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
Chapter 8: Showdown
“What? She cleared you?” McKay squwaked, lifting his brows incredulously. “You were in there for all of, what, ten minutes? Shouldn’t there be some kind of massive evaluation – or something? I mean a decision like this, it takes days. You can’t just waltz in there and decide everything’s fine!”
Sheppard sat back against his chair with a cheshire cat grin, drawing his arms up and resting them on the back of his head, enjoying McKay’s ranting. Not that he paid any attention past the first few words, but it was soothing in its normalcy. He’d actually talked to Kate for about twenty minutes before she’d declared him fit for duty, and that was twenty minutes too long in his book. Fortunately she hadn’t required any crying fits or revelations of deep dark secrets.
He felt good. John didn’t know any other way to describe it. Not the kind of ‘I’m good,’ he answered any time Beckett asked him a question, but the stress-free, almost euphoric good of a well adjusted person. He hadn’t been so at peace with himself since Mitch and Dex had died. He knew who he was; he knew what he was, where he belonged, and he was perfectly content with the answers to all those questions. There were no lingering uncertainties hanging over his shoulder, no more doubts or confusion.
Forget good. He felt positively jubilant.
They were all sitting around the conference table, debating whether or not Sheppard was fit to lead his team on a routine trading mission. It was a milk run, but Sheppard would take anything he could get.
Elizabeth was watching him with those oh so observant eyes, picking him apart, trying to see if he’d somehow hoodwinked yet another professional shrink. He did have a habit of that well documented in his file. “So, is the mission a go?” He flashed her his most winning grin before leaning forward in his seat, offering her his full attention.
Elizabeth watched him, uncertain how to deal with this – dare she call it hyper? – incarnation of Sheppard. Rather than sitting with his usual laid-back posture, he was leaning forward, shoulders straight, and if she wasn’t mistaken his leg was bouncing under the table. Definitely not the behavior of her usually reserved 2IC. Maybe he just needed to get his feet wet again.
“All right, you have a go,” she agreed. She wished she had a camera to capture the wide grin that split Sheppard’s face at her words. She saw him smile far too rarely, even if his current grin seemed a little too excessive. “You leave at 0900 tomorrow.”
Teyla smiled at John as he all but bounced out of the room, but her smile fell as she felt eyes boring into her back. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Ronon glaring, not at her, but at John’s retreating form.
It was dank and dark in the hallways of the bowels of Atlantis, reminding Teyla of an underground cave washed in blue. Clearly this area had flooded many times, as the moisture still clung to the walls. Fortunately the Ancestors’ walls were not prone to rust. If she listened carefully enough, she’d swear she could hear the drip drip drip of water leaking somewhere. It was eerie.
She had no idea why Ronon liked this place so much, but she often found him lurking down here whenever he wished to be alone. She’d tried to talk to him after the briefing, but he’d stormed past her, intent on brooding. Knowing the immaturity of men, Teyla had waited an hour before searching him out again, unwilling to let this attitude fester any longer. If Teyla was ashamed by how she’d withdrawn her support from Sheppard, than she was appalled by Ronon’s hostility.
She found the runner crouching over one of the many shallow pools of water scattered around the floor, staring off into space. Her footsteps echoed, announcing her presence, even though Ronon had probably known she was there long before she’d even seen him. “What do you want?” he asked her, not looking up.
“I came to see if I could convince you that John Sheppard is still your friend,” she declared. She was trying to read Ronon, but the man’s posture gave nothing away.
Ronon snorted. “He was a Wraith. He fed. There’s no going back from that, and if you had any sense you wouldn’t trust him either.” As if that explained everything.
“Colonel Sheppard was turned into a Wraith against his will. You can not hold him responsible for the actions he took while he was a prisoner.” Teyla argued. Ronon stood to confront her, and Teyla winced as she heard his knees crack. How long had he been squatting there? “Do you really believe Colonel Sheppard would willingly betray us? He saved my people from the Wraith, as well as this city. He is responsible for everything you have now – your entire life on Atlantis – and this is how you repay him?”
Ronon felt a stab of guilt when Teyla phrased it that way, but he couldn’t shake the image of a Wraith leaning over him while he was trapped in a cocoon. Its hand had latched onto his exposed chest and the world exploded in agony. His heart was pounding against his skin as his chest arched up into the air. It was torture beyond anything he had ever known, but he refused to scream for this creature that had destroyed his world.
Melena had died because she’d refused to leave the people who needed her help. Every step Ronon had taken since that day had been for her; he would honor her memory and make the Wraith pay for every last human life they’d taken. Such was the oath he’d sworn the day he’d become a runner. He’d never abandoned it, and it had never steered him wrong. The universe was simple from Ronon’s viewpoint; everything was black and white: you were a Wraith (and therefore deserved to die), or you were human. He’d gladly killed every Wraith he’d come across, sowing revenge for each of its victims.
But Sheppard had blurred that line. Had Ronon encountered him as a Wraith on any random world, one of them would not have survived. Even knowing the Wraith had been his former friend, it would never stop feeding off humans and killing them to survive. But now Sheppard was human again, in body at least. Did that mean he was excused from his crimes while he was a Wraith?
More importantly, how could any of them really be sure Sheppard was human where it counted? He’d fed. How could he ever trust anyone who’d done that?
Frustrated by his silence, Teyla asked, “You’re not planning anything rash on this mission tomorrow I hope? If you can not work with Colonel Sheppard then you need to let Dr. Weir know now.”
Ronon grunted as he stalked off away from Teyla, into a darker corridor that afforded him more privacy. “I’m not leaving you alone with him. I’ll be there.”
Mama Sheppard didn’t raise no fool. Sheppard was well aware of Ronon’s distrust as he stood before the gate at 0850 the next morning. It was kind of hard to miss the steady glaring accompanied by the strong hands resting on his weapons. Sheppard really hoped Ronon had his gun set to stun if he was going to shoot him.
Moving closer to the runner, who grimaced upon his approach, Sheppard asked quietly, “Are we going to have a problem?”
Ronon seemed to enjoy towering over Sheppard as he smirked. “As long as the Wraith don’t show up, we’ll be fine.”
“Good,” Sheppard responded. He still waited until he was several steps away before exposing his back to Ronon. The enthusiasm that had made him soar through yesterday had abated somewhat, allowing Sheppard to at least put up the appearance of not being a rookie teenager excited about his first flight. The danger of Ronon deciding to shoot him aside, he felt like nothing could go wrong. The Pegasus Galaxy could throw her worst at him, and he could take it! Not that he wanted to test that.
He wasn’t bouncing in place, anxious to go through the gate again. He wasn’t.
Elizabeth was watching him from the balcony outside her office, amused by John’s energy, although she prayed it wouldn’t make him careless. As the gate began dialing he turned to her and gave her his customary wave and cocky grin, enjoying the old routine. Comforted by the familiar gesture, Elizabeth smiled back. “Good luck.”
Three hours later the team returned with one heavily grocery-laden M.A.L.P. all in one piece. Teyla was smiling from ear to ear, but Rodney was in the process of an all-out giggle fit. Confused, Elizabeth descended the stairs where John was obviously doing his best to hide his left cheek with his hand.
“Absolutely classic!” McKay gasped. Seeing Weir, he explained, “Captain Kirk here just got his ass handed to him by the chief’s daughter. Apparently she didn’t find him as charming as most women usually do. She…” McKay couldn’t finish explaining, content with just shaking his head and laughing.
“McKay…” Sheppard warned, all but snarling. Apparently his happy bubble had burst.
Turning to John, Elizabeth quirked an eyebrow, demanding an explanation. Sheppard dropped his hand from his cheek in exasperation, and she could see the red imprint of a hand where he’d obviously been slapped. “Colonel,” she chastised, “I hope this hasn’t damaged our diplomatic relations?”
John opened his mouth to give an undoubtedly nasty retort, but he was cut off by a loud snort. “Ha!” McKay answered before Sheppard could. “Chief Raznak was laughing just as hard as we were!”
Elizabeth covered her mouth were her hand, but failed to conceal her own short burst of amusement. Giving it up, she allowed herself to smile at John’s expense, knowing that the situation was still under control.
Mortified, Sheppard stalked up the stairs, muttering curses in Persian. Everyone continued to smirk or laugh behind his back, including Ronon. It felt good for things to be normal again.
Sheppard and his team quickly graduated back to normal missions. For two weeks they’d only had minor skirmishes with native populations to contend with. It was probably the least violent lull in Atlantis history. Everyone was afraid to say it aloud, not wanting to jinx it, but one thought was on the backburner of everyone’s minds.
“Where the heck are the Wraith? We should have encountered some activity by now?” Okay, so maybe McKay was a little less superstitious than everyone else on the expedition. Bastard, Sheppard wanted to say. Instead he settled for a sarcastic, “Shut up.”
“All I’m saying is it’s very unusually for the Wraith to be laying this low,” McKay warned. “They’re up to something.”
“Like kidnapping flirtatious Colonels?” Teyla ribbed. Sheppard shot her a nasty look. It was getting old already and the pictures that had somehow been taken of him when he’d first stormed through the gate with a red cheek kept mysteriously appearing in his room, his office, on his laptop, and endless other random places. Maybe next time he’d let McKay get shot.
But then there was all that whining….
Doing his best to tune out McKay’s paranoia, Sheppard stepped through the gate to be greeted by yet another world consisting of trees, grass, some mountains in the far distance, and not much else.
“Why do all these planets look the same?” McKay complained behind him. Sheppard did his best to pretend he hadn’t been thinking the exact same thing, glad that he didn’t wear his emotions as openly on his face as certain others.
“All right, according to the Ancient Database, the outpost should be…” McKay looked around, searching for some landmark or invisible power signature that only he could see. “That way.” Of course he pointed towards the mountains.
“Let’s go,” Sheppard sighed.
The sun on this planet was ridiculously bright, hurting his eyes even through his sunglasses. McKay stole a few jealous glances at them, which Sheppard ignored. Sheppard had warned him to bring a pair. All of them were soon sweating, and McKay looked close to hyperventilating.
Plopping himself down on a rounded boulder jutting out of the ground, McKay gasped. “Okay, this looks like a good spot to take a break. Maybe we should go back? Any leftover technology must have been fried in this heat.”
Sheppard rolled his eyes. “McKay, we found the Orion on a planet that was basically a volcano. Maybe the Ancients liked warm planets for all we know.” Besides, Afghanistan is hotter, but Sheppard kept that one to himself. He actually did feel a little bad for Rodney. The planet had to be at least one hundred and twenty degrees and the Canadian was drenched in sweat. They all were. Looking at his watch, he decided they could take ten minutes and let McKay catch his breath.
McKay was taking a long swig from his canteen when Teyla suddenly tensed and they all heard the familiar whizzing of darts. Sheppard sent McKay a death glare as he flew off the boulder, joining them in taking cover in the forest’s canopy. “The next time you feel like jinxing a mission McKay, warn me so I know to sit that one out!” Sheppard snarled.
“It’s not my fault!”
The darts were circling above them, firing into the trees, clearly aware of their position. “Fall back to the gate!” Sheppard ordered.
The team wasted no time. They stuck close to the tree line for cover, Sheppard doing his best to usher the flagging scientist ahead. A stunner bolt whizzed past McKay’s shoulder, making the man scream in terror. In panic, the scientist raised his berretta and fired wildly to the right, narrowly missing Teyla, but hitting the two Wraith who’d been sneaking up on them.
“Keep going!” Sheppard ordered McKay. Teyla was right behind McKay, firing at the Wraith while Sheppard took cover behind a thick tree and did the same. Ronon was tucked into his own tree nook, firing at three Wraith approaching from behind them.
Sheppard’s two Wraith were down, but another three replaced them, and even more were converging on Ronon. Catching the sight of a wisp of blue out of the corner of his eye, Sheppard swerved around, simultaneously firing his P-90, but no Wraith were behind him. The poor tree he’d hit shed some bark though. Confused, Sheppard inched forward. He had seen something.
“Sheppard!” Ronon called after him, but he ignored it. It wasn’t important. Something was waiting for him just a few trees away. He had to check it out; it could be a danger to his team.
Leaves crashed into his face, scratching his eyes as he tried to move both silently and quickly. Something fast and heavy crashed into his side, knocking him over while smacking the P-90 from his grip. Sheppard gasped as he struck out with his fist, connecting solidly with the head of his attacker, eliciting a satisfying grunt. Then the favor was returned to the top of his head. It was like being hit with a truck.
Stunned, Sheppard’s body went limp as the Wraith grabbed him firmly around the chest, dragging him further away from his team. Ignoring the throbbing in his temples, Sheppard tried to call out to Ronon, but an enormous hand clamped around his mouth, twisting his neck slightly. His eyes went wide when he realized the gap in the hand resting against his lips was where the Wraith drained life from, and it was pressed right up against him. Sheppard dizzily struggled against the urge to gag.
The voice was soothing, echoing in his mind with an aching familiarity. Sheppard felt his eyelids droop a little and his muscles unclench as he relaxed against the body dragging him. He’d missed that presence in his mind. The hand left his mouth and joined the other on his chest, dragging him into denser foliage. Sheppard used the freedom to look up at the Wraith’s face.
Michael. Sheppard didn’t need to see the close-cropped hair to recognize the one who’d been his constant companion, his mentor, aboard the hive. He allowed himself to relax even further into the grip. Michael was his friend; Michael would never hurt him.
When they reached a patch of trees so dense Sheppard couldn’t even recognize which way they’d come from, Michael released him with a little shove both physically and mentally. Stumbling, Sheppard had to grab hold of the nearest tree and lean against it to regain his equilibrium. Shaking the cobwebs out of his head, Sheppard snarled at Michael. He reached down to his thigh for his handheld, but found it missing. When had he been disarmed? Without missing a beat he grabbed his knife instead, brandishing it at Michael. “What do you want?”
“What does every creature want?” Michael smirked. “Satisfaction.”
Sheppard felt his eyebrows rise up at that comment. “And you had to drag me all the way here to kill me?” There was no way Sheppard could take Michael with just a knife. His only hope was to keep him talking long enough until his team could come for him.
“Why do you assume I want to kill you? I thought your time among us made it clear that we are not monsters, merely creatures doing what we must to survive. It is you humans who are always eager for the kill, who are the monsters.” Michael stood wary of Sheppard, but he had yet to draw a weapon of his own.
“If you’re not going to kill me, then what do you want?” Sheppard asked. There was very little room to move about in this thicket. He was smaller and thinner than Michael; if he could get through the thicket before Michael, he’d have a much clearer head start to make a run for his fallen weapons. But which way was it? Thick trees surrounded them on all sides. If he went the wrong way, he’d get lost in even thicker woods and Michael would eventually catch him again. Sheppard decided to keep that option in reserve.
“Stay out of my head!” Sheppard roared. He lunged at Michael, who agilely danced out of the way, giving Sheppard’s back a cursory thump. Sheppard was now right up against the edge of the bush where he could easily make a break for it, but found his feet refused to take him further. Damn it! Michael was still in his head, preventing him from leaving. Fuming, Sheppard turned around to face his captor.
“Can you honestly say you didn’t miss me in your head? You don’t find it lonely being a human, with no one else’s mind to comfort you?” Michael asked. Sheppard wanted to tell him shut the eff up, but an image of Teyla was thrust into his mind. How she talked to him mentally while he was in the holding cell. How her mere presence had comforted him, kept him from panicking.
“The humans are weak and short lived; you’ve noticed this yourself!” Michael continued. Images ran amok through his mind. Him stretching before a run only to come back with sore muscles anyway flashed by. His grandfather’s shaking, wrinkled hands resting on his young ones, his grandmother resting against white hospital sheets as she struggled to take just one more breath.
Sheppard lost track of the real world under the onslaught. He didn’t see Michael moving closer to him, and he was barely aware when Michael placed his hand on Sheppard’s chest and pushed. “They are the prey. Sooner or later every last one of them is going to feel a hand on their chest, just like this. They are going to wither away under it, and die. There is no way to escape it.”
Sheppard shuddered as he remembered the eyes of the man in the cocoon boring into him, hating him, knowing he was going to die, and that Sheppard would be the one to kill him.
Michael stepped even closer to Sheppard, until they were just inches apart, Michael’s hand still resting on his chest. “I know you’ve been alone, Sheppard. I’ve been with you since you left. That’s how I knew you’d be here. I watched your friends back away from you in fear, reject you. I was with you in the infirmary when you dreamed of your friends abandoning you.”
Sheppard sucked in a desperate breath as he jogged alone in the morning, Ronon deciding to run elsewhere.
“Humans are not your friends, Sheppard,” Michael said quietly, confidently. “They no longer see you as one of their own. You’ve known true power, and the bliss that comes with it. They can never understand.” Sheppard’s eyes rolled into the back of his head as he remembered feeding. He remembered the strength that had flow through his arms, coursed through his veins, and made his mind soar. He could do anything.
“Come back to that Sheppard,” Michael compelled.
Sheppard was drowning in his own memories, rendering Michael’s words a whisper in his ear. Then suddenly, the images were gone, and Michael was backing away from him. “I give you the choice that was never given to me. Do you really want to stay a human Sheppard, when the whole galaxy waits for you as a Wraith?”
Sheppard blinked, still overwhelmed by the barrage of images. It was like watching a propaganda reel. He’d seen them before in Afghanistan, demonstrating the evils of Western culture. An accumulation of many of his most powerful memories, assembled in an order meant to produce the desired feeling. But he also knew how to reorder them.
He couldn’t forget Rodney and Carson’s constant presence in the infirmary even while he was still mostly Wraith. Neither of them had withdrawn their support. And Teyla. She’d gone above and beyond the call of friendship, reaching out to him when no one even believed he was himself. His friends had never abandoned him. Except Ronon, who couldn’t forgive him for what he’d done as a Wraith. After what they’d done to his people, Sheppard couldn’t really blame him. That didn’t make it hurt any less to lose a friend.
“You have no idea what it means to be human,” Sheppard snarled at Michael. “No matter how long you were with us, you never got it. Sure, you learned a few things about strategy and cooperation, but you still don’t know anything about what makes us tick. You think immortality makes you great? It’s what’s been your undoing. All that you have left is your hunger. Everything that once meant something to you is meaningless. I pity you.”
Sheppard had never pitied anything in his life, but the Wraith might actually be his first. They really were a people tearing themselves apart looking for their lives to have some meaning.
Seeing little option left, Sheppard rushed Michael with his knife, aiming for his heart. Michael grabbed his wrist, twisting it away, trying to make him dropped the knife. Sheppard swept his legs behind Michael, knocking him to the ground. Refusing to let go of Sheppard’s wrist, Michael took Sheppard down with him. The impact jarred Michael’s arm, loosening his grip and allowing Sheppard to twist the knife towards Michael’s neck.
Both men were grunting, their faces close together. Sheppard could see the madness that lurked just under Michael’s eyes, and was prepared when the feeding arm jerked up to catch him in the chest. Rolling, Sheppard managed to pin the arm beneath them and move his knife hand closer to its target. Michael rolled them over, freeing his hand and allowing it to latch onto Sheppard.
Sheppard braced himself for the sharp pain of feeding, but Michael jerked as his body was hit repeatedly with bursts of red energy. Suddenly a dark arm was there, throwing Michael onto the ground. Sheppard blinked up at Ronon’s angry face, watching the man fire one last blast at Michael’s chest.
Panting, Sheppard levered himself onto his elbows. After a moment, Ronon offered his arm, and Sheppard took it. “Took you long enough,” Sheppard ribbed.
Ronon grunted. He’d actually been hidden in the brush for almost a minute. He and Teyla had dispatched the Wraith around them, but not before McKay’s jinx had caught up to him and he’d been stunned. Teyla had rushed him to the gate while Ronon had gone after Sheppard. He’d founded Sheppard’s P-90 and crushed sunglasses, and tracked him, only to find him being all but embraced by Michael, staring off into space. Ronon didn’t know whether to go charging in to save his friend, or if Sheppard had somehow been in cahoots with the Wraith the whole time he’d been back. But then he’d seen Sheppard attack the Wraith in a suicide lunge, and he knew in that instant that the man really was Sheppard in mind and body. Finally accepting that he had his friend back, Ronon had fired upon the Wraith.
“I’m glad you came,” Sheppard said quietly. He hadn’t been sure if Ronon would.
Ronon shrugged, brushing up the warmth he was feeling in his gut. “I got tired of running by myself in the morning.”
Elizabeth and Kate sat next to each other on a bench, sipping coffee, and enjoying the pleasant view of the endless ocean that surrounded Atlantis. There was a cool breeze reeking havoc on Kate’s long hair, making Elizabeth wonder why she’d been growing hers out. Short hair was definitely a lot less maintenance.
“Is John really all right?” she asked Kate.
Kate shrugged. “He’s as well as he can be, under the circumstances. You know I can’t violate doctor/patient confidentiality.”
Elizabeth took a long swig of her coffee, barely tasting it. “I guess I’m just a bit surprised at his reactions. He spent all that time aboard the hive as one of them, and he came back feeling absolutely no sympathy towards them? I find that hard to believe.” As a negotiator, it was Elizabeth’s job to be able to get into the heads of all involved parties, to understand what makes them tick. And every time, she’d found that neither side was entirely wrong or entirely right. She couldn’t help but be aware that the Wraith were doing what they had to to survive. She couldn’t hate them for that, even though she’d still do everything she could to stop them.
Kate smiled in understanding. “John isn’t a civilian like us; he can’t afford to think that way. He needs to see the Wraith as monsters to fight them. He has a lot of responsibility riding on his shoulders. If knows that if he wavers, a lot of people will pay the price.”
Confused, Elizabeth asked, “So he does feel some sympathy but isn’t allowing himself to acknowledge it?”
Kate nodded. “One day when the Wraith are no longer a threat, he may be able to look upon them with understanding. But until then, he has a job to do.”
The echoes were twice as loud this morning, but Sheppard didn’t hear them. He whipped his forehead against his sweaty arm, not really accomplishing much in the way of removing sweat. Sighing, he opened the cap on his water bottle and took a long drink. Without breaking stride he passed the bottle onto Ronon, who finished it off in one gulp.
“I’ve got to start bringing a bigger bottle,” Sheppard muttered.