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Hanging around Rodney's lab when they were testing a new piece of Ancient tech was generally one of John's most rewarding Pegasus-galaxy hobbies, but today he'd really hit pay dirt. When he walked in, Rodney was all flushed and breathless over a flat little black thing that he held in the palm of his hand, more excited than he'd been about a new gadget since the personal shield. He was poking and caressing it and cooing at it, humming and sighing and practically purring, like it was the universe's first instant chocolate-and-coffee replicator. With breasts, and maybe blonde hair. John was a little jealous.

As soon as Rodney put the thing down and turned to his laptop, John reached for it and held it up to the light to get a better look. It was even smaller than the personal shield, and almost completely flat, with a subtle pattern of silver lines etched into the back. If he hadn't been listening to Rodney's breathy porn noises for a full minute, he probably wouldn't have glanced at it twice.

Rodney was still making those semi-obscene noises, bent over his laptop, watching lines of Ancient and some kind of wave graph scroll across the screen. John grinned to himself. Boy, had he picked a good time to get his daily McKay dose. He was especially enjoying the sound effects. "Oh, wow," Rodney babbled happily. "This could be really--the potential implications, Major, if this does what I think it does..."

The excitement was infectious, and enough to make John pretty curious. He glanced back and forth between burbling scientist and nondescript black Christmas tree ornament, trying not to miss any of the live theatrics. Normally on these little trips to Rodney's natural habitat he devoted his whole attention to watching Rodney; that was what he came for, after all.

But the Christmas ornament was kind of intriguing him. It looked like a chip that had been broken from something bigger, except for--that was funny--the way the silver lines seemed to vanish and reappear, and he could swear they changed colour for a split-second. They looked like maybe filaments embedded in the black matte of the casing.

"You don't read Ancient, do you? I know, stupid question, but maybe the console will give you something in the--" McKay looked up, and suddenly went from cooing dove to, well, not. His mouth jerked down in mid-grin, one side faster than the other, into that flabbergasted scowl that suggested he'd have to kick himself later for forgetting just how truly stupid other people could be. "No! What are you doing? Don't touch! Did I say to--"

And the Christmas tree ornament vanished.

Into John's hand.

"Oh," said Rodney faintly, "That's--not good. What did you do with it? Where did it go?"

John guessed that, from the outside, without the ability to feel the sucking and the weird halfway-painful slurping that was still happening inside the palm of his hand, that question made sense. "In my hand," he said tightly.

Rodney's eyes narrowed. "Noooo, in your hand is exactly where it is not. I'm looking at your hand and--"

"Inside my hand," John clarified, flexing his fingers. He could still feel the thing, a sort of solid presence under the skin, but it didn't seem to be killing him yet. God, he hoped not.

"In--oh," said Rodney, and sat down heavily. He almost missed the chair, and only made it because John grabbed his elbow.

"Rodney?" John quickly switched to grip Rodney's arm with his still-free-of-alien-devices left hand.

"Yeah," Rodney said--kind of sighed, actually, his eyebrows wrinkling with dismay. He looked up, meeting John's eyes, and stared at him hard, looking a little blank but probably thinking at the speed of sound.

John took a deep breath. "What is it?" he said slowly. "And why is it inside my hand?" He was holding on tight to Rodney's arm through the sleeve, squeezing harder than was strictly necessary--but he needed information, dammit, he still didn't know what was happening.

"I'm not sure what it is, okay? I can't read half the research notes, which is why I was going to have you touch the console, and I thought it was a localized matter transmitter, only that's looking less likely now, since it ate your hand, and I have no idea why it did that, but I'm afraid it's probably not good," McKay snapped in a rush, looking defensive. He didn't jerk his arm away, though.

"You're damn right it's not good, and you're going to find out what it is," John growled, and reached up to touch his radio. "Doctor Weir, this is Sheppard. I'm with Doctor McKay in the new lab. We have... kind of a situation."

*

Elizabeth wasn't happy. She'd been stiff and quiet when Beckett and Zelenka started poking John over McKay's vocal predictions that they were wasting time they didn't have. She'd progressed to frowning and worried, interrogating Rodney about the device, and she'd kept frowning all the time they were talking about the Ancient lab notes over on the other side of the room.

Now that everybody was 100% certain they didn't want to start making incisions yet and they had no other way to remove the ornament from the palm of John's hand, she was even less happy, and her focus had narrowed. Rodney and Zelenka were having two conversations about it at once, and Beckett was talking about hand exercises, but Elizabeth was frowning at John.

"Major Sheppard," she said in that this-isn't-really-a-question tone of voice. "Can I ask you what possessed you to pick up and handle the Ancient device Rodney was still investigating, having no idea of its purpose or function?"

"Well," said John, "I'll admit that I had no idea what it was going to do. But for one thing, Rodney seemed pretty happy about it, he wasn't exactly acting worried the way I'd expect someone to react to the kind of device that sucks itself into your body right through the skin--"

"Oh, because I usually display so much caution around mysterious new pieces of Ancient technology!" Rodney interrupted.

"And for another thing," John continued, trying to raise his voice a little without sounding like he was raising his voice, "I saw him handling it and I didn't do anything to it that he didn't--"

"Right," Rodney drawled, "you didn't do anything, it just decided, hey! I like this hand!" John shot him the look that had once, but only once, on the Genii home world, actually made him shut up. He ignored it completely. "I like this hand so much that maybe I'll move in!" At Elizabeth's look, Rodney stopped, but not without a loud huff of disgust.

Shit. This was definitely Rodney's worried variety of irritation, and Rodney worried was a bad sign. John looked nervously at his right hand. The Christmas ornament was completely invisible now, but his palm was still sore, especially when he moved it.

Elizabeth was still talking. "Which isn't to say I give you all the blame for this--Rodney certainly should've been more careful, too--but that doesn't let you off the hook, John; I need both of you to remember that we're dealing with alien technology and be cautious, and treat things as potentially hostile, until we know otherwise. We're surrounded by dangers out here that we've never even imagined!"

Over her shoulder Rodney was rolling his eyes. John stayed quiet and tried not to grit his teeth through his least favourite part of the lecture. He liked Elizabeth, he reminded himself, he respected her, and besides--she might be right, even if at this point it felt like she was just rubbing it in.

"I shouldn't have to remind you that our actions are often a matter of life or death out here, and I'm not only talking about your own lives. This expedition depends on you--both of you--and I need you to act--"

The room disappeared around him.

He was in the gym where he practised stick-fighting with Teyla, John realised when the world came into focus. The late-afternoon sunlight poured through the long window all the way to the opposite wall. The light was really, really orange, and it was utterly quiet, and what the hell--the gym? John felt a little funny, like he had a bad sinus infection, and his head was stuffed with cotton wool. What had happened?

John touched his radio. "Doctor Weir?" (Abduction? said a quiet panicky voice in his brain that sounded a lot like Rodney. Drugs? Concussion? Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Time travel?)

"Major? Major Sheppard?" Elizabeth said tensely in his ear, with a note of disbelief.

"Yeah," said John. "Ah--I don't have amnesia or anything, do I? I was just in the lab with you a second ago?"

"No, no amnesia, you were here a moment ago. Major, where are you now?" she said.

"I'm in the gym," John said, just like that wasn't completely impossible. "I'm fine."

"Oh my God!" he could hear in the background, Rodney's voice.

Elizabeth said, "Major, report--what's your situation?"

"Oh my God, I was right! I was almost right--it is a matter transmitter, it's--"

John gathered himself and started for the door. "There doesn't seem to be too much to report..."

"A, a, a matter transporter, a personal--"

"I was talking to you in Rodney's lab, the room disappeared, and the next thing I knew--"

"This is more than 'Beam me up, Scotty'--it's a site-to-site personal teleportation device!"

"I was in the gym. Which is empty. I'm on my way back now," John concluded. Teleportation? Whoa. This could be--

"This," said Rodney in the background, "could be huge."

"I'm not so sure that's a good idea," said Elizabeth. "We can come check on you--Carson?"

John had stopped just a step or two inside the room. "I said I'm fine. I'm on my way now." The door slid open to let him through with a thought. John started towards it, stumbled into the frame, bent double, and vomited all over the floor.

*

"I'd say there's no question Major Sheppard's collapse was the side-effect of the matter transporter device," Beckett said.

"I didn't collapse," said John. "I just threw up! Felt like motion sickness."

"Which would make absolutely no sense," said Rodney, "since your body didn't experience motion--you were de-atomised in the lab and re-assembled in the gym... and when you look at it that way it's really not surprising your system was upset."

"Wait a minute, de-atomised? How did my atoms get to the gym?"

"I don't know! Do I look like an Ancient? If I knew that, would I even have let you within a mile of the matter transporter in the first place?"

"Well, regardless," Beckett interrupted, "You should be fine, Major. I wouldn't recommend you go doing this every five minutes, but whatever it was seems to have passed. I'm not getting a single reading out of the ordinary."

"I can go?"

"You're free to go."

"Not so fast," said Elizabeth. "Rodney?"

"I--oh," Rodney said, tucking his hands behind his back. "Well, we've established that it's a matter transporter and it's, ah, fond of the personal touch, that we don't know how to get it out, and that it hasn't done anything yet apart from somehow make an extra, oh, two cubic centimetres of space inside the palm of the Major's hand--which isn't actually too shabby, it's not like the human hand has a lot of dead space in it--"

"Which is far less important," Zelenka interrupted, "than the questions of how it operates and possible side-effects." Rodney glared at him.

"Which are?" said Elizabeth, a little impatiently.

"Motion sickness," Rodney snapped.

"Is plain that the device has had some effect on Major Sheppard," shrugged Zelenka, "but whether this is effect inherent to the device itself, or merely Major Sheppard's atoms do not like being reassembled far away--"

"Motion sickness," said John, smugly.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Not exactly! But the point is it might be no more serious than motion sickness--the effect was obviously temporary and for all we know it only does that the first time; we've only been able to test it on one operator--" he broke off with a glare for John, who produced a smirk for his benefit. Rodney rolled his eyes again.

"The device could be very useful," Zelenka interrupted again. "It could be that benefit is worth little bout of motion sickness. We do not know the range--whether programmable or maybe it goes only between a lab and the gym--"

"Well," said Rodney, "I don't think so--what would be the point of that? A quantum dumbwaiter for, for energy drinks? We just have to find out how to program it--how it's actually operated, and for that we need the rest of the database in this console--"

"Once we have database unencrypted, we will have more information for you," said Zelenka.

"How risky is this? Can it hurt Major Sheppard? Should we take some action to incapacitate it--perhaps surgical removal, or keeping him sedated?"

"I wouldn't recommend that, Doctor Weir," said Beckett, and John felt a rush of affection for him. Sedated? Get a fricking personal teleporter and just cut it out after one pointless trip to the gym? "We don't know how the device embedded itself in the Major's hand, but if it de-molecularised his entire body as well as all his clothing, I think it's safe to say it's got some connection to his brain. I wouldn't want to surgically sever any connections without understanding damned well what they are--we'd be risking nerve injury or even brain damage."

"Not to mention how useful this device could be!" John said. "And I'm fine now."

"I'm not denying that, Major," Elizabeth frowned. "All right, then, but be careful, gentlemen." Whew. "Rodney? I'm talking to you."

Rodney looked startled and irritated, like a fly had buzzed into his face. "What?"

"I expect you to contact me as soon as you've found something important--and no experimentation until you've determined as much as you can from the database."

Rodney shook his head slightly, still scowling impatiently. "Yes yes, whatever, can we get back to work?"

"We will contact you at once, Doctor Weir," said Zelenka, leaning around Rodney to nod earnestly.

"And keep your radio on," Rodney commanded, pointing at John on his way out of the room.

*

"Can I at least do my job inside the city?" John had asked.

"No, I don't think so," Elizabeth had said. "If we don't know exactly where you're supposed to be all the time, we won't have any way to know if you've vanished again--and next time you might be incapacitated or taken outside radio range. If you're gone we need to know right away. Carson said you can stay in the infirmary, or you can go to your quarters and check in every five minutes--"

"Can I at least go to the dining hall?"

"Not alone," she'd said severely.

He'd considered asking whether he could go back to the labs with Rodney and Zelenka instead, but decided not to push his luck. It wasn't really appropriate that practically his first thought about the device being stuck in his hand had been that it would force Rodney to spend a lot of time studying him, and he could hardly use that as an argument with Elizabeth.

"All right," John had said. "I'll be in my quarters." Which was where he was, and where he had been all afternoon, with his watch timer set so he could call the control room every five minutes; he couldn't even take a nap. God, he hated having his hands tied, hated being forced into inaction when there were things to be done. He finished writing and reviewing all the reports in a few hours, did some push-ups and sit-ups, took a three-minute shower, and found out that five-minute chunks of time weren't long enough to get into Tolstoy.

Then he paced until Rodney called him from the lab.

"Major Sheppard?" said his radio.

"Yes? Rodney, please tell me you've got something."

"Actually I was calling to invite you down to join our poker game--of course I've got something, why the hell else would I be calling?"

"Even a poker game would be something," John muttered, rubbing his face.

"What?"

"Not just to hear the sound of my voice then, gotcha," he said, louder.

There was a millisecond of silence, nothing from most people, but speaking volumes for McKay--John could hear his eyes roll. "We've definitely downloaded the entire database, and we've decrypted the majority of the notes." He could almost see McKay, bent over two laptops, hair sticking up at odd angles...

...and then he actually could. "We think we know how it works, and Doctor Weir's given the okay," McKay added, poking some keys on the second laptop, making the display change.

"Great," said John.

Zelenka's head came up and he stared past Rodney at John, mouth open. Rodney didn't notice. "You should come to the lab immediately."

"That's definitely a plan," said John, and this time he was able to brace himself for the wave of vertigo, closing his eyes and leaning on the console next to his hip.

"What are you--I didn't mean to teleport!" He heard Rodney exclaim. The world was still tilting, so John kept his eyes closed, and the next thing he felt was two broad hands fumbling for a grip on his shoulders, radiating heat through his shirt and reminding him where up and down were. "Jesus," said Rodney, much closer this time, "Is it happening again, should we call Carson--Major? Major Sheppard?"

John opened his eyes. "I'm fine, not going to puke again, I don't think. Just closing my eyes until the dizziness passed."

Rodney looked suspicious. "That was the whole reaction?"

John rolled his shoulders, then crossed his arms over his chest when Rodney let go. "Seems to be. Now, didn't you have something to tell me?"

"Well, it seems to all be mental--which is good in one way, it means the operator should be able to control it more precisely, and the destinations don't have to be programmed--but it's bad in another way because--"

"--Bad because documentation is very vague," said Zelenka.

"But we're hoping you can clear up the vagueness," said Rodney.

John waited, but that seemed to be all he had to say. "How?" he finally asked.

Rodney waved impatiently. "Ask it!"

"Ask it...?"

"For example," Zelenka said delicately, "there are many mentions of fail-safe. There should be a maximum range--"

"--But we don't know what it is," said Rodney.

"Because it is determined by the fail-safe in some way, perhaps."

Rodney sighed. "Not by the fail-safe, by the operator."

"Either way," Zelenka said tolerantly, and turned a look of hope on John.

Okay, all right. On, John thought. Nothing. Stupid anyway: it had already done its thing twice, it certainly wasn't off. "I'm wondering how to use this thing, exactly," said John out loud.

Rodney, whose lip had been faintly curled in impatience-tinged expectancy, seemed to sit up straight all at once, like a dog catching a scent.

John hated to shake his head and disappoint him. "How far can I go with it?" John tried. "What's the range?" Nothing and nothing. "I don't think this one comes with a built-in user's guide, guys."

They both looked so disappointed that he had a hard time not laughing. "All right," Rodney sighed. "Then it's time for plan B."

"What's plan B?" said John cautiously. The fingers of his right hand folded protectively into a fist.

"Experimentation! Radek, do you have that video feed set up?"

*

They found that John could teleport with no trouble to the farthest points in the city they'd explored (a little nausea the first time, but it went away), and that it didn't take any longer than teleporting to the other side of the lab. He could go anywhere he remembered even if he hadn't been there--like inside that cavernous empty room off the stairwell to the first tower they'd explored, the one he hadn't let Rodney go into--and nowhere he hadn't seen before, not even with a detailed description and video footage.

After they determined that he could take anything he could lift, and decided they weren't quite ready to try that with live subjects, there wasn't much else to do (except watch Rodney, of course, but that was a given).

Zelenka said "Now what?" and they all sat there for a few minutes, trying to think of one of the really useful things that they could do with teleportation that had occurred to all of them when they first realised what the Christmas ornament did. The problem was, they weren't having an emergency, they didn't urgently need anything from any of the places John could think of, it was too early for planning missions and probably not quite appropriate to immediately start pulling pranks--he could do those when he was off-duty.

John skipped to Rodney's main lab a few times for more coffee (and then for the coffee maker), to the dining hall and brought back dinner for all of them, and then they pretty much gave up. Zelenka left after a while ("Where are you going?" said Rodney. "To bed."), and he and Rodney started just messing around--Rodney throwing a pencil in different directions, and John trying to skip to the right place to catch it. It was surprisingly easy to aim himself, and surprisingly hard to aim precisely. He only caught the pencil twice out of the first ten throws, unless you counted the times it hit him (forehead, arm), which John didn't. He started to get the knack pretty quickly, though.

"Should I start aiming point-first?" Rodney joked, with one of his sudden conspiratorial grins.

"Considering what happens when you don't, that might be less dangerous," said John, rubbing his arm under the bottom of his shirt sleeve.

Rodney made a face. "Don't be such a baby--graphite can't hurt you. I know! Go get me a real lead pencil. Lindberg has some, I think. He draws."

"Very funny," said John dryly, leaning on the lab table next to Rodney's chair.

The coffee maker was empty, and Rodney's cup had about--John checked--one mouthful left in it. Rodney was swirling it absently, not drinking, and staring into space, elbows on his knees. He was clearly past the point of performing any useful work. He smelled like sweat and dust and the sort-of-omelettes they'd served for dinner, with an edge of coffee. John found himself staring at the scratch on Rodney's left wrist from a thorny tree on M1P-X2X two days ago. It was mostly healed now, but a pink puckered line curved around the bone as he turned the coffee cup in his hands. The movements of his hands were precise, economical and confident, even slowed like this by fatigue.

John let himself relax, propping his head in his hand and letting his eyes drift partway closed. He could see the line of Rodney's back easing very gradually, and his breaths getting slower, but Rodney barely blinked at all, just frowned into the cup for a long time.

They were both tired, John thought hazily, which was why he was letting himself look so hard and long, from the scuffed toes of Rodney's hiking boots to the wrinkles where his pants pulled tight over the tops of his thighs to the pale skin on the inner side of his bicep to the soft, loose skin under his jaw line. It was nothing John hadn't looked at a hundred times already since coming here to Atlantis, but John didn't get tired of watching. He was watching pretty intently still, studying the small of Rodney's back and the flesh over his hip, when Rodney glanced up from his coffee.

Rodney didn't look especially surprised to find John's eyes on him, and he didn't say anything, just stared back at John with a sort of abstracted, thoughtful air. This was nothing that hadn't happened a few times already, too. John held Rodney's gaze calmly and let the moment stretch like he always did, keeping his face still. He wondered what Rodney saw, what Rodney thought, in these seconds.

After a minute, Rodney looked back at his coffee cup, then shook his head rapidly to himself. He swirled the coffee and drained the cup in one gulp.

"You know," said John, "tomorrow, you've got to try and shoot me."

That woke Rodney enough to turn and give him an incredulous look. He really was sleepy, John thought fondly. A Rodney with batteries fully charged would have been more scornful than disbelieving. "It's late," Rodney decided at last. "You're delirious."

"We'll talk about it tomorrow," John said agreeably. "Now, I think it's time for all good scientists to go to bed."

"Ah," Rodney mumbled, glancing around distractedly. "Oh--" And he turned back to John, still with that nearly-permanent crease right between his eyebrows. "Can't you just bring my bed in here?"

John took hold of his elbow. "I could," he said thoughtfully, steering Rodney gently towards the door, "but I'm still not sure whether I'm going to use my powers for the common good, or just for my own personal best interest. I may have a decision for you tomorrow."

*

John figured he had the skipping, which was how he thought of it, pretty much under control. He could catch a pencil; he could skip from one end of the city to the other ten times in a row without puking; he could dodge a pen, a dart, or these paintball-things Rodney rigged up for an airgun (although they hadn't really gotten any practice when he wasn't expecting to be shot at, which would be the real test). So that left pretty much only one thing: making sure that all of his control was conscious.

He didn't want a repeat of his first performance--nobody had said anything about it, but he had a fair idea what had happened, and he hated to think of himself as a sulky little kid. He practiced thinking of places and picturing places and wanting to be places until he thought he knew the difference between just wanting to be somewhere and actively wanting to be somewhere.

He picked random places at first, whatever jumped into his head, until he thought of Rodney's quarters and accidentally ended up there. It was dark--they were on the other side of the hallway from John's and the sun came in at a very steep angle. There was just enough light to show the chair and table piled with papers, the empty rumpled folds of the covers on the bed... he skipped away quickly to his own quarters, irritated with himself, because how obvious was that problem? Why had he even tried it so early? After that he went methodically through public rooms, supply closets and balconies.

He practiced until he could vividly picture the balcony halfway up his favourite tower without going there, until he could wish to be somewhere--his quarters, the gym, the jumper bay, the towers, the labs--so hard he could taste it, and open his eyes in the same place where he started out.

Then he skipped to the dining hall and walked from there to the main lab, which was mostly deserted, everyone else being at lunch already. A roughly circular area of floor was covered with crystals, cables, and scattered other bits of electronics, and in the middle of it was an empty metal coffee cup, a laptop, and Rodney, who didn't so much as glance up at John in the doorway.

A quick assessing look at the parts convinced John that he could fit right behind Rodney without stepping on anything; the main question was whether he wanted to blow his one really good opportunity to sneak up and scare the pants off him so early.

What the hell, John thought, it'd be nice to go for the instant gratification every now and then.

He appeared kneeling behind McKay's right shoulder even though he had been standing when he skipped, which was something John hadn't known that he could do. That didn't make any noise, which gave him the truly priceless opportunity to lean slowly forward, close enough to drop his arm heavily across Rodney's shoulders and whisper in his ear. "Whatcha doing?" he said.

"Jesus!" It was as satisfying as he'd expected. Rodney jumped like a startled cat, seeming to levitate straight into the air and come down tense and vibrating. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack?" John almost expected to see all his hair prickle up, and he scrambled a second, on the edge of losing his balance.

"Easy," John laughed, taking shameless advantage and tightening the arm around Rodney's shoulders, feeling them warm and firm through the blue turtleneck. Very nice. He could smell Rodney's shampoo from here, too, and under it the faint soap-and-skin smell of his neck. "Thought you might like some lunch."

Rodney narrowed his eyes and grabbed half a sandwich. "Oh, you thought I might like some lunch. And that you might as well flaunt your personal super power while you were at it." His shoulder muscles under John's arm and hand shifted as he moved his hands, lifting the sandwich to his mouth and taking an emphatic, indignant bite out of it.

John tilted his head, pretending to consider. "Pretty much, yeah."

"God, life is so unfair. I find what appears to be the sole personal teleportation device in the city, it decides it likes you, and what do you do with it? Save the city with a stunning feat of bravery and tactical prowess? No. You don't even bring me coffee--you use it to increase your repertoire of juvenile humour with a prank that three-year-olds have been carrying off successfully without teleportation probably for centuries."

John felt his mouth twitch; Rodney was chewing briskly between words, and despite his tone, seemed pretty cheerful. "Don't lie," he said, "You're just wishing you'd had the chance to do it first."

"Don't be ridiculous." Pause. "All right, it's cool, okay, you stole my device, I'm jealous, are you happy? Mmm," Rodney sighed, sitting back on his heels when John finally made himself drop his arm away. "Oh, this is good. It tastes almost like turkey salad, and what is that, a hint of... almonds?"

"Really?" John brightened, and crossed his legs, reaching for one himself. "Mmm. You're right, McKay."

"Always am," Rodney mumbled around a mouthful of alien turkey-almond-salad sandwich. They wolfed the rest of the sandwiches in companionable silence. John was pretty hungry. He wondered if all the skipping was working up his appetite.

"And you know, I kind of thought you've been having enough coffee lately, but maybe if you asked nicely..."

"'S only fair. You steal my device, you get me coffee. Oh! You could teleport right into Kavanagh's quarters and get me some of his! I'm sure he's got a stash."

John choked on a bite of sandwich. "You think I've seen the inside of Kavanagh's quarters?"

Rodney waved his hand impatiently. "I could arrange for you to get a look, it's very simple, you just have to be walking by at the right time."

"Uh," said John. "I don't think we're quite that desperate yet. But I'm happy to get you a refill from the coffee pot." Although he noticed that Rodney had not asked nicely.

"Sure, sure, okay." John took the cup from his hand, skipped to the table with the coffee maker, refilled it and skipped back. Rodney had a special smile that he reserved for coffee, chocolate, and occasionally cookies. He made a brief version of it, anticipatory and a little bit smug, and wiggled his fingers happily before snatching the cup out of John's hands. "Ahh, thank you."

John hid his face behind a sandwich and watched Rodney's throat move as he drank. "No problem."

"So," Rodney said when the last crumb was eaten and John was just leaning back on his hands with a sigh of satiation. He stopped there and licked his lips. "How's it coming? Have you been, ah, trying it out more on your own?" There was a spark of hope in his expression, and an embarrassed tinge like he was ashamed of that spark. John knew what he was thinking. He'd felt almost too embarrassed to try, himself, knowing how stupid it was and how much it would hurt when he didn't reach.

"It won't go between galaxies," he said, quietly even though they were the only ones around.

"Right," Rodney said very quickly, "No, of course that would be an incredible long shot."

"But I do wonder," said John deliberately, "how far it will go, and how fast."

*

"The jumper knows how to hold position," John said, "you don't have to do anything." Rodney still looked kind of nervous. "Just tell it to hold the same position. And don't crash into the ocean."

"No, you know, maybe we should land--" said Rodney, turning to get up out of the pilot's chair.

"In the ocean?"

"I'm sure it floats--or anyway, it's water-tight!"

"Rodney."

"All right!"

"Do you want me to program the autopilot?"

"No no no. It's fine. I can do this."

"Okay." John took another glance at the pressure-sensitive pad Rodney'd rigged up in the middle of the jumper floor. About a hundred coloured wires ran from it to a laptop balanced on the console. A giant timer was already running in microseconds on the laptop screen.

"Okay. Are you ready?"

John raised an eyebrow. "Whenever you are." Rodney looked weirdly nervous. "I promise, the jumper won't crash. Besides, I'll be back before it has time to start."

"Right," said Rodney, "true. You went across the city in an eyeblink."

"So don't blink," said John, "or you'll miss me," gave a cheeky grin and a little salute, and skipped. He appeared on the pressure-sensitive pad Rodney had wired into the wall of one of the labs--they'd chosen an empty one to be sure no one bothered it. John let the room form itself around him, then skipped away again, back to the pad in the jumper.

"Huh," said Rodney, "Wow, okay."

John stepped carefully off the pad without stepping on any wires and went to lean on the back of the pilot's chair. "What?"

"There's no difference, not even one microsecond, from the control."

John frowned and leaned further over Rodney's shoulder to look at the laptop screen, although of course it didn't really tell him anything--the final times were recorded as the top two lines in an open dialogue down the side of the screen, and sure enough, they both said 00:00:00.050021. "Huh," he said.

"Huh?" said Rodney, "Huh? Do you realise how improbable this is? This is like, like--"

"It's one in a hundred million, assuming it's always between fifty and fifty-one milliseconds," said John patiently, "and yes, that's why I said 'huh'."

"Well, I'm glad your manly detachment leaves you at least one expression of surprise," Rodney sniffed, but his heart didn't seem to be in it. "There's no way that's random."

"Not so much, no," John agreed.

"We've got to do it again," said Rodney.

"That was the plan. It may take longer from further away."

"That's true, we're still pretty close in to the city."

The chair started to swivel as Rodney tried to move out of it, so John put his hand down on Rodney's shoulder and leaned harder. "Hey, what are you doing? Take us a few more klicks out." Rodney looked blank for a moment, then irritated for a fraction of a second (what fraction, John wasn't exactly sure). "Come on, Rodney, you're doing great," John insisted, pressing down until Rodney stopped resisting and turned back to the front window.

"I'm doing great hovering absolutely still! Why, thank you, Major!" But the odometer thing and the trip-meter thing and the how-far-are-we-from-Atlantis-as-the-jumper-flies thing had popped back up. John crossed his arms on the back of the chair, put his chin down on them and got comfortable. Rodney twitched a little, but made no move to dislodge him. John could see him relax from the lines of his shoulder and neck, and then the jumper started moving with a slightly bumpy jerk and glided off across the water, towards the mainland.

John's perch gave him an excellent view of Rodney's neck, which he settled in to enjoy for a couple of minutes--with Rodney so preoccupied, he even let himself think briefly about what the skin might taste and feel like, about how easy it would be to move his hand four and a half inches, cup the nape, slide his fingers under Rodney's hair, knead the too-tense tendons gently into submission... it was a nice way to pass the time.

"Okay, hurry up," said Rodney absently, when he had the jumper steady at the second stopping point. He'd turned sideways in the chair, was already hunching over the laptop like he couldn't have seen the screen sitting up.

"Oh, so don't take the scenic route?"

Rodney rolled his eyes. "All right, all right, hahah, go."

"No no, let me get this straight, in case I've missed--"

"Okay, it was a stupid comment, but not nearly as idiotic as--"

"Should I just go, and come back, is that it? Straight here? Or do you want me to skip off the landing pad on Atlantis, go by my room to pick up a few things, maybe--"

"Are you going? Are you going any time in the near future, or should I find something else to do?"

"Did you need some more coffee?" John said, going for sweet and earnest. Rodney gave him his best disbelieving look and turned his back--oh, yeah, he was enjoying this. "No? Are you sure?" John skipped to the Atlantis pad and back before he could turn back around.

"For God's sake," Rodney said, and then "Oh. Oh, look at this!"

"It's the same?"

"The odds just decreased to one in a trillion."

John skipped to the pilot's chair alcove this time and leaned over, even though he could see the screen standing up and he already knew what it said: 00:00:00.050021, 00:00:00.050021, 00:00:00.050021. "Well," he said, "that's pretty conclusive."

"Three data points? Are you kidding? We've barely got any range yet!"

"Right," said John. "Lead on, MacDuff."

*

Everything was the same and each skip clocked in at exactly fifty milliseconds and twenty-one microseconds, all the way to the mainland and over quite a bit of ground. They had it down to such a routine by the time John started to experience any reaction that he didn't notice it at first--that, and it started very gradually, which also made sense.

He began to feel a little disoriented on the tenth stop, but it was gone again before he could blink--just a second of conscious confusion right after the jumper solidified itself around him again.

"Yeah," Rodney said, which was what he'd switched to instead of "same", and John actually sat down in the co-pilot's chair for a change.

On the eleventh he was fine. On the twelfth he stood on the sensor pad blinking for a second after he got back, and then he was fine. He didn't feel anything else until the fifteenth, where he took a few steps off the pad and then had an actual moment of dizziness that made him close his eyes and temporarily flipped his inner ear on its side. He skipped again without realising it and sort of lurched into the back of the pilot's chair.

"What--Major Sheppard!" Rodney spun the chair around to see him in the heat of the moment, so it was a good thing John was standing on his own by then.

"I'm fine, I'm fine," John said. Rodney didn't let go of his arm; he still looked dismayed. "It's just messing with my inner ear, and it's just for a second... how far out are we? Forty-five klicks? Well, write that down. It's probably the distance."

"That's true," Rodney murmured, "you were hopping all over the place for a lot longer than this the other day with no side-effects other than a swelled head."

John winced. "Skipping, Rodney, skipping." He sat down in the co-pilot's chair for their one-minute flight. Rodney's flight times were starting to level out too, although not into the microsecond range. His starts and stops were even getting smoother.

For quite a while after that John seemed to have it in control again, although he could still feel it--feel that it was happening, in a way he hadn't before. It didn't even affect his balance, though, just gave him a small twinge in his head--it didn't actually hurt, not really, so there was no reason for him to think it was anything particularly ominous.

They started lengthening the distance between stops because, as Rodney said, they could spend days at it with three-kilometre intervals, and the sun would be setting soon. Luckily the jumper could go fast enough that surface travel time wasn't a big concern--although Rodney winced at going so fast so close to the ground, when they could actually see the green/blue blur of scenery streaking away underneath them.

By the time John had any clue that the problem wasn't completely over with, they'd gone far enough around the planet that there was a significant difference between their trip-meter's reading and the objective distance between their sensor pad and the one they'd left in the city.

The reaction still wasn't anything severe, and he figured they'd passed another little milestone, it'd toss his inner ear around a couple of times, and then his body would get used to it and he'd be free of motion sickness again.

Wrong.

There was a hint of dizziness at the forty-first stop, when his skip took him 7,000 klicks (more than half the diameter of the planet)--it was about what he'd come to expect, the kind of thing that passes if you close your eyes for half a second. When he opened them, Rodney had turned the pilot's chair completely around and was staring at him.

"Just a second of vertigo," John said, feeling almost sheepish, but Rodney was really gaping, mouth open, eyes wide, gaze flickering all over.

"It changed," he said.

John forgot his sheepishness and his vertigo and skipped the few feet between them so fast and so carelessly that he practically landed in McKay's lap. "You're kidding me."

"Would I kid about this?" said Rodney feverishly, from right above John's left ear.

With one arm stretching across Rodney to brace himself on the console his balance was precarious, so it was an effort, but by bending his neck at an uncomfortable angle John got a good close look at the laptop screen, and sure enough, at the bottom of the list of forty 00:00:00.050021s, it said 00:00:00.050022.

John turned to stare at Rodney and discovered his eyes were almost on a level with Rodney's mouth. It was looking pretty much like it usually did--pink, a little chapped, a little lopsided--only much bigger up close. John blinked and stood up, thinking something vague like damp. "Uh, sorry," he said. "That's pretty astonishing. I'd kind of started thinking it was the same amount of time no matter where I went."

"It is astonishing, and more than that--it means--I mean, we're cutting out the part of the problem that involves your command interface with the device, although I'd say that has to be pretty fast considering you go and come back before I notice anything most of the time--"

"So the amount of time we're measuring is from the moment I disappear to the moment I reappear... does that mean it's completely made up of the time it takes to move my atoms from one place to another?"

"More likely, since it's a constant, the point-oh-five-oh-oh-two-one is the time it takes to reassemble your atoms, which means this extra has to be something else--"

"--The time in transit."

"Exactly." They stared at each other some more, until Rodney said: "But we should really repeat it at this distance, just to be sure."

"Right." John skipped to Atlantis and skipped back, and that was when he remembered the vertigo, because it was back--not the same as before or milder, as he'd come to expect, but slightly worse. His head was still spinning some when he lowered himself into the co-pilot's chair.

"It's the same," said Rodney tensely, snapping his fingers for emphasis. "That's it. This is--" his hands were already hovering over the jumper controls. He didn't remember to be nervous about that anymore. The jumper responded to that--or maybe it was responding to John's slight queasiness--and moved forward with gentle smoothness, like a dry autumn leaf letting go of a tree.

It got worse at forty-three.

"Still two-two," Rodney hummed happily, then turned and frowned. "Are you getting dizzy again? Do you need to take a break? I don't want to be blamed for your untimely demise."

John said reassuringly, "It takes it a few to go away." By then the dizziness was gone, although his stomach was still sort of disoriented. "'M fine. Go on." They went on.

"How many is a few?" said Rodney at forty-four, when John skipped to the co-pilot's chair and shut his eyes.

"This is probably the last one," said John casually. "And it's a lot easier than riding a roller coaster--a second of vertigo and a stomach that doesn't know up from down for another minute. I can handle it." Maybe the dizziness just went with any jump over 7,000 klicks--they were at 8,500 now, and maybe they were also at the place where the motion sickness wouldn't go away. Maybe his atoms just didn't like being transported great distances.

"Have some water," Rodney said, watching him out of the corner of his eye. Good idea--the water was nice, cool, and he suddenly felt kind of thirsty. John drank a few mouthfuls.

Their last stop was actually forty-five, an objective distance of 11,000 klicks from pad to pad. John was still feeling kind of tired and actually thinking about quitting when he skipped straight from the co-pilot's chair to Atlantis, and instead of materialising on his feet, he materialised over a non-existent chair and sprawled on the floor with the room reeling around him. His throat clenched up and he strained to make everything come into focus, like sheer will-power would do it.

As soon as he could, he skipped back to the jumper pad--standing up this time, but he fell immediately to his knees.

The muscles in his arms were shaking, like they weren't sure they could hold him up, and his head was pounding, it was pulsing in time with his heart, like with every beat it expanded outside of his skull and forced itself back inside between the molecules of bone. It felt bloody and messy and wrong and it hurt.

"Major!" There was a scrambling noise that John was pretty sure involved some of those wires he'd been so careful not to step on forty-five times, and then there were Rodney's hands--on his bicep, around his wrist feeling for pulse, on his forehead--and that was funny, now Rodney's hands felt cool.

"I'm okay," John choked, although he really wasn't, and he was pretty sure that his eyes were open, but he couldn't actually see. His stomach heaved.

"You're okay? What kind of idiot do you think I am? This is not okay. This is miles from okay--this is a few thousand kilometres from okay at least! You still can't see me, can you? Oh God, oh, God--" his voice was rising into panicky hysteria.

"Rodney," John tried to growl, although it came out as more of a pant, and groped blindly for some part of him to squeeze warningly. "Just--calm down."

There was a short silence when all he could hear was himself and Rodney breathing. He thought that was Rodney's knee under his hand--hopefully he wasn't leaving a hand-shaped bruise on it, but oh God, his head really hurt, and he was starting to realise his biceps weren't the only muscle groups that were shaking; it was like his body was planning to shake itself into pieces, and was starting really small. He needed something to hold on to, and even with Rodney's hands on his shoulder and his arm he wasn't entirely sure where up and down were or how close he was to the floor.

"Major," Rodney hissed, "Major Sheppard--"

"Just a second," John said, "I can almost--" his vision cleared spottily, black fading away to the edges until he could see the floor. "Yeah, it seems to be going... help me sit up," he said, because although the shaking was fading, he still didn't feel too hot, and he wasn't at all sure he could sit up by himself. It wasn't good that he was still feeling dizzy and nauseated this close to the floor and completely motionless.

"It's going? What does it feel like? I mean, are you all right?"

John was leaning hard into the arm around his shoulders not so much because he wanted to as because he had absolutely no choice. "Yeah, I think it's okay--I've got a killer headache and some muscle shakes, but they're getting better." Rodney was moving him, slowly and gingerly, until the roof was up and the floor was down. "Thanks," he muttered. "Okay, I guess I can't go 11,000 klicks."

"It might have been a little much for you, yes," said Rodney tightly. "So much for super powers." He sounded bewildered and kind of angry--angry at the universe, probably, or, of course, at the Christmas ornament in John's hand. Suddenly he shifted sharply, making John sway and his precarious centre of balance completely vanish again. Rodney was tapping the earpiece of his radio. "Beckett, this is McKay. Beckett--oh, right."

"Too far for radio," John reminded him.

"All right, you're okay now, right? You'll be fine for a second--I have to get us back to Atlantis." He pushed to his feet and dove for the pilot's chair. John's stomach heaved, heaved again. His vision went grey and he must have made some kind of sound, because Rodney said frantically, "I'm setting the autopilot! Just a minute, don't die over there!"

"I'm not--" dying, John wanted to say. Instead he threw up. The heave of his stomach was so powerful it seemed to draw up his whole body and toppled him over onto the floor on his forearm. At least he was close to somewhere to rest his head, but the floor of the jumper wasn't cool like Rodney's hand.

"Are you, oh God, you're throwing up again! Gross... Major!"

"Yeah," John mumbled into the floor, right before Rodney peeled him off of it and half-dragged him away from the puddle of vomit, closer to the wall. The movement was jerky, and John's stomach didn't approve. He puked again, bringing up bile and water, and Rodney hissed in irritation.

"Jesus! Stop that!" At least he'd stopped dragging and was apparently trying to get John upright again, while John struggled half-heartedly and tried to take deep breaths against the nausea.

"Stop moving me and I'll try not to puke on you!" John snapped.

"Like hell I will! Stop fighting me! I'm trying to--" John went limp. He was tired anyway. Rodney grunted and tightened his arm around John's waist. "Thank you, but not what I meant. I meant stop, stop being sick--I'm not a doctor, I don't know what to do!"

"Rodney, I'm gonna--"

"Okay! Hold on, just--"

Rodney pulled him a few degrees closer to upright and held him steady while he dry-heaved a couple more times, then eased him back towards the wall of the jumper and let them both collapse against it.

John tried to just close his eyes and breathe, as uncomfortable as that was, but it didn't matter, even with the floor under him and the wall behind him he was dizzy, like he was going to fall right off the edge of the world. He lurched away from Rodney and the wall again, heaving and choking, feeling his face clench up like a fist.

"Major!" He heard Rodney saying as he dropped to the floor, lying with his face in Rodney's knee. Rodney sounded terrified, John thought. He must look really bad. "Major Sheppard! You're not answering, are you. Who the hell makes a personal teleporter that can accidentally kill you and then just leaves it lying around? Oh God, this is so not good."

"I think I'm going to pass out," John said, and he did.

*

"Beckett doesn't think it would have killed me," said John. "Come on, Elizabeth, nobody had any way of knowing it was going to do that! Do you think me and Rodney would have done it if we did?"

"No," she said, "although I do think that you and Rodney didn't think at all about what it would do before you went, that isn't actually what I have a problem with. Rodney tells me you were already feeling the side-effects for several tests before you collapsed."

"Sure, I was feeling something." John tried not to sound too impatient, but he knew he wasn't doing all that well. "I was feeling a little bit of disorientation, I was feeling my inner ear get confused like happens in a fast elevator and it was going away again! It felt completely familiar and I assumed it was just my body getting accustomed to the greater distances or something, like before."

"Rodney thought it was worse."

Oh, he did? "Well, it wasn't! There was barely any difference at all. It stuck around for a little longer, but it wasn't actually worse--I actually threw up in the gym, and I was barely nauseated until we hit eight thousand kilometres."

Elizabeth's mouth was pinched and unhappy. "I'm willing to accept that you weren't making an unreasonable judgment to continue your testing to the point where you did--"

"Well, thank you," said John, stung.

"But that doesn't change my decision that you're not going to continue it any longer--no greater distances, and I want you to be sparing with it inside the city too."

"Wait a minute!" John started, but she just held up her hand for silence.

"I'm not going to forbid you to use it, especially since it does seem to be perfectly harmless over short distances, but I'm not going to ignore what seems like a pretty clear warning sign to me. You're to keep it well within the safe range that you and Doctor McKay established--" Well, okay, that didn't sound too bad... "--and you're not to use it off-planet."

"What?"

"Unless you judge it becomes truly necessary for the safety of your team."

John stared at her. "Or the success of the mission."

Elizabeth didn't back down: "The safety of the team."

Damn.

For a while they just locked gazes, level and expressionless. John was the one lying in an infirmary cot, but he had a feeling that despite Elizabeth's confident square-shouldered posture her hands were fisted behind her back. He found himself thinking that a tactical advantage was a much greater advantage if your enemies didn't know about it in advance, and that they'd gotten along for all of human history without teleportation, as far as he was aware, so it wasn't like he was really giving up all that much anyway. Oh, hell.

"You might be right," he muttered.

Elizabeth started to smile like she was amused, then straightened her face out and gave him an appreciative nod. "Thank you."

*

Although he was perfectly fine after a couple of hours in the infirmary and enough food to make him two and a half meals in normal circumstances, John was so happy to be released under his own supervision that he didn't make even the slightest fuss about being held back from off-world missions for another two days. There wasn't much point in arguing when Beckett and Elizabeth were in agreement about that kind of thing anyway.

So he left the infirmary after dinner, just as the day and night shifts of nurses switched off. He had to wonder if Rodney was somwhere having a nervous breakdown, at work again, or chowing down happily on the kitchen's latest attempts at recreating Earth desserts with Pegasus-galaxy ingredients. John couldn't decide which was most likely, which was why he swung by the dining hall on his way to Rodney's lab.

He found Rodney in the lab, putting back together the whatever-it-was that had been scattered all around him on the floor when John dragged him away for teleportation practice. It looked kind of like a small trashcan, although John was sure it was really something much more sophisticated and important.

"Hey," said John, crossing his arms and leaning up against the doorframe.

Rodney looked up quickly with real surprise, mouth parted, and his face was weirdly kinda blank and unreadable for a second before he said "Oh, thank God."

"I just wanted to, you know, come by and... apologise," said John.

"Apologise? For what?" Rodney's eyebrows drew down. "Scaring me almost to death? Well, traumatic as the experience was, I think I'll have to forgive you, since that was hardly your fault."

"Well, not exactly," John said, uncrossing his arms and then crossing them again. "Well, yeah. Kind of. For passing out on you, for vomit, that kind of thing, I was going to say."

Rodney waved his hand airily. "If you'd vomited on me that might be another matter, but as it is we're fine."

John took a few steps inside the room, starting to smile. "I'm glad that little bit of extra effort paid off."

"Oh, don't tell me." Rodney rolled his eyes. "That was probably why you passed out, wasn't it?"

"No, I'm pretty sure that was your Christmas tree ornament."

"My what?"

John held up his right hand, palm out, and wiggled the fingers. "My little friend. I thought it looked like a Christmas ornament."

"It's a plain heptagonal chunk of black plastic. I hardly think it's very decorative."

"Nah," John said, "it has those silver wire... line... things." Rodney had that expression that meant there were too many stupid things to make scathing comments about and he was having trouble deciding where to begin. "Besides, it's catchier than 'matter transporter device'."

"Of course, so everyone has a fun time talking about it until the first time someone needs to actually know what it is."

"See, it works as a code name too," said John earnestly.

"A code name? Is this the Cold War? What are you now, James Bond?" Rodney paused. "If you're really feeling as perfectly fine as you seem, I could use some more coffee."

"I am," John said, watching Rodney bend back over the trashcan-thing and poke at the bottom of it. "Thanks." No response. He kept watching until Rodney looked back up at him curiously.

"Hm?"

"You're just going to run out of coffee even faster like this," John said.

Rodney frowned. "Good point. I'll stop tomorrow."

John got him the coffee--from the dining hall, because the coffee maker in the lab was empty. Then he went back to his quarters and sat down on the edge of the bed.

While he methodically took off his boots he thought about his very eventful day, starting with all his practising that morning, and how nice it had been to feel it gradually come under his control with steady progress. In the first ten minutes he'd just had to think Rodney's quarters to appear there; but he'd been able to picture a place he was more familiar with but less interested in, like the infirmary, in Technicolor detail till he was blue in the face without going anywhere.

John rubbed his face. Thank God Rodney hadn't actually still been there--it had been early enough in the morning that he could have been, and John wasn't sure that hadn't occurred to him at some level in the second before he skipped.

But it had come under his control; he'd felt himself start to understand it and reeled it in over just a couple of hours. That was how John liked things to happen. He wished every problem could break down if you just came at it the right way--and he tried to think of everything as if it would because there was no point in giving up before you started. But he'd learned long before he arrived in Atlantis that sometimes you were screwed even if you did the only thing possible every step of the way, right until you somehow ended up in an impossible corner anyway.

Like this one. It obviously wasn't coming under his control, gradually or otherwise. Not that John had been trying to fight it off, but he'd thought he had a pretty good grip on it at least, from the beginning.

This morning and this afternoon had proved him wrong about that, because he wouldn't even have suspected something like arriving in Rodney's quarters at six in the morning, hadn't known he'd wanted that badly to be there. But since this morning John had known, and he was realising maybe he really, really wanted to.

He kept thinking about the forty-fifth stop--how first of all, he'd collapsed in Atlantis, in easy radio and walking distance of the infirmary, and skipped nearly to the other side of the planet to get back to the jumper; how he'd been shaking there on the floor, head pounding out of his skull, flattened in Rodney's lap, and he'd felt Rodney bending over him, a cool hand gentle on his face.

John was inclined to think it was dangerous enough out here already without any extra little--vulnerabilities. His personal resources had been at the breaking point constantly since he'd taken command from Sumner. He couldn't afford anything he wanted any time he'd tried to total it all up, no matter how many times he did the reckoning. Atlantis couldn't afford it.

War and Peace was on the table beside his bed, his clothes put away, his arm folded behind his head and his other palm flat, low on his belly. John was staring at the ceiling and calmly feeling himself start to understand something. Maybe the time was past for talking about what he could and couldn't afford.

Why pretend to himself about his own fantasies? Why spend his spare minutes cataloguing McKay's gestures and the smell of his neck and the calluses on his hands, and then blot the face out of his fantasy when his hand was on his dick? There was no point crying over spent money.

Okay, John thought, then in that case I might as well get my money's worth. He slid his hand inside his shorts to stroke himself and closed his eyes. And thought about Rodney--starting with his neck, which John had got thirty-something really close looks at this afternoon. The silky pale part just under and behind his ear, the shadow under the corner of his jaw when he tilted his head, the fine crease line trailing around the tendons to Rodney's Adam's apple--yeah, John thought, the hint of five o'clock shadow on the point of his chin, sweeping down under it, what would that feel like on his cheek, on his mouth--he'd been able to smell Rodney's neck from his perch on the back of the pilot's chair with his chin practically on Rodney's shoulder--

John squeezed his eyes shut and arched up into his hand. What if he'd put his chin on Rodney's shoulder, and when Rodney jumped, brought his hand around to stroke Rodney's bicep soothingly. He concentrated hard and thought, I could just turn my head a few inches into his collar and my nose would brush his neck. Nuzzle gently, maybe just breathe there against the skin with his mouth open and then taste it, because it had smelled so good. Rodney's neck would probably just go limp and turn to give John better access. The tendon would stand out and John would lick along it, Rodney sighing and twitching and then panting, and Rodney would moan, loudly--he'd bet anything Rodney was loud in bed.

He was trying to keep it slow, tightening at the base of his dick with each long stroke and twisting at the tip. It was good, God, it was incredible, and his fantasy of Rodney was incredibly vivid with so much recent sensory information, and he really--God--he really wanted Rodney. His stomach ached with wanting Rodney, his abs were warm, quivery jelly with it. John abandoned the pilot's chair scenario and moved around to the front, thought about pulling back the neck of Rodney's shirt, licking the hollow of his neck, shoving Rodney down in bed and straddling his hips and grinding against his belly, finally pushing that blue shirt up out of the way and--

John was lifting his hips, thrusting into his hand in mindless pleasure, when it felt like something large and solid smacked him from behind, knocking the breath out of him for a second. What? His brain was too foggy to register at first that his head was too high, propped on at least two pillows, and he wasn't under a blanket anymore. His eyes snapped open, hand still in his shorts, and Rodney's quarters came into focus around him.

Huh. So it wasn't all in his conscious control after all.

Oh, wait, shit.

Rodney's quarters. He was in Rodney's unmade bed; a few feet away, through the wall, he could hear Rodney warbling happily and the hissing water of the shower.

John snatched his hand out of his shorts and rolled to his feet. He made it all the way to the door, thinking let me out so loud he was practically yelling at the poor thing, and then stood there after it snapped open--he couldn't go out there in his underwear! Close, John thought at the door, and heard the bathroom door open behind him. That was when he first realised he should have skipped away.

He turned around slowly and nervously and carefully didn't wish to be elsewhere even though he was starting to want to now. Too late to do any good, of course--why couldn't his instincts act for self-preservation instead of for getting glimpses of--

Rodney, standing in the bathroom door with a towel wrapped around his hips and looking pretty damn surprised. Nervousness had almost completely killed his arousal, but John felt his pulse give a little residual kick at the sight of sleek, dripping McKay. Okay, so it was more than worth a look.

"Uh... hi," said John.

"Okay, yeah, just to be clear," said Rodney. "These are my quarters. Not yours. Right?"

John pursed his lips and nodded slowly, glancing around the room uncomfortably. Wow, it really wasn't just like his, not even in a mirror image, it was kind of longer and narrower and, hey, the designs going around the door to the bathroom were different, too. "Yes. Your quarters."

"And yet you're here. In your underwear."

"Yeah," said John. "You know, that could be a handy thing about teleportation. Not having to get dressed, I mean. You think of something you want to ask your scientist at night, and..." he snapped his fingers demonstratively. "You're there. No walking in the hallways, no one sees your underwear."

"Or you could just use your radio."

Cornered. John just nodded again, hands twitching, but he wasn't about to put them on his hips when he wasn't even dressed. "Sorry--I didn't actually mean to come here."

Rodney didn't have any problems putting his hands on his hips, dressed or not. He also tilted his chin up, narrowing his eyes. "You didn't."

"It was an accident," John said. Maybe this would be the one time in a million when Rodney wasn't curious, and he could get away with that. "Sorry. You can get back to your shower, I'll just..." he jerked his thumb at the door.

"No, wait a minute--it's just taking you places randomly now?" Rodney lifted a hand, apparently absently, and scrubbed it over the back of his neck. "Has it been doing this all along?"

Rodney was getting excited. With a sigh, John gave up on immediate escape. At least he knew he could skip away in fifty milliseconds and twenty-one microseconds if he had to. "Nah, just a couple of times. It's not exactly random, it just doesn't always differentiate between thinking about a place and a command to take you there. I practiced with it this morning and I thought I had it all under control, but... I guess it's because I'm still kinda worn out."

"All right, look, that's very nice, you're embarrassed, now explain to me again, this time without leaving the explanation out, what it actually does?"

Now he was tapping his foot--his toes were bright pink, sort of lobster-coloured, or maybe more like a nice sunburn. John put his hands behind his back. "It, well, you're just thinking idly about something... like yesterday afternoon I was wondering what they had for lunch and the next thing I knew, I was in the dining hall. At the front of the line."

Rodney looked impressed. "Now that's handy."

"I had to go to the back of the line," John pointed out. "And if you really want to know, I think it kind of isn't handy. I'd consider it a bug, personally."

"Well, Major, I seriously doubt the fault is in the Ancient device, given what we know of their technological advancement. You're probably doing something wrong."

John glared. "Like what? Thinking?" Although, he thought privately, he definitely was thinking wrong--bad and wrong. Witness his presence in Rodney's quarters.

"Yes, well, you do have the Ancient gene, but you're most certainly not an Ancient. It's not outside the realm of possibility that your brain is simply not sufficiently advanced or, or organised--"

"Not sufficiently advanced--?"

"Whatever. The point is it's meant to interface with an Ancient's brain. Which is not what you have."

"I see, sort of like trying to run Windows software on a Mac."

"Hah! More like trying to run OS X on an Apple IIe. Anything else?"

John said dryly, "Well, my commanding officer was ripping me a new one, and then suddenly I was in the gym."

Rodney looked thoughtful. "Were you thinking about the gym?"

"It might have crossed my mind, for a microsecond. As a place that might be more... restful. To be."

"Huh," said Rodney. John judged he was within thirty seconds of stroking his chin. "You felt threatened, possibly humiliated, and the device took you to a place you consider safe--that could be really useful."

"Or inconvenient on missions," John said, wincing just to think about it. "The tribal elder says, 'Of course, there will just be a small ceremony', and I'm back in the jumper." That didn't explain why he was still here, waiting to be skewered by McKay's wit.

"Yeah, that's funny. Ceremonies always seem to lead to violence," Rodney mused. "I blame religion. Causes nothing but trouble on every planet I know of." Then he frowned. "So--why were you here, anyway?"

"A..." dammit, "...question," said John. "I thought of a question." And now he was thinking about why he was really here again and Rodney was still mostly naked and wet, drops of water clinging to his chest hair and occasionally trickling down his neck, and he was looking at John expectantly.

His knees were pink too, under the bottom of the towel.

Maybe he could get this over with fast and go back to jerking off. "Nothing important, really, I was just thinking about our little experiments--" Rodney blanched and flinched. His eyes even closed, and his eyelashes were wet too, and John took a couple steps towards him without thinking about it. "Hey, sorry, I didn't know it would matter. I should've told you the minute I started getting dizzy. But I was thinking... it all happened right at the end."

Rodney looked up and blinked. "You mean panic, near-death, vomit, realising we were out of radio range--"

"Well, I knew that all along--"

"--muscle shakes, sweating and other symptoms of shock, me trying to remember how to set the autopilot and not knowing if it was safe to look at the control console for the time it took me to do it while you wheezed and thrashed around behind me like you were having some kind of epileptic fit--"

"And actually, no, what I meant was that I started getting sick, and each skip started taking fifty milliseconds and twenty-two microseconds instead of twenty-one, but if you want me to apologise again..."

"I--" Rodney had that bewildered, wondering look of realisation. "You're right. You're right."

"You don't have to sound so surprised," John muttered.

"It's too much for coincidence. This means, it means--it could mean--I don't really know, but it definitely means something, we have to, we've got to get some more information about this, it could explain why--"

John was shaking his head. "We can't."

"We can't?" Rodney stopped, lifting his head, his mouth open and drawn down in the left corner. "Oh. Right." He seemed to have completely forgotten that he was only wearing a towel: he'd been on the verge of dragging John through the door, probably headed straight for the lab or the puddle jumper. He was already in elbow-grabbing distance. He smelled sharp with soap, and John was crazy, because even though he knew how soap tasted, he still wanted to lick him.

John decided to get out of there before he embarrassed himself. There was only so much wet and naked Rodney he should endure in one day for his health, probably. It was like coffee or mountain-climbing or running or lots of things that people did even though they weren't necessarily a good idea: you could withstand more than you should. But it had been a long day, and John thought it was probably time to stick to the recommended levels.

"So--I was going to bed." Stupid, stupid, he thought.

"Oh, you can--of course," said Rodney, with what was either self-consciousness or absent-mindedness. "Right, I'll just--"

"I should really just--"

"Right," said Rodney quickly.

"See you tomorrow," said John, hoping he hadn't sounded too hopeful at the end, and skipped.

In his quarters, John thought lock and privacy very hard at the door and fumbled his dick out of his fly and into his hands right where he stood, not even bothering to go for the bed. Oh, man, Rodney's pink toes and fingertips, the slick shine of water on his neck and collarbones, the thick soft flesh around his middle--John was speeding the motions of his hand, biting his lip--the shape of broad thighs outlined under the drape of the damp towel, his face still flushed, his hair messed up--Jesus, this was going to be fast--his nipples hard, hands on his hips, the muscles shifting under skin when he put his hand behind his neck, the smell of his neck--warm under John's arm--crease of his groin, John could see the shadow next to his hip disappear under the towel--relaxing back in the pilot's chair, a soft sigh, relaxing back against John, licking the smell of soap off his shoulder, his jaw, the corner of his mouth, just grabbing that round firm ass and, God.

Okay, great. Talk about not in control, John thought disgustedly, and headed for his own shower, rubbing come between his fingers.

*

It wasn't like John had nothing to do in the city. He had reports to write and read, usually, although he didn't have them now, because he'd done them all four days ago when he'd been trapped in his room. He had people he should've been checking up on more often, hallways he didn't have time to walk as often as he wanted to, meetings he could have, now that he had time.

He checked on the marines walking the perimeter the next morning, walked a ways with each team of them and left when he thought he was starting to make them too nervous. He did a bigger perimeter outside the one they kept, the one he'd stake out if they had more people and more marines and more time and it was worth it to take in another chunk of labs and that long stretch of hallway with bigger residential quarters with extra rooms, that all had really nice balconies. Skipping made that a lot faster--short hops, like suddenly he could step all the way from where he was to the next bend in the corridor, ten yards or a hundred, and John didn't even have to move his legs if he didn't want to, although he walked and jogged short stretches, peering into empty rooms and down branches in the hall.

After that he kept walking around the inhabited parts of the city, looking in on marines on their patrols and at their posts and scientists in their labs. After a while he started skipping from supply closet to supply closet, telling himself he was just curious, but really kind of hoping to find an unexpected cache of coffee (or, alternatively, chocolate).

Most of the supply closets were pretty ordinary as supply closets went, but none of them was completely uneventful. The third one John opened was so full of the twisted dead sticks that'd been all over the corners and hallways when they moved in that they fell out in a kind of avalanche, raining all over him so he threw his arms up in front of his face. John had never thought much of the Ancient idea of floral arrangements, although in general he had nothing against a nice big planter full of dead sticks, just for the irony.

He clearly remembered Elizabeth's order to get rid of them. "Weir, this is Sheppard."

"What is it, Major?"

"You know those ten thousand year old dead plants you had moved from all over the city?" He asked, kicking one off the toe of his boot. It bounced off the wall and back down onto the pile around his feet with a hollow noise.

"What about them?"

"You weren't saving them for any particular purpose, were you? Say, firewood?"

"No--I had them disposed of months ago," she said, sounding confused.

"All right. Just checking." John wondered whose job that had been, but he decided not to check. It took him twenty minutes to move them to a rocky cliff overlooking the beach near the Athosian settlement on the mainland. They could make somebody a nice bonfire, he figured.

After that he found half a case of staples in an unmarked box under uniform repair kits; and then what seemed to be somebody's bug collection, a neat little graveyard of Pegasus galaxy insects laid out in a grid on a piece of cardboard in the back corner of a closet.

There was a box of MREs in a closet designated specifically for office supplies, the outside of the box clearly labelled, but stuck under a three-foot stack of crates of paper, paperclips, pens and pencils, erasers and ink cartridges.

A strangely-shaped box in one of the food closets, where John was depositing the MREs, turned out to contain nothing but spools of twine. He wasn't even sure what closet that should go in.

The closet after that was perfectly organised, with index cards taped to the lower left corner of each perfectly-aligned box saying things like "sp. p.s stan. pc laptop - mem. 128/256/flash, cable, opt. ms, sm. screws, /driv. see box 16D". John was baffled until he stepped back out of the closet and saw it was right next door to a lab; one of the geeks had taken it over, evidently.

Before he found the coffee, John had found half a handful's worth of popped popcorn kernels and a blurry, distant photograph of what looked like a ballroom dancing competition, inside a box of powerbars; a case of epinephrine and a case of penicillin behind a lot of spare cartridges; a bright pink feather loose on the floor; two packets of origami paper and a stack of index cards held together with a rubber band in a mostly empty closet with a box labelled "motherboards!!! DO NOT TAKE" on the floor; someone's uniform shirt with a giant rip in the back; and an inflatable pool raft, the kind with two armrests and a cup holder, inflated and stuffed behind some shelves.

There wasn't that much of it--just three of those shiny foil bags of coffee grounds, standard issue, stacked in the side of a box that seemed to be full of field expedition odds and ends--heat packs, spare canteen, heat-reflecting blankets, another case of power bars, a couple of rolled-up tarps.

John picked all three of them up and just stood there for a moment, fiddling with the crimped foil edge of one of the bags, thinking.

*

He went looking for Rodney around dinner time with a pinch of coffee in his pocket. (The smell had seemed overwhelming when he opened the package, but now that he was out walking around it wasn't quite so obvious.) He still hadn't figured out exactly how he was going to bring it up, but he was confident something would come to him, and in the meantime he couldn't pass up an opportunity this great to mess with Rodney's head. John had a vivid and embarrassing mental picture of himself going "So, I got you something"--no, too painfully obvious. Or he could lie: "I was doing inventory and what did I find in a box of grenades but your favourite legal stimulant...". Somehow, that just seemed to lack finesse. What he needed was some kind of misdirection.

Rodney's lab was deserted except for the trashcan, which had apparently been finished. It stood near the empty coffee maker. There weren't even any tools or laptops scattered around. Rodney couldn't have been there in hours. John kept looking.

He found him seven skips later with his lower half sticking out of the wall of the empty lab where they'd set up the second sensor pad the day before. Rodney had a great lower half, especially from behind: firm ass, strong thighs. There was an empty powerbar wrapper on the floor next to one thigh and another half a powerbar poking out of its wrapper beside it. John pulled up a nice spot of floor a little way away, or rather, skipped to it, and settled in to enjoy the view while he waited for Rodney's nose to announce him.

It didn't take long. Rodney wriggled backwards out of the hole in the wall and squinted around vaguely like a mole. He didn't seem surprised to see John, just focused on him after a second and said distractedly, "Do you smell something?"

"I don't know." John stretched his neck lazily. "Like what?"

Rodney blinked. "I guess not, then, I just thought I smelled--" John flexed his leg slightly, shifting the fabric of the pocket. "There it is again! Are you sure you don't smell...?" He directed a quizzical look at John, but John kept a straight face and he seemed to give up. "Nevermind."

John shook his head sadly. "I think it's time to take a break, Rodney."

"Huh. Since you mention it, I am kind of hungry," Rodney said, picked up the half a powerbar, and took a few big, businesslike bites.

"It's dinner time," John pointed out, "and I'm hoping the fact that you're on the floor behind the panel you hooked that sensor pad to yesterday means you have something new to tell me about my Christmas tree ornament."

A derisive snort really didn't sound the same with a mouth full of powerbar, but that had never stopped McKay. "You're right about one of those things," he said, dropping the second wrapper and levering himself up off the floor. "I'm trying to interface with the city's systems right here because I suspect that the city mainframe kept a more detailed record of the information it was relaying to the jumper during our experiments.

"Specifically, I'm trying to find out if I can get the time readouts in nanoseconds. And I'm pretty sure the sensor pad technology is more sensitive than just the initial readings I was able to feed through the jumper to my laptop yesterday and I'm hoping it might be able to tell me something, but so far, nothing, let alone anything useful."

By this point they were halfway down the hall, well away from the empty lab, and Rodney's nose was twitching slightly at intervals. He kept slowing and leaning towards John as if unconsciously. Finally he burst out, "I do, I smell coffee! I hope this doesn't mean I'm going into withdrawal already."

John started laughing quietly.

"I've only had six cups today, it's possible!" said Rodney defensively.

"Trying to cut down already, huh?"

Rodney's mouth twitched a little before he lifted his chin and answered, "Maybe."

John had the brief, pleasant feeling that he might be about to be brilliant. "It's kind of sad how many things have become luxury items out here that some of us used to take for granted, isn't it," he said. "Like coffee. I bet you never let yourself get down to a week's supply."

"Of course I did. In the Milky Way galaxy, if you don't have coffee beans you can just go buy coffee."

John had been wanting to bring up his luxury metaphor-theory-thing with Rodney anyway. Nobody really talked about their situation out here even though there was nothing else to think about. There weren't many people John thought he could talk with about it, and he only actually wanted to with Rodney.

So there wasn't another word about coffee until they'd gone through the line and picked up plates of steamed grain and steamed green vegetables and steamed yellowy-orange vegetables, but he knew he wouldn't have long to wait, because he could practically hear Rodney thinking. When John settled into his chair, his pocket pulled tight over his thigh for a moment, crushing some of the coffee grounds a bit more. Rodney's head jerked up like a hunting dog's at the sound of the bugle.

"It's you," Rodney said, "you smell like coffee!"

John calmly got a bite of steamed grain onto his fork. "Yeah, new cologne," he said after he'd swallowed the bite. "You like?"

"No, I do not like," Rodney snapped. "I only like the smell of coffee when it's coming from a cup that I am about to drink from; I consider any other use of it a waste of precious resources--"

"Luxury item," John murmured, carefully cutting a bite of steamed green vegetable.

"And if you've been bathing in it I will be very, very irritated, because that's pretty much the same as just pouring it over a balcony. Not to mention it's bound to indicate some kind of extensive brain damage, which will no doubt be all my fault, no matter how many times I've told you not to touch the technology."

"I didn't bathe in it," said John, taking pity on him.

Rodney was stabbing at his yellowy-orange steamed vegetable and eating it in small but very quick bites. He always attacked his food when he was angry, but John thought there was an extra, pointed iciness here directed at him. "You have no idea what a weight that is off my mind."

"Coffee's not the only thing," John said carefully, as he finished his green steamed vegetables and started on the yellowy-orange ones (which looked like multi-lobed mushrooms, but tasted so strongly sour and spicy that they had to be served in a kind of sweet sauce, and John had still saved most of his steamed grain to mix them with).

Rodney put his fork down with a deliberate and sort of scornful click. "Coffee's not the only thing that what," he sighed.

John raised his eyebrow. "Luxuries. I don't know about you, but I used to take it for granted that I was having a weekend."

"Oh." Rodney nodded and went back to alternating bites of green and yellowy-orange steamed vegetable. "I thought I'd be working weekends because I wanted to and not because everybody would die if I couldn't stay awake another seventy-two hours. But coffee, chocolate, toilet paper, science journals, the New York Times, television, god! The internet." He stopped then and glared at John. "Was there a point to this discussion other than depressing me?"

The dining hall was kind of pretty now, with the last shreds of sunset coming through the stained glass windows. It was mostly empty, too; besides them, a knot of scientists near one wall were loudly debating something involving the theory of evolution, and past them Doctor Simpson was hunched over a thick sheaf of paper with her chin in her hand. There was a couple in one corner holding hands, their heads bent close together.

John shrugged in answer to Rodney's question, and lowered his voice to go for the big one. "There are a lot of things we can't afford to have anymore that we knew we were giving up, but there are things we probably never thought about doing without too," he said. "We're living at subsistence level out here, the bare minimum necessary for survival."

Rodney frowned suddenly, but he didn't say anything, so John kept going.

"I think a lot of these people--" John was looking at the couple in the corner, so close their profiles merged into one "--never expected anything like this."

"What, and you're saying you did?" Rodney interrupted, and John wondered if he would be able to hang onto his train of thought for long enough to make it to the end of the conversation. "Let me guess. You signed up for the mission thinking: Well, we'll probably find ourselves stranded with no viable source of power, under siege from an armada of life-sucking aliens--but at least the constant mortal peril will keep me in shape!"

John put down his fork. "No, obviously no one expected this, but we didn't know what to expect! They didn't know they were signing up for a situation where even relaxing would be a luxury we can't afford. The Geneva convention is a luxury we can't afford. Personal attachments--are a luxury we can't afford."

Rodney looked tired. "That's true," he replied, with an air of tested patience. "And delighted as I am not to be the only pessimist around for once, if that was all a big lead-in to telling me that although you didn't personally dump the coffee in the ocean, we're nevertheless going to be drinking Athosian tea for the next forever, can you please not? Just shoot me instead. It doesn't have to be here. We can go out on the balcony." Well, that was that reaction. Rodney could be remarkably hard to distract when he really got his teeth into something.

So much for misdirection. "Well, you might have to drink Athosian tea until the end of time, but you won't have to start tonight," said John. "Are you done?" He stood up and stretched, then carried his tray back to the front of the room.

"What? What are you talking about? Major!" There was some scrambling behind him. By the time Rodney made it out of the dining hall, John had skipped back from his quarters with his hands full of coffee.

"I didn't want to shoot you," said John smugly, stacking the three foil bags in the open hands of a gaping, speechless McKay. Oh, yeah, this would have been worth hours more of bug collections and inflatable rafts. From the expression on Rodney's face, it looked like he couldn't even come up with any words.

*

Their first off-world mission with the Christmas tree ornament along started out pretty boring. In fact, when they were ambushed, Ford was in the middle of explaining "Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall" to Teyla.

"Please, ninety-nine bottles?" Rodney scoffed. "You Americans are such lightweights. You've never known true boredom until you've had to start at nine hundred and ninety-nine."

"It's just something to pass the time," said Ford, "you sing it together, and it can be really fun. Especially if you've all already had a few."

"So the purpose is to consume ninety-nine bottles of this... intoxicating... drink?" said Teyla.

And then there was something, John thought, maybe just the faintest whisper of sound, and while he was tensing, glancing around, Ford said softly, "Sh--did you hear--"

And the first arrow came whistling out of the trees and passed less than four inches from John's head.

"Get down!" John yelled. "Go for the gate," and they broke into a flat-out run, but the hillside was wide and clear, just a steep slope of thick tall grass, and the forest around the clearing was too far away to offer any cover. And the ground was uneven and scattered with sharp rocks. They were skidding down it, sliding every few steps on the thick bed of grass.

In front of John, Rodney stumbled over a rock, fell and slid and rolled at least ten or twenty feet, gasping and cursing, almost knocking Teyla over on the way down. A second arrow flew over their heads, and Ford turned to return fire and tripped over another rock. Then a third arrow ripped through Rodney's jacket sleeve.

"I'm bleeding," Rodney said, disbelieving, looking at the red on his hand when he took it away from the tear. "I'm bleeding--it's--I'm feeling faint, oh, God, it was a poisoned arrow!"

"Come on, Rodney," said John, grabbing his arm roughly and jerking him back into motion. He stopped there to turn and fire a few bursts from the P-90, even though he was probably too far out of range for it to do any good.

An arrow embedded itself in the ground next to him as John jumped over a rock and another one bounced off Ford's pack. Rodney was running in front of him, clutching his left bicep. John hoped to God the arrows weren't poisoned.

"Remind me again why we didn't bring the puddlejumper!" Rodney shouted, stumbling where the bottom of the slope gave way to flat ground.

"Shut up and keep running!"

At the bottom there was a stretch of grass and a wide, shallow river bed between them and the gate. Teyla and Rodney were already splashing into the rapids, but it wasn't possible to run over or around the slippery boulders and sharp rocks. John leaped in after Ford, trying to cover their tail, but they made a perfect target and there was just no way that they could move fast enough.

Teyla was scrambling as quickly as she could and had already lost her balance twice, and she wasn't even half across; she and Rodney were in the deepest part and soaked almost head-to-foot, not even trying to climb back out of the water. John jumped from one flat rock to another one, but it tipped and he skidded and put down a foot in water swirling up to his ankle. An arrow whistled into the water, two, three, getting closer, coming faster together. One stirred Teyla's hair as it passed.

John jerked around again, scanning the hill behind them for the tree line he could barely see any more, and then he saw it-- "Ford, cover the rear, keep going and don't wait for me at the gate," he yelled, and skipped to that tiny stir of movement at the top of the hill before it could get away again.

He came up behind a short man in dirty brown rags just in time to see him pull back the next arrow, fitting it into a shiny bow almost as tall as he was. From this position--there was a sort of deep dip in the crest of the hill, almost completely covered by the wild grass--John had clear sights to Ford, Rodney and Teyla. He was a little surprised they were all still alive, though definitely the good kind of surprised.

He tackled the guy so hard they'd have probably have gone head-first all the way to the bottom, except John skipped, and they hit the ground just a few yards back from the top of the slope instead. They sank into the sea of grass and the smell of the broken stems rose around them so strongly and clearly, it hit John almost like a physical wave.

It took him a second to realise the screaming from his little green mountain guy wasn't just the terror of someone who'd never heard of teleportation being unexpectedly de-atomised and put back together. When John rolled off, the man was still a crumpled heap on the ground jerking with what looked like convulsions.

Still screaming, now hoarse and getting quieter. John touched one dirty brown shoulder and the man flopped over on his back in an ugly movement like the death-throes of an animal on the end of a spear. Blood was coming out of his nose and his mouth, and while John watched in horror and fascination, his screaming stopped and his eyes fluttered shut. It looked like a relief.

"Holy shit," John whispered, and reached to check the guy's pulse--and then he heard more people coming through the trees. He skipped out of there.

*

So now he knew that he couldn't realistically skip more than about 7,000 klicks (being safe) or 9,500 (pushing it), and he probably couldn't carry anyone else with him without making their brain dribble out their ears. He really wished they'd been able to hang around and see what was going on with that guy, whether he was even alive anymore.

John didn't feel especially bad about killing him--a guy tries to kill you and the people under your command, you try to kill him back--but he just wanted to know what it was that his Christmas ornament did. It seemed like a creepy way to kill someone and a creepy way to die, not to mention a really painful one.

But whether the guy was dead or not, they weren't going to be using John for quick transportation of, say, a SWAT team, not if he wanted them to be swatting and not screaming on the ground when they got where they were going. And the vague ideas he'd had when they found out what the device did--like a solo mission against the Wraith--were mostly gone in so much smoke too, because any plan that involved a hive ship within 11,000 klicks of his position was way too iffy even if he could somehow get a lock on the ship to skip there in the first place.

"So I guess in the end, I kind of am a--what did Rodney call it?--a quantum dumbwaiter," said John.

"But an intelligent one with an infinite number of possible destinations," Rodney corrected him. "Which is much more useful than one that just goes from the lab to the gym." John blinked. He wasn't sure he'd ever heard Rodney call another person "intelligent" before. "Reasonably intelligent", yes, but only as a preface to an insult.

"A range of seven thousand kilometres is a lot better than we had before," Elizabeth said, quirking an eyebrow. "Until last week, we never had any expectation of instantaneous travel at all. It seems to me that you have more than reason enough to be satisfied--and that you shouldn't underestimate the potential usefulness of the device."

"Well, technically it's not actually instantaneous," Rodney interrupted, holding up one finger and disturbing the bandage-in-progress on his arm.

"Rodney, would you hold still?" Beckett snapped.

Rodney looked briefly but intensely puzzled, like he was surprised to find a doctor standing next to him and part of a bandage on his arm. "You're not done yet?"

"Not instantaneous, huh?" John said, just loudly enough to prevent Doctor Beckett from saying whatever he was going to say.

"You do know what instantaneous means?" said Rodney impatiently. "We've established that it takes point zero five zero zero two one seconds at the least, therefore you do not just vanish and reappear elsewhere in the same instant--"

"Really?" said John. "So how many microseconds is an instant, then, anyway, McKay? I've been wondering."

Rodney's eyes narrowed a little in that not-dignifying-that-with-a-response kind of way. "Oh, come on. Look, I'm sorry that your superpower turned out to be such a disappointment. You should definitely return that to the store and get your money back."

"I'm not saying that, Rodney, I'm just saying it's not going to be nearly as useful as we thought it would be. Until the next time we have intruders in Atlantis or someone's shooting at us, all I'm seeing is that I spend my free time skipping around half the city for things that wouldn't take all that much longer to get by walking to a transporter."

"And don't forget sneaking up behind people and yelling 'boo'."

"You're really jealous about that, aren't you?" said John.

"What? What are you talking about?"

"That's why you were so excited about the Christmas ornament in the first place, wasn't it? You just want it for sneaking up behind people. And I've gotta tell you, it's a lot of fun. But maybe I could help you out with that anyway--sneak up on people for you. You would still get to watch."

"Well, don't go giving it back to the store yet," said Elizabeth dryly. "It sounds to me like you're really getting your money's worth."

John tucked his hands behind his back. "Only off-duty, sir." Rodney still didn't answer. John thought he looked torn.

"Of course. Well, Major, I don't think I really have to tell you not to transport any living things with you now that we know what this device can do. Other than that, you can carry on as you have been, but just be careful. Rodney, are you still working on getting me more information about it?"

"Yes, yes, yes," said Rodney, "I've been trying for days to get more from the sensor pads and the city systems that monitored them. I've even extracted something, but whether we'll ever be able to interpret all of it..."

"Just do the best you can," she said. "We've still got people working on the console?"

"Zelenka has the translators looking at something, I think."

"Great. I'll talk to him." She gave them both short nods. "Rodney--get some rest, and try to stay out of the way of arrows in the future, poisoned or otherwise."

Rodney stayed perched on the infirmary cot after she left the room, both hands braced on the edge, his head drooping wearily. It'd been a long day for him, John figured. There was an awful lot of white bandage on his arm. The arrow hadn't been poisoned, but the cut had looked nasty anyway.

And John was staring again, but he seemed to be getting away with it. There was some dirt on Rodney's face and some scrapes on his knuckles from their adventure. He was tired, but John had seen him save the city looking worse. His eyelids weren't even drooping; in fact, he was looking hard in the direction of the door, like there was something to figure out over there.

"All right, Rodney," John finally said, "I'm going to eat something. You ready to get out of here?"

"What? Oh, sure. Hey," Rodney added as they went through the doorway, "about that sneaking up behind people thing..."

*

John was actually getting a lot of practice sneaking up behind people, but most of it didn't happen on purpose. It was amazing the things people would get up to right out in the open if they thought they were alone. John was getting more wary, but there was only so much skipping you could do without surprising people--and embarrassing them too, even if you stuck to public places. All of that was accidental. He would gladly have gone the rest of his life without catching any marines naked on any catwalks again.

However, there was some voluntary sneaking.

Most of his voluntary sneaking seemed to involve Rodney in one way or another.

He hadn't actually carried out any shouting "boo" commissions for him yet, but it was probably only a matter of time until Rodney found a way to blackmail him into it. And there'd been that time they'd been coming from the lab and found Ford was early for a briefing, happily sorting through piles of grenades and ammo, and Rodney had pointed and jerked his head and, well. And Zelenka under the console, which had been really funny even if it had looked like it hurt. But both of those had been completely spur-of-the-moment things.

The other kind of sneaking was worse. Because sneaking didn't have to be sneaking up behind; it could also be sneaking around, sneaking after.

John had been really, really careful when he jerked off recently. Of course, probably the only genuinely safe thing to do would have been not jerking off at all, but that made it a lot harder to get to sleep. And besides, he'd decided before to go ahead and do it. It was like an overdue library book: you've already had to pay for it, so you might as well keep it now. Thinking about Rodney when he jerked off wasn't making any difference (except for that one time). It was thinking about Rodney when he wasn't jerking off that was the problem.

It had started when he got the hiccups. One second he'd been washing his hands in the bathroom; the next he'd been standing with soapy hands stretched out over the table in the main lab. John had skipped back to the bathroom and finished rinsing his hands, but he'd wondered. The next hiccup had hit him about six seconds later, and he'd found himself in the control room. Six seconds after that it had been his quarters, then Rodney's lab, Rodney's quarters, his quarters again, the gym. When he'd actually appeared right inside the door to Rodney's bathroom, which he'd only ever seen from a distance over Rodney's shoulder, John had realised he was fighting a losing battle.

He'd abandoned his inventory calculations and skipped back to his quarters and started concentrating really, really hard on where he was: the way it looked, the way it smelled, the way the edge of the bed felt under his clenched fingers. That had worked for eight more hiccups.

It wasn't like John didn't know why all his accidental skips were taking him to places he'd expect to find Rodney. Since he was a pragmatist, he'd decided to go ahead and work with that. The only way he'd been able to stop himself from skipping all over the place was by going and finding Rodney and stationing himself quietly against the back wall of the lab with his laptop. It was irritating and pretty embarrassing, but there was no point dwelling on that when he couldn't do any more about how he felt for Rodney than he could do about having the hiccups. Besides, it wasn't very often that he got to spend an afternoon just quietly observing Rodney. But even doing that, he'd only gone over a few screens of inventory before another hiccup had him appearing right behind Rodney's shoulder, so close he could feel the warmth.

Rodney had just glanced at him and said, "Hand me the small crystal, would you?", and then the next time John hiccupped, "Shouldn't you be off standing on your head and trying to drink a glass of water or something?"

Spying on someone when you had the hiccups was bound to be kind of hard. But once the hiccups were gone it really wasn't that difficult to go undetected with a little sneakiness.

Not that he'd been following Rodney around--highly impractical, not to mention just plain creepy, and the fact that it wasn't particularly secret where Rodney went any of the time. And he hadn't been lurking in Rodney's closet or outside his window or anything like that. It wasn't like he had him under surveillance. And even though John caught himself thinking, I'll just check on Rodney, it wasn't like he was exactly checking up on him either.

He just wanted to see what Rodney was doing. That was reasonable--or, well, it might not be entirely reasonable, but it was definitely understandable.

And it was easy to hang out on a balcony at night. John had been doing that for months, different balconies all over, before they'd even discovered the new lab. He'd actually glimpsed this balcony from that lab's big, wide windows. It was attached just one turret over to a room that had been destroyed completely by flooding. The view of the lab was good from the balcony, but someone in the shadows of the balcony, especially sitting behind the railings, was practically invisible from the lab.

He hadn't been looking for Rodney the first time he'd skipped there, not really. It had been late, past midnight, and he'd been thinking, and he'd wanted a balcony to think on. But when the balcony had solidified around him he'd looked across ten yards of night into the glowing windows of the lab and seen Rodney still there, still working, apparently. John had had no idea Rodney worked so late.

Well, some idea. But something brought the concept home a lot clearer if he was watching it.

Which, for a couple of nights now, he was. Late at night, when the light from the lab was the only light visible from John's balcony except the long broken white track of the moon on the water, he could still see Rodney moving animatedly in the lab. John could see him hum to himself, drum his fingers on the edge of the console, snap his fingers as he got an idea, dive across the room for his laptop because the idea just couldn't wait. The later it got, the more he hunched over his laptop frowning, the more he ran his hands through his hair. John had seen him drop his head into his hand and rub his forehead a couple of times.

But this time when John skipped to the balcony--maybe the fifth or sixth time since dinner--Rodney wasn't guzzling coffee or typing furiously, or buried in the bottom of a console, like he'd been the rest of the night. He was slumped over his laptop with his face pressed into the keyboard, wisps of his hair standing on end, one hand curled defencelessly on the edge of the console, just the fingers dangling.

It was different up close, somehow. Even though Rodney hadn't moved and everything was exactly the same except for being closer, now that he was there the picture seemed different, more immediate and even kind of intimidating. John just stood there for a long, long minute, looking down at Rodney and frowning at himself. Finally he reached out to ease the coffee cup out of Rodney's hand, slowly, trying not to wake him, although he didn't know why he was being so careful about that. Rodney's fingers were only loosely wrapped around the cup. It slid away easily at first, but then it was like it snagged, his hand twitching like it was going to close again. John froze.

Rodney stirred and took a deeper breath, and the pale ends of his eyelashes fluttered against his cheekbone. He's going to wake up, John thought, and he skipped without letting go.

"Dammit," he muttered to himself in his quarters, Rodney's empty coffee cup still in his hand. He hadn't meant to do that.

When he went back to the lab Rodney was sitting up again, yawning and rubbing his eyes. He didn't notice when John slid the cup back onto the edge of the console, but he did manage to focus before John could safely skip away again without being seen.

"There's a mission tomorrow, Einstein," John reminded him, quieter than he'd meant for it to come out.

"Yeah," Rodney said on a yawn. "I know. Glad that--ahh--that you feel you can tell me these things, though, Major."

"You might want to think about turning in, is all I'm saying."

"Yes, yes, thank you, just a minute."

John raised an eyebrow. "You might not realise, this, McKay, but there's a keyboard print on your face. I think--" he squinted, "--yeah, I can actually read the letters."

"Congratulations."

John suspected Rodney was just dawdling to be irritating. He'd already closed both of the laptops before; now he'd opened one of them again. John wasn't even sure it was on. "Can't go more than 11,000 klicks, can't always control it even when I don't have the hiccups, and can't even use it to move people," he muttered. "How is this superpower ever going to do any good?"

*

"Nothing new here," said John, surveying the trees and grass around them at the top of the ridge, the trees and grass blanketing the slope at their feet and the trees and grass in the valley around the gate.

"Nope," said Rodney, swivelling in place without taking his eyes from the softly blipping energy reader. "Nothing new."

Trees, grass and hills, baby blue sky, birds murmuring in the trees and a faraway rumble of thunder. The only piece of technology on this whole planet, except for the gate, was the jumper parked next to them. They could both do this in their sleep. John was starting to feel sorry for waking Rodney last night. Hopefully they could finish finding out that there was nothing to find here quickly and get back through the gate to the infirmary to check on Teyla.

They didn't even have time to say "What's that?" before the meteor hit. John could tell when Rodney realised there was something not-right about the rapidly-increasing sound of thunder, now more like a freight train, because it was the exact instant he did. They turned to face each other in the same second, looked up to the sky--the source of the noise--and looked back at each other again. That was it. Then the meteor hit.

It didn't actually look like a meteor hitting, or like John would have imagined a meteor looked like. It wasn't like watching a flaming boulder falling out of the sky. It was way too fast for that--a bright streak of light (of flame, yeah, but a streak) and the air getting a lot warmer really fast and a noise so loud it blanked out every other sound from his ears, and then the bowl of the valley was behind a white veil of dust or vapour, and the trees all around on the lower slopes of the mountains burst into flames which all bent towards the cloud like they were blown by a strong wind. So many bits of leaf and tree flew into the cloud from the forest around that for a second the air was blurred and dark with them. The ground trembled under their feet.

His ears still hurt, and he wasn't sure if the total silence was the total silence of every animal, bird and insect on the mountainside feeling like he felt, or actual deafness. The white cloud was kinda pretty, though.

"Well," John said. "That was different." He'd edged closer to Rodney in the second of anticipation and grabbed Rodney's elbow at the moment of impact. Rodney wasn't looking so happy. In fact, he might have been a little shell-shocked. He was completely ignoring his tricorder and it seemed like his body was angled slightly towards John, which was something he mostly only did when he was really worried.

"Yeah," Rodney said dazedly, "you don't see that every day. Not even in the Pegasus galaxy."

"You get a good look at that thing?"

"Not really. No."

"Because it kinda went by--"

"--Too fast. The minimum velocity of a space body entering the Earth's atmosphere is 11.6 kilometres a second, but this one was big, it was probably going more like thirty or forty kilometres a second. Of course, you get a lot of atmospheric resistance, which must have slowed it down enough that it actually impacted the surface with relatively little fanfare..."

Relatively little fanfare on the Rodney McKay scale of fanfare could, apparently, include an entire valley full of white dust, a huge ring of trees suddenly turned into flame throwers, and a rumbling sound that still hadn't gone away. The mountain they were standing on didn't seem that happy either. Astrophysical fanfare--maybe it was like geologic time. "'Relatively little fanfare'," John repeated. "Still enough fanfare to squash a stargate?"

"No, I think a meteor heavy enough to do that would leave a crater and we'd still be blind and deaf. And lying on the ground," said Rodney absently.

And then the rumbling sound got louder again. "That doesn't sound good," said John, "I don't like that--"

"No--" said Rodney, "No, we should be in the jumper now!"

John didn't have to be told twice. Handy, he thought, that he still had a grip on McKay's elbow. In fact, he sort of dove for the jumper, which was fortunately only about twenty yards away. He wasn't looking out over the valley anymore, but he still saw the start of the avalanche from the corner of his eye.

He was thinking frantically at the jumper, on, on, ready, but he made sure Rodney was completely inside it before he threw himself into the pilot's chair.

As it turned out, they really didn't need to do that. Sure, the tremors got a little worse, but the mountain they'd been perched on stayed intact. It was the mountain facing them across the valley that was disintegrating. He got the jumper facing it for a really good view just in time to see a big piece of its slope--a piece big enough to have qualified, by itself, as a whole mountain--shiver where it stood and then slither down into the valley in what looked like stop-motion. There was another impressive cloud of dust.

"Think the gate's okay?"

"Sure, the gate's probably fine."

"Well," said John, "that's good."

"No, not really," said Rodney. He sounded like he'd just had to consider it a bit, like no, a power surge that size couldn't really do any significant damage, or no, he didn't really think that Pulp Fiction could be described as comic genius. "It's mostly irrelevant, because buried under that much rock? We're probably gonna never see it again."

Rocks they could hardly see through the dust kept moving around in the valley for what seemed like a long time. The dust was still there too, roiling, but not clearing away. Trees were still burning. They sat there and watched it like watching a movie. Add a bowl of popcorn, move the chairs over so he could slide his arm around Rodney's shoulders, and the simulation would be perfect. "I don't suppose there's anything we can do about it."

"No, Major," Rodney said, and he hardly sounded scornful at all. "Not even you."

"And when you say we're probably never going to see the gate again..."

"Oh, I probably shouldn't have said 'probably'. I mean, it's technically accurate, but it gives a misleading portrait of our circumstances. Unless somewhere on this completely uninhabited planet there's a giant excavator, or someone decides to visit us via hyperdrive craft and brings along the Ancient equivalent of a giant excavator..."

That was about what John had thought, actually. He nodded once, glumly. "Okay. Just checking." Another tree toppled over and vanished into the cloud of dust. Stuck on this planet, thought John, stuck on this planet. Stuck here, on this planet.

"We're in the four hundred years by puddlejumper range, am I right?" Rodney said when the avalanche had stopped being very interesting.

John looked over at him. "Three hundred seventy-two and about three months."

"About three months? What, you're rounding to save time? Since we have so many places to be."

"Three months, eight days and eleven hours." Numbers always made Rodney interested. He was looking at John now, and if John could have skipped and taken the chair with him, he would've moved it over and made the movie-going experience complete before the crazy impulse left him. "So I'm guessing you can't do anything with the jumper that would let us get the gate out?" he said instead.

Rodney snorted. "Yes, actually, if you just cross two circuits in the back you can create a great earth-vaporising beam, I was just waiting until after the show was over to mention it! Of course I can't do anything to get the gate out. Our options are dying here or liquefying my brain and possibly yours by using your superpower, as even you should have been able to figure out by now."

"So you're saying our options are dying or... dying," John said slowly.

"Well, that's a gross over-simplification of course, and actually, this is what I was working on yesterday that I wanted to mention to you." His hands lifted out of his lap to gesture as if he had no control over them, and his face lit up a little. "Number one, the sensor pad recorded your weight incredibly exactly, and I don't think the reaction you have to the re-materialisation is even capable of killing you. At first after you collapsed I considered the possibility that the fail-safe mentioned in the device's documentation simply didn't work properly, but I don't think that's it.

"See, when you materialise on the sensor pad, your weight doesn't all just appear at once. It increases gradually from nothing to your full weight, it just does it incredibly quickly. But the re-materialisation doesn't always happen the same. It takes longer the further you go, but the difference in time isn't perceptible in microseconds over the distances you were travelling, you can really only see it in picoseconds, which is why it took us so long to notice before. That's what made the trips take longer after seven thousand kilometres--that was just the point where the difference in nanoseconds kicked over to the next microsecond."

"The difference is because the farther I go--the longer it takes to put me back together?"

"Yeah. I don't think the fail-safe is meant to keep you from getting motion sickness at all. I think the fail-safe is a buffer meant to, to run interference, and make sure that the re-assembly isn't gonna take any longer than your body can handle. That's why it wouldn't let you skip from the Pegasus galaxy all the way back to Earth, because over that distance the re-materialisation would take... almost two whole days."

John frowned suspiciously. "And how long to get back to Atlantis?"

Rodney blinked. "Not nearly as long--about, oh, five minutes."

"So you think it'll let us do that?"

Rodney shrugged. "That's not the point, because if it won't nothing will happen, right? I mean, that's what happened when you tried to go back to Earth--nothing." John nodded. "So what we have to worry about is if it does work. Now, what I'm saying is I think it's unlikely your reaction to the trip would kill you, although judging by your reaction to eleven thousand kilometres it's not exactly going to be a walk in the park. But if I'm right and what the device is actually doing is using another quantum probability to briefly open a small stable wormhole, then the greater re-materialisation time is merely, ah, the device re-aligning your sub-atomic particles to the particular quantum resonance of our reality after their trip through the wormhole."

It took John's brain a second to catch up to the end of Rodney's explanation. Rodney might have thought it was "unlikely" that he was going to die, but he'd even kind of thought he was dying for a second at eleven thousand kilometres, so the imminent death now had him kinda preoccupied. Also, he got hung up on the fact that Rodney's hand gestures for "quantum probability" and "small stable wormhole", in quick succession, looked a little bit dirty, and his illustration for "re-aligning your sub-atomic particles" looked remarkably like a slow once-over.

"You're saying the Christmas ornament works by going into another quantum reality, opening a tiny wormhole and sending my sub-atomic particles through?"

"Yeah," Rodney grinned, leaning in like he was sharing a secret. "And that's not all. Every time you came back to the sensor pad? Your weight had decreased a little more, by the tiniest infinitesimal amount."

John waited a second, but Rodney seemed to be waiting too, like there was something John should be figuring out. "So... parts of me are being left behind in other quantum realities?--Watch it, Rodney, didn't your mother ever tell you your face would get stuck that way?" If Rodney's eyes rolled any harder they would probably go right out of his head and not stop until they hit the other side of the dust cloud.

Rodney crossed his arms scornfully and leaned back in the co-pilot's chair. It was really amazing how he could fold his arms so eloquently, John thought. "Of course it's not leaving parts of you behind. Unless of course it's left part of your brain, but I tend to think your questions have always been this stupid and I've just blocked it out in between. No, it's leaving parts of itself, or rather, it's using parts of itself--it's got an inbuilt fuel supply that it's depleting."

"Depleting how fast?" said John, and skipped to the other side of the cockpit to lean on the console next to the co-pilot's chair.

"Well, depends how you want to measure it. It's enough to get either both of us or you and my corpse back to Atlantis. I think."

"You think."

Rodney's face when he didn't think he should really have to explain something this simple and evident always made John want to look around for the fly to swat. "Well, you never tried to take another person to or from the sensor pads, so we can't really know for certain how much fuel that requires, but it should be enough."

John crossed his arms and his legs and tilted his head, then uncrossed his arms, then crossed them again the other way. "You know," he said, "he still had a pulse when I left. I think."

"You think," Rodney snorted, but he looked away quickly after he met John's eyes.

John touched Rodney's shoulder, and when that seemed to be working for him, spread his hand out, wrapped it around the solid curve. He didn't notice until he felt the warmth through Rodney's shirt and jacket that his fingers had gotten cold.

There were still tongues of flame visible on some of the trees on the lower slopes around the valley outside, and plumes of smoke bending in towards the dust cloud all around. It felt like he should be able to smell it, but the jumper sealed them off from all that, the only smell of smoke was the faint trace that still lingered on both their clothes.

Rodney glanced to the side, but he didn't make eye contact again.

John squeezed gently. "There was a pulse," he said.

*

"Too bad you can't just skip back to Atlantis and get me some coffee to go with this," said Rodney around a mouthful of powerbar. They were having a last meal, which had been John's idea. He was starting to wonder now whether it had been a good one. Mostly it seemed to just be intensifying his dread, and the half an MRE he'd eaten was sitting like a lump in his stomach. Rodney seemed happy, though, with a couple of powerbars and a couple of chocolate bars spread around him on the floor.

Talking with his mouth full was one of Rodney's least endearing qualities, John thought, chewing his own powerbar determinedly and trying really hard to enjoy it. A lot of the time Rodney's obnoxiousness somehow turned around and made itself endearing, but at the moment John was brooding that Rodney could be really, really irritating.

"Don't you have some coffee in your pack?" he said.

Rodney stared at him. "What? No, I kind of thought water was higher priority than a thermos of coffee. I have some coffee grounds, which we can brew after I eat this."

Of course. "So what do you reckon the odds are that we'll both die," said John, aiming for a casual tone and missing.

Rodney frowned. "Hmm--I have really no idea about whether I'll die, other than this vague suspicion that I might not. That isn't based on any actual data other than our knowledge of the Ancients and their usual fail-safes, so I wouldn't like to try to give odds. But as I've said, I doubt you'll die, you'll probably just be sick for a couple of days at least. If it works at all. Otherwise the device can't do it and so we both live. Here. On this charming uninhabited planet."

"Sparsely inhabited," John murmured.

"What, by you and me?" said Rodney, still chewing. "That's pretty sparse."

Normally John wouldn't go looking for things to tell someone just because he thought one of them was about to die, but he'd been thinking about telling Rodney anyway, hadn't he? He wondered if he should push up the timetable a bit, like to before the possible death.

On one hand, it might be his last chance. On the other hand, it seemed a little insulting to wait until he could confess risk-free and there was no way either one of them was going to get any good out of it. Back on the first hand again, if they both died, neither one of them would be around to regret anything and it would make no difference. But if Rodney died and John didn't, that would suck. Obviously. It wouldn't suck any more because he hadn't brought it up, but it would be like a conversation he never got to finish. John hated that. He didn't care too much about getting the last word, but he definitely cared about saying what he had to say.

It seemed kind of selfish. John wasn't sure whether or not he was the kind of asshole who did things just so he wouldn't have to regret it later if he didn't.

"This jumper has someplace where you can heat up water to make coffee, right?" he wondered out loud. "Cause I'd hate to have to land and build another fire." A panel in the wall slid up and a flat, narrow ledge popped out and started glowing.

John got out the coffee to avoid having the rest of the conversation with himself. "You know, it occurs to me now that if I survive the trip to Atlantis, when I'm throwing up all over the place I could regret this meal," he said instead.

"Please," Rodney hummed, sounding almost happy. "You're going to be in way too much pain before you pass out to care if you're vomiting or dry-heaving."

"Even if I'm vomiting on you?"

"My corpse won't care either. And just in case I should survive, I hereby give you permission to vomit on my writhing, nose-bleeding form in any way that doesn't actually cause me further injury."

John's brain conjured, as if on command, a vivid image of himself vomiting on Rodney's writhing, nose-bleeding form. He could imagine it all too well, arriving with a couple of million times that eleven thousand reaction, and collapsing and not being able to see, just feeling Rodney convulsing against him, feeling the blood on his face, feeling for a pulse--"Dammit, Rodney," he gritted.

There wasn't a lot of room between Rodney and the wall behind him where the hotplate was, and John was filling most of it. When he jerked Rodney around by one shoulder and clenched his fists in Rodney's jacket, they were almost face to face.

Rodney looked kind of pale. "Well, I didn't want to mention this because I don't have any wood around to knock on and most of the available wood outside seems to be either actively on fire or at least smoking. But I think there's a possibility that your little passenger's reaction had nothing to do with the transport itself and was actually a separate but nasty function of the device--I don't really have anything to go on here except supposition based on more supposition and a couple of hints that the Ancients might not be the Boy Scouts everyone likes to assume they were, that nanovirus for instance--I--what?"

John realised there was probably no point prevaricating when he'd already slid his hand inside the collar of Rodney's shirt, his thumb fitted into the hollow of Rodney's throat to feel the pulse. "I, ah," he said, and tugged gently.

"What?"

His lips landed near the corner of Rodney's mouth, not actually on it, but he didn't bother to correct that until he'd gotten both his arms under the grey and blue jacket.

Rodney gave a startled jerk at first, but he didn't resist, and he didn't even seem particularly at a loss when John ended up halfway in his lap. One hand landed on the outside of John's thigh almost right away, and he turned his face up into the kiss after just a second, with his eyes closing slowly like he was gradually letting go of his resistance. It took just a little longer for his other arm to settle hesitantly against John's back, warm and heavy. John was really more concerned with holding Rodney and feeling him than with kissing him, although it wasn't like the kiss wasn't nice.

But it might have been that Rodney picked up on that, how the kiss was just a warm connection and John was more concentrated on Rodney's spine, the soft flesh above his hip, the slope of his shoulder blade. He jerked back after a second, wiping his mouth with one hand and pressing the other on John's chest. "Wait--"

"No," John started, frustrated, but Rodney held him off.

"Wait, wait a minute. What happened to 'attachment is a luxury'? What happened to the fact that we can't afford luxuries out here? Subsistence living, the bare minimum necessary for survival--which by the way is full of so many logical flaws I don't even know where to begin."

"I was speaking generally," John lied, internally gritting his teeth. He hated having his past mistakes waved in front of him, especially when he wasn't so sure he'd been wrong and he really didn't want to change his mind. And why, out of all the things he said, had Rodney picked that to actually pay attention to?

"Oh, right," said Rodney, "you were speaking generally about life in the Pegasus galaxy, that's okay then, since it doesn't really apply to--oh, hold on a sec--"

"You agreed with me!" John interrupted, curling his left hand into the fabric of Rodney's shirt. The hand on his chest was keeping them too far apart for a kiss, but the other was back resting on his hip, and John was still kneeling with one of Rodney's thighs between his knees.

"I did not agree with you. If one person babbles like an idiot for five minutes of excruciating embarrassment and another person goes along with it to get them to shut up, that's not agreement, that's torture."

Like an idiot? "Well, actually, Rodney, I'd say that qualifies pretty well for the definition of agreement--since you said you agreed," said John.

But Rodney was barely paying attention to him anymore, because he was excited now, and the hand that had been on John's chest was making emphatic but aborted sweeps as he spoke. "I'm constantly amazed at the degree of self-deception you military types are capable of--you go on with your grand pre-rehearsed noble speeches, oh nevermind this hand resting casually on my giant automatic gun, any questions, no, didn't think so, and suddenly you call a press conference and schedule a party to celebrate the consensus--"

"You didn't have to agree!" John snapped before he knew what he was going to say, "you weren't supposed to agree!"

That shut Rodney up completely and left him with his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open. John couldn't help smiling a little, crazily, at the look on his face, and then he had to kiss it away--

"Not supposed to agree," Rodney mumbled half in his mouth, and John kissed him again, "Mm--what's that supposed to--mmph."

"I," said John between kisses, "you're supposed to be smart, you're supposed to argue with me when I say something dumb--"

Rodney was sliding the flat of his hand slowly up John's spine under his shirt, and he sounded bewildered but kind of distracted. "You wanted me to argue with you when you were trying to break up with me?"

Break up with him? John twitched under the hand and finally, finally put his mouth on Rodney's neck, just at the top edge of the collar, the first place he could reach. "I wasn't trying to break up with you. We weren't dating," he said, sliding across the skin to the tendon.

"Yeah, which only made it worse," said Rodney impatiently, tilting his head back.

John buried his mouth under Rodney's ear. It was--it tasted like Rodney's neck smelled, it smelled like Rodney's neck smelled only more, from up close, it was--he took in a slow deep breath and kissed there, and again, and pushed his hand up under the edge of Rodney's shirt. God, it was good. It was warm and solid and he had Rodney, he had him, right here, right here, John's arms were full of him, and he could feel him with his whole body, practically: his mouth, his nose and cheek, his whole chest, the insides of his thighs, his back where that hand rested.

Rodney's hand went down to John's ass and slid slowly over it like he was learning the shape before he used his grip to pull John closer. Since they were moving anyway, John peeled him out of his jacket and pushed him back against the side of the jumper. Rodney frowned and bit his lip and went straight for John's zipper.

John sucked in a deep breath. Rodney fumbled John's fly open, clumsily tugged John's pants down his hips, but then he put his hand in John's boxers and John laid on top of him and Rodney said "Okay, I guess we're having sex now," and John kissed him to shut him up, because they were.

It was awkward, they didn't stop to take off all their clothes, and it wasn't the best handjob John had ever had. But he'd gotten under Rodney's shirt, and from the way Rodney was gasping and clutching him it was like he'd gotten under Rodney's skin, and he didn't want to stop and try to make this the best sex of his life, because they weren't going to die and he didn't want this to be about that.

He gripped Rodney's hips between his thighs and ground into him, into Rodney's cock, into Rodney's sweaty hand, and wow, it was nice, Rodney's solid thighs against his ass and between his legs, the soft flesh of his sides under John's hands. John wanted to fuck--not the first time, not in the jumper, he told himself firmly, maybe later--

He closed his eyes tightly when he came, and Rodney whispered "Oh, God, please, that was hot but I can't come from mental stimulation alone." And then while John's cock was still pulsing and he was still just riding it out, he felt Rodney's hands in his hair and on the side of his face, grabbing roughly this time, not gentle like he remembered from eleven thousand klicks.

Then Rodney was kissing him, hard and sloppy, pushing his tongue in John's mouth. John thought he wouldn't win any kissing awards with technique like that, but there was something about his intensity and frantic focus, not to mention heat, that John really liked anyway. He reached between them for Rodney's cock and pumped it a couple of times, and Rodney made a noise like a hiccup and came, just like that.

John wiped most of the come off their stomachs with a tissue from Rodney's vest and dragged Rodney down onto the floor with him by hooking an arm around his neck. "Ow, what are you doing, ow, oh--" Rodney sighed. "This really isn't the place for basking in the post-coital glow. Even the briefing room chairs are softer than this floor."

"And they've never been puked on," John mumbled into the folds of Rodney's jacket, which he'd balled up under his head.

"Oh, gross. Thank you for that."

"On the other hand," said John, "we do have a pretty nice view from in here. And you have to admit there's not a lot of sex in the briefing room."

"No." Rodney sounded thoughtful, and maybe contented. "No, there's not a lot of sex in the briefing room, I'll give you that, but I just want to check that when you say 'a nice view', you're actually referring to the same view I saw when I last looked out of the puddlejumper?"

"I think it's a safe bet that I am," said John.

"Flaming foliage, a valley almost completely covered with smoke and dust--"

"Do you think I might have a different view?"

"--And of course let's not forget the mountain that's currently on top of the stargate, our preferred means of travel back to Atlantis?"

"Well, sure," said John. "But if you ignore that, you have to admit it was kind of cool. Rodney..."

"You know, 'cool' as it was, a meteor impact wasn't really on my personal list of scientific phenomena to observe in person. I'm not entirely sure, but I think that might have something to do with the whole natural disaster element."

They were side by side and only their legs were touching, but their clothes were still undone, and Rodney's face and neck were still tinged with pink. "What were you going to say?" John asked. "Before?"

"Hmm? Oh, you mean about not dying?" Rodney shrugged. "Probably just wishful thinking. Speculation. It means nothing."

John lifted himself up on his elbows. "What kind of speculation?"

Rodney sounded bone-tired suddenly. "Playing the stock market speculation. Wild and unsubstantiated speculation, what kind do you think? The kind of speculation you can't really help when you're facing certain death if you have any attachment to this mortal life--which, granted, may not be a very logical attachment, especially given the situation in this galaxy, but for some reason I can never seem to eradicate this stubborn fondness I have for being alive."

But John remembered what he'd said. Nothing to do with the transport itself and actually a separate but nasty function of the device and hints that the Ancients might not be the Boy Scouts everyone likes to assume they were. "You don't think--" John swallowed. "You don't think the de-atomisation and alternate-reality wormhole travel is dangerous to me, so why is it for the other guy?"

"I don't know, any number of reasons. Didn't I just get done telling you I don't know for the thousandth time?"

John stared at him. "You think the Christmas ornament just--no, wait a minute, you think I made it do that."

Rodney stared back, equally surprised, and he rolled his eyes, but he rolled them an instant too late. "No!"

"You do."

"I didn't say that! And I'm probably wrong, all right?" He flopped over onto his back and looked up at the roof of the jumper.

John settled his chin on his arm and watched Rodney thinking, all the complicated twitches and movements of his face, until he couldn't stand it anymore. Then he nudged him with an elbow. "Hey."

Rodney turned his head to look at John. "What was this, anyway?" he said. "Goodbye?" He sounded, God, actually curious.

John scowled the way he rarely saw anyone except for Rodney scowl. "No," he said.

"Well, then?" Rodney said pointedly, a little impatient.

"It's not goodbye," said John, "because we're not going to die." He liked the way that sounded, so he said it again. "We are not going to die." He rolled over halfway on top of Rodney, then got his hands and knees under him and started pulling Rodney upright too.

"What are you doing? Your technique could use a little work, here."

"You're gonna have to be holding on to me pretty hard, I think," John said, tugging Rodney's arms around him one after the other. "We're going to the infirmary, by the way, right inside the door. It'll probably help if you close your eyes. No, tighter--yeah, okay--ready?"

"No, wait, I--" but Rodney was ready, John could tell, because he wasn't trying to pull away, his hands were just moving nervously on John's back.

"Come on, McKay. Ready?" Rodney closed his eyes. "See you in five minutes." John held on tight and skipped.

*

There was just an instant when John's eyes were open and he was taking in the infirmary around him before the reaction caught up to his brain. He had enough time to start to think, alive, and then his brain twisted and turned over, or maybe inside-out, and his skull exploded like a puff of white smoke and trees bursting into flame, and when he turned hot and cold all over it was like needles stabbing from his skin inward, and then the world dissolved and fell away and the blackness rushed in like a whole mountain settling on top of him.

John started to scream and choked instead. Dimly he heard yelling in the background, but he couldn't even work out the separate sounds. All he could feel was the floor and Rodney, and he couldn't tell which was on top of him and which was under. He wondered if his nose was bleeding. His whole body felt heavy with blood, swollen and hot and clammy, shaking. His head hurt so badly he couldn't pick one feeling out of the others in it.

By the time he remembered that he could move and tried to find some place to feel for Rodney's pulse, there were other hands on him, jerking him down-off-away, and he could feel everything spin crazily around him again while his gut clenched and tried to force itself up through his throat and his whole body seized up like a giant cramp. He wanted to pass out. He wanted to know what had happened. He wanted to see Rodney's face and he didn't want there to be blood on it.

He couldn't tell whether his eyes were open or not. It wasn't really like nails being driven into his body, it was more like screws, catching and tearing flesh, splintering bone as they crawled deeper. It felt like they were all over; John didn't have the energy to remember what part of his body was which, he couldn't open his eyes, he couldn't even throw up although he could feel himself doubling over, sagging limply against whoever or whatever was holding him up.

His vision was just starting to clear when something burned him and he realised it was cold metal and the burnt spot resolved itself into the inside of his arm, and he could see the infirmary and Beckett and some blurry things and loud people, but he couldn't see if it had worked, he couldn't see if Rodney was alive. "Is he," John tried to say, but nothing came out. "Is..." and then he passed out.

*

John woke up from a long, long nightmare in an infirmary cot. He was cold and hungry and he had to piss, his head was aching like a motherfucker, and his throat was so dry it hurt when he tried to swallow.

Then he remembered it wasn't a nightmare, and said loudly, "Shit." Those were memories of struggling frantically for consciousness, puking in a tub and passing out again, sips of water that tasted like piss, the concerned faces of Elizabeth, Beckett, Ford, Teyla hovering over him in the dark.

It was still mostly dark in the infirmary, although he could see some faint light coming under the curtain around him. He started struggling to sit up, and a nurse shoved the curtain aside and then pushed him back down before he could manage. "Major Sheppard, you're awake, no, stop that, stay still. Doctor Beckett!"

"Doctor McKay," John said. "What about Doctor McKay, is he all right?"

"Sit back," said the nurse, shoving him firmly into the cot again and moving to check his IV bag.

"Rodney's fine, Major," said Beckett, coming through the curtain. "He's asleep just over there, and his condition's very much like yours, no sign of the convulsions and bleeding you described to us before, which is very, very lucky. You've both had us worried the past twenty-four hours and you're both going to have a lot of explaining to do when you're able. How are you feeling?"

"I'm feeling pretty good about being alive, but I need to pee, I'm thirsty and it feels like someone made a glass pitcher out of my brain, filled it with ice cubes and poured boiling water over them. Did you say twenty-four hours?"

"This is the first time either one of you has gained any real lucidity," Beckett confirmed.

"He's still unconscious? The whole time? What did it do?" John tried to push himself higher in the cot, at least, since actually sitting all the way up had proven still beyond his abilities. Maybe if he could just see over Beckett's shoulder...

"It did the same thing to both of you," Beckett said tartly, and deliberately stepped into John's line of sight. "As to exactly what it did, I wish I could tell you that. But I told you before--there's really not much I can do about this, it's why I recommended that the device not be used for any long distances."

John swallowed, dry. It felt like turning a rusty key in a lock, or maybe like swallowing a ball of sandpaper. "Trust me," he said. "If we'd had any alternative, we wouldn't have done this. Can I have something to drink?"

Beckett nodded and the nurse handed him a cup of water with a straw. It was cool and wet and the sensation of it sliding around his tongue and down the back of his throat was so sharp, so vivid and defined, that it almost hurt. John closed his eyes only half-consciously and took a few more swallows.

"So it did the exact same thing to both of us?" he said, finally. "No--twitching, no convulsing, no screaming and blood coming out of mouths?"

"Well, I'm not so sure about the screaming, Major, it was pretty ugly there for a while, but that applies to both of you. As to the rest--no. You both exhibited the same symptoms that I saw in you before, but in much greater degree. But I'm optimistic that both of you will be all right now, and that the worst of it is over."

*

John was still feeling enough like shit that five minutes of being examined and one trip to the restroom, even supported by two nurses all the way, knocked him straight out again. He slept until what he figured must be sometime in the middle of the night, because now his curtain was open and the only light he could see, from inside the infirmary or otherwise, was coming from under the door of Beckett's office.

The ceiling of the infirmary, John had discovered very quickly after his arrival in Atlantis, was nice as ceilings went, but really boring as entertainment went. The cot was tilted up to give him a view of part of the opposite wall as well, but everything was dark, and besides, the supply shelves weren't all that interesting either. So even though he felt only marginally less like shit than he had the last time he'd been awake, John shifted and put his weight on one of his hands and started trying to ease himself up to a sitting position as quietly as possible.

At first, with the rustles of his own sheet and blanket he didn't make out the other rustles, and he was completely surprised to hear in a stage whisper, from not very far away, "Oh thank God, you're awake."

John jerked his head around. They'd moved the cots or Beckett had pointed at the wrong one before, because Rodney was on the wrong side of him. "Hi, Rodney," he whispered back. What he was really thinking was Oh thank God, you're awake, but he preferred to come up with something a little more original. Like "hi". Well, it was a sound principle.

"And we're both alive," said Rodney, disbelievingly.

"Told you," whispered John. He could still see Rodney's face in the darkness, because his skin was pale, and there was some light; but it was hard to make out his exact expression through the shadows.

The gulf between the two cots wasn't that wide, only another few cots' worth, the kind of thing that was usually as good as no distance at all to John even when he couldn't teleport. He could reach out his hand and get across a quarter of it, no, more like five sixteenths. But he couldn't, he thought, get out of bed yet. Sitting up hadn't sapped all his strength or anything, but it had brought on a wave of dizziness and made his stomach lurch unpleasantly.

"So this is what you felt like in the puddlejumper," said Rodney. "I kind of wondered. It's a bit like a panic attack, with more ice picks and vertigo and vomit."

"Yeah?" said John.

"Mm." Rodney sighed, and a couple of seconds of silence ticked by. "I think we're stuck here for a while. I was already about to go out of my mind with boredom and I haven't even been awake for half an hour yet. We've got to find something to do." John raised an eyebrow speakingly, and Rodney stopped, with his lips parted, looking more than a little surprised. John didn't know whether to be flattered or insulted. "Uh..." Rodney continued, "Prime/Not Prime? 'I Spy'? Back to the Future versus Alien?"

John squinted. It was hard to tell in the dark, but he thought Rodney might have been blushing. "Sixteen eighty-nine," he said.

"Hmmmmmmmm," said Rodney, "oh, not prime. Eight hundred and thirty-nine."

John lost two in a row when he started to get really sleepy again, and Rodney took that as a sign of his victory, apparently, because then he went straight to sleep. John shifted in the cot and thought wistfully of the hard floor of the jumper, but when he closed his eyes he was more tired than he'd thought, and fell right to sleep.

*

After a day full of debriefing and visitors and food and as much water as Beckett could make him drink, John woke up again in the middle of the next night. There was the same dim sliver of light fading across the infirmary floor, the same faint silver outlines over everything in the room.

In the other cot Rodney's face was turned away from John, towards the wall. John could see the dark line of hair touching the pale skin of Rodney's neck, the curved edge of an ear, the stubbled line of jaw and a shadow falling where his mouth would be.

Maybe all the sleep was starting to disagree with him, after so much nutrition and water and so many physician-enforced naps. John felt restless and helpless and really tired of the infirmary, and he fidgeted for a while, crossing his hands on his belly, then changing his mind and pulling the blanket over them up to his chest. Rodney twitched, turning his face towards John, and it was really starting to bother John that he couldn't see Rodney better.

The IV was out, so it was easy to do. It'd been two days and he felt all right, and even after everything, he wasn't afraid of the Christmas ornament. He skipped out of bed in his scrub pyjamas and re-materialised just a couple of yards away by the side of Rodney's bed.

Okay, maybe he'd over-estimated how fine he was. His stomach didn't notice anything wrong, but his legs sure felt funny, and John grunted quietly and fell against the edge of Rodney's cot as the better alternative to collapsing straight onto the floor.

Rodney's eyes snapped open right away. He turned his head to look at John and that little fold happened between his eyebrows. In the dark it got filled in with its own shadow, a groove like the mark of a big thumbnail. "What?" he mumbled in a slightly rough, sleepy voice, and John let himself lean more heavily on the edge of the cot.

"How are you doing?" he said.

"Fine, I think. I mean, I could almost think everything was normal if I weren't sleeping so much," Rodney said.

John was close enough to see the grain of his skin and the texture of the beard growing in on his cheeks and chin. "Good," he whispered. He hadn't touched Rodney since--he couldn't remember the last time, John realised, because he hadn't been able to tell up from down at the time. The last thing that he really remembered was wrapping his arms around him in the puddlejumper they were never going to see again, the one that had had vomit on its floor. He'd thought he should hold on to Rodney as well as he possibly could for the skip, so he'd braced his feet apart too, and he'd squeezed.

Rodney blinked a couple of times slowly, trying to wake himself up, perhaps, and his mouth tensed and then relaxed again. "What about you? You're standing up."

Lock, John thought at the door, Lock everyone out, and he could even sense the snick of the closed door to the office. "I'm sorry," he muttered out loud, and skipped again, because it was the fast and silent way to get into the cot with Rodney. He'd have skipped under the covers if he could, but as it was he didn't waste his time on them, just lowered his head deliberately and put his lips on Rodney's mouth.

Rodney's mouth moved, and John thought he might have been going to say something--maybe nothing but "oh," which was the only movement he made before relaxing and tilting up his chin and opening his mouth, easy and hungry, for John to kiss and lick. It was strange and surreal and nice to be here, with his hand curled on a pillow next to Rodney's left ear, his fingertips trailing through Rodney's hair while Rodney's deft hands slipped under John's scrub top, caressing low on his stomach, then sliding around to the small of his back.

The one time he moved away from Rodney's mouth to get a taste of his neck, Rodney immediately added a verbal litany to the urging of his hands on John's ass and hips, "Oh, that feels nice, God," and John had to kiss him again to shut him up. Rodney mostly didn't try to talk while he was being kissed. Even when he closed his thighs around John's hips and shuddered and pressed up into every thrust, it was just a couple of soft "oh"s and "ah"s in the times when John pulled away to breathe.

Then back for another short breathless kiss, wet and dirty, Rodney's hand on the back of his thigh jerking him closer, breath hitching, until finally John fumbled one hand between them and got both their cocks in a tight grip. He came quickly, but he kept moving his hips through a couple of aftershocks, watching Rodney's totally unguarded face. Even in the dark he could tell that it was flushed now.

Rodney's neck felt hot against his cheek, too. "Here," Rodney said, tugging ineffectually at the covers.

"Don't worry about it," John muttered, and let himself sag on top of Rodney. Rodney was warm enough; he always radiated heat, even when John was cold, wearing his jacket zipped up. Of course, he probably couldn't lie on Rodney indefinitely, but for now it seemed like a good place to be.

That was when he noticed. In the excitement of the whole surreptitious orgasm the sensation hadn't even registered at first. His right hand was hurting, sort of like the feeling he'd get after a few hours of scribbling furiously by hand back in college. "Hey," he breathed.

"What?"

John pushed himself upright and wordlessly turned over the hand. He couldn't see anything, but it was throbbing now gently. "I can feel it again," he whispered.

Rodney blinked at him. "I'm sorry, wait, you just used up your superpower to get into bed with me?"

John shrugged. "I guess that was the last--" and the Christmas ornament was back, lying cradled in the palm of his hand, so light he could barely feel it. "--time...," John finished slowly, staring at it. He couldn't take his eyes off. He couldn't believe it was done. When he tipped his hand slightly and it rolled over, the silver lines on the back were completely invisible--not dim, not shadowed, just--

"Gone," said Rodney. He reached up slowly, and it looked for a second like he was going to touch it, but then he stopped instead and barely brushed the heel of John's hand with his fingertips, like that was as close as he would come.

"I guess more than one of your suppositions were correct," said John.

Rodney let out a tiny huff of soundless laughter. "Why, yes, amazingly, they were. And your superpower turned out not to be totally useless after all."

"No, not exactly useless," John agreed. "Besides the interstellar travel and sneaking up on people and the mountain man with the arrows, it was pretty handy if you wanted to go through a lot of supply closets in a hurry."

"Mm," said Rodney. "By the way, I really liked that whole we're-not-dating gift of coffee. I'm just curious, but what exactly was that supposed to be? A consolation prize? An apology? A cry for help? Am I supposed to give it back to you now or something to, to cancel it out, to ask you out?"

John couldn't completely suppress an amused smile. "I was trying to see what you thought," he explained. "I thought we could--"

"Commiserate about our heroic isolation?" said Rodney scathingly.

"No, just--" John started, but then he broke off and started laughing. "Well, okay, maybe." Maybe Rodney knew him better than he realised. "But the coffee was supposed to be a present," he added. Now the Christmas ornament wasn't part of him anymore, he had to get up and walk a few steps away from the cot--he was glad his legs held him--to put it down, and pick up a towel.

"A present," Rodney echoed, watching him closely, "right, no ulterior motives at all."

John finished wiping the streaks of come off his stomach and gave Rodney the towel. "I didn't say that. For one thing, I wanted to see the look on your face," he smirked.

Rodney paused in mid-swipe to stare at him. "Do you realise how insane that sounds? Completely apart from whether anyone in their right mind would do that just to see someone's face, I am constantly making faces. Hardly five minutes go by that I don't make some strange face or other. All anyone would have to do is stand by and wait."

"Well," said John, "that's true." He'd done it, in fact. He met Rodney's eyes deliberately. "And you don't have to ask me anything, Rodney."

"You're right," said Rodney thoughtfully, after a short pause. "I'm telling you. Come here." Already sitting on the edge of Rodney's cot, John only had to lean forward slightly to do that, and with Rodney pulling him impatiently by the arm it was instantaneous and effortless, the distance was nothing.

End