It hadn't been easy for Michael to learn to dream. Wraith didn't sleep from day to day, and he had been disconcerted, even terrified, by the visions that overtook him when he closed his eyes now. Even after Dr. Heightmeyer had explained them to him, he never really got used to them; their vividness, their disordered logic threatened to undermine the fragile reality of the humanity he'd constructed for himself.
And there were more…prosaic problems, too. Certain very particular images haunted his dreams. He had been astonished to realize that his body responded to them as if they were real. The first time he'd awakened to stiffened sheets, he'd stripped them off his bed in an embarrassed rush and thrown himself into the hottest shower he could stand. He hadn't been able to meet Teyla's eyes for a full day afterwards.
But that night, as they'd scrambled last aboard the puddlejumper about to escape a hive, she had given him a look that had made him stumble. It told him that she felt the hive as he did. Except that where he had felt driven to surrender himself to the whole, she had felt the yearning to master it, to wrench control away from the other queen. It took every bit of his painfully-cultivated self-control not to sink down before her and spend the trip back at her feet. And he'd known then what he'd be dreaming of later.
But he hadn't expected that when he woke, achingly hard, Teyla would be sitting on the edge of his bed in a slip of a nightgown, dark eyes glinting.
"I have come," she murmured, one hand trailing so close to his erection that his hips jerked up involuntarily. "I tasted your dreams, Michael."
She knew. Maybe she had known before. He turned his head away, flushing. "I'm sorry. It just happens, I can't control it—"
"I do not want you to," she said.
He jerked his head back and stared at her. Her posture was regal. Her hair fell freely around her shoulders. Her breasts stood proud beneath the thin film of her garment. "You…" His voice dried up.
"It is for me to control, is it not?"
Her voice was thoughtful, wondering, as if she was a little in awe of what she felt he would give. "Yes," he said, hoarse with fervency. "Oh, yes."
She smiled, such a predatory smile that his heart seized up with the desire for obliteration. Whether it came from terror or arousal didn't matter at all. "Good." Her hand fell onto his hardness, and he made a strangled sound. "There must be no doubts about your loyalty, Michael."
You have my loyalty, he would have said, you have everything I have to give, even the things you took from me against my will, I'd give them to you again, but he could never say such things properly in the crippled language of the humans. He was relieved to see that Teyla understood this, too, as she moved on top of him to accept his profession in her sweet wet softness. He knew then that they were bound, that this was no human way of joining and for her to take part meant giving way to the alien in herself. When she threw her head back and cried out in mingled triumph and pleasure, he knew she was closer to him than she could ever be to the teammates he so envied.
The juddering uncontrolled spasms of the human orgasm startled him as they always did. He felt her kiss him on the forehead, but before he could order his scattered thoughts and open his eyes, she was gone. For a moment, he felt startled, even bereft. If it hadn't been for her scent lingering in the air, he would have thought it had been the cruellest dream of all. But then he realized that their encounters would have to be so: swift and fierce and devastating. Anything else would not satisfy either of them.
He closed his eyes again and turned over, eager to dream.
II. A la guerre comme a la guerre
Teyla felt the tickle in her mind as she moved alone down one of the corridors of Michael's abandoned base, and her stomach fluttered with a familiar dread. She knew that strange pressure, not human, not quite Wraith either; it meant some twisted survivor of one of his experiments lingered on nearby, and would become their grim responsibility. The Atlanteans did not believe in mercy killing, and Michael usually left no people for them to return his victims to, so they dragged out their last miserable days in the infirmary.
"Hello?" she called. "Can you hear me? We have come to help."
There was no response. The tunnel she was following dead-ended abruptly in a smooth wall. She touched her earpiece. "Rodney? There may be a prisoner down here. Can you identify any routes south of my present location?"
"There's something down there, but I can't get a clear picture," came the answer after a moment. "I think it's shielded."
"Be careful, Teyla," John said. "They're not always friendly."
She had to bite back the remark that she knew that quite well. She had seen more of Michael's victims than any of them, after all.
"I'm not far," Ronon came in. "Want some help?"
"Not at the moment," she said, glad to know that he would honor her request. She ran her hands over the wall, looking for a catch. The stone abruptly gave way under her fingers, creaking open to a short corridor of metal—and then she was on her knees, vomiting, the wave of nausea so intense it was a long moment before she could remember where she was.
The sensation had been in her mind. Whoever was lurking in that chamber very much did not wish to be found. She got up and stepped cautiously through the door.
The chamber was like a tiny, windowless infirmary—or a prison. Medical cabinets crowded the small space, ranged protectively around a bare metal bed. On the bed, beneath a tangle of dull green blankets, lay a thin figure, turned away from her. She could make out only short, colorless hair and a mottled blue jaw.
"Go away," he husked out, and the nausea surged around her again, then fell away feebly.
Teyla stopped. "Michael?"
The figure flinched. Then he turned over, and Michael's eyes gleamed feverish up at her from a face so starkly bony that it reminded her of the ruins left behind by the Ancients.
"Ah," he said, "of course. Whatever else I lose, that name will cling to me."
"What has happened to you?"
"Isn't it obvious? Nature. Taking its course, as it probably should have done years ago. I can't digest anything. All my systems are shutting down."
She had realized when she was a prisoner aboard his hiveship that Michael was experimenting just as ruthlessly on himself as he was on his prisoners. His body must have finally revolted against the endless, unpredictable changes.
"Are you in pain?"
She was moving in, automatically, reaching for her first aid kit, but he came up on one elbow and snarled at her, eyes flaring wide. She jerked back, and he sagged down again. "Spare me your solicitude," he murmured.
"I will summon a medical team," she said, voice carefully neutral.
"So you can strap me down to another hospital bed in Atlantis?"
It was true, the idea revolted her. She could imagine the Atlantean scientists clustered about him, probing and prodding. Perhaps they would even take him to Earth for further study. With supportive care, he might live for some time. But--"You know I cannot leave you here, Michael."
"It won't be long, Teyla." His eyes strayed to a syringe on a shelf halfway across the room. "I would have hurried it myself, but…" He sighed. "It seems it is very hard to relax your grip on life when you have clung to it so hard for so long."
She looked at the syringe herself, and a knot tightened in her throat. It was a greater kindness than any of his victims got. He did not deserve it.
"Teyla." John in her ear again. "Got anyone for us? I can send a medic down."
"Yes, because I really enjoy sharing the jumper with the Night of the Living Dead extras," Rodney chimed in. "They all smell like blackboards."
She clicked off her comm. Reluctantly, she said to Michael, "Is that what you want?"
"No." He shut his eyes, dropping his voice almost to a whisper. "Now that you are here…"
She moved closer, cautiously. "What?"
"I want the warrior's death you should have given me the first time we met."
She looked down at the knife strapped to her thigh. She did not trust herself not to exult in the blow, not even in Michael's present condition. "I cannot kill a helpless man."
"Ah, your compassion," he said, and laughed hollowly. "The most exquisite instrument of torture I have ever known."
She grimaced, but reached for her comm.
"Which makes it all the more ironic," he continued, dreamily, cheek pillowed on one bony hand, "that I did this for you. I knew you could never accept me as long as I fed on your kind. I thought that if I…that you would…"
His voice trailed off, and she unexpectedly found herself fighting back tears. All along, she had known it was wrong. All along, she had known that her actions had been more of a salve for her own conscience than any mercy to him. Here were the last repercussions of her cruelty.
But she collected herself just as quickly. Tears were useless—more of the same. The false kindness they had practiced far too often. Michael was of Pegasus, and he deserved to die in the Pegasus way.
"Teyla?" Once more, John. "Am I going to get a situation report, or am I going to have to send someone down after you?"
Michael's eyes stayed half-shut, but she could see the tremble in his throat.
"There is nothing for us here," she said into the comm, and turned it off again.
"Lie still," she told Michael, and drew her blade.
III. like a photograph of yourself, taken from far, far away
Michael regretted the malicious pleasure in his tone the minute he saw Teyla change color. She put her hands to her head, and it was only the promise he'd made to himself at the very beginning never to touch her against her will that kept him from reaching out to steady her.
She hadn't wept a single tear when the child had been stillborn. She hadn't said a word when she'd received the intelligence that Sheppard had been officially reported as missing in action. She hadn't so much as flinched when he'd told her of Ronon's death in battle. Each time, he'd wanted to kneel down in front of her in admiration.
"You are lying," she said after a moment, taking her hands away and speaking with great evenness. Too much evenness. He knew her well enough now to recognize that.
"I'm not," he said. "I know you can sense that. Atlantis is gone. They've given up on this galaxy and gone home."
"Rodney," she said. "Rodney is still there. He would never—"
"But he did. I don't suppose his superiors gave him a choice."
"Oh," she whispered. "I see."
She started to turn away, but her knees buckled, and this time Michael had to move to support her. He braced for a stiff-arm away, even a blow, but she didn't even seem to be aware that he had done it. Her eyes looked out hopelessly at nothing, and her hands hung limp.
She was so fragile in his arms, fragile and breathtakingly beautiful even dazed as she was, and he'd never hated them as much as he did in that moment. He wouldn't have been fooled for a second by the corpse of a clone, with hands and feet uncallused from bantos practice, skin unmarked with hard-won battle-scars. He would have sensed that she was still alive, even halfway across the galaxy. He would never have given up hope that he'd find her, no matter what.
She had to see it now—see that she had never really been one of them. See that they were not worthy of her. She had denied it for all the long years of her captivity, but she could pretend no longer. He had foreseen that the moment he had first heard the news, but he had not foreseen this, the way her collapse could overthrow him, as well. He considered the ache in his chest with wonder. Was this compassion? A poison that could make even a great triumph like this rot with sorrow?
Whatever it was, he could help her. She had never let him help her before.
"Teyla," he said gently, and he turned her face to his. "It doesn't matter. Let them go. I'm still here, and I'll never leave you."
She stared at him blankly, then shook her head.
But she hadn't pushed him away. "I promised to take care of you, Teyla," he breathed. "Let me take care of you."
He kissed her, as delicately as he could, heart pounding, so alert for her reaction that he scarcely noticed what the kiss itself was like. She didn't fight him, and when he started to pull away, her hands fisted in his tunic.
"Michael," she gasped, and kissed him back, desperately.
"Yes," he assured her, gathering her to him. "Always."
IV. Mutatis mutandis
When the woman awoke, Michael Kenmore was the one stationed in the infirmary's observation post. She stared straight up, dark eyes glittering in the soft white glow of the isolation unit's lighting, and for a moment he thought she was meeting his gaze. But he was behind the one-way glass—that was impossible.
He touched his comm. "Dr. Beckett? Dr. Weir? I think she's awake."
She was seated on the edge of the bed, ramrod-straight in the scrubs they'd given her. She gave him an appraising look as he approached. He smiled.
"Hi, Teyla. I wanted to see how you were doing. I'm Lieutenant Kenmore. Michael."
"Michael," she said, cautious but interested. "They told me you led the team that rescued me."
She was so tiny and vulnerable compared to when he'd seen her last. It was disorienting. "I did."
He waved a hand. "No need. It's what we do around here."
She scrutinized him more closely. "But…there is more than that, isn't there? Are we…friends?"
He hesitated for just a second. Help her feel she can reintegrate, Heightmeyer had told him. It will make it easier on her. "Yes, we are."
Now she smiled. "That is good news."
"So you don't remember me? Anything about me?"
"No. It seems I do not remember anything about anything."
She sounded more annoyed than frightened. Brave, he couldn't help thinking. In her position, he'd be scared out of his mind.
"Don't worry," he said. "I'm sure it'll come back to you."
"I—" A thought arrested her, and her face darkened. "Yes, I am sure you are right."
"Get some rest. I'll see you tomorrow."
"You were the diplomatic representative to Atlantis from a people called the Athosians," he said the next day. "Skillful fighters, and 'brilliantly post-technological,' as Rodney would say."
Teyla touched the bantos stick which stood against the closet. "A weapon?"
"Your favorite for hand-to-hand combat," he said, lifting it easily. "It's called a bantos stick. Every student of the art makes their own when they come into adulthood. This is one of yours."
"You seem to know a great deal about the Athosians."
"Yes, well, I lived with them for most of last year."
He had certainly never expected to have that job when he stepped through the gate. But it wasn't safe to leave an anthropologist or a diplomat with them, and he'd been in the science, technology, and international affairs program at Georgetown, which made him the Marine most qualified to pretend to be a diplomat.
He hadn't expected to like it so much, either. He hadn't expected to find it weird to come back and hear the word "Earth" every ten minutes. He hadn't expected to find himself kneeling for the mourning ceremony one fine day in October, when there was no one to see.
"Why did you come back?" Teyla said, snapping him out of his thoughts.
"The Wraith," he said quietly, and there was no need to fake the sadness in his voice. This part of the story, at least, was completely true. "They culled the whole planet."
Her eyes widened. "So I…"
"You were visiting Atlantis at the time," he confirmed. "You're the only survivor."
The lie was bitter in his mouth. When Sheppard had told him that they'd decided to tell their captive Wraith queen that she was an Athosian, and to make him her guide to their culture, Michael's first impulse had been to deck him. Sacrificing the memory of the Athosians to their dubious experiment was disgusting. But he'd decided, in the end, that it was kinder than telling her she was from Earth.
"I see," she said, and held out her hand for the stick. She weighed it in her hand, thoughtfully. "Tell me something, Michael."
"Sure," he said, though he dreaded every question.
"When I was captured by the Wraith, was I seeking vengeance?"
Why not. They'd restricted him to base and he'd spent four days and nights dead drunk, until the desire to jump onto a hiveship with a P-90 and a lot of C4 had receded a little. "Yes."
Her eyes were iron. "Good."
By all rights, it should have been Ronon doing Teyla's physical therapy. But Ronon refused even to be in the same room with her, and Sheppard was too busy, which meant the job fell to Michael.
"Are you all right with this?" Elizabeth had asked him.
In fact, he wasn't sure, but he was a Marine, and he knew how to take orders. Circling her now, he felt even less sure. He was tense with the memory of the last time he'd faced her, expecting her to turn lethal any second, and yet he kept being distracted by the strange elegance of her line. There was something ever-so-slightly off about the way she carried herself, something not quite human, and it was mesmerizing and disturbing at the same time.
"Again," he said. "Parry, strike, turn, block, and flip—"
But he was able to catch her wrists again, forcing them away. She looked down in anger and frustration, as if she felt betrayed by her own body. "I should be able to do this," she said through her teeth.
"You can," he assured her. "You're very good." After a pause, "Better than me."
After all, it had taken four men to bring her down, and two of them had been in the infirmary for a week.
This time, it happened; she picked up a blur of speed, got beneath his block, and had him down before he knew it, straddling him, her hand at his throat.
"I told you," he gasped, disoriented.
"Ha!" she cried triumphantly. She didn't stand up, though, and he quickly became aware of the press of her thighs against his torso. Her smile acquired a subtle, cruel overtone, and she shifted against him, slowly, as if she were recalling a movement. Michael felt himself sinking back into a second wave of dizziness.
Then the weight was off him, and Ronon was booming out, "You keep your tricks to yourself!"
Michael sat up. Ronon had Teyla pinned up against the far wall, his hand tight around her throat. Had he been watching the whole time? Teyla spat in his face, clawing for a grip on him.
"Ronon! Let her go!"
He wasn't Ronon's commander. He wondered if he'd have to call Sheppard, if he'd even get there in time.
"Ronon! We were only sparring!"
Ronon looked at him with a mixture of pity and disdain. "Yeah, right—"
Taking advantage of his brief distraction, Teyla brought her head crashing down into Ronon's. He reeled, dropping her. She landed awkwardly on the floor, dazed herself.
"Colonel Sheppard," he said into the comm. "Colonel!"
But one of the guards must have already radioed him, because the colonel made an appearance seconds later, skidding into the room just as Ronon began to steady on his feet.
"What the hell is going on here?"
"A misunderstanding," Michael started to say, but Sheppard had obviously already sized up the situation—he stepped in between Ronon and Teyla, blocking off Ronon's line of attack.
"Get her out of here," Sheppard snapped at Michael.
He hurried to obey, raising her to her feet, but when they were in the corridor again, she shoved his arm away.
"Get your hands off me."
There was real venom in her voice. Blood ran down her cheek from a cut on her forehead.
"Teyla, you need to—"
"Enough! I will go to my quarters," she said. "The guards will take me, I am sure."
He stood there helpless as she swept off.
Michael didn't see Teyla for the next few days. Her physical therapy had been "temporarily" suspended, and she wasn't visible in the mess or the corridors. As he performed his other duties, though, his mind was usually half on her. He wasn't the most chivalrous guy in the world, but the image of Ronon strangling her haunted him. They'd told her she was one of them, and she was trying to fit in, and then they'd tried to kill her. No wonder she was angry. If she only knew…
The third night after the attack, he woke from an uneasy dream and decided to walk it off. Pulling on a sweatshirt, he stumbled out the door and set out to make a circuit of the command tower. Halfway around, near the infirmary wing, he heard multiple footsteps. He thought it might be a team returning from an emergency mission, but when he rounded the corner, he saw that it was Teyla, in pajamas and a robe, accompanied by two tough-looking female Marines.
He nodded at the Marines and kept moving, intending to avoid Teyla's eyes altogether. But as he moved past, he heard her voice.
He turned back. She'd stopped. "Yes?"
"May I speak with you?"
She glanced at her guards. He understood.
"It's okay, sergeants. I'll make sure she gets back to her quarters."
They looked at each other, then nodded and left. Feeling the need to keep control of the situation, he picked a corridor at random and struck left into it. Teyla followed.
"So," he said, "what keeps you up so late?"
"I went to see Dr. Beckett for some sleeping pills."
"Can't sleep?" he asked sympathetically. She did look tired, with her mouth set in a glum line and her eyes half-shut.
They'd passed into the Ancient aquarium, which the xenobiology teams had slowly been repopulating with local species. The tall tanks twisted and curved in a kind of labyrinth around them. The captured fish glittered as they darted about. He didn't think it would be kind to ask her what she'd dreamed about.
"You might want to see Dr. Heightmeyer about that," he offered.
She shook her head sharply. "No."
He accepted that silently. They wandered a little further. Finally, Teyla said, "Why does Ronon hate me?"
"He's had a hard time. Anything to do with the Wraith, he tends to overreact to."
He realized too late that he had said more than he should. She stopped short, so that he nearly stumbled into her, and looked up at him. "What did the Wraith do to me, Michael? Why is my own mind closed to me?"
She sounded half-tired, half-angry. Michael had the uncomfortable realization that his body still remembered the press of hers and was reacting accordingly. He hoped she didn't notice. That was all she needed, another officer to be leery of. He took a half-step backward. "I—I don't know. I really don't."
"Nothing here seems familiar. Nothing seems right."
He didn't know what to tell her. He couldn't exactly admit that he felt the same way.
"Is this amnesia some kindness of Dr. Beckett's?" she demanded, moving even closer. "Is what happened to me such an atrocity that he thought it better that I be made to forget?"
He winced. When you put it like that—
"No one made you forget on purpose, Teyla. I promise."
"I dream," she said, and suddenly glanced to the side. A jellyfish was floating behind her head, bathing her features in an eerie glow. "I dream of Wraith males touching me, Michael. I dream that I welcome it. I dream that afterwards, I kill them, and they accept their deaths at my hands. Joyfully."
It was hard to breathe. If she was remembering all that, senior staff needed to know. If she was dreaming she was a queen—
"You're a human," he said desperately. "Just a normal human that got captured by the Wraith, but now you're home. There's nothing wrong with you."
All at once, she was focused on him, focused on him completely as she'd never been before. Her eyes shone with the reflected light. "Show me," she said, and put her hands on his shoulders.
His own hands automatically rose to her hips, but he said, "Teyla, you don't want—"
"Show me," she repeated, and kissed him. Her lips were soft, but the kiss was hungry and fierce, and she caught his lip in her teeth as he started to pull away. The twinge of pain thrilled right through him, knocking most of his higher brain functions right offline. He surged closer and caught her robe to pull it off, but, abruptly, she pushed him away.
He blinked. "Teyla?"
"That's enough, Michael," she said firmly. "Thank you. I would like to return to my quarters now."
"All right," he stammered.
He led the way in silence. At her door, he hesitated, wishing she would invite him in and terrified that she might. But she only said, "Pleasant dreams," and slipped inside.
He slept for only a couple of hours before he was jolted awake by the comm and summoned to Dr. Weir's office. It wasn't light yet, and the walk down felt surreal, like the first time the Wraith had attacked the city and no one had slept for days. When he arrived, rubbing his eyes, Weir, Sheppard, Beckett, and Heightmeyer were all waiting for him.
"We heard you had an encounter with Teyla," Weir said.
Michael stared for a minute, thinking that someone must have seen them in the aquarium, before realizing that it was just that the guards had reported. "Yes, Dr. Weir. I ran into her in the hallway. She seemed to want to talk to me, and I thought she'd do so more freely if she wasn't in the presence of guards. So I assumed responsibility for her security."
Sheppard frowned. "That was risky, Lieutenant. The protocol is to have her accompanied by two armed personnel at all times."
He bristled. "It was the command staff that instructed me to hold myself out to her as her friend," he said. "It wasn't my choice, and, to be honest, sir, it's not the kind of thing I signed up to do. If you want me to stop, I'll be glad to."
Weir raised a hand. "It's all right, Lieutenant. Just tell us what you talked about."
He was still feeling defiant. Did they really want to know? "She said she was having trouble sleeping. She's upset that her memory isn't coming back. I think she's afraid that she was…assaulted." He looked directly at Weir. "You know what I mean."
She nodded, a little embarrassed, and he felt an odd satisfaction. "She thinks that she's blocking out that kind of traumatic memory."
"It's a rational conclusion," Heightmeyer said. "And, in some ways, not entirely inaccurate."
Weir flinched and rested her forehead on her hand. Michael saw the little lines of worry around her eyes and wondered just how far in over their heads they all were.
"Now, I hardly think that's fair," Beckett protested. Heightmeyer didn't take any notice of him; she was still looking intently at Michael.
"Did she talk about anything else?"
He didn't like the avidity of her eyes. Didn't you take an oath to do no harm? he wanted to ask. He looked back at Weir. "What's all this about, anyway? Did she do something?"
"There's been some question," Weir said very carefully, "about how long the experiment should be allowed to continue."
"We knew it was a security risk from the beginning," Sheppard put in. "We knew we'd have to stop it if it started getting out of hand."
It? Michael felt sick. "Is it getting out of hand?"
Sheppard shrugged. "You saw Ronon."
"I saw Ronon attack her, yes."
Sheppard started to sputter a response, but Beckett said reluctantly, "Some of her test results are a wee bit worrying, the past few days."
"So," Heightmeyer said, "when she offers to speak to one of us, it's a critical glimpse into her state of mind."
"She won't talk to you," Michael realized, almost proud.
"Is something bothering you, Lieutenant?" Sheppard snapped.
"The same thing that's bothering all of you," he said. "How to justify executing a human prisoner."
There was a grim silence.
He straightened up. "No, Dr. Heightmeyer, Teyla didn't tell me that she was planning to escape, or attack anyone here, or signal the Wraith with our location. Is there anything else you were worried about?"
She regarded him with her cool blue eyes. "Should I be worried about you, Lieutenant?"
"No, ma'am. I know what I have to do." He paused, looking at them all, then turned to Sheppard. "Am I dismissed, sir?"
Sheppard's irritation seemed to have subsided into weariness. "Yes, Lieutenant. But, Lieutenant—" Michael stopped in mid-step. "If she has a private talk with you again, I don't want to hear about it from someone else first. Got it?"
If at all possible, he wouldn't hear about it from anyone.
"Are you sure you want to go through with this, Lieutenant?" Weir asked two days later.
He didn't like her tone. Something in it made him think she had already given up—or was eager to. He'd had to fight hard for his idea. Sheppard didn't like the security risk, Heightmeyer said it might bring back the wrong kind of memories, but Weir just hadn't wanted to "commit the resources," which was weird, considering it was only three Marines for an afternoon.
He gave her his most earnest face as he shrugged on his tac vest. "I don't see how she can really accept our story if we don't give her something more concrete to hold onto. We'll be safe. The Wraith have no reason to return to a culled planet, and three of us should be enough to scare off any scavengers."
"That's not what I meant."
He checked his gun, carefully avoiding her eyes. "I know."
She started to say something, then stopped. She must have already gotten used to this with Sheppard. The comm chimed. "Away team's ready, Lieutenant."
"Thanks, Chuck." He holstered the gun and tried to smile. "We'll only be gone a few hours, Dr. Weir. I promise."
"All right, Lieutenant. Have a safe trip," she said, and he left her office.
Stepping out of the gate onto Athos was shocking. It was bright noon. The forest was as shaded and quiet as ever. He could hear the song of a blue-tail not far off, and the murmur of water. The smell enfolded him: piney and resinous, rustic and comfortable, assuring him on a deep, almost subconscious, level that he was in a familiar place, a place where he would be happy.
It was as awful a lie as any they'd told Teyla, and he hurried along the path rather than endure it any longer than he had to.
The camp itself, a gentle sprawl of tents, was surprisingly intact, though already beginning to be overrun with grasses. Perhaps the scavengers had found richer places to loot lately. Michael could see a half-carved tent-peg lying where it had been dropped, a boot abandoned by the ashes of a fire, a sack of withered tuttle-roots spilling onto the ground, some of them putting forth wan little shoots. He stopped abruptly, realizing that Teyla had kept pace with him.
She gazed around. "This is where I lived?"
He cleared his throat. "Yes."
She took a few steps forward and put her hand out to touch an animal skin that had been stretched out to dry and was now so brittle that it broke apart at her touch. "We were hunters."
"That seems familiar," she ventured. He left her to her explorations; he didn't really want to hear her talk herself through them, trying to persuade herself that they meant something to her. After posting the two guards at the perimeter, he began to wander through the settlement himself.
He ducked at random into one of the tents. Imilya's, he recalled after a minute. Her small wooden loom was still set up, with a nearly-finished cloth on it and the shuttle set down as if she expected to return any minute. She would have been annoyed by the interruption, he knew. If there was one thing she'd hated, it was being disturbed while working. He'd had to rescue Jinto from her wrath more than once.
He stepped closer to the cloth; it was one of the tapestries that she made for trade offworld or to mark the setting up of a new tent. With the rich earth tones and gentle organic repeating curve of the pattern, this one looked like she had made it for an Athosian. He cast his mind back, but he couldn't figure out who it must have been meant for.
Was he already forgetting them? He braced against a sudden panic. Was that the end of the Athosians, grass overgrowing a campsite and one alien soldier slowly losing track of which name went with which face?
"What is in here?" Teyla asked from the tent-flap.
He whirled back to her and swallowed hard. "This was the tent of one of the Athosians' finest artisans," he said, word carefully following word.
"I see," she said. If she noticed that he was upset, she didn't show it. Instead, she came over and bent to inspect the loom. She slowly traced the pattern on the cloth with one finger. "I feel nothing," she mused. "Nothing at all."
The anger took his breath away. How could she stand there as though all of this was meaningless? He wanted to grab her by the scruff of her neck, drag her back through the gate, tell Weir and the rest that he was done, that the lie had to end. But then he noticed the faint tremor in her hand, the tension in her jaw, all the signs of frustration and bewilderment, and his anger evaporated at once, leaving behind only pity. Teyla of the Athosians wasn't a real person, and she was the only one who didn't know it.
"It'll come back to you," he tried to reassure her.
"And if it does not?"
"Then you'll make a new life, with us."
She looked up abruptly. "With you?"
His mouth went dry. "I—is that what you want?"
"Tell me something, Michael," she said. "Were we lovers? Before?"
No one had suggested that lie to him. But he'd always suspected he'd been chosen for more than his knowledge of Athosian culture. He wondered what Weir and Heightmeyer expected him to say. He shook his head. "No."
"Did you want us to be?"
"It doesn't matter."
"You are right," she said. "It does not." She came forward and touched his collar with her long slim fingers. "You want me now."
"Yes," he breathed. He was aching all over with it.
She yanked at his collar, so that the button popped free. The sudden violence of the gesture made his head reel. "Then let me feel it."
They had sex right there, on the bed of a dead woman belonging to a dead people. Teyla didn't want gentleness or caresses, and, to be honest, Michael wasn't interested in them at the moment, either. She wanted to feel something; well, he wanted to make her feel it, and a savage satisfaction ran through him when he heard her gasp as he pushed into her.
"Yes," she said. "More."
She clutched the sheets while he thrust into her, tossing her head from side to side. They were both breathing hard. He hadn't taken off her t-shirt, and the movement of her breasts beneath the thin fabric mesmerized him. He'd hardly even looked at a woman since Athos, and he'd forgotten the way that every curve swelled with the promise of pleasure. He caught his fingers in her neckband and tore the shirt away. As he fondled her breast roughly, her hand came free to pull his head down for a bruising kiss. Not long, he thought. Oh, God, not long—
Then somehow she had flipped them, rolling on top and filling herself with him again almost without interruption. The view was even better like that—he could see everything from her spread and inviting thighs to her gleaming eyes—but she'd pinned his hands so that he couldn't touch. "Teyla," he said, "Jesus!"
She didn't respond, closing her eyes and working her hips against him to find her own pleasure. When she did, she gave a sharp little cry and moved faster. His mouth dried up with the yearning to take the nipple that was jutting just a few inches away into his mouth, but he didn't dare lift his head. He knew he had to stay where she had put him.
She opened her eyes suddenly and fixed them on him. "Who am I?"
"Teyla," he groaned. "You're Teyla."
She shook her head impatiently. "Then what am I?"
It was impossible to focus on anything except her slippery warmth. He said the first thing that came into his head.
"Whatever you want to be."
"And if I want…more?"
More. He wanted more, more of this, more of her. He'd give her anything for that. "Take it. They don't care about you."
He heard his own words with a faint sense of dismay, but not regret. The lies were so much worse.
She looked down, at where they were joined, and smiled. "Thank you, Michael."
Then she twisted her head to the side and up, swallowing hard, and he realized she'd come. She didn't let go, and a minute later, he'd followed her.
The return from Athos was uneventful. He'd found an Athosian tunic for Teyla to put on over her ruined shirt. "Do you want anything else?" he'd asked her, glancing at the tapestry.
She shook her head. She said almost nothing on the trip back, and had let herself be taken off to her quarters after they came through the gate.
"Anything to report, Lieutenant?" Weir asked.
He shrugged. "She didn't respond to any of it."
"What about you?" Her voice was low and earnest.
She nodded, looking sympathetic. "We appreciate what you've done, Lieutenant. If you need—"
"I have guard duty tonight," he said, not looking at her. "I need to get some sleep."
A commanding officer would have torn a piece out of him for that, but she only said, "Of course."
He'd hoped to find Teyla waiting for him in his quarters, but of course she wasn't there. He lay down in his uniform and fell asleep almost at once.
The alarm jarred him awake, and he headed blearily down to the gateroom to supervise his shift. He was so tired that he soon decided it would be better for him to patrol, as well. He resolutely chose a route nowhere near Teyla's quarters. As he passed the infirmary, he noticed the lights in Beckett's office were on, and he stepped inside.
Beckett sat up straight, pushing a bottle away with one hand and shoving some papers under a folder with another. "Oh! Lieutenant! I wasn't expecting anyone down here."
"Routine patrol, doctor. You're up late."
"I'm just reviewing some of Teyla's latest test results."
His stomach tightened. "Oh?"
"I'll tell you, laddie." He looked around conspiratorially, then leaned forward. His face was damp, and he'd obviously had more than a few drinks. "It's a lot worse than I've been letting on to Elizabeth."
"Her viral load has been decreasing almost since she woke up. At this point, it's alarmingly low. She's holding onto her humanity by her fingernails."
"What does that mean?"
"I don't know. She doesn't seem to be physically reverting, but for how long…"
"Why are you telling me this?" Michael asked sharply.
"You're a good man, Lieutenant. I can see you care for her, too. Not like Kate or Elizabeth. They're bloody implacable." Beckett put his hand on his shoulder. "We have to give her a chance. You won't tell them, will you?"
The thought of Beckett mooning over Teyla made him ill, but he pushed it away. "No. Of course not. But what are you going to do?"
"I don't know. Kate suspects, I know she does." Beckett sniffled, leaning on him harder. "She's been asking questions, snooping around. I can't protect Teyla much longer. She's such a helpless little thing. They'll kill her."
Helpless wasn't the word he'd choose, but he couldn't disagree with the rest.
"You need to work on improving the booster, Doctor. I'll…I'll keep a closer eye on her. Try to keep her out of trouble."
"That's a good lad. I knew I could count on you."
Michael straightened up, and Beckett swayed. "I'll leave you to it, then."
He headed to Teyla's quarters without really thinking about what he'd do when he got there. He knew he didn't trust Beckett to solve the problem, or even to keep the secret much longer, but he didn't see what choice he had.
Teyla's door was locked. He hit the entrance chime. No response. He didn't have long. He hastily keyed in the security override.
Her rooms were dark, the moon a filmy glow through the curtains. It took him a minute to spot her. She was crouched on the floor near the bed.
Heightmeyer lay in front of her, her pale skin ghostly in the moonlight.
She whirled, rising into a fighting stance. When she saw it was Michael, she lowered her hands.
"She knew, Michael," Teyla said. "She came here and questioned me about us." Her shoulders drew up proudly. "I had to."
"Is she still alive?"
"I do not know."
Michael circled Teyla to get at Heightmeyer. Her face didn't just look pale in the moonlight, it looked…waxen. Crepe-y. As if she'd aged…
He turned back. "You fed on her?"
Teyla looked down at her hand. Michael saw in horror that there was a feeding slit there. "I did not intend to," she said. "She said they would imprison me. That she had not had a proper chance to study the psychology of…of my kind, so it would be a great opportunity for her."
Michael shivered. In the glaring light thrown off by the crisis, the senior staff were recognizable only as monsters—Weir as heartless, Heightmeyer as cruel, even Sheppard as vicious, and himself, a coward following orders. How had they all come to this?
"I did not know what she meant, until…" She gazed impassively at Heightmeyer's body. "I am a Wraith."
"You changed me. The insulin—"
"Not insulin. Booster shots, for the virus that did it."
"Was there ever even a Teyla?"
He sighed. "No."
But the Athosians, he wanted to say. All of that was true. And I wanted you to be…But he didn't. It would sound too much like an excuse.
She only nodded, detached. "I must get away from here."
"To a hive?" He tensed. That would condemn Atlantis to destruction. No matter how he felt, he couldn't let her—which must mean—
"No. I am not a fool. No queen would have me. I will have to make my own way."
"Oh." He edged back a little.
She looked at him curiously. "You think I am going to hurt you."
"Why shouldn't you?" he blurted.
"I am grateful to you, Michael." She trailed her fingers down his chest. He started at the touch, but then held himself still. "I know you were trying to help."
His laugh was strangled. "Some help!"
"And I want to reward you."
It was like being taken off his feet by an explosion—he was just that blinded and stunned, but there was sweetness in his mouth and fire in his veins. His heart was racing, faster than adrenaline could possibly make it, and he thought he might come apart from the thundering of his blood through his body. When his senses cleared, he was on one knee in front of Teyla. She had her hand on his chest, and he was holding onto her arm for dear life.
"Teyla…" he said faintly.
She lifted her hand to cup his face. Her nails felt sharp against his throat. He shivered. "Come with me, Michael," she said, her voice carrying a hint of reverberation.
He leaned into her touch, harder than he'd ever been. He remembered what she'd said about her dream. She might not be quite like any other Wraith queen, but if he went with her, she would consume him, one way or another—and he welcomed the thought.
"No?" Her voice was surprised.
"I…my duties are here." He got to his feet, unsteady. "You'll need my help to get away. The gate's your best chance, and you'll never get through it alone."
"They will punish you."
"I know." Someone should.
His comm chimed. The sergeant, checking on him.
"Come on. We don't have much time."
He turned, but she touched his arm. "I will remember this."
"Or you could forget that Atlantis is still around, instead."
Her face hardened. "I will have my vengeance."
He looked at Heightmeyer. "How many deaths do you need?"
She hesitated, then smiled, a smile so cruel it took his breath away. "I do not know. I suppose I will find out."
She would change, he thought. The next time anyone saw her, she would be something so different....but only in form. The spirit that shone out of her eyes had always been there. They had been fools to think that that could ever be changed.
He wondered if she would remember anything of human compassion, human grief, or if they would become like cattle again to her, blind and stupid and vicious beyond belief. He wondered if she'd forget his name.
He'd never know. He bent to pick up his P-90 where it had fallen. "Let's go."
V. full fathom five
Teyla leaned on the railing, taking in the spectacular view of the sun setting into San Francisco Bay as she caught her breath from her run. She felt tired, in the good, natural way that she so rarely experienced on Earth. She relished the thought that just beyond the park, in the monastery where she was staying, she would enter into a world of stillness and hush, where she could sink down into the rhythms of her body without interruption.
Just for a few days, she had told Sheppard. She wasn't used to living in such a relentlessly urban environment; she needed a little quiet, a little space. He had given her that too-casual nod that meant that she had made him anxious, but she did not allow herself to take notice of it. Keller had found the place for her. Her room was small and bare but clean, and she woke each morning to this same view. The monks had welcomed her and asked no questions. She was a little afraid of what they thought they knew.
When she returned, there would be many questions to answer—most importantly, whether, since she was stranded in the Milky Way, she would accept a permanent assignment to an Earth-based SGC team or whether she would explore…other options. The question was impossible. She did not know what was best for everyone; she did not even think she could know what was best. She was only hoping that by the time she had returned, she would at least have come to know her own mind.
She caught her foot up behind her and began stretching her quad. The position required her to steady herself on the railing for support. So when she heard the footsteps and felt the sudden presence, she could only hop, startled, on one foot until she'd gotten her back against the railing.
"Don't be afraid," Michael said, spreading his hands to show her he had no weapon in them.
A nervous smile rippled over his face, then was gone in an instant. He was wearing a jacket with the hood up, but in the dusk he hardly seemed to need it. His skin was pale, but with only the faintest bluish tinge, and his hair had almost resolved itself to a sandy brown, though with an ash-grey undertone. His pupils, however, were still catlike slits, and his eyes flicked about in little jerks that no human could manage.
"How is it possible?" she gasped. "I killed you."
"Not quite," he said gently.
She felt a tiny spring of relief, and then guilt at that relief. Killing Michael had been justified, but it had left her shaken long afterwards. She had often thought of him calling out to her for mercy, and how the last thing he would have seen was her expression of stone. In the end, she had had nothing left for him—no friendship, no sympathy, no compunction. One did not strip such things out of oneself at no cost.
"Have you been following me?"
He nodded. "Forgive me. I had to watch for a chance to speak with you without ending up in SGC custody."
She remembered suddenly the shadow that had passed over her mind once, fleetingly, when she had been shopping in the city. She had thought she was imagining it. She had even wondered if she was so homesick that she was conjuring up the Wraith in her mind.
"How did you survive?" she asked, edging a little to the side.
"I would very much like to tell you that," he said, "but not as a prelude to being hit in the head with that stick you're eyeing. Can't we fight afterwards? I think we both know who will win."
He waited as she studied him. He was full of some emotion, she could see that; but he was not tensed for combat. "Very well."
She thought he would begin at once, but instead he sat down on one of the stone benches tucked into a curve of the railing and gazed out at the ocean. After a moment's hesitation, she sat across from him. His profile had grown as impassive and remote as the hills.
"I fell," he said at last, "So far. Hitting the water broke me, fractured both body and mind. Down and down I plummeted, deeper than the Lanteans have ever explored. And there I was trapped, but I could not die."
She started to object that this was impossible, but then she thought of the Wraith queen she had fought, who had spent so long on the ocean floor. She tasted a flash of that queen's memories, cold like terrible steel driven through her, and shuddered. Michael was not as strong as a queen, but, perhaps, just strong enough.
"For a long time, the pressure was so great that I could not think at all. I was conscious only of a ripple of light far above me. It was like hibernating, except that I was alone." He cleared his throat. "But my body slowly healed and grew stronger, until one day I was able to hold off the weight of the ocean and give my thoughts room to move again."
He turned his eyes to her, soft with memory. "It was so peaceful there, Teyla. I was just one more piece of strange detritus in that slow dark world of wonders. All my old obsessions had broken along with me, and for the first time in years, I could be at rest. My thoughts were simple, and few, and clear. And what I thought most was that I had hurt the woman I cared for so badly that she had killed me without hesitation or remorse."
"You left me no choice," she said, not willing to concede anything there.
"I know," he said simply. "I don't blame you for it."
She said nothing.
After a minute, he resumed his story. "In the end, I struggled to the surface. The light, the heat, the noise stunned me and drove me back below more than once, but eventually I made land."
She could picture it vividly: the pale figure cast up onto the beach, lying shaking in the wet sand, steeling himself to breathe the air once more. Could she feel sympathy for that creature, if not for the person who had stolen her child and her people?
"Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Atlantis was gone."
"That was fortunate for you, actually." Ronon would have taken him to pieces. She would not have stopped him.
He smiled ruefully. "Perhaps. Except that you had gone with it. So I waited. And waited. But you didn't come back."
A chill settled over her. "So you followed me to Earth? Why?"
There was little here for his vengeance to work on. Little he could take from her. What more could he have to gain?
"Ah, yes. That." He swallowed. "When Atlantis did not return, I knew it could mean only one of two things—that it was too badly damaged to, or that Earth would not let it." He leaned forward. "I wanted to give you the chance to come home."
"To join with you?" She was on her feet in a flash. "Never."
He flinched and drew back, his eyes dropping. "No," he said softly, staring at the ground. "I would take you wherever you wished to go, Teyla. I am not trying to ask you to—to—" He stopped, then started again. "I only want to try to make amends."
Her friends had not offered as much. She instantly regretted the bitter thought and said, "What makes you think I have not chosen to remain here?"
"I have observed you here for some time. You do not"—he actually flushed—"forgive me, you do not seem happy. Everything you love is there."
Without meaning to, he had touched the great ache in her heart. It was never to be her fate that all she cared for would be together in one place. She would always be divided, drawn away but unwilling to leave. Unable to choose. She had long told herself that it was a strength, but lately she had begun to feel that it was too great a strength for the rest of her to sustain.
She turned and looked out at the Bay, now settling into deep blue. Atlantis was there. For a long time, it had been the happiest way for her to straddle her different worlds, but Atlantis was unquestionably of Earth now. And everyone seemed to expect her to be carried along with it, even her team. Everyone but Michael.
"How could I trust you?" she whispered.
His eyes widened eagerly. "I will give you my fealty here and now, Teyla. You know we cannot throw that off easily. I will follow your commands until you set me free again."
She did not wish to return to Pegasus only to spend the rest of her days locked in an ugly struggle with Michael, piling crime upon crime until her own original cruelty seemed as nothing. She did not know what it might make of her, how it would transform the remaining Athosians, who needed rest and healing. She wanted peace, for herself, her family, her people. And she need seek safety for Atlantis no longer.
"But…I am not a queen."
"Do you truly still doubt that?" He held out his hand to her. "Try and see."
His palm was smooth, unmarred by a feeding slit. The skin looked soft and pale.
Everyone else had chosen—everyone except her.
She curled her fingers around his palm and instinctively moved to put her other hand over his heart. He gave her a look as hopeful as the one Michael Kenmore had when she had first come to see him in the infirmary on Atlantis. "Rise, Michael."