During their first several months on Atlantis, Rodney observed and studied John Sheppard. He read his personnel file--he was working with the man, after all, so it was only reasonable to find out if he was borderline PTSD or inclined to beat up scientists--none of which he was supposed to read or even be able to read (as if that could stop him), and most of which was classified Eyes Only for Weir, Beckett, or Heightmeyer. The Psych section had some of the most interesting tidbits, even though psychoanalysis was about as scientifically grounded as astrology or dowsing. Like everyone approved for the Atlantis expedition, Sheppard had been put through a battery of evaluations to measure his ability to cope with stressful and unexpected situations, yadda yadda yadda. Reading between the lines of the reports, Rodney suspected that Sheppard had either passed with flying colors or failed spectacularly, but either way he'd been essential personnel, the Man with the Magic Gene.
(Rodney loved taking tests, and had prepared for his own evaluations by tracking down every relevant psychological and aptitude test and backward-engineering the best answers, with a scattering of near-misses thrown in to allay any suspicions of manipulation. When the True/False options were insufficient, which was often, he'd written comments on the test forms. He'd even been enjoying the interviews--which were definitely oral tests, though the SGC shrinks persisted in pretending otherwise--until the third one, when their questions started to freak him out. "You're in your lab alone one night after a recent mission," the doctor said, "and your co-worker comes in. She kisses you. She's never shown interest before now. At her kiss you have an impression of meat that has gone off, but you're very attracted to her. What do you do?" And: "You're having recurring dreams that you're trapped in a small grey cage, being examined by faceless observers. You wake up tired each morning, but during the day everything is normal. Then you start hearing a voice in your head telling you to shoot your co-workers. What do you do next?" Rodney: "Where do you come up with these questions? Wait--has this actually happened before? You have screening for this now, right? Even that coffee klatch of overpaid quacks you call a medical staff must have figured out a way to detect aliens who get through the gate...haven't they? By the way, that kissing scenario, that didn't involve Colonel Carter by any chance, did it?")
But John's file only gave the broad strokes. Rodney learned a lot more from watching and listening, when he could remember to pay attention. It helped that John tended to repeat things. He must have trotted out his chestnuts about football, Ferraris, and Ferris wheels a few dozen times during those initial months. (Surfing too, but Rodney preferred to remain alliterative.) He mentally dubbed it the good-old-boy routine and wondered with less than idle curiosity if Sheppard was gay. In Rodney's experience, only the closeted worked so hard to convince others of their ultra-masculine pursuits. But he also kicked around the idea that Sheppard might simply be trying to establish rapport with his troops, or alternatively that the man was a military idiot savant of some kind.
Now, he found himself watching John try to explain Ferris wheels to a group of Athosian children using the white board to illustrate. He'd sketched a picture of a lopsided wheel with tiny seats that resembled walnuts, and in a few of them he'd drawn stick figures who appeared to be screaming for their lives as the giant wheel rolled them to their deaths. One of the younger Athosian ankle-biters had started to cry.
"No, no, no," John said in what he thought must be a soothing tone, "it's fun--see, they're laughing." He widened the smile on one of the figures so that it became a terrifying clownlike caricature. The girl wailed and buried her face in her big sister's neck. Rodney couldn't keep down his own grin, and John threw him an irate but at the same time desperate look, running a hand through his hair so that it stuck up even further, like a weed begging for a whacker.
The expression Teyla had for John was incredulous, and then she turned from him to smile at the children. "It is time for bed," she said in a calm tone, and led them from the room, holding the hand of the crying girl, whose sobs subsided to sniffles. As she left, Rodney heard her say, "After we get in our night clothes, we will tell each other happy stories, to seed sweet dreams."
John stood at the white board looking at his drawing, a befuddled frown on his face as if he were trying to figure out where it all went wrong.
"Don't worry, Major." Rodney came to stand by him. "I'm sure that only the weepy one will be permanently traumatized. The others should come through fine." He clapped John manfully on the shoulder to drive home his reassurance.
"They hate me," John mourned. "I don't get it. Children like me. They always have before."
"Those were Earth children."
"Kids are kids, Rodney." But John sounded doubtful.
"What about Wraith children?"
John gave him a considering look. "Well, there's that. What do you suppose Wraith kids are like?" They fell into step, heading toward the mess.
"Oh, I suppose they have little human dolls to torture, and horrible schoolyard songs of slaughter and mayhem. Huh. You may be right about that 'kids are kids' theory."
"I need to win them over," John mused.
"Who, the Wraith?" Rodney tried to imagine how they'd go about that.
"Yes. The Wraith. Do you think they'd like candy?"
"Not really--ah, you mean the Athosians." Rodney studied the selection of desserts with a critical eye. Red Jello, green Jello, and what might be rice pudding. He picked up a green Jello. It had a nice wobble.
"Maybe I could sing to them."
Rodney slid his tray to a pause in front of the milk dispenser and stared at him. "You aren't serious."
"What?" John's voice creaked defensively. "I can sing."
"No, Major. You really, really can't. Your voice is a tragic mutilation of everything that is good and beautiful. You sing like a moose bugling for a mate."
"No, please, tell it like it is, Rodney."
"I always tell it like it is."
John gave him a strange look, as if he'd just said something profound. "Yes. You do." He smiled.
"That's what I said." Rodney felt unaccountably flustered.
"A mate, huh?" John sat down at the table across from him and slouched in his chair, trayless but companionable.
"Well, they're actually challenging other bulls for breeding rights."
"Ah. Good to know. What else do you know about moose?"
"That's my entire range of knowledge. Except that they're the deadliest animal in Canada." Ruminatively he let a cube of Jello collapse to nothing on his tongue. He was in another galaxy eating Jello and talking to a hot Air Force Major about moose. Life was strange and good.
"The deadly moose," John said, nodding.
"They are. Seriously. They're stupid animals, and poorly designed. They'll stand in the middle of the road. People plow right into them with their cars and get crushed to death instantly."
"Clearly someone should design a better moose."
"Clearly." He gave John a happy smile and John grinned back. They were on the same page.
And he might even be gay.