Title: The Light of Compassion
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Word Count: ~32,000 in total. In 6 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. Genre could be considered 'Horror'.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's notes: Please heed warnings. Feedback welcome! Title taken from the third stanza of this poem.
Title: The Light of Compassion
Torrin John Emmagan’s first birthday party featured a chocolate cake larger than the boy himself and a homemade piñata built from supplies pilfered out of various offices. There was some discussion of fireworks, but that got vetoed by multiple people in the chain of command because it would involve unauthorized use of military equipment for recreational purposes and chances were it would scare the hell out the baby and make his mother hit those people responsible with sticks at some later point.
Kanaan didn’t understand the borrowed rituals any more than Teyla did, but they both were charmed by the excitement spreading across the city. Traditional Athosian celebrations of life were more subdued at this age, since the child was too young to fully participate and still vulnerable to more lethal illnesses of infancy.
“It’s not for the baby,” Dr. Jennifer Keller explained, as she draped another strand of yellow post-it notes that had been glued together in a chain over a railing. “It’s for us.”
Torrin actually slept through most of the party in his honor. It was held during his usual naptime, after all, and he was comfortable in the sling his mother wore on her back. A few people who didn’t know what a tired, angry baby was like tried to wake him up a couple times, but were usually thwarted by those that did
His participation wasn’t fully needed, anyway. The cake was gobbled, even by the Athosians who didn’t really have a sweet tooth. Ronon went to town on the Piñata, looked kind of disappointed when he only had to hit it once and it completely exploded. There were a lot of totally inappropriate baby gifts handed out to Teyla and Kanaan. Most of the Atlantis crew weren’t parents, after all, and didn’t exactly have access to Toys-R-Us. It was the thought that counted, anyway, and McKay promised that if she brought the loot by his lab, he’d measure it all with a caliper to make sure it wouldn’t block Torrin’s windpipe if swallowed.
The birthday boy did finally wake up towards the end. He didn’t have much interest in the gifts. His favorite things in the world since birth – well, secondary to his mom’s breasts, probably – were Ronon’s dreads. He got to ride around on the man’s shoulders clutching them in his little fists and babbling.
Torrin couldn’t really talk yet, but he could say the names of people important to him. Well, the first syllable of their names, anyway. Ma, Da, Ja…he couldn’t yet differentiate between Rodney and Ronon, yet. There were both just “Wo”. Rodney had tried to get him to learn ‘Doctor,’ but that hadn’t worked out. Sheppard had tried to teach him ‘Meredith’.
Eventually, Torrin switched his chant from “Wo” to “Ja” and reached out for someone else to play with. Sheppard went up to take him. Unfortunately, he was carrying a plate with a slice of cake in one hand, and when he grabbed Torrin the kid took a giant scoop of icing in both hands and then immediately planted his palms on the top of Sheppard’s head.
Rodney laughed. “Well,” he said. “He’s got the gist of it.”
It was a well-meaning if weird party. Later, it would be remembered with bittersweet faces, because it would come to mark not only the beginning of Torrin’s life but the end of so many others.
Kanaan got sick first, the very next day. It seemed mundane and simple. Teyla teased him that he had eaten too much birthday cake. Keller believed it, prescribed only an antacid for his stomach ache. He returned to their quarters and Teyla kissed him and their son goodbye, departing for a scheduled off-world mission with her team.
She was only gone for an hour before Sheppard got the message in his earpiece. Woolsey had sent another team through, for the sole purpose of radioing him.
“Colonel Sheppard,” he heard Lorne’s voice in his ear. “Teyla needs to return to Atlantis immediately. Medical emergency.”
Sheppard halted in his tracks, raising one hand in the signal to stop. Behind him, picking their ways up the uneven, root-filled forest path, Teyla and Rodney stilled. Ronon stopped, too, and drew his gun. Sheppard cupped his hand around his ear.
“Say again?” he said.
“Teyla needs to come to the infirmary immediately,” Lorne repeated.
“Who?” asked Sheppard, because Teyla would want to know.
“Kanaan,” came the answer. Sheppard felt the tiniest bit of relief that it wasn’t the baby.
“What happened?” he asked, glancing at the curious faces of his team.
“I don’t know, sir,” Lorne said. “Keller just said to come back fast.”
“On our way,” Sheppard said. He turned to fact the other three.
“Okay.” He found Teyla’s eyes. “Kanaan’s in the infirmary, Keller said we have to get back.”
Teyla’s eyes went wide and surprised, her face sharpening with concern. “What occurred?”
Sheppard shook his head, already walking so he could take point as they backtracked. “I don’t know. Let’s go.”
His team fell into step, Teyla walking quickly at Sheppard’s heels.
Kanaan was in Isolation when the team got back to the city. Sheppard had followed Teyla to the infirmary, almost halting halfway there when he realized he might not be all that welcome or useful. Except that when he stopped, Rodney walked smack into him and then shoved him forward. Both he and Ronon were following, showing no such hesitancy.
Keller was outside the Isolation section, and she was wearing biohazard. Sheppard took that in, said absolutely nothing and shot McKay a look that said he shouldn’t say anything either. Teyla knew it was bad, anyway. She started walking faster and her entire body had gone tense.
“Uh-oh,” Rodney said, quietly, anyway.
Sheppard glared at him, even though he agreed. He held up a hand, stopped the team in the corridor so they wouldn’t swarm around Teyla and the doctor.
“Where is my son?” were the first words out of Teyla’s mouth when she reached Keller.
“He’s fine,” Keller said. “He’s with a nurse in quarantine, and he’s absolutely fine.”
Teyla’s head dipped a little and she let out a breath. “Kanaan?” she said, softer.
Keller put one arm out, her hand grasping Teyla’s shoulder and moving around to her back. She said nothing, but they had all seen this white, drawn face before. Teyla’s eyes started to glisten, her mouth opening silently. Keller ushered Teyla inside the observation room, and the door slid closed behind them.
“Oh,” Rodney said, but it was soft and genuine.
Heavy tightness that felt suspiciously like empathy filled Sheppard’s chest. He looked from Rodney to Ronon. Rodney’s face was pinched with worried uncertainty. Ronon had his head tilted back, the only sign of any anxiety.
“Sounds bad, folks,” Sheppard said, sighing. Ronon rumbled in agreement.
There was silence for a few seconds, their eyes fixed on the door.
“Should…should we go in?” asked Rodney.
“Probably a good idea to let her have some privacy,” Sheppard said, even though he wasn’t sure. Keller was good. She gave honest, concise information. And she liked to hug people she gave bad news to, whether they wanted it or not.
Ronon abided by his statement for all of five minutes.
“I’m going in there,” he said, then, and took a determined step towards the door.
Sheppard didn’t try to stop him. Instead, he just followed Ronon and Rodney inside. It wasn’t his decision to make.
Immediately, he saw Kanaan in the bed in the Isolation room below. The man was flat and unmoving, and surrounded by more machines than Sheppard could identify. Teyla and Keller were standing at the window. The doctor was still touching her lightly on the arm, and Sheppard could instantly see that Teyla’s posture had wilted. All signs pointed to it being as bad as it looked.
Sheppard went to clear his throat to alert the women that they were there. But Ronon was already moving towards Teyla. Keller stepped away, folding her hands solemnly at her waist. Teyla reached up blindly, like she already knew Ronon was there. His hands found hers and Sheppard saw her lean back into his massive chest. He couldn’t see her face, but he didn’t need to.
Keller walked towards Sheppard and McKay. Her face was dark and serious.
“Doc?” Sheppard began.
“What happened?” Rodney interrupted.
“There’s a meeting in an hour with Woolsey,” Keller said. “I need to examine Teyla and I will see you then.”
Sheppard’s mind halted on ‘meeting,’ but before he could ask why Woolsey was involved, he heard Rodney’s sharp voice: “Teyla?”
“She’s probably fine,” Keller said, keeping her voice hushed. She spread her arms, clearly escorting them towards the door. “You can wait outside.”
Sheppard and Rodney went. It took longer for Keller to untangle Ronon, but eventually he followed. The three men stood in the hallway again.
“She say anything?” asked Rodney.
Ronon shook his head, but Sheppard could see damp spots on his shirt.
“We should put our gear away,” Sheppard said, since they were still laden up for the mission. “Before the meeting with Woolsey.”
“I’ll stay here,” Ronon said. Course, he never really carried anything on missions that he didn’t also carry around the city. Because who knew when he would need his sword.
Rodney just grabbed at the straps of his pack and shrugged, like he didn’t usually complain constantly about how heavy it was. And Sheppard wasn’t going to leave if they stayed, so all three men just kept standing there in the hallway outside Isolation, fully-dressed for a mission.
It didn’t take long. Keller and Teyla emerged from inside. The doctor was awkwardly carrying Teyla’s tack vest and her gun, but she didn’t really look like she knew what to do with them. Sheppard shouldered his own weapon, reached out and took Teyla’s stuff from her. At the same time, he found Keller’s eyes and looked pointedly at her.
“She’s fine,” Keller mouthed, silently.
Sheppard nodded his gratitude. Except Teyla didn’t look fine at all. She was rumpled, like she’d gotten redressed in a hurry. Her pack was hanging half off her shoulder, ‘til Ronon unhooked it from her arm and took it away. Sheppard didn’t even think Teyla noticed. She wasn’t crying, but her eyes were wet and red. It didn’t look like she was fully processing anything. Her empty hands were fluttering around her torso, trying to straighten her clothing but not really doing anything.
“I need to go to my quarters,” Teyla said, but she didn’t move.
Ronon shoved her pack into Rodney’s arms. He put a hand on Teyla’s shoulder. “Okay,” he said, and somehow got her to start walking down the hallway.
Sheppard watched ‘til they were out of sight. When he looked back at Keller, the corners of her mouth were tugging down. She swallowed, cleared her throat.
“I’ll see you in Woolsey’s office,” she said. Then, “It’s really bad.”
Keller wasn’t lying. It was really, really bad.
Teyla didn’t come to the debriefing with Woolsey. Ronon arrived late, said he’d left her with Torrin somewhere in the Infirmary.
“She doesn’t need to be here,” Keller said. “It’s probably better that she’s not.”
The doctor was back in her normal uniform. Usually, she delivered bad news in just scrubs. Sheppard tried to get in the right mind set to hear something terrible about Kanaan. Poor Teyla. He glanced across the table at Rodney, who looked both utterly ill at ease and impatient.
“What happened to Kanaan?” Rodney asked, before Keller was even seated.
Keller shoved a laptop on to the conference table and opened its screen. She didn’t look at McKay when she answered and Sheppard noted how incredibly gray her face was.
“It’s not just him.”
It was all the Athosians. Every single one, except Teyla, Torrin, and four babies born since they’d reversed all the hybrid mojo.
“We fixed that!” Rodney said. “
“It’s not the same,” Keller said. “It’s something new.”
She brought up an image on the laptop screen. To Sheppard it looked like a drawing of a cell – a spinning 3-D cell. But Rodney squinted at it then looked at Keller.
“It’s not supposed to be doing that!"
“No,” Keller said. “It’s not.”
“Doing…what?” asked Woolsey, sounding like he was four steps behind and not too happy about it.
Keller sighed and looked down at the table top. “Replicating…”
“Wrong.” Rodney interrupted when she couldn’t seem to come up with the words.
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“It’s making the Athosians sick?” asked Ronon.
“It’s killing them,” Keller said, flatly. “On a cellular level. Kanaan’s suffering organ failure. His vital organs aren’t functioning correctly because the cells are restructuring so that his kidneys don’t work like kidneys. His lungs don’t work like lungs.”
“Michael,” Sheppard said, his voice suddenly darker and gruffer than he expected.
Keller dipped her head. “I can’t say for sure. This could have been some bizarre side effect of undoing what he already did to them, but…” she paused. “Kanaan got sick first and he is the most critical. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
Sheppard nodded, his jaw clenching in anger.
“What’s the plan?” asked Woolsey, and he was frowning but able to ask that question. So he probably wasn’t feeling as murderous as Sheppard was.
A few times before, Sheppard had seen the face Keller made then. And it made his insides tighten up. He saw a muscle in Ronon’s face twitch, knew he recognized it too.
“I can try to make them comfortable,” Keller said, slowly. “There is no cure for multiple organ failure. I can treat the symptoms. That’s all.”
“That can’t be all,” said Rodney. “The Athosians –”
“It’s happening very fast,” Keller continued. “Kanaan was up and talking two hours ago. Now he’s…” she shook her head.
Dying, was the word she wouldn’t say. She said other words, like ‘respirator’ and ‘dialysis’ and ‘heart failure.’ Not just for Kanaan but about every Athosian they’d rescued from Michael. They were all in the infirmary now, under quarantine because initially Keller had thought it was a contagion. Sheppard didn’t ask if she was sure it wasn’t, mostly because he thought Michael wouldn’t be satisfied unless there were people to witness the Athosians die.
Unless Teyla had to watch.
This was all about Teyla and Michael’s fixation on her. Sheppard’s chest was still heavy with relief that he couldn’t touch her or the baby. He knew instantly it was mostly wrong to feel that way, when Keller was saying Michael was in the process of killing an entire people. Her entire people. It was too insane to contemplate, so Sheppard focused on listening to Keller, waiting for her to pull some Ancient device out of the air that would undo whatever genetic shit Michael had managed to do to the Athosians
He watched Ronon’s face – dark and angry – and McKay’s – torn between disbelief and fear – while Keller said there was absolutely nothing she could do. She sounded as helpless as Woolsey looked.
It wasn’t a solution, but their only option was to try to keep the Athosians alive while Keller searched for a plan better than watching every single one of them decline in turn. But Keller also said she had some concerns about moving the more critical patients into the stasis pods for medical reasons Sheppard didn’t quite understand.
He understood less than an hour later, though, when Keller called Sheppard and Woolsey to come to her office. She looked even sadder than before, kept trying to swallow it back and be professional.
Stasis wasn’t going to buy them any time. If there was any doubt that Michael was behind this, it was gone. The patient Keller had tried to put into stasis – chosen because he was among the last to show symptoms – had expired in the fraction of a second it took for the stasis process to take affect. There was no natural reason, but it had accelerated the genetic transformation and stopped his heart. Reversing stasis to resuscitate hadn’t worked. The man was gone.
Sheppard didn’t recognize the name, would have felt guilty about that if he’d had the time.
“It’s safe to assume this is a deliberate…preventative measure?” Woolsey asked, distastefully.
“To prevent us from finding a way to help them,” Keller said. “Yeah. Michael must have known we’d try to buy time.”
“Time,” Sheppard said, without making it a question.
“There’s not much,” Keller said. She sucked her lips in and blinked hard. “I’m not willing to try to put anyone else in there if it’s just going to…I’m sorry.”
The last Athosian died four days later, on a gurney in the infirmary with Teyla standing over him. It wasn’t Kanaan. He’d passed two days earlier, neither first nor last, despite being the original patient. Michael had probably intended for him to be the first, and Sheppard hoped Teyla got something – he didn’t know what – out of the fact that Kanaan had held on longer.
He wasn’t sure that it mattered. Kanaan was like the rest in his last days, unconscious and unmoving. Unable to see or speak, unable to breathe on his own, and then ultimately unable to live. The infirmary and its respirators probably gave those extra days of that. At some point, Keller had asked Teyla if the medical staff should continue with the extraordinary measures, or if she would have preferred a more natural passing.
In her place, Sheppard wasn’t sure what he’d have said. His own preferences for death were quick and intact, but it was different when it was the choice for an entire people. Teyla must have asked to keep them with her for as long as possible, because Keller didn’t change anything.
The infirmary had set up a makeshift crèche for the four Athosian babies that were miraculously unaffected by the thing killing their parents. They were all only a few months old and reasonably furious about the new arrangement. It made for a very loud corner of the infirmary, but Sheppard didn’t mind it. Every time he heard them screaming, he thought of it as a reminder that Michael had ultimately failed. There were four angry little Athosians still living – six, counting Teyla and Torrin.
He did mind when he saw Torrin in one of the cribs, placed there by a nurse when Teyla had finally passed out after spending four days refusing to sleep. It bothered him finding her son among the orphans. Torrin stood up on his unsteady legs when he saw Sheppard, raising both arms in a plea to be picked up. Sheppard leaned in and pulled him out of the crib, putting him firmly on his hip.
Torrin was too little to understand everything, of course. Too young to realize his father was gone, but old enough to pick up on the distress of his mother and every other adult he saw. Maybe aware that he wasn’t seeing all the people he was used to having around, because they would never be around again. Sheppard ended up carrying him aimlessly for the rest of the afternoon, unwilling to put him back with the other children.
When Rodney showed up as he had every day so far, all jittery and doing his admirable very best to keep from adding to the situation by verbalizing the hysteria he clearly wanted to be screaming from the mountain tops, Sheppard shoved Torrin into his arms and told him go to feed the baby. It was something he was good at, better than Sheppard anyway, since Sheppard usually avoided that chore and was not in the mood to be any more frustrated or covered in baby food.
Ronon arrived after that, from whatever it was that he’d been doing to occupy himself. Sheppard imagined it involved a lot of bruised Marines. They both pulled up seats by Teyla’s gurney in the far corner of the infirmary. The staff had tried to place her far from the crèche and far from the area where the last Athosians had been confined. All the same, from her bed Sheppard could see a few orderlies emptying and disinfecting the very last gurney. He wanted them to be done by the time she woke up.
Keller had managed to put an IV-line in Teyla without waking her, making Sheppard wonder if the doctors hadn’t conspired to sedate her. The bags looked to be simple fluids. He hadn’t seen her eat or drink since their aborted mission. He’d try to get her some dinner when she woke.
Ronon was staring at Teyla’s still form, his expression dark.
“We’re gonna find him,” he said, sideways to Sheppard without taking his eyes off Teyla. “And kill him.”
“Yeah,” Sheppard said, but he couldn’t match Ronon’s growl. “We will.”
Teyla woke up patting her torso and the sides of the gurney, searching for Torrin with her hands before her eyes were even open. When she didn’t feel him, her eyes shot wide and she propped herself up on her elbows.
“Where is –”
“Rodney took him to lunch,” Sheppard said before she could finish the question. “He’s good.”
Teyla sat up fully, her back straight, arms moving to fold in her lap. She glanced down at the IV leads, face crinkling. When she raised her head, her eyes fixed on something in the distance. Sheppard knew she was looking at that last, now empty gurney across the room.
Ronon must have followed her gaze, too, because he pulled his chair closer to the bed and threw his hand out on top of the sheet near her waist.
“Hey,” he said.
Teyla looked down at his hand, reached for it with her own and held it tightly.
“Hello, Ronon,” she said.
Sheppard wondered if he should go. Ronon was uniquely skilled at being big, silent, and hulking and yet a rock of comfort at the same time. He didn’t even have to talk, his presence just tended to dilute things. For Sheppard, those things tended to be rage and the usually insanely stupid desire to flee the infirmary as soon as possible. Well, Ronon didn’t so much diminish that last one so much as help him leave. But, still, he would probably be of more use to Teyla than Sheppard was at the moment.
Silence was kind of Ronon’s thing, though. Sheppard’s own inability to speak felt fake and selfish, right now. The only word it seemed he’d said over the past few days was ‘sorry,’ by rote more than anything else, and totally inadequate.
The thoughts he couldn’t say weren’t what Teyla needed to hear now. He wasn’t sure she’d ever even want him to be the one to speak them. It was probable he’d be beaten to it by anyone else in the city with two brain cells to rub together. McKay had already sputtered out a few choice words in one of his earlier visits, before Sheppard had grabbed him and hauled him outside.
“Teyla doesn’t need to hear that right now,” he’d told McKay, who had shoved him off and pushed his hands away. He had somehow sort of pushed back, accidentally engaging in the most juvenile, half-assed, utterly pointless upright wrestling match in history. It had also been the briefest, interrupted almost immediately.
“Gentlemen?” Woolsey had said, sounding too confused to be angry.
Sheppard and McKay had pulled apart – not before McKay totally kicked Sheppard in the shin like a little girl – and had made a reasonable effort of recovering into two professional adults who didn’t have the stress management skills of children.
“We did this,” McKay had said, even as he tried to straighten his shirt. He looked dead on at Woolsey. “We killed the Athosians.”
He’d said something similar inside. Sheppard didn’t think Teyla had heard it; she hadn’t really heard much of anything anyone had said.
McKay was right, of course. Sheppard knew it. Teyla probably knew it, or would the moment her head cleared. The Atlantis mission had invented the retrovirus that had created Michael. The crap-ass retrovirus that hadn’t worked, just messed up the Wraith enough to make a totally different kind of monster. One that had just decided to destroy Teyla’s life because she’d tried to be nice to it.
Sheppard didn’t know what would happen when Teyla processed this all herself. It made him want to punch things. It might make her want to leave.
McKay brought Torrin back to the infirmary a little after Teyla woke up. The kid had obviously eaten, his mouth rimmed red from something. McKay himself was annoyingly clean; Sheppard was the only person Torrin unfailingly enjoyed smearing food on.
“Thank you for watching him,” Teyla said, eagerly reaching for her son. McKay awkwardly fumbled the kid over to her. He’d gotten better at holding him, but had to work on the passing.
“Yeah,” McKay said. He was still acting all jittery, the apparent outcome of not being allowed to yell. In the hand that hadn’t had the baby, he was holding a fruit cup and a plastic spoon. He kind of reached for Teyla with that hand, abruptly realized he was holding something and stopped the motion. “Um, want it?” he asked, setting it down on the swing table that was adjacent to Teyla.
Teyla gave him a little smile. “No thank you, Rodney. I am not hungry.”
“You should eat,” Ronon said. And then he opened the fruit cup for her and shoved the spoon inside.
Sheppard had never seen Ronon actually do ‘solicitous’ before, and under different circumstances it might have been funny. Under different circumstances, Teyla might have glared at him and Ronon would have earned a savage beating at a later date. Now, she just blinked at Ronon and mechanically reached for the spoon.
And even if she didn’t like being treated like a child – Sheppard personally would probably have tried to stab Ronon with the spoon in her place – Teyla did need to eat. She looked perceptibly better after a few mouthfuls of fruit and syrup. More alert and more focused, enough to wrap one arm tightly around Torrin, put the other hand on Ronon’s arm, and tell them she wanted to speak with Sheppard alone.
Why she told Ronon in particular, Sheppard wasn’t sure until Ronon dipped his head and swung one long arm out and hooked McKay with it. He didn’t think McKay was even walking on his own until they were several meters away.
“Hey, Teyla,” he began, moving his chair closer. “Look-”
“I can no longer serve on you team, John,” Teyla said. She spoke quickly and smoothly, almost unnaturally calm. “I must care for him now.” She squeezed Torrin. “And for them.” Her head tilted towards the crèche at the other end of the infirmary.
“Oh.” It wasn’t what he’d expected to hear. “Yeah. Okay.”
“Okay.” Teyla nodded. She looked uncertain for a second. “If I may stay in the city…”
“Yeah,” Sheppard interrupted. “Of course.”
She nodded again. “Thank you.”
And that was pretty much the exact opposite of the sentiment she should be expressing, but Sheppard was too damn selfish and grateful to care.
“We can give you a hand,” he said, and then he gave her both of his, finding her free hand and the one at the end of the arm encircling Torrin.
The following month was rougher than those four days. Sheppard didn’t know what he had expected. Maybe that the aftermath of genocide would be neat and tidy.
And it was genocide, even if the only person using that word on a regular basis was McKay. He and Sheppard had had a few more arguments – no more involving shoving like seven-year-olds, fortunately – about how McKay should knock it the fuck off and let Teyla be. She didn’t show emotion by becoming a human hurricane and that was fine. He would realize, much later, that McKay was genuinely upset and probably felt responsible for the fate of the Athosians, emotions he expressed by yelling a whole lot and questioning why no one else was.
Where McKay erupted, Teyla withdrew. Sheppard hadn’t seen her cry, not since they first came back, anyway. She seemed stiffer and hollowed out, her composure drained. He knew she had to grieve, but he missed her usual light, friendly presence. It was different now, might stay different forever.
Sheppard hadn’t thought about what would happen after the Athosians died. He just…hadn’t. There were protocols and procedures in place for mission deaths. Keller submitted a medical report on it to Woolsey, and it would go over the databurst to the IOA. And they probably wouldn’t care.
He didn’t spare any mind to the Athosians in the morgue. They were gone – it was horrible – but they were gone.
So, he felt kind of like a jackass when he went looking for Teyla one day and couldn’t find her. She wasn’t answering on the intercom, which in itself was weird. He had Torrin and the kid was hungry, becoming increasingly wiggly and cranky. The Athosian babies were still in the infirmary, so he guessed Teyla would be there, too, or Keller would know where she was.
“She’s in the morgue,” Keller said, when he asked.
“Thanks,” Sheppard said, and took a step back towards the exit without fully processing the statement.
“Wait!” Keller followed him to the door, looking a little confused. “Don’t take Torrin in there.”
“Oh. Right.” Sheppard paused. “Here.” He handed Torrin over.
He went to the morgue without ever thinking what Teyla was doing there. Maybe he pictured her mourning next to the closed cadaver drawers. He didn’t know what she thought of Earth-style mortuary procedures. They’d imported them to Atlantis because the city’s own facilities were too small and frankly too uncomfortably alien. The last thing people dealing with casualties needed to handle was technology designed by a people that expected to vanish happily into a glowing white light rather than die.
Sheppard found Teyla in the autopsy room. There was a nude body on the pallet and Teyla was rubbing her hands in circles over the dead man’s chest.
“Uhh,” Sheppard said, as soon as he was through the door. Because he was full of sensitivity and tact like that.
Teyla looked up at him, unalarmed. “Hello, John.”
“Hey,” said Ronon, and Sheppard hadn’t even seen him, but he was standing right behind Teyla holding a wooden tray in one hand.
“Hi,” Sheppard said, aware his voice sounded completely weirded out.
“I am performing my people’s ritual death cleansing,” Teyla said, before he had to ask. She dipped her hands – or more likely the tiny sponge Sheppard hadn’t seen her holding – into a bowl on Ronon’s tray.
“Oh,” Sheppard said.
“I’m helping,” Ronon said, without the slightest trace of finding this gross or uncomfortable.
“Oh,” he said, again.
“Do you need me?” Teyla asked, looking at him curiously.
“Um,” he said. “Torrin was hungry.” But that seemed less pressing, less important now. Teyla blinked at him, maybe wondered where her baby was. “I gave him to Keller.”
“I will go to him when I am finished with Ashuel,” Teyla said, and that must have been the Athosian’s name. Sheppard didn’t know him. Hadn’t known him.
“Okay,” he said, and remained standing awkwardly in the doorway.
“You do not have to stay,” Teyla said forgivingly, a second later. He must have looked as self-conscious as he felt.
“Yeah,” he said, taking a step towards the exit. “I’ll go entertain Torrin ‘til you’re done.”
“Thank you,” Teyla said, sincerely, then looked down and brought her sponge across the dead man’s shoulders.
Sheppard felt like a dick after that. Especially because Ronon was in there with her, and he hadn’t lasted three minutes. And he wondered why Teyla hadn’t told him that she’d be doing this. He wondered if she meant to do the ritual for all of the Athosians, and then promptly kicked himself because of course she did. And maybe she hadn’t had a chance to tell him because he’d made a point to give her some space while she was grieving.
Later, he went and found McKay, tried to subtly find out if he’d known what Teyla was up to. Sheppard interrupted him and Zelenka hurling things at each other down the length of their lab. He walked in the door and something rolled swiftly along the floor and bounced off his shin. It was too soft to really hurt, but it was still kind of big and startling, so Sheppard yelped and jumped away from it, anyway.
“What the hell?” he called.
Across the room, Zelenka’s head swiveled towards the door. “Oops,” he said. “Sorry?”
The thing that had hit Sheppard’s leg wobbled twice and fell over. It looked like a half sized bicycle wheel. He picked it up, turned it over in his hands.
“We are making carriage,” Zelenka volunteered, hurrying over and taking the wheel from him.
“A stroller,” McKay translated. “For Teyla.”
“Oh,” Sheppard said. And that was actually really nice and thoughtful. The Athosian babies were still in the infirmary, were likely to stay there unless Teyla really wanted to try and move them to her quarters at some point. He hadn’t even thought about how she’d go about transporting four infants plus Torrin.
He found out from a short conversation with McKay that he had known about Teyla’s rituals, and of course wasn’t participating because eww. McKay wouldn’t say it, but Sheppard inferred that the great four-infant baby carriage invention was probably because it was the only helpful thing he could think of that didn’t involve being in the room while Teyla washed a corpse. Sheppard couldn’t exactly mock him for it, as he was right there with him on finding it entirely too creepy.
It did, however, confirm that he was at the moment the least considerate, most self-centered member of his team. If McKay could keep down the hysterical ranting that had been his primary reaction, Sheppard could admit that avoiding Teyla and telling himself he was giving her room to grieve wasn’t actually a nice thing to be doing.
It wasn’t as bad as Sheppard thought it would be.
He went and asked Teyla if she wanted a hand, mostly because he felt like a tool and didn’t actually expect her to accept. And because McKay refused any assistance in his and Zelenka’s project, claiming they didn’t need ‘a stroller that breaks the sound barrier.’
But Teyla said yes, and smiled at him without saying anything else. Well, she asked him to hold a baby. He did, because her arms were full. The medical staff was for the most part being really good about dropping by the crèche in their downtime. The Athosian babies were getting attention, not parental attention, but affection and care all the same. And Teyla only had two hands.
“Who’s this?” Sheppard asked, because he realized he didn’t know any of their names.
“That is Onya,” Teyla said. “I am holding Hala. Dr. Biro is feeding Danto and Ellsing is sleeping.”
“Okay,” he said.
Anyway, it wasn’t that bad.
The stasis pods that had been totally useless in saving the Athosians while they lived were, gruesomely, useful in saving them while they were dead. Sheppard refused to put any further thought into that, but it meant that the bodies didn’t look all that dead. It was a small grace that the illness that had killed them hadn’t disfigured or marked them in anyway. It looked like they were sleeping; cool and still and pale, but sleeping.
It didn’t bother Sheppard as much as he thought it would. Maybe because it clearly didn’t bother Teyla.
All he had to do was stand there, after all, and hold a silly wooden tray with a basin and a little bowl of sweet-smelling powdered herb while Teyla did her thing.
She talked intermittently. He found out this was the Athosian ritual for unnatural, early death when the community had the body. Which they didn’t, of course, when the Wraith came. So, Sheppard understood that this wasn’t something they got to do often. Teyla admitted she had never done it before, personally, made a little face like she wasn’t totally sure she was doing it right. He told her it was the thought that counted, watched the hard, cold walls that had built up over her face in the past month flutter in response.
The back of his mind processed that this ritual – cleansing the dead – was probably a terrible idea when dealing with disease. He didn’t mention this to Teyla, of course. It didn’t matter. He also, very deliberately, didn’t keep count. There were more, a lot more, than he’d have thought. The number didn’t mean anything, anyway. He didn’t want to know.
It turned out Sheppard couldn’t handle the ones he’d known. Halling, Jinto, the people whose names he knew. That accounted for – shamefully – very few. But he couldn’t be in there, then, told Teyla he had to go and swiftly did just that. And the kids. Because there were kids, some very, very young.
Ronon was in there with Teyla for those. He was okay with it, or at least he gave no sign to the contrary. Sheppard didn’t even bother feeling the pang of envy that usually struck when Ronon effortlessly and easily did something better than he did. This wasn’t a skill Sheppard wanted.
Maybe it wasn’t as easy on Ronon as it looked. Afterwards, almost every single time, he asked Sheppard if he wanted to spar. And Sheppard honestly, didn’t, because even when Ronon was still and solid on the outside, he could still be explosive on the inside. Sheppard found his own emotion made him awkward and less focused. This matched badly with Ronon, who just moved faster and hit harder in response to stress. It wasn’t fair, and it also wasn’t any fun to be on the receiving end.
Where Teyla needed him to stand behind her and say supportive things – or just not visibly freak out, whichever was the case – Ronon needed Sheppard to stand before him and let him kick, punch, and whack with sticks. Sheppard hit back, of course, just as hard. Unfortunately, he was pretty sure that the extra edge of force didn’t so much remind Ronon that they were pals and this was supposed to be friendly non-lethal practice as it did encourage him to go even harder.
It made Ronon feel better, though. He didn’t usually say anything, which was fine. Sheppard was a big fan of not talking about stuff, too. But he could tell by the set of Ronon’s shoulders and tightness of his face the difference between murderous and calmed, and he was always glad to see the transition.
After the violence, actually, Ronon was more inclined to speak. Mostly about how they needed to find and immediately kill Michael. Sheppard agreed, of course, providing that Michael was even still alive and that they had any idea where he was or how to locate him.
“Keller says it’s possible this happened even with Michael dead,” Sheppard reminded Ronon, from his position on the floor. He was lying on his back on the training mats, prodding his torso with one hand, checking to make sure his ribcage was still intact. “He could have ‘programmed’ it to take affect after a certain amount of time, in case the Athosians were rescued.”
Ronon grunted, meaning he didn’t see that as a particularly convincing reason not to be actively hunting for Michael.
They weren’t actively doing much of anything at the moment. Sheppard’s team was on stand down, had been for the whole month. Woolsey hadn’t even blinked when told the whole team was going off duty to help Teyla through this, just nodded without comment. Sheppard knew he’d done some quiet paperwork to make their inactivity less obvious to the IOA. Woolsey could be a really good guy sometimes.
It took a little over a month for Teyla to complete her task. Sheppard didn’t really keep track, figured she’d be done when she was done. In another moment that showed his total lack of forethought, he hadn’t anticipated that there’d be anything else. He didn’t think about burial or whatnot.
In his defense, he was a little distracted. In the middle of the month, Lorne came to him with a bunch of personnel files, said it was the applicant pool, dropped the tablet on Sheppard’s desk, and managed to be gone from his office before Sheppard could ask any questions.
It was, of course, applicants to replace Teyla on Sheppard’s team. Well, half applicants and half various people that someone – Woolsey? He wasn’t sure – had thought would be appropriate and could be forcibly reassigned. Sheppard looked at the thing for approximately five seconds, then put it to side on his desk and found something else to do.
He actually had a lot of back piled paperwork to get done, stuff that was way overdue and earned the occasional pesty visit from an irked Lorne who couldn’t submit his own stuff until Sheppard did, or from Woolsey, who was really skilled at looming silently until Sheppard completed some form or the other and gave it to him.
The reassignment stuff wasn’t all that urgent, anyway.
Lorne popped back in every now and then to remind him about it, clearly not a job he enjoyed. He knew what Sheppard was helping Teyla with at the moment, had to know he didn’t exactly need anything else on his plate. But someone had to deal with staffing, and if Sheppard didn’t do it, Woolsey or someone even higher – and that was a really, really bad idea – would do it for him.
It was mostly women. Not surprising, since it was mostly anthropologists, and the anthropology department was mostly chicks. There were a couple of men, though, as well. And some military applicants, both men and women, who presumably had some kind of background where they’d learned to prefer talking over shooting.
It didn’t really matter to Sheppard. He figured at the moment Teyla was the only person on his team who obeyed an order the first time he said it. It’d be convenient if he could keep that going, since having a third person who wouldn’t listen or whose instincts were to start fighting immediately wouldn’t be a great change to team dynamics.
But really, providing it was someone who had at least a passing interest in listening to orders and could keep up the pace when it came time to run away and get back to the ‘Gate, Sheppard figured he could get along with just about anyone.
He gave the personnel files a brief look, discarded the anthropologists who looked too tubby to flee fast enough or who cited ‘yoga’ as evidence of their physical preparation for off-world missions. One of the military applicants Sheppard remembered being a giant, drunken dick, and he got tossed, too.
The source of personality clashes wouldn’t be Sheppard, so he forwarded the remaining files to Ronon and McKay. It was highly unlikely Ronon would make any effort to read them. If McKay bothered to, he almost certainly would reject them all. But Sheppard had to try. All they really needed was someone who wouldn’t be unduly intimidated by Ronon or too tempted to shoot McKay when he was being extra annoying. There was no way of duplicating Teyla’s extensive knowledge of Pegasus stuff, but some of the anthropologists were really big dorks on research. And Teyla would still be around after all, they could probably even officially keep her on the payroll as a consultant.
As an afterthought, Sheppard forwarded the personnel files to Teyla, too. Immediately, he wondered if that was really necessary, if she needed reminding that someone else was going to fill her role on his team. But, then again, he didn’t know that she even had any headspace left to devote to that topic, any emotion left to be upset about it. She probably wouldn’t even have time to read it. But he really did want her opinion.
~Please feed the author~