The door to the botany labs slid open; quiet as it was, the unexpected sound in the complete silence of the room made Katie Brown startle and drop the seedling she was transplanting. Dirt scattered over the floor, and she made a little noise of distress as she knelt to pick it up.
"I'm, uh, I didn't realize anyone was in here," someone said. It sounded like Dr. McKay, and Katie blinked and looked up, seedling forgotten, because obviously Dr. McKay wouldn't be in the botany labs. Dr. McKay was legendary for not liking any science less mathematical than physics.
Except it was Dr. McKay, which possibly meant the city was being invaded and the botany labs were the only place to hide, since that was the only explanation Katie could think of. (It bothered her a little that it wasn't actually completely implausible, as an explanation.)
"The Athosians sent these over from the mainland with Teyla Emmagan"—Katie wasn't sure if it was supposed to be Teyla or Ms. Emmagan or something else entirely—"yesterday, and I wanted to get them into a nutrient solution."
"It's late," Dr. McKay said, looking around as if he expected to see the time written somewhere on a wall.
Katie shrugged. "I meant to do it this afternoon, but I forgot, especially with, um, with our guest? Major Sheppard showed her all around the city, and she seemed very interested in the labs and what we were doing."
"Of course he did." His lips went even thinner than they usually were, and he looked around the lab as if he actively disliked it. "She seemed interested in this?"
She should have felt insulted, probably, but Dr. McKay looked miserable, and there had been something that felt just a tiny bit unusual about Chaya's interest in their equipment (such as it was) and the labs (which had probably been intended for something else once upon a time). "Well, some people like plants?"
Dr. McKay gave her an irritated look. "She's just strange, and there isn't anyone on Atlantis who believes me. I would have hoped Major Sheppard at least would, but he's being an idiot."
"She was a little odd," Katie admitted. "I mean, she seemed very nice, but…"
"Yes, yes, exactly! But there's something that's just wrong. And of course she seems very nice, and she's all—" He waved his hands around, although Katie had no idea what he was trying to say with them. "I mean, I can see why he'd—but there's something that's just absolutely not right, and I don't see why nobody else realizes. I mean, Carson knows there's something wrong, but he's just—he says she's from paradise, of all the asanine things."
"She seemed to know her way around the lab much better than a stranger would have."
Dr. McKay looked around. "Plants, dirt, more plants, some tables, cabinets—what's there to be confused about?"
Katie sighed. "You know how the doors into the other labs look almost exactly like the doors to the cabinets?"
"Of course I know," he said, sounding insulted. "I work in one of these. Except without the plants, of course, because I do actual science."
"Of course," Katie said, because it was much more polite than you can take your actual science and stick it where the sun doesn't shine. "Well, when Major Sheppard said that the next of the labs was through a connecting door, I think she started to head straight for the actual door, even though there's a cabinet right next to it."
"So there is something wrong!" He almost knocked over Dr. Cabot's row of test tubes with a triumphant stab at the air. Then his face sort of crumpled. "Oh, hell, there's something wrong and nobody believes me."
"I believe you," Katie said.
"You don't matter."
There was a bit of a pause, and then Dr. McKay looked back at her, wide-eyed. "I didn't mean it like that. I mean, you're really very nice, I think, and all that, it's just—well, and the plants—but it isn't as if your opinion on whether someone is a threat to us matters."
"That's, um," Katie said. She was beginning to understand that the legends weren't even slightly exaggerations.
"I'm—I shouldn't have said that, you really are very nice, and, um, and pretty, even though I generally prefer—anyway, it's, I'm sorry I interrupted your work, it's just that I've managed to make Carson and Elizabeth think I'm crazy, and Major Sheppard is really annoyed, even though I'm just trying to save the ungrateful idiot from some, some alien Mata Hari or something." He looked confused and lost and very unhappy, and although he was talking at about sixty miles an hour she sort of thought maybe he was doing that so he wouldn't have to hear himself think. "And she's probably going to kill him or something. Maybe bite his head off during sex?"
Katie sighed again. She was probably going to regret this, but… "Do you want a piece of chocolate?"
"Chocolate?" His voice was absolutely incredulous, and she didn't blame him.
"A small piece. It's just one of those little 'fun-size' bars." He kept staring. "I brought—look, the boxes they gave us for our personal items were a lot bigger than I needed, since most of what I wanted they considered mission-essential—my laptop and some extra drives, various bits of gardening equipment. I don't read much—I prefer audiobooks—and I don't really have any hobbies that require objects that take up space, so the only thing I really needed to bring for me was my MP3 player. And then I thought we'd be here for a really long time and it might be useful to have something most people want?"
"Oh my God," Dr. McKay said faintly, "you're brilliant."
She really wished he'd had his radio on for that. Broadcasting to the whole city. Dr. McKay never told people they were brilliant, or if he did he'd had any of the witnesses either killed or sworn to secrecy. Dr. McKay calling you brilliant was like…like Coen and Carpenter telling you you knew quite a lot about flowers.
"Well?" He looked at her expectantly.
Oh. Chocolate. Right. She sorted through the pockets of her lab coat until she found her emergency piece, which she offered to him. He ripped off the wrapper and took a bite, closing his eyes in bliss. He had, she noticed, really absurdly long eyelashes.
"So," Dr. McKay said indistinctly, shoving the other half of the chocolate bar into his mouth, "I mean, really, this whole thing is Major Sheppard's fault—wait, you're a woman."
"Yes?" Katie said carefully, not entirely sure she was comfortable with wherever this was going.
"Well, what do you think of him?"
Katie hesitated. "He's…he's very, um…" Impulsive? Recklessly heroic? Surprisingly nice? Weirdly charming? (Recklessly charming? Surprisingly heroic? She wasn't even sure where to start, but refrigerator magnets might be one way.)
"Yes, exactly, that's exactly the problem," Dr. McKay said, frowning again despite the chocolate.
She hadn't actually given him an answer, had she?
"I mean, if he weren't all"—more hand gestures—"alien women wouldn't just fling themselves at him and I don't know why he had to decide to bring her back when there's God knows what going on in her twisted, devious little mind while she drags him into every secluded corner in Atlantis and then lures him out to picnic under the stars."
"Atlantis seems to like the major, though," Katie said hopefully. "She—I mean, it—it wouldn't let anything bad happen to him without anyone noticing, would it? And besides, he's a soldier. I'm sure he knows how to defend himself."
Dr. McKay muttered something about completely untrustworthy, scheming, devious space mumble mumble something she didn't strain to hear.
"It'll be all right," Katie said, "really it will. I'm sure nobody's going to let anything happen to Major Sheppard. And, um—I don't really see why she'd want to hurt him?"
"Well, why else would she be trying to seduce him?"
Katie hoped she wasn't staring at Dr. McKay in obvious utter disbelief. "Maybe she just likes him?"
"Oh, yes, that's it, she just likes him, that's why she decided to sneak into Atlantis under false pretenses and, I remind you, lure him into isolated spots where nobody would even notice if she dropped his lifeless body into the ocean." He accompanied the last bit with quite evocative gestures of flinging, falling, and what looked sort of like splashing.
"Isolated spots are also…" Katie trailed off helplessly. She wasn't even sure if it was worth it trying to explain to Dr. McKay, who either had no personal experience with this sort of thing or just refused to believe anything good about Chaya. "I mean, if she wanted to… There are some things you just don't do in the Gateroom?"
Dr. McKay looked at her and waited.
"Major Sheppard seems like a very private person about his personal life?" she tried.
She wasn't sure how anyone could look blank and worried at the same time, but he was somehow managing it.
"And he wouldn't want everyone in Atlantis knowing about it?" No response. "…Sex, Dr. McKay."
He choked on air, it looked like. For a second or two she was actually worried about his continued ability to breathe. Finally he sputtered, "You think she's been dragging him into dark corners so she can have sex with him?"
Katie had no idea where both of them had somehow lost control of this conversation, but they clearly had, since it was rapidly turning into the sort of conversation she might expect to find in some sort of adult-rated Alice in Wonderland. "I have no idea!" she said. "I wasn't there, I'm not either one of them."
"Right, right, but would you—"
"Isn't it good if she doesn't want to kill him?"
He said, "Well, yes, of course I don't want her to kill him, but God knows what she'd do to him if she—I ought to try and find them, I mean, you agree with me there's something wrong with her, so that's—"
Katie knelt to pick up the seedling she'd dropped and almost forgotten about. "I said there might be."
"Well, you listened. And, you know, you're not insane and don't bring aliens back to Atlantis to do horrible things to you or anything. So. Uh." His mouth crooked up a bit, and it took her a minute to recognize it as a smile: that was another thing Dr. McKay reportedly never did. "Thank you? What's your name, anyway?"
"Katie Brown," she said.
"Right. Um. It was very nice meeting you and everything, and you seem quite intelligent for a botanist."
"…thank you?" Katie said.
He waved vaguely in her general direction and hurried out the door. She tucked the seedling into its pot and shook her head, smiling a little. Dr. McKay was really incredibly strange.