In a little less than 48 hours Woolsey will think differently of Todd.
Now, however, he suspects the wraith has made a hobby of fucking with him.
It's in the way he towers over everything, that make the hairs on Woolsey's neck stand up. Todd manages to barely not intrude into his personal space, close enough to make him uncomfortable, but not close enough to allow him to actually say anything.
Because Todd isn't technically doing anything. He's not snarling, or threatening, he's just there in that way some people are that makes them impossible to not be noticed.
As it is Woolsey is absurdly glad to have his desk between him and the wraith. John, bouncing his leg as he waits for the meeting to start, lounges in the chair next to Todd, entirely unconcerned with the presence of their on-and-off enemy.
Then again it's not him Todd looms at. He keeps shooting hopeful glances at the gate, as if he expects his team to come through any minute. Woolsey understands the impulse, but doesn't hold out much hope. It's been five days. They're not coming back on their own.
"Let me explain the situation," he says to Todd, who stops scrutinizing John's bouncing leg to turn to him. Woolsey shrinks at being the centre of a wraith's attention, but carries on bravely. "Colonel Sheppard's team was dispatched to investigate what we assumed to be an abandoned wraith outpost."
"It was not abandoned?" Todd guesses.
"It wasn't an outpost," he says. He flicks a piece of lint across Woolsey's table, studiously avoiding eye contact with either of them. "I set off some kind of trap. Ronon got injured getting me out before the walls came down."
Todd makes a little 'ah' sound. Sheppard frowns irritated, glances at Todd with his lips pressed into a thin line, his eyes daring him to say the wrong thing. Todd holds the eye contact, intense enough that even though it is not directed at him Woolsey has to fight the urge to hide. For some reason he can't even begin to explain Sheppard relaxes minutely. He looks away again, and stops bouncing his leg. Todd turns back to Woolsey expectantly.
He clears his throat, needs a moment to remember where he'd left off. He pushes Sheppard's initial report across the desk. Todd reads it, or appears to. It wouldn't surprise Woolsey if Todd had picked up written English just like that, when they still struggled to translate simple wraith texts.
"Dr McKay, Ronon, and Teyla are trapped. They are alive and have a supply of food and water. However, we have been unsuccessful in freeing them. Conditions on the planet complicate our rescue efforts. Seeing as we are working with wraith technology, we were hoping you might help us."
Woolsey doesn't like Todd hovering nearby. He likes him smiling even less.
"I know of this planet," he says. "My darts would be unhindered by the atmospheric interference. We could transport people directly to and from the site where your team has been trapped-"
"No," Sheppard says at the same time as Woolsey adds: "We were thinking more along the lines of you lending us your technical expertise."
Todd leans forward a little. Woolsey winces and can't even bring himself to be embarrassed.
"And I suppose you expect me to work for free?" Todd asks with that mocking lilt that always makes him feel as if he's just missed the punchline to a joke.
"We are prepared to negotiate a suitable reward," he says, agreeing to haggle with a being who's been running schemes before humans discovered the wonders of metallurgy.
"If he can do it at all," Sheppard says.
Immediately Todd's attention is on him. He doesn't so much as blink as he bores holes into John's skull, which John ignores by casually removing some dirt from under his fingernails.
"I assure you, John Sheppard, this task lies well within my capabilities."
"Sure, like all the other things you thought you could definitely do and then fucked up."
Sheppard doesn't even pretend to be fazed at Todd glaring at him. He finally looks up, almost bored by the exchange. Todd meanwhile is fuming, hands clenching and unclenching as if he's resisting the urge to feed on them. Woolsey nods at the marines at the door who raise their weapons.
"Solving your problems is hardly worth my time-"
"If you want to chicken out-"
"But," Todd continues sharply. "I will lend you my expertise until I am recalled to my ship."
Sheppard smiles, Todd pretends to have won the argument, and Woolsey tries to regain his footing. He fully expected this negotiation to last upwards of a few hours. He has a speech prepared. But Todd acts like the deal has been struck and Woolsey is not about to tell him otherwise.
Cadman's orders are: Keep an eye on the wraith until you land.
Sensible precaution, except Sheppard has that part handled.
She's sitting in the Jumper, hands around her rifle while Sheppard, who's supposed to be flying the thing, keeps shooting glances at said wraith. Once, when their eyes accidentally meet, Sheppard quickly pretends to be checking the atmospheric conditions on the HUD.
Cadman, as a rule, doesn't like to get involved in other people's relationships. Not counting that time with McKay, or when she gave Lorne relationship advice, or when she set up her sister with her ex-husband.
Especially since what she's pretty sure is unfolding here, is an interspecies thing, with Sheppard in the mix. He's her boss, and he doesn't take relationship advice. Even though he clearly needs it, being single while looking like he does, but she can hardly force good life decisions on him.
That leaves the wraith, but since he's exactly like the kind of guy she usually shoots, she's not sure how to breach the topic at all. If she wanted to, which she doesn't since she doesn't get involved in other people's business and all.
That said, the wraith seems to rapidly become a mainstay on Atlantis, which means she should probably try to break the ice.
"Hey, uh, Todd, was it?" she says. "What's a wraith's favourite restaurant?"
The wraith squints at her.
"We do not-"
The humming of the Jumper stutters as Sheppard adjusts the altitude minutely. The fabric of the wraith's coat rustles as he shifts in his seat, brows drawn in confusion. No other sound can be heard.
She catches the wraith shooting a glance at Sheppard, who for once doesn't have to pretend to have not been staring at him. In the reflection of the windshield she sees him wince.
When she told that joke to her guys last week, there was rolling on the floor laughter. Parrish got hiccups.
Cadman vaguely gestures.
"You know. Because there's a restaurant on, uh, earth. Called Five Guys. And you, uh, you know ..."
She peters out, because the wraith's face remains blank. They keep flying in silence for several minutes. Below them the planet's ocean rushes by, the Jumper casting waves on the water's surface. They have to fly low because of the atmospheric interference. Once they reach the mainland they won't be able to fly at all. If she sat up front she could look out of the window and watch alien fish break the surface of the water, playing in the ripples the Jumper left behind. Instead she's sharing space with a wraith, in an awkward silence of her own making.
Sheppard rescues her like the big damn hero he is, calling towards the back: "Don't be so critical. Humans can make jokes about eating people, too."
This does seem to amuse the wraith. He grins, Cadman squints because what Sheppard said isn't that funny. The only person she knows who laughs at Sheppard's lame jokes is Sergeant Portnov who has a little crush on him.
Todd has noticed her looking and goes from smiling back to his default expression, which for a wraith means 'vague but persistent menace'.
If Cadman were the kind of person to get involved in other people's relationships she'd shamelessly abuse the fact that Todd just broadcast to the entire world - alright, to her - that he's carrying a torch for one John Sheppard.
She just likes her jokes to land.
"I've got another one for you. The Colonel told me this one," she says.
Todd perks up.
A confused "You did?" sounds from the front of the Jumper, and is summarily ignored.
"What do you call it when a wraith is attacked by a horrible green monster?"
Todd tilts his head. The Jumper is utterly silent except for the sound of it breaking the air in its flight. Cadman waits, sends up a little prayer that this one won't fall flat either. It might do horrible things to her ego if it does.
Then his lips twitch. He tries to stop it but the half-smile turns into a very fake cough, which turns into a low chuckle. Then he laughs, eyes crinkling with mirth, Sheppard looks back in shock as if he'd never seen Todd laugh.
Cadman leans back satisfied.
This isn't the first team Jinto's lead since he's come of age. Not even the first off-world mission or the first with an Atlantis team to babysit. But it is the first time escorting a wraith and the hairs at the back of his neck tug at his skin. The Jumper lands at a low angle, wobbling on the last stretch as the sky of this planet pulls it towards its centre. Its heavy body throws up sand as it hits the ground. Through the window Jinto watches Colonel Sheppard curse. But it's one of the smoother landings Jinto has seen in the week since they set up.
This beach is the only spot on this side of the continent that allows a Jumper to land and foot travel further inland. One of the human soldiers, Cadman Jinto thinks her name is, hands off her quarry to him. He nods, then stills as he looks past her, cradling his P90 close to his chest. The wraith has just exited the Jumper.
Even in the cheery sunlight and with a backdrop of blue water and golden beaches, the creature looks nothing short of forbidding. He is a thing of nightmares, escaped from the darkest corners of its surreal landscapes, a blotch of darkness tearing a hole into an otherwise hale world. A wound bleeding black and festering pale green.
One that has taken friends and family.
Atlantis wants to play nice with them. They don't know the wraith like his people do, haven't grown up living in fear, haven't watched generations look to the sky in dread. Still, this wraith has promised to free Teyla from that trap. And if he doesn't, Jinto will make sure he's not getting off this planet.
"Welcome, Colonel Sheppard," he says as the human comes up to them. Sheppard looks around, expression unreadable behind his black shades.
"Jinto, nice to see you. You're leading the team?"
He inclines his head in affirmation.
"Yes. This is Survival Station One. From here it's a three hour hike from here to Station Two, past treacherous terrain. You will need to follow my lead exactly-" He casts a glance at the wraith who tilts his head as if he wants to challenge his authority. Jinto squares his jaw and looks back at Sheppard. "Once we're at Station Two, we rest and wait and continue on in the morning."
He lays out the exact route they'll be taking, explains the major pitfalls and dangers they'll be facing and the absolute necessity of Sheppard and the wraith following his orders. He's spent a week getting used to this terrain, making the trip multiple times a day to ferry supplies to and news from the advance posts. Sheppard falls into line easily and, to his surprise, even the wraith does not object.
Jinto takes point, his best markswoman brings up the rear. He's told her to keep her weapon pointed at the wraith as much as she can and not to speak to him under any circumstance. He may have manipulated the earthlings into trusting him, but Jinto knows better.
Within a few steps of the beach the light vanishes under canopies of trees, and their pace slows as they feel more than see their way ahead. In the perpetually moving shade the ground itself hides its secrets but Jinto expertly guides them around tripping hazards, stones and mud and roots. At the first major obstacle he helps Sheppard into his climbing gear but when the wraith shows signs of trouble, he refuses to do the same for him. He watches him struggle, won't fall for a trick as old as that. Sheppard, evidently, does. He barely comes up to Todd's shoulder, fragile next to the wraith, and snaps the safety harness in place with unpractised motions. He doesn't notice the wraith staring curiously at him, but Jinto does and thinks this creature looks hungry, wanting.
They climb up a waterfall, careful not to slip on stone walls covered in water and algae, Jinto calling down instructions for Sheppard and the wraith to follow. They make it up there in more time than he and his team can do alone, but they do make it. Jinto leads them along the path he's carved out, the safest on an unsafe planet.
"Mind the red vines," he calls over his shoulder, "They're poisonous."
He hears Sheppard curse and the sound of his feet falling more heavily as he ducks to the side of what he can only assume is one of the vines. Someone behind him laughs and it takes Jinto a while to sort out the cadence. It was the wraith. When he chances a look around Sheppard is holding up a warning finger, while the creature twists the vines in Sheppard's direction. Teasing him. Playing. Jinto turns around frowning. The image won't stick with what he knows of the wraith. He must have heard Jinto give the order not to talk to him, and is seeking otherwise to present himself harmless. He grits his teeth when Sheppard's laughter carries over the still air to him, and even the occasional chuckle from his team.
They hike along steep inclines and down slippery slopes, climb up rock faces and cliff overhangs, crawling along its walls like spiders. Humid air and exertion drenches him in sweat. As he looks back once again to check on his team, he spots to his satisfaction that even the wraith is out of breath, ghostlike hair hanging down his shoulders in limp and wet strands.
They're almost there when they encounter an obstacle in their path that wasn't there before.
His team comes to a halt by his side. They all look out at what was supposed to be the easiest part of the route, now covered in mud and rocks. Whole tree trunks jut out of the mess, green leaved branches reaching up like fingers grasping for help.
"A rockslide," he says before Sheppard can ask. "This planet experiences frequent storms. I will look for a path ahead, stay until I signal you to follow."
The ground will be treacherous, rocks shifting and sliding unpredictably.
Sheppard wishes him good luck. Jinto, with all his skill, is going to need it.
He selects the most stable looking entry point and moves ahead. To his left the cliff towers upwards, a path cleared from trees and rock as the avalanche of boulders, silt, and grit destroyed everything in its way. To his right and below a raging river groans and gurgles with its mighty voice. The rocks have settled at a low incline, one wrong step and he'll go tumbling down into the water and be carried away by its force.
He's careful, sets one foot in front of the other. But as his father likes to tell him, skill needs luck to survive. And the wraith is enough of a bad omen to seep away the last he's left.
A rock moves under Jinto's foot and he loses his balance, enough to shift his weight too much onto another portion of the uneven ground, which comes into motion again. With the growling of stone giants, rocks roll down towards the river, first small pebbles encased in mud, then larger boulders, and he along with them, falling and rolling down towards the river. The world blurs, grey and green, pain and a cacophony in his ears.
Above him his team shouts his name.
Jinto cries out in pain as a heavy stone crashes against his knee and he falls backwards into the ice cold water. It drenches his back, his legs, water splashes against his head, he barely keeps it above the raging water as he struggles for a hold. His hands find the ground, cling to it as the currents threaten to pull him along. The only thing keeping him from being dragged away is the stone, trapping his leg between it and the embankment. He curses under his breath, invocations to his people's spirits as he musters all the bravery he has, then shouts up at the team: "Don't follow! You will never survive!"
His team up top stop moving frantically. Which is a good thing, but Jinto doesn't know how long he'll be able to resist the urge to beg for his life. The pain in his leg drives tears into his eyes and he can see no way out. When he tries to move the stone, his only reward is more pain.
At the top of the low cliff, Sheppard turns to the wraith. It is with curious detachment he watches their exchange, like a shadow play made by twigs moving in the nightwind. They trade words, nothing he can hear. Sheppard gestures sharply, points at Jinto, then at the wraith.
The wraith is reluctant, he shakes his head, gestures back at the way they came, then ahead. Sheppard remains firm.
And then something happens which Jinto did not think possible. The wraith starts climbing over the rocks and towards him. Neither Sheppard nor his team try to stop him.
His heart thrums in his chest as he watches him brave the muddy cliff with a grace unknown to most humans, eyes piercing yellow even from this distance, boring into him, selecting him as their target. Jinto looks at Sheppard and his team, who still make no attempt to save him. But he can't imagine the wraith is doing what he thinks he's doing.
Then he's with him. He looms over Jinto, his coat swept along in the current, plunging his hands into the freezing cold water as he works to free Jinto's leg from the boulder. He hisses, but endures the pain of the rock shifting on his injured leg. His leg comes free.
And his hands clawing at the riverbank lose their grip as nothing else holds him from the furious speed of water coming at him.
The last thing he hears is shouting, then nothing but the calamitous stream filling the space around his head, whipping at him with invisible claws. His skin pulls taut from the cold, knives stabbing into his skin. He reaches out for something to hold onto, his hands are smashed against the rocks, pulled away by the current. He struggles, he didn't have a chance to breathe in before he went under and his breath runs out. He tries to keep his head above the water but no longer knows where up is, pushes towards what he thinks is the right direction only for his head to knock into the river bottom. He scrambles, gasps, water fills his lungs-
A hand grabs him, pulls him up above the water's surface. Jinto gulps in air, lungs demanding more than he can give, he can barely force a breath out before his body demands he take another. Black spots recede as he fights against unconsciousness. He is hauled towards the riverbank, sinks into the mud and coughs up squalls of water, fighting to breathe through it. Jinto drags himself to his hands and knees, head hanging between his shoulders, as he looks over.
Next to him, breathing almost as hard as him, is the wraith.
He is sopping wet, unsteady just on his knees, and impatiently pushing away hair that keeps clinging to his face. The gesture is so oddly human that Jinto cannot help but laugh. It drowns in another coughing fit, he turns his head down so as not to cough into the wraith's face, and spots the reason why he is unsteady.
"You're bleeding," he says and chides himself. It's not as if the wraith might not have noticed. It is a huge bleeding gash all along his thigh, dark green blood dripping into the mud.
"Apparently," the wraith says.
What does Sheppard call him? It's an Earth name, and they all sound made-up to Jinto. Todd, he thinks it was.
Both he and Todd share the same thought and look up at the ravine where their team holds out. Jinto sees them calling out to him, but their voices get lost on the way.
Todd will never make it up there without help. His injury won't heal fast enough before night falls and turns the temperatures to freezing. Any wraith would have fed on him now. Todd does not.
Jinto catches his breath for a minute longer. One more, just to keep himself steady. Then one more, to be safe. Jinto forbids himself from using the excuse again and gets to his feet, looking down at a creature who may have murdered and consumed someone he loved.
Todd stares at his outstretched hand, then looks up and into his face. Jinto doesn't flinch at being stared at by the bane of his people, but it's a close thing. Todd nods and lets himself be pulled up, slings one arm around Jinto's shoulder.
Slowly, both hobbled from pain and fatigue, they climb up the ravine. It's not far, despite Jinto's ribs suggesting otherwise after falling all this way.
Even with his injured leg, the wraith makes it, pushed and pulled along by Jinto. They reach the top, are pulled the rest along the path by their team, and collapse on drier ground.
Todd sits up first and pulls off his coat. He's muttering under his breath, another too human habit that makes Jinto uncomfortable. Wraith do not mutter, they are not inconvenienced by long hair getting into their faces, and their clothes sticking wet and cold to their skin.
They are terrors of the nightwind, the very personification of fear. But Todd mutters and shoots dark glances at Colonel Sheppard as he empties out his pockets. Water sloshes out into a puddle, along with a few pebbles, moss, a fish that he throws across the ravine in the direction of the river, and a small white object in the shape of two paths merging into one.
"You found a heartbone," Jinto blurts out.
Someone behind him giggles.
Todd tilts his head in question and Jinto realises why his team laughs at him. He put himself in the position of having to explain what a heartbone is to a wraith.
"It's, uh, from an animal that lives on many planets. You find them near rivers and give them to your, uh, beloved. It's lucky."
Todd inspects the heartbone more closely.
"Curious," he says and pockets it. For as long as he lives Jinto knows he will wonder what else wraith are carrying in their pockets. Just the thought that one of their possessions may include a heartbone, the very thing he gave to his very first crush when they arrived on Atlantis many years ago, will make him less afraid.
She is the best nurse in two galaxies. She's worked in the middle of combat zones, with limited supplies, and more than once on alien patients. Her skills make her uniquely suited to man the second survival station and care for the teams that come and go. Thanks to Dr McKay and the odd ornery soldier, she's even learned how to handle difficult patients.
She is not, however, prepared to lose her head over one of them.
"Have it your way," she says as she pulls off her gloves. "If you want to limp the rest of the way, be my guest."
The wraith snarls something that might be a curse if it were better enunciated. She checks on Jinto, who'll need little more than rest, and turns to Colonel Sheppard.
"Talk to your wraith friend, Colonel," she says. "Improved healing or not, he's not going anywhere if I don't at least clean the wound."
She throws her gloves into the bin, harsh enough not to make the Colonel argue too much.
He protests "It's not like I can tell him what to do" but goes to do as he's told.
Marie pretends to be busy sorting through her medical supplies, but she listens with one ear to the argument unfolding.
It's a doozy.
The Colonel gets barely a sentence in before the wraith gets up, towering with his full height over Sheppard. Favours his injured leg, Marie notices grimly.
She doesn't want to be in Sheppard's shoes right now. She's met men before who used their height and strength to intimidate her, and the knowledge that this one kills and eats humans does not lessen the impact. Most of the time she can pretend to be tough, has learned a long time ago to meet dangerous men at eye level.
But Sheppard's reactions are another thing entirely. He acts as if he doesn't even notice the wraith's bullying. He's crossed his arms, makes some kind of quip that has the wraith reach out with his feeding hand.
Jinto behind her raises his weapon, struggling to his feet against his likely aching ribs, but his team is resting a ways off and he's the only one with a weapon close by. Marie reaches blindly for her strongest anaesthetic, knowing it will likely do nothing to a wraith.
If the wraith loses it, Colonel Sheppard will be dead before they can do anything about it. He doesn't so much as twitch, just keeps looking at the wraith with an expectant eyebrow raised. The wraith curses and snarls. And lets himself be pushed onto the gurney.
"You can fix up that leg now, ma'am," Sheppard calls over, all charm and as easygoing as if the wraith isn't still glaring daggers at him.
Marie approaches them, holding her medical supplies like a shield in front of her. The wraith barely acknowledges her, only huffs defeated when she asks for his permission to take a look at his injury. Sheppard holds his attention, and she's more than glad to work like that.
For all his posturing, the wraith isn't a bad patient. When she tells him to hold still, he does, when she asks him to step out of the trouser leg, he makes no complaint. She pulls stone shards out of his wound, one after the other. It's a task and a half even finding them, then fishing around in the mess of torn muscle and tendon to grab hold of them. Because of this it takes her a while to notice that just because the wraith's not making a sound, that doesn't mean he's not feeling pain. She looks up in time for him to school his face from a pained grimace into granite indifference.
"Do painkillers work on your people?" she asks.
If he's surprised by the question, he doesn't show it. He does look at her a tad longer than she's strictly comfortable with. Then he shrugs.
"I do not know."
There's still at least half a dozen stone pieces too large to stay in the wound.
"I'd be willing to try," she says.
Wraith or not, it's her job to ease his pain. When it comes right down to it, he's just another patient. Green and alien, maybe, but surely nothing stranger than a Jaffa or Asgard.
Todd hesitates. He looks at Sheppard, then at Jinto who's still watching them. His shoulders draw up in a defensive posture.
"The remedies our worshippers use also sedate them ..."
"I can offer some that won't make you tired. They won't be as effective."
But it's better than having her dig her tweezers into his leg without anything to dull the pain. Todd's feeding hand curls and uncurls, a helpless gesture against something he can't fight physically. Restless, like many soldiers when they can't do anything about their situation.
Then he says, so quiet she barely hears: "Please."
Marie nods and goes to draw up a syringe of metamizole. Not even close to what she'd give a human patient, but then again she'd rather not use harder stuff on her first trial of pain relief on a wraith patient. Besides, she can understand his reluctance to let his guard down.
Colonel Sheppard's still close when she comes back, and he stays there until she's finished. The moment the foreign matter is removed his wound begins to heal, closing so rapidly that by the time Marie's cleaned it up it looks manageable, rather than the potentially life-ending injury it would have been for a human out here.
"You," Marie swallows when Todd gives her his full attention. "You should rest for a few hours to give yourself time to heal."
Todd nods in acknowledgement, and attempts to get up. Apparently he counted on the healing having further progressed than it has. He collapses, groaning in pain. Marie's nursing instincts take over and she moves in to ease him to the ground and prevent him from falling, but Sheppard is faster. And stronger. One second he looks like he's trying to think up another sarcastic comment, the next Todd falls and he all but dives after him, grabbing him and holding Todd up and against him. His surprise turns to concern before he seems to become aware of what he just did.
"Uh," he says.
Marie saves him from having to explain himself. She helps him get Todd back on the gurney and sends him to get crutches from storage.
Todd appears downright dazed by this turn of events. He stares after Sheppard, fiddling with the coat covering his otherwise still naked legs. Marie is willing to bet a month's salary that that dark tinge on his cheeks wasn't there a minute ago.
Sheppard returns with the crutches after more time than he technically needed. His hair looks as if he's been messing it up and then ineffectually tried to smooth it down. Todd wrinkles his nose at the crutches.
"Primitive," he mutters but he takes them.
Marie makes sure to walk slowly when she shows them to the tents they put up. They'll have one to themselves. At least she doubts that Jinto and his team will want to be put up with a wraith.
"Goodnight," she says already running on autopilot. "If you need anything, let me know."
"I'll be sure to call on you if I require sustenance," Todd says, then winces.
For a moment she and Todd look at each other, and Marie wonders if she should laugh. Out of politeness if anything. Now she knows why Colonel Sheppard likes him. They have the same tendency to bypass their brain-to-mouth filter when it comes to bad jokes.
To her surprise, Todd breaks eye contact first. It might have something to do with Sheppard hissing "Not funny" into his ear and dragging him into the tent.
Marie doesn't see them for the rest of the night. She wakes once, and thinks she can hear noise coming from their tent, but it doesn't sound like fighting and it grows quiet before she has decided if she should check on them.
In the morning something has changed between them. Marie notices right away when she checks Todd's leg in passing - hale and whole as if he'd never had a gash several inches deep and wide all but bisecting his leg - and notices they are standing a suspicious distance apart. Yesterday they stood like normal people, now it looks like they have a string tied between them they're trying to keep taut at all times. They're staring at each other more than before, too, stealing glances when they think the other isn't looking. Marie raises an eyebrow but she resists the urge to comment. She doesn't want to know how wraith react to being embarrassed.
Teldy's had to to deal with her fair share of bullshit over the years. Her all-female recon team is no accident. It's her little middle finger to all the times she's been the single chick in a team. Even she didn't count on how well they'd work together, but they're all the better for it. It means she can escape the boredom of guarding the camp and take over ferrying people to and from the science station while Jinto's team recovers.
Showing the wraith how it's done is an added bonus.
It's the first time she's met one up close, and he doesn't look quite as horrifying as she remembers. Granted, the last ones she saw were snarling and coming at her at high speeds. Their teeth seem much smaller when they don't threaten to rip out her throat.
"Route's clear," she says as they get ready to move out.
Marie said the wraith came in last night with a wound that would have ended a human's career. She sees where he's mended the tear in his clothes and has a sudden unbidden image of him sitting somewhere with his trousers over his naked legs working with thread and sewing needle. The mental image is incongruous enough to make her suppress laughter. She huffs, and manages to restrain herself to a subdued grin.
The wraith has noticed, of course, but he doesn't ask what she finds so funny. She doesn't think she could have explained.
"It's not difficult terrain, just a long march straight ahead. Mind the wildlife, it'll try and kill you."
She's not kidding. Porter had to be carried back to Atlantis on a stretcher because of the predators in the area. She's still recovering, leaving Teldy one woman short, but it's not like they're expecting a fight.
Sheppard and the wraith file in without protest as they start the last leg of the journey.
On this stretch of the route the scenery's almost nice. Wildflowers grow in the dense vegetation, little spots of colour beneath the dark treetops casting the world below in perpetual shadow. Small animals scamper back and forth, often so close Teldy could catch one in her bare hand.
They chitter and purr, trill and whistle, like earth animals a little to the left. Distant genetic ancestors of squirrels climb trees that might have evolved to become oaks on another planet. Teldy steps on a thick root growth that has sunk itself into the muddy underground, sturdy enough to function as natural bridges. Soon the trees block out all sunlight, making it difficult to see. Teldy calls her team to a stop.
"You, wraith," she calls out. "What does Sheppard call you?"
The wraith rolls his eyes.
"Todd," he says with no small amount of exasperation.
For an encounter of the third kind, Teldy doesn't quite understand why she feels the need to reassure him.
"Not so bad," she says. "You should have heard the nicknames I've gotten. Get in front. You people can see in the dark, right?"
The wraith gives a vague nod.
"Good, I'll be half a step behind you. Get moving."
She doesn't know what she expected of the wraith. A certain arrogance owing to their differences in lifestyles perhaps. She doesn't know if she would have taken orders from a steak dinner.
She's worked with Jaffa before, who have - to put it mildly - old-fashioned ideas about women. But the wraith obeys wordlessly, guides them on a path that for the first time since being assigned to patrol this route leaves Teldy's boots dry and free of muck.
There's no real danger to be faced from a misstep, which is why she expected Todd might make a fuss about playing seeing eye dog for a bunch of humans.
She's just about to share the idea of a seeing eye wraith with Dusty when something scurries past them. In a fraction of a second she falls into a defensive position, weapon raised at the darkness ahead.
"Movement," she hisses. Dusty is almost as quick as she is, placing herself between whatever she saw and Sheppard. On this trip he's theirs to keep safe. She wonders what reason Todd has for shielding him. That's what he's doing alright, crouching between Sheppard and whatever moved in the underbrush. His yellow eyes almost glow in the low light as he scans the area.
"What is it?" Sheppard asks.
Teldy shakes her head. It must have been a figment of her-
There it is again.
She doesn't have time to call out a warning when Dusty starts firing.
A short burst of gunfire breaks the calm noise of nature. Leaves fall, bark splinters. Nothing heavier than a pine nut hits the ground. Whatever it is, Dusty hasn't hit it. She sees no body on the ground, no movement as some unknown predator escapes to safety.
"It was there, I swear it," she says but doesn't sound so sure anymore.
Teldy hesitates. Beyond what she's seen, always at the corner of her eye, there's no evidence of hostiles.
"Todd if you're messing with us," Sheppard warns and Teldy realises what she's seen.
Wraith shadows. She turns to the wraith who meets Sheppard's glare head-on.
"I assure you, John Sheppard, this is not of my doing."
"Likely story," Dusty says, going back to back with Sheppard. Just in case there are other wraith out there.
Next the wraith does something that takes Teldy off-guard. He looks to her.
"I am not responsible," he says, lowering his head in something as close to deference as his people are likely to get. "But I can try to guard you against these impressions."
It falls to her whether or not to believe him. Dusty's right when she doubts other wraith to be on the planet. They've encountered no sign of them since they came here. Then again, they are heading for a wraith trap. Other wraith may have found it.
"Do it," Teldy says, hoping this really isn't this guy's idea of a prank.
And that he won't shoot them in the back once his buddies show up.
They keep moving, guided by Todd. The shadows still crop up periodically but they're weaker somehow. When Teldy sees them she's aware that they're not real. Between his darkvision and anti-wraith defences, having Todd around isn't half bad. Granted, to him they're walking MREs, but as long as he keeps his hands to himself, she can work with him. Not so different from any man really.
They keep low and on guard, when another shadow passes, this one close, almost physical.
"Are there other aliens that can cause these hallucinations?" Teldy asks in a whisper low voice.
"No," Todd says. "There is technology, but you would have encountered these before."
And they haven't, at least not in the last few days.
"Some of your buddies, then?"
Todd nods grimly. He doesn't like that thought any more than she does.
Something shoots out of the bushes. Teldy dives to the side on pure instinct, knocks hard into the ground. The wraith rolls smoothly to his feet beside her, but she doesn't have time to be jealous. Wraith, two of them, burst out of the dark, stun blasts whizzing overhead. Teldy keeps low, throws a glance at Dusty and Sheppard who have already found cover. Teldy picks a solid looking tree, almost her knee to Todd's shoulder as he crouches beside her, wielding a knife he's not supposed to have. She aims at the wraith, not picky about which one she's going to hit, and fires. Beneath the din of weapon's fire and her singular focus on the two enemies she can see, she doesn't notice the other wraith. Dusty does, she cries out a warning they're being flanked, but it's too late for Teldy. She doesn't even have time to turn around, senses the commotion more than she sees or hears it. Todd is gone from her side. She stops firing, ducks on the off-chance a blaster bolt is coming at her and now she hears snarling and the flapping of leather coats as Todd takes on the wraith drone behind her. He plunges his knife deep into its leg, then draws back, rolling back on the balls of his feet, ducking a blow. Teldy lets herself fall to her knees, braces her rifle against her shoulder as she tries to find her target. It's no use, the two wraith are moving too fast for her not to accidentally shoot Todd. As if he's read her thoughts, Todd starts to bring distance between himself and the drone. It follows, uses the opening he's left while disengaging, but it's enough for Teldy. She fires a volley of bullets into the drone. It sinks to the ground. Dead.
The fighting has died down. When she moves back up towards Dusty and Sheppard, she nearly trips over the two wraith who got their attention first.
"Just three? I was starting to have fun," Dusty says, then seems to remember who she was shooting at and who she's currently with. "Uh, no offense."
Todd hums and shrugs.
"There are more," he says. "They are the keepers of this trap, in stasis until now. Seeing us fight back, they will likely have decided to contact their ship for backup."
Dusty kicks one of the dead wraith and pops her bubblegum.
On guard the entire time they move more slowly than Teldy would have liked.
Thus, it's well into the afternoon when they finally reach the outpost and the first spot of sunlight in hours. It falls warm and welcoming on her face and with it the last wraith shadows dissipate. Todd is massaging his temples, mouth pinched into an expression of discomfort.
She claps him on the shoulder.
"Thanks, man," she says.
Before he can respond, if indeed he would have, Dr Kusanagi storms out of the outpost.
"Get in, quickly!"
They move without thinking, Todd ahead of them as they all file into the building. Only then does Sheppard ask what's wrong.
"We have picked up a wraith cruiser on our sensors," Dr Kusanagi says. She frowns, looks between them as if any one of them might have a miracle solution to this new problem.
Todd is the one who speaks up.
"We know. There is at least one commander on the planet, we encountered his detail just now."
Sheppard makes a noise. Immediately he has Todd's attention.
"Why now?" he asks. "The trap's been set off days ago. Shouldn't we have met these guys before?"
Before Todd showed up, is the unspoken end to that sentence.
"There is more than one trap, spaced days and even weeks of travel apart," Todd says, surprisingly patiently for the fact that Sheppard could well decide to shoot him on the spot if he doesn't like his explanation. "The hibernation chamber will be in the centre, a fair distance away from here. If you'd like confirm for yourself ..."
Sheppard rolls his eyes. He's almost smiling.
"No, thanks. Let's get my people out before your friends show up."
Teldy sets up her team by the entrance and watches Sheppard hurry after Dr Kusanagi and Todd.
~ Dr Kusanagi ~
When Dr McKay and the wraith worked on the replicator code, Miko had been busy with another project. She's seen the wraith twice, both times in shackles, being escorted to and from his cell under armed guard. She felt a little sorry for him then. Now she kind of wishes the shackles were still an option.
She never realised just how tall he is. He's easily seven feet, fitting into the space built by his kin so naturally where Miko always feels dwarfed by the sloping interiors, the high ceilings and dark foreboding walls pulsing with unnatural life.
He walks ahead like he knows where he's going and she trails behind, hurrying to catch up with his long strides. At least the Colonel is here with her. From what she's heard, his team are the only ones who can go toe to toe with a wraith. Once they free them, this wraith will be at a distinct disadvantage and hopefully not inclined to stay for a quick snack.
If they free them.
From the small antechamber where Teldy's team has set up, watching for the wraith ship, leads a long corridor branching off at several points deeper into the structure. A veritable maze none of them felt inclined to explore.
They are headed straight ahead into a large room, bisected halfway in by a thick leathery wall that has only kept growing deeper into the ground and the walls since it came down on Colonel Sheppard's team six days ago. An array of computers, technical equipment, and sensors has been set up. Several nodes are attached to the wall, taking readings and listening for the continued lifesigns of the team. They have been able to communicate via knocking, are almost certain everyone is still alive. They will be fine, Miko tells herself. As long as they get them out before the wraith show up. The other wraith, she amends in her head as she calls up a log of her previous attempts to interact with the trap.
"I've been able to access some of the system," she explains to the wraith. He is looking over her shoulder at the data on screen, cast in sharp contrasts of light and dark by its pale electric glow. Miko shudders and continues. "But I'm afraid I'm not as familiar with wraith operating systems as Dr McKay is. I am unable to get past the security measures."
She shows him where she tried bypassing the firewalls, pulling back everytime she feared failing. She doesn't know what happens to people in a wraith trap if said trap detects tampering.
The wraith hums, asks a few questions.
He's calm, the utter and complete opposite of the scientists she's worked with so far. He neither mocks her lack of understanding of his technology, nor does he grow impatient when she outlines the things she has tried previously. When he needs to get at the computer, he asks her permission with a little questioning noise that would be cute if he wasn't what he is.
She steps back, watches as he calls up parts of the system she previously didn't know were there. He's working almost too fast to follow, obviously intending to do this himself. Ordinarily Miko wouldn't have objected, but he is still wraith and there is a ship headed towards them that might be his.
It's tough keeping up with him, especially since she doesn't dare ask questions. Dr McKay can get testy when he's forced to slow down to explain things, she doesn't think the wraith, despite his projected calm, will react any more favourably. And if he does disapprove, his methods of expressing that disapproval will be very different from Dr McKay's.
Miko's been dealing with a headache for three days now, working tirelessly to get their people out, and it's only getting worse now that she's trying to read along with the wraith's work. He's accessing a list of commands. Unfortunately none of them say "free the poor humans". But one of them says something she's almost sure refers to dart transport.
He rushes up to her, gun ready, looking around.
"What's wrong?" he asks. Miko points at the wraith.
"I think the trap was designed to let a dart pick up its victims via their transport mechanism," Miko says quickly. "I just saw him engage a protocol that has to do with that."
Sheppard's grip on his rifle shifts. He doesn't aim at the wraith, not yet. Miko is prepared to duck at the slightest provocation.
"We want our people to walk out of here," he says, just a hint of a warning in his voice.
The wraith doesn't move at all, but impossibly he still becomes larger, his presence filling out the entire room. Miko stumbles back, looking around for cover while trying at the same time to keep her eyes on the wraith. Sheppard stays where he is, right in feeding range. If the wraith decides to make a leap, he'll have precious little time to return fire.
But he's not worried. Miko watches from behind her little bit of cover - the computer console - and the Colonel is just standing there, sharing some unspoken conversation with the wraith.
"That is what I intend to do," the wraith says, and there's no threat in his voice, no tension. "If you would rather I leave ..."
They hold eye contact for a few excruciatingly long seconds, then Sheppard grins and turns back towards the entrance.
"What, without your pants on?" he mutters, seemingly to himself. As a statement it makes no sense, since the wraith is very much wearing trousers. But whatever just passed between them, Miko gathers she's lacking more than just conversational context.
The wraith goes back to work, Miko sneaks up next to him, but can't do much more than watch and try to figure out whether or not he's going to betray them.
Sheppard keeps close, weapon at the ready, likely feeling even more useless than her. When this is all over she will ask Dr McKay to teach her how to handle wraith computers.
Just as she's finished forming that thought, the wall begins to move. It parts, strands of interwoven matter parting into holes that grow until they form a doorway. Behind it stands Ronon, gun up, Teyla next to him, Dr McKay behind them. They tense when they see the wraith, but relax when Sheppard pushes past him, all care forgotten as he crosses the distance in three long bounds and pulls Ronon into a half embrace, obviously trying to be cool about this, that Ronon turns into a full on bear hug. He lifts Sheppard up into the air a few inches, laughing and squeezing him until Sheppard wheezes and taps out.
Dr McKay nods emphatically.
Sheppard laughs and lets himself be talked at by Dr McKay about how long they've gone with what wraith think humans eat - apparently stowed there to keep them alive until pickup. Ronon's the only one actually injured, but he ignores it so expertly that Miko doesn't notice until much later that he has several broken ribs.
Miko watches the exchange with something close to jealousy. She's not on any of the off-world teams. And although she's built friendships in the city, they lack the close bond the recon teams share with each other.
Next to her, the wraith is past 'close' to jealousy.
He stands there like forgotten luggage, pretending he's not looking at the group, jaw moving like he's chewing on some choice words. None of them have thanked him yet, she remembers. Feeling a lot braver with an entire team of people behind her, Miko reaches out and touches her fingertips to the wraith's elbow. He startles, actually startles just like a human would, and looks down at her with wide eyes.
"Thank you," she says and adds, because this is the thing that actually upsets him: "Colonel Sheppard is grateful, too. He's just glad to see his friends right now."
"Hah. Doubtful," Todd says, but he relaxes minutely and no longer looks like he's about to remove Ronon's hands from his arms if he doesn't remove them from Colonel Sheppard's body.
"We are fine," Teyla says after Colonel Sheppard's repeated questions. "This trap was designed to keep its prey alive. We have had plenty of food and water."
Next to Miko Todd says with a shit-eating grin: "We do prefer our food fresh."
Sheppard groans, Dr McKay makes a queasy face, Teyla looks up at the ceiling as if she's praying to her ancestors for patience. But it's Miko's scandalised look that the wraith sees when he turns to her, that makes him laugh.
"Just a little joke," he says. "To ... ease the tension."
"It did not work," Miko says earnestly, earning another little chuckle from Todd. He's not so different from them, she thinks.
Inappropriate jokes are after all a mainstay of human culture.
"Let's get out of here before this turns into a comedy club," Sheppard says. He turns around and almost runs squarely into Sergeant Mehra.
"Too late," she says, out of breath. "Todd's buddies are here."
The planet below does not allow for their darts to land. The commander of the cruiser has to be flown down by one of his people in the dart. He hates this mode of transportation but it can't be helped. Their sensors picked up another wraith near the signal location. It could be an ally. If it is not, it's even more imperative to figure out who they're dealing with. The commander's Hive can ill afford to antagonise one of the big players in this game.
He does not feel the passage of time between being beamed into the dart's compartment and being rematerialised on the surface. But the somersaults his gut makes are very much there, the familiar nauseating sensation of transport making this whole endeavour even less pleasant than it already is. But the chance to recover trapped humans, perhaps even discover a new feeding ground on a planet they thought dead is worth the discomfort.
At first glance the commander can see the situation is more complicated than it appears. For one, there are humans freely running around. They are armed, alert and technologically advanced enough to pose a threat. They're not what worries him, though. It is the wraith standing at the entryway to the trap. The commander knows this one. He's the First to the most powerful queen in the galaxy. She commands more hives than have worked together since the Lantean war, and the only thing more famous than her cunning is her ruthlessness. She once destroyed an enemy hive for trespassing on her feeding grounds with no warning or regard for life. During another battle her cunning led to two of her enemies' hives destroying each other over a deserted ocean world. She created the most advanced ship in wraith history, and when her people dared betray here, they disappeared into dark space and were never seen again. And these are just the things the commander believes. Rumours going around of the queen having gained a Lantean city as a worshipper colony, her using her supreme power to strip wraith of the very essence of their being, these are things he does not believe.
Still, he doesn't want to get on her bad side and so he approaches with a lowered head, showing respect to her First who acts in her name.
"We have come to retrieve our stock from the trap. We have dominion over this feeding ground. Do you lay claim to it?"
The First's worshippers point their guns at him. Even if some of the more preposterous rumours aren't true, his queen must have unrivalled power if she feels comfortable arming her worshippers to this degree.
He stands among them, does not give orders that the commander can see. Indeed it's him who looks to one of the humans, and receives a nod in return. This is getting stranger by the minute.
First he receives a signal from a trap they thought out of commission for well over a hundred years, then he meets a lone wraith from a rival hive surrounded by armed worshippers whose input he apparently values.
The commander doesn't have time to mull through how these events are connected, before the queen's First speaks: "The planet belongs to you. These people do not. They inadvertently triggered the signal when performing reconnaissance on my behalf."
So he's spying on them. The commander hasn't thought much about their position in galactic politics, but they must be a bigger threat than he thought. Perhaps if he removes this enemy before it can make up its mind, his queen will reward him.
With a single mental command the drones that beamed down with him raise their weapons. The humans tense, one of them shouts an order to hold fire, apparently still willing to wait this out. He won't give them the chance. There will be many worshippers to kill to get at the First but it can't be helped. With any luck there'll be enough left over to take back to the ship. But the First does something that throws him for a loop.
The second his drones' stunners come up, he steps forward and puts himself physically between the drones and one of the human males.
The commander falters. This should not happen. Wraith don't protect their worshippers, certainly not someone as valuable to a queen as a First. Yet here the First is, protecting a simple human with his own body.
The drones sense his confusion. It agitates them. They shift, he senses their desire to return to the hive where there'll be safety in numbers. The First sees it.
He approaches the commander with long strides, always in the line of fire between the drones and that human. The commander shrinks back involuntarily as the First closes the distance. Here is a wraith who speaks in his queen's name. He commands only a small cruiser. What was he thinking facing the First of the most powerful queen in the galaxy without an army at his disposal?
Dimly the commander is aware that his fear is not entirely his own. It is bounced back and forth in the mental link between himself and his drones, echoing louder with every pass. Yet he dares not loosen his grip on them, lest they panic and open fire and doom them all.
"Consider yourself lucky to keep this planet," the First says. "If your ship touches a single one of my," he hesitates, "Worshippers, I will slaughter your entire hive and your queen along with it."
He does not speak empty threats. The commander knows what his queen has done to her enemies.
He does consider himself lucky. Mainly because his pilot is coming around for another pass. He nods, bows and moves backwards and has his pilot beam him into storage, for the first time glad to get in there.
Rodney has been eating for the last hour straight. He's barely stopped to get a medical check-up before he made a beeline to the cafeteria. John watches him with his chin on his hand, glad his friends are back alive and safe. Ronon is in a less than stellar mood, having been cooped up in an enclosed space with Rodney for a week and then being rescued by a wraith. He'll be somewhere working out his frustrations and John's more than content to give him his space.
Rodney moves on from his second steak to some kind of Athosian soup. He hasn't said a word yet, but that changes when Dr Kusanagi approaches their table with the expression of a woman bearing bad news. His face falls, and John kisses his free afternoon goodbye as he prepares for the next disaster.
It's nothing that bad. At least not for John. Rodney listens to Dr Kusanagi tell him in meek tones that while yes, Todd did a tremendous job of getting them out of that trap, and yes he hasn't hurt anyone at all, he also managed to steal all their data on the wraith trap.
Dr Kusanagi wipes soup off her jacket, but Rodney waves his spoon with such gusto, it doesn't help.
"I'm very sorry, Dr McKay. It must have happened while we were packing up, I-"
"Do you realise he took our only way to get these traps open? We could have traded that knowledge to the entire galaxy. Hell, what happens the next time one of our teams walks into one?"
Dr Kusanagi nods and agrees, but she and John both only listen with half an ear. Rodney cusses the sky green and Todd blue, days of tension finding a safety valve in the all too familiar topic of being outsmarted by their sometime ally.
When he finally slows down Dr Kusanagi delivers the deathblow: "He also took one of our lifesigns detectors."
So they can probably kiss those working against Todd goodbye.
If she thought Rodney wouldn't have the breath left for another rant she thought wrong. As Rodney launches into another tirade about what a bad idea it was to let Todd just walk all over their outposts, John can't help feeling oddly proud.
Todd keeps getting more out of their deals than they offered. It's a good thing he's on their side.
Lured in by what she must assume is Rodney dressing down Dr Kusanagi, Teldy swoops in like an Amazonian guardian angel.
"What's this? Not feeling grateful to the doc pulling you out of that hole?"
Rodney doesn't even catch his breath.
"He stole all of our data, of course I'm not - oh, you mean Dr Kusanagi. Right, yes, of course. Thank you for, uh, rescuing us. And telling me about the data. And the lifesigns detector. Damn this wraith."
"I don't know," Teldy says with a shrug. She steals some fries from John's plate and pops one in her mouth. "He was pretty useful to have around. We'd get good use out of one or two wraith recon teams."
John blinks at what he's pretty sure is the first time someone on this base other than himself suggested making friends with the wraith. A couple of days ago he's pretty sure Teldy was more for the shoot-on-sight type of wraith diplomacy.
"Good luck getting that by Woolsey," he jokes.
Teldy grins. "You willing to bet? He's pretty grateful to Todd for getting our people out."
John does not take the bet. He's beginning to realise their latest adventure may have changed perceptions of Todd somewhat.
True enough when he checks the clinic that same day, seeing if Teyla's still visiting Jinto, he overhears him telling some of the younger children that he has met a wraith who was honourable, which considering their entire history of living in fear of the wraith, is the most glowing recommendation Jinto could have given. He's in the process of getting his bandages checked by Marie, which John sees too late.
He should have known it would get awkward when she takes him aside in the middle of her work, as if she was afraid he might bolt if he got an inkling of what's to come.
"I just wanted to say, that wherever this alliance with the wraith goes, I will always support your relationship," she says, nodding insistently when he offers only confusion.
John blinks. Then he backpedals.
"Wha-? Oh no. No no no. That's not ... I mean, there's not, there's nothing going on there, really, I-"
"It's okay." Marie pats his shoulder. "I won't tell anyone."
John wishes she hadn't told him.
He walks out of the clinic in a daze, wondering how many others think he and Todd are ... have ... are a thing. There's nothing there. And sure, okay, there was that night in the tent while Todd's leg was healing up. But he just got injured saving one of John's friends, and he tries not to feel guilty about all but forcing Todd to climb down that ravine. Emotions were running high, it doesn't mean there are any feelings involved.
John dries his suddenly sweaty hands on his jacket and feels a small bump. He reaches into his pocket to pull the object out. It's that weird heart-shaped stone Todd gave him before he headed back to his hive. He weighs it in his hand, wonders if he should just put it away somewhere. It's not like Todd to give him presents, especially ones as useless, if pretty, as this one.
In the end he puts the stone back in his chest pocket and resolves to ask Teyla's advice on what to do with it next time he sees her.