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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 4

Todd grunted as the Elder Hive Commander's studded wrist guard caught the underside of his chin, growling as he flew backwards, to land heavily and immediately roll aside. The commander's blade sliced the air where he had been and hit the ground, releasing sparks to bite at his cheek as the metal struck flint-bearing stone.

He thrust upward with his own blade, forcing the commander to back up, or risk being impaled on its sharpness.

Shifting his weight back toward his shoulders a little, Todd flipped himself to his feet and following his own momentum, lunged at the commander. He swept his sword from one side to the other, keeping the other Wraith on the defensive, forcing the commander to give ground.

The commander, snarled and lashed out with his off-hand as he stepped up to meet the next of Todd's earnest attacks. Todd hissed as the other Wraith's hidden blade, a short, narrow tongue of double edged steel, slashed across his arm, slicing through the leather sleeve and cutting into the flesh beneath.

He should have expected the underhand tactics and shifted his hands on the hilt of his own sword to angle the pommel to deflect the commander's repeat attempt, this time to penetrate his side. Then he lashed out, hard, circling the sword around his head to make a rapid downward attack, parried at first, before the tip of the second cross finally breached the commander's guard, and cut a thin, bloody line across the other Wraith's breast.

The commander roared, anger flashing in his eyes as he lunged at Todd. Todd ducked, bending backward almost parallel to the ground to keep him beneath the sword strike. Twisting his body just as he felt his back would give way under the strain, Todd sidestepped inside the Wraith commander's reach, to grab his still outstretched arm, but the commander was ready for him, and wrapped a leg around Todd's ankle, pulling him backwards, to spill them both to the ground.

They fell hard, turning as they did, and the commander completed the roll to bring him over Todd; driving the air from his lungs. Before Todd could recover, the commander drove the barbed cross guard of his blade deep into his shoulder.

Todd's answering snarl of pain echoed off the nearby buildings, and he twisted beneath the bulkier Wraith, swallowing the added pain as the barbs tore free of his shoulder. Half blinded by the bite of it, Todd thrust upward with an open hand, catching the commander under his chin, pushing his head back enough that he could clasp the other Wraith's throat in his talons.

**

Barely breathing, Ayatesha carefully manipulated the instruments, her eyes fixed to the small screen of the microscope into which she peered so intently. She always preferred to work closer, even when computer screens were available. It gave her a sense of immediacy with the samples, a greater understanding. She felt more in tune that way.

She consulted her notes, then reached in to excise the cell fragments she needed and began the work of splicing it into the nucleus of the retrovirus cell.

"Doctor Haddad," Varnerin's voice came from behind her.

She held up a finger of her left hand briefly, before saying, "Wait please."

"No," he told her. "It's long past time that you and I resumed our conversation without the presence of your little… lap dog."

"If that is why you are here," she snapped without looking up from the microscope, "then I suggest you leave. I have far too much to do to waste time on such—"

His fingers closed around her arm and he spun her away from the microscope to pin her to the bench. On an unbidden instinct, she clawed her free hand and with it grasped his throat, her fingers squeezing, restricting his breath, until struggling he slapped hard against her wrist, and backed away, gasping for breath.

"Do not touch me," she warned, pitching her voice low to hide the tremor in it. "I am busy… trying to save a life. What is it you do?" She did nothing to hide the contempt in her voice. Men such as him had set her on her current path, and her hatred of them ran deep. What they had done to her had taken everything from her. "When you came here they expected one that would bring solace, as Kate had done. You have brought nothing but pain."

"Be careful, Doctor," he said, the calm in his voice belying the shocked expression still present on his face. "Your claws are showing."

She snorted loudly, refusing to rise to the bait in his accusations.

"It is only the truth," she said, and stripping off the gloves that covered her hands, crossed the laboratory toward the sink. "No one will talk to you. Ronon left. Teyla is gone."

"Her death has nothing to do with my actions," he protested. "She made her own—"

"She ran from Atlantis when you challenged her about her son." She ran her shaking hands through the water from the faucet, then cupped the cool liquid in her hands and splashed her face. Drying it quickly, she turned around to face the surprise in his eyes. "Yes, Professor, I have made it my business to learn of all the recent history of this place and it seems to me that the stain of her blood mars your fingers as much as it does—"

"The Wraith?" Varnerin interrupted, his tone holding cold amusement. "Let's talk about the Wraith, shall we?"

"What of them?" she asked, tucking her fingers under her arms as she folded them across her chest.

"Well, isn't that what your research involves?" he asked mildly, "so that you can find a way to reverse what's happening to Keller."

"In lay terms, I suppose you could put it that way," she conceded, though it was far in a way more complicated than just that.

"So what have you discovered? What's wrong with her?" he shrugged and began to walk closer, watching her almost as carefully as she was watching him. "How can we anticipate what her needs might be – now and in the future, once you've cured her – you can… cure her, can't you?"

"Doctor Keller is—"

"Oh, and I almost forgot to ask," he came to a halt in front of her. "How are you feeling, lately?"

She frowned at him, her eyes narrowing, uncertain whether she should answer or simply challenge him again. The hairs on the back of her neck stood as though to the touch of a hand as warning pressed through her.

"I—" she said, faltering, confused.

"Well, since the end of your treatment," he said faux-kindly. "Your… cancer?"

"In remission," she said quickly, tightening her right hand into a fist and added quickly, "Insha'Allah."

"Glad to hear it," he said softly, meeting her eyes. She saw none of the concern that the tone in his voice suggested.

"What do you want?" she hissed at him, her teeth clenched against the memory his expression freed.

Her head was pounding, her chest ached from sobbing, her throat raw from her screams. Where her wrists were caught against the restraints they seeped blood and plasma, but she bowed her head, weeping through the respite, her words tumbling in a breathy torrent.

"What do you want-what… do you want…? I told you… told you it is not possible. It will not work, it is too complex… I cannot. I c-annot…!"

She descended into silence, punctuated only by her breathy sobs that came in counterpoint to the bleep of the heart monitor, slowing now – though she knew only temporarily.

"One more time, Doctor Haddad," the dispassionate voice of her interrogator encouraged. "Let's focus… transcription of the key causal chromosomes between the host and the exobiological DNA…?"

Even the question quickened her heartbeat. "Is not possible!" she cried.

"How do we make it possible?"

"You—" she broke off as the uniformed technician got up from his seat to change the canister in the shunt of her IV. "Please, no… no, I—"

The door flew open with a hiss of releasing pressure and she shrank back in her chair, pulling against the restraints, tearing the skin of her arm as the team's leader came toward her. There was fury written on his face, as he snapped at the technician.

"Get her up. Get her out of that chair!"

"Sir," the interrogator answered, "that isn't wise. If she—"

She cried out as the leader ripped the IV from her arm, and started tearing at monitor leads. He grasped her hair and pulled her head back to force her to look into his eyes.

"Time's up, Doctor," he growled.

"Sir!" the interrogator tried to restrain the leader, but was kept away as the man turned and grabbed the front of his uniform.

"There's been an accident," the leader snapped angrily. "Yung's been killed; I lost two of my men; the subject's dead."

"What?" the interrogator exclaimed. "How?"

The leader just shook his head and letting go of the interrogator, turned back to face her.

"She's all we've got," he said, the menace in his voice chilled the fever from her body. "And we're running out of time. Now get her out of that chair!"

She turned a fearful, pleading expression the interrogator's way, and sobbed aloud as he nodded to the technician still at her side, moving past the leader to work on her left as the technician released the restraints on her right.

Her legs buckled as they pulled her to her feet, and the room swam as the pounding in her head reached a climactic crescendo in the symphony of torture still flowing through her blood.

"Wait," she gasped, "please."

Her needs seemed to anger the leader, and he snatched her from the arms of the others, grasping the back of her neck to half drag, half carry her stumbling form to the wide trough at the side of the room, and push her head deep into the icy water which filled it. She struggled, completely ineffectually, and clawed weakly at his wrist, and gasped for air, coughing as he pulled her up, and turned her to face him.

"You better make the smart choice, Doctor, and start cooperating, or so help me, I'll make this," he gestured toward the chair in the middle of the room, "and what your daddy did to you when you were young, seem like a holiday picnic."

"I cannot… give," she wheezed, terrified but refusing to back down, "what is not possible even for God."

Murder flashed through his narrowed eyes, and she retched as his fist drove into her belly. She would have fallen to her knees had he not caught the back of her scrubs in his other hand and hauled her upright. She struggled for air, the edges of her vision closing in and darkening as he began to haul her away.

"Get her something to neutralise this shit in her system," he ordered the interrogator as he pulled her toward the door. "I need her to be able to think straight."

"The same as you," Varnerin answered. "A cure for Doctor Keller – a way to… neutralise whatever Wraith influence… lingers after the experiment."

"No," she argued.

"No?" he frowned, taking a step back as she pushed past him.

"You are lying," she accused. "This is not about Doctor Keller. Ever since you came to Atlantis you have had your own agenda. Everyone knows it. You have a purpose here beyond… anything that might be your remit from the IOA, and I am telling you now – you will not use me to further it."

"So sure of yourself," he growled softly, stepping closer again.

"I know you – men of your kind," she twisted her face into an ugly visage of disgust and contempt. "The destination all important, little care for those you must tread upon along the way. Perhaps I should go to Richard Woolsey, tell him of this little meeting… see what happens. I do not think he would be pleased to hear of it, no matter what he might think of me personally."

His hand flashed forward and grasped the knot of her hair, shrouded by the head covering she wore, and pulled back her head as he leaned toward her, not stopping until his face was inches from her own.

"Don't be a fool, Ayatesha," he growled, his breath rank. "I could break you."

"I. Do. Not. Think so," she whispered into his face. "Real men… have tried, and with greater leverage." She forced herself to keep her head upright, her eyes locked with his, against the instinct to tilt it even slightly to the side. "And I did not bow to them either."

"You're making a mistake," he told her, but he did let go of the light grasp he had on her hair and stepped back.

"Get out," she hissed, rearranging her dress and head covering. "Get. Out."

Immobile, held in place by sheer force of will and trembling with the effort of it she watched as he paced backwards several steps, watching her as he retreated. Finally he turned and, with hurried steps, left her laboratory.

Once he was out of sight, she followed his path across the room to the panel beside the door, praying with every ounce of her being that the door would respond, close and lock without the oft-necessary repeated attempts as she waved her hand in front of the panel.

She sobbed with relief and turned her back on it as the door slid closed, then leaned on it, sinking down to her haunches to cover her head with her arms as she let go of her fear and misery and pain.

**

Unbalanced, and obviously caught off guard, the Hive Commander tried to pull away, taking one hand from the hilt of his blade, to claw at Todd's wrist, letting his sword fall to the side, as he fought to free himself.

Sensing an opening and maintaining a crushing hold on the commander's windpipe Todd shifted his, now one-handed, grasp on his own sword and growling, swung it up toward the commander's back.

The jarring clash of metal on metal as the commander raised his sword, angled diagonally across his back to parry the strike, passed down Todd's already injured arm, numbing it. It happened faster than Todd would have thought possible and added the fuel of frustration to the burning fire of his anger. Gathering the strength of it, and snarling wordlessly, he launched the commander away across the clearing.

It was a brief respite, but it afforded him the chance to climb to his feet and centre himself. He began circling the commander, as the other Wraith moved to keep him in sight. It was a tense stand off, and Todd knew it wouldn't last. He raised his blade, and sidestepped round and around, tipping his head from one side to the other, waiting for the sign that would show him the other was to attack, or retreat enough to encourage his own move against the commander.

The moment came and he rushed the commander as the other Wraith charged toward him, their greatswords already moving to strike. Steel grated against steel high, low then high again, fist left then right, more quickly, as another burst of fury expanded within him.

~…Denied recognition as was fitting…~

The commander's sword swung wildly and Todd jumped back, leaned away, then spinning back full circle, came on again, his sword driving toward the commander's throat. The other Wraith grinned mirthlessly, and raised the hilt of his sword to angle his own blade down, thrusting into the path of Todd's assay. The resulting collision sent a universe of sparks to spiral into the already waning day.

~…assault to the very heart of Wraith…~

Blood ran in rivulets from Todd's injured shoulder, the ache spreading with it, down over his chest, along his arm. At the wrist of his other hand, blood pooled and then sprayed the air crimson with each move he made. Undeterred, he came on once more, harrying his quarry with a series of quick, light thrusts, never serious enough for the need to be turned aside, yet licking ceaselessly at the commander's defences, determined to break his resolve.

~…honour laid waste…~

The commander's concentration finally slipped and as he mistimed his parry, Todd flicked the tip of his blade upward through the opening that remained, carving a slice from the lip of the commander's sensory pit upward on his cheek.

The commander's agony and outrage sang into the red misted evening.

**

Out of sorts, Teyla felt hot and sticky, and the discomfort that had been gathering low in her back, or deep in her belly, she couldn't decide which, became less of an inconvenience, and more of a genuine worry.

She paced her quarters, feeling caged and restless, and one glace at the viewing port told her that they were still in hyperspace, so there would be little opportunity to find fresh, outside air. She craved it… and hard on the heels of that thought she realised that she was thirsty – and hungry – terribly hungry.

She remembered, long ago now, so long that it seemed a lifetime away, a time when Aiden Ford had secretly contaminated the food she and her companions ate with Wraith enzyme, and the gnawing hunger she had felt in the days following her return to Atlantis afterwards. Michael had said that her body had reacted badly to the enzyme of the Wraith that had tried to feed on her, perhaps this, too, was a side effect of her body's struggle against the reaction.

Behind her, Nethaiye grumbled as he woke, and fitting a smile onto her face, she turned and crossed the space to her son's crib.

"Nethaiye," she said his name softly, and he reached for her, wanting to be held. She could feel his infant yearning for the security of her arms. She chuckled softly. "All right, let us take a walk, hmm? Explore this new home of our—"

As she leaned her weight to the left, reaching down to bring Nethaiye to her arms, the looseness in her hip increased without warning, her leg gave way beneath her and she pitched to the floor with a stifled cry. A second later, Nethaiye's hiccupping cries filled the room.

In spite of the pain lingering in her hip, as though she had overextended her muscles in sparring, she reached over and lifted him from the crib, to cradle him close… tears of her own beginning to spill from her eyes.

"Sssh," she bounced her son in her arms, trying to soothe him, and through calming her child, calm herself. Softly she whispered, "It is all right, all is well."

"Madam?"

She had no concept of how long she had been sitting beside Nethaiye's crib, holding him close, and had not heard the arrival of her companion, but looked up as the other woman spoke.

"Is everything all right?" Midani asked, a frown of concern on her face. "I thought you might be hungry and brought food."

"Yes," she answered on an outward breath. "I am fine, and… quite hu—" She stopped with a frown. Hunger still gnawed at her belly, but with it, now that there was food for her to have, a dull nausea began to creep over her, making though thought of eating unappealing.

"Teyla, are you certain you are well," Midani asked. The woman set down the tray and crossed the room to where Teyla realised she must look terribly awkward, sitting as she was.

"I am fine," she repeated, and climbed carefully to her feet, reaching out to squeeze Midani's arm. "Though not quite yet hungry."

"Oh," Midani sounded disappointed at first, and then as though she would panic if she refused to eat. "He said you would be. He said that you would need food and—"

"And I do," Teyla assured her, "but first I should like to take a walk. Perhaps you could… stay and watch Nethaiye for me. I will not be long."

Midani brightened considerably. "I will keep the food for when you return," she said.

"Yes," Teyla answered on another outward sigh, and handed Nethaiye to the other woman. Quite familiar with her, Nethaiye fussed only slightly, and settled at once, when Teyla brushed his cheek with a gentle kiss, thinking warmly of the time when she would return to cradle him again.

**

The satisfaction of the minor victory was short lived. As the commander's cry faded, the massive Wraith leaped toward Todd again and he was forced to give ground, to angle his sword awkwardly to deflect the commander's furious riposte.

"Weak!" the commander accused, turning his blade to strike from above Todd's injured shoulder.

Todd met the attack and countered its descent toward him, circling his blade around the incoming, deadly slice. The commander's blade slid inexorably toward his sword's forté. Hilts clashed and locked together, and Todd rallied all his strength behind the effort to hold back the point of the commander's upwardly curving, and sharpened quillion.

"You sully yourself," the commander accused, "with your associations."

Todd growled, pushing harder against the locked blades, his arms straining, increasing the flow of blood from the cut on his arm to run like rain down over the front of the commander's coat and pepper the narrow strip ground between their feet with red, mercurial balls.

"The girl was soft," the commander's voice was sarcastic, suggestive, hungry, "pliant… the perfect sheath."

Todd's answering roar redoubled his strength. He suddenly dipped his elbow beneath the locked hilts of the swords, pulling the vying blades across his own left shoulder. Drawing the commander closer, he drove his forehead into the other Wraith's descending face, once and then again, until he heard the satisfying crunch of splintering bone.

The commander snarled and pulled back, blade hilts unlocked and Todd stood for barely a moment, breathless with the ferocity of his anger, before moving in again. Dark steel flashed in the gathering gloom, as wordless now, the fight resumed. No tense circling, no tentative, testing strikes, blades clashed, spark spittle flying to light the dismal evening.

To the left, blades hissed through treachery and deceit, to the right through honour and tradition, but between them, Todd knew, the ringing of steel on companion steel was nothing but the voice of death, singing out her desire for the taste of freedom at the hands of the victor.

The commander's sword swung upward and across, Todd parried swinging his blade to deflect the strike off to his left, but the commander stepped in, and before Todd could fully realise the error he had made, the ram of the commander's leg collided with the back of his right knee, and it buckled forward. He stumbled and the commander reversed the direction of his sword-blade, and grasping the ricasso just below the hilt of the sword, and with a downward thrust, forced the point of his sword deep into Todd's shoulder and twisted the blade.

**

"You have something on your mind. Speak," Malcolm ordered as Jethera's fingers worked to unfasten the braids in his hair.

"I question your wisdom in making the threat to Merihanna as you did," Jethera answered. "You know that he is using her to create trouble at every turn, and now you have all but told him that—"

"I have told him what he expects me to tell him, no more and no less," Malcolm purred softly, leaning into the action of her fingers as she massaged his scalp. "It is he that placed the woman between us."

He sighed, tired, and allowed Jethera to soothe the physical aches that still remained from his altercation with the Queen. He pulled the shirt off over his head as she finished unfastening it. The cool of his quarters, in counterpoint to the warmth of the human woman's hands smoothing the oils over the skin of his back, and his shoulders, and over his shoulders onto the front of his chest soon freed his mind to wander in thought and strings of memory.

Years… centuries… millennia… mere children they were before the trembling universe – yet older than the oldest atoms of creation… a spark drawn down from the fabric of the cosmos – forty-six dying stars for the perfection of the First Kin. Eleven there were – eleven pairs… perfect symmetry in their mirrored flesh, a life of yearning, each for the other. Parmhunii. Inseparable. They grew in wonderment of each other, bathing in the light of their unity, and their number swelled, became thirty-three, and forty-four and fifty-five… and their light swelled as age began to pass. But one… named for the fifth star had no mirror nor any match but herself. Her mind quickened as the bodies of the Eleven…grew loud and reached out to them until one heard.

::why do you serve?::

"I am but the light of the stars decanted into flesh to be a mirror to the one that is my self," Malcolm murmured softly. He sighed and reached up to close his long fingered hands around Jethera's wrists as she gently smoothed the palms and then the heels of her hands over the tender new flesh of his healing chest.

"Hmm?" she asked him softly. Her voice and breath came from beside his ear.

"A myth," he answered in soft melancholy. "A youngling's tale – nothing more."

Hardly yet drawn back to the full awareness of his mind, he lifted one of Jethera's hands from his chest and brought it to his lips, to nip softly at the flesh at the inside of her wrist.

"Don't," she whispered, and then moaned softly as his lips were long in lifting away. "Please."

With a puzzled tilt of his head he released her, and turned in his seat to look at her, quirking a brow ridge in query.

"What Wraith commands such loyalty, Jethera?" he asked softly, "Who patrons you?"

"None but our Queen. I—" she swallowed and moved away to fetch the long silken shirt in which he slept. When her back was to him, she finished, "I have no patron."

"Then… why do you refuse me?" he asked. There was no anger in his tone, and truly he felt none, only reawakened curiosity about the woman.

"I am beneath a geas," she told him, helping him to don the shirt, that wrapped around and fastened at one shoulder, before she reached for the ties at the waist of his leather pants. "To live without another's touch or else descend to this… madness of feeding and the long, slow death of our kind."

"From whom did you receive this interdiction?" he asked, frowning still further, but she shook her head, and stood from removing the pants from his legs.

"None you would know," she told him. "It was a long time ago."

"And yet you survive," he narrowed his eyes, stepping toward her as she backed away, "have avoided being fed upon, rewarded…" he lowered his voice to barely above a whispered growl, "…taken."

"I am careful," she whimpered, raising a hand to fend off his forward motion.

He shook his head, not believing for one moment that was the only way she had kept herself from the three main dangers for a worshipper aboard a Wraith Hive.

"You are more than careful, or lucky," he answered, "for one not born of this Hive." He softened then, for no reason other than lenience that was his to grant and in a Hive gone mad with tension and threat, such peace was a rare gift. "But come," he turned and held out his hand. "You have nothing to fear from me today."

Her hand was hesitant as she slipped it into his. He walked slowly, with her at his side, across his quarters toward the large observation port that graced the wall opposite his bed.

"May I ask you something, Hive Second?" she finally spoke as he released her hand, and watched her walk across to lean against the window, staring into the multicoloured streaks of subspace. She glanced his way as he lowered himself to the top of his bed. He nodded once, granting her permission to ask.

"Why do you persist in denying the Hive the commander it needs?" she asked softly and Malcolm sighed. Why indeed? Wraith that were his subordinates were beginning to question why he had not acted. Their Hive commander was lost to madness, ignominy and a hunger for power that rightly belonged to the Queen. Granted the Queen herself was not entirely stable, but that was temporary, and in no small part a reflection of Her commander's ineptitude and dereliction to duty and abrogation of responsibility. As they sped now toward a meeting between the Five, where was the Hive's Commander?

"Speak and speak quickly," Malcolm snapped at the third in command as the two walked into an adjacent room within the lower station, scattering worshippers who took one look at the lightning flashing in the eyes of their Hive Second and fled. "I do not take kindly to manipulation."

"Then act, Hive Second," the Third came straight to the point. "Should we arrive at Conclave with our Queen thus, and our Hive in disarray, they will put Her down as surely as a diseased beast. They may still – should they discover what She has done."

"The Hive Commander will return soon," he said smoothly. "It is only a matter of time before—"

He did not believe the words even as he spoke them, and was somewhat relieved when the Third interrupted, preventing him from uttering his lie.

"That one is incapable of relieving Her Zenith, his dalliance with the worshipper woman has removed all desire from him to do so."

"Then we must remind him—"

"There is no reminding him," the Third pressed. "Hive Second, the time for loyalty to that one is long since passed. With his complicity the Queen fails in Her duty to protect her Hive – actively endangers it with this heretical notion of progress – of evolution?"

"Have a care, Hive Third," he said.

"Oh, spare me!" the Third countered. "You believe as I do. It is madness."

A strong and sweeping cold descended over Malcolm in a sudden rush, his limbs ached, his mind trembled and his heart ceased beating, stealing his breath.

::remove him::

{My Queen} {my Queen} {my Queen}

"What was that?" the Hive Third looked first left and then right, as if searching for the source of the almost tangible presence of the Matron Queen.

"Illusion, Hive Third," he kept his voice mild as he approached the other Wraith, "As you said… there is great tension in the Hive."

{there is great tension in this Hive} {in this Hive} {Hive} {Hive} {Hive}

The other Wraith realised, too late, Malcolm's intent, and by far the weaker of the two of them, could put up no defence worthy of his life. With speed befitting his ancient heritage, Malcolm reached out and snapped the Hive Third's neck.

When he did not answer her, Jethera spoke, still softly, her suggestion tentative, "If nothing else, as Hive Commander you would be able to lift the burden on Isla."

"That burden is already gone," he answered.

"Recall her to your side then," Jethera pressed.

"The Queen is still and will still be our Queen. Forgiveness is Hers to give, not mine," he said, and he surprised himself at the bitterness he heard in his own voice.

"But with the right voices of guidance, She—"

"Enough!" he roared suddenly, feeling a stab of deep pain and resentment for all that Isla had suffered through the Hive Commander's refusal to meet his responsibilities. But for his arrogance, the Hive would not have been destroyed… and all that had gone along with it; the Queen could have been brought to see the folly of her ways, all could have been set to rights. "This matter is at an end!"

"Forgive me, Hive Second," Jethera said quickly, and lowered her gaze as was befitting for a worshipper before her lord and master and not whatever… thing she was. "I speak of matters I do not understand."

"No," he whispered, crossing the room to take her hands in his, his anger gone as quickly as it had come. Touching her mind, as open as she was in that moment, and as deeply wounded as his own mind was – left bleeding for want of the comfort of his companion, he realised the unfathomable truth. "You understand far better than you think."

{I know you} {know you} {know you} {know} {know}

**

The agony was blinding, and for a too-long moment Todd faltered… his buckled knee connected with the ground as the commander drove him down.

On the threshold of defeat his thoughts turned to the journey his life had been: a ceaseless struggle through millennia of scheme and counter-scheme… of opposing servitude and freedom; of mindless similitude and uncomfortable, exciting change.

The exodus of his people streamed from his mind, countless Hives, like swarming insects lit the vast dark of space – ever expanding, widening the distance between themselves, rippling outwards, a tide in the universe; infants at the breast of a neglectful wet-nurse.

Who could have foreseen where that tide would lead them? Few; tremendous few enlightened minds pierced the veil and for their thoughts were tested, sanctioned… murdered by the very kin they sought to save… the once mighty swarm now floated; lifeless, rotting on the stagnant scum of the turgid river; passage of time.

…and he – on his knees before the spectre of that construct – disempowered, ineffectual… lost…

The red star burst, a nova destroying those worlds close by, a bright flash in the sky of a darkening world… pain was shared and passed into the memory of the one that squeezed to life from between thighs, risen like mountains against the sky. The cry of the birthing infant was lost in the dying moan of its host.

…but she had seen. Her mind had been filled with the bright red flash of the universal irony – that every ending is but a new beginning.

~Alicia~ ~Alicia~ ~Alicia~ ~Alicia~ ~Alicia~

His sword clattered against the hardened ground as he fell forward, to catch himself on bloodied hands.

~parmhuna~ ~parmhuna~ ~parmhuna~ ~parmhuna~ ~parmhuna~

The sound was like a bell to him, ringing out the approach of the time when he would lay down the grasp he held on the strands of Wraith future; pass their care into more capable hands than his.

Approaching… but not yet now…

His roar was that of a wounded beast, a great, red dragon rising up on tattered wings. He grasped the hilt of his sword and swung it up one-handed, gathering momentum in the swing to bring the full force of it down across the commander's wrist, slicing into sinew and flesh, and glancing off bone as the commander snatched himself away, cradling the broken remains of his arm, and snarling in a torment of his own as he stumbled back – away.

Todd leaned forward again, breathless with pain, and reached over to grasp the commander's blade, heedless of the edge that sliced his palm as he grasped the metal, still warmed from the friction of their fight, and mustering what remained of his resolve, crying out the agony of it, he drew the sword out from its fleshy sheath.

**

"How much longer are you gonnae keep me in this cell," Carson snapped as Michael stepped into the holding room, "Before you tell me what you want from me?"

"As you are so fond of reminding me," Michael said softly, "you came to me for help."

"Aye," Carson got up from where he was sitting, and took a step in Michael's direction, "and so far that help has been completely unforthcoming."

"Have a care, Doctor," Michael growled, and stepped closer to Carson. "Try not to forget yourself."

"Look," he said, "Michael—"

"Tell me again the progression of Doctor Keller's symptoms," Michael interrupted.

"There were no symptoms. That's what I keep trying to tell you." Carson ran his fingers through his hair and paced away from Michael, trying to keep the frustration from his voice, and knowing that he had already failed. "She just… collapsed in her quarters, and since then has been in and out of total systemic shock."

"Clinical presentation then, Doctor," Michael rumbled the words, pacing closer still, and forcing Carson to back up to keep distance between them. Carson hadn't seen Michael this agitated for almost as long as he could remember. It sent his mind running along avenues of thought, trying to fit all of the pieces together. "If you want my help, you need to tell me what I need to know."

"Michael, what is this, I've already been through the clinical presentation with you… three times. What more can I tell you that I haven't already?"

"Clinical. Presentation," Michael repeated, annunciating each word as if it were a deadly disease.

"Unexplained and maintained levels of Wraith enzyme from initial presentation through to present, escalating nausea, intermittent anaemia, most lately high concentration of peptide hormones, resulting in physical collapse, and then total systemic collapse, where moments of consciousness alternate between delirium and lucidity."

Beckett fell silent, watching Michael's face, trying to read what was going through his mind.

"Immunological reaction?" Michael queried after a long moment of silence.

"Nothing I wouldn't have expected," Carson answered, then frowning, wondering at the origin of Michael's question asked, "Why?"

Michael merely shook his head. "Come with me," he said and turned to walk away.

Carson caught his leather clad arm, knowing he shouldn't have, doubting it would get him any closer to the answers he wanted to hear, but all the same, refusing to be ignored.

"Now just a minute, Michael," he said. "You can't ask me a question like that and then not answer me when I want to know why. If it's relevant, if it can get us even one step closer to finding a way to help Jennifer—"

He stopped as Michael looked down at his hand, snatched the contact away, backing up a step, as Michael looked on, a furious expression on his face. Carson watched as, breathing deeply, the anger turned to concern and then to worry and then he blinked, and banished all expression from his face.

"An… associate of mine was recently attacked by a cloned-Wraith that tried to feed on her," Michael said, matter of fact. "She has since suffered an immunological reaction to the presence of…" He trailed off then, frowning and flicked his eyes away, before looking back at Beckett, and Carson realised that the hesitation came from a realisation that he could not continue without revealing more than he had intended. "… Yes, well, suffice to say she had an immunological reaction to the presence of enzymes from divergent Wraith genomes."

Carson let his suspicions speak a name hesitantly, "Teyla. You're talking about Teyla," he said.

The frown reappeared on Michael's face. "There is work to do," he snapped. "And little time for your idle speculations."

Without a further word, he turned and left the holding cell, and Carson knew he was expected to follow… but did so with a lighter heart and maybe the hint of a smile on his face.

**

"Open it," Ayatesha snapped at the marine guarding the isolation cage in the brig. She waited while the all too noisy force-field lowered slat by horizontal slat and the door slid back, her eyes fixed on the figure inside.

Lorne stood immobile.

They reported he hadn't moved since, in anger, she had ordered him returned to confinement and for her part she hadn't been able to silence the nagging of her conscience, nor the subtext of her confused emotions.

Only when the rasp and click that signalled the full opening of the holding cell's door opening, did Lorne move… slowly… raising his head to find her eyes with his.

He knows why I'm here.

"Leave us, and close the door behind you." she ordered as the marine stepped up beside her, for her protection, but she waved him away when he didn't move. "I will not ask again."

He moved away then, stepped outside the door, and closed it as she had ordered. She knew it would make the man uncomfortable, but cared little that what she asked was outside of protocol. In her experience, she'd learned that protocol was a convenience that was shaken off when it did not suit the purpose of the desired end.

The silence in the brig was absolute as she and Lorne simply stared at each other, before she sighed softly, a long, slow breath and stepped inside his cell, a clear signal… symbolic.

"I'm forgiven then," he said at last, though still he did not move.

"I was… out of line," she said softly. "I offer my apology."

"Hmm," he snorted, and began to circle her with slow, measured steps. "First sign of your weakness… Doctor."

"Not weakness," she answered, still staring straight ahead, "honesty… and there is strength in that… Major."

He continued to circle her, and she remained immobile, controlling her breathing, though her heart raced so fast in her chest she felt almost as though she were fibrillating.

"Tell me," he said coming to a halt behind her, and leaning down to speak the words softly against her fabric-covered ear, continued, "If I were to step outside of this cell…" He moved his hand over her shoulder, down over her arm to the cuff of her dress. "…to the control panel; closed the door…" His fingers moved between the fabric and what skin remained sensitive at her wrist. "…would you feel any more confined than you already do?"

Suddenly he grasped her wrist, spun her round to face him and in the same moment grabbed the sleeve of the arm he held and pulled up the fabric to expose the scars on her skin. She tried to pull away, but he held her too strongly.

"Where is Michael keeping Doctor Beckett?" she demanded, ignoring his question, and trying to ignore the livid red and white scars Lorne had exposed.

Playing her at her own game, he let go of her wrist, but only for long enough to grasp the fabric of her dress and in a single motion rip the sleeve from wrist to shoulder, taking her arm in his hands again, and turning it to expose the surgical scar on her inner bicep. Already the skin around the scar was discoloured – mottled, the spreading capillaries dark.

"Does helping Doctor Keller make you feel… vindicated?" he asked, shaking her arm as if to hold it out to her attention - shaking her. "Restore your faith in humanity?"

"Evan, stop it!" she said, her voice ardent; afraid. She pushed at him, and he let her go so suddenly that she stumbled backwards. "You don't know what you're—"

"Don't I?" he asked, holding up the slim silver cylinder he had taken from her pocket.

"Please…"

"How long has it been, Ayatesha?" he tilted his head, regarding her as he moved closer. This time she backed away, turning to keep him in front of her. "Twelve hours? Twenty-four?"

She shook her head, grasping the bars with both hands as she backed up against them.

"Shall we begin this conversation again?" he murmured as he came to a halt in front of her.

"Seventy-two hours," she turned her head away and looked up. "I had to be sure, and you wouldn't answer my questions."

"You never gave me the chance," he hissed, and surprisingly gently, took her arm from the bars, and uncapping the cylinder, pressed it to her skin, against one of her engorged veins. She pulled against his hold as he administered the medicine, his voice heavy as he uttered the single word order, "Don't."

"I just want to know where to find…" her throat constricted and it became difficult for her to speak, before the burning began to spread, and she forced herself to finish, "…Carson…"

Lorne drew her head against his chest, cradled the back of it in the warmth of his hand, and wrapped his other arm around her waist supportively, holding her close as the trembling in her limbs increased.

"He's. Safe," he told her, each word deliberate, and he lowered himself down with her as her legs refused to support her any more, even as she fought. Lorne's voice came from far away. "Easy… easy… don't fight it."

She laughed as Carson's arms encircled her from behind and he picked her up, spinning them both around.

"Someone's happy," she said, still chuckling as he set her down.

"And why shouldn't I be," he grinned, and kissed her softly, never assuming, always gently. She opened to the kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck as he drew her closer, into the curve of his stoop – she was just the right amount shorter than he. The kiss ended and he looked up at the sky to say, "It's a beautiful day. I have the woman I love in my arms…"

"You finished your research," she guessed smiling at him brightly, and holding him out to arm's length. "You mapped the ATA variance."

"It's better than that," he told her, and wrapped her in his arms again to lift her up and kiss her, before letting her slide down his chest to the ground. "I'm going with them. I'll be able to continue the research first hand, and—"

"What?" she frowned, pulling back. "You are going to Pegasus – to Atlantis?"

"Aye," he confirmed, "I spoke to Doctor Weir about it this morning and—"

"You… are going to Atlantis?" she repeated.

"Y'tesha, listen," he said softly, taking her hand in his and covering it with the other, "I know… it's no what we talked about, but…" She tried to pull away, her eyes feeling suddenly hot with the tears that were gathering behind them. "…no, hear me out. I want you to come with me. Lead up the medical team. We can be together and—"

"No," the denial came out as a moan that rose and fell with the crushing despair she felt. "I can't… Carson, I—"

She shook her head, then shook her hand free of his, turning to push at the door of the balcony, hurrying inside before he could see the tears that she angrily wiped away. She couldn't expose him to the threat hanging over her. If she went with him to Atlantis that would be exactly what she was doing… what they wanted her to do. In Pegasus she would have access to all the resources they would need – immediate access – no excuses.

She couldn't even tell him why she wouldn't come.

She reached the parking lot before he caught up to her, tried to ignore him and reach her car – run, as she had her whole life… from her father… from her past… from herself.

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

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

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

"Evan," she whispered, pushing at his shoulder, weakened, but the worst of it had passed. "I'm all right… let me go."

He moved away enough to let her breathe, and cupped her elbows in his hands as she got to her feet. She left her hands resting against his chest. He said nothing, just regarded her in silence, watching her. She felt as if he were waiting for her to say something, so looked up at him and shook her head.

"There is nothing more to say, is there," she asked softly. "The irony is that, because of what I refused to do, it has come to this. I have been a prisoner, and now that I have been freed, to come to the aid of those I care for, if I am discovered—"

"Damned if you do…"

"…as well as if I do not," she finished. "I need to know, Evan, will Michael harm him. Where is he?"

"I'm sorry," Lorne said softly and stepped away. "I cannot tell you that."

**

Gasping, Todd dropped the commander's blade and blindly reached for the hilt of his own sword.

His green-gold eyes burned with the anger and passion of his renewed resolve. Adrenalin flowed through him as surely as the spill of blood, spreading toward him along the ground from the commander's partly severed hand, and he forced his gaze up from its glassy run to find the pained astonishment in the eyes of the other.

Still unsteady, he levered himself up with his sword, climbing to his feet as though scaling impossible heights, a mountain of meaning in the moment suspended between him and the Elder Queen's Hive Commander.

The vastness of the universe, stretched out on that moment, began to draw inward, to coalesce and sharpen to the titanium strength on the head of an arrow of thought, of truth… of passion…

…the sound of her tears… sleeping and yet she wept.

…the future.

Slowly he raised the tip of his sword from the ground, and clasped it in a hand, sticky with his own blood. Like a lance he gripped the sword, flattening the other hand behind the pommel. He let out a terrible snarl and sprang at the Hive Commander.

The sword struck, sure and true in the V made of the commander's arms as he cradled his injury close to his chest. Todd threw his weight behind it, along with the momentum of the charge, and snarled still more bitterly as the great sword slid deep into the other Wraith's chest.

Still he pushed, and as the spray of blood spread in the air behind the commander as he gasped a disbelieving breath, Todd stepped back, to allow the other Wraith's draining strength to bring him to his knees.

The Hive Commander began to topple sideways, bloody rasping breath and spittle flying from his mouth as he tried to speak. He caught himself, pushing against the fall and with the other, plucked ineffectually, uselessly against the hilt of Todd's sword that slipped only slightly, as the point of the blade lodged against the ground behind the commander as he tipped backwards, pinning him in place.

Todd held his gaze, then slowly – stumbling – reached down to take the hilt of the commander's sword into his hands. He leaned against it, steadying himself, his own breath coming in short and painful gasps and allowed the soft rumble to gather in the back of his throat; words whispered behind the fury of the exploding star for which he was named.

"Die as Queenless as you lived."

As the last word left his lips, Todd swung the blade hard and fast. The passage of it sang a clean, clear note through the air and barely hissed in protest as it sliced through the thick muscled neck of the Elder Queen's former Hive Commander.

A weak fountain of blood sprayed over the toppling head as it bounced off the hilt still embedded in the commander's chest, and came to a rocking halt on the ground by Todd's feet, and giving voice to gathered potential in his throat, Todd drove the tip of the sword he still held down through the top of the skull and into the ground.

The dead weight of the commander slid the Wraith's body backward on the metal holding it aloft, and with a wet thud, his body toppled sideways.

As the last of Todd's strength failed, he sank to his knees, still clasping the hilt of the Wraith commander's blade in trembling hands. He leaned his head against them and his breath came to him in sobbing gasps.

***

Act 5

Regardless of the mental barrage for him to turn back, to turn his scout ship and then his pedestrian course aside, the Red Queen's commander stalked angrily past the guardian drones that stood at the entrance to the nursery facility.

Angered that he had been unable to reach the answers he sought at the facility belonging to the Abomination, he had returned to make what discovery he could in the place where if felt to him that all around him sought to hide the truth from him. His own Matron Queen included.

She had ordered that these young, on which he now looked down from the observation platform as their embryonic silhouettes writhed and twitched within the gestation pods, be allowed to survive, to grow to the fullness of life. Why? What did these nascent Wraith represent to her?

"If she has ordered it," the voice came from behind him, soft, but clipped, which he realised now was but a product of the difference in the Wraith Sentinels, and other Wraith, "why have you returned?"

"To seek answers, Ancient One," he answered without turning as she came to stand at his side. It was only as she did that he realised that his ingress had been met only by ordinary drones, and not by the elite Sentinel Guard.

She chuckled. It was a cold, uncomfortable sound that left him shivering in its wake.

"I have already given you the answer you seek," she told him.

"You gave me nothing," he spat. "Riddles, nothing more!"

"Then allow me to give you more," the Sentinel hissed, and raised her hands toward him. He was ready for her, and turning, caught the underside of her chin on the tip of his swiftly drawn dagger.

"No closer, Ancient One," he ordered. "If there is something you wish to say to me, then you will use words."

"Very well," she chuckled again, with the same shrivelling menace behind her mirth, and with the side of her supernumerary hand, she pushed the dagger from between them, and paced away. In spite of himself, he followed.

"Why do you serve? The One asked the others, for She had seen in the fullness of the time, of which the Eleven had been completely unaware," the Sentinel began to speak, her melodic voice punctuated by the soft clicks of her tongue against the inside of her mouth. "That for each new light that came, full half of the Parmhunii had faded into darkness to be replaced by their progeny while the mirrors of their yearning slept…"

"But the One had no mirror save herself and so had seen," the commander quoted, losing patience, "Why do you tell me infants' tales?"

"Have you stopped to consider what it means, Commander," she asked, breaking off from her telling. "To consider the question and what it means?"

"It means nothing," he snapped. "Myth… that is all."

"For one of such a line," she spat, "you understand so little of your heritage."

"I understand facts, Ancient One," he said, "not myth and supposition."

"Then understand this," she growled unpleasantly, "the Wraith that sired these young seeks to break the hold of the Question… will destroy the very fabric of it with his ambition… tampered with the very blueprints of Wraith his offspring carry within them… closer even than you."

"If that's the case, why not destroy them," he asked, turning to look out over the pods once more.

"We venerate life," the Sentinel answered, tilting her head to regard him with the brightness of her green eyes as another of her Sisters stepped from out of the shadows.

"…closer even than you… or he," she said.

The commander looked between the two Sentinels as they came closer, realising his error only as he took a step back almost into the arms of another.

"Closer even than he… or you."

"Ancient Ones," he gasped softly. "Forgive my trespass."

"It is your queen that trespasses. It is why she will not sanction your destruction of these vipers in our nest, and why you will do nothing."

…and with the combined whispers of the gathered Circle pushed within, and pressed upon his psyche, suddenly, he understood The Question.

**

"Commander," his second in command stepped down from the central control station and all but hurried toward the Red Queen's commander as he stumbled into the bridge. "Are you ill?"

"Prepare to break orbit," he ordered, waving his second in command back into place.

"What course, Commander," the Second asked. "Where will we go?"

"Hunting," he snarled, and with no warning at all lashed out and grabbed a nearby member of his crew. He pinned the other Wraith to the back of the control station and burning with hunger, pushed his feeding hand hard against the other, snarling as he fed.

"Hunting, Commander?"

The Red Queen's commander drew himself upright, taking a deep breath, and tilted his head to regard his second in command steadily.

"Yes," he said, the menace in his voice spreading throughout the Hive. "We go to hunt my dear brother."

**

Malcolm looked out of the viewing port at the nearby Hive with growing unease. Something wasn't right, and he couldn't put his finger on quite what it was. Certainly it was not unheard of for a Hive to approach another under flag of truce, for parlay, but such a request was usually made between Queens, or at the very least between the Hive commanders, yet this had been demanded by a simple textual order.

The stand off that had been created was a tense one, and but for the knowledge that it was the Hive of the Queen's missing scientist, Malcolm knew that peace between the two Hives would have been unlikely. He growled softly. Standing as he was, watching the Darts flying patterns in the narrow corridor between the two Hives, Malcolm cursed the absence of the Hive Commander. It should have been him awaiting the arrival of the scientist.

Footsteps halted behind him, and Malcolm took in a deep breath, preparing to turn to face the visiting commander.

The sonorous ringing of metal falling to the chitinous deck of the observation room, punctuated by the rattle of Wraith weapons being readied in the hands of the guards, sent a terrible chill racing through his blood. When he finally turned it was far more slowly and carefully than he had intended.

There, in the middle of the space between him and where the Wraith scientist stood barely inside the door with, Malcolm noted, his own flank of drones and cloned-Wraith at his back, the Hive Commander's sword rocked from side to side, not yet having come to rest after being thrown to the floor. The reason for that was immediately apparent and Malcolm stared in disbelief into the open, staring eyes of the commander's severed head.

Caught off guard by the moment, looking up at the scientist, Malcolm demanded, "What is the meaning of this!"

**

Todd chuckled, and heedless of the numerous weapons pointed in his direction, took three more measured steps into the Elder Hive's observation room.

"I would have thought that obvious," he purred. "The former commander of this Hive is dead."

~and we must talk, you and I~ ~we must talk~ ~talk~ ~talk~ ~talk~ ~talk~ ~alone~ ~alone~ ~alone~ ~alone~ ~alone~

He waited as the Hive's Second regarded him wordlessly for a moment, before the other Wraith bowed his head once in acknowledgement, and then with an imperious gesture, waved the drone guards away.

"Leave us," he instructed them.

Still teetering on the precipice of exhaustion, Todd allowed the silence to linger between them long after the Hive's drone guards, and his own Honour Guard had obeyed the order for privacy between he and the Elder Hive's second in command. He could feel the other Wraith's eyes travelling over him, assessing, considering… planning his next move. It was a pivotal moment… a moment of danger for Todd and he knew it.

If the other Wraith had ambition, and discovered him still weak, it would be the perfect opportunity for the Second to become Commander, and to eliminate a dangerous rival in the process, on the other hand – and Todd chuckled inwardly, though without much true amusement – what Wraith would want to be commander of a Hive so locked in chaos by its Queen?

When the silence stretched too far, Todd growled, "Nothing to say?"

The second in command took a deep breath. "Commander, I—" he began.

"Wait," Todd interrupted, and raised a hand to forestall any further utterance from the Hive Second. Then slowly, and deliberately he walked forward and with great distaste picked up the former commander's sword, and continued on toward the second in command. Once within reach he shifted the sword so that he held it by the cross and offered the hilt to the other Wraith. "I have no intention of commanding this Hive, and even less desire to do so."

He gave a moment to allow his words to sink in, before he raised a brow ridge, and cocked his head in query at the other Wraith. Slowly, the other reached out, and with a distaste that clearly matched his own, closed his fist around the former commander's sword hilt.

"So what do you want?" the other Wraith asked, suspicion colouring his voice. Todd couldn't help but chuckle as he turned and, confident of his safety, stepped away, spreading his arms.

"What makes you think I want anything?" he rumbled softly.

**

The enormity of the moment settled like a heavy cloak around Malcolm's shoulders as he hefted the former commander's sword – and his severed head – in his hand.

"You have just handed me the command of this Hive," he answered, already running the myriad responsibilities, the changes he would need to make through his quick mind. "I rather doubt you made the gesture out of… altruism."

"Indeed," the scientist chuckled.

"Then what?" he asked.

"It occurs to me that we are in a… unique position," the scientist turned to face him then, "you and I… to drive forward into a beneficial future for our two Hives… an… alliance, if you will."

"An alliance already exists between our two Hives," Malcolm corrected him, clipping the ends of the words. There was something in the scientist's tone that he did not like, mistrusted, something that was like scraped talons on a viewing port.

"Only in as much as I have provided your Queen with the science she demanded," the scientist corrected, his voice suddenly hard. "I doubt very much whether she will care for it to continue, now that she has what she wanted."

"Then what makes you believe that I will?" Malcolm asked.

"Because you are not a fool," the scientist said.

"I do not take kindly to empty flattery," Malcolm warned, and added further, "Nor to empty threats."

"It is simply the condition of my…" the scientist paused, and an expression came over his face that suggested that he was struggling to frame the words to describe his intent. At last he finished, "…stepping aside."

"An alliance?" Malcolm tilted his head.

The scientist nodded. "Between your Hive and mine," he said. "You know full well that, sooner or later, there will be a Conclave. Factions will meet to appoint their Primaries, and the matter of Wraith future will be… very much on the agenda."

"What does that have to do with the importance of an alliance between us?" Malcolm demanded.

"Let's just say," the scientist said, "that there is much that I could offer to the right Conclave, but in order to do so I will require a… patron – a sponsor."

"In other words, you need me to facilitate your position within the Conclave of the Elder Hives." Malcolm translated his understanding of the scientist's words.

"Need?" the scientist queried. "Oh no, you mistake me. I am offering your Hive the opportunity to be paramount in securing the position of the Wraith within the Pegasus Galaxy."

"And if I refuse?" Malcolm bristled at the thinly obviously hidden agenda behind the scientist's insistence.

"I hadn't even considered it," the scientist said, and with an amused spark barely masked beneath an impassive expression on his face, turned to head toward the door.

Malcolm allowed himself a wry smile of his own. He understood the other Wraith far too well; saw in him a quiet ruthlessness that had been absent from the elite among their kind of far too long. Content enough, for the moment, to play along with the other Wraith's design, he nodded to the scientist's retreating back.

{very well… an alliance} {alliance} {alliance} {alliance} {alliance}

"And Hive Commander?" the scientist paused as he reached the door, and half turned to meet Malcolm's eyes.

"Commander?" Malcolm queried, his tone one of respect between equals, as the scientist's had been.

"See to it that your predecessor's concubine is delivered aboard my Hive before I depart."

**

She barely touched the control station, but the overhead light illuminated the platform and the viewing screen began to display a series of scrolling characters. She pulled back her hand, afraid, a creeping unease rising up her spine, and turning, stepped away.

She stepped almost directly into Michael, and gasped softly; startled.

"What is it that you wish to know?" he asked quietly, reaching to steady her, the strength of his hand a comfort to her, calming as he cupped her forearm.

"I wanted to find you," she told him, swallowing down her unsteady breathing, and glancing uncomfortably at the control station as though it had somehow offended her.

"You do not need the control station for that," he said.

-you have only to reach out- -reach out- -reach out- -reach out- -reach out-

…Michael…

"I am here, Teyla," he answered. "What is it that you need?"

"I have been experiencing some… difficulties," she confessed.

…I am afraid…

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

"This is why you have been so concerned," she as much stated as asked.

"Yes," he answered.

She watched him for a moment, pieces falling into place like the tumbling characters from the control station's monitor reflected in the gold of his eyes; tumbling like snowflakes into the rekindled memory of the place, the sensation they had shared – soft white crystals upon the fluid darkness that burst into flames around them.

Michael smiled softly, and gently, almost tenderly cupped her cheek in his hand. She leaned into the touch, her eyes filling with tears as she closed them and turned her lips to kiss his palm.

"It will, of necessity, mean that there will be some small… change in plan, but," Michael swallowed, and she opened her eyes again to find him looking at her in deep, but concerned devotion. "Nothing we can't handle," he finished softly.

"What do you mean?" she asked, beginning to feel a soft yet heavy fizzing in the pit of her stomach.

-promise me something, Teyla- -promise me- -promise- -promise- -promise-

…anything…

She realised as soon as the word entered her mind that she meant it, with everything that she was. In that moment she would promise him the galaxy if she could.

"Do not keep anything from me," he said. "No matter how insignificant it may seem."

"When have I ever been able?" she asked. The fizzing had become a heated buzzing just behind her ears, and the hot, uncomfortable feeling she had experience earlier returned more strongly.

"No, Teyla," Michael insisted softly. "I will have your word on this."

"I promise," she breathed, as the Hive began to spin around her, and Michael lifted her into the protective strength of his arms.

**

"Leave us," Malcolm said softly as he entered the Queen's Private Chamber behind the Throne Room. He remained immobile while the Handmaidens, still present at the Queen's side, scurried from the room as if they could sense his intent. All but Jethera, who walked with a solemn, almost sad dignity and passing him, looked up to catch his eye. My Lord Commander… He fancied he could hear her thought.

"I did not summon you to my presence," the Queen said sharply, rising from her chaise long. The beads in her hair rattled together as she moved, like the warning song of some great snake.

"No, you did not," Malcolm answered. "But you need my presence all the same."

"You presume too much," the Queen snarled.

"And you presume not enough," he answered, matching her tone. He caught her wrist as she lashed out at him, and on her own momentum spun her in his arms, pinning her to his chest as he growled in her ear. "I am here to inform you that command of your Hive has passed to me… my Queen."

"You dare—!" she spat, and broke free of his restraint, hissing like an alley cat and raking out at him with her claws.

In quick succession he blocked her empty-handed attacks, and struck quickly with an open-handed blow of his own, sending her flying backwards across the room, almost to the opposite wall, and in the time afforded him by their sudden distance, unfastened and dropped his heavy leather coat behind him, stalking closer even as she rushed at him again.

"You will not find what you seek here, Second," she shrieked at him, raking at him again, and catching his shirt – tearing the fabric and drawing a beaded line of blood across his newly healed skin.

"No," he agreed. "I will not, but you will find what you need."

She snarled wordlessly, leaping at him. He ducked her incoming swipe, and backhanded the right side of her face, even as he caught her feeding hand and pinned it behind her back, forcing the two of them further into the room, toward the low divan surrounded by the swirling light from the viewing portal above, spinning her again, to pitch her face down, pinning her in place with the weight of his body, and snarling, sank his teeth into her shoulder, breathing deeply of the pheromones which instinct alone released in her.

She arched her back, pressing the side of her head to his, necks entwining like two great drakes battling for supremacy as she sought to remove the touch of his mouth from her skin.

He felt her temperature rise beneath the press of his body, and saw the beads of perspiration gather on her suddenly flushed cheeks, and held a moment longer against her struggling before, snarling, he turned her beneath him. He held back the claws that still raked at him, fought him, and her own instinct both.

He caught her feeding hand and entwining their fingers, feeling the rush of enzyme over his palm, pressed her hand back against the cushion, keeping her pinned while he deftly freed himself from the rest of his restrictive clothing, feeling the alternating rejection and deep rooted need to feel him as a part of her that warred through her body… her mind…

{surrender} {surrender} {surrender} {surrender} {surrender}

=never= =never= =never= =never= =never=

{you are mine} {mine} {mine}

=I belong to no male= =no male= =no male=

She hissed as he nipped at the side of her neck, nipped harder and was rewarded by the rich taste of her blood, as maddening as it was soothing, and pressing hard against her hip, he undulated over her, rending the silken gown she wore with his own claws, and cupping the all too female curves of her body in the palm of his hand; dripping enzyme with each touch.

She snarled again, once more entwining her muscled neck with his, but this time when her teeth raked his skin it was with the heat of passion, not out of denial, her tongue lapping fire over the skin of his neck, his shoulder, and gasping amid the snarls she spun them, straddling him to rake her nails over his chest and downward, to clasp his heat in the palms of her hands, coating him with her own slick enzyme.

Growling he wrapped her hair around his fist, spilling beads to roll unheeded over the floor of her chamber, as he drew her back to him, turned them again, writhing in the struggle for supremacy in this mating fight until he had her pinned, and snarling in chorus with the Queen surged within her, deep and strong.

She stilled, head falling back then as he pulled away to claim her again, arched her back, and cried out as she met him, hip to hip.

"…My Commander…" she hissed…

=commander= =commander= =commander= =commander= =commander=

…and opened to him as he began to move with strong deep strokes; showing no mercy, claiming her completely as their snarling cries punctuated the hissing of skin on skin.

Swollen and engorged he opened within her, clasping true and drawing from her a guttural moan that only buoyed his instinctive passion. She turned them then, riding him hard, and through the link he had allowed her to weave, he felt the too sweet pain of their coupling driving her pleasure, filling her with it… demanding more, and she surrendered – drawing back her feeding hand, and slamming her clawed maw against his chest.

He gave her but a moment of it, hissing loudly and arching his back as she began to feed, taking him deeper still, drawing him higher into pleasure of his own pain. Then he mantled his own feeding hand and latched on true and feeding as deeply from her as she did from him… each sustaining the other in destructive ecstasy.

Turning her again without once breaking the rhythm of their mating dance, he rose over her, truly claiming her, their bodies a circle of creative and destructive energies, until they were almost filled with it…

Her trembling began… a mere heartbeat later she screamed a deep primal cry as everything she was contracted around him, squeezed him as he thrust deeply, and exploded within, seed and enzyme mingling within her, spreading outward like a wildfire, burning away all unnecessary influence.

Limp – spent – she fell against the cushions, breathing hard… withdrawn into herself completely as her body released his, and unlatching he left her, holding himself barely under emotional control, he crossed the room – away.

She lay, unmoving as he went to his coat, and from his pocket took a syringe, already filled with a deep purple fluid.

"I was the one that summoned you," the scientist confirmed, then looking at the Queen, as if to confirm Malcolm's unspoken suspicion, said, "There will be no new queen from this union, but she will have needs. You will see to them."

Pushing at her thigh to give him access to her femoral artery, he quickly injected her with the serum, then leaning over her once more, he pulled back her head to bring her still glazed eyes to his.

"Hear me, my Queen," he growled, "I will serve as your commander, and act for the good of this Hive, but you cannot. Command. My loyalty beyond that. It is not yours to command."

{not yours to command} {not yours} {not yours} {not yours} {not yours}

"My loyalty lies with one that has come before."

{come before} {come before} {before} {before} {before}

"Whom you will serve."

{you will serve} {will serve} {serve} {serve} {serve}

Fin









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