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Act 2

The rain, relentless on the back of his neck that was exposed by his bowed head, did little to cool the fire blazing through Ronon's body. Sheer determination was the only thing holding him upright; keeping his feet shuffling through the mud, ploughing furrows of despair behind him that even a child among rangers could have followed with their eyes closed. He did not care. He did not even notice. Such was his delirium that even the single focus on reaching his destination, at times, slipped from his conscious awareness.

One thought kept him driven; kept him moving. Teyla.

Someone that cared deserved to know of her passing, could join him in grieving for her the way she should be grieved; give her the honour that should be given. She had been a leader after all, and it did not register that it should have been to her people that his efforts carried him. He should have gone to Halling and the other Athosians.

Why then was he before the silent house, with its closed shutters, and the solid door that was no doubt as barred as the windows?

He all but fell against the door, pushing at the unyielding surface with what remained of his strength until his knees buckled, and the torrent that fell from the low, grey clouds faded at the edges of his sight. He growled his last protest of denial.

They would not take this from him. He would not allow it.

**

"It's a ball of rock, McKay," Sheppard said as he looked more closely at the telemetry data McKay had uploaded to the Jumper's system.

"It is now," McKay answered, then shook his head, "but look at the atmospheric readings. That can only be the residual effects of a massive barrage of weapons' fire. We've seen these kinds of results before – Hoff for instance."

"You think the Wraith did this?" Sheppard asked, and drew his gaze away from the HUD to look at the darkened ball of the planet they were slowly approaching. It did not look any more inviting in reality than it did on the computer simulation.

"Either the Wraith, or Michael," McKay said dismissively, "and either way it amounts to the same thing. Look, the placement of the planet in the system, its size and distance from the sun, it should look similar to what we'd see of Earth from this distance, but look at it, Sheppard. Someone did a real number on this planet, and the big question is, why?"

Sheppard frowned. Something still wasn't adding up; was niggling in the back of his mind with a kind of warning that made him loathe to take the Jumper any closer. The real-time sensor readings he was pulling off the Jumper's systems indicated use of artificial or generated power, no significant levels of technology – hardly any readings of life at all.

"If what you're saying is true, Rodney, then why bother to come back here. If either Michael or the Wraith destroyed this place, why—"

A shrill warning sounded from the Jumper's proximity sensors, and instinctively, Sheppard's thoughts guided the cloaked craft through a series of avoidance manoeuvres. Their sudden sharpness almost threw McKay from his seat, and Sheppard murmured an apology as he glanced at the Canadian scientist, who had braced himself awkwardly against the forward console. Seconds later, the lone Dart screamed over them from stern to bow, buffeting them in the heat of its propulsion wake.

"Ordinarily this would be where I sarcastically point out that I told you so," McKay whimpered from his precarious perch.

"No need, Rodney," Sheppard answered lazily. He was already plotting a course that would follow the Wraith Dart down to the surface of the planet. "Let's go take a look at what's so all fire interesting down there, hmm? Hang on."

"Like I wasn't already," McKay whined.

**

"Michael…" she made a small, soft whimper as she felt the sharpness in her arm – wanted to turn her head to see what he was doing; felt his hands on her elbow, but somehow couldn't move… could barely breathe.

-rest-

His voice possessed her… in mind as well as in body.

-you are perfectly safe- -safe- -safe- -safe- -safe-

Teyla shifted in her sleep, her face creased into a frown, and her breathing quickened. The reverie tugged at the edges of her conscious awareness, blurring the line between reality and dream – between dream and memory…

Teyla gasped as the wave of shared pleasure washed over her and transcended both the physical and mental… the emotional, and left breathless by the sobbing ecstasy that wracked her frame, she clutched him to her, wound tightly into the unity 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.

She cried out softly, half sitting up as she woke, her body trembling. Her heartbeat thumped through her small frame and her blood, the song of tumultuous waves resounded in her ears; was deafening in the near silence of the room.

She lay back and covered her face with her shaking hands, whispering his name into the darkness as the slick, sweat-sheen over her body slowly cooled her. She did not need to reach for him to know that he was no longer at her side. None-the-less, uncovering her face, she slipped her hand into the empty space beside her, as if her fingertips could gather the essence of him, still lingering in the sweetness of his scent caught within the bedclothes.

A languid pleasure that blanketed her drew back to settle heavily within her core, still pulsating with the remembrance of fulfilment. She turned onto her side, facing the place where he had been, and drew up her knees as the heat of tears began to gather in her eyes; contradiction threatening to break her in two.

He slowly began to walk around her. She turned to keep him in view.

"We never stopped being enemies," he said, and she thought she heard disappointment in his voice.

"What will you do with me? Feed on me?" she demanded, fighting harder to keep the trembling inside of her from showing, from affecting any part of her that he would see. "Is that why you brought me all this way?"

He looked away, refusing to meet her gaze, and fighting to keep his breathing under control.

When did it stop? When did everything change and turn her animosity into acquiescence to the growing connection she felt with him… into affection.

"The last time I saw you, I really was going to feed on you."

She frowned, his open admission taking her somewhat by surprise. She had expected sophistry, a web of lies meant to confound her, awaken her compassion; draw her to side with him in whatever his intent for the meeting. Yet he stood, leaning slightly on the medical bed that had been his, calmly confessing his motivation. It made her profoundly uncomfortable.

"But it was not a matter of choice. It was… instinct."

Was that then what she had become? A slave to instinct… or was the reverse true? Had she, as he had insisted to her once, overcome the instinct that defined her and opened herself to the possibility that not all was as she had believed?

"Michael… Let me be the one."

"No!" he cried, and it was almost as if an appeal against her quiet plea. "You cannot crave— This is madness!"

"Madness or not," she began, taking a step toward him.

"I will not feed on you," he snarled.

On her insistence, however, he had fed on her… and more…

The pleasure in her centre flared again as the memory of the rapture she had felt, and shared with him, joined as they were as he had bestowed the Gift of Life on her dying frame. Had he known how close she had come to death? Did that pain haunt him also? Had she hurt him again completely without intent?

She could not stop the sob that rose in response to the thought, nor to stop herself from caring… and yet, the memory of what she had done; had invited within the warmth and comfort of the bed she still occupied in an attempt to prolong the moments of their togetherness shook the very core of what she knew to be right, to be good. How could she have given herself to this?

Almost keening now, filled with a sudden self-loathing she threw herself from the reflected warmth of the mattress, stumbled on the covers which followed in disarray and barely had the strength to back away; looking in horror at where she had lain as if she could still see the physical stain of her own betrayal.

All that he had done…

"He has my child, my son. He took my people, made them into… into things to do his bidding; he— Hundreds of thousands of people are sick and dying because of what he has done."

…and yet she knew, she understood that they had driven him to all that he had done… The Athosians… all the hundreds of thousands of people infected with the Hoffan protein… the millions that would die in the war to come…

"You know," Carson sighed then, continuing softly, "Your understanding, your empathy, your… compassion… it means a lot to him."

"Not enough!" she sobbed, full of doubt and pain and anger, as if reaching for what comfort Carson's words could bring.

"And there you are tearing yourself up wondering: how could I love such a monster? You and I both know there's more to it than that."

She fell back, stumbled to sit heavily amid the spilled covers, drawing up her knees and wrapping her arms around herself, her hands over her ears as though to shut out the sounds of her own conscience – and the truth that even now fuelled the torrential agony that poured from her.

"We're not that different, Teyla."

She did love him… and wracked with guilt and shame… and yet the longing – for his love; for him… but like this, in all that was to come, she knew it could not be allowed to go on.

She reached out; wrapped clawed hands around the sheets to draw them to her from the bed, and held them tightly in her arms as she rocked back and forth, her ragged cries coming from a throat already raw from sobbing.

**

The Dart's pilot looked behind him one last time before entering the small, run down building at the edge of the village almost, Sheppard thought, as if he knew he'd been followed.

Crouched in the lea of a fall of rocks from the flanking mountainside, Sheppard reached for McKay's wrist to encourage the man to tilt the life signs detector his way, so that he could see.

"It doesn't make sense," McKay hissed, as if they were close enough to be overheard. "There's nothing here."

"There's plenty here," Sheppard answered, nodding out toward the buildings. "Shelter, for one thing, and if these villagers used to be Michael's sympathisers, they might be… persuaded to divulge valuable Intel."

"You think that's likely, Sir?" one of the military officers that Caldwell had insisted Sheppard bring with him, asked quietly.

"What else could they be, Sergeant?" Sheppard asked. "That man knew exactly where he was going when he came down here. It wasn't some… blind run to get out of the battle."

"I'm just saying," the sergeant began, but McKay interrupted him before he could get any further.

"That man in there," McKay said, gesturing with the life signs detector out toward the building. "Have you considered that he's most likely one of Michael's hybrid's and not a man at all… and that maybe there are more of them in there?"

"Relax, McKay," Sheppard tugged him back down, further into the shadow of the rocks. "Even if he is, or there are, there can't be more than…" he shrugged, and having no solid theory on which to base his estimate made a wild stab in the dark, "…half a dozen of them. We can take 'em."

"Half a do—" McKay spluttered, "Sheppard, there are a dozen buildings out there, I'm reading… fifty or more life signs on here. Even if only half of those are hybrids, we're outnumbered almost four to one…"

"What's your point?" Sheppard asked.

"My point?" McKay sounded as though he couldn't believe that Sheppard was asking. "My point is that we can't go in there, the six of us. We need to wait. Look, we know where they are. We can go back to the Daedalus, and come back with reinforcements; even the odds a little. If—"

"There's no time," he said.

"No time?" McKay yelped. "Sheppard, if—"

"Colonel Sheppard!" the sergeant interrupted his quiet argument with McKay. "Movement!"

Ignoring the Canadian's continued, spluttering protests, Sheppard cautiously peeked around the side of the rocks they were using as cover and a knot of warning intuition twisted in his belly as he watched the pilot from the Dart exit the building into which he'd gone. He brought with him three other men, and met with two others in the middle of the village.

Something about the way they conferred made him nervous; made him notice the almost furtive glances they each made before following the pilot toward a large, barnlike building at the far reaches of what passed for the village street.

"C'mon," he ordered as soon as the others were far enough away for them to slip from the rocks to the shadow of the nearest building. Instinct told him they should follow. Instinct also told him that it could be trouble, but irritatingly, refused to identify the particular brand into which he was leading his men on that occasion.

He dismissed the niggling feelings of doubt and pushed on, knowing that the soldiers at his back would follow his orders and, in spite of the scientist's increased whining call for caution, he knew that McKay would follow as well… eventually.

**

Carson took a deep breath and wiped his perspiring palms against the side of his scrubs, hoping that Woolsey, standing by his side as they awaited the establishment of the wormhole, would not notice his nervousness.

He had no reason to be nervous, nor could truly understand why he was. The woman he awaited was a friend, they'd shared a lot together and had remained in contact through almost the first two years of his tenure in the Pegasus Galaxy… and then, with no warning, communication between them stopped. There had been nothing to indicate that anything he'd said had in any way offended her, he had simply never heard from her again.

"I must say," Woolsey cut in on his uncomfortable thoughts, "whilst I'm… relieved that you finally decided to replace those losses we've suffered on the medical team, I find your choice of replacement for Doctor Keller to be… surprising."

Carson's nervousness evaporated to be replaced by anger at Woolsey's glib and obviously probing tones.

"First of all," he snapped, looking over at the other man, "she's not, in any way, a replacement for Jennifer. She's a brilliant physician, and probably a better scientist than either myself or Doctor Keller. I simply thought that under the current circumstances in the Pegasus Galaxy, Atlantis needs her expertise."

Carson couldn't help but worry over how much they needed her right now; how much he needed her help in trying to find a way to help Jennifer. He only hoped that Woolsey wouldn't question his motives too much.

"And come to that," he said to cover his obvious agitation, "she was always my first choice of primary physician for the expedition."

"Only she turned you down," Woolsey said, and the smug overtones in both his voice and his expression stirred a bigger nest of worry in Carson's gut. "I've read her file, by the way. It makes very interesting reading, and makes me wonder, actually, whether you have."

The chevrons on the Gate began, one by one, to light up as they locked, and Woolsey took a step forward to await the arrival of the new expedition personnel. The unease in Carson's belly blossomed into fully fledged chill, and without thinking he reached to grasp Woolsey's arm, pulling the other man to a halt.

"Just what's that supposed to mean?" he snapped, glaring at the base commander. "Doctor Haddad and I are old friends; I don't need to read her file."

"Then tell me, Doctor Beckett," Woolsey said, raising an eyebrow. "Where has she been for the last two and a half years, since her sudden resignation from the SGC?"

The whooshing of the incoming wormhole hitting the shield concealed Carson's outward rush of shocked, dismayed breath. Resigned? Had that been why their communications had suddenly ceased, and not any one of the imagined reasons for which he had soundly blamed himself?

"For what it's worth, Doctor," Woolsey finished, shaking off the weakened grasp that Beckett had on his arm, "I agree with your assessment of the woman. She's a brilliant doctor, an outstanding scientist – unparalleled in the field of genetics and non-theoretical exobiology, which, considering her background…"

Woolsey left the rest of the sentence hanging, and Beckett hated him for it, doubly so when the man pressed a thick security sealed folder into his hands.

"You might want to become… reacquainted with your friend before you… become too wrapped up in your work to appreciate the need for… caution," he said, mildly enough, but the implied threat was still present.

"Stable wormhole established. Stargate Command requests permission to start sending equipment and personnel," Banks' voice sounded efficiently from the Control Room, preventing Carson from giving any answer, but his mind, his emotions reeled from the revelations Woolsey was pressing on him, unbalancing him, and tipping him from the position of strength he had sought to demonstrate.

"Lower the shield," Woolsey ordered. In the next moment the background hum of the shields ceased.

**

Inconsolable anguish had given way to a crushing, numb misery.

Isla barely noticed that half of the Lower Station fell into a frightened hush, only that the other half of the worshipper populace increasingly began to indulge in fervent whispers, spreading news of her dismissal, and likely its cause like a creeping cancer through the Hive. It would only be a matter of time before the Wraith began to listen to the discord among their followers. When they did, whispers would be the least of her concerns.

She lowered her head and hurried across the open space in the centre of the common area, and pulled up short as she almost collided with a Handler crossing chamber toward the exit. She mumbled an apology and moved to step out of his way and continue on her own, but he stepped with her, continuing to block her path.

"Perhaps you should… keep yourself to yourself, little girl," he hissed, tipping his head in mimicry of their masters.

Long since past the futility of insisting on the accidental nature of her crime, she moved to push past him, ignoring his jibe, wanting nothing other than to reach the shadowed corner of the chamber where she could allow herself to descend into her unyielding grief.

A sharp pain in her shoulder pulled her to a halt as he grasped her arm to prevent her from leaving.

"I said—"

"Let me go!" she snarled, twisting one way and then another.

"Or?" he mocked, "The one you sheltered behind isn't exactly going to come to your rescue this time, given what you did and we don't want the trouble you bring, so…"

Abruptly he let go of her arm, and with only another hiss into her face he turned and marched away. Isla turned first one way and then another, searching for the cause of his sudden change of intent, but whatever it was – whoever it was – had vanished.

Far from comforted by her sudden reprieve, Isla wrapped her arms around herself and hurried on her own way toward the solace of her shadows, where only her misery would torment her. She threw herself into the darkest of them, lowered her head to the tops of her drawn up knees, and wished she could weep.

"Were you thinking that by not eating, you would stop them from wanting to feed on you?" The voice that spoke was gentle, and the concern in the words that could otherwise have been sarcastic and harsh, only filled Isla with more loneliness and longing.

"I'm not h-hungry," she answered, barely lifting her head.

The warmth of a soft hand pressed against her shoulder, and a woman lowered herself to her side. This time, Isla raised her head, and looked on the one that held a steaming bowl of food out to her. The scent of it pulled at the gnawing, empty ache inside her belly.

"You must eat, Isla," the woman said. "It has been days."

Isla frowned, taking longer than she would have thought to recognise the concerned face of one of the Queen's handmaidens looking at her earnestly. In spite of the woman's obvious concern, she couldn't help the suspicion that flooded her heart.

"What do you care?" she asked, but her sorrow blunted the venom in her tone.

"I know that you feel great sorrow because of your situation, and in your place I would feel the same," the handmaiden said, "but search your heart, Isla. You have to know this is a temporary situation – a setback and not the end."

Isla snorted with humourless laughter. "You do know what I have done, yes?"

"I know that you have killed a Wraith," the handmaiden said, pushing the bowl against her outstretched hands, and closing her fingers around it. In spite of herself, the scent of the food and the warmth of the bowl and her desperate hunger all met in the moment she lifted a single morsel of food to her mouth. "I know that it was by accident that you did it, that you are blameless."

"I only pushed him," she said around the next mouthful of food, eating as though she were a starving, frightened animal. "He fell."

"I believe you," the handmaiden said, "and so does he, otherwise he would have killed you without a thought. You know I'm telling you the truth."

"I don't know your name," Isla said, finally slowing in her eating, "but I know who you are. You're one of the Queen's handmaidens. How do you presume to know the Second's thoughts?" Hope flared inside of her for a moment and she asked, "Did he send you?"

"No," the woman said, "but I came anyway. My name is Jethera. I know him only in as much as once or twice the Queen has ordered that I tend him in her presence."

A knotted twist of conflicting emotions rose inside Isla at Jethera's words: jealousy, hope, confusion, resignation, desire and fear, all pressed into a sharp point that speared at her gut.

"He sent me away," she said, and tears came to her already sore eyes. "He ordered that I find him another to tend him, and even in that I will fail… because all here will not so much as look at me, let alone speak. I—"

"I can help," Jethera interrupted softly. "There is a girl known to me, who—"

"No!" Isla yelped, and more quietly repeated her denial, suddenly gripping Jethera's hands in panic. "No, it cannot be just anyone. It must be someone he will tolerate. She must understand…"

"She is a good, purebred worshipper," Jethera interjected, but did not break the flow of words coming from Isla.

"…You! You must do it," she finished.

"Isla, I cannot," Jethera said slowly, shaking her head. "I serve the Queen. She—"

"Please, Jethera," Isla grasped her hands. "You could do it, do both. I can't fail him again. I can't, he—"

"I… cannot," Jethera stammered slightly, and tried to free her hand, her eyes glazing as if in memory. "My loyalty must remain to the Queen."

"Please…" Isla whispered. "Please."

**

The first few people to emerge from the Gate were porters carrying equipment boxes. It made Carson nervous. Under normal circumstances personnel would precede the porters, and that they hadn't in this case raised the hackles on the back of his neck. It was nothing compared with the following moments, and he had to force himself to stillness as Doctor Haddad stepped from the gate, flanked closely by a pair of SOs that were clearly not there for her protection.

Carson watched, the frown deepening on his face as they led her to stand before Woolsey, only then, at his nod, did they take a step away from her.

"Doctor Haddad," Woolsey said, his tone light enough, though Carson thought he detected the lingering hint of smugness in his voice. "Welcome to Atlantis."

Carson almost held his breath, waiting for her to speak, and couldn't help but look her over as she stood almost within arm's reach. She was dressed in a simple outfit, a long, deep blue dress that buttoned at the front and under which a pair of crisply pressed black pants covered her slender legs. Her head was covered by a matching blue scarf that trailed down over her shoulders and framed her warm, olive-toned face. She looked tired, and her hands, which she had clasped in front of her, shook slightly.

As though she saw him looking at her hands, in a manner that screamed of self-consciousness, she tugged at the long sleeves of her dress, pulling them further down over her arms, and focussed her attention on Woolsey.

"Shukran, Mister Woolsey," she said, her soft, accented voice just as Carson remembered it, except for the barely hidden note of fatigue it carried. "Thank you."

"I expect you'd like to get settled into your quarters, and find your bearings," he said, "I can have your things sent to join you shortly."

"Actually, Sir, I should like to get acquainted with the medical and laboratory facilities," she said, shaking her head slightly, "I can unpack after I have finished working."

"Anxious to get started?" Woolsey asked, and a frown creased his face.

"I was led to believe that the situation was… urgent," she said, and glanced first at Carson, then at the two SOs still hovering too near for Beckett's liking.

"Very well," Woolsey said after what seemed to Carson to be an overlong pause. "I'll let Doctor Beckett fill you in on further details, and show you around."

She nodded her acknowledgement and then turned to face Carson. He tried to smile; to focus on the meeting he'd been anticipating, but his attention was held by Woolsey, who took that moment to finally dismiss the soldiers that had been guarding the young woman.

"Perhaps you would like to begin in the infirmary, Doctor?"

Carson jumped as she addressed him directly, somewhat discomforted by the formal tone in her voice.

"Of course, Doctor," he answered in kind. "Come this way."

She fell into step with him, barely making a sound as she moved. It had always surprised him how she managed that, without so much as the rustle of fabric, considering the layers she usually wore, but the momentum with which she moved told him that she wanted to be away from the Gate Room quickly. It was not until several minutes later, and much effort on his part to stifle his worried curiosity, that their steps slowed and her formality dropped away.

"So, you are going to read that, Carson?" she asked softly, nodding toward the file he carried under his arm. "I assume it is the dossier the SGC has kept concerning my movement."

Without a word, he offered the file to her, and she took it as though to do so would burn her.

"I'd prefer to hear what happened from you, Ayatesha," he said as she opened the folder, and glanced through its pages.

She sighed. "It is a very long story, sadiiqi," she said, "Long and not at all pleasant."

She shivered, and he did not press the issue. There would be time enough to exchange unpleasant stories, starting with the current problem.

"Either way, love, I'm glad you're here," he told her softly as they approached the infirmary. "You're my last hope with this."

She reached out then, uncharacteristically catching hold of his arm to draw him to a halt. She rarely initiated physical contact with anyone, and rarer still, allowed it from others. He looked at her hand on his arm, and then up into her eyes.

"Do not lie to me, Carson. Not you," she said earnestly. "I know you too well, and I fear that I am the one you wish will spare you from your last hope."

**

The beaded braids in his hair rattled together as he swung his head to see who it was that had entered his quarters unbidden. He tensed, ready for any eventuality and could not help the relief that flooded him when he recognised the familiar footfalls of his body servant, though, he noted, she was not alone.

"My lord…" Her tone was hesitant, and brought into sharp focus the memory that he had banished her from his service. The thought flooded him with sadness. He turned and tilted his head in query, inviting her to continue. "I have brought to you one that will serve you in my stead."

He held his breath, trusting Isla to have selected well, but concerned that, with a finite number of people from whom to choose, the choice would not be as he would wish it. He was surprised – pleasantly so – when Jethera walked in behind Isla.

"The Queen's handmaiden?" he queried.

"My lord, She has Herself previously instructed that I see to your comfort," Jethera said, her tone clearly defensive of Isla. "Others of the hive do not possess sufficient… rank to be worthy of such a place as in your service."

He could not help but chuckle, but sadly as he saw Isla's face lowered to the floor. He walked toward her, slowly, his steps measured, his mind reaching to take, from her, her impression of the situation, of her place. It was with a greater stab of sorrow that he felt her hopelessness.

He reached for Isla; curled the fingers of his hand beneath her chin to raise her gaze from the floor.

{it is well done} {well done} {well done}

His words to her were no exaggeration. It was well done. Having the Queen's handmaiden serving as his also would allow him to maintain a closer vigilance of the Queen than his position would otherwise allow. He was concerned for her, or more accurately, he corrected himself wryly, for the Hive under her current condition. Her Zenith drew increasing unrest and near madness to some of the fertile males of the Hive, and yet the Hive commander, who should long since have brought his unstable Queen to the fulfilment of it, failed in his duties; his responsibilities.

{she will serve me well, Isla} {serve me well} {serve me well} {serve well}

"If… there is nothing more, my lord," he heard the tremor in Isla's voice and it threatened to crush his resolve; to draw him into his own lapse of duty. He shook his head to banish the thoughts of clemency for this one from his mind.

"There is nothing," he said, his triple toned voice flattened almost into a single tone.

She stepped away from his touch, and he felt the tears gathering in her eyes as she turned away from him; felt their heat, and the heaviness that settled over her and inside of her before he could withdraw from the mental connection he had shared.

He closed his eyes, and listened to her walk away.

**

"Damn it!"

Beckett slammed his hand down on the laboratory bench as yet another cocktail of drugs failed to halt the degradation of the sample DNA. He sat up, away from the microscope, and rubbed his tired eyes, feeling as though time was slipping away from him again.

"I do not remember you being so violent before," Ayatesha's soft voice washed across the lab to settle cool hands against the back of his burning neck. He sighed and turned in the stool to face her.

"I really thought I had it this time," he said, trying to explain his outburst.

"You decided to try with the retrovirus again?" she asked, sitting up from her own microscope and turning to look at him. "Why? I thought you said it had been the least successful of all the treatments you have tried so far."

"Aye, I did," he nodded, "but then something you said earlier about the transcriptase inhibitors actually providing a bridge for the nucleosides to cross-link the way we saw them made me think that maybe, if I modified the action of the retrovirus to provide open base pairs for the polypeptide chains to anneal to instead of smothering the human DNA, we might actually be able to stop the cellular degradation. Then all we'd need to do would be to find an agent that would remove the foreign chains, and…"

He shrugged and then sighed.

"Anyway, it's a moot point now. Just when I thought I saw a separation in the two strands of DNA it was like someone had flipped a switch, and the Wraith factors in the sample just started to completely overtake the human ones. Right back to square one!"

"Let me see." She stood up from her place and crossed the laboratory to him, stepping up close so that she could bend down over the microscope to examine the sample for herself. Even as close as she was to him, Carson managed to watch her as she worked. He couldn't help comparing her to himself; her ability to his – what he knew of her with what he saw.

Where the deadly puzzle frustrated him; terrified him if he were honest, it seemed to him that the impossibility of it in some strange way comforted Ayatesha, and yet… as he looked closer, he saw the tell tale signs of someone who was fighting to keep their own worry from showing. It was there in the tension in her back; in the way she gripped the control stick of the equipment just that little bit too tightly. He had never seen it before in her, not even in the most difficult of situations. Something had happened. Something had changed her.

"Y'tesha, can I ask you something?" he said softly.

"Now I know we are in trouble," she answered, chuckling, though without humour. "You have not called me that since long before you left for Atlantis." There was barely a pause before she added, "What do you consider to be the origins of this mutation?"

"I'm almost certain it was an accidental cross contamination between a modified version of the original retrovirus, and an attempt to find a protection or cure for the actions of the Hoffan protein, why?" He answered her question as best he could with the information he had gleaned from his conversations with McKay, and then with barely a breath between, asked, "What happened back at the SGC – why resign?"

She looked at him for a moment, and he felt as though he was being probed, his sincerity evaluated; whether or not he could be trusted, tested. She turned back to the microscope before speaking.

"Sometimes people ask for answers they do not really want to hear. Sometimes people ask for things which on the surface seem innocent enough, but which my conscience will not allow me to give…" she turned to look at him again, capturing his gaze in the sadness of hers.

"Y'tesha, wait…" Carson caught her arm, pulling her to a halt and turning her to face him. The action was gentle, and as she turned he reached for her with the other hand, drawing her closer and leaning down to look earnestly into her still wet eyes. "I thought it was what you wanted. I… I don't understand why we can't—"

She stepped closer still, and laid a trembling hand across his lips to silence him.

"Because I care too much for you to put you through all that would come of it," she told him in a softly broken voice. "It is enough to be your friend."

"…and when I would not give it, censure was the least of my worries." She shook her head, and turned back to the microscope. "I ask because the imposition of the non-human RNA in the secondary sequences is not singularly linear as we have seen in the action of the retrovirus. What makes you so certain of your hypothesis?"

"Jennifer was working with a Wraith on both the problem of finding an immunity to the Hoffan protein, and at the same time attempting to stop Sheppard from turning into one of Michael's hybrids. Michael based his hybridisation program on my original retrovirus," he said.

"The one that made him human?"

"Yes." He reached over to the computer to call up recorded cell cultures taken from Major Lorne when he had first been returned to Atlantis. "Michael took our research and adapted it to allow for the creation of Wraith-Human hybrids. This is what they were combating in Sheppard. Look at the way the Wraith cells are dividing in Lorne's sample."

He gave her time to watch the progression of the hybridisation occurring in Lorne's culture, but he was burning with worried curiosity as to what had happened between Ayatesha and the SGC. Eventually he couldn’t contain it any longer.

"Censure you for what? Is that why you resigned?" he asked.

"Resigned is an interesting way of putting what I did, but yes – I went… home." She frowned, and looking across at him again made another soft accusation. "There is something you are not telling me."

"Home as in Egypt, home?" Carson asked with a frown of his own. "I've told you everything I know, Y'tesha. I wouldn't keep anything from you. I never have and I don't intend to start now. Why?"

"Why did I go home? It was the only place I knew I could not be reached," she said. "How much do you want to avoid that last resort for which you brought me here to provide you with the chance of solace?"

"Believe me; I very much want to avoid that eventuality." He sighed then, and said, "They found you anyway, didn't they? The SGC I mean."

His frown deepened as she once more tugged on the sleeves of her dress, pulling them further down over her wrists. It was an unconscious gesture that she had no idea she was making. It almost made him want to reach out, pull them back and see what it was she was trying to hide… but as she had said, there were some questions to which you didn't want the answers, and the fears that were increasing as they progressed through both sides of their entwined conversation gave him to believe that this was one such time.

"The IOA found me, when they received your request for my assistance on Atlantis," she turned her back on the laboratory bench and faced him fully then. "I am sorry, but I do not believe that I will be able to help you avoid your fears after all."

"Please, Ayatesha," he shook his head, "I told you… I told you everything I know. I'm working to save a life here, maybe more, I—"

She stepped toward him suddenly and slipped her fingers onto his lips to cut off his protest, and off balance, leaned against him as she did. It was the most natural thing in the world for him to reach out and support her; slip his arms around her waist.

"Mishitkallim," she whispered urgently in Arabic. She slipped her fingers from his lips, but did not pull far from his embrace. "Carson, it is not that I do not wish to help you, but that I do not believe that I can. While there is a similitude between the transcription in Doctor Keller's sample, and the one that you show me here, they are as different from one another as night and day."

"Y'tesha?" As he looked down at her, he swallowed hard, as he caught sight of her hands that lay on his chest, her wrists uncovered, and marred with deep tissue scarring that could only have come from handcuffs or worse…

She followed the direction of his gaze and stiffened, almost stumbling as she pulled away, turned and walked to put a greater distance between them.

"Now you know," she said flatly, keeping her stiff back turned to him.

Barely able to breathe, and chilled beyond anything he had experienced, even at Michael's hands, he forced himself to speak.

"I don't know what to say," he told her. "I'm sorry, I…"

His words trailed into silence as he pulled together the pieces that he knew; his mind rebelling against the growing understanding that what had happened to his friend had happened at the hands of any human agents. What could he say that would bring any sense of justice; any sense of comfort. Instead he did the only thing that his wounded sensibilities would allow. He breached the distance she had put between them and from behind wrapped his arms around her.

He expected her to fight, to free herself from his embrace, and she did not disappoint his expectations. Turning in his arms, she pushed at his chest, stepping back to the limits of her reach.

"Only say that you will forgive me, Carson."

"Of course, I—" he stammered. That he had not expected. That she should ask forgiveness made no sense to him when set against what he imagined must have happened to her. He shook his head and told her, "There's nothing to forgive. You haven't done anything and—"

"You have delivered me from two years of hell, habibi, with what for you was a simple request for help, but I cannot help you." She looked up at him, and reached for one of his hands, lifted it from her hip, and drew him back to the bench. There she activated the computer screen and pointed to the image that built slowly, line by line. "I want to, Carson, I do, but this has not been engineered. This has not happened at the behest of any man or Wraith. The architect of this design is Nature herself and though I suspect it will send you to a hell of your own. I am telling you: if you know of a scientist that can help your friend then you must go to him now, though I fear it is already too late."

**

Blindly following Sheppard was beginning to get old. Blindly following the new, improved, suicidal model of his friend was about as far from being McKay's idea of a good time as it was possible to get.

"Sheppard, what the hell are you—?"

He cut himself off, realising he was talking, once again, to empty air, as Sheppard and his military sidekicks huddled low as they scurried toward the barn. He watched them for more than a few moments, arguing with himself, trying to convince the loyal friend part of himself to listen to the strongly developed instinct he had for self defence which insisted that staying where he was, being ready to give Sheppard and the others cover against anyone or anything that might sneak up on them from behind was really the best option. He failed.

"Oh," he whined aloud, tightening his grip on the P90 that was slung across his chest. "This is so stupid!"

Before he could demoralise himself any further, he threw himself away from the cover of the low wall that sheltered him, and stumbling with the first few steps, followed the military contingent into the barn.

**

Sheppard moved his eyes across the vista in front of him, taking in the sight of the equipment laid out in the barn. That it wasn't farmyard equipment, courtesy of Mister Johnny Deer, came as no surprise to him.

"Bingo," he murmured under his breath. "Got you, you mass-murdering-son-of-a-bitch!"

Michael's hybrids, for that was who the men he had followed were now revealed to be, stood with their back to the entrance. They were moving around what looked to Sheppard to be some kind of laboratory, not unlike the one to which they had followed Teyla before the birth of her son. They were each working quickly and diligently at their tasks, some at computer consoles, and some at the concealed racks that lined the walls of the building, which from his vantage point seemed to Sheppard to be empty of figures – mercifully – for he knew, first hand, what happened to the humans placed inside their grim bunks.

Having no more time or patience for subtlety, Sheppard stepped out from behind the cover of the shadowed doorway and raising his weapon, lazily, to a position of half-readiness, he let out a shrill whistle. He could take these bastards with one hand tied behind his back.

"Maybe you guys can help me," he drawled as the first of the hybrids turned. "I think maybe I'm a little lost."

**

"Lord," Malcolm blinked in surprise as the queen's handmaiden addressed him without invitation. "I beg you: do not judge your servant harshly. What befell her was a matter of circumstance. She—"

"What know you of the truth of it?" he snapped, unable to keep the emotion from his voice as he turned back to face the woman, spreading his arms in silent instruction for her to begin preparing him for rest.

To her credit, Jethera approached him without fear, reaching for the snaps at the wrist of his heavy leather coat, before turning her nimble fingers to the job of unfastening the ones at his collar.

"I am no blind fool," she told him. "I have seen the loyalty with which she serves you, and know its source must reach far beyond what passes for obedience among the shallow sycophants of my kind."

The bitterness in her voice startled him and he snapped his head back, to look at her, catching her wrist to prevent her for continuing with his disrobing. She gasped and tried to pull away, a futile action as he knew he could have broken her like the sweet sugar sticks the young of the Hive were often given as treats with but a single twitch of his fingers.

"You admire her," he surmised, tilting his head as he looked on the young woman.

"I pity her," she corrected him, the bitterness still clear in her voice, albeit tainted with sadness.

"Explain," he demanded, letting go of her, and shrugging off his now unfastened coat. He half turned to toss it toward the chair at the side of the room, but Jethera took it from his hands before he had the chance, and folded it carefully as she crossed to lay it in its place.

"She is one true voice in a chorus of liars," she said, "and people like her are punished for what they are, and will always be so. Despised by their own kind who fear the honesty of their desire, loathed by outsiders for a betrayal they never even made, and their masters, even as they reward their service, visit the heartbreak of longing upon them – a longing that will never be fulfilled."

Malcolm swallowed, and had no choice but to turn away, feeling as though his soul had been laid bare by the small woman who stood like a blood-covered dagger in his hand.

"You…are very brave to speak so candidly," he said, and cleared his throat, lowering himself to sit on the side of his bed, suddenly weary. "You may leave. I have no need of your services at this time."

Instead she crossed the room to him, and kneeling on the ground before him, took his hands and brought them to her lips.

"Please, my Lord," she implored him, "the Hive suffers. Take your rightful place. Cover Our Queen and bring us order again out of the weakness of her commander's madness."

Her hands around his trembled, and tears filled her eyes as he looked down on her, rolled from her cheek to drip onto his hand as he freed himself from her touch and in deepening curiosity, began to unfasten the ties on her high collared shift. She made no move to stop him.

Between the swell of her breasts there was no scarring. Not even the hint that any hand had ever fed, or given life marred the smoothness of her skin. He brushed his fingertips against the softness there as if in touch he could read her heart.

"I cannot," he told her softly, his eyes still fixed on the point at which the green and cream of their skin met. "For all that your position affords you a greater knowledge of the Hive, there is still much that you do not understand of the Wraith, or of my place here. I must ask you to endure."

"But why?" she pleaded and almost whispered the words she spoke as she pushed against his touch, beginning to rise. "You have it within your power to save all of us; to bring relief to this Hive; to—"

He rose with her, towered over her and caught her wrist again to prevent her from moving away. She shook her head as she looked up at him and continued her impassioned pleas.

"—to save Isla," she said. "Why do your falter?"

"I. Must. Ask you. To. Endure," he repeated, allowing the hint of a fourth tone to touch her in the nuances of his carefully controlled voice.

{both of you} {both of you} {you} {you} {you} {you} {you}

In the touch of his mind to hers, he let the fourth tone weave a thought, an image of a scorched sky, hanging over the spires of a ruined city wherein Wraith stalked broken prey that crawled over the jagged remnants of their own arrogant disregard.

He did not move as she turned and fled the room.

**

McKay let out a high pitched yelp and threw himself into the corner of the barn behind a stack of cylinders, narrowly avoiding the blast from the stunner that went wide of Sheppard as the colonel dived for cover as the hybrids opened fire. Sheppard rolled as he went down, and came to one knee, his P90 already aiming for the hybrid on the walkway above that had let out the shot.

"Didn't it ever occur to you to check and see if there were more of them inside?" McKay screamed over at Sheppard, crawling on his elbows and knees deeper into the cover of the stacked equipment, somehow keeping his head covered.

Sheppard turned in answer. Raising his weapon again he let off another short burst of gunfire over McKay's head, and from above the dark shape of a fallen hybrid tumbled to land almost on top of McKay.

The scientist yelped again, scrambling backwards until his spine hit the building wall, watching in mounting dismay as more of Michael's mercenaries and hybrids came, seemingly from nowhere to join the escalating fire fight.

"McKay!"

At the urgent shout, McKay ducked to the side as the wall beside him fizzled with the decaying discharge of a stunner blast. He barely raised his weapon in time to let off an inexpertly aimed burst from his own weapon that left his fingers numb and tingling as the hybrid jerked in a macabre dance with each bullet that hit.

"We are so screwed!" he moaned, opening his eyes again to see, even without an accurate count, how outnumbered they had suddenly become. He had to do something – and do it fast – if they were to stand any chance of getting out of there.

"Rodney," the radio sounding in his ear amid the gunfire made him jump, and for a moment the pressure in his bladder became almost unbearable and he feared he might lose control. "Fall back to the rear of the barn… regroup at the exit there. Repeat: regroup at the rear exit of the barn."

A sudden epiphany made him scramble forward – but not toward the rear wall of the barn. On desperate elbows and knees, McKay threw himself toward the console to the side of the centremost space of the barn. If he could use the technology to strengthen his radio signal, he should be able to raise the Daedalus, because without their help, he was sure they didn't stand a shadow of a chance for survival.

**

Michael straightened up from the preparation of the sample and slipped the vial into the machine that would provide him the tools for analysis. He stood back, watching the screen as the image built, as the falling Wraith characters whispered the facts of the contents and composition of her blood; her DNA.

He had seen, in her mind as they joined, that she had been through much since he had released her to Atlantis. They were supposed to keep her safe; protect her while he had been unable. They had failed. Worse than failure, their treatment of her… what they had done may well have caused her harm, at their hands, or at the hands of the Wraith, and now that she had returned to him, he had to be certain that this was not the case. He had to be sure that she was well.

A small, anguished cry trembled through the bond they shared and he stiffened, half turning from the monitor, his search set aside, as Teyla's mind reached for him caught between a longing and a confused loathing of her own actions.

He growled softly. Always such a dichotomy, such a fight within herself, then sighing he conceded that it was not so different from the war that had raged in him when first he had realised what she meant to him, but her distress caused him an almost physical pain, and he began to turn, to answer the summons she had not even known that she had made.

-all is well- -well- -well- -well- -well- -trust- -trust- -trust- -trust- -trust-

…Michael…

-rest, Teyla- -rest- -rest- -rest- -rest- -rest-

A single character string falling to its place in the analysis caught his attention as he moved to step away. He froze. A tighter band than the one caused at her distress tightened around him and he all but threw himself at the console, isolating what he had seen, bringing into sharp relief the combined and complex amino acid chain.

"This isn't possible," he breathed in an awed tone, though with a greater fear than he wanted to admit.

Without another word he snatched the crystal from the side of the machine on which the data was stored, and fighting to keep his breathing steady, turned and, all but collided with one of his lieutenants.

"Sir," the man was breathless, and Michael did not like the fearful sensations that began tightening in his belly at the man's demeanour.

"What is it?" he snapped.

"A group of armed men have infiltrated our compound in the south village," the man reported. "Our forces are holding but—"

"What!" Michael pushed past the lieutenant, his rapid steps carrying him to another bank of monitors at the far side of the laboratory. "Who are they? How did they get here?"

"We… do not know," the man hesitated, and Michael turned to him again, his eyes burned into the man, compelling him to continue. "They fight with automatic percussion weapons. We—"

Michael snarled. His barely contained fury was amplified by his concern for Teyla as well as for his work, his facilities here. There was only one possibility that came to him; one person that could have found him even as he sought to evade detection.

"Sheppard," he hissed, before turning back to the now active screen and issuing a string of rapid commands to his lieutenant. Just as quickly, Michael worked the computer console. "Activate the outer defences and secure this facility. If Sheppard is here he will have brought others. Recall our cruisers – we're leaving."

Deactivating the terminal, and trusting his lieutenant to do as he had bidden, Michael turned and headed for the exit. He was intent on reaching Teyla. He had to keep her safe.

**

She hadn't realised that she'd left the protected depths of the facility until her hand brushed against the coldness of the rock that formed the walls, instead of the semi-organic material that it had been before. She decided she should not be surprised, for she had been wandering in the darkness for some time, searching for some way to understand; some way to decide what she should do next; how she should proceed.

A sudden burst of longing threatened to crush her resolve to find some end to the confusion, and voicing the distress she wrapped her arms across her belly from where it felt as if the need came. She wanted to deny him, and yet accepted the touch of his mind as a welcome solace.

-all is well- -well- -well- -well- -well- -trust- -trust- -trust- -trust- -trust-

…Michael…

-rest, Teyla- -rest- -rest- -rest- -rest- -rest-

Yet, she could not rest. She pushed away from the wall and continued on along the passageway, following an indistinct whisper that tugged her onward. The air around her grew cooler, as she pushed on until she sensed the space in front of her had opened up. From the echoes that accompanied her movement she could only guess that she must have entered some kind of cave. As her steps faltered with the uncertainty of the change, a low hum began to vibrate through her, and moments later, lights flickered into life.

A thin layer of dust lay over the benches that lined the laboratory that had been constructed there. The dust was stirred by a faint breeze that came from somewhere in the dim recess at the far side of the cavern and thin reflective sheets of fabric gave protection from the creeping dust to the pieces of equipment that stood, covered, around the room, some of which glowed dimly as though lit from within.

The faint sting of ozone pricked at her already sore eyes and another scent, an almost sweet metallic odour that made her already hesitant steps falter still more. Trembling, she tipped her head to the side, closing her eyes, and reached out toward the barely formed thoughts that called her onward none-the-less.

With a good deal of trepidation she reached out and grasped the cool material of one of the covers. Its delicate balance disturbed, it slipped easily from the glass tank it covered, bathing the area in the blue-green light that shone from within.

Teyla's hand shook where it had come to rest against the faintly warm glass as she looked on the figure that floated. Patches of blackened skin covered some of the figure's body, while in other areas, the faint green and veined colour of Wraith flesh showed the origins of this unfortunate individual. From the centre of its chest, where tube-like tendrils joined with its body, faint spirals of red-brown fluid hung lazily in the viscous fluid that surrounded the creature.

"Oh, Michael," she whispered. A heavy stone settled in her belly, as the pain of compassion descended on her and, turning from the container at her side, she peered further into the room, unconsciously counting the coverings she saw, her mind awash with dread as she imagined what she might find within their concealed tanks.

Slow steps took her onward, until she could grasp the second of the covers and pull it free. She recoiled in fright, and caught the bench behind her, sending glass tubes tumbling to shatter against the stone floor, and drawing a cry from her. As if sensing movement, the figure in the liquid thrashed against its confines, its face – almost all sharp, Wraith-like teeth, and sightless eyes, covered with scarred skin – straining to reach through the glass. At the side of its neck, gills flared, and sent a creeping, bubbling mist into the confining fluid.

Teyla turned away in fright, and stumbled against a third of the tanks, dislodging its cover and coming face to face with the creature within, a creature she had seen before, on the Taranan home world, but tangled in the falling sheet she stumbled to her knees, falling heavily, to lie winded at the base of the tank.

Deep concern swept over her in the moment before she felt hands close gently around her arms. She did not fight as Michael all bit lifted her to her feet, in fact she leaned against him, pressing her hands against his chest, craving his warmth; suddenly cold.

"You should not be out here," he said almost softly, his hands motionless against her upper arms. "It isn't safe."

"What is this place?" she looked up at him, silently begging him to tell her.

"One of the laboratories where I have conducted much of the work for The Cause," he told her, and letting go because to move around her, to the console in the centre of the room and began almost urgently working the controls.

"But these creatures, they—"

"I have kept them alive so that I could… learn what was needed in order to succeed, if that is what you are wondering." She wrapped her arms around herself, turning to keep him in sight as he walked around the laboratory, uncovering the remaining three tanks, as the lights within the first three wavered and died. "You think me cruel."

She shook her head, but the nausea she felt in her gut belied the ambivalence she tried so hard to maintain. She felt a deepening of his concern, a sense of doubt, of fear that had not been there before.

"Something has changed, Michael," she told him of her suspicions, and saw him swallow, shift his gaze away from her. "Why will you not look at me?"

The fear she felt in him chilled, and she watched as it turned to anger in response to her challenge. She did not understand the sudden shift and it frightened her.

"Michael," she reached for him, but he turned on her, taking a step toward her, his posture and the tone he used when he spoke, full of menace.

"No, Teyla," he snarled at her, "I will not… will not allow you to betray my trust. Not now."

**

"Colonel Caldwell?" Marks had turned a confused frown his way while still operating the touch screen of his comm. station.

"What is it, Major," Caldwell asked.

"That's just it, Sir," Marks said, "I'm not sure. We're receiving a signal, but it's faint. I can't quite make it out."

"Can't you re-route power to the antennae array?" he said.

"I've tried that, Sir. It's still weak." Marks answered.

"All right, let's hear what you've got."

"…sis… ay. We nee… sance… R'…eat: need …ssi…ce… ay…day!"

"Someone see if you can clear that up," Caldwell ordered, throwing his head half back to speak to the engineers behind his command chair.

"We're trying, Sir," one of the engineers answered, "but it's coming in on a slightly altered carrier wave, we—"

"Mayday! We're pinned down. It's Michael's hybrids… Daedalus, we need assistance. If you can hear me, we need your help!"

McKay's desperate voice suddenly split the static and flooded the bridge with the sounds of his panic.

"Status," Caldwell demanded, turning in his chair to face the engineers.

"I can give you maybe… forty per cent shields, but that's the limit, Sir," she said with a shake of her head. "But we'd have to take the aft cannons and the beaming technology off line to achieve that."

"Do it," he ordered, turning forward again. "Chances are, if we heard that, so did anyone else that might still be out there. Major Marks…"

"Sir?"

"Give me a course, best speed in there. Standby 302s for ground support." Caldwell sighed and squeezed his eyes. "We can at least give them covering fire; give them a chance of getting out on their own."

**

The Wraith commander looked up as his subordinate appeared at his side. He hissed at his underling, tilting his head in query.

"Repairs to the hyperdrive are complete. We are able to follow the fleet." The sub-commander said, dipping his head in respect.

The commander bared his teeth, snarling his approval, and with a mental push, commanded the Wraith controlling navigation to plot the course, and execute the jump. He leaned forward across his own console to peer at the falling characters on the telemetry display at the centre of the forward screen; making a last check before allowing his cruiser to begin the journey.

"Wait!" he ordered, pointing at a string of green characters that tumbled over the screen. "What is that?"

The sub-commander hurried forward, his confidence faltering and filling the bridge with the echo of his concern as he deciphered the complexities of the incoming telemetry. Before he could report, the Wraith at the forward tactical bridge console turned and spoke.

"Commander, a single ship has broken from the cover of a nearby planet. It is the humans, and they are headed for the system's second world."

"Scan it," the commander ordered.

"Energy readings, Commander. Faint – heavily shielded," the Wraith answered. "We might never have detected it, if not for the—"

"There is a signal," another Wraith broke in. "A… distress call."

"Audio," the commander snapped.

"Michael's hybrids… Repeat: If you can hear me, Daedalus, we need your help…"

"Follow them," moving away from his station, the commander hissed in triumph. "Let the humans lead us right to the Abomination. Send a signal to the fleet. Recall them. Prepare our ground forces and prepare to launch the Darts. This is one time we will not fail."

**

Teyla backed up a step in the face of Michael's anger. She reached out to him along their bond, and quickly realised, with growing dread, that he had closed off to her. Try as she might, she could not re-established the connection. What had she done to invite his anger? In her own mounting fear she lashed out.

"So you will what?" she demanded, "Force your will on me? Hold me prisoner until you have what you want and then kill m—!"

He raised his voice again, still angry, but his tone imploring, "I will not harm you, after everything that we have been through you must see that!"

"No harm?" Teyla questioned, disbelief coloured her voice, even though she did believe him. Words fell from her lips and she could not stop them, no matter how much she wanted to. Her own emotional turmoil clouded her actions. "You have practically broken me, Michael! Acted without regard to my discomfort; pay little heed to the needs of my—"

"Everything that I have done I did in order for you to survive!" he growled at her, taking another step toward her, and she backed up. "What would you rather? That I had left you on the Wraith Hive, to die in the attack made by your so called friends? Friends who have constantly led you to danger, who even now—"

"Do not bring them into this. You are so quick to lay the blame elsewhere," Teyla snarled at him, rebelling against the truth in the words he spoke. "All this… all that has happened to me, this is your doing. You did this."

"You agreed to this." His voice, still raised and pained was almost desperate as he countered her. "You came with me willingly and I have done nothing that was not according to your will,"

He was barely a breath away from her and there was nowhere left for her to go, backed up, as she was, against the glass wall of one of the tanks.

"My will? I—"

Chaos exploded around her as the echoing sound of gunfire, deafening in the confines of the cave, tore into her argument with Michael and shattered the glass of the case behind her. Startled, she gave voice to the increase in terror as a splash of fluid lapped at her cheek, and let out a single scream and in the confusion could not tell which way to turn for safety.

Strong arms closed around her waist and she felt herself lifted, spun away from the flying glass and hot metal. The spin became a downward spiral and she landed heavily on the softness of a body, but before she had a moment to make sense of what had happened, she was rolled, and then pinned beneath the weight of Michael's leather clad body as he shielded her.

Around them, as she became able to make sense of the scene, she began to make out the sounds of running feet, the exchange of gunfire, the repeated whine of stunners and the rattle of automatic weapons. Michael's anger, his fear suddenly made sense to her as she realised the bearers of those weapons.

Frantically she began to struggle against Michael's protective, though restraining grasp, calling out in desperation, "John!"








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