John had been watching Rodney's fingers move for the last hour. They'd typed for a while, then tapped, then twirled a metal pencil that might actually have been a laser pointer or maybe a sterling silver EpiPen case. It was mesmerizing, and made a man feel unbusy in comparison. To compensate for this, he cradled his gun across his lap as if there were nothing more important in the world, and tried to look ready to jump up and kill anything dangerous that might appear. Though he was pretty sleepy, and the only things that had appeared so far were mild and rabbit-like.
"How big are their teeth?" Rodney had asked from a safe position behind John's right shoulder when the creatures first appeared. "Do they have well-developed hind legs? Don't be fooled by their size. A springhare can leap two meters in a single bound."
He'd turned to look at Rodney, who'd showed no embarrassment at his truly awe-inspiring chickenheartedness. "What, what?" he'd snapped, chin jutting slightly. "Why am I the only one on this expedition with the sense to maintain a healthy xenophobia in the face of alien wildlife?"
"It's a *bunny rabbit*, McKay."
"Raccoons, foxes, squirrels," Rodney said, ticking the list off on his fingers in his remedial studies teacher voice. "What do these animals have in common? All cute, all fuzzy, and all capable of transmitting *rabies* with the graze of a single tiny tooth."
Driven by a fatal flaw of morbid curiosity--he shouldn't open this can of worms--John asked, "Is there anything that doesn't fill you with anxiety?"
"Many things. Chocolate. Coffee. The rumor of a new Sam Raimi production."
"That leaves a lot of ground to cover in therapy."
Rodney fiddled knobs on his scanner with an intensity that seemed to John out of proportion to their meager findings so far. "Therapy is for people who can't admit their problems."
"You've never had therapy." John nearly maxed out his skepticism on that one.
"It doesn't count if it's involuntary."
"You know, therapy also helps people *cope* with problems."
"I cope. See me coping." He gestured at the grassy turf to indicate the prudent distance he'd established between himself and the bunny rabbit.
"Rodney, you cope by making other people cope."
"Here's a deal," Rodney said blithely, not bothering to look up. "Next time you go to Heightmeyer--*voluntarily*--to deal with your martyr complex, I'll schedule a visit to talk about my perfectly rational heed of potential dangers."
"I don't have a martyr complex!"
"Denial is the most common symptom of deeper personal problems, Major."
"I'm going to stop talking to you now."
"Which will be immensely helpful to my efforts here," Rodney said snappishly.
Now John leaned against a rock and watched Rodney's fingers and thought about their conversation, which had been two hours and two dense miles of underbrush ago. "So you were in therapy," he said.
Face blank with confusion, Rodney looked up from his scanner. John could see him processing the words a beat behind their utterance, and then his expression changed the way it did when a particularly obnoxious bird song interrupted his concentration.
"I thought we'd finished that." But he frowned, casting back in memory. It was easy to get Rodney talking about himself; easy to read his personal weather in every light and shadow that crossed his face. "When I was six, my parents made me see a child psychologist because I imagined an alternate world where I ruled as king. Rodneysia."
"Yeah, but that's normal enough, right?" John said. "For kids, anyway." He raised his brows and gave Rodney a dry little smirk.
Rodney tipped his head, reminiscent but unsmiling. "I used to hold court from my windowseat for hours at a time. I'd get very upset when the neighborhood kids didn't do my bidding. In fairness, they couldn't understand me--beyond some of the more obvious hand gestures. I tried to teach them the state language of Rodneysia, but it was like tutoring peasants in Latin. Pointless."
"Well," John said rather more slowly now, "that seems--" Understandably disturbing, highly telling, and absolutely typical of Rodney.
"My parents probably would have let me grow out of it, but there was a minor," he stressed the word, "incident with a slingshot. They tried to say it was intentional, but I was hunting wild boar. Practicing, anyway."
"My first postdoc year--I was fifteen--the university made me see a counselor."
"About the imaginary kingdom," said John, who was starting to wonder whether Rodney still believed in it.
"What? Of course not. They said I had adjustment problems."
Rodney made a twisty, displeased face at him. "You only think that sound is noncommittal."
"You know, studies have shown that a high percentage of geniuses establish imaginary worlds in childhood." Rodney sounded defensive and uncertain now that he'd made himself vulnerable. John's only advantage in this situation was that the other man had no idea how disarming that was.
"I guess it's no surprise then that I didn't. I imagined flying though."
"Oh? In planes?"
"No. Just...flying." He shrugged to make light of it; no way was he going into detail about those fantasies, their vividness of feeling--cloud vapor sliding cool damp trails along his body, sun warming his skin through his clothes. Unreal and wrong; in truth it was freezing that far up, but that hadn't mattered.
"What, with wings?"
"No!" John said, put off by the mental image, which dashed cold water on his happy childhood daydream. "No wings." Emphasis on the point was definitely called for. "No cape, no angelic paraphernalia. Just me."
Rodney's brows were aloft with interest. "Ah. Naked then. I had dreams like that. Usually before piano recitals."
"Not *naked*. Look, can we not talk about this anymore?"
"He wants to talk, then he doesn't." Rodney appeared to be addressing one of the quasi-rabbits. Its ears twitched and it lifted its head from the weed it was chewing on to stare at him. "It's like having a girlfriend."
"Rodney, if I was your girlfriend--" John stopped abruptly in the hope of regaining his manhood. Even a cutting tone wasn't going to save that one.
"No, please." Rodney waved an encouraging hand at him, lips twitching. "Finish that thought."
John wanted instead to say something scornful and witty about how Rodney had turned to the rabbits for therapy, but he couldn't think of any smooth segue. His face felt a little hotter than it should. Rodney did that to people.
"Anyway," John said about ten seconds later, "what would you know about having a girlfriend?"
It would have been a pretty decent comeback, if it hadn't been delivered well after the conversation had ended and Rodney had returned to his readings. John wasn't all that surprised when the other man wordlessly held up one hand to form the "L" for loser. Disgruntled, he looked away, wishing a tiger would jump out of the underbrush and send Rodney yelping for cover. Then John could shoot it. Shoot it and swagger and feel magnanimous about saving Rodney's life while the other man pulled himself up off the ground and panicked after the fact, vocally and at length.
Which after thirty years was what his fantasies had come to, John thought, and wondered why that was.
"Major, please shoot this rabid Muppet before it gets any closer to my veins. If I'm not mistaken, that is what you're here for."
John closed his eyes and pretended hard to be asleep.
Now edited out: "It's like having a girlfriend."
"I'm surprised you remember what that's like."
Rodney's gaze drifted up to John's hair. "I remember they used a lot of product."