vain_glorious (vain_glorious) wrote,
vain_glorious
vain_glorious

SGA_fic: The Light of Compassion R, Gen, see Warnings Part 5

Title: The Light of Compassion
Author:vain_glorious 
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Word Count: ~32,000 in total. In multiple posts due to length.
Rating: R for disturbing imagery and concepts. Gen. See Warnings.
Spoilers: Explicit for 5x01, more general for 5X08 and 5X09
Summary: A year after the events of 5X01 "Search and Rescue", tragedy strikes Atlantis.
Warnings: Character Death(s). Dark.
Disclaimer:  Not mine.
Author's notes: Please heed warnings. In case you're coming out of order, here's part 1





A lot of stuff happened in the next few days.

Ronon got a lot better. They moved him from Isolation to the main infirmary, behind one of those gauzy curtain things that regulated airflow or something. He was awake more, now, and totally lucid. He would answer questions the medical staff asked him about his health.

He wouldn’t answer questions about anything else. Not for Keller, not for Zelenka, not for Lorne, not for Sheppard, and not for Woolsey.

It made Sheppard really fucking angry.

“They’re dead,” Ronon said, in that flat, resolute way of his. “I just want to forget it.”

“I want to know,” Sheppard countered, when they were alone behind the curtain.

“No, you don’t,” Ronon said. He’d make eye contact with Sheppard now, but his eyes were moist and shiny and made the burn start up in Sheppard’s own face.

“Yeah,” Sheppard insisted. “I really do.”

Ronon said nothing.

“I should have been there,” Sheppard tried. “I deserve to know what happened."

“You would have gotten in trouble,” Ronon said, “with your military.”

“Yeah,” Sheppard said. “So?”

“It was our job,” Ronon said. “Teyla…” And then he got choked up and stopped talking.

The medical and science teams studying the Wraith corpses found Rodney’s body that week, too.

Zelenka found it, to be specific. He told no one until after he’d had it transferred to an empty lab in an unused portion of the city, improvised an incinerator, and cremated it.

He presented them with a metal jar at the next staff meeting, put it on the tabletop and immediately started crying.

“You did what?” asked Woolsey, looking helplessly around the table. If he’d had the energy, Sheppard would have felt bad for the guy. It would suck to have to be the emotionally stable, responsible leader when mission crew had taken to spontaneously bursting into tears.

“I burned it,” Zelenka said, standing stiffly in front of his seat. The seat for Chief Scientist. Rodney’s seat.

“Why?” asked Keller and Woolsey, basically simultaneously. Sheppard wasn’t even capable of speech at the moment, his mouth half open.

“So no one else would see him like that,” Zelenka said. He was trying to get it together, but his lips kept trembling and he had to wipe at his eyes. “He would not want it. Dr. Rodney McKay should be remembered as he was, not as that thing.”

“Oh,” said Keller, softly. And goddammit, she was crying now, too.

“Well,” said Woolsey, looking for all the world like he was about to lose it, too.

“I will accept any punishment,” Zelenka went on, sniffling. “But I will not apologize.”

He was looking at Sheppard, though, for approval or condemnation.

Sheppard was going to sob if he open his mouth too widely, but he managed to keep his teeth mostly together. “You did the right thing, Radek,” he said, tightly. “Thank you.”

Zelenka nodded and sank into his chair, eyes desperately searching for an anchor point in the room to stare at while he collected himself.

Sheppard looked at the round metal container sitting on the table. It was swimming in his liquid vision. It was just a jar. A jar full of ashes.

“Did someone – did someone notify his next of kin?” Sheppard asked, surprised that he was able to be that rational.

“Yes,” Woolsey said. He looked overjoyed to be asked a question he could answer. “That’s been taken care of.”

“Okay.” Sheppard pressed his lips together tightly, heaved a breath out. “Good.”

~

Zelenka had done the right thing. It didn’t stop Sheppard from going to the makeshift morgue set up for the scientists to go over the…stuff…recovered from Michael’s compound. The Wraith corpses were laid out in orderly rows, coded with colorful toe tags that meant something or other.

They looked like Wraith.

Sheppard walked up and down, trying to find one that looked like a person, like a mutated Pegasus native. He couldn’t. He felt the usual emotions, what he always felt when he saw dead Wraith. Disgust. Relief. Really fucking happy they were dead.

Zelenka said they’d identified Rodney through DNA. That he couldn’t tell by looking. That was why he’d freaked and burned him before anyone knew. And Sheppard got it.  

He asked Ronon if he’d seen Rodney afterwards.

“After what?” Ronon asked, like it wasn’t obvious.

“After Michael changed him,” Sheppard said.

“Yeah,” Ronon said, flatly. He was making steady eye contact with Sheppard, face still and smooth.

It was Sheppard who looked away.

“What –”

“He was Wraith,” Ronon interrupted. He didn’t raise his voice, didn’t sound angry or upset. “And he was hungry.”

Sheppard inhaled sharply through his nose, stared at the gauzy curtains enclosing Ronon’s gurney.

“I told you,” Ronon said, emphatically. “You don’t want to know. Stop asking.”

But Sheppard couldn’t. And Ronon refused to say anything else, falling back on purposefully ignoring him in a way that was utterly infuriating and got them both so agitated that Sheppard got kicked out.

A few hours later, Lorne found Sheppard playing with Torrin in the crèche in a different area of the infirmary, still glaring at the curtain he’d been expelled from.

“Sir,” Lorne said. His face was uncertain and Sheppard was frightened for a split second that he would somehow have something new and horrible to say.

“What is it?” Sheppard asked. He might have kind of squeezed Torrin a little too tightly, because the kid cried out and squirmed in his grasp.

Lorne grimaced. “I was wondering if you wanted to take care of…” he paused, awkwardly. “The posthumous stuff for Dr. McKay and Teyla.” He went on quickly. “I can assign people if…”

“No,” Sheppard said, quickly. “No, I’ll do it.”

Except that there wasn’t anything to do for Teyla. He realized this later, sitting in her quarters and trying not to cry some more. Sheppard could box up her stuff, but there wasn’t anyone to have it sent to. He couldn’t follow IOA protocols, because they didn’t accommodate for Teyla. They probably considered her a Pegasus informant or something. He imagined the disinterest – the indifference  with which the bureaucrats would record her death, found himself really pissed off.

He started boxing up her stuff, anyway. It was for Torrin, Sheppard decided. When he was grown, he’d have it. She didn’t have very many possessions. Sheppard tried not to look at it too hard. Half of it might have been Kanaan’s. There wasn’t anything particularly fragile, which was good, because Sheppard had a little trouble being careful and might have packed a couple of boxes with pointless violence.

It didn’t take long, at all. Would have taken less time if he’d been able to use both arms. Sheppard found himself sitting on the floor, the quarters totally stripped and four large storage containers stuffed full beside him.

He checked on his laptop the files Lorne had transferred to him. Teyla’s instructions in the event of her death were brief and simple. Her possessions were to be given to her people, who would also take care performing the proper rituals in the event her body was recovered.

It made Sheppard cry again.

Teyla hadn’t left any kind of message. No letter. No video. Nothing for them to read or watch. It wasn’t something she’d have done for her people. He knew that, knew it probably hadn’t ever occurred to her. He still looked, though, skimming through the files on her server just in case. It was all mission report drafts  or interdepartmental messages. He probably shouldn’t read those. They were private and wouldn’t tell him what he really wanted to hear.

~

The IOA procedures applied to Rodney. There were forms to be filled out, to be filed in triplicate. In death, the bureaucracy intensified. Sheppard didn’t mind. It gave him something to do, something to focus on that required a degree of thought and care. The IOA had to account for the life of every mission member and they did it in great detail.

Halfway through, Sheppard hit a question he couldn’t answer.

Cause of death. The IOA provided two blank lines on the document to fill in a response. The cursor landed there, blinking in place while Sheppard stared at it. After a second, he typed in “combat.” Except that wasn’t adequate or accurate, and he realized that no one had told him how McKay had died.

Sheppard erased what he had written, flagged that section to remember to return to it, and went on. The rest wasn’t easy, but he could mostly answer. The conclusion where he was supposed to write out exactly what circumstances had surrounded the loss of this mission member – the loss of Rodney – was the worst.

He was a little creative. Nothing in what Sheppard wrote revealed that Rodney had departed the city without authorization, that he had stolen a Puddlejumper. He was fairly sure they’d get that part from Woolsey. Sheppard wasn’t going to tell them.

Sheppard wrote that Rodney died during the Daedalus’s attack on Michael’s compound. He didn’t think it was true. Rodney had died when Michael had transformed him into a monster.

It was time for a break after that. Thinking about it so intently sucked. Made him more angry than sad, though. That was okay. Sheppard preferred rage to sobbing.

He went to the infirmary, found the guy he knew from experience was the crewmember tasked with submitting death certificates.

It was a straightforward question. The medical tech looked really scared when Sheppard approached. His face might have had an unpleasant expression on it.

“What was the cause of death listed on Dr. McKay’s death certificate?” he asked.

The guy looked relieved that that was all he wanted, then immediately switched over to an expression that seemed to read that Sheppard wasn’t going to like the answer.

“We don’t know,” the guy said. “There wasn’t any autopsy.”

“Oh,” Sheppard said, dumbly.

“Yeah,” the tech said. “Sorry.”

“What did you put?” Sheppard asked.

“Killed in action,” the tech said. “KIA.”

“Okay,” Sheppard said, and excused himself.

He went back to his office, opened the file and typed in those three letters in the appropriate line. Then, he erased them and typed in the full words. It still didn’t seem right. Accurate, maybe, but so inadequate.

It wasn’t until that night that Sheppard had another thought. He was having dreams about storming Michael’s compound. They weren’t nightmares, really. Nothing worse than what had actually happened. In the dreams, there wasn’t the thick smoke in his lungs or the scalding air against his skin. The same thing happened. Wraith attacked. Sheppard, Lorne and the Marines fired back. Teyla burned.

This night, Sheppard woke up. He lay against the sheets, head flat against the pillow.

They’d fired upon Wraith in the building where Rodney’s transmitter was broadcasting. Sheppard had killed a bunch before reaching the top floor. Lorne and the Marines had killed a bunch more.

Rodney had been in the building. He’d looked like a Wraith. There would have been no way to tell him apart and there was every chance that Sheppard had been the one that had killed him.

~

Everything was harder after that.

Sheppard didn’t tell anyone what he’d realized. He wasn’t an idiot. They’d think he was a lunatic.

He tried unsuccessfully to put it out of his mind.

There was more to do.

Packing up Rodney’s stuff was kind of complicated. It was to be sent to his next of kin. To Jeannie. But Sheppard had to take out all items that were classified, all texts that made reference to classified material.

He discovered fairly quickly that Rodney had liked to stick bits and pieces from whatever gadget he was working on into his pockets. Sheppard was fairly sure he remembered an incident where Rodney’s laundry had completely fried a dryer because of something he’d left in the pocket of his workpants. The memory actually made Sheppard laugh, then freeze in place at the sound of his own voice in the empty room.

There were dozens of half-assembled Ancient devices lying around his quarters, notes in the margins of the professional journals strewn all over the floor and under the bed. Rodney’s quarters were one big Top Secret mess.

Sheppard did his best to collect the more obvious, larger pieces of Ancient tech. He put them in a little box to give to Zelenka. The smaller bits, he gave up on. He wasn’t going to rifle through Rodney’s hamper. Unbidden, he was having thoughts of widowed spouses, pressing their faces into the clothes of their departed family, trying to see or feel or smell them just one more time. Sheppard sure as fuck wasn’t going to do that.

He packed everything else up quickly. Made an even bigger mess out of it, probably. It wouldn’t matter if Jeannie found some Pegasus technology in it. She had clearance. Hell, she’d probably figure out how to turn it into something awesome. Sheppard was okay with that.

Rodney had a lot of stuff. More than Teyla, anyway.  Sheppard left a message with the people responsible for moving stuff on to the Daedalus to make sure the half dozen boxes were picked up. He realized that wouldn’t be for another 6 weeks, now. The Daedalus had departed back for the Milky Way immediately after returning to Atlantis. Caldwell probably had to answer some kind of review board for the servicemen he’d lost.

Sheppard picked up the little box of half-finished projects and went to find Zelenka.

Zelenka was in McKay’s lab.

Except that it was his lab, now. Zelenka’s lab. Of course. Sheppard paused in the doorway, had to run that through his mind a couple of times before he said or did anything dumb and embarrassing.

“May I help you?” Zelenka called, probably because Sheppard was just standing there, not moving or talking.

Sheppard shook himself free from the stupid, swirling thoughts. He walked up to the station where Zelenka was working. Casting a glance at the screens in use, it looked like a bunch of equations. Maybe having to do with Michael’s stuff.

Zelenka was making that face. The sympathetic one everyone made. Like Sheppard needed to be handled with kid gloves now.

“These were in McKay’s quarters,” Sheppard said, gruffly. He held out the box.

“Oh.” Zelenka took it, peered inside. He gave a small laugh. “He would have conniption if anyone else took work home,” he said softly. Evidently, Zelenka was in a place where he could smile now. Sheppard wasn’t there, yet. Swiftly, the humor moved off Zelenka’s face. “Thank you,” he said. “Is there anything else?”

“No,” Sheppard said.

Zelenka started to turn back to his console, box in hand
Sheppard’s mouth got ahead of his thoughts, then.

“What did Rodney’s body look like?” It came out totally involuntarily, startling Sheppard almost as much as it startled Zelenka. He was glad they were alone.

Zelenka turned back. He set down the box carefully on the edge of his console.

“He looked like Wraith,” Zelenka said, without hesitation. His voice was steady, his face serious.

“Yeah,” Sheppard said. “I mean…Was he injured? Bullet wounds? Blunt force trauma?”

Now, Zelenka did pause. He crossed his arms, leaned against the station. “You think that you killed him?”

Of course Zelenka figured it out. He was genius, after all.

“Was he shot?” Sheppard demanded.

“I did not look,” Zelenka said. He paused. “So, no. Not that I saw.”

And that did absolutely nothing to help Sheppard.

“If you did,” Zelenka continued, “you should not be angry at yourself.”

“Yeah?” It came out more derogatory than incredulous.

“Yes.” And Zelenka wasn’t going to help him by getting upset, too. “That was not Rodney McKay.”

“Yeah, it was.” Sheppard could hear how ragged his own voice sounded. God, he was so sick of crying.

“No,” Zelenka said, sharply. “It was not. He would not want to be that thing.”

“I emptied my clip –”

“Good.”  For a second, Sheppard could see Zelenka’s eyes growing damp, ‘til it was forcefully blinked away.

“Keller could have reversed it,” Sheppard said. No one had voiced that fact yet. Probably because it hurt too much, because it really, really did.

“No,” Zelenka said, flatly. “No. She says no.”

“Really?” Not that they would lie to him. Except they totally would. The military did it all the time. He felt no pain. She didn’t know what was happening. It was over quickly. There was nothing to be done.

“According to the data,” said Zelenka. “She cried, too.”

There was only silence for a few minutes. Zelenka didn’t try to touch Sheppard. He also didn’t return to his work. Neither did he look too intently at him. He just stood there, watching him, gently, while Sheppard tried to get it together.

“Okay,” Sheppard said, thickly, when he was fairly sure he wasn’t going to fall apart again. He dipped his head at Zelenka half in gratitude, half in farewell.

“I am writing eulogy,” Zelenka said, his body turning back to his work. He looked sideways at Sheppard. “Is very…cathartic.”

~

Sheppard tried to watch the video from Michael’s compound. He tracked down the anthropologists assigned to decode the archive stuff. Rosen was among them, so he didn’t even really have to order them to hand it over. Or maybe no one had told them not to.

Rosen warned him it was a mess. They’d isolated the stuff from the ten days, but half the video sources of that building had been lost or damaged in the fire. So they had incomplete frames, no audio, audio with no picture, and plain static all from one camera.

It didn’t turn out to matter.

Sheppard took the discs back to his quarters, shoved one at random into his laptop.

The screen filled with a grainy, unfocused black and white image of Ronon and Teyla. They were standing together, Teyla grabbing at Ronon’s shoulders. Her face was animated and her mouth was moving, but the film had no sound.

That was when Sheppard discovered he couldn’t watch the footage without totally and completely losing his shit.

He just couldn’t. And he also couldn’t see the images on the screen through his tears. So he quit.

It was probably fairly obvious when he returned the discs to Rosen. He knew his eyes were red and swollen. His voice hadn’t gotten back to normal since this had all started.

But Rosen took the discs back without comment about how he looked. Mostly.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said.

“Me, too,” Sheppard said.

~

There was a meeting with Woolsey on Keller and Zelenka’s findings. Sheppard wasn’t particularly looking forward to it. After losing it in front of Zelenka once already, he didn’t like the odds of it happening again around the conference table.

He went anyway, of course. Resigned himself to continuing to look like a chickenshit. Sheppard wanted to know. Needed to know.

Keller was smiling. That was the first weird thing. Her and Zelenka. Grinning at each other and whispering when Sheppard arrived. And he couldn’t think of a single thing there was to smile about. In fact, it made him kind of mad.

There was a laptop sitting in the center of the conference table, in sleep mode so that the screen was black and uninformative.

“Well,” Woolsey said, as Sheppard took a seat. “Shall we begin?”

Sheppard shrugged. He felt on edge. The smiles from Zelenka and Keller were really freaking him out.

“I’ll start,” Keller said. Her face was growing serious. “Michael might have been a raging lunatic,” she said. “But he was actually a pretty meticulous scientist. He kept a lot of records.”

“So what?” Sheppard said, knowing he sounded mean and impatient but not really caring. He didn’t want to hear a single word of even marginal praise towards that monster.

Keller flicked her eyes at him, understanding the outburst. “So I got a pretty clear picture of the situation from his own data collection,” she said.

“What did you learn?” asked Woolsey.

Keller took a deep breath. “Firstly,” she said. “The genetic transformation was permanent.” She paused. “Even if anyone had survived the Daedalus’ attack, there is nothing we could have done to bring them back. To make them human again.”

Sheppard shut his eyes for a few moments. There was only silence and then Keller continued.

“It was similar to how he killed the Athosians. A failsafe to make sure nothing would save them.”

Sheppard opened his eyes. Woolsey was scowling deeply. Keller was pressing buttons on the laptop, meaningless DNA models spinning on the screen, molecules reforming.

“Secondly,” Keller said. “The transformation was very, very strange. At first I thought Michael made a mistake.”

“We’ve run into a whole bunch of his mistakes,” Sheppard said.

“Yeah,” Keller said. “I know. But this is different.”

“How so?” asked Woolsey.

“He mutated these people into Wraith,” Keller said. “But he did it wrong.”

“Not all of them,” Zelenka interrupted. He looked at her with big eyes. “Is important.”

“Right,” Keller nodded. “About forty percent of the recovered bodies are normal Wraith.”

Normal?” spat Sheppard.

“Normal as in if I found them on a pathology table, I would have to do a lot of extra tests to notice anything different,” Keller said.

She was pointing at more pictures on her laptop screen. “As I understand it, this is the normal Wraith genome.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” Woolsey said, awkwardly.

“She’s getting there,” said Zelenka.

“This is the genome for the remaining sixty percent.” Keller brought up a new diagram.

“Okay…” Woolsey said, eyes sliding back and forth with clear impatience.

Sheppard could see a difference. “What’s it mean?” he asked.

“I wouldn’t know this without Michael’s data,” she said. “But the difference has to do with their digestive system. With feeding.”

“What?” asked Woolsey.

“I’ve been working on this topic,” Keller continued. “As you know.”

Sheppard really wanted her to get to the point.

“I was trying to make it work like a human body,” she said. “He wasn’t.”

“What was he doing?” Sheppard asked, not hiding his irritation.

“These Wraith – sixty percent – do not feed on humans,” Keller said, excitedly. “They can’t.”

“Why would Michael do that?” asked Woolsey.

“He didn’t,” Zelenka answered. “At least I do not think so.”

“Let me finish,” said Keller. “These Wraith feed on other Wraith.”

What?” Sheppard blinked at her.

“And it is not only them,” Zelenka jumped in. “The missing.”

“The missing abductees,” Woolsey said.

“Yes,” said Keller. “Probably around five hundred, if we’re talking only the men. Which we probably are.”

“Wait,” Sheppard said. “You’re telling me there are five hundred Wraith out there – Wraith Michael made – looking to feed on Wraith.”

“Yes,” said Zelenka and Keller, practically simultaneously.

“That’s…good,” Woolsey said, slowly. “Isn’t it?”

“It sounds good,” Sheppard said.

“It’s amazing,” Zelenka said. “There is more.”

The excitement on Keller’s face faltered a little. “This part’s not as…” she paused. “Easy.” She frowned.

“The women and children,” Zelenka said it for her. “We think we know what happened to them.”

“He didn’t transform them into Wraith?” Woolsey asked.

“No,” said Keller. “He didn’t have any use for the women – he wanted to make Teyla his queen.” She went on quickly, apparently not noticing that Sheppard had taken that sentence like a gut punch. “And I guess he didn’t need any juvenile Wraith.”

“What did he do to them?” asked Woolsey. He was frowning, dreading the answer.

Zelenka provided it. “Bait.”

“For his new cannibal Wraith?” Sheppard asked.

“Maybe,” Keller said. “And if we knew where he sent them, we might be able to…”

“We don’t,” said Zelenka. “That is not in the database.”

“No,” Keller confirmed. “It’s not.”

There was a pause. Maybe if Sheppard hadn’t totally exhausted his ability to feel grief and sadness, he would have spared a thought to the five hundred people that were almost certainly dry husks now.

“Wraith don’t usually eat children, do they?” asked Woolsey, trying to sound hopeful.

“Hungry Wraith do,” Sheppard said, scowling. “And they’re all hungry now.”

“Oh,” said Woolsey. He sighed. “Of course.”

Silence reigned for a few seconds.

Then Zelenka spoke. He was looking at Keller. “May I say?”

Keller nodded. “Radek has a theory,” she said, straightening in her seat. “One I think I agree with.”

“Go ahead,” said Woolsey.

“I do not think it was Michael who made the ‘cannibal Wraith,’ as you say,” Zelenka said, looking at Sheppard. “I think it was Rodney.”

Of all the things Zelenka could have said, that was not one Sheppard would have predicted. He just stared at him, while Woolsey went: “What?”

“We have a clear picture of the time,” Zelenka rushed on. “Rodney, Ronon, and Teyla were captured one day after they left Atlantis.”

Something in Sheppard’s gut clenched. He didn’t know if he was going to be able to listen to Zelenka’s complicated theory if the man was going to drop random facts like that without warning.

“The ‘normal’ Wraith were made that day and for two days after,” Zelenka went on. “On third day and after ‘cannibal Wraith’ are made.”

“It makes no sense for Michael to do that,” Keller jumped in. “We think he was trying to make himself a hive.”

“And Rodney decided to make hive eat itself,” Zelenka crowed.

“Rodney’s not a biologist,” Sheppard said.

At the same time, Woolsey waved a hand in confusion. “Why on earth would Michael allow him access to –”

“He knew how smart Rodney is,” Keller said. She paused. “Was.” She looked at Sheppard. “You wouldn’t need to be a biologist to do this. With the reference material right there, it’d be more like code-breaking.”

“And writing code,” Zelenka said. “I don’t know if Michael thought he would help, but I am certain it was Rodney that did this.”

“Okay.” Sheppard said. He understood their smiles. It was almost thrilling, except that Rodney was still dead. It made him proud though, made him tear up again. Dammit.

“There is more,” Zelenka said.

“The bait,” Keller said.

“If Michael didn’t mean to make his Wraith cannibals,” Woolsey said, slowly, confused. “Why would he want to attract a different hive?”

“We think Michael had done something to the women and children, too,” Zelenka said. “Probably something to make any Wraith that fed on them sick or dead.”

“We’ve tried that before,” said Sheppard.

“Michael had a much better understanding of Wraith physiology and genetics than we ever did,” Keller said. “And Rodney had access to his data.”

“I believe that Rodney changed whatever intent Michael had in the bait,” Zelenka started.

“No,” Sheppard interrupted. “No. Rodney would never help send innocent people to get slaughtered by the Wraith. Especially not kids. Jesus.”

There was silence for a moment, then Keller spoke. “No,” she said. “He wouldn’t. But he knew he couldn’t stop Michael and he couldn’t save them, either.” She paused. “He made sending those kids to get fed on the worst decision Michael ever made.” Her face cracked into an incredible grin.

“I’m not following,” Woolsey said, looking at Sheppard for help.

“Right there with you,” Sheppard said. He moved his gaze between Keller and Zelenka.

 

“We think,” Zelenka said, and he was beaming, too. “That any Wraith who fed on the women and children abducted by Michael will never feed on another human.”

“The cannibal thing?” Sheppard asked.

Keller nodded.  

“Wait,” began Woolsey.

“There’s more,” said Keller. “It’s contagious.”

“They can try to feed on humans,” Zelenka said. “It will not work.”

“And any human they try to feed on will become…infected,” Keller said. “For lack of a better word. It won’t harm people. They’ll have no idea it’s even happened. And if a Wraith ever tries to feed on them again…”

“It’s like an STD,” Sheppard said, suddenly understanding.

“That’s one way to look at it,” agreed Keller.

“I’m not sure I fully understand,” said Woolsey. He looked embarrassed. “This sounds like,” he coughed. “The Hoffan idea.”

“It is,” Keller said, “Except better.” She continued. “ If it works: there are around five hundred Wraith out there who can’t feed on humans,” Keller said. “And if they try, their victims will spread the contagion the next time another hive tries to cull them.”

“Okay,” Woolsey said, slowly.

“And there are also around five hundred people out there already infected,” Zelenka said. “Hopefully in multiple places to lure many different hives. They will spread the mutation to new Wraith.”

“We’re talking multiple hives becoming infected,” Keller said. “Unable to feed on humans. But able to feed on other Wraith. They’ll have to. Or they’ll starve. And they can’t just destroy an infected food supply. It’ll be widespread and they’ll have to fight each other.”

“Oh,” said Woolsey, and he was starting to smile.

“In other words,” Sheppard began. And his eyes were wet again, but it wasn’t with grief. “Rodney McKay just ended the Wraith threat in Pegasus.”

~

No one had told Ronon yet.

That was Sheppard’s first stop when the meeting concluded, racing out the doors of the conference room to the nearest transporter.

Ronon was in what had become his usual spot in the infirmary. He was half propped up on a gurney, sheet positioned as it always was over his lower half. A nurse was sitting at his side, Torrin on her lap. There were a bunch of improvised baby toys lying on a borrowed medical tray, but for the moment the kid seemed to be trying play with Ronon’s IV-line. Initially, Sheppard knew the kid hadn’t recognized him without the dreads that had burned and been cut off. Sheppard wasn’t sure who that was more traumatic for, but it seemed to be okay now. Torrin wasn’t screaming, at least.

“Excuse us,” Sheppard said, when he walked up to them.

The nurse looked a little confused, but she rose from her seat on the stool.

“I’ll take him,” Sheppard said, holding out his good arm towards the baby.

“Careful,” she said, which was silly since Sheppard had never dropped him, even when Torrin dug his tiny fingers into all of Sheppard’s bandages.

“Hey,” Sheppard said to Ronon, replacing the nurse on the stool.

Ronon glanced at him, a dark look. The expression on his face said he suspected Sheppard was going to try to interrogate him some more.

“What?” he said.

“I’m not going to ask you anything,” Sheppard promised. He shifted Torrin on his knee, trying to balance the impulse to just say it with the need to make sure Ronon knew it was true.  “Whatever you know, I know something better.”

Ronon’s eyebrows slanted down, unsure and untrusting.

“I just got out of a meeting with Keller and Zelenka,” Sheppard said. “They’ve been looking at Michael’s database.”

The expression on Ronon’s face went from dark to a thundercloud. He turned his face away from Sheppard.

“Listen!” Sheppard tucked Torrin against his chest with an elbow, reached out and grabbed Ronon’s shoulder tightly. “I don’t care what you saw him do. I don’t want to know. I want you to know what Rodney did.”

Ronon turned his head back to face Sheppard. He looked confused, looked curious. “What?”

“Rodney…” Sheppard searched for the right words. “Contaminated Michael’s experiment. The Pegasus natives he was turning into Wraith? Rodney made it so they couldn’t feed on humans, Ronon. They could only feed on Wraith.”

The look on Ronon’s face transitioned slowly as Sheppard told him the rest of it, how Rodney’s final act of genius would eventually cause the Wraith to turn completely on each other and destroy themselves, and starve to death in the process.

“Yeah?” Ronon said, when he was done. Sheppard could see his eyes glinting again, but it wasn’t in the bad way.

“Yeah,” Sheppard said.

“Cool,” Ronon said, softly. He leaned his head back against the gurney and tears slid sideways down his temples, again.

~

Rodney and Teyla’s memorial service was joyous.

Sheppard didn’t expect that. He’d expected it to be the most awful experience in his entire life.

It wasn’t.

They had a joint service because having two was impossible. Facing one was heartbreak enough. Doing it twice would hurt that much more.

Sheppard’s eulogy was meandering and long. Zelenka was right. Writing it had been cathartic. Sheppard had wept so much writing it, he was completely dry-eyed reading it. Maybe he went on too long, maybe no one else in the room besides Ronon had been there for most of the stories he told. But people laughed and sniffled in all the right places, looked at him with big eyes and open faces while he talked.

They had it in the cafeteria to accommodate as many people as possible. Keller also pointed out that room was possibly Rodney’s most favorite place in the entire city, secondary only because it didn’t have a ZPM in it.  That made Sheppard laugh, and then cry. As did most of the speeches delivered there.

He was a little surprised by how many people wanted to speak. Sheppard didn’t even know all of them, especially all the little lab rats from various science sub-departments. A lot of them had thick foreign accents, which were hard to understand to begin with, and were totally incomprehensible once they started sobbing.

But it was okay.

It was what a memorial service was supposed to be, Sheppard guessed. Good, fulfilling memories of the living, not hysterical reflections on their deaths.

There was only one person in the room who seemed to be doing the latter. That person was Ronon.  He was by the door on a gurney, accompanied by his IV-drip and a nurse who was keeping a distracted eye on the various monitors he was still hooked up. He was holding Torrin, too. The kid didn’t mind or maybe notice that Ronon was curled around him, weeping during the entire service.

Ronon didn’t give a speech. Sheppard told him the customs, said he didn’t have to. And he chose not to.

Teyla’s funeral was not joyous.

It was hard and it was horrible.

Sheppard and Ronon tried to do the ritual, the thing she had done in the months before her own death for her people. But Ronon couldn’t really do much besides sit there and Sheppard was totally unwilling to touch Teyla’s naked corpse. Seriously.

He hoped the thought counted.

They said goodbye to her on the same planet where they’d burned her people. In the same kind of rock alcove, only smaller.

Getting Ronon there in his condition was a nightmare. Keller was really worried about taking him anywhere less sanitary than the mostly immaculate city. Sheppard was worried about what would happen if she tried to keep him from going, though.

In the end, they used a field stretcher to carry Ronon through the ‘Gate to the site. It wasn’t something he enjoyed, being totally unable to participate in any way other than lying still. It wasn’t something Sheppard enjoyed watching. They also brought a gurney to transfer him to, so he could actually sit up during the ceremony.

There was a lot of déjà vu. It was a lot like the last time they’d been there.

Keller had the babies and Torrin in the stroller Rodney and Zelenka had built. And she parked it far from the scene.

The citizens of Atlantis milled around sadly, in their mostly totally inappropriate funeral garb, as they had months ago.

Sheppard lit the brush. It went up just as quickly as before. He’d known that, of course, but still had trouble backing up fast enough.

The fire burned smaller than before. It felt just as hot, though. Last time, he’d tried not to look. Now, Sheppard couldn’t tear his eyes away. He couldn’t see anything by climbing flames, but still he stared.

It didn’t feel significant. It didn’t feel meaningful. It didn’t feel final. It didn’t feel anything good.

But Sheppard stood and bore it, until again the flames diminished and began to lap at the ground.

He got choked up again. Crying was getting really fucking old. Sheppard glanced at Ronon, found him in a similar condition.

“It’s okay,” Sheppard said. He suddenly remembered Teyla standing there, as she had between them. The little, peaceful smile she’d had. The memory felt like a gift, warmed Sheppard’s heart. And that’s what he felt when he repeated her words. “She’s gone.”

~

~please feed the author~

Part 6

 
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Tags: jeannie, keller, rodney, ronon, sheppard, teyla
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