toastfic: (atlantis)
[personal profile] toastfic
This is an AU revisionist version of the Stargate: Atlantis season 3 episode "Misbegotten" written not long after the episode first aired in 2006. I cannot even begin to express to how much the whole Michael storyline pissed me off. So, like any good fanficcer, I opened my word processor and asked "What if?"




I.

Light from above; too bright, but he could not move his hands to shield his eyes. People came and went. They asked questions, demanded answers he did not know how to give. When he grew tired of it, he hissed, and they retreated again, fearful and muttering.

He slept.

When he woke again, he was clearer. The light above his head was a lamp. He lay in a bed with metal railings, wrists immobilized by soft tan restraints. A machine near his head made quiet, steady beeps. He could not remember how he came to be here. He could not remember his name.

A man in a white coat came into the room. "Awake at last, I see," he said.

His tongue was slow and thick in his mouth. "What happened?"

"You've been very ill," the man said in a grave voice. "A virus. Gave us quite a scare, but you're on the mend now. I'm Doctor Beckett. Do you remember me at all?"

The name sent a shiver of formless anxiety down his spine, but there was nothing, no memory, to explain why. He stared in blank silence, uncertain what to say.

Beckett patted his hand awkwardly. "Not to worry, lad, some memory loss is to be expected." He looked down at the restraints. "And I don't think we need these any longer. You were--very agitated for a time, when the fever was at its highest."

Once his wrists were free, he lifted his hands to his face, touched skin that felt strange beneath his fingers. Touched his hair, the short locks matted and stiff with dried sweat. It was familiar, yet still somehow subtly wrong.

Beckett turned to leave. "You should rest," he said. "Sleep is the best thing for you right now."

"Doctor." His voice was rough but getting stronger. "Could you tell me, that is...." He trailed off.

Beckett closed his eyes for a brief moment. "Kenmore," he said. "Your name is Michael Kenmore."

++++


A man and a woman argued in the hall outside his room.

Michael could not make out any words, only raised tones and a sense that whatever the man was trying to express, the woman was not listening. He let his head thump back against the pillow and wished they would go away so he could sleep.

The door opened. A slim woman with tired eyes and a false smile walked in, followed by a tall, lean man with messy dark hair and a carefully neutral expression. "Hello, Michael," the woman said. "I'm Doctor Elizabeth Weir. Do you--"

"Remember who you are? No. I don't."

He didn't mean to be rude, but something about the woman grated, the same way something about Beckett made his skin crawl, and he was tired of being asked what he did and did not remember.

Weir's smile faltered for a moment. "I'm sure you must have a lot of questions."

"I know the basics: My name is Michael. I'm in Atlantis. I caught some sort of virus and it damaged my memory." At Weir's surprised look, he added, "Dr. Beckett's staff has been very helpful."

"Well. That's--a good place to start," Weir said.

Michael sighed. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to be brusque. It's just, this all seems so strangely familiar."

"We call that deja vu," said the man. "I'm Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, by the way. You won't remember me, either."

Weir shot Sheppard a brief, quelling glance before continuing. "This must be very difficult for you. I want you to know, we're doing everything in our power to make your recovery as swift and comfortable as possible."

Sheppard's jaw tightened; for a moment, he seemed on the verge of saying something. Weir gave him another hard look, and his shoulders sagged. "Yeah," he muttered. "What she said."

Michael knew he should make some kind of appreciative noise and opened his mouth, only to have the words disappear within an enormous yawn.

Weir's expression softened into genuine sympathy. "We'll let you get some rest."

She turned to leave, Sheppard right behind her. At the door, Sheppard paused. "I, uh, hope you feel better," he said quietly.

The door slid closed with a soft whoosh and settled the room once more into silence.

++++

Beckett released him from the hospital two days later.

He dressed in the clothes he was provided: a form-fitting, short sleeved black shirt, grey trousers, black boots. Sheppard had worn something similar; Michael assumed it was a uniform. When he emerged from the room, there was a woman waiting for him in the hall, small and sleek, with graceful bones and the look of a hunter in her dark, watchful eyes. She did not bother to ask if he remembered her but simply announced, "I am Teyla Emmagan."

The name resonated within him, sharpest of all those he had met so far. "Teyla," he repeated, trying the shape and feel of it on his tongue. "Teyla."

She cocked her head to one side. "You know me?"

Michael hesitated, trying to pin down the elusive thoughts that skittered through his mind like water over stone. "I think so," he said at last. "I remember anger and regret, but without context it's meaningless." He frowned. "Did we have some kind of fight?"

She sucked in a sharp breath, let it out again slowly. "It is in the past," she said. "Will you allow me to escort you to your quarters?"

"If you don't," he said, "I'll never find them."

They walked slowly through a succession of bright, airy halls, winding higher and higher until the view through the windows showed an endless expanse of cloudless sky above deep, rolling sea. People stared as they passed, some with curiosity, others with open fear and revulsion, one or two with pity. "Are they afraid I'm contagious?" Michael asked.

"Possibly," Teyla said.

His quarters were as blank and sterile as the hospital room had been, but at least there was a vague sense of familiarity about them. The bed was narrow but inviting all the same, given the ache in his bones that Beckett had promised would fade in time. "I should probably rest," he said.

"Of course," Teyla said. "I will stop by again in the evening, if you have no objections."

"I'd like that," he said, and meant it.

++++

There were others like him in quarantine off-world.

Michael never saw them, knew only that they were the source of his own infection. The virus in his blood was dormant, but would only remain so as long as he took daily injections to control it. Until a more effective antiviral was found, he could not return to active duty.

"Why am I in Atlantis, and not quarantined with the rest?" he asked Beckett.

"There was talk of doing so," Beckett admitted, "but Colonel Sheppard wouldn't allow it. Nor would I," he added, before Michael could even voice the question. "You're one of us now, lad, and we take care of our own."

Yes, Michael thought, but what was I before?

It was a puzzle, one of many he encountered as he struggled to fit back into a life he could not recall. Small things, each insignificant in its own right but unsettling in the aggregate: He could read and write in both Wraith and Lantean, but was barely literate in English. Food baffled him. It tasted strange, all of it, regardless of whether it came from Earth or was grown here in Pegasus. And there was a lingering sense that he just did not quite get what people were talking about most of the time.

Beckett sent him to see the staff counselor, Dr. Heightmeyer, a pale, cold woman Michael did not trust in the slightest. He still went every morning without fail, and answered her questions as succinctly as possible. Afternoons belonged to Teyla, and the grueling physical regime she designed to help him regain his strength. By evening he was exhausted, able to do little more than eat a solitary, bland dinner in the mess and then limp quietly back to his quarters to sleep.

If he dreamed, he did not remember.

Michael enjoyed sparring with Teyla and his body quickly grew lean and hard, though never as swift, never as strong as he remembered deep down in his gut. More often than not, Sheppard came to watch. If Michael caught his eye, Sheppard would smile, wry and sharp, then nod to Teyla and leave them to their work.

It was exasperating. "Why does he do that?" Michael asked Teyla during their next session, after Sheppard had come and gone.

Teyla considered the question. "Perhaps the colonel wishes to assure himself that your recovery is going smoothly."

There was a snort from the rear of the gymnasium: Ronon Dex, tying back the thick ropes of his hair as he waited for Teyla to finish sparring. "Maybe he's just keeping an eye out for trouble," he said with ill-concealed malice.

Michael felt a sharp surge of anger. It was a common reaction to Dex's presence. "I don't think I like you."

Dex loomed closer, a solid wall of muscle, bone and violent intent. "Feeling's mutual."

"Ronon," Teyla warned.

Dex shrugged, his face impassive. "No point in lying."

"No," said a new voice, "there really isn't."

Michael glanced over his shoulder, saw Sheppard walking slowly toward them, mouth quirked in a sardonic little half-smile. "Sorry to interrupt," Sheppard said, "but I need to borrow Michael for a bit."

"We are finished for the day," Teyla said. She turned to Michael and inclined her head in dismissal. "I will see you tomorrow."

Sheppard waited while Michael mopped the worst of the sweat from his face and hair with a towel, and retrieved his shoes. "You want to stop by the mess?" Sheppard asked suddenly. "I'm always starving after Teyla finishes kicking my ass."

The offer was both pleasing and unexpected. Michael covered his surprise by wiping his face again with the towel. "I could eat," he admitted, feeling strangely diffident. He never had company at meals.

Sheppard's smile was reassuring. "Then let's go."


It was early enough that the cafeteria was almost empty. Michael preferred it that way. On busy days, he simply grabbed the first thing that came to hand and retreated to a quiet corner, hoping whatever wound up on his plate would not make a reappearance an hour later. Arriving early meant he could take his time finding something that would not upset his stomach without frustrating those in line behind him.

Sheppard's tray was already full. Michael frowned, wondering if he should hurry. "I'm afraid I have an adversarial relationship with food."

Sheppard tensed. "That so."

Michael nodded. "I have trouble keeping things down," he explained. "Dr. Beckett says it's a side effect of the medication I'm on."

The taut line of Sheppard's shoulders eased. "Well," he said, "you can't go wrong with a turkey sandwich."

"Sounds good." Michael glanced at the table, then back at Sheppard. "Which one is it?"

Sheppard found the correct sandwich for him, hesitated a moment, then added a bowl of gelatin, a bright yellow something that was probably fruit, and a bottle of water. "All guaranteed not to make you puke," Sheppard said cheerfully. "Especially the Jell-O."

"Now, that I'm familiar with," Michael said. "I ate a lot of it in the hospital."

"I can grab something else."

"No, I like Jell-O." He jostled the tray and watched the red cubes shimmy in their bowl. "It's kind of mesmerizing."

Sheppard laughed. "Yeah, I guess it is," he said.

They found a small table in the back of the room, well shielded from curious onlookers by a thick, spiky potted plant. The turkey sandwich turned out to be every bit as good as Sheppard claimed, falling somewhere between french fries and lime popsicles on Michael's small but growing list of foods he both knew the name of and actually enjoyed eating. "So, what did you need to see me about?" he asked. "Or was that just a diversion to keep Dex and I from killing each other?"

"It was partially a diversion," Sheppard admitted. He looked down at his plate and began toying absently with a piece of wilted greenstuff. "McKay wants you for a project he's working on with the Wraith hive ship."

"The hive ship," Michael said, surprised. "Why?"

Sheppard grimaced. "It's--kind of your area of expertise."

Michael considered this. "That would explain why I can read Wraith," he said at last. "What about my medical leave? Beckett said I wasn't ready to return to duty."

Sheppard's expression turned guarded. "There's some disagreement about that." He sighed, clearly frustrated. "Look, there are--things you should know that you don't. Important things."

"But you're not allowed to tell me."

"No, I'm not. Hence the disagreement."

Michael nodded. "I'm not surprised," he said, and he wasn't. "Ever since I woke up, things have felt--off somehow. And I don't just mean the amnesia." He picked up the probably-fruit thing and studied its curved, vaguely phallic shape, noting a series of small black speckles that marred the yellow skin. "I'm sorry, you'll have to explain this one," he said, and handed it over to Sheppard.

Sheppard removed the thick outer layer and discarded it, leaving only the soft, off-white center which he handed back to Michael. "It's a banana," he said. "They're a good source of potassium, which your body needs after a hard workout."

It was sticky and came apart easily in his fingers. He wasn't sure he liked the texture, but the flavor was pleasantly mild. "Local or imported?"

"Imported," Sheppard said. "From Earth."

Michael picked up his fork and poked at his Jell-O. "I should have known that," he said. "If I really was from Earth, I would have."

Sheppard said nothing, which was answer enough. Michael sighed, suddenly very weary. "I'm going back to my quarters," he said. "Call me when you've reached a consensus on how much I'm allowed to know about my own life."


II.

John Sheppard stared out at the sea.

From this height, the sound of waves was muted, but the air still smelled like brine. A line of thunderstorms was forming to the east. It was only a squall, part of the normal summer pattern and nothing Atlantis couldn't handle unshielded. In an hour or two, the clear blue waters surrounding the city would become grey and choppy as the wind rose and the storms drew nearer. It would pass just as quickly, but for that little while the air would taste cleanly of rain.

Behind him, Elizabeth said, "We've been through this before."

"Yeah, we have," John said. "It's still not working."

"John--"

"It's not working," he repeated. "It didn't work the first time, and it's not working now."

Elizabeth walked up to the balcony rail and joined him in watching the sea. "Michael chose to take the treatment. It's our responsibility to honor that choice."

"I agree," John said. "What I don't understand is why we can't just tell him that."

Elizabeth regarded him quizzically. "You know, you're awfully concerned for someone who thought he would be better off dead."

"There are worse things than death," John said. "Having your mind wiped and your entire personality reprogrammed might be one of them."

"He volunteered, John."

"He volunteered to become human," John countered. "Not for us to gaslight him."

"And if that's what it takes to make him human?"

John tucked his hands into his pockets. "Then maybe we need to redefine humanity."

++++

There had always been something preternatural about Teyla.

John had noticed it during their very first meeting on Athos. Her poise, the way she could move from attack to perfect stillness between one heartbeat and the next, the tilt of her head, they all spoke other in a way he could never fully quantify, much less explain. When he discovered months later that she was part Wraith, John had been disturbed but not surprised. It had been there all along, even if no-one had been willing to name it.

That otherness was more evident as she sparred with Michael: two predators circling each other, sleek and deadly, searching for any sign of weakness. Teyla struck--graceful, swift, sure. Michael went down hard. He rose gingerly, one hand curled around the back of his neck.

Teyla frowned and folded her arms across her chest. "You are unusually slow today," she said. "Is something wrong?"

"Just a headache," Michael said. "I'm fine."

Teyla nodded, but the set of her jaw told John she remained unconvinced. The pair resumed their wary dance and yes, Michael was slower, almost imperceptibly so, but enough for an experienced fighter like Teyla to take advantage. She brought him down again, and this time he did not get up but remained instead on the mat with his head cradled in his hands. "Can either of you hear that?" he gasped.

Teyla threw John a worried glance. "Hear what?" she asked.

Michael hesitated. "Singing," he said at last. "It sounds like singing."

John listened, but there was nothing beyond the sound of Michael's labored breathing. "I don't hear anything," he said. "Teyla?"

Teyla closed her eyes, her face going eerily blank and still. "I hear--something," she said slowly, "but it is very faint." She opened her eyes again. "How long has this been going on?"

"Not long," Michael said. "Ten, maybe twenty minutes. It started like a buzz in the back of my head that kept getting louder and louder, but it seems to be fading now." He looked up at John, his eyes wide, pleading. "Am I going crazy? Or is this another of those things you can't tell me about?"

Believing he was human was supposed to make Michael's integration into society easier, but at that moment, with Michael on his knees, pale and shaken, John wanted nothing more than to tell him the truth, all of it, and be damned what Carson and Heightmeyer thought.

Instead it was Teyla who leaped into the breach. "You are not mad," she said. "You can sense the Wraith as I do, though your medication should have suppressed the ability." She held out her hand. "Come, I will take you to the Infirmary. The doctors will want to know about this."

++++

"He heard Wraith singing?" McKay said. "Singing what? Row Row Row Your Boat? Die Fledermaus? In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida?"

"He didn't exactly quote the lyrics," John said irritably. "All he said was that he heard singing, and that it was loud enough to give him a headache. Teyla heard it, too," he added, "but only after Michael pointed it out."

"Fine, fine," McKay said. "So, we have confirmation from an outside source that there were Wraith singing whatever it is Wraith sing."

"Irresponsible Hate Anthem," John muttered. At McKay's surprised look, he said, "What, you think I only listen to Johnny Cash?"

McKay rolled his eyes. "The point is, Michael and Teyla both heard the voices, which means there are Wraith within singing distance and we have a potentially serious problem." He leaned back in his chair. "Have you told Elizabeth?"

"Not yet," John admitted. "I wanted to see if there was anything on the long range sensors first."

"Nothing so far, but we don't know what kind of telepathic range Michael has. There could be a ship out there and we simply haven't detected it yet." McKay gave John a thoughtful look. "I'm curious, is there any particular reason you're protecting him? Not that I object, he'll be an invaluable resource if Carson and Heightmeyer ever clear him to work on the hive ship. I just wouldn't have expected you to agree, seeing how you originally wanted to, you know, kill him."

"I said that killing him outright would be cleaner than wiping his mind," John snapped, "not that I wanted him dead. And why does everyone keep bringing that up?"

McKay opened his mouth, then decided against whatever he was about to say and closed it again. "Americans," he muttered, shaking his head. "You know, you really should tell Elizabeth about this, assuming whatever lackey Carson left in charge of the Infirmary while he's at the quarantine site--" McKay stopped abruptly, eyes going wide. "Oh, shit."

"Wraith within singing distance," John said, catching the direction of Rodney's panic. He tapped his radio. "Sheppard to Weir. I think we have a problem."

++++

Elizabeth was not happy. "Are you sure these--voices originated from the prisoners in the camp?"

"Unfortunately, no," McKay said, nervous fingers tapping a staccato rhythm on the polished surface of the conference table. "We have no direct communication with the site--which, if you recall, is something I strongly objected to when that planet was first suggested as a detainment facility–so there's no way to find out if anything has gone wrong without sending in a team to investigate."

"What about the Daedalus?" Elizabeth asked. "Can we divert them to investigate?"

McKay shook his head. "They're halfway back to Earth. Even if they turned around now, it would still take them weeks to arrive. The only way we're going to reach the site with anything resembling speed is to use the hive ship."

"Which still has no working weapons or any real maneuverability, even with Teyla piloting it," John added.

"Wonderful." Elizabeth pressed her fingertips wearily against her eyelids. "If you're right and that was a distress call of some kind..."

"We're screwed," McKay said bluntly.

John studied the wall directly behind Elizabeth's left shoulder. "There's still one possibility we haven't discussed."

"You mean Michael." Elizabeth straightened in her chair, eyes narrowed, considering. "Would he do it? Could he do it?"

"He can't be any worse than Teyla," McKay said. "Most likely, he'll be better. He is a Wraith, after all."

"And what happens if he remembers that?" Elizabeth demanded. "Being linked into the ship's neural interface is bound to trigger memories. Will he still want to fight for us?"

"He did before," John said. "But once he finds out we've been lying to him again?" He shrugged, helpless. "I don't know."

Elizabeth took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "I don't see that we have much choice," she said at last. "Do it."


III.

Michael lay on his bed listening to the voices inside his skull.

They were dissonant at first, a confused jumble of sound crying out to the heavens, over and over and over again. In time, one voice grew stronger than the rest. It gathered the others together, wove them into a single pure note, calling out for help.

Come, they sang. We are here. Come and bring us home.

Bring us home.

Bring us
home.

The door to his room opened. Michael peered out from beneath the damp washcloth he had draped across his eyes and found Sheppard staring at him from the doorway. "Here's the thing," Sheppard said as the door slid shut behind him. "You used to be a Wraith."

Michael let the washcloth settle back over his eyes. "Yes," he said. "I had figured that out for myself."

He could almost taste Sheppard's incredulity. "How long have you known?" Sheppard spluttered.

"Since the Wraith at the quarantine site began calling for help," he said. "They're like me, aren't they: Wraith transformed into humans by Beckett's little miracle drug."

"Not quite like you," Sheppard said. "You volunteered."

Michael tossed the washcloth aside and pushed himself up onto his elbows. "Do you really expect me to believe that after all your lies and evasions?"

"No," Sheppard said. "I don't. But maybe you'll believe yourself."

Sheppard pulled something out of his jacket pocket and tossed it on the bed near Michael's hip. It was a DVD, the words Deliver to: Lt. Michael Kenmore printed on the disk in black marker. Michael recognized the shaky handwriting as his own. "What's this?" he asked, confused.

"Your suicide note," Sheppard said quietly. "That's what you called it, anyway. Teyla was supposed to give it to you when you first woke up, but Beckett and Heightmeyer wouldn't let her. They thought it would impede your recovery."

"Why are you telling me this now?"

"We've detected a Wraith cruiser en route to the quarantine site on the long range sensors," Sheppard said. "The Daedalus left for Earth weeks ago, so the only way we're going to get there first is if we use the hive ship we captured."

Ah, he thought. Of course. "And you need a Wraith to fly it."

Sheppard tucked his hands into his pockets. "Something like that. Will you do it?"

Michael's gaze flicked to the DVD. "I'll think about it."

"Don't think too long," Sheppard warned. "We get underway in an hour, with or without you."

++++

Michael had a laptop, ostensibly to help him improve his reading. It was old and badly underpowered, good for little more than opening text files on a word processor and playing music or films. Knowing what he did now, he was surprised they'd given it to him at all.

The DVD drive whirred to life, and a Wraith's pallid face filled the screen. That's me, Michael thought. He felt dizzy, lightheaded. His fingers touched the image, traced the familiar curve of a cheekbone, the arch of a brow. That's me.

The Wraith spoke.

"Wraith are not meant to be alone. We desire the company of our brothers, the closeness of the Hive, the love of She who is both Queen and Mother. It is a need almost as great as the hunger that drives us to feed.

"To be cast out of the Hive....

"How do you choose your death? Starvation is a slow way to die for a Wraith, too slow by human reckoning. They would never have the patience for it. There are other options, faster and less painful. All I have to do is step outside my door to find any number of willing executioners, though I think Ronon Dex would prefer to claim that honor for himself.

"But there is another kind of death, the one I have chosen, the one that leaves my body still alive. I will not remember any of this; all the experience of my life as Wraith will be purged, wiped clean. Some would say that is the cruelest death of all, and they may be right. Perhaps I am a coward to choose a life unknowing among humans, but it is still life, and I will no longer be alone.

"Of the humans, Teyla will do what she can to make the transition easier. Colonel Sheppard is also honorable; give him your loyalty, earn his trust, and you will have no finer protector. Don't believe a word Heightmeyer says. Stay away from tacos, they give you heartburn. Reed's Ginger Brew is excellent for an upset stomach; Lieutenant Laura Cadman usually has a supply and will trade them for chocolate pudding cups."


The screen went black.

++++

John never actually believed Michael would be willing to pilot the hive ship for them, so his shock was understandable when the former Wraith strolled calmly into the puddle jumper bay five minutes before they were scheduled to take off and said, "All right, where do I sit?"

Ronon recovered first. "As far away from me as possible."

Michael ignored him. "Colonel?"

"There are benches in the aft compartment," John said. "Teyla can show you."

Michael nodded, slung his backpack over one shoulder and followed Teyla into the jumper.

Ronon grabbed John's arm and crowded in close, his expression caught somewhere between anger and disgust. "You are not letting him fly the hive ship."

"Actually, that's exactly what I'm going to do," John said coolly. "And you need to back the fuck off. Right now."

"He's Wraith," Ronon said. "Give me one good reason he won't turn on us."

"Because he's not an idiot," John snapped. "Look, once the prisoners in the camp start remembering what happened, it's not going to take them long to realize it was Michael who sold them out. If they didn't want him dead before, they're sure as hell going to want him dead after that. We're the best chance he has of staying alive."

Ronon finally stepped away. "I still don't like it."

"You don't have to," John said, and strode up the ramp into the jumper.

Ronon followed a moment later, pausing only to shoot Michael an indecipherable look that was either resentment or warning, or possibly both, before settling into his seat beside Teyla. Michael's expression remained oddly tranquil, while Teyla looked pensive, her gaze flickering worriedly back and forth between Ronon and Michael. McKay ignored them all, too engrossed in his laptop to notice the shifting dynamics of the team.

Oh, yeah, John thought as he brought the engines online, this is going to be an interesting mission.


The flight to the orbiting hive was a short one. John docked the jumper in one of the empty dart hangar bays and manfully resisted the urge to shudder; Wraith ships, even empty ones, gave him the willies. The concept of a living ship was fascinating when safely confined to the realm of science fiction TV shows like Farscape. The reality was a little too much like John's childhood nightmares of being swallowed alive by the giant space slug from Empire Strikes Back.

The bridge was better, with its wide viewports and softly glowing consoles. The flight controls were still too much like tumorous growths for John's comfort, but he was not the one who had to handle the things. That was Michael's job, assuming he was still Wraith enough that the ship would accept his commands.

Michael stepped up to the main flight console and carefully set his pack down on the floor by his feet before reaching out to touch the controls, long pale fingers moving with surety and grace across the panel, coaxing the ship to life. All around them systems began to come online one after another, along with a low thrumming sound that John identified after a moment as the main engines powering up. "I'll need coordinates for the jump," Michael said.

McKay rattled off a string of numbers. Michael closed his eyes and inclined his head to one side; there was a moment of perfect stillness and then the ship surged, flashing into hyperspace between one breath and the next. When Michael looked up again, his eyes were blurred, almost dreamy, as he monitored the ship's systems through the neural interface. "Engines operating at seventy-five percent capacity," he reported. "I can push it to eighty if I reroute power from non-essential and secondary systems."

McKay consulted his laptop and shook his head. "No, we'll need those reserves to power the weapons." He stepped up to the console to peer intently over Michael's shoulder, shoving Michael's pack out of his way with the toe of his boot.

Michael's eyes snapped sharply back into focus. "Careful! My medication is in there."

"Sorry, sorry," McKay said, wincing, and gingerly tucked the backpack beneath the console for safekeeping. "So, um, here's what I was thinking about power distribution."

John turned away as the conversation became increasingly technical. At this point in the mission, he was extraneous, not that he ever would have admitted as much in McKay's hearing. He glanced over at Teyla, who rewarded him with a small smile. "Rodney and Michael seem to have things well in hand," she offered.

John nodded. "Yeah, looks that way. We should probably get some rest while we can. It's going to be a long flight."

++++

"We are in geosynchronous orbit."

As if from a great distance, Michael felt his mouth form the words, heard his voice speak them. His body stood on the bridge of the ship, but the unseen parts of him were elsewhere, a single mind attempting to fill the vastness of a ship meant to contain thousands. One corner of his consciousness adjusted and readjusted the energy outflow from the engines, trying to coax just a little more power here, redirect it there. Another was spread along sensor relays tracking the progress of the enemy cruiser through hyperspace, calculating speed, distance, trajectory, and feeding the results directly into McKay's laptop.

Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon were already on the move, taking the smaller Lantean craft down to the surface to rescue as many of their people as they could. Michael tracked it as well, until Sheppard activated the cloak and the little ship vanished abruptly from his awareness.

There were Wraith on the planet below, two dozen at least, maybe more; Michael could feel the force of their lives reaching out to him in fear and anger, desperate for rescue. He fled deeper, trying to mask his presence within the labyrinthine coils of conduit, the pulsing of the engine's heart. They followed, relentless, pleading: Why do you hide from us? We are here. Take us home.

Their pain was like jagged slivers of glass beneath his skin. Michael snarled. On the bridge, McKay jumped and stared at him with wide, astonished eyes. "What the hell was that?"

"The Wraith on the planet's surface," Michael said, his voice low and rough. "They know the ship is here."

McKay frowned and activated the comm. "McKay to Sheppard. The Wraith we detected earlier are aware of our presence in orbit. Proceed with extreme caution."

"Understood. Sheppard out."

McKay returned to monitoring his laptop. "Your next shot is due soon, right?" he asked in a matter-of-fact tone.

"In about ten minutes, yes."

"Do you think you could let it slide for, say, another hour or so?"

The request surprised Michael enough to disengage completely from the neural interface. "You want me to go off my medication?" he asked, incredulous.

"Just for a little while," McKay said, his face pale and earnest, and more than a little scared. "Look, the more Wraith you become, the better the ship responds. Engine productivity alone has increased dramatically in just the past hour. We are going to need every bit of that extra speed and maneuverability in order to survive an encounter with the cruiser that's about to pop out of hyperspace right on top of us."

The Wraith below called out again. Michael closed his eyes and clutched the flight console tightly with icy fingers. "They think we're here to rescue them, the Wraith down on the surface; I can hear them begging." Michael opened his eyes again and McKay turned away, unable to meet his gaze. "You don't want to kill them, either," Michael said. "Even though they're Wraith."

"I don't want to kill anyone," McKay said savagely. "Wraith, human, sentient sea sponge, I don't care. I came to this galaxy to do scientific research, not to blow up prisoners of war."

Sheppard's voice crackled over the comm. "Rodney, come in. We've got Carson, but he's in a bad way. Morrison and his team are dead. As soon as we're clear, detonate the failsafe."

This time it was McKay who closed his eyes. "Understood."

"We're all monsters now," Michael said, then placed his hands on the flight controls and let his awareness flow back into the ship.

++++

The puddle jumper broke through the atmosphere into the clean vastness of space.

John radioed the hive ship. "Sheppard to McKay. We're good, light it up."

"Copy that," McKay said. "Failsafe detonation in three...two...one."

There was a long pause. John checked the scanners, but there was nothing to indicate the device had gone off. "Talk to me, McKay. What's going on?"

"They, ah, must have found the bomb and deactivated it."

John swore and spared a brief glance to the rear compartment where Carson lay on a makeshift pallet, frail and grey and broken. "All right," he said. "Bring the weapons system online--"

Before he could finish the sentence, the hive ship moved to an attack position and opened fire on the planet below. "Target destroyed," Michael reported in a chill, dispassionate tone. "You may proceed with docking maneuvers."

John opened his mouth. Shut it again. "Copy that," he said at last.

Teyla stepped into the cockpit. "There's something--" Her eyes narrowed, then widened. "Colonel, activate the cloak, now!"

John activated the cloak and instinctively broke right just as the Wraith cruiser emerged from hyperspace and fired on their previous position. Deprived of its target, the cruiser turned its attention to the lumbering hive ship. It was smaller than the hive, and not as well armed, but it was fast and agile. With the hive ship still not fully repaired from its previous encounter with the Daedalus and manned only by a crew of two, the odds of it surviving a protracted battle were not good.

Apparently, the same thought occurred to Michael: the hive ship abruptly broke orbit and flashed away into hyperspace. There was a moment of stunned silence aboard the jumper and then Ronon said gruffly, "Told you we couldn't trust him."

John swallowed, unable to speak. Rodney, he thought, shaken. Then, How do I explain this to Elizabeth?

In the end, he didn't have to. The hive ship reappeared above and astern of the cruiser, opened fire, and swept down in a powerful, looping turn that brought its starboard batteries fully to bear on the smaller ship. At the same time, all the port docking bay doors yawned open. John knew an invitation when he saw one, throttled up the jumper's engines and aimed for the closest hangar. "We're aboard, punch it!" he shouted into the comm and the hive ship surged once more into hyperspace even before the hangar doors finished closing behind them.

John leaned back in his seat, took a deep breath and let it out again slowly before calling the bridge. "Rodney, status report. How much damage did we take?"

"Surprisingly little," came the prompt reply, and John felt the last of his tension drain away. "All systems are functioning, and there is no sign of pursuit. Michael says we should drop out of hyperspace in a couple of hours to let the ship... breathe, or something. Otherwise, we are home free."

"Copy that," John said. "See you on the bridge in a few."

++++

The hive ship emerged from hyperspace and came to rest in the shadow of a nameless moon.

Michael released the flight controls and let his hands fall limply to his sides. "I need to take my medicine," he said, exhausted, numb, gathered up his backpack and left the bridge without bothering to see if anyone objected.

He walked quickly. The voices of the dead followed, whispering accusations into the empty hollows of his mind. Michael paused, shaking, and rested a hand against the corridor wall, felt the hum and pulse of the ship beneath his palm, let it steady him. "I had no choice," he whispered to the air, the ship, his conscience. "I had no choice."

His eyes blurred and stung. When he reached out to touch them, his fingers came away wet. He stared, uncomprehending, throat tight and chest aching.

"They're tears," said a quiet voice: Sheppard, hands tucked deep into his pockets, watching from a careful distance.

"But I didn't get anything in my eyes," Michael said blankly.

Sheppard laughed, though there was little humor in it. "It's a human thing," he explained. "Happens when we feel really strong emotion."

"A human thing," Michael repeated. He leaned back against the wall and slid down until he was sitting on the floor, backpack clutched firmly against his thigh. "If I wait a little longer before I take the drugs, will they make me forget?"

Sheppard moved closer and lowered himself to the floor, long legs folded awkwardly beneath him. "Is that what you want?"

His eyes blurred again. "Maybe."

"Carson would know," Sheppard said, his tone heavy though his expression remained unchanged. "Unfortunately, we can't ask him."

"You said he was in a bad way," Michael said, hesitant to press but still wanting to know. All of this--the virus, the battle, Michael's expulsion from his Hive and his current precarious existence among humans--had its beginning with Carson Beckett.

"They fed on him," Sheppard said, a cold note of anger creeping into his voice. "Teyla's looking after him, but I doubt he'll make it back to Atlantis."

"I'm sorry," Michael said, and he was, if not for Beckett himself, then for the people who cared about him. The love between brothers was a powerful one.

Michael closed his eyes. The love of a brother....

Memory stirred. Shifted. Coalesced and came clear.

He opened his eyes. "I know a way to save him."

++++

John stepped into the rear of the jumper and knelt at Teyla's side. "How's Carson doing?"

"He lost consciousness about half an hour ago," Teyla said, her voice low and full of sorrow. "I fear it will not be long now."

She had pulled the cushions off the benches and covered them with sleeping bags, forming a makeshift bier in the manner of her people. Carson's withered body lay atop it, fragile bones sharp beneath pale, desiccated skin. Had they been in Atlantis, there would be incense, candles, and softly chanting voices to ease Beckett's passage into death; the Athosians were no strangers to this kind of loss, and they loved the doctor dearly.

John took a deep breath to steady himself. "I hate to do this, but I need you on the bridge to fly the ship."

Teyla frowned. "Where is Michael?"

"Asleep. He was out on his feet, so I made him go lie down. McKay's watching him."

Her eyes narrowed; for a moment, John feared she would call the lie. Instead, she nodded. "Very well. I take it Ronon will remain on the bridge with me in case there is--trouble?"

"Yeah," John said, breathing easier. "Not that I'm expecting trouble," he added quickly.

Teyla smiled serenely. "Of course not." She leaned forward and touched her forehead to his. "I hope you know what you are doing, John Sheppard."

"Yeah," John said. "Me, too."


With Teyla safely on her way to the bridge, John poked his head out of the jumper's rear hatch and beckoned to the shadows. "We're good, let's go."

Michael emerged from hiding, McKay trailing nervously behind him. "This is insane," McKay said. "I can't believe we're really going to try this."

"You can wait outside," John said.

McKay shook his head. "No," he said, breathing deep. "No, I'm good. Let's just--get it over with."

Michael remained silent. Now several hours into his transformation, his skin had taken on a bluish-white tint and his hair was threaded liberally with silver. He looked incongruous in his t-shirt and jeans, watching with a Wraith's golden, implacable eyes.

John moved further into the jumper, out of Michael's way. "You sure this will work?"

"I am," Michael replied without hesitation. He knelt on the floor beside the bier, right hand hovering just above Carson's shrunken, laboring chest. "Whatever happens, do not interrupt," he said, and brought his palm down.

Carson's eyes flew open and he let out a high, piercing shriek. John flinched and took an involuntary step forward, hand reaching instinctively for his sidearm. McKay caught his shoulder and held him still. "Wait," McKay insisted, anxious, hopeful. "Wait, it's working."

And it was working. Beckett's hair once again grew dark, his skin smooth and plump, flush with the life Michael poured into him. Even so, Beckett fought, hands pushing ineffectually at Michael's chest, trying to shove him off. "Easy, Doc," John said. "He's just trying to help."

"No, you idiot," Beckett gasped. "He's trying to kill himself!"

John froze for a moment, torn between following Michael's instructions and the desperate pleading in Beckett's eyes. Then he grabbed Michael beneath the shoulders and hauled backward, tumbling them both down onto the floor. Michael struggled, but he was weak after losing so much of himself to Beckett's healing. Eventually, he went limp in John's arms, eyes half-closed, mouth open, keening low and soft, almost too faint to hear.

"Sweet Jesus," Carson said shakily. He brushed away McKay's proffered hand and slid to the floor beside John and Michael. "What the blazes were you thinking?"

"I was thinking he could save your life," John snapped.

"And just where did you think he'd get the energy for that?" Carson demanded. "He hasn't fed in months!"

"He'll be all right, though," McKay asked. "Won't he?"

"Maybe," Carson said. "I don't know. His physiology isn't exactly typical Wraith."

Michael stirred feebly. "You could just let me die."

John tightened his grasp in warning. "That's not an option."

"This whole bloody disaster is my fault," Beckett added. "I'll be damned if I let you pay for it."

Michael glared. Beckett folded his arms across his chest and glared back.

The silence stretched. At last, Michael subsided, letting his head fall back to rest against John's shoulder. "Do what you must," he said, and closed his eyes.


EPILOGUE

He woke to light and the sound of water.

A woman with thick blonde hair stood close by, humming cheerfully to herself as she watered a small flowering plant on the table by his bed. When she noticed him watching, she yelped, and nearly dropped the plastic pitcher in her hands. "Carson! Get your butt in here, he's awake!"

A man in a white coat walked into the room. "There's no need to shout, Laura," he said testily. "The poor man doesn't need a headache on top of everything else. Now, be a love and fetch Colonel Sheppard for me. He'll be very glad to know our patient is finally on the mend."

The woman--Laura--nodded. She paused in the doorway just long enough to look back at the bed and mouth the words thank you at him before continuing on her way.

Carson chuckled. "She'll keep you in ginger beer for the rest of your life if you let her."

His tongue and throat were dry as dust, making speech difficult. "What happened to me?"

"You've been in a coma for the better part of a month," Carson said gently. "We knew it was a risk, but there simply wasn't any other way to treat you without transforming you to human first. Now, you'll need to continue receiving intravenous nutrition through the PIC line until your digestive system fully recovers, but in time you'll be right as rain."

The words swept over him in a bewildering torrent. "Transform me to human," he repeated slowly.

Carson smiled wryly. "I'm sorry, I'm getting a wee bit ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning, shall we? Your name is Michael Kenmore, and you used to be a Wraith."

FIN.

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