Come to Pass on a Summer's Day

~ Written for ann_rach.

Carson Beckett had never loved the ocean. He worked it -- a fisherman's son as his father before him. He'd inherited the boat from his da -- so long since gone, now, that the grown Carson could barely remember the man's face. His mother had told him few enough stories, only warned him, every day from the first time her son had been tall enough to take the boat out to sea.

Don't fall into the water, she'd say. A sensible enough warning, were it not for the way her hands gripped the door, and the pale, pinched look of her face, and the way she would say it, hushed and low.

Don't go into the water, Carson, or you'll be gone just as sure as your father.

Carson's father had drowned, and he'd heard enough of the villagers talk to know that one or two thought "drowned" was another word for "run off with a lass." As a boy he'd met such insinuations with a fist or two.

Nowadays, with his mother buried in the rocks and the cottage growing slowly into bad repair, he found himself thinking that he could not quite blame a man for running. Back-breaking work when done alone, and too often the catch barely enough to feed himself, much less provide any over to trade for flour or beer. The boat was too small to venture far enough out to try for the good catches, not without risking a drowning.

Most days Carson didn't even look out to the horizon, content to stay in the shallower waters and take what he could get. His father may or may not have drowned, but Carson didn't care to find himself overboard miles from shore.

He'd not even learnt to swim, his mother so insistent he never touch the water. He should have sold the boat and moved to the village, take up some other career. But there were none who needed a boat so small, and those who might have taken it wouldn't pay more than a pittance.

Besides, Carson couldn't think of anything he'd do, too old to apprentice and basic labour seemed not much better than fishing. And... he had to admit, there was something about the ocean he could not
bring himself to let go of.

He feared it, sometimes he hated it, and on many a paltry fishing day, he would curse it for its peevishness. But whenever he walked the day's journey to the village, and slept the night behind Old Man Gow's barn, he would find himself walking all the much faster back home, and the first sight of the ocean as he rounded the hill made *something* inside his chest relax.

That was, until next he got back on the water, nets in hand and an empty boat at his feet.

Carson muttered under his breath and glanced up at the sky. The day was growing long, and if he stayed to cast his nets again, he'd risk coming in to shore in the dark. But he'd caught nothing at all, and there was too little in the cellar to risk waiting 'til tomorrow.

With a sigh, he gathered up the nets to cast them out again. Standing up, Carson drew back -- and stopped, stumbling with the aborted throw.

"What the--"

Two... creatures were watching him, heads poking out of the water. A small, black head and a larger, grey one -- both looking as much like birds, than as fish. Carson felt his knees give way and he fell,
losing sight of them as he landed in the bottom of the boat. His heart pounding fast, he tried to gather the courage to look to see if -- perhaps he'd imagined it. Perhaps-- he rolled towards the edge and started to peer over.

"A mhanannan!" Carson jumped back as the smaller of the two leapt out of the water and into the boat.

It looked at him, small black eyes staring unblinkingly. The other creature drew up to the side of the boat, and started to put its head over the side. The first one squawked, and Carson realised he
understood what it had said.

"Careful, Rodney! You'll tip us over!"

"I'm not going to tip anything over," squealed the second creature, but it moved back away from the side of the boat. Carson fearfully crept to the side of the boat and peered over. The monstrous face smiled back at him.

"Hi, Carson."

Carson flung himself into the stern of the boat, and watched as the small black... bird, hopped towards him.

"Relax, Carson. We're not going to bite." It stopped and tilted its head to one side, and Carson thought it would have been comical were it not for the fact it was unworldly.

"Demons," he breathed, and wondered who he'd gained the wrong attention of.

"No," the bird shook its head. "I'm John, that's Rodney." It flapped a wing towards the silvery creature waiting in the water.

"You've come to eat me, come for my soul," Carson stammered, and he made a fervent wish that they would choke on his bones.

The bird -- John -- blinked at him. Its black feathers were standing up from its head, pointing every direction. Again -- truly comical, if it weren't a demon from the depths of the sea.

"Right. I can see this is going to take awhile," John said.

"Told you," Rodney said, then it -- he? -- made an astounding leap from the water, his long, sleek body slicing into the air before diving again into the ocean.

"Show off," John muttered. Then he turned back to Carson and said, "Tell you what. We'll just leave it at 'hello' for now, and next time, maybe we can actually talk. Oh, hey, Rodney! Give him something so he knows we're not evil."

Rodney's head appeared beside the boat. "Like what, a signed note?"

John waddled over and hit Rodney on the nose with his wing. "Don't be stupid. Give him a fish or something."

Rodney.... Carson could have sworn the creature rolled its eyes. But it disappeared under the water, then a moment later it returned and dropped a fish over the side of Carson's boat.

Then he vanished again, and a third time, and once more. When there were four fish lying at Carson's feet, John and Rodney looked at him, expectantly.

"We're gonna go, now," John said. "But we'll be out here waiting for you. Don't take too long, OK?"

"Don't take too long for what?" Carson stammered. Dear god, he was trading his soul for fish? His stomach rumbled, and he had a very bad idea that he would, indeed, eat what he'd been given and lose himself forever because of it. Weak flesh, he cursed himself.

"To come back out!" Rodney snapped. "You're gonna go hide in your hut for a few days, telling yourself we're gonna eat your soul or whatever, then eventually you'll convince yourself you dreamt it and everything's fine and you'll have to come back out to fish anyway, and if you don't take too long we can help with that." At a stern glance from John, Rodney added, "Fine, we'll help anyway, but if you make us wait too long we'll be grumpy about it."

John nodded, bobbing his head up and down, then he jumped onto the prow. "Take care, Carson." He flapped a wing, then dove into the water.

There was a splash, then a grey, flanged tail flipped out of the water, and both the strange creatures were gone.

Carson sat very still for several minutes, before grabbing the oars and taking himself home.

It was nearly a week before Carson went back out. He'd thrown the fish away as soon as he'd got back, defying the demons' wish to entrap him. The next morning, starving, he'd gone back out and found the four fish on the ground where he'd tossed them, and eaten them for breakfast.

He'd spent the entire day waiting for them to reappear, waiting for something to yank his soul from his body. When nothing happened, he realised they were waiting for him -- as they'd said -- out on the ocean. He'd sworn not to go back, and had even packed his few belongings to move to the village.

He hadn't gone, however, and spent another three days arguing with himself. By then he'd eaten every last crumb he had, and was forced to go out if only to catch enough to feed him for the day's walk to the village.

He set out in the boat early, hoping to be out and back before anyone -- anything -- found him.

A splash was his only warning, then John was flopping into his boat, rolling to a stop at Carson's feet. The bird blinked up at him and said, "Usually I'm much better at my entrances."

"Ha!" came Rodney's voice, and Carson poked his head over -- and found himself nose to nose with Rodney. "Hi, Carson. Miss us?"

Carson closed his eyes and started praying -- he'd seen the error of his ways, he would never curse the ocean for failing to provide him with enough fish, he'd offer manannan mac lir a pint or three, he
would... smell fish, under his nose. He opened his eyes to see Rodney dropping a second fish over the side.

"If you wanna throw this over, we can fill it for you," John said, kicking the nets.

"Why would we do that?" Rodney asked. "Isn't two enough? We want him to come back, not have enough to feed him for a month!"

John waddled threateningly over to Rodney, and there proceeded a very low hissed and squawked conversation Carson could barely follow. There was a lot of 'you idiot's and 'you imbecile's, as well as something about just who was the better strategist versus who was the smarter of the two.

Finally John turned to him and said in a tight voice, "We'll fill your nets *next time*, if you come back out, but it isn't a request or requirement or a threat or anything. And we don't want your soul, so
just stop that already."

Carson said nothing as two more fish were thrown at his feet. He looked at Rodney, who was still grinning maniacally at him. Then he looked at John, who looked... long suffering.

Carson looked down at the fish again. The offer was clear. Fish, in exchange for... "If you don't want my soul, what is it you're after?"

"Just come out and say hi," Rodney said, leaping out of the water, briefly. "We can talk -- have you heard any good stories? Know anything about Greek philosophy? Or--"

"I want to know what's going on in London," John put in.

"Oh for... we're not here to collect gossip about the royal family!" Rodney snapped.

"I just want to know if he's heard anything," John replied.

Carson looked at the two with disbelief. "You... you're after the English?"

The two creatures looked at him with distinctively doubtful expressions.

"Maybe he hit his head as a child," Rodney said.

"Maybe he isn't used to having sea creatures talk back to him," John said dryly. "Come on, Rodney. Let's give him a chance to think about it." John waddled to the edge of the boat, where he stopped and looked at Carson. "We really aren't after anyone's soul, and we're not going to eat you. Just...come back out, OK?"

With that, he dove into the water and both he and Rodney disappeared again.

Carson rowed to shore, thinking very hard about the fish lying in the bottom of the boat.

He went out the next day and, as promised, he returned that evening with a net full of fish. He'd not spoken to John or Rodney, beyond what he thought was polite. They were, after all, filling his nets with fish -- or perhaps it was coincidence and he was due a good catch anyhow.

Carson had enough that he'd spent the entire next day cleaning and salting the fish, the the day after he'd gone to the village to replenish his kitchen's stores. The fourth day, he'd cautiously taken the boat out again, half-afraid John and Rodney would be cross with him for being gone, and half-afraid that now they'd demand their real price.

But they'd simply greeted him, and Rodney had started in with a story about fantastic lands in the far south. When the day had grown long, Carson had found his nets full of fish again and he himself, strangely reluctant to return home. But he'd gone, and spent the days after cleaning and salting, and.. he'd stored the fish away rather than go sell them, and instead returned back to the sea.

The summer went by quickly, with John and Rodney greeting him every time he went out. Carson always returned with a heavy load, and he'd been well-stocked for winter before the summer was even half over. Through it all, John and Rodney had never once spoken of what price they wanted. They seemed content to spend the day talking, or simply lazing about as the boat floated on the water, with Rodney bumping the side occasionally to remind them he was there.

Carson had even grown to enjoy their company, calling them friends. As the summer grew cooler, Carson wondered if they would remain through the winter or head south, to the places Rodney had described.

He was sitting in his boat, tugging his coat closer around him, thinking that this might be the last time he came out, before the winter. The air was sharp, and Carson could only think of sitting by the fire, huddled in for a long hermitage.

It occurred to him that for the first time in years, he might consider it lonely. He'd been used to having only himself for a companion, until this summer. John and Rodney had filled his days in ways he hadn't expected, talking and laughing and sharing... something. An understanding of sorts, and Carson had thought that perhaps the two weren't demons, after all, but friendly spirits sent... for reasons he still didn't know.

He was hesitant to ask, but he did have to tell them, "I don't think I can come back, 'til next spring."

John and Rodney stopped their playing, and turned to him. From their expressions, Carson thought his announcement wasn't all a surprise.

He shrugged, apologising. "It'll be too full of winter, soon, and I... I can't come back out until spring." He opened his mouth to ask, and stopped. Did he want to know? Would he believe their answer?

Rodney said, "I figured... expected you to say so, last week. It's cold," he added, with a tone of complaint.

"It isn't that cold," John told him. Then he looked at Carson, and Carson knew, suddenly, that this was it. The price. John cleared his throat. "You could come with us," he said.

Carson felt his jaw drop open. He tried to speak, point out that he could do no such thing. But no words came out.

"He's right," Rodney said. "That's sort of the whole idea, really. Come with us."

Rodney and John watched him, with the eerie sense of patience and utter lack of foreboding. Carson shook his head. "I'm not going. Whatever... whereever you think I can go. I'm not.. I can't!"

He scrambled for the oars, half-intending to toss John out of the boat and hie for the shore as fast as he could go. He felt a wet flipper on his hand and he shook it off, roughly, but stopped himself and looked at John.

"You can," John said. "Don't be scared."

"You *are* demons," Carson hissed. "This is how my da was lured to his death, isn't it? My family... we're cursed, or something. Go out to sea and trapped by... by monsters!" He got the oars in hand and began to row, knowing he couldn't out-pace them, but perhaps they would grow
tired of the chase. If they weren't inhuman creatures with unbounded strength, Carson thought, dismally.

But he began to row regardless, not looking at Rodney or John or the ocean, just focusing on the smooth, worn wood of the boat and praying she would get him home, safely.

"You won't drown!" Rodney snapped, leaping from the water beside the boat. "You'll be fine! Seriously, hey! Carson!" Rodney vanished under the water, and Carson caught a glimpse of him, farther back,
where John was swimming. Carson kept rowing as hard as he could, but Rodney caught up with him again.

"Will you stop and listen, already?" Rodney said. "You're not-- Mmpfh!"

Carson pulled the oar back, biting back the regret that he'd hit Rodney -- this was not his friend, he reminded himself. This was a creature from the depths, a monster come to steal him from his home. Trap him, hold him prisoner like his father was, no doubt, long lost and turned to bone beneath the sea.

He kept rowing, cursing himself for trusting them. He'd lost sight of his caution, and now he would pay the price... He felt the oar hit something, and hoped it was rock. He glanced over his shoulder to sight for shore, and felt the boat tipping over.

He fell into the cold water, frantically flailing as the unfamiliar sensation pulled at him. He wanted to gasp for air, tried to scramble for the surface. His hands felt numb and unresponsive, and his body felt tight, like it was shrinking in upon itself.

Panicking, Carson tried to scramble for the surface, trying not to lose sight of the bottom of his boat. He felt something bump his leg and he pulled his legs in, quickly... only then realising that he was *changing*.

His legs had gone, and his arms... he twisted his body around and he discovered the water wasn't nearly as cold as it was. His boots and pants were gone, and his shirt and coat were tangled up around his body. He bent his head and looked; where his arms and hands had been, were flat, brown flippers.

He turned to see John swimming towards him. "Hey, relax. You're good to go," John said. He swam forward and brushed Carson's face with his beak.

"What's happened... what have you done to me?" They'd used their magic, turned him into a creature like them. Turned him without him ever knowing what they were doing...

"We didn't do anything," Rodney asked. "You were born this way. You just never knew because you never came into the water." He swam past, turning in a wide circle around John and Carson. "Can we go someplace warm, now? I am seriously not built for cold water."

Carson looked from Rodney to John, then tried to look down at himself. He was... dear god, he was a seal.

A selkie. The knowledge hit him, and he felt himself freeze. His da... had vanished into the ocean, and his mother had forbid him from doing the same. She'd been right -- he'd be lost to her, like his da. Not by drowning, but by never being human again.

Carson found himself swimming for shore. It wasn't... couldn't possibly be... he had to get back. Had to get back onto shore and if he changed back to himself, he would never, ever set foot in the ocean again.

He could feel John and Rodney swimming after him, heard them calling his name, but he ignored them. He swam faster, not knowing if it was even possible, if there was a time when it would be too late and he'd not be able to change back.

He saw the ocean floor rising, and swam faster. Faster, then his head was breaking the surface and he was crawling onto shore, still a seal, still this monstrosity... and he pulled himself free of the water entirely, and rolled onto his back panting, human again.

He gasped, and curled his fists and swore.

Beside him, two strangers crawled, naked, onto the shore. Men -- humans, one with a wild shock of black hair and the other with smooth skin and a wide, welcoming smile.

Carson sat up, gasping.

John -- it had to be him -- crawled forward on hands and knees, unconcerned with his nudity, and kissed him. As Carson gaped, Rodney moved forward and did the same.

"Come with us," Rodney said.

"I... I can't!" Carson shook his head, scrambling backwards. Away from them, from the sea. Neither of them moved, just looked at him with equal sorrow in their eyes. For a moment -- a brief moment, he felt himself saying yes.

"You can," John said. "You'll be fine, we promise."

But Carson shook his head. What they were asking... he knew it was forever. He'd never come back, never be human again. Give up himself, and be a... thing, living in the ocean.

He thought perhaps he ought to say yes. For he knew if he said no, they would leave and not return. John and Rodney -- men, now, but truly sea himself. Together.

Carson shook his head again. "I can't."

He turned away, and waited for them to argue. Waited for Rodney's long, complex arguments or John's straightforward beseeching. He heard nothing. Carson turned back and found them sitting, taring at him.

Carson shook his head, one more time, slowly. "I'm sorry."

Rodney nodded, and took a step backwards, back towards the sea. John stood as well, but looked down at him. "It's OK," John said. "There'll be a second chance."

Then he turned and walked with Rodney, back into the ocean. Carson saw a glimpse of them, smooth grey skin and small, black body, before they sank beneath the water forever.

Carson fished the ocean every year until his death, always landing full nets but never again seeing the creatures he'd called friends. He'd eventually married, and had children and grandchildren, and told each one of them over and over -- don't go into the water, or you'll be gone, like my da. Like his da before him.

He thought perhaps they didn't always listen, but they always came home, so perhaps the curse had been lifted -- or his father's blood had run thin enough that it didn't matter.

When he closed his eyes for the last time, he was looking out out the ocean on a clear, summer day.

Carson opened his eyes, yawning and blinking as the view out of the plane window came into focus. They were still over the ocean; wide, blue expanse looking eerily like something from a dream. Then the flight attendant was announcing their descent, and Carson gathered up the unclassified papers he'd been studying over.

When he finally reached the unnamed, underground base he would be working at, he'd forgotten all about the view of the ocean. A flurry of introductions, including one which, for a second, made him pause. A glimmer of recognition, he thought, but before he could ask Dr. McKay if they'd met, McKay was gone again, yelling at people about just how little time and brain power they had to waste on rivialities.

Carson settled himself in to his work, and quickly lost himself to it.

Two years later, Carson stood on a balcony. It was early, but the sun was already rising, and the warm air was drifting in off the water. He heard footsteps, then two pairs of arms wrapped themselves round his waist.

"You're always out here," John whispered, kissing his ear.

"I like the view," Carson said. "It reminds me of home."

"I thought you grew up in... some landlocked little town," Rodney said. "That place we visited last year -- it wasn't on the ocean."

"No," Carson agreed. "But I spent my summers at the shore. We all did." He didn't move, content as always to stand with his lovers, looking out at the water. Atlantis was nothing like Earth, and its ocean held none of the things he'd grown up with. But there was still something about it that pulled to him.

"It makes me sad," Carson said, suddenly.

"What does?" John asked.

He gestured. "The ocean. Like... I've lost something. It's so vast, I suppose."

There was a silence from his lovers, then he felt John step away, tugging his hand. "Come back to bed."

"Besides," Rodney added. "You haven't lost anything important." He smiled, smugly. "We're right here."

Carson rolled his eyes. "Yes, and the pair of you are the only thing that matter." He'd said the words lightly, though he knew -- he meant every word.

"Us and the power converters," Rodney said. "And that shipment of DVDs they brought back last week. And the beer. Other than that, yes, I heartily agree and can we have more sex, now?"

"Yes, Rodney," John sighed. "That was the idea with going back to bed."

Carson grinned, and let himself be led back into the bedroom. Rodney was right, though he'd never tell him. Whatever he'd once lost -- he hadn't lost anything that truly mattered, now.