Okay, so Rodney picks Steve Carell when he’s trapped in an abandoned, unstable mine shaft on an alien planet in an area with periodic tremors in the company of only his boss and a woman who knows far too much about him because she’s his physician, and he takes his pick with very little hesitation and very strong feelings behind this opinion. Rodney will own up to that. It’s all an extraordinary circumstance, anyway.
And it’s not like it means anything. Everything is a contest and he sincerely believes that, and he has a very discerning mind that loves critical thinking and thought experiments and picking favorites. Preferring Steve Carell over Stephen Colbert in a hypothetical situation where he would be forced to be intimate with famous guys he’ll never meet has no bearing on reality whatsoever, and neither does the fact that with no provocation he offers up Jon Stewart’s name as a third option that trumps all the others. It’s just the objectively right choice. Why shouldn’t he let his companions know about it?
Stop smiling like that, Sam.
“Okay,” Keller says, and she’s not outwardly smiling, but Rodney eyes her warily anyway. There’s something mischievous about her that isn’t as much at odds with how innocent she usually looks as he would have expected it to be. “How about this one: Chuck or Zelenka?”
“We can’t play this game with people we actually know,” Sam says, which is a very reasonable objection which Rodney wishes had been his first thought, too, because maybe then his brain wouldn’t have made him blurt, “Radek.”
Both women stop tying knots in their escape rope to look at him. He sets his jaw and stares back. “Hypothetically,” he reminds them.
“Of course,” Keller says, just like Sam uh-huh’d him when he shared his entirely correct choice of American comics to fool around with. Rodney doesn’t tend to think it’s suspicious when people agree with him – after all, he’s almost always right, so it’s really just a sign of intelligence in others to admit to it – but right now, he can’t help but feel a touch paranoid. Women unnerve him at the best of times. Being stuck in a hole with two of them, both very attractive and one the longtime object of fantasy, is not the best of times, especially not when they keep exchanging meaningful looks at the oddest of moments.
“I have one,” he announces, just to break the silence.
Keller smiles down at her knots. “Hit us.”
“Okay.” He puts his hands on his waist. Power pose. He’s a man who is very secure in his masculinity and he can do this. “Uh.” Slight hitch: he doesn’t actually have two more names prepared. “Albert Einstein or…”
“Or?” Sam, lovely and clever and attractive as she is, is sometimes still an incredibly annoying person to be around. The way she can convey sincere doubt with just a lift of her eyebrows? Horrible.
Also very reminiscent of someone else. “John Sheppard.”
There’s not as much outright staring this time, but there’s definitely some confused blinking. “Sheppard?” Keller asks. “Einstein or Sheppard?”
Rodney regrets every word out of his mouth in the last twenty seconds, but he’s not about to show it. He lifts his chin. “Yes. What, is that too difficult for you?”
“No,” Keller says, unbothered. “Sheppard, I guess.”
Rodney makes sure to scoff loudly. No use in feeling disdain if you don’t share it with the world. “Oh, that’s typical. Even when pitted against one of the greatest minds of the past centuries, of course every woman in two galaxies still prefers John Sheppard. What, is it his hair? His flyboy charm?”
“Well, no. It’s that he’s, you know, not dead.”
“Einstein also cheated on his wives a lot,” Sam adds. “He was brilliant, but he was a dick.”
Rodney shifts in place and does his level best not to get introspective. “This is not about marriage,” he points out. Then he reconsiders. “Is it?” He briefly wonders how that would influence his past answers. Marriage has very different parameters than fooling around.
He’d still go for Jon Stewart, though. Duh.
“No, it’s not,” Keller agrees. “But it was never a difficult choice, anyway. Not a good question, Rodney.”
Rodney bristles. “Excuse me? Why?”
“The options you gave were way too disparate. Everyone’s going to have a really clear preference.”
That’s actually a fair critique. Rodney is glad both Keller and Sam are busy with their knots and can’t read on his face that he realizes she might be right. “So?” he asks, a touch less confrontational than he would have been if she hadn’t just made a good point. That’s about all the concession he’s willing to make. “What would have been a better question?”
Keller looks up, and oh god, there it is again. That mischief – Rodney is man enough (ha! totally secure, see!) to admit that it scares him a little. “Well,” she says, slowly, “something like, maybe, Sheppard or Ronon?”
Rodney doesn’t really want his mind to think about it, but it does. He can’t turn off his brilliance: it’s a curse.
“I’d go for Ronon,” Keller says, with almost zero hesitation and nobody asking her. Maybe she’s thought about it before. It’s still a preposterous and wrong answer, clearly, but-
“Yeah,” Sam says, a little more thoughtfully. She seems to have gotten over her hesitancy about picking between people she works with now that Zelenka is out of the picture. “Me too.”
Rodney makes an involuntary kind of sputtering sound. He’d expected better from Sam, at least. She supposed to be a genius, one of the brightest minds of their generation, very nearly his equal, for Christ’s sake. “What? Are you both out of your minds?”
“What’s wrong with Ronon?” Keller asks. She sounds a little hurt.
It barely registers with Rodney. He’s indignant enough that it overrides almost anything else. “Nothing is wrong with him. He’s a great guy, if you like people who communicate in grunts and are basically cavemen. At least Sheppard actually has half a brain – he could’ve joined MENSA, if he wanted, you know. That’s hot.”
There’s another of those meaningful looks between Keller and Sam, but Rodney is still too caught up in his certainty that he’s the only sane person stuck in this mining facility to even bother consider worrying about it.
“So should we assume you’d pick Sheppard?” Sam asks.
“Of course I’d pick Sheppard! Everyone always picks Sheppard, that’s just a fact of life. Who wouldn’t pick Sheppard?”
“Us,” Keller says.
“Well, that just goes to show you’re both idiots, then.”
Sam pulls that facial expression where she doesn’t actually roll her eyes, but it kind of feels like she has anyway. “Rodney, you were the one who pointed out that it isn’t about marriage. It doesn’t matter if he has a brain or not if you’re just going to be making out for a while.”
“And Ronon is actually pretty smart,” Keller adds. “He just doesn’t brag about it all the time, like some people.”
Sam nods her agreement. “That, too.”
Rodney scowls at them both. He can vividly imagine grunts and a surplus of dreadlocks, and none of it is a good thought. At least John’s ridiculous hair wouldn’t hit you in the face if he turns his head, and John has lips that look kissable, instead of like they hide teeth that might bite your nose off if you come too close.
“Kissable,” Keller says, which clues Rodney in to the fact that he might have been narrating his train of thought a little more than he intended. That is, at all.
“Theoretically kissable,” he says.
“Well, Rodney.” Keller does a thing where it looks like she’s trying not to smile, but it’s very, very obvious, so she’s basically smiling anyway. Her eyes are big and innocent. “It’s clear that you’ve spent a lot of time on this theory.”
And that’s- That’s just preposterous. The occasional stray thought does not constitute “a lot of time”. A lot of time is what he spends on saving the city, not on John Sheppard’s smile or hair or ridiculously long legs or proclivity for slouching against any piece of furniture he encounters. Rodney puffs up so that Keller will know he’s deeply offended. “What are you implying?”
“Hey,” Sam says.
“What?” Rodney asks testily. Maybe this is it – maybe they’re all losing their minds now from some combination of toxins and cabin fever.
“Finally,” Rodney says, and makes a grab for the rope and the hook. It’s perfect timing, really, because if this had gone on any longer, he might have ended up realizing that he kind of wants to kiss John Sheppard, which would be extremely inconvenient on multiple levels.
As things stand, though, it’s going to be alright. He’ll just not think about it anymore, ever.
Strangely enough, it doesn’t work out that way.
He’s usually very good at employing unhealthy coping mechanisms, not to mention that he’s pretty busy not dying until the moment they finally emerge into sunlight and still have to make the trek back to the gate to get home to Atlantis. He should be occupied with all of that, and he is, but the entire time, in the back of his mind, there’s this tiny yet growing nugget of awareness.
He hates it. He hates it all the way back home, and all the way to the infirmary, and the entire time until he’s released because he’s mostly fine and there’s not too much to be done about his hands except let them heal over time.
Then he runs into John, in the hallway right outside the infirmary, and he has a bit of a crisis, because he can’t figure out how to hate John. He really doesn’t hate John. He likes this John more than Jon Stewart, and that’s kind of the problem.
“Hey,” John says, forehead lightly creased, voice oddly low. Like he might have been worried. Oh sure, just make matters worse, John, why don’t you? “I just got word you got back and that things went a little FUBAR. How are you?”
“Good,” Rodney says, crisis managing his way through the urge to hug John. It would be excruciatingly awkward for both of them. “Good, good.”
John looks a little taken aback. His eyes crawl down Rodney and Rodney is aware of them on every inch of his body. “Well, that’s a first. I thought you almost died. Your hands don’t look great.”
“Uh, yes,” he says, because yes. He’s being an idiot. He wags his hands a little to acknowledge the bandages. “But nothing dramatic or world changing happened. It’s not like I, uh, accidentally discovered some things about myself that could change the way I see the world and certain, certain interpersonal relationships, in particular.”
“Okay,” John says slowly, in that way he has when Rodney is rambling about nonsense. “That’s… good?”
Rodney clamps his mouth shut and nods. Words are not his friends right now.
John stares at him for a second longer and then seems to opt for acting as if everything really is okay. He gives Rodney a friendly slap on the back, and it’s nothing he hasn’t done a hundred times before, but Rodney is acutely aware of the contact suddenly. “Glad you made it out okay, buddy.”
“Yeah,” Rodney says miserably. “Thanks.”
John turns to leave, but Rodney is abruptly assaulted by another revelation he doesn’t want: there’s no way this is going to get better. From now on, now that he knows certain things (damn you, Keller) and that knowledge is firmly stuck in his brain, this can only get worse, and eventually it’ll get so bad he won’t be able to effectively do his job anymore and then he’ll get pushed off the team or worse, put them in danger because they rely on him and he lets them down. He can’t afford any of that. So he has to take action, and he has to do it now, before it all spirals out of control even further.
“Hey John?” he calls.
John immediately turns on his heel to face him again, like he half expected this.
“Do you want to maybe get a drink?”
John did not expect that. The way his eyebrows go up and down and then very carefully don’t move, like he thinks he actually has anything resembling a poker face, says as much. “A drink?”
John licks his lips. It makes Rodney want to set himself on fire, but he can’t do that, because he can’t move while John is still looking at him like that, like he’s desperately trying to read Rodney’s mind but also trying to be very cool about it. “Is this… drink-”
The way John says drink definitely sounds like a euphemism for something. Rodney isn’t sure what and he hadn’t thought that far ahead, but he nods again anyway, because it’s bound to be roughly the right direction.
John bobs his head a little, too, probably just copying him. “Does it have anything to do with this thing you discovered about yourself?”
“I don’t think I can tell you that story while we’re still sober,” Rodney says, and in the next moment he kind of wants to hit himself in the head. Nobody he’s ever dated would have accepted that without getting huffy and requiring at least an apology bouquet of flowers, and as ways to ask someone out it well and truly sucks.
But John is nobody he’s ever dated. John, paradoxically, relaxes a little. He eyes Rodney yet again, but this time- This time, the crawl of his eyes feels different. Like he’s actually looking.
“Alright,” John says. “Then we should probably get you that drink, right?”
Rodney’s heart does not flutter. He has a dangerous arrythmia, at worst. He’d go see Keller about it usually, but he really doesn’t want to try to explain to her right now that something John said gave him heart problems, because she might interpret it correctly, which would be terrible.
So instead, he just lets out a breath that’s been caught in his ribcage right next to his cardiovascular problem area. “Right,” he says, and jerks into motion.
John falls into step with him easily.