"Easy," he said. "We're invited. For once."
He grimaced at the sound of his own voice, thin and jerky. Not good. He sounded like an eighteen-year-old paratrooper before his first jump.
His ship glided smoothly along the beam. A large square had been cleared for him in the shadowy, half-overgrown hangar, much bigger than the F-302 actually needed. The hanger itself was deserted, except for what was obviously an honor guard waiting for him: four armed drones, and beyond them, half-hidden by their bulk, Michael. The drones stood impassive as he shut down the systems slowly and carefully, taking his time to make sure everything was secure. Michael folded his arms and waited.
Finally out of even lame excuses to delay, John popped the canopy and vaulted down from the cockpit, ignoring the faint ache in his shoulder.
The drones parted and Michael stepped forward between them. "Welcome aboard, Colonel Sheppard."
John surveyed the group. "This is all the welcoming committee I rate? I think I'm hurt."
"The queen did not wish to draw too much attention to your arrival."
"What, I wouldn't get cheering crowds?"
"You would if she wished it," Michael said flatly, and turned away in a swirl of black robe, leaving John to skip to catch up with him.
They passed silently through a portal that slurped open before them into one of the blue-and-grey-mottled hallways, Michael walking just a little too fast for John to keep up easily on the soft surface. The hive was warm and humid as always, and the silver threads that drifted from ceiling to walls here and there seemed to be humming softly with whispers. Occasionally, a current of air carried a tang that seemed subtly different from the normal, too-sweet atmosphere of a hive, but it wasn't any easier to breathe. The hallways seemed empty.
After a few minutes, John had had enough of the silent treatment. "Well," he said casually, "long time no see."
"Can you guys believe that we used to hang out in Atlantis?" he said to the drones. They ignored him, keeping the fast pace. He shrugged and glanced back at Michael. "Guess so. How's that breeding the super-bug race thing working out for you?"
"The queen has directed my experiments in other directions."
"So, still can't even make somebody to love you, huh?"
Michael slowed, a snarl flashing over his face, but it smoothed almost immediately. "The queen cares for all the hive," he said, low and vicious.
The thought rolled over John like a sickness, and he nearly stumbled on the spongy footing.
Michael saw the look on his face and smiled. "Of course, our ways are not yours. You could not be expected to understand our...relationship."
It was a good thing the Air Force had given John so many years of practice in turning legitimate desires to punch a guy in the face into smart remarks. "Oh, yeah, the queens just love you."
"She is different," Michael said, and underneath his voice there was so much adoration and longing and fear that John had to look away so as not to go through with the punching. "And she is waiting for us now."
He'd gotten completely lost in those few short minutes, but John recognized now that they were entering what Elizabeth used to call the audience chamber, with its high, segmented, glittering roof and the steps leading to the bone-like chair at the end. He'd killed a queen in one of these rooms once, jamming a spike through gel-like flesh. Been questioned by another, her voice echoing through his mind, twining into his thoughts. A chill prickled from the base of his neck all the way down his spine. But the room was empty.
Michael led him up the stairs and behind the chair to a door, glowing half-luminescent, scrawled over with vine-like growths in the shape of Wraith glyphs. He laid a hand reverently on the door, waited a minute, then said, "She will see us now."
The door slid open, and John followed Michael into the smaller room beyond. The drones stopped behind him. The light was a little brighter in this chamber, though just as blue, and John hesitated for a minute while his eyes adjusted. When his vision cleared, he saw Michael kneeling before the queen in her chair. She touched her hand briefly to his forehead, running a thumb over one of the ridges there, then looked up.
"John," she said gravely.
"Teyla," he answered.
His first thought was that she looked completely, terrifyingly different, and it took him several seconds to realize that her hair was still its soft reddish-brown, her face still smooth and unmarked by slashes or tattoos. It was the way she carried herself that was strange; her posture was rigid in the chair and her eyes were remote. She was wearing a loose gown the color of wheat, and her feet were bare. On her wrist was a thin coiled bracelet of gold he'd never seen on her before. Behind her, the curtains over her great bed crumpled like leather wings.
"Thank you," she said to the kneeling figure. "You may go."
Michael rose. "Are you sure it is wise to be alone with him?"
"He will not hurt me."
Michael moved away from her reluctantly. "I will await your summons." He shot John a look tense with threat as he passed. The door thudded shut behind him, sounding resentful.
Teyla's eyes had followed him out. Now they turned back to John, but for what felt like minutes, she said nothing.
"I hope you're not expecting me to kneel," he finally said.
"No. Though it would be traditional." Something about the way she said it made him positive that she remembered it as it had happened, in the mind of one of the queens of the line she had defeated. She stretched out a hand. "Please, sit down."
There was a low stool near her, but John preferred to perch on the great bone chest at the foot of her bed and cross his ankles jauntily. "So. I'm not really up on Wraith etiquette. What am I supposed to call you now? Your highness? Your worship?"
There was another pause, as if she actually had to think about it. "Among humans, I am still called Teyla."
"Okay." He could feel the fake smile pressing painfully at the corners of his mouth. It kept him from asking what the Wraith called her. He didn't think he wanted to know. "Rodney and Ronon say hi, by the way."
He didn't know what he was expecting—something—but she only nodded. "Please greet them for me."
"Rodney burned"—he fumbled into his jacket for it—"a DVD. New pictures and video of Tagan. You know, your kid." He offered it to her. "He says it's compatible with your systems."
She looked at the thin metal circle in his hand for a second too long before moving to take it. "Rodney is very kind."
"Kid's doing fine with the Athosians. Happy little guy. 'Course, he never really knew you, so he can't miss you."
"Colonel Carter has been scrupulous about sending reports."
Her tone was still detached. It was just so fucking unnatural, that they were sitting in the innermost chamber of a hive ship chatting politely about things she used to care about, people she used to care about. Why was he even doing this? His chin jerked up, he folded his arms, and he said, "Right. Now that we've dispensed with the pleasantries, why don't you tell me why you sent for me? It was a long trip."
"Yes, I know."
There was another pause.
"Therefore," he said with exaggerated patience, "you must have had a very good reason for summoning me."
She nodded, but instead of answering him, she got up and began to circle the room. "The hive is troubled by your presence here," she said dreamily, trailing her fingers along the wall. He realized suddenly the cause of the strange tape-delay she seemed to be on: she was listening to a lot more voices than just his. It was so creepy he had to fight the urge to burrow his hands into his sleeves.
"For once, I agree with them. So what am I doing here?"
"I want to ask a service of you."
He shrugged. "I'll help you, if I can. Those are my orders."
"It is not for me," she said, raising her voice slightly, "it is for the hive, and the Wraith dominions, and the peace between our peoples."
"What could the queen of so many hives possibly need from me?"
"You know that I made this peace," she said. "It is my will that restrains the Wraith and keeps them to these territories, away from the human settlements. It is my decision that Michael and his scientists research other sources of food than human life. Without me, the Wraith would break apart again. There would be war again."
"Of course I know that. I was there when it all started." There when the three hive ships had closed in on Atlantis for what he really thought would be the last time, the gate dialed in, no escape for anyone. There when they had frozen, impossibly, in the sky above the city, Darts skittering aimlessly here and there below them, crashing into the towers and the sea. There when they had found Teyla, sitting alone on the highest point of the highest tower, cross-legged as if she was meditating, apparently indifferent to the cold. She had opened her eyes and someone else had looked back at him. And it had all been over.
"I think..." She trailed off, and sighed. "I think I will live a very long time, John. But nothing is certain. If anything should happen to me, I do not want my work here to come undone."
He frowned. "No one wants the Wraith to attack us again. And?"
She halted, picking up a tiny multifaceted prism from a table and turning it with her fingers. "I must have a successor like me. An heir."
His frown deepened. "You have a kid, Teyla. I mean, not that you seem to realize it, but you..." He stopped.
"A girl, John," she said gently, seeing that it had hit him. "It must be a girl."
"Okay. But what does this have to do with me?"
She laid the prism down and gave him a direct look. "I would like you to be the father."
He only stared, unable to speak. All the ridiculous things he'd seen and heard in all the time he'd been in the military, and nothing had been as absurd as this. He shook his head, and a single laugh escaped him, harsh in his throat. "You must be joking."
"I am not."
"Then you're out of your mind. You go off with our worst enemy, I don't see you for three years, and suddenly you call me up, ask me onto your hive ship, and tell me you want to make babies together?"
"I know it is unexpected—"
"Try insane. Or maybe you've just forgotten what actual human beings feel, now that you spend all your time with the bug-monsters."
That did something. Her eyes were suddenly present, sparkling with anger, but she turned away. Her shoulders trembled, just enough for him to notice. Somehow, seeing that only made him more angry. He wasn't going to feel sorry for her, not now.
"You are angry with me," she said, finally, her voice shaky and her hand half-covering her mouth.
"No kidding, lady."
"It is...refreshing," she said, and looked over her shoulder at him. "Is that not strange?"
He stared again. "What?"
"I am the focal point of the hive, John. I am adored by them all. I feel it every moment of every day."
"Other queens are borne up by this love. It is what makes them magnificent. I feel...pinned down. Trapped, as much as worshipped." She came back to her chair, laid a hand on its back. "To hear you speak like that—it is like fresh air."
"I'm glad you think it's funny," he growled, refusing to be tempted by her slight smile.
"I am not crazy," she said. "A daughter would strengthen the peace between our peoples. With the Ancient gene, she would be able to do things for the hives that even I cannot. Her power would be more secure. And..." She hesitated.
"What? You always wanted a kid with black hair?"
"I would prefer to lie with someone I can trust," she said simply.
It was more than she had ever given him when she was in Atlantis. Of course she could do it now, when it didn't matter. "Well—" He pushed himself up from the chest. "That's all very well for you. It doesn't explain why I would want to have a damn thing to do with it."
"I have told you—"
"For the good of your hive. You seem to have forgotten, I don't actually like the Wraith. In fact, I've spent most of my time in this galaxy trying to kill them. Do you really think we can all just turn ourselves on and off like that? Or do you think you can make me? Do you have that power now, too?"
"Why are you so angry with me? I left my home in the first days you knew me. Were you really so surprised that I would do it again?"
"You can't even compare it! You left the Athosians to come to Atlantis. Not your team, your kid, to go play Wraith queen!"
"I left Tagan in better hands than I could offer," she said, eyes narrowing.
"You left him an orphan." He flung a hand at the room. "Was it worth it?"
"How dare you talk to me about Tagan?" she cried. "I would have thought you, you of all people, would understand! What I have done I did for him, for the Athosians, for Atlantis, for you!"
"I never asked you to," he said.
The room seemed to be closing in on him, just a little; the air felt like it was getting warmer. But the anger went out of Teyla as quickly as it had come. Her back straightened, and she lowered herself carefully into her chair. "Then I regret calling you all this way, Colonel. Someone will show you to your chamber. When you have rested and your ship has been refuelled, you may go."
She was sitting so stiffly in the chair. Her eyes were already looking right through him. "All right, your worship."
"Goodbye, John," she said softly as he passed through the doorway.
He didn't answer. He'd said that goodbye a long time ago.
A guard took him through the warren of hallways to his room. This time, they passed a few Wraith, intent on what looked like serious maintenance work. They didn't look up from their tasks when he went by, but their eyes flashed, and it was easy for John to see the hunger in them. He wondered how long it had been since they'd fed on a human, and he edged just a little closer to the guard.
The room they gave him was almost as big as his quarters on Atlantis, but there were no windows. There was a single bed with a table at its foot, and nothing else. A doorway led into what was almost certainly the Wraith equivalent of a bathroom, laid with disturbingly organic-looking pipe.
"Oh, good, an upgrade," he said. "What do I do about—"
"You will be brought a meal," the guard said, and left him.
"All right, then," John said to the air, wondering how long he'd have to wait.
He considered the bathroom, but decided to put that off. There was a pressure in the air, a sense that he wasn't actually alone in the room, that made him reluctant to shed his uniform. It was only a few minutes before the door opened again, and another drone brought in a tray. It turned out to be Athosian food: their thick, spicy hunter's stew. The smell reminded him of the last harvest festival he had gone to with the team, Teyla laughing with her friends and then looking across the campground with a warm smile that had just been for him. He had to steel himself to dig in, and it was almost a relief when he realized that it wasn't even close to right. The meat was the wrong texture, the spices were way off. Which made it just more bad food, and bad food was a part of the job he got used to a long time ago. He kept eating, mechanically, trying to think of nothing in particular.
Another drone took away the tray when he was done, and that left nothing to do but to try to get some rest. He knew he needed it, but he was too keyed-up, his nerves still thrumming with the fight that Teyla had broken off. He circled the room a couple of times. The second time, he caught himself muttering a half-sentence or two. Even he realized that was just over the line into Rodney territory, and he was taking off his jacket to lie down when the door opened again.
Michael stormed into the room, his whole body crackling with so much fury that he actually backed John up a step or two before he realized what was happening and held his ground. "You have refused her," he said, in a voice halfway between anger and astonishment. "You have actually refused her."
"Whoa, just hang on a minute there, Michael. Did she tell you that?"
"Of course not. We have not discussed you."
"Then how do you even know what's going on?"
Michael did lower his eyes a little. "I...have guessed it."
John pulled his jacket back onto his shoulders. "If you've guessed it, you should know it's none of your goddamned business."
"Of course it is my business. The future of the hive depends on it."
"I don't give a damn about the hive."
"Or about her, I see," he said. "You are even more selfish than I thought, Sheppard."
"Selfish? I'm not the one who left her family and all her friends behind," John said, aware of a faint petulance in his tone.
"Are you so blind as to think she did it for her pleasure?"
"I don't have to listen to this," John muttered, and started to brush past him towards the door, not really caring whether he had anywhere else to go. But Michael caught his arm with a cold, dry hand. "Oh, you will listen," he hissed.
Finally, something he knew how to deal with. The whole situation had become pleasantly simple: John let himself swing around and punch Michael in the face with all his pent-up energy. It felt great, but Michael didn't even blink. He grabbed John's other arm and slammed him backwards into the wall so fast it dazed him. Michael was so much stronger than he had been.
"You are not in Atlantis, Sheppard," he said, pressing his forearm into John's throat. "Ronon Dex is not here to help you. And my name is not Michael."
"Sensitive, aren't you?" John wheezed. "What's the matter, did she turn you down? Not man enough for her?"
It sounded shockingly ugly out loud, so bad that he tensed for the blow he definitely had coming. Michael's eyes widened, and he drew back his hand, spreading his fingers. John braced himself hard, wondering if anyone would even know what had happened. But Michael stopped, laughed shortly, and shook his head in disgust, releasing John. "Not a man at all, in the sense you mean," he said coldly. "But in the ones that matter, far more than you."
John would have liked to take exception to that remark, but he was too busy rubbing his throat, trying to get his breath.
"She summoned me out of exile even before she reunited the Wraith dominions," Michael said. "I came at once, thinking—" He stopped. "It does not matter what I thought."
John looked up. It had all happened so fast; there had been only minutes before Teyla had disappeared into the Wraith teleport beam. And afterwards, only brief, formal messages about politics and war. Nothing like this, nothing he had wanted to know.
"She wanted my scientific knowledge, but even more, she needed me. She was in so much pain in those days, trying to learn to command the hive, to sort out its thoughts from her own. And she could let no one see. Except me. I already knew what it was like, to move between our peoples. I stayed with her in her chamber while she struggled to find herself, tossing and turning in her agony for hours on end."
John winced. "How long...?"
"Months, as your people measure it. And all that time, I knew that I was not really who she wanted, who she wept for in the smallest hours when she was exhausted and thought I could not see. But I helped her then. I brewed her the infusions we use to ease pain. I had food found for her and made her eat. I killed two assassins with my own hands and sent back their heads to their queens. Because she is more than life to me. And so when she made this plan, I knew I would help her again. No matter how I might feel."
John started to say something, but Michael raised his hand imperiously.
"But you, Sheppard, you who have so many more reasons, you will not help her. And yet you think yourself better than me."
John couldn't even look at him any more—he was so damn earnest, so determined to get Teyla what she wanted, even though the torture was carved along the strong bones of his face. John couldn't stand it when Michael had the moral high ground. "What do you want from me?"
"More than anything, I would like to see you dead," Michael said. "But as that is not her will, I want you to give her the aid she has asked of you."
He scrubbed his hand over his own eyes and sighed. "It's not so simple, okay? How could I abandon my own kid to the Wraith?"
"She will be a queen. No child could be more cared for."
"Yeah? You mentioned assassins just now."
"Dead assassins," Michael said grimly. "I would die myself before I let any harm come to her child."
That wasn't quite as comforting as he probably intended it to be. Of all the people John would have picked to play bodyguard for a kid of his, Michael was right near the bottom, just barely edging out Lucius. "But still—she might be the only kid I'll ever have. To just give her up..."
"She has a son, does she not?"
"Yes, and it sucks that he'll never know her."
"Duty that demands sacrifice," Michael said. "A strange concept indeed."
"Now, that's just uncalled-for," John muttered.
"Make no mistake, Sheppard, if you will not help her she will find another. But it is within your power to make this far easier for her. The only question is whether you have it in you." Michael's tone didn't leave much doubt what he thought the answer to that question was. He stepped back, settling his robes. "If you go to her tonight, I think she will receive you. If not, you should leave at once—and I trust you will not come here again calling yourself her friend."
He left in the usual melodramatic flare of fabric that for once even John didn't have the heart to mock. After he was gone, John shut his eyes and stayed leaning against the wall for a long moment. Then he straightened, stripped off his clothes, and confronted the Wraith plumbing. After a few abortive attempts at turning it on without getting instantly drenched, he realized that it was designed to douse whoever used it in brief deluges at high pressure. Eventually he gave in and submitted himself to being soaked in the warm, metallic-smelling liquid. Afterwards, he sat on the edge of the bed for a little while longer, looking at the luminescent blue wall, which reminded him of nothing so much as the way the skin over his jaw had looked after the retrovirus. When his hair was a little drier, he put on his single change of clothing and went for a walk.
He was hoping he'd get lost, but his feet led him just where he'd suspected they might.
When the door opened, Teyla was sitting in her chair again. She looked at him, but didn't say anything, waiting.
"I'm still not going to kneel," he said.
"I do not require it," she answered.
This time, he barely registered the door closing behind him. "Look, about what I said earlier..."
She raised her hand. "I know it has been difficult for you."
"Not harder than what you're doing."
"There was no time," she said. "To talk, to explain..."
"I think I got the gist of what was going on."
"But not what it meant. Not to me."
"I don't know that I would have listened," he said honestly.
"Still." She studied him, the tilt of her head echoing Wraith posture. "She will be mine, John. I will bring her up here as I see fit. You must not interfere."
He bit his lip. "Yeah."
"Although I would hope...if anything were to happen to me when she was too young..."
"Are you serious? I'd come for your kid even if Rodney was her dad."
She smiled dimly.
"But...uh...how would this work? I mean, how do you know that we'll...that you'll..."
"There is technology, from the days of the experiments on my ancestors," she said. "One night should be sufficient. I am ready."
"Oh. And, uh," he looked around, "is everybody going to be watching? I'm not really in love with the idea of starring in a Wraith porno."
She arched one eyebrow. "It is not so direct as that."
He heaved a sigh of relief. "Okay then. Then I guess we can...go ahead and get it over with. I mean, if you want to do it now."
They looked at each other. John realized that he had no clue at all what the next move should be. With a girl you didn't care much about, even with a girl you did, there were things you did, things you said. But he had never been part of what was basically an arranged marriage before. And, despite this being Teyla's idea in the first place, she didn't seem to have a strategy, either, which wasn't exactly fair. She stayed in her chair, fingering her bracelet.
"I have a liqueur that is not entirely unlike Athosian whiskey," she said finally, slight furrows appearing around her eyes. "Would you care for some?"
Alcohol. Alcohol was a valid strategy. "Sure."
She stood and moved to one of the dark cabinets held shut by webbing, poured them each a drink, and then came towards him, offering his glass. He was suddenly, acutely aware of the way her breasts swelled and her hips flared under her filmy gown. Her hair was down now, and he could see it was longer than it had been, brushing languidly over her shoulders. Her arms still carried the strong elegant curves of a fighter. In the past, she had been so close, and he hadn't even let himself fantasize—it had been too dangerous. Then she had been so far away, and it had been too painful. Now...
"Cheers," he said, nearly snatching the glass from her. He took one quick gulp of the drink, which was as unpleasant as advertised, and looked back at her. She hadn't touched her glass, but was just staring into it.
It flashed on him what she was thinking, and he kicked himself for not seeing it right away. Oh, what the hell, he thought, and did what he probably should have done a long time ago—cupped the back of her neck with one hand and kissed her.
She was quiet for a minute, so quiet that he started to wonder if this was about to prove to be the most embarrassing misunderstanding of his entire life, then he heard her glass drop to the floor and her slim arms went up around him and he was lifting her into the air.
"You're so beautiful," he said fiercely into her ear. "Don't ever think anything different."
She was trembling, turning her head this way and that, rubbing her cheek against his stubble, his throat, even the shoulder of his shirt. It must have been years since she'd held another human. She'd always been so generous about that, so unafraid of contact. When she had said goodbye to him, she had come forward, but he had stood stiff in parade stance, and she had stopped and bowed her head instead. Now he could feel the greed growing in her touch.
"Come to bed with me, John," she whispered.
The sound of those words in that voice was electrifying—the room fuzzed out on him. He could feel the rapid beat of her heart, and then, somehow, around him another sound seemed to rise, a steady, slower, synchronized pulse just on the verge of his hearing. As he carried her over to the bed, he felt a kind of itch in his blood, something a little different from the usual. It should have worried him, but with Teyla in his arms he couldn't bring himself to give a damn. They settled on the edge. He wanted to lay her down right away, but she pushed him back gently. She touched a hand to the back of her neckline and her gown simply fell away. He groaned at the sight of her full breasts and smooth flat stomach and scrabbled at his own clothes. She lay back among the many pillows as he did, tracing one finger over her abdomen and watching with a little smile.
"Your boots," she said. "Whenever I would dream of this, I would imagine it would take you forever to get your boots off. I suppose it was another way to draw out the moment."
Whenever. There was a little skip in his breathing, and he looked down at the heavy shoe he was grappling with in one hand. "Or just more realism than you're really responsible for in a fantasy." He paused. "Seriously, you...fantasized about me?"
"Of course," she said, and her smile got sadder. "The one man I could not have."
"Oh, you could have..."
"I could not have kept you. Or you could not have kept me. Sooner or later, we would have come to this, or something like it."
He looked at her, naked against the deep blue of the fabrics, shut away in this chamber at the heart of the hive, resonating with the rhythm that was becoming more and more audible, carrying it all with the same grace and dignity that she had carried the uniform of a teammate and an Athosian on Atlantis. He knew then that this was Teyla, not the stranger he thought he had seen last. Teyla magnified and amplified, but still her. It had been in her to be this since the moment he'd met her. And she was right. That was why he had never made his move, either. Because after all that time, he had finally met the right woman, and what made her right was that she would always choose the important things over him.
This was all they were going to get. He felt a sharp pang at the thought that he had been going to refuse to give it to her.
"Yeah." He abruptly kicked off the second boot and crawled over to her. She accepted his hands cupping her breasts, his mouth on hers. He was unbearably turned on, but he wanted to learn her, to work this into his muscle memory. So he took his time, enjoying the way that every slightly different angle of kiss or touch was a revelation. He might have kept that up forever, a kind of mindless devotion in time with the strange subaudible throbbing. But her hands urged him on, and eventually he slid downwards, nuzzling his cheek against her soft skin, savoring the hitches in her breath as he found the sensitive stretches. When his hands settled on her hips, he stopped and looked up, along the soft plane of her body. She was responding even more than he had expected, flushed all over and breathing fast, eyes closed, back arched. He recognized hazily that it was not only his touch she was feeling. All the desire of the hive, the adoration that she normally commanded, was breaking over her, stroking her excitement everywhere.
It should have freaked him out. But the echo of that sensation was in him, too. Whatever traces the Iratus bug had left in his blood were pulling him into union with all the fierce and helpless longing of the hive, which was calling out to her now in a language that was almost within his grasp. As he lowered his head to taste her, to let her pulse against his tongue, he could feel her the way they felt her, the center of all webs, the ocean to which all rivers ran, and lost himself in that flow. When she first cried out in pleasure, gripping his hair tightly, he felt a stupefying wash of satisfaction. When he finally came, he half-gasped, half-prayed her other name.
It was hours before they were finished. He wasn't entirely sure what time it was when that strange rhythm receded, leaving him lying next to Teyla, his hand curving over her hip. He was teetering on the edge of exhaustion, but there was a quiet giddiness in riding the fatigue. "Are you okay?"
She nodded, twining her fingers around his. "You?"
"Yeah. Do you think we...?"
That meant he was a father. That was...strange. "Good. I mean, not that I would really mind having to do that again..."
"But you must go."
He grimaced. "Yeah."
There was silence. It was easier than talking about what was going to happen anyway.
"John," Teyla said finally.
"I told you once I could not do this."
After she'd nearly lost Tagan. He winced at the memory. "You did."
"I was wrong," she murmured.
He pressed his lips against her shoulder. "I know."
Michael wouldn't even look at him the next morning as he led him back to the hangar. John wasn't feeling very talkative himself, his heart heavy with the sense that with every step he was leaving Teyla further behind, buried alive in the heart of the hive. So he let Michael be. He wasn't sure whether the fact that they were both brooding about the same damn thing made him like Michael a little more or hate him completely.
The hive itself seemed quiet and dull, no life visible anywhere, no secrets humming over its surfaces. But when they reached the ship, it was clear that someone had tended to it overnight. John reached up to unlatch the canopy. His arms felt awkward and uncooperative.
"Farewell, Colonel Sheppard. I will not pretend I enjoyed your visit."
John wrestled with the release. "It's killing me to leave her here with you," he said through his teeth. "If that makes you feel any better."
"Not with me alone," Michael said. "Not any longer."
John stopped. All this talk of heirs and genetics and upbringing, and he'd never thought—but Teyla would have a baby. A little girl, a human, to be with her. Someone to love the way she'd loved Tagan (he could admit it now). That was what he had given her, even though she had never quite asked for it. Would never have asked for it. He hoped it would be enough. He rested his forehead on his arm for a minute, then popped the canopy. "Remember what you promised."
"I do not need you to remind me."
It was true. Michael was a soldier, in his own way. John supposed he ought to be grateful for that.
"I guess not." He clambered up. "Goodbye."
"Goodbye, Colonel. I hope never to see you again."
John started up with a comeback, but Michael had already turned and stalked off. Typical.
It was good to be back in his own ship. When it cleared the hangar and glided free of the tractor beam, something tightened in his chest, and something else eased. After he'd gained some distance, he hailed the relay. It took a few minutes, but the command team's voices crackled over the line. He gave them the security code phrases and reassured them he was still all in one piece and would be back on schedule.
"That's good," Carter said. "We need you here."
"Are we done with the small talk yet?" Rodney put in. "What did she want?"
"Yeah," Ronon said. "What did she want?"
John glanced back over his shoulder. The hive ship wasn't visible, but its gravitational shadow still lurked on his sensors. "She just wanted a little company," he said, and, over Rodney's splutter, ended the transmission.