As they dragged the Wraith off of John, it snarled and spit at them. But, strangely, it made no move to feed off of any of them.
"Wait!" John popped up, healthy and alive and young! "Let him go!"
"We saw what he was doing to you!" Ronon snarled.
"Yeah, well, he just undid it!" John ordered. "Let him go!"
With a growl of disapproval, Ronon did.
John dropped the Wraith – who he named Todd – off on a world and left him there. He didn't think twice about Rodney's gasp that he looked younger than ever.
Not even when he found himself bursting with energy or when he found himself having to tighten his belt by a notch. Not even when he realised the scar from Elia's attack was gone or when he couldn't find the marks Todd had made when he fed from him over and over and over.
John didn't think twice about any of it. Until the day he fell over his own feet.
They had come in hot from a mission. Running through the Gate into the control room, watching it shut down, and John had grinned at his Team – so proud of them – and ordered them to reconvene in the Infirmary.
He, himself, had turned to head there – when he found his feet hopelessly tangled and he faceplanted right there onto the hard floor.
"John!" Rodney was there in an instant, helping him stand. "John, are you --" Rodney's voice broke off and John turned to find him staring wide-eyed and silently moving mouth at him, the picture of startled shock.
"What is it?" he asked, frowning deeply.
"Come on, we're getting you to the Infirmary now!" And Rodney began to bodily drag him there.
"Wait, hold on, what's going on?" John gasped.
"John." And it was Teyla, her voice filled with worry. "You look like you have only lived less than thirty years."
While Carson was bustling about muttering about all the tests he was going to run, John had been ordered to "give at the office". While he was in the bathroom, after he'd given his "donation" and was washing his hands, he took a deep breath and raised his eyes to the mirror.
And let out an involountary yelp.
The person looking back at him was himself – younger. His hair was a little longer, the cowlicks now not sticking up as much, and his eyes were just a little wider without the crow's feet that had started to sneak in at the corners.
His face had lost the lines of stress and worry and had thinned just a little. He raised trembling hands and touched it, confirming what the mirror showed him.
Thirty, hell! He looked twenty-five!
He walked out, his pasty complexion cluing Carson in that he'd snuck a peek, and got up on the table. And the long day of testing began.
At the end of it, Carson and Elizabeth came in and sat down with John, who was surrounded by his Team. Rodney and Teyla were sitting on either side of the examination table, and Ronon was standing guard behind Teyla.
At the sight of the familiar configuration, Carson smiled. Then it faded. "John.... Whatever the Wraith did to reverse the effects of the feeding – it didn't have a chance to finish."
"What does that mean?" John asked.
"It means you're getting younger," Carson said flatly. "And you're going to keep getting younger until we can stop it."
"Is it the enzyme?" Rodney asked.
Carson shook his head. "It's a close cousin, but it's not the enzyme. We might be able to use the enzyme to slow the progression, but that's only a hypothesis. We'll test it on some of your cells, John, then we'll see."
"No enzyme," John said. "I don't want to ever be on that damned thing again." He looked at Rodney. "I need you to broadcast a general subspace alert from one of our beta sites."
"What?" Rodney asked. "Why?"
"Todd did this," he said grimly. "Todd can fix this. Find him."
"John," Elizabeth said incredulously, "you want to contact the Wraith?"
"I don't have a choice," John said, feeling dizzy and leaning back onto the pillow, closing his eyes.
And visibly becoming even younger, growing thinner and slightly gangly, his hair lengthening again.
Rodney swallowed hard as five years vanished in a heartbeat. "I'll get right on it, John."
Three hours later, John and his entire Team had been relocated to the Beta site on P6N-145. Rodney had been broadcasting the general alert for half an hour.
"Doctor!" A technician – young and blonde and curvy in all the right places – ran up to Rodney and handed him a transcript.
It was a mark of how worried Rodney was that he didn't even glance twice at her beauty. "Seriously?" he gasped, looking at her as his eyes widened.
"Seriously," she replied. "It's as if they were.... waiting."
Rodney pushed past her and ran to the control room. He adjusted his radio to a frequency and said, "This is Doctor Rodney McKay. I wish to speak to the Wraith Colonel Sheppard named Todd."
The deep, resonating voice replied in dulcet tones that sent chills down Rodney's spine. "This is that Wraith, Doctor McKay. Todd seems to suit me, so I shall permit the appellation. I have been expecting your call."
"Oh?" was all Rodney could say.
"Tell me, Doctor – how is Sheppard?"
"Young," Rodney admitted. "And getting younger."
And an inhuman growl hit Rodney's ears. "I feared this, when I was pulled away prematurely. Give me a world where we can meet."
"Wait," Rodney gasped. "You're willing to fix this?"
"Sheppard saved my life. My debt to him is incomplete."
"I see." Rodney took a deep breath. "We'll bring him to these co-ordinates." He sent them with a few clicks of the keys. "It will be a party of six."
"You have chosen well. I will have two others with me. We shall be there in four of your hours."
"We'll see you there. And hey?" He licked his lips. "Thanks for the warning that you won't be alone."
"As I said – I owe him my life. You are trying to save his. We have a common goal." And the channel closed.
Rodney stood there, blowing the air out of his cheeks. Then he opened a channel to the Infirmary. "John?"
"Sheppard here," came the reply.
"Todd just contacted us."
"Is he gonna fix this?" On the last word, the voice suddenly cracked and rose nearly an octave.
Hearing that, Rodney's eyes widened and he whirled on his heel, nearly plowing the blonde technician over as he bolted for the Infirmary.
He arrived to find John sitting on the edge of the bed, shaking from head to toe. He looked up at Rodney, and Rodney felt his heart constrict.
John was no longer an adult. The boy looking up at him was all arms and legs and huge hazel eyes. His nose was sprinkled with freckles and his forehead dotted with acne. "My G-d," Rodney breathed. "How....how old---"
"He's thirteen or fourteen," Carson said as he sat down beside John and rubbed the trembling boy's back. "He's just had a bout of sickness, and he's going down about a year or so an hour now." He looked up at Rodney. "Any word?"
"Todd just contacted us. We're to meet him on Mrintus IV and he'll restore John. He said if he doesn't, John will..." He couldn't say it.
John did, in a shockingly high voice that had lost all trace of adult timbre. "I'll die. Unless Todd can fix me, I'll get younger and younger until I wink out of existence."
Before Rodney could answer that, John's eyes grew horrified and he lurched forward, vomiting into the basin Carson thrust under his mouth with incredible speed. The stench of it hit Rodney and he went four shades of pale as he saw the blood-flecked gore. "Carson, that's not..."
"No, it's not just the contents of his stomach," Carson confirmed as John shuddered and – shrank. He lost two inches and gained a little baby fat in his features as the acne vanished. The ailing child – now 11 or 12 – was guided back to the pillows and fell into an exhausted sleep.
Carson took the basin and dumped it into the sink, revealing tissue and blood. Rodney recoiled. "That looks like....muscle."
"It is," Carson sighed wearily. "He's throwing up the mass that he loses when he loses years. The last bout was so violent because he'd reversed his puberty growth spurt."
Rodney shook his head, clamping his hand over his mouth to keep the contents of his own rolling stomach inside. He looked back at the boy on the bed, and tears filled his eyes.
Four hours couldn't come soon enough.
Lorne was finishing up preflight checks on Jumper One when the Team and Carson walked up. He did a double-take at the sight of the pale-faced little boy with the wild hair and huge hazel eyes that held tightly to Rodney's hand so he wouldn't lose his balance going up the ramp. As they got closer, Lorne could see the dusting of freckles on the child's nose and see the gap in his mouth where a front tooth was missing as he opened his mouth to speak.
What came out, in a child's lisping treble, was: "Major, if you damage my Jumper, I will personally schedule you for remedial sparring with Ronon once I'm back to normal."
"Whoa," Lorne breathed as they got settled in. "So you've got your right mind in there, then?"
"Yeah," John grumped.
Lorne raised the ramp and started dialing the Gate. "How old are you, now?"
Carson answered. "He just downsized to six fifteen minutes ago."
As the Jumper rose into the air, John paled further and swallowed hard.
"Oh, no!" Rodney gasped. "You are so not throwing up in my Jumper!"
John glared at him, all thoughts of sickness forgotten. "Your Jumper?"
"Of course," Rodney grinned. "Who's the adult here, after all?"
"Neither of you, at the moment, from the way you're acting," Carson put in.
"Hey!" Rodney roared, and John found himself laughing. The harsh bray of a laugh the adult had had changed into the melodious gasping giggles of a child.
And the banter had done its work. Colour started to enter John's pale cheeks at last as the Jumper soared through the Gate.
The Jumper landed and there was Todd, standing there flanked by two humans. A man and a woman, young and healthy, stood unafraid beside him.
As the six disembarked, Todd sucked in a hissing breath at the sight of John. "I see," he said. "We have work to do." He met their eyes, then nodded to his companions. "These are the two I shall be feeding from to gain the energy and strength I need to accomplish this."
"What?" the six roared.
The woman held up a hand. "Please --- calm yourselves. We shall not be drained. This is why there are two of us."
The man nodded. "We are here by choice. We know we shall both be leaving here alive and shall be restored when this is ended."
"And before you ask," Todd said, "they have no names that you can pronounce. You humans and your fixation on names amuses me."
"Fine, then," John said. He pointed at the woman. "You're Lucy..."
Rodney closed his eyes and thought, Don't go there. Don't go there. Do NOT go there.
John pointed at the man. "And you're Linus."
You went there. Rodney sighed and shook his head, opening his eyes.
Todd walked over and crouched before the boy. "I must touch you. I will do nothing but touch for now."
Todd cupped his chin, lifting his face and turning it slowly. He hovered his right hand over John's chest. "Touch only," he assured him. "A ... diagnostic, in your language."
Another nod, and the large hand touched the narrow chest. Todd hissed and nodded slowly as he removed his hand and stood, his left hand closing on the small shoulder. "It is reversible, but I must begin now."
"Do it," John said.
"Wait!" Carson gasped. "How exactly are you going to--"
"Carson!" John roared. "Shut up! While he's explaining it, I could turn into a baby – or worse! Just doit!"
"Very well," Todd said. He motioned, and Lucy walked regally to his side. "We begin."
And the woman arched, soundless, as the Wraith's feeding hand slammed into her chest.
The feeding seemed to go on forever, though it only lasted a few seconds. When Todd pulled his hand back, Lucy gasped and blinked, rubbing her eyes.
The only visible change in her was three grey streaks in her dark hair.
Todd's left hand caressed her cheek and they heard him ask three words they never thought they would hear from a Wraith. "Are you well?"
Lucy nodded, beginning to smile. "I am."
"Go to your brother," he ordered. "When I need to feed next, it shall be from him." She nodded and moved into Linus's arms.
"Brother?" John squeaked. "I didn't know that when I named them!"
"You named them good, then," Rodney chuckled. "You named a brother and sister after a brother and sister."
John shook his head and began to shrug out of the borrowed Athosian leathers he wore. Todd waited patiently until the child wore only a loincloth, then asked, "Are you ready, Sheppard?"
"Let's do this."
The right hand moved to his chest, and paused before it touched. "I can not promise this will be pain-free."
"I know. I'm ready."
The hand made contact with the child's bare skin. There was no sucking noise, no arch and scream of agony. There was only a single grunt from them both.
And then John's body began to – expand. Childhood smallness gave way to teenage gangliness. He grew to his full six foot height, and then Todd withdrew his hand and looked over his head. "Physician. He needs you."
Carson raced to John's side and the teenager turned to look blearily at him. He scanned him and smiled reassuringly at him. "It's just growing pains, they'll settle in a few moments."
"How old?" Rodney asked.
Carson studied John closely, then reported, "Eighteen, at best guess."
"How many years did he have?" Todd asked.
"Thirty-eight," John replied, and all the Lanteans smiled to hear his adult voice restored.
"Then I shall feed once your – growing pains – have stabilised," Todd told him. "A few moments should age you twenty years."
John laughed softly. "I can't believe I'm looking forward to being fed on by a Wraith."
Todd smiled back at him. "I can not believe I am looking forward to feeding upon you for the seventh time."
"Well, they say seven is a magic number," John shot back.
"Does your race not have a prohibition, though?" Todd answered with a teasing smile. "Something against...playing with one's food?"
And John's head fell back as his bray of a laugh rang out. Todd's terrible one rose to join it.
Rodney frowned over at Carson. "Have I lost my mind or are those two teasing each other?"
"If you've gone mad, I think we all have," Ronon answered.
Another few moments passed, and John declared he was ready. This time there was the familiar sights and sounds of Wraith feeding. John groaned in pain.
At long last, Todd withdrew his hand. And a fully restored John Sheppard turned to his friends and smiled weakly.
Carson examined him while Todd used the energy from the second feeding to restore Lucy, who smiled up at him in adoration. "He's fine," Carson pronounced when he was done.
"Fine?" Rodney blurted out. "He still looks too young!"
"I did not want to – how do you say it? Overshoot the mark? So I stopped within a ten year frame," Todd said.
Carson confirmed it. "He's roughly 28 to 32 years old."
"Thank you," John said, and Todd inclined his head.
Teyla stepped forward. "You are.... different than any other Wraith I have ever met. Why?"
Todd let out a snort of a laugh and nodded toward John. "Blame Sheppard. When I was attempting to restore him the first time, a conduit was formed. Some of his thoughts and values were inadvertently transferred."
Rodney nodded in understanding. "Which is why you were concerned for Lucy's welfare and why you didn't kill her when you fed."
"I have not been able to drain a human since then," Todd admitted. "So I sought out these two – two of the Rinat."
Teyla and Ronon gasped and Teyla actually took a step backward.
John frowned. "Why? Who are the Rinat?"
"Humans with abnormally long life-spans," Teyla breathed. "We live to eighty or ninety, barring culling. They live to the hundreds, if not thousands."
"It is too bad they are so few," Todd nodded. "They are perfect for our-- dietary requirements. But they do not breed as regular humans do, so they are not many."
John turned to Carson, a question in his eyes.
Carson sighed and shook his head, but he walked over to Lucy and Linus. "Mind if I take some samples from you two?" They nodded, and Carson grumped as he did, "Must be losing my mind, to be looking into breeding food for Wraiths...."
Todd turned to John, and it was clear to everybody that the Lanteans' actions had shocked the Wraith. "You would do this for my people....after we---"
John grinned. "Now I know you've got some human in you. That would not have even crossed your mind before."
"You're right. It wouldn't have." Todd turned to watch Carson and the Rinat converse.
John glanced over to where Rodney and the others were watching Carson as well, then he stepped closer to Todd. Lowering his voice, he asked, "That turning back time thing... can you do it for anyone?"
"If I so choose," Todd said just as softly. "It is a gift normally reserved for our worshipers – or our brothers. Why?"
John began to smile.
Elizabeth and Radek were waiting impatiently as the Jumper settled into the Bay. They watched as Lorne and Teyla and Ronon disembarked.
Carson was talking as he came out. "---both to the Infirmary and I mean now! I want to make sure that you're sufferin' no ill effects from that adventure!"
"Not to mention that you want to work on the Rinat samples, right?" Rodney's voice called, amusement lacing it.
"Well..." Carson spluttered.
Laughter rang out from the Jumper, then John appeared in the doorway. "Elizabeth! Zelenka! Come to welcome us home?"
Elizabeth smiled to see John, fully restored to adulthood and in his usual black uniform, smiling broadly at her. "As a matter of fact--"
She was interrupted by a shocked curse in Czech at her elbow. She turned to look at Radek, who was staring wide-eyed behind John. She turned back, and felt her jaw drop.
"What?" Rodney asked, looking with wide blue eyes at them. "What are they staring at?" He raised his hand to swipe blond curls off his forehead. "How young did he take me?"
John laughed. "Relax, you're only 25."
They exited the Jumper and headed toward the Infirmary, Rodney squawking indignantly, "Twenty-five? He made me younger than you?"
"Just by three years, Rodney," John soothed.
"But still, I'm younger than you? And I'm not gonna get any younger, right? Neither of us are?"
"No, Rodney, neither of us are going to get any younger. He finished this time."
"Oh, good, because let me tell you, that was a --" The doors closing behind them cut off Rodney's words.
Elizabeth and Radek looked at each other, both struck speechless.
This promised to be an interesting debriefing.
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