It's one of these things John doesn't see coming. It happens, out of the blue, triggered by some inconspicuous remark that sets in action a chain of events, leading him to places he never thought he'd go to.
"I won't be able to finish the code. I don't have enough time," the Wraith tells John, one night when they're on their way from the labs back to the cell: the Wraith, John and three marines in tow.
It's not like babysitting the Wraith all around the clock is in his job description, but he was down in the labs anyway to talk to Rodney about rescheduling their next off-world mission, and he figured he might as well take the Wraith away with him because even if Rodney wouldn't admit it, he needed a break.
In a way, the Wraith's obsession with the task at hand is just as single-minded as McKay's, so John isn't exactly surprised or particularly impressed by his complaint, which he initially takes as nothing but an expression of dissatisfaction at being interrupted in his work.
"What, you have somewhere else you need to be? Some hot date you didn't tell us about?"
The Wraith stops and turns to look at John. He doesn't seem particularly annoyed or amused by John's smart-ass comeback. "Hardly. I feel I am losing strength. I will not make it past this week, unless you let me feed or you set me free."
John swallows, the humor drained away in an instant. It's not like he hasn't thought about it, the fact that they've essentially been starving the Wraith. He just figured it was a problem they'd deal with when the time came. Apparently, the time came sooner than he'd hoped – which was about never.
"You know as well as I do that we can't let you go. It's a risk we cannot take." He doesn't even address the Wraith's first suggestion. He's not going to touch on that issue if he can avoid it. But of course, he cannot avoid it now.
The Wraith takes a step closer to John. Around them, the marines raise their guns and take aim, but all the Wraith does is lean in and say, "Then you have to feed me!"
His tone is low and insistent, and his eyes are fixing John with a stare that would make him uncomfortable even if they weren't talking about the possibility of sending someone to their death so that the Wraith would live. John thinks the pointed look he gives the Wraith in return will be answer enough as to what he thinks about the matter.
"If I'm fed, there is no reason for me not to give back what I took," the Wraith reasons.
John snorts and shakes his head. "Right. So all I have to do is find you someone who's willing to trust you enough to let you drain them to the brink of death and then bring them back. Sure. Piece of cake."
There's no reply. Not a verbal one, anyway. The Wraith merely inclines his head a little and looks at John with piercing reptile eyes, as if he's just waiting for John to make the connection.
When he does, the sarcastic chuckle dies on his lips. "You've got to be kidding me."
If the Wraith thinks for a minute that he'll walk in there and allow him, allow this creature to put his hand to John's chest, if he thinks John will stand by and let him suck the life out of him without a fight, then he must be deluded. He suppresses the shiver of remembered pain, a faint echo of what he felt when Kolya had him kidnapped and strapped to the chair and the Wraith started to feed.
"You have trusted me before," the Wraith argues, as if he somehow knows what John is thinking about. Then again, the disgust on his face is probably not all that hard to read.
"Yes, because I had no other choice. I have now."
And he makes it clear what his choice will be by turning around and walking out. He doesn't look back until he's out of sight, three thick sets of doors, bars and an energy field between him and the Wraith.
He crams his schedule so full that he has no time left to think: morning run with Ronon, paperwork he should have done weeks ago, stick fighting with Teyla, lunch with Rodney, weapon practice with the new arrivals of scientists, more paperwork, the armory inventory he originally planned to relegate to Lorne, another work-out with Ronon, maybe a game of chess or two with Rodney, and afterwards he's so tired that he falls asleep pretty much the second his back hits the mattress.
John is so busy not thinking about the Wraith and his suggestion that it feels like a punch to his gut when Keller calls in an emergency senior staff meeting down in the brig.
He arrives just in time to hear her say, "I'm afraid there's nothing I can do for him. He's starving. His body is shutting down."
The Wraith is sitting motionlessly on the bench in the middle of the cell. John thinks he doesn't really look like he's dying, but then, it's hard to tell what a Wraith looks like when they're losing strength. The moment he enters the cell, the Wraith looks up and their eyes meet for a split second, until John averts his gaze.
"Isn't there some sort of, I don't know, parenteral nutrition I guess. Some way to feed him without actually throwing someone in here so he can suck the life out of them."
"To be honest, we have no idea," Keller admits. "The Wraith metabolism is still pretty much a mystery to us. The Ancient database has almost nothing on it, and what the Wraith could tell us doesn't really help us any further."
Rodney crosses his arms in front of him and looks unhappily from one of them to the other. "Surprisingly, it turns out that the Wraith don't make a habit of administering intravenous nutrition. When they run out of… well, their usual food supply – and by that I mean humans – they just feed on each other instead. And while I certainly won't mourn if there's one Wraith less to do the space vampire thing, we do need this Wraith alive. Because I may be a genius, but by the speed they're getting on there's no way I can finish the code on my own before the Replicators have finished wiping out at least half of this galaxy."
Suddenly, the Wraith speaks, and every head in the room whips around to him. "There is another way…" he begins and looks at John. He doesn't go on, but the mere hint at the deal he proposed makes John's stomach clench.
"What is he talking about?" Carter asks, looking from John to the Wraith and back again.
John grinds his teeth so hard that his jaw starts to ache. He should tell Carter of the Wraith's proposal, hand the decision off to her in the safe knowledge that she will never allow it.
Instead, he shrugs. "I have no idea," he says and glares at the Wraith. It's a look that says, Keep your mouth shut if you want to live, and John knows it. The Wraith knows it too, because his lips seem to form a faint smile.
The Wraith doesn't acknowledge him, not even when he touches the console to deactivate the energy field and unlock the doors of the cell. It's only when he steps inside that the Wraith finally looks up and pushes himself to his feet with some visible effort.
John swallows, and searches the Wraith's reptile eyes for something; he isn't sure for what exactly. But the Wraith holds his gaze silently, and there's nothing in those eyes except yellow and black and John's reflection.
So, how does this work? he wants to ask, because it doesn't seem to make much sense to him that after taking from John and then letting it all spill back the Wraith should feel any less hungry than he did before the process. There are so many things about the Wraith they still don't understand, and John wants to know. But his mouth is dry and his tongue feels numb, and he cannot make himself speak.
After a stalemate that stretches too long, the Wraith moves, and John's throat constricts with anticipation and fear.
His hand clamps around the Wraith's wrist before the hand gets anywhere near his chest.
"You will give back everything you take," he says, almost an order, with the hint of a question underneath, and it takes all his willpower to make his voice come out calm and steady.
"I will," the Wraith says, sandpaper-voice grating on John's nerves in a way that has his fingers momentarily tightening around the Wraith's wrist.
"Trust me," he adds with a smile that mocks John, and it's almost enough for him to put a stop to this whole thing, because really, it's insanity to trust a Wraith with his life. If Carter knew, or Ronon, or Teyla, or even McKay, if anyone knew, they would have stopped him. But they don't know, and he's made his choice, and he's not going to back down now.
His hand falls away and he forces himself to keep his eyes open and look at the Wraith as he lifts his hand and presses it to John's chest. Their eyes lock, and the Wraith's breath is loud in his ears, and then, suddenly, there's pain. Agony, everywhere, like every cell of his body is on fire, burning and withering and dying. He's forgotten how it feels, and now that he remembers, he cannot imagine why he ever agreed to this, voluntarily.
Blindly, he reaches out, his hands once again grasping the Wraith's forearm, this time only to steady himself, but it's not enough. His legs give out under him and he thinks he's falling, or maybe the Wraith is laying him down. Next he knows, he's on the floor, which is hard and cold under his frail back, and the Wraith is hovering above.
And he's smiling. The fucking bastard is smiling. Then again, why wouldn't he be? He has what he wanted, after all.
"At least – finish – it," John breathes through his aching throat – words he wants to spit out in angry defiance, but doesn't have the power to.
"And still, you don't trust me, John Sheppard." The Wraith sounds disapproving, disappointed even, and John would maybe find it amusing if he had the time and energy for it.
Then the Wraith bends down and his hand is back on John's chest. His heart flutters, and part of him thinks, This is it.
He doesn't even have time to finish the thought before it hits him, a rush of power. He's forgotten how this feels, too. Life, fresh and sweet. Pleasure, so intense that he can almost taste it on his tongue. It's like flying and falling, like it's too much and never enough and all he wants is more.
He feels the Wraith like he's part of him, like they're one, the connection between them alive and burning, energy bursting into him through the hand on his chest, the hand he's still clinging to.
It stops, too soon, and his throat is hoarse and dry.
He can't bring himself to move for minutes, lying on his back with his fingers wrapped in a death grip around the Wraith's wrist, gasping for air. They're both breathing heavy, almost in-synch. He thinks this weird kind of intimacy should probably bother him, but he cannot bring himself to care.
When he finally speaks, all that he can say is, "Wow."
The Wraith chuckles quietly, and John finally allows his fingers to let go.
It's McKay who figures it out. Of course, it has to be Rodney.
Keller is just talking about the Wraith's feeding cycles and their effect on its metabolism when John realizes that Rodney's staring at him. He quirks an eyebrow at him, and Rodney does that thing where his eyes widen comically and his mouth falls open and you know he just had some sort of epiphany. Except John suspects that this time it won't be the sort of epiphany he likes – and he's right.
"Oh my God, tell me you didn't!" Rodney exclaims loudly, and every pair of eyes in the room turns to him – only to follow his gaze and come to rest on John a few seconds later.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, McKay," John drawls, hoping he can salvage something, hoping Rodney will get on with the program and shut the hell up, but of course it's not that easy.
Rodney is on a roll and in fact doesn't even acknowledge that John said anything at all. "You did, didn't you? I don't believe this! Are you clinically insane? Is the idea of maybe coming out with a few grey hairs less really attractive enough to warrant the risk of dying an extremely painful premature death?"
John winces because at this point everyone in the room has to know what exactly Rodney is talking about, and judging by the way they look at him, they do and they don't like it any more than Rodney does.
"Colonel Sheppard?" Carter asks, and her tone is as hard as the look she gives him.
He sighs. "Look, it was either this or just standing by and watching the Wraith starve to death. It's you who said we needed him alive, so I did what it took to keep him alive. It wasn't a walk in the park, but I'm okay and he's not dying, and we can get on with the working on the code. It's a win-win situation; everyone is happy."
"Yes, until the next time he needs feeding," Carter says. "And either way, the decision wasn't yours to make."
"Besides," Rodney chimes in from the side, "we have no idea what the long term effects of being fed on and having your life restored afterwards are."
John just glares at him.
"Thanks a bunch, McKay," he says sourly. "Maybe you could have voiced your objections to my recent actions to me first before announcing it to the entire senior staff? I could have done without being practically dissected by Keller."
He steals a fry off Rodney's plate with vindictive satisfaction, which earns him a scowl.
"Well, you got what you deserved," Rodney says, but his tone is all wrong, more unhappy than actually accusing. "Also, get your own food."
"Hey, I'm the one being sucked out by a Wraith here!"
That at last provokes a standard McKay response, including the trademark 'I'm surrounded by idiots' glare and a tone that's sharp enough to cut, "Yes, completely voluntarily. So excuse me if I'm all out of sympathy."
After a moment, he adds in a quieter voice, "Do you really think this is a good idea?"
And John wishes it was a rhetorical question, just another accusation that he's not been thinking this through, but Rodney actually asks and the question is solemn and serious and, dammit, demands an answer.
"Yes," he says instantly, automatically defending his choices. It comes out too quickly and too defensively. The expression on Rodney's face tells John that he's not fooling anyone. Trying to shake off the sense of being cornered, he awkwardly scratches head and looks away. Avoids Rodney's gaze when he finally admits, "I don't know."
He expects another rant of how stupid and reckless his behaviour is, but there's nothing, only silence, and that's more frightening and more guilt-inducing than anything else.
They're caught at an impasse for too long before one of them breaks the silence. John knows it should be him, but he has no idea how to start, so he doesn't.
"So the next time he's starving will you—"
Rodney leaves the sentence hanging, his voice trailing off awkwardly, and John just shrugs.
"I suppose. If we still need him for the code." But even as he says the words, he's wondering whether it'll really be that easy. Whether he'll just be able to step back and say, 'That's it, you've exceeded your usefulness' by the time they're done with the code and don't strictly need the Wraith anymore.
He shoves the thought away. There's not much point thinking about this now. He'll figure it out when the time comes.
When the second time – well, third time really, but he doesn't really count the first time all those months ago because was different, something that happened to him, and not a deal he agreed to – for feeding comes around, there are no threats or enforced promises, no exchanges about trust or the lack thereof. It's almost routine already.
He should have known that it can't possibly be this easy.
The third time John feels life spilling back into his body, a rush of adrenaline and pleasure so sharp that it's almost painful, he comes in his pants.
He's suddenly extremely glad that he managed to talk Carter out of the idea that the entire feeding/life restoration process should be supervised. Of course, his initial motivation had been his reluctance to have other people witness his pain when the Wraith was sucking him dry.
In hindsight, the idea of having his agony during the feeding witnessed almost pales in comparison to the embarrassment if someone had been around to see this.
John doesn't know whether the Wraith realizes the effect his 'gift of life' had, and he doesn't stick around long enough to find out.
He manages to avoid the Wraith for two weeks, careful not to venture into the lab where he knows McKay and the Wraith are working on the code or anywhere near the holding cell. But he knows he cannot stay away forever and eventually, the next time to feed the Wraith will come. He knows he'll have to get some answers, a more detailed insight of how this entire thing works, and there's only one person who can give him that.
He'll have a talk with the Wraith the next day, right after they'll be back from M2A-812, he tells himself one night before he falls into a dreamless, undisrupted sleep.
On M2A-812, a cave gives in above him and crushes him. He shoves McKay forward, out of the way with both arms and tumbles ahead; then there's sharp, mind-numbing pain and the world goes black.
The first thing he sees is the Wraith standing above him, his hand hovering above John's chest. John instinctively reacts, one hand coming up to grasp the Wraith's wrist while the other one reaches for his sidearm. A sidearm that's not there. Confusion settles in for a moment, and just when he gets ready to fight he takes in the rest of the room, realizing that he's in a bed in the infirmary, and that Keller and Carter and Rodney are standing around the bed, their expressions varying mixtures of worry and astonishment and relief.
"Welcome back." The Wraith is looking at him with unreadable eyes, and his voice is equally unfathomable. John thinks he hears a kind of satisfaction in the words, but he could be wrong.
Then, suddenly, everyone starts talking at once.
"Oh my God, is he—Are you awake?" Rodney asks, "How are you feeling? Wait, do you know who you are? Do you know who we are?"
Carter is calmer, her voice steadier, but almost cautious – as if she expects John to drop back into unconsciousness any second. "Are you alright, Colonel? You gave us a bit of a fright."
"This is extraordinary. His heart rate spiked up so much that it was out of range for the monitor, and now all his life functions are back to normal," Keller explains, though she seems to be talking to herself rather than addressing the others, her eyes glued on the screen that shows the rhythmic up-and-down of his pulse. She sounds oddly excited for someone who's seen Nanites bring a brain-dead person back to life and people being killed by their nightmares, and John cannot help wondering what exactly has happened. He has an idea or two.
He turns away from Keller to the Wraith, who's still watching him curiously. He's done nothing to extract his arm from John's grip, and his skin is warm and surprisingly smooth under John's fingers.
"I'm fine," he says, his eyes remaining locked to the Wraith's as if all it takes is to stare long and hard enough to find all the answers he's looking for. He remembers the mission and the cave and the pain. He doesn't remember anything else, but he can fill most of the gaps – except for the reason why everyone is staring at him like he's a ZPM about to overload.
"And yes, Rodney, I remember who you are. What I don't remember is what the hell happened to me. Other than being buried under a pile of stones."
It's not exactly a question, but he figures he doesn't need to ask directly to get an answer. But the silence that follows stretches uncomfortably long, and when he looks from one of them to the other, all they do is shoot each other awkward little glances out of the corners of their eyes.
It's Rodney who finally speaks. "You were dying," he says into the silence, sounding oddly defensive, the corners of his mouth turning down unhappily.
"Actually, you were dead." Keller briefly looks at John before her eyes slide back to the screen. "Your heart had stopped."
John's head snaps back around, eyes automatically seeking out the creature above him. The Wraith keeps holding his gaze, calmly, answering the question John doesn't dare to ask.
He hears Rodney's voice, words spilling from his lips in rapid succession like they always do when he's on a roll, except different: more urgent, more frantic, and the image and audio of the video footage is so clear as if John was in the room with them.
"— and I know you and Sheppard have this weird thing going on," McKay says. His voice falters a little, and then he urges on, "which I don't understand and don't really want to understand either. But… well… the thing is, he's dying, and Keller says there's nothing she can do, and if there's any chance at all that you could help him— And yes, I'm aware that you probably don't care what happens to Sheppard, but if Sheppard is gone, do you really think anyone else will be crazy enough to let you feed on them? Just think of it as self-preservation, not as a favor to me or to Sheppard or to anyone."
Then he stops, abruptly, and all John needs to do is take a look at his face to know that Rodney thinks this is hopeless. John hates this. Hates seeing this now, when it's all over and done, too late to do anything about it. Hates knowing that it was him who put that expression there. He isn't even aware that his hands are clenched tightly and his teeth are grinding as he continues to watch.
"I will help you," the Wraith says, and John is as surprised as Rodney seemed to be by the lack of bargaining.
"Right. Okay. Great. Let's go to the infirmary," he hears Rodney say, and he thinks he's seen enough. He's about to stop the show and erase the feed when the Wraith speaks again, and John's finger freezes on the stop button.
"And, Dr. McKay? I do care about what happens to Sheppard."
Doesn't mean it's not awkward, the first time he finds himself facing the Wraith afterwards.
"We still cannot let you go," he says, instantly hating the apologetic tone that has crept into his voice. It's not like McKay promised the Wraith anything in exchange for his life, yet he still feels an absurd stab of uneasiness, as if he's not holding his ends to a devil's bargain he never knew he made.
The Wraith tilts his head and regards him curiously. "I did not expect you to. You trust me with your life, but you cannot trust me with everyone else's. I understand."
The easy acceptance and implicit understanding make John uncomfortable. He'd know how to deal with the Wraith if he was threatening or attacking him, but this? He doesn't know what to make of it.
"Alright, as long as we're on the same page." He nods sharply, and changes the subject to steer them back into familiar territory. "Let's get the show on the road then."
When the Wraith makes no move to reach out and feed, John raises an eyebrow and lifts his arms, as if to ask, What are you waiting for?
The Wraith slowly circles him, and John forces himself to remain still and endure the peculiar appraisal. Though he cannot see the Wraith, John feels it when he stops right behind him.
"Are you sure it is not too soon? Your body has sustained severe injuries the other day."
John jumps a little, startled despite himself because the voice is closer than he thought, right next to his ear. Even more than the proximity, the reminder of his accident and the subsequent rescue make John uneasy, and he forces a fake casual smile on his face when he half-turns his head.
"Sure. The doctors say I'm good as new." He knows he should add some sort of acknowledgment of gratitude, but he cannot quite bring himself to say 'thank you'.
The Wraith doesn't seem to be waiting for it. John's reassurance that he can take the feeding seems to be enough for him, because before John can think what else to say, there's the now familiar press of a hand to his chest and then sudden, blinding pain. As he feels his body shaking with the force of it, he closes his eyes and lets it wash over him.
It ends sooner than he expected, though, and he knows that the Wraith didn't take as much as he could have, or as much as he previously did.
His body feels like falling apart anyway, and he knows that the only reason he's not lying crumbled on the floor is that his back is leaning against the Wraith's body, held up by strong arms circling his torso. The position is absurdly comfortable, even though his legs are faltering and he concedes that maybe it was too early after the accident.
When the pleasure hits him this time, it's different: it's not the sharp rush of energy he's come to expect, but a slow, gently building wave that curves around him like liquid and takes him higher and higher. Where previously, it was like soaring into the air at 200mph, now it's like floating, not entirely unlike meditation but more immediate, more physical.
He clings to the sensation and rides it out, and this time, when the orgasm sweeps over him like a tidal wave, he's not even surprised.
The sensations are more intense every time. Not the pain John feels during the feeding – that pretty much always stays the same, and he's really grateful for that because he doesn't think he could take it if it became any worse. But the rush he feels when he's on the brink of death and the Wraith takes him back gets stronger and stronger. He isn't entirely sure if it's a physical thing: if there's some sort of bond created between them that's growing, making him more and more dependent on the feeding process, like an addiction, or if he's only allowing himself to open up more than he used to because he's grudgingly, almost involuntarily, beginning to trust the Wraith.
The first time he wakes with the Wraith's hand on his chest, when the process of being drained and restored left him falling into an exhausted, content slumber, he all but freaks out.
The hand is just resting there, unmoving, not feeding, and somehow that makes it worse. It's not unlike waking up in someone else's bed the morning after, knowing you shouldn't have spent the night.
He winces at the comparison because, really, he doesn't need to make this any more sexual than it already this.
Is it always like this? he wants to ask, and What does it feel like from your side? But he doesn't, because he can't find a way to make the questions sound any less like Have you done this with other people? and Was it good for you too?
What he does ask, eventually, because he thinks it's ridiculous to keep mentally referring to the guy as 'the Wraith' when they're doing this, is, "Do you have a name?"
"No. We have serial numbers." The Wraith's voice is so serious that it takes John a moment too long to detect the wry humor underneath, and then the Wraith is already starting to laugh.
"Funny." John aims for a glare, but his lips are twitching.
"Of course I have a name. Are you really so arrogant to believe that only humans have names?"
"Well, it's not like we've ever been formally introduced."
The Wraith rolls his eyes and smiles, and the expression on his face is almost… fond. And maybe a little sad. "You couldn't possibly pronounce it."
And John wants to say try me, or something equally glib, but the words get stuck in his throat when the Wraith is leaning into his space, too close, much too close. Warm breath brushes against his ear when the Wraith starts to whisper, foreign vowels rough like sandpaper against John's skin, and he feels the hairs at the back of his neck beginning to prickle. He fights down the urge to lean closer.
The moment is gone as suddenly as it started. The Wraith stands back, two feet of safety distance between them, and John feels like he can breathe again.
"Like I said, you would not be able to pronounce it," the Wraith says matter-of-factly.
John knows he's right, and yet he feels the sounds of the Wraith's voice resonating in his mind like a dying echo and he thinks, not for the first time since he started this, that he's in over his head.
He tells himself that the reason why he never suggests it is because he's come to respect the Wraith too much, but the truth he won't admit is that he doesn't want to give this up. They are trapped in this routine of necessity that's become almost comfortable: the Wraith needs feeding and he provides it, and he tells himself that's all there is to it.
But the truth is that he's come to need this just as much, and that he's scared to even think of where it would leave them if the Wraith wasn't a Wraith anymore.