Word Count: ~5000
Warnings/Spoilers: Vague S4 spoilers, though set in S3.
Summary: "How much is each of you willing to risk?" she asked, looking around. "What are you willing to lose if it means saving your friends?"
Pain. Excruciating, never-ending agony.
John barely kept from screaming as his legs collapsed out from under him, the metal rings around his wrists keeping him from falling. His arms felt as if they were on fire, and he knew that it was mere luck that had kept one, if not both, of his shoulders from being dislocated. Biting his lip, trying to keep his breathing steady, he firmly placed his legs on the ground and forced them straight. His muscles protested, but at least they held.
Flares of pain shot up his back, and he felt his breathing go ragged. There was no reason he should be hurting, nothing causing the pain that kept running through him. It kept coming again and again, though, no matter how much his mind protested that it shouldn't be happening.
A few feet away, a single torch rested in a hole in the cave's wall. Its flickering light didn't reveal much, only the stone walls of the room he was in. A single tunnel branched off to his left, barely visible in the dim glow from the flame.
"You don't have to do this!" he yelled, his voice cracking. "I already told you, I'd die for them if that's what it takes! Just let me know they're safe!"
Without warning, the priestess appeared in front of him. She didn't say anything, merely staring at him like a ghost.
"I've already given you my answer," John repeated, forcing his voice to stay as firm as possible. "What more do you want?"
His questions were met with silence.
Teyla reached out and touched John's face, flinching slightly at the coolness of his skin. His eyes were closed, his face peaceful, and if she had not known any better she would have thought he was merely sleeping. If that had been the case, however, his chest would still be rising and falling with breath.
She leaned in and pressed her forehead against his, forcing her eyes to remain dry despite the tears that she could feel building. Then she pulled away, staring at his body for another moment before turning to her left. Just as with John, Ronon's body lay on a piece of tightly woven cloth spread out on the dirt floor of the tent. It was pale and drab, only a hint of color here and there revealing that perhaps age had faded its former beauty.
There was not a single mark on Ronon's body, nothing to explain why his chest remained motionless. It did not make sense. She reached out, gently placing her hand on his cheek. It felt cold to her touch.
A soft rustling sound came from behind her, the tent filling with light as its flap was pushed open. Teyla knew without looking that it was the priestess returning yet again. "Are you convinced now, child?"
Teyla didn't move. "Eyes can lie," she said, turning her attention to the pallet beside Ronon where Rodney lay. "How do I know this is not a trick?"
"Is that what you think this is then?" the priestess asked, her voice almost cloying in its sweetness. "A lie?"
Teyla stared down at Rodney for a moment, taking in his unnatural stillness. Then she turned toward the doorway, her voice cold as she met the priestess's gaze. "For your sake," she said, "I hope that it is one."
The priestess smiled, but it did not quite meet her eyes. "Are you prepared to answer my question yet? What happens next depends entirely on you."
Pushing herself off her knees, Teyla stood up. She took a few steps forward so that she was standing face-to-face with the priestess. "Whatever it takes."
"That is your answer?" the priestess asked, her expression not changing.
Teyla nodded. "Yes," she replied. "I am willing to give up anything that is asked of me."
A thoughtful look on her face, the priestess snapped her fingers. Without warning, Teyla found herself standing in the middle of a familiar forest that she had not seen in over three years. "Athos?" she whispered, slowly looking around.
"You told me you were willing to give up anything asked of you," the priestess said, appearing beside Teyla as if out of nowhere. "Does that include your ties with your people?"
Teyla stood there, unable to think of a reply. The priestess reached out and touched her shoulder, a sad smile on her face when Teyla looked at her. "It is your decision," she said gently. "No one else's."
She disappeared just as quickly and quietly as she had appeared.
Ronon grunted as he struggled to free himself from the cocoon the Wraith had placed him in, trying unsuccessfully to reach one of his knives. Try as he might, he just couldn't get his hands on any of them. He barely held back a frustrated roar as he pulled at the strands holding him tightly in place.
A throaty laugh came from in front of him.
He looked up instantly, his eyes narrowing when he saw a Wraith queen standing less than ten feet away. She tilted her head slightly as she stared at him, and he couldn't help but feel like that movement was significant for some reason. Not to mention familiar.
Narrowing his eyes, Ronon stared at the Wraith. There was something else there, hidden beneath the outward appearance. "You're the priestess."
The queen laughed again, though this time he couldn't help but hear a hint of sadness in the sound. Before his eyes, she suddenly seemed to morph. She shrank in height, her skin darkening and her hair fading from red to black mixed with a few strands of silver. Within seconds, the priestess stood there staring at him. She reached out to touch his face, pulling her hand back when Ronon bared his teeth.
"Where are the others?" he demanded, narrowing his eyes. "What did you do to them?"
She shook her head, pulling her shawl tightly around her. "You saw what happened to them with your own eyes," she said gently. "Why do you believe I was involved?"
He snarled, grinning when she took a step back. "Because you're a Wraith worshipper."
Her eyes flashed at that, her face growing cold. "That is where you are wrong," she replied, her voice full of barely restrained anger. "I would never willingly serve the Wraith."
"Then why are you here?" he shot back. "How else would you be in a Hive."
Just as quickly as it had appeared, the anger on her face faded away. "You only see what is in front of you," she said, her voice soft as she looked away. "Do you remember the question you were asked?"
Ronon didn't reply.
"I have another question for you," she said, still looking away. Her appearance started to change again, back into the shape of the Wraith queen. Once she had changed, she looked back at him.
"If it meant saving the others," she asked in a voice that was a mixture of human and Wraith, "would you be willing to become what you hate?"
"Calm down, McKay. You just need to think about this for a second, and you'll come up with something. There has to be a logical explanation, right? Of course there's ˆ it's probably. . ."
Rodney felt his breathing speeding up, steadily increasing with every passing second. His breaths were already coming out in short gasps, and he knew that he was going to move into a full-blown panic attack if he didn't calm down. And that was the last thing he needed at the moment.
Forcing himself to breathe normally, Rodney knelt down in front of the DHD again. He tried to ignore the eerie silence that surrounded him, focusing instead on the technology sitting in front of him. Even though he knew it was hopeless, that there was nothing he could do, he couldn't help but look one more time.
The outside of the DHD looked fine, absolutely normal even. Its inside, however, was a different story altogether. There was nothing there, not even a single crystal. It was nothing but a hollow husk.
"This can't be happening," Rodney muttered, staring at the DHD. "There is no possible way that someone could have sabotaged it that quickly and left it looking this neat. I have to be missing something."
He suddenly heard footsteps behind him.
Rodney reached for his gun as he spun around, flinching as his fingers met nothing but cloth. He'd forgotten that it had disappeared along with everything and everyone else. All thoughts of that faded, though, when he saw who was standing there. "You."
The priestess smiled as she walked over and rested her hand on the DHD. "I asked you a question before this began," she said softly. "You have yet to give me an answer."
Rodney rolled his eyes as he pushed himself to his feet. "What exactly is it that you want from me?"
He snorted. "Yeah, you're going to have to do better than that," he replied. "I don't know what you've done to the DHD, but I promise you that I will figure it out. If nothing else, we're overdue. Elizabeth should check in soon, and the backup she'll send will be able to find the rest of my team without any trouble."
"When do you expect your leader to contact you?"
Rodney shook his head. "Like I'd actually tell you," he said, glancing down at his watch. Then he froze.
The priestess raised an eyebrow. "She should have gotten in touch with you by now?" she guessed, her tone innocent though her face suggested that was mere a façade.
He turned his attention back to the DHD, purposely ignoring her. As he knelt down beside it, she walked over to his side and leaned down enough to peer inside.
"When your Colonel Sheppard introduced you," she said softly, "you called yourself a genius."
Rodney muttered under his breath as he leaned forward to stick his head slightly inside the DHD. He frowned as he looked into it.
"Would you be willing to give that genius if it meant saving the others?"
His head shot up, colliding with the edge of the DHD's control center. A thin cut appeared on his forehead, and he grimaced as he reached up to wipe it away as a few drops of blood trickled past his eye. Then he turned to stare at the priestess. "What?"
"As I said when we first met," she said, "everything depends on your answers."
"Excuse me?" John stared at the priestess, a confused look on his face. "What does that have to do with anything?"
She stared back, a half smile on her face. "I merely asked if you considered each other friends," she said, her gaze drifting over the four of them. "It is a simple question."
John glanced back at Teyla, who shrugged apologetically. She looked as confused at the question as he did. Shaking his head, he turned his attention back toward the priestess. "Yeah, we're friends. Is that a problem?"
"Oh no, of course not." A horrified look appeared on the priestess's face, as if she couldn't believe anyone could possibly consider friendship as a problem. "I must know if you could be the foretold ones."
"The foretold ones?" Rodney repeated skeptically.
She nodded. "Those who will protect us from the Wraith," she explained. "Those in my order have long known they would someday come."
Teyla stepped forward. "You believe us to be these people?"
"Perhaps," the priestess said. "Of course, I cannot be certain until you have given me your answers."
Ronon grunted. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Turning long enough to shoot him a look, Teyla quickly looked back toward the priestess. "What Ronon means is. . ."
The priestess held up her hand, cutting Teyla off. "How much is each of you willing to risk?" she asked, looking around. "What are you willing to lose if it means saving your friends?"
Out of the corner of his eye, John saw Ronon's hand slip down to rest on his gun. Truth be told, he couldn't blame him. His own hand slid down as well, despite the cautioning look Teyla was sending them both.
He cleared his throat. "You know," he said pointedly, "I think that we should probably be going. I'm starting to think this isn't going to work out after all."
"I think you are mistaken," the priestess protested. "I can see it in your eyes that you are the ones we have been waiting for, so I really must have your answers."
John gestured for the others to start toward the 'gate without him. "Sorry, but we really have to be heading back."
The priestess's eyes were sad as she reached down to touch the bracelet she wore around her wrist. "No," she said, shaking her head. "I am the one who is sorry."
For just a second, a bright flash of light seemed to surround her.
John blinked in surprise, trying to see in the sudden darkness. The clearing they had been standing in was gone, and instead he was standing in the middle of what appeared to be a cave. "Teyla?" he called out. The sound echoed throughout the emptiness. "Ronon? Rodney?"
There was no answer.
Something hit him from behind, sending him crashing to the floor. He groaned, but before he could react he felt himself go flying through the air. A few hazy images flashed in his mind, most of them from Star Wars, but he didn't have time to even think about what was happening before he crashed into what he assumed was the wall of the cave.
He was barely aware of cold metal wrapping itself around his wrists until he started to fall forward, only to be held up by whatever it was imprisoning him. His head ached and his brain didn't want to work properly, but he was still aware enough to realize that he might very possibly break his arms if he didn't try to stand up.
"What the hell's going on?" he called out as he reluctantly put his weight on his legs. They protested, but the relief in his arms more than made up for it.
There wasn't an answer. John sighed and rested, letting his eyes grow accustomed to the darkness. Then he looked up, not surprised to see two metal rings holding his wrists tightly in place.
"I need your answer."
The priestess's voice seemed to come out of nowhere. John looked around the dimly lit room, trying to see her, but it looked as if nobody was there. "What's the question again?" he asked dryly.
Without warning, a sharp pain hit his back. It felt like someone had just stabbed him, slicing through the skin without a second's thought. Despite his best intentions, John couldn't help but scream.
The pain's intensity faded almost instantly, though it still ached. John gasped for breath, trying to force his mind back to the present. "What do you want me to say?" he asked, coughing. "That I'm willing to die for them? Because I am."
Another wave of pain racked his body. "That's not enough," the priestess's voice said softly, though he still couldn't see her. "Though I wish that it was."
Teyla saw a flash of bright light out of the corner of her eye, and she started to spin around. As she did, though, the world around her seemed to twist and blur. To her surprise, she found herself standing in the middle of a tent with three covered pallets laying in front of her.
A sense of foreboding filling her, Teyla stepped toward the nearest of the pallets. There was something familiar about its shape, as if it was something she had seen before. She knelt down beside it, tentatively reaching out to pull away the covering.
She gasped and drew away when she saw John lying there, obviously dead. "No!"
She immediately reached for the next pallet, pulling off its covering as well. Ronon lay there, still and pale. Without saying a word, she reached for the final one. Her hand was trembling slightly, and she already knew what she would find there. As she pulled the covering down, Rodney's face met hers.
Teyla yanked her hand back, her eyes drifting from body to body. "This does not make any sense," she whispered. "It cannot be real."
"I truly am sorry."
Teyla spun around at the sound of the priestess's voice. She felt numb, as if she was in a dream. "What did you do?"
The priestess shook her head. "I did nothing to them," she replied. "I merely posed a question. Everything else belongs to you."
"I do not understand." Teyla gestured at the three pallets. "They were alive and well mere moments ago!"
"All I can tell you to do is think about my question," the priestess said. Her voice was gentle as she met Teyla's gaze. "I will leave you to consider your answer."
She turned and disappeared from the doorway, letting the tent flap close behind her.
For just an instant, Ronon was almost blinded by a flash of light. Any thought of that was instantly wiped from his mind, however, as the sound of Darts suddenly filled the air. He grabbed his gun, pulling it out without a second thought. "Wraith!"
"Go!" Sheppard yelled. "Head back to the 'gate!"
McKay ran past, with Teyla following close behind him. Ronon took off after them, and he could hear Sheppard's footsteps behind him.
In front of him, a beam appeared out of nowhere. Teyla and McKay disappeared, captured by the passing Dart. Ronon felt his heart stop.
"Sheppard!" he shouted, turning around. "They've got. . ."
There was nobody there.
Ronon spun around, looking wildly in all directions. He was alone, with no one else there. "Sheppard!" he called again.
He jerked in surprise as he spun around one more time, only to see the priestess smiling sadly. "Think about my question," she said softly. "Your answer is all that matters."
Ronon didn't hear the Dart until it was too late.
"I am the one who is sorry."
As soon as he heard the priestess's words, Rodney felt a wave of worry wash over him. It was never a good thing when people said that. He started to spin around, to see what she was doing . . . only to be almost blinded by a bright flash of light.
Rodney unconsciously reached up to cover his eyes, hissing in pain. As the light faded, he hesitantly pulled them away. "What the hell was that?"
No one answered.
He blinked in surprise. Everyone was gone: Sheppard, Ronon, Teyla, even the priestess. "Hello?" Rodney called out nervously. "Anyone there?"
There wasn't a reply.
His hand slipped down to his gun, and he startled when he didn't feel it. He glanced down in surprise. It was gone.
"Oh, this is bad." Rodney looked up, his gaze drifting around the empty clearing. "This is really bad. We should have left the moment she started sounding like an episode of Jeopardy!"
Shaking his head, he took one more look around before turning and starting toward the 'gate. He didn't know what had just happened, but at the very least he wanted Lorne and a handful of marines around before he really tried to figure it out.
He was halfway back to the 'gate when he realized that it was much too quiet.
Rodney paused mid-step, the sudden thought crossing his mind. The entire trip to the village, he had complained about the loud, off-key singing of one of the local birds. Except now he didn't hear a sound. No birds, no insects, nothing.
The only sound was his breathing.
John stared at the priestess, trying to focus his blurry vision. "You asked me what I was willing to give up for my team," he said, not surprised to hear his voice slurring a bit. "I told you."
She reached out and gently touched his face. "I know."
Despite the pain it caused him, John jerked away. "Then why are we playing this game?" he asked.
"Dying for others is simple." She reached out and touched his face, a bittersweet smile on her face. "The difficult part is living for them."
She disappeared into thin air. A cold wind blew past, instantly extinguishing the torch that had been his only source of light.
The rings holding John's hands unlocked, or perhaps they disappeared as well in the darkness, and he immediately fell flat on his face. Grunting in pain as the breath was knocked from his lungs, he lay there a moment trying to will away the pain that was shooting through his entire body. Then, gritting his teeth, he pushed himself up into a sitting position. He took in a deep breath before grabbing the wall and using it to help pull himself up from the ground.
A wave of dizziness washed over him, and his eyes closed out of habit. He chuckled weakly at the futileness of that action, even as the vertigo slowly faded. There wasn't much difference between having his eyes open or closed when surrounded by pitch blackness.
Teyla's voice echoed through the cave. Keeping his hand firmly planted on the wall, John started moving in the direction her voice appeared to be coming from. He moved slowly, stumbling in the darkness, not even able to see what lay directly in front of him.
"Sheppard, where the hell are you?"
Every step caused a fresh wave of agony to shoot through his body. For just a second, the thought crossed his mind that maybe it would have been better if the priestess had just killed him if that's what she really wanted. Then he froze.
All the pieces of the puzzle unexpectedly seemed to snap together, everything that she had said falling into place. As comprehension dawned on him, John slowly started to smile.
A warm wind blew past him, rustling his hair. In the distance, a thin sliver of light appeared. It slowly widened, growing brighter until John couldn't bear to keep his eyes open any longer. A wave of light enveloped him, and without warning everything changed.
Teyla made her way down a familiar trail, one that she had traveled daily from the time she was a small child. She had almost forgotten it in the years that had passed since leaving Athos, but seeing it now brought back memories that she had not thought of in years.
Laughter rang out somewhere ahead of her, and Teyla pressed forward. She stopped at the edge of the clearing where the trail let out, staring in shock at the scene in front of her.
Charin sat under the shade of a tree, looking healthier than Teyla had seen her in a long time. Halling stood nearby, but he was much younger and holding a small toddler in his arms that she recognized as Jinto. A younger version of herself was sitting on a smooth boulder, laughing as Kanan tugged at her tied back hair. They had still been friends at that point in time, nothing more and nothing less.
She wasn't surprised when she looked to her right and saw the priestess standing there.
"Would my people be safe?" she asked. "If I said that I was willing to give them up, they would not be harmed?"
The priestess reached out to brush a loose strand of hair from Teyla's face. "They would not be harmed," she agreed. "They would merely move away from you, finding others to fill the role you once did."
Teyla's gaze drifted back to the scene in front of her, taking in the beauty of Athos one last time. Then she closed her eyes and let out a deep breath. "They have already replaced me in many ways," she said softly. "But my answer is yes. If it meant saving the lives of my friends, I would give up my ties to my people."
When she reopened them, the priestess was gone. A breeze softly tussled her hair, blowing the sound of laughter past her ears once more. Then a bright light, pure and white, surrounded her, and Athos faded away.
Ronon stared at the Wraith queen, unblinking. He didn't say a word.
She smiled, revealing human teeth in her mouth. Her appearance changed yet again, fading back into that of the priestess. This time, however, it was not a completely transformation. Her eyes still looked like those of a Wraith, and her hair remained red.
"I need your answer," she said calmly. Her voice sounded completely human. "Would you be willing to make that sacrifice for your friends?"
Ronon blinked once, but he didn't drop his gaze.
Shaking her head, the priestess snapped her fingers. The cocoon holding him in place abruptly disappeared, leaving him standing just a few feet from her. Ronon reached out and grabbed her neck, still not saying a word.
The priestess didn't react.
They stared at each other, neither of them moving. After almost a minute, Ronon's mouth quirked a tiny bit. He let his hand drop, bright red finger marks still visible on her neck from his grip.
Without saying a word, he nodded. The priestess smiled, this time genuinely, before reaching down to tap her bracelet. She disappeared, leaving him standing there.
As a bright light surrounded him, the Hive disappearing, Ronon closed his eyes.
With a frustrated shout, Rodney kicked the DHD. He hissed in pain as his foot throbbed from the impact, almost falling over as he hopped away from it.
The priestess smiled at him.
"It's not funny," he grumbled, glaring at her.
She kept smiling. "I never said that it was."
Shaking his head, Rodney turned away from her. He stared down at the DHD a moment, and he hesitantly reached out to touch it. As expected, nothing happened.
The priestess froze, blinking in surprise as she focused on attention on Rodney. "What did you say?"
Rodney met her gaze head-on, though he didn't even try to hide the apprehension on his face. He clasped his hands tightly together, trying to stop their nervous movement. "I said 'okay,'" he repeated.
The priestess took a step forward. "Are you certain this is what you want?"
Rodney blinked. "Of course not," he snapped. "To be perfectly honestly, I'm fairly sure this is the last thing that I want to do."
"Then why choose this answer?" she asked. Her voice sounded almost puzzled.
He shrugged, dropping his gaze. "Because I can't fix this," he said, gesturing toward the DHD. "I mean, there's nothing left for me to fix. What's the point of being a genius if there's nothing you can do?"
She tilted her head. "Then you are willing to. . ."
"Yes, yes." Rodney cut her off. "Could you possibly not spell it out for me? I'm less like to have a panic attack that way."
The priestess smiled. Her eyes shone, and she looked years younger than she actually was. "I was correct in trusting the four of you," she said softly. "I knew that I was."
Before Rodney could say a word, she disappeared. Somewhere in the distance, a bird started to sing. It was loud and off-key, and he thought that it was probably the most beautiful thing he had heard in his life.
He barely even noticed the light that was flooding past him.
Elizabeth didn't even try to hide her concern as Carson finished scanning Rodney. "Are you absolutely certain they won't have any ill effects from the Ancient device that this woman used on them?"
Carson nodded. "According to this," he said, holding up the scanner, "they're completely fine."
"I could have told you that." John pushing himself off the infirmary bed he had been sitting on, stretching as he stood up. "As soon as we all woke up, it was like everything had just been a dream."
Ronon coughed. "A bad dream."
"A nightmare," Rodney muttered.
Teyla shook her head, her smile bittersweet.
Elizabeth eyed them all. "And you're certain that we should still go ahead with our plans to trade with these people?" she asked warily. "After everything this priestess did to you?"
"We cannot truly blame her, Elizabeth," Teyla said, standing up herself. "It was her duty to protect her people, and the Ancestors left them that device for that very purpose."
Ronon nodded, his back popping as he stood up and stretched. "Besides, it was all in our heads."
"No harm, no foul," John chimed in.
Rodney muttered under his breath as lay back on top of his bed. "I thought you said there weren't any side effects, Carson."
Rolling his eyes, Carson walked over to Rodney's side. "You're not dying," he said dryly.
"Me?" Rodney stared up at him blankly. "Who's talking about me? They're the ones who've lost their minds."
John and Ronon shared a look. Elizabeth sighed and rubbed her temples as the two of them walked over to each side of Rodney's bed. Before he could say anything, they grabbed his arms and pulled him to his feet.
As they frog-marched him toward the door, Teyla turned to Carson and raised an eyebrow. "Are we free to leave?"
John and Ronon both froze, giving Rodney a chance to attempt to unsuccessfully pull away from them.
Carson shot a wary look at Elizabeth, who shrugged in reply. "Aye, you can leave. Just try to stay on light duty for the rest of the day."
Teyla glanced at the door, watching the other three members of her team disappear through it. "I will try to keep them in line."
She started toward the door, pausing halfway there to look back toward Elizabeth. "Would it be possible for me to visit New Athos sometime in the near future?" Teyla smiled sheepishly. "I am starting to think that I have been remiss in visiting my people since they relocated."
Elizabeth nodded. "Of course."
Smiling, Teyla turned to catch up with the others.