Disclaimer: I do not own Atlantis or its character.
Author's Note: This fic is betaed, by the wonderful "jainanicole" , who made very sure I didn't go into the realm of Mary Sue. It was something I was very worried about, writing an original character, since I find Mary Sues anathema to life in general.
She first saw her beloved from a distance, as she floated upon a rolling wave. He stood upon a platform of the Land-dwellers' city, the one that could fly and then nestle as a sea-bird upon the ocean. He held a strange sword in his hand, which he used to cut the round coral from its stem, tossing it into the depths. She kept these strange land-corals in a shell, a keepsake from her beloved.
As she darted through the ocean with the reklor, dolphin-like creatures that chattered and sang as they swam, her thoughts often turned in yearning for the land-dweller who had stolen her heart. She had been able to swim close to him without being seen, heard him speak to two others called 'McKay' and 'Ronon'. Her beloved, she learned, was called either 'Sheppard' or 'Colonel', both of which sounded melodious to her ears. Oh, if only she had legs on which to walk the Land-dwellers' floating city with her beloved, not the tail that held her captive in the waters.
On the third month after she saw her beloved for the first time, her grandmother, the Wise Woman, came to her and, seeing her distressed, asked her what was wrong.
"Wise Grandmother, I love the Land-dweller called Sheppard. Yet without legs, I could never hope to win his love."
The Wise Woman took her granddaughter's hands in her own. "Dearest child of my child, there is a way to give you legs, but there is a steep price to pay for them."
The granddaughter was overjoyed. "Oh, Grandmother, I am willing to give anything for my beloved."
Though grieved by her decision, the Wise Woman took her granddaughter to the deep crevice where she kept her potions. Taking one, the Wise Woman placed it in her granddaughter's hand. "This will turn your tail into legs and feet. However, when you walk upon dry ground, whether earth or metal, it will feel as if you step on shards of glass. Should your beloved also give you his love, the skin of your feet will harden and the pain will leave. Be warned, though, if your love is spurned you will spend the rest of your days upon the shards, in near unbearable pain. There is no way to regain your tail; once you take this potion, you will remain a Land-dweller forever."
Despite the price, the granddaughter joyfully accepted the potion. She gave her grandmother a kiss goodbye, and swam to the surface of the ocean. Lifting the bottle to her lips, she drank the potion. Almost immediately, she screamed as fiery pain rippled down her tail. The pain receded gradually, until finally it disappeared, and she realized that the transformation was complete. For a moment she panicked as she floundered in the waves, unused to the slender legs that hung from her torso.
She focused her attention and began using her arms to drag herself through the water, towards the floating city. Her strength began waning only yards from her destination. She had almost given up hope when suddenly she heard shouting and a splash. As she faded into unconsciousness, strong arms wrapped around her and for a moment she thought she saw the face of her beloved before darkness took her.
When she awoke, she began panicking again, since, for the first time in her life, she was dry. "Easy, lass, you're safe."
Blinking her eyes, she stared up at the man who stood above her, a caring smile on his face. "Wha'?" Her voice croaked and she realized that she was thirsty. It was a new experience for her, one that she was not enjoying.
Seeming to understand her problem, the man gave her a strangely-shaped shell filled with water. "Here you go."
The water was refreshing, though not salty, which tasted strange to her. She tried to give him her thanks, but found her mouth uncooperative.
Luckily, he seemed to understand what she meant to say and smiled. "You're welcome. My name is Carson. Might I have the pleasure of your name?"
She blinked. How was she to tell her name to this Carson, for her tongue could no longer fit around the sounds she had spoken since she was a child? No longer did the waters of the ocean flow through her lips and form words around her tongue. She knew what to say, but did not know how to say it.
Her frustration must have shown, for Carson patted her gently on the shoulder. "Can you speak at all, lass?"
When she shook her head, he gave her another smile. "Well then, we cannot just keep calling you 'lass'. Do you mind if we give you a name?"
She shook her head again. Carson thought a moment, than his eyes lit up. "Muriel. It's a good Gaelic name, and it fits, since Colonel Sheppard dragged you out of the sea."
Her eyes widened when she heard the name of her beloved. This time, however, Carson misinterpreted the look. "No need to worry, Muriel. We've checked you out and you're in very good health, though you had a touch of exhaustion and dehydration. I wish you could tell us what happened, and where you came from."
So did she.
For the next few days she remained in what she learned was called the infirmary. Several people came to talk to her, including the man, McKay, whom she had seen her beloved speaking to, as well as a Dr. Weir, the city's leader. Dr. Weir was very kind to her and understanding of her inability to speak, and in fact began helping her learn to form her words with air instead of water. McKay, who was also a doctor but apparently a different kind than Dr. Weir, had argued heavily against trusting Muriel, saying she could be a spy for creatures they called Wraith.
It was when McKay was arguing with Dr. Weir at the foot of her bed that Muriel first met her beloved face-to-face. He walked in, smirking broadly as he managed to get McKay to be quiet, a gift, Muriel soon learned, that her beloved possessed. Then her beloved turned his hazel eyes to her - to her! - and smiled. "Hi, there. I'm Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, but you can call me John."
Oh, how she wished to speak and call him by his own name. She strove to move her tongue and managed to say, "Ohm."
Her own cheeks burned with embarrassment as she mangled his name, but still he smiled! "Close enough. Hey, soon you might be able to tell us your name, too."
And while McKay muttered something about a 'kirk' catching another 'bimbo', (An observation that made Weir glare at him), Muriel just smiled at her beloved, lost in his eyes.
Soon after, Muriel tried to walk for the first time. The pain in her feet struck her with an intensity that had her gasping for breath. Luckily, Carson caught her, and soon she began what was called 'physical therapy' to learn how to use these strange new appendages. After some time, she developed a clumsy gait, managing to compensate for the invisible shards that pressed into her feet, and her joy grew as her beloved John appeared to help her. He showed her around the Land-dwellers' city, which they called 'Atlantis'. With his strong arm to lean upon, she knew the pain was worth it.
The days passed by in a cloud of happiness for her as she spent it in John's presence. At one point, they stopped by the marine biologists' lab and she looked on in incredulity as the two scientists argued over whether a miplt, or as they called it 'Atlantean crustacean four', was edible. Edible! Shocked, she urgently pointed to the poison sacs that lay beneath its stomach. She was able to mime a stomach-ache, which they seemed to understand, as they scurried off to test the sacs. Satisfied that her point had been made, she and John continued on their journey through the city.
A few weeks passed. Muriel slowly grew used to her legs, though, at times, the pain was so strong that she had to collapse into a chair. She still found it near impossible to speak, which Carson and the other physicians believed was caused by slight brain damage to the Broca's area. However, neither this pronouncement nor McKay's loud disapproval deterred the marine biologists from seeking her out to see if she knew any more about the oceans surrounding their city. She imparted her knowledge as best she could using signs and drawings.
Apparently, she suitably impressed the scientists, Drs. Adlam and Pierpont, who were able to convince Dr. Weir to let Muriel help them in the labs upon her release from the infirmary. To her elation, Muriel found that her John was to stay in the lab with her at times, though often his place was taken by another from the group she learned were 'soldiers'. Slowly, she began making a place for herself in Atlantis by helping the Land-dwellers learn more about her former home. Her work sometimes made her homesick for her family who dwelt in the far depths, but she only had to look at the face of her beloved to reassure herself of her decision.
The only Land-dweller who seemed distrustful of her was her beloved's friend, McKay. Often he would come by the marine biology labs, ostensibly to check on Adlam and Pierpont, but the whispers between the scientists suggested that his only thought was suspicion of her. Why he alone remained immune to her charm, she did not know. The others saw her as the innocent, injured maiden, an image she perpetuated for it suited her to remain in the city with her beloved, and not be sent to 'the Mainland' as McKay wished. Fortunately, McKay was overruled and she remained in Atlantis. Still, she would often catch him watching her, particularly when she was trying to be alone with John. Her beloved, though, shrugged it off and just said that McKay had a 'Chaya-complex', whatever that was.
Soon, however, her happy life in Atlantis began falling apart. Though she spent much time with her beloved, his once-bright smile began to seem more forced. Instead of growing to love her as she had believed he would, he started drawing away from her. Naively, she thought he was just being shy about his love, that all he needed was time, but her hope soon came to a crashing halt. One day, as she walked with John, her feet fiery with agony, she stopped him in an empty hallway. She placed her hand on his cheek, and lifted her head to capture his lips in a kiss. Instead of responding in kind, he turned his head to the side. "Muriel, no."
Hurt, she tried to use one of the few words her mouth could form. "Why?"
"Look, Muriel, you're a really nice girl, and don't get me wrong, you're gorgeous, too. It's just…I'm not ready for a relationship like you seem to want."
Her heart fell, and the pain in her feet increased. "oo tont luf meh?" You don't love me?
After weeks of 'talking' with her, John understood her. "I'm sorry, I don't. Not in the way you want me to. I'm sorry."
Tears filled her vision, and she ran from the presence of her beloved. She ran away, over what felt like fiery glass shards, blindly brushing past people in the hallways, and did not stop until she reached a platform where she could touch the sea. Her heart breaking, she sank to her knees and wept bitterly. She wished only to return to her home and family beneath the waves, but she remembered the cruel price she paid for her unrequited love.
Sobbing, she crawled towards the water. She could not live like this, with every footstep an agony and without the love of her Sheppard to take the pain from her. Better to give herself to the waters of her birth, that she might find peace in death. Her fingers brushed the surface of the water in front of her and, closing her eyes, she prepared to slip into the depths.
A hand caught her shoulder and pulled her gently back. "Careful, might fall in there. What're you doing, trying to catch a fish?"
She looked up at the face of her captor, and was surprised to see that it was McKay. Even more surprising was the look of understanding in his eyes. For the first time, she actually looked at him, and was startled to see that he too held hidden pain.
He sat next to her, situating himself on the edge of the pier so his bare feet dangled in the water. Still, he kept one hand on her arm, as if afraid that if he let go, she would throw herself into the sea. He didn't look at her directly, instead looking out at the sun's rays which were starting to kiss the crests of the waves. Without preamble, he jumped right into what he wanted to say. "Where I'm from there're lots of stories about beings called mermaids: they're human from the waist up, fish from the waist down."
She made a strangled noise, but he acted as if he had not heard her and continued his story. "In one of the stories, a mermaid fell in love with a human, and took a potion that transformed her tail into legs and feet. However, there was also a curse: every step felt like she was walking on shards of ice. It didn't matter to her, though, because she ended up marrying the man she loved and the pain receded to a bearable level.
The two lived happily together for many years. They were overjoyed when they found out that the former mermaid was pregnant. The joy turned to horror, however, when their son was born with a tail. The man, who had not known that his wife had been a mermaid, was livid at the deception and turned cold towards her. Angry at his rejection, but desperate for his love, the new mother gave the same potion to m…to their son to turn him human."
Muriel's eyes widened at this. How horrible to torment a child with the pain these legs caused! "Tat ith awfuh."
McKay nodded in agreement. "And it made little difference to the man. Though the couple was reconciled, enough even to give life to another human child, the secret of their firstborn was a source of contention. The child was stuck in the middle, resented by his parents and forced to live with the pain in his feet. The story is kind of sad, since even as the boy grew into a man he never found a way to heal the agony, which remained with him forever."
Her own heartache receded in the horror of this tale, where pain was given, not chosen. Muriel took both McKay's hands in hers. "Ow to you l…lif with it?"
His blue eyes look at her with sorry, but he managed a small smile. "I take one day at a time. Cold helps, it numbs your skin, which is probably why I didn't mind living in Siberia or Antarctica." McKay paused, looking away again. "I…I'm sorry I was so hard on you when you first came here. I figured out pretty quickly what you were and…well, I was worried about you. I thought if you were sent to the Mainland you couldn't get your heart broken when Sheppard rejected you."
The grief came back and she had to push back tears. "you oow ee wud ot luf me?" You knew he would not love me?
"He's not one for commitment. Don't get me wrong, he's a great guy, but I think he might have been burned in the past and hasn't really gotten over it. And I…I didn't want you to, well, take a dive off the pier, as it were, when it came to nothing."
For a moment, Muriel felt a rush of anger that he would deny her that death, but reason won over anger and she took a deep breath. He had managed to live without the love of either family or his own beloved. He had managed to live so many years with the pain. Perhaps, then, so could she.
Reaching out, Muriel touched his cheek to get him to look at her. "You wih ehp me?" You will help me?"
McKay nodded, his mouth shaped into a determined frown that reminded Muriel of one of her cousins. She smiled and squeezed his hand, sitting so that her own feet now dangled in the water next to his. "Theh I wih ehp you."
McKay smiled at her and they sat there, pained feet trailing in the sea, and they watched the sun set over the waves.