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Nemo

Chapter Text

He awakens. The air around him is cool. The room is lit from somewhere outside the window. The window is on the far side of the room from where he is. He pushes himself up from the bed he lies on, the metal frame creaking as he moves.

He halts. He isn't sure why, but some instinct urges him to be as silent as possible. Instinct seems like a good thing to go with, because he's realizing that he has literally nothing else. The room is not familiar.

He doesn't know where he is.

He doesn't know who he is.

He inhales in one long, deep breath, then slowly lets it out.

The not remembering who he is bothers him less than he thinks it should, and that bothers him a bit more. But the most important thing is to discover where he is.

The room he is in seems to be some sort of bedchamber. The walls are painted a soft off-white color that is both soothing and alarming in its unremarkableness. There is the bed he woke on, and a chest of drawers sitting against the wall. It contains clothing, its contents discernable spilling from one of the half-opened drawers. A small table and two chairs sit over nearer the window.

He slowly eases himself into standing and the bed makes no more protests. There are photographs on the walls; the faces in them are not familiar. The clothing in the drawers does not match the clothing he wears and would not fit him either. There are two doorways to the room in which he finds himself.

One door is open and he looks through it to find a room with walls that are covered in tile. In the far corner there is a half wall, behind which is a ceramic stool that he can determine the purpose for from scent. Nearer the door is a raised basin, and when he touches the handle above it water enters the basin before draining out through the bottom.

Above the basin is a smooth reflective surface and he sees himself, his own face. He leans closer, reaching up with his fingers to touch them to his skin as if to affirm that it is, in fact, his own face he is seeing.

He doesn't recognize himself. His features are... large. Rawboned, and made even more prominent by a gauntness that suggests he has recently spent some time being ill. But they fit with the ranginess of his frame- he is, overall, a large man. He looks at himself for a moment, trying to find anything... any memory of the person whose face this is, who lived in this body before he woke in this room not remembering who he is.

There is nothing. So he moves on.

The other door is closed. He places his hand against it; it is made of wood, like the walls, and is rough and dead under his touch in a way that some deep part of him believes walls and doors should not be. He turns the handle, listening as he hears the latch click to open. He releases his breath; he's not certain why, but he fears a trap- he fears that he is locked in here, unable to escape. Which is senseless. The window is open, and he can go out that way, if a situation should arise that he is required to do so.

He frowns. he can't remember his own face but he remembers that exiting rooms through ways that are not doors is something that will draw possibly unwanted attention to himself. What is going on here?

He pulls the door open to reveal a hallway. There are other doors, to either side. From behind the door across the hall from him he hears muffled voices.

He stops. Should he open that other door and see who is there? Will he know who they are if he sees them? Will they know him? His instincts suggest not confronting the voices until he knows more. He slips past the door and moves down the hall.

His body knows how to move silently, and he thinks that his instincts are right to be suspicious; he obviously is someone who is accustomed to moving unseen when necessary. It is likely that he has enemies who would take advantage over him in his current state.

The hallway leads him to a stairway, and he slinks down it, finding himself on the ground floor of the building. Near the bottom of the stairs is a small window and looking out of it he sees a wide street, empty of any traffic. There are buildings lining the street but they mostly appear empty. He sees a single man exit one of the doors and move quickly down the street to another door that is just as quickly and efficiently entered.

He pulls back from the window and searches deeper into the building around him. The rooms he finds are all empty, until he comes to what appears to be a kitchen. He hears voices again and leans against a door to listen.

"What do you think he will do?" a female voice asks.

"The leader will decide," a male voice answers her and she makes some noise of agreement.

He leans close to the wall and is able to see through the space where the door isn't fully shut. The woman is human, but the man with her is not. The man has... slits on his face, below his eyes and near his nose; his skin is pale, and the veins in his face are prominent.

He watches them, through that slim space. There is a noise behind him, on the stairs, and he glides from the hallway into one of the empty rooms. This room contains a large table, sat around with chairs.

There are loud footsteps in the hallway, someone running. "He is gone," a loud voice cries. A commotion follows.

He moves behind the table to the far side of the room, tense. There are no other exits from this room. But, even more, his instincts tell him that evasion will no longer serve him. His answers are in this house.

The door opens, and there is... something standing there. It is a man, with the same slits near his nose that the man in the kitchen bore. "I'm sorry," the man says immediately. "I did not mean for you to wake alone." His voice has a tonal quality to it that seems strange, but is more pleasant and familiar than otherwise. The man doesn't move from the door but does smile regretfully. "But I did think you would prefer it to my hovering."

He inhales slowly, his eyes roaming this creature. He doesn't remember. Should he remember who, or what, this is?

The man in the door just watches him.

In the end, he knows he has to begin somewhere. "Who are you?" he says.

The man in the door looks sad, but resigned. "You don't remember me. Of course, I expected it, with what they've probably done to you. But I hoped." They meet each other's eyes from across the room. "I am your brother."

He manages to suppress the curl of his lip. "You don't look like my brother."

The man in the door snarls suddenly. "It is those people, from that cursed place, Atlantis. They did this to me! But they have done worse to you, I think." The man's eyes grow calculating.

He doesn't know what Atlantis is, or why it should be cursed. He temporizes, "I don't recall having a brother." Which is a lie; he does remember, with a sudden flood of bitter longing, being a part of something- being one who was a part of a greater whole, a large... family, all together, humming in his mind, like... like, bees in a hive. He shivers.

The man in the door's smile grows angry. "Of course you don't. You don't remember anything, do you?"

And he has to admit that this is true. "What is my name?" he asks the man in test.

The man in the door steps into the room.

He, standing on the other side of the table, would find the situation more agreeable if the man in the door moved with less of an air as though he has won something.

"Your name is Todd," the man in the door says. "Kenmore. And I am Michael, your brother."

 

"Todd." He tastes it in his mouth. It feels odd. But then, the very shape of his face is strange to him, so that doesn't mean anything.

Michael nods. He gestures to the table that fills the room between them. "Will you hear me out? I only recently found you again, after they separated us." His smile seems meant to be encouraging, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.

Todd thinks that he would prefer having this discussion with a knife in his hand. It's a thought that surprises him. He wonders if he and his "brother" didn't get on before he forgot who he was. Or if being armed just makes him feel more comfortable, regardless. "Of course," Todd says, and he pulls a chair back from the table on the far side of the room and sits there.

Michael sits in the chair closest to the door and leans on the table. His smile becomes more pleased.

"Start with what are you," Todd tells him.

Michael nods. "I swear I was once as human as you are. The people of the city Atlantis did this to me. Subjected me to their experiments and turned me into a... a hybrid, a creature between human and Wraith."

"Wraith." The word seems like it should mean something to him. But it evokes only a vague sensation.

Michael gestures to the ceiling, and by extension to the cosmos above and surrounding them. "They are the most powerful creatures in this galaxy."

"I know what the Wraith are," Todd interrupts him. "I merely wonder why it would be to anyone's advantage to create a hybrid of them and a human."

“I am not the only victim of their unscrupulous plots. As you may have seen, there are other hybrids here.” Michael narrows his eyes. "Wraith feed upon the humans' life energy, which is their main weakness. I was helping the people of the city develop a method of protecting all the humans in the galaxy from being fed upon, but they turned against me and did this to me." Michael's eyes flash. They are odd and yellow, with round pupils. Todd finds the shape far more disturbing than the color and can't think why.

"Why would they turn against you if you were helping them?" Todd is quite certain there is more to this story. Also, he feels a slight respect for these people of the cursed city, for being the ones able to manipulate the situation to their advantage.

"Who knows what they think!" Michael snarls. "They are treacherous, deceitful beings. I am better to be rid of them, to continue my work on my own. You should well know of their treachery, having been so recently betrayed yourself."

"Oh?" Todd muses.

"You had struck a deal with them, an exchange of information. But they betrayed you, and destroyed one of your ships before their sedition was revealed." Michael meets Todd’s eyes with his own odd ones. "I know you must feel this betrayal somewhere within you, even if you have forgotten the circumstances."

Todd makes an affirming noise in his throat, but betrayal is not one of the things he is feeling.

Michael nods eagerly. "It is difficult. I have found, eventually, ways to better myself beyond what they did to me." He raises his hands. "I am stronger than a human and not dependent on feeding like a Wraith is."

He seems extremely proud of this fact. "You said they did worse to me," Todd reminds him. He tries to keep his posture relaxed, but his hands are tense and he cannot keep his fingers from curling until the nails are digging into his palm; everything about the gesture hums to him with a frisson of wrongness.

"It is what I assume," Michael says. "I do not know what they did, for I only found you after the fact. Your memory loss is similar to what I first suffered when they experimented on me. But you appear whole and well." He smiles, a slight gesture that bares pointed teeth.

"’Well,’" Todd muses. He has a dull headache that has been building since he awoke. It's... more than a headache in a way. He can feel it throbbing behind his eyes, but it's also an ache that slithers through every part of his being. He's not sure what it means.

Michael sighs. "I know it is... difficult to trust me. Especially when the mark of what they did to me lies still so heavily upon my face."

Actually, it's not his face that bothers Todd. It's still the roundness of his pupils. And the fact that his instincts are telling him that the other man's words are riven all through with lies. Todd may remember having brothers, but this man was never one of them. He is as certain of that as he can be of anything.

Todd falters for a moment; what can he truly know? Does it only seem like lies because he cannot remember who this other man is? But he has to start somewhere, trust something. And he trusts himself, whatever small pieces of himself there are left to trust.

Todd prompts, "You said the memory loss was an early symptom."

Michael brightens. "Yes. Your memory shall return to you, I promise."

"That seems a broad promise, since you claim to not know what was done to cause it," Todd says mildly.

"I don't know what they did, it is true," Michael says. His fingers tap absently on the table, as if he is thinking. "If you would return with me to my laboratory, I could run some tests that would help me determine an answer to that."

"That will not be necessary."

Michael nods, as if it doesn't matter to him, and Todd has to think that it doesn't. He narrows his eyes. "Why am I on this planet?"

"When I found you, I brought you here through the portal of the Ancestors so that no one else could find you. The people here are all loyal to me. They will not betray you."

Todd scoffs. "They will not betray you, is what you mean to say."

Michael's gaze grows calculating. "I cannot force you to trust me," he says. "Tell me of anything I can do."

Todd reaches forward and rests his hands on the table. "Let me go and seek the truth of your words myself."

Michael smiles suddenly, but he hides it quickly. "Of course," he says, voice mild. Todd's hands tense against the table; in some was he doesn't understand he has played exactly into what Michael wants.

Michael stands. "As I said the people here are loyal. They will provide you with supplies, the locations of other worlds to travel to, whatever you desire. I ask only that you take care in your travels, brother.

"And beware of Atlantis. They are out there, everywhere in this universe, seeding it with their lies. And trust me, there is no one more treacherous than their leader, Colonel John Sheppard."

Chapter Text

Being armed does make him feel more comfortable, regardless of the situation.

Among the supplies Michael's loyalists offer him are a handheld Wraith stunner- very useful for someone who isn't sure yet who he wants to kill- and an assortment of daggers. One of them in particular, with an etched crossguard and a leather wrapped handle, is a fine piece of work that sits easily in his hand. Todd regards it with suspicion; he doesn't know what Michael's up to, but it seems far too convoluted even for Michael to offer him a knife that had previously belonged to him just to see if he would recognize it. He tucks it inside his rucksack when no one is watching in order to avoid just such a question.

He is provided with the location of another world he can reach through the portal of the Ancestors. Todd wishes that he remembered any other world, even that of an enemy, just so that he could go somewhere that isn't a part of Michael's plan and hear words spoken that are not a part of Michael's influence. But he will start here and go elsewhere, and the further he goes, he hopes, the more freedom he will have to explain the universe on his own terms. He would feel better about this if it didn't seem to be a part of the plan Michael has for him.

He readies himself to depart, and two of Michael's loyalists move to go with him. They are both human, not the hybrids.

He narrows his eyes at them. "It is not necessary that you accompany me."

One of them ducks his head in what appears to be a gesture of respect. "We will prove to you that Michael speaks truly about the benefits of this world we take you to," he says without addressing the statement directly.

The portal appears, and the first of the loyalists steps through it.

Todd suppresses an expression of annoyance and goes through the portal. The second man follows.

 

They arrive on this new planet. It is, in contrast to the place they just left, warm and vibrant, the area around the portal aperture covered with a thick forest of massive trees.

"The village is this way," one of the men says.

Todd pulls the stunner they gave him and shoots both of them.

He pulls the bodies away from the pathway before the portal, hiding them in a large stand of undergrowth at some distance and sits for a moment studying them.

He can leave them here and explore this planet on his own, but they will eventually wake and return to Michael and tell him what has happened. Michael will be able to find Todd here, as his loyalists chose this destination.

He can kill them. The thought doesn't bother him. But it feels... wasteful, to just snap their necks. He thinks he is not someone who is overly concerned with the lives of other men, but he is also not someone who is wasteful without cause.

He stares at them for what seems a long time, searching his mind for words or actions, some way to express a third option- whatever option it is that his hands are itching for him to proceed with.

In the end, a caravan of traders comes down the path and makes his decision for him.

"Hold," a man with a long braid of hair calls, and his companions halt the cart they are pushing. "We'll let Leda go first!" His companions laugh, waving another group of perhaps ten men and women forward to activate the portal first.

"Well, my thanks, Attaran! I suppose there is some graciousness in you yet!" the woman who appears to be the leader of this group shouts back to the first man. The woman, Leda, activates the portal and her people all pass through. The portal closes behind them.

"Our turn," the first man calls, and one of his companions runs forward to press the sequence of symbols to activate the portal again. They are journeying to a different world. Todd watches them, an idea brewing.

The second group have almost all passed through the portal when he steps out of the bushes and jogs toward them. "Hold!" he calls, and the last man, just entering the portal, stops and waves to him.

Todd runs past him and the man steps through, the portal closing behind them.

Todd looks at the new world laid before him. The group of traders are all looking at him, wondering who he is.

"Ah, I have the wrong group," he says to them, and their questioning faces smooth out.

"I told Leda she brought too many traders, she was going to lose them in the forest," the man Attaran says good-naturedly. "Martaan! send this poor man on to Leda." The traders laugh genially, and one of them steps to the device that controls the portal and presses the symbols.

"My thanks," Todd says to them, aping the woman's words from earlier as to what would be appropriate.

"Good travels!" they call to him as he vanishes from their world.

He arrives in a bustling marketplace; the traders he follows have long since departed and no one pays him much mind except to give him the occasional odd look. He crouches beside the portal aperture and departs this planet with the first group of people who activate the portal.

The latest world is a paler green than the first one he traveled to this day, and more of the sky is visible. He follows the traders toward the nearest village.

He serves his own needs before any other, and it is his need to discover who he is without being controlled.

 


 

He's five planets from Michael, trading one of the lesser of the knives he took from the loyalists for a bound book and some cooked fish. The man in the market calls the world Versall, but he says it reluctantly, while eyeing Todd unfavorably, his eyes lingering on Todd’s long, white hair.

It was one of the first things Todd noticed, once he was among other humans: his hair is wrong, uncommon both in color and style to the peoples he has encountered. In fact, many seem to fear him because of it, and more than one has accused him of being a Wraith-bringer. Such incidents tend to encourage him to move on more quickly, as, even with a galaxy now between them, he still feels too close to the lies Michael would tell him to be comfortable bringing attention to himself.

Down the street from the fish merchant he observes at another stall a long coat of dark leather with a deep hood. "How much?" he asks the young woman who seems to be the proprietor of the merchant stall, and they spend a few moments dithering over the cost. It only took him two marketplaces before he learned the art of bargaining- or perhaps he is relearning it?- and it is almost pleasant to engage in this battle with her. The young merchant seems to be enjoying herself as well, and he walks away only slightly dissatisfied parting ways with Michael's rucksack- made of some unusual material the young woman finds intriguing- the spear gun he took from the unconscious loyalists, and his second best knife in exchange for the coat.

The coat fits his long frame well, trailing just above the ground at the level of the tread of his boots. He is transferring his other belongings from the rucksack to the coat's many deep pockets when the young woman sees the dagger with the etched crossguard.

"Oh, if I'd known you had that on you you'd never have walked away with it!" she exclaims. She takes it from his hand, examining it. "I've not seen its like," she begins, but then she frowns and looks more closely, before setting the dagger down on the wooden counter and refusing to touch it.

"What is wrong?" he asks her.

She shakes her head, eyeing him with quick disfavor. "It is Wraith made," she says, suddenly suspicious. "Where did you get it?"

"I took it from a Wraith, obviously," he tells her. He wonders again where Michael obtained it, since he claimed to have been human previously and to have had dealings only with other humans.

She shakes her head, and since their deal is concluded she says nothing else to him.

He hikes out of the town, returning to the portal of the Ancestors to make his way to a different world. A wind from behind blows his hair all about his face and he frowns. Taking a square of cloth that had previously been used to bind up a meal of traveler’s bread he ties it over his head, binding his hair at the nape of his neck. He rubs his face; his beard is a slightly darker shade of grey-blond than his hair, so he doesn't let it concern him. Tugging at the tuft on his chin, he pulls up the hood of his new coat until it shadows his face deeply and continues on his way to the portal.

 


 

He is on Vedeena- twelve planets from Michael- when he is reminded of the second thing he truly noticed once he was among other humans: his name is... unusual.

"You look like you’re new around here. What is your name, wayfarer?" the baker asks as he sets out his wares for Todd to peruse.

"Todd," he replies, too interested in the scent of warm bread to be concerned about it, instead thinking about offering to do some labor in exchange for a meal as he is growing short on tradable goods.

"Todd," the baker repeats, and from the tone of his voice Todd suspects that this will be another one of those times when he will have to part with yet another of the weapons he took from the loyalists rather than linger. But the man shrugs, as if strange things are something he is still getting used to, but at which he is determined to succeed in accustoming himself. "Well, it's odd," he says, "but I must say those Lanteans, they also had very odd names."

He is speaking mostly to himself, so Todd does his best to not engage the man further. He's a bit weary of harsh and unfriendly stares following him from the moment he sets foot on a planet and a mostly placid reaction is one he will not take for granted.

The span of days that he remembers has well outnumbered the fingers he has to count them on, so he has taken to marking them in the bound notebook he acquired. The planets he has visited are perhaps not a representative sampling, and each does have their own culture and naming conventions. But still... Todd. More than one person has looked at him askance. By itself it's not much, but along with the hair it adds to the restless uneasiness that people tend to feel around him.

It feeds the feeling inside him that convinces him that this place, wherever he is, is not where he belongs. It's all the more frustrating, because he very much wants to belong somewhere.

It occurs to him that if Michael was lying about other things he could very well be lying about the name as well. But he has nothing else, so Todd he remains.

 


 

After more than forty days of traveling, a part of him desires to return to Michael.

His memories are not returning, and even more than the emptiness they leave behind is the emptiness beside and within him. There is a... shadow, a place in his mind that is meant for his brothers, and he can't stand the hollow that is now there because there is no one to fill it, and no way for him to know where to truly find them. At least if he had Michael, there would be someone to fill the void, even to fill it with lies.

He doesn't, because each day that his memory doesn't return is another day that Michael has lied to him, and he prizes honesty because he has so little else.

 

Mostly, he spends his time glorying in learning about himself.

He is very strong. His body requires little in the way of rest and food when compared to others, and still he is stronger than most of the other men he meets. This power serves him well as he often trades labor for sustenance, and it is pleasant to receive the better half of the trade as he consumes less than most even when having expended much in the way of toil.

He has an odd set of skills. He is an accomplished hunter and tracker, with a sense for ambush techniques, but he has no memory of how to dress game, and he has absolutely no aptitude to speak of for cooking. He is capable with what limited technology he comes in contact with but he only seems to remember these abilities when confronted with them and so has no way of knowing the limits of his knowledge.

He is very intelligent. He is observant, and wary- quite learned, apparently, in the ways of deception. He can spot a dishonest trader quickly; this serves him well and the ability allows some of the people he meets to overcome their reticence upon seeing his unusual features and befriend him anyway. And yet no one penetrates the lies he is forced to tell about himself, having no potential truth to give. It helps that he can easily play off questions about his past with a soft, "I do not wish to speak of it." In a galaxy that has lived long under the Wraith it is easy for them to make assumptions about him that fill their own preconceptions. It serves him, so he is unlikely to enlighten them as to the foolishness of this habit. He could be literally anyone- even he doesn't know who he is- and they welcome him as soon as he evidences a useful skill.

He loves the stars. He's not sure why, but he can lie upon the ground and look up at them for hours and feel more rested than from sleeping a whole night under a roof.

He is filled with an endless, burning, throbbing ache that he can't put a name to. If he had to he might say... hunger. He eats and drinks his fill, but still the ache- still there is a part of him that is never... filled. This is less distracting than the loneliness in his mind; he feels as if he has lived with it for a long time.

 


 

As much as they welcome his talents on occasion, people still feel uncomfortable speaking to him. So he has relearned the skill of lurking in shadows, and he gathers much information from this pastime.

There is a mysterious plague sweeping many planets. For some reason the Wraith seem particularly interested in hunting down any plague survivors and destroying them. Todd feels strangely distanced from the tales of woe these survivors tell, and he wonders why. His story is not so different- he may not remember what he has lost, but he has lost everything. But while he feels that empathy is both sought and given by the people around him, he remains unmoved; he wonders if this is part of the reason also that he doesn't feel like he belongs anywhere- that there is something wrong with him that refuses to allow him to connect with others. Maybe those he meets are not entirely to blame.

Some people speak of the hybrids, though none mention Michael's name and there is some argument as to whether they are not just Wraith as well or whether they even exist at all. Opinions of them are mostly poor, though he expects nothing else.

Opinions on the people of Atlantis are mixed. Some agree with Michael's expressed opinion that they are the worst of useless scum, invaders from another galaxy and stormcrows. Some love them and praise their efforts, hailing them as worthy inheritors of the Ancestors' city. But no one he meets speaks the name Colonel John Sheppard. Michael had singled this name out to him, and Todd has to think that it was for a reason. Nothing he overhears suggests that Atlantis is capable of the experimentation that Michael suggested, which proves only that they are very good at keeping secrets.

 


 

He is on the planet Jenev when he experiences his first Culling.

It is the first time he has seen the Wraith in the flesh. They are very much the ghosts of every world's stories, but he sees now they are just creatures of flesh, as he is- as anyone is. They have advantages, to be sure, technology and numbers, but they bleed like any mortal creature. Anything that bleeds can die.

He hides himself easily in the corner of the mouth of a cave and watches as the people go running past, distraught, many flinching from the air as if it is filled with unseen phantoms. They flee in panic only to be chased by the discordant whine of ships, and then to vanish, plucked from existence.

The sound of the ships is so familiar, without touching any specific actual memory, that he thinks his former life must have been destroyed by the Wraith because he has found nothing on all of the planets he's traveled that felt so reliably correct, so right, as that sound.

 

It is only three days after this that the planet is visited by a ship filled with people called Travelers. They bring supplies to help the survivors of the Culling. And, sitting by the fire that night, sharing stories of their journeys, is the first time he hears the name Sheppard.

The Traveler tells a tale of a massive battle to destroy the Asurans, a planet of mechanical beings who, in their bid to rid the universe of the Wraith, began annihilating human worlds so that the Wraith could not feed on them. In the woman’s tale, Sheppard is the one who organizes Travelers, Wraith, Lanteans and their ships with technology from a distant galaxy, all of them together in desperate cooperation to face this foe and defeat it finally.

Michael labeled him treacherous, and the Traveler names him the fulcrum of uncommon alliance. This Sheppard sounds like an interesting person.

Chapter Text

It's after he has moved on from Jenev that the dreams begin.

Or maybe they've always been there, but he starts remembering them. He dreams that he is sleeping in a warm cocoon as he drifts through space. He dreams of war against an inveterate and merciless foe. He dreams of darkness and hunger, and a sudden spark of fire that breaks the darkness open until he can see the sky. The dreams often hang on a single detail that he recalls with clarity but with everything else unclear and impermanent.

In the dream of the darkness, there is a face. No, not even a full face, only a determined set of eyes and a wry twist of lips. He can here, like an echo, We got a deal, remember? We both go home alive. And that is all. The rest is a swirl of indiscernible shapes and sounds.

He is nearing one hundred days of recorded history in his book. He'd almost given up hope that he would ever remember anything, but the hope stirs inside him once again.

 


 

 

Todd has just recently arrived at a planet called Manaria when he catches his reflection in a bucket of water as he passes. He pauses and returns to stare at himself.

He hasn't truly looked at himself in a long while, so he's not sure when it happened, but he has manifested what looks like a... tattoo, around his left eye. It is a sharply jagged black line that spikes out, twice above his eyes and three times beneath, with a secondary line marking a strange detail under the first upstroke of the main line, underlying and emphasizing it, and the first downstroke of the lower portion of the marking as well. He wonders what it signifies.

A man, obviously the owner of the bucket of water, is watching him in amusement. "I know a man, does great work if you want some more." When Todd frowns at him he gestures to Todd's eye and then shrugs. "Don't usually see them on the face like that, but." He points down the street. "He's at the other end of town, near the back edge before you get to the poultry sellers. Ask for Numa."

Todd nods in acceptance, and leaves.

He's not interested in acquiring more tattoos. Or, rather, he wonders if he will do so without actually doing anything about it at all.

 

He heads out of town quickly, and deep into the forest. When he is far from anywhere- but near a small, still pond- he strips himself down for the first time in a while and examines his body for other changes.

The beds of his fingernails, when he examines them closely, are darker than he remembers.

On the apex of each hip he has a pair of symbols. Each symbol has a flat side in the center presented toward its mirror, and then they spread out away from each other with curved tendrils, almost like fire, that look as if they are reaching to join their opposites across his body. They don’t spread far; the pairing of the symbols and general form of them is very reminiscent of wings. Wings of fire.

There is a shadow of something spread across his back that he cannot see fully no matter how he turns to catch a glimpse reflected in the water. It is some complex interweaving of symbols. The edges of the marks reach over his shoulders and the interweaving symbols are visible covering his upper arms. The bottom of the marks trail down his back, framing his spine.

 


 

It is several days later when he is hovering near the portal, debating if he should leave this planet, that he sees a group of Atlantis personnel arrive. There are four people, who are easily recognized as two teams of two- a team defined as those who are comfortable in each other's space and possessively watching each other's backs. Two are female and two are male, and while it might seem natural for the teams to split one to each side they are instead split the other way. The two women look to each other and around themselves, sharply conscious of their surroundings. One of the men looks nervous.

The other man seems easy and confident, and… the determined set of his eyes is the same as the face from Todd's dream. It's not that he looks familiar, because nothing really does, but it is more that this man's face- his set, wary expression which suggests that earning this man's friendship may be a difficult proposition but well worth it... it means more to Todd than the face he saw in the mirror that first day.

The four of them walk past him without paying mind to the tall shadow in the dark coat; he is no threat to the vigilant eyes of the warriors, though the shorter woman’s eyes linger on him for a few seconds longer than the others.

The nervous man is talking to his companion. "So they think Manaria qualifies as neutral ground, which somehow doesn’t make me feel better about this, even though the Tesmerlyns claim they never do business with the Genii themselves I don’t think it really matters when we know who on this planet does have a history of doing so. A history that Atlantis hasn’t really come out on the good side of, let me remind you. Have I mentioned already that this is a bad idea? I don’t think we should give them even this much of the information on the research, even if Woolsey thinks it’ll sweeten the pot." He is waving a sheaf of papers in the air. The tone of his voice arouses a vague sense of familiar exasperation, but Todd clamps down on it because he's fairly certain the feeling is only his own hopes rising too quickly.

"It’s okay, Rodney," the other man replies. He reaches out to grab hold of the first man's hand and takes the papers, which are close to becoming offensive weapons with the speed at which they are being whipped through the air. He flicks through them and folds some of them, tucking them in his own pocket before he returns the remainder to the first man, pressing them into the man’s chest with a forceful reassurance. "There, now we’re not giving them too much information." The nervous man flicks through the pages again himself. "Look,” the other man says, "you know the plan. Major Teldy and Sergeant Mehra know the plan. Smeadon doesn’t like me after I threatened him the last time I was here, so I’m gonna wander the city a bit and not remind him of my existence just in case he wants to make this more difficult by involving himself in our negotiations with the Tesmerlyns. You just give them the stuff, and answer any questions they have about it. That’s it. Call me if anything goes screwy. Which it won’t. I'll meet all of you by the eastern embankment when it’s done."

The nervous man responds with something Todd doesn’t hear but which must be some sort of affirmative. His words are echoed by the taller of the two female warriors who trail him, and the three part ways with the other man, who goes off alone.

Todd’s eyes fix on him; this is almost too perfect. Todd is familiar with the terrain of the city and he follows at some distance as he stalks the man through the market and to the edge of the town.

The man passes near the opening to a narrow alley, and Todd, sensing his opportunity, comes up quickly and silently from behind. He seizes the man by his gun hand and opposite shoulder, and throws him toward the alley. The man grunts and writhes in his grasp, but Todd shoves him back against the stone wall of the alley and reaches to snag the man's free hand in his own other hand, effectively halting the strike of the knife that the hand already holds. Todd smiles; this man is the best fighter he's met in all the time he can remember and he hopes that means something.

The man blinks at Todd in the low light of the narrow alley. "Halling?" he says, confusion in his voice. But he shakes his head, his eyes focus on Todd's face, and he leans back as far as he can to take it all in, suspicion melting into disbelief on his features. "Todd?" he says in utter incredulity. "What the hell. What happened to you?" He pulls against Todd's hold on him, trying to free his hands, and keeps talking. "I mean, it looks like someone got you with the retrovirus we tested on Michael, which..." He falls silent, then his mouth twists in a grim line. "Causes memory loss."

Todd regards him carefully. This is actually going far better than he could have hoped. Whoever this man is... if Todd plays this right it could give him all the answers he's been looking for. Todd twists the wrist he has gripped in his hand until the knife the man holds is bent back toward the man’s own neck. "Who are you?" Todd says.

The man inhales sharply. His eyes are focused sharply on Todd's face, darting once to check for bystanders- there are none- before once again meeting Todd's eyes. "I'm Colonel John Sheppard," he replies.

And Todd feels his lip curl in pleasure. "Sheppard," he says, tasting the word, and it feels more right than even his own name. "I have heard many things about you."

"Look," Sheppard starts again.

But Todd cuts him off, jerking the knife closer to ensure his captive's attention. "I was told you did this to me," he snarls.

"What?" Sheppard seems truly offended. "Why the hell would we do something like that? I mean, after the last time you double-crossed us I'd shoot you, sure, but you're the only Wraith that'll even talk to us, so why the hell would we want to take you out of play like this?"

And Todd inhales sharply, forced to release his captive as his arms spasm with shock. "Wraith."

He falls back against the opposite wall. He is Wraith and not human at all, and everything inside of him, everything he's been fighting over the past hundred days, makes so much more sense.

Free, Sheppard rubs his wrists with a sour expression but doesn't flee when he could.

"Hey," Sheppard says. "What the hell happened?" he asks again.

Todd looks up at him sharply from where he sits slumped against the far wall of the alley. "You called me 'Todd.' Is that my name?"

Sheppard looks uncomfortable. "Sort of... not really. We call you that, because Wraith don't tell us their names and we, as a species, tend to really like for things to have names."

"Who is 'we'?"

Sheppard makes a sound in his throat like he doesn't want to answer that question, but he answers anyway. "Atlantis." He pauses. "Shit. You really don't remember anything."

Todd narrows his eyes at the man. "Do not think that means I don't recognize a lie when it's spoken to me," he warns.

Sheppard's mouth quirks in a grin. He says, "Yeah," and then after a moment adds, "I can't believe I'm saying this, but it's nice to know you're still the same arrogant, feisty bastard underneath everything."

Todd grins; the movement of his face feels strange, and now for the first time he knows why he feels like a stranger in his own body.

Sheppard sinks into a crouch across from him. “At the risk of sounding repetitive, what happened?”

Todd eyes him. He likes this man enough to not speak lies to him, but does he know him well enough to give him the truth?

A device on Sheppard's vest crackles with static. "Sheppard?" a voice says. It sounds like it could be the man from earlier, but the sound is distorted. "We’re at the embankment. Where are you?"

Sheppard reaches for the device but looks at Todd. "That's McKay," he says conversationally. "You saved his sister's life, by the way."

Todd raises an eyebrow as if to ask is there a reason I should care.

Sheppard shakes his head but he's smiling wryly. He presses a button on the side of the device. "Just give me a minute," he says, before he lets the device dangle from his hand while he looks at Todd.  "Do you want to come with us?" he asks.

Todd's attention comes to rest on Sheppard. The question catches him off guard.

"We could probably help you find your hive again," Sheppard says, then hesitates.

Todd snarls softly. "Say whatever it is you will not say."

Sheppard leans away from him and toward the opposite side of the alley. "When we experimented on Michael with the retrovirus, the other Wraith rejected him afterward." The words are a bald statement of fact.

Todd nods. "I will not go with you," he says. But he appreciates the offer, and he decides that the honest words he has been given deserve some payment. "I believe Michael is the one who did this to me. It has been near one hundred days and my memory has not returned." His eyes rest on Sheppard. "If, as you say, I am 'the only Wraith who will speak to you,' it is possible he did this to weaken your city.” Sheppard looks like he’s smelled something bad. Todd continues, “Michael encouraged me to not trust your words. I believe he would be pleased if I killed you. He doesn't seem to like you very much."

Sheppard leans fully against the wall behind him. Todd can see his throat working. "Well. He has reason not to like us. I’d take it as a personal favor if you didn’t do what he wanted, though." Todd stares at him. "And it sounds like you’re not a big fan of Michael’s either, so not killing me would be a great way to stick it to him."

Todd grins. This man certainly has a way of knowing what to say to him. "That is true," he allows.

Sheppard sits for another moment, but his device crackles with static again, and it jolts him out of whatever paralysis holds him. He stands. "Look, let us know if you need anything, okay?" He shifts his feet. Todd looks at him curiously, and Sheppard clears his throat. "We've been... allies since we met, you and me. Reluctant at times maybe, but allies. If you don't eat people anymore I can't imagine anything changing about that except for the reluctance. So," He pulls out the folded sheets of paper he’d placed in his pocket earlier and then extracts a short stub from another pocket. He pulls one sheet from the other papers and writes on the back of it with the stub of graphite, holding the paper out to Todd. "The Manarians are our allies, so you can probably find us here if you need to, but this is the gate address for the Alpha Site. You can't gate directly to Atlantis without an IDC because of the shield, but if you need anything contact them and they'll pass it on to me."

Todd looks at the outstretched hand and slowly reaches up to take the paper from Sheppard.

Sheppard nods, then turns, and, without another word, leaves.

Todd sits for a long while in the falling night, feeling the texture of the paper between his fingers. He slowly turns it to reveal the gate address. It is not one he has visited before- at least, it is not one of the worlds he has recorded in his book of the days that he remembers.

On the back of the paper is part of a complex symbolic formula. Todd touches his fingers to it and he can almost understand what it is meant to be used in reference to. He has flashes of a room- the portal of the Ancestors is behind him, his hands are bound at his sides and the hunger is burning so vastly inside of him that he knows it will consume him before he is able to finish the task at hand. The other man- McKay, Sheppard had called him- is there with worry etched fiercely on his face, and the equations flow under his fingers in a way that is almost admirable. You saved his sister's life, the sort-of-vision tangles with Sheppard's words. And then Sheppard is in his vision, his face grim, and he is offering sustenance, holding by the shoulder a man who kneels beside the Wraith and tastes only of regret.

Todd inhales quickly. So. His memory is returning. In its own circuitous way. Sheppard's face in the dream, and now waking visions. Perhaps eventually he will remember every piece of who he is. He frowns, looking down at his hands- the pale skin and the whole smoothness of his palms. Perhaps eventually he will return entirely to himself.

Chapter Text

 

After Manaria, Todd moves on to a planet called Belsa and spends several days there.

He observes the humans, the ways they interact, for the first time able to understand that the often inexplicableness of their actions isn't just because of his lost memory but because he was never truly one of them. Though it hasn't solved any of his problems- the low, unending thrum of hunger and the oppressive, stifling loneliness- he is very pleased to have received this knowledge. He owes Sheppard a debt even greater than what he has already paid.

 


 

He has been on Belsa a sennight when he is approached by a man. Todd is appreciating the irony of having to eat food, when this man comes and sits across from him in the tavern.

"My name is Rylan," he says offhand, like he knows that Todd doesn't care but it's still the way that a conversation begins so he begins it. "I am putting together a group of warriors. Are you interested?"

Todd leans back and eyes the man. He has done nothing to solicit such an approach; he has not displayed any martial prowess while on this planet. But the man watches him from intent eyes, and Todd knows that this Rylan recognizes a man from smaller things than feats of arms- the way he holds himself, and the way he watches a room. "Perhaps," Todd allows.

Rylan grins, a sharp expression that bares teeth. "My brother Eldin has some information about a Wraith outpost in a nearby system," he continues. "Some people have been disappearing, from here and from Edowin where we trade with. Osric," he gestures to a man sitting on the other side of the room, "has a ship and a cargo of Genii explosives. We thought we'd head over and… see what we find."

Todd feels his mouth spreading slowly in a return grin. He feels no particular loyalty to the Wraith any more than he has felt to the humans he has encountered- he wonders if it is just because he remains physically not one of them, but he possesses only enough memory to know that he has come to blows with other Wraith before- and he is... bored. And curious. "That does sound... interesting," he replies.

 

Rylan’s band consists of a score of warriors. They all eye each other with good-natured violence in the confines of Osric's ship, even the women. In the days it takes them to reach their destination, Todd is amused that no one comes close to guessing his deceit.

Warriors tend to be easily manipulated, as they are trained to follow orders, but they are in many ways far more suspicious than general humans. Todd walks among them, a predator unknown but knowing himself, and is almost astounded that they cannot see the truth. It seems blindingly obvious to him, now.

In any case, Todd is enjoying himself as he follows with the group he has been allocated to as they enter the outpost facility in question. The plan is to do a quick search for the missing people, in case they were captured for later feeding, and free them before planting the explosives and demolishing the facility. The planet has no portal, and the Wraith's usual cruiser is absent which means they should face little resistance when exploring in search of the captives.

Upon setting foot in the facility, Todd knew instantly that it was not a Wraith facility; that it belongs to Michael. The construction is still Wraith-like, and Todd runs his fingers along the walls with a pleased sense of rightness that has been absent from any other place he has visited. But he knows... they will find no Wraith here.

He's not sure how he knows, but it matters little as his group runs into a hybrid around the next corner and thus everyone knows. "Hybrids," Todd's group leader communicates to Rylan as he pulls his knife from the creature's back. "Not Wraith." There is some grumbling, but it doesn't stop their team from planting the explosives in the hallways as they go.

"We've got the prisoners!" the point guard of their group calls out. Todd is rear guard, and he covers the hallway as his compatriots wrench open the doors and release the grateful prisoners. There are many more than they were expecting, and some of them seem ill, many stumbling and in need of assistance from their fellows in order to complete the evacuation. Rylan sends another warrior group to assist.

The prisoners are escorted from the facility, but Todd pauses. He hears something... He motions to his group leader then returns to the room where the prisoners were being held.

He can hear... something moving. He traces his hands along the farthest wall. He's not sure why he cares, but he knows there is someone else in here. Of course, when he finds the door's release panel, he realizes why he cares.

The well-hidden door slides up to reveal a secret room containing two partitions, and in the far back cell he sees a ragged and unkempt Colonel Sheppard looking back at him warily.

"John Sheppard," Todd says, pleased to have at least some explanation for why he felt drawn to this room, but also perplexed to find the man's situation so changed from only a short while ago at their last meeting. He activates the panel that opens the interlocked webbing of the door.

Sheppard, however does not look pleased to see him. "You know me?" he asks doubtfully.

Todd narrows his eyes. "Yes." He lets his gaze sweep the other man. "You are looking much the worse for wear since last we met, Sheppard."

There is a shout from the hall, and Todd beckons to Sheppard. "This building is about to be destroyed. Come."

Sheppard does not appear to be in a trusting mood, but he does come. Todd guides him down the hallway, after the other prisoners. The other warriors are leading the prisoners over a rise, out of sight of the facility and toward where they landed their ship.

The building goes up in a ball of fire. There is a ragged cheer from the prisoners milling around and seated on the ground near the ship.

The leader of Todd's warrior group jogs over, his eyes flickering over Sheppard briefly. "There are more prisoners than we were expecting; too many to fit all of us on the ship. Commander Rylan is calling in another ship and in the meantime, everyone's drawing lots to be on the first trip out."

Todd nods, to show he heard. He has no desire to be on the first ship; he has nowhere to be, and days spent on a ship are no better than days spent here. Particularly now. He turns to Sheppard.

Sheppard has his arms folded around him, holding them close to his body. Todd wonders if he is cold, as he remembers the man having more clothing than just a thin shirt when last they met though the dark trousers and boots look the same. Sheppard is looking back at the plume of smoke dazedly. Todd frowns. The man looks ill. Todd can see blood dried around the holes in his shirt.

"Sheppard?" he asks.

Sheppard doesn't respond, and Todd touches his shoulder.

Sheppard jumps. He looks at Todd warily. "What?" he snaps back.

Todd looks at him. "You don't know me, and you don't respond to your own name." Sheppard had been human when they met before, but with his memory intact then, so he can't be experiencing the same thing that happened to Todd, and he still appears as fully human as he had been, so whatever is wrong with him also can't be the same experimentation that Michael spoke of, which he claimed turned him into a Wraith hybrid. ...Michael. Todd's eyes narrow. "This facility belonged to Michael."

Sheppard shoots him a look. "He the funny looking guy with the-" At a loss for words he gestures to either side of his nose.

"Yes, that is a feature of his," Todd allows.

Sheppard nods. "Yeah, he's been here." The words are acerbic; he obviously bears no goodwill toward Michael. He also looks pale and as though he might fall over at any moment.

Todd frowns. He reaches out for Sheppard, but despite his physical weakness the man shrugs off any attempt at assistance. Todd sighs. "We have some time until we will be able to leave this planet, Sheppard. We should make ourselves comfortable."

Sheppard just looks at him, but, when Todd moves to the shade beneath a stand of trees and begins to create a quick campsite, Sheppard follows him.

Todd ignores him as he works. He clears an area for them to sit but doesn't bother with a firepit. He can't cook, and the air is warm enough without it, even with the falling of night soon. Todd sits beside the broad trunk of a fallen tree, leaning back against it, and pulls a packet of dried fruit from one of his pockets.

He hears Sheppard's stomach growl.

Todd looks up at him, eyebrow raised.

He's only met the man once, but somehow Todd knows that Sheppard has never had the grace to back down from something he wants. Todd respects that about him. Sheppard sits down beside Todd and reaches out to take some of the fruit that Todd does not offer to him. Todd smiles. He reaches into another pocket and pulls out another packet, this one containing hearty traveler's bread, which he hands to Sheppard.

Sheppard takes the food and eats it with the desperate focus of the truly hungry. When he's finished he sits there and shivers. He gives Todd a long, hard look.

"My name is... Sheppard," he says finally, though it is mostly a question.

"Yes. Colonel John Sheppard. The first is a rank in some military system." Todd frowns. "I believe you are the leader of Atlantis."

"Atlantis," Sheppard repeats. He shakes his head. "I don't remember," he finally confesses. His eyes rest on Todd, as if waiting for him to pounce on this opportunity.

Todd just nods. "I thought as much. I saw you only slightly longer than a fortnight ago, and at that time you knew not only yourself, but remembered me as well." He looks at Sheppard. "I would offer you the honesty that you offered to me at that meeting.

"I myself do not remember any of my history before 119 days ago. It was you who told me that, despite my appearance, I am truly of the Wraith. And that we have been allies before." Todd wonders how that happened. From what he has seen, humans and Wraith do not often get an opportunity to speak to one another much less act toward any common goal. His dreamed memories have not been helpful in providing details in this area. "I believe it was the being known as Michael who changed my appearance thusly, using a technology your people invented."

He trails off speaking, as Sheppard has gone still. Todd waits, with the patience of a hunter watching every movement of his prey. Finally, Sheppard swallows. "Michael," he repeats. "He... did things, to the prisoners."

"I would well imagine that he did," Todd says, but if they are not Sheppard he doesn't much care. Sheppard, however, does look... unwell.

Sheppard shivers.

Todd frowns. "Would you take my coat?" he muses.

Sheppard looks up, startled.

"You appear chilled, Sheppard. It would not be advantageous if you fell ill."

"I'm fine," he says. "He didn't... do to me what he did to them. He just... liked to gloat to me, about shit I don't remember." He rubs his hands over his face. "I haven't slept in... I dunno. A while." He shivers again.

Todd sighs, standing to remove his long coat with the deep hood. He passes it to Sheppard. "Rest. None will harm you."

Sheppard takes the coat in his hands. He looks at Todd, and his eyes look far wearier than even his tired body can account for. "How do I know you're real?" he says.

Todd hums softly deep in his throat. "That is a good question to ask, when you have recently encountered Michael. He seems to have many plans." He settles back against the tree trunk and looks over to see that the ship is loaded and is departing with the first group of prisoners and warriors. "In the pocket of the coat you now hold you will find a chronologue of days that I remember. I believe such a thing would be complicated to fake. You are welcome to read it, if it would ease your mind."

Sheppard puts the coat on. It is large on him and he pulls its long folds around himself. He pulls up the hood and frowns as it comes down, covering his face. "Do the words Assassin's Creed mean anything to you?"

Todd blinks. "No. Should the belief systems of assassins concern me?"

Sheppard lets the hood fall back and shakes his head. "Like I know." He finds the journal in the breast pocket and pulls it out, but he doesn't open it. He strokes the binding for a short time, then returns it to the pocket. He feels the shape of the pocket and, clever fighter that Todd knows him to be, immediately feels for the hilt of the hidden dagger.

"There is a latch, at the bottom of the seam, that holds it by the crossguard," Todd tells him bemusedly.

Todd designed it to fit his own, larger hands perfectly, but Sheppard works his thumb under the catch and flips it, letting him pull the Wraith dagger from its hidden sheath.

Sheppard looks at it in his hand. His eyes switch to Todd, who only raises an eyebrow.

Sheppard replaces the dagger and lies down. Within the span of a breath, he is asleep.

There are many hours left until darkness falls, but Todd sits easily beside Sheppard, guarding his rest.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Sometime during the night, Sheppard gravitates toward the warmth of Todd's body. Todd is dozing and barely notices other than to make a sound of acceptance and rest a hand on Sheppard's head.

Initiating the touch wakes Todd slightly, and he looks down at Sheppard's still form lying under the fingers of his left hand. It has been awhile since he has been this close to someone. Not since he’d first awoken having been changed. And before that… He lets his mind wander, picking through the memories that have returned to him, easier to touch on in this nebulous state of half-wakefulness. Before that, the mental closeness he shared with his brother Wraith replaced many of the uses to which humans put physical closeness; both information and emotion could be communicated with a thought and perhaps a small gesture, no need for great physical proximity. Physical intimacy for Wraith comes in a great spectrum, the sharing of life or even of pleasure perhaps lower down the scale from this: something so mild for humans, but for Wraith… to be lying beside each other in repose is a mark of great trust.  

He doesn't know if it is him, the situation, or Sheppard himself, but it feels acceptable that he should offer that closeness and mark of brotherhood to this human who offered him the gift of truth.

 

 

Sheppard wakes mid-morning, pressed against the side of Todd's leg, his face hidden under the coat's deep hood and against Todd's thigh. He sits up slowly with a groan, working kinks out of his shoulders as he blinks at Todd.

Todd just looks back at him, unperturbed. He hides his amusement at the disheveled state of Sheppard's hair because he is pleased to note that a night of deep rest has indeed done wonders to improve the man's complexion. His eyes are no longer dazed and instead focus sharply on their surroundings.

Sheppard looks around them, apparently cataloging the events of the previous day. A great many of the former prisoners are camped together around a large fire, where supplies were offloaded from the ship to make a meal for everyone. Many of them are still eating the morning repast, though even from this distance Todd can hear that some of them continue to sound ill and have not been improved by their freedom and good rest as Sheppard has.

Sheppard’s gaze comes back eventually to rest on Todd. "I don't even know your name."

Todd smirks. "It is Todd. From what I understand, you gave it to me."

"Yeah?" Sheppard rubs his face, making a sour expression at the rough beard that covers his cheeks. "I feel like I usually shave this off," he complains.

"Hmm. First I think we should get some breakfast from the others before you eat all of the food I have stored upon my person."

Sheppard looks somewhat annoyed, and he stands and leads the way toward those gathered around the fire, still wearing Todd's coat. They both receive bowls of porridge and cups of water from the woman minding the fire.

Todd learns from his former group leader, who is now leader of those remaining, that the second ship should be here within fifty hours to bring the rest of them back to Belsa.

It's not an unreasonable time to wait, and Todd is behind on recording his days in his book. Sheppard, sitting beside him at the fire, is staring off into the distance, his expression faded from his earlier irritation to one of deep contemplation. Todd nudges his arm and Sheppard turns toward him, startled; he's only known of its existence for a handful of hours but his hand goes immediately to the catch for the hidden dagger when alarmed and yet refrains from drawing the weapon until the situation proves needful. Todd feels some pride; this man is indeed a worthy ally and he can see why the person he used to be would have made use of him, despite the vast differences that would have presented as obstacles to such a meeting.

"I need the coat back, Sheppard," Todd says.

Sheppard's hands catch in the material almost possessively before he controls himself. He swallows. "Right, of course." He stands and pulls off the garment, holding it in his hands for a moment. "Thanks. For..." He shakes his head rather than finish the sentence.

Todd watches him, amused. "It seems we have some time on this planet until a ship comes for us. I am behind on recording my travels in the book I spoke of, so I thought to catch up on the work." Sheppard nods, as if just realizing with the explanation that Todd's reclaiming of the coat was not a withdrawal of any of his previous offers of camaraderie, and the tension in the man’s shoulders relaxes slightly. Todd reaches to take the coat and turns to make his way back to their solitary camp under the trees. Sheppard follows him at first, but his eyes are roaming all over and he eventually stops. Todd turns back to him.

Sheppard frowns. “I just… feel like I’m forgetting something.” He looks over his shoulder like there should be someone there. “I feel like… something… important is missing.”

Todd raises an eyebrow at him. “I feel you have likely forgotten a great many important things.”

Sheppard makes a face at him. “I just… There are words in my head but I don’t know what they mean. I don’t know why they’re there. Does ‘chewy’ mean anything to you?”

Todd sighs. “No.”

“Right. Well, whatever it means I’m worried about it.” He rubs his hands over his face.

“Ask the others,” Todd suggests. “Perhaps your words will mean something to them.”

Sheppard gives him a long look. “Don’t… I dunno, disappear on me, okay?”

Todd leans back in surprise. “How would I accomplish such a thing?”

“I dunno.” Sheppard shakes his head. “Just don’t.”

“I will not.” Todd reaches out to rest his hand on Sheppard’s shoulder briefly, thinking again how much he misses the ability to telepathically touch minds. Communicating support would be far easier that way. And he could mentally find his companion whenever he wanted to.

Todd scowls as Sheppard walks away. He had forgotten- Sheppard is not Wraith, so it would not make much difference in this case.

He sits at the camp where they spent the night and when he takes out his book he realizes there is something else he’s forgotten to speak of with Sheppard; he makes a mental note to tell Sheppard later.

 

 

Todd is finished writing before Sheppard has returned. Curious as to where his new companion has gotten, Todd looks for him.

There are other small groups of people camped within the trees, but a large group of warriors have formed a circle under the open sky, near the fire where the morning meal was served earlier. Many of them are gathered with pointed interest around some happening or another, and Todd feels some niggling instinct that this is where he will find Sheppard.

And, indeed, in the center of everything, there is Sheppard and two others, one of the burly warriors and a tall, shrewd woman who came with them as well. They are seated in a circle, each with a small collection of cards in their hands which they are examining with intensity. In the center between them is a pile of items. Todd intuits they are engaged in some sort of game of chance.

"Bells," the woman says. "Seven."

The other warrior grumbles. "Swords. Six," he says ungraciously, letting his handful droop toward the ground. Todd guesses from his manner that this is an unfavorable statement. He is not familiar with this game, and so isn't certain what to think.

Sheppard nods. "Trees," he says, voice even and revealing nothing. "Nine."

The watchers around them begin to whisper, some of them guffawing in disbelief, others obviously cheering Sheppard on. Todd feels an instant, intense surge of jealousy that melts quickly into admiration. He has known these men and women for several days, yet he is still an outsider to them; Sheppard has known them for a handful of hours and is already beloved of their company. Todd knows why this is now, thanks to Sheppard, but he still wishes that he could find a place where he would be received among brothers as easily.

The other warrior tosses down his cards, saying, "Bow."

The woman says immediately, "Swords. Ten."

Sheppard eyes her and answers, "Bells. Thirteen."

The woman grits her teeth and holds Sheppard's gaze, her cards held tight in her grip. Several of the bystanders urge her to "Demand!" and Todd guesses that some element of this game involves bluffing, though the penalties for being incorrect in accusing someone of bluffing seem to be high as the woman is reluctant to accuse Sheppard.

Finally, she growls and tosses her handful to the ground. "Bow," she grumbles in admiration.

Sheppard grins. He looks up and his eyes find Todd almost instantly. His pleased expression widens and he beckons to Todd as he reaches to pull a well-made coat from the pile of what seems to be his winnings. It is long, and true black in color, the color darker than Todd's and the coat itself shorter, falling to just above Sheppard's ankles; it is without the hood as well, instead boasting a high collar that shields the face from the elements.

The others truly notice Todd only when Sheppard motions to him, and the former prisoners melt away from him. Even the other warriors, though they do not shrink from him in fear, seem less jovial than they had been only moments before.

Sheppard doesn't notice until Todd steps across the circle toward him and the losers of the game immediately stand and move away. Sheppard frowns at them, his eyes flickering from them to Todd. "Here," he says to Todd, handing him what appears to be Todd's current second best dagger. Todd raises an eyebrow. "Yeah, I, um, took it earlier." He looks up into Todd's face. "Sorry."

Todd grins. "I am pleased you have put it to good use, Sheppard." He reaches out to let his hand trail over Sheppard's arm, now covered in smooth leather. "To perhaps the best return I have yet seen it put."

Sheppard looks pleased to hear it, and he begins gathering items from the ground and transferring them to his arms without regard as to what the items may be. "Come on. Not supposed to count all your winnings at the table." He heads back to their campsite, where he dumps the pile of items on the ground. "Some of this stuff I'm not even sure what it is," he confesses.

Todd nods, and he combs through the pile with Sheppard, identifying many of the items, and correctly identifying others that Sheppard had mislabeled already. Several are containers of food, and there are other useful items such as a coiled sawblade and what turns out to be a portable shaving kit. None of them are weapons and Todd sees that Sheppard was able to put the borrowed knife to good use as a valuable item with which to enter his stake upon the game. Todd draws out the knife again and hands it to Sheppard.

Sheppard looks at him for a long moment.

“You have need of it,” Todd urges him. “I have other weapons.”

Sheppard waggles the hilt at Todd. “You don’t have to be so nice to me, you know.”

Todd grins. “True enough,” he allows. “But it amuses me. And there’s little else to do.”

Sheppard huffs a laugh, and opens the shaving kit. "This could certainly come in handy," Sheppard grins, rubbing at the growth on his chin uncomfortably. He eyes the long, straight razor with some trepidation. "If I don't kill myself."

"I have confidence in your ability to wield the tiny blade," Todd says. The words are offered with a healthy dose of sarcasm, as before, but Sheppard seems pleased by them in any case. Todd changes the subject. "The coat suits you."

Sheppard grins, folding the high collar down to lie against the shoulders of the coat. "Man in black," he says, then frowns and shrugs. "It's a... phrase that's in my head. I don't know why, but I liked the way it looks."

"It is even better then, that it speaks to your buried memories," Todd observes.

Sheppard looks pensive for a moment. "You're sure? That they're just buried. Not gone."

"As certain as I can be of anything," Todd tells him. He’s fairly certain he knows the answer already, but he asks, “Did any of the others know the meaning of the word that worries you?”

Sheppard scowls. “No. But the more I think about it the more I think it’s the name of a person.”

“Ahh. Then I understand your concern.”

“I still can’t do anything about it,” Sheppard says with frustration. “I… I have a picture in my mind of a lot of blood. I think it’s connected. But there’s also… I have another, just a brief image in my mind, of…” He looks over his shoulder again. “He was behind me, and we were trapped somewhere, I couldn’t move. It’s kind of hazy.” He shakes his head, irritated.

“I remember the city you come from,” Todd offers, “almost like its own strange hive. There are many skilled people there. I am sure they will care for this one who concerns you.”

Sheppard gives him an odd smile, but his expression sobers again quickly. "I'm sorry, about before."

Todd gives him a quizzical look.

Sheppard shifts his weight and lowers his voice. "You said... that you're a Wraith. Even though you don't look it really."

Todd tenses. "Yes."

"I didn't mean to bring attention to you just now, when you came to watch me play. I... You seem fine to me. I mean, I can tell that there's something about you, but..." He trails off and switches midsentence to, "I hadn't realized that everyone can sense it. What you really are."

Todd inhales slowly. "They can," he affirms. "Though they don't know it consciously and couldn’t put a name to what they feel if you asked. Even before I myself knew, they knew to be uneasy around me."

"Yeah. Well." Sheppard leans back, flipping the closed case of the shaving kit between his hands. "I didn't mean to rub it in your face."

Todd tilts his head. "You assume I care what they think."

"You don't?"

"Not as such. I..." he pauses before continuing. "I greatly miss being with my brother Wraith. There is an emptiness in my mind that longs for them. And before I knew the meaning of this I did often wish that the humans would accept me because I did not yet realize that they could not give me what I desired. When I realized that they are not my brothers I stopped caring what they thought."

"Oh. So you don't care what any humans think?"

Todd lets his eyes settle on Sheppard's face. "Your perceptions are of value to me, Sheppard."

Sheppard gives him a long hard look. "Because I was the one who told you the truth."

Todd frowns. "No." He shakes his head. "Yes, that is part of it, but... I think I have always held you separate from others of your kind." He frowns again. "Not only you perhaps. I think there are others in your city that are... useful. But you, John Sheppard, are… a brother." He reaches for his breast pocket and draws out his book. "Before I forget to speak of it, I wish to give this to you." He opens the book and pulls out the sheet of paper that Sheppard had given to him at their last meeting. "This is the 'gate address' of one of your worlds. You called it an Alpha Site. You gave it to me, in order to contact you if I had need. You can reach your people there, I am certain, and I believe they can help restore your memories."

Sheppard takes the folded paper. he holds it between his fingers for a long time, the he opens it and reads the symbols within. "It doesn't mean anything to me," he says regretfully. "I just... I hoped it would spark something." He shakes his head. "Thanks. But I gave it to you, you should keep it. If we go there, we'll go together."

Todd regards him with surprise, and no small bit of pleasure. "We will soon be at a planet with a Stargate, as your people call it. You do not wish to contact your people immediately? Particularly concerning this one that worries you?"

Sheppard sighs. "Yes. But it’s been a couple days that I remember being on this planet. Long enough that I think… whatever I’m worried about, the immediate situation is already done with.” His hands move restlessly, as if he is having a hard time with his inability to change that. “I also owe you one. If it wasn't for you I'd probably have died when they blew the building. And... you know who I am, you gave me this." He waves the piece of paper in the air. "Without this I'd still be wandering around not knowing who I should even try to contact. It could've taken me years to even find someone who knew where to point me. If I wasn't dead, which, as I just said, would have been probable.

"So, yes I’d like to dial the address as soon as we get to a Stargate, but if we do that, we’re gonna do it together."

Todd nods. "Your companionship is appreciated, Sheppard."

Sheppard grins, but the expression is twisted. "I'm not leaving you here alone with people who hate you for something you can't even remember being."

"I do remember. Some." He shrugs. "And their wariness is not undeserved."

Sheppard looks as him challengingly.

Todd smirks. He leans toward Sheppard, bringing his hands up between them. With his left hand he traces a line down his right palm. "Wraith have a... feeding organ, here, in their hand. They use it to suck the life from their prey."

"And their prey are humans." Sheppard frowns at him. "See, I feel like I probably have a problem with that."

"Yes. You said, if I recall correctly, our past alliances were reluctant because of it. And that you hoped we would become less reluctant allies if that impediment was now removed."

Sheppard studies him. "Do you like killing people?"

"Feeding is... pleasurable, in ways I do not have the words or current memories to describe. That humans die from it?" He shrugs. "It is the way it is."

"Hmmm. I'm not sure if that makes you more of a sociopath or less."

Todd guffaws. "Does it matter?" And he asks lightly, but he is truly interested.

Sheppard looks at him. "No. Not right now, anyway."

 

Sheppard goes back to the fire to get some of the stew that is cooked for supper.

Todd declines to go with him; he wants to give the humans the chance to forget that they feel like prey animals under his gaze, and, in any case, he doesn't hunger for food.

Sheppard brings him a bowl of stew anyway.

Chapter Text

They sleep lying beside each other that night and Sheppard wakes in the morning wrapped all around with Todd's long limbs. He lies still for a moment, taking it in.

He doesn’t mind. Honestly, there’s a part of him that really likes the feel of someone pressed all against him. And it’s a nicer way to wake up than most of the ones that he can remember.

Sheppard’s first memory is of waking lying in rubble, other people lying around him looking as confused as he’d felt. The being Todd called Michael had swept in with a calculating smirk on his face, flanked by other men with similar, strange faces. He’d been so pleased to see Sheppard; even more so when he’d realized that Sheppard had fallen victim to what he claimed had been an experiment of his. Michael had wrapped his fingers around Sheppard’s throat and grinned at him with such vicious glee that Sheppard hadn’t been certain he would live through the encounter. But Michael seemed to like gloating over the fact that Sheppard couldn’t remember any of their apparent history more than he liked the finality of vengeance over someone who didn’t understand why it was happening.

Michael had kept Sheppard separate from the other victims of that experiment, and he’d taken Sheppard’s weapons and his jacket- Sheppard had tried to hold on to that because the left shoulder and arm were soaked with blood that obviously wasn’t his; he couldn’t remember whose it was and he felt like he should.

Over the subsequent days of hearing the occasional screaming from Michael’s other guests or listening to Michael monologue to him about all the wrongs Sheppard had perpetrated that he couldn’t remember, Sheppard had cataloged some basic facts: None of the people he’d originally been found with were dressed the same as he had been, so he has to assume that he belongs somewhere… else; that he’d been somehow separated from the people who would hopefully remember him. He had hung a lot of hope on that thought, that there were people who remembered him, because his chances of effecting his own escape were slim to none; he saw no one but Michael, not even a flunky to bring the food, and Michael never forgot to secure everything when he left.

After the first initial surprise, Michael had referred to him solely as “Colonel”; it had been another thing held away from him, he didn’t even remember his name much less anyone else’s. He knew that Michael knew how much the blood on the jacket had bothered him because Michael taunted him about the identity of the dead, telling him to guess how much blood had been soaked into the jacket and whether or not the people Michael described to him would have been able to survive the loss. His favorite, and Sheppard’s actual nightmare, had been the young child of a woman who was apparently Sheppard’s friend.

Yeah, Sheppard is glad to be well rid of Michael. He has an aptitude for situational assessment; he may not have many options available to him but he knows that sticking with Todd is his best option. To have as his companion someone that has proven to be… trustworthy, even to the point of having confessed to being a life sucking alien, is far preferable.

Sheppard hadn’t been sure that he believed that story at first, but, last night, watching everyone else react to Todd like they subconsciously knew that the skeletons in his closet were literal had gone a way toward convincing him.

It doesn’t hurt Sheppard’s desire to let Todd do whatever he wants- while also maybe hurting the believability of his story about being an alien- that Todd is an attractive man. Sheppard thinks hard; he can't remember why that's something that feels dangerous to admit to. Probably because the last time they met Todd was an alien that eats people? That could be part of it, but there's something else... Sheppard has a vague feeling of being looked at disapprovingly because of his desire and feeling the need to confine his expressions of desire to a select group of persons deemed acceptable. That doesn't seem like something he wants to remember, frankly, though thinking about not remembering heightens the almost constant, buzzing, undercurrent of tension telling him he's forgotten something vital. No shit.

Unable to lie still, Sheppard moves his arm restlessly, and Todd curls against him, his arm, thrown over Sheppard’s abdomen, pulls Sheppard back toward him. His face is pressed to Sheppard's hair as he makes a soft sound of drowsy contentment. Sheppard smiles. Even if he is an alien that used to eat people, Sheppard doesn't get why everyone else seems eager to keep Todd at arm's length. He may not be certain about believing Todd’s stories about being an alien, but he does trust when the other man says that the two of them have a history- some previous connection. He doesn’t recognize the gate address on the paper Todd showed him, but he recognized his own handwriting.

So, yeah, Sheppard has his name, and a new friend, and a goal- find a Stargate they can use the to dial the address he apparently had the forethought to give to said friend. Things are really looking up for him compared to just the day before yesterday.

Of course said friend is, apparently unconsciously, doing his best to push Sheppard’s buttons, because he shifts his weight, his leg moving over Sheppard’s, and the scratch of Todd's beard against his neck has Sheppard stiffening because his body is telling him this could get intense very quickly if he wanted it to.

Sheppard clears his throat. “Good morning.”

"Mmm,” Todd rumbles in his ear, and Sheppard shivers. “It is pleasant to be close to someone again."

Sheppard rests his hand on Todd's arm. "I don't suppose the word DADT means anything to you?" he asks Todd.

Todd makes a noise of derision, not impressed at again being asked such a question, but he pulls away. "Does that mean you are not pleased?" he asks.

"No, I... I like it." He really means it. But... "I feel like... like there's a reason we haven't done cuddling before, even though you said we've met a couple times."

"Hmmm." Todd lies back, so that his breath stirs Sheppard's hair again. "If I was Wraith I would not have sought you out for company. Humans are not telepathic."

"I can move things with my mind," Sheppard protests. He frowns. "That seems really weird. But I remember. I..." The words are incredible, but the truth of them soaks in his bones. "I flew a city. How nuts is that? I flew a city with my mind."

Todd makes a pleased noise again. Sheppard turns in his embrace, half sitting up to look down at Todd. Todd smirks up at him. "That is promising information," he purrs. "I knew there was a reason I liked you, John Sheppard."

"John." Sheppard tries out the name, trying to see if it feels like it fits him.

"John," Todd echoes in amusement. There is something relaxed and open about Todd that seems different from yesterday, but not necessarily in a bad way. "If we are to be companions," Todd asks, "would you prefer me to use this name?"

Sheppard shrugs. "If you want to. Either is fine, I think." He looks down at Todd, examining his features.

Suddenly Sheppard frowns, looking down at Todd intently. "Hey, I think we should go for a hike today."

Todd regards him in surprise. "If you like," he allows.

"Yeah. Let's." Sheppard pulls himself up from the ground, straightening his coat and making sure everything is secured before he reaches for Todd and pulls the other man after him as he walks quickly away from the other camps.

The camp had been set up on the edge of an open grassland, near where there had been space to land the warrior’s ship. Beside that is the group of trees that could optimistically be called a small forest. Through the forest, away from anyone else, there is an open rocky meadow. Sheppard hasn't really been anywhere on this planet, that he remembers, so he's a little surprised by the beauty of the meadow stretching away into the distance.

He doesn't have long to appreciate it, because Todd comes up behind him, his large hand closing over Sheppard's arm and pulling him around so that they're facing each other. Todd looks annoyed, but when he speaks Sheppard thinks what he actually is is concerned. "You are agitated," he says, and his eyes flare open suddenly in realization. "I can feel that you're agitated."

"Yeah. You're, um..." He waves his hand in the direction of Todd's face. "You're a little green, too."

Expression still open in surprise, Todd looks down at his hands. The skin there also has a faint tinge of gray-green. Sheppard takes Todd's left hand in between his and says, "Your face is about this same color."

"It has been long enough coming that I almost doubted it would happen," Todd says, voice sharp with emotion. "Hopefully we will be able to depart this planet before I change far enough that I will have more trouble passing." He examines his right palm then touches his face, both cheeks.

Sheppard makes a face. "You're gonna get those things on your face, like Michael has."

Todd raises an eyebrow at him. "I rather think I had them before he did," he says haughtily.

Sheppard can't help but crack a smile at the supercilious expression. "Okay, fine. We're leaving tomorrow or the next day, right? Try not to change any more before then."

Todd huffs a laugh. "It is not under my control, or else I would have reverted entirely to myself long ago." He has a look of longing on his face.

And wow, that's a potent look, even when it's not directed at him. And suddenly Todd's focus shifts to Sheppard, and that potent look is directed at him.

Todd inhales deeply, his pupils widening. "Ahh," he half moans, "it is a glorious thing, to be no longer locked alone in my head. Sheppard," he purrs, his left hand gripping Sheppard by the hair and pulling his head back, "you are delicious in my mind. Mmm, I felt you earlier, didn’t I? As we woke from sleep. Have you always desired me?"

Sheppard swallows, his hands catching in the front of Todd’s coat. "I... I think I usually bury it pretty deep. And I don't know what I thought before but, I gotta tell you, now, you're pushing all my buttons." He's leaning toward Todd almost without thought, but he manages to shake off the lust enough to look at Todd and realize- he's holding Sheppard with his left hand, and he brings up his right hand to lay it against Sheppard's chest almost tenderly. His expression is distant and blissful.

Sheppard shoves him so that Todd stumbles, thrown out of whatever thoughts had caught him up. He blinks at Sheppard and looks unsettled in a way that Sheppard doesn't think he's ever seen Todd look. Or has he? Because there is something about this that feels really familiar.

"I'm lusting after you and your response is to try to suck my life out?" is his first objection.

Todd shakes his head. His long, white hair has come loose from where he had previously kept it bound and the strands are falling around his face. "No. I... we can share life with others. I was giving you life. I mean," he falters. "I wasn't thinking. It is something Wraith would do with each other, as there can be much pleasure in it. But I..." He looks at Sheppard. "We have done it before."

"Yeah," Sheppard shoots back. "It felt familiar. But more in the life sucking kind of way." He rubs his chest and shakes his head at the fragments that he is seeing, and he hasn't really thought about it but he's stepped backward, instincts ready to flee. "I was tied to a chair. And you were there. Did your people do that to me?"

"No," Todd says, and there is a weight of assurance to his voice that is comforting. "I... don't remember much. But I was alone in darkness for a long time. And then you were there... like fire, you broke open the darkness." He shudders. "I think that I fed on you. The hunger burned so hot in that darkness."

"But I'm not dead." Sheppard feels like he might be stating the obvious, but his friend here is looking a little unbalanced, so maybe they should start with pointing out the basics. "So, something worked out," he says resolutely.

Todd nods. "The Gift of Life," he says, the words almost haunting, "is reserved only for devout worshippers, and our brothers." He looks at Sheppard curiously and he says as if quoting, "We don't leave our people behind."

Sheppard looks back, words on his lips that he almost isn't sure where they come from, "There's a lot you don't know about Wraith."

They stand looking at each other for a long time.

Todd shakes himself. "I... apologize. I allowed myself to be caught up in sensing your thoughts, like some green warrior, and let myself be overcome with instinctual actions, forgetting that you did not share my insight." He reaches hesitantly for Sheppard, his left hand settling on Sheppard's shoulder without much plan apparently other than to reestablish some connection.

Sheppard nods. "So I guess you weren’t pulling my leg about being an alien." Todd looks offended that Sheppard thinks he would lie about something like that, but John just shakes his head. "It’s not the craziest thing I’ve heard today, but you have to admit it’s pretty out there."

Todd sighs. "I… did not suspect the truth until you told it to me, even though I could feel it all through my being."

Sheppard thinks that’s supposed to be an acceptance of Sheppard’s justification that isn’t quite an apology. He reaches up and rests his hand on Todd's arm, Todd breathing deeply and relaxing at the touch.

Sheppard looks at him for a long moment. So. Todd’s an alien. And he eats people. It still feels a little… abstract. Standing in front of John is the man who has been honest and… kind to him since pulling him out of the shithole Michael had stuffed him in. Maybe he’s turning a bit green, but he’s not… evil.

"Let me show you something," Sheppard says. He steps close to Todd, then leans in and presses their lips together. "That's a human thing," he says smartly. "You should try it out."

Todd grins. "I have observed the behavior before, but I think I will require another demonstration."

"Always pushing, aren't you?" And Sheppard kisses him again, more deeply, letting his tongue press against the seam of Todd's teeth. He shivers; it hits him in a way it hadn’t before that those teeth will become something that will make this practice somewhat more fraught… but at the moment Todd's teeth part and welcome his tongue in.

John has his hands fisted in Todd's coat, and he has to force himself to step back. He doesn't remember who he is, and he's making out with the first hot guy who's shown an interest, and maybe he should slow this down.

Todd seems to sense his decision, because he leans back as well and doesn't push for more. Sheppard might be a little disappointed by that. But he has a far more pressing question, and an idea. "You said... you're telepathic. Can you... see what I'm thinking?"

Todd cocks his head. "No. Not to read your inner thoughts. I can... sense what is on the surface of your mind, and Wraith can influence human perceptions to a certain degree." His eyes focus on Sheppard. "Your… emotions are very strong, but I cannot see deeper. Unless you would open your mind to me and allow me to." He says the last almost wonderingly. "Which you are considering." He blinks, taking it in, and says slowly, "Sheppard, I would caution you. I... do not think that is something that you would allow, if you recalled yourself."

Sheppard shakes his head. "That's what I'm wondering. Just now, we both remembered when we met. Could you find the rest of my memories? The things I don't remember but that are still in my head?"

Todd looks intrigued. "I think it unlikely," he says finally. "In my current state I do not think I have the control to seek for the information you want. I also doubt that many of our memories are shared, as was the case with the one we both recalled just now."

Sheppard eyes him. "I want you to try it anyway."

Todd steps back, looking at Sheppard intently. "I... do not wish for you to... regret this, John Sheppard. Think a while, before you choose this action."

John's chin comes up and he folds his arms. "I want to remember," he says stubbornly.

"It will take patience," Todd counsels him.

John sighs. "I feel like I'm not the best when it comes to patience."

Todd grins. Sheppard isn't sure if it's just the way he does it, but his teeth look a little pointier.

 

By mutual accord, they break apart from each other and explore the meadow.

Sheppard finds a stream, smooth enough to use as a mirror, and pulls out the shaving kit. It’s a messy affair but he feels satisfied at the end of it and rubs a pleased hand over his clean-shaven chin.

He looks up afterward to see that Todd is watching him from the bank of the stream.

Sheppard walks out of the water and sits by Todd to put his boots back on. He eyes Todd, then slowly reaches over to him, telegraphing the move, to run his hand over the ridge above Todd’s right eye. A large portion of Tod’s eyebrow comes off in his fingers. Sheppard makes a quizzical expression, and Todd grins, obviously delighted. “Wraith have no hair on their bodies the way that humans do.”

“Hmm,” is Sheppard’s response. He sweeps the other eyebrow, just to keep them even. “I would recommend keeping your hood up. I really wish this planet had a Stargate.”

Todd shrugs, apparently unconcerned.

 

_____

They explore the meadow a bit longer, and bring back some onion-like grasses to contribute to the night's stew.

Sheppard is passing the food along to Hediri, the woman in charge of preparing the meal, when Eldin, the leader of the warriors, comes over.

"You've been spending a lot of time with Todd," he says. "Are you alright?"

Sheppard gives him a long look. "Is there something that should be wrong with me?" he asks not un-sassily.

Eldin shrugs expressively. "He's... an odd one."

"There's nothing wrong with that," Sheppard replies.

"Maybe," Eldin says dismissively, no longer interested in the conversation.

Sheppard rolls his eyes, but he sits by the fire for a while, trying to see if he can spot any other faces who think he's lost his marbles.

Of course the conversation topic for the evening is stories about the Wraith.

Hediri is from Edowin, and recounts the last Culling that took place there. The way the air was filled with dark phantoms that chased the terrified people through the night, and the swooping of the fearsome, whining ships. She tells how her sister and husband were taken, and her brother was killed outright, leaving only a single, shriveled corpse to mourn three people.

Eldin is from Belsa, and tells of how the Wraith decimated the planet of his birth, Sateda, rather than let it grow in technology that might rival theirs. He remembers the day it happened, almost ten years ago, an anniversary he will never forget- the rush of helpless rage that day, the smell of burning that filled the air, and the cries of those near death whom he could not save as he and his company were ordered to a fleeing transport.

Tyfana is one of the former prisoners and a native of Belsa. Her voice rattles with a cough as she tells a story of a Culling she survived in her childhood, but in which her mother was taken, leaving her to raise her younger sister alone.

Sheppard listens, eating quietly.

Eventually the stories wind down, and Sheppard returns to the campsite he shares with Todd.

Todd is sitting in the darkness, knees drawn up, hands cupped before him and head bent toward them. He doesn't acknowledge Sheppard's approach.

Sheppard frowns at him. "Todd?"

Todd looks up, his eyes almost glowing from under his hood. "Sheppard," he says in his unconcerned drawl.

Sheppard crouches down. "You okay?"

Todd grins, the expression spreading wide across his face. It's not terribly reassuring, as he has a somewhat distant, mad look to him in the darkness. "Of course." He lets silence fall for a beat, then continues, "Have you heard enough tales of the terrible destruction that my kind has unleashed upon yours?"

Sheppard startles. "You could hear all that, from all the way over here?"

Todd is still grinning, but doesn’t answer the question. "It seems the floodgates are opened," he says. He holds out his hands, right hand cupped inside the left, and, as Todd turns them toward Sheppard, John can see a dark red line drawn down the center of Todd's right palm.

"Shit," Sheppard says, impressed in spite of himself. "Are you all fixed then?"

"No," Todd says regretfully.

Sheppard takes Todd's hand and turns it toward the moonlight. The dark line is little more than a dark line; there is no function to it as of yet.  There are small bumps in the line, like there is some sort of stitching or hook that holds it closed, and it is surrounded by a ring of tiny circles. Sheppard runs his thumb over Todd's palm, and Todd inhales sharply, his breath catching on something that's almost a moan.

"I remembered something," Sheppard says. "When Eldin was talking about how he hated to not be able to save people, I remembered this woman." Todd's hand in his tenses slightly before turning to curl around Sheppard's, palm to palm. "I loved her, I think. Not..." Sheppard shakes his head in frustration. "Not like we were married or anything, but I... I respected her, she was really good at... at taking care of her people. At choosing the right thing for them even when it was hard. She fought for them.

"There was a man... I don't remember his name. He killed her." Sheppard falters on the words a moment. "I was... I was so angry. I killed all of his men. I just pushed some buttons, and they were gone. I don't remember how it worked, but I knew... they were wiped out. All of them. Dead, without even being able to fight back." His words seem to echo in the night.

Todd hums softly. "I am pleased for you that your memories return, but I am sorry that the remembrance you have would be one of loss. I... understand your pain. I too have lost a queen, and it leaves a hole inside that is not easily repaired."

Sheppard squeezes his hand gently. "Thanks. But that's not what I meant."

"Oh?"

"Just... For all the terrible things 'your people' have done, I know, from personal experience, mine aren't any better."

"Ahh." Todd's hand pulls at him, and Sheppard goes, letting himself be pulled against the other's warmth. He rests his head on Todd's shoulder. "Perhaps we shall be killers together then."

Sheppard huffs a dark laugh. "I hope not. But I guess we'll see."

Chapter Text

Todd dozes against Sheppard, his mind resting against Sheppard's muzzy thoughts, as pillowed against that welcoming texture as the man's head is against his own shoulder. It is pleasant, both to be able to reach out beyond his own thoughts again, and to have that anchor to rest against. Todd is not certain if he is not yet recovered enough or if they are too far away, but he cannot touch the mind of any other Wraith.

Sheppard moves against him, the surface thoughts of his mind focusing in wakefulness. "I think something happened," he says out of the darkness of the night. The moon has long set.

Todd makes an inquiring noise.

Sheppard sighs. "Those words, 'We don't leave our people behind'? Those are my people who say that. So, if I was left with Michael... they must think I'm dead. Or worse... they're all dead." There is something lost in his voice, as if he doesn't know how to mourn people he doesn't remember.

Todd stills beside him. "I remember... long ago, during the war with the original Lanteans, there was... a small group of Wraith who had determined upon a mission that they were certain would win us the battle to defeat this foe. They came from my hive and we were... close. I am not certain you can understand the relationship, Sheppard. The word I say is brothers, but I feel no human can understand the... closeness of knowing another's thoughts." He falls silent for a long moment before continuing. "They all perished in the attempt."

Sheppard shifts against him, bringing Todd out of his moment of reverie. "I'm not sure what you're trying to say with this story." His tone is light, but Todd can feel that it fails to achieve the level of distance Sheppard wants it to impart.

Todd sighs. "I do not know either. Except, perhaps, to remind both of us that your people have always been very hard to kill. I do not think you would be well served to imagine them eradicated."

Sheppard huffs a breath. "Thanks." And again the word feels offered in sarcasm but is delivered in sincerity.

A light goes up from one of the other campsites and there is a commotion. The leader- Sheppard has said his name is Eldin; Todd finds it more useful to think of the man as his position- is standing up and beckoning to the others in the glow of the light.

Todd doesn't want to be disturbed from the comfortable place he has formed with Sheppard, but Sheppard stands, interested in what has developed.

 

"I was communicating with Rylan," Eldin says to those gathered. "The ship he would send was delayed by a Wraith attack. But there is another ship commander named Thlyr passing near this planet. He has three ships in his group. They are very close; he expects to be able to land well before daybreak and they have space for all those who remain here. There is one catch." Eldon frowns. "The world that is their destination does not have the ring of the Ancestors, but the one they will visit after that does. So the overall journey of our return to Belsa will not be shortened at all if we leave quicker." He pauses. "Thlyr is willing to take us on, and the other two captains agreed as well. Or we can wait for Rylan's ship. Which may be a fortnight or more before repairs are complete."

There is some discussion, but the former prisoners are eager to leave this place and the warriors are eager for anything as long as they are doing something.

 

Thlyr's ships land soon after. Beside Todd, Sheppard moves restlessly.

His thoughts are restless as well so Todd bends his head nearer to Sheppard's ear. "What is it?" he asks softly.

Sheppard's eyes dart up to peer under Todd's hood before returning to look at the ships. "We should try to get on the smallest ship. So there's fewer people to see you." He slides his eyes back to Todd again. "I think you've gotten paler."

Todd grins. Honestly he doesn't even mind being discovered and a part of him wants to feel the thrill of fear from the milling herd when they realize what lurks in their midst. But he is also very much interested in completing the journey to discover who he is and for that he requires to be alive. Him, and possibly Sheppard, against all the other warriors are not good odds; he doesn't count on Sheppard's assistance as, if he does something as stupid as seek a conflict with a score of armed warriors, he suspects Sheppard would leave him to the fate of his own making. He only answers, "The third man, the dangerous looking one. He has the smallest ship."

"How do you know that?" Sheppard protests, watching as the three ship captains greet Eldin.

"He is thinking about it," Todd responds, almost dreamily. "He thinks small but fast. The fat one is thinking about fucking women. And the tall one is thinking about the hold of his large ship being filled with money. I have not the power to search them for more." Todd hmmms softly in his throat. He would very much like to eat one of them. Perhaps all of them. His palm itches.

"Okay, that's pretty good. Creepy, but useful." Sheppard hesitates. "Can you do that with anyone? I mean, can a Wraith read anyone's thoughts?" The two of them are moving around and between the groups of warriors and former prisoners sorting themselves to the ships.

"I have been very long among humans, so that my thoughts are bent toward them more than perhaps another Wraith’s would be," Todd murmurs, stepping close to Sheppard as they pause for a pair of women holding another up between them to move past. He says to Sheppard, "Wraith share their thoughts with each other, but usually there is no reason to do much more than influence the thoughts of prey so that they flee where needed. No, Sheppard, most Wraith would not read your thoughts unbidden and mostly they cannot. Only queens can command obedience and break open the minds of those who resist them."

Sheppard stiffens against him. "I think... I already knew that," he says tightly, "from... personal experience."

Todd's lip curls in a soundless snarl and he is filled with the urge to reach out to Sheppard with his mind and soothe him, reassure him that there are no queens here. "I would not hurt you, Sheppard. I... would not see you hurt in this manner." It's a strange notion, to think of defending his brother against a queen. Not unheard of, but rare; queens are, by nature, not given to hurting other Wraith without reason, so perhaps it is only as rare as having a human he would call brother.

Sheppard is already moving on again, weaving them between other people until they are at the ship. The captain, a man as thin as a long blade, narrows his eyes at them but quickly looks past them to the others that follow. Sheppard takes Todd's wrist in his hand, pulling him after as he moves to the farthest corner of the ship's bay. It's not until they are there that Sheppard stops, steps close to Todd and answers his previous words, his eyes fixed on Todd's left hand that he is still holding gripped in his, "Thanks."

Todd hmmms thoughtfully, and sits against the hull of the ship bay, pulling Sheppard down in front of him to sit within the circle of Todd's arms.

Sheppard leans back against him with a laugh and makes himself comfortable.

 

There are seventeen people on the ship, all told. The captain, his navigator and engineer, Todd and Sheppard, and twelve of the prisoner from the facility. Todd only realizes after the ship departs the planet that none of the other warriors have boarded this ship. This seems suspicious... but he's not certain of what precisely. Does he suspect the captain of selecting a cargo that would not fight him? He and his two men are no match for Todd and Sheppard, whatever his intentions.

Todd is trying to think of what the man could be up to, but Sheppard is being distracting. He has his hands cupped around Todd's, holding them between his, and his thumbs are hooked over the tops of Todd's hands, stroking maddeningly just the top edge of his palms. Todd shudders with the desire to have all of his palm pressed to flesh. He buries his face in Sheppard's hair, the warmth of the man's body filling his senses and his scent alive with previously unnoticed nuances.

Sheppard’s shoulder is rubbing against the book in Todd’s breast pocket, and he reaches back to pull it out. “I never did read this,” he says. “You offered,” he reminds Todd, though Todd makes no move to stop him.

But Sheppard opens the book and frowns. “I can’t read this.”

“Oh?” Todd leans over his shoulder, wondering if the words on the page have somehow changed. But no, they are the same. It occurs to him, “It is written in Wraith.” He chuckles to himself, the sound layered and gravelly. “From the first, my answer was staring me in the face, written in my own hand.”

“Huh.” Sheppard flips through the book, as if he will magically develop the ability to read it by staring at it for long enough. His fingers trace the words. Then, finally he flips it to the back, where the torn piece of paper with the gate address is tucked. Sheppard’s fingers touch the paper as if in reassurance, resting on the complex symbols of the partial formula written on the back of the paper, before he closes the book and tucks it back into the pocket from which it came. He leans back against Todd and sighs.

The ship lurches, and they both tense.

"We came out of hyperspace fairly quickly," Sheppard observes, already standing.

“Hmmm,” Todd agrees.

The other former prisoners look up, some appearing alarmed.

"Everyone stay here," Sheppard says to them.

Todd frowns at them; many of them truly look quite ill. Where Sheppard has only improved in constitution, these look far more ill than they had appeared on the planet.

"Come on." Sheppard calls Todd's attention away from the others as he reaches to pull Todd up after him; his right hand closes over Todd's right hand, but he instantly recoils, shaking his hand as if to rid it of an unpleasant sensation. "Uh, what the hell is that?" he hisses. "Do you have... worms living in your hand?"

Todd stands, grinning. "Lead on, Sheppard, and do not ask stupid questions."

Sheppard opens his mouth to argue, but the door to the cargo bay opens, and the captain stands there holding a particle magnum casually.  "Okay. Everyone, stay calm. We're just going to hang out here until our rendezvous shows up." He smiles.

"That's not the deal," Sheppard protests. "You were supposed to take us to a planet."

The man only laughs. "Yeah, this is my deal. Thlyr can suck it." He waves the particle magnum in Sheppard's direction. "So sit down and shut up."

Todd feels Sheppard tense. "Sheppard," he hisses. "Don't."

Sheppard slowly, slowly un-tenses. "Tell me you have a plan," he murmurs.

"In fact I do." Todd steps between the captain and Sheppard and turns to face the captain. He knows his eyes are glowing yellow from under the hood because the universe finally looks right, and not like everything is slightly deformed. He raises his hands to pull back his hood and lets the captain look upon him.

The former prisoners cry out in fear. Some pull away and some reach for weapons. Todd feels Sheppard move around him, move between Todd and this new threat, his spread arms asking for de-escalation.

Todd keeps his eyes locked on the captain. Who, as he had suspected, is a worshipper. His weapon falls limp in his hand "Wraith," he says, his voice wondering and reverent. "I didn't know you were here! I had planned to meet with another hive, but if you would like them, they are yours!" He gestures to the humans who fill the bay.

Todd stalks smoothly toward the man. He feels Sheppard's hand catch at his arm but fall away. The hunger, so omnipresent and only recently named, flares inside him with such power that he isn't certain he could stop himself if he wanted to. But he doesn't want to. His hand slams down on the worshipper's chest and he is keening in ecstasy at the feeling as he drains the life from the man.

Finished, Todd whirls back to face the cargo bay full of humans. And Sheppard, who is standing, knife in hand, looking at Todd uncertainly.

"Come," Todd says. "We must reenter hyperspace, if we are to leave this place before the hive arrives."

Sheppard blinks at him. "What?"

Todd growls and reaches for him. A woman sitting near the wall shrieks, but Todd only shakes Sheppard before releasing him. "Quickly," he urges Sheppard, then turns to make his way down the ship’s halls.

The fresh life is coursing through him when he reaches the ship's control bridge. The ship's navigator looks at him in awe but Todd brushes aside his mumbled words of worship. "We need to move the ship from this place," he says as he bends over the panels. The ship’s layout is unfamiliar to him and it will take him a few moments to acquaint himself.

The navigator's awe turns to confusion. "But we are meeting the hive at this place. We always meet them at the third moon."

"Plans have changed," Todd tells him, wondering how well the man bends.

It turns out, not at all. "We are meeting the hive here," the navigator parrots. "We cannot leave."

Todd growls and his hand is itching.

"I can fly the ship."

Todd looks over to see Sheppard already sliding behind the controls. There is a warmth easing through the pinched look on his face that pleases Todd. "I've flown a ship like this before," Sheppard adds, and he reaches out, his hands moving over the panels.

"Hey," the navigator protests, but Todd shoves him back against the wall and drains the life out of him.

"Do you really have to do that?" Sheppard's face is getting more pinched.

Todd licks the blood from his hand. "You would not ask that question, Sheppard, if you understood."

Suddenly the ship lurches to the side. Todd growls in alarm.

Sheppard scowls, his eyes fixed on the readouts. "I'm guessing the engineer knows something's up. He's cut me off from accessing the hyper drive, so we can't leave. He also cut propulsion and locked me out of the controls. The problem with that is Captain Wraith Worshipper parked us in low orbit to the moon. We're caught in the gravitation pull. We're going to have to land. Unless you think you can find the engine room and reverse everything he's done in about thirty seconds."

"Not in that time, no," Todd says.

Sheppard's expression grows even more heavy with concern.

"Sheppard, you are gifted," Todd tells him. "You flew a city. I believe that you will be able to control the craft's descent."

Sheppard inhales deeply, then nods and refocuses on his board.

The ship shudders and their position on the screen careens wildly.

Sheppard swears. "That idiot's going to get us all killed."

Todd nods. He rests his left hand on Sheppard's shoulder briefly. "I will stop him from causing more damage."

Sheppard looks like he wants to protest, but he only nods tightly.

Todd moves back down the ship's halls. Near the bay one of the female prisoners confronts him "What is going on?" she demands. She leans on a long staff that is obviously a support but she holds it like it could become a weapon at short notice.

"I do not have time to explain," Todd says to her. "Stay in the bay and you will be safe."

She eyes him unfavorably. Her face is pale and she is sweating more than seems necessary, though Todd doesn't really feel the temperature the same as he had only days ago. "Safe from what?" She turns to face the bay. "Hediri is dead. I think the others are dying, too."

Todd snarls. "The ship is being sabotaged. When we have landed safely-"

An ominous rumble sounds from down the hallway, cutting off his words.

The woman nods. "Alright." The fear on her face tightens into resolve and she steps back toward the bay and the other humans.

The engineer is easy to find, as he is taking no pains to hide himself. Todd interrupts him trying to vent atmosphere from the forward sections of the ship and he is so incensed that he kills the man instantly without even feeding. He searches the board for some kind of communication interface, and hits it forcefully. "Sheppard?" he demands.

"A little busy," comes back the man's voice.

Todd grins, relieved. He makes his way back up through the ship, and he can feel it shuddering around him. They must be entering atmosphere. It is rare for a moon to have such a thick atmosphere, which may be a good sign.

He is almost returned to Sheppard when everything lurches, and Todd is thrown against the wall of the passageway. But the ship has stopped moving, entirely. Todd growls, and continues on his way.

Sheppard is numbly pushing himself up from where he is slumped over in the pilot's chair.

"There is atmosphere on this moon?" Todd asks.

"Actually the explosion spun us out of orbit and sent us toward the planet. I managed to control our momentum so that we were able to land on the planet with the ship intact enough that I think we can get away with not calling it a crash landing." Sheppard is pulling at where he is strapped into the chair.

Todd reaches to help him, and Sheppard's hand reaches to take hold of Todd's arm and hold on.

Todd pauses. "Are you well, Sheppard?"

"Yeah," Sheppard says, but he still sounds dazed.

Todd grins. "You have landed the ship successfully."

Sheppard looks back at him, the smile spreading across his face. "I guess I did." He frowns quickly. "You, um... You're better?"

"Yes," Todd answers him. He leans back. "Does this change things for you?"

"I don't know," Sheppard says honestly.

Todd nods. "It would be advantageous if we move quickly. The young woman said that there was some illness among the former prisoners. They may need attention, and the ship will likely need repairs before we can restore the hyper drive."

Sheppard blinks at him. A smile pulls at the corner of his mouth, almost wondering. "Okay. But... why do you care?" He follows Todd from the bridge, back down the halls of the ship. "You... could have fed on the others. Or taken the captain's offer. Or waited for the hive. Todd... why?"

Todd looks at him. "You said there was a man who killed your queen. He was human, yes? As you are?"

Sheppard's mouth opens to respond but no sound emerges.

Todd grins. "I am Wraith," he flexes his right hand with a grin, "but not all Wraith are the same. I remember enough to recall that I have certain... plans in place that would not be well served to be widely known among my kind. Given the option, I would much prefer to encounter an unknown hive from a position of power, not knowing if they are allies or if they would use me to further their own territory and goals. As for feeding, I have not had the ability until recent hours and the crew provided themselves as better options."

Sheppard is still looking at him, but they have arrived at the place where the young woman accosted Todd earlier. He pauses; she is no longer there and something uneasy rises in him.

Sheppard moves past him, continuing toward the cargo bay. He stops when he arrives and the door is closed. Frowning, he raises a hand to the door panel and activates the communicator. "We've landed the ship. It's alright to come out."

Silence is his answer. Sheppard frowns, turning his attention to the panel to get the door opened.

The uneasy feeling is spreading, and Todd says, "Sheppard." Sheppard ignores him, and Todd reaches for him. "Sheppard, I cannot feel their minds."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

The door opens, and Todd can see, lying on the other side of it, the young woman from earlier. Her face is slack in death, and her body is decaying with a rapidity that alarms him, her skin already swelling with rot.

Sheppard moves toward her, as if there is some way he can assist her.

Todd snarls, and, lifting Sheppard, bodily propels him away from the cargo bay door.

The young woman's body erupts with a miasma of black particles that scatter through the air.

Todd steps back, away from the display, but not swiftly enough to avoid being caught in it. He is overcome with a strange feeling and pauses to rest his hand against the wall. The world goes dark around him, and as he falls to the floor he vaguely hears Sheppard's voice.

Chapter Text

The ship echoes with silence and death, but from where he sits at the navigational interface, John can hear the loud howl of the wind outside.

He's pretty sure he's seen a movie like this, but, though the feeling of foreboding lies heavily on him, the details skitter out of his reach. He taps his finger on the interface as he thinks; he doesn't want to have to come back here again, so he tries to make sure he's remembered everything. He manages to pry the nav compass out of the console, but he’s not sure if there’s anything else that’ll be useful enough to haul with him.

On his way back to his point of ingress, John stops in the galley and gathers the last of the food. There isn't much, but he steadfastly refuses to reenter the cargo bay and look for more. Particularly since the entire point of this trip was to limit their contact with the contagion.

When he exits the ship he finds his coat where he left it on the ground outside, and he drops the knapsack he carries on top. He takes off every article of clothing he wears, one by one, and shakes it out. Afterward, he reaches down to grab handfuls of sandy dirt to scrub over his bare skin. It's a last ditch effort to prevent transmission of the contagion, not that it really matters- he's not coming back here. He seals the door behind him to emphasize the fact.

The ship landed in a wide grassland, and Sheppard heads back to the campsite, nestled in between a windbreak of hills only a short jog away. When he gets close he drops to a slow walk, but he's already been heard. Todd looks up at him as he approaches, his features once again fully human. The warm tones of his skin looks disturbingly wrong to John, which actually answers a few of the questions he was posing to himself on topics that don't really matter at the moment.

John pauses across the fire from Todd and drops into a crouch. "How you doing?" Todd watches him for a long moment without speaking, so John continues talking. "I made sure the vents were closed on the ship and I memorized the readings from the nav and pried out the compass so that we can find the energy source. I also cleared out all the food that was left, but I hope we find something more appetizing before we get to that point. Or," he shrugs, "you'll probably end up eating me, and then neither of us will have to eat the shit."

Todd scowls at him. There’s enough confusion in the expression that John realizes, even though Todd doesn't seem to have been re-infected, it's still been too soon. And, sure enough, Todd says, "You know me?"

John sighs. "Yeah. Let me recap for you." He waves in the general direction of the ship. "About three days ago we made an emergency landing on this planet. Before we exited the ship, you were infected with an airborne toxin, which apparently only affects Wraith. I don't want to get into the details of it again, because in about five hours you're going to remember everything. And since we're leaving we're going to stop accidentally re-infecting you, so it's not going to matter."

Todd listens to all this, then laughs. It's a surprisingly nice sound, though John wonders if in Todd's natural element it sounds a bit different. "You expect me to believe all that?" But he sounds amused rather than angry.

"Yeah, I do. But you wrote it in your book, so you can double-check if you want." He makes a motion toward Todd's coat pocket.

Todd grins and doesn't move, which John takes to mean he's already read from the book, he just felt like giving John some shit today. "How do I know you didn't write the book and leave it for me to find?"

John is examining the nav compass he's pulled from his bag, but he stops and looks up at Todd. "Well, that's a question you haven't asked me before in the last three days. Are you getting more suspicious or more forgetful? I can't read your stupid book. It's written in Wraith."

Todd smirks, but it quickly fades into a distant, contemplative look.

John sighs and repacks the knapsack. He looks over at Todd. "Hey." Picking himself up he moves around the dead fire to sit next to Todd, bumping Todd's shoulder with his own. "You only got a couple hours left, then it'll make more sense. Last time you said something like, it wasn't working as well on your memory because you'd already been hit by it before."

Todd looks at him. "Wraith," he says softly, musingly. He raises his hand to his face. "Is that why... everything looks wrong?"

John purses his lips. "Does it? I suppose it might, because your eyes are different." He holds out his hand wordlessly and Todd holds out his right hand beside John's left hand in amused mimicry. John lets his hand cup Todd's, holding it within the grasp of his fingers. His own right hand covers Todd's and he strokes his fingertips down Todd's smooth palm. He's looking down at their hands but he hears Todd's sharp inhale, and he feels Todd's body tense for a moment before relaxing against John.

John himself is shivering a bit. This isn't the first time he's pushed for a bit more physical closeness than he usually would with someone who has amnesia, but he knows that Todd's suppressed Wraith nature responds to it.

"In the past three days this is the seventh time you've had to remember the situation all over again," John says.

Todd's head rests against his shoulder and he sighs. "That sounds tedious." He turns toward John. "I am remembering far more quickly than the first time," he says, revealing that he did read the book while John was gone. "Some things, at any rate. I remember you, John Sheppard."

And John grins. He hasn’t spoken his name since his return and Todd hadn't asked it. "Did you remember me for real, or did you write my name in the book?"

He feels Todd shaking with laughter. Rather than answer the question he says, "It is obvious that you cannot read the book."

"Yeah? Why's that?"

"Because all it says of the last three days is, 'Sheppard is annoying but you can trust him.'"

And John feels like he's been punched. He inhales, sharply, needing the air, and his fingers have tightened around Todd's hands. "Wow. Thanks."

Todd's eyes narrow in amusement, but his expression quickly sobers, as if in preparation to withdraw after the openness of the confession.

"Come on," Sheppard urges. "Let’s get going, put some miles between us and this place."

Todd glances back in the direction of the landing. "The ship is unsalvageable?"

Sheppard sighs. "It needs more work than I know how to fix before it’ll fly again. You said you couldn’t fix it either without parts. You know, before you got infected again and forgot what we were doing. The long distance communications were part of what the engineer locked off from bridge access, and the side of the ship that he was rerouting everything through was the side that got crunched the hardest when we landed crooked. We spent most of Day Two trying to get it unlocked, but it didn’t work out. That was, incidentally, when we realized that you were being re-infected every time we went back in the ship and not just relapsing."

Todd scowls. "Then what is our intended destination?"

"There's an energy source north of here that the nav computer picked up. No details, but with any luck it's people who have friends who have a spaceship."

"You are very optimistic, Sheppard."

John snorts. "Naw. But it'd be nice if the universe cut us a break."

 


 

Later that day they are walking along, John in front, when Todd suddenly hisses.

John whirls around, his knife already half drawn, wondering what enemy is sneaking up on them from behind, and wishing for a P90, an object he has only a vague mental image of.

But there's no one there. Just Todd scowling to himself. He shakes his head at John. "I have remembered."

"Oh, good."

Todd hisses again, under his breath. "It was Michael, was it not? He discovered a way to infect those people with what he first did to me, and he made use of a worshipper, to plan to have them transported to a hive so that they would infect many Wraith when their bodies fell there."

John nods. "Seems like." He shrugs. "Not that he told me his plans, but I’m pretty sure the only people Michael hates more than me are the Wraith. Those ships were passing close to the planet; it makes sense that Michael planned to use them, especially if the worshiper meets hives in this area often." He regards his companion, a vague memory surfacing, "If, as you say, I am 'the only Wraith who will speak to you,' it is possible he did this to weaken your city." John shifts his weight.

Todd is growling to himself and flexing his hand.

"We did this," John says softly. "My people. We did this to Michael and he hates us for it. And now he killed those people, he’s messing with you, he blew up some other people on the planet where he found me." Sheppard scowls out over the empty landscape that surrounds them. "He’s going to keep tearing this galaxy apart."

Todd regards John. "This is not your doing. It is Michael’s."

"Yeah, but if it wasn’t for me, Michael wouldn’t exist."

"If it was not for you, neither would I," Todd says.

John stops, his attention pulled to Todd.

Todd looks back at him, the sharp, familiar angles of his face softened by his human seeming but still discernable. "I remember, more than I did before I was afflicted again." His eyes are heavy on Sheppard. "If you had not come, I would still be a prisoner of the Genii. By now I would have likely perished."

"Don’t-" John starts, but Todd shakes his head, the long, white fall of his hair emphasizing the gesture.

"When you found me there, I was close to giving up hope, Sheppard." He steps forward and reaches to rest his hand on John’s shoulder. "You showed me the sky again, after years in darkness."

John swallows, feeling caught out. He doesn’t remember… but there is a flicker of something- the way that Todd leans close to him, his hand reaching across Sheppard’s body… There is thick forest around them, and he feels tired and old, too weary to raise himself, as the Wraith says in warning, "They’re coming." The Wraith’s hand slams against his chest and he is overcome with the worst pain he’s ever felt. John grimaces, rubbing his chest, but the expression twists its way into a smile as he looks up at Todd. "I do remember."

Todd smiles. "Good." He turns and keeps walking.

John takes a deep breath and follows.

 


 

 

They make good time, and they are in a different biome when they camp that night, having passed from hilly grassland into true forest. They have seen no sign of any human habitation or technology. Or anything Wraith, either, for that matter.

Todd watches the trees around them as John prepares them dinner. Todd eats it without comment, but spends a long time afterward looking at his hands.

John sidles up next to him again, as Todd had seemed to appreciate the closeness, both earlier today and a few days ago, when his senses had been first returning.

Todd turns toward him now, an unreadable expression on his face.

"What?" John asks, because he has the sudden crazy thought that Todd has remembered something that John should remember.

But Todd only shakes his head, his gaze veering off toward the trees again. He lays his hand over John's and, when John turns to interlaces his fingers with Todd's, Todd's stare returns to focus on their hands.

"Okay, what?" John protests.

Todd raises his eyes to John's face. "You saw me take the life of the captain who was a Wraith worshipper. You saw me take his life with this very hand. But you take my hand without hesitation."

"Well. It's a little different now." And John runs his fingertips over Todd's palm. Todd makes a disgruntled sound in his throat but he leans into John, his face tucked into the curve of John’s neck. "You start getting worms in your hand again we might need to have a talk."

Todd's chuckle ghosts over John’s ear. "Tendrils," he corrects.

"Okay, whatever." But John pauses, because this might not be the time he was planning to have this discussion but it's a discussion they need to have. "I don't like it. The eating people," he clarifies. "But I... That guy was bad news and you took care of him. You could have done a lot of things in that situation, but you didn't. I... I joked about it earlier, but I'm not worried, you know? I don't think you'd try to eat me."

He can feel Todd's hmmm in his bones. "You are important, Sheppard," Todd says, after a long moment. "I have forgotten many things, but this I remember."

"You're important, too." And the words don't feel like enough but John doesn't know how to make it be more. "I couldn't do this by myself."

"You could," Todd observes. "I could. But why would we want to?" He leans in against John's neck, his lips touching skin.

John smiles. "Good point." He turns to meet Todd's lips with his own.

The kiss is soft and exploratory, and Todd hmmms again, lips spreading in a smile. "We have done this before."

"Yeah, a bit," John says with a laugh that turns into a yawn. They walked a long way today.

He moves to lie on the ground, head pillowed on his arm. He feels Todd lie down behind him, resting his forehead in between John's shoulder blades. John reaches for Todd's arm and pulls it around him.

Todd makes a pleased sound in his throat and snuggles closer until they are pressed together like peas in a pod. Or maybe like Wraith in a pod? He’s too tired or else he’d ask Todd about it. Which, they should probably talk about what exactly this is supposed to mean, anyway.

 


 

As they keep walking, and jogging occasionally, for most of the following days, John remains too tired to want to talk about anything.

They're at a fairly high latitude so the sunlight falls less harshly than it could even though the days are long and warm and the nights are also warm. John throws his coat into his knapsack with the food. Todd seems amused by this, and often strips off both his coat and his shirt when they jog through the mornings. John walks behind him, watching the play of muscle under tattooed skin as Todd moves. There are marks at his hips that John can't see fully but a part of him wants to, deeply.

 

By the fifth night they're obviously passing into the full waxing phase of two moons, which means there's enough light at night that they start resting in the afternoon and walking at night. Neither of them speak of it, but there is a subtle urgency that drives them on in search of the energy reading and a way to return to their lives.

Speaking in general is kept to a minimum, almost to the point that the whole thing feels like a dream. They will point things out to each other during the day, but when it's time to rest they eat, sometimes with and sometimes without making a fire, and then Todd wraps John in his arms and they fall asleep.

 


 

 

After ten more days the moons are obviously on the wane again, one falling away more quickly than the other, and the nights are getting darker, and colder.

 

Every couple of days John gets out the nav compass and checks their position. They're usually well on course.

They have passed from grassland to forest and on into rocky country. They've been able to supplement their food store with some indigenous plant life and also the occasional creature, but John knows that the food is lasting longer because Todd is eating less. His skin is paler and his veins more prominent.

John starts to think that it might be time to have that talk soon.

Chapter Text

John's lost track of the days- but he'd guess it's been almost a month they've been on this planet, because the moons have retreated to full opacity and started to wax back out the other side of it on their way to fullness- when he checks the nav compass and finds they're off course. They've been veering a little to the east because of a thunderhead covering the western sky, but it looks like it's been a little too far east.

"We should seek shelter," Todd says, and John jumps to hear his voice. Mostly because it's unexpected, but also because it's gained a gravelly edge that John's pretty sure heralds the return of Todd's natural self. Todd looks at him. "The storm appears vast. We have traveled well for many days, and are most likely significantly closer to the source of the energy reading. We have enough supplies for many days yet. Let us wait out the storm, rather than confront the danger it could pose in the added darkness of the moon's nearness to syzygy."

John nods. "We passed a cave yesterday. We could go there."

Todd nods, and, without speaking again, retraces their steps.

 

The cave is a perfect open space under an overhang of rock. It doesn't need a lot of clearing, the smooth stone already windswept clean in many places, and there are branches for a fire from a group of dead trees just outside the mouth. John gets the wood pulled under the overhang of the cave just as the wind starts to pick up, heralding the storm’s arrival.

The sky opens and the rain falls in a steady, drenching downpour for what feels like hours.

John watches it at first. Even from the narrow view they’re getting from under the rock overhang the lightning looks pretty impressive, and the thunder rattles his bones as the storm gets closer. But, watching all that water is making him feel all the dirt and sweat that's embedded into his ragged shirt, so he pulls it off and hangs it out under the rain to get it good and soaked. The only soap he has is in the shaving kit, so he just scrubs it with his hands, drenches it again, then lays it out by the fire to dry.

He turns to find Todd watching him with amusement. John feels a little exposed; for all that Todd has been running in the heat of the day topless, with his coat tied into a bundle he can throw over his shoulder, John hasn't been. As far as he knows this is the first time he's shown skin in front of his companion, and he's suddenly seized by the thought that Todd might not like what he sees. Not that there's anything to complain about; John's lost at least a stone, starting with when he was imprisoned, and now, with the days of incessant walking, anything that's left is hard muscle. John stares at the fire, not wanting to catch Todd's eye again as he pulls out provisions.

Todd accepts the food from John's hand and eats it methodically and with some resentment. Afterward, he stands abruptly. John looks up at him, surprised. Todd leaves his coat and his boots by the fire, but walks out into the rain.

"Hey," John wants to protest, but Todd walks out until he's just covered in the downpour. He bows his head and shakes his hair. Lightning outlines him for a moment, but from the reverberating rumble of the thunder John can tell that the intensity of the storm has passed them by. Todd pulls his shirt over his head and scrubs it, as Sheppard had done, then tosses it behind him, back under the overhang. He follows that with his trousers, peeling them off his long legs and scrubbing the material under the rain until it's good and drenched.

He steps back inside the cave to lay out the garments by the fire, his eyes meeting Sheppard's with a grin.

John swallows. He tries to keep his eyes on Todd's face, but he's been wondering about those marks on the other man's hips and he can't not look.

They look like paired tongues of fire. John inhales slowly, trying to control himself.

He's obviously not successful. Todd closes his eyes, his expression like that of a man savoring something. "Sheppard," he murmurs. "I can feel your desire." His eyes snap open, fixing on John's and looking far more catlike than John feels he should be comfortable with.  Todd grins. "John," he says. He stands and returns to the rain, almost in dare.

And John tries to control his racing heartbeat. He tries to reason to himself that he should stay seated by the fire. But he finds himself rising from that seat, kicking his boots off next to Todd's, pulling the hidden knife sheath from the upper thigh of his trousers and setting the weapon on top of his boots as he strips the garment off and carries it to the rain to be washed.

The rain is cold. John shivers as it courses over his skin. He scrubs the trousers and throws them toward the fire, because if he goes back in he thinks he won't come back out. He stares in at the fire, and he jumps when Todd runs a finger up John's spine. "Shit, warn a guy," he mutters as he turns to face Todd.

He's face to face with the taller man's broad chest. There's no hair on his body, in stark contrast to John's own chest; John glances up to see that Todd's eyebrows are gone again so he figures it's because his Wraith nature is surging to the forefront.

Todd steps closer, his hands rising to hold John's face steady between them as he leans in to press their lips together. John manages to remember just enough to hold himself back and his return kiss isn't really what he wants to offer. Todd leans back, one hand curling under John's chin, holding his eyes to meet Todd's. "You... are hesitant," Todd observes. He withdraws his hand and steps back.

John shivers. "I..." There's a lot he's not really sure he knows how to say- and he gets the feeling that maybe the person he used to remember how to be has never been particularly good at saying things of this nature- but the main thing is, "I want to know that this means the same thing to both of us. I just want to make sure we're on the same page."

Todd is giving him a piercing look. "And what does it mean to you, Sheppard?" He paces slowly around John until he is behind him, and he steps up close behind John so that his body is pressed all along John's, one arm coming around to pull John against him.

"Fuck," John says in assessment, his hands coming up to grab hold of Todd's arm wrapped across his chest, his back arching into the feel of hard muscle pressed against him, and he fights the instinctive desire to rub his ass back against the length of him. He has his mouth open to the rain, panting slightly, and he feels Todd's shuddered moan through every muscle in his back that's pressed to Todd's chest. In that moment, John wants this so bad he can't remember why he ever wanted to stop.

But Todd releases him, stepping away. His forehead rests between John's shoulder blades for a moment, but he draws in a shuddering breath and then he's gone.

John stands for a moment in the rain, feeling bereft. He glances over to see that Todd is sitting by the fire, his head bowed.

John sighs, and shivers. The water is too cold. He needs to go back in, even if it means awkward conversations. He takes a deep breath and tries to steel himself against the cold of the rain, but his feet are already moving back to the shelter of the cave. Awkward but necessary.

He walks back in and sits by the fire. It's warmer, but he still pulls his coat around his shoulders to help stop his shivering.

"I apologize," Todd says eventually.

"Why?" John replies warily.

"You were right. Our... different experiences have given us different... pages. Different expectations, perhaps." He shakes his head, his long hair clinging damply to his shoulders. He's still naked but he doesn't look cold. He is staring at the dark ridge running down his palm that is not yet fully developed. "For Wraith the sharing of physical pleasure is... easy, for those who already share so many of their thoughts. It is an enhancement of a bond that already exists, to lie with each other. To lie with a queen is a different thing, but such deep bonding between brothers is common.

"I sense for you it is... not an easy thing."

"Yeah. I think by 'easy' you mean 'casual.' Which, casual sex is totally a thing. Just not..." John thinks over his words. "Not something that I think would be good, now."

"The way you use this word, 'casual,' makes me think that you humans use it to hurt each other." Todd frowns. "If that is so, then it is not an appropriate comparison." Todd looks up and their eyes meet. "You are many things to me, John Sheppard. I do not think casual describes any of them."

John smiles. "Thanks. I think." He runs his hands through his wet hair, shaking the water from its short strands. "So, um. You know that I..." He ducks his head and leans closer to the fire to hide his flush. "That I find you attractive."

"I can feel the power of your desire," Todd says. "Just now in the rain I felt it, and I realized that it was the power of it that was holding you back from giving in to it."

John can't get enough air through his nose, and his mouth falls open to suck in air. He realizes that he's shaking, though it's his desire rather than the cold rain that makes his body tremble. "I don't..." He closes his eyes and tries to calm his breathing. "I barely know who I am. I can't... I need to remember more before I let myself give in to this."

"I understand."

John's eyes fly open. "You do?"

"No." Todd grins wryly. "If you had come to me like this earlier in my affliction, before I knew what I was, I would not have hesitated to share my body with you. You… feel right to me, Sheppard. But I understand that your rejection is not rejection of me or the bond that we share. You fear that which is unknown but should be known, and that it will... conflict with the desire that has risen in you." He sits for a long moment before adding, "I do not know much about your people, Sheppard, but I believe you do well to be concerned. As I warned you before."

"Yeah, well." Sheppard looks at his hands. "I think the person I used to be sacrificed some things that I don't think are worth it in order to protect himself." John frowns. "But I do want to remember him more, and understand why he sacrificed those things; I want to know why he values what he values before I choose to disregard it."

Todd smiles. "I have faith, John Sheppard, that you will choose rightly for yourself."

 

There is silence between them for a while, the fire crackling as John feeds branches into it; he jumps back from the sparks it throws and checks to see if his pants are dry yet then puts them on.

"Sheppard," Todd asks suddenly. "May I ask you for a great favor?"

John looks up. "You can always ask," he says cautiously.

Todd grins. He reaches back to part his hair, pulling it over his shoulders. "I cannot see what is marked on my back, and I don't yet remember it. Will you tell me what it is?"

"Uh, yeah, sure." John dusts his hands off on his trousers and steps around the fire. "You'll have to turn around so I can see it better."

Todd does him one better and turns to lie face down on the floor, his head tipped forward and his arms propping his shoulders up so that John can see the interlocking of many dark lines marked across his skin.

John kneels beside him, trying to focus his attention on Todd's back and disregard the feeling of his clothed knee resting on the ground near Todd's naked hip.

John looks at the marks for a long time.

"So." He clears his throat. "The shape of it is kind of reminiscent of the marks you have down, um, on your hips." He reaches out, to trace the shape across Todd's back, but pulls back at the last moment. "Can I... Is it okay if I touch?"

Todd rolls his head toward John to look up at him with a smirk. "Yes."

John nods. He leans forward and lets his fingers rest at the small of Todd's back just to the left of his spine- which spine appears to be developing... bone spurs, so that must be a Wraith thing- touching the curled tail-end of a long dark line that reaches from there, up just along the edge of the spine, to where more lines join the form of the marking so that it spreads to encompass Todd's left shoulder blade, tendrils of it reaching up even further to wrap over his shoulder and around his upper arm. "That's the shape of it on this side," John says, then licks his lips. "There’s… like, a hole in the middle?" He traces the outline of the empty space in the middle of the marked area, which sits next to Todd’s spine, near the bottom of his shoulder blade and is shaped like a star, reminiscent of the mark on his face. "On the other side, it’s a little different." John moves to trace the right side, starting at the bottom; this line starts right above Todd’s hip with a little backwards flick before laddering its way up the side of his spine in a cross-stitch of short lines before it spreads out over his shoulder. "But, neither of them are solid, like on your hips. It's a bunch of... interlocking lines. The right side, the lines are more... shorter? Straighter? It reminds me of the one around your eye. The left side," he touches it again, "all the lines interweave, more fluidly. Almost like…" John frowns at it. "Uh, give me a minute." He looks around for Todd's coat and pulls out Todd's journal book. He flips it open.

"I though you couldn't read the script," Todd says, amused.

"I can't, but I think that's what's written here. Just... in, I dunno, a fancy calligraphy or something." He sets the book down where Todd can see it. "This symbol?" He points, then he leans back and traces a symbol on Todd's left shoulder. "It looks a lot like this one. Only... a bit different. And they're all like that on this side." His fingers are drawn, without any reason, to touch the unmarked place at the bottom of Todd’s shoulder in the middle of his back.

He stops, because Todd's shoulder has tensed under his touch and he looks up to see that Todd is staring in front of him without seeing, looking at something that isn't there. "I remember," he says, his voice heavy with emotion.

It's not a tone that invites commentary, so John just gets up and goes back to his own business. His shirt is dry as well, and his socks. He leaves his boots off for the moment. He looks out to see that the rain has dwindled away to nothing. He can see lightning flickering through the far distant sky.

"Sheppard," Todd calls, and John turns to him. "Thank you."

John just nods. They may not have done much activity today, but getting drenched with cold water and dealing with his emotions has left him tired enough that he curls up beside the dying fire to sleep until the sun has dried the ground enough that they can walk on it without coating themselves in it. From under half-lowered lids he sees Todd moving around on the other side of the fire, retrieving his own clothes as well. He takes the book and writes something in it before he returns it to his coat. He watches the embers of the fire smolder. John wonders if Todd can feel John's eyes watching him; when Todd does look up and meet John's gaze he doesn't look surprised.

"John," he says hesitantly. "I... did not say so earlier, but... you wish to align our understanding of each other's expectations, and I feel it right to tell you. What you have allowed me- to lie beside you in sleep without a weapon drawn between us? This is an... intimate thing among Wraith. To be defenseless before another." He pauses.

"So you think I owe you the thing you consider less intimate because we've already hit third base?" John asks. He's not sure if he really means it as the accusation it sounds like, but Todd certainly takes it that way.

"I do not ask for anything from you," Todd snarls, drawing himself up in affront.

"Hey," John says soothingly. "I didn't mean it like that." He sighs. "Come on over," he offers.

Todd's eyes meet his across the fire. The pupils seem more slitted than they were earlier.

John makes a beckoning motion.

Todd rises and comes around the fire to lie behind John. He throws his arm around John, pulling him close, and his face is pressed against John's hair.

John turns in his arms and throws his own arm over Todd, pressing his face to the other man's chest.

Chapter Text

Todd realizes the moisture thickening the early morning air is actually falling snow. He raises his hand to it, and then turns back to look at Sheppard.

Sheppard makes a face. "Yeah, that storm seems like it really brought in a cold front." He pulls his coat's collar up around his face more tightly and blows into his cupped hands. "We're on course. Without the rest of the nav equipment distance is hard to tell, but I hope we're close to the energy source. Too much farther north and we'll need snowshoes."

Todd snorts. He has no idea what "snowshoes" are, but he can only imagine from the name that they are a massive encumbrance.

Sheppard huffs a soft laugh in agreement.

 


 

 

Two days past the storm Todd returns entirely to his physical self.

In being cursed a second time, or a succession of second times, by Michael's transformative virus, he appears to have developed a greater ability to throw off the effects more quickly. Even though his memory is not fully at his disposal- there are several thousand years of history to remember and he suspects that he will not remember everything until he takes the time to sit and truly plumb the depths of his mind for every shadow- he is entirely Wraith.

Sheppard touches his arm, and Todd shows him the feeding organ, the small nails that hook the organ closed and the tendrils that reach out in search of energy to drink.

Sheppard grins, the warm open expression of someone who understands what it is to not be yourself and is pleased for him. “Are you okay? Do you need…” And he asks the question presumably knowing that there is no way to answer it that ends well for him.

But Todd shakes his head. The hunger is only a low, banked fire that does not need to be attended to anytime soon.

Sheppard just nods in return.

 

Todd still cannot sense any other Wraith with his mind, though there is a... faint hum on the edge of his consciousness that makes him think that this planet is simply too far away and he is too alone, without a hive to boost his thoughts. The hive the worshipper had been expecting must be long departed already, in the days he remained blind to sensing them.

 


 

 

Unfortunately, Sheppard’s mind is not so neatly restored.

"I think it might be worse than not remembering anything," Sheppard complains one evening, getting out his razor and trying to tame the thick hair on his face in the light of the setting sun. "I remember Atlantis. I remember the Ancients showed up and booted us out, but apparently as of a few days before we met again I was still there. I remember the Replicators blowing it up at least twice." He narrows his eyes at Todd. "I remember you died."

Todd only stares back at him, unimpressed.

"You and Ronon, blowing up one of Michael's outposts." Sheppard frowns. "But I remember Ronon dying at least three times, so..." He frowns, more fiercely. "I call him Chewie, because of..." He slides his eyes back to Todd. "Never mind." He turns his attention back to shaving. "Anyway, eventually I suppose my brain will get tired of throwing random shit at me and start to actually make sense." 

"Given your innate stubbornness, that day may be a long time coming, Sheppard," Todd offers, deadpan.

Sheppard shoots him a glare, but as he turns away Todd can see him fighting a smile.

He finishes his shaving and puts away the razor. They sit in silence for a while beside the fire, but it's Sheppard who breaks it. "So, you think this planet is entirely uninhabited?"

Todd regards him. "We have seen nothing to suggest otherwise," he agrees.

Sheppard shifts his weight. "Even the energy reading?"

"Hmm." Todd examines the ragged edges of his dark fingernails. "Even that is not evidence of the existence of human, or even Wraith, civilization being present upon this planet. It may be some remnant left by an extinct race, or an abandoned technology that still releases a reading that can be seen from a great distance."

Sheppard nods, looking at the fire thoughtfully.

Todd hasn't spent much time thinking about it. When they find the energy source, then there will be enough data to plan a next move. Until then, the best course is to continue toward where the energy source is located. There is a galaxy that is out there, awaiting the return of both of them. But, now, for a moment, he allows his thoughts to rest on the idea that they will find nothing and that there will be no way to leave this planet. His hands clench and, before he even thinks about it he has said, "Sheppard."

Sheppard turns to him, waiting for him to continue.

Todd opens his mouth, then closes it.

"What?" Sheppard pushes.

"Never mind." Todd looks away, his eyes going to the fire. "It is... too soon to speak of, in any case."

"Oh. I think I can guess." 

Todd tenses, concerned that the moment has come that Sheppard will be forcibly reminded of what he is- that if they cannot leave this place, Sheppard must fall prey to the Wraith's hunger eventually. Todd doesn't think that he can convince Sheppard with words that he would rather die than go mad with hunger alone in this wilderness after having killed the man who trusted him.

But Sheppard continues talking. "I remember- I think it must have been one of the first things that happened to me in this galaxy, because I remember it feeling... strange and new, and horrific- but, I remember my superior officer was being drained by a Wraith. She was trying to force him to tell her about Earth and how to get there, and she was sucking away bits of his life. He was... just crumbling away in front of my eyes, and had such a look on his face, like... Anyway, I shot him, in the heart, right through her hand.

"So don't worry." He glances at Todd before looking back at the fire. "We're getting out of here together, or I'll find a way to kill you. I won't leave you to suffer."

It takes a moment before Todd can speak, but he does find the words. "Thank you, Sheppard."

 


 

The evenings are colder, though the snow is an only occasional addition that melts in the rays of the afternoon sun. Sheppard seems even more interested than usual in sleeping curled into Todd's embrace. It stirs a warmth in Todd as well, even though physically he doesn't feel the cold as much as Sheppard does. He thinks he would feel unsettled to rest without the sound of Sheppard's breathing in his ear, or the feel of the man's fingers brushing Todd's long hair back from his face.

 


 

 

A fire is more necessary when they stop to rest now, and Sheppard sits pressed against Todd tonight, making a face as he opens a container and eats its contents without pleasure.

Sheppard often shares what memories have returned to him throughout the day, and today is no exception.

"My father died," he says, his eyes fixed on the fire. "I hadn’t talked to him in… Well, we disagreed about what I was supposed to do with my life, and so I left. It was… a shock, to learn that he’d died. Like… there was always this possibility that… something would happen, you know? But now… it was done." His eyes flick to Todd, then he makes a self-deprecating expression and looks away. "I don't suppose Wraith have problems with overbearing fathers."

"No," Todd says, his voice distant and thoughtful as he thinks over Sheppard’s words. "Unless you are a queen." He regards Sheppard with a quick smirk. "Wraith do not have fathers."

Sheppard stares at him. "What?"

Todd laughs. "A queen produces male Wraith without aid. She only requires a mate if she intends to brood another queen."

"But-" Sheppard stares. "Huh. That's different."

Todd laughs again.

 

 

A few days later Sheppard says, "That guy Kolya?"

Todd looks at him.

"That's the name of the guy, the Genii guy who had you imprisoned."

"Ahh." Todd flexes his right hand.

"Well, he's dead. I shot him." Sheppard frowns. "I remembered. It was a while after the whole thing where we met, but before you left us that message, about the Replicators taking out human worlds."

"I am pleased to hear that this man no longer exists in the galaxy." Todd regards Sheppard, because the most important of all the things that Sheppard has shared with him recently is, "You are remembering much."

"Yeah," is all Sheppard says, his eyes looking out into the darkness.

 


 

 

Todd reaches often for Sheppard throughout the days as they travel, usually with his left hand though Sheppard doesn't seem to mind either. The touch is not intended to be intimate, merely a reaffirmation of the status of no longer traveling alone after he had been alone for a long while. But it is something that could easily become... deeper, if Sheppard gave him any indication. If Sheppard were Wraith, and they had the tension between themselves that they do have, then they would have long ago fallen into each other's arms and opened their minds to pleasure.

Sheppard wants to remember himself. Todd does not see that course of action producing results conducive to their continued fellowship; he remembers the back and forth of their history well enough to know that much. Sheppard often held himself back from full trust those times, though Todd expected as much from the humans and responded in kind.

So, when Todd feels Sheppard's desire flare hotly inside of him in answer to the Wraith's touch as they lie down to rest, he just lays his forehead against the back of Sheppard's neck and hums, his right hand flexing, wondering which way the scale will finally tip.

Chapter Text

Todd and John are seated beside a campfire, the night washed with moonlight around them. Todd is sliding his Wraith dagger along the edge of his thumbnail in deliberate strokes as he watches the smoke rise from the fire- when actually he is watching John eat his meal. Todd can feel the heat of the fire, but it shows less intensely to his senses than the heat of Sheppard's body. As he finishes, Sheppard leans back, his eyes going to the sky to look at the moons. He appears given to deep thought. Todd cannot look away from him.

"Can I ask you a favor?" Sheppard says suddenly, the words a faint echo of what Todd had said to him, days ago.

Todd puts the dagger in its sheath and answers the only way he can. "Of course."

"Can you tell me your name?" Todd frowns, but Sheppard continues, "I mean your real name. I named you 'Todd.' So, you must have had another name, before we met."

"Ahh." Todd thinks about this for a long moment. Sheppard, apparently deciding that the answer to his query is no, shifts his weight and looks away, awkward tension filling his frame before melting into an almost defensive nonchalance.

"For Wraith, name is not... a definite concept," Todd says, and he sees Sheppard's attention snap back to him instantly. Todd grins. "It is not... verbal, not fixed. It changes, or can change with the circumstance of the Wraith. A name gives a... sense of a Wraith. It is scent, and mental touch, and occasionally a word, that combines everything that makes a Wraith who they are. For one as old as I, a name is a complex thing."

"Oh." Sheppard's voice reveals a hint of disappointment but little else.

"I would be pleased to share my name with you, John," Todd says, voice thoughtful, "but I do not know that I can make you understand it."

Sheppard looks at him. "Try."

Todd's eyes, fixed on Sheppard, flare open slightly and his telepathic ability comes to rest against Sheppard's mind in a delicate touch as the man's thoughts coalesce around that word.

Sheppard holds his gaze. "I... want you to try." He swallows. "You told me to think about it, and I've thought about it. I want... I would like it if you touched my mind."

Todd denies the almost instantaneous flare of desire inside himself and looks away. "I do not think-" he begins, but Sheppard cuts him off.

"Hey." Sheppard comes around the fire to kneel in front of Todd. "I remember. Not everything- I still have no idea what I was doing when Michael got ahold of me- but enough to know that you're right." Todd's eyes meet his again at this confession, and Sheppard makes a face. "Yes, I probably wouldn't have done this before what happened to me. I wouldn't..." He searches for words. "I wouldn't have let myself trust you. And I know it's not going to make you more interested in doing this, but the one thing I think I can promise you is that I'm not going to blame you if this goes sideways."

Todd shakes his head again. "You cannot promise that. I myself know that your people prize the sanctity of your individual minds even more highly than your collective good."

"Hey." Sheppard reaches and takes Todd's right hand in his. Sheppard's palm is pressed against the back of Todd's hand as Sheppard interlocks his fingers between Todd's so that Todd's palm and feeding organ are open and displayed. His hand is splayed open, and so the tendrils poke out of their recesses, seeking flesh to caress. Sheppard strokes the fingers of his left hand along the outer curve of Todd's hand and Todd shudders, his mouth falling open as his breathing quickens. "I'm trusting you. Trust me."

And Todd can't hold back when he wants this too. His fixes his eyes on Sheppard's and pushes.

Sheppard winces, but doesn't pull away.

"It will not hurt if you don't fight me, John."

"I'm trying," Sheppard grits out, and he leans forward until their foreheads touch and their breath mingles. Todd kisses him softly, hoping the human gesture will help Sheppard relax. And Sheppard's tension does relent, the almost physical barrier around his mind becoming more permeable and Todd lays his mental fingers against it.

Sheppard jerks against his touch. "I can feel you," he murmurs.

"Do not fight it," Todd urges him. He wraps his left arm around Sheppard, pulling the man into his lap, Sheppard's knees resting to either side of Todd's thighs. "Be calm, and let me in. Your mind cannot reach out to mine, so you must receive the information I would impart."

Sheppard's mind flickers through many thoughts, Todd catching the motion of them more than the content, before settling on one that causes him to flush dark red.

"What is it?" Todd asks, amused.

Sheppard licks his lips but doesn't answer, instead his chin juts forward in invitation.

Todd presses in against Sheppard's mind and lets his thoughts settle around Sheppard's, opening the image to him.

Sheppard had taken his words and focused on the idea of receiving, playing the thought out into an image of what he would like to receive from Todd.

"Ahh." Todd grins to see that Sheppard wishes this- has thought about it in such detail- though there is an undercurrent of... dissatisfaction to the thought. "It displeases you, to desire this?"

Sheppard is flushed already, but his skin darkens further as he shakes his head. "No. I... It's... one of the things I remembered. That... receiving is a thing that women do, so it's not something that men should want." He looks at Todd, his eyes dark with arousal. "But I remember... I've done it before. I know that I want it." He leans in again and his lips trail over Todd's cheek.

"Your culture is strange," Todd murmurs, warmth filling him at the touch of Sheppard's soft mouth. "Twice over, for I have felt how strongly you desire this."

He feels John's lips spread against his skin in a smile. "How about I'll just agree and we can move past it?" he says softly. He shifts his weight to press his arousal against Todd.

Todd shakes his head. "First, Sheppard, I would give what was asked." He leans in, pressing their foreheads together and murmurs against Sheppard's lips, "My name, is such." And he sends Sheppard the information, a combination of his history, the queens he has served, the brothers he has lost, the positions he has held, the hives he has commanded, and, at the end...

Sheppard leans back with a grin. "Your name is Todd," he says, delighted.

Todd returns the smile. "It is a part of me," he tells Sheppard, his left hand rising to touch Sheppard's face and his right hand still held by Sheppard's. "Because of you, and perhaps more strikingly because of what has happened to me. So, Sheppard, when you call me such do not think that it does not refer to me."

John leans in to kiss him again. "I can feel a headache coming on," he confesses. "But I don't want to stop." He shivers, leaning close to Todd.

"Do not harm yourself, Sheppard," Todd cautions. "Neither of our minds is making this connection naturally."

"I just... I want to do it right." Sheppard kisses him again. "I know you know how much this means to me, but I wanted to show you that... this is something important to me, and I wasn't sure how else to say it. You can feel my thoughts, right? I..." He looks up at Todd, his eyes full of heat. "I want to build on that connection."

Todd inhales sharply, touched more deeply than he has been in a long while. "We are brothers. You do not need to prove it further," he cautions.

Sheppard raises his left hand to trace the features of Todd's face. "We're coming at it from different sides maybe, but I want this to be everything to both of us. I remembered that I wanted to wait for this, for you to be you."

Todd lets his thoughts rest against Sheppard's. The man's thoughts are full of many things, some of them urging him to refrain from this action, but the enormity of his desire, that Todd had felt in the rainstorm, is very much at the forefront. It pulls Todd in and he murmurs, "John," against Sheppard's lips in pleasure. "You are certain?"

Sheppard smiles. "I know what I want," he says. He disentangles his right hand from Todd's and lifts both hands to bury them in Todd's hair, cupping the back of his head and holding him close. "I remember that I gave up wanting a lot of things in order to protect myself, because when you want something it can hurt you. But… it’s this galaxy, you know?" He grins. "My people call it Pegasus; it’s a flying horse in this old story. But I got here, and… everything that’s happened has been so amazing. Even… even the bad parts have been… gateways." His right thumb brushes over the heavy ridge of Todd's brow, and his fingers move above Todd's left eye, presumably to follow the strokes of his marking there, coming down to trace the strong line of Todd's nose.  Sheppard's fingers follow the marking as it crosses down Todd's cheek, and he pauses again before he traces the outline of the sensory pit there. "I thought I would hate this, because it would make you look like Michael, and he’s pretty much the first thing I remember hating when I woke up. But it doesn't. It... fits you," he says with a grin, his fingers following the line of Todd’s jaw, "in a way that it doesn't fit him, and I like it." Sheppard’s fingers reach the collar of Todd's shirt and stop there.

Todd realizes that he's been sitting there, mesmerized by John's hands and his voice, and not responding. He shrugs off his coat and reaches to pull his shirt over his head, casting it aside.

John licks his lips, and runs his fingers down Todd's chest, his fingers sliding over Todd's smooth skin. Todd shivers, leaning back to rest his weight on his hands and letting John continue his exploration. John's fingers are hot on his cooler body, and he leans in and kisses Todd's shoulder, then down over his collarbone.

Todd shivers again. "Will you not give me the same?" he asks, his voice thinner, more desperate than he wants.

John looks up at him in question, and Todd fists his left hand in John's shirt. "I would... look upon you."

He feels a flash of insecurity spike at him from John's mind, but John does reach down to grasp the thin material by the bottom hem and pull his shirt over his head to cast it aside as Todd had done.

Sheppard is covered in a light coating of fur, and Todd reaches out in curiosity to touch it, letting the pads of his fingers rub against the texture. His index finger catches on a nipple, and John inhales sharply, biting his lip. Todd repeats the move, and John rocks forward, grinding down against Todd.

John's emotions are a vast network of sensations, but primarily anticipation and desire. John stands from Todd's lap suddenly and steps back. He removes the rest of his clothing almost defiantly and stands before Todd, allowing Todd to appraise him.

Todd leans forward eagerly, letting his eyes roam John's body. The hair spreads across John's chest and then trickles down to a thin line that leads to his groin, which is heavily furred. And all down his legs, though as with his arms the lower portion of the limb seems more thickly covered. Todd reaches to run his hand up the side of John's leg. "I am amazed," he murmurs. "You are a unique creature, Sheppard."

He sees Sheppard flush darkly, the color spreading over his chest as well as his face. "Yeah, well, nothing too special."

Todd cocks his head. "I do not refer to your physical beauty, though I appreciate it." He hooks his left hand over Sheppard’s hip and pulls him closer. "I mean your... willingness." He reaches to pull John to him, and, shivering slightly in the chill air, John comes readily.

John sits across Todd's lap again, the scratch of his chest pressed to Todd's an unfamiliar sensation. Todd spreads his hands across John's back, feeling the hard muscle under the skin, and marveling at the small, near invisible hairs that cover the man everywhere. His right palm twitches against John's skin, and he pulls his hand back. John reaches for it, bringing it to his mouth and running his tongue down the seam of the closed organ while Todd hisses in pleasure at the sensation. The nails unhook in preparation to release and feed, but Todd turns his palm away, and John presses his lips to the back of Todd's knuckles.

"Sorry," he says, not sounding terribly repentant. "I don't want to make it harder for you. But you're so sensitive, it's tempting."

"Is that so," Todd replies. He lifts John's body and throws him down, gently, on the ground beside the fire, leaning over him and holding him there. He rubs his face across John's chest, feeling the hair scratch against his beard and smooth cheeks, his sensory pits flaring with the sensation.

John gasps with surprise, then moans, loudly, his body arching up and pressing back against Todd. His legs shift, sliding around Todd's sides and keeping him from easily moving away. Todd chuckles when he takes stock of John's arousal, his cock jutting up from the thick nest of hair and flushed as appealingly dark red as the man's face was earlier. Todd bends his head and breathes on the stiff flesh, John writhing in response.

"Oh shit," John moans, "Todd? Touch me. Please." And he dissolves into an incoherent shout as Todd wraps the long fingers of his left hand around John's cock, John thrusting up against that touch.

Todd leans his weight back so that he's seated between John's legs, and lets the long nails of his right hand trail through the hair on the man's body. "Tell me, John," he says wryly, "are you well-pleased?"

John growls and flexes his hips, holding Todd close and pushing himself up to meet him in a kiss that is far deeper than any they have shared. Todd holds his jaw closed, and shivers at the feel of John's tongue tracing lines across the tops of his teeth and pressing against them in a demand for entrance that Todd denies.

John leans back. "Will you fuck me?" he asks, because, and Todd hears the thought in his mind, he realizes that he hadn't verbalized it yet and Todd is still wearing his trousers so John is thinking that maybe he hasn't communicated his desire very well after all.

Todd smiles. "With pleasure." Todd releases him, standing and stepping back to remove the remainder of his clothing. He stands bared before John, then sinks to his knees and leans over where John lays on the ground.

John's hands immediately rest on Todd's hips, tracing the marks there with an intensity that suggests this is something John has long thought about. Todd grins, watching John's face as John's hands come around to the front to explore Todd's cock. It is slightly longer and not a small bit thicker than John's, and Todd worries briefly that their differences will prohibit him from doing what John has asked.

Todd shivers, moving against John's touch as John's hands circle his length and stroke up it. John's fingers linger on the ridge on the underside, pressing against it, Todd grunting in pleasure. "Do you... is that an actual bone in your penis?"

Todd looks down, concerned. "Is that a problem?"

John chuckles. "No." He licks his lips and Todd can feel the high thrum of his arousal. "I'll make do," he says wryly, and Todd chuckles.

John kisses him again, then pulls away. "Let me grab something," he says, and crosses around the fire to grab up his knapsack before returning and quickly ducking down to lie against Todd's body while he rifles through the container. "This'll do," he says, and pulls out a small vial of some sort of oil. "Good thing I just threw the entire kitchen in the knapsack," John says, as he rubs oil over the first two fingers of his hand then rolls fully on his stomach and reaches behind himself, circling the rim of his opening with one finger before sliding it in.

Todd hums in interest, leaning down to stroke his hand over the rounded curve of Sheppard's ass and pressing a kiss to the opposite cheek. He can hear that Sheppard's pulse has increased significantly, and as he watches Sheppard slides the second finger in. Todd slides his left hand closer.

Sheppard looks back at him with a raised eyebrow. "You're not touching me until you get a manicure."

Todd smiles; his nails are still relatively short so it is understandable that Sheppard hadn't noticed that he'd trimmed the left thumbnail all the way back. "Wraith generally do not require much preparation, so I do not know if it will aid your endeavor. But, hoping your thoughts were tending in this direction, I prepared myself." He runs the smooth edge of his thumbnail along the sensitive skin of Sheppard's thigh. Sheppard gasps back a moan and shivers. "Would you like my assistance?" Todd asks mildly.

"Oh God, shit, yes, dammit," Sheppard hisses, and Todd presses his thumb against the ring of muscle and watches in fascination as it slides in.

The feeling is intense. Sheppard's body is warmer, and the muscles of his sphincter seem less yielding than Todd expects, so that Todd wonders again at their ability to complete this act without injuring Sheppard.

Sheppard writhes under him for a moment. "Can you," he starts to ask, and Todd crooks his thumb in the direction he would expect, and is rewarded when the rest of Sheppard’s question dissolves into a high whine. John spasms and manages to gather enough focus to hum, "Ahh, that's it. Yeah, do that again."

Todd chuckles and obliges.

They achieve a sort of rhythm, and Todd is pleased to note that as Sheppard relaxes into it his muscles are not as unyielding.

Sheppard pulls his fingers away with a grunt. "Okay, that's it." He rolls over and reaches for Todd's cock.

Todd is already aroused, and, as he would expect, generously leaking pre-seminal fluid. Sheppard reaches for his cock with his slicked hand and rubs the fluid over the length, mixing it with the oil.

"This is usual?" Sheppard asks with a raised eyebrow.

"I have said, Wraith do not require much preparation. One finger is usually enough to stimulate the sensory organ which triggers the relaxation of the receiver's passage, and the pre-ejaculate ensures a smooth coupling." He leans close to Sheppard. "This is not usual for your kind?"

Sheppard grins. "It would make things a hell of a lot easier."

Todd returns the expression, but his face still reveals his misgivings.

Sheppard raises an eyebrow in question at Todd's expression. "You okay?" he asks.

Todd nods. "I am concerned," he admits. "You are very... tight."

Sheppard's grin widens. "It'll work. It's been awhile, a long while, but trust me, I've done this before." He kisses Todd's cheek. "Trust me," he says again.

And Todd does.

The ground isn't the most comfortable, so Sheppard arranges himself on his hands and knees, with Todd behind him. Todd kneels between Sheppard's legs and lines up the head of his cock to Sheppard's hole, still glistening with oil.

"Slowly," Sheppard cautions him, and Todd presses inside of him.

Sheppard's mouth falls open, a guttural groan ripping out of him, and his hands clench. Todd wonders if Sheppard has indeed misjudged, but Sheppard's groan twists into becoming the words, "Yes, oh yes, more."

So Todd presses into the welcoming heat, and he's glad that Sheppard asked for more because he loves this, Sheppard is so tight around him. Todd's lips are pulled back in a snarl and he rests his forehead on Sheppard's back, helplessly.

"That's good," Sheppard is panting, "okay, move."

And Todd pulls back, and then slides back in against Sheppard.

"Unnh," Sheppard moans, and Todd can only hum in agreement.

"John," Todd breathes against his hair, almost reverently, as his hips start to fall into rhythm, snapping against John's own.

John meets him at every thrust, his arousal a sharp tang in Todd's mind. Todd reaches to share with him how exquisite John feels sheathed around him and John goes limp for a moment, shaking with the double wave of pleasure washing over him. Todd caresses his hair softly, his lips tasting John's skin.

“Todd,” John murmurs, voice thick with arousal, one hand coming to touch Todd’s, pulling Todd toward him and turning his head to kiss him.

Todd wraps his arms around John, pulling him back against Todd's body, leaning back so that John is pulled off of his knees and into the air. He sinks down further on Todd's length, and he reaches back to bury his hands in Todd's hair in turn, shouting in pleasure. Todd holds him close and snaps his hips up, sliding deep inside John.

"Fuck," John moans. "Ahh, oh fuck. Todd." His hands are scrambling, trying to touch everything, and Todd reaches around to wrap his left hand around John's cock again. "Oh, fuck," John grunts, and he's coming, Todd watching in delight as semen shoots from him and over the ground. John is shaking with the force of it, making small noises as he writhes against Todd.

When he's slightly back to himself he murmurs, "Shit. I was hoping to last longer than that."

Todd kisses his neck. "No matter." Every line of his mind is humming from John's climax and he feels almost as if it happened to him. His own unfulfilled arousal is like a shadow beside it.

"No, we're not done." John shifts his hips. Todd moans and John hisses. "Here, let's move this around." He stands, pulling free of Todd's embrace, but turns to lie on his back on the ground, reaching for Todd and urging him closer.

Todd moves toward him, and John lifts his hips to meet him eagerly as Todd resheathes his cock inside of John. John moans and Todd hisses softly, but John's hands come to his face, brushing back his long white hair so that John can look into his eyes. "Fuck me," he says.

"You use such odd words," Todd murmurs. John chuckles.

Todd thrusts against John, experimentally at first, but John urges him on. John runs his hands down the length of Todd's arms, catching at Todd's elbows, noticing the grooved ridges there for the first time. His fingers stroke the ridges with fascination, using them as leverage to pull himself up against Todd and press kisses all over his face, reaching back to nibble on the shell of Todd’s ear. Todd loses himself in the cocky smile the John throws at him and in the echo of John’s thoughts directed at him.

John's warm thoughts and John's curious fingers urge him on to his own climax, and with a final growl he bares his teeth and comes, shooting deep inside John's body.

John makes a sound of triumphant pleasure and rolls his head back, savoring the sensation. Todd lays down over him, covering him. He refrains from an almost instinctual desire to sink his bared teeth into the flesh above John's collarbone.

"You're getting heavy," John protests, and Todd removes himself. He pulls out of John's body slowly; John sighs, almost sounding bereft. "Well," John says, matter-of-factly, "I lied."

Todd tenses, but John does not appear in distress, physically or mentally.

John grins at him, reaching to touch his face. "I've never done that before," he says, voice post-coital and lazy.

"Ahh." Todd lies beside him, his arm thrown over John's body and his face bowed toward John's shoulder. "Neither have I."

"Yeah? Never? No worshippers or anything, in all the years?"

Todd rolls his eyes. "I do not know what you think worshippers will permit, but I can assure you, for..." He hesitates to speak for all Wraith and instead modifies it with, "For me at the least, intercourse is a process that I do not enjoy without the mental participation of my partner. I have only ever met one other human that I would count as a brother. And our relationship was not quite so personal."

John reaches for Todd's arm, spread over his chest, and runs his fingers over Todd's smooth skin. "You used to know someone else as awesome as me, huh?"

"Believe me, Sheppard, you are entirely unique."

John grins. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I really hope you're not." Todd looks up and their eyes meet. John's expression sobers. "I really hope there are more Wraith interested in finding a way to live without killing each other."

Todd curls against him. He wants to give John hope, but he isn't interested in confessing the threads of a thing he has been absent from for far too long to know its current status. So he says only, "I am not the only one."

John smiles at him, and they fall asleep beside the fire.

Chapter Text

Todd watches John sleep. He is sprawled against Todd, seemingly intend to take up as much space as he can but also seeking whatever warmth Todd can give.

Todd's coat is draped over John, against the cold of the night air, though the sun is well risen now. Todd's fingers reach under the coat to stroke against the short hairs on John's body, brushing them the wrong way and then back, fascinated.

John shivers in his embrace, and wakes with a groan. He looks up at Todd blearily, and groans again, his eyes squeezing shut.

"Are you unwell?" Todd asks with some concern.

John pulls the hooded coat more tightly around his face. "My head is killing me."

Pulling the coat upward causes it to shift, leaving his feet and legs bare. He shivers and grumbles, pushing himself to his feet and going in search of his trousers and socks.

Todd hands John his shirt when he casts around for it, but can't help feeling a little helpless and a little responsible.

John retrieved his knapsack while he was looking for his clothing, and he stares vacantly at its contents. "I know I'm over the caffeine addiction by now, but I would kill for some coffee," he mutters. He rubs his hands through his hair and over his face.

"John." Todd sits beside him, concerned. He reaches to lay his hand against John's chest. "Let me."

John grabs his wrist. "No. You need it more than I do. It's just a headache." He groans, but grins as he leans against Todd's arm. "My ass hurts too, but it's kinda nice." He leans in further with another groan, burrowing his face against Todd's chest. "Sunlight is not my friend. Can we take today off?"

"Of course." Todd reaches to run a hand through John's hair, and, since he no longer needs to hold back his desire, presses his face into the curve of John's neck, breathing in the scent of him and feeling the warmth of his lifeblood flowing.

John sighs softly. "Thanks." He relaxes into Todd's body, but then pulls away. "Sorry. Do you want to get dressed? I'm being all pathetic."

Todd strokes his hair. "You are not pathetic, Sheppard. I... am sorry. We taxed your mind far past its limit, and that is my fault."

"No." Sheppard rolls his head back to glare up at Todd with one eye. "It was all me, pushing."

Todd sighs in exasperation. "Regardless," he begins, but Sheppard's hand on his hip stops him and he looks down into Sheppard's face.

Sheppard's eyes are tight with pain, but he grins playfully as his fingers trace the outline of Todd’s hip marking. "Well, we don't have any caffeine or any NSAIDs. There's this Earth concept called 'hair of the dog that bit you.' Maybe the traditional usage doesn't really apply to this situation, but I'm thinking I wanna try it anyway."

"What are you talking about?" Todd says in exasperation.

John kisses him. "Fuck me," he asks.

Todd pulls back. "No. You said you are in pain."

"Yeah, I think my ass might kill me worse than my head if we tried that again so soon," is what John says, though his expression is one of fond reminiscence. "Let me show you something I learned in college."

Todd continues to be disgruntled, but Sheppard pulls away to start undressing. "You only just dressed yourself," Todd complains.

John grins and drops his trousers on the ground. "I'll leave the shirt on. Come here." He reaches for Todd, who goes, albeit reluctantly. "So this is a thing they call the Oxford rub." He gestures to where he is kneeling, his thighs pressed together. "What you do is thrust between my legs." He raises an eyebrow as if to ask if Todd understands. And John is half-aroused speaking of it, so Todd relents and comes to kneel behind him.

Todd lets his thoughts brush against John's as he puts his arms around the man, pulling him close to Todd's chest. The feel of him is already arousing Todd even if this idea sounds inane. Todd ducks his left hand down to the hem of John's shirt and reaches underneath it to splay his palm against the delightful hair that covers the man's chest, and he feels John's approval and desire as he does so.

"More," John says, reaching back to bury a hand in Todd's hair. "Hair of the dog, remember?"

"Yes, the one that bit you."

"Yeah," John murmurs, his eyes squeezed shut. "Endorphins," he mutters. "Sex produces endorphins, endorphins fix headache, bam."

"Hmm," Todd observes. He slides his cock between John's thighs as requested. The length of it nudges the back of John's balls and Todd hums in pleasure, this practice increasing in his estimation.

"Fuck," John agrees. He shivers as Todd thrusts again, and drops his right hand to his fully erect cock, leaving Todd to hold him up, right arm wrapped around his shoulders and left hand pressed to his chest. Todd’s knees rest to either side of John’s legs, pressing his thighs even more firmly together. John moans in encouragement, his face turned toward Todd and his breath ghosting along Todd’s throat.

Todd holds John against him and thrusts delightfully into the tight passage between the man's thighs. He does have one question though. "John."

John is barely coherent enough to respond, so Todd halts, his cockhead nestled against the soft flesh of John's sack, the proud jut of John’s cock glistening with pre-ejaculate above his tightly fisted fingers.

John writhes against him. "Aww, fuck. What?"

"What is a dog?" Todd asks curiously.

"It's... it's a... an animal. Really? You want to know this now?"

"I thought it appropriate, before I continue. You have not been bitten by anything, as of yet." Todd pulls back and thrusts again, and bares his teeth to rest the pointed tips against the fleshy curve between John's neck and shoulder.

"Oh, fuck," John says, the intense desire for Todd to continue in this action rolling through his mind.

Todd growls softly and continues to rapidly increase the movement of his hips, dropping his left hand to John's cock to twine with John's own fingers. A high, keening whine escapes from John's throat, his mouth parted and his eyes half opened, the aching of his head forgotten. Todd is pleased that John's "hair of the dog" appears to be working. He can feel the same sharpening of desire that presaged John's climax last night, and in recognition of it he returns his teeth to John's shoulder and bites down just enough to pierce through the thin layer of his shirt.

"Fuck!" John yells, and he thrusts against Todd's grip and comes, his body a sharp bow of tension, pushing desperately against Todd's hold.

Todd hums in pleasure, his own climax this time more closely attuned to John's, as he comes himself with only one more thrust, his seed painting John's thighs.

John relaxes back against him, panting slightly. "Unnh," John says.

"Yes," Todd agrees. He cradles John against him and turns his head to run his nose through John's hair, the scent and heat of him filling Todd's senses. "Your head is better?"

"Yeah," John says dreamily.

"Good. We will need to be careful in the future."

John makes a face. His hand goes to his neck, where Todd bit him, but comes away with only a slight smear of blood. “It felt like more,” he says.

Todd nods. “It is easier to control the pressure exerted by the forward incisors but less so with the rear.” He bends his head slowly back to the spot, and when John doesn’t flinch he pulls the shirt aside and licks the remaining blood from John’s neck. “Did you want it to be more?”

“I dunno. I think part of me did? But part of me also realizes we don’t have any antibiotics to hand, so it’s probably not a great idea.”

Todd chuckles.

John moves to lie down and makes a face as he notices the mess on his thighs. "Yeah, I forgot that this comes with more than the usual cleanup as well."

Todd presses their lips together in order to catch John's attention. "Rest. I will take care of it."

"Yeah?" John's fingers brush over Todd's face. He smiles, warm and sated. "Okay."

Todd sits beside him and watches him for many long moments. But then he stands and stretches himself, immeasurably pleased. He retrieves the container of water from John's knapsack and wets the square of cloth he had used previously to tie back his hair and used it to wipe John clean of the remains of their tryst. John murmurs appreciatively, but doesn't waken.

 

Todd spends most of the morning in light meditation and the rest of it attending to various small tasks. He smooths his thumbnail again, though it has not changed any since it served him well last night. He considers trimming other nails back, but decides to refrain from doing so just yet. The left thumbnail is a tradition that other Wraith will recognize; he is concerned that the message will not come across as well if it is diluted.

He fills the water container again from one of the streams that they have crossed. He can see, not too distant from them, a thick forest. It is in the direction they are travelling, and so he thinks it best to be prepared with supplies before entering it.

He watches Sheppard sleep. John reaches for Todd occasionally, his face tight with displeasure until his seeking hand affirms Todd's presence.

 

The sun has passed its zenith but there is still a long stretch of daylight remaining to them when Sheppard wakes.

"Man," Sheppard grins up at Todd. "That was amazing. And it fixed my headache."

Todd grins back at him. "Your hairy dog did what was intended, hmm?"

Sheppard laughs, his arms resting easy across his abdomen. "I think the key ingredient is actually Wraith." He rolls to a sitting position and reaches to kiss Todd.

Todd leans into the touch. "Do you wish to rest here longer?" he asks. He doesn't mind doing so if they continue in this vein, but there is also their ultimate destination.

Sheppard regards him from under half-lowered lids, as if attempting to discern Todd's preference. "I think we should move on," he says finally. "If we don't my ass is just going to get more sore." He grins. "And I have this feeling that we're close."

Todd nods. A part of him wants them to be far away from their goal; he very much would like to have more time with Sheppard before they are interrupted. But another part of him burns every moment more brightly with hunger.

 


 

They reach the forested area late that same day, when the light from the sun stretches long and red across the horizon.

Sheppard walks easily, without complaints, and he often turns to Todd with a smile or a quick laugh.

When they step under the cover of the trees, Todd can tell that the soil has changed. It is... softer, the loam deep, which is what must have given rise to the massive, thick trees that surround them. The older trees are surrounded with young saplings, and moving between them is difficult.

"We could go around," Sheppard puffs, after they have once again had to climb over a half fallen tree wedged between its fellows. "Around all the trees entirely. We're close enough to the edge."

"Does the terrain intimidate you, Sheppard?" Todd teases.

Sheppard tosses him a withering look.

Todd regards him with amusement. "If we go around, how do we know that what we seek does not lie within?" he reasons.

"Fine," Sheppard responds. "But when it's not here you totally owe me."

"Do I now?"

"Yes, you owe me."

"And what do I owe you?"

"Mind-blowing sex, of course," is Sheppard's rejoinder.

Todd laughs.

 

They are climbing over yet another dead tree that has tried to cast its massive trunk to the ground amid the too tightly packed trunks of its descendants when Sheppard suddenly stills, his gaze caught by something distant.

Todd turns to follow John's eyes, tense and listening; just because they have yet to meet with any lifeforms larger than Todd's foot doesn’t mean they don't exist.

But eventually he sees what John sees- the way that what appears to be the branch of a tree actually... curves, the edges hard and defined. The sun glints off it in a way that is not common to the forest’s other contents.

John jumps down from the fallen tree and walks toward his discovery with such intensity that Todd doesn't think anything could dissuade his path, especially the saplings that he practically plows over as he fights his way through them. Todd follows him.

They come up, closer to it, and John rests his hand on the naquadah, tracing the lines in the metal.

It is so covered with branches and overgrown with saplings that it is almost invisible. But it is there.

A Stargate.

Chapter Text

John lays his hand against the surface of the Stargate. It is cold under his touch; he's probably imagining that it feels colder than it should- that it feels... abandoned. The growth of trees and plant life inside the ring is so prevalent that he wonders if a wormhole would even lock. The Stargate itself has been tilted off its base by the pressure of a tree grown up under the curve of it, and it rests closer to eighty than ninety degrees from the ground.

Todd is standing behind him and John gestures widely, his heart pounding in excitement. "Spread out. The DHD has to be close by."

"DHD," Todd muses.

"It's a... kind of a thing," John says, trying to sketch the shape of it. "To dial the gate."

"The control device," Todd says in comprehension.

They spread out and search, but full dark falls with them having found nothing.

 

In the dark, John sits himself with his back against the gate, his head leaning back to rest against it as well.

Todd walks over and looks at him. His face is unreadable.

John holds out a hand and beckons.

Todd comes to him, sitting in the circle of John's arms, scooting down a bit until his head rests on John's shoulder. John puts his arms around Todd, clasping his left hand and wrapping his right hand around the back of Todd's. Sleep eventually claims John, but it is a long time coming.

 

 

The next day they confirm what John already suspected: there is no DHD, and not even the remains of one either.

 


 

The sun rises on the second full day after they found the Stargate, and John’s pretty sure the morning is actually warmer than the past few dawns have been. This in spite of the fact that he’s missing his bedmate. John nuzzles his way out from under the double blanket of his coat layered over with Todd's to try to find out what Todd is up to.

Todd is sitting close by, though not quite touching, and appears to be staring contemplatively across the small clearing where they'd chosen to camp at where the Stargate stands. John can guess what he's contemplating.

They're stuck here, still. Which, if John wasn't worried about both of them eventually dying of malnourishment, this wouldn't be a bad planet to be stranded on.

John reaches over to rest his hand against Todd's back. Ducking it down a bit he reaches underneath Todd's shirt to trail his hand up Todd's spine, his fingers tracing patterns in between the bone spurs.

A shiver ripples over Todd's skin and he makes an approving noise in his throat. He reaches to pull his shirt off, dropping it beside him.

John smiles and crawls out from under his warm blanket. Leaning forward, he kisses the smooth skin of Todd's back, the shifts a bit to the right and locks his lips around one of the nubs of bone, flicking it with his tongue.

Todd's response is immediate, his head falling back and a sound that can only be described as a purr rumbling in his chest.

John grins. He pulls off his own shirt and shifts closer, pressing himself to Todd's back, his hands wrapped over Todd's shoulders to pull himself closer. He can feel the ridge of Todd's spine pressed all against his chest and abdomen and he buries his face in the fall of Todd's long hair to find the line of his spine between his shoulders and take one of the nubs between his teeth gently. Todd shudders and John can hear him trying to hold back a high moan.

Todd lies down, half on his side, reaching back to run his hand over John's side; John can feel the soft ridges of the feeding organ as it glides over his skin, never resting long enough to get interested. John stays plastered to his back, and so Todd rolls over fully on his stomach with a chuckle and rests his head on his crossed arms.

John lays pressed full against Todd, covering him with his own body. He runs his fingers up the length of Todd's arms; he can detect what feels like an extra bone in his forearm and another one in his upper arm as well. And there's the rough ridges on his elbows. The shoulder joint doesn't feel that different; John pauses to trace some of the symbols of Todd's marking across the back of his shoulder and he thinks there might be more muscle there than he's used to. He leans in to do it again with his tongue. And then there's the spine ridge- that's different. John licks one of the ridges again and Todd makes a soft sound of approval. John rubs his cheek against the sleek, hairlessness of Todd's skin. It's not slimy or scaled. It feels... almost like he would imagine a beetle's hard-shelled outer wing, but... pliable. He's not sure how to describe it. In short, everything about Todd is nothing that John would have ever thought he would want. But he does.

Todd lies under him, letting John explore, only mildly protesting the scratch of John's rough cheek. John tries to find the place in his mind that they connected before, and he feels it flooding with low, warm amusement and contentment.

"Don't push," Todd warns him.

John snorts disparagingly, not dignifying that with a verbal response. He's fine, and he's not going to do something that's going to make his brain melt out his ears; he's frustrated by inequality, not stupid. The headache was annoying, but it was worth it, to be able to connect with Todd on his level. John lets his thoughts linger on that, their first time- the way Todd had shared the pleasure he felt in John’s body, and the way John had felt Todd’s desire echo back against his own. He feels Todd, beneath him, rumble softly in pleasure as he catches the echo of John's thoughts.

Moving himself down, John comes to the waistband of Todd's trousers. He kisses the last bone spur before they disappear and slides his hands in under the fabric.

Todd chuckles, shifting his weight. John leans back and Todd offers, "If those are in your way I can remove them."

"I like that plan," John agrees. He stands up with a grin, shucking the rest of his own clothing. The sunlight is warm on him; it's why they chose this spot as their camp- there's a break in the canopy that lets the sun fall on them fully.

Naked, Todd lies back down on his stomach, inviting John to resume his own position.

John sits with his weight resting across Todd's thighs. There's only one small bone spur left that his trousers had covered, at the bottom of the small of Todd's back. John traces a finger from that last ridge down Todd's tailbone and then down the cleft of his ass.

Todd chuckles and spreads his legs, inviting John closer.

John stills for a moment, not sure if it is his exploration that Todd invites, or a more intimate reversal of their previous activities. John leans forward, his hands braced on Todd's shoulders, and rubs his cock in the cleft of Todd's ass. "You interested in switching?"

Todd rolls his head to the side, his yellow cat's eyes peering up at John. When John doesn't continue, he asks, "What does this mean?"

John wets his lips. "Would you let me... fuck you."

Todd pushes himself up on his elbows to look at John better. "It is the privilege of a brother." He narrows his eyes. "Why do you think I would not trust you with this, having trusted you so far?"

John shakes his head. "Some people don't like it. But mostly it's a stupid Earth thing. Never mind." He leans down and kisses Todd's lips briefly.

Todd smirks. "Humans of your planet have many odd ideas about intimacy." He tilts his head, inviting another kiss. "Only some of them are worth making use of."

John laughs. "Yeah, that's the truth." He moves against Todd again, thinking. He slides down a bit further and bends his head to lick a line down the spurs of Todd's spine, skipping from one to the next, until he reaches the last one, at the small of Todd's back. He takes it between his teeth and bites down, slowly increasing the pressure.

Todd moans, his hips shifting up, almost involuntarily, pressing into John's touch.

John releases the bone spur and strokes his hand over the pale green skin of Todd's back, brushing down over the smooth curve of his ass. "I want to share this with you. Like you did the other night."

"I do not think," Todd begins, but John pinches the base of the bone spur so that Todd's words dissolve into a moan.

"I won't push as hard, okay? Just you touching my head this time. I think that'll be better. And if I get a headache, I can sleep it off. I figure we found what we were looking for. There's nowhere else to go."

Todd stills. He rolls under John until they are facing each other and he reaches to pull John forward until their foreheads are touching. "John," he says, his voice a rumble too soft to name all the emotions that fill it.

I want to do this for you, John thinks at Todd as hard as he can. He's not sure that works, but it can't hurt.

"Very well," Todd says. He presses his lips to John's in a quick kiss, and John can feel the sensation that feels like a spider web touching the inside of his head that he recognizes is Todd. It's kind of nice, the… delicacy of it, as long as you don't mind spider webs in your head; it is completely unlike anything he'd experienced before with the various other Wrath who had been interested in getting in his head.

John kisses him back in pleasure, but doesn't push past his promise; he doesn't like that he can't get in Todd's head as easily as Todd can to him, but he can live with it, most of the time. Todd rolls back on his stomach and John shifts back to place both hands on Todd's ass. He kisses the last bone spur again and then his tongue traces a line from there down to the dark green pucker.

When he kisses it, he feels Todd's reaction in every tense line of his body and hears it in the sharply whined inhale of his breath. "Sheppard," Todd says, his voice half wonder, half protest.

John laughs softly. "If I was really wanting to blow your mind I'd introduce you to oral sex," he murmurs. "Can't imagine you've had a lot of experience with that." Remembering Todd's actions from the other night, John presses his left thumb against the entrance to Todd's sphincter and is pleased when it admits him easily. He crooks his thumb down; Todd hadn't had any trouble finding his prostate, so he figures the configuration is similar.

And Todd moans, his legs spreading in further invitation. John grins, leaning up to nip at the bone spur again. Todd bucks against the ground, trying to get his knees under him, as he says, his voice wrecked, "John."

"Shhh," John soothes him. "It's okay, I've got you." He reaches under Todd's raised hips to run his hand up the length of Todd's weeping cock, gathering the fluid in his hand and thrusting his cock alongside Todd's to get it good and covered as well. He presses into Todd's hole with his slick fingers, following them with his cock.

He can see immediately why the tightness of his own body alarmed Todd. The passage is much less forcefully constricted, and John thrusts in easily, burying himself to the hilt, Todd hissing and arching into his touch as the short hairs of John's groin rub against Todd's skin.

John leans down over Todd's back; Todd has been fascinated by his body hair, and he lays his chest over Todd's back, nibbling on the spurs of bone jutting out between Todd’s shoulders as he thrusts.

Todd writhes and shivers under him, and John reaches to tangle his hand in Todd's hair, pulling it to the side so that Todd's head turns until he can see his face. Todd's eyes are dark, his pupils blown wide and almost spherical. "John," he moans again, and John kisses his cheek, gently rubbing his nose against the sensory pit there.

John's thrusts are getting more erratic, and he knows that Todd knows that John's close, because Todd's pupils fill his entire eye.

John thrusts deeply one last time, his release overtaking him, and he tenses for a moment, lost in the sensation. Todd keens with the shared feeling of John's climax, but the sound turns slightly frustrated and John knows that Todd didn't find his own release. John kisses his shoulder. "I've got you," he murmurs, a little too high on endorphins to make sure the words make sense but meaning them with every fiber of his being.

John slides off of Todd and pulls Todd around to face him, and he bends his head to take Todd's swollen cock between his lips. Todd gasps, a high thready sound, and his hips thrust almost involuntarily into the wet heat of John's mouth. John works his tongue around the head, wrapping his hands around the length of it, and moves to dig his tongue into the slit. Todd comes, so unexpectedly that his cry of recognition almost feels like an afterthought.

"John," Todd murmurs, and he pulls John up against him, curling an arm around him, their foreheads pressed together. He gives a sated hum and the expression on his face is pure bliss.

John smiles. He reaches to touch Todd's cheek. If they can't make the gate work, then at least they can just stay here until they run out of energy and he has to make good on his promise.

The thought hits him between his eyes, and John jerks back. 

"Sheppard?" Todd says, concerned.

John is disentangling himself from Todd's arms and pushing to his feet. "The gate can't be the source of the energy reading. There's no power."

He sees Todd get it. "As there is no control device. No one has used it in generations. You are correct, it cannot be the source."

"Whatever it is, it has to be close," John murmurs, pulling his clothes back on, trying to tie his bootlaces without looking because he's too busy looking around them, hoping against hope that he'll see it.

Todd refrains from telling him that it doesn’t have to be anything.

 

They start casting out from the gate in a circular pattern. They push out further than they'd searched for the DHD. It's slow going, because of the trees.

They don't find anything the first day.

Or the next three days.

 

But in the middle of the fifth day, in the middle of the silence of the forest, John hears Todd call out to him. John makes his way through the trees back to their camp.

When he meets Todd there, Todd smiles. "Come." He turns and leads John to what he found.

It's buried under ten thousand years of forest debris, but there, with a massive tree trunk grown up around it, is the crashed remains of a gate ship. "Puddle jumper," Sheppard says, the sight flooding him with the most insane combination of memories and hope.

He crawls inside the ship, pushing dirt and fallen leaves out of his way to force his way through to the front of the ship. There is a small light on the control board that is blinking in a rhythmic way, and he knows this is the energy reading their previous ship had picked up. Sheppard crawls into what is left of the cockpit, rising to his feet as there is more room in here, and other lights flare to life around him.

"It still works," he says, the hope fierce inside of him. But it dies down as he realizes that there is literally no way this ship is ever going to fly again. There's a tree growing through the forward viewscreen, not to mention the multiple other trees that have sealed the craft to the ground with their growth. And, the most important thing, the DHD panel is dark.

Todd, having followed John, reaches out to touch the symbols on the DHD panel. "No power reaches the interface," he says.

And the hope is back as John looks at him sharply. "Can you fix it?"

Todd returns his look with one of unreadable blankness. "I am not an engineer."

"Yeah. But do you think we can fix it?"

Todd's eyes rest on the symbols. "I think we have little incentive to do much else."

 


 

 

That night Todd fucks him again for the first time. John lies on his back on the soft bed of leaves and pine needles, and, awash in ecstasy and hope, buries his hands in Todd's hair, holding their foreheads close and trying to impart that hope to his companion by sheer force of will.

In this position, there is a ridge along the bottom edge of the top side of the head of Todd’s cock that rubs John in just the right way to have him screaming. It’s so much nicer this time- he’s already come before they turned themselves around last time- though John is distracted from watching the responsive play of passion across Todd’s face by his own rising arousal. They come together, the wash of completion making everything feel right with the world.

John runs his hand through Todd's long hair and looks up into Todd's eyes. Todd has been more silent than even his usual since the found they gate; or maybe it’s just a different silence, gravid with things unspoken. John wonders what Todd is thinking; if he's worried about being stuck here, or if he's worried about leaving.

John knows that he has enjoyed the time they've spent together here. The operative work being together. Something the universe seems designed to try to prevent. John's not sure he’s ready to sacrifice the one for the other, but it’s not really his choice.

 

 

They move their camp to the crashed jumper, since there's no reason to remain near the gate, and being close maximizes the time they have to work on the jumper; the days are short, and the time that light is able to filter into the jumper is even less. Todd can see more sharply in less light that Sheppard can, but he still needs some light, especially when working with the delicate equipment.

John thinks of his team with a faint nostalgia. He wouldn't trade Todd, but he loves his team, and Rodney is really gifted at fixing things. The most that John can offer is just looking at crystals and moving them around as Todd tells him to. When he gets too fed up, or Todd snarls at him that he’s not helping, John goes outside and tries to pull trees out of the gate ring or clears their path between the gate and the jumper.

It takes a while before they even know what they're trying to do, and John has to dig out parts of the jumper that look like they've had rabbits living in them for a couple centuries- their leavings are not exciting to have to dig through- in order to access some of the crystal trays. The jumper has some power; the issue is that it's not connected in any way to the DHD. Figuring out how to fix that takes a few tries.

 

 

There's not much food left, and John usually eats it cold, not wasting energy to make a fire. He sees Todd watching him eat with sharp eyes.

"Do you need-" John begins, but Todd shakes his head immediately.

"I will not harm you, Sheppard," he says, the words like the closing of a door.

John sighs and says, "I know," and doesn't comment on the dry tightness of Todd’s features; the way Todd occasionally will flex his right hand, the gesture apparently unconscious; or the way his eyes snap to John whenever John moves too suddenly.

John figures if he’s still together enough to pretend that he’s fine, then they’re okay. He lies in Todd’s arms without fear, and offers what comfort he can.

 


 

 

John's been adding days- the ones he remembers, and he's had some help from Todd's book. All told, he's pretty sure he's been gone from Atlantis for over two months. They have to think he's dead. Even if they don't, they'll have appointed someone to replace him as Military Commander. Probably Caldwell. There's nothing wrong with Caldwell, it's just... Atlantis is his home.

They're lying beside each other in the rear compartment of the jumper, which they'd dug out a bit to be their camp, and Todd shifts where he lies beside John, pulling the hood back from John's head to run his left hand through John's hair. "You are thinking. Very deeply." He sounds like he's been thinking, too.

John sits up, facing Todd, and looks him in the eye. "I was thinking about Atlantis. They probably gave away my job by now. When I get back, I'm probably headed back to the SGC. To Earth. For I don't know how long. They’ll wanna… debrief or whatever." He doesn’t elaborate on what whatever could entail. He had a good idea; Todd doesn’t need to worry about it.

Though the way Todd leans back, his face carefully blank, makes John think he might already have an idea. "Ahh."

John sighs. "I can't not go back to Atlantis. But... I don't want to get sent back to Earth."

"Hmmm." Todd eyes him and takes a deep breath. "I have... plans that I need to see to as well, upon my return."

"Right." John reaches for Todd's hands, clasping the left one and laying his palm to the back of Todd's right hand. "Well. We should probably see if it'll work."

Todd looks at John. "Yes," he says. He disentangles their hands and reaches to pull the book from the pocket of the coat John wears. "Insert the crystal I showed you. I do not know how long the power will last, so dial the symbols swiftly." He pulls the piece of paper out of the book and gives it to John. "I will hold the portal, until you come."

John just nods. He pulls off the coat and gives it back to Todd.

Todd takes it, and leaves the jumper, getting to his feet outside and jogging toward the gate.

John gives him some time to get there; it's about a fifteen-minute journey. Then he takes a deep breath and goes into the cockpit.

The area is a mess, from all the drawers of crystals they pulled out and rearranged, but he slides the last crystal into the correct tray and the DHD panel hums to life. Without thinking about it, John presses the symbols.

He rolls out of the back of the jumper and runs, dodging saplings as he makes his way to the gate.

He almost misses it, because the gate has fallen fully on its side, the branches in its path dissolved in the formation of the wormhole vortex. But John can see the blue shimmer of the portal on the ground through the trees and a vicious joy rips through him because it worked.

Todd waits, crouched beside the ring, his hand in the event horizon to hold the portal, looking back for John.

John runs up, grinning like a madman. "Alright, let's go."

Todd hesitates and looks away. "Sheppard," he begins.

But John's done listening. "Fuck it," he mutters. He tackles Todd, grabbing hold of the front of his coat, and throws them both into the event horizon.

Chapter Text

 

They rematerialize on the other side of the portal, and, as they went through somewhat sideways, Todd stumbles and falls to one knee before he is able to catch his balance, Sheppard hanging on the front of his coat.

Sheppard, face merely a breath away from his, meets Todd’s eyes, the flash of his expression too quick to read. Almost immediately he lets go of his grip on Todd’s coat and whirls around to face whatever awaits them, his arms spread in front of Todd protectively.

But they are alone.

The Stargate sits on a platform of rock in the middle of a wide plain of tall grass, so tall the height of it reaches almost halfway up the Stargate. The wind blows ripples in the grass, but other than the wind there is no sound.

Todd's lip curls in dry humor as he stands and gives a dark chuckle. "I should have known. You withheld your trust from me often before, and this time you did it again." This empty world cannot be the Alpha Site Sheppard had first claimed that it was, those many days ago on Manaria. There is no evidence of Atlantis’ presence in this place. Apparently before they came to their current understanding Sheppard clung to his wariness, though Todd does trust even that previous Sheppard enough to not have sent them somewhere worse than the situation from whence they came to this place.

But Sheppard says, "Shut up," his brow furrowed in concentration, his hand reaching to curl in the front of Todd's coat again. He's scanning the terrain around them. "I remember this place." He looks up at the sky briefly, then steps away from the gate, pulling Todd with him. "And, by the way, what was that you were going to bring up before we went through the gate?"

Todd resists Sheppard's pull. "It no longer matters."

Sheppard stops to look back at him. He lets go of Todd's coat and glares at him. "You better not have been trying to tell me to leave you there, because there is no way in hell I would even..."

Todd chuckles again, more lighthearted. “Sheppard,” he calls soothingly, stepping forward to hold John’s face between his hands. “This is not what I was going to say.” He bows his face to John’s, their foreheads touching. “I merely wished to… reaffirm my affection for you, before we were amongst your people. But since we are here, alone still.” He tilts his face toward John’s, and their lips touch.

John surges against him, his hands tangled tightly in Todd’s coat and pulling him closer. His tongue demands entrance, and, slowly, so that John will be aware and take more care, Todd opens his mouth to him. John relents for a moment, then his tongue is more carefully feeling its way past Todd’s teeth to meet with Todd’s own tongue. Todd can feel a relentless warmth beating at him from Sheppard’s mind. He would be pleased to feel more of it, and it is an unhappy reminder that everything must change between them now.

They part and pull back just enough to look at each other. Sheppard’s expression is unreadable, and his mind is tossing between several thoughts, so that Todd cannot sense what he will say next without a deeper connection that does not seem prudent at this time. "This was a previous Alpha Site," Sheppard says in explanation of their destination, "until it was tagged by Wraith. We moved the people out, but there should be a MALP still here."

"Ahh." Todd releases John, and John leads the way down from the portal to fight his way through grass taller than he is until he disappears from sight. Soon after vanishing, Sheppard makes a sound of triumph. Todd, following his trail more slowly, finds Sheppard has begun to trample out an area of the grass, in which is located the gate control device, and also a wheeled device with an odd claw attached to the top.

"The MALP," Sheppard says, gesturing to the device. He glances at Todd, as if uncertain whether Todd knows what it is, but Todd only smirks; the purpose of the device is fairly obvious, even if he hadn’t read over a great deal of the Lantean’s reports on one of the recent occasions he was in their city. Sheppard powers up the machine, and impatiently taps a screen until it glows faintly blue. Sheppard looks pleased and turns to Todd. "You want to dial Atlantis?" he says, his chin coming up in that delightfully defiant way he has.

Todd grins in sharp amusement, but the amusement leaves him quickly. They will return to their worlds and return to the roles they held before. "Of course." He steps toward the control device.

"Hey." Sheppard steps toward Todd, his hand reaching to close around Todd's wrist. Sheppard pulls Todd's left hand close to his face, and rests his cheek on the back of Todd's finger. "This isn't..." He frowns. "Things aren't going to change, between us."

Todd turns his hand to caress John's cheek. "I... am pleased that you would try to believe so."

Sheppard steps away from the MALP completely, stepping close to Todd and looking up into his face. "I know that talking isn't going to prove anything," he says finally, looking away. "Do you want to dial out first, and not come to Atlantis with me?"

Todd shakes his head; he has already thought about this. "There is information I would share with Doctor Keller, if it is possible."

"Keller?" John looks at him shrewdly.

Todd grins. "Yes," he says mildly.

John can’t help but ask, sharp with curiosity and hope, "Did it-?"

Todd shrugs. "I have been gone too long to know for certain."

John nods, looking thoughtful.

Todd reaches for John and rests their foreheads together, brushing John's mind with his own, savoring the touch and trying not to think that it might be his last. And then he steps away, to enter the symbols that will open the portal to Atlantis.

Once the portal is established, John pushes a button on the MALP. "Atlantis, this is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, please respond."

At first there is no response, and John repeats his communication, until the screen on the MALP device comes alive with a picture, which coalesces into a face. "Colonel Sheppard?" the man exclaims in a high, breathy voice. Todd narrows his eyes is recognition; he is standing at an angle that he cannot see the screen clearly, but neither can he be seen.

"Mister Woolsey," John says, smiling even though he is trying to hide it. "It's me."

"Colonel, what happened?"

"It's a long story." John's eyes drift to where Todd is standing out of the range of the display. "I'd like to tell you all about it. Will you drop the shield and let us in?"

"Us?" Woolsey says, but he is already being joined at the communication screen by another.

"If you're really Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard, you know we can't do that," the second man says, voice harsh with incredulity and irritation.

"Colonel Caldwell," John says. He smiles, though Todd can tell the expression is sour compared to John’s usual smile. "I figured they gave you my job. I don't suppose authentication code Bravo Delta Charlie Alpha Niner would convince you?"

There is a moment before Caldwell responds, "Unfortunately, that code is no longer valid." His voice grows less... abrasive as he continues, "We've instituted some new policies of late that prevent us from lowering the shield for any unscheduled traveler." He looks at Sheppard for a long moment. "Are you able to stay at your location?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then we will send a team to you. Atlantis out."

The portal fades from existence.

Todd inhales slowly.

Sheppard scowls. "We've probably got an hour before they send a team." He looks at Todd. "Are you sure, about not leaving? I... I don't have the authority to make them be nice anymore."

Todd grins, reaching to put his arms around Sheppard and pull him close. "Sheppard," he drawls with affection, "I am touched by your concern." He runs the back of his fingers along John's cheek and confesses, "It is you I am concerned for." He hesitates, but adds, "It may be better if you do not tell them everything that happened."

Sheppard scoffs. "Damn straight it'd be better, but I'm not..." He looks at Todd. "I'm not going to put it in my official report, but I'm not going to lie to the people I care about." His expression twists. "Assuming Ronon doesn't kill me, I intend to..." He trails off. "Okay, I haven't thought that far ahead, but I..." His eyes meet Todd's again. "A lot happened between us, and I'm not going to just forget it."

Todd smiles, pleased. "I know you have… debts of honor you swore to your hive that you must pay, but I would be most gratified if you did think farther ahead, and determined a course for yourself that keeps you in this galaxy." He brushes his fingers through Sheppard’s hair. "I have plans for this galaxy that I do not think your people will be entirely displeased with, and which I would be honored to see play out standing side by side with you." John’s eyes on him are warm and luminous. Todd’s eyes narrow with humor. "Assuming your people are able to overcome the misunderstanding with which we last parted ways."

Sheppard rolls his eyes, but any response is forestalled by the symbols on the gate beginning to glow in sequence. "That was quick," Sheppard murmurs. "Do you think-?"

Todd agrees that, "It is possible that it is the Wraith who had previously targeted this planet."

Sheppard frowns as the portal connects, but before they can seek deeper cover in the grass, the MALP hisses, "Colonel Sheppard, Lieutenant Edison’s team is inbound."

"That answers that," Sheppard says. They move through the grass until they have a clear view of the gate, Sheppard stepping between Todd and the gate.

Todd regards him with amused pleasure, and reaches to touch him one last time before they are no longer alone.

Four armored soldiers step through the gate, their weapons raised warily. And standing in the midst of them is a fifth figure- that of Doctor McKay.

Doctor McKay's eyes seek out Sheppard immediately and there is unguarded joy in his expression. His eyes flicker to Todd with surprise and wariness but without hostility. The same cannot be said for the four soldiers.

"Wraith!" one of them says. "Colonel, step away from-"

"He's an ally!" Sheppard insists. "Put your guns down."

The first soldier doesn’t listen, but the one that appears to be his commanding officer cautions, “Toriel, hold your fire.”

“Lieutenant Edison,” Sheppard acknowledges, adding, with a warmer cast to his voice, "Rodney."

McKay looks like he wants to embrace Sheppard. "How?" He demands, voice high with delight. "John, how are you here?"

"I would love to tell you everything, but first," Sheppard replies, "Todd saved my life, at least twice over. Can we all agree to try not to shoot him?"

McKay waves an impatient hand at the soldiers. "We've worked with Todd before, he's fine."

"Sir," the first soldier protests again, "he stole the Daedalus."

Todd smirks and speaks for the first time. "I promised to give it back, and I did," he says dryly.

"Yeah, after you tried to ram it into a planet," McKay adds.

Sheppard beseeches the heavens for patience. "Not helping," he murmurs. "Either of you."

The lieutenant levels a look at all of them that says he’s glad to be able to pass them off to be someone else’s problem. "Dial us back, Toriel." His eyes settle on Todd. “We’ll clear everything with Colonel Caldwell.”

The one called Toriel moves to the control device and dials a sequence different from the one that Todd input.

Once the portal is established, the radio of the lieutenant crackles and he bends his head to it, reporting Todd's presence. A voice says, "You're cleared to bring both of them through to the Beta Site."

The lieutenant answers, "Yes, sir," before gesturing for Todd and Sheppard to approach the portal.

Assured that the soldiers aren't going to shoot Todd, Sheppard steps toward McKay.

McKay reaches out to catch hold of Sheppard, and pulls him close in a way that isn’t quite an embrace, though he seems reluctant to release Sheppard. "We thought you were dead," he says, voice wondering. "I mean, Ronon refused to believe it. We went back again and there was still nothing, he tried to move the rubble, the entire collapsed roof, by himself and let me tell you..."

Something in Sheppard's posture eases. "Ronon's okay?"

"Yeah, he's fine. Well, not fine. I think 'spitting nails' was the expression Jennifer used. But he's alive." He reaches out to touch Sheppard's shoulder, as if worried he might disappear. "I can't believe it," he says, voice still heavy with wonder.

 

They step through the gate, and the man Todd remembers as the commander of the Daedalus is there to greet them. The man's expression is tight and displeased, but it eases slightly when he lays eyes on Sheppard.

"Colonel Sheppard," the man says. "It’s rather unexpected to see you."

"Colonel Caldwell," Sheppard responds, saluting the man. "I understand the need for caution and I'm ready to undergo whatever tests you'd like to prove that I'm really me." His eyes flicker to Todd. "Colonel, Todd saved my life. He's the only reason I was able to find my way to you. I would appreciate it if he was treated with courtesy."

Caldwell's expression tightens again as he shifts it to Todd. "I'll see what we can do," he says flatly, his eyes boring into Todd as if gauging his potential as a threat. "Lieutenant Edison, take two squads and escort Colonel Sheppard's guest to a holding cell."

Todd feels Sheppard stiffen, but Todd replies, "That is acceptable," forestalling any attempt on Sheppard’s part to protest. Todd sees the soldiers tense up as he speaks and he tries to hold in his amusement. "I would like to speak to Doctor Keller, if she is amenable," he adds before he turns to follow the soldiers as meekly as possible. Which is not terribly meekly at all.

 

They escort him to what appears to be a meeting room of some kind, instead of the energy cell he is familiar with. The room is empty but for a table with a chair on either side of it. He is not bound, but it is made abundantly clear that any attempt on his part to approach the door, or any of the humans, will result in a great deal of gunfire being unleashed in his direction.

They smell delicious, and it is very difficult to refrain from the desire to drink their life. But he cannot do so. They belong to Sheppard. They are Sheppard's hive, and not for consuming.

At least, he is not yet so desperate.

He seats himself on one of the chairs at the table, and, for the first time in a long while, allows himself to fall into a deep meditation.

 


 

 

Todd can feel the familiar sensation of Sheppard's mind, even though they are physically separated by what is probably the entire length of the base. He can feel enough of Sheppard's thoughts to know that Sheppard knows that Todd is there and is pleased by it, but that he is frustrated by the questions that are being put to him. Or rather, his interrogator’s inability to believe his answers. Todd closes his eyes and gets a vague impression of Sheppard in a room not unlike the one where Todd now sits, Caldwell standing across from him, expression piercing and displeased. McKay is there as well, though he does not seem to be as involved in the examination.

It is not an unfounded interrogation. Todd would also have questioned any member of his hive that had been absent for an unexplained time. So he thinks affectionate thoughts toward Sheppard, and is not concerned.

Until Sheppard's mind vanishes completely.

Todd stands from his chair, the abrupt movement startling the soldiers who watch him out of their complacent daze. Their weapons come up quickly, and Todd snarls at them.

No. There is much still to do. He cannot provoke these. And Sheppard is likely not harmed; he is probably being compelled to sleep, though that should not render him unreadable to Todd.

Todd slowly returns to his chair, but his hands are pressed fiercely against the table as he thinks about what could have happened to Sheppard.

 

He is interrupted there by, of all people, Doctor McKay.

McKay enters the room and waves the soldiers out.

They don't move, and he sighs loudly. "We need to talk, okay? I need you to get out, because you'll just interrupt me to ask pointless questions. Stand outside the door. He's not going to eat me, because if he does you'll shoot him, right?"

Todd grins. "I am certainly well aware of that fact." He shoots a sidelong look at the soldiers.

They are obeying McKay’s request, albeit warily.

When they have all left, Todd asks McKay, "Sheppard?"

He doesn't mean to. It reveals too much of what is bothering him. But he is troubled by the absence of Sheppard's mind- something that hasn't truly been absent from him since before his mind regained the ability to sense others.

McKay gives him a long, evaluative look. "He's fine," he says shortly.

Todd growls softly, his hands moving restlessly over the table.

McKay observes these actions. He, very clearly, chooses to add, "They knocked him out with a sedative and sent him on to Atlantis."

"Ahh." Todd calms. The distance is very likely what severed the connection, given that Sheppard is human.

McKay is watching him. "He says you saved his life."

Todd spreads his hands. "I was merely repaying a debt." He grins.

"Hmm." McKay pulls the other chair away from the table, so he isn't within arm’s reach of Todd, and sits, saying, "Want to tell me about it?"

Todd cocks his head. "Why would I?"

McKay sighs. "Okay, look. Caldwell's convinced you did something to Sheppard, to make him like you and that's why he's sticking up for you."

Todd's lip curls. "Can there be no other reason?"

"Did you try to make Sheppard a worshipper?" McKay shoots back.

Todd snarls. "No," he says shortly. "But your Caldwell will not believe my words, so why do you ask?"

"I'm not here for Caldwell," McKay says. "I wanted to talk to you. This doesn't leave this room." He suddenly looks nervous. "You know, other than the fact that they're probably recording everything in case you try to eat me."

Todd leans toward him, watching him carefully. McKay is smart, and he is loyal to Sheppard. He has asked for honesty but has warned Todd that his words will be heard by others. "Then I will tell you, Doctor Rodney McKay," Todd drawls, "I did not feed on Sheppard, nor give him the gift of life, and have not since we first met years ago."

McKay looks satisfied though not entirely at ease. "Then what happened?"

"That is, in part, what I wished to discuss with your Doctor Keller."

"My Doct-" he begins to protest, but Todd speaks over him.

"A being calling himself Michael experimented upon me with the same virus you first subjected him to." Todd raises his hand, observing the long, dark, jagged edges of his fingernails. "With some alterations it would seem."

"I know that," McKay says. "Sheppard told us after he encountered you on Manaria."

Todd nods. "Several days after that encounter, I encountered Sheppard again."

McKay does a double take. "John didn't mention it was that close, I got the impression he'd been stuck with Michael for a while. Were you on Tesmer?"

Todd blinks. "That world does not sound familiar. I was with a group of warriors infiltrating a suspected Wraith facility. Instead we found a laboratory belonging to Michael. That is where I found Sheppard."

McKay nods. "He already told me he had lost a lot of his memories when you found him. He still can't remember what happened on Tesmer."

Todd narrows his eyes; McKay’s words are incorrect, but Todd’s attention is caught by a particular detail. "You may mention to your Doctor Keller," McKay flushes red and attempts to protest the phraseology again, but Todd continues over him, "that I also do not remember what I was doing directly before falling afoul of Michael." He had been sent in pursuit of... an object he does not recall. He can't remember where he was when he came upon Michael, or if he'd found what he sought.

"Hmmm." McKay slaps his pockets in search of something, and makes a displeased noise when he doesn't find it. "They took my tablet before I came in here," he mumbles, finally locating a piece of crumpled paper on which he scratches something completely illegible to Todd but which also makes his hands twitch in remembrance of the paper that Sheppard had given him on Manaria.

"How is your sister?" Todd asks. He doesn't actually care; he only asks it to see McKay fall off his chair. Which he does, with a splutter, the chair flipping on its side and falling to the ground as well. It's quite gratifying. Todd laughs.

"She’s fine," McKay grunts, righting the chair and glaring at Todd. "Now, about what happened?"

"Hmm," Todd agrees. He had not corrected McKay's words earlier; John had not lost a lot of his memories, but all of them. Todd's not certain if Sheppard lied to McKay about the extent of his memory loss or if McKay lies now to hide it from their observers. "On Manaria," Todd says, "Sheppard had given to me a gate address, telling me to use it to contact him if I had need. When I found him again I gave it back to him and urged him to return to his people, as I believed you would be able to aid him."

McKay is staring at Todd. "But he didn't do that," he observes.

"Circumstances were such that, before we could arrive at a planet with a Stargate, we became stranded together on a planet without an obvious means of egress. We were eventually able to discover a long disused Stargate upon the planet and dial the address he had given me."

"Which was the old Alpha Site where he used the MALP to call us." McKay is obviously thinking a great many things that he is not giving voice to, as his fingers are tapping a rapid rhythm on the edge of his chair's seat.

"And from there you know the rest," Todd finishes.

McKay is eyeing Todd with suspicion. "Did anything... happen on this planet?"

Todd's eyes widen. "A great many things happened," he agrees. McKay frowns, and Todd sighs. This man is Sheppard’s close friend, as near a brother as humans can understand, and Todd wants to offer him more, but without offering it to those who might also observe. "I do not think humans can easily understand the deep bond between Wraith who are brothers." He meets McKay’s eyes, and glances with some amusement at his left thumb, a sign that these humans will surely not understand. "Sheppard and I came to an understanding of each other. I would name him the closest of brothers."

McKay's fingers are tapping so rapidly Todd wonders that they are not energized by this motion in order to separate and develop into their own beings. "Well," McKay says eventually. He stares at Todd for several moments.

Todd stares back.

McKay stands. "I'll be back with Jennifer, as soon as she's available."

Todd didn't expect that, and he gives McKay a bow of his head. "That is appreciated."

McKay just gives him a quick nervous nod with a twisted, unhappy expression and leaves.

Chapter Text

Sheppard wakes slowly, but with the feeling that he's forgotten something.

When he realizes what it is, he comes fully awake and throws himself out of the bed where he is lying. He reaches for the knife he's taken to keeping strapped to his thigh in replacement for his Colt, but it's not there; he's dressed in fresh scrubs instead of the remains of his BDU. He reaches in his head, but nothing is there either.

"Colonel Sheppard!" a voice is calling.

Sheppard pulls himself back to the present situation. A good look around reveals that he's in a private room off Atlantis' infirmary. Which is better than it could have been; they could have sent him on to Earth while he was knocked out. There are two nurses, a marine guard he doesn't know, and Doctor Keller all looking at him worriedly, like they've stepped back to give him the space to recall himself.

"Doctor Keller," Sheppard identifies, smiling in a way he hopes is disarming. There is a throbbing pain in his hand where he almost pulled out an IV that’s dripping fluids into him.

Keller smiles back at him, relief on her face. "Are you alright?" she asks. She is already walking back toward him. One of the nurses moves, businesslike, to fix his IV. The marine looks a little startled still.

"Yeah," Sheppard assures her. "Just... wasn't sure where I was waking up."

Keller nods. "You've been gone awhile." She smiles again, more broadly, the expression far more affectionate than Sheppard would have expected. "We've missed you."

Sheppard finds himself returning the smile almost automatically, but really meaning it. "You have no idea."

Keller chuckles. She checks his vitals quickly and professionally. She makes a gesture of dismissal toward the nurses who leave the room with a nod. Keller repeats the gesture when the marine doesn't leave with them. "Colonel Sheppard just needs some rest," she says to the marine firmly, pointing him out of the door. "You can watch over him from outside the infirmary."

When they're alone, she smiles at him again, her expression less tense. "John, we'd almost given up." She squeezes his upper arm. "Rodney said you'd been experiencing some memory loss?" she says, returning quickly to her pertinent profession.

"Yeah, but it's all better now. Mostly." He glances around. "Where, um, where is Rodney? And Teyla, and Ronon?"

Keller falters. "Woolsey was on his way to tell Teyla they found you when they brought you to me, so she and Ronon should be here soon. Teyla took Ronon to the Athosian settlement once he was healed enough to leave intensive care." Keller looks uncomfortable. "We... were all a little worried he was going to go after Caldwell if he stayed in Atlantis."

"Why would he do that?" Sheppard's pretty sure he's not such an awesome CO that everyone would take out the next guy because they missed him, even Ronon, who can sometimes come up a wildcard in what he considers acceptable behavior.

Keller makes a face. "When they first went back to Tesmer to try to dig you out," she looks at him to see if any of that rings a bell, and Sheppard shakes his head. "Well, a roof collapsed, bringing down a large portion of a building on you and Ronon. We assumed you were caught under the rubble too, and when they found your dog tags under the collapsed section Caldwell pushed that this was enough, even though we didn't have any actual remains, to declare you KIA."

"Oh." Sheppard gives her a tight, humorless smile. "Yeah. Ronon probably didn't like that. He made it out okay? I... I think I was having nightmares about him bleeding out, even when I couldn't remember anything."

Keller touches his arm comfortingly. "Yeah. We patched him back up, though it took a while."

“Thanks,” John says.

Keller nods, and continues her informal report. "And right now Rodney's back at the Beta Site, talking to Todd."

Sheppard tries to tell himself that he doesn't react obviously to that, but he obviously fails. And because Keller's already seen he feels that it's okay to ask, "Todd's okay?"

Keller gives him her best that's not my area face. "Woolsey and Caldwell were worried that... that he was trying to influence you. So they brought you here and kept him at the Beta Site."

Which might be why his head's so empty. The Beta Site’s new; John doesn’t even know how far apart they are. "He's not influencing me," Sheppard repeats for what feels like the millionth time. He'd had this conversation with Caldwell and Rodney both, before Caldwell had had the Beta Site doctor slip him a mickey. "We went through a lot together, and we were both fully committed to getting both of us out of it."

Keller nods, more like that's not the issue she feels like tackling at the moment than like she buys his story. "I've got a few questions. Just standard stuff, to check your memory." She smiles in commiseration, but doesn’t look like she'll be moved from her course. "Let's start with your name."

John sighs, but answers her questions. He did say he would submit to whatever tests asked of him. He ends the examination with the complaint, "I think the one thing still really bugging me is that I don't remember what happened on the planet before Michael found me, how I got separated from my team."

Keller frowns. "Ronon didn't mention any lingering memory loss, but he also hasn't talked about what happened." At Sheppard's curious look she explains, "Ronon got the edge of whatever it was that hit you, but responded well to a treatment of Enchuri sap. It's... a mutated form of the Kirsan fever that's common in Pegasus."

John frowns. "I thought..."

Keller is already nodding. "It's mutated enough that your immune system doesn't register it as the same pathogen, which is why it has an almost 100% reinfection rate even for those who’ve already been exposed. The memory loss aspects appear to be heightened, and the symptoms deliberately capped before they reach the point of causing death, something I’m still trying to figure out how Michael achieved. The disease may have hit you harder than any of the others who were there."

"Because I didn't have it as a kid?" John guesses.

"No." Keller busies herself with looking at her hands for a moment before she answers. "Because it looks like one of the things Michael crossed it with to achieve the mutations he wanted was Iratus RNA."

John freezes. He touches his right arm where she had bitten him, his hand going to his throat next. "I’m not…"

"No," Keller soothes him. "It was just enough that it left you more vulnerable to the symptoms. There’s a lot more stuff in there that Michael was playing with, even some DNA I can’t even identify a source for. The pathogen is out of your system; you’ve just got some lingering antibodies."

That’s good news, Sheppard thinks, but Keller’s expression remains clouded. "Doctor," he pushes.

She turns to him. "I, um. We did a full scan when you came in, to check for injuries."

"Okay." John knows he wasn’t injured significantly, but there's something on her face that makes him think that’s not the case. "What is it, Doctor?"

Her eyes flicker away, checking to make sure the room is empty. "Was it consensual?" is what she says.

And John inhales. He hadn't thought it would hit him this quickly or this hard; he'd thought that he would be able to tell the people whom he thought needed to know, not that it would be found out without his assistance. "Yes," he says. There is silence for a moment. "Is that going in my report?" he has to ask.

She shakes her head quickly. "It's just some higher concentrations of Iratus heavy DNA, probably won't be noticeable after you take a good shower," she says, busying herself with checking his IV. "I didn't make any notes on it specifically."

He nods. "Thanks, Doc."

She looks at him, her expression grave. "Are you sure?" she says. "John, you were alone with him for months. You said you'd forgotten everything. I know he's not like most of the others we've encountered, but he's still Wraith. Are you sure he didn't... coerce you?"

John leans back and sighs. "That's why I'm here, isn't it? To make sure he's far enough away that he can't control me?" He runs his hands through his hair. "Well, it worked. I can't feel him." Keller inhales sharply, but John explains, "He wasn't controlling me. I asked him to initiate a mental connection. I wanted to offer it to him, because we were alone, and he'd been alone long before I showed up."

Keller watches him, but nods.

"Could you..." John begins but falters.

"What?" Keller asks kindly.

"Could you not tell Teyla and Ronon? I want to tell them myself."

Keller looks surprised, but nods. "If you want to be the one to tell Ronon, be my guest."

Sheppard laughs tightly. "I wanted to tell you guys. He... Todd means a lot to me. I don't see that changing." He looks away. "I'm assuming McKay knows."

"You gave him enough hints," Keller agrees, "even though you couldn't really talk in front of Caldwell. And after he mentioned your hints to me, I told him... the information I had that corroborated his guesses. I hope that's okay."

Sheppard nods. "It's done now," is all he says.

Keller's earpiece beeps. "Doctor Keller?" Woolsey's voice says. "How is Colonel Sheppard?"

"He's awake," Keller replies with a smile at Sheppard.

"Oh, excellent!" And Woolsey does sound pleased. "I'll be right down with Teyla and Ronon."

Sheppard leans back and closes his eyes, mentally preparing himself for the encounter. Keller touches his arm and moves away. He runs over everything in his head again, but he's okay with the course he's chosen. He's already passed the point of no return really, he might as well keep flying this mission.

 

 

"John."

He opens his eyes to see Teyla smiling at him. He smiles back. "Teyla." He embraces her, and while he's looking over her shoulder he sees Ronon.

Something deep inside him eases when he lays his eyes on Ronon, even though the other man is almost a shadow of himself, quite obviously still convalescing.  "Ronon. Look at you. God, I thought you were dead."

"Sheppard," Ronon says, his voice thready with emotion he tries to suppress. He steps in close to John, reaching out to clasp his hand and eventually allowing himself to be pulled into an embrace as Sheppard refuses to release him without it. "I never gave up on you."

Sheppard squeezes his arms around the other man. "Thank you." He releases Ronon and reaches to take Teyla's hand. "It's... so amazing to see you guys." And he smiles with the joy of it, because he had missed them, even and maybe especially when he couldn't remember who they were.

Teyla's face can't seem to hold the enormity of her smile. "We are equally pleased to see you well, John." Her hand tightens around his.

"Yeah, well. I need to tell you guys some things." He looks up and sees Woolsey standing by the door with Keller. "Mister Woolsey." John reaches out to take his hand.

Woolsey approaches, surprised and pleased. "It really is good to see you, Colonel Sheppard." His handshake is firm. "I know we have a lot of questions about what happened to you. And I'm sure you have a lot of questions about what you've missed."

Sheppard smiles. "It's okay, I'll go first.

"I still don't remember what happened, really," he glances at Ronon, who makes an expression of understanding. "When I woke up, I couldn't remember anything, not even my name. That was about when Michael showed up." Ronon growls softly. "Yeah. He was pretty excited to get a chance to gloat to me about the tables being turned and all that. He took me to some lab, somewhere else." Sheppard runs his hands through his hair. "You gotta understand. I couldn't remember anything, but I had this... gut feeling, that Michael was bad news.

"One day I could hear something that sounded like someone was moving all the other prisoners out of the lab. I thought maybe Michael was clearing out. He kept me separate, so I wasn't sure if he would come for me too or leave me. But then..." He stops for a moment, and with a shake of his head he continues, "The door opened and there was this man standing there. He knew my name. I didn't even know my name. It was... I was a little out of it at the time, hadn’t been able to sleep, but he pulled me out of that shithole and he fed me and he gave me a safe place to sleep."

He pauses, and it's Teyla who says, "It was Todd, was it not? You said after encountering him on Manaria that he appeared human."

"It was Todd," Sheppard confirms. He looks at Woolsey. "If you think he... is controlling me, then it's only the same level of control as that exerted by any person being decent to another person."

Ronon had started pacing after Teyla spoke, his movements silent as a cat, but he cuts in with a snarled, "Wraith aren't people."

"Ronon." Sheppard meets his friend's eyes. "When Kolya captured me and was torturing me, did you think he wasn't a person?"

"It was that Wraith that he was using to torture you."

"Okay, maybe a bad example, but would you trust Kolya, if he was here now? Would you let him be here in the city, just because he was human?"

"No."

"Did we refuse to make allies of the Genii because of what he did? Look, I know what you've suffered because of the Wraith." Sheppard shifts his eyes to Teyla, who is watching him impassively. "And I'm not trying to excuse it or say it doesn't matter. But I don't think we can judge all Wraith together the same. We don't do that for humans, and I don't think we should for Wraith either."

Teyla and Keller are staring at him, and Sheppard's pretty sure Teyla knows; Woolsey just looks thoughtful; Ronon looks like he wants to shoot something.

"He saved my life, Ronon. Todd saved my life, he saved a ship full of people from being sacrificed to a hive, and he gave me the means to come back here to you."

And there must be something in John’s voice because, in the middle of his pacing, Ronon gets it. He freezes, his head rotating slowly to Sheppard.

"Ronon," Teyla says warningly, but Sheppard waves her off.

Ronon stalks forward, his expression hard. "Did he break you?"

Sheppard shakes his head, but it's Keller who says, "He tested clean for the enzyme."

Ronon flicks his gaze to Keller before returning it to Sheppard. "You let him-" He bites off the sentence.

Sheppard draws himself up. "Yes." Ronon stares at him for a long time. Sheppard can feel Woolsey in the background impatient to ask what's going on. "We were stranded on a planet together, and we became lovers. It was consensual. And I'd like it to continue."

Ronon reels back from him, looking lost.

"I'm sorry," John says, because he never wanted to hurt anyone, least of all his friends. "And if you tell the military, it'll get me discharged. Just so you know."

Woolsey clears his throat. "Well," he begins.

Ronon sweeps past Woolsey and leaves.

Sheppard takes a deep breath. "I'm sorry," he says to Teyla as well.

Teyla searches his eyes, and smiles her unperturbable smile. "You have not done anything to hurt me, John. I... do not understand, perhaps, but I have seen that there is great depth of passion in Todd. I do not trust him, but I can see how the circumstances you have endured may have brought you to a closer understanding of each other."

The door opens and Rodney walks in. "What's up with Ronon?" he asks distractedly, but then he sees that Sheppard is awake and he smiles. "John. How are you?"

Sheppard smiles at him. "I'm good, Rodney." he glances around the room. "I was just saying all the things I could only hint at earlier." Rodney halts awkwardly. Sheppard sighs.

Keller reaches to take Rodney's hand. "It's okay," she says, smiling softly.

"Is it?" Rodney asks, some disbelief in his voice. "Because I tend to think it's not really." He looks at John. "You're sure you're fine?"

"Rodney." Sheppard runs his hands through his hair again. He just woke up but he's suddenly exhausted. "Todd saved my life," he repeats, but Rodney cuts him off.

"Yeah, that's the part you've already told me. Can you get to the part where he's in love with you?"

"What?" Sheppard protests, because he'd admitted to being lovers, but in love feels like a different thing. A bigger thing. A thing he's been historically bad at. "Yes, we were lovers on the planet," he repeats. "And I want to continue being with him."

"Okay. I get that being stranded together made you get closer, understand each other better, but..." Rodney has a look on his face that Sheppard feels he's going to have to get used to seeing on a lot of faces. "I'm pretty sure there's a line between 'friends' and 'gay sex' that doesn't need to be crossed. You can't tell me that all of the sudden, out of the blue you like gay sex with aliens."

"Rodney," Sheppard growls. "It's not all of a sudden." He pulls a face at Rodney, who pauses.

"Oh."

"Yeah. Just, having a bit of amnesia made me forget about DADT."

Teyla frowns. "DADT?"

"It's a military policy forbidding the disclosure of relationships such as the one Colonel Sheppard has entered into," Woolsey tells her succinctly.

Teyla nods. "This is why you told Ronon not to tell others?"

"He can if he wants to, and I wouldn't blame him. But I wanted to make sure he knows. It means they'll send me home. I'll never come back."

Teyla's expression hardens. "You are a good friend to him, John, but if he hurts you in his anger, I will not forgive him."

Sheppard squeezes her hand. "I appreciate it. But don't hold it against him. It's a lot to ask."

"Yeah well, I think it's something we're going to have to ask of a lot of people," Rodney puts in. Everyone looks to him, but Rodney turns to Woolsey. "Todd's not a huge talker. Actually," he asides to John, "he's being amazingly tightlipped about your relationship, but," he turns back to Woolsey, "I think he took Jennifer's research from the Daedalus and I think he's been doing something with it. He wants to talk to you." He says the last to Jennifer.

"Oh." She looks surprised. "Well, of course I'll go talk to him. Just, um, my shift's almost up and then I can head to the Beta Site. Let me tell Marie I'll be offsite."

"So, in conclusion," Rodney says to Woolsey, "Todd's still our best bet at getting anywhere in this galaxy. Especially if this offshoot of the Coalition of Planets keeps doing their thing."

"What? What's going on?" Sheppard protests.

"You recall when we were abducted by the Coalition of Planets?" Teyla begins, "While you were gone, they have... factionalized. While our agreement with the main group of the Coalition continues, there is a separate group that does not approve of Atlantis' involvement with the Coalition. They have escalated their attacks on Atlantis personnel on the planets they control. Also, Tesmer is a member of this particular faction." She smiles in a way that makes Sheppard think that someone's about to die. "Tesmer declined to share this information with us when we began negotiating with them about the possible exchange of goods between our worlds."

Sheppard frowns. "Tesmer is the place with the underground bunkers that were actually radiation shielded, where they were developing stealth technology right? "

"That's... not bad for someone who didn't remember anything for a while," Rodney says.

John makes a face at him, but inwardly he grins. God, he missed his team. "Thank you, Rodney," Sheppard says with a touch of condescension. "I remember that it exists, just not the last time I was there."

Rodney's face gets a little slack. "Yeah. Um." He glances at Teyla, who only looks back. "I guess the gist of it would be, we were getting a tour of their secret underground lab when there was something of an uprising by the surface folk, who decided that they weren't interested in being sacrificed to the Wraith to protect those in hiding. Teyla and I got stuck in with the Tesmerlyns on the inner side of an emergency door, but you and Ronon made it out in time to try to save a group of people from an exploding building. And from there no one, apparently, remembers exactly what went down."

Sheppard rolls it over in his mind. "Thanks," he tells Rodney, who nods.

"The factionalizing of the Coalition of Planets isn't the only issue," Woolsey adds.

Sheppard turns to him.

Woolsey's expression is dire. "We've lost contact with the Daedalus. Colonel Carter was on her way back here, but as of yesterday we've been unable to contact her or the ship at all. Their last report was that they'd come under fire from Wraith."

John inhales, slowly, already thinking. "Where were they? What’s the closest planet with a gate? We can-"

Keller steps forward, breaking into the conversation. "Okay, I think that's enough." She pushes John’s shoulders back until they hit the bed. "You should get some rest, Colonel."

"I'm fine," he protests.

She fixes him with a gimlet look. "You're undernourished and you’re going to stay right there until you’ve taken that entire IV bag of vitamins and antibiotics."

"That doesn’t mean I can’t-" John starts again, but Woolsey cuts him off this time.

"Colonel Caldwell is already organizing rescue efforts," Woolsey says.

Teyla touches John's hand. "I am leaving soon with Lieutenant Edison’s team to assist in finding the Daedalus," She smiles at him. "We are pleased to have you back, John," she says before she leaves with Keller.

John huffs in frustration. "Fine, I have to stay here." He looks at Rodney. "You were at the Beta Site. Is Todd okay?"

Rodney narrows his eyes at John in a calculating way. "Yeah. He's fine." He rolls his eyes. "Apparently he's glad I'm here to amuse him." Rodney’s eyes rest on John, but he cuts off what is almost a significant look and instead hurries out the door saying, "I should go with Jennifer."

Sheppard turns to Woolsey who lingers beside him. "Todd... He'll need to leave. Soon."

Woolsey regards him thoughtfully. "Actually according to my superiors you're the one who'll be leaving soon."

John feels his stomach drop, though he expected it.

"The SGC would like a full debrief of your time away from us. And of course, the IOA agrees that the SGC would be better qualified to treat you."

Sheppard feels his chin come up, his jaw tightening. "Treat?"

Woolsey sighs. "You've been isolated with the enemy since practically the day you went missing almost three months ago. There are... procedures in place, for the return of prisoners of war, which include long-term psychological care."

Sheppard can feel his hands forming into fists. "Todd isn't the enemy." He inhales deeply only to blow the breath back out in frustration. "But of course that's what I would say."

Woolsey smiles sadly. He rests a hand on John's shoulder. "Get some rest." And with that he leaves.

Sheppard's not sure how he's supposed to sit here after revelations like that. He doesn’t even have a tablet so he could work on organizing his thoughts for his debrief. Not that it matters; Keller's staff is well trained and Marie swarms in to check on him. She startles him as he’s climbing out of the bed and before he even knows what she’s doing she’s gotten him to confess his lack of intention to sleep, and she administers a light sedative before he can even protest. He must be as shaky as Keller claimed because he goes back down quickly even though there’s no way he was awake even an hour.

Chapter Text

He is deep in meditation, reaching out for his brethren, when Todd is surprised by the arrival of Doctor Keller.

Despite McKay's comment he hadn't expected her to come to him, and even more so to have come with such alacrity.

"Hello," she greets him with a tight smile.

"Doctor Keller." Todd bares his teeth fully in a wide grin.

The guards beside the doctor raise their weapons nervously.

"Oh for pity's sake," McKay gripes as he walks in after Keller. "Go stand in the hallway." The guards regard him dubiously. "If you shoot the Wraith while he's engaged in important research with Doctor Keller the IOA will be very displeased," McKay tells them waspishly, and this gets the men to lower their weapons.

Todd is amused by the display.

After the soldiers have filed out, McKay turns to him. "At least I'm assuming that Doctor Keller's research that you took from the Daedalus is why you actually wanted to see her."

"In part," Todd allows.

McKay huffs, and leans against the back of the door, turning his attention to the tablet in his hands.

Keller appears... unsettled. It is an expression that seems to always be on her face so at first Todd pays it no mind. Keller opens a bag she brought with her and asks, "I was wondering if you would let me take some blood samples?"

"Of course," Todd says. "I am interested if any trace remains of Michael's virus." He stands and removes his coat, seating himself and laying his left arm over the table toward her.

Throughout the process, McKay is trying so hard to pretend that he is not paying attention to Todd’s every movement that Todd is amused to think the man will do himself an injury with how tightly his jaw is clenched. Keller doesn’t pretend that she isn’t watching Todd’s every move and Todd grins at her again. Her eyes dart to his face quickly before she returns her focus to his arm; she readies her syringe and leans toward him. There is no hesitation in her movements, but apprehension roils across the surface of her mind and rises from her body in a warm haze.

"And I am interested if you were able to learn anything useful from Sheppard's blood," Todd pushes, and is rewarded when Keller flinches- though she tosses him a glare afterward and he suspects that he only startled her by speaking, not by mentioning Sheppard.

McKay grumbles but does not move from the door.

Keller steels her glare and answers, "Yes, actually. To start with, he tested negative for any trace of the Wraith enzyme."

"Ahh." Todd chuckles. "I see how far your trust goes, Doctor McKay."

"Hey!" McKay protests. "She ran the tests before I told her what you said. Though it would have been standard procedure anyway," he continues defensively.

Todd is not offended. He admires that about these particular humans, that they are always interested in facts to back up words spoken.

"Anyway," Keller says, transferring her sharp look to McKay.

McKay makes a gesture and says, "Oh yeah, you're clear. No one can hear you via any sort of surveillance. The video's still up though. If I take that out they'd be in here in a moment to see what happened."

Keller takes a deep breath. "Okay." Her eyes shift to Todd. "Feel free to speak openly."

He just looks back at her and takes his time putting his coat back on.

She is naïve and sentimental, but Keller is strong in her convictions and he admires that, however misplaced her convictions may be. "Michael developed a mutant strain of Kirsan fever, a common human ailment in this galaxy. This mutant form causes memory loss, and was different enough from the original that it was able to bypass any antibodies already in the host," Keller tells him as she secures the vials of dark blood in her container. Her eyes flicker to Todd's face. "That's what happened to Colonel Sheppard." She straightens her shoulders. "So?" she says, demandingly.

Todd grins. "I did take the research you had upon the Daedalus and Wraith loyal to me have been... experimenting with it in the time since."

She leans forward her expression intent. "And?" she prompts.

Todd frowns. "Initial results were promising, but the test subjects soon developed virulent masses throughout their bodies that were unable to be healed."

"Dammit," Keller says, with rare feeling. "I was so sure..."

She seems deeply affect by the failure of her gene treatment. Todd watches her, and he chooses to add, "Exploring the formula a bit more, we were able to come up with an... alternative plan of treatment that, as far as I'm aware, having been out of contact with them for almost half a year, was more successful."

Keller leans forward. "Successful?"

Todd shrugs, nonchalant. But he is as eager for this as she is, and so he adds, "The initial test appeared to work more effectively on younger Wraith."

He might have continued, but Keller’s expression grows sharp and distant for a moment. "Stem cells," she murmurs. Her eyes focus on Todd again. "I wouldn’t have even thought about it except John-" Her thoughts pass by more quickly than she can voice them, and her next words are a separate question. "Did you attempt to administer the treatment prenatally, or work with samples in vitro?"

Todd is far more concerned with her previous words than in answering her question. "What does this have to do with Sheppard?"

She blinks at him before turning away to hide her expression- though she doesn’t turn fast enough to keep him from seeing that what she tries to conceal is a smile. "I was just talking to Colonel Sheppard and one of the things we discussed was an incident that occurred several years ago, where he became accidentally infected by an early version of the Iratus retrovirus that was incomplete and caused him to develop characteristics of the Iratus bug."

Todd hisses. "This was some time ago? He is well now?"

Keller doesn’t hide her smile this time, and it is smug. "He’s fine now," she assures Todd.

McKay snorts. "Wouldn’t think you’d be that worried." He looks up and meets Todd’s gaze. "He’d be more like you."

"Sheppard would be a glorious Wraith," Todd affirms with a grin that makes both of them cast him troubled looks. "But Iratus are not so advanced as Wraith, or even humans. They are creatures of instinct. And Sheppard would not be Sheppard without his mind." He turns to Keller, his expression tightening. "What does this have to do with the gene therapy?"

Keller opens one of the other bags she brought and pulls out a tablet. "The way we fixed Colonel Sheppard was with embryonic stem cells we retrieved from an Iratus nest," she says as she opens a file.

Todd blinks. "Ahh. I see. This would allow for greater mutability and would perhaps help prevent rejection." He focuses his gaze on Keller. "You suggest that we administer the therapy to unborn Wraith?"

Her eyes widen as she looks up at him. "I thought that’s what you said you’d tried."

Todd spreads his hands. "We did not go that far back," he says mildly. "Though I will mention it to the Wraith in charge of the project." He pauses. "Should I be in a position to do so," he finishes, dryly.

It is a deliberate test, to see how they react. Only Sheppard has ever released him from the Lantean’s custody before; he has used his own cunning to depart Atlantis more often than not.

Keller straightens her posture, her eyes darting irrevocably to McKay. McKay looks up at her then returns his gaze to his tablet, his anxiety sudden and harsh.

"You will," Keller says in a tone that indicates the subject is closed. She sets the tablet on the table between them, turning it toward him and leaning over it, heedless of her proximity to him. "Can you show me what they did?"

Todd looks down at her; her own anxiety is still very much present, but he begins to wonder if he is not in fact the cause of it. "Of course. I will share with you what I remember." He bends his head to the tablet.

Keller watches him as he works. He looks up and catches her at it; she flushes and turns away, her eyes dropping to the floor. Todd grins to have discomfited her, but he wonders what she is thinking of. He thinks it must be Sheppard.

As if in echo of his thoughts, Keller says suddenly, "You care about Colonel Sheppard." Near the door, McKay hisses under his breath.

Todd looks up from his work and regards her. "I have always cared for Sheppard," he agrees. "Since we met. He is the reason I am free of the prison where I was held."

"And now you freed him from Michael," she says.

Todd grins. "As I told Doctor McKay, I was repaying a debt."

"And now that it's paid?" she says. "Are you even?"

Todd mulls over her words for a moment. "There will never be a cessation of the ebb and flow between myself and Sheppard," he says finally. "We are... intertwined." He had been almost certain that returning to this place would sever him from Sheppard irrevocably, but even here, alone in his mind, he is very much aware of the fact that Sheppard will influence whatever actions remain in his life and is pleased by it. Satisfied, he looks up to find both Keller and McKay looking at him.

"You are something else," McKay says after a moment. The words are offered in a sarcastic tone, but feel almost genuine in regard. Todd doesn't deem them worth a response, instead curling his lip and returning his attention to Keller’s tablet.

A mere handful of moments pass before McKay says, "They're onto me." He lowers the tablet he holds and looks at Keller, walking over to stand at the end of the table, next to her opened bag of medical items.

Keller nods in response to his words. She reaches for the tablet that Todd holds and sets it on the table, pulling a second tablet from her bag and setting it on the table next to the first one. Her fingers move over the screen quickly.

The door bursts open. "What is going on in here?" a harsh voice demands. "Where is the Wraith?"

Todd's lip curls in a snarl and his hands, resting on the table, press against that surface in an effort to refrain from rash action.

"What the hell?" McKay protests. He turns around to face the door. He stands between Todd and the entrance, seemingly by accident, but the soldiers are filing into the room, around this obstruction so that their aim is not impeded as they draw on Todd. Todd narrows his eyes at them. Doctor Keller does not move from where she is seated across the table from Todd.

"Move away from the Wraith, Doctor," the soldier orders her.

Keller flinches from the force of the words but doesn’t move. "What's going on? We're working on important medical research."

Todd would grin to hear her, but the soldier is not amused.

"Move, Doctor. There's something going on with the surveillance in this room. We need to move our guest to more secure quarters."

"For pity's sake," McKay grumbles, but he's helping Keller collect her equipment.

Todd sits very still at the table. It is the stillness of a predator before the strike, but only one of the soldiers notices it, his finger tightening on his weapon. Todd's eyes shift to the man, drawn by the movement, his hunger a sharp thing inside of him.

"Alright, get up, Wraith," the lead soldier says.

Todd snarls at him. But he is short-tempered, not stupid. He stands and moves to the door when the men indicate. They do not try to bind him, and he is aware, because it is very near the surface of the man's thoughts, that the lead soldier wants him to try to run, so that they have justification to shoot him. Todd is pleased that they at least respect Sheppard enough still to pretend to adhere to his request.

They bring him to a smaller room. The only feature in the room is a bench similar to what he is used to from the energy cell, though the walls here are solid. He is escorted in and when the soldiers leave the door shuts without any way to detect it, much less open it, from the interior. Todd's hands curl into fists.

He is not left too long before he hears, only a soft echo through the door, the strident voice of McKay. The door opens. McKay is glaring at the lead soldier. "Yes, I checked it," he says almost poisonously, "Did you want to check it? I'm so sure you could do a better job of firewalling than I could. Please, enlighten us with your great wisdom." He moves past the man and practically throws the object he is holding at Todd. Todd regards it and recognizes the second tablet that Keller had pulled out. His eyes flicker to McKay.

"I'll be back to get it later," McKay says, voice still harsh with annoyance. "Because I'm sure this lot of fine upstanding gentlemen won't be courteous enough to let me know when you've finished updating Jennifer's work." He's gone in practically the same minute, his grumbling voice fading up the hall as the door slides shut behind him.

Todd grins. He looks down at the tablet in interest. He has accomplished what he wished to in meeting with Keller- namely, to present the truth that he is in possession of something that Atlantis wants- and has discovered something else besides: Sheppard’s friends are still loyal to him, perhaps more so than they are to the distant rulers of their homeworld.

Chapter Text

Sheppard wakes up and it must be hours later. Keller's still gone; he manages to talk Doctor Cole into letting him disconnect the depleted IV, instead of hooking him up with another bag, and go back to his quarters. The lights are low in the corridors, and when he passes a window he sees that it's dark outside, middle of the night local time. Sheppard touches his wrist; his Suunto had been part of his gear that Michael had taken. Funny, he hadn't missed it until now.

When he gets there he opens the door and looks in on his quarters. They look like they've been untouched for longer than a few months. He rubs his hands on his thighs. He feels like he's been gone for years. He tosses a crooked smile to Johnny Cash on the wall.

He steps into the space. He can at least get clean clothes that aren't scrubs. And that shower Keller recommended. Sheppard makes a face. A shower sounds amazing but he feels like he's slowly removing every last bit of Todd from himself, and, despite his vows to the contrary, he doesn't know how to make it stop.

 

After his shower and a shave- he finds himself struck by nostalgia at the sound of the electric razor- Sheppard starts pacing around his room. He should probably write up a debrief report of his experiences on the off-chance that the SGC will take it and leave him alone from there on. His computer waits at the desk near the door. But he doesn’t move toward it. He picks up a tablet sitting on the bedside table and stares at it. He sets it back down. The room feels enormous around him, empty and too still.

He leaves his quarters and heads to Rodney's lab. The way is familiar to him though also the halls of Atlantis feel almost... strange. It's the middle of the night, so that could explain the emptiness, the lack of familiar faces. The people he does recognize are pleased to see him, congratulating him on his return, but he doesn't think he imagines the questioning look behind some of their eyes. He doesn't run into anyone too familiar; he wonders what Caldwell did with Lorne, he hasn't seen his former second-in-command at all. It's unsettling, and an easy factor to blame for the way he feels... offbeat from the city, like he doesn't quite fit.

Rodney is alone in his lab and he looks up when John stops in the door.

"Hi," Sheppard says, and hesitates.

"Sheppard," Rodney replies, and he smiles quickly. "Did you need-?"

"I just," Sheppard shrugs. "I wanted to write a report, but I didn't..." He trails off. He clears his throat. "I don't have a keyboard in my quarters so I was going to borrow one of your computers."

It's not a great excuse. But Rodney doesn't poke the holes in it that he could. "Yeah," Rodney says. He gestures to a workstation. "I think Zelenka was using that one, so it’s already idiot-proofed and you won't accidentally delete my projects."

Sheppard grins. "Thanks," he says sarcastically. He slides up to the station and pulls up a document file. He stumbles over what to say a couple times but he finds it easier to concentrate with the sound of another person taking up space in the room.

He's still in the middle of the debrief report, when Rodney asks, "John."

Sheppard looks up at him. "Yeah?"

Rodney's eyes are heavy on Sheppard before Rodney looks down, turning his attention back to his work. "I... I'm really glad that you're okay."

Sheppard smiles. "I missed you. There was this... To get off the planet we had to rewire a crashed jumper in order to dial the gate, and I wished you would have been there because it took us weeks to figure it out."

"Huh. Did you move the third crystal to the fifth tray? That usually reroutes power from the auxiliary to the main controls."

Sheppard leans back, rolling his eyes, but he's also smiling. "Dammit. Rodney, I really missed you guys."

Rodney grins. "Yeah. We missed you, too." He looks down again. "But, um, at least you weren't alone." The last word ends on an uplift that implies a question without asking it.

"Yeah," Sheppard responds. "Once Todd found me, I wasn't alone." Sheppard looks down at what he's typing, but his eyes don't focus on it. "He was... from the first he was..." He tries to find the words, and ends up clearing his throat. "I had this gut feeling that Michael was bad news, when I first saw him, before he even did anything. But from the moment I saw Todd I knew I could trust him. I knew he wouldn't lie to me." That's not it really, and his hands move over the keyboard restlessly. "That's not... I know he's lied before about things. But I knew he wouldn't do it... maliciously. Not when it mattered. He didn't want to hurt me, not like Michael. If he held anything back it was to protect himself." He looks up, wondering if he's made himself understood.

Rodney looks thoughtful. "I get that Todd was better than Michael, and you knew that on some level even though you couldn't remember why," he says. "But isn't it different now? You remember now. You can't tell me Todd is still the best show in town compared to Atlantis."

Sheppard is shaking his head in denial even before Rodney is finished. "It's not... That's not the way to look at it."

Rodney looks skeptical.

Sheppard sighs. "We're here in Pegasus to explore, find new technology, and to help people, right? I don't think any of those objectives are furthered by cutting off the Wraith completely as a potential source of allies."

The skeptical look is still there. "John." Rodney hesitates. "They eat people."

That's it, that's the bottom line. "Yeah." John rubs his hands on his arms. "I know I've killed people for stupider reasons than survival."

Rodney snorts. "So that's it, we're all less than perfect so we can't judge each other?"

"No," John denies. "It's... We're all just trying to survive. I think we can find a way to do it that works for everyone."

Rodney looks more like he buys what John's selling, but he's not done playing devil's advocate. "You know we did try to make allies of the Wraith. With Michael, and again when he brought that queen who supposedly wanted to use the retrovirus to feed on her rivals," he reminds John. "Those turned out well."

Sheppard shakes his head. "I think we did it wrong with Michael. Maybe Michael was just a bad egg and we could have made it work with those others who were transformed, from the hive after we stopped it, if we'd played it different. I don't... we did what we thought we had to, but now that I've been on the other side of that, in a way, I..." He pauses. "I can see why Michael hates us. And having to re-remember my life backwards made it easier to reflect on things I should have done differently, I guess."

"We all forgot ourselves, too," Rodney reminds him. "With the Kirsan fever. And nobody turned into murderers."

"Yeah, but even running around rampantly paranoid we didn’t have anyone lying to us, trying to convince us of something we knew, in our gut, wasn’t true." Sheppard thinks about it for a moment. "I think that’s... that’s where we lost it. You can’t hope to build something on lies. I know that now."

Rodney nods. "I wish you'd figured out you were gay before this," he says. He's looking down at his screen and his lip is curling in humor.

"Hey," Sheppard protests. "Not gay. Equal opportunity. Anyway, it looks like you and Keller figured something out." He leans forward and settles his elbows on the desktop as he looks at Rodney pointedly.

"Hey!" Rodney exclaims, flushing. But he shrugs. "I guess you're allowed to poke back. But for the love of God, if you could tell Todd to back off."

"What?"

Rodney rolls his eyes. "He likes irritating me. And being annoying."

"Well, you two must be getting along great then."

Rodney glares, but Sheppard just grins, pleased.

His grin fades. "Rodney. I'm... I might not be here. For much longer. So, um. I'd appreciate it if you would look after Todd? He... he'll need to feed. Soon."

"You want me to feed your vampire boyfriend?" Rodney says with the archest skepticism John's heard yet.

"No. I want you to make sure that we let him go and don't try to keep holding him in custody."

"You're sure he wants to leave?" Rodney asks, his eyes meeting John's.

John looks down. "I think he needs to. It doesn't matter what either of us want."

Rodney leans back, thinking. John can feel Rodney's eyes on him. "It matters," is all Rodney says, and he falls silent, both of them returning to their work.

 

 

After typing up his debrief, Sheppard is on his way back to his quarters when he passes Caldwell in the hall, talking to Major Teldy.

"Colonel Caldwell." Sheppard comes to a halt and falls in at Ease.

Caldwell stops and faces him. "Colonel Sheppard." He waves Teldy to continue without him- she pauses to smile at Sheppard before she complies- and gives John a quick once over. "You're up late."

"Wanted to get my report written for the SGC's debrief."

Caldwell nods. "I suppose it's good to write it down while the memory's fresh."

Sheppard narrows his eyes. "I was under the impression that the SGC, and the IOA, were quite eager for me to join them for the debrief."

Caldwell looks surprised. "No one told you? Doctor Keller is still studying the effects of Michael's pathogen and requested that you remain here for her to observe. Woolsey petitioned for the SGC to send a team to Atlantis in order to conduct the debrief, and they agreed, seeing as the Odyssey is due in Earth orbit and they'll have access to a ZPM."

Sheppard opens his mouth to protest that he's fine, but then he closes it again, thinking. "No, sir. No one had told me as of yet." And because this seems too good to be true he has to ask, "Sir, have you spoken to Ronon recently?"

Caldwell frowns. "No. He's been closeted with Wooley for the last few hours. Should I?"

"Ah, no, sir, I was just wondering. Um. I don’t suppose Major Lorne is around?"

Caldwell’s frown becomes concerned. "His team is on M1R-992, supervising Doctor Beckett. You should catch up on some reports, now that you're back."  

"Of course." John nods. "Thank you, sir. Good night." He tries to walk off before he can get himself in more trouble, since the trouble he'd been expecting has apparently been delayed.

"Sheppard," Caldwell calls.

Sheppard turns back. "Colonel."

Caldwell gives him a frustrated look. "You... you're doing alright? I read Doctor Keller's report, but I wanted to ask."

Sheppard frowns. "Yes, sir," he replies mildly.

Caldwell nods. "You still think this Wraith is valuable, as an ally?"

"Yes, sir," Sheppard says with more conviction. "I certainly do."

Caldwell frowns, but looks like he's chewing a few things over.

"Good night, sir," Sheppard says again, and this time Caldwell lets him go.

 

Not terribly eager to return to his empty room, Sheppard takes a detour past the Gate Room to see if he can find Woolsey there. Sure enough, a case of not sleeping seems to be going around Atlantis’ senior staff.

Woolsey is sitting in his office, alone, staring furiously at a tablet. John lingers in the doorway for a moment before Woolsey notices him.

"Colonel Sheppard."

"Mister Woolsey," Sheppard replies. It's not the reason he sought out Woolsey, but he asks, "Any update on Colonel Carter's situation?"

Woolsey frowns. "No, we haven't heard from the Daedalus." His eyes focus on Sheppard. "Was there something you needed?"

John isn't sure what to ask, or if he should even ask. It feels like Woolsey deliberately lied to him about the SGC wanting him back on Earth, though maybe he's just being paranoid- John did just wake up a short while ago, maybe Woolsey hasn't had time to update him. Maybe he's been too busy stressing about the Daedalus, or trying to keep Ronon from blowing a gasket. But John feels... left out of the loop. "I guess I'm just... adjusting," he says finally. "Sorry to bother you."

"Colonel Sheppard."

John turns back to Woolsey.

Woolsey has put down his tablet and is looking at Sheppard with an unreadable expression. "You're not bothering me," he says. His expression softens into something almost fond, though there's a frustration underneath it. "I'm sorry if I gave you the impression that you were. I... have several issues that I'm trying to coordinate at the moment."

John shakes his head. "No, you're busy, don't sweat it."

Woolsey smiles. "We're glad to have you back, Colonel," he says.

John nods. Despite feeling like Woolsey's still giving him the brush off, his words are sincere, and John smiles. "Thanks. I’m glad to be back." And there are things that are annoying him, sure, but overall he is glad that no one’s worried about him being dead, even if maybe now they’re thinking that would be preferable to the truth.

John makes his way out of Woolsey's office. Chuck is sitting at the console and Sheppard nods to him.

As he heads down the stairs to leave Stargate Operations, Sheppard notices Amelia Banks standing near the conference room entrance. She's standing in shadow, talking to someone John can't see at the moment, but then the other person steps forward, and John sees that it's Ronon. John lingers a moment, trying to surreptitiously scan his friend's countenance, to make sure he's okay, but Ronon is facing Amelia, his head bent to hers as she speaks softly.

Discretion might be the better part of valor, but mostly John's perfectly certain that Ronon doesn't want to talk to him.

He heads off, resigned to his lonely quarters and a few hours’ sleep before hopefully returning to a more standard schedule tomorrow. It’s not like he’s expecting to go on a mission; half his team is not speaking to him or off planet, so even if he wasn’t on a non-active status himself that wouldn’t be possible. But he’s here, and he’s not interested in not doing anything- that just gives him more time to worry about Todd, because they’re definitely not going to let John head back to the Beta Site, and there’s no way Caldwell, or anyone superior to him, will spontaneously decide to let Todd go before it becomes a critical issue.

Maybe he can convince Caldwell to let him review postings, or at least offer input on the Daedalus mission if they won’t let him actually assist. Or maybe he’ll get Rodney to hack the files for him when Caldwell turns him down.

Chapter Text

McKay wasn't lying; the tablet he left Todd is stripped of many features and is capable of little more than displaying and altering the data Keller has presented to him. Todd amuses himself with writing a program that translates all of the human data into Wraith equivalent symbols, but there is no way Todd could access any sort of network with it, or discover a way to disable the door from the interior of this cell and somehow free himself.

Though his hunger grows within him, Todd does not find it debilitating as of yet. He might as well go over Keller's data in more depth. It is a distraction to fill his time, and time is a resource he has in plenty at the moment.

 

It is much later and he is seated on the bench, making notes on the deficiencies in Keller's research- of which there are many- when something along the edge of the tablet beeps.

Todd regards the device again. A quick search reveals one of the earpieces that the Lantean's commonly use tucked into the canvas frame of the tablet. He pulls it free and holds it, looking at it bemusedly.

From the device, Sheppard's voice says, faintly, "Hello?"

Awareness rushes through him, and he wraps the device around his ear. "Sheppard," he says, and he is too pleased to hide it.

"Todd?" Sheppard hisses. His voice is more distant as he says, "What the hell, Rodney," and then the communicator goes silent.

Todd blinks. He's not sure what to think of this response.

He returns to perusing Keller's data, but finds it difficult to concentrate.

A few moments later the communicator clicks again. "Todd?"

"Sheppard," Todd responds warily.

He hears Sheppard breathe in a deep, pleased sigh. "Sorry, Rodney surprised me, and I... I wanted to talk to you alone." He pauses. "As alone as possible," he adds, cautiously.

Todd hums, well aware that there may be ears listening in on their conversation. "I am pleased to hear your voice, Sheppard. I... miss it, after many days of your presence."

"I miss you, too," Sheppard says. The words are offered boldly.

Todd smiles. "Speak, Sheppard," he urges. "I want to hear you."

Sheppard is suddenly nervous. "What do you want me to say?"

"It matters not. Just the sound of your voice is pleasing."

"Hmm. Well I could tell you about Atlantis, but I feel like that might be something that would get someone knocking on my door sooner rather than later," Sheppard observes wryly. He clears his throat and says, "I think this should work. Um, stop me if you don't like it." Todd hears a thump and the rustling of paper; Sheppard clears his throat again and begins, in a measured tone, as one reading from a text, "'There, in a new country and new surroundings, Prince Andrey found life easier. After his fiancée’s unfaithfulness, which hurt him more and more as he strove to conceal the effect it was having on him, the very circumstances that had recently made him so happy now became unbearable, especially the freedom and independence he had come to value so much…'"

Todd closes his eyes, falling into the sound of John's voice, following the rhythm of the sound through the stars, searching for the place where Sheppard's mind rests. Todd is not certain this will work, as he has never tried anything of the sort before, but John stumbles over a word in his recitation, and Todd feels the brush of his mind.

John clears his throat and begins reading again. "'Of all the activities open to him military service was the most straightforward and familiar. He carried out his duties as a staff general with great diligence and enthusiasm, amazing Kutuzov by his appetite for work and his eye for detail.'"

Todd grins. There is a different cadence to John's voice now, an eagerness that lets him know that John is aware of what Todd is trying to do. And Todd lets his mental fingers rest against the warm feeling that is Sheppard, and fall into his thoughts.

Sheppard's mind is filled with many thoughts, and Todd touches them only lightly, not wanting to cause him pain. I just want to touch you, he thinks.

And he is answered almost immediately by a strong, vibrant pulse of pleasure combined with unfairness.

Todd smiles fondly. John is not good as being passive. Will you let me in? he asks. Deeper? Not just to touch, but to control?

John is quiet beneath his mental fingers for a long moment before he responds with a firm, though not overwhelming, affirmative.

Todd is touched by this permission. I swear to you, Sheppard, I will not harm you. Todd reaches out and seizes his mind.

Todd opens his eyes. He is sitting on a soft surface and there is a large book opened across his lap. He is wearing John's dark military uniform. He looks around the room and stands slowly from the bed to cross into a smaller room with a mirror. Todd looks into the mirror, and Sheppard stares back.

Todd grins, though it is odd to see Sheppard smile back at him. In the back of his mind he can feel Sheppard struggling, fear rising in him. "Peace, Sheppard," Todd says soothingly. He knows it's not truly him that Sheppard fears; it is an atavistic reaction, like that of any creature feeling trapped. Todd stares into the eyes in the mirror.

He wasn't even certain he could do this, and so he is pleased when it does work. He reaches back to his own body and between them he creates a headspace, a meeting place, and pulls Sheppard into it with him, a mental self to exist in this mental space.

Sheppard, standing in front of the mirror, inhales deeply and stumbles backward. "What the hell," he hisses. His heart is beating swiftly. His mental avatar mirrors his actions, stumbling backward.

Todd catches the mental Sheppard, holding him close. "You are well," he croons. "I wish I was there to hold you in reality."

Sheppard clings to him, shaking, but he is already adjusting to the strangeness of it, blinking as he looks around him, trying to overlay what his mind sees with what his eyes see.  "What happened?" he asks, both body and mind. He sits down unsteadily, realizing that his physical body is mirroring his actions.

Todd holds his arm firmly, providing him a grounding. "I created a mental space for us to meet."

"You can do that?" The fear is rising slightly in him again.

"So it would seem." Todd frowns. "Sheppard." He kneels in front of John and touches his face. "I will leave you if you wish it. I did not mean to distress you."

"No, it's..." He reaches to lay his hand over Todd's. "I just..." He looks at Todd. "I just had a disturbing talk with Keller earlier. This... "

"Your mind is your own, John." Todd leans back, a protective snarl pulling at his lips. "I will prove it to you in any way you wish."

John's hand curls around Todd's wrist, refusing to release him, and Todd is comforted by this unconscious gesture. "No, I know," John says. "I don't need any proof. I just."  He shivers. "Can any Wraith do this?"

Todd sighs. ""It is doubtful that any other Wraith would wish to attempt to do so, or would have this connection to reach one who is not Wraithkin. A queen would have the power, but I would again doubt that any would wish to connect in this manner." He hesitates, but adds, "I based the idea on a technique that queens use to contact and control warriors." John flinches at the word control. "Warriors are bred with lesser mental powers than other Wraith, and so are designed to be a queen's extra hands, to do her bidding. As hives have lost queens and ongoing conflict has led to the creation of many warriors, it falls to the officers to control them, but we tend to do it in different ways. I did not know it would be possible for me to achieve this, but I... I wanted to offer you a place where we could speak, unobserved. Where you could reach out to me."

John’s eyes fix on him in a way that makes Todd realize that John has figured out how to separate their mental connection from his physical body and he is looking with his mental "eyes" and not his physical ones. Todd is impressed; that was very quickly done for a human. But then, Sheppard is impressive. "Are you saying this worked because I'm stupid?" John asks, and Todd can sense that the question is only partly in jest.

Todd shakes his head. "Only that this is designed to work with participants of unequal telepathic power. Meeting in this space works better than touching our minds because the power that builds it is mine. There is no need for you to exert yourself."

"So this is less likely to make my brain bleed out my ears," Sheppard confirms with a grimace.

Todd frowns. "I had not thought it hurt you that intensely. Sheppard, I will not-"

John leans forward to kiss him, then smiles. "I'm exaggerating." He presses his forehead to Todd's, and they sit there, together, as John reaches for his physical body. He closes his eyes and concentrates.

John's physical body opens its eyes and looks around the small room where he sits. "Shit," he observes with feeling, and stands, clinging to the wall behind him as he battles with vertigo because he is also seated in Todd's lap, his hands curled tightly in Todd's coat.

"You are doing very well," Todd murmurs to him, pressing a soft kiss to John's lips.

Those lips quirk in amusement, but John doesn't respond as he concentrates on walking across his room. Finally, with an enormous sigh, John collapses onto his bed. He closes his eyes. "I can feel you," he says, and his body arches into the feeling of Todd in front of him, though nothing is there.

Todd feels the smile that pulls at his own physical lips as he responds, through the earpiece, "As you say, Sheppard."

Sheppard frowns with the confusion of the sensory inputs. He puts a hand to his ear. "Do you want me to keep reading?"

"No," Todd tells him, voice soft with affection as he holds Sheppard in his arms.

"Okay." Sheppard turns off the communication device and removes it from his ear.

He comes back fully to Todd's embrace, raising his face to Todd's in their mental retreat. "How nuts is this?" he asks with a smile.

Todd brushes his hand along John's chin affectionately. "You have not lost your mind, John."

"Okay." John throws his arms around Todd and moves against him. It is glorious, to feel Sheppard again, both mind and body. John grins. "Was there something you wanted to talk about before we get down to business?"

Todd throws back his head and laughs. "I have missed you, John." He lays back, pulling John more fully on top of him. "I do not wish to speak before I taste you again."

John chuckles. Experimentally he kisses Todd and thinks at the same time, "So, this isn't real right? Can I 'talk' and kiss you at the same time?" He grins wickedly. "It appears I can."

Todd looks up at him, amused and content to simply bask in it. "It is real, but not physical," he corrects. He lifts his hands to touch John's hair.

John catches Todd's right hand, a contemplative look on his face. "Not physical. Does that mean I can...?"  He kisses Todd's right palm, the tendrils not bothering to poke out at him. Encouraged, John runs his tongue along the length of the slit.

Todd gasps. He almost tries to pull away; the feeling is so intense.

John slides both his thumbs up the center of Todd's palm and deliberately unhooks the small nails that keep the feeding slit closed.

Todd feels lightheaded. "John," he protests.

John meets his eyes. "You want me to stop?"

Todd shakes his head.

John grins, wickedly. He slides his tongue between where his thumbs rest, and licks into Todd's feeding slit.

Todd inhales sharply. He can feel his physical body reacting, his hand contracting with desperation and his entire body thrilling with the sensation. He is panting for breath, even in the mental world, and when John dips his tongue in deeper, Todd loses it, falling completely limp beneath John, keening brokenly. His left hand wraps around John's right leg, where John straddles him, but he can't find words to form into thoughts with which to communicate.

John hums smugly, and pressed his mouth fully against Todd's palm, his tongue reaching as deeply as it can. He rocks his hips, where he sits across Todd's sprawled form, and they are both aroused.

Todd surges up beneath him, his left hand reaching desperately for John, pulling him closer, his mouth closing carelessly on John's throat and shoulder, teeth biting down as he writhes in ecstasy, the sound of his pleasure beating back against the feeling of John's pleasure that suffuses him, and Todd gives a harsh cry as he climaxes, followed by a series of smaller desperate cries as John keeps licking into his feeding slit.

The aftershocks roll down their mental bond and John shudders. Todd reaches for him, but John just smiles wryly. "I came, just from feeling you. Shit." He kisses Todd, his tongue sharp with the echo of the enzyme and not real enough to be concerned by Todd's teeth.

Todd hums in his throat, awash in the joy of being together. The real world fades for a moment.

A brief moment.

John leans back, touching Todd's face. "I can feel it." His expression is grave. "The fire."

"Soon," Todd affirms reaching to touch John's face as well. Soon he will need to feed.

Sheppard moves, as if to speak some vow, and Todd reaches to still him. "Sheppard. I do not require vows from you, for you have already made them and I know their truth." Sheppard leans back, looking stricken rather than reassured. Todd grins at him. "I am well capable of caring for myself."

"I know." John leans down to kiss him again. "That doesn't mean I can't worry."

"And you?" Todd's hand spreads over Sheppard's back, caressing the expanse of his oddly smooth spine. "When will they send you back to your home?"

"Atlantis is my home." Sheppard looks at him sharply, then sighs. "Apparently they're going to send people to Atlantis to get my debrief."

"Ahh." Todd pauses. "John. I would... give you something. As you gave it to me." In the mental world Todd needs only to think it and he can conjure a surface, a collection of symbols written upon it. "I want you to know this address for the Stargate." Todd bends his face toward Sheppard. "When I must leave, you will be able to find me again there."

Sheppard looks at him. "Okay," he says, though he is obviously not pleased to think of Todd leaving.

Todd smiles softly, running his fingers down the curve of Sheppard's jaw.

Sheppard returns the expression briefly, then sets to memorizing the series of symbols.

 


 

 

It is a long while later- Todd is lying on the bench in his cell, his eyes closed, thinking of Sheppard- when the door opens.

He is on his feet in less time than it takes to draw breath, but he is still unable to get the drop on his visitor. Todd grins, the expression dark. "Ronon Dex," he drawls.

The man's eyes narrow at Todd from behind the length of his particle magnum. He doesn't speak.

Todd chuckles dryly. "Have you come to free Sheppard from the terrible Wraith?"

Dex's expression darkens. "Do I need to?"

Todd regards him, this encounter growing more interesting. "No," he says evenly. "I will not harm Sheppard."

Dex snarls, stalking forward until the muzzle of his weapon is pressed to Todd's throat.

Todd feels his lip curl in response. He steps backward, reaching out with his left hand to disarm the man, grasping his weapon arm and twisting it away.

He is weakened by lingering signs of long illness, but Dex was not made a runner for no reason. He twists out of Todd's grasp and they end with Dex still in possession of his weapon and Todd pacing the far side of the room. It would perhaps be different if Todd truly intended to win this contest, but Dex's frustration grows more palpable as the moments pass, and Todd knows that every moment that does pass without the man actually firing his weapon exponentially decreases the likelihood of it happening.

Dex's weapon flicks away and Dex steps aside. "Get going." He gestures toward the open door.

Todd regards him. Is this another test, where he will be struck down attempting to effect an escape? But Dex is a warrior of the same nature as Sheppard- forthright and not given to the first betrayal. Todd can see in the hallway that his usual guards are lying on the ground. He can sense their life; they are unconscious, not dead.

So, Todd steps forward, moving into the hallway. He pauses at the intersection of a larger hallway, but Dex moves past him, long legs devouring the distance as he moves through the halls, his weapon ever at the ready. Todd follows him.

The halls are silent. The only humans he sees are lying still, also unconscious. His eyes return to Dex often. What is this? "Did Sheppard send you?" Todd asks, seeking some ground in this upheaval of everything he'd thought he'd come to know about these humans.

"No," is the clipped answer. Dex pauses, turning back to scowl at Todd. "But he might've if he knew."

Todd returns the scowl. Nothing is made clear by this response, except that Dex believes that Sheppard would approve of his errand; which leads Todd to believe that this is indeed an attempt to provide him a timely escape from Atlantis’ military.

Dex opens the last door to reveal they have arrived at the room containing the portal of the ancestors. He pulls something from his pocket and throws it to Todd, who catches it out of the air. Todd grins when it reveals itself to be the hand stunner he'd used and then discarded upon the Daedalus. "You used this upon these men?" He gestures around them. "And you did it to free me. They will not forgive this."

Dex is silent, making his way to the portal control device. Todd does not see the symbols that he engages, and Dex watches at the portal forms. He flicks his eyes to Todd before returning them to the portal. "That’s none of your damn business." He jerks his head toward the portal.

Todd grins and turns to step through it, wondering where the man has sent him.

Chapter Text

 

It had not been a productive morning.

After finally falling asleep trying to catch up on all the reports he’d missed, John had woken early and without feeling rested. The day had continued in a vein of frustration as all of John's attempts to get himself reinstated into the actual day to day running of Atlantis in even the slightest way had been stonewalled. Caldwell had pretty much ordered him to get the hell out of his sight, Keller had said something about needing more bloodwork in another twelve hours and then passed him off to an intern- who'd managed to locate his coat that he'd won in that card game, which was nice to have back but kind of incidental- and when John had turned to bugging Rodney instead, Rodney had thrown his hands up and said, "Will you take this and let me work?"

And that had led to Todd, the only truly good thing about the day.

 

When he and Todd take leave of their mental retreat, Sheppard lies on his bed for a while, soaking in the afterglow. He can feel the shreds of Todd's presence still hanging around him. He touches his neck, amazed to find no mark there because part of him is still riding the thrill of ecstasy that had Todd sinking his teeth in as he moaned; John feels like his tongue should feel raw from cutting itself on Todd's teeth when they kissed with reckless abandon, but it doesn't.

Eventually, he rouses himself enough to stumble to the shower and let the frustrations of the day wash off him, before falling back into a contented sleep.

 

 

Sheppard is woken abruptly by a pounding on his door.

It's only been a few hours; he rolls from his bed feeling like he has a hangover and answers his door in something of a daze.

It's Caldwell at the door, which grounds John in the present. "Colonel," he begins, but Caldwell crowds him to the side of the door and two marines sweep past him, methodically searching Sheppard's quarters. "What the hell?" John allows his annoyance to the fore because he's not fully awake yet.

Caldwell's eyes come to rest on Sheppard, tight with what John can only assume is anger. "How'd you do it?"

"What?" Sheppard asks, less like a question and more like an accusation in itself.

"Don't lie to me, Lieutenant Colonel. How'd you do it, and where is he?"

Sheppard has just enough control left to not escalate this further. "Colonel Caldwell, respectfully, what are you talking about?"

Caldwell is staring at him. The marines searching his quarters file back out the door and one reports, "It's not here, and no sign of the device." 

It's the tight disdain on the casually dismissive pronoun that clues John in. "Todd. You're looking for Todd." It hits him what that means. "He's gone?" Something happy rips through him, but he manages, barely, to turn it into believable consternation instead.

Caldwell regards him through narrowed eyes. "So it would seem. He had another one of those devices on him that he used to take my ship." The last two words are clipped in a way that tells Sheppard that Caldwell's still annoyed about that. "Apparently he used it to stun everyone in the gate room of the Beta Site and escape." He pauses before adding, "Ronon's not too happy about it."

John leans on the doorframe, glad it's there to hold him up. "Casualties?"

"None," Caldwell replies grudgingly.

John nods. "Thanks for telling me." He glances around. "Or, I guess, for suspecting me of collusion," he adds sardonically.

"Sheppard," Caldwell starts, but John waves away the protest.

"It's fine, I get it. I'm the obvious suspect; I wanted him released, and I've made some noise about it to a couple of people."

Caldwell huffs a breath. The marines have moved down the hallway and are out of earshot. "I didn't suspect you," is what Caldwell says finally, before he turns to leave. John sees him join the marines before the door slides shut behind him.

John manages to move from the doorway to sitting on the end of his bed, but he doesn't remember how it happens because there's a lot to unpack from the last few minutes.

Someone had to have helped Todd escape. John knew everything Todd had had on him when they'd come through the gate together and one of the Wraith stunning devices that he'd used to take the Daedalus had not been one of those things. The particular one he'd used on the Daedalus is, supposedly, in the science department somewhere, being studied. Did McKay slip it to Todd, along with the earpiece? Caldwell had said that Ronon was at the Beta Site. Why? It seems beyond believing that Ronon had been behind any sort of plan to free Todd, or (no offense, he loved the guy) any plan whatsoever that had zero casualties, even among their own men. And Caldwell, according to his admission, had come and "accused" John just to relay this information to him.

Sheppard wonders suddenly if Caldwell was the one who organized Todd's escape, but that seems only slightly more insane than Ronon being behind it.

Jumping up, Sheppard starts pacing. What if it wasn't an escape? What if someone planned it to look that way, and instead... Sheppard closes his eyes and tries to reach out mentally to touch Todd. He's too anxious to make it work, and he casts around for something to help him settle his thoughts, catching sight of the mirror from the corner of his eye. He goes into the washroom and leans on the sink, looking at his face in the mirror. Todd had done this prior to laying the connection- and how uneasy had that been? As much as he trusted that Todd wasn't planning anything nefarious, giving up control of his body had not been a fun experience. But staring at his face in the mirror doesn't help, and John paces back out to his room, casting around helplessly. "Focus, John," he growls under his breath, and then it hits him- Todd hadn't been looking in the mirror, he'd been staring at Sheppard.

John sits on the edge of the bed again, hands on his knees as he closes his eyes and pictures Todd's face. He looks at it, into it, through it, and there he finds it: the mental room where he'd stuck his tongue so far into Todd's feeding hand that they'd both humped each other like teenagers getting off on the sensation. The gate address that Todd had given him is still written on the wall and John moves to touch it. Otherwise the place is empty; Todd isn't here. "But he must be okay," John muses out loud to himself in this place. He turns to face the empty room. "You're okay, right Todd? Otherwise this place wouldn't exist. Because you made it." That's not really satisfying, without Todd being here for John to see for himself. "You'd better be okay."

"Sheppard." John whirls around and Todd is standing behind him, frowning. He reaches for John. "What is wrong?"

John takes his hand, grinning. "Nothing, I-"

He cuts himself off because as soon as he answers, Todd vanishes. And John gets it. "I get it, you're busy. Don't worry about me." He smiles and casts around, but it's not like there's anything to write with lying around. But it's a mental room, so hey, he'll make something up. Under the gate address written on the wall, Sheppard writes, Just wanted to make sure you were okay.

He leaves the mental plane and returns to his body. He feels lightheaded, and ravenous, but absent the throbbing headache that had been present the previous times when he'd tried to touch his mind to Todd's. "Definitely an improvement."

It's been at least twelve hours, he thinks, since he last bugged Keller and he's too restless to sleep. John moves to the door to find that Caldwell has left a guard on him.

The marine snaps to attention as the door opens, and John pauses to regard him. The young man has an air of anticipation about him, like he's not sure if John's going to give him trouble.

John feels a hell of a lot less anxious now that he's not worried about Todd, and he smiles easily at the young soldier. "Second Lieutenant Alvarez," he reads the man's rank and name. He gestures to the hallway. "I'm reporting in to Doctor Keller."

Alvarez nods and quirks a relieved smile. "Yes, sir, Colonel." He straightens his posture, like he knows Sheppard is trying to figure out what he's doing here. "I'm just supposed to make sure no one gives you any trouble, sir," he says.

Sheppard nods to him. "Well, let's go then."

He wonders if he's gotten Wraith levels of paranoid or if there is an interplay of power going on in Atlantis that he hadn't previously realized. Keller is pretending he's sicker than he is. Woolsey is lying to the IOA; well, John's not sure about him- maybe he just believes Keller's reports? And Caldwell... even Caldwell seems to be trying to be supportive as long as he can do it without there being evidence of it, "interrogating" John when Todd escapes and leaving him as "guard" a fresh-faced newbie whom Sheppard is pretty sure he could browbeat into doing whatever he wanted.

 


 

 

When he reaches the infirmary, John spots Keller immediately through the low-key bustle.

She brightens to see him, waving him to come over to a bed near where she's standing. "I was wondering if I would need to send someone to fetch you, but you came to me." She smiles. "I just want to do some follow up bloodwork. Have you eaten?"

He answers her questions, his guard falling in easily near the door and out of hearing range so that John can mutter under his breath, "I'm fine. I don't need any bloodwork. There's nothing wrong with me."

Keller smiles again, the expression this time tighter and more forced. "Shut up," she tells him. "And let me do my job."

Sheppard huffs. "Your job is to treat healthy people?"

"No, it's to keep you in this galaxy." She stabs him with the needle less gently than she could probably, but deftly, so there's no need for a second assault. John barely notices because it's amazing just to hear someone admit it.

"You know I expect something like this from Rodney," John hisses at her.

"You don't think you have other friends?" Keller gives him an amused look.

"Didn't think Caldwell was one of them."

"Hmm." Keller fills a vial with blood and withdraws the needle, pressing a gauze pad to the inside of his arm and tilting his elbow up. "Caldwell wasn't at the meeting," she muses.

"Who was?"

She gives John a pointed look. "You're not supposed to know it exists."

He makes a face. He would ask her another question, but Ronon walks in.

John doesn't look at him or try to engage, but Ronon's looking for Keller so he scans the infirmary and then walks right over to them.

He holds out a tablet to Keller. "For you," he says.                                 

"Oh! Thank you." She takes it and bends her head to it eagerly.

Ronon looks at John.

John smiles faintly and says, "Hey. You okay? I heard there was some excitement at the Beta Site."

Ronon nods. He's Ronon, so John's not really expecting a verbal answer in addition to a gesture, but Ronon slides a look at Keller and says, "Doctor Cole checked out everyone from the Beta Site."

Keller is ignoring them and scowling at the tablet. "Something is wrong with it," she mutters. John can see, over her arm, that the text is written in Wraith language.

It's unexpected, so he reaches to turn the screen toward him. "It's written in Wraith," he tells Keller. He looks at her, then to Ronon, then back to the tablet. It's not like he can feel a telepathic connection still attached to the inanimate object or anything, but he has to rub his thumb over the surface anyway and say, "Todd did this."

Keller makes a noise in the back of her throat like a groan. "I thought he was being too helpful." She pulls the tablet back with a frown. "I'll see if Rodney can translate it back." She pauses and turns back to John. "You can't... Can you read it?"

He shakes his head. He doesn't think it'll be helpful to mention that the only symbol he really recognizes is the one that features prominently in the tattoo across Todd's shoulder.

Keller leaves him there, with Ronon. John supposes he's done with the reason that he came to the infirmary, but he remains seated on the bed, waiting for Ronon to leave first.

But Ronon stands there. He's not looking at John anymore, just standing with his arms folded, scowling slightly, staring at something that isn't there.

After the silence has started to grow uncomfortable, Ronon says, "I need to tell you something."

John shifts his weight. "Okay."

Ronon takes a deep breath. "The day the Wraith came for Sateda, my Taskmaster Kell..." He trails off. John can see him mentally backing up the story. "A Taskmaster teaches you everything. You train with him, for years. You learn from him. You... There is no closer bond." The last is said almost satirically, as if he's quoting someone. "The day the Wraith came for Sateda, Kell ordered thousands to their death just to save himself. He should have been down with the divisions he commanded, but instead the traitor took his staff and just ran. I heard he was trading on Belkan when I went there with Teyla, and I met with him and shot him dead." Ronon falls silent.

"I'm sorry," John says, fully aware the words aren't enough. "I've been let down by officers before, but I've never... I can't imagine what that must have been like."

Ronon blinks at him, like he'd forgotten John was even there, then he looks away. "I thought I knew him," he says with an edge to his voice that reminds John just how young he is. Ronon shakes his head, like it takes him a moment to return to the present. "I figured, if someone I thought I knew turned out to be worthless, then maybe something I thought was worthless..." He shrugs, and John feels a frisson of awareness run up his spine. It was Ronon, who'd released Todd.

"Ronon," John says, but Ronon shakes his head to silence John, and leans his hands on the bed, next to John.

The movement brings them closer together, and Ronon's words are softer as he says, "It was Woolsey's idea."

John inhales sharply; so Woolsey is in on it.

Ronon shrugs again, and grins. "He said I could shoot the Wraith if he tried anything.  But..." Ronon frowns. "I knocked out the soldiers. The guards who'd been talking shit to me about him not five minutes ago. All the bodies just lying there on the ground, me the only thing between him and a meal. And he didn't even try." Ronon stands up straighter. "He could've taken me, probably. I know..." Ronon scowls, "I'm still not... I'm weaker than I was, before Tesmer."

John's trying not to breathe loudly and draw attention to them. "He wouldn't," he says. "Todd wouldn't feed on them. They're Atlantis and Atlantis is my hive. You only feed on hive as a last resort."

Ronon's lip curls in derision, but he nods.

"Ronon." Sheppard isn't sure how to say it, so he just leaves it at, "Thank you. "

Ronon's eyes are distant, Todd obviously not the thing weighing most heavily on his mind. "Teyla said not to tell you. That your people wouldn't understand, about Kell."

"Um, yeah. I wouldn't put anything like that in any report if I were you. It was probably good not to tell me when I was your CO; definitely don't tell Woolsey, or Caldwell. They'd have to report it, and try to figure out how to discipline you according to our rules. But, I... I don't know if I understand, but I know you did what you felt you had to do." John reaches out, almost hesitantly, but rests his hand on Ronon's arm, squeezing it. "I know you, Ronon." It feels like not enough, because Ronon had thought that he knew this guy Kell, so he continues, "I know you like to run in without thinking sometimes," Ronon rolls his eyes, "but I know you always do what you know has to be done."

Ronon looks at him, his arm turning under John's hand until his large fingers can close around John's arm in a return grip. He nods sharply, and then he releases Sheppard and leaves the infirmary so fast John can only stare after him.

 

John makes his way to the mess hall. He was ravenous before Keller drained his blood, and he starts eating the fruit he picks up before he even finds a table. He gestures for Lieutenant Alvarez to grab something too and sit with him. It's fairly empty, and John wonders what time it is; he's gotten out of the habit of caring beyond too dark to see the ground in front of us, but in spite of this morning's frustrations he should probably get back on a schedule.

Alvarez is too eager to stand on his training and easily takes the seat. "Sir," he asks, "I heard you escaped being held captive by the Wraith."

Sheppard frowns at him. "Not really."

Alvarez frowns. "Sir?"

"I wasn't held captive by the Wraith," he explains. "I was a prisoner of Michael's, and then after that I was marooned for a while with a Wraith named Todd."

To his credit, Alvarez chews on that for a minute. Sheppard uses that minute to shove food in his mouth.

Finally, Alvarez comes back with, "How did you survive being marooned?"

John swallows, and says, "Well, we were stuck there right? So we depended on each other to get out of it. And that worked out for both of us."

Alvarez blinks. "From what I've heard about the Wraith, sir," he begins hesitantly, "I wouldn't trust one to honor a deal like that."

John sighs. "With an attitude like that, he probably wouldn't trust you either. So, the galaxy would stay exactly the same."

Alvarez blinks again. He's so lost in thought that he doesn't notice Major Teldy approaching their table until she clears her throat.

Alvarez jerks in awareness, and shoots to his feet, snapping to attention and spluttering, "Major! Ma'am, I'm sorry, I-"

She holds up a hand to silence him and says, voice deceptively amused, "Enjoying yourself, Lieutenant?"

"Ma'am, the Colonel invited me to join him, and I-"

"Did you need something, Major?" Sheppard interrupts. Yes, the Lieutenant is still technically on duty and shouldn't be seated, or chatting casually with his duty. But Sheppard invited him, and if the kid's going to get heat for it Sheppard will take as much of it as he can.

Teldy turns her gaze to him, amused, like she's fully aware of what he's doing and if this was her command it wouldn't fly. "Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard," she enunciates, "the delegation from the SGC and the IOA has arrived and would like to meet with you as soon as possible."

"Thank you, Major," John says. Teldy nods to him and departs, with a parting piercing look for Alvarez.

John frowns at the wall, looking for a clock. It's dark outside the windows. "It's gotta be the middle of the night. How can they want to meet now?" he grouses mostly to himself.

Alvarez clears his throat. "Sir, it's about nineteen hundred."

John maintains his frown. So it’s not that late but this is not exactly standard behavior for military brass.

Alvarez shifts his weight. "I will escort you to the meeting, sir."

John sighs. "Of course."

 

 

He learns the delegation is waiting in the conference room on the floor above the Control Room. John comes up the stairs, so he passes by Woolsey's office and is surprised to see General O'Neill talking to Woolsey and Caldwell. Is General O'Neill supposed to be part of his review board? That's... kind of ironic, since O'Neill is half the reason he even got on the Atlantis Expedition in the first place.

In the conference room, three people are seated at the far side of the table. The woman seated on the end nearest him rises to greet him. "Hello, Colonel Sheppard. I am Ambassador Shen." She gestures to her companions. "This is Representative LaPierre, and Doctor Saikou." She smiles pleasantly. "We have read the debrief you submitted and have just a few more questions about your time away from Atlantis." John's vaguely familiar with Xiaoyi Shen and Jean LaPierre as members of the IOA committee, but Doctor Saikou must be new to the Stargate Program because she does not look familiar. She smiles at him politely; her blonde hair is pulled back neatly but her eyes are dark and piercing.

John smiles at them tightly. "We aren't waiting for General O'Neill?"

Shen's smile also tightens into something barely describable as such. "The General won't be joining us, by his own wishes." She nods to the far end of the table where Doctor Saikou sits. "Tatyana is here to represent the interests of the SGC. I myself represent the IOA."

She doesn't mention LaPierre, so John wonders what the hell he's doing here; while Atlantis is under the direction of the IOA, John isn't, so it's a little odd that this debrief is being conducted by people who aren't military. John does have a sinking suspicion in the pit of his stomach when Shen says that O'Neill won't be joining them; whatever the final arbitration is going to be, it's already been decided and this hearing is only some formality.

It becomes very clear early on in the interrogation, because that's what it really is, that Doctor Saikou is convinced that Sheppard needs an intense psychological examination and an extended leave on Earth. LaPierre is passionately interested in whatever outcome of this session makes Woolsey end up looking stupid and wavers in and out of agreeing with Saikou. Shen is probably John's best bet for someone honestly paying attention to what he's saying, as she seems both open minded and intelligent, but she holds her opinions close in the face of her outspoken colleagues and he has no idea what she thinks of his story.

"I believe that Todd is as invested in this gene therapy as we are," John says for what feels like the fifth time.

"But why did he attack and escape the Beta Site if he wishes to help with this research?" LaPierre asks, loudly.

"Maybe because we weren't letting him actually do anything," John grits back. He thinks he sees Shen cover a smile at the corner of her mouth.

"You seem to have changed your opinion of the Wraith quite a lot since you spent several months trapped with this one," Doctor Saikou observes.

"As I mentioned in my report," John says, "Todd and I have been on again off again allies since we met, three years ago. Through our interactions I've come to learn that he is as trustworthy as we are." He bares his teeth in what could probably not be described as a smile.

Doctor Saikou frowns and makes notes on her notepad. John frowns. He's aware of the tactic; it's one that Woolsey had used, when he was the one who'd come to conduct Elizabeth's performance review. Getting upset won't help John. "You have a strong affinity for this particular Wraith," Saikou observes. "Or is it Wraith in general?"

John takes a deep breath. "Even given our mostly less than positive interactions, I don't think we should write off the Wraith entirely as a possible source of allies."

"You want us to ally with them?" Shen questions. "When they are the predominant enemy of this galaxy?"

"We've used Goa'uld System Lords against each other before," Sheppard counters.

"But never trusted them." Shen narrows her eyes at him.

"I suppose," he allows.

When he pauses, Saikou worms her way back into being the one asking questions. "Would you concede that your history of insubordination would make you a less than useful contact point for the very alliances you propose?"

John stiffens. "I would not."

She eyes him. "How do you expect us to establish lasting relationships with worlds in this galaxy when even your own people can't trust you to follow orders?"

"I fail to understand what that has to do with recent events," John manages after a few moments of clenching his jaw in an effort to keep from shouting at her.

"You do?" Saikou makes a note in her notepad. "You are the second Military Commander that Atlantis has lost to the Wraith, but you are not deceased as of yet. Should Colonel Caldwell be concerned that he will be the third, to make way for your return?"

John feels his mouth fall open soundlessly, and he can hear expressions of shock from Shen and LaPierre both. "I would never-" John swallows the words and clenches his hands into fists. "Colonel Caldwell is an excellent soldier who has commanded Atlantis before. I fully trust him to have taken over my position while I was unable to fulfill my duties."

Saikou only nods, accepting her colleagues' brief chastisement, and rallies with another question, "Do you then feel you should be reinstated as Military Commander of Atlantis, given your conflicted feelings?"

John narrows his eyes, really starting to lose his temper. "I am not the least bit conflicted about wanting to ensure that all the people of this galaxy, and most especially the members of this expedition, live without fear of being attacked by anyone."

Shen clears her throat and redirects. "What posting would you consider most appropriate, after having been the military commander of Atlantis?"

John reels back a bit, looking at her. He'd thought she was a bit more on his side than that. "I have no interest in leaving Pegasus."

Shen's eyes narrow with an avarice that says she understands that position.

"Are you saying that you will disregard the orders of your military if you are commanded to leave?" LaPierre sounds excited about that; John's pretty sure he's going to try to frame John's insurrection as Woolsey's fault.

"No, that's not what I'm saying." John takes a deep breath, because it's what he'd like to say, but he doesn't really want to get to that point. "I'm saying I think it would be better for everyone involved if I remained posted to Atlantis."

"As the military commander?" Shen cocks her head in interest.

John takes a deep breath. He's surprised that the thought doesn't hurt him as much as he thought it would when he says, "That is up to Mister Woolsey and Colonel Caldwell."

And it's a comfort, to know that for all he has to play nice, ultimately he is not under their jurisdiction. Woolsey is their appointment to Atlantis, and Sheppard answers to Woolsey, but after that to General Landry, and General O'Neill, and not to the IOA itself. Doctor Saikou apparently works directly with the SGC, and her report could still get him reassigned- and even the IOA could try to make it happen- but it makes him feel better realizing that these people aren't going to directly decide his fate.

"I think we're done here," Ambassador Shen says finally.  LaPierre grumbles. Saikou makes a last note on her notepad.

As if on cue, General O'Neill steps in the door. John stands to attention. "Return trip to Earth leaves in twenty," O'Neill says tersely. "Doctor Saikou, I know you already requested to remain until the next scheduled contact. Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard, a word." He leaves, and Sheppard follows.

O'Neill leads him to Woolsey's empty office and closes the door behind them. O'Neill looks a bit haggard, and John suddenly notices the third star on his insignia.

"Congratulations, General, on your promotion."

O'Neill waves it away. "Sorry to leave you to the wolves as it were, but I was having... a more important conversation." He looks like he's about to make a decision that doesn't sit well with him.

"General," John says, not really sure where he'd going with it but feeling compelled to make the attempt.

"Yes?" O'Neill says, interested. He leans on the edge of Woolsey's desk, his arms folded as he looks at Sheppard.

John inhales. "I... I would like the chance to prove to you that I'm more useful to the Stargate Program in the Pegasus Galaxy than back on Earth."

"Would you now." O'Neill mulls it over before saying, "I should tell you that I had a long talk with Mister Woolsey."

He's already at attention, but John stiffens.

O'Neill sighs. "I don't understand it, but Woolsey likes you. And, I've been around long enough that I have to agree."

"Sir?" John says warily.

"I think you're right, you belong in Pegasus." His eyes are heavy on Sheppard and his hands have moved to the desk's top, gripping it and tapping sharply against the hard surface. "Woolsey doesn't want to give you up to Landry, and Homeworld Command will support him on that. You'll have to work something out with Caldwell though, because I won't reassign him unless he asks for it." His fingers press tightly against the desk, as if he's about to push off of it and launch himself into flight. "While you're here," O'Neill says casually, "I'd appreciate it if your new friend would drop us a communique if he knows anything about the Daedalus."

"He didn't attack the Daedalus," John jumps in to defend Todd, but has to modify it with, "This time."

O'Neill nods. "I believe that, because I'm asking you to ask him to find it," he reminds Sheppard.

John nods. "We'll find her, sir."

He means the ship, but from the narrowed glare the General shoots him he can tell that the commander of the vessel is of greater importance to him. John wouldn't disagree.

 

O'Neill, Shen, and LaPierre depart through the wormhole back to Earth. Doctor Saikou is staying, for a while apparently, and she lurks around the edges of Operations watching Sheppard.

It's unnerving. Lieutenant Alvarez notices her and sticks close to John as they leave Operations.

"Thanks," John says to him as they walk down the hall.

Alvarez's lip twitches in a grin. "Just doing my job, Colonel."

Chapter Text

 

Todd steps through the portal and finds himself on a planet, an open area before the portal leading to dense forest. It does not look familiar. Grey sunlight falls over him, and he moves toward the treeline.

But he's barely reached the nearest cover when the portal whirls to life again, this time discharging a series of Wraith fighter ships. The familiar whine of them shrieking through the air makes Todd grin in pleasure.

His first order of business is to feed. If there are other Wraith here then it is a proven feeding ground, and Todd moves through the forest in search of the human population.

It does not take long to find what he seeks. He can hear the sound of struggling, and screams of anger and fear. He moves toward the sound.

Stepping out from the trees, Todd finds a small collection of structures suggestive of a single human homestead. He moves around a long, low building that houses beasts of burden and finds what he seeks.

Before the open door of a dwelling a large man is holding a young woman by the hair. The young woman is beating at him ineffectively with her fists, her face contorted in a wordless snarl, while another, older woman strikes at the man with a wooden implement of some kind, her cries of rage rising as she does so. Two more men come up behind the woman who is attacking and grab her by the arms.

"There's no time!" one of the latter men says. "The Wraith have come!"

"My daughter," the woman cries, the rage still evident in her voice. "I may have put up with you skulking around my farm, Bretin, but I won't let you harm Elynara!"

Todd descends upon them swiftly. The young woman sees him, her eyes rounding with fear, but she does not call out a warning to the others; they are all looking at the other woman. Todd reaches with his left had to grab the man who has hold of the young woman and breaks his wrist so that he releases the woman. She scrambles away and the man cries out in alarm and pain. Todd slams him bodily into the ground, brings up his right hand to affix it to the man's chest, and drinks of his life.

The feeding is so pleasurable- the fire of his hunger, long banked, finally sated. He shivers, gasping, when he is done. And looks up. The other two men have fled- though, from the commotion within the trees they did not get far. The woman and the younger woman are crouched not far away, staring at him in horror.

Wraith warriors break through the trees and Todd stands to meet them.

They range around the homestead and regard him warily. He is Wraith, but not of their hive, and they are confused by his presence. Not hive, you feel... different, the first warrior observes, the others offering a murmuring agreement in their minds, and Todd shivers; he remembers what Sheppard had said of their use of the retrovirus on Michael: the other Wraith rejected him afterward.

But Todd feels fully himself and he is not about to take no for an answer. You will take me to your hive, he tells the warriors. I wish to meet your queen.

The warriors chafe at his highhandedness, but in the end they are pleased by this demand; queens are to be served, so meeting one is of course the highest desire. They move to seize the two women who are trying to scramble away. Todd can see that the older woman is in shock, the younger one pulling at her and refusing to leave without her. The younger woman's eyes are wary on Todd while sparing a look for the warrior's featureless masks.

"No," Todd says, aloud for the sake of the humans, holding up a hand in a restraining gesture toward the warriors. "Leave them." He adds for the warriors, They are mine. Go ahead and I will meet you later, to go to your queen.

The warriors are disgruntled by this order, but Todd has experience with commanding their ilk and they obey.

Todd crouches across from the women and peers at them. The older one is startled out of her paralysis and pushes the younger behind her. "Do not harm her," she begs. The younger woman pulls at her mother's arm and says softly, "Ma," her tone sharp with fear and displeasure.

"Peace," Todd says. "Go inside your dwelling and none will disturb you."

The older woman gapes at him. "Why?"

That is an excellent question. Taking a moment to think about it now, Todd realizes the young woman reminds him of Sheppard. She is strong before him, prepared to meet him with whatever weapon lies in her meager possession- just as she was calm in the face of her attacker, taking whatever advantage she could, such as not warning the others of Todd's approach. "For Sheppard," he says. "If you meet with the people of Atlantis you may tell them such. I do not control this hive, but your lives I can promise you, in honor of Sheppard."

The women stare at him, but the elder finally yields to her daughter and allows herself to be pulled into the dwelling rather than attempting to run further into the forest. Todd drags the dead man across the threshold to ensure the dwelling looks to have already been stripped of what it offered. The culling has been quick, and is mostly over by the fading of the sound of fighters in the sky, so he trusts that they will not be disturbed.

 

Making his way through the trees, Todd comes to the village center, where several Wraith and warriors are gathered. As they notice him he feels the open seeking of their mental touch. The officer in charge of the party turns to face him, pacing toward Todd belligerently.

Who are you? the officer asks him. His long hair is caught away from his face and he has a marking of swirled lines that stretches from his forehead over his right eye all the way down to disappear under his collar. His right hand is raised in threat. The question contains, in the way that only telepathic speech can, the overlay of questions- where do you come from, what queen do you serve- all of which are a part of his identity.

It's been awhile since he had to negotiate with an unknown Wraith, but Todd has rather a long, successful history to draw upon, and something of an instinct for it.

I am no one, Todd replies. I come from nowhere, he adds, to let them infer that he is hiveless and has been stranded upon this planet for a while; this should also hopefully help to camouflage anything about him that feels... un-Wraith-like. I have no queen. And it is even easier to let his grief at the death of a former queen color his thoughts and drown out all else.

The officer is still suspicious, but the other Wraith and the warriors reach out to him in sympathy with the hivesense and wrap him in the sense of belonging.

Todd rocks back on his heels for a moment, eyes closed, because it's been so long, he is too distant from his own hive to be wrapped in the comfort of their presence, and not even Sheppard and the warmth of his regard can fill him like this. For all his trying, Sheppard is still human and clings to his individual autonomy, not comprehending the necessity and totality of hivesense.

The remaining Wraith are swept up in a ship's beam as the ships return back through the portal. Rematerialized at the hive, the other Wraith eagerly welcome Todd to join them in feeding in celebration of a successful cull. Todd is swept up in their feelings of pleasure. They tell him about their queen, who is called the Devourer.

The current commander of this vessel is actually the ship's Second-in-command; the Commander has gone with the Queen aboard another vessel. The Second is a Wraith who is small of stature but whose eyes are quick and bright and whose claws are ready and sharp. He greets Todd with a restrained but welcoming, You are now joined to the greater cause of our queen, odd one. Todd only bows his head in acknowledgement, though it has the added benefit of allowing him to not have to meet the other's gaze.

She is the queen of many hives, one Wraith standing nearby tells him.

You will see, being in her presence will take this oddness and loneliness from you, another assures him.

She is finding us a rich, new feeding ground, yet another says. We will devour all.

She does not fear the Lantean humans, says a third, and Todd listens with interest. She has struck at their mighty ship and taken it from them.

The Wraith all hum in pleasure at the great accomplishments of their queen.

Where is the queen? Todd doesn't even have to fake his eagerness. I wish to meet her.

Soon, soon, they assure him. We must go to where she is.

Todd had felt the hive entering hyperspace, and he nods contentedly at this answer.

One of the things he recalls from before he had encountered Michael is that he and his own allies had been attempting to discover more information about this confederation of other hives; he finds it amusing that now he is delivered the information he sought by none other than Ronon Dex. Though he had not known their queen was called the Devourer; that is an ambitious name, and troubling for his allies.

Something brushes at the back of his mind, and Todd thinks of Sheppard. He narrows his eyes. Sheppard is in their mental room; he can feel it.  Todd leans back against the wall of the hive and closes his eyes, picturing Sheppard, reaching through him and in. "Sheppard? What is wrong?"

Sheppard turns to face him, smiling, warm and pleased. "Nothing. I-"

The Wraith beside him touches Todd's arm. Todd jerks back with a snarl, pulled back into his own space.

The Wraith withdraws, startled into a snarl himself.

Todd shakes himself. Peace. I was... searching. It is not uncommon for Wraith who have lost queen, or brothers, to reach for them mentally and forget why they cannot be touched.

The other Wraith closes his eyes in sympathy.

Todd takes a moment to observe him. He is identified in the hive as Fifth Science Officer, and bears a spray of curled lines like the petals of a flower on his right cheek. He gestures for Todd to follow him deep into the hive. Todd makes a sound of pleasure when he realizes the science officer is leading him past the upper quarters and toward the main communal sleeping chamber. They pass the chamber and, as expected, in the next passage over there is a room containing articles of clothing.

You have been long among humans, the science officer says, not commenting directly on Todd's somewhat ragged appearance.

Todd grins ruefully and answers the Wraith in the affirmative; he turns his thoughts toward his time with the Genii to protect his more recent actions from detection.

The science officer hisses in dismay at Todd’s misfortune. You are welcome here. If you please, he says, gesturing to the garments in the room, indicating Todd should take what he wishes.

I do. Todd pulls a tunic from the pile though has to search a bit before he finds leather trousers that suit him. His boots are his own- the ones he originally was "given" by Michael, after they has been taken from him. The hooded coat he keeps; he can still catch the scent of Sheppard in the lining.

There are other Wraith moving around the halls of the hive, and when he and his guide move on to the next room, the washing room, they are not alone. There are several other Wraith making use of the facility, white hair and pale greenish limbs flashing under the falling water.

Todd strips and joins them, the Fifth Science Officer joining them as well. Todd may not precisely trust these Wraith on this hive, but participating in these traditional communal acts, bathing and sleeping, is one way that Wraith build the hivesense. It would be far too suspect to refuse, and the fall of water cleansing his skin does engender a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure.

It is not something he had noticed before, but here, among other Wraith, Todd does see that Michael’s transformation has left some marks on him. They are small and mainly seem to be results of pigmentation differences. Instead of a solid dark keratin, his fingernails are slightly paler near the root in a vague half-moon. His beard is still a different color than his hair, slightly greyer than pure white. And, as for vestigial mammalian features that Wraith still bear, his nipples are now surrounded by slightly darker skin.

The differences are slight enough that Todd doesn't think the others notice anything out of the ordinary. He has established his history of being separated from his hive well enough that he is permitted some eccentricity when he keeps mostly to himself. The other Wraith only surround him with the hivesense, and he is pleased to not be alone.

After they are washed, and two Wraith pick the knots out of Todd's hair and brush it smooth while the Fifth Science Officer watches in amusement as he trims his shortened left thumbnail, they leave the washing area and Todd puts on his new clothes. The soft, sleeveless tunic with the lacing up the sides is both familiar and comfortable and Todd wears it gladly. He holds the coat to his nose before he slips it on; he is trustful enough of these Wraith that he lowers his guard for a moment and steps into his and Sheppard’s mental room.

Sheppard is not there but he left words written on the wall: Just wanted to make sure you were okay. Todd frowns. Was Dex not enough of a friend to assure Sheppard of his part in Todd's escape, or had Sheppard not trusted his words? In the flash of a moment that Todd had seen him earlier before he had been pulled away, Sheppard had seemed well, and truly pleased to see him, but Todd hesitates now. Here, back among his brethren, if not his true brothers, he feels a... a rightness that almost makes his connection with Sheppard feel more outrageous. He does not feel that it diminishes Sheppard in any way, but he wonders if Sheppard has felt the same only stronger, now that he has returned to his own true brothers. Todd hesitates for a long moment before he writes a response beneath Sheppard's words.

The Fifth Science Officer is waiting for him when he finishes dressing. Are you weary? he asks. The communal sleeping chamber is on this level, and on the level above are smaller chambers, usually for the use of officers or the rare Wraith in search of privacy.

But Todd shakes his head. I wish to know the moment we arrive, he replies, his eagerness palpable.

The science officer nods. Of course. We are close; it will be soon.

He points Todd back up to the meeting room off the bay, and then deserts him, intent upon finding a particular hivebrother. Todd wishes him well in his quest, and rubs his own left thumbnail against the inside of the forefinger beside it.

 

Todd enters the meeting room to find other Wraith there, eager to reunite with their queen. Among them is the officer who lead the culling party. Todd leans against the wall and observes.

After some moments he is approached by another Wraith; the hivesense does not share his position in the hive. Newcomer, the Wraith says standing easily beside Todd, but not too close. I saw you command the warriors on the planet. I can sense that you have commanded hives before. He looks away, faking nonchalance. You would be a better commander here than the Devourer's Second. You could be the one to bring a hive full of food to our queen. It will assure you a place with us, even with your strangenesses.

Todd smiles, a slow curl of lip. It is possible that the observation is made in earnest, but he has been on this hive for less than one culling; it is far more likely that this Wraith intends to incite Todd into challenging the Second and then assume command himself when they have removed each other from competition. An interesting observation, Todd replies evenly without giving any indication of complying or being interested.

The Wraith scowls at him, baring teeth in an unwelcoming hiss. He has a series of sharply etched chevrons marked across his right cheek. He seems about to make a comment when the hive leaves hyperspace.

Todd smiles to feel it; being planetbound he has missed traveling in a hive, that sentient connection between ship and Wraith. Without bridge instruments of course he cannot know anything particular about their course or location, but the hive tells them what the hive is doing. Perhaps telling isn't the correct word- they are aware of each other.

Todd pushes away from the wall where the Wraith with the chevrons is standing and moves toward where the Second has just entered. The Second sees him and Todd feels the mental touch that says, Come with me, with the undertone, She wishes it.

Todd bows his head and follows the Second. He is not particularly pleased that the Wraith with the chevrons follows with them as well.

All told, ten Wraith move to a transport vessel and exit the hive. Todd positions himself at one of the instrument panels in the transport, and reads the information to discover where they are and, hopefully, what they are doing. He feels a frisson run down his spine as he recognizes the ship that shares orbit with the hive: it is the Daedalus.

He recollects what one of the Wraith has said about the Devourer taking the Lanteans' "mighty ship." He suppressed a grin; it's a ship he himself had already taken, and returned as being not worth its trouble.

The transport arrives in the ship's bay, and the Wraith depart, making their way down the Daedalus' metallic halls. The Second leads them to the queen.

 

The queen is located in what Todd believes is meant to be a room where humans gather to consume foodstuffs. There are tables that have been cleared out of the way, and two chairs have been torn apart and grafted back together to give the Devourer a somewhat appropriate throne. Todd would guess that she chose this room because of its size and the open view panels that show space outside; such panels are not a feature of hives, and would thus make for an impressive throne room- a throne room of import being a necessity on a ship that is quite a bit smaller than a true hive.

"I tire of this," the queen is saying as Todd enters behind the Second, his face lowered but his eyes scanning the room. "I wish my new primary ship to be fully under my control." The Devourer is a younger queen, perhaps a few thousand years, which might explain her ambition. Her hair is pulled back in a traditional and unremarkable style but a marking stands out from the pale flesh of her throat and collarbone and speaks of the extent of her avarice. She is flanked by four warriors and is faced by five other Wraith, four of whom stand well back from the one in the center who appears to be the one the queen is addressing. "You had enough control to bring the ship here, but now you say that you have lost this control. It sounds as though the incompetence of your hive is not limited to the commander who claimed that you were skilled and sent you to serve me."

"I apologize, my queen." The Wraith in the center has a thick dark slash of a marking through his left eye. He bows before her and the queen probably can’t see the hands pressed against his sides and hidden in his long coat that are clenched into fists. "The humans are regrettably clever. They disabled the sequence I entered to cut them off from the engine commands, and I have been unable to counter them as of yet."

The queen hisses in displeasure. "Of what use to me is a ship that my Wraith cannot even control?"

The Wraith with the slash hunches his shoulders against her vitriol and bows his head further to the ground, his hair falling around his face. He does not answer her question and the queen scoffs.

She turns her attention to the Second, her eyes flickering over Todd, joined by her mental touch. "What have you brought me?"

"My queen." The Second bows. "We found this Wraith when we culled to feed your hive. He is sworn to no hive."

Todd wraps himself in the misery of being without hive, and the gratefulness he feels to have been offered it again.

The queen sneers. "This? Wraith?" Her face scrunches in a scowl and she leans her head back, watching him from under half-lidded eyes as her sensory pits flare. "It has been touched by something… human."

He doesn't care, but Todd can certainly see how Michael would have felt under this kind of regard. "I have been long parted from my hive, long planet bound," Todd says to her. It’s not even a lie; the only real lie is the eagerness to serve her he lays under the words. Actually, if she doesn’t like him it might be better- she might leave him on the Daedalus, which she seems tempted to discard as worthless.

The queen stares at him and Todd has to force himself to let her mind roll over his without the fight he could give her. "You are old." She narrows her eyes. "I can feel it. The Ancient One did not send you, did she?"

Todd has to look down and shake his head; if he meets her eyes he might betray something he does not wish to betray. "My queen is dead," he says mournfully. He glances sideways and his gaze catches on that of the Wraith with the broad, dark slash on the left side of his face. Rather than the defeat Todd expects to see there, the Wraith's eyes are aflame with defiance. Todd thinks he can use this one. "I know much about the weapons of the Lanteans," Todd says. "Let me serve you, my queen."

She looks at him scornfully. "The Lanteans have changed, since the old war." She waves her hand. "But assist the Technician and perhaps I will not feed from you both." She rises from her makeshift throne. "I grow weary of this place." She takes the Technician's chin in her hand, her fingers caressing down his throat.

The Technician's eyes narrow, the left one unreadable behind the thick marking, but Todd sees a flare of displeasure in the tightening of the flesh around his right eye as the Technician tilts his head back and invites the queen's touch.

"Make this ship a tool in my arsenal," the queen says, "Or remove it from existence. Your hive’s position in my new order may depend on it." She pats his cheek.

"My queen," the Wraith with the chevrons steps forward. "It would be my pleasure to supervise the conclusion of the experiment of this vessel."

The queen eyes him, then waves a hand dismissively. "Very well. Come," she turns to the warriors flanking her. "Let my true Wraith return to a hive that knows how to treat its queen and we shall feed." She sweeps out of the room and down the hall toward the bay, followed by most of the Wraith, including the Second.

Once she is gone, the Technician snarls in rage. Todd can feel his sharp hunger- he is ravenous- and his displeasure that his queen would disregard the accomplishments he has attained so far and demand the impossible. The other Wraith in the room hiss in displeasure at his show of rage before they file out, intending to return to the hive with the queen. The Wraith with the chevrons eyes the Technician with disfavor.

Todd sidles over to the Technician. How may I assist? he asks.

The Technician turns to him with another snarl, then sweeps out of the room with as much drama as the queen had.

Todd follows him to engineering.

The Technician paces the open area of the floor. It is impossible! She demands that I take control of the ship, when her delay is what allowed the humans to gain the access that prevents me from doing so. He pauses to look with wistful rage at his right hand.

Todd glances back down the hall to find that the Wraith of the chevrons is still following Todd, and Todd's lip curls in a snarl. He reaches out to touch the Technician's mind. I know your value.

The Technician stops, turning to stare at Todd suspiciously.

I will feed you, Todd tells him. Will you take me as your Commander instead of the queen?

The Technician steps back, almost looking hopeful. The Ancient One did send you? he says.

Todd grins. And if it’s true?

The Technician stands taller. My previous commander believed that no one other than the Ancient One could stand against the Devourer.

If you speak of the Ancient One with such wistfulness coloring your tone, Todd observes, then you had better hope that I was sent here for that purpose. You have already near forsworn yourself before the rest of the hive in the queen's audience chamber.

The Technician draws himself up, shaking his long hair back.  My previous commander swore himself to the Devourer’s cause, not I, he snarls. I will serve the one who serves me.

Ahh, Todd says, pleased. Reciprocation is how a hive works. Too many of the young queens have forgotten, and too many hives are without proper leadership.

The Wraith of the chevrons walks into the room, his face dark. "You are plotting with the dissident, are you not, human-touched? Spy, and traitor!"

Todd grabs his arm and bends it behind him, forcing him to his knees, Todd's other hand buried in his hair and pulling his neck around until it's a hair's breadth from snapping. It happens so fast the other Wraith can only attempt to struggle to his feet, which Todd kicks out from under him. Take him, Todd says, looking at the Technician.

The Technician hesitates. I do not feed on hive.

Did you not reject allegiance to this hive? In any case, I have already determined to kill this one for his interference. Todd gives a mental shrug. I offer you his life so that there can be some use made of it. Todd's hands tighten in the Wraith's hair as the Wraith in his grasp snarls. He has made little enough use of the life given to him.

The Technician needs no further urging, slipping forward so quickly that Todd barely sees him move, he's just there. He fixes his hand on the other Wraith's chest and his mouth opens in pleasure as he feeds, moaning.

He pulls away when finished, and Todd lets the carcass drop to the floor. He reaches to cup the Technician's chin in a parody of the queen's earlier touch. I will serve you as you serve me, Todd warns him. Do not lie to me.

The Technician nods. I am fed. What would you have of me?

Tell me why you cannot control the ship.

The Technician snarls. "One of the humans has access to the ship's computer. She keeps changing the codes as soon as I gain control over them."

"Where are the humans?"

"They have retreated into two areas that we cannot access. Some are secluded in the secondary fighter bay, and they have barred the door against any intrusion. A smaller group is locked in a laboratory room near the bridge. I believe that is where the coder is countering my attempts; they had time to lock all the bridge computers and reroute command access through this laboratory where they are contained before I was allowed by the queen to access the systems." He shakes his head, half annoyance, half admiration. "I initially had propulsion but we have been unable to access any higher functions of the ship. There are two main weapons systems, in addition to propulsion and hyperdrive; we cannot even control the systems that would allow us to deprive the humans of air and remove the annoyance that way."

Todd pulls up the ship's schematic as the Technician talks, and he sees on the layout what the Technician refers to. "You say 'she'?"

"Their commander is a female. I believe she is also the coder."

"I may have met her before," Todd muses.

The Technician looks at him in question.

Of the Wraith left on the ship, how many would follow in rebellion from the Devourer? Todd asks him.

The Technician pauses. She has likely left warriors. She has many. They will not follow anyone other than their queen.

Todd curls his lip at this queen’s wastefulness in leaving her warriors; she does not rest easy in her power if she cannot trust her Wraith. They will be no issue.

The Technician looks doubtful, but continues. Other than the one here, she may have left other guards that I do not know. There are two other technical assistants. My hive felt that taking this ship was a hopeless endeavor. She has left us here now to fail and bear the cost of her mistake. I believe they will follow you. He eyes Todd.

Todd nods. "From this moment, you will kill no more humans upon this vessel."

The Technician nods slowly. Why? he asks hesitantly.

"We are about to ally with them, and they value the lives of their own; even more than hive, they value individuals."

The Technician scowls. "Yes, Commander." He adds, The others will not understand this.

Todd nods. "Will this be a problem for you?" Todd asks, genuinely interested.

"No." The Technician looks at him sidelong. "I am interested to meet this human that has been keeping one step ahead of me," he says. "I believe I could learn much."

Todd grins, letting his approval wash over the Technician mentally.

The Technician straightens slightly under his regard, then turns to lead the way to the bridge.

Chapter Text

 

The rolling, grassy plains of M6R-219 are not exactly threatening.

"Why did you need extra hands on this particular mission?" Sheppard asks Keller.

She smiles wryly. "We can dial back if you wanted to stay."

John shudders. Next to him, Lieutenant Alvarez also looks doubtful.

"That's what I thought. Pick up these boxes," Keller instructs. "Technically you shouldn't be here, but I suppose we can claim I'm doing medical research."

John snorts. He’s on suspension until he clears Keller's made-up medical tests, but someone had pressed a tac vest, P90, and full gear into his hands as he'd been herded toward the gate as a part of Keller's mission team. "I know it's late to ask," he says to the lieutenant, "but you got the inoculation, right, Alvarez?"

"Yes, Colonel," Alvarez replies as he picks up the other end of the box with a grin.

"The settlement is dead ahead, about a ten-minute walk," Keller encourages. Their party numbers twelve: two doctors, four medical support staff, Major Dorsey's recon team, and Sheppard and Alvarez. Sheppard and Alvarez take the heaviest of the equipment; Dorsey's team ranges around the group, alert and unencumbered, and the medical personnel carry the rest of it.

"They were hit by the new Kirsan virus?" Alvarez grunts at Keller in question.

"Yes," she reports gravely, continuing, as Alvarez and Sheppard weren't present for the same briefing the medical staff got, "We just got word- I can’t believe Michael’s been able to stay under our radar all this time." She shakes her head. "The virus has run its course mostly, but there are some outlying regions that we can vaccinate, and a few lingering cases in the settlement that I can treat."

They walk mostly in silence, though, as Keller promised, it's not a long journey. The people of the settlement are pleased to see Keller, and she greets them warmly.

Done carrying equipment, John takes a moment, his first since Doctor Saikou's arrival really, to just take a deep breath and relax. Alvarez even backs off and is chatting with Dorsey so John really feels like he has this moment and this space to himself.

He sits in the grass next to the largest of the boxes of supplies they hauled through the gate and closes his eyes. Taking another breath, he lies back, his hands under the back of his head as he lies on the grass. Damn, but that feels nice. He vaguely hears Alvarez tell Dorsey, "Don't think he even slept last night," but then the voices drift just far enough out of his hearing that they become part of the general background noise of the settlement.

John frowns. No, he hadn't slept much. Saikou had been after him since pretty much the moment after the Stargate had shut down behind General O'Neill, following John around and asking him if he was interested in continuing a more thorough questioning in a private session. John’s not too proud to admit that he'd fled, and he and Alvarez had spent most of the next eight hours hiding on the south pier. John had tossed his communicator; Alvarez's radio had beeped once- it had been Caldwell, who'd only asked him to report that he and his charge were safe and had not asked for their location. It was kind of nice that, since the SGC's doctor seemed intent on driving him crazy, Caldwell was being as sympathetic as possible.

Now, John lays back in the sun and feels truly relaxed for the first time since he and Todd... well. He grins.

Since his thoughts are already in that direction, he lets them settle around Todd. Where are you? he thinks, absently. He pictures Todd's face, the strange, sharp gaze of his slitted eyes, and reaches into their meeting place.

Todd isn't there but he's been by at some point since John last left- John can feel him. And he wrote something on the wall. John frowns when he reads it. He moves over to crouch beside the wall. There's a vague impression of a hand where it looks like Todd leaned against the wall for a long moment before choosing to write the message, And when next we meet?

John's usual reply of all bets are off is no longer the message he wants to leave Todd with. He wonders if Todd somehow expects it, or wants it, to have left John those words. it's... troubling. He leans his hand against the outline of Todd's hand on the wall, tracing the outline of Todd’s fingers. To have left a mark like this, Todd must have sat here awhile, psyching himself up to this. Maybe he thinks John expects it. John frowns. He really wants Todd where he can see him. This mental meeting place is a nice idea, but they’re both too busy to really meet when at least one of them isn’t somehow locked up and forced to not be doing something else.

In the end he makes Todd the only response that he can. Maybe John can’t communicate mind to mind in a way that assures Todd of his commitment to them, but he can always fall back on instinct. It's worked well for him in the past.

 

When he's done answering Todd, he blinks up at the sun and sits up from the ground.

Alvarez and Dorsey are standing not far away. "Here," Alvarez tosses Sheppard a local fruit.

"Thanks. How're we doing?"

Dorsey grins down at him, finishing his own fruit. "Good," he says easily. "Keller's almost done here, and Andrews just radioed that her and Vincente will be back with Doctor Cole as soon as they finish with the last two outliers."

Sheppard nods, and savors the ripe fruit as he leans back and looks up at the sky. There's a lot of what looks like debris low in the atmosphere, which seems odd for a pre-industrial society.

Dorsey notices him noticing, and says, "It's wreckage, from Asuran ships destroyed by the Wraith, last year or so." He leans back as well. "They'll be getting some impressive meteors for a while as those orbits decay."

John opens his mouth to ask a question, but Dorsey's radio crackles.

"Major, I've got a contact." It sounds like Stevens, on the other side of the settlement, and John's already pushing himself to his feet beside Alvarez.

"Details, Lieutenant," Dorsey says tersely.

"I... it looks a war party? I'm not really sure. Hold on a minute." He's silent. Dorsey, Sheppard, and Alvarez use the time to move through the village toward Stevens' position. Alvarez pauses to make sure Keller's equipment is getting packed. "Major," Stevens is back. "I've spoken to Brearn, he's a local here. He says it's a group from a nearby village. They can be aggressive and warlike toward foreigners but usually only come to trade."

Sheppard and Dorsey have come to the center of the village. The woman who serves as chief is already waving at them. "We thank you for your coming, but you must take your supplies and leave," she says tersely. "I am told the Rigaba tribe is on their way here."

"Ma'am," Dorsey addresses her, "we still have people in the foothills. I'm not leaving without them." He turns to Sheppard. "Take Keller and her group back to the gate and return to Atlantis. Stevens and I will head off Andrews' group, hole up for a bit, and join you later after these visitors leave."

John frowns, but it makes sense- and it's not his call. "Understood." He turns and jogs back to where Keller and the three remaining medical support staff are just finishing throwing their remaining supplies in the biggest box and picking it up between them. Keller catches John's eye.

"We need to leave, as swiftly as possible," John tells them.

"But Marie and Doctor Cole," Keller protests.

"Dorsey's taking Stevens to meet them. They'll be fine." He gestures, and Alvarez nods and leads the way back to the gate, the medical staff mostly quiet, concentrating on not dropping the box of supplies as their pace makes holding on to it unwieldly.

"Lieutenant, run ahead and dial us out," Sheppard barks, and Alvarez nods, lengthening his stride as he complies.

But soon Sheppard's radio crackles. "Colonel, I can't establish a lock with Atlantis." He sounds fearful.

"It's okay," Sheppard reassures him. "Probably just a busy signal. Dial somewhere else."

"I... I don't know," he stumbles, and Sheppard remembers that Alvarez is so new this is probably his first off-world excursion ever. Sheppard swears under his breath, and says, "Keep coming," to Keller as he jogs around the burdened medical staff to run to the gate.

 

Alvarez looks pale, and John takes a moment to grip his arm. "It's okay," he says encouragingly. He turns to the DHD, ready to dial one of their allied worlds.

And he stops.

He fell asleep the other night in the middle of reading the update about the Coalition of Planets and which members were currently part of the faction that’s out for Atlantis' blood, and he can't remember which planets are members or which members are still friendly. Even New Athos could be in hot water if Atlantis personnel just show up unplanned; he thinks he remembers that they’re in the middle of negotiations with the Coalition.

John’s hand hovers over the DHD glyphs. There's one address he knows that certainly isn't a protectorate of the Coalition. Before he can think twice he starts pressing glyphs.

The portal roars to life just as the medical staff arrive. "Go!" Sheppard gestures them through the gate. Alvarez goes through first, P90 at the ready, Keller and her minions next, and Sheppard right on their heels.

 


 

 

They arrive in darkness and one of the medical staff gasps a sort of high shriek before she shoves her hand in her mouth and falls to her knees.

Because it's not actually darkness, just a lot dimmer than the daylight they just left behind. And white hair is pretty easy to see, even in low light.

The Wraith guards hiss at them in surprise, stunner rifles raised to their shoulders.

Alvarez steps back half a step to center himself, his finger on the trigger of his P90.

"Lieutenant!" John shouts. He pushes his way to the front of the group of people, his arms spread before them in a protective gesture as he faces the Wraith guards. "My name is John Sheppard," he tells them. "Notify your commander that I'm here."

The guards exchange a look of incredulity. "Your arrogance, human, will taste delicious," one of them says. He steps forward.

John brings up his P90, but before the situation can deteriorate further he sees the flicker of white hair near the doorway, and this is someone he actually recognizes. "Kenny," he breathes, then makes a face; it's probable that other Wraith won't be as accepting about his tendency to assign names as Todd has been.

Kenny stares at him, obviously recognizing him and obviously not excited about the fact. "What are you doing here, Colonel Sheppard?"

"Your commander gave me this address."

Kenny tenses. One of the guards makes a sound of derision, but Kenny holds up a hand and both guards fall still and silent. "You have seen him," he says neutrally.

John lowers his P90. "Yeah. Pretty recently." He looks at Kenny, realizing, "He's not here."

"No." Kenny looks at the guards sourly. Without any verbal command, they depart from the room.

Beside John, Keller lets out a shuddering breath, and John belatedly remembers the other people he has with him. He turns to Keller, reaching out to touch her shoulder reassuringly. He looks over to see Alvarez still holding his weapon tensely but no longer prepared to fire. The woman who had first shrieked is still kneeling on the floor; one of her colleagues is rubbing her back comfortingly. The other is sitting on the box they were carrying, trying surreptitiously to get some sort of data recording device to work.

Keller turns her wide eyes on John, but her voice is level as she demands, "Where are we?"

John sighs. "The gate wouldn't lock to Atlantis and I can't remember who wants to kill us this week in the Coalition. Todd gave me this address. He said he would be here." John lets his narrow gaze fall on Kenny.

Kenny is staring at him in return, his head tilted back and his sensory pits flaring. John has the feeling that Kenny is figuring out about him and Todd; he hopes that's okay and that he's not accidentally outing Todd to his subordinates in a way that will get him in trouble.

But Kenny seems pretty okay with it- or at least he doesn't look any more annoyed than he usually does when he's dealing with John and his team. Kenny's eyes scan the group of humans and he sighs.

"Come with me," he says finally.

"Wait," Keller protests. "Can we... We should try to get back to Atlantis."

Kenny narrows his eyes at her, then looks at John and back to Keller. "Doctor Keller, as it appears you came here by accident I assume that you do not know why the Commander extended the invitation for the humans of Atlantis to come to this place?"

Keller rolls her eyes at John. "I think I know why-" she begins, but Kenny interrupts.

"When last we met you seemed... impassioned about your research. I had thought you would want to see the progress we have made."

Keller's mouth falls open, and when she speaks it is with excitement. "Yes, yes, of course. That's here? I mean, Todd had said that you'd made some breakthroughs, but that it had been awhile since he'd been able to check in, and-" John touches her arm and she stops to breath. "Yes," she says again. "I'd like that. But we should check in and let Atlantis know that we're alright."

John can see that not going well. "Let's give it a few hours, so we don't block Dorsey's exit from M6R-219," he suggests.

"Alright," she agrees surprisingly easily.

Kenny looks at them with unexpected patience. "Then, if you are ready." He turns and leads the way down a hallway. A masked warrior appears from another doorway and picks up the box of supplies. He startles Alvarez and the others; the woman who had shrieked earlier gives another little yelp of surprise. But in the end they all follow Kenny down the hall.

 

He leads them directly to a transport ship. It's John's turn to hesitate. "If we need to access the gate," he begins, but Kenny gives him a look.

"The facility where we have been working is on the planet we are currently orbiting. If you require access to the portal, it will be no trouble to return you to the hive."

And John nods and steps into the transport. Kenny himself is apparently taking them; he's Todd's Second-in-command, so he's the highest ranking Wraith at the moment. Leaning on the wall of the transport, John checks his and Todd's mental room, but it is empty and untouched.

He comes back to himself to find Kenny staring at him. "Also," Kenny says, almost as an afterthought, "The First will wish to meet with you."

John tenses. "What?"

Kenny's attempt at looking innocent is more successful than it should be. "You wished to form an alliance? You must discuss it with the First."

"I thought we already had an alliance," Keller interrupts.

"The Commander has an understanding with the First," Kenny replies. "And I do not know what arrangements he has made with you." He also doesn’t seem to care, as he turns his attention to flying the transport.

The answer to that would be none, John thinks. He’s pretty sure the Attero device incident, and Todd’s subsequent stealing of Keller’s research, negates any part of their deal that might remain from the incident of Todd using Teyla as his faux queen. While in Atlantis, Todd had deliberately piqued Keller's curiosity about the gene therapy, but he hadn't mentioned anything about an official alliance. Two main possibilities exist to John: either that had been one of the things Todd had forgotten because of Michael, or it was always Todd's intention that they should come here to ally with the First, who- or what- ever that is.

"Okay, we definitely need some kind of official alliance," Keller leans in to say to John, "if we're hoping for widespread distribution of the treatment."

"Yeah." John agrees. He smiles crookedly. "You know, this is exactly where the IOA doesn't want me to be," he mutters.

He doesn't really mean for Keller to hear that. She looks at him. "But Todd does," she says back. "Who exactly are you trying to impress?"

John laughs, unexpectedly. "Well, I have other ways to impress Todd," he says with a grin. Keller shakes her head, but she's smiling, too.

John turns to the other medical personnel. "Okay, let's make sure everyone knows everyone here, so we go in as a team." He presses his hand to his chest. "Colonel John Sheppard. I might be unable to actually tell you that I'm sleeping with Todd, the Commander of the hive we just left." He points at Keller. "Go."

She rolls her eyes at him, but says with a touch of humor, "Jennifer Keller. I'm developing a gene therapy to give the Wraith the ability to take sustenance from food other than human lifeforce." She nods to Alvarez.

"Lieutenant Santiago Alvarez. This is, um, my first mission. My first time seeing nonhumans." He takes a deep breath.

"You're doing great," John interrupts to say seriously. "I mean it."

Alvarez nods. "Thank you, sir." He turns to nod to the woman next to him.

"Brigid Callahan. I'm a nurse practitioner. I've been in Pegasus for a couple months, but..." she leans toward Alvarez almost subconsciously and swallows. "This is the first time I've actually seen nonhumans, too."

Figures; she was the shrieker, earlier. "You're also doing really great," John assures her. She looks at him skeptically. "You're holding it together," he tells her. "And that's a lot."

Brigid nods to the woman next to her.

"Doctor Laura Nivens. I'm a biological scientist, which is not the same thing as a physician," she explains to John, "But I know my way around a needle, so I was helping out on M6R-219. Um, I observed Teyla's queen conversion surgery so I've been around Todd and seen Wraith before." She brushes her hair behind her ear with a trembling hand but nods to the last member of their party.

"Adrien Roheim. Also a nurse. And I might be wondering how you sign up to sleep with a Wraith commander." Adrien has a quick smile and laughing eyes, but taking a closer look John can't tell if Adrien is male, as John had initially assumed because of the strong features of Adrien's face, or female.

John returns Adrien's smile. "Honestly, when I figure it out I'll let you know. Alright. Let's keep our heads and stay together as much as we can."

 

 

The ship lands on the ground, and the door opens to reveal an entire group of Wraith staring at the humans. They don't move in threat; Alvarez's hand twitches but he doesn't reach for his weapon. Brigid leans into him and takes his hand.

They are on an outdoor landing platform, and Sheppard looks around them to observe the planet. The climate is temperate and their location is surrounded by trees- not a wild, thick growth, but something... Well, he wouldn't call it manicured our anything, but it is definitely managed by someone who uses it for something.

In front of them, to one side of the landing platform, is the Wraith facility. It reminds John of the cloning facility they destroyed a few years ago; the buttresses that soar up to support the upper levels look like they are covered with designs that are etched into the material. 

Kenny leads them out of the transport without even a glance for the other Wraith, and directly forward into the facility. He pauses impatiently when John doesn't immediately follow and waits for them. The others come after, glancing hurriedly around at the scenery, and the warrior carrying the box of supplies comes last.

The interior of the facility is more familiarly Wraith-like- dim and close, and moist enough that John wonders how they don't have more trouble with mold. Leading them down a hallway, Kenny stops in an open chamber and turns to John. "Your people may wait here while I take you to meet the First." His eyes flicker to John's P90 and then back up to John's face pointedly.

Alvarez tenses, and Keller reaches for John's arm.

John turns to them, unclipping the P90 and handing it to Keller, who immediately passes it to Laura. "I have to negotiate. It'll be fine."

Keller nods, obviously not pleased.

John locks eyes with Alvarez. "You have to stay with them."

Alvarez nods.

John takes a deep breath and turns to follow Kenny.

Chapter Text

The Technician leads Todd to the place near the bridge where the humans have confined themselves. Todd touches the door; it appears to be forced shut from the interior to protect the remaining crewmembers from the invading Wraith. He narrows his eyes for a moment and moves to the bridge.

There are two warriors on the bridge; they turn toward Todd and the Technician in nascent threat, but Todd brings his will to bear on them. They are made to follow orders, and, while they are not used to answering to any but their queen, he has had much practice. Todd orders them to put down the stunners they hold and then march to watch over the barred door. The Technician stares at them, then looks at Todd. Todd can feel that he is impressed.

Todd pulls out of his pocket the communication device that McKay had given him on Atlantis. He checks it against the settings on a nearby panel, adjusting it to the ship’s frequency. Placing it in his ear he says, "Colonel Carter."

"I thought you looked familiar," a wry voice responds. "You are the Wraith that Sheppard calls Todd."

"I hear you have been doing an excellent job of making yourself a thorn in the side of our mutual adversary," Todd replies.

"Mutual," she repeats doubtfully, and observes, "You came here with them." Her voice sounds weary; Todd does not doubt that she is very weary if she has been rewriting code since the ship was taken in order to stay ahead of the Technician beside him.

"I came upon this hive by chance," Todd tells her. "And I find it was a fortunate chance indeed that brought me here to you. The queen has departed, and I can offer you that the Wraith who remain will allow you to retake possession of the vessel without further confrontation."

"The queen might have left, but I can’t see her just abandoning this ship after all the trouble she went to in order to take it in the first place," Carter observes.

"She charged those who remain with destroying it if we could not find a way to remove you," Todd observes. He trades a glance with the Technician. "And it is entirely possible she is now aware that we do not intend to do so."

There is silence for a moment before she speaks again. "And how is that ‘possible’?"

Todd rolls his eyes. "That is something that is of greater important to you than retaking your vessel?" he grumbles, but he gives in and answers her, in order to accelerate her movements. "When she left she cannot have been aware that I am capable of controlling her warriors. Though I am able to command them, I cannot sever her connection to them, so it is possible that she is aware of what I am doing."

"And we should trust you?" another voice comes over the communicator. Todd can hear Carter sharply chastising the speaker, but he also believes that she agrees with the sentiment and allowed the speaker access to the communicator.

"There is one thing that I think means something to both of us, Colonel Carter," Todd observes, "and I will swear to my intentions in this matter on Sheppard’s life."

There is another pause before Carter answers, "You should know that John Sheppard has been missing and presumed KIA for several months."

Todd grins. "He was not missing from me," he observes. "Sheppard has since returned to Atlantis."

There is no answer on the communicator, but Todd hears something moving in the barred doorway.

The Technician moves to see what it is, but Todd remains behind the wall that separates the locked room from the bridge until he hears the soldiers step out, the muted clacking of their weapons echoing in the silence of the ship, and then Carter saying sharply, "Hold fire."

Todd steps around the wall. There are three soldiers standing protectively between the motionless warriors and Carter, though only one of them bears the large rifle that Todd has seen Sheppard and his team carry and seems standard issue. The other two hold smaller weapons and look somewhat nervous because of it. Carter’s gaze shifts immediately to Todd.

Todd spreads his hands. "The warriors will not harm you," he says. "And this one," he gestures to the Technician, "is sworn to me. There are other Wraith remaining on the vessel whom I have not yet had a chance to see to personally."

Carter nods to him. She motions to the soldiers and then behind her to the people huddled there. "Kleinman, Bishop, get me bridge controls back. I’m heading to engineering; Marks, you have the bridge. Stuart, see if you can get me subspace communications." She taps her ear, where there is a device similar to the one that Todd wears. "Hocken, we are in the process of retaking the ship, but be advised there may still be hostile Wraith on board. Proceed with caution." Her people move out in response to her commands, stepping around the unresponsive warriors cautiously.

Carter steps closer to Todd. She is flanked by two soldiers who stand with weapons ready. Her eyes meet Todd's. "What are you doing here?" she asks, and he does not need to read her mind to know there is another level to her question- what do you really want?

"I was brought to this location by the queen's hive," Todd muses. "Much as you were, I imagine?" He turns to the Technician. "This Wraith is the one whom you have been sparring with for control of the vessel."

Carter turns her gaze on the Technician in surprise. "Is that so. Where did you learn to code like that?"

The Technician glances at Todd before answering her warily, "Your systems are not complicated, but their redundancy gave you the advantage when I was not allowed access until after you had locked them from wider control."

Carter grins, the expression breaking unexpected over her face. "Okay, you, come with me and we'll see if you can help undo the rat's nest that we created in coding as we fought over the hyperdrive." She looks measuredly at Todd. "If there are other Wraith on my ship, what do you want to do with them?"

Todd blinks at her; the question is unexpected. "I would appreciate the opportunity to convince them of the inadvisability of following their former queen," he observes.

Carter nods. "Take your friends here," she gestures to the warriors. "I don’t want them near my bridge. You’ve got until we can get Asgard systems working to convince the others."

Todd inclines his head to her.

She gestures to the two soldiers who stand to either side of her. "Levine, Franklin, make sure we have a clear path to engineering."

The soldiers nod sharply, and move down the hall. Carter follows them, the Technician falling in behind her. Todd admires Carter more for allowing a Wraith where she cannot watch him, though one of the soldiers has his weapon covering the Technician, but he is amused to note that her steps are perhaps the quicker for the Wraith’s closeness.

 

Todd turns to the warriors, the three of the Wraith standing in the corner of the room while the humans watch them suspiciously. Todd reaches for the warriors and their mental presence. Closing his eyes, he lets his mind flow through the ship.

The warriors have enough awareness to be surprised by him. Traditionally- and practically- only queens can control warriors, and even the hive commanders who have had to make do without queens rarely attain the skill to command all the abilities and functions of warriors that queens have designed them to have. But Todd has spent a lot of time practicing such skills.

Through the mental net the warriors create, he reaches out to search the ship for the presence of other Wraith. He touches on the Technician, who pauses to acknowledge him, and then reaches on.

There are four other Wraith on the Daedalus: two more warriors, and the two other assistant technicians that had been mentioned. Three are grouped on an upper level, and the last, one of the warriors, is near engineering. Todd reaches for the lone warrior; it will be more difficult without being near to him, but he brings his will to bear against the warrior. It helps that the queen's hive is long departed, but with the warning of the two warriors that Todd already controls, this one is able to fight him until he feels it being struck down by Carter's soldiers.

Todd snarls in annoyance, but there is not time to waste. He leads the two warriors he has through the ship toward the other remaining Wraith. Physical proximity will aid him in controlling the last warrior, and will be needed to present the available options to the other Wraith.

The assistant technicians are, understandably, wary as they feel his approach, but he can sense the sharpness of their hunger. It was bad form of the queen; she may be known as the Devourer, but she should know to have better care for her hive. Some hunger may sharpen alertness and focus, but the desperate fire he can feel from them is all-consuming and they are too young to be able to work through it.

Todd halts in a corridor; he can feel the other Wraith- they are close, standing just through the next doorway. Their minds are whirling with their hunger and the awareness of their failure to secure the ship for their queen. Todd steps forward one more step and he can see the last warrior standing in the hall. The warrior steps forward confrontationally, but, close enough this time, Todd brings his will to bear against this one and the warrior halts.

"Come out," Todd commands.

The assistant technicians step out of a doorway just behind where the warrior was first standing. The first one holds his chin high defiantly, but the one who comes behind him keeps his eyes on the floor. They are very young, without any visible markings, and both of them are tall and slim with long, pale hair that they wear in similar style, caught away from their faces with complex braids.

"Who are you?" the first one challenges Todd.

Todd lets his mind fall around both of the other Wraith. I am your commander now. Or will you stay loyal to your queen?

Both of them bare their teeth. The first one snarls at Todd, but the second one grips his shoulder tightly as if to restrain him and he looks back at his companion. Their closeness and similarity of appearance suggests that they are nestbrothers as well as hivebrothers; that is good, as their connection to each other is strong and if one sees the positive spin of the opportunity that Todd presents then the other will be easier to convince.

Kneel and I will feed you, Todd tells them.

The first young Wraith places himself more firmly between Todd and his brother. You will betray us, more like. His lips pull back in a hiss.

There are only a few Wraith left in this area of space, and the Technician's mind brushes against theirs in the instinctive search for hive. The Commander has kept faith with me, he tells the two Wraith when he senses the situation. He will keep his promises.

They look at each other again.

Todd waits. He is patient, though it is likely that Carter will not be.

The second of the two Wraith moves forward to kneel before Todd.

"No," his brother says. "I will go first."

Todd nods and steps toward them, raising his feeding hand to press it against the first brother's chest. The Wraith looks up at him, still expecting betrayal, but Todd brushes his mind with reassurance and then fills him with the Gift of Life.

He repeats the process on the second one. He cannot give them everything they need, but it will be enough to sustain them, and keep them away from Carter's crew.

The two brothers gasp with the sensation of eased hunger and look at each other and Todd in amazement.

To give so much of himself has left him weakened, and Todd turns to the third warrior and drains him of life, taking it into himself. The pleasure of feeding is always potent, and afterward he looks up to see the brothers looking at him doubtfully again.

"You do feed on your own," the more outspoken one hisses. His brother tries to pull him back in warning.

"Warriors exist to serve the hive," Todd reminds them both, "even more so than any Wraith. His life was spilt between you and your brother."

The young Wraith continues to attempt to push Todd into an angry or betraying move, saying snidely, "Are there not humans here to feed on? You overthrow our queen and still cannot take the ship? Why should we follow you?"

Todd smirks. "I have control of this ship," he says mildly, "because I have returned it to the humans who understand how it operates, and who never lost full control over their vessel."

The brothers look confused and Todd takes pity on them. "You will not feed from the humans on this ship," he says plainly. "We will leave the ship shortly and I will take you to my hive. From there, there are many hives you may choose to serve."

They look at each other again, and the quiet Wraith softly reminds his outspoken brother, "We have not be offered a choice, before."

The first brother sighs and bows his head. We will follow you, he says, but he doesn't sound pleased about it.

 

Todd, with the two Wraith flanking him and the two warriors leading, moves through the ship toward engineering. He senses movement in the corridor ahead and halts his group.

Unfamiliar humans step around the corner, their weapons raised. Todd's lip curls in a snarl; if the warriors have to kill them because they are too eager for bloodshed, Carter will not be pleased.

But a woman's voice calls, "Hold your fire!" A female soldier steps between the two who stand with their weapons already raised and she regards the group of Wraith. "You aren't attacking," she says eventually. "I'm gonna guess you're Todd?"

Todd inclines his head to her.

She nods. "I'm Lieutenant Colonel Hocken." She eyes the other Wraith. "Are there any other Wraith left on the ship?"

"Only those who are sworn to me; these four, and the Technician who is assisting Colonel Carter," Todd tells her.

She nods. "I will have you escorted to engineering then," she says, and she doesn't say it like there is another option.

So Todd spreads his hands and says with only a hint of sarcasm, "My thanks."                                 

 

When they reach engineering, Carter looks up at him, her eyes running over the other Wraith and then returning resolutely to her task. Her expression is set. The soldiers who stand near the wall, out of the way of the working engineers, look anxiously between the newly arrived Wraith and the Technician, who is hovering at the shoulder of a nervous-looking, dark-haired woman who is trying to work one-handed, as her other arm appears to be injured in some manner and is bound close to her side. She is ostensibly ignoring the Technician, and the one or two other engineers who've trickled in also are ignoring Wraith and soldiers entirely as they focus on their work.

"Well, we've got weapons but no sublights and no hyperdrive as of yet," Carter tells Todd.

"You will," Todd replies confidently.

Carter smirks at his easy assurance, but there is something wary and waiting in her expression. As if she is still anticipating his betrayal.

Todd sighs. "Gifts are appropriate among those who wish to form alliances, are they not?"

Carter's expression relaxes marginally. "They are," she agrees. Her fingers work to complete a task, and then she looks up, giving him her full attention.

Todd raises his right hand- only one of the soldiers raises a weapon in response- and gestures to the room. "Then it is a gift."

The gesture somewhat includes the drained body of the Wraith of the chevrons which is laid in the corner, covered with a cloth, but has not been removed yet. Carter looks at the body. "A dead Wraith?"

Todd grins. "No. Your ship."

Carter looks thoroughly amused. "What do you want in return for this gift?" she asks.

"For me and my brethren to be left on a world with a portal."

Carter nods, like this is reasonable and easily accomplished, but her words are not in the same vein. "We still don't have maneuverability," she observes.

"I'm working on sublights," the woman with one good hand grunts.

Carter opens her mouth to respond, but the Technician hisses in frustration and sweeps the woman away from the panel, bending to it and rapidly entering data with both hands. The soldiers exclaim in alarm; Todd snarls. Carter's fist rises in the air in a gesture the soldiers clearly recognize. She holds it there and observes the Technician.

The computer chimes. The Technician stands from the panel and steps away. Carter makes an abrupt gesture to the soldiers, who stand down. The woman with one good arm steps back to the panel cautiously and looks down at it. "We've got sublights," she says. "And he untangled that mess that was keeping Stuart from being able to connect to the subspace frequency. We should have subspace communication back in a minute." She glances at the Technician, then at Carter.

Carter touches her communicator and says quickly, "Marks, take us out." She meets the gaze of the woman and nods. The woman gestures for the Technician to return and take over her position.

Holding himself tensely, the Technician nods to the woman, and steps into the position she had previously occupied. Everyone in the room stands, watching him, and the woman leans as far over his shoulder as she can get without actually stepping closer to him.

"Your communications have been recalibrated," the Technician says. He looks up at Carter, then at Todd.

"Well done," Carter says. "And thank you."

The Technician shakes his head in denial of her words, but Carter chooses not to address it at the moment. She turns to the panel at her own work station and brings up the subspace network. "Atlantis, this is the Daedalus. Please respond."

There is a crackle of static, as if in their eagerness someone has triggered the device before they are prepared to speak into it, and then, "Colonel Carter, this is Atlantis. It's good to hear your voice."

Carter smiles. "Yours as well, Mister Woolsey."

"What's your status? Do you need assistance?"

Carter's eyes flicker to Todd but he watches her impassively. "We've managed to retake the ship," she says vaguely. "We will return to Atlantis as quickly as we are able, though we still don’t have power to the hyperdrive. A more detailed report will be forthcoming as we assess ship’s status. Just wanted to let you know we were back on the map."

"Appreciated. We anticipate your arrival, Colonel."

"Mister Woolsey," Carter says, "I don't suppose Colonel Sheppard is available?"

Todd tenses, his eyes fixing on Carter. He's not sure what she means by this.

There is silence for a long moment on the line before Woolsey returns. "Colonel Sheppard is, once again, MIA," Woolsey says thoughtfully. "Though theoretically confined to base, he appears to have joined an off-world mission with Doctor Keller. Part of the team has returned, but Colonel Sheppard, Doctor Keller, several medical personnel, and a young marine are all unaccounted for. Major Dorsey reported that Sheppard and his group left M6R-219 before his half of the team. They were supposedly headed directly back to Atlantis."

Carter looks at Todd. He’s not sure what her goal is here; does she believe his sworn word will somehow devalue now that Sheppard’s life is not assured? Also, damn Carter, and Woolsey as well, for being too crafty by far. Carter hadn't known that John had been restored to Atlantis until Todd had told her- now Woolsey knows that Todd is here. Todd feels his lip curl in irritation. "I may know where your people are," he admits, since his presence is already known to all.

Carter’s eyebrows shoot up her forehead. "So Sheppard’s not really missing again, is that it?"

Todd glares at her. "No. I don’t know where your people are, but I gave Sheppard the coordinates of a safe meeting place. He may have made use of it."

"Why hasn’t he contacted Atlantis to report back his location?" Woolsey asks, and Todd would roll his eyes at the pedantic nature of these humans.

"It is entirely possible that, being Sheppard, he has run into trouble. If he is where I believe he is, then it is trouble that I can solve most easily by being present in that location."

Carter inhales like she’s not happy about this. "Which is what we already agreed to," she says. "Getting you to a Stargate."

Todd inclines his head to her.

"Confirming our people’s location as quickly as possible would be appreciated," Woolsey affirms. "Colonel Carter, do you require any further assistance?"

"Negative," Carter replies. "We’ll make our way to you as we can."

"We will see you soon then. Atlantis out."

 

The hyperdrive appears to have been broken in some way, quite possible in Carter’s reseizing control of the vessel and continued attempts to prevent the Wraith from accessing it, or in the Wraith’s own attempts to force it to work. It takes the sublight engines some span of time to bring them in range of a suitable planet; Todd is aware of the passage of time because Carter often glances at a time-measuring device on the wall as she assists the other engineers- as if the Devourer will appear, chasing them, at any moment. Todd made certain to assure her that the sooner he leaves with the warriors the sooner her ship will be less traceable.

As they travel, Todd takes a moment to lean back against the bulkhead of the ship and let his mind drift just far enough to touch upon his and John's meeting room; he cannot divert his attention too much from those newly under his care- the two remaining warriors still chafe at his hubris in commanding them- but he can give enough. His thoughts are much bent toward John, and it distracts him more than he thought it would to think that John is out in the galaxy somewhere. Any speculation as to John’s location and fate is pointless with the little data he holds, and he steps into their shared mental space, eager to see if whatever response John might have left him will contain a greater indication.

There is nothing new written on the wall, but Todd grins. John erased everything they had exchanged between them there, except for the coordinates that Todd had originally given him. The coordinates are underscored with a thick line. Todd feels something in him ease and warm with affection; John is there, and just as eager as he is to meet again.

 

When they arrive at the planet, Carter prepares to leave engineering and return to the bridge; she does not invite Todd to accompany her, and he does not request it.

Todd must admit that he himself has been just as wary as she, waiting for Carter to respond with betrayal. Trust is something newly won between them; as much as Todd would want to act first, to achieve the edge in the inevitable betrayal, he reminds himself that he has promised his intentions on John's life. If he breaks that oath there will never be trust between them again.  Being in this place helps- this ship. The last time he was here he thought himself betrayed, but in actuality he and Atlantis both were betrayed by another.

As Carter moves to leave engineering, the Technician shifts his weight beside Todd.

"I wish to stay." The Technician's clear voice halts Carter and she turns back to face them. She looks at the Technician. He bows his head to her, and looks at Todd sidelong, but doesn't speak again.

"And I should trust you to remain here, among my crew," she asks, the words flat.

"I have sworn an oath that I will not feed here," he assures her.

Carter's expression remains hard. "And you did not swear oaths to your queen when you first came to this vessel?"

The Technician snarls, his teeth flashing, but he calms himself without Todd needing to remind him, which is a good sign. "I served the Devourer," the Technician admits. "But only because my previous commander ordered it. Now I serve the Commander," he indicates Todd. "And he has said that we are to make allies of you and that there will be no feeding on this vessel." The two other Wraith, standing quietly by the wall and flanked by warriors, grumble at this, but softly. "I wish to learn more about your technology," The Technician says, "and I am aware that to break faith with the Commander would break my faith with you. I do not know what else I can promise against my behavior."

Carter looks at him, then at Todd with narrowed eyes.

"This is your vessel and allowing him to remain is your decision," Todd tells her. "But I believe that this Wraith will serve you and serve you gladly as long as you do not act falsely toward him." The Technician stands taller. And Todd leads Carter farther than he has any other. "We are allied again against a common foe. We have been here many times before. Perhaps it is time that we... expanded upon this alliance in a more permanent way?"

Carter sighs in a deep breath. She looks at the Technician. "You've picked up Asgard tech faster than anyone I've ever seen," she says, like this is an important estimation of a person, "but please tell me you don't have his sense of humor." She rolls her eyes at Todd.

Todd grins fiercely. The Technician regards him warily. "I do not believe so," he says cautiously.

Carter nods.

 

The Asgard system beams Todd and his two Wraith and two warriors to the planet's surface, near the portal. The planet is unpleasant, the methane content in the atmosphere high.

"Does the DHD work?" Carter asks him through the communicator.

Todd signals one of the warriors to contact another planet, and when the portal forms in its usual swirling vortex, he responds to Carter, "So it appears."

"Well then. Until we meet again."

Todd, about to step through the portal, looks up and grins. "Until then, Colonel Carter."

 

The planet where they arrive is heavily forested; indeed, it is one of the first planets that Todd came to after he left Michael. From here he prepares to contact his hive.

Todd has his hand raised above the symbols that control the portal, the two young Wraith standing near the device, when a frisson of alarm slides through the link he has with the warriors. All three Wraith turn toward where the warriors stand, their attention on the trees.

Stepping out from the trees is a hybrid. He is followed by two others, and within moments there are five of them. Todd feels his lip curl in a soundless snarl. The hybrids watch but do not move to attack.

Todd is aware that they are waiting for something, and out from the trees, with a casualness that belies his intent gaze, steps Michael. "You," he says.

"And you," Todd snarls back. The warriors step toward Michael, but Todd holds them back, as all of Michael's hybrids hold weapons and the warriors have between them only one hand-stunner.

Michael's eyes roam Todd and he says, unable to keep the displeasure from his voice, "One of the side effects of the changes I made to the virus. It does not require repeated treatments, but the physical effects do tend to fade more thoroughly." His eyes are full of hatred. "But it's still there, inside you. The knowledge that you have been... made impure." His lip curls in dark amusement. "Have you encountered it yet? The look of disgust on the faces of other Wraith? Or, even better, a queen?"

Todd regards him. He is both irritated and pitying, but mostly he is filled with contempt toward what Michael has allowed himself to become. "You have not marked me as deeply as you wish you had," he tells Michael mildly and Michael snarls. "I know who I am, and it will take more than your petty tricks to make me forget it."

Michael raises his weapon in rash anger, and the warrior who is closest throws himself at the hybrid. Todd turns back to the portal control and enters a different planet with haste. When the portal is established he tells the two young Wraith to go through. Todd moves to follow them but stumbles when he is struck by mental feedback from the death of the first warrior. Todd pushes himself to his feet with a snarl. The remaining warrior is shooting hybrids with his hand-stunner but is at a disadvantage. Todd orders him to the portal, and follows quickly, stumbling through to the new planet. 

Chapter Text

Kenny had indicated for him to lose the P90, but he doesn't mention the Beretta at John's side, temporary replacement for the Colt he'd lost on Tesmer, or the knife in its sheath at the back of his tac vest, and so John doesn't mention them either.

Kenny leads him to a massive doorway just down the hall from where Keller and the others are waiting. The natural Wraith-grown aperture is crowned with a sort of Wraith-style crenellation, and somehow John isn't surprised when he's shown into a throne room.

The throne is currently empty. John had been under the impression that Todd did not have a queen, though it appears that might have changed?

Kenny bows to the empty room. It reminds John vaguely of being announced, though Kenny doesn’t speak. John wants to kick himself; of course, the announcing is probably telepathic. Kenny turns and meets John’s eyes, then leaves.

John inhales slowly, his eyes scanning the room. Then he freezes as he recognizes what is sitting beside the throne.

It's one of the bug creatures that his team had run into at the relocated Taranan settlement, that had killed Lieutenant Negley’s team; the ones that Michael had been breeding. John has stopped breathing, his eyes fixed on the thing. What the hell is it doing here? he thinks, his hand inching its way toward the Beretta. The creature hasn't moved, not even to look at him but he can see it breathing.

"Do you like my pet?" a voice says out of the shadows of the room.

John inhales sharply and has to remind himself to not draw the pistol and point it at the shadows. "Not really," he feels bound to confess.

The room echoes with dissonant laughter. "John Sheppard," the voice muses. There is a rustle to his right and he looks over as the queen steps into view.

He's pretty sure she's shorter than him, but her boots put her almost looking him in the eye. She wears a long, pale, iridescent gown that looks like it has been sewn all over with matte geometric shapes which form a sort of armor that covers her torso; the sleeves are wide and diaphanous and the neckline is moderate compared to some queens he’s met. Her hair is long, reaching past her waist even though it’s half swept up, and is dark- black, but with the thinnest red strands spaced so perfectly evenly throughout that it seems to shimmer with the color as she moves through the low-lit room. Her hair is half pinned up with long, narrow, off-white pins that John suspects are made of carved bone. Her skin has more blue than green undertones; it reminds John, uncomfortably, of his own near transition into an Iratus. The queen has a series of marks beneath her left eye, almost like a tally; there are five marks, and there are five of the long, pale, carved pins woven in her hair, and a shiver runs up John’s spine at the unconscious conviction that the two are connected. She also has what looks like a sunburst marked on the right side of her forehead, the mark half invisible where it theoretically spreads up beyond the line where her hair hides the skin. She steps toward John and gives a slow smile, the expression not parting the full swell of her lips. "I have a gift for you," she says.

John swallows. "I don't suppose you've heard the one about Greeks bearing gifts?"

She cocks her head and peers at him. "I have not," she says, then pauses. "Tell me."

John clears his throat. "Um, the Greeks were at war with some people called Trojans. The Trojans had a big city that the Greeks couldn't get into." John grimaces. This might not be the best story; though more than one Wraith has already demonstrated that as a species they understand the concept of a Trojan horse. "So the Greeks packed up, made it look like they left and went home. But they left behind them a large wooden structure of a horse, an animal, as a gift- an offering. So the Trojans brought it inside their city, and that night all the Greek warriors crawled out of the wooden horse and killed the Trojans while they slept."

The queen smiles again, this time the wide expression spreading over her face, baring pointed teeth. "I understand this tale. And I take no offence." She steps away from John, stepping into the room and crossing to the throne. She sinks into the seat, letting a hand fall from the armrest to casually caress the head of the creature. "Though I admit it will make our exchange perhaps more strained if you will not accept gifts from me."

"That depends on what they are," John counters. "I'm just saying, don't get mad if I'm a little wary."

"Hmm." She regards him.

"You are... the First?" John asks.

"I am called many things." She flicks her fingers in disinterest. "The Ancient One. The First. The Eldest." She smiles, almost nostalgic. "When I was younger I was known as the Queen of Bones."

John's heart is beating swiftly in his chest. "How about Helen?"

She pauses, tilting her head toward him. "My Commander did tell me that you were amusing," she says, and she does sound amused- which, John supposes, is better than pissed off.

He shrugs. "So, are you the First? Is that why they call you that?"

"No, I am not." She looks away in an expression of dismissal. "'Eldest of Those Who Remain' would be a more accurate title."

John inhales slowly, because that's still not nothing. "Yeah, that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. How old are you?"

She smiles at him hungrily. "Does it matter?"

John shrugs. "I guess not? It would just be interesting to be able to write down a number."

"I was old when the war was young," she murmurs thoughtfully, and John feels the shiver run back down his spine. "I told the other queens that to breed so many Wraith would be to court disaster when the war was ended. I counseled for withdrawal, but who listens to their elder, hmm?" She smiles again, her eyes dangerous in their memories.

"You wanted peace with the Ancients?" John asks, trying to regain control of the conversation. He corrects himself, "The first Lanteans."

"Peace?" She cocks her head, amused. "Not peace perhaps. The Lanteans were greedy. They wanted all of the worlds of all of the systems in the entirety of the galaxy to be under their authority, and this was not the only galaxy that they laid claim to. I thought they could be persuaded to leave without the need for assault. But the young queens... they were thin-skinned." Her tapered nails tap on the arm of her throne. "When the Lanteans were affronted by our need to feed, the queens responded by eliminating them entirely from this galaxy." Her eyes are distant.

John shifts his weight. "It was a long time ago," he murmurs.

Her eyes focus on him. "Longer for some." Her lip curls in derision at the passage of time. "In my years I have commanded fleets of hives, and at time I have been stripped of everything and brought to my knees before those who wished me defeated." She touches one of the long bones woven in her hair and her smile is predatory. "I have lived all these things... and so now," she spreads her hands to indicate her surroundings. "I live content, unquestioned ruler of my own system of planets, and leave the other Wraith to their own pursuits. But now." She narrows her eyes and fixes her gaze on John. "Now, all are awakened. There is once again bitter war among Wraith concerning the lack of food. This problem reached into my system, and I was forced to bring my attention to it."

"Your attention?"

Her fingers begin petting the head of the creature again. "I have taken under my control many hives that were queenless. And I have offered protection from their enemies to some of the younger queens. You need not fear that they will cross your people; the ones who have joined me will follow my decrees when it comes to the nature of any agreement."

"You can enforce that?"

She looks at him, her golden eyes flaring, and he finds himself falling to his knees, gasping.

"I can," she says simply.

John feels her release him. "Alright, I believe you," he says gamely, getting to his feet like it’s not a big deal.

A quick smile spreads over her face. "You are amusing. And you, John Sheppard, of a far off galaxy... you and your people have brought something new to this galaxy." She peers at him, then laughs unexpectedly. "What is 'Helen'? I do not know this word."

"It's a name. We like to name things." John makes a what can you do gesture. "Helen was the name of the most beautiful woman in the world. The battle I spoke of earlier was fought because of her beauty."

The queen laughs again. "You are very amusing!" She leans forward and, almost before he is consciously aware of it, John is walking toward her, caught in her gaze. The creature beside the throne moves, and it jolts him enough that he stops, inhaling sharply.

He glares at the floor and stands tensely, his fingers curling around the Beretta. "That’s twice now. Just so you know, we don't really like that."

She spreads her fingers in a parody of regret. "My apologies. You seemed… interested, in the deepening of our acquaintance." She touches one long, clawed forefinger to her dark, full lips like she’s thinking about the idea and trying to see if she likes it or not.

John really doesn't want to put his foot in it, but he's not going to not tell her. "I'm kind of with someone."

She grins. "You have been intimate with my Commander," she says, like it’s not exactly news. "It is part of the reason I assumed what you offered."

"Ah," is all John can say in response to that. He thinks Todd had mentioned something about Wraith not being fans of monogamy, but he hadn’t really been paying attention.

"He is pleasing," she says off-hand, and from the way she says it John realizes something he might have already suspected but which still has him grinding his teeth at having confirmed. "He is very much in your thoughts," she adds, leaning forward, her hands on the armrests and her head tilting toward him, her eyes fluttering shut.

"Stay out of my head," John snaps before he can think about it.

The queen opens her eyes and shrugs, but then she seems to fully become aware of his distress because she leans back, and he can feel her mentally pulling back as well. "I apologize," she says, and she sounds like she means it this time. "We are here to discuss an agreement. If I have already caused you grief and we cannot make an exchange of gifts, then we are starting on poor ground."

John takes a deep breath. "What kind of gifts did you have in mind?" He wonders if he can negotiate for her to leave Todd the fuck alone.

She holds out her hand and a masked warrior walks out of the darkness holding an object on a tray. He approaches and holds the tray forward to John.

John eyes it. It actually looks like Ancient technology, not anything Wraith. "What is it?" he asks.

The queen tsks. "Do you have an equivalent in your tongue for 'judging the worth of the meal that is provided'?"

"Yeah, 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth.' Given our previous discussion concerning Greeks and horses, I hope you'll forgive me if I don't follow it this time."

She leans back in the throne, laughing. "John Sheppard, I have not been this amused in millennia." She gestures to the device. "This is old Lantean technology. If you pick it up it will tell you what it does."

"I won't set it off by touching it?" he asks warily.

She shakes her head. "I give my word that you cannot activate it without first attaching this piece." She holds up a long, thin piece of metal from the armrest of her throne.

John nods and takes a deep breath, picking up the device. He closes his eyes and it's like he's standing on a flat plane the shape of the galaxy but small enough that he can see all of it; or maybe the perspective's a bit off and he's actually just really far away or something. He can feel several other points across the entirety of the galaxy, and he can feel that they recognize him and are waiting for him to... to do something. He's not sure what yet. He can reach out to the different points and zoom in on them, seeing where they are- see the objects around the points, the planets and stars that are closest. He opens his eyes and looks at the queen. "Okay, I can see a bunch of points across the galaxy. What is it?"

"The points that you see are the other pieces of the device that my warriors have planted on as many hives that are not allied with me as they were able to reach."

John blinks. "I can find hives with this device?" That’s potentially useful, especially with the way he could see objects nearby- he wonders if he could zoom in even closer and be able to count the Wraith on board each vessel. The really problematic thing, however, is that this doesn't seem like an Ancient invention that would be forgotten and unused, and that they haven’t found any mention of in the database so far. Unless there's a catch... there tends to always be a catch.

"You can find the component pieces of the device which my warriors have placed on the hives," she corrects. "And with this," she holds up the piece of metal. "You can activate them."

Activate... "It's a bomb," John realizes in a weird combination of respect and horror. "You've planted bombs on all your rivals' hives."

"I have no rivals," she tells him tersely. "This is a gift for you." She lifts her chin and half-lids her eyes. 'You wish to prevent Wraith from killing humans." She spreads her hand at the device. "Here is your opportunity to reduce the number of Wraith in the galaxy."

"By killing everyone who doesn’t agree with you. We’ve just met; I’m not sure I agree with you."

"They are all hives of other queens," she observes. "You would be striking a deep blow against the Wraith, for they would not be able to recover quickly without queens." She cocks her head and grins, amused by his hesitance. "I would not have thought a human would object to this," she says.

"What about hives that don’t have queens?"

She makes a sound of irritation. "You have not been paying attention. I have already said. All the hives who have lost queens have been taken in by myself. Or, by a single other queen."

"So you do have a rival."

She snarls, her lips pulling back to bare her teeth to the root, and John is pleased to have finally shaken her out of her complacency. But she leans back and relaxes, letting the irritation melt from her expression and he has to think that she wants this alliance for some reason, just as much as Atlantis could really use this platform in order to distribute the gene therapy.

John exhales roughly. "Sorry. It’s been a long day," he admits, trying to meet her somewhere in the middle.

She smiles, mollified. "So you accept my gift?"

"That’s not really me department," he says noncommittally. He’s not eager to try out this tech, probably, mostly, because Todd is still out there somewhere, and, knowing him, could be mixed up in God knows what involving some other hive that, with Todd’s luck, somehow got double tagged with bombs. "I've never had someone give me partial genocide as an alliance present," John says finally. "Was there something you had in mind that you wanted in return?"

Her fingers curl over the edges of the throne's hand rests and he knows immediately that there is something she wants, intensely. "Perhaps," she demurs.

John smiles tightly. "I'm not sure we know each other well enough for me to guess."

She grins, leaning forward. "There is a Wraith I want you to find for me."

"A Wraith?" John asks, the skepticism heavy in his voice.

Her eyes are bright. "You have taken him and twisted him up with your humanity," she says. She pauses and holds out her hand to her pet, the creature whimpering in pleasure as it reaches up toward her, and in her moment of silence John thinks, insanely, that she's talking about Todd.

"Wait," he shakes himself. 'You mean... Michael? The guy who’s responsible for your pet there?"

"Yes. I want him."

"You want us to give you Michael," John repeats, because it sounds just as insane the second time. "You should know he'd been rejected by all other Wraith he's encountered."  She tilts her head in inquiry and John adds, "Because he's... too human."

She narrows her eyes at him. "I would think, given the nature of the research that brought you here, that you would understand that this would not be an issue for me."

"You like him so much, why haven't you gone out and told him so?"

"He is... difficult to find. And at the moment I am limited in the delicacy of the influence I wield beyond this system. I have sent agents in search of him, to no avail as of yet."

"He's not exactly someone I want to go out looking for. He wants to kill me."

She grins. "That is a good reason for you to encounter each other in the future."

John grunts. "Great, that’s something to look forward to." He shifts his weight again. "So what do you want him for?"

Her lip curls in a snarl. "Do I need a reason?"

"I'm gonna say yes."

"He is intelligent, and a gifted creator," she says, as if it's just an observation she is making.                                                         

 Well that sounds problematic. "You want him to make you more pets?"

"Peace, John Sheppard," she says, and he’ll admit his words were a touch suspicious. "I believe, once properly incited, his gifts can be groomed in a more... acceptable direction." She grins, and John is well aware that "acceptable" for him and "acceptable" for someone who used to be called the Queen of Bones are two different things.

"The goal of our agreement would be to prevent the killing of humans in this galaxy," John tests on her. She gives him a deep nod. John nods as well. "Okay," John hedges, "I have to return to Atlantis and present this potential alliance to my superiors before I can promise anything, even the gift that you requested."

She nods. "You have that item to demonstrate the potential of my gift." She lays the strip of metal back on the armrest of her throne. "I will keep this until we are assured of an alliance."

"Well, that sounds great." The SGC is going to have a field day with this. John's almost not sure he wants to bring it back to Atlantis; except that the Daedalus is still missing and he's pretty sure they need whatever help they can get.

She smiles. "You amuse me John Sheppard. I will allow you to add Helen to my list of titles." She looks up and suddenly Kenny appears in the doorway. He bows to the queen. "You may show the Commander's guests to the nest," she says. "They are welcome, as per my arrangement with your Commander.

"We will speak again, John Sheppard."

John inclines his head to her and then follows Kenny out.

 


 

 

Keller and the others are waiting for him, and Keller jumps up from sitting on the box of supplies to step toward him. She grabs his arm. "You're okay?"

John nods. "Yeah. A little... rattled maybe." He really wants to find Todd.

Keller nods, but he figures she's already got her hand on his wrist, checking for her own assurances as to his wellbeing.

"If you would follow me once more," Kenny says, "I will take you to the nest."

"Alright," Keller says, and she must be developing some sort of telepathy of her own because she takes point, Alvarez after her, leaving John to take rearguard, followed only by the masked warrior. Which is great, because John does not want to talk to anyone right now.

He's pretty flustered from his talk with Helen, and even on top of that the idea that there is a Wraith interested in making a legitimate alliance with Atlantis is pretty overwhelming. Todd is different; he's come to them when he needs them, and they've returned the favor, but what Helen is offering feels more... permanent. John really needs to get Woolsey here. Though, first he really wants to talk to Todd. Todd gave him this address and sent him here, but he would like to quiz Todd about whether Helen really is on the level. She seemed earnest, in a way that the other queen, the one who'd deceived them, hadn't been, but John is still... wary.

While he's thinking his dark thoughts, the others are walking ahead, oblivious. The Wraith architecture gives way to an open area, the sky obscured with branches instead of organic walls. Kenny had mentioned a "nest," but he is leading them toward what looks more like an orchard.

The trees they pass are heavy with fruit. They don't seem to be planted in rows, like the orchards John's familiar with, but he supposes that Wraith aren't too fond of straight lines in general. They pass one or two... hut-like structures, where a group of trees have grown together to form a ceiling, and inside branches have been shaped to form tables and seats. One of them has a Wraith within, a bushel of fruit on the table that he is examining. He looks up and watches them as they pass by.

Ahead, there is a small clearing where there is no roof but it appears roots have been formed into seats that a group of smaller Wraith are seated on, all of them attentively looking at a dark-haired female Wraith. It looks like... well, like an outdoor classroom, and the female is aiming a look at Kenny that would have looked just as at home on the face of one of John's grade-school teachers if someone had come traipsing into her classroom with a bunch of tourists.

Keller realizes the extent of what's going on before John does. "Oh my God," she says to Kenny. "They didn't..." Kenny just raises an eyebrow at her. "Oh my God, they did. It worked?" And she's running forward, the others following her.

John lingers behind. The masked warrior sets the box of supplies down then turns and retreats to stand beside the door back into the facility. He’s far away, and wearing an eyeless mask besides, but John has the uncomfortable feeling that Helen is watching him through the warrior somehow.

The Wraith from the circle have all gathered around Keller, and John joins them, realizing what Keller had intuited. The Wraith are all pubescent- his analogy of a classroom was well founded. There are seven of them, and the older female who must be their instructor.

The female is glaring at Kenny, her lip lifted in a soundless snarl of displeasure almost like a cat's, but Kenny appears unfazed.

"This is the Keeper of the Nest," Kenny says. "And the nest of the First." Kenny turns his eyes on Keller but speaks to the young Wraith, "Doctor Keller originally developed the treatment you have undergone." Keller inhales desperately, and Kenny tells the young Wraith, "Hold out your hands."

Glancing at each other, they do so. Fourteen hands, not a single feeding organ among them.

"And there've been no side effects?" Keller asks. She says, "May I?" and reaches out her hand toward the young Wraith nearest her. With a glance at Kenny, the young Wraith nods and places his hand in Keller's.

"No side effect with this testing," Kenny says. "They still retain their Wraithborn qualities- telepathy and advanced healing. Their longevity cannot yet be tested but seems assured as their healing is unaffected."

Keller releases the young Wraith's hand. "Thank you, for letting me look."

The Wraith cocks his head. "It is why you are here," he says, his slit-pupiled eyes sharp on her.

"It is," she agrees. She turns to Kenny. "Would I able to run some in-depth tests?"

Kenny inclines his head. "It is the Commander's wish. You may begin here, or I have rooms prepared for your use."

"We can start here, then check in with Atlantis, then head to the lab you have prepared," Keller observes dispassionately, but she moves with her staff eagerly toward the box of their supplies to open it and go through the equipment they have with them.

John steps closer to Kenny. "The First let you experiment on her kids?"

Kenny stares at him, eyes narrow. "The representative of the First came to our hive to induce us to join with her." Kenny’s chin comes up with a prideful tilt. "The Commander refused to place his hives under her control, and she could not force him. However, he saw the merit of what she was attempting and the Commander struck a bargain with her." Kenny turns his gaze on Keller again. "It was noticed in the first failed test that the younger Wraith responded with more initially positive results to the treatment. The Commander believed that Wraithlings who had only just awoken to the hunger would be the key to making the treatment work."

"But you didn't have your own queen, so you needed to outsource the 'Wraithlings'," John realizes. And he asks, "What did Todd promise her, in exchange?"

"The First had a nest that was the appropriate age," Kenny agrees in response to John's first observation, then eyes John. "The First was impressed with the Commander. In exchange for the nest, he gave her a queen to brood. She felt that an acceptable bargain."

John inhales. He's not sure if it's better that Todd's involvement with Helen was strictly business, but he's glad that whatever it was is complete and past.

Kenny seems entertained by John’s discomfort. "You have some attachment to the Commander," he says, and it's not a question.

"Yeah. I do." John watches the Wraithlings, who are gathered around Keller and her staff curiously. "Is that going to be a problem?"

Kenny's teeth are bared in what could be amusement, but could also be disdain. "Let us say that it explains a few things."

"Like what?"

Kenny doesn't answer, instead turning toward the Keeper, who has walked over to them. She eyes John with disfavor. "You are the commander of these people?"

"Yeah, I guess."

She shoots him another glare worthy of his third-grade teacher.

Kenny interrupts. "This is the Keeper of the Nest. The First has three Keepers," he observes, "which is considered extravagant by Wraith standards."

The Keeper turns to him and bares her teeth in sudden amusement. "The Queen of Bones is never extravagant," she says definitively, and she and Kenny both laugh.

John's not sure he gets the joke, but one thing is for sure. "I did not think you knew how to laugh," he says to Kenny. The Keeper glares at him, and John clarifies, "I'm just talking to him, because he's always so serious around my people." John shifts his weight. "Do I call you Second-in-command here as well as on the hive?"

Kenny tilts his head at John in surprise. "In hivesense the title includes this differentiation," he muses out loud. "You could say Second-in-command-of-the-hive. But if we deal with many hives you will become confused."

"Humans are rather limited," the Keeper observes with some surprise. "I have not conversed with many."

John guffaws, though he tries to smother it.

Kenny narrows his eyes at John. "That is unusual for a member of the First's hive," Kenny tells John. "Which you will learn if you stay here for any length of time." Kenny turns to the Keeper. "The First has allowed John Sheppard to title her 'Helen.'"

"Helen?" the Keeper says, surprised. "What does it mean?"

John inhales. "It's the name of a beautiful woman, who lived long ago," he says. He doesn't want to get into the she caused a war part, though honestly casting the Wraith queen as the Trojan princess is partially him hoping that Atlantis comes out of this alliance closer to being on the Greek side of the equation than the Trojan one, because they've been screwed over before.

The Keeper thinks about this. "It is certainly different. Though not so lovely a title as Queen of Bones."

"To each their own, I guess." John glances over at Keller only to see that she's been completely enveloped by young Wraith. He's alarmed at first, but then he sees Alvarez and Adrien laughing, so he turns his alarm to something else. "So, Helen’s hive deals with a lot of humans? In a non-dinner related fashion."

Kenny looks at him with a look that's more the type John expects from him. "Of course your people are the only humans in the entirety of the galaxy that are worth the bother of allying with," Kenny says witheringly.

John glares at him. "I was under the impression that Wraith destroyed societies that began to challenge them technologically."

The Keeper hisses. "It is one of the reasons the Queen of Bones retreated to this place," she says. "The arrogance of younger Wraith grew too tiresome."

Kenny inclines his head to her deferentially. "The First has made pacts with the worlds of this star system," he explains to John. "Her hives are allowed to feed and in exchange she has defended the humans from the predation of others."

"Sounds like a protection racket," John observes. Both Kenny and the Keeper give him an odd look. John rolls his eyes. "Look, it sounds great, but I feel like it might not be as good as it sounds."

The Keeper looks offended, but Kenny only nods. "There are many things about Wraith that you have not been allowed to see," he says, and John shivers.

"You know, Todd said almost that exact thing to me when we first met."

"And was the Commander not right?"

John nods. He's watching Keller, seated on the ground with two of the Wraithlings who are weaving her hair in a complicated braid while she looks at a device in her hand, grinning. And the others-  Brigid and Alvarez are seated in a circle with three of the Wraithlings and Brigid appears to be teaching the lot of them some sort of game; Laura and one of the other Wraithlings are both bent over a tablet together; Adrien and the last Wraithling are in the orchard with the Wraith who was in the hut earlier, picking fruit from the trees.

"He was right. I'm just..." John sighs. "I think I want too much for him to be right, and that's burned us before. So I'm trying to be skeptical."

Kenny exchanges a look with the Keeper, who seems impressed. "You have known only the wanton predation of other hives, and still you came here to meet the First?" John's about to protest that he came because of Todd, but the Keeper turns to Kenny and continues, "Your Commander is a singular Wraith, to have inspired such faith."

Kenny inclines his head in acceptance of the compliment. "It is true."

The Keeper moves toward her charges, curious to interact with these humans as well.

Kenny smirks at John as they watch her walk away from them, and says, voice sudden and urgent, "Sheppard, you ask if it will cause trouble for you to be attached to the Commander." John stiffens, sliding his eyes to Kenny, but Kenny is watching the Keeper, like he's making sure she's far enough away to not hear his words. "Just remember how Wraith fight for things," he says, then he shakes his head. "I must return to the hive."

John sighs. "We should check in with Atlantis. Let them know we're okay." He doesn't want to, because he knows what orders Caldwell will give him; he's not even supposed to be here. But he's not going to make Keller face reporting in alone, and he should really pass on what he has to Woolsey about the possible alliance.

Kenny pauses. "I would not advise that you reveal this location to Atlantis." He looks at John suddenly and harshly. "Unless you have done so already."

John shakes his head and answers verbally as well. "No. I've told no one. The others probably don't even know the address, because they weren't looking at the DHD when I dialed."

Kenny nods, and he seems... pleased with John, which is a truly novel thing. "Our hive has the only portal in this system," Kenny explains. "It is one of the reasons the First has been able to remain separate from other Wraith for so long and prevent them from preying upon her protected worlds. It would... not be well for our alliance if the existence of the portal brought harm to that which belongs to the First. And we are still waiting for the Commander to return."

John inhales. "I should probably learn more about Helen, look at some of her planets, before I tell Woolsey about the alliance she proposed."

Kenny loses some of his tension. "I think that would be wise."

John nods. Honestly, he was just looking for a reason to wait for Todd to get back, and here he has one.

Chapter Text

Michael's interruption means that he places another step between himself and returning to his hive, but Todd refuses to let anything else delay him.

When the final portal is established, he steps through it with an eagerness that fills his bones. The remaining warrior and the young nestbrothers are close behind him.

 

The familiarity of the hive is welcoming as he steps forward into it. Todd recognizes the Wraith who guards the portal.

The Wraith recognizes him as well, lowering his weapon. Commander, he says in greeting. Todd can feel that the guard recognizes that something about him has changed since he was last present on the hive, but is confused as to what exactly it could be.

Todd reaches out to him in the hivesense and relaxes into the sensation of being joined to a group of other Wraith. It is different than what he first experienced on the Devourer's hive, as he feels no need to guard himself here. He reaches through the hive and touches his Second, the ripple of recognition and pleasure rolling back toward him and spreading out through the hive. Soon, the entire hive will know that he is returned. Soon, they will all know the touch of his mind again, different though it may be. Todd inhales slowly; it is possible that they could reject his command. Usually if that happened he would have to face a challenger, and he does not anticipate having trouble defeating any of the Wraith he knows are upon this hive. However, in this case, if they do reject him they will certainly turn to the Ancient One instead of another Wraith, and he does not believe he could face her and be victorious. It is a moment of uncertainty in which he remains tense.

 As Todd expects, his Second-in-command arrives promptly. He has touched Todd's mind in the hivesense, but he pauses when he arrives, giving him a look up and down which takes in many things. Todd chose his Second well and in that moment wonders if he chose perhaps too well, for he feels that his Second sees more than even Todd sees. His Second's gaze lingers on Todd's left hand before rising to meet Todd's eyes. "Commander," he says, but he says it more like a question than a statement.

Todd tenses. I am your Commander, he replies, leaning on the authority of the words and of his mental strength, which he had also used to capture the warriors from the Devourer.

His Second bows his head. You are my Commander, he agrees, the mental words resounding with affirmation. Nothing has changed in that regard. He lifts his head and his lip curls in disdain while his eyes narrow. "Did this happen because of Sheppard?" he asks.

"No," Todd tells him, and his Second nods in acceptance. "You have seen Sheppard?"

His Second seems both disgruntled and amused. "He is here. With Doctor Keller, and others. They have been studying the nest."

Todd nods. "And the experiment was successful?"

"More so than initial estimates had suggested it would be," he replies, and Todd can feel the interest coming off of his Second, who had been reluctant to acknowledge the project's usefulness at first.

Todd turns to those he brought with him. The guard Wraith has reached out to the newcomers with curiosity and Todd regards them now. The remaining warrior is best as a gift to the Ancient One, as only a queen can fully sever the connection a warrior has to another queen. The pair of young Wraith he makes known to his Second. These are nestbrothers from the hive of the queen who is allying against us. I have promised them their choice of postings among my hives, or the hives of the Ancient One's alliance.

His Second curls his lip further at the mention of this other queen, but he regards the young Wraith, and gestures to the guard. You are welcome in this hive and we will see you properly fed, he assures them. Then, you will be taken to meet the First.

Their attention is caught, and they regard everything around them with anticipation that borders on fear. The First, they murmur, The Ancient One?

The guard Wraith takes them in hand, guiding them with hivesense and welcoming them.

 

Todd steps toward his Second and they move down the hall in easy accord, their strides matching. I wish to go to Sheppard.

I thought you would say something like that. His Second seems amused. Should I remind you that the First awaits a report on your mission?

Todd shakes his head. Sheppard first. He pauses. Sheppard has met with the Ancient One?

Yes. She was... impressed.

Todd halts. How so? He narrows his eyes at his Second. He is well?

His Second assures him, He is well. She was greatly amused and allowed him to name her.

Todd relaxes marginally but still keeps his sharp gaze upon his Second. Did she.

His Second doesn't meet his eyes, and Todd lifts his own lips in a snarled imperative.

He gave her compliments and she thought he was propositioning her, his Second says eventually. It is good that she wants this alliance or she would have been angered when he refused.

Todd stands for a moment. He is... displeased at the thought of Sheppard being so desirable to the Ancient One. He knows she has taken human lovers before, and he is surprised to realize that he does not want to share Sheppard in that manner. It is an unusual feeling. He refused her.

Yes. His Second doesn't comment, only continues, He is still on the planet, with the nest.

Todd nods.

 


 

Todd steps into the orchard, the air filled with the scent of fruit. He hears the soft hum of voices and follows the sound.

He finds the nest in their usual space where they undergo instruction from the Keeper, though now they are sprawled out, separated into smaller groups, and there are humans mingled among them. When he left, the nest had been kept quarantined from the settlements of this world, as well as from most Wraith, as a precaution while they initially underwent the gene therapy treatment. That policy likely was held in effect most of the time he was gone; the Wraithlings seem fascinated by their human visitors. There are two humans strolling through the orchard, a Wraith and one of the Wraithlings with them.

A Wraith Todd recognizes as one of the ones most instrumental in implementing the treatment is near to Doctor Keller, along with the Keeper, four of the Wraithlings, and one other human. Keller has a container set on the flat surface before her that is usually used as a stool, but the makeshift table is apparently sufficient for her purposes as she gestures to the eyepiece of a human apparatus, those gathered each pressing an eye to it in turn. Their heads are bent together, and Keller is listening to one of the Wraithlings as he speaks to her. His words are greeted with nods from the older Wraith, and Keller gestures the other human, who reaches into a pile of objects beside the makeshift table and hands another device to Keller. She holds it out to the Wraith, and she, the Wraith, and the Wraithling all continue to point and nod as they speak to each other.

Sheppard is seated on the ground, not far away, watching Keller. He appears relaxed, his rifle lying on the ground between his drawn up legs. On one side of him a human woman is seated, and on the other side is one of the Wraithlings. The Wraithling is holding Sheppard's jacket, seemingly intrigued by the fabric, and the woman is leaning over Sheppard and speaking with expansive gestures. The Wraithling looks doubtful at what she is telling him, and Sheppard laughs suddenly, reaching out to clasp the Wraithling by the shoulder and lean in to speak to him with a grin.

Todd is struck by the scene; he had stopped walking when he first saw the group, and he stands for a long moment, just watching.

The Wraithling is scowling at Sheppard and the woman, and one of his nestbrothers comes over from Keller's discussion to see what is happening. "She says this fabric is woven from the hairs of great monstrous beasts called dinosaurs!" The first Wraithling tells the other with incredulity.

Keller overhears this and says loudly, "Laura, stop it!"

The woman, Laura, does not appear the least bit chastised. Sheppard has fallen over, shaking with laughter.

Todd shakes his head, amused as well. He begins to pick his way toward them.

"This is not made of hair," the second Wraithling observes. "But of slender fibers."

"No, their hairs just grow like that," Laura continues, her face earnest. "The hairs are so fine it's incredibly hard to weave them into garments. This stuff is priceless."

"How does one hunt a beast such as a dinosaur?" the second Wraithling asks her eagerly.

"Well," she begins, "you're going to need a big boat."

"You're mixing up your mythologies, that's Jaws," Sheppard tells her, schooling his features free of amusement. He sits up, and, as his eyes rake the area in an instinctive, periodic sweep, he sees Todd. His expression lights up with pleasure.

The Wraithlings beside him are the next to notice, crying, "It is the Commander!" They jump to their feet and come to him.

The Keeper, who had been crouched beside Keller, watching her work in fascination, jumps up in alarm. Commander, you startled us. I have been very studious about their lessons, but the human scientist came, and we have fallen behind. Her mental touch is scattered, both defensive and apprehensive.

It is well, he assures her. He spreads his arms, welcoming the Wraithlings to him. All seven line up facing him. "I have not been able to come to you since you underwent the treatment," he murmurs thoughtfully. "I am pleased to see you thriving."

They exchange looks and the boldest of them says, "Commander, will you join our lessons? Doctor Keller is demonstrating the way that humans detect genetic variations."

Todd turns to look at her; Keller looks amused. "That is a conversation that I have already had with Doctor Keller," he says. "I will return to you soon, but now I must see to other things." He turns his head and lets his gaze rest fully on Sheppard.

Sheppard is watching him, leaned forward eagerly. When Todd looks at him, he licks his lips.

The Wraithlings return to their lesson, and Sheppard stands from his seat. He leaves his jacket on the ground but picks up the rifle; Laura leans over to him and they have a brief conversation that ends with John shrugging and removing part of the rifle. Laura takes both pieces and pockets the smaller, walking over to put the larger frame of the weapon in a container that rests not far away.

Todd stands still, waiting for Sheppard to come to him, though he feels a small tremor of anticipation run through him.

"It's good to see you," Sheppard says as he comes close, his tone deceptively casual.

Todd narrows his eyes. "Come with me." He turns around and, without waiting, walks swiftly back to the facility. There is a warrior stationed near the entrance to the orchard, and Todd sweeps past him, leading the way into a side room. Though currently empty, the room contains a long conveyor which is used to examine the produce from the orchard and, nearer to the door, a console with which the device can be controlled. The door closes behind them and Todd turns to face Sheppard.

John is watching him with a sharp awareness, and when Todd reaches for him he comes easily, stepping forward until they are pressed close, John's hands tangling in Todd's coat and pulling himself up the few inches he needs to bring their mouths together.

Todd's arms are wrapped around John and he sighs into the kiss, opening his mouth to John without reservation. John nips at his lips and tongue, and explores Todd's mouth with a slow certainty.

John leans back after a moment, looking at Todd. He doesn't speak, but the air feels heavy with the thoughts of desire that he flings out and wraps around Todd. Todd touches John's face, drawing him back into a kiss, before he slides his hands down John's body, his long nails catching at John's clothes.

"Okay, hey now," John protests. "I can take it off." He demonstrates by pulling off his shirt and dropping it on the floor before going to work on his belt. "I didn’t bring a spare, but maybe I should look into that."

Todd barely hears his words, already spreading his fingers over John's skin, following the trail made by his left hand with his mouth, the edges of his pointed teeth dragging against John's skin without exerting any pressure.

"Fuck," John hisses in a sharp exhalation of breath, his hands suddenly buried in Todd's hair, pulling him closer. Todd hums; his other hand is caught against John's hip, holding him as John's body thrusts against him. John pants for breath, the warm exhalation of it ghosting over the side of Todd's face.

Todd pulls away long enough to look at John, meet his eyes. He raises his left hand to touch John's face. He is saddened, briefly, that John is not Wraith, because he does not believe he has speech to explain what he has come to understand. But, if John were other than what he is everything Todd understands about what is between them would not be what it is.  "John," he begins, in an attempt to explain. But John has either developed the power to know what he wishes to speak, or at the least he desires physical closeness over speech at this time. Todd does not object.

John reaches to push Todd's coat off his shoulders, and Todd lets it fall as John grabs fistfuls of Todd's tunic and pulls him forward, kissing him briefly before pulling at the garment. When he releases it, Todd pulls it over his head. John pushes him back until Todd comes up fast against the console. John spreads his hands over Todd's body, leaning in to lick long stripes over the curves that shape Todd's abdomen and rub his rough cheek over Todd's chest until Todd shivers. Todd has one hand in John's hair; his right hand is trying to find the catch for John's trousers but he is distracted by John’s touch, and with trying to see to John’s request and not rend his clothing, so it is a moment before he accomplishes his goal.

And suddenly John is gone from under his hand. Todd inhales, the sense of John still filling him, and realizes that John has dropped into a crouch, reaching to pull Todd's boots off. Todd hums in pleased agreement; shedding his trousers, he plants his right hand on the deactivated console firmly enough to get the leverage to wraps his legs around John and pulls him back, close, pressed all against Todd.

John trails his lips farther down Todd's stomach, pushing back a little to get the space so that his lips can reach all the way down. His hands settle on the marks at Todd's hips, and John bends down, his tongue licking a hot line up the underside of Todd's cock before enveloping the head completely.

Todd leans back, both hands braced on the console, and he cries out, his hips thrusting up against the heat of John's mouth. John hums in achievement, one hand circling Todd's length and stroking it, his left hand sliding down the inside of Todd's spread thighs, and then back, until it finds his opening. John presses his left thumb against the opening and Todd admits him, his hips rolling up into to the touch. "John," he murmurs, and only realizes in this second utterance that they are both unnaturally quiet, for them; his mind is filled with the feel of them, with the taste and the sense of John, and he can't think how he didn't think to speak, can't understand how John cannot be in his mind and yet so fully consume it.

John lets the head of Todd's cock slip from his lips and he leans up with a grin. "Hey," he murmurs in response. His hands under Todd's hips pull Todd closer against him, and Todd hums in anticipation of John entering him. John reaches to prepare himself and as he lines himself up with Todd's body he leans his face up for another kiss.

Todd pulls John's face to his, and he's moaning low in his throat as he feels John's thick head slide inside of him, the length of him pushing farther in, spreading Todd apart to make room for himself. John is panting against Todd's lips as he comes to rest fully, and Todd doesn't wait, rolling his hips against John.

John bites back a moan, but gives Todd what he asks for, pulling back and snapping his hips against Todd. His hands are braced against the console beside Todd's hips, but he reaches up with his right hand and, with his fingers wrapped in Todd's long hair, pulls him in for another kiss.

Todd is humming against John's lips, a low thrum that echoes through him as he nuzzles against John’s jaw and throat, rocking with John's thrusts. There is something warm spreading under his skin, and he tries to hold it back, but he can't stop his lips pulling back to bare his teeth in readiness as he wraps himself around John.

John kisses the side of his face. "Where my shirt will hide it," he says in instruction, and Todd's eyes dart to meet John's. John kisses him again, briefly, before turning more of his attention to the movement of his body. "You look like you want to bite me," he murmurs. "Just do it low enough I can cover it with my shirt." He leans back a bit, his eyes meeting Todd's in challenge as he reaches for Todd's cock, wrapping his fingers around it in a tight fist.

Todd moans, and he bends his mouth to the fleshy expanse just above and behind John's collarbone and before he can even consciously choose to follow John's directive, he bites down. The act is itself a signal to his brain, and he comes in the circle of John's fingers.

John's thrusts stutter against Todd, and he mutters, "Fuck," again in a broken and desperate tone of voice. His right hand tightens in Todd's hair, spasming to hold him close one last time as he snaps hard against Todd and comes.

Todd closes his eyes, humming in satiation and satisfaction. He has never felt so attuned to another being, and he has no interest in removing himself in any way from John.

John's hand is soft in Todd's hair now, fingers stroking down his cheek to grab the tuft of his beard and turn his face to meet John's. John's eyes are wide and dark with satiated arousal, and he is grinning lazily. "I feel like all this humming is new. There a reason?"

Todd tenses. John feels so attuned to him, he'd forgotten that John doesn't know his thoughts.

"Hey." John's expression is worried now. "It's okay. Never mind."

Todd sighs. He reaches for John and cups the back of his head with Todd's left hand to keep him from pulling away. "It is..." He trails off and tries instead, "Understand that speaking of this is not common. I do not know if I know the words."

John nods. "Would it be easier if we were in the mental room?"

Todd's not entirely listening. "There may not even be words," he muses. "It involves... queens."

He feels John tense. "This is about Helen?"

"Helen?" Todd queries.

"The, um, the First." John's eyes narrow. "You... you're with her?" He asks the question with a fierceness that reveals to Todd some of the reasoning behind John's desire to take what Todd desired to submit to him.

"No." Todd touches John's face. "Not as you mean. We... were intimate, but the need for our relations is ended. It was before this, before you."

John inhales slowly and relaxes. "Okay. Um, look, I-" He inhales again, pressing into the touch of Todd's fingers before leaning back slightly.  "Maybe we should straighten up a bit before we talk about this," he suggests, and Todd realizes that John is still inside of him, Todd's legs holding him close. He doesn't want to give that up, but he nods. He presses his own fingers to John's lips as John pulls away and John turns into the touch, Todd's fingers trailing along the edge of his jaw, his nails catching against hair-roughened skin.

 

They are still righting themselves when the door opens. John turns to it in hostile alarm, but Todd knows what it is.

There is a warrior standing there in mute summons.

Todd rests a hand on John's shoulder. "The Ancient One summons me to report to her."

John narrows his eyes. "Do you want to, um, shower first or something?" He looks uncomfortable.

"No." Todd reaches to touch John again. "It is good for her to know."

John raises an eyebrow. "To know?"

Todd leans in to brush his nose along John's skin, his sensory pits flaring. "That I chose you, John Sheppard." He meets John's eyes. "I do not have time now to explain more, but remember- I chose you. I must go now."

John glances between him and the warrior. "Can I come with? Or is that not good?"

Tod hesitates. "I would like nothing better," he says honestly. "But I do not think this will be an entirely pleasant interview, and I do not know if you truly wish to be a part of it."

John's eyes darken. "If she thinks she can..." he begins in a threatening voice.

Todd shakes his head. "She is well within her right to observe that I failed in the purpose in which she sent me." His eyes rest heavily on John. "And I failed to deliver prompt report upon my returning, as a Wraith should always do for their queen."

John's eyes open wider, and, for a moment, Todd thinks that maybe he understands.

John inhales deeply. "I'm coming with you," he says with certainty this time.

Todd smiles. 

Chapter Text

John's a little confused. Okay, he's way blissed and also possibly a lot confused and the combination is starting to make him feel belligerent, but Todd has promised to explain a few things as soon as they get some time to do so. John just needs to survive another encounter with the First. That's all. His shoulder itches, where Todd bit him.

John would be lying if he said he wasn't pleased that Todd did come to him first when he returned, before even reporting to the queen, which is apparently a huge Wraith no-no. John's encountered enough queens that he can confirm that they tend to be a bit full of the fact that they're the top of the food chain, and they like to remind people of it.

John has a little residual anxiety about reporting to a superior while smelling like sex, but if Todd's okay with it he supposes he has to be too. He remembers Kenny's words- remember how Wraith fight for things. Maybe rubbing it in Helen's face like this is passive-aggressive enough to put him on the map for Wraith arrogance.

He follows Todd back down the hallways to Helen's throne room, and even though Todd has some long-ass legs they're striding side by side for most of it. Todd warned him that this could get dicey but John's pretty sure he's seen Todd talk himself out of far more unpleasant situations so he can't imagine that what amounts to a dressing down will get that bad.

 

They step into Helen's throne room. She is seated on the throne and watching them expectantly. Her pet is nowhere to be seen for which John is grateful.

They aren't even two steps into the room before Todd comes to a halt and falls to his knees.

John whirls toward him, drawing his Beretta automatically.

Todd is gritting his teeth, glaring at Helen, his hands curled into fists and his expression tense with strain.

John doesn't know how to help. His initial instinct is to shoot Helen, but he manages to pull himself back from it. Think, John, he berates himself, and he recalls Kenny's words again. Well, he's not sure how to be obnoxiously arrogance in this situation other than winging Helen in the arm... But he thinks suddenly of his and Todd's mental room.

Closing his eyes, John reaches in to their shared mental space. Todd, he calls, trying to pull Todd into it with him. It doesn't work right off, so he beats at the walls until he feels Todd's mental hand in his and he determinedly pulls Todd in.

Todd stumbles against him, his arms around John's neck. He looks harried and his eyes rest on Sheppard in confusion. "John?" he asks.

"I have no idea," John says quickly. "But I'm trying to help. It is working?"

Todd grins, the expression warm and lit with mischief. Todd leans against him, his forehead touching John's, and he hums softly under his breath. John realizes vaguely that Todd is humming in the real world, too. He opens his eyes, but the overlay of seeing both places at once threatens to give him a headache, and John closes his real eyes again, concentrating on trying to pull Todd out from under Helen's power.

Slowly, Todd manages to fight off Helen's control. He rises to his feet to face her.

Helen does not look pleased. Her eyes dart to John and focus on him. After a moment that feels like it takes up an entire afternoon of her staring at him, she releases both of them, looking away. "You failed in your mission," she observes.

"I have other intelligence," Todd replies mildly. "Concerning the queen who would challenge your plans."

Both of them are speaking like she hadn't just tried to body slam him five seconds ago, a battle of minds that Helen was genetically predisposed toward winning. John grits his teeth.

Helen doesn’t ask what this other intelligence is, but Todd starts talking anyway. "The queen calls herself the Devourer. She is young enough that she doesn't remember the war. She has seven hives that she has taken over control of from their commanders or queens, but her control is limited by her ability to feed them safely. She has promised them that she will bring them to a new feeding ground, but she has failed to gain the information necessary to fulfill this promise."

John wants to ask questions, but at the moment surviving this interview is more important than another queen with her sights on Earth. Also, he's reminded how important it could be to Atlantis to have an ally like Helen.

Helen inclines her head slowly, like she accepts that report, but then she says snidely, "And you came by this information?"

"I have seen this queen," Todd says, in the same mild voice he used before.

John inhales sharply, but tries to calm his breathing so no one notices. He does not want to think about what some other queen did to Todd if the one he actually kind of likes is trying to throw him around. But, Todd is here, everything is fine, no need to get upset now.

Despite his intention to go unnoticed Helen turns to him and stares, her eyes luminescent in the low light. John bares his teeth at her in a parody of a smile and thinks some Dirty Harry at her, though he's not sure she can hear him. Go ahead, make my day.

Her response seems unusual, but John supposes everything about Helen isn't usual to what he thought he knew about queens. "I have received your gift from your Second," she says, seemingly apropos of nothing. "I accept your intelligence, though it was not what you were sent for. You may consider our contract concluded."

Todd tenses like this is not a good thing. Helen leans forward in her throne and beckons him to approach her. Todd does so. John stays where he is, though his eyes are sharp on Helen, who is ignoring him now.

Helen raises her right hand and touches Todd's face. He tilts his head back in a way that seems inviting, but turns his face away so that he's not looking at her.

"Do not worry," she says soothingly. "I had already given your mission up as failed and have made other arrangements. Your hives are still welcome here, as long as our joint experiment continues." Her talonlike fingernails press against Todd's cheek, and before John can even inhale she swipes her hand across Todd's face, laying the flesh open to the bone.

Todd snarls, but rolls with it like he was expecting something of the sort. John's instinctive shout of protest is subsumed in a sort of snarl. His hand is clenched around the grip of his Beretta and it takes a lot for him to stop himself from raising the weapon.

Helen is watching John expectantly, as if awaiting his challenge. Todd stands tensely, his head cocked toward John without looking at him, also waiting for John's reaction.

If Todd had taken even a single step toward John and away from Helen, John knows he would have shot her. But Todd doesn't move, and John knows that it's because if John does try to attack Helen, Todd is standing close enough to launch an attack as well; he will help John kill her.

It's nice to be able to count on support, but they're here for a reason other than John staking his claim. John inhales slowly and holsters the Beretta. He crosses his arms over his chest. He is not happy about this.

He expects smugness from Helen, but her face is blank of expression. "It would be better for you if I do not see you for a long while," she says to Todd, dismissing them.

Todd inclines his head, then turns sharply and sweeps past John, continuing out of the room without stopping. John turns to follow him.

They're some ways down the hall when John grabs Todd's arm. "Hey."

Todd turns to him. Greenish blood is flowing over his face and dripping, sluggish and dark, down onto his coat. His expression softens when John raises a hand toward it helplessly. "It will heal," Todd says.

"Let me take you back to Keller," John fusses.

Todd smiles at him affectionately. "No," he denies softly. "I must return to the hive." He pauses, and reaches to cup his left hand against John's cheek. "Will you come with me?"

John nods.


 

 

True to Todd's word, by the time they make their way to the hive the cuts on his face are mostly healed. He doesn't wipe away the blood that very obviously shows what happened.

Kenny greets them on the hive, and snarls almost as loudly as John did when he lays eyes on Helen's handiwork. He and Todd have a mental conversation that results in a sharp nod from Kenny, who collects a few Wraith and enters the transport they just arrived in, ostensibly headed back to the planet.

John is tense with the need to get Todd somewhere he can touch him, all over, and not be interrupted. When Todd strides down the halls of the hive, John is a step behind him.

They head to the bridge where Todd must give some instructions or an update to the crew, though it's all done mentally so mostly John just stands there and tries to look capable without being overtly threatening, and interested while having no idea what's going on. One or two of the Wraith present curl their lips at him and he bares his teeth back in a hard expression that's probably more sneer than smile.

Todd pauses beside him at one point, and presses his left hand to the hidden bite mark on John's shoulder. John's not sure what he's supposed to do, so he just reaches back with his own left hand and grips Todd's forearm. Todd seems pleased, and the other Wraith seem like they get the message, expressions ranging from disgust to intrigue.

Finally, Todd motions to John that they're leaving, and John follows him back out into the corridors. They walk for a while more, until Todd pauses at a door and opens it. He gestures John in before him.

The room isn't really what he'd expected, though he's not sure he knew what to expect. The lighting is low, even more so than elsewhere in the hive, and somehow... softer. The furniture consists of what looks like a huge and fairly comfortable chaise lounge, a couple small tables of varying height and probable purpose, and a curtained bed. There is an alcove that looks like it leads to what is either a closet or a bathroom, judging by human standards, and another, larger doorway on the other side of the room that looks like it leads, given the ornamentation on the door, to a more formal area. Several of the tables are covered with objects; the one closest to the door has an Atlantis tablet sitting on it along with the other items. John steps forward and brushes his fingers over it. It's an older model so Todd's probably had it awhile; it looks like it's out of battery. John looks up; on the wall above the table there is a perfect oval of poured metal that likely serves as a mirror, that function born out when he sees in its reflective surface Todd step up behind him.

"This your place?" John says, though it's not really a question he needs answered.

"Queen's chamber," Todd says. "I have... appropriated it for my use, as I do not think this hive will have a queen for quite a long while."

John turns to face him. Todd's eyes are searching him for something and John realizes that he's tired. "I'm down with that," he says. "Queens give me the heebie jeebies."

Todd cocks his head at the phrase. John can't help reaching for Todd, and his own displeasure must show on his face because Todd leans into his touch reassuringly. He lets his jacket fall to the floor and then peels off his shirt, using the softer material to wipe the blood from his face.

John grunts, glad to have the evidence gone. The slashes have faded to thin dark lines of healing skin, and John pulls Todd's face to his to kiss him.

Todd wraps his arms around John and pulls him close, closing his eyes and nuzzling into the crook of John's neck as John kisses his way up the curve of Todd's jaw. "Come," Todd says, stepping away and gesturing John after him, toward the alcove.

"Promises, promises," John mutters as he follows, and Todd turns back to shoot him a grin.

The alcove is indeed both a closet and a bathroom, or a Wraith concept of one. There is a collection of shelves with various clothing items on them; a little tired of his own dirty uniform, John holds up a pair of spare trousers but supposes he shouldn't be surprised when they're Todd-sized. Beyond this, farther into the alcove, John can hear running water. He looks up to see that the corner of the room is a deeply inset pool of water with a continuous fall of water that serves as a shower. Todd strips the rest of his clothes and steps in, dunking his head under the water, but John holds back a moment, scanning the room. There are other fixtures that he's not sure he knows what they are; there's one that's probably a sink, with another mirror over it, and a few more of a more esoteric purpose that he decides he doesn't need to think about right now.

John looks over to find Todd leaning on the edge of the pool, watching him, the water lapping at his hips.

"Nice digs," John says jokingly. He removes his holster and sets it with the Beretta, on one of the shelves. He kneels to unlace his boots and finishes undressing.

Todd smirks. "I should hope so," he says mockingly. "Queens will accept nothing less." His eyes follow John's movements. "Most Wraith facilities are communal," Todd explains, stroking John's leg as John sits on the edge of the pool and sticks his feet in. It's surprisingly warm, though that makes sense, as it's likely not actually water and is in some way he doesn't really want to think about a part of the hive.  "Few Wraith wish for solitude," Todd continues, "but the queen's chamber is for the queen's use and only those she invites to her."

John stiffens. So, they're going to talk about this when he's sitting here naked? "Helen like it?"

Todd's hand stills. "She did not come here." He grins, but it's a dark expression. "She did not trust me."

John nods; he knows that Todd's knifed at least one queen, not something likely to encourage easy relations with other queens when obedience is a genetic predisposition. But for some reason he can't not comment, "So you went to her place." His tone is petty and he tries to offset the words by shifting closer to the water, to Todd.

"John." Todd moves restlessly, his hand sliding up John's leg in a manner that could almost be possessive. "I... It is not in Wraith nature to become jealous in this manner. While Wraith may choose to be faithful to each other, the nature and function of queens supersedes other vows."

"Okay," John leans back, lifting one leg out of the water. "Maybe we shouldn't talk about this now."

"John." Todd reaches for him. "I am trying to explain because I found myself overcome with my own jealously when I heard that the Ancient One was pleased with you."

John looks at him.

Todd bares his teeth and looks away. "It is... I do not wish to think of the possibility of you being with her."

John takes a deep breath. "Welcome to the club." And because he needs to change the subject, just a little bit, he says, "You said the humming thing has to do with queens?"

Todd sighs. "That is not what I meant to imply." He shakes his head. "The queen is the power in the hive. Her will is greater than any other's. All others are beneath her. If the queen is lost, then Wraith will rise to command the hive, but they are not offered the same loyalty. Any Wraith may challenge another's fitness to command a hive. To offer the loyalty one would give a queen to any other is... It is anathema."

"Okay," John says slowly.

"I chose loyalty to you over the Ancient One," Todd says. "I... You are not my queen, but I fully acknowledge that you are not subservient to me in the hive. You are..." He shrugs, unable to find a word.

John shivers. "You say loyalty to a queen always supersedes," he murmurs thoughtfully, "but Ke- your Second, told me that you refused to submit to Helen when her representative came to your hive."

Todd looks at him. "That is true," he muses. "The possibilities presented by Doctor Keller's research... What it could mean for Wraith is too important to surrender to another's will."

John reaches up and twines his fingers in Todd's hair. "You killed the Primary of the alliance, and made Teyla the leader of all those hives."

Todd leans back. "Yes," he says, as if wondering where John's going with this.

John shrugs. "I don't think you're as bound by instinct as you think your people are." The water ripples as Todd moves and John remembers that he isn't even all the way in the pool yet. He slides off the edge and into the water, ducking under it to get his hair wet. He comes up and wipes the water from his eyes. "But, I understand. I think." He touches the raw bite mark on his shoulder, watching the way Todd's pupils flare as he does so. "You're saying hierarchy is a part of all Wraith relationships. Either the queen's above you or your underlings are looking for ways to rise up and take your spot."

"Not quite so inveterately mercenary, I think," Todd murmurs as he leans in, his fingers joining John's as he traces the imprint of his teeth in John's flesh.

"The military can be like that," John observes, the fingers of his other hand tracing the mark on Todd's hip. "With the politics especially, once you get high up. The more power you’re playing with, the more cutthroat it can get."

Todd's breath feels warm on his skin as Todd huffs in amusement. "'Cutthroat,'" he repeats, his teeth not far from John's own throat. "Perhaps." His lips press against John's skin.

"We're the same," John says, his voice little more than a murmur. Todd leans back and looks at him. "I mean, we're about the same rank. I'm not a part of your hive, and I'm not looking to take it over. And as long as you don't want mine, then I figure we're doing pretty good." He reaches up and runs his fingers over the seam of Todd's lips.

"John." Todd lifts John against him, and John can feel his arousal building, pushing away the dramas of the day to fill his tired body with new energy. He wraps himself around Todd, his thighs flexing against Todd's stomach as he wraps his legs around him, his hands cupping the back of Todd's head, buried in his hair. John kisses him, marveling at how their positions are reversed from how they were merely hours ago, when Todd had his legs wrapped around John. Maybe that give and take is what makes it work for them- John gave Todd the reminder of his identity on Manaria, and Todd gave it back to John on Michael's planet; John gave Todd hope in the darkness of the Genii prison, and then Todd gave it back to him when John had thought he was past being able to think of escape.

John breaks the kiss with a gasp. "You've got a bed in that other room? We're gonna actually fuck on a bed."

Todd leans back and laughs, his amusement warm. He releases John, who dives under the water again, scrubbing his hair as best he can without soap, but he's not interested in learning all the fine points of Wraith bathing chambers at the moment. When he's done he steps up out of the pool and shivers, for the first time feeling the cool air on his wet skin. Todd beckons him toward the bedroom, and John takes a minute to look around for towels. "Figures," he mutters, rubbing his t-shirt over his hair in lieu of one, and then following Todd. "I'm gonna freeze," he grumbles.

"Come here," Todd says chidingly, gesturing him toward the curtained bed where Todd sits with the curtain pulled back.

John sits on the surface. It’s kind of like a mattress, though the top layer of it ripples almost like it’s a separate piece, like it’s covered with a sheet, though the "sheet" isn't really cloth, but is rather organic in a way that's in line with the rest of the hive's decor. The feel isn't as unpleasant as John had been expecting; the surface feels dry and cool instead of moist and slimy, though him sitting his wet ass down on it makes it kind of moist.

Todd pulls the gauzy curtains closed behind them, and John is surprised that the air within the curtain feels warmer, or at least less chill, very quickly, even as the water continues to evaporate off his skin. "Even for Wraith the hive is a bit too cool for comfort when unclothed," Todd says. He's leaned on his right side, and he runs his left hand up John's abdomen and chest, tangling his fingers in John's chest hair. "The swathe holds in the warmth of our bodies."

John nods in appreciation. "Nice set up. I'm sure all Wraith don't get this, though." He rolls toward Todd, throwing a leg over Todd's hip and pulling them closer together though there’s plenty of room.

Todd grins. "Did you miss earlier, when I said most Wraith prefer communal arrangements?"

John's eyebrows shoot up. "Even for..."

Todd laughs. "There is little privacy among telepaths." His hand slides over John's skin, marveling in it as he speaks.

John was tracing the lines of Todd's marking along the top edge of his shoulder, but he snatches his hand back. "Wait. So, everyone on the hive knows we're fucking?"

Todd looks at him oddly. "They are already aware." He presses his left hand again to the bruised bite-mark on John's shoulder; John's hand comes up to grip his wrist in a near mirror to the posture they'd had on the bridge earlier.

John inhales slowly. He's not above outdoor shenanigans when they're on a probably deserted planet. He’d made his peace with probably outing them to Kenny when he showed up. But he finds that he is not happy with the idea that a couple hundred Wraith are apparently going to be listening in every time they fuck. He'd understood on the bridge earlier that the other Wraith knew that he and Todd were intimate, but that's different than the potential of having them listening. He inhales slowly. He's pretty sure that, in a society where privacy isn't really the kind of thing that people freak out about, Todd isn't going to understand why this bothers him, so he needs to figure out if he can be okay with it or stop now. John blinks, realizes that he has a death grip on Todd's wrist, and slowly releases it.

Todd leans in, bumping their foreheads together. "Are you well, Sheppard?" he asks softly.

John nods, swallowing before he can speak. "Yeah. Just freaked out a little. Not used to an audience."

Todd frowns. "You are not a part of the hivesense," Todd says firmly. "And I will shield my thoughts from the hive."

John exhales, quelling his earlier panic. "Okay. That's good."

Todd growls softly, shifting his weight so that he's spread over John entirely and John is reminded of Todd’s previous remarks concerning jealousy. John's not usually into possessive guys, but he's not unhappy that Todd's not interested in sharing him.

"You are mine," Todd murmurs, "and, though unexpected, I find I very much enjoy not sharing you."

"It goes both ways," John murmurs back. "You’re mine, and I don’t like sharing." Todd leans back; John's pretty sure his expression is a mirror of John's own freak-out from moments before. "I don't mean the mental stuff," John corrects, "I get that the telepathy is part of you. I mean, when we're," he falters and clears his throat. "As long as we're still doing this, you're not doing it with anyone else. Just me."

"My body is yours alone," Todd promises solemnly.

John shudders. He leans up and kisses Todd fiercely. He hooks a leg around Todd's hip and pulls him closer. He wants- he wants more, he wants them closer still, he wants Todd inside him.

"I can feel the surface of your thoughts," Todd murmurs when their lips break apart, his left hand cupping John's balls and then trailing down his perineum, "but I wish to hear your words of confirmation."

John shudders again. "Fuck me," he gasps. "I want you in me." He feels Todd's left thumb press against his hole and he groans as he arches into the touch, his head falling back against the bed. John takes his own cock in hand, stroking himself, Todd watching his hands studiously.

Todd's slick thumb presses into him and John moans at the thick digit, knowing it's nothing compared to what's coming. John feels caught in the strange yellow heat of Todd's gaze and slides his hand down from his own cock to touch Todd's fingers where they rest, spread against the inside of John's thigh. Todd leans in and kisses him. There is a soft humming that seems to be echoing through Todd's bones, and John reaches to run his free hand over Todd's shoulder and upper back, feeling the vibration echo under his skin. Todd's hair is dry already, and John almost wishes his own hadn't gone almost immediately from wet to soaked in sweat. The anticipation is sharp, and he pulls himself against Todd. "Just do it. I want you inside me, please, now."

Todd turns to face him. "I would not injure you, Sheppard." He presses his face into John's neck, licking a trail of sweat from John's skin and curling his thumb inside until John thrashes. "I wish to have you again, and again."

"Oh, God," John moans involuntarily. "Okay, yes, but faster."

Todd chuckles. He moves, shifting so that he can slide the thick head of his cock against John's own. It's already slick with preejaculate and John jerks them both together, taking a minute to run appreciative fingers along the ridge beneath the head of Todd's cock. It jerks against his touch and Todd hums "John," his normally slitted pupils now flared with arousal.

John slides two slicked fingers in alongside Todd's. It burns, but he feels himself opening to the intrusion quickly. It hasn't been long enough that his body has forgotten. "Now, now," he murmurs, his tongue tracing the curve of Todd's ear.

Todd rumbles, with what John assumes is agreement because he withdraws his hand, the joint of his thumb coming free with a pop, and leans over John, aligning their bodies. John feels the nudge of the thick head, and then he's burning with the stretch of accommodation, and Todd doesn't stop, just slides it all the way in.

John feels a small, quiet sound of shock and pain rip out of him involuntarily, and Todd touches his face. He probably says something, but John can't hear him over how full he is. "Yes," he murmurs, "This is what I wanted, this, I... God, you're... oh, yes."

He hears Todd chuckle in response, and he feels Todd's fingers stroking gently over his chest. He might reach for Todd's hand but he's not really sure because he just floats in the moment for a while. Until his body relaxes around the intrusion and he realizes that Todd is still, waiting for him to indicate that he's ready.

John opens his eyes to see Todd leaning over him, trembling slightly with the effort of not moving. John leans their foreheads together. Move, I want to feel you, please, Todd, I want you.

He's not sure how much of that Todd gets, but Todd shivers and John moans as he feels the hot length inside of him slide out a bit to slam back.

"Fuck," John grunts. He reaches up, burying his hands in Todd's hair, and wraps his legs around Todd. "More," he moans.

Todd shivers and nods. He thrusts again, hard and with increasing speed.

The feel of Todd touching every place inside of him has John crying out in appreciation, though the quick rise of his arousal has him also panting for breath, trying to hold Todd's face close to nuzzle against the sensory pits on his cheeks and kiss his pale lips.

Todd turns his head and starts nibbling on John’s shoulder.

"Do it," John says breathlessly, thinking Todd is looking for permission.

Todd gives him an amused look, and he comes to a complete halt, John moaning in desperation, Todd leaning in to swallow the moan in his mouth. Their lips part and Todd says, "Sometimes the anticipation makes it sweeter."

John can only moan in wordless frustration, the ability to speak not worth the effort it would take, and he reaches up and bites Todd's collarbone.

It's not like he can do the kind of damage that'll last longer than a few minutes, but Todd's response is worth it. His jaw falls open and he groans, a deep sound that thrums up from the depths of his chest. And, even better, he starts moving, thrusting against John. John is so close, and he groans himself and puts his best effort toward sucking up a hickey on Todd's neck.

Todd's thrusts are getting erratic, and John is wild with it, with him, with the need to find a release from the tide of arousal filling him, and even as he drops his hand to take hold of his cock, Todd hits his prostate just right that John comes, crying out and biting down harder.

Todd makes some noise above him, and thrusts deep, and he's coming as well, John can feel the wet heat of him filling him inside.

Todd rolls on his side, panting lightly and holding John against him. John relaxes in the feeling of them and breathes in the smell of Todd. He reaches to touch Todd's face.

Todd’s expression is warm and he asks, "Can you go in, to our place?"

John's so wrung out he's not sure, but he closes his eyes to try, and he thinks Todd must give him a nudge or something, because when he comes to their room it's with Todd pulling him in.

John gasps. He can feel the pleasure, his pleasure, Todd's pleasure, everything magnified. It's everywhere, and he's just floating in it, and he doesn't want to be anywhere else, ever. "I wish I could feel you like this when you climax." He remembers when they were here together before and he thinks how amazing it would be if he could be touching Todd for real, could be fucking him and also have his tongue buried in Todd’s hand. John shivers, but he's so blissed it's not really a call to arousal. "Is... is this what it's always like for you?" John can maybe see some benefits to a constant telepathic connection.

Todd chuckles, the sound echoing strangely in John’s real ears. "With practice, I think you could achieve this mental place while also engaged in physical tasks." He sounds excited about this, and John maybe feels bad. "Do not feel that you are failing to offer me something," Todd says to him, both hands holding John’s head still so that John’s mental eyes are fixed on Todd. "Yes, I am pleased that you have taken to this design of mine so well as to have made good use of it earlier, and that we might use it to heighten your pleasure in our coupling, but do not feel that you have denied me something by being unable to offer it before." He touches John's face with his right hand. "There are other things you bring, John, that are unable to be replicated by any other. This space is not something I would have discovered without you."

John nods and, his eyes still closed, leans in to kiss Todd's mouth- in the mental place he presses his lips to the palm of Todd's hand. With practice maybe he can do more, but he's too tired for it now, and he steps out of the mental room to the real world of him on a hive, wrapped in Todd's embrace. Curled against Todd, John dozes, and then sleeps.

Chapter Text

Todd rests beside John. He does not require sleep himself but he is reluctant to leave his sleeping lover and so he remains curled around him, his fingers tracing the flat lines of John's stomach and brushing through the hairs that cover his skin.

He reaches out with hivesense to check on the status of the hive; his mind touches, briefly, every Wraith that resides within. Among them he notes the Wraith who guarded the portal at his return and the touch of the young nestbrothers. He is pleased that they have chosen to remain with his hive, though he can't say why. Perhaps it is just the same feeling that is given to every Wraith- the desire for hive, and that hive be plentiful. Or perhaps every Wraith he holds against the Ancient One he holds like a badge.

Eventually he doses, his forehead pressed to John's and the scent of John warm around him.

 

After a while, John stirs, turning over and reaching fitfully for something that he cannot seem to find. He encounters Todd's left hand and pulls it around himself. But he frowns and shivers, reaching again and eventually bringing himself to wakefulness when he cannot find what he seeks.

Todd watches him in amusement, and no small amount of satisfaction to have him here. "I trust your rest was refreshing," he murmurs.

John blinks up at him and grunts. He pushes himself up on his arms and looks down, apparently realizing his nakedness, and grunts again. He shifts closer to Todd with a groan and pulls Todd around him, not just his arm but pulling his body close against John's. "It's not that cold in here," John says, his voice thick with sleep, "but I'm not used to sleeping in the buff without even a blanket."

"Blanket?" Todd muses. He presses his lips to the back of John's neck before nosing his way through the man's short hair. "I will find you one."

John seems to blink himself further awake, and he tenses. "No, 'sokay," he mumbles. "I'll take care of it." He pushes himself up and shakes his head to clear it.

Todd frowns. He feels a distance settling in between them and he lets his left hand trail through the hair covering John's groin, matted with evidence of their tryst, to remind himself of their previous closeness.

John makes a face. "Ugh, I need a shower." He pulls away further and Todd lets him go. He must sigh, or somehow alert John to his state, because John turns back to him, frowning as he meets Todd's eyes. "Hey." John leans toward him and presses their lips together. "Sorry I'm all grumpy. I just..." He sighs and leans harder against Todd, their foreheads pressed together. "I want to stay here, with you. But I remembered that I really need to call Atlantis and tell Caldwell and Woolsey what's going on. And if you fuck me again I'm really not going to care about that. Or be excited about walking at all." The observation is made with such longing that Todd chuckles.

"The perils of duty," Todd replies, kissing John briefly. "Another time perhaps?" he asks, anticipatory desire dripping from his words.

John inhales heavily, his eyes dark. But he leans back again. "Rain check," he agrees, and stumbles his way out of the bed.

Todd follows him to the bathing area and watches as he slips into the pool, seating himself on the side.

"Enjoying the show?" John asks archly as he comes up from under the water, but Todd only smiles and hands him a bottle of cleaning liquid for his hair.

 "Thanks," John says as he takes it, and Todd hums, pleased, as John begins to rub it all over his body.

"There are some advantages to having hair everywhere," he murmurs appreciatively, and John laughs.

John is still rinsing himself off when Todd hears the inquiry from the door. He rises from beside the pool and shivers. Going to the shelves he pulls several articles of clothing from them, laying some out for John and wrapping a half-robe around his waist as he leaves the bathing room to head to the outer room's door. He opens it to reveal a Wraith standing in the hall, holding a covered tray. Todd nods to him and takes the tray from him. The Wraith seems curious but he does not ask, only completes his task and leaves.

Todd grins as he shuts the door and sets the tray on a table. Curiosity is better than revulsion, and he can feel both in the hivesense, directed toward himself and Sheppard.

"Did you just answer the door shirtless? I never thought you could get so relaxed," John jokes, walking in from the bathing room.

Todd looks up to see him wearing the long-robe that Todd had found for him. It is sleeveless, but covers John from neck to ankle, showing the lean lines of his legs when he moves. "You are learning much about Wraith," Todd observes in amusement. He looks at John again, raking him from feet to head with his eyes and John flushes. Todd looks away; John is correct, they both have duties they must see to and they cannot spend the time that passes in a way that would be more pleasurable. "The hive has reaches its destination," he begins.

"What?" John narrows his eyes. "We left the planet?"

Todd looks at him. "You wish to contact Atlantis. It is better that they do not know the location of the Ancient One's system before they commit to an alliance."

John sighs. "You should have told me we were leaving Keller and the others." His words are heavy with chastisement, and Todd bristles.

"They will not be harmed," Todd growls.

"I know," John shoots back. "But I should have communicated with them before I left. Left left, anyway." He frowns. "Hopefully Keller's still too deep in science euphoria to notice, but Alvarez is going to worry."

"My Second is there and will answer any questions they have." When John looks like he's going to protest, Todd adds, "But I understand, and you are correct, John. I should have given you opportunity to speak with them before we departed. I apologize. I... was thinking of other things, and forgot that..." He trails off, and John comes to him, touching his healed face. "My thoughts were given to getting you somewhere we could be without interruption," Todd say wryly. "I forgot that your people do not speak with hivesense and so will not be able to ascertain that my Second speaks with authority. They should have heard the words from you."

John nods. "It's done now," he says. "Let's call Atlantis and get back ASAP." His stomach, which had been making smaller noises previously, takes this moment to echo loudly. John makes a face. "I think I have an energy bar in one of my pockets," he says without enthusiasm.

Todd smirks, and lifts the cover from the tray that the Wraith had brought.

The tray holds foodstuffs and John is already stepping toward it eagerly before he stops. "Where did this come from?" he asks warily.

"The Ancient One's planet. You saw the orchard? The Wraithlings have been eating foodstuffs since they were born, and even before this time the Ancient One has a longstanding agreement with the planet's population in the providing of delicacies." John levels a speaking look at him and Todd regards him in return with exasperation. "Foodstuffs," he clarifies, "that Wraith enjoy to eat, for pleasure."

John nods. He reaches for the tray and touches its contents, which consist of a combination of fruits, boiled eggs, and strips of dried meat. "She have other agreements with the people on the planet? For providing other things?"

"Yes," Todd says. John's eyes are heavy on him, and he says, with not a small amount of irritation, "Do you trust me to tell you of it or do you require to speak to the people themselves?"

"Ke- your Second mentioned something of the sort but didn't exactly go into detail." John looks at him. "I trust you not to lie to me," he says simply.

Todd nods, dropping his eyes to look at his palm, his feeding slit pulsing slightly. "I am... perhaps irritable."

John scoffs. "It's a fun topic," he deadpans as he bites into the food.

Todd shakes his head. "There is a parasite that is native to this system of planets," he begins, "Its infection is deadly to humans, but if a Wraith should feed upon an infected person It would kill the parasite and leave the human unaffected by the feeding process."

"What?" John looks up sharply. "That's amazing!" He stills. "Or is it?"

Todd sighs. "The Ancient One saw this when she first brought her hive here. At that time the parasites were endemic to only small areas, but she saw that the humans could feed her hives and be made to be grateful for it, and still live to create more humans for feeding. She caused the parasite to be spread to more areas of the planet and to other planets in this system and the one nearest to it."

"So that they'd be dependent on her," John observes.

Todd nods. "When the hives Awakened, they learned that the humans had progressed in their knowledge since the time the Ancient One last walked among them. They understand that the spread of the parasite is not natural, and they have grown resentful. Deaths from the parasite are rare with the number of Wraith who reside in and near this system, but they understand now that the Ancient One has engineered their dependence. Her interest in Doctor Keller's gene therapy may arise from this."

"She's looking for a new sweet gig. Or just trying to pretend that she is in order to placate the masses." John looks thoughtful as he eats another piece of fruit from the tray. He raises an eyebrow at Todd and offers him the next piece.

Amused, Todd reaches to take it with his hand, but John shakes his head and places the fruit against Todd's lips. Todd opens his mouth and bites into the fruit with his pointed teeth, drawing the pieces into his mouth and swallowing. John shudders and reaches for another piece of fruit. He bites into half of it then turns to face Todd. Todd leans in and bites down as well, their lips meeting around the soft fruit as they tear it in half. The sweet juice fills Todd's mouth and he hears John moan.

John leans back reluctantly. "Need to call Atlantis," he repeats.

"Let us take care of it then." Todd trails his fingers up John's arm. "And then perhaps spare some time for other things."

John kisses him demandingly.

 


 

 

It is some time before they extract themselves from his chamber. By the time they manage to dress themselves Sheppard is already fidgety and displeased by the already worn state of his uniform as if his discomfort is some premonition of his conversation with his superiors. He twitches constantly, scratching the back of his neck and glancing around as if he expects to catch Wraith with their eyes fixed upon him.

They make their way to the Stargate, and Sheppard stands before it for a moment, running his fingers over the edge of the control device. "We haven't really talked about the fact that you sent me here," he says abruptly. "Was it to meet Helen?"

Todd stills. "Helen," he repeats, amused and struck anew by Sheppard's unusual tendencies.

"It's what-" Sheppard looks at him and narrows his eyes in suspicion. "You know."

Todd smirks. "Yes, I did give you the coordinates in the hope that when you made use of the information it would be a means of bringing your people together with the Ancient One." He inhales slowly, tasting the scent of Sheppard in the air. "I am glad that you came here." It is pleasing to have Sheppard near, and a bonus to have accomplished the furthering of his goal.

Sheppard looks back at him with a smile. "Me, too," he says warmly. He presses the glyphs that will contact Atlantis. He withdraws a small communications device from one of his pockets and his fingers tap against it apprehensively.

The portal connects, and without wasting more time Sheppard raises the communications device to his mouth. "Atlantis, this is Sheppard."

"Colonel Sheppard, where are you?" a clipped voice responds, and Todd feels his lip curl as he recognizes Caldwell.

John sighs. "Colonel Caldwell, I can't answer that question at the moment. First, let me say-"

Caldwell cuts him off harshly, "Answer the question, Lieutenant Colonel."

John inhales slowly and Todd can feel him trying to quell his irritation.

"There are more important questions you could as him, Colonel," McKay cuts in snidely, his voice faint as he does not appear to be near to the communications device on Atlantis' side.

John relaxes and his expression is fond. "All personnel well and accounted for," he says into the device, and Todd is well aware that he is speaking to McKay as much as, if not more than, he is to Caldwell. "Doctor Keller, Doctor Nivens, Medical staff Roheim and Callahan, Sergeant Alvarez, and myself." Before Caldwell can demand again John supplies, "I'm on Todd's hive. We needed out of M6R-219 fast and we were getting a busy-signal from Atlantis." He inhales again, deeply, and says like a confession, "It was the only address I could remember that I knew wasn't compromised by the Coalition."

There is silence over the line for a moment, and John takes that moment. "Sir, I've made contact with a queen who is interested in discussing an alliance. I know we've been burned before in that regard, but I think it's worth at least talking about. She... seems very invested in the idea, and has already given me proof of her intentions."

Todd narrows his eyes, wondering what the Ancient One could have given John.

"Colonel Sheppard." The voice now is that of Woolsey. "I'm glad to hear your voice, and to hear that everyone in your group is well."

"Thank you, sir. Did Major Dorsey's team make it back alright?"

"Yes," Woolsey assures him. "They were able to avoid confrontation with the visiting tribe and all returned to Atlantis safely."

John nods determinedly, and Todd watches him with amusement and pleasure. This is Sheppard seeing to the welfare of his own, in command of his own hive as he had said when they spoke before. It is pleasing to see. He knows that Sheppard has lost the rank that he held before they were missing for a long while, but the desire to care for those beholden to him is inborn and Todd does not envision Sheppard having any difficulty regaining his former position.

"You said you encountered a Wraith queen who is interested in an alliance with Atlantis?"

"Yes, sir," John affirms.

"The potential is worth discussing," Woolsey says, and Todd frowns at the calmness of his tone.  "How quickly can your group return to Atlantis?" Woolsey asks.

John checks his wrist and then rubs it, frowning. "Doctor Keller is neck deep in research, sir. It'll depend on how fast I can pull her away," he says evasively.

"Try to make it quick," Woolsey says in a tone of voice that is not a suggestion. "I have an... administrative issue, that I also need you back here to settle."

John's face drains suddenly of emotion and he says woodenly, "Yes, sir."

The portal disconnects, and Todd steps forward. He hadn't wanted to interrupt John while he was communicating with his people, but he wraps himself around John now, his arms pulling John's slightly shorter body against his own and holding him tightly. John's hands reach up to rest on Todd's arms almost absently, as if he isn't sure of what he is allowed to reach for.

Todd reaches out through the hivesense and commands the hive to return to the Ancient One's system. He senses the hive's displeasure at what seems to them to have been a pointless trip which did not even include any culling. He sighs; it is perhaps good that Sheppard must return to Atlantis as he has a need to spend some time seeing to his hives.

John stirs in his arms, turning to look at him. He looks for a long moment, as if by committing his eyes to the endeavor he can commit the entirety of the oaths he has sworn to other powers to aid him now in his desire that they should not be parted. Todd would tell him to not be concerned, but he truly doesn't understand the machinations of these humans sometimes; Sheppard is worthy in so many ways that they seem unable to see.

Todd touches his face. "Come. There is time yet."

John nods.

Chapter Text

 

Returned to the Ancient One's planetary outpost, Sheppard finds Keller with Nivens and Roheim, along with a Wraith who looks like the same one who'd been with the nest before, and a pair of the Wraithlings all in a lab that Kenny leads him to.

Keller only looks up and says, "Oh good, you're back." She gestures to a collection of specimens and what looks like a few Wraith scientific instruments. "We need to get this loaded into the container we brought with us. I want to take all of it back and run some comparative tests using our equipment so that I can understand the measurement units in Comhar's notes." The Wraith standing near her grins at John's surprised look.

"Okay," John says without argument. He looks around. "Did you leave the container in the orchard?"

"Yes, Alvarez and Brigid are getting it. I was just letting you know that's all I need before I'm wrapped up here."

John nods. "It's just the one container, so we'll take it with us to the hive and then we can gate out."

One of the Wraithlings exclaims, "You are leaving? When will you return?"

Keller smiles at him. "I'm not sure," she says with some regret. "But I hope when I do it's a bit more planned." Turning to Sheppard she introduces, "This is Taibshe," she gestures to the Wraithling, "and Comhar," she waves at the Wraith standing near her, "and over there is Daisy," she indicates the Wraithling pointing to a screen beside Nivens; he looks up when he hears his name and grins.

"Daisy," Sheppard repeats. "And... Taibshe and Comhar?" He lets his eyes rest in question on the older Wraith.

Comhar laughs silently. "It is easier to accomplish our work by adopting a human custom than to endlessly bemoan the lack of hivesense," he replies.

John finds he can't really argue with that statement. Alvarez and Callahan walk in with three more of the Wraithlings, all of them carrying the container between them. Alvarez greets Sheppard with a relieved smile.

"I'm sorry, to disappear on you guys like that," John offers in apology.

Alvarez shrugs uncomfortably. "We're ready to move," is all he says.

Keller peers at John closely. "We are leaving, right? I mean, I'm glad you brought us here, but," she looks slightly pained, "I do have other responsibilities, too."

John sighs. "Yeah. I told Woolsey we'd head back whenever you were ready."

Keller nods. She turns to Taibshe, standing attentively at her elbow, and smiles at him. "I don't suppose you could come back with us?"

"Of course!" Taibshe agrees eagerly.

"No," Kenny says, from where he stands near the doorway.

Taibshe hisses, the sound echoed by the other Wraithlings. "We are hive with the humans," Taibshe argues. He spreads his hands, and John shivers a bit to see his palms whole; it's so strange and yet so full of possibility. "They cannot fear that we will harm then," Taibshe scoffs.

Kenny narrows his eyes at Sheppard like this is all John's fault. "The nest will remain here," he says. "Until the humans have established formal agreements with the First."

Keller sighs. "That's probably a good idea," she admits to Taibshe. She rests a hand on his shoulder in commiseration. "I don't have the authority to promise anything; I have just enough to make strong suggestions." She looks at John kind of sidelong. "I think I miss you being military commander. I have no idea where Caldwell is going to fall on this."

John swallows around the sudden obstruction in his throat, but waves it off. "Don't worry, I think he'll be really excited about the present Helen gave us."

Keller looks briefly interested, but Nivens calls her over with a question about packing the case and that's more interesting. After a few minutes they're ready to go.

"I will journey to the hive with you," Comhar says, and he takes one of the handles on the container and practically carries the thing by himself so it's not like John's going to protest.

Kenny doesn't protest his involvement either. As they're on their way up to the hive Kenny says, "The First has granted you permission to use the portal and depart from this system. As a gesture toward hopeful future relations."

"Tell her we appreciate it," John replies.

Kenny's still glaring at John like he did something, but John honestly doesn't have the energy to deal with him at the moment. When they return to the hive Todd will be waiting; they already said their goodbyes in private, but John is not excited about actually leaving him, especially since Woolsey's words imply that decisions have been made about John's future. Decisions that likely involve extended stays in places far away from Todd, and from Pegasus.

John inhales a slow, deep breath. It doesn't matter what the military wants. It doesn't change the growing feeling inside him that he is supposed to be here, in this galaxy. Both his desire and the obligation he feels align in that regard. He's just going to have to do everything he can to make sure that other people understand that as well.

 


 

 

Stepping through the Stargate has them arriving in Atlantis, and John blinks against the bright daylight.

"Colonel Sheppard," Mister Woolsey claims his attention immediately. "If you would follow me."

"Of course, sir," John says, feeling unbalanced. That was quick; Woolsey must have been sitting on this for a while. John automatically checks that Keller and her people are being assisted in carrying their burden to Keller's containment area, but she is absorbed in her task and doesn't look back at him. He takes a deep breath and follows Woolsey.

But instead of his office, Woolsey leads John down the hallway to the guest quarters in the central tower. A door admits them and Woolsey says, "My apologies, Elynara, but he's only just returned. This is Colonel Sheppard."

John is confused. At their entrance, a young woman stands from where she had been sitting on the couch. Her long, dark hair is pulled away from her face and her dark eyes watch Sheppard cautiously.

John smiles politely, if still with some confusion. "Hello," he says to her and, glancing between her and Woolsey, asks, "Who, um, is this?"

"Well," Woolsey says innocently, "she's your wife."

"What?" John steps back. "Did the gate send me back through to the wrong world? Because that's happened before."

Woolsey looks like he's having more fun with this than John thinks is really necessary. "'Wife' was what she settled on after I explained that our culture frowns on the idea of indentured servitude."

"Um." John has no idea what is going on. "We've never met." He looks at the woman again. "I'm sorry. I... I don't know you." He realizes something and adds, "I had some amnesia not too long ago. If I promised you something I'm doubly sorry."

"So you deny any claim on my life?" she says suddenly. Her eyes are fierce on him.

"I..." He doesn't want to cause more problems. "Will you be in trouble if I do that?"

Her eyes narrow.

"I think Elynara would be relieved," Woolsey breaks in helpfully. "Why don't you tell Colonel Sheppard what happened, so he doesn't feel bad about not remembering you."

Elynara doesn't look like making John feel better is something she cares about. "It was the Wraith," she begins.

She is silent for a moment, and John breaks in, trying to help her by leading the conversation, "The Wraith culled your world?"

She blinks at him, like his helping isn't helpful. "Yes, but that is not... The Wraith spared me, and my mother. He said, if I ever met the people of Atlantis I should tell them that he spared me because of Sheppard. When the village called us Cursed and cast us out, I sought out the Lanteans and told them that my life belongs to the one called Sheppard." She looks at him again in assessment, as if wondering why a Wraith would know his name.

John feels like he needs to sit down. "Todd. Todd spared you from a culling?"

"So it would seem," Woolsey says. He helpfully nudges John toward the other chair in the room and John sort of falls into it. "He also saved her from some men who were attacking her."

John looks at her for confirmation. Elynara looks like she wouldn't have described it that way but she nods slowly. "There was a man who often claimed he would marry me to force my mother to give him her farm," she says. "He and his companions were there and he had hold of me when the Wraith came. The Wraith took his life, and his companions fled." She doesn't look regretful, or really thankful either. "The village took my mother's land anyway, when they cast us out."

John sighs. "Can we get her farm back," he asks Woolsey.

"No. I've had a team look into it. But we have offered to relocate Elynara and her mother. It won't be the same, but it would be safe."

John stands to face Elynara. "I'm sorry that Todd screwed up your life."

Elynara looks into his eyes. "What sort of man are you, that names the Wraith as if they are individuals and not the scourge that they are?" She shakes her head. "I am not displeased at this turn of events," she admits. She looks away. "Mother loved the farm, but if that is the price to pay for us to both be alive then even she is glad to pay it."

"Don't think that you owe me your life or anything. And I'm not..." John tries to find the best way to say it. "I've been married already, and I'm not really in a position to be able to offer you that."

Elynara regards him again in a long moment of evaluation, then nods. "You are a man whom the Wraith know by name. I do not think you would be comfortable to live with."

John huffs a laugh in spite of himself. "That's an understatement," he agrees.

"I do owe you, though." Elynara peers deep into his eyes before she leans back, waving away his protest. "In all the years we have lived under them, in all the tales I've ever heard about them, I've never heard of a Wraith who spared a life." She reaches out and lays her hand on John's arm in a gesture that feels ritual. "My life belongs to you because of the Wraith."

"Then live it," he says, with a sudden impulse. "Live your life, out in the galaxy, and tell the story, of how the Wraith spared your life. Make new tales."

She scoffs. "You are a challenge! That will not make things easier," she muses, "and my mother is already concerned."

John grins. "It'll make things more interesting," he suggests. "Look, I can't marry you but I'll give you stuff to get you and your mother settled, okay? Don't worry about that." He turns to Woolsey. "Get them whatever they need, take it out of my pay."

Woolsey's expression softens and he nods.

"You are a strange person,"Elynara says finally, "Sheppard who is known by the Wraith."

"I've been called worse," John says. He touches his forehead to hers in the Athosian gesture, and they part from each other in that manner.

 

"Was that it?" Sheppard asks Woolsey. "Your 'administrative issue'?"

Woolsey looks back at him, unreadable. "Of course. You have no idea how awkward it was having a woman who claimed to be your wife hanging around."

John shakes his head. "Of course," he echoes. 


 

                                                                                                                                                                         

Woolsey gives him an hour before reconvening senior staff to discuss Helen's offer.

John's on his way back to the conference room when he runs into Lorne.

"Well, it's been a while, sir!" Lorne grips his arm. "Really glad to have you back." He grins. "It's not the same without you running this joint."

John smiles but moves on quickly to the conference room; General O'Neill has already said that's unlikely to happen unless Caldwell chooses to step down.

He is just stepping off the stairs when he catches sight of Teyla. She's holding Torren in her arms and has her head bent close with Kanaan. They share a smile, and then Teyla looks up and sees John. She smiles again, and speaks to Kanaan. He takes Torren and walks down the corridor, off to Teyla's rooms. Teyla steps toward John, and the conference room, in preparation for the briefing. "John, it's good to see you."

"You too," John replies. "Your mission went well?"

Teyla smiles evasively. "It did not go as expected," she says without elaborating. "But you seem to have had a fortuitous encounter." Her expression darkens, suggesting rather the opposite of fortuitous. "Tell me, you believe we can trust this queen?"

"Well," John starts, but he sees a Wraith out of the corner of his eye and stops. He tenses, turning to face this anomaly. He is tensed against a possible threat, but mostly his mind is trying to reconcile the fact that he thought he'd left the hive but he's still seeing Wraith. In Atlantis.

The Wraith is speaking to Colonel Carter as they walk toward the conference room, and they are trailed by two marine guards. Carter looks up and smiles when she sees John. "Colonel Sheppard," she introduces when they get closer, "this is Scylla, who has joined my engineering department."

John's sure the shock on his face is perfectly readable. But he also remembers a conversation he had with Todd what feels like ages ago - Don't take this the wrong way but I really hope you're not, and Todd's response, I am not the only one. It's... exciting, to see that happening, becoming real. "Scylla," John tastes the word and inclines his head in greeting. "Hello, it's great to meet you. And Colonel Carter, glad to have you back."

Scylla is shorter than Todd but seems to have perfected the Wraith art of looming, though all the black doesn't hurt. He inclines his head in response to John, then leans it back slightly, his sensory pits flaring. "You are Sheppard?" he asks curiously. "Ah. I see." He tilts his head, looking at John more closely. "Yes, I understand," he says.

John wonders what exactly he understands. "That's... great." John gives Carter a what is going on look, but she's smirking so hard he's a little worried about her.

"Todd first brought Scylla over to us," Carter says in preface.

"I have since given my allegiance to the Daedalus," Scylla adds pointedly.

"Yes, and we're glad to have you."

Behind them, Caldwell clears his throat. "Could we get this briefing started?"

So John files into the conference room with Woolsey, Caldwell, Teyla, Carter, and Scylla, and everyone takes a seat. McKay and Keller show up right as they're all sitting down and slide into the two seats nearest the door. Rodney smiles at John in greeting but seems to be keeping his thoughts to himself, which honestly unnerves John more than anything that's happened yet today.

John outlines what Helen offered, what she says she wants, and then lays out the gift she gave him.

"She wants us to find Michael for her?" Keller asks skeptically. "She does know that we have no idea where he is, right?"

"Well she seems to think we're on a collision course and that we'll run into him eventually." John makes a face. "Or at least I will."

"Comforting," Rodney mutters.

"And we believe that giving Michael over to her is a wise course of action?" Teyla says. Her eyes are hard. "Knowing what he is capable of, and his enmity toward Atlantis."

John spreads his hands. "Considering the things she could have asked for, and the potential benefit of getting all the hives beholden to her on the list for Keller's treatment, and the help her scientist have already given toward advancing the viability of that treatment, I thought it was... reasonably worth discussing." He shrugs. "But it's not my decision." He looks to Woolsey.

Woolsey is deep in thought, those thoughts not necessarily pleasant. "She gave you this, as proof of her commitment," he repeats, gesturing to the device.

"I would say that the couple times she had the option to get really annoyed with me and didn't are proof of her commitment," John replies. "But, yes. She offered this as a way for us to, as she said, prevent Wraith from killing humans by reducing the number of Wraith in the galaxy."

"Please tell me we're not taking her word for what this thing is and what it can do?" Rodney starts typing on his tablet.

"Even if this alliance doesn’t work out, saying we're interested gets us the rest of the device, right? The immediate benefit could be incredible," Caldwell cuts in. "Think of the lives we could save with that kind of preemptive strike, the Wraith we could take out of the picture."

"I thought the intention of this meeting was to make peace with the Wraith," Carter puts in. "So that they'll seek the gene therapy."

Caldwell gestures expansively. "This queen claims the Wraith targeted by this device are ones who've already refused her proposal."

"But we have no idea how she asked them," Woolsey says. "Her proposal likely included being subject to her own leadership. While the removal of a large number of Wraith from the galaxy will benefit the human population greatly in the short term, we should also consider how this will impact the relationship we are intending to build with the remaining Wraith if we are accepting this... gift."

"The Wraith competing with each other has distracted them from focusing more of their resources against human resistance forces," Carter puts in reluctantly. "Causing further disarray could be advantageous, or, if we are removing too much power from this Ancient One's potential rivals, we might be setting up a more unified opposition that would, for example, have the resources to lay siege to Atlantis again, if she felt so inclined." Carter shifts her eyes to her companion.

"Scylla," Woolsey says. "You've been quiet. What do you think of this Ancient One?"

Scylla inclines his head to Woolsey. "The Ancient One is a legend among Wraith. When she did not appear after the Awakening to take what many considered to be her rightful prominence, most decided that she was only a myth. There are many tales of the destruction she has brought to her enemies, and also of the ways she has rewarded the loyal." He narrows his eyes. "I have never seen her, nor know any who have met her, other than the Commander you call Todd. There is little I can say about her precise motives, except that over tens of thousands of years invoking her still holds the power to sway Wraith, the Commander you call Jeremiah being one, and myself another." He hesitates before continuing, "I believe that if she has approached you in this forthright manner she must be acting in good faith. Her promises mean too much to too many Wraith for her to weaken their power with deception."

John wonders who Jeremiah is. While he's excited that other people and Wraith are figuring out how to not kill each other he feels somewhat less… necessary without his connection to Todd being central to making things in Pegasus work out.

Carter is saying, "While I'm cautious as to what her plans for him could be, I have to say that if she can give us any assistance in removing Michael as a threat, well, that's a very good priority. I don't suppose she has any idea where we should start looking for him?"

John grimaces. "No, she just said he would end up finding me."

Woolsey frowns and switches to a different topic. "Doctor Keller, were you able to find out anything further concerning this parasite that prevents the Wraith from feeding on a human's life?"

"Some." Keller taps on her device to organize her notes, but John suspects it's just a time buyer to organize what she wants to say because she speaks without reading from the device in front of her. "I have a sample of blood from a human infected with the parasite, on which I plan to do more testing. From what Comhar was able to tell me the parasite has a very particular life cycle that has to be completed in order for it to mature correctly, which includes a larval development stage in the gut of a member of the order Diptera and then an adult phase that develops in the circulatory system of a large mammal, of which humans are the most prevalent species in this galaxy. When an infected human is bitten by an insect, that insect then carries the larvae, and its bite infects other humans, in whom the larvae mature, and the cycle continues. From what the Wraith have been able to tell, the enzyme produced during the feeding process attracts the parasite to the feeding site and results in the parasite suffering the effect of the feeding instead of the human host."

"Can we use this, on other systems?" Caldwell asks.

"I'll have to do more tests," Keller says with a frown. "But the thing is, if a Wraith doesn't feed on the infected human, and thereby kill the parasite... Well, the parasite lives in the circulatory system, causing damage to the heart, lungs, and arteries. It can produce a number of symptoms, from lethargy and anorexia to ascites and blindness. As the parasite grows and multiples it takes up more and more space, eventually causing pulmonary thrombosis or organ failure. This is only something you should think about spreading if you're not going to blow up all the Wraith."

"Can we develop a different treatment for the parasite?" Woolsey asks.

"I'll look into it," Keller promises.

Woolsey nods and dismisses the briefly. "Thank you, Doctor, and Colonel Sheppard, for the information. I'd like everyone to spend some time considering this Helen's proposal and present me with any further thoughts you have. I'll update the SGC."

Woolsey and Caldwell leave- John would guess that they're going to have a continued conference about what he's said, and he feels a slight pang of nostalgia. McKay and Carter are talking, bent over the device; Keller is introducing herself to Scylla.

Teyla walks over to John and takes the seat beside him. She doesn't speak but he feels the weight of her presence. After a few moments he sighs. "We haven't had much success in stopping the Wraith from killing people by fighting them. Do you think..." He trails off and doesn't finish.

Teyla sighs as well. "It is... an interesting idea. To make... peace. With Wraith." She looks over to where Scylla has his head bent to the tablet that Keller is showing him; he is shaking his head, his long, white hair moving over the black leather of his coat as he reaches out to the tablet. "Trusting Wraith to not deceive is something that I do not think has ever been… positive in outcome," Teyla continues. "But I wonder... if you might make it actually work." John looks at her to find that she is smiling at him thoughtfully. She sobers. "I do not know if my people will accept such a thing. Or anyone in this galaxy."

John takes a deep breath and nods. "We'll start somewhere. And see where it goes." He reaches out his hand and Teyla lays hers over it, clasping it briefly before releasing him and standing.

"Hey," John had noticed a loud voice was notably absent from this discussion, "where's Ronon?"

Teyla's smile is patient. "He has gone with Lieutenant Edison's team to Riva."

"Oh. I'm sure he's enjoying doing something better than he would all this talking," John agrees.

"Perhaps. I believe the purpose of the mission included assisting Mister Whitten in discussions concerning our agreement with the Coalition of Planets. However, he might find it more pleasing that being present for this. He was… unhappy with Scylla's arrival," Teyla admits.

"I'll bet." John looks back over at Scylla. The Wraith has finished his conversation with Keller and is standing patiently at Carter's elbow watching her high-spirited exchange with McKay concerning the device that Helen gave them. He must feel John's eyes on him because he looks up and their eyes meet.

Teyla touches John's arm and says, "I must get back to Torren," and he vaguely feels her leaving the room.

John gets up from his seat and goes over to Scylla, Scylla stepping away from Carter and McKay's conversation to greet him. "They tell you what your name means?"

Scylla grins in a predatory manner. "I am aware," he says.

John nods. "You know the Devourer?"

Scylla's smile twists into a scowl and he hisses under his breath. "It was my misfortune to have her claim my former hive as her own and command my service. But my fortune to have been present upon the Daedalus when the Commander came there." His eyes are heavy on John. "You have left him recently, to come here."

"Yeah," John admits. He's pretty sure that denying it would just make a bigger scene, and the only people left in the room are McKay and Carter anyway; McKay already knows and John has his suspicions about Carter.

Scylla doesn't care and moves the conversation on to something he finds more interesting. "And you have seen the Ancient One."

"Yeah. I call her Helen. She's cool with it."

Scylla grins. "Jeremiah is pleased to hear your confirmation. I could not offer him proof, as the Commander very often allows one to bring one's own conclusions and does not provide evidence himself."

John grins fondly. "He does that. You told this Jeremiah what we talked about here?" He wonders if Woolsey has thought about the potential for the leaking of information within hivesense.

"I told him only that you have seen the Ancient One with your own eyes." Scylla shifts his weight, like he thinks John's about to accuse him of something. "I did not share with him the specifics you discuss here with your council."

John catches Carter's eye across the room, and he thinks that maybe this is something that Woolsey, and Carter, have already taken into account. "That's great," he says, trying to downplay what was almost an accusation. They stand for a moment and listen to McKay try to talk over Carter. "So, um," John says, kind of spontaneously, and mostly because he realizes that it's something he never specifically talked about with Todd, "are you okay with us maybe blowing up a bunch of Wraith?"

Scylla's lip curls and John can hear him snarling softly deep in his throat. "I do not approve it as a course of action," he says finally. "But I understand that it is not in my power to influence. It will not change my commitment to Colonel Carter."

"We'll see what happens then I guess," John mutters. He's strangely divided about the idea as well; he's felt that way since Helen brought it up, though for different reasons.

As if hearing his thoughts, Scylla cocks his head. "And you, Sheppard. You bring this 'gift' yet you do not seem enamored of it."

John takes a deep breath. "It's... a tricky thing. Do I want Wraith to stop eating people? Yes. Do I think this blowing up a huge chunk of the most annoying ones is the best way to do it? Maybe. Maybe not."

Scylla leans back thoughtfully.

Carter touches John's shoulder, and he jumps because he'd completely forgotten she was still there.

"I'm going to run some tests," McKay says. "I can't set it off, right?"

John shrugs. "Helen said it couldn't be activated."

McKay looks at it warily, but picks it up and carries it down to his lab.

Carter sighs. "I'm going to the mess before I join McKay in his lab," she says to Scylla. As they turn to leave she asks, "Are you interested, or would you prefer to return to the ship?"

They depart, and John... lingers. He wanders back out to the control room and looks at the Stargate.

From the corner of his eye he sees Caldwell leaving Woolsey's office. John rouses himself; he has reports he needs to write and he released the hold he has on the railing, turning to make his way down the stairs.

"Colonel Sheppard," Woolsey calls. "If you have a moment, I have an idea I wanted to run by you."

"Of course," John says as he turns his feet to cross the control room. As he approaches Woolsey's office, the Stargate activates.

"Unscheduled off-world activation," Amelia Banks reports. When the portal connects she examines her laptop. "IDC is Major Nelson," she reports.

"They're early," Woolsey muses. "Lower the shield."

John leans on the railing next to Woolsey and looks down at the gate. In actuality he's just waiting for Woolsey and whatever he wanted to talk about, but it's hard to shake the feeling that it's his job to oversee the gate teams' comings and goings. It might not be his job anymore, but it still feels... necessary.

The jumper comes through the gate, and the last thing John remembers is noticing that it's not rising into the Jumper Bay.

Chapter Text

When Sheppard leaves, already Todd feels a vibrance missing from his side. But he has tasks he must see to before he can seek Sheppard again. He turns to his Second, and to the Scientist who is called Comhar.

His Second surprises him by sharing, The First is preparing to leave the system.

Todd regards him with incredulity. To go where?

She believes the Lanteans will accept her proposal and she wishes to see their city. His Second shares this carelessly, but his eyes will not meet Todd's.

She has not left her domain in several millennia, he muses. His Second seems unimpressed but Todd is darkly amused. She was quite taken with Sheppard then, wasn't she?

It seems that certain ones are. His Second looks pointedly at Todd. He shifts his gaze away again, and when he continues Todd knows he will speak on what it is that troubles him.  She would send a hive before her, to announce her approach. She... expressed to me her concern that her hives are unfamiliar with Atlantis and she does not wish there to be any... misunderstanding.

She wishes that I go before her. Todd laughs without humor. Whatever takes me far from her sight. Todd shakes his head. "You could not have mentioned this before I sent Sheppard back to his people," he grumbles.

"I thought you would not disagree that you wished to return to Atlantis." His Second inspects the length of his dark nails, seeking patience before turning his eyes back to his commander. "She suggested, and I accepted on your behalf."

"You are not wrong," Todd allows. "But I have tasks to see to before we see to her desires. My hives are in need of a reminder of who is their Commander." He locks eyes with his Second.

His Second bristles, angered on his behalf. You are Commander, none doubt that.

We shall see. Todd reaches through the bonds shared by the entire hive, feeling all of the Wraith who fill it. You know what I have been working toward, what we as a hive have sought. We go now with the Ancient One to make alliance with the humans of Atlantis to further this goal. If there is any Wraith here who does not wish to be party to this, they will be heard now. I await them.

When he is done with this announcement, Comhar draws his attention with a respectful bow. "I wish to remain," Comhar says with a glint in his eye, "but I must attend the Ancient One. Those who wish to depart this hive may leave with my transport." He pauses, and grins a slow, predatory smile. If you leave anything left of them.

Todd shakes his head. If they oppose me I will deal with them. But no Wraith should be forced to serve a hive that does not serve them, and if they wish to seek another hive I will not stop them. He runs the smooth edge of his thumbnail over the inside of his forefinger. The universe is changing; if they are not ready now it will catch them up soon enough.

Comhar nods in acceptance, though is himself less accommodating. That which does not change, dies, he observes. Wraith are made to adapt. Our bodies heal swiftly in order to adapt without thinking and it has made the minds of many weak and slow.

Todd grins. "Well stated."

Comhar inclines his head. "I have found these new humans of Atlantis interesting, and I anticipate learning more from them." He lets his eyes rest for a moment on Todd, then he bows. "We will meet again at Atlantis, when I arrive with the First."

Todd watches him as he turns to leave. The Scientist, Comhar, is sworn to the First and to the nest, but he implies that he is loyal to the one whose interests coincide with his own. Should the First and the Lanteans fail to come to an agreement, it will bring the nest into a point of conflict. Todd's agreement with the First means that the nest technically belongs to him, but they are still young enough that they would normally spend the next few hundred years on the hive of their progenitor queen learning the ways of Wraith. If the First decides that her agreement with Todd does not fully come into effect for several centuries, then Comhar might be instrumental in removing the nest safely from her care in time to make use of Doctor Keller's skills. Wraith that do not need to feed... Todd shivers. He wonders what it would be like to be free of the hunger. Even when he was human in seeming he still felt it, burning inside him.

His Second raises his right hand and snarls, bringing Todd's attention back to the present moment.

Five Wraith enter and stand before him. The one who steps forward from the others as their leader Todd recognizes as having come to this hive from the hive he took from the Primary, when Teyla Emmagan posed as his queen. We do not think you are Wraith anymore, the leader says, his sharp teeth bared. You allow humans to dictate the course of the hive. You are not worthy to lead the hive.

Todd grins lazily at him. Your thoughts are a poison to the hive, he says back, and the leader snarls. Come, and we will see who is Wraith.

Todd has always felt that true skill is found in the moments that lead up to a conflict, in the ways that the confrontation can be altered before blows are even struck. He has little time for subtlety in this instance, but he causes the faction leader to strike in anger, which removes the other Wraith's ability to plan his attack. Attack plan doesn't always matter in leadership conflicts; most often, as he well knows, the decisive blow is planned and struck unsuspecting, but when the hive is aware of what occurs their support can sway the outcome. Todd's own announcement has alerted the hive to the possibility and even now his Second is making sure all are aware of the challenger. Todd can feel the support of the hive and it calms him while it destabilizes his opponent. He sidesteps the faction leader's attack. Having spent several days shut up in a ship with bored mercenaries, Todd employs a modification of a tactic he learned from observing them. As his assailant passes, Todd grabs ahold of his arm and pulls it back violently, twisting the other off balance in his attack and taking advantage of this to bear him to the floor of the hive. The observers hiss in alarm as Todd brings his right hand to rest on the leader's throat. The leader snarls up at him defiantly. I will give you one last chance to leave, Todd tells him.

The Wraith snarls back, You are not worthy to command. He reaches with his off hand, to try to force Todd away.

Todd lets his buried anger rise to the fore and he forces the Wraith's head backwards and to the side, breaking his neck without great effort. Looking up at the others Todd orders them, the heavy weight of hive behind the word, Leave.

They depart without another word, a warrior leading them to Comhar's transport.

Todd looks down at the dead Wraith for a moment. His Second comes to stand beside him and Todd looks at him. The other hives require the same reminder, Todd says, but his words are a tired reminder to himself. He frowns, and considers for a moment the disposition of his hives. It might be prudent to leave his primary hive here, to travel with the First's support ships, and taking another of his hives to Atlantis instead, giving him some time to deal with them. His primary hive, despite the confusion at their most recent trip just to contact Atlantis and then return immediately to the First's system, hums around him agreeably now that the disgruntled members have been removed. It does not mean that none in this hive will seek to supplant him as commander, or that they all agree entirely with everything he would pursue, but he keeps them fed- body and mind- and they trust that he will continue to do so. Todd sighs; he does not want to leave their enjoyable presence after having been without it for a long time.

He turns to his Second. Your support is a pleasing thing, as always.

His Second grins and offers his left hand, resting it on Todd's shoulder. You are often difficult, he says. But you are never dull.

Todd laughs in response, and he goes with a lighter heart to purge the other hives sworn to him.

 


 

In the end, Todd chooses to take the smallest of the hives that remain loyal to him when he goes to Atlantis. His most fractious hive he assigns to his Second, to bring along with the Ancient One's support ships when she comes to Atlantis so that Todd can give more attention to it after his Second has sounded the hive's thoughts. He will meanwhile leave his primary hive in the outlying system of the Ancient One's domain under command of its Navigator, where it may feed among those afflicted by the Qureshi parasite along with the other hives of the alliance.  Though Todd greatly anticipates a reunion with Sheppard, this journey is already taxing and he suspects that some additional trial yet awaits him, unseen. For such tends to be the nature of his dealings with Atlantis.

 

The hive arrives above Atlantis' world and Todd finds his sense of foreboding not diminished when he sees there are already two ships in orbit above the planet.

The hive's Navigator bares his teeth in unease. The human vessel and the strange hive both ask us to declare our purpose in arriving here.

Todd frowns. The human vessel is the Daedalus. The hive is unknown to him.

The hive is damaged, his Navigator adds, glancing at Todd apprehensively.

There is no conflict between the ships now, Todd observes; they would not have halted a firefight to greet his arrival. He pauses a moment and reaches for Sheppard, through the place that connects their thoughts. There is no response from Sheppard, only a muzzy grey feeling that Todd understands to mean that Sheppard is unconscious. Todd frowns; it is not natural sleep, but a forced state. He opens the communication to the Daedalus first.

A vaguely familiar woman appears. "This is Lieutenant Colonel Hocken, acting commander of the Daedalus." She narrows her eyes at him, recognizing him no doubt as he had recognized her. "What are you doing here?"

"The Ancient One wishes to journey to Atlantis to ensure that the fullness of her commitment to the alliance she seeks is understood," Todd tells her mildly.

Hocken's expression narrows further. "You have a queen with you?"

"No. We come in advance to ensure her welcome." Todd regards the other hive. "Have you had some trouble with other hives?"

"No," Hocken says. "Jeremiah's hive is an ally. They are under the protection of the Daedalus and Atlantis."

Todd thinks he manages to keep his surprise from showing. "But something is amiss," he tells Hocken. "Where is Colonel Carter?"

Hocken glares at him. "Colonel Carter and Scylla are in Atlantis. We've lost all communication with the city as of seven minutes ago. They appear to be under a complete power blackout, but there's a strange energy field emanating from the central tower. We're unable to get any readings from inside the field at all."

"Hmm." Todd is thrown by the surfeit of names being offered, and he opens the communication from the other hive. He regards the Wraith who appears. "Lieutenant Colonel Hocken says you are called Jeremiah?" he muses.

The commander bares his teeth in a quick grin. "You are the one called Todd," he replies, tilting his head back in challenge. "Scylla who was of my hive says you have seen the Ancient One." His voice tightens with avarice and the words are a question without asking anything.

Todd leans back slightly. At the distance of another hive and without a shared hivesense it is difficult to read the other commander's thoughts, but Todd believes him sincere in his interest. "I have," he allows. "But there is perhaps a more pressing issue."

Jeremiah snarls in agreement. "Scylla is still in the city. He says that part of the city's control center has been sealed away from the rest so that they cannot access the portal, and the humans are unable to communicate with each other without power being restored to their systems."

"Scylla," Todd muses. He wonders... and he reaches for the city, letting his thoughts wash over it in search of hive. He and the Technician shared hive, briefly, through the Wraith who brought them both to the Daedalus, and he finds the Technician in the city.

I am called Scylla by the humans, the Technician affirms. It is good to have another hive present. The city has lost all power. McKay and Zelenka are working to restore it, but we are cut off from all major control systems and must work through an auxiliary battery. This restores some power but not enough. We are unable to access the place they call Operations, where the Stargate is controlled. The doors were sealed shut when the power failed.

It is more a thought than a question but Todd asks, Sheppard.

I saw him in Operations before this happened, is Scylla's reply. But we have no communication with that level because of the energy field.

Todd bares his teeth. "I will take a fighter to the city," he tells Hocken and Jeremiah. Jeremiah looks like he doubts the wisdom of this.

"We were just about to beam down a security team with a backup generator to see if we could provide assistance," Hocken muses.

"They will be useful, I'm sure," Todd tells her.

She rolls her eyes. "If you wanted," she says plainly, "and you were able to cease your hive's natural jamming static, we would beam you down as well. Jeremiah told us what Scylla was able to report, but this can't be a natural power failure; the strange energy field surrounding the gate makes me suspect foul play. Whoever it is might hear a dart coming, but they won't know you're coming if you beam down with us."

"Ahh." Todd considers. "It is somewhat novel to treat with your people when not surrounded by weapons pointed in my direction," he temporizes.

Hocken huffs a laugh. "Colonel Carter trusts you," she says. Though her tone indicates that she doesn't understand why this is, she continues more understandably, "Scylla has served exemplarily while on this ship." She looks like she's already regretting her offer but says, "It'll take a bit of faith on your side as well."

Todd bows his head in acknowledgement. Clear the jamming code, he tells the Navigator. I will be transferred to the city. Raise it after.

The Navigator curls his lip in discomfort. I do not like this, he says. I do not trust them, Commander.

Perhaps it would have been wise to bring his Second along as well, if only because he has more experience dealing with Sheppard's people, but it is too late to alter their course now. Do not attack any that are here now. If they should turn on you, leave immediately and tell this to the First.

The Navigator snarls. We will not depart without you, Commander.

Todd reaches for him fondly, his left hand resting on the Wraith's shoulder. You will do what you must, he replies.

 


 


He would not admit it to any, especially to the hive's Navigator, but a part of Todd suspected treachery from Hocken's offer.

He is, therefore, pleased when the Daedalus' technology places him on one of Atlantis' piers. Four men stand in formation before him. Two hold a device between them and the other two turn and raise their weapons toward him. Todd sighs, empty hands held away from his body, but the man who appears to be the leader of the group lowers his weapon and looks at Todd searchingly. "I'm Sergeant Morales," he says. "We'll head in on this level and make our way toward the central tower, adjusting our course as we see what we run into." He stops and regards Todd. "What is it?"

They can see glimpses of the central tower between other features of the city from where they stand, but Todd is looking up at it and snarling under his breath. "I feel minds that are not Wraith." Morales looks confused, but Todd clarifies, "Your invader is the one called Michael."

Comprehension settles on Morales' face. "Can you find Scylla?"

Todd reaches out. Scylla doesn't know who Michael is but is pleased that there is a reason for the odd minds he could also feel. My companions know this name, he reports with some surprise. McKay went with Caldwell; Carter and Zelenka have had some success in accessing non-critical systems, but they are attempting to reboot the main system to gain control. Caldwell does not wish me to assist them. This last is shared with some annoyance but a greater share of acceptance. In the middle of all of this, Todd is surprised to realize the depth of Scylla's devotion to the humans; he accepts Carter as his commander, and Caldwell as both her superior and his own.

Todd relays to Morales, "He says he is in Doctor McKay's laboratory, in the central tower below the energy field. He is with Doctor Zelenka and Colonel Carter. They are attempting to restore control to major systems."

Morales nods. "Let's head that direction." He gives Todd a thoughtful look. "Take the generator."

Todd grins; it will free up more of the men to be able to point their weapons at him and also keep his own hands occupied. "Of course," he replies.

The squad moves down the hallway cautiously, in case they meet with opposition, though Todd tells them that all of the hybrids he senses are located in the control tower. Todd follows them silently. The generator isn't heavy enough to distract him and without really consciously choosing to he keeps his thoughts opened to Sheppard.

They meet people in the halls who are startled to see a Wraith in their midst. Morales calms them with authoritative words, but some refused to be calmed.

"Sergeant, what's this Wraith doing here?" a soldier asks as he and two men with him enter the hall, their weapons raised.

Morales' team tenses, but they do not move from their positions between Todd and the new man.

"Major Gilbreth, we beamed down from the Daedalus to offer assistance." Morales tries to reason with the other man. "Todd is working with us."

"The Wraith?" the man, Gilbreth, asks, incredulous.

Todd does not hear how that conversation ends, because he has to stop, suddenly, and lean against a wall when Sheppard wakes. Sheppard's waking is sharp and angry; he is disoriented, realizing in sudden alarm that his hands are bound, and he reaches instinctively for Todd.

I am here, Sheppard, Todd assures him. Sheppard's thoughts are fast and fragmented; Michael is standing over him, Teyla Emmagan is present. She is confronting Michael and Sheppard fiercely wishes that he wasn't bound so that he can fight with her, assist and protect her. He reaches out to Todd with jumbled information, He brought a jumper through the gate to power his field. His hybrids are trying to activate the self-destruct. He can't take Teyla, he can't hurt Torren. There isn't much time, the self-destruct.

Todd inhales. He reaches for Scylla. Michael intends to self-destruct the city. He has Sheppard, and Teyla Emmagan.

I have told Colonel Carter, Scylla replies. He pauses, and adds, There is one here who says he is bound to Teyla Emmagan of Athos. He asks if you have news of her child as well?

I believe Michael wishes to take the child, Todd replies, but he has more pressing issues himself. He opens his eyes. He is still holding the generator.

Colonel Caldwell is standing before him, speaking with Morales. He appears to have dismissed the argumentative major.

Todd grins. "Colonel Caldwell, a pleasure to see you again. Michael is attempting to activate the city's self-destruct. You do not have much time to stop him."

Caldwell scowls. His rifle rests easily in his hands, but Todd is interested to note that it is not pointed at him specifically. "How do you know that?" he demands.

"Colonel Sheppard is with him, in the control room," he replies.

"Sheppard." Caldwell's scowl twists into something darker for a moment before it smooths out. "Is that why you're here?"

Todd feels his lip curl. He sets the generator down. "I came to Atlantis on unrelated business, but anything that concerns Sheppard concerns me, yes. How can we prevent Michael from destroying your city?"

"We've blasted our way into the stairwells, but the energy field is also some sort of stun field," Caldwell says grudgingly. He looks at the generator that Morales' team brought. "Even with this we don't have enough juice to power up the control chair." He touches his communicator. "Status?" He frowns them turns back to Morales. "McKay's got a team in the underwater jumper bay. If they fly a jumper outside the tower, we're hoping to use the drones to take out the power source of Michael's force field."

Todd narrows his eyes. "Then your teams will enter the control area and remove Michael." He is not bothered by this; he has no particular feud to settle with Michael and is far more concerned with Sheppard.

Caldwell nods. He levels a long look at Todd.

"I will work to protect your city," Todd tells him. "For Sheppard. If you can believe nothing else, then believe that."

Caldwell regards Todd for what feels like a long moment. "Morales," he orders, "take your team to the opposite stairwell. Teldy, we'll take this one." The soldiers move off to fulfill Caldwell's orders, leaving Caldwell and Todd alone in the hallway.

Caldwell narrows his eyes in calculated intent, and he steps up to Todd aggressively. "I make it out of this alive, I'm going to get Sheppard transferred to Antarctica," he hisses.

Todd does not know what Antarctica is but he recognizes a threat and he snarls, his right hand rising automatically in response. He shoves Caldwell back, Caldwell only retreating grudgingly and holding Todd's gaze in challenge, but Todd inhales and tries to draw back. Withdrawal is difficult with Sheppard angry and distraught in the back of his mind, but he lowers his tightly clenched right hand. "You will not," he demands of Caldwell. "Sheppard has served your people well."

Caldwell's expression relaxes slightly with some sudden insight, and if Todd is any judge of human expressions he would almost label the curve of Caldwell's lip a smile. "Go with Morales' team," Caldwell says. "When the field comes down you'll be the first ones in."

Todd is wary at this apparent reversal of position. "You will not take what ire you hold toward me out on Sheppard."

There are but moments before they must depart to their positions, but Caldwell takes the time to articulate, "I don't have anything against you, or Sheppard. And I won't send him back to Earth, which, if you didn't catch that, was a test." He looks Todd up and down. "You passed. For now." He turns to follow his team of soldiers.

Todd grumbles under his breath; this man is impossible. But he also understands that Caldwell had attempted to provoke him deliberately into an attack and the fact that Todd was able to refrain has built a rapport that had not been there before.

Caldwell is showing certain effects of having been subjected to your presence, Todd tells Scylla as he moves after Morales' group toward their designated area.

Scylla is going with Carter to another area, but he sends back his amusement. He is very like Wraith, yes? Very protective of his hive, and most disagreeable to all others.

Todd has to restrain an amused laugh, as the humans will not understand what amuses him. They wait, for the barrier to come down. I am here, he assures Sheppard again.

Chapter Text

"The unique gift you and his father have given him means your son is the key to securing my reign over this galaxy. As soon as my hybrids are able to arm the self-destruct we will leave, and I will enact the punishment Atlantis richly deserves."

John hears words, but doesn't understand them at first; all he knows is that his team needs him. He jerks himself to wakefulness, but discovers that his hands are bound in front of him with a zip tie. He looks up and Michael is looking down at him. For a moment he forgets where he is and lashes out blindly.

Michael reels back when John kicks him wildly, but he snarls and leans forward, his weight on John's bound hands eliciting a pained grunt.

"Colonel Sheppard," Michael says haughtily. "How fortunate I am, to once again have you at my mercy."

John bares his teeth but he's still a little disoriented and he doesn't answer with words. He's not in Michael's lab, he's in Atlantis, so what the hell is going on? He feels Todd's presence brush against the back of his mind.

"What have you done to him?" Teyla says suddenly, her voice sharp with fear. John sees motion out of the corner of his eye, Teyla moving and lifting something in her arms. John hears a soft sound, like a small animal making a noise. He twitches when he realizes it's a baby, it's Torren, and fuck, they just got Teyla away from Michael, he cannot be getting his hands on her and Torren again. John struggles against Michael above him, striking out at him, but Michael has all the power at the moment and his hand suddenly around John's throat makes black dots wash in and out of John's vision.

"I have done nothing," Michael says mildly, and no one in this room believes him for a second. He stands, his weight where he's leaning on John's bound wrists enough to make John grit his teeth with a snarl as his bones rub together. "It is not my intention to harm your son, Teyla."

Michael ignores John then and steps toward Teyla. John pushes himself up until he's sitting up against one of the chairs behind him. He catches Teyla's eye; she's angry and scared and he doesn't blame her. What the fuck happened? They're in Woolsey's office. John turns his head and sees a hybrid at operations, running Atlantis. He sees the jumper parked in the space before the gate and he remembers Major Nelson's team returning through the gate... though apparently Major Nelson is suffering from a slight case of stolen identity. John thinks- where are all the other people, the ones who had been here when Michael arrived? He doesn't see any bodies, but he doesn't trust Michael to not have killed them all while they were unconscious. He wonders how much of the city Michael controls. He wonders if anyone is fighting back. Woolsey was standing next to him, but Caldwell wasn't in the control tower; he should be out in the city. That's something.

I am here, Sheppard, he feels Todd's assurance in the back of his mind. It's unquantifiably comforting; he'd thought, for a brief moment, upon first awakening, that he'd been a prisoner of Michael's again, or still, but if Todd is his then he can't have imagined that Todd came for him and helped him escape from Michael's lab before.

"If you won't cooperate, then I will have no choice," Michael says, his voice loud and angry and Sheppard snaps his attention back to Michael's conversation with Teyla. She is holding her son defiantly. "You can come with me and live, or stay here and die." He turns and looks at John, who's using the chair to push himself to his feet.

"You're gonna destroy the city? Why?" John asks. He's not really seeking an answer, just operating under the theory of keep him talking, keep him looking at me.

"Why? After everything you have done to me you would ask that?" Michael's hands are clenched in his rage. He reaches for John and hauls him up the rest of the way by the front of his shirt. John tries to hit him with his bound hands, but Michael is stronger than John wants to think about and bats away the attempt. Michael shoves the chair out of the way and drags John farther away from where Teyla is. "This is the place where your people ended my life! Of course I want it removed from the galaxy." He throws John, hard, against the glass wall. "I have become no one, do you understand? My life torn from me!"

John grunts. "Yeah, yeah, we stole your life, you did the same to me. Let's call it even."

Michael smiles cruelly. "You think what I did to you is in any way a repayment?" He lets John fall against the bottom of the wall and begins to turn back toward Teyla. "You cannot weaken my resolve. You have destroyed my facilities, ruined much of my research, but I am as strong now as I have ever been. I control Atlantis. And before long I will control everything."

John sees Teyla, who'd been inching her way around the desk and toward the door, gauge how close she is, her precious burden, and whether or not she thinks she can make it. John lashes out again, trying to kick Michael off balance and give her more of an opening.

Michael turns back to him, kicking him hard in his unprotected stomach, so he's a little too out of it to see if Teyla makes it.

I am here, Todd whispers in his mind. There's a vague impression of impatience in his thoughts, and when John closes his eyes he has a sensation of standing in a stairwell, marines waiting, ready, beside him. It's only then that he realizes that when Todd says here he means Atlantis. Todd's in Atlantis.

Something fierce surges up through John. He tries to cling to Todd's mind, but he doesn't have the focus to reach as deep as he wants. Teyla, he says, protect Teyla and Torren. Michael wants the baby. He's not sure if that gets through, but an alarm is suddenly going off near him, and he hears the Stargate dialing, the whoosh of the vortex forming and destroying Michael's jumper.

Michael is turning away from him, toward the Stargate in alarm, and John doesn't see Teyla anywhere. John gets up and throws himself at Michael, trying to pull him back into Woolsey's office but not really making it. From the corner of his eye John sees Todd, a squad of marines with him, and coming from the other side Caldwell, Woolsey- and Teyla, safe.

Michael snarls his defiance at the entire situation. He grabs John, shoving him away, and the next thing John knows he's flying past the guardrail and he's airborne above a twelve-foot drop, weightless for that brief moment, and then caught in the inexorable grip of gravity.

He curls his arms around his head and tries to twist his body, but there are mere seconds and he lands full on his right side, the breath forced from him in a pained grunt.

"Sheppard." Todd is kneeling over him, and John can't tell if he blacked out long enough for Todd to come down the stairs or if Todd jumped from the control level.

John tries to reach for him, but the shoulder he landed on is screaming in protest and he grunts, his hands still uncoordinated from being tied together. "Michael," he says.

"Teyla Emmagan pursues him," Todd assures him.

John shakes his head. "She'll kill him."

"She is welcome to her vengeance." Todd's hand brushes lightly over John's face. "Are you injured?"

John grunts again, because this is one of the things they didn't really talk about and now John's really regretting that. "We need him. For Helen."

Todd's face twists in a snarl. "What folly have you promised," he begins, but John gets his fingers to work and grabs Todd's arm.

John can't breathe deeply and he can't have an argument about this right now. "We need him alive. Please."

Todd snarls again, and then he's gone.

John gives in to his body then and spends a few seconds just remembering how to breathe. One of the marines cuts the zip tie around his hands, and Keller shows up.

"I want to scan your shoulder later," she murmurs as she prods him for broken bones, "but I don't think you broke any ribs."

"Help me up," he demands. Keller looks like she's about to give him shit like she had on the Daedalus before they rescued Teyla, but he pushes right past her attempt to protest. "Teyla and Todd went after Michael. I need to make sure they're okay."

"I've got you, sir," Alvarez says from out of nowhere, and he reaches for John's left hand, pulling him up. John curls his right arm against his abdomen in an effort not to jostle his shoulder too much, and turns to stumble his way after Alvarez, toward the jumper bay- Michael's exit.

"What happened?" John asks Alvarez.

"Doctor McKay flew a jumper up from the underwater bay. Colonel Caldwell said he was supposed to fire a drone at the tower, but it looks like he destroyed Michael's jumper in the wormhole vortex from the Stargate, which I guess works." Alvarez glances at John to see if he's following, and decides to back everything up a little more. "When Michael arrived he had Operations sealed off with a stun field that was powered by the jumper. The city's been cut off from accessing any control systems, but Doctor McKay, Doctor Zelenka, and Colonel Carter have been trying to fix that."

John nods. "Carter's still here?"

"Yes, sir. And, um, Scylla was helping them." Alvarez looks like he's not totally certain about that; like Wraith in their own space is one thing, but Wraith in Atlantis is something else. John just squeezes his arm reassuringly.

The jumper bay doors are closed, and there is a squad of marines and Caldwell standing at the base of the stairwell.

Caldwell looks up sees him. "Teyla went after Michael," he jerks his head upward. "I sent a squad to assist, but it's pretty tight quarters, I don't want people shooting each other."

"Todd?" John asks.

Caldwell's expression is sardonic. "He went after Teyla."

Above them there's the heavy sound of a body slamming into a wall. John moves closer, but Alvarez touches his shoulder, reminding him he's not fit to assist.

Teyla appears, walking down the stairwell, tense with anger. She glares at John. "I would as soon he fell from the tower," she snarls.

"Teyla." John feels like he should reach for her but her expression kind of forbids it, so he doesn't. "Where is he?" he asks. Her expression darkens, and John reminds her, "We need him."

Teyla bares her teeth in a way that reminds John too much of Ronon. "You may think that you need him, but I disagree. He is dangerous, and we should eliminate him." She sighs a deep breath, centering herself, and answers John's question, "I left him hanging from the ledge. Todd has charge of him."

John sighs out some tension himself. "Thank you," he tells her.

She shakes her head. She looks at John, like she's glad he's okay, but what she says is, "I must return to Torren." She leaves.

John watches her go, but he turns back quickly when Todd drags an unconscious Michael down the stairwell. He looks amused, and drops his burden at Caldwell's and John's feet. There is a smear of blood on Michael's forehead where a gash has healed, and the shadow of a healing bruise over his cheekbone. "Teyla Emmagan was not eager to allow interruption," Todd drawls. He sounds like he's impressed with Telya, but soon enough he fixes his gaze on John.

Caldwell indicates for soldiers to take Michael into custody, and John stops paying attention for the moment as they haul Michael away to the brig. Instead of the usual double squad of guards surrounding Todd with weapons drawn, Caldwell leaves just a pair of marines who looking pretty relaxed about it.

Todd ignores them and scowls at John. "If I understand correctly, you wish to trade Michael to the Ancient One as part of your alliance?" John nods, and Todd's scowl deepens. "This is unwise. He is dangerous."

John sighs. Great, nobody likes this plan. His shoulder aches and he reaches for Alvarez, who's standing on his left side, rather than fall over when he feels a wave of dizziness.

"You are injured," Todd observes of John, stepping closer, his left hand sliding along the right side of John's ribs. Alvarez mumbles something that John doesn't catch and steps away.

"Yeah. I dunno yet if anything's broken." John is tired, and Todd is here, and he leans into Todd, pressing his face into the front of Todd's coat.

"Sheppard," Todd says warningly, and John jerks away, wondering if anyone saw- if they suspected, Alvarez already knows, John wonders if he's told anyone- but Todd is thinking about something else of course. "To give Michael over to the Ancient One will not be well for your people. He is... determined to ruin you. You should end him."

"She said she would make sure he didn't kill more people," John says, though it sounds lame when he says it out loud. He tries to find words to express the true reason he thinks this is the right thing to do, because Todd might be the only one who would actually understand it. "We... I, ruined his life. We created him, to be what he is today. Everything he's done is my fault."

"You did not coerce or order him to take action. His actions are not your 'fault'," Todd disputes.

"No, I know, I don't mean-" John sighs. "He made his choices, and those are his fault; the people he's killed are on him. But, we- I, put him in a place where he didn't have his usual options. We took him from what he knew and he couldn't go back. I didn't... I didn't understand, until he did it to me. I came back, but I can't go back. I can't be who I was before."

Todd is watching him, his eyes dark in the low light. "Do you wish to?"

"No." John's fingers close tightly around Todd's wrist. "I don't." He holds Todd's eyes until Todd smiles, a faint flicker of his lips curving upward. "But what was good for me was bad for him. He... lost everything. I think... Helen can give it back to him."

Todd tilts his head, curious. "You speak of hive."

"I guess, yeah. When we changed him he was alone, and we refused to understand that. Helen seems interested in him, and I don't think it's just to use him. Maybe that too, but..." He trails off, because he's not sure he really understands her motives.

"You are correct. The Ancient One is many things, but as a devoted queen she is very concerned with the unity of hive and restoring it to those under her care. " Todd reaches and touches John's face in wonder. "I had not realized that you understood so deeply." He pulls his hand back. "I will take you to Doctor Keller."

"I'm fine," John protests automatically.

"Perhaps. But if we stand here any longer I will not restrain myself from expressing my affection for you." The rich yellow of his irises catches the light as he raises his head to smirk. "And I do not know if your soldiers will be quite amenable."

John grins faintly. "Okay, in that case I guess we should go."


 

John's shoulder joint is bruised, but Keller confirms that nothing's broken. She recommends he take it easy and discharges him with some NSAIDs.

Todd disappears at some point when John's not watching him.

"Caldwell wanted to talk to him," Lorne tells him from where he's sitting on the next bed, waiting to be checked and discharged after an encounter with the stun field.

John's not worried. Really. "Like, 'in the brig' talk to him?"

Lorne laughs. "Woolsey's office."

 

John makes his way to Woolsey's office, and not just because he's looking for Todd. Which is good because when he gets there Todd is nowhere to be seen.

Caldwell is in Operations and when he sees John he calls, "Colonel Sheppard." He jerks his head toward Woolsey's office, coming over to meet him there. "Mister Woolsey had something he wanted to discuss with you. I think he mentioned it to you before Michael interrupted."

Woolsey is focused on a report he's reading and doesn't notice them until Caldwell clears his throat. "Ah, Colonel," Woolsey says as he rises from his seat, and John's not exactly sure who he's talking to. Woolsey gestures for them to make themselves comfortable, but John falls in at ease and Caldwell stands beside Woolsey's desk.

"Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard," Caldwell begins. "I'm moving AR1 off the list of active gate teams to standby."

John tenses. "Can I ask why?"

"All of your team members are extremely valuable assets of this city," Woolsey cuts in.

Caldwell levels a look at him and Woolsey subsides with a smile and a gesture for Caldwell to continue.

"Your team is rather... unique. I'd rather not assign anyone to replace you," Caldwell says. "It's one reason why we didn't hasten to do so when we thought you were dead. The flagship team should be composed of individuals who are significant to the city. As Mister Woolsey mentioned, your team members are each leaders in their fields and we value their contributions to the city's safety and wellbeing, which is why we've determined that their skills will be better focused at this time than as members of an active reconnaissance team. There is of course the option of assisting with another team if they have the desire to do so, but I imagine that you won't have as much time for standard missions with your new assignment."

John breathes. "New assignment?" he repeats.

Caldwell turns to Woolsey.

"With this new alliance we are trying to form," Woolsey says carefully, "I feel it would be important to have a point person as it were, to field any issues that might arise with our new allies." He frowns, like he's not finding the words he wants. "To be frank, we need an embassy."

John tries to fight down the feeling that wants to rise in him. "An embassy, like we would send to a foreign country. To live there."

"Yes. I'd like you to take point on sounding out our potential allies, to see if it would be feasible to establish an actual diplomatic mission with support staff."

John takes a deep breath. "You do know that Doctor Saikou, and by extension the SGC, was rather opposed to the idea of me being at the center of exactly this kind of thing?"

Woolsey blinks almost innocently. "You were requested specifically by our allies. I think that carries slightly more weight."

"Negotiating with aliens isn't why I joined the Air Force," John tries, just to say that he did.

Woolsey smirks. "Colonel Carter mentioned that you'd mentioned that. You won't be negotiating anything. In fact, you would have no authority to make any promises whatsoever. Your post is just to observe, share cultural information, and communicate with Atlantis concerning the state of our allies."

"Hmm," is all John can manage, but he swallows and tries again. "You're not worried? That I'm... compromised?"

"There will be periodic checks for traces of Wraith enzyme in your system," Caldwell says. "And, as Mister Woolsey mentioned, the position doesn't carry any particular authority. You make suggestions, which we review, and choose to submit to the SGC."

"You'll be writing a lot of reports," Woolsey says and John can't decide if he says it with an evil gleam in his eye or not. "In addition to the lack of actual authority, another perk of the position."

Caldwell leans forward, and John can see a part of him, the part that maybe misses flying a combat vessel, display a restless eagerness. "Of course, you'll be on the front line, in most cases our first contact with our new allies."

John well understands that that is its own kind of authority. Nothing official, but where he'll be, in the hive, "official" won't matter as much. He shivers. "You're sure. That this is..."

"Yes." Woolsey frowns. "The IOA is very... aflutter at the moment over the entire idea of allying with the Wraith. They refuse to voice any sort of opinion on the matter." John echoes Woolsey's pained but knowing smile. "Homeworld Command has been somewhat more decisive on the topic, though General O'Neill and I had discussed a tentative alliance as one of many possibilities on his recent visit."

"According to Homeworld, the Wraith are a Pegasus problem," Caldwell summarizes. "While they will be instituting some protocols to ensure that things stay that way, as long as they do we are welcome to deal with them however we see best."

John nods. "I accept the position," he says, just to make it formal, because he's pretty sure no one in this room ever doubted he would. "I'm guessing we're going to start this 'embassy' on one of Todd's hives?"

Woolsey perks up. "He controls more than one?"

"Yeah. He had several, though a couple transferred their allegiance to Helen once she reached out to Todd. He's technically not a part of her forces, because he refused to submit to her authority."

Woolsey scowls and makes a note. "Ideally, we want to set up an embassy with Helen, as she is the primary queen of the alliance, but I suppose that will have to wait until we meet her and sound out a bit more of what she thinks the idea entails." He taps the end of his pen. "Actually, it might be rather helpful that Todd maintains a separate power base. I feel like we can count on his support and motives more confidently."

Woolsey looks at John as he says it, and John flushes. "Look, I-" He stops himself; he doesn't know what Caldwell knows, and in any case he's not supposed to admit to anything.

Woolsey smiles kindly and saves him. "Todd took Doctor Keller's research from the Daedalus, which indicates that he finds it valuable. He pursued the research on his own, and also returned to pique our interest concerning what he'd done. He wants this, and he places some value on our being a part of the process."

His cheeks are still red but John nods. And since it's now sort of his job he asks, "Where is Todd?"

"He returned to his hive to contact the queen and inform her of our guest."

John nods and breathes easier. "So I guess I'll notify my team of the change in status."

Woolsey looks up. "If Teyla isn't too busy, let her know that I'd like to talk with her about whether or not the Athosians are interested in comprising an element of this alliance."

John nods.

 

When he leaves he goes to his room first. He sits down on the corner of his bed. After a moment he reaches in, to the place where he can touch Todd. He feels Todd reach back to him, pulling him in.

"Sheppard," he says, and he is full of warmth and pleasure.

John fights his grin, wanting to make sure, "You talked to Caldwell, and Woolsey?"

"Yes. And have you?" Todd's fingers stroke through John's hair, cupping the back of his head.

And, for the first time in a while, John allows himself to smile. It spreads over his face and he can't hold it in. "Yeah."

Todd pulls him closer, wrapping John in his joy.

Chapter Text

Todd hovers just out of her way as Keller scans Sheppard's shoulder.

A pair of guards have been assigned to trail after him; they consist of Morales and another man whose uniform identifies him as being called Webber.  They do not seem interested in preventing him from going anywhere he pleases. Truly, the first time one of them seems interested in preventing anything is when Todd raises his hand to one of the medical data screens in order to turn the image so that he can better see Sheppard's scan. When Todd rests his hand on the interface, Webber's casual attention snaps to him and he places both hands on his weapon.

Todd understands, and he is amused by the areas where Caldwell has extended a measure of trust. He moves away from the interface; he does not wish to test the boundaries of that trust, not while Sheppard stands between them.

As if in refutal of Todd's intentions, Morales touches the communicator at his ear and then turns to Todd. "Colonel Caldwell would like to speak to you," he says.

Todd feels his lip curl. He glances at Sheppard, who is arguing with one of Keller's medical assistants. "Very well," he replies. He turns and follows Morales out of the medical area, Webber coming last.

Todd is surprised when they lead him, not toward the cell where he has spent a great deal of time previously, but back toward the command center and to Woolsey's office. Woolsey and Caldwell are within, speaking to each other in low, hurried voices. Todd tries to gauge their mood, but Woolsey merely looks tired and Caldwell vaguely angered- which Todd is coming to understand is a fairly standard expression for him.

Todd steps inside the office. "Mister Woolsey. And Colonel Caldwell." He smirks. "I see that while you trust me with the lives of your people, you do not trust me with your city."

Caldwell narrows his eyes but responds, to Todd's surprise, honestly. "I trust that you won't eat someone without understanding what it would cost the alliance that you claim to support, but no, I do not trust you to access any part of this city's systems."

Todd inclines his head in acquiescence.

"Since the Daedalus beamed you down," Woolsey interrupts, "I wanted to offer to have them return you to your hive."

That sounds like a dismissal, and Todd queries, "Is there a reason I should do so at this time?"

"Lieutenant Colonel Hocken reported that you came here to prepare the way for the queen, Helen, to visit us," Caldwell says. "Since Michael provided us with his presence, I think it's safe to say that we're ready for her to arrive and complete an exchange of gifts."

Todd frowns. What, precisely, the Ancient One's gift to the Lanteans was is one of the things that had seemed less important when Sheppard was in his arms. "Giving Michael over to the Ancient One is unwise on your part. I said as much to Sheppard."

Caldwell and Woolsey exchange a look; Todd does not understand it but his counsel seems to make them more intent upon this course. "Thank you for that recommendation," Woolsey says, "but I had something else I wanted to discuss with you." Caldwell leans back, as if this particular part of the discussion doesn't fall within his purview. "I feel it would be prudent for our peoples who would be allies to... come to a better understanding of each other. To that end, I would like to appoint ambassadors to the Wraith. Perhaps one or two envoys at first, but eventually I was thinking dedicated ambassadors on every hive in the alliance."

Todd succeeds in keeping his expression one of bland interest.

"An ambassador is someone we send out from one country, or body of government, to live alongside of another people," Woolsey says hesitantly, as if Todd doesn't respond because he doesn't understand.

Todd grins. "Sheppard." He meets Woolsey's eyes and is pleased when the man holds his gaze. "I will take Sheppard."

Woolsey smirks. "I have already decided that Colonel Sheppard would be an excellent fit for this post," he says mildly, "though your approval of the choice will make this process easier."

Todd laughs.

"Of course, the other side of that," Woolsey looks at Caldwell, "is that we would like to welcome Wraith who are committed to the alliance in Atlantis."

"They would have severe security restrictions," Caldwell says, softening it with a grudging, "At first. We'll see how things proceed."

"Ahh." Todd tilts his head back, regarding them. "I will consult with my fellow Wraith. Though perhaps the Technician you know as Scylla would be better suited to seek Wraith to come to your city. I have seen the poorer side of your hospitality too often."

Caldwell glowers, but Woolsey meets Todd's eyes steadily. "That is an excellent suggestion, though as he is committed to serving on the Daedalus Scylla's contact with other Wraith in the immediate future will most likely be limited. Also, in the time that I have been leader of this Expedition, I believe Atlantis has gotten the worse side of hospitality when it comes to the Wraith, and you in particular."

Todd laughs and bows his head in acknowledgement. "You are not incorrect," he muses. "Perhaps we will learn much more about each other yet, Mister Woolsey."

Woolsey smiles tightly. "I think it would be better if we do," he says seriously. "It would lead to fewer... misunderstandings."

"You refer again to the Attero device." Todd narrows his eyes.

"I refer to the fact that both our peoples have an unpleasant history with each other, with many instances of betrayal. Knowing what we are capable of as a species is different from knowing what we are capable of as individuals." Woolsey clears his throat. "You trust Colonel Sheppard, and it is my hope that we can extend that trust between many of our people. Enough that in the future we can discuss the situation before assuming betrayal."

"We shall see what comes to pass," is all Todd will give him on that account. "But if you are determined to proceed in this course with the Ancient One, I will accept your offer to return to my hive and extend your invitation to her."

Woolsey nods sharply.

 


 

Todd reaches out to the hive's Navigator and informs him of his pending return- which the Daedalus completes when their sensors determine the jamming frequency has been cleared.

The Navigator welcomes him back on board the hive with eagerness, though he tries to restrain his relief.

Todd grins. We are allies now, he tells the Navigator, resting his left hand on the other Wraith's shoulder. You need not fear treachery from the Lanteans.

The Navigator scowls and Todd privately agrees. Treachery is always good to be prepared for, despite what Woolsey would appear to hope for from the future of their relations.

Do you wish to travel to the city and see it for yourself? Todd asks.

The Navigator looks at him in alarm. No, he replies flatly and firmly.

Todd chuckles. We have had success in this day's endeavor.

Oh? The Navigator tries to understand that in the parameters of the new way of things. We have not come to cull, so I do not understand how you measure success, Commander.

The Lanteans are as eager for alliance as the Ancient One, Todd muses. He moves to the control panel and contacts his Second, on the hive that waits with the far distant hives of the Ancient One. "The Lanteans have the gift they arranged with the Ancient One," he relays. "They are prepared to receive her delegation."

His Second scowls, but says, "I will tell her."

Todd contacts the other hive over Atlantis next. The Commander called Jeremiah answers him as if he was expecting Todd and he regards Todd with sharp eyes.

"The Ancient One will come to this place," Todd tells him.

Jeremiah grins. "I am pleased. I wish very much to meet her." He looks to his side for a moment before returning his attention to Todd. "My hive wishes for a worthy queen."

Todd inclines his head. "She is a most worthy queen," he agrees.

Jeremiah catches what he doesn't quite say and observes, "But she is not your queen."

Todd grins. "No," he allows. Jeremiah waits for him to continue and Todd adds, "I have goals that are too important to submit to another's will, even a queen."

Jeremiah grins as well. "You are as extraordinary as Scylla has said," he says, impressed, "if you treat with queens and they acknowledge you."

"It is the Ancient One who is as much responsible for that as I," Todd demurs. "She is easy in her power and does not grasp at hives that do not desire her oversight." Truly Todd might be the only commander who has ever refused her, which lends him a certain novelty in her eyes that he is not unwilling to exploit if it gets him what he wants. He knows that she tends to be less patient with queens who defy her, but to another Wraith, and one who has experience with the Devourer, the fact that she does not attempt to force subjugation is an attribute to highlight. "Even though I do not acknowledge her as my queen, I paid her fealty."

Jeremiah tilts his head up, his sensory pits flaring slightly and his lips thinning against his teeth. "What does she ask?"

"She demands four out of every five warriors in a hive be given over to her, as a show of devotion."

Jeremiah leans back. "That is no small thing," he says, but his tone is thoughtful and after a moment he presses, "What of Wraith?"

Todd shakes his head. "The Ancient One respects hive. She will not tear Wraith from hive unwilling. She will bring you to the worlds she defends, so that your hive may feed."

"Her worlds are untainted?" Jeremiah's eyes flash and he tilts his head to inquire, "The Lanteans know of this? They are famously possessive of the lives of humans."

"Her worlds are plentiful with human life and untouched by the poison that has spread through the galaxy," Todd tells him. "The planet known as Raxpator alone has millions of humans who live upon it." Jeremiah's eyes widen and Todd grins. "The humans who reside there are victims of a parasite, the best cure for this being for a Wraith to feed upon them." He adds, "The Ancient One is not new to the many ways that humans and Wraith can live together in support of each other."

Jeremiah sighs deep in his throat, a clicking, thoughtful sound. "This is all good to hear," he says. "I am pleased that your report holds true to the tales I have heard of the Ancient One and I await her arrival with anticipation." He regards Todd for a long moment. "You cared for one who was mine. I will remember that."

Todd inclines his head, accepting the words, and inwardly marking them. Building an understanding with Wraith who are sworn fully to the Ancient One will be quite useful, should he have a need.

 


 

Todd finishes his communications and departs from the bridge. They will wait here for the Ancient One to come; and then Sheppard will come to him. In full knowledge and awareness of his superiors. They will send Sheppard to him, and he will not waste that gift.

Todd grins to think that Woolsey and Caldwell will allow Wraith into their city freely. Even after the rapport the Technician Scylla established with Carter, Todd had not expected the Wraith's presence to be so welcomed by Caldwell. Caldwell is a warrior, a fighter. But also, perhaps, a cunning commander- Wraith are his enemy, but to get closer to that enemy, to understand them, is to have the potential of controlling them. Caldwell will seek alliance to seek to maintain the upper hand. Todd grins; most often when he has come to Atlantis he has come seeking aid, and this pattern will give Caldwell the confidence to believe that he does maintain the advantage in their relationship.

Woolsey Todd perhaps does not understand as well… But he seeks alliance, and when acting from a position of strength he appears to be one who allows himself to be generous. While his maintaining this position appears to require attributes that do not make sense to Wraith, Todd understands that Woolsey is the commander of the city, and from that position he could have withheld Sheppard, could have returned Sheppard to the distant galaxy from which they came. But instead he does not hold a grudge against Todd's previous actions, which is almost Wraith-like of him, though Todd will not be the one to say so.

And Sheppard. Sheppard will come to Todd's hive, as a representative of his people. There will be some formality required, but on the hive it will not prevent Sheppard from also being his. It will be useful for Sheppard to be the one here, to teach Wraith that humans will have a new status among hives that belong to the First- not as food or as worshippers, but as beings of their own agency. Being the focus of that point of change is something that not all would weather with such grace as he imagines Sheppard will.

For Sheppard has already said that he was changed by the experience he underwent at Michael's hand. As Michael himself had been changed by the treatment he had received from Atlantis, unable to return to his previous hive. Sheppard had claimed that he also was unable to go back… though he appears to be welcomed again by his fellows and, as he had promised on the planet in their days together, to not regret any of his actions nor blame Todd for them.

Todd has returned to the life he had before his encounter with Michael, and he does not feel as changed by the experience as Sheppard claims to have been; as Michael was. He is who he has always been, though he has added Sheppard to himself.

He always cared for Sheppard, always had his thoughts turned toward the remarkable human who showed him the sky again, so it is not something that has changed in him. He had named Sheppard a brother even in their first meeting, though he had not then meant it in the ways that he does now. There is nothing in his history or in anything he has ever heard or known like that first encounter he had with Sheppard, and that alone was enough to count him a hivebrother. They escaped together when they could not have alone; there is no surer measure of a brother than one who adds to the hive by his presence.

He feels Sheppard reach for him, and Todd reaches back, meeting him in the room where he pulls John against him.

"You talked to Caldwell? And Woolsey?" John asks, his hands curling in Todd's coat, pulling him closer.

Todd cups the back of his head. "And have you?" He teases.

John grins, a fierce, happy expression. "Yeah."

Todd grins back and he bends to press their lips together. "You will return to the hive soon," he murmurs, and he cannot hide his own pleasure.

John hums into their kiss. After a moment he pulls away, stroking Todd's hair back from his face and smiling at him, though there is something in it like a question. "I will return to the hive," he repeats. "Though, I haven't been to this one before, right?"

Todd runs his hands over the rough planes of John's jaw. "Hive is where Wraith are," he muses. "The vessel is… an extension of the Wraith who reside there. This hive is also mine." He pauses, not sure how to explain it to someone who cannot feel it. "They share hivesense with those who share it with me, but it is not the same sense they share with each other."

John hums, taking Todd's hands in his own and interweaving their fingers. "It's like describing the color blue to a blind man, huh?"

"No," Todd protests. "Perhaps," he allows, "but you are very quick. You will understand it."

John grins. "Thanks."

Todd touches the back of his hand to John's face, John's fingers held between his. "I will tell you whatever you need to know." He frowns. "And you may share it with Mister Woolsey, or others." John raises an eyebrow, and Todd explains, "Woolsey wishes to know more about Wraith. I do not care to instruct him, but you may share with him what you learn from me."

John nods. "Thanks. It's kind of supposed to be my job now, I guess." He shakes his head in wonderment. "Never would have thought this was something I would end up doing."

Todd regards him. "What part seems so unimaginable?"

John grins. "I'm supposed to make nice and write reports for the brass." He leans into Todd. "It'll be the first time they actually give a shit about anything I have to say."

Todd frowns. He wraps his arms around John, pulling him all against Todd. "What?" John asks.

Todd shakes his head. "I never thought that I would be here either." He leans his forehead against John's. Perhaps he is changed, in a way, by his experience. "When I wandered the worlds of this galaxy, not knowing my true self, I did not give in to despair. You… gave me that, John. In that dark cell where we met, you gave me hope that I had not had in long years, and I have held it with me."

John kisses him, deeply, his hands in Todd's hair. "I'm glad," he says simply.

Perhaps this is what Michael was without, what refused to let him return to his previous life at all- he had not previously encountered one who restored his conviction, who anchored him in himself in a way he'd forgotten millennia ago.

 

Chapter Text

John stands outside Teyla's door and stares at it.

He's not sure if he really wants to talk to her yet, or if she maybe needs more time to come to grips with the whole Michael thing. And, on the practical side, he doesn't want to disturb her if she's just gotten Torren to sleep.

But he can't stand there in front of a door without someone else eventually making use of it. The door opens, and as Teyla steps out she stares at him, startled. Her expression relents as she recognizes him. "John." Behind her, Kanaan steps into view; Torren sleeps in his arms as he checks to see who lurks outside their door.

John doesn't really have the grace to look abashed. "I... wanted to make sure you're okay."

Teyla inhales and nods slowly. "Come," she invites him with her, and he follows her as she moves down the hall.

They walk; John thinks their goal is the mess but they end up on a balcony off the central tower, looking out over the city.

"I understand why you wished to preserve Michael's life," Teyla says finally, slowly, like she does understand, but she doesn't approve.

"Todd agrees with you," John offers. Teyla looks startled again, obviously really not looking for things to agree with Todd about. "I just mean, I don't want you to think that I did it because it was what he wanted. He thinks we should kill Michael because he's dangerous."

"Hmm." Teyla watches the sunlight play over the city, reflecting from the glass and metal. "You think the possibilities presented by what this Helen offers are worth giving her this potential weapon?"

"I do. And I trust her when she says that she can prevent Michael from hurting people." John winces. "I know you don't trust the Wraith."

"I do not," Teyla agrees. "But I trust you, John." She regards him. "Do you remember, when we were scouting the hives when they first were coming to destroy Atlantis? We visited a planet where I was familiar with the inhabitants, and I asked you to save Orin and his family?"

"Yes," John answers hesitantly.

"At the time you were reluctant to wait for Orin to find us. Would you do the same now?"

"No." John inhales. "It was... The mission was to scout the Wraith. That was important, to get that intel back to the city. To preserve the city, give it the best chance. But if we don't help the people that are here, then it doesn't matter if we save the city. We have to save all the ones we can, doesn’t matter who they are."

Teyla nods like John's said something really profound.

"I don't get it," John says. "What does that prove?"

Teyla smiles. "You have changed over the years you have been here. More so also, I would say, since your experience."

John inhales sharply. "You think Michael did something to me?" He shifts his weight. "To make me not be able to kill him?" He has the sudden urge to go down and shoot the fucker just to prove he can.

"No," Teyla says firmly, and he relaxes, believing her.

"You think Todd influences me," he tries, because it feels like everyone who hasn't accused him of that very thing is thinking it anyway.

"No," Teyla repeats. She touches his arm reassuringly as she continues. "You are more yourself, John Sheppard, than was the man I knew those years ago. Before, the man you were would not let the man you wanted to be act until I begged and threatened him for the lives of those I considered as my family."

John reels back, stunned. "Teyla, I..."

She smiles in refutal of his attempt to protest. "You are as you always have been, John." She spreads her hands. "But I believe you have discovered new tools, with which you seek the same goals you have always held as important." Her expression clouds. "I do not trust the Wraith," she says, "but I believe that you feel that this... alliance is worth pursuing, and I trust your judgement." She inhales deeply, as if shocked by her own words.

John leans on the railing of the balcony. "Thanks," is all he can say, but it seems like enough, and it hangs between them in the warm air comfortably.

 

"Woolsey wanted to talk to you, about where you want New Athos to stand in regard to this alliance," John says after a few moments.

Teyla nods. "Kanaan and I will return to our people after the queen arrives. I wish to see her for myself, but then I will present the alliance to my people and see what their decision is." She glances at John. "I will likely be gone for several days. Though I believe Doctor Keller's medical examinations have concluded, I'm not sure what the status of the team is currently. Have you been returned to active duty?"

"Actually," John hedges, "that's something I wanted to talk to the team about."

Teyla regards him and nods slowly. They walk back into the tower, past Rodney's lab in search of him.

 

Rodney's not there; there's some marines sitting in the corner playing cards, and then Zelenka, Scylla, and every whiteboard in the large space covered in equations. John's eyebrows go up.

Scylla grins at them; there's a hunger in the expression, but it's for something that John doesn't mind at all providing. Teyla watches the three of them with narrowed, evaluative eyes, but the expressive line of her mouth is also curved toward amusement.

 

Eventually John bows out and walks with Teyla up a few floors, into Operations. Amelia Banks greets them and offers, "Lieutenant Edison's team just returned from Riva."

"That's good timing," John muses. "Where's Ronon?"

Banks indicates the stairway behind her, across from the one they'd used. "He went that way with Doctor McKay and Mister Woolsey," she says.

John and Teyla corner the rest of their team in the conference room. Rodney is sprawled in one of the chairs and Ronon is sitting on the edge of the table across from him, his long legs stretched out in front of him and his arms folded over his chest.

Woolsey is standing at the head of the table and looks up when he sees them. "I've another meeting to get to," he excuses himself, intuiting that John wants to talk to his team.

"Missed all the excitement," Ronon says succinctly, his eyes resting on John, his gaze narrow and focused.

"I guess you did," John agrees. "Though we'll have some more soon, I'm sure." John takes a deep breath and rests his hands on the back of the chair in front of him. "I... we need to talk. About us. The team."

"Oh no." Rodney sits up straighter.

John spreads his hands calmingly. "Look, Caldwell is Military Commander of Atlantis. That's not gonna change." John looks at Ronon, who just shrugs like he didn't raise a big fuss about this before.

"I believe that is something we are all comfortable with," Teyla says. She moves past Rodney to take one of the empty chairs. "As long as you are well." She rests her eyes on John.

"I'm okay with it," John says. "Actually, Woolsey offered me a new position. As, um, liaison to our Wraith allies."

Ronon stiffens.

"Liaison, is that was they call it now?" Rodney coughs into his hand; John rolls his eyes.

Teyla leans back slightly, like she's thinking about it seriously. "Given your experiences, you would be well suited to such a position," she says politely.

"Since I'm going to be busy with that," John succeeds in not reacting to Rodney's suggestive raise of eyebrow, "the team won't be going on as many missions. Caldwell is going to move us off the active gate team rotation."

Teyla nods. "Having more time to spend with my people at this time of change will be appreciated," Teyla says.

"Actually, I think Scylla just introduced Zelenka to a new form of math, so figuring out how that's going to impact our encryptions is a project that will take up a not small portion of time," Rodney muses.

Ronon grunts. John pretends he's not holding his breath, and they all sit for a few moments, waiting for Ronon to speak. But then Rodney fidgets, breaking the stillness. Ronon stands and turns around to face John. "I don't like it," he says.

"I thought you might not," John says.

Ronon nods.

John pushes for more, because he really kind of needs to know. "Do you... want to leave?" Ronon looks at him in surprise, and John immediately backpedals. "You don't have to, or anything. But…" He reaches for words and falters at, "I'm sorry. Don't feel like you owe it to me to stick this out if you don't want to."

Ronon leans back, looking, if possible, even more affronted. "I'm not going anywhere." He shrugs and adds, "Atlantis is my home." Teyla greets this pronouncement with a warm smile.

John nods, and even though there's a lot more that he wants to ask, he leaves it there. "Well. I guess we've talked about that."

Ronon cocks a doubtful eyebrow at him and Teyla is possibly smirking. "Yeah, great talk," Rodney mocks. John just grins. All the years they've been here, and he wouldn't be who he is without these people.

 


 

John stops by to check on their "guest." He supposes it's still technically ancillary to his job even though checking on prisoners isn't really part of his duties. He just wants to make sure that the slippery bastard is where he's supposed to be. Which seemed to be reasonable when he thought it, but he runs into a bit of a surprise.

There's someone standing at the door of Michael's cell. John steps forward, wondering if this person is about to try to open the door, and where the hell is the guard, but he falls back as he recognizes her.

"Doctor," he says stiffly, because he's too close to pretend he didn't see her and just walk out.

Tatyana Saikou turns her head to look at him, her expression thoughtful, before returning to her silent staring contest with Michael. "Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard," she acknowledges.

John shifts his weight and judges the distance to the door.

"I would like to apologize for my previous behavior," Doctor Saikou says before John can effect his retreat.

He pauses. "Thank you."

She nods, and looks away from Michael. "My transfer to the SGC, and exposure to the program, occurred very recently. I am still taking much of it in, and in order to apprehend the situation more quickly I allowed reports I had been given, particularly reports concerning your service record, carry more weight than I should have when conducting such an evaluation."

John just stands stiffly, because people using his service record to prejudge him is kind of an old, sour tune by now, and anything he might say about it isn't particularly something he wants to say to a psychologist.

Saikou continues, "I was given mere hours to understand years of space exploration and interaction with extraterrestrial races. Much of it blurred together, and I confess that in my mind I painted the Wraith with a narrow brush." She smiles at some private joke, but her expression turns serious quickly and she meets John's gaze. "An inability to follow the chain of command is, in my experience, one of the most damaging traits to have in the military." John feels his back go up again, but she moves on. "When the power went out, and we didn't know what was going on, I was in the central tower and spent much of the time in and around Doctor McKay's laboratory, and with Scylla."

John thinks he might understand where this is going now. Scylla has to be the most patient Wraith in the universe when it comes to putting up with the insanity that this expedition comes up with. He has an obvious deference to Carter and the "chain of command"- and he lacks Todd's wicked sense of humor- so he's kind of the ideal Wraith to get stuck in a room with when the power goes out and you were maybe needing something to widen your perspective.

Saikou glances at Michael again, who is pretending that they don't exist. "After the reports I had read, it seems a strange thing to encounter Scylla and this Michael in the same day. The Goa'uld are one and the same, with the noted exception of the Tok'ra, and the Asgard also seem uniform in their beliefs." Her mouth twists self-deprecatingly. "Of course, that is within my limited time to understand what has passed between our races. In the time I have spent on this base I have spoken to many members of the expedition and many would say the same thing or speak of the Wraith as narrowly. But then, they would often remember a story that contradicted the generalization." She glances at John. "The variety of experience and emotion that I was trained to examine in people were absent in the reports on these aliens. That range of individuality seemed a human attribute, but between Scylla and Michael, there could not be two creatures with the same origin that were so different, and I knew that it was the reports that were lacking, not the subjects." She falls silent for a moment before she narrows her eyes the way that some men square their shoulders and says resolutely, "I would like to hear more of your thoughts concerning the Wraith, Colonel Sheppard."

He's still a little gun shy, but sharing information about the Wraith is now his job so he tells her with a bit of genuine regret, "With the new orders I recently received, I'll be leaving the city fairly soon and won't return for likely several weeks."

Doctor Saikou nods.

She doesn't push, which John thinks might be why he offers, "But I'm supposed to be writing a lot of reports about Wraith culture, so I'll ask Mister Woolsey if he can pass them on to you."

She smiles. "I would appreciate that."

 


 

When the Ancient One arrives in their system, it's with a fleet of five hives.

"Five is a favorable number for Wraith," Todd tells him. "It is a symbol of power. The hives represent the fingers of the feeding hand, and evoke the essence of hive- the many become one."

John demonstrates this to Woolsey, five fingers on one hand become one fist.

"One is the best number," Woolsey observes dryly, "for queens, I'm sure. A unified hive means no rivals for power."

"Five is also an important number for Helen particularly," John adds. "Todd says that she's killed five other queens who've tried to usurp her."

"Another level of threat." Caldwell scowls.

John shrugs. "One of the hives she brought is technically Todd's, so she really only has her flagship and three as honor guard. If she wanted she could have brought five hives in addition to her flagship. If you want to dig deeper into the symbolism, which Todd recommends but I honestly don't care, the 'threat' is for her own purposes, to remind other Wraith of who she is, and not directed as us."

Caldwell seems placated by this. They stand as part of the welcoming committee on the East Pier, awaiting Helen's transport. When she lands, Woolsey has a lot of plans that John's pretty sure aren't going to fly, but are mostly something to fill time while Caldwell sends a team to fetch Michael from the brig not one second sooner than they have to.

 

The transport flies in over the city and lands with a practiced ease that makes the hair on the back of John's arm rise. The ship's hatch opens and a pair of warriors exit, moving to frame the hatch. They are holding stunner rifles, but they have the air of an honor guard and there are only two of them so John refuses to let it add to his anxiety about this entire meeting.

The two warriors are followed by four Wraith. They exit the transport with slightly more caution, their eyes darting around the pier in apprehension. They see Scylla, and Jeremiah who stands opposite from the delegation with the five warriors he brought, though that doesn't seem to relax them much. They also take up positions to either side of the hatch.

Lastly, the queen herself exits the transport. In the full light of day all John can think is that she's every bit as alarming as she'd been in the shadowy confines of her throne room. She's definitely shorter than he remembers, but she moves with such a deadly grace that it's impossible to count that as any sort of advantage. He tries not to think about the last time he saw her, when she'd pretty much banished Todd from her presence. Her hair is done differently, and the five long carved bone-pins are arrayed so that they spread out from her head in a circle, like a crown.

She walks past where her Wraith stand and comes toward Atlantis' waiting delegation. The Wraith fall in to flank her, but the warriors stay at the ship.

The Atlantis delegation is arranged with John, Woolsey, and Caldwell at the front, John's team and other city leaders just behind them. The queen comes directly toward them, stopping a few feet away. She looks at John, then at the others, and raises her chin.

With some coaching from Todd, John recognizes the gesture as the invitation it is and steps forward. He inclines his head to her briefly. "Welcome to Atlantis. May I introduce our Expedition Leader Mister Woolsey, and Military Commander Colonel Caldwell." John gestures to the other men. "This is the Ancient One, also called the First, who has graciously allowed me to title her in our style as Helen."

Mister Woolsey nods, somewhat nervously, and says, "Welcome to Atlantis, Ancient One. Colonel Sheppard has told us about what you discussed with him, and we are interested to make an exchange of gifts before exploring more fully the possibilities offered by allying with you."

Helen leans back slightly, her eyes half closing as she regards them. "You are in charge of all these people?"

Woolsey nods again. "Yes, I was appointed to lead the expedition."

Helen steps forward, her head tilting to the side as she regards him. She turns her head to pass the same coolly evaluative look over Caldwell. Her eye catches on something behind John, he's going to assume it's Ronon doing something threatening, but she doesn't seem impressed. "Most interesting." She steps back and raises her left hand, reaching into her opposite sleeve and withdrawing the piece of metal that John remembers from their previous meeting as lying on the arm of her throne. She holds it out with her left hand toward Woolsey.

After a moment's hesitation, Woolsey reaches out and takes it from her. He takes a deep breath, then inclines his head. "Thank you. If you would like to step inside, I had a brief presentation planned while we bring Michael to you."

She smiles. "You will take me to where you have him," she says. It comes out as a command, which Caldwell stiffens upon hearing, but she unbends enough to add, "I am aware that you have some concern as to whether or not I can take full control of the gift you would give, or if his... determination will control me." She gives John a smirk and a side-eye before returning her attention to Woolsey. "I would remove such fears."

Woolsey defers to Caldwell, who scowls. "You'll have a military escort," he states, though it almost sounds like a warning, or an explanation that now they're going to start pointing guns at her in an obvious manner instead of surreptitiously.

She inclines her head. Two of her Wraith step back and return to the transport, leaving her with only two Wraith to escort her, but she looks like she's doing it as a favor to them and not at all like she feels cowed. A squad of marines comes up from the back of the group. It takes a few minutes for them to approach, and, as if to demonstrate her unconcern, Helen turns to Jeremiah.

Jeremiah regards her with open-faced wonderment. As she steps toward him he leans into her presence. Words must pass between them telepathically, because Helen tilts her head back in surprise and then raises her left hand to caress his cheek. Four of the five warriors behind Jeremiah step forward and walk over to the transport. Helen's Wraith look on with interest.

Thankfully, Todd has an idea what passed between them. "Helen demands that all hives who would swear fealty to her give her four out of every five warriors they command. Jeremiah brought these warriors as a demonstration of his intentions," John tells Woolsey and Caldwell.

"So she has more warriors at her command than anyone else," Caldwell observes. "If they are, as you've said, designed to be a queen's eyes and ears then that makes her even more powerful."

"It's partially a demonstration of her power, but it's also a ploy to reduce the number of mouths to feed." John frowns. "Or hands. She uses the warriors to feed her Wraith and invites the new hives to feed at her worlds, on those infected with the parasite. This also helps strengthen her position as a good provider, a good queen. Everyone ends up happy: the hive is fully fed, the humans are cured of the parasite, and her own hive gets dinner delivered or, if necessary, put in storage."

"I thought cannibalism was more of a last resort," Woolsey says in surprise.

John shrugs. "I'm not sure I understand it entirely, but Todd says that the warriors aren't considered full Wraith in the way that another Wraith would be. So it might be more like eating your guard dog than eating another person, if you're really looking for some comparison. The way Todd said it, warriors serve the hive, and if they serve the hive best by being dinner then that's pretty much accepted as part of their purpose."

"That's still pretty cold," Caldwell says, and John doesn't really have a rebuttal for that because he kind of agrees.

Helen steps away from Jeremiah and turns to Caldwell's security squad. Caldwell steps forward himself to lead her. She smiles at him and he manages to keep his tension to a stiffening of his spine as he escorts her. Her two Wraith follow behind and the security squad forms up around them.

It's a tense walk to the brig, and a quiet one as Helen doesn't speak and Caldwell seems unusually disinclined toward conversation. John, following them with Woolsey, could almost roll his eyes.

 

Michael must have heard then coming but he doesn't respond, doesn't move from where he's seated, until he sees Helen- and then he scrambles up and immediately retreats to the far corner of the cell. His expression is one of revulsion, lips pulled back to show his teeth, and he is breathing heavily.

Helen stops and regards him. She cocks her head to the side and slowly paces around the cell. Michael retreats from her wherever she stands. His throat works like he would speak- would be showering her with curses, by the expression on his face- but he is silent.

Helen completes her circuit of the cell. "Open," she commands, and Caldwell gestures for a marine to do so. The door to the cell slides open, and Helen steps forward. Michael snarls, a guttural sound. He is pressed against the far wall of the cell, his hands curled around the slats as if he might try to climb them to escape her. John wonders if maybe he should have listened to everyone else; if maybe his conviction that this was going to be good for Michael was only a sop for his own feelings.

But Helen only stands in the open doorway, looking at Michael. Her eyes are half-lidded and her arms hang at her sides. She stands for what feels like several minutes, but, oddly John thinks, no one, especially Caldwell, seems interested in rushing her.

With no outward change in their dynamic, suddenly Michael slumps to the ground and makes a sound that John can barely describe. It's like a moan, but as if his body doesn't have the capability to produce the sound anymore and it comes out sounding... broken.

Helen leans her head back and makes a soothing, clicking sound in her throat. She holds out her left hand and, to John's shock, Michael, shaking, crawls over to her until her hand rests on his head. Helen crouches down, stroking his oddly short hair, and presses their foreheads together. Michael hisses in defiance, but it's a tired, defeated sound.

They sit together a moment, before Helen rises. Michael rises as well, his face downcast and his body trembling almost imperceptibly. "I will return to my hive now," Helen says. "You may arrange with my Commander a time and place to meet to begin discussions concerning our alliance."

"Of course," Woolsey says. He sounds a little unsettled, but John's feeling the same way so he understands.

Helen turns and marches out of the brig, moving back up through the tower. She looks like she doesn't even pay attention to what she's doing but she never walks faster than the security squad that escorts her. Her Wraith follow her, to either side and slightly behind Michael, and when they return to the transport the Wraith, Michael, and all the warriors file inside. John thinks it's going to be a crowded return trip to the hive.

Helen pauses before she follows her Wraith into the transport and she turns back to Woolsey. "Do not consider this as part of our negotiations, but as a... gesture. I wish for one of your people to come with me to my hive to perform a service for me. I will return them afterward."

There is an immediate response of tension. John feels it rippling up his spine, and he touches the place in his head where Todd is, wondering what she could possibly mean by this… but Todd doesn't think that it is a ploy.

Woolsey regards Helen, as if he can discern her motive as easily as he might read a human, though his gaze flickers to John after a moment. John can only shrug; he's got nothing this time.

"You will return them," Caldwell pushes.

Helen spreads her hands and half-bows. "As good as new," she says. "I believe this is a saying of your people."

Caldwell looks like he doesn’t think that's good enough, but Woolsey holds up a hand.

"I won't order anyone to go who is unwilling," Woolsey says evenly. " Tell us what service you require to be performed, and we can ask the person most qualified."

Helen smiles. "I will know the one who can assist me," she says evasively, and wow John does not like that. He feels Rodney, standing behind him, inhale sharply. If she needs McKay, to fix her ship or something, John won't let him go without John going as well, and preferably an entire squad.

Helen paces down the length of the front of the crowd assembled to greet her. She doesn't seem to be looking at the people, but she stops at one point and turns and meets someone's eyes. "Will you come?" she asks.

Ronon snarls, which is John's first clue that Helen's choice is Amelia Banks. Ronon's standing next to Teyla, so before John can get to him Teyla already has her hand firmly on Ronon's arm in restraint.

Helen cocks her head at Ronon, but returns her attention to Amelia. Banks looks surprised and uncertain, but she nods slowly. "I'll go." Ronon tries to draw his magnum, but John gets a hand on his arm and Banks turns to glare at Ronon. "I'll go," she repeats. "And it'll be fine."

Teyla relinquishes Ronon to John and steps forward beside Banks. "If you wish, I will go with you," she says. She is speaking to Banks and not seeking Helen's permission at all. Helen grin in amusement, but Banks shakes her head.

"It'll be fine," she repeats. She says this to Woolsey, and he nods. Banks steps forward, toward Helen.

Ronon subsides, but he is trembling with thwarted rage under John's hand as they watch Banks follow Helen to the transport.

The transport lifts off from the ground.

 

John spends the next half an hour trying to keep Ronon from killing him.

Not that Ronon's trying to kill him, but they're in the gym and John doesn't feel right letting Ronon unleash everything he's feeling on someone else, even Teyla who's more than capable of handling herself. Teyla, of course, disagrees, and is right beside him.

Rodney took one look at Ronon and probably felt a little too much like he agreed that John deserved to get pummeled for taking someone else's girlfriend on a vacation involving unexpected Wraith, so he takes Helen's gift and disappears back up to his lab. Scylla is still there, as the Daedalus is due to depart for their long overdue trip back to Earth. While Carter might be willing to go toe to toe with the SGC about bringing a Wraith to the Milky Way, Doctor Keller and McKay had both argued for Scylla's presence on Atlantis for each of their respective projects, and Scylla himself plans to travel with Jeremiah's hive when they go to visit Helen's planetary system to feed.

 

Forty-seven minutes after departing, but who was really counting, Helen's transport returns. The welcome crowd might be a little larger this time, and a little less welcoming and a little more tense.

Banks is the first out of the hatch. She looks a little overwhelmed, but well and uninjured. John steps up to meet her, forestalling Ronon and Woolsey both. He touches her shoulder lightly before letting his hand settle more firmly. "You okay?"

She nods. "Yeah," she smiles. "I just... I can't believe," she begins, but cuts herself off when Helen follows her out of the hatch.

There is no presentation of warriors and Wraith this time, just Helen followed by another female Wraith who carries a large bundle across her chest.

Helen regards those assembled with a wry grin- her eyes settling somewhat sardonically on Ronon.

"Amelia Banks has performed a great service for me," she says to Woolsey when he approaches her. "And for that I am grateful to your people, Mister Woolsey." Helen turns and takes the bundle from the other female; John kind of assumes she's one of Helen's Keepers, but there are suddenly far more interesting thoughts in his head because he realizes that the bundle is a child.

It's a young queen. She blinks up at the sunlight and regards the gathered people with some surprise but no alarm. John hears the murmured voices and surprised exclamations behind him.

"This is my offspring," Helen says, looking at the face of the young Wraith she holds. "She will grow into a magnificent queen in the light of our alliance." She turns back to Woolsey and pronounces, "She will be known among your people as Gloriana."

John looks at Banks, standing beside him, realizing belatedly that this is the task Helen had for her.

"My dad liked Spenser," Banks murmurs. "He would read it to put me to sleep as a kid." She shifts her weight, still looking a little overwhelmed. "I have no idea," she murmurs. "It was that or my Sensei used to tell stories about the Empress Jingu, but I can hardly repeat them with a straight face so that seemed like a bad idea."

John grins and shakes his head. "You did good."

She nods, and something in her calms, like she was waiting for the acknowledgement, that someone else was seeing the same reality that she was and confirming it was real. Ronon steps up behind her and she smiles at him reassuringly before rolling her eyes at his growl and punching him in the stomach half-heartedly.

John steps away from them and Helen meets him. She side-eyes Ronon, but her daughter regards John with curiosity. She's pretty young, maybe the equivalent of a five-year-old human, and she's Todd's. John knows it. He knows that Wraith don't think that way... but it's still... it's weird, and he's not sure what to do with it. The kid doesn't really look like Todd, except in the way her bright eyes watch everything, taking it in; she holds John's eyes for a long time before Helen turns away to speak to other.

 

By the time Helen departs, returning to her hive, John still doesn't know what to do with it, but at least he's pretty sure this alliance thing is going to last long enough that he might even have time to figure it out.