Pre-3x10 The Return. Sheppard has a run-in with a Wraith. Things go downhill from there. McKay/Sheppard, Teyla/Other.

Spoilers up through and including SGA 3x08 McKay and Mrs Miller, and a tiny one for SG-1 7x07 Enemy Mine.


People Are People (Except When They're Wraith)
by eleveninches

 

Part One: My So-Called Wraith

As a general rule, John Sheppard didn't have high expectations. That was the kind of guy he was; the lower the bar was set, the less chance there was for disappointment.

It went without saying he hadn't had any expectations when he'd walked through the stargate and into the Pegasus Galaxy. All he'd known was it was alien, it was far from home, and it would be hard-pressed for him to get into more trouble there than he already was on Earth. He hadn't expected becoming commanding officer. He hadn't expected having his own team. He hadn't expected protecting Atlantis from Wraith, Genii, and more recently, evil killer androids. And he really, really hadn't expected getting his life sucked out by a space vampire. That one in particular had never even crossed his mind, not when he'd been thinking things like, "What if the wormhole screws up and my head ends up on my ass?" and, "Will there be Vulcans?"

When John stepped back in the puddlejumper after saying goodbye to the Wraith who had saved him from Kolya's SS agents, Rodney hissed, "I can't believe you let him go."

"He saved my life," John said.

"So?" Rodney asked.

John rolled his eyes. "We have a bond?"

"He killed you!" Rodney exclaimed.

"He brought me back," John said.

"Well, excuse me for being a little traumatized," Rodney snapped.

He stomped to the front of the jumper. The three Marines in the back with John pointedly studied their boots.

John glanced up at Ronon, who raised his eyebrows in response. "What?" John asked.

"I'm traumatized too," Ronon said.

John glared. "You are not."

"You were old," Ronon muttered.

One of the Marines raised his hand. "I'm traumatized."

"I don't even know you," John said.

*

John's first indication something was wrong was when he began considering getting a tattoo.

It wasn't the tattoo that was the first giveaway; it was where he wanted it done. A few mornings after Jeannie Miller went back to Earth and Rod McKay went back to the Bizarro dimension, John spent a good ten minutes in front of the mirror wondering how badly a tattoo on the side of his face would hurt, and if he could get something deep and meaningful. Or if that failed, those dots Dax had on Deep Space Nine. Suddenly, it seemed like an amazingly cool idea. He wondered why he hadn't thought of it before.

"What do you think the Marines would say if I got a tattoo on my face?" he asked Rodney at breakfast.

"They'd say you were the coolest guy in cell block D," Rodney said flatly. His head snapped up, eyes going wide. "Not that, uh, anyone would look at you and automatically think anything about prison. Or torture. Or being in prison and tortured. Because that would be ridiculous."

He paused, and they stared at each other over their waffles -- Rodney obviously flustered, and John remembering how after he'd almost turned into a Wraith last year, Rodney hadn't said the words "bug" or "blue" for two months.

"You're lucky my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder keeps me from kicking your ass, McKay," John said. Rodney's expression turned slightly pained, and he added, "Don't worry, the day you can't make prison jokes around me is the day I start a Mensa club."

Rodney still looked worried. "Yes, well. I've been trying to work on that whole..." He waved a hand. "Insensitive. Thing."

"Yeah?" John asked. "How's that going for you?"

"Let's see, I've brought up you being in jail, and earlier today I told Elizabeth I slept so well last night I might as well have been in a coma."

"So about as well as could be expected, then," John said. Rodney snorted.

John was considering going through the line again for seconds when Rodney asked, mouth still full of food, "Hey, don't the Wraith like putting tattoos on their faces?"

*

In retrospect, it had starting happening almost immediately after he'd escaped. Nothing John ate seemed to fill him up. Inititally, he thought it was his metabolism, because he had been working out a lot lately, but his weight didn't change. He had worried he was developing some kind of unconscious, PTSD-related eating disorder, but then he remembered he wasn't a chick. No matter what Rodney might say.

He'd been back from his stint as a PoW for three weeks when the nightmares started. Seeing himself as a Wraith was hard, but going to his friends' rooms and feeding off them one by one was a lot harder. It always went in the same order, too: Ronon, Elizabeth, Teyla, Rodney. He'd feel a rush of pleasure, and then a warm fullness, like he'd just eaten a meal at Red Lobster, his favourite restaurant back on Earth. Of course, it wasn't his favourite anymore. He felt drawn to the fried shrimp bucket, yet it repelled him.

One good thing about Rodney's obsessive nature was no matter what time John woke up sweaty and freaked out, he'd be in his lab. Rodney never seemed to know what time it was, so John never got a lecture on how all good colonels should be asleep at four 'o' clock in the morning. Occasionally, when wandering the halls at early hours, he'd run into Elizabeth -- he really didn't want to know what she was doing -- and she'd give him concerned looks. All Rodney did was talk about everything and nothing until John fell asleep again, the top of his head brushing McKay's laptop.

"You don't think it's possible for the Wraith to have sucked out my brain, do you?" John asked one night, pulling up a stool to Rodney's cluttered lab bench. He'd had a week of solid nightmares, and he was getting less scared and more pissed off with every one that hit.

Rodney looked at him like he was an idiot. "First, you'd have to have a brain for him to suck out," he said.

John grimaced. "I'm serious! I think that stupid Wraith did something to me."

Rodney stiffened and pushed his laptop aside. "'Something' how?" He peered at John with bright, sharp eyes. "Can you still do your job? Do we need to talk to Elizabeth? Am I in any danger?"

John rubbed the back of his neck. "No. It's mostly nightmares and... stuff." It sounded stupid when he said it out loud.

Rodney made signs that elaboration was needed. "Wanting to feed off me 'stuff'?"

John glared. "I just feel off, that's all. I'm tired, and all I want to do is be alone."

"And yet, here you are," Rodney said sarcastically. "Colonel, I know I'm not exactly the epitome of mental health, but it sounds to me like you might be depressed."

"I'm not depressed," John said angrily. He never should have made that PTSD joke.

"You've been through quite an ordeal, and you didn't exactly have a lot of time to recuperate. There's no need to be ashamed. It's perfectly understandable."

"I am not depressed," John repeatedly, enunciating each word slowly. "The Wraith did something to me. I don't know what he did, but I can feel it."

"Well, have you talked to Carson?"

"Carson can't help if it's in my head."

"Okay, okay. It's not like your well-being has any bearing on the safety of this expedition or anything."

"If I start turning blue, I'll see Carson," John snapped, scratching his arm.

Rodney reached around him and opened a plastic container filled with something that smelled disgusting. John gagged. "What the hell are you eating?" he demanded, scooting his stool away quickly.

"It's Thursday," Rodney said. "Fishsticks?"

His stomach turned. "Can you eat it away from me?" he asked.

Rodney's brow furrowed. "Sheppard, seriously, go see Carson."

John dropped his face in his hands. "I'm starving," he groaned.

"Are you telling me," Rodney asked, voice rising, "that you long for the taste of human flesh?"

John stared. "Actually, I was thinking of a pizza."

"Mmm, pizza," Rodney said.

"Mmm, human flesh," John sighed.

He didn't go see Carson. He saw Heightmeyer, but that was only because Elizabeth wouldn't have let him go on missions if he'd refused.

"Are you still having nightmares?" Heightmeyer would ask.

"Yup," he would answer, and then stare at the water out the window as he made up traumatic stories about his childhood to distract her. His favourite was the one where his parents were Mormon missionaries who traveled around the world to spread the word of Jesus Christ while he sat home and lived off peanut butter and crackers, next to the one where his parents were traveling circus midgets.

Although that had backfired: "Is that why you have such a problem with your sexuality?" Heightmeyer had asked. "Because of your religious background?"

"I'm not gay," John had said.

She'd given him a sorrowful look. "John, I can't help you unless you're honest with me."

One day, shortly after he'd asked Rodney about the brain suckage, she said, "Rodney says you're not dealing well with what happened. What do you think?"

"I think Rodney needs to shut his pie hole," John grumbled.

There was no way in hell he was telling her about the Wraith getting in his head. Even if she did believe him, Carson would probably lock him up and dissect his brain or something.

"You went through serious emotional and physical trauma," Heightmeyer said soothingly.

"I've been through worse," he said.

"Really?" she asked.

He pretended to think about it. "There was that time my father threatened to disown me for throwing up on the scout for the Detroit Tigers, after my brother hit me in the head with a wild pitch." It was, perhaps, the first time he'd mentioned his family since coming to Atlantis.

"John, stop lying to me about your childhood," Heightmeyer said.

*

On top of being starving and afraid of seafood, he was losing interest in little things. He noticed football suddenly wasn't any fun anymore, and he traded his sports DVDs to Zelenka for some artsy European films. When Ronon wanted to play "who can jump off the highest surface without getting hurt," John said he was busy. He found himself telling Teyla over and over that he couldn't hang out with her because he had too much work to do. Even Rodney, while still being annoying (yet sometimes annoying in a fun way, and when he was being a smug bastard, good-looking in a way that had John worrying about his own sanity), had noticed John wasn't stopping by the labs as often.

Mostly, John spent a lot of time playing golf alone on the pier. It was quiet. It was nice.

It wasn't the same as when he'd been turning into a bug. That time he'd felt himself changing from the inside out. He'd been full of rage, and it had taken him over. But whatever was going on now, he still felt like himself, just worn out and very, very hungry.

Thankfully, no one seemed to notice anything unusual. If there was one thing John was good at, it was being level-headed when things went south. There was no reason to let anyone know he was feeling weird. It wasn't like it was hurting anyone. He was cool as a cucumber. He was steady as a rock. He was as unstoppable as... an unstoppable thing.

He was at the point of wondering whether Rodney was right and maybe he was just having a reaction to the torture, when something happened that confirmed every suspicion he'd had since his return.

They were in the briefing room; he and his team had just come back from an unusually boring mission to yet another farming planet. It had been a standard first contact mission. They'd gone in, did some recon, said hello to the locals, convinced the feudal lord they weren't there to cause trouble, and gated home without incident.

"How did your mission go?" Elizabeth asked as they took their seats.

"Our mission was most successful," Teyla said happily. She immediately launched into a riveting tale of the different kinds of harvesting techniques the people of Glendoria used.

John couldn't help it: his mind wandered. He was concentrating on twirling his pen between his fingers when it slid from his grasp and rolled under Teyla's chair. It was too far for him to reach from where he was sitting. He tried to catch her eye, but she wouldn't look at him. Teyla, get the pen, he tried to will with his mind. He needed that pen to stay awake.

Teyla continued with her speech, obviously pretending John wasn't trying to get her attention. Elizabeth's eyes flickered to him; he placed his palms flat on the table and smiled like he had an idea of what the hell Teyla was talking about.

TEYLA, he projected as loudly as possible.

Teyla twitched and looked around the room. "Excuse me, Dr Weir," she said smoothly, bending down to take the pen out from under her chair. She passed it to John.

"Thanks," he murmured.

"You are welcome," she said. "Dr Weir, as I was saying..."

It took him a second to realize what had happened. The pen slipped out of his fingers and clattered to the table. "Aren't you a butterfingers today," Rodney said.

*

Their latest search for ZPM's -- something John liked to think of as Round Two, the Elimination Chamber -- left John with a feeling of deja-vu. When they stepped through the gate, he had to look over his shoulder to make sure Ronon was there and not Ford. Rodney would rattle on about power spikes, or sunburn, or the latest lab accident; Teyla would correct whatever direction John was heading in. It was just like old times, only this time their missing power source was Rodney's fault. A guilt-ridden astrophysicist was a cranky astrophysicist.

P3X-461 was a world of wide, open pastures. On the one side were farms of what looked like blue corn. On the other, Earth cows. He could hear the squawks of chickens in the distance.

"That's not something you see every day," John said thoughtfully. "In the Pegasus galaxy, I mean."

"I would kill for a medium-rare steak right about now," said Rodney without glancing up from his PDA. John's stomach rumbled in sympathy.

There was a road leading from the stargate. John hoped this meant this civilization was advanced enough to have indoor plumbing. Air conditioning would be nice too, but he wasn't betting on it.

It was a nice day on Blue Corn World. The sky was clear, the birds sang. Rodney made disappointed noises as he checked his PDA; Ronon and Teyla lingered behind, talking about some Athosian woman who was cheating on her husband with one of John's officers. It was, according to Teyla, "unwise," and Ronon, "funny as hell." John put his sunglasses on and raised his face to the sun.

Unfortunately, his mood went from relaxed to uneasy as he started noticing the change in the farm animals. Near the gate the cows and chickens were fat and healthy, but the further they went down the road, the more thin, wizened, and pale they became. The chickens were nearly featherless, and the cows' skin was turning grey.

"Something appears to be wrong with these animals," Teyla said.

"I've noticed that too," John said. "McKay?"

Rodney looked at him sourly. "What, am I a veterinarian now? Maybe they have the Pegasus version of Mad Cow Disease."

"The chickens too?" John asked.

"I don't know. E coli?"

After about half an hour of walking, the road forked. There was a signpost, but of course, no one could read it.

"What do you know," John said. He put his hands on his hips.

Rodney hmm-ed, scribbling something on his PDA. "We have two options. We can either head towards the pre-Industrial village on the path to the right, or we can head for the football field on our left."

John frowned. "Football...?"

He turned in the direction Rodney was gesturing to, and his words caught in his throat. Down the road was a perfectly trimmed green and white football field, goal posts and all. There were even stands for an audience.

"Field," he finished weakly. Cows, chickens, and football. Maybe they'd stepped out of the wormhole and into the mid-western US. "Did I hit my head when I walked through the gate?" he murmured to Rodney.

"Did anyone drink the water?" Rodney demanded.

"I say we go to the football field," Ronon said, sounding amused.

"Funny, I was going to suggest we go to the village," Rodney said dryly.

A thin, drooping chicken wandered up to them, dragging its feet. It looked up at John with cold, dead eyes. "Bock," it cried weakly, then collapsed.

All four of them took a big step backwards.

"This is officially the creepiest planet we've ever been to," said John.

"All we need now is for the inhabitants to be pretending to be Amish, and we're set," Rodney agreed.

*

Looked like a football field. John toed the grass. Felt like a football field.

"Stop that," Rodney insisted from the sidelines. "What if it's booby-trapped?"

John raised an eyebrow. "The field?"

"Force fields, land mines, triggers, hello!"

"John, Rodney is right," Teyla said. But she poked the ground with the butt of her P-90.

"Maybe it's not football," Ronon said. He was standing next to McKay. "Maybe it's just something that's similar."

Teyla shook her head. "No, I agree with the Colonel and Rodney. This looks exactly like a football field from the videos I have seen."

"So we're in agreement then," John said. His teammates all looked at him. "This is bad."

He scanned their surroundings; there was a forest not far from here. It didn't look especially dark or sinister, but there was something about it he couldn't put his finger on.

"I say we go there," he said, nodding at the trees.

"You're kidding me," Rodney said. "Why don't we go to the village and ask the helpful native population?"

He glanced at Teyla. She was studying the forest with an odd, intense expression. He didn't need telepathy to tell him that whatever it was, she felt it too. She hadn't mentioned the mind reading incident yet, and he had a feeling she hadn't even realized what had happened. He sure as hell wasn't going to bring it up on his own; it was way too awkward. He could imagine what she'd say: "I am not sure how I feel about this change in our relationship." Their talk on the Daedalus still gave him the wiggens, and that had been months ago.

"Come on, McKay," John said casually, turning the safety off his P-90. "Where's your sense of adventure?"

Ronon chuckled, unholstering his gun.

"One mission," Rodney grumbled as the team headed for the woods. "I ask for one mission where we don't endanger our lives."

*

There was definitely something going on with the forest. The closer they got, the more John could feel it. By the time they reached the first scattering of trees, his skin was covered in goosebumps, and his mouth was dry.

He couldn't tell if Teyla felt it anymore. Her face wasn't giving anything away.

"What exactly are we looking for?" Rodney asked.

"Something weird. Unusual. Out of the ordinary," John said.

John was kind of proud when Rodney took the safety off his gun and trailed after Teyla without having to be told. He did throw John a look that either meant don't-get-yourself-killed or I-can't-believe-I'm-doing-this, but John wasn't going to let that ruin the moment.

Ronon was twirling his gun when John turned back to him. John started, "Don't forget, look for--"

"Something weird," Ronon said, smirking a little. "I heard you."

The great thing about doing recon with Ronon was Ronon didn't need silly things like words. He didn't talk incessantly or make funny noises while reading data, like Rodney, or ask John a lot of questions, like Teyla. Nope, Ronon was a soldier, a warrior, and he and John together were like two kindred souls finally--

Ronon took off running.

"Hey!" John cried.

"Wraith," Ronon shouted over his shoulder. "This way!"

They really needed to get Ronon a radio. They -- by which John meant Elizabeth -- had decided he didn't need one after John had caught him chewing the mic during a meeting. It was like trying to teach a puppy to talk into its collar.

"I'm coming," John yelled back, watching Ronon get smaller and smaller. He radioed Rodney and Teyla: "Ronon found a Wraith. We're going after it."

"We are moving in your direction," Teyla confirmed.

As fast as he could, John followed Ronon's path, jumping over logs and ducking under branches. But he was too late; five minutes later, he stood completely alone in the middle of the woods.

"Ronon?" he called.

A twig snapped.

He ducked behind a tree as a male Wraith stepped out of the bushes. The Wraith seemed to be muttering to himself in that creepy hissing language.

John silently counted to three and came out shooting; he missed as the Wraith dove behind a tree trunk, and John threw himself behind the tree closest to him, listening for any sign of movement. There were no answering shots, and if John could back the creature into a corner, he might be able to get enough holes in it to kill it, or at least hold it off until Ronon or Teyla got there.

He was just about ready to fire again when a hand grabbed his shoulder. John gasped and spun around to find himself face-to-face with the Wraith. He registered the geometric tattoo on the left side of the Wraith's head, but his hand holding the gun came up automatically.

His finger was already tightening on the trigger when the Wraith said, "Sheppard," breaking out into a huge, pointy-toothed grin. It was the Wraith who had saved him from Kolya.

John shot him in the chest.

The Wraith stumbled to the ground, gasping. "Sheppard?" he repeated incredulously. Something fell out of his hand and bounced off.

"I'm sorry," John said, cringing as the Wraith pressed one hand against the open wound. "I told you all bets were off!"

"You'd just died! People say things they don't mean when they're under duress," the Wraith moaned.

It's a Wraith, it's a Wraith, John told himself. Be stoic. Be a man. Blow off its head. But when the Wraith hissed, "That hurt," he gave into his guilt.

John dropped to the ground beside him and fished around in his tac vest for bandages. "What the hell are you doing here?" he asked. "I thought your Wraith buddies found you."

"They did," the Wraith said, waving the gauze away. Already John could see the wound closing. "I had problems... adjusting."

John's gaze was drawn to what the Wraith had dropped, half-hidden in the bushes: a hand-made football.

"You mean because you were in the Genii prison for so long?" John asked slowly, not sure what was going on here.

The Wraith nodded. "That, and I refused to feed."

A jolt of shock ran through him. For a second, he forgot about the football. "You refused to feed?" he asked. "On humans?"

"I felt bad," said the Wraith. "I had been in that cell for so long, all I wanted to do was play games and sit out in the sun, and they kept shoving these humans at me. I've been feeding off some of the animals on the nearby human homesteads."

"So you're the Wraith equivalent of a vegetarian," John remarked.

The Wraith pushed himself to his feet. John stood too. It was impossible to tell that a few minutes ago John had shot a hole through his chest.

"Are you going to kill me?"

John hesitated. "I should," he said uncertainly. He'd always had a soft spot for people who saved his life, even if those people were evil vampires bent on human destruction. "My friends are going to be here soon, and they're not going to be too happy to see you."

"I thought we had a bond," the Wraith said.

"We do," John protested. "And if I was friends with Wraith, we would totally be buddies. But it's just not gonna happen."

"I can change," pleaded the Wraith.

"No, you can't," John said. "We're like oil and water. Citrus and McKay. I'm a Klingon and you're a Romulan. It'll never work."

"You're a cling-on?" the Wraith asked.

At the Wraith's blank look, John explained, "Klingons. Big foreheads? Growl a lot?"

The Wraith took his hand. "Just give me a chance. I'll never eat humans again."

"What the fuck is going on here?"" Rodney yelped.

John jumped, pulling his hand away hastily as Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon came out of the trees in three different directions. Their guns were aimed at the Wraith.

"No, no, no," John yelled quickly. He waved his arms, blocking their target between him and the tree. "Nobody's killing this Wraith. This is a good Wraith. See? He's not eating anybody. Good Wraith."

"Good Wraith?" Ronon repeated, face going slack with shock in a way that would've been funny under different circumstances.

"There are no good Wraith," Teyla said darkly.

"Are you out of your mind?" Rodney demanded. He pointed his Baretta over John's shoulder as he stepped forward and held a fumbling hand against John's forehead. "Did it do something to you? Are you under Wraith control? Did it do that telepathic thing? Did I just hear it professing its love to you, or am I going crazy?"

John knocked his hand away. "Stop it. I'm not under mind control. If I was, I'd be acting like a zombie."

"What's going on here?" Ronon growled.

"This is the Wraith who saved me from Kolya. And he's not feeding on people, so he's not a threat."

Teyla looked at the Wraith with genuine surprise. "Why are you not feeding?"

"I don't know, it feels wrong now," said the Wraith.

"A Wraith with a conscience," Rodney sneered.

Something hit John. The football. The lack of feeding. His hunger. His weird psychic connection to Teyla. His longing for a face tattoo. "Lightbulb!" he said excitedly.

Rodney threw his hands in the air. "Great, Sheppard's gone insane."

"Shut up, McKay," John said. He was onto something. He could feel it. "Hey, uh, Wraith, has anything else been different lately? Have you been feeling kind of... off?"

"Insects have been bothering me lately," the Wraith said. He almost sounded sheepish. "They were not a problem before."

"So he shares your bug phobia, so what?" Rodney asked John.

"It's not a phobia, it's a discomfort," John said, scowling.

"You're afraid of bugs?" Ronon asked.

"Did you miss that little incident a year ago when he turned into one?" Rodney demanded.

"He makes me kill all the moths that fly into his office," said Teyla. "And once, a cricket."

"You have an office?" Ronon asked John.

John ignored the three of them. "And this game you've been playing, you came up with it yourself?"

"I had a dream," the Wraith admitted. "There were many cheers and lights, and human men in tight pants."

John poked Rodney in the chest and smirked triumphantly. "I told you I wasn't depressed. The Wraith and I must've mind melded when he gave me my life back."

"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," Rodney said.

"Okay, then explain how he knew about football. And why he doesn't like bugs. And why he doesn't want to feed."

"Just because football is some huge thing--"

John frowned. "Hey, football isn't a huge thing. I think about other stuff, like college basketball, and--"

"Baseball?"

"No," John said vehemently. "Never baseball. Never."

"I have never heard of an instance when a human and a Wraith have... mind melded," Teyla said, frowning.

The Wraith's face screwed up. "I've heard stories. About what has happened when we give the gift to those outside our brethren. They say sometimes, the Wraith go mad."

"See, there," Rodney said. "Madness. That makes perfect sense. Certainly much more than you two sharing a brain."

John wasn't going to let Rodney talk him out of it. He knew this was right. Deep inside, he felt this was right. He and the Wraith -- who really needed a name, he'd get on that ASAP -- had shared something on that Genii planet, something that bound them together. It explained the way he'd felt ever since he'd come back from being tortured.

The Wraith looked at John warmly. "Brother," he said happily. John smiled back.

"I don't care if it's your best friend," Ronon said. "I'm killing it."

Ronon's gun whined as he powered it up. John took a step closer to Ronon, making sure the Wraith was behind him. "No, you're not," he said firmly. "And that's an order."

"John is right," Teyla said reluctantly. "If this Wraith has absorbed some of John's personality, then we are responsible for his being unable to return to his hive."

"I can't believe you're agreeing to this," Rodney said to her. He sounded appalled.

John wrenched the gun of out Ronon's grasp, flipped it from kill to stun, and shot the Wraith. He fell to the ground, twitching violently and kicking up fallen leaves.

"What are you doing?" Teyla demanded.

John tried to rearrange the Wraith in a way that would be best for carrying him back to the stargate. "We can't leave him here. Like you said, he's our responsibility. My responsibility."

"You want to take him back to Atlantis?" Teyla asked, eyes widening.

"Oh, this is a bad idea," Rodney moaned, "a bad, bad idea."

Teyla grabbed John's arm. "Elizabeth is not going to let you bring another Wraith into the city."

"I'll deal with Elizabeth," he said.

*

"Colonel, would you care to explain to me what your plan is?" Elizabeth asked. John had no idea what she was talking about, but her squinty eyes and tight smile were kind of scary. "I just assumed that if you're bringing a Wraith into Atlantis without first consulting me, you must have a brilliant plan up your sleeve."

Yes, definitely scary. "Well," he started. "It's a little complicated."

"He thinks he and the Wraith have a bond," Ronon said helpfully.

John glared in Ronon's general direction. "I figured we could, you know--" He smiled at Elizabeth charmingly. "--retrovirus him."

Her eyes narrowed to slits. "Retrovirus him."

His smile faded. "I know it didn't go so well the last two times we tried it, but I think this time it could work."

Elizabeth stared at him for a long moment, then down the table at his team. He didn't want to see the looks on their faces right now. "First of all, Colonel, 'retrovirus' is not a verb. Much like 'crappy, but still pretty awesome' is not necessarily an adequate description of an uninhabited planet with a stargate for our network. Second, you know very well the danger this poses."

"This is the Wraith who saved me from Kolya."

"The Colonel believes he and the Wraith... exchanged certain personality traits when he was given his life back," Teyla said, stepping up to bat.

This time Elizabeth's eyes went wide, which was how he found himself, not ten minutes later, in the infirmary giving samples of too many bodily functions to name. Then he was whisked away for an MRI, X-Ray, and EKG. Ronon was sent to go make sure the Wraith didn't wake up before Elizabeth decided what to do with him.

"You're not going to find anything," John said petulantly, swinging his legs off the side of the stiff infirmary bed. "There's nothing wrong with me. We just... exchanged some feelings. It was more like a soul thing."

"You should have come to me the instant you realized something was wrong," Elizabeth admonished.

"I went to Rodney," he said.

"Gee, thanks," Rodney muttered, as Elizabeth said, "Rodney! I can't believe the two of you kept this a secret. You may have seriously compromised our position."

"I told you, he's a good Wraith," John said.

"And you know this because of your 'bond'?" Elizabeth asked.

He didn't like the way he sounded when she said it. "That, and he hasn't been feeding off of humans," John explained cheekily. "He's been eating the cows."

Elizabeth cocked a brow at him. At that moment, Carson chose to walk in. He pinned a colourful print-out of John's brain to the light box on one of the walls, and immediately Elizabeth, Rodney, and Teyla crowded around it. John stayed where he was.

"According to these scans, you're perfectly normal, Colonel," Carson said, flipping through some pages on his clipboard. "There is no sign of head trauma, which is often linked to personality change. Last time, when you were affected by the Iratus bug, there were significant changes in your brain chemistry, but none of those changes are present here. As far as I can tell, your brain isn't any different today than it was before the, um, feeding."

Before John could casually mention how he was so right and they were so wrong, Rodney asked, "Then how do you explain what happened to the Wraith?"

Carson shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't. We know what happens when a Wraith feeds, but we've never had the opportunity to study what happens with the process is reversed. Honestly, I didn't know such a thing was possible until it happened to Colonel Sheppard."

"Which is exactly why we cannot turn the Wraith," Elizabeth said.

Teyla said, "This Wraith did save John's life."

Elizabeth crossed her arms over her chest. "Yes, and so did Michael."

"We betrayed his trust."

"Isn't that what we're doing to this one?"

"No," John insisted, "we're helping him. He'd either starve out there in the wild, or he'd get so hungry he'd start picking off the locals."

"He's not a pet, Sheppard," said Rodney.

Elizabeth pinched the bridge of her nose. "You're sure he was playing football? And not some kind of Wraith sport?"

"Like what, Wraithball?" Rodney asked sarcastically.

"We don't have a shield anymore," she said, but he could tell she was cracking. "If the Wraith come--"

John put his elbows on his knees and leaned forward, meeting her eyes. "If the Wraith come, it'll be because Michael and his buddies got off the planet before we could blow them to kingdom come, not because we stunned this one and brought him back unconscious."

When Elizabeth exhaled slowly, John knew he's gotten through to her. She fisted her hands at her sides. "I'm allowing this on one condition: you take full responsibility for his actions. We are not having a repeat of the Michael fiasco. You make sure this Wraith does not have access to anything -- or anyone -- that might give a clue to what he is. He'll be closely watched at all times." She leveled him with a steady gaze. "And you need to be able to terminate him if this fails."

"Absolutely," John said. "Don't worry about a thing."

*

"What're you going to name this one?" Rodney asked.

John looked at the Wraith's unmoving body, one clawed hand clutching the homemade football like a security blanket. "Mark," he said thoughtfully.

"You're naming him after Major Lorne?"

John glared. "That's his middle name, and no. After my brother."

Rodney gave him a funny look, and Carson said, "Ah, alright, Mark it is. It sounds a lot like Michael, though, are you sure Teyla won't be--?"

"Nah, Mark is fine," John said.

"I have an idea for a last name," Rodney offered.

"We're not naming him Mark Wahlberg," John said.

"I was thinking Mark Messier," Rodney said, scowling. "Famous hockey player? Of course, we could just name him Mark Sheppard, and you can have all your issues in one convenient, Wraith-shaped package."

The Wraith hugged his football to his chest and rolled onto his side. "Messier might work," John mused. Hockey was nothing like baseball.

"It looks like he's finally asleep," Carson said, sighing like watching Mark struggle deliriously had been hard for him.

"I'm still waiting for the brother explanation," Rodney said. He made a beckoning gesture. "Any day now."

"Not talking about it," John said pleasantly.

"Does this have something to do with why you can't watch baseball?" Rodney asked.

"Maybe I just prefer golf," John said, knowing Rodney heard the "I don't want to talk about it" in his tone, and Rodney muttered something under his breath that sounded like "gay" and "Republicans."

"The Wraith's not going to remember anything, right?" Ronon asked.

"We should hope not," Carson said. "Michael didn't remember anything concrete until he stopped taking his injections."

John nodded solemnly. "So all I need to do is make sure Mark here doesn't get too suspicious, and we should be okay."

"Mm," Carson said, sounding unconvinced.

"Should I go find it a hat?" Ronon asked seriously.

John blinked. "No, I'll go find him something of mine."

Rodney snorted. "We all know the cowboy hat was yours, Colonel."

John nudged Rodney with his elbow. Rodney looked affronted. "What would you tell me about myself if I had amnesia?" John asked, ignoring the raised eyebrow Ronon sent him.

"I'd tell you that you like to give Caldwell blowjobs," Rodney said. "And you've only ever liked British punk rock and The Who."

"I'd be really confused when I found all the alt-country on my iPod," John drawled.

"Please, like I don't know your iPod's full of Paula Abdul and Michael Jackson."

"I can moonwalk like a pro," John said.

Carson tutted. "Rodney, it is very inappropriate for you to be making jokes about the Colonel giving blowjobs!"

"It's okay," John said jokingly, "at least he isn't grabbing my ass this time."

With a repulsed look, Carson turned away. John's stomach knotted, but when he glanced at Rodney, Rodney was smirking to himself, staring out the glass window at Mark.

As soon Carson went down to check on his patient, taking Ronon with him as protection, John took a chance. He grinned at Rodney and poked him the side with his elbow. "Aren't you going to ask me what I'd tell you if you had amnesia?"

"Okay?" Rodney asked suspiciously.

"I'd say you know me like no one else does," John told him, feeling ridiculous. His heart was beating so fast he could feel it in his throat.

Rodney gazed at him for a long moment, and just as John was thinking what it'd be like to grab him and kiss him right there in front of Carson and Ronon and an unconscious Wraith, he snickered. "Good one, Colonel." He patted John on the shoulder as he left, shaking his head.

John leaned over the railing. "Only the Wraith understands me," he muttered dejectedly.


 

Part Two: Wraith Meets World

Mark the ex-Wraith had blond hair, blue eyes, and a wide, toothy smile that was more than a little creepy, considering what he'd been just a few days ago. That stupid tattoo was still on his face. Even with that, he was appallingly good-looking, in a kind of blond, pretty boy way. Rodney hated himself.

"Hi. Do we know each other?" Mark asked, as Rodney stood there holding his tray.

"Uh, no, not really," Rodney said, glancing at Sheppard. "We met in passing, once or, um, twice." He held out one hand, awkwardly balancing his tray with the other. "Dr Rodney McKay."

Mark looked at Rodney's hand.

"You're supposed to shake it," Sheppard said.

"Ah," Mark said, and pumped Rodney's hand. "Sorry. I have amnesia. Head injury." He lowered his eyes and grinned at Sheppard slyly. "Or so they tell me."

"Ha, ha," Rodney said a little too loudly. Sheppard glared at him.

He wasn't sure if it was okay with Sheppard if he joined them at their table, but he did anyway. Sheppard gave him a sideways glance, munching on what looked like a baby carrot but probably wasn't. "How's it going, Rodney? Haven't seen you in a while."

"And whose fault has that been?" Rodney asked.

"We were just talking about sports," Mark said, propping his elbows on the table. "John said I like this one called football, and he's going to show me some other ones later. Maybe there will be something we can play with the Marines, eh? I'm dying to get some fresh air after being cooped up in the infirmary for so long. Do you like to play anything, Dr McKay?"

"'John'?" Rodney repeated flatly. Sheppard studied the table. "Actually, the Colonel and I have very different opinions on what constitutes a good sport. I prefer hockey to football. And besides, it's hard to get out to play games when you're busy keeping the city from falling apart."

"How do you keep the city from falling apart?"

"With the astonishing power of my brain," Rodney said, puffing his chest out a little.

"Wow," Mark said, looking a little dazed. "That's really cool."

Sheppard raised his head and narrowed his eyes at Mark.

"Yes, it is remarkable," Rodney agreed.

"Don't you have things to do?" Sheppard asked snidely.

"Why, am I butting in on best friend time?" Rodney sneered back. They hadn't seen each other for days; Sheppard had been spending all his free time making sure Mark was "comfortable." Ronon and Teyla told him they hadn't seen much of Sheppard either. It wasn't like Rodney needed to see Sheppard every day, but a "I missed you, bestest buddy" would've been nice.

"Maybe we were in the middle of a conversation," Sheppard said instead. He leaned back in his chair.

Rodney stood, picking up his tray. "Fine. I'll go do some actual work, since it looks like no one else is bothering to."

"Nice to meet you, Dr McKay," Mark said brightly.

"See you," Sheppard said, but his attention was focused completely on Mark.

As Rodney made his way out of the commissary, he couldn't help but glance over his shoulder. Mark was leaning over and whispering something in Sheppard's ear. They looked good together. Sheppard threw back his head and laughed, clapping Mark on the shoulder, and Rodney's chest felt tight. It had taken him months to get even a chuckle out of Sheppard, and this man -- this Wraith -- had done it in a matter of days.

When Sheppard continued laughing, Mark recoiled, looking disturbed. Rodney seethed. That was his laugh.

"Stupid, hot Wraith," he grumbled.

*

In Rodney's very humble opinion, the worst part about having a former Wraith living in Atlantis wasn't the security risk. It wasn't that the guy would go back to being a killing machine if he forgot his shots. It wasn't even the discomfort of knowing the person you were talking to wasn't really a person at all.

It was the fact the Wraith -- excuse him, Mark, named after Sheppard's secret brother, and what the hell was up with that, anyway? -- took up entirely too much of Sheppard's time.

It was even worse than when Sheppard had adopted Ronon. Instead of being taciturn and judgmental like He-Man, Mark was eager and open-minded. Every time Rodney ran into the two of them together, Mark would say, "Hey, Dr McKay, tell me something interesting that happened in the lab today," or he'd ask Rodney to join them for a rousing game of golf (like Rodney played golf), or worse, he'd try to get Rodney to go jogging with them. Apparently, Rodney's blank stare of horror after the first prompting hadn't been enough to stop him from asking on a daily basis.

Basically, Mark was a less intelligent, more obnoxious Canadian surfer version of Sheppard, and Sheppard was pretty damn annoying as it was. It would've been funny if it wasn't for that incredibly disturbing mind melding thing; not that Rodney was considering that a possibility, because it was ludicrous.

A few days after what Rodney thought of as the Lunchtime Incident, or That Time Sheppard had Laughed for Mark Messier, and Oh, How Rodney Regretted Giving him the Name of a Hero and Fellow Countryman, he came into his lab to find Sheppard and Mark digging through a supply closet. They were whispering and giggling like twelve year-old girls. It was just a step down from Sheppard's normal mental age of fourteen.

"What," Rodney said loudly, "are you two doing?"

They startled. "Nothing," Sheppard replied with his typical wide-eyed, innocent expression, slipping something into the pocket of his BDUs. Mark -- who'd been gazing at Sheppard adoringly -- covered his laughter with a cough.

"Colonel, may I speak to you alone?" Rodney gritted out.

Sheppard raised his eyebrows. "Sure." He looked at Mark fondly. Rodney's left eye twitched. "Mark, you go ahead, I'll see you at the pier in a couple of hours."

"Okay," Mark said, edging towards the exit. He gave Rodney a little wave as he passed. "Bye, Dr McKay."

As soon as the door whispered shut, Rodney said, "Have you lost your mind? You're-- you're cavorting around with that Wraith! Why don't you two just hold hands and skip around the city? And then maybe later he'll take you back to his hive and make you an honourary member."

"I'm doing my job," Sheppard said stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'm trying to make sure he doesn't feel alienated."

"And you're so dedicated, spending all your time with him, sneaking him into labs where we work on very dangerous experiments. That mind control must still be working. My God, it's like a train wreck happening before my very eyes. Come on, we're going straight to Carson so he can deprogramme you or wave a gourd in your face or one of his other magic tricks."

When Sheppard just stood there, Rodney impatiently snapped his fingers. Sheppard glared fiercely. "I am dedicated to keeping Mark from figuring out what's going on. I know what I'm doing." His glare lessened. "Sort of. I think. Anyway, you're over-reacting. There's nothing to worry about. He's not going to hurt you."

It wasn't really himself he was worried about being hurt.

Sheppard having a new best friend did, however, leave Rodney with plenty of free time, which Rodney supposed could be best spent working on their more immediate concerns, like how they were all going to die if they didn't get a new power source, and soon. It was just as well he didn't have anyone distracting him from his very important work.

"You have been anti-social lately," Zelenka remarked with mock-casualness. He rifled through the toolbox on Rodney's bench. Obviously it was a ruse to look over Rodney's shoulder at his data.

"Maybe I'm trying to keep the rest of you monkey-brained cretins from squandering the last fraction of our ZPM on trivial bullshit like blowdryers and laser shows," Rodney sneered.

"Or maybe," Zelenka said, peeking over the rim of his glasses to inspect the head of a screwdriver, "you have been replaced by a Wraith."

Rodney stiffened. "Why you think I'd want to waste my time with that-- that--"

"That?" Zelenka asked.

"What does it matter to you anyway?"

Zelenka raised an eyebrow. "You are especially unpleasant when sulking. And we are not used to you being here so much; I think the others fear for their lives."

"If they couldn't handle public humiliation, they never should've joined the SGC," Rodney sniffed. "I'm pretty sure it was a prerequisite."

The doors swooshed open, and Sheppard stumbled into the lab. He had a big, purple bruise on his forehead. His pants were ripped at the knees. His hair may or may not have been in disarray; it was hard to tell.

"What the hell happened to you?" Rodney demanded, rising to his feet.

"Fell down a flight of stairs trying to keep Mark away from Ronon," Sheppard said.

"Did it work?" Zelenka asked.

"Yeah, but only because Ronon ran off to get Carson while Mark stayed to make sure I was conscious. Which I was. Unfortunately." Sheppard sighed and collapsed on the nearest empty stool, asking, "What're you up to? Learned how to build us a new ZPM yet?" and Rodney smirked at Zelenka. It looked like he wasn't so easy to replace after all.

*

Some people wouldn't have been able to deal with their mind being melded with a Wraith. John figured it was a sign of his professionalism when it really didn't bother him. In fact, it made things better, now that he knew something was wrong for sure and he wasn't going to turn blue and scale the walls. Again.

That wasn't to say he was cool with what had happened. He still had nightmares, almost nightly; when he woke up starving and panicked, he thought bitterly, oh yeah, having your brain sucked by a Wraith blew. But the days weren't so bad. He was easily distracted by spending most of his time trying to keep Mark from remembering he was an evil vampiric alien. There were days when all he did was show Mark the coolest places in the city to hang out. There were days when when he'd hit one stroke under par. There were days when he'd get a few minutes to himself to go bug Rodney, even if Rodney liked to pretend he was doing John a huge favour by letting him hang out.

Then there were the days he would walk down the hall and get hit in the face with a football.

He was on his way to finish some paperwork he'd been avoiding for weeks when Major Lorne, a good twenty yards away and wearing a jersey for Arizona State University that totally wasn't his because if John couldn't play college ball, Lorne sure as hell couldn't have, shouted, "Hey, Colonel, catch!"

John's face exploded in pain as the football smacked him square in the chin, knocking him off-balance and onto his ass. He squeezed his eyes shut in an effort to keep from screaming in agony.

"Fuck," someone said. "Lorne, you broke the colonel's jaw."

"They're gonna send you back to that mine planet," said someone else.

Hands were touching his jaw, and when he opened his watering eyes, Lorne was in his face, looking pretty terrified. "Shit, shit, I'm so sorry, sir, please don't reassign me, I can't go back to the mines. Daniel Jackson spends his vacations there."

"If you break your jaw, don't they wire it shut?"

"Yeah, it happened to my sister in junior high. She had to wear a head brace and everything."

"Oh my God, a head brace," Lorne said.

"My jaw's not broken," John managed, batting Lorne away. It hurt to talk, but none of his teeth felt loose. Gingerly, he brought a hand to his throbbing chin. "Ow. Major, I know you wanted a promotion, but I never thought you'd try to kill me to get it."

"It's nice to know there's no lasting emotional trauma from what happened to the guy before you, sir." John glared a little. Lorne offered John a hand up, but John felt there'd already been enough touching for the day. He climbed to his feet on his own.

"Sir, you want to join us?" one of the Marines asked.

John looked down at the football in Lorne's hands, and, unsurprisingly, didn't feel the urge to play. "No thanks. I think I'll go work on my swing." Lorne looked at him, uncomprehending, and he added, "My golf swing."

Lorne blinked slowly. "Golf, sir? Isn't that kind of boring?"

"It's not boring," John said, offended. "Would I play it if it was boring?"

"You like Sudoku puzzles," Lorne said.

John narrowed his eyes. "You know, I'm re-thinking that whole mine planet thing."

"You're the coolest dude on the base, sir," Lorne replied.

"See, that's what I like to hear," John said cheerfully. "Okay, guys, as fun as it's been to ruin years of painful dental work, I need to--"

"Sir, can I talk to you for a minute?" Lorne interrupted. "Privately?"

John frowned. "Alright," he replied, and let himself be dragged away to an alcove.

"Sir, the Wraith came on to me," Lorne said.

"He what?" John asked, voice cracking embarrassingly.

Lorne glanced over his shoulder at the Marines he'd been playing with. "I thought I should warn you, sir. In case he got those... feelings from you during the brain fusion." John stared at him. Lorne cleared his throat. "You know, my middle name is Mark."

"Go back to your game, Major," John said flatly.

Lorne backed up slowly -- like John would check out his ass, Lorne was barely taller than Teyla -- until John rolled his eyes and headed in the direction of the pier. He definitely heard Lorne tell the men: "Golf is gay."

*

"Hello, you must be Mr Messier," Teyla said.

Mark beamed. His pale cheeks went bright pink. "I, uh, yes. Hi. What's your name?"

"I am Teyla Emmagen of Athos." She touched her chest, and then Ronon's. "This is Ronon Dex of Sateda. We are pleased to meet your acquaintance."

"Hmm," Ronon said.

"Oh crap," John said, running up the otherwise-empty corridor to separate them. The last thing he needed was for a repeat of the Michael catastrophe. Things had been going so well, too.

John pointed at Mark. "You, over there." Then at Ronon. "You, go back to-- I don't really know what you do, but do it away from him."

"We were just talking," Teyla protested. "I merely wished to introduce myself to the man you've been spending your days with."

She smiled at Mark. Mark smiled back. Ronon's lip curled.

"Perhaps you would like to spar with me in the near future," she said in a way that was strangely suggestive. John met the impassive gazes of Mark's two-man company and raised an eyebrow.

Mark gave her an intense look. "I'd like that very much."

With a flirty glance from under her lashes, Teyla left, with the swing to her hips she usually reserved for hot, twenty year-old Marines. John's eyebrow was so high by now it was hurting.

Ronon and Mark watched her leave, with equal slack-jawed, glazed expressions; John watched them watch her, and smirked. His smirk faded when Ronon slowly, slowly turned to glare at Mark.

"I'd tap that," Mark said dreamily, still staring in the direction in which Teyla had left.

"Okay," Ronon said, "that's it."

Before John knew what was happening, Ronon had shoved Mark against the wall. "Stay away from her," he hissed.

"Ronon," John warned.

Mark pushed back, saying, "Make me," and slammed his hand against Ronon's chest. John flinched.

Sergeants Edison and Billick, who shouldn't have even let Mark and Ronon get this close to begin with, pulled them apart. Ronon was bearing his teeth like a wolf; Mark was struggling against the powerful arms Billick had wrapped around his rib cage, reaching out to Ronon, hands curled into claws. John stood there with his mouth open. He felt like he should say something. He didn't though, and Mark clutched his right hand -- His feeding hand, John thought -- to his chest and yelled, "Okay, stop it, I'm done, I'm done."

"Sorry about that, sir," Edison said to John, flushing.

"Yeah, uh," John said. He looked at Ronon and Mark, gazing into Mark's eyes a little too long. "Don't do that again."

Mark's eyes narrowed just slightly. He said, "Don't worry. I won't."

*

Rodney was sitting on his bed in his t-shirt and boxers and trying to decide what tv show to fall asleep to when Sheppard burst through the door. One side of his face was red and slightly puffy. He looked like an idiot. A ridiculously attractive idiot, but an idiot nonetheless.

"There's something wrong with Mark," Sheppard said.

Rodney snapped his laptop closed, glaring. "Couldn't you have knocked? What if I was asleep? Or naked?"

Sheppard's face went blank for a second, then he glanced at his watch pointedly. "It's fourteen hundred hours."

"I was just about to take a nap. There's no immediate crises that I'm aware of. I'm perfectly in my right."

"Well, now there is. Something's wrong with Mark."

"One, you said that already, and two, of course there's something wrong with him, he's a Wraith," Rodney said. There were huge circles under Sheppard's eyes. "Three, when was the last time you slept?"

Sheppard scrubbed his face. "A while ago. I don't know. It doesn't matter. Maybe I shouldn't have brought Mark back with us. We can never have a normal friendship. I'll always know he used to be a Wraith, and he'll never be a scientist or an officer." He looked up with a pitiful pout. "Rodney, am I a bad person?"

"Jesus Christ," Rodney said, "are you seriously debating the ethics of being in a relationship with an alien vampire who sucked your love of football from your head?"

Sheppard sat heavily on the end of Rodney's bed, narrowly missing his feet. "He got in a fight with Ronon, and he put his hand on Ronon's chest like he was going to feed."

A chill went down Rodney's spine, despite his cocoon of warm, fluffy blankets. "You don't think it was a reflex?"

"It didn't seem like it," Sheppard remarked tensely, biting his lip.

"He's still taking the retrovirus, right?"

"Hasn't missed a shot."

"Why did you come here? Are you trying to get us all killed? You need to tell Elizabeth right away."

"I guess," Sheppard said. He didn't move. Rodney cleared his throat pointedly, and Sheppard sighed. "She's going to yell at me."

"Well, you reap what you sow, or however it goes," Rodney said, delighted that Mark the Leech would soon be out of his hair -- or rather Sheppard's thick, luxurious hair -- and on his way to Wraith Heaven.

Sheppard made a face. "It could've been a ref--"

"Colonel Sheppard," Rodney snapped.

"Fine," Sheppard huffed.

"If she makes you cry, don't come back here," Rodney called to his retreating back. Sheppard flipped him off, and when the doors shut, Rodney settled down to victoriously watch an episode of MacGyver.

*

John tapped on the window to Elizabeth's office. She looked up from her work and waved him in.

"Hey, you busy?" he asked casually.

She set her tablet aside. "No, just finishing up some thing. Pull up a chair."

"We need to have a discussion about Mark Messier," he said, sitting.

"Yes, we do," Elizabeth agreed. She smiled at him in such a trusting way. It made him uncomfortable. He smiled back as best he could. "How are you coping, John?"

"Uh, I'm good," he said. "That's not really--"

"To be honest," she continued in an apologetic tone, "I was afraid your insistance about taking in Mr Messier was the result of the feeding, but you've been handling things very well. I know you said you had a mental connection, so it must've been hard for you to be objective, especially with all of us suggesting you do away with him."

John slouched lower in his seat. "Yeah, objective."

Elizabeth's eyes were bright. "Carson's very pleased his experiment worked this time around. And frankly, so am I. This brings us one step closer to stopping the Wraith." She folded her hands together. "Now, did you have something specific you wanted to talk about?"

"Sometimes Mark kinda creeps me out," John said, feeling like a jerk.

"John," Elizabeth exclaimed, "I'm surprised. I didn't expect you, of all people, to be xenophobic. Besides, Mr Messier is very nice. He reminds me of someone, but I can't put my finger on who."

"Me?" John asked.

"No, that's not right." She shook her head. "I'm sure it'll come to me eventually."

*

Mark kept his word. John caught him limping out of the gym not a day later. He had a huge grin on his face, and he was covered in sweat. His damp, blond hair was flopping over his forehead in a way John's hair would never be able to imitate. Sergeant Edison and Sergeant Billick were exchanging amused grins.

"John, you seriously do this every day?" Mark asked. "I may have amnesia, but I'm pretty sure I've never been beaten that badly in my entire life."

"Well, I don't do it every day," John admitted, smirking. He rolled his shoulders. "But once you learn how to handle a stick, it's a piece of cake."

After Teyla finished beating the crap out of him, John hobbled over to the bench under the windows and flopped down.

"So what do you think of him?" he asked, stretching a hand towards the towel in his bag, in an attempt to clean off without moving his bruised body. When he couldn't reach it, he gave up. Teyla didn't mind if he was sweaty and gross. She'd seen him worse off. She'd seen him with a beard.

Teyla coolly raised an eyebrow. "Think of whom?"

"Mark."

She cocked her head thoughtfully. "He is a lot like you, only more..." She paused, setting her sticks down on the bench, and tossed him his towel. "More open. He is very easy to like."

John wasn't sure if he should be offended or not. Was Teyla saying he wasn't easy to like? Although he was definitely feeling the first twinges of guilt. "Sorry I haven't been spending more time with you. I've been busy."

Her mouth curved into a smile. "I know. You feel responsible for Mark's well-being. But I must admit, it has been very quiet around here lately."

John's stomach grumbled embarrassingly loudly. He was so tired of being hungry all the time. He'd kill for something disgusting and greasy that would fill him up and make him never want to eat again. If only there was a Pegasus version of Del Taco.

"I suddenly have the desire for a grilled cheese sandwich," Teyla said with a puzzled expression.

"It's like you read my mind," said John, smirking at his own hilarity.

"And also," Teyla continued as they headed for the commissary, "I would like a magazine with pictures of women in various stages of undress. Or perhaps Rodney working with long, cylindrical tools."

*

The denizens of Atlantis were lucky Rodney was around when transporter five broke. Typically, he'd be offworld at that part of the week, being shot at or fed weird things or mocked, sometimes all at the same time.

Unfortunately, repairing the transporters involved holding up a very large, heavy panel which covered the crystal casing. Rodney had always assumed the Ancients had created some sort of device that would keep the panels up, but he'd never been able to find it. Knowing this, he enlisted the help of Ronon, who was a giant, and Lieutenant Miller, who'd been there to help with the satellites in the Wraith siege and was not completely incompetent. He would've asked Teyla, but he'd caught her braiding Lieutenant Cadman's hair in one of the lounges, and he'd been in no mood to put up with Cadman's Wraith jokes.

"Here, hold this," he said as he ducked into the shaft, letting go of the screwdriver he'd used to pry the panel open. He didn't bother to check if Miller had caught it, but he didn't hear a clatter, so he assumed everything was okay. Two of the crystals were definitely cracked. He'd have to switch some around to get the transporter working again.

"This is kind of heavy," Ronon said breathlessly.

"As long as you don't drop it on my head, it'll be fine," Rodney said.

"Here comes the Wraith," muttered Miller.

Rodney banged his forehead on the panel scurrying out to discreetly get a glimpse. Sure enough, both Mark and Sheppard were strutting down the corridor. Well, Sheppard was strutting; Mark was bouncing. They stopped at one of the long windows, and Sheppard pointed at something outside, talking too quietly for Rodney to hear.

Mark looked over his shoulder, directly at Rodney and then -- much to Rodney's horror -- curved his big, pale Wraith hand over Sheppard's narrow but disturbingly muscular shoulder.

"Do you see that?" Rodney hissed. He clenched his fingers painfully around the crystal. He wondered if the pointed end was sharp to stab someone. "He's touching Colonel Sheppard inappropriately!"

Ronon glanced over. "You mean on the shoulder?"

Rodney gestured frantically. "And Sheppard's just letting him."

"Maybe he likes it," Ronon said, smirking. Rodney got the distinct impression Ronon was fucking with him. "Maybe he likes the shoulder touching."

"Everyone thinks it's weird Colonel Sheppard spends so much time with it," Miller said. "Bobby Edison and Jeff Billick said the Colonel barely lets it out of his sight."

"Sheppard's trying to keep the Wraith from realizing he's not supposed to be here," Rodney said defensively. "Which, by the way, geniuses, is not going to work if everyone continues to treats the Wraith like-- like he's a Wraith."

Ronon looked perturbed. "You think it might figure out what's going on just from that?"

"Lieutenant Kenmore told Dr Heightmeyer he'd realized something was wrong by the way people were treating him."

"Shut up, they're coming this way," Miller said under his breath.

Rodney knelt and started digging through his toolbox when Sheppard and Mark headed in their direction. Sheppard was talking about something involving planes and G's and manoeuvres, and he didn't even look at Rodney as he walked past.

*

John spent a lot of time trying to keep Mark and Ronon from interacting again, until one day he walked into the central spire common room and found them sitting on a couch together, talking about food.

"Hey, guys," he said slowly.

"Hey, John," Mark said brightly.

Ronon shuffled his feet. "Hey."

John tried to glare menacingly, but it probably failed. "Didn't I tell you two to stay apart?"

"No, you told us not to fight," Mark said. "We made up."

"He's not so bad," Ronon replied, shrugging.

John's head pounded. "I need someone to knock me unconscious," he murmured.

Unsurprisingly, he didn't sleep well that night, or the next few. Fortunately, he and Elizabeth -- well, more like Elizabeth -- had decided to put the team on stand-down for the next few weeks, until they could be sure Mark wasn't going to try to kill them all. John nursed his insomnia, Ronon beat up the Marines, Teyla did... Teyla things, and Rodney locked himself in his lab.

On one of those nights, he found himself wandering the corridors, trying to tire himself enough so he'd just pass out. He wasn't paying much attention to where he was going until he heard a familiar voice ask, "Yes, Colonel?"

John blinked a few times, pushing through his mental fog. Rodney was looking at him expectantly as John realized he had unconsciously walked to the labs.

"You know," he said, "all this late-night work points to some very disturbing vampire tendencies."

Rodney waved a hand. He looked as tired as John felt. "I'm working on something very complicated and important right now. I'll sleep later."

John pulled an empty stool up to the bench.

Rodney glanced up at him. "You look like shit."

"Thanks, McKay," John growled. He rubbed his dry, stinging eyes. "I've been having trouble sleeping lately. You know, with my personality being swapped with a Wraith's?"

Rodney raised his chin. "Well, excuse me for caring. What if something goes wrong and you're out of commission? This is my life we're talking about here."

"I'll try not to let my nightmares get in the way of your Nobel Prize."

Rodney studied him for a long moment. "Are you still having the same dream you were weeks ago? The one that was freaking you out and yet you felt no need to share?"

"Yeah," John said quietly. He wasn't sure he wanted to go into it.

"Oh." Rodney shifted. "I've been told -- by psychiatrists, of course, so take this with a grain of salt -- dreams are the mind's way of working out a problem. So it's, ah, probably related to the trauma of being tortured."

"No, really?" John said sarcastically. He slouched against the bench. The click-clack of Rodney's typing was soothing. "You know, before this whole Wraith brain sucking thing, I hardly ever had nightmares."

"You don't have nightmares," Rodney repeated, like he didn't believe it. "What the hell are you dreaming about then?"

A good portion of John's dreams involved Rodney. There was this recurring one where all Rodney did was order him around. It was the hottest, filthiest dream he'd had since his late teens, and in it, Rodney didn't even touch him.

"Planes," John said.

Rodney narrowed his eyes at him. "I see. Well, as the apparently most well-adjusted person in Atlantis, I congratulate you."

They both fell quiet as Rodney took the time to briskly enter something on his keyboard, sneaking glances at John when he thought John wasn't looking. He paused every so often to huff. John waited for it.

Finally: "You probably shouldn't be spending so much time with the Wraith," Rodney said, not looking him in the eye.

John bristled. "Mark's not the problem."

It wasn't Mark's fault John's side of the mind meld hadn't gone as smoothly as his. Mark was having fun jumping off piers and trying to convince some of the extremely apprehensive Marines to start a football team; John was still tired, hungry, and moody. And someone -- John strongly suspected it was Ronon, who had the worst taste in music next to Elizabeth -- had introduced Mark to pop music. If he had to hear that 98 Degrees song about being invisible one more time, he was going to hurt someone.

Mark had never been to Earth, but he'd never been on any missions, either. In some ways, they couldn't relate at all. Just like John's real brother.

John hadn't gotten any more hints something was wrong since that day in the corridor, and he was starting to believe it had all been in his head. Teyla didn't think anything was wrong with Mark. Ronon didn't think anything was wrong with Mark. Neither Edison nor Billick had reported any funny business. Maybe paranoia was just one more Wraith trait he'd taken on.

*

The Ancient archives were held in one of the outer towers, with high, vaulted ceilings and serene blue walls. John had only been there once, with Elizabeth, who had promptly dug herself deep into a journal and had forgotten all about him. Evidently, while working in the SGC, Rodney had heard the Ancients were known to leave behind hard copies of texts; he told John this repeatedly, but John had found everything in Atlantis was kept in an electronic database. One could access this database from anywhere in the city -- if one knew how to read Ancient, of course. The only thing John could read were numbers and the words "Atlantis," which sucked on multiple levels; Rodney swore there was erotic literature floating around in there.

The archives were, essentially, a rounded room with line of computer terminals running down the middle. Everything was in that colourful, clunky Ancient style. It wasn't like a library at all. It lacked that musty book smell or that heavy feeling of silence. It also didn't have much privacy.

"Hello, hello," a gaunt woman with heavy glasses greeted John the second he stepped through the doors. She had a thick European accent. "I am Dr Bohl. Do you require assistance?"

John blinked. Last time he'd been here it had been in their first year, and they hadn't had any linguists working solely in the archives. "Uh, yeah. I'm looking for some information on the Wraith."

Bohl smiled thinly. "You and everyone else." She crooked her finger, and John followed her to the computers. "We have only translated a small percentage of the material, so you will not be in much luck."

John took the nearest seat. The keyboard was in Ancient, which was kind of cool. "Is there anything in here about Wraith giving back someone's life?" he asked, cringing at the way his voice echoed in the room.

She studied him for a long second. He got the impression she had no idea who he was. Then, unexpectedly, she leaned right over him and began typing. She smelled like mothballs. John had horrible flashbacks of his grandmother. He tried not to make any sudden moves.

"I'm doing a search for 'Wraith' and 'reversal,' and any similar words," she said, typing away. "Ah, yes. There is one document."

It popped up on the screen. It was short and completely in Ancient.

"How soon can you translate this?" John asked.

"It may take a few hours," she said uncertainly.

"It's really important," he said, using the pout that had always worked on Grandma Sheppard.

That evening, right as he was getting ready for bed, his email dinged. "I could not translate the whole file, but I have done my best," the email read. It was signed, "Dr M Bohl, PhD."

He wiped his palms on his pants and hit the scroll button.

#7539 P2 076 Project Summary

Subjects H2213 and H2214 were both [literal translation: absorbed] by Subject W106. Subject H2213 was [fed off of] during a course of two weeks. H2214 was emptied within two days. See Documents #7539 P2 067 through #7539 P2 072.

Both Subjects H2213 and H2214 had their [life force] restored to them via W106's feeding gland. H2213's [life force] was restored during a period of twenty-four hours. H2214's [life force] was restored to full capacity immediately. See Document #7539 P2 073; Document #6201 P2 998 for previous experiments with life regeneration.

Subjects H2214 and W106 in experiment began exhibiting similar behaviour patterns after forty-eight hours. Subject H2214 complained of hunger [unknown]. He became irritable and prone to fits of anger and irrationality. Subject W106 became calm and [unknown]. After fifty-six hours, W106 requested drawing materials. Note H2214 had been an architect prior to the experiment. Subject H2213 showed no change. After sixty hours, W106 began attempting the communicate with others. H2213 became more withdrawn. See Document #7539 P2 074.

Subject H2214 suffered from no significant brain [unknown] changes after the [life force] was restored. His vital statistics returned to what they were before the [feeding]. However, during dissection

"Whoa," John said out loud. Apparently, the Ancients had Mengelian ethics. He had a terrifying mental image of himself on an operating table, Carson standing over him with a rib spreader in one hand and an electric saw in the other. John had seen plenty of CSI in his time.

the tissue of the [amygdala] showed abnormalities in both subjects. See Document #7539 P2 075.

It is the conclusion of [those performing the experiment] Subjects W106 and H2213 exchanged [unknown] during the [life force] restoration. Since it was previously concluded [unknown] is the [unknown] which allows those of the W class to form telepathic [unknown] with those they [absorb], it is probable [unknown] goes both ways during the [life force] restoration. The physical changes in the [amygdala], as well as the changes in behaviour support this theory. See Documents #7131 P2 024, #7131 P2 026, #7277 P2 010, #7481 P2 053 for previous experiments with [unknown].

End document.

"Well, crap," he said to himself. He had definitive proof something had happened to him, but it left him with more questions than answers. The test subjects had exchanged what? DNA? Phone numbers? Beauty tips? John slammed his laptop case closed in frustration.

*

Michael's quarters had been more of an observation room than a real living space. Dr Heightmeyer suggested this time around, it would probably be a better idea to keep Mark from wondering why he was being kept separate from everyone else. John had been fine with this; he'd had a hard enough time convincing Mark the guards were for his own safety. He'd had to make up a story about everyone being worried Mark would hit his head again.

"Why don't you have an escort?" Mark had asked with a scowl. "You fall all the time."

"Because I'm a lieutenant colonel," John had said, crossing his arms over his chest, "and lieutenant colonels don't need people to keep them from falling."

He would've liked to tell someone Mark had sucked out his cool with his evil Wraith hands, but he had a feeling no one would believe him.

Then Mark had asked, "Do I have a rank? Am I in the army on my planet-- what'd you say it was called? Melmac?" and John had to get out of that conversation as quickly as possible.

When John thought their friendship had advanced to the point where John could introduce him to Star Wars -- original trilogy only, of course -- he was disappointed to find Mark not answering his door chime. He was worried, however, when he realized Mark's guards weren't anywhere in the immediate vicinity either.

"Edison, Billick, this is Sheppard," he said into his radio. "Why aren't you at your post?"

It was a solid fifteen seconds before he received an answer. "Mr Messier needed some privacy, sir," Billick said.

"What do you mean?"

"Uh, maybe you should ask him, sir."

"I would, but he's not answering his door," John hissed.

Just then, Mark's door whispered open, and Teyla walked out in a very obvious attempt to look casual. Her hair was wet. She was wearing that low-cut black top he and Rodney had agreed was their favourite.

"Nevermind," he said. He turned his radio off. "Teyla?"

She plastered a very fake smile on her face. "Hello, John. What are you doing here?"

He held up his DVDs. "I wanted to see if Mark wanted to watch a movie. What are you doing here?"

"Mark and I were also watching a movie."

"Which one?" John asked suspiciously.

"I have forgotten the name," she said. "You know I do not pay attention to these things. It was about sports and overcoming hardships."

For a second, he had the crazy idea she'd murdered Mark in cold blood and had taken a shower to wash away all the evidence, but then he saw the hickey on her neck. He gaped.

"You know he used to be a--" He glanced at Mark's door; the last thing they needed was for Mark to wander out right about now. He lowered his voice. "Used to be a Wraith, right?"

"I know what he is, yes," she said, beginning to sound irritated.

He stared. "Did you sleep with Michael too?"

Her gaze wandered over his shoulder. "No," she said.

She was totally lying. "Before or after he became a Wraith again?"

"I am an adult, I may take companionship in whomever I please," she said stiffly.

"Eww," John said in revulsion. His mind flashed to Teyla and a half-turned Michael sucking each other's faces off. It was worse than all those times he'd walked in on his parents having sex, or that time he'd caught his dad and the babysitter on the kitchen table.

Teyla glared. "You have had relations with non-humans before. I did not say 'ew' when you slept with Chaya." She bit her lip. "No, that is untrue. I did say that, but not to your face."

He would've found that more insulting if he hadn't said that to himself, later. The sharing had been cool, but there had been glowing tentacles involved, in places he'd tried hard not to think about. "I can't believe you slept with my brother," he said.

"What?" Teyla asked, looking startled.

"I'm kidding-- Mark said after he gave me back my-- you know what, nevermind." He put his hands on his hips in an attempt to regain his dignity. "It's still gross. Why can't you find a nice human boyfriend? Maybe Lorne. Or Zelenka. Ronon likes you."

She raised an eyebrow at him. "What about Rodney?"

"You can sleep with Rodney," he said, in a tone he hoped didn't convey what he really wanted to say: "Sleep with Rodney and I'll beat you with your beating sticks."

"It is difficult for me to relate to many of the people in Atlantis," Teyla said slowly. It was the same voice she had used when she'd told him she'd always felt like an outsider.

"But you relate to people who used to be Wraiths," John stated.

She raised her chin. "I am aware that may seem unusual."

"No, no-- okay, yeah," John said.

*

Rodney didn't look up from his laptop when the doors slid open. He could tell by the sound of large, slow-moving boots it was Sheppard coming to distract him, but he was right in the middle of a rather fascinating article recently translated from the Ancient database on subspace energy waves, and he was not in the mood to--

"My two best friends are sleeping together," Sheppard announced, coming to a stop in front of Rodney's lab bench.

Rodney looked up in surprise. "I'm not sleeping with anyone."

Sheppard squinted. "I meant Mark and Teyla."

That stung. "Hello, I'm sitting right here," he snapped. "Wait, she's sleeping with the Wraith?"

"Yeah." Sheppard's nose wrinkled. "Is it just me, or is that kind of disgusting?"

"It really is," Rodney agreed. "I'd been hoping she was a lesbian, you know, like a whole Xena-and-Gabrielle thing? Gabrielle was a blonde, wasn't she? With short hair later on," he added thoughtfully. What a nice mental image. "Maybe next time Colonel Carter comes to Atlantis we can--"

"Rodney," Sheppard said. He sounded annoyed. "This really isn't the time to talk about your fantasies."

"Well, I was going to invite you to the group sex, but you can forget about it now," Rodney sniffed.


 

Part Three: Saved By the Wraith

The day everything went to hell, Mark managed to convince Corporal Sherman to hand over his foosball table. John wasn't entirely sure if Sherman had let them borrow it because he, like many of the other officers, was terrified of Mark, or if it was because Mark had made a convincing argument. Either way, John hadn't played foosball in years, and Mark's bright enthusiasm was kind of funny. John ordered Edison and Billick stand outside so they wouldn't hear his manly ribbing. It would be embarrassing when he made Mark cry like a little bitch.

He hit the ball into the goal for the fifth time in a row. "He shoots, he scores!"

"You'll pay for that," Mark warned with a determined expression.

John lined the soccer ball in the centre of the table, then grasped the rods on his side tightly. His palms were sweating. Mark's eyes narrowed in concentration. There was no way John was losing.

Miss it, John thought as he twisted the bar.

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. As John thought, Miss, again, as hard as he could, Mark's hand slipped on the rod. The ball sailed right past his players and into the goal.

Mark's head snapped up, eyes angry. "You jerk, taunting the other player has to be against the rules!"

John froze. Mark's expression went blank. The soccer ball loudly rolled from the goal into the gutter.

"Did you read my mind?" John asked in disbelief.

"What a ridiculous question," Mark said, eyes widening exaggeratingly.

"Yes, you did," John said with a growing horror.

About a dozen emotions crossed Mark's face before settling on defeat. His shoulders slumped. "I guess it's time to come clean."

John stabbed a finger at him. "I knew there was something going on." He'd been right to be suspicious. That meant Mark's transition wasn't completely perfect, that John wasn't the only one with lingering side-effects. Maybe Mark was having nightmares. Maybe Mark was longingly remembering all the things he used to like and slowly starving to death.

Of course, it also meant John had probably doomed the entire city. Which was bad. Very bad.

"I tried to hide it from you," Mark said. He took a step back from the table with a miserable look on his face.

"So all this time you've been faking it?" John felt a deep, resounding disappointment. This was just as bad as when Rodney had taken Lucius's potion and used it to make John clean his room. He'd never forget the bowl of moulded-over Kraft Dinner hiding under the bed; another week, and it would've been able to talk to him. "The amnesia? Wanting to be my friend? Not being evil?"

Mark looked stricken. "No! I like it here. I like you, and Teyla, and Ronon, and-- okay, everyone else treats me like crap, but you guys are great. I've been so alone these past few years. You don't know what it was like in there, all those years of just myself, the stone walls, and the velts."

"Velts?" John asked.

"Rodents with claws and glowing red eyes. They like to nibble."

John was vaguely disturbed. "I must've missed those. What with the whole you feeding off me thing."

"John," Mark said, sounding frustrated, "I thought we'd moved past that."

"Just out of curiosity, how much of my mind have you read?" John asked, wincing to himself.

"Not that much; usually it's just feelings, unless you're projecting a thought really loudly. I know you have nightmares, because at night, you get really scared. Most of the time it's like you're barely there." He scratched his chin. "Oh, and you have some pretty filthy thoughts about Dr McKay."

Next time, Rodney got to be the one with the alien brain link. The Wraith would probably kill itself just to get away.

Mark threw a look over his shoulder at the door. He lowered his voice a fraction. "Listen, it's actually a good thing this happened. We need to talk. I need your help."

"I don't think so," John said.

Mark looked shocked. "You don't understand," he pleaded, "there's a hive ship about three weeks from here," and John's stomach dropped.

"You are so dead," John said roughly. "You were supposed to be my friend. You said I was your brother. God, I'm such an idiot! Don't trust the Wraith, they said. He's going to turn out just like Michael, they said."

"Michael?" Mark demanded. "How many other Wraith have you-- have you had?"

"About a hundred," John replied. "Maybe two? There were a lot of Wraiths on that hive ship."

Mark's eyes narrowed.

"Anyway, you don't have the right to be upset," said John, waving a finger at him. "Since your friends are coming to kill us."

Shaking his head frantically, Mark protested, "No, no, that's what I'm trying to say. Right now all they know is a Wraith's in the general area. But if they get close enough, they'll be able to connect with me, and they'll come straight for the city. I know you guys don't have a shield right now. I've heard the scientists talking."

John stared. "You want--"

"You need to get me out of Atlantis," Mark said grimly.

*

"Rodney, what are you doing?"

Rodney barely managed to not jump at the sound of the familiar voice. The last thing the city needed right now was for him to get a head injury. "I like sticking my face in consoles in my free time. It reminds me of the womb. What does it look like I'm doing, Colonel?"

Sheppard's knees appeared in Rodney's field of vision as he crouched down. "It looks like you're avoiding the labs."

"Don't be ridiculous. I love the labs. They're very sterile and full of things I enjoy, like computers. And there is a distinct lack of Wraith in them. Oh wait."

Sheppard muttered something nasty he couldn't hear. It was just as well. Rodney would never admit it, but he was bored. He could only stand to be around the idiots in the lab for so long, and while he had a million and a half projects to research, reconstruct, or relegate to people less intelligent than himself, it wasn't the same as going offworld. Zelenka, he had found, was actually very condescending, and Elizabeth called entirely too many meetings. Rodney had been ruined for life, no thanks to Sheppard and his touchy-feely team dynamics.

When Rodney crawled out from under the console -- his back was going to kill him in the morning -- Sheppard said, "Listen, there's something I need to tell you."

"What?" he asked, his gut clenching. Sheppard seemed shifty. "What is it?"

Sheppard rubbed the back of his neck. "I sort of... fucked up."

Rodney sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. "How badly?"

"Pretty badly." Sheppard grimaced. "It's about Mark."

"Oh," Rodney replied flatly. "Mark. Of course. What did your precious Mark do?" A horrible thought occurred to him. "Or what did you do with him?"

Sheppard glared for a moment, then dropped his gaze. "He doesn't really have amnesia. He remembers everything from being a Wraith."

Stunned, Rodney sputtered, "He-- but Carson said--" Somewhere beneath the panic was smug arrogance, and somewhere beneath that was outrage. "Yes, Colonel, I would call that a fuck up. Did I not tell you it was a train wreck? No, you said you had everything under control."

Sheppard had the gall to look offended. "Well?"

"Well what?"

"Any brilliant ideas?"

He had to be joking. "You could try, I don't know, killing him?"

"But I don't want to kill him," Sheppard whined.

"Oh, I'm sorry, let me think of some other way to get rid of the Wraith without it resulting in our deaths," he snapped. Carson had been wrong about the Wraith not affecting Sheppard's brain chemistry; clearly the man was a lunatic. Or maybe this was the result of the combination of nightmares and insomnia. "Am I the only one you've told about this? While you're down here talking to me, where is he?"

"With his security guards, how stupid do you think I am?" Sheppard retorted.

Rodney began, "Aren't you going to--?"

"I'm not telling Elizabeth yet," Sheppard said, anticipating what Rodney was going to say with disturbing accuracy. He put his hands on his hips, but his eyebrows were doing that funny thing they did when he was upset. "If I tell Elizabeth, she'll try to be the good guy, and I'll be the one enforcing the hard decisions. I'd really rather not have to end things that way."

"How is it going to end then?" Rodney asked.

Sheppard bit his lip. "Mark wants me to get him off the city. He says he can go back to eating animals in the wild."

Much to Rodney's own surprise, he was shocked at Sheppard's stupidity. "Or he can go back to his hive with information on Atlantis."

"He said he won't."

"And you believe him?"

Sheppard squared his shoulders. "Yeah, I do. He doesn't really seem the evil type. I don't think he has it in him."

"You mean you don't think you have it in you," Rodney said wisely. Then he realized how obscene that sounded. "And by 'it,' I mean the conscience exchanged by that terrible, awful mind melding, because I know you're not really putting 'it' in you. You're not, right? Tell me you're not."

Sheppard's head went back a little. "I'm going to ignore that and pretend I understood most of the words coming out of your mouth. Come on, aren't you always telling me I need your vastly superior knowledge? Well, this time I do. I'm asking you as a friend."

Rodney hated himself for the warm glow that went through him. This was so going to end badly, but Sheppard was pouting and looking all handsome, and in the end, Rodney was only human. Besides, if he said no, Sheppard would only keep whining. "Fine," he said angrily, "I'll come up with something to get Marky Mark out of the city without giving away his secret."

"You're a pal, McKay," Sheppard said, slapping Rodney on the back. He gave Rodney the goofy, sincere smile Rodney usually only saw when they were talking about spaceships or super weapons.

"Yes, yes, I'm a saint," Rodney agreed. He felt disappointed for no discernable reason. "You do realize Teyla's going to be mad you've gotten rid of yet another one of her boyfriends."

"Maybe if she stopped sleeping with Wraith, we wouldn't have this problem," Sheppard said.

*

"Okay," Rodney said, "here's the plan. We -- by which I mean I -- cause a diversion in the gateroom -- by which I mean explosion -- and dial the stargate, sending Mark to a random planet halfway across the galaxy. We then inform Elizabeth and the others he died trying to save the city."

Sheppard's eyes narrowed. "What are the chances Mark will 'accidentally' get killed in this explosion?"

Rodney hesitated. "Slim. Unlikely. Not entirely implausible. Two to one?"

"Well, think of something else," Sheppard said sternly.

Rodney didn't exacxtly understand what Sheppard's deal about refusing to kill Mark. So they'd been friends. The man was also a liar, and his very existence was endangering their lives. It didn't take someone of Rodney's stellar intelligence to figure out what to do with him. Of course, Sheppard hadn't wanted to kill Michael Kenmore either, until it had been a last resort. Kenmore had saved their lives too, now that he thought about it. As often as Rodney didn't understand Sheppard, he didn't get Wraith at all.

There was one thing Rodney accepted, at least, and that was that Sheppard was moping around like his puppy had been hit by a car. While Rodney plotted, Sheppard lounged around and sighed. When Mark came anywhere near the two of them, Sheppard acted like a broken-hearted teenager. It was disgusting.

Rodney snapped two days after Sheppard had asked for help.

Ronon, Sheppard, and Rodney were in the commissary eating lunch. Teyla was across the room pretending not to flirt with Lorne and a table full of Marines. Rodney was in the middle of a great story about how he had showed up both Zelenka and Kavanagh when he realized he might as well be talking to himself. He was used to Ronon pretending he didn't exist -- although he was waiting for the day Ronon would learn Rodney was his best chance of survival -- but Sheppard was picking at his food morosely and not paying attention at all, and Rodney knew Sheppard was thinking about Mark. He was filled with hate.

"So then I said-- Hey, are you listening to me?" He snapped his fingers in front of Sheppard's nose.

Sheppard raised his head, looking irritated. "What? Stop that."

"You know," Rodney said brilliantly, "Mark was probably born without a penis."

Ronon made a choking noise. Sheppard's eyes went wide. "Huh?"

"I'm just saying. Have you ever seen a Wraith naked? Their reproductive systems are probably completely different from ours. We don't even know how they reproduce."

"Jesus, Rodney, I'm sure he has a penis," Sheppard said, scrunching up his face thoughtfully.

"But you don't know for sure," Rodney said triumphantly.

Sheppard threw down his napkin. He stood and picked up his tray. "We are not talking about this," he huffed, stomping away.

"Great, he's probably going to go look at Mark's dick, just to make sure he has one." Rodney stabbed his potatoes with his fork. "I hate Mark's stupid Wraith face."

"Sheppard still likes you more," Ronon said. "Don't worry about it."

"I can't believe you just said that to me," Rodney said incredulously. "Don't you have any tact at all? Besides, I have no idea what you're talking about. I know Sheppard likes me best; in addition to my many fine qualities, I happen to be human, unlike the Wraith. Who is a Wraith."

Ronon chewed slowly. "Okay."

He found Sheppard in the jumper bay, brutally punching commands into the console with his pointer fingers. His expression was stormy. Rodney almost turned around and left, but he remembered what Jeannie had said about being an asshole and cleared his throat. "Hi, um. Are you-- are you okay?"

Sheppard gave him a sideways glance. "I'm cool."

Rodney sat in the co-pilot's seat. "Sorry for what I said. About the Wraith penis, or lack thereof, rather. You haven't seen him naked, have you? No, no, I don't know want to know. Forget I asked. Look, if you're so worried about him betraying us, why don't you--?"

"He can read my mind," Sheppard said abruptly. Rodney's mouth closed with a snap. "I don't like it."

"Is it because of your--?" Rodney gestured towards Sheppard's pointy head. There was no way he was going to say "psychic connection" out loud.

Sheppard nodded. "Teyla can read my mind too, but not like Mark can."

Rodney stared. "Teyla can read your mind?"

He grimaced. "Yeah, but don't tell her. She doesn't know."

"How can she not know she's linked to you telepathically?" Rodney asked quizzically. "Hey, is that why she crimped her hair? I thought that was a little odd."

"I haven't been hanging out with her a lot lately," Sheppard said, studying the console intently. "The Wraith fetish freaks me out."

Something occurred to Rodney. "Wasn't she flirting with Major Lorne in the commissary just a moment ago?"

"I don't want to talk about it," Sheppard said flatly.

*

That night, John dreamed Mark ate the entire Athosian village during a football game, while John was saying, "We can't go now, we're only up fourteen points." Rodney had to fly the jumper back to Atlantis because John was injured and covered in blood. The Elizabeth in his dream asked him, "You didn't come home on time and your new friend ate a village, because you were playing football?"

John woke up in a sweat. His clock said it was too early to get up and work, so he threw on his track pants to see if he could catch Ronon before he started his workout. What he needed was a nice, long run. Only when he arrived at the catwalk where Ronon usually began his trek, Mark was there too. John could hear their voices as he got closer.

"I can teach you how to play football," Mark was saying.

"Really?" Ronon said. "Sheppard's never offered to teach me."

"John's a wonderful person burdened with the many, many responsibilities of being commander, I'm sure he was just busy," Mark said.

Ronon snorted. "Yeah, if his responsibilities include goofing off with McKay. They go 'gate hunting.'" John didn't like that he could hear the quotation marks around "gate hunting"; obviously Ronon was the one spending too much time with Rodney. So what if sometimes they told everyone they were going gate hunting when they were actually going surfing on planets with great waves? Or, in Rodney's case, reading under umbrellas.

"McKay," Mark said in a weird voice.

John remembered with a start that Mark had been inside his head, and he took off running in the opposite direction. He ran until his mind was blank and all he could hear was his own breathing ringing in his ears. When he got back to his room, knees shaking with exhaustion, he took a look in the mirror, thought his pale, damp skin made him look hot, considered bleaching his hair and growing it long, and then freaked out and jogged directly to Rodney's room.

"Colonel, I was just working on our little plan," Rodney said as he entered, not looking at him.

"What's up?" he asked.

He sat on Rodney's bed, peering over Rodney's shoulder to see what he was doing. Much to his disappointment, Rodney was looking through schematics of the city on his laptop; part of John had been hoping Rodney was building something, so he'd have something to jerk off to during his shower. At least schematics meant Rodney was working on a plan. John had every faith he'd come up with something. After all, Rodney worked best when his own life was at stake.

John laid back on the bed, trying to cool off. The vents hummed as chilled air was pumped into the room. At least Atlantis loved him. "You're getting your sweat all over my covers," Rodney said, sounding disgusted.

"I'll wash your sheets for you later," John said.

When he sat back up, Rodney was giving him the fish eye.

Awkwardly, John asked, "Hey, uh, can I ask you something? Saving Mark... it's something I would've done before, right? Before the mind-melding?"

Rodney's mouth thinned. "Oh yeah, this is just like you, doing something reckless to save people who don't deserve it."

"I guess I'm just worried about how much of this is me and how much is him."

Rodney wheeled his chair over and got right up in his face. "Do you have the urges to suck the life out of anyone? Are you pissed off all the time? Is he making you do his evil bidding? Do you want to dress like you're in The Matrix? Feel like screaming high pitched into the sky at random?"

"No," John said, making himself lean back. He was being honest, except for the part about dressing like Neo. He always wanted to dress like Neo.

"Then you're fine," Rodney said dismissively.

John watched him silently for a few minutes, waiting for McKay's typical under-handed sympathy, or at least another lecture, but Rodney moved his laptop closer to his face and started muttering to himself about ventilation shafts. John gave up and left.

When he hunted Mark down, he was sitting on the pier where they usually played golf, watching the sunset.

"I'm really going to miss it here," Mark said sadly.

"Maybe we can find you a planet with some nice beaches," John said. He plunked down next to Mark, but avoided soaking his feet in the ocean. "I need to ask you some questions."

Mark gave him a half-smile. "I was wondering how long it'd take before you start."

"Do you know why the retrovirus didn't work the way it was supposed to?" John asked.

Mark ran his fingers through his hair. "I've been thinking about that too. Maybe because I-- I was already changing when I'd been given the retrovirus. Because I gave your life back to you. When I woke up, Dr Beckett and Dr Weir told me my name was Mark and I'd been in an accident. If I hadn't gone along with it, who knows what would have happened to me."

"Yeah," John said seriously, "we would've probably had to kill you."

Mark cupped the back of John's neck, smiling sweetly. "And then we never would've gotten to know each other."

When Mark didn't remove his hand after a beat, John said, "I'm pretty sure we talked about personal space a while back."

"John," Mark said without moving away, his voice soft and full of something John couldn't make out, "Between your eating disorder and your compulsion to act macho all the time, I know you have some self-esteem issues, and that's probably why you're into guys less attractive than you --"

"What?" John cut in. Rodney was totally hot. He knew he shouldn't have let Mark talk to Heightmeyer.

"--But you're very special to me, and I know you feel what I feel."

"Right now I mostly feel uncomfortable," John said.

Mark tugged him forward. Their lips brushed gently and it was kind of nice, if John completely forgot who the hell it was he was kissing. John exclaimed, "Whoa, whoa, what's going on here?"

Mark pulled back with a frustrated expression on his face. "I love you, John Sheppard. I did all this to get closer you. Why do you think I've spent so much time getting to know your friends?"

"Even sleeping with Teyla?" John asked, not impressed the way his voice squeaked on the last syllable.

"No, that was because she's hot," Mark replied.

"She thinks you guys have a thing," John said, offended on her behalf.

He took John's hands in his. "My bond with Teyla could never be as strong as my bond with you."

"You're a Wraith," John said.

"Why does it keep coming back to that?" Mark protested. "I keep thinking we're moving forward, and then there we are, two steps back. You're so focused on me being a Wraith, you're skipping the part where I told you I loved you. We need to be open about these things if we're going to have a future together."

John snatched his hands back, suddenly really, amazingly angry. He didn't need this. Mark had been deceiving him about having amnesia, about being his friend, from the very start, and now he was supposed to believe the guy was in love with him? Wasn't it enough John was risking his neck to get Mark to safety? "You don't love me," he said. "You're just saying this because I'm helping you. The minute my back's turned, you'll go back to stealing my friends and being the prom king and running away to baseball camp. Dad always loved you the best, Mark, but I've always seen right through you. Hey, I'm the CO of my own alien city in another galaxy! In your face, Mr All-Star! You can take that four year contract and--"

"I think you have me confused with someone else, " Mark said slowly, brows knitting. He held up his hands in a defensive position.

The violence emptied out of John. Mark was staring at him with wide, pale eyes, and John said numbly, "I-- uh." He jerked his thumb towards the door, shoving himself to his feet. "I think we need some time apart."

"Sounds like it," Mark replied with a nervous smile.

John walked back into the building, the doors sliding shut behind him. "Not your brother," he whispered to himself. "Not your brother." When he glanced over his shoulder, both Billick and Edison were watching him. Their eyes quickly snapped back up to the wall.

He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes until it hurt. What did one do when a Wraith confessed their love?

"So apparently," he said as he walked back into Rodney's room without knocking, "I'm irresistible to Wraith."

Rodney was sitting at his desk eating a can of sliced peaches. "Say what?"

"Mark. Has a thing for me."

"Of course he does," Rodney muttered.

"What was that?" John asked, just to be an asshole. He sat on the end of Rodney's bed, which had new sheets on it. Rodney must've changed them the second he'd left.

Rodney swiveled the chair around to look John straight in the eye. "I said, of course he does. Why wouldn't he? Everyone has a thing for you. You're so--" He waved his hand up and down John's body, like that explained it.

John was really fucking sick of Rodney's Kirk jokes. "I don't know where the hell you get this idea that I'm some sex-crazed egomaniac. I don't hit on everything that moves, and I sure as hell never hit on your sister, so if that's what's crawled up your ass and died, you can forget about it."

Rodney said, "I just meant... you're really good-looking."

"You can stop with the sarcasm," John growled.

"I'm not being sarcastic," Rodney snapped. "Excuse me if I don't think it's ridiculous that some guy you've been spending time with and baring your soul to happens to have feelings for you. Some people actually get crushes on people who pay attention to them, especially when that person is some big hero-type who they can't possibly understand."

John was taken aback. "Are you saying Ronon and Teyla have crushes on me?"

Rodney threw his hands in the air. "No, you simpleton, I'm saying I have a crush on you! God, you're the most infuriating person I've ever met in my life. Some days I swear the Ancients let you make that chair orgasm so you'd have to come here and make me lose my mind."

John opened his mouth, but he didn't have any words. He'd fantasized about what Rodney would be like in bed often enough to admit to himself he had a thing; a couple of times, late at night, feeling like the universe's biggest idiot, he'd thought about what it'd be like if there was more to it than that. That connection Mark had been talking about, he'd felt it with Rodney, and sometimes, he thought Rodney did too. But he'd never expected it to happen.

"I--" he started, then stopped. Rodney's expression went from mortified to hopeful. "I--"

Elizabeth's voice broke in, startling him. "Colonel Sheppard, may I see you in my office?"

"I need to go," John told Rodney numbly.

Rodney nodded miserably. "Yes, I'll be, um. Probably in the lab. If you need me. Or not."

Elizabeth looked up at John as he stumbled into her office a lot less gracefully than he'd intended. He collapsed into one of the chairs in front of her desk and very carefully didn't think about how his life sucked. His teammate and his Wraith both had feelings for him. One scared the crap out of him, and the other he was conspiring to smuggle out of Atlantis.

"What's going on?" he drawled.

"Major Lorne's team just returned from M4X-111," Elizabeth said. She looked delighted. "Guess which planet had some interesting rumours about a power device left behind by the Ancients?"

It was the easiest plan John had ever had. He wondered why it had taken him so long to think of it.

He smirked, slowly and smugly, crossing his arms behind his head. "My team will head out first thing in the morning."

*

It was time to tell Ronon and Teyla exactly what was going on. Truthfully, John wasn't looking forward to it. He'd never been good at being the bearer of bad news. He tended to trip over his words and make people feel worse. Like Ford's cousin. Or every person he'd ever dated.

"Remember that time you had that friend who was a Wraith, and we lied to him about it, and then it backfired and he went bananas on us?"

Teyla's left eyebrow twitched upwards."You mean Michael?"

"Yeah," he said brightly, "Michael. Do you have a minute?"

She looked pointedly around the empty gym.

"You should probably sit down for this," John said, because this was the kind of conversation that was better sitting down. He just hoped when he told her, she didn't do something horrible. Hitting he could deal with; crying, not so much.

"What is going on?" Teyla asked slowly, sounding slightly alarmed.

He took a seat on the bench, and Teyla gingerly sat beside him, her brows drawing together. "This is hard for me to say." He opened his mouth to tell her everything when he spotted a series of purple hickies barely hidden under the high collar of her new shirt. Suddenly he had a much more important thing to ask. "Does Mark have... you know...?"

Teyla frowned. "Does he have...?"

John shrugged, trying to look casual. Stupid Rodney and his stupid ideas. "Boy parts?"

"Oh," she said. "No."

"Did Michael?"

Teyla chuckled. "No, John, of course not. Wraith do not have the same genitals as humans."

It wasn't like John had been considering hooking up with Mark before, but this sealed it. There was no way in hell John was sleeping with a man without a dick. Not that John had ever been with a man; sure, over the years he'd had some crushes, and there'd been that really inappropriate thing he had for one of the mechanics during the first Gulf War that had gotten him a few raised eyebrows. But if he was going to risk his neck for some guy-on-guy action, he was going to go all the way.

"There is more than one way to have sex," Teyla added.

"Oh," John said knowingly, waggling his eyebrows, "so he's good at--"

"I am very skilled in the ways of fisting."

John's mind went blissfully white. Teyla looked at him serenely.

"It gives me a feeling of empowerment like nothing else. I like to be the one who pene--"

"Okay," John interrupted loudly. "I think we're done with this discussion."

A smirk had been forming on her lips, but now her face went blank again. He recognized apprehension when he saw it. "Is that what you came to discuss with me?" she asked carefully.

It was better to just spit it out, like ripping off a bandaid. There'd be other guys. This was Teyla. She was hot. "What would you say if we had to sneak Mark out of Atlantis so he wouldn't alert the Wraith to our location?"

Teyla stared at him for a long moment. John wondered if it would make him less of a man if he threw up his hands to protect his face.

"All men are alike," Teyla said finally. "They tell you they love you, when they are just biding their time until they can get back to their hive ships."

"You're telling me," said John.

*

John called a team meeting in his room. He sat at the desk while Rodney and Teyla took up his bed, and Ronon leaned against the wall. Somehow, it was a lot easier to tell Ronon about Mark than it had been to tell Teyla. Possibly because Ronon wasn't sleeping with Mark. He hoped. Oh God, how he hoped.

"So let me get this straight," Ronon said, looming. "All this time we've been keeping him from remembering he's a Wraith, he's known about it?"

"Pretty much," John replied.

"I never liked him," Ronon declared.

"You're such a liar," Rodney scoffed. If he was suffering from their aborted exchange earlier, he wasn't showing it. He was in full jackass mode. "You said he was a, and I quote, 'funner' version of the Colonel. I don't even need to point out 'funner' isn't a word."

Betrayed, John glared at Ronon, who looked away shamefully. "What're we going to do about him?" Ronon asked the floor.

Teyla stiffened. "If he was among my people, we would hang him, tie his corpse to a cart, and have it dragged through the village."

She wasn't taking it well. John guessed once you had your hand up some guy's ass, it made you feel close.

"Really?" Rodney asked excitedly. "I say we give him to Teyla's people."

"McKay, we've been over this," John warned. "Besides, I happen to have a great plan that'll solve all our problems."

"Do tell," Rodney said.

"Wait, why aren't we killing him?" Ronon asked. He looked at John in surprise.

"Because Sheppard has issues," Rodney replied shortly. "Tell us your plan, Colonel."

John leaned back in his chair, pleased with himself. His plan was awesome. "We sneak him onto the jumper we're taking out for tomorrow's mission, and we drop him off on the planet when we get there," he explained proudly.

The room went very quiet for an instant.

Finally, Rodney bent forward, sneering, "What kind of retarded--? Hmm." His eyes glazed over. "That might just be crazy enough to work."

"What are you thinking?" John asked.

"I have an-- excuse me, 'lightbulb,'" Rodney said, curling his fingers into air quotes. Out of all the things John had ever said to Rodney, he regretted that one the most.

"I do not believe that plan will work," Teyla protested. "Elizabeth is going to be very upset when she finds out what we have done. Is there not a way to fake Mark's death? Surely Rodney can blow up something. Perhaps Ronon can pretend to murder Mark in a fit of rage."

"We'd have to get Mark through the gate somehow, which means we'd have to get everybody out of the gate room, and I don't want to risk hurting anybody by accident," John said, grimacing. He was pretty sure Elizabeth wouldn't kill him, but he'd never put that theory to the test. "McKay and I have been through this already. I'll deal with it. I'll say it was a command decision. She'll understand after I explain the situation to her. I mean, it's not like I'm doing this under mind control."

Ronon and Teyla exchanged glances. "Of course not," Teyla said.

"I can knock out the security cameras for a few minutes," Rodney said, snapping his fingers. He reached around John's shoulder and scooped his tablet off the desk. "Not for long; just enough for it to look like a glitch. Then, while that's out, you can get Mark into the jumper. Voila, we take off, he's released back into the wild, we're done. All you'd need to do is tell me is where to turn the cameras off."

Mark had developed a schedule in his time in Atlantis, and John knew it pretty well by this point. "I can do that," he said.

"Teyla and I will watch your backs," Ronon said seriously.

"Of course you will," Rodney exclaimed. "Did you think I was going to ask for your help in hacking the security system? Please."

John sent Rodney a narrow-eyed glance. Sometimes he could be such an asshole. Evidently, Ronon thought so too, because he glared hard enough for Rodney to balk.

"As I was saying," Rodney continued, clearing his throat, "I'm sure the two of you will, as usual, be valuable assets. The Wild Bunch to our Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid. The lab assistants to our Michelson and Morley. The--"

"McKay," John cut in.

"Sorry," Rodney said. "You know I can't help myself when I'm nervous."

*

When Ronon and Teyla were leaving, John asked, "Hey, McKay, can you stay for a minute?"

Teyla gave John a sympathetic look as the door closed in her face. He wasn't sure if that was because she could tell what was going on between them or because of the freaky ass telepathy. It wasn't like Rodney knew the definition of subtle. Being loud and obnoxious was more his style.

Rodney hesitated. "Make it fast. Every second we waste in here is a second I should be working on our plan."

"Like I don't know you can hack the system in less than five minutes," John said, crossing his arms over his chest.

Rodney preened a little; he never could resist a compliment. "Alright, spit it out."

With some difficulty, John began, "I know that what happened earlier was embarrassing..."

"Yes, I can see how that would be been particularly devastating for you," Rodney snapped.

"Hey!" John said defensively. "We need to discuss--" Don't say our relationship, don't say our relationship. "--Our relationship--" Dammit! "--but not now. It's going to have to wait until after we've dealt with this situation."

"Yes, of course," Rodney said prickly. "I know that. What's going on now is much more important than our-- than whatever's going on. I'm sorry to break it to you, Colonel, but the world doesn't revolve around you."

"Look, if you calm down a minute, I'm trying to tell you something. I was going to say, we're going to talk about it later, but I don't want you to think I--" He didn't know how to tell Rodney without saying something embarrassing. He put his hand on Rodney's arm, and Rodney went very still. "You need to know I--"

"Colonel Sheppard, can you please come to my office?" Elizabeth's voice buzzed in his ear, shattering the moment. "There's an error in one of your requisition forms."

"Uh, yeah, right away," he said into the mic. In that moment, John hated Elizabeth and paperwork with every fibre of his being.

He and Rodney stared at each other.

"These interruptions are probably a sign," said John half-jokingly.

Rodney gave him a disgusted look and walked out like he wished he could slam the door behind him.

*

The next morning, John met with his security team, finished reading last week's mission reports from the teams, and attended his own pre-mission briefing, all without giving away that he was up to something. Granted, Rodney wouldn't look him in the eye and Ronon kept making guilty faces, but Rodney being a bastard was nothing new and, thankfully, Elizabeth had never understood Ronon anyway. Teyla, at least, had been as cool and composed as ever, even though she had probably been imaging all the different ways she could kill Mark in her head.

For the first phase of the Operation: Wraith No More, John met Mark, Sergeant Edison, and Sergeant Billick in the sky walk connecting the north and east towers. He had Ronon's gun tucked in his waistband, under his tac jacket, and a couple of Ronon's rope-like hair ties in his back pocket.

John smiled as the three men headed in his direction. "I'll take it from here, guys," he ordered.

As soon as Billick's and Edison's backs were turned, John stunned them. They fell to the ground in a loud heap.

"What are you doing?" Mark demanded.

"Getting you out of here," John said. He started pulling Edison, the smaller of the two, by the armpits. "Help me stuff these guys in the storage closet."

"Wow," Mark said, rushing over to grab Edison's feet, "wow, um, I wish you'd told me you were going to do this, I could've packed."

John narrowed his eyes. "And by 'packed,' you mean...?"

"Work on my seduction technique."

Together, Mark and John tried to lift Edison. He was a lot heavier than he looked; John started to break out in a sweat and Mark's face went bright red with strain as they tried dragging him towards the closet. "Okay!" John exclaimed, letting the man fall to the ground again. He panted. "This isn't working."

Mark brushed sweat of his forehead. "Man, it's a lot easier to move bodies when they're dried-up, withered husks."

John laughed before he could stop himself. He coughed. "That's not funny," he said, scowling.

"Come on, that was totally funny," Mark said, grabbing Edison's calves. John got a better grip on his shoulders. "Okay, on three."

They finally managed to stuff Edison in the closet. John tried to catch his breath, feeling like he'd just run a marathon. He wiped his sweaty palms on his BDUs. Maybe in the next databurst he'd ask the SGC for skinnier Marines, although it would be hard to explain that he wanted them because they were easier to carry. Or maybe not; he had the feeling General Landry thought he was kind of nuts.

"There," Mark said, "that wasn't so hard." He beamed at John.

"We still need to move Billick," John said.

"Dammit," said Mark.

John pulled the rope out of his pocket and began tying Edison's hands behind his back. "We have ten minutes before Rodney turns the security cameras back on. We need to get Billick in here, pronto."

"Everyone's going to think I did this," Mark said, leaning over John's shoulder.

"That's the plan," John replied smugly.

*

Rodney was alone in the jumper when John and Mark got there. His laptop was plugged into one of the wall terminals of the jumper bay, and he was sitting on the jumper's floor, typing furiously.

"How much longer do we have?" John asked.

"Two minutes," Rodney replied sharply. He met John's eyes for a split second, then he glanced back down at the screen. "Then all we have to do it wait for Ronon and Teyla. Provided we don't get caught keeping people out of the corridors, of course."

John slid on his tac vest. Mark was walking around the jumper, poking at things.

"Can I fly it?" Mark asked.

"No," John and Rodney snapped simultaneously. "You wouldn't be able to, anyway," Rodney added. "You don't have the gene, unless you shared DNA with the Colonel when you-- how about you just keep your hands to yourself, hmm, and leave the flying to Captain Kirk here?" Mark raised his hands in the air and stepped back.

"I'm going to murder you if call me that one more time," John growled.

"Fine, I have a whole repertoire of Riker jokes I have yet to use."

Mark bent to gaze at the HUD. "I haven't flown in years," he murmured dreamily. "Our ships are different, though. I've never been inside a Lantean one before. I mean, while conscious."

Rodney and John exchanged glances.

"If we screw up the galaxy again, do you want to run away together and become space pirates?" John asked.

"No," Rodney said. "Are you crazy? I'm not living in the back of a puddlejumper."

There was a whoosh as the entrance to the jumper bay opened. John braced himself, until Teyla and Ronon walked up the ramp. "I believe no one is suspicious," Teyla said, zipping into her tac jacket. "However, it is only a matter of time before the guards are found unconscious."

John handed Ronon's gun back to him. He watched jealously as Ronon spun it once and stuck it in his holster. "We're ready to leave as soon as I give the order."

As Teyla and-- well, Teyla finished suiting up, John heard Mark say to Rodney in the cockpit: "Thanks for helping me. I know you don't like me very much."

Rodney laughed loudly and nervously. "What? Preposterous! What possibly made you think that?"

"Well, all the glaring kind of gave it away. Also, Ronon told me," Mark said.

"Stupid barbarian," Rodney grumbled.

When John took the pilot's seat, Rodney finished tucking his laptop back into its case. John turned on his radio. Out of the corner of his eye, Ronon and Teyla ushered Mark away from the cockpit window. "Command room, this is Jumper One," John said. "We're ready to head out."

John was expecting Sergeant Campbell on the line, but instead it was Elizabeth. "John, I don't wish to alarm you, but have you seen Mark Messier?"

"The hockey player?" John asked, smirking.

He could hear her eyes narrowing. "The Wraith."

"Haven't seen him," he lied. "Why?"

"Oh, it's not important. He asked me to teach him how to play chess today. We had a play date, but he's late."

John turned to glare at Mark to find Rodney already giving Mark the evil eye. "Isn't it funny how everyone who reads your mind suddenly has a hard time keeping it in their pants?" Rodney dryly asked.

"Hey, Teyla's not whoring herself all over Atlantis," John said.

"What?" Teyla called from the back.

"Jumper One, this is flight." It was Sergeant Campbell this time. "The bay doors are open. You're go for launch."

John's fingers flew over the controls, running over the checklist he could do in his sleep. "Thanks. See you at the check in. Sheppard out."

He glanced over his shoulder; in the back, Mark had a hand on Teyla's shoulder and was saying, "Baby, you know I'm not like that." Ronon, in the chair behind McKay, met John's eyes and pulled a face. Rodney, of course, was staring out the window resolutely.

John took a deep breath and guided the jumper through the hatch.

*

"What's taking so long? He's probably sucking the life out of her. I told you this was a bad idea."

"Stop it, they're probably making out," John said, glaring.

Rodney glanced at him in surprise. "I thought he had the hots for you?"

"Him and Teyla have... done things," John said uncomfortably. "Intimate things that aren't easily forgotten. Believe me, I've tried."

"I always knew Teyla was a dominatrix," Rodney said. He almost sounded wistful. "All I want is for him to get out of our lives. It's been bad enough these last few weeks without a ZPM and you being all--" He made a strange gesture that John took to mean "loopy." "I've actually begun fearing for my life more than usual lately. Every time someone calls me I think they're going to say we're under siege by the Wraith. I'm going to end up on anti-anxiety medication by the end of the week. Did you know Carson has an entire shelf of Xanax alone?"

"These last couple of weeks have been a real vacation for me too, Rodney," John said sarcastically.

Rodney dropped his head back to rest against the jumper. The two of them were sitting on the grass, staring up at the now-familiar constellations. Ronon was off spying on Teyla, or something. It probably wasn't the safest position for them to be in, but the only sign of human civilization for miles was the stargate, and John didn't feel like they were in any danger. There was a cool breeze in the air. Pegasus crickets chirped. It was, John noticed, kind of romantic.

He pulled his legs closer and started edging towards Rodney. "Now would be a great time to have that conversation," he said quietly.

"What conversation?" Rodney asked. "Oh. That conversation. The conversation I'd injure myself to avoid."

John raised an eyebrow. "You'd injure yourself."

"Well, maybe a papercut," Rodney said, wiggling his fingers.

But he didn't move away as John closed the gap between them, until they were pressed shoulder to shoulder. "Remember what you said yesterday?" John asked.

"No, I always forget humiliating conversations regarding my feelings," Rodney said, rolling his eyes.

He brushed his trembling fingers over Rodney's palm. "Um, so you know, me too, with the crushing and the feeling crazy."

Rodney's mouth dropped, but he quickly regained his composure. "You're trying to tell me you have feelings for me that are less than platonic?"

Say something meaningful, John told himself.

"I like your hands," he said.

"Good enough for me," Rodney said.

But Rodney didn't lay a hand on him; he looked back up at the stars, smiling crookedly, and then turned to John. John beamed at him with the same kind of dizzying relief he felt after every life-or-death mission. He had the electrifying feeling of being alive.

"I can't believe my first man-kiss was with a Wraith," John said. "I don't think I'll ever forget that."

"Is that a challenge?" Rodney asked, voice going up a few octaves.

"If you think you can do better than a--"

His words were drowned out by Rodney kissing him. He brought his hands up to cup Rodney's face; he liked the way Rodney's bristled cheeks felt against his skin, the way one of Rodney's hands combed through his hair while the other, big and warm, slid down to his waist. He sucked a sharp breath in through his nose, angling his face as Rodney's lips parted beneath his, and--

"Hey." They tore apart. Ronon was standing in front of them.

"Do you mind?" Rodney asked, sounding out of breath.

"Yeah, I do," Ronon said.

"You do?" Rodney repeated disbelievingly.

Ronon silently shifted on the balls of his feet.

"Are you lonely?" John asked.

"Maybe," Ronon muttered.

"Oh no," Rodney said. He wrapped an arm around John's shoulders. "I've worked long and hard for this. I deserve this! You can get your own military hunk. And just so you know, most people from Earth don't find it hot when you hit them over the head and drag them back to your cave."

"It's too bad Teyla's only into Wraith," John said sympathetically.

"Give me time," Ronon said with a scowl, "I already have the hair and the coat." Then he raised his head and looked at something in the distance. "They're done."

The three of them walked across the field to where Mark and Teyla were waiting by the stargate, John and Rodney discreetly bumping shoulders. When they got to the DHD, Mark was kissing Teyla's cheek. That player, John thought darkly. Ronon looked annoyed; Rodney made his "Captain Kirk again?" face, which meant John had to punch him later.

After Teyla finished with her Athosian hug, Mark turned to John. "Can I say goodbye to you alone?"

"Sure," John said, ignoring Rodney's pinched look. Mark took his arm and led him just a few feet away from the group. Behind him, he could hear someone punching in gate coordinates.

"Thanks," Mark said, "for helping me. Sorry about screwing up your life and making you all--" He made a hand gesture probably stolen from Rodney. "Wraith-y."

Maybe it was the pressure of concealing their plan from Elizabeth and Lorne and the rest of Atlantis, or maybe it was his agitation over the whole Rodney thing, but John realized he was feeling exactly like himself. He was John Sheppard, the troublemaker with the fucked up blood family who didn't acknowledge his existence and the family he'd made for himself in a new galaxy and the crazy Ancient city he called home, and he loved ferris wheels, college football, and anything that went more than two hundred miles per hour. He was fan-fucking-tastic.

Laughter bubbled up inside him. "Nah, I'm cool," he said. "Sorry for making you eat animals and turning you into a human against your will."

Mark smiled. "I don't know if this happened because I gave you your life back, or because I was in that cell for so long, or even because this is who I really am. But thanks for showing me what it's like to be human, and for trusting me."

"Yeah, well." John nodded. "Next time I see you, all bets are off. I mean it this time."

"I guess I'll have to make sure you don't see me again."

"Do you think we're going to be like this forever?" John asked. "It sucks being hungry all the time. Also, the fish thing? Kind of weird."

"I don't know," Mark said. He scratched his chin. One missing injection and already his eyes were starting to look more yellow. "I don't think so. I'm already starting to forget things. I'm losing interest in football."

"Really?" John asked, pleased.

"One of the Marines told me about this other game. Someone throws a ball, and you hit with a stick?"

"No," John said.

"I bet I'd be good at it," Mark mused.

"Would you look at that, the gate's open," John said.

"You don't want to play a game of catch before I--?"

"Can't, no time," John said with a tight smile. "Sorry."

Mark leered. "How about a kiss?"

"You don't have a cock," John pointed out. Mark deflated.

An uncomfortable silence settled between them. "I guess this is where we part ways," Mark said.

John felt like he should say something important. It was the last time they'd ever see each other. Mark may have been a Wraith who'd caused John unparalleled emotional and physical pain while stealing aspects of his personality during multiple feeding sessions, but they'd played a lot of golf together. John trusted him more than he would his real brother.

"Take care of yourself," John said. "And don't run into any Wraith. And don't feed off any humans, or else I'll have to kill you. Oh, and try to stay away from the chickens, they looked kind of diseased."

Mark backed up towards the stargate. "Goodbye, friends!" he called, waving to them all.

Ronon nodded solemnly. "So long."

"Goodbye," Teyla said with feeling. "I will never forget you!"

"Jesus, this is taking forever," said Rodney.

John went to stand side-by-side with his team as Mark disappeared into the shimmering blue of the event horizon. When it flickered out, Teyla let out a small sigh, Ronon grunted meaningfully, and Rodney pulled his PDA from his vest pocket and immediately started working.

"ZPM or no ZPM, Elizabeth is going to kick our asses," Rodney announced.

"You can tell her it was my fault," John said.

"I was planning to," Rodney remarked.

Ronon snuffled. Rodney said loudly, "You are not crying."

"I have something in my eye," Ronon mumbled.

Rodney sighed like the world was a cruel, cold place. "You're never going to tell me about your brother, are you," he said to John, sounding so annoyed that John had to look away, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning. When they got back to Atlantis, he thought, after Elizabeth finished tearing him a new one and Rodney helped him get rid of those pesky sexual inhibitions, maybe he'd round up Lorne and the guys for a game of touch football.


Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis does not belong to me. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Thanks to my wonderful betas: Keri, for all her hard work (she knows way more about sports than I ever will), and Madelyn (who also helped come up with the title).

[Post a comment] - [Index] - [Stargate Index]