Chapter 1: How It All Started
“YOU COULD HELP, YOU KNOW,” McKay protested from the temple’s rearmost inner wall, behind where an altar –or a control console– once stood, but had long since fallen to pieces. How typically inconvenient. Sometimes it seemed like the universe had it out for Rodney, like it wanted to see him constantly punished for being so unbearably brilliant. If he believed in such whimsy as Fate there might have been something else for his ill-will to latch onto other than his relaxing teammate, but unfortunately for Sheppard, Rodney was a pragmatist.
“Help with what, exactly?” Nearby, Sheppard lounged back onto his elbows, staring up at the unbelievably high ceiling, its intricate pattern of stone archways, and the vines growing inside from the clerestory. ”You’re examining a wall of runes, how can I possibly help with that?”
McKay huffed, “I don’t know, but your magical genes always find some way of contributing in situations like this.” No power in the `verse could make him admit to Sheppard that the writing on this wall had him stumped. No power at all.
“Thanks for saying ‘contributing’ instead of ‘barging in’,” Sheppard muttered as he sat up just enough to roll his sleeves up over his elbows. He removed his wristband and watch as well, setting them down beside him before he reclined back into his previous position, forearms braced against the cool mossy stone, head titled back.
“I’m considerate like that.” Rodney rolled his eyes as he looked back over his shoulder, catching sight of John’s sprawl. “—What are you doing? I said help, not pose for a centerfold.” Rodney stood up from his uncomfortable crouch to stomp around the crumbled altar-slash-control console and the obligatory ceremonial dais to frown quite pointedly at his Colonel. “Which you’re… completely pulling off. Unsurprisingly.” —Only to lose all his steam.
Despite most outward appearances, Sheppard was already concentrating on the task at hand, so a smarmy comeback would have to wait a few moments. Since Antarctica, talking with Ancient tech had always come more easily than a spring-break co-ed, but every once and a while the conversation needed a little lubrication. Fortunately for the mission, flirting with reluctant tech was one of John’s favourite things to do. Right up there with roller coasters and Ferris Wheels.
Tongue held between his teeth just right to help him focus, John reached down with his gene, through the moss, then the temple floor to the circuitry beneath, where he sent it a warm, Hey darlin’, come here often? Whatever he was tapping into, it felt sticky, like it had been sat, unused and uncared for for a very long time. John gave it a mental nudge; you awake down there? The power pulsed at him, like a sleeping creature slowly blinking awake; it was starting, but unevenly, jerking and ebbing. It bucked and fought its tired systems in such a lifelike way that John’s body, way up on the surface, couldn’t help but laugh.
“Is this good enough for you, McKay, or should I really open her up and see what she can do?”
“McKay?” Still nothing. John pulled his way out of the temple’s systems, and pushed himself up with a sigh. “Earth to McKay— er, M5-something to Dr. Meredith Rodney McK—”
That’s when McKay started screaming.
By the time John had the temple -–the machine--whatever-- turned off, it was already too late.
Chapter 2: The First Week or So
Rodney wakes up changed. This is how he gets his voice back.
This chapter was written especially for the Starter Pack, so excuse if it feels a bit rushed.
Rodney woke up in Atlantis’s isolation/observation room, which was… not comforting. Even less comforting was the fact that there were no beeping machines in the room with him. He wasn’t hooked up to anything, he wasn’t tied down, he wasn’t even underneath a blanket. It was like they’d dumped him on a bed in an otherwise empty room, set the observation window to one-way, and just left him there.
What the hell was going on?
One of the last things he remembered was being chased across M59 3OK’s desert surface by creatures the Historians had won the right to name Lindworms. Even at his fastest sprint, Ronon was keeping up with him while running backwards, shooting at the two-legged fire-breathing dragons like some kind of manic space cowboy, and laughing like he was having the time of his life.
With a lucky shot, one of the Lindworms had erupted into a flaming ball of blood and guts and sulphur. Ronon whooped out a victorious yippie-ki-yay, like John McClane himself. After that, the team made it to the planet’s ring platform unscathed enough to be transported to M59’s forest moon and get on with their mission.
The moon was the only reason for a second trip to that godforsaken desert planet. M59 3OK itself was nothing but sand and death and death and sand as far as the eye or scanner could see. It had a Stargate and a ring platform, and that was it. But the moon? It supported life, and not a small amount. There were ruins of old cities full of crumbling towers and intricate tunnel systems, there were overflowing aqueducts, and fields of wild crops. There was abundant wildlife and a thriving ecosystem.
Where the people had vanished to was not Rodney’s concern; that was a job for soft scientists. He was there for the power reading SGA-5’s science officer had made a note of in his initial scouting report. As fascinating as everything else was, naquadah radiation was a higher priority.
The trail lead them to what had probably been, in its day, a very pleasant park in the center of town. Somewhere the working Middle-class would have gone on their lunch break. …Or perhaps not, because hidden behind the snarly trees and undergrowth had been a rather sizeable temple.
Rodney’s last clear memory was of Teyla shaking her head at Ronon and Sheppard’s display of excessive manliness as they grunted and heaved themselves at the temple’s sturdy main door.
And then he was back on Atlantis, in a room that felt simultaneously too large and yet too small. He was stiff and sore and oddly itchy, and no matter how much he blinked or shook his head, his eyes wouldn’t behave.
Everything was unbelievably sharp and moved too smoothly. It was like watching a video with a higher than standard frame rate all the time. It was exhausting.
And distracting. When Carson finally came to tell him what the hell was going on, Rodney found himself distracted by the stitching on the other man’s uniform, or the way his pulse was beating nervously in his neck, or even the– wait. What was he saying?
“You’re an owl, Rodney.”
Maybe it wasn’t permanent.
Maybe it would wear off on its own.
Maybe he was fooling himself.
Between them, Sheppard, Zelenka, and Elizabeth had a list of things to ask Rodney before they could make his “temporary leave of absence” official. Of course, they had to work around the severe communication barrier of him losing the ability to speak. “Hoot once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no’,” was not the most efficient of methods, and barely a handful of minutes into their meeting, Rodney’s answers had developed a clearly patronising tone. This system would just not work in the long run.
It was fortunate for everyone that Colonel Sheppard stumbled upon the Squawkboxes when he did.
Teams 2 and 3 had been sent back to M59 for reconnaissance and a need-to-know order of find out what the fuck happened. Until Rodney was put back on active duty, the rest of his team had grounded themselves out of solidarity.
How unnecessarily considerate of them. What else did the entire team having nothing to do but sit on their thumbs do but remind Rodney that he’d been reduced to absolute uselessness? He couldn’t work: he couldn’t type, he couldn’t scour through the ‘Lantean database for answers. Hell, he couldn’t even berate his underlings, because not only had this fiasco taken his body from him, it had robbed him of his voice as well! He was trapped in a useless, clumsy, fragile shell, and there was nothing he could do about it. What else was there to do but sit around and sulk while less intelligent people bumbled around a problem they could never solve because they simply weren’t him? Attempts at flying always resulted in crashes, feeding himself was worse than the thought of filing peer reviews, and Rodney was half sure that the stress of it all was throwing him into an early molt. Sulking was the only thing left for him.
Sheppard, however, had a different plan. With the A team off-duty, and the B and C teams busy, he’d rounded up the D team – which mainly consisted of recruits so fresh-off-the-Daedalus that they still had that New Car smell – and convinced them that the best use of their time that particular afternoon would be spent exploring the city’s east-side isthmus.
Rodney didn’t see how this was better for him than re-learning how to sit without falling over (of all things!) on the back of a couch while watching old episodes of Quantum Leap. It was just as frustrating watching children manhandle his city as it was losing his balance time and again, tumbling head-over-tailfeathers, and landing on his own face. Everyone else knew it too, by the way they were tip-toeing around him and keeping their tongues in check. –Except for Dr. Evans, who Rodney was pretty sure only checked her email when she was reminded to, leaving her blindly ignorant towards current events. Like the fact that the owl scowling at her as she flirted awkwardly with Sheppard was, in fact, her boss.
She eventually picks up on Sheppard’s discomfort and wanders back to her actual work, which finally lets McKay notice the watch-like device John’s been fidgeting with. He catches Sheppard’s eye and asks with a head tilt, What’s that?
“Dunno,” Sheppard answered with a shrug. “Looks cool though.”
Only it wasn’t Sheppard that had answered him. The slightly deeper and less nasal voice than usual had come out the device in his hands.
“What the–?” Sheppard reacted the same time Rodney did. “…I didn’t say that out loud.”
Rodney stared back, his demeanour radiating, No shit.
“Holy shit– Can this thing read my mind?!”
By that time, Rodney was shaking with frustration. It was taking Sheppard far too long to reach the only logical conclusion and give him the device. He was hopping on one foot, flapping his wings for balance, and sticking the other one out at Sheppard, begging for him to get a clue.
The device fastened around McKay’s ankle with a firm click. The effect was instantaneous.
“Oh my god, you are such an idiot sometimes!! Most of the time your brain is pretty sexy, and it somehow makes you more attractive than your face and your stupid hips already do, but on occasion? You’re a freaking moron!! If the foremost expert on Ancient technology in two galaxies is trying to get your attention while you’re fiddling with an Ancient artifact, you could, what is it? Look at him?!
“And for that matter!” Rodney spun to glare down the rest of the room, all of which – scientist and military alike – were staring at him, frozen, with mouths agape. “Evans! You’re a selfish nitwit that is embarrassingly ignorant of your immediate surroundings. You’re demoted as soon as I can start doing paperwork again. Nyström! Your methods are sloppy and you plagiarize from your co-workers when you think you won’t get caught. You’re not only lazy, but stupid. You aren’t demoted; you’re fired. Radek! Get him off my city immediately!” There was a barely-noticeable silence where Zelenka didn’t immediately pop out of the woodwork to appease his boss. “Today, Crosby. Today.”
Sheppard leaned over to supply quietly, “He’s off-world. Working on your problem?”
“Dammit.” Rodney considered that a moment. When he looked back up at John, the voice coming out of the Ancient device was quieter, but no less intense. “We have to get to that idiot’s lab sooner rather than later, before his project explodes.” He meant Nyström, who was currently being bombarded with accusatory looks from his colleagues. They didn’t seem to like the idea that he’d been stealing their work, and rightly so.
John offered his forearm, which was covered in one of Ronon’s wide leather cuffs, so that Rodney could get enough grip to maintain a perch without drawing blood. –Not that that prevented the occasional flail for balance and frantic flapping directly into Sheppard’s face, but it was better than being carried, or trying to fly short distances in close quarters – something Rodney dreaded attempting.
On the way to the nearest transporter, Rodney confided to John, “I’m going to have to borrow your hands for this, but if you do exactly as I say, we should live to see our dinner.”
Sheppard nodded, sagely. “Tell you what, buddy, if you get us through this? I’ll even share my meatloaf with you.”
How's a little TMI with your breakfast, mm?
There were a lot of things John didn’t know. Like that owls could snarl; he didn’t think they had the necessary muscle structure. But then again, the average owl did not have the inferno of Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay’s unsurpassed rage boiling underneath all those feathers and talons. This was not the first fact to which he was enlightened today, nor would it be the last.
“DID YOU KNOW,” Rodney spoke in all-caps a lot lately. The working theory was not that he was actually yelling, as thoughts do not have a quantifiable loudness, but rather that he was thinking very emphatically, which the psychic voicebox could only translate aurally in the form of amplitude. It was the smallest of comforts. ”DID YOU KNOW THAT OWLS CANNOT DIGEST EVERYTHING THEY EAT?” Rodney swooped down out of the air with minimal warning.
John dove for his coffee mug, snatching it safely away from Rodney’s uncoordinated landing. The wings were big, and awkward, and never seemed to do quite what Rodney wanted of them. Hopefully the squints down in the labs would find the
magic completely scientific solution to Rodney’s transformation and he wouldn’t have to deal with this much longer.
“AND ALL THAT FUR AND BONE THEIR STUPID BIRD GUTS CAN’T DEAL WITH? THEY PUKE IT UP. I hope you feel as nauseous about this little fact as I do. And you don’t have to go through it twice a day. Carson calls it an owl pellet, the bone shaker. How did he ever get a degree in anything? Seriously, I’m considering changing his title on my medical file from Physician to Veterinarian, just to get back at him. …Are you eating that?”
John couldn’t handle this right now.
“Where are you going? HEY. SHEPPARD. Where are you going? Dammit, slow down, I havn’t got the— hang of— SHEPPARD.”
Chapter 4: Bucket List
The team learned quite quickly to set Rodney’s Squawkbox to silent when they went off-world, meaning that instead of transmitting out loud, it sent its signal directly to their radio headsets. That mission-gone-wrong cum lesson nearly ended with everyone else in jail, and Rodney hooded, tied to a post, and almost roasted for sacrificial dinner.
Most villages considered Rodney sitting on Sheppard’s leather-covered shoulder - or perched on his wrist - to be a symbol of status and power, embodying his strength as a leader and that of his character. The ones that didn’t and tried to chase them away as demon worshippers… well. SGA-2 took care of the follow-up visits to those planets instead.
One noteworthy priest on M49-382 was absolutely sure that the Great A’hoole that escorted the Visitors to their village was a vessel for a godlike Ancient, and insisted the festivities and trade negotiations could not possibly begin until it had chased down and slaughtered a piglet-ish in the town square. Rodney’s “horns” perked up at the thought of pork! and that was that. Deity on at least one planet? Check.
Chapter 5: Poachers, Traders, and Thieves
Rodney's kidnapped while out on a mission. His team comes to the rescue.
They would come for him. As long as he was still alive, there was hope. It’s important to focus on the good things right now: they hadn’t clipped his wings, they hadn’t bound his feet. Of course they’d taken the Squawkbox from him, but they didn’t know about the locator chip deep in his left thigh, or how pissed his team became when their things were taken from them.
So instead of flapping his wings, careening around his cage, hissing, spitting, and making a panicky nuisance of himself, Rodney sat, and listened to his captors. They were traders - Pegasus equivalent of black market by the look of the weapons across their backs and the variety of loot in the wagon that wasn’t him and the other carnivorous bird occupying his cage - unfair traders that bragged about the gullibility of the last folk they dealt with, ammunition and provisions for worthless trinkets.
Rodney felt a strong urge for the taste of their eyeballs - which, in hindsight, was an extremely gross thought. …Considering how much tastier their tongues would be. The thought of tasty tasty revenge meat occupied Rodney’s mind until they reached their destination - or at least until the wagon lurched to a stop, driving the other, smaller owl into his side.
“You alright, kid?” came out as a low warble, punctuated by a chirp (the traders had removed his Squawkbox, thinking it nothing more than a shiny bauble). His cellmate only stared at him with big, dumb, terrified eyes. ”Whatever,” Rodney sighed, and settled down on his perch to wait for rescue.
Rodney was torn for an evening over what to call his cell mate. He couldn’t say it out loud, but anything would be better than referring to him mentally as ‘it’, ‘him’, or ‘the kid’. He’d narrowed it down to either Dodge or Landon* on account that they were locked up by fucking monkeys. Dodge was the better name, but he was also the character that had been shot, stuffed, and mounted. Don’t want to jinx the kid even more than he already was, so…
Landon was missing a pinion feather from his right side, the side he had pressed against Rodney as he shivered in his restless sleep. Rodney’d seen it earlier, tucked behind the ear of one of the traders. Head Goon. He was the one that pulled them out of their cage by their feet to dangle them in front of anyone that showed the slightest interest in a rare A’hoole. He used the feather to emphasize a point and gesture at his merchandise. Once, Rodney saw him draw it along the jawline of a market whore. Rodney yearned for the taste of his flesh by that point, to see the moronic shock upon his face as his entrails were torn from his steaming gut before his very eyes.
Rodney was woken from his bloody dreams by the semi-distant pops of controlled P-90 fire. He knew that sound, as sure as anything, but he must have been hearing things. Maybe he was still dreaming. …Was that someone calling his name?
Landon chirruped unhappily as his support scuttled away and further up their branch, peering out of the cage. He couldn't see anything yet, the commotion was still too far away. And hopping didn’t help, even if it did make him feel better.
John! HEERE!! OVER HERE! ”RAAAWWKK!! RAAAAAAAWWK!!” Teyla! Ronon! Shep-parrrd! “RAAAAAAAAWKK!!" Landon joined in, screeching and flapping his wings. He may have been terrified and stupid 90% of the time, but the kid had a set of lungs on him.
“Shuut uuuup, you useless dinnermeat!“ Head Goon banged against the cage with a club. ”It’s just some bandits. Mebbe debt-collectors. Whichever the case, looks like that Roadnea’s in for a lifetime of regret.” Rodney snapped at the goon’s chuckling face, despite the cage between them. He held onto the woven wires with his talons, flared his wings, beating them senselessly and howled…
“Teyla, secure that sonnovabitch. Ronon, get the lock. Rodney, calm down. Rodney.”
A flash of light, and an entire side of the cage was gone! He was out! He was free! And he was diving, talons first, straight for Head Goon’s face! ”Holy shit!” someone else had to have exclaimed, because Goon was too busy being tongueless - and then eyeless. Mere seconds later, his face hung in ribbons as he gurgled in such a satisfying way that Rodney was nearly appeased enough leave the man the dignity of keeping his entrails. Nearly.
Teyla's floated down to him from somewhere overhead, soft and soothing. “Dr. McKay? Colonel Sheppard, Ronon, and I have come to take you home; back to Atlantis. …Do you understand?”
Rodney murmured an affirmative around a beakful of colon, but it came out more like a purr. He heard, he even comprehended, but seriously guys, you have no idea how tasty a fresh stomach is. It’s like two meals in one! Landon should be getting in on this action— Landon!
But Sheppard was in full-on Commander mode, so he was a step and a half ahead of Rodney's bloodlust-addled bird brain. “Ronon, grab him. Wrap him up in something - anything! Teyla, check the dead one, the Squawkbox has to be around here somewhere. Hey, Asshole.” That sound was definitely a military-issue, sloppily tied boot kicking the last trader in the ribs. ”The bird had something tied around his foot. Where is it? Tell us, and you won’t suffer the same fate as your friend.”
That sole survivor and witness of those traders would come to refer to Rodney as the Horrorhawk, for his sudden unexpected transition into a bloodthirsty beast. Rodney bore the title with pride, even though it was totally inaccurate; Hawks and Owls are completely different orders of Aves.
Teyla found the Squawkbox around the neck of the disemboweled trader - he was wearing it as luck talisman. Shows how much luck it brought him. True to form, the first thing the device projected when it crackled back to life… was bitching.
“KKKKRRRRRAAAAWK PRRRRAAAAND WHAAT IS WITH THE SWADDLING CLOTHES? I KNOW I SAVE YOUR LIVES ON A WEEKLY BASIS, BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE THE SAVIOR THING SO LITTERALLY— Oh. Hello.” Rodney blinked up at Ronon, like he might drop him now that he could understand his ranting. “You don’t take the yelling to heart, right? I just… haven’t heard my own voice in a while.”
“Good to see you too, McKay.”
“…Can you unwrap me now?”
He was grinning. That’s never a good sign. ”Nah, let’s keep our little Messiah all bundled up until we’re back on the city. Just in case he goes all squirrelly again.”
“Landon too!” Rodney squirmed and twisted his head around as far as he could - partly because it freaked Ronon out how far he could do that, but mostly to look back to the cage. ”He can’t fly until his primaries grow back in. We have to take him with us or he’ll die.”
Rodney had more arguments on the tip of his tongue (so to speak), but Sheppard was already pulling out his falconer’s glove and soft leather jesses for Landon’s legs. ”Look at you, a genuine avian philanthropist, huh?”
*Landon, and Dodge were two of the three surviving characters that crash-landed onto The Planet of the Apes (1968). They were the astronauts that weren't played by Chuck Heston.
Also, Rodney has yet to develop sticky fingers when it comes to other owls at this point. That will soon change, with the discovery of the owlets. Landon was released back into wild soon after his pinion grew back.
Chapter 6: And Then There Were Baby Owls
The team stumbles upon a nest of orphaned owlets. Rodney's maternal instinct gets kicked into high gear.
The second set of owls native to the Pegasus galaxy they found was a nest of barely-hatched, fuzzy owlings, that, despite being a) male, and b) not actually an owl, Rodney took to with surprising ferocity. He hunched over them, puffed up to twice his normal size, wings flared protectively, and hissed at anyone that came near them.
Ronon and John stood back and stared, stunned, until Teyla stepped forward with a marvellously restrained eye-roll. Using only her soothing voice, womanly charm, and diplomatic superpowers, she managed to calm Rodney down enough so that he could explain that he wasn’t leaving them to die, and that was final.
He snapped at Ronon’s fingers several times as he collected the baby birds while Sheppard wrestled him away, trying to hold him under his arm like a slippery fish. It only occurred to them once they were back in the Gateroom, burdened with birds, that they’d have to explain this to Elizabeth. …Somehow.
Rodney ended up assembling an honest-to-God nest in one of the larger greenhouses. Pieced together with small twigs from the greenhouse, bits of leather, seaweed, and his own feathers; that was where the owlings stayed (for the most part), under McKay’s fierce mothering. The mission debrief and team meetings came to him, along with like mice that Rodney strongly protested against having to regurgitate on command.
When they were still too young to fly, but too old and restless to stay in the nest all day, Rodney’s parliament of owls would follow him around on foot.
“You’re embarrassing,” he would tell them. “Making me look like a partridge.”
There are ten owlets in this first group. John and Rodney end up giving them two completely different sets of names. Then the rest of the Expedition starts using whichever name is easier to remember. Of course, there are a few exceptions, which results in several owlets having three given names.
Archimedes | Launchpad | "Archie"
Fermat | Taz
Gauss | Woodstock
Tycho | Inky
Sierpinski | Pinky
Cantor | Blinky
Hypatia | Clyde
Copernicus | Huey
Décartes | Dewie
Oort | Louie | "Shingles"
Chapter 7: How John Became an Uncle ...Again
At first, it was because he was the only one available at the time, but after a while John became the owlets' favourite, so he was promoted to Default Babysitter.
Uncle!John is my absolute favourite part of Owl!verse. And because of that, it never really goes away.
This chapter is a selection of drabbles and ficlets from when the owlets were just bb's.
Notably, one of these sections contains the first mention of Carl the Koi - who is not-so-secretly my favourite character.
He was gonna get it.
Rodney was gonna kill him, and he was gonna be dead, and then the Wraith were going to attack and kill everyone, thereby making his efforts to find these little runaways completely moot.
He could already hear the yelling in his head: “You lost them? Lost them. In four hours, you managed to lose the closest thing I’ll ever have to children. Children, John Sheppard. People go to prison for losing children back on Earth. All you had to do was keep your office door shut until I came back. How hard is that?! How many visitors were you getting?! Mister Popularity over here can out-maneuver two-dozen darts in a zero-G dogfight, but can’t keep an eye on ten baby birds?! One of which is missing half his tail feathers, so he keeps turning in circles.”
Not to mention how pissed he’d be when he found out John was running around collecting them in a ten gallon bucket.
“Are you guys trying to get me in trouble? Hide-and-Seek is a people game. A people game that is our little secret, right? You don’t go tattling to mom on me. —How many of you are down there, anyway?” Carefully, John lowered himself, headfirst, into this open pipe with a pocket flashlight held between his teeth.
“Is everyone okay? Woodstock? Launchpad?” A piece of deli meat from John’s lunch (he found it made wrangling the owlings easier if he carried a slice or two around with him at all times) brought the pair of tiny owls within grabbing distance. ”Alright, boys, let’s get ourselves out of this mess.”
The Squawkbox sounded surprisingly good, very much
like his real like his human voice had. The difference was comparable to how you sound to yourself, as opposed to how you sound to others. In fact, it was exactly that; Rodney’s synthesized voice sounded like how he heard himself in his head. It was the voice in his head; that’s how the technology worked. He didn’t hear the difference, he couldn’t, even with his new and improved hearing, but as a third-party observer, John could. The radios made it even worse, adding enough static and pitch shift to make Rodney sound just like his old self.
Which is what startled John so badly when Rodney’s old voice was suddenly in his ear, demanding where the hell he was. It was almost like Rodney
was back to normal was human again and here, glaring a sharp blue storm at him. «Sheppard. Answer me.» John would be willing to bet money that Rodney was even more aggravated in that moment because he couldn’t cross his arms in his frustration. The thought brought a soft smile to his face.
He made sure to keep his voice low as he tapped his earpiece. ”Hi, mom. What’s up?”
«Where. are. you? You’re not in your office or your rooms or the mess or that gym with the big windows—» He went on for a while, obviously having been looking for a while before he commed. Completely justifiable pissy attitude then, since John
neglected forgot to leave a note as to where they’d be. Oops.
“Oh that. I got all my ducks in a row an took ‘em for a stroll down to, ah, Greenhouse beta. You know, the one that looks like an aviary?”
«I am well aware which one Beta is—» There was no wind interference when the Squawkbox transmitted directly through a comm line, but Rodney was obviously already on his way, and the most direct route was outdoors. He’d be coming in through the skylight..
“I think they like it. …Or not. They passed out pretty quick after discovering Carl,” the local Gotta-be-a-Koi fish. Orange, tiger-like black stripes, about two feet long, and Ronon’s bicep thick. The biologists guessed he was about a hundred and fifty years old, and maybe a little psychic - but that’s anyone’s guess.
«That fish is a lousy conversationalist,» Rodney groused, still en route.
“You’re just bitter because you can’t eat him.”
«Damn right. Scaled bastard probably tastes like straight up garlic butter, or chocolate mousse, or crispy québequois poutine…»
“The butter, maybe, but the other two sound kind of fishy.”
«You’re not nearly as funny or as cute as you think you are.»
“I think I’m adorable.” John closed his eyes and stretched his back carefully, moving as little as possible, mindful of the owlings.
There was a pause. «You do raise an excellent point.» So the big bird had arrived. Cracking open one eye revealed Rodney pushing off from a perch high in the rafters to spiral down towards them. «How do you get them to do that?»
“Do what?” Woodstock was trying, and failing, to wiggle himself a comfortable place into John’s hip. The hand not keeping his head off the mossy rock they were laying on reached down to soothe and rearrange the little bird into a better position.
That flutter was Rodney landing. «They’re so comfortable with you. Like you’re not actually a big scary person, but… theirs.»
“I wish I could say this is the first time they’ve used me as a giant pillow, but, ah.. They do this a lot.”
«Can I try?»
John nearly sat up in his surprise. ”What?”
Seeing an owl roll its eyes would never stop being strange. «Lift your elbow.» John did, and Rodney slipped under it to fit against his side, resting his head on John’s chest. He sighed. «The kids are right. You are comfy.»
«Shh.» Rodney hadn’t adjusted the Squawkbox, so his radio voice - his old voice - was still whispering itself directly into John’s ear. «I just spent the better part of an hour searching this city for you. Let me catch forty winks for my trouble. Hush.»
“Rrodney. What is it you think Colonel Sheppard does with your little owls all these times? It’s with him they’ve been, yes?”
“Correct, and as long as they leave me in peace to keep all of us from expiring horribly and they’re all still alive at the end of the day, I couldn’t care less.”
Emergency klaxons rang out. An automated voice projected throughout the city, «Local Quarantine procedure 3. Decontamination level 2.»
Zelenka slid him a silent look. Rodney sighed, dropping his beak into his chest feathers. ”It’s like I asked for that, isn’t it?”
Decontamination Level 2 basically meant shower as soon as possible once the quarantine is released. Pretty standard. Not very threatening. In a Level 2 situation, Atlantis automatically stepped up air circulation and filtration to pull any possible contaminates out of the air as quickly as possible, sometimes resulting in tiny wind storms. The owlings could easily be swept up and away in the commotion, but fortunately for them they were already in a communal shower with the exploration team, decontaminating.
Despite the abundance of falling water, all ten owlings were clustered around Sheppard’s feet as he first washed himself, then each bird of Ancient Pollen 142. (“Is it really necessary to name it now, Doctor?” “Naming things is what separates us from the primates, Lieutenant! That, and hats.”) He wrapped a towel around his waist and led the parliament back to the locker room where he towelled each of them dry, trying his absolute damnedest to ignore the sideways looks his marines kept giving him. A sharp order to supervise the decontamination of the rest of the city got them hustling away when the staring got a little too heavy.
“What do you say, guys? Do we deserve some Doctor Who after all this mess?”
Chapter 8: Radek Zelenka: Master Chůvu
Radek doesn't like minding McKay's birds, but if he has to, he'd prefer to do it well.
I know as much of Czechoslovakia and its language as I do about dik-diks, but if I've read google right, a chůvu is the male equivalent of a Nanny.
This chapter also contains a nearly throw-away mention of Dean Winchester: Space Marine. We'll get back to that later.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Between muttering under his breath in czech, Radek was calling out - cooing, unbelievably - for the missing owlets just like Colonel Sheppard had showed him: ten gallon bucket in one hand, and a slice of deli meat in the other. If this was just another one of the Colonel’s tests before he was deemed suitable for birdsitting, he would have to havefurther words with Elizabeth about removing him from the roster.
“There are many ways I could be spending my valuable time, Dr. Weir," Zelenka had objected. "Bird watching is not one of them.”
“I agree, Radek, but consider this: where in the hierarchy of Important Tasks does Keeping Rodney Appeased fit in?”
”Hn. As they say, it takes a village, yes?”
Sheppard has one hand practically buried into his side, trying to hold in his laughter while Zelenka attempts to round up the last few birds. One of which, Tycho, was clinging to his thigh holster, awkwardly half-sitting on the butt of his sidearm. “This is cooperative for them, you should consider yourself lucky. They give Dr. Brown a real workout with all their runaround.”
“I apologise for not being naturally gifted with owl whispering such as yourself, Colonel.” Taz was busting out the top-notch wobbly evasive maneuvers tonight. Two-to-one odds it was Ronon that had taught them to be so good at duck-and-weaving around and about a moving target’s feet, the shit-disturber./p>
“It’s not whisp— I thought— You’re supposed to be good with birds!”
“My pigeons always came to me, Colonel. Chasing was never necessary.”
“Right! Chasing. This is fight vs flight: stop chasing them and they’ll stop running. ..Unless they’re just messing with you, which is also a possibility.” Tycho crooned in agreement. “They’re punks like that.”
“So it would seem.”
“You, ah, you let me know when you need another hint. I’ll be… around.” He gestures vaguely over his shoulder in the pond’s direction.
Hypatia peeks out from under a fern to see Dark Tufts and Speckled Beak leaving the hubbub. Dark Tufts always has good ideas, good ideas that usually involve treats, so with a quick look to make sure their chůvu isn't looking, she scuttles off after them. Under a log, over a big stone, and down a polished path, she rapidly gains on Dark Tuft’s shiny black boots. She catches up - nearly running into them, in fact - at the Carl-whale’s pool where Speckled Beak is already splashing around in the water, making a general nuisance of himself.
Hrroooting up at Dark Tufts catches his attention. He smiles at her and lowers himself to the ground.
”He is getting better, right?” He means their chůvu. Dark Tufts is considerate and kind like that, to be asking after the comfort of others. ”You’re just messing with him now.” Hypatia innocently tilts her head the same way that makes her Da puff up and huff at her. It has the same delightful, if considerably more subtle, effect on Dark Tufts.
“Lower the sheild!”
Chuck complied with Dr. Weir’s order, then leaned over to speak in stage whisper to Zelenka. “Whoever it is, I hope they bring some of that Athosian dark malt with ‘em. Eh? Am I right?” Radek just barely acknowledged Chuck’s gossip. He was getting off shift in a matter of minutes, the number of which entirely depended on how quickly he finished this latest rendered composite of ‘Lantea-bound meteoroids. A threat-level of 3 or so, on a scale from 1 to 10, where 15 is when McKay turns that very unhealthy shade of purple— or, he used to, before…
The gentleman coming through the shimmering event horizon is Damodar, a trusted represetative of the Athosians, and no, he doesn’t have any slightly-illegal liquor with him. However, his arms are full of colourful Athosian linens. Linens that are not folded very well and appear to be… moving? Elizabeth does a very good job of ignoring this fact until the obligatory greetings and well-wishings are done with, something everyone along the mezzanine above them can’t seem to manage. They’re all wide eyes and curious eyebrows as Elizabeth finally gets around to the itty bitty elephant in the room.
“Damodar, may I ask,” she gestures towards the fabric. “What have you brought us today?”
“Ah, this.” Damodar understands that he’s under a spotlight, raising his voice for the room to hear. “There was a fire on a world my people are known to trade with. A fire that destroyed several crops and fields, yet took no homes or lives, thankfully. The Drùnidanii are a proud people, so when we offered assistance, they largely refused, only giving us this.” He motioned to the bundle of fabric in his arms. “Tales of the New ‘Lanteans has traveled far and wide among traders. It is for this reason that Drùnidanii asked us to pass this along to you. It is a rare creature in this galaxy, approaching extinction, and yet Atlantis is home to a flock of them.” Damodar smiles fondly at a memory for a moment, then continues. “I was hoping to speak with Dr. McKay, is he available?”
“Unfortunately not,” Elizabeth manages not to shoot a disapproving look up to the control room, where a flurry of gossipy activity has burst out. “He’s off-world for the next few days with Colonel Sheppard and his team. May I?”
“Of course.” Damodar pulls back a few layers of fabric to reveal a tiny, quivering owling. Perhaps even smaller than the others were when Rodney first found them. The poor thing is still covered in soot and dirt, a few feathers sticking up in odd directions from dried mud.
A suggestion wafts down from a Marine in the peanut gallery. “D’you think the little brother could use some friendly company, Dr. Weir?”
“What an excellent idea, Dean. Shingles is in my office, if you would.”
Shingles is the unlucky owling to suffer a temporary name change while his dads are away because a)no one should be expected to remember a name like Oort, and b)as soon as the wormhole carrying SGA-1 had winked shut, Shingles had magically started his first seasonal molt and was now leaving small brown feathers absolutely everywhere. He was twitchy and a little nervous, but he would have to do for now.
Lt. Winchester had the dustmop wedged into the crook of one elbow like a mini nerf football. “Special delivery. Sign here, initial here. Ma’am.” He saluted like a good soldier, handed over the owl, and returned to his post.
Damodar adjusted the swaddling linens cum nest to accommodate Shingles, who, unexpectedly, practically sat on top of the smaller owl andclicked at him until he stopped shivering. Instant big brother, so it seemed.
Zelenka interrupted the quiet staring Elizabeth and Damodar were stuck in by clearing his throat. ”Dr. Weir? It’s my shift to watch the owlings now. I have to collect them,” he shook the ten gallon bucket Sheppard had left him, “and then spend some time in one of the greenhouses. You may come with us, if you wish. I, and the owlings, have no choice in the matter, Rodney somehow knows if we skip a session and we must be going.” He reaches for the wrapped owls with his free arm, muttering, “Pojď, ptáci.*” The muttering continued as he walked away. ”Máte-li hovno na mě znovu, budete spát v šuplíku s ponožkami.*”
* ”Come, birds. If you shit on me again, you’re sleeping in the sock drawer.”
Chapter 9: Colonel's Little Helper
Just a little moment between John and his favourite owlet.
“Which one are you again? Huey or …Copernicus? Think you can help me figure out how to win the war?” Sheppard patted the bedspread in front of him in invitation. ”Hop on up here, big man.” The owlet (whose name was both Huey and Copernicus, depending on who you asked) crouched, wiggled his tail feathers back and forth, half opened his wings and hopped/flew/scrambled the short distance straight up, landing in an ungraceful heap on the bed.
Sheppard smirked. His first attempts at flight had been equally abysmal, but just as satisfying. Accommodating, he turned his tablet so that the little owl could peer down at it - in case it had learned to read 10,000 year-old schematics in the past week. ”So. What do you know about Wraith cruisers?”
“Really? Through the air ducts, you say?”
“Hm.” John scritched the owlet’s head as he went through these same schematics for the umpteenth time, hoping for that ever-elusive weak spot to jump out at him this time. Huey purred under John’s hands and kept him company as long as he’d let him.
Chapter 10: Unwanted Rendezvous
Rodney seeks discreet help after a mishap.
“Of course the only time you don’t want to go to the infirmary is when you’re actually injured.”
“I’m fine. I need you to do something for me—”
“You’re concussed, Rodney. I can see it in your eyes. You can’t even stand up straight. For god's sake, you walked in here, and not too steadily either. Can you even fly right now?”
“Were you always this much of a nag, or am I just having trouble blocking it out today?”
”Fine, I’ll go see Carson. --After you do something for me.”
“……..I need you to write a mass email about the transparent sliding doors. That, um, they either need to be tinted or left open.”
“...You ran into a closed door, didn’t you.”
“Don’t laugh— Stop laughing!”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry - ow OW! Stop pecking me!”
”Stop LAUGHING. AT. ME!”
“Fine, fine! Jesus. I’ll write a draft after Carson clears you, come on.”
Chapter 11: It's Cause They Don't Blink
Rodney runs into Atlantis' first plastic owl decoy. Quite literally.
The first false owl in the city, Rodney will tell you, snuck up on him. He took a corner in the Jumper bay rafters and it was just there. Looming. Fierce. With these cold, dead eyes that were always watching you.
The first time, Rodney ran into it, and the pair of them tumbled to the floor in a confused heap of feathers and plastic. A Marine came running at the noise: the clatter, the harried squawking, and then the yelling.
“Dr. McKay, are you—”
“GET THIS THING OFF ME— GET THIS THING OFF ME! GETITOFFGETITOFF!!”
Backup, arriving a minute later in the form of Sheppard, Ronon, and three more Marines, thundered into the Jumper bay to witness McKay clinging to the back of that initial Marine’s TAC vest, hunched over his head and beating his wings as he yelled, “KICK IT AGAIN!”
An order Sheppard quickly belayed. ”Don’t kick it again. What’s going on here, McKay?”
“IS THIS SOME KIND OF SICK JOKE?! A STEP DOWN AND TO THE LEFT FROM A HORSE HEAD IN MY NEST! A MESSAGE— NO! A WARNING! MAYBE—”
“It’s a decoy, McKay. To keep the seabirds away, since we’ve been leaving the roof open for you? Sound familiar?”
Rodney scowled at seabirds, but slowly closed his wings. ”I… don’t think I read that memo.”
“No kidding,” Ronon snorted and turned to leave, taking the Marines with him after a nod from Sheppard.
“I think they make the place feel homey.” He relieved the young Marine of his feathered backpack, thanked, and dismissed him.
“They? There’s more of them?”
“I think you broke this one’s neck.”
“Bastard deserved it.”
Chapter 12: Do They Get Worker's Comp Out In Pegasus?
A few times Rodney's ended up in the infirmary.
“Is the... city-- city safe?” His words were slurring even through the Squawkbox.
John rubbed him through the towel, Carson told him it would help his circulation and warm him up. ”Yeah, buddy, the city’s safe. You saved everybody, just like you always do.”
“Rrroadnay, I know you’re cold, but I need to check for annae other injuries.” Carson had already worked his frigid stethoscope past the protective barrier of the towel. Rodney would have snapped at him, had he the energy.
“C’mon, buddy. We’ll let you sleep real soon where it’s nice and warm, but right now you gotta cooperate. Don’t want the witch doctor to curse you, right?”
“Colonel. Doen’t encourage him.”
"If I have to stay in here with these bone-shakers, can you at least sneak me in some jell-o? The blue kind! Maybe... maybe one of those mice from the mainland? With the very long tails?"
His radio beeped twice before one of the nurses asked for Colonel Sheppard to kindly report to the infirmary. Colonel Sheppard, to the infirmary, please. Didn’t sound too urgent, but then it was protocol to keep all non-secure radio transmissions as calm as possible. ”Duty calls, boys.” War and Peace: back on the nightstand, Owlets (only two today): on his shoulders, and he was en route.
A couple minutes later, John was strolling into the infirmary. He called out, “You rang, Doctor?” Carson stepped aside to reveal Rodney on an exam table, bundled up in a towel and drugged to the metaphorical gills, by the looks of it. ”Geez. What happened to you?”
“Don’t.” Rodney tried to stand up, but Carson gently pushed him back down.
“Did a door beat you up again? I’ll talk to the city for you, buddy. Get it all sorted out.” Laughing at the guy right now would pretty much guarantee no hot water in John’s showers for the next month or so, but holding it in was going to give him hiccups or something before too long. He coughed discreetly into his fist instead.
Cutting Rodney off was difficult before his thoughts could be directly amplified from his brain, but Carson had lots of practice. ”Our fair feathered Doctor has dislocated his shoulder, Colonel. Given that I am not actually a veterinarian,” he’s still sore about that, “this is the closest equivalent to an avian sling I could manage. He needs to stay out of the air for at least a week, and you are the only person in the city that could trick him into compliance.”
“HEY. I HAVE IMPORTANT WORK TO DO, CARSON. WORK THAT CAN’T JUST BE PUT ON HOLD. YOU CAN’T STOP ME FROM SAVING YOUR LIVES ON A DAILY BASIS, CAR-SON. OR WOULD YOU PREFER I LET THE CITY SINK INTO THE OCEAN, OR LOSE ALL POWER, OR SUFFOCATE US IN OUR SLEEP FOR NO GOOD REASON? MAYBE—”
Now John was laughing. ”Just keep him from flying, right? That’s it?”
Carson sighed - grateful for John's understanding, exasperated at his patient. ”That’s all. Just get him and his godforsaken technologically-enhanced voicebox out of my infirmary.”
“No problem, Doc. You know me: Colonel Bird Perch.” John took special care to mind Rodney’s bum wing as he scooped him up. ”C’mon, buddy! I’m sure if you ask nice, Huey and Cicero’ll bring you a near-mouse. They’re getting pretty good at catching their own meals.”
“Huey and Cice—? Sierpinski, Sheppard. His name is Sierpinski.”
“Whatever, Emu. Like he can tell the difference yet.” Not the most creative of arguments, but he was a little busy mentally composing a list of flightless bird names to call Rodney over the next week. ”Which greenhouse has the most near-mice again?”
There’s an air of tension in Atlantis’s infirmary. It isn’t the silence, despite Keller arguing in hushed tones with Elizabeth to get everyone out and into a waiting area. It’s the presence of every last bird in the city sitting shoulder-to-shoulder along the window ledge of the operating theatre, even the ones that weren’t on active duty at the moment.
Because in the operating room itself, Dr. Petersen (the veterinarian gifted to them by the IOA after Woolsey presented his report on Atlantis's Winged Unit) was trying his damnedest to keep Rodney alive.
In short, the mission had gone awry. The native populations of M4M had broken out into civil war. Fires were started, hovels were burnt to the ground, and then Rodney was shot - and not in the ass this time.
After the surgery, they managed to clear out anyone that didn’t absolutely have to be there, something that relieved Keller to no end. Even those that could have stayed if they wanted to, had left to debrief Elizabeth. Bandaged, hooked up to intravenous fluids, and laid out carefully inside a donut pillow, Rodney was placed on one of the infirmary’s few beds with an ocean view. The window, of course, wasn’t for Rodney’s sake, but for that of his adopted progeny. All twelve of them. And they weren't small owlets anymore.
All twelve of them that, no matter the bribery, coercion, or force would not be removed from the infirmary. They had Rodney surrounded on all sides, curled up as close as possible to him. Both raised guard rails were full of raptors waiting to hiss and snap at anyone that dared come too close. Several nurses were already sporting bandaged hands and scowling faces. So far, Sheppard is the only person they’ve let close at all, because he has no motives other than to sit nearby in an uncomfortable chair, read a three-year-old copy of Links, drink tepid hospital coffee, and occasionally feed Des and Hyp bits of his turkey sandwich.
The owlings have always trusted the Colonel; since before they can remember, he’s been as good as a father to them, so they don’t so much as whine when he finally gets up and starts moving them away from Rodney. With half of them moved to the railing on the next bed, he gives a swift command of Attention to keep them in place before giving Dr. Petersen the all clear to come in.
“What’s the news, Doc?”
Fortunately, Petersen is one of those doctors that can work and talk at the same time. ”The surgery went well,” he explained. ”There was minimal blood loss - which is remarkable, considering Dr. McKay’s blood pressure. I expect him to make a nearly- to full-recovery in a couple months.” He looks up with a grin, “If we can get him to keep still that long.”
John snorts in amusement and shakes his head. ”Right.”
Chapter 13: Does This Tie Say "I'm Not Here to Lynch You, Really"?
Richard Woolsey's brought to Atlantis to observe and report on their newest unit.
Richard Woolsey’s faster than he looks, you know. He ran track all through high school and his first few years of university, but since Social Sciences 211 he’s never had the need to put his skills to use. Of course, hiding behind Colonel Sheppard as quickly as possible isn’t the most dignified way to do so, but he really wasn’t expecting the young raptor to be so… big.
The Colonel smiles fondly at the bird. “You’ll have to excuse Huey, Mr. Woolsey. He tends to have a flare for the dramatic.”
By the time Richard peeks out over Sheppard’s shoulder, the owl is already resting comfortably on his gloved hand and wrist, looking rather proud of itself. ” ‘Huey’, Colonel?”
“Or ‘Copernicus’, whichever you prefer. They all have two or three names, depending on who you ask. Kind of an old in-joke.” He shrugs, reaching up to scratch behind a tuft of feathers Woolsey has been told is not actually the creature’s ear.
“I see,” Woolsey nods hesitantly, even though he doesn’t see
at all. He’ll ask questions, find out everything the IOA wants to know about these alien birds, and yet he’ll be back on the Daedalus before it’s done unloading its supplies. His report will be finished and filed before they’re back in the Milky Way.
“What exactly am I looking at, Dr. Weir?” Woolsey was anxious to get off this creepy city. It made his palms tingle and his skin feel tight, it was alien and strange, and no one would just let him leave already. He had all he needed to deliver a comprehensive and detailed report to the IOA about Atlantis’s befeathered squadron, and yet they kept insisting on dragging him around, to give him superfluous information.
Of course, tidbits such as that “Archie” is the chivalrous one, that “Taz” has an inferiority complex, and that “Cantor”, ironically, has a terrible singing voice makes for lovely casual dinner conversation; however, they have no place in an official report concerning military assets. …Unless that’s what Drs. Weir and Zelenka, Major Lorne, and the Colonel have been telling him without words: that these creatures are more than just assets, that they are complex, and deserve more respect and consideration than mere tools.
“There.” Dr. Weir is pointing to a pair of birds ducking and weaving amongst the towers to the west of them.
Woolsey squints into the sun. ”What are they doing?”
“Training exercises,” Elizabeth explains with a smile on her face. ”Dr. McKay’s teaching this one to associate verbal commands with specific aerial maneuvers. Fortunately, they’re incredibly intelligent and pick it up very quickly, otherwise we’d never get Rodney to help with this stage of their training.”
Chapter 14: How Would That Even Work?
Sheppard and McKay are propositioned by the hot alien princess of the week.
This one cracks me up and gives me the jibblies, I had to include it. I'm sorry XD;;
“I adore your pheasant, Colonel,” The princess purred her words, not quite into Sheppard’s ear, but she may as well have, as she slid into his lap.
“M-my what?” John’s amused grin faltered.
She raised her hands to run the backs of her fingers down the sides of both their faces. ”Your plumages are most complimentary in the sunlight. Our offspring would be flawless”
“It would be my honour to tend to you and your pheasant after the evening meal, Colonel.”
«No, really. Am I the ‘pheasant’, or is it a hilarious euphemism I should take note of for future use?»
John turned his nose into Rodney’s exposed chest feathers to mutter as covertly as possible, “You’re pretty calm for someone being propositioned with group bestiality.”
Rodney’s beak opened, and clicked shut. Several times. He shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, scrunched his head down into his shoulders, and let out a quiet growling sound.
Sheppard turned back to the princess with a false smile. ”Can we get back to you on that?”
Chapter 15: Do Robot Owls Dream of Electric Mice?
The origin of Atlantis's artificial owls.
Repli!Raptors. Like UAVs, only stealthier, and unmanned. They have a limited intelligence, take orders well, can be switched off when unneeded, and they don’t steal your fries when you’re not looking.
The idea came to Rodney in the middle of Blade Runner, Near’vember’s film-of-the-month. He got so excited that he hopped off the back of the couch he was perched on, scrambled over Teyla and Ronon’s laps, and trot-waddled across the room and out the door. Sheppard caught up with him at the nearest transporter, where Rodney was flapping his wings madly to stay aloft while he selected his destination. John picked him out of the air like a leaky balloon and guessed Rodney was aiming for Lab 2.
The kids don’t know quite what to make of it. They sit with it on a railing in the ‘Gateroom before it’s sent out on reconnaissance, flanking it on either side. They preen through its feathers when it comes back from a mission, carefully checking for any damage. They treat it like Rodney brought them home another sibling - as he occasionally does.
And then it began to learn. The kids taught it to fly casual, so not to attract attention. They taught it how to pretend it’s been shot and plummet nearly all the way to the ground, so that its pursuers think it’s been killed long enough for it to escape. Fermat even taught it how to hang upside-down from the ceiling in Dr. Weir’s office and scare her witless when she least expects it. And yet, no matter how hard they try, they can’t get it to steal fries for them. That just goes against its programming.
Chapter 16: The One Where Owls Really Don't Like Being Underground
An excerpt from Rodney's first trip back to the SGC since the change.
This has sat as a WIP in my text editor (which is lolariously named Atlantis) for over a year now, so I'm just throwing my hands up, saying fuck it, and posting the part that doesn't make me cringe. Sorry for the ginormous wait.
The first time Rodney went back to Earth after the transformation was, of course, purely for bureaucracy. For paperwork, of all things. Did they honestly expect him to fill out paperwork like this, with the mountain’s complete absence of Psychic Dictation tech? It’s official, they have lost their minds since defeating the Ori. All that victory’d gone to their heads and they just don’t think anymore. Earthlings.
Coming through the ‘Gate in the SGC, nearly thirty stories underground, the first thing that hit Rodney was the smell: concrete upon concrete and gun oil in recycled air. It smelled dusty and sterile at the same time. There were way too many people, so many people in boots so new they still squeaked on the floors and smelled too strongly of rubber. Rodney had to turn his head and bury his face in Sheppard’s hair, take in the faintly lingering salty smell of ‘Lantea’s sea air to settle his senses and keep his head about him.
Sheppard’s an absolute saint and doesn’t draw any attention to Rodney’s minor freakout; he just keeps on down the ramp, pointing out features around the ‘Gate room to Ronon and Teyla, waves to the technician beaming at him through bulletproof glass, and walks right past the IOA representative sent to meet them and out into the hallway. Woolsey double-takes before spinning around and scurrying after them. When he catches up, Sheppard informs him over his shoulder that they’d really appreciate being shown to their rooms so they could put their things down. Quick on his feet, Woolsey’s only stunned for a moment, thrown out of the Welcome to Earth speech he’d been preparing in his head, but quickly sees logic and agrees, leading the team of ‘Lanteans away from all the hubbub surrounding the Stargate.
They were shown to a set of four identical rooms among the base’s guest quarters, and left there to acclimate to the mountain’s recycled air – at Ronon’s tall, dark, intimidating insistence. Whether Woolsey minded having a steel door kicked shut in his face, they never did find out; however, Teyla was sure to butter him up (as John called it) with kind words and alien princess smiles the next time they saw him. To keep relations smooth, just in case.
Sheppard dumps their bags by the door and carefully sits on the edge of the bed with a sigh. Rodney still has his face turned into John’s hair, despite the slight jostling, when Teyla and Ronon let themselves out of the room under the pretence of finding something that would serve as an owl perch. John’s sure the door’s completely shut before he reaches up to card his fingers through Rodney’s chest feathers. “That’s it, buddy. Just breathe.”
«This sucks.» Rodney was beginning to fear that he’d be spending most of his time in the Mountain keeping himself calm instead of doing actual work. On top of the smells, the lights were too bright, and there was this weird electric hum that sent his skin crawling, puffing up him up involuntarily. John’s petting helped, but he couldn’t do that all the time; Rodney had some pride left, after all.
«Why did I agree to this? This was a stupid idea, I’ll admit it, but if you tell anyone I said that – any of you…» because Rodney had enough sense about him to realise he was broadcasting on the team-wide frequency. «You’ll regret it.»
“Very threatening, Wings,” Sheppard drawls at him, and switches the Squawkbox around Rodney’s ankle from silent to aural.
“Says the man with only a thin layer of leather between him and a trip to the infirmary.” Rodney’s words don’t have quite the desired effect on Sheppard, who, instead of looking even the tiniest bit resigned, rifles through his bag until he comes out bearing a ‘Leantean like-mouse. Rodney perks up at the sight.
Sheppard smirks knowingly, “How long’s it been since you last ate?” He holds the creature up by its tail.
His hypoglycaemia hasn’t really been a problem since the change, but… “Probably… a while.” You never know. Rodney snatches the like-mouse out of the air. Swallows it whole. It feels good, wriggling the whole way down.
Chapter 17: The One Where They Change Him Back
They go back to where it all began in hopes of making Rodney people-y again.
Everyone, not just McKay and his team, was nervous to go back to M59 3OK (and a half*). They’d spent four times what the IOA deemed was an appropriate amount of research into a lost cause checking, double-checking, and triple-checking the temple and its power source. Every line of text and pictograph in there had been run through Atlantis’s databases and still the best guess as to what this temple was supposed to do was still just a guess.
Miko pieced together a theory from all of this; that what Colonel Sheppard had activated all those months ago was a reward system for the priests that ran this temple thousands upon thousands of years ago. The reward was that of being gifted with a “dual soul”; to possess the mind, body, and wisdom of two. Not two people, of course. That would be too simple. In the end, the transformation was supposed to go both ways, back and forth, but when Sheppard turned the temple off - or more accurately, when he stopped turning it on - it stalled the process midway, leaving Dr. McKay with the “wrong half” of his new genetic code. Theoretically, his human half was still… somewhere in the temple being stored in an Ancient memory cache. Again, theoretically, all they had to do now was have Dr. McKay stand in the correct place on the raised dais and have Colonel Sheppard resume the temple’s startup sequence.
It all sounded incredibly simple during the mission briefing back on Atlantis. Straightforward. Quick. And yet SGA-1 and 3 were paused standing in the temple’s arched open doorway, hesitant to go in. In hindsight, this building was clearly built with flight in mind, considering the ridiculously high ceilings and large, open windows. Rodney was perched, as per usual, on Sheppard’s shoulder, fidgeting: readjusting his wings, wiggling his tailfeathers back and forth, shifting from foot to foot, he was puffed up to a third again his normal size…
"Hey, buddy." John took a hold of one of Rodney’s talons, the closest they could get to holding hands… unless this actually works. "You ready?"
He puffed himself up even further for dramatic effect and let out a sardonic squawk. “Hell. Who wants to live forever, anyway?”
* M59 3OK being the desert planet inhabited primarily by large, two-legged, fire-breathing lizards the geeks really wanted to call Dodongos, but the historians put up a better fight and won the right to call them Lindworms. The lizards would have made the planet undesirable to humans and not at all worth visiting again were it not for one of the few ring platforms the Expedition has come across thus far in the Pegasus galaxy.
The rings lead to M59’s nearby forest moon, which the soldiers instantly started referring to as Endor. This started another argument of note:
"Endor isn’t the moon, it’s a planet with two moons. One of which is forested.”
"Perfect, so call the main planet Endor, and this is its moon. Easy.”
"Yeah, sure, only no? Because Endor was a gas giant. M59 is distinctly terrestrial. Also!—”
And thus: M59 3OK, M59 3OK and a half.
Chapter 18: His Name Is John Crichton, and He Was Shot Through a Wormhole
Midway has an unexpected guest. Rodney helps them with that.
This is more-or-less the last chapter of the starter pack. Still to come is some Dean Winchester: Space Marine.
«Good Morrow, Atlantis! How is the day finding all y’all?»
“As well as you can expect in monsoon season, Midway, but Good Morrow to you too. How’s Space?”
«Oh, well, you know. It’s Space.»
“I hear ya.”
«So anyway, I have a file here? that Colonel Carter asked me to send y’all, are you clear to receive?»
“Ready when you are.” Chuck takes a moment to save the file onto a remote server until a senior staff can look at it, then turns back to the activated Stargate and his friend on the other end of it. “So, Woodsey. You still coming to the kegger the botanists are throwing?”
«Yeah! Uh, I mean–» ''Woodsey' audibly checks his enthusiasm. «When is that again? My shift doesn’t end until Tuesday, so I dunno…»
“It’s– well, Earth’s Wednesday night, so you’d be in the clear for that. You could even spend a couple days here –in the city! Until our next dial out, or even ‘til your next shift? It’s been a while since we’ve hung out…” Friendships are hard enough to maintain when you're both on the same planet. Come on, Woods, work with me here.
«That’d… that’d be great. I mean– Cool.» Score.
That’s when Dr. McKay breaks out of his silent eyerolling from several stations back. “Enough with the awkward flirting already! Thank you, Midway, for the riveting conversation, and we’ll get back to you about your… thing, whenever. Atlantis, out.” He closes the channel and disengages the ‘Gate while everyone else in the control room, other than Chuck, gives him sour looks. “You sent the transmitted package to the– Good. Call Sheppard and Elizabeth, have them– Nevermind, I’ll do it.” He activates his radio, “Sheppard. Elizabeth? Come to the ‘Gate room right now, there’s something you should see,” then goes about decompressing the data file from Midway, ignoring everyone.
Since he got his self back, McKay’s been head-over-heels for multitasking andtyping and gesticulating and barging into conversations that aren’t his and intricate delicate repairs and …and running his fingers through Sheppard’s hair, and holding his kids for the first time…
Lately, he’s never without at least one of them; today, Hepatia’s taken it upon herself to keep an eye on him, yesterday it was Fermat, and tomorrow Artificial Owl 3 will be serving double-duty with the new kid with the bum wing. Hepatia swivels her head around to give him a concerned look from her perch on the rail overlooking the ‘Gate room floor. He smiles back at her reassuringly. He’s fine, really. He’s not overworking himself– Well, he’s not overworking himself any more than he usually does. That should count for something.
John and Elizabeth arrive at suspiciously the same time, but Rodney carefully chooses to ignore that “You rang?” Sheppard deadpans as they enter the control room.
“Hilarious,” but as always, Sheppard doesn’t rise to the bait. Instead, he smiles back in that aggravating smug shithead way of his. Rodney collects himself and continues, “We have a message from Midway. Your office?” Elizabeth, nods – or maybe that’s a shrug – and leads the way. John and Rodney follow, shoulder to shoulder, picking up Hep on the way because she can’t be a very good bodyguard through Ancient plate glass, now can she?
The package from Midway is a video of Colonel Carter wishing them all well and asking for their help. Rodney’s help, specifically. See, Midway’s come across a bit of a stowaway recently, and it’s putting up something of a fight at being caught. The video cuts to Woods trying to corner a tiny fluttering owlet in the flight deck of the station’s lone puddle jumper. Sam goes on to explain how it must have hidden in their jumper the last time it was planetside and accidentally hitched a ride back to Midway. While they could send it to Earth, or back to the planet they think it came from, or hell, even keep it, Atlantis would make a much better home for it, given its established parliament that’s known for accepting newcomers. They figure if anyone knows quite what to do with it it’s Rodney. He’s the Go-To guy concerning these creatures, having been, you know, one of them.
The message ends, Rodney stands, Hypatia’s rock-steady on his shoulder. “Give me an hour to clear my schedule and I’ll be ready to go.” And just like that, he turns and leaves, leaving John and Elizabeth to gape at each other in silence.
Elizabeth starts, “You should–”
John interrupts, already halfway out of his chair, “I’d better–”
“Talk to him.”
“YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE!" Rodney argues vehemently. "Being like that, trapped in an unfamiliar place. Where everyone is ten times bigger than you, nothing smells right, and even the air feels wrong? We don’t know how long he’s been there. He’s tired, hungry, and terrified. Sam and that kid probably don’t even know he needswater, so no, John, I will not wait until a more convenient time to help a lost child.”
John holds up his hands in surrender. He steps forward, closing the distance Rodney’s put between them and explains, “I get that. What I was going to say is…” He lowers his voice, making sure no one can overhear. “You shouldn’t go alone. Are you taking Hyp?” Rodney nods as Hypatia chirrups deep in her chest. “Would– Just– …Can you take Huey too?” Huey, or Copernicus to his more enlightened friends, is the attack owl of the group. Unashamedly, he’s John’s favourite. Of course Sheppard wants to send along backup in whatever form he can, as if Midway isn’t a secure steel box in the middle of nowhere.
“I know I’m overreacting, but the last time you went off-world without me…” Rodney was kidnapped and nearly sold for his pelt, yeah, he remembers. It’s not one of his best memories. And being the glutton for self-punishment, John continues to think the incident was his fault instead of a series of very unfortunate events. This errand couldn’t have come at a time when John wasn’t busy running drills and training new staff, because life isn’t fair like that. Even the A-Team has to deal with whatever cards they’re dealt.
“Fine,” Rodney agrees, if only to get that pinched crease out of the other man’s forehead. Worry lines would definitely throw a wrench into the whole laid-back surfer thing John’s got going on. “But if my shoulders suffer any damage from hauling around ten extra pounds of killer bird all afternoon, you’ll be hearing from me.”
Sheppard grins. “The second one’ll balance you out. Stress both sides of you equally. Natural chiropractic treatment. I’m surprised Carson hasn’t recommended it sooner.”
Rodney snorts derisively. “Man’s sitting on his thumbs.”
An hour isn’t nearly long enough to do everything he needs to, it’s barely enough time to make sure none of his underlings’ experiments are going to blow up and kill everyone in the near future. He passes the figurative keys over to Zelenka, telling him, “Not a scratch, Radek. And return her with a full tank of gas!” just because North American idioms still throw him for a loop sometimes. (“…The city does not run on gasoline, Dr. McKay, what–”)
Later, in the city’s owlery, he adjusts the straps on a ’Lantean-issue falconer’s TAC vest, having finished carefully loading its pouches. Before it was reappropriated for the owls, this room was probably used by the Ancients to observe the night sky; given its clear domed roof that can be polarized, or become opaque on command. Portions of the dome have been slid aside or propped open for quick and easy access to the sky. It’s one of these openings that Hypatia comes sailing through, bearing a freshly-killed Athosian hen. Rodney thanks her with a scratch to one ear tuft, and a trusting squeeze of a wicked talon. She returns the affection, settled on his shoulder, by nuzzling her beak into his hair.
He’s nearly ready; with new, supple jesses, clean water and a fresh kill, even a swaddling cloth and a hood in case the bird can’t be calmed. Tapping his radio to the correct dedicated frequency, he calls for Copernicus.
“That is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” Jason Woods announces as the Pegasus Stargate winks shut behind Dr. McKay and his… accompaniment. Admittedly, Jason’s only been with Stargate Command for a little while, but he thought he’d be more used to weird sights by now, after the Jaffa, and that Asgard with no pants, and that one time everyone turned slightly mauve. But a sour Canadian astrophysicist in command of a pair of enormous raptors while holding a dead chicken, this somehow takes the cake.
Colonel Carter sneaks up behind him and pats him on the shoulder. “This would be a lot stranger if you knew him like I do.” She opens the hatch connecting the ‘Gate room to the rest of the station with the flick of a couple switches and activates the comms. “Thank you for gracing us with your presence, Rodney. And how punctual of you, too.”
He makes a face in the control room’s direction. “Where is he?”
Ever the diplomat, McKay. “The backup Jumper bay. I’ll show you.” With that, she turns off the comms and addresses Woods. “Seal the ‘Gate room back up once he’s inside, then come down and join us. This’ll be worth watching.”
Sam and Rodney had parted ways after her brief term as interim commander of Atlantis. She went back to Earth to marry Jack, while Rodney stayed in Atlantis… only to be turned into an owl. So fate had been a bit unbalanced between the two of them. That wasn’t a reason to lose touch like they did. He’d even stopped replying to her emails, which, admittedly, were her way of baiting him into a conversation with shoddy science. He never fell for it though.
Busy with SG-1 and her own research, she hadn’t heard much from the ‘Lanteans during the great transformation debacle, although she did see Rodney and his team several times over those few years. Through mountain gossip and data streams, she learned of Atlantis’ Winged Division and the cluster of Pegasus-native owls living in and around the city. It’s something Rodney keeps fairly close to the chest around anyone that wasn’t there at the time, a behaviour so out of character that it’s rather intriguing. Normally Rodney would tell a story that boasts of his courageousness, selflessness, and personal strife until he’s blue in the face, but not this time. He’s changed a lot since that first time they worked together in the SGC, and yet somehow he still manages to be an abrasive asshole.
An abrasive asshole with two fierce owls on his shoulders, jesus. She has to run to catch up with him, because it would have been too much for him to wait for her in the ‘Gate room. Both creatures swivel their heads around to stare at her, saying she’s come close enough, so she doesn’t push her luck and maintains her distance.
“We must have picked it up on a water run to P1O. That was three days ago, but we didn’t notice it fluttering around in here until last night.”
“And you only called us an hour ago?!” Rodney snaps, upsetting the larger of the owls on his shoulders. Carter cautiously puts even more distance between herself and the birds as they come up to the Jumper bay’s access hatch. The mechanism swings open on well-maintained hinges, but Rodney blocks the way with his body. “You and the kid can watch from the observation room. Don’t disturb us.” And with that, he shuts the hatch in her face.
She turns around, stunned, to find Woods blinking at her. “What was all that about?”
Never would he have thought he’d feel crowded by Samantha Carter. Never in a million years. There was a time where he would have killed to have her crowd him. Clothing optional. Covered in oil. –But that’s beside the point.
He waves Hyp and Huey away with his non-chicken-wielding hand and sighs as the feeling floods back into his shoulders. They both settle atop the Jumper, watching him curiously.
“Well. Where is he?” He’s answered merely in head tilts. How staggeringly helpful. Suggestionless, the Jumper’s still probably a safe bet, so he circles around to the back of the craft where the loading ramp is already lowered. Leaning against the bulkhead doors that open out to space, Rodney pulls a field knife out of his vest, slides down the wall until he hits the ground, then begins skinning the hen. Hyp and Huey watch, enrapt from the top of the Jumper. They make soft little noises in anticipation of meat, the greedy animals. The first step to getting an evasive owlet to out of hiding was to get them used to you being there, so Rodney starts talking.
“Ronon taught me how to do this a few years back, and I’ll admit I wasn’t paying much attention at the time. There was blood and guts, I cut myself on theknife, and all I could think about was salmonella poisoning. Big mess, the whole night. Lousy camping trip. I had a rash for a week.” The feathered skin gets tossed aside with a plop. “But after a while, it occurred to me that this was a handy life skill. Right up there with computational mathematics. Only, you know, for people that routinely get stranded far far away from any sign of civilization whatsoever.” To the siblings, “Those situations are prettymuch always your Uncle John’s fault. He’s a shit creek magnet. Here you go.” Rodney tosses the hen’s breasts onto the Jumper’s roof.
There’s a tiny rustle of movement inside the ship. Up in the one of the storage nets.
Rodney finishes gutting the carcass, then sets the organs aside with the skin. He contemplates how to clean his hands before saying fuck it, wiping them on his pants, and pulling out a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer. Tucked in the same pouch as the sunscreen, it’s one of those supplies everyone else used to scoff at until they realised that when it comes to godliness, foresight and cleanliness go hand-in-hand. Germs kill, kids.
Now all he has to do is wait. Though this could take awhile, so he pulls out his tablet and settles in for the long haul. He packed a power bar, right? Ooh, cheese strings!
An hour or so later in the observation room, Jason’s head thunks down to rest on top of his folded arms. “Colonel Carter, I know you’re normally not prone to exaggeration, so when you say something’s going to be worth seeing, I’ll believe you. But this… I’m sure I’ve got some coding or something I should get back to, so if you don’t mind…” But she’s not listening to him. “Colonel Carter?”
She’s transfixed on something in the Jumper bay with this look on her face. Jason sits up enough to see for himself, and there’s what Colonel Carter promised: Dr. McKay with the hell-raising alien bird perched as-calm-as-you-please on his knee as he hand-feeds it parts of that chicken he tore apart with his bare hands earlier. And it looks like he’s talking to it? Jason flips the ambient comms back on to hear what he’s saying.
“–getting used to it, you know? Well, no, you wouldn’t know, would you? You’ve always been the way you are, and you always will be. Don’t take that for granted–no, you can’t have that. I don’t want you spitting up before we leave.” For its part, the little bird looks sufficiently chastened. –Wait. Is it understanding him?
“I have to ask before we go: do you want to come with us? If you don’t, we can always take you back to where you were before. I don’t know what it was like there, but with us you’ll have a family. A big one. We go on adventures, and explore the galaxy, and advance science for the betterment of whoever will listen.
“It’s dangerous and hard, and generally people are a lot less intelligent than you would have hoped, but at the end of the day it’s good to have people to come home to. People that don’t care how unpleasant you can be, because they– Because they love you. That’s what family’s for. It’s what they’re best at. They’ll even overlook that you seem to have an oral fixation – do my fingers taste particularly good or something?”
Hypatia squawks at them in agreement, startling the little guy away from nibbling on Rodney’s fingertips.
“Is that so?” Hrroott! Rodney shakes his head fondly, then holds out his hand to the owlet. “So?”
The owlet looks up at Rodney; then down to his proffered hand; he swivels his head around to Hyp and Copernicus, who are both watching him curiously. Then gathering up his courage with a whole-body shake, he climbs up onto Rodney’s fingers with a determined hop.
Sam has the kid dialing Atlantis by the time Rodney, now three owls heavy, reaches the ‘Gate room. “Thank you for doing this. It was very good of you, coming yourself.” She doesn’t mention any of the one-sided conversations she overheard.
“If anyone asks, it was a lot harder than it looked.”
“Oh, of course.” They share smirks. The wormhole ka-wooshes into existence, startling the owlet for a moment.
«All’s well, Dr. McKay?» Rodney’s radio chirps from under Copernicus’ talon. The large owl stares down at it for a confused moment before moving his claws just enough for Rodney to call back.
“They’ve switched to pine-scented air-fresheners, at least. It’s like a touch of home.”
The technician laughs through the open channel. «Every little bit helps, don’t it? The shield is down; we’re clear to receive you.»
They’re a step from the event horizon when Sam calls out, “So what are you going to call him? Nothing too uptight, right?”
“Crichton. We’ll call him Crichton.”