Ronon and Radek had long since eaten by the time Rodney was finished with his chore list, but they remained in the mess hall to offer support. To the amusement of Ronon and the amazement of Radek, their partner in crime had gone about his assigned duties without offering more then a few stinging retorts toward diners who dared to mock the sight of a brilliant scientist emptying garbage cans and clearing tables.
Rodney proved to be a surprisingly efficient worker and when he was finished, Sergeant Menlo offered her sincere thanks for a job well done. Pleased that she had kept her end of the bargain, Rodney took his meal out to the table where his friends were waiting and dug in with gusto.
"Where did you learn to do all that?" Radek asked him, gesturing broadly around the hall to take in the clean, tidily arranged serving areas and tables. "Not that it is difficult, but I am quite certain that I was observing experience in action."
Reluctantly, he admitted, "I worked in a restaurant for a while during my University days. The owner could only afford a few helpers, and he did the cooking himself, so we took turns doing everything else: bussing tables, waiting on customers, clean-up, the works. It wasn't the greatest job, but he was a nice old guy and he paid me enough for books and expenses; the occasional night out."
Radek smiled. "I did a University exchange program in the States during my Junior year. I took employment as a package delivery courier. It was somewhat difficult as I did not have a very good grasp of English and had trouble reading the street signs."
"Hope you weren't living on tips," Rodney scoffed.
Not admitting anything, he added, "I quit that job quickly and moved on to, how do you call it? Fast food?"
Eyes lighting up with glee, Rodney said, "You want fries with that?"
"It wasn't hamburgers, actually. It was Kentucky Fried chicken. I used to amuse myself trying to figure out the so-called 'secret formula'."
Rodney snorted a laugh and took another mouthful of the mashed root vegetables with gravy and the fried whatever-fowl that had been served with it. "KFC would be nice," he mused. "Because whatever this bird the Athosians found on the mainland is, it's definitely a long way from chicken." He washed down the food with a slurp of coffee, then took another slower sip and heaved a blissful sigh. No decaffeinated, watered down, crystalline pseudo coffee crap here; this was the good stuff. The all too rare fresh-ground ambrosia that he'd been craving like a drug addict after a fix.
"Stew was good tonight," Ronon commented. "Thick and filling, the way it should be, not watered down to almost soup in order to make it stretch far enough to feed everyone."
Rodney paused in the act of sopping up gravy with a thick slice of bread. "That happen a lot where you're from?"
Radek nodded. "We had our share of such meals when I was growing up. Too many mouths to feed and not enough food to go around." He smiled wistfully. "My mother always made certain we had something in our stomachs, though, even if she had to go hungry herself in order to do it. It made life a particular pleasure when I earned scholarships enough to go to school, and was able to get a job rich enough to provide for them."
The Czech squirmed a bit when he realized that Rodney was staring at him, his expression difficult to read.
"Are you trying to guilt me out of this?" Rodney asked after several seconds of intensively studying his colleague. He pulled the large beautiful slab of chocolate cake that was sitting next to his tray a little closer. "'Cause it's not going to work. I'm not going to give you my very-well-earned dessert, just because you tell me you had a crappy childhood."
He scowled. "I wasn't suggesting you should."
Rodney wrapped a protective arm around the cake plate as if to shield it from their predatory eyes. "I've seen how much you eat, Radek," he snorted, shoveling in the last few bites of his dinner. "It's no wonder everybody else in your family went hungry. They probably didn't have time to grab anything before you ate it all."
Radek pulled himself up straighter, ready to fire back, but stopped when he noticed that Ronon was laughing. "What?"
"He's got a point, Doc," the Satedan chuckled. "I been watching you today and I don't know where you put it all."
Radek blushed, a sheepish smile creasing his cheeks. "I am a growing boy?" he tried.
Ronon stood, hauling the surprised scientist to his feet and draped a heavy arm over his shoulders. The top of Radek's head was barely level with the warrior's chest. "Explains a lot," he grunted, giving the small man a squeeze, then a hearty slap on the back that nearly sent him tumbling over the table. "I gotta go. See you both in the gym day after tomorrow for another sparring session."
Having been enjoying the exchange up to this point, Rodney looked up in alarm, a forkful of cake held suspended in front of his gaping mouth. "What?"
Ronon's brow rose. "One lesson isn't gonna do you much good, 'specially since you didn't even finish it. You need to keep training at least a couple times a week. Three or four would be better."
Radek grimaced but said, "He is right, Rodney. Even scientists keep experimenting until we achieve the desire results."
"Shut up," Rodney snapped. When Radek held up his hands in surrender, he turned back to Ronon and pointed an accusing finger at him. "You want me to show up and become your practice dummy three times a week, but what do I get in return?"
"What do you want?"
He pondered the question for less than a second. "I want you to meet me in the Control Room the next time there are no off world missions scheduled. I'm going to teach you how to disassemble and reassemble a DHD. I'll reprogram it, break it if you will, in a controlled environment and you will learn how to put it back into a proper working configuration. We'll keep working until you get it right, then a few days later, we'll do it again until I'm satisfied that you can do the job right, every time. After that, I'll drill you until you can reprogram and reassemble a DHD in less than fifteen minutes. Then I'll think of something else."
Ronon studied his face closely. A sly smile tilted the crooked mouth, just daring him to protest. "I'm not stupid, McKay."
"If I thought you were, I wouldn't be suggesting this."
The warrior paused, noting the seriousness shining in the scientist's blue eyes. It spoke of the same life-and-death need that had provoked Ronon to suggest physical combat training for the science staff to Weir. He nodded. "Fair enough. What about him?"
Rodney gave Radek a dismissive shrug and returned to attacking his dessert. "He's not a bad student. He can help you with your homework."
Just for that, Radek Zelenka shot out his left hand and snagged the uneaten portion of Rodney's chocolate cake, stuffing it in his mouth before his superior could get it back. "I will see you tomorrow," he garbled, grabbing Ronon and beating a hasty retreat.
"Hey!" For a moment, Rodney considered giving chase, but there was really no point. The cake was already gone. He look sorrowfully at his empty plate, then picked it up and headed back into the kitchen.
Teyla Emmagen and John Sheppard walked into the mess hall in search of a late-night snack, and found the room empty except for one lone figure seated at a table near the kitchen.
Teyla gently shook the shoulder of the man sleeping with his cheek pillowed upon one hand, the other clutched around an empty fork, which was still lifted over a plate of half eaten cake. "Rodney?"
He came awake with a gasp, nearly stabbing John with the fork as he flailed his arm in surprise. "Wha-?"
She smiled. "Do not be alarmed. I merely woke you to suggest you return to your quarters to sleep."
Rodney blinked and rubbed his eyes with the heel of one hand. "What time is it?"
"Just after midnight," John told him, taking a seat. "We just got back from the mainland."
"Why so late?" he asked around a yawn. "I thought you just went for a council meeting."
Teyla nodded. "It is not often that I have a chance to socialize with my people. There was no pressing need for a quick return so we stayed and talked far into the evening."
Seeing the smile on Sheppard's face, Rodney smirked, "You were telling bad ghost stories to the kids again, weren't you?"
"Some people like my ghost stories," he said airily. "Looks like you managed to find some trouble without us around to keep an eye on you. Anything I should know about?"
He gestured to his forehead, reminding Rodney of the colorful bruise he still sported. Rodney pressed the spot gently. "Head-butted Ronon."
"And you're still alive? I'm impressed."
"It was an accident," he sighed, realizing that he might as well tell them the whole story before they heard a more colorfully augmented version from someone else. Any unusual event around Atlantis had a tendency to become instant grist for the gossip mill. Sheppard and Teyla were soon laughing as the tale unfolded and Rodney found himself seeing it all in a humorous light as well, now that it was over. "So after Radek stole my dessert I managed to sweet-talk the Sergeant into giving me another piece, but the day sort of caught up to me while I was eating it."
Teyla smiled fondly. "And that is why we found you here, asleep."
"Pretty much." He shrugged and then winced, feeling his unusual day's activity in every single sinew. God, he was going to be too sore to move by morning. "Ow."
Sheppard chuckled heartlessly. "C'mon, Teyla. Let's get the weekend warrior to his quarters while he can still walk. We'll come back and see if Menlo has any more cake stashed around here later." He stood and grabbed Rodney by the arm, levering him to his feet. "Upsy-Daisy, Rodney."
"Up your daisy," Rodney muttered, and then groaned when his stiff body twinged and creaked in protest as his friends steadied him and gave him an escort out of the mess hall. Moving seemed like a very bad idea but he managed to keep his uncooperative body going forward with the reminder that a hot soothing shower was only minutes away, and that there would be a nice soft bed waiting just a few feet beyond that.
As he listened with only partial attention to John and Teyla chattering about how much they had enjoyed their day on the mainland, Rodney considered his own day off and struggled not to smile. He would never admit it to anyone, but even with having suffered bruises, a lecture and the indignity of kitchen duty, he had had a lot of fun today.
And more importantly, he now knew where Menlo hid the coffee stash!
A/N: Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story. :)