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Gravity (All the Roads Have Lead Us Here)

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It ends the way John knew it would end: with a failed alliance and betrayal and anger, and his gun pointed at Todd's head.

Except, of course, if he had known this all along, then the betrayal wouldn't be leaving a taste as stale and bitter in John's mouth. If he had known this all along, then it wouldn't really be betrayal in the first place.

But it is.

* * *
John is angry, but Ronon is furious, brimming with 'I told you so's – and the worst thing is that John knows that he's right. It's all he can do to stop Ronon from taking his gun and firing at Todd until the Wraith is a burnt crumbled piece of flesh on the floor.

John wants to tell him that in another timeline, he and Todd have died together, fighting side by side for a common cause. But there's no point; it wouldn't change anything. This is here and now, and it doesn't matter what happened in a future that will never be. So what John says instead is, "Go back to the jumper. I'll handle this."

Ronon doesn't like it, but he complies, turning on his heel and stomping off with an angry glare but no further protest, recognizing John's words as the order they are and accepting it.

When John joins him in the jumper ten minutes later, Ronon asks bluntly, "Is he dead?"

John's answer is more ambiguous, but he makes his voice sound firm enough that he knows Ronon will not question him. "He won't be a problem anymore."

He is less sure than he sounds.

The next time I run into you, I'm not gonna hesitate to shoot you on sight, he told the Wraith. Whatever truce we had? It's history.

If Todd had been surprised at all that John was letting him get away again – just this one more time – he was hiding it well. He'd inclined his head in agreement, and John could have sworn he could make out the Wraith version of a smile on his lips.

Very well, John Sheppard. The next time we meet, we shall be enemies.

It shouldn't have upset him, it shouldn't have mattered at all, but it did— it does. No matter how many times John tells himself that this truce had never been a good idea in the first place, a doomed alliance that was fated to fall apart, he's been wanting this to work so badly that he can almost taste the disappointment on his tongue, sharp and bitter and coppery.

His report to Woolsey is stiff and terse, and later in the mess, when Rodney says something about how an alliance with the Wraith would have been the equivalent of teaming up with a steak ("Seriously, think about it," he says. "It makes no sense that someone would try to be friends with something they consider food."), John glares at him until he shuts up and moves on to a less tricky subject.

* * *
The Wraith are bumped up the list back to the 'no 1 enemy' position. Not that there is a list. Not officially, at least.

The point is, the Wraith are the most dangerous thing out there, and the people on Atlantis are treating them like that again, zero-tolerance no-alliance policy back in place.

It's altogether too easy to forget that while the Wraith might be the biggest threat, they are by far not the only one.

* * *
The people of M4K-226 are nice and hospitable, even if the source of the energy spike McKay dragged them here for is oddly elusive.

"I don't understand this," Rodney says with a frown and hazardously waves his tablet around.

It should be the first sign (or maybe even the second or the third) that something is very wrong, but there haven't been any traces of Wraith activity in the entire sector and they had no contact with hostile natives for years now, not since the Genii. Maybe they're being naïve. Maybe they just got too comfortable.

But then, no one could have guessed that the nice, hospitable natives are neither nice nor hospitable nor natives – not until John wakes up chained to a wall in a dark cell. One of his hospitable friends from M4K-226, a dark-haired middle-aged woman who was chatting amicably with Teyla not so long ago, is watching him from the outside with a smile on her face.

"Okay, what the hell is going on here? What have you done to me?" John demands.

Her voice is just as friendly as it had been before, when they were sitting next to each other at the dinner table earlier. "I am sorry for the inconvenience, Colonel Sheppard. Your people seem to be very different from the planet's natives. We need to learn more about you to successfully integrate ourselves into your society."

John is just about to point out that the easiest way of gathering information would be to ask instead of kidnapping people and locking them up, but then her features melt away, skin and facial structures changing into a bright red something that looks like a tentacled red blob from a bad sci-fi movie in the eighties. Part of John's brain is busy processing that this transformation is the most disgusting thing he's ever seen, while the rest realizes that his definition of integration into a society and hers might differ drastically.

"My friends will be looking for me," he tells her— it.

For a moment, the friendly face of the woman is back, but her smile looks grotesque now, and the calm, steady voice raises goose-bumps on his neck.

"But they will not find you," she tells him, in a tone that holds no trace of doubt or emotion. Those are the last words any of them speak to him.

It's only five weeks later – five weeks of torture and mind-numbing pain and experiments that leave him screaming for what feels like hours – that he starts believing them.

* * *
Both his senses and reflexes must have dulled over the weeks of imprisonment because he only hears the rescue team once the door to his cell blows up, and the force of the explosion throws him backwards against the wall, the sore skin on his back connecting painfully with the rough stones. For a split second, he allows himself to hope, before he spots the Wraith drones and realizes that it's not a rescue team at all.

A familiar figure steps through the hole the explosion left where the door used to be.

Surprise flickers up on Todd's face when the reptile eyes come to rest on John, but his voice is almost amused. "Sheppard. We have to stop meeting like this."

He steps closer to where John is lying in a heap in the corner. John can't angle his head so he can see Todd's face; he knows it's just the perspective, but the Wraith seems imposingly tall and menacing from down here on the floor.

"I'm afraid I'll make a less than hearty meal right now," John quips weakly, voice so worn and dry that he barely recognizes it as his own.

Todd crouches down, and John wishes he could stay focused long enough to try and read the look on the alien face. But the pain comes in waves now, the impact from the explosion weakening his already battered body further, and John has to fight not to let it take over. It's a struggle he knows he'll lose, eventually, and sooner rather than later. He thinks he hears Todd's voice saying, "Don't worry, you'll do," but his lips don't seem to move, so maybe John's only imagining it.

Then Todd's feeding hand is settling on his chest and John can't help thinking that it's only fair because, after all, he was the one to say that their truce was off. At least the pain will be gone soon.

Then things fade to black.

* * *
For the first time in what feels like years, but has in fact only been a matter of weeks, John wakes up without agony. It's such a blissful, liberating sensation that, for a split second, he does consider the possibility that he is dead.

He takes in his surroundings: a narrow alcove, the walls the typical branch structure of a Wraith ship, the floor cool and empty, apart from the pile of rags he's been lying on. It's similar to the holding cells on the hive ships, but he cannot see a door anywhere.

Maybe, he thinks, it's simply larger than the average cell. He rolls off the bundle of cloth, intending to explore the room and evaluate the situation, but as soon as he puts his feet on the ground and lifts himself up, sharp pain shoots through his left leg like a flash. It gives out under him and he crumbles.

"Crap," he swears under his breath, clutching the leg and screwing his eyes tightly shut. It's a sharp, singular pain, nothing like the all-encompassing agony from before: easier to localize, less mind-numbing, and at the same time more immediate and impossible to lose himself in.

John clenches his teeth and waits it out as the pain gradually begins to ease and fade.

There's a clattering sound as something hits the ground. John's eyes snap open, just as a Wraith drone is turning its back and striding away.

"Hey, wait!"

There's no answer or any indication that the Wraith has even heard him, and before John can do anything to stop it, the Wraith has rounded the corner and is out of his line of sight.

His eyes come to rest on a plate the drone must have left for him. There's an unidentifiable muddy brown substance on it. As if on cue, John's stomach growls: a low, rumbling sound that resonates all the way up to his throat. He gives the stuff on the plate a skeptic look. It doesn't look edible, but then again, it seems unlikely that the Wraith are trying to poison him even if he's not sure why he's still alive or what they want with him. He thinks he has them (no, not them – Todd) to thank for the lack of pain, other than from what he assumes is a broken leg, but none of this makes much sense. Or at least that's what he tells himself.

* * *
Todd's arrival comes both too soon and not soon enough. In those hours when John has only himself and his thoughts for company, he feels the questions burning on his tongue, waiting to be asked. At the same time, though, he isn't sure whether he's ready for the answers he will receive.

"You seem to be better," Todd says. His first words when he stops in front of John, and the sandpaper voice is already starting to scrape at John's nerve endings like chalk on a blackboard. He sounds vaguely self-satisfied, not quite smug but close enough to make John feel a not entirely rational stab of resentment.

"What happened to 'the next time we meet, we'll be enemies'?"

It seems a stupid thing to do to antagonize the deadly alien who just saved your ass instead of eating you – but then, McKay's the smart one, not him.

"I lied," Todd replies, casually, apparently not taking offense at John's rudeness. "Some bonds cannot be broken so easily. There's a lot you don't know about the Wraith."

"So you keep insisting. I don't suppose you feel like sharing any of that information with me? Now would be a good time."

Todd's smile shows off his dark teeth, predatory but not without humor. Since there is no verbal answer forthcoming, John chooses to interpret it as a 'no'.

He sighs. "Figures. What's going to happen now?"

If the question is ambiguous, it's because he doesn't know what he wants to ask: what's going to happen to him, or maybe what's going to happen with them and this... bond now, possibly even what consequences it has for the war between their races if they're unable to break this strange cycle of co-dependency. For weeks, he hadn't thought that he would live long enough to worry about the future, and right now the prospect seems too overwhelming to face.

Todd chooses to take his words in the most basic way. "I think it would not be wise for me to contact your people directly, given the way we parted. When you have regained your strength, we will put you on a planet with a gate. You can make your own way home from there."

"And the next time we meet?"

This time, the smile Todd offers him is positively mocking, as he's throwing John's own words back at him. "All bets will be off. As always."

John wants to point out that those two statements have proven to be contradictory, but he's too tired and not ready to get into that discussion, just as he's not ready to dispose of the pretense that they can just go back to being enemies.

* * *
Just because Todd is less than forthcoming with answers doesn't mean John stops trying.

"Why are you doing this?" he asks, when Todd hands him a bowl of something unidentifiable which fortunately, as he has learned during the last couple of days, tastes a lot better than it looks.

Todd cocks his head and gives him a confused look. "I thought humans require regular nutrition to sustain?"

John can't tell whether Todd doesn't understand what he's asking, or whether he doesn't want to understand. He sighs. "Yeah, sure we do. I mean all of this. Saving me, feeding me. What do you want with me?" The frustration in his voice takes even John himself by surprise.

"And don't give me that bullshit about how 'there are things about Wraith I don't understand'," he adds, sarcastically air-quoting the last part of the sentence, because he knows the evasive reply on Todd's lips and he's tired of hearing it.

Doesn't mean that the answer he gets is any less cryptic, or makes John any happier than the one he forestalled.

"The Gift of Life creates a powerful bond."

"Is that a fancy way of saying you like me and want to go steady?" John quips.

Todd rolls his eyes. "It is not as simple as that."

Now he's the one who sounds frustrated. "Taking someone's life and giving it back, it forges a certain... co-dependence. A kind of intimacy, if you will. It is not as easy as you or I may wish to walk away from it. It goes both ways, as you have probably noticed. I assume that is why I am still alive." Todd eyes him speculatively at those words, until the stare from the gold-and-black eyes becomes too unnerving and John looks away.

Bond... co-dependence... intimacy... John doesn't want to hear any of this, but at the same time, he knows it's true. He feels it, has felt it for a long time: in his willingness to trust Todd, in his reluctance to kill him even after the betrayal, in the way even now, something inside him screams for him to kneel and bare his chest for the feeding hand to descend. Grinding his teeth and pushing the impulse away as forcefully as he can, he wonders if this is how Wraith worshippers feel – the ones who are forced into it, not those who choose this fate for themselves.

It's as if Todd can read what's on his mind – or perhaps, more likely, read the expression of revulsion on his face – because he continues, "The form the bond will take differs. It depends on the intention with which it was created. Usually, our kind doesn't give the Gift of Life without expecting some form of payment."

"The Wraith worshippers," John interrupts, his tone hard and flat, and Todd inclines his head as if in agreement.

"This, though... this is different. There's no precedent for this kind of bond that I am aware of, so I'm as much in the dark as you are when it comes to what to expect."

Memories flicker through John's mind, flashes of those hours in Kolya's captivity: their reluctant alliance, fighting side by side, grudging trust, promises that were made to be broken and yet were not, gratitude. He has an idea or two about what to expect from this bond between them, if it indeed is based on the intentions the Gift of Life is given with, as Todd claims.

Doesn't mean that he has to like it.

* * *
In his dreams, his mind takes the Wraith concept of intimacy and twists it into something more familiar and comprehensible for the human psyche, but no less terrifying: the hand on his chest, feeding him life, turns the touch into a rough caress, long fingers stroking his jaw until he leans into the touch and goes to his knees willingly. There are variations of the dream, each more erotic and twisted than the other, and each one ends with the Wraith's body against his own and John submitting, closing his eyes and taking it and loving every second of it, even when he hates it.

John wakes up hard and aching, the memories of the dream still fresh in his mind, leaving in its wake a burning shame that almost makes him physically sick.

He awakes, one morning (or night – it's impossible to tell, on a Wraith cruiser), and finds Todd watching him. John fights down a wave of panic. The idea of Todd watching him sleep freaks him out; he feels like an open book: as if the evidence of his dreams is written all over his face and his body, plain for Todd to see.

But if he has any idea what direction John's mind strays to when John can't control it, Todd doesn't let on.

"It is time for you to go home," he says, an odd timbre in the raspy voice. It sounds almost like regret.

John sits up and nods, for once all out of words. He attributes the numbness he feels to the lingering sleepiness that leaves him dazed and the aftershocks of his nightmares.

* * *
The situation has the air of a déjà-vu, except this time it's Todd who's dropping John off on an unknown planet and not the other way around.

They stand in the middle of a field, green knee-high grass around them as far as John can see. Behind him, the gate reaches into the sky, gleaming silver in the light of two pale suns. He doesn't know where exactly he is, but Todd gave him his word that the planet is safe and that the gate will take him to Atlantis, and John believes him. It doesn't mean that he trusts Todd any further than that, but for now, there seems no reason for him to go through all the trouble to save John only to abandon him and have him be eaten by wild animals or poisoned by toxic air.

Still, part of him would feel safer if he had his side-arm with him, the same part of him that wants to activate the gate and get away from here as soon as possible.

And yet, he's strangely reluctant to part just yet.

"So, this is it," he says, stalling for time.

"This is it," Todd confirms. The reptile eyes give nothing away, but he doesn't seem in a hurry to turn and jump back into the dart either.

His earlier words echo in John's head. It is not as easy as you or I may wish to walk away from it.

He's tired of being the one who's thrown curveball after curveball of strange Wraith practice, unwanted intimacy he doesn't understand and never asked for, always the one who's half a step behind. John closes the gap between them with two brisk steps and then, not allowing himself to think about what he's about to do, leans up to press his lips to Todd's.

The kiss, if it can even be called that, is nothing like in his dreams. It's dry and firm, barely longer than a few seconds, just a hard pressure of lips against chapped, cool lips.

John quickly quenches the sudden, terrifying urge to let it go on for longer, to open his lips and make it real, reminding himself that Todd is a guy, and a Wraith, and the next time they meet they might well be on opposite sides again.

He takes a step back, feeling a stab of victory at the confused expression on Todd's face.

Good, he thinks. Let him stew over that for a while.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, though, the nagging realization settles down that he just might have made the situation more complicated than it already was.

"I guess I'll be seeing you around," he says in a neutral tone.

Todd's lips give the barest hint of a twitch. "I assume you will."

"I'm looking forward to it," John drawls as he turns away and steps towards the gate, not sure whether the words are a lie or the truth.