"Check," said a smug voice in the semi-darkness. In a room only partially lit of quarters left vacant for the past month sat two scientists near a well-carnaged chessboard. Dr. Rodney McKay was celebrating his return to Atlantis after two weeks trapped in a puddlejumper and two more weeks trapped on the Daedalus by playing chess with Dr. Radek Zelenka. Naked. In the bathtub.
"What?" Rodney said in protest of Radek's check. He sloshed over to the side of the tub and pondered over the setup of damp regulation-plastic pieces on a splashed board. Black bishop held white king in check. He dipped low in the water, submerging almost to the eyes, and hummed in thought. Only three possible moves open to him, two involving the sacrifice of a piece. One saved his pieces but would end badly for his queen and then quickly the game. Fine, two possible moves. Sacrifice a pawn and leave his remaining knight open or sacrifice his last rook and hopefully tempt Radek into taking it, thus losing him his remaining bishop. Radek relied on his bishops. Rodney relied on his queen and his knights. Fine then. "There," Rodney said, moving his rook in place to block the check.
"Hmm," Radek acknowledged.
"Anything interesting happen while I was gone?" Rodney asked.
"So I was thinking of kidnapping a big Russian woman named Helga and breeding my half-human spawn with her," Rodney said, testing something.
"I ate all of the Daedalus's chocolate shipments before they got here."
"You did what?!"
"Oh so that gets your attention."
"Chocolate is like naqahdah," Radek defended. "You did not really..."
"No, it's safe."
"Good. I would hate to have to kill you."
"Look who's taking," Rodney pointed out.
"For loss of chocolate I would kill," Radek said.
"What? Get over here so I can eat your head."
Radek smiled. "She used to say that," he said fondly. He glanced down at the board and saw an opening. He moved his knight around on the board to a previously ignored spot. "She also made same mistake. Checkmate."
Rodney sputtered, water sloshing out of the tub as he slid over to the edge to get a better look at the board. Checking and double-checking the board didn't change the fact that Radek had won. He grumbled about humans being lucky and sank completely underwater.
Radek grinned and leaned over to set the board back up. He didn't get more than a few pieces when he felt hands wrap around his waist and pull him back in the water. He laughed openly as those hands turned to arms holding him prisoner and a toothed maw gnawed playfully at his scalp. The water shifted around them as Rodney surfaced behind him to breathe without letting go. He gave up trying to eat Radek's head to instead nuzzle his neck and didn't hold back the purr rising from his throat.
Isolation in a puddlejumper had been hell, impotent pacing on the Daedalus had been torture but here on Atlantis in a bathtub with a friend he was home.
Dr. Kavanagh prowled the corridors and hallways he used to know so well. He left because of persecution and mistrust to crawl back to the SGC. After some coaxing and a few well-timed deaths he'd been let back onto an SG team as the scientist assigned to SG-15. And then one too many rows with his commander left him assigned to man Midway station. Alone.
For a very long time.
He considered himself lucky that he'd still been training to take over station operations when it was destroyed though he found he had a bit more sympathy than before for McKay and his time in Siberia.
He still didn't feel comfortable on Atlantis. He still sensed the mistrustful looks and now there was an even more sinister undertone he thought maybe he could sense.
It was likely that having a Cthulhu worshipper as a boss was warping the minds of the researchers. If that were the case then Kavanagh considered himself lucky that he'd left before the cult spread.
Even after two years away his feet followed a familiar path to the physics labs. Still the same workstations, still the same open door to a room walled with whiteboards, still the half-used excuse for McKay's office. Ancient tech still cluttered the desks and shelves, haphazard post-it notes declaring danger, power stores, threats of death, and the occasional "no idea".
"Peter?" asked a surprised feminine voice. "W-what are you doing here?"
Kavanagh turned to face his addressor to see a familiar face. "Miko, you're still here I see," he said.
Dr. Kusanagi blushed slightly. "Yes, I have calculations to finish," she admitted. "But why are you here? Surely you have not come back."
"No, I'm just here until the Daedalus leaves," he assured. "Even with Weir gone I'm not sure I would want to stay, what with McKay still in charge of science and him being a Cthulhu worshipper and all."
Miko scowled at Kavanagh's careless dismissal of Dr. Weir but it lessened to annoyed confusion when Kavanagh mentioned Cthulhu. "I was unaware Dr. McKay worshipped Cthulhu," she said.
"Oh he does," Kavanagh said sagely.
"You are joking."
"I'm not, I swear," he said, eyes shifting a bit to make sure they weren't being watched. "You weren't there, Miko. The dreams that man has send him screaming praises to the Great Old Ones in a half-asleep stupor. I'm telling you, he's mad. He's probably always been mad, long before day one."
"Then you are mistaken," she said firmly. "And embarrassing yourself. You want to leave before someone else sees you acting like this."
"He's got you blinded to his blasphemies, doesn't he?!" Kavanagh demanded.
The door slid open as Dr. Zelenka stepped in to fetch his laptop, preparing to take it to his quarters for some math by loud music. "Kavanagh," he said evenly, lips barely raised in a sneer.
"Zelenka, you were always the most level-headed of us all," Kavanagh said quickly, daring to feel hope that someone might be convinced. "You of all people have to believe me, McKay is a Cthulhu cultist!"
Mirth drew a finger up Radek's spine and he fought to keep his expression neutral. "Rodney does not worship Cthulhu," he said in calm explanation. "Cthulhu is high priest on Earth to Great Old Ones. This is not Earth thus worship of Cthulhu does not yield results here."
Kavanagh's hope drained from his face.
Radek continued. "With no high priest to Great Old Ones here to act as intermediary we need worship Great Old Ones themselves," he explained. "Like most of us Rodney worships Yog-Sothoth." He gave Miko a look and hoped she picked up on his fight not to laugh.
She did. "Yes, because Yog-Sothoth is the gate," she agreed.
Kavanagh looked in horror at the both of them before picking it up. "You're both mocking me!"
Radek lost the fight and hooted with laughter. "Is too easy!" he crowed between howls. Miko giggled unabashed as Kavanagh gave a huff and stormed out of the labs, grumbling.
It was Colonel Carter who originally fielded the complaint. She contacted Colonel Caldwell as it fit a complaint he'd fielded on the Daedalus and frankly he deserved some closure to it. He contacted Colonel Sheppard because if their hunch on the identity of the ringleader was correct then they would need him to ensure cooperation and extract confession.
Thus the three of them strode with varying degrees of authority and purposefulness to the physics lab. The door opened on silent command and they three filed in silently to stand and wait.
Rodney sat hunched over his computer, spine and neck losing most of their bipedal straightness to a curve that looked downright simian. He tapped away at a particularly tricky piece of math while humming tunelessly to himself. Once he cracked his neck with a sickening pop that only the three Colonels seemed to acknowledge or even hear before falling back into his simian slump.
Odd that the cracking of his neck seemed to lengthen it a little bit.
Sheppard knew firsthand how long Rodney could take when hip-deep in math. He cleared his throat. Didn't work. He did it again. Still didn't work. The other scientists kept their distance, unwilling to get between the military and their oblivious comrade.
He played dirty. Sheppard took a power bar out of his pocket and crinkled the wrapper loudly. He could see Rodney's ears prick up. He unwrapped it and gently blew the smell of chocolate power bar at Rodney. He heard Rodney give a marginally human growl of wanting. He took a bite and let slip a groan of almost carnal pleasure.
"What is it, Sheppard?" Rodney asked, both annoyed at the interruption and anticipating chocolate. He turned around. "Colonels?" he asked, taken aback. "Is something wrong?"
"I got a complaint today," Carter said, starting right in. "Against no one in particular but it fits an MO. Dr. Kavanagh came to me fearing for his mind because of what he called 'blatant Cthulhu-worship running rampant in the halls'. Now before you laugh I point out that the man was both serious and scared out of his wits. Would you happen to have any idea what happened here?"
"We know it was you, Dr. McKay," Caldwell said. "These complaints started in some capacity two weeks ago on the Daedalus, you remember. From Dr. Kavanagh. Accusing you of being a Cthulhu worshipper."
"Yes, yes I remember," Rodney said. "Has anyone explained to him that Great Cthulhu's power doesn't extend much further than planet Earth and thus any worship of Great Cthulhu out here is going to be both useless and harmless?"
"Yes," said a small voice. Kusanagi tried to make herself even smaller as four sets of eyes turned on her. "That is, Radek and I explained to him that worship of Great Cthulhu doesn't work out here and that worship of Yog-Sothoth is more practical."
"Which is true," McKay said quickly in her defense. And then he turned to her. "And why did Kavanagh need this to be explained to him?"
Miko blushed slightly under Rodney's sharp gaze. "Kavanagh comes in here and starts accusing you of worshipping Cthulhu," she defended. "And then when I don't immediately agree with him he accuses me of being brainwashed by you and in league with your dark powers. Then Zelenka comes in and we explain things to Kavanagh and he goes away."
"And is this how it happened, Zelenka?" Sheppard asked, addressing Radek at his workstation.
"Yes it is," Radek confirmed.
"Well that clears that up," McKay offered. "Kavanagh's been exaggerating again."
"No it doesn't," Caldwell insisted. "This started two weeks ago after we picked up your jumper stranded. You and Sheppard were the only Atlantis personnel inside and it was you, McKay, whom Kavanagh immediately began rumors about. Explain that."
"I can shed some light on that, Colonel," Sheppard said. "McKay has nightmares that frankly have some of the same qualities as night terrors. Such as screaming. I was there when Kavanagh started whispering Mythos things into McKay's ear while he slept in order to steer his dreams to certain, shall we say, Cthulhu-based topics. The fact that McKay spent every night after screaming about Cthulhu-based topics has a defined cause."
"Kavanagh himself," Carter concluded. "Right. Sorry for suspecting you, McKay. Also you might want to sit up straight if you ever want to move your neck again."
Rodney waved the colonels out the door before trying to straighten his spine. It ached, didn't work, and dropped back down into the practiced slump. Hmm. Maybe he would talk to Zelenka and Dr. Keller about this, find out if Deep Ones naturally had curved spines or if he really was screwing up his neck.
The day before the Daedalus left orbit dawned in the usual way. Personnel scheduled to leave said their goodbyes, some temporary, some permanent, and awaited scheduled beam-outs. A couple of pieces of tech deemed safe and potentially useful on Earth were transported under watchful eyes to ATA-free areas of the ship. Orders for goods, items, and the expected request for certain specimens for transplant were fielded.
The botanists figured if they requested cacao, robusta, and arabica specimens for transplant often enough then eventually someone at the SGC would take pity. The SGC figured that so long as they were able to control shipments of coffee and chocolate then Atlantis was less likely to try to break away as a free city-state. It was a three year long stalemate by now with no sign of letting up.
After being mocked by Colonel Carter for his report of disturbing and frankly dangerous cult-worship in the city Dr. Kavanagh had been ordered to return to the Daedalus and stay there until he felt he could be civil without causing trouble. Thus on the Daedalus he'd stayed, grumbling about how no one was willing to listen to him.
It was on that day before while Colonel Caldwell was taking one last round through the city when Colonel Sheppard caught up to him with a request.
"What is it, Sheppard?" Caldwell asked.
"I have a favor to ask," Sheppard admitted. "I need some files from the Department of Defense or the State Department or whoever it was who was involved in this." He handed Caldwell a sheet of paper, real paper, with some information scribbled on it.
Caldwell looked it over, pausing when he saw the year listed for the actions referenced. "These raids took place 80 years ago," he pointed out. "The statute of limitations was up decades ago. You can just file a Freedom of Information Act request to get them."
"The statute of limitations for the Roswell crash was up ten years ago," Sheppard pointed out. "And yet Project Bluebook is still classified. With all due respect, Sir, a Freedom of Information Act request is going to get me nowhere."
Caldwell made a sound of agreement. "Any reason why you need these files?" he asked. "Something I should know?"
"On the record, no," Sheppard said. "Off the record..."
"You suspect someone?"
"One of my men said I should look for these files," Sheppard said. It was true enough; McKay was on his team and therefore counted as one of his men. "Something about his family being from Innsmouth. I reread Lovecraft's version of events however I refuse to make any decision or judgment until after I see these files for myself."
"And you don't want to tell me in case someone asks," Caldwell observed.
"Plausible deniability and all, Sir."
"Understandable. But Sheppard, I've been in the Air Force longer than you. It used to be fairly standard protocol to be briefed on some of the contents of these files. They are disturbing."
Caldwell gave Sheppard a blank look. "In 1928 the FBI led the raids on Innsmouth, Massachusetts," he said quietly. "Men, women, and children were rounded up, imprisoned, executed, and left to die because they were different. And then not 15 years later we had the gall to act shocked when Hitler did the same thing. Until 30 years ago there were standing orders to shoot on sight anyone suspected of having Innsmouth blood. I recommend not eating anything before reading the files I bring back."
Sheppard looked and felt ill enough from that description alone to understand Caldwell's recommendation. "That's disgusting," he whispered.
"It was," Caldwell agreed. He continued his rounds, leaving a pale and shaking shadow of a man in the hallway.
Sheppard fell back against the wall, shuddering in revulsion at what Caldwell was implying. He splayed his hands against the city's walls and Listened. Atlantis thrummed around him, grounding him through his own emotions. He felt a familiar caress in his mind, the city herself reaching out to him same as he reached for her. Questioning. Understanding. Mirrored sorrow. Outrage for the fallen. Sympathy for the survivors. Compassion for the descendants. An image flashed through his mind, supplied by her. Immense joy as a finned and scaled humanoid creature swam through her sunken corridors, a creature he knew.
Sheppard pulled away from the wall, needing a moment to steady himself as her voice quieted and the feelings faded. His feet wandered off without his permission, leaving Sheppard to wonder not for the first time if perhaps Atlantis could control the ATA-active as surely as they controlled her.
Their destination was familiar. Sheppard wasn't sure why Rodney would be in his quarters but Atlantis assured him that he was. He rang the chime.
And was surprised when the door opened to reveal Rodney wearing a large number of bubbles and a bathrobe that stuck to his soaking wet body. He was dripping water and bubbles everywhere and looked both annoyed and rather confused. "Yes?" he asked.
Sheppard had no idea what he was going to say. He tried to come up with something. "You're all wet," he settled on.
"I was in the bathtub," Rodney pointed out. "Was there an actual something or did you come by just to drag me out of hot water and perfect bubbles?"
"I put in a request for those files on the Innsmouth raids," he said.
Rodney immediately tensed and looked around. "That's great, get in here," he said quickly.
Rodney fixed Sheppard with a fiery glare. "Look, this is not something I am going to discuss in the corridor no matter how naked I am," he said through gritted teeth. "So either go away and never approach me about this again or get in here!"
Sheppard pushed past Rodney into the room, willing the door shut and locked behind them. He still didn't know what to say. His hands flailed a bit of their own accord, trying to open a discourse but each time they fell useless before words could be found. "I don't know what to say," he admitted. "I asked Caldwell for the files."
"Caldwell?" Rodney asked, his voice dark and body tense.
"I didn't tell him anything," Sheppard promised. "I told him I wanted the files but not why. He's apparently seen them before. He compared what the federal government did there to Hitler." He stared at Rodney, face fallen in disbelief and fear. "What did they do there?"
Rodney slumped down into a chair, uncaring that he still dripped water everywhere. A hand reached up to absently brush at a patch of bubbles near his ear that were popping particularly loudly. "Those who raided Innsmouth had orders to round up everyone in the town," he murmured quietly. "Anyone who resisted was to be killed, made an example of. And of course people resisted. Men, women, children, they were all shot for resisting. Those who didn't were rounded up like animals and sent to prisons, camps. The town was dynamited. Orders were disobeyed though, that's the only reason I exist. Children young enough to look untainted were lost in orphanages where they would be safe. At least, that's the story I was told."
Sheppard had thousands of questions, words all clamoring for voice but in the end only one made it out. "Why?"
Rodney looked at John, sadness filling his big blue eyes. "We were different," he said as though that were a valid reason. "And I hate to sound the devil's advocate but Caldwell's analogy is a bit off. Hitler targeted groups different only in religion or sexual preference. We were much more different than that. Mankind's greatest fear has always been that of the unknown and to be frank you didn't get much more unknown than us in the '20s."
"That's still no excuse," Sheppard insisted.
"I know," Rodney whispered. He stared at his hands, eyes tracing the thickening gray scale creeping down the backs of his hands. A silence stretched between them. "Thank you," he whispered, breaking that silence. "Even if you change your mind after reading the files, thank you for your understanding now."
"McKay, I read Lovecraft's version of events," Sheppard said. "I know what a Deep One is. I still don't care. What they did was horrifying and I can see why you're scared of people finding out."
Nictitating membranes blinked in sudden surprise. Rodney looked right at John and blinked them again to gauge his reaction. When the man didn't seem at all phased Rodney relaxed with a soft whine before darting forward and enveloping John in a very wet hug.
Sheppard didn't quite tense but he didn't move, not quite sure what to do. He settled on lightly patting Rodney's back, hands lingering at the curious feel of hardened scales through threadbare robe. "Um, Rodney? You're very wet."
"Huh? Oh, sorry," Rodney said, pulling back. He found himself starting to purr as he let go of Sheppard and drifted back to his chair.
Sheppard looked down at his wet clothes with a sense of 'bleh' before noticing the sound filling the room. He traced it to Rodney who was looking at him like he was a particularly compelling equation. "You're purring," he observed.
Rodney nodded, hopeful and a touch embarrassed. It happens sometimes, he mouthed, not feeling up to breaking the purr by speaking.
"Wait, so you can't talk while purring?" Sheppard asked. At Rodney's nod John started thinking. "I should get you to purr more often if it'll get you to shut up once in a while."
"Hey!" Rodney protested, the purr stopping suddenly. "If you're going to be like that then I'm just going to get back to work."
"Weren't you in the tub?"
"The water helps me think," Rodney admitted. "I swear, the best ideas flow underwater. It works better when I've got Zelenka in here with me and ideas can flow without needing words."
"I'm not sure I wanted to know that," Sheppard pointed out.
"My bathtub has room for at least three, want to come in?" Rodney asked with a leer as he left John for his waiting tub. Robe was dropped to the floor right before he surrendered to the siren call of hot soapy water.
"How about if I pass?" Sheppard asked, following anyway out of curiosity. He stalled in the doorway to see Rodney sprawled in his bubble bath. "And how in hell did you get a tub this huge? It's like a jacuzzi!"
Rodney curled his sprawl a bit and sank below the surface. He popped back up, covered in bubbles. "I told you it fits at least three."
"At least," John agreed. He knelt down next to the bath as Rodney shook the bubbles from his hands and went back to tapping at his tablet. "So what're you working on?"
"If you're that interested, get in," Rodney ordered. "Otherwise go away and let me work. And get naked, socks and underwear leave a funny feel to the water."
Sheppard got up and started to leave. He paused at the bathroom doorway and looked back to see Rodney in a relaxed sprawl as he worked on some calculation or other. He really didn't have anything else to do today that couldn't be put off until Caldwell wasn't around to criticize him. Besides, he felt this was something he needed to do.
Clothes dropped soundlessly before a second person slid into bubbly water. "You'd better have towels somewhere, McKay," John said, stretching out with a groan.
The room filled again with the sound of purring.
The room was quiet as Radek Zelenka worked on trying to streamline the ZPM's power output. Rodney McKay sat next to him, brooding on the past month. The water in the tub was cool and salty, unaltered seawater drawn for him by the city. Radek shivered and pressed against Rodney's side for warmth for the third time.
"You're cold," Rodney said absently.
"Is fine," Radek dismissed.
Rodney draped an arm around Radek's bare shoulders and held him close to share warmth. Radek shifted position until he was almost snuggling in Rodney's embrace.
"I talked with Carson today," Rodney said absently.
Radek looked up from his tablet, trying to make sense of Rodney's statement. "Carson is still in stasis," he pointed out.
"Doesn't mean I can't talk to him," Rodney said.
"You said you talked with him."
"Yes, well, it was like talking with him," Rodney defended.
"I know. I miss him too."
"I'm taking his advice. I told Sheppard about me."
Radek paused in his calculations and set his tablet down on a low table Rodney had moved next to the bathtub for this purpose. "You told him?" he asked softly, turning all his attention on Rodney. "How did he react?"
"I don't think it matters to him what I am," Rodney said, a faint smile gracing his features. "He got into the bathtub with me."
"That's wonderful," Radek said breathily, his own grin matching Rodney's.
Rodney's smile fell. "I'm going to have to start telling people," he mused. He absently rubbed at the silvery scaling on the backs of his hands. "It's getting harder and harder to hide and humans don't remain oblivious forever. I prefer telling people as opposed to them finding out accidentally."
"I know the feeling." Radek mused quietly, attention drifting as he leaned back into Rodney's warm embrace. "I think Miko knows."
"Why do you say that?" Rodney asked.
"We were discussing using jumpers underwater for better survey of ocean floor and the underwater jumper bay was mentioned," Radek said. "I remember we cannot use it because control room is flooded. She asked why you could not operate controls."
Rodney tensed up, holding Radek tighter against him without thinking. "Miko asked why I couldn't operate the controls in a flooded room?" he asked. "Just like that?"
"We were alone," Radek defended. "And yes, just like that. She was confused when I told her you could not. She said later then when you had changed enough."
"She does know," Rodney whispered. "And she doesn't care either."
"I do not think she cares," Radek agreed.
Rodney went silent as he fell back into his brooding and Radek went back to his calculations. Five people knew about him now. Of those five only one had shown fear or disgust and Dr. Jennifer Keller had gotten over most of that in a few short months to become a friend. He'd been changing fast ever since his brush with ascension, probably something that the machine had done to him. There were people he had to tell first, people close to him. Two people. "I'm going to tell Ronon next," he murmured.
"And then I'm going to eat all the chocolate in Atlantis."
"Hmm. Wait, what?"
End part 1