Chapter 51

Teyla stood in the doorway of the infirmary, clutching a pocket watch and chain tightly in her grasp. She could feel the feint vibrations of its constant ticking in her fingers as she clutched it, the beauty of the item she had admired from a distance numerous times now forever tainted. It reminded her that life went on...for some of them. But not for its owner. For her, time had run out.

In a quiet room off to one side, a way off in the corner, Elizabeth's body lay alone, awaiting her final journey home. Teyla had come to pay her respects, but she was finding it hard to take those final steps to reach the room where her friend lay waiting. This was not something she had ever expected to have to do. Elizabeth had been a peaceful leader, a woman who sought to find solutions other than violence whenever possible. That her life had been ended in an act of violence seemed unjust. Not that Sarayah's actions were governed by any sense of justice any of them would ever understand.

The atmosphere in the infirmary was quieter than ever, the staff and patients silently going about their day. Only the most urgent needs were conveyed in words. Otherwise a gentle squeeze of the hand or dip of the head said enough. No one, it seemed, wanted to disturb Elizabeth's repose.

If only they could...

She glanced down at the pocket watch again, running her thumb over the glass front. She knew it was a timepiece, and that it had once belonged to Elizabeth's father, but she didn't understand the number system it used. They were just a series of lines, but Elizabeth had once explained to her they were something called Roman numerals, and these Romans had used a language very similar to that of the Ancients many, many years ago. Elizabeth had shared many stories of different Earth cultures with her in past conversations, a topic she found fascinating. She would miss those times.

Taking a deep breath Teyla ventured a few steps forward into the room. The medical staff looked her way, met her tearful gaze, and offered up sympathetic smiles. But still no one said anything. It felt utterly surreal, and Teyla considered retreating. In her mind's eye Elizabeth was still the vibrant, intelligent and decisive leader she had always been. Seeing her as she was now would make the death more real. Until she saw her she could pretend Elizabeth was still sitting in her office, playing solitaire to calm her nerves while she waited for her off world teams to return from dangerous missions. She'd always hidden it behind her veneer of professionalism, but Elizabeth had worried about the people of Atlantis as if they were her family.

Almost overwhelmed, Teyla was about to run for the door when she heard someone softly call her name. 'Teyla...are you here to see Elizabeth?'

It was Jennifer. Teyla looked into the young doctor's red-rimmed eyes and saw a fellow tortured soul. Clearly this had hit her hard too. She tried her best to smile, but her mouth began to quiver and her eyes filled with tears. All she could do was nod in response.

Jennifer wrapped her arm around Teyla's shoulders. 'Come on. Let me take you to her.'

Teyla felt as if she wasn't in her own body as Jennifer conveyed her forward, unable to feel the floor beneath her feet, or the reassurance of Jennifer's touch. The door opened up before her, most likely Jennifer opened it but she was so focused on what lay ahead that she didn't actually notice the physical act take place.

And then she was in the room, looking at an open casket within which Elizabeth lay. Very slowly Teyla walked forward and rested her hand on the edge of the box, looking down at her lost friend. The bullet hole left by Sarayah's brutal act was clear at the centre of her forehead. The skin a little bruised around it. But other than that and the pallor of her skin, she looked as if she was sleeping peacefully. It seemed impossible for such a small injury to end a life...for such a tiny hole to extinguish the essence of a wonderful woman and leader.

'I know it's not much consolation right now, but she won't have suffered,' Jennifer whispered to her. 'Death would have been instantaneous.'

Teyla nodded, pressing her lips together as she rode out a wave of emotion. She knew that would be of some comfort in the future, but right now it only brought a sense of finality to it all. Elizabeth was gone, cut down in her prime and in an instant. As a member of an off world team, Teyla was used to putting herself at risk. Death was a possibility on almost every journey through the gate. Elizabeth had rarely ventured outside the city, that one of those few journeys should end this way made it all the more painful to bear.

A large hand now gripped her shoulder, registering through her bewildered grief. She gripped it, feeling Ronon's thick fingers beneath her palm. It felt good to have him there to help her get through this.

'I'll give you two some space,' she heard Jennifer say, the light changing as the door closed behind her.

For a few moments they remained there in silence, just looking at their fallen leader. Then Ronon said, 'She looks peaceful.'

'Yes,' Teyla sighed, a tear breaking free and running down her cheek. 'She does.'

'She'll be hard to replace.'

Teyla looked back at him, seeing the pain etched into his young features. Ronon had seen too much death; they all had. But this particular death...this was so meaningless that they could find no comfort in any aspect of it. Just as had been the case when she'd learn she'd lost her child. She offered him a sad smile in agreement, then turned back to look one more time upon Elizabeth's still features.

'John said sending him home was a mistake. I wish he had not been proved right.'

'I don't think even Sheppard could have imagined this would be the result,' Ronon replied. 'I should have gone with her on that mission...I would have if I hadn't been so pissed at her.'

'This is not your fault, Ronon,' Teyla said as firmly as she could. 'Do not think that way. Sarayah is an expert at making people feel responsible for her acts, but she is the only one truly to blame.'

A few strands of Elizabeth's hair lay across her closed eyes, and Teyla tentatively reached out and brushed them aside, her fingers making contact with her friend's cold skin. Her breath caught. There was no pretending to be done. Elizabeth was dead, and no amount of wishful thinking or talk of peacefulness could put that right. Unable to contain it any longer she turned to Ronon and buried her face in his chest, sobbing for all she was worth. His strong arms wrapped around her and brought her some comfort, but it wasn't enough to stop the tears...tears for her friend mingled with the heartache she still carried for her lost child. From time to time, when she tried to steady herself, she would hear Ronon sniffing. He rarely showed any emotion other than anger, and bouts of humour that amazed her after all he had endured, but this had moved even him to shed a tear or two.

And then she found herself thinking of John. He would know of Elizabeth's death by now. It had to be tearing him apart inside to be so far away from the city, unable to see Elizabeth and pay his respects to her. It was wrong that he wasn't here where they could help him through his grief...and he would be grieving, she knew that. Who would offer him solace when the impact of this loss truly hit home?

She shuddered at the thought of how lonely and isolated he would feel, at how his sadness would eat away at him with no outlet. They had watched the message Sarayah had left for him, and if she knew John he would have insisted on seeing it too. Right now, he would hold himself responsible for Elizabeth's death, and there was no way he could avenge it.

'I feel as though she is taking us apart, one piece at a time,' she breathed, wrapping her arms around Ronon and hiding her face against him once more.

'I won't let that happen,' he promised her, and though she knew he meant it, it felt like a hollow pledge.

They had already been advised they were most likely Sarayah's next targets and as such they wouldn't be allowed to venture through the Stargate until the threat posed by Sarayah had been neutralised. Atlantis has become a prison for them, the city's walls trapping them and keeping them isolated from the galaxy they called home. She felt cut off from everything that had made her who she was. And for people like herself and Ronon that was a death sentence in itself.

She lifted Elizabeth's hand now, sliding the watch beneath it, then bent forward and planted a gentle kiss on Elizabeth's cold forehead, stroking her hair once more as she choked back a sob. 'Why is it I feel she may be the lucky one?' she whispered.

Ronon said nothing. He didn't have to. She'd seen it in his eyes. He'd been thinking the very same thing.

oooOOOooo

Sarayah stoked the fire a little higher and drew a chair in close beside it, warming her cold fingers in front of the flames and then clasping them to her cheeks to thaw out her near frozen face.

She had just spent the past several hours digging a mass grave in the woodlands a few miles from her current location to hide the bodies of Jeffries and the several Khargonians she'd shot to dispose of any witnesses. She couldn't allow anyone who knew her current location to live. And she couldn't allow anyone travelling to Guedeseo to know she'd been here. She would reveal her whereabouts when she was ready.

Her body ached with fatigue, her blistered palms throbbing twice as badly as any other part of her, not that that stopped her holding them up to the flames. She hated being cold. Having grown up on Medulsa with its comparatively temperate winter climate it was most unnatural to her and something she never really got used to.

She pulled Jeffries' jacket in tighter around her and leaned back on her wooden chair, wishing she had something more comfortable to sit on, but enjoying the warmth all the same. Eventually, she grew so weary she knew she had to sleep. She went into the bedroom and opened up the linen closet, pulling out various blankets and pillows and carrying them through to the living area to set them out in front of the hearth and make herself comfortable. The other Sarayah might have been able to sleep in the bedroom when she'd come here, but she'd had John's body heat to keep her warm. A swell of jealousy washed over her. She'd come so close to conquering him on Karafus, but that other version of herself had actually possessed his body. It had been careless to allow him to force her out again. When she herself was melded with the Stargate, she would not allow that to happen. They would be as one...forever. He would be hers to savour at her will, both physically and mentally.

Her thoughts drifted, and she pondered now whether anyone had found Elizabeth's body along with the camera she'd deposited on Medulsa. It all depended if anyone was scheduled to travel off world, or if they were expecting traders to Medulsa itself. It could be days before Atlantis got her message...before John got her message. She might not be able to reach him in person, but she felt confident her actions would reach him no matter where he now resided. And now, in this cold room, with the intensity of the moment long over, she wondered if killing Elizabeth might have been a step too far. All she'd wanted from Elizabeth was a few words to lure John back to Pegasus and she'd been stubbornly unwilling to do it. It wasn't her fault. All the woman had needed to do was agree.

An involuntary shudder shook through her and she snuggled deeper into the jacket despite the repulsive odour of its previous owner. She hated the smell of men...most men. Not all, of course. But the only one she could bear was far away and out of reach. And so she lost herself in dreams of her counterpart's time in this very same building, dreams of lying alongside Sheppard in the bedroom, of wearing his shirt and breathing in his scent. The reminiscences became so real she felt as if she was actually there, the room momentarily swirling round her...changing...

She was sitting on the table watching Sheppard struggle as he hung and gently swung before her. 'I have given you chance after chance to change your ways, John, and I have tried to be patient, the Ancestors know how I've tried, but you constantly battle against me.'

She watched beads of sweat breaking out on Sheppard's forehead as he tried to take the whole weight of his body on his one good arm. He was wet through with rain and she could see his grip on the rope suspending him slipping millimetre by millimetre. He tried and failed to stifle a cry as he felt the first slight strain on his left arm.

'When will you learn you are nothing out here in the Pegasus Galaxy, John?' she asked him, her heart pounding with excitement as she watched him losing his battle with gravity. 'You are a man...nothing more. Women hold the power. Women are the creators and sustainers of life. Men, no matter how closely related to the Ancestors they claim to be, are...relatively inconsequential.'

'If I'm nothing...why is it you... can't think about...anyone else?'

That awakened her anger. She glared up at him, fighting with the urge to jump up and swing off him to make his ultimate suffering come sooner. His hand slipped again, and he let out a whimper. His efforts made the inevitable agony to come all the more delectable. She could be patient; it would be worth the wait...but maybe she could enjoy herself while she waited.

She stood up and punched him hard in the stomach, but he clung on. 'So, you think you're important to me?' she sneered, as he bit so hard on his lip that he almost drew blood. 'YOU MEAN NOTHING! You're an insect to be stamped upon, a vermin to be contained. Only controlling you matters, so you cannot do to other women what you have done to me. You can think what you want of me. Your opinions mean nothing. YOU are a liar and a schemer. YOU are the one who has to feel control. I am merely the one person willing to stand up to you, to reshape you...to break you!'

And then, the heat of the moment made her act beyond what she'd promised herself. Patience had never been her strong point. She grasped his right arm and tugged hard, pulling his right hand from the rope and leaving him hanging by the bindings around his wrists. His face screwed up. The pain had to be terrible, but still he tried to contain it and hide it from her.

But he couldn't for long. A crack resounded around that hollow room, swiftly followed by Sheppard's long awaited and hugely satisfying screams. She left him hanging there while she revelled in his torture. It calmed the monstrous anger within her, gave her a sense of warmth inside, one that quickly enveloped her and give her the inner peace she'd been seeking since he'd first destroyed her happy life on Medulsa.

The screams died down and Sheppard hung before her, quivering and dripping with a mixture of rain and sweat. It was too tempting to resist. She had to touch him.

She stood on the table now and stroked his cheek. 'Does it hurt terribly?' she whispered.

He flinched at the contact, and that movement set him off screaming again. It sent a thrill through her that made her passion for him swell. She wanted to tear his clothes from him and take him there and then, but no, she wouldn't. He would be too distracted by pain to feel the full impact of his defeat. He brought his cries under control, but tears streaked down his cheeks all the same. He was on the brink of breaking. Would she take him that one step further tonight?

'I think it must.' She snaked her hands across his body and around behind his waist, sliding them across the burned and clammy skin his shirt had ridden up to reveal. She delighted in his quivers, his perspiration, his whimpers. She'd dreamt of a moment like this. She gripped his torso and pulled him toward her. 'What would you do to make it stop?'

She brushed her lips against his sweat-streaked chest and neck as he cried out again through his clenched teeth. She knew what his answer would be, even if he didn't voice it. Nothing, he would do nothing to save himself from her. He was not motivated by what she would do to him. He considered himself dispensable. She pushed him away, setting him swinging so he had to bite back tears. She sat down on the table again and picked up some meat, eating it casually as the swinging gradually slowed and he stopped straight in front of her.

No, nothing she did to Sheppard would ever break him. The way to weaken Sheppard was through his friends...those he now considered family. She would go back for Teyla and Ronon tomorrow and once he'd watched them suffer at her hand, then he would be broken...

Sarayah woke still sitting before the fire, the first she'd realised that she'd actually fallen asleep. That had seemed so real, she could still taste the man on her tongue. But she wasn't comfortable with the pleasure she'd taken in hurting him. Deep down, she knew what her other self had done was wrong, but it was her nature, and she couldn't deny it. The monster within was far stronger than she was. She'd tried to fight it, but no matter how hard she battled it was always there, urging her on. Now she had no choice but to follow the course it had set if she wanted to be close to him again.

And, if she was honest with herself, this time the monster was right. If what she had done to Elizabeth didn't break him enough to let her get close, then killing Ronon, Teyla, and Dr McKay, would do the trick. Of course, getting to them might prove difficult. After what she'd done to their leader they would be particularly on their guard. They wouldn't easily fall into another trap. Having the Stargate device operational would give her easy access to them. She could gather them all in less than a blink of an eye and slaughter each one in front of him. Then he would finally be broken.

But her means to open the gate resided on a planet beyond her galaxy. She picked up a poker from the hearth and stoked the fire as she mulled over the dilemma. But no matter how much thought she put into it, there was no way around the problem. Elizabeth Weir had done exactly what she'd set out to do; she had stopped her from succeeding.

Furious to be outdone, she flung the poker across the room. How had she allowed that woman to end her hopes and dreams? What would she do if she never saw Sheppard again? She curled up on her seat, drawing her legs in and burying her face in her knees. No...there had to be a way around this...she couldn't have lost...she couldn't be parted from him forever. There had to be something she could do. She needed him...without him she couldn't breathe.

Pathetic.

The voice...she'd thought it was a part of her now. How could she be hearing it like this?

You're losing focus...there is always a way.

'No...no there isn't. The only way to Earth is through the 'gate on Atlantis. I will never get there,' she whispered to that hollow room.

You would give up so easily?

'I cannot win.'

The voice gave a scathing snort. You are Sarayah of Medulsa, one time leader of a proud matriarchal race. You can find it within you to win.

'How?'

Look within...

A vision broke into her mind...

She was on board a space ship. It wasn't obvious at first, but then the internal layout and the resonance took on a familiar feel. The Daedalus. She'd seen it in moments snatched from Sheppard's mind. Why was she seeing this?

'We were unable to get a lock on Teyla's subcutaneous transmitter.'

The gruff male voice startled her. She looked at the man sitting in the command chair and recognised him from some of her dreams. Caldwell. He and Sheppard had clashed a few times, but Sheppard respected him all the same. She could feel that. How could she feel that?

She looked down at herself, getting an uneasy, queasy feeling as she realised she was further off the floor than usual...but not really. Her feet were grounded, but those weren't her feet. The boots were Lantean military issue and far too big for her. Black shirt, black trousers, P-90 clutched in her hands...but not her hands. She would recognise those hands anywhere.

'Well, there's no surprise there. I'm sure Michael got rid of that,' McKay snorted at her side.

But she wasn't a "she"...she was a "he". She was Sheppard. 'Guess we'll have to do things the hard way.' His voice...it was his voice speaking when she opened her mouth. She was him...this was what it felt like to be John Sheppard.

'Good. Let's do it,' Ronon rumbled.

They were all there, that whelp Lorne and a number of men whose names she didn't know, all standing with Sheppard's team...except Teyla. She felt something inside - an ache...a yearning. A feeling that didn't belong to her. She missed Teyla...no "he" missed Teyla. He missed Teyla very deeply.

A brilliant white light engulfed her along with the others and she found herself deposited somewhere else entirely. They were surrounded by stone walls and iron pipe work...an industrial complex? Dust hung thick in the air, coating her tongue and making her thirsty. It felt like she was actually there, taking in the tattered sheets and aged mechanics surrounding her.

They were all standing back to back, scanning the immediate area, guns poised to deal with any resistance. She could feel the knot of tension is Sheppard's stomach. Thankfully, there was no one in sight.

'All right. Stay in touch,' she heard Sheppard's voice order.

'Yes, sir. Let's move out,' Lorne responded, heading out in another direction to search the facility.

She moved forward and took McKay and Ronon with her through the musty corridor, feeling Sheppard's enforced calm at complete odds with his true sense of desperation and determination. This woman meant a lot to him. Teyla, a woman who carried another's child. How could he feel so strongly for someone who cared so little for his feelings that she had given herself to someone else?

They came to a junction, her eyes...his eyes...falling on a closed door. She edged cautiously toward it and opened it, stepping inside. There was nothing of any consequence within, no sign of recent occupancy. She felt Sheppard's battle to stop his spirits from sinking. There were still other rooms to search.

A buzz and a thump made her start as what appeared to be a Wraith stunner blast hit the wall between her and McKay and fizzled away across the surface. She only briefly caught a glimpse of the fear in McKay's eyes before they both dived for cover, only Ronon making a stand against their assailant who had crept up behind them unseen. Intermittently the man leaned out to fire on them againand she could see to her relief that was all he was, a man, not a Wraith. She watched Ronon twirl his blaster and catch it so it was facing backwards then bend his arm out from around the corner and fire it without looking. The other man cried out, so she launched herself from her hiding position and rained bullets his way, some of them finding their target.Their attacker fell to the floor, seriously wounded.

In the distance she heard more P-90 fire. Lorne and his team had been ambushed too. They moved on to check on their fallen assailant. He was trying to drag himself away across the floor. She felt that he deserved it...no, Sheppard felt that way for whatever part this man had played in Teyla's absence.

'Sheppard, this is Daedalus. We've been engaged by a Wraith cruiser.'

It was Caldwell radioing in. 'How's it going?' she heard herself ask in Sheppard's voice.

'We're more than holding our own. Just thought you might want to pick up the pace.'

She crossed to the injured man still trying to crawl away. 'Who's your boss?'

He didn't reply. She felt Sheppard's anger flare and he kicked him over onto his back, squatting down to him and putting a pistol to his chest. He felt nothing as the man grimaced and stared directly into his eyes. If he wouldn't answer she sensed Sheppard would have no problem with killing him. The coldness of his emotions sent a thrill through her. They weren't so different after all.

'You're too early,' the man said.

'And what the hell does that mean?' she demanded.

'We're expecting him back. He's on his way with an important prisoner.'

Teyla, she realised. And Caldwell was firing on the approaching ship. 'This is Sheppard. Come in. Daedalus, do you read?' Panic, welled in his guts...she could feel its delicious chill grasp him entirely.

'Sheppard, this is Daedalus,' she heard Caldwell respond.

'Do not destroy the enemy ship. I repeat: do not destroy the enemy ship. Teyla may be on board.'
No response. 'Did you hear me? Teyla may be on board.'

Although she couldn't care less whether Teyla was blown to pieces, Sheppard's fear was contagious. She could feel her throat tightening.

'We heard you,' Caldwell told her.

Silence followed, while she...he waited for an update. Though he wanted to save Teyla, Sheppard knew that if the Daedalus was in real danger Caldwell would have to save his ship and crew. Even though they knew she was on board the ship, she might not be spared. She felt sick to the pit of his stomach.

Caldwell's voice broke through on his radio. 'Bad news, Sheppard. The cruiser made the jump to hyperspace. It's gone.'

She felt his spirits plummet, but more gunfire helped him to remember he had colleagues in trouble. She headed out, following the sounds of gunfire until they found Lorne and his team, Ronon taking down the guard who had them trapped and under fire.

The man fell to the ground and she watched Lorne and his team break cover to join them. 'Anysign of her, Sir?' Lorne asked her.

'She's not here.'

Lorne looked puzzled. 'Are you sure? That guard was protecting something.'

There was one closed door nearby. There had to be something important behind it for that guard to have put up so much of a fight. She and Rodney walked over to it as the rest of the men provided cover. Rodney looked at the door, which was bolted and locked. She lifted her P-90, signalling with a twitch of her head that Rodney should prepare himself. He turned away and covered his ears as she fired a single shot at the lock, blowing it out. Rodney turned around and slid back the bolt, then stepped aside as she kicked the door open.

They stepped forward, hardly believing the sight that met their eyes.

Carson Beckett sat on a bench within the cell. He looked back at them, his blue eyes moving from one to the other of them. 'Finally. It's about bloody time!' he gasped.He stood up, clearly trying to keep his relief in check. 'What took you so long?'

Sarayah startled back out of her vision. 'Why am I seeing this? That can't be true. I killed Carson Beckett.'

The one you just saw isn't the original. He is a copy. Created by experiments. But he shares the original's DNA, the voice told her. We saw it when she connected with him. Remember?

She thought she felt a vague familiarity with the idea. 'So he's here? In Pegasus?'

Yes. And we know where.

A sequence of Stargate symbols fired through her mind. Symbols that had lurked in her subconscious until now. The solution to her problem.

Retrieve him from the facility and Sheppard will be yours for the taking...and his friends will be completely at your mercy.

Sarayah felt her mouth twitch up into a smile. The voice was right, and it had never let her down. With her personal shield, she would be able to walk right in there and take the copy without meeting any resistance. Sheppard would be hers very soon.

And she would make sure Teyla could never be his.


A/N: Uh oh! Enough said! Thanks for the reviews from those of you sticking with the story. It's good to know people are still coming along for the ride! :)