Chapter 1: Survival
Todd woke in the hibernation capsule and took a moment to orient himself. This was one of the stasis chambers on Atlantis, not a hive hibernation pod. By the sounds around him, he was fairly sure Atlantis was in space but not hyperspace. "Why am I awake Sheppard?" he asked. He still wore the waist belt and wrist cuffs. Sheppard was the only human in the medical suite.
"We have a systems issue," Sheppard explained. "We're low on power. Bringing you out of stasis reduces power drain. More than that, if we want to survive this, we may need your help."
"The shields?" Todd asked. He knew the windows here were not designed to withstand exposure to hard vacuum.
"Holding for now but we need to land. There are 3 systems within range of the sublight engines. One definitely isn't viable. We're still digging for information on the other two. I was hoping you might know something."
"I'm fairly low on energy," Todd pointed out. "I want to survive as much as you but if I'm awake and you won't let me feed, I won't survive anyway."
"I can't just unlock your cuffs and toss someone in here to feed you," Sheppard told him. Todd had expected that they wouldn't but it was worth a try. Sheppard glanced at the door. Todd could hear two guards out there talking softly in unhappy voices. He took a step closer to Todd and lowered his voice. "I'm the best chance we have of landing the city in one piece. If I don't survive you don't survive. No one else is as good as me. Keep that in mind."
Todd stared at him blankly, certain that he must have misunderstood the human's intentions. Was he offering himself? "Can you step out of the stasis chamber?" Sheppard asked him. "It will be easier to reach the cuffs."
Todd tripped stepping out of the oddly made chamber and Sheppard steadied him. Foolish human. Todd's cuffed feeding hand closed on Sheppard's arm. Sheppard felt the strength in that hand and felt the feeding slit open. The threat of the the feeding organ's claws pressed to the inside of his wrist. "Can you feed from there?" Sheppard asked curiously.
"I can feed from anywhere I can grab," Todd told him. "A peripheral location is not preferred but it works."
"I was going to uncuff you," Sheppard pointed out. "I don't know how much you know about human anatomy but if you tear through the wrong thing in my wrist, that hand might be useless or I could bleed to death."
"You were really offering to feed me," Todd said, slightly shocked. His sensor pits flared. "You're not frightened."
"Todd..." Sheppard trailed off, not sure how or if to explain his feelings.
"Guide," the wraith corrected, releasing Sheppard's wrist.
Sheppard was quiet for a moment as he unfastened Todd's cuffs. He hesitated over the waist belt and finally removed that too. Todd stood free, in his own clothing, looking very hungry, and still the human's fear didn't spike.
"I've had about as much fear as I can take the last few hours. We're running out of options and we're all going to die if I don't set this city down somewhere safe sometime soon, okay? I'm all out of fear and adrenaline and anything useful. I'm running on coffee."
"And you want me to feed on you?" Todd pressed.
"Just leave me enough to get us to a system and land. It would be in your best interest to help us find a safe place to set down so you can gate out and rendezvous with your hive. I'll die early so we don't all die in space. I never expected to live to old age anyway."
“You’re going to let me go?” Todd asked incredulously. “Why?”
“Does it matter?”
“I think I need to understand.” The hunger burned in Todd, the raging inferno of slow starvation. He conserved energy but he waited. He needed to understand this human. There were options the human didn’t know, possibilities Todd might be able to offer.”
“I said I would get you back to Pegasus. We’re here. It’s on the fringes but I’m keeping my side of the bargain. I know we don’t really trust each other but we’ve tried to work together in the past.”
“I am a wraith. Humans do not trust us.”
“We all have things that might cause some people to judge us. I’m a soldier; in the wrong eyes, that means I’m a killer. Sure, you’re a wraith but not all wraith are alike.”
"You should sit," Todd advised him. Sheppard sat on the exam table and Todd approached with disciplined slowness. He nudged his way between the human’s legs, facing him. Deciding not to damage the human's clothing, he yanked Sheppard's shirt up out of his pants. His feeding hand trailed up Sheppard's chest to the preferred location, claws tickling over the human's skin. Sheppard shivered but Todd smelled desire, not fear. He could work with that. It was so much easier not to kill them when they weren't afraid.
He rested his other hand against Sheppard's back, solid support. "You usually only use the feeding hand," Sheppard observed. They were intimately close together, close enough that he could have tilted his head up and claimed the wraith’s lips in a kiss. He reminded himself that wraith seemed less conscious of personal space than humans. Todd didn’t mean anything by it.
"We usually push people against the ground or a wall," Todd pointed out. "Or I could grab with my claws," he added, flexing his fingers to dig into Sheppard's skin lightly without breaking it. "Are you ready?" Todd asked.
"Yes," Sheppard said firmly. As the pain of draining hit, he locked his jaws against crying out. He didn't want the guards bursting in here. They had been ordered to stay out but he wasn't sure they'd obey if they realized what he intended. The pull paused and reversed. Instead of pain, there was the pleasure of life force flooding into him in the other direction. His cock hardened in his pants. He opened his eyes, planning to ask Todd what he was doing.
Todd's breath was coming harshly and his eyes were closed. Before John could speak, the flow was reversed again. Pain spiked as Todd drained his energy but this time, the pathways had gotten crossed somewhere. It hurt but the hurt was good. Sheppard whimpered; it was a soft sound, more of pleasure than pain.
Todd did the pull-push technique a few times, finally ending it before either of them could climax and make a mess in their clothing. He regretted that he hadn’t had the control to avoid the initial pain but he had been strong enough not to kill Sheppard by accident. That was enough. He studied Sheppard's face for signs of aging. The man’s wrinkle lines were a hair deeper but it wasn't the dramatic effect that a typical feeding could have. The pull-push technique didn't just give the prey's own energy back. It was mixed with wraith energy and was more. The burn of his hunger was still present but it wasn't the raging inferno of starvation anymore. It was a moderately sized cook fire. He could live with that. So could Sheppard.
Sheppard's eyes blinked open finally, settling on Todd's face. Todd flexed the hand on his back and Sheppard sat up a little more fully, no longer relying on Todd to support him. "I bet you give fantastic back scratches," Sheppard said. His voice was slow and sounded intoxicated. Then he flushed at his own unguarded words.
Todd couldn't stop a rumbling chuckle. "Some other time, Sheppard, we have a city to save."
"Please tell me that was the enzyme," Sheppard said quietly.
"Not entirely," Todd admitted. "Under some circumstances, some wraith can find pain to be more than just pain. It can make the sharing much more intense. This is true of humans as well. Is it the first time you have felt it?"
"No but..." Sheppard stopped. He blew out a breath. "Just give me a minute, okay?"
Todd removed his hands from the human and stepped back but he hovered protectively when Sheppard stood to go check himself in the mirror. The human had wobbled a bit on shaky knees but had steadied. "If I'm better fed, it can feel even better," he promised the human. "You may be short a few years this time but if I wasn't so low to start with, you wouldn't be. You could even gain years."
"I don't feel or look too bad," Sheppard commented. "Why don't you always do it this way? You wouldn't be so short on food."
“Would you volunteer for that again?” Todd asked, curiously. He never was sure he understood Sheppard and he needed to now. They weren’t friends yet but there was mutual respect. And he had just essentially claimed John Sheppard as his dependent, more so than the first time he had given back to him.
“If there were no strings attached, it would be very tempting,” Sheppard said. Then he narrowed his eyes at Todd. “There are always strings though.”
"There is much you don't understand about wraith,” Todd admitted. “I told you before that the gift of life is only reserved for our most devout worshipers, or our brothers. There are reasons for that. You'll notice those reasons soon."
"Am I addicted?" John asked.
"No," Todd assured him. "But it will do strange things to your brain. It may yet kill you if you can't adjust to those changes. After the Genii, those changes had already started in you a tiny bit but this will accelerate them."
Sheppard shrugged it off. "It won't matter if we can't land. Let's go so I can show you which systems Atlantis is near."
Chapter 2: Cooperation
John let Todd gate away from Atlantis after they landed, not knowing if he'd ever see him again. Todd came back proposing a cooperative venture. John tries not to think too hard about what that might mean.
A dart came through the gate. John knew it was Todd even as the communication console of the jumper signaled that a brief contact had been initiated. The systems didn't always integrate well. They’d have to work on that. Hive to Atlantis communication was mostly functional but the darts and jumpers only sometimes connected. If they kept working on the wraith, he’d have to get McKay to look at that. The attempt indicated to the other humans that the dart was friendly. John couldn't have explained how he knew before that. He blamed it on the freaky energy exchange a few months back. It had been necessary but it was still kinda weird to not automatically view Todd as an enemy.
John exited the jumper carrying two waist belts with wrist cuffs. One wraith materialized. Todd climbed out of the dart. Soldiers with guns surrounded the wraith. They were seasoned SGA personnel and familiar with Todd's sense of humor. That was important because someone had to go into that circle of guns with the wraith to put the waist belts on. John would do it because he wouldn't want anyone else to take the risk but he also did not want to be caught on a statistics report under "uh-oh, my bad."
Greetings were exchanged. John hated how glad he was to see Todd. After they had gotten Atlantis safely landed on the very cold planet on the edge of Pegasus, they had let the wraith gate away. John had wondered if he’d ever see him again. Then the communication from hive to Atlantis had come in. Todd, back in control of his hives, had found an ancient outpost within a mountain and lacked the genes needed to explore it more completely. The humans were interested, of course, and so the agreement to work together on this was tentatively put in place.
"Is there something you want me to call you?" John asked the wraith with Todd, trying to stay far away from his own tangled thoughts about being back near Todd. It felt far too right and that was dangerous.
"I am the head biologist assigned to the feeding alteration program." A look passed between the two wraith and John had the uncomfortable sensation of knowing they were talking over his head in a way he couldn't hear.
"Better tell him something," Todd advised aloud finally. He sounded amused. "He'll give you a name just to have something to call you, like naming a pet."
"I'm commonly known as..." The wraith paused for a moment, struggling for a translation of thought into human words. "Quickfingers. Or perhaps Lightfingers."
"Does that mean you're a pickpocket?" one of the soldiers asked, curious.
Quickfingers held up his non-feeding hand in a 'peace' gesture that he hoped would be understood. Then, slowly so he didn't alarm the men with the guns, he used two long fingers to fish a candy bar out of John's coat pocket. He made no noise and barely disturbed the fabric. "Cool trick," John observed mildly, reclaiming his candy.
Todd was being very cautious. Both wraith were fairly passive as he attached the waist belts and wrist restraints to hold their arms at their sides. He knew that wasn't as safe as they had originally believed but he kinda thought they were overkill anyway. Todd had agreed to them though and if Todd agreed, why should John argue against something that gave the illusion of safety?
They split into two groups. Lightfingers went with McKay and several guards. Todd went with John and two guards. When John and Todd got to the equipment they intended to try to activate to access the information, John ordered the guards to stay in the corridor until it was started. They didn’t know exactly what it did so it was sensible to have people outside of the area of potential effect who could call for help. Also, John didn’t need them distracting him. The first step to start most Ancient tech involved thinking it on, which sometimes took more concentration than other times. It depended how important they had thought the equipment was.
An hour into his mental struggle with the equipment, John was ready to punch the wall in frustration. Punching Todd would only amuse the wraith. Todd was crowding John again. He was pretty sure that the wraith knew that humans liked larger personal space bubbles, especially from the wraith. Todd just didn't always choose to respect those personal space boundaries. Even now, he was behind John, leaning in to consider the ancient device John was trying to activate. His breath brushed John's sensitive neck and ear.
The wraith had seemed especially interested in this facility so he wasn’t sure why Todd kept distracting him unless there was some treachery planned or something the wraith hadn’t told him. Each time Todd actually bumped him, John's concentration was broken and he glared over his shoulder. The wraith chuckled lightly at that, just the faintest hint of humor showing that he enjoyed winding John up. Mostly though he was just too close for comfort.
After nearly an hour of the space invasion, John decided to try a different tactic. If the wraith wanted to invade his space, two could play that game. Perhaps if he forced Todd to acknowledge how close he was standing, he’d back off. The next time Todd bumped him, he shuffled a half step back and leaned into the wraith instead of trying to get away. Todd gave a sharp intake of breath. Then John felt a slight rumble vibrate through his back. The wraith's breath in his ear sounded surprisingly like a purr and Todd didn't break the contact. That hadn’t been the result John expected.
Todd’s turned his left wrist a little in the restraints until he could rest the non-feeding hand against John’s hip as he looked over the human’s shoulder at the stubbornly blank screen. He considered this a satisfactory development. To distract himself from being plastered against his human’s body, he reached out to Quickfingers to check in.
When Todd stayed settled against him, purring, John decided it wasn’t worth fussing about. Whatever. It was less distracting to have him there than to be bumped. With the distractions gone and the soothing purr at his back, John finally managed to sweet talk the system into starting up. Lights and ventilation of the facility kicked in. The screen in front of him scrolled with the ancient's version of a written status report as information flooded his mind.
"Very good, John," Todd told him.
"We need to get McKay from the other building," John said. "I don't actually know how to read ancient or use this type of data retrieval system."
"There are manual controls," Todd pointed out.
"Which I don't know how to use."
"I do," Todd asserted confidently.
"Your word that I won't become a snack if I let you loose?"
"You're safe, John,” Todd assured him. John was his now and Todd protected what was his. John might not understand yet but Todd was determined to keep him. John did not look especially reassured. He liked Todd more than he ever expected to like a wraith but he didn’t really understand what Todd had done when he initiated the energy exchange instead of just killing him. Now that he was back with Todd again, he was sure there was more to it than he had initially realized. It was a sobering thought.
“We're working together in this." Todd nuzzled a little bit into John's neck, his teeth lightly scraping skin without biting. It was part affectionate gesture, part threat. It reminded him that he had been standing here with the wraith's shark-like teeth inches from his neck for the last hour. His feeding hand wasn’t all that restrained and the teeth were deadly. If Todd had wanted to hurt him, he could have done it already.
John stepped away from Todd and turned to face him. The wraith's facial expression didn't really tell him much. He quickly unhooked Todd's wrist cuffs, leaving the waist belt in place so he could easily reattach them if other people were going to be in the room. He was willing to take the risk for himself but not necessarily for others. Todd read the screens and seemed to have no trouble with the controls.
A few moments later, he lifted his head and said casually, "Quickfingers reports that McKay was able to get that system up and running too."
"You could have just called McKay here," John observed.
"Perhaps, if the humans with Quickfingers would have trusted a relayed message. Do you think they would have?"
John only had to consider that for a moment. No, they wouldn't have trusted a message sent by wraith. It would have been convenient if they had. Their telepathy wasn't blocked by the thick stone underground rooms the same way the human's technology was hampered.
Todd stepped away from the console. "Here," he offered. "I can walk you through it so that the other team doesn’t get upset about you letting me touch the technology. They don’t trust me.”
“Can you blame them?” John asked.
“And why should we trust you?” Todd parried. “How many hives have you destroyed? How many bargains broken? You greet us with guns and restraints even when we’re trying to work together.”
“Maybe someday…” John trailed off. He knew that day might be a long way in the future but it was hard not to see both sides of the conflict.
Todd felt a hint of John’s unhappiness. The nascent hive tie was very thin, barely there. He knew the emotions had to be very strong to have gotten through it at all. He resolved to do better. His goal was to draw John in, keep him alive, not chase him away.
John found himself back in front of the console with the wraith disturbingly close behind him again. Todd's arm reached around him to point out controls and explain their function, reading aloud as needed. John had an inexplicable urge to lean back into Todd again to see if he would purr.
When the other team came over to the building, their wraith was still in his cuffs. Quickfingers threw a startled look at his commander and the comfort he seemed to be showing with the human. None of it had leaked into the hive sense. Then, out of curiosity, he approached as well to stand shoulder to shoulder next to his commander behind the human. John shivered a little and threw him a cautious glance. His commander warned him to stand very still but didn’t ask him to move away. Then the commander offered the softest soothing purr he could manage.
*Mine,* Todd explained to the other wraith. Possessiveness and fondness sliped into the hive sense. *Ours.*
*This is the human you bonded with?* Quickfingers asked just to be sure.
Todd's response was a wordless sense of his satisfaction with the human's progress. The other wraith agreed with that. The human was cautious still but did not smell heavily of fear, even with two wraith very close behind him. There was no need to fear them and part of him already acknowledged that. It was good. His commander's very obvious sexual urge towards the human was easy enough to simply take as information. He didn't share it but it didn't bother him. This type of bonding sometimes did turn sexual.
“Come check this out,” John invited McKay.
“Are you crazy?” McKay replied from the doorway. "Todd isn't even cuffed anymore."
"I seem to be still alive," John responded. McKay just sputtered in response.
John sighed and turned to face the wraith. "Time to go back in the cuffs, I guess." Todd didn't protest but when John reached carelessly for his feeding hand to put the arm back in the cuff, Todd grabbed him.
"Let him go!" one of the soldiers snapped. Todd heard the sounds of their projectile weapons preparing to fire and ignored it.
John regarded Todd's feeding hand closed around his wrist and remembered the last time, the rush of the sharing. "I almost want you to do it," he murmured to Todd even as he made a hand signal to the marine with his free hand. "I need to lock you back up. You knew it would be necessary when the others got here. You're making the guys with the guns nervous."
"I would survive a couple of bullets," Todd pointed out.
"It wouldn't be much fun for you though," John countered. “And even less fun for me. Friendly fire isn’t.” He turned his arm slowly in Todd's grasp. The feeding slit dragged against his skin, leaving a little trail of moisture from the enzyme but the claws didn't cut him. Todd didn't clamp down with inhuman strength to truly restrain him. He allowed John to fasten first the feeding hand, then the other wrist.
"Is everything okay now?" the marine who had shouted asked.
"It was always okay," John replied. "Did you see how he grabbed me? Don't let him do that to you. I'm not sure you'd survive the experience."
"You did," one of the others noted.
"Our situation is...odd," John admitted. "We've worked together for a while. That doesn’t mean any other wraith you encounter will be safe."
“Don’t be so melodramatic John,” Todd said. “I was just trying to get your attention.”
“You got everyone’s attention and scared them. What’s up?”
“I believe that scanner there is a complex dna analyzer designed to work with this computer. I was wondering if offering it some wraith DNA would help us trigger access to the programs related to wraith.”
With they systems activated, they called in more teams from Atlantis to help them. They worked together to get the data, including some additional places to look for ZPMs and significant biological data on the wraith feeding processes. The scientists would be studying this outpost for a while but with the biggest priority information uncovered, it was time for John and the wraith to let the human scientists do their work without harassing them. Most of the humans had piled into the jumper. There was no ring of guards this time as John uncuffed the wraith.
"We did well together." Todd acknowledged their success. "Until next time," he added, turning to get into his dart.
"Wait," John said. His hand closed on the wraith’s shoulder to keep him from leaving immediately and then wondered when he had gotten so comfortable with him. Todd reached up with his own hand, making sure to be slow enough for John to track the gesture. Instead of brushing him off as John expected, Todd just lay his hand against John's. The man didn't really know what to say. Part of him was quietly freaking out at the idea of being left alone but he wasn't sure how to articulate that.
Todd turned, keeping John's hand anchored on his shoulder. Then he reached out to put both his hands on his mostly human hivemate's shoulders. John completed the Athosian greeting gesture almost automatically, hands on shoulders, foreheads touching. Through the touch, which added strength to the hair-thin hive tie to the human, Todd shared the comfort of his presence and tried to make a more meaningful contact. John's mind was still resistant unless he mentally shouted and he didn’t have the energy to spare.
"What is this?" John asked him. It was the first time he had acknowledged the weird thing between them out loud. Todd had been helping him become accustomed to the hive presence, pressing against him mentally and invading his space physically. The human didn't understand the bond but it was growing and he was starting to notice it.
Todd struggled briefly for a way to explain something that for him was instinct and mental communication. Words weren't the same to him but he tried. "Our worshipers, the ones who exchange energy with us intentionally, are part of us. We did that. I warned you that there would be side effects."
“You didn’t warn me until after.”
“We both wanted to live,” Todd pointed out.
"Why didn't it start sooner?" John asked.
"It did. The effects build with time."
"Will they fade with time too?"
"No. They only grow stronger or if your system rejects the hive tie, you die." John's thoughts were closed to him but his feelings were a tangled mess. "It was this chance or a certain death," Todd reminded John.
John stepped back and Todd let him go. "I don't like this."
"That is your early conditioning talking. It doesn't match you actual feelings."
"Stay out of my head," John demanded.
Todd inclined his head. "We were going out separate ways," he reminded John. His voice stayed steady and calm despite his own instincts urging him to keep his hivemate within his sphere of mental reach. John waved him off and he went, effortlessly entering the dart. He rose and circled back to pick up the wraith who had been with him.
Left alone with the human who was slowly becoming part of their hive, the other wraith couldn’t resist saying something. “This is just as hard on him as it is for you, maybe more so.”
“Why?” John demanded. “He’s not at risk of dying if it fails.”
“It’s been centuries since he cared enough to try this. Remember that. Todd is doing his best to make this work because he cares for you. It would be easier to let you die. If you care about him at all in return, try not to make it more difficult than it needs to be.”
John was silent, lost in his own thoughts. Todd grumbled in the back of Quickfingers’ mind, not liking how much he had told John but not really having a way to object rationally. If John had full access to the hive tie, he would already understand. Just before the other scientist was swept up in the beam, he added, “We’ll welcome you if you stay with us.” Then he was gone.
He felt the loss as the wraith left the planet. John joined the others in the jumper and returned to Atlantis.
If you love something let it go. If it comes back it's yours.
Chapter 3: In Sickness
The flu isn't much fun but Todd can fix it.
Todd next came to Atlantis to help in one of McKay's projects that would have a mutual benefit. The moment he stepped through the stargate, straining the mental contact with his hivemates in orbit around the other planet to a vague distant sense of them, his mind reached automatically for any closer hivemates. He couldn't have stopped it any more than he could stop his breathing and didn't even think about attempting to do so. His connection with John Sheppard was a pale shadow of a true mindlink still but that didn't stop him from noticing immediately that his human hivemate was very ill.
"Where is John Sheppard?" he asked McKay, who had been waiting in the gate room with the guards who would be assigned to Todd.
"He's in his quarters. Medical leave. Some idiot made it through quarantine from Midway with the flu and John caught it."
"Should he not be in the infirmary?" Todd questioned.
"It spreads very easily. On earth, doctor's often tell otherwise healthy adults who catch the flu to stay away from the office to keep other patients from also getting the flu."
"How serious is this flu?" Todd asked, trying to keep his voice merely curious and not concerned.
"Why do you care? You can't get human illnesses,” McKay pointed out caustically
Todd shrugged, a gesture he had learned from the humans, and allowed McKay to divert him with the project but he was alert for any change of status in his hivemate. At least he was free of the cuffs this time. They wanted his help and he didn’t have a huge personal stake in it so he had more bargaining power. The only reason he had agreed at all was to have an excuse to be on Atlantis near John.
When McKay was ready to break for a meal, the guards tried to lead Todd to the quartens set aside for him. Todd insisted on seeing John first. When he stepped through the door, he was alarmed by how pale and still the man lay on the bed. His heat sense showed that John had a significant increase from human norms.
Todd crossed the room in a few long strides and sat on the edge of the bed. He put a hand on John to connect more clearly with his head-blind hivemate. The guards in the hallway pointed guns at him but he ignored them. John's eyes flickered open.
"What are you doing here?" he asked weakly. Todd was furious that the medical personnel here had allowed John to get in this condition and then abandoned him to it.
"McKay requested my assistance."
"With my flu?" John asked. "And why are you so pissed?"
"No. For science," Todd told him. Despite the illness, he was pleased with the progress of the bond. John was starting to sense him more clearly. Shouting mentally was no longer required.
John struggled to sit up and Todd supported him with an arm around his back. The guards adjusted their aim and demanded that he let John go. John stared at them for a moment. His eyes were glassy and he leaned hard into Todd. Both quietly savored the contact.
"Get out of here," John told the guards finally in a scratchy voice. "At least Todd here can't get sick." It took a moment of frowning concentration but the door slid closed firmly, locking the guards out.
"Help me up please."
"It is better if you sit or lie down for the healing," Todd told him.
"You can heal the flu?" John asked.
"The gift of life can heal many things."
"What about the others?"
"What about them? McKay says they will recover on their own. This is a common illness."
"I'll be fine too in a week or so."
Todd tired of the discussion. There was no need for John to remain ill. He would not tolerate it. He put his feeding hand against John who watched him warily. John put a hand on the wrist of Todd's feeding hand but didn't try to pull him away. Todd’s feeding organ bit down, drawing a gasp from John. Todd drew in a tiny taste of energy and shared his own in return plus a little bit extra. Todd had fed before coming to Atlantis but there was no need for waste. John only needed a small boost.
John stayed quiet, mindful of the guards in the corridor, but he snuggled tightly into Todd’s side. John’s breathing was harsh as he processed the painful pleasure of the sharing but his temperature dropped back to human norms. His shaking hand steadied where it had reached up to grab Todd's wrist. He refused to admit, even to himself how good the sharing felt or how nice it was to just be with Todd after a separation.
"You're a miracle cure," Jon observed instead, not pulling away from his place tucked against the side of Todd's body. He was conflicted but could feel that Todd was content.Todd brushed his lips against his forehead. It was almost a kiss and John didn't quite know what to make of it.
"No one would take the cure," Todd told him. "Not for a minor illness. It’s too much of a risk." They sat there together, just being close for a long moment before Todd released John and stood. "McKay has probably finished his meal. I need to get back to the lab."
John stood too, steady on his feet for the first time in the last 3 days. "I have to go get the docs to clear me for active duty again."
He dressed efficiently, ignoring the wraith's presence. He had been in the military too long to fuss about casual nudity. Todd enjoyed watching the play of the human's muscles as he pulled on his clothing. Todd wanted to lick along the smooth spine, bite down on the curve of the human's ass. He clasped his hands together casually in front of himself, refusing to do anything that might be unwelcome and could jeopardize the growing hive tie. It didn't hurt to look though.
When John turned back towards Todd, he noticed the wraith's look. Todd looked like he wanted to eat him up. After the almost kiss and the way the energy exchange felt, John wondered. There were a lot of male wraith and few queens. Did they enjoy each other? What were the rules for proposing a romp? John shut that line of thought down firmly, hoping Todd hadn't caught it.
A flicker of thought opened the door of his room and Todd's guards, still standing outside, stared at the two of them with obvious surprise. They followed Todd down the corridor; he ignored them completely. John endured a round of tests and the medical personnel cautiously cleared him back to duty. They didn’t understand the mechanism of the cure but had to admit he was healthy.
Later, John found himself standing outside of the door to the quarters Todd had been assigned. The guards there, different from earlier in the day, didn’t object to him going in. Todd sat on the bed leaning against the wall. His eyes were closed but he acknowledged Johns presence with a mental welcome. He wasn’t sure how much got through but John did come to sit beside him. They kept the silence for a while.
“How will this make things worse?” John asked finally.
Todd shrugged. “Define worse.”
"I can feel you now."
"Not really, just a kind of sense that you're here."
"That will be gone when McKay and I are done sometime tomorrow. I'll leave again and be out of reach. You may notice my absence where you now notice my presence."
"Am I going to turn...you know...wraithy?" John asked.
"You’d have to define ‘wraithy’ for me but probably not. The changes…” Todd trailed off and decided to start again. “We are not meant to be alone. The sharing opens up portions of your brain so that you are not meant to be alone anymore either. It can give you a boost physically, as you have seen. It won't change your genes or your species."
"It's making me feel things."
"No. The bonding can happen even if you hate us. The thing that stops it and endangers you is when your own subconscious desire to live at any cost fails. If you reject us, deep down, it will shut off the part that is opening up but you can’t live without it anymore. You’re no longer able to be alone."
"I do hate you," John said, looking for anything that would make this seem less of a betrayal of humanity. How had he gotten to the point where being tied to the wraith was better than death? Most would say the wraith were worse.
"Do you?" It was hard to tell emotion in wraith voices but he could tell that Todd could tell he was lying to himself. Somewhere along the way, he had stopped thinking all wraith were bad and learned to trust Todd at least a little. He couldn’t deny that he had started to have carnal thoughts about him.
"This is wrong," John insisted, nudging his shoulder against Todd's to emphasize that he meant the physical contact. “Even if I want it, how could I ever explain it to the others?” He didn’t mean them both being male. He could deal with homophobia; Wraith-phobia was an entirely different problem.
"You’re safe with your hive. Being close enough to feel us sometimes is necessary but it shouldn’t be a hardship. We’re frequently in contact with Atlantis. The rest is your choice. Don't get too comfortable because that doesn't make you safe out there. You're a special yummy treat for members of other hives. A vulnerable hive-member is leverage if captured."
"You don't mean just you," John observed suspiciously.
"You're bonded through me. My hive is your hive."
"And how am I supposed to know the difference?"
Todd plucked his sense of John, like tapping someone on the shoulder. "Feel," he instructed. "It's not significantly different from learning to use the ATA-locked tech. It's mostly instinct. Finesse comes with practice."
They sat in silence for a few moments as John groped blindly for this new sense. The door to the room wooshed open and closed a few times, startling the guards outside. The lights flickered. In the bathroom, the shower started and stopped.
"You're trying too hard," Todd observed. "Just be. Feel."
"That's cryptic," John complained.
Todd didn't respond for a long moment. Cryptic instruction was all he had to give about this. Finally he pressed his shoulder and leg against John and leaned into the hivesense at the same time, holding more prolonged contact. John returned the physical pressure and for just a flicker opened to the hivesense.
"Good," Todd told him.
"Exhausting," John complained. "I'm getting a headache."
"Rest then," Todd suggested. "There is no rush." John stood from the bed and walked to the door, moving strangely slow as if the air had thickened. "You can always sleep here," Todd offered. "The bed is large enough to share."
John flipped him off and stomped through the door, still feeling oddly reluctant to leave. His own room felt lonely and cold in comparison for a little while. Then Atlantis cranked up the heat in an attempt to please him and he didn't have time to brood anymore because he was busy with the scientists trying to get the environmental systems cooperating again.
Todd finished his part of McKay's project in the meantime and returned to whatever wraithy things he had been doing. John kept poking at the place in his mind where Todd had been, like investigating a lost tooth. It felt wrong. He could deal with it but didn't like it much.
Chapter 4: Finding Lost Wraith
John and some others go on a trading mission but when they arrive on the planet, John feels a wraith nearby.
A few weeks later, on the next run to offer medical supplies in exchange for food, he felt that connection click into place again. Sensors of the puddle jumper assured him that there were no darts in the air and they had not relayed any sign of hives in orbit as they approached the planet. It was only in the village that he had any sense of the direction the hive tie led in. He excused himself to use the privy and followed that sense into the edges of the rainforest beyond the settlement.
"Todd?" he called softly. He felt a press against his mind, frantic scrabbling to establish a connection that he couldn’t grasp firmly in return. It felt familiar but he was also sure it wasn't Todd. "Hello?"
A wraith came out from behind a tree, reaching for him. He evaded. The wraith was weak, clearly running mostly on stubbornness. "Brother," he rasped. "But human. Who...?" There was a push against John's mind again but no threat, only an attempt to convey an idea that the wraith didn't have words to express. Faintly he felt the burn of the creature's hunger.
"If I get you to the stargate, is there somewhere safe for us to drop you off?" he asked. As was common here in Pegasus, this planet's stargate was in orbit.
"You have a dart?" the wraith asked. "I did not hear one. We should return to our hive."
"No, I have an ancient gateship," John explained. "I live on Atlantis. I don't live in a hive."
A push again against his mental sense. The wraith hadn't given up trying to communicate with him the easy way. "You're the one who escaped the Genii with the commander," the wraith said finally. “You are farther along in the bonding than I would have expected from just a single sharing,” he observed. Even half-starved and stranded, this guy was a scientist to the core.
“Circumstances brought us to sharing a few more times,” John admitted.
“You did not wish to join us?” The wraith pushed, cautiously. The human read as hive but if he were unwilling, he might not be as safe as instinct expected hive to be.
“It was necessary,” John said. “Your high commander saved us both. I can live with it. I’m more concerned about what you’re doing here. You don’t look so great.”
“It’s been a long time,” The wraith said. “The systems in my dart were compromised by a crash.”
John tried not to think of how injured the wraith must have been and tried not to envy the luxury of them being able to shrug off the type of injury that would have resulted from a dart crash. “How long have you been here?” John asked.
“How many days in your year?” the wraith asked.
“Three hundred sixty-five,” John replied, going with an earth year. It was the frame of reference he still felt most comfortable using.
“Then a little over a year and a half.”
“Without feeding?” John asked. He didn’t think wraith could last near that long. This wraith looked bad but not that bad. John was familiar with what a starving wraith looked like. This one was hungry and still in the way they moved when reserving their strength. He was cautious with his energy and hungry but not starving.
“Of course not. But there are not many who venture into the forest here alone and easy to pick off.”
“The villagers don’t know you’re here?” John asked, just to be sure. It would be easier to go through the village than around but he had seen enough reactions to Todd to know that bringing a wraith into an unwarned town was a bad idea.
“I do not think they know. I was very careful. There are many of them. I’m stronger to a degree but I’m alone here. Eventually, many would be too many. It’s been too long. Will you take me home?”
"I don't want to land the jumper on the hive.”
"A worshiper planet?" the wraith suggested after a long pause.
"Sure," John agreed. "Let's get you back to the puddle jumper, okay? I think we're gonna need to go around the village. Can I trust you not to feed on my people?"
"You don't ask about yourself?"
"Todd said I was safe." The wraith reached for an explanation of who Todd might be and was frustrated by the narrowness of the hive tie with the human. He could barely taste him at all. The human must have felt something of the query though because he added, “The high commander.”
Ah. That made sense. "You trust him. That is good."
"Are we good?" John asked.
"Of course," the wraith assured him. He assessed the human, trying to gage his strength. The wraith could still move unaided if necessary. He wouldn’t have let himself get so hungry that he couldn’t flee or hunt if necessary but he also didn’t know how long until he could feed. Better to conserve still. "I could use some help,” he admitted.
John put a cautious arm around the wraith. He was taller than Todd but built along more slender lines. The hunger beat into him more strongly when they were in contact. The wraith leaned into him physically and tried to pull back mentally to give the human some breathing room. John tried to tell himself that if the wraith could endure, so could he.
“What should I call you?” John asked, trying to distract himself from the sensations flowing sluggishly into his mind.
The wraith offered a picture, a planet wandering the galaxy without ties to a solar system. He couldn’t tell how much had gotten through so he offered, “Nomad. Or Starless.” John still seemed uncertain so he continued, “I go out to explore, to learn, and then I return to the hive. I don’t stay within their reach like a normal planet stays with its star.”
“Are they looking for you?” John asked, still seeking a distraction.
“I’ve been gone longer than usual but I’m not sure they would have had any reason to believe I was in distress. They’re too distant to sense more than whether I’m alive or not.”
Finally John gave up. "Can I give you a snack safely? I mean, not so much that my appearance alarms my teammates but...oh I don't really know what I'm asking."
Confusion washed through the hivesense, stronger because it was shared by both hivemates. "You want me to feed on you?"
"No," John objected even as he unbuttoned the shirt of his uniform to leave a clear path to his feeding scars. "It’s distracting. If you're okay for a little while longer, I'd rather avoid it but..."
There was that disturbing wraith laugh but it sobered quickly. "If it is distracting for you, imagine how it feels to me."
"But if you're not okay, if you need a little bit to get back to the ship..."
The wraith raised his feeding hand and rested it on John's bared chest, politely not touching more than necessary since he hadn’t been invited. His human hivemate seemed resigned but determined. "A temporary loan only,” Nomad offered. “We’ll return it. We would not steal your years from you.”
"Just do it," John told him in a low voice, uncomfortable with the implications, and the wraith took him at his word. John felt the bite of the feeding claws, felt the lowering of his energy. It still felt awful but the pain was more muted than he would have expected. He wondered if the change was in how he perceived the draining or simply in the lack of the visceral fear he had previously felt.
The wraith felt him feeling surprised and released him after only a few breaths. "I'm not so starved that I can't observe the niceties. We do this for each other, you know, if one is severely injured. There's no need to cause a hive brother or a devout worshiper pain and fear."
"There's a lot I don't know about Wraith," John admitted. Exhaustion pulled at him. He needed a nap and his knees were beginning to ache. The wrath walked under his own power now as they returned to the puddle jumper.
John radio'd the team to let them know where he was and warn them that he had a friendly wraith with him. The wraith sat in the seat directly behind his pilot seat and leaned his head back. Nomad threaded his off hand between John’s seat and the wall so he could discreetly keep contact with him and bask in even this small tie to hive. His eyes were closed when the others returned.
"What happened to him?" Dr Keller asked, barely stopping herself from reaching for the wraith's wrist to check his pulse out of reflex.
"Dart crash," John explained briefly.
"Why was he here at all?" Ronan asked suspiciously.
"There are certain plants in the rainforest that can be synthesized into medications and drugs," the wraith explained, without moving at all. He was conserving what little energy he had carefully. John could feel his uncertainty and caution. The wraith was very tense sitting in the ship he couldn't fly and surrounded by humans he wasn't supposed to feed on who might want to hurt him. "The hive ships create panic. I visited a few planets seeking the plants I wanted to work on. Slipping in and out without notice is easier for me and the humans usually but I had an unfortunate encounter with some space debris between the gate and the planet."
"I didn't realize Wraith had doctors," Dr. Keller said.
"I'm more scientist. Chemistry and botany and … other things."
"What are we going to do with him?" Ronan interjected.
"We’re allies with his hive,” John pointed out. “It’s easy enough to drop him off before we go back to Atlantis.”
"Wait," Dr, Keller protested. "I want to hear more about these plants."
"Perhaps another time," the wraith told her. He looked exhausted enough that she gave in.
"He's part of Todd's hive," John added. "I'm sure they'll be around again. We can ask them to share information. I can’t see how us knowing about medicinal plants will harm them. There would be no reason to refuse."
McKay had remained silent but he studied first the wraith, then John suspiciously. "How long was he here anyway? How did you find him? Do you look older?" he demanded.
"I'm just tired," John said, ignoring the other questions. He secured the back hatch of the jumper with a mental command and lifted off. He loved that manual commands were so rarely necessary for him.
When they exited the stargate on the worshiper planet the wraith had specified, the jumper's warnings lit immediately. There was a hive in orbit. John tensed, unsure whether it was Todd's hive or a rival. The tenseness he had felt in the wrath at his back relaxed, taking his own tension away as well and leaving him giddy.
"Ours," the wraith said, meaning his and John's hive but the humans took it to mean it was Todd's hive. John landed the puddle jumper outside of the settlement. "There's a shuttle on the other side of the village," the wraith told him. "But I can just wait here. They're sending a dart for us."
"You can hear them from orbit?" John asked.
"It's almost the whole hive. Our greatest strength and greatest weakness are both together."
“What do you mean ‘us’?” one of the other party members questioned.
“The high commander wishes to see John Sheppard,” Nomad explained as he stood and made his way carefully past the humans and to the back of the gate ship. They shrank into themselves to avoid touching him. He found it a little bit funny and a little bit insulting. Had he not been perfectly polite? He had talked to them with the mouth sounds, offered neither hiss, nor snarl, nor even threat.
John followed him to the back of the ship, laying a hand on Nomad’s back when he stopped at the back. His body language was a little too tense to be completely casual but he was doing better than the other humans. Through the tie to John, Nomad could feel the mental command aimed at the little ship to open the hatch. It responded smoothly, as eager to please as any hive technology.
“You can’t really plan to just cheerfully go to the hive alone!” McKay protested.
“It’s just Todd,” John assured them. “Did he say how long he needs me?” he asked Nomad.
“Perhaps you can call them from the hive if you will be delayed?” Nomad suggested.
“There, see? No problem. I’ll give Todd an hour or whatever. If I’ll be longer than that, I’ll call down and you can meet me at home.”
“What about the villagers?”
“You could go get a meal in the town?” Nomad suggested. “Or would you like food delivered?”
The party members looked at each other. Worshippers did not normally welcome people from Atlantis. Their feelings on the wraith were too far opposed. Nomad wondered if those looks were taking the place of true mental communication. Humans used a lot more body language than wraith.
“A meal would be welcome,” one of the cultural specialists who had been negotiating with the people of the other planet said finally. Nomad reached for his hive brothers in the villiage and made the request of a meal. He was enjoying the ability to be in contact again.
“They will bring it,” Nomad told the humans. “The dart comes John Sheppard. We should step outside.” He suited action to words and John followed, leaving the ship’s door open. Presumably there were others who could manage the ATA locked tech if necessary.
John felt a mental tug on his developing hive sense just before the dart beam swept them both up. When John was aware again, he stood in the dart bay of the hive. He was surrounded by welcome and belonging. So many minds buzzed, just out of reach. Todd was standing in front of him.
A picture pressed into his mind of a wandering planet. "Says we owe you," Todd told him. He put one arm around John who snuggled in briefly before pulling slightly away. Todd would have preferred the snuggle but at least John didn’t shrug his arm off entirely. What little he could feel of the human’s emotions were very conflicted.
“What do you feel?” he asked John, unsure how much he was able to sense of the hive.
“There are a lot of wraith here,” he said. “It’s like they’re all crowding around me, just out of reach.” He looked around the dart bay and saw only 3 wraith other than Todd. He must be feeling them from farther away than the same room.
“We’re critically understaffed,” Todd told him. “Quite a few of us are on the planet and we weren’t really fully staffed to begin with. We’re only hundreds and this hive can hold a thousand strong plus several squads of masked if we had them. If it had been otherwise, I would have come down to the planet. I know in the past, you’ve been less than comfortable on hives but you’re safe here. You know that right?”
“My head isn’t so sure but my instincts say that I’m safe. My heart feels like you’re family.” Todd was unsure what the heart had to do with it but he understood the feeling of instincts and training coming into conflict.
“Hive,” Todd told him. “Family by choice, though some have ties of blood as well.”
“And me?” John asked. “How do I fit in so seamlessly?”
“You don’t. Not really. Not yet. But you will eventually. You’re mine, ours.” He tightened his arm around John, feeling the stiffness in the human’s shoulders. Todd offered a purr-like sound that coaxed a smile from the human and John finally relaxed into him. John shifted so his arm was lightly around Todd’s waist. Todd enjoyed the contact and led John to a semi-private alcove off of the dart bay.
He unbuttoned John’s uniform shirt. John shivered as Todd’s nails tickled over his skin as he sought out the ideal feeding location. It was nowhere near as impersonal as Nomad’s touch had been. Todd’s touch sparked carnal thoughts. He enjoyed it far too much. John snuggled into Todd’s side, his head on Todd’s shoulder. There wasn’t anyone here to see that would judge the closeness.
The feeding claws bit down but Todd didn’t feed at all. He was satiated and John had already fed Nomad today. Instead, he offered up his own life energy freely and enjoyed the desire that flowed freely between them. When he stopped, John was panting hot breaths against his neck, shifting his hips restlessly.
“Please,” John whispered. His own voice startled him. He sounded wrecked. “Todd…”
“Shh…” Todd brushed his lips against John’s forehead. “It will pass.” He fought his own desires too. He’d like to have the rough uniform off of John, to press skin into skin, to be inside of him in the most primal way possible. He was fairly sure that in the rush of the sharing, John would have welcomed it but he didn’t want to coerce him. John would be with Todd of his own volition or not at all.
“Are you...not interested in a human?” John asked, his voice still sounding a little dazed on the endorphins.
“I’m very interested,” Todd assured him. “But I can’t risk you hating me tomorrow to the point where you reject the hive tie and you’re naturally intoxicated so I’m not sure how you’ll feel sober. I have time to wait.”
“I don’t,” John countered. “Tomorrow is never promised. I’m always dying. It’s just a question of fast or slow.”
“Not anymore,” Todd promised him. “You’re mine now, part of the hive. There is time.”
Before their conversation could continue, Todd’s head whipped around to stare at the doorway. He snarled at the wraith lingering there. John couldn’t have said it if was the feeling of this wraith in his head or subconscious recognition of his markings but he knew it was Quickfingers. He felt a light tug on his mind.
“It’s good to see you again John but your teammates on the planet tried to contact us. I was unsure what you’d want us to tell them so I ...uh… fumbled the communication channel. I believe they will put the poor connection down to technology mismatch.”
John narrowed his eyes. “Have you done that before intentionally?” he asked. Quickfingers tried to look innocent but he could feel a hint of amusement from both wraith. Fantastic.
“We should get you back to them,” Todd said reluctantly.
“Can I take a dart instead of being stuck in the buffer?” John asked.
Todd chuckled. “What will your teammates think?”
“That I don’t like being in the buffer. Things can go wrong.”
“The hive needs me to stay here,” Todd told him.
“I don’t mind riding down to bring the dart back,” Quickfingers offered.
“Thanks,” John replied. Then frowned. He must have missed a mental comment because Quickfingers nodded sharply to Todd and then moved away from their little alcove.
Todd nuzzled John’s hair one last time before reluctantly disentangling himself. “Take care of yourself out there,” Todd said, voice completely flat as if he had all emotion under very tight control.
“Sure,” John replied doubtfully. The universe was not a safe place. “You too. Until next time.”
“There will be a next time,” Todd replied fiercely. He didn’t think he could let John go if he didn’t believe he would see him again. John only nodded and went into the dart bay after Quickfingers.
I'm already 2000 words into the next chapter so hopefully not so much of a delay next time.
Chapter 5: For Science
Some wraith come to Atlantis to satisfy Dr. Keller's curiosity about local medicinal plants. John ends up in a wraith pile.
There was an announcement of gate activation just as John was getting ready for the day. Within moments, the empty feeling that always nagged at the back of John's mind was gone. He poked at the place. He had gotten used to poking the empty space so when his poke at what Todd had named the hive tie was returned from the other side, he was startled. There wasn't much more to feel, just an acknowledgement that he was there. He decided to delay breakfast and headed to the gate room.
Todd stood chatting with Woolsey. "Ah. Colonel Sheppard. The high commander was telling me he needed to speak with you."
"Todd," John greeted, voice casual. The urge to make physical contact with Todd was very strong so he offered a handshake.
Todd eyed the military personnel in the room, not wanting to alarm them into catching John in the crossfire but he gave the hand shake cautiously. He leaned against John mentally within the hivesense too. From deeper in Atlantis, the scientists he had brought with him reacted more than John could. Mostly just flickers of emotion from annoyance at the distraction to amusement that he was trying to make the still mostly human hivemate hear him.
One voice floated clearly into his mind, from Nomad, the scientist John had brought home, *I would like to see him later. I owe him.*
*I'm sure you will,* Todd replied.
"Where are the others?" John asked him once they had a little breathing room from the gate crew. The other guards followed at a discreet distance, a minor annoyance to Todd.
"Can you tell how many?" Todd asked curiously.
John was silent for a long moment. "More than just you," he said finally. "Less than the whole hive."
"Your Dr. Keller was intrigued by the possibilities of medicinal plants from this galaxy. They have talked to herb healers and such, of course, but a more advanced understanding of plant properties was considered a worthwhile venture by those in charge of your base. A few of my scientists were willing to assist. It's not my area of expertise but I felt it would be better to come along." Todd eyed the guards cautiously and lowered his voice. "And I wanted to check on you. We can talk later."
"How long are you here?" `
"3 days only. Richard Woolsey has promised to house us in a bedroom, not a cell."
They arrived back at the cafeteria area and John got his delayed breakfast. Todd declined. As they sat at the table, a few people came up to them. Then a few more. Finally, John was forced to inch his chair closer to Todd as the anthropologists and historians peppered the wraith with questions.
Todd was surprised by their interest. Humans hadn't been very interested in understanding wraith culture before. He deflected as many questions as he answered but he didn't mind sharing some things. Perhaps it would lead to greater cooperation. He didn't mind humans fearing them but it often was unnecessary and got in the way of more practical matters. These people at least were both intelligent and by training, neutral. They weren't interested in influencing, only knowing.
One of them eventually noticed how close John was sitting to Todd and asked about that. "You see room for me to sit farther away?" John grumbled.
"Does the physical closeness with a human bother you?" another asked Todd.
"Why should it bother me?" Todd responded. He felt John's faint alarm at this line of questioning. To forestall it, Todd used the tips of his claws to fish a piece of cut fruit out of the bowl on John's tray. He inspected it briefly and then popped it into his mouth. As expected, they turned their attention to the idea of a wraith eating solid food. After eating, John escorted Todd back to Woolsey. The alliance was still a shaky thing and required a lot of discussion.
Later that evening, John knocked on the door of the room all of the wraith had been put in. He still wasn't sure how many were here but if they were all in a 2-bedroom suite, it couldn't be too many. The minds in the room tasted his, poked, and fumbled the connection because he couldn't hold his end yet. He still felt a sense of welcome so he coaxed the door to open and entered.
He was a little startled to find 7 wraith sprawled in the living area of the suite. "They only gave you two bedrooms?" he asked.
"We don't require more," one of them assured him. "We don't sleep much and the beds are large enough."
"So you...what? Just sleep in wraith piles?"
They mostly seemed baffled by the question. Todd seemed amused. One of the scientists decided to try offering an explanation. "Sexual touching sometimes has exclusivity agreements between partners. Non-sexual touch is just touch. It's comfort and hive. Touch is a basic need. While we sometimes choose to have private quarters aboard ship, sleeping together here will do us no harm. Don't humans need touch too?"
"Usually on earth, touch is between people in relationships or sometimes in some families. Many people wish for touch but don't get it."
The wraith exchanged glances. There was a sense of a conversation just outside of his hearing. It was acutely uncomfortable. He was just about to make his escape when the one who had tried to explain about the need for touch came over to him. "Come sit," he said. He closed his feeding hand around John's wrist. John wondered when the touch of the feeding slit had become so normal that he barely flinched. The wraith tugged him towards the couch and then maneuvered him to sit in the small space between himself and another wraith on the couch.
"In the lab, they called me Marcus. Said it was a philosopher in earth history," he explained.
"Are you a philosopher?"
Marcus shrugged. “Who has time for that type of thing when survival is on the line?”
"Just be with us," the wraith with dreadlocked hair said. "Feel safe. Touch if you desire."
"I don't..." John didn't really know how to do casual touch the way they seemed to be sprawled all over each other. His uncertainty flooded into the hive sense and they scented him. He wasn't afraid.
"Do you know how to brush hair? Or to braid?" Nomad asked him.
"Yes," John replied.
Someone handed him a brush and they rearranged themselves on the floor. Todd ended up sitting between his knees. John brushed carefully until Todd's hair was a silken wave. In focusing on that, he relaxed. He put a few little braids in it. Todd rested his head on John's knee. The wraith around him were obviously having silent conversations. Todd purred softly. He was fascinated, again, that someone who could produce such an intimidating snarl could also purr.
Nomad, sitting next to him, poked at his mind and John's head jerked around to look at him. "You do sense something," he observed. "We were just discussing whether the process might be increased by a strong ATA gene. Most people in this galaxy don't have it strongly if at all."
"You're a puzzle," one of the wraith on the floor added. He had a tattoo that look like a braid down the side of his face. John felt a shove within the hive sense, much more than a poke and he recoiled. His head started to pound. Todd glared at the offending wraith and snarled.
"Don't break him," Nomad complained. "We'll never figure him out if you break him."
Todd tilted his head to make hard eye contact with the chemist. His snarl got deeper. "Not a toy," he said firmly.
"Of course," Nomad agreed immediately. "We don't want to hurt him."
"You gave him a headache," Marcus observed.
"I didn't," Nomad protested. He frowned for a moment, then brightened. "But I can fix it." He held out his feeding hand towards John. "I owe you anyway."
"Todd settled up that day. No worries."
"It has been long enough that you shouldn't have to worry about the addiction," Marcus said, trying to understand why John was unwilling. "You're partially protected anyway because of this particular type of bond."
"I made sure you didn't suffer for helping us," Todd added. "He can still help you in turn."
"I didn't do it for a favor," John protested. "I did it because it was the right thing to do."
"You were there," the chemist said. "Of course you would help. So why not let me fix this little issue for you. If doesn't cost me much to do it."
"It cost someone their life," John pointed out.
"For a headache?" the chemist said. One of the wraith on the floor chuckled. "Hours only. Probably not even that."
"You'll have to feed sooner. And you're already starving."
The wraith exchanged looks and probably silent comments. "Do you feel the hunger?" one finally asked.
"No," John admitted. "Not like I did when I found him. But you all have that too thin look."
"To look well fed, we must really gorge for a prolonged period. None of us have that luxury. This look that you call too thin is just how we look if we feed only enough to keep the edge off our hunger."
"All the nice wraith look hungry," Marcus murmured. "But feel us. Do we feel hungry?" He touched the human to give them a tighter connection and opened himself.
"That doesn't help my head," John complained. "But it doesn't burn either."
"Trust a little," Todd said.
"Sitting in the middle of a group of wraith isn't trusting?" John asked, his tone a little sharp. All at once he had thought about what it meant that he was so close to them like this. He wasn't much match for a single wraith hand to hand. So close to so many, he didn't have a chance.
"You let me feed," Nomad pointed out. "I was much more hungry then."
"You needed it. I don't need a headache cure. I can just take some medication."
"If you're more seriously injured, you won't object?"
"If I'm seriously injured and Dr. Keller can't fix me, yes. I'll let you heal me then," he agreed. "As long as you're not the cause of the injury."
Todd nuzzled into John's leg for a moment more. He didn't want to move but John had gone all tense and unhappy. The feeling seeped out into the hive sense, making the meaning of his body language clear to even the wraith least experienced with humans. Then Todd stood and mentally ordered the two wraith on the couch with John to move for a moment.
He sat on the couch and tugged John a little closer to him. The other wraith sat back down, closer now that there were 4 bodies on the couch. "You're safe," he reminded John. "We can make you feel better but we won't do it without asking."
"I want the headache gone."
"Okay. What is the problem then?"
"Isn't it wrong? Like cannibalism taking someone's life to fuel my own."
"You've killed many, both wraith and human. How does it differ?"
John's unhappiness and uncertainty flooded the hive sense for a moment, almost as if he were a young wraith who had not yet learned to shield. It was followed by anger and then any sense of John's emotions cut off abruptly. The hive sense even of his presence thinned. He was barely there to Todd's mind's eye and it alarmed Todd because it was such a huge backwards step. It did not bode well.
He draped an arm over John but the human shrugged him off and rose abruptly. He went to the door of the room and was gone. Todd had no idea how to fix what they had broken. Todd wasn't even entirely sure why the human had gotten so upset over an offer to heal his headache. What he did know was that the sharp reduction of the hive sense at this point in the bonding was not good for John.
If he chased him through the halls, someone would shoot him for sure. He tried to decide if that would be a benefit when he talked to John but decided it wouldn't help. Instead, he concentrated on holding the remaining hint of hive-tie with John, pouring his strength into it. He didn't want to lose it under the louder cacophony of the wraith here. He was afraid. If he did lose it at this stage, John wouldn't survive.
"You're worried," the one the humans had named Marcus observed. Todd wasn't sure why he used mouth speech but there was only concern and faint amusement in his thoughts so he didn't press the issue farther.
He replied the same way. "If his mind can't sustain the link, he'll die."
"Humans do," Marcus observed. "Of course, some also manage to hold it even if they hate and resent us. Why did this little bit cause him to lose progress?"
"I'm not really sure. And I want him with us."
"Then why not go to him?"
"Humans with guns?" Todd prompted. Marcus' dismissal of that threat was absolutely clear. "He doesn't want to see me now," Todd added. "He won't listen in this state."
"We'll be here to wait with you," Marcus assured him. The other's leaned into him too, both physically if they were close enough and mentally.
Eventually, in the last tiny bit of time before morning, the scientists split into two groups in the bedrooms to sleep. Todd could have joined them. Four would be a tight fit but it could be done. He didn't want to. He wanted John. He considered the couch but finally got up to go to the hallway.
"I need to talk to John Sheppard," he told the guards. "Will one of you escort me over there?" One of them would feel he needed to, of course, but by asking for it, it confused them and made it seem more like his choice. Two of the four broke off to escort him. The remaining two called for backup. Poor planning on their part. 7 wraith could easily have taken 4 guards. Maybe they did trust him a little bit.
Todd tapped at John's door. It remained stubbornly closed. He reached for John's mind through the thinned connection, trying to reach him and prompt him to wake up. John shoved faintly at him. Todd thought it might have been meant as rejection of the contact but it was voluntary on the human's part and required a certain amount of acceptance that he could communicate with the hive to actually communicate. It opened the connection a tiny bit more.
*Please?* Todd asked, pushing that one bubble of thought as hard as he could, ruthlessly burning his energy in a way that concerned him here on Atlantis where he wasn't supposed to feed.
The door slid open in reply and then closed as soon as Todd entered. John hadn't moved from the bed. He lay on his back in the bed with an arm flung over his eyes and the covers up to his waist. Todd toed off his boots and stretched out beside him on top of the covers, placing his arm around John's waist cautiously. John ignored him stubbornly. This close, he could feel how bad John's headache had gotten and how upset his stomach felt. He settled his feeding hand onto John's bare chest.
"No," John told him firmly.
"No what?" Todd asked.
"The meds will kick in. I'll be okay."
"Okay," Todd agreed, but he didn't move his hand. John didn't move away from him. "Can I get under the covers?" Todd asked.
"Why not?" Todd countered.
"Fine," John acquiesced.
Todd stood, stripped off his outer tunic, and settled as close to John under the coves as he could. If asked, he would have blamed it on the ridiculously small size of the bed. John turned on his side with his back to Todd, holding the wraith's arm so he didn't let go. Todd snuggled his chest tightly against John's back, being careful to keep his hips slightly back. John had previously shown signs of being sexually interested but there was no need to press the issue now.
John didn't want to want Todd there with him but he couldn't deny that having the wraith there felt right. Todd's purr soothed him even as the wraith's slightly cool breath on the back of his neck aroused him. The feeding hand tight to his chest felt more like a promise than a threat. They slept.
Todd was awoken by the clamor of his hivemates in his mind, all wanting to know where he was and if he was well. It was a fair question here. He reassured them before even opening his eyes, giving them the sense of warm and safe he felt here with John.
*Not smart," one of them observed. *Atlantis is never safe for us.*
John stirred in Todd's arms and Todd tightened them before the human could get up. John struggled against the tighter hold reflexively for a moment but he stilled again when he realized that he was stuck.
"Let me up," John insisted.
"Do you really have to? Weren't we comfortable?"
John didn't answer verbally. He was still but tense against Todd's chest. Todd brushed his lips along the back of John's neck and tried a purr to see if that would settle him. John sighed but said, "Bathroom," in a tone that told Todd it wouldn't wait. He released the human.
When John returned, Todd was laying on his other side with his back against the wall. Todd held the covers up for him. "I shouldn't" John said.
"It's bad enough that someone has to know you stayed with me last night. Someone knows, right?"
"Two guards followed me, leaving two with our remaining hivemates to call backup."
"Not smart," John observed.
Todd shrugged. "Nothing happened so perhaps your security people will start to relax a bit."
"Anyway, that means two guards are in the hall," John pointed out even as he sat on the side of the bed. "I can't be seen to sleep with a wraith. It's suspicious enough that you were here all night."
"Everyone knows that wraith sleep little. Perhaps we were talking," Todd offered. He sat up behind John, his back to the wall and one leg on either side of the man. Then he let his hands trail over the human's shoulders and back. He remembered what John had said about back scratches and flexed his finger experimentally, scraping his claws cautiously along John’s fragile skin. John arched under his hands, helping him find the spots that most needed a good scratch. Todd leaned in and nuzzled at the base of John’s neck but did not give in to the urge to nibble and see what John’s reaction might be to that. "How is your headache?"
"Much better," John admitted. "It got so bad after I left you that I wasn't sure anything would touch it."
"I'm sorry that we distressed you. And I'm sorry that I didn't come to help your headache sooner."
"You didn't..." John trailed off.
"No. You didn't want me to do it the fast way but just being near was enough when the problem was caused by you fighting the hivesense."
"Sometimes it's rough remembering that you're not human," John told him. "I'll adjust. What was everyone so upset about that it woke me?"
"We're on Atlantis. I'm not supposed to be able to wander off. They wondered if something had happened that they should be concerned about."
John leaned back into Todd and Todd wrapped his arms around him in response. He rested his head on John's shoulder and purred for him. "Is there a way not to want this?"
"You said yourself that humans require touch to thrive and rarely get enough. It's a need we have in common. You enjoy it. Why is it a problem?"
John grumbled something unintelligible, even to Todd's sharp ears. Before he could form a more coherent response, the door wooshed open to reveal both guards and McKay. Todd hissed in surprise and annoyance.
"Anyone here ever heard of privacy?" John complained. "First the wraith barges in in the middle of the night and now you."
"Well, the botany and chemistry types are working with Dr. Keller and they said I'd find Todd with you so I thought I'd come get him to..." McKay trailed off. "Are you cuddling?" he blurted out.
Todd growled at McKay. If he made the human pull away again mentally, Todd wasn't sure what would happen to the bonding. He did not want to lose John. The guards guns came up a little but they didn't seem to know where to point them. Todd was mostly hidden behind John.
"Those long nails give great back scratches," John told McKay calmly. "You should try it."
McKay shuddered. He couldn't imagine willingly letting those hands touch him. He was creeped out by the idea of the feeding hand on him anywhere but on the torso, so close to prime feeding area seemed insane. "You have a death wish?" he asked John.
"I seem to be still alive," John replied. "Do I look older?"
"Then no problem here," John assured him.
"What did you require my assistance with?" Todd asked him to try to derail the discussion. He didn't want John talked into a fear he didn't feel.
“It’s easier to show you than to explain,” McKay said.
“Fine,” Todd agreed, wanting the far too direct and abrasive human away from his John Sheppard before he could cause him to become uncomfortable. “Let me up John.”
“Not until they put their guns up,” John replied, glaring at the guards.
“Oh for...” McKay turned, frowning back towards the guards who made a show of stepping out of the room. The door slid closed. “Now?” McKay prompted.
John stood and allowed Todd to get up. Todd pulled his tunic on but McKay didn’t turn to go. “What is going on with you two?” He pressed.
“Are you glad to be alive and not drifting in space? Are you happy we’re safely here and not on that other planet that it turns out has a really bad atmosphere for people?”
“Warmer would be better,” McKay grumbled.
“Alive to complain is better?” John prompted.
“Yes,” the other human agreed grudgingly.
“There was a price for that.”
“You’re a worshipper?” McKay asked, aghast.
“No. Of course not.”
“You were cuddling with a wraith,” McKay pointed out. “The question had to be asked.”
“It’s Todd,” John protested. “Do you have any idea how prejudiced you sound?”
“They kill people.”
“I kill people,” John countered. “That’s probably true of all of the military here. At least they only do it to live.”
Todd lay a hand on John’s arm cautiously. He was pleased that John did not flinch from the touch of the feeding slit on his bare skin. “It’s alright John. I know McKay only likes us when we’re useful on his projects.”
“You’re being useful,” John protested. “And he’s still being an asshole.”
McKay huffed but Todd held up his free hand in a peace gesture towards McKay. “I have observed Dr. McKay exhibiting this behavior with many people. I do not believe it is personal.”
“It’s not personal,” McKay agreed, a little surprised that Todd understood. “Can we go to the lab now?”
“Sure. Go,” John agreed. Todd nodded to McKay and followed him out of the room. He plucked his tie to John, just a light tap. John tried to reach for him in return and ended up catching all of the scientists too. They were amused or annoyed by the distraction according to their natures but they also understood that he was learning.
That evening, they were all together again. John gave himself another headache after dinner in their room as he tried to learn how to differentiate one wraith from another in the hive ties. The practice helped strengthen his tie to them, though he didn’t make much progress. Of the wraith here, he could only differentiate Todd and Nomad easily. He could count the others but only Todd and Nomad were distinct enough that he could isolate them and touch only that tie. One of the wraith offered the hypothesis that they were more real to him because they had fed on him and Todd strongest because he had also given the gift of life.
“I could share with him and see if our tie strengthens,” Nomad offered.
“Maybe one who hasn’t fed on him previously should try the exchange and see how it goes,” the one with a braided tattoo pattern down the left side of his face suggested.
“I’m still wondering if it is the ATA gene making the transition more smooth,” the one with the dreadlocked hair said. “He is doing fantastic to even differentiate two with so few exchanges spread so far apart. He’s not even living on the hive to boost integration.”
“Maybe it’s the military mindset,” Marcus suggested. “The earth humans think differently than the natives here. They’re more like us. It may not be the gene at all.”
John’s annoyance shoved roughly into the hive ties stopped the discussion cold and they looked at him in shock. He had enough experience with human scientist to know that when they were fascinated with the topic, they didn’t always think about how others might feel to hear them. He wasn’t offended really, just frustrated that they were discussing him like a pet who wouldn’t understand.
“What’s wrong?” Nomad asked.
John stood and headed for the door. If they were going to discuss him like he wasn’t here, he didn’t need to be here. “I’m going to go watch a movie while you guys figure it out. You can let me know the conclusion.”
“We can’t experiment without you here,” braided tattoo grumbled.
“I think that was his point,” Todd put in. “We were talking over him. Were you doing that with the botanists while I was with McKay?”
“We were teaching them,” dreadlocks replied. “Their science is really quite advanced for humans. The plants here are just unfamiliar. John Sheppard has no basis to understand the hive tie.”
“I can’t learn this way either,” John pointed out. “And honestly, I’m not sure I care about he mechanisms but I don’t like being a pointless experiment. If there were others, you wouldn’t be so fascinated.”
“It has been tried. Sometimes devout worshippers living on the hive eventually integrate but they lose themselves. Very few want to take the risk, knowing what will happen, death or becoming a living pet.”
Marcus’ explanation made sense to John. It was the same reason wraith feeding wasn’t going to catch on as a cure for minor illness. Why risk death by failing to connect if the only thing you were dealing with was temporary discomfort?
Braided Tattoo’s response caught John by surprise though. He was obviously way ahead of John’s thought process when he asked, “John, if the process wasn’t so dangerous, if there was a way to determine compatibility and more certainty that the person sharing energy would remain themselves, would there be others willing to share with us?”
“I...” John wasn’t sure how to respond. “Maybe?” He offered. “In my home galaxy, there is a race with some of the members who take over people and use them as toys but some members of that race are more symbiotic and take only volunteers. People volunteer as hosts for the increased life span or to cure them or terminal diseases or because they want to help in the fight against the ones who pretend to be gods and use humans as slaves.”
“So then the experiment is not pointless. If we were less short on food, there would be no need for conflict.”
“Okay, sure,” John conceded. “I can see why this is a valuable conversation for you to have. Even if it’s just a stop gap until the feeding alteration thing is completed, it could still be useful. But I don’t need to be here while you discuss it.” He reached for the door to go but the door did not open.
He sent a stern mental command to Atlantis but he was too emotionally conflicted to be clear enough. He didn’t want to hear himself discussed but being with them felt very right in some ways and he also didn’t really want to go. The door stayed closed. John leaned against the door and tried to sweet talk the city. Sometimes she was very cooperative. Other times, she thought she knew better. In this case, he was unsure if she was catering to his emotions or just trying to keep the wraith locked in one place.
“You could lay down in one of the bedrooms with your tablet,” Todd suggested. “This room is locked out of the network but you have things to read and watch on the device. You don’t have to leave us.”
“No feeding or exchanges or anything,” John countered. “No experiments. I can use the locked door and late hour as a reason I slept here but they’ll test me for the enzyme in the morning.”
They agreed. John lay alone in one of the queen size beds and soon was asleep. The mental practice trying to master the hive tie had exhausted him. When he woke, Todd was curled into his chest with his head under John’s chin. His hair was in John’s mouth. Spooned behind Todd was the wraith with the braided tattoo. John kissed Todd’s forehead and Todd snuggled closer, his arm tightening.
“I need to get up,” John said.
“Why?” Todd asked sleepily. “I don’t want you to go.”
“We don’t want people with guns to break it here,” John said. “I need to call for assistance with the door if it’s still locked before they realize that I slept here.”
Braided tattoo, woken by their voices, offered a snarl muted by his face being pressed against Todd’s back. Todd chuckled in response to the snarl and extracted himself and John from the bed.
They found Nomad sleeping on the couch and the other wraith piled on the bed in the second bedroom. It looked like a pile of puppies. John couldn’t tell which arms and legs belonged to which wraith. It was entirely adorable. He suspected that if more people saw them like that, the wraith would seem much less frightening.
When the door stubbornly refused to open, he used the radio to request that someone get McKay on the project after he had gotten breakfast. They questioned his assertion that it wasn’t an emergency but had to agree that McKay worked better if allowed to wake up slowly and eat.
Once he was out, he spent the expected amount of time in the infirmary. John was right about being tested for enzyme and being given a complete physical exam. McKay had found a subroutine of some sort in Atlantis’s programming that seemed to explain the locked door, though he couldn’t explain why it had been triggered last night and not the previous night. John suspected that he knew why. The previous night, John really and completely wanted to leave but he wasn’t worried that the wraith would rampage around Atlantis and feast on the people there. Last night, he had only wanted to be away from the conversation without really wanting to leave his hive mates. He was confused and it had messed with Atlantis, again.
The wraith finished up the day’s work and left. John felt an aching emptiness where they had been in his mind. He hated to admit it but he missed them. He was still himself though. Teyla took to spending several hours a day with him, showing the meditation exercises she was teaching now pre-school aged Torren. They were short and intended for children so they were easier to learn. Time with her eased the ache a little bit. He wanted Todd but refused to go chasing the hive. He had a job to do here on Atlantis and he did it.
Chapter 6: Guardian
A member of Todd's hive comes to Atlantis to help with a translation project but he's not comfortable away from his hive. John has to open up even more to help keep him stable.
"I can't right now," Todd told Woolsey. "I would if I could but the negotiations with this hive coalition are delicate. I can't spend the next few days on Atlantis out of communication. I can come after I’m done here."
"Is there anyone you can send?"
"For this?" Todd sighed. "Can I send an escort with him? Maybe 2 warriors and a handful of drones?"
"The one I would suggest would be very uncomfortable with being surrounded by humans."
They discussed and debated. John had gone to fetch McKay to explain to Todd exactly why they needed the linguists now, not next week. Then Woolsey had dismissed John so he hadn't heard the conclusion of the talks. He did know the results. He was meeting Todd and the linguist on P3X-734.
When John came through the space gate, there wasn't a hive in orbit. Energy signatures from darts on the ground helped him hone in on the meeting place. Todd was waiting on the planet with a dozen drones and a few warriors. They surrounded a wraith with a lean runner’s build, not too tall, and with his hair in many braids. The carved wooden beads on the braids clacked as he messed with them in subconscious nervous gestures. His claws were worn longer than Todd's. They probably weren't as useful in a fight at that length. He moved lightly but it was more like a dancer than a fighter.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Todd asked him. "I will not require it of you."
"It is necessary high commander. If the humans can do this and will share the technology as agreed, it will benefit us all. I want to see how it works."
"Do you understand the terms? Waist belt with wrist restraints, locked in at night, surrounded by humans?"
"He won't have to be in a cell at night," John put in. "He'll be in the same suite of rooms you and the biologists used. We'll take the waist belt and wrist restraints off at night in the apartment."
"I can't believe Woolsey agreed to that," Todd said suspiciously.
"I assured him that I would be the one to put the restraints on and take them off. I'm not worried. Honestly, they shouldn't be either. They let the botanists run loose. I’m not even sure why he insisted on the restraints this time."
"They had guards," Todd pointed out. "And I was there. I'm not sure why that makes it better but that was Woolsey's argument."
"Anyway, it will be fine."
"For a little while, it will probably be fine but I have my doubts about later today or over the next few days."
"I am not used to dealing with humans who are not already tucked in a cocoon to be meals," the scientist explained. "I don't like to be away from the hive. Bad things happen out here." It was a serious understatement but Todd let it go, offering mental reassurance that Sheppard could be trusted.
"We appreciate your willingness to help," John told them.
Todd gave the scientist a hug. There was something just outside of John's hearing that he knew was their mental communication that he couldn't quite grasp. It was the rest of them saying goodbye to their hivemate and wishing him well.
Todd reached out an arm for John and included him in the hug. John melted against Todd, surprised at how comfortable he felt being in contact with the scientist as well. The scientist was not so comfortable. He held himself tense, prepared for hurt, but he didn’t pull away from his high commander to avoid the human.
"John will take care of you," Todd assured the scientist, squeezing his shoulder. "Won't you?" he prompted John, voice hard.
"Of course,” John promised. “No one will harm you."
"You're overreacting," the scientist told Todd. "It may be difficult for me but I'll survive."
"You're mine," Todd said, voice uncompromising. "I get to decide if I'm going to torture you or spend your life. This is important but only so far. It can wait."
"The humans don't think it can wait," the scientist pointed out. “And cracking the Atlantean code on that genetic machine may either further the genetic alteration project or allow us to undo some of the damage the Hoffan Drug did to our food sources.”
"The humans have a lifespan of around 8-10 decades with around half of them not productive years. We have time."
"It's your choice," John said.
"I'm all yours," the scientist told John, pulling from the hug and giving a little bow.
"He's your responsibility," Todd said. There was something in his voice that let John know that there would be hell to pay if something happened to Todd’s scientist.
"Does that mean I can kick his ass if he doesn't listen to me?"
"I'm perfectly well behaved," the scientist objected, seeming to relax a little bit with the banter. "I've been trained and housebroken for centuries now."
John laughed. They got in the puddle jumper and went back to Atlantis.
Later. In the lab
"Why couldn't they have sent Todd?" McKay complained.
"Guide was busy," the short wraith with the braided and beaded hair explained. "I can't command the hives but I'm just as good at this sort of work."
"We don't doubt your skill," Zelenka put in from the other side of the lab. "It's just that working with wraith is a bit unnerving and we're used to Todd."
The amusement coming from the hive link had John struggling to hold his blank face. "Guide isn't as specialized. I've heard about some of the other projects he worked on with you. Not all of his extra centuries of experience were in the things that would be helpful here." He paused, studying the code on the screen. The ancient it would translate to would be gibberish. "This doesn't look right," he added.
John came up behind him and looked at the screen too. "3rd line from the bottom," the scientist told him helpfully. He felt the moment John found it but the human felt the need to reach out and point to it anyway. "Yes. If you could adjust it please and then scroll down?"
"This is ridiculous," John grumbled. "You could do it faster yourself." The wrist cuffs hindered his work without actually protecting the humans from feeding so he agreed that they were ridiculous. John nudged the wraith a little to the side, bumping shoulders gently so he could reach the keyboard more easily. He gave John the adjustment detail carefully so it could be typed correctly.
"Yes," the wraith agreed. "And I didn't mean to scare the clerk who was supposed to be assisting. I know you have better things to do."
"There isn't anything better for him to do," McKay grumbled. "There are dozens of people around here who can shoot things. Not so many who can help with this."
"The clerk would have done fine if trouble here hadn't scared her," John said. "But she wouldn't have been necessary at all if we weren't being paranoid."
"Before you decide to name me Trouble permanently, I'm...Icewind." It was an incomplete translation but better than nothing. He offered the full impression to John. Damp and cold air closing in, coating everything in ice until it shattered under the strain. He wasn't sure how much got through but John shivered.
"Anyway, I know you'd rather have Todd too," McKay added. "You like him more."
"Why would you suggest that?" John asked, freezing like hunted prey. McKay already knew too much about him and Todd. He didn’t want word getting out to the others. Icewind was unsure why the question bothered John. He nudged his shoulder into John’s, offering support as the human had been working so hard to offer it to him. This was not easy but John made it a little bit better.
"You let him touch you and you don't freak out."
"Am I freaking out about Icewind?" John prompted.
"Because there isn't a reason to freak out. He's here to help, not turn us into lunch or infiltrate Atlantis. We invited him here."
"I didn't mean to scare the clerk," Icewind added. "All I did was exactly what I'm doing now. I stood here and watched her correct the text."
"You're forgetting personal space," Zelenka interjected. "John doesn't seem to mind but he has more experience dealing with Todd and his lack of boundaries. Humans like more space between them."
"Why?" asked Icewind, baffled. "Are you afraid that the other humans will hurt you?"
"Usually not. We just like our personal space to be respected. Usually the only people to come within someone's personal space are medical personnel, lovers, and close family members, such as children."
"Doesn't that get lonely?"
"I guess it does," Zelenka admitted. "That's still the way we do things. Especially between men. Women who are friends sometimes touch each other more but they don't welcome that much touch from men. Men usually don't touch at all unless they are in a relationship and even then, not in public."
"Why not in public?" Icewind pressed even as his sharp eyes caught another error. He paused the slowly scrolling screen with a touch to the only button he could reach. "6th line from the top, John. Do you see it?"
"Many cultures on earth have taboos against same-sex relationships. Some people who are insecure or religious will create trouble or violence if they see that type of affection."
"I am not having a sexual relationship with John Sheppard," Icewind said calmly. "Therefore sexual taboos are not relevant."
Someone in the lab made a choking sound as they tried to strangle laughter. "No one here thinks that. On earth though, men who are friends and who mutually don't mind being close to each other physically, would still not do it in public because someone might think there was sexual involvement."
"Earth humans are confusing."
"Yeah," Zelanka agreed. "I don't understand us a lot of the time either."
"What would you do if you were out of the cuffs?" someone in the lab asked.
"Complete my work on my own," Icewind said. "Then I could go home sooner." John felt Icewind reaching, straining to find a hive mate to connect with. They were so far that it was impossible to sense anything except their general existence. It wasn’t the first time he had frantically searched for mental support and found only John. Each time he did it, he became more stressed. His concentration was fragmenting. There had been other mostly human but a little bit hive here, an adult female with a very young larve, but they had left through the portal soon after his arrival.
He was so isolated here that it was frightening. The fear didn't show outwardly but the general insecurity was intense enough that it filtered out through even the light tie with John. Icewind was very much alone here, surrounded by hostile humans. Even a warrior probably couldn't escape safely and Icewind was far from a warrior.
John nudged him shoulder to shoulder again and leaned as much as he could against the hive sense. He knew he was a poor substitute for another wraith. Then he was briefly confused that he identified so strongly with one of them that he was worried about a wraith's mental health.
Icewind leaned into the tie with John, taking what comfort he could in not being utterly alone. The human’s presence was protective and confident. Icewind needed that. He returned to the translation code, determined to finish as quickly as possible and get out of here.
When the human scientists were ready to quit for the night, the guards wanted to escort Icewind to a cell but John refused. "We had the same suite the biologists used last time prepared for him," John explained to the guards. "It's a little large for one but much better than a cell."
"Where are you going?" Icewind asked him.
"Mess hall for some food and then to see if there is anything interesting happening in the rec room."
"Can I come along?"
"Don't you want out of the cuffs?"
"Yes but..." Icewind shared his emotions with the hive sense again and John was once again swamped by insecurity and fear that didn't belong to him.
John was pretty much like a livestock guardian dog. He would fight to protect those he considered his. He could be dangerous. But he wouldn't harm the vulnerable under his care if he could avoid it. Guide had trusted him to keep Icewind safe here on Atlantis. Reluctantly, he admitted that included the scientist's mental health too.
He looped his arm through one of the wraith's. Icewind was startled by the increased contact but immediately melted into it. He had grown more comfortable with him as the day progressed. John felt enough like hive that in the absence of others, Icewind accepted him. "Let my grab a tray and we can go back to your quarters, okay?"
"I don't mind going with you," Icewind told him. "I just don't want to be alone."
"If you're sure. The mess is this way then. Is this too much touching?"
Icewind gave one of those faint chuckles but there wasn't much humor in it. "At this point, you could be trying to merge with me physically and it wouldn't be enough."
"Okay. I'll keep that in mind. I won't let anyone hurt you, you know." They choose a booth table with a bench that had their back to a wall and in a corner. Icewind sat against the wall on the bench and John sat beside him, blocking him in a little bit. It made both Icewind and the nearby humans more comfortable. There were free chairs on two sides of the table not in the corner but they stayed empty for part of the meal until a light haired, blue-eyed human came up to them.
"Can I ask you a question," Myers asked Icewind, taking one of the extra seats at their table.
"Myers is one of the anthropologists," John explained. "He's a cultural specialist."
"What is the question?" Icewind asked.
"Why are you practically attached to John here?"
"He told the high commander that I'd be safe with him. Other than the scientists I met today, I don't know anyone here. Why wouldn't I stick close to him?"
"That makes sense," Myers said. "Are you usually so touchy feely with humans?"
"I do not understand the question."
"You're leaning on John. Earth humans would not typically do that."
"I am not human."
"Do you mind, John Sheppard?" Icewind asked belatedly. The humans in the lab had talked about how earth humans liked their personal space but he hadn’t made the connection. John was almost-hive, almost-brother. Why would he mind?
"It's fine," John reassured him, stretching an arm over the back of the booth, pressing reassuringly against his back. Icewind, restrained by cuffs,could not cuddle into the human’s side but he wanted to. "He is one among many," John added to Myers. "It doesn't hurt me to follow his cultural patterns if it makes him feel better."
Myers eyed them for a moment, digesting that little bit of information and formulating his next question. "If other wraith were here, you'd be that close to them?"
"The warriors would probably not if they felt threatened," Icewind explained. "They would not want to display weakness or hinder their reactions. And the drones are not reassured by touch in the same way. If they have the mental tie, they are content."
"What if there were a group of scientists?"
Icewind shrugged, a human gesture he had learned and could copy easily. “It would depend on the scientists. There was a group here a little while back. Did you observe them?”
“They mostly stuck together and didn’t socialize with us,” Myers said.
"Atlantis is not safe for the wraith," Icewind tried to explain. "Even when you invite us. There are too many of you. And the city itself hates us; it tried to freeze the high commander and then attempted to scald him in the shower last time he was here. Then it attempted to lock Nomad in a closet."
"The city isn't sentient," Myers protested.
"Then say its programs are designed to make the city very uncomfortable for wraith."
"Can we come back to why you're practically cuddling with John?"
"The high commander said that John would take care of me," Icewind explained patiently.
"And I will," John assured him, squeezing the small wraith's shoulder.
"He'd probably feel better if he weren't restrained," Myers observed.
"He's not going to hurt anyone," Briggs put in as he took the other free seat. Briggs was a psychiatrist and a social worker type, here to assist Teyla in mediating disputes between the earth humans and Pegasus natives. On some rare occasions, he acted as medical backup if the other doctors were overwhelmed but he tried to avoid it by pointing out that physical injuries weren't really his specialty.
"You'd sit here at the table with him loose?" John asked. He was surprised that Briggs had opted to treat wraith as just odd looking humans.
"Sure. He looks terrified," Briggs said.
"I agree," Myers put in. "There's no need to make him miserable just because his commander elected him to help us."
“I’m going to tell Woolsey you said that if he has a fit,” John told them. Then he reached over and unbuckled the closer wrist cuff. It was the feeding hand. "Can you reach your other arm?" he asked. The wraith unbuckled his other hand and then took off the belt. Free, he was very tempted to lean closer to John but instead, he sat up straighter, aware of the other sharp eyes on him.
After eating, they went to the rec room. There was a movie just starting that John wanted to watch. They rationed new movies from earth. John sat on the couch; Icewind sat at his feet, leaning a shoulder against John’s knee. The humans eyed Icewind cautiously and he watched them warily in turn. Nothing was said about him though so John decided everyone could deal.
When Myers and Briggs came in to the rec room a short while later, John was surprised. The two of them were known to be a thing, even though no one talked about it. They usually spent their off duty hours out of the public eye. They sat on the couch next to John, eyeing the wraith on the floor like he was a tiger they had decided to treat like a house cat.
A cleared throat from the doorway of the room drew John’s attention from the final scenes of the movie. Woolsey stood there, frowning. John was relieved that it was visible discontent, not the blank poker face that would mean things were very bad indeed.
"John, a word?" Woolsey asked. His voice was hard but not angry.
John patted Icewind's shoulder. "I'll be just outside of the door, okay?" Icewind grabbed for John mentally, a plea not to leave him alone. John caught the panic and leaned into the tie again, trying to reassure. "It will be okay, right guys?" he prompted Myers and Briggs, hoping they'd back him up.
"We'll be fine," Myers assured him. Briggs cautiously shifted to sit on the floor next to Icewind and started to talk to him softly. Icewind responded and his panic lessened a little so John went over to Woolsey.
“Colonel Sheppard, what are you doing with our wraith guest?”
"He was stressed by being away from his hive, Sir. He's not as used to it as Todd is."
"That doesn't explain why he's uncuffed and socializing with humans."
"We asked for their help. Todd couldn't come so he sent this guy. Do you think Todd will trust us with another scientist if this one is afraid to come back?"
"They're not friendly Sheppard. They're predators."
"He isn't a warrior; he's a geek who is lost without his support system."
"He's still dangerous."
"So am I. So is Ronon. So is Teal'c. So are the Tok'ra."
"Point taken. He's your responsibility though."
"Yeah," John agreed, heavily. "That's pretty much what Todd said. Only he meant protecting Icewind from us."
Woolsey frowned but didn’t say anything more. He turned abruptly and left the area. John saw that the credits were rolling on the movie and sighed that he had missed the end. He could catch it another time. Time to get the wraith tucked away in his room. They walked companionably through the hallway. The wraith’s room was obvious because there were guards waiting in the hallway for him so John could get a break.
Icewind grabbed John's arm, causing the guards to come alert. John gave them a hand signal, apparently not bothered by the feeding hand closed around his arm.
"Stay?" Icewind asked.
"Afraid your shower will act up?" John asked lightly. The plea in the hive tie was what really made him step through the door and close the guards out. He demanded Atlantis lock them in and it fit with Atlantis' programming to contain wraith when possible so he thought the lock would hold.
"I know I'm not Guide but what can I do?" John asked.
The wraith threw his arms around John and pressed in as close as he could. He threw the hive tie as open as he could get it. There were faint echoes from distant parts of the galaxy and John, right here, almost within reach. John felt the desperate attempts to connect with him and tried again and again to mentally clasp hands with Icewind.
"I'm here. I have you. You're safe," he murmured, his arms closed around the wiry muscled wraith form. They held each other for a long moment before the wraith relaxed enough to let go.
John went over to sit on the couch. "Bring me your brush and sit here on the floor," he instructed, deciding to draw on what he had done socializing with the wraith before. He carefully undid the braids. Then he brushed and brushed until Icewind became less frantic and began to purr.
You're fine now, right?" John asked. "I need more sleep than you do and it's getting late."
"You're leaving?" Icewind went all tense again.
John sighed. "I guess not. There are two bedrooms here. I'll take one of them for tonight."
Icewind watched John move around the suite. He called for someone to grab him a change of clothing. Then the human showered and settled into bed in one of the rooms. Icewind sat on the floor where John had left him for a while, thinking about crawling into the cold lonely bed in the other bedroom. The rooms were well sound proofed. He wouldn't be able to hear John's soft breaths if he went into the other room but he didn't really want to sleep on the sofa either. It was too far from John. He could skip sleeping. He didn't need as much as a human but he knew his emotional state would be worse if he had inadequate rest. Finally, he grabbed a pillow from the empty room and went into John's room. He wouldn't presume to crawl into bed with the human but the floor would be acceptable.
John woke because his arm hurt. Somehow, he had ended up sleeping on the very edge of the bed with his arm hanging awkwardly over the side. Icewind was curled up on the floor with his back to the bed holding John's arm to his chest like it was his favorite teddy bear. He didn't look likely to wake anytime soon. John gently tugged at his arm but the wraith clamped down and he worried he'd injure himself fighting against the sleeping wraith's grip. Instead, he cautiously lowered himself to the floor and spooned around Icewind's back, letting the wraith keep his arm. Sleep claimed him again.
Icewind woke feeling warmer than in the hive nest but one of his brothers was curled up around his back. He reached out, to see if the brother was awake and instead found John Sheppard. He reached to find the rest of the hive but though they were closer, they were not near. Still, he wasn't alone. The human had slept on the floor to be with him and none of the other humans had been aggressive once John had taken over as his guard. They were only curious. That was okay. He was curious about them too.
He knew right away when John woke. The human was in a great deal of physical discomfort, verging on pain. "What's wrong?" Icewind asked him, alarmed. They were so fragile!
"I'm too old to sleep on the hard floor," John told him. "It's not a big deal."
"Do you need help to heal?" Icewind offered tentatively. He had heard about the human's peculiar resistance to the exchange for healing and did not wish to offend him.
"I'll be fine," John replied dismissively. Icewind didn't press the issue, afraid that if he did, John would pull away.
The lab that day went better with Icewind able to manipulate his own console. John would have left a couple of guards on him and gone on to handle other things but the slightest suggestion in that direction had Icewind clinging to him mentally and physically. Instead, John brought in a laptop and worked on his much neglected reports. Icewind taste tested small amounts of food at dinner and sat a little way away from John chatting softly with Briggs while John played cards. John slept in the wraith room again. This time, they shared the bed. John thought he should mind but there was no point in ending up on the floor. He reasoned that he had shared tents in close quarters with plenty of people and this wasn’t much different.
"What is that smell?" Icewind asked when they neared the rec room on the third day.
John sniffed. "Nail polish," he explained as they entered the room, pointing to a group of women at a table with bottles in front of them. "They paint them for looks and to make them stronger."
Icewind went to the table with John trailing behind. He picked up a bottle of metallic silver polish and examined the list of ingredients. Then he picked up a dark blue polish with glitter in it.
"Do you...uh...want to see what it looks like on one of your nails?" a biologist,Morgan, asked. She was one of the ones who had worked with the wraith scientists last time they were on Atlantis about synthesizing medications from Pegasus plants. Obviously, she hadn't seen anything to frighten her and she hadn't been in the first set of scientists on Atlantis who had fought the wraith. She had only interacted with Todd's hive of wraith who were trying to be allies.
Icewind cautiously held out his non-feeding hand, pointer finger extended. "I am curious," he admitted.
The scientist unscrewed the cap of the glitter polish and reached out her hand for his. "I'm going to hold your finger steady, okay?" Icewind nodded. She grasped his finger and painted his nail with practiced strokes of the brush. The other women at the table stared. When she was done, she released his hand and he examined the nail that had been painted.
"It's still wet," Morgan warned him. "Your nails are pretty long and they need filed," she added.
Icewind shrugged. "They are not long enough to interfere with my typing," he replied.
"Do you normally polish your nails?" one of the other women, another anthropologist here to study the Athosian culture, John thought. He couldn't remember her name.
"Some use a clear lacquer for strength," Icewind said. He had gotten used to the questions and John felt him starting to relax a bit. "The warriors wear their nails a bit shorter and are more likely to use the strengthening solution."
The women kept glancing at John to see if he would object but John was calmer than most guards the wraith had. He could catch the edges of Icewind's emotions and that gave him a better way to predict his reactions.
"I like this polish,” Icewind decided. “I'd love to see my hivemate's reactions if I go home with something other than clear on my nails. Can we do all of them?"
"Ummm..." The women traded looks. Finally the anthro said, "Sure. No problem."
John patted Icewind’s shoulder and then went over to the card table to join the game. Icewind felt calm enough. He could feel the wraith clutching at the hive tie and John leaned into it again but it lacked the panic that had been there the first day. They were doing alright. Icewind was needy but John wasn’t completely sure what Todd had been so worried about. He could handle this.
On the fourth day, in the lab, on one of the dozens of times Icewind had reached for the hive, he felt them much closer than they had been. They were definitely approaching. He was grateful for how casually the scientists had treated him today; John still had not put the wrist cuffs back on and they were obviously getting used to it. They were treating him more like a human colleague. That was nice. He felt the need to let them know that there would soon be more wraith here. For him, that was a comfort. To them, he knew, they'd want some time to mentally prepare.
"Guide is approaching," Icewind told John.
"By stargate?" one of the scientists asked.
"No," Icewind replied. "The hive is coming."
"There's no alert on Atlantis's system," John said. "That would go out as a general alert." He reached out to Atlantis. The city was annoyed by Icewind's presence but not frantic about the approach of a hive."
"Then you'd better let your commander know," Icewind suggested. "It will show up eventually."
When Todd came within range, he expected to find Icewind in an anxious state of mind, perhaps panicking. Instead, the scientist was entwined tightly around John's hive tie. John's hive tie was as wide open as possible at this stage and Guide could feel him leaning into Icewind as much as he could. The two of them leaned mentally against each other.
When Guide initiated contact, Icewind cheerfully shared his current location. He was in the lab but there was no waist belt or cuffs. Instead, he sat on a stool in the lab. John slouched at a nearby table, working at a laptop and nursing a cup of coffee. *I’ll be there before end of day on Atlantis,* Guide told him. Icewind dutifully relayed that information to John.
“You have to tell Todd that he can’t bring the hive here,” John told Icewind urgently. “Woolsey will have a fit and order me to fire on him.”
Icewind’s disbelieving emotional response was so strong that it rocked John back on his heels. “You would not hurt the hive!” Then he just felt betrayed as he asked, “Would you?”
“I don’t know,” John responded. “I wouldn’t want to but I’m supposed to follow orders. You understand following orders right?”
“Not to hurt the hive,” Icewind responded after a long pause. His emotions poured into John and distantly, into their hive mates.
*What is wrong?* Todd demanded.
*Betrayal! Sheppard will hurt the hive!* Icewind warned immediately.
*What is happening?* Todd pressed. His tone was primarily disbelief but there was a hint of doubt allowed to creep in. Icewind offered the memory of the last few minutes of conversation.
*Those in charge of Atlantis can be a little bit irrational about the wraith,* Todd conceded. *I will not bring the hive. Meet me here.* Todd tagged a visualization of an address for the portal system.
*My project is not finished,* Icewind admitted.
*If you’re that upset, you don’t need to stay. I am free to go to Atlantis now.*
*Sheppard cannot be trusted!* was Icewind’s frantic response.
*Sheppard is our hive-kin,* Todd pointed out.
*The humans are ever treacherous.*
Todd snarled under his breath in frustration, causing the bridge staff on the hive to eye him warily. This was why Icewind should not have gone alone to Atlantis. His captivity had, in many ways, been worse than Todd’s captivity. At least the Genii had not pretended to be friends first and the primary torture had been simple starvation. Todd did not want to believe that Sheppard would turn on a vulnerable hive member but Sheppard was not in command. Todd was less certain about those in charge of Atlantis.
*You have been safe so far, right?*
Icewind pictured the casual contact with Sheppard and a few other humans, meals in the cafeteria area, the activities in the common room, and Sheppard doing his best to reassure. *He has deceived me,* Icewind concluded.
*If they were a rival hive, they might not want our hive too close either,* Todd pointed out.
*Sheppard is of our hive,* Icewind said. *Why would he harm us?*
Todd tried to explain the responses, framing them as if the species difference and early conditioning were not a factor. *The tie with us is a tie of honor. Atlantis is the tie of his mother-queen and birth-hive. Having us in conflict stresses him. He is new to us.*
*He is new to us.* Icewind agreed. *The ties of mother-queen are strong long after first maturation.*
*Sheppard is very young but he is ours too. He will not intentionally harm you. He will do his best to protect us.* Todd forced himself to sound confident.
His own concerns about Atlantis’ leadership would not help Icewind. He knew the brass, as John called them, could be unpredictable. John’s bond with Todd though had been fairly strong, even early on through the incidents. He had protected Todd when he could. Todd suspected that telling them not to bring the hive was the same sort of protection, prevention of open conflict if possible.
*Take a break,* Todd suggested. *Ask Sheppard to take you to the coordinates I gave you. We can be there in...* Todd did quick calculations, translating hive time to the human system. *...60 to 90 minutes.*
*Yes, High Commander,* Icewind agreed.
He pulled his attention from the hive tie. It had taken a lot to have a strong conversation at that distance. Sheppard stood right beside him, the human’s hand on Icewind’s shoulder gently. Icewind hissed at him and Sheppard allowed him to pull away. Icewind felt confusion through the hive tie to Sheppard. It was as open and strong as it had been the past few days. It was barely a whisper in the dark but Sheppard was not hiding or detaching from the hive.
Icewind grumbled a soft snarl to express his own confusion and upset, pressing the feelings against the tie to Sheppard. It was bad manners to share so strongly but he had to share strongly if he wanted Sheppard to understand.
The humans around them recoiled from the hiss and slight snarl. Icewind had been so even-tempered in comparison to Todd that this normal expression of annoyance alarmed them out of proportion to Icewind’s feelings. He was upset but not anywhere near attacking. What good would attacking do? Sheppard didn’t take the little grumbles as hard as the other humans.
He asked, “What’s up?” in an even voice.
“We need to meet the high commander and the hive. I have the coordinates.”
“Okay,” John agreed immediately. The feeling attached to that was eagerness. Did John miss the hive too? “Woolsey agreed that we would send you where you wanted to go at any point. You’re not a prisoner here.”
“I am not finished with the work but perhaps Guide will come back to assist.”
“You could take a tablet with you,” one of the human scientists suggested. “You’re leaps ahead of us in sorting out the scrambled text.”
“It’s because he is fluent in ancient,” one of the others opined. “For us it’s a second or third language that we’re still learning.”
“I will take a tablet if that will be permitted,” Icewind said, surprised that they wanted him to continue. He had done good work here but he was under the impression that they were uncomfortable with him still. A section of scrambled information was loaded to a clean tablet and it was handed to Sheppard until they were out of reach of Atlantis’ network. He understood the precaution.
Icewind followed John to the portal room, docile as a house cat, and then they went to the planet. The hive was not yet in orbit but it was a pleasant day to sit in the shade of the scrubby desert trees and work on the tablet as they waited.
John had a tablet too but he seemed to be playing some sort of puzzle game. Icewind inched closer until he was hanging over John’s shoulder. He reached to the screen and tapped the next few blocks of the solution. John tensed up; from the fizz of surprise and mild annoyance, he probably would have hissed had he been truly wraith instead of only hive-kin.
Guide was expecting to find animosity when he arrived. Icewind had settled in on Atlantis better than he had hoped but the good seemed to have been undone when John warned about the dangers of trying to bring the hive into orbit above Atlantis. Guide understood the warning. He would have realized the danger himself if he hadn’t been so preoccupied worrying about Icewind and John. He was happy to find their good natured grumbling over solve time on a puzzle of some sort.
Icewind was encircled by the hivemates who had come down to the planet. Guide patted him on the shoulder briefly but the most important thing was that John came to them too. John hesitated close to Guide, like he wanted to close the distance but wasn’t sure how. Guide embraced him and John melted into his arms, nuzzling into Guide’s neck.
“You took care of him well,” Guide said, acknowledging John’s work with Icewind on Atlantis. The tie between them was more open too.
“He was out of the cuffs by the first night,” John said. “And check out his claws.”
Todd tried to get a picture of Icewind’s claws from John but the tie wasn’t quite that open yet. He glanced over at Icewind and then did a double-take. The others were admiring Icewind’s claws too. They were a dark blue with sparkles and filed to smooth points.
“How did things go?” Todd asked Icewind.
“We are not yet finished with the work but we made great progress. And I finished what they sent me with on the tablet too.”
“I’ll take the tablet back with me and give it to them,” John promised.
“And we want a copy of the completed work, as agreed,” Todd told him.
“I’ll remind Woolsey and see that it’s done,” John assured him. “Based on their pace, I’d expect it to be transmitted within a few days. Icewind made the process go much faster.”
“That’s good. I’m glad he could help. I think the time spent there has helped him too.”
“I don’t know. He has been pretty stressed.”
“Growth happens when things are not so easy.”
John shrugged, not wanting to weigh in on the mental health of someone who was centuries older than him. Todd kept an arm and a hand on John when John would have turned to go back through the portal to Atlantis. “Stay,” he urged. “Come up to the hive with us.”
“I can’t.” John sounded torn.
“Then at least come say hello to your brothers,” Todd urged. John felt the pluck in his mind from Todd and reached out in turn to acknowledge the others. One by one, they responded, letting him feel them specifically. They opened up their physical circle around Icewind and Todd led him into the group cuddle.
“I don’t want to go,” John told him. “But I have to. I have responsibilities on Atlantis, people I care about.”
“You seem tired. Do you need a boost?” Todd offered.
“Todd...”John stopped. It wasn’t worth the argument. Instead, as he had been learning to share reassurance and confidence with Icewind, he now shared his confusion, a combination of reluctance and desire. He wanted Todd and the feeling of sharing but what if he was tested? And it was someone’s life he would be stealing.
“It’s not an entirely altruistic offer,” Todd pointed out. “Sharing feeds me too, remember?”
“I shouldn’t,” John said reluctantly.
Todd could feel that John wanted the sharing. Why did he resist? Was he still regretting the hive tie? His careful treatment of Icewind seemed to argue that he was adjusting.
“I need to go back to Atlantis. Hey Trouble, can I have that tablet?”
“It is ready to go back to the lab,” Icewind confirmed again as he offered it. He tugged his tie to the high commander. “Are you going back?”
“I’ll help them finish up,” Todd confirmed. “Stay in orbit here and I’ll come back to join you in a day or two.”
“I could come back with you,” Icewind offered. “We would finish before tonight if both of us were there.”
“I could be of assistance too,” one of the wraith cuddled closest to Icewind offered. John got a faint impression that those two were maybe more than just friends. “We would get it finished within the day.”
“Let me radio back before I come back with three wraith,” John said. He didn’t want to refuse the help but he also didn’t want to get anyone shot. He suited action to words and received permission.
With three fluent ancient speakers combined with the human scientist, they made quick progress. True to Dust’s prediction, they finished within the day. The resulting information was another puzzle piece in their quest to reduce death by wraith. And then they were gone.
John was even less functional than he had been the last time he had been separated from the hive. He slept poorly and his mood crashed. He hated himself for wanting to go to them, for missing them. His duty was clear and it was here. He thought even the careful tending of Icewind would help but he really wanted to just curl into Todd and stay with him forever. His energy was low. Part of him seemed to always be reaching, searching for someone who wasn’t there. He did find Teyla and Torran. Both felt more real than the other humans on Atlantis but they weren’t tied to him the same way.
He began to realize that the illusion that everything could be the same after sharing with Todd, was just that, an illusion. Part of his mind was always searching for the mental tie to a hive out of reach. His body was sleep deprived and depleted. Pegasus was not a safe galaxy and John’s duty didn’t allow him to stay on Atlantis. Mistakes were inevitable. People began to notice that he wasn’t as reliable but he couldn’t tell them why. McKay, for whatever reason, kept the secret for as long as he could.
This is the last chapter that is super fluffy as John adjusts. Time for John to face some hard truths. Things can't be the same anymore. There's still fluff to pad the uncomfortable moments though.
Chapter 7: Rescued
John and a few others are stranded on a planet, cut off from easy access to the gate.
Many thanks to Eos1969 and dragonflower1 for looking over the chapter and helping me smooth it from a collection of jagged scenes into a coherent whole.
Teyla, SGA 4, Ronon, and McKay all made it through the Stargate. They waited in the gate room, far enough to the side to avoid the the arrows. Teyla didn’t think the initial attack had been aimed at the group from Atlantis. They had been in trade negotiations and gotten caught between the tribal factions. The rival group had not been happy to discover the Atlanteans on the planet. They had made the strange uniforms a priority target.
“Where are the others?” Woolsey asked when the gate shut down with no signs of the rest of the group.
“They were right behind us,” Teyla replied.
“One of the scientists was injured,” Ronon reported. “So was John. They were moving slowly. Easy prey.”
“Let’s give it a little time to see if they come. If we dial in, we prevent them from leaving,” Woolsey decided. “We can send out a drone in an hour if they don’t arrive.”
"Call Todd," McKay suggested.
"I know they've been acting as allies lately but they're still wraith," Woolsey protested. "Todd's ships aren't our personal transports."
"Sheppard is in danger," McKay argued. "It doesn't hurt to try."
The subspace communication went as well as it ever did with wraith and ended with an abrupt cut off even as Todd ordered course corrections to take them to the planet Shepherd was stuck on. From the sounds of it, the hive might not be too far from the planet.
An hour later, the drone from Atlantis went through the gate and did a flyover. It found signs of tribal war and bits of continued fighting but no signs of Atlantis’ missing personnel. A well placed rock from a slingshot took out the camera on the drone, making navigation impossible. The mood on Atlantis was dismal. A gate team would just end up in the middle of the fighting. They had to trust in the wraith.
On the Planet
On the planet, the four men were settling into a cave to wait. John hoped fervently that it was the planet's dry season. The cave was at ground level in a narrow ravine and there were signs of previous flooding.
They knew Atlantis would come back for them. They just had to survive and hold out either until rescue or until the tribesmen were far enough away from the gate for them to sneak through. The tribesmen would have to be pretty far away, John admitted to himself. With their injuries, they were not fast. That they had gotten away at all after the gate had closed in front of them was as much luck as skill.
Myers' twisted ankle had been what initially slowed them down. Briggs had sustained some bruising later. The two had been there to observe the culture and take part in the negotiations. Previous contact with the tribe had been positive and they had successfully brought back meat to Atlantis. This time, they had been aiming for live animals, something the tribe was more reluctant to sell. Bringing non-combatants had been deemed an acceptable risk.
John himself also had some bruising. He thought his ribs might be cracked. There were two arrows lodged high on his right side. One arrow pierced almost the whole way through his chest just under his clavicle. Briggs had helped him rig a sling to keep that arm still and support the arrows a bit so they wouldn't move as much. John could still feel the arrow grating against bone every time he forgot to control his breathing. The other arrow had almost missed him entirely. It had punched through the muscle along the top of his shoulder, nearly in his neck.
Lorne was injured the worst by far. He had taken a spear to the belly. John had noticed on previous visits that the tribesmen had knives of a higher tech level than their current circumstances but did not have forged arrowheads. He had come to the conclusion that the knives were scavenged from a destroyed civilization or acquired by trade. One of those knives had been attached somehow to the end of the spear to create a weapon that the tribesman used in a big slash. Lorne’s slash was very deep.
John had seen enough battlefield injuries to know that Lorne was in a lot of trouble if they didn't get rescued soon but the injury had happened after the gate had closed so Atlantis command might not feel the same level of urgency to rescue them. They might opt for a soft approach in the hopes of keeping the trade alliance and then ... what?
A team would still come to get them. John was sure. He was concerned that they'd wait until the fighting passed rather than bringing modern weapons into a tribal skirmish. That might be too long for Lorne. Depending exactly what the arrows in his shoulder were piercing, it might be too long for John too.
He reached for the place in his mind where the hive was when it was in range. It wasn't here and he wasn't strong enough to communicate that way. He thought that it might be in this general part of the galaxy though because he could feel the weight of the hive's presence, not just a blank space.
For now, they had plenty of water and the little bit of food in their packs. They were away from the worst of the fighting and sheltered from line of sight. It would have to be enough.
John was jolted out of his fitful sleep by the feel of hive on the planet. They pulled at his connection with them in a way he hadn't felt before. It wasn't just a light acknowledgement but more intense, gathering everything they could from the tie. It took him a moment to realize that they were searching for him. He grabbed at the ties in a broad sweep, desperate to strengthen them and be found.
Faintly, he heard the buzz of darts in the distance. Meyers noticed that he was awake.
"Wraith out there Sheppard. We're not in any condition to fight them."
"We're well concealed," Lorne soothed weakly. "There's easier prey out there."
"It's Todd," John reassured them.
“How can you tell?” Myers asked curiously.
“I just know.”
“Even so, is it a good thing that they’re here?”Lorne asked.
"They'll get us out of here,” John promised them confidently.
"That's a lot of faith in them," Lorne said at the same time that Briggs commented, "You seem pretty close to the members of that hive."
"They're allies," John said, defending himself.
"More than that," Briggs said gently.
Before John could find some other answer, Meyers said, "I've read your mission reports of interactions with the one you call Todd. It was the gift of life, wasn't it?"
"He saved me," John agreed. "More than once. He's saved all of us and sometimes it costs him."
"And we're here again," added a multi-toned voice from just outside the cave entrance. Todd and Nomad bent down a little to enter the cave, leaving a cluster of masked warriors to guard the entrance.
Briggs and Myers scrambled to their feet at the appearance of the wraith. Lorne visually located his P90; it was out of reach. He touched his sidearm and flexed his wrists to be sure his knives were still in the arm sheaths. He hoped attempting to defend himself wouldn't be necessary but it was reassuring to know that there were weapons within reach.
Todd and Nomad were distinct in John’s senses so when they tapped his hive tie lightly in greeting, he was able to respond to the acknowledgment. Their eyes swept over the small group of humans. Then Todd's eyes widened a fraction. They had all felt John's pain once they were close enough and it had made them frantic to find their human hive mate. It was still shocking to see arrows sticking out of John.
Todd crossed the cave in a few long strides to stand near John. He held up his hand and Todd took it, pulling him smoothly to his feet. John bit back the groan. Arrows grating against bone sucked but with everyone except Lorne standing, John wanted to be up.
"Why haven't you removed those?" Todd asked.
"They're embedded deeply," Briggs explained. "I can't tell what they're piercing or whether they are holding arteries closed by staying in the wound. He could lose a lot of blood when we pull them out. It's better to wait until we can get him into surgery if necessary."
"Surgery will not be needed," Nomad said with distaste.
"Are you psychic then?" Briggs snapped. He regretted it immediately. Exhaustion and hunger were making him more cranky than usual. "I can't be sure without imaging."
"I will heal him, of course," Todd explained. "There is no need for such crude methods as surgery."
John stepped back from Todd's reaching hand, wincing as the move reverberated through his ribs. They had been hit by a rock. From the way they felt, it must have been going pretty fast. He suspected that it was more than just the bruising he had claimed. "Heal Lorne first."
"You're hurting," Todd insisted. He could feel it echo through the hive link and knew enough of humans to understand that John would need weeks for healing if not helped. That was not acceptable.
"Lorne is the worst injured," Briggs put in. The pair of wraith looked at the human psychiatrist. He couldn't read their expressions well yet but decided to assume good intent unless proven otherwise. "We triage the worst injured and tend them first. The people who aren't yet dying can wait a little longer."
"I can take care of him," Nomad offered, reinforcing the verbal with a light impression of both hunger and a willingness to share rather than simply feed. Todd agreed to that solution. Then both of them would be fed and both humans would be fixed. Problem solved, at least in their minds, Todd reached for John again. John put his own hand up to block him. Todd hissed but didn't fight with him. There was too much chance of injuring him worse or stressing the developing hive tie.
Nomad crouched down next to Lorne and began to carefully tear the human’s shirt off from the top down to avoid the gut wounds. Evan blinked up at him. "I'm hurt but I'm not dinner," he protested weakly.
"You're very weak and I can smell damage to your insides," Nomad said. "John wants us to heal you."
John dropped heavily to his knees next to Evan. "This isn't without consequences," he warned him. "The first time wasn't bad though."
"Don't want to be addicted," Evan protested, reaching for his handgun. Nomad didn’t even seem to register his shaking grip on the weapon as a threat.
"Todd has healed me half a dozen times now. Do I act like an addict?"
"You treat them like people."
"He's pretty much always treated us like people," Todd put in. "We haven't been people he trusts but we made deals from our first meeting."
Lorne nodded to acknowledge Todd's point but his focus was still on John. "You've been pretty unfocused the last few weeks. That could be addiction."
"I notice that they're not there," John tried to explain. "Teyla doesn't feel the same."
"So what happens if they heal me?"
"Same thing, I guess, eventually. I guess that’s a scary thing to consider. I didn’t really have a choice. It was just done because it was necessary. I think this is pretty necessary, even if having a choice makes it more difficult"
"I don't want to be a worshipper."
"Do you want to die instead?" Briggs asked. "Because that's the other option. It won't be fast. It's not an immediately fatal injury but gut wounds are dangerous. People get infections even with antibiotics and the best available medical care.”
“The hive ship has minimal medical facilities,” Todd pointed out. “We’ll do what we can but it might not be adequate for a human with this sort of injury. The gift would be the simplest solution.”
“Why aren’t we just taking the gate back?” Myers asked tentatively. “Can’t these guys just kinda scare the tribesman back away from the gate?”
“We could,” Todd admitted reluctantly. He wanted John on the hive for a bit. “But when Atlantis contacted us, they indicated that there were trade negotiations. That’s why they didn’t want to go in force to just clear the primitives out. They would have been no match for the Atlanteans but there seems to have been reasons not to go that route as a first option. They probably didn’t know how severe your injuries are.”
“Us showing up could be coincidence but obvious cooperation with wraith could wreck your negotiations,” Nomad added.
“A breeding group of their animals would go a long way towards helping Atlantis become more self-sufficient. They provide both meat and milk. There’s a secondary variety that provides fiber but we were more interested in the food animals for the initial trade,” Myers explained.
“It’s your risk, your choice, of course,” Nomad said.
The humans traded looks. If the only option to save Lorne was to definitely destroy negotiations that may have already been damaged beyond repair, they would do it. If there were other options for Evan to live without causing more harm to the negotiation process, they were willing to explore those options.
"They could put me in stasis," Lorne suggested.
“You seem very reluctant to consider being healed,” Myers put in carefully. “Can you help us understand why?”
"I'd rather die as me."
"You'll still be you," John said. "It was years after the first feeding before I felt anything other than just a vague willingness to listen to Todd instead of shooting first. In years, we could all be dead anyway."
"You will not be dead in a few years," Todd promised. He rested his hand on John's uninjured shoulder. John could feel an echo of his determination and protectiveness through the tie.
"Atlantis and the wraith have been working together pretty much since I joined this merry band," Myers said. "It's going well. Why not have another tie to them? It looks to me like the loyalty goes both ways."
"We would not harm John's birth-hive if it were avoidable," Todd agreed.
“If it were avoidable. That’s the problem right there,” Evan pointed out. “We’re allies now but it may not stay that way.”
“We can’t know what tomorrow brings,” Briggs agreed. He could see why this was a difficult choice. He had no idea what he would decide if he were in Evan’s place. “We can only do our best now to foster good relations. Ultimately it’s your choice.”
“Choice might be harder than just having it happen,” John admitted.
“It is still his choice,” Nomad said. He refocused on Evan. “Stasis is an option. So is getting you through the gate to take your chances with your own medical technology.
Nomad's hand rested lightly in the preferred feeding position. Evan could feel the tickle of the feeding slit and a slight dampness from the enzyme. Despite the inherent threat of the position, the wraith’s body language seemed otherwise calm to Evan. The wraith didn’t seem desperate to feed or like this was an attack. Evan tried to wiggle away anyway. Nomad didn't even bother trying to hold him in place. Evan was too weak already to do more than squirm ineffectively.
"Are you done?" Nomad asked when Evan finally went still. Evan glared at him but he was defeated by his own body. "May I feed and heal you?" Nomad asked. Evan closed his eyes and was silent for a long moment. There were options but none of them were guarantees of anything. This was terrifying but so was the potential slow death by infection. Finally he met Nomad's eyes and nodded.
Nomad didn't need more of an invitation than that. The tug on Evan’s life force didn’t feel nearly as bad as the wound pain he was already dealing with. The initial tug and discomfort of the draining didn't last long. It was replaced by a rush of lava as Nomad offered him the gift. The heat settled into a warm pulse that was almost reassuring. He was surprised that it felt so good. He sympathized with the addicts. Who wouldn't want to feel this heady rush of power? The discomfort of the draining returned, drying him out. Then the flow of energy returned. He could feel the energy focusing mostly in his injury. The shifting as his torn guts rearranged themselves to seal up correctly was a little horrifying. Even the warmth couldn't isolate him from the reality of his injury. Darkness closed over his vision.
Nomad was hungry but not starved. Like when John had rescued him from the jungle planet, Nomad saw no need to cause pain to a brother if not needed. He was curious to see if Evan's transformation to hive would go as well as John's adaptation was progressing. They shared energy for several long moments. Nomad drew it out to give the human a good start. It was a stronger first sharing than John had gotten on the Genii planet. He almost got lost in the hypnotizing pleasure of the push-pull technique. The commander was in the back of his mind though, eventually telling him to stop and guiding him to find the right balance so that the human wasn't noticeably different in age.
When he finished, he tore the shirt the rest of the way down. The human had passed out but the gut wound appeared to be healing at an accelerated rate. That was as it should be. It would be safe to move him now.
Todd helped the humans out of the cave while Nomad went to fetch a dart. He directed the masked warriors to split up. Four lined up to block any stray fighting from coming into the ravine. Todd was amused by the wariness in the humans' body language when they noticed the masked ones. They had been chatting calmly with himself and Nomad so their fear of the masked was entirely irrational.
The other two masked went with Nomad to where the dart was waiting. There hadn’t been anywhere convenient to leave the fighter closer to the humans’ hiding place. It would be easier to bring the dart to them. Despite not liking the buffer any more than John did, Todd had opted to stay with him. Soon Nomad swept into the narrow valley and scooped up everyone except Todd and John.
"They're gone." Moving fast, Todd pinned John to the cave wall he had been leaning against. "Let's get this taken care of."
"No," John replied, shaking his head. "They can patch me up once we're up to the hive. This isn't urgent."
"I thought you were reluctant to receive the gift with an audience," Todd said. "That is why I had Nomad leave us for a brief while."
"I don't need the gift at all. I'll be fine," John tried to reassure him. "Humans aren't as fragile as you think."
"Are you afraid of me again? Did you stop being willing to trust me to take care of you?" Todd asked.
"No," John snapped. "Of course not!"
"Why don't you want me to give you the gift then?"
"This is someone's life Todd," John protested. "I can't take it lightly. I'll heal myself eventually."
"That's how it works Sheppard. With the plague out there, we stretch our stores as long as we can and we're working on the digestive system project but until then, this is life."
"I know," John admitted. "But I don't have to contribute to your energy needs by letting you heal me. If I do that, I'm killing the next person myself."
"You can feed me later to make up for it," Todd suggested. "You can balance the scales."
"They're still dead."
"They are already gone, whether their lives go to heal you or for other purposes. You didn't protest when Nomad healed Lorne."
"He was dying. I'm not."
"Do you have to be dying to accept a gift? To accept me?"
"What? Todd! You're not making sense."
Todd's shoulders slumped, defeated. Perhaps John just needed more time to get used to the give and take of belonging to the hive. The light hive tie to John was still stable, he wasn't pulling away. Todd would have to take that as enough for now. "As you wish, Sheppard."
John couldn't move fast enough physically to stop Todd from stepping back but he reached out mentally. It was a clumsy swipe, like a toddler batting towards a toy, but Todd would not reject this advance into the hive ties. He stabilized the contact and opened up to it. John's emotions were a pale confused muddy tone.
"It's not that I don't want it," John said finally.
"Then what is the problem?" Todd wasn't pulling away physically anymore but he was still as a statue. His voice echoed with cold precision.
John reached a cautious hand up to wrap around the back of the wraith's neck. His fingers played against the bone spurs for a moment, coaxing Todd to lean forward. Todd's lips were cool and smooth against John's when John tilted his head back to offer a kiss. The wraith was still for a startled moment but then responded in a way that made John certain it wasn't his first try with the human practice. It felt indulgent to take this moment to explore Todd’s mouth. As things got more heated, he was nicked by Todd’s teeth but that wasn’t enough to make him back off much. He had wanted this, wanted Todd, for longer than he liked to admit. It never seemed to be the right time.
Then Todd pulled back. "I can feel the echoes of your pain," Todd commented.
"Everything is so intense," John tried to explain. "It's like part of me is always looking for you now. Another exchange will make that worse."
"If it's any consolation, once the tie is firmly established, it becomes easier to be away. And you'll have Lorne on Atlantis with you now. That should help."
"I don't know..." John's words were reluctant but his body was against Todd's in a way that didn't put pressure on the arrows. He showed no signs of pulling away mentally or physically.
"Do you want to die?" Todd asked.
John snorted. "As if you would let me."
"You can't go back. There isn't a back." Todd studied the human's face and probed the tie to him, looking for anything that might make this tolerable. He was reluctant to leave John injured for long and did not want to jeopardize the hive integration with excessive stress from conflict over it.
"The exchange feeds me too," Todd finally reminded him again. "It's not just you getting the benefits. I am fed. You are healed. It's not wasted energy."
"Alright, yes," John finally agreed. Todd produced a knife from his sleeve and cut John's shirt off. Then he yanked out both arrows quickly. Both had fire-hardened tips, not anything that could have come off in the wound. Then Todd's feeding organ settled lightly over the scars from before and bit down. Todd pressed against John as the human made needy whimpers and rutted against him.
Todd knew the sexual side effects were his own fault. The chemicals in the enzyme responded to the deeper emotional state of the wraith and also made both partners in sharing the gift more attuned to the other’s emotional state.Nomad didn't have any sexual urges towards the injured human or humans in general so while the gift of life felt good, it stayed merely sensual without tipping into sexual territory. For Todd with John, it would probably always turn sexual. The pain-pleasure of the sharing showed the tangled emotional history between them.
When shiny new scars covered the previous arrow holes, Todd pulled back a bit. John's breath came harshly against Todd's neck. Evidence of John's arousal pressed hard against Todd's hip. Todd was reluctant to step back and give him the space he should give. With the gift, John's thinking wasn't entirely sober. Todd's desire to be sure that John really wanted him this way was enough to keep him from going farther but not enough to convince him not to enjoy this little teasing indulgence with John in his arms. He was old enough to know that desire could be enjoyed for itself even if it wouldn't necessarily be carried to completion right then.
When John's breathing had calmed, Todd asked him, "Are you ready to go up to the hive?" John nodded wearily against Todd's shoulder, still not pulling away. The first rush of the gift, like all wraith healing, had prioritized the worst damage. John would still heal a bit faster than an average human for a while but he needed rest. Todd signaled Nomad to loop back around to pick them up.
On the Hive
Todd was the first one reintegrated in the dart bay. He thanked Nomad and requested that he pull only John out of the buffer next.
Todd was uncertain how John would react to being on the hive at this point in his adaptation. Todd was concerned that if John had a reaction and the other humans didn’t accept it, he would be in danger. It would be better to see how John reacted first and then deal with the other human’s after.
John materialized next to Todd. He hissed in surprise, sounding very wraith-like. The welcome from the hive itself was different from Atlantis but no less pure. The hive recognized him as much as the city and it sang to him.
The wraith who were part of this hive were there too, a pressure he hadn't noticed last time he was on the hive briefly. They weren't so pure. They were people just out of reach, some welcoming, some wary, others hostile.
Todd closed a hand around Sheppard's upper arm to support him. The human had gone very pale and looked like he would collapse. "Are you okay?"
"I..." Sheppard trailed off, struggling to process the input. They were all there but the loudest was the hive itself. No one was talking to him but they were all communicating with each other, just out of reach, like people talking in the next room. He could live with that part. The worst part was the information from the hive. It was so different from the pure tech and AI of Atlantis. "The hive," Sheppard whispered.
Todd hummed in response, not knowing what to say. He had expected John to have made some progress but hadn't realized Sheppard’s integration had progressed to this point. It must have been the time spent trying to reassure Icewind on Atlantis.
Todd tugged John over to the nearest interface and pressed their hands against it together. He couldn't really join with John's mind, not yet, but he surrounded him and brought them both into harmony with the ship. "Here we are."
"It feels weird," Sheppard protested, panting as if from heavy exertion. "I can't..."
"You can,” Todd insisted mercilessly. “You're a pilot. This is just another ship. The systems are a different technology but the basic types are the same. Ships need the same things. Just feel the information."
"It's too much," John argued.
"It's not,” Todd replied ruthlessly, not letting him free. “You don't have to deal with it in tiny parts. Absorb it as a whole. Once you do it this way, the background ship processes won't seem so overwhelming."
Sheppard was silent for several long moments as he struggled, trying to read the hive's information like he would read an instrument panel. It didn't make sense. Finally, he gave up. In that moment when he wasn't fighting to understand, just letting the information wash over him, it all clicked into place and made sense with piercing clarity. He didn't have to think about it to know any more than he had to think to breathe.
“Where are the others? Shouldn’t I feel Lorne?”
“No. Even if he were out of the buffer and somewhere on the ship, I would be lucky to feel him so soon after just one sharing.”
“Why is he still in the dart?” John pressed.
“Because you are much farther along and I didn’t know how you would react to the hive. Now we know. I will take you to my quarters. Nomad and Bonewhite will tend to the humans. You can...” Todd trailed off.
He had been about to assure John that he could join back up with the other humans later but John was no longer paying attention to Todd. The hive had caught his attention again. It could be demanding and it took some quite a while to learn to tune it out.
"We're still in orbit," Sheppard observed when his gaze focused again. "Why are there darts missing?"
"Culling, of course." It was a harsh reality that the human would have to accept eventually. He'd notice now that he had reached this level of connection.
"They're fighting down there. They probably stopped at dark but it’s not over.”
"Yes," Todd agreed. "And now some that would have died of their injuries will be tucked into the cocoons and die for other reasons. They won’t be wasted. The rest will stop fighting because they'll be more worried about the wraith than whatever petty differences started the tribal skirmishes. There’s not really enough of them for them to be wasting their lives this way."
Todd frowned and gently nudged his disapproval into his tie with John. Todd saw this particular light culling as a kindness to the humans who would remain behind; they were practicing good husbandry by stopping needless deaths. The injured that they scooped up to feed on wouldn’t have survived anyway. The society here was still very primitive and their breeding population was not high enough to spare many healthy adults to death by fighting. Now the fighting would stop.
The human's hive tie narrowed and his lack of acceptance was clear within what was left of the bond. Todd prepared to grab him and forcefully hold the tie open if necessary but it wasn't necessary. John was quiet for a long moment and his emotions fluctuated wildly. Then the bond opened back up as John reached some sort of understanding and acceptance.
Todd didn't know the conclusions John had come to and not knowing bothered him. If it had been a full hive tie, he would have known more about John's state of mind. Still, he was happy enough that his John Sheppard was still with him. He leaned into the bond again gently, sharing his pleasure this time. John was startled.
"What?" Todd asked defensively.
"I've felt you sharing a bit before. And I noticed Icewind feeling insecure. Even the welcome feeling that says kinda, 'come in and join us.' This is the first time though that I've felt your feelings so strongly when you’re happy.”
Todd was very practiced at not sharing his emotions. It wasn't good manners to share every stray thought and feeling with the whole hive. Even now, he was restricting his sharing to John alone. John could get away with broadcasting to the whole hive. He wasn't sharing a lot and most would be understanding because it was new to him. In Todd, it would be considered a major weakness to share so much. He realized though that his habitual cool exterior mental armor had given John the mistaken impression that the emotions weren’t there at all.
"Of course I'm happy," Todd affirmed, in the words the human was more used to relying on. "You're here with us. You can commune with the hive. It is fantastic progress."
"You don't wish you hadn't done this? Worry that I'll get some information humans shouldn't have?"
"It was survival," Todd told him. "We will deal with the consequences." He felt John's disappointment and couldn't let it go at that. "The first time, I admired your courage and was curious. The second time, I knew you better. It would have been easier not to share. Sharing is difficult when we're that hungry. Bonding requires control I almost didn't have. I knew what I was doing to you."
“You didn’t warn me,” John said.
"It was survival,” Todd repeated, ruthlessly tucking his uncertainty and insecurity away where it couldn’t be felt by others. “Do you regret it?"
"I..." John trailed off. Then he shook his head in a firm negative echoed by his emotions. "No. It made me realize how prejudiced we have been. It made me see you as people, individuals."
"And now that you know, would you still have taken the risk to join with us if it hadn't been life or death?" Todd let John feel his uncertainty. He was surprised when John's response was to give him a quick, hard hug. John’s emotions flowed freely, happiness flavored with wariness. The desire to be closer to Todd was there too. Todd leaned into him mentally and physically, indulging in the feeling of being close to his John Sheppard.
"Good," Todd told him after a long moment. He pulled back a bit, leaving his feeding arm draped over John’s shoulders. Sheppard didn't flinch and that told him a lot. He led the human to the former queen's quarters, which Todd had taken over as his own.
"This is my room," he explained when he felt Sheppard's curiosity. John wandered farther into the room and Todd stayed by the door, not wanting to pressure him. "There are not many private quarters on the ship. I thought you'd be more comfortable here. I can sleep in one of the shared nests if you're not comfortable with me here. Or we can both go sleep in one of the nests with some others. It would help the bond."
"Stay," Sheppard said impulsively, crossing the room back to Todd’s side near the door.