She wakes, and a man is sitting by her bed, watching.
"How do you feel?" he asks.
"Strange," she says. Without the heavy coverings over her, she thinks she would float away.
He nods. "You've just woken from a very deep sleep."
"Who am I?"
"Teyla," he says. "Your name is Teyla."
She is weak for a long time, too weak to get up. Sometimes he hunts for the life in her wrist, presses his hand against her cheek for the heat, and looks troubled. "Not again," he says once, when he thinks she is sleeping. "Please, not again."
When she wakes, she doesn't ask him what he meant. The thought that he wants her to live is oddly like an anchor. She eats the clear, tasteless soups he brings her, takes the large green pills, and feels the strength spread through her, more with every sunset.
One day, she stretches out her hand to him and lets him pull her to her feet.
He smiles, briefly triumphant.
It makes her happy.
They live in a city of broken towers and tumble-down walls. Birds perch on old stone to sing, and the air is sweet. They walk together on the shattered paths, a little further each day. Michael—that is the name he tells her—guards her anxiously as they go.
Afterwards, they sit together at the top of the highest tower and talk. "I was a wanderer for some time before," he says, and something which is not quite his voice is thick with sadness.
"Alone," she murmurs.
"And then I found you, and brought you here to live with me. Because we are the same."
She was very sick, he tells her. That's why she can't remember coming to the city. She nods and accepts it. The world seems new to her; she cannot imagine it otherwise. Michael's stories are all that populate the universe.
They are attended by servants, dull-eyed, grey-skinned men who say little. Sometimes one with a little more life in his eyes comes and speaks to Michael, and then he leaves her for a few hours. It is while he is gone that it first occurs to her how different he is from them. Handsome, even, she thinks, with depths in his gaze, a prince in blue and silver.
She realizes something else after he returns to their parapet and she watches his throat tremble against the faded sky of an early summer evening: he is in love with her. She cannot tell how she knows, but it wakes an echo in her own mind, and she rests her hand on top of his.
Later, when she is in his arms, he says, "You care for me, then?"
She does not know, but there is such anxiety on his brow that she answers, "Yes."
To her surprise, his face twitches and his chin jerks as he swallows convulsively. "Oh."
"What is wrong?"
"Nothing," he says hastily, and presses his forehead against her shoulder. But it is too late; though she has nothing to compare it to, something about his touch feels wrong now, awkward and furtive.
On their walks, she begins to range further and further, even beyond the city. She can see something that appears to be the remnants of an old encampment not too far away, and feels drawn to explore it, but Michael tells her not to overtax herself. She believes that more movement will only bring her more strength—she aches for it. But she can sense the currents of fear sweeping through him and she gives way to them.
One morning, she catches sight of herself in a pool of water. She has seen her reflection many times before, but that morning, she asks, "Why am I different from all of you?"
Michael frowns. "What are you talking about?"
"My skin," she says. "And my eyes, and my face. They are not like yours."
"Yes. You are beautiful."
Michael is staring at her. His eyes are pale and intent. He seems to be measuring her very breath as she speaks, as if her life could escape into the air with the wrong words. She lets the thought trail away.
Not long afterwards, one of the grey-skinned men comes to them in the late afternoon. His shoulder is bound with a bandage through which blood seeps. Michael hurries him aside.
"I must go attend to an important matter," he tells her when the man has left. "I may be away for several days."
He has never left her alone that long. For a minute, fear grazes her heart, but then she thinks: why should that be? "Very well."
"While I am gone—" He stops, then grasps one hand with the other and starts again, oddly formal. "You may do as you like, but you must not go into my lab."
She stands on the parapet and watches him go. In the dimming dusk, his skin has taken on its deepest mantle of blue.
The city is very quiet without him, without the shadow his mind casts even when he is not with her. No one but a few slow servants remain. She feels abandoned to ghosts.
She has never given much thought to the lab.
There are many things she has never given much thought to. In his absence, they multiply, until her mind teems with questions.
She knows all the city, except that room. On the third day, she paces around his tower slowly, looking up at the windows. The glass is blank and tells her nothing.
What secrets is he keeping from her? She has no secrets at all.
The door is heavy, but not locked. The room is full of metal and crystal. Set on the far wall are seven tanks. She crosses to them and turns the wheel to open one. The cover swings away and she is staring at herself.
Asleep. Floating. Behind glass.
She stifles a scream and reaches out to touch the glass. It is slick and slightly warm. The her inside does not respond.
She hurries to the next one. The same, long hair shifting slightly in the currents.
Again and again. All the same.
She struggles to understand. If she is standing there, then who, what are—
"They are Teylas, too," Michael's voice comes from behind her. She whirls. He is standing in the doorway, hands behind his back. He is not quite able to meet her eyes. "Or almost-Teylas. Growing. The one on the far left will be ready very soon. Though they don't always survive the decanting."
"You make them?" she demands. "You made me?"
The corner of his mouth twitches ruefully. "And never quite right, no matter how hard I try. The real Teyla, she would never—"
"It doesn't matter." He shifts. "I suppose I should be disappointed in you. I ask so little." His hand comes up. He's clutching a syringe. "But, honestly, you're never as close to being her as you are in this moment."
"Michael," she says. "Don't."
He still can't meet her eyes. "I have to."
He comes at her with the syringe. Her arm shoots up unconsciously and she blocks him. Only then does he look at her. "That's right," he says gently. "Fight as hard as you can. She would."
On the sharp point of the syringe, light glints.