It's all probably Zen. Or something. (kiku65) wrote in wraithsteve,
It's all probably Zen. Or something.
kiku65
wraithsteve

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Title: Five Ways Todd and John Never Met
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Until MGM is willing to sell Atlantis for a collection of Matrix DVDS and an old science textbook, then I no own.  
Summary: As with the Two Crossovers, the title is pretty much self-explanatory. Some snippets are a little dark, others as close as I will ever get to humour. Gen, I’m afraid (unless you wanna squint very hard) – my romance tends to turn out like my attempts at wit. And be warned that I take the A in AU seriously ^_^
A/N: In case anyone doesn’t know, Alterans are Ancients before they split with the Ori


 
Mud. Everywhere was mud. The sodden ground, the floor, rotting boots, clothing, bare skin. It got everywhere, except maybe the guard towers where the soldiers lived. Officially this place was Workcamp 113, and likewise officially the designation of the humanoid sitting cross-legged on a creaking bunk in one of the leaky wooden huts was A-class C/1-7289699. A for artifex, a skilled worker, C for one captured in war, his number telling anyone who knew how to read it that his home galaxy had been Pegasus and when he had been taken. 
 
In truth Workcamp 113 was usually known by its nickname The Bog. Again likewise C/1-7289699 had a name, or rather two. All his kind had. A crèche-name given at birth that only his crèche-brothers ever used, and his true name he had discovered for himself that only his Queen – or Queens plural he supposed – had known; it was who he was, who he had learnt he was when he came of age and power like that wasn’t shared lightly. He kept the first to himself because the other members of his crèche had all been killed a long time ago, and the second he had forgotten. In this place it was easy to forget.
 
The Seeker. That has been what it meant. His name. But he was not that person anymore. There was nothing to seek here but mud.
 
The door of the shed opened with a bang that failed to make anyone jump. Alterans always did things noisily.
 
“C One!” a voice bellowed. Ah, Karaka. He had been here almost as long as C/1-7289699 himself, and that was a long time. Karaka was Alteran; almost all the guards were, especially the higher ranks and Karaka was the guard captain. He wasn’t sadistic like some, or callous like others. He simply followed orders and made sure others did the same. C/1-7289699 rose with caution – some bunks had collapsed when weight was applied carelessly – and answered the shout. The captain graced him with a brief nod. “There’s a new one in I want you to look at. Same as before. There’ll be supplies already there.”
 
“What species?” There were quite a few in 113 – his own kind, Oranians, Reol, Unas, more he couldn’t even name or remember, even if he cared.
 
“Human.” Hmpf. That was new. They were mostly in separate areas, for obvious reasons since his own kind were predominant here. Even neutered as they were.
 
“I make no promises,” he said wearily. New prisoners tended to come in fairly battered. Karakas just snorted and turned, beckoning for him to follow. He did so readily; before 113 and a lot of other things – when he had still been The Seeker instead of C/1-7289699 – he had been a scientist, a studier of genetics and biochemistry as well as physics. It made him the closest that the camp had to a doctor, an A-class instead of an ordinary O, and A-class got extra food. It was all he cared about now.
 
The human was lying where he had fallen in the mud near the fence; true to Karaka’s word there was a bag of basic medical supplies in the hands of one of the guards watching over it – or him, C/1-7289699 supposed when he got a little closer. He knelt by the still figure and made a brief assessment. Discoloured skin, lacerations along his cheeks and lower lip, one arm that looked oddly swollen – probably broken. This one had fought hard.
 
The guards moved back to a prudent distance while he worked. There was little he could do for the bruises but he could wash down the cuts with antiseptic and straighten the broken arm. As he started to pull out bandages from the holdall the human’s eyes opened. C/1-7289699 didn’t bother catching its gaze. “Stay still. I’m about to set your arm.”
 
It didn’t appear to hear, or it was just ignoring him and sat up anyway. He hissed with annoyance but made no attempt to stop it; that was what the guards were for. “How long was I out?”
 
“I do not know. Stop moving before you make things worse.” A crippled worker was no worker at all, and he might well take the blame for this one’s infirmity. He’d tasted the electric batons of the guards before and had no desire to do so again.
 
“Jeez, you sound like Carson...” The human grinned, then winced as the cuts stretched. Idiocy. C/1-7289699 was become annoyed with it. “Can’t have been more than a couple of hours. Who are you?”
 
“C/1-7289699,” he said briefly, rooting around for a splint. Ah, good. He pulled out a pair of metal rods that Karaka had seen fit to include, then set them on either side of where he guessed the break was.
 
“I mean your name.”
 
“That is my name now,” he snapped. The human just stared. “Brace yourself.”
 
“What f–” The human yelped as he yanked the arm straight, biting out words C/1-7289699 assumed were impolite. “Shit, shit and fucking balls, ow!”
 
He grinned slightly despite himself. The human’s indignant air was comical. “I did warn you.”
 
“Oh now you’re a comedian...” The human’s face had gone almost grey. He started wrapping bandages around the makeshift splint. “Where’re you from? Your species got a name, or are they all as tight-lipped as you?”
 
“We are from another galaxy,” he said shortly, not really wanting to encourage it. “Pegasus. And we have no name now.” They couldn’t really, not anymore. Their old name, like his own, no longer fit what they were. They were no longer hunters in the dark, monsters to terrify their prey, but bonded servants. Prisoners.
 
“Pegasus? Explains a lot.” Probably it did, since Pegasus had been conquered long before this galaxy; the Alterans had seeded life and returned to subjugate what they had created aeons before. He honestly couldn’t remember how long ago Pegasus had fallen, even though he had been sent here when the last few remnants were being mopped up. 113 did that to your memory. “Um, your species, did they... I mean, are they all...?”
 
“They live. Those that remain. The Alterans found us useful after certain precautions were taken.” His kind lived as long as they had before, and they were stronger, healed faster, could do more work than most other species. Useful. “Our dietary requirements were somewhat problematic for them.”
 
“What did you eat?” the human asked with interest. He almost laughed at the look of innocent curiosity on its face. He was starting to hope it survived; it had been a long time since he had felt like laughing. The smile he flashed at it contained more teeth than humour, though.
 
“Humans. And Alterans as well, naturally but still... mainly humans.”
 
A pause. When he looked up from the bandaging he could see the human was staring at him with wide eyes. “Oh, you’re, er, Wraith?”
 
The name startled him. It hadn’t been used in a long time – the Alterans called them cim-cruori, Bug-bloods, and his kind no longer had a name for themselves. The human saw his confusion and said “I’ve met people from Pegasus that mentioned beings called Wraith who fed on humans. But they said you... stopped. They don’t know why.”
 
He covered his uncertainty, noticing the guards were watching and going back to work. “When we were defeated the Alterans saw fit to alter us with a... a serum that took away our feeding organs. We are safe for them to use now.” Useful. They worked in the naqahdah mines and the fields of some sort of water-grain they were fed with, which was insanity since even those of his kind given the retrovirus (not that there were any of the other sort left) required massive amounts of protein and carbohydrates to keep themselves healthy, neither of which could be found purely in vegetables. They were deteriorating fast.
 
“Can’t really say I’m sorry about that,” the human said dryly. He felt his lips quirk in a faint smile, glad it wasn’t foolish enough to pity him. He had been a leader of hives, a scientist, the last of his kind to fall to the Alterans’ power – once. He neither wanted nor deserved pity, least of all from a human. It kept glancing at the gates as he worked. “I’m from a place called Earth. You probably haven’t heard of it; we only fell a year ago.”
 
Lucky them. “I assume you have a name.”
 
It flashed a tight grin as he started to sponge the cuts with antiseptic. “Yeah, ow, C/2-375... something. Never heard the rest. Call me Sheppard.” He glanced at the gate again and smiled tightly. “Can you keep a secret?”
 
“Possibly.” Best not to encourage it. He knew that look on its face from long experience; he had probably worn it himself in the early days. But escape was truly impossible here. He should know.
 
It leant in closer, lowering its voice despite the guards being out of easy earshot. “We came through the Stargate. We. My... friends and I. I separated from the others afterward. That was when I was caught.”
 
“A foolish course of action,” C/1-7289699 commented as he bathed the last cut. The human glanced back to the gate again, his face splitting into a wide grin.
 
“Trust me, you’re gonna love the next part.”
 
The gate exploded.
 
C/1-7289699 had always scoffed at the phrase ‘controlled chaos’, but that was pretty much what happened next. A group of raggedly-dressed, wild-eyed beings of mostly human appearance charged through the smoke and flying mud, brandishing everything ranging from primitive bows and spears to stolen Alteran laser pistols. The guards put up a good fight but they were simply overwhelmed and taken completely by surprise. C/1-7289699 could see where the battle was going and was about to retreat to the huts when he saw the human get up and try to wrestle a stun baton off one of the guards.
 
The fool. With a broken arm? He didn’t even stop to think, but dived into the fight and pulled the guard off his would-be patient, breaking its neck with one quick twist. The human scrambled from under the limp body, white-faced, but still grinning. “Thanks buddy. I owe you one.”
 
He was about to snarl at it when a group of humans ran up; two males, one female. The shorter male looked both relieved and angry. “Sheppard! What the hell happened to your arm?”
 
“Alterans got a bit rough,” the human – Sheppard replied with a grin, then jerked a thumb over his shoulder at C/1-7289699 with his good arm. “Look, I made a friend. He patched me up and stopped me from killing myself.”
 
“Hope he knows that’s a job for life, then,” the other human said acidly while the taller male stared at C/1-7289699 with a look he recognised. A fellow Pegasus dweller then, Satedan by the looks of it. They had never been conquered by the Wraith and had been one of the last human worlds to fall to the Alterans, the planet burned almost to its bedrock in retaliation. His companions noticed as well. “Ronon, what...?”
 
“He’s a Wraith,” the human called Ronon snarled. Sheppard raised an eyebrow.
 
“Yeah, he said he was, but he can’t feed on anyone now and he helped me out. And –” the man made a wide-sweeping gesture that encompassed the workers now emerging and staring in confusion “most of those are Wraith as well. If you wanna kill them all I’d be quick about it, ‘cause we need to leave soon before any reinforcements come. Besides, I want this tracker out of me as soon as.”
 
The woman had already gone to the prisoners, talking loudly as if making a speech. C/1-7289699 did not need his own very good sense of hearing to know what she was trying to recruit them. The only resource of value here was people. Sheppard noticed him watching and grinned again. “Feel like joining up? The food's pretty crappy but you get a good gun if you know how to shoot.”
 
C/1-7289699... stared. Join them? Fight? He didn’t know... he had forgotten how. He had been here for so very long and now...
 
Besides, what had he to fight for? A suspicion had worked its way into his mind while he was here, worming its way through his brain like a maggot to sap his hope and strength. It whispered of the Queens, of their pride and refusal to submit, how the only ones of his kind that still lived were those who had been stunned before they could self-detonate or go down fighting. The Queens would have found a way to die unconquered, and if there were no Queens left...
 
His kind was already subjugated. He was afraid they might be facing extinction as well.
 
How could they possibly win? What did have to win for?
 
But in the hazel eyes of Sheppard there was a new thought that felt like a cool breeze in the desert.
 
We don’t have to win. We just have to fight.
 
He looked at the humans and saw no hope in their eyes, but a bitter determination, pride, companionship, belonging. He saw how they looked at each other and felt something stir deep in a place he had forgotten was there, because he had lost the thing they held so very long ago.
 
A hive.
 
“I will come,” he heard himself say. “But... I still have no name.” He was no longer The Seeker, that person had died when he had been stunned and neutered with the retrovirus. Maybe he would find another some day, but for now... C/1-7289699 was all he was.
 
He didn’t want to be that person anymore.
 
Sheppard smiled, but it wasn’t his usual lopsided smirk but something sadder, kinder. He held C/1-7289699’s elbow and gently guided him with his team towards the waiting band.
 
“We’ll find one for you,” he said as they walked. “Personally, I like the name Todd...”
 
o.O.o
 
“... and that’s Mako... no, Meko... oh who cares, she a physicist anyway, from China...”
 
“Japan,” corrected a man with glasses and flyaway hair that would have made Einstein jealous. “And her name is Doctor Miko.”
 
McKay glared at him while John stifled a yawn. Along with the plusses of the ATA gene (being on alien cities and flying really cool ships at even cooler speeds) were some fairly major downsides. Well, one downside. He seemed to have become the unofficial guinea pig for most of the scientists whenever he wasn’t offworld, and spent most of what was laughingly called his leisure time lighting up Ancient doodads in stuffy labs when he would much rather have been playing his guitar or seeing if puddlejumpers could ever produce turkey sandwiches as well as HUDs and drones. Probably not, but it was worth a shot.
 
McKay wasn’t really helping, although he was doing his best. Unfortunately his best included giving John a guided tour of his little domain, which meant he spent even more time in the labs...
 
“That Zawalski–”
 
Zelenka.”
 
“– he’s an Ancient expert... like we need any more,” McKay added under his breath over the other man’s protests before moving on to what looked like a very high-tech telescope with a swarthy-skinned man working nearby, starting up again sulkily. “That one’s Gradin–”
 
Grodin!” a voice shouted behind them.
 
“And this one’s.... Grodin, where the hell is our astronomer?”
 
The narrow-faced man pointed downwards mutely. John and Rodney looked at the base of the telescope-thing in time to see a pair of scuffed black boots sticking out from underneath. “The lens controls wouldn’t work,” Grodin explained.
 
A faint, muffled “Kuso!” came from underneath.
 
“What, again? Okay, fine, never mind. It’s ten thousand years old; it’s probably got dust inside it or something. This one’s from Japan as well,” McKay explained as Grodin moved away hastily, as though talking about a prized pedigree cat. “Don’t ask me to pronounce his name, it’s got more consonants in it than a welsh village...”
 
Something clanged underneath. “Chikushoo! Baka keisanki!
 
McKay gave the boots a not-so-gentle kick. “Hey, someone to see you, whatever-your-name-is!”
 
The boots started to scoot outwards and their owners unfolded up... and up a bit more. John stared as the man stood up straight, topping him by at least a head as he ruffled dirt out of his hair and short beard– he didn’t look very old but both were already silvered and whitening. He stared at them both impatiently, reminding John irresistibly of McKay.
 
John swallowed and waved lamely. “Er, hi. Do... you... speak... English?”
 
The man stared at him a little more with a look that clearly said what the hell?
 
“Um... I’m... John.... Sheppard. I’m... friend... of... McKay.” John grinned unsure and pointed at the equally uncomfortable scientist behind him. “Where... you... from?”
 
The man’s tilted green eyes narrowed. “Cambridge.”
 
“Oh, you er...” John could feel his face growing hot. “Is, er, Cambridge a nice place? I’ve never been to Japan you see.”
 
The eyes narrowed further. “It’s in Britain,” the man said in perfectly pronounced, if acidic, English. “A small island off the coast of Europe. You might not have heard of it.”
 
Well, this is my cue to crawl away and die, John thought through the mists of embarrassment. His tour guide was in silent fits of laughter beside him. Dammit, I’m going to kill McKay.
 
The man let him squirm a little more, before taking pity on him and holding out a hand. “Tsukiyama Teruyoshi. Although it is probably best that you call me Todd.”
 
“Major John Sheppard,” John said sheepishly, shaking the hand, and adding, “You can call me whatever you want. I’m not fussy.”
 
Tsukiya... Todd laughed. Rodney decided to add his two cents. “Todd’s an astrophysicist; he used to work with Sam... Er, Colonel Carter. Um. He’s here to help us map out new ‘gate addresses.”
 
John mumbled something he sincerely hoped sounded polite, all he managed before McKay was pulled him on to something that looked like a gigantic Frisbee covered in blue crystals. He could have sworn the oversized scientist graced him with a very slight smile and a wink he was dragged away.
 
“I thought the Japanese were supposed to be small,” he hissed furiously as soon as they were out of earshot. “That guy’s bigger than me.”
 
“Well excuse him for not conforming to your cultural stereotypes!” McKay hissed back. “His family used to be one of those armoured grunts that kept the peasants in line–”
 
“– Samurai, McKay. It’s not hard to remember.”
 
“Okay fine, whatever. Do I care what they call their sword-monkeys? Apparently everyone else in his family looks like him; it must have been helpful when they still needed to bash peasants over the head to keep them in line.”
 
John smirked at him. “Maybe I should ask him to help me out with you some time.”
 
McKay turned red.
 
o.O.o
 
Atlantis has fallen.
 
The air is thick with the smell of blood and burning oil. He stalks over useless weapons still clutched in the cold hands of their broken owners, some drained to grey husks but still more bled out or smashed by concussion blasts before ever a hand could be laid on them. The humans had fought well, he could grant them that, but they had been no match for his alliance of hives. Perhaps against one or two – not twelve.
 
Those that still live are gathered in the central hallway before the ‘gate – mostly non-combatants, scientists like himself and some in white coats that smelt of antiseptic. They would be gifted in seeing the fall of their world as the ‘gate opened for his technicians before being taken to the cocoons. He had ordered what leaders could be found to be gathered separately, and is pleased to see this had been done; a dark-haired man in tattered clothes singed and stained with black and red is being held apart from the others. One is better than nothing, and this one has the look of a fighter. The human struggles and snarls as he draws closer, then stands with a straight spine to spit at his feet.
 
Yes, he is brave, this one. Almost a pity that he had been born human – a Wraith would be proud of the way he holds himself in the face of certain death. The whimpers and sobs of the others add a bleak counterpoint to the meeting.
 
He waits for the drones to hold the human still, then trails the back of his fingers gently down one bruised cheek. The skin is slightly damp, crusted with salt. “You are strong.”
 
The human spits out a curse with a glob of blood. He smiles, feeling something that was almost remorse. “There is no shame in this. You were outnumbered and still fought, despite certain defeat. I honour your courage.”
 
“Go... to... hell,” the human whispers.
 
He feels no anger, only respect and rising hunger as he gently pulls the frayed shirt open and places his hand on the human’s chest; he will not make this one kneel. Among those below someone starts crying. “I will savour your strength and remember how you resisted us.”
 
He pushes down sharply with his palm, injecting the enzyme then feeling the life flowing up and through him in a heady rush that so pure and rich, sweeter than anything he had ever tasted before. He closes his eyes and growls softly in contentment as the human sags, refusing to scream, its heart fluttering and fading until it finally stops between one breath and the next.
 
He turns from the empty shell at his feet to watch the ‘gate dial up, filling with azure liquid the colour of a clear sky.
 
In the depths of the city, a trigger detonates.
 
Moments later the rest of Atlantis follows.
 
o.O.o
 
“Gee, great trap Rodney.”
 
“Okay, okay, so there were a few glitches,” Rodney muttered as they crouched beneath a rotting log that smelt strongly of mould and seemed intent on dripping slimy stuff down both of their necks. It was a damp, nasty day in a damp nasty forest, and both of them were soaked.
 
A few, he says. A few. Like how you just had to not mention how high those things can jump. Or how pissed off they get when someone drops them in a pit full of spikes, or–”
 
“Well, I thought it was obvious even to you how pissed off anything would be if it was dropped in a pit full of spikes,” Rodney snapped at him. John struggled to control his temper. “Look, we just have to lie low and, and it’ll get fed up and leave. No biggie.”
 
“It’s a Wraith, not one of your minions on caffeine! They don’t just get fed up and leave!”
 
A growl above the log makes them both freeze. He started praying to anyone who might happen to be listening and like idiots. I promise if I get out of this I’ll make it up to Dad and Dave when I next call back to Earth, I’ll give Teyla that DVD of Star Wars she wanted, I’ll...
 
Two heavy boots thudded in front of their hiding place, a hand reaching inside to haul John out by his collar. Rodney shrieked like a girl as he came face-to-face with a death mask of green skin, lips peeled back over dirty needle teeth, shark-like eyes furious. There were still holes in the leather coat where it had fallen in to the pit.
 
“Rodney run, go, go!” He heard rather than saw the scientist scramble up and make a dash for it as he head butted his captor. It made absolutely no difference whatsoever.
 
It wasn’t fair. They hadn’t even done this on purpose; they found the pit, gone around it carefully, then carried on and walked slap-bang into a culling at the village they were visiting. Ronon and Teyla had run off one way, he and Rodney had run off in this one, and it had been pure bad luck that this Wraith had spotted them and decided they look tasty. The idea about leading it to the pit had been a typical McKay spur-of-the-moment thing.
 
A typical McKay spur-of-the-moment thing that was about to get him killed.
 
“Hey,” he croaked as it glared at him. “You really need to see a dentist. Ever heard of mouthwash?”
 
It snarled. What was really galling was that they had been looking for a Wraith to test Beckett’s retrovirus on for over a week already. Just their luck to actually find one...
 
It pulled back its hand in readiness, then spasmed in a halo of red light. John felt the electricity crackle from it as it fell, unmoving. He sighed with relief.
 
“Almost thought you were gonna be too late for once, big guy.”
 
Ronon smirked but didn’t holster his gun. At least someone was being sensible today. “It’s set it to stun. You want me to–?”
 
“Nah, stun is good.” John glared at Rodney, who was puffing behind the Satedan red-faced. “Saves us from having to do this again.”
 
Rodney spluttered with outrage, but John cut him off. “Teyla?”
 
“At the ‘gate, dialling back. The darts already left. This one must have stayed behind to hunt alone.”
 
“Gee, you think?” John muttered, then clapped his hands. “Alright, let’s get the big ugly vampire thing back to the ‘gate before she starts to worry. Rodney, you grab its legs.”
 
“When did I end up on manual labour duties?” Rodney complained as he picked up a foot gingerly. John shot him a withering look.
 
“Ever since it was your dumbass idea that almost got us both killed, Rodney.”
 
“Hey, if I hadn’t thought of trapping him we would’ve been caught...!”
 
“... and since you did hang around at the edge instead of running we almost got caught anyway,” John pointed out. Rodney spluttered again, but shut up and helped lift the comatose Wraith. Ronon stared at the odd sight and snorted.
 
“Thought about what you’re gonna call him yet?”
 
John grinned lopsidedly from under his load. “I was thinking along the lines of... Todd.”
 
o.O.o
 
This world was as rich as ripe fruit from a tree, and had fallen into their hands just as easily.
 
The name of the being taking refuge in the forest would have been unpronounceable to any without the specific multi-toned vocal cords of his kind, and even they wouldn’t have been able to use it simply because most of them didn’t know it. A name – a true-name – was a powerful thing, the encapsulation of everything that bearer was. Two only he had told, and one had died a long time before the day he sheltered from the autumn rain under an old hazel tree blazing with red and copper.
 
The one who had died had been his brother, and had known his second name, the name he had born as a child still in his crèche. Ka, the call of the carrion bird that watches for weakness and hovers above the dieing waiting for meat. He looked very much like a carrion bird with his long black coat that brushed the leaves, but what he was searching for wasn’t corpses but knowledge. This world was new, strange and wonderful. Its plant life and soil could hold many secrets.
 
Any of lower rank could be gathering samples, but he had elected to do it himself. Ka enjoyed being planetside, in the fresh air with the smell of life and ripening fruits beading on every plant. They had already been here seven days, filled their cocoons to the bursting along with every other hive that had followed their call, and still there were more to be hunted each day. On a world as rich as this he could afford to take his time and explore a little.
 
A sound in the undergrowth made him turn, left hand ghosting down to where his stunner pistol lay hidden in a side pocket. There was no need to fight over food anymore, but old habits died hard...
 
The silence was back, broken only by the faint pitter-patter of raindrops on leaves, but it wasn’t the same silence. It was the silence of prey being very still and quiet in the hope that the hunter would move on. A less experienced hunter might have, but Ka was very old, and he knew about silences. The pistol was slipped quietly out of its pocket, and he stalked over carefully to the bushes he guessed the sound had come from, every muscle tense, before pulling aside the branches in one sweep.
 
Ka snorted, lowering his pistol and sighing in self-disgust. The leader of twenty hives for over a millennia – and he had just been spooked in the forest by a human cub!
 
Not even a particularly big one either; it didn’t even come up to his hip and was scrawny as the twigs it was sheltering beneath, dressed in a bright red short tunic and blue canvas pants stuck with dead leaves. One extremely grubby fist was clutching what looked like a handful of nuts; the other was pressed flat in the ground in a runner’s position, and both eyes in its dirty face were as wide as river pebbles. Ka sensed quite strongly that the only reason it hadn’t yet bolted was because it was too terrified of him to move.
 
He turned away and went back to his shelter under the hazel. Probably the best thing to do was ignore it and keep very still, until it plucked up enough nerve to run. It wasn’t worth feeding on and he wasn’t hungry anyway... although that could change if it had parents hanging around. He leant against the tree trunk, dozing while upright with one slitted green eye open.
 
A slight rustle made it swivel towards where the cub had been. Ah good, it was leaving. Then he realised that, much to his surprise, it was not leaving, but was in fact creeping towards him slowly. Not as a hunter might, but as a wary youngling might approach a stranger.
 
It caught the gleam of his open eye and froze. When he made no sudden move it crept a little closer, then stopped just out of arms length, and looked at him with a strange expression before edging closer still, and touching the hem of his coat with timid fingers.
 
Ka was straight in an instant, snarling ferociously at the insolent cub. It jumped backwards at once, but surprised him yet again by holding its ground. More than that; it was holding both hands into fists (one still full of grimy kernels) as though getting ready to fight, its tiny face tense and wary. He stared at it in disbelief, then imagined how this entire scene might seem to an onlooker – the snarling Wraith towering absurdly over a cheeky cub that barely topped his knees. The image was so ludicrous he chuckled audibly.
 
The cub smiled hesitantly at his laughter, then shyly drew a little closer under the tree. This close he could see it was shivering, its clothing soaked through and clinging to its skinny frame. Where were its parents? It was too young to have been alone this long without supervision, and the nearest settlement was miles away, far too great a distance for it too have walked. Yet it was here, and it was alone.
 
It quivered as the wind gusted enough to shake down a shower of leaves, drawing closer still. At first he thought it was trying to share his shelter and resolved to chase it off – he wasn’t prepared to have a human hanging around and making trouble after all – when it gripped the tail of his coat again and tugged him firmly towards the bushes, its face plainly asking him to follow.
 
Ka hesitated, caught between interest as to what it wanted to show him (probably more seeds, his common sense commented) and the ridiculousness of the whole situation. He had quite sensibly taken shelter under a tree while collecting samples, and now he was being harassed by a human cub either too young or too moronic to be afraid of him. But the desperation in the cub’s face and his own curiosity won out. With a sigh, Ka started to follow it.
 
The journey wasn’t a long one, but by the end of it the cub was starting to falter, despite the kernels it cracked in its teeth and extracted white nutmeat from. It was unmistakably starving, although that was not something Ka had the resources or mindset to do anything about. He was starting to have his own suspicions about the cub, ones that were proved correct as soon as they broke the tree line and came out onto a tar-covered road.
 
He recognised the vehicle at the forest edge as one that the humans on this world commonly used to travel in, although the ones he had seen hadn’t been tilted at an angle or wedged against an oak tree with its front crumpled like paper and buried in a stream. He could see an occupant in one of the seats, and shrugged inwardly. More fool the cub to lead him to a good meal.
 
A swift look inside disabused him of that notion at once. The occupant had been in the vehicle for some time, and most of that it had been dead. As far as he could judge from the quickness of his glance it was – had been – female, and from the smell had been decomposing for perhaps the last six days. An oddly angled neck gave him a good idea of what had killed it.
 
That explained a lot. Probably the female inside was the cub’s dam, and when the culling had started at the settlement it had fled with its young to the woods, instead managing to crash and kill itself. The cub had survived but couldn’t feed itself properly and wouldn’t leave its dead mother, and so was slowly starving.
 
It stared up at him hopefully. He didn’t need to be a telepath to know it was asking him to make the corpse inside get up and walk and look after it again. And he didn’t need to be a scientist to know that was impossible – putting it mildly.
 
Without a word he turned on his heel and stalked away from the shattered vehicle and its dead occupant. The last he saw of the cub it was still staring after him with an expression of expectant trust.
 
He hadn’t gone far from the road before he heard the familiar sound of pattering footsteps behind him. He looked around and saw, with a complete lack of surprise, that the cub was following him again.  
 
Ka turned and started to walk faster. It would get fed up and disappear eventually.
 
Either he underestimated how fast he could walk or the cub was even more stubborn than he thought, because it doggedly followed him through the entire morning, despite his frequent halts to snarl at it menacingly when collecting soil samples or snipping twigs from the surrounding trees. It was sometime that afternoon, when the rain had stopped and the clouds peeled back to unveil a beautiful blue sky, that Ka lost his patience with the whole ridiculous situation and turned around to sort it out for good. The cub didn’t back away (much) when he approached it, although it did squeak a bit when he picked it up by the scruff of its tunic and turned it around firmly, before giving it a shove on the back that almost pushed it over. The gesture needed no translating.
 
It turned around and glared at him comically, then stuck out its tongue and blew a raspberry at him. So much for that idea. He started to walk away again, but the cub immediately followed, infuriating him enough to make him whirl around and snarl in the little brat’s face.
 
 It backed up, tripped, and sat down in shock, its eyes doubling in size. But it didn’t run, and he didn’t think it was about to anytime soon either.
 
Ka rifled through his options mentally. The simplest course of action of course would be to simply kill the cub, or stun it, which would amount to the same thing due to its size. It was going to die anyway, from exposure or starvation or some wild animal. The only thing stopping him from hastening things a little was an innate admiration for its tenacity, not mention its courage.
 
That left the second option.
 
He huffed with annoyance. He knew human anatomy, their mating habits, their basic nutritional needs, even the outwards signs of the more obvious illnesses, but he knew next to nothing about their young. On the other hand the cub wouldn’t be worse off with him than with no-one at all, which was probably why it had followed him. It’d never seen what a Wraith could do to a human, and had probably imprinted on the first adult-shaped being that had come along out of instinct. Ka considered the scientific benefits of being able to study a human’s growth at close range and mentally shrugged. After all, if it died – and it probably would – it was no skin off his hand. And if it lived...
 
He knelt down in front of the cub and picked it up, eliciting another squeak. Carefully, and well aware he might damage it by accident, he gave it a rudimentary once-over. This close he could tell the colour of its hair was dark brown, almost black, its skin pale under the dirt, its eyes a bright hazel. It showed signs of serious malnourishment, but not immediately life-threatening, and after a brief check he deduced it was male.
 
He stood up, still holding the cub, which yelped suddenly as the floor dropped away from under it in a rush. Ka stroked the top of its head awkwardly in order to calm it, feeling the soft fur-like hair tickle his palm. It whimpered but fell still, burying its face in his coat.
 
It was tricky finding out how to hold it in a position that was comfortable for them both, but eventually he settled for cradling it in a seated position. It refused to extract its head from his shoulder, but he let it be. He wasn’t an expert on human psychology, but it was obviously seeking comfort and it wasn’t doing any harm. Besides, anything that kept it quiet was good.
 
He started to carry on walking back to his dart, making a mental checklist of what he would need. New clothing; its own were filthy and Hiveships were set at the optimum body temperature of Wraith, quite a bit lower than humans. It would be thirsty, and hungry, so food and water. He could spare a few blankets for it to nest in, or whatever humans did at night. Since they were gregarious he should think about companions... the nursery? It might be too fragile for that. He would have to see.
 
He glanced down at the top of downy hair briefly, pushing back a rebellious strand from one of its cheeks with a gentle finger. It yawned and snuggled deeper into his coat, shoving its thumb firmly in its mouth before deciding to have a nap.  
 
They would have to see.
finis

Tags: fan fiction, fan fiction: todd
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