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21 June 2006 @ 02:30 am
poker night and all its permutations  
Well, it's not really a story; this is just sort of a stream-of-conscious riff on the whole poker night idea.

The thing is, Sheppard's not actually a card shark; he's just had lots of practice. There were weekly games in college, and then games pretty much every night once he was deployed. He's played five card draw in Oman, and California lowball in South Korea, and he played seven card stud for about three straight weeks while he was on his back in that damn hospital bed in Germany.

He didn't have much time to play in Afghanistan, but he got really good at Texas Hold 'em in Antarctica.


Cards are pretty much the quintessential military time killer: crossword puzzles are only good one time around, and eventually you have to buy a new book. Same goes for logic puzzles and those sudoku things. But cards-- they're small and easy to carry, and you can always play solitaire if there's no one else around. (Or you can build card houses. John prefers this to solitaire.) And if there are other people, you can play almost anything-- chances are someone knows a game you've never played before, so the chances you'll get sick of cards entirely are slim.

Atlantis has been good for that, actually: get a couple hundred people from various countries, isolate them from Earth and Must-See TV, and all of the sudden Miko and three geologists are playing whist at a table in the mess for hours at a time, the anthropologists are addicted to Haihowak, Zelenka and Lorne become strangely passionate players of Shithead, Dr. Weir knows at least seven different variations of solitaire, and the med staff plays Blind Hookey while waiting for test results. Before it all went to shit, Ford taught everyone Red Dog. No one's played that one in months.


John has a small pack of cards in his tac vest. They're smaller than normal playing cards-- maybe two inches long and an inch and a half wide-- and they've got a thick coat of flexible laminate on them. He keeps them in little waterproof container, in the same pocket as his lighter. The first time McKay saw the rubberized box, he thought it must contain matches, or some other survival necessity. So when John broke them out one night after they'd made camp on Ekiat, McKay rolled his eyes and made noises about how of course military grunts would waste valuable space in their packs--

"It weighs about two ounces, Rodney. It fits in my pocket."

-- waste valuable space in their packs, just so they can have their all-important, uber-manly poker nights. He looked ready to roll on over to his next topics, Why Poker Is a Game for Morons, and Also, Why Poker is Not a Sport, Even Though ESPN Apparently Thinks It Is, so John cut him off at the pass.

"I guess you wouldn't be up for a hand of Hold 'em before bed, then," he said, gazing forlornly at the fire and thinking, Dead puppy, dead puppy, dead puppy.

He wound up winning three banana Power Bars (McKay's), one AA battery (also McKay's), half a container of lime Tic-Tacs (Ford's), six acorn-things (Teyla swore they made a great tea), four condoms (Ford, and wasn't that an awesome ante), nine pencils (McKay's), a seriously wicked little hunting knife (Teyla's, and John was going to have to find a way to return that, because it's way too nice to lose in a poker game), a very cool ballpoint pen (McKay's bet, but it's actually Kavanaugh's), seventeen dollars and eight cents (Canadian, and seriously-- McKay was bitching about him wasting space with cards? Where the fuck was he going to spend his Monopoly money, an intergalactic Tim Horton's?), and one IOU (Ford's, and John will call it in for a week's worth of munitions inventory duty).


What McKay initially doesn't get is that the cards are a necessity. Maybe they weren't on Ekiat; things were good there, and the team would have enjoyed the evening without them, just watching the fire burn low and talking. But after eight days barred in a root cellar on PX8-820, Rodney seems to get it. He and John can't escape; the walls are stone and the lone window is a narrow slit near the ceiling to allow for ventilation. Even if it were lower and larger, John's leg wouldn't hold him up, and Rodney can't carry him, since his shoulder seems to be broken.

So they're stuck in the fucking root cellar with a slop bucket and some flatbread and water twice a day, and John's leg is starting to look infected, and Rodney is going to get himself killed if he keeps antagonizing the guard like that. So John digs through his vest, and they took his damn lighter, but they left the cards. He deals a hand of seven card stud, says, "Wanna play for pennies?" and almost laughs at the look on McKay's face.

McKay gapes a little, and then says, "It has occurred to you that we're trapped, hasn't it? That there are very bad people, right outside that door, who are probably planning to sell us into sex slavery, or-- or use us as sacrificial victims, or leave us here to rot in our own filth?" If he weren't hurt, his hands would probably be flying in outrage. "I know you're primarily decorative, Major, but you do understand our situation, right?" His eyes widen. "Oh god," he says, "you're delirious. I fucking knew your leg was infected, and now you're going to get gangrene and die, and I'll be forced to stay in here with your decomposing corpse, and-- are you feverish?" he asks, suddenly solicitous. "Do you want some more water? I'll tell the guard you're sick, and maybe--"

"McKay," John says. "Sit down, shut the fuck up, and let's play."


John rubs the bridge of his nose. "Jesus wept, Rodney. I don't have gangrene, I'm not delirious, I don't have a fever," and that's actually a lie, but whatever it takes, "we're not going to bust out of here without some C-4 and some cover fire, a panic attack isn't going to change that, and if you don't sit down and shut up, they're going to come in here and beat the shit out of us. Ford and Teyla will have contacted Atlantis by now, and they'll come. So we just have to wait." He pats the dirt next to him. "One pebble equals one penny, to be paid when we get back."

"Oh," says McKay. He sits gingerly, trying not to jar his shoulder as he settles. "American?"

"Aren't you the genius," John says, and starts bluffing.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthinky
Current Music: "Baby You Can Drive My Car," The Beatles
quarter mile, bunch of horses & some gasolinecalijirl5150 on June 21st, 2006 07:39 am (UTC)
Your reflection of a military man was dead on. Male always carries cards. I had him read this & he wanted to know if your military ?

Great job.
someinstantsomeinstant on June 21st, 2006 06:40 pm (UTC)

No, I'm not military. I do have a couple good friends and family members who are, though, and I've learned the hard way not to play cards with them. I got the idea for this after thinking about an email I got from my buddy while he was in Iraq-- he wanted someone to send him a couple new packs of playing cards, since his were all beat up.

I'm glad you enjoyed. :)
Hthhth_the_first on June 21st, 2006 01:52 pm (UTC)
This is totally a story, and it rocks. This is so perfectly John -- if you can't fix it, you can at least not panic, and plotting to sneak Teyla's knife back to her, and remembering his various posts by what kind of poker he played. (Also, condoms would *totally* be the ante of choice in a high-stakes Atlantis game, particularly in first season when you had a finite supply. Because you would genuinely hate to lose them, even if you didn't have any immediate need for them -- you never know!)
someinstant: Byronic herosomeinstant on June 21st, 2006 06:49 pm (UTC)
I'm happy you liked it. :) I didn't really set out to write anything more than a character study, but the last two bits kinda grew a plot on me.

if you can't fix it, you can at least not panic

Exactly. And in my head, Sheppard's not exactly the most patient of men, so. He needs something to do when he can't do anything else.

(Also, condoms would *totally* be the ante of choice in a high-stakes Atlantis game, particularly in first season when you had a finite supply. Because you would genuinely hate to lose them, even if you didn't have any immediate need for them -- you never know!)

::smirks:: I just really love the image of Ford pulling out this whole mess of condoms, and then thoughtfully selecting four and throwing them in the pot. And McKay making some scathing remark, and John's eyebrows climbing silently up his forehead.
Anonymity as a Refuge: John & a gunmirabile_dictu on June 21st, 2006 03:00 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful character study of John. Thank you.
someinstantsomeinstant on June 21st, 2006 06:49 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome. :D
melagan: Sexy Sweetheartsmelagan on June 21st, 2006 04:29 pm (UTC)
This is a wonderful take on poker night. Thanks
someinstantsomeinstant on June 21st, 2006 06:51 pm (UTC)

After I wrote this I realized that I never actually had them play poker on Atlantis at all, but. Ah, well.
What the hell is up with the mummy?!: john's just hot clearlyserialkarma on July 12th, 2006 07:51 pm (UTC)
Oh, what a lovely little fic! (says the lifelong card player.*g*)
[will fuck for sex]: Shepanatsuno on June 28th, 2008 09:31 am (UTC)
Oh, Rodney, you're so thick-headed sometimes.
I love Atlantis' life seen through this lens. The diversity of games! Awesome.
hajimebassaidaihajimebassaidai on May 20th, 2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
I love the idea of this; the expedition just whiling away those kicking your heels moments and then transferring it to sitting in a prison cell, trying to maintain sanity with some self-preservation thrown in!