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"I'm building an army that will soon replace the Wraith as the dominant race in this galaxy."

"An army of monsters!"

"I'll admit, my early attempts were a little… crude, but that's all changed now. I've refined the retrovirus to create the perfect balance – ability well beyond any normal human but without the one weakness that will be the downfall of the Wraith."

Michael and Teyla, The Kindred Part 1

Previously On Stargate Atlantis:

Sheppard ignored his own discomfort as he stood, tattered and bruised, but immaculately dressed in full military dress uniform, trying to send what comfort he could Beckett's way. He knew it was little enough. Another failure.

"Two days," Sheppard said. "Forty-eight hours… two thousand, eight hundred, eighty minutes," his voice cracked then, and he saw Carson open his eyes again, to look at him across the woven pallet on which Teyla's possessions, including the little hand carved crib, had been reverently placed, waiting for the time when – in lieu of her body – they would be carried through the Gate to the settlement of her people, to lie in state, before the pyre would take them all; reduce them to ash and dust that was all that remained of the woman herself, floating endlessly in the vast cold of space.

Sheppard's eyes filled with tears as he thought on all they had lost… on all he had lost. He cleared his throat and continued, "One hundred, seventy-two thousand, eight hundred seconds… since we lost Teyla…"

**

{…Isla…}

A short, sharp cry of distress split the air as his communication reached her and he doubled his pace until he could drop to a crouch before the foetal ball the woman had made of herself; reaching for her.

"No, you must not," she told him. "I have wronged you… Betrayed—" She broke off, instead of finishing her sentence reached for the ruined edges of her dress and ripped the bodice still further, exposing herself to him, and spreading her arms in obedient supplication.

Isla bent both legs toward her belly and kicked out hard, connecting with the staggering Wraith's chest, tipping the balance and sent him tumbling backwards, growling… away.

Isla braced herself, ready to turn and continue her desperate scramble for the top of the slope. The snarling of the Wraith ceased abruptly in a sickening wet squelch. The lack of noise became as terrifying as the fight had been, and breathing hard, Isla grasped a root to tether herself to the spot, and sat up, cautiously, to peek downward.

The Wraith lay still, his eyes open, staring… unseeing, and from his chest the dark blood dripping from its jagged, barbed edges, the broken branch stood, pointing toward the now almost purple sky.

"Take me, Lord – finish your undeserved servant's life, for I have wronged you. Wronged all Wraith."

**

Anger lent his steps punch as he strode into the lab and looked around for McKay. He spotted the man, as usual hunched over a computer console, and without preamble Sheppard stormed over to him and grasped his shoulder, spinning him around.

"Sheppard," McKay spluttered in surprise, "Wha—"

"Todd, Keller! You tell me, McKay," Sheppard's voice cracked, and squeaked with the stress of everything. "You tell me or so help me, I'll—"

"Colonel Sheppard…"

From behind him, Woolsey's voice poured oil onto the already burning fire of his temper and, releasing McKay, Sheppard spun around to face the objectionable little man, further irritated to see Caldwell at Woolsey's back.

"—I understand you're grieving, but I need you to focus. Atlantis needs you to focus," the expedition leader continued regardless. "It does morale no good seeing you like this. Either you need to pull yourself together or—"

"I am together!" Sheppard's voice rose to a near bellow. "What I need is for people to start levelling with me."

"You're already blaming Todd for Teyla's death," McKay told him, the look of pain in the scientist's eyes as he spoke of Teyla almost overwhelmed Sheppard with its transference of sorrow. He took a deep breath and forced himself to listen. "What difference would it make to the way you feel even if I did tell you what I suspect happened with Jennifer?"

"It… I…" Sheppard began, and then sighing said, "I just need to know."

"Trust me," McKay said glumly, looking away from the look Sheppard fixed him with. "You don't."

**

Her cry woke her as she arched her back as the climax took her. Aching with the remembrance of it, trembling as if caught in the moment, Keller threw back the soaked covers and struggling, dragged herself from the bed. The movement brought a rush of nausea and she gagged and swallowed hard.

She tasted blood and nausea became fear, and fear turned to panic as, moving, a stab of agony replaced the tingling pleasure as she tried to move her legs and found the movement of her hips so fluid and unfixed that they collapsed beneath her, spilling her to the floor of her quarters.

Unable to rise, she forced uncooperative limbs to haul her, crawling on all fours to the table on which she knew she'd laid her headset before she went to bed, practically pulling the table on top of her as she tried to reach it.

Still retching against the taste of blood, her hand trembling, she fit the radio into place, and keyed the mic, hardly able to speak for the sobs.

"Beckett… this… this is Keller… Help me… please, I—"

Her strength failed then and she fell forward to land hard against her shoulder. The last thing she remembered was the sound of the city wide comm. sounding the alarm, and Chuck's calm voice announcing:

"Medical emergency. Doctor Beckett, report to personnel quarters. Repeat: medical emergency, personnel quarters."

**

Jennifer gave another cry and began her breathless chant once more, making Beckett turn to hurry the others out, and pull the overhead arm of the scanner into place.

"Convergence… divergence… lost… corru—!"

"Easy now, Jennifer," he said softly.

He spoke over her, and almost yelped when she slipped one of the restraints and lashed out a bloodied hand to catch his wrist.

"Car-son…" she broke from the litany, looking up at him in desperate confusion. "He… knows. He… knows… He—"

"Who, love… who knows…?" he asked, his own confusion beginning to prickle with the frightening edge of suspicion. She couldn't answer. Another spasm of pain wracked her body and she cried out before lapsing into the same chilling, repeating plea.

"Convergence… divergence— He knows! Lost… corrupt. Converg— Help me…!"

Carson's blood began to chill as it dawned on him just what she was, most likely, asking. With false calm, he forced himself to begin the scan.

**

Sighing, Beckett raised his head to look properly on the immobile figure within the cell, taking in the sight of his pale skin; the indentations on his cheeks, barely formed, but enough to make the once familiar friend seem alien… unreachable.

"Why are you here, Doctor Beckett?" Lorne asked.

A long silence followed, one that Beckett hardly dare disturb with the question that lingered in his mind, chilling the very fabric of his belief. When at last he spoke his voice trembled audibly.

"He's still alive, isn't he?" he asked, "Somehow he managed to survive the Wraith, and the destruction of that Hive."

Lorne blinked slowly, long enough to give a moment when he stood with his eyes closed. When he opened them again, his gaze pierced deeper into Beckett's soul than any other living thing yet might.

Dismissively he said, "You are as much his creature as am I." Then more darkly said, "You already know the answer to that question."

Swallowing, Beckett stepped closer to the bars and lowering his voice to a near whisper, said, "And supposing someone wanted to… to speak with him…?"

Lorne frowned, tilting his head as though the question confused him, though Beckett could clearly see understanding in his eyes.

**

An epiphany of fury exploded inside him at the sound of Teyla's name from Beckett's lips. How dare he sully her name with the same voice, the same mind that dreamed up twisted science to make a thing of heartless evil into some twisted parody of a man? But for that, she would still be here… right there with them, holding his hand when he woke, her filial concern washing over him like a cooling balm.

"Don't you speak her name! Don't you dare speak her name!" The words burst from him like a gunshot and he pointed accusatorily at Beckett. "You did this – with your twisted experiments; your… you—How could you even think you could change what he was. What any of them are!"

Beckett looked down and sighed, and some part of Ronon soared with greater agony that he didn't try to deny it.

**

"She was a good friend to all of us; a leader to her people, and to me… the one I never realised; never reached for; never had the courage to set aside duty to be just… John for long enough. I'll miss her… and if, Teyla, wherever you are, in whatever… embrace of the Ancestors you now find rest, I promise you… I won't stop; I won't rest until there's peace and safety in the Pegasus Galaxy for your son – for all the children, and all people of the many worlds… an end to the conflict that you, yourself, sought to end."

"Teyla's memory will go on, John Sheppard," Halling said, with a slight bow, as if in acceptance of his promise. "And peace will be an enduring legacy, when it comes."

**

Movement in the doorway to her quarters caught her attention, and she looked up to find the object of her thoughts regarding her with a tired softness in his eyes.

"Michael," she breathed his name in a tone to match his expression.

He swallowed, and looked away from her for a moment before he brought his eyes to once more meet with hers and said, "I wanted you to be reassured that all is well. It will be a time before we are able to leave here, or before we are forced to take a more… direct action."

"I understand," she told him quietly. "A time of calm before the coming of a storm."

"Perhaps," he admitted, taking half a step inside the door before stopping.

"It is all right," she told him. "You can come in."

Michael shook his head and she found tears coming to her eyes at his denial.

"There is work that I should attend to," he told her. "I came to ask only if there is anything that you need."

Teyla looked up and met his eyes.

***

"I care a great deal."

Michael, The Kindred Part 1

Act 1

Forty-eight hours earlier:

Rissek quickly banked the scout ship, instinct more than foreknowledge of expertise guiding his flight, and narrowly avoided the incoming fire of two Darts that followed more closely than he would like. The flash from the exploding projectiles just ahead of the ship momentarily blinded him and panic churned in his gut like eels in a feeding frenzy. For a time he wished that he could just peel away, lose them, but if he were to follow orders, to lead the Wraith away from the facility on which his master so greatly relied, he would need to make them believe that they had him all but caught… he and the other ships he led in the desperate run toward the waiting cruisers.

In that moment the desperation was no word of a lie.

In urgent near-panic he turned the scout ship to bank the other way, almost rolling full circle to avoid the continued weapons' fire that burned his retina against the merciless dark and cold of space. Only the knowledge that the deeper darkness ahead was the combined carapace hulls of the small fleet of cruisers, relative safety from the few Wraith Darts and the Wraith cruisers lumbering after him, served to quell his rising dread.

A flash of brightness exploded against the tip of his wing, tilting the scout ship, sending it careering to port. He turned his head in time to see the fire came, not from Darts, but from the dull silver-grey fighter craft the Humans of Atlantis often sent against them. He did not have time to curse the added ill luck before he had to grab the controls, and attempt to throw all of his weight behind the effort to prevent the scout ship from falling into a spin. If he was to safely enter the Dart Bay of the cruiser ahead, he had to achieve level flight. The darkness loomed closer even as he was losing his fight with the small craft.

Every muscle tensed, and he gasped as the cruiser's lateral weapons array opened fire on the ships he led on his insane dance through the system. The bolts cutting through the vacuum beyond his ship, beneath his wing lent him the impetus and ability he needed, the fight on the stick eased, and the craft began to level, but the tips of his wings clipped the entrance to the Dart Bay, sending him into a new spin, sparks flying in the partial atmosphere, lighting the darkness, and threatening to render the craft and all it contained into a ball of flame.

He pulled back hard on the stick, trying to slow the craft; steady her again; no wish to die, or more correctly, no wish to fail his master, truly a fate that would be worse than death.

Sparks lighted the blue-black walls in a surreal wash of amber and gold, giving the appearance of a river of blood shifting and sinking down over the walls in the wake of the stricken scout ship's bungled approach and landing.

Alarms were still sounding when Rissek, slightly bloodied, pushed the canopy release and began to climb from the ruined craft. He dare not consider the damage he had wrought, knowing that – even if he succeeded in carrying out their master's plan to the letter, and all of the Wraith were drawn away from the facility that he sought, still, to conceal – his own competence would be called to question, and he would no doubt be punished.

Armed hybrids rushed from every corridor to meet him, lowering their weapons only when they recognised him as one of their own. He did not wait for them to ask for explanation, merely bellowed with what breath was left in his lungs to be sure that the urgent order was heard over the cacophony of two-tone alarm.

"Recall the Darts! We must jump away… Jump away now, before they have a chance to reach the facility; lead them away before they realise…" He began to limp hurriedly in the direction of the bridge as not one of the hybrids seemed to heed his words. "Those are His orders!"

**

"What is he doing?" The commander of the leading cruiser watched with a deepening frown as the Abomination's Hive began a slow, lumbering turn, their Darts almost forming a shield wall to cover their slow manoeuvre, preventing enemy ships – Wraith and Human like – from reaching the vessel.

"The Hive is opening a hyperspace window," his second in command announced in calmer tones than the commander could feel through the tenuous mental link they shared. "They are running."

"They must not escape. Target their hyperdrive!"

"But, Commander—"

"I said target their hyperdrive!" The commander was in no mood for excuses. He had felt the touch of the Queen's mind in his, and the threat she had embedded there. Any that failed her would be worthless; offal to be left as bait for the jackals that still ran in the Abomination's wake, for she would find them – all of them – and wipe them out.

"Our weapons cannot penetrate the protective blockade, Commander," his second turned to him, an imploring sensation pushing against his mental defences.

We must withdraw before the remaining Darts are destroyed and we are left helpless. Strategy, Commander, we must—

Growling, the commander severed the mental link with his second as he paced away from his own station.

**

Sheppard stumbled, and made a grab for the back of the con officer's chair as the deck beneath his feet lurched.

"Damn it!" Caldwell hissed, and reflexively threw up an arm in front of his face as the brightness of an explosion bathed the flight deck in a ruddy orange glow. "Shields up!" He turned his head to Sheppard then, and Sheppard saw the 'I told you so' in the other man's eyes even before the words issued forth in an earnest tirade. "I told you this was a bad idea, Sheppard!"

The deck rocked again as a salvo of fire from one of the Wraith cruisers impacted Daedalus' shielded hull and from beside the cruiser, several needle-nosed Darts came screaming toward them.

"Save the 'I told you so' for another time, Steven," Sheppard called, flinching and raising his voice to be heard over the rush of the fire suppression system that had activated behind him as a panel exploded. "I suggest we concentrate on getting us out of here."

"I'm open to suggestions," Caldwell snapped, gesturing to the HUD that now graced the space in front of the forward view screen, "because as far as I can tell, we bypassed the frying pan and leaped straight into the fire."

Sheppard peered at the sensor readings that intermittently ghosted in and out of theatre as the interference from whatever in the system was causing it strengthened and faded in turn.

Daedalus had come out of hyperspace right into the middle of the fighting, and all around, Wraith and Hybrid forces alike were turning their way.

"We have no choice," he said gravely. "We gotta launch the F302s."

**

"Stay close," Sheppard said, his voice only slightly muffled by the face mask he wore and instructed his wingmen, "Follow my lead."

"Copy that, Colonel," Westburn said, and Sheppard didn't miss the note of apprehension in his voice.

"Affirmative," Attley confirmed, dipping her wing almost in a salute.

"Steady, Major," Sheppard admonished the display, "let's save the acrobatics for when we need them, Attley."

"Sorry, Colonel," she said, though without any hint of contrition in her voice, "just a little eager that's all. We—"

A bright flash of incoming fire cut across her lazy comm. chatter, and prompted Sheppard to dip his left wing in a sudden roll to get them out of the avenue of fire between the incoming Wraith and Hybrid, both of whom seem to have momentarily forgotten their animosity in favour of targeting their mutual enemy.

"Three more of 'em, sir, they're on our six," Westburn said breathlessly.

"Steady," Sheppard crooned, recognising the edge of panic in the man's rapid breath and higher than normal pitch. "Stay with me, Westburn."

As he levelled from the roll to port, Sheppard pushed the stick forward, nosing down – though altitude meant little to nothing in a dogfight out in the vastness of open space – to put them beneath the Darts.

"All right," Sheppard breathed a sigh of relief as he turned his head first one way and then the other to see both his wingmen had followed him in formation. "Stay sharp. Eyes on the target – we need to keep Daedalus clear. Don't wait for my orders. You see a target and you're clear, take it out."

Both of the members of his wing confirmed his orders, and a sense of almost fatalistic excitement settled over him. This was his demesne… pilot, fighter… flyboy.

Sensing rather than seeing the Darts at the side of his 302, Sheppard banked sharply, manoeuvring rapidly to bring the 302's weapons to bear. Somewhere in the back of his mind he still registered the comm. chatter of his wing, but he was clarity and focus where it came to his target. He rolled out of the banking manoeuvre and even before the image of the Dart – and he couldn't tell if the pilot was Wraith or Hybrid, and neither did he care – centred in the middle of the targeting reticule, and his headset provided an audible confirmation of the lock, his thumb was hard on the firing button. The weapon spat bright flashes across the dark vacuum between the 302 and the darker shadow of the Wraith craft that blossomed into a miniature orange nova as his shots struck on target, destroying the enemy ship.

His elation was short lived as he glanced aside and saw Attley weaving left and right, chasing a target of her own, but oblivious to the second Dart that was following close on her six, trying to make a target of her.

"Attley, watch your six," he ordered, "pull up and break right."

She didn't acknowledge the order, not verbally at least, instead the 302 she was flying suddenly made an ascending roll to the right, freeing the woman from danger, and putting the second Dart right into her line of fire.

"Locking on," she said, and Sheppard couldn't help but feel a burgeoning respect for the woman. She had a no nonsense, calm attitude, even in the heat of battle. It would serve her well. Even before he registered that she had announced that she had a lock, a bright flash from ahead of him confirmed that the lock had been good, and a second Dart had been taken out by their combined wing, but a prickling in the back of his neck gave Sheppard the unconscious warning against complacency.

"Holy Mother—!"

Westbury's exclamation had Sheppard tense with anticipation, and in the next second he had to bank sharply to the right to avoid his wingman's 302 as the rookie pilot came careering out of nowhere, running from the cruiser that loomed nearer to their flight path, clearly following his, and the other flights of 302s, trying to target the smaller craft with the greater fire power of their weapons. If Sheppard were to give them all a fighting chance he had to take out the cruiser, and he had to do it fast.

"Attley, Westburn, circle around and follow me in. We're going closer."

"Closer?" Westburn queried, his voice still wavering, this time with incredulity.

"Trust me," Sheppard answered lazily. "I know what I'm doing. Trick I learned from an old…"

He trailed off… hearing the sound of the voice from memory as if it came from his headset in that instant, not those many years ago…

"Okay… Time to do some damage." He looked up as the Hive on which he had hitched a ride came to an almost immediate standstill after exiting the fluid brightness of hyperspace. He reached out to push a button on the console, activating the comm. in the hope of raising either one of his friends. They were aboard the Hive. "Ronon, Rodney, can you hear me? Rodney, I know this is a long shot but if you can hear me, please respond."

The following silence was like a symphony of hopelessness.

"If you're near a radio I need you to come in," he repeated himself, as much for his own presence of mind as for any other reason. "I need to know your location."

Another long pause; another loud silence.

"Guys?"

"Colonel Sheppard." The voice that answered was neither Ronon nor McKay, but none-the-less it was familiar, and broke the silence as an overly sinister clash of cymbals that trickled ice down his spine. "Is that you?"

"Who's this?" He didn't need to ask, but asked none-the-less, unable to believe his terrible luck.

"You know me as Michael."

A hundred possibilities for a reasonable answer filtered through the growing dread, sarcasm clawing its way to the top of the tumbling deck of cards.

"Sorry, got the wrong number," he said.

"Ronon and Doctor McKay are still alive," Michael answered, evidently taking no notice of Sheppard's wit under pressure, a wit that gave way to worry as his imagination supplied yet more terrifying images of what could befall his friends.

"What are you gonna do with them?" he demanded, a dangerous edge creeping into his voice.

"If you want them to live, listen to me," Michael said, and something in the tone of his voice confused Sheppard. There was no threat, only a sincerity bordering on concern. Sheppard bit his lip. He had little choice but to hear the Wraith out. Michael continued, "If your friends are in pursuit, you need to disable these ships in order for them to reach us."

"If you really wanna help, why don't you just do that?" Sheppard asked, confusion giving way to irritation, fuelled by greater concern. What was Michael playing at?

"They would know," Michael said.

"Aren't you, 'they'?"

"Please believe me when I say I was as deceived as you were."

"Oh, I don't know, I was pretty deceived."

"It seems, Colonel, that because of what you did to me, the Wraith no longer see me as one of their own."

"Oh," suddenly it all became clear to Sheppard. Michael's willingness to turn against the Wraith was nothing more than an attempt at self preservation. "That's why you wanna help – because you don't feel welcome."

"We don't have time to discuss this," Michael insisted.

"Sure we do. I've got, er," he looked down at his tactical display to check on the status of his atmosphere, "three hours of air left."

"Where are you?" Michael asked.

"Wouldn't you like to know," he answered, a sarcastic grin, less than satisfying, since he knew Michael couldn't see it, crossing his face.

"I need to know what level you're on so I can guide you from there," Michael answered with an exaggerated patience that wiped the smile from Sheppard's face.

"You mean… trust you?" Sheppard asked, the remaining sarcasm leaking from his smile to colour his voice.

"Are you in a position not to?"

"Oh," he started, but his confidence was slipping – Michael had a point, without a plan; without knowing exactly how he could act against the Hives it was destined to be the short version of a rescue attempt; the kind that usually ended in a commendation – awarded posthumously. "I've got you right where I want you."

"I doubt I will be allowed to live much longer." Michael's answer jarred him out of his self recriminations, "and I very much want to continue living. If you want to survive as I do then I suggest you tell me where you are."

It was as if Michael had somehow gotten inside his head, heard his doubts, his fears… his worries for his friends and for his people. He knew that if he had, the Wraith's motivations where not going to be in the slightest bit altruistic – as he had surmised before, Sheppard knew this was all about self preservation – so where was the harm in using Michael as Michael was attempting to use him?

He sighed and finally said, "I'm outside the Hive in a 302 about to blast your ship."

He also saw no harm in adding in a little threat. It was no more than bravado, and he was aware that Michael would likely see right through him, but he still had to try – for his own peace of mind.

"You still wanna help?" he challenged.

"Targeting the ventral hyperdrive generators would be most effective." Michael said simply. The answer gave him both the key to his course of action, and also another quite unhealthy dose of confusion. Helping him with a view to helping himself was what he expected of the Wraith, but doing so in a manner that would prove injurious to his own people…? That was something that discomfited Sheppard more than he cared to admit.

"Yeah," he said, trying to keep the confusion out of his voice if not from his face, "that's what I was thinking."

"Then I suggest you act now before you are discovered…"

In that moment, as back then, Sheppard shivered. He did not understand why their fates seemed so inextricable – his tangled with Michael's in a way that transcended the fact that he, along with McKay, Beckett, Ronon's and…

He hesitated as he thought of Teyla, the fist of grief wrapping itself around his gut and squeezing hard. Forcing himself to continue his train of thought, he wrapped himself in denial that all of their fates were so inextricable from Michael's that everything that had happened, and everything that was to come, hinged on the unwelcome symbiosis between their lives.

"Colonel?" Westburn's voice cut through the thoughts and self recriminations, bringing him firmly back to the present.

"We're gonna skim close along the surface of the ship targeting the ventral hyperdrive generators. Take those out and the ship loses main power and we're home free."

**

As the light-spattered blackness of normal space gave way to the swirling maelstrom of colour that showed the progress of the Hive through subspace, Rissek relaxed. Breathing out a sigh, he peered at the forward screen as it delivered the fleet telemetry; tried to make sense of the numbers that flashed and fell rapidly in Wraith characters on the screen.

"Give me a damage report," he instructed, "and someone find out—"

"It is irrelevant."

Rissek turned, spinning in place to face the speaker that had strode onto the bridge, and shivered as he realised the hybrid's upright stance and proud bearing – the lofty way he carried his head – could mean nothing other than that he, himself, was staring his own death in the face.

Still he could not stop himself from stammering, "Irrelevant, I—"

"He ordered the fleet to intercept the Wraith to allow our Hive to escape and to ensure the facility remains undiscovered. He will see whatever ships have been destroyed as acceptable losses," the other hybrid told him. Then he stepped toward the centre console, and in spite of himself, Rissek moved aside, deferring to the other soldier.

"We were away before they—" he said, trying to reassure himself as much as any other person on the bridge. "We could have lured them all away, and then none would need to have been lost. If you had followed my orders instead of launching our Darts and ordering the cruisers to attack the humans, we—"

"You should return to your quarters and tend to your injuries," the other hybrid interrupted smoothly, his voice not unkind until it hardened to the cold crystal of the following order he issued to other newly arrived members of the crew. "See that he gets there. Encourage him to remain."

The words were a clear dismissal of his service on the bridge, and Rissek knew, as soon as the hybrid soldiers took his arms, that in his case, such a dismissal would bring about his end.

**

Antedar finally turned away from the monitor where he had been reviewing the performance of the small fleet left in defence of the system.

The 'acceptable losses' had, at the time of the Hive's departure, already turned out to be greater than he had at first imagined they would be. However, as long as the Wraith could be prevented from searching for their facilities, his master's plan, and the future of The Cause would be safe and, more importantly, he would have carried out the duties set upon him at Rissek's failure.

He turned his thoughts to the hybrid that was now little better than a prisoner awaiting execution. He may as well have been held in the brig as in his quarters, but what remained of a sense of sympathy between colleagues of sorts led him to allow that small concession. He would not wish to be in Rissek's place once the Hive was reunited with its master.

"The battle with the Atlanteans and the Wraith continues to draw them away from the second planet," his chosen second's voice sounded in the uneasy silence, an almost emotionless monotone.

Antedar nodded, secure in his own thoughts at his second's answer. Finally turning away from the viewing screen, he allowed his attention to turn to the duties that remained aboard the Hive – to make sure that the child, and his chosen nursemaid, remained safe and well – until his master recalled him to the Devian system.

**

"Commander?"

Aboard a cruiser at the edge of the battle, one of the Wraith bridge crew turned from his position to face the taller Wraith standing at the centre console, "We must withdraw; regroup our scattered Darts and strengthen our position."

"No," the commander barked, ignoring the querying expression on the faces of his subordinates. He could not explain the feeling, but it was a nagging one, a surety that all was not as it seemed. The Darts left behind were trying too hard to scatter the cruisers of the Wraith fleet; drawing them into an open area of the system. They had actively turned on the humans when they had emerged from hyperspace, rather than leave them to the greater number of Wraith craft. There was something there that they were missing.

He had no further evidence than that to support the feeling, and that made him uncomfortable with the thought that he might be called upon by superiors to explain his actions, but it did not change the decision to which he had already committed himself in his mind, and which he followed up in the subsequent moments as he ordered his bridge crew to change course.

"There," he said, pointing a finger to the displayed image of the nearby moon of one of the planets in the system. "Take us into a low orbit behind the planet's moon. Keep us there, allow it to… shelter our cruiser from the battle, then turn our sensors to the planet. They are hiding something… or fighting to defend it, and I want to know what it is."

"Commander?" his navigator queried as though he were unsure that he had correctly heard the order.

"Do as I order," he snapped, rounding on the unfortunate Wraith with a sub-vocal hiss giving added menace to his presence. "I wish to be the one to discover what it is that they wish to keep from us… what kind of devilry The Abomination's forces will unleash upon us so that we may better defend the Queen when she arrives."

"And the humans?"

The dismissive sound of contempt that came from the commander's throat left none on the bridge in any doubt as to what he intended to do about the humans already joined in battle in the system…

…nothing at all.

**

The dark shape of the hull, drawing nearer and nearer as he led his team in, sped past faster than the conscious mind could register. This was the time in which a fighter pilot's intuition had to take precedence; when a pilot had to trust himself – cease second guessing and just fly. Thus it was that Sheppard did not 'see' the problem before it was already too late.

"Westburn, bank right!" he ordered, trying to remain calm as the bulk of the Hive began to turn. He tried to convey that calm in the voice he used to order his wingman's manoeuvre, but failed in both instances. Westburn's wing tipped to the left in preparation for following his order.

"Right!" he called, abandoning all pretext of calm.

"I'm trying, Sir. She—"

Westburn's voice cut off with a squeak as sparks from the contact of ship to ship streamed off his crumpling wingtip. Sheppard swore, and prepared to roll his 302 into danger in an attempt to save his wingman, meaning to use his wake to push the other 302 to safety.

A second later, Westbury managed to pull himself away from the Hive that was still turning beside them, his injured 302 wobbling and barely controlled in flight.

"I got it, sir," he said, relief clear in his voice, "but I'm out of this—"

Orange flashes momentarily blinded Sheppard as he turned his gaze in his wingman's direction.

"Westbury, hang tight, I'm coming in," Attley's voice on the comm. stilled Sheppard's blood. For Attley to go to Westbury's defence against the Dart that had targeted his out of control craft, she would have to put herself in danger, in direct line of fire.

"Negative, Attley," Sheppard ordered.

"I can do this, sir," she said confidently.

"Negative, Attley," he repeated, "I won't have you risking your—"

"Westbury, on my mark break right, repeat, full right rudder," Attley ignored him, and grumbling, Sheppard banked his own 302 in an effort to put himself into position. If he could take out the Dart before it further endangered either of his wingmen, there would be no need for the frantic back and forth orders, and would leave only the debriefing, in which he fully intended to bite a strip off of Attley's ass and feed it to her with mayo and two slices of bread.

He saw the danger; felt the danger from the tension in Westburn's voice as he acknowledged the ranking pilot's order and made one last ditch effort to halt the snowball as it tumbled down the mountain of this abortive assault on the Hive.

"Attley, pull up!" he spat, "that's an order!"

Westburn banked, but too soon, responding, Sheppard was sure, to the pair of energy bolts streaming toward him through the unforgiving black of space.

Without a thought, Sheppard threw all his weight against the stick, pushing it left, at the same time stabbing downward with his thumb against the trigger, firing the 302's weapons as he rolled, trying to intercept the incoming energy bolts with his own. He might as easily have been chasing rainbows.

"Oh cra—"

Attley's silenced exclamation became a blossoming orange that turned to white, then crimson, and finally faded to the chitinous black of the Hive's hull that shone like a scar in the absence of space…

A bright, yellow tipped inferno erupted beside them, inside of him. Filling him with agony, pushing him beyond the limits of anything he could endure. He practically punched the console as he abandoned what little mental control he still possessed and grabbed the manual sticks, banking the craft and accelerating to maximum.

It wasn't enough.

From the rear compartment the fizzling crack of exploding crystal blowing out the panel became a deafening cascade of sound, and then… everything dissolved into the whiteness of nothing.

The scream of the 302's alarms cut through the painful memory and shook the present danger back into Sheppard's awareness with barely enough time for him to register the debris flying directly at his cockpit canopy. Spinning and tumbling it came at him like a thrown axe, and even as he rolled, simultaneously dipping the nose of his craft, struck hard enough to leave a spider web of cracks that began to spread almost lazily across his field of vision. His part in the fight was as finished as Westburn's, who was already limping back to Daedalus.

Growling denial, he pushed forward on his stick, stubbornly heading toward the still-turning Hive.

**

"Colonel Caldwell, Sheppard's 302 is hit," Marks said softly.

"Damage?" Caldwell snapped, turning his attention to the sensor reading he could see out of the corner of his eye, on Marks' display.

"Yes, sir, he—"

"Open a channel," he ordered.

"Aye, sir," the comm. officer keyed a button and almost before the contact was confirmed, Caldwell started speaking.

"Sheppard, this is Caldwell, you're hit and venting atmosphere. Return to Daedalus immediately," he said.

"Negative, Stephen, I think I can still—"

"That's an order, Sheppard," Caldwell interrupted. "We'll find another way."

He heard Sheppard open a channel to reply once more, but all that came through was Sheppard's defeated sigh. Even so, it promoted relief to the front of Caldwell's mind and he nodded to himself. Perhaps they really would find another way to achieve restitution for Teyla's death.

** **

Movement in the doorway to her quarters caught her attention, and she looked up to find the object of her thoughts regarding her with a tired softness in his eyes.

"Michael," she breathed his name in a tone to match his expression.

He swallowed, and looked away from her for a moment before he brought his eyes to once more meet with hers and said, "I wanted you to be reassured that all is well. It will be a time before we are able to leave here, or before we are forced to take a more… direct action."

"I understand," she told him quietly. "A time of calm before the coming of a storm."

"Perhaps," he admitted, taking half a step inside the door before stopping.

"It is all right," she told him. "You can come in."

Michael shook his head and she found tears coming to her eyes at his denial.

"There is work that I should attend to," he told her. "I came to ask only if there is anything that you need."

Teyla looked up and met his eyes.

For many long moments, Teyla sat looking into the burning gold of Michael's eyes, feeling, through their bond, the doubt and worry that gripped him; held them both, she realised, and sensed the need in him that matched her own, but could she now reach out – cross that line?

"Michael," she whispered and her breathing quickened. "I… I am… afraid."

She saw the rapid breath he took, and felt the decision settle over him, but in spite of herself and everything she knew, pulled back against the pillows as he stepped forward and the door fell closed behind him.

"There is no reason to fear, Teyla," he said. His steps were measured as he crossed the room toward her, never once taking his gaze from hers. "This facility is perfectly safe, and in the unlikely event that hostile forces penetrate the defences, is well guarded from within."

He came to a halt at the side of the bed, an almost-smile ghosting on his lips, which she mirrored to assure him that she understood. Sitting up she reached for his hand. This time, unlike many others, he did not pull away from her touch. Instead he wrapped the strength of his fingers around hers, his gaze falling to their now entwined fingers.

"You do not believe I would allow any harm to come to you?" he murmured, still looking at their hands.

"I know you would not," she admitted softly, and closed her eyes, her breathing quickening still more at the pass of his thumb across the back of her hand.

"You should rest," he said softly, looking up from where they touched to find her eyes with his own.

-rest- -rest- -rest- -rest-

…stay…

She shook her head, and voiced aloud the single word she had pushed to him in response to his mental command.

"Stay," she said, adding after only a heartbeat's pause, "please."

"Teyla, I…" he faltered.

-cannot-

"Michael," she whispered.

…cannot or w—…?

"…dare not," he confessed softly, cutting off her mental question.

"I need you," she barely breathed.

Michael let out a long, slow breath, still holding her hand he carefully sat down on the side of the bed, tilting his head as he regarded her. She made herself hold his gaze, feeling her colour rising, and the fluttering that had suddenly increased around her solar plexus.

"No." The word was little more than a growl that rumbled around his chest. "You need an image of me that you see in your mind."

-mind- -mind- -mind- -mind-

Using the hand he held, he drew her closer, sliding his free hand under her elbow as she came away from the pillows and reached for him, pressed her hand flat against his chest, over his beating heart. She trembled; couldn't help the uneven breaths that made their way in and out of her body at the warring of desire and common sense within her.

**

Teyla's hand settled against his chest, pushing the warmed leather against the linen beneath and stirring Michael's over-alert senses. He could feel the conflict within her, the mingled arousal and trepidation, a mirror of his own needs to hold her; take her to him even knowing how dangerous it could be… for both of them.

Yet to maintain the restraint; to force the mantle of denial down over them both again after so many years of longing and need; after so much had been admitted if not accepted, it was simply too hard, and the walls with which he had surrounded himself slipped and began to crumble.

Drawing her closer still, he brought the hand he still held to his lips, turning her hand in his so that he could nip lightly at the inside of her wrist. She gasped and her fingers tightened around his for a moment, before she let go completely and slipped her fingers into his hair.

Michael stilled, and took an almost growling breath before he leaned his head to almost nuzzle at the touch of her hand in his hair, allowed himself to be guided by the insistent pressure that had her draw him down to nestle his face in the crook of her neck, and he breathed in deeply of her sweet orchid-like scent; heady and arousing.

He tightened his arms around her, running his own fingers into her hair and pulling gently until she surrendered, tipping back her head to allow his open-mouthed kisses to travel over her neck and throat. He felt the pleasure of the sensations he gave through their bond before her soft moan reached his ears, and set aflame to his already smouldering passion.

"Surrender," he breathed between kisses, and she pulled away from him and straightened up enough to make words of her pleasured moans.

"Take me," she murmured.

-show me how- -how- -how- -how- -how-

…love me…

He caught her face almost gently between his hands and guided her to meet his waiting kiss, long and slow it began, the press of his lips against hers… the shared breath… the rising passion until her lips parted beneath his, inviting more, and he dipped his tongue into her mouth to tangle with her own, drinking deep of their shared desire.

**

Beckett took a moment to adjust the flow of Keller's IV and check the monitors again to ensure the words he was about to speak were the truth and not some vaguely hopeful notion.

"Well," he began with a sigh, "she's stable for now. I'm giving her a therapy which consists of a combination of drugs: analgesia, sedatives, NRTIs—"

"Aren't those used to combat the actions of a retrovirus?" Woolsey interrupted.

"Aye," Beckett answered, beginning to guide Woolsey away from Keller's bedside, "Normally they are. When I admitted her to the infirmary, some of the symptoms she was exhibiting were indicative of possible infection. I haven't yet been able to either confirm or rule that out as her blood panel keeps coming back as inconclusive but—"

Keller moaned, turning her head against the pillow and whispering words from a dry throat in an almost desperate fashion. "He… he… knows… corrupt… convergence…"

Beckett tightened his jaw against Keller's distress, and watched as Woolsey stared in what looked like horrified fascination at the woman's distress. He cleared his throat and continued, "—the drug seems to be helping to control some of the more acute symptoms so I've continued with it anyway."

"What does she mean?" Woolsey asked, turning his attention Beckett's way again. The doctor's blood ran cold.

"To be honest, I don't think she knows what's she's saying," he lied, "and I certainly have no clue. I assume it's just a product of her delirium, perhaps based on something to do with the research she was doing with Todd."

"Bottom line, Doctor," Woolsey said with a sigh, and Beckett watched as he looked over at Keller again and he couldn't help but follow the base commander's gaze. "Is she going to be all right?"

"Well," he said on the edge of a sigh. "Right now she's responding well to the drug therapy, her periods of lucidity are actually on the increase, in spite of how it may look here. I'm hopeful that, in time, as we get to the bottom of this, she'll make a full recovery."

Woolsey appeared to consider his words, his eyes moving from monitor to monitor; back to Keller and finally settling once again on Beckett himself.

"Doctor Beckett," Woolsey said at last. "As of now, I'm reappointing you to full status as Atlantis' Chief Medical Officer."

Woolsey nodded, apparently satisfied with his own decision and then turned and started for the infirmary door. Beckett read him like a neon sign. The man was washing his hands of Keller; had already consigned her to the status of one lost in the pursuit of their duties – KIA, the military called it, but civilian members of the expedition had no such cosy acronym, and the thought of it left his already chilled blood colder still. He turned and began to hurry after the base commander.

"With all due respect, Mister Woolsey, I don't think we're there yet," he protested fervently, and reached out to take the other man's arm and pull him to a standstill. When Woolsey turned to him a moment later and tugged his arm, somewhat sharply, out of his grasp, Beckett's fear and anger combined into a ball of superheated Scottish fury. Before he could stop himself, he spat, "Quite frankly, your singular disregard for Doctor Keller's wellbeing is more than a little disturbing. It's inhuman. I saw M—"

"Take care, sir," Woolsey warned angrily, interrupting, "before I have you written up for insubordination."

"You think I care about that?" Beckett said, almost yelping in incredulity. "I have a duty of care to all my patients to provide the best medical attention I'm able. That doesn't include writing them off like you've obviously done. I'm just through telling you I believe Jennifer's going to make a full recovery, and here y'are practically having me signing her death certificate. I won't—"

"Doctor Beckett… Carson," Woolsey interrupted again, this time clearly trying to control his temper. "What I'm asking you to do is accept my decision to reinstate you as CMO, nothing more, and frankly we were there, as you so eloquently put it, the moment she returned to Atlantis infected with… whatever it is she's suffering from, pursuant to which shouldn't she—"

Anticipating what Woolsey was about to suggest, Beckett interrupted, "She's not contagious."

"You're sure of that?"

"If she, or whatever pathogen that's acting on her system, were a danger to Atlantis, it would have triggered the city's automatic quarantine lockdown," he answered, and then gesturing around him, and at the open doorway in which they stood, he continued. "That's obviously not the case."

"I'll take your word for it, Doctor," Woolsey said. "In the meantime…"

Woolsey started to move again, and once more Beckett reached out to put a hand onto his arm; step into his path.

"Look," he said, sighing and forcing himself into some semblance of reasonable calm. "All I'm asking is for you not to be unreasonably hasty here. I'm happy to continue on as Acting CMO, but until I truly do have to put Jennifer Keller's body into stasis, I'm not gonnae—"

"Car-son…"

From behind him, Keller's voice, little more than a rasping whisper cut across his sorrowful declamation and he turned, as did Woolsey, to look over at the stricken woman. She held out her hand in his direction, trembling as it was.

"Your duty of care, Doctor," Woolsey said, raising his eyebrow and nodding pointedly in Keller's direction.

Fixing an expression on his face that told the base commander that their conversation was far from over, Carson Beckett let him go, and hurried back to Keller's side.

**

Teyla reached for Michael as he returned to her and drew her into his arms, the heavy leather of his coat and other outer wear long since discarded. Through the soft linen of his undershirt he could feel the passion heating her skin, and Michael longed to devour her needs with long, slow caresses that he intended would leave her trembling with a greater hunger still. Infinitely slowly he dipped his head and took her lips beneath his, captured in his languorous possession the passion that slumbered beneath the blanket of tenderness with which he covered her.

Dizzied by the sensations spiralling maddeningly inside of him, Michael gasped, breaking the kiss as her fingers slipped beneath his shirt, questing against his skin, and mirrored her touch, his fingers parting the folds of her tunic, already unfastened in the strengthening of their surrender toward this union.

She moaned as he cupped the fullness of her breast and ran his thumb across the peak of a nipple. She arched her back to bring her body closer to the ache that sharpened low in his belly. He growled when the mound of her brushed against his groin; against the growing hardness there and tore his lips from hers to draw them in hot, open-mouthed kisses descending over her chin, and neck, until, pushing her tunic aside completely he closed his lips and teeth around her nipple, sucking her into the warmth of his mouth and nipped gently.

She answered, crying out his name, pressing closer still and raking at his back as she tugged the fabric of his shirt upward, and he relented in his tender assault on her breasts to remove it, returning to gather her against him, her dampened skin pressed against his chest, as he drew her over him; lying back.

"Teyla," he murmured softly, running his fingers through her hair, then moaned, rumbling with it as her kisses wet the skin of his neck and chest, running the length of each scar he still carried, fading into memory, but still, somehow, a part of their shared past.

She rose over him, straddled him, letting her head fall back, and spilling her hair against his hands which automatically rose in support beneath the loose, soft woven flax of her tunic, which she pushed away to flutter gracefully along the length of her raised arms, until she could pull it free, exposing the burnished gold of her skin to his hooded gaze, the beauty of her body piecing deep within what soul his humanity had granted him.

Below, scalding and soaked in need of him, she teased against him, trapped his hardness between them and barely moved against him with each rapid breath, and he growled in need, his own breathing quickening to match the almost frantic tattoo his heart beat in his chest.

"Make love with me, Michael," she invited, her voice a low murmur in the otherwise breathy silence.

Growling softly, Michael drew her closer, turning them both until she lay beneath him. He ran his hand along her side, urging her passion with knowing caresses until he could tease at her thigh, raise the litheness of her limb to cradle his hip as he moved closer, the head of his risen need pressed against the ache he could feel through their mental sharing.

He hissed as Teyla's nails grazed along the line of his spine, catching every sensitive nerve and sending fire spiralling to engulf his already seared senses. Emotion and sensation flooded every part of him, overwhelming and yet so welcome; a sense of need… belonging.

He opened his eyes and met hers, brown and gold whirling together in his psyche as he joined them body to body. She cried out at his strong, sure possession, drawing a breathless, rumbling cry of his own as she trembled around him, her muscles caressing the length of him as he took her to himself; opened to her body and mind as she did to him.

…Michael…

He felt the single sob that shook her form as their hips met and he rocked against her, feeling the pulse of every muscle around him, drawing him higher. There was no separation, not any more as they began to move together, stroking with hands and body, skin against skin, sex within sex; joining in more than just the physical.

Suspended they lay body to body as they were now, moving as one, the darkness below overwhelming in intensity…

Teyla gasped and almost pulled away from him, but he held her close, murmured her name and pressed his length deeper still inside her. Her gasp became a cry and her pleasure flooded through him, joined with his own in their bond and he mirrored the emotion and sensation to her, a mental penetration beyond any they had ever known.

"Teyla…"

They moved as one, guided by the beat of her heart he filled her; surrendered himself to her body with a breathless rhythm, unhurried yet consuming. Each movement he made, each demanding thrust met as she arched her back to meet his descent, squeezing around him until each breath; each move they made filled him with the heat of every growing sensation they shared; drew him higher into physical ecstasy.

Impressions and memories streamed from each of them, rushing from the darkness beneath them to wind around them; weave them closer, until they became a part of the fluid darkness as it exploded into the brightness of flame around them.

-parmhunaeterna-

**

The image dominated her mind, terrifying, overwhelming and yet so acutely beautiful, that the ache of sensitivity it wound around her, the dissolution of separateness between her and Michael left Teyla almost literally sobbing as the moment of ecstasy broke over her.

She felt the momentary pain of his opening within her, but it was fleet, and drowned in the heat that flooded from him in worship of her, filling her completely, the tide of his life inside of her pulling her under; subsuming her into their shared moment of completion.

"Mich—"

…--hael…

The gasp she gave transcended either state, and left breathless by the sobbing pleasure that wracked her frame, she clutched him to her, wound tightly into the ecstasy by the tremor of his body against hers as his surrender slowed, and spent, he lowered his head to her shoulder, breathing hard, and the final wave of her own release broke over her, delivering her softly into the safety of his arms.

For many long moments, neither of them moved.

"Michael," she whispered, running a soft touch over his cheek.

"Teyla," he answered just as softly, and carefully withdrawing, rolled to his back, drawing her with him as though he couldn't bear to be parted from her, wrapping the cover over their rapidly cooling bodies. "My Parmhunaeterna…"

"What does it mean?" she asked quietly, tipping her head back where it rested against his shoulder so that she could see him. He looked down to meet her gaze and his eyes were shining with the reflected dark fire of which they were both a part.

"You have seen me as no other," he told her, "as I truly am."

The answer to his statement dawned in her so naturally she knew it could not have been anything other than the truth, and though it disturbed her, brought a strange heavy sensation to settle over her limbs, and buzz in the pit of her stomach, she said, "And yet, still I—"

"Sshhh," he said, and drew her up to meet his waiting kiss. It was soft, tenderness incarnate, and so unlike to anything she knew of him that she felt the heat of fresh tears filling her eyes. He broke the kiss as gently as he began it, releasing her to settle against him once more, her head on his chest.

With exhaustion nipping at the edge of her awareness in the best of ways, she breathed in deeply, filling her senses with the scent of their mingled desires; warmed by it. A thought trickled idly into her mind, a sensory memory of another time when she had noticed his mental touch around hers so strongly.

"It really was beautiful," she murmured softly. She felt him move, and looked up to meet the querying tilt of his head. She answered, "The nebula."

Michael almost smiled, and moved his hand to tenderly brush back the hair from the side of her face.

"I took us there because I believed you would think so," he said. "Rest now. We will pass that way again."

"And this?" she asked, barely a whisper.

…us…

-parmhunaeterna- -aeterna- -erna- -na- -a-

"My Queen." He formed the words in silence, but she heard them all the same.

**

As he reached her side, Carson slipped his warm, strong hand into hers, and cradled it with the other.

"There now, Jennifer, it's all right. Try to relax."

"Hmm, no… I ca—" she tried to speak the words that were in her mind, confused as it was; to grip his fingers as strongly as she could and warn him of what she could feel, of that which confirmed her fear as the source of this illness. She gathered herself enough to utter another single word, tugging at his hand. "Bleeding."

"I know, love," he said softly, resting his hand against her brow, and she could see he had not understood what she meant even as he continued, "It's why you called me, you remember? We've been working to—"

"No," she whispered, "Now…"

She tugged his hand closer to her body, to where he felt the slight run of blood along the crease between body and thigh, and watched as understanding dawned and a frown, less worried and more afraid, settled over his face an instant before he turned and drew the curtains around her bed.

"Makes… sense…" she took great breaths between the words, "…point… contact, I—"

"But the scans," he said, his voice full of concern and worry, and she realised he was as much berating himself for what he thought he must have missed. "There was nothing. I—"

"Carson," she stopped his frantic preparations for the inevitable exam with a touch on his arm.

"Not… your fault," she said as firmly as she could. "Mine. Probably… probably… infected… myself with… with the… D and C."

**

Her words stopped Carson cold, and he came back to her side, taking her hand again and looking down into her eyes.

"Absolutely not," he told her, keeping his own churning emotions at bay, "don't you go blaming yourself for this. Todd—"

"I… was… complicit… Carson, I—"

"He manipulated you into thinking it was what you wanted, Jennifer, you said yourself you… you… you—"

"Carson, please… just…" Her eyes filled with tears. "Just stop. I'm so… tired, I… can't…"

"Jennifer Keller, you listen to me," he felt his anger bubbling to obliterate the fearful imaginings his knowledge of the woman's genetic make-up overwhelmed him with. "If what I believe is true, then I know two things for certain. First, you're very frightened, and I understand that. I'll be honest, I am too, but… the second thing I know for sure is that there is a solution to this and one way or another, I will find it. You hear me?"

Her tear-filled eyes met his and held his gaze for the longest time before swallowing, she nodded. It wasn't good enough for him though. He had to know she understood; had faith in him.

"You hear me?"

"All right," she whispered, and finally he smiled.

"That's my girl," he ran his hand gently over her hair, smoothing it back. "Now, first thing I'm going to do is take swabs, pinpoint th'exact nature of this. You know, you're a very special young lady, you—"

"I know," she suddenly sobbed as if she knew what he was about to say, and pulled herself off the pillows to grip his shoulder. "I have a gene radical… transcription is…"

She fell back, exhausted by the effort, and he murmured softly, trying to comfort her.

"Yes, I know, Jennifer. Transcription is possible between your cells and those of a Wraith, and that's what I think we're dealing with here. Accidental transcription triggered by exposure to Wraith reproductive cells when Todd… aye well… the point is if transcription is occurring, it's why the NRTIs are helping. It's not exactly the action of a retrovirus we're combating here, and if I can find a way to introduce an agent that will render that particular radical in you dormant, then your own immune system will attack the alien cells and you'll start to feel better. But I need you to trust me."

"I do, Carson," she told him quietly, turning partly onto her side to all but curl up around his hand that held hers. "I trust you."

"I promise you, sweetheart," he murmured softly, "I'll do everything in my power to make sure I get you through this."

He closed his eyes and sighed, the memory of a mocking laughter echoing through his mind. What if his promise wasn't enough? What if he truly had to take a step back across that line, and enlist the help of a more accomplished geneticist – the only one he knew?

And at what cost would that assistance be acquired?

**

The importance of standing in his own quarters aboard the newly grown Hive paled by comparison to that of watching as he circled step by measured step around his servant as she stood, visibly trembling, in his presence.

He could almost see the feelings passing through her body; smell the mixed emotions, all of them strong and full of trepidation, which she gave off, waiting for him to speak.

Passing behind her he reached out a hand toward her hair, the touch falling just short as he exhaled long and slow, almost a growling sigh as he finally spoke, his voice was tight with his own, barely controlled turmoil.

"Tell me."

"It… I…" she stammered, dragging out the word, and he could see her trembling increasing as she tried to speak. "Please… understand, Lord, that I did not intend for it to happen… any of it."

Circling round to the front he came to a halt at last, fixing her with the piercing searchlight of his gaze.

"What… did you do?" he asked, and when she had not spoken for many seconds he lashed out, grabbed her hair in his fist and hauled her closer, pulling back her head to force her to raise her averted gaze to meet his. With her virtually in the circle of his arms he demanded urgently, "Damn you, Isla, answer me!"

"I killed a Wraith."

Her answer, soft and fearfully spoken, chilled his heated blood in an instant; weighed his limbs with heavy dread and his touch fell away from her, as his own anguish at her words gripped him. She had been returned to him; he had been granted mercy by an unmerciful universe only to have that clemency denied to him in the worst of ways. She had committed the one unforgivable act that any worshipper could perpetrate and now he, and not fate, must be the one to enact justice upon her. Growling out his despair he began to turn from her.

"It was an accident," she implored, her hands closing around his forearm. "I did not mean—"

Whirling back to face her, his despair superheated to anger, he cut her off, the back of his hand, as he freed himself from her grasp, connecting with the underside of her jaw so hard that he lifted her from her feet and sent her, airborne, across the length of his quarters, to crumple into a weeping mess at the base of the far wall.

"He was injured when we made planet fall. He tried to feed on me but I ran… I ran because I knew I must survive – return to you, and when he pursued, I fought and he fell and—"

Her rapid, panicked explanation did nothing to calm his anger as he followed her path, earthbound across the quarters to throw himself to one knee at her side, his left hand curled once more into her hair to pull her upright, to present her to his already mantled feeding hand.

"Anything!" he roared, "I could have forgiven anything but this!"

"I only pushed… and he fell," she gasped. "Survive…!"

His feeding hand descended in a rapid unerring line toward her sternum, each painful inch he moved stealing year upon year of darkening memory, replacing every one with a hot agony of regret.

"There was a voice!" she screamed.

::heshamae hensuus::

He froze as the words and the image; the impression of falling water, frothy with the white of life, filled his senses… rolling over him, an absentee caress, regretful and sorrowing, lonely. His hand halted barely a wisp away from Isla's beating heart.

"Survive, it said," Isla wept. "Survive."

Trembling he curled his feeding hand into a fist and closed his eyes.

"Get out," the words came from him in a whispered rush, as he let go of her again. "Get out of my sight!"

He heard her, amid her sobbing breaths, scrambling to obey, felt the air beside him move as she practically crawled away from him, before she found her feet and her footsteps rang across the deck as she traversed his quarters toward the door.

::heshamae hensuus::

"Isla," he called her name, his head still bowed, and he both heard and felt her stop.

Slowly, still trembling, he drew himself up from his kneeling, almost prayerful attitude, and wordlessly crossed to take his servant one last time into his arms. She leaned backwards into his embrace as he bowed forward to enfold her in himself; grazed the side of her jaw with the light nipping of his teeth and the almost tender brush of his lips. He closed his eyes as the regret and sorrow swept over him, overwhelming, until he was drowning in it.

"Find for me a servant worthy of my trust," he whispered against her ear. "Send her to me."

Abruptly he released her and turned away, his eyes finding the almost painful stab of darkness, of the lightlessness outside the portal through which he stared, and as the door hissed closed behind Isla, and unique and ancient among Wraith, Malcolm reached up to his face and wiped away the lone tear that tracked toward his heart.

**

Sheppard felt as though someone were using pure light to drill a hole in the back of his head through his eyes. His head pounded, and weighed so heavily that it took both his hands – his elbows planted firmly on the table in Daedalus' mess – to hold it up. He barely looked up as Caldwell came to a stop at his side.

"Sheppard," Caldwell said, pausing for breath into which Sheppard murmured his soft protest.

"I know what you're going to say, Steven, and the answer's no."

The studs on the other man's jump suit scraped along the moulded plastic of the seat opposite as Caldwell slipped into it. Sheppard looked up at him.

"It's been almost twelve hours since we had to withdraw, John, and according to all of our sensor readings it's a stand-off out there. The Wraith… Michael's people… we've all withdrawn to a safer part of the system; drawn our lines in the metaphorical sand."

"Which means there's something here worth fighting over, Colonel," Sheppard argued, "and I'm telling you, it has something to do with whatever it is Michael's people are protecting."

"That's as may be," Caldwell agreed, "but we're in no position to stick around and make an assay. We've lost hyperdrive, the shields are shot to hell," he sighed heavily, a sigh that Sheppard echoed, "if any one of those bastards out there decides to make a run at us, we're finished. If something happens to break this deadlock… we can't fight for two days straight and then—"

"His people are out there," Sheppard asserted, "which means that Teyla's baby is out there, or if not, they can lead me to him. I'm not giving up on this, Steven. We've faced greater odds than this before, and—"

"And what now?" Caldwell asked, and the sarcasm in his voice was thick and heavy. "Trust to blind luck again. We can't do it, Sheppard. We've done what repairs we can without resources. We need to get back to Atlantis."

"No."

"Sheppard…" Caldwell started.

Finally shaking off the weight of depression filling him with an apathy, Sheppard snapped, "How long do you think it would take you to get Daedalus back to Atlantis without hyperdrive?"

"That's not the point."

"That's precisely the point," Sheppard said. "If you must find a safer position, then take the ship just beyond the edge of the system, find a place to set down, or… or a planet to shield you from detection… McKay can get the hyperdrive back online and—"

"And you'll do what, exactly?" Caldwell asked, and Sheppard saw his eyes narrow in suspicion. "You can't take a ship out there, you'll be blown to pieces just like the other 302s we've tried to send out to scout the system."

"I won't take a 302. I'll take a cloaked Jumper and—"

"And go where? There are over nine planetary bodies out there," Caldwell said, his voice rising once more.

"And I'll search every single one of them if I have to but I'm not about to give up. I…" Sheppard trailed off, then sighed, and said, "Listen, Steven, I made a promise to Teyla… to her memory. I have to do this."

Caldwell sighed.

"Marks has identified a likely blind spot we could use as a hiding place," he said at last, "But it won't keep us hidden forever, Sheppard. I'll give you ten hours… ten…" Sheppard nodded, sitting up straighter, a surge of hope infusing him with an energy he didn't have in the moments before. "After that, hyperdrive or no hyperdrive, we're leaving, even if it takes us weeks to reach the nearest planet with a Stargate."

"Ten hours," Sheppard said, starting to get up. "And if I don't find anything by then—"

"Sheppard?" McKay's urgent sounding voice came from the doorway to the mess. Both Sheppard and Caldwell turned his way. "I've been going over the sensor data from before the battles, and there… I think there's something you should see. I think I may have found what everyone is looking for."

**

"All systems and stations report ready."

Malcolm tuned out the voices announcing the Hive's readiness for launch. He did not need them. He could feel the potential in the connection with the semi-sentient neural network; from the very air around him as he fell into partial communion with the Hive, and couldn't help but wonder if the so-called commander of the Queen's Hive could likewise feel the pulse of the ship.

He doubted it, for when he felt the Queen reach the entrance to the bridge Malcolm had already turned and swept himself into a low bow, while the commander, taken completely unawares until it was far too late, fumbled to turn and show obeisance to his Queen.

"My Queen," the commander said softly from his half stoop.

"Report," she snapped, and even before he felt the touch of her mind within his, Malcolm knew that the commander's failure had not gone unnoticed.

=you have done well, my Second=

Although not craving recognition for his part in selecting the personnel and materials used in the creation of the Hive, he could not help but feel gratified that his work had been appreciated. In spite of the rush of pride at the praise from the Queen, he tempered his emotions and responded with more humility than he felt.

{the Hive is at your service, My Queen}

"We are increasing main power and are ready for launch," the commander answered the Queen's question, glancing up from his lowered head. "I have taken the liberty of laying in a course for—"

"No!"

The Queen's voice, ringing out like a gunshot across the bridge startled Malcolm, and rising from his bow, he took a step toward her as he could see that the commander was likewise discomfited with her visceral response.

"My Queen?" the commander questioned softly.

"Arrogant fool!" she snapped, and from the mental connection they still shared, Malcolm gleaned that she had read the Hive's programmed destination from the commander even before he had spoken it: a small world on the edge of a far flung system, admittedly one of their feeding grounds, but far from the centre of their current conflicts.

She glanced at him then and Malcolm knew she expected him to be the one to correct the errant commander. With some hesitancy, not wishing to further inflame the tensions between himself and the commander, and with a nod of deference to the Queen, Malcolm spoke.

"We should make ready to follow the cruisers in pursuit of the Abomination's ship," he said.

The commander glared at him and in a voice laced with overly didactic patience, spoke as if to a mere hatchling. "Protocol demands that we cull in order to regain our strength and further strengthen the new Hive."

"Protocol has rarely won battles, Hive Commander," Malcolm said and, provoked and unable to resist his growing irritation, tilted his head as he added, "besides, advanced telemetry indicates that there are a number of inhabited worlds in that system. We will be as well compensated by culling there as light years away from where we need to be in order to continue our Queen's objective of wiping out the Abomination's forces."

=have a care, Hive Second=

The Queen's warning came as another surprise to him, after all, she had been the one to encourage him to speak out against the hive commander. He masked his surprise in another low obeisance to the Queen and was drawing breath to speak again; attempt to smooth over the ruffled feathers of the strutting cock that was fast becoming another of his enemies when the harshness of the commander's mind thrust upon his own.

((I will finish you… finish you… finish you… you and that little bitch you call your servant… servant… servant…))

Malcolm growled softly in response to the threat, turning toward the commander and straightening again, flexing his hands at his side, until the Queen's mental touch came again, softly, almost sensually against his mind – seductive.

=now is not the time. Wait… wait… wait… wait… wait…=

Aloud she ordered, "Set a course in pursuit of the enemy Hive."

With a final low bow to the Queen, Malcolm mentally adjusted the Hive's destination coordinates, even as the ineffectual commander turned to the console to do so manually, tilting his head in challenge once more when the commander turned back to impale him on a dangerous stare.








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