Chapter 1: Meatloaf
Ronon stared at his plate. The flat plain of his slice of meatloaf was overshadowed by a steep escarpment of mashed potato, flanked by a forest of fallen broccoli trees. Ronon found himself planning how he might ambush an overconfident party of wraith, unwarily crossing the exposed route over the meatloaf. Would he lie in wait, dropping down suddenly from a broccoli branch or would he simply pick them off from a distance, lying flat at the crest of the mash-mountain?
It occurred to Ronon as he mused (he wasn't aware that he was doing any such thing, not being given to analysing his own thought processes), that at one time he would not have given any thought whatsoever to the taste, texture or appearance of his food. Seven years a runner made for a certain... efficiency to the whole eating experience - eat anything, eat it now. Ronon briefly looked up from his plate. The commissary at the SGC was quiet, most of the blue-clothed tables empty. Ronon sat with his back to a wall, strategically placed to observe both the main entrance and the serving area and the potential escape route to the kitchen. His eyes wandered over the pictures on the wall - various earth flying machines. Ronon wondered whether Sheppard had flown them all, whether they all went faster than two hundred miles an hour, which Sheppard liked best.
The doors to the commissary opened slowly. Teal'c. Teal'c's eyes scanned the room and fell upon Ronon. He approached in his deliberate, almost regal and yet potentially lethal manner.
"RononDex," he stated.
Silence, neither man uncomfortable, both more than content with the absence of small talk.
"Your presence is still required at the SGC?"
"Yeah. Forms. Tests. Paperwork."
Another pause. Teal'c considered.
"It was the same when I first arrived on earth. The Taur'i like to measure, to quantify. They cannot simply accept that which is offered on trust alone. At least, those in power cannot."
Ronon grunted agreement.
"You do not eat," Teal'c observed.
Ronon poked idly at the mountain with the tip of his knife. He created a small cave. If uninhabited by wild creatures it would be a safe haven.
Teal'c stood up straighter, his hands clasped behind his back. A very small smile lifted the corners of his lips.
"I recall DanielJackson once sitting, confounded by a plate of meatloaf, just as you are now." Teal'c's lips twitched. "O'Neill remarked that he should consume the meatloaf before it initiated an attack."
"Huh," Ronon responded.
"I have heard," Teal'c continued solemnly, "that there is a new establishment in Colorado Springs. I believe that it is a type of restaurant known by the Taur'i as 'All You Can Eat'". Teal'c watched Ronon, eyebrow raised in question.
Ronon looked up, meeting Teal'c's intense gaze fully.
"All you can eat?"
"All you can eat?"
The eyebrow elevated further.
"All you can eat?"
The commissary doors opened again, quickly thrust aside by a blonde-haired figure, eyes fixed intently on the screen of an open laptop. Colonel Samantha Carter wove her way through the tables, fingers still tapping at her keyboard and came to a stop before the desserts. She looked up.
"Oh!" Her exclamation of disappointment drifted across the room to Teal'c and Ronon and as Sam turned away, thwarted in her mission for blue jell-o, she noticed the two men and smiled. "Hey Teal'c, Ronon!" Teal'c inclined his head, Ronon nodded slightly. "No blue jell-o," she said, with a jerk of her head towards the counter and a rueful smile.
"Indeed," agreed Teal'c. He stepped towards her slightly. "RononDex and I have formed a plan to visit the new 'All You Can Eat' restaurant. Would you care to accompany us SamanthaCarter?"
"Oh, well, I should really finish..." She looked at the laptop. "Although, it is late, so maybe... Yes," she said decisively. "That would be great, Teal'c. I'll just drop this off and see you topside? I'll drive."
Chapter 2: Megabuffet
Kyle had been waiting tables at Colorado Springs' newest buffet restaurant since it had opened two weeks ago. It was hard work, but the tips weren't bad and Kyle was trying to build up his college fund. Kyle spotted the door opening and went to greet the new arrivals, welcoming smile plastered on his face as he'd been taught, despite the aching of his tired feet. His smile faltered slightly as he took in the scale and intense gaze of two of the customers, but he gamely ground out, "Welcome to Megabuffet! Table for three?" directing his words mainly at their glamorous, but friendly-looking companion. "Have you folks visited Megabuffet before?" Kyle asked as he led the trio to their table.
"No, we haven't," the blonde lady replied, backed up by a general deep-throated murmuring from her friends.
"Well, Asian food is along there," Kyle gestured, "American here, and right over there are the desserts. Just take a plate from here," he indicated the plate-warmers, "and help yourselves."
"Er... Sir?" Kyle faltered, seeing the forbidding frown that had taken up residence on Teal'c's countenance. "I-is that OK?"
Teal'c picked up one of the plates in his large, capable hand.
"This vessel appears inadequate for my needs," he informed Kyle, reinforcing the statement with his full First Prime glare.
Something that could have been: "You got that right," rumbled from Ronon's direction.
"Um... you can go up as many times as you like, I said that, right?" floundered Kyle.
"You did not!" Teal'c replied, still frowning. Then the frown disappeared, replaced by the calm gaze and slight smile that had become his go-to non-threatening expression in recent years. "That will be most acceptable," he said
Having ordered their drinks, the trio got up and went their separate ways, Sam heading for the salad counter, Teal'c for the curries and Ronon to carry out a strategic sweep of all the different areas to assess his targets and form a plan of campaign.
Ronon shifted his shoulders uncomfortably and tugged at the front of his borrowed shirt. He didn't really see why he couldn't just wear his own clothes; he'd seen locals wearing stranger things. And this shirt seemed very bright, even if Teal'c had insisted that it was "acceptable apparel for Taur'i." Teal'c had said, "I enjoy the colours of these shirts which are from the distant land of Hawaii," holding out the mainly yellow and green item to Ronan. Ronon didn't argue; he was hungry and the shirt was loose enough to hide various items of sharp weaponry, so it would do.
He had removed all the really obvious knives and some of those designed to make hostiles think they had found everything. The slim-but-useful blades he kept hidden in his hair remained. And the Scottish dirk Beckett had given him which fitted nicely down the ankle of his left boot. And the stiletto in the right. And the tiny blades that it'd taken him a while to work into the sole at the toe of each boot. They'd be tricky to get out in fact, but they'd come in handy some day. There were also a couple of blades, the trickiest of all, which were concealed in such a way that Ronon had had to put in a lot of practice time before he could sit down with the appearance of complete nonchalance.
Having carried out a thorough threat-assessment of the restaurant, established various escape routes and satisfied himself that there was nothing that posed an immediate danger to himself or his friends (Ronon wasn't even aware of doing this - it was as natural as breathing), he decided to take the edge off his hunger with something familiar: pizza.
Pizza wasn't always available on Atlantis and sometimes when it was, Ronon's Taur'i companions didn't seem to appreciate the toppings and the substitution of conventional ingredients with Pegasus galaxy 'equivalents'. Rodney would often fastidiously pick off anything he didn't like the look of so that sometimes he would end up with very little else but the base. Ronon loved pizza, no matter what it was topped with. As far as he was concerned, it would make a good appetizer.
Above the pizza counter, Ronon noticed there was a sign in large red letters, reading:
"Fill your plate, don't be shy,
Take your choice and pile real high.
But please don't take too much too eat,
Cos wasting food is not a treat!"
"No problem," muttered Ronon and proceeded to pile his plate 'real high' in the sure and certain knowledge that there would be no waste.
Chapter 3: Salad and Steak
Sam stood at the salad counter and smiled. Despite all the horrors she had witnessed over the years, simple pleasures, such as choosing from an array of salads, could still make Sam's blue eyes light up.
She had never had the precarious relationship with food that she knew some women had. Her job had always burnt off sufficient calories that she could eat pretty much what she liked, and what she liked was generally salad, followed by blue jell-o and the occasional treat. Occasional treats included pizza with her team, or any other takeout that was agreed on. Daniel liked Thai. Teal'c enjoyed really hot curries, consuming phal and vindaloo alike with a placid, unruffled countenance. And obviously there'd always be one vote for pizza. Sam was happy to go along with whatever her teammates chose; she was just content to be with her team, enjoying their company in safety rather than fearing for their lives in deadly peril.
The blue jell-o, Sam recalled, had been an innovation by the kitchen staff in the early days at the SGC. Air Force blue cloths on the tables had led to experiments in blue food, the jell-o a resounding success in Sam's opinion. The blue mash, not so much. In fact, it had led to a rather strained relationship between the then Colonel O'Neill and the kitchen staff.
One day SG-1 had agreed to have lunch together, Daniel having been off-world with SG-6 for two weeks and not having arrived back in the best of condition. Sam and Teal'c were seated when O'Neill, already concerned for his archeologist's health, had entered just in time to see Daniel standing at the counter, plate of blue mash in hand, his face a picture of bewilderment, as if a well-known language had suddenly and inexplicably become indecipherable.
The Colonel had taken the plate from Daniel, thrust it back into the server's hands with an expression that said 'this isn't over' and had steered Daniel out of the commissary with promises of pizza and a hockey game. Daniel's expression had immediately lightened. Pizza was always good, and although he wasn't interested in hockey as a sport, it always appealed to his inner anthropologist as a substitute for some kind of violent tribal ritual.
Anyway, today, Sam thought, she would have some of that deliciously creamy looking potato salad. Tomorrow she would offset the extra calories by taking a stroll down to the SGC gym to see if she could find some amusingly arrogant marines to instruct in the finer points of advanced unarmed combat. Or armed. Armed was good too.
Now there was his idea of the perfect woman - great smile, great hair, legs up to... well... and a neckline all the way down to... Steve felt his face and neck flush and, well, the less said about anything else the better. Time to turn on the charm.
"What'll it be Ma'am? Red and juicy or do you like 'em done aaall the waaay through?" This with a leer and a suggestive wink.
Sam's eyes scanned the grill. She saw what she was looking for and felt a deep and satisfying nostalgia well up inside. She briefly glanced up at Steve with a very small smile and pointed to the steak she wanted. "That one, please."
The steak was decidedly singed around the edges, the pattern of the grill-rungs indelibly burnt deep into the meat. This was the steak she wanted, because it was the closest to the steak produced by a man who loved to barbecue, but had many distractions in his life, not least a garrulous archeologist, a critically looming Jaffa (with eyebrow raised), and a passion for persuading others to his love of hockey, fishing and the relative virtues of different types of cake.
"Uh... I don't think you want that one, Missy," said Steve. "That one's a mite overdone."
Sam regarded him with a cool smile.
"That's the one I want. Please." She held out her plate.
"How about one of these nice fresh ones here, honey? You let Steve get it juuust the way you like it!" Another leer and an even more suggestive wink.
Sam looked at Steve. Steve looked at Sam.
Sam saw a man like many she had encountered before. A man who didn't see beyond her pretty face and nice figure. A man who would never give her credit for intelligence, bravery and tenacity. Mostly, men like this were water off a duck's back - Sam was a mature woman who had looked the worst two galaxies had to offer full in the face and not backed down. She simply waited, relying on her natural reactions to convey her message.
At first Steve saw nothing more than he wanted to see. A pretty woman who needed his manly guidance in the important matter of steaks. But then he noticed there was something about her eyes. Just a very slight tightening and narrowing as if assessing a target with pinpoint accuracy. He noticed a tiny shift in her posture as if her weight had come ever-so-slightly forward, poised for... what? And finally, and what really tipped the balance for Steve, his eyes flicked down to her hands and he saw there was just a tiny twitch in her trigger finger.
"Yes, Ma'am!" he said, straightening up and swiftly depositing the steak in her plate. For some reason, he felt like saluting.
Chapter 4: Soup and Trouble
Sam set her plate on the table just as Teal'c was getting up for his second helping of curry. She sat down but then frowned doubtfully at her knife, which didn't really look up to the task of tackling her rather well-done steak. She looked around. "I wonder..."
From his seat next to her, Ronon held out a sharp, functional-looking knife, in fact an excellent substitute for a steak knife.
"Oh, thanks Ronon," she said, taking the knife. She began cutting up her steak, inwardly debating whether it was worth pointing out that carrying concealed weapons in public, especially in a family-friendly restaurant, was probably not such a good idea.
"So," Sam began, cutting into her steak. "What do you think of this place?"
"Pizza was good," replied Ronon. "Not sure about this soup stuff."
Sam looked at the bowlful of rich brown soup in front of Ronon. He had a stack of naan bread on a plate next to it and was dipping the bread in the soup and eating it with determination.
"Well, it probably doesn't go together too well. That's naan bread - you eat it with the curries, like Teal'c had."
She leant nearer and sniffed. "What is that? I didn't see any soup. Is it French onion? Sweet potato?"
"It's sweet," said Ronon. "It was in that weird thing."
Sam looked puzzled.
"Over there," he gestured.
"Oh!" said Sam, comprehension dawning, "you mean the chocolate fountain!"
"Oh. Didn't know it came in fountains. I knew about the solid stuff. And the cake." He paused, shrugged. "This works for me."
Strident voices penetrated the genial conversational level and looking up from his curries, Teal'c could see a party of men at a large, round table. There was a young waitress trying to clear their empty plates and the men were making it difficult for her, pushing their plates further into the middle of the table to force her to reach over to get them. Various hands wandered in sly tweaks and pats and the flustered waitress tried to give up on the table and move away but a muscled arm reached out to bar her way. Teal'c looked around. All the other staff were fully occupied, the restaurant having filled to capacity in the last hour. Teal'c set his plates down and as he strode purposefully across the restaurant, quickly assessed his targets. He identified the leader of the group - bald, dark beard, thickset, making the loudest comments and the widest gestures, watching his friends for their reactions to his 'wit'. Teal'c moved smoothly behind the man and placing a hand on either shoulder, pushed down and gripped hard. The man spluttered in surprise and began to struggle. Teal'c gripped harder, squeezing nerves against bone. He leant forward and spoke quietly into the man's ear.
"I do not believe this lady appreciates your attentions. Please desist!"
The man, red in the face and panting in pain, cursed through gritted teeth.
"Get off me or my boys'll make you!"
"I do not believe they will," said Teal'c calmly, his gaze moving slowly around the circle of men, letting his years as Apophis' First Prime and all the cruelty he had witnessed show in the hardness of his eyes.
The noise level in the room gradually dropped and heads turned toward Teal'c.
"Is there a problem here?" A well-dressed man with a name label, 'Robert Sanders - Manager' approached warily.
"There is no problem here," replied Teal'c, calmly. "Is there?" he looked around the table, meaningfully, squeezing his powerful hands still tighter and eliciting a high-pitched squeak of pain from the ringleader. Various heads shook, a few muttered, "No problem," and Teal'c gradually released his grip. The man slumped, arms twitching, sensation slow to return.
Teal'c stood and watched as the waitress finished gathering up the plates, smiled her thanks and disappeared off to the kitchen.
"Now you must leave," he stated.
There was a general chorus of grumbling and muttered curses.
"Yes!" said the manager, glad to have Teal'c around to enforce his words. "Leave now, or I'll call the police!"
The group got up and shambled out, kicking chair legs and glaring at other diners as they went. The ringleader, sore arms clutched across his chest, turned and gave Teal'c a look of venom as he left.
"Oh." Ronon sounded disappointed.
"But we should be careful when we leave," Teal'c stated. "They may be waiting."
"Huh!" Ronon's expression brightened.
"Ronon!" Sam chided. "We can't fight those men. We need to keep out of trouble!" She thought back to a memorable night at O'Malley's and the thorough dressing-down SG-1 had received.
"Good meal, good fight - my kind of night out!" Ronon said with a mischievous smirk.
Teal'c's eyebrow raised. Sam, who had spent years interpreting Teal'c's subtle expressions, knew it was an eyebrow of agreement.
She sighed, with resignation.
"I'm getting dessert," she said.
Chapter 5: After Dinner Activities
Sam finished her dessert, slowly scraping up the last tasty morsels with her spoon and relishing the sharp, tangy flavour. No blue jell-o, but she did enjoy lemon meringue pie, and she especially enjoyed imagining Rodney's histrionics if she'd eaten it in his presence. Ronon and Teal'c steadily worked their way through all the buffet had to offer; steaks, salads, Chinese, more curries, a plethora of desserts. Sam was happy to wait. The longer they took, the less likely it was that anybody would be lying in wait to ambush them when they left.
She wondered whether the manager would eventually call time and decide Teal'c and Ronan's idea of all-you-can-eat was eating into his profits too much, but he seemed happy for them to carry on, grateful for Teal'c's help in keeping the peace in his restaurant.
Eventually Ronan and Teal'c both sat back, satisfied.
"Ready to go finally?" asked Sam.
"Indeed," Teal'c replied pleasantly.
"Yeah, sure!" said Ronon, stifling a belch.
The street was dark as they left the restaurant, streetlights splashing pools of light at intervals and casting deep shadows elsewhere. Sam's car was a short walk around the block. The trio strolled easily along in companionable silence. They turned the corner, down the narrow street where Sam had parked. They passed 'Pete's Bar', music and laughter floating out into the night. The door swung open behind them and the noise level increased suddenly.
"Hey, look, boys, it's our friends from Megabuffet!"
Ronon, Sam and Teal'c turned quickly to see the group of ten men spreading out across the street, their leader in the middle, looking pleased to be given an opportunity to get his revenge.
"Come on, guys," said Sam. "It's late, we don't have to do this."
"Sure we do, little lady," the leader said. "Unless you two want to just move along. Our issue's with your friend here!"
"You fight one, you fight us all," said Ronon.
"Happy to!" he replied.
Sam stood, Ronon on one side, Teal'c on the other. This was not how she'd imagined their evening ending.
"No weapons, minimal force," she stated, succinctly.
Sam considered her opponents. She would really rather be heading home right now, making a cup of tea, getting into her pyjamas (she refused to confirm or deny the rumour that she wore flannel pyjamas with tiny unicorns on) and having a cosy chat over the phone with a friend. But, never one to shy away from an awkward situation, Sam planned her strategy. Her advantage, apart from advanced combat training and vast experience, was surprise - they would grossly underestimate her and that would be their downfall. At least two would head in her direction; one she would take out with her trademark elbow smash (it would probably break his nose) and the other... if he came fast enough she'd use his own momentum against him and he'd end up tossed over her shoulder. Difficult, when your opponent was so much heavier, but Sam had had plenty of practice. If he was slow she might duck down and sweep his legs from under him. If a third approached he would be much more wary, but Sam was confident she had the skills.
Teal'c stood loosely, relaxed, alert, ready to handle whatever developed with consummate ease and grace. These men were not worthy opponents and some were definitely intoxicated. He would aim to incapacitate without causing lasting harm, as if he were teaching the youngest Jaffa apprentices.
Ronon's eyes gleamed dangerously. He didn't think much of his opponents either and hoped that at least four would attack him, or it just wouldn't be much fun.
They came fast, disorganised, with minimal strategy, although obviously some thought was given to who would be the most challenging opponents - four each headed for Ronan and Teal'c, two for Sam.
Sam made short work of her two, as per her plan. She was glad she'd opted for jeans and boots this evening as being the more flexible over a skirt and high heels. Not that she didn't actually pride herself on being able to fight in any outfit and high heels could make a formidable weapon, force being applied correctly...
Teal'c reached out calmly with two large powerful hands and having gripped an ear each of two of his opponents, one being the troublesome ringleader, smashed their heads together and let them fall in a disorganised heap. The other two nearly dealt with themselves by tripping over their fallen comrades, and merely needed a strategic kick to one and punch to the other to send them reeling away.
Ronan was determined to get a bit more mileage out of his four thugs, and had opted to take them all on at once, dealing sharp, quickfire blows with his hands and arms as if fighting with Teyla's bantos rods. His opponents were startled by the barrage of stinging hits - they'd all been expecting to bring their man down, do a bit of kicking and walk away satisfied. They couldn't understand how one man could move so fast, and what really made them think they weren't going to win here was the mischievous smirk in Ronan's face which seemed to grow with every hit he landed. With a chorus of curses they turned and fled, some taking the time to haul away their fallen companions.
"You two OK?" asked Sam.
"Indeed," replied Teal'c.
"Yeah, sure," said Ronon. "They didn't put up much of a fight."
"Well, try not to be too disappointed," Sam said. " We don't want trouble for the SGC."
"I do not think those men will be quick to report their defeat," Teal'c stated. "Ten against three and in a culture where women are not commonly viewed as warriors. I think they will say nothing."
"You got that right!" agreed Ronon.
"Well, a good evening was had by all then!" Sam smiled. "Come on, let's go."
"The SGC is not on your way, SamanthaCarter. We will take a taxi," announced Teal'c.
"You don't need to do that, Teal'c," said Sam. "I'll take you."
"Thank you, but I believe it would be educational for Ronon to experience a Taur'i taxicab. I find the conversation of the drivers to be most informative."
"Oh, OK, then. Well, see you tomorrow, guys. Thanks for a great evening."
"So, we really going back?"
Teal'c smiled, watching Sam drive away.
"Do you feel the need for a little more exercise?" he asked, eyebrow raised.
"Yeah? What kind?"
"I have heard of a discrete establishment in a somewhat insalubrious area of town where one may indulge in various forms of combat unhindered by... any kind of regulatory authority."
"Sounds interesting," said Ronon. "Do they have weapons? I'd like to try some of that stuff they have in those martial arts films."
Teal'c inclined his head. "There is a variety of equipment from which to choose." He paused. "And a variety of willing and enthusiastic opponents."
"So, sort of like an all-you-can-fight buffet, then?"
"Indeed," replied Teal'c.
Ronon smirked dangerously and the two men set off to look for their kind of fun.