A Moment of Strength – Amaruk Wolfheart
Spoilers: "Michael," "Allies," "No Man's Land," "Misbegotten"
Warnings and Pairings: Erm, none and none, I believe. Of course, if you want to see pairings that I haven't written, please feel free.
Notes: A "what if" fic. Breaking and being Broken, by Strange Music, contains a similar idea, but I wrote this before reading it. Italic speech indicates an episode quote from "Misbegotten." I hope the tenses and scene changes aren't too confusing. Other than that, there really isn't much to say, except that Queen of the Red Skittle's Outcast has a new chapter and you should all go read it. (Even if you stumble across this fic a year after its publication date. Go read it.) Quick addition: Just saw "Progeny" yesterday. Is it just me, or have others noted the parallels between the situation with Niam and the whole Michael saga?
-Rutile's Spectacularly Amazing Disclaimer- It should be quite obvious by now, after seven Stargate Atlantis fics, that the author does not own anything whatsoever. Really, you're all fairly bright people and I shouldn't have to tell you this repeatedly.
Dr. Carson Beckett was standing on one of Atlantis's many balconies. The waves were soothing and a gentle breeze played over his face. All in all, it was a beautiful day.
Carson felt he didn't deserve it.
Guilt assaulted him on so many different fronts that he occasionally lost track of all the different incidents. It was never too long, however, before the litany reasserted itself in a continuous loop through his thoughts.
Hoff. Perna. Retrovirus. Ellia. Retrovirus. Michael. Two hundred Wraith. Michael again. Retrovirus. Hoff. Perna. Retrovirus…over and over and over.
But there was one transgression that had haunted him the most persistently over the past week, made twice as bad by the fact that, of all the people in Atlantis, he alone knew just how deep his betrayal went.
They all guessed what was bothering him, what had caused his subdued behavior, and no one – not even Kate – ever pressed him too hard about it, since he was coping adequately. They seemed to think that dredging up memories of mental torture wouldn't have much of a healing effect, and it appeared that everyone knew the responsibility he still felt for the former Wraith who (to the best of their knowledge) had all been killed. In fact, the whole Michael incident had, without prompting from anyone, been labeled a taboo topic.
Carson sighed as he watched the waves rise and fall. The worst part about this unspoken taboo was that it, in preventing questions, supported his lies.
Well, all right, he hadn't outright lied to anyone – yet – but he allowed them to believe something radically untrue. That was why it both pained and relieved him every time he was on the receiving end of understanding looks when he avoided questions about his time as Michael's prisoner. Painful because their trust was so misplaced, but relieving because he didn't have to decide between completely lying to them and spilling the equally condemning truth.
For the first time since that afternoon, almost a week ago, Carson let the memories rise up behind his closed eyes to examine them fully, hoping for something that might ease his conscience even slightly.
He wakes on a familiar bed strapped down by equally familiar restraints, knowing immediately where he is but wondering why in heaven's name he is restrained. In a sudden jumble of images and sounds, the events of last night come rushing back to him, and Carson suppresses a despairing groan. He lies there for what must be an hour at least before someone enters the tent – Michael.
Carson's first thought is to ask how many reverted. He is vaguely surprised that Michael bothers to answer, and makes no attempt to disguise his horror at the plan to offer the remaining…humans as a meal. Carson tries to ignore the deliberate jabs, instead reminding his captor that the Wraith hadn't exactly welcomed him last time. He is unsurprised when this fails to dissuade Michael, but can't keep from asking why he, Carson, has been kept alive. Last night, he honestly hadn't thought he'd see the dawn.
When Michael asks about the failsafe Sheppard had put in place, Carson first denies its existence, claiming that there isn't one because there's no way to get off the planet anyway. He again is unsurprised when Michael doesn't buy this. His threat of taking years off Carson's life is hardly terrifying when he knows he will die anyway, and it's better to die keeping the failsafe a secret rather then betraying his people.
It is, however, somewhat puzzling that Michael has chosen to interrogate Carson, who might know about Sheppard's security measures, instead of Morrison, who definitely knew about them. To stall his impending death and possible torture, Carson asks why.
"You, on the other hand, are trained to have an open mind, and you have a strong sense of empathy toward others."
The comment on his mind vs. the soldiers' makes Carson feel sick as he guesses what Michael must be leading up to. Physical torture he might be able withstand for a little while, but in some ways the thought of being mentally broken, possibly driven to insanity, is worse than the prospect of death.
"You're exactly what I need."
The Wraith's voice as he leans closer makes Carson shudder inwardly, his thoughts racing a mile a minute with panicky dread.
"Now. Let's begin."
Carson scowled at the water. That was where he'd broken off in his report and during his sessions with Kate, picking up again when he'd woken in the jumper with Teyla and an oxygen mask. He allowed everyone to believe whatever they chose – that Michael had invaded his mind, possibly tortured him, until either he'd given up his knowledge or Michael had pried it out. That was his worst lie, Carson knew, letting them believe he went through great pain and suffering before divulging information.
But perhaps even worse was the way he let them paint him as the brave, tortured hero and Michael as the cruel, sadistic villain. He cringed away from the thought. A brief flash of self-loathing flitted across his face, and Carson slipped back into memories.
The words send a thrill of terror down his spine, and he tries to prepare himself for an invasion of his mind. But to Carson's surprise and confusion, Michael turns away and pulls a chair over. He sits down with a quiet sigh, looking suddenly world-weary.
"I am not going to torture you, Dr. Beckett, nor do I plan to invade the privacy of your mind. I merely ask that you listen to me."
Carson almost retorts that he doesn't exactly have a choice, but something in Michael's voice gives him pause. It is the same dull tone that colored his voice after the sixtieth time he tried to defend the humanity of the former Wraith to Sheppard – a tone that says 'I know this won't change your mind in the slightest, but I'm going to say it anyway because it's the truth to me and I am going to defend what I believe in the hope that maybe someday you might understand.'
So Carson merely nods slowly.
"I want to get myself and the others who resisted the drug off of this planet," Michael begins. "I understand perfectly the dangers of returning to…to what was once our kind, but it is our only chance. If we stay here, we will continue to revert back to our original states until we need human lives to survive. This is certain death by a slow starvation or as food. As for those who remain human…what else is there for them? Even if we left them on this planet, they will never regain their memories and your people will never be able to trust them or treat them as humans."
Michael's cool yellow gaze dares the doctor to refute that statement, and Carson refuses to rise to the bait…in part because he can't refute it.
"Their deaths will help us to gain a foothold in the Keeper's favor, which could easily mean the difference between life and death for us."
"So you're sacrificing more than a hundred people who used to be Wraith just to win favor!" This time Carson can't hold back an angry outburst, and Michael favors him again with that cold stare.
"Yet if they stay here I suspect they will die anyway, won't they, doctor?" the Wraith growls, clearly making an effort to reign in his temper. "Colonel Sheppard is far too distrusting to allow them to live peacefully just because the ones who reverted are gone. If their deaths can prolong lives, why make them meaningless?"
Carson looks away, refusing to let this twisted logic make any sense, and hurriedly shoves away the ominous image of the bomb lest Michael catch a glimpse of it on the surface of his thoughts.
The Wraith lets out a short breath, regaining his calm, and goes on. "In some ways, we are not so very different, you and I." Carson barely restrains a snort of disbelief. "For one, we both share a sense of responsibility for these…people." That catches Carson's attention, and Michael meets his sharp gaze as he explains. "You were instrumental in creating and developing the retrovirus, as well as caring for those it affected, but I am the one who reminded Sheppard that the gas could be used to secure the Hive ship, and I am now the leader of those I betrayed."
Carson realizes with a start that he's right, and that this sense of responsibility was another undertone to Michael's almost-plea for Carson to listen. Both of them are silent for a time, lost in thought.
Eventually, Michael starts speaking again, though he seems to be thinking aloud now rather than planning his words. He talks first about his experiences among the Wraith – before the first retrovirus, after he escaped, and what he expects from the Hive coming to rescue them.
Carson wonders bemusedly why Michael is telling him this. After some thought, it occurs to him to wonder if there's anyone else the Wraith could tell it to. Obviously he can't relate bad experiences to the Wraith he leads, and those still human wouldn't understand. Carson understands that Michael needs to vent – albeit it in a calm, collected manner – to someone, and, as a doctor, Carson can't help but listen as he would to any of his patients. Or, he realizes with no little surprise, as he would to someone he considered a friend. For that was almost how Michael was speaking – to a friend. Not for advice or sympathy or pity, but just for someone to listen quietly and understand.
Michael continues to talk about a variety of topics – trust, acceptance, betrayal; humans, Wraith, hybrids – effortlessly moving from one idea to another in a continuous flow that connects them all.
And Carson listens.
Occasionally a feather-light touch to his mind helps to convey a more complex idea or emotion. The Wraith is careful to avoid keeping in contact for more than a few seconds or touching on Carson's thoughts, but whatever he shows Carson lingers. Somehow, the doctor doesn't mind it much.
For the first time, Carson sees Michael as neither a fearsome, dangerous Wraith, nor as an innocent, trusting human, but a being – a person – who has been betrayed in the worst ways by everyone he has ever trusted. It is this revelation that prompts Carson, when Michael's stream of words finally runs dry, to pause hesitantly and speak.
The Wraith glances over at the doctor, clearly surprised. Carson looks away, fighting a brief but fierce internal battle before continuing.
"There is a bomb which can be remotely detonated." He goes on to describe what he knows of its location, and Michael remains (thankfully) silent.
When Carson finishes, Michael stands up. He pauses, clearly dealing with a brief struggle of his own before saying quietly, "Thank you."
They are both quiet for a moment, Carson simultaneously realizing that Michael has decided to trust his word and that he has betrayed the trust of his people, and Michael probably wondering if he really should have offered his oft-betrayed trust. Then the Wraith seems to mentally shake himself back into action and walks over to Carson's side.
"I know Sheppard and his teammates will not leave you behind, and it won't be too difficult for them to rescue you." A wry smile twists his features for a moment. "And of course, we can't have either your people or mine to have any doubts about your state of mind, can we?"
Carson first feels the Wraith's presence in his mind again, stronger than any previous time, and then a curious, dull wrenching sensation. He is trapped somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, vaguely aware of his environment but unable to interact with it. For a moment, panic wells up in him, but the sudden knowledge that this strange mental state will begin to wear off once he's moved by Sheppard and his team stops it. It hits home then that there's no going back now, and he curses himself for his moment of weakness. Michael's presence in his mind pauses, before leaving one last impression.
…I would deem it a moment of strength, Carson…
He can vaguely feel Michael close his eyes, careful to use minimum contact, and then the Wraith is gone, both from his mind and the tent, though how he knows it with such certainty Carson can't say.
He drifts in the between-place for an indeterminable time, floating in nothingness, not thinking, until he slowly becomes aware of gentle, supportive hands and the floor of the puddle jumper underneath him and finds he can drag his eyelids up to receive a slightly fuzzy image of Teyla's worried face.
Carson looked out over the water and sighed. Was it possible that some of the reverted Wraith had survived? And if they were alive, did they know Atlantis still existed? And if they did, had they told the Queen of whatever Hive ship picked them up? And if they had, would the Wraith attack Atlantis?
There were far too many questions, far too many possible disasters springing from his moment of weakness, and the leaders of Atlantis didn't even know the probable danger. And yet… Carson wondered if he could honestly say that he regretted his decision.
He'd protested against the bomb, against firing on the camp, against so many things that he'd lost track of them all, but he'd always given in. Perhaps it had been time to just do what he thought was right. Heaven only knew he'd done far too much of the opposite lately.
Carson's lips quirked into a half-smile for the first time in a week. Perhaps this was one difficult decision he could come to terms with. Perhaps it was time to stop tormenting himself with guilt and try to make amends instead. He smiled fully as the memory of Michael's voice echoed again in his thoughts, as clear as if he were standing on the balcony next to Carson speaking aloud.
"I would deem it a moment of strength."
Perhaps it was.