"Larson, get your ass back to the 'Gate. Move it!!" She nodded, out of breath and unwilling to stop, and pushed her legs to go faster. There was a booming sound, similar to the unique thunder that follows heat lightening, and then everything went dark.
Ana opened her eyes and groaned, closing them again as her stomach attempted a revolt. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor (and far less likely to make her revisit her breakfast in Technicolor), she lay still and tried to determine where she was.
She wasn't in the infirmary, because they had beds which at least resembled the title. What she was currently lying on was hard and crumbled under her fingers; she realized belatedly that it was a dirt floor. Definitely not in Atlantis. So the dream about explosions hadn't been a dream after all. Fuck.
After a moment's consideration, she opened her eyes again. This time her stomach remained calm, so she rolled over and slowly pushed herself up to a sitting position. Her mouth tasted foul, which confirmed her theory that she'd been drugged. Wonderful. She'd heard stories about this kind of thing, but it happened to people like Doctor McKay. Doctor Zelenka. Important people. Not weather geeks who were on their first off-world mission.
After a healthy bout of self-pity (because really, this shouldn't be happening), she rose and approached the door (a solid wooden construct with a small cut window at waist height), kicking it in the hopes of getting her captors' attention. "Hello."
She kicked again. "Hello, is anyone out there?"
She gave it five minutes of shouting (by her watch) before giving up and moving to settle in the corner furthest from the door. There was no point in going hoarse if no one was going to answer. As she tried to make herself comfortable against the cold walls, she was startled by a voice. "They won't answer."
She shifted, peering at the walls of her cell and trying to find the source of the voice. They were brick, or something similar, and only the smallest of cracks were visible. "Who's there?"
"They never answer. For a long time they just left me alone in here; I thought I was going mad. Then the 'offerings' started. Now, they come when they want something they think I have." The voice was low and gravelly, deep enough to be masculine but the effects of disuse made it impossible to be sure.
"How long have you been here?" She curled up against the back wall, staring at the crack and willing her neighbor to answer. For a long time, there was only silence.
"I don't know." The voice was smoother this time, more pleasant. She wondered how long it took to lose your sense of time. She shivered at the thought, and cradled the wrist with her watch to her chest. Her captors hadn't taken it when they had taken her vest and tablet; she could only hope that they would continue to ignore it. "Longer than it should have been."
His words made no sense – how long was too long to a man who had lost his sense of time? She pondered the strange wording, trying to find something that made sense. Eventually she grew tired of the sound of her own breathing, and said the first thing that came to mind. "I'm...my name is Ana. Ana Larson."
There was a scuffling sound through the crack. "Michael."
Their conversation was cut short by the sound of footsteps in the hallway, and she turned just as her door opened. Two men entered, large and difficult to make out against the bright light if the hallway. "Come with us."
She stood slowly. "Who are you; what do you want?"
One of the men laughed, and grabbed her by the arm. "In time." He hauled her toward the door. "In time you will understand."
That was the last thing either of them said for a long time.
When they dumped her back in her cell hours later, freezing and with her hair still dripping from her 'shower', she still had no idea what they wanted. There had been talk about how she was for their masters, and then there had been pain. They had a device of some kind, obviously not their own technology, which had made her nerves crawl when they pressed it against her skin. The device left her feeling physically ill and shaken; she knew that if they had asked questions she would have answered anything just to make the pain stop. They hadn't asked questions.
They left her food when they threw her back into the cell, but she was too nauseous to even think about eating it. She crawled into what she already thought of as "Michael's corner", and leaned her head against the wall as she tried to calm her breathing.
"Still alive over there?" His voice sounded stronger this time, but that might have been wishful thinking.
She tried to answer, and was appalled to find that her voice shook when she finally managed something coherent. "They... they didn't even ask anything. Why? Why do that if there's no point?" She clenched her right hand, hard, focusing on the localized pain to settle her nerves. It helped with both the shivers and the nausea, which was a blessing.
"The pain is the point."
She blinked, confused; she knew there were sadists out there (Hell, there were sadists on Earth), but the torture had seemed far too simple for some sort of twisted sexual gratification. "But why? Who are they? What do they want?"
He sighed, and when he spoke she could hear the disdain in his voice. "They're worshippers. Mindless. Idiotic. Worshippers. Think the Wraith are gods, and act accordingly. The pain is supposed to be a gift to their masters." She winced at the venom in the word. "It's supposed to entice them to visit and bring blessings."
She shivered again, but this time it wasn't from the cold. "But the Wraith eat people. Even if they worship them, why haven't they handed you over for dinner?"
"The Wraith want me alive; they want to kill me themselves. Once the worshippers captured me, they must have set off a beacon. No one's answered yet, so they must be getting desperate. That's why you're here. They only have limited communications range, their hive could be on the other side of the galaxy or destroyed."
"Why would they want you so badly? I know why the Wraith hate my people, but what did you do?"
There was a bitter laugh. "Let's just say I'm on the Wraith Most Wanted list."
She thought about that, and decided not to push. "We'll get out of here, you know."
"You really believe that?" In that moment, she wished that she knew him better – that she could tell if there was any hope in his voice, or merely cynicism.
She nodded, though she knew he couldn't see her. "My people don't leave people behind. Not ever. It's the first thing they teach us before we come out here. They'll come for me." She pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them, her voice growing softer. "They'll come for me."
There was silence, and she wondered if Michael had moved away. She leaned her head against the wall they shared. "We don't leave men behind."
The response, when it came, surprised her. It was spoken quietly, so quietly that she wasn't sure that she had heard him at all. "I know." This was followed by a scrabbling sound that she took to mean he had moved away.
She whispered "good night" before shifting and attempting to get some sleep.
Three weeks came and went, according to her watch, and no one showed up to rescue her. She took to spending her waking hours – the lights in the hallway never changed, so tracking the passage of time was an intellectual pursuit at best – curled up in the corner that she associated with Michael. He was their captors' favorite, often taken two or thee times before she was dragged off again. She would lie in her cell, counting the hours and dreading the time when he simply didn't return. She knew there would come a time when the worshippers would grow tired of waiting for their masters and finish the job themselves. She wasn't na´ve; people who spent too long hidden away in secret prisons tended to die there.
What scared her, more than anything else, were the screams. She was frightened by the meaningless torture (and the ever-present danger that today would be the day their captors pulled the metaphorical plug), but at least she could leave that behind when she was alone in her cell. It only happened outside. Michael's cries, hoarse and bone-chilling sounds that lasted for hours in the nights after his 'sessions', were things she heard inside. He never spoke about what caused the screams; she wasn't sure he remembered the nightmares when he woke, and if he did they were every bit as frightening as the sounded.
Personal dissociation came unconsciously; after her third round with the device she realized that she was no longer feeling it – she was watching it happen to her body, but they weren't doing it to her. She knew the dissociation was a bad sign, but there wasn't anything she could do to stop it – part of her didn't want to while the torture was being conducted. Despite her inner distance, she could never bring herself to cut out the sound of Michael's suffering– it meant that she wasn't alone.
As time passed, she began to learn more about the man who was becoming her only link to sanity. He refused to talk about why the Wraith hated him, but she slowly began to piece half-muttered comments together into something that made sense. Michael was a genetic experiment gone wrong. He had been captured and injected with something in an attempt to rewrite his DNA; the experiment had resulted in something intolerable to the Wraith – a hybrid that had to be exterminated.
She spoke of her own past easily enough; after all, it wasn't like anyone could track down her parents and use them against her even if they wanted to. The anecdotes were a way to fill the long hours, and it was nice to have someone genuinely interested in her instead of her figure. It had been a long time since anyone had cared enough to ask even simple questions. She found herself telling him about life above the Arctic Circle, her family, even the people she had met since coming to Atlantis, though she was careful not to mention the city by name.
She was surprised to learn that he knew of the expedition, at least by reputation. They had only discussed it once, and briefly at that, but his questions implied a strong background knowledge she hadn't expected. He was most interested in Teyla, if she was still alive and how she had fared in recent years. Ana assumed that he had known Teyla in the past, but when she asked if he had known the Athosian personally he changed the subject. Teyla had never come up again. Ana didn't push the issue; she enjoyed their discussions (and even the comfortable silences) far too much.
The tenth time she heard Michael's door open, she was on her feet before she had registered what was happening. They'd started taking him more frequently in the last week, and she was terrified that they were going to cause permanent damage to what she now understood to be a modified physiology. If the device was designed for humans, what was it doing to him? It was a long moment, but eventually her cries of "take me instead" had the desired result.
The session that day was one long series of starts and stops; the pain never continued long enough for her to slip away, but never abated either. She lost all sense of time; eventually her body made the decision for her and she slipped into unconsciousness.
Ana woke to a banging sound, and blinked when she realized that she was in the hallway outside of her cell. One of her 'handlers' held her up, while the other banged on the wooden door. She was dripping, so she must have been unconscious through the post-session cleansing (apparently the Wraith liked their food well groomed. Who knew?). Something seemed wrong, though, and it took a moment for her to discern what it was. Her cell door had an opening at waist height – this door's opening was much lower. She looked up, and flinched when she saw the gleam in her captor's eyes. He banged on the door again, and then moved to open the lock.
"Wake up in there, we've got a surprise for you."
The only response was a sound rather like a disgruntled cat, a garbled hissing that made her hair stand on end. She tried to pull away, but the man holding her arm laughed and gripped harder, his fingers bruising her through the jacket. His companion spoke as the door lock was released.
"Since you seem to like the monster so much, you can share a cell with him. He's been looking a little weak lately, perhaps he will benefit from a snack."
Before she could respond, or even process the threat for what it was, she was shoved through the door. She landed hard, limbs still not working correctly, and lay still as the door slammed shut and the footsteps retreated down the hallway. As her own breathing slowed, the sound of her cellmate's breathing became more distinct, reminding her of its presence. She scrambled into the nearest corner, remembering the malicious look in her captor's eyes before the door had opened. She could just make out a form in the corner, but the light was too dim to see any details.
"Um, hello?" Sitting here in a silent stand-off was getting her nowhere; if it was going to eat her, it could damn well eat her. She wanted sleep (and an aspirin the size of a cheeseburger, but she'd settle for sleep). She'd sleep better with some kind of assurance that she wouldn't be eaten in the night.
The form in the corner shifted, but made no movement toward her. "Hello Ana." She squinted in the darkness at the familiar voice.
"Mi-Michael? Is that you?"
It, no, he sighed. "It's me."
She rested her head on her drawn up knees and eyed him speculatively, trying to ignore the weariness that was creeping back now that she knew he wasn't going to eat her. Well, tonight anyway. "Why did he call you a monster?"
There was a long pause, and if possible he seemed to pull even further back into the corner. "Get some sleep."
She wanted to argue, but she was having trouble keeping her eyes open; she had the feeling that prying information from Michael on this topic (well, any personal topic, really) would take far more energy than she had at the moment. She stifled a yawn. "Can we talk later?"
"If you want." There was something odd in his tone, but she was too tired to figure out what it was. She squirmed around, trying to get comfortable in the cold air of the cell, and finally gave up the fight against sleep.
Ana jerked awake and looked around wildly, confused to find herself somewhere other than her corner – she never slept this close to the door. Someone pounded on the door again, and that reminded her of where she was. Their captors had never bothered to knock on her door, but they had always banged hard enough to wake the dead before opening Michael's. There was a muffled shout, and she scrambled for the back of the cell as the door opened. She could understand that Michael wanted his space – that he was hiding something. At the moment, she had more pressing concerns. Their captors were back, and she wanted as much space as possible between herself and the source of her pain.
She flinched away from the sudden light in the doorway, having grown used to the darker cell. It took a moment to realize that the men had stopped only two steps into the cell. The taller of them frowned and gestured at her with the stunner he held. "Why aren't you dead?" He turned to stare at Michael. "Getting picky now, are we?"
Michael raised his head and made a strange hissing sound; she shivered and inched further back into the opposing corner.
"We can do this the easy way, or we can do it the hard way. Your choice, but this time we're taking you."
Michael growled (a louder version of the hissing, but in a lower register), and slowly rose to his feet. She watched warily as he walked over to their captors, hands at his sides. As he neared the doorway, she got her first real look at him and inhaled sharply in surprise. He wasn't monstrous at all. He was tall and slender, paler than anyone she had ever seen (which was saying something, since she'd spent three years working at the university in Troms°), with short hair that looked white in the harsh light. She willed him to look back so that she could get a look at his face in the good light, but he walked steadily forward. When he reached the door, their captors slipped some kind of restraint onto his wrists; the door slammed shut as they guided him down the hallway.
Thirteen hours and forty-seven minutes passed with agonizing slowness before the door opened again. This time there was no knocking, only the familiar footsteps sounded before the door swung open and Michael was dumped on the floor. She waited until the door swung shut to creep closer, and what she found made her bite her lip to keep from waking him as an unexpected surge of sympathy overwhelmed her.
It wasn't the paleness that she assumed came from the Wraith DNA (or even the vaguely alien planes of his face) that caused the unforeseen emotion; it was the scars. She'd been prepared for him to look like a Wraith - pointy teeth, pale skin, long white hair, etc - she hadn't been prepared for him to look so damaged. The right side of his face, his neck, the exposed portions of his right arm all the way down to the hand, they all bore a familiar spider-webbing of raised and twisted tissue – burn scars. She swallowed hard against the bile that tried to rise in her throat; her cousin had scars like those, from a camping accident when they'd been girls. Olga had spent months in hospital after the accident, as they had all waited and prayed for the grafts to take. The injuries that Michael must have suffered to possess this level of scarring meant months, maybe even years of healing; given what she knew about medicine in the Pegasus Galaxy, she was amazed he'd lived long enough to recover.
Carefully, she reached down and traced the scarring on his cheek, realizing as she did so that he was trembling. She started to pull away, not wanting to wake him (the screams would start soon and he would wake himself, no point in speeding the process), but he leaned into her touch and pinned her hand between his cheek and the floor. She left her hand where it was, wondering how long it had been since someone had touched him in kindness rather than hatred, and waited for the nightmares to begin.
When her hand began to fall asleep, she shifted to sit cross-legged and tried to ease his head to the floor so that she could stretch. He woke immediately, sitting up and looking around blankly before focusing on her. "What-" He coughed. "What happened?"
"You were unconscious when they brought you in. You've been down about-" She glanced at her watch, triggering the indiglo feature. "Three hours. How do you feel?"
He shook his head roughly, and she winced at the ferocity of the action. "When I was changed; when they made me what you see now, they took my memories." She gasped involuntarily, and saw his eyes flash in the darkness. "Every time they induce an offering-" He spat the word, voice full of disgust. "I see things."
She shivered, and pulled her knees up to her chest. "How much do you remember, from before?"
He shifted to stare at the door, creating a slouching silhouette against their only light source. "Too much. Not enough." He shrugged, the movement more a rustling of fabric than anything else. His voice grew softer, taking on a rough quality that was painful to hear. "I see so many things, in my dreams. I don't know what's real, if any of it is. It's gotten worse, since I ended up here."
She took a deep breath, let it out, and promptly ignored her rational judgment. She inched forward and pulled him into a hug. She moved slowly, but refused to let go when he tensed. "Ssh. It's all right; I'm not going to hurt you."
"What are you doing?" He sounded confused, which was better than the anger that had laced his voice moments before.
She leaned forward, resting her chin on his left shoulder and tightening her grip. "It's called a hug. You sounded like you needed one." After a moment, he relaxed against her; she took it as a good sign, and settled more comfortably against his back. They sat in silence for a while, until his breathing began to slow.
She released him reluctantly, surprised at how much better she felt after such a small degree of contact. He made a plaintive noise as she released him, but settled obediently to lie on the floor. After a moment's consideration, she curled up against him. If nothing else, he made a better pillow than her jacket; she just had to hope that he didn't try to kill her in his sleep. The thought made her shiver because despite their conversations – she didn't know him. He was a stranger, and one with Wraith DNA at that. But he was also the closest thing to an ally she had in this mess, and if he wanted to kill her there wasn't much she could do to prevent it. Having decided that there was nothing she could do but make the best of things (and hope that the Atlantis rescue team showed up soon), she rested her head on his chest and allowed herself to drift off to sleep.
Ana woke slowly, feeling warm for the first time in weeks. She shifted, and was trying to burrow further into her pillow when it moved. Not only did it move; it breathed. That was when she registered the hand resting on her back, and tensed. She opened her eyes, and confirmed that she was lying on someone's chest. Michael's chest. Oh. Right.
She pulled away and sat up, rubbing her eyes and hoping she didn't smear more dirt across her skin. They always stripped her and hosed her down following the 'offering' sessions, in an unintentional mockery of the hot showers she used to love so much. It was the closest she came to really clean, so she tried to preserve the state as long as possible in the days that followed. When the hand on her back began to move, she realized that Michael was awake. She looked down, and found him staring up at her. "Sleep well?"
He turned his head toward the door, but left the hand where it was. "I did." His voice was quiet, with none of the tell-tale indicators of recent sleep; she wondered how long he'd been awake. "You're warm. I think it helps." He slid his hand up to her shoulder, and she allowed him to pull her back to rest against his chest.
She squirmed, getting more comfortable. "Touch helps?"
"I don't know, no one's ever..." He grew silent, and she mentally completed the sentence. No one's ever tried/cared/offered. She bit her lip, and moved so that she could grasp his hand. He flinched violently, knocking her away as he cradled the hand to his chest. "Don't touch it."
She lay there, staring up at the blackness where she assumed the ceiling was, wondering what she'd done that had set him off. She realized that his burns might not be as healed as she had presumed, and sat up abruptly. "Oh, God. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't think about it." She reached over, laying a tentative hand on his shoulder. "Does it...does it still hurt?"
He was silent for a long time; his entire body visibly tense as he lay curled around his right hand. "It doesn't hurt unless I feed."
"Oh. I see. Is it... is it from the change?" She felt more than saw his head shake. Moving carefully, she was able to convince him to relax and settle onto his back again. "Is it the burns?"
A horrifying thought struck her – she'd known he was part Wraith now, but she'd never considered that he might feed like they did. "Do you... do you have to 'feed'?"
"No. If I did, I would be dead. You're the first human to come near me without a stunner since the worshippers captured me. The ability to eat 'human' food as well as 'feed' was one of the side effects of undergoing the change twice."
She reached carefully for his uninjured hand, understanding now that his reaction had been motivated more by fear of what he could do to her than fear of pain. Doctor Kirsha had told them that a Wraith could control whether or not it fed on a victim, but Ana didn't know how that would translate for someone only partly Wraith. She had a feeling that Michael didn't either, especially with the damage from the burns. His concern gave her comfort, and fed the growing affection she held for him. It might make her feel a bit like a "Beauty" to his "Beast", but for once she found that the title didn't bother her. There was no way of knowing if they would ever be rescued, and she would take what comfort she could in the dark, cold cell.
It had been too long, far too long since they had taken him. The handlers had come for Michael almost twenty-four hours ago, according to her watch. They'd never kept him for more than fifteen hours before – he passed out after that, and was of 'no use'. Apparently the gods only liked offerings of conscious pain (the Wraith were a picky bunch).
When she heard footsteps in the hallway, she retreated to Michael's corner to await their captors. She didn't want them to know how much his pain affected her, didn't want to give them anything more to use against him. The only problem was that from that far back in the room she couldn't hear the outside world well enough to tell if Michael was being led or being dragged. He'd only walked back twice in the five weeks since she'd been thrown into his cell, but the longer absence threw everything she knew into doubt. They might have moved him to another facility, taken him off world, killed him – there was no way of knowing until her captors came, and she refused to believe the worst without proof.
She tensed as the footsteps stopped, then frowned as she heard someone kick in the door to the cell next door. She heard voices through the crack, but nothing intelligible. A moment later, the light from the opening in her door dimmed; this was followed by someone kicking the door in. She flinched away from the sudden light, bringing a hand up to shield her face as someone shone a flashlight in her face. She heard a muttered "Christ."
The first thing she noticed, aside from the fact that they'd kicked the door in, was that there were too many of them. She had only ever seen three handlers during the eight weeks of her captivity, and never more than two at a time. Michael had explained one night that the worshippers didn't interact with the 'offerings', only a chosen few had the honor of extracting pain and interacting with the 'gods'. Once they'd realized that Michael refused to feed on her, they'd stopped bothering with her at all. They left food, and apparently thought when Michael got bored with her he'd take care of their problem.
The light grew stronger, and she tried to back further into the corner as one of the men came closer. He lowered the flashlight, and she realized that it was mounted on a gun. The stranger moved slowly, sliding his night vision goggles up to perch on his forehead and then placing a hand on her shoulder. "Doctor Larson?" She nodded hesitantly. "My name is Captain Stevens, and I'm here to take you home."
She allowed him to pull her to her feet and guide her to the door, but when they crossed the threshold she realized that this was real. She pulled away abruptly. "How did you-" She was cut off by the sound of gunfire, and she instinctively ducked and shielded her head.
The captain hauled her back up to her feet. "That's our cue, Doctor. We need to go."
She shook her head frantically. "No, no, wait, I can't-"
"Doctor Larson. We go, now, or we don't go at all. Do you want to stay here? No? I didn't think so. Can you run? Well, let's find out." He started down the hallway, dragging her with him. She tried to tell him that Michael was still here, somewhere, but the gunfire was too loud, and she was out of breath. Then there was a sound that resembled thunder, and she had just enough time to recognize that she knew that sound before everything went black.
Her first thought upon waking was that it had all been a dream - the prison, Michael, everything. The illusion lasted for roughly ten seconds before it was shattered by soft voices just to her left.
"How is she, Carson?" The first voice was a woman, cool and professional. Ana wondered if it was Doctor Weir, but she couldn't imagine the head of the expedition would take the time to visit one of the new girls who was foolish enough to be captured on her first trip off-world.
"She's doing well, all things considered. We've got ourselves a tough one here." He patted her hand, and she wanted to flinch away, but she didn't have the energy. Anyway, Carson was the head of medical, what was he doing with her? All she needed was some more sleep and she'd be fine; they'd been ignoring her for weeks in favor of longer sessions with Michael. Michael. There was something she wasn't remembering about Michael; she wondered where he was, why he wasn't here. "There are signs of dehydration and malnutrition, both to be expected and easily treated. She's lost close to fifteen pounds; it could have been a lot worse. What's more concerning is the inflammation of her nervous system; the colonel thinks it might be from some kind of torture mechanism, but we're not sure. We're going to have to wait until she comes around to learn more."
"Carson, what aren't you telling me?" Weir's voice was softer, and now Ana was concerned.
Carson sighed. "When she was first brought in, there were signs of assault." He paused. "Sexual assault, Elizabeth."
"There's more, unfortunately. We have a standard panel we run in the event of such an assault. I'm sorry to say, the lass is pregnant."
Ana opened her eyes in shock, turning toward the voices (it was indeed Doctors Beckett and Weir) and trying to sit up. "That's..." She cleared her throat, and tried again. "That's not possible."
Carson's expression became sympathetic. "I'm so sorry, dear. You've been through so much, and now to not be able to leave it behind." He looked down to where his hand still rested on hers. "I've already spoken to Doctor James, and once you're feeling better she'll be in to speak with you about your options."
Ana shook her head, only half paying attention to his words. "No, no, you don't understand. I can't be pregnant He's sterile, he can't..." He wasn't there. They'd left him behind; that was what she'd been trying to remember. "Where is he? Where's Michael?" She pulled away, looking around wildly. "I told them he was there, where is he? Why didn't you save him? Why-"
She woke up again sometime later to an empty room with only the beeping of a heart monitor to keep her company. She cursed physicians and their drugs - she wasn't crazy, wasn't irrational, wasn't anything. She just needed to know where he was. He'd protected her, needed her just as much as she'd needed him, loved her, and she'd just left him there.
"How are you feeling?"
Ana settled into a chair across from the expedition shrink; this was their second session, and promised to be no more enjoyable than the first. "As well as can be expected, I guess."
"Have you given any thought to the regression therapy I suggested at our last meeting?"
Ana shook her head. "I'm not missing memories, doctor." She almost felt bad when Doctor 'Call me Kate' Heightmeyer flinched. But she had realized halfway through their first 'session' that 'Kate' was convinced she'd been assaulted (above and beyond what she'd reported); when she'd denied the assault, Kate had started spouting theory on traumatic memory repression.
Ana wished she could repress the days in darkness, broken only by the 'offerings' before she'd been thrown in Michael's cell. The long hours of waiting when he was taken. The sick feeling when too much time had passed and she began to think that this time was the time when they got tired of waiting for the hive. Ever since her release from the infirmary, she'd been all but confined to her quarters. It left her with a lot of time for thinking about things she'd been trying to ignore. Things like how long it had been that last day, after they'd taken him. She knew he wouldn't have left without her; he needed her in a way that the people in Atlantis couldn't understand. So he must be dead. Dead or close to it. "I know what happened to me. It wasn't pleasant, but it's over. They're not all bad memories."
"Hmm." Kate tapped something on her tablet before continuing. "We'll discuss that again in a little while. Doctor McKay tells me that you've asked to return to active duty. You've only been back for five days, and you've been out of the infirmary just the last three. That seems rather soon, don't you agree?"
Ana shrugged; stewing in her room wasn't getting her anywhere, and she knew she wasn't going to be making a decision about the baby immediately. Hell, it might take care of itself; she doubted Wraith DNA was naturally compatible with human genes. "I feel fine; I just want to get back to work."
Kate smiled. "Not an uncommon sentiment, but still. You've been through quite an ordeal. Why not just enjoy the vacation and take your time getting used to things again?"
Ana stared at the floor. "I'm new. I'd only been here a week before it happened. I don't know anyone here, not really. Now everyone looks at me and whispers. It's embarrassing. The sooner I start working, the sooner they'll ignore me. I'm sick of sitting in my room and thinking about things I can't change. I had enough time to do that when I was in my cell." She realized a moment too late that she shouldn't have given Kate the opening, but there was no way to take it back.
"What do you think about?"
"Him. Where he is, what happened to him."
"You mean Michael?"
"Tell me about Michael."
Ana sighed; she didn't want to do this. She'd already told Doctor Beckett, and Kate, and about a dozen other people about Michael. No one was willing to attempt another assault for a prisoner who might or might not be real, and might or might not still be there if he was real. Colonel Sheppard (the man who'd been so adamant about how 'we don't leave men behind') made it clear that the resources just weren't there. "What do you want to know?"
"Who was he?"
"He was my sanity." Ana shivered, wanting the reassurance of his touch. "The guards called him a monster, but they were wrong. So wrong."
"Why did they call him a monster?"
"He was...different. The Wraith made him, and when they didn't like what he became, they wanted to throw him away." She shivered again. "He's a good man; he protected me when no one else could. He even saved me from myself."
"Saved you from yourself?" Kate frowned when Ana shivered again. "Are you cold? Do you want to borrow my jacket?"
Ana shook her head. "Yes. No. I-it's not the temperature, I just miss him, I guess. In...in the cell, it was so dark, and so cold. We'd spend hours just curled together, talking. Touching him, it made me feel better. Made it real. Now, nothing seems real. I don't want it to, I think. If it's real, then that means that he's dead out there somewhere." She closed her eyes, fighting for composure. She hadn't broken down since first waking in the infirmary, though she'd come close. She wasn't going to do it now.
She heard Kate set her tablet down, but didn't open her eyes. "May I try something?"
Ana frowned, looking up. "What do you want to do? I don't want the regression therapy, and I don't want medication. Not while I'm...you know."
Kate shook her head. "No, nothing like that. Just..." She stood, and moved to sit next to her. After a moment's hesitation, she pulled Ana into a hug.
The moment bare skin touched, Ana pulled away violently. "No. No, stop. It's wrong; it's all wrong." She backed away, moving so quickly that she knocked over her chair in her haste to make it to the door. "I have to... I have to go. I have to-" The door opened, and she ran for her quarters. When she reached them, she peeled her uniform off, turned on the shower as hot as she could stand, and attempted to scrub the feeling of wrongness from her skin.
Ana had three days to herself following the incident in Doctor Heightmeyer's office. She visited the mess on off hours, and spent the rest of her time in her room going over the data that had been collected while she'd been off-world. On the fourth day, her reprieve ended when a shadow fell over her while she was eating lunch. She looked up, and found Teyla, the Athosian who lived in the city, standing over her.
"May I join you?"
"Oh. Uh, sure. Of course." Ana waved her hand to the three empty seats at her table. "Plenty of room, and all that nonsense."
Teyla smiled, and placed her tray on the table before taking a seat. "If it is not too forward, I wish to discuss with you the matter of your child."
Ana blinked, and looked around to make sure that no one else was within earshot. "Listen, Doctor Beckett, and Doctor James, and Doctor Heightmeyer have all spoken with me about the baby. I just... I need some time to think about it."
Teyla shook her head. "I believe you misunderstand." She took a sip of her tea, then set it down and pushed her tray to the side so as to rest her arms upon the table. "I wish to present you with an offer from my people. Among the Athosians, all children are cherished; because of the Wraith, orphans are an unfortunate constant in our lives. Should you be willing to carry your child to birth, the Athosians would be more than willing to give it a loving home."
Ana shook her head, pushing away from the table. "I don't... Thank you for the offer, but I don't think..." She stood and moved to leave, but was stopped by Teyla's hand on her arm.
"Doctor Larson. I do not mean to press, and I certainly do not know what you have been through. But I urge you to consider my people's offer." She squeezed Ana's arm gently, then released her. Ana forced a smile and fled. It wasn't until she reached her quarters that she realized Teyla had touched her bare skin, and it had felt right.
The following morning, Ana found herself outside Teyla's door. She'd spent much of the night thinking, and around 0200 she had remembered that Michael had recognized Teyla's name. There was a chance that Teyla, unlike much of the expedition, might understand what Michael had been through. She might even have known him. There was also the fact that Teyla's skin was different than anyone else's. Ana knew she would give a lot, just to feel that familiar warmth under her fingers again.
Teyla's door opened after the second knock, and the native woman smiled softly. "Can I help you, Doctor Larson?"
Ana shifted nervously. "Can I come in?"
Teyla stepped back, and motioned her to enter. "Of course. Have you given thought to my offer?"
Ana entered tentatively, and waited until the door was closed before she responded. "That's not why I'm here, not really." She held up a hand to prevent Teyla from responding. "I know you mean well, but I don't think your people would accept the child I'm carrying. There are things you don't know." She looked around for a moment, and then took a seat near the bed. "This is...difficult."
Teyla settled onto the bed and smiled encouragingly. "Would it help if I assure you that anything you say will be kept in confidence?"
Ana nodded. "That would help, yes. I'm not sure how to ask this, exactly." She laughed nervously. "Yesterday, in the mess, you touched my arm. That's the first time anyone's touched me since I came back to the city that I haven't needed to shower." She bit her lip. "Is there something...different about you, Teyla?"
Teyla's expression remained pleasant, but her eyes grew shuttered. "I am native to this galaxy; I am sure there are many things about me that are different from the expedition members."
Ana shook her head. "I don't... I think it's more than that." She thought for a moment, debating how much to reveal to someone she knew so little about. "When I was in the cell, touch – especially the touch of skin – was everything. But since my return to Atlantis, there's something wrong – something missing. You have it."
Teyla blinked, and something in her expression relaxed. "I understand now. In every generation among my people, there are those who can sense the Wraith. It is an ability we have recently learned was the result of experiments conducted upon our ancestors. I am one of them."
"Michael, the man who shared my cell, he was experimented on, too." She shivered, remembering the hatred in Michael's voice whenever he had talked about those who had made him what he was, the pain in his voice during the nightmares. The nightmares had stopped once she'd been thrown in with him, but she'd heard more than enough through the walls. She found herself talking again; unable to stop now that she had begun.
"He used to have nightmares, terrible nightmares. And there wasn't anything I could do to stop them." She wrapped her arms around her own waist, studying the pattern of Teyla's skirt. "All he wanted was to belong, and they took that away from him. They turned him into a monster that would never fit in, who could never be accepted." She looked up, meeting Teyla's eyes. "That was something I could offer him, you know? Acceptance. Because he wasn't a monster, he was just a man who wanted someone to care about him."
By the time she finished speaking, Ana knew tears were rolling down her cheeks but she couldn't bring herself to care. There was no judgment or pity in Teyla's eyes – only sympathy and understanding. Teyla reached out, and placed a tentative hand upon her arm. Ana leaned in to the touch, surrendering to the comfort she'd been missing so much since her return to Atlantis. After a moment, Teyla scooted to the edge of the bed and pulled her down into the traditional Athosian gesture of greeting. When she spoke, her voice was soft and kind. "I believe I understand your dilemma, Doctor Larson. You have a difficult decision to make, and I do not envy you. Know that should you need someone to speak to, I am more than willing. I know what it is to be a victim of the Wraith, and also to be an outsider among friends."
Ana sniffled and wiped her eyes to remove the remnants of the tears. "I think, after all of this, you can call me Ana."
Teyla pulled away, and offered a gentle smile. "I would be honored, Ana."
Something was wrong. No, not wrong – different. Ana opened her eyes, and was met with darkness. Familiar darkness. She was back in the cell. She panicked for a moment, but there it was – Michael's familiar warmth against her back. "Michael?"
He shifted against her, and mumbled something incomprehensible into her hair. She pulled away enough to turn, studying his face in the dim light. She traced the line of his unblemished cheek gently, reassuring herself that he was real. His skin felt right, warm and smooth with just a hint of something lurking below the surface. His voice was sleepy, even though his eyes focused immediately. "Ana? What's...what's wrong?"
She shook her head. "Nothing, just a bad dream." She leaned in and pressed a kiss to his lips, careful to keep the caress light. He didn't understand kissing, not as anything other than the application of pressure. She'd tried to explain the appeal – the intimacy – of the act, but it was something that he was unable to grasp. It had taken getting used to; she'd never had a relationship without kissing (certainly not an intimate one), but then nothing about what she had with Michael was normal. It had started as comfort, and at some indefinable point it had changed into more. Now, there was love mixed into the ties that bound them together.
His hand slid from its location on her waist to cup the back of her neck, playing with the hair that lay in wisps near her collar. He always let her make the first move; it had been that way from the beginning. When they made love (she refused to call it sex in her mind, even though she knew that's all it had been in the beginning), she always started it and she always controlled it. She'd asked once if he wanted control, explained that she trusted him, but he had looked at her with such a helpless expression that she had never asked again.
She pulled away, sitting up so that she could remove her shirt (the sports bra was long since gone; in desperation she'd used it for fabric during her first period, a week into her stay. She'd never been so pleased to own a standard issue cotton bra in her life). The one positive thing about the dim cell was that it heightened her sense of touch – the cold was that much worse when they took him, but it was also that much warmer when he held her. She knew that the body would compensate if a sense was removed, but she'd never had it demonstrated in so much detail.
When she was with Michael – skin to skin – it was unlike anything she'd experienced before. He always knew what she wanted, sometimes before she did; unless it was a kiss, he followed her whims without comment (it wasn't the setting she would have preferred, but it was definitely the best sex of her life. That wasn't saying much, since her last boyfriend had dumped her to spend more time staring into a telescope, but it was still something).
She was brought out of her thoughts when a warm hand ghosted down her arm. "Are you all right?"
She straddled him, and laid her head on his chest. "I will be. I dreamed that I lost you." His one good hand settled in the center of her back, holding her in place.
"I'm right here. I'd never leave you behind."
Ana opened her eyes, and stared at the empty space beside her on the regulation cot. She closed them again, and tried to bring the dream back, to no avail. It was gone, just like he was gone, but something about the dream was different – it wasn't a memory, not like most of her dreams had been since returning to the city. It felt more real, more solid. She shook her head in an attempt to dislodge the figment of her imagination; her subconscious must be working overtime now that she'd made the inevitable decision about the baby.
She stretched slowly, enjoying a few moments to at least pretend to collect her scattered thoughts before the day closed in around her. It had been three weeks since the marines had broken her out of the cells underneath the worshippers' complex. She was working full shift again, mostly data analysis of readings brought back by off-world teams (and wondering who the Hell had allowed Doctor Dini to decide which planets got permanent scanning equipment. The man had no instinct for this kind of thing what so ever). Her evenings were spent with Teyla, when the Athosian was in the city. Teyla was the only person who was willing to listen and actually hear what was being said; it was a relief to curl up on a cushion on the floor of Teyla's quarters and talk to someone who could understand her fears and would answer her rationally.
One of their main topics of conversation had been the baby. Teyla had stayed quiet on the subject, preferring to act as a sounding board to allow Ana to come to her own conclusions. She'd spent the last two days alone while Teyla was off-world, wondering if she could follow through on her decision. She knew no one in Atlantis would blame her for ending the pregnancy, but they didn't understand why she was doing it.
Her motivations were simple, and in terms of cold logic they made perfect sense. She could not, in anything resembling good conscience, bring this child into the world she lived in; she knew what kind of life it would face. If she carried it to term and kept it, the alien DNA it carried would make its life into one long science project. She could never take the child to Earth, and certainly not into the civilian world. If she stayed in Pegasus, the prospects were no better. The Wraith were not just hated, they were loathed as the destroyers of worlds. Her child would never be safe in Atlantis, surrounded by researchers and scientists, and not being raised by an Athosian family either. She could resign and disappear through the 'Gate, but she was new to this galaxy. There was every chance that whatever people gave her refuge would turn upon a child born of the enemy. She had hoped desperately that the DNA would prove incompatible and that she'd miscarry, but nature was not on her side. The Wraith had done their job too well with Michael.
With a sigh, she threw back the covers and dragged herself to the shower. The coming afternoon was her appointment with Doctor James; she could only put things off for so long.
Deciding that fortitude was best acquired by chocolate, Ana decided to stop by the mess before her morning shift. If she was lucky, there would still be a few chocolate chip muffins left. As she entered, she realized an argument was already in progress and turned to leave; she didn't need to get in the middle of something this morning – not when she'd spent the weeks since her return avoiding people.
She was two steps from the door when she heard her name and paused. She knew she didn't want to hear this – gossip was never kind – but she couldn't make herself leave. The voices belonged to Doctors Beckett and McKay, which was a surprise. She'd assumed they'd have this kind of discussion in an office somewhere. Not in the mess hall after breakfast.
"I'm only saying that you should think about her mental well-being. A full workload and your temperament are not the keys to a speedy recovery."
"Carson, the woman spent 8 weeks in a prison cell undergoing torture. She is not a soldier; she is a meteorologist specializing in upper-atmospheric phenomenon. She had no training for what she went through. It's a wonder she's speaking in complete sentences. A little skittishness is nothing, especially if she's still getting her work done."
"I'll leave it to you for now, but she needs to start seeing Kate again. She's missed three sessions."
"And how many is Sheppard up to?" She heard a chair scrape across the floor.
Carson made a noise that sounded remarkably like a growl; Ana was surprised, she hadn't believed the man had it in him. "That's not the point, and you know it. The colonel is an entirely different matter, and not your concern. Doctor Larson is your concern, and as her supervisor I'm officially warning you. If she misses another appointment I'll have no choice but to have her placed on restricted duty." His chair scraped the floor as well, and she realized that they had finished their meal. She was out the door before they realized she was in the room.
Ana fled the mess and went straight to Teyla's rooms. She hadn't planned on meeting with the native woman this morning, but she knew that Teyla was in the city. Despite Doctor McKay's surprising defense of her decisions, all she wanted was a friendly face. Ana arrived to find Teyla standing outside her doors, voice quiet as she spoke into her earpiece. The Athosian looked up at her approach, and gave her a sympathetic smile as she logged off.
"My presence has been requested in the 'Gate room. Lieutenant Sanchez has just returned with a report that the remainder of Captain Stevens' team has been taken hostage on P37-829. It is a matter of some urgency. Perhaps we may speak later?"
"Of course. I...I hope they're all right."
"I am sure they will be." Teyla nodded once, and disappeared down the corridor. Ana was left standing there and watching her go, starkly aware of the appointment looming in her near future.
Ana never made it to the lab that morning. She was met by two marines who were waiting outside her door. "Doctor Larson?"
She nodded. "Can I help you?"
"You need to come with us, ma'am."
She frowned, but allowed them to lead her down the hall. Any distraction was welcome this morning. "What's wrong?"
Marine #1 shrugged. "Don't know, ma'am. Colonel Sheppard asked us to bring you up to the conference room."
"Does this have something to do with Captain Stevens' team?"
They reached the transporter, and marine #2 opened the doors. "Don't know, ma'am."
She followed him inside, and smiled in an attempt to lighten the mood. "Guess I'll find out soon enough, right?" The quip fell flat, and she lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. By the time the doors opened again she was worried; something serious was going on, and the marines obviously knew about it. She just couldn't figure out what it had to do with her.
The marines left her outside of the conference room. She tried to think of what could have happened, but came up with nothing; she hadn't even been off-world since her rescue. She heard raised voices through the door, and paused to listen.
"How long have you known?" Doctor Weir was calm, but there was an edge to her voice.
To Ana's surprise, the answering voice was Teyla. "I have suspected since our first discussion."
Sheppard cut in, and Ana realized that it was likely the whole command staff was present. "Why didn't you say anything? He's got three of our men hostage out there, Teyla. You know what he thinks of the expedition. We've got something he wants; if he learns that we won't give it to him, those men are dead."
He. Him. The only 'him' she had discussed with Teyla was Michael, but he had never mentioned the expedition – he'd actively avoided the subject on several occasions. Now more than curious, Ana triggered the door and stepped inside.
When the door opened, all conversation ceased and the command staff (and then some) turned to study her. She cleared her throat nervously. "You-you wanted to see me?"
Doctor Weir stood, and gestured to an empty chair. "Please, have a seat."
Ana sat down carefully. "Does this have something to do with Captain Stevens' team?"
"Yes, it does. How do you know about that?"
Ana shrugged. "I ran into Teyla when she was on her way up here. Is the captain all right?"
Sheppard crossed his arms, and leaned back against the other side of the table. "We don't know." He paused, letting the news sink in. "How do you know Michael Kenmore?"
"Michael? I only ever knew him as Michael; I don't know if he was Michael Kenmore. What's going on? How do you know Michael?"
Weir placed a hand on Sheppard's shoulder when he opened his mouth again, and spoke instead. "War is an unpleasant business, Doctor Larson. The war with the Wraith more than any other conflict the human race has engaged in. Sometimes, you have to make decisions – take actions – which you would never consider in time of peace. Michael...was the result of one of those actions. We believed him dead, following an incident earlier this year. It appears we were mistaken"
Ana blinked hard and turned to Teyla, the one person she had thought understood what she was going through. She swallowed hard. "Why didn't you say something? You knew; when I told you about him, you knew who he was, didn't you?" She was ashamed to feel tears burning in her eyes, and tried desperately to ignore the way her voice cracked. She was hormonal, she was hurt, and she'd just learned that the people she trusted were the ones who had destroyed Michael's life. She had a right to be upset. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Teyla tried to place a comforting hand on her arm, but Ana pulled away. The native woman sighed. "It is true that I suspected the Michael you spoke of to be the individual we knew as Michael Kenmore. However, your recollections led me to believe that he had been killed. There was no need to taint your memories with his connections to the expedition. That connection had no bearing upon the decisions you faced, and you have suffered enough in recent weeks."
Ana nodded slowly, wiping half-heartedly at her cheeks; she could understand (at least in theory) why Teyla had done what she had, but it still hurt. She took a deep breath, and turned to face Sheppard. "What happened? Why are you telling me this now?"
Sheppard and Weir shared a look before the colonel responded. "Just over one hour ago, Lieutenant Sanchez returned from M3C-294 and reported that his team had been taken hostage by a man he identified as Lt. Michael Kenmore."
Ana's response didn't even require conscious thought. "Let me go to him. Let me talk to him." Plans started forming in her mind, one after another, but nothing settled longer than a few seconds.
Weir shook her head. "Doctor Larson, we have policies in place. We don't negotiate with kidnappers – not the Genii, not the Asurans, and certainly not Michael. Michael is demanding access to you in exchange for the lives of my expedition members. I cannot put you in the middle of hostage negotiations with a man who may very well no longer be sane."
Ana stood, growing agitated. They didn't understand. "Doctor Weir, I know Michael. He won't hurt me; he needs me. He's not some monster." She felt her lips curl in distaste at the word, and she wrapped her arms around herself protectively. "Even if he were, you made him that way. He's a person. Let me speak to him; I know he'll listen to me. And I...I need to know he's really alive. That he survived that awful place."
"I don't think so, doctor." Sheppard stood and began pacing. "You go out there, you might not come back. You're a civilian; let the military do what it's paid to do. Hell, you're not even cleared for off-world missions right now. We just need to know why he's asking for you. Now we know."
She turned a pleading gaze upon Teyla. "Please. I...This is something I need to do. I don't care what you have to do, but I need to see him. If I don't, I'll never be able to put this behind me."
"She may be right, Colonel." Ana turned and found a surprising ally in Doctor Heightmeyer, who had been conferring with Doctor Beckett in the corner. "If her recollections are at all accurate, and I'm inclined to believe they are – even if they are missing periods of time – the two shared several weeks together in isolation. It's possible that he's formed an attachment. Michael has proven willing to negotiate in the past. A meeting could bring Doctor Larson closure and prevent unnecessary bloodshed."
Unfortunately, McKay was having none of it; had it been any other situation, she would have appreciated it. She'd found his defense earlier that morning heartwarming, but things were different now. Michael was alive. "What, so you're all just fine with sending a civilian – a scientist – out to reason with a madman because they shared a cell? No. Absolutely not. She's probably not even sane yet from her stay with those Wraith worshiping idiots. This is what we have assault teams for." McKay sounded pissed, but then he always sounded pissed.
Sheppard and Weir shared another glance, and then the expedition head passed the final verdict. "I'll allow it. Doctor Larson can go, but she's not going alone. I want Teyla with her, and if you're not back in thirty minutes we're sending in the cavalry. Clear?"
Everyone nodded, and McKay stalked out muttering under his breath about idiots. Ronon hadn't said a word throughout the entire discussion, instead playing with his pistol. Now, he looked up and shot her a strange look before leaving with the others.
Once the decision was made, everything kicked in to high gear. Ana was escorted to the armory by marines 1 & 2 from earlier, and was outfitted for off-world duty while Teyla vanished to make her own preparations. Less than half an hour later, the two women stepped through the 'Gate to M3C-294.
M3C-294 is bright; the late afternoon sun illuminated a small clearing around the gate and blinded Ana as followed Teyla from the event horizon. It was a long moment before she could make out anything more distinctive than 'tree-mass' and 'clearing.' She peered out from her position behind Teyla, and finally managed to make out the forms at the edge of the tree-line. There were four of them; the three in expedition uniforms were on their knees, and one stood behind them with a Wraith stunner aimed at the 'Gate. Teyla recovered her bearings more quickly, or perhaps she never lost them in the first place. Her voice was wary as she called a greeting.
"Teyla. I had not thought to see you again." It was him; Ana was sure of it. She took a step forward, wanting to touch him to prove to herself that this was real, but Teyla held her back.
"Wait until the men are released." Teyla whispered sharply. "Michael, let the men go. You have what you wanted, but not until you let them go."
There was a tense moment, and then Michael crouched down behind the kneeling men. Ana saw a knife flash in the sunlight, and a moment later he was hauling them to their feet. "There."
The men staggered toward the 'Gate, movements slow and awkward. Ana caught the nearest as he tripped, and helped him to the event horizon once Teyla had dialed Atlantis. When the wormhole disengaged, Ana turned back to Michael. She'd done what she had to do, the hostages were safe. Now she could do what she wanted to do. "Michael?"
He looked up, and time seemed to slow as she crossed the space between them. Before he could say anything, she slid her arms around his waist and pressed her face against his neck, trying to bury herself in the feel of him. It was all instinct once skin met, and she could feel it in the way his arms wrapped around her. As his grip tightened, she knew that she couldn't leave him again; she'd known since they'd told her he was alive, back in Atlantis.
She heard footsteps, and felt him tense as Teyla approached. Ana spoke without lifting her head. "I'm not going back."
There was a pause, followed by a rustling sound before Teyla spoke. "I know." Ana lifted her head, surprised, and found her friend removing items from her pack. "It was in your voice, in the briefing." She set a collection of MREs to one side; these were followed by a pair of thermal blankets, a set of Athosian clothing, a field knife, a compass, a flashlight, a mess kit...the list went on. She didn't look up until she had emptied the bag.
"You have chosen a difficult path, Ana, but it is a choice I respect. I took the liberty of gathering a few items that may be useful to you." Teyla stood, and leveled a hard gaze on Michael, who had remained silent. "I may not know you as she does, but I know you well enough. Should any harm come to Doctor Larson or the child, I will learn of it, and I will hunt you down and make you wish that you had died at the hands of the Wraith."
Ana felt more than saw Michael's answering nod. "I understand. I– child?" He looked down at her in obvious confusion, and she felt a blush stain her cheeks as she nodded in response to his question. "But Wraith don't..."
She shrugged, leaning her head against his shoulder. "Apparently you do." She tensed, as she realized that the news might be unwelcome to one who had never considered children. "Is that...is that all right?"
"It is...unexpected. But not unwelcome." He held her tightly, saying with touch what he would never say aloud. She allowed herself to relax into the tactile reassurance; maybe they really could make this work. Time was passing, however, and after a moment she pulled away and crouched to begin packing the supplies into her own bag. When she was finished, Teyla clasped her shoulders and pulled her down so that their foreheads touched. "Be well, wherever you go."
After the completion of the farewell, Teyla released her and stepped away, removing a folded piece of paper from her vest and looking at Michael. "I have one final item for you." She handed Ana the paper, which contained a listing of 'Gate addresses. "These are worlds that were culled by the Wraith in recent years, yet still bear survivors. They are small farming communities, none of which are engaged in active trade with Atlantis. One of them may be willing to grant you some form of sanctuary."
Michael moved to touch her, but stopped when a hint of fear flickered in Teyla's eyes. He settled for bowing his head. "I know your feelings toward my people, what I was. Thank you allowing me to be who I am. What will you tell them?"
"I will tell them the truth; that I did not see where you went but that I doubt you will return. What was done to you was wrong, Michael. Just as what your people did to me was wrong. It must end somewhere." The silence was broken by the beeping of Teyla's watch – a five minute warning. "You must leave."
Michael nodded, and released Ana to heft the stunner leaning against a nearby tree before moving to the DHD. Ana lingered with Teyla, following to the 'Gate more slowly. "Do you know what they will tell my parents?"
Teyla shook her head. "I do not. Is there something you wish me to pass on?"
"There's a letter, on the laptop in my quarters. I would be very grateful if you could see that it was sent back to Earth." She blinked hard, the enormity of her decision becoming apparent now that the choice had been made. Teyla's fingers were cool, as they wiped the tears from her cheeks.
"I will insure that it is delivered. Be well, Ana Larson."
Ana nodded, and took a deep breath before she clasped Michael's hand and stepped through the wormhole and into her future.
It wasn't anything conscious that drew Teyla to the Kilgal Tavern after the negotiations; it was what John might call a 'hunch'. She'd noticed the buzzing in her mind during the end of talks with the Chinaa leaders, and a few careful questions had led her to the brightly lit establishment. Because it was the middle of the afternoon, there were only a few customers scattered through the main room. Pulling off her coat, Teyla made her way to an unoccupied table in the corner. A moment later, a young woman approached and the subconscious buzzing increased.
"What can I get for you, ma'am?" She was pleasant, with pale hair and paler skin than was usual among the Chinaa.
Teyla shook her head in an attempt to clear it, confident now that the buzzing was simply the result of close proximity to someone else with a 'colorful' past, and returned the woman's smile. "Something warm to eat, and tea if you have it. I had not remembered the harvest season on this world to be so cold."
"It's grown colder in the last few years. Ma said it was a result of changes in the winds, something happening too high to see. It's supposed to be better in a few years."
"Your mother is a weather-seer?"
The woman looked down. "She was. She was the best the town has ever had, they say."
"I am sorry for your loss." Teyla reached out, and placed a comforting hand on the woman's arm. The woman startled badly, pulling away before looking at Teyla suspiciously.
"Who are you?"
Teyla raised an eyebrow at the tone, but answered easily enough. "I am Teyla Emmagan, a diplomat from the city of Atlantis. But I suspect that is not what you wish to know."
The woman shook her head. "You...you feel like my father did. Like my brothers."
"Perhaps you should join me for a moment."
"I...give me a moment." Before Teyla could object, the woman vanished through the doors into what she presumed was the kitchen. When she returned, she was carrying a tray bearing two mugs of tea and accompanied by a man. He settled in behind the bar and cast a curious look in Teyla's direction. "My husband will watch things for a few minutes. Why...why do you feel different?"
"It is...complicated. May I ask your name?"
"Emma. Emma Kilgal. My mother told me I was named for a dear friend." She blushed.
"Emma." Teyla smiled softly. "It was my mother's name. It is not a name common to Chinaa, though."
Emma shook her head. "My parents moved here before I was born. There was an accident of some kind; they never told me what had happened. I know that they were lucky to escape with their lives; my father carried the scars for the rest of his life."
Teyla took a sip of the tea, now growing cold on the table. "I am not sure how to say this gently. I believe that your father may have been a victim of the Wraith."
Emma blinked dumbly. "You mean like a Runner? I thought that was just a myth."
She shook her head. "Runners are very real. I have known several during the years of my life. What I speak of is a different kind of victim. Years ago, my people were subject to experimentation by the Wraith. They changed our DNA, the very essence of what made us who we are. In the years after, a number of gifts emerged in my people – most importantly, the ability to sense the Wraith. I have this ability, as I believe you do as well."
"I...I wouldn't know. I've never seen the Wraith; the last culling was before I was born." Emma shivered. A moment later, she seemed to reach some inner conclusion and straightened in her chair. "My father died three years back; Ma died the summer after of a broken heart. Whatever secrets they had are buried with them, and I'd like to leave it that way, ma'am. My parents were good people, loved each other well. They worked hard their whole lives, raising four children and burying another. I want to remember my father as the good man he was, and I respect him enough to honor his silence."
"I understand. Should you ever wish for counsel on the legacy your father may have left you, there are those in Atlantis who will help you without question." Teyla leaned over and picked up her coat, pulling it into her lap.
Emma nodded, and returned the mugs – one full and one half empty, but both stone cold – to the tray. "Thank you, I will remember."
Teyla rose, but paused as she saw Emma from above for the first time. "May I ask one more question?"
Emma looked up warily. "Yes..."
"What was your mother's name?"
Emma blinked; it was obviously not the question she had expected. "It was Ana. Ana Kenmore."
Teyla pulled her coat on, considering her answer. "I believe I knew her, a long time ago."
Emma stood, and this time she was the one who reached out. "Tell me about her?"
Teyla shook her head, and turned to leave. "There is nothing to tell. She was a good woman, but you know that already." She bowed. "Be well, Emma Kilgal. May the Wraith continue to leave your people in peace."
"Be well, Teyla of Atlantis."
As the door to the tavern swung closed behind her, Teyla set off for the town's burial ground. She had respects to pay.
Secondary Author's Note: Thanks to everyone who poked, prodded, and listened to me whinge to excess about this piece. It ended up nothing like I intended, but I rather like it anyway. Thanks to Wymsie and Saki in particular for their plotting assistance (and Wymsie's excellent Beta Services). Enjoy, all!