Chapter 1: The End Is A Beginning
"Is there going to be a next time?"
John motioned for the Marines to leave them alone, and with another wave of his hand he closed the door.
Todd was watching him intently, yellow eyes glinting like warning lights.
"If I were a Wraith, I would kill you just out of spite."
Todd said nothing.
"But obviously I'm not, and, uh, you've been sort of useful so far."
"Well, when you weren't trying to double-cross us, manipulate us, or trying to crash us into a planet. Apart from that."
Todd growled a little and narrowed his eyes at Sheppard.
"Are you still not getting over that, Sheppard, when I'm supposed to get over having my hive and ships destroyed?"
"We didn't do that!" John protested, because really, it had been a huge misunderstanding and really shitty timing. "If you'd listened to us instead of just jumping to conclusions, we could have worked together to..."
"Are you angry over not being trusted?" Todd interrupted him, his harsh resounding voice infused with a tone of dark amusement.
"Of course I am!"
"Why should you be more trustworthy to us than we to you?" Todd continued, advancing from behind the desk that stood between them. "You're still trying to destroy us every way you can. Some of you are willing to let a third of their population die just so the rest can be poisonous to us. Your species would see ours destroyed no matter how, while we obviously need you to survive."
The last thing John wanted was to engage in an ethical debate with a Wraith.
"Well," he said instead, "that's why we tried to develop that vaccine that would let you feed like normal... like humans again."
"But it didn't work, and yet again I found myself without hive and ship."
"You're a tough guy. I don't even want to know what you did to regain your place in the Alliance."
Todd grinned cruelly at that, and John really didn't want to know.
"But it was all for nothing. I have nothing now - no queen, no ship, no hive. Do you know what it means for one of us to be without a hive? The silence where the buzz of the hivemind should be..."
"I don't know, I kind of like silence," John said lightly, "and I don't like people in my head."
"You know nothing indeed. I can't explain it to you."
"I happen to care about my crew and my people," John said, surprised that he was feeling offended. "I know something about... belonging."
"You know nothing about what it is to belong body and mind, to be part of something that is also part of you."
Todd was speaking angrily now, with the closest thing resembling passion John had ever seen a Wraith display. Well, a Wraith other than Michael, but Michael was a different can of worms entirely.
"Why do you think we don't use names? We do not need names. You have the need to put a name on everything. And yet, I have learned to live without them. I've worked with you so many times already. I've let you experiment on me."
John had instinctively taken a step back when Todd had begun advancing, but he forced himself to stop and glare defiantly in Todd's face. Todd seemed very... intense right then.
"What's more... John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Teyla Emmagan, Ronon Dex." Todd punctuated each name with a small step towards John, who was beginning to wonder if being alone with a Wraith had been such a bright idea after all. "Doctor Carter, Doctor Jennifer Keller, Mister Woolsey. What does this tell you, Sheppard?"
Maybe McKay was on to something with that "self-preservation of a lemming" thing.
"Uh, that you've got a good memory?" he said lightly, trying not to back away, and wondering why exactly wasn't he doing that.
"I have learned your names," Todd hissed. "Humans with names. Like I should care. Do you name your food? Wraith feed and humans are fed on. It is the way we are, it is who we've been for millennia before you came here. But I was willing to give that up, to renounce the very thing that makes me who I am. Does that tell you nothing, Sheppard?"
"To be fair, since every time you feed could be your last, one might say you're just trying to avoid food poisoning."
Todd snorted, and John realized that at some point he'd begun taking it for granted that Todd would understand his jokes.
"Perhaps. But I still did it, when others of my kind wouldn't. Perhaps I've become what you named me. Todd. I am less and less what I used to be, since I met you, John Sheppard. I have changed. Wraith have not changed for millennia. Perhaps it was time you yielded a little ground yourself."
Todd was standing right in front of him now, staring him in the eyes. John swallowed the knot in his neck.
"I wasn't going to kill you anyway," he said. "Just so you know."
Todd inclined his head sidewise, still fixating John.
"But I can't just let you go right now, and I certainly can't let you roam free in the city while we're on Earth."
Todd narrowed his eyes and twisted his lips into a scowl, so John continued hurriedly.
"But I can arrange to get you a more interesting room, and your clothes too."
Todd smiled as John stepped back to make for the exit.
"That is a promising beginning, Sheppard." Todd bowed his head just a little. "Will you also come to keep me company once in a while?" he added.
John hoped with all his might that it was just sarcasm, because the alternative was scarier. What was even scarier was that he'd probably do it anyway.
Chapter 2: Things Strange
He'd given instructions for Todd to be placed in a room with the basic comforts - which by some sort of unspoken understanding among Atlantis personnel seemed to include a TV set, a DVD player and the Star Wars DVDs - and then tried not to think about him anymore.
As he eventually had to admit when he found himself stalking the south-western corridors for the third time in a week, he wasn't particularly successful with that.
He stopped just short of the corridor where the "guest room" was located and sighed. Then he assumed a casual, uncaring pose and strode over to the two guards, who stood at attention when they saw him.
"At ease," he said in a friendly tone. He could imagine how pleased they were to be standing guard when most of the personnel had been given leave. Even if they got changed every other day and got to play cards in the hall. "How's our guest?"
"Quiet," said one of the boys, a tall dark-skinned Marine called Charlie, if Sheppard's memory served him right. (It usually did.) "Every time we checked up on him he was just lying there."
"Kinda creepy if you ask me," muttered the other one, red-haired and freckled. Lenny, thought John.
"It's creepier when he's talking, trust me on that," John drawled, "but I have to. There are some loose threads the SGC wants wrapped."
Which wasn't entirely untrue. There were a lot of threads the SGC wanted to wrap, and some of them surely concerned the Wraith in general and Todd in particular.
The Marines stepped aside, and John swiped his access card in the lock.
Somewhat predictably, Todd was lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling. John waved the door closed behind him, and that's when Todd showed the first sign of interest.
"Sheppard," he said, and John could swear he could detect amusement in the gravelly voice. "How nice of you to come by."
"Yeah, well, thought I'd drop by to see if you were behaving."
Todd turned to look at him with his eery yellow eyes, not bothering to move from the bed.
Sheppard looked for something against which he could casually lean, without losing sight of Todd or the door, and his eyes fell upon something he didn't remember asking to be put there.
"Hey, what are those?"
He was frowning at a tablet and a laptop.
"I believe Doctor McKay is stuck with a project."
Sheppard's eyebrows shot up.
"He told you that?"
"Of course not. He brought them to me and said I might as well make something useful with my time since I was sitting here doing nothing and consuming valuable resources."
Sheppard snorted, because it was true - it sounded exactly like McKay - and because his first impulse had been to ask "What? McKay has been here and I didn't even know about it?" which somehow sounded all wrong to him.
"And what did you tell him?"
"I told him that I was not consuming your resources, not really." Todd was fixing him intently as he said that, and John felt a shiver along his spine. "He left rather abruptly after that."
"Yeah, about that..." John started. "I was meaning to ask you, uh, how you were feeling."
"I am well," Todd said blankly, and John hated that the Wraith had such a natural poker face in general, and that this Wraith in particular had become so adept at human facetiousness.
"I mean. You know. Is everything still... okay?"
"You mean to ask if I'm feeling the hunger yet," Todd stated, and chose that moment to sit up and lean against the wall, in one fluid movement which didn't betray that he'd been stuck in the bed all day.
Todd was silent for a while.
"No," he said eventually. "But I will get hungry sooner or later."
"Well, is it rather sooner or rather later?"
The SGC had interviewed Sheppard and his team on the subject, and he knew there'd been some discussions to which he hadn't been privy either.
Todd stretched back on the bed.
"It is preferable for me to avoid exertion, especially of the physical kind," he said instead of an actual answer, and John gulped.
An uneasy feeling settled in his gut. If he was going to end up in the position of having to defend a Wraith's right to feed in front of the SGC... But he couldn't very well defend the idea of letting someone starve, deliberately, under their eyes. It would be more honorable at least to just shoot the bastard dead. Although a part of him wasn't so set on that anymore either. It seemed like he always began by threatening to kill Todd and ended by sparing, if not outright saving his life.
"Well," he said, trying for a light tone, "I guess joining me for a run is out of the question then."
Todd snorted, not even gracing John with a look this time.
"Of course security reasons would have never allowed it in the first place but, you know, it was a thought."
A few moments' silence followed. John was fidgeting, trying to think of a way to leave without looking like he was fleeing and wondering why the heck did he care, when suddenly Todd spoke again.
"Doctor Keller advanced the idea of placing me in a stasis pod. Of course, we don't know if the Atlantean ones are adequate to Wraith physiology, so some tests would be needed before using that option."
"Doctor Keller was here too?"
Todd's lips quirked in something resembling a smile.
"Yes, Sheppard. She also intends to extend the research for the vaccine." He turned his head to look at John. "If that is acceptable with you?"
"Sure," John said, wondering if one could have cabin fever on a ship the size of a city, and if cabin fever could be responsible for the weird feeling that somehow Rodney and Keller had encroached upon his territory. And since when had Todd become the cool kid of Atlantis, anyway?
"However, you were the only one to visit alone," Todd added, bowing his head a little, and John wondered if he was supposed to take that as a compliment, and also if Todd had somehow gotten into his head.
"I don't know if that makes me brave or just stupid," he muttered.
"I would have said that means we've developed a measure of mutual trust."
"Yeah, precisely," John mumbled, not willing to dwell on it. "Well, if that's all," he said rather brusquely, "I've got to be somewhere else now."
John was at the door when he heard Todd's resounding voice call again.
"Now I understand why you call Ronon Dex Chewie. Do you think of yourself as a Han Solo?"
"What?" he said, and then it caught up with him and the laughter escaped him spontaneously. It sounded a little hysterically maybe, but he was willing to cut himself some slack under the circumstances. "No. I mean... Well. Maybe, a little." He shook his head. "I really have to run now, but I'll bring some Star Trek next time."
John wasn't really lying. Todd didn't say anything more, and John left, walking calmly out the door. He reassured Charlie and Lenny, who seemed a little nervous by the door, and then as soon as he turned the corridor to the transporter he did run; he ran all the way to his quarters. But he couldn't stop wondering and anticipating what would Todd make of the Vulcans and Klingons.
Chapter 3: Things Learned
When John had returned Todd's original clothes to him, he'd also added something - a pair of leather gloves.
"To go with your coat. You all seem to be big leather freaks."
Todd had grinned wryly at that, before trying them on.
They were big motorcyclist gloves that John had acquired at a garage sale (well, they were held in the mess hall, not in the puddlejumper bay, but they still called them garage sales) from a Greek archaeologist who'd been briefly stationed on Atlantis before deciding that Milky Way ruins were far more fascinating after all (and a lot less dangerous). The gloves were old and crinkled, but still firm, and they didn't fit Wraith hands perfectly, but Todd had bitten off the tip of their fingers and declared them 'acceptable'.
As strange as it was to see someone wearing gloves inside, it was definitely more reassuring than seeing the feeding hand, and by far the least weird thing about seeing a Wraith in Atlantis.
Sometimes John wondered at the ease with which they'd gotten used to having a Wraith among them like this, and then he thought that well, it was not just any Wraith, it was Todd. Todd was okay. As long as they kept him well away from any networked computer or long-range communication device, anyway. John wasn't willing to go that far with his trust.
"I'd have been disappointed if you had it any other way," Todd said, grinning in that disturbing way which showed his sharp teeth, while his fingers flew over the keyboard.
"So you checked," John drawled. "I'd have been shocked if you hadn't. Though not exactly disappointed."
Todd paused for a moment, and then he spoke seriously.
"I wouldn't have signaled Earth's location to the others."
"Maybe," John said, and they left it at that.
Sheppard was preparing to visit Todd again, when he ran into Doctor Keller.
"Colonel Sheppard, I wanted to talk to you."
He fell into step with her.
"It's about... Todd," she said.
The name still sounded strange coming from her. Not everybody had gotten used to John's habit of naming things and people so readily, though "Todd" was now widely adopted, but she didn't seem to have had any trouble getting used to Todd himself.
"He is running out of time. It's not critical yet, but there's nearly not enough time to perfect the vaccine. I mean, I thought it was perfected last time." She smiled in a self-deprecating manner, looking down.
John nodded, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
"So, how's the stasis pod option going?"
"That one looks better. Rodney and Doctor Beckett have contributed their experience with the Aurora pods and we're pretty confident it will keep him alive and healthy until..." She shrugged. "Well, until we reach some solution."
"And Todd's okay with that?"
"Well, it's not like he's got a lot of options. I'm surprised the SGC has agreed to this," she said questioningly.
"They don't have a lot of options either. They're very eager to use him for his knowledge, and they're definitely not letting him skip merrily back to Pegasus. Besides, he's still our best hope of developing that vaccine someday, right?" John said reasonably.
"So, when do we put him into cold storage?" John asked lightly.
She gave him the same look she sometimes gave Rodney when he was feigning bravado.
"The higher-ups consider it a military decision, so it's your call. But as a doctor I would recommend no later than two, three days tops."
"Are things ready on your side?"
"Almost done. Todd wants us to run a couple more tests, and considering it's him that's going to be placed there," she said pursing her lips into a quirky smile, "I can't really blame him, but they'll be done by tomorrow."
"Okay," said John and scratched his chin. "Let's make it the day after tomorrow then, and we'll have Star Trek night tomorrow."
Todd was sitting on an armchair, looking oddly at home with his arms leaning on the armrests. By some unspoken consensus, Rodney and Jennifer had taken the couch, and John was left with the other armchair, which was right next to Todd's.
"You brought the movies, I brought the junk food, great! I was thinking we'd start with Trouble with Tribbles," Rodney said brightly, probably just for the sake of John's reaction, so John obliged him and scoffed.
"I strongly object to making that the introduction of this great series to our alien guest. No way."
"Junk food?" Todd inquired. "Why would you be consuming junk?"
Rodney rolled his eyes at him, as if he were Zelenka on a good day and Rodney could bully him around at will.
"Oh my God, have you learned nothing? It's just a way of speaking, it's not actual junk."
"Hm," coughed Jennifer. "Anytime you want the opinion of a medical doctor..."
"No one is forcing you to the popcorn," Rodney said haughtily, though the usual edge of his words was softened with affection. Atlantis kept changing around John in lots of small ways.
"See that? He's so totally Kirk," Rodney was saying, gesturing at the screen, then at John, and chugging back some more popcorn.
"I'm not," John protested, honoring his own popcorn bowl greedily.
Todd had dignifiedly refused to touch it, which left more for John, so he was seriously considering pelting Rodney with it.
"I don't think I see the resemblance," Todd said seriously, looking from the screen to John and back.
"Not physical, duh! It's in the way he chases after every alien princess or pretty guest star with a pulse, and they just fall into his arms. It's disgusting."
Jennifer smiled, shaking her hair, and Todd looked at John again, tilting his head in a considering manner. John looked back with a suspicious frown - "What?" - and Todd merely hmph-ed, as if he'd suddenly understood something.
They assembled in full formation again the next morning, though there was no time for movies that day.
"Well," Rodney said, looking from John to Todd, "Jennifer and I are going to make the final adjustments to the pod. I'll leave you guys to, uh, say your goodbyes or whatever. I mean, if that's okay with you," he added uncertainly, looking over to where John was already rolling his eyes.
"He didn't eat me so far, I think I'll be safe this time too, Rodney. Besides, he's weaker now, I could take him," he added, throwing a side-wise look at Todd.
Todd watched Rodney and Keller go out and then turned to Sheppard.
"I wish to express my gratitude for your help, John Sheppard," he said gravely.
He walked slowly, very slowly, towards John, who felt his skin begin to prickle. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to taunt him, weak or not.
"I've learned many things about human culture these past days," Todd said thoughtfully. "A lot of things make more sense now."
"They do?" John said dubiously, mostly because he had no idea where this was going. There was something deeply unsettling about the way they stood now, face to face, staring each other warily.
From so close up John could clearly see the signs of exhaustion on Todd's face - even Wraith lost weight, apparently, and his sharp cheeks were even more gaunt, but he was still a Wraith, a creature powerful and old, who could have sucked the life out of him in mere seconds, gloves or no gloves. Perhaps it had been a mistake to let themselves fooled by the incredible degree of adaptation that he'd proved. He could work with them, watch silly human movies with them, and yet remain as alien and disturbing as he'd always been.
Todd raised a gloved hand, and John held his breath for a long moment, but the hand merely clasped his arm, firmly but not too strongly.
"I hope I can maybe one day teach you some things about us, too."
John opened his mouth to say something, he didn't know what, but Todd wasn't finished talking.
"If I ever come out of that pod alive," he added.
"I..." John started, then had to cough to regain his voice. "I promise you'll be treated... fair."
"Your word alone has been good in the past, Sheppard, but as the past has also shown, you don't control all the circumstances," Todd said dryly, and John couldn't deny that. "But you've made these days of... enforced hospitality more bearable, when you could have made them miserable, so I want to thank you, the human way."
Todd's right hand was still leaning on his arm, and he was really, really close; John realized what he meant a split second before it actually happened, and then he was too fascinated by it to jump, pull back, and run the hell away from there. Todd was kissing him, cool dry lips over his own, and only a hint of the sharp teeth underneath. A shiver, hot-cold, went through him, and the prickling of his skin was not entirely unlike what he felt around high voltage wires and fast flying machines. Todd's other gloved hand was tangling awkwardly in his hair, and John grabbed him by the lapels of his fancy leather coat and allowed himself to kiss Todd back, just a little.
When Todd pulled back and released his soft grip on him, John drew a sharp breath, which made him realize he'd been holding his breath all along. That must have been why he was feeling a bit dizzy, he told himself, only that and the thoughts bouncing into each other.
"Goodbye, John Sheppard," Todd said solemnly, though John knew him well enough by now to discern that enigmatic glimmer of amusement that, of all Wraith, he'd only seen Todd show.
Todd retreated to the door, bowing slightly, and John inclined his head and replied "Goodbye, Todd" automatically. He let Todd walk out the door to the corridor where Rodney undoubtedly waited for them, and then shook himself and followed him before Rodney could worry that he'd been eaten after all.