So I Dated A Chair
Story 4 - Slumber
If the first inhabitants of Atlantis had assigned members to chiropractic practices, they would have instilled some law against sleeping in a chair for six or seven nights of a week. As it was, none of them bothered to give much thought to this, as for much of the time they were either shooting lasers at anything that looked vaguely like a Wraith, or attempting to enter a higher plane of existence. Meditation did require certain comforts, but mind over matter. Floor, bed, control room console – all the same in the cosmic destiny of the simple grasshopper. Breathe in, breathe out. And then ascend. Or at least look very calm for a few minutes.
Carson Beckett could do calm. He could do calm very, very well. Or so he reckoned. Waking up once again in the secondary chair of Atlantis, he stretched his arms out over his head and breathed deeply. His eyes cracked open against the persistent bright light filling the room (ew), his nostrils flared against the vague scent of rotted sea water (double ew) and his neck pinged uncomfortably.
Something else nagged along his frontal lobe momentarily, but Carson shrugged it off. He managed a smile that only looked slightly like a grimace. “Morning, Nena.”
Her hologrammatic image swam into view. You snore.
“Did I keep ye up?” Carson asked dryly.
I’m always awake. It’s very boring when everyone falls asleep. Then I have nothing interesting to spy on.
“Ye might try watching Rodney. He doesn’t sleep much.”
That’s what he wants everyone to think!
Chuckling at this, the CMO leaned forward onto his knees and took a few deep breaths. His neck ached fiercely. Calm, calm, nothing to be concerned about. He glanced at his watch. Carson hurtled to his feet, exclaiming, “Why didn’t ye wake me earlier? I was supposed ta be at the infirmary two hours ago!”
He rested a hand on one arm of the chair to hear her response. You are adorable when you sleep.
Carson hopped from one foot to another. “Typical. Just typical.”
Are you mad?
“Just my neck,” Carson grumbled, offering a quick kiss to the headrest.
The chair hummed happily as the hologram disintegrated. Rolling his eyes, Carson became nothing but a blur as he sprinted away.
“Calm, calm,” Carson repeated to himself as he approached his office.
Maybe no one would notice. If he kept his centre of calm, no one would accost him. He was invisible. See the wall, be the wall. Carson tripped over his own shoes and went sprawling across the entrance to his office. Picking himself up, he glanced nervously over his shoulder. Crap! Dr Biro approaching six o’clock!
“There you are!” she exclaimed, lab coat flying out behind her like a cape.
Sprung! Carson coughed and patted his hands over the wrinkles in his shirt. “What can I do for ye, Dr Biro?”
“One, try answering your radio. Two, I do no appreciate working the graveyard shift only for you to turn up late. Three – ”
“I think I get the picture, lass,” Carson said apologetically, “and I’m very sorry to have kept ye waiting. I, ah, must have miscalculated my natural state of bodily rest.”
Dr Biro’s anger dissipated immediately. She beamed. “Well, why didn’t you just say so? I’ve overslept before! It’s perfectly normal. I know this great way to wake up on time, took me a decade to get it just right – ”
Ooookay, that was a wee bit sudden. Carson viewed her suspiciously. He had personally selected her for her wonderful qualifications and field experience, but nowhere on her file had there been any mention of “a slightly off-kilter cross-eyed expression, also prone to babbling”. He tilted his head to the side. Her eyes failed to track the movement. Creepy.
“How much coffee have ye had to drink?” he asked, concerned.
“None at all! All I had was some of those apple-fruit-things that Teyla’s people started bringing back through the gate. They’re fabulous, absolutely delicious and totally sexy too.”
Carson hoped his fear wasn’t showing. He nodded slowly and plastered a smile on his face. If he didn’t know any better…no, that wasn’t possible. But then Dr Biro was rummaging around in her pockets to bring out a piece of the maroon coloured fruit, waving it front of him. She winked suggestively at him. This was going beyond creepy into RUN RUN RUN FOR YOUR LIFE territory.
“Get some sleep, please,” Carson urged, side-stepping her. “I won’t be late again.”
Especially if she was going to act like this! Dr Biro didn’t seem at all put off. She nodded. “You’re so kind, you know that don’t you? I’ll just go get some shut-eye and maybe we can hook up later!”
“Erm, lovely. I’ll see ye later.”
Much later, he hoped. She flounced towards the door. Carson held his breath. Don’t turn, don’t turn. Damn it. She turned around.
“Oh, by the way, in case you haven’t heard, you weren’t the only one to go missing this morning,” she declared cheerfully. “They haven’t found McKay yet either. Not that that’s a bad thing.”
Carson’s head snapped up from where it was close to disappearing with shame into his chest. “WHAT?”
“Just saying. See you later, Carsie-buns!”
Briskly, Carson grabbed his coffee mug and threw it out the window, along with good sense and all attempts at maintaining calm. He tapped his headset and quickly scourged the details off Dr Weir, who sounded equally as unsettled.
“It’s not like Rodney to skip any briefing, especially his first one as part of the team,” Elizabeth confided. “Unless he has something more interesting to do in his lab, I mean – and he’s not even there. We’ve looked. Major Sheppard is combing the city right now, so I’ll let you know if we need your assistance.”
“Keep me posted. Beckett out.”
Carson had not intention of sitting by and waiting for bad news. He rested his palm on the wall and asked quietly, “Nena, can ye look for Rodney, please?”
What sounded suspiciously like a raspberry squealed out of the nearest x-ray machine.
“No, love,” Carson sighed. “Dr Biro was not my fault, I swear to ye. If yer not too busy trying to fry her, could ye consider trying to find Rodney? Anything could have happened to him.”
The machine cooed back at him. Taking this as a good sign, Carson began hunting for his medical kit. He made sure to give the wall a gentle caress as thanks. He consulted the console beside one of the beds and noted that Nena had called up a map of the city, indicating the South Pier. Humming thoughtfully, Carson waved over a doctor.
“Hold down the fort,” he instructed.
“But you just got here!”
A neck muscle twinged. Carson growled, “Don’t mess with me, lad!”
Unused to this sort of response from the usually placid CMO, the doctor nodded and back-pedalled several metres away. Carson stormed out of the infirmary, shouldering his kit over his jacket. By now, his back had started aching. Wonderful. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in one of the windows along the corridor outside and started. Hair sticking up all over the place, and face something hellish, he looked downright monstrous.
“I need to start sleeping in my bed again,” he realised.
Rubbing his chin, he noticed that there was more friction than he remembered. When was the last time he shaved? Good Lord, he couldn’t remember. All this had started when he’d began spending more time with Nena…now he was barely groomed, turning up late to shifts and shouting at those under his command. Not good. Not good at all.
He should have known this would happen. Just like the last time he’d been besotted with some bonnie lass, he’d ended up taking far too much time off his medical degree. This time was more serious, however. What if there was some medical emergency that he failed to help out with? This would have to be dealt with.
But later. Right now, he had a scientist to find.
There is something to be said of a man who wakes up on a balcony in the middle of nowhere, and manages not to scream. Rodney McKay was not such a man. After the first few futile seconds of hanging his head over the edge and having a roaring contest with the ocean, the head of the science department managed to regain control of his senses.
Grabbing hold of the railing, Rodney hoisted himself up and glanced around. Door. He needed a door to get inside. The magically non-existent door.
“Who makes a balcony without a door?” he muttered. “Ten points for looking shiny. Minus a few thousand points for functional design.”
There had to be a logical explanation for this. Maybe he’d pressed some sort of button that transported him to this spot. Right, yes. A button. He paused. What button? Where was this button? Where had he been? God. He’d been in his lab, although that was hazy. Something about running out of coffee and finding a small stash in Zelenka’s lab.
Alright, that made more sense. Something in Zelenka’s lab that malfunctioned or wasn’t put away properly – so that was the patsy taken care of.
Rodney tapped his ear, but found no headset. That was more than somewhat worrying. His breath started coming in short gasps. He tugged at his arms and found no jacket. He was going to freeze to death! He couldn’t stand the cold – he just couldn’t! Ever since that time when he’d fallen over during a game of ice hockey…
He started shivering violently. Why did the city have to be so cold all the time? First it was that strange incident when the city locked down, now this! And no one would be within earshot to hear his insightful last words. The last secrets of the universe would die with him!
“One giant leap backwards for mankind,” Rodney decided.
Well, that settled it. He would have to find some way to be rescued. Or…he fumbled stiff fingers over a panel in the wall. Tugging as much as his arms could allow, Rodney managed to pry it open. Instead of the crystals he had been expecting, all he found was clear tubing. Momentarily stumped, he began feeling around inside the panel until something sharp scraped sensation back into his fingers. He pulled it out with a vicious snap.
Alright. Now he had a blackened shard of something that might have been a crystal ten thousands years ago. Helpful.
Rodney held up the crystal in front of his face, frowning. He tapped it against the wall a few times. He even tried smacking the wall. By this point, panic was beginning to bubble up his throat. Rodney shook the crystal and then shrieked at it.
All in all, this was progress.
Tapping his fingers over the console, Carson waited. Static whizzed before his eyes and the screen started groaning and smoking. This went on for some minutes and he grew concerned. He pressed a few keys and commanded a digital read out of the section of the city he had been led to. At last, something faint began to shadow across the screen. But instead of the map, it was words.
Carson. Systems dead.
“Why is that?”
You…stay underwater for ten millennia…then I will ask you…
“Don’t wear yerself out,” Carson cautioned. “I think I can take it from here.”
“That goes for ye as well, my dear.”
At least he knew where to focus his attention in searching. The area Nena had indicated to him earlier included only four or five possible locations – black spots on her systems, perpetually broken due to insufficient repairs. Number one on his list was a disused laboratory that Nena had been hesitant to explain as having something to do with whales. While it was meant to be sealed shut, Rodney might have found a way to open it.
Carson jogged down the corridor, wincing as his medical pack slammed against his sore back with each step. The image of a sweet, blessed mattress rose to mind. Blinking back into focus, he forced himself to ignore his discomfit. He rounded a bend and skidded to a stop. The door was almost invisible, with a hairline crack revealing the only abnormality. He ran a finger down the side and it came away rusty.
Obviously not then. Okay. Number two – observatory.
The blueprints available to him had been somewhat sketchy for the observatory, but the existence of the room piqued his interest itself. What need would the Ancients have had for stargazing? Carson shook his head to clear distracting thoughts and clambered up a flight of stairs, two or three at a time.
The staircase opened up into a platform, surrounded by the rounded walls of the observatory. Smooth dirty teal floors admitted him over to the middle of the room, where a device clearly like a telescope drooped. Carson rested a hand on it thoughtfully. He glanced closer and saw the imprint of another hand in the dust. Jerking his hand back in surprise, he examined it more closely. There was no way to tell who had disturbed the dust, but there had not been a single person cleared to venture down there. Either it was someone who had scouted too far or…
A thud echoed throughout the room and Carson turned around. There was nothing to be seen but walls that ran into each other seamlessly and eternally. Not even a window. But there was that sound again, like someone was beating a blunt object against the side.
“Rodney…” he mused out loud and walked over to where the sound originated.
How on Earth had Rodney managed to get himself on the other side of the wall? Perplexed, Carson ran his hands over the wall, closing his eyes to concentrate. Something caught onto his left palm and gouged mercilessly. He opened his eyes abruptly and looked down to it. Barely visible was a tiny button, a slightly darker shade than the rest of the wall. Carson shrugged and tugged at it.
Clanging and humming reverberated throughout the soles of his feet, forcing him back a few paces. Then the wall began to circulate the room, twisting and warping with a high pitched scraping noise. Finally, the walls slid down into a rim around the edge, revealing a walkway extending the platform outside the room. At this point, Rodney McKay tumbled in to land at his feet.
Carson peered down at him. “Are ye alright, lad?”
“Do I look alright to you?” Rodney exclaimed. “I must have a progressed form of hypothermia – you have no idea how long I’ve been out there – and every single bone in my hands ache. Oh my God, maybe I have frostbite. I can’t have frostbite! I need my hands, Carson!”
Kneeling down beside him, Carson pulled out his friend’s hands and looked at them carefully. Certainly, the digits were that shade of blue from exposure, but seemed otherwise fine. He smiled at his patient. “A good warm bath and ye’ll be good as new. I would also advise some cream for your sunburn.”
Rodney’s expression was aghast. “I’m sunburnt?! Oh great, now I probably have cancer. What took you so long finding me?”
“A little sun might have done ye some good,” Carson placated. “Ye spend so long in that lab that yer may as well be a vampire. And ye should get used to it, now that yer on Major Sheppard’s team.”
This did nothing at all to soothe the frown settling in on Rodney’s pink face. Sighing, Carson reached for that inner calm he had managed to lose so early in the day. Calm, calm, calm. Deep breaths. Finally, he shrugged off his medical kit so that he could remove his jacket and wrap it around Rodney’s shoulders. The scientist poked disapprovingly at the yellow patches signifying the medical department.
“Now let’s get ye to the infirmary, hmm?” Carson suggested, helping him stand.
“That still doesn’t explain how I ended up outside.”
Carson looked around. “Well, isn’t it obvious, lad? It’s an observatory. Ye must have opened the roof for the telescope and then ended up trapped outside.”
“Do you seriously think I would come to a place like this in the middle of the night?”
“With you, Rodney, anything is possible.”
There was some surprise and suspicion among the military personnel of Atlantis when they discovered that they had been outclassed by a mere doctor in the standard search and rescue procedure. They were not the only ones to walk away from the whole thing with some contention.
“I was not sleepwalking!” Rodney protested. “It is entirely possible that I may have been transported from Zelenka’s lab all the way over to the South Pier. I would not have gone to sleep on the cusp of a new technological discovery.”
Carson hid a smile behind his coffee mug. “Any childhood experiences of sleepwalking?”
“No! You can stop smirking at me, because I would remember doing something as asinine as sleepwalking.”
Cursing the dimples that always gave him away, Carson lowered his mug and exchanged an openly amused look with Elizabeth Weir, who was standing off to the side. She had come down to check up on Rodney, and instead ended up attempting to make Rodney realise that he, in fact, had been sleepwalking. Zelenka had witnessed him walking out of his lab with his eyes closed.
When asked why he hadn’t stopped Rodney, the Czech had mysteriously vanished for several hours. Carson had an idea which ventilation shaft he was hiding out in.
“So, Atlantis has an observatory,” mused Elizabeth. “Do you suppose they would have used such a device for the simple pleasure of stargazing?”
Carson shrugged. “Who knows? We understand very little about their day to day practices. Even in the infirmary, we barely understand their technology, let alone how they might have used it in their daily lives.”
He cast a glance up to the ceiling. For all his secret contact with Nena, he still had no idea about what sort of people the Ancients were, except for some ominous retellings of how they could wipe out entire computer programs that proved useless or disruptive.
Rodney still glowered around at anyone in the infirmary, though he desisted after Elizabeth suggested he sit out the next few missions. He exclaimed indignantly, “Come on, it’s just sleepwalking! It’s not like I’m psychologically disturbed or anything.”
“Sometimes I wonder,” Carson said quietly to this.
Elizabeth quickly turned away to conceal her laughter. “Alright, Rodney. We’ve rescheduled the briefing for tomorrow morning. You might try getting some rest before then.”
The scientist sat up quickly, tugging uncomfortably at the borrowed jacket he still wore. Glancing down at it, and remembering that he was now sporting the colours of the opposition, Rodney tore it off and threw it over to Carson, who collected it gracefully. Rodney demanded, “Can I go now? You don’t need to strap me down overnight, do you?”
“Of course not,” Carson assured. “Jus’ make sure ye sleep in yer bed tonight. I think that might stop this from happening.”
Rodney grumbled, offered a petulant nod and scuttled off towards his lab. Watching him go, the CMO finally let loose a chuckle and scratched at his chin thoughtfully. The jungle of whiskers that met his fingernail was a certain reminder for him as well. So first of all, he had to shave, apologise to some poor doctor and get a good night’s sleep in his own bed. That appealed tremendously.
And then he could possibly wake up half-human.
Waking to the gentle ocean breeze, Carson smiled and rolled his shoulders comfortably against the stack of pillows beneath his head. Bliss. Not a single ache. The scent tugging at his nose this morning was a delightful mix of the ocean and the leftover aroma of the cold coffee sitting on his bedside table. He stretched his arms out to the side, up over his head and back down to his sides.
“Perfect,” he sighed.
But there was one thing missing, of course. Waking up to Nena’s voice was something he had become horribly attached to. Somehow he didn’t think that in any relationship self-help books that there would be any discussion on how best to accommodate a relationship with a chair without needing years of chiropractic therapy. Relationship. That still sounded a wee bit strange, even to him. It hadn’t been that long, but already he felt like he’d known her for eons.
The spray of his shower alerted him to the fact that he was not alone, not really. Carson rolled out of bed and walked over to his laptop. A message was already waiting for him.
“Me too. I’m sorry, love, but if I don’t at least get some decent sleep during the week, I’ll go more than little daft.”
I guess I can live with that.
As long as you wear those shorts of yours when you come to see me.
Carson felt his cheeks warm up. He patted his cool hands against his face in an attempt to hide the blush. Damn it, how did she do this to him? He frowned suspiciously towards his bathroom. It hadn’t been his imagination when she’d said the other day that she could see everything that everyone did in the city. Something about the playful tone of her voice at the time kept coming back to haunt him.
He cleared his throat. “Ye didn’t do anything too damaging to Dr Biro, did ye?”
“I know what yer like, my dear.”
Oh fine. I’ll let her out of her wardrobe.
“That would be most appreciated.”
Carson – I need to tell you something.
Imagining another joke regarding shorts or showers coming his way, Carson began stuttering some sort of excuse about needing to run off to in the infirmary. Or perhaps subconsciously he knew what was really on her mind. He coughed and tried again with his excuses. But obviously she wasn’t going to buy anything he said. She knew him too well.
I think of you as exclusively mine. So you can understand why I react with jealousy when a woman who you can physically see expresses interest in you.
“I thought I told ye, I don’t care if I can’t see ye. I don’t even mind if ye don’t use the hologram.”
I appreciate that. I adore that. But…
Here was the zinger. Carson swallowed nervously. “But what?”
But I need to know how you really feel about me.
Many human males, when faced with the feelings ultimatum, can almost see the cage closing in around their helpless selves. In Carson Beckett’s case, he had no doubt that the city of Atlantis could literally drop a cage around him until he relented.
He’d just said that out loud. Double crap.
I understand that this is hard for you. Yet we have spent so much time together. Perhaps you are aware of how I have felt since the week I met you. If not, I will tell you.
“Erm, perhaps later?” Carson’s voice cracked.
Human males have but one weapon in their arsenal. That of denial. But Atlantis had encountered this sort of problem with the original inhabitants of its walls, and nothing had changed among observations of the Earthling descendants. Thusly armed with this knowledge, and knowing that he wouldn’t dare look away from his laptop right now, Nena ploughed on.
I love you.
His knees gave out. Carson collapsed into his desk chair and buried his face in his hands. How could any of this possibly work? It had been fine before, dating her casually, spending many a spare moment with her. But this called for too much thought, too much commitment. The obvious physical thoughts came to mind, although it was at least possible for her to be attracted to him. She’d shown that often enough.
“I’m thinking. I just woke up, ye know.”
Buying more time. A classic delaying tactic used over many galaxies and many races. Shifting awkwardly in his chair, Carson wrung his hands under his desk, hopefully where she wouldn’t be able to see. Right at that moment, he was reminded of the last time he’d lapsed into denial, mostly due to how his ankle still twinged a little if he moved it into certain angles. God, this was too soon. It had to be too soon.
Carson stood up and ran for his life. He kept running until he was in the blackout zone of the observatory, where she would never be able to hear him. After slapping the open button on the walls and ceiling, he spread his arms and shouted out to the ocean, “I love Nena! I love her! I love her!”
His chest felt much lighter in that moment and he stared helplessly up at the sky. It was a lot easier saying it here. No one to hear. No one to judge. No one to dissuade. Because he’d never felt this way about any lass before. He just couldn’t articulate it when she was around.
“Damn it!” Carson added to this, slamming his fist into the telescope.
The device was strong enough to resist the pressure, driving back pain into his knuckles. This seemed to push some sense back into him, but that didn’t erase the fact that the moment he stepped back into her functioning sensors, Nena would demand a response. Failing that, the city could end up in another ice age. Although, she had promised…
Grey clouds gave way to a drizzle that coated his face in beads of water. Carson stood there, unmoving, greeting the rain. He considered staying there forever, but naturally this thought didn’t go very far, especially since he could really have used a whole case of beer right then. And the only stash he knew about was under the desk in his office.
Tick tock. Tick tock.
Carson wiped his wet cheeks with his sleeve, and realised it had stopped sprinkling from the heavens. He wiped at his eyes instead. God, this shouldn’t be so hard.
He took a deep breath and stepped back inside.