Sheppard leaned against the concrete wall outside Landry's office, maintaining a casual slouch that belied the tension building in his neck and shoulders. He stared fixedly at his boot tops in an effort to banish the memory of the devastated look on McKay's face when he had forbidden the act of sacrifice.
The pleading and determination had quickly turned to cold anger, of course. The biting contempt that was a McKay hallmark had lashed out at him and cut deeply. He welcomed the scouring as part of the penance to come. He remained firm, clinging to the anger battering him and forcing himself to ignore the pain lurking in his friend's eyes.
McKay had eventually stalked out of the room, purportedly to go sit with Jeannie, but Sheppard knew there would be an attempt to go around him. He thought about asking Ronon to do some Rodney-sitting, but decided not to add to McKay's aggravation. He did, however, get on the phone to double the security around the Wraith and issue orders that McKay was not to be let into the room with the alien until he rescinded the order. And then he had placed a call to Canada.
He looked up from the fascinating study of boot leather to see an airman watching him expectantly.
"Colonel Mitchell said that you needed this immediately, sir." the young man said, holding out a folder. "He said to tell you 'good luck' and he took the liberty of printing up everything."
He nodded and straightened slightly. "Yes, thank you."
He waited until the airman disappeared around the corner before examining the contents of the folder. There was more than he had expected. Kaleb Miller had been in the middle of packing (the SGC had finally cleared it for Jeannie's family to come to the mountain), frantic and angry, obviously choking back tears, when Sheppard had called earlier. He'd asked Kaleb to email a couple photos of Madison. When asked, he'd lied and said they were for Jeannie. Kaleb hadn't even questioned why a woman in a drug-induced coma would want a photo of her child.
But there were at least a dozen pictures here. He flipped through them, finally choosing two and slipping them into a breast pocket. He'd take the rest down to the infirmary when he was finished with this.
The door to Landry's office opened and the little sergeant who seemed to run everything around here hurried out. Sheppard pretended he didn't see the sympathetic look aimed at him.
"Come on in, Sheppard," Landry called.
He pushed away from the wall and ran over what he wanted to say (and not say) as he walked into the office. He had to convey just enough so Landry would know what he was doing, but have plausible deniability; the general wouldn't have to forbid him to follow through. His own career should be the only one on the line.
Landry was up and fixing a cup of coffee. Sheppard stopped in front of the file-covered desk, snapping to attention when the general turned away from the coffee pot.
"As you were, as you were," the general said and gestured toward the chairs behind Sheppard. "Have a seat, colonel."
They both settled into their seats. He could feel Landry examining him and forced himself to not flinch, returning the shrewd, questioning gaze with as bland an expression as he could muster.
"So," Landry started, "Sergeant Harriman tells me Ms. Miller's husband and little girl will be here in a few hours. We've had quarters set up for them. It's a long commute from Colorado Springs."
He cleared his throat. "Thank you, sir. I'll let Dr. McKay know. I'm sure he appreciates all the concessions the SGC is making in this matter." McKay probably did no such thing, but Sheppard was willing to 'do the polite' for him.
Landry inclined his head, accepting the statement at face value. "The sergeant also informed me that the Wraith has collapsed?"
He nodded. "Yes, sir. He hasn't fed since coming to Atlantis."
"Had he completed the reprogramming?"
"No, sir. And Dr. McKay doesn't believe he can complete it on his own." He looked directly at the general. "At least not in time to save his sister."
Landry nodded thoughtfully. "Does he have a backup plan?"
"No, sir." He hesitated before adding, "He wants to let the Wraith feed on him."
"What?" The general leaned back in astonishment.
"He wants to – "
"I heard you the first time, Sheppard," Landry snapped, slapping the desktop for emphasis. "I hope you told him 'no'."
"Of course. He didn't take the refusal well."
There was a brief, awkward pause before Sheppard spoke again; it wasn't difficult to appear reluctant to broach the topic.
"I don't suppose the SGC or the IOA knows of someone who could be... uh..." he stopped. This was hard to ask, even though he knew the answer. But it needed to be said, he needed to lay it on the table before he took the next step.
"Someone who could be fed to the Wraith?" Landry stood and began pacing. Sheppard started to rise in respect, but was waved back down. "Christ, Sheppard, what kind of organization do you think is being run here?" he finally demanded.
He grimaced, looking down at the clenched fists resting on the folder in his lap. "I'm sorry, but I had to ask," he said quietly. "I need to make sure there are no avenues I haven't tried. I owe it to my teammate... to my friend." He lifted his head and locked eyes with Landry.
The contest of wills went on for several uncomfortable seconds before Landry sighed in resignation.
"I'm sorry, colonel. Even if we had a spare Ba'al clone we could feed your pet Wraith, there is no way the IOA would get the stick out of their collective asses fast enough to okay the... project. Those people can barely agree on when to take coffee breaks. It would take weeks. And I understand Ms. Miller only has hours?" At Sheppard's nod, he continued, "Are you sure there's nothing else he can eat? Couldn't he settle for a big, juicy steak?"
Sheppard forced himself to stretch his lips in a brief, unamused smile over the poor joke. "No, sir. Once they reach adulthood they can still eat and digest 'regular' food, but it holds no nutritional value for them."
"A live cow?"
He shook his head.
Landry sighed again and sat down. "Then I'm sorry, Sheppard. There is nothing we can do. Do you want me to tell Dr. McKay?"
"No. He's already upset with me. I'll tell him." He clenched his fists again. It was coming.
"Very well. You're dismissed, Sheppard. Please tell Dr. McKay I'll be praying for him and his family."
"I will. Thank you, sir."
He stood and went to the door, then hesitated before turning back into the room. "Sir?"
He took a deep breath and aimed his eyes at a point over Landry's shoulder.
"I'd like to show Wallace the Wraith's work. He's been working closely with the scientists at his own labs. He may see something that will help McKay finish the program."
The silence stretched until he feared that he would be called on his plan, that it would be stopped here.
"Are you sure that's a good idea, colonel?" Landry asked, voice curious.
He cut his eyes back to the general and saw understanding.
"I think it is, sir."
"He's a prisoner; we can't force him to help us with this problem," Landry finally said. "But if he's agreeable, I have no objections."
"I'm just going to let him know what's been happening, see how he reacts," Sheppard promised.
"Very well. I'll let the SF's know you'll be moving the prisoner. Dismissed."
"Thank you, sir."
He left as quickly as possible, almost missing the quiet "Good luck".
The holding cells were five floors up. He took the stairs, not wanting to wait for the elevators. As quick as he was, the SF's were waiting for him. He signed in and was escorted to an interview room.
When he stepped into the room Wallace's head snapped up and he could see the man's grief clearly. One less thing he would have to drop on the poor bastard's shoulders.
He willed a calm expression and prayed his hands wouldn't shake. Placing the folder on a table by the door, he took a deep breath before crossing the room and sitting down. Folding his hands on the table, he looked Wallace in the eye.
"We're going over the data. We don't understand what happened." He kept his voice low, calm, pausing when he saw Wallace's eyes flood with tears, obviously not the first shed today. Uncomfortable, he gave a quiet cough. "I'm sorry."
"Thank you for my meal, Sheppard," the Wraith said sincerely.
He shuddered and closed eyes burning with the need to weep. Or maybe it was simple anger. He faught back an urge to pull his sidearm and shoot... something.
"Can you work?" he asked, his throat tight.
"Then do it," he rasped harshly.
He heard the Wraith moving around and then the sound of a keyboard clicking. Reluctantly opening his eyes, he concentrated on removing the desiccated hand clinging to his wrist, one brittle finger at a time.
Wallace hadn't cried out, had not made a sound except for a startled gasp when the feeding began. Sheppard had been kneeling by the man's side, wanting to offer some sort of reassurance or comfort but not knowing how; knew that Wallace would know it to be a lie. When the flailing hand had latched onto him he didn't try to remove it, but covered the withering fingers with his free hand.
He stood up and reached for the phone to summon the SF's. He had sent them away when he arrived with Wallace. All but one had left without comment, happy to take a coffee break; but the staff sergeant in charge of the detail had looked between the Wraith and Wallace and then stared at Sheppard for a moment before nodding and following the others out.
The SF's returned within moments and he had to order them not to shoot the Wraith or to restrain it. There was understandable anger rolling off them; except for the staff sergeant who took it calmly and ordered everyone to their posts. The Wraith pretended to ignore the hostile glares and muttered curses, and continued to work.
Sheppard waited for someone from the infirmary to show up, and then supervised having Wallace's remains placed in a body bag and then onto a gurney. He silently urged the corpsmen to hurry; he wanted to escort the body to the morgue and then report to General Landry. Afterward he was going to take an hour long, boiling hot shower to try to feel clean again.
They were finally zipping up the body bag when the door to the lab slid opened. He looked over and saw McKay, rumpled and frazzled, arguing with the SF.
"Let him in."