It was the smell he remembered most; of desiccated human remains mingled with the stench from the organic parts of the Hive ship. He had moved stealthily through corridors liked this before - lined with cocoons filled with corpses but very occasionally hearing the soft cries of fear from those who were still alive. He wished he could help them. He wished he could cut them free so they could have the chance to fight their way out or die trying rather than simply wait to be eaten alive. It tore at his heart and his conscience to walk past those begging him for release but he could not afford to have them raise the alarm before he found Rodney.
It wasn't lost on him that this was the second time he had boarded a Hive ship to rescue Rodney, and he hoped this Wraith Queen had been just as eager to savor her meal for as long as possible. As long as Rodney was alive, John could force one of the Wraith to restore him to full health and vitality, if necessary. If he was dead... John shied away from that thought, for there lie the path to madness.
He moved into the section storing the more recently captured humans, pressing into one unused alcove when he heard the approaching sounds of Wraith. Two of the boneheads walked straight past his hiding place without breaking stride, and he waited until they had turned the far corner before slipping back out and moving onwards.
This time he had to force himself to look inside every cocoon.
Many were empty for food was more scarce since Michael's virus spread across Pegasus, making those humans who did not succumb to the virus inedible to the Wraith. It had made the Wraith more desperate to find the hidden treasure of the Milky Way galaxy with its billions of humans, making the capture of any 'Lanteans' a top priority. Other alcoves held live victims, most weak from the years stripped from their bodies through multiple feedings as the Wraith rationed their food. Others were just husks, and he startled back when he saw a familiar uniform on a desiccated corpse. Sorrow filled him as he recognized the rank that identified him as Captain Madjen, who had been captured alongside Rodney.
The soft call of his name brought him spinning round to face the alcove behind him.
He rushed over, knife already in hand, and froze as he looked into the time-ravaged face, recalling the hologram version of Rodney that he had met 48,000 years into the future of Atlantis. Steeling his heart, he cut through the sticky bonds of webbing that held Rodney tight inside his alcove. As the last piece gave way, Rodney slumped forward, but not before John had seen the bloody mess of his chest from multiple feeds.
"Let's get you out of here," he stated softly, voice choking from barely concealed anger, recalling the pain from being fed upon by Todd after Kolya captured him. Tenderly he drew Rodney's thin and wasted arm over his shoulder.
He membered supporting Rodney this way after he was shot in the ass with an arrow, recalling the solid weight of the man pressed against him. Now Rodney felt so light he would blow away in a gentle breeze, and John's anger began to burn white hot for what the Wraith had done to him. He supported Rodney through the ship to where he had cloaked the Jumper, swiftly settling Rodney on the bench in the back.
John crouched down beside Rodney, reaching out to tenderly caress the aged face. A bony hand gripped his with surprising strength.
"John," he whispered, almost reverently. "I knew you would come for me. I hoped you'd find me in time... because I need to tell you-"
"It can wait until-."
"No. Waited too long already." He gave a shuddering sigh that rattled in his throat. "I love you. Always you."
John blinked when he realized that this revelation hadn't taken him by surprise, as if on some level he had always known but denied the possibility that Rodney might return his feelings. Silently, he cursed his own cowardice in not pursuing this... thing... with Rodney, but there had always seemed a good reason at the time - rules and regulations, Katie and Jennifer.
Rodney huffed weakly. "What? Are you channeling Han Solo now?"
"Yeah... Princess." He leaned in and kissed the dry, seamed lips before Rodney could grouch some more. "I'll be back soon."
"Wait! Where are you-?"
The one thing John had learned about the Wraith was that they wanted to live just as much as any creature, so it didn't take long to capture one of the scientist/leader types and force him to give up some of the life-force he had stolen from other humans to restore Rodney - in return for sparing its life. Leaving the Wraith behind - alive though unconscious - was the promise he kept as the Jumper sped towards the Stargate hanging like a jewel above this distant planet. He dialed up another dead world to cover their escape route before heading to Atlantis. Beside him, Rodney was mesmerized by his own skin, no longer wrinkled and covered with age spots. He looked across at John, and his eyes were no longer dull and hazed with pain. They were bright and shining with vitality.
Back on Atlantis, Carson gave Rodney a clean bill of health, remarking that it had even fixed his citrus allergy. Two hours of debriefing followed before John hovered outside Rodney's quarters, debating on whether to announce his presence; the door slid open.
"Oh for... Come in."
Rodney snagged his sleeve and dragged him inside the room. Any potential awkwardness faded as he was pushed up against the now closed door and kissed deeply and enthusiastically. Later John smiled, treasuring the sensation as he traced patterns across Rodney's soft skin, fingertips snagging on the feeding scars that marred the otherwise unblemished chest. He tightened his hold on Rodney, soothing away a nightmare before it could take hold, knowing his own nightmares would be held at bay as long as he had Rodney safely held in his arms.
Warm, safe and sated, Rodney slept on.