So I Dated A Chair
Story 2 - The Coffee Bandit
There are a few bare essentials that human beings need in order to survive in an alien galaxy without tearing out each other's hair. Food, water and shelter, of course. They were the obvious ones. But they paled in comparison to the beloved coffee bean, the root of many a peace treaty between the medical and science departments. However, when the coffee stash vanished for a space of twenty-four hours, the true power of the coffee bean was revealed.
The first sign of trouble was at dawn, when one Rodney McKay snuck out of his laboratory, clutching his favourite coffee mug. He peeked around the corner into the mess hall and nodded with approval. Good, no one else to call him on using too much coffee. Gleefully, he scurried up to the buffet table and grasped for some instant coffee. His hand came back empty. Confused, Rodney reached out again, this time looking as he did so. Nothing. There was nothing. His puzzled expression gave way to a furious scowl. There had been literally a tonne of coffee! Where had it gone?
“Beckett!” he snapped as the thought occurred to him.
Then he charged off down to the infirmary, murder on his mind.
A soft beeping invaded Carson Beckett's sleep. He ignored it at first, but then curiosity got the better of him. He cracked open his eyes and noticed the patch of light working its way across the office from the window. Good Lord, had he been there all night? His back ached from hunching over his desk. Scratching at the stubble over his face, he pondered this. Well, why wake up now? His nose twitched.
“Coffee,” he realised.
Brief panic fluttered in his chest, before he remembered that such occurrences were no longer out of place. Gratefully reaching for the warm coffee pouring from a small recess in the wall into his mug, he patted the wall. “Thank ye, Nena.”
There were perks to being on friendly terms with the entity of Atlantis, Carson reflected. It had been a couple of weeks since she had made her presence known, and since then he had come to rely on a hot shower waiting for him, and then the welcoming scent of coffee. Stretching out the kinks threatening to inflict pain over his shoulders, he meandered out into the infirmary. Good, all quiet on the home front. Maybe he could sneak off to his quarters before the on-duty doctor noticed he hadn't left the night before.
He had almost made it when a flurry of blue and cream assaulted him at the door.
“Don't deny it!” Rodney stabbed a finger at his chest. “I know it was you!”
Carson steadied the scientist before he could stagger sideways. Roving an eye over Rodney's dishevelled appearance and wide eyes, he deduced that it was probably safer to be leaping off the top of Atlantis' higher spire than standing there in that moment. He cleared his throat. “And what is it yer accusing me of?”
“You stole all the coffee!”
“Why on Earth would I do that?”
Too late, Carson realised he was still holding his coffee. Rodney's eyes narrowed in on it and a desperate scowl began to flicker over his face. He swiped at it, but Carson quickly snatched it away. They watched each other evenly for a moment, then just when it seemed Rodney was calming down, he lurched forward and wrapped his hands around the mug. He gave a shout of triumph, but then found his arms trembling with the effort of doing battle. The coffee slipped out of his grasp, carefully caught by its rightful owner.
“I don't know what yer dithering about,” Carson snapped. “But I've been in my office since lunchtime yesterday.”
Rodney's face darkened. “You've probably got one of your minions to hide it.”
“I swear to ye, I haven't touched the coffee supply. But if yer so desperate, ye can have mine.”
“Really?” McKay asked hopefully.
Carson rolled his eyes and handed the mug over. He sighed. “Aye, it's all I've got. I'll see if I can find some more.”
But he was talking to thin air. Rodney had bolted away with his prized coffee, most likely to find a nice hidey hole to enjoy it. Shaking his head resignedly, Carson stuck his hands in his lab coat pocket and walked off towards the chair room. He almost toppled over when he neared a transporter, finding an Athosian staff lying innocuously underfoot. Cursing, he bent to pick it up. When he straightened, he saw two pairs of eyes watching him reprovingly.
“You set off the trap,” complained Wex, the small one. “Now we won't be able to catch any Wraith.”
Just great. Now add even more children to his day – naturally, he counted the big kid that was Rodney McKay as one of them. He recognised them as Jinto and Wex. Carson held out the staff and warned, “I want ye two to be a wee bit more careful. Ye remember what happened last time ye were playing.”
“Yeah, I found a cool transporter thing,” Jinto replied cheerfully.
“And a dark entity that sent Lieutenant Ford to the infirmary!” Carson reminded him.
Jinto snorted. “But he's okay. And he said he was fine with it. Stuff happens.”
“What are you doing down here anyway?” Wex piped up, “Dr Weir said this corridor was ours.”
Remembering the recreational zones set up throughout the city, Carson glanced around. And so it was, but it was still the quickest route to the chair room. He had a feeling any excuse he came up with would find its way quickly to Elizabeth's desk. He covered feebly, “I like to go for walks in the morning.”
“You walk to that chair a lot,” Jinto added.
Oh crap. This would need more work than Carson had prepared for. He cleared his throat. “Have ye told anyone?”
“No, but we might!” Wex caught on.
Great, he'd just given them suspicious hints. Carson dug into his pockets for a while then pulled out some chocolate. His emergency stash, hidden from prying eyes by day in his lab coat, by night under his bed. The sacrifice was worth it, though. If Heightmeyer found out that he'd been talking back to the voices, he'd never get out of her office. The children took the chocolate eagerly. Major Sheppard had made sure to acquaint them with the sweet taste.
“Ye never saw me, ye'll never see me,” warned Carson.
Jinto and Wex exchanged nods, and then ran off down the corridor. Crisis averted. It was with much relief that Carson finally leaned back in the chair. He closed his eyes and just lay back for a few minutes. The chair warmed beneath him.
“Nena. I'm not sure how much longer I can get away with this.”
Sure you can. You don't seem to mind when I make you coffee.
“Speaking of coffee, you wouldn't happen...”
To know who took it? Maaaaybe.
Carson grimaced at her playful tone. He still hadn't formed any sort of coherent answer to her making moves on him, and doubted he could ever come up with something that both made sense and spared his brain from being fried. “What's it going to cost me, lass?”
You know the answer to that.
Perspiration formed on his forehead. Carson shook his head mutely and eased himself out of the chair. He offered a hasty farewell before sprinting off towards his quarters. More amused than angry, Nena made sure to switch on his shower. He was a curious human, that one. In one moment, he could fully accept that he was talking to her as a fellow living being, but in the next moment he was stubbornly seeing the chair as nothing but what it appeared to be.
Nena really did like him. Of all the humans to arrive from Earth, he was the most gentle. And the lilt of his voice was fascinatingly attractive. He was just so stubborn! She could feel the interest pricking the corners of his mind and he certainly visited her enough. Perhaps before he could trust her, she needed to show her own trust.
Perhaps it was time to show him the secondary chair room, where she really was. Where she could really...be with him.
A thrill of anxious excitement shot through her systems. For the umpteenth time, she was thankful that the Alterans had abandoned her. If they had so much as suspected her of forming an attachment to anyone, her program would be wiped and replaced with something cold and unfeeling. And if they'd found out how she was planning to connect with someone...
It was forbidden. The punishment was unspeakable. Nena would have shivered if she was human. As it was, all the screens in the control wavered for a few seconds. She needed to concentrate for now. The new people of Atlantis needed her attention.
Stop thinking about him! she scolded herself.
But as he was always in sight of Atlantis' security systems, that was proving a little difficult. He was very distracting. Especially since he was in the shower right that moment...
An emergency meeting was called in the conference room, attended by only a select few. Rodney McKay settled himself at the head of the table, informing everyone that this crisis was indeed the most grave that Atlantis had ever faced. Not even dark energy-sucking entities came close. Elizabeth took a different view of the matter, however.
“I hardly think a lack of coffee will stop all of you from doing your jobs properly,” she pointed out practically.
Rodney's jaw slackened. “Are you serious? Do you realise how many of my brilliant ideas occur to me at night? And that without coffee, I might lose them forever?”
“Calm down, McKay,” Major Sheppard interjected. “I'm sure you can be brilliant all on your own.”
This mollified the scientist, but only for a moment. Before he could start on more reasons why coffee was integral to the expedition, Carson spoke up. “Elizabeth, it might be prudent to supply the buffet table with more local fruit. Is there any sort of fruit like an apple that can wake someone up?”
“There is one fruit that my people use,” Teyla added. “We mix it in our morning tea, so that we might meet the day with fortitude.”
“Apples,” Rodney muttered, disgusted.
Even John looked alarmed at that. He stood up. “Alright, let's hold that thought for as long as possible. I'll find out who was in the mess hall late last night. We'll have some people check out places you could hide coffee – balconies, transporters, that sort of thing. Carson, let me know if any scientist looks cheerful today. That'll give us a suspect.”
“Should we be turning this into a manhunt?” Elizabeth objected.
Major Sheppard grinned. “No, but it'll give McKay something to do.”
Nena wasn't too surprised when Carson returned to the chair. Muttering about scientists and manhunts, he activated the chair with barely a thought and reached out to her presence. All to eager to please, Nena focused all her attention on him.
“I give up, love. Who took the coffee?”
Wouldn't you like to know...
She loved teasing him. The adorable frown on his face was worth it. Generally, she was patient, but enough was enough. Now to push a little harder. I will tell you...if you agree to have a “date” with me.
“A-a date?” repeated Carson nervously. “Well I don't know...”
It's just one date. It is no more dangerous than stepping through the Stargate.
He chuckled uncomfortably. “That's still fairly dangerous, then.”
Not as dangerous as a war with the science department over coffee. Come on, Carson. One date. Then I will not force the issue anymore.
Coffee War, or dating a chair. Carson got a headache just thinking about either one, let alone trying to decide between them. But then, one would last months and the other mightn't even last one night. The option seemed simple enough, but he'd learned never to trust first impressions. Especially not in this galaxy. He caved. “Alright. I'll do it. One date.”
He held his breath, but nothing happened. The sky didn't fall, the city didn't sink and the ocean's rumbles stayed as distant as ever. The breath escaped his lips. No apocalypse now, but there was always time for that later.
You could have made that sound nicer... wheedled Nena.
“Nena...” Carson protested, then sighed. “I would be honoured to have a date with ye.”
“It's really hard to breathe in here,” complained the echoes of a small voice.
Carson peered into the ventilation shaft, catching a glimpse of Wex's feet, wiggling as the boy shuffled away from the light. A crackling noise in one lab coat pocket directed Carson's gaze down, to where Jinto was investigating the contents, clearly hoping for more chocolate. Suppressing the urge to laugh, Carson kept his focus on Wex. God forbid anything bad should happen, but it wouldn't hurt to be cautious.
“I can't see anything!” Wex continued moodily. “Is it down here?”
Carson tapped the wall. “Lights please, Nena.”
A sharp stream of light blew out from the shaft. Jinto and Carson shielded their eyes, and what sounded suspiciously like Athosian curse words bounced out in Wex's annoyed voice. Jinto looked up curiously at Carson. “How'd you do that?”
“I asked nicely, son,” was the maddeningly adult answer.
Even with the light, Wex seemed to be having trouble. His booted feet continued to swing from side to side, and his protests grew louder. “It's a dead end! This is so pointless. Jinto, we could be playing Major Sheppard and the Wraith right now.”
“We wouldn't have chocolate!” Jinto insisted.
“You can look instead, then!”
Rolling his eyes, Jinto jumped up and began wiggling down the ventilation shaft after his friend. Alarm occurred to Carson at this point. One lost boy he could manage, but two? He shoved his head into the shaft then hoisted himself into the enclosed space. The lighting was too bright inside and the air was thick with thousands of years of decay. Carson coughed and wheezed.
“Up here!” Jinto called. “We found another passageway.”
Squirming ahead, Carson made out their forms against the light. He managed to catch up to them just as they disappeared down a sharp-angled turn in the shaft. Barely able to squeeze past the juncture, he whispered to the wall, “Dim the lights, please. Can't ye make this any wider?”
He didn't expect an answer to the last, but it felt good to complain about something. The lighting faded enough so that the three of them no longer had to blink against the glare. Breathing a sigh of relief, and meeting stale air, Carson called out directions to the boys. Wex grumbled something but Jinto shushed him loudly. “Chocolate, Wex! Chocolate!”
“Aye, chocolate! Chocolate!” chanted Carson tiredly.
It turned into a mantra, sung three times and echoed back at them from up ahead. After a few minutes, Wex stopped singing and shouted, “Dead end!”
“That's what you said the first time, Wraith breath!” Jinto chortled.
Wex started on another tirade, but his voice turned into a shriek of terror that reverberated back down the shaft. Carson jerked forward, slamming into Jinto who then shouted out. The Athosian child disappeared before his eyes. Confused and panicked, Carson shifted forward – and found himself falling face first down into the pull of gravity. He cried out as the silver tunnel kept going on and on, finding his lungs clenching.
“Neeeena!” he managed before he hit the ground.
Carson rolled over and stared up the vertical shaft with some vehemence. No, make that all the vehemence he could muster. He even growled at it in Gaelic. Once he'd got it all off his chest – he felt better already – he noticed twin sets of giggles pinging against his ears. He sat up and looked over at Jinto and Wex, who had found themselves one of the biggest piles of chocolate bars Carson had ever seen. Well. Good for them.
Then he saw the coffee stash.
“I really, really like ye, Nena,” he breathed.
Dipping his hands into the pile of instant coffee sachets, he grinned broadly and dove alongside the children, sampling the divine chocolate. Jinto waved him off. “This is ours, Dr Beckett.”
“Ye never saw me - ”
“And we never, ever will,” chorused Jinto and Wex.
The funny thing about secrets is that they have a habit of getting out, even when all lips are sealed. Whether this is due to telepathy or secret surveillance tapes, humans may never know. But in the case of Atlantis, the very city itself could see everything that went on in the corridors, rooms and even showers. Slightly disturbing, but also slightly helpful in springing the great coffee and chocolate bandit from Earth.
Carson knocked politely on the door. A bird's nest of hair appeared on the other side, followed by a welcoming grin. “What can I do, hm? Tweaking? Fixing? Or...supplies?”
“Dr Zelenka,” Carson began calmly, “ye can start by not making off with all the coffee and chocolate again. Or I'll have ta tell Elizabeth.”
The scientist blanched immediately. He stammered out some foreign words before gesturing for his visitor to come in. Zelenka quickly shut the door and spun around. “It was my chocolate, my stash. My personal item. It became...valuable. And then I wanted more. The coffee.”
“Consider the chocolate waylaid. So ye'll make no fuss or I'll make sure everyone knows.”
“You are really evil, Dr Beckett,” Zelenka muttered.
Carson smiled, taking pity on him. “Sorry it turned out this way, lad, but if ye play with coffee, yer bound to get burned.”
“Ano, I am becoming aware of this...”
Sidestepping Zelenka, Carson fixed him with a wink. He opened the door and turned his head over his shoulder. “Please, call me Carson. If ye happen to have any more supplies, I think ye'll be seeing more of me.”
“Then I am Radek,” the scientist returned, slightly more cheerful.
Carson dipped a hand into his pocket and tossed over the chocolate bar he'd managed to swipe from Jinto. They exchanged knowing nods. Then the CMO of Atlantis was off down the corridor, whistling some pop song as he went.
Carson glared at his reflection in the mirror and adjusted his top one last time. God, you'd think he hadn't dated a woman in...well, it had been some years. But that was no reason to get so nervous. It wasn't like she was a human, after all. He gulped and dove into the pile of discarded clothes on his bed. Fingering yet another beige shirt, he cursed.
“Ye'd think I'd have thought to bring something nice to wear!” he bemoaned. “No one said anything about dating in the Pegasus Galaxy.”
Maybe it was some unwritten code; or the reason why John Sheppard had slipped hair gel into every pocket before stepping through the Stargate. Smart man. But solving that riddle didn't help his current predicament. Carson rolled off the bed and took one last desperate look in the mirror. If he couldn't dress nicely, he had to compensate in other ways. He grabbed his jacket and took off in a sprint towards Major Sheppard's quarters. He banged mercilessly until John appeared, holding a thick book in his hands.
“Am I disturbing ye?” Carson asked nervously.
John coughed and threw War and Peace over his shoulder. “'Course not. What can I help you with?”
This got John's interest. He grinned slyly at the doctor before reaching into the back pocket of his pants. Holding out the small tub, he commented, “I call this one 'fun size'. So. You got a hot date or something?”
“That's not yer concern, Major,” Carson replied airily, “but many thanks.”
With that, the CMO spirited the hair gel away and galloped off down the corridor. John watched him go, shaking his head. Just when he thought he'd got the Scot figured out, something weird like this happened. Oh well. If you couldn't get out in the Pegasus Galaxy, when could you?
Applying the finishing touches to his hair, Carson almost didn't notice his laptop flashing at him. He wiped his hands on the lab coat hanging from the wall and sat down to read the message waiting for him. It was from Nena.
Follow the lights outside.
“Give me a minute, my dear,” he told her, then pulled the cuffs of his jacket down over his wrists. Had the bloody thing managed to shrink in half an hour?
Oh crap. He was just going to have to go through with this. A deal was a deal. Carson despairingly stepped out into the corridor. A light grew bright down one passageway so he followed, still tugging at his cuffs as he went. The air of mystery surrounding this was somehow exciting, though his enthusiasm waned even further when the lights led him down into a corridor beneath the city that swam with murky water. Wonderful. Now he was going to turn up with dirty shoes and socks.
He sighed. “This is not funny.”
Wading through the silt, Carson was struck with the wild thought of turning and running as fast as he could to the 'Jumper bay, then heading off into the safe sunset. He'd yet to pilot one of the infernal machines – and vowed never to in the future – but even that became a temptation. By the time he'd finished thinking this, he was at a door. It screeched open in front of him, revealing a bright domed room cluttered with chrome machinery. Rodney would have itched to touch everything.
Carson carefully made his way through the maze of debris before following the light into an adjoining room. He paused as he noticed the secondary chair of Atlantis. Of course, this shouldn't be impossible, but it was still surprising. The chair glowed invitingly.
“Well hello there, love,” Carson managed. “I would have brought ye some nice flowers, but the only ones I could find were ten thousand years old.”
He gingerly settled down into the chair, but didn't even wince when it whooshed back in activation. Her voice rolled over him, louder and stronger than before. That's fine. I like your hair.
“Er, glad ye like it.”
There was a short, uncomfortable panicked quietly to herself. Was she disappointing him already? Time to prove herself, then. A holographic image of a woman crackled to life, standing in front of the chair. Carson jumped in surprise. He opened his mouth, then shut it, merely taking in the strange image wavering before him. Sparkling emerald eyes and royal auburn hair flecked with gold, she was a true vision. The woman's lips began speaking, but it was still Nena's voice sounding in his mind.
I wanted you to see me as a human. I thought this would look nice for you. Do you like it?
“It's certainly...different,” Carson noted, trying not to look too hard in certain places. “I guess I do like it. Ye didn't have to try and impress me.”
Feels like I have to impress you or you won't bother noticing me.
“Oh, lass. That's not how it is at all. This is very new for me. Didn't ye notice earlier I was worried about impressing ye myself?”
Yes... she said uncertainly.
“Well, then. What now?”
His blue eyes were beautifully sincere, captivating. Nena felt strangely pulled towards him, though the sensation was strange and new. She'd never had a form like this before. Though the hologram could not make physical contact, Nena was more than happy to show how it could pretend to. She sat across his lap and fixed him with a grin. Carson flinched slightly, as it was a peculiar feeling to have her sitting on him but not feeling it.
But then he was returning her grin. “Guess it's yer turn to do the sitting.”
Don't get your hopes up! Ha!
If anyone noticed that Carson slinked back into his quarters at midnight, they didn't say a word. As it was, someone did notice him slinking into the mess hall later at dawn with a precious supply of coffee. But Zelenka thought it wise to look the other direction.