When in Haldoria
They made a leash out of the webbed strap of Rodney's computer bag,
which was convenient because it already had the hook end attached.
Teyla fashioned a collar for him out of a bit of leather and ribbon. It
looked totally stupid, and John glared at Rodney.
"Oh yeah—like this is my fault," Rodney said, and no, John supposed that it really wasn't Rodney's fault that the rule of the Haldorian marketplace was No Shirt, No Slave, No Service. Rodney had to go, because it was Rodney who understood what stupid metals they had to buy, and John had to go because there was no way he was letting any of his team go into a society this weird without military escort.
Haldorian custom dictating that he be wearing as little as possible, John broke out a pair of cut off shorts, a sleeveless t-shirt, and a light vest—between that and the collar Teyla had made, he felt ready to go skateboarding in L.A. Still, the vest covered his shoulder holster and he'd managed to tuck a knife into his boot. The whole leash and collar set up was pretty strictly decorative, and would probably come apart if he really needed to do any serious fighting.
Rodney, on the other hand, was totally and utterly failing to carry off the electric blue cape that Teyla had scrounged up for him, which was surprising; he'd always thought that Rodney would take to the Imperial Look like a duck to water. Instead, Rodney's shoulders were slumped, and he looked like an impatient and embarrassed junior Caesar.
John couldn't resist torturing him. "Hey, Rodney! Elton John called! He wants his cape back."
"Surf's up, dude," Rodney snorted, and his disdain kind of helped him look kingly.
"Both of you, stop it," Elizabeth said. It was easy for her to say; she wasn't dressed for a San Francisco costume party. "Rodney," she said, handing him a parchment, "here is what we are prepared to offer in trade. John," she said, turning to him, "the Haldorians don't appear to be dangerous, but they're pretty weird, so be careful."
Rodney snatched the paper from her hand. John sketched out a respectful salute and turned to Rodney. "All right, Liberace, let's—"
Rodney picked up the end of his leash and slowly wound it around his hand.
"Okay, wait, hey, never mind," John said quickly.
Rodney's smile was a thing of pure evil. "You know," he said. "This might actually be kind of fun."
It was warm as they approached the marketplace, the crowds thickening as they neared. They couldn't stop staring at the locals, who seemed to be in a competition to wear the most elaborately designed outfits ("Forget what I said," John muttered to Rodney. "Yeah," Rodney whispered. "Elton John wants his planet back,") and have the most beautiful slaves. John swallowed hard and had to admit that the slaves were some of the most beautiful creatures he had ever seen—they all seemed to have beautifully toned bodies, and warm, golden skin. Their cast-down eyes looked like gemstones—sparkling blues, glittering emeralds, entirely alien yellows. John looked down at himself and felt like a pale, hairy white boy. "God, I look terrible. You should have taken Teyla."
"Right, because I'd be really comfortable having Teyla at the end of a leash," Rodney muttered back.
John jerked his head to look at Rodney. " And you're comfortable having me at the end of a leash?"
Rodney turned, looked him up and down slowly, then broke into that totally evil smile. "Yeah. Kind of," and before John could think of anything to say to that, Rodney was tugging him past the guards stationed near the wall and into the marketplace proper.
He'd had dreams like this—everything he'd ever wanted laid out before him on tables, the crowds surging, the merchants yelling, "Who's next? Who's next to buy?" It was like every country fair, every flea market, every cool-as-shit garage sale times a million—it was All You Can Eat day at Kenny's, the used record sale at Dompsey, the Craftsman section of Sears.
But Rodney was dragging him past the tables before he got a chance to look. "We're not here to buy you a zeppelin t-shirt, okay? We've got to find one particular guy, his name is L'hrama, and he sells harmonium and lupranza and half the other stuff the Ancients used to make their alloys—so get moving, okay?" John opened his mouth to argue, but a nearby slave shot him a withering look, and he shut his mouth and bowed his head.
L'hrama was obviously a big deal; they were stopped and questioned before they were allowed to approach his stand. When they did, they found him surrounded by slaves, each attached to a ring on his finger by a very fine-spun gold chain. John looked down at his webbed leash and felt really downmarket. "I want a gold chain."
"Shuddup," Rodney said out of the corner of his mouth.
"You never buy me anything," John muttered, and Rodney yanked hard enough on his leash that his neck hurt.
"I am Doctor Rodney McKay," Rodney announced with a flourish of his cape, "and I come to you as an emissary of the City of Atlantis." John just stared at him; Christ, it was like a high school production of Clash of the Titans.
L'hrama looked at Rodney consideringly, then gestured him toward a padded stool with a wave of his hand. "Come," he said. "You are welcome, Doctor Rodney McKay of Atlantis."
Rodney bowed, went over to the stool, and sat down, still holding John's leash. John obediently went to stand next to him—but then Rodney looked up at him meaningfully and tugged twice on the strap, like he was trying to turn on a lightbulb in John's head.
"Ow," John said, glaring a look that said, What?
"Sit," Rodney said between gritted teeth, and John blinked and let his legs fold under him so that he was sitting almost on Rodney's boots. Rodney smiled nervously at L'hrama and then cleared his throat. "He's, uh, not very well trained."
L'hrama just beamed at him and waved a graceful hand that said, clear as anything, "No matter, you are clearly philistines,"—but the other slaves were glaring at John like he was a disgrace to slaves everywhere. John tried a "hey, what are you doing later?" smile at the one nearest him, a beautiful woman with honey-colored hair and golden skin—but she looked away from him, apparently disgusted. Next to her, a young man with dark hair and huge eyes stared at him curiously, and then affectionately leaned his tanned cheek against L'hrama's leg. L'hrama's hand came down to pat his head and smooth his hair.
"I am L'hrama, merchant of Haldoria," L'hrama said with a modest shrug, like there hadn't been four armed guards standing outside next to a sign that said, "L'HRAMA" in four-foot-high gold letters. Then again, maybe that was the epitome of good taste around here.
"Oh yes," Rodney said, leaning forward excitedly. "We know," and man, Rodney was such an ass kisser. Show him a couple of new elements and he just fell all over himself. "That's why we came. We were interested in..." and as one, all the slaves turned to stare at him, gape-mouthed, their eyes huge.
Rodney trailed off, and shot John a quick, panicked look that said, "Oh my God, help"—but John didn't know what they'd done wrong any more than Rodney did. Except—wait.
He cleared his throat and spoke in a softest, most respectful voice he could muster, keeping his eyes trained on the ground. "You came, you were interested—"
"I—uh," and for a second, he didn't think Rodney had gotten it, but then Rodney did. "Yes, of course," he said, regaining his composure, "I came because I had heard that you were the only reliable supplier of harmonium in the galaxy," and John signaled his approval by leaning his cheek against Rodney's thigh. The other slaves visibly relaxed.
Rodney's hand landed clumsily in his hair and began to pet him absently, and John relaxed and listened to Rodney explain just what metals Atlantis was seeking to acquire and in what quantities. John wasn't much of a horse-trader himself, but he was pretty sure that he could see old L'hrama gleefully rubbing his hands—and why not? They wanted a lot of stuff, and they were prepared to pay pretty handsomely for it by local standards.
"My friend, my friend!" L'hrama said finally, looking like maybe he wanted to hug Rodney to his bosom, "certainly I can provide you what you require—but tonight, you must be my guest!" He clapped his hands, and all around them, the slaves whirled into motion, dismantling the tent, picking up the pillows, and loading the whole kit and caboodle onto the back of an ornate, motorized carriage that had appeared out of nowhere. Suddenly, Rodney was being swept away from him and into the carriage by three very pretty slave people—holy crap, the webbed leash holding them together had been cut!
"Rodney!" John yelled, struggling with the slaves who were holding him back.
"Hey, wait a minute," Rodney said frantically, but the nearby slaves were helping L'hrama up into the carriage, which kicked into motion with a jerk. "John!" Rodney yelled, reaching out toward him through the open back window of the carriage. "Wait, you idiots!" Rodney yelled, angrily wheeling on the slaves, "you left—" and then the carriage was speeding through the marketplace, disappearing into the crowd.
"Do not worry," one of the slaves said, smiling sweetly at John. "He will be cared for."
John poked an finger angrily just above her perfect, golden brown breast. "He will be cared for by me. That's the deal, okay?"
The slave arched a surprised eyebrow at him. "Your loyalty is admirable," she said, looking unexpectedly impressed. "Come. We will take you to the homeplace," and John had no other choice but to hop into the slave wagon with them, and follow behind.
The other slaves kept looking him up and down nervously, like maybe he might bite them. John just crossed his arms and stared down at the wooden floor of the wagon; he didn't feel like getting into a stupid conversation with a bunch of stupid slaves, and what was there to say, anyway: "You guys like being slaves, or what?'
He supposed he could hook them up with guns if they asked for them.
One of them—the woman who'd praised his loyalty—finally spoke up. "Is he not good to you?"
John's head shot up. "What?"
"Your master." She turned her face away, embarrassed, a flush warming her golden skin. "Does he not care for you? Is that why you do not respect him?"
"I respect him plenty!" John protested, before he could even rationally think it through. "He treats me great! I don't know what you're talking about!" and the other slaves all shrank back at his apparent anger, and started murmuring quietly to themselves.
When she spoke again, it was so quietly that John couldn't hardly tell she was speaking. "You are right to defend him. Where there is love, you need not be ashamed of meager adornments or dress. But we will help you; perhaps we can make you more pleasing to him."
And then the wagon pulled up sharply at a low arched door, and they all got out.
The slave quarters at L'hrama's house were amazing; the slaves seemed to live like well-fed lapdogs, lounging on pink and silver pillows. A young man took John's hand with a smile and led him into a room that turned out to be some kind of huge marble bathhouse. John jerked back, shaking his head; he was thinking of his guns and his knife, but the young man seemed to think he was protecting his modesty, and gestured for him to undress behind a screen. John sighed, then reached into his vest for his gun, meaning to shoot his way out of there if necessary.
But the slave just said, "Ah, your weapons. You may leave them while you bathe," and when John turned he saw a staggering array of guns, daggers, and poisons on a shelf cut into the side of the bathhouse wall. John instinctively drifted toward them—cause, geez, some of that stuff looked amazingly cool. However, they were all waiting for him with faint impatience, and so John reluctantly set down his weapons and stripped to the skin. A moment later, the man and two women were pulling him through to the main chamber and down into the warmest, most luscious bath of his life.
He let them wash him from head to toe in—well, whatever fluid it was. John didn't think it was water, it was nicer than water, somehow thicker, and his skin came out pale, but soft, and kind of glowing. They washed him with big, soft sponges, and he thought they were probably being deliberately over-sensual about it, but who cared, really? The heat and the steam were making him feel kind of sleepy, and when he felt a tongue touch his nipple, and a wet hand gently grip his erection, he just closed his eyes and let whoever it was do whatever they wanted to do with him. Six hands slid over his body in the water, and made him come in maybe thirty seconds flat.
Afterwards, he let them pull him from the water, and wrap him in some thick towelly stuff that was a lot nicer than cotton. John just wanted to curl up on one of the pink silk pillows and sleep for a year, but he couldn't, because these sexy weirdos had Rodney holed up somewhere. "Rodney," he said to the man who was kissing him, and the man smiled and murmured, "Yes, very admirable," against his mouth. He became aware that a woman was kissing his thigh and perfuming him in places that he'd never been perfumed before, and he pushed himself up on his elbow and whispered, "Rodney," to her, too.
She looked up and smiled at him. "Yes," she said. "Soon."
They gave him his weapons back, dressed him in some kind of shiny black gauzy fabric, and put a silver chain around his neck. "Much better," the woman with the honey-colored hair said, looking him up and down with an appraising smile. (John had asked her name, but she had kissed him instead. "We don't need names," she murmured, "We know who we are.") "Now we go to the banquet," she said, and stroked a hand down his cheek. "Your Rodney's been asking for you."
They led him through a series of dark corridors and then up a staircase and through a door into a large banqueting chamber, and he saw right away that L'hrama was sitting on one side of the low table surrounded by his entourage, placidly eating.
On the other side, staring down at the table, his face clenched with worry, was Rodney. He was still wearing his blue cape, and he was pushing away two very pretty slaves—one male and one female, alike enough to be twins—who were trying to feed him.
"Look, I told you," Rodney said in a tight voice, "this deal is off until I get my own slave back."
L'hrama looked up from gnawing on some giant roasted animal leg. "And I have told you that he is being cared for and will be brought to you. In fact," L'hrama added, gesturing toward John with the leg, "there he is," and Rodney turned and the look of relief on his face was so plain that John felt himself grinning stupidly, and he had to stop himself from racing across the room toward him, though he did maybe jog a little.
"John," Rodney said, trying to get up—but he was chained to the Bobbsey Twins and he was stepping on his own cape and suddenly he was shaking his fists in frustration and yelling, "Get the fuck off me, both of you!" Instantly, the pale gold chains fell away, and the twins scampered away, looking nervous. Rodney took a few steps toward him and then they were hugging tightly, and Rodney's hands were clutching at his shoulders, his waist, his head. "God, are you all right?" Rodney breathed into his ear. "They wouldn't tell me what they'd done with you!"
"I—I'm fine," John said, and he felt weirdly moved by the way Rodney was holding him, and before he could really think about it, he'd pulled back just enough to find Rodney's mouth with his own. Rodney breathed in sharply, but didn't pull away, and suddenly they were holding each other tightly, and kissing really, really hard.
"Geez," Rodney said finally, breaking away long enough to stare at him, though his hand was still cupping the side of John's face. "What the hell did they do to you?"
"I just, I don't—seriously, I don't know," John said—and suddenly he realized that the fine silver chain they'd put around his neck had somehow attached itself to a ring that Rodney was wearing on his hand. He stared at it, but he couldn't see the break. It didn't look hooked on. It looked permanent.
Rodney followed his eyes and saw what he saw. "Okay, wow," he said. "That's harmonium," he said, "hard as steel, but it attracts and combines with other metals on touch, kind of like mercury." He turned to L'hrama and blurted, "This is it, this is the stuff we—uh..." but L'hrama was kissing a boy-slave while a beautiful naked girl writhed, gasping, on his lap.
"Really, Master, you should eat something," a very pretty blond boy ventured without daring to raise his eyes to Rodney. "Or you'll be too tired for the orgy," and Rodney's arms tightened almost hysterically around John as he blurted, "Don't leave me!"
"I wouldn't dream of it," John said, and pressed his cheek to the side of Rodney's face.
shalott: glares at you!!!
shalott: no!!! you don't get to bring us there and not give us the orgy!!!
shalott: what is this story but a gorgeous cracked excuse for an orgy?!??
Cesca: Oh geez...
When in Haldoria: Part II
The orgy, L'hrama explained to Rodney as he gestured them into the carriage, was held nightly in another part of the city, and was considered a great public works project—Haldoria being one of the few cultures civilized enough to maintain a first-class marketplace, concert hall, and orgy house. Rodney was bent over, hands covering his face, and muttering, "Oh my god, oh my god," but this time John had been allowed to ride with him, and so he kind of wrapped himself around Rodney and stroked his hair and murmured things like, "It'll be all right," and "Don't worry, it'll be fun."
"Fun for you," Rodney said finally, miserably, lifting his head and staring at John. "I mean, look at you. You're beautiful, and—" John cupped Rodney's face in his hands and kissed him deeply, not even caring that L'hrama and six of his slaves were sharing the carriage and watching. "—and I look like Elton John," Rodney gasped, when John gave his mouth a final, wet kiss and pulled away.
"That's very chic here," John replied. "I'm the one who needed a makeover."
"You're nuts. This is nuts. I'm gonna wake up in a nuthouse somewhere, and it's going to turn out I snapped when some horrible, life-sucking beast tried to kill me."
"We're here," L'hrama announced as the carriage jerked to a stop, and John wrapped his arms around Rodney and softly kissed his cheek, feeling weirdly unembarrassed by it all.
The building was huge, like a temple, though there only seemed to be one small door that led inside. Rodney had pulled all the slack out of the chain that connected him to John, and so John was forced to stay very close to him as they moved into the foyer.
It wasn't a hardship.
"May I take your cloak, sir?" a beautiful, dark-skinned man asked Rodney, and Rodney practically leapt away from him and into John's arms. "Let him have it," John murmured into Rodney's ear. "You don't need it," and Rodney took a deep breath, unlatched his cape, and handed it to the man.
"Promise you won't leave me?" Rodney asked John again, hesitating before the slaves pulled open the inner doors.
"I promise," John said, meaning it sincerely. "I swear," and Rodney took a deep breath and went inside.
It was...dazzling. The room was vast. At its center, two huge circular staircase curved upwards, coiling like cobras, each leading to a set of balconies. The room was divided into areas by different clusters of furniture and people, and John couldn't think of a single sexual act that wasn't occurring somewhere within view. To their left, a group of men seemed to be having sex with a single, happily moaning woman; a little further on, one woman was kissing another, her hand disappearing between the other woman's casually parted legs. Another slight turn of the head brought him a glimpse of two men having sex with a third—one man kissing his mouth, the other fucking his ass. Another slight turn and a man and a woman were earnestly making love. Another slight turn showed them a daisy chain—a woman kneeling and giving head to a man who was kissing and fingering a woman, who...
John started as a dark-haired women came up and offered her hand to Rodney. "Tell me your pleasure, master," she said. "Where may I bring you?"
It took Rodney a few moments to realize she was there—he looked overwhelmed, unable to tear his eyes away. "I...uh..." Rodney said, finally focusing on her. "I think I just—" and then suddenly he turned to look at John with imploring eyes. "John."
John stared back at Rodney for a moment, then wrapped his arms around Rodney from behind and kissed his neck. He felt Rodney shudder and then slid his hand down the front of his pants—Rodney was watching the two women together, and he was hard under John's hand. "Oh," Rodney gasped. "God," and John bit down on Rodney's neck as he worked his hand into Rodney's pants. Then he had the smooth, hot skin of Rodney's cock in his hand and was stroking him fast and hard. Rodney's hand came up, fingers clutching the arm John had braced around his chest, and then his head lolled backwards onto John's shoulder, and he was coming, and John saw that his eyes were squeezed tightly shut.
"There you go," John murmured, gently coaxing Rodney through the final waves of his orgasm. "That'll take the edge off," but to his surprise, Rodney rolled in his arms and kissed him roughly, biting and sucking John's lip.
Then Rodney looked around for the beautiful dark-haired woman, and waved her over again. "Isn't there any way to book a room in here?" he demanded, when she approached.
"Why yes," she replied. "If you wish."
"I want a room," Rodney replied; he was still clutching John's arm tightly like John might run away or something, and John was tempted to lean in and whisper in his ear, I'm not going anywhere, promise. "For me and him," Rodney told the dark-haired woman. "And maybe, I don't know—her," her said, pointing to a luscious-looking blonde with thick, curly hair before looking nervously to John for his opinion, and nodded.
The dark-haired woman stopped to murmur a word to the blonde, who smiled at them and promised to be right up. Then they followed the dark-haired woman up the staircase to a room that was all bed; John thought at first that the floor was just at waist height, and then he saw that it wasn't a floor at all, but a soft, perfectly resistant surface. John climbed on first and hauled Rodney up beside him—and then he pushed Rodney onto his back on the mattress and began to kiss and fondle him, taking extraordinary pleasure in the gasps Rodney tried to stifle against his shoulder. The silver chain that connected them seemed to writhe like a living thing, staying out of their way, warmly wrapping itself around first Rodney's arm, then John's, then Rodney's again.
"I—Jesus, John," Rodney said, gripping John's hair tightly in his fists, "you smell like—I don't know. Fucking paradise."
"I don't know," John replied; he was focused on trying to push down Rodney's pants as well as his own weird shiny pants. "It was this stuff they put on me. They put this stuff on me." He looked up when he realized that Rodney was sniffing him, trailing his nose down his arm to his fingers. "Rodney, what are you—" and then Rodney holding his hand, kissing his fingers, then pulling John's fingers deep into his mouth.
John closed his eyes and started breathing hard, momentarily forgetting about his pants and his cock and the Haldorians and everything except the heat of Rodney's mouth and the way that Rodney's tongue was sliding between his fingers. And then, there was a knock on the door, and the blonde smiled hesitantly before climbing up beside them on the mattress—and Rodney looked at her and moaned around John's fingers.
John pulled his fingers back; they were cold once the air hit them, and he pressed them to his chest. "Go ahead," he said breathlessly. "Take her, I'll wait."
Rodney stared up at him, chest heaving. "No, I—I got her for you."
John felt himself frowning; that was wrong, she wasn't even his type: Rodney was the one who liked blondes. But then Rodney said again, in a low desperate voice, "Kiss her. I want to see you do it," and John felt helpless to do anything but obey him.
So he turned, took the woman gently by the shoulders, and kissed her. She had the same soft, wide mouth that all the other slaves seemed to have, and so it was sweet to kiss her, though somehow not very exciting. Still, he clutched her thick hair in his hands and deepened the kiss, her hand gripping his shoulder—but when he heard Rodney's soft moan, he broke the kiss and turned to look.
Rodney was watching them with wide, distant eyes, and there was excitement there, but also a sort of masochism. John was suddenly torn between continuing the scene, making love to the woman so that Rodney could watch him, and asking Rodney to just send her away. He took a deep breath—jerking away from the woman, who was kissing his cheek and nuzzling his jaw—and murmured to Rodney: "Is this—Is this what you want?"
For a moment, Rodney didn't answer; he was just staring, gape-mouthed, at the blonde's slim hands, which were knowingly undoing the fastenings on John's shiny black pants. John inhaled raggedly as the fabric fell away and her soft, warm hand closed around him. He couldn't decide whether to push into her grip or pull away.
"I—God. Yeah," Rodney said, sounding almost desperate, and so John closed his eyes, shrugged out of his gauzy shirt, and resolved to push her back against the mattress and fuck her. But the hands resting on his shoulders were stronger than he thought, and when he finally looked up into the woman's alien yellow eyes, he saw a wry playfulness and an almost fond regard for his own stupidity. Then she almost imperceptibly shook her head.
A moment later, he landed on his back with enough force to knock the wind out of him, and felt her soft hands slide over his belly, curling and combing almost roughly through his pubic hair before tightly wrapping around his cock. He sucked desperately for air as her mouth closed around him, tight and wet, and closed his eyes, unable to stop himself from fantasizing that it was Rodney sucking him off, Rodney giving him head. Still, he knew it wasn't, because he could hear Rodney murmuring, "...ah, geez, yeah..." the way he sometimes did when scientific experiments had been going really well.
A hand skimmed gently across his rib cage, and another tugged at his nipples—and wait, maybe one or two of those hands were his own, but that still left a couple unaccounted for—and when John opened his eyes, he saw Rodney bent over him, hands drifting over him, mouth bending to drop a wet, sloppy kiss upon his chest. John reached for him, fingers skimming his hair, but Rodney looked up and said, "No, don't," and—suddenly his hands were being pulled up and away from him, and John twisted his head and saw that the fine silver chain connecting him to Rodney was unaccountably lengthening, the spun harmonium twisting itself out and up and wrapping itself around John's wrists of its own accord, binding his hands up over his head. He realized, suddenly, that he was panting, his chest heaving up and down so fast that his ribs almost hurt, he was so turned on. Rodney was staring down at him with eyes so dilated they were nearly black, and when he spoke, his voice seemed strangely husky.
"Uh, thanks, I, uh—" Rodney cleared his throat and looked up at the blonde woman. "I can take it from here," and obediently she nodded, gathered her garments, and went.
Rodney looked down at John again and said, earnestly, "I love this planet," and John gritted his teeth and said, "Jesus, if you don't shut up and fuck me right now, I swear to you I won't be accountable—" and thank God, Rodney knew "at the end of his rope" when he heard it, and pushed John's knee up, and shoved two fingers into him.
John arched his back, driving his weight hard against his shoulders. "God, yeah," he said, gasping. "Please. Hurry."
Rodney twisted the fingers inside him, sending another bolt of pleasure up his spine. But he didn't do anything else, and suddenly he was babbling, "I don't have anything to—I mean, there's nothing, there's just the bed—" and it took John a moment even to make a guess at what on earth Rodney could be saying, but then he did guess.
"It's fine, I'm ready," John replied breathlessly, and that was true; Rodney's fingers were sinking right into him. Whatever they'd done to him, he was beyond ready. Rodney still looked unconvinced, though, so John closed his eyes and rhythmically fucked himself on Rodney's fingers until he heard Rodney gasp, "Jesus, okay, hang on—" and then Rodney was pushing into him, and John just lay there, shuddering violently with pleasure.
Afterwards, Rodney practically had to carry him down the staircase to the carriage, he was so wiped. John kept drifting off, face pressed to Rodney's warm neck, on the journey back to L'hrama's mansion, and he only really woke up when he heard Rodney yell, "I don't care about your customs!"
John lifted his head, blinking, and said, "What?"
"They say you have to sleep in the slave house!" Rodney said, gesturing to the cowering slaves angrily.
The slaves murmured among themselves and then one stepped forward and said, tactfully, "It is not done here, for slave and master to share together. It goes against the very deepest precepts of our—"
"I don't care about your precepts!" Rodney yelled, and okay, this was clearly where he came in.
"Rodney," John murmured very quietly, and he wasn't sure if this was him trying to be tactful or if he was unconsciously emulating the gentle and understated manner of the slaves, "It'll be all right. It's just for one night. It's fine down there—probably nicer than where you're staying."
Rodney's face was working like he was having trouble controlling himself. "John, I—" and John leaned in to kiss him, and felt Rodney's hands gripping the gauzy fabric of his shirt. "I'll see you tomorrow," John murmured against his mouth, and then an entourage of slaves graciously escorted an irritated-looking Rodney out of the carriage.
One of the other slaves looked at him gratefully, and murmured, "Thank you. It may be easy for strangers to laugh at our customs, but without them, we'd get no sleep at all."
Back at the slave house, there was much chatter and bathing and laughing going on, but John just said, "Sleep, please," and nodded in relief as a very pretty man with sandy hair and amazing muscles led him to a pile of pillows underneath an overhang of silk. John fell asleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow, and woke up, many hours later, blinking in the darkness, surrounded by a tangle of limbs.
The next morning, he found his cut-offs, sleeveless t-shirt, and vest clean and waiting for him, the webbed strap of Rodney's computer bag coiled on top. Sighing, John strapped his weapons on, dressed up in his skater clothes, and tucked the leash away in his pocket.
He didn't think he could wear it. He didn't think he'd need to, anyway.
Rodney looked just like himself again, only happier. "That's great, that's perfect," he told L'hrama, "We'll have our people bring you the first set of generators when we receive the first shipment." John went and stood quietly at Rodney's side, keeping his eyes averted as much as he could, thumb silently stroking the webbed leash in his pocket.
"Very good, very good," L'hrama said, sounding near overjoyed. "It has been a very long since I have made such a happy trade as this. Please to think of me if you find your people to require anything else!"
"You betcha," Rodney said, and shook his hand firmly. "You'll be hearing from us."
"Then please, my people shall escort you to your ship," L'hrama said, and waved a hand to today's batch of slaves.
"Right, great," Rodney said, then turned to clap a hand on John's shoulder. "Come on, Major, let's go. I think we get to report a very successful mission."
It was only when he was sitting in the jumper with his hands on the controls and Rodney sitting beside him, frowning down at some technical manual, that John began to relax.
"Atlantis," John said, as they hurtled back toward the Stargate, "We're on our approach," and Elizabeth's voice came back sounding cheerful: "Glad to have you back, Major."
She was waiting for them as they disembarked from the jumper. "How did it go, gentlemen?"
Rodney showed her a thumbs up and said, "Piece of cake. We take delivery on Tuesday."
"Excellent," Weir said, with that undertone of impressed surprise she always had in her voice whenever a mission wasn't a complete disaster. "Enjoy the rest of your day," and then she was strolling back to the control room, and John and Rodney were left standing there, looking at each other awkwardly.
"Maybe I should—" John began, just as Rodney said, "Why don't you—" and then they stopped, shuffled nervously, and looked away from each other.
John stared at the jumper, trying to figure out whether to say, "Look, I'm really tired," or "Come to my quarters and fuck me," or "Maybe we need some time to think about this," or "You know, that thing with the leash was really kind of hot," but then Rodney cleared his throat and said, "Look—this isn't Haldoria," and John's spirits sank.
"Yeah," John said quietly. "I know." What he really needed was a shower, and a nap, and—
"I mean," Rodney said, in an unfamiliar, uncertain voice, "there's no local customs preventing anyone from sleeping together, right?"
—a shower, and a nap, and Rodney, maybe not so much in that order. Rodney was still watching him nervously, waiting for him to say something, so John said, quickly, "Right. Yes."
Rodney exhaled with a grin, almost laughing. "Okay. Good. That's a relief," he said. "Why don't you come to my—" and then he blinked and touched two fingers to John's throat. " Did they give you that? The Haldorians?"
John raised a hand to his neck and realized he was still wearing the spun harmonium necklace. "Yeah, I think I might hang on to it," he said, and smiled.