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Act 4

The pallet was comfortable under his back and Ronon could feel the heat of a fire against his side even through the softness of the blanket that covered him. He tried to recall his last memory, but all he could see was the darkness sliding upwards before his eyes. He must have fallen – succumbed to his injury before he could reach his destination.

Cautiously he ran his hand over his body. He was warm, but no longer fevered, he could tell that much. His injury was bandaged, just above the waist of his breech cloth, but otherwise he was naked. The thought left him slightly uncomfortable, unknowing of who it was that had brought him to this bed – cared for him. He opened his eyes on the edge of the thought.

The room was dimly lit by light coming from two small windows, and the lanterns and candles that looked as if they had only recently been lit. He surmised that it was early evening. The simple furnishings spoke of the occupants' agrarian lifestyle. Home spun cloth, hand crafted chairs and a large bed that was lashed together in the style that several of the peoples of the Pegasus Galaxy were wont to do – including the Athosians.

He held his breath and turned his head to search for any living soul. Perhaps he had reached his destination after all.

He spotted them across the room by a low table. The woman had her back to him, but from the movements of her body he could tell that she was either chopping something or mixing something with her hands, and on the table beside her he could see jars of ingredients that lent further credence to his impressions. Behind the adult, looking in his direction with eyes widened in surprise or trepidation, a young girl momentarily met his gaze before she reached up and tugged at the woman's skirts.

"Mamma," the girl whispered, "He's awake."

The woman turned and the girl moved to peek from behind her hip. He looked up, trying to soften the frown he could feel on his face; to find the woman's eyes, and in turn couldn't help but take in her appearance. She was exactly as Teyla had always described her friend. Her frame held a strength that was softened only slightly by the clothes she wore, her long brown hair, clasped and braided in a Laquoian knot, to sit down the front of her left shoulder, revealed the dark shape of a tattoo on the right side of her neck. Her face was soft with concern that filled her light brown eyes.

"She described you well," she said as if she had read his thoughts, and wiped her hands on the apron she wore. "How are you feeling, Ronon?"

"Good," he answered, speaking haltingly. His voice felt rough to him. "Thank you. I didn't mean to cause you trouble, I just—"

She shook her head, cutting him off. "Caring for your hurt was no bother, and you are Teyla's friend, so always welcome here."

He tried not to flinch at the mention of Teyla's name, but had to look away at the rush of emotion that began to grow in him. He barely saw the woman nod, and reach behind her for her daughter's hand.

"Chaya, take the peelings to the hogs now, and see that they are safely penned. Then check to see if there are any eggs – we will need them for our evening meal," she told her and the girl scampered to obey.

Ronon only looked back at Raisa when the door clattered shut, his own emotion tempered by a need to protect the woman from the reason of his visit. As she poured water into a cup and came toward him, to kneel beside his pallet, he leaned up on one elbow. The pain in his side was dull now, and moving slowly as he was, was bearable.

"The girl's father?" he asked softly, not knowing why he should.

The huff of a laugh tinted with tempered bitterness escaped Raisa before she answered, "Long gone. Took what he wanted and then left with his masters."

"Raisa, I'm sorry, I didn't mean—" he cursed himself for his clumsiness, but she handed the cup to him and then laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Don't be, even with all that happened then and afterwards, I would not change what came of it." She glanced fondly to the door. "For out of it I was gifted with the life of my daughter, and with Teyla's friendship."

He sighed, as did Raisa.

"Ronon, I have a fear," she continued, nodding at the cup in his hand until he sipped, and then took a drink of the cool water within. The goodness of it slid down his throat and he fought, and failed not to gulp at it until Raisa's hand closed around his wrist.

"What?" he asked, and finally met her eyes again.

"That you are here to bring me news that I do not wish to hear," she said. He looked away again. How could he tell her, after all she had just said, how could he take that friendship from her in the telling of the truth. He did not have to. Raisa spoke again, guessing, "She's gone, isn't she?"

"Raisa, I'm sorry," he said quietly, and setting down the cup, took her hand in his. "If I could tell you that it wasn't true, I would, but… yes, she's gone."

"Tell me," Raisa said, tightening her fingers around his.

He lay back, trying to recall in any coherent sense just what had happened and still held as tightly to Raisa's hand as she did to his.

"We… were aboard a Wraith Hive," he began. "Teyla had asked us to go with her. She was… looking for someone – meaning to rescue—"

"Michael," Raisa interrupted softly. "You're speaking of this… Michael."

At the mention of the name, so hated to him, he snatched his hand away from Raisa's and growled, pushed her away a little, before turning his head away, as angry tears came to him. It was irrational that he should blame Raisa simply because she had spoken the bastard's name and he fought to calm himself, knowing, by the sound of her sigh, and her movement that he had hurt her. He found more than anything he did not want to do that.

He sat up, and saw that she had turned away. The physical pain at the movement as he edged toward her banished the anger and pain of loss. He reached for Raisa's shoulders, closing his fingers around the cloth there, and murmured an apology. She sighed, and almost leaned back against him.

"I only know because she spoke of him when last I saw her," she told him, a slight catch in her voice. "She was so desperate to find her son… he had her son."

"His people still do," Ronon told her.

"What happened, Ronon?" Raisa asked, turning her head, but not pulling away from him.

"We got separated. The Hive was attacked and… she never made it off before the ship blew," he told her, unable to be more than brutal with the truth as he knew it.

"So she did not suffer?"

Raisa turned fully then, and her eyes were filled with tears as she looked up at him, pleading with him to tell her that it was true.

"It was quick," he confirmed. "She wouldn't have… known."

He drew her in closer when she covered her face with her hands and started to weep softly, finding that his own tears – finally good, cleansing tears, answered hers.

**

"Bad news, Sheppa—" Caldwell's voice rolled over him, first in sorrowful tones of apology, and then raised in incredulous demand. "What the hell happened?"

"Where is he?" he demanded, bothering with neither sentiment. His eyes sought out the HUD, looked for the truth of any debris or otherwise. He strode right past Caldwell as the colonel rose to his feet from the command chair.

"We couldn't stop him," Caldwell answered angrily. "He used us as cover. We barely—He opened a hyperspace window, minutes ago. Since then it's been all we can do to keep the Wraith off our ass!"

"McKay," Sheppard snapped, and when the scientist didn't move, but stood looking between him and Caldwell, he repeated, louder and with an impatient edge. "McKAY!"

"I'm on it," McKay said at last, and began moving toward the bank of computers at the rear of the bridge.

"Now, just a minute," Caldwell moved into McKay's path, his outstretched arm halting the man's movement even as he spoke to Sheppard. "Didn’t you hear a word of what I just said?"

"I heard you tell me you let Michael get away," Sheppard accused, stepping up to his superior officer. "I heard you tell me that Teyla's still out there with that bastard!"

"Look at you, Sheppard," Caldwell snapped back, turning into the confrontation. "You should be in sick bay, not here on the bridge. You're not thinking straight. I told you there was nothing we could do. Michael came straight at us – used us as cover from that Wraith cruiser which, in case you had failed to notice, is still trying to blow the crap out of us!"

Sheppard sighed, "He has. Teyla."

"That's as may be, Sheppard, but…" Caldwell sighed, and stumbled slightly as the deck lurched again. "You're better than this, John. You may be an irritating young flyboy, but you'd never endanger your subordinates the way you are – the way you have. What the hell happened down there?"

There was desperation, almost agony in Teyla's voice when she called out for Michael. Even as Sheppard struggled with Michael for control of the 9mm he could hear it. It was like a knife to his heart, and he almost faltered, almost let go of the weapon except that at her cry, Michael turned them both… dragging him off balance. He brought him closer to Teyla.

The stun blast caught him by surprise. The pain of it, of every nerve firing at once, stole his breath, and he stiffened against Michael's restraining grasp. His hands numbed, and opened even against his will, and he vaguely heard the clatter of metal as the weapon fell to the floor.

As consciousness faded – as Michael lowered him, almost gently, he had to confess, to the ground – he turned his head and watched as Teyla threw the stunner from her hand. Her expression was painful to see, as if she could not believe what she had done.

Out, damned spot! Out, I say!

"Teyla," he tried to whisper her name, and did not know if the words made it from his lips. "What has he done to you…?"

Sheppard shook his head, "Look… the longer she's with him, the more—"

"I get that, Sheppard, I do," Caldwell told him, "but we're in no state to follow him right now. Even if we did catch up to him, we can't fight. Shields are practically down; the aft cannons are off line, the forward ones are barely functional. We're nursing a hull breech. There's nothing we can do."

"But—"

"We'll find another way," Caldwell said. "We're done here."

Sheppard stumbled, pain and tiredness rushing in as though Caldwell had just run him through, or poured a metric tonne of concrete over him; weighed him down. He barely felt the man catch his arm, or saw him nod to two hovering orderlies, only heard his words, like some terrible sentence – life with no chance of parole.

"Escort Colonel Sheppard to sick bay," he said. "Major Marks, get us out of here, and set a course for Atlantis – best possible speed."

**

Malcolm tilted his head, his eyes still closed, and his fingers still in contact with the controls of the command station on the bridge of the Hive. With little effort he effected a minor course correction, brought on by the churning uncertainty that tangled through the Hive's semi-sentience.

It was long past time that the commander should have acted against the Queen. In Zenith, the one time it fell to a Wraith male to take complete command – to subjugate the females to his will; to demonstrate his worthiness – his own paternal line; the ultimate in knowing between Wraith, Queen and Her Hive.

He ducked the outstretched talons that came at him again, and turned with the angry Queen as she sought him. He kept himself at her shoulder, his wide robes flaring and tangling at her ankles. He kept pace with her, like the steps of some deadly tango.

He did not touch her, would not, until the madness of her need, guided by his will, caused her surrender; subdued her; broke her like the riding beasts of their human prey. Instead he pushed, pushed with his mind, a demonstration of his strength; the beginnings of an image, of sensation… of his intent.

She fought the intrusion and attempted to blind him with a counter-image, a rejection of his seduction and in the same moment altered the direction of movement to leave him vulnerable and unguarded. She swung at him, claws leading, and he had no choice but to raise his arm in defence, catching her wrist against his own; the only contact he—

A burning hiss flooded every sense, fired every nerve and tangled around each neuron as the Hive recognised his contact and responded in a single rush. The desperation of the ship's own sentience settled, like a tumultuous ache, through his body.

Gasping softly, and angered with self recrimination at his careless lapse, he snatched his hands away from the console, and stumbled back a step as he withdrew to the safety of his own mental fortress.

"Second?" The voice of the Hive's third-in-command crossed the distance between them as the other Wraith followed the sound. "Is something wrong?"

"No," he snapped, "It is nothing. Our course was incorrect. I have rectified the problem."

"But you—"

"I must feed!" he snarled, turning on the third, and giving the subordinate commander an excuse he knew the other Wraith would accept, for all that it was a lie. He felt no remorse at such an action, only contempt for the other, risen to such a rank as he held, who should be aware enough of his own environment to understand the anxiety that gripped every living organism that was a part of the Hive.

His tight braids spread out as he spun around, meaning to leave the bridge and go to his quarters, already sending out the mental call to Jethera to attend him, but then recoiled even from that. What was he doing? Had he finally succumbed to the Hive's Zenith driven madness?

"Hive Second!"

Malcolm turned to face the human that had called his name with such urgency. His face hardened into a deep frown. Behind the speaker, a small group of worshippers were gathered at the entrance to the bridge. Two of them carried the immobile figure of a Wraith between them, and two others dragged a third worshipper between them. The prisoner was bruised and bloodied.

"Explain," he demanded, watching as the worshippers set down the Wraith, clearly dead, on the deck of the bridge.

"Let me go!" the struggling human growled at his companions and increased his efforts to gain his freedom.

"He did this," the speaker said, gesturing to the fallen Wraith. "He was seen tr—"

"Liar!" the prisoner cried, "You seek only to—"

"He was seen, Lord," the speaker said.

"While the wraith was—" another cut in.

"Gutted like a—"

"You're all lying."

The cacophony of human voices descended into an audible brawl of accusation and counter accusation, and buzzed around the bridge as an ever increasing crescendo.

"Enough!" Malcolm snarled, pushing the weight of his mental voice to the command.

{enough} {enough} {enough} {enough} {enough}

Silence relieved the bridge of its distress, but it was thick, tense and heavy with the stench of fear. His gaze shifted over each face, finding the eyes of each man. Some looked away, shifting their eyes to avoid his gaze. There was more there than the worshippers' compliance with Wraith law. He looked on the speaker, a Handler he had seen before in his dealings with the worshipper community. The man lifted his head, meeting Malcolm's eyes. He saw little humility there; had not expected to. He was never humble, that one.

"Tell me then," he invited, his voice full of soft menace. He should simply execute the six of them and be done with it, but some perverse sense of needing cruel satisfaction stayed his hand. As he waited he moved the drones to block the entrance to the bridge that stood just behind the knot of worshippers.

"Lord, this one was seen to bear a knife often in the Lower Station," he shifted his eyes to the side to indicate the prisoner. "Today, scant few hours since, he was caught murdering this Wraith as he attempted to feed on him."

"Attempted?" Malcolm queried, moving his foot so that it dislodged the dead Wraith's hand from where it rested and it fell, palm up, against the deck. The maw was open, the barbs had not retracted, and traces of enzyme caked milkily against the rest of his hand. Whatever the truth, this Wraith had been disturbed while feeding.

"The Wraith was unsuspecting, Lord, and this man gutted him while he fed," the speaker said.

Malcolm breathed in deeply as he walked around the fallen Wraith and closer to the worshippers. A sharp new scent rolled over his sensory pits, heady and musky. He let go of the scent with a hiss as suspicions sharpened in his mind. Oh it was a clever ruse, but ruse it was, and he would have the choreographer of that deception and stake him as a rug across the entrance to the lower station; a warning to the entire Hive not to assume stupidity of him.

"Go on," he said, deadly calm, and walked along the line of worshippers to reach the prisoner still held by the others. He walked slowly, breathing in deeply of each man's odour, seeking the self same human musk that he knew he would find. He couldn't help but feel a certain amusement in wondering if these men would break and confess before he had completely uncovered the truth.

"Go on, my Lord?" the speaker sounded confused, "There is no more, I… he was caught and we—"

"You sent for me, Hive Second?"

Jethera's voice, coming from behind him, from the corridor that led to the Queen's quarters interrupted the man's stuttering. As she spoke, in tilting his head to acknowledge her presence, he caught it. The scent he sought lingered heavy against one of the men that was restraining the prisoner. That one, that ungrateful piece of offal had been the perpetrator of the crime against the Wraith and the penalty for such a crime was clear. He could not be allowed to live.

Isla…

The twin thoughts carried with them a deep, penetrating peal of pain, clenched his gut around it, a spasm of growing fury as he realised, everything suddenly clear, just who had been the architect of this vicious scheme, and for what reason.

Taking in a breath, he hissed slowly and tipping his head to the side to indicate the prisoner, instructed Jethera, "Take this one, clean him up and tend to his wounds. Ensure that he is cared for… well. You may enlist the assistance of your fellow handmaiden for that task."

Jethera stepped past him, and slipped her arm around the injured prisoner's waist, pulling his arm across her shoulders in support as the other two worshippers fell back.

"My Lord," the prisoner's relief was tangible, a balm against the tension on the bridge and for just a moment, knowing what he had just commanded be given to this man, Malcolm almost felt a flurry of guilt picking at his already knotted gut.

He held up a hand to silence the man's gratitude, adding a second command to the list he had begun for Jethera, even as he prompted two drones to fall in behind her for support.

"This one," he nodded toward the speaker, "take him to our Queen… for her pleasure."

"I… I don't understand. My Lord, I—" the speaker stuttered.

"Your loyalty… to your Hive commander… is commendable," he said slowly, separating the phrases of the pronouncement he made into short, clipped bites of sound.

"But, My Lord, I—"

Malcolm roared as his patience broke, and as his answer lunged for the human who reeked of the scent that had spoken of the truth of this clumsy attempt to discredit him. His feeding hand latched quickly, the barbs sinking deep within the human's skin as he lifted and slammed the human back against the bulkhead. He threw back his head, hissing in deep, self-righteous satisfaction as he rend the life force to shreds, drawing it into himself with a speed and ferocity that did little to belie his contempt.

The man's struggles faded quickly as he shrivelled to an aged, withered husk, expired and became no more than a pathetic skeletal figure, suspended in the demonstrative tableau.

{then bring me the woman that knows the truth of all this}

He sent the mental instruction burning through every mind upon the Hive, and sensing movement at the left lateral entrance to the bridge he turned and launched the shrunken mass toward the Hive commander. The impact shattered what remained, scattering dust as a haze of menace between the two Wraith.

((if she yet lives))

Malcolm tore the Hive commander's confession of guilt from the other Wraith's mind. He would have to do better than the clumsy scheme that Malcolm had just unmasked… much, much better. On the edge of that thought, he spun away and let his angry steps carry him from the bridge.

He had never needed Isla so much as he needed her comfort in that moment.

**

"No more talk of death and harm," Teyla whispered as he pulled away from the kiss. "Not any more."

"Teyla," he murmured, moving his hand tenderly over her belly, sliding the caress over the softness of her skin to cup her breast, full and heavy with desire, in the palm of his hand. She moaned and shifted against him.

Fire kindled and burned through him as he came to life at her touch, and pressed closer, their clothing, still between them, only served to heighten the desire as fingers flew in soft, revealing caresses, removing it… casting it aside.

He ducked his head as she lifted off his shirt, and moved his lips to meet with the caress of his thumb against the risen nub of her nipple. Her back arched as he took it into his mouth, laved and flickered with his tongue against the sweetness of her skin until she cried out his name, and her mind wove a plea for mercy against such a sweet assault as he made.

…Michael, please… …I want to feel you… …show me… …take me…

-Teyla- -Teyla- -Teyla- -Teyla- -Teyla-

He answered only with the echo of her name, filled with the resonance of their sharing. How could he tell her of his needs, of his desires? How would she ever know?

…show me…

His fingers brushed lower, moving back over the plains of her belly – lingering there a moment before dipping lower as she opened to his touch. His caresses glided through the dewy silk, drawing more soft gasps and cries from the melody of her voice.

The ache at the centre of him deepened to an almost-pain, demanding attention, demanding fulfilment, and he broke from another deep, sweet kiss he had not even consciously known when the cool softness of her hand closed around his risen length to give a cry of his own. Three times as deep, and as strong as he had ever given her… the tones winding around them both… his mind lost in the bliss of belonging only to her.

-parmhunaeterna-

She pushed him away, turned him to lie on his back and freeing him from the last of his clothing, rose over him; straddled him and cried out as she sheathed him. She threw back her head, and let the robe slip down her arms, revealing herself to him. The beads of perspiration over her breasts and stomach reflecting the light from the nebula in bright prisms against her – she glowed with it. Her muscles trembled around him; broke in climax even as she took him deep inside, and he moved a caress to the place of their joining, keeping her alive until her cries became soft moans and she sank against him…sobbing with it softly.

He ran his fingers through her hair, barely moving against her, inside her, lifted her head from his shoulder to find her lips with his and take another soft sweet kiss as he turned them again, drawing away from her as he brought her beneath him, supporting himself on his arms as he claimed her again, and she arched her back to take him deeper still.

"Michael," she breathed against his shoulder, drawing him down to her, her fingers on his back like the touch of alternating heat and cold. Maddening, enlivening… so right to be this way it was almost his undoing.

"Teyla…" he gasped softly, "…I can't…"

"Sssh," she moved against him with a rhythm and he fell into it, moving against her, within her, so aware of every part of the both of them, bonded in body and in mind that the hypersensitivity of opening inside of her, giving to her his innermost self was a prayer that brought a cry from the very heart of him. He arched his back, sank deeper still.

"Yes… Michael!" she cried out for him and he could feel the tension in her body building, gripping her, as she gripped him, the two of them moving as one, abandoned to the sharing and powerless to be anything other than the sword to the chalice of her desire.

Her cry became wordless as the moment took her and she trembled around him again. Sensation gripped him, fractured whatever remained to keep them apart and he voiced a cry of his own… shattered and emptied himself to the fount of her being; breathlessly flowed into her the waters of all of his life, all of his existence.

"I am yours," the words fell from his lips as he tumbled to cover her, unable to hold himself up any longer, "Teyla."

She clasped him to her breast, pressed her cheek to his, and whispered his name over and over again – a prayer as she bathed him with the tears of their becoming.

Waking slowly, Michael sighed softly, and ran his fingers through Teyla's hair as she lay pillowed against him, deep in sleep. The beauty of the nebula's glow still lay, lodged in every pore of her skin, cooling now, and as if the thought reminded him of the need to protect her, ever from nature itself, he drew the blanket over her more fully.

What would become of them?

What would become of her, now that—?

The slight disturbance through the neural net of the Hive ship interrupted his thought as he sensed the approach of one of his lieutenants. He did not fear that the hybrid would enter the inner chamber, but for them to have even dared to come this far told him that whatever matter they brought to him was important, and loath as he was to rise, to leave the tranquillity of their rest, he carefully shifted his body out from beneath Teyla.

She murmured softly, as if protesting his movement, but at the softly whispered assurances he gave her, did not wake.

"Rest, Teyla," he said quietly, "I will not go far."

He pulled the blanket over her once more, and moving with the silence only he could command, freshened himself, dressed quickly, and headed for the door to the antechamber of the Queen's Quarters.

**

Her eyes were open, but unseeing, and though she was almost fully aware of the sounds around her, a different reality gripped Keller's mind. She wanted to cry out to the one whose touch she could feel rested carefully on her arms, but her voice was tight with the half-scream that was forming inside of her.

The liquid fire in his hand travels along his arm, the massive conflagration inside of his cells continues unabated and he snarls a cry of the pain of it. It should not feel this way, he knows, somehow, within the confusion in his mind that there should be rapture and strength, not this shattering burning pain.

He tears away from the prey, still gasping for life beneath his restraining touch, draws back his hand and slams it forth again, feels the movement of the barbs against the other's flesh and expects the sweetness of the life to fill him again.

Instead the pain comes. Instead he is almost thrown back by the rejection of it, not at all himself, but desperate. There is something he must do, and the need of it drives him to find his feet, and rush from the dying form, to seek another…

Twigs and branches barbed with thorns tear at his flesh as he moves… he stops to sniff the air, crouching like some primal beast of legend as he catches the scent… prey, and this one gravid – heavy with life. He speeds on… catches her even as she screams at him for mercy and throws her to the ground, covering her, hand already mantled.

This time there is satisfaction as he feeds.

The cry she gave was primal, full of horror. The terror of it gripped her and shook her against the bed until she became aware of the voice, gentle and soothing, as soothing as the touch against her forehead.

"Jennifer, look at me," the woman said, "It is all right. You are in the infirmary on Atlantis… that is it… good…"

Keller blinked up into the concerned, deep brown eyes of the doctor – she struggled to remember her name – and gave a trembling nod.

"Sorry, I—" she started.

The doctor shook her head and spoke, "It is all right, Jennifer. It was just a dream. You are safe."

"Doctor…?"

"Haddad," the woman told her, "but you can call me Ayatesha. What do you need?"

"I don't know," Keller said. The words were little more than a sigh. She brought her hands up to cover her face. "It's so crazy. I feel like I'm two people at once."

She took her hands away then, to look at the other doctor, pleading with her to tell her what was going on, even though she knew that no one could.

"If I thought I could give you any answers, Jennifer," Haddad said softly, "I would gladly tell you. It could simply be because of the two sets of DNA inside of you that you are fighting so much… that your dreams feel this way."

"You don't believe that," Keller accused softly.

Haddad sighed, and eventually shook her head. She swallowed and then looked up to meet Keller's eyes.

"Tell me," Keller said, her voice a hoarse whisper, "Whatever it is, I don't care any more. I just need to know. Ayatesha, I'm afraid. I can't do this."

"No," Haddad said softly. "You will survive, Jennifer. You are young and strong, and soon Carson will come back to us with the means to help you. You will survive."

Keller couldn't help but think she saw, in Doctor Haddad's eyes, the words that she did not say: though you may wish that you did not.

**

It was the sound of voices, and the absence of Michael's warmth that woke her. Teyla sat up quickly and reached for the robe she had discarded in the heat of their shared passion, falling into memory as the soft fabric brushed against her fingers…

His touch moved between the tender folds of her body, pressed within her, a knowing touch that stole her breath and left her gasping softly, moving to catch the touch, that gave so much to her, even as he took the comfort that was his, in giving to her.

She was so close, she knew she would not last, but still wanted to give, to him, the pleasure that he brought to her, and so with an insistent pressure she pushed until the touch withdrew; until she could turn him, rise over him and shrug aside the robe.

The touch of his hardness against her as she straddled him drew a moan from her lips, and her already trembling body became more fevered still. Pressing against him… sinking onto his length and opened by his girth she shattered – unable to hold back the wash of sensation that brought her to the peak of her desire. She cried out, and his arms came around her in support, and in the maddening touch that kept her there… at the moment of pleasure until, breathless and boneless with the unbearable bliss of it, she sank against him in fulfilment…

Teyla snatched a breath as the physical memory coursed through her. Why had he left their bed? She frowned in the vague memory of his voice, telling her that he would not go far, but… had that not been before they had shared so deeply of their desire?

Quietly, and quickly she rose from the bed, straining to hear the voices that had been a part of her waking. She wound the robe around her body until she was covered decently, before she allowed her steps to carry her toward the sound. The door slid upward even as her hand reached for the panel to activate it. The Hive responded to the thought; the need in her mind.

"And you are certain that it is genuine?" Michael said.

"One hundred percent," the hybrid answered. "When we received it, we checked it three times before even thinking of disturbing you."

Michael appeared thoughtful for a moment, and then nodded.

"Very well," he said. "As soon as our regeneration is complete, bring us to within range of the rendezvous coordinates and prepare my scout ship."

"Michael?" Teyla said softly, stepping into the doorway.

Michael turned to her with a frown, and moved closer to her. The hybrid, she noted, slipped his eyes respectfully toward the floor of the Hive… almost an obeisance.

"You should be resting," Michael told her softly, but there was an edge to his voice, not anger or displeasure, just the hard edge of his businesslike persona. "I apologise if we disturbed you."

She shook her head.

"I am well rested," she told him, though it was a lie. She felt tired, and the ache of her lingering pleasure left her feeling languid and heavy, but she wanted him with her. She did not wish to rest alone.

"All the same…" he trailed off, swallowing as his eyes met hers.

"Where are we going, Michael?" she asked him, "Why?"

He drew himself up then, and she watched the mask descend over him as he came close enough to reach for her, and to rest his hand onto her shoulder.

"I am sorry, Teyla, there are things I must attend to, matters that require my presence elsewhere than at your side." he told her quietly. He tilted his head then, and ordered the waiting hybrid, "Carry out your orders, and inform me when we have arrived."

"But where are we going, Michael?" she tried again, reaching up to lay a hand in the middle of his chest. Behind them, the hybrid bowed his head in obedience, and left the Queen's Quarters. "You still have not said."

"No," he agreed, "I have not."

"Why won't you tell me?" she asked softly, trying not to let the hurt of his denial colour her voice, though she could not keep it from passing along the bond that was wound strongly between the two of them.

…you do not trust me… still, you do not trust…

-I trust you, Teyla- -it is for your safety- -safety- -safety- -safety- -safety-

"There is little to tell," he tilted his head, frowning at the expression that she knew must be on her face. "We have received a message from one of our facilities that necessitates that I attend to matters there. That is all."

"And until then?" she asked him, and could not help glancing back into the chamber behind her. She wanted only to be resting in his arms.

He smiled softly, and for a moment framed her face with his hands, caressing both sides of it as he tilted her head up to his.

"I will have the nursemaid return the child to your care, and I will join the both of you later," he said, before leaning down to almost gently capture her lips in a delicate kiss. In spite of knowing that it was his intent to divert her, the words and action together silenced her protests.

**

Unease churned in Malcolm's gut as he reached the Queen's Chamber. The Queen was seated on her throne, and the commander of the Hive stood at her side… behind her, only her secondary handmaidens stood in wait – among them, Jethera, whose expression held warning as she sought out his eyes.

He would have reached for her mind, to take the truth of the hastily called meeting from her, but he felt the Queen's gaze fall on him and instead swept into a low bow, coming to one knee.

"You sent for me, my Queen," he asked softly.

"Hive Second," she addressed him, her voice rimmed around with an almost playful cruelty, thinly veiled before the assembled commanders and worshippers alike. "An unfortunate matter has been brought to my attention."

The unease sharpened to a sense of painful, almost angry fear at her words, and at the shifting of the Hive commander at her side.

"Have I… displeased you, my Queen," he asked, and calling the commander's bluff, if not the Queen's, he moved closer to the dais, and began to open the snaps on the front of his leather armoured coat. "For if I have, my Queen, then surely my life is forfeit. Take me as you would, madam."

"No… Hive Second," she raised her hand to stop him. "Rise. You are and have always been my loyal servant."

"Then, my Queen, what has—?" He stopped as he spotted the commander's concubine, leading Isla, bound, and her eyes swollen and red from weeping, from the rear of the room. His belly clenched around the anger as he rose to his feet, forced himself to hold his ground and not cross the room to tear the rope from Isla's hands. That was what the commander expected of him – fool that he was to try, so openly, to manipulate his ire to unwise actions.

"This woman was a servant of yours, was she not?" the Queen asked.

"Indeed, madam," he answered. "She was my body servant."

"And you dismissed her… why?" the commander asked, drawing an angry glare from the Queen for his audacity.

"Did she displease you?" the Queen asked.

He drew in a sharp breath – caught – manipulated almost cleverly by the cruelty that streamed from the commander's gaze to settle heavily against him even as he turned his head to look on Isla one more time. There was nothing he could do to save her now. If he did not tell the truth, likely the commander would call him out, crying disloyalty against the Queen and if he told the truth, Isla's life would be cruelly plucked from her by some uncaring Wraith at the Queen's behest.

Anger stronger than any he had felt surged through him, and for just a moment he gave thought to simply flying up to the top of the dais and tearing the commander's head from his body to toss it protectively at Isla's feet.

It's all right. I know.

The voice held such sorrow that he almost stumbled to his knees again. She had almost never reached out to him in this way, and for her to do so now, at the moment in which death hung over her as a sword waiting to fall cut into him as surely as if it had fallen on him.

"Hive Second, our Queen is waiting," the Hive commander's voice was mocking, further stirring Malcolm's anger, and he lifted his foot to the first of the steps.

"If it pleases you, my Queen," Isla's soft voice answered, cutting the thickness of the silence that had fallen. Malcolm blinked.

{No… Isla… do not} {do not} {do not} {do not} {do not}

He saw the commander frown, the other Wraith stepping forward.

"How dare you speak, when—"

"No," the Queen cut him off. "The girl has courage. Let her speak. I would know if she understands why her master has forsaken her."

{not forsaken, never that} {that} {that} {that} {that}

Isla ignored both his warning, and his reassurance. He felt her pulling away from him again, and was left cold in her absence.

"My Queen," Isla pulled herself from Hanna's grasp, and came to the middle of the chamber, coming to her knees before the assembled Wraith. "The Hive Second dismissed me from his service – a mercy I do not deserve – because of an accident that befell me and one of his Wraith brothers as I sought to return to your service… and to his."

"Accident?" the Queen asked, glancing between the commander and Malcolm.

"Yes, my Queen," Isla answered, before either Wraith could speak. "I sought to return, with instructions to survive to do so. I fought off the needs of a Wraith that followed me, and he slipped on the steepness of a slope in the woods. I pushed him away, and he fell… and was killed in the fall onto the limb of a fallen tree."

"Isla…" Malcolm hissed, lowering his head. Dismay filled him. She had condemned herself.

A collective gasp ran in a circle around the Chamber, and on the edge of it the Queen rose to her feet and began to descend the steps. He had no choice but to turn and watch, sick to the depth of his soul as the Queen approached Isla and reached out with the razor tipped fingers of her feeding hand toward her.

The girl closed her eyes.

In his anguish, Malcolm reached deep inside himself, winding himself into the torrent of pain that lived there and cried out into the maelstrom.

{Matron, why} {why} {why} {why} {why}

::trust::

The single word was like a punch to his already aching heart… bubbling hatred and love both filled and emptied him, and it was all he could do not to stumble, reaching out on instinct.

His fingers brushed against the warmth of a body, and opening his eyes, not even aware that he had closed them, he met the strong but sympathetic gaze of Jethera staring back at him as she guided his hand to her shoulder.

The Queen hissed suddenly, and drew back her hand, before snatching Isla up to her feet, the tips of her razor sharp finger-guards drawing sweeping lines across the girl's chest.

"You will live, girl!" she snapped, and without a moment's pause, launched Isla across the room, where she fell at the feet of the Hive's third in command. "The one you bested should not have shown such weakness."

=weakness= =weakness= =weakness= =weakness= =weakness=

"But my Queen—!" the Hive commander protested.

The Queen rounded on him, hissing angrily, "You dare to question my decision?"

"N-no, my Queen, I only—"

"Take the girl," the Queen turned away from the commander then, and snapped the words, like a gunshot, at the Hive's third-in-command. "She is yours to do with as you will."

Malcolm's fingers tightened against Jethera's supporting shoulder, in his hopelessness, wondering what manner of reprieve that truly was for Isla, if at all.

**

The dream haunted him… he couldn't get the shadowy figure out of his mind or calm the frantic beating of his heart. Sweat still pricked between his shoulders and matted his hair to his head… even as he reached the Control Room – dismissed the Gate tech to get them both coffee.

There was only one thing he could do to bring him relief… and sitting at the console he began to input the data into the sensors, extrapolating the results, making sure that they confirmed what they needed to confirm.

There could be no questioning this, if the outcome were to be as he desired.

**

"I hear you, Colonel Caldwell," Woolsey's voice cracked slightly as it came from the speakers, underpowered due to the diverted power supplies aboard Daedalus. "But I'm afraid there's no other choice. The data is clear, and the activity must be investigated. This close to Atlantis, we can't afford to ignore it. If the Wraith are on our doorstep—"

"With all due respect, Mister Woolsey," Caldwell answered, exasperation colouring his tone of voice. "I don't think you are hearing me. Daedalus is in no fit shape to take on even a single Wraith Hive. We're barely maintaining hyperspace, flying with a patched up hull, critical systems are barely holding on, and as far as weapons and shields are concerned, even if Doctor McKay can get them back on line, there's no telling how long they'd hold. We'd be sitting ducks. There's just too much risk."

"Colonel Caldwell, I don’t think you understand," Woolsey pressed, his tone hardening, and Caldwell knew in that moment that he might as well piss into the wind. He wasn't getting out of this. "This isn't a request. There's a Wraith Hive ship approaching one of the planetary systems bordering Atlantis and we need to know what they're doing. We've faced greater odds than this, and survived. I'm making it an order, Colonel - top priority. Atlantis out."

Caldwell sighed.

"Major Marks," he said, tired and his voice full of regret. "Prepare to alter course, and bring us out of hyperspace. Inform Doctor McKay of our needs and tell him to whine about it to Woolsey. I don't want to hear it."

"Aye, Sir," Marks answered, also sighing. It was a suicide run, and both men knew it.

**

He sighed… relief and nausea fought for mastery of his body, both at the same time. Watching from the corridor just outside the Control Room; listening as the technicians coordinated the information they had with the telemetry coming in from the Daedalus, he had no choice but to remind himself that the end justified the means. Atlantis and her agents – the fighters aboard the Daedalus and the ship herself would prevail, and he would finally… finally be free of the hissing presence in the back of his mind once and for all.

**

"Sir!" Michael frowned as a hybrid appeared at his shoulder, carrying with him a tablet that was already scrolling with rapidly changing telemetry. The simulation he was running still had another twenty minutes to completion. He couldn't afford to be interrupted. So much depended on the results of that simulation.

"What is it?" he snapped, snatching the tablet from the hybrid's hands.

"We dropped out of hyperspace several minutes ago. A second ship followed. It's—"

"What!" Michael turned and started for the door, unable to believe what the data readings on the tablet were telling him. "How is this possible? How did they find us?"

For a moment, he gave a fleeting thought to the idea that the Atlanteans had planted yet another homing device on Teyla while she had been with them, but shook his head, dismissing the thought. He had scanned her – more than once since she had returned to him. He would have known.

They had been led there, then. Again he shook his head. That made no sense either. That one was no more able to betray him than he was likely to betray himself. No… there had to be another explanation – and the suspicion that was growing in his mind was so far away from comforting that he almost… almost gave the order simply to abandon the rendezvous, and send his Hive away to safety.

Almost.

He turned his steps rapidly toward the bridge. He had to get this done, and quickly. Atlantis could not be allowed to interfere. He would destroy them before he allowed that, and then make his break for the freedom of safety. By then he would have the results of his simulation and the information he would gain during the rendezvous. All would be well.

**

The subordinate commander hardly dare look up from the ground as the Queen came to stand before him. Already his second in command was dead, a shrivelled husk, lying at his side.

He'd had no choice but to contact the Queen and tell her what he knew – but it had cost him dearly… and he was certain that if he did not give her the answers she sought, he would be paying for his failure yet further.

"You are certain this is the heading they were taking?" she snapped, forcing his head up, leaving him with little choice but to meet her eyes.

"Yes, my Queen," he answered quickly. "There could be no other place. If you would like, I can—"

"No!" she snapped, tossing him backwards. He fell under the momentum of her push, and slid backwards a short way. "I have already sent another!"

"As you command," he gasped softly.

"Indeed," she answered, and he thought she sounded almost amused. "As I command."

**

"What the hell's going on?" Sheppard had to shout to make himself heard over the shrilling of the alarms on the bridge and the whoosh of the fire suppression systems.

"Sheppard, you're supposed to be in sick bay!" Caldwell yelled back, and almost fell over the side of the command chair as the ship lurched, and yet another explosion rocked the deck.

Sheppard turned to the forward view screen, ignoring the other man's answer as the HUD winked out of existence, and watched in growing horror as Darts and F302s engaged in fiery dances between the Daedalus and the Wraith Hive.

"Where the hell did that come from?" he asked, turning back to Caldwell.

"I don't have time to explain," Caldwell yelled, and in the next moment was forced to throw up his arm as the space to his left erupted in fire, and the sounds of screaming human immolation.

Horrified, Sheppard grabbed a fire extinguisher from the nearby technician and ran toward the tactical station, already calling for a medic as he emptied the extinguisher over the stricken officer.

"Shields at 25 percent, Colonel," Marks announced, "That last hit took out our lateral targeting array. We're out of choices, Colonel."

Pulling the officer from the damaged, but still operational station, and handing her off to the medics that appeared at her side, Sheppard threw himself into the tactical station, even as he did he ordered, "Bring us about, Marks. Take us in head on."

"Sheppard!" Caldwell warned, as he began switching all power to the forward cannons. "We can't do this. Orders or not, we have to get out, and get out now!"

"Us or them, Steven," Sheppard countered. "Our fighters are getting slaughtered out there, and we're all but dead in the water. Which is it to be – us. Or them?

He saw a moment of indecision on Caldwell's face, and then the older man sighed.

"Do it," he ordered, nodding to Marks.

Sheppard closed his eyes for a moment, settling his resolve. Going down in battle had always been the way he thought it would end… just… never quite thought it was going to be quite so soon.

**

"They're turning," the hybrid announced.

Michael growled, irritated. He could see the human's ship was turning, and had already sensed that it was coming for them, even before their forward weapons' fire began to batter against their hull.

The Hive bucked and danced under his feet, and his fingers grasped more firmly against the intuitive controls. He shifted the targeting computer's aim and fired back… their advance toward him would not be without casualties. Already he could see the plumes of fire where his attacks punctured the hull of the ship, and the rush of oxygen sacrificed itself to the momentary flame that gave its life in the vacuum of space. It would only be a matter of time… of waiting until the right moment and then their interference in his plans would be curtailed.

No more would the Atlanteans slip in at his back to ruin his plans… destroy his facilities, and prevent his advances.

No more would Sheppard come between him and the future he had tried so carefully to build for himself and for his people, his Cause.

In but a moment of patience he would be free of the constant shadow of the man that—

"He would have given you clemency," she whispered, "but every time you taunt him, and you push and push until he cannot bear it. Why, Michael?"

"Bear it, Teyla?" he questioned softly. "What is it that he cannot bear – to hear the truth? To know that he was instrumental in doing to me as no compassionate human would, and that in giving me a choice that was no choice, and then forcing that end upon me time and again he has created the very thing that he now so despises?"

"But you never gave him the chance to—"

"I gave him every chance!" Michael raised his voice, taking another step her way and once more freezing with the fearful conflict that flowed through him as she backed away again. More softly he said, "Every chance, Teyla. I would have helped Atlantis, but was instead rejected; came to you for help, and was denied. At every turn he has hunted me."

"Wouldn't you?" She took a step his way then, unwrapped the defensive shield she had made of her arms. "In his place, if admitting everything you had done had brought about the terrors that you had sworn to defend against, that you would lose everything you were, everything you had ever hoped for, and the one thing that you… love. Wouldn't you?"

The ringing mental note of confirmation… of his target lock against the human's ship echoed in his mind and he looked up for a visual confirmation of what he already knew. The targeting reticule sat dead centre above the point at which his sensors told him the ship's main reactor core was located, flashing alternately in red and amber as the Daedalus' shields failed.

"I would," he murmured softly, shifting the targeting sensors a mere half a degree.

**

"Shields are down!"

"We're venting atmosphere on decks three and four!"

"Life support at ten percent!"

"The Wraith ship is still firing!"

The wave of panicked voices sped around the bridge as key personnel fell to spreading fires and increasing explosions, and committed to the only course of action left to them, each standing member of the crew braced themselves for the impact they could only hope they would survive long enough to reach.

"Sheppard, do it!" Caldwell yelled above the sounds of the Daedalus' death knell. "Do it now!"

**

Nethaiye whimpered softly as Teyla held him close. She leaned against the viewing port, watching the many explosions and flashes from the battle that raged outside… cringing at the dull sound of each weapons' blast that hit the Hive ship.

"Michael," she whispered softly, as if he could hear her. "Please…"

And as she recognised the spinning form of the crippled 302 that narrowly missed the side fin of the Hive level with her observation window, and felt the Hive power up; as she caught a hold of the wall beside the viewing port as the Hive banked, and the inertial dampeners failed to equalise all of the sudden motion, she caught sight of the fiery shape streaking toward the planet over which they now sailed. Though she feared for her Atlantean friends, she knew that she had been heard.

Leaning her head against her son's soft scalp, she let go of her tears… fear for herself… for her son… fear for Michael and all of Pegasus overwhelming in that moment.

**

The whine of the superheated hull caught in the free fall of planetary gravity, and the sound of someone urgently calling his name roused Sheppard from the dull sense of dislocation that blanketed him. He raised his head from the console, wiping the redness of blood from his eyes, and tried to take in the scene around him.

Marks was down, pulled from his station by Caldwell, who leaned over him administering emergency aid. Caldwell's flight suit was scorched and blackened where Sheppard could see it, and livid burns coloured the side of his face, visible even in the dim light that remained on the bridge.

"Sheppard!" Caldwell yelled his name urgently once more, "Did you hear what I said? I said try and route the flight control to your station… Have to… have to slow the ship!"

Sheppard shook his head, trying to make sense of everything, of what Caldwell was saying; of what he knew. They'd been almost on top of the Hive – staring, almost literally, down her weapons' ports, prepared for anything… prepared for impact…

The shot never came, at least not as he expected. They were too close for any Wraith to have missed, it should have been all over. Then the explosion twisted Daedalus, bucked her wildly and threw her out of alignment, at the same time the Wraith Hive banked hard to port, out over the planet, and the wake of her engines, firing on full power, further spun them away from the Hive, pushing her further into the gravity of the world below.

"There's no way they should have missed," Sheppard murmured.

"Never mind that," Caldwell ordered. "Reroute the power to your station… slow the damn ship before we're all of us incinerated."

Sheppard blinked.

"Re-entry…" he croaked, clearing the blood out of his eyes again, and wiping his hands on his shirt, before moving his hands rapidly over the console in front of him, "right…"

He keyed in the command sequence. Nothing. Tried again, and a third time, still the controls remained lifeless in his hands.

"It's no use," he yelled.

"It has to be," Caldwell called back. "It's a failsafe, if the con. goes down, helm reverts to tactical. Try it again, Sheppard. DO IT!"

On a whim, Sheppard raised his booted foot and brought it down hard against the side of the tactical console before once more keying in the command to transfer the controls to his station. The screen flickered once and then resolved to life, the full flight controls in front of him.

It wasn't as comforting as it should have been. There were alarms and red lights across the board, but one glance at the forward view screen, where thin lines of stress were beginning to create a spider web pattern amid the heat and light, told him that he had little choice but to work with what he had. Not without a little desperation he began punching buttons and firing all the breaking thrusters he could access, hoping that it would be enough and hoping that, when the reached the surface of the planet, there would be sufficient control remaining to prevent the effort from having been an entirely pointless exercise.

***


Act 5

The hybrid that had once been Major Lorne watched her with cold, hard eyes, her every move open to his scrutiny as she walked around him and unfastened the restrains into which they'd placed him when they brought him to the isolation room. In her eyes it was inhuman to keep him so bound, especially when the only time he had displayed any violence was when others had first visited violence on him.

Ayatesha ignored the feelings prickling through her, the pressure of his gaze, and the twitching unease of the two SOs who were standing at the doorway to the isolation room, focussing instead on the compassion and the admittedly scientific curiosity which she held in Lorne's regard, but neither did she look at him until all of the restraints were unfastened.

He still did not move, but he spoke.

"Aren't you afraid?" he asked, the voice was soft, almost resigned or bored. There was no threat about it.

"Should I be afraid, Evan?" she asked.

He chuckled, and then shook his head. "Finally, someone that understands," he said.

"I think you will find that—"

"Someone besides Beckett, I mean," he interrupted. She gave him a nod, conceding his insight, and then allowed him to continue. "Why have you brought me here, Doctor? What are you going to do to me?"

"Do? What makes you think I intend to do anything," she asked. "You have been infected by a retrovirus. I am a doctor. It is in my duty of care to the people of Atlantis that I have brought you here."

"You don't believe that any more than they do," he said, nodding toward the two SOs at the doorway. "Otherwise I wouldn't be under guard."

"They did not give me any choice," she told him honestly. "It was either here under guard, or you were to remain in the brig. I cannot treat a patient in the brig and so… here you are, and here they are."

"What if I don't want to be treated, Doctor? What then?" he challenged.

She sighed and stepped closer, to almost whisper to him, "Major Lorne, Evan, I am trying to help you. I—"

"Ah, the old Atlantis excuse," he murmured, sitting up a little. "They told him that. They were lying then as you are lying now."

"No," she refused to be intimidated, "I could not care less what they think, or what they have or have not done. I—"

She stopped as he reached out and slowly, deliberately ran his fingers over the scars at her wrist. She raised the other hand to wave the SOs back to their places when they raised their guns and stepped toward him.

He withdrew the touch and lay back against the medical bed, and meeting her eyes again with a raised eyebrow, asked, "What is it that you need, Doctor?"

"All I wish is to be allowed to—"

"Doctor Haddad, what do you think you're doing?" Varnerin's voice cut across hers. "This creature is a dangerous individual who—"

"This man," she stressed the word as she turned her back on Lorne to face the greater threat, "is a patient of the infirmary. He was never discharged, nor should he have been. He is suffering from the effects of a retrovirus, and as medical practitioners, it is our duty to see to his care, not simple to imprison him for something we do not understand."

"And that's why you saw fit to remove the restraints, hmm?" Varnerin pressed. "To understand him, not at all to make it easier for him to escape."

"Would you listen to yourself," Haddad said, her tone sarcastic. "You are as dismissive and as paranoid as any man I have ever met. By understanding the genetic manipulation that has occurred in him we may be able to help others, including Doctor Keller."

"Oh, I think you understand Doctor Keller far more than you would have us all believe," Varnerin said as he stepped closer to tower over her. "Given your… past history with such research."

"Do not seek to threaten me, Professor Varnerin," Haddad said, though she did step back to put some space between the two of them. "Other, far more frightening men than you have tried."

"Other men did not possess the knowledge that I do, my dear young woman," he said. "Your research – the things you would not share with the Military…"

Ayatesha swallowed. There was no way he could have got a hold of that information. It did not exist in any form accessible to anyone but herself. Even the notes she had made, while deconstructing Carson's original research she had destroyed, and even under the strongest of persuasive methods employed by the black ops team sent to oversee her exile, she had revealed nothing more than the means by which the retrovirus worked… knowledge already common since Michael's creation. Varnerin was bluffing.

"If you have nothing of clinical use to say to me," she told him, trying not to allow her voice to waver, "as the senior member of the duty staff, I strongly suggest you leave the infirmary, before I have you removed."

"Oh… play hard ball with me, little girl," Varnerin hissed and began to step closer. Ayatesha couldn't help but look away. He halted suddenly, as if he had collided with a brick wall. She turned her head back in time to see Lorne swing himself from the medical bed, his arm braced against the taller man's chest, to put himself between her and Varnerin.

"I believe the doctor… has asked you to leave," he said firmly.

Ayatesha once more waved the SOs to stand at ease, and almost smiled at the look of indecisive anger on Varnerin's face.

"You can't—" Varnerin began, but Lorne tilted his head. The gesture cut him off.

"I may not be on active duty, Professor," Lorne said, "but I am a member of this expedition, and an officer of the Air Force. As such, I understand the code of conduct becoming an officer and a gentleman, and I am certain that were I to suggest to these two fine officers that they escort you from the infirmary for behaviour unbecoming of one in your position, I doubt either one would hesitate."

He turned his head slightly to look in the direction of the SOs, and Ayatesha saw them both shift uncomfortably. They tightened their grip on their weapons but also turned to the side and the closest of them gestured toward the door.

"Professor," he suggested softly.

Varnerin growled, and turned a baleful look Ayatesha's way as he warned her, "This isn't over, Doctor. Sooner or later you're going to have to tell the truth to someone, and when you do…"

"The door, Professor," she answered softly, echoing the SOs gesture toward it.

He turned on his heels then, and stormed angrily away, and Ayatesha was gratified to see that at least one of the SOs went with him as far as the outer door.

"Do what you need to do," Lorne said, settling back against the medical bed. "But do it quickly. I doubt you will have much time."

**

Isla stumbled back to the rough cot in the corner of the room to which she had been relegated, barely made it to sit, then all but fall sideways, drawing up her knees to shelter there in the middle of her bed. For many long hours she lay in a cramped foetal ball, her throat raw from the tears she had already shed, aching for more but unable to find a way to release them.

After a time… and slowly, closing her eyes on the bruises already visible on her arms and her wrist she reached beneath the thin mattress of her cot, and closed her fingers around the coldness of the metal she found there, drawing it forth. She opened her eyes and let the light from the Lower Station's main room – not so far from these quarters she had been given, if they could even be called that – glint off the blade of the small, but sharp knife she had concealed there.

It would not take much… and the pain would not be as much or as lasting as that she had already suffered at the pleasure of the Hive Third. Slowly, her hand trembling, she brought the cold metal to the side of her neck…

::survive::

"I was beginning to think that you would never wake."

Her eyes flew open. The familiar sight of her benefactor before her, the one that had vouched for her in many things and had secured her the position she enjoyed, the relative comfort of a nursery attendant and the privileges that went along with the position, she enjoyed all because of him.

He smiled, and she looked away, ashamed.

"Forgive me, Lord, I—"

"Hush, Isla," he told her, his triple toned voice winding around her in greater comfort. "It is I who should crave your forgiveness for allowing such a thing to befall."

"But I—"

"Rest, my little one," he told her, pushing the command just slightly against her mind.

{rest} {rest} {rest} {rest} {rest}

Her eyes closed. It was the first time he had ever truly made himself known to her in such a way…and she found herself craving more.

::survive:: ::survive:: ::survive:: ::survive:: ::survive::

Sobbing once more, she let the knife fall from her trembling hand.

**

The darkness on the bridge was absolute, and no sound or movement came to suggest that anyone had survived the barely controlled re-entry, or the crash landing that had followed.

A moment or two passed, before the beams of other flashlights than McKay's began to cut swaths through the smoke, and darkness, and noise slowly resumed with the disturbance of metal panels as they were cast aside – the medical team searching for survivors.

McKay trembled, and took another deep breath from the portable breathing apparatus he half wore, half carried, and swung his flashlight from one side of the ruined bridge to the other, calling out softly, as if he did not dare disturb the unnatural silence aboard the Daedalus, crippled as she was.

"Sheppard?" he whispered, and then almost audibly called out his friend's name a second time. "Sheppard… John, can you hear me?"

**

His footsteps echoed hollowly on the concrete floor of the laboratory. Like many of these facilities it had been converted from some building of a long forgotten or destroyed community. There was a kind of irony in that.

The pale green light emanating from the still occupied generative tanks bathed him in a sickly glow, and Beckett tried not to look at the figures still floating within the luminous fluids; tried not to watch as they twitched against unmonitored stimuli – most likely pain.

"You've taken a great risk in coming here, Doctor."

Michael's soft voice coming from behind him chilled Beckett even more that his accidental discovery. Slowly he turned to face his creator, and in spite of knowing how futile it was, tried to raise the 9mm slowly in his hand.

Fin







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