"CM to the PPP," said Rodney, setting down his breakfast tray.
"Sweet," said John, through his mouthful of oatmeal.
Ronon, working his way through a large pile of bacon and sausages, merely met Teyla's confused look with a raised eyebrow. Teyla sighed inwardly, hoping it wasn't going to be one of those days when half of her team was incomprehensible and the remaining member monosyllabic at best.
"I do not understand your abbreviations, Rodney," she stated calmly.
"Contact mission," informed Rodney. "To the Planet of Perfect Parenting."
Teyla, taking a lesson from Ronon, merely gazed in blank incomprehension.
"M3Z 528," said Rodney. "What do they call it? Paiana, the people are the Paianans, except we call it the PPP because they're just so... 'nice' to each other all the time." He grimaced and shuddered as if being nice were distasteful.
"Huh, yeah," John sniggered. "They hold hands and hug a lot. Even the men!" Rodney and John met each other's eyes, exchanging one of their trademark 'looks'. Teyla interpreted this one as conveying mutual embarrassment. Teyla herself remembered the Paianans as being particularly pleasant; kind and considerate in all their interactions and, importantly, particularly generous in their trade agreements.
"But why 'Perfect Parenting'?"
Rodney chewed rapidly and swallowed his mouthful of bacon. "Jeannie's spare room. Shelves full of parenting manuals. Couldn't sleep." His knife and fork, hovering over his plate, paused thoughtfully between pancakes and bacon. "Those things are full of stuff you shouldn't do to your kids, like ... slap 'em or shout at them," (he took a slurp of his coffee), "or lock them in cupboards or tell them they're not allowed to cry or humiliate them. All kinds of things!"
"Parents on Earth need to be told this?" asked Teyla incredulously.
"I wish someone'd told mine," Rodney said, looking at John, who said, with a casual smirk, "Yeah, me too! Shouldn't think my Dad would've listened, though."
"No! Too busy slapping you!"
"Ha! You got that right!"
Teyla shifted uncomfortably on her seat, wondering at her friends' ability to make light of such things. "The Paianans would never treat their children so!"
"No, exactly," continued Rodney, waving his knife for emphasis. "But not only that, their whole society is built on talking about their feelings all the time," (John shuddered and Rodney grimaced again in silent acknowledgement), "they only ever use first names, and!" he paused as if about to make a great revelation, "They don't understand sarcasm! Don't get it at all!"
"They have their own gentle humour, Rodney," Teyla said, "and they have been most generous in their dealings with us, exchanging a large amount of food for a small number of power cells and some medical items."
John nodded, licking the last of the oatmeal from his spoon. "Yeah, they're good guys. They just like us to come and touch base regularly, shoot the breeze and so on. Mission'll be a walk in the park, then home in time for movie night!"
Teyla closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. The air was fresh and clear and had a slight early morning chill, which would seem a distant memory when the sun rose properly. Summers on Paiana were hot and this one particularly so. But at the moment, the walking was pleasant, the gently rolling landscape easy to negotiate and the soft whisper of leaves on the trees soothing. They had walked several miles from the Gate and had already passed the 'Teaching House', a single-storey wooden building with a wide veranda set on the top of a low hill. The House served two purposes; firstly as a place of retreat and learning and secondly, and somewhat disconcertingly, as a deliberately obvious target should the wraith come culling. The village, several miles further on, was a different matter. John and Rodney called it Hobbiton and, having seen the movie of the Lord of the Rings, Teyla could see why. It was designed to be camouflaged from the air and so dwellings were dug into low grassy hills, spaced widely apart. Small stoves were used for heat, light and cooking to avoid smoke from fires. Crops were sown in irregular, natural-looking drifts and only a very few animals were kept in well-disguised enclosures. Teyla knew that they were privileged to have been chosen as trade partners. The Paianans were very careful who they traded with and insisted on regular contact, simply so that they could reassure themselves that they had chosen well.
The team had been silent for a while, steadily strolling in a relaxed manner, Ronon on point, Teyla on their six, John and Rodney in between.
"Gonna be hot, d'you bring your sunscreen, McKay?" John asked with what, to Teyla, sounded like studied nonchalance.
"Yes, of course..." John's hand shot out and gave Rodney a swift slap to the back of the head; Ronon laughed and Rodney made his outrage clearly known. "Oh very funny, ha ha Sheppard! I thought we'd stopped playing."
"Never let your guard down, McKay," drawled John, his arms relaxed, cradling his P90, his eyes not leaving the road ahead.
They were playing the yes-no game, a particularly foolish example of their ever-expanding repertoire of foolish games, Teyla thought. Although, to give them their due, she mused, they only played their games on relaxed missions such as this... and in the mess hall... and in the rec room... and in the infirmary and in meetings and occasionally in the corridors late at night when people, namely herself, were trying to sleep. The yes-no game involved avoiding the use of the positive or negative, a penalty being incurred if the words were spoken. Or, as Ronon put it, "If you say yes or no, you get hit." Ronon was no help in such situations. He became like a worshipful younger brother, smirking, laughing and even outright congratulating when a particularly clever hit was dealt. The team lapsed into silence once more, but Teyla wasn't fooled; this was a favourite technique, to wait until the game was forgotten about, then spring a question out of the blue.
Despite his silence, Rodney's mind was busy. He was plotting the best way to provoke John into an unguarded answer while at the same time calculating the exact angle of approach and degree of force necessary to give John a satisfyingly resounding smack without actually causing any damage. Palm at thirty degrees from the vertical, he planned and wondered if his hand would describe a parabolic curve and would it help to mentally plot the point of impact on a graph? Rodney smiled sneakily.
"Jumper One's out of action again!"
John's instinctive, "No!" burst out in protest at the thought of damage to his favourite vehicle and Rodney triumphantly dealt his scientifically planned penalty to the back of John's head producing a gratifying thwack.
"Nice one, McKay!" approved Ronon.
Rodney grinned. Then he looked at Sheppard and his face fell. John's expression reminded him that his friend had once been involved in 'black ops': the narrow-eyed, calculating, on-your-head-be-it kind of look which promised unpleasant retribution.
"Rodney?" John said, with gentle innocence.
"That's my name," responded Rodney, nervously.
"How about..." John continued, and then spread his arms wide and puckered up his lips comically. "A big, sloppy kiss?" He launched himself at Rodney and the frantic, "No, no, no, no, no!" that burst forth resulted in a flurry of percussive slaps. Through the assault came Teyla's determinedly cheerful voice.
"Good morning, Arhal!"
Rodney straightened up and tried to look like a 'peaceful explorer'; he glared sidelong at John who was re-establishing his grip on his P90 and putting back on a mask of military efficiency. Arhal had become their unofficial liaison with the Paianans, so they had met before. He was unofficial because the society had no actual leaders; decisions were made through mutual consent and roles shared and taken on with a sense of dutiful obligation to the community. At the moment, Arhal looked like he would like to pass his obligation onto someone else.
"Good morning, Teyla!" he said, worriedly. "I am concerned that your team is experiencing some conflict! Please allow me to help you to resolve this situation peacefully!"
"Thank you, Arhal, but that will not be necessary," Teyla said with a smile. "John and Rodney are merely playing a game."
"Yeah, we're still buddies, Arhal," said John, grinning.
"Buddies, yeah," said Rodney with less enthusiasm, flattening down his hair.
"Oh, I ... do not really understand." Arhal smiled nervously. "John seemed to be hurting Rodney."
"Nah, he's fine!" John said, carelessly.
"Yeah, fine," said Rodney, unconvincingly. John hadn't really hurt him, but he considered the whole kissing threat to be an underhand tactic and thought a clarification of the rules was in order.
"Shall we proceed to the village?" said Teyla, taking Arhal's arm and shooting a quelling glance over her shoulder at John and Rodney. Ronon followed her, with an amused, "You guys are in so much trouble!" under his breath.
Arriving at the village the team were greeted in typical tactile fashion. Teyla found herself embraced, patted and stroked, her was hand taken and she was led to sit on a soft blanket and given fresh herbal tea.
She should have been able to relax; she could see Ronon a little way off, lying in a patch of longer grass, a small girl curled up asleep beside him and two toddlers playing with his hair. One of them was chewing it, but Ronon didn't seem to mind. Unfortunately she could also hear John and Rodney arguing about how best to calculate the yield of the irregularly-sown crops in a rapid back and forth of mathematical formulae and scathing sarcasm. Teyla knew they were thoroughly enjoying the intellectual challenge; the Paianans looked nervous.
The pattern was set for the day; John and Rodney gave free rein to their unusual style of friendship, sniping and smirking at each other with what Teyla recognised as affection, but which simply confused the locals.
At lunchtime, taken outside in a shady spot, they snatched food off each other's plates, in what, Teyla knew, was their way of trading items to get all the things they liked, but to an outsider looked like simple bad manners.
Later on Rodney asked to examine one of the small stoves used for cooking and, taking it apart, spread the components out around him. John hovered, not particularly interested in the efficiency of the power output, and Rodney replied increasingly irritably to his chivvying and prodding. Teyla knew that John wanted to show off Rodney's quite remarkable prowess at skimming stones from the riverbank; to anyone else his impatience just looked rude.
By the time they gathered to return to the Gate, stone-skimming had led somehow to a lively discussion of the relative merits of flight methods employed by superheroes, John hotly defending Superman as being the more natural and instinctive flyer and Rodney arguing for Iron Man as being the more plausible.
"Thank you, Arhal, for allowing us to visit and for your continuing generosity," Teyla said.
"You are very welcome, Teyla." Arhal looked unusually uncertain. "I have a request to make, but I am uncertain of the correct protocol. I believe it would be best to address your leader?"
"You wish to speak to Colonel Carter? I'm sure that could be arranged."
A good day for the team, thought John, as they walked back to the Gate in the warm, late afternoon sun. He wondered what Arhal wanted to talk to Sam about. Permission having been granted for Arhal to visit, they stepped back into the coolness of Atlantis' Gateroom. Arhal talked privately with Colonel Carter for about ten minutes after which he came out smiling and John and Rodney were called into the office.
Sam's face wore a look of exasperation and she ran a hand through her hair, causing even more strands to break loose than usual. She looked at them and sighed, shaking her head. John wished she'd just spit out whatever was coming.
"Is there a problem, Sam?" Rodney asked.
"Yes, I'd say there's a problem, Rodney! I've just had to agree to my Military Commander and my Chief Science Officer going on a little vacation for the next few weeks!"
"Arhal tells me he and his people are 'upset by the discord' between you two and that they want to help you 'heal your relationship'! In fact, he insisted! What did you two do today?"
"Nothing!" John said. "We just had fun."
Sam put her head in her hands. "That explains it," she said. "I know exactly what your kind of fun involves. No doubt I'll get the full story from Teyla."
"You're not really going to make us go, are you?" Rodney asked. "I've got important work in progress!"
"I can't go, I've got... paperwork to do!" said John, weakly.
"The Paianans have been very generous in their trade agreement," said Sam, her direct gaze moving from John to Rodney. "They've kept us well supplied and asked for very little in return. So," her voice became steely and uncompromising, "you will do this. You will go with Arhal and do your best to fit into Paianan society, no matter what that may involve." Her voice lightened. "Anyway, it's been a while since either of you had a break. It'll be a chance for you to rest and relax!"