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Stargate: Atlantis is the property of MGM. All characters and images remain the property of the original copyright holder. No infringement is intended. No revenue is being obtained from copyright material.


Act 3

Todd sent an impression of approval to his second in command for the placement of the quarters he had assigned to the young Queen. In point of fact, he noted reflectively, there was much for which his Hive Second deserved praise. That one had discharged his duties admirably during his absence – yet Todd sensed no challenge coming from the lesser Wraith.

"Hmm," he voiced the consternation that flowed through him at his attitude toward his Hive Second. Perhaps it was disingenuous of him to name the Wraith lesser simply because of his status aboard the Hive. In the next moment he put back his head and laughed: I have been associating with humans for far too long.

His mirth, however, was short-lived. The moment he stepped within the young Queen's quarters, his status as primary male, as leader of the Hive was challenged at the core.

"How dare you treat me like this?" The Queen's voice, still shrill with youth, aggravated the very fibre of his nerves. He knew she would fly his way in the following seconds and did not need to be telepathic to do so. He caught the telegraphed attack in the tension of her muscles and wrapped his large hands around her wrists even before she came within the sphere of his longer reach. He tossed her back across the room to land on the low bed and followed her, snarling.

"Be thankful, Madam," he said, reaching to pin her in place with the greater strength he possessed, "that you still live. Your usefulness to me and to this Hive is almost at an end. You remain as a figurehead, nothing more."

She snarled at him and struggled against his restraining hold.

"I will not accept this!" She caught his wrist a glancing blow with her sharp talons and he hissed, drawing her up from the flat of the bed to pin her against the bulkhead.

"Perhaps you would prefer death," he growled, drawing back his feeding hand, mantled to a spiderlike claw.

"You promised me safety," she cried, ceasing her struggles, and he sensed capitulation. Calming as quickly as he had angered, he released his hold on her and paced away – a clear demonstration of his contempt in the way he turned his back to her. He would never have risked such a thing with any other Queen. Her petulant sulk rolled over him as she repeated, "You promised me safety, and a Hive."

"Are you not safe?" he asked, spreading his arms and turning to face her. "Is this not a Hive?"

"Safe, yes, but as a prisoner, on your terms."

"Correct," he confirmed, "on my terms."

She stared at him, silent for a very long time and he felt as though she were evaluating him – considering. After more than a few moments he felt a prickling beginning at the back of his neck; a growing discomfort at her scrutiny.

"Madam," he rumbled softly, almost in query of her purpose.

"Why?" she asked at last, moving to take a seat in the Spartan quarter's lone chair.

"Why?" he echoed, uncertain of her question.

"Why do this? Why deny yourself the protection – the status – of a Hive governed by a rightful Queen?"

"You consider yourself rightful?" he mocked, fighting back the instinctive deference that rose unbidden in him. He growled softly.

"You consider I am not?" she countered.

He knew she was playing with him, felt her teasing at the edges of his psyche. Anger stuck its bodkin deep within his chest and he started toward her again, only halting, somewhat disarmed, when she asked softly:

"How is it that your Hive had no Queen?"

He noted the wording, but let it pass.

"Once," he answered in spite of himself…

The rich mahogany of her hair spilled over him as she threw back her head, snarling in delight of his magnificence. He could feel it radiating from her, spilling over, bubbling through the depth of their connection to keep him buoyed – alive in her – fulfilling her needs and in turn fulfilled.

A leonine snarl banished the memory. He had been nothing but a slave, a puppet dancing to her whim; as much a prisoner as ever he had been to the Genii.

"Do not," he warned, almost soft in his deadly intent.

"But you are the son of a Noble House," she purred and he knew she had seen more than he intended. She learned quickly, this one. She would need to be watched.

"Your point?" he demanded coldly.

"Such a Wraith needs—"

"My needs are met!" he hissed. "You will not bind me with clever sophistry, Madam. Your feelings are clear. You consider me beneath contempt."

As he spoke the words he knew them to be true. He knew also that the mere wisp of a female had matured considerably in his absence.

She spread her hands and rose to her feet, taking a step his way. He sensed the meeting was at an end and frowned. When had he lost control of the audience? Unsettled, he turned and started for the door.

))I am not as guileless as you might believe, my Commander((

Pausing mid step, he tipped his head partly to the side. "And Madam," he said, though he would not grace the touch of her mind against his with a tacit response, he spoke in soft warning tones. "Do not think to outwait me, or to corrupt those Wraith under me. You will find that my Hive is quite loyal… to me."

**

Michael's agile mind flashed over the accruing data. His eyes moved rapidly from one side of the screen to the other, to take in the four images: compare – contrast. Data from the subject, now missing, no doubt taken by whatever Wraith faction had disturbed his facility; data from a second subject which he deemed a success; Beckett's data and the analysis of Teyla's latest sample all tumbled side by side over his display screen. He fought to control the rise of blended fear and anger at his own stupidity. How could he not have seen this?

The slight whisper of a footfall as a prelude to the touch that hesitated at the centre of his back was the first indication he had that anyone had joined him. Only one would dare such a touch and he rounded on her, his wrist meeting hers to deflect the contact.

"Teyla, I asked that you remain aboard the Hive," he said, more officiously than he had intended. He hadn't meant for her to see this laboratory; feared it would turn her from their growing understanding. Besides which, the possibility remained that the Wraith were still nearby. It was not safe.

"I knew that your work had been compromised," she said, and her obvious worry reached past his own concerns. He softened, tipped his head as he regarded her and tried to fathom her motivation for defying him to stand there at his side. "Was there much that was lost?"

"Little," he said and swallowed as he realised he had been intent on studying her face. Turning, he began to walk, steering her away from the monitor as she fell into step beside him. "A research subject that was held in stasis is missing – flawed. Unimportant."

He watched the puzzled frown appear as a shadow over Teyla's fine features and anticipated the question she framed.

"What would the Wraith want with your research?" she asked. "Unless to find a weakness they might exploit against your hybrids."

He shook his head, then voicing his objections, said, "The Wraith know nothing of my intentions for the creation of my hybrids."

"Then it makes no sense," Teyla said.

"Unless someone knowledgeable in the phylogenesis of the Wraith saw more than they should have during my interrogation." He looked away, assaulted by painful memories. "No."

"Michael," Teyla whispered, reaching up to lay a hand softly against his cheek for just a moment before she began moving away from his side toward one of the generative tanks.

It was hard not to see the fatigue in her steps; hard not to notice the way she moved, the way her balance was not as it should have been. She must feel it. He frowned at the realisation. She was trying to keep it from him.

**

Teyla felt Michael's concern strengthen again as she moved away from his side. She fought to keep her own worries under control as the same loose-limbed, uncomfortable sensation swept over her as she did. She almost gave voice to the fear that something was wrong, but was in herself afraid of the admission; afraid to believe that it could be something Michael had done to her.

As she neared one of the glass tanks to the side of the laboratory, she began to feel a whispering pull toward a figure silhouetted within the luminous blue-green fluid within.

She peered into the artificial environment in which the figure was suspended, trying not to allow herself to be influenced by her all too human attitudes. Still, as the figure was borne on internal currents closer to the glass front, her belly clenched in rebellion of what she saw.

The naked woman was Wraith-like enough to be clearly a hybrid, but human enough to cause Teyla to wrap her arms around herself. Wraith tendrils were attached to, and penetrated the woman's flesh. They monitored and sustained, she knew, the woman's life; providing oxygen and nourishment – and the treatments that no doubt coursed through her to facilitate Michael's design.

"Does…" she began hesitantly, without looking around at him, "…she feel?"

"No," he said softly, and moved up beside Teyla. He reached out to the control panel and activated the system, increasing the illumination in the tank, affording her a clearer view of the woman within. "One of the tubules provides sedation to alleviate any discomfort that might be caused during the retrieval of genetic material."

His words were clipped and his tone clinical, and Teyla couldn't help but wince.

"You make it sound so cold," she said, sorrowing for the woman before her.

"It is a process, Teyla," he said and sounded almost apologetic. "The one you see before you is a construct – nothing more."

"The means to an end?" she accused softly.

"Yes," he said with a sigh, and though she could sense his frustration with her lack of acceptance of the facts as she knew he saw them, a memory rose unbidden.

The cold of the metal at her back, barely warmed by her body heat contrasted with the heat coming from the device Michael held over her rounded belly. Around them, the sound of the baby's heartbeat pulsed rapid and strong.

She swallowed, trying to banish her fear, summon her anger and ignore the feelings of concern she could feel streaming off Michael.

"Why are you doing this?" He did not answer, merely deactivated the scanner and walked away to replace it with the rest of the equipment nearby. Her lip trembled, and she almost faltered, almost gave in to her tears – hundreds of conflicting and confusing emotions battering her at all sides. "On the ship..." she lost sight of him then, unable to turn enough to see over the top of the examination bed on which she was restrained, but she heard him; heard the sounds his machines made as he worked. "…Kanaan said our son would serve the Cause. What did he mean by that?"

"You have the Gift," he answered her at last, "so does Kanaan. Have you stopped to think what that might mean for your son?"

She frowned, more confusion and a greater fear flooded through her, threatening a deluge, denying her any respite. She started, and whipped her head around to face Michael as he came to her side. He spoke softly now… his tone almost sweet.

"He is genetically unique," he met her eyes then and the softness receded, he straightened and his expression hardened. "And while I've made a lot of progress with my hybrids there are still a lot of details that need to be worked out."

She shrank as far away as she could, but Michael softened once more. Looking into his eyes, and he into hers, she tilted her head in denial, the deepest frown on her brow, but was conflicted by the genuine lack of menace toward her son she clearly felt from him. Forcing herself to grasp the fading edge of suspicion she narrowed her eyes.

"This child," he gestured with the turn of his head toward where her son rested in her belly, and almost smiling continued, "will help me do that."

He held her gaze for just a moment longer. Her anger and suspicion, and her fear for her child kept her eyes as cold and hard as the table she felt at her back and an expression of disappointment swept over Michael's face. She could not help but wonder what he had expected… that she would be happy to learn that he meant to use her son?

"You've taken good care of him," he said. She watched, fear turning to terror as he picked up the large vial and long-needled syringe. "You should be very proud. Even so," he said as he drew up a small amount of the fluid from the vial, "you could probably use a little help."

As he came to her with the syringe, cold dread fell like rock within her belly.

"Michael, what are you doing? Please…"

"I need this child," he explained, soft but uncompromising. "I can't afford to let anything happen to him."

"No," Michael caught her arm and turned her to face him, and she saw in the pain of his gaze that he had read her thoughts. "You were never that."

"Yes, Michael," she argued, then to the anguish she saw building in him conceded, "perhaps not now, but then we were." She paused for a time, allowing herself to share his anguish at that thought, reflect in her eyes which remained locked with his. "You lied to me."

"Every word I have ever spoken to you was the truth," he protested earnestly.

"Yet you did not tell me all of it," she said. "You spoke of Kanaan and I both possessing the Gift, but you did not tell me of your involvement in creating Nethaiye's life."

"Would it have made a difference?" he asked, but his tone spoke of foreknowledge of her answer as he concluded, "Would you have accepted it?"

A ruthless stab of guilt pierced her breast and trembling slightly she turned away; turned back to the tank, to regard the woman within. Slowly, as if she could touch the dormant creature, Teyla laid her fingertips on the glass, listening to the whispers that lay just out of reach, as a defence against Michael's disappointed acceptance of her answer.

-I did not think so-

The faint susurrations suddenly became a cacophony. The woman in the tank opened her eyes, mingled green and gold struck Teyla like an arrow and she jumped, startled, then backed away hurriedly as the woman raised her hand to mirror Teyla's touch, only on the inside of the glass.

Teyla felt the grounding solidity of Michael's wrist along her back, his fingers at her hip as he drew her closer – protective. She did not pull away.

"She senses your kindred DNA, that is all," he told her softly, though she detected a hint of confusion in his voice.

"Who is she, Michael?" she pressed.

"I told you. She is a construct," he said, releasing her and moving to activate the monitor attached to the tank. Teyla inched closer to study the woman once more, in awful fascination, listening to the soft murmur of Michael's voice against the still extant whispers, "Spliced cells, nurtured to combine and divide until they achieved viability."

"What of her mother?" Teyla asked, glancing his way.

"She is a clone," he answered, matter of fact.

"The original was not," she insisted, somehow knowing it to be true.

Michael took a deep breath.

"The host…" he faltered, still operating the tank's systems as though to distract himself. At last on a falling tone he finished, "She did not survive."

"Host," Teyla echoed.

"The living body within which the construct-embryo gestated, yes," he answered.

"Then… I was host to Nethaiye," she said slowly.

Frowning, Michael turned to her shaking his head. "Teyla, you were and are mother to The Child," he said.

"No child in nature is made from three sets of DNA," she argued. "I may be no scientist, or doctor, but I know that much."

An insidious, creeping cold, almost painful, wrapped angry talons around her spine – infecting her body from the inside out.

"Teyla, you—"

Michael broke off the moment she gave the short cry that took all of her strength to voice. She wrapped her arms around herself, beneath Michael's immediately shielding embrace, trying to focus on the sound of his voice as he called her name; demanded that she look at him, and not on the bubbling, thrashing struggle of the woman within the tank. She tried to focus on the burnished gold of his eyes and not the rising spiral of blood from the woman's body, then… as fast as the strangeness came over her, it was gone – though the cold, burning through her remained.

"…Teyla, answer me!"

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

"Wraith," she breathed. "They are—"

"They are here!"

-they are here- -here- -here- -here- -here-

Michael snarled as the sound of gunfire from outside the laboratory finally penetrated within.

**

The subordinate scientists backed away from him as Todd swept into the laboratory. His step, as his breath, came rapidly, unsettled as he still was by the way he had allowed the young Queen to affect him. Perhaps he was mistaken to keep her aboard the Hive if he could not tame her; bend her to his will so that she would act as the figurehead that would ease, if not facilitate completely, his passage within certain elite Wraith conclaves.

"Light it," he commanded, pushing the concerns about the Queen to the back of his mind in order to focus on the creature that his Second had removed from his rival scientist's facility.

"It prefers to be unlit," one of his scientists, chief among the two, answered.

"I care little for its preference," he answered, tilting his head in question at the other Wraith, who stepped up to his side to activate the console.

As he waited, he thought it strange that he could no longer think of the turned Wraith that had created the creature on the examination bench before him as The Abomination, but no… not so strange. As he considered further, he realised that to do so was to make a very dangerous assumption. That one had survived torture at the behest of one of the most vicious Queens he had ever known. That one, that… Michael… and he decided then that the human name was somehow fitting of the turned Wraith, had, in his time, been instrumental in providing for the continued survival of Wraith. To believe that his scientific abilities had been in any way undermined by the hardships that had befallen him was not only a dangerous submission to folly – it was tantamount to suicide.

"So, Michael," he murmured to the stillness of the Hive. "Let us see what you would have of our ev—"

As he began to walk around the bank of controls the creature woke, and thrashing and twisting as though to escape the light, began to wail a high pitched note of alarm.

"Like the Feeding Beetles, Commander," the scientist informed him, needlessly, for he could hear all too well the similarity between the creature's note of alarm and the beetles with whom Wraith shared a heritage. "It lacks the capacity for language."

I doubt that," Todd said, tipping his head curiously as he regarded the creature. "Lower the light level by seventy percent."

As the light dimmed, the creature's frantic struggles subsided, and calming, it peered at him with its own curiosity clear in its Wraith-like eyes.

"Interesting," Todd purred, switching the tilt of his head to the opposite side, still speaking to the scientists. "It is almost, but not quite, the perfect recreation of Wraith form. You notice, I am certain, the residual faceting of its eyes."

The creature mirrored his movements, tilting its own head to the same attitude and degree as he had.

"Indeed, Commander," the scientist confirmed. "Most every aspect of Wraith physiology is present in the subject. We have yet to discover the extent to which—"

Todd waved the scientist to silence and leaned closer to the creature. She – for the creature was undeniably female – tipped her head once more, blinking to fix her eyes on his. A slight frown crossed her face.

~you hear me~ ~hear me~ ~hear me~ ~hear me~ ~hear me~

The form is restrained-cannot move-is uncomfortable-burning hunger

A wave of curiosity accompanied the wordless expression of the creature's condition.

"Commander," the scientist's voice held a warning tone as Todd reached for the restraint at the creature's left wrist. He did not miss that the other scientist had picked up the stun weapon from the bench. "It tends toward violence."

"She tends toward instinct," he corrected, keeping his eyes on the creature as he released her, keeping their minds entwined.

She reached out, halted suddenly as if the movement startled her, then reached again, this time letting her fingertips pass softly over his cheek; his sensory pits and along the line of his slightly parted lips.

Todd held still, permitting the touch, watching the changing reflection in her eyes as the facets shifted and changed, with growing fascination.

~yes, you understand~ ~understand~ ~understand~ ~understand~ ~understand~

She tipped her head again, momentarily breaking the almost hypnotic visual connection, before drawing back her hand to explore her own face, following the same pattern, but including the triangular eye sockets and brow ridges that he could tell that she traced over his face with her eyes.

There is a feeling of similitude-a match that brings comfort-the familiarity makes sense, but raises still more questions-there is an essence, barely caught in the unfamiliarity of senses

She reached for him again and ran her fingers over the shape of his brow ridges, over his temples. Her claws scraped his scalp and he growled softly at an unbidden rush of sensation. She matched the sound with a rumble of her own, drawing him closer. Her fingers tangled in his hair, bringing his face beside hers. She brushed her cheek against his…

…draws in his scent over her sensory pits and breathes him out over her tongue-tastes him in a long, slow hiss…

He felt the warmth beginning at the base of his spine and spreading like a languid itch, an ache that left him wanting; hungering with a need that was not entirely his. Briefly he allowed himself to revel in the sensation, losing himself in the memory of it and all that had come before.

The host was pliant beneath him as he ploughed her, his furrow deep, his pleasure deeper in the knowledge that with it he defied his Matron.

Her legs spread wider and the host moaned in a pleasure of her own as the semi-sentient tendrils encircled her, one slender filament penetrating to deliver the life-giving cell that he would quicken. The action was swift… barely an interruption to the rhythm of possession he undulated over this willing vessel… and he opened…

Mindless of the strands of his own hair, still clasped in her fingers, and using the whole of his strength, he pulled away from the creature, pinning her wrist to the bench beside her head as she snapped and snarled like a rabid animal, screeching frustration.

"Secure her," he instructed hoarsely, almost stumbling as he moved away. "And be sure you collect the enzyme she produces – have it delivered to my private laboratory."

"Of course, Commander," the scientist answered, as he and his assistant were already moving to obey.

"Then confine her with one of the worshippers," Todd snarled, "we may yet have need of her."

He leaned against the control station at the side of the room, fighting back the twin ravages of frustration and need. Much as he had known that this course would challenge him, he had not anticipated the extent to which his resolve would be tested. For a brief moment he almost faltered. What need did he have to pursue this end? He had endured through countless centuries in the knowledge and satisfaction of what he had already achieved. What more could he possibly reach through this exogamous madness?

He felt her heartbeat flutter in her chest, and snarling thrust hard against her, inside of her as she bucked her hips to meet with his, trembling with a pleasure of her own and for but a single moment, everything stopped… and then he burst inside her and she shattered for him… crying out again as all sensation sped to every nerve, every fibre that he was; consumed everything he was, or could ever hope to be…

Breathing deeply, he loosened the touch of his mind in hers, but did not fully leave her. In the ensuing stillness he wrapped the single word into her awareness.

~parmhuna~ ~parmhuna~ ~parmhuna~

…and in her mind he knew she saw the clear image of a bright red flash in an otherwise dark sky…

Silence fell over the private quarters, punctuated only by the frantic gasping breaths she took in the aftermath of the shared climax that had shaken him – led him to open and reveal all of himself to her… his body, his mind… his name.

…he became liquid as Alicia Vega wept.

He straightened as a chuckle began bubbling in his chest. So many questions – so much rested on one delicate human.

Still writhing in uncomfortable amusement, he stepped out of the laboratory to find his second in command waiting for him.

"Does it possess what you need, Commander," the other Wraith asked.

Todd noted his Second's face was a study in concern. It made the laughter still bubbling under the surface of his skin rise up to almost overwhelm him.

"Perhaps," he managed to keep his voice even. "Why are you here, Hive Second?"

"I came to report that the Hive is in position for the Darts to begin the run to cull, and to enquire if you would wish to lead them?" his Second answered.

"No. There is no need of that," he instructed. "Take sufficient of the Elder's worshippers to attract the attention of her Hive and the notice of its Commander. Inform me when you have detected their change in course. I go to my rest."

Without waiting, Todd turned and began to make his way toward the centre of the Hive, and the one that awaited him there.

The Hive Second nodded and obediently walked away in the opposite direction.

**

Ayatesha jerked awake, and hurriedly looked around, trying both to get her bearings and to ensure that she was still alone. It was all instinctive, and a part of her chided herself for her paranoia, but there was a larger part of her that knew completely why she would feel such things… even after… how long had it been?

She sighed, and massaged the back of her neck, pulling her long hair to the side to do so, before covering her face with her hands. Too many memories… too much lost. How could she begin to put a life for herself together after avoiding claiming the one she already had for so long?

Of course, with the way Woolsey and that weasel of a man, Varnerin, were breathing down her neck, she may well end up right back where she started, though she supposed that running in the Pegasus Galaxy would likely be a whole lot easier than on Earth – and not necessarily any more dangerous either.

Uncovering her eyes, she reached for the wrist watch that lay beside her laptop, frowning when she noticed the time. The simulation she was running should have finished and she reached out to wake the computer, and view the results. Leaning closer, she blinked somewhat like a sleepy rabbit, focussing her eyes on the highlighted sample that was rotating on the screen.

"Transcription… cell division, but still the surrounding proteins disintegrate." She put her head in her hands supported by her elbows that straddled the laptop. "What am I missing?"

"Staring at the screen is not going to bring you the answers, Carson," she said softly as she came up behind him. Carefully she set the two mugs she was carrying in the only space on the bench beside him. She supported herself on her free hand, which came to rest in the middle of his back as she reached past him. "When did you last rest?"

He straightened up as she did. It had the effect of keeping him closer to her, close enough that she could feel his heat against the front of her. She swallowed, and stepped back as he turned to face her, looking up into her tired eyes.

"I could ask you the same thing, love," he said softly.

She shook her head, smiling, and pulled up a second stool, lowering herself to it as she scooted it beside him.

"I asked first," she said, and then looked past him to the display on his screen. "And I am not the one that has been struggling to analyse a variance in an essential human DNA sample."

"Aye… essentially human," he said. "That's just the point, isn't it?"

"Essentially?" she queried for clarification.

He nodded. "There are so many variations, so many dormant and unimportant radical fragments that it's like… looking for a needle in a haystack."

She reached past him, took one of the mugs into her hand and passed it to him. Their fingers brushed together as he took it, and the contact stirred something in her that made her curl away like a seahorse changing course.

"Simi'm… listen," she said, the words came out as only a whisper, and she swallowed to find her voice again. "What we already know is that the Ancients seeded life as we know it throughout the many galaxies… even after they divided between their own two factions, they still did the same. Life has that commonality – so get rid of it. Excise the sameness from your sample field, and concentrate on the variances that remain."

"There are still hundreds of them. I… 'Y'tesha," he answered, and her heart skipped. It had been accidental, she knew, but he had taken her name to himself and made of it something between only the two of them. She blushed, and he frowned. "Did I say something wrong?"

She gave a small laugh, and shook her head, "La… nothing, you… you made my name short, that is all."

"I'm sorry, I—"

"No," she stopped him far too quickly, and touched her fingers to his lips to silence him. "No, I like it."

He reached for her hand, took it into his own as he set down the coffee mug.

"It's no wonder I can't find the answers I'm looking for if I can't even see something that's been right under my own nose for weeks now," he said softly, caressing her fingers between his own, before softly kissing the tips of them.

She felt as if her own DNA were unravelling; rewriting itself as, dizzy and trembling at the realisation that the attraction she had been fighting for weeks was mutual, her other hand reached past him for one of the notebooks as a defence against submitting to something that, to her mind, still could not be possible – only… stretching brought her closer still – so close that she could feel his breath on the softness of her cheek.

"Carson," she whispered, turning her face to him, turning into his waiting kiss.

She realised she was crying only when the first shuddering breath shook her body and drew her back to the present. The first thing she did was look at her watch again, and the tears of remembrance became strengthened in her worry. It had been so long, and still he had not returned. Not mere hours, but days had passed since Carson had gone and if he did not return soon she would have to tell someone what was going on, even though he had insisted she should tell no one.

The door chimed, and she started so violently that she almost lost her balance on the edge of the chair.

"Wait," she called out, and rising swiftly, pulled on her over-dress and head covering, heedless, otherwise, of the state of herself as she hurried to answer the door.

**

"Begin the final approach. Prepare the Darts for launch."

The commander of the Red Queen's Hive released the bridge control to his second in command and stepped down onto the floor of the bridge. His eyes were fixed on the viewing screen and on the growing sphere of the planet they approached, a planet to which the Hive they monitored had recently paid an, albeit brief, visit.

From the distance it seemed an unremarkable place, and the long range scans he had been party to while still in communion with the Hive had suggested there was no remaining indigenous life... which was either careless on the part of whatever Wraith in whose territory the planet fell, or else made the planet all the more interesting.

"Commander," his subordinate addressed him, calling his attention away from his internal musings and back to the screen at the front of the bridge. "Sensors are detecting a Hive in orbit around the planet.

"Indeed," he purred, "I see it. Do you recognise the bio signature?"

"No, Commander," his second in command assured him. "The signature of the Hive is nowhere in our database."

The commander frowned and moved closer to examine the image of the Hive on the view screen.

"Maintain this approach vector," he instructed. "Keep the planet between this Hive and the other. Scan for bio signs and launch the Darts. I will be in the observatory. I wish to know the minute we make contact."

As he left the bridge the commander frowned. A supposedly dead planet seemed a strange place for his quarry to have visited directly following a visit to one of the most sacred places within Wraith existence. What had the commander of that Hive discovered from the Ancient Ones that had brought him to this world?

His frown deepened. The Ancient Ones had allowed the commander of the Hive that he supposed must be a rival to his Matron, and thereby, under her rule, to himself and yet... that did not hold. For if the Queen that ruled the other Hive truly were a rival to his Matron Queen, why had she not instructed him to destroy the young deposited within the nursery facility – males, yes, and therefore not a direct rival to his Queen's rule – but Noble males none the less – and regardless of his Hive Matron's opinions, that, potentially, made them his opponents... no matter they were not yet grown.

**

The weary trudge of his footsteps lightened as the door opened on the Queen's Chambers, and Alicia looked up to meet his eyes. She was smiling.

"You seem more at ease," he rumbled softly, allowing the door to drop behind him. He could not help but be warmed by the sight of her, but with that warming came the remnant of desires unfulfilled, frustrations uneased, and he faltered.

"And you seem tired," she said quietly, rising to her feet to cross the room to him. The silken fabric of the dress she wore, a deep azure river that flowed around her legs as she moved, did little to hide the rest of her, fitting tight around her all too inviting curves. Nor did it hide the all too visible blackened bruise that spread from the still livid bite at her neck.

"Have a care, my little Alicia," he breathed against her unblemished shoulder as he laid a gentle kiss upon the cream of her skin. Though she ran her hands up over the plains of his chest, she stiffened at the intimate brush of his tongue against her neck, and he withdrew, to take her hands softly into his, kiss both her palms and lead her deeper into the room. "It has been a trying day."

"All the more reason for you to let me take care of you," she said softly, and drew him to a halt as they reached the side of the bed that graced the centre of the room.

She pushed him to sit down and in spite of his warning, and her obvious timidity, all too understandable in the light of what had come to pass, (and the fight in him to control his anger began to slip), she stood astride his bended knees, unfastened his heavy coat and pushed the leather from his shoulders.

Her fingers moving over his knotted shoulders restored his equilibrium, and with a deep breath, he looked up and met the uncertainty in her eyes.

"I would never harm you, my parmhuna," he growled softly and turned his head then, his eyes last to leave her face, to kiss the inside of her right forearm, just above her wrist, before winding his own protective embrace around her and drawing her down into his lap.

"I know," she whispered, though her voice shook. "But… but I don't know if—"

"Sssh," he breathed against her lips, barely any space away from enfolding her in his kiss. "It need not be said."

"Todd," she sighed the human sounds against his lips, and melted against him as he took hers beneath his own, and coaxing with the lingering press of them against the warmth of her mouth, dipped his hungry tongue within to taste the nectar of their closeness.

Kisses had yielded to caresses, and caresses to the nuzzling of her kitten-like presence within the strength of his arms – childlike in her trust – surrendering completely to the need that he could feel almost as a physical force streaming from her to be surrounded in the fortress of his embrace.

"I will not sleep, unless it is in your arms," she had said, and yet as blessed rest came to her she rolled away, leaving him wakeful and restless.

How could he touch her without bringing fear? How could he – Wraith, as the one that had hurt her – hope to banish these new demons and show her what could be, and not what was – what had been – he corrected himself. There was too much at stake now to take the risk.

~by your guidance, parmhuna~

He brushed the edge of a mental caress around her sleeping mind, and stilled, his easy breath catching as he realised the edge of the trembling breath she gave in response was the sound of her tears. She was still asleep, and yet she wept.

"Alicia," he said softly, and moving closer he reached to draw her into his arms, to spoon against her and give her that security at her back. Before he could, she turned and burrowed against his chest, as if freezing. "I have you, my parmhuna… you are safe."

**

"You sent for me, my Queen."

Malcolm lowered himself carefully to one knee at the foot of the dais. Every sense was screaming to him of danger, and yet he saw nothing out of the ordinary. Yes, the Queen had dismissed her guards, and was attended only by her junior handmaidens – but this was not completely unknown. What need had she of guards within the heart of her own Hive?

"I hear… disturbing rumours, my Second," she purred. He heard it then. The edge of anger beneath her apparent calm, too late to effect a retreat without causing greater affront than he, evidently, already had.

"My Queen?" he pitched his voice low, and looking up, tilted his head in query, and tensed, prepared for anything as she stood and descended the stairs. When he did not move to offer her his hand, she paused, mid-way down and narrowed her eyes.

"I would think, Second, that you would be all too ready to show your loyalty to me, and attend my comfort; my needs," she stretched out a booted foot toward the next step down, balanced… waiting, "given the content of such… idle gossip."

Taking a breath, realising the depth to which his trouble extended, he carefully stretched out his arm, hand open for hers – his left.

There came no warning of her intent, merely the sudden flash of metal – the searing pain of blades across his hand from the base of his index finger, deep across his palm and across his wrist. He recoiled as fast as his reflexes would allow, but she reached the foot of the steps as if carried by levitation, to take his balance from him with a flick of her still outstretched foot, and then to send him flying to collide hard with the bulkhead with a solid kick to the side of him.

"Traitor!" she screamed at him, and around them the doors hissed shut. "Turncoat!"

All deference to the insane creature she had become vanished with the rush of air from his lungs as he collided with the wall, slid to its base, and rolled to avoid the Queen as she followed him, her usually grey-green face almost purple with anger.

"You… on whom my favour has fallen time and again," she hissed, as he sprang to his feet, circling now to avoid her, mouse to her catlike stalk. "How could you excuse such a mortal insult?"

She leaped at him, bladed hands leading and, spilling a trail of blood around the throne room, Malcolm parried – turned aside the deadly strikes, spinning away again to avoid remaining within reach.

"You protect her!" she screeched. "You heal her… you prevent her suffering as I have decreed she will!"

It came clear to him then, the source of the whispers that fell into the Queen's ear; the Queen's mind. The Hive Commander sought to discredit him with lies, to play on the Queen's jealousy, and on the instability of her untended Zenith.

"Calm yourself."

{calm yourself} {calm} {calm} {calm} {calm} {calm}

He pushed both voice and mind on her in an attempt to reach past the burning that suddenly filled his awareness.

=leave my mind= =my mind= =mind= =mind= =mind=

She roared at him, the sound echoing around the chamber like some big cat's cry. The tone of the cry was specific, reaching within the maleness of his being and awakening instinct to action. In her anger she had lost what little control she had on her body's need and it had subsumed her. Where was her commander? Why did he persist in the obstinatacy of not taking what was his to take.

Woken, the instinctive beast inside of him threatened to overwhelm. He sprang at the Queen as she leaped at him, the two clashing in mid-air to fall writhing to the ground. Her blades raked his should to the middle of his chest, the thrust of her talons took pain from his thigh, even as he struggled to turn her beneath him.

"Release me!" she screamed, her mind pushing inarticulately against him, no sense, no meaning, as he squeezed his arm against her throat, ignoring the blades, then her claws as the blades fell free of her fingers, that slashed at his forearm, and the exquisite agony of the fight she made for him swallowed him whole.

He had her… almost pinned, almost quiescent beneath him when her elbow came back, the sharp point of it catching just beneath his ribs. He gasped and released the pressure on her throat. She flexed her back and threw him down – away, and spinning on her left hand straddled him, ripping at the leather covering him, her feeding hand back behind her head, mantled.

His own clawed feeding hand flew upward first, the tips of his talons brushed against her tattooed flesh.

"My Queen!"

He froze, as did the Queen, barely a breath between his feeding hand and her chest, her own still raised to strike… a terrifying tableau… indrawn breath held fast within heaving breast.

She growled softly as she released the breath, a long, low sound that vibrated through the entire chamber… like the chains of some long dead spectre, moaning and haunting.

Finally she rose almost gracefully to her feet, leaving him supine, his heart beating painfully in his chest.

"Handmaiden?" the Queen tipped her head to regard the interloper that had entered the chamber unbidden from behind the throne in her private chambers.

Malcolm rose slowly, his own breath audible in the tense silence, to find Hanna standing beside the throne. The expression on her face told him everything else he needed to know.

**

"Ayatesha," Keller's voice rasped hoarsely as she spoke. "What… what's the—"

Ayatesha reached for her shoulder as the other woman's strength failed and she sank back against the pillows. It was a gentle and compassionate touch she laid on her patient's shoulder… meant to be comforting.

"You do not need to speak, Jennifer," she said softly. "Just rest."

Keller shook her head though and said, "Please, I want to know. What treatment regime?"

She sighed softly, and fixing a smile on her face that she hoped the other woman would understand as teasing, answered, "What is it they say about Doctors making the worst of patients?" She was glad when Keller managed a slight chuckle.

"True," Keller said as the chuckle faded. "Tell me."

"All right," she said, and pulled up a stool to sit down and speak with her. "Right now, we are treating you with a modified version of the serum that Carson created to prevent reversion after the administration of the humanising retrovirus. In addition to that you are receiving a low dose of the cell stabilising compound you created for him, and a broad spectrum antibiotic to stave off infection from the degrading cells."

"Is it working?" Keller asked.

"You tell me?" she countered. "How do you feel?"

"Like hell," Jennifer confessed, with a weak, apologetic smile.

"Then I would say that… for the time being, we have achieved some success in keeping you stable," she said, not without irony, and brushed her fingertips against Keller's cheek. "I cannot promise you how long this will last."

Keller sighed. "It's all right," she said. "It's not your fault."

"It is not yours either, Jennifer. No matter what you might think," she leaned closer to the woman as she spoke. "Your genetic predisposition—"

"This wouldn't have happened if I'd not slept with Todd," Keller interrupted. "I was… Ayatesha, was I insane or what? I saw – I knew there was genetic variance in my DNA, one I saw in—"

"Broken eggs, Jennifer," Ayatesha ran her fingers through Keller's hair, trying to soothe the other woman's agitation. At the same time she fought to keep her own expression neutral as she added, "There is nothing we can do about the past… only find a way to live in the present."

"Why does it feel like…" Jennifer started, looking at her with concern, "…feel like there's so much more to that?"

Though it had been well over a decade, near enough two, since she had set foot inside the walls of her father's desert compound, the atmosphere of it pressed around her much as it had when she was still a child, and she began to wonder at the wisdom of returning.

Taking a breath, she tried to banish the foolish notion. Whatever had passed between them he was still her father, and she his flesh and blood. Even if she had to throw herself at his feet and beg for his forgiveness, renounce the decadent West, he would protect her – of that she was certain.

Crossing the desert out from Alexandria, under the hospitable protection of a Bedouin family, she'd felt more secure than she had in a long time and confident that she had shaken her pursuers. In hindsight, it was foolish of her to have run straight to Egypt… of course they would find her there. Almost as soon as she had landed in Cairo she felt their presence – ever watchful, waiting for the chance to strike. She had made sure she remained in public places where any such attempt would be noticed. The last thing, certainly, that the United States would want was a diplomatic incident over an insignificant scientist… but she was not above starting one – if she had to.

Exhausted, she followed her father's seneschal – for want of a better word that was what her self-styled desert prince of a father's personal assistant truly was – toward the main hall of the house, ready to debase herself before her uncompromising patriarch.

"Abi, mit'assif…Min fadlak—"

Half way across the hall toward his low divan, with cooling breezes billowing gauzy fabric inward between carved pillars, the shadows moved and took shape. Ayatesha froze.

"Abi…?" she looked first one way, and then the other at the men, clearly military from their desert fatigues stepped into the room. Her fear mounted when her father didn't answer; refused to spare her a single word, "Father…?"

Taking his cue from her manner of address, her father answered, "It has been a long time, my girl."

Stepping carefully, like a gazelle encircled by hyenas, she began to back up. The ice in her father's tone was a clear confirmation that she had been wrong to expect sanctuary in her family home. She turned then, to start toward the door, but two more soldiers stepped into her path.

The gardens then – she would lose herself in them, find a way out as she had as a girl, feeling little more than a girl again in her heart as the pieces of her world shattered around her. The path was blocked even before she finished turning.

"Doctor Haddad," the voice came from behind her, a Midwestern drawl, lazy… bored. "Let's not engage in schoolyard games, Ma'am."

"Go to hell," she turned on him and spat on the floor in his path. "I won't come with you."

"I'm afraid you don't have a choice," he answered, and nodded to the men she could already feel behind her. "See, you left before you'd finished your work, and… it's very important to us that that happens."

Hands closed around her arms, and she snatched herself away, struggling – refusing to be taken without a fight, a string of the most colourful invectives flowing from her lips in a mix of Arabic and English, until in shock she cried out as the stinging backhand snapped her head back. She tasted blood as her teeth split her lip. She spat it in his face.

"You can drag me out of here, but you cannot make me—"

Again she stopped, the double click of the handgun slide being drawn back and coming to rest loud against the twittering of her father's caged songbirds.

"Ma'am," the soldier repeated, softly and with menace.

"I cannot work if you shoot me," she challenged, not denying her fear, but using it to strengthen the hate she threw between them, from her eyes to his. "And the only way I am leaving here is if you drag me away."

"That's always an option," he agreed, but she noticed he did not lower the gun. "Gentlemen."

The hands closed around her arms again, ignoring her struggles, and beginning to drag her toward the door. She clawed at them… bit down hard on one and was rewarded with another, rough slap… fabric tore and her anger dissolved into frantic fear as she grabbed the edge of a nearby trellis, her fingernails scraping the wood, breaking and sending shooting pains along her arms.

"Abi, please…!" she cried out, but he started to turn away. "Don't let them… I beg of you. ABI!"

Ayatesha took a deep breath, swallowed, and opened her eyes again, to try and smile at Jennifer.

"Perhaps I will tell you one day," she answered, "But I am tiring you now, and—"

"Please," Keller pressed. "I know you had a thing with Carson once. I know it's prying, just… anything other than talking about me."

Ayatesha sighed. "I loved Carson with all my heart," she said after a lingering silence.

"Loved?" Jennifer whispered.

"Yes."

"No."

"IsmaHiili?" she asked, "Excuse me?"

"You still do."

"La," she breathed as she pulled away. "I do not know how any more."

**

Todd stood immobile, surveying the devastation in the village, and the remaining humans who cowered at his feet. He flicked a casual glance at his second… then looked back toward the terrified humans.

"I thought I instructed just enough damage to attract attention," he rumbled with a hint of amusement.

"They resisted," the Hive Second answered dryly.

"Of course they did."

"Commander, are you—"

"—certain that this is where I will meet with the witless commander who rules this miserable clan?" Todd finished the second's sentence. "Yes."

As he spoke he noticed a movement among the worshippers, a woman among them frowned and covered her mouth with her hand. Todd's mind, fast as a whip crushed the thought of shocked support for her Lord-Commander from her psyche and kicking a nearby male, dressed in the colours of a Handler ordered, "Bring her to me!"

The Handler hesitated, and the woman broke, making for cover until two drones stepped into her path. She slid to a halt, already pumping her legs to reverse her direction, but the Handler had found his wits, and, Todd noted through his boiling fury, his feet, and clasped the woman from behind, lifting her from the ground, struggling and wheedling as she was, to carry her to him.

"Lord Commander."

The Handler lowered her to her feet and stepped back as Todd's hand flashed forward to catch the woman closer before she could bolt.

"Tell me, woman," he growled, "you find my assessment of your Overlord lacking?" Without warning he spun her in his arms, one wrapped around the top of her chest, one buried deep within her tangled brown hair. Leaning closer he hissed dangerously close to her ear, "Why not tell them all what you think of my opinion of the Queenless Bastard you serve!"

Irritating him still further, she remained silent, and though he could feel the tremor though her body, and knew that her inability to speak was born of fear, he could not allow the fact mitigate that she did not answer him as he had commanded.

"Answer me!" he roared, and the woman cried out. It required only a simple shift of his hands, but he silenced her in a heartbeat, twisting the woman's head so swiftly to the side that the sound of splintering bone sounded even over the echo of her dying cry and letting go, dropped her, without regard, at his feet.

The Handler moved forward, no doubt to clear away her corpse, but Todd waved him away.

"Leave her," he snapped, then turned his gaze out over the others of the gathered worshippers. "Are there any others among you that believe my assessment is wrong?"

To the smallest of babes in arms, no one moved.

Growling softly, Todd turned his attention to his second in command, and noted that the other Wraith stepped up quickly to attend him.

"I will await the arrival of the Elder Hive," he told him quietly, adding, "alone. You are to return to the Hive. If I do not return—"

"Commander," the Second tried to interrupt, but Todd held up a hand to forestall his objection.

"If I do not return," he repeated, "Command well, comfort Alicia, and do as you will with the Queen."

"It will be as you command," the Second said solemnly, bowing low before he turned to go.

"Hive Second," Todd recalled him.

"Commander?"

"You are also to prepare a suite of quarters in the lower station," Todd said. "No Handler or attendants, simply prepare a comfortable dwelling there and ask nothing of this command. All will be made clear, in time."

**

Locked in a fight far too personal to allow for the use of hand or staff stunner, Michael moved faster than ever, ignoring his own breathlessness, to compensate for Teyla's rapidly faltering rhythm. She fought at his back and he could tell, without seeing, that she was tiring quickly. They were surrounded by Wraith – outnumbered, as were all his hybrids. The hybrids would hold, he knew. They would endure until heavier forces could be brought to bear in defence against the Wraith, but Teyla… He had to get her out now.

Out of the corner of his eyes he saw the glint of light on metal, descending in an arch toward Teyla's undefended side, and even as he sent the urgent mental summons back along his neural path to his Hive, he turned and wrapped his arm around Teyla's waist, lifting her bodily from the path of the descending blade. Even knowing it would leave her off balance when he set her down, it was better than the inevitable alternative.

Surprising him, in spite of her fatigue, she rolled with the momentum when he released her, and paused to give a brief nod of acknowledgement before spinning into action against the unrelenting Wraith.

Worried that she had set herself apart from him with the move she made, Michael fought his way back to her side, snatching up the blade of a fallen drone, and with it slicing the body armour of a second as he pressed forward, unwilling to allow her to face the Wraith alone.

His chest ached with the effort of maintaining the punishing pace, blocking to the left, then high to the right, giving ground, defending. He hissed as the strike of a drone penetrated his guard, and caught a glancing blow against the top of his shoulder. He lashed out with the opposite hand, driven upward and flat against the drone's mask, and the bone shattered… splintered deep within the soft, pulpy vulnerability between the warrior's sensory pits. A single cry of alarm was all it gave before it fell away, lifeless. There was another to take its place, and worse, the path of their battle had brought them to where the drones' unit leaders fought against a small pocket of hybrids, and noticing, two of the cloned-Wraith turned their way.

"Teyla," he yelled over the sound of the fight. "Break! Go!"

She was too entrenched to obey, and Michael growled, spinning to deliver a high, hard kick to the face of one of the cloned-Wraith, driving him backwards, semi stunned. Michael had to buy them time.

Hard on the heels of the desperate thought, he became aware of the soft, but building whine of the incoming Dart. He did not allow relief to slow his defences, however, merely glanced up, barely a flick of his eyes, to judge the trajectory of the incoming Dart, and by his actions turned them to a more advantageous formation.

The Dart's beam activated barely twenty feet from where they fought, sweeping toward them so quickly there was no way that he could have anticipated the events that followed.

Just as his forward vision was filled with the wavering disturbance in the air of the Dart's dematerialiser beam, his peripheral vision registered movement, a blur of shining black flight, and Teyla's shrill cry, before everything went dark.

**

Teyla felt as though she had been crushed, and wondered for a moment as her feet left the uneven ground, whether the pilot of the low flying Dart had misjudged completely and had clipped her with the craft's wing. The breath exploded from her lungs even before she hit the ground. She moaned, and lay immobile - stunned.

Trembling, she forced herself to motion, rolling to her side, away from the dark shape of the Wraith, already on his knees, and moving toward her, reaching for her, to pull her back toward him.

She slapped away his hands, and arched her back to try and gain leverage to find her feet again, but the Wraith had anticipated such a move and tried to straddle her, to pin her in place.

She waited as long as she dared, then brought her thigh up sharply, as she rolled toward him. It wasn't quite her knee that connected with his groin, but the force was enough that he roared, and fell away enough for her to scramble backwards… put some distance between them.

Sharp rocks cut her hands and skinned the small of her back as she hauled herself over the rough terrain, sobbing for breath, knowing she had only seconds before the Wraith would be on her again, others too, as Michael's hybrid lieutenants unwittingly drew attention to her by calling for her defence.

Even with a miracle, there would be no way the hybrids would reach her in time.

**

Pulling up as soon as the confirming trill of the materialiser system confirmed the presence of matter patterns in the storage chamber, the Dart pilot began to power away, back toward the Hive. His orders were clear – get them out before the other Darts made their strafing runs against the intruding Wraith.

The hybrids on the ground were acceptable losses, but Teyla and He-that-led-them must be clear.

The sharp, persistent beep of the proximity sensors, confirming the presence of the remedial forces that would take out the Wraith, drew his attention back to the panel in front of him, and panic seized the hybrid pilot's heart.

Where there should have been two lighted channels on the materialiser readout, there shone only a single light.

The Dart's pilot rolled his craft, and looped around to descend once more into the planet's atmosphere, this time chasing the path of the other Darts.

**

As the Wraith closed in, she fought from one knee, ignoring the ache from the fall and the blood she could feel running from the scrape on her back. She struggled to try and get to her feet.

Teyla sensed an attack coming in from the left and rolled in time to leave the Wraith drone's blade slicing the air harmlessly, and rolling, found her feet at last. Instinct replaced conscious thought, and stilling completely, she tipped her head, listening for the inner whispers of thought from the gathering Wraith, then took a step back, to where she had seen the remnants of equipments casings – lengths of pipe and sturdy, long wooden studs, meaning to arm herself, but a trio of drones closed in on that side, forcing her path way.

Clawed hands reached for her, as the faced-Wraith drew near again. She stepped closer, not away, and lashed out with flattened hand against his wrist, pushing his reaching hand away, then kicked high and hard, taking him in the belly, forcing him back, only to follow, clenched fist leading and her own clawed fingers striking after.

It was desperate. The attack was weaker than it should have been, and she was tired, nearing breaking point.

The whine of incoming Darts was only somewhat comforting. It was as much fearful as it was a sound of hope. Perhaps the Darts were piloted by Michael's hybrids and would retrieve her as they were meant to before, or perhaps they belonged to the Wraith, and came only to deliver destruction; death.

She did not have time to wonder.

Her scream at the sudden explosion of heat and light around her, as the first of the incoming Darts made a strafing run, filled her lungs with dust. The debris in the air made it impossible to see, and relying on sound alone to anticipate a place of safety, she headed to the left, remembering the cover of undergrowth nearby.

The dark shape of the faced-Wraith rose up in her path. The leather of his coat was smoking, and she could see through the partially clearing dust that, in places, his grey-green skin was exposed and oozing blood along an injured arm. He snarled at her, as she slid to a halt, mindful of the increased whine of the approaching Darts. She had to pass the Wraith, she had no choice. The Darts would be on them in seconds.

As if realising the same danger, the Wraith flew at her, and caught her with a glancing blow to the side of her head. She stumbled to one knee, but forced herself up, grabbing what remained of the Wraith's lapel with one hand to pull him closer and striking with the forearm of her other against his face. She hoped to drive him back out of her path; achieve the cover she so sorely needed.

He snarled and grabbed her attacking arm in a vice-like grasp. He pulled her closer and tried to turn them both. He meant to use her as a shield. She did the only thing she could. She made herself limp in his arms.

The sudden dead weight of her pulled him off balance, and sent the two of them toppling toward the ground. She landed hard, but he landed last, and on top of her as new founts of heat and light tore up the earth around them.

The Wraith cried out in angry pain, and the overpowering scent of burned leather and charred flesh was nauseating, but the Wraith survived, and there slumped her doom. Stunned from the fall, and from the explosions from the Dart's blaster fire, she could only watch as the mortally injured Wraith forced himself up over her. She tried to brace him away, locked her elbow and pressed her hand against his throat, but his reach was longer, and his feeding hand curled in anticipation of healing.

She felt his hunger for survival… she burned with his need as he thrust his mind into hers… felt the bite of his feeding maw against her chest, and the doubling of her heart rate as his enzyme flooded her body, and could only surrender as behind the sound of his snarling, she heard the whine of yet another Dart.

**

He shook uncontrollably as he tried, a second time, to tie the strip of cloth around his hand, stumbled and fell to, rather than sat upon, the top of his bed, but he welcomed the pain… the reminder of his folly.

He should have fed. He knew that… and he would. But not yet. Not until all other avenue of healing had been followed – until his own self-imposed rituals had been satisfied, until…

"Let me do that." Cool hands alighted on his burning skin… a cold, wet cloth soothed the sting in the palm of his hand.

Sighing, he closed his eyes. "I was such a fool," he whispered…

"Isla…"

"Hush, my Lord – lie back, all will be well," her voice was light and soft. Melodic after the shrill, penetrating cries of his Matron-Queen's fulfilment...

The enormity of it descended over him, pure terror through his blood, the very fibre of his being surrounded by the weight of responsibility.

Consort-Commander to the Wraith Matron-Queen… Wraith Primogenitor.

"The only folly is that you will not feed, Lord," Jethera answered as she carefully unfastened the remains of his tattered coat. He heard her wince as she uncovered his chest and tried to bend his head to see, but she caught his chin against the heel of her hand and pushed his head back until he understood, and lay himself back against the bed.

"Lie still… it is deep," she told him. "If you will not feed—"

"I cannot," he told her, his voice barely above a whisper. "Not now… not while all lies in madness."

"It is madness not because of you," she told him, and lowered a wet cloth over the slashes on his chest. He hissed as the antiseptic she had soaked it in penetrated the wounds. "But through ou—"

"Have a care, Jethera," he managed to form the words through the thickness in his throat.

"You know that it's true," she countered him, refusing to be silenced.

He opened his eyes then, to look at her, into the brightness of hers, trying to read the silence he felt in her, but her mind was closed to him. The truth was he was just too tired… too hurt.

**

A second explosion tipped the deck of the Hive beneath his feet, and spilled the Red Queen's commander against the portal's framework at the entrance to the bridge.

"What happened?" he demanded. "Only moments ago you reported to me that all was well and our troops on the ground would be victorious against the Abomination's forces."

"And that we would gain entry to the laboratory hidden on this world, yes," his second in command conceded to him the truth. "However, Commander, I regret – I erred."

"Or perhaps the Abomination decided we were close enough," the commander waved away his Second's unspoken apology and, finding his balance once more, he gained the bridge.

As he stepped up to the control station at the centre of the bridge, he considered, with no small surprise, the events as they had unfolded: the rumours of the Abomination's death in the destruction of the First Elder's Hive were untrue.

The news of his death had spread among the Hives of the Noble Conclave, much as fleas among unclean prey, causing much the same itch. With the Abomination vanquished, the need for alliance among the Wraith dissipated like illusion before the Returned, and the skirmishes that had begun again were herald to another civil war. How long would it be, he wondered, before the few remaining Queens realised their folly and sought to once more shelter beneath the spread claws of their Noble or semi-noble betters – and which of those Queens would claim her place – rightful or otherwise – as Primary? Had he not been in the midst of battle, he would have been amused at the irony of the fact that they were probably safer in the grip of Civil War, and not because it meant the absence of the Abomination.

"Return fire," he ordered, slipping his fingers into the controls vacated by his Second, who stepped aside to allow him to command. "Target the Hive's ventral weapons' ports."

"And their Darts?" the Wraith at the weapons' control station asked.

"Launch a wing to intercept them."

He nodded and was gratified that his bridge crew were as attentive to their duties as they were, but even as they fired on the Abomination's Hive, the deck bucked and rocked as Darts penetrated their defensive perimeter of fire, once their weapons were turned against the Hive.

"They are targeting the core of our Hive," a Wraith beside him reported.

"I am aware of that," he snapped. He did not need to hear the words. He felt the repeated hail of fire and superheated matter as it exploded against the central hull of his Hive. His proprietary connection with the ship's sentience twisted in agony as a volley of weapons' fire from the Abomination's Hive cut through the outer hull and breached the inner, dangerously close to the approach to the Queen's chambers. At the same time, an explosion of fire rained over the starboard side of the bridge.

Maintaining the coolness of rational thought, he closed his eyes and began to pull the ship around, fighting against the instability caused by the hull breach at the very heart of the Hive. Wraith invectives flowed from his mind – Abomination he might be, but this despoiled Wraith knew exactly how to harm a Hive; how to control his enemy.

(+damn you+)

He sent the thought blindly outward, not knowing or caring if it would be heard, seeking now only to cover their withdrawal; to guard the Hive and its Queen.

"Recall the Darts, and standby forward portside weapons' array," he growled at his Second, who moved to take the place of the Wraith at the weapons' control station. The other Wraith fell back, half of his head a twisted mass of scorched flesh, and still bloody tissue from the injury caused in the destruction wrought on the bridge as control stations overloaded in their users' faces. "Fire as soon as we are turned… I will not wait. We must withdraw."

The Hive turned sluggishly, and the assault of wings of Darts came at her again and again. As soon as he was able he set the massive craft to forward motion, listening for the melodic, repeating tones of the forward array even as he called the subspace rift into being, and relaxed as the unequal forces pulled the Hive inward – out of danger.

**

Michael looked away from the falling characters on the display beside the examination bed in the laboratory, and reached out a hand to adjust the blanket that covered the loose blue shift that Teyla wore; watching as she slept, brushing the lightest of touches over the shadow of a bruise that peeked out from beneath the neckline of the shift.

He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, uncomfortable still, with how close he had come to losing her and yet knowing that neither she, nor he, would be truly at ease were he to insist more forcefully that she remain aboard the Hive. It was not who she was, to sit in the shadows while others acted. He admired her strength and her determination – her ability – to take that from her would be to take away a large part of what made her his match and that was something he would never do.

The latest incident, however, coupled with his already existing concerns, had shaken him, and had done so badly. It would only take one slip, one distraction, one... moment of carelessness on his part. He closed his eyes and breathed out, calming his agitation. He could not apportion blame for this, not even on himself.

The darkness resolved into the dimly lit warmth of the Hive's Dart Bay, but the comfort was momentary. Michael's awareness was immediately settled on the snarling presence of a Wraith aboard his Hive. The sound was foreign – alien amid the sound of running feet, the alarm of his hybrids. It took him a further moment to get his bearings, but as he did, and turned his head, the reason for their alarm, and the chilling reality of the cause drove all reason from his mind.

The Wraith knelt astride Teyla – over her even as she struggled to hold him back. Michael could already see it was futile, as the Wraith's reach far outdistanced Teyla's, and snarling flattened his hand still further against her sternum.

Had rationality maintained even a fragile hold on Michael's psyche, he would have worried little, but driven by instinct, and roaring in outrage, as a commander in protection of his Queen, he flew across the several feet between them to drag the Wraith away from Teyla.

The Wraith's convulsions began as Michael closed his hands around his neck. He lifted the Wraith bodily, arms straining against the jerking, twisting struggle the Wraith gave, though not against him, but against the action of the Hoffan protein now coursing destructively through his system. Michael snarled again, anger and contempt driving him to pitch the Wraith over the side of the walkway into the dark oblivion of the Dart Bay.

He turned in time to see Teyla turn to the side, retching; gasping for air – her body trembling and in shock . She needed treatment, and that thought alone banished instinct in favour of cold rationality. He picked her up in a single motion, and tightened his arms around her out of instinct of a different kind as she clung to him, trying to say his name.

It was important to focus now on what was, not what had been, and on ensuring her continued safety and on her health, he reminded himself, as a new variation among the falling Wraith characters on the screen drew his attention; an increase in the number of antibodies in her blood. A reaction to the presence of the Wraith enzyme – why?

An immunological reaction to the presence of Wraith enzyme was neither a factor in human physiology, nor in that of his hybrids – even those they carried the Hoffan protein, besides, she had already possessed a high concentration of Wraith enzyme in her body that had not triggered the same biological response.

Then... I was host to Nethaiye...

"A different genetic signature in the enzyme..." He looked up from the screen, his musing becoming breathless as the words tumbled from his lips. "The immunology is not human, it's Wraith."

He turned his head to glance at the screen once more, searching for a cue that would deny the truth unfolding in his mind before the realisation could hit him with the full, combined weight of all the ages.

"Scion," he breathed and then looked, almost in awe, on the awakening woman. "Teyla!"

"Michael, what's wrong?"

Teyla's voice drew him back from the edge of the singularity, the fatalism of which had been staring him down, closing in around him with the blackness and cold of a vacuum. He swallowed, and shook his head.

"It is nothing," he told her, putting a smile onto his face, and softening his expression; allowing her to slip her hand into his. "You are awake. All is well now."

"You looked as though something dreadful had happened," she told him. "I can feel you're unsettled. Is it me? Is it what happened?"

"You are... unwell because of a reaction to the Wraith enzyme in your body," he told her, every word the truth, and yet, as she had accused him before, not quite the whole of the truth. "And because you have inhaled much dust."

She nodded. "My lungs are sore," she confessed.

"The irritation will pass," he said, freeing his hand from hers, and turning to the nearby equipment to pick up an empty syringe.

"Michael, what are you doing? Please..." she asked, and when he turned back, he could see her expression held fear.

"I need to be sure there will be no further ill effects," he answered softly, but his tone was uncompromising. "I will not let anything happen to you."

She swallowed, but nodded her assent.

"I was... foolish," she told him softly, barely wincing as he inserted the needle into the vein in her arm. Glancing up from what he was doing, he tilted his head in query. "I should have stayed aboard the Hive, like you asked. Just... I wanted—"

"You do not need to explain," he told her, watching carefully as the rich redness of her blood filled the vial attached to the needle. He reached for a swab and pressed it to her skin as he withdrew it, gently folding her arm to hold the folded square of linen in place. "What matters is that you are safe. You are not a prisoner here, Teyla, and if, at times, it seems that my instructions confine you, it is only out of concern." He turned to set the sample aside, and to pick up the small jar of paste that he had used on her injuries before. "I have made a promise to you. I mean to keep it."

He set down the healing compound, feeling slightly awkward as he felt her eyes on him almost like a physical touch. He looked away from her, attempting to regain his composure. So much change in so little time, his head swam in it.

"I do understand," she said, drawing his attention back to her. She smiled at him as their eyes met.

Nodding, he held out his forearm, helping her to sit up as she clasped her hand around it, pressing the warmed leather to his skin. For a moment then he remained still, supporting her, waiting to be sure he could sense no dizziness, nothing untoward.

"I am all right," she told him as if she understood his purpose and his unspoken question... as if she knew that he was treating her like glass. "I will go back to my quarters and rest."

"I'll have someone escort you," he told her.

"There's no need," she insisted, slipping down from the top of the bed. As she stood, one of her legs buckled slightly, and she reached out to catch herself on his shoulder. He slipped his arms around her, drawing her securely closer and looking down into her upturned face.

"Someone will escort you," he repeated softly as he held her.

**

The slight scuff of boots on dusty ground announced the presence of the Elder Hive's Commander as the Wraith set foot upon the appointed killing field. Todd stared across the distance between them, his eyes narrowed, his body tense; a burning that travelled from deeper still than the most visceral emotion fuelling his body, keeping him silent and still.

"I must admit, Scientist," the Hive Commander said languidly, "you pick an interesting choice of battle ground." He nodded then toward the woman still lying on the ground between them. "You also make an interesting choice of lure."

Todd said nothing, merely reached slowly behind his left shoulder for the hilt of the massive blade sheathed at his back. He lowered the blade, equally as slowly, in an arc before him until he had straightened his arm, with the sword an extension of it, its tip barely touching the ground.

"Mine was better, don't you think?" The Hive Commander taunted.

Todd stiffened, feeling the weight of the sword seemingly increase in his arms. He took a breath, a deep breath to gather himself. As the young Queen reminded him, he was the son of a Noble House, and as such would he comport himself even if the poor excuse for Wraith that stood before him would disgrace either very existence.

"Nothing to say?" the Hive Commander's taunts continued for a moment longer before taking on the edge of a threat. "No one invited you to provide Her with the science she needed to elevate Her idle musings to insane obsession."

Todd was well beyond caring about the justification of the Hive Commander's actions, barely heard the words, and with another breath spoke, barely above a whisper, but his voice carried anyway.

"I am—"

"Oh, spare me your pomp and ritual," the Hive Commander spat, drowning out Todd's voice, defacing the utterance of his name. Todd continued anyway.

"—a son of the Second House of the Ancient Five," he growled words on a tongue grown unused to proclaiming such a noble lineage.

"What you are is a disgrace to all Wraith," the Hive Commander cut him off. "Imagine… elevating that tainted beast – worse than prey – to the place— to help it hold the privilege of Queen's Consort to—"

"Perhaps if you were able to satisfy your Queen, to see to your duties," Todd's composure snapped at last, and at his damning words he watched as the Hive Commander snatched his own sword into an already trembling hand. Todd knew he had touched a raw nerve. Before he could press his point, however, the Hive Commander scraped his sharpened talons down Todd's last bastion of control.

"I am more than able to satisfy," he hissed, "just ask your little plaything."

Roaring all the pain and rage and every ounce of insult to his honour, and to Alicia's, Todd raised his blade and launched himself against the Hive Commander. His vision flashed red, then white in the heat of his anger, slashing a wide arc in front of him as he spun inward toward the other Wraith.

Blades clashed as the Hive Commander met the upward arch with a defensive downward deflection, and turned then to deliver a strong riposte, which Todd deflected with the sweeping tails of his armoured coat.

A rain of sparks scattered new stars into an overcast sky as, with snarl upon bitter, angry snarl the two Wraith began a deadly fight that went far beyond mere honour and revenge.









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