"I feel like I've fallen into Maniac Mansion," Rodney whispered.
"What?" Sheppard whispered back, annoyance straining the quiet tone.
"You know, Maniac Mansion?"
Sheppard wasn't willing to stop creeping through the darkened forest, but tossed a dark look over his shoulder at his teammate, who was practically glued to his back. "Want to back off a bit there, Scooby?"
Rodney frowned, but did not let go of his death grip on Sheppard's tac-vest. "It already picked off Ronon and Teyla. If I'm going down, I'm taking you with me!"
"For the last time, it did not grab them."
"Then why won't they answer the radio? Well I mean other than the inevitable atmospheric interference."
"I think you just answered your own question." Unfortunately the interference that was messing with their radio communications also had rendered the life signs detector useless.
John checked the urge to ram his elbow into the scientist and thus gain a little bit of breathing room. If the uncomfortably close proximity kept the man from screaming his head off the next time a mouse skittered across the pathway... then perhaps he could stand a little hovering. "We got separated, Rodney. If anyone can take care of themselves on an alien planet it's them."
"Meaning you doubt your ability to stay alive while being stalked by a giant—"
"Enough. You were just imagining things," Sheppard muttered through clenched teeth. "We're more likely to run across a wraith in this bog than your video game monsters."
"So you do know what Maniac Mansion is!"
"I do, and you were imagining it."
Something in the trees above them let out a high-pitched shriek, and like any good soldier, so did McKay. Suddenly the scientist's other hand was wrapped around Sheppard's neck as McKay tried to jump on his friend's back. "SAVE ME!"
"Get off!" Sheppard staggered forward a few steps, before falling heavily to his knees. All noble and charitable notions were forgotten as he pried the death grip off of him, and he turned a withering gaze on McKay. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
Rodney's eyes were wide as he studied the trees fearfully. "I don't like swamps."
"It's a bog."
"What the hell is the difference?" Came the excited shout.
Sheppard quickly hushed him using perhaps one the dirtier tricks in his book. "Do you want it to hear you?"
Rodney let out a soft eek as he covered his mouth, quickly shaking his head.
"Then let's keep moving and don't make me enforce a three-foot radius."
McKay scowled as if he really wanted to say something about that, but remained quiet. John pulled himself to his feet, pausing long enough to make sure that Rodney was following, thankfully taking the three foot radius to heart. He hefted his P-90 up, partially because his nerves were on the edge, but also because he needed the light.
"Did I mention that I don't like this planet?"
John shut his eyes and counted to ten, before finally answering. "What part of 'be quiet' don't you understand, McKay?"
"It's just, it stinks, and it ate Ronon and Teyla!"
"They're fine," he ground out, refusing to believe anything else. "Now if you don't stop yammering I'm going to gag you, maybe with my used set of socks!"
An annoyed grunt acknowledged that statement, and satisfied, John returned his attention forward. The jumper hadn't been an option as the swamp had practically swallowed up the Stargate. Just like now, Rodney had been adamant in his dislike of swamps and general swamp-like environments. Teyla, however, had heard of a people who lived on a planet much like this one who were supposed to have great "powers". Elizabeth had ignored Rodney's jeers of voodoo priestesses and cleared the mission. They had arrived in daylight, or relative daylight, as almost no sunlight could penetrate the thick canopy that hung overhead. It had since descended to darkness, and they were almost due to check in. The planet's interference with radio signals would only serve to worry Elizabeth, and prompt a rescue mission that very well could get lost in the bog as well.
"We just need to find our way back to the gate."
The statement was met with silence.
"What? You told me in no uncertain terms to shut up or you would shove sweaty gym socks in my mouth! Make up your mind!"
He would not strangle his teammate. He would not strangle his teammate. He would not strangle his—
Rodney let out a blood curdling scream and latched onto John's back again. The momentum pushed him forward several steps, but he managed to keep his footing this time. "Rodney..."
"Something touched my leg!"
John turned with some difficulty due to the death grip on his tac-vest and swept the light from his P-90 over the path. All he could see was the slightly moist packed dirt that made up the natural path through the drier area of the bog. "The only thing here is us, the trees, and the echoes of your girly scream."
"That's not an echo," Rodney murmured worriedly and clung tighter.
"Enough!" He shook the frightened man off of him and whirled around to face him. "There's nothing but you, me, and the mosquitoes!"
"You're right, because Ronon and Teyla would be here too, but it ate them!"
"You know I don't find that amusing."
"You think I'm joking?" Rodney's voice climbed a few octaves with the added hysteria. "It had teeth!"
The prospect of dunking McKay's head under the swampy water that lined the path seemed much more appealing by each passing moment. Of course there would be questions, although with no witnesses around, why wouldn't they take John Sheppard at his word? It was the perfect crime.
"You're thinking about drowning me, aren't you?" McKay asked sourly.
John looked away guiltily. "No."
Rodney snorted indignantly and pushed past Sheppard to show his frustration. He pivoted back to face the pilot, raising an accusatory finger. "And another thing..."
His voice trailed off with a squeak, eyes widening in horror and slowly looked down to see that something long and slippery had wrapped around his ankle. He snapped his gaze back up Sheppard, voice almost a whisper. "Oh, god."
The tentacle snapped back in a quick motion, dragging McKay with him. John leapt forward, flinging out an arm just in time to catch Rodney before he was dragged underneath the murky water. This time, he didn't begrudge the man his terrified shriek. John landed hard on his stomach, feeling a whoosh of breath leave his lungs. With his free hand he grabbed a root protruding from the ground, anchoring himself to the shoreline, and tugged Rodney back with his other arm.
"No, I thought I'd let go!" Rodney's knuckles were almost white as he held onto Sheppard's jacket sleeve like a lifeline. "I told you there was a giant tentacle in here!"
"Sorry," John grunted, "next time you say something so ridiculous, I'll believe you!"
"There's not going to be a next time!" McKay whimpered.
"Good positive thinking there!"
"Oh god, what about the teeth?"
"How can a tentacle have teeth?" The ground beneath Sheppard's stomach gave, and they were both pulled towards the water a couple of inches. His grip on the root was already slick with sweat, and he could feel himself losing hold of his anchor.
"I most certainly saw something sharp and—" If possible, Rodney paled more.
Rodney swallowed heavily. "Something just wrapped around my other ankle."
John's hand slipped from the root. A fleeting moment of panic had him scrambling to grab it again. The thing that had grabbed Rodney gave a quick yank, and John was forced to grab a hold of McKay's tac-vest with his free hand to keep from losing him altogether. "I've got you."
"I've left Carson my Doctor Who collection."
"I was going to leave Teyla all that floofy Athosian stuff she kept giving us, but since I'll be joining her soon, make sure Elizabeth gets it."
"And Radek gets my Batman comics—"
"You said you were going to give those to me!"
"You let me get eaten by a giant tentacle. You get nothing!" The last two words were practically snarled. Rodney's waist was half-submerged in the water now, and McKay's death grip had slipped from John's sleeve to his jacket cuff.
"You're still with me," Sheppard growled, feeling his fingers starting to go numb. He had been dragged almost to the edge of the water and was still losing ground by each passing moment. "So why don't we just focus on that and—"
His rousing speech was cut off by Rodney's startled yelp. The fingers that had been clinging to him lost their grip, and with a great tug McKay was pulled out of his grasp. He watched, stunned, as Rodney's head disappeared under the water.
McKay had just been abducted by a giant tentacle. That was going to be an interesting report for the SGC to read.
"Shit." His mind finally caught up to the situation. "Hold on, Rodney!"
John tossed away his sidearm, shrugged out of his tac-vest, and drew his knife. He eyed the murky water with trepidation for only a moment before taking a deep breath and diving in. He tried not to think about the long rant he'd heard earlier about microbes and flesh eating bacteria as he descended into the darkness. He kept his eyes open as he made long, powerful strokes, frantically searching through the muddy depths for his missing teammate.
It was hard to make out anything down there, but a flurry of movement further below grabbed his attention. He swam towards it, legs kicking wildly and arms trying to grab water to eat up the space between him and what he hoped was Rodney. His lungs were already starting to burn and the filthy water made his eyes sting.
As he got closer and deeper, the water started to clear a little, as if all of the muck was drifting up top. He could now clearly see McKay flailing about. A third tentacle had entered the mix and had wrapped itself around his torso, rendering his struggles almost useless.
John closed in the distance, grabbing onto McKay with one hand to anchor himself. Without hesitation he sunk the knife into the thick limb holding his friend. The water around him churned as the tentacles began thrashing about, mixing the freshly spilled blood with the already murky water. Only his grip on McKay kept him from losing the scientist in the fray. A muted shriek emanated from somewhere beyond the chaos.
The burning in his lungs and eyes was almost unbearable now. He adjusted his grip on Rodney and began paddling with renewed force towards the surface. McKay was almost a dead weight, but John couldn't worry about that, because he wasn't even sure he was heading in the right direction. His leaden arms were getting harder to move and darkness was starting to edge at the corners of his vision.
Then his head broke the surface and he gulped in sweet breaths of precious air. He blinked rapidly, trying to clear the muddy water from his eyes as he heaved in deep breaths. The weight on his arm started to drag him under, and for one thoughtless moment he almost let go. Then his wits caught up with him and John used his other arm to drag Rodney up to the surface. Legs furiously kicking, he slowly made his way to the shoreline.
He reached the slope that led to the shore and heaved McKay onto the relatively dry land before unceremoniously flopping onto his back. John clenched his eyes shut, hoping to block out the burning. He would rinse them out with the water from his canteen once he got the energy to start moving again.
Next to him, the still scientist came to life with a sputter of coughing. John forced his exhausted body into motion and pushed himself up, opening his eyes to see a McKay-like blob thrashing around on the ground. Risking an elbow to the face, he helped the struggling man up into a sitting position. Rodney pushed him away and fell forward on his hands as a shudder ran through his body. He retched, hacking up swallowed swamp water.
John waited until the scientist was done expelling the contents of his stomach before he spoke again, his own voice raw from the experience. "You all right?"
A painful whimper was his reply, and he took that as the closest to a yes that could be mustered up at this point. Vision still swimming, he tried to drag Rodney away from the shore-line, just in case the tentacles decided to return for another round. He tripped along his tac-vest on the way and grabbed it so he could begin his own first aid.
They reached the relatively drier path and collapsed into a heap.
"Twenty Thousand Leagues," Rodney muttered quietly.
John had found the canteen and had been about to upturn the contents of it into his eyes when he heard the statement. "What?"
"That was so much closer to Twenty Thousand Leagues than Maniac Mansion."
He grunted an agreement and poured the canteen over his face. The water was cold, the shock of it rousing his tired mind some. It seemed to help his eyes, and the burning receded to a mildly irritating sting. He blinked at the blurry figure in front of him. "So..."
"What?" Rodney asked wearily.
"Do I get Batman now?"
Rodney muttered something unintelligible and leaned against one of the many trees lining the path. A harsh, wet sounding cough escaped him. John tried to push past his weariness and own aches and focus on getting back to the gate. The problem was he wasn't sure where they were heading before the whole near-drowning incident.
"We are so screwed," Rodney mumbled hoarsely.
"We're not," John said gamely, propping himself against another tree so that he and McKay were sitting shoulder to shoulder.
"Your hopeless optimism is giving me a headache," the mumbling was growing quieter.
John closed his eyes, feeling weariness trying to drag him down. He knew they needed to get moving again, but the fight with the tentacles had drained him. A sharp nudge to his side roused him and he opened bleary eyes to fix the scientist with an annoyed stare. "What?"
"Am I hallucinating from swallowing swamp water?"
John dragged his head up to see where Rodney was pointing, and felt a smile tug at his lips. "I hope not."
Cutting a swath through the foliage and looking only slightly ruffled was Ronon, followed closely by Teyla. John lifted a hand in greeting. "'bout time you guys joined the party."
"We apologize," Teyla glanced behind her almost nervously. "After we were separated, Ronon and I were... detained."
As they got closer John could see splatterings of red decorating their clothing, and he sat up straighter. "What the hell happened?"
"A giant flying mammal decided that Ronon and I would sustain its appetite."
The Satedan flashed a grin. "I disagreed."
Teyla rolled her eyes dramatically, a bad habit she had picked up from Rodney. "Yes, Ronon's enthusiasm was a little much for the situation."
"A vampire bat?" Rodney's voice was still strained. "You're kidding me."
Ronon eyed his two soaked, exhausted teammates. "What happened to you?"
"Giant tentacle," John said by way of explanation and started to pull himself to his feet.
"Man-eating tentacle," Rodney corrected with a shudder. He was content to just die where he was, and made no attempts to stand.
Teyla glanced at the shoreline. "I do not think it wise to remain here. This world is very dangerous."
"And a Halloween cliché." Rodney moaned miserably. He fully expected a witch riding a broomstick to come flying out of the trees at any moment now.
"C'mon, McKay." John offered a hand to help the other man to his feet. "Unless you and the Kraken want to renew your acquaintance."
Rodney grabbed the proffered hand and was hauled to his feet. "You're so not getting Batman."
"Hey! I dove in after you!"
"If you had listened to me in the first place there would have been no need to!"
"The Stargate is this way," Ronon rumbled, trying to cut off a long tirade.
"Yes," Teyla said sweetly, stepping in between the two Earth men, "why don't we just go home?"
"But he—" Rodney started.
"Oh, no it was you—"
She propelled both of her teammates forward with a none-too-gentle push, effectively cutting them off. The four Atlanteans disappeared into the brush, not noticing that a long slippery appendage had crept out of the water and began tracing their path.