"Rodney," Sheppard says in his ear, "I've fallen and I can't get it up." He giggles.
Rodney frowns and keys his radio. "Sheppard? Where are you?"
"Drunk!" says Sheppard. "And lost," he adds, sounding sad and confused. "The flowers are talking to me."
"Hold on. Stay right where you are."
"But I don't know where I am!" Sheppard wails.
"You're somewhere within walking distance of the Athosian settlement. I'm coming to find you." He pauses and amends his statement, "Teyla and I are coming to find you. Keep your radio on."
"Okay," Sheppard says.
Teyla, forbidden from helping prepare the food, is playing a game with the younger children, trampling the grass down in what looks like a cross between follow the leader and hopscotch.
"Dr. McKay!" She brushes the hair away from her face and smiles at him in greeting. The kids bump into her from behind and fall over like dominoes, giggling and shrieking. Teyla picks one of the smaller ones up and swings it around, then settles it on her hip. "We are learning to track the dreaded gnur! Would you care to join us?"
In Rodney's ear, Sheppard's singing about a boy named Sue.
"As, uh, much fun as that sounds, I need your help locating Colonel Sheppard. He seems to have drunkenly wandered off."
"I didn't wander off," Sheppard says, petulant. "I had to pee, and then I got tired, and now I'm lost."
Teyla puts the child down. "Pin, it is your turn to be the leader. Do you remember the rules?"
"No biting!" Pin says.
"That is a very important rule," Teyla agrees. "Do you remember the others?"
Lost in the woods, Sheppard segues into a Beach Boys song, possibly several Beach Boys songs. "Do sha-ram, oh, bop bop, Barbara Ann!"
Rodney turns the volume down on his radio. If he wanted drunken karaoke, he would have stayed in the labs with Zelenka. Teyla finally steps away from the kids and slips her sandals back on.
"Where did you last see the Colonel?" she asks.
"I don't know. He was over bullshitting with Halling and Ronon and then the teen girl squad brought him a mug of that grog he knows he's not supposed to drink, and now he's lost and says the flowers are talking to him."
Teyla cocks her head. "Ask him to describe the flowers."
Rodney turns his radio up again. "Sheppard, these talking flowers, what do they look like?"
"They're pretty," Sheppard says.
"That's great," Rodney tells him. "What color are they?"
"Like fruit punch, only curly."
Rodney groans. They're never going to find Sheppard. He's going to be eaten by gnurs while singing Bob Dylan, badly, and Rodney's going to have to listen to it all over the radio.
"Dr. McKay?" Teyla touches his arm lightly.
"I think they're bright red and curly. Do you know what he's talking about?"
She smiles. "I do. They are harmless. My people use them to make a tea for those who cannot sleep. There is a field not far from here."
There's actually a path worn through the grasses, and at the end is Sheppard, lying in a patch of flowering green vines and singing to himself.
"He has been here for some time," Teyla says. "He will need to be extracted from the creeper."
Sheppard perks up at her voice. "Rodney! Teyla! Are you lost too?"
"You are so drunk," Rodney tells him.
"Nooo," Sheppard says, shaking his head, a very serious look on his face. The vines move with him.
Rodney stares at the plant. "Wait, what do you mean extracted?"
"The vines creep during the late afternoon. Colonel Sheppard has become entangled."
"Creep!" Sheppard says, fingers climbing up the leg of Rodney's pants.
"He could easily free himself, were he not already affected by drink." Teyla bends down to demonstrate, slowly unwinding a creeper from around Sheppard's hand. "The flowers give off a chemical that relaxes its prey."
"Prey? You said they were harmless."
"They are," Teyla says calmly. "They eat only insects and small rodents and they do not eat at night. If we had not found him, Colonel Sheppard would have woken up in the morning, lying in a wet field and feeling very foolish."
Sheppard grins up at them from the ground. Some of the vines are creeping through his hair, giving him a crown of dark red trumpet flowers. Rodney sighs. "You look like a fairy."
"That's not a very nice thing to say." Sheppard pouts.
"A fairy," Rodney says. "You've got flowers in your hair and you're practically an elf already with those ears! Didn't they make you read Shakespeare in high school?" Rodney sighs again. "You are such a pain in my ass."
"Oh what fools these mortals be!" Sheppard says.
"I can assist you in freeing him if you like," Teyla offers, looking amused.
Rodney waves her off. "No, go back to the party. I'll do it."
"Please be gentle," Teyla says. "If you damage the creepers, the plant may stop blooming, but the vines will move with you if you go slowly."
"Sure," Rodney says, crouching next to Sheppard and turning his radio off. "This may take awhile."
Teyla nods. "I have my radio should you need me."
She leaves and Rodney sits down and stares at Sheppard's familiar face, the fine lines around his eyes, his soft and easy grin.
"Maybe I'll just leave you here, huh?"
"You remember what happened last time you drank that grog."
"No?" says Sheppard.
"You don't remember the naked dancing?"
Sheppard makes his you're making me uncomfortable face.
"I bet you remember the alien mosquitoes, though, and I'm pretty damned sure you remember me telling you not to do that again. What were you thinking?"
"Ronon had some too," Sheppard says.
"Ronon's not a cheap drunk."
Sheppard pouts. "Kiss me."
"Changing the subject won't help. You're ensnared by a carnivorous flowering vine. Just think about that for a while."
Sheppard's eyebrows draw together and Rodney moves down to his feet and starts to unwind him from the creepers. The vines move like computer cords that have been coiled for a while, stiff, but yielding. Except they don't feel like wire. They feel alive, organic and sinuous, and every time Rodney nudges a creeper away, it gives off a sweet green scent like cucumbers.
Rodney patiently uncurls each creeper from Sheppard's feet and legs, slowly working his way up Sheppard's body. Sheppard, now over his moment of angst, is back to grinning and humming to himself, and Rodney smiles at him indulgently.
It takes him an hour to free Sheppard, and by the end of that time, Rodney's feeling good, happy with himself and the world, and with Sheppard.
"Sorry I'm stupid," Sheppard says.
"I'm sorry you're stupid too," Rodney says, rolling Sheppard over until he's clear of the vines and then climbing on top of him. Sheppard's always been a lazy kisser, but this is slow, slow like the movement of the vines, like biology, like trees fighting for sunlight. It lasts for a hundred years, more. The sun falls into the ocean and they kiss like it's the last kiss the world will ever see.
"Mmm," says Rodney, feeling a tug around his ankle. Then, "Son of a bitch!" He sits up and finds the vine has stretched out a single creeper and attached itself to his leg. "Oh no you don't."
Sheppard grumbles, but Rodney gets them both upright and moving drunkenly down the path back to the settlement.
The Athosians have built the fire up and Ronon's dancing around it, barefoot, shaking his dreads and chewing on the leg of some dead barbecued beast. Teyla's still with the kids, spooning beans onto their plates and making sure everyone gets their own sweet bun. Simpson and Cadman are drinking with the girls. Two of the gate techs are making out behind a log. There are other expedition members scattered among the Athosians, some Rodney knows and some he doesn't, but he smiles at them anyway, and he and Sheppard stand in line for dinner, leaning against each other, and waiting for sunset.