"I still can't believe I delivered a baby," Dr. Rodney McKay said. He was in the Atlantis infirmary, this time as a visitor rather than a patient. John Sheppard lounged propped-up on the infirmary bed, mind just a bit fuzzy from the low level painkillers keeping him from feeling his insides. Rodney stood next to the bed, shifting from foot to foot. He was still a little jazzed from the adrenaline of Teyla's rescue, John surviving surgery, and delivering a baby.
"Neither can I," John said, deadpanned.
Rodney didn't acknowledge the sarcasm. "I'm serious, it was just so amazing," he babbled. "I had to keep talking the whole time I was holding him because if I didn't I knew I was just gonna start purring and never stop. You have no idea what it's like to welcome someone into the universe like that!"
"McKay," Sheppard warned. He gave a significant look around, noticing one of the medics giving them both a weird look.
"What?" Rodney looked around as well, going still when he realized how careless he was being in such a public place.
"Don't wanna know," the medic said. "Going away now, k?" She left the area to busy herself in the stockroom.
"Oh shit," Rodney whispered.
"Not to curb your enthusiasm or anything but hows about we hold off discussing things like this until after I get outta here?" John said calmly. "I'm stuck here anyway, I'll talk to her."
"Just don't say anything," Rodney pleaded. "If people have to know I want to be the one to tell them."
"Sure," John said. "I'll just tell her you really like cats."
"Oh ha ha."
It was only six days before Colonel Sheppard was discharged from the infirmary with orders to go to his office and do paperwork. Dr. Keller made it clear that noncompliance would be met with exile, or as she put it with an amused smirk, 'grounded without privileges like a naughty 5 year old.' Thus Sheppard had taken a page out of the X-Files handbook and was tossing pencils at the ceiling. He had the wrong type of ceiling; they didn't stick so he instead tried to aim them in a bulls-eye pattern around an imaginary spot.
Sheppard sat up and tried to look busy when his door chimed. He woke his computer up and looked at the screen full of empty forms. Damn. "Come in."
Rodney walked in. Something crunched under his foot. He looked down to see a floor strewn with pencils, looked up to see the occasional tickmark of graphite on the ceiling. "Is Agent Mulder bored?" he asked.
"Hey, Scully," John countered. "What's the new case?"
Rodney gave John a withering look. "Agent Mulder is supposed to be doing paperwork," he pointed out. "And I can't be Scully, I don't have the hair for it. Teyla can be Scully."
"Nah," John said. "Doesn't fit."
"You haven't done any work at all have you?" Rodney guessed.
Sheppard gave him an 'are you kidding' look.
"Right. Then you're going to help me figure something out."
"I'm not cleared for light-switch duty."
"This isn't that," Rodney said, gathering up all the courage he could. When that failed he tried for false bravado. "I need to tell Ronon and Teyla about me," he blurted.
John sat back, impressed that Rodney was taking this step. "Then tell them," he said.
"It-it can't be that simple," Rodney insisted, nervously wringing his hands. "They don't have any previous knowledge of the situation and they'll have no idea why they need to keep it quiet and I'll have to explain how it works and you're the only person I've ever actually told and even then I failed because all I could do was direct you to figuring it out yourself and I still really think that if this gets out I'm gonna get shot and I don't wanna get shot, not when I've come this far but it's going to be impossible to hide this from people eventually and oh hell I'm going to have to tell Sam at some point and she's gonna shoot me for hitting on her for years when I knew I wasn't even human because how could I not know--"
"Rodney!" John scolded.
"Words can be organized in sentences. After each sentence you take a breath."
"Are you even listening to what I'm saying?!" Rodney demanded.
"Yes I am." John pinched the bridge of his nose to ward off the headache. "You're worried that people will find out. You're also realizing that people are going to find out anyway. Thus you're worried that people are going to be angry at you when they find out."
"I'm worried they're going to shoot me," Rodney pointed out. "Big difference from mere angry."
"I'm going to shoot you if you don't calm down," Sheppard promised.
"You've shot me before," Rodney said, calling John's bluff.
"Which is how you know I'll have no problem doing it again," Sheppard said calmly.
"Right," Rodney said, taking a seat. Sitting down might make him seem less nervous. "So I want to tell them separately, I think it'll be easier that way if there's only one of them at a time. And I want to tell Ronon first."
"Why Ronon?" John asked.
"Well, Teyla has the baby and she's worried about the father Kenan--"
"Close enough. Point is she's busy and I don't want to be adding to her stresses by dragging her into something as big as me being a Deep One hybrid."
"I still don't think it'll be as big of a thing for them as it is for you," John pointed out.
"That's because I'm the one in the throes of the Change here!"
"Okay, okay," John said, conceding to try and prevent the rant before it began. "We'll tell Ronon first. Any idea how to do it?"
"No," Rodney said quietly, giving John a pouting look.
"That's why you're here," John said for clarification.
"Yes, yes it is."
"Think visual aids might help?" John asked.
"What? I dunno, are you allowed to take a bath yet?"
"You don't need me to take a bath with you, McKay."
"But it helps me think!"
"Doesn't Zelenka know?" John asked, getting exasperated. "Can't you ask him to take a bath with you?"
"We do that all the time," Rodney said. "But when I take a bath with him we always end up coming up with ZedPM calculations or ingenious plans or doing other stuff."
"I'm going to regret asking this but what 'other stuff'?" John asked before he could stop himself. He watched the blush rise to Rodney's cheeks. "Don't answer that," he said before Rodney could open his mouth. "I don't want to know."
"Good choice," Rodney admitted. "So are you cleared for a bath? We can play chess, I'll even let you beat me."
"I beat you at chess anyway," John pointed out.
"Great, I've got tonight off and I know you're not really doing anything. So I'll see you then?" Rodney got up and almost bolted out the door before Sheppard could decline. John sighed and slumped over to stare at the blank forms mocking him from his computer's screen. He might as well show up.
Atlantis opened the door for him when John showed up to Rodney's quarters that night. He followed the sounds of water and voices to the bathroom. Wait, voices?
"And colonel finally shows up," announced a familiar, accented voice. Radek Zelenka sat in the bathtub next to a lounging McKay.
"I figured three heads are better than one," Rodney said with a shrug. He slipped underwater before popping back up nearer to the door.
"Regrettably I can't join you," John said. "Stitches, Keller would have my head."
"Yeah, I talked to her about that," Rodney said. "She cleared you for twenty minutes if we used seawater and kept physical activity to a minimum."
Sheppard gave the two scientists a wary look. "What exactly did you tell her?" he asked.
"Same thing the both of you know," Rodney assured. "Now get naked and get in here, I need the ideas from your head."
Sheppard shook his head with a sigh of surrender before starting to take off his shirt. "There is something fundamentally wrong with my life," he lamented.
"Yeah, yeah, get in line."
John gave in and stripped down to his skin, ignoring the slight pull of stitches in his side as he moved. He dipped a toe in the bathtub, wary of the temperature. And held back a moan at the warmth. "McKay, only you would have a saltwater hot tub," he said, stepping in. He sat down and groaned as warm water caressed all his muscles into relaxing.
"I'm sure I'm not the only one," Rodney said before slipping underwater with a long exhale. The sides of his neck swelled momentarily as gills tried to burst open but failed. He closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind by counter-intuitively filling his mind with thoughts of the two people in the water with him.
"Is he all right?" John asked after Rodney went under.
"Is fine," Radek assured.
"So why exactly are we here?" John asked. "McKay never really explained why, he only ever said that ideas flow best underwater. Do you know what that even means?"
"Deep Ones communicate among each other semi-telepathically," Radek explained. "As Change progresses he gains more control over his mind. Deep Ones who complete Change can communicate complex thoughts with simple sound and mental contact. I have been on receiving end before, is wonderful thing, very intense."
"It's a learned skill, isn't it?"
Sheppard drew his legs to his chest in an unconscious protective gesture. "He's at a severe disadvantage, isn't he?" he asked quietly. "No one else to teach him anything, not even in dreams."
"Deep Ones lead connected lives," Radek said just as quietly. "Theirs is collective unconscious ruled by Father Dagon and Mother Hydra. A Deep One's nest is family, friends, whole life, everything. Y'ha-nthlei is Rodney's nest by blood but is too far to hear."
The water felt like ice to John for a second as he shuddered through an epiphany. "We're his nest, aren't we?" he whispered. "Atlantis is his home and we're his nest. All of us."
Radek hadn't thought of that before and it clearly showed on his face. Yet it made sense, it made very real sense. He opened his mouth to answer but whatever answer he might have had was cut off as Rodney splashed to the surface with a great gasp of air.
"I'm not telling Ronon by inviting him into my bath," Rodney said. "Could you two please think about how I'm going to tell people instead of why?"
"Sorry," John said.
"After mention of Cthulhu worship did you not find people pulling pranks on you?" Radek asked.
"Technically I'm still finding random things sent to me," Rodney admitted.
"Something I should know about?" Sheppard asked.
"Nah, it amuses me," Rodney dismissed. "Emailed photomanips of Mythos-related artwork with terribly worded but amusing captions, bad horror movies from the 80s showing up in my office, stuffed plushies of Elder Gods, copies of Lovecraft stories, harmless things. I got a great poster I'm going to put on my office door; I think it's from a webcomic."
"Last one was Keller," Radek revealed. "I was in lab when she dropped it off."
"Huh. I should do something back." Rodney gave a tiny gasp as he was hit in the head with an idea. An idea not his own. He looked straight at John and grinned. "That is an excellent idea," he said.
"Is it?" Radek asked.
"What is?" John asked.
"You're the one who had it," Rodney pointed out. He gave a dark giggle before stretching out in the water. Laughter deepened in tone until it lapsed into a purr and he slipped underwater.
"What was idea?" Radek asked.
"I don't know," John admitted. He looked down at a happy Rodney and tried to ignore the way the water all around them nearly vibrated with the force of Rodney's purr. "And doesn't he need to breathe?"
Radek shrugged. "Not so much as you think."
They planned to tell him at the next team movie night, relying on the fact that Torren was now old enough for colic to start setting in. Combine a screaming baby with the stress of Kanaan being held on the mainland like a prisoner of war and Teyla was too exhausted to do much more than exist at the moment.
Torren had been handed off to Dr. Keller for the evening so Teyla could get some much needed sleep on the night when Sheppard and McKay planned on telling Ronon.
Ronon showed up at Sheppard's quarters with the bowl of popcorn and was let in. McKay was already there, wringing his hands and in general being even more nervous than usual. "What's with him?" Ronon asked, grabbing a handful of popcorn from the bowl in his arms.
McKay paced back and forth around the room, hands wringing, eyes shifting, and in general looking like he was trying to think their way out of certain death again. "There's something I have to tell you," he admitted. "Something important, very important."
"Then tell me," Ronon said.
Rodney stopped his pacing to stare incredulously at the man. "I can't just do that!" he insisted.
Sheppard sighed from the doorway. "McKay is a Deep One hybrid," he said, deadpanned.
Ronon took in McKay's look of utter horror and betrayal. He had no idea what that even meant. "This is some Earth thing, right?" he asked.
"I cannot believe you just told him!" Rodney shrieked.
"So what's it mean?" Ronon asked.
Rodney glared at Sheppard in anger while gesturing silently for him to pick up the pieces of shattered plan that littered the metaphorical floor. Emotions ran fierce and high in a set procession of fury, fear, impatience, fear again, depression, and finally acceptance. Ronon found himself reaching for the popcorn again while he watched the play of emotions. If it weren't so serious he'd have found it more entertaining than some movie.
Rodney sighed in defeat. "There are more than just humans on Earth," he admitted quietly. "Other civilizations, other sentient species just as capable of doing everything the Tau'ri have done, probably even more. One such civilization is an aquatic race, amphibians with an underwater empire. They're capable of wandering onto the land and they do it often."
"So what's the big deal?" Ronon asked.
"They're called Deep Ones," Rodney whispered. "Short version is that they appear to a village of people. In exchange for worship and virgins and sacrifice the Deep Ones bring prosperity and protection. At least that's how it starts."
"Sounds a bit like the Wraith," Ronon said, a dangerous tone coming to his voice.
Rodney winced as though struck. "They're not," he whispered. "It's a trade agreement. In return for abundant fishing and gold the Deep Ones ask for the opportunity to breed with their human allies. The children from these breedings look human at first but once they grow up they slowly turn into Deep Ones and take to the water, ah, they move to living in the ocean. The Deep Ones worship their own gods and the humans just pick up the practice. They're nothing like the Wraith; no one eats anyone else."
"And McKay is a hybrid like this?
Rodney nodded sadly.
"Can I see?"
Rodney sputtered indignantly. "W-what?!"
"Can I see?" Ronon asked again.
Rodney swelled up like a mad hen, about to declare that Ronon not only couldn't see but was insulting him by merely asking. One look at Sheppard and he deflated a bit before grumblingly taking off his shirt and turning halfway around.
Ronon's eyebrows rose. He forgot himself for a moment to reach forward and stroke a finger down the shimmery diamond-shaped overlapping scales that covered McKay's back. He noted how Rodney flinched as fingertip traced the edge of one scale. "Does it hurt?" he asked.
Rodney shook his head. "Just, I'm not comfortable with this," he said quickly, pulling away. Nervousness rose again as shirt quickly went back on, leaving Ronon with little more than a touch and a glimpse.
"So what you're saying is you're a monster," Ronon stated.
Rodney sagged under mental anguish. "I hate that word," he whispered before scampering out of the room. He ran out of Sheppard's quarters, ran until he reached his own without caring who he passed or what was shouted at him.
"What did I say?" Ronon asked.
"You called him a monster," Sheppard said, anger lacing his words.
"It fits him," Ronon said, leaning back with a shrug. It took him a moment of being glared daggers at to realize what was going on. "I think 'monster' means something different on Earth than it does here," he realized.
"I should hope so," Sheppard growled. "Because a good example of what we would call a monster is the Wraith."
Ronon was shocked. He found himself hoping that the word had been misinterpreted because his definition of the word that Sheppard was using to describe the Wraith was much more benign than Sheppard realized. "That is not what I meant," he said gruffly.
"Well what did you mean?" Sheppard asked, still angry.
Ronon stared incredulously at John, confused at needing to explain something so simple as what a monster was. "Have the humans of Earth ever knowingly shared their world with a different race?" he asked. "A race of beings as intelligent or nearly as intelligent as your own, maybe the two races don't talk to each other, maybe they trade, maybe they fight, but everyone agrees they're people like yourselves, a different species of people? Obviously you do share your world, McKay is the proof. Don't your people know that?"
Sheppard shook his head. "They don't know it," he admitted. "And those who do tend to call them 'animals'."
Incredulity bled into faint disgust. "I really do not like Earth," Ronon said.
"I can understand that."
"To us in this Galaxy a monster is just a way of defining someone as belonging to your world but not being of your species," Ronon said, trying to explain it. "It's even said the Ancestors knew monsters, five-sided cylindrical beings with wings that taught them how to build the Ancestral Rings."
It finally hit Sheppard how different their definitions of the word were. His anger disappeared in a flash of shock and understanding. "We should probably talk to Rodney," he said. "That's not how he thinks you consider him."
Rodney lay miserable at the bottom of his bathtub and wished that he could drown. He cursed himself for being led into optimism by Sheppard and Zelenka and even Miko. He should have known, he had known that Ronon wouldn't react the same way. Deep Ones were too different than people, especially the people of the Pegasus Galaxy.
The Deep Ones of Innsmouth were too much like the Wraith for Ronon to ever be able to reconcile the McKay he knew before and the McKay he knew existed now. Rodney knew that would happen. Even though the Deep Ones never ate the bulk of their victims, the fact that humans were their victims, the fact that these human victims felt the Deep One's taint for generations made them too horrifying.
Too much like the Wraith.
I'm a monster, he thought to himself in the water. It was something he'd known but never really accepted, much less thought about. His father had been a monster, a depraved hypocrite who prided himself in being the Marsh family patriarch without actually taking up any of the duties and responsibilities therein. His mother had been a victim, a half-mad thrall who worshipped the ground her husband trod on while envying his change. His sister had only been eight when their father killed himself because of some misplaced sense of shame, possibly at what he had done with his life but more likely because he'd managed to spawn a daughter with no trace of the Deep One's taint.
He still remembered his mother's last words. You're gettin' the Look, Meredith. Just like your father. But promise me, Meredith. Promise me you won't be throwin' it away like he did. Promise me you'll take to the water, embrace it. Please.
Rodney knew he'd been a monster the moment when he let his mother die without giving her an answer, without telling her the words she desperately needed to hear.
He leaned up to surface enough for a breath before slipping back under. He wished he had his gills so he'd never have to surface, never have to leave Atlantis. He could dive off his balcony into the waters below and never have to come back. It would hurt to leave his nest but he'd get over it, make a new nest. He'd already managed it once, he could do it again.
No, that wasn't true and he knew it. He didn't know if he could leave Atlantis, even to take to the water. He didn't know if he'd survive leaving his nest behind again.
He needed his nest. And they needed him. All of them.
The door opened for Sheppard and Ronon without much protest. They were in McKay's quarters, such as they were. The bed was unmade, clothes were strewn over most surfaces, there were no less than three separate laptops in various states of activity, and the place had a definite fishy smell to it. Ronon immediately understood why they'd never had a team night in Rodney's rooms; they were less like the dwelling of a human and more like the lair of an animal.
Ronon could immediately appreciate that. It made the place feel lived-in.
He followed Sheppard to what he figured was the bathroom except it was much larger than his. As was the bath. Ronon settled down on the floor of the room next to the tub and stared into the water at the form curled up within. Silvery-green scales stood out against the dull pink-beige of the tub itself. The still fairly human form of Rodney McKay stretched out slightly as he leaned up enough for his head to breach the surface, eyes closed. He took a few slow breaths, gills straining to open beneath the skin of his neck. One long inhale before he slipped back under to lie on the bottom. Eyes opened in the water to stare unseeing at nothing.
Ronon stretched a hand forward to the surface of the water and let it barely dip in. Cold.
Rodney's eyes suddenly went more alert. This was someone new, he could feel it. A comforting hand stroked down the scales of his shoulder and arm. It reached further down past elbow and wrist to grasp his hand and squeeze. Rodney squeezed back.
Ronon reached down with his other hand and ran a finger along the thin scales of Rodney's side. A finger became a whole hand that rested against his skin quietly, an anchor to try and bring McKay back from himself.
Rodney closed his eyes, a few stray bubbles escaping his lips. He could feel the emotions behind those hands, the newness and wonder behind companionship and honor, lots of honor. Respect. Friendship. Maybe a little bit of brotherhood. Rodney's hairs all stood on end as he realized who it was. His eyes opened and he turned over to look at the water-distorted face above.
"I'm sorry I made you run like that," Ronon said. "It was my fault. I didn't know your world has a very different definition of the word 'monster' than mine. You're nothing like the Wraith. You're you."
Rodney smiled slightly, a sad little smile.
"I hope we can put this behind us," Ronon said. "And I'm honored that you trust me with this."
Rodney brought a hand up to cover Ronon's and slide up his arm to grip a bicep. It was hard to forgive this soon but if Ronon was making this effort then Rodney could make his own.
It might take a little while but they'd be okay.
Not all mornings were created equal. This one was shaping up to be horrible. Dr. Keller trudged into her office with a mug of the half-burnt swill left in the bottom of the coffeemaker after sitting on the burner since the night before. Her nose wrinkled in disgust every time she took a swig but she needed the caffeine after the events and dreams of last night.
Maybe McKay's condition was getting to her but she'd never dreamed of turning into a ship and flying through space before. Especially not a Wraith ship, that was just weird upon weird.
Keller almost missed the rolled up poster on her desk, as it was she'd knocked it to the floor before realizing it was there. She groaned and snatched it up, not entirely feeling up to opening it.
Morbid curiosity won out and she unrolled a 45cm by 75cm poster. And immediately started laughing. "Hey, Biro, get a look at this," she called.
Dr. Biro poked her head in. "What?" She burst out laughing too when Keller showed her the poster. "Oh that is priceless! Who sent it?"
"I think I know," Keller mused, remembering the poster she'd sent to McKay and how it ended up on his office door.
"You have to put it up, you absolutely have to," Biro urged.
"I'm going to," Keller said. "Right on my office door." Suddenly her morning looked a whole lot better.
End part 2