Teyla had no sooner closed her eyes in Atlantis than opened them on the ship. First came the churning nausea and after it, the clammy cold, recirculated air. She walked through a stream of mist into the bridge, her boots clacking on the uneven magenta floor. As she came into the room, she wanted to recoil as the pale, serpentine faces of Wraith turned in her direction. The wild terror that even after years, gripped her was both distant and sharp.
“Why are we not underway?” she heard herself demand, her voice throaty and reverberating. It sliced through the quiet of the room and seemed to flatten the Wraith over their consoles, their shoulders hunched and deferential.
“My Queen,” one of the Wraith spoke. Teyla knew instinctively that this Wraith was high-ranking. His bone-white hair was pulled back from his face and plaited behind his shoulders, the heavy leather duster he wore crisscrossed with belts. Two black tattoos, like scars from a large cat, ran down the side of his face from brow to chin. “The raids on the planet brought an interesting report. I thought you would want to hear it yourself.”
At a small gesture to the wings of the room, two drones stepped forward, gripping the arms of a young woman no older than twenty. Her ragged clothing was eclectic – a chain mesh tunic crafted by Tulans, a copper Hoffan pendant, soft fur-hooded coat from Andola rabbit, and sturdy leather Genii boots. Teyla realized that the woman must be a Traveler – a scavenger and a trader.
The woman’s face was convulsed with terror as the drones forced her to her knees at Teyla’s feet. The girl began to cry explosively, her shoulders shaking, and the quaking sound of her sobs reverberated through the cool room. The only part of the woman that remained still were the arms the drones clenched in their hands.
Teyla took a deep hissing breath of revulsion, an alien sense of mercilessness overtaking her as she looked down at the girl. “Why do you bring this filth to me?” she heard herself demanding of the other Wraith. The girl’s race was elusive and an annoying pest for being so.
Now the tattooed Wraith stepped forward to answer her question, emerging from behind the expressionless drones. The woman’s eyes shot to his hands as he gestured to her and then clasped them behind his back. “The girl has information about the City of the Ancients. But she will not comply with other methods of interrogation.”
Teyla moved forward, waving him away impatiently. The woman’s tight shoulders and trembling veil of hair filled her vision. A vulgar sense of apathy cut through Teyla’s compassion for her. As badly as she wanted to comfort the girl, her mouth was curled shut.
The girl took a huge, hysterical sob and babbled, “Please don’t hurt me. Please don’t!”
Teyla’s hand shot out, curling in the air near the girl’s face. It was bone-white and mapped with dull gray veins beneath the skin. Her fingers curled over the obscene bloodless gash that almost split her palm.
The girl’s head wrenched back, her wild eyes showing white all around the honey-brown irises. She released a thin, tremulous whimper. “Please, please, please.”
“Silence.” The words both sounded and sent a deeper sub-audible vibration through Teyla’s body as she spoke. She was using her power on the girl. Teyla recognized it from the feeling of meditative concentration she’d experienced in using her inherited power on Wraith queens.
The girl’s mouth fell open, wide, mute and almost black in the darkness of the hive. Her entire body convulsed with the will not to obey the order.
“You will tell me what you know,” Teyla heard herself order. Her fingers curled against the girl’s cheek, her own hand the lifeless white of a drowned body and the girl’s face a deep, healthy olive. She felt the ebb and flow of her power emanating from the core of her, pushing forth like a wave.
“Traveler,” the girl gasped explosively. She panted and her face twisted with effort. “The nav system malfunctioned,” she whined in her throat, “sent-sent us to an uninhabited part of the system.” Her words and thoughts overlapped, forming layers of impressions, conversations, and images that wavered in Teyla’s mind. Beneath all of it, the memory of the two things she wanted most to hide shimmered, always fixed in the girl’s mind by the wild wish to conceal them: the current position of the girl’s homeship and the Ancient hovering in the view screen, her dark hair floating around a face as pale and radiant as the stars.
A frenzy of shock and horror pushed Teyla from the scene so she seemed to watch from a distance as she stroked one black fingernail down the girl’s cheek. “An Ancient,” her voice mused. “They are all gone.” Teyla recognized with the same dull detachment how she was at once right and wrong. “How does this one still exist?”
The Wraith, her second in command, was quick to reply. “The girl saw the Ancient six days ago.” Teyla didn’t look at him when he spoke. Teyla wondered what the Wraith could conceivably want with the body of an Ancient. Despite all the atrocities she’d suffered at their hands, she believed that she knew where their limitations lay.
“We’ll need the ship’s navigation system to chart a course back to the,” she paused, skeptical, “Ancient.” The girl shuddered at Teyla’s knees and Teyla could almost sense the palpable fear coming off of her. Images of the Travelers’ ship came through the connection, ever-present through the harried flicker of false leads and other planets the girl forced herself to think of. “Did you overtake the vessel in the culling?” Now she looked at the Wraith.
He bowed his head. “No, my Queen. They must have seen the scout darts we sent ahead. They escaped.” Teyla saw an image of a marketplace through the girl’s eyes where the girl bartered for repair scrap for the damaged navigation system, dark blue pennants fluttering through a whirlwind of snow and the terror on the seller’s face as the dart whined overhead, blotting out the sun. It came overlaid on a star map of the Travelers’ meeting place and the knowledge that the Travelers would go there before circling back for her.
“Take what you need from the girl’s mind to overtake them,” Teyla heard herself announce. She considered the young woman once more and hunger swept over Teyla, almost overwhelming reason.
“The Traveler, my Queen?” her second asked from Teyla’s periphery. He gestured to one of the drones, who pulled the top of the woman’s shirt open, exciting a fresh riot of terror in the girl’s face.
The uncanny white hand flickered through the air. “She won’t be touched until we take the vessel. Put her in a cell.”
The girl wailed as the drones dragged her out but Teyla was no longer watching them carry her. She turned away, considering the memory of the woman hovering in space like a pale specter. She’d been wrong. It wasn’t an Ancient. It was a Replicator.
Elizabeth, Teyla thought. It could be no one else. Just as suddenly as she’d succumbed to sleep, Teyla jolted awake.
The city of Atlantis floated on the serene waters of M12-578, spires glittering with copper-colored lights that reflected on the boundless black sea around it. At eleven thirteen Atlantis Standard Time, the city was quiet and calm, scientists, officers and aliens tucked into bed.
The crisp white light from Lantea III’s ringed moon spilled in through the long windows in John’s quarters, catching on the silver threads in his filmy black curtains and limning the curve of Rodney’s cheek in bed as he turned his face aside with a shudder and a sigh.
The scientist’s hair was mussed into tufts against the white pillowcase, his face flushed in the low light coming through the window and what came off the illuminated inlays in the rust-colored sculpture above John’s bed. His arms were looped around John’s neck, his dark gray t-shirt sleeves pushed up on his upper arms. The standard slate uniform pants were tangled around his thighs and the little winking smiley faces on his boxer shorts seemed to take on a new meaning, tented over the very obvious sign of his arousal. He moaned as John kissed a path from his earlobe to his clavicle, leaving tender bites and reddened kiss marks in his wake.
As John found a particularly sensitive spot just over Rodney’s clavicle, Rodney caught a hand in John’s wild hair to hold him in place. “Yes, there please.” He squirmed and whined as John grinned against his skin, nipping once more before moving on.
John was in a similar state of disarray – his belt hung loose over Rodney’s hip and his black button-up hung off of one arm as the other worked between them. What that hand was doing in Rodney’s boxers was what elicited the scientist’s enthusiastic approval. John’s grin grew wider as he teased Rodney through the thin fabric of his shorts.
Rodney whipped his head aside and nearly beaned John square in the nose. “Oh god, yes. There, there—” he held onto John with his arms and the knees bracketing John’s hips. “If you stop, I’ll be forced to put dye in your shower water. I’ll arrange for all the doors to close in your face. I’ll—”
John’s hazel eyes rolled over the shadowy ceiling in exasperation. He gave a sharp nip on the scientist’s jaw. “Rodney, what did we talk about?” he drawled. “Backseat drivers don’t get to go all the way.”
Rodney’s face was flushed and his hair was sticking up at absurd angles when he lifted his head to meet John’s stare, but the smudged pink color of his mouth and his neck and the dazed look in his blue eyes made John’s whole body ache with desire. “Okay, whatever. Whatever gets us there. Let’s go with that plan.”
John snorted. Only Rodney could be so…Rodney about it. He wound his arms around Rodney and dove back in for more when the radio on the side table buzzed. John jerked his head up from Rodney’s neck and caught the underside of Rodney’s chin with a knock that rang through John’s head. John grabbed his head with both hands and glared at Rodney. “What the hell, Rodney. Some people’s skulls aren’t made of adamantium!”
From under John, Rodney mirrored John’s look of annoyance, his hands knit on his chin. “It’s called co-ordination, Colonel. Feel free to get some,” he shot back. “I think you broke my jaw with your giant, fuzz-covered—”
John rolled his eyes and swiped the radio off of the table. He didn’t wait for Rodney to quiet down before he tapped it and slipped it over his ear. Anything worth calling for in the middle of the night was probably important. As much as he was still keyed up to get back to it with Rodney, all of that would have to wait. Wincing, he sat up. “Sheppard.”
“Hey, it’s Ronon.” The low, rough timbre of Ronon’s voice was clear enough through the radio without the explicit identification.
John dropped one boot to the floor and straightened on the edge of the narrow mattress, arranging himself in his pants so it was a little less painful. “Ronon, what’s up?” Ronon did things his own way but even for him, calling in the middle of the night was unusual. From the other side of the bed, Rodney mouthed questions with so much emphasis, John was pretty sure Ronon was picking up psychic wavelengths over the radio. John swatted Rodney and turned his attention completely to the man on the line.
“Woolsey wants us all in the conference room in ten,” Ronon said. “You with McKay?”
John would’ve tripped over his feet and fallen on his face if he’d been walking. “What? Why? Nah, he’s not—” He could feel his neck heating up with a nervous flush.
It was little use hiding anything from Ronon. “What’s he want, anyway? Is it an emergency?”
“Don’t know yet,” Ronon replied. “He didn’t tell me the whole story but he said he couldn’t get a hold of McKay, so he called me. Teyla’s there already.”
John shrugged his arm into his shirt and gestured mutely for Rodney to get dressed. “Should we be worried?” he asked. Framed with the twinkling lights of the city outside the window, Rodney looked at John as he retrieved his science jacket from the floor. John could see Rodney’s forehead furrow with concern and the little happy faces on his boxer shorts wink good-bye as Rodney carefully zipped his slacks up over the reminder of their date straining through the fabric of his pants. John suppressed his regret at seeing them go.
“Don’t know. All he said was that Teyla had a dream.”
“A dream?” John asked. “What, like a dream-dream?”
Ronon was silent for a moment and John knew Ronon was shrugging without having to see it. “Yeah. A dream, vision, whatever. How quick can you be here?”
“Five, maybe ten.” John clapped a hand on Rodney’s shoulder as the scientist joined him at his door. He waved his hand over the sensor and walked out into the hall. “Tell Woolsey I’m on the way.”
“Sure. Bring McKay.” Before John had a chance to deny that he was with Rodney, Ronon said, “Ronon out” and the line went dead. Sometimes it was like the big guy had an antenna to catch the signals going on around there. While Teyla may’ve been the one with the psychic vibes, Ronon was pretty uncanny at times himself.
“What’s up?” Rodney asked as soon as Ronon had cut the call. He hurried to match John’s pace as they walked briskly through the dimly lit Lantean corridors in the direction of the conference room. “Why was Ronon calling?”
“Because Woolsey couldn’t get a hold of you,” John said with an arched eyebrow. They’d both agreed to be discreet when they’d started going out together in San Fran, at least for the time being, because of the SGC’s dim view on fraternization – and either way, Woolsey wasn’t on the list of approved secret-keepers yet. Ronon and Teyla were but John hadn’t figured out how to tell them in a way that wasn’t completely awkward. It was turning out that maybe they wouldn’t need to say anything about it anyway – especially if John and Rodney kept rolling out of the same bed for emergencies.
“Oh.” Rodney snapped his fingers and dug his radio out of his pants pocket. He hooked it over his ear with a wince. “Crap. I took it off at the—”
“At the pier, yeah,” John said as Rodney finished. He suppressed the goofy smirk he knew was forming on his face and swiped a hand over the transporter door control panel at the end of the hall. The doors slid open and John stepped in with Rodney at his side. In his periphery, he could see the curve of Rodney’s smile on Rodney’s downturned face. They both reached for the map and Rodney punched the central tower first with a triumphant grin and John’s good-natured eyeroll.
They turned back to the doors as they slid back open to the corridor outside the conference room, Rodney’s shoulder brushing John’s as he turned. “I was planning on putting it back on. I must’ve forgotten, what with the You-Putting-Your-Hand-in-My-Pants-Thing.” He shot John a sideways look that probably meant that John should take the blame for this little episode.
John wasn’t having it. He thrust his bottom lip out in what was not a pout. “Hey, don’t blame me.” They walked out into the hallway, matching strides step for step. “I was being friendly.”
Rodney snorted. “If that’s your idea of being friendly, I want to be your best friend.” Rodney’s smirk was contagious.
John stopped at the swiveling conference room doors, pausing to coif Rodney, who was looking incriminatingly ruffled. “Look, can’t you just…?” he tugged the zipper of Rodney’s jacket up to cover the flower-colored kiss mark on his neck. Rodney craned his neck, allowing it for a moment before decisively rearranging John’s messy hair. John grimaced and swatted Rodney’s hands. “Better,” he announced. “After you.”
Rodney quirked a last lopsided smile as he waved his hand over the door sensor. “Brains before beauty,” he said as he stepped through the rotating doors into the conference room.
John stalled to look around the hall. “I don’t see Colonel Carter anywhere.” He laughed at the mock glare Rodney sent over his shoulder and, clapping the scientist’s shoulder, followed him in at his heels. As soon as he caught a glimpse of the rest of his team in the conference room, the smile died on John’s lips and a warning note tightened John’s chest in readiness for conflict.
Woolsey, Teyla, and Ronon were already seated at the new conference table, Woolsey by the display screen and Teyla and Ronon seated along one side of the triangular table. Woolsey’s grim, pragmatic expression could’ve applied to a plethora of situations ranging from Wraith attack to stationary shortages, but the closed off look in Teyla’s eyes was a clear sign something was wrong. Suddenly, John remembered the first time he’d seen her look like that, the time she’d hugged him after she’d found Kate Heightmeyer’s body years before. Teyla was the strong and silent type and not much shook her so whatever was troubling her would trouble them all.
“Hey,” John said with a salutary nod as he slid into one of the empty chairs across from Richard Woolsey. He glanced at Ronon and saw the Satedan mutely studying Teyla, his stare keen and discerning. “Got here as fast as I could.”
“Yes.” Rodney agreed too readily as he sat down. “The Colonel and I – we, ah, we ran into each other right outside in the hall. After he called me. After Ronon called him. Of course.” Rodney’s fumbling eked a small smile out of Ronon but Teyla remained distant, her stare fixed on her clasped hands as though she could see something beside the glossy red wood finish on the table and the light playing on her thumb nails.
Woolsey pursed his lips and seemed to ignore Rodney’s trademark eccentricity. “That’s fine, Dr. McKay. Now that everyone’s here, we can begin.” He turned to Teyla. “Ms. Emmagan?”
Teyla started at the sound of Woolsey’s voice, her hazel eyes turning up at the leader of Atlantis. “Yes,” she murmured after a moment, “of course.” She straightened, looking at each man in turn. There was tightness around her eyes and mouth as she spoke. “I believe that when I went to sleep tonight, I made contact with the mind of a Wraith.”
John shifted in his chair, readying himself for whatever was coming. “Could it’ve been Todd bugging you?” he asked. He figured she and Woolsey had probably gone over it together already but it didn’t hurt to ask.
Teyla shook her head. “No,” she said, her gaze dropping to the tabletop, “it was another.” She swallowed and looked up. “It was a Queen. She was traveling aboard a Hive ship.”
John straightened his spine and in the corner of his eye, he saw Woolsey shift uncomfortably and Rodney sit up at attention. “Wait a minute, Teyla. Are you saying you sense a Wraith here?” he asked.
Rodney interrupted, drawing John’s glance. “No, not here, because the long-range sensors would’ve picked up any oncoming ships, but—”
“She knows what I mean, Rodney.”
Teyla shook her head impatiently. “The Wraith I connected with was not near our new homeworld. She was engaged in the interrogation of a young Traveler woman they culled from a marketplace regarding something the Travelers had seen in their journeys.” John winced at exactly what that interrogation meant – he’d been through it enough to know – and Teyla looked pinched as she continued. “The young woman’s ship had malfunctioned, sending the crew far afield where the Travelers happened on…” Teyla hesitated. She pursed her lips, the muscle in her jaw tensing, and seemed to force herself to go on. “They happened on one of the remaining Replicators sent through the Gate two years ago.”
Rodney sat forward, his eyebrows shooting up. “You can’t mean Elizabeth?” he asked.
Teyla gave a terse nod, her hands absently clasping her bare arms. “It was the Replicator who claimed to be Elizabeth Weir.” Even Ronon was surprised by the information. Teyla paused while the others processed it, her expression distant. “The Travelers believed that the Replicator Dr. Weir was an Ancient, likely owing to her style of clothing, and when the Wraith discovered this in the young woman’s mind, it excited their curiosity. They believe that she may be the key to the city of the Ancients.”
At this, Woolsey sat forward and addressed the table. “With the Superhive that knew the whereabouts of Earth destroyed, the Wraith’s only hope of reaching our homeworld is the Atlantean Gate.” Rodney nodded as though it was a foregone conclusion and Ronon folded his arms over his chest, the muscles in his arms flexing menacingly. “The only thing between us and them is their ignorance of where we are. When we settled on this planet, it was with the understanding that Dr. Weir’s knowledge of its candidacy as a secondary settlement was no longer an issue. Whether these Wraith believe this Replicator Weir is an Ancient or a Replicator, they suspect that she knows our whereabouts and apparently have some means of getting information from her. Unless we can afford to move the City, she knows where we are.”
“And if they come, we’ll be waiting for them,” Ronon said gruffly.
“No, no, no,” Rodney interrupted. “Our last trip with the wormhole drive nearly depleted our power supply.” He cast a look at the others. “We are in no position to fend off an all-out attack by the Wraith and moving the City is out of the question. If we’re nearly depleted now, we’d be dead in the water after we’d moved.”
“Sounds like we’ve gotta find her before the Wraith do,” John said.
“But what happens when we do?” Teyla cut in. When John glanced her way, her gaze was steely if not outwardly angry. He recognized that look from when Michael had kidnapped the Athosians; Teyla was angry, but she was also afraid. She wasn’t alone in that. “The last time we allowed the Replicators to come here, they made an attempt to escape the City.”
“That was Koracen.” There was a familiar edge to Rodney’s voice and the edge made John itchy with annoyance. They’d never settled what had gone on with the nanites, Elizabeth, and the Replicator she’d become.
It didn’t take a genius to see that Rodney still blamed himself for Elizabeth. He’d wanted so much to believe that the Replicator who’d come back to them was Elizabeth that he’d put the entire expedition at risk instead of thinking up an alternative. Now, Rodney was probably getting ahead of himself, imagining bringing the Replicator back and pretending that it was business-as-usual with their resurrected friend back at home. But the Elizabeth John knew would never have put the expedition at risk for her own well-being and he wasn’t convinced the Replicator who came to them was the Elizabeth who’d been his friend.
His chest tightened at the thought of how she’d risked everyone they knew and cared about for what was essentially the enemy. Even if she’d sacrificed herself in the end, John wasn’t so sure she was in there at all.
What they were talking about bringing back might be as deadly as a Wraith and with Todd imprisoned in the brig, they already had one enemy in the City.
“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it, Dr. McKay,” Woolsey said. “A Replicator’s presence here is extremely dangerous, especially one so adept at adapting her own code to work around the limitations you set on it,” Rodney sullenly set his jaw but didn’t argue it, “but if the Wraith are after her, we have to recover her first.” John nodded, precipitating his orders – there was no way around it. “Colonel, I want you and your team to go through the space Gate as soon as possible to recover the Replicator Weir. If we can resolve this this evening, we may not have to worry about the Wraith at all.”
“Oh, no more than usual, you mean?” Rodney asked.
John stood and tugged Rodney up as he went. “We’ll suit up. Get out in five. Ronon, Teyla.” Woolsey nodded and began gathering his watch and cup of coffee from the table. Rodney collided with John as he stumbled to follow and Ronon got up at John’s gesture, his stare returning to Teyla. As John left the room, he glanced back and saw that Teyla had remained seated, her eyes on the table and her hands clenched in tight fists.
The corridors were empty as Teyla walked toward the ready room near the jumper bay. It was almost like a ghost town, like New Athos when Teyla had gone there with Jennifer Keller so many years ago. The emptiness felt almost like a stranger’s presence in the City she’d come to know so well. It reminded Teyla of exactly how much she’d lost and how hard the idea of losing again had become.
On Athos, the threat of culling had hung over her head her whole life. She’d never agreed with Halling when he’d told the others to be at peace with their fates, whatever those fates may be, whenever he’d led them in prayer or in thanksgiving, but she recognized the shadow of loss cast on their galaxy.
The Ancient City had given the Pegasus Galaxy the tools to wage a war against the Wraith – but Teyla found that loss never became any easier. Charin, Kate Heightmeyer, Carson Beckett, many of her Athosian friends, and Elizabeth Weir…. Teyla had lost them all but Elizabeth was the only loss she’d had to bear several times over. It was the keenest loss she’d experienced, one that still ached acutely when her mind returned to it.
In a way, Elizabeth had been like a personification of the City of the Ancients to Teyla. Elizabeth had been the shield that protected the expedition and the woman who led them. She’d been wise and kind and unyielding in her strength. Beyond that, though, she’d been a friend. Elizabeth had been Teyla’s friend and Teyla’s confidant. Somehow, after Charin had died and Teyla found herself alone, Elizabeth had become the person Teyla had gone to with her troubles and she’d been the one Teyla’s eyes searched out when she came into a room. When Ronon had told her that Elizabeth was gone, it felt like Teyla would die with her.
Every time it had seemed like Elizabeth had returned, it was only for her to disappear again, and every time had been like a fresh wound. Every time it was some trick that cheapened her passing. Maybe Halling was right. Maybe it was the truest blessing to know the time of one’s death, the time of another’s death. Teyla no longer knew what to believe and she couldn’t trust Elizabeth to return only to disappear again. Whatever was out there, whatever had come home with them in the jumper years ago, it wasn’t Elizabeth Weir. It was a copy Teyla couldn’t afford to care about losing again.
As Teyla stepped into the locker room, she saw Rodney fastening his thigh holster and Ronon cleaning and sheathing his knives. John glanced her way as she came in, seeming awkward in the presence of emotion. Teyla ignored his look and walked to the TAC vest rack. She grabbed one and pulled it over the BDUs she’d dressed in to go to Woolsey’s quarters when she’d awakened. She clipped on her holster and retrieved her sidearm and P90. She could feel the weight of Ronon’s stare as she holstered her sidearm and clipped her P90 on her vest but she kept her eyes trained on her hands as they accomplished her task. She wouldn’t speak to any of them about it if she could help it and she was sure she could.
Finally, it seemed that they had given up on the idea of asking her about it. John clasped Rodney’s shoulder briefly before saying, “Okay, kids, saddle up.”
Teyla bent on the pretense of snugging her thigh holster as the Earth natives went ahead into the hallway. She felt Ronon at her back, leaning against the lockers, without having to see him. Teyla rechecked the buckles on her clothes and pulled her hair back into an elastic band.
“Want to talk about it?” Ronon asked. The fading sound of John and Rodney’s footsteps resounded in the hallway through the door.
Teyla straightened her spine and fixed her eyes on the lockers against the far wall. She didn’t know what she could say to Ronon if she agreed. The last person she’d entrusted with her secrets was Kate Heightmeyer and even with Kate, there were some things she couldn’t fathom revealing. Some things were meant to be hers and hers alone. “No,” she said, turning to him. “We should catch up.”
Ronon pushed himself off of the lockers, stepping close to her. While strangers saw the fierceness in him, Teyla saw the gentleness of her friend. He pressed a hand on her shoulder as he had when he’d found her packing Elizabeth’s things in her office – after the nanites had taken Elizabeth over and they’d lost her to the Replicators. The memory stung anew. “Don’t have to be alone,” he said. His greenish eyes met hers as Teyla dropped her gaze. “We’re here.”
Teyla’s eyes prickled. “I know. I just can’t. Not now.”
Ronon’s hand remained firm and reassuring as he nodded. “Whenever you need it.”
Teyla swallowed, heat flooding her face. She’d been dangerously close since she’d seen the Replicator’s face in the Wraith’s mind and now, tears were threatening to fall from her eyes. She closed them and took a few breaths, nodding her head at Ronon’s offer. “Thank you.”
The fingers on her shoulder tightened and released. “See you in the ship,” Ronon said. Teyla knew that he was giving her time to collect herself and all over again, a wave of gratitude swept over her. She’d never imagined in Athos that she’d be so rich in friendship and family.
As she heard Ronon’s footfalls fade into the hallway outside, Teyla opened her eyes and leaned heavily against the bench beside her. She took a few breaths until the prickling in her eyes had passed and her breath had evened out. It was a moment but no more – Teyla knew that she had a job to do and she wouldn’t allow her feelings to jeopardize the mission. Pulling herself together, she followed the others out into the hallway, catching up to them as they walked into the jumper bay. She shared a wry smile with Ronon as the Satedan glanced her way.
As they filed into the jumper, John raised the rear hatch at their backs. Teyla sat in the chair behind Rodney and studied the HUD as Rodney called it up for pre-flight systems check. “You’re good to go,” Rodney told him. The hangar seemed to rotate around them as John pulled the ship up.
“How are we looking, Control?” John asked.
“Colonel Sheppard,” Woolsey answered through the radio, “we see you and you’re good to go.”
John turned a tense smile on the others. “Buckle up, guys. It’s going to be a bumpy night,” he said as he piloted the jumper through the open doors on the floor into the Gate room below.
“Yes, that one never gets old,” Rodney said.
John called over his shoulder, “Ronon, you wanna co-pilot?”
“Looks like McKay’s got it covered,” Ronon replied, unruffled by the mock look of indignation on John’s face.
The nose of the ship glided through the hatch doors and the stained glass windows and Gate became clear as the John leveled out the ship just over the Gate room floor. Over the radio, Chuck’s voice was audible, repeating the space Gate address as he dialed it. The event horizon exploded out toward them before rippling back into the ring that contained it. “Let us know what you find, Colonel. We’ll be waiting here at home.”
Teyla wondered as well. It could be that they retrieved the Replicator only for her to attack them as Niam had attacked Elizabeth in the jumper years ago. It could be that in bringing her home, they were tempting a snake to strike. She reminded herself again that it wasn’t Elizabeth, that the Elizabeth she knew was gone, and that the being they would bring home was a machine endowed with Elizabeth’s memories, no more.
“Got it,” John radioed back. “Keep the porch light on for us.” He nodded for Rodney to plug his tablet in and piloted the jumper through the Gate. No sooner had they left the Gate room than they flew out into the abyss on the other side. Space was impenetrably dark and flecked with icy points of starlight, spreading out infinitely in every direction. Teyla could remember her astonishment the first time she’d seen the sight but it was a distant memory in all the times that had followed it.
John consulted the HUD as Rodney booted up his tablet. “What are we looking at, Rodney?”
“Ah, according to my, albeit very rough and might I add last minute, calculations—”
“Get on with it, McKay,” Ronon grumbled from beside Teyla.
Rodney shot a glance at Ronon over his shoulder and said to John, “Straight ahead.” He tapped the tablet and a dashed line lit up over the grid on the HUD, showing what Teyla presumed to be the path of the Replicators through space. “There,” he said, pointing to the overhead. “This is an approximation of where they should be, given their previous trajectory through the Gate.”
John leaned closer to take a look before nodding. “Okay, guys, let’s get to it.”
Teyla leaned back into her chair as John piloted the ship through the void. Their position in relation to the stars was the only indication that they were moving at all. Teyla stared through the transparent overhead into the flickering star field and let her thoughts drift.
For some reason, she remembered the first Athosian festival she’d invited Elizabeth to in their new settlement on Lantea. She remembered how the night had settled on the forest, the sky darkening to a star-specked plum as night had encroached on the festival. They’d staved off the darkness with roaring fires and paper lanterns the children had made for the occasion. Kanaan’s smile had disappeared behind the wooden mask of a boar as they prepared for the ceremonial nighthunt.
Teyla recalled how much more relaxed Elizabeth had seemed, sitting on one of the low benches around the blaze, the breeze stirring the curling strands of her hair across her cheeks. A pang lanced Teyla’s chest as she remembered Elizabeth’s smile as she’d met her eyes, how the smile had blanked in surprise as lightning arced through the dense storm clouds hanging overhead.
Teyla shook her head to dispel the memory. The vision of the Wraith Queen had brought too much back. She returned her mind to the present, resolved to remain anchored in the here-and-now. She looked at her watch and was surprised at how much time had passed in her meditation.
“Okay, Rodney, where…?” John asked.
“They should be here,” Rodney replied defensively.
“And by ‘here’ you mean ‘where we are,’ not ‘someplace else,’ right?” John asked with a sideways glance.
Rodney opened his mouth and snapped it shut again. Behind John, Ronon shot a look to Teyla, arching a heavy eyebrow. Teyla nodded once in mute agreement. Sometimes the two of them, John and Rodney, were trying, even if they were two of Teyla’s best friends. Rodney hunched over his tablet as he opened screen after screen. “My calculations were totally correct. I mean, within a margin of a fraction of—”
“Rodney, either you’re sure or you’re not sure. So which is it?” John asked. He, like Rodney, was dancing the edge of annoyance.
Teyla leaned forward. “Could it be that there was a variable you have not accounted for?” she asked.
Rodney shook his head. “No,” he said. “No. There’s just no way. I mean, even if my calculations were somewhat off, we should be picking something up—”
“You mean the Replicators?” Ronon asked.
Rodney glanced back at him. “Even if the nanites that compose them are inert, the Replicators are a mass we should be picking up with the jumper sensors. It’s the kind of thing the program compensates for so you don’t, you know, run into things at a million miles an hour.” He blew out a frustrated sigh and consulted his tablet. Teyla thought he’d climb into it if he only could. “No,” he repeated. “It’s just impossible. They’re not here. She’s not here.”
Teyla’s chest tightened and shortened her breath. “I sense no Wraith nearby,” she said.
“Well, here’s the thing about space: it’s vast but it’s not empty. I’ve accounted for the path Elizabeth would take at the velocity she was traveling through the gate, but she could’ve been thrown off course, if she was moving faster or at a greater angle than I’ve accounted for, she could’ve been pulled into a planetoid’s orbit.” He paused and Teyla fought the urge to sit forward in anticipation. She already knew what he would say from the reluctant expression he turned on John. “And she could’ve been picked up already.”
“So you don’t know where she is,” Ronon said impatiently from behind John. Teyla cut her eyes toward him but he was too annoyed to be repentant.
“No,” Rodney said. “Wherever she is…it’s not here.”
The corners of John’s mouth furled unhappily. “Great. So they could have her already and we have no way to know it.” Rodney nodded and John brooded over the jumper instrument array.
“We should go back and tell Mr. Woolsey,” Teyla said.
John glanced back at her over his shoulder. His features were tense with the worry he hadn’t let on before. “Yeah, and start planning,” he agreed. “We’re heading home.”
Teyla sat back in her seat, eyes fixed on the stars that seemed to rotate and spin around them as John turned the jumper around. Her fingernails bit into her palms. In her mind’s eye, all she could see was the face of the sleeping Replicator who’d claimed to be Elizabeth Weir. It was a race toward another painful good-bye and there was nothing Teyla could do about it.
The rear hatch had opened and Rodney didn’t even have a chance to try catching John before he was out. Ever since Teyla told them about her dream, Rodney’s chest had been tight and aching with memories.
He’d thought about it so many times since Elizabeth had walked through the Gate – they could still find her, that she was still out there. That it was his fault that it happened to her at all. He’d never been able to apologize. He’d been too ashamed to say as much, face-to-face. Even with Doranda, he’d been able to say he was sorry but it had been all that he could do just to seek John out for a beer in his room afterward. Neither of them had wanted to talk about it and Rodney gratefully let it drop.
The idea that Elizabeth may lead the Wraith to Atlantis reopened wounds that could only generously be called healed. Now John was pissed. Rodney knew that much. He was angry with himself, too.
It didn’t help that the sight of John’s profile as he’d set land speed records on his way out looked like bottled recrimination to Rodney. He glanced at Ronon as he stood up and found an uncharacteristically wry expression on the giant’s face. Teyla was as quiet and as dangerous as she’d seemed in the conference room. Rodney filed it away for future reference as he grabbed his tablet and jogged after John.
He caught up right outside the hangar doors. “John,” he called out. “I wanted to talk to you.”
John glanced over his shoulder, slowing but not stopping. At least he didn’t look forbidding. “Wait on it. You can save it till we get to the gate room,” he said.
Rodney’s heart plummeted. He looked sidelong as a scientist he couldn’t place hurried down the hall in the direction of the Gate room. The City was waking up and Rodney’s eyes were starting to burn with sleeplessness. He grasped John’s arm. “Privately,” he said. He waved a hand against the protestation forming on John’s lips. “For a second – no more, I know we’ve got to—”
John took him by the arm and shepherded him out of the way. It was unsettlingly similar to how John had touched him when things had started falling apart for Rodney in the Second Childhood. The memory couldn’t have come at a worse time. It recalled all of the helplessness he’d felt then. “Okay, shoot,” John said. He was too patient. Rodney knew he could be a pain in the ass to deal with sometimes.
Rodney grimaced. “I just–” He quailed. Even if John and he played together, ate together, and slept together, there were some things they didn’t do. Talking about emotions was one of them. They were too far out in the open, standing in an alcove near the ready room where anyone could see or hear them. Rodney forced himself to say it anyway. “I wanted to say that I’m sorry.”
When John didn’t speak for a moment, Rodney forced himself to meet John’s eyes and found a flummoxed look on John’s face. “What?” John asked.
Rodney’s penitence was tinged by a hint of annoyance. He flapped a hand around. “This,” he said, “the-the Replicators, Elizabeth – you were against it in the first place.” He looked down at the fraying edge of John’s breast pocket, his face heating up. “I know how you feel about this, that I didn’t take your opinion—”
“Anybody’s opinion,” John interrupted.
“–into account during the Replicator siege.” Rodney’s facial muscles were tight with a miserable frown. He tried not to let it all come back to him in talking about it but the memory was painful, nonetheless. “I realize that this is my fault, that none of this would’ve happened if it wasn’t for me and – and—” he paused breathlessly, meeting John’s eyes, “—and I’m sorry about all of this.”
Rodney waved John off. “No, no. Let me finish. I want you to know that I regret my actions. I just didn’t see another way to-to—”
“Rodney!” John grabbed Rodney by his arms, his grip unyielding and reassuring all at once. It shocked Rodney silent. John swallowed. His hazel eyes followed a Marine passing them before he went on, “Listen, all that crap is over and done with.” He gave Rodney a warning look before Rodney could start up again. “We didn’t agree at the time. I was pissed that you’d do what you did but it’s over. Now we’ve got to figure out what to do in the present.” John waved a hand around the empty hallway. “Do I wish you hadn’t activated the nanites in Elizabeth? Hell yeah.” Rodney winced, feeling color rising in his face and his shoulders stiffening defensively. “But you did and now we’ve got to deal with what’s going on. For what it’s worth, Rodney – you’ve done worse.”
“Gee, thanks!” Rodney snorted.
“And I forgave you for it,” John said with a thin smile.
Rodney swallowed, feeling stupid and flayed open. His voice was humiliatingly rough when he spoke. “I also….” He hesitated. He wondered if he was betraying too much or if John would think it was stupid. “I don’t want you to stop liking me.”
John stared silently at Rodney for a moment. Finally, he snorted. “Rodney, you’re such a dipshit.”
Rodney wrinkled his nose. “That sounds positive! What is that even supposed to mean?”
John pushed Rodney’s shoulder. He rolled his eyes. “It means I’m not going to stop liking you now or ever, okay?” The expression on his face was more careful than they usually kept things. Rodney’s chest tightened.
He let his head sag and felt the heat of John’s shoulder against his face. “Okay,” he said. He took a deep breath and blew it out, straightening up.
“Now let’s go kick some bad guy ass,” John said, his knee bumping Rodney’s persuasively.
Rodney quirked a half-smile at him. “Doable.” The heat of John’s body by his side was reassuring as they walked down the hallway and into the conference room.
Woolsey was already waiting at the conference room table, sipping an enviably tall mug of steaming coffee. “Colonel Sheppard, Dr. McKay,” he said. “Where’s the rest or your team?”
“On the way,” John said as he sat.
Woolsey shut the folder in front of him and folded his hands over it. “So,” he sighed, “you couldn’t recover Dr. Weir. Where are we now and what are we thinking?”
“Other than that we’re possibly screwed and we don’t even know it?” Rodney asked. He glanced sidelong at John.
“Yes, other than that.” Woolsey sounded about as patient as Rodney was with the clock ticking down on what was beginning to look like an inevitable Wraith attack. If they’d just found the damn Replicators, the situation wouldn’t be looking dire. But seeing as it was another standard Friday in the Pegasus Galaxy, disaster loomed right around the corner. “I was thinking solutions.”
John shrugged his shoulders. “We’ve gotta start at the beginning.” He said it like it was so simple. Rodney furled his brows at his simple answer.
Woolsey nodded. “Teyla’s dream,” he said. He looked up as Teyla walked in, Ronon at her back. “Ah, Ms. Emmagan, Specialist Dex.”
Rodney glanced over as Teyla nodded at Woolsey and slipped into a seat beside Rodney. “What did we miss?” she asked. The lines of her shoulders and spine were rigid against the back of her chair. Rodney felt himself tensing in commiseration with his teammate’s posture and the drawn expression on her face. Was it any wonder, though, that something was wrong when her brain was regularly invaded by space vampires? Rodney figured that he’d be tense, too, if he had to deal with crap like that.
“We were just formulating a plan,” Woolsey filled her in.
Ronon hooked his elbow on the back of his chair, angling himself toward the others. “We’re gonna strike first?” he asked.
Woolsey frowned. “It remains to be seen. Perhaps, though, if the Wraith don’t have Dr. Weir in their custody, we might be able to intercept them before they do.”
Rodney leaned forward to look at Woolsey from over John, who’d sat down between them. “I wasn’t picking up hyperdrive radiation in our search radius,” he said. It was the most encouraging information he had because it suggested that the Wraith hadn’t opened any subspace windows in the area. “But it’s possible we were way, way off if something else threw them off course.”
John looked across at Teyla. “You didn’t recognize the world the Wraith culled by any chance, did you?” he asked. It would certainly make things a lot easier.
“Or happen to see where the Wraith were catching up to the Travelers?” Rodney added.
Teyla shook her head. “I didn’t recognize the world. Nor did I see the location of the Traveler rendezvous.”
“Describe the world they culled,” Rodney said. “There may be some details that could give us something to go on to search the Ancient database.” Elizabeth had always managed to coax excellent results from the Ancient database but even without her prowess with the Ancient language, Radek and he could usually glean what they needed.
Teyla cocked her head, thinking for a moment. She shook her head again. “What I glimpsed was brief and limited in scope, but I know that the young woman was culled in a marketplace. The village looked to be what you call ‘pre-industrial.’” She pursed her lips, her gaze becoming distant with the memory.
“You mean you didn’t see any factories or high-tech gizmos?” John asked.
Rodney made a face. “But that’s hardly unusual in this galaxy. Most of the planets we come across haven’t invented dental floss, let alone steam power—”
“PX5-729 invented string bikinis,” John retorted. “I didn’t hear you complaining then.” He was still riding Rodney about that but that blonde had looked way too good for Rodney not to take a peek when he had the chance to. Old habits die hard, as they said.
Teyla ignored them. “I believe that it was winter. There was snow on the ground.” She raised her eyebrows in consideration. “The planet may have been distant from their sun. It was darker than it is on this planet, but, as I said, it may have been winter.” It wasn’t a lot to go on, astronomically speaking. There were dozens of planets that might fit that description. “The market was much the same as others. There were wooden stalls with canopies set against tall timber walls. The passes were narrow.” She trailed off and passed a hand over her brow, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
“Perhaps if you can remember some of the wares, it could tell us something about their trading partners,” Woolsey said. “It could give us somewhere to start from. A network to begin exploring.”
Teyla squinted into the distance, pausing. “There was roasted meat, possibly venison; earthenware pots with a non-descript glaze; I did not recognize the basket weaving.” The basket weaving thing was something Elizabeth had pushed a lot in the first year. It hadn’t seemed to get off the ground with anyone but the anthropologists. “There was golden jewelry…rings, pendants….” Teyla stopped short and Rodney waited for her to begin again. “I remember one thing. When the darts flew overhead, they cast a shadow over the stall.”
Teyla’s eyes flicked upward as though seeing a dart flying over Atlantis and the hair stood up on the back of Rodney’s neck. “The young woman looked up and saw them pass – there was a banner, a pennant, fluttering in the wind.” She traced a triangle on the tabletop to describe the shape. “They were suspended between the walls at equal intervals and they were emblazoned with some kind of design. A large tawny feline, like what you call a ‘lion’ on Earth. The feline’s mouth was open and it appeared to be swallowing a crescent moon—”
“Kith,” Ronon said. His voice startled Rodney out of his thoughts.
Teyla turned to him. “You recognize the design, Ronon?” she asked.
Ronon nodded. “It’s the cat that devours the moon,” he said. “It’s the seal of Kith. They used to be a Satedan trading partner before we got culled.”
“You still know the address?” John asked.
“Couldn’t forget it,” Ronon replied. “I had my coming of age celebration there with a couple guys from my unit. We hunted boar in the woods.”
Rodney grimaced. “Well, that sounds fun.”
Ronon shrugged and said, “And watched some oil wrestling.”
It figured. “God, all I got was a greeting card and an irate long-distance phone call about tuition fees.” Rodney raised his eyebrows at John but, shockingly, John’s brief glance was unsympathetic. He was probably still ticked about the bikini girl thing.
John pushed his chair back. “So we’ll suit up and pop over,” he said, bumping Rodney’s elbow as he stood. Rodney started up at the guiding nudge, not that John needed encouragement in his herding habits.
“Colonel Sheppard,” John turned around as Woolsey spoke, “keep me posted. This has already taken longer than I’d like and I want to resolve this matter as soon as possible. If the Wraith were to take hold of Dr. Weir, they may be able to find us here and that can’t happen.”
Anger spiked, hot an unexpected, in Rodney as Woolsey spoke. His mouth curled in distaste. “You’re not suggesting that Elizabeth would actually tell them anything?” he asked. The idea was ludicrous and insulting. After everything that Elizabeth had done to protect them, Woolsey had to be out of his mind to suggest she’d ever do anything to harm them.
“Elizabeth sacrificed herself for us,” Ronon growled. If he’d been any angrier, his hair might’ve stood on end. Rodney felt a swell of affection for him.
Woolsey appeared admirably, if unadvisedly, unruffled. “Yes, and as much as I wish I didn’t have to say this, there may be little about the Elizabeth Weir you know in the Replicator we sent through the Gate.”
“Weir would die before she told the Wraith anything,” Ronon said.
It was only when Rodney looked at Ronon that he noticed Teyla beside him, her fist clenched at her side. He suppressed the sudden urge to hug her since he wasn’t under the influence of some life-threatening neurological malady. Anyone could see that she wasn’t in the mood for comfort.
“And it may well be that she won’t have a choice,” Woolsey replied. “I’d like you to start out as soon as possible, Colonel.”
Rodney set his jaw. “We’ll get out in five,” John said beside Rodney. When Rodney glanced back over, he saw Teyla’s eyes were still bright with anger as she turned to follow them out the door.
As they stepped through the Gate into the whirling snow on Kith, Teyla braced herself against the sudden chill and Rodney yelped as he walked through at the rear. She felt her face chafe in the icy breeze and pulled her scarf high over her mouth and nose. She turned her gaze around the low, sloping field they walked into from the Gate, trying to pierce the white haze of the shifting snow for the shape of the tall village walls or plumes of smoke from chimneys in the distance. The terrain was made a featureless white by the heavy snowfall, the dark outline of forestry and distant mountains occasionally breaking through the driving sleet.
Ronon moved forward beside Teyla, his large form blocking the wind from that corner. His brown dreadlocks whipped around his face. He peered into the horizon with studied concentration. “This way,” he said suddenly, his voice almost lost in the howl of the wind.
“Guess we’re going that way,” John said as he stepped forward behind him and beside Teyla. “I’ll take six.” That meant Teyla would walk beside Rodney in the center, keeping an eye on the scientist, though it was hardly necessary after all the years of reconnaissance missions through the Gate. Teyla nodded wordlessly, her eyes still on the horizon where Ronon’s silhouette cut a dark shape against the shifting snow.
Teyla’s feet sank through the crust of ice as she marched through the snow at Ronon’s back, her pant legs darkening with snow up to her knees. She followed Ronon across the field toward the distant tree line, leaving the Gate behind them in a haze of white. She kept her eyes trained on the area around them, scanning the horizon for movement, but her mind drifted like the snow, back to the beginning.
It was as though Teyla could see Elizabeth as she had the first time. Outside, on the wide veranda with the moon on the water and the din of celebration on the air, she’d glimpsed Elizabeth’s face in the crowd and it was her face that resurfaced in Teyla’s mind when she’d gone to bed.
As Teyla stepped into the shadow of the trees, the whirling snowfall thinned so that the world was again visible beyond Teyla’s outstretched hand. The thin evergreen trees shot up in a stand of black bars against the white carpet of snow underfoot. As Ronon threaded his way through the forestry, Teyla glimpsed the hint of a worn path wending through the woods. Ronon confidently led them and Teyla’s mind unwittingly returned to the memory of the festival she’d pushed out in the jumper earlier.
After Halling’s prayers and the harvest feast, they’d built bonfires whose flames leapt as tall as Halling stood before the rain could fall and prevent them from lighting them. The fires had cast long shadows in the trees around camp. Teyla’s shoulder had bumped Elizabeth’s as they both reached out to touch their torches to the burning timbers. And when Teyla had turned, Elizabeth’s cheeks had been rosy with the warmth. For a moment, Teyla had imagined it was more than the heat that made her color. On Teyla’s part, the color in Elizabeth’s cheeks lit a fire that warmed Teyla all the way through.
Elizabeth had moved continuously in Teyla’s periphery as they took to the forest, trekking through the trees, tracking the revelers who’d dressed in animal masks and gone on before them. She’d been a tantalizing phantom flirting on the edge of Teyla’s sight. Teyla searched her out more than she had the masked Athosians.
The memory warmed Teyla’s face under the snowy canopy of the forest of Kith. She remembered the warmth of the summer rain on her shoulders when she’d stumbled onto Elizabeth on the edge of the firelight in the forest. She could still feel the warmth of Elizabeth’s body as she fell into her, the sound of Elizabeth’s laughter cutting through the hush of the rain.
The pattering of the deluge had been like the crunching of the snow under Teyla’s feet on Kith. She kept the memory of Elizabeth’s laughter closer – she wouldn’t turn her mind to it too often for fear that it would wear out. And, besides, remembering it cut Teyla because she had to remember all that had come after – the touch of her lips on Elizabeth’s that had shocked them both and Teyla’s excuses for it. It was a night she couldn’t forget if a hundred thousand nights passed after it.
The icy terrain rose, a gradual climb that steepened into a ridge, and Rodney’s elbow bumped hers as he climbed beside her. “Jeez, you’d think they’d install an escalator in some of these places,” he complained breathlessly.
“We are nearly there,” Teyla said. She caught the scientist’s elbow as he slipped and steadied him. Rodney winced in embarrassment. Up ahead, Ronon stood on the crest of the hill, his large frame a bold shadow cut against the snowy white of the forest. Teyla climbed onto the ridge beside him and straightened to look into the valley below.
“We’re there.” Ronon’s words were a low rumble. He was probably caught up in bittersweet memories of his own, being so close to something so familiar. His expression was deceptively bland when his eyes met Teyla’s.
She followed his line of sight to the steep gray walls of Kith tucked into the valley between the slope of the hill and the mountain that rose up behind the city. It was a large village enclosed in timber walls, what looked like small farms springing up around stone cottages cleaving to the walls and those giving way to tight stone two story buildings that comprised the city. Far beyond those was a dour gray building with steeples and turrets. Tucked somewhere therein was the marketplace.
“Great,” Rodney panted as he came up beside them. “Maybe they have coffee. Then we might dream of regaining feeling in our extremities.”
Ronon snorted. “They don’t have coffee and you don’t want their version of it.”
Rodney’s brow furled in dismay. “I’ll take your word for it. If you turn your nose up at it, I can’t fathom what it is.” Ronon’s grin was his reply.
“Nice place,” John said breathlessly as he joined them on the crest. “Hope they’re friendly.”
Ronon quirked a small smile at him. “Leave the talking to me.”
“He talks?” Rodney balked.
“Apparently,” John said.
“Some people don’t talk just to do it, McKay,” Ronon retorted with a grin.
Teyla broke formation and started forward. “Let’s go.” She walked out into the open of the hill and the twirling snow. Behind her, she heard the snow crunch beneath the others’ boots as they follow at her heels. After a moment, Ronon stepped forward to walk by her side, John and Rodney behind them.
The city walls rose up before them and Teyla caught sight of the thin sliver of light winking in the arrowslits at each corner of the walls. There were no arrows nocked in the openings but Teyla’s stomach tightened in wariness. The portcullises yawned open on the black mouth of the entrance. In the shadow of the arch leading into the city, there was another arrowslit where watchmen would be stationed to watching visitors as they passed. As the four of them walked into the entrance of the city, there was no warning cry and no hail of arrows flying down. Teyla’s eyes swept over the area. As she passed, she saw that the defensive wall was abandoned. She could feel Ronon’s watchfulness like a vibration on the air.
Teyla dropped back to walk by Rodney, wordlessly falling back into formation. Beside her, Rodney’s forehead was creased as his blue eyes rolled over the ramparts. “Charming. Reminds me of a hunting lodge I once stayed in.”
John snorted, eyes narrow on the city walls they passed under while a small smirk played at the corner of his mouth. “You stayed in a hunting lodge. Don’t you mean you saw one on TV?”
“Who designed this place, anyway?” Rodney asked instead of answering. “What’s-his-name? That guy from Beauty and the Beast?” He pulled his tablet out.
“You know – like a lot of guys, I don’t spend a lot of free time watching Disney movies, Rodney,” John replied.
“He’s right. Place totally looks like Gaston’s bar,” Ronon said from ahead.
“I don’t suppose you noticed that this place is a little…dead?” Rodney asked, his tone lower.
“I noticed it,” John said.
“The life signs I’m picking up come from—”
As Rodney spoke, they stepped out into the light of day and Teyla peered through the heavy snow at the village ahead of them. Rising out of the stone walled building ahead, Teyla caught sight of a furling plume of smoke wavering in the air. As the snowfall lessened, she saw another smoke trail and then a third. “The center of the village?” Teyla asked. The area around them was flat and closed in by fences, large yards dotted with little cottages whose doors hung open and whose chimneys were cold. Teyla’s back prickled with unease but she sensed nothing.
“Yes, why do you—? Oh.” Rodney’s mouth curled unhappily. “Great.”
John snugged close to them for a moment, his hands falling from the butt of his P90 to the trigger. “Okay, guys, you know what to do. Teyla, you sense any Wraith?”
“No,” Teyla said. “I think they’ve gone.” That didn’t make it any safer. The most dangerous villages were those that had recently been culled. For them, any stranger could be another enemy and they were already reeling with the shock and terror of the attack. Teyla kept her eyes on the windows and doors of the cottages they passed as they found the rutted path leading into the city.
They navigated the narrow avenue into the city, opting for the straightest path. They passed empty doorways and cracked windows as they moved into the heart of the city. Rodney fell silent beside her, only quietly pointing to the life signs he was picking up in the center of the city. “How many?” Teyla asked.
Rodney winced and scratched at his damp brow. “It’s hard to tell on a grid this tight. The signs overlap. It could be fifty or less.”
Teyla shot a glance at Ronon. “There may be others who escaped,” she said, more to him than to the others. Ronon nodded in understanding but he seemed skeptical. Teyla knew that he still expected the worst from any given situation.
The buildings became featureless, flanking the path. It was an older part of the city, one built before they began using windows in their architecture. Motion in the air caught Teyla’s eye and she looked up. A blue pennant fluttered against the gray-white sky and the gold threads describing the body of a cat on its haunches flickered in the low light, a silver crescent moon between its open jaws.
“This is the place?” Ronon asked. It sounded like a rhetorical question. They came on empty stalls, jumbled wares spilled across the path. Bits of glazed pottery and broken strands of beads cracked under foot. Fires still smoked in round chimneys lining the path, neglected embers crackling.
Teyla looked around and saw more than the familiar sigil on the pennants. There was the earthenware pottery, the roasted meat burning on the spit having now been left too long and choking the air with foul odor. “Yes.” She moved forward swiftly, placing her hand on an empty stall where an assortment of metal pieces were left out or abandoned on the ground. “The girl was at this stall when the darts flew overhead. She did not hear them coming. She did not have a chance to escape.”
Rodney bit his lip. “Look, why don’t we get the jumper? If I can pick up the radiation signature from the Travelers’ hyperdrive….” John looked skeptical and Rodney dropped his tablet to his side. “Come on. There’s something – what about your Traveler girlfriend?” he demanded.
“The Traveler who kidnapped me, you mean?” John asked, narrowing his eyes incredulously on Rodney. Ronon folded his palm over his eyes, fed up with the familiar squabble.
As Rodney opened his mouth to argue, Teyla saw a basket of jewelry rock gently on a nearby stall. On the top of the pile, a gold necklace slipped and clattered against the shards of a broken pot as it dropped to the ground. Teyla raised her P90, finger on the trigger, when she saw the shivering in a riot of silk scarves hung in a curtain behind the stall. She reached out, placing her hand on the barrel of Ronon’s stunner. She gently pushed it down. “Wait,” she said. “Come out.”
John shifted, trying to peer through the veil of silk at whoever it was behind it. “Easy,” he warned.
The curtain of scarves was still for a moment. Teyla cautiously lowered her gun and stepped forward. She raised her hands in a peacekeeping gesture. “Come out,” she repeated gently. “We have no intentions of hurting you. We are friends to the people of Kith.”
“Thought I said to let me do the talking,” Ronon said at her side.
Teyla glanced at him. “You did not begin speaking in time.”
There was movement behind the curtain and after a moment, a slender hand reached out, fingers outstretched in surrender. A young woman stepped out, her round eyes shooting to each of them. Teyla noted how the woman’s brow furrowed as her eyes fell on her uniform. “Are you with Major Lorne?” she asked. Teyla’s eyebrows shot up. “Please don’t shoot. I was hiding from the Wraith.”
Rodney’s eyes were saucer-round. “You know Major Lorne?” he asked.
The young woman nodded. “Don’t shoot,” she repeated.
“Come on out and we won’t shoot,” John said, his voice at Teyla’s back. “Scout’s honor. Any friend of Lorne’s is a friend of ours.” To prove it, he lowered his gun and raised his hands.
Even if the woman didn’t know what John meant exactly, she seemed to understand his sentiment. She cautiously stepped out toward them. She was no older than the girl who’d been taken – twenty or so. The dark curls escaping a fur-lined Dothan hat framed her face and a thick Manarian scarf was wrapped around her throat and mouth. “I don’t have a weapon,” she said.
Teyla’s eyes fell on the woman’s brocaded leather duster and Genii boots as she stepped out onto the path. “Are you a Traveler?” she asked.
The woman raised her eyebrows. “How did you know?” She glanced at John and Rodney, raising her hands higher. “I’ve never kidnapped anyone. I swear.”
Teyla turned to the others. Her pulse resounded through her body. Now there may be a chance that they could catch up to the Wraith before the Wraith were on their doorstep. John stepped forward, glancing at Teyla and Ronon as he passed. “Okay. Yeah, Lorne’s one of ours. Nice to meet you.” He quirked a smile at the young woman and Teyla almost expected to hear that they liked making friends and that he liked college football and fast cars. “Maybe you need a ride? We’ve got extra space if you want to hitch with us.”
Ronon stood back under the tree line with the Traveler, Vena, and Teyla as McKay and Sheppard jogged back from the DHD. The forest was unusually quiet and still around them. It was always that way after the Wraith came. It was what made hunting scarce, and what nearly starved Ronon, when he’d begun Running. It would be hours before the birds began to sing and the hares emerged from their burrows.
The girl, Vena, was restless as she waited. She’d refused to tell them the whereabouts of the Traveler rendezvous until she saw that they really worked with Lorne. Even if she recognized their uniforms from hearsay, anybody could be a Wraith worshipper and Lorne was the one who’d helped her cousin on MX8-240.
“You said that you could see through the Wraith’s eyes?” Vena asked suddenly. She turned, her hands wrapped around her arms, to speak to Teyla. “Does that mean you’re Wraithkin?” she asked. Her stare was openly curious as she appraised Teyla’s profile.
Teyla glanced at her over her shoulder. “I don’t call myself by the term,” she said, “but, yes, I sense when the Wraith are nearby.” Vena’s brows rose and Ronon saw Teyla look across the field at the inactive Gate. “On my homeworld, it was believed to be a gift. Whether it truly is or not.”
“I’d heard of them—you,” Vena corrected herself, “but I didn’t know if what they said was true.”
“What do they say?” Ronon asked. On Sateda, if they’d known of them – humans that could feel oncoming Wraith – Ronon had never heard about it, and after he was captured by the Wraith, he’d never stayed long enough in one place to hear anything about anyone. The way people were, though, Ronon wasn’t sure what they said about them was good.
Vena blinked at Ronon, opening her mouth and snapping it shut again. She shook her head. “Just that they exist. That they, you,” she said to Teyla, “can sense the Wraith before they come. None of us can do that. Regardless of what they say, it does seem like a gift to know.”
Ronon saw Teyla’s mouth thin. She schooled her expression and let only neutrality show. “It may seem so,” she replied mildly.
Ronon wanted to put his hand on her shoulder, but she’d made herself clear hours before when she’d said she couldn’t take comfort until the mission was done. He got that. He got it completely. It was just like how he couldn’t pause to mourn Kith until they caught up to the Wraith who sacked it and let it burn. They’d take their revenge and when they had, that would be the time for mourning.
He saw Vena’s eyes lingering on Teyla’s profile and the trembling of her fingers wrapped around her arms. She was waiting, too, to see what had happened to her homeship and she was frightened enough of the possibilities to trust a bunch of strangers to take her home. Ronon looked over as Sheppard and McKay’s footfalls came close, underscored by the roughness of their panting as they struggled through the snow.
“Woolsey’s sending the jumper,” Sheppard said. He glanced at Vena. “And you know where your guys are waiting?”
“We do not know what we will find,” Teyla cautioned her before she spoke. “If the Wraith have been there, there may be nothing that we can do.”
Vena’s eyes remained on Teyla’s as she spoke. “I do. As soon as I see that you really do know Major Lorne.” The line of her mouth firmed. “The rendezvous spot’s a Traveler secret but I’ll show you.”
As she spoke, the chevrons lit up on the Gate and the wormhole activated, splashing out and collapsing back into a rippling pool. Ronon watched as the jumper glided through the Gate. He could see Lorne’s face through the window and Jennifer Keller sitting up in the seat behind him. The familiarity loosened the tightness in Ronon’s chest. The ship slid forward, hovering in the air for a moment, before settling in the snow on level ground.
“Somebody call Triple A?” Lorne asked, his voice clear in their earpieces. He lowered the rear hatch and his team filed out into the snow.
“I’m calling to complain. Dispatch took about an hour to send somebody out,” McKay quipped.
Lorne smiled. “You want quality, be prepared for a wait, Dr. McKay. Sir,” he said to Sheppard. He glanced at Vena. “You’re Lydda’s cousin?” He extended his hand. “I heard you wanted to meet me.”
Vena took his hand after a moment. Travelers weren’t traders and they didn’t often take salutary styles from other worlds. They didn’t bank on politeness. Right then, Vena cut straight to the point. “Lydda told me about you. If you’re really Major Lorne, you know what she told you when you helped her on Kursa.” It was what they called MX8-240.
Lorne blinked. Ronon looked at him curiously as his neck colored. “Well,” he hesitated. “You want me to repeat that in front of all these people?” he asked. Behind him, Jennifer laughed into her hand, guessing what it was.
Sheppard’s eyebrows touched his hairline and McKay nudged him with his shoulder. “And you thought you were the only flyboy desirable to alien priestesses,” he muttered.
“Not the only one,” Sheppard conceded.
Vena stared straight at Lorne. Ronon was starting to respect the Travelers a little bit. At least they cut to the chase. After a moment, Lorne sighed and leaned closer. He confidentially spoke by Vena’s ear, hands absently shaping the air. Jennifer must have been closer because her cheeks reddened by the second, a smile widening over her face. All Ronon caught was, “—‘anytime, big boy’—”
Whatever he said, it must’ve matched up with what Vena’s cousin told her because when she straightened up, she nodded her head. “I believe you are the man my cousin met.”
“Well then,” Sheppard said. “Looks like we can go ahead with the field trip.”
Lorne turned to Sheppard, studiously avoiding Jennifer’s teasing look. He gestured to his team. “We’re standing by to help out whatever people are left here.” Jennifer lifted her medical kit with a nod and Parrish beside her. “Woolsey gives you the go-ahead. Good luck.”
“You, too,” Sheppard said.
Ahead of Ronon, Teyla led Vena into the jumper and behind him, McKay flapped his hand in wan goodbye at his ex and the guy who technically worked under him. “See you, ‘big boy,’” Ronon said, slapping Lorne’s shoulder as he passed.
Lorne sighed, his shoulders hunched in defeat. “Yeah, yeah.” He gestured for his team to go on ahead through the trees.
Ronon scanned the horizon one last time before he stepped into the jumper. Vena and Teyla had sat in the chairs behind the pilot and co-pilot. Ronon leaned back against the bulkhead, twisting his hand in the cargo net hung up overhead. The hatch rose in the rear compartment and Sheppard followed McKay into the cockpit.
Vena gave Sheppard the address of the Gate nearest the rendezvous point and Sheppard gestured for McKay to dial it. The Gate lit up with a whoosh and Sheppard pulled the ship up off the ground. Beneath them, the forest seemed to dive out and the heavy clouds on the horizon spun as Sheppard turned the jumper around. They dove through the ring and out into space.
The window of the jumper darkened as the light of a large star spilled over the nose of the ship. Up ahead was the giant star, its deep orange surface flickering with what looked like tongues of flame. Just over the curve of the star, a pink planet was visible through a haze of debris, its atmosphere swirling with what looked like a giant storm.
“We meet in the moon’s orbit. On the other side of the planet,” Vena said. She pointed and Ronon followed her gesture to the small speck near the pink planet’s equator. It was only a little larger than the debris clouding the path.
“Sure,” Sheppard said and pulled the nose of the jumper up. He set a course that skirted the sun and headed straight into the debris field. The jumper wove through the debris, the planet growing larger and larger in the window. Ronon’s stare dropped to the other passengers and he saw Vena’s fingers tighten on the arms of the chair and Teyla’s shoulders tense. When they broke free of the debris field, the face of the planet loomed, impossibly huge in front of them.
“Nice flying,” McKay murmured as though any nearby Wraith might hear him if he spoke too loudly. Sheppard gave a brief grin in McKay’s direction before asking Teyla, “Sense anything?”
“No,” Teyla said. She craned her neck to look through the window as the jumper arced around the curve of the planet. “I sense nothing.”
“Maybe they haven’t been here yet,” Ronon said. He didn’t think they’d be that lucky. As he said it, they saw the white face of the moon over the horizon of the planet. They hadn’t entered its atmosphere before they saw the first piece of wreckage floating across the moon’s face.
The cool shadow of the moon fell across the nose of the ship and with it, they saw a piece of the hull winking in the distant light of the star behind them. “Good god,” McKay muttered, “there’s nothing left.” He sat up in his seat, staring out with a dawning expression of horror on his face.
“There has to be,” Vena said softly. “The Wraith couldn’t have taken them by surprise. We have satellites scattered throughout the area—” She cut herself off as the bulkhead section rotated and a large figure twirled out, swept up in a bunch of fabric. Ronon recognized the shape – a body – he’d seen enough to get that off the bat. John weaved as a huge section of the stern floated toward them.
“That’s where I slept,” Vena said softly. “My cabin was there.”
“Damn,” Sheppard mumbled. “This is—”
“Fucked up,” Ronon supplied. Sheppard glanced over his shoulder with a nod.
Teyla unfolded herself from her chair, moving into the space between the pilot and co-pilot’s seats. “Where do we go from here?” she asked. Ronon could see only the curve of her cheek and the fingers she had tightly clenched on the headrest of the chair. “If the Wraith have taken the Travelers’ navigational system, how can we retrace the path that took them to the Replicators in the first place?”
McKay looked down at his tablet, the glow of its screen lighting his face. “We still might be able to catch up. The Hive ship can only travel a finite distance before it has to drop out of hyper drive. If I code a sensor to lock onto the traces of radiation from the hyperdrive window, we might be able to catch up to it while the hull regenerates.”
“You think you can do that?” Ronon asked. Sometimes McKay’s mouth got away with him.
McKay turned around in his chair, fixing an incredulous look on Ronon from over Teyla’s elbow. “What?” he asked. “Are you serious? This is, like, the least impressive feat of intellectual acumen I’ve demonstrated.”
Vena’s voice cut through the brewing babble. “You know where the Wraith who destroyed the ship are going?” she asked. There was something else, Ronon could hear it in her voice.
McKay paled and Sheppard opened his mouth wordlessly. Teyla turned to look at the Traveler. She seemed to consider her for a moment. “Yes,” she said finally. “They destroyed your ship because they were searching for something you’d found in your travels and they needed your navigations system to find it. Something they glimpsed in the mind of the woman they took.”
“You think she’s an Ancient,” Ronon said.
Vena gaped. “For that?” she asked. “They destroyed my uncle’s ship for a dead Ancient? We didn’t rescue her. We left her where she was – at rest.” Her voice wavered and her eyes brightened with futile anger.
“They do not care,” Teyla said softly. The Wraith hadn’t had to destroy the ship to take the navigational system but it was like them to do it. The sight of the market in Kith burning hung before Ronon’s eyes. It blurred into the memory of Sateda falling beneath the siege.
Ronon gritted his teeth. “We’ll track them down,” he said. He met Vena’s gaze. “And when we do, we’ll kill them.”
“There wasn’t only one copy of the data,” Vena said.
“What?” McKay asked. “You had a backup copy?”
Vena nodded. “I was acting engineer on the ship as a favor to my father. When I started, I started taking logs of our heading to increase hyperdrive efficiency.” Teyla turned to look at her and Vena went on, “I had another copy saved in my cabin.” She looked around at them. “If you can recover it, that’ll show you where the Wraith are going.”
“And we can ambush them before they see us coming,” Sheppard said. “Sounds like a plan. The Daedalus isn’t in the galaxy but maybe we can contact the Hammond—”
“If you need a ship, we have one,” Vena interrupted. “My father is the captain of the Edorus. An Ancient battleship.” A flinty look stole over her face. “He’ll want revenge on the Wraith who did this. Please, let us help.” Finally, it was starting to look like a decent fight.
John looked around. “Well, who’s in the mood for a space walk?” he asked.
The Edorus was an Aurora-class battleship. And after Vena filled Tulen, her father, in about the attack on his brother’s ship, Tulen was only too eager to counterattack. They stopped at a Traveler alpha site to drop off most of the passengers and continued with a skeleton crew. As McKay stalked around the bridge, berating the remaining engineers for their slipshod work and Vena and Tulen joined relations of the fallen Travelers on the other ship, Ronon found his way to the small mess hall.
It was a lot like the mess hall on the Daedalus and every other ship Ronon had been on, except apparently that Caldwell’s ass-kicking kept his place shiny and tidy and the Traveler mess was pretty dingy overall. There were dull gray walls, a dozen metal tables welded to the floor with accompanying steel chairs. Ronon had eaten in worse and his stomach had been growling for hours, so he wasn’t going to turn his nose up at it. And from what he heard from a female Traveler whose shirt buttons kept opening up, the stew there was really good.
As Ronon came in, he recognized Teyla’s slim shoulders from behind. He grabbed a bowl of stew from a hot plate and sat down across from her. She looked up, startled, when his dish clattered on the tabletop. “Hey,” he said.
Teyla looked drawn, her eyes smudged with dark circles. “Ronon,” she replied. She glanced at his bowl and Ronon noticed that hers was discarded by her side, its contents half-eaten. Something was eating her.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he asked. She needed it. They all did.
Teyla sighed. “I had no luck,” she said, rolling her shoulders.
“Me, too.” Ronon let her take from it what she would. They were good at shorthand. They usually understood each other and Ronon thought he understood her just then. He took a bite of the stew and found that the woman he’d spoken to had exaggerated. It was pretty mediocre. He thought maybe it was just memories turning the taste to ash. He lowered his spoon. “You think we’ll find her out there?” he asked. There was no reason to beat around the bush and they were both thinking about it.
Teyla’s eyes dropped to the tabletop. “I think it does not matter,” she said. Her tone brooked no argument but Ronon wasn’t letting it drop.
“It’s Elizabeth,” he said.
The corners of Teyla’s lips were tight. She was as steely as Ronon was. “I am not sure.”
“I wasn’t at first but now I am.”
Teyla’s forehead creased as she stared at Ronon incredulously. “How can you be sure?” she asked. “The Replicators prey on their abilities to assimilate. To poison—”
Ronon pushed his bowl away and folded his arms over his chest. The way he saw it, it wasn’t complex. “She gave herself up for us,” he said. “It’s what Elizabeth would do.”
Teyla looked flustered, unsettled by his words. “She—it was endowed with Elizabeth’s memories,” she reasoned. “Even if it was not Elizabeth, it knew what Elizabeth would do.”
“So you don’t think it’s her,” Ronon said. He looked at Teyla from across the table, his stare a challenge.
Teyla shook her head, recovering her calm. “It does not matter if it is.” Ronon was beginning to think he understood. It was in the back of his mind, too, and he saw it in McKay’s face at the meeting with Woolsey – that even if the Replicator was Weir, she’d still be seen as a threat.
Teyla folded her arms across her chest, hands absently warming her bare arms. “I believe that the SGC will not allow us to take her to Atlantis. And now that the danger of her continued existence has been felt… I do not think the SGC will allow her to continue to remain, even if inert.” Her features tightened with furious frustration even as she seemed indecisive about whether the woman she’d seen was really their old friend. It came together for him suddenly, the same way he’d figured out Sheppard and McKay years before they did.
“You love her, right?” he asked.
Teyla started. “What? How did you…?” She trailed off, her eyes troubled.
Ronon shrugged. “I know you,” he said. “You guys are all pretty obvious. Sheppard and McKay still think nobody knows they’re fooling around.”
Again, Teyla was surprised. “John and Rodney?” she asked.
Ronon smirked. “Guess you’re pretty oblivious, too. You know the Earth saying about women’s intuition? Where’s yours?”
Teyla made a face, kicking his chair leg with a snort. Ronon laughed, even as the toe of her boot connected with his shin. They filled the empty space with laughter.
When they’d settled down, Teyla sobered and her eyes darkened with thought. She shook her head. “It does not matter,” she said after a moment.
“Because Elizabeth Weir is dead,” Teyla said, her eyebrows knitting. Ronon was back in Elizabeth’s office again, comforting Teyla after Elizabeth had gone. He’d reached out then but he didn’t, sitting at the table. Teyla had asked him not to comfort her and he took her at her word. “And were she still alive,” Teyla said, “nothing would come of it.”
“How do you know?” Ronon asked. Teyla paused, seeming to consider whether to tell him, and Ronon waited, willing to accept her silence if she kept it. It was what a friend would do.
“I kissed her,” she said finally, “many years ago.” Her mouth firmed and her stare was distant. She was looking back into her memories. “She did not return my feelings but she allowed it to drop. When I told Kanaan what had happened....” Ronon waited for her to speak. After a moment, she did. “I went to him for comfort and that night, I conceived Torren by him.” She shook her head. “So, you see, she does not love me. She never has.”
Ronon watched her as she looked back down at the table, gathering her chaotic thoughts. “How do you know if she didn’t tell you?” he asked.
Teyla shook her head and stood. “I must rest,” she said. Her bowl scraped against the table as she picked it up. “Thank you for listening, Ronon, but….”
Ronon nodded. “Night.” He watched as Teyla took her dish to the repository by the door and walked out toward her cabin. He wondered if it was simpler for her to believe what she did, but he knew that Teyla was never one for taking the easy way out.
Her conversation with Ronon followed Teyla after she’d left the mess. It hung over her as she walked through the halls and found the quarters the Travelers had given her to sleep in. She waved her hand over the sensor and paused. As she lifted her hand to wave it over the sensor again, the door stuck before it slid open. Her eyes passed over the wall, up to the loose wires coiled overhead, and she questioned the wisdom of forging into what would very likely be a battle in a ship that seemed to be barely holding together as was. Maybe the Replicator wasn’t the only one in danger.
Teyla’s mouth thinned and she went inside. The cabin was small; there were four bunks built into the wall, the two on top being accessible by metal ladders. Flanking the narrow beds were two long lockers, whose doors were barely holding on. There was a table against the far wall and one metal chair with it, locked down by strong magnets. The beds were empty. The Travelers who slept in them were observing a wake for their fallen fellows. She’d heard the dancing and the music at a distance.
Her mind went to the face of her son. Looking at the numbers on watch face, she saw that it was midday in Atlantis. It had seemed like days had passed since she’d closed her eyes in Atlantis and opened them on a Wraith hiveship but it had only been ten hours. She wondered if Amelia had taken Torren to Kanaan yet and if Torren’s safety would be a consideration in Richard Woolsey’s mind if Teyla didn’t come back.
She crossed the room to the small window looking out into space, running her fingertips over the small steel table bolted to the wall beneath it. Wisps of blue shone like mist beyond the window panes, slipping past like tireless ghosts. They were traveling too quickly to discern anything in detail.
She rolled her stiff shoulders and pain ached in the base of her neck. Considering her bed with a backward glance, she sighed. Even if she lay down, she’d never sleep. Coming to a decision, she walked over to the bed and pulled a soft-worn throw off the pillow. She laid it over the floor and unlaced her boots before folding herself onto the floor. If she couldn’t sleep, she could meditate.
She straightened her spine and folded her legs under her. There were no candles but the flickering of the light through the window was better than full light would have been. Closing her eyes, she thought of a still place. She envisioned mist rising off the lake she’d played by as a girl. She could see it then. The face of the Replicator suddenly rose before her and every muscle of her body tensed again. She opened her eyes.
Teyla groaned softly in frustration. She rolled her neck and her shoulders and closed her eyes again. Stillness, she thought. I am a still pool.
The dark pulsed behind Teyla’s closed eyelids, afterimages of hyperspace ebbing and fizzling into black. After a moment, a familiar stillness pervaded her restless heart. There was tightness binding her chest and her stomach, the keen edge of awareness of the Wraith, a feeling at once like sickness and kindredship. There was the rush of traveling without moving, much like stepping into the ring of the Ancestors, and when she opened her eyes, she was peering through the mist of a Wraith hive ship.
She marched through the stream of fog down a purple-veined corridor. Her spine was straight and her step overabundant with purpose as she moved down the hall, flanked at either side by a drone in their ghastly masks. Her leather duster swept around her boots as she traveled. She was going to one of the holding cells where they kept their prisoners and worshippers between feedings.
Moving through the labyrinthine halls, she glimpsed the control room through an open door, the hub a grotesque thing twisted between the floor and the roof. Teyla passed that and, rounding another two corners, she came to her destination.
Through the webbed cell door, she could see patches of dim light and shadow illuminating parts of a small, dank cell. Against the far wall, under a shaft of pinkish light, was a low bench. The Replicator was seated there, her hands clasped on her knees and her face cast aside. All but the curve of her cheek were obscured by a fall of gleaming dark hair as she contemplated the wall of the cell.
Teyla stepped forward, her lips peeling from her teeth as she inhaled the scent of the prisoner. She could feel the wrongness of her faint scent and she was gripped by fear that the Queen would punish her for failing. She could recognize what the Drones couldn’t – that the Replicator was not a living being, but there was still a chance that it might have information about Atlantis. “Leave us,” she instructed the drones. They obediently – or more accurately, vacantly – turned at her command and walked back the way they’d come.
As the webbed door curled back, the prisoner turned her head and looked up at Teyla. A dissonant sense of recognition and unfamiliarity created discord in Teyla’s mind as she stared down at the face of the Replicator Weir. Teyla had never before been on the receiving end of the grave, determined glare the Replicator turned on her and was it turned on anyone but a Wraith, they may have given pause. It infuriated the Wraith. Its indignation was a poor fit as Teyla met the steely glare of the Replicator.
“Prisoner.” The Replicator remained silent as the Wraith stepped close to her. Her stoicism made the Wraith angry and its anger bled into Teyla’s consciousness. “You will disclose the location of the city of Atlantis.”
The Replicator’s mouth tightened and she raised her head. “I will never tell you anything.” The muscle in her jaw flexed. “Not now. Not ever.” Her eyes narrowed and Teyla could feel the Wraith’s fury like a physical pressure in her head. “You can tell your Queen that I refuse.”
Teyla’s jaw clenched, the sharpened points of her teeth scraping together. She flung her arm out and the Replicator steeled herself for the blow right as the clawed hand slammed into her breast, fingernails slicing through the pale Ancient tunic and the tender flesh beneath. She was a machine but her blood welled up as red as any human’s blood was, and it stained the garment.
The Replicator’s face twisted in pain, her jaw gritted against the cry in her throat. Teyla felt the Wraith opening its feeding slit. As it did, Teyla mentally strained against the distance. She’d never contacted a Wraith so far away and the distance was like a physical barrier Teyla fought against.
For one moment of tumult, it was like stumbling in a dark wood. Then Teyla punched through the darkness into the light. The Wraith’s hand on the Replicator’s chest was her hand, the Wraith’s consciousness eclipsed completely by her own. Before she could speak or move, her body seized in agony. She watched helplessly as her hand sank into the Replicator’s chest, their bodies fused as something like a swarm of tiny insects moved up the length of her forearm. The Replicator’s face was composed in a singular expression of concentration, brow furrowed and fists curled at her sides.
Excruciating pain rolled through Teyla, wrenching a scream from her throat as the swarm moved up her arm and engulfed her elbow. “Elizabeth!” she cried.
The Replicator flinched and the swarm suddenly froze. Teyla was riveted to the sight of her arm disappearing into the Replicator’s body, a swirl of pale fabric crawling up her forearm from the Replicator’s chest. The pain weakened her knees and spun her head. In it, the Wraith’s consciousness receded completely. It had passed out.
The Replicator glared into Teyla’s eyes. “How do you know my name?” she asked.
Teyla forced her reply out through labored breaths. “I am Teyla,” she gritted out. “I am speaking to you from a Traveler vessel—co-coming to rescue you.”
The Replicator’s eyes shot wide and suddenly, the pain disappeared as Teyla’s hand slipped from her chest. “Teyla?” she asked.
Teyla fought to stand straight at the sudden absence of pain. Her ears rang and she held on to her consciousness through the darkness crowding her vision. “Yes.”
Suddenly, the Replicator was beside her, an arm wrapped around Teyla as she steadied her. “I’m sorry,”
she said. “I had no idea. Sit down.” She eased Teyla down into the bench by the wall, pressed tight to her side. A few years ago, she would have treasured the closeness. Now, she was close to passing out.
“What did you…?” Teyla let her head drop back against the Hive wall, struggling to catch her breath. “I have never felt such a thing before.”
The Replicator – Elizabeth – was locked to Teyla’s side as she supported the weight of Teyla’s frame. “I was defending myself.” When Teyla cracked her eyes open to look at her, the other woman seemed lost in thought. “I did it once before with Oberoth. I thought it may be my only option.”
“The Wraith was going to torture you.” Teyla’s lips compressed into a thin line, her brow furrowing. “It was preparing to torture you for the whereabouts of Atlantis.”
The Replicator Elizabeth’s stare was fathomless as she looked into Teyla’s eyes. “Yes. I would rather die than lead the Wraith home.”
The word ‘home’ stung when it came from someone so much like Elizabeth and so different all at once. Teyla remembered Ronon’s words to her. He was so quick to believe that the woman in front of Teyla was the Elizabeth they knew. And it was all Teyla could do to try to remember that she wasn’t. She hadn’t wanted to believe it because of what it would mean. But the expression in the Replicator’s face was so familiar. “The others believed that would be your feeling.”
Elizabeth’s gaze was unflinching. “And is it what you believed?” she asked.
Teyla had to turn away. Her clasped fingers filled her field of vision, the Wraith’s knuckles pale with the strength of her grip. She knotted them to keep them from shaking. “I did not want to believe that you still remained inside.” She looked up at Elizabeth. “The ‘you’ I met in Atlantis many years ago.”
“I’m the same person.” They both seemed to realize that Elizabeth’s hands were still on Teyla and Elizabeth dropped them into her lap. Teyla tried not to feel colder for the loss. “I’m the same person,” Elizabeth repeated. “More dangerous, maybe…because of what I’ve done and what I am. I’d thought…” She looked up to the low ceiling that hung over them, the curve like the belly of a whale.
Just as Teyla thought that Elizabeth wouldn’t speak, she began again. “We woke up in the orbit of a sun, a red giant.” Teyla imagined the sun on the other side of the Gate – the pink planet and the wreckage of the Traveler ship but Elizabeth hadn’t seen it through the visor of a puddlejumper.
Elizabeth shook her head and closed her eyes. “It was beautiful – terrifying. The heat was unbearable, the light blinding. Was I human, I would never have survived coming so close. As it was, it was close. I could feel the others when they fell into it. They were like sparks that flared up and guttered out on the surface of the sun. The remainder of Niam’s group was no more. I was the only one who escaped without burning up.” She met Teyla’s eyes. “The nanites healed me before I traveled out of orbit and when I did, they shut down again. The others weren’t so lucky. I’m the only one left now.” She pursed her lips. “You have your best chance to blot out the Ancients' failed experiment for good.”
Teyla’s eyes prickled. “We have not talked of it.” Her voice was stronger, more unconcerned than she felt. But she found this was what had followed her all along. She didn’t believe that Elizabeth would ever come home.
“Teyla.” Elizabeth’s voice was gaining strength, hardening as it did when she was arguing a point she firmly believed. “As long as I exist, there’s some chance that the Wraith could use me to get to Atlantis. I may be the key to the city that lets the Wraith in.” She shook her head. “And I can’t live with that. If you won’t have me back in Atlantis, it only makes sense to kill me before they – or someone else – can find some way to use me for their own gain.”
Heat gathered in Teyla’s eyes and she gritted her teeth against the chance of tears. “There is no way,” she said firmly.
Elizabeth sat forward. “Teyla—”
“No.” Teyla set her jaw. “There is another way and we will find it.”
“Teyla…” Elizabeth’s forehead furrowed, “you have to understand—”
“Then why don’t I?” Teyla asked. “I do not understand it. I do not have to. I told you, Elizabeth. We’ll find another way.”
Elizabeth’s eyes moved over Teyla’s face and it seemed that she could see her through the appearance of the Wraith. It was a wonder either of them could recognize the other. Teyla’s fingers itched for Elizabeth’s hand and she dropped her gaze to the bench. “You said that you’re on a Traveler vessel,” Elizabeth said softly.
“Yes. We’re coming to take you back.”
Unexpectedly, Elizabeth laughed. “Take me back,” she repeated with a smile. She arched a brow at Teyla. “That sounds romantic.”
It startled a laugh out of Teyla. “Perhaps it did not come out the way—” Elizabeth’s hand slipped over Teyla’s fingers, surprising Teyla into silence. Teyla looked up at the Replicator. If it was a few years before, she would’ve thought of kissing her.
“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth said softly, withdrawing her hand.
Teyla stopped her. She slid her hand over Elizabeth’s. “No,” she said firmly. “There’s nothing to apologize for.”
Elizabeth’s eyes went from the hand covering hers, the long fingers and sharp nails of a Wraith, to Teyla’s face. The line of her mouth firmed as she stared at Teyla, seeming deep in thought. “Do you remember the festival you took me to?” she asked finally.
Teyla’s heart hammered in her chest, even if the heart in question was not her own. “I do,” she said softly. Just like then, she wanted to deny it but it seemed that they had precious little time and denial was a waste of it.
“You kissed me,” Elizabeth said.
Teyla nodded. It was only bizarre Wraith physiology that kept her face cool. Elizabeth’s stare fell on her features, looking at her with a question. “And I told you I’d drunk too much Ruus wine,” Teyla said. It was a small, clumsy lie that Teyla hated more and more over time.
Elizabeth nodded. “I believed you because I saw you later with Kanaan.”
Teyla’s brows furled. She remembered how she’d found Kanaan in the wood and she’d told him what had happened. What had started as commiseration had become comfort. The comfort became Torren. For that reason, she could never regret it. “Yes,” she said. “I remember that time.”
“Were you?” Elizabeth asked. “Had you drunk too much?”
Teyla opened her mouth and found her mind blank. She couldn’t think of how to answer her and her chest felt like a clenched fist when she thought of saying nothing at all. Elizabeth stared into her eyes with gentle persistence. “Elizabeth—”
Before she could finish, a seismic shift rolled under her. The hive around her blurred out and became indistinct. Her eyes shot open and she blinked at the featureless wall of the Traveler cabin. Through the window on the wall, she could see the white points of distant starlight, then the dull red hull of a Hive blotting out the sky. She jolted off the floor and dashed out into the hall.
The moment they dropped out of hyperspace, sparks exploded over Rodney’s head in the bridge. Rodney flinched as the sparks showered him and the console, singing the shoulder of his dark gray t-shirt. The overhead display blinked out. “Oh, no, no, no, no, no,” he growled.
“What is it?” an engineer asked urgently. He rounded around the console and Rodney swatted his hands away indignantly. It may be their ship but if he left it to them, they’d all be fertilizing space petunias.
“I don’t think you quite stuck the landing, Rodney,” John yelled from across the room. He jogged over to the platform, his shoulder brushing Rodney’s as he did. “What the hell was that?”
As Rodney opened his mouth to speak, Teyla shot through the open door of the bridge. “What happened?” she asked breathlessly.
Rodney threw a glare at the ceiling before getting back to work. “Thank you for the Greek chorus. If I didn’t hear you all sounding our doom, I’d never know we were screwed,” he snapped. He dove under the console and pried the control panel off the underside. A tangle of wires fell out in his face. Cursing, Rodney shoved them aside. Inside, there was a riot of oddly shaped, jury-rigged wires bundled in with worn out crystals. “What the hell is this?” he demanded.
John kicked Rodney’s foot and peered at him from above the console. “What happened, Rodney?” he repeated like Rodney was the dimmest light bulb on the Vegas strip.
Rodney found the idiotic wire he was looking for and followed it to another. “We fell out of hyperspace,” he answered. He viciously twisted two wires together and the display lit up.
“Why’d we do that?” John asked, stepping back for Rodney to shimmy out from under the console.
Rodney straightened with a twinge in his spine. “There was a hyperdrive malfunction. I’m surprised we’re alive.” He glared at the red-faced engineer who was presently stymied with fury. “Anyway,” Rodney turned to the display and began taking readings, “the more important question isn’t why we fell out of hyperspace – it’s where.”
“There is no question of where,” Teyla cut in. “We fell out at our destination point. I could see the Hive outside the window in my cabin.”
Rodney’s face drained of color. “These instruments are giving false readings.” It was the least of their worries. He raced over to the console where a dark haired girl was picking among wires in the panel. “No, no, no, no, no.”
“What is it, Rodney?” John asked. Another explosion overhead showered them with sparks.
As Rodney looked up at John, Vena and her father, Tulen, ran into the room. “I was still in the middle of repairing the shields. They’re at fifty percent.”
“That’s an improvement,” Vena said. “I could only eke thirty percent out of them before. What if we—?”
“We need to reroute power from non-essential systems to the shields. What can we do without?” Vena shared a look with her father and Rodney felt his face flush. “Look, I’m the foremost in my field, my field being saving our collective asses. We’re in hot water right now but I think I can deal with this if you let me know everything I need to know.” Rodney’s head ached and he yearned for Zelenka’s help. He was a disaster with Wraith technology, but he could work wonders with power allocation.
“We can move everyone to the great room,” Tulen said.
Vena looked at Rodney. “When we seal the area off—”
“I can route power allotted for those sections into the shields. We need to get on that,” Rodney interrupted. “Like yesterday.” Vena nodded and Tulen walked over to the speaker hard-wired at the wall. His voice echoed through the ship, calling for the Travelers to move to the great room. Rodney pulled up the power grid readings. Predictably, it was about as picturesque as a Wraith’s ass. “Shit.”
“They’re spooling up weapons,” the male tech called out.
Rodney had time to look over before the ship shuddered under the first shot. It was John’s side and the arm Teyla braced him with that kept him from falling to the ground. Sparks rained down at the far wall and shot out under the tech’s console. Rodney shot up and back to the energy grid. He punched a button. “We’re down to forty-five percent!”
In his periphery, he saw Teyla turn to John. “I was in contact with a Wraith when the ship fell out of hyperspace,” she said urgently. “I was speaking to Elizabeth Weir.”
“So you know where she is?” John asked.
“I believe that I could find her inside from what I’ve seen,” Teyla replied.
“They’ve sealed the great room area,” Tulen called from across the room. His daughter nodded and gestured for Rodney to begin. Rodney shook himself from any thoughts of Elizabeth and began rerouting power from life support to shields, his hands flying over the console. “Get that display working,” he said with a curt nod at the weapons console. “We’ll need to trade fire and we need that thing working to do it.” The ship rolled under another shot.
“Rodney, I’m taking the jumper out.” John turned to Teyla as Ronon walked in. “How close do you have to be to control them – the Wraith?”
Teyla shook her head. “All I need is concentration. Distance is not an obstacle now.”
“What’re you planning, Sheppard?” Ronon asked.
“I have a couple ideas,” John said. “Rodney, keep working on the shields. Ronon, Teyla, and I are going out.”
Rodney nodded, sparing them a glance. He wanted to go with them but he knew they were more than capable of doing their job and it didn’t take a genius to know that they needed him on the Edorus more than they needed him in the jumper with them. “Just—” he grimaced, flapping his hand at them, “don’t do anything stupid, okay?” he asked.
Ronon grinned and smacked him on the back, sending Rodney halfway over the console. “You be safe, too, McKay.” John rolled his eyes and Teyla smiled.
Rodney rubbed his aching shoulder and glared at Ronon as he rejoined the others. “Fine. I’ll mind shop,” he said. “Just remember that time is of the essence. We can’t handle much more of this.”
John gave him a small smirk. “Be home soon, honey.”
The jumper shot out the hangar doors as the Hive released a volley of darts. John cloaked them and pulled up weapons. “Think you can get in there and get Elizabeth somewhere we can pick her up? Using your, uh, mind-control thingy,” he clarified. They looked good on drones so John uncloaked and fired a couple at a dense line of darts heading straight for the Edorus. One dart exploded and wheeled into another, combusting in a display worthy of the Fourth of July. It lit up the ship and Ronon’s grin in the backseat.
As a handful of darts spun to fix on their position, John raised the cloak.
“I believe so,” Teyla said. “But they’ll resist if they know one of their own has already been compromised.”
“Meaning that you already did something they’ll have noticed,” Ronon guessed from the backseat.
Teyla shrugged a shoulder. “I seized control of the Wraith I connected with. I had little choice.” John was exasperated at the proud smirk on Ronon’s face. The plan would probably go off better if the Wraith were unaware of their plans.
“All right,” John said. “That’s the way it is, we’ve got to live with it. I need you to get in there and control one of their guys. She needs to get to the dart bay and then I want you to move the guy back to the Wraith control hub.”
Ronon leaned forward in his seat. “What’re you planning?” he asked.
John uncloaked to release another drone and the two darts in front of them went up. John cloaked as the jumper dove through the fiery wreckage, John weaving between the shrapnel. They went straight for the Hive. “I want you to overload their weapons,” John said. “Send the whole thing up. Rodney taught you how to do that?”
“Once, yes,” Teyla replied. “I think I remember.” Ronon dropped a hand on her shoulder, grinning.
“Good,” John said. He swallowed, smiling awkwardly at the others. “Well, this certainly won’t blow up in our faces.”
“I’ll begin,” Teyla said, closing her eyes.
Teyla searched out the mind she’d touched before, the physical impression of the ship giving way around her. She found the Wraith’s mind among the others but paused in discovering it. It was odd in a way she couldn’t define, somewhat inorganic in a way it hadn’t been before. She put aside her concerns and reached out, slipping in. Suddenly, the darkness of her closed eyelids gave way as the feeling of the ship had given way before. Light spilled into her field of vision and she saw again. She saw the corridor of the Hive through the eyes of the Wraith, the stamping of marching feet loud around her, as they passed the wizened corpses of victims trapped in the webbing of the walls.
Teyla exerted greater control and it was as though the body walking the halls of the Hive was her own. She shot a sidelong glance around and found Elizabeth trapped between two drones, their hands tight around her arms. She was composed but after staring down death all the times she had, her resolve was no wonder. The four of them were alone but the sound of movement was clear in the halls beyond.
Teyla stopped and pivoted on her heel to face the drones. “Leave me with the prisoner,” she said. She didn’t dare invite suspicion by looking into Elizabeth’s face but she could see Elizabeth in her periphery, her eyes softening with a question.
The drones paused, seeming confused. They were clearly under orders to bring the prisoner elsewhere but they were confounded by any directions that conflicted with those already given. Teyla pressed her advantage. “Leave us,” she demanded, peeling her lips back from her teeth menacingly.
Seeming finally to understand, the drones released Elizabeth and walked away. The corridors resounded with footsteps, not all of them the drones’. The Wraith were at high alert and there were dozens of them passing in adjacent halls.
Teyla grasped Elizabeth’s arm as a long shadow fell over the wall around the corner. “You are with a friend,” she murmured softly in the last moment that she could. Recognition lit Elizabeth’s features and Teyla tightened her grip as a slim, white-haired Wraith stepped into the hall. It was the ranking Wraith she’d seen before in her vision. The Queen’s second in command.
He walked toward her and revulsion coiled in Teyla’s belly. “Where are the drones?” he asked. “The prisoner was to be escorted to the Queen.”
“I wanted to bring her there myself,” Teyla answered, holding her chin high.
“To curry the Queen’s favor,” the Wraith sneered. “You contemptible maggot.”
The anger Teyla felt was entirely her own but she restrained it. Getting caught now would be a waste of what little time they had left. She still didn’t know how well the shields were holding on the Edorus and every second that passed, the onslaught continued to tax them. “She asked that I bring my findings to her,” she insisted.
The Wraith grabbed Elizabeth’s arm and wrenched a yelp from her. Teyla caught herself as her muscles bunched to attack. Elizabeth’s eyes met hers and she gave a tiny headshake, warning her against it. “I’ll take the prisoner from here. I doubt there’s much you have to tell.”
“She asked that I bring her myself,” Teyla argued. “Do you wish to explain why you’ve disobeyed her orders?”
The Wraith snarled, his scowl warping the lines of black ink on his face. “Get back to your station,” he snapped. He yanked Elizabeth against his side and turned to go. As Teyla’s hand dropped to her waist, fingers searching for a weapon, Elizabeth abruptly stopped. The Wraith’s face clouded with confusion as he yanked the arm of his unyielding prisoner. The Wraith’s face curled in fury. He snapped his arm back to strike and Elizabeth’s hand shot out, sending him flying across the hall.
The Wraith smashed into the wall. For a moment, his face was warped with fury, then he howled, “The prisoner’s escaped!”
Teyla could hear the shout taken up in the adjacent hallway. She’d turned her head when a drone hurtled into the hall. Teyla acted before she could think of consequences. She snapped the weapon from his belt and fired a shot into the fallen second. Then the drone’s punch sent her halfway down the hall. She fell to Elizabeth’s feet, the stunner skating down the hall.
“Run!” she ordered. Elizabeth’s features were drawn in concern. She opened her mouth to argue and Teyla cut her off, surging to her feet. “You must go to the dart bay!” she said, shoving her. She saw the blur of the drone’s fist and ducked before he landed the blow.
“I can help you,” Elizabeth said.
Teyla didn’t have time to argue. She ducked another swing and grabbed the drone’s arm. Twisting her waist and pulling him over her shoulder, she slammed him to the floor. Another drone piled into her, smashing her against the wall, and Teyla dropped, pivoting between his legs. She drove her knee into the joint with all her force and he fell to the ground. She was determined to clear the way for Elizabeth to escape.
She grabbed his fallen spear gun and heard the sound of weapon’s discharge. She spun around to see a wraith fall heavily behind her. She turned around as Elizabeth knelt in front of her. The hall was littered with the bodies of unconscious Wraith, the two she’d knocked out and the two Elizabeth had stunned with the drone’s weapon. In the halls outside, Teyla heard the sound of shouts and feet running.
“Let me help,” Elizabeth said. She grasped Teyla’s hand and pulled her to her feet.
Teyla nodded breathlessly. “We need to get to the control room so that I can overload the weapons platform. You need to get to the dart bay.”
Elizabeth handed Teyla the spear gun. “We go together,” she said.
Teyla wanted to tell her no, that to separate would be the practical choice, but the thought of losing each other on that ship and not spending what time they had left fighting together stopped her.
“I believe it’s this way,” Teyla said, taking Elizabeth by the wrist. They jogged down the hall, running in the opposite direction of where they’d been headed, which Teyla presumed was the bridge or the throne room. As they turned the corner, a drone wheeled on them, raising his spear gun. Teyla jerked her gun up, drawing on him as Elizabeth spun around to shoot a Wraith at the other end of the hall. The blaster sounded, the shot hitting the drone in the center of his chest. He collapsed and another drone charged around the corner, raising his weapon. Teyla fired again.
For the moment, the hallway was clear and Teyla grabbed Elizabeth’s wrist. They ran toward the center of the ship. The dart bay would be at the rear of the ship and the control room at the center. She’d never seen a ship that didn’t function that way. But the dart bay was also where the Wraith would be running to fight the Edorus. Elizabeth kept firing on the Wraith who were coming into the hall behind them.
They rounded the next corner and a blow smashed into Teyla’s side, hurling her against the wall. She looked up blearily to see a drone standing outside the holding cells. She swept his legs out from under him as Elizabeth shot and hit the wall where he’d been.
“Teyla, get down!” Elizabeth called.
Teyla dropped as a shot fired past her shoulder and downed another drone barreling into the hallway. Teyla wrestled the drone beneath her, pinning him to the ground with her knees locked around his neck. A shot sounded from above and he went still. Teyla shot a look around the area. They were in the holding cell area. She’d been there before and when she had, she’d seen the control room through an open door in a nearby hallway.
“You don’t happen to know your way around here?” Elizabeth asked. “Because I’m only familiar with my cell.”
Teyla took a breath and regained her bearings. She peered down the halls leading off in either direction from the holding cell area. The drumming of footsteps was rising in the distance but from which direction, she couldn’t tell. “This way,” she said, taking Elizabeth’s hand. She led her around the corner and down another hallway. It looked much the same as the others but she had a feeling she was going the right way.
They’d gone halfway down the length when the slapping of feet on the ground rose nearby. Two figures rounded the corner, coming from the direction of the dart bay, and Teyla raised her spear gun. The two stopped short, weapons drawn, before they recognized each other.
“I thought you were waiting in the dart bay,” Teyla said, dropping her weapon to her side.
“Yeah, about that. Change of plans,” John replied.
They left Teyla outside the control room and jogged back to the dart bay. Ronon went to the door of the bay and shot a look around the corner. At his nod, John dug the remote from his pocket and clicked it. The cloak shimmered over the surface of the jumper before shutting off and the two of them dove inside with Ronon at their backs. John had the rear hatch rising and the cloak shimmering back on around them before his ass hit the pilot chair.
Elizabeth stopped, seeing Teyla’s form unconscious in the co-pilot’s seat while her mind was still at work in the Wraith, and seemed to relax. “Good thing you remembered where you parked,” she remarked. It was a little too easy to see the old Elizabeth in her, but it was still pretty damn uncanny, working with what appeared to be a Wraith and a Replicator.
John snorted. “Find a seat back there, Chewy. We’re taking off.”
“Don’t call me that,” Ronon replied. John shot a look at him over his shoulder, and then he took the jumper up. John could see the Wraith pilots peering down and pointing at where the ship had been. A whole hell of a lot of them were shouting at each other.
“Hang onto your hats,” John warned them, not that it mattered with the inertial dampeners. If the Wraith had spotted them, they were going to be quick on the attack. The jumper shot forward. The bay was buzzing with darts like someone had kicked the hornet’s nest. John weaved up to avoid one and pulled them up into a steep climb to skirt another.
“You wanna get us out of here?” Ronon asked as he slid into the seat behind John.
“That would probably be good,” Elizabeth said.
John made a face at them. Apparently Rodney wasn’t the only backseat driver around. “How about I do the driving?” he asked. Then again, maybe Rodney’s righteous indignation thing was rubbing off on him.
Up ahead, the bay doors were sliding shut. Somebody somewhere must’ve let the Queen know they had an intruder and they were planning on shutting them in. “Crap,” John muttered, putting on speed. The doors were closing down. They dove toward it, the periphery blurring with their speed. Just as they were closing the distance, a dart flew in and John had to pull the nose up like he’d break the throttle. As they evened out, the bay doors shut.
“We’re locked in,” Elizabeth said.
John steeled himself, looking at his options. His best plan was risky but what plan wasn’t? “Okay,” he murmured. He hit the button and uncloaked as he fired a drone into the dart bay door. The Hive rumbled with the explosion and the void of space sucked out the atmosphere as the doors blew off, snuffing the flames. They hurtled toward the gaping hole as the darts already in the bay spun to attack. The cloak shimmered as the first shot rattled the jumper and scorched the side.
John banked the jumper as another shot went wide and took out a dart. “If that’s my luck, I should head to Atlantic City.” They flew through the hole in the Hive and out into the fray.
It was as though a signal had gone up. The darts were swarming to return to the Hive. John ducked, rolled, and banked the jumper around a minefield of moving obstacles. And he’d thought Grand Theft Auto was a rush. Just as they’d broken free, Teyla jolted up with a cry.
“Teyla,” Elizabeth said, grasping Teyla’s hand on the arm of the chair. “Are you all right?”
“I failed,” Teyla gasped. She collapsed back into her chair, breathing raggedly. Sweat beaded her face. “I was discovered before I could overload the weapons platform.”
John exchanged a grim look with Ronon. If Teyla hadn’t made it, they were screwed. Their only hope was that Rodney had repaired the hyperdrive so that they could jump. John hit the radio. “Rodney,” he said, calling out to him over his comm.
“John, thank god,” Rodney’s voice was a burst of noise and static over the radio. “We saw the explosion in the dart bay and we thought—”
“We’re all accounted for,” John interrupted him. “Can we get to the bridge or did you shut off life support?” He brought the jumper down in the hangar bay and the doors shut behind them.
There was a pause and in the pause, the sound of shots hitting the ship sounded like drum beats. Finally, Rodney said, “You’re good to go. Hurry. We’re overtaxed as is.”
John glanced around at the others and stood up. “You heard the man.” His eyes fell on Elizabeth and the same feeling of indecision came over him. He couldn’t tell if she could be trusted but now wasn’t the time to consider it anyway. They jogged out of the jumper, Elizabeth and Ronon at Teyla’s sides. Ronon looked like he was thinking about scooping Teyla up and carrying her but she was making decent time on her own.
“How’re you doing?” John asked her in the hall. She looked weak but she snapped back from things like no one’s business. Only Ronon really gave her a run for her money in that regard.
She shook her head. “Fine. Tired.” She patted Elizabeth’s hand and Ronon’s wrist. “I will be fine with some recovery.”
“You did good,” John said as they walked into the bridge.
Inside, engineers ran from console to console, ripping off panels and rewiring controls. A spray of sparks shot out from near the captain’s chair as a shot rolled the ship beneath them. Rodney straightened up and his eyes went wide. “Elizabeth.” Elizabeth smiled warmly at him and John waved the door shut at their backs. Shaking himself, Rodney turned back to his console. “You should know that we’re not doing well,” he said.
“How not-well are we doing?” John asked as he walked up.
Another shot rocked the ship and Rodney raised his eyebrows. “Pretty damn not-well.”
“Well, what can you do?” John asked. “How’s the hyperdrive? Can we open a window?”
Rodney wrinkled his nose. “Do you know how fried that thing is? It’s KFC under there. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon.” He shook his head and his eyebrows shot up. “It’s not only that. We’re down to twenty percent shield strength. I’m channeling every solitary bit of power to the shields—”
John glanced at Teyla. If she could sync with the Queen, she might be able to buy them some time. But Teyla still looked weak from the last time she’d connected. Maybe it was how the connection had broken or it could’ve been overusing the link, but either way, she looked pretty burnt out, too.
“Rodney.” John stepped up beside Rodney, shoulder-to-shoulder, and Rodney glanced at him with a forming scowl. “I know what you’re thinking, Colonel, and it’s not going to—”
“You’ve got to figure something out, Rodney,” John interrupted. “What if I took out the jumper and I overloaded the weapons platform manually?”
“That’s your idea?” Rodney balked. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard of!”
“What’s your idea, Rodney?” John shot back.
“When you came in just now, your hair was practically singed – you were that close! What you’re suggesting is a sui—”
“Teyla, where is the Wraith you connected with?” Elizabeth asked. The lights flickered as two shots hit the hull, right on top of each other. They grabbed for consoles and rode it out.
“He was killed in the control room,” Teyla said over the sound of the engineers shouting at each other. “Why?”
“I have an idea,” Elizabeth said. “I can use him to infect the ship.”
“What?” John asked as Rodney asked, “How is that possible?” They looked at each other.
A look of realization dawned over Teyla’s face. “When he attacked you,” she said. “You began replicating.”
John scowled. This was why he didn’t want to trust her. It was what made her so dangerous to begin with. “Damn it, Elizabeth!”
“No, that shouldn’t be possible,” Rodney said. “I programmed your template myself. You don’t have the power to self-replicate.”
Elizabeth swallowed, her eyes going from Teyla to John and then to Rodney. “I changed my programming.” She raised her hand when John opened his mouth to speak. “I thought that they were going to torture me for information and that it was my only way out.”
“Your only way to escape,” John shot back. Fury rolled through him at the betrayal.
“My only way to fight back. I only came to consciousness in the Wraith prison cell. I wanted to know what their plans were and when I found out what they were, I wanted to fight back.” Elizabeth’s eyes went to Teyla, her expression beseeching. “And when I realized that Teyla – that you all – were coming for me, I gave up my plan.”
The floor rocked as the Wraith fired another shot. “We’re at twenty percent shield strength!” Vena called out.
Elizabeth wet her lips and spoke quickly. “I won’t do it if it makes you see me as a threat—”
“You are a threat,” John snapped.
“—but please, please see this as another tool we can use against the Wraith. Please see that this is our best chance at fighting right now.” Elizabeth shook her head, turning to John. “I’m not talking about making more Replicators. I’m talking about infecting the Hive.”
“You want to infect the Hive with a nanovirus so you can control it,” Rodney said slowly by John’s side. John swallowed as Rodney looked into his face. “John, please listen to her. This is the best option we have right now. If we don’t do something, we’re dead right here and right now.”
“And if we do, it could mean that the Replicators can start rebuilding,” John said.
"It won't," Elizabeth protested. "The only thing I'll infect is the Hive itself. It will be like an extension of me. No new Replicators. The only sentience will be mine, working through the Hive."
John glowered at Elizabeth, his lips a firm, hard line. Sparks showered down from overhead and lit Elizabeth's face. She looked truthful, but that just made the deception worse.
“I believe her,” Teyla said.
Ronon cut John off before he could speak. “I do, too,” he said.
The ship rolled under another blast and the lights flickered overhead. “Believe me,” Elizabeth said. “Before, I thought I was in control of the others. You can’t know how much I regret what happened. Let me prove myself when it’s just me, not the others.”
“John,” Rodney said urgently. The display above his head began flashing critical red.
“Thirteen percent!” Vena shouted.
John took an uneven breath. The others stared at him, waiting. He gave a terse nod. “Do it.”
Elizabeth sighed with relief. She returned his nod and closed her eyes. She tilted her head back and began.
A sensor began blaring as another Wraith blast shook them, rattling the ship from bow to stern. “Five,” Vena reported. “We’re at five percent shield strength. Failure is imminent.”
John felt Rodney’s fingers clasp on his wrist. He looked at him. Rodney’s hair was mussed like when they’d rolled out of bed thirteen hours ago, his blue eyes bright and clear with worry. The mouth he’d kissed was slanted in a frown that tightened the skin around his eyes and his forehead. He wanted to say something, John could see as much in his expression. John didn't need to hear it to understand. “I know,” John said. “You know, if we don’t get out of it.”
Rodney nodded. “Me, too.”
“They’re readying weapons,” Vena called out. “They’re going to—Wait.”
An explosion lit the screen in the far side of the bridge. Another followed and then another. They were like sparks dancing over the hull of the Hive. “What is that?” John asked. He turned, walking over with Rodney. A flurry of lights whirled around the Hive. “They’re...drones.” The crew ran over to see the sight. Unbelievably, what looked like Ancient drones were swarming out of the gaping hole in the dart bay and rolling back against the hull of the Hive in waves. Tulen pressed his hand to the window and Ronon guffawed as the drones devoured the Hive ship, setting off explosion after explosion. The darts presently attacking the Edorus wheeled about and fired on the drones, before falling prey to them, themselves. The crew ran over mutely to stare through the window as the Hive ship finally burst like a firework, exploding in a golden spray. As they watched, the drones darkened and disintegrated in the air, dead.
Ronon clapped an arm around Teyla and Rodney sagged against John’s side in relief. John’s head was almost light. When he glanced back, Elizabeth was joining them by the window.
She smiled. “I thought the drones were a nice touch,” she said.
John laughed. Teyla was right, and Rodney and Ronon, too. Surrounded by his team and glad to be alive, it was like looking at the old Elizabeth. It was almost like she’d never gone.
When the doors to the conference room pivoted open, Teyla crossed the reddish stone floor in three steps. She’d broken away from the others, where they were waiting in the nearest seating area so that she could pace outside the conference room doors.
Three steps were all Teyla got before she collided with the slim frame of the woman exiting the room. She rocked back on the balls of her feet and stepped back.
It was harder to regain her mental equilibrium when she recognized Elizabeth. Teyla was still expecting dark curling hair, wide hazel eyes, and the little crinkles that deepened in the corners of the leader’s eyes when she smiled or squinted. This Elizabeth Weir was younger, her face smoother, but somehow, when Teyla peered into her features, she found the same strength and determination that had convinced Teyla of her decision to stay in Atlantis so many years ago.
Elizabeth – the young-faced, Replicator Elizabeth – smiled, the corners of her eyes crinkling. “Teyla—”
“What did he say?” Teyla asked. Her voice betrayed her, coming out more urgently than she’d have it.
The smile left Elizabeth’s face and a look of focus stole over her features. The way she tilted her chin down and met Teyla’s with collected gravity was undeniably familiar. “You mean—?”
“Yes,” Teyla interrupted. She squared her shoulders and impatiently nodded. “What did Mr. Woolsey say? Did he say that you could stay?”
As Elizabeth paused, John stepped out with Woolsey. He was the last one that Woolsey had called in to interview about Elizabeth and now it appeared all the interviews were over, good or bad. He bobbed on his feet as he nearly ran into them and raised his eyebrows. “I thought you guys were waiting in the – that pavilion thing or whatever it is.”
Teyla felt her face heat up as Elizabeth smiled. She ducked her head briefly before meeting John’s eyes. “I felt the need to stretch my legs,” she lied.
Woolsey looked at the three of them like Atlantis had some kind of contagious form of insanity floating around. “At any rate,” he said. He shifted his satchel from one hand to the other and held out his hand to Elizabeth. “Welcome back to Atlantis, Dr. Weir.”
Sheppard bounced on the balls of his feet as Elizabeth shook Woolsey’s hand, a smile curved the corners of his mouth. “Come to think, Woolsey, I think you have a bottle of brandy with my name on it,” he said. “Or wasn’t that what you were saying?”
Woolsey’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh, yes. That’s right. If you’d like to join me for a drink, Colonel, I do have a bottle we might open up.”
As Woolsey headed off down the hall in the direction of his quarters, John leaned over. “You guys want to spread the good news?” he asked. He raised his eyebrow. “You needed to stretch your legs,” he scoffed. “Mmm hmm.”
The two men walked off, their conversation resounding in the hall after their footfalls had vanished. Teyla turned her eyes to Elizabeth, not knowing what to say. So much had happened and yet there was still so much that was left unsaid. That was maybe better left unsaid. “I am glad,” she said finally. She extended her hand and Elizabeth took it, her palm slipping perfectly into Teyla’s. “This place was not the same without you.”
Elizabeth’s hand was firm and soft on Teyla’s. A humorous smile quirked the corners of her lips. “What you were saying, before.”
Teyla’s pulse doubled. “I do not recall,” she lied.
Elizabeth looked at her though the fringe of her eyelashes. She arched an eyebrow. “Oh, really?” she asked.
“Actually, Ronon and Rodney will want to know that Mr. Woolsey approved your stay in Atlantis,” Teyla said. She slipped her hand from Elizabeth’s, trying not to regret the loss of warmth. “They’ve been waiting for hours. They were...concerned you would not be able to stay.” They weren’t the only ones. More than a dozen scientists and military officers had shown up to offer their support at the review. They would all be pleased that Elizabeth was staying. Teyla felt weak with relief, like the tension was the only thing that had kept her on her feet the past twenty-two hours. Now, the wish not to look foolish was the only thing that kept her from falling down.
“They’ll be relieved, but not you?” Elizabeth teased.
Teyla faltered. In the space of a heartbeat, she remembered the pain and fear and relief and desire she’d experienced, all wrapped around this woman. She was torn and ecstatic, all at once. “I am,” she said softly. “I am relieved that you are here.”
“You were saying something on the Hive ship, before we got interrupted?” Elizabeth prompted. There was a prying note to her voice. “When I asked you about the festival on New Athos.”
Teyla’s heart throbbed with the memory. “Yes,” she answered.
“I believed that you hadn’t meant to kiss me then,” Elizabeth said, “but now I wonder. Was there really nothing to it when you kissed me?”
“I said that at the time.” Teyla hesitated. She clasped her hands, trying to recapture the warmth of Elizabeth’s earlier touch. “I lied.” She raised her chin and met Elizabeth’s stare. “I love you. I always have. I believed that you did not.”
Elizabeth's stare was keen, quiet, penetrating. Teyla felt naked beneath it. “You were wrong,” Elizabeth said softly. “You aren’t often.”
Heat welled in Teyla’s eyes. She swallowed, trying to stifle the emotion that shortened her breath. “Then you…?”
“I love you, too.” Elizabeth stepped forward, a look of question on her face as her arms slid around Teyla’s neck. She pressed her lips to Teyla’s, the first soft kiss like a question. When Teyla tilted her head back and gasped, Elizabeth pressed her advantage, her hands sliding up to frame her face. The heat of her tongue against Teyla’s lips ignited sparks of desire throughout her body. Teyla moaned as Elizabeth pulled back. She panted softly, pressing softer, lighter kisses against Teyla’s wet lips until she withdrew enough to speak. “You’re not the only one who’s been pining.”
It startled a laugh out of Teyla. She buried her burning face into Elizabeth’s neck and swore to herself that her days of pining were over. She'd see to it herself that they were never parted again.
“I don’t know if your brain is addled or if you just have bad taste,” Rodney said as he pulled a seat out beside Ronon in the mess and dropped into it.
“Hey!” John protested. “Mars Attacks is a great movie!”
Rodney swatted Ronon’s hand from his tray where it was presently escaping with two chicken fingers. “Hey! Shoo! It’s like herding cats,” he told John. John just flopped into the chair opposite with a guffaw.
It had been two weeks since Teyla had her dream and they fought the Wraith with the Travelers and Rodney was just then feeling like he’d caught up on the rest he’d missed. It wasn’t helping that John hogged the blankets and snored like a chain saw.
Rodney glanced sidelong at Ronon and wondered if the giant could conceivably be a worse roommate. When Ronon dunked his borrowed chicken fingers into the ketchup on Teyla’s tray, he figured it might be so.
Over those two weeks, Woolsey had battled the IOA and the SGC to retain Elizabeth in Atlantis. They'd hammered out the terms at Cheyenne Mountain. Elizabeth would stay as a civilian scientist in the anthropology division. She was to undergo regular check-ups, verifying that no changes had been made to FRAN's original programming. The Earth Gate was closed to her. But they weren't deactivating her either. So it could be worse.
“Hey.” Rodney looked up and saw Elizabeth, queuing beside their table in that half-teasing awkward way she had since coming back. Rodney noted her eyes shooting to Teyla and he filed that away for future consideration. “Anyone sitting here?” she asked.
A warm smile spread over Teyla’s face. She took Torren from the chair beside her and shifted him to her lap. “No one is sitting here,” she said, patting the seat.
“Pull up a chair,” Ronon said through a bite of chicken.
Elizabeth sat and John kicked Rodney’s chair, pulling Rodney’s attention back to him. “What’s wrong with Mars Attacks?” the Colonel asked, his arched eyebrow a lazy challenge that kind of, frankly, got Rodney hot all over.
“What’s wrong with it?” Rodney squawked. “Where do I begin? I could write volumes – a tome – about what’s wrong with it.”
“How did your meeting with Woolsey go?” Teyla asked at the end of the table. She made a face at Ronon and handed him a napkin in a way that was less like a polite suggestion and more like a demand.
Rodney and John turned to look and Elizabeth sat straighter. “Great,” she said. She raised her eyebrows. “He’s thinking about assigning me to a team.” Ronon laughed and Elizabeth looked at him in consternation. Teyla kicked his chair before Elizabeth could scold him.
Rodney glanced at John and saw his smile directed at him. His chest warmed and he felt as happy as John looked.
It felt like everyone was home.