’d wanted one like that I could have had one, trust me.”

“Aye, I know. I’m sorry, love. I’ve just missed you so much,” Carson said. “Look, I feel like a dirty slob still in my work clothes. Why don’t I go and take a shower and get changed and we can talk about what we want to do with the rest of the evening.”

Much as he wanted to get his hands on his husband, he also craved simply being with Steven, chatting and catching up – sex could wait.

Steven nodded and Carson took himself off to the shower, berating himself for questioning his husband in that way and doubting him for even a fraction of a second. He got changed into some chinos and a smart shirt and then returned to the other room…and stopped dead in his tracks.

Steven was kneeling, stark naked, in the centre of the room, head down, hands resting on the golden skin of his thighs. He’d oiled himself, and the candles threw soft orange shadows over his solidly muscled body, making his entire body glow in the dim light.

“Oh dear god,” Carson breathed, all the blood in his body rushing straight to his cock, making it instantly harden.

Steven glanced up, and traced his hand over the marriage collar Carson had put on him the year before.

“I’m yours, Master,” he whispered softly. “I’m here to serve you – and only you. If you’ll take me and use me as you see fit?”

Carson’s cock went into spasm at the words. All couples had their own dynamic, and this was theirs. Unlike many subs, Steven had little interest in sexual pain however expertly and subtly administered – oh, he’d endure it if Carson wanted to hand it out, but it gave him no particular pleasure.

No, what Steven loved was to offer himself up to serve his master – and right here, right now, in this private space, alone together, that was what Carson was; his master.

“Straighter,” Carson said, slipping effortlessly into the role. He ran a hand over Steven’s hard, muscled shoulders. His husband’s back was already ramrod straight but little details like this enforced his mastery over Steven and his sub’s beautiful cock hardened appreciatively in response.

Carson removed his radio earpiece and turned it off, and then reached for Steven’s where it was lying neatly on his pile of discarded clothes and turned that off too – there was no way they were going to be interrupted tonight, not after so long apart.

Carson circled Steven a few times, and then paused in front of him and ran a finger over Steven’s lips.

“I’ve missed having this warm mouth to spill myself into,” he said. “Will I take you there first?” Steven opened his mouth obligingly, and Carson slipped a finger inside, wetting it and then drawing it back over Steven’s lips, wetting them too in the process. Steven moaned, his cock now hard as iron. “You’ll not come for a long time yet,” Carson told him, knowing how much it turned Steven on to be denied orgasm. “I’ll take my pleasure in you twice before I allow you yours – if I decide you’ve earned it.” Steven nuzzled against his hand, and Carson allowed himself the sheer sensory pleasure of caressing his husband’s scalp. Then he grabbed Steven’s smooth head in his hands and raised it to look at him. “And earn it you must – make no mistake about that. I’ll be using you long and hard tonight, Steven Beckett,” he said.

Steven’s eyes were sex-stupid and the sight was so arousing it was all Carson could do to contain himself. He decided that he’d be no good for anything in this scene if he didn’t at least take the edge off his passion a bit first.

“Hands behind your back and open your mouth,” he ordered.

He undid his pants, knowing it was killing Steven not to be able to do that for him, and released his hard cock. Steven’s eyes lit up in anticipation and Carson gripped his head firmly in his hands and slid his cock between Steven’s waiting lips.

“I’ll use you hard tonight,” he breathed, his fingers caressing that warm scalp. “Keep your hands where they are. You have nothing to serve me with but your lips so work them well.”

He knew the words were working for Steven, as he dipped his head back and forth, taking his time, stretching his lips expertly over Carson’s hard cock. It felt so good to be here, just the two of them – husbands, lovers, a dominant and his sub, a master and his servant.

Carson gave a groan of pleasure and offered himself up completely to Steven’s mouth. Within seconds he was coming, holding Steven’s head as he pumped out down his sub’s warm throat. Steven drank down his come like a thirsty man, loving that Carson was using his throat in this way. His brown eyes were full of adoration as he gazed up at his top.

“That was beautiful, my love,” Carson breathed. He stood there for a long time, his softening penis still in Steven’s mouth, his fingers still caressing Steven’s head. Finally he withdrew. With that initial urgency over, he could enjoy the scene in more detail – and he liked a slow-burning scene the same way he liked a fine wine. “Now, I need you to hold that erection of yours while I get to know this beautiful body again,” he murmured. “But first things first – undress me.”

Steven couldn’t have been happier to oblige. His throat seemed to convulse with a kind of humming purr as he got to his feet and began unbuttoning Carson’s shirt. His long fingers smoothed the fabric sensuously and he took his time, savouring each second, pausing only to press a kiss against Carson’s neck, or jaw, or mouth as he worked.

Carson allowed him to take his time – this was an important part of what Steven enjoyed and Carson loved it too. The sense of adoration he got from his sub made him swell up with pleasure, feeding his own inner top, making him feel powerful and invincible. It still amazed him that he’d managed to keep and collar a sub such as this, a man so handsome and attentive, so good at his job. Yes, on the deck of his ship Steven could bark orders, confident in his abilities as a military commander, but here, alone together, he was Carson’s submissive, happy to kneel before him and serve him with his naked body.

Carson shook his head – he’d been an idiot to be jealous of Gibbs for even an instant. Steven was his, his collared sub, and nobody would ever take him away from him.

Steven had finished undressing him, and was now folding his clothes neatly and placing them on the nearby chair. His erection was still almost painfully hard, jutting out in front of him, proud and pulsing.

“Let me inspect you,” Carson said, running a hand over Steven’s oiled, muscled back. He moved his hands all over his sub’s body, claiming him. “You’ve taken care of yourself – that’s good,” he said, reminding himself of the sheer joy of having all this hard flesh under his fingers. He stopped at Steven’s ass, taking his time to cup the globes of flesh and squeeze them. “You’ll serve me with this ass tonight,” Carson said. “I’ll make good use of it.”

“It’s yours, Master. Use it however you want,” Steven whispered, in a low, hoarse voice.

“I know it’s mine – and I’ll remind you of that fact too, over and over again,” Carson told him. “While I pump into you.”

Steven’s cock was desperately leaking pre-come but Carson knew he wouldn’t take pity on his sub just yet. Steven liked being asked to hold on – and Carson liked making him.

“On the bed, love,” he said, taking Steven’s hand and leading him over to the bed. He sat down on the bed and pulled Steven between his open thighs. Then he inspected his cock, running his fingers over it, making Steven shudder with need.

“Beautiful – keep holding it, love,” he ordered. Steven sighed, and pushed against him, clearly longing for the friction on his cock, making Carson chuckle. Even a well-behaved sub like Steven had his weaknesses.

“On your hands and knees on the bed,” Carson ordered. “Serve me with your hole, Steven.”

Steven obeyed eagerly, clambering onto the bed and raising his ass in the air, bracing himself on his hands and knees.

Carson climbed up behind him. He reached for the lube standing waiting on the nightstand, and spread it over his fingers. Steven’s hole was already open for him, and it didn’t take much effort to slip his fingers inside – to find it already lubed.

“I see you prepped for me, love,” he said.

“I’m yours, Master,” Steven replied. “All of me. It’s only right I should keep myself ready and open for you, so that you can take me whenever you want.”

“Good lad.” Carson’s cock reacted to the sight of Steven’s ass, held up in the air, ready and waiting for him, the pink hole stretched enticingly. Within seconds he was hard again. He ran his lubed fingers over his cock and then nudged it into Steven’s hole. Steven gave a gasp, and pushed his body back, impaling himself on Carson’s cock. This felt so good! Carson knelt there, trying to catch his breath.

“All right, Steven – serve me with this greedy hole of yours,” Carson said, and his husband needed no more prompting. He slid forward and then back again, keeping a steady, even pace. His interior muscles squeezed Carson’s cock as he went, doing all the work, milking Carson for all he was worth.

Carson rested his hands on Steven’s thighs, gripping tightly, as Steven moved back on forth. He loved the way Steven’s muscles moved under the skin of his back as he worked, loved watching his engorged cock disappearing into Steven’s body, and the way it felt as Steven worked it hard, drawing every last ounce of pleasure from his body.

Carson threw his head back and started moaning as his second climax of the evening drew close.

“Oh god, Steven…that’s good…I’m so close…serve me…oh yeah,” he groaned, and then he was coming again, deep inside his sub’s body. Steven gradually slowed, before coming to a complete stop.

“Good, Steven – that was so good,” Carson said. “You served me very well.” Steven positively glowed with the praise. “You can move forward now,” Carson said, and Steven pulled away from him, allowing Carson’s limp cock to slip out of his body with a satisfying little plop.

Steven turned, and knelt on the bed in front of Carson, eyes down, shoulders back, his pulsing cock still standing out proud from his body.

“Good lad,” Carson said. “Now – I want to watch while you bring yourself off.”

Steven nodded, and rested back on his heels, then took his hard cock in his hand, rubbing it fast.

“Slowly,” Carson warned. “I want to enjoy this. I want to watch you pleasure yourself.”

Steven gave a strangled little cry in the back of his throat and his frantic hand stilled, the quick strokes becoming slow. He threw his head back, a tiny rivulet of sweat running down his neck. “Good lad,” Carson said. “Keep working it.”

He sat himself down on the bed, bunching up the pillows, and rested his chin on his hand. He would have gladly taken Steven’s cock in his mouth and sucked him to climax, but Steven had done well this evening and he knew that if he kept the sense of service through to the end, his sub would love him all the more for it.

Steven’s hands were big, the fingernails always clean and well kept, and he moaned as his cock slid through his palm, slowly, the purple head emerging and disappearing. Carson sighed, drinking in the sight of his beautiful husband, kneeling naked and submissive on his bed, utterly without any kind of artifice, giving himself completely to his dominant.

“That’s it – that’s beautiful,” Carson said. Steven’s hand continued to do its slow work, his entire body shaking with the effort of not speeding up and increasing the friction. “Don’t come yet,” Carson warned, although he knew Steven would never come without being given express permission.

“No, Master,” Steven whispered.

Carson lay back down and gazed contentedly at his husband. He knew he was being a little cruel, keeping Steven on the brink for so long, but he also knew that some part of Steven loved it when he did this, and he was enjoying the show Steven was putting on for him.

The candles had burned down low and the room was in semi- darkness now, but he could still see Steven’s sweat-soaked body as he thrust his cock into his palm, over and over again.

“Please, Master,” Steven whispered at last.

“Not yet, my love,” Carson said. “Serve me some more. I want to see how long you can last.”

“Please!” Steven whimpered.

Carson rose up and crawled across the bed; he knelt beside Steven and kissed the side of his sub’s face. “Not yet,” he said. “You’re mine remember, Steven. Your body is here to serve me.”

“I know. I serve you. I do serve you, Master,” Steven whimpered, and Carson could feel his whole body convulse with the effort of not coming.

“Then keep going, give yourself up to me with no expectation of coming. Just think of my pleasure, in watching you,” Carson said.

He almost felt something change as he said that. Steven nodded, swallowing hard, and Carson saw him make that mental adjustment from being the Commander of the Daedalus, with all the responsibilities he bore there, to being Steven Beckett, beloved submissive of his husband. He was here to serve, to lose himself in that service, and by so doing to find his true inner being.

“That’s it – let it go,” Carson whispered, stroking Steven’s trembling body lovingly. “You’re mine now, let it go. Serve me, my love. Serve me.”

Steven’s body started to relax, and his movements became slower as he sank down into his sub-space – a place where he desperately needed to be. Carson smiled; they had been a long time apart and Steven needed this so badly. He needed the peace of being what he was in his heart – Carson’s willing sub, serving him.

Now there was no conflict. Steven didn’t beg any more; he was where he needed to be in his head. Carson stroked him gently as he worked his hard cock, now lost somewhere inside his own mind.

Carson honestly thought Steven could have held that erection and pumped himself all night with his own hand if he’d asked him. He didn’t intend to ask him – he allowed Steven to keep the rhythm for a long time, until he was sure his lover was deep inside his own sub-space, and then he took over, pushing Steven’s hand out of the way and replacing it with his own.

“Serve me with just your cock,” he whispered. “Hands behind your back.”

Steven obeyed instantly and Carson played with him for some time, revelling in the feel of all that hard flesh in his hand. Then he squeezed more tightly, going faster.

“Not yet, not yet,” he said, as he worked Steven’s cock hard. Steven was gazing straight ahead, lost, giving himself up entirely to serving Carson, however Carson wanted that service.

“That’s it, that’s good, you’re so good,” Carson told him. “Now – you can come. Now. Come.” He gave Steven’s cock two more hard strokes with his hand and then Steven was coming, so hard he could feel his entire body shuddering, his come spurting out everywhere. He was panting like a workhorse, his body covered in sweat, and he looked so happy.

Carson leaned against his husband, holding him up in the aftermath of his orgasm, and Steven rested against him, his big arms holding onto Carson while his breathing slowly returned to normal.

“That was beautiful, love, thank you,” Carson said softly, stroking Steven’s back gently. Steven drew back.

“Thank you,” he said, his dark eyes loving and sincere. “I’ll get a washcloth and clean you, Master,” he added, and Carson guessed that by the fact he was still addressing him as ‘Master’, Steven was in a happy place in his head and didn’t want to leave it just yet.

He nodded, and Steven got off the bed, returning seconds later with a warm washcloth. He cleaned Carson lovingly, and then took care of himself. Carson got into the bed and then lifted the covers.

“Come here,” he said. “Damn it but I’ve missed you so much, love.”

Steven got into the bed beside him, and wrapped his arms protectively around his top. Carson had found through being with Steven that he enjoyed this more than he would ever have expected. He leaned back against Steven’s shoulder, and felt Steven kissing him reverentially on his neck and the back of his head.

Then, sated, at peace, and totally and utterly content, Carson closed his eyes and drifted slowly off to sleep.


“Hi boss.”

Gibbs exited his bedroom into the lounge area of the NCIS suite and came to an abrupt halt. Tony was standing there, wearing a pair of tight black leather pants with a lace-up crotch that left absolutely *nothing* to the imagination, and a cutaway top that exposed his nipples. He was wearing heavy eyeliner and a hint of lip-gloss; a long silver and emerald earring dangled from his left ear and a silver band was snaking its way up his left arm.

“DiNozzo,” Gibbs said abruptly.

“Like my outfit for the festivities?”

“It’s fine,” Gibbs grunted. “If you want to be groped all night by leering tops.”

“Sounds good to me,” Tony grinned.

Gibbs gave another grunt and made his way into the smaller living room off to one side. He found Ducky there, surveying pages of notes set out in front of him on the coffee table.

“Ah, Jethro – you’re back,” Ducky said, glancing up. “Did you see what Anthony is wearing for this party on the mainland this evening? I do hope you’re not going to let him go out like that.”

Gibbs shrugged. “Nothing to do with me, Ducky. He’s a grown man and can wear what he likes.”

“Oh dear – he will be disappointed,” Ducky lamented. “I’m sure the outfit was chosen merely to provoke a reaction from you and it’s failed – so now he’s stuck with actually wearing it, in all its ghastliness.”

Gibbs shrugged again, and peered at Ducky’s notes over his shoulder. Ducky took his glasses off and glanced up at him.

“Seriously, Jethro, are you never going to put that poor boy out of his misery?” he asked.

“He knew what the deal was when I put my collar on him, Ducky,” Gibbs said, shifting uncomfortably. “Now, what have you found?”

Ducky’s blue eyes surveyed him keenly for a long moment and Gibbs stared back at him stonily. He wasn’t in the mood for this right now.

“All right, Jethro,” Ducky murmured. “But one of these days you and I are going to have a long chat about this.”

“The dead marines, Ducky,” Gibbs prompted pointedly. “What have you found?”

“I’m not sure. The bodies were all staked out on the floor in their quarters. The strange thing is…their throats were cut and then their insides were removed and very neatly placed in little piles next to the bodies. It’s almost as if the killer was performing his own autopsy. What I don’t know is – why?”

“Any drugs in their systems? Rohypnol? Any other kind of date rape drug?” Gibbs asked.

“No.” Ducky shook his head. “Admittedly Dr Beckett’s tox screening facilities are dissimilar to our own, although sophisticated in quite a different way. You would not believe some of the technology they have here! These ‘ancients’ whoever they were, were certainly an advanced civilisation. All these rumours we’ve heard over the years about the lost city of Atlantis and it turns out to be true! I must admit I had my doubts because it all seemed so preposterous and I wasn’t terribly supportive when Ra…” He broke off, and glanced at Gibbs with a little wince. Gibbs felt his gut tightening as he guessed what Ducky had been about to say. “Well, that’s another matter,” Ducky said hurriedly. “You know, if I had the time, I’d like to investigate…”

“Any sign of a struggle?” Gibbs interrupted.

Ducky considered that. “No. Ah, you’re wondering why these fit young marines didn’t put up more of a fight?”

“I’ve spent the day talking to the marines on this base and I found out that all the murdered victims were subs,” Gibbs told him. “And promiscuous subs at that; the kind of subs who wouldn’t turn down a one night stand if it was offered to them by a reasonably attractive top. That could explain it. Maybe they consented to the tying up, not realising what would come next.”

“Maybe.” Ducky nodded.

“Keep searching.” Gibbs rested his hand gently on the nape of Ducky’s neck and squeezed affectionately, and his old friend smiled up at him.

“You should be happy, Jethro. You deserve to be happy,” he said softly.

Gibbs shifted uncomfortably. “I’m not hurting anyone again, Ducky.”

“Yes you are. You’re hurting yourself – every single day. Can you deny that you care about Tony?”

“I care about all my subs, Ducky.”

“You know what I mean. He’d be good for you, Jethro – lighten you up a bit. You do have a tendency towards melancholy at times, you know. I understand why but the past is in the past – you have to let it go.”

“Can’t do that, Ducky,” Gibbs shrugged. “End of conversation.”

“You know I won’t let up until we resolve this, don’t you?”

“Nothing to resolve,” Gibbs replied briskly, irritated by Ducky’s continual need to discuss a topic he had no intention of discussing – not now and not ever if he could help it. “Now, I have a party to go to. You’re not coming?”

“No, I want to continue looking at these,” Ducky replied, waving at his autopsy notes. “Have fun.”

“It’s not pleasure, Ducky – it’s work,” Gibbs reminded him. “These people will let their guard down at this party, and we might end up finding something.” He gazed absently at Ducky for a moment.

“What is it, Jethro?” Ducky asked gently.

“Just…I have a bad feeling about tonight, Ducky,” Gibbs murmured. “Can’t place it but it’s not good.”

“You always listen to your gut, Jethro,” Ducky reminded him.

“I know – just can’t figure out exactly what it’s trying to tell me.”

He turned to go but Ducky called him back.

“Jethro – the quarrelsome children next door wearing your collars have just spent eighteen days cooped up onboard a very small ship,” Ducky told him. “Do let them have some fun tonight – it doesn’t all have to be about work.”

Gibbs rolled his eyes. “They can have fun, Ducky, just as long as they remember what we’re here for.”

His subs were all ready and assembled in the other living room when he returned. Ziva was clad in black leather pants and a silver vest top, hair tied back, a black earring dangling from one ear. She looked – dangerous. Gibbs made a mental note to keep an eye on her. Abby was wearing pretty much her usual garb, which was always a little avant-garde at the best of times – and she’d added some kind of all-over body glitter for special effect. McGee, in a navy polo shirt and stone-coloured chinos looked as unprepared as ever for anything that might involve him loosening up a bit around tops. And Tony, of course, looked the exact opposite.

“Okay.” Gibbs made a circuit of them, fastening on a leash at a time until he had them all in his hand. “Ducky has just reminded me that you’re all human, so by all means have some fun tonight. But no drinking, and remember that three marines have been murdered.”

“When you say ‘fun’ – does that include casual, meaningless sex with complete strangers?” Tony asked. Gibbs glared at him. “I’m just asking because, you know, I’ve just spent eighteen days cooped up with you guys with no hot tops in sight – present company excepted, boss – and, no offence, but I’m raring to get out there. New tops to meet, new positions to be tied up in – that kind of thing. I mean, this is my chance to have sex on a completely different planet!”

“The usual rules apply, Tony – you ask first and you stay safe. Apart from that.” Gibbs shrugged. “I don’t care who the hell you sleep with.”

He watched the flash of frustrated disappointment that spiked in Tony’s eyes at the lie he’d just told and wondered how this game could possibly end; Tony goading him, trying to push him into a response, any kind of response, and him riposting, cold and calculated, neither of them giving an inch. Maybe Tony thought he could break him, and that one day he’d just throw him over the nearest surface, rip off his pants and take him out of sheer exasperation – but if he thought that, he didn’t know Gibbs very well. His self-control was legendary – which was a good thing, because he was using every ounce of it dealing with Tony DiNozzo.

“Let’s go,” Gibbs said tersely, turning and walking towards the door. He rarely tugged on their leashes – it was up to them to keep up, and for the most part they walked behind him in unison, like the tightly ordered and well-disciplined little squad he’d taught them to be.

They made their way down to the puddle jumper bay, where a queue of people in brightly coloured party clothes were waiting to be ferried across to the mainland.

John Sheppard was directing people into various jumpers. He came up to them immediately.

“This one over here is for you,” he said, waving his arm at an empty jumper. “No need for you to wait in line.”

“Thanks.” Gibbs glanced at Sheppard’s uniform. “You coming to the party later?”

“I don’t think so. Rodney will kill me because the food is always really great at Athosian festivals and he won’t go if I don’t go, but no.”

Sheppard shook his head. His dark hair was mussed up in a way that Gibbs didn’t expect from such a high ranking military commander – he also didn’t like the way Sheppard slouched and loped. On the other hand, he’d heard nothing but good things about the man since he arrived, and his men all seemed to think that the sun shone out of his ass so Gibbs was prepared to cut the other top some slack until he got to know him better.

“Any reason?” Gibbs asked, watching Sheppard’s facial expressions closely.

“Nope.” Sheppard looked a little uncomfortable and something about his body language rang alarm bells. Gibbs handed his subs’ leashes to Tony, and took Sheppard by the arm, leading him off to one side.

“General, if there’s anything going on here then I suggest you tell me because if I find out later, well, let’s just say you won’t like it.”

Sheppard’s mouth quirked into a little grin. “Oh yeah?” he said. Gibbs held his gaze for a moment, while Sheppard fought a visible internal battle with himself between insolence and helpfulness. Finally, he sighed.

“Look, Gibbs…it’s not that I know anything. It’s just…look, the reason I didn’t want to say anything is because it sounds dumb. But…I just have a bad feeling about tonight. Something feels wrong and don’t go asking me what I’m basing that on because it’s nothing. Just…”

“A bad feeling in your gut?” Gibbs raised an eyebrow.


They looked at each other for a moment. “I have the same feeling,” Gibbs said quietly. “Look – you stay here, Sheppard, keep an eye on the city, and I’ll go over to the mainland and keep an eye out over there. We’ll check in with each other every hour on the hour. That way we’ll cover the most ground.”

“Good.” Sheppard looked visibly happier.

“You do not have to solve this alone now, Sheppard,” Gibbs told him. “That’s what we’re here for.”

“I know. Just…this is my base, Gibbs, and these are my people. You have no idea what we’ve been through out here, the dangers we’ve faced…”

“Yes I do,” Gibbs told him firmly. “I’ve read every single report you’ve filed, General. Didn’t understand some of ’em I’ll admit, but I read all of them on the journey over here. You’re a brave man, and, what’s more, you care about your people – and that’s a quality I approve of. Now, work with me on this and we’ll solve it together.”

“Okay.” Sheppard nodded. “Okay,” he repeated, running a hand through his untidy mop of hair, making it stand up on end even more.

Gibbs fought down an urge to take a comb to it – Sheppard might be a top, but he reminded him a little of his own most exasperating sub, Tony DiNozzo. Both were brave and smart and allowed their external appearance to fool people into thinking they weren’t as sharp as they were; dangerous men to know, both of them, but good people to have on your side in a fight.

The mainland was warm, and there was a balmy breeze blowing. Several large fires were dotted around a beautiful bay, and there were already a couple of hundred people walking around, drinking out of earthenware goblets.

A beautiful woman approached him, and handed him a goblet with a little bow.

“Welcome to our feast,” she said. “May we be blessed with another year of deliverance from the Wraith.”

He took the drink and sniffed it suspiciously.

“It will not cause intoxication,” she told him. There was a tall man with dreadlocks by her side, and he recognised them immediately from Ziva’s description in their debriefing earlier. Teyla clearly liked to display her sub because he wore only some hide pants and a pair of tough looking boots – he was naked from the waist up, save for the plain, sturdy collar around his neck, and the glittering jewels in his nipples. “Those who wish to partake of something stronger should visit the tent over there.” Teyla nodded her head in the appropriate direction. “May I serve your submissives?” she asked.

“Sure.” Gibbs nodded. He kept them leashed all the same – he wasn’t prepared to let them go off-leash until he was sure about this place. He sipped the drink, which tasted like a particularly tangy kind of fruit juice and was clearly non-alcoholic, as she had promised.

“Deliverance from the Wraith,” an Athosian man said, passing them by and raising his goblet in their direction. Gibbs swung his goblet in the air at him in reply. He had never met a wraith but he’d read all about them in Sheppard’s reports. He could see why these people would want to celebrate another year of escaping their vampiric clutches.

“Oh my god – these are fantastic,” Abby was saying, pointing to the jewelled nipple rings Ronon was wearing. “See, Gibbs – it’s completely tasteful. I don’t know why you won’t let me go and have mine done,” she said, with a little pout at him.

“You can have them done if you want, Abby,” he told her, with a little shrug.

“Cool!” Abby’s eyes glowed.

“All I said was that you might want to wait until you meet the right top and have him or her do it for you,” Gibbs reminded her. “It’s an intimate thing, and you can only do it once. You don’t want to go to some cold, clinical branding and piercing parlour somewhere and then wish you’d waited.”

Teyla nodded, her dark eyes glowing in the firelight. “Agent Gibbs is correct, Abby,” she said quietly. She was a top of such quiet presence that everyone listened intently to what she had to say. “When I pierced Ronon, it was a special moment for us. I would have been disappointed if another top had already pierced him – or if he had arranged for his own piercing.”

“They’re just so pretty,” Abby pouted, her fingers curling and uncurling eagerly.

“You may touch them,” Teyla said, with a bow of her head.

“Cool!” Abby reached out and gently fingered the jewelled decorations. “Did it hurt when you were pierced?” she asked Ronon.

“Compared to being shot in the leg, or having a wraith tracker implanted? No,” he told her impassively.

Teyla smiled. “Ronon finds it easy to withstand physical pain. The issue for me was to make him feel something in the moment – not anger at being hurt, because he has been hurt too often in his life, but an understanding that by accepting that hurt at my hands he was offering himself to me, without rancour or reserve, and allowing me the special rights of a dominant over her submissive’s body. It was beautiful.” She leaned over and kissed each jewelled nipple with a kind of devoted reverence, in memory of the occasion.

Abby’s eyes glowed softly, sadly, in the firelight and Gibbs sighed, and ran a hand over her hair, stroking it gently. He wished he could make things right for her, and find her what she needed. She was too lovely to be so alone. Yet this was a choice she had to make for herself – if only she didn’t always choose precisely the wrong kinds of tops. He knew why she was attracted to the more abusive tops, and understood that her kind heart always stopped her seeing the bad in people when his own alarms would have gone off at first meeting.

“It is time for me to formally bless the ceremony,” Teyla said. “As our guests it would do me great honour if you would partake of the ceremonial ritual.”

“What does it involve?” Gibbs asked cautiously. Teyla laughed.

“Nothing more than standing with me,” she said.

They moved over to the largest fire and Teyla stood up on a small wooden dais and addressed the crowd.

“Welcome friends and fellow fighters against the Wraith,” she said, her normally quiet voice now commanding enough to be heard across the small bay. “We come together to mark another year in our fight against the Wraith, to celebrate the triumphs and mourn the losses. Celebrate your lives, dear friends, and remember those who are gone.”

She held up her goblet and then poured the contents into the ground. A buzz went up from the crowd and then everyone poured the contents of their goblets into the ground, murmuring their thanks or whispering the name of a loved one who had died during the year. Gibbs followed suit and gestured to his subs to do the same. Teyla clapped her hands and everyone fell silent again.

“We welcome Mara, sage and prophetess, to pronounce her tidings for the coming year,” she said, and a wizened old lady shuffled forward. An immediate hush descended and Gibbs glanced questioningly at Teyla, wondering what this was about.

“Mara is a sage – she helps our young people find their true path, and uncover the essence of themselves,” Teyla said. “For those who are unsure if they are dominant or submissive, Mara is always able to help. And for those who seek different kinds of answers, she can sometimes see into the mists that hide our future from us.”

“Yeah, we have those kinds of people too,” Tony muttered. “But we call ’em charlatans.” Gibbs reached out and pinched Tony’s ass, hard. “Ow,” Tony yelped. Gibbs gave him a warning glare.

“Mara – what does the year bring?” Teyla called.

Mara gazed around the crowd, her eyes glassy and unseeing. She waved her arms around and Gibbs could almost hear Tony’s eye-rolling.

“It will be a good year,” Mara pronounced finally. “The Wraith are in disarray, fighting amongst themselves. There will be losses among our people – but they will be few, and the Wraith will not cause them. And this I foresee! Rejoice people of Athos and our friends – rejoice!”

The crowd broke out into another round of clapping and then began to disperse, laughing and dancing as they went.

Mara turned again, and then stopped, her entire body quivering. She raised a bony finger and pointed it straight at Gibbs.

“Oh god,” Tony sighed. “More crap. Don’t believe a word of it, boss, unless she tells you you’re going to take a tall, dark handsome sub to your bed.”

“Quiet, Tony, or all that’ll happen is that I’ll take a long, dark, whippy crop to your ass,” Gibbs hissed.

Mara was walking towards them, that glassy-eyed stare still intent upon Gibbs in a way he was finding really un-nerving.

“You,” she said, coming to stand right in front of him. Her body was quivering and she looked quite insane. “I have met only a few like you. A Yedahl is rare – a blocked Yedahl ever rarer. You have known great loss though, I can see that,” she mused. “Still, a blocked Yedahl is a danger to himself and everyone around him.”

Gibbs stared at her impassively; he had no idea what she was talking about but there was something very compelling about her. It was impossible for him to take his eyes off her while she spoke to him.

“Now hear this, Yedahl. Hear this!” she hissed. “You came with five, but you will leave with only one.”

Gibbs felt a shiver crawl up his spine at her words. Then her wizened face crumpled into a frown.

“But first you must claim what is already yours – and only in the fire of extreme pain will you find the will to act.”

“Whatever the hell that means,” Tony muttered.

“Remember what I said! A blocked Yedahl will cause only pain wherever he goes, and he denies the world the gift of his true power. And you, who came with five, may leave with only one,” she repeated. Then she leaned in close, so close that he could smell the fruit drink on her breath. “Or you will not leave at all,” she added, in a low, chilling tone.

Then suddenly she was whirling around again, and her bony finger was pointing at someone else, and she was gone.

“What a sweet old lady!” Abby beamed. “And also kind of scary. What did it all mean, Gibbs?”

“I have no idea,” Gibbs said tersely. His gut feeling about this evening was turning out to be correct. He didn’t believe in fortune-telling or soothsaying or any of that crap but this woman had seriously un-nerved him.

“Well it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there’s five of us, and Gibbs arrived with us,” McGee pointed out.

“So it could be a threat,” Ziva said. “He leaves with one but arrives with five? Does this mean that four of us will die?”

The NCIS agents all looked at each other, and Gibbs felt a surge of protective anger at the thought of any of his people dying.

“Nobody threatened anyone,” he told them all sharply. “She’s just a harmless old lady. Now, it’s time we got down to some work. Go mingle, people – and find out what you can. And Abby – don’t go far. You’re not as experienced in these situations as the others.”

He released all of them from their leashes and watched them spread out into the crowd.

“I am sorry,” Teyla said coming over to him. “Mara meant no harm. She speaks only what she sees.”

“Okay.” Gibbs shrugged. “What does Yedahl mean? She mentioned that word a few times.”

“Ah.” Teyla nodded. “There are the Yeda – I am one – we who learn our path and come into our dominance in due course, usually as young adults. We struggle at first, but we learn to understand our dominant energy and channel it wisely; sometimes this takes great work and meditation, as we must strive first to master ourselves before we can master a submissive. We know that with our sexual dominance comes great responsibility but it takes us time to learn the limits of our own power. When we do, we find great peace within ourselves. We are the Yeda, and we are commonplace – I believe this is how it is for most dominants. However, then there are the Yedahl – Mara recognises that you are one and, from what little I have seen, I believe she is correct.”

Gibbs raised an eyebrow.

“Yedahl are simply born, and you are rare,” Teyla explained. “Yedahl have an understanding of who they are from a very early age. You do not need to search, meditate or soul-seek. You inhabit your dominant energy from childhood. It is as natural to you as breathing. For you there is no struggle – you are already your own master and have high standards for yourself. There are submissives born the same way – we call them Sedahl. They understand inherently that their nature is strength and look only for a dominant who can help them express themselves to the fullest extent. If they do not find such a dominant then they often self-destruct, spiralling wildly out of control. They need grounding – they are special people and often accomplish great things. When a Yedahl and a Sedahl find one another, it is a thing of great beauty – but very rare.”

“She said I was blocked,” Gibbs murmured, not believing any of this stuff but intrigued by it all the same.

“I cannot speak to that,” Teyla replied. “I do know that a Yedahl must express his or her dominant energy or else it turns in on them, causing great pain. A blocked Yedahl is dangerous indeed – a Yedahl must express their dominant sexual energy in a safe, loving partnership, or else it will destroy them and those around them. Only you know if this is true though.”

Gibbs glanced across the crowd, and caught sight of Tony, in his tight pants, flirting with a tall, graceful Athosian top. He was so used to the knife stab in his gut that he barely acknowledged it.

Sometimes though…sometimes, at night, he had dreams where he was covering Tony’s body with his own, driving his hard cock into Tony’s warm, welcoming ass. He dreamed of kissing Tony’s mouth, of making those teasing eyes smoky with need and eager with submission. He dreamed of merging with his beautiful sub, their bodies moving as one as he rode Tony hard until they were both quivering with pleasure.

Gibbs woke from those dreams covered in sweat, and a heartbeat away from driving to Tony’s apartment, forcing his way inside, and taking what was his; and Tony *was* his damn it.

He felt an age-old need churn in his gut, demanding his attention. It would be satisfied only by him finding a submissive who reciprocated his energy and passion, and with whom he could truly be himself.

The merging, the melding…it called to him, a fierce ache deep inside. If he relaxed his self-control for even a moment it rose up, insisting that he claim Tony as his own and make it damn clear to his wayward sub that he was never, ever again to flirt with any other dominant.

And yet, if he wouldn’t bed Tony how could he blame him for seeking pleasure elsewhere? It wasn’t fair on Tony to deny him that. He was an attractive sub and a natural flirt – of course other tops would be interested in him and of course Tony needed that.

Gibbs dragged his gaze away and found Teyla staring at him, a sympathetic look in her dark eyes.

“I see how it lies with you, Yedahl,” she told him kindly. “And I hope that one day you find a way to be who you truly are.”


Abby found herself on the outskirts of the gathering. She sipped her drink, watching the people celebrating. It was a bright, vivacious party and usually she’d have enjoyed it, but she felt oddly disconnected – and kind of sad.

Seeing Ronon with Teyla, and hearing what Gibbs had to say on the subject of piercings had resurrected a sense of loneliness that her sunny personality usually managed to repress. She had a long-held dream of being pierced, and sometimes she had even been tempted to go to the nearby parlour, where she’d had her tattoos done, and ask them to do it. All that held her back was the thought of Gibbs’s disapproval.

“Well, they say you never feel more alone than in a crowd,” she murmured, leaning against a tree and watching the festivities. She felt aloof and distant, as if she was in a cocoon. “This is so dumb,” she told herself. “I mean, you’re on a whole different planet for god’s sake! This is SO cool.” All the same, she didn’t *feel* it, so she stayed where she was.

She saw Tony, working his way through the crowd, dipping in and out of conversations. Abby could see that he was doing his job, trying to find out more about this place and the marines who had been murdered, but she guessed that most people wouldn’t notice that. His flirtatious manner just made it look like he was trawling for a top and an easy night’s pleasure.

She watched him work the crowd for a long time. Sometimes people mistook his manner and the occasional top tried to place a hand around his wrist and lead him off to the tented area at the back, but on each occasion she saw him extricate himself with a cool flair. One top wouldn’t take no for an answer and ended up with his arm thrust up behind his back and Tony hissing something into his ear. Abby shook her head; she could see how other people might misread Tony’s mixed signals but they were clear as day to her. Despite what he had said to Gibbs earlier, she’d put money on the fact that the one person who wouldn’t retire to that tented area tonight was Tony.

She wandered a little further away from the crowd. She knew she was supposed to be mingling and asking questions but she didn’t feel like it. Okay, so she also knew Gibbs wouldn’t be happy that she’d left the gathering, especially when there was a murderer on the loose, but she felt safe enough. He’d told her not to go too far but she could still *see* people after all so that surely wasn’t too far?

She wandered up the beach and climbed a path, clambering up a long way until she reached a grassy verge above.

“Are you alright, miss?” a voice called.

She saw a man, in the distance, standing beside one of those cool little ships they’d used to ferry them over here.

“I’m fine!” she waved. “Just, you know, wanted to see the view.”

“It is a pretty view,” he called. He started walking over to her and she hung there, unsure whether this was such a good idea or not. She was now quite some way from the gathering and she wasn’t even sure they’d be able to see or hear her up here if she was in any trouble – it was too dark away from the bonfires and torches below.

“Did you want a ride back to the city?” the man asked, as he drew close. “I’m on ferrying duties.” He pointed towards the little ship he’d been standing beside.

“No…at least…not yet. I don’t think,” Abby frowned. “I mean, I shouldn’t go back without telling Gibbs and I don’t know where he is.”

“He’s your top?” the man asked.

“Yeah. Well, kinda…I mean, we’re not sleeping together or anything – I’m on his team at work and he just…well, he kind of looks out for me until I find someone.”

“Sounds like a nice guy,” the stranger commented.

“He is. Really nice.” Abby nodded. “Although sometimes I wish he wouldn’t give any potential tops such a hard time before he’ll agree to let me date them! They always have to ask his permission and he gives them this really formal interview and to be honest most of them are scared off by that point. But that’s just Gibbs – he knows what he’s doing and he’s always been right about them so far.”

“Sounds like he’s just taking his responsibilities towards you seriously,” the stranger said. “Which he should if you’re wearing his collar. So, why did you leave the party?”

Abby gazed at the stranger. He had brown hair and blue eyes and there was something about him – but she wasn’t sure what; just something that seemed almost familiar. He was a top of course – she’d got that vibe off him straight away. She knew Gibbs wouldn’t like her sitting out here, alone, with this strange top when there was a murderer on the loose but he didn’t seem dangerous. Of course, her ‘danger’ radar was notoriously unreliable – she’d had some pretty abusive tops in the past and while she was nobody’s pushover, and always got rid of them eventually, she felt sorry enough for them that she put up with them for longer than she should.

Plus, she really yearned for a strong top – someone she could feel safe with. Sometimes she’d mistaken an abusive top for a strong one, no matter how many times Gibbs and Tony explained the difference to her. The trouble was she had an idea in her head of how it should be but she had never actually experienced it and her heart ached a little about that. She longed to find the right top, someone to love with all the considerable passion in her heart, but so far she’d been completely crap at finding the right person.

“I don’t know. I just wanted some alone time I guess,” she admitted, finally answering his question. “Everyone down there seems so happy. And they’re all in couples and, you know, *pierced* and everything.”

“What?” The stranger grinned at her, an amused look in his blue eyes.

“Sorry…I’m babbling. It’s just Ronon has these really cool nipple piercings that his top did for him and they’re so pretty and I want that but Gibbs says I have to wait until I find the right top to do it. I know he’s right but I want to go into those cool shops that sell piercing jewels and buy some – I saw these beautiful ones shaped like sunbursts that were just so pretty and…oh…this is too much information, isn’t it?” Abby bit on her lip. “I’m sorry – McGee warns me about it all the time.”

“Not at all. I think it’s fascinating,” the stranger laughed.

She cast another glance at him from under her eyelashes.

“So, you’re one of Sheppard’s men?” she asked.

“Yes I am, ma’am,” he nodded.

“Did you know the guys who died?”

He stiffened. “Yes,” he answered curtly.

“I’m sorry. I just…I guess I’m not a very good field agent,” Abby said with a shrug. “I was supposed to interview Rodney but we just ended up chatting.”

“You ended up chatting with Rodney Sheppard?” Her stranger seemed amused. “Wow – way to go. He’s not the world’s easiest person to get along with.”

“I thought he was lovely!” Abby protested. She supposed she really ought to ask the stranger his name but there was something rather delicious about their anonymity. She noticed he hadn’t asked her name, either – although as the NCIS agents had made quite a stir with their arrival it was likely he already knew who she was.

“It really is pretty up here,” Abby sighed, gazing down below to where the people scurried, like small, brightly coloured ants. The fires on the beach cast an orange glow over the nearby waves that lapped against the shore.

“It really is, isn’t it?” the stranger said. “It’s called Collar Bay.”

“Collar Bay? Really? That’s such a cool name! It isn’t really collar-shaped though,” she said, turning her head on one side to see if she could see it.

“Nah. I don’t think that’s why it was named. Sheppard came back and named it on the map the day after he collared Rodney, so I’m guessing it has more to do with that.”

“You think he collared Rodney here? Oh! That’s so beautiful,” Abby said, fingering her own collar. Like all Gibbs’s collars it was utilitarian plain black leather – very comfortable and utterly impersonal. She loved it, but longed for one that was meant just for her all the same.

“You’re a romantic,” the stranger said. “I can tell.”

Abby grinned at him. “I know! Tony’s always teasing me about it!”


“One of Gibbs’s other subs. He’s a great guy – well, he can be kind of irritating sometimes but that’s just because Gibbs won’t sleep with him. I think he’s a romantic too, underneath – he just doesn’t want anyone to know. I don’t mind people knowing; I guess I’m kind of an open book.”

“There’s a better view of the bay from over there – do you want to go see?” the man asked.

Abby bit on her lip again. The place where he was pointing was well off the beaten track and she wouldn’t be even remotely visible if she went there with him. She knew what Gibbs would say – she could hear it in her head.

“I don’t think Gibbs would like that,” she murmured.

“Do you always do what Gibbs likes?” the man asked, and he sounded genuinely interested.

“Not always, but where my personal safety is concerned, Gibbs tends to get really fierce.”

“As he should,” the man said. “I wouldn’t want you to do anything your top wouldn’t approve of. Why don’t we just sit down here for a bit and talk? I’m really enjoying talking to you.”

Abby turned to face him, unsure what to reply, but his eyes seemed really close and they looked kind – firm and decisive, but kind. He had that air of being in charge that Gibbs had, and a relaxed, easy kind of authority – which wasn’t so much like Gibbs but which she liked all the same.

“Okay,” she found herself saying. They sat down on the grassy verge, side by side, legs hanging over the edge, upper arms touching, and he felt warm, and kind of good sitting next to her.

“You’re really pretty you know,” he said. Abby felt herself flushing.

“I bet you say that to all the subs,” she replied.

“No. I really don’t. I’m not that smooth an operator,” he laughed. “But you – you’re just beautiful. I love the way you dress.”

She turned to face him again, and his face seemed even closer now. She swallowed hard and found her eyes wandering down to his lips. They looked soft and firm – and kissable.

“I’d kiss you right now but you’re wearing another top’s collar and I don’t have his permission,” the man murmured, his eyes fixed on her mouth.

“Oh. Well. Gibbs wouldn’t mind,” she said, leaning forward, eyes closed. She felt a finger on her mouth, pushing her back, and she opened her eyes, startled.

“Not without permission,” he said regretfully.

“Okay,” she pouted.

“Let’s talk some more.” He put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her against him, and she was aware of the warmth of his body. Was this wrong? It felt so right.

His broad hand circled her wrist gently, the way tops often did with prospective subs, testing them a little, feeling the heat in the mild bondage, searching for the dynamic between them.

Abby felt herself relax. She wondered what it would be like if this kind-eyed stranger fastened cuffs to her wrists and tied her hands above her head. She could imagine those artistic fingers playing with her body, teasing a beautiful, sensuous tune from her, whilst she, bound and helpless, was powerless to resist.

A nagging voice at the back of her head reminded her of something Gibbs had said. Didn’t the murderer like to tie up his victims first, and stake them to the ground? The earth up here was really soft – it would be easy to push a stake into it. She shivered, and withdrew her arm from the circle of his hand.

“Sorry,” he murmured. “That wasn’t appropriate.”

“No – it was! It’s just…I don’t even know your name!” she blurted.

“I thought you were enjoying that,” he whispered, his eyes drinking in the outline of her face in the darkness. “An encounter with a stranger on a beach. The mystery. The romance.”

She felt known. This was so erotic she could feel the pulsing between her legs but she knew nothing about this guy. She wasn’t getting any danger signals from him but then she rarely did. She was a long way from anyone up here, and it would be so easy for this guy to take advantage of that. She gave a little shudder.

“Oh – you’re cold.”

He took off his jacket and placed it around her shoulders. It felt warm and it smelled of him. It was a good smell; leather and aftershave and something earthy and nice. She snuggled down into it.

“Would you let me do it again?” he asked, his fingers tiptoeing up her wrist. “I won’t if you don’t want.”

“I…” Her throat felt dry, and her body was shaking at his touch. She loved the feel of his fingers on her skin…she wanted this so much. “Okay,” she whispered. His fingers moved slowly, taking their time, and then he had circled her wrist again, and was pressing down, just gently.

“You like being tied?” he asked softly. “You like how that feels? Unable to move, or resist?”

“Yes,” she moaned. Bondage was one of her favourite things in the entire world. She loved the sensation of it and often tried to recreate it in her clothing, in the little wrist cuffs she wore, the studded rings, necklaces and bracelets, and the tight boots.

“I love it too. I love how it feels to tie a sub down. I love the look of trust in her eyes and the smell of the leather cuffs on her wrists. I love the feel of her, all wriggly and powerless beneath me.”

His fingers stroked her wrist gently and she squirmed, imagining it, wondering how it would feel to be at this man’s mercy. His fingers seemed so gentle. Surely these fingers wouldn’t hurt her?

“I love how it feels to undress her, with her hands tied behind her back so she can’t stop me. I love how it feels to unbutton her blouse, undo her bra, and release her beautiful breasts.” Abby gazed at him, completely enraptured. He reached out and brushed a stray strand of hair away from her face. “I’ll stroke those breasts, gently, and then play with them awhile. I’ll take one of her nipples into my mouth and suck it hard while she cries out, arms restrained, completely at my mercy.”

Abby made a little moaning sound in the back of her throat.

“I’ll strip her slowly, peel off her clothing layer by layer, until she’s only wearing her panties. Then I’ll take my knife and cut those off her body.” Abby’s eyes grew round as saucers.

“Knife?” she whispered, suddenly scared again.

“Yes.” He nodded. “I’ll cut them off her and then take her to bed and tie her wrist cuffs to the headboard. I’ll fasten cuffs on each of her ankles and then open her legs wide and tie the cuffs to the footboard, so far apart that she’s staked out, unable to move.”

The words ‘staked out’ rang alarm bells for her, but he was smiling and his eyes were still kind.

“Then I’ll lie between her thighs and drink from her until she’s screaming with pleasure, but I won’t let her come. She’ll hold on because she knows I’ll only let her come when I’m inside her.”

His fingers were now making spidery movements up and down her wrists, beating out the rhythm of her heart on her skin.

“You really are very beautiful you know,” he said. “And you’re right about the piercings. You’d look beautiful pierced. Your breasts are so round and pretty. I’d love to touch them.”

“Gibbs…” she whispered.

“It’s okay.” His fingers tightened on her wrist. “I wouldn’t. I just want you to know I understand about the piercing. I understand completely. I’ve always thought it would be such a beautiful experience to pierce my own sub, to place such a permanent mark on them, reminding them forever that they are mine. I’d take my time. I’d tie you down first, not because you might struggle but because I want you to be still when I’m doing it so I do it right. And also…because you love being tied.”

“Yes,” Abby sighed.

“I’d look into your eyes as I do it, and I’d kiss you when you scream and swallow the sound with my lips,” he whispered.

“Yes,” Abby sighed again.

“Afterwards I’d make love to you, but I’d keep you tied up. I’d cover your body with my own and take you so hard and for so long that you’ll know for sure you’re mine. And all the time you feel me inside you, you’ll feel the cool metal of the jewels in your nipples, and they’ll be me too – placed on you to remind you who you belong to.”

“Oh god!” Abby breathed. “That’s it. That’s totally it!”

“We wouldn’t have to stop there,” he promised. She gazed at him, open-mouth. “There are other areas of your body I’d like to pierce,” he said. “If you wanted me to that is.”

She swallowed hard.

“Areas even more intimate,” he whispered, his fingers hard on her wrist now, as tight as any cuff. She was shaking, her clit pounding with desire at the word picture he was painting. “You want to rub yourself don’t you?” he asked, speaking quietly, directly into her ear.

“Yes,” she panted.

“You can’t,” he said, and the hand on her wrist squeezed warningly. “Only I can say when you can come,” he whispered, his breath warm on the side of her face.

“Yes,” she breathed, putting her head back, exposing her throat, gasping for air.

“And you can’t. Not yet. Not until I’ve tied you. Not until I’m in you.”

If he got out some cuffs right now she’d put her hands in them willingly, she thought. If he wanted to stake her to the ground and take her she’d let him. Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs… he was at the back of her mind, warning her of the danger, but she didn’t want to listen.

“I want you,” she told him, and he smiled.

“I know,” he said.


Ziva did her job with a kind of grim, joyless determination. She was in no mood to party; her head was still full of her encounter with Teyla earlier in the day. She felt drawn to the Athosian woman and she wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was because Teyla was so obviously a warrior, and the man at her side was so clearly feral – and yet he knelt for her and allowed her to pet him and she knew that he would give his life to protect his mistress, in the blink of an eye. How had Teyla managed to tame such a magnificent sub, she wondered? And how did she manage to keep him, so obedient by her side?

She had been going around, asking questions and finding out very little, when Teyla found her. The Athosian warrior was accompanied by another woman, shorter than Ziva, with spiky blonde hair. Her body was lean and toned, and her breasts, Ziva couldn’t help but notice, were firm and round, nestled invitingly within a plain leather warrior’s top. She was wearing hide leggings and knee-length boots, and from her belt there hung a number of weapons. She screamed defiance and challenge from every pore of her body.

“Ziva – I have been searching for you. I wish to introduce you to Kahla. She is one of our people,” Teyla said.

“Pleased to meet you,” Ziva said, surveying Kahla with a wolfish, predatory look which she took no pains to hide. Kahla gazed back at her distrustfully, but Ziva noticed that the blonde woman was assessing her body openly and insolently in return. It was a challenge, and Ziva felt the heat rise in her body.

“Kahla is a submissive,” Teyla said, although Ziva had worked out that much for herself.

“You are an Athosian?” Ziva asked.

“I was born on Athos. I was captured by the Wraith when I was eighteen. They made me into a runner and hunted me. Teyla found me, and her friends removed the tracking device from me,” Kahla said, her voice hard, her sentences short and flat, her stance angry.

“I am not familiar with this – a runner?” Ziva asked.

“Ronon was a runner too,” Teyla said gravely. “It is a particularly cruel practice. The Wraith hunted him across many worlds. He was never at peace, and, thanks to the tracker implanted in his back, he could never fully escape them. He lived many years like this. Kahla was a runner for only a year but she did well to survive that long – most runners perish within the first few months.”

“They could not catch me,” Kahla spat. “They tried, but I killed dozens of them. It felt good, slicing into wraith bellies with my knife and hearing them scream as they died.”

Ziva stared at her, fascinated. This woman was almost as feral as Ronon. She wondered what it would be like to dive into the darkness of Kahla’s soul and subdue her. At least she wouldn’t have to take care of her – this creature’s heart was as black as her own. They could unite together in the darkness.

Teyla laid a hand on Ziva’s shoulder. “I will be here if you need me,” she said, and then she moved away, back to where her sub was standing with some Athosians nearby, leaving Ziva alone with this challenging submissive.

“What are you?” Kahla asked, in an aggressive tone. “What do you do?”

“I used to be an assassin. Now…I investigate military crimes,” Ziva replied.

“An assassin? You mean a killer?” Kahla wet her lips with her tongue.

“Yes,” Ziva replied. Wasn’t that the truth of it?

“And you’re a top?” Kahla asked.

Ziva nodded. “The collar is…”

“I know. Teyla told me you wear an apprenticeship collar,” Kahla shrugged. “I don’t care about that. You want to fuck? There are tents over there, beyond the fires. Let’s see if you can take me.”

Ziva was taken aback by Kahla’s directness, but she knew from the heat in her belly that she definitely wanted a chance to subdue and dominate this dark, feral creature.

“I could easily take you,” she hissed.

Kahla grinned, her white teeth flashing in the darkness. “We will see,” she replied.

“I am supposed to be working. I will speak to Gibbs to see if he will allow it,” Ziva said. Kahla looked disdainful.

“I would let nobody tell me who I could fuck,” she growled.

“It is his right and my sense of honour to fulfil that right,” Ziva snapped at her. “If you do not wish to wait, then leave. It means nothing to me.”

Kahla glared at her, a fiery expression in her grey eyes. “Be quick – or I will find another for the night,” she said.

Ziva felt the anger rise in her belly. She longed to take hold of this woman and show her who the top was here. She stalked over to where Gibbs was standing with McGee.

“Gibbs – I have been asking questions all evening but have found little of use to us in this investigation,” she told him. “I would now like your permission to take a submissive for the night and leave the gathering.”

Gibbs gazed at her, those cool blue eyes sharp and assessing. He glanced over Ziva’s shoulder and she half turned to see him looking at Kahla. She saw his gaze rake over her defiant stare and the weapons she wore around her belt. Then he turned back to Ziva. She did not like the look of – disgust? Or perhaps just resigned disappointment – that she saw in his eyes. It was as if he always wanted something of her but she didn’t know what. She just knew that in this instant she had failed him and she didn’t know why.

“I have not taken a sub in months,” she said angrily. “I always ask your permission and…”

“It’s fine, Ziva. If that’s what you want, take it,” Gibbs interrupted her. “Come on, McGee – let’s get moving.”

He undid McGee’s leash from his belt and snapped it shut around the sub’s collar with a tight flourish. Ziva saw the look in McGee’s beautiful green eyes, and she fought down another wave of anger. McGee’s stupid crush on her was not her responsibility. She had done nothing to encourage it! He was wrong for her, as wrong as could be. Look at him, standing there, so awkward. He was as gentle and naïve as the day he was born and she would annihilate him if she took him as her sub. He had no idea of the depths of her darkness, and he was an idiot if he thought they had anything to give each other. It was his foolish fantasy, not hers.

Ziva watched Gibbs hurry McGee away, no doubt to save the sensitive flower from witnessing her taking Kahla off to the tents. She felt even angrier now, and stomped back to the submissive who was still standing a little way off, watching. She grabbed Kahla’s arm, swung her around, put a hand behind her neck, and pulled her in for a fierce, biting kiss. Kahla struggled for a moment, and then responded with an angry hunger that made Ziva want more. She released her from the kiss, fastened her hand tightly around Kahla’s wrist, and then pulled her away from the gathering, past the fires, towards the tents.

It was cooler out here, a gentle breeze blowing through the trees. Various couples had staggered over here, nearly making it to the tents before getting sidetracked along the way. Ziva almost tripped over one pair who were lying on the grass, kissing, oblivious to everyone around them.

“Get a fucking tent!” Kahla screamed at them, stepping over them.

Ziva heard the sound of leather biting into flesh, and the little whimpers of a sub being whipped. In the distance she saw a woman, her naked body pressed against a tree, hands clenching and unclenching as a top whipped her. It was raw and basic, and Ziva stood there for a moment, gazing at the scene hungrily.

“That’s hot,” Kahla said, and she put a hand around Ziva’s waist and pulled her in for another rough kiss.

It was hot. It also looked kind of brutal from where Ziva was standing, but the submissive was not bound and she was clearly enjoying the whipping. The top was very controlled, taking care where he laid his strokes, so this wasn’t some kind of drunken misadventure that could go horribly wrong.

Her appetite aroused, Ziva allowed Kahla to drag her over to the row of tents. They tried a few before finding an empty one and then Kahla pulled her inside, and pushed her against the canvas wall. Ziva pushed her back, closing her fingers around Kahla’s wrists so tightly as to leave bruises in the absence of cuff marks. Kahla’s grey eyes glowed angrily in the darkness.

“You are mine tonight,” Ziva hissed. “I will fuck you the way I want.”

“If you can,” Kahla challenged.

Ziva made the move without even realising it. She threw Kahla down with a quick flick of her wrist and the blonde landed on her back on the straw mattress on the ground. Ziva jumped on top of her, grabbed her wrists again, and held them above her head. Then she lowered her head and bit Kahla’s neck. Kahla screamed and rose up against her, pulling her wrists free. Her nails found Ziva’s cheek and gouged a long line down it.

The pain made Ziva angry, and the heat rose again in her belly. She would subdue this submissive and make her sorry. She slapped Kahla hard across the face.

“Submit to me, bitch,” she hissed.

Kahla’s eyes glowed with arousal, but she just sat back on her heels and spat in Ziva’s face. Furious, Ziva grabbed Kahla’s top and ripped it open. She found a breast and squeezed, hard. Kahla cried out, and fell back down on the mattress. Ziva straddled her.

“Submit,” she said again, holding Kahla down while she took one of her breasts in her mouth and bit down again. Kahla screamed while Ziva marked her with her teeth, and her body wriggled satisfyingly beneath Ziva’s harsh caress.

“Fuck you! FUCK YOU!” Kahla yelled, but Ziva noticed that she had opened her legs and the smell of her arousal was heavy and intoxicating.

“No. I will fuck you,” Ziva said, moving her hand down and tearing open Kahla’s pants. She overpowered the smaller woman, tearing her clothes off her, wanting her naked. Kahla wriggled, struggling against her, but then Ziva found her clit, warm and pounding, and Kahla stilled, a strangled cry dying in her throat.

“You like this, don’t you?” Ziva said, working Kahla’s clit with expert fingers. “Beg me, submissive. Beg me.”

Kahla’s eyes were hazy with want, and she lifted her crotch to meet the harsh strokes from Ziva’s fingers. Ziva grinned down at her. “You will beg me or I will not make you come.”

Kahla’s hands came up, tearing at Ziva’s clothes, and Ziva moved her arms to help. Her silver top was thrown onto the ground beside them, and her pants opened enough that Kahla could slip her hand down the back of them. She gripped Ziva’s ass hard, sinking in her nails. Ziva cried out, but the pain just made her arousal stronger. She bent forward and took one of those hard round breasts in her mouth again, found the nipple, and sucked down viciously. Kahla convulsed, and her fingers found Ziva’s back and scratched a long line of fire down it.

Ziva kept sucking and at the same time moved her fingers rapidly, rubbing Kahla’s clit hard. She took her just to the edge of orgasm and then stopped. Kahla gazed up at her, her eyes sex-stupid.

“No,” she whimpered. “More…please…”

“Later. First you will serve me,” Ziva said. She got up and undressed fully, and then lowered herself down on Kahla’s mouth. She held the blonde’s head down beneath her while Kahla’s tongue moved up eagerly to lick her burning clit. Ziva moved up and down over that hungry, wet mouth for several minutes until she reached her climax, feeling the sticky heat of her own come dripping down her leg. She stayed there for a long time, panting, making Kahla drink her come, and then she released her.

“Now, beg me,” she said, returning to her former position, one finger on Kahla’s clit, one hand on Kahla’s breast, rubbing hard.

“No!” Kahla hissed.

Ziva squeezed her nipple brutally and Kahla thrashed around beneath her.

“I beg you!” she cried out. “Please, please, please…”

Ziva released the nipple, only to take hold of it again in an even more brutal grip. She pinched it even harder and Kahla convulsed, whimpering loudly.

“Who is your top tonight?” Ziva demanded.

“You!” Kahla screamed.

“Good girl.” Ziva bent her head and stole another savage kiss from Kahla’s bruised lips, rubbing hard on her clit as she did so. Kahla was panting just as hard, and then Ziva felt the warm rush of her come on her fingers.

She sat there for a moment, atop her conquered sub, feeling the heat of the battle leave her. All around her was darkness, and her body ached. She got off Kahla and threw herself down on the mattress beside her. It was always the same – first the intense, dizzying heat of sexual desire, and then the darkness and that numb feeling inside – and then, in the morning…

Ziva turned her back on Kahla and drew her knees up to her chest, closing her eyes.

The morning would have to take care of itself.


Gibbs pulled McGee away from Ziva without a second glance. He knew the young probie wouldn’t say anything, but he also knew he was hurting right now and it was best to remove him from the situation.

“Where’s Abby?” he asked, glancing around to get a bearing on where his subs were. They could all take care of themselves except for her. He was acutely aware that she wasn’t a trained field agent – and she did have a propensity for getting into trouble.

“I don’t know, boss,” McGee said, surveying the gathering. “I’m sure she’s fine. She’s probably with Tony.”

“No – Tony’s over there,” Gibbs said, pointing.

He set off at a fast walk for where Tony was holding court with a group of five Athosian tops, most of whom were looking dazzled by his wayward sub, and all of whom, he suspected, hoped they’d get a chance to tie Tony to their bedposts this evening. Gibbs’s stomach tightened at the thought.

“DiNozzo,” he rapped out, as soon as they were within hearing distance. Tony didn’t hesitate, and was by his side within seconds, alerted by the tone of his voice.

“What is it, boss?”

“We can’t find Abby. Have you seen her?”

“Not for some time. She was over there last time I saw her.” Tony pointed to the side of the beach, and Gibbs could just about make out a sandy path disappearing up the side of a hill and into darkness.

“When was that?” Gibbs asked.

“An hour or so ago – maybe more,” Tony replied.

“Damn it.” Gibbs dropped McGee’s leash and made for the path at a run.

He should have kept more of an eye out for where she was. He’d specifically told her not to go far. Abby was so special to him, and he loved her so much – they all did. They couldn’t lose her. Now that bad feeling in his gut was getting worse, and he stopped for a moment, taking some deep breaths, looking around. McGee and DiNozzo were right behind him, and they all surveyed the gathering from the vantage point of the side of the hill.

“I don’t see her,” McGee said. The crowd had thinned out considerably, as many people had left to go to the tents; Abby was distinctive – it was quite clear she wasn’t there.

“We have to find her,” Gibbs said tersely. “There’s a serial killer on the loose somewhere out here, and we all know that he or she preys on subs.”

“Surely Abby wouldn’t just go with someone that easily, would she?” McGee asked.

“Abby’s lonely,” Tony said. “And that makes her vulnerable right now. I’ve been getting this weird vibe off her for the past few months.”

Gibbs felt a jolt of surprise at that – Tony acted out so often that sometimes he forgot what a skilled investigator he was. Nothing ever passed him by – he noticed everything and filed it away in his brain in case it was ever needed.

“Is there someone up there?” McGee asked, peering up above them.

Gibbs took off at a run. In his mind’s eye he could see Abby staked out naked on the ground, her throat cut and her internal organs lying neatly beside her dead body, butchered, the way those marines had been butchered.

He reached the top of the incline and found himself on a grassy verge…and that was when he saw her. She was sitting next to a stranger – a stranger who had his hands around Abby’s wrists, his eyes intent upon her face…

Gibbs was there in seconds. He pulled Abby up and away, hauling her to her feet, ignoring her yelp of surprise, and placed his body between her and the stranger.

“Who the hell are you, and why were you touching my sub?” he growled.

The other man scrambled to his feet and Gibbs could see in the moonlight that he was wearing a military uniform. Gibbs knew immediately that the man was a top. He always knew a person’s orientation without needing to ask. He had thought, when he was a child, that everyone could but he had come to realise that in fact it was a rare gift. Sometimes it was clear from the clothes people wore, or from even more obvious clues like the presence of a collar or a marriage belt, but often it was impossible to tell just from looking – unless you were Gibbs, and just *knew*.

The strange top stood up straight, and gave Gibbs a firm salute.

“I’m sorry, sir. I was just keeping her company. She seemed a little lost and alone – I wanted to take care of her, keep her safe. There’s a killer around at the moment and I was concerned for her. I didn’t want to scare her so I thought I’d sit and talk to her. But you’re right, sir – it was wrong of me to touch her without your permission. My apologies. She was cold and I wanted to keep her warm and, well, one thing led to another. My fault, not hers. Please don’t punish her for it.”

Gibbs gazed at the man suspiciously, but now that he had calmed down he could see that the strange top looked normal enough. In fact, he had kind eyes, and he seemed polite and respectful.

“Please, Gibbs…it’s okay,” Abby said, pulling on his arm to get his attention. “He’s really, really nice. He didn’t hurt me. He was just being kind.”

Gibbs released a long breath and then inhaled again, taking a gulp of air, trying to calm down. Tony and McGee had arrived and were standing behind the stranger, at the ready, awaiting Gibbs’s orders.

“Do you have a name, boy?” Gibbs asked.

“Yes, sir.” The man nodded. “I’m John Sheppard’s deputy on Atlantis, sir. My name is Evan Lorne. Lieutenant-Colonel Evan Lorne.”


Ducky closed his eyes and opened them again, but the words on the page were still blurred. He took off his spectacles and rubbed his eyes but the tiredness remained. He sighed, and glanced at his watch; it was nearly midnight.

“I suppose I’ve done enough for the night,” he murmured. The answer was in here, somewhere, if only he could find it, but he knew from many years’ experience that he’d get nowhere by staring at an autopsy report until he fell asleep over it. The others hadn’t yet returned and he felt like taking a walk. This city really was remarkable – the architecture alone was astonishing. He could also do with a nice cup of tea.

Ducky decided to walk down to the cafeteria he had visited earlier in the day. “I hope I can remember the way,” he said to himself. “And I wonder if they’re open at this time of night? Ah well, I can at least go and find out!”

He found his way easily enough, and the room, with its beautiful view over the sea, was open. There were no staff – just jugs of hot water and percolating coffee, and an array of snacks. He helped himself to some hot water and a tea bag, and then glanced around – and saw, sitting in the corner reading, the somewhat stiff and uncomfortable figure of Woolsey, dressed impeccably in a suit and tie.

“Ah – I see I am not the only one burning the midnight oil,” Ducky said, going over to him. “May I join you, Mr Woolsey?”

“By all means.” Woolsey waved to the seat in front of him. “Although actually I was just about to retire for a nightcap – would you like to join me for some fine Scottish whisky, Dr Mallard?”

“Ah – those words are music to my ears,” Ducky said. “And it sounds infinitely preferable to tea!” Woolsey beamed at him and got up. Ducky left the cup of tea on the table and followed the base commander. “So – why the suit and tie?” Ducky asked as they walked.

“This? Oh…I went to the party on the mainland earlier. I’m quite new in this command position and I felt I should show my face, that kind of thing,” Woolsey said.

Ducky couldn’t help thinking that Woolsey would have stood out like a sore thumb dressed in the rather formal suit he was wearing. “I didn’t stay long,” Woolsey said.

“Why ever not?” Ducky asked. “It sounded like enormous fun.”

“Yes. Well…to be perfectly honest, I’m not terribly comfortable at social events,” Woolsey told him. Ducky could imagine that was the case. The poor man looked as if he had trouble fitting in anywhere – which was a shame, as he was clearly an educated man and a highly competent administrator. He just lacked confidence in his social skills and Ducky suspected there was a reason for that.

They reached the door to his quarters and he waved his hand at the door lock and then gestured Ducky inside when it opened.

Ducky stepped into the most orderly set of quarters he’d ever seen. Nothing was out of place – even Woolsey’s slippers were laid out with military precision beside the bed. There were several books on shelves; Ducky read the titles while Woolsey fixed them both a drink.

“That’s quite a collection you’ve got here,” Ducky said. “All the classics of course – but these are the ones that interest me most, Mr Woolsey – the entire collection of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels?” He picked up one of the novels and held it up, with a raised eyebrow. “And somewhat well thumbed too, by the looks of it.”

“I love them,” Woolsey confessed, looking slightly shame-faced. “I’ve read them so many times that I practically have them memorised.”

“Ah,” Ducky said, accepting his glass of whisky and taking the seat he was being offered. “I think, Mr Woolsey, that beneath that very neatly ordered exterior there lurks the heart of an adventurer!”

Woolsey blushed, looking flustered. “Oh, I don’t think so…well, I suppose I did end up here, in a completely different galaxy, but no, really…”

Ducky gave a gentle chuckle. This man really was delightful and he had no idea just how delightful he was. “Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me,” he said, tapping the side of his nose.

Woolsey gave a bashful smile, sat down opposite him, and leaned back, swirling his drink around in his glass.

“Cheers,” Ducky said, raising his glass.

“Bottoms up!” Woolsey said, and then he looked unbearably embarrassed. “Uh, that is…”

“It’s fine,” Ducky chuckled. “I’m all in favour of upturned bottoms! My, this is fine stuff,” he said, taking a sip. Woolsey glowed visibly. “So you haven’t been here long?” Ducky queried, making polite conversation.

“No – just a few months – it was all a bit unexpected really. I wouldn’t have come if I’d still been with Jane, obviously, but the divorce all happened rather suddenly and then I just thought – there’s nothing left for me here, perhaps I should try something new. I mean, if we’d been married Jane wouldn’t have come – she wouldn’t have liked this at all. But she even got custody of my dog – well, I suppose he was our dog, but I used to look after him, take him for walks, feed him. Still, she wasn’t to be argued with on the subject and I suppose I gave in. I always did give in to her.” He looked suddenly very sad.

“My dear fellow…” Ducky began, wondering how his innocent attempt to make polite conversation had led to such a startling outpouring. He felt rather sorry for the poor man – clearly he had been very badly hurt, and the wounds were both deep and recent.

“No…I’m sorry. I’m going on far too much. It’s just…I couldn’t sleep which is why I went to the cafeteria but nobody was there and I haven’t really, to be honest, made any friends here. Well, of course it’s difficult when you’re in a command position, and I don’t find it easy anyway, but even so, I replaced a very popular commander and I’ve locked horns a few times with General Sheppard who is one of those tops I find quite intimidating and…oh dear, I really shouldn’t be telling you all this.”

“It’s okay,” Ducky said gently.

Woolsey looked up, blinking, looking for all the world as if nobody had ever been kind to him in his entire life.

“My dear boy, it really is okay,” Ducky said firmly. “You can tell me anything you like – it will go no further than this room. As for making friends – I very much hope that you will consider me one.”

Woolsey blinked again, and then gave a rather shy little smile.

“Thank you,” he said. “I would like that very much.”


Abby sat in the second row of seats in the puddle jumper, gazing at Evan Lorne’s hair, where it sat, flat, on the nape of his neck. It was nice hair and she longed to touch it. Evan Lorne. She played the name over and over again in her head. Lieutenant-Colonel Evan Lorne… she felt a surge of pride over his title – clearly her stranger from the beach was very good at his job. She could believe that. She had liked his air of easy but easy-going authority right from the start.

Then her gaze fell on Gibbs, sitting beside Lorne, his mouth set in a grim line. She heard his words to her from earlier in the evening, echoing around in her head.

“Abby – don’t go far. You’re not as experienced in these situations as the others…”

She’d disobeyed him and caused him anxiety; so much so that he’d had to come looking for her. She didn’t think there was any way she’d be going to bed without a sore, well spanked bottom this evening. She hated the thought of Gibbs having to spank her; she was always such a good sub – she wasn’t like Tony who got into trouble on an almost daily basis. Besides, Gibbs’s spankings really *hurt*.

Aware of Gibbs’s mood, nobody said anything as they flew back to the city. Abby loved the way Lorne’s hands moved across the control panel as they flew. They were such nice hands; firm but artistic.

They reached the city, landed, and got up to leave the jumper, but Lorne placed a hand on Gibbs’s arm, stopping him.

“Sir, I realise this might not be the appropriate time to ask, but…I’ve taken a real shine to Abby, and, if she’s in agreement, I’d like to ask your permission to see her again. Perhaps take her on a date?”

Gibbs glowered at him and Abby bit on her lip, but Lorne seemed undaunted. Her heart gave a little zing – he’d taken a shine to her? And he was willing to stand up to Gibbs-in-a-bad-mood in order to see her again? Gibbs glanced at her.

“Well, Abby?” he asked.

“Yes please!” she said, with a big, wide grin at Lorne.

“Very well, Lieutenant-Colonel Lorne. You can present yourself to me tomorrow in my quarters and we’ll discuss it. I’m not making any promises at this stage but I’ll consider it,” Gibbs said tersely. He turned away again but Lorne stopped him.

“Sir,” he said.

“Yes?” Gibbs growled, turning back – and looking extremely annoyed at being called back a second time. Lorne stood his ground.

“I meant what I said earlier. Please don’t punish Abby. She didn’t mean anything,” Lorne said, and Abby’s heart did a flip of pure joy.

“I told her not to go far and she disobeyed me, putting herself in jeopardy in the process. She was just lucky it was you she met on that hillside tonight and not someone else, Colonel,” Gibbs said tersely. Lorne nodded.

“I understand,” he said. “I know she did wrong but she does too, don’t you, Abby?”

She liked the way he said her name. She nodded, eagerly.

“I’m really sorry, Gibbs,” she said contritely, adding, in her head, please don’t spank me! and crossing her fingers behind her back. Her top turned to her, a stern look in those usually benign – towards her at least – blue eyes.

“Abby, how am I going to keep you safe if you won’t remember stuff like this?” he told her. “If a spanking helps drive the message home then I’ll do it. I’d rather you were crying over my knee than dead in a ditch somewhere. Can you imagine how I’d feel – how any of us would feel – if it was your body lying on a slab for Ducky to autopsy? Seriously? Can you?”

Abby had a sudden glimpse of just how worried he’d been, and her throat constricted.

“You’re right,” she said, with a firm nod. “Thank you, Evan but I think I deserve whatever Gibbs wants to hand out.”

“Oh for god’s sake.” Gibbs rolled his eyes. “You are impossible, young lady,” he told her, putting his arms around her and pulling her close, then kissing the top of her head.

She saw him glancing at Evan over her head, and then at Tony, both of whom were giving him hopeful looks. Nobody would interfere with a top’s right to discipline his collared submissive, especially not after the stunt she’d pulled earlier this evening, but both Tony and Evan seemed to be willing Gibbs not to spank her. McGee just looked petrified, both by Gibbs’s bad mood and by the prospect of Abby being spanked. She thought that if Gibbs did spank her then McGee might just fade away in terror at being in the vicinity.

“Okay,” Gibbs said, finally, with a sigh. “You get this one for free, Abby – but if anything like this happens again you’ll be over my knees so fast you won’t even know about it until you’re staring at the carpet. Understood?”

Abby grinned and kissed him. “Yes, Gibbs! And I promise I won’t do anything like this again!”

She felt a little starburst of happiness explode inside; she’d met a wonderful top and Gibbs wasn’t mad with her any more – all was right in her world.


John Sheppard paused in the doorway to Rodney’s lab and gazed at his husband for a couple of minutes. He always loved watching Rodney work, especially when Rodney didn’t know he was being watched. His sub’s beautiful hands, always restless, moved at 100mph as he typed, drank coffee, wrote up an equation on his whiteboard, and reset three different machines – all seemingly at the same time.

Rodney was dressed for an evening out in tight black chinos that showed off his fine round ass perfectly, and a bright blue shirt that brought out the colour of his eyes. He even wore a smudge of eyeliner and John loved seeing Rodney in eyeliner.

“Hey,” he said at last, having drunk his fill of watching his beloved sub.

Rodney jumped and then swung around, startled at being interrupted in his thoughts. He was completely alone in the lab and had obviously been lost in his own little world.

“Oh, it’s you,” he huffed, seeing John. He turned his back deliberately on his top and bent over his experiment – which didn’t have the desired effect of giving John the cold shoulder, offering, as it did, a fantastic view of Rodney’s firm bottom.

“Still annoyed with me?” John said, coming into the room and leaving the big box he’d brought with him on the desk by the door.

“It’s the Athosian Festival of Deliverance!” Rodney lamented. “It’s the best festival in the Athosian calendar – the one with all the really good food and not the crap one with all the oatmeal where they mourn the dead and sing gloomy songs all night. I can’t believe you wouldn’t let us go. I got all dressed up especially too.”

“You could have gone, Rodney,” John pointed out.

“Not without you. You do all the cool socialising and it’s no fun eating when I’m not sharing your plate. Besides, it was at Collar Bay and we could have…you know…”

“Re-lived your collaring?” John raised an eyebrow. “We do that every year on its anniversary, Rodney.”

“I know! But still! You know how much I love that place and we don’t go there that often considering it’s only a short jumper ride away and you are a bloody pilot!” Rodney moaned.

John stood behind him and ran his hands over Rodney’s lush ass where he was bent over his work.

“And it’s no use thinking that fondling me will get you anywhere!” Rodney said.

“Really?” John squeezed Rodney’s buttocks gently and Rodney bit back a low moan.

“No!” he said, standing up and depriving John of the easy target.

“You gonna refuse me my rights, Rodney?” John asked, wrapping his arms around his husband’s waist and nibbling on Rodney’s ear. Rodney sighed and melted back against him.

“Well obviously not, no,” he replied. “But I want you to know I’m very, very annoyed with you.”

“Did you eat anything tonight?” John asked, his hands sliding up to caress Rodney’s nipples into firm points through his shirt.

“When all that was on offer in the cafeteria was cardboard sandwiches because they hadn’t bothered to cook knowing that everyone was going to be feasting on the mainland tonight?” Rodney ranted. “No! I didn’t! I decided I wasn’t hungry and I’m never not hungry so that’s all your fault too.”

“Okay. So if you’re not hungry you won’t want this big box of food I had Lorne bring back from the feast on one of his ferrying trips,” John said.

“No I’m not…whaaat?!” Rodney turned and looked at him. John grinned, and kissed his sub’s surprised mouth.

“You can thank me later. On your knees, with your mouth,” he said. “Because this deserves a truly spectacular blow job.”

He went and retrieved the box, placed it on a spare desk, and began unpacking the contents.

“Oh my god! Oh my god!” Rodney hopped around the desk like a demented squirrel. “You are the best top in the world.”

“Yes I am,” John agreed.

Rodney gathered him into a hug and gave him a big sloppy kiss and then went back to hopping around the table, surveying the contents of the box. There were many different kinds of Athosian delicacies, one big plate and a set of cutlery. John piled the food high on the plate and took a bite, savouring it. Rodney stared at him, a look of intense longing on his face as he surveyed his top eating. John piled up the fork again and then took another mouthful. Rodney’s face fell.

“You’re not going to feed me?” he asked, so crestfallen that it was all John could do not to laugh.

“I thought you were very, very annoyed with me,” John said. “Eating when you’re that annoyed will give you indigestion.”

“JOHN!” Rodney yelled. John grinned, and then relented.

“Okay – on your knees beside me and worship appropriately at my feet and I’ll consider it.”

Rodney shot him a dirty look but John thought it had been awhile since he’d really taken Rodney down. They had so much fun together that he often forgot to really ground Rodney, and his brilliant, irascible sub sometimes needed that. Maybe he sometimes needed even *more* than that, John thought to himself, uneasily, but he pushed that thought aside.

Rodney got to his knees beside him and settled there, lifting his face up like an innocent cherub, gazing hopefully at the food. John filled a fork full of Rodney’s favourite delicacy and held it out to his sub; Rodney took it in his mouth like it was ambrosia.

“Good boy,” John murmured approvingly, and Rodney nuzzled his knee affectionately as he chewed.

“Oh god this stuff is good!” Rodney said after he swallowed. John fed him for some time, loving the little humming sounds of pleasure that his sub was making as he enjoyed the meal.

John took a few mouthfuls himself, but he wasn’t really that bothered. That bad feeling in his gut was still there; something wasn’t right and he wasn’t sure what. He’d kept in touch with Gibbs every hour, and he’d kept a strict rota of where all his marines were, which had been hard given that everyone was coming and going all night. He’d drummed into them, in several briefings, that they were not to take any risks, or accept a one night stand from any unfamiliar partners, however good-looking and charismatically toppy he or she might be. He didn’t know what more he could have done and he was exhausted by the night’s work as he’d been rushing back and forth, here and there, for the past few hours.

“You okay?” Rodney asked, and John realised he’d let out a loud, heartfelt sigh.

“Just…worried,” John murmured.

“I knew it! It’s those bloody NCIS agents, poking around, asking dumb questions,” Rodney fumed. “As if this is THEIR command and not yours.”

“Rodney – that’s not why I’m worried,” John told him, shaking his head. Rodney’s loyalty was flattering, if a little over-zealous in this instance. “I’m worried because it’s been over a month since the last murder and we’re due another one. Tonight has been chaotic, lots of people coming and going. It would be the perfect opportunity for our killer to strike again. I suppose I could have told the Athosians to cancel the ceremony, or forbidden anyone from the base from attending it, but our people work hard and this is one of those great nights that everyone loves. I didn’t want to be heavy-handed about it but I can’t help wondering if I’ve done the right thing.”

“I’m sure you have,” Rodney said firmly. “You always do.”

“Anyway, I thought you liked Abby,” John said, changing the subject because worrying wasn’t going to be any help. “You raved about her earlier. So they’re not ALL bad.”

“No, she was nice. Gibbs scares me though and I don’t like DiNozzo at all,” Rodney said.

“I can’t figure out Gibbs. You say Abby told you he’s not sleeping with any of them?” John shook his head. “They’re a nice-looking bunch of subs. You’d think he could at least have some fun with them.”

“The way you had fun with a bunch of different subs before you collared me?” Rodney asked, a glint of mischief in his eye. “Maybe not everyone likes to play the field so vigorously, General Tightpants.”

“If you remember I was celibate for a whole year before I met you,” John told him reprovingly.

“So maybe Gibbs is celibate too – for whatever reason,” Rodney shrugged.

John nodded absently, one hand tangled in Rodney’s hair where he was kneeling beside him. He worried away at his bottom lip with his teeth, wishing he could shift that anxious feeling in his gut.

“I think…I’m just going to do the rounds one more time,” he murmured. “Check on my marines, make sure everyone is okay.”

“What about the truly spectacular blowjob?” Rodney said, leaning forward and nudging at John’s crotch with his nose.

“It can wait,” John sighed.

He reached down, took hold of Rodney’s head, and bestowed a deep kiss on his mouth. Then he got up and walked towards the door. He hesitated in the doorway, and glanced back at Rodney.

“You gonna be okay here on your own?” he asked, that anxious feeling flaring in the pit of his belly at the thought of anything happening to Rodney.

“I’ll be fine.” Rodney rolled his eyes. “This is my lab, John. Nobody is going to hurt me in here. Although, if it’ll make you feel better I’ll lock the door when you leave and I won’t let anyone in unless I know them.”

“That would make me feel better, yes,” John told him.

“Seriously? I thought it was overkill myself,” Rodney said, coming over to the door all the same. “John?” He put his arm around John’s waist and pulled him close, holding him tight. John felt the kaeira energy flow between them as Rodney sent waves of reassurance his way through the lifebond they shared. “You sure you’re okay?” Rodney asked softly. “Just, I’ve never known you turn down a truly spectacular blowjob before.”

John gave his sub a wry grin at that. “I know.” He shook his head in amazement. “And yes, I’m fine. But I’ll feel better when we’ve caught whoever is killing my marines.”

“Okay.” Rodney kissed him and the kaeira fizzed happily between them.

John tore himself away and left the lab – but he stood outside the door and didn’t set off down the hallway until Rodney had locked the door behind him. Rodney was his lifebonded partner, and John loved him more then he’d ever loved anyone in his life. Rodney *was* his life, and the thought of anyone so much as touching Rodney caused a familiar red mist to rise inside him. His protective instinct, when roused, was always fierce and while it was so strong as to send him almost insane where Rodney was concerned, it was also pretty formidable where any of the other people under his protection were concerned as well.

Three of his marines had died so far; three people under his command whose bodies he’d had to return to Earth to their folks; three people he had failed to protect.

John swung his arm angrily against his thigh and set off at a run back towards the puddle-jumper bay to take a look at the inventories of who had been coming and going all night.

He’d catch this bastard. He had to.


“So, how did it go?” Ducky asked, as his colleagues returned to their suite of rooms, looking perhaps a little dishevelled and worse for wear.

“You still up, Duck?” Gibbs asked.

“I can never sleep when you lot are off somewhere, potentially doing something dangerous,” Ducky replied.

He noticed the hard lines of tension across Gibbs’s shoulders and the set of his mouth. Something had happened; he was glad now that he had waited up for them. Gibbs had told him that he had a bad feeling in his gut about tonight – and Ducky had never yet known Gibbs’s gut to be wrong.

“Where’s Ziva?” he asked, anxiously.

“She pulled a sub,” Tony said, a leer playing around his extremely mobile lips. “The boss let her go off and play. It’s always one rule for tops and another for subs,” he muttered, but the complaint didn’t pass Gibbs by.

“You could have played if you wanted, Tony. All you had to do was ask. That’s what she did,” Gibbs snapped.

“No need, boss. I was out there, doing my job, just like you asked,” Tony replied. “No time for anything else – not that there was a shortage of offers.”

Gibbs’s eyes flashed, and Ducky could feel the tension in the air. Now he really was worried. Tony usually needled at Gibbs for a reaction and this was no different – it was Gibbs who was behaving differently. He looked as if he was close to breaking point, and Ducky had never known Tony succeed in pushing him that far before. Maybe he was just tired, or maybe the evening had taken its toll on him. It couldn’t be that easy being a dominant with five collared subs to take care of in this strange place, so far from their usual environment.

Ducky made a mental note to tell Tony to dial it down a bit while they were here, unless he wanted to spend the rest of their time in the Pegasus galaxy standing instead of sitting, and sleeping on his front at night.

“Okay people, go to bed,” Gibbs ordered. “It’s late and I want a full report tomorrow morning. Set your alarms for 09:00. That’ll give you six hours sleep.”

“Night Gibbs.” Abby threw her arms around her top and kissed him before going to her room.

“Boss. Ducky.” Tim waved his hand in the air and retired to his room.

“Sure you don’t want any company in there tonight, boss?” Tony asked, nodding in the direction of Gibbs’s bedroom. “It’s a pretty big bed for one person. You might get lonely.”

Gibbs didn’t respond with his usual weary good humour to that. He just shook his head, tersely.

“Goodnight, DiNozzo,” he said firmly.

Tony stood there for a moment, hands on hips, assessing his boss, and then sighed.

“Well okay then. You know where I am if you need me.” He waved his hand nonchalantly in the air and retired to his own room.

“Ducky.” Gibbs nodded in Ducky’s direction and then walked stiffly into his own bedroom, shutting the door firmly behind him.

Ducky watched him go, noting the tense way he was carrying himself. “Oh no, my dear friend, I don’t think you get off that easily,” he murmured to himself.

He made some coffee, ensuring that it was as strong as Gibbs liked it, and then went to his top’s door and let himself in, without knocking – he had no intention of taking no for an answer and he knew that ‘no’ was exactly the answer Gibbs would give if he gave him the opportunity.

He found Gibbs standing by the bed, gazing at the contents of the little box in his hands. Gibbs glanced up when he came in, looking as if he was readying himself to be angry, but then the anger faded, and he just looked locked up in himself, tight and vulnerable instead.

“Ah. Shannon’s collar,” Ducky murmured, recognising the box. Gibbs carried it wherever he went.

Ducky went and looked at the collar over Gibbs’s shoulder. He had seen it before but not so close up. It was plain gold, and there was nothing showy about it but there was an elegance to its simplicity.

“Soul meets soul,” Ducky read out the inscription on the inside of the collar. “That’s Shelley isn’t it? ‘Soul meets soul on lover’s lips’? How beautiful.” It was also a little unexpected. He knew that beneath that tough exterior lurked a man who felt things deeply, but he had never known Gibbs to read poetry.

“Yeah, I guess – poetry’s not my thing but Shannon loved it,” Gibbs murmured, tracing over the inscription with his finger. “She loved this line in particular – always said I was her soulmate.”

Ducky noticed the piece of twisted metal on the collar, where one of the bullets that had killed Gibbs’s first spouse had hit. “Jethro, how long are you going to do this to yourself?” Ducky asked. “She’s been dead for fifteen years. You have to let her go.”

“I’ve tried, Ducky,” Gibbs replied. “I’ve even tried getting married again – three times, as you well know.”

“Well, that, my dear boy, is because you’re a romantic,” Ducky told him. “And you tried to find with them what you had with her which is why it never worked.”

“I know, I know,” Gibbs growled. “And that’s why I have no intention of trying it again. I’m a hard top to be with, Ducky, you know that. I ask a lot – Shannon understood me but my other spouses didn’t. I hurt them, Ducky, because I was always looking for her in them.”

“Well, it didn’t help that you only married red-haired women,” Ducky pointed out. “What you had with Shannon was hardly likely to be repeated just by marrying someone who looked like her. What you need is to take a sub for who they are, not who they remind you of.”

“No, what I need is never to take a sub in that way again,” Gibbs said firmly.

“Oh Jethro,” Ducky sighed. Gibbs shut the box with a snap of his fingers and replaced it back in his luggage. Ducky glanced around the room. “You haven’t unpacked, I see. You should have asked one of your agents to do it for you. I’m not entirely sure what perks you get out of having them wear your collars, Jethro. You certainly exercise few enough rights.”

“They get what they need,” Gibbs replied. “Don’t they?” he asked, gazing at Ducky searchingly. Ducky traced a finger over his own collar, and smiled.

“Yes, they do,” he murmured. “Ah, Jethro, what is this habit you have of picking up waifs and strays and collaring them to keep them safe?”

Gibbs gave a wry smile. “You think I have a rescue complex, Duck?”

“Well, it does sometimes appear that way,” Ducky replied with a chuckle. “Oh, I brought you coffee,” he gestured.

“At least one of my subs is looking out for me,” Gibbs grunted, sitting down on the side of the bed and taking a sip of the coffee.

“What happened tonight, Jethro?” Ducky asked, sitting down on the bed beside Gibbs. “You had a bad feeling in your gut and then you came back all tense like this.” He placed both his hands on Gibbs’s shoulders and found them as solid as rock when he tried to massage them. He persisted anyway, and Gibbs loosened up a little as he worked on him.

“I still have a bad feeling,” Gibbs said. “And nothing happened – not really. I had a strange encounter with some kind of Athosian prophetess. Shook me up a bit. She said something about me being blocked…”

“Well she’s not far off there,” Ducky murmured, sinking his fingers more firmly into Gibbs’s tense muscles.

“Yeah – which makes me worried about the other thing she said. She told me I’d arrived here with five but would go home with only one.”

“Ah. Hmmm – and you think she’s referring to us, and now you’re afraid we’ll be killed?” Ducky asked.

“I don’t know what to make of it – but you know how I feel about the people under my care and protection, Duck.” Gibbs gave a little groan as Ducky’s fingers found a particularly sore spot.

“Yes, I do.”

“And then Ziva went off into a typical Ziva deep end so she’ll be hell to sort out when she comes home. And just to make the evening really memorable, Abby ran off with a stranger and we spent half the night looking for her. She was okay when we finally caught up with her, but with my gut feeling, and what that Athosian woman said – I was pretty worried, Ducky, I don’t mind admitting that.”

“Ouch.” Ducky grimaced. “That really was very naughty of Abigail. I’ll have a word with her myself tomorrow – unless you’re going to be spanking her to high heaven, in which case I’ll dig out the special ointment, sit beside her and give her a more gentle piece of my mind.”

Gibbs grunted. “I allowed myself to be persuaded not to spank her, but she’s just lucky she stumbled across the deputy base commander who took care of her and who specifically asked me not to punish her. Plus, Tony was giving me the puppy dog eyes on her behalf.”

“Well, nobody likes to think of Abby being in trouble,” Ducky said.

“Yeah. And I admit I hate doing it. She’s such a big kid and has the kindest heart of anyone I ever met,” Gibbs sighed. “Still, she deserved a hard spanking and should have got one.”

“I’ll remind her of that point when I speak to her then,” Ducky said, making some inroads into the tension in Gibbs’s shoulders but finding yet more knots underneath.

“So what did you get up to, Ducky?”

“I went for a walk down to the cafeteria and bumped into Mr. Woolsey. We ended up retiring to his quarters for a nightcap. I got back just an hour or so before you did. He really is a very sweet fellow, hopelessly mixed up of course but delightful with it.”

“Yeah. He reminds me a bit of you, Ducky,” Gibbs said, and his hand came up and covered Ducky’s where it was working his shoulder.

“Me?” Ducky frowned.

Gibbs turned and smiled at him. “You – when I first met you,” he murmured. Ducky felt the familiar stiffness inside at being reminded of how he had once been. “No confidence, babbling a bit too much, worried about saying the wrong thing,” Gibbs said softly.

He reached out, and gently touched the side of Ducky’s face. “If I could punch him again for what he did to you I would,” he whispered.

Ducky caught Gibbs’s hand in his own, and kissed it. “No need,” he replied. “You have done more than enough for me, Jethro my love.”

Gibbs’s blue eyes were shining with an intensity that Ducky knew all too well, and Gibbs’s hands were suddenly firm on his shoulders, pulling him close, and then Gibbs’s lips were hard on his mouth, demanding entrance.

Ducky sighed, and surrendered to the kiss, his hands sliding around Gibbs’s solidly muscled body. Damn, but if only this wasn’t always so *good*. But then, with a top like Gibbs it was always going to be good. The man was a virtuoso of a top, both in and out of the bedroom.

The kiss was long and deep, slow and comfortable rather than passionate. Ducky could feel the tension in Gibbs’s taut body as he caressed him, and he knew this wasn’t going to help and that one of them had to do the right thing.

It took all of his strength to break away from the kiss and put a finger over Gibbs’s mouth as he came back in for a second.

“Let’s not do this, Jethro,” he said softly.

“Do what, Ducky?” Gibbs murmured throatily, his eyes fixed on Ducky’s mouth.

“Comfort sex, Jethro. We promised ourselves we wouldn’t do it again,” Ducky reminded him.

“But it works,” Gibbs replied with a wry grin.

“At the time. But we both always feel bad about it in the morning. You feel like you’ve taken advantage of me and I feel…well, I do feel kind of used, Jethro.”

“Used?” That brought Gibbs up short. “I’d never do that to you, Ducky.”

“I know.” Ducky shook his head. “But, all the same…I know you love me, my dear boy, and god knows I love you too, and I *really* love the feel of your expert hands on my body, but we’re not *in* love. We just do this to keep each other company, and alleviate the loneliness, or take the edge off the angst. Whatever it is, it’s selling ourselves short and you know it.”

“You’re my sub, Ducky,” Gibbs said, his eyes fixed on the collar Ducky wore around his neck. Ducky laughed.

“Oh Jethro, you know I’d never refuse you sex if you wanted to take it as your right – I do wear your collar after all. I’m just reminding you of the pitfalls, my dear boy.”

Gibbs gazed at Ducky hungrily for a few seconds, and Ducky felt a tingle of anticipation run through his body. Wrong though it might be, they were both adults and knew what they were doing and he was always ready and willing to have sex with his beloved top. Then, finally, the gleam faded from Gibbs’s eyes and he sat back, with a sigh.

“Ah, hell, you know I’d never take sex as a right, Ducky. I just…”

“Jethro, the person you really want to take to your bed is lying next door,” Ducky told him. “Go and claim him and you’ll feel so much better.”

“No.” Gibbs shook his head.

“But why not?” Ducky asked, as infuriated as ever by his pig-headed top.

“Because it would mean something, Ducky, and you know it. It wouldn’t just be a night’s fun and back to normal in the morning. It would change everything between me and Tony.”

“Because you’re in love with him?” Ducky asked softly.

“Yes, damn it! Because I’m in love with him!” Gibbs exploded, and he swung out his hand and sent the coffee cup flying from the nightstand onto the floor, where it shattered, spilling dark brown liquid everywhere. Ducky flinched. “There – you’ve made me say it. You’ve been trying to for long enough!” Gibbs said, and then he winced, and put his hands on Ducky’s shoulders, stroking softly. “You okay?”

“No need to apologise, Jethro,” Ducky told him, because that was as close to saying ‘sorry’ as Gibbs was likely to get. “The flinch was a reflex action – I’m not scared of you, even if most of the world is.”

“Thank god for that.” Gibbs wrapped his arms around Ducky and held him for a moment.

“He’s nothing like Shannon,” Ducky told him gently. “He’s not like any of those women you married who looked just like her, either. In fact, I’d venture to suggest he’s as different from any of them as can be! Why won’t you take a chance, Jethro?”

“I don’t want to hurt him and I will, Ducky,” Gibbs replied. “Sooner or later.”

“You’ve stopped trusting yourself as a top,” Ducky murmured. He pushed Gibbs back and gazed at him. “Can that be it? Seriously? I mean – you?” It sounded incredible but it was the only thing he could think.

“I screwed up three marriages, Ducky. They all complained that I was a hard top to please, that I was demanding, strict, unreasonable, stubborn, obsessed with my work, and a whole lot of other things. That’s three people saying the same thing. No need to screw up Tony’s life too and make him the fourth,” Gibbs told him.

“It wouldn’t be like that with Tony,” Ducky reasoned. “Just as it wasn’t like that with Shannon. Tony knows what you’re like and as for strict – the boy is begging for strict for god’s sake! I think he could handle you – those subs you married were more interested in being with a trophy top and earning the envy of other subs than they were really interested in being with you, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the person. Tony knows you and likes you for what you are. Besides, be honest, Jethro – you didn’t really love any of those subs you married, did you?” Ducky raised an eyebrow.

Gibbs thought about that for a moment, and then shook his head.

“I thought I did,” he sighed. “But no – I didn’t.”

“But you do love Tony and you did love Shannon. I’d venture to suggest that matters more than anything else and that love is the key to whether your relationships succeed or fail. As for what your exes said about you after your divorce – that’s just sour grapes. I suspect that every single one of them married you knowing you didn’t really love them, even if you thought you did, and every single one of them thought they could change you and make you love them. They failed and they were annoyed they failed – that’s why they were so negative about you.”

“I *am* a very demanding top, Ducky,” Gibbs said. “You know that. I’ve never given a sub a safe word in my entire life – I know what they can take – I’ve never understood those tops who can’t read their sub’s signals. I like pushing my subs to the edge, taking them to that place they think they can’t reach, making them taste what that’s like. But I demand their absolute trust and absolute submission, Ducky, and there aren’t many subs around who can handle that. They think it’s what they want, but they’re usually too scared to take that final step – and it’s the final step that makes it all worthwhile.”

“I know how you like to play, Jethro, and I agree it’s not for the faint-hearted.” Ducky nodded.

Gibbs had only ever given him what he could handle when they had played together, but Ducky knew his top had been holding back, out of respect for his past. What Gibbs needed was someone who was as intense a sub as he was a top, and Tony definitely fit the bill.

“But from what I understand, Tony is into edge play himself,” Ducky said. “He’s certainly someone who likes to test limits – his own and those of the people around him! The way he pushes you every day proves that if nothing else. There’s something very right about the two of you – you’re an extreme kind of top and he’s an extreme kind of sub. Anyone seeing the two of you sparring the way you do will have seen that – the sparks fly and the chemistry is almost visible. And really, that boy is so desperate for your attention – you should put him out of his misery.”

“Oh Tony knows how to pick up willing tops,” Gibbs said, with a wave of his hand. “He’s fine. He’ll find someone else eventually – he’s tumbled into enough tops’ beds to have tried a few out.”

Ducky laughed out loud at that. “Oh my dear boy you really have no idea, have you?” he murmured.

“What?” Gibbs frowned.

“I’ll bet my life on the fact that Tony hasn’t slept with another top since he accepted your collar,” he said.

Gibbs stared at him. “Tony’s always asking my permission to sleep with tops he’s picked up,” he refuted.

Ducky got up, shaking his head. “He asks to make you jealous, and to goad you into taking him to your bed. He doesn’t go ahead and do the deed though, and he won’t for as long as he wears your collar.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Gibbs said, getting up too, looking as if he wanted to go and murder Tony in his bed, or else spank the living daylights out of him. “I collared him five years ago. Are you really trying to tell me that Tony DiNozzo could be celibate for five years? I mean Tony? Seriously?”

Ducky gave a little chuckle. “It does seem absurd, doesn’t it? But I told you he’s an extreme kind of sub, Jethro, and he really is.”

“Oh come on!” Gibbs snapped. “Apart from anything else, Tony’s a commitment-phobe – everyone knows that. Sure, he wants a few nights in my bed, to try me out, but that’s all – and that’s not what I want. If I take him to my bed I’ll expect him to stay there – for keeps – and that’s not Tony’s style.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about Tony. He’s a man of some complexity beneath that smart-mouthed exterior,” Ducky told him. “He’s undoubtedly been promiscuous in the past but I’ll warrant that none of the tops he played with ever satisfied him. He was looking for the real deal and now he’s found that he won’t play with anyone else.”

Gibbs stood there looking completely and utterly shocked. Ducky patted his arm.

“Food for thought, dear boy,” he said. “Food for thought.”

“It doesn’t change anything,” Gibbs said stubbornly. Ducky smiled, and kissed his top gently on the mouth before walking towards the door.

“I think it does, Jethro. If you’ll let it,” he replied.


Carson stirred in his sleep, and then came to with a start. He lay there for a moment wondering what had woken him. Had he heard a noise or had he been dreaming? He was sure he’d heard something. He sat up and gazed around blearily, and then he saw Steven, lying next to him, his naked, firmly muscled body solid and real in his bed.

“Oh thank god,” Carson sighed, feeling a wave of happiness flood through him. He lay down again and took his husband in his arms. Steven stirred.

“Okay, Carson?” he mumbled.

“Fine,” Carson replied, kissing his husband’s ear. “I just woke up thinking I heard something and then remembered you were here – I’ve been six weeks on my own and I think my mind’s playing tricks on me!”

“What time is it?” Steven asked.

Carson glanced at the clock on the nightstand. “Quarter to four,” he replied.

“Too early,” Steven slurred, and Carson had to agree with that. He ran his hands appreciatively over Steven’s solid flesh.

“You want to use me?” Steven asked, moving his legs obligingly.

“No, love. I just want to hold you,” Carson whispered. “It’s been so long and I’ve missed this.”

“Wuss,” Steven teased. Carson pinched his bottom firmly.

“I’m not a wuss – I’m a romantic, and you, my husband, have been without a top for too long. I’m going to have to take you down good and proper tomorrow and drum some respect back into you!”

“Promises, promises,” Steven mumbled into his pillow, a grin in his voice. Carson laughed and kissed the back of his submissive’s neck.

“I love you,” he murmured.

“Love you too,” Steven said, and he wasn’t a man for whom the words had ever come easily so Carson relished hearing it.

As he dozed off, he thought he could smell a strange scent in the room, but he was too warm and comfy to move, and, with his arms wrapped tightly around his husband’s beautiful body, he soon fell asleep once more.


“You still up?” the voice in Rodney’s earpiece asked.

Rodney straightened up from where he’d been bending over some machinery and gave a groan as his muscles protested, but he smiled at the sound of his top’s voice all the same.

“Yeah. I figured you wouldn’t be coming to bed tonight so I might as well keep working on this,” Rodney replied into his radio. “What time is it anyway?”

“Nearly four,” John replied. “Normally I’d come over and order you to bed, but on this occasion…it’s nice being able to check in with you every so often.”

“Where are you now?” Rodney asked, perching on the side of one of the desks and stretching out his back cautiously.

“My office – but I’ll be going out to the jumper bay again in a minute. They aren’t coming back as regularly now but one still turns up every so often and I’m trying to keep an accurate inventory of who is where,” John replied. “Look, Rodney, you should head to bed soon or you’ll be a wreck tomorrow.”

“I like working in the lab on my own,” Rodney said, his mind distractedly going over the problem he’d been working on when John had contacted him. “It gives me time to really think without idiots interrupting me.”

“Sorry,” John said wryly.

“I didn’t mean you!” Rodney grinned. “I mean the idiots they send me who *call* themselves scientists.”

“You do have some say in who you get, Rodney,” John reminded him.

“Well, who they are on paper and who they seem to be in person are sometimes two very different things let me assure you! They sent me this guy recently who was so useless I sent him home again the next day and then there was…” Rodney broke off as he heard a sound behind him. “Is that you?” he said, turning to look at the door, fully expecting to see that John had crept up behind him.

“Rodney – what is it? Who’s there?” John asked, his voice taut and urgent.

“Nobody,” Rodney replied, going over to the door. “I thought I heard someone at the door – maybe someone tried it, realised it was locked and went away again. There’s nobody there now.” He gazed through the little window in the door, just to be sure, but couldn’t see anyone out there.

“Are you sure? I’m on my way,” John said, and Rodney could tell by the sound of his voice that he was worried.

“It’s fine. Maybe I didn’t hear anything,” Rodney said. “Seriously, John – there’s nobody here. I’m all alone. It’s fine.”

“I’m coming anyway,” John told him, as Rodney had known he would. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing, he thought to himself. They could both do with a break.


Ziva opened her eyes and stared sightlessly at a wall of green canvas, wondering where the hell she was. Then she let out a groan as she remembered.

She turned and saw Kahla lying naked on the straw mattress beside her. Her wrists were bruised, the imprints of Ziva’s hands livid on her white skin. There were bite marks dotted around her body, scratches on her arms and face, and various bruises everywhere. She looked oddly vulnerable in the faint dawn light.

Ziva felt that familiar rush of self-loathing flood through her. Why did she do these things? What possessed her? She was like a demon, embracing her dark side eagerly with a thirst that never seemed to be quenched. Now that the urgent heat of sex was over it repulsed her.

She shivered, and realised she was naked too, her own body also covered in scratches and bruises. She could feel the little stings everywhere but she was used to waking up in this kind of state.

She lay there, gazing at Kahla’s pale body. The submissive looked smaller than she had last night, and there was something achingly sad about her. What had possessed them both? Why had they wanted to inflict so much pain on each other? She remembered what Teyla had told her about Kahla’s past and felt a pang of sympathy; this woman was damaged, and she hadn’t made anything better for her last night.

Ziva reached out a hand and gently stroked Kahla’s shoulder, then pulled her close to cuddle her and keep her warm.

“Ow! Fuck!” she yelped a second later, as Kahla fastened her sharp teeth in Ziva’s hand, making her pull it back. Kahla turned to face her.

“If you want to fuck me again then fine, but I don’t do cuddling,” she sneered.

“Fine. I do not want to fuck you again,” Ziva snapped. “I just wanted to keep you warm.”

Kahla gazed at her distrustfully. “Just piss off then if you don’t want to fuck me,” she snapped. “I have clothes to keep me warm – I do not need you.” She pulled her pants and top towards her, and burrowed underneath them.

Ziva’s anger was defeated by another wave of sadness. She stood up, quietly got dressed, and then left the tent.

Outside, the sun was a faint rosy glow flickering on the horizon. Ziva hadn’t bothered pulling on her boots, and the cool dew made her bare feet wet as she walked across the grass, boots in hand.

She knew she must look a mess, her hair loose and tousled, a large scratch on her cheek, and bruises on her neck and forearms. She hated to think what Gibbs would say – although maybe he wouldn’t say anything – the look he gave her would say it all in any case.

She found the dimly glowing embers of one of the fires, and there, crouching beside it on a blanket, poking at it with a stick, was Teyla. Ziva frowned.

“Have you been here all night?” she asked, surprised.

Teyla turned to her, a sad smile on her lips. “It was my choice. I was waiting for you.”

“Where is Ronon?” Ziva glanced around.

“I sent him away so I could be alone.” Teyla shrugged.


Ziva sat down on the blanket and started to pull on her boots. Her hands were shaking and she couldn’t fasten the leather straps around her calf. Smooth fingers took over, and Teyla carefully, gently, fastened them for her. Ziva felt the tears rise hot in her eyes, and she tried to blink them away.

Teyla’s hand was warm on her arm, and, finally giving in, Ziva buried her head in the Athosian woman’s shoulder and allowed herself to cry. Teyla said nothing – she simply held her until the tears had cried themselves out, stroking Ziva’s dark hair the entire time, occasionally pressing her lips to Ziva’s head, kissing her gently.

Finally Ziva sat up, and gazed glumly into the dying fire.

“I am lost,” she admitted.

“Yes,” Teyla replied calmly.

“You knew that. You set me up with Kahla on purpose last night,” Ziva accused.

Teyla nodded. “I gave you what you thought you wanted,” she said. “What is it that you have done that makes you think you do not deserve happiness, Ziva?”

Ziva shook her head.

“The darkness you seek in others is a mirror of what you feel in yourself,” Teyla said gently. “But I feel that you are good – I do not know why you hate yourself so much.”

“I killed my brother,” Ziva blurted. “Well, he was my half-brother. But I loved him and I killed him.”

“I am sure there was a good reason for this,” Teyla commented. Ziva nodded.

“There was. He had betrayed us and all we stood for. He was a traitor, and he killed many innocent people.”

“So you did what you had to do.”

“Yes…but I enjoyed it,” Ziva whispered, her throat closing tight on the words. “What kind of person must I be, Teyla? I loved him and I enjoyed killing him. I am a monster.”

“So you think that nobody must be allowed to get close or you will enjoy destroying them too?” Teyla asked.

“I am a killer – that is who I am,” Ziva told her. “Maybe it is all I can ever be.”

“So you seek out others who exist in the dark rather than reach for one who could show you the light?”

Teyla’s brown eyes were sympathetic but uncompromising. Ziva was silent, remembering the look in Gibbs’s eyes the previous night, and the spike of sadness in McGee’s.

“That is what Gibbs thinks,” she said. “He knows you see – he knows about Ari, my brother. He was there when I shot him. That is the reason he offered me his collar; he is trying to protect me while I figure it out.”

“And have you?” Teyla asked.

“I do not know.” Ziva shook her head.

“We must each of us find who we truly are,” Teyla told her, “or we can never be happy. You are more than this darkness, Ziva, and I do not believe you would hurt a submissive you loved. Maybe, though, you should try finding a sub who can guide you towards the light, rather than always seeking those who would drag you into the dark.”

“Kahla…” Ziva began.

“Kahla has her own issues,” Teyla interrupted her. “She and I will talk – her story is not yours. And you and she – you are not good for each other, as I think you know.”

“Yes.” Ziva sighed. “What happened to her, Teyla?”

“I told you she was a runner?” Teyla said. Ziva nodded. “Well, so was her top. They ran together – Kahla’s top was a gentle, artistic woman but no warrior. Kahla kept her safe for three months before they were both captured. Kahla watched as a wraith drained the life from her top, and killed her in front of her eyes. They let Kahla go again because she was so fast and fierce and they enjoyed hunting her but she was changed and no longer cared what happened to her. She killed the wraith with a vengeance that was personal. I can understand this; Ronon feels the same way.”

Teyla took hold of her stick again and poked the fire, causing a faint glow of orange to spark within its charcoal depths.

“Kahla evaded them for another nine months, and during that time she slowly descended into darkness inside herself. Eventually they caught her again – they were holding her in the belly of a wraith ship when we found her on a mission and I recognised her as one of our people. I brought her home with me but she was changed beyond all recognition. It will take time, and patience, to bring her back from the dark.”

“I am sorry.” Ziva wrapped her arms around her knees and rested her chin on them, gazing ahead blankly.

“Do not be – just learn,” Teyla said. “Kahla knew what she wanted last night and would have sought it from another if not from you. I am hoping I can speak to her later, as I am speaking to you now.”

“What do I do, Teyla?” Ziva asked, in despair. Teyla shook her head.

“I cannot tell you. Only you know the answer to that. However, there is one thing I think you must do before you can leave the dark place where you are now.”

“What is that?”

“Forgive yourself,” Teyla told her gently. “You have killed – as have I. That does not mean that being a killer is who you are. Both our peoples are fighting a war of kinds – you did what you had to, as have I. But you are more than this, Ziva, so much more. Do not let this one act define you. There are, I believe, many around you who see much else in you. Agent Gibbs for one. And Agent McGee as well, I believe,” she added softly.

“Tim is just…he is very trusting. Very kind,” Ziva sighed. “He and I – we have nothing in common.”

“Sometimes that way works best,” Teyla said, with a smile. “You could let him guide you out of the dark and towards the light. Is it not worth a try?”

“I don’t know,” Ziva shrugged. Teyla nodded, and patted her shoulder.

“Think on it,” she said. “You will find the right path, in time, if you pursue it with a true, honest heart. Now – I must go and speak with Kahla. If you climb that pathway to the ridge at the top of the hill there are puddle-jumpers ferrying people back to the city. You may have to wait for the next one to return but it should not be long.”

Ziva got up. Teyla got up with her, and reached out, placed her forearms on Ziva’s, and pulled her forward. She rested her head, gently, against Ziva’s and Ziva felt a sudden warmth rush through her. She could do this. It would be hard, but she could do it. She didn’t want to spend another night like last night, ever again.

“Thank you,” she whispered. Teyla released her, gave her a flash of that beautiful smile, and then she turned and strode in the direction of the tents.


The noise at the door was deafening. One minute Carson was dozing, quite happily, his arms around his sleeping husband, and the next the door was being hammered by what sounded like an entire army.

Carson jumped out of bed and reached for his bathrobe, to find Steven doing the same.

“What the hell is going on?” Steven yelled, effortlessly morphing from Carson’s meek submissive into the experienced military commander he was.

“I have no idea.” Carson ran for the door and got there at the same time as his husband. He slammed his hand on the lock and the door swished open. Outside was a member of his staff, Ellie Marsh, one of the nurses, her face scrunched up and scared.

“Dr Beckett…please…you have to come,” she said, her entire body shaking.

“What is it? What’s happened?” Carson demanded, finding his clothes and pulling them on, right there in front of her.

“Please…” She looked so scared that he couldn’t think what had happened.

“I’m coming too,” Steven said, halfway through pulling on his uniform.

“I tried calling you on the radio but there was no reply,” Ellie said, hopping around in the doorway. “And I didn’t know what else to do, or who to call.”

At that moment a marine ran down the hallway and arrived, completely out of breath.

“Colonel Beckett…you’re needed…” he said.

“I’m on my way,” Steven growled, now fully dressed.

“…on the Daedalus,” the man finished. “There’s been a fire onboard – we tried calling you but there was no reply on your radio although to be honest there’s nothing you could have done anyway. We got the flames under control and Major McClusky sent me to fetch you in person – they couldn’t spare anyone before now.”

Steven glanced at Carson who gazed back at him. “Oh shit. I’m sorry, Steven – I turned off our radios last night.” Carson turned back to Ellie. “Is that where I’m to go? Are there injured people onboard the Daedalus? Where’s Dr Keller? Did she send you?”

Ellie looked as if she was about to faint. “I don’t know anything about the Daedalus,” she whispered. “I came because I was just about to start my morning shift and I went into the infirmary and…and…you have to come…” She didn’t say anything more – she just burst into tears.

“You – take care of her,” Steven ordered his marine. “Carson you go to the infirmary and see what’s going on there, I’m going to the Daedalus.” He picked up his radio and tapped it on. “General Sheppard – there seems to be some kind of emergency. You’re needed in the infirmary,” he snapped into it, and then he set off at a run.

Carson ran off in the opposite direction, wondering what the hell was going on. He ran full pelt into the infirmary but everything looked fine. It was completely empty but they hadn’t had any patients overnight so that wasn’t a surprise.

“Dr Keller? Jennifer?” he called, wondering if she was doing triage on the Daedalus and wondering also why he was here. If there had been injuries on his husband’s ship shouldn’t he be there, with Jennifer?

The door to the next room was open – the room where he had left Ducky the previous evening, performing his autopsies. Carson walked slowly towards it, feeling his stomach flutter nervously. He had a bad feeling about this…

He got to the open door and then frowned; Dr Mallard had left one of the bodies on the table, which didn’t seem very professional of him. They didn’t have any refrigeration facilities on Atlantis but they did have the stasis chambers. Maybe Ducky hadn’t known how they worked and had left the body out for that reason, but Dr Keller had been on hand – he could easily have asked for her help in putting the body back into stasis…

“Oh no.” Carson reached the body and had a sickening wrench of recognition. “Oh no. Oh my dear god. Oh no. No, no, no.”


Gibbs woke from a deep sleep and was aware, almost immediately, of a tight sensation in his gut; something was still wrong.

He got up, pulled on his robe and went out into the living area and then stopped. Tony was sitting on the sofa, feet resting on the coffee table, arms stretched out along the sofa’s back, gazing out of the window where the sun had just risen above the horizon.

Gibbs was pulled up short – nobody usually got to see Tony in a contemplative mood because Tony wore that smartass mask the whole time, but just occasionally Gibbs had seen a glimpse of a more thoughtful Tony. Right now, he was seeing that Tony and his sub seemed lost in thought. There was something almost defeated about the line of his shoulders and the dull weariness in his eyes – as if he’d been struggling with a problem for a very long time and had almost given up on being able to solve it.

Gibbs cleared his throat, feeling as if he was intruding, and Tony glanced up – and the mask was immediately back in place.

“Morning, boss.” He made no pains at all to hide the fact that he was checking out how Gibbs looked in his bathrobe and Gibbs was acutely aware of Tony’s hungry gaze stalking him as he walked across the room.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Gibbs asked.

“Strange planet, strange galaxy, strange people…and something niggling me, boss,” Tony replied.

“Feeling in your gut? Me too – just keeps on getting worse,” Gibbs sighed.

“Not sure that’s what it is, boss, but…maybe,” Tony shrugged.

“Is Ziva back yet?” Gibbs asked, hoping that wasn’t the cause of the tight clenching in his stomach.

“About ten minutes ago. You won’t be happy when you see her though, boss.”

Gibbs raised an eyebrow, wondering what mischief Tony was brewing. He felt relieved all the same – at least he knew where all his people were now, and he had to admit it felt good to have them all under one roof so he could keep an eye on them. They all had their own apartments back on Earth, and that suited him fine, but here, on this, as Tony had pointed out, ‘strange planet’, he preferred having them all within shouting distance.

At that moment there was a loud knock on the door. Gibbs shot Tony a glance – there was an urgency to the sound that didn’t bode well. He ran across the room to open it, Tony at his heels, and found General Sheppard outside, his dark hair standing up on end and his uniform crumpled as if he’d spent the entire night sleeping in it.

“You need to come – all of you, but especially Dr Mallard,” he panted. “There’s been another murder.”

Gibbs turned to go back to his room and get dressed without saying another word. As he went, he passed Ziva, who had come running out of her room at the noise. He took one look at the long, red, angry-looking scratch down one side of her face, and the dark shadows under her eyes, and knew now what Tony had meant. She had a deep streak of self-destruction in her; he had hoped that collaring her would give her the time and safety to work it out – but as time passed, that hope was starting to fade. He shot her a look and watched her flinch as it hit home.

“Later,” was all he said to her, and she nodded, her pale face luminous and haunted in the early morning light.

Within minutes, Gibbs and his team were running down the hallway towards the infirmary, chasing after General Sheppard who was tight-lipped, his stride long and his body tense and angry.

They reached the infirmary and went through it to the door at the other end. The first thing Gibbs saw when they went into the other room was Carson, standing by a body laid out on the autopsy table.

“What the hell has gone on here?” Gibbs asked angrily. “Why did someone move the body? We have to examine the crime scene first – who gave authorisation for the body to be moved here?”

“The body wasn’t moved here,” Sheppard said. “This is where Carson found it.”

“Nurse Marsh found it,” Carson whispered, and the man looked pale and shocked.

Ducky moved forward, confidently, reaching for his latex gloves and pulling them on…but then he reached the body – and stopped short.

“Oh no.” He glanced up at Carson. “Oh Carson. I am so sorry. My dear man… but she was just a child. She was so very young.”

“Who is it?” Gibbs asked, moving over to the autopsy table.

On it was the body of a woman. Her throat had been cut and she had been stripped naked and laid out. Beside her, in little medical trays, were all her internal organs, neatly arranged, weighed and labelled.

“It’s Dr Keller,” Carson whispered. “Dr Jennifer Keller. She’s my…she was my deputy. She was on duty last night.”

“Okay. This is a crime scene,” Gibbs said. “I need the area cleared,” he informed Sheppard.

The general nodded, and wrapped an arm around Carson’s shoulder and led him towards the door, taking the marines he’d stationed in the room with him as he left.

“Abby – I need you to set up a lab somewhere nearby,” Gibbs said. “Go ask General Sheppard for an appropriate room. I know you don’t have your normal equipment with you but they have plenty of stuff in this place to stand in for what you normally use so improvise.” Abby nodded and ran for the door. “And the same rules apply here as at home,” Gibbs called after her. “We don’t break the chain of evidence – everything has to be bagged and labelled.”

She nodded again and then left. Gibbs turned back to the body to find Tony, Ziva and McGee already going about their usual job, taking photos and examining the crime scene for clues.

“Time of death, Ducky?” he asked impatiently.

“It’ll be hard to be exact, Jethro,” Ducky chided. “As the killer so thoughtfully removed her liver. But if I were to factor in an approximate cooling time from being outside the body…” He located the liver on one of the trays and got out his thermometer and inserted it. “It’s a little rough and until I’ve done more investigating I can’t be certain, but I would have said around two hours ago at most,” he murmured.

“What’s going on?” Tony asked. “Why has the killer changed their MO?” He took a photo and moved around the body. “The other victims were all killed in their quarters weren’t they?”

“Yes they were,” McGee said. “And they were tied up and staked out. This one isn’t tied.” He pointed at the corpse.

“And the others were all marines,” Ziva said. “Dr Keller was on the medical staff.”

“And I’ve found something else,” Ducky murmured. “Dr Keller did not engage willingly in a scene with her killer.” He leaned in close and smelled the area around the corpse’s nose. “Chloroform – or something very like it. She was drugged. In fact…” Ducky got up and looked around. “I’d venture to suggest that she was working on her own out there, in the infirmary, and someone came up behind her and took her by surprise. She probably didn’t know a thing about it.”

“Then he dragged her in here…” Tony said, going over to the door and taking a photo of the doorway entrance.

“…laid her out on the table, slit her throat, and then performed his own autopsy,” Ducky finished. “The question is – why?”

“He is a killer, Ducky,” Ziva said in a cold tone. “Does he need a reason why? Maybe he just did it for the pleasure it gives him. Some people enjoy killing.”

Gibbs shot her a sharp glance. “Maybe,” he said. “But this…” He waved his hand at the organs laid out on the neatly labelled trays. “This looks almost like a message.”

“You’re right, Jethro,” Ducky said. “The question is – for whom?”

“And what, exactly, is the message?” Tony added, taking another photo.

“Ducky – you met her,” Gibbs said. “Was she a sub, like the other victims?”

“Oh Jethro, I really don’t have your talent for knowing a person’s orientation on sight,” Ducky told him with a shake of his head. “I don’t know what she was. I do know that she was very nice. I was having trouble moving one of the bodies into one of their chamber-pod things – what’s it called? Stasis – that’s it! So I called her in and she showed me how to do it. Bless her. She was very sweet, kind and charming.”

“Sounds like a sub to me,” Tony said.

“Are you saying that tops are rude and demanding?” Ziva asked, with a raised eyebrow.

“If the shoe fits.” Tony grinned at her.

“I have known some extremely rude and unpleasant submissives,” Ziva told him.

“Careful – you’re talking about the superior half of the dynamic there,” Tony winked.

“How do you figure this out?”

“Well, just think about it. Submissives are stronger than dominants,” Tony said, snapping a photo of McGee, who made a face at him and pushed him away.

Ziva raised an incredulous eyebrow.

“Sure we are,” Tony grinned. “How many doms do you know who could take the level of punishment a sub endures on a daily basis?” He shot a look at Gibbs who ignored him. “All those spankings,” Tony murmured, with a cheeky glint in his eye. “Make a top take them and they’d run away screaming. So, I rest my case. Dominants are the weaker half of the dynamic and subs are superior.”

“That is nonsense,” Ziva said hotly.

“He’s just winding you up, Ziva,” Gibbs told her. “Don’t get sucked in.”

“Aw, boss – she’s fun when she’s riled up,” Tony said. He put down the camera and gestured with his head to the door. “Time to do some talking, boss?”

“I think so,” Gibbs nodded. “Ziva, McGee – finish with the crime scene and get everything you find to Abby. Tony – I need you to find us an interrogation room.”

“On it, boss,” Tony said, scampering after him towards the door.

“Agent Gibbs?” Gibbs saw Lorne hovering in the doorway. “I heard the news. I gather Abby is setting up a lab facility? I just saw Rodney and he was talking about lending her some equipment?”

“That’s right, yes,” Gibbs said.

“Permission to be assigned guard detail on her, sir,” Lorne asked promptly, glancing at General Sheppard for permission and then back at Gibbs. “There’s a killer out there, sir, and I don’t think Abby should be on her own, especially if she’s handling evidence.”

“I agree,” Sheppard said. “In fact, I don’t think anyone should be on their own. I’m going to issue a city-wide warning to people to work in pairs and to share rooms at night until we catch whoever did this.”

Gibbs gazed at Lorne searchingly, and then glanced at Sheppard. He had a good feeling about Lorne but this was no time to be taking chances with any of his people.

“He’s one of my best men, Gibbs,” Sheppard told him. “I’d trust him with my life – no, I’d trust him with *Rodney’s* life and have done on more than one occasion – and I’m sure you know that means a hell of a lot more.”

That was reassurance enough for Gibbs. He didn’t know Sheppard very well yet but one thing he was certain of was that the man was head over heels in love with his sub.

“Very well – but Lorne.” Gibbs called him back. “Take good care of her because I swear that if anything happens to her…”

“I promise, sir,” Lorne told him firmly. “If anyone wants to hurt Abby they’ll have to get past me first.” And with that he strode off.

Gibbs took a deep breath and gathered his thoughts, figuring out the priority of all the many things that had to be done next.

It was going to be a long day.



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