A/N: Thank you so much to Linzi and Josie for beta-reading this for me! They did a wonderful job in helping me clarify a few problem areas. Sorry I wasn't imaginitive enough to actually name it! :D


"Go away."

The knocking became more insistent. He knew he'd made an ass of himself earlier, but couldn't they leave him the hell alone?

His temper, on constant boil all afternoon, surged to the surface. He lunged at the door, slamming the panel.

"What damned part of 'go away' don't you understand?" He glared at the scientist who stood blinking in the hallway. McKay, who else? The rest of them would have the social understanding to know he didn't want company. Rodney, however, made a 'yes, yes' motion with his hand and pushed in. John curled his fists, felt his nails dig into his palms. He needed to be alone. He was so out of control at the moment, so close to the edge. His anger seethed, burned. He slammed his fist into the wall.

"Get out!" Rodney looked slightly less sure of himself, and John fleetingly felt ashamed of his outburst. McKay looked around the room uncertainly and John winced inwardly as McKay noted how bright it was. So bright the light hurt John's eyes, but he couldn't stand the dark, not right now. He'd had enough of sitting in the dark. His anger left him suddenly – he was having such rapid mood swings that they left his head spinning. His shoulders slumped.

"What do you want Rodney?" He demanded as he stalked back over to his bed. He resumed the position he'd been in for the last three hours; back against the wall, legs stretched out in front of him.

"You weren't acting quite like yourself earlier." Rodney said nervously.

"Yeah, well, I've had a long day." John snapped. He grabbed the bottle of whiskey beside him and grimaced as the strong liquor burned on its way down. He didn't usually condone getting drunk; didn't like to lose control, but today he just wanted to forget.

"Whiskey?" Rodney snatched the bottle from him. "Oh, yes, that'll help!" He grabbed the lid from the nightstand and resealed the bottle, angrily placing it on John's desk on the other side of the room. He glared at John, almost challenging him to argue. John considered it, but it was too much damn effort. He let his head drop back against the wall.

"I don't need a babysitter, McKay. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out." Would the man not just leave? John felt tired, old - and just that thought made him want to run away shrieking. He could still feel his life being stolen away from him; not slowly draining away, but being forcibly and violently ripped from him. He could still feel the Wraith's hand over his heart; feel the burning pain spreading across his chest. Could still feel the silent scream that his pride wouldn't let him voice in front of his enemies. He felt a hand on his shoulder and jumped, reacting before his mind caught up.

"Ow! Je-sus Sheppard!" Rodney looked up at him from the floor, his hand over his left eye. "What was that for?" he asked, his voice rising in pitch.

"Shit! I told you to leave me alone!" It came out more aggressively than he had intended, so he reached out a hand and hauled the scientist to his feet. "Are you okay?"

"I think so. I'm going to have a black eye aren't I? Is it swollen? It's swelling, I can feel it." Rodney sat on the edge of John's bed, and John couldn't help but smile. After two and a half years, he'd finally decked Rodney McKay.

"Sorry," he murmured, as he sat down beside him, but he couldn't keep the laughter inside.

"It's not funny!" McKay snorted, but his mouth was twitching. "Why am I not surprised that this would appeal to your Neanderthal sense of humour?"

John raised his hands in an 'I'm innocent' gesture, but didn't say anything.

"Well, at least you didn't hit Elizabeth." Rodney sniped. "So, did you see Kate?"

John leaned his elbows on his knees and rubbed his hands over his face. He knew he owed Elizabeth a huge apology. He wasn't the only one who had had a rough time. His friends had been forced to watch him being tortured; that couldn't have been easy for them - and Elizabeth was the one who'd been given the opportunity to stop it and refused. He held no resentment towards her- he'd rather subject himself to torture than give in to Kolya's demands 'cause really, Kolya with the Genii army? Not something he wanted to think about. But Elizabeth had to be feeling like crap. When he'd stepped out of the 'Jumper she'd given him a crushing hug and only her willpower had stopped the tears in her eyes from spilling out. He'd been emotional himself; hell, he still was. He felt damn crappy about yelling at her like that when she'd pushed for a debriefing after he'd begged off. He just needed time, couldn't she see that? Apparently not, because she made him go and see Kate. He grunted, yeah, what a barrel of laughs that visit was. One hour of stony silence while he tried not to think about things and Kate watched on compassionately. It had grated like fingernails down a chalkboard

Rodney took the low grunt for an assent.

"Let me rephrase that. Did you talk to Kate?" Rodney gave him a look he reserved for John and, well, just John really. That "I-know-you're-smarter-than-that-so-stop-acting-like-a-five-year-old" look. John stood up and started pacing.

"I was captured, beaten up, and held hostage. And if that wasn't enough, I had my life sucked out of me by a damn Wraith. Why wouldn't I want to talk about it? It was such a fucking fun-filled day!" He swung around and glared at Rodney, his temper starting to boil again.

Rodney just looked at him through an eye going red and puffy, and the guilt took the edge off John's anger. He was going through so many mood swings he felt like a yo-yo.

"Damn it, Rodney. I was a fed on by a Wraith!" He saw Rodney flinch, and knew McKay was remembering witnessing the wraith feed on his best friend. He knew as surely as he was standing there that Rodney had watched, too. That they all had. That it was the only way they could share his burden, the only way they could stand by him. Because to not watch would have meant to be a coward, and none of them were that. Not even Rodney.

Especially not Rodney, who had been held hostage by Kolya himself. Who had confessed to John that seeing Kolya again was one of his worst nightmares. Who had risked facing Kolya to save John from that very nightmare. Rodney looked at the floor, not quite able to meet John's eyes.

"I know, but.."

"No." John interrupted. Rodney couldn't know. He wasn't there.

"No. You don't get it." John spat through clenched teeth. "In the forest, before you came, he fed on me again. I was old! I was a few breaths away from dying." John stared at Rodney as the blood drained from his friend's face and his eyes widened in shock. John knew he'd stated that badly; realised that he'd wanted to hurt Rodney with it. He turned his back to the shaken scientist and ran his hand through his hair, trying desperately to get a grip on his emotions. It had been a shitty thing to do to a friend who was trying to help, and he damn well knew it. So he sat down again and did the one thing he didn't want to do. What Kate and Elizabeth couldn't make him do. He talked.

Slowly at first, dragging the words out hesitantly, because it hurt like hell to even think it, let alone say it. He talked about how alone he was in his cell; about the icy fear that had gripped his heart when he saw the Wraith. He remembered the excruciating pain when the Wraith fed. Damn, but he never knew anything could hurt that much.

His voice faltered and his fists twisted in the sheets at his side as he recalled how he'd almost given up, when they threw him back in the cell after Kolya had ordered the Wraith to feed on him that last time. He watched Rodney shift uncomfortably beside him. He knew his friends must have gone through their own version of hell trying to find him, but right now that was distant. His own darkness was still too real. Jesus Christ but he'd thought he was dead then!

John paused, choked up with pain and bad memories that were still vivid, hours later. He took a shaky breath, then recounted how relieved he'd felt when the Wraith had asked for his help to escape. He dwelt on the strange symbiotic relationship he'd developed in the cells with the Wraith, how he'd felt like he was in an episode of the Twilight Zone. How ironic was it that he didn't know the Wraith's name?

And finally, in a voice scraped raw with emotion, he told his friend how scared he was at the end. He told Rodney about the nightmarish flight through the forest; neither he nor the Wraith knowing if they could trust the other, if they could rely on them to keep their word once they reached the 'gate. How the Wraith had fed on him that last time and with no-one to pull him off, John was so sure he wasn't going to stop. Somehow it had hurt more than the other times; maybe because John had run out of strength to fight him. Then the Wraith stopped, and John was lying in the dappled forest, with only minutes of his life left to him. He wasn't even aware of Rodney anymore. His mind was back in the woods, lying on the ground as the Genii soldiers passed by him, probably thought he was dead. He remembered how weak he'd felt, as though his bones would snap if he moved. How his breath rattled in an eighty year old chest that oozed blood from the re-opened wound of the feeding mark. He didn't notice, though Rodney did, that he kept raising his hand to his chest and rubbing the mark.

"He gave it back though." Rodney said quietly. John looked up, startled out of his dark thoughts. Rodney had been so quiet; he'd almost forgotten he was there. A stray thought that he ought to enjoy it because it wouldn't happen again flashed across his mind. He smiled, and Rodney mistook it as a response to his statement.

"See, not all bad." He said wryly.

"No, not all bad." John answered back, because this was the one thing he still couldn't talk about yet, even with the catharsis of the last two hours. He was just too conflicted, too unsure of his own thoughts. He wouldn't be alive if the Wraith hadn't given him this gift. 'Brothers' he'd said and whether it was a result of the life-gift or the bond they'd built up during their joint imprisonment, John knew it wasn't a lie. But this was the same Wraith who had fed on him, who had made him more afraid than he could ever remember being. The same Wraith who had caused him so much agony, who had been Kolya's instrument of torture.

The Wraith had blurred a line which yesterday John would have sworn was immovable. The Wraith were inhuman, evil - soulless. So how could he consider a Wraith to be a friend? Yet he did. "All bets are off," he'd told the Wraith, but it was a lie, and they both knew it. He would never again consider that one Wraith an enemy, nor could he continue to think of him as soulless or inhuman. He plain didn't know what to make of it but he knew his friends would never understand.

"You going to be okay?' Rodney asked, and John had to swallow a lump in his throat at the sincerity in the scientist's voice. He looked away a moment to collect himself, then looked back at McKay and nodded.

"Yeah." He watched McKay walk over to the door.

"Rodney?" McKay turned and stood in the open doorway. "Thanks." Rodney gave him a lopsided smile, then the door swished shut and he was alone again. He walked over to his desk and grabbed the whiskey, holding it for a moment before locking it in his desk and walking back over to his bed. He resumed his position against the wall and dimmed the lights; almost all the way down. But not quite off.

Disclaimer: The copyright for Stargate Atlantis belongs to MGM studios and SciFi channel. It's their playground- I'm just playing in it.