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"Rodney, put on your collar! The neighbors will think you're a whore! Again!"

The memory of his mother's voice provided just enough scorn to encourage Rodney to pick up his collar off the dresser. This was why he usually didn't take it off, no matter the itching and the temptation. It was too damn hard to put it back on, but thankfully, his mother always lurked in Rodney's memories to provide a litle incentive.

The door swooshed open, and Rodney hated to look.

"Jesus, Rodney!"

Rodney turned, collar clenched in his fist. "I had the privacy lock engaged. You know what privacy means, Major? Or did you skip that lecture in officer training?"

Nostrils flaring, Sheppard took the step inside that allowed the door to close. His eyes were on Rodney's bare neck, nothing else. Rodney didn't flatter himself that Sheppard actually cared or considered him an acceptable mate.

It was dominant conditioning, nothing else. When a dom saw a bare neck, all he, or she, saw was a chance to fuck. To rut. To brutalize without penalty. That's why whores without collars did a lively business.

Black was the color of Sheppard's collar, and it suited him. Black was reserved for dominants. Submissives wore every other color in the rainbow, and there wasn't a sub alive who couldn't tell a green collar from an aquamarine at thirty meters.

Fear skittered into Rodney's guts when Sheppard prowled two more steps. Rodney lifted the red collar in his hand and shook it at him. "Do you mind?" He used scorn to whip Sheppard back to reality. "Are you some kind of peeping dom? Get out!"

Sheppard blanched, leaning back. "I came by to get you for the staff meeting. Put it on and let's get moving." His voice didn't even tremble, and his eyes were empty of emotion now. "And I don't think the lock on your door works!"

Rodney opened the door with a thought. "Out, Major."

Frowning, Sheppard spun on his heel and left a lot slower than he'd stepped inside. Rodney waited until the door was shut to lift his red collar to his throat and push the magnetic ends together. Red for danger, back off, do not touch, and get the hell away: it was the only color Rodney had worn since he'd put away the white one of his childhood. Most kids waited until they were thirteen or fourteen to switch, but he'd gone to college at twelve. He'd had to grow up fast, learning that red meant safety. Usually.

The damn thing chafed, and Rodney had been told by a dozen doctors that he wasn't allergic to nylon. Some people preferred leather or even chain, but that was idiotic. Running a quick hand through his hair, Rodney slipped into his jacket and went to the door, taking a quick breath. He knew Sheppard would be waiting for him. They were on the same team. They worked together, killed Wraith together, and occasionally watched a movie or some such nonsense on team night. It didn't mean anything. It didn't. It couldn't.

Leaning against the far wall, Sheppard smirked at him. "Are you ready, Your Highness?"

Flirting with real anger, Rodney glared. "Some of us have choices beyond basic black."

Sheppard managed to look amused. "I have choices. I have my black Air Force collar, my shiny black one, and the black one with the little planes flying in a circle. It's hard to decide some mornings!"

The fake enthusiasm was irritating, and Rodney noticed it was the black collar with the Air Force emblem on the front. It wasn't required by the military, but doms liked to categorize people, so each branch had its own collar insignia.

"Wear the one with the pink sparkles. It suits your intelligence."

"Ouch." Sheppard opened the transporter door for them, and then pushed the circle for the tower when they were both inside. "Even I won't wear pink."

That was a given. Pink collars meant the submissive was looking for a dom to baby them. Treat them like a princess. Rodney didn't even own a pink one. No self-respecting genius submissive would. When a dom laced his black collar with pink, it meant he wanted a sub who would pamper him night and day. Sheppard probably had one in his drawer.

Stepping out of the transporter in front of Sheppard, Rodney noticed Lt. Ford waiting for them. Ford tugged on his hat. "Good morning, Colonel, Dr. McKay. Went with red again, huh?"

"Ford, McKay always wears red. Rumor is he's worn out six of them." Sheppard bumped Ford's shoulder. "So give up."

"Yes, sir." Ford managed to look sad.

They were mocking him like they always did. There was no way that Ford wanted Rodney's neck wearing the color of seeking a mate.

"I'm getting coffee," Rodney muttered, hating them for their easy companionship. They never had to worry, fret, or pray they'd chosen the right color. Contrary to rumor, Rodney was only in his second red collar. The first having been partially melted in a lab accident in Russia. He'd been damn glad he had a spare with him in that hellhole.

"Move it, McKay."

Rodney added his cream slowly, not even taking one step. Markham and Stackhouse could wait, and they did.

"Stop teasing my men, McKay." Sheppard picked up a tray of muffins. "Dr. Weir hates it when we're late."

Shrugging and refusing to stare at Markham's new collar, Rodney went towards the door. He waited until they were near her office. "They bonded? Really?"

"Really. I think gold suits him." Sheppard didn't slow down enough to let Rodney steal a muffin.

The conference room had two empty chairs, and they took them, even though Rodney preferred being near Carson. He'd always thought the gold collars that doms gave their bonded subs looked garish. Gold, however, was the safest color to wear, and he'd considered one when he was stationed at Area 51. The Marines were grabby there, even to red-collared subs.

It was illegal, of course, to wear gold if a sub wasn't actually bonded, but he'd considered the risk versus the reward several times.

"Didn't you ever want gold?" Sheppard asked.

Mortified that Sheppard would throw out such a personal question in a staff meeting, Rodney grabbed a muffin, avoiding everyone's eyes. "Are we having a meeting, or have I stumbled upon a quilting club?"

"Rodney's right. Let's get started," Weir said, as if she hadn't been interested in the answer.

Carson gave Rodney a sad look, and Rodney sipped his coffee. Gold was for fools, and he was never foolish.

The meeting droned on and on, and Rodney regretted heartily not bringing a tablet. He'd thought this was their fifteen minute meeting they usually had at the start of the week. Some time between Carson talking about bandages and Ford reading off the number of bullets they had, Rodney found himself staring at Teyla's neck.

She wore a light, silver chain, the mark of her leadership among her people. Sheppard had given it to her, explaining about their custom, and she'd bowed her head in respect. Rodney still didn't understand. Her people were smart enough not to wear collars, relying on a little thing called verbal communication to determine whether the other party was interested in sex. The Athosians might live in tents, but they were remarkably civilized.

"Rodney?" Weir asked.

"Sorry, sorry." Rodney didn't need notes to complain about his staff. He did keep it to a minimum though, finding a stopping place when Carson rolled his eyes at him.

Weir stopped fiddling with her father's watch and nodded. "Thank you. I realize this has gone on a little longer than usual, but it never hurts to have a thorough review. Now that's talk about the upcoming mission to MXR-333, or as the natives call it, Dadamar. Teyla?"

The movement of Sheppard settling deeper into his chair caught Rodney's attention. Sheppard smirked at him. Always with the smirking, and Rodney edged his chair a little further away.

"Problem, Rodney?" Weir asked.

"I'm out of coffee." Rodney shoved his chair back and got to his feet. "I need a break."

Her eyes widened a little, and he wondered if she felt her authority had just been challenged. He hoped to hell not.

"Please?" Rodney gave an inch.

"Okay, let's take ten and meet back here," she said, rising to her feet also. "Thank you, Rodney, for letting me know we'd gone on too long."

The small rebuke didn't even sting, but Rodney lowered his head in submission. "Thank you, sir." He was the first one out the door, and he didn't let the others catch up with him. In some small way, he blamed his mother for this – he was always in an odd mood after he'd spent time out of his collar.

Carson caught up to him out on a balcony off the cafeteria, sipping his coffee in peace and quiet. Rodney couldn't help but notice his pathetic friend was wearing green again. Carson had no self-respect.

"Green? Are you that desperate?" Rodney couldn't let it slide.

"I'm more worried about you." Carson reached in his pocket, dragged out a red collar, and snapped it on near the green one. "Better?"

"Much." Rodney would worry less. Carson might be actively seeking a female to dominate him, but at least no one would touch him in the meantime.

"Not everyone has had your bad experiences," Carson said in a mild tone. "I trust the people here."

"And therein lies the rub." Rodney would never make the mistake of trusting doms. "You know they can't control themselves."

"You sure woke up in a pissy mood, huh, McKay?" Sheppard strolled out onto the balcony. "Any one else you'd like to insult this morning?"

Carson hitched a small breath, and Rodney stepped in front of him. "I'm sure I'll find someone." He raised his chin, refusing to be intimidated. "Carson's wearing red now, so back off."

Sheppard lowered his head. "I'm not a woman, McKay!" he growled.

"Huh." Rodney put a world of disbelief in that one word. He touched his earbud. "Zelenka, meet me in the conference room with two tablets. If I have to suffer through these morons, so do you." He clicked off the stream of Czech insults.

Turning back to Carson, Rodney practically crowded him. "Not scared?" he whispered.

"He's a tad intimidating when he's mad at you!" Carson protested.

"Sorry, Carson." Sheppard went to the rail and stared out at the ocean. "I forget not everyone wears Rodney's red suit of armor."

For some reason, the comment pushed Rodney into anger. He opened his mouth to flay Sheppard alive, and Carson put a tentative hand on Rodney's arm. The touch, and Rodney was never touched outside of medical treatment and lab accidents, jolted him physically and mentally. He could only stare into Carson's eyes, wondering what the hell he'd done to deserve such treatment.

Carson's hand fluttered away. "Let's head back to the meeting."

"Yeah," Sheppard said, and he was gone like the wind.

Almost numb, Rodney got another cup of coffee before going back to the conference room. Zelenka, who might be receiving a chocolate bar, had saved him a seat far away from Sheppard, and they huddled together over the tablets. Rodney could've sworn he could still feel the imprint of Carson's hand on his arm, but that was ridiculous.

"What did you do to make Weir angry?" Zelenka whispered.

"I needed more coffee." Rodney rubbed his arm vigorously, shooting Carson a harsh look. Carson bit his lower lip and managed to look sorry about it. Rodney would consider forgiving him.

The meeting started again, and this time, Rodney only paid cursory attention, preferring his tablet and the power equations. He did notice that Zelenka took careful notes of everything Weir said, which was no shock. Zelenka still held out hope that Weir would glance his way. It was ridiculous and pathetic. She played with other women, not men, and certainly not lowly scientists.

"Do you agree, Rodney?" Weir asked.

Shifting in his chair, Rodney scanned the notes with his usual speed. "I hate to go out on a limb for this one. The database indicated the presence of a lab, but it was ten thousand years ago and they might've been studying crops for all we know."

"Dadamar is unusually fertile." Teyla nodded, smiling. "We should make a good trade for our medical supplies."

"We do our best to keep Rodney fed." Sheppard shared a grin with Ford.

Rodney was used to it. Their stupid insults didn't affect him in the least. He contented himself with scowling and looking solely at Weir so she would know that he hated them. He did too. Stupid doms.

"I think we all like to eat." Weir tossed Rodney a small apology for their behavior. "Okay, meeting adjourned. Make sure to have your usual staff meetings and send me reports."

Everyone nodded, and while they were being idiots, Rodney used Zelenka as a shield to get out of the conference room and head to his lab. He had wasted more than enough of the day talking about nothing.

*********

Sheppard watched him go and might've licked his lips at the rear view McKay presented. An ass like that needed to be owned, by him specifically.

"Major? A word?"

Sitting back down, Sheppard raised his eyebrows. "The meeting went well."

She smiled like a diplomat. "Yes, in that McKay didn't start yelling. I want you to claim him, or leave him alone. Is that understood?"

"He only wears red," Sheppard said, not quite believing his ears. He'd never been ordered to pursue a submissive before in his entire career.

"The constant tension between you two is bad for our expedition's dynamic." Weir glanced in the direction of Sheppard's groin. "Claim him, or leave him alone."

"Yes, sir," Sheppard said automatically, responding to the command, but he didn't appreciate being ordered about like a teenage dom with a visible hard-on. "It may take awhile."

Now she narrowed her eyes. "Then stop taunting him. Now."

He gave her a cocky grin. "Take a man's fun away, why don't ya?" Before she could order him around any further, he eased to his feet. "Excuse me, sir. I have a submissive to pursue."

"Good luck."

Sheppard didn't answer, strolling out to stargate command. In all honesty, he was fairly sure that McKay hated him and that there was no way in hell to get that red collar off him. Sheppard did like a challenge though. He slid his boot up on the rail and stared mindlessly down at his men.

Leaving McKay alone wasn't an option. It was too damn much fun to tease him, watch him squirm. It didn't help that McKay had some sort of infatuation with Teyla. He spent far too much time staring at her. Sheppard had wanted to kick him in the shin once or twice during that meeting.

Flashing back to the memory of McKay's bare neck, Sheppard licked his lower lip and made up his mind. He'd make an effort, maybe even be nicer, and show McKay that being owned was better than hiding behind red all his life.

Decision made, Sheppard turned and nearly bumped into Teyla. She smiled and said, "Major, I have a favor to ask."

"You got it. Whatever it is." Sheppard owed her more than she would ever ask for.

Her smile didn't dim. "I would like to return to my people until our mission to Dadamar, and I'd like Dr. McKay to accompany me."

Six reasons to shout 'no' at her flashed through Sheppard's mind. He managed to grit his teeth and say, "I don't think McKay will go."

"I spoke to Dr. Weir, and she agreed. I was hoping you'd take us in a jumper."

He wanted to interrogate her. Demand answers. Did she have feelings for McKay? Had McKay asked to go? What the hell was going on? "Teyla..."

"I know you do not like him out of your sight, so this is a true favor. I will take excellent care of him," Teyla interrupted. "You have my word."

Frustrated and half-angry, Sheppard shrugged, trying to act as if he didn't care. "Ask him. He'll say no, but I'll fly you over any time you want."

"Excellent." She bowed her head slightly. "I will meet you in the jumper bay in an hour." She walked away, heading for the transporter. Sheppard crossed his arms, trying not to glare after her. He was sure she didn't want McKay as a submissive. It wasn't possible. Teyla and the Athosians weren't like that. They were all neither dom nor sub and very vanilla. Sheppard didn't see how they ever had sex.

"Sir?" Ford sidled up.

"I'm taking Teyla to the mainland. You can ride along, if you want." Sheppard would bet the family jewels that McKay wasn't going.

********

Staring at her was very non-productive. Rodney blinked. "What?"

"Please come with me to the mainland. Halling and I wish to speak to you," Teyla said.

Zelenka made a random noise like he'd had an orgasm at the thought of being alone with Teyla, and Rodney threw a marker at him without looking. "Me?"

"Please. Just until we go off-world." Teyla smiled, and Rodney lost whatever argument he was going to muster. She looked him in the eye. "Should I help you pack a bag?"

"Uh, no." Rodney gave up on the reasons he should stay here. "Are you sure you don't mean Sheppard?"

"We are very sure." Teyla moved her hand like she might touch him. The Athosians were like that, touchy feely, but Rodney saw her change her mind. He swallowed hard, wishing she could touch him without him freaking out. She smiled. "Rodney?"

Blushing, he decided to go with her. It wasn't reasonable, and it'd put him behind, but he could use a break from Sheppard. Rodney turned to Zelenka. "Keep everyone working. I'll fix everything when I get back."

Zelenka snorted. "Go with Teyla. She might teach you a few manners."

"When we come back, she can work on your math!" Rodney grabbed up a spare tablet, and a few odds and ends that would make visiting a village with no electricity easier. He'd go, but he wasn't going to stop working. Teyla smiled at him good-naturedly and didn't protest the time spent. They swung by Rodney's quarters, and he threw a few clothes in his mission pack.

"Gun?" He wasn't going off-world, but the mainland wasn't all that safe.

"It is prudent." Teyla's concession didn't fill Rodney with confidence that the mainland was any safer than he thought it was. "Ready?"

"I hope so." Rodney knew she'd tell him what was going on when they were with Halling, and not one minute before. He dithered for a moment over wearing his boots but decided to stick with his runners.

After strapping on his gun and stopping by the cafeteria for a fistful of power bars, Rodney frowned. "Does Sheppard know we're going?"

"He is taking us there." Teyla sounded serene. "I believe we are ready."

Now was the time to bolt back for the safety of his lab. He'd had enough jokes and putdowns for one day. He flashed back to Sheppard, staring hungrily at Rodney's bare neck, and slowed his step.

"We could get someone else to fly us?" Rodney asked in a small voice. He was ignored, and too soon they were walking up the ramp into the puddle jumper. Sheppard swiveled in the pilot's seat, and his look of sheer disbelief hit Rodney hard.

"You owe me five bucks, Major," said Ford from the co-pilot's position.

Teyla slapped the ramp close. "I believe we are ready." The look she gave Rodney meant sit down, and he did that.

Now was the time they usually snarked and complained at each other. They were a team, but Rodney couldn't think of a thing to say. Of course, this wasn't a mission. He eased out a long breath and fumbled out a power bar to munch.

Ford kept shooting everyone little looks, and that was probably what broke Sheppard's silence.

"Teyla, what's this all about?" Sheppard's eyes were dark, and he looked a little pissed.

"Halling and I wish to speak to Dr. McKay. Surely your rules about submissives aren't so strict that Dr. McKay is forbidden to meet with us." Teyla brought her hand up to her silver collar and removed it with a tug. "Ah, that is better."

Rodney actually swallowed hard. "No one owns me," he managed to say.

"You're on my team," Sheppard growled. "And the lead scientist on Atlantis. I just worry is all."

Silence greeted that statement, and Rodney was sure he saw Ford roll his eyes.

"Submissives need to be protected, Teyla," Ford said.

Saying anything to that stupid statement was a bad idea, and Rodney's mouth was full of power bar anyway.

"There are several Marines who wear red collars who are quite good at taking care of themselves," Teyla said. She tucked her silver collar in her bag. "Tell me again why I do not wear red?"

"Because you're a dom. Technically." Ford smiled wide. "And yes, Marines are always tough, even if they're subs, but McKay is a scientist. Major Sheppard has to watch out for him."

"Don't make it sound like such a terrible job," Sheppard said.

Rodney had heard this all a thousand times before, and he never liked any of it. "Sheppard should mind his own business. I'm a free sub." He'd said it often enough. One of these days, they might listen.

"Your society is much more complicated than mine." Teyla's tone of voice was bland.

That was about the end of the conversation. Ford tried to get something going, but it fell flat, and about the time Rodney was ready to curse at someone, they landed. The small village was a short hike away, and Teyla moved quickly to drop the ramp.

Sheppard surged up fast before Rodney could even get out of his seat.

"Ford and I wouldn't mind a stroll." Sheppard's face was intense.

Teyla stood up very straight. "Please inform Dr. Weir that we appreciate her allowing Dr. McKay to visit."

Rodney noticed that neither of them were backing down. He eased out of his seat and picked up his bag. He hated that he wasn't sure what to say or do.

"Dr. McKay, do you wish to accompany me?"

Before Rodney could say yes or no, he glanced up into Sheppard's eyes. It was a mistake. The biggest he'd ever made in his life. He'd just asked for permission, and by the slow grin that broke out, Sheppard knew it.

"No! Just, no. Sheppard, go away. Take G.I. Joe with you." Rodney hurried out of the jumper, praying Teyla was right behind him. He couldn't seem to catch his breath, and he couldn't believe how stupid he was. Sheppard could take that one look as an invitation to do any number of things that Rodney didn't want.

Teyla rushed and got in front of Rodney. "Before we go to the village, I must greet you in the tradition of my people."

Sheppard practically growled, and Rodney rounded on him. "I'm going with her. My collar is still red! Are you an idiot? Go back to Atlantis!"

"She's going to touch you!" Sheppard protested.

Rodney had seen it before and thought he could live through it. "I'm not yours!"

"You are. You're just still arguing about it," Sheppard gloated. "Fine. Go, but I'll be back, and we'll finish this conversation." He strode off into the jumper, and they were gone before Rodney could yell something rude after him.

"Rodney?"

"Can't he see that I don't want him?" Rodney wasn't really asking her, just the universe in general.

Teyla approached until she was directly in front of him. "You looked to him."

Rubbing his face, still unable to believe it, Rodney groaned. "I know."

"We will discuss it later. Come, be welcome in my village." Teyla brought her hands up, and even though Rodney thought he was ready, he wasn't. He stood in her embrace, forehead pressed to hers, trying not to drop to his knees or pass out from no oxygen in his lungs. She pulled away. "Rodney?"

"I'm okay." Rodney wasn't. He shuddered out a breath, feeling off balance. "I haven't wanted to be touched in years."

"Everyone needs touch." Teyla sighed. "Your society is so very restrictive. While you are with us, relax, do not worry about sex."

That didn't seem possible. "But what if someone wants to hurt me?"

"They would ask your permission before touching you in any fashion. You have my word." Teyla smiled and reached up to gently brush a finger along his collar. "You could even remove this. None of my people understand it anyway."

He stared longingly at Teyla's own bare neck, wanting that. As far as he knew, he was the only sub who removed his collar to shower because he loved the feel of it gone. He wanted it gone. It was his dirty, little secret. Putting it back on in the morning, facing the world collared like an animal, always made him grouchy, and today had been worse than usual.

"Whores don't wear collars," Rodney said, not believing his own words.

Teyla shrugged. "Perhaps they are smarter than the rest of your people."

Angry at his own cowardice when faced with what he wanted, Rodney grabbed his collar and yanked it off. The magnets separated with a click, and he stuffed the thing in his pocket. A sense of euphoric stupidity overwhelmed him. It was what he wanted, and it scared the hell out of him. Doms were morons, and he couldn't trust a one of them. He looked at her wildly, needing some sort of comforting words.

"I'm an idiot. I'll get used to it being gone, and then putting it back on will be terrible!"

"You have a rash. Come." Teyla started down the trail with no further talking, and Rodney itched his neck lightly before rushing after her. She set a quick pace. "You should not let your life be bound by other's expectations."

"That's easy to say when you live in the woods in a tent!" Rodney trudged along behind her. The sun shined, a breeze blew, and small animals chittered here and there, but it was all blocked out by the weird feeling on Rodney's neck. It was like when he took his hat off after wearing it all day, except ten times better. "Really? A rash?"

"Yes, but I'm sure Charin will have something for it." Teyla slowed, hopped over a log, and flashed him a smile. "Would you like to race?"

"Absolutely not." But Rodney saw her enthusiasm at returning home. "Oh, fine. Run ahead."

She was gone in a blink, and Rodney sat down on the log to have a drink of water. He couldn't begin to understand why he'd been dragged out here, and he'd never admit that it was a nice day. His neck itched again, and he tugged the red collar out of his pocket where it'd been digging into his leg. He hated it. Hated. And he didn't remember ever hating anything else except stupidity.

Some emotion he didn't understand swept over him and he got to his feet, throwing the collar as far as he could and refusing to track where it landed. "Good riddance!"

Of course, now he was screwed, literally and figuratively, because Sheppard would come back in the jumper, see Rodney's bare neck, and drag him off for a mating worthy of any Neanderthal. Grimacing, Rodney got moving again towards Teyla's people. He'd fight Sheppard off with a stick, if it came to that.

********

For some reason, everyone got out of his way as Sheppard stomped through Atlantis, heading for the firing range.

Rodney belonged to him now. Rodney had made the choice. Sheppard should've dragged him back to Atlantis by his hair, but Teyla had made sure that was impossible. Sheppard would never insult her, and she knew it. For some damn reason, Teyla needed Rodney at the village. Sheppard would just have to wait.

Slamming a new clip home, Sheppard concentrated on head shots. He hated waiting. Rodney should've given in months ago, instead of wearing that damn red collar every damn day, every damn minute of the day. Until this morning.

Sheppard put the gun down and adjusted his hard cock in pants. He'd never wanted to bite a bare neck as much as he did Rodney's. For one split second, he'd had some hope that Rodney felt the same, and then he'd waved that stupid red collar at him.

Like waving red in front of a bull, and Sheppard had almost lost control then and there. He was still embarrassed that he'd ask Rodney about a gold collar in a staff meeting. Everyone must've thought he'd gone crazy.

If Sheppard had any self-respect, he'd go after any of the number of subs in the city who wore blue collars. But that would be too damn easy. He couldn't do that. No, he had to fixate on the one sub in the city who didn't want him, didn't want anyone. Rodney didn't even appear to want sex. All the man did was work.

Luring him out of the lab to do anything fun was practically impossible. Sheppard used the excuse of 'team' lunches, movies, dinners constantly, or he'd never see Rodney at all.

But there in the jumper, Rodney had looked to him. Made the choice to ask permission, and it was all over but the claiming now. Sheppard re-loaded his gun again and holstered it. He'd go be miserable doing paperwork and schedules.

********

Stepping from the safety of the trees into the clearing where the bulk of the village lay was the hardest thing Rodney had done in recent memory. Intellectually, he knew no one would pounce on him, but his neck was bare, and people were staring at him. He raised his chin, scanned for Teyla, and got ready to run if needed.

"Dr. McKay!" Jinto hurtled towards him, pulling up short at the last minute. "Did you bring candy?"

"No." But Rodney dug in his pocket, finding nothing but lint. "Teyla ate the last one."

Jinto whipped around and ran off towards a large tent. Rodney followed, assuming the rugrat was going to complain to Teyla, and there she was, smiling and laughing at Jinto's antics.

Unsure, feeling awkward, almost naked, Rodney tried not to whine. "Where do you want me to put my stuff?" For the life of him, he couldn't remember why he'd agreed to come on this trip, yet here he was, neck bare, waiting for any number of bad things to happen. Even Teyla wouldn't be able to save him when Sheppard swooped in with his puddlejumper and claimed him.

It sounded so primitive.

"This way," Teyla said and pulled back a flap on the large tent. Rodney ducked inside and put his backpack on a pallet piled with furs and blankets. It wasn't a prescription mattress, but it was better than the dirt he'd slept in a time or two on missions. She waited for him outside. "I am surprised Dr. Beckett has not treated your rash."

"It's all in my head." Rodney nearly smiled at her obvious confusion. "I'm not allergic to collars. Or so they say. I scratch myself."

Teyla stepped close and peered up at him. "Then perhaps you shouldn't wear it."

"In a perfect world," Rodney muttered. He leaned over and dug out his tablet. "Now, why am I here?"

"Several reasons, but first, we should visit Charin." Teyla led the way to another tent, set more in the center of the village, and Rodney suffered through an application of something smelly to the itchy patch of skin on his neck. The old lady's touch was incredibly light, nothing more than a caress, but Rodney had to control himself from flinching away. His reaction wasn't reasonable. He knew that, and he couldn't help himself.

"There. It'll heal." Charin smiled and patted him on the shoulder. "Teyla thinks a lot of you."

"I have no idea why." Rodney eased back so she couldn't touch him again, not that he was worried about her bearing him to the floor or anything ridiculous like that.

Teyla and Charin insisted on feeding him first, and Rodney agreed without a fight. Charin was an excellent cook and believed in big servings. People wandered in, joined them, moved in and out, and Rodney tried to relax. He really did.

Finally, Teyla caught him by a twitching hand. "No one will harm you."

He believed her, staring at where she had hold of him, but she could never understand. "I know. It's... a lifetime of worry."

She tilted her head, releasing him. "Is there no place on your world where people do not wear collars?"

He shook his head, reaching for another piece of bread. "Some places are much, much worse than the United States and Canada. In China, subs are property, bought and sold, collared with iron."

"What if a person is both?" Teyla didn't look at him as she said it, and that gave him time to swallow and consider his answer.

"No such thing, or so the pyschologists tell us. One facet is always more dominant." Rodney thought they were all full of bullshit. "My mother could put me on my knees with a look." He tried to chuckle, like it was a joke.

Teyla avoided his eyes, getting up to get another pitcher of water. They ate and drank in silence until Rodney couldn't take it anymore. "Why am I here?"

"Because we need your help." Teyla paused. "And after the trouble with Sergeant Bates, we are afraid."

"That wasn't your fault with the whole necklace thing. Bates was out of line." Rodney had never liked Bates and hadn't been sorry when he'd turned up dead.

She shrugged, and Halling ducked into the tent, and Rodney sat up a bit straighter. Now things were going to get interesting.

********

Prowling the halls of Atlantis didn't do anything except make the subs nervous, but Sheppard was too wound up to sleep. He ended up in the cafeteria, nursing a cup of coffee and trying to plan out his strategy.

If he were smart, he'd push McKay down, cut the stupid red collar off, and make him face the truth. But there was no way Sheppard was dumb enough to do that. McKay might kill him in his sleep.

"Major?" The sub knelt near Sheppard's boots. He was wearing a flamboyantly purple collar with sparkles. "Please."

Rubbing his face, Sheppard wondered if Ford had sent this sub at him. To take the edge off. Keep the commander happy. McKay would never know, and Sheppard suspected that McKay wouldn't care either.

Everyone else on base would know within the hour. Sheppard shook his head. "Beat it." He didn't watch the young man leave because the sub had a nice ass, almost as good as McKay's, and that made Sheppard sigh in frustration.

What was Teyla doing with McKay?

And when was the earliest Sheppard could get them without making her angry?

********

They didn't tell Rodney. They showed him. One villager after another sat down across from him. They all looked nervous, but after a nod from Teyla, they would pull something out of a pocket, or a purse, and in one case, a backpack.

A treasure trove of Ancient items, and Rodney grew a little light-headed from joy. He understood why they'd hidden them after the whole Bates incident. They had understandedly been afraid of being accused of working with the Wraith, and he was strangely touched that Teyla trusted him enough to share this wealth with him.

"We are worried that there is another beacon among us," Teyla said, poking at a random piece. The table top was thick with objects, and Rodney wanted to load them up, haul them back to his lab, and hoard them.

"I haven't seen any energy readings like that yet, but Sheppard's not here to cause trouble," Rodney said. He spotted a piece that he recognized and picked it up. "This is a burnt out personal shield."

Teyla nodded. "I recognize it as well."

Rodney still took some readings and made a few notes. It was a slightly different configuration than the last one he'd seen. "I have to ask." He really did. "Can I, and by that, I mean...?"

"Halling and I do not want any items with power in our camp. We feel it is too dangerous."

Relieved, Rodney nodded. "You'd be right. There's so much we don't know." He hummed happily, wishing he'd brought a few more tools. "Would you organize them by size, and then we'll make a pile of the ones we know are dead?"

"And I will return them to their owners." Teyla began to sort, but she must have seen the wistful look on Rodney's face. "You would not study them, correct?"

"Probably not." Rodney sighed. He had so many things to do, and these small broken bits wouldn't tell him much of anything. "I can take the good ones back to Atlantis, right?"

"We would appreciate it." Teyla made orderly rows, and Rodney immersed himself in the work, answering in monosyllabic grunts and accepting all food and drink that was put near him. When someone lit a few lamps, he blinked in surprise and sat up straight, stretching his back. His bladder nudged him, and he reluctantly got to his feet, taking a long stretch. Teyla smiled. "I had begun to wonder if you would ever emerge."

"Bathroom? Ditch? Port-a-potty?" Rodney bounced a little on his toes. "And don't let anyone touch a thing!"

"I will stand guard," Teyla promised. "Halling will accompany you. It is very dark."

"Really?" Rodney wasn't going to stand around and discuss it, and he followed Halling without delay. The silence was awkward as he got the job done, and he hurried back to the tent and Teyla. She plied him with more food and drink and then insisted he sleep.

"Teyla," Rodney whined, just wanting to work.

She frowned and that ended his argument. "Come. We will return to your tent. No one will touch the table. You have my word."

Groaning, Rodney powered down his tablet. He had one more day of battery life, and then he was done whether he liked it or not. He took a quick count. "I'll be done by lunch tomorrow."

"We appreciate your efforts on our behalf." Teyla moved close as they went out into the dark, and he gasped softly as she took his arm. "This way."

He nodded, made his legs follow her, and tried not to think about sex, submission, or how hot her hand was on his arm, through his jacket. "I, well, I'm glad you trusted me with this."

She smiled and pulled his tent flap aside. "You are a friend to the Athosians. Rest, sleep well. No one will disturb you."

Her hand dropped away, and while he knew the answer, he had to ask her. "You're not interested in me, right? Because, even though I think you're great, and I'd kneel for you in a heartbeat, I'm fairly sure Sheppard thinks I'm his, or some such stupidity."

Teyla smiled. "Major Sheppard made his intentions towards you clear some time ago."

"He did?" Rodney had a hard time believing that. "Usually he makes fun of me." He wasn't sure he even liked Sheppard on most days. "I'm not certain why I'm on his team."

"Because you are invaluable." Teyla moved further inside and lit a small lamp. "He seeks you out often. Isn't that a sign of courtship?"

"I'm really not good at this stuff. I thought he was enjoying torturing me." Rodney had tried not to think about it most days. He sat down on his pallet and toed off his shoes. "He makes me nervous."

Teyla smiled down at him. "Sleep. We can discuss this more tomorrow."

"Sure." Rodney waited until she was gone before securing the flap and getting comfortable under the blankets. He tucked his hands under his chin and let himself think about Sheppard.

The dom was infuriating. Mouthy, smart, sarcastic, pushy: those characteristics were just the start. And scary. Sheppard was very scary. Rodney caught his breath at the pain he knew Sheppard would inflict on him. Sex would be just the beginning. There would be discipline – Rodney knew his shortcomings very well and an inability to keep his mouth shut was one of them. There would be bondage. The thought of Sheppard wielding ropes and chains made Rodney swallow hard.

Sheppard could even take away Rodney's job, not that he would. Rodney hoped not, at least. He rolled to his other side, burrowed further down and groaned softly. One look. That's all Rodney had given Sheppard.

And that one look was going to cost Rodney everything.

********

Moving his soapy hand down to his cock, Sheppard shut his eyes. The things he wanted to do to Rodney's ass were probably illegal in some countries. He kept his touch light, not wanting to rush, but he knew what Rodney's bare neck looked like now.

The marks he'd leave there would be visible under Rodney's new collar for days. Sheppard's collar. The gold one that he'd carried for years, hoping to find someone he wanted.

Wanting Rodney didn't make a lot of sense. There were better subs, more handsome, more fit, and certainly more willing. Sheppard sped up his hand a little, picturing Rodney underneath him, finally wanting it. Finally aching for it. Aching for cock.

"Yeah," Sheppard whispered and came all over the shower wall. The water washed it away, and he sagged against the cool tile. "Not long now."

********

Sunlight and itching woke Rodney up, and he took a second to remember where he was. Then he stretched, scratched his neck gently, and groaned while he sat up. He was getting too old to sleep on anything but his prescription mattress.

The thought of all those Ancient devices got him up and moving, but he did wish the sun weren't so happy to see him. He hadn't even had coffee yet. Kids ran past, laughing and throwing sticks at each other, and for some stupid reason, he stopped and really looked at Teyla's village. It wasn't something he ever did, noticing people. He mostly kept his head down and worked, feeling safer that way.

Nine missions off-world and not once had he ever taken a hard look at the people, more concerned about surviving to go home to his lab.

No collars glinted in the sun. No subs stood back, head down, worried about everything. A couple strolled by, laughing, hands entwined, and Rodney wondered what was different until he realized there was no leash. No overt dominance. A feeling of despair crept over him, and he hated his life.

"Dr. McKay?" Teyla asked, coming up fast.

"I'm fine," Rodney said automatically. He put his hands on his hips and tried to look sure of it, but his world view was tipping on its side. Two men started a fire nearby, laughing and joking, and Rodney sighed. "Is it wrong to want that?"

"No." Teyla once again caught him by the arm, squeezing. "Your neck looks awful. Does it hurt?"

Startled, Rodney put his hands up to his neck. "Ow." He had a feeling he knew what that was all about. "Allergic reaction to the salve. I have very sensitive skin."

Teyla eyed him. "I believe you."

"Now." Rodney grinned.

She laughed and returned the smile. "We will avoid Charin, if at all possible."

"God, yes." Rodney made sure not to scratch. That always made it worse. If he were on Atlantis, he'd be beating down Carson's door, but he wasn't, and he had a job to finish.

"Rodney, you can have that kind of relationship with Major Sheppard," she said, changing the subject back.

He stared at her in what he thought was sheer disbelief. "Have you met him?" he demanded.

"Yes. Have you?" Her eyebrow twitched up. "Come. We should eat. Do you want to return to Atlantis now?"

"I want to finish. Give me until lunch." Rodney saw her surprise, but he was sure. This was important. He'd finish and then he'd straight for the infirmary. "I do, however, need coffee."

"I made sure we had some for your visit." Teyla led the way back to the tent, and Rodney wasted no time. The coffee got him moving faster, and the food helped him forget the itching. Item after item went into his database, and he checked and double-checked for any suspicious power source. There was no room for error.

Teyla returned the duds to their owners. Rodney ended up with a tidy stack that he wanted to investigate further, and two that he was sure Sheppard could initialize since they stubbornly refused to accept Rodney's gene. They were both set into pieces of jewelry, and he had some hope they were personal shields.

"If these are dead, I'll make sure you get them back." Rodney would try not to break them, but no promises. He got up from the bench and groaned at his aches. "I should get my bag."

"I'll find something for these." Teyla got up also with a stretch. "Is it necessary to tell Dr. Weir about this?"

"She shouldn't ask." Rodney hoped not. He was a shitty liar. "Let's try to stuff everything in my bag so there aren't any questions right away."

"Good idea." Teyla walked with him as he got ready to leave. "I'll call Atlantis on my radio."

He nodded, not looking forward to returning. While she did that, he re-packed his bag, making space for the doo-dads, and then went to get everything, including his abandoned gun. It was only a little past lunch, and he'd eaten. He didn't want to sit on that bench again in the near future, so he hefted his pack and went out to the communal fire. Passing people thanked him and smiled, and he tried to act casual. He'd been here for almost two days and no one had even looked at his neck, made fun of him, or tried to grab his ass.

Teyla's village was a nice place. No technology to speak of, but he wouldn't resist coming here again.

"They will be here in twenty minutes."

"Damn." Rodney had the crazy thought that he should scour the trees for his collar. His neck hurt and itched, but he had no wish to be raped before he got to the safety of the infirmary. "I have to face Sheppard."

"He will behave." Teyla narrowed her eyes. "You must be firm with him."

"Firm. Right." Rodney hoped he didn't have a panic attack. "I can do this."

"You can. Tell him what you're thinking. He respects you."

Rodney stared at her. "You're joking."

"Rodney," Teyla said, putting a wealth of meaning into his name. "He will not hurt you."

"Again, I'm not sure you've met him." Rodney tried to scratch his neck, but Teyla pushed his hand away. He nodded, and they walked together towards the place where Sheppard liked to land his jumper.

Trying not to fidget, Rodney walked slower and slower the further they went along. Teyla was two steps ahead of him when they got to the clearing, and his hind brain kept nudging him to run far away. He took several deep breaths and clutched his bag closer. He was not scared, not at all. He was a free sub, and Sheppard couldn't make him do anything.

Right.

He was an idiot for throwing away his collar. His mother was somewhere laughing her ass off, and he was sure he was hyper-ventilating.

Maybe he could fake a heart attack.

"Breathe, Rodney."

"Yes, sir." Rodney made his lungs work, concentrating on that.

The jumper arrived before Rodney ran off screaming into the forest, but it was close. Sheppard must've pushed the engines to get them here so fast. There was a tiny tremble in Rodney's hand when the ramp started to descend, and it broke into a full-blown shake when Sheppard came down with no hesitation in his stride.

Teyla took two small steps to stand in front of him. "Rodney requires medical attention."

"I trusted you with him!" Sheppard growled. "Did you claim him?"

"Of course not. It is not the way of my people." Teyla rolled her eyes. "It is a small matter of his allergies."

Rodney didn't like being discussed while he was standing there, but Sheppard's voice made his knees all wobbly. "Can we go now?"

Sheppard managed to get Teyla out of the way without touching her, and his eyes raked over Rodney's body. "What the hell?"

"I have sensitive skin, which you'd know if you ever listened to me." Rodney felt like a piece of meat on display, and he angrily stepped by, going inside the jumper. "Infirmary? Now?"

"You're not walking around Atlantis without a collar!" Sheppard shut the hatch behind Teyla, ignoring the way she rolled her eyes at him. Rodney sat on the bench and tucked his bag close. Sheppard stood over him for far too long. "Where is your collar?"

"None of your business. I'm not wearing it. Get over it." Rodney waved at the pilot's seat. "Do your flying thing and get us to Atlantis before the rash covers my entire body!" He kept his eyes down and refused to look at him.

"Damn it." Sheppard moved to the pilot's seat, and Teyla took shotgun. Rodney did not cower in the back, absolutely not, but he thought about it. He felt naked, stripped of protection, and it would've been easy to blame Teyla. She glanced back at him and smiled encouragingly, and he gave up on that.

"Tell me what happened," Sheppard demanded.

Teyla did so in a quiet voice, and Rodney let her talk. His mouth was dry, and he'd save his words for later when he had to start yelling. The trip didn't take near long enough, and Sheppard alerted Carson that they were on the way before the ramp fully opened.

"Let's use the back hallways," Sheppard said.

"No." Rodney couldn't move fast enough to get ahead of him. Teyla peeled off in the direction of her quarters, and Rodney wished he could do the same. People started stopping to stare, and two Marines actually had the nerve to move towards him. Sheppard's glare sent them away.

"I'll get you a red collar while you're with Carson." Sheppard kept his hand near his gun.

"No, thank you." Rodney lifted his chin, feeling as if he were signing his death warrant, and it was all Teyla's fault. "Why don't you spend your time sending out a memo that I don't have a collar, but I have a gun and the will to use it?"

"McKay, don't be an idiot." Sheppard grabbed him by the arm, but Rodney jerked away. "It's not safe."

"Tell everyone to grow up!" Rodney still couldn't meet Sheppard's eyes. He rounded the last corner and made it to the safety of the infirmary.

Carson's eyes blew wide. "Rodney, lad, did you hate the collar so much you tried to remove it with citrus?"

"Very funny." Rodney kept his back to Sheppard. "Where to?"

"Over there." Carson pointed. "Major Sheppard, have you--?"

"No, he hasn't, and I want him gone!" Rodney interrupted, abruptly pulling the sheet around the gurney. He didn't listen to Carson shoo Sheppard away, instead finding a spot for his precious backpack and then stripping off his jacket.

"Shirt too," Carson said. "He'll be back, you know."

"I know." Rodney yanked off his T-shirt, wincing. "When I got there, I had a small rash from the collar. Charin put something on it, and... boom."

"Ouch." Carson began a tentative examination. "A rash from the collar, huh?"

"Yes. I was not being a hypochondriac. It was red and itchy. Teyla pointed it out." Rodney wanted to make sure Carson understood that it hadn't been imaginary. "I'm done with collars. I hate them."

"I'm thinking we'll get a brain scan as well, because you've gone daft!" Carson's mouth fell open. "This from the man who is always reminding me to wear red!"

"Well, excuse me if I worry about you!" Rodney flinched away from Carson's probing hand. "Ow!"

"Good to see that hasn't changed." Carson took Rodney's blood pressure and temperature, giving him several looks that were a mixture of sympathy and incredulity. "You have a mild fever, which doesn't surprise me. Are you hallucinating? Seeing things?"

Rodney lowered his head into his palms and sighed. He could back down. Strap a collar on again and go about his business. His mother would’ve demand it of him. He had spent a lifetime conforming to society's idiocy. What was another thirty years or so?

"Rodney?"

"No." Rodney raised his head and looked Carson in the eye, making up his mind for the last time. He was a genius, an innovator, and a creator, and he was not going to be bound any longer. "I hate it. I'm done with it."

"We can try different types of collars. Find one that doesn't itch." Carson lifted Rodney's chin with a gloved hand. "Something with a sheepskin backing perhaps."

"It's always sheep with you Scots." Rodney could see that Carson didn't understand, but he'd figure it out eventually. "Fix me, please."

Carson hummed and gathered a few things. "You'll stay here tonight."

"It's a rash." Rodney wasn't staying. He had important work to do. "No one is going to touch me, Carson. We trust the people here, remember?" He laced his question with sugary sweetness.

"Trust is one thing. Foolishness is another," Carson said. He began slathering on a topical, and Rodney sincerely hoped he wasn't allergic to this one. "I'm going to wrap this in some gauze."

"You're giving me a gauze collar, aren't you?" Rodney glared at him. "Carson."

"I am not!" But Carson shrugged and looked away. "I wouldn't let you wear a collar any how."

"It'd hurt, and you know how I feel about pain." Rodney stretched his neck, noticing that this batch only smelled marginally better than the stuff Charin had tried to kill him with earlier. "I need a shower." He noticed that too.

"That you do." Carson reached, and Rodney had plenty of time to twitch away, but he chose to remain still. Carson's hand trembled slightly, and Rodney caught it.

Carson sucked a deep breath. "You touched me."

"Friends do that." Rodney slid off the gurney, keeping Carson close. "It means very little, or so Teyla says." He heard the shake in his voice. "I'm tired of being alone." He went very pale from the admission.

"Aye." Carson pulled him into a fast hug and then almost pushed him away. "That's enough for the week, huh?"

"The year." Rodney rubbed his hands together, ashamed of his weakness for touch. Usually, he ignored it, plowed on through, but something about Teyla was making it all too much to put aside. Vulnerable. He felt vulnerable, and that was dangerous, especially with a bare neck. "I gotta go."

"Be back here in the morning. If you start feeling--."

"Yes, yes, I know the drill." Rodney made a break for it before Carson pulled out an IV. Backpack held firmly, he didn't even stop to insult Sheppard, who was slouched against a wall not far from the main door. Sheppard fell into pace behind him, and Rodney made a beeline for his lab. When he shoved open the door, all eyes went to him.

The word had gone out because no one gasped. Zelenka rushed to him. "Have you lost your mind? This is unacceptable risk!"

"Shut up." Rodney turned on his heel and glared his best. "Sheppard, go far away."

Sheppard clenched his jaw. "You're mine." He pointed at Rodney's chest with his bony finger.

"Go away." Rodney glared, leaning into it, but he was willing to make a concession. "Come get me for dinner."

"Zelenka," Sheppard said. "Watch him."

"Oh, good god, Miko is not going to jump me!" Rodney spun away, taking his artifacts to his office. "Zelenka, get in here!"

"I am too old for this drama!" Zelenka pulled at his hair. His black collar, adorned with a tiny image of a bird of some sort, mocked Rodney. "Someone will attack you! You know this!"

"My red collar never slowed down the ones who were determined. The rest I can fight off." Rodney made a show of putting his hand on his gun. "Let's go through these together, get some work done, and then you can wave your arms at me some more."

Now Zelenka was curious, and Rodney was relieved that they could still work together. His neck itched, and he tried to keep his hands off it. Zelenka slapped at him once, but he dodged with a glare.

"Hey!"

"Carson will fuss at you." Zelenka didn't even look up from his laptop. "Where did you get these beautiful things?"

"Classified." Rodney went to get more coffee, taking time to check people's work and yell at them for the mistakes. Eyes drifted to his neck several times, but he made fun of their math, and they started fixing formulas instead of speculating.

"Do not scratch!"

"Damn it," Rodney muttered, jerking his hand away. He might have to sit on his hands.

"I have some cuffs," Sheppard drawled. "And I know how to use them."

"Any moron would." Rodney crossed his arms, trying to prepare himself for the huge argument they were going to have. "Why are you here?"

Scientists scattered to the four winds, and Sheppard didn't say a word until the room was clear.

"Dinnertime!"

Instead of snapping out an answer, Rodney studied him. Dressed in blue today, solid black collar, black wristband showing because of rolled-up sleeves, gun strapped to his thigh: Sheppard was the kind of dom who made subs swoon. Even the crazy hair worked into his charm. He could snap his fingers and have anyone, any time, anywhere.

"Why do you want me?" Rodney tried for casual indifference.

Sheppard narrowed his eyes. He opened his mouth and shut it, and then tried again. "You're the one."

"The one you want to torture? The one you want to humiliate?" Rodney eased a step back, glad Zelenka was still in Rodney's office. "The one, what?"

"Your neck looks painful." Sheppard clumsily avoided the questions. "Gooey too."

Rodney rolled his eyes and lowered his head to rub his temples. "Radek! I'm headed to dinner!"

"Please! Go away!"

"Ungrateful Czech." Rodney waved his hand in the direction of the cafeteria. "I'm going to eat. I wish you'd go somewhere else."

Sheppard shook his head. "Rodney, don't prance around Atlantis with no collar and a gun on your thigh."

"Until people get the idea that my ass is not for grabbing, I'm going to wear it." Rodney noticed the slight flair of Sheppard's nostrils. "And that means you too."

"Damn it, Rodney." Sheppard took a long stride to put him too close. "I want you to wear my collar."

Rodney gave him the courtesy of appearing to think about it. "No." He got his tablet and went to dinner. No one followed him, and that was just as well.

********

Furious, Sheppard watched him leave. Chasing after him again didn't seem dignified. He'd been turned down flat, and it stung. He'd thought all that was left was the claiming. Rodney's behavior didn't make any sense. Maybe that rash was affecting his brain.

Weir was going to be angry at this, and Sheppard didn't have an explanation beyond telling her again that Rodney was stubborn as a mule.

"Problem, sir?" Ford came up behind him.

Sheppard laughed. "He turned me down."

Ford's eyes went wide. "Is he crazy? Space virus?"

"He's stubborn, opinionated, too damn smart, and on some sort of quest to get molested." Sheppard ran a hand through his hair. His only thought was that Teyla had something to do with this. "I have to talk to Teyla."

"She's in the mess, sir."

"McKay." Sheppard sighed. "Makes me want to punch walls."

"Must be love." Ford smirked.

"That's enough out of you, Lieutenant." Sheppard beat it down the hallway, heading straight for the mess. He pulled up short at the door because Teyla and Rodney were at the same table, heads close. A rumble of jealousy tried to escape Sheppard's throat, but he swallowed it down and got a tray of food so he didn't look pathetic.

Before he could even get to the table, a dominant moved in on Rodney. Sheppard nearly tossed his tray away to get there faster.

"Go away! The answer is no!" Rodney's expression and volume drove the dom back.

Sheppard slowed way down, choosing to sit near Teyla. "That guy bothering you?"

The dom fled. Rodney shrugged, not answering, but Teyla smiled. "Rodney might have to explain it to several people, but I believe he is up to the task."

"Carson said no collar. It's too infected," Rodney said, hands twitching slightly.

It wasn't a complete surprise. His neck looked bad. Sheppard nodded. "I'm surprised he didn't keep you."

"He wanted to. I refused." Rodney, so far, hadn't even glanced Sheppard's direction.

Sheppard took a few bites and came to a reluctant decision. "You're not mission ready."

Now Rodney gave him a look, a scowl in fact. "But--?"

"You have a fever, Carson said," Teyla interrupted. "He will not let you go."

"Damn it," Rodney said with real anger. "There could be an outpost there!"

"If there is, we'll go back." Sheppard wasn't taking Rodney anywhere if he had a fever. The sub complained enough when he had a hangnail. A dom eased over to their table, and Sheppard leveled him with a glare. "Back off."

Rodney looked over his shoulder and put his hand on his gun. For a split second, before he frowned, he looked scared, and Sheppard wondered if he were going to have to kill someone today. His blood pounded in his head, and before he put a lot of thought into it, he switched to Rodney's side of the table.

"I should leave," Rodney whispered, looking only at Teyla.

Making sure not to touch him, Sheppard put his arm on the back of Rodney's chair. He couldn't help himself. "Rodney, it's time to stop arguing with me."

********

A low-level tremble lodged in the pit of Rodney's stomach the instant he stepped into the mess hall. His gun didn't help him feel safe, and that was just wrong. Probably because he knew he wouldn't shoot anyone, at least, not on purpose.

Teyla's words of encouragement didn't help. Her silver collar was back in place, and Rodney hated that they made her wear it. There was an uncomfortable undercurrent in the mess, no doubt brought on by his lack of a collar. Rodney needed eyes in the back of his head to fight them off, and he wasn't dumb enough to believe they liked him. No, they just wanted to fuck him.

To add insult to injury, Rodney was relieved when Sheppard showed up. Relieved, and that was just wrong. It was incredibly difficult not to look at him. Rodney bit his lower lip, leaned closer to Teyla and whispered, "Sheppard is here. I'm not sure I can do this."

"You are fine." Teyla smiled. "Did Dr. Beckett give you an idea of how long it would take to heal?"

"It's voodoo. He has no idea." Rodney wanted to scratch his neck so bad that his fingers ached. "Zelenka is working on the stuff. "

"We thank you."

After yelling at a stupid dom, Rodney had a hard time keeping his spine straight as Sheppard joined them. Years of conditioning nearly sent him running to his room for his spare red collar. Putting his head down, Rodney clenched his teeth and forced his eyes to stay far away from Sheppard.

One more look, and Sheppard would drag Rodney away to wear a tacky golden collar no matter what he said, and no one would try to stop it.

Complaining about the mission helped him feel more normal, and then some moron came up behind him, and Sheppard was right there.

"Rodney, it's time to stop arguing with me," Sheppard said in a low voice. His arm was on the back of Rodney's chair, possessive, blatantly so. "We both know how this is going to end."

"I'm not wearing a gold collar, not for anyone." That was the only thing Rodney knew for sure. Sheppard opened his mouth to say something, and the city-wide drowned him out.

"Dr. McKay, please report to Dr. Weir, Dr. McKay."

"I will take your tray," Teyla said.

"Thanks," Rodney replied, leaving quickly and hoping Sheppard stayed put. No such luck, Sheppard followed him all the way to her office, but didn't cross the bridge, taking up a position on the rail. Rodney wished he'd stopped to shower after the infirmary. He took a deep breath and went inside to stand in front of her desk. "Sir?"

Weir didn't look happy, not at all. "Did I interrupt Major Sheppard claiming you?"

"No." Rodney crossed his arms. "He asked. I refused."

She furrowed her brow, staring at him with a frown for the longest time. "Refused?"

It'd taken her a long time to process that one concept, and Rodney wasn't sure if he should try to explain. Technically, it wasn't any of her business, but this was Atlantis, a small base on the edge of a galaxy where nightmarish creatures tried to eat them on a daily basis, and that lent them a certain license to pry into each other's business.

Weir pointed at a seat, and Rodney thumped down obediently. She hadn't lost her scowl. "I'll admit, I'm disappointed. The back and forth between you two creates an undertow of dominant tension that isn't good for base dynamics."

"And that is completely not my fault." Rodney wasn't going to let her bully him into taking Sheppard to make the base happy. "I don't want a collar."

The silence between them was anything but comfortable. She started messing around with her father's watch, and that was not good. "Did you wear your collar among Teyla's people?"

He nearly gasped as she cut right to the heart of the matter. Briefly, he considered lying, but his hesitation was damning. "I threw it away," he said with all the grace of an eight year old. Before she could condemn him further, he raised his hand. "All my life I've hated it. I never even thought I could throw it away until," he stopped to take a breath, "I met Teyla."

Her eyes were somewhere between sympathetic and furious. Rodney wished he knew which.

"You can't go without a collar on this base. I don't even allow Teyla to go around with a bare neck." Her voice was firm. "My advice is that you accept Major Sheppard."

Rodney lowered his head. "I won't wear one. You can't make me."

"Yes, I can." Her smile was scary. "You have until that rash heals to make up your mind which color you prefer." She opened her desk drawer, pulled out something red, and stood. Rodney figured out what it was quick enough. A long, red lanyard with a card on the hook. The card was also red. "Put it on, or confine yourself to quarters. Those are your choices."

He got to his feet, not knowing what to do and feeling like a cornered animal. Grimacing, hand shaking, he took it from her. "I'm lodging a formal protest."

"Go ahead. I'll see that the leader of this base gets it." Her sarcasm cut deep. "Schedule a session with Dr. Heightmeyer, and that's not a suggestion either."

Defying her was the act of a fool, so he clutched the lanyard in his fist and stormed out of her office. Telling himself that it wasn't a collar didn't help, and Sheppard was planted firmly in Rodney's way.

"Good," he said, eyes on the lanyard. "I can step away to the restroom without panicking."

"Your concern is touching, yet creepy." Rodney hoped his fury showed on his face. "She has no right!"

"She has every right to ensure your safety." Sheppard leaned in, eyes brown and intense. "So do I, and I agree with her. Wear it. Even with it on, I know a few Marines who would dearly love to get their hands on your ass."

Taken aback, Rodney wanted to punch him.

Sheppard somehow managed to get much closer without touching. They were breathing the same air. "Why? Tell me why you won't have me."

"I hate you." Rodney shoved him back, trying to fight his way free, but Sheppard grabbed hold like a leech and shook him. "I hate your smirk, your jokes, your arrogance, and complete confidence that everyone wants you!"

"Not you!" Sheppard grabbed hold of the lanyard and threw it over the railing to flutter down to the floor of the gateroom. "You're too damn smart, sarcastic, arrogant, selfish, and mule-headed!"

Stunned, Rodney hung in Sheppard's arms. All of Rodney's senses kicked in simultaneously, sending way too much information to Rodney's brain. Sheppard smelled good, felt good, and he was so damn handsome. The look Rodney had given Sheppard in the jumper came back to him, and the time spent fighting this seemed stupid now.

"I still hate you," Rodney mumbled, going to his knees, Sheppard's hand hot on him. "Really."

"Sir?"

"Back off, Ford," Sheppard growled. "You will wear my collar, McKay."

"No, I won't, but--." Rodney wasn't giving in now. "I'm okay with some of the rest you have planned."

Sheppard sounded angry. "You're mine."

"Not so much." Rodney leaned his head against Sheppard's thigh. "But I have the feeling we're going to spend the next thirty or so years arguing about it."

"We should get started." Sheppard urged him up, wrapped him close, and the close contact was enough to make Rodney moan from want. Sheppard didn't tell him where they were going, but Rodney was afraid it was a bed. The fighting would start there. There was a small smattering of applause as Sheppard took him through the gateroom. "No, you may not scream curse words at them."

"You are going to suck all the fun out of my life." Rodney wasn't joking. "I didn't even think you liked me."

"Not sure I do." Sheppard kissed him on the side of the head. "But this is bigger than that."

Rodney had no clue what that meant, and it was impossible to think straight while Sheppard was touching him. Sheppard didn't give Rodney an inch to breathe until they were inside Sheppard's quarters. Only then did Rodney manage to wiggle away.

"No collar," Rodney said. He considered making a break for the door and taking this whole claiming business back, but Sheppard was in the way.

"You'll look good in gold." Sheppard prowled closer. "My gold." He raised his hand and touched Rodney's neck. "Mine."

"You are such a Neanderthal. This! Right there! Is why I've been wearing red all my life!" Rodney couldn't believe he'd knelt to this idiot. He stood up very straight, sucked in his gut, crossed his arms and tried to look mean. "You know I hate all this stuff! And this is what you say to me!"

It was like the air deflated out of Sheppard. He ran his hand through his hair, slumped his shoulders, and went to sit on the bed. "But subs love that stuff!"

"Not me." Rodney crossed to him and poked him in the chest. "Now, can we be reasonable and talk? Or should I run away screaming?"

"You're incredibly bossy for a sub." Sheppard put up a hand. "Which I knew. I want you. Bad. I want to do so many filthy things to you."

"Filthy? This is your idea of a turn-on?" Rodney found a chair to sink down on and rubbed his temples. "I'm not one of your flings, and I'm not some moronic sub who wants to be beaten to his knees before breakfast every day."

Now Sheppard got up to pace. "I know that." He looked as frustrated as Rodney felt. "I just want you. I didn't think."

"No kidding." Rodney snorted. "All my life I've hated collars. I hate every minute I wear one."

"You can't fight this. It's not safe, especially on a military base. You're the one who rails at any sub who dares to wear any color but red." Sheppard stood and leaned against the wall. He shoved his hands in his pockets. "And you were right. Too many dominants only know how to take it."

"Of course I'm right." Rodney shrugged, not sure where to go from here. "But I'm done. If they try anything, I'll shoot them."

"Don't even joke about that," Sheppard growled. He seemed to give himself a shake. "We'll figure something out."

Rodney blinked at him in surprise. "We will?"

"I'm not going to hold you down and strap on a collar with a padlock!" Sheppard sounded offended. "You'd find a way to kill me in my sleep!"

"You're not so dumb after all." Rodney smiled, unable to help himself.

********

A rolleroaster was making its way around Sheppard's guts, and he had no idea how to stop it. He'd thought they would be normal, or what passed for normal. He rubbed his mouth, staring down at his boots, and didn't bother locking the door.

"I courted you properly." Sheppard had even put effort into it. "Don't deny you look to me for decisions."

Rodney pulled at his hair. "I'm submissive. I can't help myself." He sounded slightly ashamed. "Wait. You were doing that?"

"Everyone on base knew, except you." Sheppard sighed in frustration. Some stupid part of him thought they'd be fucking by now. That Rodney protested a lot, but he didn't mean the words. Obviously, he meant everything he'd ever said, and Sheppard felt like giving himself a dope slap. Rodney didn't lie. He sucked at it. The guy had issues about sex, and the Sheppard charm wasn't going to fix it in time for dinner. He sighed. "You do want me?"

Sheppard flushed, wanting those words back. He should walk away, let Rodney flounder without a collar until Weir dealt with him. His pride should demand that. He swallowed hard, knowing the truth. When it came to Rodney, Sheppard didn't have any pride. He looked up and Rodney's eyes were wide.

Three small steps and Rodney dropped to his knees in front of Sheppard. On reflex, Sheppard spread his legs and pulled him close enough to kiss. Every muscle in Rodney's body felt tense.

"Do we have to discuss this?" Rodney asked in a small voice. "I knelt. I did."

Relieved beyond words, Sheppard put his arms on Rodney's shoulders and rubbed the back of Rodney's neck. Slowly, he leaned in a few extra inches and kissed him. Sheppard tried to make it good for him, go slow, not just thrust and suck.

When Sheppard opened his eyes, Rodney had a stunned look on his face. "We could do more of that."

"Tied to my bed?" Sheppard teased.

Instantly, Rodney was on his feet, pacing. "This is why I turned you down. I don't like that stuff. I don't like pain. I won't do it!"

"Whoa!" Sheppard got up also but didn't try to grab him. "We agree you're mine. We'll figure out the details. I'm not going to hurt you." And he was almost surprised to discover it was true. "I was joking."

"Not so much." But Rodney stopped moving. "Well?"

"What?" Sheppard wished there were a wall closer so he could try to look sexy leaning against one hand.

"Jump me. Fuck me. Hurt me. Go ahead. I'm ready. Let's get this moronic claiming business over so I can limp on with my life." Rodney's chin came up and his crooked lips trembled.

Sheppard's confusion deepened. Sure, Rodney talked all the time, but Sheppard was beginning to think he'd missed some pertinent information. To break the tension, Sheppard strolled over to his closet and slipped off his jacket.

There were a few things he knew for sure. Rodney expected to be hurt. Rodney had worn red his entire adult life, and Rodney might possibly like him.

With deliberate movements, Sheppard removed his gunbelt, hanging it on a convenient knob. "Did you get enough to eat? We were interrupted." Impulsively, he dug around in his sock drawer, finding the collar that he'd shoved in there. It was in a small fabric bag. He turned, saw Rodney watching him, and tossed it.

It hit the floor, but Rodney scooped it up. He stared down at it in his hand.

"At least look at it." Sheppard wanted Rodney to wear it with pride, but it didn't seem like that would happen.

The golden collar spilled out into Rodney's palm, glittering. Rodney finally met Sheppard's eyes. "It's not tacky like some."

"It was my mother's." Sheppard smirked because the memory was bittersweet. "I snatched it up from under the desk the day she threw it at my father's head. He never even looked for it, or her." He shrugged. "She was lucky, I guess."

"I'm very confused by all this." Rodney abruptly sat down on the bed; his turn to stare at his shoes. "And yes, I'm hungry."

Sheppard touched his ear bud. "Ford, could you bring a couple of dinners to my quarters?"

"Yes, sir, and congratulations!"

"Thanks." Sheppard tried not to sound surly as he snapped off. His cock really wanted some action. It seemed like he'd been staring at Rodney's ass forever.

"Everyone has seen claimed subs, bruised and limping the next day," Rodney said in a low voice. "I had just resigned myself to that, not that I wanted you. I didn't."

Trudging over, Sheppard sat down next to him. "Yes, you did, even though you think I'm some sort of rutting dog." He put his arm around Rodney. "Those subs never filed complaints, and most were smiling."

"I don't like pain." Rodney rushed the words out. "And I think our society has conditioned them to shut up about it. When my dad gave me the talk, he told me to lie there and recite pi."

Eyes wide, Sheppard gave him a small squeeze. "I've been jacking off to the idea of you liking it for months. Wanting it."

The gulp was audible. "Oh, boy. You are in for such a letdown."

Trying not to sound glum, Sheppard put out an idea. "We can take it slow. No rush. Neither of us is going anywhere."

"Right." Rodney let out a big breath. "You won't make me wear it?" He had the collar in his hand. "It is handsome."

"You don't have to wear it around your neck." Sheppard pushed a little. "Can you loop it around a belt buckle’’’’’’’’’’/ or something?"

"I hate to give in on this point," Rodney mumbled. "But, I guess so."

"Thanks." Sheppard went with that. He was glad Ford picked that moment to ring the door because he was out of things to say, and food always made Rodney happy.

They used the small table to eat, and Sheppard felt like he should sit on his hands to keep them off Rodney's ass.

Rodney cleared his throat. "Did you want me to kneel by your leg?"

Sheppard wanted that so badly. His cock twitched, and he found the courage to say, "You'd bite my fingers, wouldn't you?"

A very short smile, and Rodney nodded. "Probably." He scooted his chair a bit closer. "Maybe just for show every now and again?" He ducked his head and shoveled his mouth full.

It was easy to see that for Rodney that was a huge concession to society. Sheppard put down his sandwich and gingerly put his hand on Rodney's thigh. His need to dominate warred with his knowledge of Rodney's hang ups for a moment, and then he said, "As long as you know I want you."

Eyes wide, Rodney dropped his fork into his mashed potatoes. Sheppard picked it up, licked it off, and handed it to him. Rodney blushed, took it, and that was a very good sign.

"I guess I have to get used to your germs." Rodney tentatively took another bite of food, using the germy fork.

"Yes, you do." Sheppard marveled again at how stupid he was. Somehow, in all his fantasies, he'd never taken into account Rodney's personality. "How hard can this be? We're already friends."

********

Stunned, Rodney tried to finish chewing before he choked to death. They were friends. They were friends? He had friends? None of that seemed possible. The truth came rampaging out as soon as Rodney swallowed.

"I have colleagues, not friends." Rodney waved his hand. "This? Between us? I have no idea what it is."

Sheppard shrugged, taking another bite of his sandwich. "You think things to death," he mumbled around the bread.

"Of course I do." Rodney frowned at him. "Genius equals thinking." He used his fork to scrap his plate clean before pushing it away. "But really, can we get this over with?"

Clapping his hands together, Sheppard shoved his chair back from the table. "Definitely, you strip off those clothes. I'll get the whips and chains."

This time, Rodney knew he was being mocked. "I have work I could be doing."

"You're no fun." Sheppard grinned. "Fine, let's get a quick shower."

Narrowing his eyes, Rodney stood his ground. "Why?"

"Because I always take one before bed." Sheppard stacked the dirty dishes on the tray. "It relaxes me."

Rodney didn't believe that for a minute. "Soap is not lube."

Sheppard's eyebrows went way up. "Thank you for that science lesson, Dr. McKay," he drawled. "Any other bits of wisdom before I get you soapy?"

Running out the door seemed like a fine idea. Rodney shuffled a step back, knowing it was ridiculous to want to stay dressed but feeling it anyway. He opened his mouth to complain, and Sheppard was suddenly just there, right in Rodney's face. Sheppard put a long finger against Rodney's lips.

"Undress. Take off the gun. Shower. Now." Sheppard's voice dropped into the lower registers, and it made Rodney groan because he knew he was going to do it.

"Fine." Rodney ducked into the bathroom, refusing to undress in front of Sheppard's windows. He got the water started and made sure there was plenty of soap and shampoo. Like all of the bathrooms in Atlantis, this one was large with a flat, walk-in shower. No curtain. No privacy. Just a stall set back from a sink and toilet. Taking a deep breath, he shoved off his clothes and dropped them in the corner. Putting his gun and holster on top, he gave in to the urge to cup his hand over his cock.

Keeping his face down, Rodney didn't even peek when Sheppard joined him. It required air to talk, and Rodney was sure he hadn't taken a breath since his clothes came off. When Sheppard moved to him, Rodney tried not to gasp or pass out.

"It's okay," Sheppard said in a voice that Rodney had heard on away missions where it seemed as if the natives were going to run away screaming. "I won't hurt you."

"I thought that was in your job description." Rodney sucked in a breath when Sheppard wrapped his hand around Rodney's forearm. The touch sent his submissive side rushing to the surface, and he hated that. "Please."

Sheppard pulled him close under the water, kissing him. "Relax." He peeled away the bandage on Rodney's neck and tilted his head. "It's better, not so angry."

Shifting even a little brought Rodney's thigh into contact with Sheppard's cock. Rodney didn't look down, but it was there, waiting for him.

"Have you ever had sex with anyone?" Sheppard's incredulous question made Rodney's face turn beet red. Rodney's throat closed on an answer. He'd been very busy, and sex cluttered up a person's life with people who expected attention. Sheppard kissed him again. "Never mind."

For some reason, it seemed important to figure out where to put his hands, and Rodney dithered between putting them behind his back, or, no, that wasn't a good idea either. He shut his eyes and tried not to flinch, but Sheppard wasn't rough.

Soap, water and strong hands, and Rodney thought maybe his knees had melted down the drain. Tilting his head back, his brain still scurried about, but his body had betrayed him into the hands of Sheppard.

"Yeah, relax," Sheppard said.

Easier said than done, but Rodney would've sworn knots in his back that had been there since the sixth grade were relaxing. He noticed that Sheppard stayed away from extremely private places, and that made him ease up that much further. About the time he would've sworn his brain would never be good for anything important again, Sheppard's hand slipped around Rodney's ass and dipped inside.

"Oh, god," Rodney whispered, clenching.

"I know you soap yourself," Sheppard murmured, but he moved his hand away, sliding down between Rodney's thighs. Before Rodney could quite figure out what was going on, Sheppard was on his knees, sucking the tip of Rodney's cock into his mouth.

Rodney had no idea when exactly he'd gotten an erection, but the shock of pleasure that jolted through him made him gasp and rise up on his toes. Sheppard cupped Rodney's balls, giving a gentle tug, and Rodney went to pieces, nearly falling to his death.

Sheppard steadied him, come spurting between them and some clinging to Sheppard's lip. Rodney stammered out an apology that Sheppard kissed away.

Sagging, Rodney considered grabbing a towel and running. Now it would happen. Now, when he felt so good it had to be an affront to the universe.

"Steady." Sheppard slid his hand down Rodney's arm, and somehow both of their hands were on Sheppard's cock. Big cock. Really big. Motion and rhythm met Sheppard's gasping, and Rodney stared in amazement as come hit him on the stomach and thigh and other places.

"Whoa," Sheppard whispered, kissing him wetly. "I knew you had good hands."

"Of course, but..." Rodney stalled, rubbing some come off his leg. "You were nice."

The laughter caught Rodney by surprise, and then Sheppard smeared some come all over Rodney's chest. "Consider yourself claimed."

Looking down at the mess, Rodney frowned. It should've been painful. He'd been warned over and over again, and he'd personally seen claimed subs with bruises. "Oh," he said with no understanding of what had just happened. "You're sure?"

"Positive. I'll be orgasming on you regularly from now on." Sheppard smirked, the water clicked off, and there were towels. "You look like someone hit you with a two by four."

"I feel like I just woke up from a wraith stunner." Rodney hoped his knees held up until he could find a bed. "Is this that subspace mumbo jumbo all the stupid subs always brag about?" He really wasn't asking Sheppard.

"Kneel," Sheppard said, soft and low.

Rodney did it without a quiver, leaning into him and breathing hard. "That? Shouldn't have happened."

"But it was very cool." Sheppard dried Rodney's hair and then eased him up and out to the bed.

A metric ton of misgivings pushed through Rodney's brain, but Sheppard got rid of them all with a single kiss, and later, Rodney was going to curse at him for that. Under the covers, Rodney wanted to take the edge of the bed, pretend he didn't like this, but his body betrayed him, oozing over to curl into his dom.

His Dom. Sheppard. Sheppard. Rodney grumbled, "Are you gloating?"

"You bet your sweet ass I am."

********

When Sheppard woke up, he was alone. He'd had enough experience with it to know. Of course, usually it was him sneaking out, but the room had the same silence. He rolled to his back and glared down at his hard cock.

"Forget it," he muttered. He checked his watch, saw that he had five minutes until his run, and groaned dramatically. "Was it too much to ask for a sub who would suck my cock in the morning?"

Apparently, it was.

Rubbing his eyes, Sheppard decided to skip his run. If he knew his Rodney, there was a panic attack and screaming of some sort going on somewhere in Atlantis. Sheppard put his hands behind his head and grinned. No, he hadn't gotten to do any indecent stuff to Rodney's ass, but Rodney hadn't actually passed out, even though it'd been close that once.

His door chimed, and Sheppard found some clothes before getting it. Ford grinned at him.

"Shut up," Sheppard said.

"Yes, sir," Ford said with an even bigger grin.

Sheppard shut the door on him and went to put on his uniform. He still couldn't quite believe everything that had happened, but he would never let anyone doubt Rodney's submissiveness again. Rodney had turned to putty in Sheppard's hands, and that had been very satisfying.

He had to get his hands on that sweet ass again, and that got him into his boots that much faster.

Ford was lounging across from the door, hands in his pockets. "Usually newly claimed couples take a day or two off."

"Good idea." Sheppard would try to drag Rodney out of his lab. "Are you going to follow me around all day?"

"Just thought I'd give you a heads-up." Ford fell into step behind. "You need to collar him."

Sheppard turned on his heel. "You spread the word that I will kill anyone who touches him. Kill."

Ford's eyes went round. "I will!"

"Go do that," Sheppard growled, getting in the transporter and shutting the door in Ford's face. He got out near the mess hall, not happy with the silence that fell as soon as he got in line. The silence meant people were talking about him, and that was always a bad thing. He piled the tray with enough food for three, gave everyone a sharp glance, and hot-footed it towards Rodney's lab.

The fact that Rodney still had his gun on his hip made Sheppard's temper boil. His neck was bare, not even a bandage, and three people bolted for the back exit.

"Rodney," Sheppard said, forcing his voice to calm.

Rodney spun around, and there was a glitter of gold dribbling out from under his untucked, blue shirt, and it took Sheppard a second to realize the collar had been hooked to a belt loop. The fact he was wearing it all was a victory, and that was the only thing that kept Sheppard from grabbing him and dragging him back to their quarters. Rodney's expression went through a series of quick changes before settling in on annoyance, and that was somewhat reassuring.

"Good. You brought food."

Sheppard put the tray on a small table in front of one of those ubiquitous white sofas that were everywhere. "Come eat with me."

Pointing at his laptop, Rodney opened his mouth and then shut it. His hand flicked back and forth between Sheppard and the laptop. "Now?"

"Please." Sheppard had a feeling he'd be saying that word often. It seemed to take the air out of Rodney's arguments. "I didn't have enough hands for coffee."

"I will go fetch some," Zelenka said, and he left in a hurry. The lab was nearly deserted now, and Rodney sidled over to the sofa.

"Is this one of those times?" Rodney asked.

"Yes." Sheppard pointed at the floor. "I have the feeling a number of people are questioning whether or not you really belong to me."

With a grunt, Rodney knelt near Sheppard's knee. He went the extra step of putting his hands behind his back. Sheppard felt his cock stir with interest, and he shifted on his ass.

"I don't want to do this very often. Bad knees." Rodney looked pointedly at the food. "Feed me."

"Of course." Sheppard got busy doing that, trying to meet Rodney's demands in a way that made it look like he was in charge.

Zelenka showed up with the coffee, set it down, said something colorful in Czech, and backed right out the door again.

"Are you hogging the modans?" Rodney inched closer. "You know I love those."

"I know." Sheppard fed him some more of the bite-sized pieces. "I think they taste like tater tots."

"Philistine." Rodney looked over his shoulder. "Are you mad at me? You looked mad, and I am not going to sit still for discipline, of any kind, just so you know."

Sheppard put the flat of his hand on Rodney's back, noticing the instant reaction. Rodney, for all his protestations, liked being touched. "No, Rodney, I'm not angry at you."

"Huh. You look mad." Rodney stopped talking when Sheppard fill that crooked mouth with food.

Rodney was right. Sheppard was mad, but he was angry at all the idiots who dared to question their claiming.

"Have you been to see Carson?" Sheppard asked, but he saw the answer before Rodney's opened his mouth. "I'll take you when we're done."

"I hope someone's getting video," Kavanaugh drawled, strolling up with a nasty smirk on his face. "The great Dr. Rodney McKay on his knees, begging for food."

Shifting his hand, Sheppard kept Rodney down. "Go away before I shoot you."

Kavanaugh laughed. "I was hoping he'd be limping and bruised, but this is almost as good, and if I were you, Colonel, I'd get that collar around his neck now. Some of us still want a shot at his ass."

Rodney made a terrible noise of disgust, and Sheppard kissed him. "Rodney, are you going to miss Kavanaugh after I kill him?"

"Not one bit!" Rodney stayed down, and Sheppard admired the self-control. "I wore the collar. I deserve a treat!"

"You do." Sheppard moved his hand to his gun, but Kavanaugh was gone before he touched it. "You were expecting that."

"He's been yapping all morning. Three people shared his obnoxious opinions with me." Rodney snitched a mini-muffin and shoved it in his mouth. "Don't worry. Someone made sure Kavanaugh can't get in his quarters tonight."

"Super-glued the door shut?" Sheppard grinned and got a tiny muffin of his own.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Right, because we brought a ton of super glue with us to another galaxy." He put his hand on Sheppard's thigh and squeezed. "You won't make me wear it around my neck?"

"Rodney, please think about this. You know you hate danger. You know you hate pain." Sheppard wasn't going to tell Rodney what to do. That would ensure the stubborn man did the opposite. "I can't protect you all the time."

"Carson says it's different here. People are smarter, or something, I wasn't really listening." Rodney surveyed the tray. Sheppard nudged it closer to him and stole a kiss. They'd go see Carson, and then they'd argue some more, like every other day on Atlantis.

********

"Aye, now that's looking much better." Carson, gloves on, gently moved Rodney's chin so he was looking up. "Another day, and you can wear that fine collar the colonel gave you."

Sheppard grinned, like that was a great idea, but Rodney didn't bother glowering at him. "I am wearing it." He jangled it on his belt loop, but it wasn't an ideal situation. It might snag on things, and that could be dangerous around Ancient technology.

"Enough," Rodney snapped, getting down. Before he could take two steps, Sheppard had him by the arm, and it was a firm enough grip to stop Rodney in his tracks. "I need to get back to work." Even to Rodney's ears, that sounded whiny.

Sliding his hand down to Rodney's wrist, Sheppard kept hold of him. "Did you want more coffee?"

"That's playing dirty." Rodney didn't think three cups of coffee was enough. "Do I have to do that thing again?"

"If you'd wear the collar on your neck, no one would question our claiming," Sheppard whispered, managing to pull Rodney to a discreet distance from the nurses. "But no. You don't."

Relieved, Rodney smiled, and then the whole close, touching thing got to him, and he felt his breath come a bit quicker. "You could let go?" He wasn't sure he wanted that. Sheppard slipped his hand down further, lacing their hands together. Rodney would never admit that he liked that. "I'm not giving in on this collar thing."

"Everyone knows how stubborn you are." Sheppard started walking, and Rodney went with him, without lagging behind. "Of course, I always argue that you're borderline stupid."

"I'm far too smart to spend the rest of my life miserable because some idiot two hundred years ago decided subs looked good in collars." Rodney tugged at Sheppard's hand but not hard enough to get away. "Anyway, I'm allergic!"

"Right. To gold." Sheppard laughed. "You were fidgety, always itching, scratching, and tugging at your red collar. I thought it was because you were dropping hints at me."

Now Rodney had to stop and glare at him properly. "I was not!"

"Got ya." Sheppard grinned and jerked him into the cafeteria. "Ford has told me that claimed couples get the day off."

Before he could protest, Sheppard shoved a tray at Rodney's chest. "Eat more. You'll need the energy."

Completely flustered, Rodney obeyed, but he would've taken a tray anyway because when he was nervous he ate. They sat together out on the balcony, but Rodney was glad they were across from each other. It made it easier to see Sheppard's face and gauge the level of smirkiness versus seriousness.

The silence wasn't too uncomfortable, but Rodney felt like he should say something, anything. He took a breath, and Sheppard said, "If I pierce your nipples, can I string my collar between them?"

Rodney spit food all over the table, gasping for air, nose burning. Sheppard laughed his trademark hee-haw, and Rodney would've thrown something at him, but Weir moved in on their table. Sheppard choked off his rude laughter, and Rodney quickly used a napkin to mop up his mess.

"I hate you," Rodney whispered.

Sheppard moved fast around the table, right into the chair next to Rodney. He helped him clean it up and then gave him a gentle kiss. "No nipples then?" His eyes glinted with mischief, and Rodney hated that he liked it.

"Gentlemen," Weir said.

It was Sheppard's place to answer for them both, and Rodney wanted to defy that, dare her to reprimand him, but Sheppard traced his finger the length of Rodney's lips. It captured Rodney's complete attention. Sheppard never looked up at her, keeping his eyes on Rodney's.

"Can I help you, Dr. Weir?" Sheppard asked in a low voice that focused Rodney's eyes on Sheppard's face.

"Collar?" she snapped.

Rodney's spine stiffened, and oh, he wanted to rail at her, but Sheppard ran his thumb across Rodney's lower lip. Rodney tingled all over, and he felt like there was too little oxygen in his body.

"Rodney has made the decision to wear it at all times." Sheppard said the exact words to take the anger out. "He knows he's mine."

"I do?" Rodney opened his mouth for a tidbit of food and then gently sucked Sheppard's lingering finger. With a start, he realized what he was doing, and Sheppard grinned as he slid his hand down to rest on his collar. Rodney swallowed. "When did that happen?"

Sheppard jingled the collar. "You tell me."

"I want him safe," Weir said.

There was a click, and Sheppard pulled the collar into plain sight. Rodney clenched his hands into his thighs, sure that Sheppard would strap it on, regardless of Rodney's wishes. Sheppard threaded it through his fingers and brushed his knuckles against Rodney's lips.

"People on this base respect other people." Sheppard tickled the end of the collar against Rodney's chin. It was time to run, time to yell, time to ridicule them all, but Rodney felt glued down. He accepted another small piece of food, nibbling on Sheppard's fingers and groaning when Sheppard kissed him.

"God, not again," Rodney said, trying to pull away. "I can't do this! This is so wrong," he said right as Sheppard kissed him, thrusting with his tongue.

Sheppard eased to his feet, smirking, twining his hand around Rodney's, the collar dangling between them. "If you'll excuse us, ma'am?"

"Go on. His eyes are glazing over."

"Are you going to pester me like this on a normal work day?" Rodney needed to draw some boundaries now. "I can't work if I'm--" He whimpered when Sheppard licked his lower lip, losing his train of thought.

"I won't pester you any more than usual." Sheppard laughed, pulling Rodney through the cafeteria. Several people made catcalls, but Rodney was too busy trying not to pant to yell at them. Instead of going to the transporter, Sheppard steered Rodney out onto the closest balcony, pushing him against the wall and kissing him thoroughly.

Rodney whimpered into Sheppard's mouth. So much touching and pushing, and he'd never known kissing could be so nice. "I suppose for one day I could do this," he muttered.

Laughing, Sheppard cupped Rodney's cock through his pants. "You're starved for this."

Offended through his confusion, Rodney hooked a finger in Sheppard's collar and pulled. "I can live without it."

"But why should you?" Sheppard nuzzled his face into Rodney's neck. Rodney nearly screeched when Sheppard latched on to skin. It tingled, it hurt, and it made his knees lose cohesion. Sheppard finally, finally, let go with a lick, and Rodney slid right down to his knees. He buried his face in Sheppard's crotch.

"This is awful." Rodney couldn't believe it. "I'm a huge sub. Huge. I'm so submissive my name comes up in a Google search." He mouthed Sheppard's hard cock through his trousers. "I deserve ten collars, all in slutty purple."

"That seems a bit much." Sheppard cupped Rodney's face, bracing his other hand against the wall. Rodney's hands moved of their own volition, unzipping and freeing Sheppard's cock. Before he could over-analyze it, Rodney stuck it in his mouth and groaned from how much he liked it. Sheppard gave out a breathy moan, and Rodney's cock jerked in his pants. The skin tasted good and felt good, and Rodney decided to show off his lack of a gag reflex.

"Oh, man," Sheppard growled, gripping Rodney tighter. "Yeah. Like that. Don't even think about coming. I have plans for you in our room."

Rodney nearly pulled off to demand to know what they were, but Sheppard's hips jerked, and Rodney's mouth filled with come. He swallowed, teasing with his tongue, until Sheppard got his hands in the way. Looking up, Rodney smirked, and Sheppard dragged him to his feet.

"Yes, you're very good at that," Sheppard said, drawing him in close for a kiss. Rodney leaned full-body against him, just enjoying it, and then it all hit him again.

"I never thought..." He paused to think it over. "I'd like it."

"I was hoping you would." Sheppard stroked his hand down Rodney's back. "I love that glazed look on your face."

"Well, smug isn't good on you," Rodney said, easily accepting the hand that led him to Sheppard's quarters. Later, maybe, he'd go back to work.

********

Rolling to his side, Sheppard tried throwing his arm around Rodney, wanting some warmth, but only found a cold mattress. Blinking, he lay on his stomach. "Damn it," he mumbled around a yawn. He wasn't surprised, but his cock was disappointed again. Tonight, he was asking Atlantis to lock the door to anyone but him.

Grumbling, he headed for the shower. He'd go for his morning run, then grab Rodney for some breakfast. The run settled him, and he felt pretty calm by the time he got to the labs. He stopped right inside the doorway and looked his sub over with an eye for detail: khakis, blue shirt, science jacket, no gun, and no sign of gold anywhere. Sheppard clenched his jaw, wanting to yell.

Rodney half-turned and one side of his mouth lifted in what was his version of a smile. Anger bled away, and Sheppard was left with confusion. Stomping over to Rodney and demanding to know where the collar was would be a mistake, so Sheppard wasn't sure what to do.

"Lunch?" Rodney asked, brow beginning to knit together like he was angry. "Or are you going to stand there and stare at me all day?"

"Lunch," Sheppard said, trying not to growl. He could only pray they didn't bump into Weir, who was far past reasonable on the subject of collar placement. Rodney shut his laptop, shot a look at Zelenka that could've meant anything, and only when he stepped close did Sheppard spot his collar, curled around Rodney's wrist.

Impulsively, Sheppard lifted Rodney's hand, tugged him close, and kissed the collar. "Thank you."

"Don't think I didn't notice you looking for it." Rodney rolled his eyes. "I said I'd wear it, somewhere it can't itch, and I will."

"And I believe you. I'm just a neanderthal dominant with delusions of submissive grandeur." Sheppard grinned. Rodney blinked several times, and Sheppard laughed. "See? I do listen to you."

Rodney tried to look disgusted at him but didn't quite pull it off. "Do I have to do that thing I hate?"

Widening his eyes, Sheppard gave him a gentle kiss. "Would you? Please? My massive, over-blown dominant ego would love it. Love. It."

Grunting in disgust, Rodney pulled Sheppard to the cafeteria. Two trays and three cups of coffee later, they settled at a table near the back. Rodney narrowed his eyes at Sheppard before slowly stripping off his jacket and putting it on a chair. Sheppard found his mouth was dry as Rodney flexed his arms, jiggling and twisting the collar so his hands were bound by gold in front of him.

Lowering his eyes, Rodney sank to his knees, and Sheppard almost came in his BDUs. He eased in a big breath of air and touched Rodney's lips. "Thank you."

"Just feed me, and I might forgive you someday." But a smile played along Rodney's lips. "Maybe."

It was then Sheppard realized that silence had fallen in the cafeteria, and he sat up straight to give everyone a glare. Eyes darted away, and people began picking up their forks again. Sheppard inched a little closer and heaped a spoon full of faux corn. His cock ached, and he had a feeling that Rodney knew it.

"I really underestimated the depth of your evilness," Sheppard muttered, not interested in Rodney's answer and stuffing him full of food. The first time Rodney got hold of Sheppard's finger, Sheppard moaned loud enough to be heard in the gateroom. Face red, Sheppard considered dumping his water on his crotch. "Stop it."

Rodney's eyes laughed. He swallowed and licked his lower lip. Sheppard whimpered. "I thought you hated sex?" he whispered. "And stuff?" he finished with a moan.

"I changed my mind." Rodney raised his hands and plunked them, collar and all, in Sheppard's aching lap. "It turned out I needed more data points."

"Hello, Major Sheppard, how are you and Dr. McKay today?" Teyla sat down across from them, and damned if she wasn't smirking.

"Good," Sheppard strangled out. "Really good." Then he managed to really look at her instead of Rodney's lips. "Just out of curiosity: where's your collar?"

"I see no reason to wear it. It is archaic and moronic, born of men with no imagination and fewer morals." She gave him a regal look. "Also? It chafes. I believe I'm developing a rash."

Sheppard was sure the horror showed on his face. He slowly turned and met Rodney's eyes. "I'm thinking we should go have sex now, because Dr. Weir is going to kill you later."

Rodney had the gall to raise his chin. "I'm not causing trouble. Look at me. Bound. Helpless. A proper sub."

"An evil genius. I suspected it all along." Sheppard stroked one finger the length of Rodney's stubborn jaw. "Is Teyla your sidekick?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Rodney said with wide, fake innocent eyes. "Oh, and I asked for the next couple of days off."

Now Sheppard blinked in shock. "What?"

"I'm devoting myself to you, like a sub should." Rodney never looked down, but his voice faltered a little. "I read it in a magazine somewhere."

Shock turned to suspicion, and he had a feeling Rodney was establishing probable deniability in the argument of whether Teyla should wear a collar. Sheppard caressed Rodney's mouth with his thumb. "I have some restraints that you'll like."

Anyone could've seen the panic in Rodney's eyes, but to his credit, all he did was duck his head. There was no doubt in Sheppard's mind now that Rodney had been fomenting rebellion, but there was no telling if he'd succeed.

Teyla cleared her throat. "Rodney informed me that he does not enjoy restraints. I'm sure you will abide by Rodney's wishes in this matter."

A flush crept up Sheppard's neck. When she put it like that, it did seem mean. At least for now, but maybe he could work Rodney into it later. "Of course I will. I'm not a brute, no matter what he thinks."

Rodney said nothing, swallowing hard. Teyla nodded. "It is difficult for him to trust after a lifetime of fear."

Sheppard's erection failed him, and he curled his hand around Rodney's bowed neck. "You know, and you knew, I'd take care of him."

"I did. He did not." Teyla got to her feet, pushing her chair flush with the table. "I will see you later at sparring, Colonel."

"Yeah. Sure." Sheppard had a feeling he'd better be at the top of his game or he'd end up with a ton of bruises. Rodney shifted on his knees, and Sheppard started feeding him again. They ate in silence, but Rodney's eyes were big, worried. Sheppard could only wonder at the fear that kept Rodney quiet. It had to be something huge, and Sheppard was sure it was nothing to do with him.

When the tray was empty, and the coffee gone, Sheppard leaned to give Rodney a kiss. "Thank you."

Instead of babbling, Rodney nodded. He stayed down until Sheppard got up, and Sheppard's erection returned from that show of submission.

Sheppard touched his earbud. "Lt. Ford, I'll be in my quarters if you need me."

"Yes, sir. Everything okay?"

"Everything is perfect." Sheppard twined a couple of fingers through his collar on Rodney's wrists and started for his quarters. Rodney followed along, arms extended, like a perfect sub, and Sheppard began to think that Rodney had found a book on how to be submissive and memorized it.

Opening the door, Sheppard pulled Rodney inside and pressed on his shoulder. "Kneel."

"My knees hurt from earlier," Rodney said, not even trying. "So I'd rather not."

"Thank God. I thought maybe you'd been replaced by a submissive pod Rodney." Amused, Sheppard moved away from away, tugging off his jacket and wrapping it around the back of a chair. "Care to tell me what this is all about before I get a hard-on and can't think again?"

"Nothing really." Rodney lifted his stubborn chin. "I just worry sometimes that the SGC will find a way to exile me to Russia again, and I thought a couple of days of submissive behavior might reassure people."

"And by people, you mean Dr. Weir." Sheppard could understand Rodney's fears, but they were unfounded. "No one is taking you from me. I promise."

"Yeah, I guess." Rodney slipped one hand out of the collar, flipping it this way and that. He didn't sound convinced.

Sheppard put his hands on his hips, more convinced than ever that Rodney had been up to no good.
"So I have you for two days?"

Rodney nodded in a miserable way.

"I can do whatever I want?" Sheppard pushed his luck.

Looking up, Rodney's eyes flashed. "Within reason!"

"Do I understand that you'd prefer we make this public? Me hauling you around as much as possible, while you look miserably submissive?" Sheppard wouldn't mind some of that, to be honest. Sure, it'd make his cock hard as stone, but he could live with it.

Pausing for a long moment, Rodney finally sighed. "Yes."

"One more question, was this your plan?" Sheppard stepped to him, running his hand up Rodney's arm and kissing him on the jaw. Rodney gulped, trying to turn away, but Sheppard didn't let him. "Keep me happy with sex and submission while you take over the world and remake it to suit yourself?"

"No." Rodney's tone was defiant. "I was told to to beat it because no one wants to train a new chief scientist!"

Stunned, Sheppard could only stare for a moment. "They said that?" He was thinking about being seriously pissed off.

"Implied, but I'm no idiot." Rodney shrugged, looking defeated. "Dr. Weir has threatened to fire me once too often, I guess. Honestly, I would've thought Kavanagh would be thrilled at the idea, but anyway, I'll be a good little submissive and--"

"Okay, what?" Sheppard interrupted. "You are never good! Or even that submissive! What have they done with the real Rodney?" He was tempted to drag Rodney right down to the infirmary to check for a symbiote infestation of some sort.

Rodney yanked away from him, going to sit on the bed and flipping the collar wildly. "Don't you see? If she thinks this is my doing, we'll never have a chance."

"Pretty sure you guys don't have a chance either way." Sheppard put his hands on his hips and frowned in frustration. "Put that collar on somewhere, will ya?"

With a glare, Rodney toed off his sneakers, yanked off a sock, and wrapped it twice around his ankle, clicking it shut. "Happy?"

Tilting his head, Sheppard licked his lower lip and had an idea that he knew was going to go over like a lead balloon. "No, but I'm going to fix that."

********

A bit of dread settled into Rodney's heart. He swallowed hard, getting ready to demand to know what Sheppard was planning, but Sheppard spun on his booted heel and left.

Walked out.

Without a word.

Rodney threw one of his shoes at the door. It hit with a satisfying smack. Sheppard was the most infuriating dom on this planet and any other. Rodney never should've told him anything, but it was hard to think with the growling and the touching. The whole thing had been cooked up by Teyla, and she'd insisted Rodney take cover from Dr. Weir's wrath. He'd been surprised at how many of the scientists had agreed with her, not wanting him fired.

He'd hoped he was universally hated for his genius. It seemed some of them appreciated him for his ability to run a department, even if they despised him for criticizing their substandard work. He would never admit that he'd been both touched and furious. The whole sex thing had been his idea. Keep Sheppard busy with that, instead of getting in the way, and he would admit now that it'd been a terrible plan. Rodney just wasn't good at this sex thing, even if he did sorta like it now.

The door swished open, and Sheppard came inside, carrying a small box. Rodney glared at it suspiciously. "Breaking out the bondage gear?"

"That's in my closet." Sheppard rolled his eyes, dropped the box on the bed, and pulled Rodney to his feet. "Undress. If you don't mind."

Rodney tried to sneak a peak in the box, but Sheppard lured him away with a kiss, which led to another, and before he quite realized what was happening, Rodney was naked on the bed, trying not to pant.

Sheppard had yet to take off a single piece of clothing, and he stroked his hand up from Rodney's ankle collar all the way up to Rodney's lips. "You can't wear enough gold to please me."

Frowning, Rodney tried to sit up and ask him a question or two, but Sheppard trailed his thumb along Rodney's lower lip, and Rodney stopped thinking again. It was damn annoying.

A jingle and some slight pressure might Rodney open his eyes again. "Sheppard, what?"

"Our military is nothing if not thorough when it comes to inventory." Sheppard twisted the golden collar, making another ankle bracelet for Rodney's other leg. "Of course, I'm fairly sure these are made of aluminum, but they'll do."

Before Rodney could think of a proper insult, he had two more collars strapped below his knees. "I'm probably allergic!" he yelped, considering running away from the intense look on Sheppard's face.

Sheppard took a firm grip on Rodney's cock and fashioned a golden cock ring with a click. "It wouldn't surprise me at all." He slid full body up to cover Rodney. "Arms up, please."

"Wait." Rodney needed a second to think. He didn't like bondage at all, not that he was actually restrained, but the collars were on him, and he might've whimpered into Sheppard's kiss. "Wait?"

"I think you're fine." Sheppard pushed Rodney's arms up over his head. "You're here because you want this." His hands seemed everywhere at once, and Rodney swore the room was spinning. Sheppard seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of collars and no end to his imagination on where to put them, even stringing them together around Rodney's stomach. "Okay?"

Panting, arching up, Rodney still kept his arms over his head. He felt wild. Crazy. On fire with something, maybe naquadriah. "My hands?"

"Are together, like you had them earlier. Not attached to anything." Sheppard drew back, staring down at him from one knee, other foot on the floor. He upended the box, and the last few collars smacked onto Rodney's chest. Sheppard grinned and found places to hook them.

Rodney wanted to protest this treatment. He really did, and he would've, but Sheppard skimmed his hot hand up Rodney's thigh. Cock jerking, Rodney gasped, wishing he didn't want the touches. His life was easier when all he did was work. He felt a trickle of sweat trace down his forehead. An overwhelming urge to jump up and run, trailing collars every step of the way, swept over him.

"I should go!" Rodney didn't move a muscle. "I have work. Really!"

Sheppard should've gotten angry. He should've even struck Rodney, and Rodney trembled, not ready for it at all. After a long second, Sheppard blinked, pulled up a chair and sat down across from him.

There was a tremble in Rodney's arms. "This is so not fair."

"You look great." Sheppard reached and adjusted one so Rodney's nipple was visible. "You don't like bondage, right?"

"Not at all." Rodney shook his head, and he didn't. He never wanted to be restrained. That would take a level of trust that he would never give to... he gulped. "Please no?"

"Now you're starting to understand." Sheppard studied him like a specimen. "You have to trust me to keep you safe while we both enjoy ourselves. Do you trust me, Rodney?" he asked in a sultry voice.

Rodney shivered. He raised his head and looked at his cock. It was stupid to look down there for guidance, but he wanted to make sure they were on the same page. His cock trusted John implicitly, at least that was Rodney took away from the fact that he was about ready to dirty all the tacky golden chains draped and looped all over his body.

"Rodney," John said, "I need to know."

"Of course I trust you, you idiot!" Rodney pushed his heels into the mattress in sheer frustration. "If I didn't, I'd kill you for this!"

For an answer, John eased to his feet and peeled off his jacket. "I believe you." He placed his index finger against Rodney's lower lip and his eyes sparkled.

One finger, and it was enough to keep Rodney flat on his back. His legs flailed about, but that was normal, or it could be normal. Rodney wasn't sure, since they hadn't had sex for very long, but he had the feeling he'd always be twitching somewhere. Almost scared at the look on John's face, Rodney tried to keep breathing.

John reached, tugging the chain around Rodney’s cock. "Relax, Rodney."

Instead of relaxing, Rodney made a high-pitched whiny noise and orgasmed, feeling as if all the air was being let out of his body. When he managed a breath, he glanced at John, who looked very smug. John leaned over him and kissed him thoroughly before drawing back to whisper, "I could watch that all day long."

Rodney grunted his displeasure at that idea, but talking wasn’t possible with John kissing him. His brain melted out his ears when John trailed his tongue down to Rodney’s nipples. All day sounded fine to him.

********

Leaving Rodney to sleep, John made his way to the cafeteria. Just to see what was going on. His radio was remarkably silent, and he wasn’t worried, not much.

Silence. Dead silence. People were eating, slowly, and everyone was watching everyone else. John backed out the door and went to see Dr. Weir. He studiously avoided looking at anyone on the way, particularly their necks, and he was lucky enough to avoid Ford.

She had her face in her hands, and that was never a good sign. He considered going back to his sub, but in the end, it wouldn’t go well for him. Opening the door, he slid into the office and claimed a chair in front of her desk.

"Since I’ve been busy, you’re going to have to fill me in on why this base has suddenly gone crazy," John said in a mild tone.

Looking up, she narrowed her eyes at him. "I know Rodney is to blame for this, but since he’s wearing your collar, I have no grounds.“

"He looks good in it," John said with only a small smirk. "It really is only a custom, not the law, and on a base this small, I’d like to think we can look after one another."

"Go talk to your men," she said with a sigh. "I could be in Vienna right now."

Biting back a chuckle, he got moving and called a general meeting. Rodney had set off a social revolution, and John supposed that he could back that play. It wouldn’t be easy, but he was up to knocking a few heads together, and he knew Teyla would help. He didn’t want the subs on this base to worry about what collar to wear. Life was too short, particularly out here, to be scared of the people they worked with, and really, even though John would never tell him – Rodney was right.

Ford dashed up with a furrowed brow. John patted him on the shoulder, and they walked together.

"Really?" Ford sounded so distraught.

"Really. We’re on a base, surrounded by geniuses, something weird was bound to happen." He laughed at Ford’s appalled face. After this meeting, John would go wake Rodney up and get him to yelling at people. Collar or no collar, it really didn’t matter – they were in this together.

********
end