Rodney was busy shoveling spoonfuls of stew in his mouth when John joined him in the mess. Stew was a good choice for the menu, as the embattled mess staff had recently discovered. It didn't have to taste like anything specific, not when there was no hard-and-fast rule defining the stew-ness of a given dish in the first place.
Or, as John thought after his first few bites: stew was like porn. He knew it when he tasted it.
"Does that seem fair to you?" Rodney asked as he mopped up the last of his stew with a multigrain roll. He didn't particularly like multigrain rolls -- he much preferred sourdough, thank you -- but it was all they were serving. He nodded at a table on the far side of the mess, where Carson and Lt. Cadman were apparently whispering sweet nothings to each other.
Actually, Laura Cadman was instead describing in amused detail the appalling social retardation of several of their colleagues, but she and Carson put on a pretty good show.
"What," John asked, "that Cadman wasn't a traitor that we could lock up someplace where she could never push your buttons again?"
"She does not push my buttons," Rodney snapped.
Rodney sighed in defeat and said, "What I mean is, you're better-looking than Carson and I am clearly his intellectual superior. So why is he the only one getting some trim?" John raised one eyebrow and Rodney amended, "Besides your occasional off-world sexcapades."
"First of all," John said, "did you really just say 'getting some trim?' And then follow it with 'sexcapades?' Second..." He trailed off, realizing that he didn't actually have a second-of-all.
He took a meditative bite of stew, and it came to him. "Chicks dig accents," he said with a laconic shrug.
"That's ridiculous," Rodney protested. He was still hungry and wondered whether Sheppard would give over his roll. "I have an accent, and it's gotten me nowhere."
"You're Canadian, McKay. Your accent is only noticeable when you apologize, which frankly, you don't do that often."
Rodney opened his mouth to parry this statement, but shut it again almost immediately, as Teyla and Ronon joined them at the table. By unspoken agreement, John and Rodney did not talk about these matters in front of Ronon. Not since that time when Ronon told them that, on Sateda, only young girls had talked about those kind of things.
That wasn't actually the case -- Satedans liked their gossip as much as anyone -- but Ronon thought the looks on their faces had been worth the minor untruth.
"Please," Teyla said, "do not let us interrupt your discussion." Teyla, for her part, had been rather disappointed when the Colonel and Rodney stopped acting like young girls at the table. It was entertaining.
"No, we were done," John answered. Rodney stole the roll off his tray, but that was okay. John didn't like multigrain rolls much anyway. He preferred a nice cornbread muffin with his stew.
"Done with what?" said a voice from behind Rodney. He cringed. Cadman dropped into the seat next to him and stole John's roll out of his hands. "Thanks, Rodney. I was still hungry."
"Now, Laura," Carson said, sitting opposite her. "Don't discourage Rodney from eating his whole grains."
She smirked and handed the roll back, slightly squished. "Sorry," she said, though she was of course not sorry at all.
Rodney glared and petulantly ate John's roll.
"So, we were just talking about plans for tonight," Carson said. "Laura's usual poker night's fallen through, and, well..."
"We were thinking about putting together a game. With you four. Teach Teyla and Ronon to play." Cadman smiled at Teyla. "You up for it?"
Teyla appreciated Lt. Cadman's overtures of friendship, and she was afraid it would seem rude if she informed them that Aiden had already taught her to play poker, on some long-forgotten mission gone awry. She glanced at Ronon, who shrugged. "That would be most agreeable," she said.
"Well, not to me!" Rodney said.
"What's the matter, Rodney?" John asked. "You'd think with that big brain of yours, you'd be able to play a little game." It wasn't so much that John was eager for a poker game, as that he really enjoyed seeing Rodney squirm in Cadman's presence.
"Some of us have deplorable luck," Rodney said, all wounded pride.
Ronon shot him a dark look and said, "All of us have horrible luck."
"Actually," Teyla pointed out, "we are all still alive, in spite of our brushes with the Wraith. That suggests we are all blessed with some degree of luck, does it not?"
Even Rodney, shamefaced, could not disagree with that.
Dr. Zelenka entered the designated poker room to find that he was one of the first to arrive. That wasn't the only thing he found; Beckett and Lt. Cadman sprang apart guiltily when he cleared his throat.
Carson blushed like a June bride, but Cadman merely wiped her mouth and gave Zelenka a rueful smile.
"You were hoping Rodney would walk in on you, weren't you?" Zelenka asked. For his part, Radek wasn't all that fussed. Rodney was mistaken in thinking that Carson was the only one getting laid.
Of course, Radek did have that accent.
Carson protested Zelenka's assumption. Cadman gave him a wide-eyed innocent look that clearly bespoke her machinations.
"You should stop torturing him," Zelenka grumbled. "He comes and takes it out on me. In fact, he insisted that if he was going to be subjected to sophomoric bonding ritual, I had to attend as well."
"Which is your way of saying that he invited you to our poker game," Cadman said, grinning.
Zelenka allowed a grin to peek through in answer. "Of course, this is what Rodney thinks. I think you should prepare for me to win all of your money."
"Well, Doc," Cadman said, "we don't exactly play for money. What would be the point?"
"Yes, yes. I'm speaking metaphorically."
It has been mentioned that Lt. Cadman has a weakness for men with accents. While it wasn't exactly a reason for joining the military, she'd be lying if she said it wasn't a perk.
Teyla arrived trailing McKay, rambling incessantly in an effort to explain the rules of poker. She still didn't feel comfortable mentioning that she already knew. She secretly wished Ronon had been with her when Rodney ran into her along the way, so he'd have someone else to focus on.
What was that saying of Colonel Sheppard's? Ah, yes: divide and conquer.
Rodney scowled at Cadman, who grinned back wickedly. He thought about making a biting remark but he didn't trust her not to come up with a response that was better. Instead, he sighed and reached for the bowl of crispy Athosian chip-like snacks in the center of the table.
Carson and Cadman had commandeered a seldom-used room off one of the main corridors. It was too small for a lab, but too large for an office, and so had sat mostly empty. Rodney idly wondered what the Ancients had used it for.
In fact, the room had originally been designed as a sanctuary for meditation upon the philosophy of Ascension, but mostly it had been used part-time for classes on art, music and deep-tissue massage. Atlantis didn't mind if they used it for a more raucous purpose. She was nothing if not adaptable.
"Where's Sheppard?" Rodney asked, glancing around. It wasn't like him to be late to anything that could be remotely classified as a social function. Not that he was precisely late -- but Rodney doubted that Sheppard's watch was as accurate as his own.
"Geez, Rodney, did you miss me?" John said, entering the room just then with Ronon following behind.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "No, I just wanted to get this over with."
"Well, Ronon and I were training."
Sotto voce, Cadman said, "Is that what they're calling it these days?" Carson heard her and had to bite the inside of his mouth to keep from laughing.
"Well," she said more loudly, "now that we're all here, let's get started, shall we?"
"What are we playing?" John asked. "Hold 'Em, Seven Card Stud?"
"Oh, yes, let's make it as complicated as possible for the newbies," Rodney said; though really he just didn't want to have to learn any new rules either.
"Let's just stick to the basics, Colonel," Cadman said. "Five-card draw okay with everyone?" The other players murmured their assent. Carson, John and Cadman took turns explaining the game to Ronon and Teyla, and everyone else shut Rodney down each time he attempted to interject. Chips were distributed, and after a brief argument about what they were playing for, wherein power bars, chores and "manliness" were all discussed and rejected in quick succession, they agreed that nothing more than bragging rights were on the table for the night. Mainly since no one had thought to bring anything else to add to the pot.
Cadman, as the first dealer, squared the deck and shuffled, spread it out to cut and shuffled again, and began dealing cards in quick succession. She added a couple fancy tricks to make it look cool, just like her dad taught her when she was eleven.
"Oh, God," Rodney groaned, "she's a card sharp!"
Cadman grinned. "I'm not a card shark, Rodney."
"You certainly look like it, and it's card sharp, not shark. That's a common misnomer."
"That's dumb. 'Card sharp' makes no sense, but 'card shark' implies the kind of predatory behavior you're accusing me of."
"Well that's all fine and good, except that it's wrong."
Cadman hummed the Jaws theme in response.
"Caaaaandygram," John drawled.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "That's landshark."
Ronon frowned at Teyla, who looked around the table for explanation, but everyone was too busy laughing. Everyone, that is, but Zelenka.
"I have no idea what they're talking about," he said.
"Oh, come on!" John exclaimed. "You don't remember the landshark sketch?"
Zelenka raised an eyebrow. "I remember when we were lucky to get an orange for Christmas."
Rodney gave a delicate shudder.
"Oh," John said. "Right." After a moment, he offered, "My dad was a Cold War colonel."
"Yes, let us bond over our mutual antipathy for the Russians."
"Now there's an idea I can get behind!" said Rodney, grabbing more snacks from the bowl and raising his fist in a mock-toast.
Ronon glared around the table and wondered whether the game required mocking banter, or if that was just something McKay was unable to hold back on. It had been awhile since he played a game like this -- seven years on the run from the Wraith was enough of a gamble, as far as he'd been concerned.
Teyla noticed Ronon's discomfort and gently suggested, "Perhaps we should begin the first round?"
Cadman nodded in acknowledgment. "Ante up, boys!"
Zelenka raised by twenty, and Teyla, Ronon, and John called. Rodney, who had a predictably terrible poker face and could not hide his smugness, raised by ten. Carson called, Cadman raised another twenty, and so it began.
Carson was the first to fold, followed by Ronon and John after the pot had gotten ridiculously large. Everytime Rodney raised, so did Cadman.
Finally Zelenka, muttering in Czech, tossed down his cards and sat back to watch the show. He had three nines, but he refused to contribute any further to the feud between Rodney and Lt. Cadman.
"I'll see your eighty, and raise you twenty more!" Cadman said, chips raining down on the growing pile in the center of the table.
"I will call," Teyla said, just as she'd done every time the betting came around to her.
"Teyla," John said, "they're psyching each other out. You don't have to stay in the game. You should fold."
"Thank you, John, but I believe I understand the rules of the game. Besides, I am at this point pot-commited."
Neither Rodney nor Cadman heard her, as Rodney was already onto his latest round of raising, but John narrowed his eyes speculatively.
Finally, Cadman, smiling crookedly, called rather than raised. Rodney, who still didn't remember Teyla, slapped down his cards, and said, "Ha! Ace-ten straight!"
Cadman, brow raised, fanned her cards out slowly and gently laid them on the table. "That's a good hand, Rodney, but it doesn't beat a flush."
Rodney gaped at the queen, nine, seven, six and four of clubs spread out in front of Cadman.
"No, Rodney, it's well within laws of probability," Zelenka offered.
"You just can't believe you got beat by a girl."
"Technically," Teyla interjected, "I believe Rodney was beat by two girls."
John made a mental note to keep an eye on Teyla for the rest of the game as she laid her cards down on the table.
Teyla had four threes. Everyone stared in shock, and Teyla smiled at them, her mouth full of perfect white teeth.