Disclaimer: I don't own Stargate Atlantis, etc.
Summary: Feeling angry and betrayed by the Atlanteans, Michael exacts justice in the most poetic way possible: by turning Sheppard into a Wraith, as he was turned into a human.
Genres: Action-Adventure, Angst, Character Study, Drama, Team
Spoilers: Up to Irresistible, definately before Common Ground
Chapter 1 , Chapter 2 , Chapter 3 , Chapter 4 , Chapter 5 , Chapter 6
Chapter 7: What Passes for Normal
“Please, don’t,” she begged. There were tears falling down her cheeks, but he hardly noticed them. He liked hearing her beg. Begging food was lively food, and lively food had more life to give, making him stronger. Michael had let him sample the taste of one who had actually fought them as he was being fed on. The adrenaline that mixed with that man’s life force had been the sweetest thing he’d ever tasted. His body had zinged with energy for hours.
“Sheppard, please,” she begged again.
Sheppard ran his hand through her brown hair and down her cheek, wiping away the salty tears. “Shh,” he soothed, “Don’t cry. I won’t hurt you. I’m not a bad guy.” Elizabeth stopped begging, looking at him with wide, hopeful brown eyes. “Shh,” he crooned again. His hand crept up to her pounding heart, and she only had time to mutter a short cry of surprise before the world was consumed by the rush of feeding.
He smiled at her as her aged husk hung limply in his arms. She’d been a beautiful woman.
Sheppard’s eyes snapped open and he jerked upright in the bed, panting. Cold sweat covered his body as he stared straight ahead, the sight of Elizabeth’s withered corpse etched into his brain. He’d had the same dream again. Breathing harshly, he lowered his face into his hands, trying to block out the images.
The longer he sat, the more the dream distressed him. Throwing the knotted sheet off his legs, he stumbled into the bathroom. He blinked hard and almost threw himself into the wall as the light turned on automatically, taking him by surprise. Heading for the sink, he turned on the tap, sloshing the cold water mercilessly against his face.
It was a dream, just a dream. Elizabeth was safe; he hadn’t hurt her. But the woman begging on hive-ship had been real. He’d fed off her even as she’d stood there, pleading for her life. Even in Afghanistan he’d never had to kill an unarmed woman.
He looked at his reflection in the mirror, staring at his dripping face. His eyes had bags under them, giving them a bruised look. Red scratches ran down the side of his face where he’d grabbed himself and dug in with his nails when he’d first woken up. How easily this body is damaged, he noted. His Wraith body had been strong, and he’d felt like nothing could hurt him. Now every time he so much as bumped his elbow, he thought he was going to break. It appeared even a bad dream could hurt him.
Distractedly, he glanced at his watch, and realized it was a quarter to five. Well, he’d slept a good six hours, at least. He would have had to wake up in fifteen minutes anyway. Meandering back towards his bed, he shut off his alarm clock and threw on a t-shirt and running pants. He stretched every muscle carefully, unusually worried about pulling something. I’m starting to think like Rodney, he thought self-deprecatingly, but still unable to convince himself he wouldn’t break.
The hallways were only just beginning to come to life at this hour, so he made his way towards the more deserted sections of the city before people traffic became a problem. The clanging of his feet against the metal grates on the catwalks rang in his ears, emphasizing the absence of all other sound. He found himself looking over his shoulder several times, looking for someone who wasn’t there. It had been a long time since he’d gone jogging alone. After Ford had gone AWOL, but before Ronon had joined his team. He missed them both, even though Ronon was probably jogging somewhere else in the city at the moment, avoiding him. Who knew what Ford was doing.
He tried to ignore the sting of his friend’s animosity. On Earth he wasn’t a liked man; he should be used to it. He felt his mind trying to reach out to the runner as he ran, but he angrily slapped it down when he realized what he was doing. He wasn’t a Wraith anymore, damnit. He somehow had to break this habit that shouldn’t even be possible. It was like flexing muscles he didn’t have. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d lost something by becoming human. He’d never felt so alone.
His telepathy wouldn’t have worked anyway.
As he came across a pier, he stopped to rest and take a drink from his water bottle. The sound of the waves crashing against the city was soothing, an empty background noise similar to the voices of the other Wraith in his mind while on the hive. He could tune it out, but he always knew it was there if he wanted to listen.
He needed something to do. Spending all this time by himself while he was ‘recuperating’ was clearly not doing him any good. He needed to get back out there and do something useful… like kill a few Wraith, maybe save a planet. Yeah, that was about a standard day for him. Five missions tops, and he’d do something significant and undoubtedly heroic again. Maybe then the dreams would stop haunting him.
Decided, he jogged back to his quarters for a quick shower and change before going about attaining his goal.
Elizabeth looked up from another boring report submitted by a petty scientist complaining about lab time allocations to see John swagger into her office, lazily perching on the edge of her desk. After a friendly glare, returned by the standard adorable puppy dog eyes, John relocated to one of the seats instead. I missed this, she smiled to herself. Aloud she asked, “What can I do for you John?”
“Well,” he began, “Beckett’s given me a clean bill of health. All one hundred percent human again.” He shook his head. “I gotta stop getting turned into things, it’s getting old. So anyway, I figure it’s about time I return to active duty. Don’t you think?”
Weir considered, stalling by asking, “Have you spoken to Kate yet?”
John shook his head. “I don’t need to see her. I’m good.”
Elizabeth huffed in exasperation, narrowing her eyes. “Colonel, I thought I made this clear to you. Talk to Kate, and if she clears you, you’re free to resume your duties.” Seeing him pull a face, she added on a more personal level, “John, you were just turned into a Wraith. You were held onboard a hive-ship for days. I have a hard time believing you can just walk away from that and be okay. Please, just talk to her.”
Sheppard just shook his head, rolling his eyes at the ceiling. Elizabeth wondered when their relationship had reached the level that he could act so disrespectful towards his boss, and she be perfectly okay with it. “Elizabeth,” okay, so maybe it was about the same time they’d reached first name basis, something that she’d initiated. “I admit… certain aspects still… creep me out, but overall, I’m fine. There’s nothing wrong with me that will prevent me from doing my job.”
“Then you should have no problem getting Kate’s approval,” Elizabeth responded, not giving an inch.
John’s face remained stony as he looked at her, trying to feel any weakness in her resolve. Finally with a sigh of defeat he left the office, hopefully to look for Kate.
Rodney was sitting, working at his lab table, muttering over Ancient devices as he always was whenever John looked him up during the day. Stealthily, John walked up and sat down on the stool next to Rodney, looking over his shoulder at whatever device he was holding. It was several seconds before McKay looked out of the corner of his eyes and jumper several feet with an “Aah!”
Sheppard burst into laughter watching McKay turn red and hold his hand over his chest. “Oh, very funny Colonel,” he pouted. “What do you want, or are you just here to scare me into an early grave?”
Calming down, Sheppard shrugged. He didn’t know why he was here. He’d left Elizabeth’s office and this was where his feet had carried him. “I’m stuck with light duty for the moment, so I just thought I’d come down here and see if you needed help with anything?”
“Seriously?” McKay asked. At Sheppard’s nod, he eagerly rubbed his hands together. Normally trying to get the Colonel’s assistance was like pulling teeth – painful and nerve-wracking. “Well, actually, we’ve been trying to figure out what this one does,” he picked up a small, round object from the side of his table. “I haven’t been able to come to any conclusions yet, but I’m pretty sure it won’t explode.”
“Pretty sure?” Sheppard asked, looking for a slightly more forceful vote of confidence.
Rodney rolled his eyes and waved Sheppard on. “Yes, yes. I wouldn’t be standing here right next to you if I thought it would explode, now would I? Did you want some coffee?” he asked, walking over to the other side of the room where the pot was housed.
Sheppard smirked at the man’s antics, but didn’t hesitate to pick up the doodad. It glowed warm in the palm of his hand, before displaying a projection of the bones of his hand about a foot above him. As he watched, images of muscles started to appear, before the graphic was covered with skin. “Cool,” Sheppard offered.
“Gross,” McKay countered, looking a little skeeved. “Must be a medical tool of some kind.” He looked a little disappointed. Had he wanted it to go boom? Not that Sheppard objected to things that went boom, mind you, but not while he was holding them.
“Oh well,” McKay continued, “I’ve got plenty more for you to look at. One of them has to do something cool.”
Sheppard smiled. It felt nice to feel normal for a while.
Oh look, the lemon squirted more juice when it was poked. Wow. He tapped it with the fork a few more times to make sure. Yep, still squirting. How utterly amazing. He would never have guessed it would do that.
John was bored. He’d been sitting in the mess hall for over an hour now, mostly just playing with his food. Or what was his food. By now his plate contained mostly unrecognizable remains from… well, he wasn’t really sure. It hadn’t been very recognizable the first time around. Food just didn’t taste the same to him anymore.
Yet he couldn’t shake the urge to keep eating. Or try to. His stomach never had been very large… too many years as a kid having almost no food at all will do that to a man. He wasn’t hungry anymore, and his stomach was pleasantly full – maybe even a little too full, which was okay – but he couldn’t shake the certainty that he was still hungry.
He was well aware of the fact that he was responding to the echoes of the Wraith’s hunger, but he couldn’t seem to do anything about it other than be creative with his leftovers. He no longer felt any physical pain from the hunger, which was a relief. If anything, it almost felt like he was going through a mental withdrawal. Some part of him remembered the bliss, the ecstasy, that came with feeding, and equated it to the normal gratification that came at the end of a meal. A full stomach was no longer enough to satisfy him, no matter how much he told himself otherwise.
He picked up a piece of turkey he’d previously shredded in an attempt to build a log cabin out of various food articles. Mashed potatoes made great glue. Turkey had been his favorite food since he was a kid, and he was more than a little concerned about the revulsion he felt towards it now.
Through sheer will he forced himself to put the tidbit into his mouth and chew. Part of him registered the pleasant flavor, laced with tryptophan to make him sleepy later, but the majority of his mind was occupied with a hyper-awareness that he had something dead in his mouth. The urge to spit it out was held back only by his refusal to let Michael win. Whatever game the Wraith had been playing with him, Sheppard refused to succumb to it. And if that meant eating road kill… well, he’d had worse.
Painful bite by bite, he managed to eat half the turkey. He found that it was a lot more bearable to eat when the flavor was disguised by all the other crap he normally removed from the sandwich, thus explaining why his stomach filled up much quicker than normal. Sheppard was still left with the situation of being belt-looseningly full, but unable to walk away from the table.
Well, at least he hadn’t let himself be scared off meat. He’d never hear the end of it from his men if he turned vegetarian.
“Colonel Sheppard?” John looked up to see Teyla standing next to his table with a tray in her hand. “Do you mind if I join you?”
Ah, company. “Please,” he invited her, glad for the chance to talk to her. He hadn’t seen her much lately. Actually he hadn’t seen her at all since the one visit to the infirmary. After relying on her so much when he was a Wraith, her absence had been unusually hard on him, but he’d respected her unspoken wishes and left her in peace.
She smiled and settled into the seat across from him. She spared the wreckage of his meal a curious look. Sheppard shifted uncomfortably. He wasn’t sure exactly where he and Teyla stood at the moment, and he had a feeling his weird behavior might be making the tension worse. “I was feeling a little bored,” he offered as a weak explanation.
Clearly not buying it, Teyla left well enough alone. “How have you been feeling?” she asked.
“Pretty good,” he answered. Teyla was the kind of person who actually gave you their full attention when you talked, and Sheppard had to admit it felt nice to know she really cared. Feeling that he owed her a better answer, he admitted, “Food is still a little weird right now, but I’m getting back to normal.” He indicated the half-eaten, but unplayed with turkey sandwich.
Teyla ducked her head, hiding her smile at the Colonel’s creation. “I am glad.” Sucking in a deep breath, she steeled herself to make her confession, and apology. “I am sorry I haven’t been to see you recently.”
“You’ve been busy,” Sheppard offered her a way out, not compelling her to provide any excuse whatsoever.
Teyla shook her head. Her friend deserved better than that, despite his own low opinion of himself at the moment. “No, I am at fault. I was disturbed by the thought of you feeding on other humans.”
Sheppard froze, even though he knew she had been going to say that. He returned to shaping his food with his fork, avoiding looking at Teyla. He had too few friends to enjoy losing more.
“It was foolish of me, and I am sorry it took me this long to see it.” Sheppard looked up at her, surprised. Well aware of the guilt her friend was carrying, Teyla resumed her friendly duties that she’d been shamefully neglecting. She reached across the table and placed her hands on his. Sheppard flinched, but made no move to pull away. “What happened to you, and anything you might have done on the hive-ship… none of it was your fault Colonel, and I am sorry for giving you the impression that it was.”
Not his fault. Of course it wasn’t his fault. He’d been strapped to a table and turned into a Wraith against his will. He hadn’t known what was going on while he was a Wraith. Only an idiot would blame himself for something he couldn’t control. So, why did he still feel like shit?
“Teyla…” he swallowed, unable to explain.
“I mean it Colonel,” she interrupted. The forcefulness of her voice surprised Sheppard. She was always so soft spoken with him, it was easy to forget that she was a leader and guided an entire people of her own, and someone to be reckoned with. “You are the victim here, not the monster. Michael is the monster for what he did to you. He chose to be a Wraith. He had a chance to live a life without harming another soul, and he chose to return to hive. He chose to live off the misery and pain of others. If you were truly a monster, you would not be hurting so right now.”
Teyla didn’t even know how right she was, John realized. Something snapped in his mind, and the lingering urge to feed vanished. Michael had chosen to return to the hunger, but he was better than that. He didn’t need those few moments of bliss to feel alive. That’s what the Wraith were all about. They’d lived so long and become so jaded that feeding was all that was left to them. They couldn’t imagine life without it anymore.
He wasn’t one of them. He was free.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
Teyla smiled at him, equally shocked and relieved that her words had actually worked. Giving his hands one last pat, she released them and settled back to eat her own meal. One friend down, one to go, she thought, picturing Ronon. She’d make him see reason as well, even if she had to beat his head into a wall to do it.
The remainder of lunch was passed in quiet conversation as Teyla ate her soup and John finished every last crumb of his turkey sandwich.
“Okay, you can do this,” Sheppard assured himself as he straightened his jacket one last time before hitting the call button on the door.
“Come in,” Kate called.
Taking one last deep breath, Sheppard walked inside.