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Into the Hive

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Working with the Lanteans is, if nothing else, never dull. The Commander returns from his latest brush with them in a bit of a mood, retrieving the ones who had stayed behind at the research facility, and while most of them end up working to refurbish an old, abandoned hive ship, Wisp finds himself bundled off to Atlantis to help develop the gene therapy quicker. At first, he spends a lot of time locked up, which doesn't bother him as much as the Lanteans want it to, but eventually, he begins spending more and more time in the infirmary, working alongside the human doctors.

By the time he's spent a month there, and Frost has been by to share life with him once, keeping him healthy and fed, they seem to have almost forgotten he's Wraith. Foolish, of course, but he knows why the Commander sent him and not one of the others. Not only is he the closest thing the Hive has to an expert in these matters, he is also less intimidating physically. Wisp was born twinned to a Queen, and he shares his sister's stature. He shares other traits of hers, too, and if the Lanteans knew what he could do, they wouldn't be so quick to dismiss him as being small and delicate.

But he says nothing, because it benefits him if they think him safer than his kin.

And so Wisp finds himself in the infirmary most days, mostly ignored as long as he wears his restraints and stays away from the networked computers. He keeps his head down and runs his tests, and listens with both ears and mind, learning the ways of the Atlantis hive without them noticing. And what he learns, his Hive will know.

The twelfth Lantean day of the current month, he finds himself listening as Dr. Jennifer Keller speaks to one of the geologists, who is obviously gravid. Wisp knows how human reproduction works, though he often wishes he didn't. Like everything else they do, it seems so inefficient and needlessly complicated. They are discussing the child she carries, apparently a male, and what she wishes to call the child once he is born.

Human naming rules are so strange. To let the parent name a child before knowing the child's mind and who they are seems all wrong to him.

Wisp was born to a clutch of seven, six males and a Queen. They were all just "child" in the Hive's mind until they were old enough to earn their hive-name. Hive-names are simplifications, shorthand forms of their true names. Most Wraith still retain theirs, still use that form over the longer mind-names.

A human name is nothing but a label that a child has to learn to fit into.

Wraith names do the opposite. The child forms the name.

Wisp is not defined by his name. He defines it. Wisp is a tendril of mist curling over the deep waters of an dark, foreboding world in the morning, hiding something deep within. His mind-name is Mistwhisper, his mind a soft, quiet caress cloaked in swirling mist, misdirecting and diverting, obscuring and alluring, with hidden depths beneath the misty shroud. That is the nature of Wraith, their names based on who they are, and not the other way around.

His Hive is no different. There is Storm, whose mind-name is Cloudanvil, a thunderstorm on the brink of breaking out, heavy in pressure and electrical charge. Rust's mind-name is Irontaint, his mind crackling with the dry whispers of rust on metal, creeping steadily on. Frost is Winterblade, the stabbing cold of the winter air on a frost planet, sharp and to the point. Wisp's sister-Queen is Darkwater, because her mind is like deep waters of a forest pond at night, with nothing visible but the very surface, the darkness beneath a mystery.

It is not as though human names lack meaning. It just seems so strange to Wisp that they apply the name to the child without knowing if it would fit, to risk giving a child a name that will not match the child's personality. Wraith have pride in their names, and the way they represent them.

Of course, in some cases, humans can name true.

Wisp discovers the meaning of the human name given to the Commander by accident, and though it takes him a bit of time to unravel, considering that he knows preciously little about the human home world, he is quite amused when he does.

A symbol of cunning and trickery, and one of the most adaptable creatures on Earth.

It is quite fitting for the Commander.

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Watching a pair of Wraith argue was quite an experience.

Despite having vocal chords, the Wraith seemed to prefer communicating telepathically, especially when there were humans around, which meant that John got to lean back and watch Todd and the other Wraith have the mental equivalent of the arguments Rodney and Zelenka often had. It was a bit like overhearing an argument over the phone, except that instead of getting only one side of the argument, he got none.

The tension was obvious, because Wraith weren't subtle, all snarling and bared teeth, and he could almost swear their hair rose like angered cats, but with Wraith, and especially Todd, you couldn't really tell much of a difference there.

Since they didn't seem to want to share what they were arguing about, John amused himself by making up reasons why the two were fighting. It had started out based on the way the Atlantis scientists argued about who was right about a given subject, but they were taking their time, and John had started getting silly by now.

Maybe they were arguing about the smaller Wraith stealing all the hairbrushes on the Hive. Certainly, his hair was less of a rat's nest than most Wraith, and more Lord of the Rings elf. Or maybe they were arguing about who had the better coat. John would go with Todd there. It was pretty tattered by now, but at least it didn't look like something you needed a degree in physics to get into, unlike the other one's.

Maybe they were arguing over who ate the last human and whose turn it was to go pick up more.

Truthfully, John was pretty sure he wouldn't have find it half as amusing if he actually knew what the two Wraith were so worked up about. It was nearly certain to be something highly unpleasant and ominous.

Finally, the smaller of the two seemed to have had enough, growling one last time at Todd before swirling around and stalking off the way only a sulking Wraith could do.

Todd growled in satisfaction as the other Wraith retreated and walked so sit on the ledge near John, a strange look in his eyes as he looked at him. Almost possessive, in that unsettling intense way of the Wraith.

John said nothing, but decided that no, he'd really rather not know what they were arguing about to bring that trait out in Todd. As far as he was concerned, they were arguing over the best conditioner in the Pegasus galaxy, or something.

Not thinking about it had always been the SGC-approved way of handling these things.

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The needle stings, leaving his lips numb and feeling swollen. It doesn't bleed, even though the skin is so thin there.

Howl's hand is under his chin, tilting his head back as he works. Any of his Hive would do this for him, but he trusts Howl, and there are not many he trusts, even among the Hive. Things are difficult now, and his sister-queen is not as careful about who she has chosen for her Hive as he wishes she would be.

She is young, though, almost too young to be Queen already, and she is still inexperienced enough to pick her Hive based on attraction.

It will no doubt come back to bite her.

So he has sought out his Mother-queen's Birthhive, to ask one of the few Blades he trusts with everything finish up his marking. Howl is not bloodkin to him. Though the old Blade is consort to his mother-queen's own mother, he is not the male who fathered his mother-queen. She is too obviously of the Blaze clan as much as the Night clan, and Howl came to their clan from the River clan. But with his near-infinite patience with nestlings, he has always been important to all the clan's young.

Howl is not bloodkin to him, but he is Hive, even though they have never truly lived aboard the same ship.

His patience is soothing, as much of a calming influence as the cool hand underneath his chin, clear through their minds even while clouded with Howl's concentration and his pain.

Wraith are not accustomed to lasting pain, their healing too fast for pain to really set in. They do not feel much pain at all, the majority of their nerve endings internal rather than on the surface. But the lips have nerves, sensitive ones, and the repeated sting of the needle is a slow burn across his lip as the surface is slowly dyed a uniform, inky black.

This is the last part on the marking. The pattern on his chin had barely felt sore at all, and was already healed. This hurts more, but he knows it will be worth it.

It is not common among their kin to mark their lower face, much less their lips.

By doing this, he is making a stand. He is not just yet another male, not just another clever Wit. Even in their clan, where Wits are treated as well as Blades, most males go ignored unless they prove themselves.

He is unlikely to ever catch the attention of a Queen from another hive and prove himself that way. Most males never do. Even Howl, who is decidedly impressive in both skill and age, had waited long before getting a chance to become consort.

If he wants acknowledgement, he must make it for himself. It will not be on his sister-queen's hive. She does not value any male who cannot provide her with strong offspring, much less an older brother-male trying to make his own way. He has no doubt in his mind that she will soon trade him with another Queen, a brother for a brother as the ways often go.

Howl lets go, looking over his handiwork critically, before nodding and putting his tools aside.

The marks the older male has laid down on his chin and lips are perfect, just as he had expected. They draw in the eye, forcing the gaze to his lips as he speaks. Maybe now, more will listen.

Wisp smiles, ignoring the sting in his lower lip, feeling the pain smoothen itself away as it always does. To any Wraith, the markings they wear tell a story, setting them apart from each other. For males, that is a necessity. For a Queen, it is more vanity and pride. The markings tell the story of accomplishments in life.

And to Wisp. a new story has only just begun.

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The first time he sees her, it is entirely by chance; Storm is serving on his sister-queen's hive and they are crossing Night Clan territory. Tradition dictates asking permission from a Night Clan Queen, and they wait for a while for another hive to come into range, their communications array woefully neglected.

The Queen who replies is a stunning creature, tall for a Queen and dark-haired, dressed much more simply than his sister-queen. She needs no decoration. Her presence, even through the crystal screen, is more than enough to make him want to kneel down to her and declare his loyalty.

Her name is Nightrose, a dark beauty that reaches its full potential in the dark, where playful shadows caress her form, and hide the sharp and wicked thorns from view. She is the Primary of her Clan, and the Night Clan is infamous indeed, known for strong minds and clever ways, subtle where other Clans are forceful.

It takes no more than an eight of a cycle before he takes his leave of his sister-queen's Hive, travelling alone to Night Clan territory, ready to swear allegiance or die trying.

He ends up on a Hive led by a young River Clan Queen, distant kin to him through their mother-queens, and who has formally become part of the Night Clan to gain the protection of a Clan Primary. The River Clan Primary is long since dead, falling in the war against the Alterans. The Clan Queens are scattered and weakened, and many seek alliances. This one has chosen the Night Clan, like he himself has. Her Consort is an older Night Clan Blade, a Hive Commander who was once a Wit, a transformation almost unheard of.

It was for Queen Nightrose he came to the Night Clan, but it is for the way the Clan treats their Wits he becomes certain his choice is the right one.

Under the Hive Commander's watchful eye, he throws himself into his work, wanting to prove himself with all he has. On his old Hive, he was simply another Wit, uninteresting to the Queen both for his calling as well as for his relation to her. On this new Hive, Wits are valued, and he finds himself growing more skilled, more confident.

Storm could be be Wit Primary if he wished to be. But he has chosen not to, because the Wit Primary must keep track of all the Wits of the Hive, a task better suited for Wisp, whose mind expands across the Hive like a net, weaving them all into the web of his own mindscape. Instead, he focuses all his attention on engineering, making the hive the best it can be, despite it being an older model.

His kin-queen is long since gone, and though he misses her for her easy grace and lack of harsh demands, she was never his Queen in more than name. His Hive is without a Queen, and it should be a horrible thing to be, but instead, they are flourishing. The Hive Commander has returned to them, and he is leading them in an entirely new direction, with new challenges and new knowledge.

And they have the approval of Queen Nightrose, which makes Storm feel like nothing can defeat them.

His love and loyalty for her is unending, like Wraith itself.

She has a Consort, an old, wily Blade who Storm could never defeat in an open challenge, even if it would have been accepted. That is all right to him. He loves her too much to ever wish to deprive her of the best possible things. Her Hive has the best engines he could design; the best weapons Shimmer has designed. Her Consort, though old, is strong still, ready to defend his Queen from anything.

Sometimes, when the Clan assembles, Queen Nightrose will look at him and smile, and he will know he has pleased her; proven himself worthy of the trust she once showed.

There is nothing more Storm could ever ask for.

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Some of the humans have implied that maybe Frost is simple of mind, and in some ways, they are likely right. Not in the sense they intend it to mean, certainly. Though he is nowhere as smart as the Wits that make up the majority of his Hive, Frost is definitely not stupid. He lacks cunning, maybe, preferring to rely on his size and strength rather than on elaborate strategies, but he is perfectly capable of following such strategies if it is necessary.

He cannot speak as humans do. The humans seem to think that means something. It does not. Frost has never needed spoken words.

He is not a complicated person, though. His interests are plain and simple. The plans and ambitions of other Wraith hold little meaning to him.

Frost likes fighting. Not necessarily in a battle, though he likes those, too. However, he also likes sparring with Shimmer, who makes up for Frost’s greater mass and higher strength by being fast and clever, and just a little vicious. He likes training with his weapons, likes the way they feel in his hands and the sounds they make as they move.

He likes darts, likes the way they go so fast and feels like freedom.

He likes the feeling of snow on his skin, making fur and blanket nests to curl up in, the way humans get all nervous when he stands around watching them, and the various sweet things they bribe him to go away with.

He likes his Hive. It feels like home, like safety and protection, like belonging. It is a real Hive.

Most of all, he likes Wisp. Not that Wisp is simple, but to Frost, his reasons for liking the little Wit are the simplest things he knows.

Wisp talks to himself sometimes, reminding Frost that he’s not alone anymore. He is small, but he is warm, and his mind is strong, comforting and ever-present. Frost likes the way he moves, the way he dresses, the way he thinks. He likes how Wisp’s hair feels soft in his hands and the pleased sounds he makes when Frost brushes it for him, how he feels like he was made to be in Frost’s arms, and how he knows all the right things to say and do. He likes how Wisp makes him feel safe, instead of the other way around, and how he protects Frost as much as Frost protects him.

He likes how they feel like equals.

These are the things that are simple to Frost; he is taller and stronger than most, he is a good pilot, he fights well, he protects his hive. He is loyal to his Commander, and will do his best to make him proud.

And he loves Wisp. With his mind twined into his mate’s, arms around him as Wisp works, he is home. He is safe. He is content.

It’s the simplest thing in existence to him, and he doesn’t need anything more complicated.

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“Wisp,” she says, and because it is her, his full name echoes through his mind like a sibilant caress. “Join me?”

Steelflower is a young Queen, and a very human one, but she is Queen in her own right none the less, and her mind is weighted by the strength of a clan Primary. Wisp does not bend easily to Queens, too strong-willed and not swayed by the desire to be favoured, but he still finds himself compelled to obey. Her words are offer, though, not order, and she does not expect anything.

She just watches him with warm, patient eyes, and sees beyond what he is. He can hardly do any less.

His reply is non-verbal, but with her, that is no hindrance. He smiles at her, appreciative of the offer if nothing else, and inclines his head as he would to his Commander. Wisp will not kneel in submission, but Teyla Emmagan would not ask him to, either.

He does kneel later, tucking his legs beneath himself to settle comfortably on the straw mats in the room converted to an Athosian gathering area, but it is not in deference. It is in companionship.

She pours amber liquid into stoneware cups and hands one to Wisp. When he takes it from her, his feeding hand brushes her wrist and she does not flinch. There is little weakness in her, though she is small and surely beautiful to human eyes. Steelflower is an apt name for a Queen like her.

The tea smells like grass and smoke, fragrant without being overpowering or acrid. Its heat seeps through the heavy ceramic and warms Wisp’s hands, soaking into his bones. It is surprisingly pleasant to sit like that, sharing space with a Queen who does not seek to conquer and dominate.

He has sat like this before, silently sharing peace and space with Queens, and his mind places Steelflower there, at the side of his Sister-Queen, his Mother-Queen, and even his terrifying Primary. She is Hunter Clan, not Night Clan, but their clans are old allies, and she has the strength to reinforce those bonds. Even human, she is impressive, despite her youth and relative fragility.

Wisp has always trusted his Commander, but it is only now he begins to understand what it is his Commander sees when he looks at Steelflower.

If the Lantean humans want to seek an alliance, she will be their key. A Queen will only deal with another Queen, and Steelflower can stand against most Queens. He is impressed. He thinks his Clan-Queens would be, too.

The room is lit by candles and sunlight, lending a warm glow to their surroundings. Warmth is not a common trait for any Wraith, but somehow it suits her. She is a mother, he knows, though he has never been near her child. He can see it on her, though it seems strange. Humans live such short lives, and to him, she is barely more than an adolescent, yet she is a fully fledged Queen with a consort and child.

Despite himself, he is impressed.

The Commander is right when he says humans are more than they seem.

Wisp sips his tea cautiously, unwilling to burn his mouth even if it will heal. It has cooled enough, though, and brings a warm sensation and a flavour of smoky leaves. He does not require fluids to live, but they are uncomplicated and often pleasant. It brings memories of being a nestling still, spending days in the forests of the Clan’s territory, learning to track and hunts as the adults do.

Only drones are pod-raised to adulthood.

She looks at him, curiosity on her face, and impulsively, he shares, letting her into his memories to see as he saw back then, when things were new and he had only his pod-sister at his side, and only his Mother-Queen’s oldest brother for a teacher. Patience was learned, not inborn, and his pod-sister had little of it, but they were good days.

The smile she offers in return is surprised, but not displeased. Wisp sees the Queen in her, and wonders if she realizes that there is little difference between Steelflower and Teyla Emmagen. It is not the dichotomy humans seem to think it, because there is nothing in Steelflower that is not present in Teyla Emmagan.

Strong Queens always have many names.

It has always been the way.

Strength is not all, though, and where many Queens seek to dominate with power, the most revered Queens are those who know this well.

There is much to be said for tea and patience.

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The creature’s eyes look like his.

That’s the first thing Frost notices as he carefully bends to see what makes the strange hissing noise.

Whatever it is, it has wedged itself into a small, dark space, and the only thing visible is its yellow eyes, glowing at him from the shadows. It’s clearly a small creature, or it couldn’t have fitted in such a small place, but judging by its warning hiss, it isn’t that deterred at his much larger size.

Slowly, he folds himself into a sitting position, careful to avoid sudden moves. Frost likes animals. They’re surprisingly good company and have few demands. Most animals run readily, but this one doesn’t seem scared. Just annoyed.

In truth, it reminds him somewhat of Wisp. He is also prone to hissing when annoyed.

In both cases, patience is the key, and Frost doesn’t move further, just sits and lets the creature act at its own speed.

In time, the creature makes its way out and approaches slowly.

Frost doesn’t know this creature, though he has seen similar ones, so he supposes it may be native to the Lantean human’s homeworld. Its movement and build reveals it as a small predator, the set of its eyes and ears meant to help detect prey.

Mostly, though, it seems to be made from fur. A lot of fur.

He waits a while more as the creature seems to make up its mind about him, then smiles as it comes closer, giving him a look that very much says that it is allowing him the privilege of being in its presence.

Again, he is reminded of Wisp.

Slowly, he lifts his hand and allows the creature to inspect it before trying to touch. When he finally does, it seems as the he has passed the inspection, because the creature stays still, allowing him to gently stroke its fur. It feels warm and soft, and when he scratches it lightly, it purrs in satisfaction.

Fondness spreads through him, prompting inquiries from Wisp and the Commander. Both accept his shared impression of the little creature beneath his hand with the same dry amusement, a rush of warm affection following Wisp’s impression.

His Hivekin are busy, caught up in talk and politics with the humans, and he is not required at the moment.

That is perfectly all right to him. They are the clever ones, with plans and ideas, and the strength of mind to make those plans and ideas come to life.

Frost doesn’t have plans and his ideas mainly involve his crafting. He has a warm summer afternoon and an unexpected companion to share his silence.

If asked, he’d definitely say he has the better of the two options.

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Humans do not understand what it is to be part of a Hive. They may say that they do, and maybe they even believe that they understand, but they never will. "Like a close family", they say, they say, which isn't wrong, exactly, but a Hive is so much more than that.

Hive is belonging. It is home, hope, warmth, strength. A Wraith without Hive has nothing. A Wraith with a Hive has everything. Hive is not something to be explained, it is something to be experienced.

Their Commander once called John Sheppard a brother, and they know Sheppard does not understand what being Hive-brother entails. He is human. He will never feel the Hive there, an ever-present reminder that they belong somewhere. Even when separated physically from the Hive, the bond remains, if faint, bringing strength.

It is strange to feel the bond reach out to someone who cannot respond, but they can feel him faintly. It is hardly the same, but in time, they become accustomed to the feel of a human mind where there should be a Wraith. An oddity, perhaps, but their Hive has many oddities. One more is hardly something to even notice. A human mind seems flare-bright next to Wraith minds, bright but blurred. An inaccessible feeling of flickering warmth.

Until suddenly it is gone.

The loss lacks the sharp feel of a Hive-kin's death. It is more like a dull ache, what humans call a phantom pain. Only when it is gone do they realise how much of a part of the Hive it had been. The effect is clear, though, the feel of loss and futility permeating the Hive from within. Only then do they see the true problem of a human in a Hive-bond.

Human lives are ephemeral. To them, death is a certainty, not a possibility.

Loss-tinged, the Hive-bond feels almost lacking for a moment, as they try to understand what it means to know death is inevitable. In a Hive, knowledge is shared, but maybe it is better that they have been spared that particular knowledge. To go through life knowing that it will end in such a brief time seems like torture to them, yet humans have a fundamental love of life that drives them to wring as much from such a short span as they can. They burn too bright, and too brief.

Hive is belonging, and in the end, even a human could belong, even if he never knew so himself.

With that knowledge, the bond almost feels bitter.

The Hive will learn and adapt, as it always does, but it will never feel the same.

It is possible that there are still things Wraith will never understand, either.

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It isn’t Rust’s first time in Atlantis, not by far. Most of the time, he likes the city-ship, likes watching and learning new things. Maintenance for dead-ships is entirely different from maintenance for a hive ship, but it’s equally interesting, and he likes the Atlantis engineers. They are not so different from the Wits of his Hive, although they’re disturbingly fragile and Rust is always concerned he will accidentally hurt one.

Wisp assures him humans are more resilient than they look, but he still can’t help but worry. He doesn’t particularly want to hurt anyone, except occasionally Edge, and only because Edge always starts it.

But Edge isn’t there now, and neither is any others of his Hive, and Rust doesn’t know how to deal with the silence in his head.

So he stays away, because he doesn’t trust himself right now.

They are not supposed to be alone in Atlantis; there is always supposed to be at least two of his Hive there if there is to be any at all, but Storm had to go help one of their allied Hives with an emergency, and Rust said it would be all right to be alone for a while.

It isn’t. There is a deafening silence in the back of his head where the Hive should be and it feels numb, like a part of him is missing. His mind keeps reaching out, trying to find anyone to echo back at him, but there is nothing.

He supposes Teyla Emmagan must be off-world, too, or he could at least have felt her. But there’s nothing, and although he will not admit so where their human allies can hear it, he is terrified. He could go back to his Hive, he knows that, but even with the fear gnawing inside him in places even the hunger never reaches, he doesn’t want to admit defeat.

Rust is Blaze Clan. They do not back down.

He just really wishes they did.

The knot of fear and complete, unsettling silence inside him feels completely wrong, and he has to wonder how Wisp could choose this. He did not know the Wit Primary until they had both joined the same Hive, but he has heard the stories of the Mindblade’s wandering, leaving his former Hive at leisure. But Wisp is much stronger than Rust will ever be, so he shouldn’t be surprised. If anyone could bear this voluntarily, it would be Wisp, whose mind-gifts are almost as strong as a Queen’s.

Rust’s own mind-gifts are not particularly strong at all. He masters the basics, certainly, but his Impression is barely passable, and his Blocking is terrible. Even Edge is better, and he is a Blade. It’s quite embarrassing. But Rust is a Blaze Clan Wit, and nobody expects much from them. It is Flameheart’s blood in his veins, and Her gifts were always stronger in the Blades.

Maybe it is different with Wisp because he chose it. He was prepared.

That isn’t much comfort.

The Commander was suddenly severed from the Wraith bonds for a very long time, and he never buckled. Even Frost, who has broken written in his genes, never gave in under the isolation.

Rust can’t afford to be any weaker.

Because Rust is very good at his chosen field, but there are many Wits who would give anything to join his Hive, and many of them are probably better than he is. He cannot allow himself to seem a liability. The Commander has given him a chance he is determined to deserve, or die trying.

If he does not have the strength naturally, he will have to learn how to be strong.

And he will.

But that doesn’t mean the fear is easily dismissed, because there is still silence in his mind and in his bones, and there is no source of reprieve. Rust has never felt so alone. Even in Wildfire’s Hive, where he and his brother had not been permitted to Join, just wait, there had not been complete silence. There had been a buzz in the distance, a reminder that they weren’t alone, and Edge had been there. Edge has always been there, since the day of their Hatching, their minds forever linked up, and now he’s not there any more.

Edge is fine, of course, back with the Hive, probably suffering through whatever horrific device Shimmer had invented in the name of “training” this time, but he is not there, on Atlantis where Rust is, and Rust feels as though his feeding arm is missing.

He has never been alone before.

Atlantis is not that much larger than a hive ship, but it feels so much bigger and emptier, and Rust feels lost. Even if he was on an enemy hive ship, he’d have felt the others, even if he wouldn’t be welcome.

Not here. Here, he is alone, and it is almost too much for him.

He curls against one of the generators, wrapping his arms around his knees, and feels more than a little pathetic. The sound from the generator is familiar, at least, the low and mechanical buzz, and if he closes his eyes, he can almost pretend he is in the Ebonstar’s auxiliary engine core, his favourite place to work. He is almost too big to fit in the gap between the generators in the core, but the enclosed area is comforting, somehow.

In this empty place, there is no place he misses more.

He drops his head onto his knees and just listens.

He has lost track of time by the time someone approaches, and it is telling that the person gets so close before he notices.

“There you are,” someone says, and Rust looks up to see the human commander standing over him. “Zelenka mentioned you were down here.”

“Should I not be here?” Rust asks, not quite willing to move unless he has to. The familiarity of the generator is a small comfort in a big and empty city, as is the warmth.

The commander shrugs, seemingly at ease, but this one has a deep core and rarely shows more than he intends. “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be, I suppose,” he says. “It’s warmer down here.”

He knows more of Wraith than he admits, Rust thinks, but he isn’t surprised. His own Commander has named this human his brother, given him a place in the Hive as an equal. No other human has earned that before. Looking at him now, Rust can sort of see why.

“Zelenka said you’d been a little out of it, though,” the human continues, hands in his pockets. “So I thought I’d check up on you. You are looking a little green there.”

The human blinks, realising what he just said. “Well, greener than usual, I mean.”

Rust has no idea what the words mean, but he appreciates the thought. “It is just …” His words seem to die on his tongue, his every instinct longing to Speak as he should.

Sheppard nods. “I know the feeling,” he says, and Rust thinks, from the tone of his voice and what he knows of this man, that he might very well be right.

Slowly, Rust unfurls himself and rises to his feet, unwilling to move too fast. He still feels numb. Standing up, he is taller than the human by a few inches, but he doesn't feel it. There is a similarity between the human commander and his own Commander, and their presences feel somewhat the same yet wildly different. He feels small in his presence, like a youngling, despite having centuries on the man. Humans live so short, though. If translated, Sheppard’s age probably equals a much higher age than his.

Sheppard gives him a smile. “I’ll never figure out how you guys manage to fold yourselves up like that,” he says.

Rust returns the smile, ducking his head a little. He feels a little bit silly now, like a hatchling being scolded, but he is pleased that Sheppard came for him, and that Doctor Zelenka was concerned enough to tell him. It feels a little like Hive.

But then, Sheppard is Hive, by their Commander’s will, even if he does not feel like Hive the way the others of his Hive-kin does. HIs mind does not echo back, but even his presence soothes the silence.

“I’ve got some paperwork to do and could do with some company to keep me from falling asleep,” Sheppard says. “Feeling like joining me in my office? You can poke me if you think I’m slacking off.”

Nodding, Rust falls in behind the human commander, following him back to the upper levels. Sheppard’s office is warm, and he settles in the window sill, calculating the the improvements Crow wanted to make to the storage areas.

There is still silence in his head, but there is the rustle of paper and scraping of the pen, and if he listens close enough, he can hear Sheppard’s heartbeat. It is not like the Hivebond, not the same at all, but it is not so bad.

Not so bad at all.

Chapter Text

It’s a black and white thing, the easiest thing in the world. Like up is up and down is down, and warm is definitely not cold, things are either alive or they are not. Food is alive. At least to Wraith it is, because dead food is no good and besides, you can’t chase food when it’s already dead. That’d be silly. Easy, but silly. Maybe if they attached the bodies to a wire and hung them beneath the darts, but that wouldn’t really be much use.

So Wraith food is alive.

Human food is not, though much of it have been at some point.

But if human food isn’t supposed to be alive, Abyss really wants to know what is wrong with the strange, quivering thing on the plate in front of him. It wobbles when touched, but it makes no sound. The colour is so bright red it looks warm to the touch, but it’s really quite cool. There is no emotions or thoughts coming off of it, and it smells like synthetic, but it moves away from the spoon as though it’s afraid.

It doesn’t make any sense.

Abyss knows about not making sense, but this is new and fruit-scented, and doesn’t behave like anything he has ever seen. He reaches out to touch it, and it wobbles again, shying away from his touch. It feels odd to touch. Food is not supposed to be cool and silent, both mind-silent and voice-silent.

Every sense he has says it’s dead. But it won’t stop moving.

He prods it again, more violently. Its surface gives easily under the touch, his nail sinking deep into its jiggling form.

There is still no sound. The false fruit smell grows stronger, though.

It’s dead food, red food, wobbling all over the place like a new-hatched youngling, acting alive even if it isn’t.

Almost spitefully, he takes the spoon and strikes the wobbling mess with it. It splits, and keeps wobbling, mocking him.

It must be mocking him. Abyss is not about to let dead food get the better of him, not when live food never has, because he is old and clever, and maybe he’s a little bit broken, but he doesn’t wobble all over the place with no mind.

At least he doesn’t think he does. Sometimes, he knows that the Others don’t see things like he does, but then he forgets because something else is more important.

Like defeating the warm-bright, wiggling dead-food that still moves.

Using the spoon, he removes a chunk. It still wiggles, back and forth and back and forth like an arc pulse in the hyper drive, glittering and taunting. Even as he lifts the spoon, it tries to run. Dead but alive, inert yet fleeing. He almost wants it to run, so he can chase it down until it shudders in exhaustion and stops. But it doesn’t of course, because it’s dead, and just wobbles pathetically.

When he puts the spoon in his mouth and bites into it, it offers no resistance at all, parting like something congealed. It tastes like ethyl propionate and sugar, with a touch of fluorine derivatives. Even its taste is dead and false, but not exactly bad. Just artificial, like licking a hologram would, except he thinks that would be more electric.

Abyss likes electric. It dances through his body and makes him feel more alive than ever, fire-bright and sharp inside his veins. They feel so dull normally, like there’s no colour left inside him and it was all drained away in the tanks. But there are no lights inside him, so that might be why. No lights, no warmth, no colour. Just flesh and blood and wobbly warm-red dead food that moves like it’s alive and tastes like it never was.

It tastes of pretty lies, he decides, pretty lies and whispers, and things he has no name for but that he probably should.

And it wobbles, too.

He suddenly understands why his cousin likes the humans so much even when he wants to throttle them, because anyone can bake a pie, even is Abyss isn’t allowed to even try or Darkwater will scold him for forgetting what happened the last time, but it takes a special kind of people to make food that is dead and alive at the same time, and tastes like lies and broken memories.

Making an amused sound, he takes another spoonful.

It wobbles red-bright and entirely too animated.

Chapter Text

For all that the Ebonstar was small for a hive ship, her hull was a veritable maze of corridors intersecting and twining around each other. When the ship had first been grown, she had been a very small ship, unable to grow much larger when her Queen had little in the way of resources. Later, under the guidance of the Night Clan, the Hive had grown strong and so had their ship. She would never be as large as some of the truly impressive hive ships around, and her hallways were a labyrinthine mass of tunnels that had been added where needed, not where they’d seem logical.

The effect was more than a little haphazard.

Most of the crew’s personal quarters were in the upper segments of the ship, but the older sections of the ship were closer to the bottom, and there were still some quarters left down there. Their Hive was far from at full capacity, and as such, there were plenty of spare quarters, and there were no need to live down there in the ship core, but some still chose it.

Shimmer was on a mission.

A very important mission.

Blocking had never been his best skill, mostly because he hadn’t ever seen the point. With his blood-kin, he wasn’t ever going to be able to keep secrets anyway. His Sire was a master at Blocking but still folded like paper to the Primary’s mind, though to be fair, that might be related to the fact that his Sire was also the Clan Primary’s Consort and Blocking her out would not be in his best interest. His brother could Block their Mother-Queen out if he truly wanted to, but rarely chose to do so, because even if he played risky games, he did not normally want to risk angering one of the First Brood. Entirely understandable, Shimmer thought, because their Mother-Queen was scary enough when she was in a good mood.

Stealth might be a Night Clan trait, but Shimmer had never played by the rules, and normally he liked the attention.

Not while trying to avoid detection, though, which lead to the second reason he was using the lower corridors. There usually weren’t a lot of traffic down there.

He had bumped into Frost on the way down, the sub-commander busy with the masked warriors’ training, but the younger male hadn’t even reacted. Of course, Frost was Shard Clan. He was probably used to seeing stranger things than one of the Hive’s senior Wits skulking around. Most Blades tended to avoid getting involved with Wit strangeness anyway. Especially Blades mated to Wits, who knew perfectly well how strange they could get.

Shimmer had just grinned at the giant Blade and shared enough of his mind to show friendliness and relative harmlessness. He liked his sister-son’s mate. He was obviously good for him. Wisp hadn’t been anywhere near as terrifying as he normally was since he had bonded with Frost, which was a good thing. Shimmer’s life was a lot easier when the Wit Primary was not in scary mode. Sometimes, Wisp’s similarity to the Clan Primary was really, really unsettling.

He’d made his way as far into the ship core as he could easily get. If he wanted to go deeper into the core, he’d have to go climbing through the veins of the ship, which he preferred avoiding if he could. His goal wasn’t the core, though. It was the chambers closest to the core, hidden away in a part of the ship nobody ever ventured unless they had a task down there. Not that Shimmer’s task was exactly sanctioned by the Commander, but it hadn’t been forbidden, either, which he took as permission. His brother was normally very good at telling him what he wasn’t allowed to do.

Unlike most Night Clan males, Shimmer favoured Projection over Fading, and it was by far his strongest mind-gift. Like all of his skills, he had developed his own twist on it. With a little Discerning twined into his Projection, enough to match another’s mind-patterns, it was easy to override neural locks. It look little time and little effort to coax the door to opening for him, letting him slip inside.

Crow’s chambers were surprisingly cluttered for a Wraith whose task it was to keep everything in order on the Hive. Crow was frighteningly efficient in his role as Quartermaster, but worked so much and so hard he rarely had the time to deal much with his own space. Chirring to himself, Shimmer took it upon himself to clean things up a little. He’d never understand how Crow accumulated so much stuff so fast, though he supposed he had as much himself, he just usually didn’t have it all over the place. Once he was satisfied with that, he set about accomplishing his original mission.

The Ebonstar was trained to accept the commands of the Hive Wits, as they were the ones responsible for her upkeep. It only took a little urging from him to make her part her plating and allow him access to the wires beneath it, and he sent her a small tendril of gratitude. It was probably pointless, but he felt better when he felt he was treating the ship right.

/Do I even want to know what you are doing?/ Wisp’s mind curled into his like tendrils of smoke and mist.

Shimmer wasn’t surprised. Wisp’s job was not only to directly do research, it was also to keep track of the Hive’s Wits, his mind stretched across the Hive-bond like a net woven from mist and starlight. Before anything else, Wisp’s gift was Discerning, and he was a true master of it, his mind tied into the entire Hive without anyone feeling his presence.

/Probably not,/ Shimmer answered lazily, moving another wire to splice it into the feedback input.

There was no anger coming from the Wit Primary, only mild annoyance and amusement twined into one, bleeding through only because he allowed it. /Will this be a repeat of the last incident?/ The undertone of “if it is, I’m telling the Commander” was obvious.

Pulling another wire out of its socket and replacing it with one of the ones he’d spliced, Shimmer shook his head despite not being seen. /It should not be,/ he mused. The last incident had gotten a little out of hand, though he still held that Flood had overreacted somewhat and it wasn’t as though they’d needed that auxiliary generator at the time, anyway. /Crow works too much and rests too little. I am merely adding some incentive./

He sent the idea along the bond to show Wisp what he was planning. It wasn’t as though he could keep the younger Wit out even if he’d wanted to.

A mix of amusement and affection flooded back to him. /You will be paying for that for a long time,/ Wisp warned, though he seemed largely unconcerned.

/If it gets Crow to stop working and take some time to himself for a change, it will be worth it./ It would be, even if he’d have to do a lot of groveling to be forgiven. He didn’t really mind. He didn’t have a sense of dignity anyway, and he usually got something out of convincing Crow to forgive him.

/Just do not break anything,/ Wisp intoned and let his mind fade from Shimmer’s, gone like the mist that gave him his mind-name. In his wake, he left amusement and a whispered promise to detain Crow until Shimmer had finished his alterations.

Making a pleased sound to himself, Shimmer busied himself with finishing what he had started without the distraction his meddling sister-son posed. It wouldn’t be long until the next rest-cycle, and with a little luck and a lot of skill, Shimmer would make sure his friend actually got some rest for once.

Whether Crow wanted it or not.

Chapter Text

Here is the thing; Wraith society is built on ambition.

First is the ambition of the Queens, each one vying to be the strongest and most powerful, to have the widest influence and the most successful offspring. A Queen's ambition is measured in how widely known her name is, hers and those of her daughters. And sometimes even her sons. A clever, strong Queen can become stronger, can reach further, and maybe one day be Primary of her Clan, a Queen of Queens. Any Queen would want her name as known and feared as those of the First Brood, would want other Queens to beg alliances, presenting their sons for her Daughter-Queens to choose from and asking for her sons to be their Commanders, theirs and those of their Daughter-Queens. Whether she desires to be worshipped or feared, every Queen follows her ambition.

Second, then, is the ambition of the males. No male ever reaches the infamy of the strongest Queens, but a cunning male may become almost as well known. If he plays his cards right and attracts the right attention from the right Queen, males can be truly powerful in their own way. To any male, the truest form of honour is to wear the Clan-name as part of his Mind-name, an ambition shared by Blade and Wit alike. It is in Wraith nature to seek reputation, to be known for their deeds, and every male wants nothing more, and nothing less. Most males strive to one day be favoured by a Queen, a Commander or a Consort. Even those who do not desire to be strong, or to be clever, known and lauded for something. To prove themselves is the ambition of any male.

Third is the ambition of the Clan, third not because it is less strong but because it is less coordinated. All nine clans have their own ways and their own goals, but though they are forever connected, Wraith are not a collective. The individual ambitions often conflict with the clan ambition, and one Queen's gain may be another's setback, tilting the balance of the Clan and forcing everyone to adjust. Still, each clan seeks to be the strongest, the cleverest, and the most wide-spread. To reach this goal, every clan weaves a net of alliances and conquest, all trying to snare the other clans inside their weave.

There is also the ambition of the Hive, though its place in any given Wraith's life depends largely on both the Hive, its Queen and the individual Wraith. For some, it is everything. For others, it is an afterthought. It is always there, though, woven into the Hive-bonds like it belongs. Maybe it does.

So there it is. Ambition, though the nature of the ambition varies, is a constant in Wraith life, and helps shaping the individual Wraith into what they become.

And then there is Edge, who only knows one thing. He has no ambitions that are worth pursuing.

It is not that he considers himself worthless. He very much does not. While his bloodline is unimpressive at best and his Mother-Queen's name almost unknown, he is a capable fighter for his age and in perfect health. He is not particularly clever, that much is true, though he is not as much stupid as he is thoughtless and occasionally reckless, but he is more than smart enough to be a good Blade. He is smart enough to know when to follow orders and when to not follow blindly, which is all he needs. His brother has always been the smart one, and Edge is perfectly all right with that. He is the strong one.

But he is unremarkable for a Blade. Strong, yes, and just clever enough, but he is part of a Hive whose Blades are legendary. The Commander is a son of the First Brood, who fought the Skyclaimers in the Last Strike. He has defeated the Lifeless twice, and has the Clan Primary's favour more than any of her other sons do. His cunning is the subject of many tales, and he is as clever as a Wit when he needs be. He has been Commander to a Queen renowned for the her strength and that of her Hive, a creator of great alliance and a vanguard for his kin. He has suffered the severing of every hive-bond and imprisonment away from Hive and kin for longer than anyone should, only to come back even stronger.

His Hive is named in his honour, not for a Queen and not for a Hive-goal.

His trio of sub-commanders are almost as legendary.

There is Dustriver, brother of Snowdrop, the Commander's lost Queen, a legend herself for being the strongest River Clan Queen since the First Primary herself. Dustriver bears the Clan-name in his mind-name as a mark of his favour, yet rarely uses it, preferring to get by on his skill, not his name. Sharpjet is a Night Clan Blade, not blood-kin to the Commander but a friend, chosen as hive-kin. His greatest feat is that he is rarely noticed at all, for all that he is a tall, strong Blade. The shadows is home to him. Winterblade is even younger than Edge is, and one of his best friends on the Hive as well, but he is already sub-commander, already renowned for his relentless loyalty and skill with the massive blade he carries, as well for having the size of the Shard Clan without the wasteful cruelty.

Their Hive has many more Blades than they have Wits, but all their Blades are master soldiers.

Edge should feel overshadowed, he supposes. He does not. He will happily learn from any of the truly impressive Blades of his Hive, but he knows he has little chance of ever attaining such a name for himself.

Like all young Blades, he has tried to imagine himself as Commander, but he cannot see that ever happening. A Commander must be the best, and he is not the best. Far from it. Nor does he think he would ever be Consort; there are many Blades more impressive than him. He does not imagine these things for himself. It is much easier to imagine his brother attaining praise for his skill, and more important as well. Edge knows his place and his skill, knows what he is worth. Rust does not, and that saddens Edge. His brother is brilliant, but feels intimidated by the other Wits of their Hive.

Not like Edge, who is just impressed and inspired by the legends of their Hive.

If he has an ambition, it is to be all that he can be, no more and no less, and to help Rust attain the same. If he is to have a legacy, he would rather it be for being carefree and not for being ambitious.

He loves that about their strange human allies, once he gets past the idea of humans being more than just sustenance. They live so short but they make the most of their short lifespans, and though their lives can be filled with sorrow, they can also be filled with joy. Not that humans do not have ambitions, they certainly do, but it does not seem quite as bred into them, and it does not seem to always dictate their lives. At least not with every human.

Maybe Edge does have an ambition after all; an ambition to live like that, his life filled with what he loves the most, making the most of what he has.

It is not such a bad goal to aspire to.

Chapter Text

Atlantis is nothing like he had imagined and at the same time so much like he has seen in memories passed down from the First Brood. The city-ship of the Skyclaimers is the stuff of legends for his kin, though he has always known that it is more. His Sire was almost his age during the Last Strike, when they had driven the last of the Skyclaimers away and taken the galaxy for their own, and the memory-images of the city-ship has always been vivid in his mind. Much more so than in most of his similarly aged kin.

It is a strange, uncharted place, one of the few that has always before been closed to the Wraith.

Sliver is many things, but he is first and foremost clever. He could not avoid that, not with his Sire and his Mother-Queen both renowned for the same thing, and he knows he is on Atlantis to prove himself as much as he is there because the humans their Hive has allied with required help. They need engineers most of all, and while Sliver knows the basics of most the disciplines, he has not chosen his specialisation yet. At his age, that is unusual.

Of the four of the Hive there, he is the only one who has not. Even Rust, who is over two full cycle rotations younger than he is, has already chosen.

This is a test. For almost all of them, in fact. Rust is young and unknown to the Commander, and has to prove his loyalty. Thorn is much older than any of the others there, but he is also new, and he is Shard Clan, and not only has to prove himself, but also that he is not ruled by the clan insanity. Only Wisp is not being tested. The Commander trusts the Wit Primary implicitly.

It makes him a little wistful. If his Sire can treat his sister-son with trust, why not his own offspring? But Sliver knows why. He barely knows his Sire. He has to prove himself first. Wisp already has.

And so Atlantis is to be Sliver's trial.

He suspects he has already failed.

Wisp takes to Atlantis like he does everything else, sweeping about with a Queen's confidence. Rust is a strange mix of hesitant and eager and soon finds his own place among the engineers. Thorn is hard to read, but he seems pleased enough, dividing his attention between his work and human-baiting. But Sliver does not know what to do with himself. He volunteers where he can, drifting from place to place without much of a goal.

He prefers working in engineering. Engineering itself is not the specialization he will choose, but it is steady work and allows him to feel like he is at least doing something good. Working with Rust is nice, too. Of the new Hive, there are not many Sliver already know, and most of those are more than a little intimidating, and so he wants to make his own friends and allies, and Rust and his brother are the two closest to him in age.

He wonders if they ever feel lost like he does.

The other two of his Kin are harder to approach. Wisp is blood-kin to him, but he does not know him well. He knows Wisp's mother-queen well, though; most of Sliver's life so far has been spent on his Sire's sister-queen's Hive. Wildfire is a force of nature, and Wisp is nothing less, though his personality sharply differs from his mother-queen. He is intimidating in the same way that his Sire is, like so many of his Clan's males are. Wisp would like to know him better, but feels strangely hesitant to approach him.

Thorn is just terrifying. Beforer joining his new Hive, Sliver had never met any of the Shard Clan, but he had heard the stories about their fractured reasoning, and Thorn shows it well. Of the three Shard Clan males he has now met, Thorn is the one that worries him most. Abyss is clearly insane, so he already expects if from him, and Frost is surprisingly sane, obsessiveness aside. But Thorn has a calm, graceful surface hiding a broken and twisted inside and though he keeps it in control most of the time, Sliver never knows when he is going to slip.

Both his Sire and Shimmer seem to be willing to trust him, and Sliver wonders what it is they see that he does not. He feels a fool, frightened by his own Hive. It is no wonder he has been sent to prove himself.

If only he knew how.

Atlantis is his trial, and he knows he is going to fail.

All of his life, Sliver has been his Sire's son. His mother-queen's son. He carries much promise and much weight in his bones, and he knows he is expected to do something special. He has been someone with expectations hanging over him.

Now it has been taken away, and he has to stand on his own and be himself.

Unfortunately, Sliver has no idea who that actually is.

He would like nothing more than to honour his mother-queen's memory by excelling, to make his Sire trust him as he trusts his brother and sister-son. To make his clan proud.

He just does not know how.

He suspects he never will.

Chapter Text

He spends his first few cycles on the new Hive avoiding the others. It is not an easy thing to do, but Thorn has spent his entire existence avoiding notice. Among his clan, Discerning has always been the favoured skill, but his strength lies in Fading and Blocking. He does not wish to stand out. Standing out attracts attention and Thorn has had enough of attention for several life spans.

Blending in is always better. Those who cannot blend are taken aside and broken down until they fit in a mould not made for them, and Thorn is already broken.

Fortunately, the new hive ship is not new at all, but very old, older than Thorn is. She is a strong ship, but she is damaged, and Thorn spends cycles down in the deepest clusters, reconnecting nerve-links and coaxing them to regrow. He does not mind. It is easy work. Thorn has spent his life doing all the maintenance for four different ships. Being free to focus on one is almost a relief.

He likes this hive ship better than any of the ones he has tended to before. She feels better to his mind, less frayed and worn thin, stretched over spikes and serrated edges. Nestling in her core as he reconnects her neural net is almost peaceful.

Thorn has not known peace before. He thinks he might like it.

It is not a surprise, then, when he finds something that nearly feels peaceful, that the others choose then to approach him.

He has climbed a section of the wall to reach a higher up panel, and has most of his torso lodged inside it as he works. His mind-gifts hide him well, but they also limit his own perception, and he does not notice the other's presence until his mind has already fanned out around his like a net.

/Come talk to me,/ the Wit Primary tells him, and though he is younger than Thorn, his mind is heavy against his, snaring him like he is prey, not kin.

It is unwelcome, too much like Queen to his already frayed mental state, but Thorn knows better than to disobey. Mistwhisper is Night Clan, and even Night Clan males are renowned for their strength and cunning.

It is because of a Night Clan male Thorn is even there. His Sister-Queen had not wanted him to leave, but even a Queen could lose mind-games when dealing with one of the Primary's sons. Deserthaze – who has told Thorn to call him by Shimmer, his hive-name – is legendary enough, and had easily plucked Thorn from his Shard Clan life and brought him here on seemingly a whim. The Hive Commander took one look at his brother's offering as Shimmer presented Thorn as a Shard Clan Wit, all three of them knowing that the Shard Clan does not have Wits, and accepted his presence on his Hive.

Thorn does not know what to make of it.

He carefully makes his way out from the panel and drops to the floor, keeping his gaze lowered. Mistwhisper is younger, but he ranks higher, and though his former Hives have never had a Wit Primary, Thorn knows the danger of provoking someone with more power. He has not learned his new Hive yet. He does not yet know what angers the higher ranked males, what to avoid doing – or what to do when he needs to feel the punishment on his body – and so he decides to play it safe for now.

/I almost cannot sense you,/ Mistwhisper tells him, and to his astonishment, there is appreciation in his mind-voice as he Speaks. /Your mind-gifts are impressive./

They are, because they has to be. Thorn is not a fool. He knows what happens to the males of his Clan, has seen too many of them disintegrate into incoherence. His mind-gifts are the walls with which he holds himself together, and if they are not strong, he thinks he would have faded into emptiness a long time ago.

He does not reply, just acknowledges, and wishes he could just Fade and go away.

Mistwhisper looks up at him, calculating. For all that he is Night Clan in almost every feature, the slight taper to his ear and the hint of silicate green to his eyes mark him as having River Clan blood. It is a common pairing for a reason. The two clans are stronger together than apart.

/You have done all of this alone,/ Mistwhisper states, looking at the neural links coming together at the central cluster. Without orders, Thorn expects, his instincts warning him he is on thin ground. The Commander of this Hive seems more appreciative of Wit instincts, but Thorn has not earned the right to autonomy.

However, the expected rebuke never comes. Instead, Mistwhisper looks almost pleased, inspecting the neural links briefly. /This means I do not have to ask Shimmer to do it,/ he sends, mind-impression tinged with satisfaction. /A relief both for me and the Hive as a whole./

Surprised and caught off balance by the unexpected response, Thorn is unable to contain a spike of amusement from breaking through his barriers.

The look and mind-feel Mistwhisper gives him is not mocking, nor is it full of condescending pity. Instead, it is curiosity, contemplation and the strange and unfamiliar warmth of understanding. He smiles and his mind echoes it. /We are kin, you and I,/ he informs him, almost kindly.

Night Clan does not readily claim outsiders as kin, and Thorn is momentarily taken back at the statement. There is technically truth to the words – Mistwhisper's mate is blood-kin to Thorn, though they have never really met – but a blood-kin bond to a mate does not necessarily mean kin. It does not necessarily mean anything at all.

Thorn is Shard Clan. They have always had an interesting approach to blood-ties, as evidenced by the fact that his Mother-Queen and Sire both are blood-kin to him twice over. To his clan, blood-ties are there to separate the Shard Clan from everyone else. To be named kin because of a blood-tie to a wayward brother, long since exiled from the Clan, is not something Thorn has learned to accept.

The other clans tend to avoid the Shard Clan as best they can, and Thorn does not blame them at all. If the clan did not run in his veins, he would have broken free if he had been given half a chance. He has never had that chance. Instead, he has a mind-feel that radiates every one of his clan's worst traits and none of the best. He cannot even begin to understand what made the Commander allow his presence on his Hive, though he is helplessly relieved that he did.

Even so, he is not confident. It is well known that the Night Clan has an agenda that they do not share with any other clan, and not always with their own. Thorn has little skill in Discerning, but even if he did, he would not dare try use it on the Commander of his new Hive. He doubts that one gives up his secrets easily. Nor, he imagines, does Mistwhisper, whose mind-presence permeates the entire Hive like a fine mesh. Nothing evades the Wit Primary if he wants to know it.

They want something from him. Thorn knows that. But he has no idea what that might be, and he suspects they will not get what they want. He is an expert of Blocking, but in the face of a fully Hive-linked Mindblade, he has no illusions of his strength. They will soon see his blood betray his will, as it always does with his Clan. No matter how much they struggle, eventually they will break. Most of his Clan chose to just give in and spare themselves the pain.

Pain is the only thing Thorn has to keep him grounded, and he would take agony to keep hold of his sense of self any day. Sometimes, he uses that, claws his arms open until he feels enough to make him focus again. Maybe somewhere, he still holds the hope that if insanity is in his blood, he can get rid of it if he just bleeds enough. He knows better, of course, but knowing and feeling are two separate things and when his entire Hive feels like an ocean of rage and madness, it has to hurt if he wants to stay afloat.

Thorn knows he is broken. He just wonders how long it will take his new Hive to see that, how long he has before he is cast aside and has to return to the downward spiral that is his Clan. Though he has not dared to drop his Blocking in the new Hive, he already knows it is different. It is not a swirling mess where he has to constantly claw his way to the surface or drown in the insanity of thousands of others. Instead, it feels like a neural net, like the one he was repairing, everything flowing into their predetermined place.

This Hive functions, and though Thorn finds that a comfort, he also finds it terrifying. This Hive functions, and he does not, and when they realise that, he will have to leave. Though he is good with pain, he thinks he'll find the loss of the safety and calm of a functioning Hive too much to bear.

In fact, he is surprised he has not already been discovered for what he is. He is standing in a chamber with a Hive-linked Mindblade who has Discerning as his primary mind-gift, and who is looking at him as though he can see right through him. Surely he must have seen Thorn's core, seen the madness running through him like a virus.

However, Mistwhisper is currently just watching him, head slightly tilted to the side. There is no judgement in his mind-feel, no anger, just curiosity and what almost feels like satisfaction, though Thorn cannot imagine any scenario in which his mind-feel could ever evoke satisfaction. Whatever it is, Thorn does not expect to be informed. The Night Clan holds their secrets close to their cores.

/You are doing well with the neural links,/ Mistwhisper tells him, his mind dragging across the neural net like a fine-meshed web. /The Commander wishes to have the core fully integrated by the next cycle-circuit. Can you manage that?/

It is not a long window of time, but it is long enough. Thorn is used to having to be everywhere on a ship at once. If given a single focus, he can easily do that, especially if he waits to feed. He is used to going without feeding until he finishes a task. /I can do it,/ he promises, then retreats, unused to having his mind directly connected to another. In his former Hive, he had always avoided direct connections.

He has to wonder what the Commander's plans are. Full integration is not necessary for getting a hive ship into orbit, or even to begin travelling. It is, however, necessary for combat.

The Commander is not known to readily share his plans, however, and Thorn does not expect to ever be told. Mistwhisper might know, but he doubts he will share, either. That is all right. Thorn does not need to know to do the task he has been given. Truthfully, he does not mind not knowing. His mind is busy enough as it is, and though he likes having a focus, having too many always just makes him get tangled up. He cannot remember the last time he has had the luxury of not having a myriad of tasks waiting for him.

/I will leave the neural net in your hands, then,/ Mistwhisper says, and there is genuine pleasure in his mind-feel, pleasure and satisfaction of knowing a task is in capable hands. /Once you have finished your task, you should come see us. Frost would like to meet you properly.

Thorn is not sure whether he wants to meet his brother or not. Winterblade is an exile, which is a point in his favour, but he is also a Shard Clan Blade, and Thorn does not have the best of experience with his blood-kin Blades. His Clan is prone to violence even when in a good mood. He does not think Mistwhisper would allow his mate to take any violent urges out on him. The Mindblade would not accept that from anyone. That does not mean that he would not let him take the urges out on someone else, though, and Thorn is not entirely sure he could stop it if he tried.

He is not sure he would even try. He has been given a home here, where his skills are appreciated, and for that he would bear any pain imaginable.

The strange pressure of Mistwhisper's mind-feel grows, and Thorn suddenly realises that he has angered the other male severely, but the expected reaction does not come. There is anger coming off of him, but it is not specifically directed at him. /You will join us./ It is no longer a request. /There is much we shall have to discuss, and now is not the time./ His Speech is slightly tinged with another mind-feel, and Thorn realises that he is not the only one Mistwhisper is Speaking to at the moment.

Mistwhisper moves to leave, but lingers on in the doorway, watching Thorn with an unreadable expression on his face. /You will find, Boneshrike, that this is a Hive very different from those you are accustomed to. I understand that it will take you some time to adjust, but I hope you will manage. If you can adapt, I believe you will do well here./

The affirmation Thorn gives in response likely feels as false to Mistwhisper as it does to him, but the Wit Primary does not comment further, his mind-presence withdrawing into his other conversation.

Thorn watches him leave, beginning to realise more than ever that the Night Clan reputation is very well deserved. Mistwhisper's anger had felt like a Queen's, but without the sudden lash of pain that always follows. It also had not felt as focused.

Were he anyone else, he would have thought that the Wit Primary was not as angry at him as he was angry at his behalf, but he is not about to start having delusions now. Not when he has managed to hold onto what little sanity he has left so far, by weaving Blocking around him like a cocoon. He will have to build better walls. Letting anyone in never ends well, and if he breaks one more time, he is no longer convinced he can put the pieces back together.

Slowly, he unclenches fists he has not realised he has made, letting the pain as his claws slip free of his palms serve to ground him. He has a task to do, and he will not fail his new Hive already.

He cannot put himself back together, but he can repair the neural net.

Thankfully, the ship is more resilient than he is.

Chapter Text

Once it becomes obvious to Wisp that he is making the humans somehow uncomfortable, he cannot help himself. It is a Night Clan trait he shares with most his blood-kin. Sometimes, it is hard to resist the urge to prod and push, just to see the reactions. The humans react so vividly, too, the reaction showing from their core out, not like Wraith who subdue their reactions to avoid giving anything away.

It is easy to see why the Commander enjoys baiting them so much, waiting until they are almost comfortable to suddenly and sharply remind them that he is Wraith, sending them onto unstable ground again. He likes seeing them mentally grope for something safe and familiar.

It is a sentiment Wisp finds he wholeheartedly shares.

Especially because the things about him that make humans uncomfortable are the most trivial things. Wisp is used to being able to make other males uncomfortable at times – it is the gift, and the curse, of a Mindblade. He is something between male and Queen, but not of either, and that makes them understandably uncertain as to how to treat him. The ways of treating a male and a Queen are widely different, and it is hard to balance the two.

That is not what bothers the humans, nor is it the potential threat his mental gifts present, probably because they do not understand them. Instead, the humans are unsettled by insignificant things.

For a male, Wisp is small. Not just his height, which is lacking even for a Queen, but also in general build. Wits are always more slender built than Blades, not training their bodies nearly as hard as they train their minds, and Wisp does not have the genetics to build mass. Of his lineage, he most strongly resembles the Clan Primary, his features echoing Nightrose more than they echo his Mother-Queen. That is not to say that Wisp looks necessarily female, but to humans, whose perception of feminine is simply aesthetic and not accompanied by the sheer presence of a Queen, he looks considerably more delicate than his hive-kin.

Of course, the assumption that being female, or just feminine, equals weakness is an attitude that no Wraith would ever share. It is an attitude he finds puzzling even in humans, because he has seen Teyla Emmagan fight, and most Lantean males have been defeated by her during sparring. She reminds him of his Sister-Queen like that. One day, he would like to see them meet. He suspects they would either hate each other or get along very well. It is of course true that Queens are not as strong physically as males are, but they have never needed to be.

Whatever the case, his perceived femininity makes many human males uncomfortable, especially among the Blades. Wisp supposes he should take it as a compliment, honestly. He will be the first to admit that he is rather vain, and though he has no physical interest in humans as anything but a food source, it is somewhat flattering to have such an impact on them. It is not quite the effect he is used to having on males, but he will take what he gets.

That is part of the root of the human reaction, as well. Because Wisp is an apparently feminine and delicate-appearing male, he is apparently a threat to their masculinity somehow, though he is not sure how that works. Whatever it is, it means that he gets to hear a surprising variety of insults about his preferences when they think he is not listening. Clearly, many of these humans are more busy thinking up rude words for anyone unlike them than reading basic reports that would have informed them just how sharp Wraith hearing is.

Wisp cannot even be bothered being insulted. For one thing, he does not put all that much stock in human opinions in the first place. It is hard to take them serious when he considers the fact that they are barely more than nestlings, barely old enough to feed. More importantly, such insults depend on the recipient feeling ashamed at something, and Wisp has never felt shame at his disinterest in females. Aesthetically, he can certainly see the attraction. Some of his Clan Queens are absolutely stunning, and know how to show it off. However, he has never felt attraction to a Queen before.

It is a simple fact of life, and the humans do not seem to realize that Wraith do not consider these things as humans do. There are far fewer Queens than there are males, and many males seek company and pleasure with each other instead. Some, like Wisp, has no interest in females at all. There is no shame in that, only the knowledge that that is how things are. It is no more or less important to what Wisp can do than the crests on his skin are, just something that is part of his identity.

Frost, of course, flares bright with anger once he learns of the insults, because he is extremely protective. As much as Wisp loves it when his mate is in protective modus, he still calms him down, leaning into him with body and mind both. Acting in anger would only hurt the Commander’s plans, and it is very much not necessary at this point. It is much more appropriate to take note of those who would insult him and calmly report their names to Sheppard, with a suggestion that they should really have that kind of attitude knocked out of them with some compulsory bantos training. Wisp has never been one for open conflict.

As it turns out, Athosians and Satedans alike have little patience for insults against women and same-gendered pairs, and are all too happy to help correct such attitude.

For his part, Wisp finds that the best way to antagonize humans with such attitude is to go against Night Clan tradition and flaunt things a little. Not in a way that is inappropriate in public, but with little things – leaning into Frost, touching his feeding hand to his, fingers laced together. Frost catches on quickly and finds the game fun, placing his arm around Wisp’s waist when they are not busy, just holding him close. It is not unlike their behaviour among their Hive, though maybe a little more physical. The humans cannot feel how interlaced their minds are, the way they almost feel like a single entity.

In comparison, the rings Frost makes them to wear, according to Earth customs, seem almost laughable. If such jewellery can be worn out in a human lifespan, it is far too flimsy for Wraith. Frost takes it as a challenge, though, creating their rings from an alloy of chitin and tungsten with a carved pattern branching across the surface. Wisp’s ring has amber set into it as well. They are gorgeous pieces of work, as Frost’s creations usually are, and strange human custom or not, Wisp kind of likes the black band around his finger.

It works, too, obviously making the humans feel unsettled, except that the nature of their unsettlement has changed. It is no longer about the fact that they are both males, not since Sheppard had a long talk about what was and was not acceptable behaviour from his men. Whatever he said, it has scared them. For a human, he is quite impressive sometimes. It is no wonder the Commander has named him an equal.

Now, the humans seem almost unwilling to acknowledge them at all, and it puzzles Wisp until he pieces it together from fragments of conversations and thoughts.

The bands on their hands have cemented that there is more than a sexual bond between himself and Frost, and the humans find that hard to consolidate with the image they have of Wraith as soulless monsters. Wisp can be a monster if it suits his needs, but so, he suspects, can many humans. He is ruthless, yes, and sometimes cruel, but those traits do not exclude the ability to love. That gets to him where the insults did nothing. Even among animals, love creates strong bonds, and the humans’ refusal to see Wraith as being capable of such things is far worse an insult than any slight about his femininity could ever be.

Being compared to a Queen is no insult. Being considered less than an animal is.

Wisp finds himself loving the black ring encircling his finger, worn always on his feeding hand, as it keeps making the humans uncomfortable. He wants them to see that they are not the only ones capable of meaningful bonds, that there is, to borrow from the Commander, much about Wraith they have yet to learn. Wraith are not human and human are not Wraith, and there is much left to be learned on both sides, but the knowledge that the humans thought them incapable of feeling love burns in his stomach. It seems an arrogant belief for a species who does not even know what it feels like to find someone whose mind fits perfectly with their own, interlacing and entwining until their mind-feels were partially indistinguishable. Frost has been the echo of his mind for longer than any of these humans have been alive.

Still, not all humans seem as surprised and unsettled by their rings. Many of the human Wits do not appear to even have noticed them, which is the way of a Wit with a task. Teyla Emmagan says nothing, but seems accepting of the idea, having seen more of Wraith minds than any other human. Ronon Dex does not care at all. To him they are monsters no matter what, but having seen what the Shard Clan has wrought at Sateda, Wisp cannot blame him. Instead, he makes sure to never let him know that Frost is Shard Clan, even if he was exiled long before Sateda fell.

Sheppard looks at their rings sometimes with an unreadable expression. The human commander is a strange male, but he does make a good match for the Commander. He does know that there is more to Wraith than just the hunger, has felt it in his core. Wisp wonders how his mind would echo were he Wraith. What trace of mind-feel he has now feels like flying very fast, or possibly plummeting. It is hard to tell the difference.

A lot of their talks with the Atlantis humans are centred around the idea that if they are to be true allies, the Wraith must learn to see the humans as more than food.

It seems to Wisp that there is a two-way street there, and that Wraith are not the only ones who must learn.

His Kin can be monsters, that much is true. They can also be so much more. And they are not the only ones who can be monsters, either.

Neither of their species are without monsters and cruelty, and neither without love.

In their fragile alliance, still in the hatchling stage, neither side get to claim moral high ground. They cannot afford that.

Of course, this means Wraith must learn, too, but Wisp is a Wit, and he is used to learning. Sometimes, he does not like the results, but that does not mean dismissing them. He will do the same for the humans. There is more to them than first expected, more he must learn before he can pass any judgement.

But his learning will be done with a black ring on his finger as a reminder to the humans, and an echo in his mind as a reminder to himself.

It is not only the drones that wear masks.

Theirs are just more obvious.

Chapter Text

Shimmer leaves the deep and meaningful bonds with humans to his brother.

He does not mind the humans, and is in fact quite impressed with what they manage to do with such short life-spans. Sometimes, he even enjoys their company quite a bit. He works less with humans than many of his fellow Wits, presumably because he also works with things that explode more often than not, and while Shimmer can walk away from an explosion, humans probably could not. They are far more resilient than he had expected, but they are still fragile compared to Wraith. Most living beings are.

Creating even an imitation of a hive-bond to someone who lives such a brief life seems to him to be inviting grief, and as little as he wants to admit it, death is one thing Wraith definitely do not handle as well as humans, probably because to humans, death is inevitable. To Wraith, it is unfortunate. All Wraith know that the likelihood of dying is high, and are prepared to accept that, but it is hard for them to accept the idea of death being a certainty.

His brother, however, has never been one to follow tradition. All Night Clan males tend to stubbornness, and Shimmer is no exception himself, but his brother takes it to extremes some times.

Of course, his stubbornness is probably what helped him stay alive for so long, even when severed from the hive-bonds and sealed away. Wraith are strong, but even they have a breaking point.

From what he understands from impressions and fragments of memory he has picked up from the hive-bond, his brother had more than reached that point.

And then a human gave him back hope.

Maybe his brother’s attachment to the humans, or at least that particular human, is understandable.

Humans cannot sustain a proper bond, though it would seem that if they could, the human commander would be Hive. If they could, Shimmer would gladly accept that bond, because Sheppard saved his brother and Commander. That inspires gratitude even in someone as cynical as Shimmer admittedly has become. Besides, they obviously enjoy each other’s company when they are not threatening to kill each other.

Shimmer has a great number of brothers, and even a few Sister-Queens, but he has always been the closest to his brother-commander. Possibly because his brother always had some patience to find for Shimmer when he was still a young nestling, full of questions and wide-eyed energy. Possibly because they share the same rawness of their mind where their Queens once echoed but has since unravelled. Possibly, and most probably, because they are both scions of Nightrose in more than just blood, sharing the same promise and the same legacy.

Whatever the case, Shimmer knows he would place his brother-commander’s happiness before his own, because a happy Commander is beneficial for the Hive and a happy brother is beneficial for them all. If what makes him happy is an almost-bond with someone who cannot fully be Hive, that is not something Shimmer will protest to.

The cynical part of him points out that there is no point in protesting. Even if he had not approved, that would only have caused turmoil in the Hive if he had shared his opinion. It would have been better to just wait. Humans never live that long, and Sheppard is too proud to accept the Gift as a worshipper, and not ready to accept it as brother.

He does not disapprove, though.

His brother-commander is an ambitious male, full of plans layered over plans and half-truths hiding secrets away under carefully constructed layers. Their Mother-Queen, a Primary of the First Brood, finds her oldest living son hard to read, as did Snowdrop when she still lived. Both of them have named him for it, both his hive-name and mind-name reflecting this. Not many males can lay claim to frustrate even Queens. Shimmer is probably one of his brother-commander’s closest confidants, along with their sister-son and Drought, and even so, he rarely knows what the Commander plans.

The only one who possibly knows everything the Commander plans is Abyss, and Shimmer does not wish to delve into his mind. Abyss cannot Block at all, his Discerning always at full strength, but his mind also has no walls and anyone who brushes too far into his mind-feel drowns in the depths.

Sheppard is part of the Commander’s plans, and seems aware of this to a certain extent. He is more observant than he appears, and he has realised that the Wraith he has almost somehow befriended is a schemer by nature. It does not seem to bother him overly much as long as there is no overt threat to his own Hive, which makes sense. A good Commander always defends his Hive and his Queen, and Atlantis has no hive-queen. Steelflower does not quite count. She is Queen, but she is not queen of Atlantis. Sheppard knows this, and he also knows when he can trust the Commander and when he cannot, a lesson many of their own kin has not yet learned.

But even when they are at odds, there is no real resentment. Somehow, they have accepted each other for who they are, flaws included.

Had Sheppard been Wraith, theirs would have been a unusually strong hive-bond.

As it is, they are friends as long as circumstances allow them to be, and whenever they can, they seem to enjoy spending time together, talking and learning.

Shimmer finds it amusing to see his brother lower his guard like that, because he only does so for a very few members of their Hive and even fewer outside the Hive. Once, his name had reflected that he was often the first to choose new ways. That has not changed, even if his name has, and certainly, no other Wraith has added a human to their core-bonds.

But then, it should not surprise anyone. Sheppard has given the Commander yet another name, and he has accepted that name, responds to it when the humans use it as though it was his hive-name.

Names have meaning to Wraith, and so has naming someone.

One day, Shimmer thinks, grinning to himself as he pretends to be busy while keeping his senses on his brother-commander and Sheppard, he will tell the human exactly what the implications of renaming a male is.

Sheppard may have grown comfortable with their friendship, but he was not at the time he gave the Commander that name, and he would not be comfortable if he knew the truth.

Only Queens ever rename males, and only when they seek to claim them for their own.

Shimmer will tell him someday, because it is not like the Commander ever would. Someday. It will be worth whatever his brother-commander comes up with as punishment for sharing information, and for upsetting the human.

He just wants to make sure there is a way to record the reaction available first. Some things deserve to be made eternal.

Chapter Text

/What, exactly, are we doing?/ Gale looked at the gathered pile of stuff on the desk, trying to understand what was going on, and more importantly, why he was part of it.

Edge grinned at him, that particular grin that meant nothing good was going to happen. /We are making cookies,/ he said, mind bright with excitement.

Gale glared at him, but the younger Blade took no notice. He growled, low and annoyed, and resisted the urge to march out of there immediately. /Why are we making human food?/

/Because we can?/ Edge suggested. /Also, some of the Atlantis Blades said they did not think we could do so. It is a matter of pride./

Making a derisive sound, Gale wondered what was wrong with his hive-kin. It was something he often wondered.

/I would not expect better from you two,/ he said, projecting it directly at the twins before turning to Frost, who was trying not to crowd the small room with his presence and not quite managing. /You usually have better sense, though./

The large Blade tilted his head forwards a little, his mind-feel tinged with slight embarrassment. /Wisp likes cookies./

Of course he did. Gale had known Wisp his entire life, and considered him part of his hive-core. He knew all about Wisp’s fondness for human sweets for the sake of the pleasure of taste alone. He also knew that Frost would happily trip over himself trying to keep his mate happy, so he supposed he should not be surprised that Frost had joined the twins in their oddball idea.

/I believe the question should be what I am doing here,/ he told them slowly, trying to infuse his mind-feel with just enough menace to remind Edge that he was an older and higher ranked Blade.

From the ridiculous grin on Edge’s face, he had not managed.

/You are here because we asked nicely?/ The question came out in a way that it was obvious Edge did not take it seriously.

Clearly, their definition of nicely was flawed, as they had all but corralled him. At least Frost had the sense to stay out of that. /I suspect,/ he informed them all, / That I am here because you know all too well the Commander does not let you experiment unsupervised, and Storm and Wisp both are scarier than I am./

He would have been offended if it was not for the fact that he considered them both scarier, as well.

Edge and Rust both looked guilty, their mind-feels flushing with it. Frost mostly projected as warm fondness, but that was his default reaction to any mention of Wisp. He was entirely too predictable like that.

/Who else are you involving in this foolish endeavour?/ Gale would appreciate not having to suffer alone.

Grinning still, Edge gave an amused sound. /I have asked Shimmer to join us,/ he said. Before Gale could protest, he continued. /That way, we will have an explanation if things go wrong./

Gale had to bite back the spike of amusement that surged through him at that. He supposed that was a good strategy. Shimmer had an interesting approach to most subjects, which tended to involve fire or explosions in ways that even a Blade knew should not be possible. Not that Shimmer was not brilliant, he was just volatile and unpredictable, and so were the things he preferred working with. Edge’s reasoning, while technically disrespectful towards an older hive-member, was a sound one.

/Very well,/ he said, having decided that it would be quicker to just go along with the idea, even if it was a strange one. /Explain these cookies./

It was Rust who took over that part, as he was the one who had the sense to look up a description of how to make the cookies, and who had altered the hardware for somewhere to actually cook. Without his twin, Edge’s strange ideas would rarely get off of the ground.

Taking the tablet from Rust, Gale looked at the recipe. It was fairly basic. He was not a Wit, but he did have a general idea of basic chemistry, and it was obvious what the intent was. An acid-base reaction would release gas, causing the cookies to get aerated and rise. He was also not an expert in human foods, but it was clear that this was something that was intended for a treat, far more sugar and butter than what was strictly healthy.

Wisp would probably love them.

The twins had somehow acquired all the ingredients needed, which was good, because most of them were not something they could go borrow a worshipper and send them shopping for. Gale picked up a bottle and uncorked it, almost dropping it as the scent hit him. It was not a bad smell, not by far, but it was intense. The others seemed to agree, judging by the feel of bewilderment coming off of them. Putting the cork back on, Gale put the bottle back onto the desk. It would be better to leave that covered until it was needed.

The door opened to allow Shimmer inside, along with Boneshrike, who managed somehow to seem nervous and highly annoyed at the same time. It was an interesting mixture.

Gale did not know Boneshrike well. The Wit had an aversion to most social interaction with the Hive, especially with the Blades, and Gale was not about to force his company on someone who clearly did not want it. He was surprised that Shimmer had managed to get him to come along at all, though he was pleased he did. There were those who chose to avoid others because it was natural for them, but Boneshrike’s avoidance was obviously rooted in something that had been inflicted on him. There was something fascinating about the other male, though, and Gale was pleased at the chance to learn more about him.

Besides, there was something to be said for not being the only one in the room who did not want to be there. He allowed Shimmer to press past him to get at the ingredients, falling back to stand next to Boneshrike. The other male did not even notice, his attention focused elsewhere. The tension in his body was evident, and the mind-feel coming off of him was like walls of sharp-thorned wood.

In his corner, Frost carefully sat down on a workbench in an obvious attempt to seem smaller. It did not really help much, considering his sheer mass. What did help was him bringing his Blocking up masterfully, directing his barriers to avoid brushing against Boneshrike’s thorny ones. It was immediately evident that it had an effect, Boneshrike’s pose and mind-feel both feeling a little less caged.

It had to be strange to feel that unsafe around your own blood-kin, Gale mused. He had never considered it. Granted, the only of his blood-kin he saw regularly was Sliver, and Sliver was probably the least scary Wraith in their bloodline. The River Clan was not known for their intimidating effect, of course, but they were still usually scarier than Sliver.

In fact, Gale was surprised Sliver had not been roped into this pointless experiment already.

/He is still in his work-cycle,/ Shimmer informed him, brushing his mind against Gale’s like a hazy cloud of warm air. /He will be joining us later./

Gale had not shared that thought in the hive-mind, but Shimmer had Discerning, and little shame in monitoring others. Clearly, Gale needed to work on his Blocking more. Perhaps he should ask Frost to teach him. There were several masters of the Blocking skill in their Hive, but the Commander was too busy and Boneshrike was an unknown factor. He was fairly sure Frost would teach him if he asked, though. With Gale closer to Wisp than to most of his blood-kin, the massive Blade was all but bond-kin to him, even if they had not also been friends.

Passing the tablet back to Rust, Gale made a small, resigned sound and leaned back to watch the madness unfold.

As it turned out, even a basic recipe could create a lot of mess in the hands of someone untrained. Both twins managed to coat themselves in enough flour to look mostly ridiculous, and Shimmer had apparently misread something and turned the sugar into a sticky, burning chemical weapon. Possibly, he did it on purpose. It was hard to tell with Shimmer.

Sliver arrived it time to have to dodge a flying egg. It flew through the open door behind him and exploded against a wall with a wet crack. They all winced a little at that. At least this part of the hive was largely abandoned.

Through the hive-bonds, Gale could feel Frost instructing one of the Masked to clean it up for them. Dragging a sub-commander into this mess might not have been such a bad idea after all.

After another egg cracked, this one from hitting the floor, Boneshrike gave an annoyed hiss and took the remaining eggs away from the twins, deftly cracking one of them into the bowl and separating the other into white and yolk. He passed them back without comment, then paused, looking down at his hands as though he could not quite believe he had done that.

Pleased to see that, Gale brushed against his mind with an appreciative thread, but it rolled off on the heavy shielding like a wave would. He wondered if Boneshrike knew that his Blocking did not just keep hostile minds out. He suspected not. In fact, he was not entirely sure the other male understood the concept of a non-hostile mind.

Better to leave him alone for now, Gale supposed, and focus on keeping the twins and Shimmer from setting fire to their attempted cookies. It was a frightening thought to consider that he was probably the most balanced mind in the room currently. Frost was a sensible sort, but prone to distraction because his attention was elsewhere. Or on someone else, rather, who was in a meeting with the Commander at the moment, if Gale was not mistaken. Sliver had more sense than the twins did, but was bad at standing up to them and telling them when they were doing things they should not.

Shimmer, of course, was permanently up to no good, and Boneshrike clearly had his own issues to deal with before trying to deal with someone else’s.

Mostly, it meant that if something did explode, Shimmer would probably get the blame, but Gale would get the responsibility, because he was the one who was supposed to know better. He did not think the Commander would be bribed by cookies.

Though considering that Sliver was now also covered in flour and sticky dough, and Shimmer had partially glued his fingers together with the sugar concoction, the Commander might be too busy laughing at his blood-kin to scold Gale. He could hope as much, at least.

In the end, there was no explosions involved, so Gale decided to consider it a successful attempt. Their cookies looked rather strange, but they smelled nice. He had no concept of what they were supposed to taste like, but the warm, rich taste was highly pleasant, even if it did not affect his hunger. He suspected that was not the intent of cookies for humans, either. The amount of sugar in them meant that they were very hot, only marginally less so than the sugar-based ignition agent Shimmer apparently had concocted, so Gale let his cool down first, stifling amusement and laughter at Shimmer and Edge, who had not considered that far.

They would heal. He had little sympathy for them.

Incredibly, even Boneshrike seemed to enjoy the sight, though he still stifled it beneath heavy shielding. His posture and mind-feel were more relaxed than Gale had ever seen him, though.

Shimmer’s mind brushed his again, no words shared, but warm with the pleasure of a plan come to fruition. Gale paused, but didn’t let it show, filtering through the mind-threads to hang on to that one. It was easy to forget that there was a method to Shimmer’s randomness, even if it was not readily apparent. The older male was Night Clan, though, despite being an atypical one, so of course there were layers upon layers of his plans.

/The right suggestion in the right place is a powerful tool,/ Shimmer agreed readily, munching on his cookie. /And a small seedling can crack even the toughest walls with enough time./

Gale could not quite hold back his surprise, though Shimmer’s response was thankfully light amusement rather than smugness.

/You have a lot to learn still,/ Shimmer purred mentally, warm contentment in his mind-feel.

He was probably right. Gale did have a lot to learn still.

Though at least, for what it was worth, he had learned how to make cookies. It was not a bad start.

Chapter Text

It was always the mixed emotions that got to him. Rain was pragmatic, and quite proud of that, and rarely let his emotions rule his actions, but when he did, it was always the complex feelings that got through to him, the emotions that were layered neatly over each other.

Like now, when he did not know whether he was proud or annoyed that the younglings had escaped his notice for so long. Mostly, it was a bit of both. Males rarely knew for certain if they had fathered offspring, but Rain were lucky enough to know that this particular trio of hatchlings were his progeny, and it was hard not to feel pride at the fact that they could already sneak up on much older Wraith.

Even if he was annoyed he was the one they had sneaked up on.

Most of it was Cloud’s doing, he suspected. Of the trio, Wisp was the one who showed the strongest gifts, but Cloud had Fading as his strongest gift, unlike his pod-siblings, both of which had inherited Discerning from Rain.

/You should all be in your sleeping pods,/ Rain told the three of them, though there was little genuine rebuke in his mind-feel as he did. The rebuke would be for whoever was supposed to guard the hatchery chamber and had missed the trio slipping out.

Such lax guarding would not do.

Three pair of eyes peered up at him from behind the desk they’d chosen as their hiding spot. Two of them almost identical; the only real difference between Wisp and Ripple at their current age was Ripple’s dark hair, marking her as a Queen. A Night Clan Queen if Rain had ever seen one; Wildfire’s hair was bright red, but her kin queens were almost all dark-haired. Rain’s Clan Queens were normally pale-haired, hard to tell apart from the males. Cloud was not quite as close to the other two in appearance, squarer and almost bulky of feature for a mix between River and Night Clan genetics. He showed his mother-queen’s Blaze Clan blood more than anything.

/Come over here,/ Rain told them, watching the three of them slip out from their hiding place to join him. Cloud was the first to move, instinctively protecting his smaller siblings. That one was destined to be a Blade one day.

All three of them looked a bit put out at being caught, but they obediently came over. Wisp hoisted himself up onto the small ledge around the console, so he could see better, always curious about things.

/What are you three doing out of the hatchery?/ Rain asked, letting his mind sweep over all three of them.

/We could not sleep,/ Ripple told him, peering at the console like her twin. /And Leaf was not paying attention./

Rain snorted. He was not at all surprised at that. Leaf had the attention span of an Iratus bug on fire. /And you decided to spy on me instead?/

Ripple giggled a little. /We started by spying on the Commander, but all he is doing is staring at the window./

/I see,/ Rain told them, stretching his mind out to slide against Stringent’s mind, letting it settle into the familiar mind-feel.

He really was staring out the window, mind miles away. Smiling, Rain left him too it, flashing fondness down their bond as he did. Stringent was strange sometimes.

/I suppose I should be flattered you find my work more appealing than the windows,/ he told the trio. The three of them were clever enough, especially Wisp, but they were still very young, far from old enough to Feed yet, and much further from being old enough to chose their path in life. What he was doing was well beyond their understanding. It did involve flashing light nodes and ship-wide pulses, though, which was probably enough to hold their attention.

Younglings were rather predictable like that.

The analytics he was running could manage themselves for a while, however.

/Come with me,/ he told them, bringing them over to the display screens, curling his mind into the controls. It lit up immediately, images flashing across the screen until they settled into a image of the galaxy as it had been during the height of the war with the Alterans. It had been a long time before he had hatched, many dreaming cycles ago, but the memories had been passed down, as had the knowledge.

It was a good time to keep the tradition going.

/Settle down,/ Rain sent, sending the imaging expanding and changing. /And I shall tell you the story of how the Primary Queen Nightrose defeated the army of Thelnora through brilliance over sheer force./

He could feel their attentions focusing on him, all three of them wide-eyed and eager. Smiling, he sat down on the floor, tucking his feet beneath himself and waiting for them to do the same. He remembered being told this tale when he was about their age himself, curled up with his own nest-siblings. It was nice to get the chance to do the same for his own progeny so many years later, sharing the same memories and images with them as his sire had done for him.

In the back of his mind, he could feel his Queen’s amusement and affection, apparently well aware of what he was doing. She usually was.

The three younglings had settled down, leaning against each other while watching him. Wisp was gently resting against Cloud’s side, leaning on his bigger brother, while Ripple draped herself across their legs, head in her hands expectantly.

Letting a warm wash of affection flow through their bonds, Rain began like his sire had once, a long time ago.

/A long time ago, in the time before the time of Wraith had come, we were are at war. The Mendacious had laid claim to the galaxy, and would not suffer us to live in their dominion. The Firstborn Queens saw this and knew time had come to strike back.../

Chapter Text

Shimmer considers himself quite patient at most times. He has less of a temper than most of his clan-kin, which usually serves him well, and tends to see the amusement in most things.


Forests are not one of them.

Granted, he does not mind forests, exactly. They are not exciting, and they make hunting more of a challenge, but he does not mind them. There are many places he would rather be than a forest, and he suspects he might have an adverse reaction to something a particular type of tree gives off, but forests as a whole are something he generally just accepts. He might like them more if he had shared his brother's habit of climbing things, but he does not.

Still, a forest is a forest and they are largely the same all over the galaxy.

What he does mind is being exiled to a forest.

Well, exile is an exaggeration. It is a temporary banishment, until he finishes his current project.

He blows up his laboratory once and suddenly he has to go off-ship to work. Sometimes, his brother is unreasonable.

Forest exile aside, he cannot shake the feeling that he is being watched. Outside of the obvious, that is. The Ebonstar is in orbit, which puts Shimmer well within Wisp's mental range, and he does not for a moment believe that his brother would have left him unsupervised. This does not feel like Wisp's mental touch, though. He knows what his sister-son's mind feels like, like curling tendrils of mist and hushed notice. This does not feel like that.

It feels like curiosity, mostly, and that is the only reason he has not done something about it, has not called in the Hive to investigate. It does not feel hostile. As much as he wishes to investigate it, he has a task to finish first, and though his brother-commander is far more patient than most, he does not wish to test it. Shimmer does not fear his anger; his brother never gets angry without a good reason and rarely lets his anger direct his actions. Shimmer can handle his anger.

It is the feel of disappointment and regret he does not wish for.

So he works, and tries to ignore the feeling of eyes on him. Many eyes, watching his every move.

Hostile intentions or not, it is unsettling.

Eventually, there is movement, something falling from the shelter ceiling, and a small splash, a strange high-pitched noise of protest following shortly behind.

There is a small creature in one of the containers. It is about the length of his hand without the plume-like tail, and probably a rusty brown when not soggy. It looks a little dazed.

That container holds only purified water. The creature is in luck.

Shimmer reaches into the container, picking the creature up, and is only mildly surprised when it bites. For such a small creature it has an impressive bite. Not deadly in any way, but painful enough. It lets go when he hisses at it, baring his teeth. His bite is significantly worse.

The look the creature gives him is entirely unimpressed.

Chuckling, amused at such an attitude from something so small, he lifts the little creature up onto the rafters and go back to work.

When he takes a break next, there are a lot more of the little creatures, watching him from the trees, chattering excitedly to themselves. With teeth like theirs, it is clear they are not carnivores, and even if they were, Shimmer does not think even this amount could take him down, but he is a little unsettled by their attention.

He is not a biologist; has never had much need to know about the other species of the galaxy unless they are particularly dangerous, so the little furry critters are entirely unknown to him. He supposes they might have a hive-mind like his kind does. It is not unthinkable, even if mammalian creatures generally do not share that trait. Stranger things has happened, though.

The creatures are kind of cute, really, with their soft-looking fur and massive tails.

His brother chooses that moment to brush against his mind, even his mind-feel like hidden meaning, inquiring as to what Shimmer is doing and whether he is on fire again.

The image Shimmer sends him in response is rude and anatomically implausible, and he can feel his brother laugh in the back of his mind as his mind-feel fades away.

“Set yourself on fire once;” he tells his furry audience, “and they will never let you forget it!”

He might have done it more than just once, but he is not about to to admit that. Not even to these little fur-balls.

The one on the rafter chatters at him.

“Yes, my brother-commander is very unreasonable about this. It is not like I have ever lit him on fire.”

He lit Wing on fire once, true, but at the time, both his brother and Snowdrop had been laughing. They all had. Except Wing, though Shimmer supposes that was reasonable. It is hard to think properly when on fire.

However, he is working on a solution that can melt through a hive ship’s outer carapace. It is potentially lethal, and unfortunately explosive if he does something wrong, prone to splashing acid everywhere. It is not, however, flammable, and Shimmer has not yet mastered the ability to spontaneously burst into flame. Unfortunately, his mindgifts do not work like that, though the legends say Eternity could move objects through sheer force of will.

Shimmer is not known for his willpower, though. That is his brother’s legacy. His, it would seem, is being on fire.

The next time he comes across Riot, he must ask him if he has inherited that habit. He has not seen his sole surviving progeny in a long time, though he knows he still lives. He would have known if he did not. Though Riot takes more after Ashrune than he does after Shimmer, and the only time Ashrune was ever on fire was as she died.

There is a sudden flash in the distance, barely visible between the trees, and then an ominous rumble. The little creatures visibly start and scurry around, clearly frightened.

Shimmer does not blame them. He has been electrocuted before, and it is never pleasant. The engineers of the Hive almost always have the tree-like marks on their skin, electrocution a frequent injury on their still-recovering hive ship. Storm is considering having Frost make the patterns a permanent crest on his arms, so used to seeing them there it has become part of him.

To his surprise, the animals seem to decide he is a lesser worry, despite his more concrete presence, and before long, his makeshift shelter is filled with the little creatures. Shaking his head slightly, he shoos them all into one half, moving his corrosive liquids into the other half.

They are smarter than he had expected.

He wonders if he could train them. The mental image of sending an army of scurrying red-furred creatures up someone’s coat and hair is a hilarious one.

The distraction, and the company, is more welcome than he had thought.

Outside the shelter, the sky opens and water splashes down, hard enough to make a surprising amount of sound against the mossy forest floor.

The little creatures huddle together and keep watching Shimmer work, occasionally chattering to each other.

Definitely kind of cute. He should bring his brother some. Preferably without his brother knowing.

After all, his brother has shown a fondness for trouble-makers with little sense of self-preservation.

Though these have much neater fur than his brother’s favourite reckless creature.

Chapter Text

He did not know what he had expected from the humans of Atlantis but it was not what he got.

The humans he was used to were afraid of him, staying far away if they could. The Lantean humans were alert and suspicious, but they were not terrified. Few of them ever approached him directly, but they did not hide from him either. Mostly, they pretended he was not there, which was not at all convincing considering how much he stood out from the crowd.

And sometimes, when they thought he could not hear them, which demonstrated their lack of understanding of Wraith entirely too well, they even seemed to find him amusing.

His name, at least.

Ruby did not share his Sire's curiosity, and he knew very little about humans in general, and even less about this particular hive of humans. When he had joined his Sire's Hive, he had not expected to have to deal with humans, but he knew better than to challenge his Commander. He had seen too many fail miserably at that, and besides, even though he did not always understand his Sire, he did respect and trust him.

The humans were still strange, though. Their behaviour was so different from any other humans he had encountered, and their lack of fear was strange. Ruby was a close-combat specialist, as tall as his Sire but broader, a Blade who fought almost exclusively wielding dual swords. Even their kin sometimes feared him. To be among creatures who felt the need to laugh at his name, even if they did not dare to do so to his face, was strange.

It was not as though human names made any more sense, either.

/These humans are strange,/ he told Wisp, whose presence in the back of his mind had been inquisitive to his thoughts. Not that the Wit Primary could not easily read his mind if he so desired, but he normally respected his hive-kin's privacy. Normally.

Wisp's reply was tinged with amusement. /Truly strange,/ he agreed readily. /Though entertaining in their own way. What is it that puzzles you?/

A good question.

/The humans find my name humorous,/ he replied. /I do not understand why./

It took Wisp a while to reply, though the presence of his mind never waned, letting Ruby know he was still there.

/The Lantean humans have gendered names,/ he finally sent, the mindfeel accompanying the words showing his confusion to this practice. /Your name is considered a feminine name by their standards, and they find it amusing because you are not what they would match to a feminine name./

Ruby considered that. Like all Wraith names, his was descriptive. Their names were more than just words; a complex pattern of images, sensations and memories accompanying the simple words, the full impact of a Wraith name demanding all of their senses. Hivenames were somewhat less complex, more casual and familiar, but most of the time they were derivatives of the full name, or at least reflecting back on it somehow.

His mindname evoked a specific image, a lack of emotion, no regret for actions or decisions. Someone who followed orders and did what must be done, with no hesitation. Someone who was a weapon, a Blade in more than name, who kept his head in all situations and did their job. It became Coldblood when made into only words, though much of the underlying meanings were lost in the translation.

His hivename reflected back as a play on his mindname; the colour of blood on frozen ground, spectacular as the temperature difference made the red scatter across the surface. Wraith blood was as bright as human when they were freshly fed.

Perhaps, if the humans could communicate properly instead of relying on only words, they would have seen the meaning behind his name. He did realise it was a gemstone as well, but that was hardly the point.

There was no difference between genders in Wraith names. Queens rarely used hivenames, but that was the only real distinction. A name alone said nothing about the gender of the Wraith, though it said a lot about their personality, about their mind, about their life.

Even if it had…

/I do not see why having a name they consider feminine is worth derision from the humans./ It made little sense.

Certainly, human females were much more abundant than Wraith females, which did not take much, but the fact that they were more numerous did not explain why there was such a negative connotation to femininity among the Earth humans. The concept of femininity as a mark of weakness was not something any Wraith would ever understand, he supposed. Queens were not weak, so far from it the very idea was laughable. The females who were not Queens were not weak, either.

/It is largely why this alliance of ours is moving as slowly as it is, Wisp remarked. /No Queen would negotiate with someone who considers her gender a weakness./

No Queen would even begin to understand such an idea. Queens could be weak, like everyone else could, but their weakness was not their gender.

/A shame,/ Ruby noted, flashing images alongside his words. /I would have loved to see them try that on Darkwater./

Wisp laughed in his head, warm amusement spreading through his mind. They both knew how well she would have taken to that.

Considering it, Ruby flashed the amusement back. /At least her name is probably less "girly" than mine?/

/Indeed. Hers is apparently the title of a projection-story about drowning and hair. At least that was what Doctor Kusanagi mentioned./ Wisp's sending felt faintly confused.

Ruby could not blame him. Earth humans made very little sense.

Not for the first time, he wondered what his Sire saw in them.

Chapter Text

This Hive is not like any he has ever encountered.

Thorn would have expected that to be a relief, and in some ways it is, but mostly he just feels lost. The rules of his former Hive were easy; do not anger the Queen and do not attract attention. He knew how to avoid both of those, was remarkably skilled at fading into nothingness until he was all but forgotten.

He does not know how to deal with the Hive he has been brought into. There must be rules, but he does not know them, does not know how to avoid breaking them. It feels strange, like there is something heavy pushing at him from all directions, ready to crush him the moment he lets his guard down. And so he does not. His Blocking is all he has and he holds his shields up constantly, his Fading working overtime to keep him unnoticed, forgotten. Safe.

He does not know safe.

There are others on the ship that favour Fading, but if there is one skill Thorn has that he is confident in, it is that his Fading is far stronger than most. It has to be, if he wants to avoid attention. If he wants to avoid pain, pain and madness, he must be invisible to all. He is a Wit, and Wits should not be seen. They should not draw attention. Attention always brings pain and fear.

Except that is not the way of this Hive, where Wits walk with the confidence of a Blade and carry their heads high. They do not fear, do not hide. They bask in the attention.

It frightens him.

Thorn cannot be a Wit like that. He would not know where to begin.

Instead, he hides. If he is not noticed, they might not know that he does not follow the rules. He might avoid punishment.

He is not even sure what passes for punishment in this Hive, and he hopes he will never find out. His Queen was cruel and easily angered, but she was not particularly clever or inventive. The Commander of this Hive is both.

And so Thorn works hard, works and hides, and hopes they have all forgotten him. There is advantages to the powerful minds of the Hive. They easily overshadow Thorn's mind, which is how he prefers it. He learned early that drawing attention to himself only brought pain. The physical injuries have long since healed, but his memory is excellent. He rarely forgets anything, whether it is knowledge or experiences. Hunger burns, a flame all Wraith know intimately, but Thorn knows what it means to truly burn.

No matter how good his Blocking grows, he has yet to find a way to block his own memories.

He is good at hiding from everyone but himself, though, and he is used to going hungry. It takes many work-cycles before he surfaces, the gnawing emptiness in his core too much to bear comfortably. His intent is to take advantage of the cycle shift to go feed from the stores and slink back in hiding before he is noticed.

He almost manages.

The stores are not well stocked, but there is enough to feed them all, and as he had expected, there are nobody around at this point, not when the cycles are shifting and everyone will be busy getting to or from their stations. Thorn knows how to maximize his chances of going unseen.

There is another master of both Fading and Blocking in the Hive, though, and where Thorn's walls are spiked and raw, blending in with the feel of his former Hive, the feel of this Hive is different, the walls tall, smooth and without a single fault. The ship is old and the core is so attuned with the Commander's that it should not be a surprise that he can blend into the ship's mindscape effortlessly.

It is only when he moves Thorn even begins to suspect that he is not alone.

/Have you fed?/ the Commander asks, the walls of his mind towering and flawless, far from the jagged, spiny edges Thorn puts up.

Thorn pauses, wondering what the right answer is. Does he deny it and risk the Commander's ire for lying? Does he admit it and risk punishment for feeding without permission? He does not know what the Commander expects of him, what the rules are, and it is almost more frightening than the known factors of his former Hive.

/I have,/ he finally settles on, eyes lowered as he gives the admission.

No punishment is immediately forthcoming, as the Commander looks at him and makes a small sound that is hard to identify. /Good,/ he says, though his walls prevent any emotion from tinting his sending. Thorn's own walls would prevent him from picking up on it anyway. /Come with me./

It is not an order, exactly, but it is the kind of request that is not easily refused. Thorn sends affirmation and falls in behind the Commander. He is a little taller than the older male, but not enough to make a difference in their stride, and trailing behind someone comes much easier to him than walking at their side. It is less uncomfortable than he would expect; the Commander is not aggressive about his dominance. He is simply assured. Confident.

Confidence is not something Thorn knows much of.

It seems to come naturally to the Commander, but perhaps that is a Night Clan trait. Certainly they all seem to have that self-assuredness. There is a grace inherent in them that separates them from the Wraith of Thorn's clan.

He thinks maybe is mother-queen had it, her and his Sire, but he barely remembers either of them. He was very young when his sister-queen's rebellion took place, too young to Feed yet. He knows they still live, of course; they are infamous even among the Shard Clan, but to leave the Hive in search of them …

The only thing scarier than facing the wrath of a Hive is facing the emptiness without one.

Even this Hive, strange and foreign as it is, is better than complete silence.

The Commander leads him to one of the unused sections of the ship, which seems strange, but Thorn does not question it. He is uncomfortable enough with the Commander's attention as it is. He dislikes attention in general, but the older male is a calm kind of intense that feels almost overwhelming. It is difficult to say if it is simply his age that does it or if it is his personality as well. Thorn has never met another Wraith with so many cycles to their name.

His Sire is not that much younger, but Thorn barely recalls his Sire at all, only a vague memory of pale blue eyes, such a rarity in their kind it is impossible to forget. He has heard much of him, though, and very little of it kind.

The Shard Clan is rarely described in complimentary terms.

In contrast, every Wraith know how strong the Night Clan is, how they have held onto their position of power since the time of the Mendacious. No other clan holds such a position, and the Commander is almost as infamous as the clan itself. Few males ever have a Hive named for them, but the Ebonstar bears the name well, a name won from a legendary gambit.

The Commander is the commander who once harnessed a dying star.

Thorn does not feel like he should even be in the same Hive, much less in his presence. He is not a young Wraith, not by any definition, but he has never achieved anything worthwhile. The only thing he can claim for himself is that he has not yet died, an achievement earned more through cowardice than anything else. He has often wished he was dead, but he has never been strong enough.

He is not worth the Commander's time and he knows it.

He wishes the Commander was easier to read; he can tell he is displeased but he does not know what he has done wrong, and such he cannot prevent himself from doing it again. While he is used to such displeasure, he has never enjoyed it. It usually leads to pain. He can handle pain better than most, but that does not means he likes it.

Another male is waiting them in the large, empty space, a broad-shouldered Blade Thorn does not recognize by appearance or mind-feel, but whose resemblance to the Commander is so obvious it is clear they share a bloodline.

The sudden bubble of fear that wells up in his throat annoys him. He is weak, he knows that, but he is not that weak. Whatever they intend, he can handle it. It cannot be worse than what he is used to. The one advantage to having broken a long time ago is that he is very good at not showing it.

Placing a hand on Thorn's shoulder, the Commander stops him in his tracks. /I once lost a Hive because my Wits could not fight./ The sending is almost soft, soft and a little bit distant through their heavy shields. /I will not make that mistake again./

It is a strange statement. Wits do not fight. At best, they are tools to hold the ship together, nothing more. Except that this is a strange Hive, and its Wits are not tools at all. They are as much weapons as their Blade brothers, but they are best wielded with precision and finesse, not force and endurance.

/I assume you have no combat experience?/ The Commander asks, looking at him.

/None,/ Thorn agrees, but then he reconsiders. /Not formally./ He has never been trained, and has never fought in a battle, but he is Wraith. The instincts flow strong in them, and he will fight if he is backed into a corner. It just never helps. Most Shard Clan males are much bigger than him, and they are always in groups.

The Blade looks at him, head tilted, shields low and radiating interest. He is older than Thorn by quite a bit, but he is significantly less intimidating than the Commander, even with the swords strapped to his back. Not many Blades favour close-range weaponry like that, but those who do tend to excel in it. If they do not, they do not live long.

The Commander's mind-feel, what little comes through the shields, is thoughtful. /Coldblood is the new Master of Arms,/ he offers. /Normally he would train the Hive in groups, but I suspect you will do better in a less crowded setting. It will strain your shielding less./

His sending is devoid of anything hinting at how he feels about it, entirely to the point. Thorn finds himself absurdly grateful for that small mercy.

/Would you please show me what you can do?/ Coldblood asks. He feels interested and distanced, but his shielding is barely present and there is no hostility in his mind-feel or stance.

Thorn does not particularly want to fight, but surprisingly, his fear has subsided somewhat. /One moment,/ he finds himself replying, because his coat is much too stiff to fight in. It is a Wit's coat, double-layered and coated for protection against corrosive substances. It is a good coat, but it is not suitable for fluid movement.

He pulls it off and places it to the side. On an impulse, his boots join the coat. The improved grip will come in more useful than the protection the boots offer.

Coldblood watches him and nods, as if pleased with what he sees. He removes his swords and tosses them to the side, letting his own coat and boots follow.

The Blade is slightly shorter than Thorn is, though he is broader built. He looks strong, but he is not nearly as big and towering as the males of Thorn's former Hive. Still, Thorn wagers that he still has the advantage for the first move.

He is not as big or strong as the males of his Clan usually are. Apparently, he resembles his mother-queen, though he does not remember her at all. He is tall, but he is slim of build and frame.

However, he is fast. It has been a necessity to stay out of the others' way. Fast and agile, and his Fading makes it hard to target him accurately.

He is also mostly legs, his limbs long and clawed.

The surprise coming off of both older males as he knocks Coldblood over is deeply satisfying. It will probably not work again, not when they have seen his one trick, but the slightly dazed look on Coldblood's face makes him feel almost pleased.

The wash of genuine appreciation from the Commander nearly knocks him over as well.

/Very good,/ the Commander sends, and his amusement is clear.

Pulling himself to his feet, Coldblood grins a little, his mind-feel mostly echoing the Commander's amusement. /I suppose I had that coming,/ he sends, idly touching the slight scratches on his chest. They are already fading, of course.

The Commander returns the grin, and their resemblance is even more obvious. /Yes, you did,/ he confirms. /You should never let your guards down when you are expecting a blow./

He turns to face Thorn, looking at him as though he is seeing something more than just a frightened Wit. It is more than a little unsettling, but Thorn finds he would like to be more than that.

He just does not know how.

/You will train with Coldblood until you both decide you have reached a satisfactory level, the Commander tells him. /You may arrange a schedule that suits both your duties. There is no deadline. Coldblood will keep me updated on your progress./

/Yes,/ both Thorn and Coldblood reply, in unison. Coldblood grins again.

Making an amused, rasping sound in the back of his throat, the Commander eyes them both. /I have matters to attend to,/ he says. /Continue practice, and try not to break anything vital./ There is an edge of dry amusement to his mind-feel as he turns and walks away.

Thorn watches him leave, then turns to face Coldblood again. The Blade is watching him move, and seems to nod to himself.

/You move well,/ he says, thoughtful feel to his mind-feel. /That will be what we will focus on. It would be a waste to spend too much time on training strength. We will teach you how to use your agility./

Uncertain what to reply, Thorn just sends affirmation.

Coldblood motions him forwards again, and moves into a defensive stance.

Willing himself to push everything else down, Thorn moves into position, pulling his shields up around himself like a fortification.

If nothing else, he will not make this easy. Not this time.

Chapter Text

It was not often Cipher found himself in the Shard Clan's territory. Though he had more experience with them than most, and more patience, he still preferred avoiding the clan as a whole, and he definitely preferred avoiding their territory.

In the Shard Clan's wake, planets were laid bare, nothing of their feeding grounds remaining. It was wasteful and short-sighted, but so were the Shard Clan.

Cipher often wondered how they still remained so strong, considering their constant waste of resources. Though he supposed that was a more recent trend, and one that would not visibly weaken them before they ran out of both feeding grounds and other Hives to feed on.

It was a mess, made worse by the fact that with the rapidly diminishing feeding grounds and the sheer amount of Wraith awake, the clans were too divided to do as tradition dictated and take a stand against the Shard Clan's actions. He suspected most of the other clans hoped they would burn themselves out. Cipher doubted that would happen any time soon. He still remembered the tenacity inherent in their bloodline. Shatterdream had been glorious and terrifying both, a Queen who demanded servitude simply by existing.

She would not have stood for the Shard Clan's current ways. It was a shame she had been killed. Supposedly her death had been at the hand of the Lifeless, though he had his doubts. The Lifeless had certainly taken down many of his kind before they had learned to neutralize them, but he knew the Shard Clan too well to believe the word of one of their Queens alone.

Whatever the case, Shatterdream was gone, and so were countless other Clan Primaries in the Shard Clan, brought down by their own kin again and again, until only the most unsuitable ones remained.

By tradition, his grievances with the clan should be brought up with the Clan Primary, but Cipher knew better than to try reasoning with Bitterjoy. She would not remain Clan Primary long, soon to be pulled off of her throne by yet another equally unsuited Queen. It was a never-ending, vicious cycle and Cipher had no time for playing games with the powerless.

The power in the Shard Clan did not lie with its Clan Primary.

At least not yet.

Bloodmoon was a direct descendant of Shatterdream, older and more clever than the young Queens squabbling for power none of them had, and though she was irrevocably unstable, like all of the Shard Clan, she was at least coherent. A remarkable improvement, Cipher felt.

She should have been Clan Primary a long time ago.

She would not listen to him, of course. Queens rarely listened to males without a good reason. In this case, it was in Cipher's favour that she would not. Though he had known Bloodmoon long, he still had no idea what her primary concern was, which made it hard to know just where to push.

Her Commander, however … Cipher knew his motivations perfectly. And Bloodmoon would listen to her Commander.

His actions were a calculated risk; to venture into Shard Clan territory alone was dangerous at best, but it was a risk he had to take. The potential reward was too valuable to waste, and the timing was right. He was not too concerned with being discovered before he could do what he had come to do, either. His mastery of Fading and Blocking made him hard to track through the hive-mind, and most of the Shard Clan wielded their Discerning like a blunt instrument. As long as he moved quickly and did not dally, he did not feel like detection was an imminent danger.

Most of the Shard Clan were on the other side of their territory, falling on yet another feeding ground like a hungering plague. They were not hard to track, leaving a path of destruction throughout the galaxy.

Subtlety was not a Shard Clan trait. Not generally. There were some who still saw the value of secrets, though.

The Blackomen was an old hive ship, older that Cipher himself. It was a ship he was familiar with, the mindscape still much the same as it had been in Shatterdream's time, when he had been a frequent visitor. Even under a new Queen and a new Hive, it still felt familiar, almost welcoming. Hidden away underneath the oceans of a long forgotten world, it was not easily discovered. Cipher knew where it was, though. It had not moved for countless cycles.

It was a massive ship, one of the largest hive ships in existence, but it was not hard to navigate, not when he could feel it as well as he could. There should have been more resistance. Not that he wants to fight, not really, although he has been in a fairly bad mood for a while, but he is an outsider to the Hive walking freely in the ship. He could have been a threat to the Queen.

Still, the Shard Clan tended to favour Discerning, and though they could not read his mind through his shields, they knew who he was. Most of his kind did, a matter of which he was rightfully proud. He had earned his place, and his reputation. It was hard won.

If the Queen was around, chances were her Speaker was, too, and that meant that a surprise infiltration would not work.

Not that Cipher was there to see the Queen. Bloodmoon was best influenced through indirect means, and might not even talk to him in the first place. She had become reclusive after her daughter tried killing her, preferring to speak through her Commander or her Speaker. It was why she had a Speaker, a role most Hives had long since abolished.

Voice of the Queen, they had been called once, but most Queens preferred talking for themselves these days, not willing to trust another to do so for them.

Cipher would rather not deal with Torment. The Speaker unnerved even him. There was something distinctly unsettling about someone whose mind-feel was so woven through another's that it was impossible to tell who was actually speaking; if it was Torment speaking for his Queen or Bloodmoon speaking through Torment, using him as a literal mouthpiece.

The Hive Commander was, at least, somewhat less unnerving.

The irony of the statement was not lost on him.

Palewither was nearly as infamous as Cipher himself, though where Cipher's reputation was carved out through time and patience, Palewither's was given freely. It was hard to avoid such a reaction. The other Commander was a highly intimidating male.

His position proved that he had been waiting for Cipher to arrive. He was sitting down, his work spread out before him, but the chair was turned towards the entryway and he was just waiting, hands laced together in his lap. As Cipher entered the room, he slowly rose to his feet, his long hair fanning out behind him.

It made a striking effect, though it was largely lost on Cipher. It usually was. He had known Scourge far too long to be intimidated by the other male's appearance. They were very close in age, and had been hatchlings together, had trained together as juveniles. Any effect the white skin and blue eyes had ever had on him was long since gone, and the fact that Scourge towered above him mostly just annoyed him. Cipher much preferred not having to look up at people.

It was not Scourge's physical attributes that made him dangerous, and anyone who got caught up in his carefully planned displays were fools. They were close enough to use each other's hive-names, but that did not mean they trusted each other at all. It only meant they knew each other well.

Scourge was a very clever male, despite his instability, and that was the real threat he posed. Others might be tempted to fall for his carefully crafted image, and the way he wielded that, but Cipher had known him too long to be concerned with that. His unsettling appearance was simply a matter of genetics, just another form of code, but his mind was as sharp as his claws and teeth, and worse still, he was endlessly creative about it.

Cipher was not afraid of him, but he was cautious. Carelessness was never a good thing, and definitely not when in the presence of someone who would use it against him in an instant. If it came down to it, he knew he could potentially defeat Scourge, but it would not be an easy fight. They had always been well matched, and Scourge was unpredictable at best. Besides, Scourge was infinitely more useful to him alive.

/Commander,/ he greeted, though there was no rigid respect behind it. The fragile understanding they shared had little to do with respect and much more to do with a reluctant understanding.

Giving him a wide grin, Scourge inclined his head slightly, not much more respectful himself. /It has been a while,/ he sent, his mind-feel somehow alert and faintly distant at the same time.

It had been a while. The last time they had actually been in each other's presence, Snowdrop had still lived. The last time they had talked at all had been somewhat more recent, but it had still been before Cipher's capture by Kolya's lineage.

/So it has,/ he agreed, looking at Scourge's towering form.

He had not changed much in that time; his hair was longer and there was a new crest adorning his neck, disappearing down the back of his coat. Other than that, he looked the same as always.

Then again, so did Cipher, so he knew how little appearance mattered. Change was not always visible.

Scourge made a rasping, amused sound and met Cipher's eyes. /I am surprised to see you here, Cipher,/ he sent, rolling his shoulders back. He was never completely still, always moving slightly, his body as restless as his mind. /You do not like us much./

It was hard to tell if he meant his Hive, his Clan or an entirely different function of "us" altogether. Quite possibly, he meant all of them at once.

/You are hard to like,/ Cipher pointed out, and definitely meant all of them; Scourge, his Hive and his Clan all the same. /It is an arbitrary matter, at any rate./

What he liked had little influence on what he did. That was not a sentiment he could afford.

/Then what brings you here?/ Scourge asked, curiosity echoing in his mind-feel.

Calculated risks, Cipher reminded himself, still not looking away. He was a master of Blocking, but Scourge was remarkably skilled at Discerning, even if he often hid it. One wrong step and he could show too much, or too little.

There was much at stake, and normally he would prefer to wait and tip the scales in his favour first, but time was of an issue.

Time, but also hunger, not to Feed but to strike back.

It was a precarious situation, but if he played his hand right, and he had confidence he could, there was a lot to win.

The walls of his mind and core were chambered, like a hive ship's inner structure. Each could be closed off separately, a skill he had often been glad to have. It made it all that much easier to plant just the right information at the right time, to allow his enemies to think they had worn down all his defences by lowering one. That would not work on Scourge, who would expect that from him, but it did allow him to share a specific set of impressions and memories, flashes of emotion and sensation.

Somehow, he doubted Boneshrike would be very pleased if he knew how his sensory remnants were used, but Cipher did not intend ever telling him.

For all his instability and unpredictable nature, Scourge was not hard to influence. Cipher had seen his core, and that was what would give him the advantage.

Scourge was fiercely protective of his bloodline, a protectiveness that was almost single-minded. Like most of his clan, it overlapped into possessiveness, and that, at least, was predictable.

It was cruel to let him share his progeny's suffering, but it was effective. Cruelty was an unfortunate necessity at times, something both of them knew well.

They knew each other far too well for Scourge not to suspect something, and so Cipher had long since stopped trying to hide his manipulations. It did not work, and sometimes, it was entirely more satisfactory to watch someone know exactly what he was trying to do and still have to play into his hands, no matter how much they would prefer not to.

Hissing, teeth bared, Scourge made a sharp sound of bitter amusement. /You are truly your mother-queen’s progeny,/ he sent, his hands clenched, the nails digging into flesh. The dark blood was a strange contrast to his bone-white skin.

/As you are yours,/ Cipher agreed. Anyone who knew Nightrose could see her lessons had taken root in him, and anyone who had known Shatterdream could see the same in Scourge. It was strange how alike they were, and yet so wildly different.

/Go away, Cipher,/ Scourge told him. /And stay away. I would very much like to tear you apart right now, and the longer you stay, the closer I get to forget why I must not./ His mind-feel was still raw from anger and pain, the pain Cipher had shared with him and the anger it had caused.

Bowing his head, in what could have been regret if he could have let it be, Cipher turned and left the chamber, leaving Scourge to sort through broken memories and remnants of pain. It was not a kind thing he had done, but he could not regret it. Scourge’s hand had been tipped. It was impossible for him to not take action, not when his mind worked as it did, and he would not allow such deliberate harm against his progeny go unpunished, even if it meant hurting another of them. Heartstring had not had her Sire’s favour since she had tried to kill Bloodmoon, anyway, so he doubted Scourge would be too unwilling to deal with her.

With her gone, the tentative power balance in the Shard Clan would topple as the others scrambled for power, and he doubted Bitterjoy would manage to hold onto her already precarious position. It would keep them busy for cycles, giving him the time he needed to rebuild his own power base to what it had once been. And if, in the end, it would turn out that Bloodmoon came out on top, the rightful Clan Primary rising triumphant, that would only stabilize the clan.

Hopefully, by then Scourge’s anger would have settled.

If not, then Boneshrike would once again be the key. It had been a stroke of luck that Shimmer had come upon the younger Wit, but Shimmer was a lot more cunning than his behaviour would have it, and he had seen immediately what value the Shard Clan male had. They had done well in bringing him to their Hive. By the time the Shard Clan had sorted themselves out, they would have earned his loyalty.

If that meant helping Boneshrike trust himself before he could trust them, that was an added bonus.

Cipher had no qualms against being cruel when needed, but he was never cruel for the sake of being cruel. Boneshrike had been through enough. They had gotten to him in time, unlike another Shard Clan male Cipher remembered; remembered the feeling of watching as he spiralled into madness, remembered the sensation of his mind-feel shattering into thousands of little, razor-sharp fragments.

That would not happen to Boneshrike. Cipher did not give up on anything, much less his Hive.

That, too, was a reason to buy them time. None of them would have to face the Shard Clan until they were ready, whether as a Hive in battle or as an individual.

Time was something Wraith tended to take for granted, but Cipher had learned better. Time was incredibly valuable if used right, and he was not about to waste that.
It allowed for careful planning, resource gathering and fostering new alliances to replace old ones.

Power was not won simply by seizing it by force. Sometimes, it was all in the details, in the tipping of the scales in the right direction. A trade at the right time, with the right people, was immensely valuable, especially if the other did not realize it was a trade.
Trust was such a scarce commodity, but even that could be bought. And knowledge, of course, was power, a human saying he had learned from his Lantean allies. They did not trust him, and they really should not, but it was not always a conscious decision.

If someone was to point the Lantean humans in the direction of the Shard Clan, it would only make the situation escalate all the quicker. Getting accurate, genuine information would perhaps make the Lantean humans slowly lower their guard.

After all, it was important to let the feeding grounds grow rich before the Cull.

Chapter Text

Wisp dressed for the winter season and looking very dramatic.

This is what happens when you misspell "Christmas wreath" as something entirely. Good thing Shimmer has no dignity.

Young Wisp and Darkwater, and their deceased brother Cloud, with their Sire, Rain. Learning about blue dots. A very important lesson.

Wisp hates mornings as much as I do. And bedhead is horrible when you have that much hair.

Wisp is very worried about that butterfly/moth. Darkwater finds her brother's distress amusing.

In which Thorn questions my logic in putting him in high heels considering he's already 6'5".

Snowdrop! I don't do enough with her. I mean, she's dead in ItH current timeline, but flashbacks are a thing. I should write more Queens being awesome.

Chapter Text

There had been a time when John had thought Wraith all looked the same, and he still felt a little guilty for that, even though it was kind of hard to stop and notice differences when the Wraith in question were trying to eat him.

Also, he strongly suspected that many of the Wraith they encountered in those first years must have been from the same bloodline, because they had shared a lot of traits.

Still, once he stopped thinking of Wraith as a cohesive unit and started to see them as individuals, it was very easy to tell them apart, even outside their own unique tattoos.

There were certainly similarities between certain groups. Todd, Wisp, Shimmer and Ruby all shared certain features, the same bone structure and basic facial shape. The same was the case with Drought, Sliver and Gale. Thorn and Frost were not that closely similar, considering their brotherhood, but they did share some traits. Edge and Rust, of course, were so identical it was hard to tell them apart without looking at their tattoos.

Considering that each group were closely related, not just from the same bloodline, that wasn't so strange.

Todd and Ruby looked similar enough to have been twins, rather than father and son, which was a little bit disturbing, but considering that children looking like their parents was pretty common among humans too, it was mostly unsettling because they looked the same age. Then again, what was a two thousand year age difference to immortal space vampires? Not much. Shimmer looked a lot like the two of them, too, though his skin was slightly more blueish and his features a little more square. Wisp was probably the most obviously different-looking of the four, and that was mostly because of his stature. He still had a lot of the same features as the others.

Sliver and Gale both resembled their mother, Drought's sister, so it was no wonder those three looked similar. They all had different tones to their skin, though. Drought had much the same pale jade hue that Todd had, while Sliver's skin had a blue tint to it and there was a slight dusky tone to Gale's. All three had the same eyes, though, the same general cast to their features. All three of them had ears that came to a slight point, a trait shared by both Wisp and Storm as well.

While Thorn and Frost were actually pretty dissimilar, they did have the same olive cast to their skin and the same amber eyes. Thorn was paler, though considering that Wraith did have a UV-triggered pigment response like humans, just different shades, was probably more because he tended to lurk in dark rooms than anything genetic, while Frost walked around without sleeves most of the time and exposed more skin than most Wraith.

The twins were both the kind of Wraith who had an almost brown cast to their skin, their eyes almost orange. They had warm tones to their appearance, as befitting their clan name. It seemed only fitting that a Blaze Clan heritage meant a fiery cast to their look.

Still, for all the familial similarities between the various groups, they did showcase the range of Wraith appearance well. The base description of a Wraith male was simple; tall, green-skinned, yellow-eyed, and white-haired. While he'd yet to see a Wraith male with a different hair colour, John had seen more than enough Wraith to know it was a spectrum.

Yellow eyes only said so much. It didn't cover how it ranged through a very pale, moonlight-like colour in Storm; a warm yellow in Todd, Shimmer and Ruby; greenish-yellow in Sliver, Drought and Wisp; a yellow-based hazel in Gale and Crow; golden amber in Thorn and Frost; and fiery and borderline orange in Rust and Edge.

The same thing happened with skin. Green seemed an inadequate description for Wraith skin when the range went through so many shades. Todd, Wisp, Shimmer and Ruby were all a pale shade of grey-green jade, as was Drought. Sliver and Storm had the bluish tint to their skin that made them look a pale mint. Both Gale and Crow had mossy green skin, though Crow's skin was darker. Thorn and Frost's skin resembled the olive drab of military uniforms, though it was several shades lighter, while Rust and Edge had a skin that resembled actual olives in colour, but again, several shades lighter.

John had seen more skin colours in Wraith than that; the Keeper they had met when they first came to Pegasus had been a pale blue, and Michael's Queen had been brownish. Even in males, he had seen everything from very pale green to fairly dark shades, Palewither's bone-white skin notwithstanding. Green just didn't cover it.

And then there was the little differences, the variation in the shapes of eyes, lips, noses, even teeth.

All Wraith definitely did look Wraith. There was no mistaking a Wraith for anything but a Wraith.

The same, though? They hadn't all looked the same to him since sometime during the second year in the Pegasus galaxy. He'd come far since he'd first stepped through that gate, since he had met his first Wraith. There was no room to see them all as simply Wraith any more, even when they were Wraith he didn't even know. Instead, he saw tells, saw a Wraith and could tell from the shade of his skin and the hue of his eyes what his bloodline was, could see it in the set of his features.

It was a continuing theme when learning about the Wraith. There was the neat little box labelled "Wraith", which gave the basics of what a Wraith was and how they looked. Immortal, green-skinned space vampires with yellow eyes and white hair, and teeth like a shark's. It fit them all, but there was a lot more that didn't fit in the box, that didn't fit in that "this is what a Wraith is" definition that they had learned during the first years of their conflict and was still unlearning.

He no longer saw a Wraith and thought "I know what that is". He saw them and thought "I wonder who you are?".

Somewhere along the road, they had stopped being monsters and started being people. People he didn't necessarily like most of, but then, there was plenty of humans he didn't like either. It had happened slowly, slowly enough that he hadn't even noticed. They'd become individuals, each with their own look and their own personality. The physical appearance wasn't even that important. It was just a catalyst for a realisation, for Wraith becoming a word that meant something different than just a scary monster.

And it had all started when he realised he could tell them apart easily.

Chapter Text


The sending was sudden and uncharacteristically sharp, jolting him out of his sleep. Momentarily confused by his surroundings and by the sheer excitement coming off of Rust's thread, it took him a moment to remember that he was not among Hive, that the harshness and silence of the walls and floor was safe. Folding his awareness around him, Storm sat up slightly, pushing his hair back out of his face as it began falling, a habit he had long since made into an instinct.

/I am sleeping,/ he sent back, and there was rebuttal in the sending. Only few of his hive-kin had threads permanently woven to his core, and he did not appreciate having them misused. There had been no distress in Rust's frantic sending, only excitement. Whatever it was, he was in no danger.

Rust's returned sending was more careful, more hesitant, like a scolded youngling. /I am sorry, ma'isthaar,/ he sent, and his mind-feel was hushed and submissive.

/Now I know you are up to something,/Storm told him, tucking his errant hair behind his ear. /You are respectful, but you never use my title unless you want something./

The sending turned an interesting mix of contrite and unabashed. /I really am sorry that I disturbed your sleep, Storm, but you really need to come see this!/ Another wave of boundless enthusiasm rolled through the thread, thrumming through the weave in rhythmic, infectious patterns.

Storm hissed to himself and considered, for a brief moment, unravelling all threads and going back to sleep. Possibly with the ridiculously fluffy human pillows over his head. As tempting as it was, he was ma'isthaar of the Hive and had to set a better example than that.

/Very well,/ he sent, and the warning that it better be worth it was implicit. /I will join you shortly./

He pulled away from the thread and dragged himself out of bed, pulling his clothing on and trying in vain to get his hair under control. As per usual, he managed to at least only look partially dishevelled.

At least he was dressed. The humans tended to get really upset when they weren't, as though a lack of protective layers was somehow an insult. He supposed he could see it as one; as a statement to the humans that they were not considered enough of a threat to bother with any protection, but humans were did not have the claws and teeth to do damage with anyway. Besides, the humans reacted to a lack of clothing with shock and embarrassment, not anger at a perceived insult.

If he lived to see the return of Eternity, Storm would never understand humans. Especially not the Earth-born ones.

Reaching out, he found the thread that connected him to Rust and followed it. The younger Wit was in one of the human synapse chambers, the ones they called a "rec room", where the synaptic display membrane did not show others of their kin as they were now, but in stories and tales. Rust was enamoured of the concept, though Storm had not found it particularly interesting. Even if he had, it was far more entertaining to have Rust come tell him the stories instead of seeing them himself. Between his enthusiasm and his natural habit of making the story his own, it was actually quite endearing.

The humans looked somewhat fearful as he entered, which cheered him up a bit. He did not have his Commander's taste for baiting humans, nor others of their kin, but he occasionally felt as though the humans thought they had somehow domesticated his Hive, and he appreciated the chance to remind them that he was certainly not tame. Nobody objected to his presence, however, and he stalked over to Rust's corner seat, settling down behind him and threading his hand into the younger Wit's hair.

Storm's own hair was a lost battle, owing largely to severe damage to the right side of his head. Massive electrocution had burned much of his skin on that side, and though the burns had healed, the follicles had fused in several places. When his hair did grow in on that side, it was patchy and unattractive. It was simply more convenient to keep that side shaved.

Rust had no such excuse, his hair thick and healthy, and yet it always looked like he had played with power nodes. As a young, untested Wit, he was not expected to wear anything elaborate, but it would not hurt him to take some pride in his appearance. A healthy Wraith reflected a healthy Hive, after all.

/Do show some pride,/ he chided, working the strands beneath his fingers into basic gathering braids, to keep it out of his face as he worked. /If not for your own sake, then for the Hive./

There was no word-sendings over the thread, just a wash of resigned fondness. An old argument between them, and not one they were likely to ever finish.

For a moment, he was tempted to tug harder than necessary as he wove the strands, but he refrained. /What did you wish to show me?/ He asked instead, knotting the half done braid to hold it temporarily as he started on the other side.

The humans were staring at them again, which was nothing new. According to Wisp and Sliver, who cared about these things, it was because humans coded many of the things they did as feminine, and apparently that clashed with their perception of Wraith. Storm privately did not expect much more for a species who considered femininity a bad thing, a soft and weak thing.

There was little to expect from a hive with no proper Queen, he supposed.

If they ever met Primary Nightrose, they would learn the error of their ways very quickly.

Not that any of them were worthy of her attention, or even her presence, but it would be amusing to see nonetheless.

For a Wit, Rust was remarkably unobservant, or perhaps simply unaware about social situations without the Weave to guide him. His attention was firmly on the large synaptic display membrane, where a young human blade was wading through a swamp.

Having been to many swamp-dominated planets, Storm failed to see the attraction, but he remembered that Rust and his brother had been hatched on a dying world, more arid dirt and sand than anything else. Hatchling conditioning was hard to break. As was the custom in the River Clan, back when they had still held some power, Storm had been hatched in an underwater chamber, the sound of water and waves the first thing he had ever heard.

It was one of the few things that allowed him to relax while on Hive Atlantis. The walls were too hard and too rigid, but the song of the waves was largely the same.

/Wait,/ Rust sent, attention still fully on the synaptic display membrane. /You will see soon./

On the display, a human couple were in trouble with a massive ship, one easily larger than any hive ship. There was a man dressed in all black, who sounded like Shimmer the time he got shrapnel stuck in his throat, who was chasing them. If he had been real, his mind-feel would be rolling off him with anger. It was entertaining enough, especially the black-clad man who seemed to have almost Wraith-like abilities, but he failed to see what had gotten Rust so worked up.

By the time the young Blade in the swamp faced the test of the Dark Side, Storm had finished the gathering braids in Rust's hair and was watching with vague interest.

And then the human pulled out his weapon.

Storm rarely went into physical confrontations, and when he did, he favoured ranged weapons. Swords were devastating in the hands of someone with Frost's strength and reach, and daggers worked well for clever, agile Blades, but he preferred to stay at a distance. Most Wits did. The blade the young human wielded, however, made of pure energy and capable of slicing through anything, had that strange human ingenuity coming off it in waves.

For the rest of the story, Storm sat silently, watching intently as the young human Blade Skywalker confronted the black-clad man, revealing their hidden relation. That mattered little to him, but the fight between them was exhilarating.

As the story ended, there was a hatchling-like surge of fascinated excitement building up in him, equations and ideas swirling in his head. Rust's mind-feel echoed that excitement back at him, warm spikes of eagerness coiling through the Weave.

/I told you,/ he said, his sending a mental chirp. /Can you make those?/

Generally, Storm made weaponry for the ship, not for individual kin, but he was certainly capable of working on a smaller scale. He had assisted in the creation of stunners before, both projectile and stun rods, though a large majority of small-scale weaponry was plain metal work, which had never been his preference. It had always been node-work that had drawn him in, finding the right paths to connect the wire weave to the nodes to make them do what he wanted to do. These swords, however, had potential. They were certainly more node-work than they were about forging metal.

/Not exactly like they describe them,/ he told Rust, running through the details from the story. /Pure light would not behave like that./

Flashing agreement, Rust made a thoughtful sound. /A light beam would not end like the swords do,/ he mused. /Even amplified and concentrated. It would cut, but it would be hard to wield and harder to sustain./

/Especially at such a wide diameter./ Amplified light was a good starting point, but it would not give them the desired result. /The blades appear to have mass, as well. Perhaps a plasma blade, with a solid core to shape and release the plasma. It would not be strictly the same, of course, but it would function much like it./ They had plasma tools for ship maintenance. Something like that, but with a longer blade, and a more comfortable handle. If he were to borrow one of Frost's swords, he could probably work something out.

Chirping excitedly, reminding Storm how young his student still was, Rust craned his neck back to look up at him. /We could adapt one of the pistons for securing the darts,/ he suggested, flashing images of what he was thinking off. /If we could make it slimmer and longer, we could use it as a base to guide the plasma into a blade shape./

It was certainly a viable concept. /Powering something like that will be tricky, but I am certain I could grow the right nodes with some time and experimentation./

In the background, the humans had started the next story-reel, which seemed to be a continuation. Storm shifted, moving to sit in front of Rust. /Attend to my hair, will you?/ He asked, already forming the diagrams in their shared threads.

/Of course,/ Rust agreed, separating Storm's hair into sections as he prodded the blueprints, adding his own details to it. They had different ways of approaching their goals, which made their work together better than apart. It was why Storm had been assigned to work in a task-bond with Rust in the first place; their abilities naturally complemented each other. Their personalities did, too, and as old as Rust's youthful energy could make him feel, it also kept him from his tendency to falling into Silence.

/Storm?/ Rust asked, turning their diagram over to add some alterations to the structure of the hilt. There was a strange hesitance in his mind-feel.


/I think we should refrain from sharing this with Shimmer./ The sentiment was paired with some very vivid mental imagery.

The humans around them startled as Storm barked out a laugh, unable to contain his amusement.

Chapter Text

The woman assigned to his guard this day has turquoise nails.

Not usually one to bother with human strangeness, it takes a while for Wisp to notice, but when he does, it is hard to stop looking at them. Blades generally wear their nails shorter and less ornate than Wits, even in humans, so the brightness is unexpected. It is not an unattractive shade.

Protective lacquer is worn by all Wraith. Their claws are strong, but not indestructible, and they serve many functions. Primarily, they are for display, much like hair and crests are. A lot about a Wraith's status in their Hive is visible in how they look, and their claws are no different. Most of their Hive Blades wear only simple lacquer, though even the bases offer some variety in shades and shine. The thick substance coats the claws and keeps them strong and sharp. It is functional, but it is also pleasing to the eye. Among Wits, there is more variety. They work as hard as their Blade counterparts, of course, but their work is less physically demanding, allowing for longer claws and more elaborate layering of lacquer. Many Queens go further still; a Queen should never have to do labour unless they chose to do so themselves.

The claws are more than that, however. As a last resort, they are capable tools, able to slice through ship linings and work the inner nodes and capillaries. They are also weapons, if no other weapon is available. Wisp rarely fights, and if he does, he carries stunners and daggers. If he is pressed to defend himself, however, his claws are long and sharp, and they part flesh more readily than they part ship linings.

Wisp is well aware that he is, perhaps, excessively vain. As long as it does not affect the Hive negatively, it is permissible, and though he supposes there is arrogance in it, he is also well aware of what he looks like, and more importantly, how his looks affect others. Vanity is hard to avoid when so many has consistently affirmed it. Even for a high-ranking attendant, he takes his appearance seriously. His hair is always tended to, and he has had his entire wardrobe made to his specifications.

And his claws are always impeccably cared for.

At the moment, his are simply a dark, glossy black, mostly because he is staying on Atlantis and has limited resources available to him. It is not what he would prefer, but it is presentable, and the lacquer does what it is supposed to do.

Still, he finds his attention drifting to his guard's turquoise nails with surprising frequency.

She is not unknown to him. Lieutenant Mercy Johnson is one of several Blades who have volunteered to guard Wraith visitors to Atlantis, and she is generally one of his favourite guards. A lot of the male Blades can be rather unpleasant in their attitude, and even when they say nothing, it comes off of their mind-feels in waves. Johnson does not trust him, as such, but she is not dismissive either. She treats him like a potential threat, but still with polite respect. He, in turn, makes sure to do the same. She is a capable Blade and does her job admirably, and he appreciates that.

He has not given much thought to her appearance. He rarely does, with humans, unless they are particularly remarkable.

He will admit to appreciating the fact that Ronon Dex jogs past the medical department daily, often without a shirt. He does not think anyone at all attracted to the male form would do otherwise.

But Johnson is normally not one for ornamental displays. She is a human Blade, not a Wraith one, and there is no Queen to display for. She keeps her dark hair short and wears no ornaments normally. The nails are different.

Different always piques his curiosity. It is why he is Wit; all Wits are born with the hunger for knowledge almost as loud as the Hunger itself, and he is no exception. The turquoise of her nails is a mystery he finds far more interesting than the DNA sequencing he is doing, partially because he could do that while in the Dreaming.

Because he does not pay much attention to human appearance, it takes the bright turquoise to make him pay attention, but once he is, he notices that Johnson is not the only one to wear lacquered nails. Many of the medical Wits he interacts with are, though most are wearing more subdued colours. The colour array is still remarkable. The lacquer he wears is naturally dark, so light shades is not a possibility. One of the pharmacologists is wearing a soft shade of warm pearl on her nails, striking against her dark skin.

Wisp is, against his nature, fascinated. The Lantean humans are often rude, confusing or even downright offensive, but they have a natural whimsical way of doing things that is appealing in its hatchling-like way.

One of the radiologists who come on duty has nails as dark as his, but they have been coated with gloss with a multitude of shimmery stars in it.

Eventually, Johnson picks up on his inattentiveness. Not because he makes a mistake – he knows exactly what he is doing and even if he was to make a mistake, she lacks the proficiency to tell – but because he is once again staring at her hands. The turquoise colour rather suits her, he decides.

"Your mind is miles away today, isn't it?" She asks, grinning. She's a tall woman, taller than Wisp is, and probably not what is considered pretty in humans. Closer to what they would consider handsome, perhaps, with square features and a pronounced jaw. She is always smiling when not in battle, however, and her cheerfulness is infectious. Wisp likes her. She reminds him of the younger Blades of his Hive, full of things to prove and seemingly limitless energy.

"Metric or imperial miles?" He asks, because human measurements baffle him, and he sees no point in denying his distraction.

Laughing, Johnson shrugs. "I'm flexible," she says, and waggles her eyebrows, making Wisp smile. Johnson likes to play at displaying, but she is not serious, and she only does it with people who are comfortable with it. Wisp doesn't mind it at all. He is used to Blades displaying for him, and it is fun with someone who expects nothing but the fun of it.

If Frost had minded, he would not do such things, but he does not. Frost likes Johnson as much as Wisp does, and knows there is no reason for concern. As close as they are, their cores entwined, there are no secrets, no insecurities.

"I was admiring your nails, actually," Wisp tells Johnson. The turquoise has a shimmer to it, not as flat as human colour choices often seem to him. "I have not seen you wear such colours before."

Johnson smiles and lifts her hand, looking at her nails. "Yeah. It's technically against uniform, but eh. Atlantis. Nobody cares." She laughs again. Johnson always laughs easily, and smiles even more so. "Doc Garner in Botany had her nail polish collection shipped in on the last Daedalus run, so we've been doing manicures for everyone who wants it."

She looks at Wisp's hands thoughtfully. "You should come down. I bet we could do something spectacular with nails as long as yours."

Wisp considers it. He does not like having his feeding hand touched by strangers, but he does not consider the Lanteans to be primary threats. They will be unlikely to even realise how uncomfortable he finds it, and honestly, the flat black of his claws is not his preference. "I may join you after this shift," he says, and finds that he means it. He is curious about this nail polish.

Doctor Garner is a small, quiet woman who Wisp has never met before. He rarely deals with the botany department. But she does not mind a Wraith coming into the area they have taken over for their endeavour, and neither does the others there. The fact that Johnson is still with him, doing her job as a guard, probably helps.

The fact that most humans underestimate him because he is smaller than most Wraith and generally soft-spoken helps more.

Truthfully, the humans seem mostly fascinated by the idea of what they can do with nails like his.

Having his feeding hand touched is not as bad as he has feared. It is not pleasant; such touches is overly familiar, but the woman who ends up painting his nails is calm and hums to herself, but does not touch more than she must and takes his input on what he wants, while giving him suggestions.

Her nails are shimmery blue with flecks of glitter, and reminds him of the entry veil of the portals. It is very pretty.

In the end, he ends up with his claws lacquered a deep, dark green with shimmery particles, but with the tips painted a glossy black, forming an arch. It looks different than he has ever worn them, but the shimmer effect reminds him of watching the stars from the ship window and the black arches draw attention to the sharpness of his claws. He likes it.

Perhaps he should suggest a trade of their lacquer. He suspects it would be well received among his kin.

Looking at a bottle of a deep metallic pink, he wonders if he could convince the Commander to wear that, just for the complete meltdown it is likely to cause the humans. Their reactions are always hilarious.