Note: Grateful thanks to Leah for the swift and awesome beta. Any errors I've stubbornly clung to are, of course, my own.
The briefing room rang with silence as Beckett finished reading the summary of the autopsy report. He put down his tablet computer carefully, with a slight 'click,' on the table in front of him, never looking up.
Weir sighed, and stared at her folded hands. "So you're saying it was quick, at least."
"Aye," Beckett agreed. "Rodney would most likely not have felt anything after the initial impact, I'll wager. His death was the result of the blow to his head, not the wounds from the—ah—goring."
"We figured as much when we found the body," Sheppard offered, slouching in his seat. His eyes were opaque and utterly expressionless. "His brains were smeared all over the--" He stopped at Weir's sharply indrawn breath.
"But what was he doing in the pen with that animal in the first..." Weir's voice wavered the slightest bit. "Teyla? Teyla, you said you thought Rodney was trying to help that little village girl?"
"Yes, Doctor Weir," said Teyla soberly. "Doctor McKay knew how dangerous the Chetau bull might be. He mentioned that you have similar creatures on your planet, and that 'cattle' bulls are also dangerous. I believe, therefore, that the only reason that he might possibly have had for entering the Chetau's enclosure was to rescue the child."
"Or—let's be honest, Teyla—if he found the energy signature for a ZPM there," Sheppard interjected. He waved off Teyla's unvoiced objection. "Yeah, but you're right. He probably went in for the kid. He hated that kid!" Sheppard's voice was suddenly deeply bitter, though his face remained expressionless. "He couldn't get rid of her. She was what, three years old? For no good reason, she decided she liked him and kept toddling up to him with fistfuls of flowers. He kept sneezing and backing away from her like she had the plague..." Sheppard's hands had formed into fists on the tabletop. Abruptly, he dropped them into his lap, hiding them from view.
"And, when we heard the sounds and ran to see what had occurred," Teyla directed her narrative to Weir. "The child was outside the enclosure, sitting on the ground, crying. She was clutching flowers in her hands, and the same kinds of flowers were growing in the Chetau's enclosure. Doctor McKay had apparently shot the animal several times before it charged him. It was severely wounded and had to be put down. The Chetau was a valuable animal—breeding stock. If it had not appeared obvious that he had been protecting the child, I'm afraid the villagers would have demanded reparations for McKay's actions in destroying it."
"I'll give them rep--" Sheppard growled.
"John!" Weir snapped. Sheppard subsided, never looking up.
Zelenka shifted nervously in his seat, looking at everyone around the table. He cleared his throat. "So, it would be correct to say that Rodney died heroically, while saving the life of a child?"
Teyla nodded solemnly. "That is correct, Doctor Zelenka."
Zelenka's face abruptly crumpled and he drew both fists to his mouth. The noise he tried to muffle sounded incongruously like a snort. Everyone in the room stared at him. He squeezed his eyes shut and covered more of his mouth, but another snort emerged, then a guffaw, followed by choked, stuttering laughter. The stares became hostile.
"Forgive me! Forgive me, please, but...but the irony is incredible," Zelenka gasped. "Every time we are in perilous situation, Rodney tells me-- He says, 'Tell my sister I died saving little children from terrible danger!' Now I will not have to lie, no?" He collapsed on the table, sniggering wildly, with a note of real hysteria.
Weir was the first to break, covering her mouth as involuntary giggles escaped her, face turning red as more laughter broke forth.
Becket broke next, throwing his head back and laughing outright, tears streaming from the corners of his eyes, arms dangling lax at his sides. "Oh, Rodney! Only you!"
Finally Sheppard went, shaking his head, mouth pressed into a thin line until a sudden explosion of chuckling seemed to startle him. More and more came, until he gave up and slumped onto the table, face buried in his crossed arms, shoulders shaking with laughter.
Ronon slammed his hand on the table with a loud bang, standing up and shouting, "What are you doing? Why are you laughing? McKay is dead!" His voice cracked on the last word. And the way he cradled his hand to his chest indicated he'd broken it and not the table.
The Milky Way galaxy denizens paused for a moment, staring at Ronon, staring at Teyla's utterly confounded expression, before dissolving into even more helpless hoots of laughter.
Beckett dragged himself to his feet and made his way around the room to Ronon's side. "All right, laddie. Let me let see that hand."
"No!" Ronon protested, eyes huge and wounded, drawing his broken hand closer to his chest and backing away from the table, and Beckett. "You're laughing at McKay. Laughing at him dying! Explain that to me first!" His voice was a soft, distressed rumble.
Beckett pulled himself together with difficulty and wiped his eyes as he followed Ronon. Teyla stood to hover protectively at Ronon's side, her expression wary, confused, and hurt.
Beckett sighed. "Please let me look at your hand, lad. You know what Rodney would say about getting prompt medical attention for an injury." He held out his own hands, palms up, open and harmless.
"No," Ronon insisted stubbornly. "I know it's broke. You'll fix it later. Tell me now why you're all laughing."
"It's a custom of some Earth cultures." Beckett let his hands drop to his sides. He shrugged. "We laugh to keep from crying."
Ronon exchanged a baffled look with Teyla, and they both peered at the others in the room, frowning at them.
"I think Sheppard's really crying, now," Ronon said, very softly.
Beckett glanced at the line of Sheppard's shaking shoulders. "But he can say it's from the laughing, don't you see..."
"I do not see, Doctor Beckett." Teyla scowled and wiped her eyes angrily with the back of her wrist.
"It's not from a lack of respect. Not at all," Beckett said gently. "In a few days...in a few days we'll have a wake. You remember those, Teyla, from when we had them before?"
Teyla nodded, wiping her eyes again.
"At the wake," Beckett instructed Ronon, "We'll all drink too much of Radek's hootch, and tell stories about Rodney, and laugh some more, and cry some more. Only, that time, we can blame the crying on the drink."
"And then at the memorial service, no one will cry at all," said Teyla, obviously remembering.
"Aye, not in public. Not if we can help it."
"I will never fully understand your people, Doctor Beckett."
"I know, lass. I know. Come along now, laddie, let me take you to the infirmary and fix up that hand." Beckett tugged on Ronon's jacket and the tall warrior followed him docilely, head bent so his hair hid his face.
"Doctor Weir, if I may be excused, I'd like to tend to our friend's injury here," Beckett called to Weir, who nodded in acknowledgement as Beckett left the room, trailing both Ronon and Teyla with him.
Gradually, silence once again reigned in the conference room, as everyone pulled themselves together and surreptitiously dried their eyes.
"Well," Weir sighed, straightening her jacket. "Anything else to report, gentlemen?" She addressed Sheppard and Zelenka, the only remaining attendees of the briefing.
"Yeah," Sheppard fiddled with his coffee cup, still slumped over and staring down at the briefing room table. "Just that...well, the Amysians were so grateful for what Rodney had done, they gave us a great deal on the coffee beans. Said we could have as much as we wanted. Basically, as long as we wanted them."
A pained whimper escaped Zelenka, who hid his face in his hands.
"Doctor Zelenka?" Weir asked worriedly.
Zelenka arched his fingers so that words could escape, but kept his hands firmly in front of his face. "It's just that...that Rodney always said..." Another snort of damp-sounding laughter dribbled out.
"That he'd do anything for coffee..." Sheppard finished. He tapped the edge of his coffee cup with one finger and smiled, but when he turned his face to glance at Weir, his eyes were fathomless with pain.
Summary: The phrase "the irony is going to kill me" was never uttered in Atlantis again.