Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard comes to as he’s being manhandled underground. At first, the sensory information is all jumbled — a mix of murmurs and echoes, the smell of rust and mildew — but as the grogginess dissipates, he registers the strain on his arms and he stumbles as he feels for his feet. His captors are dragging him through a long, dimly-lit hallway full of windowless doors, and finally he’s regained enough coordination to walk, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to make it easy for the bastards.
At the end of the corridor is a dungeon filled with barred cells, and John realizes if he’s going to escape, he’d better do it now. He kicks hard against the ground to throw his captors off balance, and tries to wrench his arms free, but he’s one guy against four, and a swift kick to his knee has him reeling. He notices the men dragging him are wearing Genii uniforms that have certainly seen better days.
“The hell is going on?” John growls. “There must be some mistake — we have an alliance with the Genii!”
“Then it is a good thing the Genii government does not know of this place,” a voice says, and as he’s dragged from the corridor into the dungeon, John recognizes Shiana, the Coalition arbiter from their farce of a ‘trial’. Behind her is another Genii man quietly taking in the proceedings. He’s of average build, not especially tall — the kind of man who wouldn’t stand out in a crowd, though his shrewd expression reminds John eerily of Ladon Radim. He assesses John and then immediately disregards him, instead inspecting the folder of documents in his hands. John notices he carries a Genii-issue firearm and a stun device that resembles a cattle-prod, before his attention shifts back to Shiana.
“Not happy with the verdict, were you?” John quips as his captors shove him to the ground before her. His injured knee throbs from the impact. “What do you want?”
“I want justice for my people! For my family,” Shiana cries. Her eyes glisten in anger as she stares down at Sheppard.
“Look,” John starts, and he’s honestly not sure anything he can say will appease her, given how determined she’d been to paint Atlantis as ultimately culpable. “I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am for what the Replicators did, but they were supposed to attack the Wraith, not human planets. They did that on their own. I promise you, we’ve destroyed them. They’re gone for good now.”
“That won’t bring back my husband. My children.”
John sighs. “No, but neither will anything you do to me.”
“Maybe not.” Shiana’s lip curls, though her expression is no less resolved. “But I will have my satisfaction.” She motions to the Genii and John is immediately hoisted to his feet. “Feed him to the Wraith.”
“Wait, what — ?”
But John is already being dragged halfway down the row of cells before he can wrench an arm free. He’s able to elbow one of his guards in the jaw, but the other three keep hold of him and before he knows it he’s being shoved into the last cell in the row, the iron bars slamming shut behind him. He lands hard on his shoulder, grunting as the wind is knocked out of him, and then scrambles madly backwards as a tall shadow appears over him. A thrill of panic runs through Sheppard before he looks up past yards of black leather and wild, white hair to spy a pale, angular face sporting a familiar starburst tattoo around its owners’ left eye.
“Sheppard,” the Wraith Commander drawls in his deep, rasping voice. “We really must stop meeting like this.” There is a faint hint of amusement in his expression, which John takes as a good sign, as he’s not entirely sure where he stands with Todd after the embittered incident with the Attero device.
Their attention is drawn to the hallway then, as Shiana’s footsteps come to a halt in front of their cell. She seems to be waiting for something. Todd’s eyes flick past Shiana to the nondescript Genii soldier with the folder under his arm who trails behind her, and the Wraith bares his teeth in a silent snarl.
“Well?” Shiana looks at Todd, but he’s still as a statue, and John really hopes Todd’s not hungry because he’s essentially at the mercy of the Wraith’s appetite. John’s weapons and gear were all stripped from him, most likely while he was unconscious, and he’s all too aware that in his unarmed state Todd could easily wipe the floor with him. At least they left him his jacket; he thinks there might be a power bar in one of the pockets.
“Wraith, I have brought you this criminal from Atlantis to feed on. If anyone is deserving of such a fate, it is he.”
John rolls his eyes at being labelled a ‘criminal’, which he’s sure Todd notices as the Wraith glances at him again before addressing Shiana.
“Perhaps I do not find him… appealing,” Todd says coldly.
John can’t help but feel faintly insulted, and wow, that’s a disturbing thought.
Shiana seems to be at a loss for words — clearly this is a turn of events she hadn’t anticipated. She glares at John as if to imply this is all his fault, and then turns to the soldier behind her and despite all Shiana’s theatrics, John’s pretty sure it’s actually this guy who’s running the show.
The soldier steps forward and narrows his eyes at Todd. When he speaks, it’s to Shiana, though his eyes never stray from the Wraith. “If it won’t feed, we’ll simply proceed with our timeline and allow the experiment to continue as planned. I’m sure as we progress, its hunger will result in your desired outcome.”
Shiana doesn’t seem very pleased with this proposal, but she nods and storms out with a huff. Her guards and the Genii soldier follow after her, and then John is alone with Todd in their cell.
“Oh, what the fuck,” John groans, leveraging himself to his feet, despite his knee. “Experiments? That’s all kinds of not-cool.” He sets about examining the structure of their cell, testing the strength of the bars, the door and hinge construction, anything that he can exploit to escape.
“I do not think you are their intended subject, Sheppard.” Todd’s gaze tracks John’s movements around the cell, but the Wraith himself remains still.
“Yeah, that just makes it all fine then.” He can’t see the lock mechanism from inside, and the bars are just narrow enough that he can’t fit his head through to see from the other side, but when he skims the outer face with his fingers, he feels a keyhole that he thinks might fit a sort of skeleton key.
“Sheppard, you are wasting your time. I have been here nearly a week already and have not found any exploit. Do not risk injuring yourself further.”
John sighs and thunks his head against the bars in defeat. He hadn’t thought he was favouring his knee that much, although trust a predator to notice any perceptible weakness.
“Well, I don’t know what else to do, then,” John says, slamming the bars in irritation. He shuffles past Todd and sits against the back wall of the cell, one arm propped against his good knee. “If you have any ideas, I’m all ears.”
Todd sweeps over to sit a few feet from Sheppard, long legs stretched out to cross at the ankle. “We wait,” he rumbles, “and hope for an opportunity we can seize.”
“I’m not good at sitting and waiting.” John sighs. “Patience was never my virtue.”
Todd snorts. “Then it is good that I have patience enough for both of us.”
“Mm.” John glances speculatively at Todd. The Wraith’s eyes are closed, his head tilted back against the wall. He looks serene, though John is fully aware of how deadly he can be. If John is the princess awaiting rescue in this story, then Todd is the dragon trapped in the tower with him. “You — you’re really not going to eat me? I mean, I’m happy to be less than appetizing, but I’d just rather know than be constantly waiting for this to all go south, you know?” John can’t seem to fucking help himself. He knows he should just shut up rather than risk accidentally provoking Todd, but he’s irritated and on edge, and the fact that the Wraith is being as non-confrontational as he is, considering their last encounter, is frankly wigging John the hell out.
Todd’s eyes snap open and his head swivels to face Sheppard. For a moment, he simply stares, and John doesn’t think he’s merely imagined those slitted pupils widening. “John Sheppard, you are the most delicious human I have ever had the pleasure to feed upon.”
John’s mouth goes dry and he swallows reflexively.
“However, I have named you ‘brother’ and thus, on my honour, I will not take your life.”
John doesn’t realize he’s been holding his breath. “Okay, that’s uh, good, I guess. I just wasn’t really sure where we stood after the whole Daedalus thing.”
Todd makes an aggravated sound deep in his throat. “I… admit I may have acted rashly in assuming your people’s involvement with the Attero device,” he growls. “I was understandably upset over the loss of my crew and my ships. As none of your people were harmed, I am hoping we can both put the incident behind us.”
“Right. Yeah, sure thing.” John has just enough sense not to look a gift horse in the mouth, and he purposefully doesn’t mention the fact that Todd had nearly rammed the Daedalus and her crew into the lab housing the device. He gets being pissed off at losing people, though.
John thinks Colonel Caldwell and Richard Woolsey may be less willing to excuse Todd’s recent actions, but he’ll worry about trying to mend bridges after he’s free of this dungeon. For now, he leans back against the prison wall, closes his eyes, and sleeps.
The dungeon is cold. Not freezing, but cold enough that John wakes up shivering. At some point in the night he’d ended up on his side, and he’s since curled himself into the fetal position to conserve body heat. It helps, but not enough. He looks up and is momentarily startled to see Todd peering down at him, the tapetum lucidum in the Wraith’s retinas glowing eerily in the gloom. Todd tilts his head, and John watches his facial pits flare.
“You are not as warm as you should be.”
“Yeah, well, this place is a far cry from the Ritz, let me tell you.”
“Never mind.” And then, because he figures he’s got nothing better to do, and doing something will take his mind off his pained and shivering body, “It’s the name of a famous hotel back on my planet. Kind of like an inn, I guess, but with all the amenities. Super fancy.”
John realizes Todd doesn’t seem to be shivering at all. “The cold doesn’t bother you?”
“My internal body temperature is lower than yours.”
“Lucky.” He figures that makes sense, given that the Wraith are essentially a strange amalgamation of human and insect characteristics. John sits up, if only to have less of himself in contact with the floor. He’s understandably surprised when Todd spreads his arm out in a beckoning gesture.
“Sheppard, come here.”
John only hesitates briefly before deciding the Wraith’s body can’t be less comfortable than the dank cell floor, and Todd’s already had every opportunity to feed on him, but hasn’t. Sheppard sidles over to lean tentatively against Todd. “Thanks,” he says, as Todd’s arm wraps around him, bringing him flush with the Commander’s larger torso. The Wraith has a faint aroma of petrichor about him, which John decides is not unpleasant as he rests his head against a leather-clad shoulder.
Todd is certainly warmer than the dungeon floor, a fact for which Sheppard is grateful, though he can’t help thinking Todd’s still getting the greater benefit. “You’re just using me for my body heat, aren’t you?” His tone is mild, and he both hears and feels Todd chuckle.
“Ah, it appears you’ve sussed out my ingenious plan. Whatever shall I do?”
John grins. “At least Kolya could afford his heating bill.” He feels Todd stiffen at the mention of his former jailor. “He’s dead, by the way. I finally shot the bastard.”
“Good,” Todd says with feeling. “I am glad to hear it.” He relaxes again.
“I figured you would be. How’d you end up stuck here anyway?”
“My Hive had detected a distress beacon on the surface of a planet. I went to investigate, and somehow my dart was shot down before I could pinpoint the beacon’s location.” John notes a distinct air of irritation in Todd’s voice. “I was injured in the crash, but I was able to feed on one of the humans and heal before the others overran my position. They managed to stun me, and then I woke up here.”
“Sounds like somebody set a trap.”
“Indeed,” Todd growls in his multi-tonal voice. This time, when John shivers, it has nothing to do with the temperature.
“And you?” Todd rumbles after a long while. “How did you come to be here, Sheppard?”
John pauses for a moment, organizing events in his head. “I think I was drugged,” he begins, slowly. “I remember… we’d heard talk about something we hoped might be a ZPM, and my team went to investigate, but I don’t actually remember being separated or stunned or captured.” The more he thinks about it, the more the details — or lack thereof — unsettle him. “I have no idea whether my team was captured too, or if it was just me? I can’t remember the last thing we were doing, either; it’s just a blur.” Not knowing what happened to him is unnerving enough, but John really wishes he could be sure his team are all safe and not similarly imprisoned elsewhere. “Yeah, I must have been drugged. Nothing else makes sense. I think I’d remember being stunned, and if I’d been knocked out my head would have hurt when I woke up…”
“Do sedative agents commonly result in memory impairment in humans?” Todd seems legitimately curious.
“No, but…” There’s a cold feeling in John’s chest then as something occurs to him. He tries to take stock of his body, how he feels, if there’s any soreness or pain anywhere other than in his knee.
“What is it that you are so disturbed by?” Todd asks, and Sheppard realizes the Wraith is staring at him intently with — concern? Is that what concern looks like on Wraith features?
“How —” And John suddenly remembers Wraith are telepathic. “Are you reading my mind? Get out of my head!” He’s about to shove himself away from Todd, but Todd’s arm tightens around him.
“Peace, Sheppard. I cannot enter your mind unless you expressly invite me, though you are projecting your emotions quite strongly. I am unable to avoid them.”
“Oh. Sorry.” John relaxes again, somewhat chagrinned.
“What is it that has disturbed you so?”
“There’s a drug on my planet,” Sheppard begins, and as the words leave his mouth he has the most surreal feeling. Like this was not something he’d expected to have to deal with in the Pegasus Galaxy, with all the other inherent hazards to his health, but the more he thinks about it the more he’s just angry and tired and sad, and altogether disappointed in his species. “Some men — bad men — like to use it to force themselves on women. I mean, I guess sometimes on other men too, but usually women? It’s a sedative, but it also fucks with the victim’s memory so they don’t remember what happened. Anyway, that’s what I was reminded of, considering I don’t remember being abducted.”
He glances at Todd and the Wraith seems faintly unsettled. John can’t blame him.
“Yeah, I know. We’re a fucked up species.”
Todd hums noncommittally. “You are well, otherwise?”
“Yeah. Anyway, I’m really just hoping Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon are okay. Given that they’re not also here, I’d like to believe that’s the case.”
“That seems to be a reasonable assessment.”
“I’m also hoping they’ve figured out what happened and are on their way to rescue me as we speak.”
“Yes, your people do not leave each other behind.”
John smiles. He’d certainly impressed as much upon Todd during their initial encounter. “What about you? Any underlings on their way to save their Commander?”
Todd huffs in what Sheppard thinks is amusement. “I am unsure. My Hive would have difficulty tracking my whereabouts once I had been taken through the Stargate. Multiple gates would further compound the issue, which is what I would suspect to have occurred.”
John knows Rodney’s expressed a similar sentiment on multiple occasions, though usually with more colourful language.
“Oh, hey, don’t you have one of those sub-space transmitters?” John asks eagerly. “I know we’ve tracked you down that way before — if my people pick up your signal, they’ll definitely come to investigate.”
“I usually do, but it was damaged in the crash,” Todd says wryly. “Unfortunately, I do not have all of the necessary components required to construct a second.”
“Well crap.” Sheppard’s head thunks back down onto Todd’s shoulder in temporary defeat. Then a thought occurs to him. “What parts are you missing, exactly?”
“A power source,” Todd says after a moment’s consideration. “And a connective medium for the charge. Why?”
“Just wondering if we might be able to find what you need, assuming we can get out of here, somehow. Though, being ‘rescued’ by a Wraith hive isn’t necessarily much of an improvement, from where I’m standing.”
“You are in fact sitting, Sheppard.”
Sheppard groans. “That’s terrible,” he grumbles, but Todd just laughs.
“I would not allow any harm to come to you, Sheppard,” Todd says seriously, a moment later.
“Well, first we have to find a way out of here, and then get the parts you need.” Sheppard sighs. “Assuming there’s no Stargate nearby on this planet,” he adds. “But, thanks.”
The only acknowledgement he gets from Todd is a hum.“Sleep, Sheppard. You must conserve your strength.”
John sighs. “Yeah. Okay.” He realizes he’s stopped shivering at some point, pressed along Todd’s side, and at the very least, he’s grateful for that.