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“Why is it when aliens want to ‘honor’ us, I get nervous?” McKay asked.

Ronon figured it was one of those questions that people asked for no reason – stupid. But Sheppard, who always humored him more than he probably should, said, “I’m gonna say, because they always take our weapons away first?”

It was the lack of windows or doorknobs in their accommodations that made Ronon edgy, but nobody’d asked him.

“The Avorians can be a...difficult people,” Teyla said slowly. Because now was absolutely the time to tell them this. Ronon rolled his eyes, but he did it facing away from her, because his mother hadn’t raised him in a barn. “They have a keen sense of fairness, but their lives are harsh, and they hold tightly to their pride. We will come to no harm....” Sheppard made a rolling motion with his hand, and she raised one eyebrow and said, “Assuming we refrain from insulting their hospitality.”

“We’re dead,” McKay sighed.

“We’ll be fine,” Sheppard said. “We’ll be fine!”

“You have a plan?” Ronon said.

Sheppard shrugged with one shoulder. “Can’t we just plan not to be dicks for a couple of hours?”

Unfortunately, that was the usual caliber of Sheppard’s plans.

*

After their hosts had explained the terms of the invitation, Sheppard squinted at them for forty-five seconds and then said, “Can we have...one second to talk this over?”

The silver-haired one looked like he was about to say no, so Ronon stared at him until he thought the better of that.

“Okay, obviously McKay should be one of the slaves,” Sheppard said when all four of them were gathered in the far corner, their heads bent as close to each other’s level as they could manage.

“Hey!” McKay said.

“Come on, Rodney, focus. What are you going to do if somebody challenges you to single combat for your slave? Bore them to death?”

McKay folded his arms across his chest and said, “I could be your owner; nobody in their right mind would challenge me for you.”

“We don’t really have time for this, Rodney. You can be my slave, and Teyla can be Ronon’s.”

Teyla cleared her throat delicately. “The terms of the ritual combat are hand-to-hand, Colonel.”

“Yeah? And?” She continued to look at him. “Hey, I’m in charge of this expedition, I can’t be a slave! I have to – negotiate, and – make command decisions.”

“You don’t think it might weaken our bargaining position if they notice that one of our slaves can kick her noble warlord’s ass from here to Mars?” Rodney said.

Ronon was pretty sure it was weakening their bargaining position to stand here yammering all night. Anyone who called himself a warlord was going to notice that they had a slight issue with chain of command in this outfit, and for a people who demonstrated their prowess through the quality and quantity of the slaves they controlled.... Ronon was no diplomat, but it seemed to him that they should be taking steps to disguise the fact that there wasn’t anyone on this mission who could compel the KP sergeants to give them extra whipped cream on their sweet potato pie, let alone keep a slave in line.

“Fine!” Sheppard said, flinging up his hands. “Fine. Teyla, you’re on point, and you’ve got McKay. Ronon, you just...try to keep a low profile and, you know, savagely beat anyone who tries to run away with me or whatever.”

“Okay,” Ronon said, even though this was rapidly turning into one of those missions where he would happily sell Sheppard for an extension cord and a rack of lamb.

*

Things took a turn for the worse when they brought the collars out – and considering they’d started out unarmed and locked in a brick room with no furniture, that was saying something.

“That looks disturbingly useful,” Sheppard said, eyeing the metal knobs and softly blinking buttons. “I mean, I was imagining more of a...mood-piece.”

“I’m not putting that on,” Rodney said. “Sorry, we’re just going to have to chew someone’s leg off to get out of here.”

“What of the unique medical technology the Avorians possess?” Teyla asked.

“So some people die!” Rodney said. “This is Atlantis, plenty of people die! We have all this nice, narcotizing PTSD already; I say, why waste it?”

Ronon picked one off the table and turned it over in his hands. “How does it work?” he asked.

The slave who’d delivered it shrugged. “It only hurts momentarily– “

“So does an aneurism!” Rodney yelled. “That doesn’t mean we need to volunteer for one!”

“–and then there’s a period of mild disorientation, and then you pass out,” the slave continued, ignoring McKay’s increasingly incoherent noises. “The first voice you hear upon waking must be that of your master.” He touched his own collar lightly and said, “It is very pleasant, actually, once your body has acclimated.”

Sheppard was giving the collar in Ronon’s hands a highly dubious look. “But it’s fully reversible, right?”

“Oh, yes. You are not the first guests we have honored before the fire of our war council; we always require the slaves of our guests to attend in the traditional way, but we understand that you have your own ways. Actually, you would not be allowed to leave with the collars in your possession, under any circumstances. They are quite rare, and we no longer have the skill to create more. They are beyond any price to our people.”

Ronon held the collar out toward Sheppard, who glared at him. Ronon shrugged. Everyone knew they were going to do this anyway, so what was the point of wasting a lot of time first? Beckett had almost had tears in his eyes when he sent them off to bring him one of the Avorian immunizing discs.

“Fine,” Sheppard said, placing himself with his back to Ronon. “If I’m not paralyzed and my eyeballs haven’t liquified within about ten minutes, slap one of these on McKay and let’s get this show on the road.”

Ronon looped it around Sheppard’s neck. He was scrutinizing the clasp, which seemed to consist of two twisted prongs embedded in each end of the leather strap, when the collar made a whistling hydraulic noise and yanked through his fingers, fastening tight around Sheppard’s neck of its own accord. “Huh,” Ronon said.

“Why, what’s– Ow, fuck!” Sheppard said, and put his hand up to the collar as if to tear it off.

“I wouldn’t do that,” the slave said. “Damaged collars tend to...permanently alter their slaves.”

“Now isn’t everybody sorry they didn’t listen to my brilliant leg-chewing plan?” McKay said. “Also, I’m not putting that thing on.”

“No,” Sheppard said slowly. He rested the heel of his hand against his temple and shook his head hard. “No, don’t worry. It was just a little...sting. It doesn’t hurt now. It....”

He stood very still for a moment. Then his eyelashes began to flutter rapidly, and he dropped abruptly sideways. Ronon almost didn’t catch him in time to keep him from hitting the floor.

*

“Say something,” the slave urged him. “He must hear the sound of your voice as he awakes.”

Ronon glanced up irritably from where he was crouching over Sheppard’s chest. He figured out the drill the first five times this guy told him about it.

Not that anyone seemed to be full of ideas for what he should say.

Sheppard’s eyelids began to flutter faster, and he rolled his head from one side to the other. “Sheppard,” Ronon said. “Uh. Sheppard. Can you hear me?”

He glanced across the room; Teyla and McKay were watching with big eyes, hardly breathing. Ronon sighed and slipped his arm under Sheppard’s shoulders, holding his head up. “Hey. Sheppard,” he murmured, close to his ear. “This seems like an okay time to tell you: I have this fantasy where I trade you to barbarians for extension cords. Nothing personal. It’s just, there never seem to be enough extension cords back home, so the trade value is terrific, and sometimes you can be sort of....”

Sheppard’s eyes came open slowly. They looked kind of watery, but Ronon could see them focusing. He held his breath.

Sheppard grinned at him. “Sort of what?”

Ronon shrugged, using the motion to hike Sheppard into a sitting position against his shoulder. “Feel okay?”

“I feel...actually...yeah.” Slowly, Sheppard’s grin got wider. A little too wide for Ronon’s comfort. Sheppard could just be so.... “Actually, I feel...really good. Rodney! C’mon, put yours on, it’s awesome. I– “ He faltered badly as Ronon tried to get him on his feet, collapsing with all his weight against Ronon’s chest. Ronon put an arm tightly around his waist and glared at the slave.

“He’s acclimating,” the slave said.

“Whoa,” Sheppard said. “This cannot be legal.” He drug his head sideways and brought it to rest with his chin pressed over Ronon’s nipple, gazing up at him with bright, delighted eyes. “Fuck,” he said, not sounding half as pissed off as he usually did when he said it. “This is going to be a hell of a party.”

*

Ronon offered to blow Sheppard the first week he was in Atlantis. It just seemed like that’s where things were headed, particularly after he showed Sheppard his gun.

He ran his fingers down Sheppard’s spine, and Sheppard’s back arched like he was being fucked right there in the middle of the armory. “Shit,” he hissed. “Don’t – don’t do that, are you crazy?”

Ronon thought he probably was crazy – but not because of that. Touching Sheppard was the most rational thing he’d done in at least four years. “It’s okay,” he said, sliding down to one knee and putting a hand on Sheppard’s belt buckle. “You don’t have to do it back.”

Sheppard made an agonized noise low in his throat and gripped Ronon’s head between his hands. He was breathing hard and he smelled exactly like he should and Ronon leaned close and touched his parted lips to the shape of Sheppard’s stiff cock through his pants.

No,” Sheppard said, a sharp crack of voice, the tone he used on Ford and nobody else, not as far as Ronon had seen yet. He pulled with his hands, and Ronon stood up reluctantly, letting his hand trail up Sheppard’s thigh as he went.

“You’ve been watching me,” he said.

Sheppard shook his head, but his expression was resigned. “That was my – mistake. I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I confused– You’re very– Christ, you’re attractive,” he said, and Ronon could understand the torn sound in his voice, even if he didn’t quite understand the foreign expletive. “I just can’t.”

He swayed against Sheppard’s body, pressing his thigh to Sheppard’s blood-hot cock. “Bet you can.”

“Stop,” he said, and Ronon frowned. What kind of commander had to resort to begging? He could have just made it an order, if he really wanted Ronon to stop. Maybe it was a game of some kind, some strange alien dance of flirtation? He didn’t move; he didn’t know which way to move.

Sheppard got his hands between them and pushed Ronon away. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “It’s not you. It’s – regulations. I don’t have a choice.”

“You could have just said that,” Ronon said.

“Sorry.”

Sheppard apologized more than any taskmaster Ronon had ever known.

*

When the Avorians said “slaves,” they didn’t mean the kind that built monuments or polished the silver all day long.

Ronon guessed he probably knew that from the beginning, but there was always hope.

“This is totally fucked-up,” Sheppard muttered when he served Ronon’s dinner to him. Apparently the nicer parts of being drugged into submission had begun to wear thin when Ronon made him take his shirt off. Sheppard and McKay were still wearing more clothing than most of the other Avorian slaves, but did Sheppard thank him for considering his personal cultural sensitivities? No, of course he didn’t.

“You should probably be on your knees,” Ronon said.

He’d known Sheppard would do it – drugged into submission and all – but it was still an odd thing to watch him slide so quickly to the floor while looking up at Ronon with such a murderous glare. Ronon grinned down at him toothily and held out a piece of dark, sweet bread.

It was the least Sheppard could do for him, considering he had to fight three duels that night to protect Sheppard’s honor. One of the guys was even really good, and Ronon’s left arm didn’t seem to want to do what he told it to afterwards; that was the second match, and he’d been so pissed off by the pain that he slammed the third guy head-first into the ground in one move and stalked back to his seat around the fire.

“Did I mention you’re not allowed to kill anybody?” Sheppard hissed.

“Don’t know why they want you anyway,” Ronon said, taking hold of his left arm and pressing it this way and that to test his range of motion. If Sheppard were any use as a slave, he might show a little bit of concern for Ronon’s possibly dislocated shoulder. It wouldn’t kill him to at least look like he was dancing attendance on Ronon as closely as the other slaves did their masters; he probably hadn’t given any thought at all to how embarrassing it was to be the lowest-ranking warlord here, the one who couldn’t even get his wine refilled without directly asking for it.

Even McKay seemed sort of touched by the fact that Teyla fought two duels for him, and she hadn’t even been injured. She hadn’t run out of food or wine all night.

“I’m just saying that I think that old guy is that other guy’s father, and he looks really important. If Teyla can’t get those medical devices– “

“You have to stop talking to me,” Ronon said. Sheppard could worry a thing to death once he got it in between his teeth.

The rest of the evening went pretty smoothly. Definitely quieter.

*

After dinner and a successful round of negotiations, where Teyla traded a whole bunch of hand-embroidered Athosian silks and some pack animals for three of the immunization discs, the Avorians began to bundle up in furs and dark corners with their slaves.

“Oh, my God,” McKay said, as if he’d really believed that Avorian slaves were pretty much just naked waiters, “are they – what I think they’re– ?”

“Yes, Rodney,” Sheppard snapped. “They’re tobogganing.”

Ronon didn’t know what tobogganing was, but he figured it wasn’t slang for fucking. Sheppard had that sarcastic tone.

“Oh,” McKay said, blinking. He looked over at Teyla, speculatively. “Oh...well...we....”

“No,” Teyla said. “Thank you.”

“No!” Sheppard said at the same time, only louder. “You don’t get to, because I’m sure as hell not going– “

“You will if I say so,” Ronon said. All three of them turned to stare at him. Ronon shrugged; he wasn’t going to make Sheppard fuck him, he was just pointing out that Sheppard would. If Ronon said. It was an observation.

He didn’t get laid half as often as he really thought he should on Atlantis, what with being a hero of the city’s most elite advance team, but he wasn’t so hard up that he’d jump on just any opportunity that came along to molest his CO.

Ronon was about half-hard, but he thought that was mostly because of the furs. He’d had a few very good experiences fucking on fur – good enough to make a permanent impression.

The idea of Sheppard not being able to say no to him was...more weird than hot. Sheppard practically always said no, to whatever Ronon suggested. That was why Ronon had more or less given up making suggestions.

*

Rodney’s collar fell off as soon as Teyla twisted on the back of it, and he dived immediately for his shirt. As he was still pulling it over his head, so that his voice was muffled, he said, “On the way home, we really need to discuss how this mission report is going to go.”

“How’d you– ?” Ronon said. No matter how he worked at Sheppard’s collar, it wouldn’t.... “I can’t get it off.”

Teyla showed him what she’d done. It didn’t work. “Hm,” she said. “How strange.”

“Rodney!” Sheppard said. “Get it – fix it!”

“I don’t– All right, come here! Let me take a look....” After twisting it, making Teyla shine a pen-light on it, poking it with his fingernail clippers, and chafing Sheppard’s neck until he was snarling curses non-stop, McKay stepped back and said, “Uh...I think we need some tech support over here.”

“Fix it!”

“Colonel, I don’t even know what it is! I’m sure the Avorians can....”

Turned out, the Avorians couldn’t.

“Hm,” said the old man with the feathered headdress. “This is very strange.”

Briefly, Ronon considered the possibility that he shouldn’t have introduced his son’s head to the floor, but then he brushed that thought off. Ronon hadn’t been the one going around making eyes at other people’s slaves, let alone issuing challenges for them.

Strange? How strange?” Sheppard demanded. “I mean, what do you normally do when this happens?”

“Ah....” the old man said.

“That’s fucking perfect!” John yelled. “Get me out of this thing right now, or I swear to God, we’re going to laser your whole goddamn civilization into gravel and beef jerky! You’re the assholes who told me it was reversible– “

He spread his hands helplessly and met Ronon’s eyes. “There seems to be some kind of failure in the release mechanism.”

There seems to be some kind of– “

“John, calm down,” Ronon said, and Sheppard’s jaw snapped shut, his harsh breathing grinding out from behind his teeth.

“We were told that there might be some adverse effect from a damaged collar,” Teyla said. “Can you give us more information?”

The old man glanced nervously at Sheppard, whose breathing was starting to even out just a little bit, even though he was still shooting his best edge-of-murder glare at anything that moved. He addressed his answer to Ronon, though, not to Sheppard. “Disabling or removing the collar inappropriately tends to...make the effects of the collar permanent. As does prolonged exposure to it. Most of our slaves here wear only ceremonial collars; after a few days in one of the working ones, nothing else is necessary.”

“Are you seriously telling us that the Colonel could be compelled to do whatever Ronon tells him to do for the rest of his life?” McKay said. “You said it was temporary!”

“It is temporary,” the old man said. “Activating the release mechanism within a certain period of time negates the– “

“Mine,” Sheppard said, in the slow tones of someone who was working very hard to stay calm, “doesn’t have a release mechanism.”

“That’s a problem,” the Avorian said.

Ronon noticed that he was gripping Sheppard’s shoulders protectively, and he loosened his grasp. Sheppard took a step backwards, up against Ronon’s chest, and didn’t seem to notice he was doing it.

“Can we have a second to talk this over?” Ronon said.

*

“Okay,” Ronon said, “this is the plan.”

“We can’t risk doing anything to that collar until we know more about what it does,” McKay protested. “We could be jeopardizing the Colonel’s brain, here! It’s miracle he has one at all, so I really don’t think we should be pushing our luck with it.”

“Our plan for getting out of here.”

Teyla glanced at their pile of gear on the floor. “I do not believe they would have returned our belongings to us if they meant to hold us prisoner.”

“Yeah, well, that was before we were walking out with one of their priceless and irreplaceable artifacts around Sheppard’s neck.”

“Perhaps they would consent to send a guard back to Atlantis with us– “

“Perhaps we’ve already had too fucking much to do with these people!” Ronon didn’t like to raise his voice, but these people would drive Ordauro the Flawless to a temper-tantrum. “No, we’re getting out of here. The Jumper is cloaked; we’ll lose them, and then– “

“No. Can’t run,” Sheppard said. Ronon hated irony.

“He’s right,” McKay said hoarsely. “He’s – the collar, it makes you feel – it’s hard to describe. Unsteady, or lethargic, or something. Moving takes a lot more effort than it should. I doubt he’s capable of running anywhere.”

“I’ll take care of Sheppard. Look, the old guy’s only paying attention to me and Sheppard – mostly me, because in his head, Sheppard’s still a slave. Teyla, McKay, you flank the door. Teyla, get him as he comes through, and as many as you can on our way out before they figure out what’s going on. McKay– “ He kicked Sheppard’s P-90 across the floor toward McKay’s feet– “you can shoot one of these, right?”

“Yes, but– “

Yes. The two of you are going to have to cover our retreat. We’ll have to shake them on their own ground, but the good news is, they don’t have radio technology, so if we get separated, we can find each other again without giving away our position.”

“Excuse me,” McKay said, “but since when do we take orders from you? Particularly suicidal orders that involve declaring war on vicious, war-like cultures who employ technology we don’t yet understand?”

“Rodney,” Sheppard said, his voice hoarse and slightly distant, “shut up and help him, okay?”

“What the hell do you know about it? You have to think it’s a good plan!”

“I’ve been in this thing too long already. It’s getting – harder to focus on anything, harder to.... Just. Help him get me out of here, okay, Rodney? Please.”

Ronon shifted his good arm around Sheppard, letting him sag more heavily into the crook. “It’s okay,” he murmured near Sheppard’s hair. “We’re getting you out.”

“Someone is outside,” Teyla said.

Pick up the gun,” Ronon said, and McKay hesitated for a moment, but he obeyed.

*

By the time they made it back to the Jumper and Ronon could let Sheppard slip to the plastic floor, he could barely remember which shoulder had been wrenched by a warlord who wanted to despoil John’s innocence and which one had been wrenched by carrying John over it on a mile and a half run. He wondered if he could learn to eat with his feet.

“Colonel?” Teyla said. “Colonel, are you well?”

“Oh, yeah, great,” Sheppard said faintly, his fingers tracing lightly over the center of his body. “Just, you know. The...whole thing.”

“Are you fit to fly?”

He scrubbed his wrist across his eyes and said, “Sure, yeah,” but when he tried to sit up, he slumped immediately back onto his elbows and said, “Actually, Rodney, can you– ?”

“Well, since we’re only being pursued by – angry slaveholding barbarians on foot, not to mention – we’re invisible, I can probably manage. Just – give me a second – to catch my breath.” He unwrapped a powerbar and said something else that Ronon couldn’t understand with his mouth full.

Ronon crouched down over Sheppard, and Sheppard reached up and slid his hand so slowly down Ronon’s bare arm that he had time to fight back not one but two shivers. “I’m really – shit, I’m really– “ John said, his other hand finding the patch of skin just beneath the torn piece of Ronon’s sweater. “I’d do it back this time,” he said. “Actually, I would’ve done it back before. But now, definitely....”

Ronon pushed his hand away from the buckle of his belt – not that Sheppard was showing any signs of having the manual dexterity to work it. He needed – he needed to tell Sheppard to stop. Sheppard would have to stop if he–

Sheppard fingered Ronon’s hair and let his legs separate slowly, and it was kind of hard to remember what he was supposed to be telling Sheppard to do. From where Ronon was standing, it looked like he was doing just great on his own.

“Rodney,” Teyla said carefully, “did the collar have an aphrodisiac effect on you?”

“Um,” Rodney said, and Ronon could pretty much hear the blush in his voice. “Maybe...maybe a little? It was...um...kind of hard to tell.”

“It’s getting worse,” Sheppard said. He pulled Ronon down by the front of his sweater and said, “Maybe it expects you to fuck me. Maybe it’ll just – keep on – like this, until you do.” He sounded a lot more mellow about that prospect than Ronon was aware he probably should.

“Maybe there’s a time-delay,” Rodney suggested. “It’s pretty late now; maybe the drug releases on a schedule of some kind, so slaves can concentrate on – laundry or whatnot in the daytime, and then at night....”

“We should get him to Dr. Beckett as soon as possible,” Teyla said, and Rodney made a noise of agreement and turned to face the instrument panel.

“Wait,” Ronon said. He wasn’t really talking to Sheppard, but Sheppard held still anyway, his fingers just a breath away from unbuttoning his own fly and hovering patiently, waiting for Ronon’s next command.

Less weird now. More hot.

But – he wasn’t talking to Sheppard. “You and Teyla need to go on foot, bring back the doc and, uh...somebody who can do something with the collar...an engineer.”

“The Gate’s an hour from here by foot, at least!” McKay said. “We already ran all the way here.”

Sheppard still hadn’t moved his hand, but his hips were twitching just a little bit, pushing his cock up toward his hand but not quite meeting it. “We can’t bring him back,” Ronon said. “Not like this.”

Everyone was silent for a moment, except for the low whine coming from Sheppard, so low that probably only Ronon could hear it. “I see,” Teyla said. “It might be...awkward for the Colonel.”

“He wouldn’t want Weir to see him like this,” Ronon said softly. “Or his men, either. Just...go get the doctor, and someone you trust who might be able to disable the collar, fix the release mechanism, whatever it takes. The two of you just – get there quick and quiet and come right back. I’ll wait with him.” Nobody moved. “Go!” Ronon snapped. “I’m not going to take advantage of him, okay? Get him a doctor!”

“You’re not going to take advantage of me?” Sheppard repeated as soon as they were gone, in a distant tone that might have been relief or disappointment.

“Yeah, that was a lie,” Ronon said.

*

Ronon didn’t like to think about how uncomfortable it was to lift his arms high enough to pull Sheppard’s shirt over his head. So it was a lucky thing there was plenty else to think about.

Sheppard crawled forward, almost climbing him, his knees braced on the floor on either side of Ronon and his ass resting on Ronon’s thighs. He twined his arms around Ronon’s neck and kissed him, slow and messy and just...fucking...perfect, until Ronon couldn’t help grinding his hips up against Sheppard’s weight.

“I don’t want to do this,” Sheppard whispered, just as Ronon was sliding his hands up his back and making him shudder. Ronon stopped moving. “I mean it,” Sheppard said, nibbling on his earlobe. “This is totally the drugs talking.”

“Totally, huh?” Ronon said skeptically, dipping his fingers under Sheppard’s waistband.

“Fraternization – bad idea. And anyway, don’t you think this is – a little bit – morally dubious? I’ve pretty much been roofied, here.”

“You wanted me before.”

“I want – oh, God – I want a lot of things. Doesn’t mean I can have them. I told you no before, too, remember?”

Did he remember. Yeah, he fucking remembered. The one person who’d – looked at him with interest, without fear – the one person he didn’t have to be afraid for, in seven agonizing years. He remembered being pushed away, yes.

He took Sheppard by the shoulders and pushed him to his back, swinging a leg over him. “Things were different then,” he said. “You were my commander.”

“I wasn’t yet.”

“I’d already made up my mind.” He just couldn’t say so right away; it made him look more valuable if he pretended he had any other options whatsoever. Ronon had known enough mercenaries in his life to pick up the occasional trick of the trade.

“I’m still your commander.”

Ronon grinned, and even through his haze, Sheppard’s eyebrows shot straight up at whatever he saw in that expression. “Yeah?” he said, fingering the warm collar and then letting his hand trace down to Sheppard’s chest. “I don’t see you giving the orders right now.”

“Please....” Sheppard said, closing his eyes. Ronon wondered which thing he was begging for now, but decided it wasn’t quite to his advantage to ask.

He touched his mouth to the skin of Sheppard’s belly, tender and warm and hairy. His whole body jerked underneath the touch, and his legs spread even wider. Ronon got a firm grip on each of his thighs, leaning down on them until his shoulders complained and he had to shift back to make his knees bear the weight instead. “Let me fuck you,” Ronon said. Magic words. “Tell me you want it.”

“Oh, God, oh, God,” Sheppard said. “I want you so fucking bad.”

“Turn over.” He slid his hands around Sheppard’s waist to help him comply. “Think McKay left any of the sunscreen behind?”

“I don’t – I’m not sure – we’ll need it,” Sheppard said as Ronon unfastened his belt and stripped him the rest of the way naked. “It doesn’t make you lethargic, it’s a muscle relaxant....”

They’d still need something, but in that case, spit would probably do. Ronon started to take care of his own pants with one hand and leaned over Sheppard with his other hand by his face. “Here, suck these,” he said, but Sheppard had already wrapped his mouth around two of Ronon’s fingers and gone all the way down on them before the words were out of his mouth.

He didn’t bother to take his own clothes off. Well. Less like not bothering and more like not being able to stand wasting valuable seconds. He already had to try out Sheppard with his fingers, another thing that felt like a stupid distraction to him, but he was just rational enough to remember that he did actually want Sheppard to enjoy this, too. Also, the sounds Sheppard made as Ronon twisted his fingers inside him were worth something. He pulled his cock free of his half-open pants, smeared pre-come around the head with shaking fingers, and then pushed in and pulled Sheppard back against him by the waist at the same time.

That got a good noise, too.

“Fuck me,” Sheppard panted. “Fuck me....” So Ronon shifted his hands wider on the floor for better balance, settled his hands on Sheppard’s skinny hips, and fucked him.

“You’re attractive, too,” Ronon growled, leaning forward toward his ear. He nipped at Sheppard’s neck while he whimpered, then bit harder at his shoulder and made him moan. “I could get used to this – you on your hands and knees, begging me for it any time I wanted you to.”

“Bastard,” Sheppard panted. “I could probably bring you up on charges for this.”

“Maybe I’d loan you out,” he said. “You’d do that if I told you to, too.”

“No. Yes. Jesus.” Sheppard dropped to his elbows, giving himself more leverage to shove back against Ronon’s thrusts.

Ronon ran his hand down the length of Sheppard’s spine, tacky with sweat. “Don’t worry. You’re still my CO; I wouldn’t humiliate you or anything. I wouldn’t let anyone have you who hadn’t earned the right – nobody who’s beneath you. Of course, that – mm, nice – that narrows the field, but there’s always Caldwell. I could tell you to suck his dick, and you’d do it. Weir should get a shot at you, too; that’s a woman who looks like she could really use a good, hard fuck. Been there myself, so I know what it looks like.”

“Sick,” Sheppard growled. “There is something – really fucking wrong with you.”

“I’m just joking,” Ronon said. “I wouldn’t really let anybody else touch you.” He had the fucked-up shoulder to prove it, too. He’d definitely earned this. “I might let ‘em watch, though,” he said into Sheppard’s ear.

He let Sheppard come first, which he was willing to bet none of the Avorians who’d tried to beat him down for a chance at Sheppard’s ass would have done. Not that it was much of a sacrifice; it was the gasps and the hot, ragged cursing spilling out of Sheppard’s mouth, as much as anything else, that sent Ronon over the edge.

“John,” Ronon murmured against the back of his neck as they rolled together onto their sides. “So nice.”

He didn’t even like to think how long he’d been wanting....

Ronon tried to run his fingers up Sheppard’s stomach, but his breath hitched hard and he moved his arm back to jab his elbow into Ronon’s ribs. Ronon rolled away automatically. “Don’t – get away from me,” Sheppard said. He sounded a little bit strangled.

He moved further away and sat up. “What’s wrong?”

“What’s– ? Jesus Christ! I said I didn’t want you to!”

“Yeah, but. You didn’t mean it.”

“Go to hell.”

Ronon stood up and fastened his pants, watching John carefully. He didn’t move, just laid on his back with his hands over his face. Ronon scooped up Sheppard’s clothes and threw them down on top of him, and that made him take his hands away and glare. Ronon crossed his arms over his chest and gave him his best hard, flat look in return. “No, uh-uh,” Sheppard said. “You don’t get to be mad.”

“Get dressed.”

Sheppard swore bitterly as he sat up and yanked his shirt on. “You see?” he said. “This is – this is exactly why I’m the one who has the right to be pissed, here! Stop making me do things!”

“You make me do things all the time!”

“No, I don’t!” Sheppard yelled, doing his best to look dignified while he got his pants on. “You can’t count my orders – nobody follows my orders!”

“I do,” Ronon said.

That made him pause for a moment. Then he said, “Well, you don’t have to. That’s the point. You can do what I tell you to or not, you still have that choice.”

“No,” Ronon said. “I don’t.”

*

“I don’t get to say this very often,” Dr. Beckett said cheerfully as they climbed in, crowding the Jumper, “but I have good news and more good news.”

“Thank God,” Sheppard said tiredly.

“The good news is, you’re not under the influence of an intoxicant.”

What?” Sheppard turned a deathly shade of pale. “No, but – I’m – “

“More good news,” Zelenka said, “is, your collar injects nanites into your bloodstream!”

“That’s the good news?” Sheppard said, and then his face changed and he said, “That is good news! We can fix that!”

“Indeed we can,” McKay said, already pulling off one of the Jumper’s shielding panels to get to a power cell. “We’ll have you insubordinate again in no time flat.”

“The release mechanism emits an EMP,” Zelenka said, holding up another collar like Sheppard’s like he was exhibiting a fresh kill. “Potential permanent damage occurs if the nanites are left to run free long enough to alter your synapses. Then your brain begins to produce these dopamines and endorphins and – things – of its own accord, lacking the ability to shut itself down.”

“Where’d you get one of those to examine?” Sheppard asked.

McKay paused in his work to look lofty and humble. “Oh, that was me,” he said. “I figured, as long as we were alienating our neighbors by Indiana Jonesing one of their priceless treasures, we might as well take both. For research purposes.”

“Indiana Jones, huh?” Sheppard said, giving McKay a nearly adoring look. “Okay, but you’re Marcus.” McKay made a gesture in his direction that Ronon was fairly sure was obscene and went back to work.

Ronon didn’t say anything. It was safer, he’d decided, if he just didn’t talk to Sheppard at all.

*

Sheppard was sitting on his bed two days later when Ronon came out of the shower. He really felt that was a mixed message.

“So, I kind of knew it was nanite technology all along,” Sheppard said. He was toying with the faded hem of his shirt.

“No, you didn’t.”

“No, but I did think it was weird behavior, for a drug. The effects stopped right away for Rodney, and with any kind of drug I know about, you’d have to wait for it to work its way through your system. I kept meaning to bring up how weird that was, but...I was really...distracted. I couldn’t keep any one thought in my head for very long.”

“You seemed okay part of the time.” Maybe that wasn’t much of an excuse, but.... He really had seemed like his normal self, a lot of the time.

Sheppard smiled briefly. “Well, I was working at it. I thought you guys needed me to keep it together.”

“You did fine.”

Sheppard looked up, and Ronon remembered that he was naked and slung the towel around his waist. Sheppard smiled slightly. “Here’s the thing.”

“I’m sorry. I really thought you...didn’t mean it.”

“Here’s the thing. I’ve been in the Air Force for twenty years. It’s the only thing I ever planned to do, and flying’s – the only thing I ever – thought mattered to me. So I try to do my job, which, yes, ha ha, it’s hard to tell by looking sometimes, but I really do try. Not just so I don’t get kicked out, but....”

“This is who you are,” Ronon said. He understood that. He’d always understood that; it was one of the very first things he’d ever liked about John.

“Yeah. And...I deal with the...other requirements. I won’t say I’ve never broken the.... Well, let’s just say, the kids complain about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but it was a big step up for me; it was one I could finally get myself to follow. And fraternization – I never did that, I never slept with someone I was serving with. Until...until now, I mean.”

Ronon thought about apologizing again, but he always hated repeating himself. Once really should stand.

Sheppard stood up and walked toward him. He laid his hand on Ronon’s bicep, and Ronon glanced down at it once and then tried to ignore it. “So you deal with it, you know? Hell, there’s always porn. But you have these...fantasies. I mean, you come to a place like this, and it’s open season on fantasies – which is good, because you’re really fucking low on...non-fantasy options. So I make up all these stories in my head, reasons that I could, could do it and it wouldn’t– Like, you know, ‘The people of Planet Jack-Be-Nimble won’t consider any treaty valid unless you sleep with the high priest’s nephew,’ or ‘turns out, the seed-pods are poisonous, and semen is the only antidote.’ Okay, it ain’t D.H. Lawrence, but at least there was this idea floating out there that...it could happen, and I could...get away with it. Because it wouldn’t be my fault; I wouldn’t have any choice.”

“You...you didn’t have any choice,” Ronon said.

“I know! And that’s the part that really fucks with my head. Because now I can’t really say, hey, not my fault, had no choice, because I already know I didn’t want to have a choice. So it’s still like getting what you wanted. It is, in fact, exactly like getting what you wanted. Which I’m not supposed to want.”

Ronon thought about that for a minute. “I don’t really work for you,” he said.

John shifted a little closer, the warm breath from his laughter on Ronon’s face. “Yeah, that would go down okay if it were Teyla I was interested in, but you? You’re like the only guy in this city who really does work for me. You.... You’d die for me. Because I told you to.”

“Everybody here would die for you.”

“Yeah, but they’d argue about it first. A lot. And in the end, they’d do it because they pretty much trust that I’ll hammer out a decent plan, and I won’t ask them to do anything desperate unless it’s the only real option. You’d just...do it. You wouldn’t ask. You wouldn’t fight me. You’d just...go. Hell, you’d go even if you thought it was the shittiest plan since a land war in Asia. It’s a fucking lot of power, and if I hadn’t already gotten the memo, I’d sure as hell see that now.”

Ronon shrugged. “You’re my commander.”

“See, exactly! Don’t try to pull that ‘I’m just a civilian helping out’ thing on me. If you’re not under my command, nobody ever has been. You’re the Death Star of fraternization. Doesn’t – How can the idea of being with me not freak you out, too?”

Ronon put his hand gingerly on the small of John’s back. His eyes flickered strangely, but he didn’t flinch away. “Guess I figure...if you were with me, we’d have to trust each other. You’d be my, uh. Millennium Falcon of the chain of command?”

He didn’t think the metaphor quite hung together, personally; he’d only seen the things one time, although as much as people talked about them around here, it felt like more. But it started John laughing, surprise and relief and something Ronon – didn’t think anyone had ever aimed in his direction before – and he wrapped his arms hard around Ronon and kissed the side of his mouth and said, still laughing hoarsely, “I can’t fucking believe you. You better be for real.”

Ronon gave him a better kiss and didn’t bother to promise that he was. When John got to know him a little bit better, he’d see for himself.