Hiding In Plain Sight: 3. Chapter Three


Gibbs wasn’t happy – he didn’t like that Rodney Sheppard had been hurt, even though it was just a minor injury. Gibbs had an old-fashioned attitude towards submissives – part chauvinist, part chivalrous – and he didn’t like to see them harmed; tops could take care of themselves, but subs were to be protected and cherished, just like the line in the wedding vows went. He also couldn’t shake the feeling they had the wrong man. Was Tony’s jaundiced view of human relationships influencing them too much?

All the same, he needed to get to the bottom of exactly why Rodney had lied about the gate glitch – that was the one tangible piece of evidence they had, and he was all too well aware of that. The rest was just conjecture.

He stationed McGee and David outside the door and went into the room with Tony and Rodney. Tony shoved Rodney down on a chair, still in cuffs, and Gibbs pulled up his own chair in front of the table, and gazed at Rodney Sheppard. He seemed dazed and confused – and *really* anxious.

“You got something you want to confess, Dr Sheppard?” he asked. “You seem pretty nervous.”

“I am – when John finds out he’s going to go ballistic,” Rodney replied.

“Well…we’ll deal with that later,” Gibbs said. He thought he had an hour or two before Sheppard found out and if Rodney *was* guilty then he might be able to get a confession out of Rodney in that time.

“No…you don’t understand. John will be here soon,” Rodney said. “And I don’t know how out of control he’s going to be when he gets here.”

“Why do you say he’ll be here soon?” Gibbs asked, frowning.

At that moment there was a noise outside that sounded suspiciously like someone roaring in rage; Gibbs could hear Ziva trying to calm the situation down. He nodded at Tony to keep an eye on Rodney, and went outside.

John Sheppard was standing there, struggling with Ziva and McGee. He looked angry, upset and extremely dangerous.

“General Sheppard,” Gibbs said smoothly, gesturing that Ziva and McGee should release their grip on him.

“What the hell are you doing?” John yelled. “You have Rodney in there. Oh my god, what have you done to him? He’s hurt…oh shit…” He lunged for the door and Gibbs grabbed his arm and pulled him away. There was a brief impasse – the general was so angry that Gibbs had no doubt at all that he could take them all on and win.

“Yes, we have him in there, but he’s fine,” Gibbs said, in a low, reassuring tone. He remembered what *this* felt like – having a sub you loved beyond all reason. He remembered when they’d come to tell him about Shannon being murdered…and he sure as hell remembered tracking down the bastard who’d killed her and their daughter and putting several bullets into him – far more than were necessary to actually kill him. “We have good reason to believe that Rodney might be responsible for the recent murders and we want to question him again.”

“You what?” John looked outraged. “You think Rodney murdered someone? My god, are you insane?”

“How did you know we had him here?” Gibbs asked, curious. He hadn’t been aware that anyone had seen them go down to the lab and Rodney certainly hadn’t had the time or opportunity to radio anyone.

“We’re lifebonded,” John told him, through gritted teeth. “I FELT what you did to him. You’ve hurt him…he’s hurt, and he’s really upset, and someone has *touched* him. You can just be grateful that you’re protected by your badge of office, Gibbs because if you weren’t you’d be dead by now.”

Gibbs sighed. God he hated lifebonded couples. For one thing, the law said you had to treat them as one entity, so he couldn’t question Rodney without John being present and that wasn’t what he wanted at all. He gazed at John searchingly. The general’s hazel eyes were intense and he looked as if he was about to explode. Gibbs could empathise with John; Tony had once been framed for murder and taken away for questioning and that had tested Gibbs’s patience and self-control to their limits. However, regardless of how much he empathised with John Sheppard right now, Gibbs knew he had a job to do.

“You’re lifebonded?” He raised an eyebrow. “Okay – if you can prove it, then you can sit in the interrogation room when we question him.”

John gave him a look of total disgust. “Of course I can damn well prove it,” he growled. “Now, are you going to let me in there, or do I have to shoot one of your people?”

“I wouldn’t do that, General,” Gibbs warned, in an icy tone. He didn’t take kindly to threats to his submissives, no matter what the circumstances. “You harm an NCIS officer doing their job and you’ll end up on the receiving end of a bullwhip – and one I’ll be quite happy to wield myself.”

“Just let me in there,” John said, in a tight voice. “Because if I don’t see him soon I can’t swear to what I’ll do.”

Gibbs nodded, clearly seeing a man on the edge. He opened the door and John ran in. He rushed over to Rodney and knelt down beside him, reaching out shaking hands to touch him.

“Oh shit…Rodney…” His fingers found the wound on Rodney’s forehead and probed it gently.

“It’s okay. I’m okay. It wasn’t their fault,” Rodney was saying, in fast, urgent tones.

Gibbs felt uneasy – Rodney seemed more worried about what his top was going to do than about being under suspicion of murder. “It was my fault – I was so surprised I kind of fell over,” Rodney said.

John’s hands went down Rodney’s arms, his expression darkening. Gibbs braced himself.

“You cuffed him?” he hissed. “Who did this? Who put cuffs on my sub?”

“I did,” Tony said, sounding completely unafraid, and John got up, a low, growling sound emanating from the back of his throat.

“Nobody – *nobody* – but me ever puts cuffs on my sub,” John said, in a strangled tone, walking towards Tony, his body stiff with rage. Gibbs stepped between John and Tony, seriously concerned about the situation now.

“Easy, General. Rodney’s okay. We were just about to remove the cuffs when you showed up,” he said, in calming tones. “We’ll do that now.”

Tony got up, and Gibbs clicked his fingers and gestured him back down. Tony went, immediately, for which Gibbs was grateful because he had no doubt at all that anyone who touched Rodney right now, even just to undo his cuffs, would die a very quick death. He clicked his fingers again and Tony handed him the key to the cuffs; Gibbs handed it over to John.

John undid Rodney’s cuffs and threw them to the ground, then took Rodney in his arms and held him. Rodney’s arms went around John’s back, and Gibbs knew he’d done the right thing – the only person who stood any chance of calming General Sheppard right now was his husband, and Rodney sure as hell seemed to know how to do it. He was stroking his top’s back and murmuring something in his ear, and the general’s body was pressed so close against his husband’s that it was almost as if he wanted to merge with him there and then.

Finally, John’s body stopped shaking and he released his husband and turned back to Gibbs.

“You wanted proof?” he spat. “Here’s your proof.” He touched his fingers to Rodney’s cut head, and then moved his face towards the cut and sniffed at it. Then he licked it.

Tony glanced at Gibbs, an alarmed look on his face, but Gibbs just watched, fascinated by their dynamic. Despite their situation he almost envied the general and his husband the bond between them.

As he watched, something seemed to happen between them. John made a low humming sound in the back of his throat, and his fingers smoothed the cut on Rodney’s face…and then, before their eyes, the wound faded. It didn’t completely disappear, but it scabbed over, and the redness died down to a healing pink. When John turned back, he bore a similar scabbed scar on his own forehead.

“Wow,” Tony muttered, clearly impressed.

“You never seen lifebonding in action before, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked, not taking his eyes off the volatile General Sheppard, unsure what he might do next.

“They’re lifebonded?” The envy in Tony’s voice was so palpable that Gibbs felt a jolt of surprise. “Okay, that makes sense. And no…I haven’t. Never even met a lifebonded couple before,” Tony said. “Seen the movies though – always thought it was crazy. I mean – if the general dies, Rodney goes with him, right? And vice versa.”

“That’s right,” Gibbs said. “I’m surprised that as a military man you’d risk it, General. You’re not exactly in a safe line of work.”

“His sub insisted,” Rodney said, in a shaky voice. “We were half-way there anyway and it was pissing me off that he wouldn’t take it to the next level.”

Gibbs nodded. He had once felt the stirrings of something similar with Shannon but had pushed it away – they had a child, and he wasn’t going to risk Kelly losing both her parents just because they had selfishly wanted to lifebond. Shannon had never mentioned it to him so he guessed she’d felt the same. Lifebonding was hard in any case, and few people ever achieved it. He had never felt it was something he had the mindset for.

“Okay – well, this changes things a little,” Gibbs said. “Obviously, legally you’re entitled to sit in on Rodney’s questioning, General.”

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” Sheppard growled. “Nobody could believe Rodney capable of murder.”

“Not even if his beloved husband – his beloved, *lifebonded* husband, was cheating on him?” Tony asked.

Rodney made a little sound in the back of his throat, and Sheppard turned, fists clenching.

“What the hell are you talking about?” he demanded.

“Sit down – all of you,” Gibbs ordered, gesturing to the chairs. John took his seat, but he grabbed Rodney’s hand and squeezed, hard.

“Rodney knows that isn’t true,” he hissed. “I’ve never cheated on him – never could.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “That’s what all the tops say,” he muttered. “My dad used to take his strap to me all the time for sleeping around but at least I was young, free and single.”

“And underage,” Gibbs pointed out. Tony shrugged, and Gibbs felt a pang of pity for his agent. It was no wonder Tony had such a jaundiced view of tops, considering his childhood experiences. Somehow he doubted that Tony’s childhood punishments had been delivered in a loving environment, and he knew there had been no affection or respect there – and both were prerequisites for effective discipline to Gibbs’s mind.

“John hasn’t cheated on me,” Rodney said defiantly. “You don’t understand what we have – I’d KNOW if he cheated on me.”

“Yeah, that’s what all the subs say,” Tony replied. “Face it, Rodney. John’s a good looking top, with one hell of a lot of charisma, and those marines weren’t shy about asking for what they wanted. You found out and…”

“No,” Rodney said quietly. “Is this it? Is this what you think?” He shook his head, chuckling slightly. “You have no idea how laughable it is. John and I…it’s not like that. It *couldn’t* be like that. I don’t know what kind of relationships you’ve had, Agent DiNozzo, or what kind of slimeball tops you’ve been with, but it’s not like you say. Just because you’ve never been with a good top doesn’t mean the rest of us haven’t.”

Gibbs didn’t miss the wince that crossed DiNozzo’s face – Rodney was winning this round on points even if neither of the two subs in the room had landed a knockout blow.

He had to admit that the more he questioned Rodney Sheppard the more his gut feeling told him that he had nothing to do with the murders. There was one thing that he was guilty of though, and Gibbs needed to get to the bottom of that.

“Rodney…why did you lie about that stargate glitch that prevented us from using the stargate to travel here?” he asked directly. Rodney’s blue eyes widened, and he glanced, guiltily, at his husband and then back to Gibbs.

“Rodney?” Sheppard turned, a puzzled frown on his face. “You said the gate was having problems with intergalactic transfers,” he murmured. “You said local travel was fine but that you couldn’t guarantee the safety of incoming traffic from Earth and you weren’t sure how long it would take to fix it.”

Rodney bit on his lip.

“That wasn’t true, was it, Rodney?” Gibbs prompted gently. “Why didn’t you want us here?”

“Because we don’t need you!” Rodney burst out. “John can solve this! He doesn’t need you coming in here, undermining him, giving HIM orders. Elizabeth would never have allowed it!”

“So you lied, Rodney?” Sheppard asked, and Gibbs noticed him squeeze Rodney’s hand with his own. He looked upset, but not surprised. “I thought you got it working again pretty quickly – but now I see that was *after* the NCIS agents had set off on the Daedalus.”

“Yes, John. I lied,” Rodney said quietly. “I thought I could buy you more time – that by the time they got here you’d have figured out who the killer was.”

“And in the meantime, another person died,” Sheppard said softly. “Jenny Keller died, Rodney. If NCIS had got here earlier she might still be alive.”

Rodney’s eyes widened in horror at that. “I didn’t mean…I just thought…” he began.

“He was trying to protect you, General,” Gibbs said flatly. “Question is why?”

Sheppard shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“I’m sorry, John. I honestly am,” Rodney said desperately. “It didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time. I just…”

“It’s bad, Rodney. For both of us,” Sheppard said quietly.

“It sure is,” Gibbs commented. “Look – when we brought Rodney in I thought he might have killed those people but I don’t think that now.”

Tony’s head snapped up at that.

“But this is big; he’s lied to the commander of this expedition – Mr Woolsey – and he’s interfered with an NCIS investigation, and that’ll have to go in my report.”

“I understand,” Sheppard said, nodding. Rodney paled.

“Please…” he began, but Sheppard reached out and put an arm around his shoulder.

“It’s okay, Rodney. I’ll handle this,” he said firmly. “Agent Gibbs, if you’re done could you let Rodney go? He’ll go straight to our quarters and I promise he won’t leave in case you want to speak to him again.”

Gibbs nodded, ignoring Tony’s grunt of protest.

“That’s fine. DiNozzo – get Ziva to escort Rodney back to his quarters. You go and stand outside this door. I want to talk to the general alone.”

Tony got up, and Rodney did the same. Rodney wrapped his arms around his top and kissed his dark hair.

“I’m sorry, John. I really am,” he whispered. Sheppard sighed, and then kissed his sub firmly on the mouth.

“I know,” he replied. “Now go. We’ll deal with this later.”

Gibbs watched Rodney go, noticing how he eyed Tony warily as they walked towards the door – there was no love lost between those two but he wasn’t sure why Tony was so antagonistic towards the scientist.

The door closed behind them and Gibbs leaned back in his chair, one hand still on the table. He drummed his fingers on it for a long while, gazing at General Sheppard the entire time. Sheppard gazed back at him, and Gibbs could see by the look in his eyes that he knew how this would go.

“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” he said. “Taken the rap for him?”

“He’s my sub,” Sheppard replied, as if there was no choice in the matter. Gibbs admired him – he’d met some tops who’d take a public punishment for their subs, but not many.

“Woolsey doesn’t like you,” he said, dispassionately.

“I know.” Sheppard nodded.

“So it’ll likely be bad,” Gibbs continued. Sheppard shrugged.

“Nobody is going to discipline Rodney except me, and I refuse to do it with an audience, and as I’m guessing Woolsey is going to demand an audience then he’ll have to make do with my ass and not Rodney’s,” he said. “It’s my right – and I won’t put Rodney through that again.”

Gibbs wondered what he was referring to when he said ‘again’ but didn’t press. He thought maybe he’d misjudged this man. The studied air of laziness, and the laid-back manner were deceiving. This man had a dark streak – no wonder Rodney had been so freaked out about them touching him earlier. This was a dominant who played at the top of his game – he loved and protected his sub with a rare passion, but it was a passion that could occasionally spill over into something terrifying. Gibbs understood that – but whereas he could see Sheppard’s rage was red hot when roused, his own tended to be ice cold.

“You’re as good as DiNozzo at hiding who you are,” he murmured, wishing he could sometimes see more of a glimpse of the Tony behind the mask. The Tony who was serious, committed and take charge, and not the Tony who played the fool to throw them all off the scent. Just what was Tony hiding anyway?

“Rodney’s the only one who can handle who I am,” Sheppard replied.

“I can believe that.” Gibbs nodded.

There was silence for a long time. Then Gibbs stopped drumming his fingers on the table and leaned forward.

“What the hell happened to him?” he asked softly. Sheppard’s face tightened, and that dark look returned to his eyes. “Something happened to him,” Gibbs prompted. “Something that’s left you wounded – something you can’t get over. That’s why he tried to protect you, John. That’s why he lied about the stargate glitch. He knows you’re vulnerable right now – and you’ve let him feel that way. You deserve to take the punishment for his screw-up, John Sheppard, because you’re the top here but you haven’t been a proper top to him for awhile, have you? How long has it been?”

Sheppard glared at him.

“A few months I’m guessing. How long since you last took him down? How long since you made the hard decisions – for his sake?”

Sheppard shook his head, mutely.

“You should talk to someone about it, John,” Gibbs said, “And I think I’m the closest thing you’ve got to someone who understands you right now.”

He got up, allowing those words to sink in. He walked around the room, musing out loud.

“Having a sub is a huge responsibility and sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to,” he said. “See DiNozzo – he’s a whole heap of trouble, as you accurately identified yourself earlier. I don’t always want to take him down, and sometimes I’m tired or busy or not in the mood – but it always backfires if I don’t. And you…you’d rather indulge your sub than punish him and that’s not like you – it’s not the top you are in your heart. You wouldn’t normally shirk your responsibilities but you have recently and you know you have.”

He leaned against the wall and watched John Sheppard ran long fingers through his untidy dark hair. There was another silence and then Sheppard started talking, and his voice was hoarse, low and defeated.

“I lost him,” he whispered. “We were in this other place…and he fell through a gap, into another universe. He was shot…and I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there.” He looked up, and his eyes were dark with the memory.

Gibbs had a flash of empathy, remembering his commanding officer coming to him, his expression stricken, and giving him Shannon’s blood-stained collar. He hadn’t been there to protect her and she was dead, and so was Kelly, and it had been his responsibility to take care of them. He’d failed them, damn it. He’d failed them and he had to live with that for the rest of his life.

“He was lying there, in a strange world, with nobody who cared about him and I couldn’t do one damn thing to help him,” John murmured. “I couldn’t even go after him because he was dying, and it was draining the lifebond down to nothing and I couldn’t walk, couldn’t *do* anything except lie there and try to keep him alive through the lifebond. I could feel his pain, could feel his life ebbing away and I couldn’t even hold him in my arms. He was so far away. I had to send someone else in my place – someone good, someone I trusted, but not me. I failed him,” he whispered. Gibbs nodded.

“Yes. I understand,” he said, because he did. He understood exactly.

“He could have died – and I would have died too, but we’d have been apart, unable to touch each other one last time. And now…it’s like I’m blocked,” John said. “I can’t tell him that but he feels it. He knows I’m anxious but he doesn’t know why, and I don’t want to lay that on him; he’ll just feel guilty about it. You’re right – I can’t take him down, even when he needs it. Sometimes, when I know he needs it, I try to do it – but all I see is him, lying on the floor with that great big wound in his chest, lying there in a pool of his own blood, all alone, and I can feel him slipping away from me – and I can’t do it. I just can’t do it, any more than I could protect him from being shot.”

“All he knows is that you’re vulnerable right now and he has to protect you,” Gibbs said softly. “So he lied about the stargate glitch, to keep his top from being challenged when he was at his weakest.”

“Yeah.” John nodded, and looked up to meet Gibbs’s gaze, his hazel eyes dark. “Yeah, that’s about it. I totally screwed this one up.”

“Yes you did,” Gibbs agreed, briskly, because he didn’t like wallowing in self-pity himself and he wasn’t about to let anyone else do it either – not that John Sheppard looked like the self-pitying type. “But you know what you have to do now.”

“Yes I do. It’ll kill Rodney though – it almost did last time, after Doranda, and this is even worse. He won’t want me to take a punishment for him – he’d rather take it himself but he knows I can’t – I *won’t* – let that happen.”

“I’ll speak to Woolsey,” Gibbs said. “I don’t see there’s anything to be gained from you taking a public punishment for this. Whatever needs to happen should take place between you and Rodney – nobody else.”

“Yeah, well, good luck with that.” John gave a wry grin. “Woolsey hates me and has been looking for a way to assert some authority over me since he arrived. He’ll leap at this and won’t let it go.”

“We’ll see,” Gibbs said, having an idea. “You – wait here. I’m going to brief my team and then I’m going to escort you to Woolsey’s office.”

“Okay. I’ll uh…consider myself out-topped,” John muttered, rubbing his chin ruefully. “But then I guess you’re used to that, aren’t you, Agent Gibbs?”

Gibbs shook his head. “You lost your way there for awhile and I can’t say I blame you,” he said, remembering the aftermath of Shannon’s death and the ice cold feeling inside that had made him feel numb and which had never quite faded away. He also remembered how, in that cold, grey year after her death he’d found friendship with a medical examiner. Ducky had brought him lunch when he forgot to eat and had been his friend when everyone else gave him a wide berth, terrified of the dark look in his eyes and the almost tangible streak of self-destruction in his soul. He had lost his way back then, done some things he wasn’t proud of, and been out of control a lot of the time. It had helped to have a friend in his time of need – and Ducky had been a true friend when nobody else was interested. He hoped he could be a friend now, to this man in front of him. Even the best tops got it wrong occasionally and he had a gut instinct that John Sheppard was one of the best tops there was.

Gibbs retrieved his subs and returned to their quarters to find Abby and Ducky waiting for them.

“Well, you were right, Abs,” he told her.

She got up and flung her arms around his neck. “Oh Gibbs! I’m so happy! I knew Rodney didn’t do it!” she squealed.

“Well he didn’t murder anyone but he’s sure as hell in a whole heap of other trouble,” Tony said, and Gibbs got the impression his sub was pleased about that. He wished he had more time to get to the bottom of Tony’s issues with Rodney but right now he had more pressing matters to deal with.

“Ducky – I need your help,” he said. Tony had already filled the team in on what was going on, and he re-capped the salient points for Ducky.

“I don’t see what the problem is,” he overheard McGee muttering to Tony. “So Rodney screwed up – someone has to take the rap for it. Why is Gibbs getting involved? Does it matter if the general has to take a public punishment? What’s it got to do with us?”

“Well I don’t know, probie – what does it have to do with us?” Tony asked, a withering look on his face. “How do you suppose you’d feel if it was – I don’t know – say a probie covering up for his sister during a murder investigation, and HIS top went to the wall for him? Supposing that top told the director, that there was no way – NO WAY – that he was going to allow his wussy little sub to go through a hard public punishment for his – let’s be honest – massive screw-up. And this meeting between the probie’s top and the director went on, and on, and on – because you see this top was so damn stubborn, and so damn committed to his sub that he wouldn’t give up. So the director either had to allow this probie’s top to take the public punishment in place of the poor little probie, something he was very prepared to do, or she had to let the top take care of the probie’s punishment himself – privately, with discretion, and a huge dollop of comfort after I expect. I wonder how you’d feel then, hmm? Would that make you feel just a little bit more empathy for the situation?”

McGee’s face paled, visibly, and Gibbs winced – clearly McGee had never worked that one out fully before now, and Tony hadn’t exactly sugared it any. Tony was right though – that was exactly what had happened, and that was another reason why he was going to pull out all the stops to get the same result for General Sheppard. Gibbs recognised a kindred top when he saw one, and Sheppard’s determination to take a public and humiliating punishment for his sub reminded him of himself.

“You with me on this one, Ducky?” he asked, and Ducky nodded, eyes blinking behind the spectacles. “You’ve made friends with Woolsey and he trusts you.”

“I’ll do what I can, Jethro but I think you over-estimate our little chat the other night. We got on very well but whether Mr Woolsey listens to me or not is another matter,” Ducky sighed.

“Just give it a try,” Gibbs said. “This is a complex situation and I don’t see any good comes from dealing with it straight by the book.”

“Unfortunately, straight by the book is Woolsey’s style,” Ducky replied.

“A matter like this should be taken care of between a dominant and his sub,” Gibbs said firmly, with a brief glance in McGee’s direction. McGee looked as if he was about to faint at the very memory of the punishment he’d taken that day, and what Gibbs had been prepared to do to keep him out of the public disciplinary room.

“Okay – the rest of you – go over the evidence again. We clearly haven’t caught our killer which means that he – or she – is still out there,” Gibbs told his collared agents. “Get on it and see if you can come up with anything else while Ducky and I take care of this.”


Ducky walked alongside Gibbs and General Sheppard with a feeling of trepidation in his stomach. He’d do his best, of course, but he hoped Gibbs’s faith in him in this instance wasn’t misplaced. One late night drink was hardly the stuff of which a solid friendship could be claimed…although, he suspected that that one friendly chat made him the closest thing to a friend that Richard Woolsey had on Atlantis.

John Sheppard had the grim but weary look on his face of a man going to the executioner. Gibbs, meanwhile, one hand on Ducky’s shoulder, had that same look of utter determination on his face that he had whenever he was defending one of his own submissives. Ducky found that interesting, and could only assume that Gibbs was identifying more strongly with Sheppard’s predicament than he probably should – perhaps as a result of Tim McGee’s recent spot of bother over his sister.

Ducky was well aware of Gibbs’s feelings on the subject of public punishments – unless they were judicial, and part of the due legal process, Gibbs disliked them intensely. Ducky knew that Gibbs would never allow a sub of his to go through a public punishment, and, as their top, he did of course have the right to submit himself for the punishment on their behalf, as John Sheppard was intending to do here.

Ducky admired both men their stance on the matter. The better option was for the top in question to administer punishment himself, privately, as Gibbs had done with McGee, but that was, technically speaking, wangling one’s way around the subject somewhat, and frowned upon by most authorities. It also relied on an element of trust – one had to trust that the sub had been suitably punished without it being witnessed, and most authorities didn’t have that kind of trust and didn’t want to condone anyone breaking the rules and getting off scot-free either.

It was, all in all, a tricky matter. Woolsey was quite within his rights to order Rodney to be punished and John was within *his* rights, as Rodney’s top, to take that punishment in his sub’s stead. What John didn’t have was any kind of right, whatsoever, to demand that he be allowed to take care of the matter privately – and Ducky wasn’t sure on what grounds Woolsey could be prevailed upon to agree to it.

Of course, Gibbs, with five collared subs to his name, took a great risk with his stance – which was one of the reasons he demanded so much of them, Ducky suspected. If Gibbs’s five submissives had been unruly and constantly getting themselves into hot water, Gibbs would be presenting himself to the punishment room on a regular basis to take their discipline for them, and Ducky shuddered at the thought of that. The idea of a man like Gibbs having to take swats over a judicial punishment bench was too much to bear – it was wrong on every single level.

Ducky always conducted himself with the utmost decorum to ensure he brought no such shame on his top, and he knew that Gibbs’s other submissives tried to do the same – even the predictably naughty Tony tried to keep his behaviour in check for that reason. In fact, Ducky sometimes wondered if Gibbs didn’t spank Tony so regularly just to ensure he stayed grounded and didn’t go off and do something stupid just to get Gibbs’s attention; Tony was an undeniably brilliant agent but he hadn’t stayed anywhere for very long before Gibbs had recruited him for NCIS. His service record was littered with black marks and public disciplinary punishments. Perhaps that sixth sense Gibbs had for lost and wayward subs had made him step in and rescue Tony before he killed himself in pursuit of whatever it was he was hellbent on finding.

Ducky had a similar dislike for the idea of the tall, dark-haired man beside him being publicly punished as well – anyone could see that General Sheppard was a good top who loved his submissive dearly and did his job to the utmost of his capability. If he also had a certain kind of dangerous, wayward charm, that just added to his charisma – although Ducky was willing to bet it had got him into hot water with the authorities in the past. But John Sheppard was his own man and would take the rap for his own mistakes – and those of his sub. Nobody could ever accuse him of being a coward.

It was late but Woolsey was still working in his office – Ducky suspected there was little else to drag the man away from his job. They stepped inside and Gibbs shut the door quietly behind them. Woolsey looked up from his desk, a surprised expression upon his face.

“Trouble, gentlemen?” he asked, his gaze flickering towards Sheppard, and then over to Gibbs’s taut-shouldered stance and finally coming to rest on Ducky, to whom he directed the question.

“Well, that depends on how you look at it,” Ducky began, intending to start the matter with some finessing. Gibbs had no patience for such an approach though and ploughed straight in with his usual terse directness.

“Yes – trouble,” he answered. “Before you ask, we have not found our killer. However, this is by way of a heads up about something I have no choice but to put in my report. Dr Rodney Sheppard lied to you about the status of that stargate glitch that temporarily prevented transport between galaxies. Rodney wanted NCIS to make the trip here on the Daedalus – a journey of around eighteen days, rather than step through the stargate – a journey of a few minutes – in order to give General Sheppard more time to investigate, and hopefully solve, the crimes himself. He acted out of the best – if misguided – motives but it still amounts to interfering with a federal investigation. He is not, and I repeat, not, implicated in the murders in any way. He was just trying to protect his top.”

Woolsey looked flabbergasted. He gazed at Gibbs, and then looked at Sheppard.

“Is this true, General?” he asked quietly.

“Yes, sir,” Sheppard replied. “I only just found out but it’s true. I’m sorry – I had no idea Rodney lied about the stargate.”

“This is very serious,” Woolsey said. “I can’t have the IOA thinking we make our own rules out here, just because we’re so far away. One of the reasons they sent me here was because there was a good deal of concern about the way things were being run on Atlantis. Lady Elizabeth was an excellent commander but sometimes her reports caused considerable alarm at the IOA. We are still subject to the same rules and regulations as back home, General, and I think *some* of the base personnel have a tendency to forget that at times.”

Ducky winced – Woolsey had clearly wanted to address this issue for some time, and now Rodney had handed him General Sheppard’s scalp on a plate. Poor Sheppard. Ducky had read some of his mission reports and the man was clearly brave and liked to think on his feet – and he clearly also knew, instinctively, that there were some situations where the rules were no good, and you had to throw them out and go with your gut instead. Ducky suspected that was another reason why Gibbs was so keen to defend Sheppard – that was Gibbs’s way of doing things too.

Woolsey though – Woolsey loved rules, and hung onto them like a dying man clinging to a life raft. Ducky could understand that, all too well. He could also see how a man like Sheppard, who had the confidence to make up the rules as he went along, would clash with a man like Woolsey. They were like chalk and cheese, and the fact that Woolsey was an insecure submissive who’d just come out of a long, and, from what Ducky could tell, fairly abusive relationship, and that Sheppard was a charismatic, endlessly self-confident top, didn’t help matters.

“I understand all that, Mr Woolsey,” Sheppard said. “And I don’t intend for Atlantis to be immune from Earth’s laws, either. However…back on Earth they don’t have to get out of near death situations every other day – there are no Wraith feeding on them, and they aren’t strangers in a faraway galaxy. That imposes some different obligations on us, sir.”

“Yes, but this is a *murder* investigation, General. We simply can’t be seen to be interfering with it. NCIS could make things very difficult for the IOA if they choose.”

“We don’t choose,” Gibbs interrupted. “I can’t cover this up, but I’m not making a big deal out of it, either. It was a mistake, and I’m sure John can deal with it without any interference from anyone else.”

“Oh no.” Woolsey shook his head, realisation glimmering in his eyes. “Oh dear no. That won’t do at all. This is a legal matter, Agent Gibbs, and must be dealt with as such. I am happy to hear any mitigation, but if the matter is as it has been presented to me here, then I must order Rodney to the punishment room to accept discipline. I think, from what you’ve said, that thirty swats with the paddle is the likely sentence.”

Ducky winced. Thirty swats with the judicial paddle was a considerable sentence, but it was in line with the nature of the offence and not unduly harsh. It would test the limits of even the most penitent wrongdoer though and leave them in pain for days – if not weeks.

Ducky saw John’s mouth set in a hard line and his body shake slightly at the thought of anyone going anywhere near his submissive with a judicial paddle.

“No,” he said, in a hoarse, strangled kind of tone. Woolsey looked shocked.

“General, this isn’t a matter for negotiation. The rules clearly state that in a matter of this kind…”

“I said, no,” John interrupted angrily. Gibbs put a hand on the general’s shoulder to calm him down, and Ducky grimaced, wondering if John would be able to keep himself under control. “Nobody touches Rodney but me, and I won’t punish him publicly. I know why he did this and it’s as much my fault as his. I’ll take his swats for him.”

“Well, that is your right,” Woolsey said, and Ducky couldn’t help but think he looked quite pleased at the thought of Sheppard being taken down a peg or two in public.

“See, the thing is,” Gibbs interceded, “I don’t think it’s ever a good idea for a popular commanding officer, who is good at his job, to be disciplined in public for something his sub has done. It’s bad for morale – and morale is already very low on Atlantis following the loss of Lady Elizabeth Weir and everyone having to adjust to a new commanding officer, and now, on top of all that, these murders. I think it would be a bad move for the base to see General Sheppard stretched out on the punishment bench – it’d cause a lot of resentment.”

Woolsey looked surprised. “I would have thought, Agent Gibbs, that as a law enforcement officer you would want me to do just that – enforce the law,” he snapped.

“The law can be a pretty blunt instrument,” Gibbs shrugged. “I’m just saying – let John take care of this, on his own, with Rodney. I think you’ll have his assurance that he’ll deal with it properly and won’t shirk his responsibilities – yes, General?”

John’s face looked weary and defeated, but he nodded. “I’ll do what it takes,” he muttered.

“So we have to just rely on his word for it?” Woolsey asked. “When we know that he dotes on his husband and Rodney Sheppard gets away with anything he wants?”

“That’s not true!” John protested.

“That’s what I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Woolsey retorted. John opened his mouth to say something but then visibly slumped. Ducky felt a great sense of pity for the man.

“I’ve made some mistakes,” John admitted. “And, you know, if I have to take thirty swats for that then I will. It’s my screw-up. I didn’t do something I should have done, a few months ago, and that’s come back to bite me.”

“Well I’m glad you admit it because personally I think your conduct and that of your sub since I arrived here has been disrespectful and arrogant,” Woolsey snapped.

“You haven’t given us a damn chance!” Sheppard snapped back. “We lost Elizabeth and it seemed like the IOA was glad about that because you’d been looking for an excuse to replace her for the past couple of years. And then you just swept in here, when we were *grieving*, and started handing out your orders, making it pretty damn clear with each one that you disapproved of her and everything she did here. And the IOA doesn’t understand because they’re not *here* and they don’t live under constant threat of Wraith attack or the million and one other things that happen out here that make it impossible to live by the stupid damn rules you’re so keen on.”

“That’s enough!” Gibbs thundered, looking pretty angry himself, and Ducky decided that he needed to step in before everyone got entrenched in their various positions and nobody was prepared to back down.

“You know…I don’t think anything needs to be decided right now,” Ducky murmured. “Mr Woolsey – would you be so kind as to share with me some of that excellent whisky you gave me the other evening? I think we could all do with a break from the current situation and a decision can be taken later.”

Woolsey looked surprised, but he clearly didn’t object to having some time out either, and he nodded to Ducky.

“Of course, Dr Mallard. If you’d care to accompany me to my quarters.” He got up, and, without looking at Sheppard, he walked over to the door.

“You two – stay here,” Ducky hissed. “And Jethro – do try and calm the general down before he does something we really won’t be able to fix.”

Gibbs nodded. “Will do, Ducky.” He turned back to General Sheppard, who looked as if he was about to implode. At least Ducky was leaving him in safe hands – if anyone could calm down an irate top it was Gibbs.

Ducky followed on behind Woolsey back to the other man’s quarters; he wasn’t entirely sure what he was going to do but he hoped inspiration would strike.

They got inside, and Woolsey turned to him.

“Thank you, Dr Mallard. That was a heated situation and it was the right thing to break it up at that point. I should have thought of it myself. General Sheppard can be a very intimidating man and…”

“Do you think so? I’ve always found him quite charming,” Ducky said, with a gentle smile. “Now, Richard, why don’t you sit down and I’ll fetch the drinks.” He put a firm hand on Woolsey’s shoulder and stroked a couple of times. Woolsey took a deep breath and Ducky felt the tension in his shoulders start to release a little. He went and poured them both a drink and then returned to where Woolsey was still standing, ramrod straight, looking as if he was waiting for someone to tell him what to do.

“I said sit,” Ducky said, gentle but commanding all the same. Woolsey sat down immediately. Ducky felt a wave of pity for the man – all he wanted was a good, firm sense of direction, but without it he was just hanging in the wind.

He handed Woolsey the drink, and then sat down opposite him.

“You know…I totally understand your stance on this, Richard,” he said. “I know how comforting the rules can be. Without them – well, it’s chaos isn’t it? Who knows *where* to draw the line?”

“That’s exactly it!” Woolsey told him, taking a sip of his drink. Ducky wondered if he’d even noticed he was using his first name.

“I want to tell you a story,” Ducky said, sitting back in his chair. “It isn’t a story I’ve ever told to anyone before, Richard, so I want you to treat it with the utmost confidence – can you do that?”

Woolsey blinked, but Ducky noticed that he seemed flattered that he was sharing confidences with him.

“Of course, Dr Mallard.”

“Call me Donald,” Ducky told him, and Richard nodded, gratefully. “Very well. Once upon a time, quite a long time ago now, there was a young medical student. He fell in love – madly, blindly, deeply – with another medical student, a rich young man from a very good family. The feeling was mutual – both students adored each other and maybe that blinded them to the problems. You see, one of the students, the one from the rich family, was a top, and a controlling top at that. He was prone to jealous rages, and he needed to be in charge all the time. Which might not have been so much of a problem if he’d been with the right sub – but the man he’d chosen, the man he was very much in love with, was a switch.”

“Ah.” Woolsey sat back in his chair.

This was familiar territory and the stuff of some serious literature over the years. Switches, people who identified as both dominant and submissive, weren’t very common, and could be resented by subs and tops alike for not fulfilling the role the other wanted of them.

“You know, I’ve always thought it isn’t an easy life, being a switch,” Woolsey murmured. “Do you remember that book that caused all that fuss a few years’ ago? ‘The Third Wheel: How Society Discriminates Against the Minority Third Part of the Dynamic.’ I must admit that until I read that book I’d never given a great deal of thought to how hard being a switch must often be in our society.”

“Indeed,” Ducky replied, with a little nod of his head, and a wry, sad smile.

“Sorry, Donald. Please continue,” Richard said, with a wave of his hand. “Tell me more about your two medical students.”

“Well, at first they were so much in love that it didn’t matter that they were so mis-matched, but, in time, the switch needed more space and less restrictions than the top was prepared to give him. Eventually, their love turned into something else – something very ugly. The switch lost confidence, as the top insisted that he adhere to a rigid set of rules that were at odds with his very nature. And the top’s demands became more and more extreme as he grew into his family’s wealth and position – and he wanted a trophy sub to go with it, not a rather vague switch who didn’t fit his family’s expectations for him.”

“It sounds as if this story isn’t heading for a happy ending,” Woolsey murmured.

“I’m afraid it isn’t,” Ducky agreed. “This state of affairs went on for a long time – for far too long in fact – many, many years. The top became more abusive, but nobody liked to interfere because of his great wealth and position, and the switch became more and more unhappy. He’d lost his way. He wasn’t being himself, and he didn’t know how to get out of the situation.”

“What happened?” Woolsey leaned forward.

“Well, the switch was lucky. He made friends with a man several years younger than himself, who was just as lost as he was. He was a top who was mourning the loss of his family, who had been the victims of murder. He was grieving, and he couldn’t get over what had happened. He felt he’d let his family down by not being able to protect them when they had needed it and he was nursing a self-destructive streak a mile wide as a result. He’d given up his job in the military and taken a new job, where the switch worked, and that’s how the switch came to know him.

The switch felt sorry for this unhappy young man, and took him under his wing a little. It helped him to have someone to look after I think. It helped him to express his caring instincts. Maybe it even helped him remember his original inclinations towards being a switch, which he’d had to bury for so long in order to sub for a man who had become his tormentor.

For a very long time this younger man was too full of his own grief to see his friend’s plight, but one day he DID see it, and then he became very angry at how badly his friend’s top treated him. He saw how it made his friend nervous and anxious, prone to stuttering and always wary and afraid. When he was alone with his friend he saw someone very different, someone much calmer and full of curiosity, with a lively interest in the world around him, and it made him furious to see what his friend’s top had done to him.”

“What did this young top do?” Woolsey asked.

“Well, I’m rather afraid he took matters into his own hands,” Ducky said with a little smile. “That’s his nature you see. He *could* have played by the rules, maybe he could have reported what he’d seen to the police, although I doubt that would have worked. Or maybe he could have prevailed upon his friend to eventually leave his abusive top – although his friend was so confused and browbeaten by this point that it’s unlikely he would have succeeded. In any case, our headstrong young top was too impassioned to do either of those things; he saw something was wrong and he tried to right it. They were at a party, and he saw his friend’s top scolding him about something, belittling him in public, and he stepped in, and challenged the abusive top to a fight.”

In fact, it had been a good deal less civilised than that, Ducky thought. Gibbs had gone roaring in, all guns blazing, and punched Randolph Jordan on the jaw, felling him to the ground. Then he’d grabbed Ducky’s arm.

“Do you want to stay with him, Ducky? If so, say so now, otherwise I’m taking his collar off you.”

“Jethro…I…” Ducky gazed down at the tall, imposing man at his feet, a man he’d lived with for twenty-five years but long ago stopped loving. Randolph Jordan was thickset, with slick black hair, going silver at the temples, and dark, brooding brown eyes. He was lying on the floor, wiping blood off his jaw, a dazed look in those eyes as he stared up at Gibbs, wondering who the hell had had the audacity to challenge him in public.

“Do you still love him?” Gibbs demanded. “I’ve seen what he does to you, Ducky. I’ve seen the bruises on you – don’t deny them. I’ve seen how he turns you into a stuttering idiot whenever he’s around and you’re not like that when you’re with me. Let me set you free.”

His hands undid the collar around Ducky’s neck then paused, before removing it completely, looking for Ducky’s permission. Ducky looked into Gibbs’s blue eyes, and nodded.

“Do it. Please,” he whispered. Gibbs needed no further urging. He pulled the collar off and threw it on Randolph Jordan, in front of everyone.

“He’s free now. Don’t bother him again,” he snapped.

“I’ll have you up on charges,” Jordan growled, getting to his feet. “Removing a sub’s collar without his permission…”

“He gave me permission – I have witnesses, and he’ll stand up in court and say it himself,” Gibbs replied.

“He doesn’t know his own mind! He never has!” Jordan yelled. “He thought he was a switch when I met him but he’s clearly a sub. He can’t make a decision to save his life, let alone about something as important as removing his collar!”

“You mean you’ve beat any kind of opinions and instincts out of him,” Gibbs growled. “The man you describe is the man you’ve made him – not the man I’ve seen when I’ve been alone with him. You don’t even know him – I bet you never even take the time to talk to him.”

“It’s none of your business what takes place between a dominant and his submissive,” Jordan said, moving towards Ducky. Gibbs put his body between them.

“He’s not yours any more,” he said.

“He’ll always be mine!” Jordan hissed.

“Want to fight me for him?” Gibbs asked dangerously. Ducky flinched. When two tops fought over a sub in the movies it was usually a lot more romantic than this. This just felt raw and ugly. He didn’t want anyone fighting for him or getting hurt for him, least of all Gibbs – but then again, he didn’t think Randolph would accept the challenge. He was a big man but he was also a bully and a coward, his belly soft from too many big power lunches. Gibbs, by contrast, was lean and tough, his combat instincts recently honed from fighting in Iraq – Ducky had no doubt that Gibbs would win hands down in a fight.

“I wouldn’t lower myself,” Jordan said loftily, and Ducky noticed the tight grin that played briefly over Gibbs’s lips at that. He knew a coward when he saw one. “You hit me!” Jordan fumed, running a disbelieving hand over his bruised, cut jaw. “I’ll have you for that. I’ll take you to court. I’ll pursue you to the ends of the earth, Jethro Gibbs. You’re a nobody – and I’ll crush you.”

“You were abusing him. There isn’t a court in the land that’ll uphold it. Look.”

Ducky was taken by surprise as Gibbs grabbed his shirt and ripped it off his back, and then turned him so that he had his back to the room. A gasp of surprise rippled around as everyone saw his bruised and heavily welted shoulders, the flesh raw and still oozing blood in places.

“You don’t whip a sub into oblivion like this for no reason – and damn it, this is Ducky we’re talking about – what kind of reason could there be? No, hell, you don’t whip a sub like this at all – it’s abuse, plain and simple,” Gibbs roared, and Ducky wondered how he’d known about the welts, and whether he could have been more careful about not wincing when Jethro was around. The man had eyes like a hawk.

“He’s mine,” Jordan said, standing up tall, towering over Gibbs, who was sturdy and strong but nowhere near as heavily built as Jordan. “Come with me, Donald.” He turned those cold, possessive eyes on Ducky.

“I don’t think so,” Ducky whispered, finally finding the strength from his friend’s actions to stand up to a man he had once loved so passionately and now found he hated with an equal passion. “Randolph, you don’t love me. I’m just another possession to you – one you want to control and abuse at will. Our love died a very long time ago.”

“You are mine,” Randolph fumed, and Ducky could only imagine how humiliating it must be for him to lose his sub in this way, in front of all these people.

“No.” Gibbs reached out and ripped a strip out of Ducky’s ruined shirt. “He’s mine,” he said, tying the piece of shirt around Ducky’s neck in a makeshift collar. “Agreed, Ducky?” he asked. Ducky nodded, because it felt more right having Gibbs’s ragged collar around his neck than all the expensive trinkets Randolph had placed upon him. “Now you can’t touch him – he’s wearing another top’s collar and he wants to be wearing it – that protects him by law,” Gibbs said.

“You won’t get away with this, Gibbs,” Jordan yelled, as Gibbs took hold of Ducky’s arm and led him away from the party. “He’s mine! I’ll take him back and you’ll pay for this. I’ll destroy you! I promise you that, Gibbs. I’ll make you know how it feels to lose a sub you love.”

“Already happened,” Gibbs said tersely, and Ducky saw in his eyes the darkness of one who had already suffered the worst and had nothing else left to lose and therefore nothing at all to fear – not even Randolph Jordan with all his power and money. “Already happened,” he repeated softly, as he ushered Ducky away.

They reached Gibbs’s car and got in, and Gibbs rested his arms on the steering wheel and blew out a long breath, shaking his head ruefully.

“Shit. Look – you can wear my collar as long as you want, Ducky. I’ll get you a proper one tomorrow. I know we’re just friends and you know what I’ve lost and that I’m not looking to take another sub but the collar will protect you from him for as long as you want to wear it.”

“Thank you, my dear boy,” Ducky said, his voice croaking with emotion.

Gibbs turned in his seat, took hold of his face, and rested his forehead against his. Ducky wrapped his arms around Gibbs’s shoulders and felt himself shaking with a whole gamut of emotions. He had been locked up in Randolph’s abusive prison for so long that he had no idea what freedom tasted like until this young man had rescued him. He wouldn’t let him down. Not now. Not ever.

“It’s okay…I’ve got you now,” Gibbs murmured, stroking Ducky softly, taking care of his bruised body. “Christ, Ducky. I couldn’t stand by a moment longer and watch him hurt you like that. I can’t stand abusive tops and he was the worst kind; thinking that all his money and power meant he could just beat up on you day and night…putting you down all the time. Damn it I want to go back in there and punch him again!”

Ducky made a little sound in the back of his throat at that, and Gibbs squeezed him tight to make it clear he wasn’t going anywhere.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you…” Ducky whispered, over and over again, holding on tight to the man who had become his lifeline.

Ducky finished his story and blinked, a little surprised that after all these years he had chosen this man to tell it to. It felt like a release, as if something inside was falling away after a very long time.

“Thank you, Donald,” Richard said quietly. “Now, forgive me if I’m being presumptive, but I assume that the top you’re talking about, the one who went to the rescue, is Agent Gibbs?”

“That’s correct, yes,” Ducky said, with a little nod of his head. He took a gulp of his whisky.

“And the switch?” Richard asked, gazing at Ducky earnestly from behind his spectacles.

“The switch was myself,” Ducky replied.

“Ah.” Richard nodded thoughtfully. “And your purpose in telling me this story?” he asked. Ducky gave a wry smile.

“Well, for some reason I just felt you were the person I wanted to tell. I haven’t told it to anyone else in all these years. Gibbs is the only other person who knows it and he won’t tell anyone.”

Ducky paused and swirled the remainder of his drink around in the glass.

“All the same,” he continued. “There was, clearly, a method in my madness, Richard. You see…you remind me a little of myself, back then. You’ve told me something of what happened with your wife, and I know how I used to feel, when Randolph – my ex – was trying to control me. It can be very confusing emerging from a relationship like that – you don’t miss the person but it’s hard to be suddenly without the certainties they imposed upon you – and you try and look for those certainties elsewhere. I know I did.” He gave a rueful smile.

“I even tried to get Gibbs to provide those certainties for me but he was always straight with me about the fact that I might wear his collar but I was my own man. Gradually, in time, I began to see that this was a kindness on his part – he was giving me room to grow again, to blossom and flourish, and he supported me while I did that, but he would not be another Randolph in my life. I appreciate that now but it was harder at the time. Adjusting is hard.”

“Yes,” Richard murmured. “It is.”

“And it helps to have a friend along the way,” Ducky said softly. “And you see, I’d like to be such a friend to you, Richard.”

“I’d like that too,” the other man said, a little shyly. “Although to be fair, Donald, my relationship with my wife wasn’t as bad as the one you describe with this Randolph person. She didn’t physically abuse me…”

“But she put you down all the time – publicly as well as privately, didn’t she?” Ducky said. “She made you adhere to restrictive rules and punished you relentlessly when you couldn’t stick to them. She made you doubt yourself and who you are. You wanted to offer her your devotion and affection but all she wanted was someone to bully,” Ducky said softly.

Richard’s eyes looked a little glassy behind the spectacles, and he didn’t say anything, just dipped his head and gazed at his drink.

Ducky got up and went over to where Richard was sitting. He stood behind him, put his hands on Richard’s shoulders, and caressed them gently.

“You’re excellent at your job, my dear boy,” he said firmly, stroking the entire time. “And you need to have some faith and courage in that. Don’t do everything by the book – use your instinct occasionally – it’ll be much more reliable.”

“I’m not sure what my instincts are any more,” Richard admitted, in a broken kind of voice.

“That’s because she took them all away from you. If you like…I could help you get back in touch with them?” Ducky suggested gently.

Richard looked up, a hopeful light in his eyes, and Ducky couldn’t resist. He leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss on the sub’s lips. He hadn’t felt this way about someone in a long time but this man’s obvious vulnerability and his similarity to Ducky’s own situation of many years ago touched him. Richard’s lips were soft and open beneath his, and it was just a small kiss but he could feel Richard relax.

The kiss finished and Ducky drew back. “I don’t want you to make a decision now, dear boy, but, if you’re in agreement, I’d very much like to spend my free evenings with you from now on,” he requested. Richard gazed at him, looking more than a little dazed.

“I’d like that too,” he admitted at last. “In fact, that would be very nice.”

“We could talk…or play,” Ducky suggested, never taking his eyes off Richard’s face. The other man looked a little panicked.

“It’s been awhile for me,” he confessed, “Uh, playing I mean. And to be honest, I’m not terribly good…”

Ducky put a finger over his mouth. “It’s not a performance contest,” he said firmly. “All I’ll ask for is your honesty – and we’ll take it slowly. I really would enjoy it very much I think and I’d like to think you would enjoy it too.”

“I think I would,” Richard replied, that shy look back on his face.

“Very well.” Ducky nodded. “But for now – we have a situation to resolve. Do you feel as if any of what I’ve said has helped you in your decision?”

Richard gazed at him for a moment, and then sighed. “I do understand your point, Donald,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s the right thing, but I understand it. And…maybe I was being a little vindictive. I hadn’t fully appreciated the depth of feeling these people had for Lady Elizabeth and how much they were grieving. I suppose I took it all rather personally – after what happened with my wife and so on. I was feeling a little bruised before I arrived and didn’t view the situation as objectively as I could have done.”

“Hardly surprising,” Ducky commented sympathetically. “Shall we return to your office and see if we can’t come to an amicable resolution? It’s your command – I have no wish to interfere. I’m sure you’ll make the best decision for all concerned.”

“Yes.” Richard got up, and pulled his shoulders straight as he followed Ducky towards the door. “Yes. We’ll do that. And Donald? Thank you.”

Ducky turned, and pressed a gentle kiss on Richard’s cheek. “You’re welcome, my dear boy,” he said softly. “Very welcome. I have a feeling that you and I are going to be good for each other.”

They returned to Woolsey’s office, and Ducky was impressed by the firm set of his friend’s shoulders and the look of resolve on his face. They swept into the room to find John Sheppard sitting on a chair, his elbows on his knees, his face set in a grimly fatalistic mask. Gibbs was sitting opposite him, gazing at him. Neither man was talking. They both looked up as Ducky and Woolsey strode in.

“Very well – I’ve given the matter some thought,” Woolsey said, and Ducky felt proud of the way he was conducting himself – he looked more confident than he had seen him since they had arrived. “Agent Gibbs – you’re right. It would be bad for morale to discipline General Sheppard publicly. General Sheppard…John.” He turned and addressed himself to the other man. “You and I didn’t get off to the best start but I’m determined to change that. I know your mission reports inside out – they read better than a James Bond novel,” and he flashed a grin in Ducky’s direction as he said that. Ducky sent him a delighted grin back in return.

“You’re a brave man and a simply outstanding commanding officer. Atlantis is lucky to have you – and I trust you to do the right thing, even if not always in strict accordance with the rules.” He gave a wry smile at that. Sheppard looked stunned – he clearly hadn’t been expecting this.

“However, Rodney did do something very wrong – and I trust you to deal with it, in the best way you know how. I’ll leave the decision as to what that should be up to you, but I have every faith that you’ll do what needs to be done. You and Rodney are both suspended for the next four days, and I’m confining you to your quarters during that time. Food will be brought to you. However, this won’t go down as a black mark on your service record. Confining you to quarters is as much a punishment as it is a means to help you resolve whatever it is that needs resolving between yourself and your husband – because something clearly does.”

Sheppard nodded, looking intensely relieved, then he got to his feet and gave Woolsey a smart salute.

“Thank you,” he said, in a heartfelt tone. “And if you don’t mind me saying it…that’s exactly what Elizabeth would have done.”

Woolsey gave a little chuckle. “Then I take it I’m in good company.”

“The best,” John replied. “I won’t forget this, Mr Woolsey.”

“Go.” Woolsey nodded his head towards the door. Sheppard gave a nod towards Gibbs, and mouthed a ‘thank you’ at Ducky and then he left, at a run, clearly eager to return to his sub.

Gibbs and Ducky said their own goodbyes to Woolsey, and then Gibbs put his arm around Ducky’s shoulder and led him out into the hallway.

“You know, I don’t think I tell you often enough how much I love you,” Gibbs murmured to Ducky as they walked. Ducky laughed out loud. “Seriously, Duck,” Gibbs said, stopping and drawing Ducky towards him so he could look him in the eye. “How the hell did you accomplish that? Woolsey was like a different man when you brought him back.”

“Ah well. I told him a story I’ve never told anyone before,” Ducky said softly. “About a young, grieving widower, and the somewhat eccentric medical examiner who befriended him. About how the rules can’t cover every situation, and how hard it can be to be who you truly are and not what someone else wants you to be. And I told him about a wealthy, powerful, abusive top, and his terrified submissive; and about how there was a knight in shining armour, and a fight, and a rescue.”

Gibbs stared at him, his eyes a particularly luminous shade of blue. “Don’t…” he began, in a hoarse voice. Ducky took hold of his face, drew him down, and kissed him gently on the lips.

“And I can never say thank you often enough, so thank you,” he whispered.

Gibbs didn’t say a thing. He just wrapped his arm around Ducky again, pulling him in close, and they walked back together to their quarters together, side by side, old friends lost in old memories.


John Sheppard half ran, half walked back to the quarters he shared with his husband. He was anxious to get back to Rodney because he knew what kind of a state his sub would be in by now, but, at the same time, he had some things to work out in his head. Usually his instincts as a top were so sure he’d *know* what to do, but those instincts hadn’t been working so well for the past few months and he needed to get back in touch with them.

He slowed down, and thought it through, and then took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. He could do this; he had to do this. He had to get beyond what had happened when Rodney had nearly died or he’d be letting Rodney down. Rodney might not like what he had planned – in fact John was sure he wouldn’t, to start with at least – but it was necessary. He tapped his radio, made a call to Lorne, and then set off again, walking slowly this time.

Their quarters were in darkness when he stepped inside, and he frowned, puzzled. He was damn sure Rodney wouldn’t have gone to bed.

He glanced around the room and saw Rodney sitting at the table, shoulders slumped, staring into space.

“Rodney?” he said, softly.

“I’m sorry, John,” Rodney replied, not looking at him. “I’ve been thinking about it, and I know you won’t like it but I can’t let you take the punishment for what I did. I’m going to go to Woolsey and insist it’s me who gets punished and not you.”

“All thirty swats with the paddle?” John asked. “In front of the entire base?”

Rodney looked up, and John could see, in the dim light, that his eyes glittering with fear, but his chin was resolute, pushed out and stubborn.

“Thirty? Is that what he said? Well…okay then. I can take that. I’ve only taken twelve in the punishment room before but thirty…well…it’ll be hard…you might have to use the restraints but I’ll take them.”

“No you won’t,” John said, turning on the light and going over to the table.

Rodney blinked. “I won’t let you take them for me,” he said firmly.

“Not your choice.” John shook his head. This was another example of how out of hand he’d allowed this to get. Rodney should be obeying him on this, not arguing about it. For the most part they had an easy give and take in their relationship, but when it concerned their dynamic Rodney knew John was in charge – and this was all about their dynamic.

“John – it was my mistake. You didn’t know anything about it!” Rodney protested. “I screwed up, and I’ll pay for it. Shit, when I think of poor Jenny Keller…”

“That wasn’t your fault,” John told him. Rodney shook his head.

“Like you said earlier – if I hadn’t lied NCIS would have been here sooner and she wouldn’t have died.”

“Conjecture,” John said, with a terse wave of his hand. “NCIS *were* here and she died anyway. All it means is that she might have died a few weeks ago and not a couple of days ago. Look, Rodney, it happened. We can’t undo it. We don’t know what would have happened if NCIS had got here earlier but they haven’t solved this yet, so it’s not as if they’ve delivered. You feeling guilty about Jenny won’t bring her back.”

“She was a sweet girl,” Rodney murmured. “I liked her.”

“I know. So did I. But *we* didn’t kill her, Rodney. Someone else did – and they’re to blame for this, not us.”

Rodney thought about that for a moment, and then nodded, but John knew it wasn’t going to be that easy.

“I lied to you though,” Rodney murmured, looking away, unable to meet John’s eye. John reached out and touched the side of Rodney’s face, making him look up.

“Yes, you did, and we have to deal with that,” he said.

“Is it going to be bad?” Rodney asked, a slight hitch in his voice. “I mean…I assume it is, but…”

“Yes, it is,” John replied grimly. For both of us, he thought to himself.

“I’ll take the thirty swats in the punishment room as well as anything else you want to hand out,” Rodney said.

John sighed. This was Rodney all over; he was always ready to admit a mistake and abject in wanting to make amends for it. He wished people could see beyond his irascible demeanour to the kind-hearted, loyal man underneath. He could see it so clearly – and maybe that was another reason why he let Rodney get away with more than he should.

“It’s okay – Woolsey said I could take care of it myself. There won’t be any thirty swats in the punishment room,” John said gently.

“But you…” Rodney looked confused. “Woolsey really said that? But he hates us!”

“No, I don’t think he does, not really. But we have given him kind of a hard time since he got here,” John pointed out.

“He’s not Elizabeth,” Rodney said stubbornly.

“No, and that’s not his fault. He just arrived at a bad time. You and I had just got back from that other universe, and then Elizabeth was killed and Peter…well, we lost Peter. Then they sent us Woolsey and these murders started to happen – so I’m thinking we didn’t give him much of a chance,” John said.

“He didn’t give us one, either,” Rodney pointed out. “He’s never had a good word to say about Elizabeth and he’s changed half her protocols and made everyone unhappy into the bargain.”

“Yeah, well, we all make mistakes; those were his,” John sighed. He sat down on the edge of the bed and began unlacing his boots. Rodney came over, knelt down in front of him, and started to help him. John smiled, and placed a hand on Rodney’s head, stroking softly. Personal service wasn’t really Rodney’s thing in their dynamic, but just occasionally his sub surprised him.

Rodney finished removing his boots and John patted the bed beside him. Rodney sat down, his blue eyes wide and a little scared.

“You gonna cane me?” he asked.

John knew how much Rodney hated the cane, and it wasn’t his own favourite implement to wield either. Maybe it would work for precisely that reason but he didn’t want to get ahead of himself. He reached up and massaged his own neck, feeling the tightness. He rolled his shoulders and felt a satisfying crack, and a sense of release.

“I don’t know. I’ll see what feels right as we go along,” he replied. Rodney’s eyes widened even further at that.

“As we go along?” he repeated.

“Yeah. We have some work to do,” John told him. “In fact, we’ve had some work to do for some time, but I’ve been shirking it.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Rodney said, defensively.

“I think you kind of do,” John sighed. He reached out and put a hand on Rodney’s shirt, allowing it to hover over the area where Rodney’s scar was. He had the exact same scar on his own chest. “Unfinished business,” he whispered. Rodney reached out and grabbed hold of John’s wrist, and then he pushed his hand away.

“No,” he said, his eyes glittering.

“Yes,” John said firmly. “Rodney, you might not want to do this but you have absolutely no choice in the matter. Understand that?”

Rodney gazed at him, and John could see the emotions flit through his eyes – Rodney had the most expressive eyes of anyone he’d ever met. He saw the defiance, the fear, the pain, and then, finally, the acceptance.

“Go into the bathroom and strip,” John said. “Then come back out here. You won’t be wearing any clothes for the next few days. You won’t be leaving our quarters for the next few days, either.”

“But what about my work?” Rodney asked, aghast. “I was in the middle of a series of delicate experiments. And what about Abby? She doesn’t know how our tech works. She’ll need…”

“Rodney, I don’t give a damn,” John interrupted, his tiredness making him angry. “I don’t give a damn about your work, or NCIS, or any other damn thing right now. All I give a damn about is why my sub lied to me, and why he lied to his boss, and to NCIS, and why he thinks it’s okay, even after lying his ass off, to stand here and argue with me over a direct order. Now get in the bathroom and strip.”

Rodney’s expression was mute with dismay. He swallowed, hard, and then got up and walked slowly into the bathroom, like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. And that, John thought, was part of the problem.

He went to the door of their quarters and opened it. Two marines were standing outside. They gave him apologetic smiles and he sighed – it wasn’t their fault and he didn’t blame Woolsey for posting a guard on the door to make sure he and Rodney stayed confined to quarters for the duration of their sentence.

Outside the door were also the supplies he’d asked Lorne to provide. He pulled them into the room, placed the small single mattress beside his side of the bed and put the box on the table. Then he went and retrieved a box of his own from the closet. He opened both boxes, and took out what he needed.

The bathroom door opened, and Rodney tiptoed out. He was naked except for his collar and although he’d learned to walk with pride in his own skin after being with John for a couple of years, on this occasion he looked uncomfortable. John couldn’t remember the last time he’d ordered him to strip and be naked around him. They had been so preoccupied of late – first Elizabeth, then Peter, and then the murders. In the early days he’d told Rodney he wanted him naked around him when they were alone together but it had been a long time since he’d enforced that. More fool him.

Rodney saw the mattress on the floor and he looked up at John, and shook his head.

“Please, not that,” he said. “Don’t tell me I can’t sleep in your bed.”

“You’ll have to earn that right back,” John told him. “The way you have to earn back the trust you lost when you lied to me. You don’t sleep in my bed again until I’m satisfied you’ve done that.”

Rodney looked small, and lost, and kind of angry too. John knew about Rodney’s anger – knew they had to reach into it and get it out before it poisoned them both. Maybe it already had, a little.

“Are you rejecting me?” Rodney asked. John laughed out loud.

“No, Rodney. I’d never do that. I’m just reminding you who the top is because I think you’ve forgotten that. Now, you’re sleeping on the floor beside me until I say you can come back to bed. And do you know why?” Rodney shook his head. “Because I’m in charge, Rodney, and you’re my submissive. Now come here.”

Rodney came, looking poised between total defiance and abject submission. It was the kind of complex emotional tightrope that only Rodney could walk, John thought wryly to himself.

When he got close, John reached out and pulled him closer, running his hands over Rodney’s body. He stroked the naked flesh gently, loving how it felt under his fingertips. Rodney’s arms went around his body, instinctively, and John smiled, and kissed his sub’s hair. Then he released him, and touched the scab on Rodney’s forehead.

“I’m angry this happened, Rodney,” he said, feeling the red heat rise inside him all over again. “I’m angry someone touched you without my permission. I’m angry someone cuffed you.”

“I know.” Rodney nodded, his eyes searching John’s face anxiously.

“I’m angry you placed yourself in a position where they *could* because of the lie you told,” John said, more sternly. Rodney nodded.

“Yes, I know.”

“Hands out,” John ordered.

Rodney held out his arms, and John picked up a set of padded black cuffs from the table. He fastened them onto Rodney’s wrists and made them secure. Then he took a second set of cuffs, knelt down, and fastened them around Rodney’s ankles. Finally, he took a long length of chain. Rodney bit back a startled little sound and John shook his head.

“It’s going to be tough, Rodney. Accept it,” he ordered. Rodney nodded, his face strained.

John led him over to the mattress and ordered him to lie down. Then he fastened Rodney’s hands together behind him; in front would have been kinder, but he needed to make this hard, or Rodney wouldn’t give it up for him. He fastened Rodney’s ankles together as well, and then linked a chain between the two. Finally, he took another chain and looped it through the first, then fastened the ends of it into the slave rings on the bedposts and secured them there, one at the head and one at the foot of the bed. Rodney was now tied fast – his hands and feet were tied together, and he was tied to the bed at both ends. He couldn’t move more than a couple of inches either way. John tested the bonds to be satisfied, and then nodded.

“You have to ask me for everything from now on,” he said in a low tone. “You ask me if you want to use the bathroom, or you need anything to eat or drink. Understood?”

“Yes, John,” Rodney replied, but John could see the expression in his eyes. Rodney *hated* being restrained and it wasn’t usually part of their dynamic at all – not for very long periods anyway. Being tied for a light flogging was one thing – this was something else, and would require Rodney to submit himself completely to John’s will.

“The sooner you stop fighting it and submit, the sooner I’ll let you go, but everything has to be earned, Rodney,” John told him. Rodney nodded, stiffly, and John had a feeling this might take some time.

He went back to his box and got out a black leather blindfold. He returned to the mattress with it and Rodney tried to slither away from him, only managing a couple of inches before the chain restrained him.

“Please, John, not that. You know I hate being blindfolded,” Rodney whimpered. John did know that. He knew that Rodney was so prone to over-thinking any given situation that he hated anything that took away his visual clues as to what might be going on. That was precisely another reason for doing it; he didn’t want Rodney to think about anything for the next few days. He wanted to take him to a place beyond thought, and give him back the gift of his own submission. He had no doubt it wouldn’t be easy, but it *was* necessary.

“Ssh,” he said, stroking Rodney’s hair gently. “I’m going to blindfold you, Rodney, but you trust me don’t you?”

He felt as if he’d been punched in the gut by the tiny seed of doubt he saw flicker in Rodney’s eyes. Ah, so that was what this was about.

“Rodney – you have to learn to trust me again,” he said. “I’m going to make you learn to do that. You have no choice but to accept the blindfold. You’re my collared sub, and I’m your husband and your top. I *will* make you take this. Now close your eyes.”

Rodney gazed at him for a moment, struggling with it, and then did as he was told and closed his eyes, a little sigh leaving his lips as he did so. John was grateful for that much at least. He was chipping away at Rodney’s resistance, piece by piece, but he had a feeling it would take awhile. Damn it, why hadn’t he seen this coming on? Why had it taken him so long? A few short months ago Rodney would have submitted to all this without question, trusting John without even thinking about it. It hurt that that wasn’t the case any more.

John fastened the blindfold around Rodney’s face and then kissed him gently on the lips, reassuring him. Rodney was now naked, blindfolded and trussed on the mattress. He could barely move, and he couldn’t see anything.

“You’ll rely on me for everything from now on,” John told him. “You have so much as an itch, you let me know. You’re forbidden to touch yourself or do anything for yourself.”

“Yes, John,” Rodney whispered, and John could see how tense and unhappy he was. Usually he wouldn’t push Rodney this far outside his comfort zone but this time he had no choice.

He got a blanket and put it over Rodney’s body, patting him gently when he was done.

“I’m going to be right here, on the bed,” he said. “You’re safe – but you have to trust me on that. If you call me, I’ll be here.”

Rodney shuddered, and John knew why. Rodney had called for him before, when he’d been lying on the floor in a strange universe, blood pouring from his chest. John hadn’t been able to get there then and they were both paying the price for that now.

John removed his own clothes and got into the bed. He turned off the light and lay there, staring at the ceiling. This was as much a punishment for him as for Rodney. The lifebond between them pulsed when they were touching, flesh against flesh, and they both felt more comfortable when they were in close physical contact. Having Rodney lying on the floor beside the bed was its own special kind of torture, when he longed to be holding him and making love to him. Barely a night passed when John didn’t slide his hard cock between Rodney’s ass cheeks, and thrust into his sub’s willing body. Sometimes they were too tired to complete the act, and just fell asleep, John softening inside Rodney’s body. Sometimes they had quick sex, just to get in touch with each other again, and sometimes John took his time, and spent hours exploring his sub’s body until they both collapsed in a haze of pleasure.

This was how it had to be though, until they had worked through what had gone wrong between them.

“John,” Rodney whispered from the floor beside him. “Is it going to be okay?”

John rolled over and stroked Rodney’s hair. “Yes,” he said firmly, because his sub needed reassurance. “But it’s not going to be easy.” He lay there, his hand resting on Rodney’s hair, wondering if either of them was going to get any sleep tonight.

It took a long time but John finally got to sleep. He wasn’t sure if Rodney managed any though. When he woke, the sun was up outside and he could see by Rodney’s body language that his sub was awake. He didn’t look comfortable but then that had been the point. His arms had to be aching, tied behind him like that, although John had done his best to ensure he was supported by his pillow and could breathe easily. Still, such tight bondage was always going to be uncomfortable.

John shifted in the bed and Rodney raised his head, unable to see because of the blindfold.

“Thank god for that,” he breathed. “I have to use the bathroom.”

“Then you should have woken me,” John chided. “This isn’t an endurance test, Rodney. This is about you learning to trust me again.”

“I do,” Rodney muttered sullenly. John got up, whisked his blanket off him, and landed a firm slap on his naked ass. Rodney jerked in surprise, unable to see the slap coming his way.

“Don’t give me attitude, Rodney,” John snapped. He undid the chain fastening Rodney to the bed and unfastened the ankle cuffs so Rodney could walk but didn’t undo his wrist cuffs. He helped Rodney to stand and Rodney stretched his back, moaning as he did so.

“I ache all over,” he said accusingly. “I have a bad back – you know I have a bad back, but you tied me like that and left me there all night.”

“Yeah – I know you’ve got a bad back and that’s why I got you the mattress. Count yourself lucky – you could have been sleeping on the hard floor,” John said tersely. “Now, if you’re good then you can sleep with your hands tied in front of you tonight. If you’re not, then you can sleep tied over the spanking bench and I’ll get up every hour on the hour and give you five hard swats with the paddle.”

Rodney paled. “You wouldn’t,” he said, but he didn’t sound too sure.

“Want to try me?” John asked, dangerously. He could see Rodney adjusting mentally to where they were going with this. Usually they had so much fun together that their dynamic just bubbled along happily underneath. John rarely exerted himself as Rodney’s top more than he felt necessary, preferring a lighter touch. That, clearly, had been a mistake.

“No,” Rodney muttered. “You’re in charge.”

“Glad to hear you think so,” John retorted.

He escorted Rodney into the bathroom and over to the toilet. Rodney’s hands were still tied behind his back and he knew what was coming next. John stood behind him and held his cock, pointing it at the toilet.

“I hate this,” Rodney told him, his body convulsing mutinously.

“Yeah, I know,” John replied, pressing a kiss against Rodney’s neck. This wasn’t about bludgeoning Rodney into submission – it was about leading him there, both of them feeling their way until he got Rodney into a place where he trusted him again. The first few steps were always the hardest.

Rodney eventually relaxed enough to be able to pee. Afterwards John put him in the shower and then got in with him and started soaping Rodney down. Rodney’s cock responded to this as it always did when John touched him, and reared up hopefully.

“Do you really think there’s any chance you’ll be coming any time soon?” John said, biting back a chuckle.

“No, I don’t,” Rodney sighed. “But try telling my cock that. It’s ever-hopeful.”

“Well it has no reason to be,” John said firmly. “You’re forbidden to come until I give you express permission. If you disobey me then I promise you that night-time spanking regime I outlined earlier will become a reality, and if you think things are bad right now they could get so much worse.”

Rodney made a little sound in the back of his throat and John stroked him reassuringly.

“Turn,” he said, and he pulled Rodney around so that his back was facing him. John ran soapy fingers over Rodney’s back, massaging away any knots caused by his uncomfortable sleeping position, and Rodney sighed, and opened up, his body slowly relaxing. “Here’s how it’ll be,” John said. “I’m going to use you whenever I want, and you are going to open up and let me. This is just about you pleasing me. There won’t be anything in it for you. Understood?”

Rodney quivered under his touch, and John knew that on some level this was turning him on – which was good, because Rodney being turned on but unable to come was a level of control he needed to exert over his sub right now.

“You won’t know when,” John added. “The blindfold will stay on – you’ll just open your mouth or your legs whenever I want you. Understood?”

“Yes.” Rodney nodded.

“The cuffs will stay on as well,” John warned. “I want you to please me with those talented lips of yours and with your hole – you don’t get to touch or to see – you just get to serve.”

“Okay,” Rodney sighed, and John knew how much that was going to chafe – Rodney loved using his hands and adored being able to run them over John’s naked body. He was an extremely sensuous man, and this was depriving him of so many of his pleasures.

John unfastened Rodney’s cuffs from behind his back but only to immediately refasten them in front of him. Then he reached for the shower brush and swung the flat of it hard against Rodney’s exposed buttocks. Rodney gave a yowl of surprise but John just surveyed the red mark he’d made dispassionately. He loved marking Rodney’s body, and it had been awhile since he’d done so – another sign of his own lack of attention to detail of late.

He swung the brush again, landing another fine swat. Rodney gave a gasp and fell forward, his bound hands clutching for the side of the shower. John waited until he’d got himself into position, and then swung again. He got into a rhythm, liking the splotchy red colour he was bringing to the surface of Rodney’s ass. Rodney took the spanking well, not moving or complaining beyond the odd muffled “ow”. They both knew this wasn’t for pleasure – but it wasn’t too severe yet, either. John knew he had to work his way up to that one. Rodney often got angry during the course of a proper punishment spanking, and John knew that anger was buried so deep that it would take some time to bubble to the surface. It was time they had. His job was to skilfully work it out, giving Rodney the right guidance to express it and get it out of his system. This was a good start.

He finished spanking Rodney and then reached for the lube they kept in the shower. He spread Rodney’s glowing buttocks, lubed him quickly, and then slid his hard cock into his sub’s warm ass. It felt good, the way it always felt so damn good with Rodney. No matter the difficulty of this current situation, being inside Rodney was never anything other than a pleasure – and he knew that Rodney felt the same way about having him inside him. Apart from anything else this was necessary – Rodney needed to feel connected, and he also needed to get back in touch with that sense of John as his top, as someone strong who could take what he wanted from his sub at will. Rodney had been taking too much responsibility for too long – he needed to give it back to John.

John kept firm hands on Rodney’s hips as he thrust into him, using him hard and fast. He knew Rodney’s cock was hard and leaking but he also knew Rodney wouldn’t come without his permission, either, and he wasn’t going to get that permission until John was satisfied he’d managed to bring his sub right down, and that Rodney had submitted to him utterly and completely, without reservation.

John came with a sigh of satisfaction, shooting deep inside Rodney. He stood there for a moment, leaning over his sub, panting, and then decided to move things up a notch.

“Pull your butt cheeks together and stay there,” he ordered, and he pulled out of Rodney and left the shower to return to the other room and retrieve a nice, solid butt plug. He went back to the shower and stepped inside, to find Rodney exactly where he had left him, his taut buttocks showing he had obeyed John’s order.

“Okay.” John tapped his butt. “Relax.” Rodney did as ordered, and John lubed up the buttplug and then slid it firmly into Rodney’s hole. “That’ll keep my come inside you until I’m ready to shoot into you again,” he said, and Rodney’s entire body quivered at that. John smiled to himself. Oh yes, this might take awhile, but he knew his husband, and he knew the best way to reach him. “You’re my sub, Rodney,” he whispered, pressing on the buttplug with his fingers to make sure Rodney was feeling it. “You’ll submit to me. I’ll take what I want from you, and mark you with my scent, with my come, with my strap, with my hand, with my teeth – any way I like. And you’ll take it and submit, won’t you?”

Rodney moaned softly. “Yes, John,” he whispered. “I will.”

John smiled, and drew back. He could feel his body start to loosen as he got himself into his top-space. The strain of the past few months began to drain away and he felt his doubts going with them.

He knew who he was, and he knew who Rodney was – and it felt good to remind themselves of a few basic truths that they’d lost touch with of late. No wonder Rodney had stopped trusting in him as a top when he’d stopped trusting in himself. This was as much about him regaining trust as Rodney, and now that he was listening to his instincts, and being the firm, uncompromising top Rodney occasionally needed, he hoped they could resolve their issues and be strong again.


Rodney hated this. He hated being tied, his ankles connected by a short chain so he could only take small steps, his arms tied behind his back, his eyes blindfolded. He hated having to trust John to lead him around, unable to see where he was going, or even put out a hand to catch himself if he felt he was falling. True, John was beside him, and when he had stumbled, walking from the bathroom to the living room, John’s hand had immediately clasped his elbow, keeping him safe, but he hated it all the same.

Much as he loved his top, he didn’t like feeling this dependent. Being naked didn’t help. He felt as if all his everyday defences had been stripped away: his clothes, his sight, his sense of touch, his ability to walk where he wanted or to lie beside his husband at night. Even his work had been taken from him.

He was aware of the buttplug pressed deep inside his body as he walked. It was uncomfortable, but he didn’t mind it. He liked the idea of it keeping John’s come inside his body, and of keeping him open in case John wanted to use him again. The touch of John’s hands on his body and the feel of his cock inside him would never be unwelcome.

He was led over to the table and John told him to kneel. He went down, slowly, John’s hands on his body to keep him steady. Then he felt the chain being tied to the table and he sighed.

“I’m not exactly going to run anywhere,” he muttered. “Aren’t the blindfold and cuffs enough? You don’t need to tie me to every inanimate object in the room!”

He didn’t see or hear it, but he certainly felt it as John’s hand connected with the side of his exposed ass.

“I don’t recall asking you for guidance on where and how I should tie my submissive,” John told him. “All I’m asking for is your submission and I’m not seeing much of that at the moment.”

Rodney thought about making a smart reply but then decided against it. He hung his head, a dozen mutinous thoughts rolling around in it. He felt angry – furious even – and he wasn’t sure why. This was John’s right; he could do this to him every day if he wanted, and for as long as Rodney wore his collar he had no choice but to submit. Why was it making him so angry? Why couldn’t he just give it up to John, as his top was asking?

He leaned his head against the table leg, fighting himself. Maybe if he thought about work that would be better. He went through some equations in his head, calming himself with the math. It usually worked but John wasn’t having any of it. Rodney had no idea how he knew but suddenly there was a hand on his head, and John spoke straight into his ear.

“No. You don’t go there, Rodney,” he said. “You don’t go off someplace in your head. You stay here, with me.”

Rodney shook with silent, unfulfilled rage. He felt wave after wave of frustration roll through his body, chafing at the restrictions, at the discomfort, at the exposure…and John kept a hand on his body all the time, stroking him as he struggled, silently, with his situation. Finally, the wave broke, and he leaned, exhausted, against John’s solid thigh.

“That’s good. Now, let’s have something to eat,” John said. He moved away, and Rodney could hear him preparing some food. Then he returned to the table with it, and Rodney heard him sit down. “I’m going to eat first – then I’ll feed you,” John told him, and Rodney gave a big sigh and rested his chin on John’s lap. John gave a little snort but his hand came to rest on Rodney’s head and he resumed stroking him as he ate.

Rodney smelled toast, fruit and coffee and all kinds of things he loved, and his mouth started to water. He wondered whether John would feed him something disgusting, something he hated, and then got gripped by a moment of panic as he wondered whether John would feed him at all. Maybe he’d change his mind and keep Rodney hungry. Rodney sat up straight at that thought, and John laughed.

“Man, you are so predictable,” he said. “Rodney, it’s okay. You should trust me. I told you I’ll feed you and I will.”

Rodney nodded, uncertainly. A second later he felt a fork press against his lips and he opened his mouth to taste the deliciousness of chocolate-filled croissant; his favourite food in the whole world. It melted in his mouth, and he devoured it with a happy sigh.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “And I’m sorry I didn’t trust you.”

“Yeah, well, it kind of hurts, Rodney,” John told him. He fed Rodney the entire croissant and then pressed the coffee cup to his lips. Rodney swallowed it down – it was warm, strong and sugary, just the way he liked it.

John finished feeding him and then left him kneeling at the table while he took care of the dishes. Then he unfastened him and took him over to the couch. He fastened him again and sat down, and Rodney heard the whir of a disk being put into a laptop on the coffee table, and then the sound of a movie starting.

His knees were hurting from all the kneeling and he shifted uncomfortably, feeling a sense of resentment growing in his stomach. They were confined to quarters, and yet John was the one who got to sit with his feet up, watching a movie, while Rodney knelt by his side like a puppy. He knew this was part of his punishment for his lie but all the same he felt that anger start to rise again.

“Do your knees hurt, Rodney?” John asked.

“Yes. Like you care,” Rodney retorted.

“I do though,” John said, in a reasonable tone of voice. His hand came down on Rodney’s tense shoulders and he stroked gently. “If you’d asked me to be allowed up onto the couch I’d have let you. But as you didn’t, you can stay there. If you’re good then I’ll let you up here in an hour.”

“How was I supposed to know I had to ask?” Rodney snapped. A second later John’s hand connected again with his naked flank. “OW!” he protested.

“I’ve been telling you often enough – you just haven’t been listening,” John told him.

“I hate you,” Rodney said, leaning his head against John’s thigh just the same. John sighed, his hand coming to rest on Rodney’s hair.

“I know, buddy,” he replied. “I know.”

Rodney zoned out a little, trying to ignore the growing pain in his knees as he knelt there, leaning against John while the movie played. This was so boring! And such a waste of time when there was so much work he could be doing. John stroked his hair the entire time which helped, but not much.

After an hour, John was as good as his word and he unfastened Rodney and allowed him up on the couch. Rodney sat down beside him but John wasn’t having any of that.

“No, Rodney. Wrong position,” he said. He hauled Rodney over so that he was lying on his front, arms still tied behind his back, his face resting sideways on John’s lap, his body sprawled out on the couch. “That’s better. I want to fondle you while I watch the rest of the movie.”

Rodney relaxed as John’s hands played with his body, just idly, stroking and caressing him absently as the movie continued. He gave a contented little sigh. He might be naked, blindfolded and tied but being this close to John was never a bad thing.

The movie finished, and John’s fingers started to tangle more purposefully in Rodney’s hair as he pushed Rodney down into his crotch. His cock was starting to harden and Rodney nosed at it hopefully through John’s jeans. He loved giving John blow jobs as much as John liked receiving them.

“That’s it, good boy,” John sighed happily, opening his fly. His cock sprang up, hard and ready, against Rodney’s face. John shifted Rodney, guiding him down in front of him onto the floor and putting him in a kneeling position again, and then Rodney felt John’s hands on the side of his face, directing his head down. He took John’s hard cock in his mouth and sucked on it. It felt strange to be doing this in a position of such abject bondage but good all the same. It gave a whole new perspective to giving a blow job; his hands were tied behind him and he couldn’t see, so he had only his mouth with which to service his top and he felt suddenly very aware of how naked he was. John’s hands were firm on his head and he fucked Rodney’s mouth expertly, never once letting Rodney take charge.

“Relax your throat…that’s it,” John murmured. “Open it up for me…no…don’t move, just let me use your mouth.” He held Rodney fast and thrust back and forth, harder and harder. The angle was deep, and Rodney couldn’t move. He couldn’t lick, or blow warm air over the crown, or perform one of his usual truly spectacular blowjobs; all he could do was kneel there, and let John use his mouth the way he’d used his ass earlier.

John held Rodney fast as he grew closer to his climax, and then he came and Rodney felt warm semen in the back of his mouth. John’s cock was still between his lips, softening, and John stroked Rodney’s cheek encouragingly.

“Clean me, Rodney,” he ordered, and Rodney obliged, sucking the last drops of moisture from his top’s spent cock.

John didn’t move away when he was done – he just sat there, his cock still in Rodney’s mouth. Rodney wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do but he couldn’t move or speak so he just knelt there, breathing around John’s soft cock. After awhile he shifted on his knees and John caressed his jaw warningly. He settled back down again between John’s legs and zoned out. If John wanted to sit there with his cock in Rodney’s mouth then he supposed that was fine with him.

They sat there for what felt like ages and Rodney started to wonder if his top had fallen asleep. This felt kind of weird…although, he did like the feel of John inside him. John would often fall asleep with his cock in Rodney’s ass, and this was a bit different but it gave him the same sense of warm connection. Finally, he stopped wondering about it and just gave in to it. Just when he did that, he felt John’s cock start to harden again and he sat up straight, wondering if John wanted to pound into his mouth a second time…but John drew back and pulled Rodney up onto the couch instead.

“Ride me, Rodney,” he instructed, removing Rodney’s butt plug and positioning Rodney on his lap. Rodney felt his buttocks being pulled apart, and he moved his hips down, cautiously, to impale himself on John’s hard cock. It was wet from where he’d been holding it in his mouth and there was still some lube in his anus but entry was dry enough to make his eyes sting all the same. John held his hips steady and pulled him down, right down, until his cock was filling Rodney’s hole, stretching him as far as he’d go. He gave a little muttered sigh, and then felt John’s fingers on his nipples, pinching and playing.

“Hold still…hold it right there, with me deep inside you,” John said, and Rodney did as he was told, surrendering himself utterly to the sensation of John’s rock hard cock filling him. He heard John reach for something, and then, completely without warning, he felt a blaze of atrocious pain rip through his left nipple.

“OH SHIT!” he screamed. Normally he liked wearing nipple clamps but only when he could see them coming, and ease himself into the sensation. This had taken him totally by surprise.

“Easy,” John said, stroking him. Rodney tensed, waiting for the right nipple to be similarly assaulted, but nothing happened. The pain in his left nipple began to subside into a steady, persistent throb, and John wasn’t saying anything.

“John?” he whispered. “Oh shit…John…that hurt.”

“Mmmm…looks good though,” John replied. And at that moment Rodney felt the other clamp go on. He convulsed, the action making his anal muscles clamp even tighter around John’s cock, embedded deep within him, and the dual sensations caused fireworks to spark inside his mind. He swayed, moaning softly, and was grateful for John’s hands on his thighs, holding him in place.

Now both nipples ached – and Rodney knew from the way they felt that John had used the particularly nasty clamps on them; the ones that pinched right in and got worse the longer you wore them rather than better. He could feel the sweat on his body, running down his chest in little rivulets, and still John’s hands were on him, calming him.

“Take it, Rodney,” John whispered, and in truth Rodney had no choice. He was bound, blindfolded and completely at John’s mercy. All he could do was trust that John wouldn’t take him too far, or to a place where he would drown. “That’s good,” John crooned affectionately. “You’re doing so well. Hold on now…”

Rodney put his head back and howled as John took hold of both his clamped nipples and twisted, hard. He could take a lot of nipple play but it had been a long time since John had been so uncompromising in making him endure it. There were times, in the middle of it, when Rodney longed for it to be over and for John to leave the poor, abused nubs of flesh alone, but then, when it was over, Rodney took a secret pleasure in remembering how it had felt. His nipples were sensitive, and the pain/pleasure line often became totally blurred when John played with them.

John held the twist for a long moment and then released his nipples, and Rodney slumped down, held in place only by John’s hard cock inside him and John’s hands on his thighs.

“Please…” he croaked.

“What, Rodney?” John asked. Rodney wasn’t sure what he was pleading for. He wanted this to stop but at the same time he felt a familiar warm sensation creeping through him at the thought of being so completely in his top’s control. “Your body is mine, Rodney,” John reminded him, and this – *this* – was their dynamic. “And I can play with it any way I like, can’t I?”

“Yes, John,” he whimpered, that warmth spreading out inside him. There was a brief respite and then his nipples were twisted again and he put his head back and yelled out loud now – yelled and screamed and shouted – and it felt so good to be letting it out.

He forgot work, and NCIS, and the lie he’d told. He was just John’s collared sub, his body a plaything for his top to use. He was aware of nothing but the ache in his nipples from the clamps and the ache in his anus from where it was stretched around John’s hard cock, His hands were fastened behind his back and he couldn’t see or do anything – he could only submit.

Then John was pushing him back on the couch, going slowly, taking care to keep his hard cock sheathed deep inside his sub’s body. Now Rodney was lying on his back, his bound hands beneath him, and John was on top of him and inside him. He tensed, and then relaxed and waited for what was coming next. A moment later he felt John’s warm, wet mouth on his nipples, playing with them around the edges of the clamps, roving from one to the other. It was soothing and painful at the same time, and Rodney wriggled and struggled but there was no getting away from his top. John’s body was keeping him pinned, and he was bound and helpless.

John used his tongue and teeth to pull on the clamps, and twist them, and each time it sent a wave of pain through the abused flesh. Rodney gasped and whimpered and yelled but nothing stopped John. He held Rodney in place beneath him and tormented his nipples for what felt like hours. Rodney lost track of time. There was nothing he could do but accept, and the longer it went on the easier it seemed to become. He was John’s, and John could do what he wanted to him. He was John’s, and John wanted to play with him. He was John’s, and could expect nothing back – no pleasure, no chance of coming. His body existed to please his top right now and all he could do was offer it up and submit.

Something clicked inside his brain and he felt waves of endorphins flood through him. It had been a long time since he’d been this far inside his own sub-space and he hadn’t realised how much he’d missed it. The problem was he hated the getting here, but when he was here it felt so good. He felt as if he was floating, and the only thing keeping him anchored was John’s brutal mouth on his chest, and John’s heavy weight on and in his body.

His cock was hard but he wasn’t allowed to come. This wasn’t about him. This was about his top taking whatever he wanted from him. He felt John’s fingers on his left nipple and then a sense of freedom and release as the clamp was removed, followed by a blaze of atrocious pain as the blood rushed back into the tortured piece of flesh, and then, just when that blaze of pain was hitting, John’s mouth descended again, taking the nipple whole, and he bit down – hard.

Rodney felt as if he’d died, and his consciousness was above him somewhere, hovering around the ceiling. If he looked down he could see their bodies on the couch below; himself bound, John’s long, agile body on top of him, John’s mouth fastened around his nipple, a feral look in John’s eyes. Oh god it hurt; he was sure he was going to pass out from the sensory overload.

Then it was over, and the pain subsided, and there was just John sucking gently on his nipple and he was back in his body again.

“You’ve got a beautiful mark there now,” John told him. “Nice and red.” And Rodney felt him lapping at the mark with his tongue.

Next thing he knew, the clamp had been removed from his right nipple and he was too far gone to even convulse this time as the waves of pain came, too zoned out to tense in expectation as John’s mouth came down on the newly released nipple and bit it, just as hard as he had the other. He was John’s to mark, John’s to bite, John’s to play with.

Then the bite was over, and now John was moving inside him, his hard cock claiming him with a series of brutal thrusts. John didn’t usually thrust into him like this, raw and hard and hungry, and Rodney couldn’t brace himself because of his bound hands so all he could do was lie there and take each powerful inward thrust, whimpering softly as John used him without mercy. John had been recently sated by the blowjob, so he had considerable stamina and he didn’t let up, his hips pistoning into Rodney for what felt like hours.

Rodney was aware of a crimp in his arms from where they were pressed into the couch, and a vivid ache in both his nipples. He was aware of sweat running down the side of his body, of his legs resting on John’s shoulders, and the weight of John’s body on top of his own. But most of all he was aware of John’s large cock inside him, filling and claiming him with each savage thrust.

It was as if they were caught in some kind of time anomaly that stretched on for all eternity. Rodney felt as if he’d been here forever and would be here forever, and this was all there was in the whole universe; him, John, and John moving inside him like this, claiming him so totally and completely, without any room for doubt.

Then, as if from afar, he was aware that John had stopped moving. There was a rushing sound in his ears and he couldn’t hear anything but he felt warmth trickling down his leg, and then the solid, plastic weight of the butt plug pressing into him again as John shoved it home. He whimpered as it went in, longing to feel John’s warm hardness and not the cold plastic but John pushed it into place and he felt his body settle around it. John had put it there, so that was where it had to be, whether he liked it or not. It was pressing up inside him, keeping what John had left there in place. He was a receptacle for John’s come, and if John wanted to mark him in that way, scenting him and filling him, then that was fine.

He felt himself being pulled onto his side on the couch, and his chained hands were fastened again to something on the floor – probably the coffee table. And then a blanket was thrown over him, and he felt John’s lips on his forehead.

“Sleep,” John told him, and it was what his top wanted, so he did.

He was awoken some time later – he had no idea how long it had been – by something warm being wrapped around his cock. The blanket had been flung aside and he was on his back again. He came to with a start, realising that John was sucking him. He gave a gurgle of pleasure as John deep-throated him, and thrust up between his lips. John sucked him expertly until he was right on the brink of coming…and then stopped. Rodney moaned out loud, still teetering, longing for his climax.

“Don’t come, Rodney,” John warned, and Rodney gave a whimper of disappointment. He was so close, and he wanted to so much! But John had told him he couldn’t, so he fought it, and finally won, battling the sensation into submission. He felt his cock starting to droop, and then cried out as it was slapped. “Keep it hard for me, Rodney. Keep your erection – but don’t come.”

Rodney wondered how the hell he could do that.

“I want you on the brink, Rodney,” John warned, teasing the underside of his cock with what felt like a fingernail. “But there is no question of you coming today. You’ll stay hard because you’re mine and I’m telling you to.”

Rodney gave a frustrated groan. He remembered the feeling of John’s warm, wet mouth sucking him, and his cock hardened again. Then he tried to stay in that place.

“I have my cock whip, Rodney,” John told him warningly, and Rodney felt the cool tendrils of leather gently waft over his hard cock. “The second your erection flags, I’ll use the whip on it.”

It was torture! Rodney felt everything inside him rebel at such a cruel demand.

“I can’t,” he whispered, hoarsely.

“You have no choice,” John told him resolutely. Rodney struggled with it for a moment, going around his options in his head until he realised there were none. John would make him do this if it took days. He had to find a way to stay hard, to stay excited and eager and ready to come, and yet not go over the brink.

He tried to run through every sexy scenario he could think of. He remembered earlier, his hole stretched tight around John’s demanding cock and his own cock spasmed with need.

“That’s good,” John whispered, and he sounded dangerously close, sitting right there, watching, waiting, whip at the ready. Rodney did his best to hold onto that thought but, without any further stimulation, his cock gradually began to droop. Before he knew it, John’s whip flashed a line of pain through his groin.

“Oh shit! Please…I’m trying – I’m trying!” he whimpered.

“Not hard enough,” John said, and there was the sound of an evil smile in his voice. “Literally,” he chuckled. The whip assaulted his cock again and Rodney wrestled with his bonds, trying to get away from it, but it was no use – he was tied fast. He howled as John’s whip set about in earnest, sending a biting line of fire through his groin and deep into his balls.

The stimulation at least had the effect of causing his erection to return and the whipping stopped. Rodney slumped back on the couch, panting heavily.

“I’m still watching, Rodney,” John hissed, and he sounded dangerous and predatory. Rodney remembered how he’d often thought of John as being like a big, black panther, and he shivered – he liked that image but it had been a long time since he’d thought it. Of late, John had been more vulnerable and preoccupied and Rodney had been worried about him. This man here, though, the one standing over him and demanding he stay erect or face his whip – he didn’t seem vulnerable at all, and if he was preoccupied with anything it was only with whether Rodney’s body was obeying him the way he wanted.

Rodney shifted, feeling the butt plug press uncomfortably inside him. His nipples were sore and his entire body ached but he had to stay erect because John had demanded it. He tried to relax and switch off, while at the same time concentrating for all his life on keeping his cock bobbing hopefully in the air, without hope of release.

Time passed again – blindfolded, he had no idea how long it was. There were intervals when he failed, and the whip stung his cock, and then time when he succeeded, and trembled on the brink of orgasm, knowing it was denied him, and he lurched between the two. It was agony but a delicious kind of agony. And then it was over, and John was unfastening him and taking him over to the table to feed him again. Was he hungry? He couldn’t tell – but if John told him to eat then he would.

After they had eaten, the butt plug was removed again, briefly, but only so that John could bend him over the back of the couch and take him again. He shot another load into him and replaced the plug. Rodney could feel his top’s come inside him, becoming cold and heavy, seeping out around the plug. John took him over to the mattress, and released his hands from behind his back.

“You’ve been good today, Rodney,” he said, and Rodney felt a glow of pleasure at the praise. “So you can sleep with your hands tied in front of you.”

Rodney lay on the mattress on his side and John began fastening him to the bedposts again. Rodney could hear the chain tightening and rattling until he was held fast, barely able to move. At least his hands were in a more comfortable position than they had been the previous night, and that was good.

But now he found he missed John’s hands on his body, and the way John had been touching him and filling him all day.

“Can’t I sleep with you?” he whispered. “Please.”

“No,” John told him, firmly. “You must earn that.”

“I know. I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’ll try.”

“I know,” John told him, and a gentle hand smoothed his hair and he felt John’s lips on his forehead. He longed to feel them on his mouth and moved his face accordingly, but John pulled away. “That has to be earned too,” he said, and Rodney gave a whimper and buried his face in the pillow.

He slept better that night than he had the previous night, and woke to find John unfastening him. He was sat up, and, before he was even fully awake, John took hold of his face, and pushed his cock in his mouth. He sucked on it without thinking about it, loving the smooth feel of it on his tongue, and the way John was stroking his hair as he worked.

It was his second day blindfolded, and he found he lost all track of time. There was just John, and him, and John’s hands on his body, and John’s cock in his mouth, or in his ass, and John’s butt plug filling him and John’s come inside him.

John tied him when he wasn’t being used, and Rodney forgot even to complain about his aching knees or back. He just slumped against John, trusting that he’d look after him, because he always did. He always *had*. There had been just that one time…he pushed that thought aside angrily because that hadn’t been John’s fault, but it niggled away at the back of his mind. He could rely on John. John was strong and solid and always there for him.

He wasn’t sure what time it was but he felt tired, so maybe it was late, when John suddenly pulled him to his feet.

“It’s time for me to punish you now, Rodney,” he said. “I’m going to punish you for the lie you told. You’re ready to take that now.”

Rodney frowned behind the blindfold. What lie? Oh, yes…with a great effort of will he dragged his mind back from where it had gone. He’d told a bad lie, and John was right – he did deserve to be punished.

“Yes, John,” he whispered obediently. “I’m ready for my punishment now.”

“Good boy.”

He felt John’s hands on his shoulders, pushing him over to the wall. They had a nice, padded spanking bench but Rodney knew John preferred him braced against the wall when he was going to whip him hard.

He felt his hands being untied, and then he was being turned. He placed his hands on the wall, and he felt John moving his legs apart. He instinctively got into the right position, hands braced, ass out and exposed, ready for the sting of his top’s strap, or his paddle, or his cane or anything else he wanted to use on him.

He stood there, waiting to be told what to do next, and then he felt hard wood being held up to his lips.

“Kiss the cane, Rodney,” John told him and Rodney did so, without question. It wasn’t something John had ever asked of him before but it was fine – if that was what John wanted. He dimly registered that it was the cane he was kissing and he hated the cane, but that didn’t matter. If John wanted to cane him then he would submit to being caned.

He heard John behind him, moving away a little, and then the whistle and hiss of the cane moving through the air, and, finally, a terrible, fiery sting as it landed on his bottom. He stifled his yelp but John wasn’t satisfied with that.

“I want to hear you scream, Rodney. Don’t hold back,” he warned. Rodney nodded, and next time the cane landed on his naked, exposed ass he cried out. It hurt but it felt good to be crying and yelling. Something deep and dark was unravelling in the pit of his stomach and it wanted to get out, to be screamed out. John’s cane was relentless, driving into his skin, marking him with its savage caress.

The blindfold kept him in the dark, and he remembered another place and time and a different kind of darkness. He was lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood and his chest hurt…He pushed it back down. He wasn’t going there. No matter what happened, he wasn’t going back to that time and place.

He came to with a jolt as the caning stopped, and he felt hands on his nipples; they were still very sore from the previous day and he cried out loud.

“Ssh, easy, Rodney,” John soothed behind him. “I think we need to step this up a bit don’t you?”

He shook his head, blindly, not liking where this was heading, and then they were back, the evil, vicious, biting clamps from the day before. John took no notice of his cries and fastened them tight around his nipples. Now his chest hurt, throbbing painfully, reminding him…

John put him back in position and then stepped away and the cane rose and fell once more on his exposed buttocks; then again, and again, in a steady, painful rhythm. It was hard to push away the memory when he could feel the ache in his chest, reminding him, and when that cane was burning him from behind, making it impossible to concentrate on keeping the memory at bay.

The darkness flickered, and then suddenly he was falling in a flash of light, falling through a window into another universe. He had barely a moment to adjust before he saw the man in the Genii uniform raising his gun. He lifted his hands, offering to surrender, but it was too late and the gun spat fire at him. He felt the pain in his chest, ripping through him, and then he was on the floor, blood soaking through his shirt, and then onto the floor around him, in a vivid crimson tide.

“John!” he cried. “John? Where are you?”

But he was alone. Nobody was there. There was just him, lying on the floor, lost and alone.

“I’m here,” John said, and he felt gentle hands circling him, and someone clasping him, holding him close.

“No, you’re not. You weren’t there. You weren’t there! I called for you and you weren’t there!” Rodney cried, his fists rising and falling angrily on John’s chest.

“I was,” John said, and his voice was breaking as he spoke. “I was, Rodney, remember.”

Rodney felt the lifebond pulse between them, and the healing kaeira energy travel along it. He was alone…but there, far away, he could feel John’s presence, sending him vitality, keeping him alive, trying to reassure him.

“I was there – not in the room but I was there, with you, the whole time,” John told him. “I was there, Rodney, I promise you.”

Rodney slumped against his husband, reaching for him blindly, and he felt John’s fingers on his nipples and arched against him as the clamps were gently removed. There was a familiar wave of pain, but somehow that just brought clarity.

“You were there?” he whispered, feeling John’s beloved face in the darkness with his fingertips.

“Yes, Rodney, and I’m here now,” John replied, his fingers linking through Rodney’s. “You can trust me. I’m strong…I’ve got you. You can fall now – fall all the way for me because I’ve got you. You can trust me. I’ll never, ever let you down.”

“I know,” Rodney whispered. “I know.”

John’s hands helped him up, and John half carried him over to the bed, and gently guided him down onto it, and then John got on the bed beside him and was holding him tight. He settled down against John’s chest, snuggling in close, and John raised his face and then he felt – thank god! – John’s lips on his mouth, and John’s tongue gently seeking entry, and that felt so good. He was being kissed and it calmed him, making him drowsy.

“Elizabeth died,” he whispered into John’s neck when John was done kissing him. “We were only back a few weeks and then she died.”

“I know,” John said hoarsely.

“And Peter…” Peter Weir had stayed to bury his wife after she had been killed fighting the replicators. She had fought bravely, winning them time to regroup and save the city from catastrophe but had paid the ultimate price. Then, a few days after the funeral, Peter hadn’t showed up for his shift in the lab. It had been Rodney who had gone to his room, and Rodney who had found Peter’s body, the hand resting on a note that said only one word: “Sorry”.

“I know,” John said again, stroking Rodney.

“Then people started being murdered,” Rodney continued.

“Yes.” John’s arms tightened around Rodney. “But I’m still here, Rodney.” And his hands were warm and comforting on Rodney’s body. “I’m still here and I’m not going anywhere. Not now, not ever.”

“No,” Rodney said simply, and he rested his chin on John’s shoulder. “No. You’re not going anywhere,” he repeated softly. “I know that now.”

John’s hands were everywhere on his body, soothing and gentling him, removing the cuffs and the buttplug, wiping him clean with a washcloth and rubbing cooling ointment into his sore flesh, wherever it hurt. Then John’s fingers went to his blindfold, and Rodney stopped them with his own.

“Not yet,” he said. “Can I stay here a little bit longer, John? Please?” He didn’t want to leave just yet. The darkness was warm and comforting, and he knew he could trust John to keep him safe and take care of him while he stayed there.

“Okay.” John didn’t remove the blindfold. He just settled down beside his husband, took him in his arms again, and pulled the blankets up around them both. “Okay,” he whispered. “I’ve got you, love. I’ve got you.”


Tim McGee lay on the bed staring at the ceiling. He felt tired, not least because Gibbs was only allowing them eight hours downtime to themselves at night, most of which was taken up with sleeping, while the other sixteen hours of the day were spent going over and over the evidence; the tapes, the files, the interviews – everything they had. The problem was they weren’t finding anything and that was making Gibbs bad tempered, and, as a result, all his subs were on edge too.

It had been four days since their abortive questioning of Rodney Sheppard. Tony clearly felt responsible for how badly wrong that had gone, and Gibbs had been making his views on that screw-up abundantly clear. Tim even felt a little bit sorry for Tony as Gibbs sent him on various tedious or downright unpleasant errands around the city, and he got the feeling those daily spankings Tony took from their top had been especially tough of late.

He wished he could switch off but he was so worn out by the grinding pace that he was almost beyond sleep. He hadn’t even had the energy to make his usual notes for story ideas – he had just thrown himself on the bed the minute Gibbs had allowed them to retire to their rooms.

There was a little noise at the door, and Tim sat up.

“Who is it?” he whispered.

“It is me,” Ziva told him, hesitating in the doorway. “Is it okay to come in?”

“Of course.” Tim sat up. Ziva had come to his room every night since that first night a few days ago, and he still wasn’t sure why. Sometimes they talked, and he loved that, and sometimes they just sat in silence, and that felt good too. He didn’t like to ask her what was going on in case she stopped visiting him at night and he really, really didn’t want that to happen.

“Do you mind me doing this?” she asked him, crossing over to the bed, removing her outer clothes with the same lack of embarrassment she always had, and slipping under the covers.

“No.” Tim shook his head.

“You are still dressed,” she pointed out.

“I can’t sleep. You?” he said.

She gave him a strange look. “Tim, I have not been able to sleep for the past few nights. I try and then I give up. Why else do you think I end up coming into your room?”

“Oh. Uh. I don’t know really,” Tim whispered. “I thought…well, I really don’t know.”

“No. You really don’t, do you,” she said, with a little grin.

“Well, I suppose it is weird,” he said. “Being on a strange planet and so far from home and with all that’s going on here.”

“Yes.” She nodded. “But that is not why I cannot sleep.”

“Oh.” He wasn’t sure if she wanted him to ask her about that, or wanted to confide in him, so he just sat there, wishing it was easier to talk to tops. Damn it, even when he had one sitting in his bed he *still* didn’t know what to say.

“Are you worried about the case?” he asked at last.

“It is proving hard to solve,” she replied. “Being away from our usual facilities does not help. It takes hours getting information back from Earth.”

“Yeah. Gibbs is getting frustrated I think.”

“You think?” She raised an eyebrow. “Good detective work, probie!”

Tim shook his head, chuckling. “I wish he’d let up on Tony though – and that’s not something I say very often! But it wasn’t his fault he was wrong about Rodney.”

Ziva stared at him, and then laughed. “You really do not understand tops at all, do you?” she said.

“Uh…well, no, to be honest. Why? What am I missing?” he frowned. Ziva leaned in close, so close he could smell her hair, and he longed to bury his nose in it and inhale deeply.

“Gibbs cannot let up on Tony right now or Tony will do something stupid,” she said. “Something more stupid than usual,” she clarified.

“What makes you say that?” Tim asked, still frowning. Ziva sighed.

“Because he is Tony. He tries so hard to impress Gibbs and this time he was wrong – spectacularly wrong. If Gibbs does not punish him for it Tony will punish himself, and Tony is extremely inventive so that will not be pretty.”

“And you can tell all this because you’re a top?” Tim asked. Ziva laughed.

“Yes, Tim. And because I know Tony – and Gibbs,” she added.

“I haven’t seen Tony sit down comfortably since that night we questioned Rodney,” Tim said. “So I’m guessing Gibbs must be spanking him pretty hard. I sometimes wonder how tough a hide Tony must have to take that, every day.”

He remembered earlier in the evening how Tony had leaned against the wall when they went through their case notes, and how he’d found Tony sprawled face down on the couch when he’d returned to their quarters the previous evening.

“Gibbs will only give him what he can handle,” Ziva replied. “He has some kind of strange sixth sense for that. Most tops would love to have the instincts he has for handling a sub. I find it…puzzling a lot of the time.”

“Really?” Tim smiled at her. He was glad there was something she wasn’t good at because most of the time she seemed so effortlessly cool, zipping around zapping the bad guys and being the consummate agent she was.

“Really.” She leaned in again and nudged his shoulder with her own. “Gibbs says…” she paused, and then continued. “Gibbs says I must learn to trust my own instincts more around subs but…I am scared.”

“Why?” Tim blinked. What did she have to be scared about?

“I am scared my own instincts might be…harmful,” she said softly. “And that I might hurt any submissive I cared for.”

“You wouldn’t do that,” Tim said, without any doubt at all. She stared at him thoughtfully.

“You have such confidence in me,” she said.

“Well…no…but…I’ve met some dangerous tops in my time and you…you’re scary in other ways but not like that,” he told her, with a laugh. She gazed at him for a long moment, from those deep, dark brown eyes, and then her face softened.

“Thank you, Tim,” she said. She snuggled down under the bed clothes. “Now, we only have a few hours left if we want to get any sleep,” she said with a grimace. “So I think we must both try harder, yes?”

Tim grinned and nodded. He got up and stripped down to his boxers and a tee shirt and then slipped into the bed beside her. He reached for her, the way he had each night these past few nights, and was as astonished as always that she allowed him to hold her like this. He pulled her close and she came to him, willingly, and he wished she didn’t always have to be asleep when he told her he loved her.

He held her body carefully, like the precious creature she was. If he had a top such as this he would sacrifice his body to her every command, kneel by her side for eternity and die for her if she asked. But she would be gone in the morning. She always was. He’d wake to an empty bed and when he went out into the living area she’d be there, hair tied back, beautiful face emotionless. Nobody knew that she crept into his bed like a scared child at night, and asked to be held.

He buried his face in her dark hair and kissed it. “I love you,” he whispered, and then he stiffened, wondering if she was asleep, because her hand seemed to stroke his, where it was resting on her belly. She said nothing though, and her breathing didn’t change, so he relaxed – she must have been asleep after all.

Tim fell asleep too, easily this time, now that he had her in his bed, and, in the morning, she was gone as he had known she would be. He went out into the living area to find Gibbs sitting at the dining table, making notes on files with impatient flourishes of his hand, his body language radiating his ill humour.

Tony was lying on the couch, face down, reading through a file that was on the floor beneath him. Gibbs had him reading through the personnel files of every single person who had been on Atlantis for the past three and a half years – both military and expeditionary – even the ones who had left. It was a huge task but one that Tony was doing without complaint. Everyone was walking on eggshells around Gibbs at the moment.

Tony glanced up as he came into the room. “Hey probie,” he said, rolling sideways off the couch and getting up with a wince. “You seen Ziva?”

“Me? No…uh…why? Why would you think…uh…” Tim glanced at his bedroom door, wondering, ridiculously, if he’d somehow not noticed that Ziva was still in his room. Not that it would matter if she was, would it? He wondered if Gibbs would mind – his top had firm ideas about his subs taking strangers to their beds, but he’d never said anything about them asking his permission to sleep with each other.

“Relax, probie – it’s not an interrogation…although, methinks that maybe the probie has a guilty conscience…hmm? So what’s going on, McGee,” he said, coming up close, his green eyes surveying Tim with a sharpness that was at odds with his mocking tone of voice. “You been hiding any tops in your room, huh?” Tony asked. “Has the McVirgin finally got laid?”

“DiNozzo – here.” Gibbs clicked his fingers and Tony made a face at Tim, and then, with a quick, “I hear you, boss”, went over to the table and knelt down beside his top where he was greeted with a firm slap to the back of his head. Tony put his head down obediently, but not before he shot a wicked grin and a lascivious wink in Tim’s direction.

Tim felt his face flush – he was sure Tony was just being his usual annoying self and didn’t actually *know* about his virginal status, but all the same that comment hit too close to home. Gibbs glanced up at him, and Tim felt those steely blue eyes reading him like a book. Gibbs shot him a little smile and Tim realised, with a jolt, that even if Tony had just been guessing, Gibbs definitely knew he was still a virgin.

Ziva, Ducky and Abby joined them a few minutes later, and they set off down to the cafeteria for breakfast. Gibbs released them from their leashes when they got there and sent Tim, Ziva and Ducky to get food for the rest of them. Abby then ran off with a squeal as she saw the tall figure of General Sheppard enter the room, with his leashed husband. They’d been confined to quarters for the past few days and this was their first time out – and Tim knew Abby had missed the irascible scientist. He wasn’t sure why the two of them had struck up such a rapport but Abby clearly adored Rodney and the feeling seemed to be entirely mutual.

“Rodney! I missed you,” Abby said, wrapping her arms around him after a quick glance at the general to make sure that was okay. Tim stopped on his way back to the table with trays of food for them all and gazed at John Sheppard and his husband, struck by how different they looked.

The general had a prowling, almost predatory quality to him that Tim hadn’t noticed before – he also seemed to have had a hair cut. Rodney, on the other hand, was radiating a kind of blissed-out happiness, and looked as if he was walking along on some kind of happy cloud all of his own. His normally coiled-like-a-spring body language had changed and his shoulders were now loose and lacking any kind of tension. He looked more in love with his husband than ever; their bodies were pressed close against each other, and when they moved they seemed to do so completely in unison.

Tim was about to turn to Tony and say something, when he stopped. Tony and Gibbs were also watching the general and his husband and seeing the same things he was seeing, but Tony’s shoulders had tightened into an unhappy knot, while Gibbs looked more intense than usual, his blue eyes cold as ice. Tim noticed that Gibbs was still holding Tony’s leash, and the knuckles on the hand he had wrapped around it were white. The tension between Gibbs and Tony was so thick it was almost tangible, and Tim stepped quietly towards them with the tray, wondering what it meant.

They all converged on the same set of tables to eat, and Tim sat down, watching the whole time, fascinated by the strange undercurrents around the table. Rodney’s eyes were shining, and the general literally couldn’t keep his eyes – or his hands – off him as they shared their breakfast. Tony was leaning against the wall beside Gibbs, standing up as he ate with an air of studied nonchalance that seemed to imply that he was *choosing* to eat standing up because he liked the view rather than it being a necessity because his ass was too sore to sit on it. Tim also noticed that Rodney shot Tony a glance or two, and there was clearly no love lost between the two men. The general and Gibbs, on the other hand, seemed to be on good terms.

“I see you fixed that problem you had,” Gibbs commented to the general with a grunt.

John gave a smile. “I did – with a little help from you. Thank you again, Agent Gibbs,” he murmured. Rodney looked up, wide-eyed, from where he was eating and John’s hazel eyes went back to him immediately; the look of intense love he gave his husband almost took Tim’s breath away.

“And the hair is a big improvement,” Gibbs said. John laughed out loud.

“This is just the way it usually is,” he said. “Things have been so hectic lately that I forgot to get it cut before. I got Carson to fix that this morning.”

“Yeah, about that,” Rodney said, his mouth full, “Carson really isn’t a barber you know. I dunno why you asked him to do it.”

“Aw, you’re just antsy because he’s pissed with you for lying to us all,” John said, with a grin. Rodney flushed and John laughed at him. “It’s okay, Rodney. I’ll make sure he doesn’t get too terrible a revenge on you next time you visit the infirmary.”

“He said he was keeping some medical instruments especially for use on me,” Rodney said, gazing at Abby mournfully.

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” she said.

“He’s keeping them in the *refrigerator*,” Rodney added, a tragic look on his face.

Gibbs laughed out loud at that, and Tim glanced at him in surprise. His normally taciturn boss didn’t usually laugh much – and if anyone made him laugh it was Tony. Tim didn’t miss the sour look Tony shot in Rodney’s direction but it went entirely over Rodney’s head. He was just gazing goofily at his husband. Then Tim noticed that Gibbs seemed transfixed by the way the general was petting Rodney, and that was when he noticed that Gibbs *still* had his hand wrapped tightly in Tony’s leash – although he’d unleashed the rest of them some time ago. He wondered if Ziva knew what was going on because there was definitely *something* going on here that he couldn’t figure out.

After breakfast Gibbs took them all down to the south pier, the way he did every morning. Atlantis was a beautiful city, and, the way the boss was working them, they mostly only got to see the inside of it. Gibbs didn’t leash them for their morning walk – and it wasn’t really recreational, as far as Tim could tell – more an opportunity for brainstorming, if anyone’s brain could storm anything while trying to keep up with Gibbs because he walked so fast. Gibbs liked to go over all the salient points from the day before and then assign them all their day’s new work by the time their walk finished.

They didn’t usually start talking about the case until they reached the end of the pier, so the pace wasn’t as fast to start with. Tim walked beside Ziva, wishing he could slip his hand into hers and they could stroll along, hand in hand, like lovers. It was an exceptionally lovely day, and Ducky was regaling Abby with a very long, convoluted story about his childhood in Scotland.

Tim let the sound of Ducky’s voice wash over him as he gazed out at the ocean. The large yellow Atlantean sun was already high in the sky, while the smaller, more intense white sun was lower on the horizon, but both of them were sending fizzing glints of light over the surface of the blue water.

“Bet you wish you could sail that boat of yours out on a surface like this, huh boss?” Tim overheard Tony say to Gibbs. Gibbs looked, for a moment, almost benign, as he gazed out at the ocean, a soft smile playing on his lips.

“Yeah, Tony. Looks like a great ocean to sail,” Gibbs murmured, and then they both leaned forward at the exact same time, in the exact same way, to lean on the balustrade together.

Tim had a sudden flash of insight into a jigsaw puzzle he hadn’t even realised he’d been trying to piece together – but then it was gone. He saw a colourful alien bird swooping overhead and pointed up at it. Tony turned to look, taking a step towards him and Ziva, and Tim was about to say something when a loud noise ripped overhead and into him at what felt like one and the same time. He heard someone screaming, and, as he stood there, the entire world seemed to slow down, and everyone started moving as if they were going at half-speed.

He saw Tony, acting without thought or hesitation, throw himself at Gibbs and push the boss to the floor, then roll him over towards the cover of an awning. He saw Ducky seizing Abby and watched them both duck instinctively, then run towards the side of the building and take shelter there. And in the middle of it all was him, standing there while everyone around him was moving, and there was a pain in his arm and he could feel something warm and wet soaking through his shirt. Then Ziva was shouting something, and she shoved him – hard – and he fell, and in one continuous motion she turned, gun drawn, and was firing up at something.

It was almost comical, lying there, a loud buzzing sound in his ears, watching as DiNozzo rolled off Gibbs, and turned, and then saw him. Tim could see everything so clearly now. Tony’s eyes, usually always laughing and teasing, were deadly serious – and kind of worried as he gazed at him. He was shouting something at Tim – something Tim couldn’t hear – and seemed to have morphed effortlessly into the fast, deadly agent he became whenever things got serious.

He saw Tony wriggle forward, coming towards him on his stomach, and he wanted to laugh because Tony was a big guy and it looked kind of dumb like that, but then Tony stopped and covered his head with his hands, and there was another loud noise.

Ziva was yelling something and shooting her gun again, and now Tony was wriggling towards him even faster, and had reached him. Behind Tony, Tim saw Gibbs roll onto his feet and get up, in one smooth motion, his gun drawn. He started shooting too, up at the same spot Ziva was shooting at, far above them into one of the gleaming silver towers.

Then Tony was looming over him, blocking out the sun, and his hands were pressing down hard on Tim’s upper arm, and that’s when Tim realised it really, *really* hurt.

“Oh shit…I’ve got you, Tim. Hold on,” Tony said. “Seriously, probie, if you wanted Ziva to notice you I’m sure there are better ways you could have gone about it than getting yourself shot.”

And he gave Tim a grin that didn’t disguise the worry in his eyes. And before the clarity faded, and everything speeded back up again, Tim wondered why he had never seen before that Tony – annoying, teasing, tormenting Tony – cared about everything and everyone more than anyone was ever supposed to know.

“You like me,” he muttered, as his eyes closed.

“Yeah, probie,” Tony replied, and his hands closed over Tim’s shoulders and Tim felt him pulling him over to the safety of the side of the building, where Ducky and Abby were sheltering out of range of whoever was shooting at them. “Keep it quiet, but I kind of do.”


~ I love receiving friendly feedback! If you enjoyed this story, please leave a comment below. ~

Submit a Comment

4 Comments on Hiding In Plain Sight: 3. Chapter Three


Buy Xanthe's original character BDSM slash novel, Ricochet now!

Paperback on Amazon

E-book on Amazon

Smashwords in various formats

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons