John stopped walking and squatted, staring at the open ground in front of them. It was quiet, no animals. The dirt looked wrong. It was kind of bumpy, and to be honest, it smelled kind of gross, like dead things. "So, Rodney. What do you know about land mines?"
"Yes, because I'm exactly the sort of person who vacations in Phnom Penh," Rodney said, fiddling with a doohickey that looked like a souped-up PDA. A moment later, he went still and peered at John. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh, just idle curiosity," John said breezily. "Do me a favor, though: don't move."
"Oh god," Rodney said. "I knew this was going too well. Didn't I say this was going too well?"
"You did," John said agreeably. The Troftor homeworld on M2R-818 had been a nice change for once; no alien bugs, no angry natives, not even a Wraith Dart to ruin the sunny summer day. Rodney had insisted on calling it Trogdor as they were tromping through one of the quiet villages. Ronon and Teyla had looked at them questioningly.
"It's a geek thing," John had explained.
Rodney had smirked.
"I guess that makes you the Burninator," John had said, voice pitched low enough just for Rodney to hear.
"Oh, very funny."
"It's funnier than that 'a neutron walks into a bar' joke," John had said. "'For you, no charge'? Come on."
"That wasn't my joke, that was Kavanagh's joke. I was just repeating it to Radek because if I'm going to be miserable, everyone should be."
Ronon had loomed over them. From the look on his face, he was wondering what they were smoking. Well, if his people smoked. "You're slowing us down."
"Right," John had said. "Why don't we split up? We'll cover more ground that way."
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, before he knew about the possible maiming and death.
"What are you doing?" Rodney asked. He hadn't moved at all, which was good, because John liked him all in one piece.
"Trying to remember everything I know about land mines," John said. It wasn't much, because he was a pilot, and the general idea was, 'Don't land on them.'
Rodney waved behind them. "Can't we just go back the other way?"
"Well, that's an idea," John said, standing up. "But what if the land mines aren't just in front of us?"
Rodney blinked at him. "What, like we've just been avoiding the mines thus far due to some mind-boggling huge amount of good luck? The probability alone is just --"
"Enh," John said, shrugging.
"You can't be serious," Rodney said. "Oh my god, you're serious."
John scratched his head. "The only way out is through, McKay."
Rodney clutched his P-90. "I'm telling you now, Colonel, if I lose any limbs, I am beating you to death with them."
"Sounds fair," John told him. "Walk behind me, and I mean in my exact footsteps. Okay?"
"No, not remotely okay, but yes," Rodney said.
John figured that was good enough, and slowly took a step forward. And then another. And then Rodney grabbed at him, his fingers scrabbling against his vest and finally hooking into the back of his pants. His rough knuckles pushed against the small of John's back.
"You know," John paused and said as casually as he could, head cocked so he could see Rodney's white face in his peripheral vision. "With you holding on to me like this, if I blow up, you blow up."
"Yes, well, mark this date on your calendar, Sheppard, because it's the first time I've ever thought that Mutually Assured Destruction seemed like a good idea."
John considered the alternative, which was Rodney stuck out here alone, and, well, splattered. Not exactly the best way to spend an afternoon. "Yeah. Hold on, I'm gonna start moving again."
"Right," Rodney said, his fingers tightening convulsively on John's waistband.
"So, do you think hockey's going to start soon?" Rodney asked after they'd moved forward maybe a yard. His voice was a little high and tight, like when one of the people in his lab presented him with something dangerously stupid and highly combustible.
"Distracting me," John said slowly, keeping his eyes on the ground directly in front of him, "maybe not such a good idea."
"Oh," Rodney said. "Okay. Shutting up."
They made it another two yards before John caved, and said, "Probably not for another couple of weeks."
"Do you think we could get the games on DVR?" Rodney asked immediately.
John grimaced at the dirt. He got the feeling Colonel Caldwell didn't like him very much. He was more pleasant about it than most officers John had worked with, but still, John didn't think he'd be asking him for a favor anytime soon. "Never hurts to ask, McKay."
Behind him, Rodney made a satisfied noise. "I believe I will."
Another couple of feet, and John came up on a bumpy spot in the ground. He eased to a stop and considered the options. Rodney, however, practically climbed his shoulder.
"What? What's wrong?"
"Nothing," John said. "Just breaking left."
"Following, following," Rodney chanted. "Why aren't you leading?"
John smiled. "You have to get off me first."
Rodney jerked away. Reacting quickly, John reached back and caught him by the sleeves of his jacket before he could get too far.
"Careful," he warned.
"Yes." Rodney's voice sounded a little faint. "I almost forgot."
Rodney curled his fingers over John's waistband again and stuck his thumb through the back belt loop. "Ready."
They made it around the bump in the ground and conquered another yard before they were interrupted again
"Colonel," Teyla said over the radio.
"Sheppard here," John said, stopping short and Rodney nearly bumping into his back. "Go ahead."
"Ronon and I have spoken to the villagers, and determined that they have little to offer in the way of trade." she said.
John interpreted that to mean Teyla had been making nice with the not very technologically advanced natives, because that's what she was good at, while Ronon loomed, because that was what he was good at. "Can't win them all."
"Oh, please," Rodney snapped. "When do we ever win?"
John aimed an elbow at Rodney's middle, but didn't make contact, because he actually was pretty good at controlling most of his baser impulses.
"We are at the jumper. Are you returning?" Teyla asked.
"Yeah," John said. "About that. Here's the thing."
John sighed. "McKay and I are kind of stuck in the middle of a minefield right now."
He found the long silence entertaining. Wind rustled the leaves on the trees along the edge of the field. Foil crackled as Rodney unwrapped a power bar.
"We have your location," Teyla said finally. "We will meet you there."
"Great," John said.
Rodney tugged at his waistband. "So do we keep moving?"
John shrugged. "Might as well. I think we're almost at the edge."
"Almost at the edge," Rodney said after a few minutes. "Tell me, Colonel, precisely what value of 'edge' are you using?"
"Make me," Rodney said.
"A grasshopper hops into a bar," John said. "The bartender says, 'You're a celebrity around here. We've even got a drink named after you.' The grasshopper says, 'You've got a drink named Steve?'"
"Oh, god," Rodney said. "This is hell. I'm in hell."
John grinned. "A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, 'So, why the long face?'"
"Have I mentioned that I hate you?" Rodney asked.
"A guy walks into a bar..."
"Fine, yes, you win!" Rodney said. "Can we please shut up now?"
John let his silence do the talking.
About a half hour after they made radio contact, he finally saw Ronon and Teyla coming over a rise. She had her P-90 in one hand, nose pointed at the ground, and Ronon's hands were empty.
"Thank god, the cavalry," Rodney said behind him.
"What am I, chopped liver?" John asked over his shoulder.
"We stopped in the village on the way," Teyla said as they approached. "They said that --"
Ronon knelt down and pushed his big hand into one of the bumps of dirt.
"What the hell are you doing?" John yelled.
Ronon looked up as he pulled something brown and lumpy from the ground. He smirked a little, and then cut it open with his knife. Inside, it was pale and starchy looking.
"The villagers told us they cultivate tubers near here," Teyla said. Her expression was bland, but the side of her mouth kept curling.
"Ah," John said.
"Ah?!" Rodney spluttered. He stomped around to John's front, fury twisting his mouth. "I've spent the last hour believing we were going to die horribly, and that's all you have to say?"
"Well," John said.
"They live in huts!" Rodney said, waving his arms. "They've barely figured out fire and the wheel! What made you think they knew how to make land mines?"
"Think of it this way," John said, smacking Rodney's shoulder. "At least you've learned the proper technique."
"Yes, now I know how not to step on a potato! I'm sure this will be very useful in the future when I'm a guest on Iron Chef!"
Rodney's eyes were wild, and he'd balled his hands into fists. When they got back, John decided he would ask Atlantis very nicely not to let anyone into his quarters. Or his favorite jumper.
There was a loud crunch, and John looked over to see Ronon sitting back on his heels and munching on the tuber in his hand.
Momentarily distracted, Rodney asked, "How does it taste?"
Ronon chewed. Blinked. Took another bite. "Needs salt."