Title: Celo
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Warnings: Tiny bit of car/pedestrian related trauma, no one gets really hurt
Summary: “‘Uh, a little… help?’ John asked weakly, head poking up from a tangle of tentacles and an oddly shaped little body.” – in which John and Rodney accidentally adopt an undersized cephalopod, and somehow fall in love along the way.

Chapter One

John dove freely, watching the count in his head carefully as he measured the external pressure on the hull of the craft. He evened his dive out carefully as he began to reach 10000 feet, testing the pressure on his hull. After Rodney’s impromptu dive, they had all been so wary of using the Puddle Jumpers in the water. But Rodney had decided that fear of the Puddle Jumpers in the water was all the more reason to actually test one, so John got to spend his day enjoying the sights as he dove and measured and tested. Right now he was diving deeper and deeper to check the hull integrity, although so far each stop had showed the same results. Another 10000, taken in 1000 foot drops, then another, then Rodney’s voice came over the radio.

“OK John, I think that’ll do. Start ascending, 1000 feet at a time, I want to know how this is affecting you as well, so set up the biometrics that Carson installed.”

John reached his mind out to the bio unit and turned it on, shuddering as he felt it scan over him and start monitoring. The feeling faded into the background of his mind, and he ignored it as he rose steadily to Rodney’s co-ordinates.

“Good. Carson says the bios look good too, no signs of decompression problems, no signs of decompression inside the Jumper at all.” He heard clicking noises through the still open channel, probably Rodney typing, then Rodney’s voice again. “You’re gonna love this bit, John. Go wild, do your stupidly dangerous spins and speeding and whatever else you’d do to test a ship in the air. Get a really good feel for how the Jumper reacts to the water.”

John laughed and toggled his radio, speeding up the craft but moving forward this time. He’d been on ships before, even on a sub once, but the feel of those crafts moving in the water felt nothing like this. He moved through a cold stream in the ocean, felt the shift in the Jumper’s systems as it reacted to the sudden change, but the Jumper itself didn’t even seem to flinch in reaction. It just moved along happily, looping beautifully under his commands and gliding through the water as naturally as any sea-born animal.

In fact, he was having so much fun that when the alarm sounded, he barely realised what was going on. He cursed and pulled the Jumper quickly up, reacting as hard and fast as he could to the threat. He came up to the surface, bobbing gently on the water within seconds as he’d been no more than a hundred feet down at the time, and breathed shakily. He could hear Rodney’s panicked babbling, but it still took him a second to react, to raise his hand and open a channel back.

“John, what happened, are you still alive in there?” Rodney cried, melodramatic as always. John snorted.

“Christ, McKay, it takes more than a near miss with a fish to kill me.” He replied drolly. The first sign of trouble was the pause before the reply.

“John… You didn’t have a near miss. Whatever it was, you hit it. The Jumper systems record an impact.” John could see it in his mind even as Rodney said it, the corresponding record showing on the view screen when he called it up for confirmation. He’d hit something. He’d killed something.

Twenty years old, back in his hometown for the first time since he enlisted, John stormed angrily out of his Father’s house. It was one argument too many, and he took to the road far too fast in his car. He didn’t even see the child until it was too late, until he was spinning wildly, practically flying on the road before coming to a stop against a tree.

Later, the Doctors would tell him it was a miracle. He’d escaped with a mild concussion, and grazes. The little girl whose mother’s eyes he couldn’t bear to look at had a broken arm, from where she’d fallen backwards to evade the car. If he’d been anyone else, he would have probably hit her.

John had vowed never, ever to get that angry again. He’d also never spoken to his Father again.

Carson’s voice came over the headset now, calling his name and asking for him to respond. It took a few, dizzy seconds for John to realise that was because he was throwing up, the bios flashing warningly and indicating high blood pressure, racing heart, shallow breathing. Signs of shock, ones he remembered well, a panic attack at the edge of his mind.

“I’m fine, Carson, I’m OK.” He rasped, after rinsing his mouth out and taking a few deep breaths to settle the nausea, the racing heart. He hadn’t flashed back to that near miss in nearly a decade.

“Come back in, John. Stay floating for now, the Jumper’s a pretty good life-raft, and I don’t want to risk you in the air or under the water if the hull is… is damaged.” John nodded, reaching out shaky metal controls to pass on his instructions. It was only then that he really noticed how far out from Atlantis he was, nearly half an hour away at this speed, on the water.

He probably needed that time, to calm down.

Twenty six minutes later, John carefully flew the Jumper into the Jumper Bay and settled her down, being careful to keep the damaged area (where the carcass must be) elevated, so the damage wouldn’t be hidden. He was out of the Jumper and heading for the damage (carcass) before Rodney, Carson, several Xenobiologists and Elizabeth were bearing down on him.

The scene that greeted them when they rounded the Jumper shocked them all to silence.

“Uh, a little… help?” John asked weakly, head poking up from a tangle of tentacles and an oddly shaped little body.

“Well,” Rodney said quietly, “at least you didn’t kill it.”

* * * * *

John sat meekly on the Infirmary bed, watch as Carson and the Xenobiologists – all of them – flittered around him. They were watching him, watching it, warily, as though they were waiting for it to do something nefarious.

So far it was content to stay curled around John, purring softly. Of course, that might be because John had taken to snarling at anyone that came close to them. To John it was self preservation. He didn’t want to think what it thought.

The first thing they’d done, when they’d found the thing attached to him, was to try and pull it off. It had promptly tightened up so much that John had choked, and a distinct head had poked out, fins flaring around its head in a temper-filled display of warning. They had backed away, quickly, and, a few breathless moments later, the thing had settled down. It started purring when John sharply warned them away from it, and curled his hands under it to support it – his back, rather.

John frowned down at it. The tentacles had begun to relax, and the purrs were slowing, becoming shallower, but somehow John didn’t think it was sleeping.

“Hey, guys, is it sick?” He asked, then, feeling guiltily, “Is it injured or dying from where I hit it.”

The Xenobiologists crowded closer, and now John was worried when they were able to detangle most of the tentacles from him and examine it. “I don’t think it’s injured, the way it’s been clinging I think it attached itself to the Jumper rather than you hitting it. Maybe it’s sick?” Then there was a babble of talking, before one looked at him. “How long has it been out of the water for?” She asked. He frowned.

“Two hours, give or take.” He replied with a frown.

“I think maybe it’s getting ill because it’s been out of the water for too long.” She told him, looking down at it.

Before he could respond, or any of them, something shifted out of a cabinet, then a small whirring sounded. They located the source in time to watch a perfectly shaped, deep tub roll over to John’s bedside. He looked at it, then the little shape in his arms, then at it again.

“Huh, I’m gonna guess it won’t grow up to be a Wraith, then.” He deadpanned, gently lowering the creature into the water. For several tense seconds it didn’t move, then suddenly it expanded, the whole being seeming to inflate a little bit, and it whirled happily around, reminding John of nothing so much as a small, excited child. The tentacle that lashed out and wrapped around his wrist only confirmed that.

“It’s a baby.” He told the scientists, and the various onlookers.

“How do you know?” The woman (he thought she might actually be the head of the division) asked him curiously. Bates, in the background, beside Ronon, looked far more suspicious. He was holding his knife and eyeing the tentacle like he’d prefer to slice it off his CO’s arm. John shifted protectively, then realised what he was doing and subsided on to the bed with a mild panic.

“I, ah, think it might be communicating with me. Mentally.” He replied sheepishly. “Like, I get a feeling it’s a child, a feeling that thought isn’t coming from me. I think,” He looked away for a moment, his gaze falling on the creature in the tank. “I think it thinks I’m its mother. He. He thinks I’m his mother.”

Silence. Then Rodney laughed. He strode forward and looked down at the creature, before shaking his head. “Of course it does, have you seen its fins?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” John yelped. Rodney just smirked – then yelped himself as a tentacle attached itself to his wrist. He looked down with it in dismay, then John was the one snickering at him. “If I’m Mom, Rodney, I think you just became Daddy.”

* * * * *

It turned out that John was more than right about that. The creature had decided that Rodney was its Dad, and he wasn’t going anywhere, either. Once the Xenobiologists could convince the Database that they didn’t actually know what the creature was, a helpful fact sheet about it popped up for them. In the two hours it took to translate the important information, Rodney had already had a panic attack about it and spent over an hour talking about how the Gould came out of the water. Not the most brilliant topic of conversation when the damn thing wasn’t letting go of either of them, and no one was willing to risk losing a hand – or worse – trying to pry it off. They were, of course, quarantined when it became clear the thing wasn’t just after John.

Doctor West (John had finally remembered her name and, to his shame, three botched dates last year before they had agreed it probably wasn’t going to work) was smiling as she came over, and stroked one gentle finger over the tentacle attached to John.

“It’s called a Paxarbolis. It’s basically a Cephalopod, similar to an Octopus except it has seven tentacles. You might call it a Septipus. Septipus Paxarbolis.” She joked, smiling. The smile fell a little when they both continued to look at her, clearly waiting for more important information. Like if it was about to kill them both. “You’re right, John, it is a baby. It’s supposed to grow over the next twenty years or so to something roughly the size of the Puddle Jumper – which is why, we think, it attached itself to you in the first place. But this one’s… malformed. Defective, you might say. We think that’s why it’s alone; according to the Database they travel in pods, and have a very tight bond to their parents. This is one of the things that makes this different to Octopi, actually, who tend to be solitary very young. But the Paxarbolis live in pods, and are very highly intelligent, even more so than Octopi, who are some of the most intelligent sea-creatures we’ve discovered. This little one, however, has a defect that means it won’t grow. It’s basically going to stay baby-sized forever, and the babies are vulnerable to the Whale-like creatures. So its pod abandoned it when it was born, and the poor thing must have travelled around looking desperately for a family.”

“And it latched on to the Jumper?” Rodney asked dryly, looking at the creature in the water.

“Well, as John noticed, there’s a certain empathic ability to these creatures. It’s how they communicate with their family. So when the little one spotted a Jumper, roughly the same size as its mother and exuding an empathic ability, it chased it down and got attached. Then John turned it off, it realised the Jumper wasn’t Mom after all, and John stepped around the corner, still naturally exuding that empathic ability, and it realised John is the mother it bound itself to.”

John shrugged. “So we release it, and it goes and finds another Mommy.”

“More likely, we release it, it floats around forlornly, crying for you until it starves to death or gets eaten. It sees you as its parents now, it has bound itself to you both and it will die if we release it. It’s only a couple of days old, according to the database, and it would have probably died within the next couple of days if you hadn’t been there.”

John wants to say that clearly the little thing was doomed, so they should just do the kind thing and release it, give it a chance. He’s sure some of the marines have been dreaming up relishes and side dishes for it, and doesn’t that thought just hurt? He sighs in defeat. It’s ridiculous, he knows, but he feels like this little one is his responsibility now, blames himself for it being here.

“How do I look after it?” He asks despairingly. That’s when she smiles and he thinks a, this is why I tried to date her and, b, I was totally set up.

“Atlantis has already taken care of that. He can absorb water quickly and stay out of the water for a couple of hours at a time until the sickness starts. Come on, carry him.”

John lifts him out, laughing as Rodney tries to take the chance to slip his wrist out of its grip and fails, utterly. They walk down the corridors to his room, John trying not to think of how this must look, a pretty, diminutive biologist leading John and Rodney to his room, with a baby cephalopod attached to his chest, clutching one of Rodney’s wrists like a child’s safety-blanket.

Atlantis, John thinks, has outdone herself. His bedroom walls have turned into an aquarium, his floor and three of the four walls all thickened and filled with water for… for the cephalopod to live in. The water doesn’t fill the whole wall, stopping about a third of the way up, and there’s an opening, compete with a slide on the fourth wall (the one with the door) so it can get out and about. There are small fish in the water, and John just knows they’re for dinner. The whole affect is actually really cool, especially how his poster is still on the wall, and the way the whole tank thing arches around the door to his bathroom and balcony (he can see the outside through the tank, but it’s distorted by the water. He can’t see through the other walls).

“How?” He asks in awe, gently lowering the cephalopod onto the slide and encouraging it to let go and slip into the water. It takes a few moments, and then suddenly it happens in a rush, as the miniature creature spots the fish. Rodney is released as well. John felt a strange welling of almost sadness, but he felt a happy brush to his mind in the next moment. Then he blushed as he realised he was getting all parental over an overgrown fish. Mollusc, whatever.

“Atlantis apparently rearranged. I don’t know how.” Rodney looked at the cephalopod with starry eyes for a minute, before rushing out of the room, calling for Radek. On second thoughts, that look had probably been for his magically-rearranging walls.

John glanced at Doctor West, and realised with a sinking feeling that the look she was giving him was similar to the one Rodney had been giving the wall. Joy.

Celo Chapter Two

Author’s Notes:

A Paxarbolis is a made-up Octopus, I read about on Wikipedia. I was looking up appropriate Latin names, and I had to have this one. I wanted to cry I laughed so hard. Octopus facts are true, as are Whale facts. The facts about the Septipus Paxarbolis are made up. As is it.

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