Recipient: jeyla4ever, who wanted 'romantic, sensual, angsty, fast-paced, action packed and with the rest of the team on the side' and didn't leave much wiggle-room!
Spoilers: Diverges after the episode Missing.
Summary: Teyla stood over him, his life rolling through her in a fierce flush of energy, her expression tense with the struggle to accept what she had just done. She had killed before, in cold blood and hot. This was different.
Author's Note: My betas have been the awesomest of the awesome, going through this story for me. Thank you!
The husk of the corpse lay in dry grass beneath a violet sky.
She stood over him, his life rolling through her in a fierce flush of energy, her expression tense with the struggle to accept what she had just done. She had killed before, in cold blood and hot.
This was different.
He would never trouble her again. She fought back the sensations that coursed through her, rich and warm and intoxicating. If it were only the relief of freedom, she would have exulted in it, but the tide of darker knowledge dragged down her pleasure.
And she was not alone.
There were eyes upon her, a dozen or more watchers, who had seen her take life. They were not to know that, to her, it was not life but death. A death to everything she had been, everything she had known. It was not in them to understand.
They watched her, silent and waiting.
She lifted one hand, almost wondering at the smooth skin, leathery but without scales, at the fingertips that now turned into pointed claws, the nails darker than the skin. A breeze rustled the grass around the drained husk of the Wraith and tugged at her hair, and she pressed that hand to her temple as the dry wind sucked moisture from her skin.
"What would you have us do, my Queen?"
Within her, something recoiled, revolted. Within her, something stirred, awakening. My Queen.
The speaker stood close by, his hands already closed about the weapon he had taken from the dead man. His tone was respectful but his eyes showed his cunning. Of them all, this one, she should best be wary: he would understand the most and he would understand the least.
What would you have us do?
No going back - no returning. The life she had known was gone as her people were gone.
She looked at the shrewd eyes of the speaker, his skin a pale green like Lantean mint-cream, and closed her eyes against another wave of dry air that washed over her. Every caressing eddy seemed to drain her strength, sucking at the life she had so recently taken.
They could not stay here.
"Follow me," she said.
And she turned away, walking to the hiveship settled down in the dry gully, leading the Wraith males to what must ultimately be all their deaths.
Behind her, the susurrus of the wind echoed empty around the body of the Wraith who had once been called Michael, and the ghost of the woman who had once been Teyla Emmagen of Athos.
She was strapped to a table in a cold, damp room.
The needle gleamed sharp and vicious in the solitary light, as sharp and piercing as the eyes of the man whose gaze focused on the point. He flicked it once, as she had seen Carson do, as she had seen Jennifer do, and she wondered if he had learned it from Atlantis - as he had learned so many other things.
"What is it that they say in Atlantis?" Michael asked, his voice richly sardonic. "This won't hurt a bit?"
Teyla knew the needle itself would hurt only a little - she'd been given needles before. But what was in the needle... Her heart pounded against her chest, like the thunder of hooves across the plains. "Michael, this is not necessary."
He regarded her with bitterness; Atlantis had made Michael what he was, physically, but they had also created this twisted creature, who was, even now, turning what he had been made, what he was, to his own ends. "This is not about necessity, Teyla."
She twisted a little, seeking a give to her bonds. Once before, he had bound her like this; once before, her team-mates had come for her.
This time, they did not.
Teyla had never wanted to understand the Wraith.
They were killers, destroyers of her people and the friends of her people. They left behind them the wreckage of a community, people lost and gone, hearts rent apart, homes forever broken.
She saw the aftermath on other planets - never, thankfully, on Athos until that last time. She saw the survivors left behind, painstakingly rebuilding the shattered scraps of their lives. Towns could be rebuilt, camps remade, even labour brought in from allied people - but there was nothing that could fill the hole in the soul left by the loss of a loved one.
Teyla had never wanted to understand the Wraith.
And yet, when the time came to hunt hireni down in the Athos plains, Teyla had never quite been able to stifle the feeling that she understood the Wraith only too well.
In the cool mists of her chamber, she stared into the darkness to which her eyes had become accustomed and meditated in a way that no Wraith Queen had ever done before.
They came to her in her meditations - the only place she would allow them passage.
Dark fingers brushed back her hair, warm skin against warm skin. "Your heart is heavy," her father said gently as his lips pressed to her forehead. "Yet you do what you have always wished to do."
"I do what I must," Teyla answered, closing her eyes. She let the sensations of childhood seep into her: the trust in another's strength, the assurance of being loved, the innocence and purity of purpose.
It was not her father who answered. "You don't have to do it alone."
They filed in through the door of this place in her mind that looked so much like Atlantis - the city of the Ancestors, where Teyla had been privileged to live, to learn, to love.
Ronon, with the spirit of life that had refused to give up through a shattered heart and a ruined planet, who had run, run, run, for seven years rather than give in to the Wraith. He stalked in with the predatory grace that the Lantean women admired and desired, flung himself down on one of the tiers with his elbows on his knees and a grin on his lips.
Rodney, intelligent and irascible, who carried within him a great insecurity, yet would not let himself be ignored or pushed aside, and had a heart that was easily wounded. His stumping steps took him in the opposite direction, towards the windows, where he scowled and crossed his arms as though irritated that he'd been disturbed at work.
And John, with his casual pretence that hid the fierce fire of one who felt too harshly, owed too fiercely, gave too much in service yet kept his too-battered heart back. One shoulder found purchase against the door, while his hands rested on his hips, casual and carefree, with the boyish charm that was his shield against the man within, and a warmth lighting his eyes for her.
"We don't leave our people behind," he said.
"You left me behind." She spoke delicately, but saw him wince and look away. "You did not know, but you did."
They must think her dead. Nothing else would have had them leave her behind, in Michael's hands. Michael had known this - as he had seen and known so many things about the Lanteans - and had surely bought himself a Queen through that knowledge.
Michael had bought himself death, also, but that had been a price he had not expected.
Teyla was not bitter at having been deserted; idealism was a privilege to which she had never felt as entitled as the Lanteans. But she was lonely without them.
Loneliness was better.
"I wish you were here." She felt her mouth curve as she said it. They were here, in a manner of speaking - in the imaginings of her mind. Her anchor, now that her people were gone.
"Don't think we'd like the conditions," said Ronon, looking up at her with a lopsided smile.
Rodney made a noise of disbelief and annoyance. "Don't tell her that!"
"We wouldn't. Too damp."
"And what if it is? The point isn't to tell her that we don't like the damp, the point is to say that we wish we were here, too!"
"Even if we don't?"
"It's the thought that counts."
John coughed. "If we're all finished fighting?" He looked at Teyla, shrugged, smiled. "It won't take much to deceive the Queen. She won't be expecting you."
Teyla regarded them a little more sombrely now. "Can this work?"
"Your plan to take out the Wraith one by one?" John's gaze stayed fixed on her.
"Actually, I calculated the odds on that..."
"Never tell me the odds," she murmured, remembering a trio of movies watched one rainy Atlantis afternoon, with Rodney muttering the quotations beneath his breath, and John alternating between offering her the popcorn bowl and bouncing the kernels off Rodney's head, and Ronon regarding them all with an expression of patent disbelief.
There was a tugging in her mind, like hooks dragging her thoughts away. She felt the change in her body, in her mind, as reality pulled back on this world within her head. Rodney looked quickly away; he was always the first to fade, although Ronon lasted only a moment longer. Then there was just John, looking at the Wraith Queen who'd once been Teyla Emmagen.
"It can work," he said, moving closer, into the circle of light that was all that was left as her meditative world faded and reality reclaimed her. "You'll make it work."
And on her mouth, she imagined the faintest pressure, a brush of warm, dry lips against a cool, damp mouth.
"We're there." The rough, wheezing tones of her Wraith adjutant broke into the fantasy of John's kiss.
Teyla opened her eyes to the shadows of the chamber. "Are the crew ready?"
"They are." Pale eyes studied her. "Are you ready for this?"
"I am." She must be.
He tilted his head. "The crew are hungry."
She'd felt the gnawing ache of a hunger that no longer came from her stomach, the twitching itch of her palm to reach out and take sustenance from the life of another. "Then they will feed on our enemies when we are done."
The pale head bowed, light glistening off the mint-green skin. "It shall be as you say."
From her throne, she 'listened' to the reports from the drones for a moment, following the rhythm of their thoughts as they went through the measures of contact and hailing.
The call from the other hiveship was wary. These were troubled times for the Wraith, and alliances had been formed, only to be later dismissed in exchange for other opportunities.
Across from her, a screen descended, shimmering slightly as the image of a blue-haired Wraith Queen appeared on the screen. Fierce eyes stared out at her, alien and other - as Teyla herself was now alien and other.
"I am Vathia and this is my hive."
She took a deep breath, remembering lessons learned in another time, by another woman. "I am Teyla. This is my hive."
It was the first time she'd spoken the words.
As the syllables registered in her ears, Teyla felt something in her release, a stress she had barely realised was there until now. She had taken the first step on a path of deception and war - a path she had chosen for herself and all of her hive. A Queen's right that none had gainsaid.
Not even the one she had expected.
"We have the inhuman ones in pursuit. Will you assist?"
Beyond the sight of the screen, the Wraith male shifted, his mind radiating surprise. The plea was unusual between queens - to require assistance was considered a weakness. It seemed survival had become a priority in the face of the Asuran - the 'inhuman ones' - attack.
"What assistance do you need?" Her voice was even and cool, schooled to query and not revulsion. Of all the lessons in self-control her father had taught her, neither of them would ever have imagined that she'd need to use them to deceive a Wraith Queen.
Although this, at least, was not the mind-to-mind touch in which she had struggled against the old Queen on the drilling station. The strength of her mind was sufficient to bend the wills of the human-tainted Wraith males, but in a battle of wills against a true Wraith Queen, Teyla knew she would fail.
She didn't want to fail.
"They have set something in our systems," said Vathia, her tones betraying her anger. "A dissembling that confuses our hive systems, leaving us blind to their presence while calling out to the inhuman ones. Have you encountered this before?"
"We have," Teyla said, not entirely lying. She had encountered the Asuran tricks before - while living among the Lanteans. But that was not something to tell a Wraith Queen she was trying to deceive. "If you will accept the presence of my drones on your ship..."
Teyla dressed as one of the drones, bound her breasts, wore heeled boots and ignored the discontent of the others. She would not send them where she would not go herself.
Cold corridors, faceless drones; the warriors and scientists who moved through the hiveship complex, filling every corner of her mind with the steady hum of thought and deed. Cold terror in her belly, moist breath in her lungs, and amidst it all the calm determination that she would do what needed doing.
She had chosen this path; she would walk it to the end.
"The Queen was dead, the crew was drained." John reported in the debriefing. He glanced at Carter for a reaction, then bounced his gaze back down at his hands as he swivelled his chair from side to side along a narrow angle. "Nothing left of the Wraith but the husks."
"I guess there's at least one Wraith hiveship making the most of the chaos," said Carter, looking at the video Rodney had taken of the hive inside.
John remembered walking through the hive, feeling a little spooked at the dry, dusty bodies lying in the misty cool of the ship. The arches and hollows of the hiveship corridors had loomed out of the darkness, silent and intimidating. In the silence, John had felt the hollow-eyed corpses speaking to him as their mummified fingers clawed at thin air, and their lipless grimaces leered in his direction.
You never found me, John.
He shoved the memory back, ignoring the squeeze in his chest, and cleared his throat. "Can't say I'm exactly sorry."
"Anything that cuts down their numbers is good." Ronon shifted in his chair, fishing for something in his back pocket.
"I managed to sample the spectral trails of the hiveship before it went into hyperspace," said Rodney. "The drive flutter suggests an older ship."
Carter regarded him, frowning. "Define 'older'?"
"Oh, about five thousand years, give or take. Not as old as the one we found in the drilling station back on Lantea, but not too recent."
"Does it matter how old they are?"
"Well," said Rodney grumpily, "It gives us an idea of which Wraith are changing their habits. And whether they're likely to change them any more."
"They've been doing this for generations. They won't change much."
"Do I look like a Wraith psychotherapist to you?" Rodney snapped at Ronon, who put up his hands with a half-surprised, half-mocking smile. "Look, we've seen Wraith prey on each other before. But not to this degree. Between the lack of their usual food and the Asurans, they're desperate. They're taking unusual measures."
"Cannibalism," said Carter.
"Better than humanism," said John, trying to be lighthearted about it.
"That's a philosophy, not an eating habit," Rodney said with a sniff.
"Not everyone has reactions to certain types of food, Rodney. Some people make their eating habits a philosophy." John ignored Rodney's noise of irritation and looked back at Carter. "We reassured the locals that they weren't about to get chowed down on, but left the debris there. There might be stuff we can pick over if we want."
The Atlantis leader's expression developed a thoughtful look. "We've retrofitted a hive ship before."
"Ah-ah-ah!" Rodney put up one finger. "We managed to adjust a hive ship systems to allow for longer-term human living conditions, but never worked out the navigation and engine controls. We flew it."
"Teyla flew it." Ronon rumbled.
"Teyla's not here." John's voice was flat. He could feel Carter looking at him and didn't care for the scrutiny. Across the table, Ronon looked down at his hands, and Rodney grimaced as he frowned at his tablet.
John wondered how long it would be before they'd get over that moment of discomfort. He hadn't had long enough to fret about it with Ford - too busy cleaning up in the aftermath of the Siege. And then Ford had been found alive and then Ronon had come along...
Rodney cleared his throat. "And, as you may have noticed, we're a little short on humans with the Wraithgene."
The silence lasted only a moment before Carter picked up the thread of conversation again. "You couldn't come up with an interface for the Wraith hiveship, McKay?"
Naturally, Rodney rushed in to defend his technical abilities. It was a Pavlovian response by now. "Well, I could...if I had, oh, let's say, the entire processing power of the city and a lot of time..."
"You've done it before," Carter said. "This time, there's no rush. Work with the Wraith tech team and see if we can't get together a hive ship that we can fly."
There wasn't much more to be discussed, and when they rose to leave the table, Ronon jogged off to see someone, while Rodney got halfway out the door before stopping dead. "Zelenka? What? What do you mean it's not--. It should. It was before! Did you try changing the input signal? No, not those--. Wait! Wait! I'm coming down..."
His voice faded off down the corridors.
John waited for Carter at the doorway, and shrugged when she looked questioningly at him. A few months ago, he'd have drifted off down the corridor with Teyla, hassling her to have lunch with them, or to squeeze in a couple of hours to watch a movie.
"So, is that an IOA directive? Collecting one of every kind of ship in the known galaxy?" John asked, pushing away the memories of the past.
"It's an Atlantis directive," Carter corrected, cradling her tablet in her arms as they headed towards her office. "We've been expecting the Wraith to rally together sooner or later - survival of the species. And we can always do with more ships... We never seem to be able to hold onto them long."
"We go through them pretty fast," he agreed. "Which isn't my fault," he added.
"Did I say it was?" Carter glanced back as they arrived at the control room and John made to head off down the stairs. "Actually, I'd like to see you in my office, Colonel."
The office was more functional than it had been in Elizabeth's time - Carter had more shelves and books, more places to stash things, more stuff lying around. It felt like an office, not a formal reception room. Which, John supposed, was the difference between the two women.
He was distracting himself from the topic. He knew this, even as he followed her in, sat down, listened to the door slide shut behind him, and tried not to feel as though he was being fenced in.
"It's about Teyla's position on your team."
Yeah, he'd figured it would be. "The three of us are working out okay." It sounded weak, even to him.
"That's not the point." The tablet was set down on the table and Carter sighed. "Colonel, I know how it feels to be missing a team-mate - like you've lost a limb and things aren't going to be the same again."
"They aren't the same."
"And they never will be," she said, not without a touch of sympathy. "But you need to move on and pick someone else for your team."
"I know." John felt like he was being given a lecture. "I'll get around to it sometime this week."
She hesitated. "I'd prefer if the person you picked had a military background first and a scientific specialty second, though. Rodney's tendency to get distracted is more than enough for one team."
Carter was regarding him with pity, he could feel it, even if he was staring at his hands and the surface of the desk. "The sooner you do it, the easier it'll be, John."
It was easy enough for Carter to say, John reflected as he made his way towards the armoury, passing city personnel on the way and absently acknowledging their greetings. It wasn't her team-mate being replaced this time.
Replaced. It sounded so bloodless. As though people were interchangeable, like spare parts.
Ford hadn't been replaced. Ronon had come into the team and worked out well, but there were moments when John missed the young officer he'd befriended, even though he was glad to have Ronon watching his back.
Teyla would be no more 'replaceable' than Ford had been. Less. This time, John suspected it would be much more difficult to find someone to fit in with the team; they'd been with Teyla so much longer - over two years.
On something as intimate and delicately balanced as a team, no individual was 'replaceable'. You'd learn to cope after they were gone, but it wasn't easy.
John and his team were coping. Sort of.
That wasn't even counting the personal angle of what Teyla had brought to John's life.
He still sometimes found himself heading towards her room to see if she was free for an hour or two to see a movie. Lunchtimes with Rodney and Ronon featured awkward moments between conversations, the empty chair accusing them of her absence. And her bantos rods sat, untouched, in a corner of his room. John sparred against Ronon a little, but it wasn't the same.
Life went on, as it had after Afghanistan, after Ford went, after Carson died, after Elizabeth left.
Life went on.
But sometimes, late at night, John lay in his bed staring up at the ceiling, and would have given anything for one more hour.
"The last hive we took had information about a human planet," said the green-skinned Wraith softly.
Teyla's stomach roiled. "A culling?"
"No. It seemed they gathered information."
The uneasy pitch of her stomach abruptly tensed and her fingers closed on the handles of her throne. "Worshippers." The word came out sibilant, angry. Fire rushed through her, a flame discordant against the currents of cool air over her skin.
Light gleamed off pale hair, a refraction of rainbows invisible to the human eye. "We travel there?"
"We travel there." Silently, she reached out to the workers in the hive and gave her orders to them, the Wraith males that Michael had corrupted with his retrovirus, infected with his bitterness. He had sought to make others like him - like him, but lesser.
He had succeeded in his goal all times except the last.
The last time, he had failed. And his failure had been his downfall.
Teyla remembered the ferocious pleasure she'd taken in the draining of his life and shivered.
Beneath them, the ship echoed her shiver and leapt into hyperspace. Teyla could feel its steady, humming process in her mind, lightly overlaid by the gentle wash of thoughts of her hive.
Once, long ago, before the Lanteans came, Teyla had hated this awareness in her mind. It had meant the Wraith were culling close-by. Then, in Atlantis, she'd learned its origin and it had become a weapon to be used to keep safe her life and the lives of her team-mates. Now, she'd become accustomed to it, the drifting thoughts and consciousness of the Wraith males who made up her hive a steady noise in her mind, unending like the ocean's drift in Atlantis.
"Not a bad view, is it?" He came to stand beside her on the railing, leaning down with his face turned towards the sea.
"I have seen the ocean only once," Teyla said, echoing the words of that conversation years ago. "We climbed a mountain, and saw the sea stretching out to the edge of the world - or so it seemed." She closed her eyes against the sunlight, lifted her chin to let the sun warm her skin - the warming light of a spring sun as the weather waxed to the full, fat days of summer.
His hands on her shoulders surprised her - John Sheppard had not seemed a man for casual, physical contact. But he turned her towards him, and when she looked up at him in surprise, his face was not that of the man she'd met on Athos, uncertain of his place in Atlantis, but the man she'd known in Atlantis, who'd found his home and his family and would defend them to his last breath.
This was no longer a memory.
He slid his hands up her throat to cradle her face, she felt his thumbs' rough trace up her cheekbone, and his eyes were the colour of pale water in the bright sunlight.
Once, she'd wanted him to make the first move, to speak, to say, to smile, to step forward. Once, she'd imagined his mouth coming down on hers, soft and gentle. Once, she'd been human.
Now, her fingers found his wrists as his mouth bent in to hers, and she tasted him on her tongue, light and tender as he hadn't been that other time. A tingling wash of sweetness slid through her, as his hands curved lightly over her skin, urging her closer.
"I have missed you..." She murmured as his mouth traced her jaw. "John--."
"We're not going to talk about this," he murmured. "It's a dream. We're not going to waste time."
Teyla laughed as she tugged at his shirt, slid her fingers under soft cloth to warm, firm flesh, stroked up. John made an indeterminate noise against her skin, then protested as she moved away.
She drew him into the room, and he let her strip off his t-shirt, let her fingers trace down his chest, let his hands wander as he never had before. And in John's eyes and mouth and hands was a fire that had been banked too long.
Hand fumbled with the clasps of her top, and Teyla kissed him, laughing, and showed his fingers where to unclip and where to stroke as she shed her clothing, then tugged at his own. The revelation of hot, erect flesh was exquisite under her hands - as exquisite as John's mouth and hands on her breasts.
The mattress was soft beneath her knees and his thighs were a hard heat beneath her buttocks and there was an ache between her thighs, invisible as his was visible.
John's hands were everywhere, unfettered and greedy, and they ate at each other with hungry kisses. Fire licked at her skin, roared through her senses, and when she settled intimately on him, they both groaned as the ache alleviated and intensified. John drank of her mouth, deep and desperate, and when their lips parted, he asked, "Why'd we never do this before?"
"We were afraid," she murmured amidst the pleasure of his body riding beneath her, laid out bare for her touch and taste. The scents of sweat and sex swept through her as he panted beneath her.
His mouth continued to move against her skin, rougher now, with the light scratch of his stubble-growth and the hard edge of his teeth. "I miss you," he muttered. "I can't...it's not the same without you."
A thrill ran through her at his words. Even knowing this encounter existed only in her mind, Teyla felt something between a laugh and a sob burst through her - a tenderness so fierce it hurt. "John..."
Her breath caught and her fingers clutched at him, helpless to stop the pleasure that thrummed through her every nerve. She repeated his name as he looked up at her with eyes dark with desire and held her gaze through his own release.
"Teyla." John kissed her, slow and deep and lingering and she rode him through the storm of desire that drowned them both and left them gasping.
Later, Teyla combed her fingers through the sweat-laced hair at his nape. "You never did this before."
"No." His fingers slid up her back. "You had someone in your own people," he murmured.
She pushed herself up so she could see his face. "And now?"
John looked up at her, a bitter twist on his lips. "Now, it doesn't matter. You're dead."
"We are here."
Teyla's eyes snapped open. She had not even been aware that she'd drifted into a meditative state. A shiver shook her as her skin adjusted to the cool of the room. "The worshippers?"
"Will be assembled when we bring the transport down." One tufted, white eyebrow rose. "Will you go down to the planet?"
She shook off the lingering remnants of her dream and stood, ignoring the faint buzz of remembered delight across her skin. The fantasy had been pleasurable but this was the reality she must live with. "Yes. I will see to them myself."
They descended to the planet's surface in darts from which the people did not run.
She glimpsed the thriving town as she descended the ramp to the surface. And immediately felt anger rise within her, fierce and grim. Brick and stone and mortar, materials of permanence, not of fear. The town had been fashioned by a people who had chosen life in mental thrall to the Wraith rather than to live free, who chose betrayal of other peoples over community with them, who had given up all decency and right merely to survive.
Perhaps Teyla had never felt entitled to idealism, but if she could hold to it, she would. Other Pegasus peoples had chosen to live secretly or humbly rather than bargain the safety of others for their own.
Dry air rustled over her skin, a pale, weak sunlight beat against eyes that shifted their sight to daylight with ease, the bell-like call of birds sounded far distant in the forests, and the people who stood assembled on the road were silent and wide-eyed as Teyla and her entourage crossed the stubbled field to them, and then on their knees in the dust - all but a man and a woman who stood bound at the front of the group.
She accepted the obeisance of the tall, handsome man who stood at the front. He was the leader of these people, dressed richly, oozing eagerness and terror both at once.
Her feeding hand itched.
These people stood before her, fat and contented; but all she saw were vultures who fed off their own kind.
And what is it that you do, Teyla of the hive? The sibilant whisper was in her own voice, questioning her actions. Your Wraith feed off their own kind. These ones merely do what they must to survive.
Yet their survival meant the deaths of others - the people Teyla had loved. Kanan, Halling, Miya, Talini, Aruva, Badur, Jonlot - all the Athosians, from old Kereni down to the baby Riyha who'd been crawling around on fast feet the last time Teyla had gone to visit them.
All gone, none to ever return.
And Teyla, the last of her people, who was Wraith and no Wraith, and who would see her people avenged, one way or the other.
"I am Teyla and this is my hive," she said, and her voice was cold as a knife down the spine. "What do you have for us?"
The midmorning sun fell hot across his cheeks and John shook his head to clear it of the lingering memory of last night's dream.
He'd dreamed of Teyla before, but not like that - or, at least, not so detailed.
"S...sir?" Lieutenant Katan stuttered. He was this month's member for John's team. So far, they'd been through most of the personnel on the base, trying to find someone who connected. Katan wasn't the best, but he wasn't the worst, either. Forced with a choice of people for this trip, John had simply closed his eyes and picked one.
In the back of his mind, John had a feeling he was going to be facing Carter sometime soon, with a polite but pointed query about why he hadn't picked a permanent team member yet.
The answer would be that none of them were Teyla.
John exhaled and put on a smile as he came down the stairs to greet their 'host'.
Banos was waiting for them down by the track worn into the field that led away to the plains and forests of this planet, used for hunting by various Pegasus peoples. "Colonel Sheppard."
"Banos Trigan." The Hirma were long-time allies of the Athosians. Once, the two cultures had been a single people, until divisions and distrust split them. John remembered Teyla telling him the story as they'd walked to the Hirma camp, her voice light and reflective. "I hear you've got people who want to meet us."
The stocky man fell into step alongside John, nodding briefly at Rodney, Ronon, and eyeing off the lieutenant. After a moment, he gave Katan a calm nod and continued talking to John. "They knew where to find us, they knew the correct codes to use to gain access."
"Could it be a trap?"
Banos spread his hands wide. "That is why I asked for a meeting on this planet, not on Hirma."
"Your people are safe?"
"We took shelter in the caves immediately. If the Wraith should come culling, they will find nothing but dust."
John nodded. Unlike the Athosians, the Hirma had always been more cautious, more careful about who they let into their trust. As a result, the Hirma were still alive; the Athosians were not. "They came through with the codes."
"The trusted ones - the ones of the Athosians." Banos paused on the path and turned to John, glanced at Rodney and Ronon. "That is also why I asked to meet here. We have heard of Teyla Emmagan's death. We mourned her passing as we mourned the passing of her people. She lived well."
John glanced at the other two, caught Lieutenant Katan's uncomfortable shift at the mention of the woman whose position he was taking.
"She lived well," Ronon said in quiet echo. There was a sense of benediction about it, and John suddenly felt guilty. They hadn't asked about Pegasus funeral traditions - with Teyla's people gone, who was there to care but Atlantis?
Only now did it occur to John that Ronon - and all the civilisations they'd met through Teyla - might have wanted some kind of ceremony of their own to mark her passing. She'd belonged to more people than just Atlantis.
She'd never 'belonged' to John at all, except in his daydreams.
The thought didn't sit entirely well with him, and to distract himself from the moment, he shifted, breaking the silence. "Your prisoners?"
Prisoners they might be, but they were well-treated. Although they sat inside a loose circle of watchful Hirma guards, a hunk of bread and a water bottle rested on the rock beside them: a man and a woman, the man tall and older, the woman stocky and dark. She saw them coming, nudged her companion and they rose together to stand and face their approaching fate.
John saw the measuring look the woman gave each of them, taking in his weapons and clothing, Rodney's backpack, Ronon's guns. She muttered something too soft for John to hear, but it was the man who spoke.
"You are the ones living in the city of the Ancestors."
He didn't waste time with pleasantries. "How'd you get the Athosian codes?"
The man's blond brows rose as he turned to Banos. "We gave you what we were told."
"Who told you?" Ronon asked.
They exchanged a glance, uncertain, nervous. Behind John, Ronon shifted, and his gun slid softly out of the leather holster.
Immediately, the man stepped ahead, trying to shield the woman with his body. "We were told to come here - to say what we said," he pleaded. "We were told we'd be given shelter."
"We've taken you in," said Banos in mild tones. "We haven't sent you away."
"Look," John began. "We don't know you--"
"I am Ovil. This is Meida. We are...wanderers."
"Runners?" Rodney asked.
"Wanderers." Ronon's gun lifted, and Ovil tried to push Meida behind him. She refused to go, stepping out beyond his reach, avoiding his attempt to protect her. Her eyes were fixed on John, watching him with a steady gaze. On another planet, years ago, another woman had measured him in much the same way, deciding whether or not she'd trust him.
Bleakly, John wondered if there was going to be anything today that didn't remind him of Teyla.
Rodney frowned. "What's the difference?"
"Runners are hunted by the Wraith," Banos offered. "Sport. Wanderers are...outcast. They don't belong to any society or culture. They don't form their own group."
"They're usually cast out from society for a reason."
Ovil looked indecisive, unsure if he should speak. Meida spoke for them both. "And ours was because we would not worship the Wraith."
Banos barely had to gesture to the Hirma guards. A ring of weapons pointed directly at the couple, and Ovil looked around him, distraught. "They did not need to know--"
"They should know nothing less than the truth," said Meida fiercely. Her hand closed in the front of his shirt, forcing his attention. "We gain nothing by hiding."
John's mind was already working through ramifications. If they were Wraith-worshippers, then the Hirma were well-hidden, and Banos had made a good decision in bringing them here. The only people they'd have to worry about was themselves. "Rodney."
"Already setting up." Rodney had dumped his backpack in the dirt, and was already sitting beside it cross-legged with his laptop out, yanking cords and cables and devices from various pockets.
"What's he doing?" Banos asked, fascinated.
"Satellite scanner to detect Wraith."
"They won't come for us," Meida said.
"Maybe they won't come for you," Rodney snapped, "But they'll certainly come for us."
Ovil looked at his wife. "They already came for us."
John frowned, not understanding. "What do you mean?"
It was Meida who spoke again. "We would not worship the Wraith, Ovil and I. All our lives we have-- But no more! I have borne four children of my body - four! And for jealousy and spite, Vuril, the leader of our people, had them offered to the Wraith as sacrifice." Her features contorted with a compelling grief, beauty in rage. "They say the Wraith once gave as well as took, but these only took. And took. And took. And when I would not sanction their taking anymore, Vuril offered Ovil. To teach me submission, he said." Contempt oozed from her voice.
Fascinated and revolted, John stared at her. "How'd you escape?"
Ovil took over the narrative. "Vuril called the Wraith and the Wraith came. The Queen herself came." His voice shook and he reached for his wife's hand. "She looked at me, looked at Meida, and she ordered us taken to her ship."
"Then she beckoned Vuril and his cohorts forward and said that such a sacrifice should find recompense." Meida's voice rang with vicious satisfaction. "And she and her cohort took them as sacrifice, one by one."
In the stunned silence after her declaration, John heard the wind ruffling through the wild grasses down on the plain.
There was no sense to it, no logic. The Wraith worshippers were usually rewarded, the dissenters drained. Teyla had explained it in terse tones, months ago, unable to keep her revulsion from even that short explanation.
"So how'd you escape them?"
"We thought we might have been saved for another fate," Ovil said. "But we were held in cells for a day, given water, left untouched. Then they dragged us in to see the Queen. She gave us the Ring codes, told us what to say, who to ask for. And then she let us go."
She gave us the Ring codes, told us what to say, who to ask for. Then she let us go.
Blood drained from John's face. His fingers gripped painfully hard around the solid gunmetal of his weapon. No. She's dead. She had to be dead.
Why? Because you want her to be dead?
Rodney and Ronon were both looking at him.
"She's dead." The words were flat, a denial he hated but needed to accept.
"Maybe she got away from...wherever," Rodney said. "Teyla could."
"Then why didn't she come back to Atlantis?" John demanded of them both. Hope ached in his belly, unremitting. He had to squash it or it would choke him.
Rodney made a snorting noise. "As a Wraith Queen?"
"We've got the technology to--" Abruptly, John realised they had an audience and that they were watching, fascinated and horrified. "You're sure the Wraith Queen gave you the codes?"
"Yes." Meida looked from John's set expression to Banos' growing understanding. "You... You are in league with them?" It was the first time he'd seen her uncertain in the course of their interview. This time, when Ovil tried to shield her with his body, she didn't move away.
"No." John's answer came hard on the heels of Ronon's snarl. "We're no friends of the Wraith."
But neither, John realised, was at least one Wraith hive out there.
Hours later - more hours than he could count or think through - John sat in the briefing room, explaining what had happened, all the while trying to resisting hope's subtle urgings.
It wasn't easy.
Carter's eyes widened as she listened to the story. "The Queen drained the worshippers rather than the rebels?"
He shrugged, hiding the roiling conflict behind a casual façade. "It sounds like something Teyla might do."
"Oh, please, it sounds nothing like what Teyla might do!"
"Except where it does," said Ronon. When Rodney glared at him, he sat up from his usual slouch. "Target the Wraith. Target those who revere them. It's what I'd do." He bared his teeth.
"Except that it's not Teyla doing it - it's a Wraith!"
"Can't it be both? You made Wraith human with the retrovirus. Michael tried to make humans into Wraith." John noticed the dissociation from Atlantis' actions under Elizabeth's leadership, but didn't bring this up.
"Monsters," Rodney said. "And that was Michael and his freaky vengeance thing."
"So, this is Teyla and her vengeance thing."
Ronon didn't sound particularly disturbed. Then again, Ronon was practical. He was up for anything that would hurt the Wraith.
Inside, John could imagine Teyla doing this. It was what she'd been doing for the last few years - ever since he'd rescued her and Halling and the others of her people and his from the belly of the hive ship and she'd learned that the Wraith could be killed.
John had given her a universe of possibilities, starting with the hope that someday she and her people would no longer live in fear of the Wraith.
With her people missing, she'd just wanted an end to the Wraith.
Then she'd gone missing, just like her people.
If Teyla was still alive and trapped in a Queen's body, then how could John face her, knowing that he'd left her to a nightmare existence - a human trapped in the body of a Wraith?
She'd felt human last night in his dream, flesh and blood and sweetness and sex. But that had all been his imagination. In the morning light, John had woken wet and panting in his sheets with the remembered feel of her mouth on his skin. The imaginary remembered feel of her mouth on his skin, because she'd never touched him like that - he'd never let himself encourage her that way.
Sometimes, now, he wished he had.
"If it was her," Carter was saying, drawing his attention back, "why didn't she return?"
"What kind of reception would she get, walking in as a Wraith? Especially given the trigger-happy types we've got around here!"
"We wouldn't have shot her." John tried to sound defensive, and knew he just came off as weary. Knew that Carter looked sharply at him, that Rodney was eyeing him. "Besides, we don't have any way to prove it's her."
"She gave them the codes," Ronon rumbled. "Who else would?"
"So, we've got a Wraith out there who knows where Atlantis is," Carter said, and in her voice was the steel of her job.
Alarmed, John looked up sharply, but Ronon was already in there. "Teyla knows where Atlantis is."
"And in six months, we haven't had trouble with the Wraith finding us." Rodney's eyes lit up, and he pressed a button on the side of tablet screen and began to pick out some application.
Ronon frowned. "Teyla wouldn't betray us."
Something in John recognised that they'd switched from the possibility that it was Teyla to the certainty that it was. And a part of him recoiled from the thought of Teyla as a Wraith, and a part of him was relieved she was still alive.
"Normally, I'd agree with you. But right now, is she entirely in control of herself?" Carter glanced at him.
"She thought to give them codes to a safe place," he said. Guilt was sinking harsh claws into his gut as he thought it through. "She's still working against the Wraith. I'd say she is." Besides which, Teyla was a fighter. She'd almost never had a problem with controlling herself - John couldn't imagine her tamely ceding mental authority to anyone else, whether she was a human or a Wraith.
"So who's she working with?" Ronon asked, frowning.
Carter looked grim. "According to the report from the Wraith-worshippers - the former Wraith-worshippers - she's working with Wraith."
"They've already shown that they're willing to sacrifice their own kind to survive." John thought about Teyla living surrounded by the creatures she'd hated and feared all her life, without her people, without her team, fighting the Wraith however she could. He sat up in his chair. "It wouldn't be hard to persuade them to feed off other Wraith." Not for the woman who'd deceived a Wraith Queen.
"Can we trace her?" Ronon looked to Rodney. "Track her down somehow?"
"Oh, and how, exactly, do you propose we do that?"
Ronon shrugged. "That's why I asked you."
"Look, there's no way to track a ship unless it's sending out a specific kind of signal. Like the tracking device the Wraith implanted in you. Except that they wanted you to be obvious so they could hunt you down. Clearly, Teyla doesn't want to be obvious - for starters, the Asurans are still out there hunting the Wraith."
"And I wouldn't authorise tracking Teyla down, anyway," Carter said, interrupting Rodney as he drew breath for the next set of explanations. She remained calm in the face of the trio's sudden attention. "Now that she's a Wraith with Wraith personnel--."
"She hasn't given Atlantis over to the Wraith," John interrupted. He earned a steady look from Carter and backed up his argument. "She's not one of them."
"I never said she had. But according to the Wraith-worshippers, she's not who she used to be. She's still fighting the Wraith, but even if we managed to make contact with her...what help could we be? Either to her mission or to her?"
"Was only temporary. That was the problem in the first place, remember?"
"So how'd she become a Wraith Queen anyway?"
"Does it matter?" Carter asked. "She is what she is, and she's doing what she's doing. We can either try to make contact, or let her do what she's doing. I think we should let her pursue this path she's taken. We're not in a position to stop her. And it's possible that she's following an imperative of her own and hardly remembers Atlantis."
"Oh, and what insightful character knowledge are you basing this assumption on, pray tell?" Rodney glowered.
Carter's face closed up, and John figured he should get in before things got nasty.
"We can't track her," he said.
"Not unless she makes contact with us first."
"And she hasn't so far." Carter looked around at each of them, holding their gazes in the way that John knew was supposed to reassure them. He felt far from reassured.
"The retrovirus..." he began.
"Was shelved due to the ethical considerations involved in what the IOA said amounted to genocide." Carter held up a hand to stall the protests. "I know, the IOA don't have to live with the reality of the Wraith. But that was their decision, and we're under their jurisdiction. What I can do is speak with the biogenetics department. If we encounter Teyla at some point in the future, then we may wish to change her back. In the meantime...it's business as usual." Her gaze fell on John. "I'm not going to authorise you to go looking for her, Colonel."
"We wouldn't know where to start, anyway," he said, keeping his voice light while his stomach twisted. He knew Rodney was look at him with surprise, and Ronon was scowling at him, but he ignored them both.
If it had been wholly up to him, he'd have gone back to the Wraith-worshippers planet and interrogated every last one of them about the Wraith who'd come and gone.
And even if it had been...
The meeting broke up, Rodney and Ronon hovered for a moment, looking as though they wanted to talk to him; John spun on his heel and went in the other direction, wanting space, wanting peace.
John walked aimlessly through the halls, knowing there was work to be done, putting it off for the moment. Once upon a time, he'd have invited Teyla to sit down and watch a game with him, or challenged her to a workout in the gym, or tried to persuade her to do some golf driving with him.
Rodney and Ronon were the best friends a man had a right to ask for; John was grateful for their friendship, their respect, and the bonds that lay between them. But the balance that Teyla had brought to his life was missing, and neither of the other two - nor anyone else in the city - could provide it. She'd taken something from his life that he couldn't seem to replace, and he was terrified that it might be his heart.
His record with women - long term relationships - wasn't good. A night here or there was fine; but the long-term stretch of a relationship between him and a woman he was interested in? Since his divorce, his longest relationship with a woman that even came close to bordering on intimate had been Teyla.
Somehow, he found himself at the balcony where last night's dream had started - a balcony where he'd found her that first morning in Atlantis. They'd spoken of things, simple and pleasurable, and he'd introduced her to the Earth custom of coffee.
Take 'coffee' as a metaphor for 'sex' and last night's dream was pretty much explained.
It wasn't the first time he'd dreamed of her since she'd vanished. It was the first time it had gotten so blatantly sexual.
He rested his forearms on the railing and stared out at the glittering turrets of the city, closing his eyes against the evening wind, whippy enough to chill him through his thin, USAF-issue t-shirt. She'd tilted her face up to the sun, and John had done what he'd never let himself do - not counting the one time he hadn't been in control - and taken her face between his palms and kissed her.
The memory heated him now, even as the wind tried to chill his flesh.
Teyla, alive and laughing, wanting him - wanting John, who'd thought about her in his bed for as long as he could remember, even as far back as that first day on Athos as she measured him with her eyes and told him that he didn't look through her.
John Sheppard had always cared about Teyla Emmagan. He'd just never moved on it, choosing to be just a team-mate and not a lover.
It stung that she hadn't let them know she was alive.
She'd been fighting the Wraith, apparently with the memories of who she'd been. But rather than coming back to them - to John, she'd stayed away, fought the war against the Wraith on her own terms.
At some point in the last year before she went missing, Teyla had grown tired of the space between them and found someone among her own people to love. John hadn't found that out until after her people vanished - her lover with them. She'd grown subtly distant.
She'd decided she didn't need John.
Maybe she'd decided she didn't need Atlantis, either.
I have missed you.
He'd stepped in as far as she would let him - as a team-mate and a friend. In the end, it didn't matter if she didn't need him like that. Teyla was his family and John still cared.
And the dreams were his own imaginings, nothing else.
John turned away from the railing, swallowing bitterness.