"No, seriously, this is so wrong it's not funny. Flying vampires? Even Newton --"
"Ye cannae change the laws of physics," said Sheppard from the other end of the couch, taking another swig of his beer.
"Yes, thank you, Scotty: it's a good thing Carson's not here to hear you slaughter his native tongue --"
"Sshh," said Teyla. Rodney glared at her until Ronon shot him a quelling look.
"These ... vampires ... are unlike the Wraith," Teyla said after a while.
"Tom Cruise is too short to be a Wraith," said Sheppard. "And too pretty."
"Pretty?" said Rodney indignantly. On-screen, Lestat and Louis pressed close enough to kiss. Rodney looked askance at Sheppard, who was (oh, interesting) looking back at him. Trying to gauge his reaction? He was damned if he could read anything from Sheppard's expression. But hey, Sheppard thought Tom Cruise was pretty.
"Yeah, but I liked him better in Top Gun."
"Was that the one we saw week before last?"
"Of course you did," said Rodney over Ronon. "I bet Tom Cruise was a big role model when --"
"Look, Rodney, this is the last movie night we're going to get for a while," said Sheppard. "Shut up and watch the film."
"What d'you mean, 'a while'?" asked Ronon. "How long are we going to spend on the Traveller ship? Thought it was just a quick trip."
"Depends on how long Rodney and Zelenka need with the hyperdrive," said Sheppard. "And Keller's said she'll liase with their doctor on a couple of medical issues."
"Medical issues?" said Rodney. "I thought we were going to fix their drive and grab any Ancient technology they had lying around. Atlantis can't afford to have both me and Zelenka away for long. Though god knows what Woolsey said to get Zelenka off-base at all."
"Mr Woolsey is eager for us to fulfil the bargain we made during the war with the Replicators," said Teyla. "We offered our help in exchange for their support: we should not go back on our word. There is much to be gained from an affiliation with a technologically-advanced people. And it is only one mission."
"Yeah," said Rodney, brightening. "And it'll be good to spend some time with Keller, away from ..." He gestured vaguely. "Everything."
"Yeah," said Ronon, with that dirty smile.
"Right, of course: you can have another try at impressing Jennifer. Good luck with that. And Sheppard here'll be chatting up the sexy space pirate," said Rodney. It came out more sharply than he'd intended.
Sheppard's ears went red. "Rodney," he drawled, "it's just another mission, okay? We've got a job to do."
Teyla reached over and turned up the volume before Rodney could retaliate. He scowled, but settled back to watch and mock. The science was risible: mind-reading! Retractable teeth! Vampirism transmitted by a single bite! (Cruise and Pitt were easy on the eye, though the tension between them made him itch.) "But hey," said Rodney, thinking out loud, "if you think about nanites, it's not so different. You could do it with nanites. Or a retrovirus, maybe, like the one --"
"Looks like a Wraith now," interrupted Ronon. Yeah, post-swamp Lestat did look a hell of a lot nastier. And kind of familiar.
"Perhaps your Earth tales of vampires originate in stories told by the Ancestors," said Teyla. "Like the Wraith, they suck life; they are long-lived, and difficult to kill; they prey upon humans."
"Yes, yes," said Rodney, "and, just like the Wraith, they can turn humans into copies of -- oh, no, wait, Wraith can't do that."
Sheppard was scratching the scar on his neck, but his hand dropped back to his knee when he saw Rodney watching him.
"Wraith burn pretty," said Ronon. "Like vampires."
"Just let me point out," said Rodney, "that vampires are not real. Maybe, maybe the stories did come from the Ancestors. Maybe they were so freaked out by the Wraith -- who, let's not forget, they created, which, no -- that they kept telling stories about them even after they'd run away to another galaxy. So what? All this," he waved a hand at the screen, "comes from horror stories written by a mad Irish drunkard. And Anne Rice."
"Have another beer, McKay," said John, rolling his eyes.
Rodney grabbed the bottle opener from Ronon and flipped the cap to the floor. (They were in Sheppard's quarters, so it wasn't like he was going to stand on it barefoot.) "And if all it took to reduce a Wraith to a perfectly-formed heap of ash was a dose of solar radiation," he said, taking a swig, "life in the Pegasus galaxy would be a lot simpler."
"Sure you're not a vampire, Rodney?" said Sheppard, nudging him. "Just sayin'. All that sunscreen? Kind of obvious."
"The Wraith do often cull at night," interrupted Teyla firmly. "But I have seen them by day."
"What'd happen to a vampire in space?" said Ronon.
"What, how should I know? No sunlight," said Rodney, working it out. "If it's solar radiation ..."
But Sheppard was starting tofrown -- he didn't like too much science with his brain-candy -- so Rodney shut up.
"I do not see why anyone would wish to become a vampire," said Teyla, once the credits were rolling. "Never to see the sun; never to know the savour of food or the kiss of a loved one --"
"They don't fuck," said Ronon.
"Well, yes," said Rodney. "Succinctly put. If you're immortal, there's not much point in reproducing. You'd outstrip your food supply."
"Wraith reproduce," said Ronon.
"Ewww. I so do not want to think about that. I mean --"
"No Wraith on the Traveller ship," said Sheppard. "Let's call it a night and get some sleep: we're scheduled to gate out early tomorrow."
"Sleep?" said Rodney. "I'll be having nightmares about Wraith screwing, thanks to --"
"Just keep thinking about good-looking vampires," said Sheppard, and fuck, he winked. "Sweet dreams, McKay."
"You too," said Rodney, and hoped like hell he wouldn't be dreaming of Sheppard instead.* * *
She'd told Morche to back off, to let her handle the Lanteans, but he was standing far too close to her, and Sheppard'd pick up on that and think he was off the hook. Which might work out in her favour -- misdirection was both effective and satisfying -- but hell, couldn't Morche follow a direct order for once in his life?
"You better stand over there with Rishi," she said to Morche, watching the Lanteans' ship power down and the doors of Bay Four slide shut, obscuring the stars.
"I don't want --"
"I don't care what you want, Morche," snapped Larrin. "Not here, not now." She shot him a promissory look, hoping he'd remember that there were times when she did care, or at least when their wants collided. He was a capable second, a good Science Officer; decorative, too, with his long curly black hair and his sharp features and his deceptively slim, muscular build. And Morche was smarter than he looked.
A lot like Sheppard, really.
"If you're going to --"
"Sheppard is going to be valuable to us in all sorts of ways," said Larrin quickly, one eye on the status lights above the airlock as they shaded from red to blue. "You understand?"
"What about --"
"If nobody does anything stupid, the Lanteans won't notice a thing." Larrin flexed her fingers, feeling the black leather of her gloves stretch and cling. "We can handle it."
The airlock began to hiss open: it was too late for Morche to respond with anything but a curt nod. Larrin couldn't read his expression, but it didn't matter. If he disobeyed her ...
Sheppard came through first, of course, his hands on his gun, looking around warily.
"Good to see you, Sheppard," said Larrin, smiling her toothiest smile.
"Mutual," said Sheppard, smirking. The scientist McKay was right behind him, his mouth slanting down, glaring at Larrin for some reason. Then a shorter man with wild hair; Teyla Emmagan, who Larrin remembered from their brief alliance against the Replicators; a blonde woman, struggling with two big black cases, who eyed Morche nervously and essayed a smile at Rishi; and last of all, Ronon Dex, gun in hand.
"Well, Sheppard? Aren't you going to introduce me to your people?" said Larrin sweetly.
"You know McKay," said Sheppard. "This is Doctor Zelenka, one of our foremost experts on Ancient tech." (McKay, bristling, looked as though he was about to object to that.) "He's keen to have a look at any artefacts you've got lying around. You met Teyla Emmagan before; this is Doctor Jennifer Keller, our Chief Medical Officer; and I'm sure you remember Specialist Ronon Dex."
"Oh yes," said Larrin, just to see Sheppard's eyes narrow. "I never forget a handsome man. Rishi; Morche. Rishi's our CMO, so she can liase with Doctor Keller here." Rishi grinned at Keller. "Morche is my second: he took over Science when Nevik died. I'm sure you remember Nevik, Sheppard."
Sheppard just nodded. He wasn't smiling any more.
"Morche'll be working with McKay and Zelenka on the problem with the hyperdrive," said Larrin. "And if they complete the work quickly, there may be the opportunity to check out some of the other Ancestral tech we've salvaged. And to cement our alliance, of course." She grinned at Sheppard.
"Have you done any work reconfiguring Ancient navigational crystals?" demanded Rodney, turning his unfriendly glare on Larrin's Science Officer.
"Morche knows pretty much everything Nevik did," interjected Larrin firmly. "He's been working on our drives since before I took command of the Runagate."
"When was that? Last week?"
"McKay," growled Sheppard.
"Look, just because ..." Something in Sheppard's expression stopped McKay mid-rant. "Right," he said, not meeting anyone's eyes.
"I'll show you your quarters," said Larrin. "Afraid you'll be a bit cramped, but we're short on space."
"Nice gun," she heard Ronon Dex say behind her.
"Yeah," said Morche. "Same as yours, no? Where'd you find it?"
"Morche," said Larrin, raising her voice only slightly, "why don't you take McKay and his colleague to their quarters?"
If Dex objected to the interruption, he did it quietly, which suited Larrin just fine.
After some debate, she'd elected to put the Lanteans in the aftmost residential area, closest to the docking bays. They weren't in a position to complain about the noise, and they wouldn't be here long. Besides, it kept them away from the control rooms and the commons. Larrin halted in front of an open door. "You two are in here," she said to Teyla, indicating Keller with a nod. "Basic, but I'm sure you've had worse. Sanitation and showers at the end of the corridor, just up there."
"Showers?" said Keller, all pleased surprise. "That's --"
"Sonic showers," Larrin supplied. "We don't waste water."
"Of course you don't," said Sheppard.
"Sonics are fine," Rishi hastened to reassure them. "None of us smell, right?"
"Right," agreed Keller, though she wrinkled her nose. "Hey, if I drop my bag here, can you help me get these cases to your infirmary? Your medical bay?"
"Sure," said Rishi, grunting as she hefted one of the big black cases.
"Dex, you're in here: it's too small for two," said Larrin, indicating the cabin -- more of a cupboard -- next to Keller and Teyla's cabin. Ronon said nothing, just tossed his satchel onto the bunk and turned back to Larrin.
"What about me?" said Sheppard, with a quirk of his eyebrow.
If they'd been alone Larrin might have had a suggestion or two, but Ronon and Teyla were watching closely enough to make her skin itch, and if Sheppard was going to play hard to get then Larrin wasn't in the mood for an audience. "Here," she said, palming open a third door.
"Great," said Sheppard, peering into the tiny cabin. "Definitely an improvement over last time."
Larrin leant up against the bulkhead. "Last time," she drawled, "you were trying to escape every time I turned my back. You were trying to sabotage my ship. We had no choice but to confine you to the brig. This time, Sheppard, you're a valued guest."
Sheppard exchanged a glance with Ronon.
"Yeah, and the rest of your people too," said Larrin crossly.
"Great," said Sheppard again, though there was a stubborn set to his jaw that didn't bode well.
Larrin would've needled him some more, but her comm crackled. "Commander?"
"Go ahead, Morche."
"McKay and Zil ... " There was an indistinct, annoyed voice in the background. "Zelenka. Right. McKay and Zelenka want to get going on the drive: shall I tell them you're on your way?"
"Tell them we're all on our way," said Larrin firmly. "Out."* * *
The Runagate -- John thought he'd seen that word somewhere, something about renegades or pirates -- was ... well, it was a heap of junk. Just that thought made him grin, and turn to look for Rodney: but Rodney, of course, was down (or possibly up) in the engine room, tinkering with the faulty hyperdrive, and John didn't want to interrupt him just to share a Star Wars reference.
Keller might get it. Or Ronon, maybe.
The thing was, McKay was here to work, like Zelenka and Keller. There wasn't really much of anything for John or Ronon or Teyla to do, and the gloom and the mess was starting to get to John. He hadn't slept much, but that was just common sense in a strange place. Common sense, and the lack of natural light.
On the other hand, there were distractions. Like Larrin, who was leaning against the door panel -- the door cycling open and closed behind her -- and grinning at him. Sure, she'd been a pain in the ass the first time they'd met, but she'd held to her end of the deal when they allied against the Replicators, and she'd been promising to let him have a look at the scrapheap of Ancient tech that the Travellers had traded for or discovered. And she seemed to like hanging out with him.
'Sides, it wound up McKay when John flirted with anyone. Which was ... he didn't know what it was.
"Hey," said John. "What do you guys do for fun?"
"How long have you got?" Larrin smirked back at him. "I thought we might have a look at some of that junk you're so interested in."
"Cool," said John. "Lead the way."
He'd never find his way around the Runagate without a guide. The passageways twisted and turned, as bad as a Hive, and the low light and the tangles of cable didn't give him anything to orient himself. Coming out of his cabin, they'd turned left towards the main body of the ship: the passage opened into a circular space with four other passageways leading off it. There was a shiny mirror-cube the size of a CD rack rotating slowly above their heads, reminding John vividly of that bar in Berlin that Holland'd liked: he half-expected a thumping techno beat to start up. Not that there was any music -- or any other entertainment -- on this ship, unless they were all holed up somewhere watching the Pegasus equivalent of General Hospital.
"Commons up thataway," said Larrin, as if she'd read his mind. "We're headed to Research."
John would've put money on this not being the most direct route.
Eventually Larrin palmed open a door. The room beyond was lined with shelves, and stacked to the ceiling with ... stuff. "Darus," said Larrin coolly to the blond guy crouched over some sprawling net of wire and crystal. "This is Sheppard, from Atlantis. He's got the gene of the Ancestors, and he's offered to help us figure out some of this." She glanced around at the mess. "Assuming you haven't already found the ZPM-maker, or the Ancestral Gene Emulator, or one of those really cool energy weapons that burns Wraith to ashes."
"Sorry, Larrin," said Darus with a grin. "Now, this is interesting."
"I'm not sure, 'cause the power circuit's fried, but I think it's intended to provide a kind of very localised telepathic pick-up, like --"
"Leave it," said Larrin: Darus flinched at her sharpness. Larrin winked at Sheppard. "Can't have our allies knowing all our secrets, can we? ... Have fun, Sheppard. I'll come and get you later if you don't show up for dinner. Bye!"
"Bye," said John, shooting a trenchant look after her. When he turned round, Darus was looking at him: studying him, the way Rodney sometimes did.
"Ancestral gene, huh? No wonder she likes you."
John shrugged. "What can I say? I'm a likeable guy."
Darus snorted. "Right. Wanna take a look at this?"
John peered at the glittery net; touched it gingerly, but nothing lit up. "Nah. Anyway, wouldn't want to cross your commander: she told me what happens to anyone who ... disappoints her."
Darus peered at John. His eyes were bright blue: not as blue as Rodney's, but still striking. "Watch your step with her, Sheppard," he said softly. "She's trouble, is Larrin: and there's plenty who'd side with her, never mind her ... Well."
John wondered what he'd been about to say.
"I never figured out what this was for," said Darus, standing up and reaching for a silver and green ball. Because there was nobody watching, because this was safe, John let himself notice the flex of the man's muscles and the proportions of his body. Hell, a lot of the Travellers were good-looking. John reckoned it was the net result of the strict population controls Larrin'd mentioned the first time they'd met. Select for brains and resilience, and pretty often you got grace and beauty too. Darus was easy on the eye, though John'd put money on him not doing anything to upset Larrin. Kind of a shame, because it'd been a while since --
Leave it, John told himself. Out loud he said, "Looks like an ornament to me." Playing dumb sometimes got you answers.
"No: look." Darus pressed his fingertips against the places where the green was darkest, and the ball unfolded slowly into something like a badly over-designed pair of shades.
"Great if you want to hang out on the beach, catch some waves," said John.
Darus looked at him blankly. "If you say so. Want to give it a go?"
"Long as it doesn't fry my brain," said John. What the hell. It hadn't hurt Darus to touch it, to unfold it. He motioned at Darus to set the thing down, and touched the cool smooth surface with one finger.
Nothing. John shrugged, and picked the thing up. It didn't hum: it fitted over his head like safety goggles, and he looked back at Darus through transparent green lenses. Darus didn't look any different, though he was watching John intently.
"Don't think they're my style," said John easily. "But you should let McKay take a look at it."
"Doctor McKay? Isn't he working --"
"Yeah, he's on hyperdrive repairs. But I guarantee he'd welcome a bit of distraction once that's sorted. Hey, why don't we head down there now? 'Cause I could use a local guide."
He grinned at Darus, because it never hurt to keep your options open: and Darus grinned back.* * *
The Traveller shuttle wasn't as smooth a ride as a puddlejumper, but that was good because it meant that Saryd, next to Ronon on the bench, was bracing herself against his weight. She smiled more broadly at him, and maybe it was meant to be an apology but Ronon wasn't complaining. Saryd was young and blonde and pretty, kind of like Keller but a hell of a lot friendlier. 'Sides, Keller was back on the Runagate, and Ronon was going to kill something if he didn't get off the ship, get fresh air in his lungs and solid ground under his boots. It was the same every time, had been since he'd been a Runner. Space travel never felt safe or right or normal.
"The Lloral are one of our oldest trading partners," Larrin was telling Teyla. "We've been dealing with them for generations. I'm surprised that you haven't encountered them."
"Do they have a Ring of the Ancestors?" asked Teyla politely. "My people do not possess spaceships."
Larrin shrugged. "Really? How ... limiting. If the Lloral have a Ring, I've never heard of it."
Ahead of them the planet loomed. They were approaching on the night side. A single moon reflected blueish light from the atmosphere. There was so much cloud that Ronon couldn't make out what was land and what was sea. If they had sea. He missed it, missed Atlantis, already.
"You come here often?" he murmured to Saryd.
"Every few cycles," she said. "We've a lot of trading partners: there's a pretty strict schedule."
"What's a cycle?"
"A hundred days," said Saryd.
"Days?" Ronon said, amused. "How can you have days in space?"
"Hey, we didn't always live in space!" Saryd glanced across at Larrin. "And the human body has a rhythm of its own. That's a day."
"Okay," said Ronon.
Teyla was still trying to talk to to Larrin. "What goods do you trade with the Lloral? I was not present when this ship was loaded with its cargo."
"Mostly medical supplies," said Larrin. "Not that it's any of your business."
"Of course not," said Teyla, breathing deeply through her nose. "I was merely curious."
"The less you know, the sounder you'll sleep," retorted Larrin.
"Actually," said Teyla, "I did not sleep very --"
Larrin leant over and toggled the comms, ignoring Teyla. "Elmis? Sheppard? You done with that gyro yet?"
"Pretty much," came Sheppard's voice. "Would've been quicker with McKay, but --"
"McKay's busy," said Larrin. "His choice."
"I know," said Sheppard. He sounded whiny. "We nearly there?"
"Landfall in five minutes," said Larrin, her gloved hands quick and competent on the controls of the shuttle. "You two better brace yourselves," she said over her shoulder. "Could be kinda bumpy."
Ronon leant back against the bulkhead, and didn't pull away when Saryd's leg pressed against his. Sheppard and Elmis came back through the door and took their seats. Sheppard looked at Ronon, and did that thing with his eyebrows.
"Nothing," said Sheppard. "You both okay there?"
"I'm good," said Ronon. Saryd giggled. It was kind of sweet.
The landing was rougher than usual, by the way Saryd was acting, but eventually the ship was still and silent.
"Right," said Larrin, standing up. "Let's make this quick."
"It's night," said Ronon, peering out at the darkness around them.
"Yeah," said Larrin. "Too hot during the day, and the solar radiation's lethal."
"What of the Lloral?" enquired Teyla.
"Caves," said Elmis, flicking a nervous glance at Larrin. "They live in caves."
Outside there was a flicker of light. "They're here," said Larrin. "Elmis, you're in charge of cargo. Ronon'll help. Saryd, Sheppard: with me."
Ronon exchanged a look with Teyla.
"I shall accompany you," said Teyla firmly to Larrin. "It will be good to feel the ground beneath my feet, though I admit I would have liked to see the sun."
"The sun? You've only been on board four days, and you're starved for sun?" said Larrin mockingly.
"Indeed," said Teyla. "Your people have grown accustomed to life in space, but for me it is strange."
"Me too," said Ronon, standing up and stepping closer to Larrin, not to threaten but just to warn.
Larrin sighed. "Right. Saryd, looks like you're on watch. Any sign of trouble, take her up."
The air outside the ship was cool, a slight breeze stirring the feathery heads of a field of grain. From Ronon's left came the faint, familiar tang of salt water. Ronon tilted his face up, though he couldn't see the moon. The cloud cover diffused an indistinct, ghostly light over the flat, featureless country.
The Lloral stood together: six of them, all armed (old-fashioned shotguns, probably knives) and carrying lanterns. They bowed respectfully to Larrin, and to Ronon and the others when Larrin said their names.
"It always this cloudy?" Ronon asked a tall woman with greying hair.
"Yes," she said, ducking her head like she didn't want to answer.
"Ronon!" called Elmis. "We need to unload."
A procession of Lloral were depositing sealed crates by the hatch. The crates looked the same as the ones that Ronon was hauling: important not to get them mixed up.
"What's in these?" he asked Elmis.
"Medicine," said the Traveller shortly. "We traded for it on Leryny." Elmis was an old man by Ronon's reckoning, fifty at least. His blue eyes were rheumy, and there were grey streaks in his blond hair; he struggled with the heavy crates. Ronon could carry two at a time, so he did. Didn't give him much of a chance to listen to whatever Larrin was telling the welcoming committee, but Sheppard didn't look any warier than usual, so everything was cool.
"You get Wraith here?" Ronon asked one of the Lloral, relieving him of a crate that smelt like fish.
"Wraith?" said the Lloral, frowning. "No, never."
It made sense, if they lived in caves and didn't have a Ring. "Lucky," Ronon said. "You're safe."
"We're not --"
Ronon checked, and looked back at the man. The tall old woman was striding towards him, and he looked scared. Ronon wanted to say something, do something: but it wasn't his quarrel, and Larrin'd get pissy if he upset their trading agreement. He turned back to the cargo hold, and tried to ignore the sharp raised voices behind him.
It didn't take long to stow the new cargo, and the Lloral made quick work of ferrying off the supplies they'd been given in exchange. Elmis sat down on the edge of the hatch, breathing heavily and swigging from a water bottle. He offered it to Ronon, but he clearly needed it more, so Ronon shook his head. He wiped the sweat off his face and started back towards the others. Sheppard was pacing around, pretty much ignoring the Lloral and Larrin, eyeing the field as though an army lurked there: his P90 was in his hands.
"All done," Ronon told Larrin. "How long are --"
"We're leaving," said Larrin coolly. Ronon didn't think he was imagining the relief in the Llorals' expressions. He'd bet Larrin had been giving them hell about something or other.
"Right," said Ronon, taking a deep breath of the night air. It smelt of life, of growing things, of sunshine. And it'd have to last him 'til Atlantis.* * *
The Runagate was ill-maintained and filthy, but there was some fascinating machinery hidden away in her entrails. Radek couldn't help sidetracking into what seemed to be a hydroponics system, clearly extracted from some Ancient ship or facility and jumbled haphazardly between the cylinders and cases of the secondary drive. Of course hydroponics would be useless to the Travellers, who seemed to avoid planetary systems, unless a solar analogue could be rigged, but it would address some of their nutritional issues. Keller had said, over their third meal yesterday, that many of those who dwelt on the Runagate were lacking in the vitamins to be found in fresh vegetable matter. "I can give them supplements and injections," she'd told him, "but that's a temporary fix. They need to eat better."
But the food was frightful. Radek remembered rationing and deprivation from his childhood, but there had usually been plenty of greens from garden plots and even windowboxes. Here, the menu consisted of vat-grown meat (an achievement in itself, though the Travellers had failed to make it palatable) and whatever supplies had been traded most recently. Radek was not especially looking forward to the strong-smelling fish that had come aboard the previous day, though surely it would be better --
"If you've meditated for long enough, perhaps we might, I don't know, have a look at the other drive conduits? We still need to undo that laughable fix they've made to the sublights -- I mean, I thought Kavanagh was dangerously undereducated, but ..."
Rodney's temperament had not been improved by their stay on the Runagate. Perhaps one could blame the food for his bad temper. Or the restless night he'd spent, keeping Radek awake in their shared cabin. Or the lack of natural light -- though Rodney, like Radek himself, spent most of his time in the lab anyway. Or perhaps it was the fault of Larrin, and her flirtation with Colonel Sheppard.
"I have only been looking at this system, Rodney. Most interesting, no? This could provide sufficient food for hundreds of people, if --"
"If they ever went near a sun," snapped Rodney. "Are you sure you're not a biologist? Because any physicist worth his salt would be taking an interest in the hyperdrive config -- which is, of course, underperforming due to the mediocre level of what passes for maintenance around here -- but which does, I admit, show a creative, though fundamentally flawed, approach to interfacing Ancient technology with --"
"Nevik did most of it," said Morche, and Radek twitched. The man had a disconcerting habit of appearing, silently, from nowhere. He was supposed to be assisting them (or possibly it was the other way round) but Radek was convinced his productivity would be greater if Morche would just stay where Radek could see him.
"Nevik? He is the man who died, no? When Colonel Sheppard ..." Radek let the sentence die. Perhaps it was not wise to remind Morche that his former supervisor's death was due to Colonel Sheppard's presence -- unwilling presence -- on that Ancient battleship that the Travellers had discovered.
"Yeah," said Morche. "McKay --"
"Doctor McKay," corrected Rodney, with that superior little smirk of his.
"Doctor McKay," snapped Morche. "Larrin says, get the hyperdrive online right now. We --"
"No," said Rodney. "No, no, no. It's not ready. We need to run more tests before we fire it up -- especially this close to," he snapped his fingers, "whatever that planet's called. The one with the fish."
"We don't have time for more tests! The control room radioed: there's a Wraith Hive coming in fast: it's already past the orbit of the outermost planet. We need to get out of here, and the sublight engines won't --"
"Initialising the hyperdrive at this point would be really, really stupid," interrupted Rodney, "because we've still got to test about fifty per cent of the mods we've made to the navigation routines, and we can't test them while we're still in orbit because, oops, we might irradiate the entire planet, fish included. Look, er, Morche: I'm no fonder of the Wraith than you are, but we can manoeuvre the ship down into the atmosphere, into the cloud cover, even with the sublights at half-power: hell, we could land this thing if we had to. Well, Sheppard could. Don't the natives have some kind of shelter? I'm sure Larrin," the twist of Rodney's mouth became more pronounced, "could sweet-talk them into giving us a place to hide."
"We don't hide," snapped Morche. "Not on the ground. We're Travellers."
"Right, so you want to run -- sorry, I mean travel -- away. Very very fast. I get it. I'm just saying, we could buy some time by --"
"The Wraith sensors would detect us through cloud," said Morche. "And if we landed, we'd be a sitting target. And if the Wraith didn't get us, prolonged exposure to solar radiation ..."
Rodney's chin lowered, a little.
"Rodney," said Radek. "If we bypass the navigational modules there would be less risk of overloading --"
"What, and open a hyperspace window without knowing where we'll end up? Oooh, yes, that's a brilliant idea: I'd just rather, I don't know, stay alive."
"Right," said Radek. "But if we are to escape the Wraith --"
Morche touched his earpiece. Radek could hear Larrin's voice from where he stood, but not her actual words. Whatever she was saying made Morche scowl even more ferociously than Rodney.
Rodney stepped closer. "I mean it," he said, low and urgent. "If we go into hyperspace now with the nav mods online, there's a 68% chance of the drive blowing; if we take the navigation out, we're playing Russian roulette. We can't let them do this!"
Hell. Radek wanted to stay alive as much as anybody, and he was going to have to make a stand. Never pleasant, to argue with McKay. "Rodney, I admit I do not understand the equilibrium between --"
"Enough argument," said Morche. "We need to get into hyperspace in the next twenty minutes, or we'll have to stand and fight."
"Can't we, why can't we do that? Fight?" Rodney's colour was high, his tone belligerent. It was as if he wanted a battle.
"Our shields can't withstand a full-on attack from a Hive for more than a few minutes," said Morche tersely. "We're still in orbit: a big hit'll spin us out of control, and gravity --"
"Yes, thank you, I'm aware of the concept," snarled Rodney. "Right. Let me get this straight. You want to push the sublights as hard as they'll go -- despite that little problem with the cabling that you've fudged so cleverly (no, wait, I mean stupidly) with duct tape and spit -- and get us away from, one, the Hive and two, the planet: then, assuming we survive that, you want to open up a hyperspace window and run, despite the fact we won't have a clue where we're running to." He glared at Morche. "Right?"
"Right," said Morche, surprisingly calm in the face of Rodney's rage. Radek admired his control.
"You understand the risk, yes?" Radek asked Morche, turning away from Rodney so he wouldn't have to see Rodney scowling at him. "You understand --"
"Yeah, I get it," said Morche. "C'mon: are we clear to go?"
Rodney touched his headset. "Sheppard?"
Morche returned Radek's exasperated look as Rodney outlined the situation: watched as Rodney's mouth slanted down again.
"Larrin's the Commander, he says: we've got to do what she tells us." It was very clear what Rodney thought of that. "Sheppard's ready to take the controls if we need some showy evasive action. Shame we're not on that Ancient ship, really," he said to Morche. "You'd have drones, and shields that actually -- Hey!"
Morche shouldered Rodney aside. "Initialising sublights," he said: and that was when everything went to hell.
Something was wrong, badly wrong, with the Runagate: the whole ship lurched and shook, and there were cries of distress and pain everywhere, on the comm and echoing down the passageways. Larrin broke into a run. Whatever'd happened, she needed to be in the control room.
"Sublights failed," came Morche's voice in her ear. "We're trying to get them back online."
"Too close to Llor: we'll --"
"Fuck Llor," snapped Larrin. "There's a Hive ship coming straight at us!"
Everything tilted as she reached the door of the control room: she stumbled, steadied herself against the bulkhead, staggered in.
"Sheppard! What the hell?"
"It wasn't me!" said Sheppard. He was at the navigation console: he was flying the Runagate, though Larrin'd have sworn he hadn't gotten a good look at the interface til now. "Trying sublights, trying jets. If we don't get ourselves into a stable orbit, we'll burn up."
"What about the Wraith?"
"Let's just not crash!"
"Larrin?" Rishi on the comm, voice raised over the noise of people panicking.
"Go ahead," said Larrin, dropping into the co-pilot chair. If Sheppard was going to do his hotshot pilot act with her ship, she had to keep an eye on him.
"No major injuries yet," said Rishi, "but there's fractures, bruising, one concussion. Oh, and Doctor McKay."
"McKay?" said Larrin, not missing Sheppard's sharp, nervy glance. "What happened?"
"Morche took a swing at him," reported Rishi. She sounded amused, though there was a quick, furious voice in the background. "Reckoned it was -- yes, Doctor McKay, I understand --"
"Let Keller handle him," said Larrin. "She's used to him. Concentrate on our people. Larrin out."
"How's McKay?" said Sheppard.
"Overreacting," snapped Larrin. "Whatever he did --"
"Rodney knows what he's doing," snarled Sheppard. "Morche is out of order. If your people broke my scientist, Larrin, we're not --"
"Shut up and get us stabilised!" Fuck. If she lost the Runagate -- if she lost the Runagate, and survived -- it'd be years, years before the Council gave her another ship. She'd do more than take a swing at McKay if this turned out to be his fault. And Morche ...
The viewscreen showed nothing useful, nothing good: swirling cloud, heat, darkness. Deafening rumble because that wasn't space out there, not any more. That was atmosphere. She could feel the ground, the planet, coming up to meet them, sucking them down. Her hands were sweating in her gloves. The Runagate was shaking herself apart, the vibration of the deck beneath her feet transmitted to every bone in her body. She was going to lose it, lose her people and her ship, and right now it didn't matter that Sheppard and McKay and the other Lanteans were going down with her.
"Sheppard?" McKay's voice over the main comm.
"McKay," said Sheppard. He closed his eyes for a long moment. Larrin wanted to scream at him. "What's happening?"
"We're bringing the hyperdrive online. On my --"
"I thought it wasn't tested yet!"
"It's not! But there's a Hive coming for us, and this gravity thing, maybe --"
"McKay." It was a growl.
"Got a better idea? Look, Radek's confident," oh, even over the comm Larrin could hear the pique, "he's got a workround for the navigation glitch. It's our best chance right now."
"Only chance," came Zelenka's voice, faintly.
"Right," said Sheppard. He pushed the heel of his hand into his left eyesocket. "Okay. What do I do?"
"On my mark, open a hyperspace window. We'll --"
"Hang on," said Larrin, furious. "Care to bring me in on this?"
"Commander Larrin," said McKay, tight and cold, "your ship's going to crash unless we bring up the hyperdrive. It's risky: might not work, might kill everyone on the planet, might kill everyone on the ship. But hey, if we don't use it we're going to be splattered over a hundred-mile radius down there --"
"We can still make a stable orbit," said Sheppard angrily.
"Right, with what? The sublights aren't powering evenly. And even if we do, there's, oh yes, a Hiveful of hungry Wraith out there. Trust me, Sheppard. Trust me."
For a moment Larrin thought Sheppard was going to yell, or curse, or zone out. But then he said, hardly audible over the noise of stressed metal, "I do, McKay. I --"
"It's my ship, my call," said Larrin urgently over him. "Do it, McKay!"
"O... kay. On my mark, Sheppard: three, two, one --"
Larrin leant over -- leant into Sheppard, felt him tense -- and threw the switch.
"Hey!" said Sheppard. "I was just --"
"Can it, Sheppard!"
"It worked!" came McKay's voice. "It really worked!"
Because now the viewscreen showed the weird emptiness of hyperspace, and the Runagate was running smooth and silent through the endless blue.
Larrin toggled her comm to shipwide. "This is Commander Larrin. We hit a problem with the drives, but we're in hyperspace now and we're working on restoring full drive capacity. The situation's resolved: we're no longer in danger. Any casualties to Rishi; engineers, stand by to assist Morche and McKay. I'll keep you updated." Comm off: deep breath: "Sheppard? I want a word."* * *
"I want a word," snapped Larrin, and walked off without even looking to see if he was following.
Well, hell. Despite his instincts, John went after her. They needed to work out what'd gone wrong, and if she wanted to pick his brains about crisis management, or McKay and Zelenka's real (as opposed to advertised) chances of fixing the problem with the sublight drive, then that was fine. They could sit down with her lieutenant, what was his name, Morche, and maybe Radek or Rodney, and --
"Don't you wanna bring some of the others in on this?" said John when the door hissed shut behind them. The cabin was clearly Larrin's personal quarters, militarily neat but crammed with personal items: pictures, artefacts, weapons, garments. John eyed the wide bunk uneasily.
"Oh, I don't think we'll need anyone else," said Larrin, coming up close to him. John couldn't help it if his hand went to his gun, if he tried to step back: she grabbed hold of his arm, and he wanted to shove her away. Didn't. Because she did smell good, and it'd been a hell of a day, and. And. Okay, he didn't trust her as far as he could throw her -- hey, she was pretty strong herself, pressing up against him and pulling him closer, just like before -- but fuck, it'd been a while, and besides, he was pretty sure that Larrin could make life hell for him and his team if he didn't go along with her.
Which was a good enough excuse, a good enough reason, and he didn't need much of an excuse because his nerves were thrumming with adrenaline and he wanted a fight but there was nobody to fight.
"You and me could be a good team, Sheppard," murmured Larrin. Her gloved hand stroked smooth and cool across John's throat, and her breath tickled his ear. He'd forgotten how much he liked tall women. "You could join us. I'd let you fly anything you wanted."
"I've got a good team already," John said. "I'm not leaving them for you."
Larrin shrugged. Her hand was on his shoulder, pressing down. "Maybe I'll change your mind. You didn't give me a chance last time."
John let her push him down, because this was pretty hot, even if his bad knee creaked when he knelt. "Last time you had me tortured," he reminded her, staring up at -- well, at her tits. "You threatened to kill me. Hope you've been working on your technique since then."
Larrin grinned at him. The light above the bunk made her eyes gleam. "I haven't had any complaints."
"Do you give anyone a chance to complain?" John reached up and put his hands on her hips. "Hey, last time I was on my knees in front of a woman, it was a Wraith Queen."
"Fuck you, Sheppard," snapped Larrin.
"Sure," said John. "But, before you interrupted me, I was just gonna say the view's better this time."
"Are you going to do anything about it?"
John was going to do plenty about it. Christ, those leather pants were tight, but he peeled them down and got his mouth on her, and when her hand tightened painfully in his hair he went faster. And yeah, it was very definitely cool to make her come undone like that, to hear the noises she made and taste the strong salty musk, stronger and saltier when she came, gasping. His cock was so hard it hurt, and he wanted to be in her, in her mouth, in her wet cunt. He licked his lips, pulled himself up her body, got his hands on her breasts, let her taste herself in his mouth: shoved her hard onto the bunk behind her, because there was no way he was going to be gentle with her and no way she wanted him to be.
Her hands were quick and clever on the zipper of his BDUs, then on his cock. Thinking about the sublight drive was all that pulled him back from the brink of orgasm before he even got inside her. And, hang on --
"Let me -- Larrin. Let me get a condom. Protection."
"You don't need protecting from me, Sheppard," said Larrin huskily, pulling him down onto her.
"That's not ... what I meant." Though he wouldn't put it past her to give him some weird space clap. Fuck it: Keller could deal. He found the fastening of her top and stripped it away. Nice tits: he bit her nipple, and she shrieked and bucked against him. "You told me -- fuck -- you told me there were strict population controls."
"Oh, I think we'll make an exception for you and your magic gene."
He didn't want to think about the ATA gene, about why she wanted this, about if she wanted him or if she was just --. "John. Call me John."
Larrin rolled her eyes. Fuck, she was wet, and not just from his mouth. He was sliding in easy, and his nerves were singing with how real and close and raw it felt. How long since he'd ...? Didn't matter. Here now. Larrin was biting his shoulder, mouthing his skin, tasting and teasing. Her thumbs -- Christ, she still had her gloves on and that shouldn't have been hot -- were pressed against his nipples, and if he curled round he could suck hard on her neck and leave, yeah, leave his mark on her, a vampire bite of possession.
He wondered who'd see it, if it'd cause trouble. That Morche guy who'd slugged Rodney? Fuck it. Bring it on.
The tickle of her tongue on his Iratus scar sent quivery electric shocks right down to his toes. Nobody'd ever touched him there, not since the bug incident, and fuck, it felt weird. Good weird. He got his hands on her ass, pulling her up into each thrust, getting deeper, deeper, and --
"Fuck!" It was more of a howl, because she was biting him right on the scar tissue, and it fucking hurt.
"McKay's gonna ... oh, there!"
"Shut ... the fuck ... up 'bout Rodney," and Christ, was it her teeth in his throat that turned all the adrenaline to acid, to rage? He didn't want to think about Rodney, about Rodney's hands, about Rodney working, and he held Larrin down and fucked her harder and her teeth, again and he was coming, coming hard and more than usual (but usual was him and his hand) and he'd bet there was blood on her mouth now, bitch, "Larrin!"
He was still breathing hard when he rolled off her, and she was just as bad, red-faced and sweaty and grinning up at him enough to make him think that maybe it wouldn't be so bad, staying here for a while.
"McKay's going to have a fit when he sees that," said Larrin happily, obviously finishing her earlier thought. She rubbed her thumb over the bitemark.
John flinched, and scowled at her. Way to break the mood. "What? Why the hell should he care?" Though Rodney would care, or at least he'd get pissy about John fucking her. Fucking anyone. Not that ... John couldn't even remember if there'd been anyone since he got to Atlantis, anyone Rodney knew about. Typical McKay, though, jumping to conclusions all the damn time.
"What happened to you?" said Larrin softly, leaning over to kiss the soreness almost tenderly. She raised her eyes to his, and hell, she looked ... sorry. Sorry for biting him?
"Bug bite," said John.
"Iratus bug?" Larrin's eyes widened. "You were lucky."
"Hurt like fuck," admitted John. "You seen 'em before?"
"Mmm," said Larrin. "Not many survive. You're tougher than you look, Sheppard." Her hand was trailing down his chest, down his belly, promising: and his cock was hardening again already. Yeah, it'd been too long.
"Flattery'll get you everywhere," said John, rolling towards her again.* * *
The infirmary was fuller than Elmis'd ever seen it. Most everyone had stopped panicking, at least, and it was getting quieter. His head hurt where he'd been thrown against the bulkhead when the drive failed, and every beat of his heart made pain flare in his forearm.
"Old bones," said Rishi affectionately as she strapped him up. "You okay for pain meds?"
"I've got the ones you gave me last time," said Elmis. "When Larrin ... when I cracked my ribs."
"Do your people suffer a lot of fractures?" That was the Lantean doctor, Keller. She looked too young to know anything, but then Rishi wasn't much older and she'd been doctoring since she was twelve. Elmis remembered her being born.
"A few," Rishi told Keller. "Usually when we're on the ground, though when the gravity failed the first time ... "
"It might be a nutritional deficiency," said Keller helpfully. "If you like, I could run some tests --"
"I tell you it was a Wraith!" came a furious voice.
"Doctor McKay?" said Keller, turning away from Elmis. "What's happened?"
There was a purpling bruise on McKay's face, and beneath that he was red with anger. "There's a Wraith on the ship!"
"How could --"
"How would I know? Maybe it beamed aboard while we were distracted by the prospect of certain death!"
"A Wraith hit you?" said Elmis, wishing he had a weapon.
"No, no: your Neanderthal science officer Morche hit me, because physical violence solves everything and it's so much simpler than actually thinking about the actual problem. Jennifer, Doctor Keller, gave me some meds so I could carry on working. No, the Wraith, I saw the Wraith when I was coming back down here after we made the jump."
Rishi tapped her comm. "Doctor McKay is reporting a Wraith on board the ship. Where did you see it? ... Second level, between the infirmary and Engineering. All personnel keep an eye out: nobody to move around the ship alone or unarmed. Rishi out."
"Wraith?" said Elmis again. "If there's one, there's more."
"I only saw one," snapped McKay. "I didn't stick around to see if it'd brought its friends. If Wraith have friends."
"Did you manage to --"
"I didn't manage to do anything," said McKay sullenly. "I ran away."
"Just let me check you for concussion, Doctor --"
"Jennifer already did that," said McKay. "I'm fine -- well, that is, as fine as anyone could expect, what with near-death and being beaten up and seeing a Wraith wandering around looking for a snack. Snack!" He raised a forefinger. "I need to eat. Hypoglycemic, did I mention?"
"You did," Rishi called after him as he made a hasty exit. She was smiling when she looked back at Keller and Elmis. "Do you think he really did see a Wraith?"
Keller shrugged. "Well, he's responding to stimuli, and there's no indication of any serious damage, no sign he's hallucinating or experiencing any visual disturbance. The analgesics I gave him wouldn't affect him that way. He must've ducked when Morche ... It was only a glancing blow."
Rishi pursed her lips. "Still, Morche shouldn't have hit him."
"Morche seems to have a problem with us," said Keller.
"Not with all of you," said Rishi. "Just Colonel Sheppard."
"And Doctor McKay," Keller countered. "But what's the Colonel -- oh, Teyla!"
Teyla smiled at all of them, but spoke directly to Keller. "I have heard that there is a Wraith on board the ship."
"Yeah," said Keller. "Rodney saw it on his way up here."
Teyla frowned, and closed her eyes. She had beautiful skin, not quite as dark as Rishi's but more golden. Elmis looked down at his own arm, pale against the dark blue brace. His skin had been that colour once, after a summer on the ground. Never since.
"I sense no Wraith," said Teyla, opening her eyes again.
"Sense?" said Rishi. "What do you mean?"
"I am blessed, or cursed," Teyla smiled wryly, "with Wraith DNA. Among my people, we call it the Gift. It can give a valuable warning of danger: but here, on this ship, I sense no such threat."
"Have you ever been wrong?" said Rishi, exchanging a look with Elmis.
"No," said Teyla, closing her eyes again as though the memory gave her pain. "Never. Though I have often wished to be."
Elmis couldn't help it: he yawned. "Long day," he said apologetically. "I didn't ... I'm sorry, Teyla."
"You'll be better once you've rested," said Rishi. "Off you go."
"On my own?"
"I will walk with you," said Teyla, smiling and patting the gun at her hip.
"Thank you," said Elmis, smiling back at her. He was pretty sure he'd be safe alone, safer than an incomer, but he seldom got the chance to spend any time with a stranger, and Teyla Emmagan was a fine-looking woman.
She was watchful as they made their way through the dimly-lit passageways. She insisted on preceding him, and Elmis wasn't ashamed to watch her: she moved beautifully, lithe and graceful and predatory, and he imagined that she would be formidable in a fight. Formidable in bed, too. She --
Something flickered above them, and Teyla crouched and aimed in one fluid movement: but it was only a reflection in one of those mirror-cubes, and after a moment she relaxed and laughed at herself. Elmis laughed too.
"I'll be safe from here," he told her. "My cabin's just up thataway, and there's still people around." He could hear raised voices, men arguing, in one of the passages ahead of him. Hoped he could avoid them, because the pain meds were kicking in pretty good now, and he just wanted to sleep.
"If you are sure," said Teyla, cocking her head. "I do not sense anything ... unusual."
"Sleep well," said Elmis, and started up the passageway to his quarters.
The voices came more clearly now. One of them was Morche, and Elmis heard Larrin's name. He sighed. Another quarrel over the commander's choice of bedmates, no doubt: or perhaps over that other business. Morche had always been quick to anger. Who was he arguing with? Elmis didn't recognise the voice, and he'd thought he knew everyone on the Runagate. Must be one of the Lanteans. Sheppard, or that Dex fellow. Larrin'd been eyeing both of them.
Ten paces to his door. From the sound of it, Morche and the other man were coming this way. Could he make it before they dragged him into their dispute?
"Sheppard!" came Larrin's voice, and Elmis quickened his pace because he really, really didn't want to get caught up in what was about to happen, really didn't want to cross Larrin again after their disagreement at Council. He turned to unlock his --
Something slammed into his back, hard, shoving him against the opening door. Something horribly strong -- fuck, it was a Wraith after all, a real Wraith, surely too strong to be anything else -- dragged him inside, hammering a fist against the control panel so that the lights abruptly went out. Or was it Elmis' vision? Something was draining him, draining the life out of him, and the pain meds weren't enough now, not ...* * *
Teyla understood the need to conserve water on a spaceship, but she did not like the passivity of the sonic 'shower'. Instead of the cleansing flow of water over her skin, there was an unsettling, uneven noise, almost too low to be audible, and a sense of pressure that made the fine hairs on her arms stand erect, as though she were cold. The fear-sweat from the previous day -- though there were no days or nights here, no mornings, nothing but cycles of false light that kept her wakeful even while her body craved rest -- was sour and white, and she longed to lather it away with sweet-smelling soap.
In an ordinary shower, she might not have heard somebody else enter the facility. She tensed: stretched up for her gun, safely stowed with her garments on the shelf above the dial.
It was only John. Teyla breathed out slowly. "I am here," she said. "Trying to make myself believe that I am clean."
"Yeah, these things don't feel like they can be doing anything." She heard him lock the door of the other cubicle, heard the sounds of his clothes as he shed them. He sucked in air sharply.
"What is it? Is something wrong?"
"No," came John's voice, slowly. "No, nothing's wrong. Just a scratch."
Teyla frowned. She could ... she could smell John. It was not an unpleasant smell, but nor was it the familiar spicy-clean smell of John's sweat. That smell was overlaid by something else, something that she could not identify. A foreign scent, musky and sensual.
John had disappeared with Larrin after the incident with the drive and their escape into hyperspace, and she had not seen him since.
Teyla smiled to herself. She could not be altogether happy that John had chosen Larrin as a sexual partner, but she was glad that he had found some pleasure, some release, despite the urgency of their situation. And she believed that she knew John well enough to be sure that whatever had occurred between him and Larrin, it would have no impact on his ability to deal with the crisis or to complete their mission.
"I do not think I can get any cleaner," she called out, shutting off the sonics. She sniffed her armpit, and conceded that the invisible waves of sound had removed the odour of stale sweat. Her garments were clean, at least, and she dressed carefully in the cramped space.
"I miss Atlantis," grumbled John. "We never run short of water."
"Indeed," said Teyla. She unlocked the door and stepped out, checking her reflection in the polished metal mirror on the bulkhead. Her hair was lank, but that could not be helped, and --
John emerged from the cubicle behind her left shoulder. Teyla's gaze automatically went to his reflection, and her thoughts evaporated like morning mist.
It was clearly an effort for him to meet her gaze, but it was also an effort for her not to look away from his eyes, because they were not John's eyes: they were the eyes of the creature he had become years ago, after he had been bitten by the Wraith child Ellia. His eyes were greener than before, and the pupils were slitted and slanted like a Wraith's.
"What has happened to you?" Her voice was not as level as she had hoped.
"I don't know," said John, very quietly. There was a ugly, bruised place on his neck, just where the Iratus bug had bitten him on the Wraith planet. When John saw Teyla staring, his hand moved to cover it. He was, Teyla noted, flushed. Perhaps he was feverish, or perhaps ...
"John, you ..." Teyla marshalled her thoughts. "Did Larrin do this?"
Now John looked away. His skin was redder: embarrassment, then. "Yeah," he said. "We ... you know. After yesterday."
Teyla inclined her head: she knew very well how adrenaline and nerves could transmute into physical passion.
"We should find Doctor Keller," she said. "She has Carson's notes on your previous ... experience, and she will be able to clean the wound."
"It's not as bad as it looks," said John defensively. "Doesn't even hurt."
"Nevertheless," Teyla persisted, "you must let her examine you. Perhaps she can halt the process. And we must return to Atlantis as swiftly as possible."
"Maybe we -- I," amended John with a grimace, "can persuade Larrin to drop us off. Hang on, didn't McKay say the hyperdrive was still hinky? We don't know where we'll end up when we drop back into normal space. And we should complete the mission."
"John, your welfare is of more importance than our tentative alliance with the Travellers. We can return when you have recovered."
"It's not like I was chomped on by a Wraith," protested John. "I reckon I'd have noticed."
"Still, Rodney said -- you may have been otherwise engaged," Teyla gave him a sly look, "when Rodney claimed to have seen a Wraith on board this ship. And this morning in the passageway, I heard someone say that a man had been attacked. Had died."
"Wraith? Hell, that's all we need! Okay, you're right: we have to get off this ship."
"However," Teyla reassured him, "I cannot sense any such presence." She closed her eyes, and that was not prudent, because John's presence jangled at her nerves. If she had not known it was John beside her, she might have believed ...
Could it have been John that Rodney saw? But no: Rodney would not fail to recognise John. Though others might, in the gloomy shadows of this ship.
"I do not know who it was that died," said Teyla swiftly, opening her eyes. "But ... you are not yourself, John, and the difference is very noticeable. If the Travellers see how you have changed, they may say that you are ... a danger."
"I haven't killed anyone!"
"I know," said Teyla, willing away the pangs of a headache. She put her hand on John's forearm, fighting the urge to flinch at the unusual roughness of his skin. Perhaps her touch would calm him. "Perhaps we can find whoever, or whatever, did kill him, whether it is a Wraith or not. That would put an end to any suspicion."
"Maybe," said John, rubbing the bitemark on his neck and wincing. "Look, Teyla: I don't really want the Travellers to decide I'm a threat and lock me in the brig again."
"You cannot hide this, John," said Teyla.
John rolled his eyes. It was an unsettling sight. "Tell me about it. Any chance you could get Keller down here? To your quarters?"
"I will bring her," said Teyla, "and then I will speak to Rodney about the hyperdrive." She palmed open the door to the corridor, checking that there was nobody in sight before beckoning John to follow her. "Lock the door," she told him, "and do not admit anyone except myself or Jennifer."
"Teyla," said John, his voice rough: but he did not seem to have any more to say, not aloud.* * *
"We should be able to drop out of hyperspace, Rodney," said Radek. "The sublights are firing, what is the word, equally: the simulation here," he angled the laptop screen towards the other man, "shows success every time."
"Huh," said Rodney. He blinked at the display. "But we don't know where we'll come out."
"Nevertheless, we cannot stay in hyperspace forever." Radek glanced around, but Morche was nowhere to be seen. "There are Wraith here: a man is dead, Rodney. We should leave this ship. If we are in normal space, we can make a signal. We can use the puddlejumper --"
"And go where? We might end up years from a gate."
Radek studied his friend. This was more than simple anger. "There is something you have not told me," he said. "Something that the Colonel said to you, perhaps. You have been distracted since Teyla came down." Teyla's expression had been as calm as ever, and Radek had been busy with the sublight cabling while she spoke to Rodney, but Rodney's voice had risen, and he'd sounded alarmed.
"Distracted? You mean worried about there being a Wraith on board this ship? Or worried that this bunch of Neanderthals'll murder us in our sleep, assuming we actually get to sleep? Or what about, hey, the hyperdrive, which isn't actually functioning at anything like full capacity and might dump us somewhere really interesting, like the centre of a star or the rim of a black hole or ..." Rodney's voice trailed off: his chin came up. "Sheppard's ... not himself."
"Larrin?" guessed Radek.
"No! Well, maybe. Listen --"
"Ah, you're down here," came Morche's voice. Rodney, scowling, bit back whatever he'd been about to say.
"We are here," said Radek peaceably, wondering if it would be rational to position himself between Morche and Rodney. He didn't like his chances against Morche, and Rodney looked mad enough to pay the Traveller back for that wild attack last night. "The drives are functioning correctly now. We should come out of hyperspace soon, however, if we are to complete the work on the navigation modules."
"Right," said Morche, looking narrow-eyed at Rodney. "The search parties will be down here soon. I thought you should know."
"Looking for Wraith?" said Radek.
"Yeah -- or whatever it was that took out poor Darus."
"Darus?" said Rodney abruptly. "Darus is dead?"
"I didn't realise you knew who he was," said Morche. "Someone, or something, killed him last night. Looks like Wraith." He looked away, perhaps checking the simulation.
Rodney was staring down at his hands. "I -- I talked to him yesterday. He'd found something -- this thing, here." He gestured at a silver-green ball. "He'd got Sheppard to turn it on, wanted to talk to me about what it might be good for. I ... I didn't have time to talk to him."
"That was Darus?" said Radek, remembering the brusque disdain with which Rodney'd dismissed the Traveller.
"I'm sorry," said Rodney, looking up at Morche. The bruise on his face was spreading, and his eyes were bloodshot. "He ... he seemed like a good man. A good scientist."
"He was," said Morche, staring at the bulkhead behind Rodney. "A good man."
A small, uncomfortable silence gathered around the three of them.
"Right!" said Rodney, clapping his hands, his mouth stretched in a false smile. "Morche, I want you to look at the test results and tell me you understand what you're looking at. It's not rocket science, haha, but --"
"I get it," said Morche coldly, leaning forward to peer over Rodney's shoulder. Radek could see Rodney tense against the urge to move away.
"Great, then perhaps you could head up to the control room and --"
"I'll stay here," said Morche. "You," he jerked his head at Radek, "you can go."
Rodney shot Radek a speaking look. "Right. Yes. Radek, you need to tell Sheppard ..."
Radek listened carefully. He would have liked to make notes on his tablet, but he had a feeling Rodney would not tolerate delay. The procedure was complex: it might work, if the sensors on the Runagate could be trusted. Morche did not sound convinced, but his questions were sensible and Rodney answered them with more patience than Radek had expected.
"I have no weapon," said Radek, pausing at the doorway. "The Wraith --"
"Teyla says there isn't one," said Rodney brusquely. "But if it makes you happier: here, take mine."
It was a small gun, not a P90, but it gave Radek confidence.
"You will not need it?"
"I'll take care of him," growled Morche, angling his hip so Radek could see his blaster. "Go!"
"What he said," said Rodney with a twist of his mouth that could have meant 'hurry back' or 'it's okay' or 'for Christ's sake, don't leave me with this moron.' Radek hoped it was not the latter. "Oh, Radek?"
"What?" said Radek, even as his hands came up, old instinct, to catch the silver-green ball that Rodney'd thrown. Radek turned it over in his hands, but it did nothing.
"Give it to Sheppard," said Rodney. His chin lifted. "It'll light up for him: doesn't everything? Tell him it'll help with ... what's bothering him."
Radek raised his eyebrows. Trust Rodney to engage his curiosity and leave him wondering! But he did not wish to demand explanation, not with Morche listening, watching, waiting. Scowling at them both.
"I will tell him," said Radek, shoving the ball in his pocket. He nodded to Rodney and made his escape.
The passageways were brighter with false daylight, but they were empty. Perhaps everyone was hunting the Wraith. Radek shivered, though the still air was not cold, and quickened his pace. He touched his radio. "Colonel Sheppard? Where are you?"
He'd been expecting to find the Colonel in the control room, but Sheppard's voice said, "My quarters."
"Rodney wishes to initialise the sublights and exit to normal space," said Radek. His eyes lingered on details: a blue cable coiled in on itself, the sharp reflection of a light from some mirrored surface above him, a flicker of movement in his peripheral vision. "He suggests you take the controls."
"Kind of indisposed right now, Zelenka." Sheppard sounded half-asleep.
"Rodney gave me something for you," said Radek, electing not to mention Rodney's diagnosis. "He said it would help."
"Did he now," said Sheppard. "Okay, then, bring it here and we'll see if it works. Radek?"
"Don't ... freak out, okay?"* * *
Rishi was pleasant enough, but Jennifer didn't like the way the other woman was excluding her from important matters. Well, it was understandable that she hadn't wanted to delay the autopsy on the man who'd died -- Darus -- while Jennifer had been examining Colonel Sheppard. And Sheppard's condition -- which frankly terrified her -- might well be connected with the Wraith that'd attacked the man. Now, though, Darus' body was spinning out into the weird blue nothingness of hyperspace (though Rishi and some of the others had wanted to wait til the Runagate could drop back into normal space) and Jennifer had only Rishi's report to tell her how he'd died.
"She's sure it was Wraith?" enquired Ronon, looming over her.
"Yep," said Jennifer. "I got a look at him before they wrapped him up -- just a glimpse, but there was a definite feeding mark. I don't think he'd been drained to death, though. He didn't look ... dried out."
"Then what killed him?"
"Shock, most likely. When I've been offworld after a culling, there's always a lot of victims who've survived the feeding, but their bodies can't stand the trauma."
"Right," said Ronon. "And Sheppard?"
Jennifer looked up at him, considering and discarding a protest about patient confidentiality. She was starting to feel like it was the Lanteans versus the Travellers -- and the Wraith -- and there were only the six of them here. They had to stick together, at least until they could get off this deathtrap of a ship: each one of them had to understand the situation. Every aspect of it. (And wasn't it stupid to be wondering if there was anything her team hadn't told her?)
"It looks like he's had another dose of the retrovirus," she said slowly, "but I don't know how, or where from. And I don't have all of Carson's notes with me, so I'm not sure which tests --"
"He turning into a bug again?"
"I don't know," said Jennifer. "So far it's only affected his eyes."
"That was weird." Ronon looked like it was disgusting, too.
"Yeah. But apparently that scientist -- Morche -- attacked him last night."
"So, there's not a trace of it."
"Morche went for McKay when the drive failed," said Ronon. "That's two of us now. Maybe he needs a lesson in --"
"Emergency!" came Rishi's voice, and there was a sudden influx of people: no, only three, Rishi and that Saryd and a red-haired guy she didn't recognise. They were carrying a body between them. Why didn't they have a gurney? "Keller, we need a hand."
"Right," said Jennifer, flipping her laptop closed and hurrying over.
"I'll check out the area," said the redhead. "Keep me updated." He looked as if he was waiting for Rishi to acknowledge him, but Rishi, her hands bloody, was busy with the ... the person they'd brought in.
Jennifer gave the red-haired guy a nod and a smile. "Go on: I'll tell her."
"We found him in the aft passage, near the personal quarters," said Saryd breathlessly.
"Unconscious?" snapped Rishi.
"Yes. It was the Wraith, wasn't it? Wasn't it? If it could get him it could --" Saryd was starting to panic, and Jennifer didn't hesitate: slapped her face, hard.
"Hey," said Ronon, behind her.
Way to go, Jen. Beat up the woman Ronon's got his eye on. He'll think you're jealous.
"Saryd," said Jennifer, trying to keep her voice calm and level though Christ knew she wanted to scream and cry. "Saryd, listen. You have to calm down. If there's a Wraith on board the ship, they'll find it. They're already searching: they'll find it soon. Breathe deeply: one, two, three, four: now breathe out. Again." She didn't have time to monitor the woman's breathing. "Ronon, can you ... look after her?"
"Sure," said Ronon, with that lazy smile. He put his hand on Saryd's shoulder: not holding her, just being there. Jennifer was surprised at the sourness she felt as she turned away. She pushed her feelings down. No time. There was a man bleeding out right in front of her. They'd put him down on one of the beds, and Jennifer finally got a proper look at him.
"Morche?" she said. "That's Morche, isn't it?"
"Morche?" echoed Ronon. He sounded kind of ... pleased. Understandable, Jennifer thought, if Morche'd attacked two of his team. Ronon better not say anything about that, though, or the Colonel and Rodney would be blamed. Looking down at Morche, at the pulse and spurt of blood above his heart and the ghastly twist of his expression, Jennifer was pretty sure no human had done this.
"Yeah," said Rishi, checking his heartrate. "Not looking too good now, is he?"
"He's not ... there's no ageing," said Jennifer blankly. "I thought --"
"Maybe it didn't take much," said Rishi. "The Wraith."
"Maybe it wasn't Wraith," countered Ronon. He sounded so calm. How could he sound so calm?
"See for yourself," said Rishi angrily. "There's the feeding mark: five puncture wounds from the claws, and a sixth lesion where the mouth ..." She swallowed. "Where it fed on him."
"There's another wound," said Jennifer, stepping in beside Rishi. "There, on his neck."
Rishi hardly spared the bloody mess a glance. "It was Morche. He'd've fought back as long as he could."
Jennifer studied the unconscious man, trying to catalogue as much as she could of his condition. "He's pale," she said. "He must've lost a lot of blood."
"Yes," said Rishi tightly. "Hell, I think he's going." She peeled the wrapping from a broad, flat black disc, pressed it against the ragged wound in Morche's neck. Her fingers rested lightly against his skin. "That should -- hell. No. No!"
"Let me --"
"He's gone, Keller!"
Behind them, Saryd started to wail, honest-to-goodness grief that made Jennifer want to slap her again, and how mean-spirited was that?
"I'm sorry," said Jennifer helplessly. "Were you ... were you close?"
Rishi shook her head. "Larrin won't take this well," she said, as though it were some kind of explanation.
"Larrin?" said Ronon. "Were they --"
"Yeah," said Rishi. "Until your Colonel Sheppard came along, anyway."
Jennifer wanted to roll her eyes. So it was true, what Doctor McKay said about the Colonel's way with women. "I heard there was some trouble between them," said Jennifer carefully.
"Morche is ... Morche was always one to find trouble." Rishi turned away for a moment, and when she met Jennifer's gaze her eyes were wet and her smile was as false as Jennifer'd seen it. "Don't worry," Rishi told her. "Unless Sheppard's turned into a Wraith overnight, he's off the hook on this one."
Jennifer couldn't help glancing at Ronon: couldn't help it that Rishi saw that look.
"What? Don't tell me Sheppard's a Wraith in disguise!"
"Of course he isn't," said Jennifer.
"Wouldn't have a Wraith on Atlantis," said Ronon roughly. "Wouldn't let a Wraith live."
"Good," said Rishi, her eyebrows raised. "Because there's talk. People saying the Wraith came because of you. People saying you brought it."
"We didn't! That's ridiculous!"
"Who said that?" asked Ronon: Rishi, tight-lipped, shook her head.
"We kill Wraith. Killed lots."
"Yet you allied with the Wraith against the Replicators," Rishi said slowly. "With one particular Wraith."
"That was different," said Jennifer. "We had a common enemy. We haven't seen --"
"I think," said Rishi, "that I'd like to speak with Colonel Sheppard. Now."* * *
"Have you finally lost what passes for your mind?" demanded Rodney as soon as Sheppard's door opened. Christ, his cabin was even smaller than the one Rodney was sharing with Radek. Sheppard was sitting on his bunk, the green and silver goggles beside him, head propped on his hands. Even with the lights dialled low, Rodney could see those weird eyes. Teyla'd told him about Sheppard's transformation, but it was another thing to see it for himself.
"What?" said John, scowling.
"There's what amounts to a lynch mob out there," said Rodney, "busy convincing themselves that you killed Morche. Jennifer just radioed to say they want a word: Jesus, Sheppard, you're not even wearing your radio! Wonder where they'll start looking? Oooh, maybe the quarters they assigned you?"
"What, I -- wait. Morche is dead?"
Rodney didn't dignify that with a reply.
"It wasn't me," said Sheppard urgently. "Honest, Rodney: I didn't kill him."
Fuck, Sheppard was so often unreadable even when his eyes weren't blank and green: could Rodney trust his instinct, trust his friend?
"They're saying you fought with him," Rodney said. "Last night."
Sheppard looked away: bad move, because it showed Rodney the bite-mark on his neck. It looked a lot better than Rodney'd expected, except for how it didn't because he couldn't stop thinking about how Sheppard'd got bitten in the first place.
"It was just a disagreement, Rodney," Sheppard said. "He thought I'd -- you know."
"No, I don't know, but I can guess. Let's see, he didn't like you waltzing in and stealing his girlfriend. Am I right or --"
"It wasn't like that. She ..." Sheppard rubbed at the back of his neck, such a familiar gesture that Rodney felt more lost than ever. "It was her idea, right?"
"Yes, yes, and you never see it coming. Sheppard, you need to get out of here before they come looking for you. Okay, their commander's a space slut -- not that she's the only one around here -- but her crew aren't going to take your word on anything, especially given that, I don't know, you're turning into some kind of --"
"Shut the fuck up about it, Rodney!" Those eyes weren't blank now: Sheppard could still do furious. "Look, I don't like it any more than you do, but --"
"Out of here now: discussion later. Or, you know, never."
"What about the drives?"
"We took a gamble and shut off the hyperdrive: we're back in normal space now, though I have to admit I don't know where. Point is, we can use the 'jumper to escape. We have to get off this damned ship, Sheppard!"
"Right," said Sheppard, not moving. He sounded exhausted. Rodney could relate: he hadn't gotten more than a few hours' sleep at a time since they'd come aboard the Runagate. "Let's ..."
"And, huh, put the Ancient Raybans on."
"Because you've got devil eyes?" Rodney did the air-quotes. "Honestly, they're about to burn down your mansion with you in it. And me. Come on!"
"Right," said Sheppard. He didn't stop to grab anything, just shoved the goggles on -- they hid his eyes pretty effectively -- and followed Rodney out of the cabin.
"Down here," said Rodney, turning left at the hub. "There's a couple of unused -- oh fuck."
"What?" said Sheppard, grabbing Rodney's shoulder before he could turn and run.
"Get off me! Look! Wraith!"
"Where?" said Sheppard, shoving Rodney behind him and going for his gun. Looking around, like there was any doubt -- It was coming for them, slowly, like it knew they couldn't run. Rodney could see the gleam of the rotten shark-teeth in its mouth, the mouth on its face. He could see the marks around its eyes clear as anything, and he didn't recognise them.
"Right there! Are you blind?"
"No, but ..." And Sheppard reached up and slid the goggles up onto his forehead.
"I don't think this is --"
"Well, hell," said Sheppard, pulling the goggles back down. "Rodney? I think it's a ... hologram, or an illusion, or something."
And fuck Sheppard's suicidal tendencies, because he was going right for it, striding up to it, reaching out, touching it. Rodney's heart hammered, and missed a beat: because, fuck, the Wraith was walking through ...
"Okay," he said, trying to steady his breath. "Right. No Wraith. Well, that's the first good news I've --"
"Rodney," said Sheppard, turning back to him. He tossed Rodney the goggles, and yeah, when he looked through the green glassy stuff there was nothing there but Sheppard. Sheppard with his Wraith-eyes, okay, but still an improvement on the, the mirage Rodney'd seen just now.
"Right, great, phantom Wraith."
"Best sort," quipped Sheppard. "But Wraith can make you see things that aren't there."
"Yes, yes, I remember you thinking I was a practice target. So there might be real Wraith around, too." Rodney grabbed Sheppard's arm. "Down here. Anyway, something killed Darus and Morche. And it's still on the ship."
"So are we."
"Right, but if we can make it to the 'jumper --"
Sheppard touched his radio. "Ronon? Radek? Come in." Then, to Rodney, "Let's get everyone to the docking bay. Don't suppose we're close to a Gate?"
"I didn't stick around to check out the neighbourhood," snapped Rodney. "I came to get you." He reached for his tablet, but hey: gloomy passageways, ship full of people after Sheppard's mutant blood, possible Wraith. "Let's get somewhere safe ... safer, anyway."
He was right: there were empty cabins along this passage -- huh, better cabins than the one he'd been assigned -- and the Runagate's security was pathetically lax: Rodney had them inside, the door locked, in under a minute. He sat down on the bunk and tabbed to a command window.
"What're you doing?"
"Taking a leaf out of your book, much though it pains me to admit it. Morse code: SOS. Subspace, so it shouldn't matter where in Pegasus we've ended up, and I'm routing it through the subsidiary comms, in case anyone on board gets curious. If someone on Atlantis has the wit -- which is doubtful, considering that both Radek and I are trapped on this ship with one or more homicidal maniacs -- they'll ... There."
He looked up. Sheppard was studying him. His eyes looked weirder than ever (the goggles were still in Rodney's pocket) but his expression was familiar, if rare. Sheppard was impressed. Rodney hated himself for being pleased about that.
"Course, when I did that, it brought a Hive," Sheppard pointed out.
"Thank you so much for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory," snapped Rodney. "Who knows, maybe the Wraith'll go after whoever's masquerading as one of them."
That made Sheppard flinch. Hah.
"Sit down," said Rodney irritably. "You're making me twitchy."
"Twitchier," said Sheppard, but he sat down beside Rodney. Christ, he needed a shower: so did Rodney, most likely. But Sheppard smelt good. Not that revolting aftershave he wore, or the smell of sweat, or dirty clothes (though all those were in there somewhere). Something else, something strange. Something that made Rodney feel ... peculiar.
"So! You and Larrin, hey?"
"Rodney," said Sheppard, slouching back against the bulkhead. "It wasn't." He swallowed. "I told you. She ..."
"Gave you a dose of alien STD?" said Rodney, hoping he sounded self-righteous rather than piqued. Or, worse, bitter. Sullen. Because no way was that an option. No chance. Not a good idea. Not, especially not, now, with Sheppard going buggy on him.
"It's more than just," Sheppard started, but let the sentence die. "This is Destination Nightmare," he said at last, staring down at his hands. "I can't go back to that, Rodney. I can't. I wasn't even ... Last time. I wasn't lucid. I'm a danger."
Rodney was pretty sure Sheppard was right. There was a very real danger here. There was a danger that Rodney would throw four years of caution to the winds and jump his temporarily-disadvantaged ... friend. Because whatever that weird smell was -- and he was pretty sure it was new -- it was having a very definite effect on Rodney's blood, his skin, his ... Yes. Well.
"Was it something she did?"
Sheppard laughed, but not like he actually thought it was funny. "Maybe." He shot a sly, slanted glance at Rodney. "Hey, you jealous, McKay?"
"No," lied Rodney automatically: then thought, fuck it. "Wait, yes. Yes, I think I might be."
Sheppard, the bastard, just quirked an eyebrow.
"You could at least look surprised," sulked Rodney.
"I am surprised!"
Rodney sighed. "Just, just forget I said anything. There are a multitude of reasons why that was a really stupid --"
"Hey," said Sheppard. He was leaning close, and there was no way Rodney would ever get used to those freaky -- "It's not a bad surprise," murmured Sheppard, and his mouth was close enough to Rodney's face that Rodney could feel each word against his skin.
Sheppard didn't move for a long, an elastically long, moment, and Rodney had time to think he's not actually going to, and then he leant in that last little bit and his mouth, his mouth, they were kissing.
Keller'd given him a filthy look when he left the infirmary with Saryd, but what the hell. Maybe she'd be a bit keener to start something when they got back to Atlantis. Gotta be mean, keeps 'em keen, Rakai'd always said. Ronon didn't think he was being mean, much. Just enjoying Saryd's company, like she enjoyed his.
"I'm scared," she murmured now as they walked -- Ronon slightly in front -- along the passageway towards her quarters. "If there's a Wraith on board, what's to stop it just ... eating us all?"
"They don't eat people. They drain 'em."
Saryd shuddered. "Is that any better?"
Come to think of it, Saryd looked a lot like Keller -- Jennifer, had to call her Jennifer -- with her sleek blonde hair and her big round eyes. Keller never looked at him quite like this, though: like he was the only safety in a scary place. Which, yeah.
Team, he thought. Team, and Keller, and Zelenka. He touched his radio. "Sheppard?"
Nothing, just the crackle of an empty channel. Ronon tapped the earpiece, but he still couldn't hear anything. Not good. Maybe just a glitch in the hardware (that was what they usually said) but still: not good. He was cut off from his team.
"They're fine," he told Saryd anyway, because they weren't her problem and it might not be a lie. "Just settling down to sleep."
"Shouldn't they be looking for the Wraith?"
Maybe they were. Maybe he should be, too: but he had to get Saryd somewhere safe first. He deliberately, slowly, thumbed his blaster to the kill setting. "If we meet it, I'll protect you," he said, and the sudden warmth of her smile was like sunlight. Fuck, he missed the sun. Couldn't sleep here between the stars, where it was never day or night.
"I want to take you to this place I know," he said quietly, slowing so she'd move a bit closer. "By the sea. There's waves, and surf. Birds flying. Sunshine, sometimes bitty cloud. You'd like it."
"On the ground?"
Ronon rolled his eyes. "Yeah. On a planet."
"I don't feel safe on the ground."
"You don't feel safe on the ship," Ronon pointed out.
"Nobody feels safe here," whispered Saryd. "None of us."
Ronon'd noticed a lot of nervy looks, but hey: strangers on board. And Wraith. "I'll keep you safe," he told Saryd, "if you're with me."
"Your friend," said Saryd, pausing at a place where five passages met. "Your friend -- Teyla? She said there wasn't a Wraith on the ship."
"How ... how does she know? Is she always right?"
Ronon shrugged. Not the time to be talking about Wraith DNA or Teyla's Gift. Or Sheppard. Keller better have warned Sheppard they were after him. Did anyone else -- any of the Travellers -- know Sheppard was mutating?
"Never known her be wrong," he said. "They've been searching, yeah? And they didn't find anything. Any Wraith." He didn't say, "but something killed those two guys." He was pretty sure she knew that.
"Maybe ..." Saryd shook her head. "It isn't true, is it?"
"What isn't true?"
"What Rishi said. About you bringing the Wraith with you. Last time Colonel Sheppard was here, he sent out a signal and it brought the Wraith. I heard Larrin and ... and Morche talking about it."
Ronon didn't know if that was true or not. Sheppard'd said something about a Wraith attack when he'd been taken by Larrin, but no way he'd signalled them on purpose. No way.
"Sheppard hates the Wraith too," he said. "We all do. We'll find it. You'll be safe."
"I wish I could believe -- oh! What's that?"
Ronon spun round. Somebody, something, was in the corridor ahead of them: just a dark shadow amid the other shadows, human-sized, moving --
"Who's there?" he yelled.
No reply. Ronon glanced up just in time to catch reflected motion in the shiny light-thing above his head. When he looked back down the passageway, the shadowy figure had disappeared.
"What was that?!" shrieked Saryd.
"Wasn't Wraith," said Ronon. "Too small. Didn't move right. Just some guy sneaking out to his girlfriend's room." He winked at Saryd, and she blushed. "What about you?" Ronon turned slowly, checking out each passageway. "You with anyone?"
"Not ... not at the moment," said Saryd. She was still blushing. That was a good sign.
Ronon gave her his warmest smile. "I've got to check in with Sheppard," he said, testing.
Yeah, she looked disappointed. He fought back a grin. "But I could ... I could come back, after, if you wanted."
"I ..." whispered Saryd. "I'd like that," she said, just about loud enough for him to be sure of her words. "I'm in 4-D. And I don't ... I don't want to be on my own."
"No problem," said Ronon, wondering if he should try to kiss her. Probably not. He did have to check on Sheppard, sort out this radio problem. "Won't be long. You okay from here?"
"It's just up there," said Saryd, pointing. "That door, just to the right of the light."
"Got it," said Ronon. "Later."
He heard the scream, Saryd's scream, as he turned into the passage that led to Sheppard's quarters. Sheppard could wait: Ronon flung himself back round the corner, through the hub, towards Saryd's door. Towards Saryd, who was lying huddled on the floor, a dark stain spreading across the front of her ripped yellow tunic.
Ronon dropped to one knee beside her, his thumb on her throat to check her pulse. No pulse. No pulse. Maybe a pulse. He touched his radio. "Keller? Another one -- yeah, attacked. Saryd. Bring someone: 4-D, personal quarters."
The glitch with the radio must've been fixed. Ronon thumbed it again. "Sheppard?" Nothing. But somebody was coming up the passageway towards him: he shoved himself up, half-kneeling, and took aim.
"Ronon! What's happened? Is that Keller?"
"Keller's on her way," said Ronon, lowering his gun but not relaxing. "It got Saryd. You see anything? Anyone?"
"Saryd?" said Larrin. "Fuck." She slumped against the wall, her blaster (set to kill, like his own) in her gloved hand, giving Ronon a long appraising look that made him itch. "Fuck," she said again. "She was so young."
"She's still young," said Ronon. "Wraith didn't take any years. If it was a Wraith."
"What else would do that?"
Ronon shrugged. "You tell me."
Larrin was scowling at him: but here came Keller and Rishi, and Teyla, and that red-haired guy who hung around the infirmary. Rishi dropped to her knees beside Saryd, looking up at Larrin. Ronon didn't know what her expression meant.
"It's here somewhere," said Larrin tightly. Her left hand was clenched tight, the black leather tight and shiny across her knuckles. "Whatever did that: it's here on this ship. Ronon, Teyla: you wanna come hunting with me?"* * *
Fuck, this was good, this was making his blood sing. He'd gone along with what Larrin wanted, more or less. Now he wanted. And Rodney seemed to want the exact same thing, which was fantastic because John seriously didn't know if he could stop kissing, touching, getting hard.
Jangling in the back of his mind was something about bugs and Wraith and the first time he'd been transformed by the fucking retrovirus. Jingle-jangle this isn't you, this isn't real, this is the ... the whatever, the thing that Larrin did to you. But the noise, the voice, the doubt was drowned out by the noise of his heartbeat and the wet sound of Rodney's mouth against his. John'd always thought Rodney would be a good kisser, 'cause nobody who talked that much and had that range of expressions could fail to have a strong tongue, mobile lips: but he hadn't expected the ferocity or the enthusiasm or the weird sweetness that underlay it all.
He pulled Rodney down on top of him, which was better than good because it pressed Rodney's hard-on against John's hip, and oh yes, McKay was into this all right. John wanted it all, wanted everything from Rodney, wanted whatever Rodney'd give him. Hands, mouth, that ass. The sheer weight of him. The way they fit together. The way Rodney's mouth was against his and the way his cock was jabbing John right above his pubic bone and the way Rodney's hand was pressing down on John's shoulder, holding him down, keeping him where Rodney wanted him. He got his own hand under Rodney's shirt, onto smooth cool skin, which made Rodney moan into his mouth and fuck, the vibration went straight to John's cock. He canted his hips up, hooked his knee round Rodney's leg, dragged him down closer and if Rodney'd been anything less than blazing keen he'd have let go, he would, he would: but Rodney was answering back, not with words for once but with his whole body, and his eyes were wide open and incredibly blue round his dilated pupils, and then he ducked down and John swore and jerked and could've come right then, because that was Rodney's mouth on his Iratus scar, right where Larrin'd bitten but Rodney, oh, fuck, Rodney was kissing and licking and John thought his bones might be melting.
"Skin, I want skin," Rodney was mumbling against John's throat, and his hands were clumsy -- that was new, too -- fumbling with John's BDUs, pulling his shirt up, scritching his fingernails against the grain of the hair on John's belly, and John, yeah, falling apart here, gasping and writhing and Christ just wanted to get closer, closest to Rodney, wanted to fuck and be fucked, wanted Rodney filling him up, smell and taste and sight and sound and oh Jesus H Christ touch, touch --
Rodney's headset, which'd got pushed aside when John went for the skin behind McKay's ear, crackled.
"Fuck off," growled Rodney. "Fuck off, fuck off, busy --"
John was pretty damn proud of himself for shoving Rodney back, just a bit, just so he could think. "McKay." He sounded wrecked. "McKay. You better ... there might be a problem."
"You bet there's a problem," Rodney said darkly, jabbing his finger right against John's sternum. He flopped back ("Ow," said John when Rodney's weight settled on his knees) and pulled his radio on. "What?" he said. "What -- Radek?"
John couldn't make out what Radek was saying, but it was a pretty good excuse to push himself up til he could prop his chin on Rodney's shoulder. Rodney shivered, and shoved him down again. He kept his hand on John's chest, and John might've arched up into it, just a bit, just for the pressure. "Right," Rodney was saying. "Yep, good -- right." He looked down at John and fuck, his lips were red and puffy with kissing and John --
"I'll tell him," said Rodney. "And, Radek? The Wraith isn't a Wraith. Yeah. That thing, that silver-green thing that Darus -- Yeah. It's a, a projection or something. Sheppard figured it out." He snorted. "Okay. Look, we're kind of busy here. Keep me in the loop."
"What?" said John, because it better not be anything urgent. He had something pretty urgent to deal with right here.
"Radek got worried when he couldn't reach any of us," said Rodney, staring down at John with narrowed eyes. "Reckons they've been jamming us. He's filtered the channel so we can talk. He's going to round up the others and head for the jumper, 'cause -- look, how am I supposed to think when you're looking at me like that? We were headed to the jumper twenty minutes ago and look how you distracted me!"
"Sorry," lied John.
"Sheppard, we've got to get off this ship. I don't know where the hell we are, or what killed Darus and Morche, or why we're seeing imaginary Wraith: but whatever Larrin did to you, you need to be back in Atlantis, in the infirmary," John grimaced, "and, oooh, not getting bitten by space ... vampires."
"Vampires? C'mon, Rodney, just 'cause she likes to bite doesn't mean she's --"
"Yeah? Prove it," said Rodney defiantly. "Just because she succumbed to the infamous Sheppard charm --"
"Hey!" John rolled his shoulders against the thin mattress and grinned up at Rodney. "I like it better when you ... succumb."
Rodney smiled, singularly sweet, and ran his thumb across John's lip, and John was abruptly so hard (again) that it hurt. "I'm going to make you deliver on that," said Rodney, "when we're back on -- Oh my god! This is aliens making us do it!"
"What the hell, Rodney?" said John, confused and really fucking horny. And yeah, he'd thought about this before, but Christ. Rodney. He'd never thought Rodney'd be into it. He pushed himself up on his elbows.
"Didn't you read all those SG1 mission reports? Aliens made us do it. Your freaky bug pheremones! Your space-clap!"
"Hey!" said John indignantly. "It's not just." Kind of embarrassing to 'fess up to having had a hard-on for McKay all this time. "I wanted this," he said. "Before."
"Yeah," said Rodney, rolling off John and flopping down beside him. "Like you were ever going to do anything about it."
"Nor did you!" Fuck, if Rodney hadn't wanted this ...
"I can't believe I have to remind you that you're military, Sheppard. I --"
"You c'n call me John. Considering." John gestured vaguely groinwards.
"Right, John: you? Military, US military, not asking, not telling. Me? Civilian. Canadian. Clearly suffering from some debilitating Pegasus form of dementia, since I was pretty sure you were straight."
"Military," said John, smirking. "And ditto with the straight thing. Hey, it's cool, Rodney. We'll get round it."
Rodney's mouth turned down, that bitter twist that John wanted to lick open. "It's all the, the turning into a bug, isn't it?"
"No!" protested John. "Look, McKay -- Rodney -- oh, please," because Rodney's hand was cupping him through his BDUs, and he just wanted, wanted skin and touch and Rodney's mouth, he wanted to come --
"You're not going to get very far like this," said Rodney, kind of smugly, and he wasn't fumbling any more, he was unbuttoning and unzipping and fuck, John might just, never mind getting anywhere at all, he wasn't going to last.
Rodney's mouth made him howl, and there was no way he could hold back with that tongue clever and demanding and fast and, "Fuck, Rodney!" And Rodney didn't let up, back off, pull away: he held John down and sucked and swallowed and John just kept coming until his spine ached.
He thought he'd probably zoned out for a minute. Rodney was saying something about 'embarrassingly quickly' and John tried to apologise, but all he could manage was a plaintive noise.
"No, no: me, I meant me." Rodney was kneeling over him, nodding down at his -- yeah, looked like Rodney'd enjoyed that, too.
"I'm gonna do that," promised John. "I'm gonna do that for you."
"You better," said Rodney. He still looked smug, but John couldn't blame him, 'cause that'd been ... yeah. "If we ever make it off this goddamn ship."
"Jumper?" said John.
"Yeah, let's." Rodney shoved himself to his feet and stood looking down at John for a moment. "You okay?"
"I'm cool, Rodney," said John. He could sit up, anyway: he could tuck himself in (wincing a bit) and even stand up. He could grab Rodney and kiss him and taste bitterness, musk, himself. "Hey," he said, "reckon you'll turn into a bug?"
Rodney's thumb pressed, hard enough to hurt, against the place where Larrin'd bitten, where he'd kissed. "No," he said. "But I'm going to turn you human."* * *
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Not what they'd done but, hello? Life or death situation? Adrift in space on a ship crammed with hostiles? What'd he been thinking? He hadn't been thinking. Sheppard'd broken his brain.
Rodney wanted to do it all over again, with elaborations.
He touched his radio -- no way Sheppard'd been thinking straight (ha! straight! as if!), because he'd managed to lose his -- and said, "Radek? Ronon? On our way."
"Right," came Radek's voice. "Rodney, Ronon and Teyla are with Larrin, hunting the Wraith."
"There is no Wraith! How many times --"
"There is a Hive ship approaching," said Radek. "Possibly they have come to retrieve --"
"Then we need to get out of here right now," snarled Rodney. "See you at the jumper, Radek!"
"Slight problem with that," said Sheppard. He was crouched at the intersection of two passages, studying Rodney's life-sign detector intently.
"Look, why don't you use your own?" said Rodney, snatching it out of John's hand, and trying not to notice the way John smirked up at him. At least those weird Ancient shades hid his freaky bug-eyes -- though honestly? At this stage everything about John went straight to the base of his spine. Bad enough to've come in his pants once today. Rodney blamed pheromones, which were clearly Larrin's --
"I think Larrin took it," said John ruefully, rubbing the back of his neck. No way was he firing on all cylinders (though okay, some of that might be Rodney's fault for helping him along with a spectacular orgasm). He was ... slower. Slowing. Rodney foresaw an extended stay in the infirmary when they got back to Atlantis. Which sucked.
"Great," said Rodney, with an eyeroll. He checked the LSD: two dots moving towards them from the right, another one from the left.
"Sheppard," he said urgently. "John. We're screwed if we don't keep moving."
"It's their ship," said Sheppard. "They know all the hidey-holes."
"It gets worse," said Rodney. "Teyla and Ronon are with Larrin --"
"Crap," said Sheppard feelingly. "There's something --" He unfolded himself to his feet and met Rodney's gaze. "What you said. Vampire."
"Oh, come on," said Rodney. "I was joking, all right? Just because she bit you, and --"
"I think she killed them," said John, his gun in his hand, prowling silently up the passageway. Rodney watched as the Sheppard-dot on his screen got further from the Rodney-dot.
"What? Why?" He hurried after Sheppard, who dropped to a crouch and flapped his hand furiously, a gesture that Rodney had learnt to interpret as 'shut the fuck up'.
"Sheppard!" came an urgent voice. Rodney turned to Sheppard, eyebrows up: Sheppard looked just as surprised.
"Who's there?" said Sheppard, low and grim.
"Huh," said Rodney.
"Thought you were dead, Darus," said Sheppard. "Thought the Wraith'd got you." He hadn't lowered his gun.
Darus -- yep, it was Darus -- came into view. He was holding a blaster, but the snub barrel was pointing at the ground. His other hand was up, palm out. I come in peace, thought Rodney, and fought back a giggle.
"There's no Wraith," Darus said. "Ancestor tech. Light and mirrors. That's all. Makes a good cover-up."
"Why fake your death?" asked Rodney. "And hey, I'm sorry if I was --"
"I didn't fake anything," said Darus furiously.
"I saw your body," said Sheppard. "Okay, what looked like your body. Aged, like when a Wraith --"
"She did it. She killed my father, and told me to stay out of sight: said you had a problem with me. Course, I didn't know she'd --"
"Your father?" said Rodney, just as Sheppard said, "Elmis?"
Oh, right. Yeah. He could see the resemblance now. Blond, built, good-looking.
"She killed him," Darus said. "I don't know why. He spoke against her, last Council, but I thought -- well." He shook his head. "But she killed him."
"What about Morche? I thought she was ..." Sheppard gestured again.
"Morche kept pushing her," said Darus sulkily. "He was one too."
"One what, Darus?"
"One of them." Darus's gaze slid sideways. "The ones who feed on the rest of us."
"What, like Wraith? You just said --"
"Not Wraith. They don't drain you that way." Darus shrugged, and grinned: it was pretty ghastly. "Just your blood. Our blood. ... But you have to run! She'll be coming for you. She likes to hunt. And there's no --"
"Well, we like to escape," drawled Sheppard. "We need to get to the jumper. To our ship. Fancy showing us the way?"
"Take me with you," said Darus urgently. "Take me off this ship. She won't let me --"
"Okay," said Sheppard: no fuss, no argument. "Come on!"
Rodney hung back a moment, touched his radio: "Ronon, Teyla?" Crackling. "I don't know if you can hear me, but get away from Larrin. Stay away from her. Meet us at the jumper."
"Come on, McKay!"
"Hang on," panted Rodney, as they headed single-file -- Sheppard on their six -- down a narrow passageway. "Darus. You said they feed on you."
"That doesn't work. How come there's any of you left? How come Sheppard --" Okay, maybe it was Sheppard's freaky gene, or the dose of retrovirus he'd gotten off Ellia that time. If Darus hadn't noticed, Rodney wasn't about to mention Sheppard's transformation. "It doesn't make sense," he snapped. "Why now? Why at all?"
"Mostly they're like the rest of us," said Darus over his shoulder. He wasn't out of breath. "But if there's an emergency, a real danger -- I guess she thought, when the drive failed ..."
They were jogging through a cluttered space full of stuff that, under other circumstances, Rodney would've loved to get a closer look at. He was pretty sure Sheppard wouldn't let him stop, even for a moment. Ahead of them was a ladder that swayed as Darus put his foot on the first rung -- and was that rust flaking and falling away? -- and Rodney said, "Stop!" because the LSD showed a single dot right ahead of them, beyond the ladder, unmoving.
"Someone's there," said Rodney, pointing. Okay, pointing with his gun. Sheppard pushed the barrel down and glared at him.
"Sheppard? That you?"
It was Larrin, and Rodney's mind went cold and calm, turning over their options.
"Just checking out the jumper," said Sheppard, easy and affable as anything. "Hey, look who we bumped into just now. My friend Darus. I guess we were wrong about him being dead."
"Sheppard, you really are too smart for your own good," said Larrin. She'd stepped forward out of the shadows, and it was funny, because Rodney could look at her and see why Sheppard thought she was hot. (She was hot. He wouldn't have said no. Well, he would now, obviously.) But, just like one of those stupid Magic Eye things, he could see something else: see a predator, stalking her prey, slinking up to Sheppard without even a glance at Darus, who was edging round, trying to keep the ladder between himself and his commander.
Sheppard levelled his gun at Larrin. "Not tonight, darling," he drawled. "Headache."
"Why don't I let you sleep it off in peace?" said Larrin. "Here's a deal, Sheppard: you stay here on the Runagate, and I'll let the rest of your people go back to Atlantis."
Sheppard was silent, almost as if he was weighing the offer.
"Like you could keep us here!" said Rodney furiously. "And you -- look, this whole 'leave no man behind' thing? That includes yourself, you know."
"You can keep McKay, too," Larrin told Sheppard soothingly. "If you can stand the bitching."
"Let's not get nasty, Larrin," Sheppard said. "Look, I'm a reasonable man." Rodney snorted. "I'm sure we can come to some ... agreement, if you want me to stay for --"
"Are you mad?" demanded Rodney, not for the first time that day. Day! Endless night, more like. Endless ... night. No sunrise, no morning. What could be better for ... for the kind of thing she was?
Larrin shrugged. "I don't have much use for the rest of your people," she said, "though there's a vacancy for Chief Science Officer. What do you say, McKay? Interested?"
"Are you stupid, or --"
"Maybe I can persuade you," said Larrin. She brought her empty hand up, flexing the fingers inside the tight black glove, and it was kind of hard to see what she was doing in the dim light, but that was metal, and Sheppard was swaying back from, fuck, claws, she had claws, she had steel claws.
Which explains the feeding-marks, said that cool calm bit of Rodney's brain while the rest of him freaked out.
"Larrin!" yelled Darus. There was the zap of a weapon, and thank God, thank everything, that distracted her enough for Sheppard to scramble back towards Rodney. Larrin shrieked like a chainsaw hitting metal and spun round, her claws hissing in the air as she lunged for Darus. One hand hung useless at her side, and her blaster screeched as it spun across the deck. Darus swore, and raised his gun again, but she'd swept the rusting ladder away and was bulldozing him back against the shelving -- equipment crashing down everywhere from the impact -- and there was a horrible wet noise as he slumped against her.
"You could've shot her too!" suggested Rodney to Sheppard. "But hey, I've got a better idea: let's run like fuck."
"Hang on," said Sheppard, looking over Rodney's shoulder. "I think your invitation worked."* * *
The Gift of Life was a blade with two sharp edges. Even if the human called Sheppard did not yet know it, he would not forget until the day he died the true death that he had been taken to that brink before, and brought back by one he thought an enemy: one whose name he did not and would never know.
One who walked now through the dark dead passages of the humans' ship, hunting.
One who was stung, still, by the knowledge that this brother-bond had not faded, not failed, in the time since the two of them had been prisoners and prey.
That bond, and McKay's clumsy signal of distress pulsing out beneath the star-space, had brought him here, alone save for two loyal brothers, to aid Sheppard and his people. Prey, said the primal brain, but the Lanteans were more than that. Uneasy allies, traitors in waiting, wanting to change what had not and did not need to be changed. They lived so brief a span, and in that span would shape the universe around themselves. Until the coming of the Lanteans, only Wraith had lived so arrogantly: only Wraith had had the right.
They were all one to him, these human wars. One faction or the other would triumph: the victors would still be food, and the vanquished no loss. Though the people of this ship, this clan -- Travellers, McKay had called them, for he did not know their nature -- would be better vanquished than not. Their story was still told amongst Wraith, a tale of warning against pride like the Lanteans, like the Ancients.
He wanted to feed. He wanted to feed on the woman, and not only because she was Sheppard's enemy. Her life-force would be strong and bright, and he would suck the memories and desires from her with that life. He craved it.
Ahead, there were noises. Prey? No. He sniffed the air. Sheppard, certainly -- though he did not recall so strong a scent from their previous encounters -- and McKay at Sheppard's side. There was another one, a human, a curdled richness of blood and pain and fear: and there was the female, sharp and jagged and wrong.
"Oh, not this old chestnut again," McKay was saying. McKay, so often incomprehensible. McKay, who had found courage, or bravado, from somewhere, who did not step away as he approached.
Sheppard reached up to tug at the strange device of glass and metal that covered his eyes. With it gone, the changes the woman had wrought upon him were plain to see: the eyes, greener and more Wraithlike than before; the skin a more nearly normal hue; the scarring at his throat, and the blood pulsing warm and vivid beneath.
"Rodney," Sheppard said. "I don't think --"
"You're not real," said McKay, his mouth stretched wide in a rictus smile, raising his hand. "Lalala, hologram! You can't fool me twice, Larrin," over his shoulder, still reaching out, still run mad. "I know --" and then his hand touched leather and metal and he screamed.
It was an amusing irony. "The usual way is for me to touch you," he said, showing his teeth.
"Hey," said Sheppard, with a sharp smile. There was recognition there, and something warmer. Perhaps it was relief. "Rodney, it's our old friend."
"Todd?" said McKay, his voice higher in pitch.
'Todd' was the name they had bestowed on him, unwanted and unnecessary. Humans liked to name things they did not understand. Still, it was a greeting. He inclined his head to the human scientist.
"You are looking better than when we first met," he said then to Sheppard, and laughed at his dour face.
"Wraith-worshipper!" spat the woman. She stood swaying, her hand -- the metal futile mimicry of the talons on his own feeding hand -- and glared her hatred at him. The human at her feet was still, unwarming. Her odour was glittery with fear, aglow with anger, and the fresh blood on her mouth did not mask it at all.
That odour was on Sheppard, too, but stale. McKay's scent lay on Sheppard more strongly, which was interesting. Why would that be? They could not breed, could not mate: though humans, it was true, engaged in pseudo-reproductive acts for pleasure and entertainment. There could be no issue from a union between two males, but perhaps Sheppard's partial transformation had affected him in ways other than the obvious physical changes. Perhaps the chemistry of the man's body had altered in such a way as to attract McKay. Certainly McKay was looking at Sheppard and smiling, which was ... not wholly new.
"Larrin," said Sheppard. "Give it up." He sounded tired. Perhaps the Change was further advanced than it seemed.
"Fuck you, Sheppard!"
The woman crouched, grabbing something from the body of the man she had slain so wastefully. A weapon. He thought she might target Sheppard, or McKay. Instead she fired it at him, but the impact did not knock him back very far and the burn was fleeting. Any damage would be repaired soon enough, when he fed.
"Sheppard! Help me!" It was an order, clear and rageful.
Sheppard did not move. "Sorry, Larrin," he said. He and McKay were near the entrance to the room, their weapons ready to withstand any attack that might come from without. McKay was afraid, but that was probably because of the woman's weapon, easily wrested from her hands and tossed aside.
"You can't let him do this! McKay! Tell him!"
"You have got to be joking," snarled McKay, bolder now that the woman was disarmed. "After everything you've done, after you murdered your own people -- after you offered to let me be Sheppard's pet."
'Pet' was an odd word for what seemed to be between the two men.
"I'm no one's pet!" McKay's face was red, the blood vivid beneath his thin skin. "Neither's Sheppard. And I don't know what the hell you are, but you forfeited all claim to any help from Atlantis when you --"
Too much talk: too much noise. If the humans talked for long enough, it seemed likely that the woman would beguile Sheppard and McKay, persuade them to let her live. Her kind were too dangerous to be let free.
"Wait!" someone cried, but his feeding hand was already opening above her heart: and Sheppard did not, as he had seemed so ready to do, open fire or call his empty threats. He only stood and watched as the woman was drained and dragged towards her death. Her age came upon her like winter on a tilted world, and her cries grew small and then silent.
"Will you ask me to give back what I took?" he asked Sheppard afterwards. And Sheppard, staring like McKay at what was left, shook his head.* * *
"Till next time," said John, and cut the connection before Todd could come up with some snappy rejoinder.
"Well," said Rodney, in the co-pilot's seat. "I admit that wasn't quite the response I'd hoped for when I sent out my signal."
"What, you're complaining about being rescued in the nick of time from a freaky blood-drinking alien?" said John. "Like I said, when I sent my signal it brought the Wraith. And it was him. Todd. Todd and me, we're ..."
"I don't like it," said Ronon. "He's Wraith, and he called you his brother."
"You've met my brother," John couldn't resist pointing out. "Trust me, Todd's an improvement."
"Is he going to turn up every time you're in trouble?" asked Keller brightly. She was squashed up next to Ronon: John was pretty sure she'd been holding his hand, earlier. Hey, if Ronon wanted to play heartbroken, who was John to cramp his style? Yeah, sweet harmless Saryd was dead. John was a lot less cut up about that than about Morche and Elmis. They'd been Larrin's men, Larrin's crew, and she'd taken them down.
"He better not," said Rodney. "What? I'm just saying it might be ever so slightly offputting to the people we're claiming to be protecting from the Wraith, having a Hive ship full of said Wraith turning up to do their deus ex machina thing."
"I don't suppose you had theatres back on Sateda. You did? Well ..."
John tuned out. This wasn't Midway, but they were still half an hour from the nearest gate, and half an hour of Rodney's discursive explanations was a long half-hour. Not that he'd mind getting McKay to explain a few things once they were on their own together again. Which, hell, was likely to be a while, because never mind the debrief, there was no way he was getting away from Keller and her team any time soon.
"Hey, Doc," he swivelled to face Keller, "how long d'you reckon you'll need to keep me locked up in the infirmary?"
"Oh, only a couple of months," said Keller, but her poker face sucked: there was too much laughter in her eyes. "I can't say for sure, Colonel -- I'll need to spend some time with Carson's notes -- but it depends if it's a reinfection or a recrudescence, or something entirely new."
"What does that even mean?"
"If you got another dose of the retrovirus, somehow, from where ... from where you were bitten." Yep, she was blushing. "Or if something on the Runagate just sparked the mutation again. It could have been some form of radiation, or ... I'll have to look at the material Doctor Beckett compiled when you were ... "
"When I was a bug?" said John, and okay, maybe it came out flatter and colder than he meant, because Keller flinched.
"I do not understand," said Teyla, leaning forward from her seat behind Rodney. "If it was ... forgive me, Colonel ... if it was Larrin who bit you, who attempted to take your blood, would her bite not transmit that condition?"
"You've been watching too many bad movies," Rodney interpolated. (John glanced back. Yeah, Ronon was doing the strong and silent thing. Keller was holding his hand again. Well, hell, maybe John could help McKay get over that.) "Look, it was nothing like Interview with the Vampire."
"They did not care for sunshine," said Teyla placidly. "Indeed, they seem extraordinarily adapted for life in space."
"Yeah, apart from the bit about trying to drink blood, ewww."
"I didn't get a chance to check the other victims," said Keller, "but your red cell count was certainly low, Colonel: I thought it was the, the ..." She waved her hand. "All part of the same thing."
"In the film," said Teyla, "one bite was sufficient to transform the victim into another vampire."
"You mean he's gonna turn into Larrin?" said Ronon, and even John laughed at that.
"What do you mean, turn into?" said Rodney snippily. "They already have so much in common. Hot-shot pilots. Insubordinate attitude. Inability to stand upright. Lax --"
"And what did you come back with, Rodney?" interjected John, before everyone got to laughing too hard.
"Well, hopefully not a dose of space clap," said Rodney. "Though you never know." Because he was sitting at the front, he obviously thought he could get away with that smug, sly smile tilted towards John: but Teyla ducked her head, amused, and John reminded himself that his reflection in the windshield would betray his own expression. He kicked Rodney, fairly gently, instead.
"Ow! What was that for?"
"Actually, Colonel," came Radek's voice from the rear of the jumper, "we managed to salvage a surprising number of artifacts from the Runagate's storerooms. I am cataloguing them now, before anybody with the gene can initialise something ... unfortunate."
"You say that like it's just Ancient tech that Sheppard should keep his hands off," said Rodney.
"Good point," said John. "You never know what'll happen when you touch something ... weird." And ha! Rodney's neck was reddening, just like when ... He'd made McKay blush like a girl. Hey, he could have a lot of fun with that.
Maybe he should stop looking at McKay like this. But nobody seemed to mind.
"Gate should be coming into view ... now," said Rodney, still vaguely pink around the ears. And yeah, there it was, a broadening point of blue light like a window onto an endless summer afternoon.
John wished more missions ended like this. Sure, it'd been rough there for a while, but John'd come off worst of them all, and he didn't feel so bad. And okay, he didn't think they'd be checking back in with the Travellers any time soon. Besides ... besides, though eight days had passed on Atlantis, their time on the Runagate had been like one long sleepless, nightmarish night.
"You know what I'm looking forward to?" he said lazily, bringing the puddlejumper round at the perfect incline for the approach to the gate.
"What?" said Rodney. He kept sliding glances at John, and John wanted to tell him exactly what he was looking forward to, with demonstrations and practical exercises where necessary. He wanted to wake up in his own bed next to Rodney, with the clear pinkish dawn light streaming in through half-open curtains. He wanted to wake Rodney with a kiss, or a blowjob, or both. (Oh Christ he wanted to put his mouth on McKay and pay him back.) He wanted to roll together in the middle of the bed, and go back to sleep, safe as morning came up outside the window: and wake again, lazily, to face the day.
"Clear blue morning skies," he said. "That's what I've been missing: morning. Dial us home, McKay."
- end -