FEEDBACK: Yes, yes, please...
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SUMMARY: Sheppard resorts to extreme tactics in a severe situation, dragging both McKay and Zelenka into a mess they'd never expect to encounter in the Pegasus Galaxy..
Author's Note: This story came about after watching several episodes ("The Eye," "The Defiant One") in which I noticed something about Sheppard ... ;)
"Just don't. No, don't touch it!"
Zelenka sighed, crossed his arms against his chest, realizing a moment later that he was squeezing his limbs against himself to the point breathing wasn't easy. He relaxed. It was always like this with McKay.
"Why on earth do you even ask my opinion if all you're going to say is 'don't touch'?"
McKay looked up from the alien contraption he'd been working on. "Because it's relevant."
"Oh, you could have fooled me." Zelenka let his Czech accent come through strongly. Although he'd been working with Americans for a very long time, even at times losing the accent, it came through when he was tired or annoyed. So when he was with McKay, he was usually annoyed. Nine times out of ten.
"Oh please, you sound like –"
"Ah, you're both here!"
Major John Sheppard barged into the lab. He glanced at the new lab experiment as though it were useless. His normally calm smile had been replaced by a distinctly unhappy frown. "I need both your help on a mission."
Zelenka was instantly wary. He'd seen enough of what had happened to McKay on missions that he actually liked staying put on Atlantis. Granted, the scenery never changed, but he did not want to get paralyzed by a Wraith stun to the face. It didn't make him feel any more secure that McKay was blatantly ignoring the Major. "As I recall, we just got back from a mission."
"Yes, it's very hard to forget that mission." Sheppard reached down and scratched at his leg.
"Major, it's not my fault that the indigenous sand fleas decided to make your ankles their lunch."
Zelenka stood back. Sheppard's eyes squinted in that manner he knew meant the Major didn't find the situation at all amusing. However, if he kept quiet and stayed out of the way, this might prove worthwhile - watching these two men squabble was a good pastime, he had to admit.
"The mission is about my ankles."
McKay's eyebrows arched and he actually tore himself away from his new toy. He even took the time to swing around in his chair and cast a dubious glance at Sheppard. "Uh, I simply do not want to go there, do I?" The scientist said in a mocking tone. "Isn't that Dr, Beckett's department? Or maybe you should try wearing socks like the rest of us?"
"I don't have any socks left!"
"Oh?" Zelenka couldn't help but interject into the bizarre conversation.
"I put them into the wash, but they do not come out."
"I don't have that problem." Zelenka could swear that McKay smiled at that remark.
"I don't care," snapped Sheppard. Zelenka hadn't seen the man this edgy ever. Then again, he could have sworn in glimpses over the past month that the Major had been sockless for some time. Perhaps even Sheppard had his breaking point, but Zelenka hadn't thought it would be over something as inane as footwear. "That thing—" Sheppard pointed at McKay's precious nobody-else-can-touch-it-I-found-it-alien-device – "can wait. You get down there and run a diagnostic on that stupid washing machine or whatever it is!"
"What's in it for me?" McKay flashed a huge grin.
Broken teeth? mused Zelenka, watching Sheppard carefully for signs of reaching his boiling point. No, the man wasn't reaching for his gun, but he still didn't look happy. However, the glint in his eyes changed. Gone was annoyance and frustration, replaced by… oh, Zelenka knew he could not leave now. Sheppard reached into his pants pocket and carefully withdrew a small item. He held it up between fingers as though displaying the Hope Diamond to a roomful of avaricious gem collectors. Even Zelenka had to blink twice to believe that what he was seeing was really in front of him.
Sheppard quickly yanked the item back as McKay's hands reached out for it but instead came back with thin air.
"Uh uh." Sheppard grinned sadistically.
"Where on earth did you get a Snickers bar?" McKay gawked at the precious item as though it were a miniature ZPM, fully charged and just waiting to be plugged in to power a shield and more for the base.
"Exactly." Sheppard turned the wrapped candy over in his fingers, tantalizingly out of the reach of McKay's clenched hands. "I brought this with me from Earth. Figured I'd save it for a rainy day. Well, it's monsoon season as far as I'm concerned."
"Hand it over," demanded McKay.
"Excuse me?" Sheppard tucked the bar back into his pants pocket. "McKay, obviously you don't know how to cut a deal. You give me what I want, I give you want you want. I get back my socks – all of them – and you get this entire 16-ounce bar of…" He pulled the candy out of the pocket again, studying with exaggerated care the tiny white letters on the underside of the brown wrapper. "Hmm, chocolate, nougat… nougat. Well, sure don't see much of that in the Pegasus Galaxy, do we?"
Zelenka watched McKay's expression for the confectionary change rapidly from one of near lust to one of outright hostility.
"This is blackmail." He began grabbing up diagnostic equipment.
"No, no, no," chuckled Sheppard. "It's called extortion."
"If any socks were damaged in the machine, that does not count against the bar," bartered McKay, holding several little cases of diagnostic equipment against his chest.
"Agreed, but…" Sheppard help up a finger in warning. "They have to be my socks. Not Ford's. Not Zelenka's, or anyone else's. I'm not the only one who's lost clothing in that damn thing."
"As if you can tell your sock from someone else's?" snorted McKay.
"Yes, I can," came the slick response.
"Fine!" McKay barged out, leading the way down to the section where, many months ago, they had found the Atlantis equivalent of washers and dryers. Remarkably, the machines were very similar to what they had on earth, except that here on Atlantis, one machine did both, without soap, utilizing a unique ionizing process they were still trying to figure out. However, clothing still came out clean and unwrinkled, which Zelenka quite enjoyed. He'd never cared for the task of ironing, hence his own decades of appearing perpetually wrinkled.
Zelenka waited until McKay was out of earshot, which didn't take very long. "Major, how could you hold on to a candy bar for that long? I must admit that I would have eaten it many months ago, if not my first week here."
Sheppard smiled as he twirled the small package between both hands. "This is nothing, Dr. Zelenka. I once kept a Milky Way bar frozen down in the Antarctic for ten months."
"Ten months down there?" Zelenka was impressed. "I could not have done that."
"Well, I did have to wait for the summer thaw to find where I'd buried it," Sheppard said with a shrug.
Grodin put the finishing touches on his report on the palm pilot and headed to the Weir's small office in the alcove directly off the control room. Technician Ayers cut in front of him as he went down the hall. She had some material for Weir as well. Grodin just nodded at her self-satisfied smile as she took the lead. It would actually benefit him that she got there first, as then he could make his proposition to both women at the same time.
"Ah, Peter. You have Sgt. Stackhouse's report?"
"Yes." He placed the palm pilot on her desk for approval. "And while I have you both here, I was wondering if you'd like in on a wager."
Weir finished signing Ayers' report, then studied the other palm pilot. "Peter. Is this a side job? Running bets?"
"Well, it's not like we have any money to put down, but as I recall, you were interested in this situation last month."
"Oh?" Weir brought a cup of coffee to her lips.
"Yes, apparently Major Sheppard has bribed Dr. McKay to run diagnostics on the laundry machines. He's adamant about recovering some missing socks."
A spittle of brown liquid suddenly sprayed all over Weir's desk. "What?" she choked.
Grodin's eyes widened in alarm. "Sheppard's socks," he repeated. "He—' "No, you said McKay was running diagnostics? Now?"
"Ohmygod," Weir uttered in near panic under her breath. "I asked him to do that a month ago but he could never find the time." Turning horrified eyes toward Peter, she said, "And he's doing this now with Major Sheppard?"
"The 'quest for the holey sock' is what Dr. Simmons called it."
Grodin nearly landed on the floor, barely recovering his balance as Weir tore out of her office as though the base were on fire. Ayers had followed in a similar panic.
What on earth was that about?
Weir was very grateful that she had participated in track in high school, and had never let her physical conditioning falter since coming to Atlantis. She skidded to a halt just outside the entrance to the base's laundry room, and nearly tipped over when Ayers stopped behind her. Within seconds, several women – some scientists, one nurse and the best mechanical engineer they had on base – were all clustered together.
"For Pete's sake, stop getting your panties in a twist," came McKay's annoyed voice from within the room.
"My shorts are doing just fine, McKay," shot back Sheppard. "It's my socks I want!"
Weir shook her head. Men. They were worse than women, she idly thought. She turned to the women behind her. "Okay, take a deep breath. Do not look like you've just done the 100-yard dash. I'll take the lead. The rest of you, you're in charge of retrieval, understood?" The women all nodded in agreement. Weir had to suppress the insane urge to not laugh hysterically. This whole situation reminded her of a commando raid!
There was a strange thumping noise inside. "Okay, it's finished. The wash has been released from the black hole of doom. Hand it over."
"Socks first, then the Snickers," threatened Sheppard.
"You are so paranoid," sniped back McKay.
"Outta my way."
"Now!" hissed Weir.
Sheppard had just wrapped had his arms around a massive load of what was definitely more than socks – probably six months worth of laundry sucked into the friggin' innards of this infernal contraption – when he suddenly found himself roughly bumped aside by technician Meers, who could strip down a fighter jet and put it back together in under an hour. In the seconds it took to regain his footing, he discovered that the laundry room had been invaded by several very insistent women.
Weir stood in front of him, a very calculated and calm expression on her face, her arms crossed against his chest as if silently defying him to take one step forward toward the machine, which was now being methodically raided by Meers, Ayers, and two other women whose backsides he couldn't quite recognize.
"Elizabeth, what is going on?"
Weir turned to McKay, who appeared more vexed than the other men. "I asked you do this over a month ago, Rodney."
"I would have sent you an email, Elizabeth."
Sheppard watched the women behind Weir finish their work. After a whispered discussion, the four women turned around. One held a pillowcase tightly in her hands. From the grip he was staring at it, he figured that item would have to be pried from the woman's cold dead fingers before she'd allow anyone to see its contents.
"I don't believe it," laughed Sheppard, crossing arms against his chest. "This isn't that old underwear-bra thing, is it? Oh come on, we've all lived in tight quarters, Elizabeth. There isn't anything any of us haven't seen before."
He was truly amazed at how controlled Weir kept her face. No wonder she'd done so well in her diplomatic career. If the woman was the least bit flustered about one of the men on the base picking up a piece of her underwear, which he sorta thought would fall into the practical cotton-nylon category, she sure as hell wasn't going to show it. This was probably why he'd lost at least two games of poker to her.
Grodin's voice sounded in his comm. "Major, have you seen Dr. Weir?"
"Yes," replied Sheppard, knowing he'd been beaten.
"We'll be leaving now." Weir flashed an infuriatingly gracious smile and in a flash, they were gone. Just like Wraith shadows. No, no, Sheppard wasn't going to even try to fathom what had just happened. It wasn't worth the frustration.
"Hello? Hello? Remember me?"
Zelenka hadn't left the room after the mysterious all-female mission had come to retrieve their unmentionables from the wash. The stack of clothing Sheppard then retrieved from the device indicated that he was not the only victim of its fickle centuries-year-old diagnostic error. Zelenka figured everyone on the base must have had something caught within its confines. Some people just weren't as possessive of their clothing as Sheppard, apparently. This was also a situation that Zelenka was not going to miss, as this scene, he knew, would never be played out again in a million years.
Sheppard was sorting the wash.
The Major intently studied a pair of men's black boxer shorts that were emblazoned with bright yellow happy faces. He made a face himself, one that said 'I am definitely not going to ask about these' and tossed the item of clothing into a stack of what he'd labeled "not mine" and continued on his quest.
"When I get all my socks, you'll get your Snickers," he warned McKay.
"They're all there!" snapped McKay.
Sheppard stopped sorting, then gazed at the ceiling as though trying to zero in on an annoying insect buzzing about. "The longer I'm delayed, the longer the Snickers stays in my pocket. How long does it take the average human body temperature to melt a candy bar?"
McKay uttered something unintelligible under his breath.
Zelenka wished he'd brought along a camcorder. Of all the scenes to not immortalize.
It only took a few more minutes to finish the stack, and then, in an act of what Zelenka could only construe as pure sadism to further aggravate the Canadian scientist, Sheppard began to pick up his socks one at a time, counting them aloud, and then dropping them into a new stack. Zelenka was waiting for McKay to burst a blood vessel.
"Looks like you've got yourself a Snickers bar, Doctor."
Zelenka thought it was a very good thing that McKay wasn't a large dog; otherwise Sheppard could easily have lost a finger or two when the scientist had snatched away the proffered candy bar.
Sheppard immediately looked perplexed as he fingered a lump in the last sock. He stuck his fingers inside, and the most peculiar expression crossed his face. "Oh ho, what is this?"
"You're nabb gettinb it bck," McKay said through a mouthful of chocolate nougat. That is, until he stopped eating and stared, just as the other two men were doing, at what Sheppard had extruded from the depths of the olive drab sock.
"It's pink," said Zelenka.
"How astute," coughed McKay, swallowing the chocolate.
"And it's silk." Sheppard grinned, rubbing the delicate fabric very carefully between his fingers.
Both Zelenka and McKay were suddenly drawn so much closer to Sheppard and the item. Sheppard seemed quite averse to releasing his grip on it, holding it up at eye level with both hands. "Very nice silk, 100 percent," he continued.
"Is there a name inside?"
Sheppard let out a derisive laugh. "For God's sake, McKay. Women don't sew their names in their underwear. That's what mothers do to kids at camp to embarrass them."
"I wasn't suggesting—" McKay stopped, eyes darkening as he knew it had been a stupid thing to say. "I mean, well, who do you think it belongs to? It's definitely not military issue."
"I'd hazard a guess that it belongs to one of the female members of the expedition." For a moment, Sheppard looked aside at the big stack of unclaimed clothing. "At least I sure hope it does."
"It's not underwear," spoke up Zelenka.
Both McKay and Sheppard shot a questioning look at Zelenka. "It's lingerie, and definitely not inexpensive lingerie," explained Zelenka. "That is hand-sewn stitching. High quality."
"And you know this because…?" Sheppard trailed off inquisitively.
"My aunt was an expert seamstress," Zelenka said defensively. "As a boy, I would sometimes work in her shop, making deliveries."
"Of course." McKay said in a mocking tone.
"Well, nobody's going to claim these panties," said Sheppard. At McKay's confused look, the Major continued. "Oh come on, at least not while we're still here. The Xena patrol already came through so you know what they think. I just wonder how they found out so fast that we were down here."
"I mentioned to Peter that I was finishing up one of Elizabeth's tasks."
"Sure as hell know how to ruin the fun, McKay," complained Sheppard.
"Quality sewing of this kind should not just be tossed in the washing machine." Zelenka stared at the stitching, probably longer than he should have.
"You know more about this underwear than you're letting on," accused McKay.
"Oh please." Zelenka didn't care if he came across as angry or even petulant. "Just because I am able to appreciate quality does not mean, well, that. While you Americans buy everything pre-made out of a box, or shipped over from China, in Czechoslovakia we keep the ancient traditions alive, and that includes sewing."
"Okay, okay, don't get your panties in a twist," said Sheppard.
"That's a very bad pun," said McKay.
"Sue me," snorted back Sheppard.
Zelenka and McKay stared at Sheppard's communication device. "Yes, Dr. Weir?" Sheppard said with a grin.
"Don't you think your discussions are more suited for a college dorm? You might want to turn your comm off. Weir out."
"Crap." Sheppard shut his eyes in total embarrassment. Then, adding further to the fiasco, he remembered to turn off his comm.
"Elizabeth heard all that?" McKay whispered in abject horror.
"And probably half the control room." With a sigh of sincere regret, Sheppard dropped the pink panties into the stack of clothing. Acting as though nothing had happened, he turned to the other men, his missing clothing gathered up in his arms. "Well, I've got my socks. Thanks for the diagnostics, McKay."
"You're welcome. Don't ever ask me to do that again," snarled McKay, stalking out, a half-eaten candy bar in hand.
Zelenka watched as the two men rapidly left the laundry room, each going in opposite directions. Well, he had gotten back one T-shirt and a pair of shorts he'd thought he'd lost. Glancing back at the door, he smiled as he gently tucked the pink panties into his pants pocket. He knew that Dr. Rebecca Gans would like her lingerie back.
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