Dwell not upon thy weariness, thy strength shall be according to the measure of thy desire. (Arab Proverb)
"Dr. Keller…" the Wraith said, glancing up as she entered the cell but there was no real acknowledgement, his attitude almost entirely resigned, as though every scrap of arrogance had been stripped away.
But that impression lasted for a mere second as the mask he usually wore, indifference, boredom, settled into place. Only the glint of his eyes told her different. "I have to wonder why it is you still come?"
He continued to look through the small amount of reading material he had been supplied with - the details of her continuing research on the Hoffan plague and the damn gene therapy. Disquieted by the question, though she did not understand why as there was surely a point to her visits, Keller hesitated before moving further into the room, coming to a halt just at the rim of the table where he sat and waited, watching him rifle through the papers, turning the sheets over, before choosing to still his fingers.
Fidgeting slightly, she placed her latest offering on the flat surface, and Todd lifted his head as the sound of the metallic casing rang dully through his cell, a tiny flash of interest lighting his face, only to be suppressed beneath his prevalent mood. Meeting her eyes, his were assessing, cool green-gold washing over her with the pensiveness she had seen only once before. Lowering her own gaze the Doctor swallowed; it made her uneasy, unsettled, when this alien creature was in such a mood. It reminded her all too well of their similarities, a fact she would sooner not dwell on.
Too alike, yet… too dissimilar. A dichotomy she knew she couldn't fully comprehend, for in his presence her nervousness increased for no particular reason, setting up a struggle within her psyche. His presence here caused great conflict for everyone on Atlantis, for the Stargate program in general, and her ethical dilemma seemed to increase with every visit, with every moment she spent with him. Keller gave herself a mental shake and stopped the concerns already retracing their paths in her thoughts, concentrating on the problem at hand.
Carefully, tapping a finger on the surface of the brand-new tablet to highlight the open program, Keller said softly, "I… I thought you might like to see what I have done with the retrovirus. We have been able to adjust it so when your DNA is reconfigured this time -"
The short bark of laughter greeting this stopped her in her tracks and, she was caught on the horns of the quandary this Wraith rejoiced in taking full advantage of yet again. To continue with the work started by Beckett, bring it to its final conclusion, when every moral fibre was screaming this could result in his death - and they both knew it – sat more than a little uneasily with her. Hating what had been started, that she should be the one to finish it, made Keller abhor her part in this experiment, and the churning she felt in Todd's presence returned.
Drawing a breath, she licked her lips nervously, hoping her guilt would not get the better of her. "You know it's the only option open to us, Todd, that you will not be able to feed... That… that no-one will give up their life just so you…" Meeting the mockery in his slitted demon eyes, she decided on bravado, forcing the words out. "If this works, then it will be a step closer to your freedom and return to Pegasus."
"Are you so certain, my dear -" the Wraith paused, his malicious enjoyment of her discomfiture reflected in the glee with which he spoke, and he allowed a faint smile to twitch the corner of his mouth as he observed the effect of his words on this small female, the way her cheeks flushed – "that I will ever be allowed to return to my galaxy, even if we take as a given your remarkable work will be triumphant?"
Flustered, Jennifer was uncertain how to react, lowering her gaze as the heat in her face dissipated gradually, hating his competence at educing such a response and a rebellious nugget of annoyance boiled, which she swiftly hid; it was a response he took even greater delight in the more they worked together. All too often she found herself tangled in sudden emotions she didn't want or need, her stomach churning with flutters of very unwelcome excitement. That he played with her, she could not doubt, so she maintained the composure she didn't truly experience to meet the frank, amused gaze regarding her.
Deciding on honesty, she said, "I think if we succeed then the government will want to see this delivered to other Wraith, and you will be an endorsement of its success."
Todd did not miss that she placed emphasis on the plural pronoun, drawing him into complicity to complete the work, and chuckled mirthlessly, deeply aware she also avoided mention of his return home. "And my fellow Wraith will accept my proposals because...?"
Keller dropped her gaze again, looking for some kind of reassurance she could offer, but knew there was none, that everything, anything, she could say would sound hollow, pointless.
"I thought not," Todd remarked casually and rose from the hard narrow bench he'd been sitting on. He moved slowly around the table between them, an eye on the marines who had pointed their weapons at him as he stood, coming to a halt before he reached the woman's side and picked up the tablet, running his long fingers across the backlit surface. He made a low 'hmm' sound deep in his chest, and nodded. "Most interesting, Dr. Keller. Are you willing for me to work with you in the laboratory, or are you so threatened by my presence that you feel I am useful only as an advisor?"
Jennifer bridled, and scowled at him when she met his eyes across the short gap dividing them, which were still amused, though thoughtful, as he looked at her. "No!"
Chuckling again at the vehemence in her tone, Todd continued his examination of the data spreading across the screen, nodding occasionally as he read or saw something of interest. "I see you have decided to address the overwhelming nature of Iratus DNA by the inclusion of more -"
The sound of the cell door opening interrupted whatever he had been about to say next and he looked up from his perusal of the tablet to see the Colonel entering. Sheppard's face was serious, lines drawn across his brow as he looked at the Wraith and said, "You've been slotted to leave."
"Leave…? What's going on, John?" Keller asked, glancing between both males as they exchanged looks. She could see the Wraith's amusement had kicked into full on mode, more derisive than he had been, almost as if he'd been expecting Sheppard.
"Don't worry about it, Jen," the Colonel said mildly, focussed on the prisoner. "Just that there's been a change of plan."
"And does this plan," Todd interjected, his deep voice coming between the two humans, "have anything to do with my survival, John Sheppard?" As Sheppard's face hardened, Todd knew he had their full attention. "After all, if it is, you will forgive me if I take some small interest in the outcome?"
Silent, Jennifer watched the struggle moving over Sheppard's face. Whatever was kicking off didn't sit too well with him at all, and there was a sudden fear in her about this plan, this change of events, for though she was wary of the alien, she liked him despite his wicked teasing, his keen intelligence fascinated her. Mouth suddenly dry, she knew that Todd was aware of his 'brother's' consternation too.
Angling his head, his attitude curious, the Wraith Commander asked, "So tell me, Colonel, what it is that brings you to visit me?" He couldn't resist the jibe that came next. "Two visitors in one day is such an unusual event that I mark time with it."
Sheppard's face closed, his expression fleetingly irritated and amused at the same time as he addressed Todd. "The IOA came to a decision about you."
John was less than happy, Keller could see it in the way he held himself that he actually hated the news he was about to divulge. A nauseous feeling settled into the pit of her stomach, and she felt certain she knew what was about to be said. Todd's eyes flicked from one to the other of them as if he could discern his imminent future just by looking at their faces.
The once leader of the Wraith Alliance chuckled deep in his chest. "I see it is news of my death that you bring me, John Sheppard." Narrow slitted orbs surveyed the other male, his sometime friend and ally, his 'brother', and nodded. "If it must be, then so be it, but -" and he crossed the space separating them cautiously, mindful still of the weapons the guards held - "I had hoped if I was to die it would be by your hand."
Raising his hazel eyes to meet those of the predator before him, Sheppard nodded his acceptance of that fact. "Yeah…"
"So?" Todd asked, his face solemn now.
"Area 51… The Box," the Colonel replied. "I'm… sorry."
A tiny gasp of dismay came from Keller, and the Wraith cast his searching look over her before examining the man. "Ahhh… It was to be expected, John Shepp-ard…"
"Then I say we kill him," Ronon declared, arms folded across his chest as he lounged against the wall of the conference room, meeting the brown gaze of Woolsey evenly; his mind was already set upon the deed. He was angry, making it clear for everybody how he felt. "Get it over with."
"Right," Woolsey said. "Thank you Ronon." Drawing a breath, he deliberated their attitude, and had to admit to being surprised by so many vehement arguments in favour of keeping the alien alive – it had been the last thing he expected given their patchy history with the Wraith and that one's somewhat questionable sense of honour. "Colonel, have you got anything to add?"
Though he hadn't exactly been asked what his feelings were on the matter, the Satedan also hadn't really needed much time to come to a decision. The ex-runner's attitude was very straightforward, as well as being a practical solution to the problem when the news finally filtered through what it was the IOA decided. It had been not totally unexpected, given that the department was all too keen on severing links with Pegasus despite the revelations of further obligations - another problematic issue since there were two natives in the room whose desires to return home were tangible.
"Ronon's got a point. We should just kill him and get it over with." Sheppard shrugged, the disdain in his body language telegraphing round the room. "Better that than Area 51." He punctuated his next words by leaning forward, hands placed on his knees, his tone aggressive. "No one deserves that, not even Todd."
Joining the ugly dissent in the room with his own take on the situation, McKay added vehemently, "He's more use alive and in Pegasus than dead on a mortuary slab." The Canadian met hardened brown eyes almost defiantly, matching the burn with his own. "A valuable asset if we can get this retrovirus to work, not to mention his usefulness with replicator tech and other -" Rodney almost struggled to spit the next words out, but he managed it – "areas, like math and…well… physics..."
Keller spotted the gap for her to make a comment, and got in quickly, before Rodney could recover from his frightening admission. "…and with his help, the work on the retrovirus is proceeding far more quickly than I anticipated."
"Apparently not quickly enough," Woolsey murmured, and sighed, at odds with the necessity of this unwelcome decision, wishing there was a way out of it. His glance encompassed Teyla who, thus far, had said nothing, her chin lowered as she considered all the possibilities before them. "And unless there is a good reason anybody can come up with something that will allow us to keep Todd here, then this meeting is adjourned." Looking up into the mutinous gaze of his number one team, the base commander, with complete sincerity, said, "I'm sorry."
The stifled snort from McKay was at least expected, but the disbelief around the room was palpable.
Teyla looked up, entering the debate at last, and enquired, "Has anybody asked Todd what he thinks?" The silence greeting this comment made the Athosian narrow her eyes and shake her head in disbelief. "Would he not have an alternate suggestion that could be used to persuade the IOA of his continuing value?"
"Needs to feed," John said bluntly, "and I don't think the IOA consider anything we could suggest to be a good enough reason to keep him here – not unless they have a bunch of people ready to become Wraith fodder anytime soon. Which I doubt." He pursed his mouth and considered Woolsey. "Tell me I'm wrong?"
Woolsey remained defensively silent, as uneasy about this decision as the rest of them. Politics was a bitch, and she usually brought a whip to make you stay in line, he reflected bitterly, and turned his attention back to the Doctor as she began to speak.
"Then why not just send him back to Pegasus on the Daedalus?" Jennifer had decided to throw in her towel with Teyla, and angled forward, earnest. "I could keep working with him that way."
Woolsey could see the way the discussion was heading as his people began to toss further arguments at him, or reiterate those already spoken, and waved them down to silence when the noise threatened to reach eardrum bursting levels. "He's a security risk, and you all know that."
"That has never deliberately betrayed our location," Sheppard said, surprised to hear the words come from his mouth, and even more surprised at the defensive tone he'd taken on behalf of a soul-sucking fiend from the ninth circle of hell. "Dammit, Richard, I know his history… our history… I don't even like him that much, but…" Trailing off, he could see all his colleagues wore similar, equally perturbed expressions, and their emotions clearly paraded across their features. "A quick death is the best option if we can't get him outta here."
Even to him it sounded kind of lame.
Richard Woolsey picked up the file in front of him, and rattled it about in his hands, thumbing the thick card of the cover, and shut it, carefully smoothing the cover down into place, staring at it as if it held the answers. It was mute. Plain old manila card, with thick black print on its face, 'Top Secret' and 'Property of International Oversight Advisory', holding all the information they had gleaned about a particular individual of the Wraith, and the only one any Earth-born human had ever had close dealings with. One Commander and deeply sarcastic bastard, laughingly called 'Todd' for want of anything better.
He repeated, more for his own benefit than for the rest of the team, "This meeting is adjourned."
Sheppard looked out over the edge of the balcony at the view of the Golden Gate bridge, wasting a few moments of time as the sun began to settle into the water on the horizon, golden light spreading into the wavelets that delicately lapped at the edges of the city. Seeking some time on his own, the Colonel was lost in the light and the way the clouds scudded across the sky, burnished copper wrapping the outlines of their billowing forms. Being honest with himself, he actually wanted to let Todd go free as he was the best hope for humans and his own species and, much as he hated to admit it, the Pegasus galaxy as a whole. It was kind of ironic, John reflected, that it had come to this.
Half-heartedly, he tossed an apple core over the rail, watching as it fell towards the sea to disappear beneath the waves. The situation refused to lie down and die the way it should, the way the Wraith would and it bothered him, running on and on in his mind like a bad video viral, because this time, this time, maybe he did owe Todd something. It had, after all, been his ZPM's that saved the day, the planet and every member of her happily ignorant inhabitants - as the Wraith had clearly reminded him. Dammit! Fuck. It. All. To. Hell.
Uncurling his fist, Sheppard made a pact with himself, and turned to leave the balcony just as Teyla made an appearance, coming through the doors, followed closely by McKay and Ronon. His friends looked determined, each of them grim, angry even. From Ronon he had expected hatred, but not what had occurred in that room, a genuine feeling they should assist a mortal enemy of his people to freedom, a stance he could never have expected.
"Same problem about this as me?" It was a rhetorical question, not really requiring an answer.
"If -" Rodney's tone echoed the look on his face, picky and argumentative as he stabbed a finger at John - "you mean are we all thinking this is so not a good idea, that the IOA can collectively stick their decision where the sun don't shine, and I don't mind applying some force to that, then, you could be onto something."
"We come to you, John, as even though he is Wraith, Todd has assisted us many times." Teyla's next sentence was oil over white water rapids; her amber eyes caught his with the intensity of their look. "And we have a plan, if you can find out when he is to be moved."
The guards avoided his gaze completely, something Todd was unused to as they had loosened enough to exchange a few words, even, memorably, allow him access to some of the planet's music when a female marine snuck it into his cell, the little machine stuffed with more media than he had opportunity to examine. There was an underlying sympathy for him and his plight, and he had overheard a fair bit of conversation to indicate he was more than just another prisoner, something he took guiltless advantage of as it gave him a greater insight into this world and its feral natives. His deep thirst for knowledge kept his mind clear of the fog of hunger as it burned its way through his system, creating a welcome distraction.
Dwelling on the unwelcome news Sheppard brought him, the Wraith sat in contemplation, resigned to his imminent demise – death, or the threat of it, was no stranger, after all – awaiting what was to come next with equanimity for he had never truly expected his life to continue. The soft voice telling the guards to get out caused him to lift his head and he tilted it with some disbelief as he saw Jennifer Keller make her way over to the bars. The quality of her intonation was strident, decided, and she had a set look on her face that indicated plainly she would be more than happy to pick a quarrel if needed.
"Open it," she said distinctly, and flashed an angry look at the hapless marine when he hesitated. "Then get out…"
Frustration leant weight to her voice, and she snapped, "For god's sake, he won't hurt me. It's hardly likely to change what's going to happen, is it?" Realising this wasn't the best argument she could have forwarded, she looked over at Todd, knowing exactly what was on the man's mind, asking pointedly, "Do I have your reassurances you will not feed on me?"
Eyes widening slightly at the sharpness of her tone as he was used to a far less assertive persona visiting, Todd came to his feet and proffered a small, but respectful, bow, hand on his heart. "You do, Doctor."
Directing her next comment to the marine, "Is that good enough for you, Sergeant, or do you want to put manacles on him?" Seeing the man was seriously mulling over the suggestion, she added quickly, "Forget it… just… just… get out, will you, once you've opened it."
Todd watched the marine hesitate again as he thought it over, narrowing eyes as he studied the Wraith cautiously, weighing up the chances he would attempt to kill the woman anyway, and come to a very unwilling decision, torn between duty as well as his sincere wish things could be different for the alien. It fascinated the Wraith they could allow compassion free reign, these humans; even their warriors held the emotion in abundance for their prisoners.
"I'll be just outside, Dr. Keller."
Reluctantly turning the ancient mechanism off, the cell doors sliding open, the guard made his way out and slipped into the corridor beyond, holding his weapon ready should he need it, fingers wrapped tightly about the stock. As he exited, Jennifer came through into Todd's cell, crossing the small space between them swiftly, her manner urgent.
"We don't have much time," Keller said, anxiously glancing over at the door, the words spoken softly and held out her hand; a receptacle she used for drugs at her infirmary sat in the centre. "Here, take this."
Moving slightly closer to her, Todd took in the full effect of her scent as he breathed in – a mixture of fear and excitement that taunted him in his hunger; he could barely stop a snarl whispering from his throat, and it earned him a cautious wide-eyed look. Sucking his predatory nature back under his mastery, Todd clenched his feeding hand briefly as enzyme threatened to spill from the ravening slit at its middle. Once certain he could deal with the state of affairs satisfactorily, he reached out his hand to take the small brown bottle, his fingers brushing against the warmth of her palm by accident. The unexpected sizzle of energy bursting between them caused a tiny gasp to issue from her lips, and his answering growl shocked them both to stillness.
Turning the bottle in his lean fingers, Todd recovered first, and met the woman's startled features as evenly as he could, bringing his breathing to reasonable levels. This was unexpected. Most unexpected… And he watched as she attempted to control the tremble in her hand, taking it down to her side, fingers nervously sliding over the material of her pants, to pretend nothing had happened. He decided to address her familiarly, watch her reaction then examine this strange occurrence and his careening sensations of response to her when he was once more alone.
"What… is this, Jennifer?"
"It's a poison." Seeing the Wraith furrow his brows, Keller almost missed that he called her by name and, not certain she knew how to deal, shook it off, then focused. "It's not lethal to you. Hell… I can't find much that is. But it'll act long enough for you to look as if you've died. Carson and I have tested it out in several simulations, and it causes a temporary paralysis, and cessation of brain activity that should be pretty convincing."
Pocketing the bottle, and unable to resist the temptation to tease her again, Todd murmured, amusement throbbing in the words, "But you used no live subject… until now?"
Jennifer looked up, his pupils were expanded as he laughed at her, the corners of his mouth stretched wide to show his sharp teeth, and unbidden she did something she had never done, slapping at his arm, the gesture playful, an answering smile lighting her face. And snatched her hand away even as it connected with the material of his jumpsuit, appalled by her audacity, to have her wrist gripped in strong, hard fingers that dragged her closer.
Trying desperately to pull away from the Wraith, Keller hardly heard him when he murmured, "Relax." Todd reached out, unsure whether a measure such as he planned was a good idea, and touched her cheek with the fingers of his other hand. "Stop, Jennifer," he breathed. "You do not need to fear me… be easy, my dear."
As the tone of his voice wrapped round her, she grew still, swallowed as his claws trailed flame down the side of her neck, stroking her flesh delicately, and left her drawing a shaking breath. Shutting her eyes against rampaging emotions, drowned by the flood of raw feeling, her heart galloped and blood rushed to the points on her skin where he touched her; she managed to utter a single, hoarse, word, "Don't…"
Jennifer felt the fingers about her wrist ease their savage hold and his thumb smooth gently across the palm of her hand even as the fingers at her neck ceased their caress. Braving a peek from beneath her lashes, she saw his head bend down as he lifted the hand up to brush the heel with his lips, nipping at the pad of flesh.
Releasing her, Todd looked down to watch the faint bloom of pink as it began to flood her skin. There was a sudden urge for something denied for too many years, a need to feel a female's warmth around him and Jennifer tantalised him the way one of his Worshipper's might in the old days. Her exotic alien perfume lingered in his nostrils, playing over his tongue and through his sensory pits, but he stepped back, moving away as her head came up, dark eyes examining him, fearful, chocolate brown irises hidden by midnight pupils that held his own gaze.
"I… I…" Keller bit her lip, stammering in the confusion clouding her thoughts, looking for something to say, and turned her head away, unable to bear the brunt of his stare. She could not think of a thing, and was saved from further ruthless examination of the situation when he took it upon himself to speak first.
"You must go," Todd growled, the sound dissonant with repressed emotion, and drew a breath to exhale sharply, expel the lingering, sweet taste. Then said, gently, "Go, Jennifer. And -" the Wraith looked at the human woman, moving away, putting distance between them both in action and words – "when all is ready, you will come?"
Keller nodded quickly, silently, and turning on her heels, she left, not daring to look back in case there was something that could hold her there.
Thoughtful, Todd watched her retreat, noticing the fall of her soft hair as it brushed between her shoulder blades for the first time, and idly he wondered what it would feel like caught in the grasp of his hand. But it was a notion he could only speculate about, one that could bring him some few precious moments of enjoyment as he waited.
Moving to the hard bunk where he occasionally managed to get some sleep, he lay down and stared up at the ceiling, deep in thought and quested around the edges of his own physical condition. Apart from hunger unremittingly gnawing at his innards, there was another flame licking at him he had not thought could be fanned by the likes of Jennifer Keller and the timing for such to raise its head was... truly not fortuitous. The ache in his groin spreading, Todd began to laugh, and as his guards filtered back into the cell he felt the tendrils of their thoughts, curious as to what made him behave so.
He laughed all the harder.
Jennifer scurried along the corridors, the whole scene playing out in her head and she wondered where the hell all that tension came from, the sudden incredible sensual connection. It was frightening to think she could respond to a Wraith that way, worse to that particular Wraith, that it was even possible he could respond to a human, but he most certainly had. She'd never had such complete validation of her femininity from any man, and Todd was most definitely male if not human, his sexuality worn like his leather armour, surrounding him, a palpable aura, making him... more... just more. The heavy musk of him filled her, excited her in a way Rodney never had.
Mortified by the thought, Keller couldn't bear to think her feelings for McKay had been overshadowed so thoroughly by a totally pointless interlude with Todd. An interlude that would never happen again, of that she was utterly certain.
Satisfied with this conclusion, she scarcely realised she had arrived at the command centre and, shaking herself mentally, quickly climbed the steps that lead to the balcony where she was to assemble with the rest of the team. Piling through the door, she was grateful they were not there yet, and breathed in the air of San Francisco with relish, the faint sound of the city reaching her from across the bay, the metallic tang of pollution sharp on her tongue. But the feel of Todd's warm mouth against her hand edged its way back to her awareness, setting the flesh tingling despite every good intention and Keller looked at it, ran her fingers over the spot as if she expected to see evidence of that strange kiss written large.
Closing her eyes, she refocused, and dismissed it again… It was good to be on Earth and going home to see her dad, which she had been putting off for sometime simply because she hadn't been ready to introduce Rodney. If they got this business with Todd sorted out then maybe she could do that as it was about time they made some kind of declaration. It would be so good to go back to Chippewa and catch up with some of her old friends, shoot the breeze and have a beer.
Relaxing, Jennifer leaned over the rail, clasping her hands in front of her, smiling when a very human arm slipped across her shoulders and a kiss found its way onto her cheek. She leaned into Rodney, comfortable in the gentle hold he placed about her.
Denied the privilege of escorting Todd to the transport taking him to The Box, Sheppard couldn't deny what Woolsey had said to him – "You'll try something, John…" - had more than a ring of truth about it. All he could do was watch, from a safe distance, as the Wraith was loaded into the bird that would take him to the nearest military base to fly him out to Nevada, a one way trip to obscurity. Well, maybe not total obscurity once they dissected him and found out more about Wraith innards; he was utterly certain there would be a pretty lengthy glossy report somewhere for other xenobiologists to pore over at the end of it all.
Good job he was going to ruin all their plans.
From this distance, the Wraith Commander looked resigned, his hands and feet manacled, the guard's P-90's pointed unwaveringly at him. He also looked ill… sick... as if he wasn't going to last much longer, and he stumbled, alarming the guards and the agents sent to collect such a valuable specimen. It caused a rush of activity around him, voices being raised, and an imperious gesture for Keller to make haste over to them. Her slight figure hurried forwards, and engaged in conversation with one of the suited officials, sincere in her delivery. From his vantage point he could see the disquiet she showed was real – after all, the Wraith was not in the best condition and he might just die anyway, out of sheer bloody mindedness.
Hands on hips, Sheppard continued to watch a little longer then he turned away, and headed for the jumper bay, mind set on the task ahead.
Going back to Todd's cell hadn't been the best decision she could have made, Jennifer reflected, but she'd made a promise of sorts and she was the only doctor available to examine him who had such extensive knowledge of his physical norms. Stripped to the shorts he'd been forced to wear, he had stood while she filled in and processed forms, ticking boxes, asking asinine questions she'd already known the answers to. And all the time aware his demon eyes followed her, a hungry look reflected in their depths she refused to understand or acknowledge… and didn't want to. A look that made her heart hammer, and the breath catch in her throat, the pen in her hand to waver… stupid… stupid... stupid…
Looking up at his face, she tried not to notice the lean, muscular shape of him, broad shoulders and narrow waist, each muscle delineated by lines of tattoos across translucent skin, or that his own breathing deepened as she drew closer. Keller focussed on a spot somewhere just at the level of his collar bone, where only the slow pulse of his heart could be seen.
"Have you finished, Doctor?"
The question came out of the blue, startled her back to reality, and away from the Wraith whose massive frame loomed over her, tense with suppressed emotion. Reeling from the odour of spice that wreathed around her, she hung captured in his gaze for a moment before she shook herself from it, and addressed the other human.
"Yeah, all good…"
Started back to the present as the rotor blades above her head began their whine, she shifted uncomfortably in the back of the helicopter; the seat lining the length of the damn thing might as well have been a plank. Todd sat across from her flanked by two guards, chained to the bench but with enough give to allow him some small movement. She looked over at the top of his tangled head, the scruffy white locks falling to shroud his face, and watched him knit his fingers together, the bones of his knuckles showing through his skin as a spasm rocked him. The poison was beginning to work, causing the slow paralysis she had told him about and the deep pain she had not.
Todd's chains rattled as the vehicle got underway, heading up out of the city and towards the Air Station which had been cleared of its personnel for a few hours while they made the transfer to another military vehicle. A low grunt came from the Wraith, whose hands tightened further, the irons holding his ankles and wrists ringing against the seats, distracting her further and the furrow of concern settling across her brow was no fake as she assessed his condition.
"Todd...?" she asked, leaning forward slightly, almost reaching with her hand, but the sharp denial of that lowered head stopped her attempt to touch him.
"No, Dr. Keller… don't concern yourself please. I will be well enough, my dear." Lifting green-gold eyes to her face, Todd's skin was more lucent than usual, the dark veins threading over his features seeming to pulse unhealthily.
Keller cast a glance at the guards and the others, M.I.B. – she used the term derisively – who watched her and the interchange she'd just had. "We need to get a move on; he's really not well."
"You'll get a chance to check the prisoner over when we get to the base, Doctor." The man speaking tipped his head as something was relayed into his headphones, and he turned his face towards her, sunglasses hiding his eyes, her reflection mirrored in them. "We're changing the rendezvous point, Doctor. Your charge will have to wait a while longer."
The words were shouted over the top of the sound of the blades furious rotation and the rushing wind, as he deigned to speak, to inform her of this sudden unexpected modification. Their attitude towards her presence was one of tacit sufferance, that she was an unnecessary evil, a burden possibly, expressed in the dismissal with which he treated her again now she had this new information.
Alarmed, Jennifer almost came off the bench but sat straight back down again as the helicopter seemed to spin almost on its axis, lurching violently. "But… he's ill, dammit… you can't…"
As if in answer to her, the chopper banked sharply to port and surged upwards, a sickening sensation of vertigo rushing through her so she clamped her jaws fast, and set her back solidly against the hull. No matter how often she went in one of these damn things, she never seemed to remember that jumpers had inertial dampeners built into their systems and helicopters did not. Managing to get the queasy feeling back under control, she opened her eyes and gazed into the red-rimmed look of the Wraith Commander who still achieved, somehow, amusement at her own cost despite his growing discomfort, and the knowledge he now held of plans gone awry.
Chortling darkly, he growled, "These primitive machines are quite a trial, are they not, Jen-ni-fer?"
Keller didn't dignify his comment with one of her own, and settled for a hard stare before turning her gaze outwards to the seemingly endless bank of cloud, worry uppermost in her mind about how in hell she could let the others know what was happening.
The jumper veered, its cloak engaged, as the chopper moved higher and John Sheppard headed off without a single look backwards at the city he left. He had every intention of getting to the Wraith as soon as he could, and stow him aboard the Daedalus in one of the hangar decks; it was due to take a trip back to Pegasus in time to speak to Ladon Radim at the Coalition's next big funfest. Boy, was that ever a thing to look forward to, but needs must and Earth was, like it or not, involved, rammed to the hilt in extraterrestrial politics. Not comfortable, not even remotely good, but it was kinda implicit that Earth owed big time. Having their Wraith ally back in his position of strength would be a useful tool, and John fully intended it was going to happen.
These were not the thoughts a simple military man should have, Sheppard mulled dryly, and adjusted his heading slightly, swinging the little craft sharply towards the air base and figuratively putting his foot on the gas. He wanted to arrive before the transport did – make certain everything was in position just before the big surprise occurred. If everything was to go to plan as they expected, there shouldn't be too much of a problem, and having Jen there would make things a helluva lot simpler as they'd intercept the emergency call well before anyone else. His concentration was broken slightly by Ronon speaking.
"Did Jen mention how long this thing would take before it worked?"
McKay was quicker to reply than John, who slid the physicist a look as they passed the chopper, outpacing it easily. "Don't know. Less than normal, she thinks, because Todd hasn't fed for a few weeks."
There was silence as the Satedan digested this information, and it was Teyla who spoke next.
"I am uncomfortable with the thought of leaving Jennifer alone too long, John." There was a long pause as she weighed her next words. "And while I do not believe Todd would deliberately feed on Jennifer once she delivers the antidote and he comes to consciousness, his condition will be such that it will be an imperative, an instinctive reaction."
Sheppard nodded agreement as he said, "Already thought of that, and had a chat with our Wraith friend about it. Told me to make sure Jen wasn't to hang about." The HUD display appeared at his unthinking mental command, and he corrected their trajectory fractionally. "She knows to make herself scarce."
The edges of his vision were black, bleeding into greyness towards the centre point, a rushing sensation sweeping through his frame as realisation and consciousness returned in full measure. An urge to feed came over him, clawing at his innards as he moved his hands to push at the hard edges of the table he found himself lying on, levering himself to a sitting position. Hanging his head, Todd drew a long, shuddering breath, and glanced down at himself, mentally assessing every ache, the state of each muscle as it came back to unwilling, sweating life.
There was no sound, apart from a low level hum that came from the corridors beyond it seemed he was entirely alone in this darkened place. The need to feed clamoured at him again and, swinging his legs over the table edge, he set his feet to the floor, pushing up so he could stand. Steadying himself against the reassuringly solid surface, Todd waited for a few seconds as his balance returned and then he cast his mind outwards, outside the confines of the room.
At first he could discern nothing, the ravening beast in his veins and running the stretch of his feeding arm clawed at his reason, preventing the quest of his mind outwards. Forcing the quake in his limbs to calm, Todd pushed past the barriers these purely physical requirements were posing and made his way over to the door, listening intently, and allowed the thoughts of the humans to filter through into his mind. He searched for one particular signature, one he was familiar with and found it, not too far from his present position, but the flavour of it was in flux, a rush of conflict as if it were under siege. Harassed frustration flowed into him, and he had to stifle a snarl in response to the emotion for within its kernel there was more than a touch of fear.
Grimacing as another spasm bit hard, he leaned against the wall for support before reaching for the handle and cracking the door open. Sound washed over him faintly, a smattering of voices, male, growing louder as they moved towards his position and then stopped briefly as they parted company to go in different directions. The Wraith waited for a few moments, and then risked opening the door further to ascertain if the coast was clear. As he could see there was no one in the corridor, he slipped out into its sterile expanse and took in a breath, orientating himself on the feeble mental emanations of Jennifer Keller.
"What the hell do you mean?" Sheppard was furious, his frustration with the sudden change in plans all too evident as he rounded on the hapless scientist who was seated next to him.
McKay bore it stoically, answering with as much acerbity as he was capable of – he repeated his comment as if for the sake of an idiot, carefully, slowly enunciating each word. "They have changed course and aren't heading for the Air Base." Then he snapped, "Do you think I like this any better than you do, John, because if ya do then you're sadly fucking mistaken."
Coming between them, Teyla was again the voice of reason as she said, "It will do us no good if we quarrel between ourselves for there is no way to apportion blame. None of us could have foreseen this was to happen." She gazed at each of her friends in turn, willing them to see sense. "We need to focus and resolve the problem – find out where they have taken them."
"We really do need to find them, John," Ronon muttered, coming forwards and placing his hand on the rear of the seat, leaning his weight heavily, fixed on the situation. "She could be in danger."
A terse nod came his way from the Canadian as he agreed with this assessment, and he was out of his seat as Sheppard's next words were uttered. Rodney glowered angrily, pulling down one of the compartments housing the crystalline elements for the communications system. "My point exactly."
"Can you tap into their com system, Rodney?" Sheppard pointed his attention away to the horizon, swinging the little craft into position, hovering above where Jen and Todd should have been. This was not good… so not good at all…
Already busy switching connectors, transposing this glowing line for another, Rodney plugged in his tablet and made a coarse sound followed by an equally coarse expletive. Tapping furiously on his computer, he ripped the connection away from the crystals, and lunged at the main interface, pushing past Teyla and jabbing at the controls.
"That should do it," he declared, still anxious, worry etched on his face.
There was a burst of static, and John made a few adjustments, running his fingers over the interface, hissing between his teeth as the sound quality was not exactly brilliant. "Dammit," he growled, and tried boosting the signal again. "Rodney…"
"On it." Harassed, the physicist stared Ronon out of his way and tackled the blinking, shining ranks of crystalline memory, swapping, augmenting, and snapped, "Try that."
Sheppard narrowed his eyes as he strained to hear the patchy communiqué, picking up a word or two in the buzzing white noise, and swore eloquently, rapidly, the words leaving his mouth bullet-like.
"For fucks sake…! They took him to Moffett Federal Airfield, and NASA Ames."
Reaching past the agitated scientist, Teyla gripped Sheppard's arm, her fingers white. "Something must have happened to make them do such a thing."
Sharing a look with the Athosian, John could only agree, and with the worst clear in his mind, he nodded. "We've lost a lot of time, so let's just get on with this."
Mulish and angry, Keller folded her arms, refusing to budge, anxious to get back to the makeshift morgue where Todd was lying, ostensibly dead. By her calculation, it wouldn't be too long before the Wraith started to stir, and though she had been warned quite clearly that she needed to keep away, her healer's ethic and own natural compassion were biting hard. Barely hearing what the suit said and if the truth was known, didn't give a rat's ass for his opinion or orders – whatever! - she perched on the edge of the table, her thoughts underground with the Wraith.
The tone was sharp, acerbic, and dragged her back into the room unwillingly so she had no choice but to look at the man speaking to her. Mouth set into a thin line, Jennifer eyed him unsympathetically. "Have you quite finished, because I'd like to come with you?"
A hard grey stare examined her, clear suspicion written on his features, and he sucked in a breath while he considered the demand. Remaining silent the agent came further into the room, moving to confront her, his feet apart. "As I have been explaining to you -" patronising in his effort to sound patient, he made a quick, dismissive gesture – "that will not be possible as we will be transporting it to Area 51 and you have not been cleared."
"He's dead," she raged. "Dammit, I need those samples so I can find out what caused his death because he was presenting with symptoms that were atypical for his species."
The agent gathered his rapidly decreasing façade of patience to make another statement. "You will come with me, Dr, Keller, and allow us to proceed as before."
"But it isn't the same, is it, Mr. Doyle? The Wraith is dead, and you were supposed to take him there alive." Huffing out a sigh of exasperation, Jennifer hid her fear under very real annoyance and made an appeal. "Look, I know it isn't regular, but Carson Beckett and I know more about the Wraith than any other scientists on Earth. It makes sense to let me get to the body first so I get a few samples."
Doyle shook his head, irritated by the circular argument. "I'm afraid I can't allow that, Doctor. My orders are quite explicit about taking you back to Atlantis, and I cannot -"
Coming up to her less than intimidating full height, Keller stared at the brawny Doyle, sparks flying out of her eyes at him, a tiny fury. "I don't care." She growled the next words at him, punctuating each clearly. "I. Need. Those. Samples, Doyle. And if you don't take me so I can retrieve them I'm gonna make sure your ass is kicked so hard it'll take a full light year before your brain realises it has to shit through your ribs."
Jennifer was breathless with her belligerence, aghast by it and the burgeoning response in Doyle, which had initially been shock, then unwilling respect, rapidly moving to a decision. Hoping it would be the result she wanted, she waited, scrutinising him as he mulled it over. And there it was…
"Get your kit, Doctor," Doyle muttered, swinging away from her and grabbing the door handle. The door swung inwards and he went through it, closely followed by Keller, who had snatched up her small bag of medical equipment.
Trotting to keep up with his long strides, Jennifer and Doyle moved along the anonymous corridors, institutional white and cream paint, the odd smear of battleship grey, away from the fluorescent lights to the elevator leading to the basement and the cold storage where they had placed the Wraith's body. Stepping into its interior, Keller managed to keep her nervousness under wraps, shoving her hands deep into the pockets of her pants once she'd swung the med bag over a shoulder.
It was a long way down as some very sensitive equipment was stored there, not to mention an alien male who had probably recovered by now and was raging with hunger. Damn. Damn. Damn. If they'd only kept to the original schedule, none of this would have happened and they would be away with Todd stashed on the Daedalus. The doors creaked open slowly when the elevator shuddered to a halt, and she stepped out in to the dimly light corridor first, heading towards the room where she had last seen Todd.
Doyle followed, his footsteps echoing loudly in comparison to the soft tread of her sneakers, and came to a sudden halt even as she carried on. "Dr. Keller…"
Jennifer stared ahead, hurrying again, not really paying much attention and not noticing the lights in the hall she headed for were completely out.
The shout alerted her to something not quite right and she spun to look at the man just as a long green arm grabbed her jacket roughly and yanked her like a ragdoll into a strangle hold. A frightened cry left her lips as the hand locked hard fingers in the material of her shirt, not caring that skin was caught there under sharp talons and the other, the feeding hand, grasped her chin, forcing her neck round till tears blurred her vision.
"Let her go, you bastard!"
From the corner of her eyes, she could see Doyle had drawn his gun, the Glock pointing at them with an unwavering accuracy. "Todd…"
An answering growl ran through her, but the Wraith did not release her and using her as a shield shoved her forwards one small step at a time, his hard, cold frame rigid behind her as he advanced. She couldn't help the whimper that came from her, and then the agent fired…
He took action, even through the white hot pain of the bullet tearing through his flesh, and threw the woman against the wall then rushed the male even as another slug ripped through him. Todd roared in agony and leapt, his predatory instincts taking over as he wrenched the gun from the man's hand and bore down on him with his feeding hand mantled.
The ravening maw bit down through the white of the shirt, blood blooming as it connected with skin after ripping its way through cotton, latching on to naked skin like a leech. Crushing the human beneath his weight, Todd fed, the elixir of life flowing into him faster than he had ever experienced it, the taste of this Earthborn as sublime as that of Sheppard – rich, defiant, strong. Throwing back his head, the Wraith howled in ecstasy, digging his claws into crumbling skin as energy flooded through him, registering the noise of other humans racing towards him.
Coming up from his low position over the empty husk, Todd spun to face the coming rush and charged, moving so fast he blurred. As more bullets pumped into him, he reached the agents and grabbed the two nearest to bring them towards himself, using one as a shield even as his feeding hand connected with the other. More energy poured into him, filling him, regenerating him with its delicious flavour, lending him the strength he needed, and he cast the dregs aside as he pulled at the riddled corpse of the other and picked it up to hurl with faultless accuracy. The 200lb body tore through the air as if it weighed nothing, falling against the remaining soldiers, knocking them over like pins, and Todd moved like a lion to reach his prey. He fed deeply again… quickly… and turned his reptile eyes on the cowering female huddling against the wall to consider her lasting use to him – and not only at this time but for the future. Scowling, he grabbed a couple of the handguns he could see lying on the floor, and rifled the corpses for extra rounds before removing the jeans from a cadaver to wear and slipping them on. After tightening the belt, he shoved the rounds into the pockets and the guns into his waistband.
Dressed again and crossing to her swiftly, he cast his mind outwards, sensed reinforcements coming, scooped her up, set her on her feet, and put his arm around her throat. Jennifer struggled, fighting him, clawing at his arm, white with terror, her nostrils flared and eyes like a startled deer, but he snarled a caution and the completely pointless effort to free herself stopped, an acquiescence to the needs of the moment. Seeing the way out of the basement was through a set of double doors set further away from the elevator, Todd moved as quickly as he could, for even feeding on the several humans he had did not mean he could fight off an entire squad. There was no wish in him to do that as it was not the purpose of this plan, his intention solely on escape. Having Keller as a hostage would be his… he amended the thought as her scent drifted into his sensory pits… their passage out of this place.
"Todd," she whispered, the sound breaking his attention for a moment, fear leaching from her in palpable waves, the atmosphere thickening with it.
He rumbled against her hair, and tightened the hold he had, beginning the march forwards. "Forgive me, Jennifer."
Pushing through the doors, they swung inwards with a loud bang, but he could sense the heat of other humans before he could see them; at least a half dozen, weapons pointing at him, tracking him as he travelled. Wrapping his hand in her hair, wrenching her head back, Todd growled at the strangled noise crawling out of the throat of the female he was taking hostage for his own life, and scanned the white hot figures of the soldiers, his eyes burning neon blue in the shadows. Moving slowly, his bare feet making no sound on the floor, only the rapid panting of Keller's breath could be heard in the utter stillness; silent appraisal watched them creep towards the wall, dark human eyes fixed on their progress.
The weapons cocked, and he tightened his hold again, hoping they would count her life more valuable than his, searching amongst the torturous thoughts of hate and rage directed his way in the hope there was an easier way, a route he could take out of this hellhole. Chasing the thoughts, Todd forced his mind into one who seemed most susceptible to his influence, his shields held less formidably than the others with their rigid, unquestioning mind-set, finding a tiny chink in seemingly impervious armour, and used it mercilessly.
Doubt sped through the tenuous link, feeding a paranoia already willing to escalate into terror, turning him and the woman to something invisible, unspeakable, preying into body language, bleeding out as terror. The emotion was stagnant as it coiled its vicious tendrils around each of the humans, pulling them into confusion, allowing the Wraith to manipulate the situation further, allowing him to move, unhindered through their confused ranks, up the stairwell to climb towards freedom as quickly as he could. Todd picked Keller up, bounding the steps in huge leaps, her weight as nothing in his arms, and he moved faster still, wreaking confusion and hate as he went, setting in motion a tsunami of psychosis, distorting reality into nightmares and phantoms.
Through this came the random thoughts of those who knew the way out, who visualised with clarity the escape route he needed, and without hesitation, without dropping his speed or the small burden in his arms, the Wraith headed for freedom.
"We have to go back to Atlantis?" McKay exploded, the blue of his eyes hidden behind a veil of black and worry, the emotion in his comment all too clear.
"Radek has notified us that if we don't get the jumper back before nightfall, he won't be able to cover for us anymore," John repeated patiently, hating this as much as his friend did.
The Canadian stared out at the landscape speeding towards them, at the rush of the water coming towards them, his brow furrowed. The quiet cursing in the background from Ronon didn't exactly help matters, and Teyla's silence on the matter spoke more than words ever could.
"She's out there with Todd…" Rodney said dully, trailing off, colour seeping out of him, the implications of the situation far too real, far too unpleasant for him to fully contemplate. He was numb… fear sitting in his belly like a knotted piece of cold chain, a chain that writhed as if it had an unnatural life all its own. "He'll feed on her."
Teyla moved slightly so that her hand rested on the arm of her friend, the touch meant as a comfort. "No, Rodney, I do not think he would do that. She is his only hope of being found."
Sheppard nodded his agreement, and placed a consoling hand on McKay's shoulder as he began the journey back to Atlantis. "She's right, buddy. I don't see Todd feeding on Jen as it's in his best interest to keep her alive if he wants to go back to Pegasus in one piece."
"But night is coming in," McKay protested feebly, unable to do more than hope they would continue with the search.
"Yeah," Ronon agreed, adding his own opinion to the conversation, his anxiety bleeding through clearly. "And Jen said he would be active again well before nightfall, Sheppard."
"I know," the Colonel replied, sympathetic to his team's emotions but aware they had to return to the city so they could make preparations to head out again the following day. "The thing is if we don't go back we will be missed and that's bad, but also we might be able to persuade Chuck to do a little eavesdropping for us to find out any information when we do get back." Lifting a hand to make alterations to their bearing, he added, "And I don't know about you, but some Intel would be very fucking useful."
The Wraith fled as rapidly as possible, taking a course leading to the least number of inhabitants and a wooded area called an Open Space. An attempt by the natives at some form of conservation, it suited him well enough as a possible place to lay low while the consternation of his survival and the aftermath of his somewhat frenzied feeding spree calmed to a reasonable level. Todd didn't waste energy on imagining he would be anything less than a very dead Wraith if he read these humans correctly about their ability to exact revenge. He could find much to admire in such single-minded purpose as tenacity was a trait he valued highly. All he needed to do was stay out of their reach until Sheppard and the others effected a rescue, something he was quite willing to do.
Abandoning the ground vehicle, an appallingly inefficient piece of technology, the Wraith headed further into the depths of the surrounding countryside, his mind set on placing as much distance as he could between him, Jennifer and their pursuers. Many hours passed as they marched relentlessly onwards towards relative safety, the woman becoming more winded, tired by the furious pace he maintained; she stumbled often now, needing his support so he practically dragged her along. Before long, he reflected, Jennifer would be a dead weight and he also needed to recuperate. More than anything, they both had to rest. And that soon…
Searching her mind held little information about the area, a disappointing fact, but he held hope that there would be somewhere they could hole up for the coming night, and he scouted the area as thoroughly as possible. A series of fortunate turns led them to a small wooden cabin buried deep in the woods, fed by a convenient stream, and surrounded mostly by a thick blanket of trees that backed up onto the hills she informed him were called Black Mountain. Hurrying Keller onwards, Todd could see the property was well maintained, but empty, and he angled a curious look at his companion.
"What is this place?" The query was gruff, underlined with his own exhaustion.
Catching her breath as he allowed her some respite, Jennifer explained, "It's… a… lodge. They don't… get used until certain times of the year… at least… I think."
"You are not certain of this?"
Dropping her chin, Jennifer shook her head as she assayed her pretty poor local knowledge, and looked up into his harsh face. "No... I really have no idea apart from it's a preserve and on the San Andreas fault." She added, almost as an afterthought, earning a brief glint of amusement in his eyes, "I'm sorry."
Grunting acknowledgement, Todd chivvied her forwards again, reaching out to sense whether her assessment was correct and if any life other than the myriad beasts dwelling in this place would be likely to make itself known. He would fight again if he had to, but at the moment he would prefer not.
The lodge stood quiet, dead to all intent and purpose, the glass in its windows bleak, no hint of warmth or colour coming from them, so he moved swiftly round the building seeking a way into it. Not finding an immediate entry point, Todd smashed a pane of glass in the door and reached in for the latch, ignoring the glass as it bit into his naked forearm, streaks of blood running to spatter onto the wooden platform. Turning it, it gave beneath his fingers and the door creaked open, a tiny gap appearing and he put his shoulder to it so it swung inwards.
"Come," he demanded, and he knew the woman followed him without needing to check. As much as she wanted to be back on Atlantis with her friends, as much as seeing him feed had scared her, Jennifer also knew he represented safety from the large predators he'd sensed lurking in the vicinity, their curious, fierce spark of intelligence alive to his mind, impinging on his own awareness.
Looking around, Todd spotted a hearth with a pile of wood stacked neatly beside it, as well as a couple of basic bunks, a table, chairs and cooking facilities. Spartan, it was true, but more than adequate for the rest they both needed.
"Is there any food?" he asked, and realised that without any interference, Keller already looked through the cupboards. She gave a cry of joy when she found some tins, and other supplies, taking the small stash to the table to look them over as he placed the stolen weapons and rounds on the small cabinet at the side of the fireplace.
"Yeah," she said. A little laugh erupted from her unbidden, and she looked up at him from her seat. "Nothing great, but probably better than field rations."
Wandering over to the table, Todd picked up a can and examined it then placed it back on the table. "Hmm, and as I've seen what McKay eats, I find myself believing your assertion, Jennifer."
Keller dropped her head when he used her name again, recalling instead the fear he had instilled in her during their headlong flight. He had been so rigid, utterly ruthless and efficient, a living, killing machine, and now he was making jokes with her, teasing her again in the manner he enjoyed so much. Feeling colour flood into her cheeks, she turned the can of beans round and round on the table, despising the unrest in her belly.
"Nothing to say?" Todd ran his glance over her bent head, daring to reach and take a strand of gold in his fingertips, allowing it to run through them so it fell back into place gently.
The sharp intake of breath told him she had felt the gesture, and Jennifer looked up at him, biting her lip, the bloom on her skin more pronounced. "I… I…" She stammered as she floundered, and swallowing she managed to say, "Why are you doing this?"
"Doing this?" Todd questioned, and turning away he went to the hearth and crouched, clearing the leaves that had fallen down the chimney, beginning to set the fire. "My dear, if I have given you cause for any concern -"
"Concern?" Jennifer echoed, and caused him to look over his shoulder at her so she stared not at his broad back but into slitted reptilian eyes, rimmed with dark red. "You're joking?"
"Rarely about such matters," Todd murmured.
Overwhelmed suddenly by emotion, she stood up and rushed over to the small sink, heaving from delayed reaction, her tattered nerves finally making themselves known to all and sundry. She heard rather than saw him come up behind her, to observe her as she leant over and retched. Reaching for the faucet to wash away bile, Jennifer placed her hands under the stream of water and splashed it over her hot skin to cool herself, then drank from her cupped palm. Taking a deep breath, she rested against its cool metal surface for a second, her hands gripping the edge, looking up out of the window where twilight was gathering fast. Above the trees, thin clouds ran on high in front of the wind heralding a storm and the icy white light of stars speckled the deepening violet. Turning, Jennifer realised just how close he was, standing within half a metre, looking down at her.
"You have no idea about body space, do you?" she quipped, leaning back against the sink for support while her knees shook.
The tall Wraith hooded his eyes, thoughtful, speculating whether he could risk another gesture, if indeed he should risk such a thing. The perfume of her body was conflicted, fear and excitement mixing into a heady bouquet, but he did not want to frighten her more, not more than she already had been. He opted for the sensible course, tilting his head a fraction and allowed a shark's smile to curve his mouth.
Wanting to come past him, Jennifer could see no way open to her without getting too close and sliding the length of the attached work surface seemed… well… like overkill somehow. It wasn't even as if she was adverse to his company, she… liked him, just that the whole business at Atlantis was on her mind more than she wanted it to be. Right now, she was uncomfortable with him, other feelings beginning to overshadow the day's events, turning her thoughts to the unwelcome sensations he elicited in her.
Seeing how torn she was, sensing the emotions along the tenuous filaments trickling through to him, Todd went back to his previous task. "Eat," he said gruffly, unable to trust himself and thought longingly of the empty expanse beyond the confines of the cabin's walls. "I will make a fire and leave you to make yourself more comfortable."
Pushing her hair behind an ear, Jennifer remained silent, not knowing what to say and watched him as he placed the kindling in the hearth, finding the matches, and quickly worked out their use. Once satisfied the fire had drawn enough, he rose to his feet and strode out of the lodge without looking back. The door shut, a click sounding against the rising whistle of the wind and the sound of raindrops beginning to beat out a melody on the roof.
When he re-entered the cabin, wet, and bloodied from the thrill of the chase, it was much later and the woman was asleep in one of the bunks, having dragged it closer to the fire which had died to glowing embers. Todd yanked off the wet black t-shirt, draping it over the back of one of the chairs, then went to the sink and ran the water, rinsing off the grime from his fingers and arms, the dried blood, the evidence of the hunt. Raking his fingers through his hair, he pulled out the worst of the twigs and leaves, placing them in a pile next to the used cup, plate and utensils.
Undoing the belt, he took off the jeans next, laying them over the top of his tee, and crossed to the other bed, pulling up the roll of blanket to wrap around his sinewy frame. Covered, he hunkered down in front of the fire, stirring it to unwilling life, placing a few scraps of wood, the dried leaves on it to encourage the flames to build. Watching the fire draw, he added more wood slowly until tongues of orange licked higher, spreading their radiance, highlighting the room, casting shadows across his face.
"Yes," he murmured, and stretched out his large hands towards the fire, warming them. He could feel her eyes on him from the bunk, and the question of his physical condition was no longer in doubt as the heat from the thrill of the chase pooled into his groin.
Growling softly, he wanted nothing more than to cross to her, smother her under the hard length of his body, crush her beneath him… hold her, kiss her, taste the flesh that should be his. But still he waited, closing his eyes against the rush of painful longing, yearning for her to come to him, but she did not.
"Ah, Jen-ni-fer," he groaned her name out, the syllables a sweet caress that hummed from his mouth, "you should sleep."
Stirring, the woman sat up and brought her feet down to the floor, and Todd turned his head slightly so he could see her bare toes, white, dirty, nails painted a red the colour of his blood. The crackle of the fire was between the words burning in his throat, and he could not speak. The sound of her voice interrupted again.
"What is happening to us…?"
"Us?" Surprise filled him, and he turned, looking up at her, blonde hair mussed around her puzzled face. Gripping the blanket tightly, he came to his full height, wrapping it around his waist and he crossed to stand before her, all too aware of the reaction his body gave as her scent reached his nostrils, a scalding hardness he pushed down, hid with his left hand. Capturing her gaze, he held it and reached his feeding hand out to stroke her cheek with the back of a finger, on the cusp of something that would bring him no relief. "Merely that it is my time come too soon, my dear."
"To breed." He spoke softly, and caught her chin with the claw of the finger to tip her face up like a small white flower. Her lips were parted, her eyes dark, troubled, scared and he bent over her, hearing his heart speed in his chest, a rapid thump he knew was resonating under the rapid rise and fall of her breasts.
Warm fingers wrapped around his wrist, bloodless and white, a tremor in them, and gently, he placed his mouth against the corner of hers, catching her breath as it came from her lips, moving over soft flesh, sending the tip of his tongue to explore, and drew away. Exerting a control he hadn't realised he could command, Todd backed off, moving to the other bunk, and lay down on his back.
Jennifer's voice was hoarse, shaking, filled with an ache he recognised. Not now… not now… Forcing his mind to other matters, to their survival, to returning to Pegasus, he said clearly, "Sleep, little one. Tomorrow is another day."
Dawn spilled light over the spires of Atlantis, hidden from view by its shield as the citizens of the city across the bay stirred to activity, the night fleeing before the wind, driven away into the golden radiance of a new day. The ancient citadel also stirred with life, and an exhausted John Sheppard heralded it with a large, hot cup of joe, strong and black. Rubbing his hand through hair that stood on end without the aid of product, he blinked the sleep from his eyes, wishing the four hours he'd managed to snatch hadn't had the opposite effect.
No rest for the wicked, his mental tone was wry when McKay barrelled through the door to the mess hall, standing in the entrance as he cast about for the Colonel. Spotting him, the Canadian hastened to the table without collecting anything to eat, a sure indication of his agitation and need to be setting out after the Wraith and Jennifer. Dragging a chair out, it scraped along the floor, setting John's teeth on edge.
Wincing as the noise pounded in his head, the Intel had come to him from Woolsey himself, the base commander waking him from an unpleasant dream where Todd's hand was firmly planted on his sternum again, taking then regurgitating his life back into his body. The news was that the Wraith had run amok after 'apparently' succumbing to an illness, leaving a body count of nine dead and six fed on, information, the base commander informed him, which had not arrived through the usual channels. Despite the disapproval sitting on Woolsey's face, the air with which this was delivered made Sheppard believe there was some sympathy hiding deep in a nook in lesser well-known parts of the man.
McKay launched into a rapid speech as soon as his ass hit the seat. "Radek has cleared the jumper for use, John, and she's got clearance to go to the Daedalus as soon as we get Jen back."
"Let's be clear," Sheppard said, hazel regard narrow as he looked at the physicist, "this is a recovery op and you aren't required."
"Fuck that -" Rodney snarled.
He looked terrible, probably as bad as he felt, John thought, even as he held up a hand to forestall the vitriol about to spill out of the other man's mouth. "You ain't coming, Rodney and that's that. They want Todd back, and I intend to make sure he's brought in."
"Bullshit, Sheppard," McKay scoffed, and scowled at him. "You and I both know you intend letting them think he's a smear on the ground so you can get him on the Daedalus."
Affecting innocence, Sheppard met his friend's hot blue gaze evenly, and took another long swallow, savouring the flavour as it burned its way down to his stomach. "Do I?"
"And meanwhile in Pegasus," McKay continued, slitted eyes watching the effect his next words would have, "a fucking miracle happens, when a long lost twin of Todd turns up and claims leadership of the Alliance."
The Colonel shrugged – it was hardly his problem. "Who am I to quibble about the politics of the Wraith?"
"Whoa -" Rodney threw up his hands – "who said I was quibbling. Just pointing out that the IOA will smell that pile of horseshit from here."
John leaned forward, his expression grave, grating out through his teeth. "Off the record, Rodney, we both know Pegasus needs Todd, and much as I hate to admit it, we need Todd. But, my friend, you are still not on the list to join us."
"Then I'll get on board the Daedalus to check systems."
Sheppard snorted slightly, and shrugged again. "It wouldn't cross my mind to even try to stop you, Rodney."
"As long as we're clear about that," Rodney said, and gave a nod to the Colonel indicating the matter was closed so far as he was concerned before heading for the long line already waiting for their breakfast.
Sheppard dropped his head, and stared into the depths of his coffee. That was reasonably easy, and now he needed to make certain of Ronon and Teyla so they could join this collective on board, and break it to them how they were going to get the job done. Picking up the tablet, he ran his fingers over the surface, reading the information about what had happened over at the research centre, and shook his head. It was a mess… a great big, nasty mess that could have far reaching effects, and wherever that shit landed, it was going to stick.
He swallowed the last few mouthfuls of his now tepid coffee quickly, and made tracks for the jumper bay.
Chilled to the bone as she rose from sleep, Jennifer felt disorientated, uncertain, and she burrowed deeper into the blankets to blot out the weird creeping sensations until the reality of her situation hit her squarely. Gripping the blanket tighter, she forced her eyes open and took stock before sitting up. Everything that happened last night flooded back into her mind, and she looked round for the Wraith, remembering the terribly gentle kiss and the taste of him before he had left her to stew in her own juices. He wasn't there, something she was grateful for as she didn't feel ready to face him just yet.
It was still early, but the sunlight dancing across the floorboards spoke of a warmer autumn day than recent, and she came off the bunk to wander over to the sink to look out of the window. The door opened as she turned the water on, filling the mug she'd left on the drainer to take a long draught, and swallowed, hiding herself in it while she thought; she glanced over to watch Todd come into the small room.
He ignored her, taking the armful of logs he had to the hearth to replenish the supply they'd used during the night. Laying them down neatly, he finally spoke, voice gruff, multi-tones filling the small space, "We must leave, Jennifer."
Rising to his full height again, he passed his gaze over her, lingering on her mouth for a moment then reached for the guns and ammo, stowing them in his belt and pockets. The silence between them was unbearable, and Jennifer hung her head, afraid of her own feelings - the tightness in her throat and eyes burning as much as the sensations crawling through her belly on millipede feet. She had to ask, had to know…
Todd gave an eloquent shrug and crossed the room, moving past her and out onto the small porch; Jennifer frowned and followed, hurrying as his long stride took him to the stream and into the small sunlight warmed opening among the trees. Her bare feet were covered in dew as she raced after him, the grass flattening under them and as he moved to go into the dark shadow afforded by the verdant growth surrounding them, she managed to catch up.
Grabbing his forearm, she was afraid all over again when he reacted by snarling at her as if the touch scalded him, and she yelped out loud from shock when he spun around to snatch her into his arms. Long fingers spread across her back and she turned her face up to look into his as demon eyes ran over her features greedily.
Placing a hand on his chest, she said, "I need to know, Todd. What's going on in your head, help me make sense of it?"
"Jen-ni-fer… how can I, when I don't know myself?" he growled, the sound almost a moan. "I fear I can no longer be… patient…"
She drew a breath in surprise at her sudden, liquid reaction to his admission "Is it my fault?" she wondered, searching for blame. "I shouldn't have worked with you so often, maybe?"
Knotted hair stirred when he shook his head, and a rasp of laughter trickled out of him. "No, my dear." He sighed then, and frowned down at her. "Do not seek blame for that which cannot be helped, for something neither one of us sought." A small crooked smile appeared, lightening the harshness of his features, self-mocking. "Sometimes things don't happen the way we imagine or… want."
When Todd reached up to cup her chin, Jennifer couldn't help the slight tremor that coursed through her, and she swallowed, nervous; his thumb traced the line of her mouth delicately.
"Don't," she whispered, placing her fingers round his wrist, and the thumb stilled.
"What troubles you?" he asked, his deep voice was a low throb, and it hummed with bottled up emotion.
A faint snort came from his nostrils, and he placed his feeding hand at her waist, spreading his fingers across the curve of her hip. "Dr. McKay is not part of this equation, my dear. It is just you and I."
A trembling hand on his t-shirt clad chest, Jennifer gazed into the darkened eyes of the Wraith, his intensely masculine presence wreathing about her, his tall hard frame centimetres away as she felt him breath. The seconds seemed to spread until he leant down and brushed her cheek with his mouth, whispering across her skin, drawing in her scent as he moved.
"Todd…" Jennifer groaned his name as his fingers unwittingly tightened, claws pricking through the cloth of her fatigues, and she turned her head into his waiting, devouring kiss.
The hand at her waist crept to the middle of her back, smoothing up to splay out and bring her into the ferocity of his demand, his tongue surging past her lips as he gave into passion. Taking his hand from her chin he slipped it to the back of her head, and clawed his fingers into her hair, deepening the kiss, drawing her down into a helix of darkness and she clutched at him, moaning as fervour melted her ice. This was wrong. This was so very wrong.
Knees weakened, her body boiled at his touch, the smell, the heat of him, the taste spinning round her like an exotic butterfly, honeyed; he was deadly, poisoned, luring her to something too awful to contemplate. Wanting to break the kiss, unable to, swept into her own rapidly awakening desire she found herself moved backwards, and pinned, the trees casting their shadow over them both. Only then did he come away.
Breathing hard, Todd's nostrils were flared as he drank in every aspect of the woman he held. "I want you."
As he pressed his too solid form against her, Jennifer whispered hoarsely, "You're Wraith."
She could not stop the shiver through her muscles as they responded to the sweeping strokes of his feeding hand against her waist, nor could she deny the hunger in her own thoughts and closing her eyes against the desire mirrored in his, she leaned back. She repeated the words; they sounded weak, pathetic. "You're Wraith…"
Silent, Todd moved back from her slightly, a single step, but did not relinquish the hold he had. "Yes…" he agreed, the sound hissing through his lips, and leant down. "But we are alike too, Jenn-i-fer." His tongue curled around the contours of her name, and he bit at the soft skin of her neck, moving delicately along her jaw line to come to her mouth again. Air puffed over her face as he met her eyes, as he uttered words softly against her lips. "Yield to me, little one. Be mine."
Sensations…The press of his body against her, the evidence of his arousal lying stiff against her belly through the fabric of the jeans made her weak, and she opened her eyes again to stare at the lust in Todd's face, but there also a wistful hope she would consider this outrageous proposition, and she found, to her clear surprise, she wanted to. Wanted to very much, and wanted him too.
Flattening her palms in an attempt to stop the quiver running through her fingers, she shyly moved them up over the planes of his chest, feeling the answering growl rumble deep in his frame and, coiling her arms about his neck, she gave herself over to insanity.
Drawing her into his arms, there was a flash of triumph on his harsh face, and he kissed her again, wrapping his tongue deep into her mouth, nipping at her lips, pulling a gasping cry from her as he took her to the ground. Laying her down in the sweet smelling grasses surrounding them, Todd lowered himself over her, taking his weight on a palm, and ran his feeding hand up the curve of her waist to her ribs, coming to rest beneath her breast. Moving his fingers with an intense concentration over the mound, he brought his weight down carefully, measuring her reaction, and purred as he moved to capture her mouth.
Her hand on his chest above his heart stopped him, and he waited, seeing the sudden fear in her face and smelling it, prompting him to speak. "Do not be afraid…"
She could not doubt his sincerity, for it was there in his darkened, red rimmed eyes, but still she could not believe she would desire this so. "It's wrong," she whispered. "We… we… shouldn't…"
White hair drifting to shroud his face, the sun played shadows across his features, and he nodded, concurring, "It is… unwise." The hand over her breast paused as it fondled, the slow measured tease bringing a warm flush to her body. "But not wrong. It is just that the time and place are not right."
"Will there ever be a right time or place?" she whispered as his head lowered to draw her scent in, as he caught at her lips with razor teeth, breaking the skin so her blood billowed scarlet.
Clawing her fingers into his hair, she watched as he retreated, cold and efficient once again as common sense seeped through the madness, and she didn't know which aspect frightened her more? With fluid grace, he came to his feet, bringing her with him and, still with an arm looped at her waist, allowed himself a brief caress before it fell away.
In answer to her, he said, "I do not know, my Jennifer."
"There's only one place they could be hiding out, Colonel," Lorne said calmly, his eyes fixed on the horizon as the little ship powered her way across the landscape. "And I know Wraith can travel fast, but he was injured and recuperating from what took him down."
"So they couldn't have got too far?" Sheppard just checked the Major's reasoning, and the two men exchanged meaningful glances.
"Unlikely -" Lorne confirmed, and added - "which gives us a fairly small circle to search."
Sheppard grunted, and checked all systems again, including the drones they had on board. He didn't want to leave much doubt in the mind of the IOA or anybody else as to what had happened. Taking Evan into his confidence had not been that onerous a decision, and getting Teyla and Ronon on the Daedalus the work of moments. Until they acquired another ZPM, Atlantis was going nowhere fast, and getting one required the devious mind of a certain Wraith Commander who they were about to blow into his component molecules. At least, that was the theory.
"I like small," he said.
Lorne nodded his agreement. "The Open Space preserve is my bet, sir, and moving on to the Black Mountain would be the safest route."
Having this man on the jumper was invaluable, especially as he'd grown up in the area – the diversity of his second in command was always a source of amazement for Sheppard, a circumstance he couldn't help but be thankful for. So was getting out of Atlantis before Woolsey could insist on them taking more marines or, worse, the hovering FBI representative that had appeared in the small hours like a bad smell.
"Better cover," Lorne added for his commanding officer's benefit.
"Ok, let's take a look to see if we can find them."
Manoeuvring the jumper into sharp turn, the Colonel flew straight for the reserve, away from the research centre, at full speed.
"Do you hear it?" Todd asked suddenly after they had been walking for hours, moving deeper into the woods through thickening vegetation.
He stood stock still then, and listened, reaching for her hand to pull her closer in case he needed to fight, every muscle bunched to a tense coil, and stifled the growl rising in his throat. This damn planet had predators in every niche, and some of them were as determined as he in pursuing their quarry, but there was no sense of them as they had decided he was worth giving a wide berth. Scenting the wind, he scanned the area, looking up to the sky, his keen eyes missing nothing and with a hiss he dragged her under cover as the tops of the trees parted, rustling, swaying through the effort of no discernible wind.
"Give me gun, dammit," Jennifer said, shaking him to grab his attention.
Todd snarled at her, whipping his head round to stop her talking and she fell silent as he released her wrist, signalling she should remain there, but placing a loaded gun into her hands. Stalking forward, he moved rapidly out of sight and hid amongst the dense cover while he circled round to find out what was going on, if what he hoped had happened was coming to fruition. The Wraith listened again, and headed straight for where he thought the whine of an engine had come; he was practically certain it was a jumper, but there was no harm in making completely sure before setting himself up for all kinds of trouble.
Swiftly crossing to the clearing, the alien scientist reached out with every sense, and came up straight as a familiar and welcome scent reached his nostrils. A figure in the near distance resolved into Major Lorne, and he was gladdened by it, relief flooding through him. Stepping out into the open, he headed for the human soldier's position, making himself entirely noticeable, no spectre walking out of the forest to jolt the man into an unwelcome reaction. The sound of a P-90 being cocked had never sounded so sweet.
"Todd," Lorne muttered by way of greeting and dropped the business end of the weapon, looking round the tall figure for Keller. "The Doc not with you?" He tapped his mic, and eyed the Commander. "Colonel, the Wraith just showed, sans Keller, though."
"She's not far," Todd reassured the officer, and received a nod of acknowledgement. "I will take you to her."
Sheppard's voice sounded tinny through the relay of the mic. "I'll meet you back at the jumper."
"Yes, sir." Allowing the P-90 to swing down to his side, Lorne addressed the Wraith who was waiting expectantly, "Let's go get her."
The Daedalus loomed in the vacuum of space, grey and immense, a welcome sight and Todd watched as Sheppard piloted the craft into the hanger bay, the sense of an end in sight, his return home to Pegasus and the leadership he needed to reclaim once more. That he had allies among humans, Earthborn humans, would help to consolidate his position and it left but one factor. He turned his head to look at her, to watch Jennifer Keller as his hungry gaze swept over her.
Aware he observed her, Jennifer refused to look at him, sitting behind Lorne and staring fixedly out of the screen her colour slightly flushed. But he noticed the tremble in her fingers as they plucked at the cloth of her pants, and twined her fingers together. He paid some attention to what the conversation was as they landed, that McKay would be there to greet them as would Colonel Caldwell, which surprised him somewhat.
When the door hissed open, he rose and followed Sheppard out into the actinic lights, Lorne behind him with Jennifer. The Colonel was standing waiting for them with the physicist, who gave a cry of joy when he saw the woman and rushed towards her. Lowering his eyes, Todd felt a surge of jealousy rush through him that made the slit on his palm open and enzyme surge to pool and slip the length of his fingers. He had no right to feel this, for she was McKay's, human, and no Queen. If he could though, he would challenge for her, fight for his right to mate.
But he held his peace, and endured while McKay took Jennifer in his arms and stroked her back, while she rested her head against his shoulder. Deciding to speak, to disturb this happy reunion, Todd addressed Caldwell, his tones clipped as he suppressed the emotions fluxing within him.
"So, Colonel, now I am to be returned to my home am I to be placed in confinement elsewhere on this ship?"
Caldwell switched his attention to the Wraith, who was filthy, his feet bare against the deck and thought about the rather large problem they had. Unwilling to allow the alien too much access to his ship given the sketchy history they had, he shook his head in a slow denial.
Todd's brow ridges raised fractionally, and he cocked his head at such bluntness. "Then where…?"
"You'll remain here," the Colonel said calmly, flatly so no one could argue with his decision. "Colonel Sheppard will escort you to the showers, and I'll make certain your presence on board is as low key as possible." Staring the Commander in the eye, he added, "We'll provide bedding, and any other necessities, but the only ones who'll be allowed here will be Sheppard and his team. Does that answer your question?"
Giving a slight bow, Todd examined the commander of the Daedalus and favoured him with a faint smile. "That is equitable, Colonel."
Caldwell gave a curt nod in return. "As long as we understand each other."
"I believe we do, Colonel," he replied, and Caldwell turned to leave, taking Sheppard with him.
Only two remained and, of them the only one Todd was concerned with was the woman currently pulling herself out of McKay's embrace. Adroitly, her care for the physicist's feelings plain in the way she moved, she placed some distance between them, her body slightly stiff, as though she was no longer sure she wanted to be touched. Seeing this, Todd held her eyes, and could almost feel the blush beginning in her skin as she tried to break from his frank, starving gaze.
Jennifer came away from Rodney, who made a futile attempt to keep her against his side; she peeled his arm away, smiling gently. "I'm fine… really I am."
"But you might not have been," McKay protested, still unconvinced Jennifer would be safe until he had her alone in his quarters.
Placing her hand on his forearm in gentle reassurance, Jennifer looked into worried blue eyes and stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek fondly, then said decisively, "I want to talk to Todd… please. Alone."
"Rodney," Jennifer murmured, determined and adamant, "he kept me safe."
"After taking you as a hostage," the physicist pointed out stubbornly, and resentfully, meeting the green-gold eyes of the Wraith with a glower of his own. "And yeah, I don't give a damn about it being a necessary evil -"
"Rodney, I am asking you to just let me talk to him on my own. I won't be more than five minutes, and besides, I need to take some samples." She smiled sweetly at him, adding, "Wait in the corridor, I'll be out quickly, I promise."
McKay thinned his mouth, but could see no reason not to comply as she had been brought back to him whole and well. For that he could thank Todd, but somehow it stuck in his craw, and there was an underlying tension between the two of them he wasn't happy about but couldn't put his finger on. "Make it two minutes and not a second longer."
He headed after the two Colonel's and when the doors slid shut, Jennifer drew closer to Todd and took stock of him. His face was shuttered to her, and she reached out a tentative hand to place her fingertips on his chest. An expanse of seconds wound together, seemingly endless, when he did nothing but scan her intently.
"No," he growled, speaking at last, raw emotion ebbing in his tones. "That is not my name." Taking her hand he lifted it to his mouth and gently bit her wrist, grazing his teeth over her pulse, seeking her scent past the odour of the male who tarnished her. "Will you come to me, Jen-ni-fer?"
Expelling a deep sigh, she caught her breath again when his lips moved over her palm. "How can I?"
Pulling her gently into his waiting arms, he looked down into her dark eyes, irises hidden in black. "Find a way, little human, lest I come seek you out."
Heart beating a staccato rhythm in her ribs, Jennifer leaned into him as his mouth moved across her jaw and sent electrical sparks cascading down to heat her core… terrified Rodney would come back through the doors, yet hoping he would so the lunacy she was willingly complicit in would come to an end. Desire flooded through her when his reaction to her was swift, possessive and greedy and she moaned softly as his hands roamed beneath her shirt, and for the span of a heartbeat she was captured like a fly in amber, lost in his voracious kiss, but somehow found a reserve of strength to push herself away.
Shaking her head, she backed off and all but ran to the doors. "I can't…" She stammered, voice thick with emotion, catching the sob in her throat before it escaped. "I'm… sorry… I'm so sorry… I can't."
Closing his eyes as she disappeared through the hanger doors, Todd clenched his hands into fists, boiling with his need, forcing stillness into limbs that wanted to defy his mastery and go after her. He had to make common sense prevail, for if this was to be the way of it, he could not fault Jennifer Keller for her reluctance. After all, the step he demanded of her was dangerous, unprecedented and could cost her much.
Perhaps the price was too costly for either of them?
Control had nearly fled her when she got to her quarters, and she had to insist on being alone, claimed fatigue, and pushed Rodney out of the doors before he could even get so much as a toe through them. Rodney's puzzled, hurt expression hung there in front of her eyes as if it was pasted to a wall just so she could push her guilt up a notch or two. Jennifer hated herself for it, felt like a complete bitch. She despised how certain of her feelings she'd been that she'd told him she loved him, because now… she knew she didn't.
Sitting on her bed, gazing out at the slipstream of hyperspace as it sped past in a coruscating blend of blue and violet, she fingered the marks on her wrist, the faint scratches where Todd had marked her, and lay down, tears gathering, anguished and confused. Placing the blame on Todd would be so easy, and such a comfort, but she couldn't and wouldn't, come to that. Restless, she turned onto her side, staring out into the void, burning with a need she had not really addressed.
How could this have happened? How could Todd have become so important she would risk so much to spend a single night with him?
Except the truth was there, and always had been. A truth she had never dared examine before, for beneath the sometimes easy camaraderie she had developed with the Wraith lay a deeper enticement, an exciting dark journey into passion that scared her to death. It left her breathless, and her soul hungry for the touch of his hand on her body, the feel of his mouth moving along her throat.
Her decision was no real choice.
Opening his eyes to the soft sound of feet falling against the metal of the deck, Todd moved onto his side beneath the blankets, lifting himself up on one elbow and watched her approach. The sweet fragrance of her warm body had reached him across the frigid expanse of the hanger deck, moving through the other heavier flavours of petrochemicals, the reek of artificiality, permeating the atmosphere like sparkling frost motes caught in the light of a winter's day, flowing to where he lay on a makeshift bed. Standing there in the open hatch of the jumper, the colour of her flimsy clothes bleached white in the harsh lighting, her face as colourless, just the scarlet of her mouth to show she was no apparition, but living and breathing, shivering from both emotion and seeping cold.
Saying nothing, understanding what it cost to come to him, he pulled the blanket to one side, a silent invitation she hesitated over and then… as if she had just woken from a dream, Jennifer Keller stumbled the few steps to him and slipped down into the warmth of the covers and the relative softness of the pallet. Covering them both quickly, Todd wrapped his arms around the woman, pulling her into his embrace so he could feel the length of her body against his, his heat pouring into the slight frame trembling in his grasp. Slowly the quiver in her limbs ceased, responding to their conjoined heat and Jennifer relaxed, burying her face into the crook of his neck.
Lowering his mouth to her head, the Wraith allowed her emotions, her perfume to travel across his senses before laying her on her back to tangle his legs with hers, to lean over her, touching but not yet beneath. Todd ran his fingers through fine strands of hair, and they clung to him like gossamer, filaments catching on the harshness of his fingers, the broken talons. Looking into her eyes, too bright, dark and swollen, he drowned and reached to touch her mind with his, found it open, filled with a longing that matched his own.
Whispering the words, a low rumble vibrating through them both, he said, "Yield, Jen-ni-fer… "
Mute, Jennifer lifted a hand to his face, running her fingertips lightly across the tattoo surrounding his eye, and cautiously explored the contours of his sharp-angled face. They moved over his lips, and he caught at her fingers with his teeth, holding her hand to nip at the pulse lying beneath a pale skinned wrist, reopening the wound to draw small beads of blood that he lapped up, relishing the metallic flavour, spreading the fingers in his grasp to kiss her palm.
Then she sighed, and he shifted his weight cautiously, seeking her mouth, capturing it in a gentle kiss filled with promise, longing, as his hand found the edges of the shirt she wore to push it up and search beneath for pliant delicate flesh. Lying his palm flat against the skin of her belly, he moved his touch down past the soft cotton pants into the curls he found over the mound of her sex, parting drenched folds to caress peaked flesh with deft, expert touches, and taking the gasp she uttered into his breathe, he deepened the kiss yet further, bruising the tender flesh of her lips with his savage possession. Growling his pleasure as the hard length of his erection burned against her hip, Todd wanted to bury himself in her softness, but would not rush this languid seduction. His fingers were gentle as they explored, pressing skilfully each nerve until Jennifer writhed against the palm of his hand, hips pushing towards him.
Slipping fingers into her depths, Todd teased the bedewed core of her, coming from the kiss as she shuddered, as she rose to meet the deepening strokes filling her, to watch her face and see her cry out, rapid pants ringing in his ears, fingers digging into his shoulders. Withdrawing as her muscles tightened around him, he began to push at the pants waistband, and eagerly Jennifer helped him, lifting her hips to slide them free. In a flurry of motion he removed them, impatient such flimsiness could keep him from her heated skin, throwing them out of the confines of their nest.
Naked flesh blended together as he moved fluidly between her legs, pushing her thighs apart, hissing with deep sexual need. Taking her head in his palms, Todd searched for her mouth again, plundering it, his tongue thrusting past her teeth until, tearing away, he travelled the length of her jaw, her neck and collarbone, biting, kissing, each hungrier than the last, blindly searching for her breasts beneath the material of the top. Capturing a tender nipple in his mouth he suckled hard through the material, the head of his shaft penetrating her entrance as he moved further over her.
Stillness descended on him as the warmth, her smoothness beguiled him… Longing to thrust into her, to claim her totally, he trembled on the edge of taking her, making her his, but he resisted the urge, moaning softly as he slipped his feeding hand down to her hip, tasting the sweetness of her essence as the maw bristled with raging hunger, enzyme slicking his palm. Jennifer twisted against him, desperate and panting, driving her hips up towards his tapered length, her cold fingers burning like ice, running across his biceps, looping around his back to find spinal protrusions and press nerve endings to send them jangling, making his guts roil in anticipation.
Need filled him, a terrible desperation to consummate this mating but still he defied completion, edged away, toyed with her, pleasuring her with small delicate strokes, and burning hot kisses that exploded as his tongue tasted her skin. And she met him, her blunt teeth biting at his shoulder, her tongue moving across his jaw, hands flowing down his sides to hold his hips and reach for him…
Opening his eyes, wanting to savour every moment of this surrender, Todd took her jaw in his large hand. Studying her, he purred, murmuring her name as he slid his free hand beneath her buttocks to ready himself but his eyes rolled, shutting as sensations tumbled through him in anticipation when her fingers tightened around his length… stroking, charting each centimetre, each ridge of his masculinity, stoking the coals burning in his groin. The feral growl in his body erupted into his throat and he snarled it out as passion finally overtook all rational thought, finding himself guided into her depths as he pushed into her.
So slow, so slow… it was an agony… each of his muscles burned with the effort to hold back, the tightness in his entrails threatening to explode, and the sob from the woman beneath him was a reflection of his own need. Each excruciating millimetre drew an answering groan until he was sheathed completely in her soft, moist depths; crushing his pelvis against her, Todd hesitated for the span of a heartbeat, drew back, and then surged forwards. Moving slowly at first, he measured each stroke, each thrust, immersing himself in her, taking in every breath of the scent of their coupling, the heavy musk of Wraith and the sweet fragrance of her humanity, blended together to a newness… his hardness buried within her trembling clasp.
Arcing up, her breasts pressed against his chest, fevered hands tore at his hair as she wrapped her legs about his hips, and he tightened his grip on her hips, steadying himself as he slammed against her. Unable to restrain himself anymore, Todd's rhythm grew faster, harder, more frantic as he reached for conclusion, lost in the heat of the rut, sweat slicking his skin as he glided above her, over her… holding the mind of Jennifer Keller in the grasp of his, taking the bright spark of their mutual pleasure to contain it as the universe and stars collided, barely aware of anything else except the meshing of their bodies, the reach of his length inside her, the feel of her against his skin.
She cried out the only name she knew him by, a rasping gasp for oxygen in the sudden pulsing rapture of her release, the tightening about him centring until he exploded too, span out of control, emptying himself in a rush of shuddering white hot ecstasy, his seed filling her. And throwing back his head he roared in triumph… then lowering his leonine visage the Wraith bit at her exposed throat, sharp points penetrating the skin as his claim was realised.
Jennifer was boneless, fluid as she finally came out of the stupor; her body ached, her thighs hurt, spread beneath Todd's large body, his mouth at her neck, fevered as he curled his tongue over the soreness of a bite. As her breath slowed to normal, she whimpered a little, and he eased himself away, thrumming a purr, his mouth whispering across tender skin, moving onto his back and taking her with him. Lying on his chest, she straddled him still as he buried them both further into the warmth of the blankets, and his hands roamed her back, stroking as she rested her head in the crook of his shoulder. Breathing deeply, she took in his dark aroma, spice and musk, heady… the stench of sex surrounded them, and unbidden, she shivered.
Todd tightened his arms around her, and almost tenderly pushed the hair from her face so he could gaze down into her eyes. "You are not hurt, Jennifer?"
"No… no…" she murmured in reply, and lost herself in swollen pupils with nothing but a bright corona surrounding them.
But the moment could not last and she could not stay here in this place with this alien, this suddenly unknown male even though… God help her… she wanted to do nothing more than rest in his arms. To stay forever.
Resting her forehead against his chest, Jennifer was muffled as she spoke. "I have to go. I must go."
"Stay…" he breathed, hands moving to her buttocks, stroking her, pulling her into the depth of his craving, the maw of his hand slicking her skin as it tasted her flesh.
"Dr. Keller, report to the infirmary immediately."
The sound of the comm. broke the tension, collapsing her desire to stay with him and she felt his arms fall away, releasing her. Jennifer reached for her pants, and redressed, unable to look down at him where he lay and took a step towards her sanity, expecting him to speak, that he would try to stop her. After all, Rodney would have attempted to persuade her, and how much did she know about the way of males, whether they were human or Wraith, anyway?
She heard him shift, and then…
"Go then, Dr. Keller, before they wonder why you have not come."
Holding her aching heart beneath a proud exterior, Jennifer strode away, and did not look back.
Duty would always win.