Hiding In Plain Sight: 5. Chapter Five

Lieutenant-Colonel Lorne sighed as the puddle jumper died a second time. It took all his skill to keep it from crash-landing in the marshlands – instead he did a neat nose dive and managed to bring it down relatively safely on dry land. Then he turned and glared at Dr Conway who was busy frantically trying to get the jumper started again.

“What’s the problem?” Lorne snapped at his scientist. Conway shook his head.

“It’s the solar radiation, Colonel,” he said. “It’s created a kind of ionic cloaking field around the planet – keeps jamming the jumper controls.”

“Jason – Abby is sitting on an island 23 miles in that direction.” Lorne waved his arm due south. “And there’s no way Jordan carried her there so he and Rodney had to have used the jumper Jordan stole. How come *they* managed to get their jumper working out here?”

Conway gave a resigned sigh, and looked up from his work. “Much as I hate to say it, Colonel, I’m not Rodney Sheppard. He might be the most difficult, temperamental and downright obnoxious boss I’ve ever worked for, but he is right when he tells people he’s a genius. He can do things on the fly that the rest of us have to sit down and work on. Now, I can get the jumper flying again but I need some time to figure out how.”

“Okay.” Lorne nodded – Conway hated Rodney so if he was paying him compliments then it had to be bad. “How long do you think it will take?”

“Several hours.” Conway bit on his lip. Too long, Lorne thought. The sun would come up in four, and soon after that Abby would be fried out there, with no protection.

“Then here’s what we’ll do,” Lorne said, getting up and grabbing two hazmat suits from the back of the jumper and stuffing them into his backpack. “I’m going to go out there and run to Abby’s position. You stay here and figure out how to get this thing flying again. When you’ve figured it out, fly it over to where we are and rescue us. Hazmat suits will keep us safe until you get there. Stay in radio contact at all times. Lieutenant Rice you’re with me. Sergeant Hansen – you stay with Conway. Okay, let’s get moving.”

Lorne didn’t wait to hear Conway’s protests – and he was sure there were plenty. He just ran out of the back of the jumper and started jogging across the wet ground. A few seconds later he heard Rice catch up with him.

“You do know we have to jog 23 miles and then swim for two carrying hazmat suits to reach her, don’t you?” Rice asked him. Lorne glanced sideways at him.

“No, *I* have to jog 23 miles and swim for two with the hazmat suits,” Lorne told him. “You’re going to run with me and then cover me while I swim. Those dinosaur birds patrol the open water like tops at an orgy, and I remember from last time I was here how they like to dive-bomb anything that’s moving. Your job is to shoot them down when they go for me while I’m in the water.”

“Right,” Rice said. “Sir…I like Abby…and I really hope she’s going to be okay but even if we could see where we’re going, and even if those dino-bird things weren’t out there, this is one hell of a task.”

“I can do it, Jamie,” Lorne said firmly. “And if I can, so can you. You’re not long out of basic training and your legs are fifteen years younger than mine. Now – let’s get moving.”

“Yes, sir!” Rice said, shooting him a grin.

Lorne was a serial monogamist – he’d had many subs in his life, but none of them for longer than a few months. He’d never met anyone he wanted to collar and couldn’t imagine sharing a plate with anyone, but Abby was different. Abby was special. He loved everything about her from her big heart to her big green eyes. She was fun to be around, in and out of the bedroom. He also loved that she enjoyed being tied as much as he enjoyed tying her. He loved the pretty patterns his rope made on her body, and the way she’d wriggled and sighed when he had her captive and tied beneath him. He’d never had a sub who responded as perfectly as Abby – she’d looked so beautiful naked, her skin criss-crossed with his rope.

The only possible obstacle to their relationship, as far as Lorne could see, was Gibbs. He thought the other top trusted him to take care of Abby but he needed to prove to the man that he was worthy of her – and if he had to risk his life running and swimming half way across this planet then he would. No question.


Rodney tried to shift himself into a more comfortable sitting position but it wasn’t easy when he was chained to the wall by his neck and arms. His head hurt from where he’d been thwacked every few minutes by Jordan, and he was exhausted from being on the go for so long with no rest while he’d helped Jordan set up his revenge. Rodney wasn’t sure he’d done the right thing helping Jordan; not that he thought he’d had any choice, but, even so, he was horrified by the results of his actions.

He glanced over at Tony, lying on the steel bed. That tube in his arm had turned red three times now, and he could see the colour draining visibly from the agent’s face. This served to make the bruises on his jaw stand out even more against his now deathly white skin. They’d been silent for awhile, and Rodney had a sudden, horrible thought that he might end up sharing this room with a corpse.

“Should I keep you talking?” he blurted. Tony moved his head, slowly, and gazed at him, a question in his eyes. “Uh, I know with a head injury you’re supposed to keep the person talking – aren’t you? Is this the same? I just…I don’t want you falling unconscious.”

“Worried I’m going to croak on you, probie?” Tony asked, with a grin. “Don’t worry – I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“Probie?” Rodney frowned.

“That what I said?” Tony laughed. “Must be thinking of someone else. Do you know where he took them? Tim and Abby? Are they going to be okay?”

“Honestly?” Rodney shook his head. “I really don’t know if they’re going to be okay. And yes I do know where he took them.”

“He made you help him?” Tony asked. Rodney shifted again, hating himself.

“Yeah. You blame me?” he asked softly.

“You said earlier that he had a bomb tied around John’s throat?” Tony raised an eyebrow. “No, Rodney. I don’t blame you. If it had been Gibbs I’d have done the exact same thing. Not that the cold-hearted bastard would have deserved it.”

“You really think he’s that? Cold-hearted?” Rodney asked.

He watched Tony sigh, and stare at the ceiling for a long time.

“I don’t know,” he said at last. “Sometimes I do…other times, he looks at me and I see *something* there, but then it’s gone and I think that maybe I imagined it.”

“You don’t like tops much, do you?” Rodney murmured.

“Never met one I couldn’t outplay,” Tony replied with a grin. “Well, except Gibbs. And I never stayed with one long enough to let them screw with my head. Commitment issues, probie.”



“I never believed in relationships, collaring, sharing a plate – all that stuff, until I met John,” Rodney confided. “My parents were switches – insane switches. It was like living in a war zone growing up, or a real-life chess game with me and my sister as pawns.”

“Oh yeah. I know that feeling,” Tony chuckled, and then his head flopped back and he took a deep breath. “Is it me or is the room underwater now?” he asked.

“It’s you,” Rodney said quietly.

“Hey – your parents drink?” Tony asked.

“My dad did. My mum became teetotal as a reaction against him. They were both switches so they defined themselves in any other way they could in opposition to each other.”

“My father was an alcoholic,” Tony told him. “You sure the room isn’t underwater?”

“Really sure.”

“Okay, probie. Take your word for it. Where was I? Oh yeah – parents. Mine used to drink like other people breathe. That was before mom died. Afterwards me and dad stayed in a succession of swanky hotel suites so dad could drink himself stupid without having to clear up after. He used to go out and pick up these subs, bring them back to our suite, tie them up in his bedroom, fuck them senseless, and then pass out. I could pretty much hear everything – he was too drunk to be quiet and they didn’t even know I was sleeping in the room next door.”

“Sounds crappy,” Rodney commented.

“Ah, good times, probie, good times. ‘Course I’d have to go in there in the mornings and untie them or they’d have been there until lunchtime before he woke up. I used to give them this little lecture on safe sex – I mean, what the hell kind of a dumb sub goes to a hotel room with a tanked up top and lets him tie them up? Idiots.”

“So who looked after you if he was drunk all the time?” Rodney asked.

“Maids, bellboys – met some really cool concierges. They always know the best places to hang out. Then, when I hit puberty, I decided there was no way he should have all the fun so I started sneaking out at night wearing tight pants to get myself laid. Tops are so easy. Dad caught me a few times…didn’t like it when I wouldn’t stop – probably only doing it to get his attention anyway. That backfired – he ended up sending me away to boarding school.”

“Shit – Tony, that sounds horrible.”

“Best days of my life,” Tony sighed. “Loved boarding school. Of course they tried to separate the doms and subs but we were young and not everyone was sure of their orientation, and those that were unsure…well, I was happy to help ’em find out! Once I’d gone through all the ‘undecideds’ in my dormitory I used to climb out at night, shin down the drainpipe, and break into the dom dormitory in the next building for some fun. Got found out eventually, of course.”

“What happened?” Rodney hadn’t thought he’d ever meet anyone with as fucked up a childhood as he’d had, but Tony’s was coming pretty close.

“House-mistress disciplined me every night for a week,” Tony said, with a happy sigh. “But by the end of that week the DiNozzo charm had worked on her and I spent the rest of the term tied up in her bed at nights.”

“And you were underage?” Rodney asked, horrified.

“Yeah. Wasn’t her fault though – I seduced her. She didn’t stand a chance.”

“I’m not surprised you have a low opinion of tops,” Rodney commented. “They’ve kind of being letting you down your entire life.”

“Oh, I never let them get close enough to let me down, probie,” Tony told him. “Just use ’em and move on.”

“Until Gibbs,” Rodney said quietly. Tony went very still, and then gave a big sigh.

“Yeah. Until Gibbs. He won’t let me use him and he sure as hell won’t use me.” He laughed at the double entendre. “He’s right not to want me, Rodney,” he said softly. “I’m bad news.”

“I think if anyone can handle you Gibbs can,” Rodney said. He wondered if it was a good or bad sign that Tony seemed to have remembered his name again.

“Yeah. Well, we’ll never know will we, Rodney?” Tony replied. “Time’s running out.”

“Why do you stay with him?” Rodney asked. “Why not move on, find a top who wants you as much as you want them?”

Tony was silent for a moment, and Rodney hoped he was still conscious. Then he moved his head. “Never thought I’d let anyone collar me,” he said. “But when Gibbs asked…well, it was five years ago now and…” He trailed off and then sighed. “How did you feel when John collared you, Rodney?”

Rodney thought of a meal on a beach, with the sun setting around them, and the sheer *rightness* of accepting John’s collar around his neck.

“It meant everything,” he murmured.

“Same here,” Tony said. “He told me that sleeping together wasn’t part of the deal but the minute he buckled that collar around my neck I found I was old-fashioned. If I was going to wear his collar then I wasn’t going to sleep with any other top.”

“You’ve been celibate for five years?” Rodney asked, disbelieving. “You?”

Tony chuckled softly. “People just see what they want to see, probie,” he said softly.

“It’s an act?”

“Not all the time.” Tony’s voice faded, and then strengthened. “Collar meant something y’see…and I wanted to prove to myself that I was worthy of someone like him. It was kind of a test for myself and you know, I think I did pretty well.” He glanced at the tube in his arm as it filled again with his own blood. “Feeling kinda tired,” he murmured. “Too tired to swim any more. You lied, Rodney; this room is underwater.”

Rodney pulled against the chains binding him, even knowing he was tied fast. If he could just get free he could go over there, and stop this. Tony’s head rolled sideways and he closed his eyes.

“Tony!” Rodney pulled on his chains frantically. “DiNozzo! Wake up!”

But this time there was no reply.


Tim wasn’t sure where he was. One minute he’d been in a meeting on Atlantis and the next he’d woken up on a slab of rock, with people gazing at him. Scary people with skulls attached to their belts and teeth hanging in necklaces around their throats. His brain couldn’t even begin to make sense of it. He passed out, and when he awoke again he was aware of his arm throbbing and, looking down, he saw that his gunshot wound had re-opened. Blood had soaked through his bandage and was now dripping down his arm.

“Hello?” he called out. The scary villagers ignored him. “Am I dead?” Tim asked, with a frown. “Only, if I’m alive this is a really freaky thing to have happened.”

One of the villagers glanced up, laughed at him, and then drew her hand across her throat and laughed again.

“Okay. There’s no planet in the universe where that can possibly be good,” Tim muttered. He wondered where his team were and if there was any possibility of a rescue. He thought Gibbs would probably be kind of pissed – and Ziva…he grimaced. Ziva was likely to go ballistic and he’d seen her go ballistic before and it wasn’t pretty. He didn’t like that dark, intense look she got in her eyes and hoped she’d never direct it at him.

“Sunset,” one of the villagers said, pointing up at the sky. Tim could see the sun was sinking inexorably towards the horizon.

“What happens at sunset?” he asked, and she turned and pointed at an open fire a few feet away. Several dozen crudely made knives were resting beside it. She smiled at him, and he got full view of her rotting teeth and smelled her foul breath.

“Sunset,” she said again, with another cackle. “That is when we will make our sacrifice to appease the Wraith.”

“Uh…sacrifice?” Tim asked, nervously.

She smiled at him, her eyes glowing in the firelight. “You,” she told him.

Tim banged his head back on the stone slab he was tied to. “Oh shit,” he muttered.


Running 23 miles across open land – some of it dangerously marshy – reminded Lorne of his time in basic training. This time though, the incentive to cover the distance was much greater, and he pushed himself to the limit. Rice struggled to keep up with him, and Lorne knew they were both risking sprained ankles or worse running this fast over this kind of terrain but he didn’t have a choice. They didn’t have long before the sun rose, and anyone caught in the open without the protection of a hazmat suit would die within minutes.

One of the planet’s moons had already set and the other four were slowly sinking towards the horizon. Every now and again Lorne heard Abby talking to herself, and sometimes she sang, which made a little smile curve at the corners of his lips. Hearing her on his radio helped keep him focussed and the adrenaline pumping.

He was tired, but he didn’t have time to rest when he reached the water’s edge. He quickly dumped his pack on the ground, grabbed his canteen and took several large gulps of water, and then emptied his pack of everything except the hazmat suits, the canteen of water and his knife. He took off all his clothes except his boxers, wrapped his gun in one of the hazmat suits to keep it dry, and then fastened his pack over his shoulders again. It wouldn’t be easy swimming with it on his back but he didn’t have a choice; without the hazmat suits they’d die as soon as the rays from the sun hit their skin.

Rice came running up, panting heavily, and bent over, putting his hands on his knees. He retched a couple of times, looking completely exhausted. Lorne tapped his radio.

“Conway – I’m going into the water now. Any news on the jumper before I risk my life taking on those dinosaur birds?” he asked. If the jumper was fixed he didn’t need to make the swim – they could fly to Abby within minutes.

“Sorry, Colonel – I’m close but I’m not there yet,” Conway replied. “Half the crystals were fried when we went down the second time. I’m replacing them with fresh ones and I’ve recalibrated to…”

“I don’t need to know,” Lorne told him briskly. “Just get it done and come rescue us. I’m going into the water now so all radio contact from now on should be with Rice.”

“Yes, Colonel. And Evan? Good luck,” Conway said. Lorne grinned. He and his team worked well together, and he had a sneaking affection for his scientist. Okay, so he might not be a Rodney Sheppard but he was a good man, even if Lorne did have a sneaking suspicion that he might be non-dynamic. The way Lorne saw it that was Jason Conway’s business and nobody else’s, and Lorne had already taken down one marine on Atlantis when he’d overheard the man making snide comments about Conway’s sexual orientation.

Lorne threw his radio on the pile with his pack, and then took a deep breath and looked into the depths of the inky black water. It was a long swim over to the island where Abby was being held captive – about two miles, which, after having just run 23, was one hell of a distance. Rice made a face.

“You sure you want to do this, sir?” he asked. “We could just wait for Conway to fix the jumper and…”

“And supposing he doesn’t get it done until after sun-up, Rice?” Lorne said. “You think I could sit here on the shore safely wrapped up in my hazmat suit and listen to her screams as the sun fries her? Have you ever seen someone die of this kind of solar radiation? It literally burns the flesh off the body, leaving a pile of jellied remains behind. It takes about five minutes to die – five minutes of total agony.”

Rice swallowed hard. “It’s just…that’s a long swim and those flying reptiles are vicious, sir,” he murmured. “And, uh, we…I don’t want to lose you.”

Lorne felt a little pang at that. Rice was a sub, and one he’d played with a few times back when they’d first arrived on Atlantis. They hadn’t really been compatible – Rice’s aversion to being tied hadn’t exactly helped – and their relationship, such as it was, had soon burnt itself out, but it had left a residue of affection behind. The young marine had a knack of always looking untidy and appearing clumsy but he was a good kid – his big brown eyes were kind of endearing, and Lorne had enjoyed running his hands through his messy dark hair.

“Rice – Jamie – you’re just a kid so I wouldn’t expect you to understand, but I have to do this,” Lorne told him, placing his hands on Rice’s shoulders. Rice bit his lip, looked at the ground, and then looked up at him and nodded.

“You’re in love with her, aren’t you, sir?” Rice asked. Lorne grinned.

“Yeah, I am – and you know how crazy tops are when they’re in love, Lieutenant! Now – you’re a good shot and you need to be if you’re going to keep those reptiles from killing me in the water. I need you to cover my back for me while I swim, Jamie.”

“I won’t be able to cover you all the way to the other side, sir.”

“I know.” Lorne nodded, strapping his thigh holster around his half-naked body and then sliding his knife into the holster. “I’ll have to take care of it myself when I get that far out. Now, you need to remember to put on your hazmat suit the minute the moons set – okay? Right when this world is at its darkest because sunrise happens quickly here and once it does it’s too late. Understood?”

Rice nodded. Lorne patted his arm and then drew away, and, without hesitating, threw himself head first into the dark water.

It was icy cold, and the first shock of it took his breath away. He took a moment to steady himself – he had a long swim ahead of him. He was a strong swimmer and made good progress for the first half mile or so, fuelled by his own adrenaline and something else, something old in his blood that made him need to rescue and protect the sub he was in love with. There was something, maybe in their most basic genetic coding though nobody had actually found the gene for it yet, that made most dominants protective of their submissives. That was why he, Sheppard, Gibbs, Carson and most other dominants Lorne knew hated it when they met an abusive top. He thought of Sergeant Bates, who had once tormented Rodney so unpleasantly, and how something about the sergeant had always felt ‘off’ to him. He’d subsequently found out just *why* Bates made him feel that way, and between them he and Sheppard had managed to pull the sergeant around – but that hadn’t been without its challenges.

He was startled out of this train of thought by a shot ringing out and then something large, with a grey, leathery skin, splashed into the water beside him, causing him to sink momentarily. He came up, gasping for air, and pushed the corpse of the flying reptile out of the way. It was like a massive iguana with wings and it had a sharp beak in which resided equally sharp teeth. Lorne waved his arm back at the shore, where he could dimly see Rice standing with his gun. It was getting quite dark now as all the moons gradually disappeared; this made visibility poor, and also reminded him of how little time they had before the sun rose.

He tried to swim faster but his exhaustion, combined with the coldness of the water and the weight of his pack, were taking their toll. He could see land ahead but it was still a long way off. He hoped Abby was okay; the reptiles usually only attacked over open water and she was tied a little way inland. If she’d been on the shoreline he’d have been more worried as a stray reptile might have taken its chances with her there.

He wished she knew he was coming for her. Then it occurred to him that she was expecting Gibbs and he felt his breath tighten in his chest at that. He hoped she wouldn’t make her disappointment too obvious.

Something loomed overhead, then fluttered and swooped at him, and he felt something sharp tearing into his shoulder.

“Fuck!” he screamed, beating off the reptile with his bare hands. The creature paused, and then came back at him again. Lorne heard gunfire from the shore but he was out of range now – he was on his own with this one. He went underwater to escape the reptile’s next attack, and when he rose up he had his knife in his hand. The creature bombed towards him, beak open, sharp teeth gleaming.

Lorne struck its flank hard with his knife as it came in for the kill. The creature screamed loudly, and then dropped into the water like a lead weight, still screaming. It flapped around in the water and Lorne got caught in the undertow. He went under once, dragged down by the weight of his pack, surfaced, gasping for air, and then went under again. The creature was still screaming and writhing, thrashing about in the water making it hard for Lorne to keep above the surface. Lorne reached for it, got hold of the leathery wings and rammed his knife into its body again, hard. It didn’t scream this time – it just went limp. Lorne thrust his bloodied knife back into his holster and swam on, as fast as his weary body would allow, not looking back.

Three reptiles circled overhead, calling to each other. He could see they were uncertain about striking after what had happened to the other two, but every so often one of them came close, and he was forced to stop and yell at them in the hope of keeping them at bay. He couldn’t afford another confrontation; his shoulder was aching from where it had been ripped by the creature’s beak – he couldn’t tell what the damage was but it sure as hell hurt. He wasn’t sure how much blood he’d lost in the water but he felt so tired now that it was all he could do to keep swimming. His arms and legs felt like lead, and each stroke was an effort.

Now the island was closer – tantalisingly close – but the moons had set, and he could see a faint glimmer of light on the horizon. He didn’t have long…if he didn’t get there soon then he and Abby would both die a particularly painful kind of death. He wondered how the others were getting on with their rescues – Ziva, Gibbs and Sheppard. There had been some radio traffic before he’d got into the water but mostly it had been sporadic and uninformative – everyone was too focussed on what they were doing.

He felt something under his feet and gave a startled yelp, before realising it was land. A glance at the sky told him he might just be in time if he ran. He half-swam, half-crawled his way out of the water. Long swim over, he wanted to stop and rest; his legs felt like they were made of solid concrete and he didn’t think he could run anywhere. His chest quickly became streaked with blood from his shoulder wound now there was no water to wash it away. He ignored it, forcing himself up the beach towards where their readings told him Abby was chained. He hadn’t brought his life-signs detector with him – he wasn’t sure it would withstand the long swim – but he’d memorised the details of where she was. He paused only to open his pack and retrieve his gun from where it was wrapped inside one of the suits.

His legs gave way as something dive-bombed him, and he only managed to raise his gun at the last moment, and fire off a round into the reptile that had taken its chances with him before he got too far inland for it to feel confident about success. The creature screamed defiance at him, and rose up into the air once more, lurching, one wing hanging loose. Lorne battled on, through bush and scrub. He had to be close…he had to be…

He saw the trail, flattened by the jumper Jordan had used to bring her here, and now his legs were responding more quickly to the commands from his tired brain.

Then he saw her. She was wearing black combat pants and a black tee shirt with a skeleton motif on the front. Her arms and legs were tightly chained together and the chain had then been wrapped around the tree behind her, binding her tight. She looked up as she heard him crashing into the clearing.

“Gibbs!” she said, and even tired as he was he braced himself for seeing the light in her eyes fade when she realised it was him who had rescued her and not the top whose collar she wore, and who she worshipped.

“Sorry, Abs,” he gasped, reaching her side, and pulling out his gun. “It’s me.” He unfastened the small bomb from her collar and threw it into the bushes. “Now cover your head,” he ordered.

“Evan?” she said, surprise and disbelief evident in her tone. She obeyed him all the same, pulling her body forward as far as the chains would allow and putting her arms over her head, chains clanking as she did so.

He fired at the chains, over and over again until he had freed her, and then he pulled off the pack strapped to his back.

“No time to explain,” he panted. “Just get this on – quickly!” He threw her the hazmat suit, and got his own out.

“You’re hurt!” she exclaimed, coming over to examine his wounded, bloody shoulder.

“Get the suit on! Now!” he yelled, seeing the first rays of the sun start to hit the ground just yards from them, and coming closer with every second as the sun rose in the sky.

Her eyes widened but she did as she was told without question. Lorne was grateful she’d belonged to a top like Gibbs these past few years and was therefore trained to obey urgent orders without arguing. He pulled on his own suit with just seconds to spare as the sun finally hit their position. Then he just fell to the ground, completely and utterly exhausted.

He’d done it. She was safe. He’d saved her. She was his…or at least she would be if he could persuade her over-protective top that he was worthy of her – and if she wanted him. Did she want him? Or had she just been playing? Maybe he’d taken it a lot more seriously than she’d ever meant it. And maybe there had never been a chance for him – maybe her heart would always belong to Leroy Jethro Gibbs and never to him.

“Evan? Are you okay?” Abby crawled towards him and lay down beside him. She raised her hands and took hold of his helmeted head, gazing through the clear visor at him.

“Sorry I’m not Gibbs,” he told her wearily.

“You came for me? You came to rescue me? You risked your life for me?” she said, sounding astonished. “Is it possible to kiss someone through these visors?”

“Nope.” Evan grinned at her. “But you can kiss me later.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” she said, curling up happily beside him. He put his arms around her, loving the feel of her body and the weight of her against him. The remains of the chains that had bound her clanked beneath her suit. “Promise me that nobody but you will ever tie me up anywhere, ever again,” she said. He laughed out loud.

“That’s a promise I’m happy to make.”

“Is Gibbs okay?” she asked anxiously.

“He’s fine. I’ll explain it all to you when I get my breath back,” he replied, squeezing her against him.

“Look how pretty the sunrise is,” she said, raising her head to look around the glade. “It’s been so dark and I was so scared…but in the daylight this place is beautiful.”

It was – the sun glowed a shade of deep pink, bathing everything around them in a violet glow.

“Pretty but deadly,” he told her. “The radiation burns the skin off the body – that’s why we had to get these suits on.”

“Wow – you literally did get here in the nick of time,” she said, cuddling into him more closely. “How *did* you get here?” she asked. “You were kind of wet when you arrived…and sort of half-naked.”

“I ran 23 miles then swam two to get here,” he told her.

“23 miles? God, Evan – that’s almost a marathon,” she said. “And then you still had the energy to swim all that way – and all for me?” Her eyes were shining behind the visor.

“Yes,” he replied. “All for you, Abby.”

He longed to kiss her, and roll her beneath him and make love to her, but had to content himself with stroking the outside of her hazmat suit with his fingers.

“What’s that?” Abby sat up, and Lorne propped himself up on his elbows and looked around, startled.

Somewhere, a long way off, something was screaming. The sound rose and fell in a long staccato wail.

“Might be one of those reptiles I shot – maybe one of them got caught on the surface of the water when the sun came up,” he murmured uneasily.

Abby pressed back against him, holding him tight. “I thought this place was creepy during the night but I’m starting to think it’s even worse during the day,” she whispered.

She was leaning on his wounded shoulder but he didn’t say anything – he just pulled her even closer, wrapping his arms firmly around her.

“It’s okay,” he told her. “It’s over. I’m here now and you’ll always be safe with me.”

“Safe. Yes.” She smiled at him. “But not boring, right?” she queried anxiously, a moment later. He laughed out loud.

“No…not boring. I promise you I’ll always make it exciting as long as you promise you’ll always let me keep you safe.”

“I promise,” she grinned.

They lay there for a long time, not speaking, just holding each other, and then, a little while later, Lorne heard the low hum of the jumper coming towards him. It took all his strength to get to his feet and walk slowly over to it, holding Abby’s gloved hand tightly in his.

“About time,” he muttered to Conway, as they took their seats on the bunks inside. Conway grinned at him, and then at Abby.

“Well done, Colonel,” he said. “Nice to see you safe and sound, Abby!”

“Go pick up Rice and then let’s head for home,” Lorne said wearily, putting his arm around Abby and closing his eyes. “And then I’m going to sleep for a week.”

Conway’s grin broadened. “You got it,” he said.

Hansen piloted them over to where he’d left Rice, and they opened the hatch but there was no sign of the lieutenant.

“You sure this was where you left him?” Conway asked.

“Yeah…I’ll go take a look,” Lorne said, with a sigh. He felt too tired to move but there was no point in any of the others getting suited up. He stepped outside and walked along the shore. It looked so different in the daytime – Abby was right; it was pretty. The water, which had been an inky black in the night, was now shimmering in various shades of violet and purple as the sun warmed it, and the sandy beach shone a pretty shade of pinky yellow.

He saw a pile of what he recognised as his own possessions and went over to them. His clothes and radio were piled up where he’d left them but there was no sign of Rice. He stepped over some rocks, and then slipped in a pile of red goo. Something crunched underfoot.

“Oh shit.” Lorne crouched down and examined the goo in more detail.

“Evan?” Abby came up behind him. “Is everything okay? Is Jamie here? Oh.” She stared down at what he was standing in.

Lorne saw Rice’s pack, untouched, a few yards away and picked it up. His heart sank as he opened it and pulled out the unworn hazmat suit. He saw the body of a reptile nearby, the leathery skin better able to withstand the sun’s radiation than human flesh. There was a long gash in its side which looked as if it might have been caused by gunfire.

“Oh no. Jamie.” Lorne shook his head. “The damn bird must have injured him during a dive-bomb and he didn’t make it to his pack in time to get his suit on,” he whispered.

“That sound we heard…” Abby’s eyes were wide with horror.

“That was him burning to death in the sun,” Lorne said. “Oh shit. I’m sorry, Jamie. I’m so sorry.” He crouched down beside what remained of Rice’s body, found the dog tags, and pocketed them. Then he and Abby scooped up the gloopy remains and shoved them into the spare hazmat suit to transport what was left of Jamie back to Atlantis.

“I’m so sorry, Evan,” Abby said softly. “He was a nice kid, and he died helping you rescue me.”

Lorne picked up Rice’s pack and Abby picked up his own, and they walked slowly back to the jumper. All his earlier elation was gone; he’d succeeded – he’d saved Abby and he could never regret that – but he’d paid a high price.

He felt Abby’s gloved hand slip inside his own, and she squeezed her fingers gently against his hand.

“I know what it’s like,” she told him. “We lost a member of our team once. Kate. She was my friend – I still miss her.”

He nodded, squeezing her hand a little in return, and they got into the jumper together.

“Take us home, Hansen,” he said softly, as the hatch closed behind them.

“But Rice…?” Conway began and then he saw the expression on Lorne’s face. “Oh shit,” he sighed.

Lorne sat back down as the jumper took off. Abby pulled his helmet off, and then began unfastening his suit.

“Your shoulder was injured,” she said. “I want to take a look at it.”

“Don’t,” he told her. “Just…come here. Please.”

She took off her own suit, and then curled up in his lap like a cat, and he held her close and buried his face in her pigtails.

“It’s okay,” Abby whispered, and her fingers gently combed through his hair, stroking and soothing. “I’ve got you, Evan, and I’m never going to let you go.”

He had thought it was all about him keeping her safe but it turned out it was the other way around. Her arms were strong, and she held him while he cried silently into her hair; hot, bitter tears of exhaustion and grief. “I’ve got you,” she repeated. “I’ve got you. Ssh. It’s okay. I’m here. That’s it. Let it go, let it go, let it go.”


Ziva gazed dispassionately at the villagers feasting around their huge open fire. Over to one side, Tim lay on the stone slab, awaiting his part in their grisly ritual.

It was an entire village but Ziva had no doubt she could take them all on, alone if need be. When the shutters came down she was a cold, ruthless killing machine – and she could already feel the shutters coming down. If she could find a way of channelling the darkness inside her, so she could use it to give her the edge she needed without allowing it to destroy her completely – surely that would be okay? Then she remembered the look in Gibbs’s eyes after Tim had been shot. He’d *been* there, in this place where she was now. He’d killed for revenge after his first wife had been murdered and he knew what that felt like. She didn’t think he regretted it for one moment, and she knew he’d do it again in a heartbeat, but she could also guess what he’d tell her if he was here now; the darkness inside her wasn’t so easily used and then tossed aside. She had to own it, or it would always own her.

“I suggest that we create a diversion,” Teyla said. “Ronon, Ziva and myself will start a fight, and draw them over in that direction while Kahla frees Tim and helps him to safety. The marines will cover us from behind. We will meet back at the jumper.”

“That is your plan?” Ziva frowned. There was a whole village and only ten of them – herself, her three friends and the six marines Sheppard had sent with them. They were all superb fighters but even so, they were out-numbered. “It is kind of a crappy plan.”

Teyla smiled. “We have done this rescue before,” she murmured, “When Rodney Sheppard was once their captive.”

“And Sheppard’s done it twice,” Ronon grunted. “Said they did it the same way second time around when he was in that other universe too.”

“And it always works?” Ziva raised an incredulous eyebrow.

“It works,” Ronon said firmly.

“Very well. Then we will follow your plan.” Ziva inclined her head. Teyla was the mission leader and she knew these savages who were holding Tim captive much better than she did. Even so, kind though these strangers were, she wished she had her own team here – she was used to the way Gibbs and Tony worked, and she could predict the way they would move and what they would do. Tony might be a smartass in the squad room, but in a combat situation there was nobody she’d rather have by her side – except Gibbs. “However – I will be the one to free Tim, not Kahla,” she said firmly.

“I do not think that is a good idea,” Teyla said smoothly.

“Why not?” Ziva demanded.

Teyla gazed at her steadily, and Ziva saw the answer in her eyes. She wasn’t sure Ziva could be trusted, and, like Gibbs, she was worried for Tim’s safety if Ziva got to him first. Ziva bit down her anger. She could be trusted! She was able to control herself. She wouldn’t hurt Tim – she wanted to rescue him. All the same, there seemed little to be gained by arguing the point, so she waved her hand, giving in.

The villagers were celebrating their impending sacrifice by feasting and drinking so the element of surprise would work in their favour. On the down side, these people really didn’t look very nice. There wasn’t one of them, not even among the children, who wasn’t wearing ornaments made of some part of the human anatomy – teeth, bone fragments, hair. One man even had a complete human skull hanging from his belt. Clearly these were people who worshipped death.

“That is a good thing,” Ziva muttered to herself, as she got into position. “Soon they will meet death in person.”

Teyla gave the word and all hell broke loose as they began firing on the villagers. They completely outclassed them in terms of weaponry but there were hundreds of villagers and they soon descended on their position. When they ran out of ammo there was no time to reload; Ziva just threw her gun down and drew her knives instead. By her side, Teyla was fighting with her batons, while Ronon was wielding two hefty axes, making massive inroads into their attackers, his huge arms slicing through the air with a strange kind of grace for such a big man, almost as if he was dancing rather than fighting. The marines all fought with knives, working in formation, as well trained as she would have expected from men under General Sheppard’s command. Between them they drew the fight away from Tim, so that Kahla could free him and get him to safety.

Ziva kept one eye on the Athosian sub as she fought. Kahla had reached Tim and was trying, frantically, to slice through his bonds with her knife, but he was tightly tied so it wasn’t easy. A cry went up as the villagers realised they were about to lose their human sacrifice and a group of them descended on Kahla’s position. Ziva let out a growl of anger, and fought her way over to them.

Now she was in the thick of it, and the villagers were all around her. She could see Tim, blinking blearily, trying to pull himself loose from what remained of his bonds, blood now pouring from the re-opened wound on his arm. Ziva felt something click inside her, and now she wasn’t even conscious as she fought the people standing between her and the sub she wanted to make her own. Something else had taken over, and she felt like an observer as she sliced and hacked her way through bodies to get to her sub.

The darkness inside her was overwhelming, bloodlust filling every one of her senses. She *was* the darkness and it felt thrilling, intoxicating, and exhilarating! Gibbs was wrong – Teyla was wrong – this was who she was. She felt like an invincible, icy-hearted goddess as she fought, utterly without mercy for any who got underfoot; man or woman, adult or child. She was just the cold steel blade of her knife as it dispensed her justice.

She reached the stone slab, and whirled as a body came towards her. She raised her arm, knife ready to plunge, carve, and dismember…

“Ziva! No! It’s me!” a voice called, and somehow it penetrated her consciousness. She felt her vision clear a little, and saw that she had Tim pinned down on the slab beneath her, her knife pressed against his neck. His eyes were wide, and a vein was pulsing under his skin. She wondered what it would be like to sever that vein, and watch him bleed. Would she enjoy it, the way she had enjoyed killing Ari?

“Ari?” she whispered, pressing the knife a little harder, watching as a red droplet of blood rose on the side of his neck.

“I know…Ari hurt you didn’t he?” Tim whispered. “You had to kill him because he betrayed you, but I haven’t, Ziva. It’s me, Tim. I haven’t hurt you.”

Ari had hurt her – it was Ari who had first shown her what she was inside; Ari with his lies and manipulations and his way of ruthlessly disposing of anyone who got between him and his goal – including her. She’d loved him and he had betrayed her. She had killed him because she had to – but she didn’t have to enjoy it. That had been all her; it was who she was.

“I’m not him,” Tim whispered. “Ziva – I’m not him.”

She stared at him for a long time, and then, somehow, teetered back from the brink.

“We must go,” she said abruptly. The crowd was pressing back in around them and Kahla was struggling to hold them off. Ziva removed the bomb from Tim’s neck, an idea occurring to her. She primed the device and then threw it into the thick of the mob. There was a loud explosion and a big plume of smoke went up, obscuring them.

Ziva grabbed Tim’s arm and dragged him towards the cover of the trees and the waiting puddle jumper. He came, but he was so slow. She had to yank him along, at breakneck speed, and he stumbled behind her, finding it hard to keep up with her unrelenting pace. She paused when they reached the safety of the forest and turned back to see how her comrades were faring. Teyla had seen her make her escape and had given the order to retreat, fighting as they went.

Satisfied they would make it, Ziva took Tim’s arm and pulled him away again, dragging him relentlessly back to the jumper.

It was cloaked, so he almost walked into it, but she managed to shove him inside. The pilot was waiting to take off as soon as they all returned; he turned to talk to her but Ziva ignored him. She had fought for a sub, fought for *this* sub and something old in her blood was demanding that she take him and make him hers, as was her right.

“Ziva – you’re scaring me,” he said. “Ziva…hey, slow down.”

She pushed him onto the bunk, her attention rivetted by the blood on his arm. She put her fingertips in the red, sticky fluid, and then brought them to her nose and sniffed. He smelled of death – she liked that smell.

She pushed him down, roughly, so that he was lying on his back on the bunk and then she straddled him.

“Ziva,” he whispered. “Please…don’t do this…”

He was hers. She’d fought for him and won him and now she was going to claim him. She ripped his shirt off his chest, swiping through the buttons with her bloody knife, exposing the pale pink skin beneath. Then she lowered her face to his neck, wanting to sink her teeth into the tender flesh, and tear it. She would mark him; she would cover him all over with her marks so that he would know who he belonged to. She knew he was an innocent, untouched by any other top, but that would make it all the sweeter. She would show him what it was like to be her sub. She would scratch, tear, bite, hurt and…

“Ziva,” he whispered again. His hands came up, and gently stroked her hair. “Hey…Ziva…it’s me. Tim.”

She felt as if someone was calling to her from far away but she couldn’t hear what they were saying. She gazed down at Tim’s neck again, the flesh so soft and inviting…but someone was talking to her in soft, low tones, and the sound was buzzing in her head, annoying her, and she couldn’t seem to bat it away. She looked at him again, seeing him a little more clearly now. She growled as she saw the plain black collar around his neck…it was the same as the one around her own neck, but it was wrong; he should be wearing *her* collar but he wasn’t. He didn’t belong to her but he should – she’d fought for him…

“Ziva,” he said again, and his face swam into focus. He was frightened but calm, and the look of love in his eyes was unfaltering as he gazed up at her from the bunk. “Take me if you want,” he said softly, relaxing beneath her and offering himself up to her. “I’m ready. I’m yours. Do whatever you want to me. I trust you, Ziva.”

He trusted her. He had no cause to but he trusted her all the same. Reality smashed back in so hard it almost took her breath away and she sank down on top of him, resting her head on his chest. His arms came up and gently cradled her and she lay there, numb. The darkness receded, ebbing away. Tim was fine – he was alive and well, and she had rescued him.

“I wouldn’t have hurt you,” she whispered. “I could never hurt you, Tim.”

“I know,” he said softly, stroking her back gently. “I trusted you, remember.”

She did – and it was his trust in her that had saved her. She could hear his heart beating fast under her ear and she loved how his body felt beneath hers, so big and steadfast. Thank god she wouldn’t wake in the morning to find him marked by her vicious sexual frenzy. She never, ever wanted to wake again to that empty sensation in her belly and a hostile sub beside her.

Within minutes the rest of their rescue team had returned and then they were flying back towards the gate. Ziva didn’t say a word. She just lay where she was, on top of her sub, his arms around her, his breathing steady beneath her, grounding her.

He continued to stroke her back and nuzzle at her hair and she felt herself responding to the peace of his embrace. His total faith in her had given her the strength she needed to fight the darkness and win – and she knew that with him by her side it would never come close to defeating her again. It was over.


Gibbs glanced at his watch, and then at Carson. They had got through sixteen doors, seven of which had been booby trapped with bombs of various degrees of difficulty. But over five hours had passed and it had been almost 40 minutes since Tony had last said anything. They were running out of time.

“Quickly,” Gibbs muttered under his breath. “Hurry!”

“I’m going as fast as I can, sir,” Cadman replied, sweat dripping freely down the side of her face and into her blonde hair. He knew she was – she was as good at her job as Carson had said, but there were no prizes for coming in late. If they didn’t get through this door within the next ten minutes, Tony wouldn’t be able to survive losing any more blood. He had no doubt that Jordan, as an ex-medical student, knew the exact amount of blood Tony could lose before his body shut down and major organ failure occurred.

“Done it!” she said, cutting through the last of the wires. Gibbs pushed both her and Sheppard aside, and slammed through the last door, then ran down the long, dimly lit hallway to the door off to one side at the end. This was it. Tony was behind that door. Unless… was it the trap, or the bluff, or both? Why had Jordan allowed him to get this far? Why not set off that bomb around Tony’s neck the minute Gibbs stepped through the stargate onto this planet, thereby showing Jordan his preference?

He examined the final door for a bomb but didn’t find one, and he couldn’t wait a second longer in any case.

He crashed the door open with his boot, and slammed headlong into the room – then looked around in disbelief.

It was empty.

Someone had been here though. A large plasma screen was fixed to the far wall, and on it…on it was a visual of the room where Tony was being held, presumably in one of the other towers judging by the similarity of the decor. It was the first time Gibbs had seen his agent in several hours and Tony’s condition had deteriorated visibly in that time. He was deathly pale and no longer moving, and the bruises on his face stood out as livid purple stains on his white skin. Rodney was still hanging where he was chained, looking utterly exhausted.

“Damn it!” Gibbs slammed his hand into the nearest wall.

Sheppard stared up at the screen, and Gibbs could see him drinking in the sight of his sub. He walked over to a control console and examined it, then turned, shaking his head.

“Jordan got Rodney to create some artificial life-signs to lure us to this room,” he said.

“So we chose the wrong tower?” Carson looked as if he was about to cry. “I’m sorry – that’s my fault. I suggested…”

“It’s nobody’s fault,” Gibbs snapped. “Nobody except Jordan; he wanted us to come to this tower, and that’s why he left the trail of breadcrumbs straight here. Now I’m guessing he wants to finish with a floorshow.”

There was no time for them to retrace their steps and then navigate their way down to the bottom of the other tower; Tony didn’t have that long. John glanced at his watch, and then over at Gibbs, and shook his head.

“Not yet,” he said. Gibbs nodded.

“Better be soon,” he said. “We’re almost out of time.”

At that moment there was a noise on the screen and the door to the room Rodney and Tony were in opened. Gibbs watched as Jordan entered. He went to the camera, and stared straight at them. John glanced around the room and pointed at a camera positioned over the plasma, making it clear that Jordan could see them as clearly as they could see him.

“Ah. Gibbs. I’m so sorry – you’ve made another bad choice. Story of your life isn’t it?” Jordan said. “First, all those years ago you made the bad choice of stealing my sub from me. Now you’ve made another mistake and will have to suffer the consequences. This is my moment, Gibbs – I’ve waited a very long time for this and I want you to watch very carefully.”

He went over to where Tony was lying and removed the tube from his arm. Tony stirred and muttered something, at least reassuring Gibbs that he was still alive. Jordan unfastened the little bomb from Tony’s collar and placed it on the ground, out of reach. Then he returned to Tony’s side.

“He’s very pretty,” Jordan said, running a finger down the side of Tony’s face. Gibbs felt his gut tighten. “I can see why you collared him. I wouldn’t have thought he was your type but he is, isn’t he? All that mouthy charm, combined with just a hint of DiNozzo vulnerability. He’s a handful, a challenge, and you like that don’t you, Gibbs?”

Gibbs grunted. Jordan’s hand whipped out and struck Tony on the jaw and Tony’s eyes flew open and he let out a startled yelp.

“I asked you a question,” Jordan said. “Please reply.”

“Yes,” Gibbs ground out. “I like that Tony is a challenge.”

“I thought so.” Jordan smiled straight at the camera. “What first attracted you to him?”

John made a motion with his hand to play for time and keep Jordan talking, and Gibbs blinked at him that he understood.

“Well…he looked like something the cat dragged in when he first showed up for an interview at NCIS, but there was something about his eyes. His body language said he couldn’t care less but his eyes said he wanted to please.”

“And you liked that?” Jordan asked, running his finger slowly down Tony’s chest. Gibbs swallowed hard.

“Yeah, I liked that,” he agreed.

“And you’ve liked it ever since, haven’t you?” Jordan laughed. “You like keeping him on edge, you like making him work hard for your approval. When you give it to him it’s in these grudging little morsels that always leave him wanting more because it’s never quite enough, is it?”

Gibbs felt his hands clench into fists. Was that true? Maybe it was, a little.

“It helps him stay good at his job,” he said gruffly. “I get the best out of him that way.”

“And is it always about the job? Or is it sometimes more personal?” Jordan asked.

Gibbs thought about that for a moment but he was too slow, and Jordan’s hand whipped out again. The sound of Tony’s cry sliced through him, making him flinch.

“Yes, it’s sometimes more personal,” he said quietly.

“Good. That’s what I wanted to hear,” Jordan said. “Because I’m about to do something to dear Tony. Something *very* personal. And I want you to watch. If you look away, I’ll make him very sorry.”

Gibbs could do nothing *but* watch, his gut roiling, as Jordan began undoing the buttons on Tony’s shirt.

“Oh dear god no,” he whispered.

“I didn’t want him quite dead you see,” Jordan said. “He’s weak, but conscious. I want him to feel it when I take him.”

“Jordan…no…please…you don’t have to do this,” Gibbs said hoarsely. “It’s not too late. There’s still time for you to stop this.”

“Oh I know.” Jordan smiled at the camera. “But I don’t want to stop, Gibbs. I’ve been looking forward to this. Tony isn’t my usual type either but he’s a fine looking boy. I’ll enjoy using him as he should be used – as you’ve neglected to use him.”

“How do you know that?” Gibbs flung at him, trying to do something – anything – to delay the inevitable.

“I’ve been listening to him and Rodney talk, Gibbs, the same way you have these past few hours. He’s besotted with you and you’ve been cruel to this boy, Gibbs, keeping him on edge when you could have taken him to your bed and given him what he wants. Instead you made him work for it, didn’t you? You made him work for everything – every word of praise, every fond look, and every smile. I almost feel sorry for him.”

He finished undoing Tony’s shirt and slid it open, revealing his sub’s chest beneath with its smattering of fine dark hair. Gibbs fought hard to keep his face blank, but failed. He turned away to hide his emotions but Tony’s hoarse cry when Jordan backhanded him brought him back to the plasma.

“Please keep your eyes on the screen, Gibbs. I don’t want you to miss any of this,” Jordan told him, looking straight at him through the camera. “If you turn away again I’ll make him scream even harder.”

Jordan undid Tony’s belt, pulling it through the loops, and then undid his fly. Gibbs just stood there, helplessly, standing by, unable to do a thing as Jordan undressed his sub. Every muscle in Gibbs’s body was coiled and tense. He could feel Sheppard, Carson and Cadman watching him watching Jordan and was aware of their silent sympathy but it was no damn use to him.

Jordan paused for a moment to undo the various cuffs that bound Tony to the table. He unbuckled them all, clearly thinking Tony was too out of it to put up any kind of a struggle. Now Gibbs was seriously impressed by Jordan’s planning; this had all been meticulously worked out, down to the last detail.

He pulled Tony up, and Tony lolled against him.

“You wanna make out?” Tony slurred, nuzzling at Jordan’s throat. Gibbs frowned. He knew DiNozzo too well… ”Hey handsome,” Tony said, his hands clumsily stroking Jordan’s body, patting and fondling. “You want me?” he breathed in Jordan’s ear. “I think you do.”

Jordan laughed. “Your boy is like a cat in heat, Gibbs. He’d go with anyone.”

“I’m easy,” Tony said. “Always have been.” He lolled forward again, as if he’d lost his balance, but Gibbs wasn’t fooled. He noticed that Tony had a bunch of keys in his hand stolen from Jordan’s pocket, and as he fell forward, making Jordan catch him, he threw them at Rodney’s feet, clanging his hand against the steel bed to hide the sound of them landing.

Rodney’s eyes widened, and he reached out with one of his feet to drag the keys towards him, and then managed to contort enough to pick them up with his bound hands. He didn’t have much leeway, and he almost dropped the keys but then caught them again and began frantically trying to find the right key to unlock the chains. Gibbs tried not to watch in case he gave the ploy away to Jordan, but he was willing Rodney to succeed and grab the chance Tony had given them both.

Jordan moved suddenly, and threw Tony face down over the steel bed. Tony gave a yelp as Jordan yanked his shirt from his back and then held him down, his groin pressed against Tony’s ass, his hands holding Tony’s wrists tightly to keep him still. He leaned over Tony’s half-naked body and then licked the back of Tony’s neck. Gibbs felt something break inside him – something old and cold that had been keeping him imprisoned for a long time, but he couldn’t give into it yet. He had to stay focussed, for Tony’s sake, because when the moment came he had to be ready. He saw Carson making a sign with his hands, and nodded imperceptibly and signed back, his hands hidden behind the console.

Gibbs watched out of his peripheral vision as Rodney freed himself from the cuffs and then got to his feet, behind Jordan, out of the other man’s sight. He’d been chained for hours and he was a little unsteady, but he was silent as he stood.

“You like me this way, big fella?” Tony was saying to Jordan, desperately continuing with the distraction. “All helpless underneath you. That feel good, huh? Always liked sexy older guys – you ever heard of Ricardo Montalban?”

Gibbs rolled his eyes; it really was astonishing that Tony’s seduction technique was ever successful.

“How about you let me up so I can look at you when you take me, huh?” Tony asked, and Gibbs understood the point of that request. Face down, Tony had little room to manoeuvre, but if Jordan let him up then there would be a split second when Tony had a chance to overpower his assailant – if he wasn’t too weak, and looking at him Gibbs was by no means sure that he wasn’t.

“That’s good…if you let me up the other way I could show you how good a DiNozzo kiss can be,” Tony was saying. Jordan bit on his shoulder blade and Tony gave a strangled yelp.

“I like you fine just the way you are,” Jordan told him. “You’re in just the right position for me to fuck you.”

For the first time, Gibbs saw a flicker of real panic on Tony’s face and it was all he could do to keep his eyes on the screen.

Rodney was now creeping stealthily towards them. He had one of the chains in his hand – it was solid and would pack a good blow, Gibbs thought, if wielded correctly. He knew Rodney Sheppard was a scientist, not a fighter, but he hoped that the general had drummed some kind of fighting skills into his sub, even if only to keep him alive during those dangerous missions they frequently went on.

Tony was face down and couldn’t see how close Rodney was, but then Rodney let out a scream of defiance and brought the chain down hard on Jordan’s back. Jordan roared and Tony pushed up from beneath, then swayed, before launching himself at Jordan who was now grappling with Rodney for possession of the chain.

“I’ve got him, Rodney. RUN!” Tony yelled, landing what looked like a pretty good punch to Jordan’s kidneys considering his weakened condition. “Get out of here, Rodney – go!” Tony shouted hoarsely.

Rodney didn’t run though, and Gibbs hadn’t thought for a moment that he would. Rodney Sheppard was one of those people you only got to know when the chips were down. He had a prickly, sarcastic manner and gave the appearance of being a coward, but in a crisis he was one of those people whose innate bravery shone through. Now he grappled with Jordan for possession of the chain, while Tony thumped the man from behind with the last bit of strength he had left. Gibbs watched, his heart in his mouth, willing the two subs to defeat his nemesis.

Then suddenly Jordan pulled the chain free, and, in one smooth motion, thwapped it hard against Rodney’s head. There was a loud cracking sound, and then a stain of blood streaked Rodney’s forehead and he crashed to the floor.

Gibbs heard someone screaming but Rodney was out cold…then he realised the screaming was coming from General Sheppard, who was clutching his own head, and Gibbs suddenly remembered the lifebond.

“Is he okay? Is he still alive?” he asked the general. John nodded, his eyes dark with pain.

“He’s unconscious but I can feel he’s still there,” he hissed. Carson crouched down beside him, checking on him, and used the movement to sign to Gibbs again. Gibbs signed back, with a sharp, impatient flick of his fingers.

Back on the screen Jordan turned, triumphant, and Tony swayed again, and then sagged down onto his knees, shaking his head to try and clear his vision.

Jordan grinned at the camera. “Where was I?” he said. “Oh yes. You know, Gibbs, I think Tony deserves a whipping for that, don’t you? I wonder what damage the buckle end of my belt will do to all this fine young skin?”

He wrapped the chain brutally around Tony’s wrists, securing them behind him, and then he pushed Tony over the bed again. He yanked off Tony’s pants leaving Tony naked. Jordan grinned, and ran his fingers over the faint strap marks on Tony’s ass.

“I see you keep him well-disciplined, Gibbs,” he commented. “I can understand why. A sub like this – if you’re not going to keep him well-fucked then you have to keep him well-spanked or he’ll leave you, won’t he?”

“He needs a firm hand,” Gibbs choked. He hadn’t wanted to answer the question at all but feared Jordan’s reprisal against Tony if he didn’t; Jordan liked his questions to be answered.

“Yes he does. And he’ll have it,” Jordan said, unbuckling his belt and pulling it free from the loops in his pants. He wrapped the leather end around his hand and then drew back his arm and unleashed a hard blow on Tony’s shoulders. Tony jerked, convulsing, a low animal cry keening from his lips.

“No more,” Gibbs whispered hoarsely. “Please, Jordan. I’m begging you. You want me to say I’m sorry about Ducky – I will. Anything you want, I’ll say it. You’re the big dom here, Jordan, not me. You’ve won. I’m sorry. Just don’t hurt him again. Please.” His throat hurt with the sincerity of what he was saying. Jordan glanced at the camera again.

“But I like hurting him, Gibbs,” he murmured. “I like it when a sub is scared and trembling beneath me. Don’t you like the way that feels?”

“No,” Gibbs replied honestly. “That’s always been the difference between us, Jordan. I like my subs happy and safe. You just like bullying them.”

Jordan’s hand came down again and Tony gave a low grunt of pain. Gibbs winced when he saw the blood staining Tony’s back where the metal belt buckle had lacerated the skin. He’d disciplined many subs in his time, sometimes very hard, but he’d never once broken skin; there was never any need for it and it sure as hell wouldn’t have given him any pleasure. He’d never used the buckle end of a belt either – or any object harder than a strap, cane or paddle – or his own hand, which he was pretty sure was as hard, if not harder, than most implements. The subs he’d spanked certainly seemed to think so.

Jordan delivered blow after hard blow while Tony writhed beneath his belt. After the first blow Tony hadn’t screamed again and Gibbs knew why. He’d seen Tony in pain before, and when it wasn’t serious Tony milked it for all it was worth – but when it *was* serious, something inside him seemed to shut down and he went quiet. His breathing was ragged, and he gasped as each hard blow from Jordan’s belt ripped into his skin, but Gibbs knew he didn’t want to give Jordan the satisfaction of hearing him scream or beg for mercy.

Gibbs could only stand there and watch, in a cold, angry silence as Jordan flogged Tony repeatedly with his belt, until his back and shoulders were covered in blood, the flesh torn, welted and bruised. Then, finally, much to his relief, Jordan was done and he threw the belt onto the floor.

“Now we come to the good bit,” he said, smiling at the camera. “It’s been awhile for you hasn’t it, Tony?” he said, sliding his hands possessively over Tony’s ass cheeks. “You’re probably tighter than you used to be…it’ll be like popping your cherry,” he said, his hands kneading Tony’s buttocks.

“Been a long time since anyone likened me to a virgin, Jordan,” Tony muttered, with just enough wryness in his voice to hearten Gibbs. The whipping had been tough, but it seemed Tony was tougher.

“Unfortunately, despite my meticulous planning, I ‘forgot’ to bring any lube,” Jordan chuckled. “So you might find this a little rougher than you’re used to, Tony. But that’s okay; the discomfort shouldn’t last for long because when I’m done with you I’m going to slit your throat with my knife.”

“You sure as hell know how to turn a sub on,” Tony replied. “I’m getting hard just thinking about it.”

Jordan squeezed his buttocks brutally, making Tony gasp. “You won’t be so smart by the time I’m through,” he said. “Will you beg for your life? I hope so. I’d like Gibbs to see you do that.”

“Why are you doing this, Jordan?” Tony asked, and this time there was no bravado in his voice. “You want to punish Gibbs – I get that. And he’ll be pretty pissed – I get that too, but this isn’t going to hurt him the way you want it to. He’s lost agents before and he’s bounced back. It’s not like I’m special. If you were doing this to Abby or even Tim then you might hurt him more, but not me. It’s not like it was with you and Ducky. You’re not hurting him the way he hurt you. Trust me.”

Tony craned his neck upwards and looked straight at the camera. “Gibbs,” he said hoarsely, getting a good look at the screen for the first time, eyes trying to focus through his exhaustion. “I don’t know why you came for me in person and not the others, but I’m guessing it was a bluff to throw him off the scent. So tell him the truth. Tell him it doesn’t matter to you, tell him *I* don’t matter to you.”

“Can’t do that, Tony,” Gibbs replied, gazing directly into his sub’s eyes. “He already knows it’s not true.”

Those green eyes looked momentarily confused. “But it is…” he whispered.

“No,” Gibbs said softly, moving closer to the camera. If these were going to be Tony’s last few minutes then he wanted him to know the truth. “No, it isn’t. I love you, Tony. I’ve loved you since the minute you walked into that interview room in that crumpled shirt, and shot me that stupid DiNozzo smile – the one you think charms all the tops. Didn’t work on me, but the eyes did. That expression in your eyes – the one you can’t fake, the one that made me want to slam you down on the table and make you understand who you belong to. You’ve been pushing me for a long time, Tony, but you didn’t need to. You had me all along.”

“Then why…?” Tony gasped, his gaze swimming in and out of focus.

“I wasn’t ready,” Gibbs replied tersely. “Sorry, Tony.”

“Never say you’re sorry – sign of weakness,” Tony muttered.

“Not with you,” Gibbs said softly.

“Ah…finally the mighty Agent Gibbs admits to having feelings,” Jordan said. “And just when it’s too late. Stay with me, Tony – it’s time we ended this. But first things first…once, a long time ago, you did something to me, Gibbs, something that really hurt me; and you did it in public, in a roomful of witnesses. Now I’m going to return the favour. I just want you to know how it feels.”

He reached for Tony’s collar and Gibbs felt a wrenching ache inside his gut.

“I know how much being collared means to you, Tony,” Jordan said. “But you’ve worn this for long enough. It’s time you were a free, isn’t it? Besides, didn’t you say you wouldn’t go to another top’s bed while you were wearing Gibbs’s collar? I never had you down as the old-fashioned type but it does you credit; all the more reason to take it off you before I fuck you.”

Tony made a choking sound as Jordan unbuckled the collar and then pulled it away from his throat. Gibbs felt his fists clenching and unclenching by his side. Removing a sub’s collar without the sub’s permission – unless the top who put it there was the one removing it – was actually a legal offence, and there was a reason for that. Jordan held up the collar and examined it critically.

“It’s just what I’d expect from you, Gibbs. How much did it cost? Two dollars? At least I gave Donald a collar that was worth something – several thousand dollars in fact.”

“That was just for the sake of your ego,” Gibbs muttered, and then regretted it as Jordan slammed his hand hard against Tony’s lacerated back, forcing an agonised gasp from Tony.

“This is what I think of your cheap collar, Gibbs,” Jordan said, throwing it down disdainfully. It landed a few feet away from where Rodney was lying on the floor, still out cold. “Now, I hope you understand how it feels to have your collared sub taken from you, and his collar removed without your permission. I’m pleased that your friends have witnessed your impotence and humiliation at being unable to keep the sub you collared.”

Gibbs glanced at Sheppard and Carson but saw only a kind of transfixed anger in Sheppard’s eyes, and utter sympathy and horror in Carson’s.

“Now, Tony,” Jordan said, turning his attention back to the prone agent. Tony looked out of it now; the loss of his collar and his own inability to prevent it, combined with the blood loss and the beating he’d received had drained him. His green eyes were open but blank, and Gibbs had a sudden fear that if Tony wasn’t broken now he might be by the time Jordan had finished raping him. “Watch, Gibbs,” Jordan gloated. “Watch me take your boy.”

Jordan undid his pants and Gibbs stood there, utterly powerless to do anything. It wasn’t a position he was used to being in, and he felt a wave of cold sweat break out on his body. Was he really going to have to stand by as this happened right in front of him? Was he going to have to watch as Tony was raped and then murdered? His anger was now a hard, frozen ball of solid ice in his gut and it took all of his self-control to keep it there, and not give into it and allow it to destroy him. There was still a chance they could save Tony, and he had to be ready for it.

He saw John move towards Carson and raised an eyebrow.

“Ten seconds,” Carson said, gazing intently at the device in his hands.

Ten seconds…it felt like ten years. Gibbs held his gun in one hand and his knife in the other, and watched as Jordan kicked Tony’s legs apart. Tony struggled, pushing back against him, and Jordan grabbed a handful of his thick hair and thumped his head down on the table, smashing his forehead against the steel surface. Gibbs winced – Tony looked dazed, and Gibbs wondered if he’d even make it through to the throat-slitting part. He already looked close to death; they were going to be too late.

“Three, two, one…” Carson’s voice whispered, and then the room disappeared. Gibbs had been transported only once before, when they’d first joined Daedalus from Earth several weeks ago, and he’d found the experience disorienting. This time he was too alert and focussed to be disoriented. Tony needed him and they didn’t have much time.

A second later he found himself standing on the Daedalus.

“Thank god – just in time,” Sheppard snapped. “Get us down there – now.”

A second later the room on the Daedalus disappeared and then he was in the room he’d seen on the plasma screen. Jordan was busy trying to wrestle a struggling, clenched Tony into submission so he could rape him, and hadn’t noticed them disappear from the other room. They had only been gone seconds in any case.

Gibbs heard Sheppard let out a blood-curdling growl as he ran towards Jordan. Gibbs didn’t run, and yet somehow he crossed the room in a couple of strides. Jordan looked up, a shocked expression on his face, and then Sheppard was behind him, pulling him off Tony, holding his arms behind his back. Jordan didn’t say a word – his eyes said it all as they glittered in defeat. Gibbs barely spared him a glance.

Gibbs’s knife was in his hand and for a split second he and Sheppard locked gazes. Jordan might not resist arrest but they all knew there wasn’t going to be any arrest. Gibbs didn’t let anyone hurt his sub this badly and live, and he sure as hell knew that John Sheppard didn’t either. Sheppard held Jordan up, arms twisted behind him, and Gibbs waited. He and Sheppard had a wordless conversation, each understanding the other perfectly, and then Sheppard thrust Jordan forward and held him there – held him up, and held him still, offering him to Gibbs.

Gibbs arm went forward, and he felt the cold blade of the knife slide straight into Jordan’s belly, as deep as it would go. He leaned in close, so close that he could feel the warm blood on his shirt, and feel Jordan’s agonised breathing against his cheek.

“Nobody hurts what’s mine and lives,” he told Jordan, in a low, intense voice. “And Tony DiNozzo is mine.”

Then, slowly and deliberately, Gibbs twisted the knife. Jordan choked, and Gibbs slowly twisted it back the other way. Then he was done. He dropped his hand and locked wordless gazes with Sheppard again. Sheppard nodded, took hold of Jordan’s head in his hands, and twisted, just once, hard. There was a loud crack and then Sheppard dropped the man’s dead body to the ground, where it landed with a crashing thump.

Gibbs turned without looking back and was by Tony’s side in an instant. Carson was crouching beside him, getting a line into his vein, and blood into his body. Sheppard was cradling Rodney’s head in his lap, while Cadman called the Daedalus to get them transported out. Sheppard glanced up at him and Gibbs saw something in the other man’s eyes that made him go cold, and he knew this wasn’t over for John Sheppard yet – and it might be some time before it was.

“How is he?” Gibbs asked Carson. Tony was lying pale and silent on the floor, unmoving. “Is he dead?” Carson was working fast, his hands moving over Tony’s body with thorough efficiency.

“Not while I’m his damn physician he isn’t,” Carson growled, and, for the first time, Gibbs saw the true top in the usually affable Carson.

Seconds later they were transported back to the Daedalus, and then there were medical personnel everywhere, and people pushing and shoving past him with gurneys and medical supplies.

“Agent Gibbs.” Colonel Beckett was striding towards him. “I’ve got Mr Woolsey waiting for you on an open channel back to Atlantis.”

Gibbs watched as an unconscious Tony was placed on a gurney.

“My people?” he asked, glancing at Steven Beckett. “Did they all make it? Abby? Tim? Ziva? Are they okay?” He dreaded hearing the news because he didn’t think he could stand losing any of them.

Beckett’s face creased into a wide smile. “They all came back alive,” he confirmed.

Gibbs felt as if he’d left his body and was looking down on himself, standing alone in the centre of that room while everyone hustled and bustled around him. They were alive. They were all alive. It was hard to take in. He had been worried about every single one of them but they had all come through – and, for the most part, they’d come through without him.

“Colonel Lorne lost a man out there,” Beckett added, in a more sombre tone. “But Lieutenant Rice was the only casualty.”

Gibbs came to, brought back down to himself by that unwelcome news.

“Please relay my condolences to Colonel Lorne. I’ll write to the marine’s family myself when we get back.”

They had Tony strapped to the gurney now. Gibbs fell into step beside it, and reached out and took hold of Tony’s hand as they walked. Tony was still unconscious, and his hand felt cold. He was a mess, his face covered in bruises and his hair and body streaked with blood. He was almost unrecognisable.

“Sir? Agent Gibbs?” Beckett called after him. “Mr Woolsey wants to speak to you, and there’s a mission debrief and…”

Gibbs glanced back at him over his shoulder. “I’m not leaving my sub,” he snapped.

Beckett turned to Sheppard. “General? What about the debrief? What shall I tell Woolsey?” he asked, as Sheppard ran past him beside Rodney’s gurney.

“You heard Agent Gibbs,” Sheppard growled. “Same goes for me.”

They glanced at each other. At some point they’d have to decide what their reports would say, and how they would describe Jordan’s demise, but right now neither of them gave a damn about anything except their two subs. Gibbs saw in John now the kindred spirit he hadn’t seen when he first met the man. John Sheppard might hide behind a casual exterior but the man had a dark, passionate streak, and would go to hell and back for the sub he loved. Gibbs understood that all too well; Sheppard was a top after his own heart.


Tony opened his eyes, then closed them again, then opened them once more as consciousness slowly seeped back in.

“Hey.” Blue eyes were gazing at him. Tony tried to sit up but the room circled around, dizzyingly. Gibbs leaned in and steadied him on his way back down again. “Might be a bit too soon for that,” Gibbs said. Tony felt boneless as his head hit the pillow again. “How do you feel?” Gibbs asked.

“Great,” Tony replied. “Nothing hurts. Hell…what’s Carson given me? These are some serious happy pills.” He couldn’t move without toppling over but the sensation of flying was terrific. He gazed around the room; it didn’t seem familiar. “Where are we?” he asked, blankly.

“Daedalus sick bay – on our way back to Atlantis,” Gibbs replied. Tony wasn’t sure without looking down but he thought that maybe Gibbs was loosely holding his hand. He dismissed that as a side effect of the pain meds – Gibbs didn’t do hand-holding.

“What happened?” Tony asked, and then he flinched as the memories came flooding back. He could vaguely feel a myriad of different aches in his body, masked by the medication, and suspected that when the drugs wore off he’d hurt like hell. He remembered being held down, remembered his head crashing onto metal, remembered Jordan working his legs open… “Jordan,” he murmured. “Is he…?”

“Yeah.” The expression on Gibbs’s face wasn’t pretty.

“Right.” Tony nodded. “You did that?”

“Yeah.” Gibbs’s blue eyes shone icily. Tony noticed there was a big red stain on his shirt and decided, wisely, not to mention it.

“And before that, did he…?” Tony remembered rough hands on his ass, pulling his buttocks apart, and he’d been clenching and wriggling for all he was worth but he knew he had been too beat up to prevent the inevitable for long and at some point he’d blacked out so he wasn’t sure what had happened next.

“No,” Gibbs said firmly. “We got there in time. The Daedalus set off the same time we stepped through the gate but it was a six hour flight and we knew it’d be tight and we couldn’t necessarily rely on them for rescue. Colonel Beckett busted a gut to get this ship to our location as fast as he could. Soon as they were within range they transported us out of where we were and over to where you were. Daedalus has more powerful scanning technology and was able to pinpoint your life-signs. We couldn’t risk transporting you straight out because of your physical condition – Carson wanted to stabilise you first. We also couldn’t risk transporting Jordan up with you – we didn’t know which life-sign was which – so Colonel Beckett transported us over to your position – that’s how we got there.”

“And the others?” Tony asked. “Abby and Tim? Are they okay? Is Ziva okay?”

“Yes – they’re all okay. All of them got back to Atlantis safely,” Gibbs told him. “The planets they were being held on were out of Daedalus’s range so we sent teams in puddle jumpers instead. Colonel Lorne rescued Abby, and Ziva brought Tim back.”

Tony felt suddenly exhausted all over again. He sank back into the bed, eyelids fluttering, then, by great force of will, opened them again.

“Rodney?” he whispered. “Is he okay?” He had a vague recollection of Rodney lying on the floor, a big red mark on his head. “Oh shit…he’s not…? Did he make it? I really grew to like the guy.”

“He’s fine,” Gibbs said. “Carson is taking some X-rays of his head but he’s regained consciousness – he asked after you.”

“Should have run and left me,” Tony muttered.

“Not his style.” Gibbs shook his head. Tony tried to say something but he was sure it just came out as gibberish. “I think you need to sleep now,” Gibbs told him, and then Tony felt a hand stroking his hair, and a kiss being pressed to his forehead. He was asleep before he could even think about how good that felt.

He dreamed that he was flying through the air and Randolph Jordan was flying behind him with a big silver knife, coming closer and closer until the knife was pressed against his throat and… He woke with a start, to find himself staring into a different set of blue eyes – these ones were wide and had a kind of innocence to them – they weren’t sharp and all-knowing like Gibbs’s eyes. The room came into focus and Tony saw that there was a bed next to his and Rodney Sheppard was lying in it, a big bandage wrapped around his head.

“Hey…you’re awake. Good. Because I would not want to be around Gibbs if you, you know, died or anything.”

“Where is he?” Tony glanced around blearily. There was nobody in the sick bay save for Rodney and himself – and John Sheppard who was leaning against the wall. Tony was not remotely fooled by the casual pose Rodney’s top was adopting; every muscle in his body was tense and there was a dark, almost predatory look in his eyes.

“He went to the bathroom. He and John take it in turns so there’s always one of them in here with us at any one time.” Rodney leaned a little closer. “I think it’s a top thing,” he said conspiratorially. “If one of them has to leave for any reason the only one they trust to stand guard is each other. I don’t know what they think’s gonna happen onboard the Daedalus. I mean, the bad guy’s gone – who do they think is going to come after us now?”

“I don’t think it’s about that, Rodney,” Tony said. “I think it’s more of a sort of PTSD thing. Until they come down from whatever toppy headspace they’re in right now we just need to expect them to be a bit over-protective.”

“Yeah – you could be right.” Rodney nodded.

“Are you okay?” Tony’s eyes flickered over Rodney’s bandaged head, and down to the bruises all over his face, and then the red marks on his wrists.

“Yeah. Carson said I don’t have a fractured skull – which is a good thing. This skull houses a brain of considerable genius.”

Tony laughed out loud at that. “Ah, Rodney, I really *like* you,” he said. Rodney looked surprised.

“Really?” He seemed quite pleased by that and Tony could suddenly see, with total ease, what Abby and John Sheppard and even, he suspected, Gibbs saw in the man. The bluster was all a disguise – Rodney Sheppard was a whole lot more insecure than he seemed, and he had a big heart beneath it all. He was also damn brave.

“I told you to run,” Tony said to him. Rodney’s eyes widened.

“He was going to rape you and slit your throat!” he protested. “Besides, I thought Gibbs would kill me if I didn’t stay and help.”

Tony laughed and Rodney gave a little laugh too. Tony glanced up at John who, despite hearing their entire conversation, hadn’t said a word. He was just standing there, leaning against that wall, never once taking his eyes off his sub.

“Is he okay?” Tony asked. Rodney’s expression changed, becoming more serious and thoughtful.

“Not yet, but he will be,” he said. “Right now he’s hanging on until I’m better. Then I’ll need to take him down.”

“You take him down?” Tony asked, surprised. “Isn’t he the top?”

“Yeah, he’s the top – but sometimes I’m the one in control,” Rodney said. “This is him. It’s how he is. It’s how *we* are.”

Everyone had their own dynamic, and this one intrigued Tony. He wondered what it would be like to take Gibbs down but his brain wouldn’t even go there. He didn’t think Gibbs *did* being taken down.

At that moment Gibbs returned to the room. Tony was surprised by the way his boss’s eyes lit up, visibly and openly, when he saw he was awake.

“Hey – how you doing?” Gibbs said, in a soft voice that Tony didn’t think he’d ever heard before. His boss came over to him, put a hand on his head and smoothed his hair back, and then dropped another of those little kisses on his forehead. Tony lay there, too surprised to react. He vaguely recalled a conversation that he suspected might have been important and even relevant to the way Gibbs was behaving now but the details were hazy.

“Uh…fine?” he said. He tried sitting up again and this time managed it without toppling back down, but the movements made everything hurt. He winced. His back and shoulders felt like they were on fire, and he was suddenly aware of how much his jaw and the side of his face ached. He could feel the pain meds wearing off and his head was pounding.

“Got some lacerations back there,” Gibbs told him, nodding in the direction of his shoulders. “Should heal okay but might be sore for awhile.” He leaned forward and ran a finger over Tony’s face. “You’re not looking so pretty right now, DiNozzo,” he said. “But the bruises should fade soon.”

Tony ran a tongue over his dry lips, remembering spitting blood. He found the large gash on his lower lip and winced as his warm tongue made contact.

“So…Ricardo Montalban?” Gibbs asked, with a raised eyebrow. Tony groaned.

“Didn’t you see that movie, boss? Don’t tell me you never had a thing for Captain Kirk, either. Running riot across the entire galaxy while he waited for Spock to make his move, trying to provoke him into it…but you know, Spock was being all Vulcan and denying he had feelings but we all knew he did, and then Khan shows up looking all ripped and…uh…” Tony paused. “You usually tell me to shut up by now, boss.”

Gibbs grinned, and settled back in his chair. “Tony, I don’t have a clue what you’re saying but I’m glad you’re still alive to say it, so just go ahead. I’ve not got anywhere else to be.”

Tony gazed at him suspiciously. This really wasn’t Gibbs-like behaviour at all. On the plus side, his current physical state did at least preclude Gibbs slapping the back of his head. Or maybe not. He remembered being deathly ill with the plague once and Gibbs had given him a head tap then, so it might not be wise to test that theory by pushing his boss too much at the moment, especially when Gibbs kept looking at him that way, as if he couldn’t take his eyes off him. Gibbs’s gaze seemed to be mapping his entire face, travelling steadily over every inch of him as if he was recording him for posterity or something. It was un-nerving, and Tony wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it.

At that moment a man in a white coat entered with a little tray of meds and came over to Tony’s bedside.

“How are you doing, Mr DiNozzo?” he said cheerfully. “I’m here to give you your meds and…”

He broke off with a strangled squawk as Gibbs’s hand fastened around his wrist, holding him tight.

“I don’t know you,” Gibbs growled.

“I’m Nurse Bryant. Just taken over on shift,” the man squeaked.

“Well go get Carson. Nobody else touches Tony, or comes close to Tony, or gives Tony any damn thing except him – understood?”

Bryant nodded, eyes wide, and backed out of the room.

“See, I told you,” Rodney whispered loudly to Tony.

Tony leaned back in his pillows, frowning. He’d never seen Gibbs behave like this and a part of him liked it – while another part of him was really wishing he could have had the pain meds before Gibbs had scared the nurse away.

Carson entered a few minutes later and gave Gibbs a severe look, which Tony could see was pretty much for show.

“God help me, it’s bad enough with just him usually,” he said, nodding in General Sheppard’s direction. Sheppard hadn’t moved; he was still standing there, gazing wolfishly at Rodney. “Now there are two of you scaring the life out of all my staff.”

He paused, and surveyed Tony. “Nice to see you awake, son,” he said, in a firm but gentle voice that Tony had never heard from him before. He remembered his initial impressions of Carson as being the kind of top he could charm and manipulate, and realised that while that might be true outside of an infirmary, in here, as one of Carson’s patients, he didn’t stand a chance. This was where Carson was at his toppiest. Carson sat down on the bed beside him. “How are you feeling?”

“Great. Fine. Ready to go back to quarters as soon as we get back to Atlantis, Doc,” Tony said, his mask fitting effortlessly back into place as he gave Carson his best subby smile – which hurt his cut lip so much he couldn’t hold it.

Carson shook his head, smiling wryly. “Son, you won’t be going back to quarters for a few days yet. You’ll be staying in my infirmary on Atlantis until I say you’re well enough to return and even then, you won’t be back on active duty for a few weeks.”

Tony hated being ill or injured. He hated the time away from work, and especially the time away from Gibbs – but most of all he hated the endless bed rest, and how that gave him far too much thinking time. He didn’t do well if he had too much time to think.

“Hey, Doc, even when I had the plague I was back at work within a couple of weeks,” he said. “And Ducky can look out for me back at our quarters. I’ll be fine.”

“You’ll stay under Carson’s care until he releases you,” Gibbs cut in firmly, and Tony’s heart sank because he could argue with Carson all he liked but there was never any arguing with Gibbs.

He lay back down on his pillow, feeling a wave of impotent rage. The last thing he wanted right now, after all that had happened, was thinking time. The pain meds had well and truly worn off now and with them had gone his good mood and sense of optimism.

“I want you and Rodney to both see Kate Heightmeyer when we get home as well,” Carson said.

“The shrink? No way,” Tony said. “I don’t do shrinks.”

“If this had happened back on Earth the Director would send you for a psych evaluation before letting you return to duty so we’ll follow that protocol out here as well,” Gibbs said. “And…it might do you good, Tony,” he added, leaning forward. His eyes were kind but uncompromising, and Tony saw how his gaze flicked briefly over his neck…and he didn’t want to think about what was – or wasn’t – there. For a sub to have a collar forcibly removed was always traumatic – that’s why they had a law against it, and Tony had been through that and a lot more besides in the past 24 hours.

“There’s no way *you’d* see a shrink – don’t see why I have to,” Tony muttered, closing his eyes. He opened them again, in surprise, as Gibbs gave him a firm tap on the head; it wasn’t a slap, but Tony knew that was only because of his condition. “Yes boss, sorry boss,” Tony sighed.

It was stupid, but somehow that small tap made him feel better than even the pain meds had managed to do. He closed his eyes again, and was soon fast asleep.


Gibbs had learned in the Marines how to snatch a cat nap whenever you could, however cold, wet, hot or downright uncomfortable you were. He could even sleep standing up if need be. Now, exhausted though he was, sleep wouldn’t come. All he could do was stare at Tony, lying in his sick bay bed, and wonder how the hell he’d managed to be such an idiot for so long.

Five years was a long time to pretend you didn’t love someone; for Tony, as well as for him. They were both damn idiots, he decided. Hearing Tony talk all those long hours during that rescue had been a kind of hell – an illuminating kind of hell. Seeing his own behaviour from Tony’s perspective had been painful; and then hearing Jordan’s spin on it – well, that had been almost as bad.

When Shannon and Kelly had been killed Gibbs hadn’t been there to protect them. He hadn’t known anything about it until it was too late. Watching Tony being tortured and damn nearly killed in front of him and being unable to help him had been worse in a way. Even knowing the Daedalus was on its way hadn’t helped when he didn’t know if it would get there in time.

Gibbs sat in the chair beside Tony and held his sub’s hand between his fingers, stroking the skin gently the whole time. Shannon hadn’t made it but Tony had, and Gibbs had learned that it didn’t matter whether you took a sub to your bed or not, because the thought of losing one you were in love with hurt just the same, either way.

Gibbs watched as Carson entered the room and went over to where Rodney was lying. John stiffened, a low growl sounding in his throat. Gibbs was fascinated by their dynamic. Although Rodney was safe now, John seemed unable to come down from the toppy headspace he was in, and viewed everyone as a threat, even Carson, who was treading very carefully around him. Gibbs knew what it was like to almost lose a sub, and he knew that he was being over-protective towards Tony right now, but even so he wasn’t in the kind of headspace John was. Their earlier easy camaraderie during battle was long gone; John didn’t even reply when he spoke to him now.

Carson stood by Rodney’s bed and John came over, still growling softly. It was like having a rabid dog in the room – no wonder Carson was being so cautious.

“I’ve run all the tests I need to run and it’s all fine. No hidden injuries or fractures. So if you want to do that lifebondy, healing thing you do, then that’s fine. It’ll speed up Rodney’s recovery time at least,” Carson said. “I can’t pretend I’m ever really comfortable with the idea of someone else sustaining injuries in the process of healing, but I know I’m wasting my breath even mentioning that to you right now,” he said to John.

Sheppard didn’t even acknowledge him; his eyes were fixed on Rodney’s face.

“It’s okay, Carson. I’ll take it from here,” Rodney said, looking at his top.

John didn’t wait for an invitation; he jumped onto the bed with a kind of lupine grace and got on all fours, hands and knees on either side of Rodney’s body. Then he lowered his head and did that weird thing Gibbs had witnessed before – he sniffed at Rodney’s injuries, particularly where there was a cut or any kind of an open would. His mouth travelled over the bruises on Rodney’s jaw and then up to his forehead, licking as he went. It was animalistic, and oddly compelling. Gibbs found his fingers tightening around Tony’s hand protectively.

Rodney reached up to unwind the bandage from around his head but John snarled and batted his hands away.

“It’s okay…stay with me,” Rodney said, lying back again and allowing John to unwrap the bandage. Gibbs glanced at Carson, alarmed, but the doctor shook his head and signed to him that it was okay, and not to speak. Then Carson took a step back and leaned against the wall.

Gibbs watched as John ripped the bandage from Rodney’s head. His movements were strangely graceful but very determined. Rodney had a nasty gash on his forehead which Carson had neatly stitched. The entire area was bruised, and the severity of the injury had caused both Rodney’s eyes to blacken. He looked just as bad as DiNozzo.

John gazed at the wound, transfixed, and then he moved his hands and took Rodney’s head between them. He sniffed the newly revealed injury and then his tongue darted out towards it. It was a strangely intimate act, and Gibbs felt almost as if he shouldn’t be watching.

Rodney held still, moaning softly, and John growled in response. Something was happening, but Gibbs didn’t know what. Both men seemed to be entering a trance-like state. John was kneeling, straddled over Rodney’s chest, his hands on either side of Rodney’s head, and Rodney’s hands were resting on John’s hips. The two of them, for just a second, looked as if they were one being. It was an odd sensation, and then it passed, and John sank down onto the bed beside Rodney. Rodney sighed, and wrapped his arms around his husband, holding him close.

Gibbs peered at them, intrigued; the wound on Rodney’s forehead now looked much less severe. The swelling had gone down considerably, and the scar was now pink and puckered, much further along in the healing process than it had been a few seconds earlier. He frowned, and glanced up at Carson who shrugged.

“Lifebond,” Carson sighed.

When Gibbs leaned over further, he could see there was a newly formed scar on John’s forehead, about as far along in healing as Rodney’s. He also seemed to have acquired some faded bruising around his jaw and eyes.

At that moment John raised his head, reacting, visibly, to the fact that Gibbs had leaned towards them, and Gibbs froze. He felt, instinctively, that John was responding to him as a top and a potential threat, and not as Gibbs any more.

“Easy,” he murmured, settling back in his chair again. “I’m not going anywhere near him.”

He decided right then and there that he would give Rodney a wide berth from now on. He remembered the day he’d first met these two, and how he’d instinctively known not to shake Rodney’s hand. Gibbs trusted those toppy instincts innately.

“The rest will have to wait until we get home,” Carson told him softly, coming over to him.

“The rest?” Gibbs whispered, incredulously. “What more is there?”

“John won’t come down from this without Rodney’s help,” Carson replied. Gibbs remembered something John had once told him; ‘Rodney’s the only one who can handle me,’ and now Gibbs was starting to understand what he meant. He could see that Sheppard was a top in a great deal of pain right now and he suspected he knew just how Rodney was going to handle him when they both recovered from the healing they’d just done.

If it had been bad for him, watching Jordan assault Tony, he wondered how it had been for John, going through the same thing with his lifebonded partner. Gibbs didn’t pretend to understand lifebonding but he knew it was a powerful force. The fact that if one part of a lifebonded couple died then the other did too was testament to that, and yet people felt the urge to lifebond so it had to bring with it great advantages – like the accelerated healing via the sharing of injuries that he had just witnessed.

The Daedalus arrived back at Atlantis half an hour later. Tony was so out of it he slept through the entire thing which was a relief. Gibbs knew his sub well, and he suspected there would be difficult times ahead – for both of them.

He walked alongside Tony’s gurney to the infirmary and watched as Carson got Tony and Rodney settled in a small side room.

“My people?” Gibbs asked, as Carson’s team worked. “Any idea where they are?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” Carson replied. “They’re all next door.” He gestured in the direction of the main infirmary. “None of them are long-term patients but there were a few minor injuries that needed taking care of. I trust my staff but I asked that they keep your people here so that I can check the care they’ve been given and agree to discharge if it’s appropriate. This room here is for longer term care – we’ll keep Tony in here for awhile. John and Rodney should only need a day or so before they can be discharged but your boy will need longer.”

Gibbs glanced at Tony, and then at the infirmary door.

“He’ll be fine in here,” Carson told him firmly. “Go see your people.”

It was hard, but Gibbs managed to wrench himself away. He really needed to see for himself that all his subs were alive and well, and he knew Tony was in good hands.

He had barely walked through the door to the main infirmary when someone threw themselves at him and he found himself with an armful of Abby. Her arms and legs were wrapped tightly around his body, and he almost toppled over backwards from the force of her hug.

“Easy, Abs,” he said, throwing his arms around her and inhaling the scent of her hair.

“Gibbs!” she squealed, kissing him enthusiastically. “Thank god you’re okay. I mean, they told us you were okay but that’s not the same as seeing that you’re okay. You are okay, aren’t you?” she asked anxiously, finally jumping down from him and surveying him anxiously. “You don’t *look* okay,” she said, her eyes travelling down his face and fixing on the bloodstain on his shirt. “Oh my god – you’re not okay! Is that your blood?” she asked, her fingers going towards his shirt. He caught them before they got there.

“No. It isn’t.”

Her eyes widened and she looked even more upset. “It’s not Tony’s blood, is it?” she asked. “Because they said he’d been really badly hurt. Is it Tony’s blood?”

“No, Abby – it isn’t Tony’s blood either,” he told her gently, putting an arm around her shoulders and kissing her cheek.

“Is it the bad guy’s blood?” she asked, in a horrified whisper.

“Were you hurt?” he asked, ignoring the question and gazing at her searchingly. She *looked* okay – she had dark shadows under her eyes and her skin was pale, but he guessed that was the same for all of them.

“I’m fine. Evan ran almost a marathon and then swam for miles to reach me,” she said, and he noticed the little glow in her eyes as she spoke about the colonel. He felt a little jolt of pain at that, knowing she’d found another top who could take care of her just as well as he had, but he was pleased for her all the same.

“He’s a good man.”

“Yes he is,” she agreed happily. “He was injured by one of those dino-bird things that live on that planet. He’s been stitched up but they won’t let him go until Carson says they can. All Carson’s staff are terrified of him – it turns out that Carson is *really* toppy in the infirmary – who knew?”

Gibbs grinned. “Is Tim okay?” he asked. Abby took hold of his hand and pulled him towards the back of the room.

“See for yourself,” she said, leading him in the direction of some beds where several familiar faces were sitting. Ducky got up, came over to him, and enveloped him in an embrace.

“Jethro,” he said softly, holding Gibbs tight for one long, heartfelt moment, and then releasing him.

“Hey Duck. All’s well,” Gibbs told him, although the expression in Ducky’s eyes informed him that his lie hadn’t been remotely successful.

“Anthony?” Ducky asked.

“Doing okay. Considering,” Gibbs muttered. He knew Ducky had been watching the whole thing on the plasma back on Atlantis, so he knew what Tony had been through.

“I told them that Tony was in a bad way but I didn’t tell them the details,” Ducky said in an undertone, gesturing towards the beds.

“Thanks.” Gibbs nodded, tiredly, wondering how much they needed to know.

He walked the final few strides to where the others were and was relieved to see Tim sitting up in bed, his arm freshly bandaged. Ziva was beside him, hovering close, and he could see from the expression in her eyes that she’d undergone some kind of transformation. She looked happier and more at ease with herself than she had in all the time he’d known her.

“Tim…you okay?” Gibbs asked, leaning over to ruffle Tim’s hair affectionately. Tim looked startled, the way he always did whenever Gibbs was kind towards him.

“I’m fine. I got off easy compared to Tony, I think,” Tim replied. “Is he okay, boss?”

“Not right now, but he will be.”

“Can we see him?” Ziva asked.

“Can we?” Abby repeated eagerly.

He shook his head. “Not yet. When he’s ready.”

“Nobody will tell us what happened to him,” Ziva said, her dark eyes never leaving Gibbs’s face. “Just that he has been hurt and is very ill.”

“He is. And, well, it’s a long story.” Gibbs deflected the enquiry easily.

“It was bad, wasn’t it?” Tim asked. “I mean, I know Abby and I both went through hell, but something even worse happened to Tony, didn’t it?”

Gibbs took a deep breath. “It was pretty bad. But you know, DiNozzo,” he said, with a wry grin, trying to keep his tone light. “He bounces back. He’ll be annoying the hell out of you all within a few days I’m sure.”

That seemed to satisfy them, and they all relaxed, visibly.

“And Rodney?” Abby asked. “They said he’d been hurt too.” Gibbs smiled at her, knowing how much she loved the irascible scientist. She’d seen in Rodney, all along, what it had taken him and Tony a lot longer to see.

“He’s going to be okay,” he replied. “He and General Sheppard are…healing each other. Somehow I don’t think they’ll be accepting any visitors for a few days, either.”

Gibbs turned to the second bed, where Colonel Lorne was perched, his arm heavily bandaged and supported in a sling.

“Colonel, thank you for doing such a fine job,” he said. “I understand that you lost a man out there and I want to offer you my condolences.”

“Thank you, sir,” Lorne said. Abby said he’d run and swam for miles to reach her and Gibbs could believe that, looking at the man; he was dead on his feet. “We’re holding a memorial service for Lieutenant Rice in a few days, sir.”

“I’ll be there,” Gibbs promised. “Now, I gotta get back to Tony in case he wakes up.”

He knew they were all still worried but hopefully less so now that he’d had a chance to talk to them. He shook Lorne’s good hand, bestowed a kiss on Abby’s forehead, tousled Tim’s hair again and cupped Ziva’s cheek in his hand, and then turned and left. Ducky followed him, as he had known he would.

“Jethro – no offence, but you look terrible,” Ducky said, catching up with him and grabbing his arm. “Have you eaten anything? Or slept at all? And you really could do with a shower, a shave, and a change of clothes.” His eyes lingered pointedly on the bloodstain on Gibbs’s shirt.

“Not now, Ducky,” Gibbs said, pushing him away. Ducky caught up with him again, and this time he wouldn’t be brushed aside.

“While you’ve been worrying about all of them, I’ve been worrying about you,” Ducky told him. “I know you, Jethro, and you don’t have to play the big, strong top for me.” Gibbs stood there for a moment, body taut and tense, and then he sighed, and sagged against his friend.

“He’s in a really bad way,” Gibbs confided in him. “And I’m finding it hard to handle what I heard, what I saw…what he went through. I don’t want to be apart from him for a minute. I can’t stalk the poor guy his entire life so I hope this feeling fades.”

“You both went through a lot,” Ducky told him soothingly. “It’s natural you feel like this. Give it a couple of days and you’ll feel more like your old self. In the meantime, you aren’t superhuman, Jethro, and you need sleep like everyone else. Why don’t you take a shower – there’s one in the infirmary so you won’t be far away from Tony. I’ll get you a change of clothes and then you can bunk down in here. I’m sure Carson won’t have any objection to that.”

They reached Tony’s room, and Ducky pointed at John and Rodney, who were curled up in each other’s arms, fast asleep.

“See – partners are clearly allowed to stay,” he said, with a little grin.

“I’m not Tony’s partner, Ducky,” Gibbs replied tersely.

“He’s your collared sub, Jethro,” Ducky pointed out.

“No – he’s not even that any more,” Gibbs reminded him, and he saw the look in Ducky’s eyes as they both recoiled from that memory.

“Jethro, in his heart that’s all he’ll ever be,” Ducky sighed.

They stopped beside Tony’s bed, and Gibbs saw the wince that crossed Ducky’s face as he caught sight of Tony for the first time. There was no getting away from how bad Tony looked; his pallor and the nature of his injuries also made him seem younger and more vulnerable than either of them was used to seeing him.

“Oh Anthony,” Ducky whispered, running a gentle hand through Tony’s hair. He looked up at Gibbs. “Jethro, I’m so sorry. If I’d known, all those years ago, that this would happen – and all because of me…”

“Not your fault, Ducky,” Gibbs told him firmly. “Jordan was responsible for his own actions, brain tumour or not. Besides, he was always a violent, sadistic bastard, even back when you were married to him, well before he fell ill. All that illness did was make him feel like he had nothing to lose by coming after me. He wanted to hurt you but most of all he wanted to hurt me, and he sure as hell succeeded there.”

“But he didn’t win,” Ducky said. “You got there in time, Jethro, and all your subs survived.”

“Guess that Athosian prophetess was wrong then, huh?” Gibbs said with a wry grunt.

Ducky shook his head. “I thought you didn’t believe in fortune tellers?” he said, with a tight smile. “Of course she was wrong, Jethro! I never for a moment thought you’d lose them. You’ve trained them all far too well for that. If you could have seen Ziva in action – and Abby and Tim held it together admirably under extreme duress. I have to say, also, that Colonel Lorne is quite the hero from what I can gather.”

“You think he’s going to steal Abby away from me?” Gibbs asked. Ducky smiled.

“You only rescue us, Jethro – you never say you’ll keep us forever. You let Stan go, remember?”

“Yeah.” Gibbs nodded. He felt so tired he wasn’t sure he could stand up for much longer.

“Shower,” Ducky said, turning him around and pointing him in the direction of the bathroom.

“Only if you stay with him – I don’t want him to be alone if he wakes up,” Gibbs said. “Send someone else to get me a change of clothes – but don’t leave him.”

“Very well, Jethro.” Ducky pulled him down and kissed him on the lips. “Now go, because otherwise you’ll be no use to him at all when he *does* wake up.”

Gibbs went; Ducky always had been the only one of his subs he’d take orders from.


When Tony awoke he was back on Atlantis and had somehow slept through the transport from the Daedalus’s sick bay to Carson’s infirmary in the city.

This room was bigger and brighter but he felt unaccountably depressed. Now that the immediate euphoria of being rescued was over, he found there were snatches of memory that he kept replaying over and over again. Being tied so tight for so long, helpless, with his blood draining from his body; Jordan undressing him; Jordan hitting Rodney with that chain and Rodney going down; being held down while Jordan whipped him with the buckle end of his belt; rough hands on his ass, seeking entry…

He gazed, unblinking, at the bed next to his, the flashbacks replaying endlessly in his mind. After a few minutes he realised that there were two people in that next bed, one of them fully clothed, the other in an infirmary gown. He focussed on them, trying to distract himself from the snatches of memory that kept flashing in and out of his mind. John Sheppard was wrapped around Rodney like a man clinging to a rock in a storm. He looked spent, his body tense and suffused with raw emotions he couldn’t process. Rodney was just holding him, one hand gently soothing John’s back as they lay there.

Tony envied them their closeness. They were clearly going through something pretty big right now but they had each other, and he had no doubt they’d get through this.

He was suddenly achingly aware of a sense of aloneness, and the nakedness of his own throat. He put his hand up to his neck and felt bare skin where there hadn’t been bare skin for five years. He remembered how he’d felt when Jordan had ripped his collar off him; the collar that he’d worshipped for all these years, giving it a power over him that maybe it didn’t deserve. Now it was gone. He wondered why Gibbs hadn’t just fastened it back on him while he was unconscious, and the fact he hadn’t made him wonder if Gibbs even wanted him back as his sub. That thought made his stomach ache, but, at the same time, he was aware of a little voice inside asking if he’d accept Gibbs’s collar this time around in any case. A lot had happened in the past few weeks and it was time he faced up to some questions he’d been avoiding for a very long time; which was another reason why all this enforced bed rest was going to kill him.

He turned to get away from the overwhelming sense of togetherness in the next bed, and found Ducky sitting beside him, reading a book.

“Casino Royale?” Tony muttered, reading the title on the spine. Ducky glanced up and smiled.

“Ah. Anthony. How very good to see you awake again,” he said, his eyes awash with happiness and relief.

“Where’s Gibbs?” Tony asked.

“He’s asleep.” Ducky gestured with his head at the bed behind him, and, over Ducky’s shoulder, Tony saw Gibbs lying there, flat out, eyes closed. “Carson tried to send him back to quarters but he wasn’t ready so the good doctor allowed him to sleep here. I don’t think that’s an uncommon occurrence around here,” Ducky murmured, glancing at the entwined bodies of John and Rodney Sheppard on the next bed. “Although, somewhat unorthodox. It wouldn’t work in autopsy, but I suppose one must cut the living more slack. As for Jethro – he was dead on his feet. I’m not sure how many hours he’s been keeping going but if Carson hadn’t given him a bed here he’d probably have had to admit him anyway, from pure exhaustion. As it was he’d only agree to take a nap if I promised I’d sit with you and not leave.”

“Don’t you think he’s taking the protective top thing too far?” Tony asked. “I mean, it’s over, I’m fine. It wasn’t such a big deal.”

Ducky gave him a look of combined pity and disbelief. “Tony, it *was* a big deal,” he said softly. “It was a huge deal.”

“Nah, it wasn’t. It wasn’t any worse than that case where I…”

“Tony, we saw it,” Ducky interrupted.

Tony froze. “What?”

“We saw it. All of it,” Ducky told him, his earnest blue eyes full of compassion behind his spectacles. “And I’m so sorry you had to go through all that at Randolph’s hands. I feel so very responsible. I had no idea he was capable of something like this and it all stems from my…”

“Who’s we?” Tony asked quietly.

“Oh. Uh…” Ducky blinked, looking as if he wished he’d kept his mouth firmly shut. “Well, myself, Richard Woolsey, and a couple of other base personnel back here on Atlantis. Steven Beckett had the feed patched through onboard the Daedalus so he could keep track of what was happening. And the audio…” Ducky paused.

“Oh go on, Ducky. Make my day,” Tony muttered, gesturing with his head that Ducky should continue.

“Well, Gibbs, John Sheppard, Carson and Cadman all had audio during the entire rescue.”

“Audio?” Tony closed his eyes, trying to remember exactly what he’d said.

“They heard everything that went on in that room,” Ducky said, in an apologetic tone. “From the beginning.”


Everything exploded in his head and Tony had to get away from it. He shoved aside the sheets covering him and sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. Ducky got up in alarm.

“Tony, what do you think you’re doing?”

“I need to use the head,” Tony said, in a determined tone.

“My dear boy, just hold on and…” Ducky began. Tony tried to rip the IV line out of his arm and, in his haste, fumbled it.

“Help me get this damn tube out!” he growled, unable to bear it for another second.

“I should get Carson,” Ducky said, looking around frantically for help.

Tony’s fingers picked at the IV in his arm while another wave of impotent rage flooded through him and he flashed back to being tied down to that steel bed with a different tube in his arm, just lying there, helpless, for hours on end as his blood drained out of his body. It had been like a living death and he couldn’t get it out of his head.

“Get it off me! Get this damn tube off me!” he said hoarsely, scrabbling frantically with his fingers.

Ducky swooped in and took care of the IV, quietly and gently, and when he was done Tony got off the bed, and looked around, swaying, for the way to the bathroom. The room swam around him but he was determined. He couldn’t stay here. He couldn’t just stay here after what Ducky had just told him. All these years of preserving himself behind a carefully constructed mask and Randolph Jordan had blown it apart in the space of less than a day. He felt physically ill.

“Here…I’ll take you,” Ducky said, grabbing Tony’s arm before he fell. Tony leaned on him and allowed him to walk him over to the bathroom. Then Tony fumbled for the door, pushed it open, got inside, and closed it behind him, locking Ducky out.

“Tony! You can’t stand properly!” Ducky remonstrated, trying the door from the outside. “Tony – open the door, please,” Ducky begged.

“Fuck it, Ducky, I’m not totally useless – I can damn well piss on my own,” Tony yelled at him through the door.

Then he turned towards the sink…and stopped, as he caught sight of himself in the mirror.

“Well Gibbs sure as hell was right about that – you don’t look pretty, DiNozzo,” he said to his reflection.

He tottered closer to the mirror, and rested his hands on the sink to hold himself up. He was as white as a sheet, his hair sticking up in a dozen different directions, and the bruises on his face were spectacular. They were a variety of colours ranging from dark purple to light yellow, via green and violet in between, and they covered his entire jaw. His cut lip looked as swollen and painful as it felt, and there was an ugly bruise on his forehead. His surgical gown was half-open at the back, revealing the dressings on his shoulders and he had all kinds of interesting bruises on his thighs but, most of all, his eye was drawn to his neck, and the complete absence of the collar that was usually there.

He ran his fingers over the pale line where the collar had been, and gazed at himself. What had he said during those six hours he’d been tied up alone in that room with Rodney? Snatches of jumbled conversation came back to him and he flinched. What had he been thinking to give all that away, even if he had thought he was only talking to Rodney and not the entire damn universe and everyone in it? And Gibbs. Particularly Gibbs.

He had spilt his guts to Rodney like some love-sick young sub. Had he admitted to not sleeping with anyone in five years? His stomach clenched; all those years of flirting, and asking Gibbs’s permission to bed a variety of good-looking tops, and now he was caught out in what suddenly seemed like a really bad lie because he’d never gone through with it with anyone. It had all been just to try and make Gibbs jealous, to provoke a reaction, to try and see if he could get Gibbs to *care*.

“Failed there, DiNozzo,” he muttered, and then he remembered something else. He remembered Gibbs looking into that camera and telling him he loved him. “Poor bastard,” he said to his reflection. “After hearing you whine on like an idiot for hours on end the least he could do was tell you what you wanted to hear right before you got raped and murdered.”

His stomach churned, and he half-turned, half-fell in the direction of the toilet and just managed to get to it before throwing up. He vomited strenuously for a few minutes, his ribs aching as he heaved. Then he sat back against the wall, body trembling from the exertion.

Shit. Years and years of hiding, of being so careful never to let anyone see the truth, and now he’d just let it hang out to the entire world. He felt so…known. People had seen him naked, ass up, witnessed some psycho knocking him around and trying to rape him, and, worst of all, they’d heard every damn fool thing he’d told Rodney Sheppard. He was such an idiot.

“Tony.” Gibbs’s voice, outside the door. “You okay in there?”

“I’m fine. Just leave me the fuck alone,” he snapped. The last thing he wanted was to go out there and face all those people. Why couldn’t they just leave him be so he could wallow in his embarrassment by himself?

“DiNozzo, open the damn door,” Gibbs said. Tony made a face at it. That was one order he wasn’t going to obey any time soon.

“Son, you really shouldn’t be out of bed.” Carson’s voice – firm but gentle. “It’s not just the cuts and bruises – you lost a lot of blood and your body is still in shock. We nearly lost you back there. You can’t just expect to get up and start walking around like nothing happened, lad.”

Tony gazed at his wrists; they were covered in lacerations and deep, dark bruises where he’d tried to escape from Jordan’s cuffs. Did Ziva, Abby and Tim know, he wondered? He didn’t mind Abby so much, but Tim? He shuddered at the thought of how the probie would look at him if he knew about his hopeless, one-sided love affair with their top. He was the flippant one, the one who played around and played the field and never let anyone get close. Except he had. He’d let all of them get close; Gibbs, Ziva, Abby, Tim, Ducky.

“That’s why you’re not supposed to stay anywhere longer than eighteen months, DiNozzo,” he chided himself. “Well, that and the fact you always end up in a workplace discipline room too many times and that’s no fun at all,” he added with a grimace. Wasn’t that why Gibbs had collared him? So he could keep him out of the NCIS discipline room and take care of any punishments himself, and, in the process try and save Tony from himself? “Whatever it was, it had fuck all to do with him being in love with you,” he reminded himself. “Just Gibbs’s rescue complex kicking in.”

“Tony, son, you need that IV,” Carson said through the door. “Why don’t you just open the door and we can get you back to bed, give you some more meds, and make you more comfortable.”

“This is my fault I’m afraid,” Tony heard Ducky murmur. “I should never have told him that he’d been observed and overheard. I had no idea he’d react so negatively.”

Observed and overheard. Tony felt his guts heaving all over again, and he pulled himself over to the toilet and threw up into it a second time. His entire body ached, his head was pounding, and he felt like he was going to die. He’d never felt this terrible before, not even when he’d had the plague.

He heard something hard pounding against the door, and then a second time. The third time Gibbs’s boot slammed into it, it flew open, and Gibbs strode into the bathroom. He took one look at Tony, cradling the toilet in his hands, and sighed.

“Don’t make me go back out there, boss,” Tony whimpered, gazing up at Gibbs pathetically, and then he turned back to the toilet and heaved up again.

“Okay, Tony. Hold on.” Gibbs pushed Carson and Ducky back out, although not before a terse argument with Dr Beckett, and then Tony heard a whispered discussion and something that sounded like an angry admonition from Carson. Whatever the altercation was about Gibbs clearly won it because he reappeared a few seconds later with a blanket, which he threw over Tony’s shoulders, before shutting the broken door to give them some privacy.

He went over to the sink and filled a cup with water and then handed it silently to Tony, who took it, gratefully.

“Gonna heave again?” Gibbs asked.

“Not right now,” Tony said, sipping the water gingerly. He hurt in so many places he wasn’t sure which was the worst. He realised he was shivering and pulled the blanket more closely around himself.

Gibbs sat down on the floor opposite him, back against the sink, and gazed at him. Tony noticed that he’d had a shower, shaved and changed into some different clothes, and he wondered when he’d done that.

“I seem to remember saying some stuff – stupid stuff,” Tony said, aiming for his usual flippant self and failing spectacularly. “I was out of it at the time so it was probably crap.”

“It wasn’t,” Gibbs stated firmly, and there wasn’t any possibility of an argument with the finality of his tone. Tony stared into those blue eyes opposite him for a long time, wondering where this went next. No wonder Gibbs hadn’t wanted to collar him again; the man must think he was a total basket case.

“I spilled my guts in that room. How many people heard that? How many saw me being held down and nearly raped by that bastard? And how many have they told about it?” Tony rasped out.

“Not many saw it – and I guarantee you that none of those that did will say a thing about it,” Gibbs told him. “Not to you or to anyone else unless it’s what you want; and if you don’t want to talk about it you don’t have to.”

“Except to the shrink.” Tony made a face.

“That’s what she’s there for,” Gibbs replied. “Tony, none of this is your fault. And I’m proud of you. You hung on in there like a damn fine agent and did your job even despite what that bastard did to you. You kept your wits about you and got those keys off Jordan; you managed to get them to Rodney even when you’d had half the blood drained from your body.”

“Didn’t work though,” Tony said. “Had to wait for the big bad tops to come charging in and do all the rescuing. Still, you must have enjoyed that. You like rescuing people.”

“Tony…” Gibbs began.

“Fuck it, Gibbs. You weren’t the one hanging there with your ass out and some psycho’s hands groping you all over!”

“Is that what’s bothering you most?” Gibbs asked, blue eyes searching.

“No – just one thing among many,” Tony muttered. He gazed at the floor for a long time, and then looked up. “He took my collar from me, boss,” he said quietly.

“Yeah, I know.” Gibbs nodded wearily.

“You gonna put it back?”

“You want me to?”

“I don’t know.” Tony gazed at the floor some more.

“Then let’s talk about it later – when Carson says you’re better,” Gibbs said, reasonably enough.

Tony wanted to smash his fist into something, preferably Gibbs’s face, but he was too tired to move. His body was shaking more violently now; he just couldn’t seem to get warm.

Gibbs got up, came over to him, and sat down beside him. He put an arm around him and pulled him against his body. Tony wanted to resist but he didn’t have the strength, and besides, it felt good. And it was warm. He wasn’t used to being this vulnerable around anyone, and couldn’t imagine any other scenario in which he’d let Gibbs do this – or in which Gibbs would want to. Damn it, that whole thing with Jordan must have looked really bad from where Gibbs was standing to make him behave like this.

“I was married once, a long time ago,” Gibbs said, suddenly and unexpectedly. Tony glanced up at him.

“Uh, you’ve been married three times, boss,” he pointed out.

“Four,” Gibbs told him.

That got Tony’s attention. He glanced up again. “They all red-haired women?” he asked.

Gibbs gave a wry smile and nodded. “Yeah. They were.”

“You’re not…this isn’t some big confession that you’re a monosexual is it?” Tony asked, because it wasn’t like he hadn’t wondered this before. “Not that there’s anything wrong with being monosexual,” Tony added hurriedly, as Gibbs glanced down at him, a perplexed look in his eyes. “And it’s not as weird…uh, unnatural…or whatever, as being non-dynamic. That’s really kinky and you’re *clearly* dynamic. Overly so, some might say, judging by the amount of subs you’ve collared. But if you’ve only married women, maybe you’re monosexual. Which is okay of course…uh…if you are. Which you might not be.”

Gibbs waited until he’d finished and then screwed up his forehead. “Interesting,” he commented. “I’ve always wondered just how long you could continue one of your ‘thinking out loud’ speeches if I didn’t I interrupt. Now I’m kind of glad I always stopped you. No, Tony, I’m not monosexual. Or, as you have so correctly identified, non-dynamic.” He moved his hand a little and slapped Tony lightly on the back of his head, then kept his hand there, stroking Tony’s hair gently.

“Yes boss.” Tony nodded, feeling himself start to warm up again. “So what happened to your first wife, boss?” he asked softly.

“Shannon was witness to a drug-related killing while I was out fighting in Iraq,” Gibbs told him. “She was NIS’s star witness…and she was murdered, along with our daughter, by the man she had been going to testify against.”

“You had a daughter?” Tony looked up, startled.

“Yeah. She was eight years old when she died. Her name was Kelly.”

“Like your boat,” Tony murmured.

“Named it after her,” Gibbs told him. “After they were killed, I tracked down the man who murdered them and emptied the contents of my gun into him. I wish I could say that it helped, and I suppose it did, a bit, but it didn’t heal anything. I joined NCIS, met Ducky…and married three more times, always looking for what I had with Shannon, and always making the same mistake, as Ducky has pointed out to me, several times.” He rubbed his chin ruefully with his free hand.

“Marrying redheads?” Tony asked.

“Marrying period,” Gibbs winced. “But yeah, marrying people who looked like Shannon, because I couldn’t let Shannon go. After the third failed marriage, I called quits on it. Clearly the problem was with me, so I decided not to take another sub to my bed again, and definitely never to get married.”

“Why are you telling me this, boss?” Tony asked softly. Gibbs’s arm was warm and strong around his body and he liked the way it felt. He rested his head wearily on Gibbs’s shoulder.

“Because, like you said, you spilled your guts back there, and I thought you might appreciate it if I returned the favour,” Gibbs told him.

“Who knows?” Tony asked. “About Shannon and Kelly? Who knows?”

“Ducky. He’s known since he first met me. And Ziva…” Tony looked up sharply. “I didn’t tell her, Tony. I never would have told anyone else about this ahead of you,” Gibbs said firmly. “She did a dossier on me when she was with Mossad. When she joined NCIS I swore her to secrecy. They’re the only people who know. And now you.”

“I’m sorry,” Tony said, sincerely. “That’s a terrible thing to carry around all these years. I had no idea. You are one secretive bastard.”

“As are you, Tony,” Gibbs murmured. Tony winced, and glanced at him. “Five years, Tony – and all those times you asked me if you could sleep with all those many and varied tops?” Gibbs raised an amused eyebrow.

“Just trying to make you jealous,” Tony muttered.

“It worked, Tony. It worked.”

“If it did, I never saw any sign of it.”

“Can’t blame me for being as good at keeping secrets as you,” Gibbs replied with a wry grin.

Tony felt that ache in his gut subside, and some of the tension leave his body. Okay, so the whole experience had still been a living nightmare, but Gibbs was giving him back something he’d lost by sharing something of himself. Now, at least, it wasn’t all one-sided.

“I am sorry,” Tony muttered. “Losing your wife and little girl like that…I can’t imagine how that must have felt. And I don’t blame you for wanting to keep something like that to yourself. Boss, I have something to confess – awhile ago I got curious and I have to admit I did some digging on you. Felt bad – and I know it was a lousy thing to do – that’s why I stopped – but I found four marriage certificates. Figured you had your reasons for lying and saying you’d only been married three times so I let it drop but…I just want you to know I’m sorry I went looking.”

Gibbs shrugged. “It’s okay – I knew about that, Tony,” he said.

“You did? How?” Tony asked, alarmed.

“I know everything,” Gibbs told him and Tony had to grin at that.

“Yeah…sometimes I think you actually do, boss,” he muttered.

Tony felt his eyes closing. God he was tired. Gibbs turned, put both his arms around him, pulled him in close, and kissed his forehead gently.

“C’mon. Time to get you back to bed,” he said. Tony gave a whimper of protest as Gibbs pulled away and he was no longer encircled by those warm, strong arms. Gibbs opened the door, and Carson was beside him in seconds, checking him over.

“You, are a terrible patient,” he admonished Tony, his eyes anxious. “You’re worse than Rodney Sheppard. No, you’re worse even than John Sheppard and he’s the worst I’ve ever known.” He shone a light into Tony’s eyes, making Tony bat his hand away in annoyance. Carson glanced at the contents of the toilet, and sighed. “See – that’s why you weren’t supposed to get out of bed,” he scolded. “Gibbs – can you help me get him back there?”

Gibbs took one of Tony’s arms and Carson the other, and he was glad of the support because now he had no strength left in his body whatsoever. The two of them carried him back to the bed, and then Carson fussed around him inserting tubes and injecting him with something that made him feel warm and fuzzy almost immediately. He struggled against his own weariness for awhile, but Gibbs sat down on the chair beside the bed and held Tony’s hand loosely in his fingers, and Tony registered, hazily, that it seemed Gibbs *did* do hand-holding after all.

“Go to sleep, Tony. I’ve got you,” he said, and Tony was asleep within seconds.


The world seemed to be lit by a red mist. It made everything glow around the edges, and cast everything he saw in its strange light. It was like a crimson blanket of snow, muffling out sounds on his periphery but making those close by seem sharper, and yet slightly out of focus.

He felt as if his senses were heightened – he was stronger and faster than he remembered himself being; he could feel his body coiled, ready to spring at the slightest hint of a threat to his submissive.

He wasn’t sure when it had started, but he knew that for a long time he’d remained in control of it. He could do this – keep going until the danger passed, feeding the dark red mist inside with every ounce of his anger, pain and distress, keeping it at bay until it was safe to let it all out. He had that level of control – he needed to because it had been necessary to stay calm and collected while they performed the rescue, channelling little pieces of his inner rage to keep him sharp and his responses honed, but now…now that it was over, he could no longer keep it at bay.

It enveloped him like a cloak, and it would stay with him until he could release those pent-up emotions and safely allow the red mist to dissipate.

His submissive moved beneath him and he growled, sensing danger.

“It’s okay. Carson says we can go back to our quarters now,” his submissive told him, and he felt a wave of relief wash through him. Thank god. It was fraying his nerves having these people around Rodney; having them touch him, and stand near him. Danger – it was all around them, and he had to keep Rodney safe.

A couple of days ago he’d been aware of the other wounded sub as well, the one lying in the bed next to Rodney’s, and had been able to stand guard over them both but he couldn’t do that now. The red mist was too strong. Now all his senses were focussed on Rodney, on keeping him safe. He didn’t have anything left for anyone else.

He could feel other tops nearby. He could *scent* them, and it made him uneasy. They weren’t people to him any more – they were vague, fuzzy outlines, more real to him for the dynamic they radiated than their actual physical bodies.

That one there – he smelled of cologne and medicine. It was a clean smell, with an earthy undertone. He was strong but hid that strength behind his warmth and innate gentleness. John only let him close to his submissive because he was a healer, but he was wary of him all the same. Other tops were dangerous, and if he had to fight for his submissive he would. He growled as the healer’s hand briefly touched Rodney’s arm, and then Rodney was stroking him again and the gesture calmed him in some way that he didn’t understand.

Then there was the other – John was aware of him sitting in the chair in the far corner, watching. He smelled of soap and sweat and something else – something hard, uncompromising and raw. There was also a hint of coffee, sawdust and the potent tang of leather. He was powerful, and made no attempt to hide it. His aura pulsed more strongly than anyone else around; it was an unsettling combination of great dominance and great stillness. He was like a spider in a web, silent but commanding, and he made John uneasy.

He was keeping his distance from Rodney though – in fact, he stayed well away from him so John was prepared to let him stay in the room. He sensed this top had his own concerns in any case, and he thought the wounded sub in the other bed might be his. John had no interest in the other sub, and he thought this powerful top knew that and was making it equally clear he had no interest in Rodney. That was good, because John would rip apart anyone who touched his sub and tear them limb from limb with his bare teeth if he had to.

He knew he was far gone. He wasn’t sure why the red mist affected him differently at different times, but this time it had been bad. Maybe it was the length of time he’d been parted from Rodney, knowing his sub was in danger and having to stand by, listening and watching, unable to act.

Little flashes of it played over and over in his mind. Another top had chained Rodney, had cuffed his hands behind his back and attached a chain to his collar – to the collar *John* had put around his neck. He had hit Rodney, repeatedly, had laid hands on him…had nearly killed him. John had watched, watched it all, powerless to stop it. He had been unable to protect his submissive and that cut deep into his soul, causing a chasm inside from where this red mist rose.

“Come on, John,” Rodney whispered, clutching his hand and leading him towards the door. John felt relieved. He didn’t want to be around any other tops in case someone touched Rodney because he didn’t know what he’d do if that happened.

Someone entered the room as they got to the door and John stopped, snarling. He recognised the man…neither top nor sub but both, or something in between. Not dangerous but not harmless either. The man backed away, muttering something. Rodney squeezed his hand.

“You have no idea how crazy you’re being,” he whispered. “Ducky is a really nice old guy. He wasn’t going to touch me.”

John turned his head and his gaze fell upon beloved features. His submissive; the only person he trusted. He wanted to crawl inside Rodney and never let him go. He whimpered as he saw flashes of a chain flying through the air, and re-lived the harsh jolt of pain travelling through the lifebond. Shuddering, he reached for Rodney and held him tight until the moment passed. Rodney’s hands soothed him gently, bringing him back to himself, but it was only momentary. He needed more. He needed much more. His lips sought Rodney’s roughly, and he claimed a kiss, but then Rodney pulled away and John found himself growling softly; Rodney was his, and he wanted to take him, to get inside him, to claim him again…

“Yeah, I know, buddy,” Rodney told him, grabbing his hand and pulling him swiftly away. “But not here. It would be really embarrassing, trust me. You might not care now but you would when it was over. And I’d *really* care.”

They passed a woman…her hazy aura smelled of sub so John ignored her; she wasn’t a threat. She got out of their way, flattening herself against the wall as they passed.

Rodney’s hand in his, guiding him, was the only thing keeping him sane right now. He didn’t know where they were going but he trusted Rodney to get them there safely. Rodney was his; Rodney understood him the way nobody else did.

He felt as if he was blind – the red mist obscured everything, making him aware of the strangest things. He could hear every beat of Rodney’s heart, but any other background noise was fuzzy. He could hear every word Rodney said, with a clarity so sharp it hurt his ears, but he couldn’t make sense of anything anyone else said. He was aware when people spoke but their words were just gibberish, rising and falling in pitch, and he couldn’t catch their meaning. He could feel the heat of Rodney’s body but had no idea where his own began or ended. He could walk and run and move but only by instinct, not by design.

His body had a much greater degree of grace and athleticism than usual, and he knew he could pounce and swoop and dive with much greater speed and skill – but he couldn’t see where he was going clearly. It was a strange sensation, like he was a bird flying blindfolded in the sky, connected to the world only by a thin, pulsing thread…like the lifebond that connected him to Rodney.

His blood was pounding inside him now, making the lifebond vibrate, and his head ached with need. He was so close…Rodney was here, and John had to claim him, possess him totally, and make him his own again.

“Nearly there,” Rodney told him, running now, guiding him along endless red-lit hallways. A top passed them, and John turned and snarled at her. “It’s just Miko and she’s *got* three subs already and really doesn’t want any more – and now you’ve completely freaked her out.”

John didn’t care. He just knew that another top had passed by, close to Rodney, and he had to protect his sub and make sure he wasn’t hurt or claimed by anyone else. It had happened before, when a top had forcibly removed Rodney’s collar, put his own on him, and defiled him, and John had killed that top with his bare hands. Now something similar had happened, and he’d had to *watch*.

John growled as he heard that sound reverberating in his mind – the sound of a chain connecting with Rodney’s forehead. The sound kept repeating, over and over again; harsh, metallic, slicing through skin and hitting bone…

“I know, I know,” Rodney soothed, his hands bringing comfort as they touched John’s arms. “But we’re okay, aren’t we? We’re okay. *I’m* okay. Ssh, ssh.”

Rodney’s hands were a lifeline, taking him to safety, and he followed his submissive blindly on their nightmarish journey. Then, finally, he heard the sound of a door opening, he was pulled inside, and it was closed again behind them.

“Okay. We’re home now,” Rodney told him. “We’re alone – so let’s get started, huh, big guy?”

He felt Rodney’s hands on his face, and saw Rodney’s blue eyes close to his, and the scent of Rodney’s body sent him wild. He loved that scent. It was intoxicating, and it drove him crazy with need. It was coffee and toothpaste and all the dusty, bustling smells of the city. It was machinery and ideas and the strong tang of marker pens. It was blue eyes and a wide, mobile mouth, and soft pale skin. It was love and friendship, sex and companionship. It was HIS.

He grabbed Rodney up and kissed him hard on the mouth, and the ache in his belly subsided a little as the lifebond flared between them. He pulled at Rodney’s clothes, needing to feel skin, desperate to feel skin. Rodney was helping him, tearing off his own clothes quickly so that John had access to every inch of his body.

Finally the clothes were gone, and John gave a low, guttural roar, stepped back for one brief second, and then launched himself forward. He gathered Rodney up, threw him bodily onto the bed, and then lowered himself on top of him. His hips felt agile, like those of a panther or wolf, and they ground down onto Rodney’s naked body, pinning him beneath him.

This felt good. This felt so good. He grabbed Rodney’s arms and held them over his head, and then lowered his head and inhaled Rodney’s scent. It was overwhelming, and he needed more of it. He licked his way along Rodney’s jaw and down to the soft, inviting skin of his neck. He sank his teeth in there, feeling Rodney arch up beneath him, and he growled.

“Don’t move,” he said, the words sounding alien and guttural to him.

“Hey…it’s okay…I won’t. Mark me, John,” Rodney told him soothingly. “Make me yours again.”

This was what he needed to do. Another top had put marks on Rodney’s body and John had used the healing lifebond energy, the kaeira, to share those wounds, taking them onto his own body. Now he had to wipe out any trace that anyone else had even touched Rodney; Rodney was his and his alone.

His mouth was everywhere, sucking and licking and biting. It was a strange feeling – very in control and yet so very nearly out of control. And through it all Rodney was there, keeping him anchored, whispering to him and slowly bringing him back to himself.

The taste of Rodney was like nectar – he couldn’t get enough of it. He sank his tongue into Rodney’s mouth, licked Rodney’s skin, bit on Rodney’s nipples and the soft flesh of his inner thigh, and then pushed Rodney’s legs apart and pushed his tongue inside him, tasting him where he was at his earthiest.

The pounding in his head was receding a little now, and the red mist lifting, but still he needed more. He needed flesh on flesh, skin on skin. He needed to be IN Rodney, merging with him completely – only then would this aching inside be relieved.

Rodney seemed to sense his need and he fumbled with John’s pants and pulled at his tee shirt. John was aware that he smelled of sweat and battle, and that it had been a long time since he’d bathed, but none of that mattered.

Soon he was naked too, and that felt so much better. Now he was able to lie on top of Rodney and feel the bliss of having skin touch skin – all the way from fingertips to toes. He loved the warm softness of Rodney’s belly against his, and the way Rodney was kissing the side of his face. Rodney was being careful not to move beneath him – he knew how much that upset him when he was like this. Rodney was his; he didn’t want him wriggling or squirming – he needed his acceptance, needed him to stay still and offer himself up for John to claim.

John moved his hips up and felt the movement release their two hard cocks, where they had been trapped between their bodies.

“Buddy…I need to lube. If you won’t let me move you have to do it,” Rodney told him, and he felt Rodney’s arm move in the direction of the nightstand. He growled, and Rodney paused, and took hold of his head. “John, listen – you’re going to pick up the lube and rub it inside me,” Rodney told him, in very clear tones. “Understand? You’ll hate yourself afterwards if you don’t.”

He’d do anything Rodney told him. If Rodney told him, right here, right now, to get off him, then he would but he knew Rodney wouldn’t tell him that because Rodney knew how much he needed this. Rodney was in control right now – John was helpless, in the grip of emotions too powerful to resist, but Rodney was his rock and would guide him safely through the storm.

He moved his hand and found the tube on the nightstand. He tore the lid off it with his teeth and then squeezed a massive dollop onto his fingers. He remembered how to do this, as if in a dream.

“Okay…I don’t think we need that much but go ahead,” Rodney said. John slid his fingers into Rodney’s body. He should probably go more slowly but he was impatient and Rodney wasn’t telling him to stop. He held Rodney down, one arm across Rodney’s belly while he worked the lubricant into him. He didn’t like the cold, clinical smell of the lube, or the way it partially obscured Rodney’s scent, so he leaned down and sniffed at Rodney’s balls and cock, inhaling deeply. He didn’t trust himself to suck Rodney, not when his every urge to was to bite right now, so he contented himself with just licking, tasting that scent of Rodney and feeling it flood through him, intoxicating him all over again.

Now he couldn’t wait another second; he had to be inside Rodney or he’d explode.

“I’m ready, John,” Rodney told him, opening his legs wide so that John could settle between them.

He thrust into Rodney hard, with one big, almighty surge of his hips and heard Rodney gasp, but now he was completely sheathed in Rodney’s warm body and he paused, feeling the pain in his gut recede another notch. He didn’t want to move yet. He just wanted to savour this feeling. He was lying on top of Rodney, as far inside him as it was possible to be, and he grasped Rodney’s hands in his and lay there for awhile, resting on him, feeling Rodney’s heartbeat beneath his ear. Now it felt like warm honey was flowing between them through the lifebond, gentling and soothing him.

He moved his hips once, back, and then forward, hard, and felt Rodney give another of those beautiful little gasps. The images in his mind began to fade, one by one. He thrust, and the sound of that chain hitting Rodney’s head grew faint. Another thrust, and the memory of another top chaining Rodney to a wall faded away. He was moving rhythmically now, and Rodney’s body was so welcoming, Rodney’s blue eyes gazing up at him, lovingly, keeping him connected and bringing him safely back down to earth.

He became only the thrusting motions of his hips, back and forth, and the sensations in his cock as it slid into and out of Rodney’s body. Every nerve ending was tingling with need – his need to be inside Rodney, to claim Rodney and make him his own again. Rodney was his again – he was here, beneath him. John didn’t have to stand by and watch, helpless, as Rodney was hurt. Rodney was fine. He was here. He was safe. John remembered holding a man’s head in his hands and turning it so hard and so fast that it snapped the man’s neck and that had felt so intensely good but not as good as this. Not as good as Rodney panting beneath him, all pink, living skin and warm, eager flesh. He was so beautiful, his body open and wanton, allowing John to bury himself deep inside him.

He was coming. White lights flashed in his mind, illuminating everything, and suddenly the red mist cleared and he was lying on top of Rodney, still lodged deep inside him, panting hard. Rodney’s hands came up and rested on his back, stroking him gently.

“You’re okay now, John. Ssh,” Rodney told him.

John felt at peace. He was lying on Rodney’s naked body and that was the best place in the world for him to be. He wasn’t sure how long he lay there but eventually Rodney shifted beneath him. John moaned and pulled back, hating the sensation of leaving Rodney’s body, but then Rodney was drawing him close and they were lying facing each other, on their sides, and Rodney was kissing his lips gently.

He closed his eyes and let Rodney kiss him, feeling the kaeira fizzing happily between them. After awhile he opened his eyes again to see Rodney gazing at him searchingly.

“You back?” Rodney asked.

“Yeah,” he whispered. “You okay?” He ran a gentle finger over Rodney’s swollen mouth.

“Fine.” Rodney smiled. “That was a bad one for you though,” he said. “You were getting worse by the hour. I had to practically bribe Carson to let us out of the infirmary so I could take care of it.”

“I’m sorry.” John buried his face in the crook of Rodney’s neck. Rodney stroked him.

“I’m not complaining,” he said, kissing John’s hair. “It’s always exciting, and I always know what to expect. Also…I know I can stop you any time. It’s like you’re this wild dog who snaps at everyone else but I’ve got you tamed and you just follow me wherever I lead you. I kind of like it.”

“Did you get off?” John asked, glancing down. Rodney shook his head. John moved his hand down and took Rodney’s semi-erect cock in his hand, firmly caressing it back to full erection. Rodney moaned and leaned into him, panting, and John picked up the pace and rubbed fast until Rodney came over his hand. Then John lifted his semen-covered fingers to his mouth, and licked.

“Animal,” Rodney grinned.

“Can’t get enough of you,” John replied. He could still feel the after-effects of the red mist. His senses were more sensitive than usual, and the scent and taste of Rodney stronger and still so *necessary*. “I love you, Rodney,” he whispered. “I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you from that bastard. We did everything we could…”

“I know.” Rodney put a finger over his mouth. “I knew you were coming, and I knew you’d find us and rescue us. I didn’t doubt you for a moment.” He took hold of John’s face in his hands. “John – I *knew*,” he said fiercely. “It wasn’t like that other time, when I was shot and you couldn’t get to me. This time I knew you would get to me. I trusted you. You helped me do that; you made me believe.”

John smiled. Those few days they’d spent together confined in their quarters hadn’t been easy for either of them but he was glad he’d followed his instincts because by doing so he’d given Rodney the faith to sustain him through this latest crisis, even when things had looked bleak.

He pulled up the blanket to cover them both and wrapped himself around Rodney, wallowing in the feel of his beloved sub’s naked body against his own, grateful to be home again.

Because wherever Rodney was – that was home.


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