Pairing: Almost completely gen. One short John/Rodney, um, situation.
Rating: R for language, sex, and ingredients that should never, ever be combined in soup
Disclaimer: I own none of these people, places, or foods. However, I do make a pretty mean mint chocolate chip cookie.
Author's Notes: I was a very lucky writer. busaikko offered a ton of excellent story ideas. But it was "The top five recipes in the Atlantis mess" that made me smile most and caused my imagination to start spinning. Thank you for that, busaikko! I haven't written the boys in a long time. I hope I did them justice.
Summary: They say an army marches on its stomach. So does a city of intergalactic explorers.
The Athosians called it something else, of course. Something regal. Something that sounded exotic.
Then the Marines went and named it gorp.
John had to admit the Athosian grain, nut, and berry mix was pretty close to the trail mix he'd loved at Camp Takajo as a kid. Sweet and crunchy, with a slight tang that lingered on the back of his tongue. Throw in some bug juice and a few s'mores and he'd be tempted to build a campfire in the mess hall.
The problem was he was pretty sure the Athosians hated the nickname. Teyla gave him The Look when he offered her some gorp on their first overnight mission to M1X-124. He was just beginning to know The Look. It usually came just before she kicked his ass.
He decided they should probably get gorp back to its proper Athosian name. Quickly.
But as hard as John tried - "Hey, guys, pass the shiiratzza, will you?" - it just wouldn't stick.
"Gorp incoming," Ford said and slid over the bowl.
So if they couldn't change the name, in the interest of inter-galactic diplomacy they'd have to change the gorp.
John found the peanut butter chips on M1X-201. Okay, they weren't actually peanut butter chips any more than gorp was actually gorp, but -
"Ooh!" Rodney chirped, tossing a handful of gorp into his mouth. "Peanut butter chips!"
After that, John thought it would be easy. A few pink berries from the planet of mist here, some seeds from the mainland there. Gorp transformed!
Except the pink berries gave half the city hives and the seeds broke so many teeth that Carson revoked its status as edible. John tried a chili-like spice he got from a trader, dried tree fruit from that planet with all the frogs and not-honey from some farmers on M4X-427. In hindsight, he shouldn't have added the mushroom-like things Teyla told him about, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. It all seemed like a good idea at the time, right up until Lt. Toby pulled him aside.
"Sir," he said, eyes pleading in a way that made him look more 5-year-old boy than 30-year-old Marine, "why are you messing with gorp?"
John was tempted to explain The Look, but that story started and ended with him getting his ass kicked. So instead he just sighed, said "Never mind. Put it back the way it was," and made a plan to stock up on aspirin and cold packs.
It happened a week later, while the team was camping over night on a new planet. John absently offered Teyla his snack bag as they sat next to the campfire. "Gorp?" he asked.
Then he froze.
But instead of The Look, Teyla fought a smile.
"Okay," John said, his voice filled with more relief that he would have liked, "so I'm guessing I won't have to worry about a diplomatic incident."
"Diplomatic incident?" Teyla repeated, still trying to wipe the smile from her face.
"Last time I offered you gorp" - and that was interesting, he didn't know Teyla could giggle - "you looked like you wanted to throttle me."
"Ah," Teyla said, tamping down the smile enough to appear to take the conversation seriously. "Aiden once told me about your 'practical jokes,' and I had assumed this was one. However, I have since come to realize that you truly mean. . . " she struggled to compose herself ". . . gorp."
"So you aren't offended?" John asked.
Teyla gave up speaking and just shook her head.
"And you don't care if we keep the name?"
Another shake of her head.
John felt lighter than he had in weeks. He didn't realize how this gorp thing had been bugging him. The Athosians were friends, important allies, and he didn't want to insult them. On the other hand, the city was awash in gorp. You couldn't have a meal without gorp on the table, gorp in the serving line, gorp at -
"Crap," John said, "'gorp' means something dirty in Athosian, doesn't it?"
Teyla's laughter rang through the camp.
Most people thought Rodney McKay missed coffee more than anything.
Most people were idiots.
Sure, yeah, okay, it annoyed him to watch Atlantis' coffee stash dwindle from three pallets to a couple of dozen packing boxes to a single vacuum sealed container marked in black Sharpie, For Dr. McKay only. Touch this and you DIE.
(He didn't mean that he'd intentionally kill someone, contrary to what most people thought, again most people being idiots. But he was living on no sleep in a body that was quickly growing accustomed to high levels of adrenaline, and caffeine was, more often than not, the only thing that stood between his galaxy-saving brain and a sudden, unwanted nap. During an attack of space vampires, for example. Which really wasn't the fun sci fi B movie it sounded like.)
But most of the time, Atlantis was able to find alternatives. They weren't coffee-grade alternatives, no, and he was the first to point that out, loudly and with feeling. But they were good enough most of the time. Tanis root from that tropical planet with the scary birds. Cor, a syrupy drink the Kalsians traded for help during harvest season. Balic spice, which Teyla told them about on M5X-555. Stimulants all. And all good enough.
No, after these months without contact with Earth, it wasn't the cafeteria's lack of coffee that made Rodney pace his bedroom floor at 3 a.m.
It was the lack chocolate cake.
Rich, fluffy, frosting-topped chocolate cake.
Working to distraction that evening hadn't helped. Eating six-tenths of his chocolate bar stash hadn't helped. Pacing sure as hell wasn't helping.
"Dammit," he swore, fists clenched.
It was a ridiculous. He knew it was ridiculous. But he also couldn't make it stop.
He snatched up his last four chocolate bars and stormed out the door, heading for the mess hall's kitchen.
There had to be a baking pan somewhere.
On hands and knees, Rodney rummaged around the cabinet. His third cabinet. He'd found pots and frying pans, a whole shelf of cookie sheets, a dozen muffin tins, an oddly large supply of ladles, but no -
"Can I help you, McKay?"
Rodney jumped, smacking the back of his head against the top of the cabinet and causing a stack of steel cookware to topple over with a crash. He cursed, crawled out of the cabinet backward, then cursed again when he saw who was there.
Sheppard, leaning oh-so-casually in the shadowed doorway.
"You could have given me a heart attack!" Rodney hissed. He rubbed the sore spot on the back of his head. "Or a concussion."
"The coffee isn't under there."
"I'm not looking for -" Rodney's head snapped up. "There's hidden coffee?"
Sheppard didn't answer, but Rodney saw a grin twitch at his lips. Dammit. He made a mental note to come back for a thorough search. The hell with tanis root.
"Night patrol thought you were a Wraith invasion, you know," Sheppard said. "Pantry's a lot quieter if you want a midnight snack. And it's where they keep the food."
Rodney glanced down at the pots and pans that littered the ground around him. He felt foolish. He felt embarrassed. He felt - triumphant! Rodney snagged an industrial-size baking pan from its hiding spot beneath a large metal mixing bowl.
"Aha!" he crowed. "Finally! You'd think there'd be more organization in this place. How's anyone supposed to make a cake without a cake pan?"
Sheppard frowned. "How hard did you hit your head?"
Rodney huffed. The embarrassment was back, and he didn't like feeling embarrassed. "Look, just go back to bed, Major. Everything's under control here. No Wraith. No problem." He headed toward the pantry and waved a hand dismissively behind him. "Good night!"
Rodney pulled the sugar and baking powder before he realized the major had followed right behind him.
"Cake?" Sheppard asked.
"Your powers of observation astound me," Rodney said.
"You're going to need baking soda, too."
"I was getting to -" Rodney cut himself off. "Wait, what?"
Sheppard shrugged. "I've made a couple of cakes in my life." He went to the refrigerator and began pulling butter and milk.
"I see," Rodney said, even though he really, really didn't. This was supposed to be an in-and-out thing. Alone. And now -
"Grab the vanilla, will you?" Sheppard said.
There was no vanilla, so they used a Saurian liquid that smelled vanilla-ish and tasted a little like liquid almonds. Chicken eggs got replaced with tiny billa bird eggs. The milk was from the Athosian's goat-like animals, the flour from near-wheat.
Rodney tested and tasted, experimenting with substitutes, amounts and combinations of ingredients until he had the right batter. No, not just the right batter. The perfect batter.
"That isn't going to do it," Sheppard said, eyeing the four chocolate bars Rodney had lined up on the counter. His black t-shirt was dusted in sugar and flour had somehow found its way into his hair.
"No," Rodney agreed miserably. He absently wiped his hands on a towel, trying to remove the sticky blue remains of billa bird egg.
"It has to be a chocolate cake?" Sheppard asked.
Rodney braced himself for the questions that should come next.
What are we doing here, McKay?
What insanity has you needing a chocolate cake at 3 in the morning?
Instead, Sheppard just nodded.
"Okay," he said and headed toward the door. "Be right back."
Sheppard reappeared with ten chocolate bars and a baggie of brown dust that looked like dry coco mix.
Also, Teyla and Ford.
"Um," Rodney said.
"Hey, Doc, heard you could use a hand," Ford said. He held up a second baggie of brown dust and a container of chocolate syrup.
Teyla smiled and placed a jar on the prep counter. "Very similar to your baking chocolate, I believe."
They were well awake, unrumpled, wearing their off duty clothes. Rodney glanced at his watch. It was 3:45 a.m. "What are you doing here?"
"John said you needed items for your cake," Teyla said, as though the answer was obvious and baking a cake in the wee hours of the morning was perfectly natural.
Rodney blinked. "But -"
"I was getting up in an hour anyway," Ford said, hopping up on the food prep counter between the eggs shells and chocolate bars. "This is better than a run."
"And I would enjoy seeing how you bake," Teyla said.
Rodney thought about protesting, but Sheppard slapped him on the back before he had the chance. "Let's show her how it's done."
Two hours later the scent of chocolate wafted through the mess hall. Groggy Marines, bleary-eyed scientists and yawning medical staffers stumbled in for a cup of tanis root tea and a plate of runny eggs, only to be roused awake by freshly baked cake.
Rich, fluffy, frosting-topped chocolate cake.
"What's this, a new morale thing?" Lt. Watkins asked one of the servers.
"Does it matter?" a morning shift nurse asked behind him, reaching around to snag a piece. Her eyes were tired, but she was smiling.
"No," Watkins said, lifting a plate onto his tray. He thought about it a moment and grabbed a second piece as the line grew behind him. "Absolutely doesn't matter at all."
He caught himself humming happily as he found a table for breakfast.
In the back corner of the kitchen, away from the hustle of the morning food service, Rodney, Sheppard, Ford and Teyla sat on the floor with their own plates of cake.
"Wow," Ford said around a mouthful of chocolate. "Great idea, Doc."
"This is very good," Teyla agreed.
Rodney nodded his thanks, but his own cake remained untouched. He looked down at it. Despite the changes, the alien eggs and chocolate substitutes and Sheppard of all people taking lead as if this was a life-saving mission, the cake looked perfect. Just like it should.
Just like it used to.
Rodney didn't see Ford and Teyla go. One moment they were there, their voices flowing around him, the next they had drifted away.
Sheppard nudged him with his shoulder. "Hey."
Rodney blinked the world back into focus. He was sitting on the floor of the kitchen with a plate of cake on his lap. "Yeah, hey, you know, great cake. Thanks for. . . ."
He cleared his throat. "Thanks for the help."
He moved to stand up, but one of the kitchen workers charged by, pushing him back down.
"Rush hour," Sheppard said. "We're better off sticking out of the way for a few minutes. Unless you want them to mysteriously run out of meatloaf every time you get in line from now on."
Rodney wanted to argue. But. Meatloaf. Sheppard had a point.
"No good?" Sheppard asked, motioning to Rodney's full plate.
"No, no, it's good. Great. Cake, chocolate. Perfect."
"For a guy who had a craving so strong you caused a 3 a.m. Wraith alarm, you haven't tried any," Sheppard pointed out.
Rodney raised a forkful to his mouth, but he couldn't bring himself to eat it. He set the fork down on the plate.
"We're never going to reestablish contact with Earth," Rodney said.
Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "O...kay. Something new I should know about?"
"No, I mean the odds are. . . Well, let's just say I've done the calculations and we've got a better chance of getting struck by lightning while getting eaten by a shark while winning the lottery."
"So. Like one in two?" Sheppard asked, deadpanned
Rodney ignored him. "There's nothing I miss back on Earth. Nothing really big, anyway."
"Except chocolate cake." Sheppard filled in.
"Except chocolate birthday cake," Rodney said.
"It's your birthday?" Sheppard grinned. "Hey, happy -"
"No, no, not mine. I used to. . . I had a younger sister. We had a falling out, but when we were kids I always made her this cake on her birthday. Our parents weren't exactly . . . so I always made the cake. She loved it. She'd start asking for it two months in advance. 'You got the vanilla, right? You sure you have enough chocolate?' It was annoying, but. . . ." Rodney couldn't think of a way to finish that sentence.
"But she was your little sister," Sheppard supplied.
"Was, yeah. We haven't spoken in years. Probably never will now." Rodney picked up his cake and crammed the forkful in his mouth. "Forget it. It's stupid."
"When's her birthday?" Sheppard asked.
"Yesterday," Rodney said. He stabbed his fork at another bite of cake.
"What's her name?" Sheppard asked.
Sheppard raised his plate and clanked it with Rodney's, as if in a toast. "To Jeannie McKay. Happy birthday."
Rodney looked up. Sheppard appeared completely serious.
"Thanks for lending us Rodney," Sheppard said and clanked the dishes together again.
"To Jeannie McKay!" the shout rose around them, startling them both. The kitchen staff had stopped to take a break, and each held up a piece of cake. The exaltation carried, traveling from one group to another, like the wave at a baseball game.
"To Jeannie McKay!" shouted the serving line staff.
"To Jeannie McKay!" shouted the people in line.
"To Jeannie McKay!" shouted the diners.
Rodney couldn't help it, he laughed. It wasn't much more than a chuckle, but it vibrated in his chest.
"To Jeannie McKay," Sheppard said again, this time with wide grin.
Rodney had to nod. He raised his plate.
"To Jeannie McKay," Rodney said quietly.
And for the first time in a long time he thought of his sister and smiled.
Then fervently prayed that she would never, ever meet any of these people because this was one story she would never let him live down.
Boiled Brussels sprouts:
"Why?" Rodney demanded, dropping his tray on the cafeteria table with a resounding thunk. "Why does the kitchen put out Brussels sprouts every single day? The only vegetable we get - and trust me, I don't usually go looking for vegetables - but the one vegetable we get and it's sprouts."
"Apparently," Teyla said, "they are extremely popular. There are never any left over."
"Popular," Rodney scoffed. He looked around the busy mess hall. People passed with plates of mac and cheese, faux meatloaf, near-chicken. Dr. Miller balanced three cups of Jell-O on his tray. One of the Marines settled a bowl of cereal on hers. Not a sprout in sight.
Rodney turned back to the table he shared with his team. It had been weeks since they'd had the time to do a team lunch and the mess hall had to go and ruin it with those... things.
"No one is eating them." Someone bumped Rodney's leg under the table. "No one in their right mind would eat them." Someone bumped his leg harder. "What moron would throw off the vegetable curve by eating - WHAT?" Rodney demanded, glaring around the table. "Who's kicking me?"
Sheppard raised an eyebrow and inclined his head toward Ronon's plate.
Ronon's plate piled high with Brussels spouts.
"Got something to say, McKay?" Ronon asked around a mouthful of green.
Rodney opened his mouth, snapped it shut again.
Ronon nodded as if Rodney had made a very wise decision. Then he reached over and, with a feral grin, dropped a Brussels sprout on Rodney's plate.
Dr. Biro's first inkling that something was, well, up, came when she found John Sheppard and Rodney McKay going at it in the medical supply closet.
She didn't think a whole lot about it at the time - other than the fact the colonel's dislocated shoulder had just been reduced and he really shouldn't be doing that
so soon, and, wow, Dr. McKay was a lot more limber than she would have guessed - but it did seem strange that they'd chosen the medical supply closet. The colonel had been discharged and Dr. McKay was done with his post mission physical; they could have been back in the comfort of their own room in less than two minutes. Instead, they were making out in the infirmary with the fevered intensity of a couple of teenagers.
But they were grown men and the box of gauze she needed was right by the door, so she plucked it off the shelf and left them to, er, finish.
The next morning she stumbled on Colonel Carter and one of the newer Marines sharing a passionate rendezvous. Stumbled on, literally. They were in the hallway outside the mess hall. He had her up against the wall, and then they were sliding down the wall and, well, Biro had the misfortune of being in the very wrong place at exactly the wrong time.
Neither the Marine nor Colonel Carter seemed to notice the trip, slip or brief appearance of an extra set of limbs. They didn't even pause to look up.
That was unsettling.
Biro didn't know the new head of Atlantis well, but she was pretty sure the SG rumor mill would have mentioned something about her proclivity for public sex if this were a regular thing. No, Biro was certain it had to be out of character. And "out of character" in Atlantis? Meant something so very bad.
Biro was just reaching to tap her earpiece to call Dr. Keller when she caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned to find another couple making out just inside the mess hall doorway. They were so intertwined she actually couldn't tell who they were. More movement and Biro flicked her attention past the couple and into the mess hall itself, where -
Okay, then. So there were many people who were out of, well, character. Many, many people. And, ah, no need to call Dr. Keller. She was at a table and had her own . . . situation.
For a moment, Biro panicked. Was the entire city under an alien influence? A gas designed to distract and incapacitate before an invasion? Poison? Illness? Was she the only one left who -
And then she saw the chalk menu board. It usually listed a couple of entrees, three or four side dishes. Today it said simply read "SIOME!!!!!" in red, underlined three times.
Siome was a shellfish Team Two had found off world a couple of weeks before. The natives had raved about it, and testing in Atlantis found it edible - even people normally allergic to Earth shellfish could eat it. People who weren't Biro, anyway. She went into full anaphylaxis after two bites.
So while she had stayed away from it, the rest of the city had indulged. The stuff was supposedly delicious cold or hot, steamed, broiled, fried or baked, with melted butter, covered in hot sauce or completely plain. The city went through the first bushel in a day, then went through ten more in a week. Overnight Atlantis had become the best trading partner the prolific people of Dod had ever had the good fortune of meeting.
Some in the city claimed siome was an aphrodisiac, sure, like oysters, but no one bothered to test it. It was silly, a food that could make you desire sex.
Well, they were testing it now.
Trying to politely avert her gaze, Biro wound her way through the chaos, past couples and threesomes and, heavens, she didn't know how many people were even in that tangle. The kitchen itself was all but deserted, save for a couple blissfully ignoring her as they had some fun on the floor. She found was she was looking for on the prep counter. Leftover siome - raw, cooked, in dishes ready to be placed in the serving line, half-eaten on plates. She briefly considered throwing it all in the trash, but she had a feeling anyone who came looking for some would be perfectly okay with digging through coffee grounds and fruit peels to get to it. So instead she tossed every siome she could find in the freezer. She'd have to call the SGC and get backup, but it would take a little time to get a team in. In the meantime, frozen siome would slow people down.
That done, she revered course and picked her way through the mess hall, wove through the halls and (finally) found a free transporter. They'd had siome available for mass consumption for the past ten days and this was only showing up now. Which meant its effect was cumulative. Which meant they could keep siome as long as they calculated how much they could eat without it becoming an issue.
The gate room was as deserted as the kitchen. Biro began dialing Earth.
They had the best doctors, the best biologists and the best xenoagriculturalists in two galaxies. Surely they could figure out the tipping point to this stuff.
And, Biro thought as she hit the last symbol, surely they could figure out how to overcome her allergy to it.
Chicken noodle soup:
Rodney hated being sick.
He disliked the limitations of his body on the best of days, when he had to stop reinforcing of the city's shielding because he was too dizzy and needed to eat or when he had stop debugging the jumpers' new safety protocols because the code blurred in front of his sleep-deprived brain and wouldn't coalesce no matter how many times he tried to blink it into submission. And don't get him started on all the Nobel-worthy discoveries he likely missed because he had to go to the bathroom.
But being sick was a special kind of hell. The kind with sneezing that rocketed his head back with alarming violence and hoarse coughing that made it impossible to ream out anyone and sound like he meant it. The kind with -
Across the table from him, Teyla sneezed. The sudden explosion of noise - as petite as she was, Teyla sneezed like a Wampa - made Rodney jump, which made him wheeze, which made him cough. Across the mess hall table, Ronon started a sneezing fit of his own. Next to him, Sheppard sniffled, wiped his nose with a tissue, sniffled more, wiped more, then gave up and just dropped his head on his folded arms on the table.
Christ. They sounded like a merry band of plague bringers.
They weren't alone, though. The mess hall was filled with coughing, sneezing and groaning. Someone had dubbed it the Pegasus Flu, though Jennifer said it was really just an amped up version of the cold virus.
She'd gotten as far as, "Get plenty of rest, fluids and -" before her own cough took over.
Everyone in the city had it now. They were quarantined within Atlantis' wall, no off-world travel allowed, no strenuous activity, no work unless it was essential to the immediate health and safety of the city.
Rodney took advantage of the quiet by ensconcing himself in his favorite lab. Everyone else was gone and it was the perfect time to finish. . . everything.
But then Sheppard showed up and dragged him off to the mess hall.
"I'm not hungry. I'm not thirsty." Rodney said, handing Teyla a clean tissue after she recovered from her surprise sneeze attack. He stuffed the remaining wad of tissues back in his pocket and stood up. "I'm going back to the lab."
Sheppard, head still pillowed on one arm, reached up and yanked him back down.
That's when the tureens began to appear.
The mess hall staff - a skeleton crew of three - carried them from the kitchen and set them down on the serving line. Steam billowed from the tops. Even from across the room, even stuffed up with the Pegasus Galaxy version of a cold, Rodney could smell the delicious aroma of -
"Is that chicken noodle soup?" he asked with the level of awe normally reserved for working ZPMs and flying cities.
"New cook came in last week," Sheppard said, tiling his head just enough that Rodney could see his eyes crinkle from a grin.
Ronon got up, gave Rodney a friendly slap on the back and headed toward the serving line.
Rodney pushed the heels of his hands into his eyes and tried to rub the grittiness away. Between the coughing and congestion, he hadn't been able to get a good night's sleep in days. "I'm not hallucinating, right?" he asked. "It's not actually that horrible beet soup or, what was that last one? With the cauliflower and artichokes."
Sheppard lifted his head. Now Rodney could see his full grin. "Nope."
"Onion, pear and bean stew?" Rodney asked, still wary. They'd all been burned before. The last cook liked to try things. "Tuttle root and eel chowder? Cottage cheese soup?"
Even Teyla blanched at the memory of the last one.
"Nope, no, and thank God, no," Sheppard said, just as Ronon returned with a tray bearing four bowls of broth and noodles. "Just chicken noodle soup."
Rodney could tell right away that Sheppard was right. The broth was thin, the noodles thick. A sprinkling of herbs and small pieces of chicken, carrots and onions rose to the top as Rodney swirled the soup with his spoon. The steam smelled rich and fragrant with thyme. Even though he swore he wasn't hungry two minutes ago, Rodney's stomach growled.
He blew on his first spoonful of broth and then lifted it to his mouth. The soup slid down his throat, warm and light.
Across the table, Ronon made happy slurping sounds with his soup while Teyla closed her eyes to savor hers. Sheppard, who'd started the meal practically sprawled on the table, propped himself up on both elbows to eat, then one elbow, then fully sat up.
"Good," Ronon said between spoonfuls.
"Good," Sheppard agreed.
Around them, the noise of the mess hall had been reduced to the din of clanking spoons and the occasional slurp.
Before he knew it, Rodney's spoon was hitting bowl more than broth. A few minutes later, his soup was all gone.
He leaned back with a sniffle and a self-satisfied, "Mmm."
One by one, his teammates followed his lead. Bowl down. Spoon down. Lean back.
"Mmm," Teyla said.
"We should," Rodney started, flapping his hand vaguely toward the tureens. There was probably more soup left. But he was warm and tired, and the steam from the soup had cleared his sinuses just enough that he could breathe through his nose.
Beside him, Sheppard pillowed his head on his arms. Across the table, Teyla sniffled and leaned her head against Ronon's shoulder. Ronon coughed a little, then settled back. His head titled until it rested against Teyla's.
Rodney closed his eyes and, with his team dozing around him, finally slept.