A/N: I'm going to attempt to be coherent here, so bear with me. This is a retelling of Common Ground, from the Wraith's POV. So all dialogue and storyline are written by Ken Cuperus. I am in way to much awe of this ep to pretend any of it is mine. This is simply me exploring the oddity of the Wraith in this ep, and the unusual relationship of trust that develops between it and John. It is just for fun, and hopefully no-one will sue. As it clings to the story arc in Common Ground, it is chock full of spoilers.
Spoilers: Common Ground
Beta: Linzi - thank you Lord Linzi, Queen of the Whump
Chelicerae: (kih - lis- er - ay) The first pair of two-jointed appendages, near the mouth (of spiders), used for feeding.
All Bets Are Off (Part 1):
It rages in its cell. The smell of it – sweat, fear, defiance – fills my senses. I sit in the darkness and I breathe in the scent and taste it on my tongue while the noises it makes echo around me. I immerse myself in it. I should be stronger, but it has been so long… memory is insufficient to sustain me. My hunger burns. Perhaps it is the overwhelming ache that moves me to speak, or is it merely that I grow weary of the solitude?
"You are wasting your breath." I tug half-heartedly at the restraint on my feeding hand, although I know it is a useless gesture. If I could have gotten it off, I would have been free of this place many years ago.
There is silence from the cell beside me. Has it no senses, that it did not realise I was here? They have such inferior senses - I should expect it by now, but for some reason I am always surprised that they cannot scent the smell of another in the air as I do.
"Didn't know I had company down here." It says. I do not care to listen to it. I should not have spoken at all. I am not company for it. I am its death. It will realise this soon enough, when they come for it. Will I be allowed my fill? Or will they only allow me a taste before they return me here to rot? I suppose it doesn't matter, in the end.
"There is no escape."
It speaks again, and I realise I had spoken aloud. Foolish creature. I was answering my own thoughts, not responding to it. It has moved closer, against the bars separating the adjoining cell. Its scent is overpowering. It is asking me questions. Why does it care how long I have been decaying here? I should not have spoken.
"Many years." I feel the weight of them as I say it. So long without the others in my mind. So very long without the comfort only my brethren can offer. I've not felt my kind since I was captured so long ago. It aches to think of them, and I am so very weak already. It shows a small amount of intuitiveness, for a human. How did it know I was thinking of my capture? I shake my head in annoyance at my own folly. I give it more credit than it is worth. Their kind is always full of pointless questions. This is not new to me. I should not respond.
"I merely allowed myself," I draw a gasping breath as the memory of my capture assaults me. I remember I had already given myself up as lost to my brethren. The resonance of their farewell echoed in the corners of my mind; giving me strength, guiding my hand to the small explosive concealed in my armour. I should have died. I remember thinking I should have died as the corona of a stun flare encased me. But I didn't die. "to be captured alive." I exhaled the deep breath I had drawn in, and lay in silence as it spoke again. I did not listen to it this time. I had nothing more to say.
I heard them come for it before it did. Stupid human. It did not know until they were almost at its door. The smell! So many of them, and I am so close! But even were the glove not on my arm, I lie here defeated and caged like an animal. I try to summon the rage, but the will it requires has left me some time ago. I lie in the darkness and taste the air as it struggles against them, but they lead it away regardless of its defiance. It does not know them yet, but it will. I almost pity it, but a new prisoner means they might let me feed and my hunger surges. I languish inside the heat of my hunger as I wait.
The wait is shorter than I had anticipated. They must not want much from this one. Usually the questioning takes several hours before they let me feast on the remains. It is usually small fare – the methods used for questioning leave the human weak and rob it of its will. The taste of its pain is piquant though, and I will take what I can in order to survive. Perhaps if they want nothing from this one, I will be permitted to have it all?
I am standing when they round the corner and step up to my cell. It is my regular keepers. I used to fantasise about feeding on them, about dragging out the pain and savouring their fear for hours. But as the hunger grew unassuaged the thoughts nearly drove me to the edge of my endurance so I learned to suppress my urges. They will not give me what I want, but I have learned that they will give me enough to survive. So I wait.
I let them lead me tamely through the now familiar corridors of the underground complex. I feel a small spark of fire at the thought of how I have become their pet, but it is transitory and the grey returns. I will feed. I cling to the thought and ignore their scent as they lead me into the chamber.
He is there! Their leader. The Hated One! The human whose death I dream of! I yearn for his demise with a fervour that I had not realised I was capable of before my imprisonment. Him I would not even feed upon. I would have no wish to taint myself with his life-force! But I would make his suffering legendary. He is talking while I am placed at the new prisoner's side. I strain to listen over the sounds of the guard unshackling my hand the rush of my blood surging as my hunger heightens into physical agony at the knowledge of how close I am to feeding.
Ah. They do not want it for questioning, but for bait. So I will not get a feast, but a taste. No matter. I will take what I can before they pull me away. They pull back its clothing and all else fades into the background. I move forward, but they hold me back. Why do they stop me? This is what they brought me here for! So close, and the sight and the scent and the burning inside me are too much! Let me feed! The Hated One nods to me and the force restraining my arm is gone. I pause one moment more to revel in the smell with the knowledge that I can now act, and then I slam my hand onto its chest, grabbing some of its clothing in my haste. It doesn't matter though, my chelicerae is strong enough to penetrate it effectively. I pierce its skin, and feel the blood wet beneath my hand. I start to draw its life-force into me. Aaahhhh. The first taste is like water sinking into a dry, cracked earth. Relief, soothing and welcome, but nowhere near enough to encompass the vast need. I roar as I feel its strength start to merge with my own. The taste, oh the taste! It is strong, undamaged by my captors. It fights me, not realising how much I relish the flavour of its resistance!
"Enough" I hear the word and try to surge forward, keep contact, keep feeding. It is not enough! Gargh, this small taste? No more? Why do they torture me like this? This ache, this longing, a small taste to whet my appetite but not enough to strengthen me? Fire in my shoulder as they use their painstick on me. I reach my hand longingly towards its chest once more, but with no force. It is pointless; they will not permit me more. I let them lead me back to my cell; reveling in the small sample I have been allowed. I savour it, the satisfying warmth of its life-force – and something else? Something ancient? My own memory doesn't go back far enough and without the hive memory to bolster my failing one I am unable to identify it. Then the cell door clangs behind me and I lose the thought, as I lower myself wearily to the floor to resume my endless wait.
How long has it been, I wonder? They returned it to its cell, and I am once again forced to endure the torment of being so close to what I desire, yet unable to obtain it. It is frustrating. I do not think this is even sadism on behalf of my captors. They simply do not care. To them, I am an animal, a beast of burden to be used when it suits their purpose and then returned to my cage. I hear a hitch in its breathing as it lies in the darkness. Once again, I feel myself driven to speak- anything to take my mind from the relentless pain caused by my hunger.
"They called you Sheppard."
It never ceases to amaze me, this human need for labels. Have they no identity amongst each other, that they need to devise a method of naming? It responds, and its voice is heavier, more resonant, than the flippant tone in which it addressed me only hours ago.
"You are in pain." I long to taste it.
"Well, I just got fed on by a Wraith, what do you think?" The way it says 'Wraith' in that tone, it startles me. There is so much meaning echoing in that one word, I find my mind reeling, trying to comprehend it. The normal fear, pain and hatred, they are there, but there is more. There is puzzlement, commitment, guilt, even longing for something? This is curious, and I have not felt curious over anything in a long time.
"I would not know." I tell it, more to conceal my curiosity than from a need to respond to its statement. I expect it to bleat in complaint at the perceived wrongdoings of my kind. The normal response of blind hatred that I am accustomed to. Instead it responds with resignation, and expresses a desire that I do not suffer its pain. I am momentarily taken aback, but then it starts the inevitable rant on how much pain it is in.
"I didn't think anything could hurt that much." It says, and grunts as it moves. Perhaps the long imprisonment is taking its toll on me, to think this human might be different to the others that have inhabited the adjoining cell. I must crave company more than I had believed.
"You are still alive." I tell it abruptly. Once again, I should not have spoken. Why do I care what it has to say? It continues to speak, but in a resigned tone, not an enraged one. I feel my curiosity tugging at me once more.
"Do you blame the Wraith? Or the Master?" I do not know why I ask this of it. I only know that I am bone-tired. I am weary of being kept, of being used by The Hated One to do his bidding. I find myself fading, losing my identity. I am becoming that which I am defined as, rather than that which I was born to. Do I seek its understanding? Perhaps so, as I find myself explaining how I feel, how I hunger. Do they feel it as we do, I wonder? I step closer to the partition and ask it what it would do in my place. I see it slowly move towards me as recognition dawns, and it realises who I am. What I am.
"Where'd you hear 'em call me Sheppard?" It asks quietly, but it knows the answer. I don't know why it plays this game, so I step forward into the light.
"Just before I started to feed." No games. It knows I am Wraith, it knows I will kill it. I will test it and satisfy my curiosity. It will rage. It will throw itself fruitlessly against the cell bars and it will wear itself out in a useless struggle. Then they will come and I shall feed on the remains of its strength. It is just another human. I do not know why I waste my time, except that time is the only thing I have to waste. It behaves as I expected it to. Has it no understanding outside of its own limited mind? It complains about its pain. It rages at the injustice visited upon it. Can it not see that the torture goes both ways, that this is visited upon both of us by an outside source? In a hive this is immediately apparent. I do not know how this pitiful species can live out its brief existence in such mental solitude. I feel the closest thing to my own anger I have felt in many years.
"Have you ever known starvation, Sheppard?" Have you ever felt the anguish I feel now? Can you comprehend another point of view? I can see its pain, taste its anger and its suffering and it is blind to mine, yet it riles against me as though I am in charge of my own fate!
"Each in our own way, we suffer!" He stalks to the partition, radiating anger, but before, on his face, there was something else. He paused, comprehension evident in his expression. This human, it can think outside its own experience! But then it is gone, and it is almost face to face with me, grasping the bars and pushing up against them as it fumes pointless platitudes. It is so close and my own anger has ignited at its obtuseness; I forget my prison and my shackles and I lunge forward, extending my hand to take what I want and feed! My chains rattle loudly against the bars as my hand slams to an abrupt halt before reaching my goal. The metallic sound echoes throughout the dungeon. We both stare at my fettered and muzzled hand, both recalling in that moment where we are.
The bitter taste of servitude rises unchecked and I am struck with the futility of arguing with a human. It will be dead soon anyway.
"These are your last hours, Sheppard." If it wishes to spend them in silence, then I will honour its last wish. I am well accustomed to silence. It protests my assessment of its fate, but I have been here a long time; I know how this will end. Sheppard seems to truly believe he will not die here. Such obstinacy is… unusual. But nevertheless, I will feed on it again.
As I told Sheppard, so here we are, once again in the chamber, playing The Hated One's game. My anger from before smoulders, quiet but not abated, and a growl escapes me as they unshackle me. They ignore my presence beyond the need for security, and the thought that I no longer command attention amongst these humans is galling. Sheppard, though, glances up at me occasionally while it listens to the interchange between The Hated One and what are presumably its own people. I am once again struck by the difference in its behaviour from others of its kind. Never before have I seen one brace itself quietly as Sheppard does, rather than going into a fear-driven frenzy. I watch him while I wait to feed.
Last time, I was almost maddened by the need to feed. Now, although my hunger still burns, I have had a small amount of sustenance, I can view the proceedings with a clear head. I watch as Sheppard's queen refuses to trade him for another. As it should be. Why would The Hated One think the hive would be unwilling to sacrifice one who was not a queen? It is baffling. I see Sheppard, unobserved by the others in the room, silently advising the queen, then nodding his approval. Ah, I begin to understand. He is of importance in his hive, and holds his queen's esteem. If the strength and complexity of his character that I have tasted so far are any indication, he is highly valued by his queen. He even seems to have gained a small amount of respect from The Hated One, an occurrence I have not witnessed before.
I am given permission to feed and my need cries out within me for satiation, but I pause. I would know more of this unusual human before me, this enigma. He raises his eyes and looks directly into mine. I do not know if I will ever fully comprehend what that look communicated, but I did recognise confusion, hope, doubt that the hope would be realised. An ungentle push of my shoulder reminds me we do not control our own destinies, and I would be killed if I did not fulfil my purpose. I push aside my strange and unwelcome thoughts, and feed on Sheppard for the second time.
The taste is strange. He tastes of strength and defiance and pain and all that was there before. It should taste weaker, after I had already fed upon him, but if it did it was not noticeable. This was unusual, but not unheard of. What really takes me by surprise is the bitter taste of my own reticence. I had never before experienced this, and I howl at the conflicting tastes and feelings coursing through me. They pull me off him and I do not resist, allowing them to take me out of the chamber, barely pausing to muzzle me. As they put the metal glove back on, I watch Sheppard shake in his restraints, giving The Hated One a look of defiance and swallowing his pain and fear in front of our enemy. I am surprised to discover I feel sympathy for him. It is not the empathy I would feel through the hivelink with one of my brethren, but the mere presence of it shocks me to the core of my being.
I had only been in my cell for a moment when they return Sheppard to his. I watch as he crawls, weakened by my own actions, towards the only wall where I can no longer see him through the partition. I do not understand why I feel saddened at the thought that I have caused his pain. I have not felt this conflicted since my coming of age, and without guidance from the hive, I feel lost, adrift. I feel so alone. This human, does he have this effect on all he comes across? If so, perhaps The Hated One's reason for bartering him is not so incomprehensible after all.
"Where are your friends?" I ask him softly, wistfully. If he were gone, I would not be the tool of his destruction and I would no longer feel this conflict. I would no longer feel. I could return to the greyness of before. It occurs to me that this thought should elicit more sadness than it did.
He continues to cling to his hopes of salvation. Can he not see? The Hated One would not allow it.
"Kolya would kill you before your friends have a chance to reach these cells." I know this for truth, having witnessed it that one time. That time I did not care about the outcome, though. There is a brief silence between us. I mentally berate myself. I do not care now! This is a pointless rumination, merely filling in time until his body is strong enough for me to once again drain him of his life-force.
"How well do you know the layout of this place?" His voice rises from below the partition, as disconnected from his body as the question is from the conversation.
"Well enough to know what they would be up against." I say, hearing the flatness, the defeat, in my own voice. Why does it matter? I hear motion and his face rises into the aperture before me, his expression expectant.
"What about us?" I study the new lines in his face, and try to determine his true intentions. No human has ever volunteered to free a Wraith, of this I am certain. I think of the possibilities, trying to find the lie in his eyes, the trap ahead of me. He cannot be proposing that we act to escape together.
"What have you got to lose?" That is obvious, and I look him in the eye as I answer him, letting him know that I am aware of his deceitfulness.
"My life." See? I do not trust you not to try to kill me as soon as there are no bars between us. I am not fooled by you, Sheppard, no matter how different you are from other humans I have met.
"Oh yeah, you got a great one down here." Human! What would it know of my life? Its words incensed me. I have survived down here for years! Starved, tormented, alone! My brethren think me dead! At times I had even wished to be dead, but I persevered. I endured! What right had this human to judge my life? I stopped listening to what it said.
"As I said before, there is no escape." I said, and then turned my back on it. I would have no more part in this foolishness. I would kill it at the next feed.
When they come for us next, they come for us together. What portent this holds, I do not know. What I do know is that here I stand, level with this insignificant human who holds himself straight and defiant even though he can feel his death approaching. Here I stand, a member of the inner circle of my hive - trusted to service and advise my queen – and it takes all of my resolve to stand there and look him in the eye. His pride is rewarded with a solid punch to the jaw, while I meekly stand and follow my keepers with naught but a nudge in the right direction. The dungeon reeks with my shame.
I wrestle with my uncomfortable thoughts and emotions while I am led once more to the chamber where The Hated One is conversing with Sheppard's queen. I have never before been so bereft of guidance and undergoing this intense reflection in isolation from my hive is almost more frightening than the turbulent emotions that are rocking my equanimity. I pride myself on the strength of my mind. I can overpower all but my direct superior and my Queen! And here am I, bowed under by my thoughts like a mere drone! No wonder I garner no respect from my captors when I find myself having trouble respecting my self.
"Take your fill." I am startled by The Hated One's voice and I stare at him for a long second as the meaning of his words penetrates. Take my fill. I can feed until Sheppard is dead. I look at Sheppard, and see that he understands the import of those words as well. He looks at me and I see strength and acceptance, and a courage to live that I had thought I possessed, but I have come to realise that I have done nothing but submit and aid in my own defeat. This human in front of me, waiting with quiet pride for me to end his life, does not deserve to die in this rancid pit while a piece of filth like The Hated One gloats over him. Self-loathing rises in me, and I slam my hand into Sheppard's chest. Anger surges through me; anger that I find myself in this position. Anger at my own helplessness; I who thought myself so strong. Anger at this human who reflects my failure back at me while I hold his life in my hand! I roar while I take his life-force to stop myself from choking.
Sheppard still has not screamed.
"Oh yeah, you got a great one down here." I hear his words from before, spoken in that insouciant, mocking tone that is a challenge in and of itself. He is right. I am not living down here. I am rotting, decaying. I am merely existing, tormented and used by human filth that are beyond despising. I draw my hand back before I have fully thought about the consequences my actions will bring about.
"Who told you to stop?" The Hated One questions me and my surroundings come crashing into my awareness. I whip my head around to face him.
"He is near death." It is truth, but it is not the whole truth, nor is it an answer to his question.
"Shall I finish him?" I ask, staring at The Hated One intently. I do not know what I should do if he orders me to continue. I hold my breath, aware that Sheppard has also raised his head, awaiting our tormentor's answer through a haze of pain. Sheppard moves, an almost imperceptible shake of his head. Who was it to? Was he trying to protest his death? Telling me not to fight? Trying to pass one last message to his queen? I do not know, and I fleetingly wonder what I would prefer it to mean?
"Get it out of here." The Hated One turns away, and as I am ushered out of the chamber I see Sheppard slump forwards again, and I wonder if I was too late. He is so still, perhaps he is already gone.
I sit in my cell, waiting. They bought him in roughly an hour ago as a human measures time; midway through the ultimatum The Hated One gave Sheppard's queen as I was pulled out of the chamber. He was awake when they threw him in his cell and he crawled over to the wall under the partition where he had spent the last period of our joint imprisonment. I have been here for years and I have not found my imprisonment so unbearable since I first stepped into this cursed cell. I listen to my blood pulse through my veins and count the progression of time while I wait for Sheppard to stir. After another quarter of the allotted time has passed, I finally detect what I have been straining so hard and hoping so desperately to hear.
Sheppard stirs. I stand and try to peer down through the bars that separate us.
"You know I could have sworn I was going to wake up dead today." He says. I growl softly. We are nearly out of time and I have no patience for his human frippery.
"You are strong. Stronger than any human I have ever fed upon." It is only a small part of what I want to say, but I do not know how to go about asking a human for help, even an extraordinary one. Verbalisation is such a poor substitute to telepathy when you need to communicate complex thoughts. Once again, Sheppard surprises me though. I could almost believe he was Wraith; he can understand what I am feeling and cut to the heart of the matter.
"You stopped yourself." It is not a question, but I answer affirmative anyway, as he seems to require a response.
"Why?" Again, straight to the heart of the matter while I vacillate. I straighten my shoulders and gather my resolve, saying the words, placing my life in his hands. I am uncomfortable with this… not pleading but… requesting of aid from a human. I wish that I were not in this position at all, but on the other hand, I feel much better than I had two hours ago. Now that I have decided to take my fate back into my own hands. Now that I have decided to live, not merely exist.
"Now he wants to escape." Sheppard says, and although I am unfamiliar with human humour, even I can recognise the wry understatement that laces the words. I sit down and back to back, we start to plan.
When they come, Sheppard is resting and hopefully only feigning sleep. I am trying to appear bowed and defeated as I have before, but this new empowerment is leaving me restless and energetic, and I have to use all my willpower not to give us away. They drag us out of our cells, and I look over at Sheppard, a moment of doubt giving me pause. He doesn't betray me though; doesn't barter my new hope for an easy death. He acts, grabbing the guards and drawing on what little strength he has left to throw them backwards. I am too busy to notice what Sheppard does next. I grab the guard on my right and throw it to the ground while I pin the keeper to my left against the wall with my arm. I spare a glance to make sure the human I have tossed is stunned, then wrap my chains around the other one. My fantasies of feeding on my keepers, dreamed so long ago, return to me in a sudden rush as I feel the human flesh underneath me and smell the fear in the air. I slam the metal brace against the wall, heedless of the pain it causes, until both my arm and the brace break with a sickening crack. I ignore the pain and in an enraged daze I grasp its head in my hand and slam my other palm down on its chest. My chelicerae pierces the clothing and I take what I need from it, quenching my hunger in a feast that is only made sweeter by its struggles as I take my sustenance and my revenge in one long draught.
I am still feeding when the second keeper rouses from its torpor and fires its weapon at me. I feel the bullets rip through me, burning pain that starts to lessen immediately as I continue to pull the strength from the human in front of me. I can not stay unprotected like this for long though and I am relieved when Sheppard hurls a knife into its chest. I howl out inarticulate thanks and return to my feeding, directing the life-force to healing my arm and the bullet wounds in my torso. I drop the withered husk and turn to find there is no longer a threat behind me.
Sheppard leans over and takes a weapon from the unconscious human in front of him and rifles through its clothing, picking up something I am unable to see. I look at him uncertainly as he looks with revulsion at the withered husk that I have left behind me. Here it comes, then. At least I will die with dignity; a clean death that The Hated One would not provide. I look my deathbringer in the face. He moves, and instead of the bark and flare from the weapon I hear a low metallic chink and a dull gleam catches my eye. I reflexively grab what he threw at me and look down. It is a key. I look up at him again in disbelief, then hurry to free myself from the shackles that have fettered my wrists for more years than I care to dwell on.
We share another long look, and while not the telepathy with which I am accustomed to communicating, there is nonetheless communication between us. In a long silent moment, we pledge our trust to each other. Not the hollow verbal agreement from before, but the pledge of one equal to another, given eye to eye with full knowledge of the other's unflinching acceptance. He hands me a weapon and we leave the cells behind us.
We walk through the tunnels in silence, alert for more guards. I wonder once again how these humans survive, as I detect the guards ahead of us before Sheppard rounds the corner. Do not humans have a sense of smell? They have a nose on their face; I'll never understand what they use it for if not to scent the air. We lean silently against the wall, and I take the opportunity to examine the strange weapon, content to let Sheppard lead in matters of human warfare tactics. I only know the ways of the Wraith, and they are not suited to our purposes here. Sheppard turns back to me, and flinches, then pushes the gun I hold out of his face. I am amused at his reaction, but I choose to remain focused on the task at hand. He shows me one of their crude communication devices. He makes some unintelligible hand motions, then pulls my ear to his mouth and whispers terse instructions. We silently move into position, then he presses a button on the communication device to distract the guards and we swiftly move in to attack.
I quickly overpower my human and spare a moment to regret the promise Sheppard extracted from me not to feed on it. I twist my hands sharply and snap its neck instead, just as another one comes around the corner and fires several bullets into my side. I roar in pain – I should have never have made such a foolish vow. Now I am unsure whether I will have the strength to guide us safely out of here, especially if we have to fight. I nearly waver in my vow, but my resolve remains untested as Sheppard fires his own weapon and kills the guard, before removing his knife from the dead human he has just used as a shield. He is resourceful, even by Wraith standards. We spare a moment to recover from the encounter and I assure him my wounds will heal, masking my own uncertainty. We probably will not make it out alive anyway, I think as I lead him up the stairs and towards the exit.
I start to run as we go down the long corridor that leads towards the exit. The years have blurred my memory of the areas I have not glimpsed during my incarceration, but the scent of cool, fresh air and green vegetation teeming with an abundant life-force draws me unfalteringly forward. At last an iron ladder pungent with rust. I climb up and push against the heavy plate above me, hurling it aside and scrambling eagerly out of the garish orange light and into the lustrous night and open skies of the planet's surface.
I hear Sheppard slowly clamber out of the tunnel's entrance as I look around me, breathing in the sights and sounds and tastes of the night. I am confident once I get into the trees a short way, they will never find me. I can live out the remainder of my life in freedom! Of course, I should have known better. All humans have an unnerving tendency to complicate things, and Sheppard seemed to excel in this regard. I cannot be sure this is even the same entrance I was brought through that first time as I was still groggy from the stun blast that had incapacitated me. I think the Ring is in the same direction as those hills in the distance, but I am not sure.
"It will be guarded." I tell him, but he counters my protest.
"They will be waiting for us." I snarl, grasping my side and sitting down to recover my strength. Me, negative? Argh, does he always oppose resistance with such optimism?
"Are you sure you're gonna make it?" He asks, both concerned and vexed. I would be alright if I could feed, and I tell him so; reproach over the nonsensical oath he made me swear in the tunnels saturating my voice.
"Well don't look at me!" He responds, and I grunt as I stand to hide my grin. No. I am not planning on feeding on him now. I will start in this direction. It seems to most closely match my memory, and hopefully I can find something to eat on the way. I certainly will not agree to such a pointless vow again. He misunderstands my intent, and as I step towards him he aims his weapon at me. It wavers a little as exhaustion begins to catch up with him. I raise my weapon and notice that I am wavering a little too. What a match we make, I think wryly, as we stand in each other's gun sights, both barely to fit to stand.
"Make it to the stargate, we both go our separate ways. Until then we're both going to need each other. Deal?" I consider his words carefully. It is not a renegotiation of the terms of our accord, but rather a clarification of when the bargain should end. I see neither opportunity for him to betray me nor reason to object, so I nod and lower my weapon, because I know he will not lower his first. Besides, trust must be given to be received, and we are both still trying to be comfortable with the need to rely upon the other. He does not betray my offering of trust and lowers his weapon as well. I step past him and we stagger forward into the forest.
I am uncertain as to how far we had traveled from the place of our captors, moving at a weary trot when we had the energy and a stilted walk when we did not. My side is increasingly draining energy from me as it bleeds freely, and my companion's breath has been coming in ragged gasps for some minutes now. I trip over a log, and try to gather the strength to get back onto my feet. I am tired and wounded and everything aches, and it is difficult to marshal the reserves I need. Sheppard suggests a rest break, once again in tune to my needs and I wonder again how this human came to have such intuition, that he could bond with a Wraith priest. Many Wraith drones could not attain the bond with me that this human has already begun to develop, as shaky and uncertain as it is in its conception. It is unnerving.
"Maybe you should go on without me." I suggest as I struggle to gain my feet. He declines, as I knew he would. He offers an excuse which is plausible and states in a more resigned tone that he still needs me, which is truth.
"Very well." I say quietly, accepting the responsibility of the bond as well the veracity of his statement.
"That is even if we're going in the right direction?" he queries. A bond with a human. I have never heard of it happening before. I stop trying to rise to my feet, and resign myself to the fact that this unnatural pairing has occurred, whether I willed it to or not. He turns to face me, and questions my knowledge of the Ring, although he already knows the answer. I sink to the ground and wearily confirm his accusation, then watch as he rants, mildly amused that he is worried over trusting the word of a Wraith when he has already entrusted me with his life.
The communication device crackles into life, startling us both, and I find the strength to rise to my feet and I prepare myself to once again face my enemies in battle. Sheppard listens to the orders given, and makes light of the situation. I chuckle, as much at the strangeness of my situation as at the jest itself. Who would have thought a human was capable of having a sense of humour at such a time? From what I have seen of them previously, they tend to panic under duress. I sigh. At least it is over. Perhaps now he will be content to let me fade into the forest and live out my life untroubled by such a disconcerting being as he is.
"No." Of course not. "My people don't leave each other behind, that's three things you've learned." I am amazed at his tenacity.
"You still believe that?" No telepathy, no communication device, and no sign of his people; yet he still believes they will come for him. I had thought him misguided in the cells, deluded by a false hope that he clung to in an effort to deny the reality of his situation. But now we were free, and he still believes his brethren will arrive. Had I not already performed the separation ceremony before I was captured, I would have believed in my own rescue with as much conviction as the human before me is displaying.
"You are more like Wraith than you know." He takes it as an insult, and I have to remind myself of his ignorance in an effort to curb my anger.
"There is much about a Wraith that you do not know, Sheppard." I reply to his jibe. The seriousness of my words must convey itself to him, because instead of retaliating, he looks at me somberly and nods. He adds nothing more, simply takes the communication device and rests, listening to the fools tell us their positions.
I lie down, trying to ignore the relentless pain emanating from my wound. It is slowly but surely draining my strength, and I will not survive much longer without feeding. I watch the stars above me, glorying in the magnificent vista spread out before me. The previous night I had been rotting in a prison, wallowing in a pit of despair. Now I am free, and before I die and move on through the nexus to the next life I am being given the chance to see the beauty of the night sky once more. I am content, and the realisation is strangely comforting. I try to convey this to Sheppard, but I do not think I have succeeded. I wonder what 'buck up' means?
"We got a deal, remember? We both go home alive." Ah, that is what 'buck up' means. What a wonderfully alien term. This content, introspective mood is warming me. I have not felt this way for many years, even before my imprisonment. Not since I was very young and newly accepted into the inner circle have I felt this at peace with my own mind.
"And if we were to meet again in the future, what then?" I gaze at him intently, curious to know the answer. If he were Wraith, I would know it already, but he is human and I can not envision the two of us publicly acknowledging a bond of friendship. The look he directs at me matches mine in intensity. Then he breaks the intensity with a raised eyebrow and an insouciant nod.
"All bets are off." He says, and I laugh at his ability to avoid answering a question.
"Then let us hope we do not meet again." I acknowledge his acceptance of the complexity of such an issue, for truly I do not know the answer either.
"Try to get some sleep. I'll take first watch." And I know it is not from lack of trust that he makes this offer, but in deference to my wound. I lie back down and return my gaze to the stars.
A noise wakes me, something out of place. I lie still and listen. For a moment I think it is simply the sounds of the forest, even birdsong is unfamiliar after years in a dungeon. Then I hear it again, the sound a twig breaking under the weight of a large creature. I scent the air. Human. I sit up, grunting as pain flares in my side. It had stopped bleeding throughout the night, but my sudden movement has reopened the wound. I look over at Sheppard. He has submitted at last to his weariness and is slumbering against a tree. I suppose he was keeping watch when his strength failed him and he succumbed to sleep. No matter. No human would be able to sneak up on me, no matter how wounded I am. They are simply no match for my superior senses. I stand up and look around me as I consider my options. I do not have the strength to fight them, of that I am certain. I might be able to handle one, but there is more than one scent and I will not survive two or more in my present condition. I return my gaze to Sheppard. He will be of little help to me in a fight. He is already weakened from the feedings, and I do not know where he found the reserves to keep fighting last night but I doubt very much he has the strength to continue to fight in that manner. There is one way he can help me, although I know he would not willingly acquiesce. It is the only option remaining that offers even a minimal chance for us both to survive.
I walk hurriedly over to him, and I give him a moment to wake up before I act. He looks up at me.
"They're coming" I say, my haste slurring my words, and before he can move I lay my hand on his chest and draw upon his life-force. He doesn't scream, doesn't struggle. I feel his disquiet, but he doesn't fight me for control and I am honoured by the trust implicit in his surrender. I can tell that he thinks I will take it all, he is too far gone to be able to hide his thoughts from me.
I can see his memories stretch out before me; I can feel his regret for past deeds and his sorrow that he will not join his hive again. I nearly stop feeding as I see his guilt at killing the Lo'rath keeper and awakening my race from slumber. He was the one! He was the one who triggered the subspace call I felt even in my isolation. I am even more amazed that he can bond with me now that I am aware of this fact.
I also understand why he is different from other humans I have met- understand more clearly than he does. Separated from my hive as I am, I could not access any memories beyond my own. Now, with the knowledge his heredity is 'Lantean as well as human, many things are made clear to me. I wonder if he will ever fully comprehend who he is and what it means. My strength increases as his falters, and he nears his end. I hold on for another moment, and then withdraw before taking the final spark that keeps him holding tenaciously to this life. I am strong enough now, not as strong as I would like to be before facing multiple enemies, but it will suffice. I lay Sheppard down carefully, and then jump into the branches above me and watch the enemy approach.
They walk up to Sheppard, hardly sparing him a glance. They assume he is dead and spread out to look for me. It has been many years since they have considered me a threat, and I find their fear satisfying. They walk underneath me and I jump down as they pass, taking them by surprise. I punch the closest one and it flies some distance from the force of my blow. I spin quickly and strike out at another. I must make this quick. Even though I have just fed, I have not taken much from Sheppard and am not strong enough to take foolish risks.
The two humans in the front spin around and see me, and fire their guns at me. I lunge forward into the bullets and grab their weapons, tugging violently to keep them off balance while I disarm them. Then I grab a handful of each one's uniform and throw them to the forest floor. I use my weight to hold down the struggling human on my left, while I feed on the one on the right. I use its life-force to heal the bullet wounds they inflicted on me, then I just revel in the taste of its fear as the strength flows through me. I watch the other one struggle, its eyes bulging with fear as I feed and wreak my revenge. The first one is nearly drained of its life-force, then I will feed on this one. Then the other two, until they are dead and I have a surfeit of life-force throbbing within me and my lust for vengeance has been satiated. Then I have a debt to repay, and I have little time left to repay it.
I lean over him. I still have time, but not much. The world around me is vibrant, strong colours and piquant scents as my sensory system is overloaded with the glut of life-force. He raises his head and looks at me, fighting to keep his dignity even until the end.
"Finish it." He says, a strange mixture of defiance and submission.
"As I told you, John Sheppard. There are many things about Wraith that you do not know." And I stretch forth my hand and repay my debt.
I hear them coming and I know from his memories it is the scent of his brethren. I finish my task as one of them pulls me away and aims its weapon at me. The others rush up behind me also aiming their guns at me, just as Sheppard rises to his feet and orders them to stand down. I crouch, spitting at the taste of their hatred, as I wait to see whether Sheppard will live by the code of honour I saw in his memories and witnessed in the cells. I am fairly sure he will, the bond between us grows stronger the longer we are forced to rely on each other, but his hatred of my race runs deep. His friends are stunned to find him unmarked and the female asks how this is possible, but it is Sheppard whom I face and answer.
"The Gift of Life is reserved only for our most devout worshippers," I see his revulsion at this thought. "and our brothers." I load the word 'brothers' with meaning, and see understanding and awe in his face as he meets my gaze.
"Well I guess there's a lot about the Wraith we don't know." He keeps his tone light for the benefit of his brethren, but there is a deeper emotion being communicated by his eyes. I maintain eye contact, and acknowledge both his unspoken thanks and his wish not to inform his hive of the bond between us.
"Sheppard gave me back my life. I merely repaid the debt." Verbal lies for the benefit of his hive. My own eyes spoke of the trust and respect required to establish the intimacy that is necessary for the Gift of Life. He frowns, shocked, and I know he understands.
I listen to his friends prattle in the manner of humans, and then watch as Sheppard picks up the communication device and speaks to The Hated One. It is no surprise to me that my enemy is a coward. He runs and, like Sheppard, I feel cheated of my vengeance.
"Let's get off this rock." Sheppard says to the large human standing next to him.
"What about him?" It asks, and I whip my head around to watch Sheppard's reaction. This is the moment when his side of our bond is tested. Now I will find out if my trust has been misplaced or not. I wait, watching nervously. I do not want to die here, but I will not run if his choice is betrayal.
"We had a deal, right?" He asks. I do not know why he questions this. He knows we do, and he knows I have honoured my part of it. Perhaps he wishes to know my thoughts? He would not speak to me frankly in front of the other humans. They would not understand.
"I did not truly expect you to honour it." I chuckle, and he bites his lip at the deflection. That was true once, but it has not been so for some time now, and he knows this. I answered as I would have the previous afternoon, and leave it to him to decide his course of action. The decision is not mine to make.
The human hands him a gun, and he steps forward and raises it. His expression is blank, and I know a moment of doubt. Then pain erupts in a red flare and darkness claims me.
I wake disoriented and sit up sharply, clutching my chest as the memory of Sheppard shooting me returns. I am uninjured, but I am also on another planet to the one I was on prior to unconsciousness. I look up at him.
"Ah Sheppard, I thought you..."
"There's a lot you don't know about humans." He answers dryly. I look around as I sense a familiar presence inside my mind. I have been alone so long, the presence is almost startling. I remember the memories I gained from him during my last feeding, and as I feel the presence of a hive I start to understand just how much trust Sheppard has bequeathed me in return.
"Ah, I see." I murmur, and I do. I will not betray him or his hive, not even to my own. The bond of friendship between us dictates my fidelity. He nods his agreement and it is comforting to realise he knows this as well.
"Next time we meet..." I begin, but I am unsure how to verbalise this complex thought so I fall silent, but once more he reveals his intuitiveness.
"All bets are off." He smiles. A lie. For the final time we share the warmth of the bond, before the long desired sound of a dart in the sky above makes us both glance up; me with longing and him with an emotion I cannot name. He does not say farewell, but there are no words that are adequate anyway. He steps into his 'Lantean vessel and I feel his absence as the ship seals him in. I turn and look in the direction of the cloaked vessel, and stand calmly as the breeze from its launch caresses me.
"All bets are off." I return his lie with a smile.
Disclaimer: The copyright for Stargate Atlantis belongs to MGM studios and SciFi channel. It's their playground- I'm just playing in it. Furthermore, all dialogue and storyline in this fic were written by Ken Cuperus.