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It's no big deal. Just a routine medical exam. As a sub, John doesn't get a gown to wear, but Doc Keller's a sub, too, so in theory, it shouldn't be uncomfortable. He coughs when she holds his balls and bends forward when she tells him to and if he shivers when she sticks her finger up his ass, well, there are some things he can't control.

She takes her time in there, probing and rubbing, until he wants to squirm or pant or do something totally inappropriate. If she were a top, he'd suspect her of ulterior motives, but she's Ronon's sub and he's pretty sure Ronon doesn't want her playing with other subs, so that can't be it.

She finally pulls her finger out and then wipes him up with a moist towelette. "Okay, you can turn around now," she says.

He straightens slowly. He doesn't want to turn around because if he does, she's going to see what kind of effect she's had on him. But she's his doctor and he doesn't really have a choice.

"Ah," she says, eyeing his nearly full erection. "I was afraid of that."

"Look, I'm sorry," he says. "It's nothing personal."

"Of course not," she says. "It's a perfectly natural reaction in a sub who suffers from insufficient sexual gratification. Colonel, when was the last time you were properly topped?"

He can't help a grimace. He knows she's his doctor and she has a right to ask. It doesn't mean he has to like it. "It's been a while," he admits.

"Days?" she says, watching his face. "Months? Years?"

"I'm the military commander of this base," he says. "I can't just go throwing myself at the nearest top."

"Oh," she says, "I didn't... I mean, obviously you're in a delicate position." She doesn't mention how unusual it is for a sub to have reached the rank of lieutenant colonel and to be in command of a base the size of Atlantis, but she doesn't have to. John knows it's what everyone thinks, every time they look at him. "But you can't just ignore your body's physical needs. If you can't manage them on your own, I'm afraid we're going to have to take care of them for you."

John scowls. She can't force him to have sex, can she? "Look, I'm fine," he says. "I can handle it on my own."

She presses her lips together. "How often do you masturbate?"

"Couple times a week," he says. He hates talking about this stuff.

"And you use an insertable?"

Christ, that's even more personal. "Sometimes." He has a dildo, but usually he's too tired to get it out. He can get himself off without it. It's no big deal.

But Keller's shaking her head. "I'm sorry, Colonel. I'm afraid I can't let this get any worse. If we don't take care of it, I'm not going to be able to certify you as fit for duty."

That's ridiculous. He's fine. So maybe his balls are a little blue, but it's not affecting his work. Well, not too much. "I don't need--" he starts, but she interrupts him.

"I'm afraid you do. I'm going to need you to come in at least twice a week for a prostate massage. You can start tomorrow -- would eight in the morning be convenient?"

It's not, but he doesn't have a meeting or a mission scheduled, and he's not going to lie. "That would be fine," he makes himself say.

"Great," she says, painfully cheerfully. "We'll see you then."

***

He thinks about scheduling a meeting. He thinks about just not showing up. But he knows Keller well enough to know she has principles, and if she really thinks he's not fit for duty, she's not going to be too chicken to ground him.

So he showers a little extra carefully after his morning run with Ronon and heads for the infirmary. In some ways he's almost glad it will be Keller doing whatever the hell she's going to do to him. At least she's a sub, so there's no chance he'll respond to her on anything more than a purely physical level.

"Colonel," Keller says when he walks into her domain. "You're right on time. Please, come this way."

He follows her back through the outer part of the infirmary to one of the back rooms. There's a corner curtained off, and she gestures him inside. "Go ahead and strip," she says. "Dr. Biro will be with you in a few minutes."

"Biro?" John says. It never occurred to him that Keller wouldn't take care of him herself. "Thought she was a pathologist."

"Oh, she is," Keller says airily. "But we all have to wear multiple hats around here. Don't worry. She may be a bit of a chatterbox but she's a perfectly competent physician and she's treated cases like this before. Now get in there and get undressed. You don't want to keep her waiting."

John pulls the curtain shut and strips quickly, folding his clothes neatly and putting them on a chair. He's never known Biro well, even though she's been with the expedition since the first year, but he's pretty sure she's a top. He can only hope she's not the kind he responds to.

"Hello there, Colonel Sheppard! Or should I call you John? You know, I really think John will work better under the circumstances. You're going to need to be as relaxed as possible, and you know I always say too much formality can get in the way of a proper doctor-patient relationship, particularly in this sort of situation."

For a moment John can't do anything but stare. She's about his age but shorter than he remembered, with thick glasses and fly-away, mouse-brown hair. Not his type in any possible way, and he can't help being relieved at that. "Okay," he says, because he has no idea what else to say. It's not like he really has a choice in the matter.

"Great!" she goes on. "Now I'll need you up on the bed. No, no, on your back. And go ahead and scoot forward so you can put your feet up."

John lifts his head in alarm to see her swinging out a pair of stirrups. "Are those really necessary?" he asks.

"Oh, I think you'll be much more comfortable this way," she says, guiding his heels into place and fastening the straps around his ankles. "Let's restrain your wrists, too, shall we? Yes, I think that will help."

"Thought this was a medical procedure," John says, crossing his arms over his chest. He knows it's a little ridiculous, since his ankles are already tied down, but it's the principle of the thing.

"Oh, it is," Biro says, momentarily taken aback. "We're just trying to reduce the pressure in your prostate gland. But most subs do have an easier time of it if they're immobilized. Gets the juices flowing more effectively, so to speak."

Oh. So it's that kind of procedure. John's tempted to refuse, but he wants to get this over with, the sooner the better, and if he's not attracted to her, it's not really all that different than having Keller do it.

"Of course, if you have some sort of idiosyncratic, aversive reaction to bondage, I'll totally understand. You wouldn't be the first sub who doesn't like to be tied up."

Great, John thinks. Now she thinks he has hangups. "It's fine," he makes himself say. "I can handle it." And he unfolds his arms and holds out his wrists.

"There, that's better, isn't it?" Biro says, securing a velcro cuff around each of his wrists and attaching them to the bed frame. "Nice and snug. Of course, Dr. Keller did indicate that you're in a pretty bad way, so I'm not anticipating any difficulties. You can just lie back and relax and we'll get this done in a jiffy."

John can't help testing his restraints, tensing his arms and legs against the bonds, but Biro is clearly a pro, because they're not tight enough to be painful but they're pretty solid.

"Oh, don't worry," Biro says, and John looks up to see that she's pulled on exam gloves and is lubing up one finger. "I made sure they're secure. Now, don't forget to breathe." And without any further prelude, her finger is against his asshole, pressing inside.

John gasps as she finds his prostate and starts stroking.

"There we go," Biro says. "That's it. Don't fight it, John. Just let it happen."

John clenches his jaw. He doesn't want to give in. He sure as hell doesn't want to enjoy it. But he can feel his cock filling, completely independent of any conscious wish.

"So," she says, her finger working inside him, "I guess you must be pretty picky about your tops. I mean, not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm pretty picky myself when it comes to subs, but you do realize that there's such a thing as being too selective, right? I mean, look at you! I've been working for less than thirty seconds and you're already at stage two arousal."

He's hard enough to poke holes in things, she means. John closes his eyes for a moment and swallows, but there's not a damn thing he can do. He's horny as hell and she may not be his type but she's clearly some kind of genius with that finger. "I can't just go to the singles mixers," he says. "Have to...maintain my authority."

"Hmm," Biro says, her finger never stopping its motion inside him. "I can see how that might be a problem. I guess it would be kind of difficult to take orders from someone after you've tied them to a rack and fucked them for hours on end."

John can't help a full body shudder. It's not her. It's the image her words paint, and the fact that it's been so damn long since anyone has had him in restraints. There hasn't been anyone since Larrin, actually, and she didn't fuck him. She just tied him up and laughed at the bulge in his pants. Which was, of course, his own damn fault for trying to pass himself off as a top in the first place.

"Well," Biro goes on, "I can see why you came to Dr. Keller, and of course I'm happy to help out." Her finger changes its motion, moving a little faster, and John can't swallow a small moan. "That's it," she says. "Just let go, now. All you need to do is admit you need it. That's not so hard, is it?"

Yes, John can't say. He can feel a damp stickiness on his stomach and he knows he's leaking. "I'm not," he says. "I can't..."

"Don't be silly," she says, punctuating her words with her relentless finger. "Of course you can."

He doesn't want to come. He's not going to give in this easily, but he's utterly powerless against her, and the next thing he knows his head is going blank with pleasure and he can feel a hot gush against the skin of his stomach. It's intense and it goes on a long time, but she doesn't pull her finger out, just keeps milking him. He feels like he's lost all control. Like his body is admitting he hasn't had proper sex in years. And still, he keeps coming.

"There, I think that should do it,'" she says after what feels like hours. "I'm sure you'll feel a lot better now." She pulls her finger out and pats the inside of his leg with her other hand, and he feels his face go warm.

"Just let me get you cleaned up," she says, reaching for a package of wipes, and she proceeds to clean first his ass and then his stomach. "Well, you certainly produced a good bit of volume," she comments. "I think next time I'd better put a condom on you. It would help with the cleanup, you know."

John feels his face go hotter and promises himself he'll jerk off before his next session. Maybe it will even convince her he doesn't need to be here.

"You gonna undo me?" He's pretty proud of the fact that his voice is steady and he's not yanking at the straps.

"Yes, yes, of course," she says, discarding the last wipe and moving to his ankles. She releases them quickly and moves up to unfasten his wrists as well. "There you go." She holds his wrist for a moment, like she's inspecting the skin for bruising, but whatever she sees, it's apparently nothing worth commenting. "Now, I'll need to see you again in three days' time. Is eight o'clock good for you?"

It's not, but it's not like there's a better time. "It's fine," John says. "As long as I'm not offworld."

"Right. Yes, of course. If you're offworld, we'll simply reschedule for the first morning you're back. Now go ahead and get dressed. I'll let Dr. Keller know the procedure was successful."

"Fantastic," John says, and this time he can't keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

But Biro doesn't seem to hear it, or if she does, she doesn't care. She just says, "Have a great day!" as she slips out of the curtain, and that's the last John sees of her that day.

***

The craziest part of it is, he does have a pretty good day. He feels a little less on edge, and he makes it through his rounds of meetings without getting distracted the way he usually does. But he doesn't notice until lunchtime, when Rodney asks, "What the hell's up with you? Has something addled your brain?" that he realizes he's been grinning across the table at his teammates for the past ten minutes.

"Nah, I'm fine," he says, and he doesn't think about Doc Biro's finger up his ass, or her cheerful efficiency with the restraints.

***

It's not his fault he forgets to jerk off. The three days between sessions are three days of nonstop action, and they only just manage to save the city from the giant, sentient squid and its horde of minute but nasty offspring, so it's not like John has time for personal matters. And when he wakes up Thursday morning it's too late to take care of it, because he's due for his run with Ronon.

So he's already mostly hard even before Biro sticks her finger in him.

"Well," she says, "this certainly simplifies things," and she rips open a packet and reaches for his cock.

Neither of them is ready for the way his cock twitches from root to tip.

"Sorry," John mutters, feeling his ears go hot, but Biro just catches his cock and starts to roll the condom down over it. Her hands are cool and she doesn't rub or squeeze, but his cock twitches again in her grip and he shivers with sensation. It's stupid and he knows it, but he's tied up and a top is touching him and apparently he's just that easy these days.

"There we are," she says, reaching for her lube. "That should simplify the clean-up process quite a bit."

He's been through this before so he really shouldn't be tense, but it takes her a long moment to get inside him, and she gives him a severe look.

"You know, you really should use an insertable more often," she says as her finger finally clears the second ring of muscle and finds his prostate. "It's simply not healthy for a sub to be so tense. If you're not properly prepared, a top could hurt you without even realizing."

"Yeah," John says, trying to keep from gasping as her finger starts to move. "That's not really a problem right now."

"Funny you should mention that," Biro says, settling on her stool like she's preparing to be there for the long haul. "Actually, I've been spending some time thinking about your problem. I like to do that, you know, in fact, I consider it part of the job, even if it does take up a fair number of my off hours."

Her finger is constantly moving as she talks, which makes it hard to concentrate on her words. Fortunately she doesn't seem to need him to say anything.

"And while I do realize that the chain of command issues are quite real for you," she's saying, "I have to believe that there's someone on Atlantis who wouldn't be a serious threat to your authority. Have you considered looking among the scientists? Because I'm sure there must be a number of unpaired tops who would be just what you're looking for."

"I'm not," John manages between breaths, "looking for anyone."

"Yes, yes, I'm aware of that," she says. "But you do realize that that's the basic problem, don't you? I mean, just look at you. I drained you quite thoroughly just three days ago and you're still as eager as a teenager."

John's face heats again. He can't see enough to know whether he's leaking into the condom, but the other signals of his body must be damn obvious to her. It's just that he didn't get a chance to jerk off, he tells himself. He'll do better next time.

"Look," he says. "I don't need..."

"Yes," she says. "Actually, you do." And his body picks that moment to come.

It's even more intense this time, and it still seems to go on forever as John sweats and shudders and fills the condom until the reservoir tip is bulging.

"There, now," Biro says, patting his knee. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"

She pulls her finger out of him and reaches for his softening cock. If John weren't restrained, he'd flinch and pull away, but she's done her job thoroughly and there's nothing he can do but let her slide the condom off his oversensitive skin.

"You see what I mean?" Biro says, knotting off the condom expertly and holding it up. "That's really an impressive amount of volume."

He can't exactly disagree. It looks like he fountained half a cup in that thing. "It's been a busy week," he says. "I didn't have a lot of quality time with my toys. Which, by the way, would have meant no quality time for a top, either."

"I can see you have a point there," Biro says, placing the condom on a specimen tray and turning her attention to his restraints. "Well, at least you had time to come to me. But I think next time I should see you in two days rather than three."

Crap. It's the last thing John wants, but he nods as he pulls his feet out of the stirrups and sits up. "Yeah, okay," he says as she hands him his clothes.

***

He tries to jerk off that night. He even gets out his damn dildo. But for some reason, he can't come. He yanks on his dick for forty-five minutes with the dildo buried to the hilt, but he never gets so much as an exhausted dribble.

Apparently Biro did too good a job draining him. John eventually gives up and pulls the dildo out, feeling frustrated and a little sore because he wasn't careful enough putting it in and it's a lot bigger than her finger.

He wonders, suddenly, what it would feel like if she put two fingers in him. Or three. She'd know enough to go slow, of course, and he's willing to bet it would feel a damn sight better than the hard plastic of his toy. Even if she did spend the whole time talking about how he needs a top.

He doesn't. He's fine. He didn't even look twice at the chieftain's son on his last offworld mission, even though the guy was gorgeous and commanding and very obviously eyeing John. And even when he was at his worst, he never compromised Atlantis's safety for Larrin, even if he did maybe think with his dick more than once around her.

The point is, he's perfectly fit for duty and he doesn't need to hear any lectures and he really doesn't need to have his prostate massaged every other day.

Even if it does make his dick twitch just to think about it.

***

They settle into a pattern. Every other day John goes for a run with Ronon, takes a careful shower, and heads for the infirmary, where there's always a curtained-off bed set aside for him. He strips and gets into position on the exam table, his feet already in the stirrups when Biro comes in.

He tells himself he's just getting it over with. It's more efficient this way. And it's not like she looks at him any differently when he's splayed out like this for her. She may be a top, but she's also a doctor, and it's clear she sees him as a problem to solve. Not anything else.

He's grateful for that and for the fact that she's still really not his type, because it means he doesn't have to worry about any kind of weirdness. It's just a medical procedure.

"So how have you been feeling?" Biro asks one day, a couple weeks into their sessions. She's eased up on the lectures about him needing a top lately, and he's grateful for that, too, even though he's pretty sure she hasn't changed her mind. "Have you noticed any improvement in your general frustration levels?"

"Uh," John says, because it hasn't gotten any easier to think when her finger's inside him, doing its thing. "I don't really...I mean, I'm fine. But I was..." He swallows a gasp because she's hitting all his sweet spots today and what he really wants to do is moan and maybe beg her to spank him. "I was fine before," he finally gets out.

"That's really too bad," Biro says, "because I was hoping you'd be feeling a little better by now. Well, I suppose we can always step up the frequency of our sessions to once a day. I mean, I usually only see a need for that in the worst cases, but Dr. Keller did say you might be a tough nut to crack."

John feels a strange flutter in his stomach at the thought of doing this every day. "Look," he says, and he can't control another gasp as her finger does something magic inside him. "That's not going to be necessary. I'm sure I'll see an improvement real soon."

"I certainly hope so," she says. "Because quite frankly, if anything you're getting more responsive rather than less."

John feels his face heat once again, and the shame of it makes his cock twitch inside its condom.

"Tell me," she says, "how have your masturbation sessions been going? Have you been using an insertable, as I suggested?"

"Oh yeah," John says. "Sure. All the time." He's not going to confess that he hasn't even touched himself since the day he couldn't make himself come.

"That's funny," she says, and her finger finds that perfect rhythm that he's powerless to resist, "because it really doesn't seem to be making any sort of difference."

John comes silently, with his face on fire.

***

"So," Biro says afterwards, tugging off the condom and cleaning his softening cock with a wipe, "I hear Dr. Lakoff is having a little wine and cheese get-together in his quarters tonight."

"What?" John's feet are still in the stirrups, waiting as she unfastens the velcro.

"It's nothing formal, just a sort of casual open-house for anyone who's interested. You really should think about stopping by."

Crap. She's trying to set him up with someone for real. "I'm sure it'll be a great time," he says, pulling his feet out of the stirrups and sitting up, "but I have some paperwork I need to catch up on."

"Oh, it's not a singles mixer," Biro says, reading him like a book. "You don't need to worry about getting hit on. I mean, not unless you want to, obviously. It's just a bunch of friendly people and some nice bottles of wine."

"Sounds like fun," he lies, reaching for his clothes. "Tell you what: if I finish my paperwork in time, I'll be sure to stop by."

"Great!" she says, and she sounds so happy about it he feels kind of guilty for lying to her. "I'm sure you'll have a fantastic time."

"Oh, yeah," John says, and starts getting into his clothes.

***

The thing is, he doesn't actually have a lot of paperwork. Despite what certain people in the city may think, he likes to make sure he has everything done and filed on time so it doesn't back up on him. So maybe he's not the most loquacious report-writer out there, but he figures punctuality is more important than exhaustive detail, and anyway, he doesn't want to give the higher ups any fodder to oust him. It's bad enough that he's a sub.

So eight o'clock finds him heading back to his quarters after sharing a few beers with his teammates out on the pier. Some nights they hang out later than this, but Rodney's got some kind of simulation running that he wanted to get back to and Teyla and Ronon both have plans with their subs.

But John's feeling pretty damn good, so he's just walking along the corridor whistling, and by the time he sees her, it's too late.

"Hey there, Colonel!" It's Dr. Biro. In his corridor, which means she's here looking for him. "Guess this means you finished up that paperwork after all."

"Hi, Doc," John says, trying to ignore the warmth in his groin he gets at the sight of her. "Yeah, about that. I'm not really sure I..."

Her eagerly expectant face falls. "You don't want to go."

He suddenly feels like a jerk. She's just trying to help him, even if she is totally misguided. "Look, it's nothing personal," he says. "I'm just a little tired."

"You wouldn't have to stay long," she says, brightening a little. "And you know, a glass or two of red wine is actually good for you."

Not on top of a couple of beers, John suspects, but he's not going to mention that. "That really true?" he asks, just to stall for time.

"Well, technically the jury's still out on it," she says. "I mean, sure, it can increase your high density lipoproteins, but of course excess alcohol consumption is linked to high blood pressure, liver damage and cardiomyopathy, so quite frankly, I'd never recommend it. Still, for the occasional evening out, I don't see any particular harm in it, and there's reasonably good evidence that the benefits balance out the risks.

"So," she adds, without pausing for a breath, "are you coming? Because I know for a fact that Dr. Lakoff always opens the good bottles early in the evening, when everyone still has the faculty to appreciate them."

"Sounds like a party," John says, meaning to stall again, but she apparently takes that as a change of heart, because the next thing he knows, she has a hand on his arm.

"Oh, it will be," she says, turning back toward the transporter. "And it's only an hour or two. I know you'll enjoy yourself."

He finds himself turning with her, instinctively responding to her, and damn it, maybe she's right about him being starved for a top because he feels warm all over under her touch.

It's nothing personal on her side. He knows that. She's just doing her job in her off-hours again. But suddenly he doesn't want to fight her. It's no big deal, he tells himself. If it's awful, he can drink half a glass and split.

"Yeah, okay, whatever," he says, and follows her into the transporter.

***

The party is geek central. There's not a single member of the military there apart from John, and he feels ridiculously out of place, like he has a sign pinned to the back of his shirt that says looking for love. But while a few eyebrows go up at his entrance, no one says anything, and the glass of wine Biro gets him is actually pretty good.

She introduces him to Lakoff and a bunch of the other scientists. He already knows a lot of them from one mission or another, and they're perfectly friendly, tops and subs alike.

Biro's right. It's not a single's mixer, because there are quite a few couples and even one collared sub. John's eyes shy away from her. There aren't a lot of collars on Atlantis for obvious reasons and it's not something he's ever wanted for himself, but he still feels a weird twinge when he looks at the smooth brown leather so close at her throat. She looks happy. She's also apparently the head of Atlantis's oceanography division and nobody here seems to think that's a contradiction.

But he's not jealous. He's made his choices and he's happy with them, whatever his doctors seem to think of the consequences.

"Oh, hey, I think they're opening a merlot you need to try," Biro says. "Let me get you a refill," and she whisks his empty glass away before he can say anything, leaving him standing with a geologist whose name he's forgotten.

A top, of course, and as far as John can tell, unattached. He should have figured they were getting to that part of the evening.

"So what's her secret?" the geologist asks, watching Biro's retreating back. "Is she really just that good with the ropes and the whips? Because it's not like she's got anything obvious going on that would make you put up with that motormouth."

John opens his mouth and then closes it again. "I don't know what you're talking about," he hears himself drawl, and it's his dangerous voice, the one he uses with Wraith and people who really piss him off. So maybe it should be funny that the guy's assuming John's subbing for Biro, but when he insults her in the same breath, it's really not.

"Oh, come on," the guy goes on, oblivious. "Are you really telling me you like to be talked into submission?"

John grits his teeth. "Word of advice," he says. "Most subs don't actually find the whole I'm better than your top routine attractive. It just makes you look desperate."

The geologist is walking off in a huff when Biro comes back with John's wine. "Huh," she says, handing it to John. "So I guess you and Dr. Corrighan didn't hit it off?"

"Sorry," John says, taking a sip of his wine, which turns out to be even better than the first glass. "Not into arrogant assholes."

"Oh, dear," she says. "That's funny, because I never thought of him that way. I mean, I'm not saying I know him all that well, but the few times I've had a conversation with him he's been perfectly nice."

"Tops don't talk to other tops the way they talk to subs," John says.

"Well, I suppose you have a point there," she says. "It's just odd, because I would have sworn he was nursing a little crush on you. From afar, so to speak."

Oh. That explains a lot, actually, possibly including his assumption that John's subbing for Biro. "Thought I told you I wasn't looking for a top," he says.

Her cheeks go a little pink. "Oh," she says. "I wasn't...I mean obviously if you hit it off with someone that would be great, but I wasn't trying to play matchmaker. Well, not really. I just want you to have the opportunity, in case you just happen to stumble across someone who appeals to you. You know what they say. You can't meet anyone new if you don't meet anyone new."

"Right," John says. "Look, I don't..."

"I know what!" she says. "Let's go out on the balcony. The lights always look beautiful from this part of the city."

She puts a hand on the small of his back and he feels it again, the warmth and ache of an instinctive response. It's just because she's had her finger up his ass, he reminds himself. It doesn't mean anything. But he lets her steer him out onto the balcony.

There's another couple out there, leaning against a pillar and looking at each other rather than the view. The top is a reedy scientist with thinning hair, the sub a brawny medical tech John's seen around the infirmary. Biro pays no attention to them, leading John to the balcony railing and exclaiming over the lights. They do look pretty cool from this building, halfway down the arm of the South Pier. The central tower glows like a beacon, and John can see its reflection in the waves below them.

"Nice," he says, leaning against the railing next to her.

"It's funny," she says. "But I still have moments where I close my eyes and think I must be dreaming all of this. Do you ever do that? And then you open them, and whoops, here we are in the Pegasus Galaxy!"

John can't help smiling. One thing you can say for her: she doesn't play any of those stupid top games where they try to impress you with how worldly they are. She's just herself, hanging out there for all the world to see.

"Sometimes," he says. "Most of the time I'm too busy to stop and think about it."

Her chin tips up and her eyes sweep the expanse of the heavens. "I used to love stargazing when I was a kid," she says. "I still haven't stopped looking for Orion or the Big Dipper up there."

"Pretty sure the Milky Way's somewhere over there," he says, pointing. He thinks that's right, anyway. He sometimes gets turned around.

Biro turns to follow his finger, and John notices for the first time that the other couple has gone inside, leaving them alone on the balcony. He takes a drink of his wine and she moves away from the railing, moving purposefully toward a couch someone has dragged out here. "Let's sit for a moment," she says. "It's easier to see the sky that way. Well, unless you want a crick in your neck." She doesn't wait for an answer, just lowers herself to the cushions and pats the spot next to her.

Her intention is obvious, but she's not his top, and John doesn't have to do what she says, whatever his gut instincts are making him want. So instead of sitting next to her like an unclaimed quasi-equal, he sinks to his knees in front of her.

"Hey," she says. "John, wait, what in the world are you're doing?"

He grins up at her, trying to ignore the unbidden thought that she looks pretty good from this angle. "What do you think?"

"Well, if you ask me, something perfectly ridiculous, because I'm sure I've never given you any reason to...oh," she says, and he can see in her face that she's figured him out. "John Sheppard, Colonel, get up here right now, before someone actually..."

But she's too late, because at that moment the door slides open and a group of partygoers comes out, exclaiming at the view. Several of them glance in John and Biro's direction as they head for the opposite end of the balcony, and he turns back to her and lifts an amused eyebrow.

"Oh," she says, pitching her voice low enough that John figures the others can't hear. "You are the most incorrigible sub I've ever met. I hope you realize what they're going to think now."

"You could always announce that I'm not yours," John says recklessly. "Hey, while you're at it, tell them I'm looking for a medically prescribed top. No point in doing things by halves."

"You really shouldn't joke about things like that," Biro says sternly, climbing to her feet and holding out her hand for him. "I mean, obviously I think you'd be happier if you weren't alone, but I do hope you know I would never force anyone on you."

"Didn't figure you would," John says, taking her hand and standing.

Biro shoots him a bright glance and squeezes his hand lightly before turning for the door. "So you're just testing me, then? I suppose I should have expected that, given the way you've resisted every other thing I've ever tried to do for you, even, I might add, when it was quite obviously for your own good."

John shrugs, and his smile turns a little wry. "Never said I was a good sub," he says. But he follows her -- deferentially, even -- back into the brightly lit room.

"I hate to say it," Biro says, "but I'm getting kind of tired. Not that it hasn't been a lovely evening, but as I remember, you were pretty tired too. I mean, you can stay as long as you like, but I think I'll be heading out in just a few minutes."

John's still feeling the pleasant taste of having won a round with her, so he just nods amiably. "I'm ready to split."

"Perfect," she says. "Here, let me take your glass for you."

This time no one approaches him or says anything obnoxious while she's gone, and when she comes back they make their excuses and take off.

It's not far to the transporter, and John's not surprised when she directs it to the corridor outside his quarters, first. What he's not expecting is that she'll get out with him.

She's not his top, but she's sure as hell trying to confuse him. "Look," he says, "my room's just down the hall. I think I'll make it that far without a top to protect me."

She presses her lips together. "You're a lieutenant colonel in the air force. I'm sure you can take care of yourself. But there are certain rules of politeness, and while I understand you may prefer to ignore them, I would really rather not."

She's challenging him, top to unclaimed sub, and he really ought to resist her, but the temptation is too strong. "It's a public corridor," he says with a shrug. "You can walk where you want." And then they're doing it, walking side by side to his quarters.

It's not far and she's uncharacteristically silent, even when John stops to swipe his door crystals. "Uh, thanks," he says, because in the end it wasn't an entirely awful evening. "I'm sure my high density lipo-whatsits are doing great, now."

She laughs out loud, an utterly unaffected laugh. "I'm sure they're just fine," she says. "Thank you for coming, even if you did feel the need to fight me tooth and nail every step of the way. But I'm starting to see that's how you deal with just about everything, isn't it?"

John rubs a hand through his hair. She must think he's the worst sub ever. "Pretty much," he admits.

"Well," she says, "I can see it's no coincidence that you've made it to lieutenant colonel. But you know, John." She puts a hand on his arm and it's all he can do not to respond to her. "There are tops out there who wouldn't mind that. There are even some who might even find it attractive. Trust me on this."

He stares at her, feeling his heart rate pick up. She's not talking about herself. She can't be. But for a moment he almost wishes...crap. He can't believe this. He hasn't found a top he thinks he could sub for the entire time he's been in Atlantis, but two weeks of having his prostate massaged and he's ready to roll over for her? God, he's pathetic.

"I should probably go," he says, indicating his open door, but it comes out a lot more softly than he intended.

"Sure thing," she says, and then just stands there, looking at him. For a brief, crazy moment he thinks she's going to kiss him. And then she says, "Well, have a great night!" and turns to go, and he retreats into his room so she won't turn around and see him staring after her.

***

He berates himself for a day and a half. Well, two nights and a day, anyway. But he shows up in the infirmary right on time. He doesn't want her thinking anything's changed because it hasn't.

"Good morning!" she says, and he tells himself not to read anything in because she's always ridiculously bright like that. It's not a sign she's covering up some deeper feeling.

"Hey doc," he says. He feels more open and exposed than ever, naked on the table with his feet up in the stirrups. When she puts his condom on, he's even harder than he usually is, but then, he's been thinking about this nonstop for a day and a half.

He almost expects her to say something like, "My, we're perky today!" but she just pulls her stool over and snaps her glove on.

"Think you forgot something," he says, holding up his unbound wrists, and her cheeks go pink.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she says. "I don't know what's gotten into me today. I poured my cream into my orange juice instead of my coffee this morning."

John can't help smiling. "Late night in the lab?" he asks, because he's pretty sure she does research as well as clinical practice.

"What?" she says. "Oh. Well, yes, actually. I was, um, working pretty late."

She's covering for something, and John feels a sudden stab in his chest at the thought. Maybe she was with a sub last night. A well-behaved sub, someone who did everything she asked without question and kept her up for all the right reasons.

He can't help it. His gut is goes queasy. And he knows it's stupid, but when she goes to fasten his wrists to the bed frame, he can't stop himself from recklessly holding them up by his head.

"Could you do them up here?" he asks.

She blinks at him through her glasses. "Over your head?"

He's regretting it already, but it's too late to back down. "Yeah," he says, lifting them higher and crossing them above his head.

"Well, I don't suppose it would hurt," she says, but she's frowning. "If you feel like you need the extra stimulation."

Crap. He should have figured she'd take it that way. "You don't have to," he says. "I just figured..."

"It's no problem," she says, grasping one wrist firmly and securing it into a cuff at the head of the bed. She takes the other wrist and cuffs it to the first. "I understand completely."

He's pretty sure she doesn't. He hopes to hell she doesn't. But all he says is, "Thanks."

The pull against his muscles does feel good. He can't forget he's restrained like this, and it feels a lot more like sex than when his hands are at his sides. But then she moves back to position between his legs and he realizes he's in trouble. He was hard enough already. When she sticks her finger in, he's going to last about two seconds.

John closes his eyes, listening to the sound of her popping the cap on the lube open. He has to resist. If he doesn't, she'll figure him out, and he's mortified enough already.

Her finger touches his ass and he bites down hard on the inside of his cheek. It's not the good kind of pain, since it's self-inflicted, and it distracts him just enough that he doesn't spurt the moment she gets her finger inside him. He can't help a little whimper, but he bites down harder and the pain pulls him back from the edge.

He's okay. He can do this. He can bear it when she finds his prostate and strokes with the perfect amount of pressure. He doesn't come.

But after a few minutes, her strokes slow and then stop and she pulls her finger out.

"John, what's wrong?"

He opens his eyes to see her standing between the stirrups, a worried line between her eyebrows. Her hair is even more tweaky than usual, he notices. It's ridiculous to find that attractive, but he's getting more fucked up by the minute.

"Nothing's wrong," he says. The inside of his cheek feels swollen where he bit it. He's going to have to use the other side if he wants to keep this up.

Her frown deepens. "There's really no point in lying to me," she says. "You're so tense I'm afraid I'm going to hurt you, which, despite what you may think, is really not the point here."

"I'm not gonna break," John says.

"Believe me," Biro says, "I'm doing my best not to break you. Now you're either going to have to tell me what the trouble is or figure out a way to relax. It's your choice, but we really can't continue until we solve this."

He can't tell her and he doesn't want to make up a lie. "I'm fine."

"You're really not," she says. "Listen, if this is about the other night, I owe you an apology. I mean, sure, I was sincerely trying to help, but I had no right to intrude on your personal life, and I promise that from now on I'll keep our relationship on a purely professional level."

The inside of John's cheek throbs where he bit it. It's his own damn fault and he knows it. If he wasn't so goddamned fucked up, she wouldn't be saying stuff like that. Even if she were thinking it.

"Can we just get on with this?" he says.

She purses her mouth. "Are you sure you're okay?"

John nods, promising himself he'll do better, and he feels her hand on his knee as a reward. "You need to be able to relax. If you can't do it with me, I can always ask Dr. Keller to take my place."

"I can relax," he says quickly, tamping down on something that feels embarrassingly close to panic. "I'll be good."

She gives him a long, speculative look, and then pats his knee one more time. "All right. If you're sure, we'll give it one more try. But I'm warning you: I won't continue if I think I'm going to hurt you."

"I'm sure," John says.

She puts more lube on her gloved finger and settles down on her stool, and John takes a long breath. He's softened a little in the interlude, so it's easier when she slides her finger into him, but in mere moments he's back where he was, inches from the edge. His hands are still bound over his head and he can't stop thinking about what it would be like if she were topping him for real and goddamnit, she's good, because she's only touching one little part of him and his whole body feels like it's singing.

He can't deny what he wants anymore. He can't pretend she doesn't strike a chord in him no other top has ever managed to. He doesn't even know what it is about her, except that she treats him differently than any top he's been with. But maybe that's because she's not actually topping him.

"That's it, John," she's saying. "Nice and easy, now."

"Please," he whispers. "Please, I..." But he's coming before he can get the words out, jerking against his bonds as she strokes him through it.

Afterwards she seems even more gentle than usual, and she almost lingers as she cleans him up. His arms are stiff when she releases them, and she rubs them briskly and pats his shoulder when she's done.

"There we are!" she says, and if he didn't know any better he'd think there was a false note to her brightness. "That should take care of you for a few days, anyway."

"Thanks," he says, and he realizes it's the first time he's said it.

For a moment she just stands there, looking at him, and he's suddenly hyperaware of his nakedness. He's been keeping his body hair pretty carefully trimmed these last few weeks, but he can't help wondering if he should have just shaved, even though he hates the itchy feeling of it growing back. If she liked it, it would be worth it. Of course, she would notice, which could be a problem. But he still wishes he had some way of finding out what she likes.

"Well," she says, "I'll just leave you to get dressed." And she slips outside the curtain and disappears to whatever part of the infirmary she usually hangs out in.

He looks for her this time as he heads out, but he doesn't see so much as a glimpse of her petite figure in its white lab coat. He consoles himself with the thought that he'll do better next time. Maybe he'll succeed in jerking off, so he won't be tense and she won't freak out on him. Anyway, he'll try. He promises himself that. Because on a purely professional basis or not, he needs her, and he's not going to do anything to jeopardize their time together, now or any time in the future.

***

He's feeling pretty proud of himself when he shows up in the infirmary two mornings later. He actually managed to get himself off the night before -- thinking of Biro, but hell, he's past the point of denying what's going on -- so he figures he can take whatever she can dish out without making a fool of himself. But when he's got himself naked and up in position on the table, the person who comes through the curtain is Keller.

"Hi," she says, and John jerks his feet out of the stirrups and sits up, pulling his knees up in front of him in a pointless attempt to feel less exposed.

"What's going on?" he asks. "Where's Doc Biro?"

"I'm really sorry," Keller says. "No one told you? She's offworld for a few days."

"Biro?" John tries to picture that and fails. She doesn't belong to a gate team, and he's sure he'd know if he authorized her as an adjunct. "Where?"

"I think she went to Carson's clinic with Lorne's team," Keller says. "They're kind of overrun right now with the kefflapox, and she volunteered to help."

Crap. He did send Lorne over Carson's way just yesterday, and he remembers authorizing medical supplies and a tech as well. He's dead sure he didn't see Biro's name on the expedition roster, but he's been a little distracted, so it's possible he okayed the preliminary list but didn't recheck every name on the final version.

"Wait," he says. "Is that kefflapox stuff contagious?"

Keller gives him an odd smile. "Oh, there's no need to worry. The entire expedition is immunized against it, Dr. Biro included. We developed vaccinations for all of the common Pegasus diseases after that incident with the Kirsan fever."

"Oh," John says. "Right." Because he remembers the series of shots they gave him, not particularly fondly. He still doesn't like the idea of Biro being offworld, but at least Lorne is there. And maybe he can send an unobtrusive backup team over, just to make sure everything is okay.

Crap. He's going all protective over a top. It would be laughable if it weren't so fucking stupid.

"Well," Keller says, "we'd better get on with this. Dr. Biro usually has you use the stirrups?"

The question grates in ways John didn't even know were possible. "Look," he says, "I'm doing okay. I can wait for Biro to come back."

Keller frowns. "It could be days. We don't want you to get bad again. And according to your chart, Dr. Biro hasn't seen a whole lot of progress yet."

John's jaw clenches. He doesn't want her to touch him. He doesn't want to turn this into some kind of mockery of his relationship with Biro, however professional it may be. But if he refuses, not only will Keller figure him out, she'll have to tell Biro what happened.

"Fine," he says, forcing himself to lie back and put his feet in the stirrups. "Do your thing."

"Don't worry," Keller says. "This shouldn't take long." And she pulls on a glove and lubes up a finger.

John braces himself to fight the onslaught of sensation, but when she sticks her finger in, he feels almost nothing. Well, he can feel the pressure on his prostate just fine; it's just that it doesn't do much for him.

Not like it does with Biro.

"That's it. Just relax," Keller says, and John closes his eyes and lets out his breath. It really is just a medical procedure. It's no big deal.

Her finger inside him keeps working, and after awhile John realizes she's using a slightly different technique than Biro usually does. She's stroking in a fixed pattern, top to bottom, over and over, whereas Biro tends to mix it up more.

"Well," Keller says after awhile, "it looks like your sessions have been doing you some good, after all."

John opens his eyes, wondering what the hell she's talking about, and then he realizes he's not hard. "Told you I could have waited," he says.

"Huh," Keller says. "It's funny, though, because Dr. Biro said you were still experiencing a fair amount of frustration."

John's face goes warm, and for the first time since she stuck her finger in him, he feels a little heat in his groin. "It's getting better," he says.

"That's great," Keller says. "If you keep this up, we'll be able to reduce the frequency of your sessions."

Crap. It's the last thing he wants. Well, he doesn't want more sessions with Keller, but when Biro gets back... "Not sure I'm there yet," John says.

Keller's eyebrows go up. "Well, that's quite a change from three weeks ago."

John feels his face go warm again. Damn it, he just fucked himself over. If she hasn't figured him out already, she will in another moment. "I'm just saying," he tries, "maybe you should consult with Dr. Biro before you make that decision."

"Oh," Keller says. "Sure, of course. You're still her patient. I'm just, you know, filling in."

That makes him feel a little better. Not good enough to get interested in what her finger's doing inside him, though, and he suddenly realizes that's a problem. If he can't get into it, he's going to be here forever. But she's not Biro, and he jerked off less than twelve hours ago.

"There we go," Keller says, sounding satisfied with herself, and John lifts his head. To his surprise, his limp dick is leaking onto his stomach. "That's it," she says. "Just let it come."

He's not coming. He's not even close. But as he watches, he leaks even more, until it's a steady dribble onto his stomach.

"You're doing fine," Keller says, like she expected this to happen. Like this is the way it's supposed to work, and John feels a sudden lurch in his stomach, wondering if this was what Biro was expecting.

No wonder she thinks he's frustrated. He reacts to her like a bomb going off, when what he's supposed to be doing, apparently, is dribbling.

Keller keeps it up for a good long time, while his dick drips and John tries not to think about what Biro must think of him. When Keller finally pulls her finger out, he feels drained in more ways than one. It's not the satisfied buzz he gets from a session with Biro. It feels more like he's lost something.

"I'll just get you cleaned up," Keller says, but when she reaches for the wipes, John realizes his hands and ankles aren't restrained.

"I got it," he says, taking the wipe from her and swiping his stomach. He can't believe he didn't notice that Keller didn't tie him up. But she didn't even ask, which means it's not a standard part of the procedure, either. Biro chose to do that on her own.

He tells himself not to read in. He tells himself that she was only being kind. But she chose to encourage his arousal. She got him hot and bothered on purpose, and she always let him come, and right now it feels like the greatest gift he's ever been given.

"You can get dressed now," Keller tells him.

"Thanks," he says, but he's not even looking at her. The only person he can think about right now is Biro.

***

The first thing he does is check in with Lorne's team. The gate tech doesn't lift an eyebrow when he asks her to dial, but Lorne sounds more than a little surprised at the unexpected contact.

"Everything's fine, sir," he says. "Kind of boring, actually. We could use a little action just to keep the men from getting stir crazy."

"Don't say that, Major," John says. "You should be concentrating on bringing everyone home in one piece."

"Doing my best," Lorne says, but he sounds even more puzzled and John decides to cut his losses.

"Glad to hear it," he says. "Sheppard out."

***

It's a long couple of days. John goes offworld with his team and ends up having to pretend Teyla's the team leader once again. It annoys them both but it gets them a trade agreement, so it's worth it in the end. But John's still feeling cranky when he gets back and discovers that Lorne's team still hasn't made it home.

He wants to see Biro. He wants to drop to his knees in front of her and beg her to top him, right here in the gateroom if necessary. It's probably a good thing she's offworld, because if she were here he'd mortify himself. And possibly undermine everything he's spent the last five years building.

He has to get a grip. He has to get some perspective. Also, he probably needs to jerk off. But he has a base to run and a bunch of tops to convince for the nine hundredth time that he really is qualified to serve as a military commander, so there's not a lot he can do about that right now.

By some fluke of chance, he's actually in Woolsey's office when Lorne's team finally shows. They have a couple of medical techs in tow, and behind them, Dr. Biro.

She looks small and pale even from a distance, her shoulders slumped like she's exhausted, and John wants to run down the stairs and offer to carry her bag for her. Instead he has to finish up with Woolsey, and by the time he's finally free, the only member of the team left in the gateroom is Lorne.

"Major," he says, coming down the stairs. "I see you got them back in one piece."

"That we did." The corners of Lorne's eye crinkle. "It was glorified babysitting, sir. No reason for concern."

In a moment, he's going to figure out John has ulterior motives. "You can never be too careful," John says. "It's always the milk runs that go sideways."

Lorne nods, but the smile around his eyes doesn't fade. "Understood."

***

When John gets up on the table the next morning, he's quivering with need. Jerking off the night before doesn't seem to have helped at all. He's hard even before Biro comes through the curtain, and when she finally shows he feels warm all over. She was gone for three days and it feels like a month.

"Good morning!" she says, and she looks like her old self. Well, maybe she's still a little tired around the eyes, but that's understandable.

"Hi," John says, drinking her in, and for a moment she just looks back at him. He knows she can see everything, but for once he doesn't care.

"Oh, hey," she says. "I'm sorry about canceling our last session. I wasn't planning to go offworld, but when I heard Dr. Beckett's clinic was being overrun with patients I couldn't say no. You were okay with Dr. Keller, I hope?"

"Sure," John lies.

Biro steps up to the table and fastens John's ankles with the velcro straps "You know what's funny?" she says. "Dr. Keller said you were doing better. As a matter of fact, she recommended reducing our sessions to once a week. But I can't say I agree with her. Not based on the current evidence."

She's looking at John's cock, bobbing taut above his stomach. He feels his face heat. "It, you know, comes and goes," he says.

"I can see that," she says, and a teasing smile curves her lips. Like she's happy to see him turned on. Like she doesn't want him to get better.

No, he's got to be reading that in. Of course she wants him to get better, or she wouldn't have tried to play matchmaker with him.

"You gonna do my wrists?" John asks, holding his hands up over his head. So it's not subtle. He doesn't even care.

"If that's what you want, I'd be happy to," she says, and she moves to the head of the bed and straps the cuffs on. She does it a little tighter than last time, John thinks. He can feel the stretch in his shoulders.

"I hope I don't have to lecture you about relaxing again," she says, rolling a condom over his cock and then pulling on a glove. "Because I would hate to stop in the middle like we did last time."

"I'll be good," John promises and he is. When she lubes up her finger and slides it inside him, he doesn't even try to fight it. He just closes his eyes and drifts.

She's not touching him like Keller. It's not that she's not professional, of course. But somehow her touch makes his whole body hum.

"There you go," she says. "It's really much better when you don't fight me, isn't it?"

"Yeah," John says softly, because it is. He feels like spaghetti, his knees splayed, his arms hanging in the cuffs, and the funny thing is that even though he's not fighting it, he's not desperate to come. He's just hanging there in space, every nerve in his body aligned to Biro's touch, basking in her indulgence. She's in total control, and he's as happy as he's ever been.

"Just let it happen," Biro says. "That's it. You're doing great, John."

He lies there, feeling the sensation build, feeling the warmth of her voice mingle with the warmth in his groin. She sounds like she approves of him. Like she likes doing it this way. And when he opens his eyes, she's not watching what she's doing, or even paying attention to his cock. She's looking at his face.

"Fuck," John says, and comes.

Biro strokes him through it like she always does, taking her time with him like he's her only patient. She waits a moment before peeling the condom off and then cleaning him slowly and carefully.

"So tell me," she says as she undoes the straps around his ankles. "Did you leave someone behind on Earth? Or have you just never found anyone on Atlantis who you felt you could submit to?"

It's a damn personal question, but John doesn't even feel a ripple of affront. "There wasn't anyone," he says. His voice comes out low and a little gravelly. "On Earth, I mean. And here I just never..."

"You never?" she prompts.

He's putty in her hands. There's no way he could refuse her anything right now, even his darkest secrets. "I think I could have, if it had been one of my team," he confesses. "But there are rules against that."

"Of course," Biro says, moving around the table to unstrap his hands. "And the rules are there for a reason, even if it does seem unfair."

"Didn't really matter," John says, still floating in the haze of afterglow. "Never wanted a top. Not until..."

He waits for her to make him finish the sentence, but she doesn't say anything. It's so unlike her that he tips his chin up and looks at her, only to find her staring at him with a peculiar expression on her face.

"Not until now," he says.

He's looking straight at her face, searching for a sign of a reaction that will give him reason to hope, so he sees it, as plain as day. For the briefest instant she winces, like his words have caused her pain.

She eases his arms down to his sides and massages them lightly. "Well," she says, after a few beats too many. "That's certainly a sign that you're making progress. Of course, the key now is to find the right top. It's not enough to find someone appealing, you realize. What's truly important is finding someone you can trust."

"I know," he says, because he does. He trusts her. He'd trust her with his life. But she winced when he said he's looking for a top now, and he has no idea what that means. All he knows is that it hurt to watch, and he doesn't want to cause her pain. He wants her to feel good, the way she makes him feel. No, better than she makes him feel.

Crap. John feels a sudden, gut-jarring wrench of realization. That's it. That's the problem with what they're doing right now. There's nothing in it for Biro.

She indulges him. She makes him feel like he's flying. She's been getting him off for weeks, and he's never done a damn thing for her. But he wants to. God, he wants to spend hours on his knees, massaging her feet or licking her ass or whatever she wants him to do.

But she's his doctor, not his top.

"Well," she says, and the note of brightness in her voice really does sound false this time. "You're good to go. We'll see you in another two days, okay?"

"Sure," he says more easily than he feels. "Two days."

***

For two days, he replays the moment in his head where he said he was looking for a top and she winced. He remembers the look on her face earlier, when he thought she didn't want him to get better. And then he remembers that there's nothing in their treatment sessions for her. She does all the work and he's the one who gets to come.

He can't change that. Not while he's her patient. But maybe he can use his time in their sessions to convince her that he's worth taking a chance on. So maybe he's not the greatest sub ever, but he could be good for her. He'd try damn hard, anyway.

Of course, that's when it occurs to him that he doesn't even know if she already has a sub. He thinks maybe she doesn't, because she said she was picky and she took him to the geek party without mentioning anyone else, but it's not proof, and there was that time when she'd been up late and wouldn't tell him why.

So he's kind of on edge when he gets to the infirmary. He's not going to screw this up. He promises himself that. But the curtain opens before he gets his feet in the stirrups, and it's Keller again.

"Crap," he says, and then realizes how that sounds. "Sorry. I mean, where's Dr. Biro? She can't have gone offworld again." He knows that, because he's been checking and rechecking the mission manifests like his life depends on it.

"I'm afraid that's not the problem this time," Keller says. "She's asked me to take over your treatment. I'm sorry, Colonel."

John feels a rushing in his head, like all of his blood is bypassing his brain. "Did she say why?" His voice sounds harsh even to his own ears.

"She didn't give a reason. She just told me she doesn't feel comfortable continuing. But she did give me this note for you."

John grabs the envelope out of Keller's hand. It's sealed, thank God. He tears it open, but it takes a few moments to get the paper upright so the letters make sense as words.

John, it says. I know this isn't fair to you, but at this point I'm not sure there's any way to be fair to either of us. I mean, sure, we could go on pretending there's nothing going on, and quite frankly it's tempting, but I think we both know that would be a lie. We have to face the facts: I promised myself -- and you -- that I'd keep our relationship professional, and I've failed.

I blame myself entirely. Well, I suppose these things are always complicated, but in any case, there's a simple solution. Dr. Keller has agreed to take over your case and provide any treatment you need. I hope you won't think too badly of me. Sincerely, Lindy Biro.

John crumples the paper in his hand. She must have seen through him. She must have put two and two together during their last session. And now he's fucked. Or rather, not fucked, which is the whole problem in the first place.

"So," Keller says, "shall we get started?"

For a moment John just looks at her. "No," he says, sliding down off the exam table. His clothes are folded neatly on a chair, and he starts dressing mechanically. "Sorry. You can note it down as 'against medical advice' or whatever. I'm not doing this anymore."

"Oh, no," Keller says. "Colonel, you can't. You were just starting to get better."

"Yeah," John says, yanking up his pants, "well, I have a new problem now, and no medical procedure is gonna solve it."

Keller folds her hands together. "If you would like to file a complaint against Dr. Biro, I can start that process immediately."

"What?" John says, caught with his t-shirt half over his head. "No. Hell, no. I don't have a complaint. She was great. She didn't do a damn thing wrong. It was all me."

"Oh, really?" Keller says, and her look of concern melts into a surprised smile. "Wait, you mean she, and you, and...wow, seriously?"

"No," John says again. He pulls on his shirt and starts doing up the buttons. "It's not what you think. Nothing happened between us. Not a damn thing."

"I see," Keller says, but she doesn't sound convinced.

"Look," John says, lacing his boots, "you can't tell anyone. I don't want to embarrass her."

"Funny," Keller says, "but I really don't think her problem is going to be embarrassment. Oh, but of course you don't need to worry. You're my patient now, and in any case you know I would respect confidentiality."

"Thanks," John says. He straightens and tugs his uniform shirt straight. "Look, you're not going to ground me, are you?" Because he hasn't forgotten how this thing started or why he was here in the first place.

"Oh, I don't think it will come to that," Keller says. "It's only a problem if you don't have a top."

John grits his teeth. "I don't have a top."

"Not at the moment, no," she says with a dimpling smile. "But I have a feeling that won't last forever."

John feels his whole face go hot. "I have to go."

Keller is still smiling as John pushes through the curtain. "Just remember," she says. "She's not your doctor anymore."

***

He makes it through his day. If his teammates notice he's distracted, they're kind enough not to give him grief about it. He keeps looking for Biro, but he doesn't see her in the mess or in the hallways. But she's not offworld. He checked this time.

He waits until an hour after the mess closes for dinner. He probably should wait longer, but he's too close to the edge. If he doesn't act now, he's pretty sure he'll explode.

For a long moment there's not so much as a sound after he rings her door chime. And then her door slides open.

"John! Wow. This is a surprise. Oh, hey, if you're here about the note, I owe you an apology. It was a coward's way out, although in my defense I truly intended--"

For the first time, he doesn't wait for her to finish. "Can I come in?"

"Oh. Sure. Of course. Come in."

He steps inside her room. It's small and neat and there are cheerful throw pillows everywhere, but John takes in no more than a moment's glance, because he's too busy sinking to his knees.

There's a moment of utter silence, and then Biro says, "Oh, John."

He's vibrating with need and panic. If she's going to reject him, it will be now. "I can be good," he says, keeping his head bowed. "I know you think I'm a pretty crappy sub, but I swear I'll do anything. I want to do anything. For you."

"John, get up," she says. "Come on. We need to talk, and I can't do it with you down there."

That doesn't sound good. It's not an out-and-out rejection, but she probably just wants to let him down easy. "No," John says, still keeping his head down.

"All right," she says, and the next thing he knows, she's crouching in front of him. "I guess I'll have to come down to your level, then."

"What?" he says. "No. You can't do that."

"Actually, I can," Biro says, sitting down and crossing her legs. "Sure, it might not be the most comfortable way to have a chat, but at least I can see your face like this."

So apparently he's proving the fact that he's the worst sub ever. "Sorry," he mutters. "Where do you want me?"

"The couch would be great," she says, climbing to her feet immediately. She holds out a hand for John, and he's weak enough to take it. Her palm feels warm in his. It makes him want to drop to his knees again.

"Right here," she says, sitting down and patting the cushion beside her.

John sits, rearranging throw pillows to give himself a little room. They're actually pretty nice pillows, big and thick and comfortable to lean against.

"That's much better," Biro says. She reaches over and touches his chin, turning his head to face her, and he doesn't resist. "I'm sorry I'm so surprised to see you," she goes on, dropping her hand. "One of these days I'm going to stop underestimating you."

John doesn't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. He can't look away from her face.

"You know what's funny?" she says. "I've never been in this position before, which, if you think about it, seems pretty unlikely, but in all honesty I'm not really the kind of top most subs are looking for."

"Their loss," John mutters.

Biro's serious expression breaks into a quick, startled smile. "My point is, I should have been prepared for this, but here we are and wow, I have to say I don't feel prepared at all."

"Look," John says, "can we cut to the chase? You don't have to sugar coat it. If you're kicking me out, do it now."

He's looking at her face so he sees it, clear as day. The same wince he saw when he told her he was looking for a top. "I should," she says. "I know it's not technically against any rules, but I made a promise to myself in medical school that I wouldn't date any of my patients, and so far, I've never broken that."

"You're not my doctor any more," John says. He's probably panicking again.

"No," she says. "I'm not."

"You didn't take advantage of me," John says. "You helped me."

She's still frowning. "Well, I gave you what I believed you needed, and of course you're not the first sub I've ever treated for sexual frustration. But I have to say, that only makes it harder, because I've never actually failed before. All of my other cases improved to the point where they no longer needed me."

"Did they find tops?" John asks.

"Well, yes," she says. "Most of them. Actually all of them, eventually, although of course I can't really take credit for that."

"You should," John says. "You got them to the point where they could start looking, right?"

"Well, yes," she says. "I mean, it's certainly not an adverse outcome, although obviously my goal is to alleviate the acute symptoms, but the thing is--"

"So you got me there, too," John says.

"--none of them ever came to me," she finishes.

For a moment they just stare at each other. John's breathing a little harder than he should be and Biro looks...crap. She looks absolutely miserable.

"Fuck," John says out loud. And then he does it. He pushes himself to his feet. "I'm sorry," he says. "I'll just..." And he turns toward the door. He's fucked up. He's hurt her by coming here and putting her in this position. He didn't mean to, but it's done, and the only thing he can do now is give her the space she obviously needs. But he's only just raising his hand to swipe the door crystals when she speaks.

"Don't go."

He whips around. She's on her feet, standing by the couch, and she still looks miserable.

He can't do anything but breathe and watch her as she comes over.

"I can't," she says. "I mean, I promised myself I wouldn't. But if I let you go now you'll find someone else to top you and I don't really think I could bear that."

John just stands there, stock still, like his feet are stuck to the floor.

"I would have said no to the others," Biro says. "Every single one of them. I would have sent them off and never had a moment's regret. But you're not really like them, and I'm pretty sure about that, because you're not like anyone I've ever met."

"I'm a crappy sub," John says, just so they have that clear. "I never had any, you know, training or anything."

"I know," she says. "And I'm really, really glad about that." And she wraps her arms around his neck and pulls his head down and kisses him.

Her mouth is warm and sure and her tongue is demanding and he's pretty sure the only reason he manages not to collapse to his knees is that she's smaller than he is and he's apparently the one holding them both up.

"Oh, God," she says, pulling back. "We can't do this. I mean, sure, I just want to tie you to the bed and do everything to you, but we need to have the talk, first."

John shivers. He still can't believe she wants him. "We can talk later," he says.

"No," she says, and her voice gets a severe tone that makes his dick jump in his pants. "I've never been an irresponsible top, and I'm not starting now. Well, okay, maybe I am starting now, but I'm not starting that way. We are going to sit down and have the talk." And she takes his wrist and tugs him back toward the couch.

He goes, because he can't deny her anything right now, but he can't help sitting too close and brushing her thigh with his and he gets his reward when she makes a helpless noise and pushes him down into the throw pillows.

Her mouth is eager and when she finally pulls back his shirt is pushed up to his chest and he's pretty sure there's a small damp spot on the front of his pants.

"Incorrigible," she says, but her eyes are warm as they linger on his belly. And then her hand comes out and touches the skin between his navel and his waistband. "You shaved," she says, her eyes flying to his face. She sounds more surprised than anything.

"Yeah," he says, feeling the heat rise in his chest. "Figured you'd like me better this way."

"I see," she says, blinking behind her glasses like he's said he's a Martian.

"You don't like it?" he asks.

"Oh, no, it's fine," she says, stroking his stomach curiously. He can't help shivering under her touch. "It's just going to take a little getting used to." When she raises her eyes to his face, her expression is serious again. "John, I need to know what you need from me. What works for you and what doesn't, and any hard limits."

"Um," he says, because she's looking at him and he's turned on and he doesn't know what the hell his limits even are anymore. "It's all good."

She frowns. "I need more than that. Well, obviously I already know you like bondage and penetration. Oh, and humiliation, of course."

John feels warm all over, but all he can do is nod and not quite look at her.

"But other things aren't quite as clear," she goes on. "You're capable of arousal and orgasm in a medical setting, but I can't determine whether that's a happy coincidence, or part of the scene for you."

"I don't," John makes himself say. "It's not about that." It's you, he wants to say, but can't.

"All right," she says. "What about pain? I know it's not necessary for you, but if it's something you'd like, I can try to work with that."

Crap. She's being so goddamn careful and it's killing him. "I can take it," he says. "I can take anything." But when he looks up again, she's frowning again.

"John, you shouldn't say things like that. There are tops who would take that as permission to do things that aren't safe."

He holds her eyes evenly. "You told me to find a top I could trust," he says. "So I did."

***

Biro starts with a piece of string. Actually, it looks more like parachute cord. She has him lean back on the bed, stark naked, while she loops it under his balls.

"It's actually kind of handy that you shaved," she says, winding the cord around the base of his cock and then down around each ball. "Keeps it from catching and pulling, and you know, I like to reserve pain for when it's intentional."

John can't help a little shiver. Despite what he told her, he's never been a big fan of being hurt, but he has a feeling that with her, it would be amazing.

Biro keeps working, wrapping him snugly but not tight enough to be uncomfortable. His skin feels stretched tight where the cord is pulling it, hot and sensitive. He can feel every brush of her fingers like a caress, and when she ties a knot at the base of his balls his cock jumps like it's begging to be touched. Biro doesn't indulge him. She just says, "Don't move," and gets up to get something from her foot locker.

A plug, John sees when she comes back. A pretty big one. He swallows, because it's been a while since he used his dildo, but he doesn't protest. They've agreed to go without a safeword -- "no" having its usual meaning -- and he doesn't want to say anything that will make her think he's getting cold feet.

"In we go," she says, and presses the lubed tip of the plug against his ass.

It slides in slowly and it hurts a little, but John doesn't let out a peep. He just relaxes as well as he can, and finally it's all the way in and he can breathe again.

"That's it. That's great, John. Now, let's make sure that stays in place." And she takes the dangling strings from beneath his balls and pulls them firmly between his legs, over the base of the plug and up the crack of his ass.

She puts a hand on his hip and rolls him up onto his side, then ties some kind of knot back there, before rolling him back down and bringing the cords in front to tie in a bow over his cock, effectively trapping it against his shaved abdomen. "There we go," she says, surveying her work. "I think that will do nicely."

He looks down. He's been tied up in a lot of different ways, but never like this. His cock and balls are straining against the cords and the plug is impossible to ignore inside him. He's free to move around all he likes, but he feels completely at her mercy. "Wow," he says.

She grins. "Thought you might like it. Now, go fetch one of those pillows from the couch. Any one will do."

So they aren't just decorative. John's cock twitches happily against the cord and he goes and fetches a thick green pillow, then places it on the floor by the bed where she's pointing.

"On your knees," she says, "and let's see what you can do with your tongue."

John drops to his knees on the cushion. The movement shifts the plug inside him and for a moment he's lost in the sensation. When he looks up, he finds her sitting on the edge of the bed in front of him, completely naked now, her knees splayed.

She leans forward and threads her fingers through his hair, guiding him forward until his face is buried in her cunt. "That's it," she says. "Nice and slow. I don't like to rush things."

It's been ages since he's given head, but some things you don't forget. He finds her clit and she leans back, bending her legs and resting her heels on his shoulders. Like he's a piece of furniture with a tongue, and the thought goes straight to his cock. His bound, hypersensitive cock.

She makes soft noises as he works and each one sounds like an order, telling him faster, harder, better. He trusts her to tell him if he's doing it wrong, but her noises just get louder, and he doesn't even care that his tongue is starting to ache. The pressure of the plug inside him and the pressure of the cord on his cock and balls are driving him mad, but this is about her.

It's finally, really, about her.

He can't help making a soft noise against her, and her hand clenches in his hair. "Wow," she says softly. "That's fantastic. You're amazing, John, just like I knew you'd be. Because you know I was thinking it. Every single time I had you on the table and you were so incredibly responsive, all I could think was having you for mine."

John whimpers and tries to speed his tongue up.

"Of course I told myself I was being selfish and unprofessional and unfair to you and you'd be horrified if you knew, but then you kept looking at me like...like...oh. Oh. Oh, God."

He feels her tremble against his tongue and then her hands tighten in his hair and she lets out a ragged gasp and he's pretty sure she's coming.

"John," she breathes, pulling his head back, "you can stop now. You were good. Very, very good."

He wipes his mouth on the back of his hand and rocks back on his heels. His cock is hard and desperate against the imprisoning cord and he's suddenly hyperaware of the plug inside him again. But he's good. He's really, really good right now.

"On the bed, now," Biro says, and John pushes himself to his feet.

His knees aren't too sore thanks to the cushion but he has some pins and needles. He stretches out next to her, hoping she won't notice, but when he looks at her face, she's smiling with a soft, unfettered delight.

She reaches to draw her fingers lightly up the shaft of his cock and he twitches all over and maybe even gasps. "Mmmm," she says. "You enjoyed that."

"Yeah," he says softly, looking down at his cock, and then he realizes. It's not just a tie; it's a test. If he'd gotten soft while he was eating her out, his cock would have slipped free of the cord.

"There are so many things I want to do to you," she says. "I mean, I realize I can't do them all right now, because that would be too much even for me, but I don't want to miss my chance, either. It's a dilemma."

John just stares at her. "Uh, that's not really gonna be a problem," he says, and her chin jerks up.

"You don't know that," she says. "We could end up being incompatible in bed. Or you could get tired of this before we have a chance to exhaust my plans, because the truth is, I have enough ideas to last a very, very long time, even if we did this every night and tried out two or three things each time."

John can't help it. His whole body shudders, and the movement drags the cord against the skin on the underside of his cock. His eyes are locked to Biro's and she's looking at him like he's the best thing ever and the next thing he knows, he's coming all over his freshly shaved stomach.

"Crap," he says, his whole body going hot with shame, but a moment later she's kissing him hard like she enjoyed watching that. So maybe he is the worst sub ever but she doesn't seem to mind too much.

"Sorry," he says when she finally gives him a little breathing room.

Her hair is a mess and her eyes are bright and he still can't believe this is real. "You do realize," she says with mock severity that's kind of ruined by the way she interrupts herself to kiss him again, "that if you have a hair trigger like this, it's going to take much, much longer to get through all of my plans."

"I'm okay with that," he says, because he can't hide anything from her right now.

He didn't think it was possible for her smile to get any brighter. He was wrong. "Well," she says, pulling back and reaching down to start untying the cord still binding his cock and balls, "I guess I have to say I am, too. I mean, I wouldn't have fallen for you in the first place if I didn't like the idea of a challenge."

He can feel his face go warm. "Hey, if that's what you're looking for, I'm your guy."

"You know," she says, "I really think you are." And her fingers are sure and deft as she frees him.