Ronon matched Sheppard’s stride as they moved purposely through the dark corridors. Sheppard was gripping his P90 instead of casually resting his arms across it in his typical manner before a mission, and Ronon frowned, shifting and feeling his sword nestled snugly between his shoulder blades. Normally, the familiar weight was a comfort, but Sheppard’s mood had the Satedan on edge without really knowing why. Sure, it was a dangerous mission, but when were they not? Sure, they were going into a Wraith stronghold, but that was becoming commonplace. Sure, they were depending on Todd… again.
That last thought was more an annoyance than a worry, and Ronon wished, not for the first time, that he could just shoot the damn Wraith and be done with it. Sheppard, however, always seemed to have a reason why he shouldn’t, at least this time. Problem was, it seemed that every time was ‘this time’ when it came to Todd. The Wraith was slipperier than ice and just as treacherously dangerous as a winter lake covered with it. Ronon knew it was just a matter of time before Todd’s helpful demeanor would crack, and just like the frozen body of water, he would try to take them down permanently. That was why Ronon was always on guard around him.
Speaking of the slick bastard, Lorne and his men rounded a corner from a side hallway leading Todd toward the Jumper bay. The Wraith was still in chains, although he’d been allowed to change back into his standard black leather clothing with his own matching long coat. McKay’s smartass comments about how Ronon and Todd should exchange the names of their tailors had nearly earned the scientist a punch in the face, but even Ronon had to admit Todd looked better in his own clothes than the flight suit he’d been wearing for over a month. He looked more like a Wraith, which just meant he looked more like a target, and that much easier to kill when Sheppard finally gave Ronon the go ahead.
“Colonel, your prisoner is ready for transport,” Lorne reported
“Prisoner?” Todd raised pale eyebrows at the designation, looking between Lorne and Sheppard in surprise. “I thought we were partners in this endeavor.”
Sheppard eyed the chains on Todd’s wrist that he was pushing forward, as if he expected John to unlock them. To Ronon’s surprise, Sheppard seemed to actually be considering it before taking a step back and standing straighter. “As long as you’re in my city, you’re my prisoner.”
“If you cannot trust me now surrounded by armed men, how will you trust me surrounded by my crew?” Todd asked.
“I won’t,” Sheppard told him. “But if it makes you feel better, I’m doing this for your own protection. I’m a lot less likely to shoot you if you’re in chains.”
Ronon fought to control his growl when Todd had the nerve to look amused at Sheppard’s statement instead of angry. John didn’t even see it as he had already turned on his heels and started down the hall toward the waiting Jumper. Ronon snarled at the Wraith, staying back to watch him instead of sticking with Sheppard.
Lorne, however, jogged a few steps to catch up with his commanding officer. “You’ll probably need these.” He offered the keys to Sheppard, who just kept walking.
“Give them to Ronon,” he ordered with little more than a glance in Lorne’s direction and picked up his pace.
Lorne blinked and waited for Ronon to come up beside him before handing him a duffle bag. “Here you go.”
Ronon looked at it in confusion. “What’s this?”
“Gear he had on him when he arrived. He says he’ll need the coms to keep his crew from blowing up the Jumper when you arrive.” The major tossed the keys and Ronon caught them easily. “He’s all yours now.”
Ronon gave Todd a wicked grin. “Good.”
“I would temper that enthusiasm,” Todd warned when Ronon pulled his gun. “Without my help, you will be trapped here instead of in your home galaxy. And then how would you kill Wraith?”
“I guess I’d just have to settle for you,” Ronon told him with a push to get Todd moving down the hall again, the team of marines still close on their heels.
The fact was, Ronon was anxious to get back to the Pegasus galaxy. Sure, he would be welcome here on Earth, Sheppard had made that clear, and so had Woolsey. But what would he do if he did stay? Sheppard had suggested the SGC, which is where John would more than likely be reassigned if Atlantis remained on Earth…just one more reason why Sheppard wanted to get back to the Pegasus galaxy, too. And just one more reason why Ronon couldn’t follow through on his threat and shoot Todd this time.
“I would expect nothing less from you, Ronon Dex.” Todd stumbled with his first step but quickly regained his balance and the arrogant bearing of a Wraith. Even in chains, he walked through the city like it was his personal Hive and not his prison. “If nothing else, you are predicable in your perseverance.”
Ronon had a feeling that was supposed to be an insult, although it sure sounded like a compliment on the surface, because predictability and perseverance were two things Ronon prided himself on. You knew what you got with Ronon Dex. Even in his younger days, when Sateda had flourished and he had dabbled in art and poetry, he was a soldier first and foremost. From the time he had been given his first practice sword, Ronon had known he was meant to fight the Wraith. What had happened on his home world, what he had lost there, had only hardened his resolve and honed his skills. If a Wraith was too stupid to realize that, then it would die. If it knew the reputation of the opponent that it faced, then it would die just as easily as the stupid one. They all died around Ronon… except for Todd.
Ronon knew Todd was well aware of what he was up against with Ronon, but Ronon also knew something else; Todd knew Ronon’s weakness. As long as Sheppard was alive and telling Ronon not to kill Todd, the Wraith would live. And Todd always managed to keep Sheppard alive. As they entered the Jumper bay, Ronon’s thoughts were on how this mission better not be the exception.
Teyla was already in the copilot’s seat with Sheppard in his typical position behind the controls. Ronon dropped Todd in the back of the Jumper and had to scoot around a waist-high pedestal that was bolted down just behind Rodney’s usual seat. On top of the stand was a ZPM with various wires and cables connected to it.
“Where’s McKay?” Ronon asked when he noted the scientist was nowhere to be seen.
“That’s a good question,” Sheppard grumbled, preparing to stand to go look for the missing man.
Rodney walked into the back of the Jumper before Sheppard made it all the way out of his seat. “Here. I’m here.” McKay stashed the case he was carrying in one of the storage bins. “I just needed to find a case to store the ZedPM in. Wouldn’t want to go all that way and have it damaged during transport.” Closing the compartment, he quickly moved to the pedestal.
As soon as McKay was onboard, the marines left, and Sheppard shut the back hatch with a frown. “It’s about damn time you got here. We were about to leave without you.”
“Oh, really?” McKay took a step back and swept an arm in a broad, inviting arc at the device on the pedestal. “Then, by all means, start up the wormhole drive and let’s get going.”
When Sheppard just frowned deeper at the fact that neither he nor anyone else in the Jumper knew how to do that, Rodney looked around with mock curiosity. “What? No one? No one at all?” The playacting came to end when McKay’s face darkened in a look of condescension as he started checking the connections. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
Not one to be outdone by McKay, Sheppard reminded, “We’re just on a bit of a schedule here, Rodney. If, you know, you’re interested in saving the city before the ZPMs are completely shot.”
“I’m more than aware of our time limitations, Sheppard. Far more than you will ever know.” McKay never looked up from his work on the contraption in front of him. Finally satisfied, he straightened and announced, “Okay, we’re ready to try this.”
John took that as his cue to start up the Jumper and lower it from the hangar to hover in front of the stargate. Woolsey, along with the gate techs, were backlit by the glow of the light stands providing the only illumination in the control room.
“Jumper One, you have a go,” Woolsey told them through the radio he held to his mouth with a mittened hand.
“Leave the lights on; we’ll be back as soon as we can,” Sheppard promised.
“I can’t make any guarantees about the lights, Colonel, but we’ll be looking for you,” Woolsey admitted before he added a final wish of, “Godspeed.”
Everyone sat with the Jumper hovering before the empty gate. When nothing happened, the entire team looked at McKay expectantly.
Rodney stared back at them in the same way. “Hellooo? I need an address to dial.”
Sheppard hitched his chin toward Todd. “You’re up.”
Todd once again presented his hands and rattled the chains there. “It would be easier to dial without these.”
“It would be easier to do a lot of things without those,” Sheppard countered. “You get us to your base nice and safe, and without any traps waiting, and then we’ll talk.”
Todd made a put upon grunt to rival any McKay had ever made about people he was forced to deal with when he thought he had much better things to do with his time… which was half the people the scientist had ever met. But Todd dialed the DHD then turned to Ronon when the gate lit up.
“I will need my communications device to transmit to the base. Otherwise my armaments will destroy the craft before we completely exit the gate on the other side.”
McKay was intently studying the readouts on his electronic pad, checking a connection in the open control panel of the ship, then the ZPM itself.
Ronon looked to Sheppard for his okay to turn over the com and John shook his head no. “We’re going in cloaked. They won’t see us.”
“The fact that the gate has been activated without advance notice will be enough for them to start firing at anything that comes through,” Todd told him.
Sheppard seemed to be weighing his options but he didn’t have long before McKay ordered, “Give him his damn radio and let’s go!”
It was obvious there was more to the command than just wanting to get the mission started and John asked warily, “McKay?”
“The drive is pulling more power than we thought, probably because the ZedPM is so unstable. Bottom line, in about twenty-three seconds we lose all power.” Keeping his eye on the screen in his hands, Rodney started counting when no one said anything. “Eighteen, seventeen…”
Sheppard spoke over the countdown. “Ronon, give him his coms.”
Ronon dumped the various gear out on the seat and Todd picked up a disk that fit in the palm of his hand and pushed several buttons.
“Eleven, ten, nine…” Rodney continued, each number spoken a little louder.
“We good?” Sheppard demanded of the Wraith.
“We can proceed,” Todd informed him with a nod of his head.
Sheppard didn’t wait for McKay’s backwards count to continue past five. He gunned the Jumper into the gate and Ronon’s stomach flipped in the familiar corkscrew sensation of gate travel. The feeling of rolling freefall was a little longer than in the typical trip from one world to the next seeing as they were actually traveling between galaxies, but it ended as abruptly as it began when they emerged out the other gate.
Peering out the cockpit window, the planet looked a lot like other worlds they had traveled to within Pegasus… trees, grass, a winding river in the distance, a Wraith base built into a mountainside. Okay, the last wasn’t something they saw every mission, but they had seen enough that it was definitely Wraith in design.
When nothing started firing at the Jumper, Sheppard breathed a sigh of relief. “Okay, so far so good.”
“Oh, you would say that,” McKay snapped as alarms started sounding in the Jumper and the lighting flickered.
“Rodney? What the hell?”
John may have said it, but Ronon was definitely thinking it.
“I told you we were losing power.” Rodney was simultaneously trying to read the computer in his hands and swap connections in the panel.
“To the wormhole drive,” Sheppard corrected hopefully.
“Which is also powering the Jumper.” McKay’s clarification was accentuated by the HUD flicking out of sight above the dashboard.
“What?” Sheppard demanded. “Since when?”
“Since we installed it,” McKay ground out. “Do you want an engineering schematic or do you want to land this damn thing before we fall from the sky? Because the power drain slowed when the drive shut down but seeing as it was practically running on empty when we came through the gate…”
“Landing,” Sheppard promised, in what seemed a bid to stop McKay from complaining as much as to put them safely on the ground.
“There.” Todd pointed to the base and what appeared to be a Dart hangar.
John steered the Jumper where the Wraith indicated and was able to set the ship down before it completely lost power, but just barely. Sheppard was in McKay’s face almost as soon as the craft touched ground. Even in the dim glow of the emergency lighting, the pilot’s irritation was obvious.
“So when the hell were you planning on telling me the entire Jumper was dependent on the ZPM?”
Rodney crossed his arms and rocked back. “It was ‘need to know only’ information.”
Ronon fully expected Sheppard to argue back that as the team leader he needed to know everything, but to Ronon’s surprise, he didn’t. He simply clamped his mouth shut on his irritation and pushed past the scientist to the back of the Jumper.
Teyla finally asked what no one else would. “We can no longer use the Jumper?”
“Not without some work,” Rodney told her.
“If we get the new ZPM, we can use that,” Sheppard told his team. “Right now, that’s our main objective, and as soon as Todd turns it over, problem solved and we can head back to Atlantis.”
John moved to manually open the back hatch and Todd cleared his throat and rattled his chains. “We are no longer in your city, Sheppard.”
Sheppard hitched his head at Ronon. “Unlock him.”
Ronon scowled but did as he was told and Todd rubbed at his wrists before moving to join Sheppard at the back hatch. Ronon gripped his gun, knowing that things just wouldn’t go the way they planned. They never went the way they planned when Todd was involved… the way Todd planned, sure, but the way they planned, never.
Sure enough, as soon as the hatch opened, the Jumper filled with Wraith stunner fire. Ronon’s last thoughts before he lost consciousness were of a heartfelt wish that Sheppard would just let him kill that damn Wraith.
* * * *
Teyla became aware of sounds before she was able to open her eyes. There was the sound of shuffling, a low groan, a hiss of discomfort, which meant at least she was not alone. Doing her best to ignore the pins and needles sensation that always went hand-in-hand with a Wraith stunner hit, Teyla cracked her eyes open to look around. It appeared Ronon was the first to wake, given that he had managed to sit up, although John wasn’t far behind him as he was struggling to lift his head.
“Guess what?” Ronon grumbled at his team leader. “Todd betrayed us again.”
Sheppard frowned but didn’t argue the point, which meant he was probably thinking the same damn thing, as was Teyla. The Earth people had an expression that Elizabeth had taught to Teyla years before− Once bitten, twice shy. Since then she had heard it used often enough, and it seemed to be common in their vernacular. Unfortunately, regardless of how widespread it was among the expedition members, they rarely seemed to apply the lessons implied in the saying, especially when it came to Todd.
“I think the technical term is ‘screwed us over’,” Rodney added with another groan as he attempted to roll over and decided lying on his back was good enough for the time being.
“We are still alive,” Teyla pointed out, as she sat up. “And Todd has not fed in quite some time, which means he may not mean us any harm… at least for the time being.”
“It means he still wants something from us,” John amended, taking the hand Ronon offered to help him stand. “Or needs something from us.”
“What does he need? We brought him back to Pegasus like he wanted so he can get a meal.” Rodney managed to make it to his hands and knees and John gave him a hand up the rest of the way to his feet. “All he has to do is take a quick trip through the gate to any populated world and it’s an all you can eat human buffet for him.”
“He hasn’t fed,” John mumbled.
“What?” Rodney asked in disbelief. “Why wouldn’t he?”
John moved to help Teyla up and she gladly accepted the assistance. “Like I said, he needs something from us.” Once he made sure his team was up and ready… at least as ready as a person can be following a stunning… John moved to the door of the cell to look out into the corridor.
Something John had said was nagging at Teyla and the fuzz from the stunner blast finally cleared enough for her to realize what it was.
“How are you so sure Todd has not fed?” Teyla asked in suspicion. From the look on Ronon’s face, he was wondering the same thing.
John, however, didn’t answer the question, at least not directly. “Because he’s here now.”
Moving to stand beside John, Teyla could see Todd and two of the guards walking down the corridor toward the cell. Without turning, she felt more than saw Ronon come up to stand behind her shoulder. When the Wraith reached them, he made no move to unlock the door.
“I thought we were partners in this endeavor,” John reminded, using the Wraith’s own words. “These aren’t exactly the quarters we were expecting.”
“My apologies, Sheppard, it was necessary… for your protection.” Todd couldn’t hide the small curve of his mouth at being able to turn John’s logic back on him.
“Yeah, I feel real safe,” John drawled.
“I have been away for an extended period of time,” Todd stressed. “I was not aware of any changes that might have occurred during my absence. As I suspected, a new Queen has stepped in to fill the void, and much of my alliance is now under her control. This base could have easily been among those that fell, and it would have been necessary for me to convince her of my loyalty in order to secure your escape.”
John waved a hand around the space. “I take it this place is safe?”
“For now. It is one that only those most loyal to me are aware of; it is doubtful the Queen even knows of its existence.”
“Then if you’ll just turn over the ZPM, we’ll be on our way.” John screwed his face up in disgust. “I wouldn’t want to keep you from dinner.”
Teyla didn’t miss the way John was pushing the idea of Todd feeding and neither did the Wraith.
“All in good time,” he promised.
“Maybe you could have that guy behind you for an appetizer,” John suggested. “You know, just to take the edge off.”
“As I said, this base is manned by those most loyal to me. I would never betray a hard earned trust by doing something like that.”
“Fine,” John ground out in thinning patience. “Give us the ZPM and we’ll leave.”
Todd shook his head. “Unfortunately, that will not be possible, which is why I need to speak with Dr. McKay.”
“Me?” Rodney asked in worry, actually taking a step back.
Teyla’s eyes widened in her own concern, and she could see Ronon straighten in preparation for any attempt to take the scientist.
“McKay wasn’t part of the deal,” John warned, placing himself squarely between Rodney and the cell door. “A trip home was all we promised, and you promised to give us the ZPM in return. I’d hate to see you betray a hard earned trust.”
“The ZPM was stored on a Hive, one that is now under the control of the Queen. If you want it, it will be necessary to reclaim my ship.”
The four teammates looked at each other in disbelief that Todd expected them to do this.
“You never told us that we would have to infiltrate a hostile Hive ship,” Teyla challenged.
Todd tilted his head in acquiescence. “I had hoped it would not be required, but with circumstances the way they are, there is no choice if you want to retrieve the ZPM.”
“What are we supposed to do?” John asked. “It’s not like we can just waltz onto a Hive and ask the Queen for the ZPM.”
“No, we cannot,” Todd agreed as his eyes slid to Teyla. “And regretfully, you are no longer in the proper physical state to exert your claim as the true Queen of the Hive.”
Teyla frowned harder at the comment. Pretending to be a Wraith Queen had been one of the most difficult undertakings in her life. The physical transformation had been grueling and the mental assertions of her false Wraith identity had been exhausting. In the end, she had been successful in the ruse. However, to what end? One Wraith Queen was dead but Todd had grown even more powerful. Now he wanted to regain the influence among the Wraith he had lost during his absence. Teyla knew that was his true motivation and the promise of the ZPM was little more than dangling bait for them to ensure their help in his mission.
The Earth people had another saying with which Teyla had become familiar and it was in regard to the devil you know. The connotation was that a known threat was better than one that was still shrouded in mystery. Todd was out only for himself. He may have come to the aid of Atlantis from time to time, but only if it suited his plans and pursuit of greater control among the Wraith. At least they knew what his motivations were and could sometimes turn them to their own advantage. A new Queen, however, was an unknown variable in the equation for the balance of power in Pegasus. In the long run, dealing with the devil they knew might be better than contending with the one they did not.
“This is why I needed to speak with Dr. McKay,” Todd explained. “Is it truly possible to return the Jumper to operational status?”
“You want us to pilot the Jumper onto the ship while it’s cloaked,” John noted in dawning realization of why Todd still needed them.
The Wraith nodded. “I can gain an audience with the Queen to pledge my loyalty to her, but I will not be allowed to bring more than a single Dart, and the memory from the culling storage will be purged as soon as I arrive to ensure I do not bring a strike force with me.”
“But we can carry them in the Jumper,” Rodney finished.
“The shields will be lowered to allow my Dart to land,” Todd continued. “The Hive sensors will not detect your cloaked ship if it were to follow mine into the landing bay. So, the question remains, Dr. McKay; can you restore power to the Jumper?”
All eyes turned to Rodney who finally nodded. “I can, but it will take a few hours. And I’ll need the coordinates of where we’re going so I can calculate the distance we’ll have to travel from the nearest gate and how much power that’s going to burn up.”
“I am still able to track the Hive we are looking for,” Todd assured. “I can provide you the information you will need.”
Rodney sighed then grumbled with an irritable wave of his arm. “Then unlock the damn door and let me get to work.”
The door slid open after Todd activated the release. “The Jumper is this way.”
Todd and his guards led them through the base, which looked like most other Wraith facilities they had been in‒ dim lighting, walls made out of skin-like membranes and skeletal supports. It struck Teyla that when she had first met John, the appearance of the Wraith Hive on which she had been held had been terrifying, and now they had become almost routine.
“We’ll need our weapons back,” John reminded Todd when they reached the large hangar area where the Jumper was parked.
“Of course,” Todd dismissed easily. “I’ll arrange for their return before we depart for the Hive.”
“Now would be good,” John countered.
“You are among allies,” Todd assured. “Weapons are not necessary.”
John looked back at the stunners carried by the two guards following close on their heels. “Riiiight. We’ll take them now.”
“I am starting to think you don’t trust me, Sheppard.”
John stopped and turned on the Wraith. “You don’t need to think it, you should know it. You better than anyone should know it, just like I know the only reason we’re still here is because you need us to retake your Hive. And for God’s sake, eat someone. Surely there’s a crony around here that scored low on his annual review this year that you wouldn’t miss.”
“Maybe you want to offer up one of your people instead,” Todd suggested.
Ronon snarled when the Wraith turned hungry eyes toward him and Teyla, restlessly flexing his hand with the feeder on it. Teyla knew Ronon had a hidden knife and he could take Todd down as soon as the Wraith tried to make his move, and she could help him with the attack, at least until one or both of them were hit by a stunner blast. Yes, she and Ronon could handle Todd, no problem. What they couldn’t handle was John staring at them with the same starved look on his face.
Rodney evidently saw it, too. “Whoa, hey, nobody is feeding on anybody here. Is that clear? Having my team eaten tends to affect my work ethic.” Rodney took John by the arm and yanked hard to turn their team leader around and pull his gaze from Teyla and Ronon. “Sheppard, did you hear me?”
John swayed, blinked a few times as if waking from a dream, and gave a sharp nod. “Yeah, I heard you.” He cleared the roughness from his throat before ordering, “Give Teyla and Ronon their weapons. They’re going to take care of some things off world while McKay works.”
“What?” Ronon demanded in shock.
“John, we are not going anywhere…” Teyla started to argue. Whatever was going on, Teyla knew that splitting the team up was not the answer.
She and Ronon were actually jogging to catch up with John who, following his announcement, had started walking quickly toward the Jumper parked on the far side of the bay.
John stopped and turned to cut them off. “You two aren’t safe here,” he told them in a lowered voice so that Todd, who had stayed behind, couldn’t hear him.
“And you and Rodney are safe?” Teyla challenged in disbelief. This was madness and it made no sense that John would want to keep Rodney here and send them away when he would need their help to watch Rodney’s back while he worked.
“Todd won’t try anything with us. He needs us for the Jumper,” John tried to reason. “You and Ronon are more appealing as a meal right now.”
“We can take care of ourselves with Todd,” Ronon snorted, absolutely refusing to consider leaving John and Rodney alone on the base.
“Todd’s not who you need to be worried about,” John snapped before taking a step back and running his hand through his hair.
“You’re not serious,” Rodney insisted with a small laugh before his face screwed in dread. “Crap, you are serious.”
Realizing she wasn’t going to get an answer from John, Teyla turned to their other teammate who seemed to have some clue as to why John was acting so strangely. “Rodney, what is going on?”
Rodney looked back and asked John, “Do you want to tell them or do you want me to?”
John sighed and turned back around to face his team. “There’s a bond, between me and Todd, from when he fed on me that time with Kolya.”
“A bond? John, I do not understand—”
John raised a hand to stop Teyla and continued his story. “I don’t really understand it either, but apparently he can… influence what I do.”
“You wouldn’t do anything to us.” Ronon seemed to have no doubt in what he was saying, that was until he saw the look on John’s face.
“The hungrier he gets, the stronger the connection grows,” John told them. “And he’s really getting hungry.”
Teyla shook her head in denial. “Ronon is correct; I am not concerned that you would do us any harm.”
“Do you have any idea how it feels to feed on a human?” John’s eyes narrowed and he took a step closer to Teyla. “To feel the flow of the life force pass into you? You’d think the best would be at the beginning, when they’re strong and fighting. But it’s not. It’s at the very end, when they still think maybe, just maybe, they’ll get out of it alive and you take that from them. You take that last glimmer of hope and defiance and you feel it surge through your body…”
Teyla did her best to hold her ground, but as John moved in even closer, his expression so much like the one she remembered when the crystal entity was influencing her dreams, she took a step back.
Ronon watched as John inched closer and closer to Teyla, finally stepping in to push against his shoulder and tell him to back off. John snarled and swung a fist, catching Ronon on the jaw and causing him to stagger back from the unexpected blow. Instinct had Ronon growling and moving in to punch back, but Teyla and Rodney both stepped between the two men and it was enough to have them both coming back to their senses.
“You can’t stay,” John practically pleaded, stepping back away from his team in horror of what he had done. “You can’t.”
Rodney looked torn between staying with Teyla and Ronon and as far from John as he could and rejoining the shaken man to make sure he was okay.
“Look,” Rodney told them, “go to New Athos. You wanted to let Kanaan know you were okay, well, here’s your chance.”
Teyla’s eyes flicked to John’s slumped shoulders in worry, and then back to the scientist with the same expression. “Rodney, I am not sure that is such a wise decision.”
Rodney shook his head. “Sheppard’s right; Todd needs us. As long as he has a use for us, we’ll be safe.”
“Sheppard’s not thinking right.” Ronon may have been stating the obvious, but Teyla agreed that it still needed to be said.
“Yeah, I kind of realized that when he tried to feed on Teyla and he’s not even a Wraith.” Rodney snorted humorlessly before repeating, “Go to New Athos. We’ll rendezvous with you there before we leave for the Hive. At that point, Todd will need every gun he can get to retake the ship and it shouldn’t be a problem to be around Sheppard.”
“We are not leaving,” Teyla told him with finality. She knew John’s confession of the link with Todd only made him more vulnerable and that just meant Rodney was in even more danger as a result.
“If you guys stay, he’s going to keep doing that whole Wraith channeling bit and it’s only going to get worse until Todd finally feeds. Is that what you want?”
Teyla fell silent. It was obvious John was greatly distressed by his actions. If she and Ronon only made it worse, maybe they were just increasing the risk to both Rodney and John. And maybe it would be best if they weren’t there to exacerbate the situation.
Ronon wasn’t convinced and decided to try one more time. “This is a bad idea, McKay.”
Rodney threw his arms wide. “Of course it’s a bad idea! But it’s the only one I have, and we need the damn ZedPM, therefore, by default, it becomes the de facto good idea for this mission.”
Both Teyla and Ronon started to protest more, but Rodney was already heading after John who was trying to put as much distance between them as possible. Calling back over his shoulder, Rodney promised, “We’ll see you there in a few hours.”
Teyla and Ronon watched the two men go into the back of the Jumper but didn’t follow. Teyla still was not convinced leaving was the best course of action, but she also knew now was not the time to pressure John any more. Perhaps if he had a moment to calm down from his episode, he would be more willing to see reason.
With a bump to Teyla’s shoulder, Ronon offered up the best consolation he could think of. “Looks like you’re going to get to see Kanaan after all.”
Teyla tried her best to give him a smile at his attempt to cheer her, but it fell flat. As much as she longed to be reunited with Kanaan, she had hoped it would be under much better circumstances. “This is not exactly the reason I had in mind for returning to New Athos.”
“Hey, a homecoming is a homecoming no matter what the reason.” When Teyla still didn’t look any happier, Ronon reminded, “McKay says they’ll meet up with us in a few hours. It’ll give Sheppard time to…cool off.”
“If what John says is true about the connection with Todd, the only thing that will help him is for Todd to feed.”
And obviously Todd knew that, too, which is why he had not fed yet. The link was allowing him more control over the one person who could always act as his foil. Apparently, the Wraith were familiar with the concept of the devil they knew, if not the expression.
Ronon shrugged. “Then the sooner we finish up here and get back to Atlantis, the better for everyone.”
Teyla could only nod in agreement.
* * * *
Ronon really wasn’t buying his attempts to make Teyla feel better any more than Teyla was, so he finally just fell silent and waited for the Wraith to deliver their weapons. Teyla spent most of the time staring after the two men who had disappeared into the back hatch of the Jumper, a worried frown forming a crease on her forehead. Ronon had watched that crease grow deeper over the four years he had known her and he could definitely relate. It had been hard going from caring for people, loving them, only to lose them, then to not caring about anyone or anything. It had been even harder to find a new set of people to care about, because the fear of losing them, too, was almost worse than the first time around− because he knew what it would be like and how he just couldn’t go through that again. Sometimes, the fear of it was almost as bad as actually experiencing it, so Ronon did what he always did in these situations and pushed the dread down as far as he could.
Todd stayed away, which was at least something, and had his second in command, the one Sheppard had named Kenny, bring their gear and the data McKay had requested.
Once Teyla had donned her vest and weapons, and Ronon had his sword and gun back in place, they decided to try to convince Sheppard to let them stay one last time. When they stepped tentatively into the back of the Jumper, John looked up from where he sat watching McKay work.
“I thought you two were leaving.”
“We were just preparing to head for the gate,” Teyla told him, “but we wanted to let you know, yet again, that we are willing to stay. We can wait outside in the hangar if it helps…”
“It doesn’t,” Sheppard told them firmly. “As screwed up as it sounds, Todd is genuinely trying not to think about feeding on you, but it’s not working.”
“It would only be for a few hours until Rodney completes the repairs,” Teyla tried to reason.
“A few hours could be more than he can take.” Sheppard shook his head. “If I did anything to you guys because of him…”
He would never forgive himself. Ronon knew about guilt, knew what he had done when he was under the influence of the Wraith who had fed on him repeatedly, and now Tyre was dead as a result. Ronon hadn’t been able to control what he was doing and he knew Sheppard was fighting to maintain the control he still had.
“I could kill him,” Ronon offered simply.
John gave him a small smile. “Thanks, big guy. Maybe afterwards when we have the ZPM back. Until then, it’s just best you two go join the Athosians.”
“Huh.” Rodney’s sound of interest had them all looking to where he was studying the data Kenny had brought him.
“What is it?” Sheppard asked in curiosity.
“The navigation data on the Wraith Hive from the past few weeks.” Turning the electronic pad around, Rodney showed them a stellar map with various planets blinking along the course the Hive had taken. Each planet had a designator on it. “Look at where it’s been making stops.”
“MC4-331,” Teyla noted with a touch of recognition in her voice.
Sheppard pointed at another dot. “And there’s MX9-402.”
“And MC7-529.” Rodney tapped at the screen. “All of them part of the coalition of worlds that has come together to stand up to the Wraith.”
“The new Queen has found the data on the coalition and is targeting them,” Teyla concluded before realizing what that would mean. “The Athosians are among the members of the coalition.”
“She knows Atlantis is gone. Not to mention, the Daedalus and Apollo… hell, even the Jumpers,” Rodney added. “Any of these worlds will be easy picking without our fire power.”
“Just one more reason why you need to go to New Athos and warn them,” Sheppard pointed out.
This time, Teyla didn’t seem as reluctant to leave as she had before, but it didn’t stop her from reminding him once more, “We will be waiting for you there.”
“As soon as McKay finishes the repairs, we’ll meet up with you,” John promised.
Teyla nodded and started out of the Jumper.
Ronon stopped long enough to tell McKay quietly, “Keep an eye on him.”
Rodney looked up in confusion from the work he was doing. “What? Oh, right. Yeah, that’s kind of the plan. He’ll be fine.”
“I meant you,” Ronon corrected.
Rodney’s eyes widened in worry at the warning. “Todd needs me to fix the Jumper and keep it running. Right?” When Ronon simply shrugged, McKay groaned, “Oh, God.”
As Ronon walked out to join Teyla, he just hoped this was one case where Rodney could gloat that he had been right later.
The walk to the gate outside Todd’s base was a short one, and it wasn’t long before Ronon and Teyla were walking into the village on New Athos. Familiar faces greeted them warmly as soon as they were spotted and Kanaan scooped Teyla up into a tight embrace of welcome. Even through her worry over her teammates, Teyla couldn’t help but smile at the greeting and the man delivering it as she rested her forehead on his.
She spent several minutes answering Kanaan’s many questions about Torren and what had happened and why they had yet to return to Pegasus. Teyla answered those related to their immediate family first then put off the rest until she could also bring Halling and the other decision makers among the Athosians up to speed at the same time. As they sat in Halling’s tent with cups of tea set out before them on the table, it was obvious Teyla’s and Torren’s fate had been only half the worries the Athosians had experienced since Atlantis had gone to Earth.
“It is good news to hear the City of the Ancestors will be returning soon,” Halling told them. “And not only because you and Torren will be returning home, as well, Teyla.”
Ronon didn’t correct the assumption Halling had made about Atlantis returning, and neither did Teyla. Sure, that was the hope, but even Ronon had been able to pick up enough from McKay’s scientific rambling to know that even with a fully charged ZPM, there were still a lot of technical obstacles to overcome for the city to return.
“Has there been trouble from the new Wraith Queen?” Teyla asked even as she sat shoulder to shoulder with Kanaan.
Halling frowned at the news. “Is that the reason behind the attacks on the coalition of worlds? A new Queen demonstrating her power?”
Teyla nodded behind her cup of tea. “Before we came here, we saw where one of the Hive ships she has commandeered has culled several worlds in the coalition.”
“Culling is too pleasant a word for what they are doing,” Kanaan told her in disgust. “The Wraith are decimating the human population − destroying livestock and homes so that those who do survive have nowhere to return.”
“Like they did with Sateda,” Ronon pointed out.
It was to be expected, Ronon supposed. The Wraith didn’t like it when the humans fought back. While certain weaknesses had been discovered about the Wraith since the Earth expedition had arrived, there was only so much a world without advanced technology could do to protect itself. There was only so much those with the advanced technology could do, either.
“The survivors are being taken in by others,” Kanaan continued. “But some are worried that the Wraith will begin targeting them if they learn there are refugees among the population and have refused to let the victims stay.”
Teyla nodded. “We have seen this before with survivors of the plague Michael spread through the human population.”
Halling stood and walked a small worried circle in his tent. “Those who have not been culled are afraid, and with good reason. Perhaps joining this coalition was not a wise decision.”
“We have always lived under the fear of the Wraith, Halling,” Teyla argued. “For the first time in countless generations, we have a chance to stand against them.”
Halling spread his arms wide. “The Ancestors could not defeat them. Are we so arrogant as to think that we could do better?”
“The Wraith are at the weakest they have been since even the time of the Ancestors. They fight amongst themselves and their numbers were brought down further by Michael’s attacks. Atlantis has had success—”
Halling shook his head and cut Teyla off. “Atlantis is the reason we are in this situation now.”
“Atlantis is the reason you are alive, Halling,” Teyla countered. “It is the reason all the Athosians here are alive.”
“It is also the reason so many Athosians are dead!” Halling’s pacing quickened around the small space. “The Earth people came here, brought the pot to a boil, and then left it to burn. They left us to fend for ourselves. They overstepped their bounds and now we are the ones who must face the Wraith they angered. Not them, Teyla, us.”
To Ronon’s surprise, it was Kanaan who spoke before Teyla could. “The Earth people have shown us nothing but kindness, Halling. Even after all I did while under Michael’s control, they have made me welcome in their home. Atlantis is Athos’ best ally, surely you can see that.”
Halling, however, wasn’t convinced. “Atlantis is not even here. How can they stand by our side in battle if they are across the universe from us?”
“You cannot blame the expedition for returning to Earth to defend it and their entire galaxy from the Wraith. Would you wish them to spread to another feeding ground and grow even stronger?” Teyla stood then. “Atlantis will find a way to return, Halling; that I promise you. It is why it is so important that we find the Zero Point Module we seek.”
“And you believe that you will be able to recover the power source you need to fly the city back here?” From his tone, Halling didn’t seem too sure of their chances for success.
Teyla, however, didn’t waver in her conviction as she moved to stand in front of her old friend. “I do.”
Halling sighed and placed his hands on her shoulders. “Then go with the Ancestor’s blessings, because you will need it now more than ever. We all will.” He leaned in close and rested his forehead on Teyla’s before straightening with a weak smile. “Now tell us of Torren. Kanaan has spoken of nothing else for weeks.”
They finished their tea without mentioning the Wraith threat, although they might as well have been sitting on a Hive ship surrounded by them for the way the thought hung heavy in the air. Teyla checked the time, excusing herself and Ronon, saying they should head back to the gate and await Sheppard and McKay’s arrival.
Kanaan walked with them, reluctant to see Teyla leave so soon after her arrival. “It has been so long I fear Torren will not even recognize me when I see him again.”
“Of course he will,” Teyla assured with a good-natured bump against Kanaan. “Do not be foolish. He misses you as much as you miss him. We both do.”
Kanaan smiled at her. “It will be good to return to Atlantis.” He gave a small laugh. “Hard to believe considering my first days in the city.”
“Hey, I had the same problem with the plumbing,” Ronon told him.
“If all goes well, we will return to take you back with us,” Teyla promised.
Kanaan, however, shook his head. “As much as I look forward to being reunited with you and Torren, for now I believe my place is here. The fear over the potential of a Wraith attack is growing with each bit of news we gather from other worlds, and Halling is not the only one who is starting to doubt the wisdom of joining the coalition. Besides, it will not be long before you are back.” Kanaan seemed to be trying to put his own mind at ease as much as Teyla’s.
“Torren and I will return, but it may not be with Atlantis,” Teyla corrected.
“But I thought the ZPM would allow you to fly the city home?” Kanaan asked in confusion.
“If we are able to retrieve the ZPM, that is my hope. Although, Kanaan, you must understand, even with the power source, there are limitations, and it may be some time before that is possible. But as soon as the Daedalus is repaired, Torren and I will travel here to await the city’s return with you.”
Kanaan seemed to be weighing his options. “How long would that be?”
“Mr. Woolsey believes it would be no more than two months before Torren and I could be back on New Athos.”
“Then perhaps it is best that I remain here for the time being,” Kanaan concluded with a sigh.
Teyla nodded but looked disappointed at the suggestion that Kanaan remain behind. “Unfortunately, I believe you are correct, and it would be beneficial to have someone here as the voice of reason, at least until Atlantis can return and can ease their minds.”
“It will be hard,” Kanaan confessed quietly, “for you to have been here and to know you will leave not to return for so long.”
“You do not have to decide now,” Teyla told him. “Think on it while we complete our mission. Besides, if we are not successful, then you will be seeing more of me sooner than you expected, and for several weeks until the Daedalus can arrive.”
“Who will care for Torren for that time?” Kanaan asked in worry.
“He will be fine. Amelia, among others, will be looking after him.” Teyla raised teasing eyebrows at Ronon. “Will he not be well cared for, Ronon?’
Ronon stared at his feet and tried to ignore the warmth in his face. “Yeah, he’ll be in good hands with Amelia.”
Kanaan quickly picked up on what Teyla was hinting at about how Ronon and Amelia had grown closer recently. “Oh, is that so?”
“Yes, they have taken to sparring in the gym on a regular basis,” Teyla informed Kanaan.
“She’s good,” Ronon mumbled to Kanaan. “She could probably kick your ass.”
Kanaan only smiled wider at Ronon’s taunt. “Could she now?”
The truth was, while no one was happier to see Kanaan again than Teyla, she and Torren weren’t the only ones who had missed him. Ronon sparred with him regularly, at first as a favor to Teyla but more and more because Ronon genuinely liked the guy. And as much as Kanaan adored caring for Torren, he seemed to relish his time in the gym and worked out his parental frustrations with enthusiasm. Over the past year, Kanaan had started to open up to Teyla’s team, finally starting to put the guilt of what he had done with Michael behind him as he began accepting Atlantis as home. It was something Ronon could easily relate to. While he wasn’t nearly as close to Kanaan as he was to Sheppard, there was a common bond Ronon and Kanaan shared that had Ronon counting the Athosian as a trusted friend.
And one who could also be a smart ass when he wanted to be one.
“Perhaps I should challenge her when I return,” Kanaan suggested with a taunting grin to match Teyla’s. “See how talented her ‘good hands’ truly are?”
Both Teyla and Kanaan snickered at the way Ronon frowned, his neck turning red as he grumbled, “When are Sheppard and McKay going to get here?”
An hour later, when there was still no sign of their teammates, they were all thinking the same thing. And when the gate finally did activate, it wasn’t exactly to the friendly faces they had expected.