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Double Occupancy

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Double Occupancy - cover art by dar_jeeling

It had been Stackhouse who found it. He had been rooting around for a replacement for a worn o-ring on one of the puddle jumpers when he stumbled across an odd platform in one of the spare-parts storage rooms, almost hidden behind a pile of boxes. It was about the size of a small bed, thinly padded, and bristling with metal rods and crystals and strange symbols around its edges. Fortunately he was smart enough not to mess around with it before calling Dr. Weir and asking her to send a team down; unfortunately, thought Rodney, he might as well have messed around, because none of them were able to do much with it.

"So maybe it's just a cot. You know, the guy's working on the jumper, he gets a little tired, he takes a nap," offered Ford.

"The Ancients did not take naps," said Rodney. "And if they did, they'd take them on something more comfortable than this." He lay on the platform and thought: nap. The lights around the platform's rim flashed briefly, but that was all. He stood up. "Well, that was a complete waste of time."

"It might be that it only responds to the ATA gene," said Beckett.

"Which I have now, thank you very much. Anyway, I didn't see it doing anything for you."

"I was thinking only - ah, there you are, Major."

"Oh, like he can do it."

"I can do it," said Sheppard, nodding. "Right. What can I do?"

Ford gestured to the platform. "Lie down, sir, and see if you can make it work."

"What does it do? No, wait. You don't know what it does, because you can't make it work."

"Brilliant deduction, Sherlock," Rodney muttered.

Sheppard shrugged and sat on the platform, then swung up his legs and lay back. "All right."

The lights did their flashy thing again. "See?" said Rodney. "Even Major Sheppard's I'm-descended-from-the-Ancients-and-you're-not gene doesn't do anything."

"Hang on," said Sheppard. "I want to try something." He closed his eyes.

"It's not for napping."

"I'm not napping, I'm thinking."

"Oh, like anyone could tell," snapped Rodney, as Elizabeth Weir came into the room. "Get up and give someone else a chance at it." He grasped Sheppard's wrist.

The platform lights flashed on. And stayed on.

She knew it was going to be a big screw-up, just knew it, as soon as she walked into the storage room. If all their time in Atlantis - and preparing for being in Atlantis - had taught them anything, it had taught them this: watch your step around Ancient technology. But there they were, playing around like a bunch of kids with a new toy.

She was about to speak to Carson Beckett when the lights around the platform came on. For a fraction of a second they were so bright that she instinctively covered her eyes; then they dimmed, just a little, and she took stock of the room.

Sheppard lay on the platform, still and silent, eyes closed. A faint tracery of light shimmered in the air around him. The Marines were looking warily at Beckett, who had moved to Sheppard's side and was frowning down at him. McKay - now, that was worrisome. He was stumbling around as if drunk, his limbs jerking up and down at odd intervals.

"Dr. McKay. Rodney. Are you all right?"

"This is very weird," said McKay, grimacing. He looked over to where Sheppard lay and did a strange sort of sideways shuffle, almost losing his balance. "No kidding, this is extremely weird." He blinked. "Wait, wait, I'm in charge here. You want to bet? Oh, God, I am so, so doomed. You think you're doomed? What about me?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Rodney?"

"I'm sorry, but Rodney isn't here right now. Would you like to leave a message?" McKay grimaced again. "Very funny, Major. Now will you shut up?"

Maybe there was someone in the room who wasn't insane. "Carson. What's going on?"

"I'm not sure. It appears that Major Sheppard has triggered some sort of stasis field." He knelt next to the platform and wiggled his hand back and forth through the glow. "He's alive, but I don't know -"

"I'm fine, I think," said McKay. "But this is very confusing. Oh, you're confused. Oh, great. Great. That's a big help." He took a few awkward steps toward the platform and thrust his arm through the shimmering field to touch Sheppard; nothing happened. "Damn it. I could have told you that wasn't going to work."

"I think we're all confused," said Elizabeth.

"Look, would you mind not interrupting for a minute so I can explain? Not you," he added, waving at Elizabeth. There was a pause, and everyone looked at him expectantly. "All right. Major Sheppard is in here with me."

"In...where, exactly?"

"In my body, in my brain. Which, big as it is, isn't big enough for two, so I'd really like it if somebody could figure things out and get him out of here." He sighed. "You and me both."

Getting to the infirmary was a nightmare. Rodney only managed to take one step, maybe two, before Sheppard would take over his legs, causing him to lurch down the hallway. When Carson tried to take his arm he glared at him, an effect unfortunately ruined by the next step, which Sheppard turned into a stumble.

"Do you mind? I think we could actually go somewhere if you didn't keep trying to drive."

"Sorry, sorry," said Sheppard. Using Rodney's own voice, his own mouth. Damn, that was spooky. Like being a puppet. Or really, really drunk. "It's just reflex. I feel like I'm tipping over, so I stick out my leg."

"No, you stick out my leg, and I wish you wouldn't."

"It's not like I can stick out my own." And that was a whole other thing to think about; Sheppard's body on the platform, encased in that stasis field. No telling what might happen if it was disturbed; Carson had checked him out thoroughly before they'd left the room, said his heart was still beating, his lungs were still working, the autonomous reflexes under the control of the stasis field, but what if somebody screwed up? What if something happened to Sheppard's body, while Sheppard's consciousness was apparently sharing space with Rodney's own? Being on the same planet with John Sheppard was aggravating enough, sometimes; being in the same body was an order of magnitude worse. And being stuck like this forever - no, focus, focus, he told himself. He was not going to be stuck like this forever.

"Whoa, what was that?" said Sheppard, through his mouth.

"What was what?"

"My heartrate - oh, sorry, your heartrate. Shot up like a rocket."

"This is very interesting," said Beckett, who was darting avid glances at Rodney as they walked through the hallway. "Can you sense each other's thoughts?"

Both Sheppard and Rodney answered at the same time - or tried to. The result was a noise that sounded vaguely like "nowaa" and a dance-step-like stumble that laid Rodney flat out on the floor.

"Sorry, sorry," said Beckett. "Maybe one at a time?"

Rodney slumped back against the wall and closed his eyes. "I can't even sense when he's about to take over. It's totally weird. My mouth starts to move and my voice comes out."

After a moment, his mouth moved and his voice came out. "Uh, this is Sheppard. I can sort of tell when he's about to say or do something. And I think I feel his, um, feelings. Like that he's pissed off right now."

"Of course I'm pissed off," Rodney muttered. "My body is not a time-share condominium. And how come you can sense me better than I can sense you, and don't say it's the gene, or I'm going to kill you."

"My gene is back in my body. Which is where I wish I was. And I'd like to see you try to kill me, considering it would be suicide."

"Gentlemen." Beckett held up his hands like a referee. "It's only five meters to the infirmary. Let's get there first; then you can bicker."

"We are not b-" Rodney started, but Sheppard cut him off mid-word with an, "All right," and damn it, he couldn't get control back, and how unfair was that, considering it was his body in the first place? But he let Sheppard steer him into the infirmary and onto an examining table, where Beckett poked at him with a needle, took his temperature, and did the other arcane things medical doctors do to annoy patients.

"...dare you go joy-riding in my - oh, so I'm in charge again now. Thank you so very much," he said.

Beckett looked up from where he was scrutinizing a read-out and shook his head. "Did I say you could bicker yet?"

"This is not bickering. This is me, trying to inform Major Sheppard that he gets to fly the jumpers, but he doesn't get to fly Rodney McKay!" There was a pause, and just the tiniest bit of feeling of relax, relax tickled at the back of his neck. He tried to wiggle his fingers, was pleased when they responded. "Don't even think about it, Major."

"Physically, you're perfectly healthy," announced Beckett.

"And mentally, I'm completely wacko. Please don't forget that there is this minor matter of an extra consciousness in my brain!"

A voice from the doorway startled him; he hadn't noticed Elizabeth approaching. "We've already started working on it. I'm looking for information in the database, anything we can learn about the platform, and Dr. Zelenka has begun examining the platform itself. We'll get John back where he belongs soon, I promise."

A sudden panic tightened in Rodney's throat, which was weird because, actually, what Elizabeth had said had made him feel better; Zelenka was sharp, and once he, Rodney, got down there, the two of them ought to be able to figure out - oh. "That's you, isn't it. Huh, I can feel it."

"Hmm?" said Elizabeth.

"Yeah, Sheppard here. I don't like the idea of people poking around the platform while it's got my body and I don't. Not until I'm down there."

You have a point, thought Rodney.

"And Rodney agrees."

Oh no, you can read my thoughts? Why can't I read yours? I hate this.

"So you are communicating with him?" said Beckett, leaning forward.

Tell him we didn't do this just so he would have an interesting medical situation to study. And hand back the controls, flyboy.

"Not exactly. Just general impressions," said Sheppard. Which was both good and bad, thought Rodney; Sheppard couldn't read his mind, and that was good. But it also meant that they'd have to both speak aloud, which meant that he was going to stay far away from other people, because, carrying on a conversation with yourself? Almost as embarrassing as, well, having an obnoxious Air Force major in your head. "But he wants, oh, yeah, sorry, here you go."

"Tell me what you've learned so I can start working on a solution," Rodney told Elizabeth. He swung his legs down off the table to stand, and immediately felt Sheppard's instinctive step forward; he didn't quite fall over, but it was a near thing, and Elizabeth's look told him that he had just blown his credibility right there.

"Right now, I think you'd better work on a way for the two of you to function smoothly and peacefully. No missions, no laboratory." She held up a hand to forestall his protest. "You get things figured out in your head first. And then you can figure out how to get Major Sheppard back into his own body."

"Let's try that again," said Beckett. "First Rodney, then John."

John tried to relax, but it was damn hard, what with McKay being so high-strung. He could feel the thrum of his nervousness, the pounding of his heart, and he thought: Take it easy. Slow it down. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn't, but the sharp tang of adrenaline eased a little, and he felt McKay's breathing become more even.

He felt McKay stand up, and fought the disorientation. No worse than taking a couple of g's, he told himself. Like being in a plane someone else was piloting. It was just so tempting to reach out, to adjust things. Except that McKay was a little shorter, and his stride was different, and damn it, he should just trust him to know how to walk around the room, but it was hard. And if he took over, McKay would just freak out again, and they'd be back where they started.

Around the room, looking out of McKay's eyes. He forced himself to let McKay drive, to let him look where he wanted, instead of where John wanted to look. Then he heard Beckett say, "Very good," in a pleased voice, and his automatic response was to swivel his glance toward the voice, sliding naturally into the body he inhabited. At least they didn't crash this time, but he felt McKay's frustration as his body ungracefully came to a halt.

Beckett was there immediately. "Rodney, did you feel anything just before John took over?"

John consciously relinquished his control so that McKay could answer. "I told you, I don't get any warning. He just does it." He was peeved, all right.

"John. Can you describe what you feel when Rodney takes over?"

He thought a moment. "It's like I'm getting pushed into a corner. Like there's pressure." He mimed a motion with his hand, belatedly realizing it looked a little like a feeding Wraith.

"You can keep him from taking control?"

"Yeah, I just push back." Peeved was not the word - McKay was really upset. The heartrate was climbing again, and each time he took a breath it felt as though he were laboring to pull in enough oxygen. It was like being at altitude, kind of. John had always wondered how much of McKay's doom-and-gloom attitude was just for show; apparently, none of it. Better throw him a bone. "But I bet he could break through it if he tried hard enough." He waited for the push, held firm against it for a moment (during which it became clear that McKay was not trying hard enough), then let it happen.

"This is stupid. I can't do something if I don't know what it is. I can't feel whatever it is he's feeling." McKay turned to Beckett. "Why is it that he feels this 'push,' he senses my thoughts, and I don't get anything? Hello, this is my body here!"

Beckett appeared to be giving the matter serious consideration. "Maybe it's because it's all unfamiliar to him and he's had to figure it out. You're used to your body. He's not."

"Or maybe I'm just smarter than you."

"Oh, please!" snapped McKay. Then he blinked. "Hey, did you let me do that? You didn't just let me do that, did you?"

"Let's find out," said Beckett. "John, I want you to take control, but do it slowly, if you can. Rodney, pay attention, see if you can feel the push he's talking about. Raise your hand as soon as you notice anything."

It took them a good half-hour of back and forth before Rodney had it, but eventually he was raising his hand just as John pushed himself into the driver's seat, every time. "Hey, this is pretty cool!" he said. "And I can tell that John's feeling...hmm...pleased?"

"Yeah," said John. Of course he was pleased; not that it was exactly great being stuck in McKay's body, but at least they were going to be able to walk around Atlantis without tripping over every step.

"And hungry."

"That's you. And you're always hungry."

Beckett stood. "Then go get something to eat. I think I'm done with you here. I'll go check on Major Sheppard's body."

"I wish you wouldn't talk about me like that. It makes it sound like I'm dead," he said, heading to the door. "McKay, is it all right if I walk to the mess? Or do you want to trade off?"

"Aye, you should practice exchanging control," said Beckett, nodding as he gathered a few instruments from the infirmary cabinets.

"As long as I get to pick what I eat, I don't care," muttered McKay.

"What we eat. Don't forget that I'm connected to those tastebuds too. No citrus, I promise," he added, as he gently pushed McKay's consciousness aside and started walking down the hall.

When she saw McKay striding into the mess hall with his usual gait - purposeful, yet with an air of slight distraction, as though he were solving equations in his head and not giving much thought to where he was going - Elizabeth thought for one relieved moment that someone had gotten Sheppard out of McKay's head and back into his own body. But Sheppard wasn't there, and McKay was talking to himself as he stood in front of the big pot of vegetable-ish stew, and anyway, if they'd done it, someone would have told her.

But at least he wasn't lurching around like a drunkard, and that was something. She waved him over.

"How are you, uh, both, doing?"

"I think we've got this figured out. Yes, and now I'm ready to start working on the platform problem." He saluted her with his spoon. "Although not until after I eat."

"Good." She watched him for a while; every so often there was a little hitch in the motion of spoon to mouth, and once he grumbled at himself to stop eating so fast, but really, you could hardly tell that it wasn't only Rodney McKay in there. She supposed it was a good thing that it had been Sheppard, who had always struck her as both practical and adaptable. Not to mention that he was probably the one person in Atlantis who could put up with McKay for more than an hour at a time.

After dinner they walked to her office, where she opened her computer and turned it around so McKay could see it. "I've been looking up the symbols on the platform. As far as I can tell, it was designed to do exactly what it did."

He snorted. "The Ancients had a strange idea of fun."

"I don't think it was supposed to be fun. Transferring one person's consciousness temporarily into another would give one person the skills of two."

McKay nodded. "In case there wasn't enough energy to send a large group through the stargate. I get it."

"The platform was with the puddle jumpers. I think it's a reasonable assumption."

"Wait a minute. You said temporarily." McKay's face had shifted into a thoughtful expression, not one she associated with him, and she guessed it was Sheppard speaking.

"That's right. It's not intended to be...hold on." She hit a couple of keys to bring up a translation. "In fact there's a warning here, we can't quite translate it, but the gist of it is that the separation becomes more difficult the longer the body-sharing lasts."

"So how long does it last? Is it time-limited?" He rolled his eyes. "Oh, please. Of course it's not time-limited, or they wouldn't warn that separation is difficult. How long do we have? And more importantly, how do we separate?"

She blinked, bemused. It was hard enough to follow what was going on with them from outside; she had no idea how Sheppard and McKay managed it. She looked back down at the screen. "It doesn't say."

"It doesn't say what? How much time we have, or how we separate?" McKay, obviously, from the way his voice was rising, becoming shriller with every word. "Exactly what doesn't it say?"

"Rodney, calm down. It doesn't say either one. It doesn't say that separation becomes impossible, just that it becomes more difficult, so I don't think you need to worry." She'd been worrying enough about it for both of them, of course, but she'd never give a hint of being less than confident in their abilities. "And as for how you do it, I'm sure that someone as smart as you can figure it out."

"Right. Of course. Well, I'll get right to it, then." He stood up.

"Good," said Elizabeth, just as her comm went on.

It was Lieutenant Ford's voice: "Dr. Weir? I've got the team together and we're ready to meet with you."

McKay sat down again. "What team?" he said, and from the controlled lack of inflection it was clearly Sheppard speaking.

"I'm in my office. Give me ten minutes," she said into the radio, and then turned to McKay. "Since you're not able to go on tomorrow's mission -"

"The hell I'm not."

She sighed; maybe it wasn't a good thing that it was Sheppard in there with McKay. "Major, hear me out. Yes, you were scheduled to lead the mission, but right now it's more important to get you back in your own body. I can't risk you - either of you. I've asked Lieutenant Ford to put together -"

"These are the Genii we're talking about. Ford is a great guy, okay? But he's not sophisticated enough to deal with them. Especially not when it comes to negotiation. Look, at least postpone the mission until we get this body problem sorted out."

"I appreciate your concern, but we have to do this now. If we back out, they'll suspect we have a problem." She shook her head. "You of all people should know that we can't afford to show any weakness at all."

He stood up. "I understand completely. We're doomed." As he walked away, she tried, unsuccessfully, to figure out whether it had been Sheppard or McKay who had spoken.

They managed to carry on an actual conversation on the way down to the storage room with the stasis platform without falling down any stairs, which was pretty impressive, thought Rodney. In fact it was sort of cool, swapping back and forth in mid-stride, as long as he didn't think about how weird it was to feel his legs power along with no input from him, or listen to his own voice spouting words that he wasn't, personally, saying. Or, in this case, his own voice fuming and complaining about Elizabeth.

"She's right," he told Sheppard. "Getting us separated is the priority, here."

"But she could just send us like this. That's what the Ancients used this technology for in the first place, right? It's not like I can't do my job from your body. Although you could be in better shape."

"Oh, please. Some of us earn our keep with our brains."

"That's no reason not to take care of your body. Hey, I know. We'll just jog to the platform room." Sheppard broke out into a run.

Rodney had to force himself not to take over; they'd practiced the transition walking, sure, but if he tried to do it now he'd probably break an ankle, and Sheppard would blame him. Instead he thought, fiercely: This is a very bad idea, Very. Very. Bad.

"Come on, it's fun. It's good for you," Sheppard puffed out between hard breaths.

It was complete and total misery, is what it was. His lungs rapidly filled with fire, his left side was cramping, and the stew he'd eaten for dinner seemed to be causing an atomic reaction in his gut. Sheppard had to be feeling it, too. But he didn't slow to a walk until his shins began aching, lightning-bolts of pain lancing through his legs with every step.

"I give," said Sheppard, panting slightly. Rodney sensed exasperation, and amusement, and something like pity. "It's a mystery to me how you ever expected to survive on an alien planet."

"By my wits, of course," he said, taking control. The muscles behind his eyes twitched, just a little, and he knew it was Sheppard.

The pain had faded by the time they got to the platform room. The room was empty except for Zelenka, who was mumbling to himself in Czech as he knelt by the platform, scrutinizing the shining crystals.

"At least I'm not the only person in Atlantis who talks to himself," Rodney said as he entered.

Zelenka looked up. "So. It is the man with two brains. Does it make you any smarter?"

"Like that's even possible," said Rodney, as he bent to see what Zelenka was doing. He felt the twinge of worry just before Sheppard pushed through: "Maybe you shouldn't touch that."

Zelenka gave him a pitying look. "Obviously that was not the smart brain talking, or you would have known that my touching these does not matter."

"Then what are you doing?"

"I am trying to determine how to get you out of McKay and back into you. Unless you want me to do something else?"

"Uh, no. Carry on." He waved his hand. "So, got any ideas yet?"

"Hmm. Touch your body for a moment, please."

Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "Don't you have the dirty mind," he murmured, but he reached Rodney's hand through the field and laid it on his quiescent one. "Nothing," Sheppard said, clearly disappointed.

"Not precisely nothing," said Zelenka, lifting a finger. "You see the lights? A little brighter. Now, think yourself back into your body."

Sheppard was watching the lights, now, and Rodney watched through their shared eyes as the lights brightened, then dimmed. "Still nothing."

"Wait a second," said Rodney, breaking in. "The lights got brighter, but not as bright as they did when the, what was it, the consciousness transfer took place."

"Ah," said Zelenka. "Move back." Rodney lifted his hand from Sheppard's hand - it seemed strangely cold and waxy, like it wasn't a real hand but that of a department-store mannequin, perhaps - and stepped away. The lights dimmed a little more. "Now, watch."

Zelenka put his own hand through the stasis field. "As you can see, without the gene, my own hand does not even register on the device." He pulled back, turned to Rodney. "Dr. Beckett was here earlier. He made the lights flash, but not as much as you."

"So what you're saying is that there's an intensity component."

"I believe so. The effect is nonlinear, with a threshold -"

"And I can't trigger it, but Major Sheppard could. When he was in his own body. But he can't do it from mine." He slumped against the wall and sighed. "So very doomed."

Then there was the push-thing again, and he gave way to Sheppard. "Hold on. It sounds like what McKay needs is something to intensify his gene effect, right?"

"That is one way of putting it, yes."

"Well, does any other Ancient technology have a threshold level to operate?"

Zelenka started ticking things off on his fingers. "The control chair. The environmental settings. Hmm, let's see, what else. The -"

Suddenly it came to Rodney, what Sheppard had meant, and the words just came tumbling out. "Stop, back up, wrong question. What he meant was, what doesn't have a threshold level, because then we can -"

Zelenka was already nodding excitedly. "The jumper. Anyone with the gene can operate it. So I take the controls apart and find out why -"

"Then we use that to reverse-engineer a booster, hook it up to the platform, and voila, no Major Sheppard in my head. Which can only be a good thing." Yesyesyes, he sensed; no disagreement from that quarter. "All right, let's get started."

"I will get started. You will go find something else to do until I have the first part of the puzzle," he said, and left for the jumper bay without another word.

"I'm surprised you let Zelenka push you around, Mr. Chief Scientist," Sheppard said as they watched him go.

"I know more about astrophysics, but I will - reluctantly - admit that Zelenka knows more about jumpers. And that's Dr. Chief Scientist to you."

Taking control again, Sheppard walked over to the platform, where he stood looking down at his body. He was so still, deathly still; as Rodney watched he could see the minute motion of his chest, rising and falling in slow motion, breathing on a geological time scale. Spooky, he thought, although he'd better not say that aloud. Instead he took back his body and grinned; Sheppard couldn't see it, but he would feel it. "You look like you're doing all right. Probably planned this, didn't you. We're all working our butts off, and you get to take a nap."

"Come on," said Sheppard. "Let's go find something else to do."

"Anything but jogging," said Rodney, and they headed out the door.

It turned out that McKay's idea of "something else to do" was going back to his room and playing Space Wars on his laptop, Rodney vs. John, each of them swapping in and out as fast as they could. It was the most pathetic game he'd every played, since when Rodney was in control John could still feel his fingers moving, which was hopelessly disorienting and resulted in every shot being somewhat of a Hail Mary. Of course it worked both ways, so they both sucked. But it was fun in a weird sort of way, and it was good practice, he guessed. He was getting used to Rodney's wider fingers, and his slower reflexes, and his whole body, come to think of it.

So when they'd finally quit (Rodney had won, with a score of 83 to 79, and pointed out that those were the two lowest scores on his machine, ever, by two orders of magnitude) and were lying back on Rodney's bed, it occurred to him that they might not be quite as doomed as he had thought. "You know, we could -"

"Absolutely not," said Rodney, neatly cutting him off. He'd gotten much better at taking control over the course of the day; John fleetingly wished that he hadn't gotten quite so good at it, because it had been quite satisfying, on the walk to the infirmary, being able to, for once in his life, actually make Rodney McKay shut up.

He sighed. "You don't even know what I was going to say."

"Of course I know what you were going to say. You were going to say that we could go on the mission tomorrow like this, and I was going to say that was the stupidest idea I've ever heard."

"So why is it a stupid idea?"

He could feel Rodney's panic building before he spoke. "Look, it just is. The Genii are planning something, we all know that. Okay, they say this Wraith device has 'fallen into their hands' " - he drew little quote marks in the air - "but they won't say how, and frankly, I'm suspicious that it even exists at all. I mean, hello, they tried to take over our city, and we're supposed to trust them?"

"Nobody said we trusted them."

"Right, because we don't."

"Which is why it makes sense that we go along. Ford and Teyla are going to need us."

"Us. There is no us here. There is only me, and if you decide to get all heroic I don't want you doing it with my body, because it's the only one I have, and I would rather it stay in one piece." His left hand went to the scar on his right arm, where Kolya had cut him, and while John couldn't tell whether it was a dramatic gesture or an unconscious one, he could feel Rodney's heart thumping, feel the sweat gathering at the small of his back, and knew that the emotion, at least, was pure, genuine fear.

"All right, all right." He concentrated on calming the physiological responses, on breathing slowly and evenly until Rodney relaxed. He should have known. Not that he liked the Genii any better than Rodney did, but the same things that signalled Need For Extreme Caution to him signalled Need For Freaking Out to Rodney.

He yawned, or maybe Rodney did; in any event, Rodney got up and brushed their joint teeth, and took a leak, and took off everything but his boxer shorts, and crawled into bed. It turned out that Rodney slept on his back, neatly lined up in the center of the narrow bed. John usually slept on his side, but something about Rodney's choice of position felt oddly comfortable in his borrowed bones, and his consciousness easily slid back into the shotgun seat, and then into sleep.

He was at a party at McMurdo and somehow Teyla was there, and she wanted to show him something, and he followed her through the room and to the door to the outside; he wasn't stupid enough to go outside, no matter how drunk he was, so he just stood there and looked at her on the other side of the door. "I don't think it's a good idea," he said, and then she turned into Chaya, and he couldn't help but take a step outside, but it still wasn't a good idea, and then she turned to a good-looking blonde, and she grabbed his arm really hard and yanked him through the door, whispering, "Don't worry, I'll keep you warm," and she was warm, pressing him against the wall, pressing her breasts against him, soft and warm, and she was moaning, and he was moaning, and he was going to come in a moment, just a little harder, just a little -

He hated it when he woke up out of a good dream like that. It wasn't fair - about to get the babe, and then, boom, there he was, five seconds to the moment of glory, alone in bed with a hard-on. No point trying to get back to sleep at this point, so he slipped his hand into his boxers, a few quick strokes, think of the blonde and her soft warmth against his body; then the blissfulness of release.

Followed by the distinct sensation of fury, and Rodney McKay's voice coming out of his own gritted teeth, saying, "Get your hand off my dick, now."


Rodney had already snatched his hand away and was wiping it off on some tissues as he clambered to his feet and shed his messy boxers.

"Look, McKay, I didn't mean -"

The push that he felt as Rodney reclaimed his body was almost a shove, it was so vicious. So much for post-orgasmic relaxation. "Yeah? So what did you mean?" said Rodney.

"Look, I just thought it was - it was me, you know? I forgot."

"I can't believe you -"

"I forgot, okay? I had a dream. A really good dream."

"Oh, please. You dreamed about molesting me?"

John sighed and sank back down onto the bed. "Christ, no. I was dreaming about girls, and I woke up just as I got to the good part. Too bad you didn't enjoy it as much as I did."

"It's not that I didn't enjoy it exactly, I was just surprised, I mean, it's not like I get a lot of sex, I know, I'm so irresistible, it's really hard to believe, and of course I have very high standards, and here on Atlantis there aren't a lot of choices -"

"Rodney. Chill out." He pitched his voice as reasonably as he could, as though he was talking to a small child; not that he would talk to a small child about midnight masturbation, of course. "I had a sexy dream - about a girl, I might add - and I woke up horny and I forgot I was in your body and I took care of it. The end."

Rodney was quiet for a long while, and John would have thought that maybe he'd fallen asleep, except that he could feel the tickle of his consciousness next to his own. Not furious any longer, but still uneasy, still a little upset, and maybe there was just a whiff of guilt in there. It was too bad they didn't have actual telepathy, but at least he was getting better at figuring out the readings on the emotional Rodney-o-meter.

He had consciously pulled himself out of the driver's seat, as a conciliatory gesture, but after a while he realized that Rodney had not pushed forward when he had pulled back. With neither of them particularly thinking about moving or speaking, the body, he guessed, was running on autopilot. His heartbeat was slow and steady, his chest falling and rising in a rhythm that surged around him without being affected by anything he did. The body was not him, was not Rodney. They were both only inhabiting it; and he felt an odd sort of harmony with Rodney at that moment, both of them sharing the space equally.

Finally Rodney slid past him and took control, turned back onto his stomach, curling one arm around his pillow and burying his face in it. There were probably more dreams, but John didn't remember any of them in the morning.

"You have a go," said Elizabeth, looking around the control room. Lieutenant Ford had chosen a good team, she thought: Teyla, of course; Sergeant Stackhouse, Dr. Simpson, and, much to her surprise (and probably his) Dr. Kavanagh. Two Marines, two scientists, and Teyla, who could hold her own as a fighter, yet had the experience they'd need to deal with the Genii.

It had been difficult enough negotiating this meeting. The Genii refused to come to Atlantis, and Sergeant Bates had pointed out that it would be idiocy to meet them on their planet. Kolya suggested Ereus. She suggested Me'ia. They compromised on Bakaa; Teyla assured her that the Bakaan had good reputations as honest brokers and fair traders, and that their hospitality was legend. Elizabeth was too good a diplomat to mention that Teyla had once said that about the Genii.

She had to admit she was surprised that Major Sheppard hadn't repeated his demand to be on the team. Rodney had passed her in the hallway that morning jogging - actually jogging! From which she inferred that it was actually Sheppard in control, and she was prepared to give her little speech again, polite but firm, but he just gave her a little wave and kept jogging down the hall.

She turned her attention back to Ford. "Give me a status report as soon as you're there. Then check in, let's say, every two hours, if you can. Four if you can't. If things drag out, you'll come back this evening and start again tomorrow. I don't want you staying there overnight."

"Understood, ma'am."

"Dial it in," she said to Benson, and he punched the code. The stargate opened.

"All right, people, move out!" said Ford, and off they went, through the wormhole. A few moments later his voice crackled back through: "We're on the other side, and it looks okay. Talk to you in two hours. Ford out."

Now that was what she liked; someone who actually listened to her. Unlike Sheppard, who pretended to listen and then went off and did whatever crazy thing he wanted to do. Or McKay, for that matter, who never even bothered pretending.

The normal business of the day quickly absorbed her, to the point that when the gate came on, it startled her; had it really been two hours? She checked the time: only a little more than an hour had passed, and this alone was enough to make her nervous.

"It's Lieutenant Ford, ma'am."

She nodded. "Let the transmission through."

"Dr. Weir, it's Ford. Chief Cowen has requested to speak with you."

Elizabeth tensed. This could not be good news. "Lieutenant, is there a problem?"

"No problem, ma'am. It's just that they were expecting Dr. McKay. Let me put the Chief on for you."

She relaxed, just a fraction. They had a code, words they'd agreed on, and Ford hadn't said them. "I assume you told them that Dr. McKay is busy with another project."

"Dr. Weir, I understand he is a busy man." The voice crackling across the gate must have been Cowen's. "But I am surprised he did not come. This Wraith artifact we have - it's baffled our best scientists."

"I am sure that Dr. Simpson and Dr. Kavanagh are equal to the task."

"Yes, well. We shall see." There was a pause, and then Ford's voice again: "Talk to you in two hours. Ford out."

Very curious, she thought, frowning. McKay had not even been on the initial team; or rather, he had been expected to go as a matter of course, but as soon as the Genii were mentioned he had gone pale and looked as though he were about to throw up.

Sheppard had tilted back in his chair and raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised at you, McKay. The chance to get your hands on some new whiz-bang technology, and you're turning it down."

"Getting a totally unknown piece of Wraith technology from the Genii? Really bad idea. Don't you think they'd, I don't know, booby-trap it, or something?"

"That's what we're going to find out."

"That's what you're going to find out. And until you do, I'm staying right here."

"Gentlemen," Elizabeth had said, leaning forward to place herself between them. "John's right - we can't pass up this opportunity. But if you don't want to go, Rodney, you don't have to." More than anyone else, she understood his fear of the Genii. She'd been there, right next to him, and she knew.

And he had been so, so grateful when she hadn't insisted he go. Which was why this entire fiasco with the body-sharing device was so spectacularly ill timed; of course Sheppard was right, it should be him, not Ford, out there leading the team, but she couldn't do that to Rodney, not after what had happened during the storm.

Two hours until Ford called again. And she knew better than to disturb McKay while he was knee-deep in a project. Nothing to do but wait.

"Pass me - thanks," said Rodney, as Zelenka handed him the W-shaped crystal, which was, of course, exactly what he was going to ask for. This was why he liked working with him - at least to the extent that he liked working with anybody, which, honestly? Not that much. But his whole day had taken a turn for the better when Zelenka called him, late in the morning, to tell him he'd isolated the jumper component that boosted the gene effect. Not only did that mean he could get to work now, one step closer to getting the problem solved, it also interrupted Sheppard's morning jog. Which was another reason to like Zelenka.

The third reason was the way he'd neatly put down Sheppard, when they'd arrived at the lab to find jumper parts strewn across the workbench. To make room for his laptop, he'd had to push aside something that was recognizably part of the control panel. Sheppard had frowned and said, "Are you sure we should be taking this apart?"

To which Zelenka had told him that yes, we should be taking this apart, we being himself and Rodney, because they were geniuses, and that he - Sheppard - should please to stay out of the way. Which was exactly what Rodney had wanted to say. Except that since last night, talking to Sheppard wasn't quite as easy as it had been.

The morning had been as awkward as any morning after. The day before, he had to go to the bathroom, he went; no big deal, nothing Sheppard hadn't done or seen before. They both felt the signal from the bladder, but it was always Rodney who actually ran the show. But now he had become acutely aware of Sheppard's lurking presence in his body. In front of the toilet this was definitely not so good.

The thing was, Sheppard had no idea how it had felt. Or maybe - he almost dropped a connector, earning a sharp look from Zelenka - maybe it was that he was used to it. When they were doing something active, like walking or eating or that stupid jogging, they were always swapping back and forth. But when they were -

"What does it feel like when I pee?" he said, suddenly. Zelenka looked at him as though he had sprouted pink feathers. "Not you. Sheppard."

"Is this something you want to talk about now?" Sheppard looked toward Zelenka; Rodney could feel the incredulity seeping through.

"Humor me. What does it feel like?"

"It feels like peeing! What do you think?"

"No, I mean - when you're, you know, in the back of my brain."

He could feel Sheppard roll his eyes and sigh. "It feels like peeing."

Zelenka gave him another odd look, and he shrugged. "Never mind. All right, let's try the red energy conductors in the upper slots."

Then Sheppard broke in again. "But speaking of peeing, I noticed that you haven't, um." He looked at Zelenka, then shifted his eyes down, dropping his voice to an improbable whisper. "You know. Taken a dump."

Zelenka was starting to giggle. Rodney shoved back into control and grabbed at the edge of the workbench. "I'm a little tense right now, in case you haven't noticed," he hissed.

"I noticed," said Zelenka.

He sighed. "Red energy conductors, sometime this week, please?"

Maybe it was because he'd just woken up. He'd been dreaming about the time that Kolya had a gun to his back, when he had sworn that he'd needed both of them to save the city, he and Elizabeth both, and they were standing in the rain, trying to fix that damn grounding station. And all of a sudden Elizabeth had started to kiss him, to rub up against him, which was weird, but hey, she was attractive in a kind of hard-ass way, but he knew it had to be a dream, because she'd never do that in real life. So he woke up.

And someone was stroking his dick.

Okay, it had been his own hand, but it wasn't him doing it. Something about the number of nerve endings in his hand versus in his dick, maybe, because what he noticed was not what his hand was doing, but what was going on between his legs. Which admittedly was not, in itself, bad. In fact it was so not-bad that by the time his brain caught up with his body and he realized that John Sheppard was jerking him off, he was already coming. Which was not bad either, of course, but it was not so not-bad that it negated the fact that it had been John. In his body. Playing with his dick.

Which was bad.

"Atlantis to McKay," said Zelenka, waving a hand in front of him. This was bad, too; he was not going to get so obsessed over this stupid thing that he drifted off while working, damn it. He bent his head to the task at hand and forced himself to focus.

Only a short time later - or so it seemed to him, although they'd made quite a bit of progress - his comm crackled into life. "McKay, this is Weir."

He finished splicing the connector he was working on before answering. "Yes, what is it?"

"The team's back from Bakaa. Can you come up to the conference room?"

"They have the Wraith device?" He could feel Sheppard's excitement boosting his own.

"Not exactly. See you in the conference room. Weir out."

"Lucky you," he muttered to Sheppard as they walked up toward the conference room. "A little break in your boredom."

"I wasn't bored. Did you feel me being bored?"

Rodney thought about it. "No, you're right. You thought it was cool."

"I thought it was cool, yeah. But you seemed a little, I don't know, upset, distracted, maybe."

Oh, crap. He cast about wildly for an excuse, aware that Sheppard could feel him panicking. This was so not good.

"Hey, relax. I'm sure everything went okay for them."

Them? Oh, right. The team. The Wraith device, the negotiations, the damn Genii. He grabbed the excuse with both hands, nodding, saying, "Right. Better them than me. Us. Whatever." But he could feel from Sheppard's tension that he wasn't really sure that everything had gone okay.

And when they stepped into the conference room, they knew that it hadn't gone okay at all.

"I think we - that is, McKay - should go with the team tomorrow," said John, trying to ignore the no no bad idea vibes coming from the back of his neck. McKay had been touchy all day, and the news from the team had only made it worse.

"Dr. Kavanagh?" said Elizabeth.

He sighed elaborately and leaned back in his chair. "With the access they've given me - not much, I can assure you, but enough - I've determined the Wraith device is clearly not a hoax. I'm not sure what Dr. McKay can add."

"Other than that the Genii are practically making it a condition for their trade," said Ford.

"That makes no sense at all," said Kavanagh. "I'm satisfied with what they've brought to the table. There's no reason to have someone check up on my work. If you're not satisfied you can just -"

"Of course we're satisfied," said Elizabeth, cutting him off. "What I'm not satisfied with is what they're asking for. We can't give them explosives."

"That is why we must go back tomorrow and resume negotiations. There are other things they want," said Teyla.

Ford grinned. "Like McKay, for instance."

John felt the tension bubble up and erupt as McKay pushed into the control seat. "You are not trading me to the Genii!"

"Actually, that's a good idea," said Simpson. "Get him out of our hair." McKay glared at her and she held up a hand. "Only joking."

Kavanagh sniffed. "He can't come with us. It will undercut our authority as experts on the technology."

"I agree," said Elizabeth, nodding. She looked around the table. "All right, we'll do it again tomorrow."

As everyone filed out of the room, John stopped in front of Elizabeth. "I still think we should go. I, being Sheppard - yes, McKay, I know you don't want to."

"Which is why you're not going."

"Look, the Genii have something up their sleeves. We need to find out what it is."

She paced a few steps behind the table, obviously marshalling her thoughts; she did this every time he made a suggestion that she didn't agree with. But in the end, he knew, she always gave in.

"We're not going to find out by just giving them what they want."

"We're not giving them -"

She stopped pacing, folded her arms, and looked straight at him. "My answer's still no. Now go. Both of you."

"Amazing," said McKay as they headed for the mess hall, "she doesn't always give in."

A prickle of unease slid down his spine. "Hold on. Are you getting that from my mind?"

"Oh, please. It was obvious. I'm happy to see her holding onto her principles for once."

"You just don't want to go," said John.

"Duh. Of course I don't want to go. The very fact that they want me to go makes me not want to go. What I want to do is eat something before I go into hypoglycemic shock. And then go back to the laboratory so we can get a start on setting up the enhancement circuit."

"What fun. Is sleep on the agenda anytime tonight?"

"Who needs sleep when we have coffee?" said McKay, but John could feel that tension coming back, the tension that had rumbling beneath the surface all day. Maybe that's what he needed - more sleep. He'd give him two hours max in the lab after dinner, and then maybe they'd play some more Space Wars, and then they'd go to sleep.

But as it turned out it was kind of fun, tagging along in McKay's head while he worked, and he lost track of the time. All that intellect focused on one thing; he'd seen the process before, from the outside, but seeing it from the inside was really amazing. He could practically feel the neurons banging around in his brain. In McKay's brain. Maybe if he just pushed hard enough in the right direction, they'd seep over into his own, and then they really would have telepathy. It was like hitching a ride on a U2 - not as much fun as flying it yourself, but if you didn't know how to fly a U2 it was still worth the price of admission.

McKay fused a couple of connectors to the jury-rig device they were creating, then gripped the control bar; John felt him concentrating, and four crystals glowed a pale green. "Yes!"

Zelenka gave a cheer. John squeezed forward; it was weird to take control again, after sitting in the back of McKay's head for, what, four hours? "So are we done?"

"No," said Zelenka. "But we get close."

"Right, we've got a booster going. Now we just need to head down to the platform and figure out how to hook it up."

"Tomorrow," said Zelenka.

"Come on. It'll only take a couple of hours," said McKay.

"Tomorrow. Is better to do critical operations after a night of good sleep."

"He's right," said John. He could feel McKay's disagreement in his spine. "Well, he is. I can never save the universe unless I've had a full night of sleep."

The prickly feeling of unease just got worse the closer they got to McKay's quarters. It wasn't until he stood at the bathroom door, hesitating, that John started to put things together. Hell, his bladder was full enough - if McKay wasn't going to do it, he'd have to.

"Does this have something to do with the peeing thing you were asking about?"

"Not exactly." McKay threw the door open, hesitated again, then shrugged and undid his fly. "I don't like public urinals, either."

"Look, Rodney, it's not like I'm going to...oh." So that was what this was about.

"Right. Now shut up and let me pee."

John hung back until he was finished. When they were back in the bedroom and Rodney had started taking his clothes off, he tried again. "It was totally unintentional. I'm sorry."

"I know," said Rodney in a clipped, tense voice. "That's why I'm going to show you exactly why it was such a bad idea."

"Come on, this -"

Rodney pushed him into the background. "Stay there and shut up."

His dick was perfectly soft, of course, and as he finished getting naked and lay back on the bed, it occurred to John that being upset was probably about as far as a guy could get from the necessary state of mind for an erection. But Rodney was running the show, and if Rodney wanted to run his fingertip down his own chest and swirl it around a nipple -


The weird thing was, John had never been the sort of guy who got turned on by someone playing with his nipples. But evidently Rodney was, because zoom, there went the sensation, right down the interstate highway to his balls, burning rubber every bit of the way. And that was another thing, how it felt. You'd think that having your consciousness pulled way back from the motor control center would decrease sensitivity, but that wasn't, apparently, how it worked at all. It was like the optimal combination of the way you could touch yourself exactly the way you liked best, and the way it always felt better when it was someone else touching you. He could hardly keep track of all the interesting things going on in his nipples, and his balls, and his dick.

Or rather, Rodney's dick. Which was rapidly becoming hard even though Rodney's hand was nowhere near it; he was still drawing circuit diagrams on his chest and neck, tracing lines across his collarbone and his lightly-stubbled jaw. He wondered whether he was getting hard because he, John, was being turned on, or if it was Rodney's arousal that was causing it. Or maybe it was a synergistic effect, two involuntary responses adding up to one big hard-on.

At least, it felt big. John had consciously not checked out Rodney's equipment earlier, because bodily functions were awkward enough as they were; Rodney wasn't looking at anything other than the inside of his eyelids, but John suddenly wished he could see what it looked like. If he was bigger, smaller, whatever. Just to satisfy his curiosity.

"So I woke up," said Rodney, his fingertips slowly meandering southward along his torso, "and there was this hand down my shorts."

"I get the point," said John, which made things get really strange. Because as soon as he slid past Rodney's consciousness so he could speak, the whole toucher-touchee thing totally reversed itself, figure and ground, the way the picture of a vase suddenly turns into two people kissing; he was abruptly aware of his hand sliding down past Rodney's hipbone, and he blinked, opening his eyes.

And saw Rodney's reflection - naked, flushed, his hand just short of his dick - on a shimmery oval of silver that floated just below the ceiling.

"Wow," he breathed. Not that in the ordinary course of events he'd be jerking off to an image of Rodney McKay. But seeing him like that, watching as he slowly stroked his hand along his thigh, casually letting it brush his dick which, oh yeah, jumped up like it had been waiting for years to be touched; watching Rodney touch himself, that was turning him on. Maybe it was because he was doing it, he was feeling it all. Looking in a mirror, but it wasn't him up there, it was someone else. It was Rodney.

"You - did you do that?" said Rodney, eyes fixed on the mirror that had appeared above them, and his voice was hoarse, and everything reversed itself again. John's hand on Rodney's dick became Rodney's hand on his dick, and the teasing touch was not enough at all.

"Guess I did." Those Ancients were kinky bastards, weren't they. He tightened his grip, then paused, worried; this is what he'd done in the first place to get Rodney pissed off, wasn't it. But then Rodney swapped in and started to move his hand, and oh, yeah.

"I wasn't planning, I mean, I was just going to show you." Rodney was staring at his reflection and panting slightly, and that was kind of a turn-on too, feeling his body pant, a feedback loop sort of thing. "How it felt. A little. And then stop." Despite his words, he showed no signs of stopping, for which John was fervently grateful.

"It feels pretty good."

"Yeah," said Rodney. "Stupid idea, huh?"

Brilliant idea, thought John, and he saw Rodney's reflection smile. And that made him wonder what Rodney would look like when he came, and just that thought did it; Rodney gasped, and slid his hand just a fraction faster, his other hand moving up to squeeze a nipple, and John thought as hard as he could eyes open, keep them open, oh yeah, fuck yeah, and then he was coming, and he wasn't thinking at all.

After Rodney cleaned them off they lay for a while, not speaking. In any event, John wasn't quite sure what to say; the vibes he was getting from Rodney's half of the brain were complicated. Not angry vibes, though, and that was encouraging. He was probably sending out pretty mixed signals himself, considering that what he'd just done was halfway between an extremely satisfactory jerk-off session, which was relatively normal, and sex with another guy, which was something that had not even been a part of his personal universe of possibilities until now.

"Well, that was interesting," Rodney said, finally. "Not exactly what I'd planned, but interesting."

"Interesting, yeah. And you said it was a bad idea." John shook his head. "You sure showed me, didn't you," he said, and snickered, and Rodney picked it up, and then the laughter bubbled out of them both, full and deep.

Rodney was amazed at how much more relaxed he felt in the morning. Getting laid was definitely a good thing; okay, not that he'd gotten laid from a strict technical standpoint, but it was close enough. Which was pretty funny, considering that the whole point of the exercise was to discourage Sheppard from taking liberties with his body. But somehow when they were both involved it was okay, although he was not going to think of it as actually having sex with John Sheppard, because, whoa, that was a little too weird to be thinking about before his first cup of coffee.

He could feel John's contentment, too, like the warmth of sunlight on his skin, and it was tempting to just lie in bed for a while and bask like a lizard. But coffee called, and John wanted to go jogging before breakfast, he realized, and he was in a good enough mood that he didn't mind.

It wasn't until they'd had their coffee, and their jog, and their shower, and their breakfast, that he realized how completely, truly, fantastically weird things had become. He had intended to radio Zelenka to tell him that he was stopping by the laboratory to pick up the booster, then heading for the platform room, but he managed to say only Zelenka's name into the mouthpiece before everything slotted itself into place in his brain, and his mouth hung open, frozen, his words forgotten.

"McKay, are you there?" Zelenka's voice said into his ear.

"Yeah," he said slowly. This call to Zelenka was the first time he'd spoken all morning. The first thing either of them had said, he or John, and yet they had slid back and forth seamlessly the whole time, jogging, eating, everything. There had been no question of what to choose at breakfast, how hot to dial the shower. Come to think of it, he couldn't even remember which specific actions each of them had controlled. They'd just...done them.

And neither of them had spoken a word. Although when they'd hit the bathroom after breakfast Rodney had sensed John's joking not so tense now, huh? and he'd thought yeah, you just think I'm full of shit, and they had both laughed aloud. It still wasn't real telepathy, but it was a hell of a lot closer to it than they'd had just the day before, and he could feel John's agreement, and puzzlement, and worry.


"Yes, yes, we're here. Meet you in the platform room," he said, distracted by the thought that maybe this was what Elizabeth had meant about it getting harder to separate the longer they spent in the same body. The boundaries were already blurring, and maybe if they didn't get John back into his own body soon they would turn into some bizarre hybrid monster, Rodjohn McSheppard, and there would be nothing they could...okay, stop this, he told himself, because he could feel John urging him to relax, forcing him to breathe more slowly, thinking calming thoughts.

They stopped at the lab to pick up the booster; by the time they got to the platform room Zelenka was already there, removing the panel over the console so they could set up an interface. And now it was his turn to think calming thoughts, because John was getting uneasy. I know what I'm doing, he thought, and in return he got a sort of whiff of yeah, you do, but does he? and his feet walked over to the platform.

"Move over, let me do it."

Zelenka raised an eyebrow. "It is not much to do to expose the connectors."

"I'd just feel better if I did it, okay?" Anyway, it made John feel better. It was nice to be appreciated, for a change.

They worked for a while in silence, splicing the booster into the platform console. It was definitely him running the body; he could feel John curled up beneath his consciousness, but he seemed closer to the surface, somehow, than he'd been when they were in the laboratory the evening before, and his fingers felt defter, like John's fighter-pilot reflexes were giving his hands the tiniest bit of assistance. At first it was a little distracting, but it quickly became a familiar sensation, like the background hum of Ancient machines.

"Well," he finally said, after they'd been working for a bit more than an hour. "I think we're there."

"Should test it first," said Zelenka. "We have no calibration."

"Yes, yes, right. Boost it too much and we might overload it." Rodney looked around for something he could use to measure the response; maybe they should run back to the lab and see what they could find, he thought, and it was then that his radio crackled in his ear.

"McKay, this is Weir. You need to come to the control room, now. We have a situation."

"We'll be right there," said John. "Sheppard out."

The first thing John saw when they walked into the control room was Lieutenant Ford with a rip in his jacket and an ugly gash on his arm that Dr. Beckett was already wrapping with gauze. Stackhouse stood impassively behind him; Elizabeth was pacing back and forth, looking furious. When he entered the room, she stopped walking and shook her head.

"I am really very sorry about this, Rodney."

He nodded at her, then turned to Ford as Beckett finished dressing his arm and stepped away. "What happened?"

"They ambushed us, sir." Ford must have recognized the tone of voice. "It was a set-up. This morning when the Genii came, it wasn't the same group - they were all military."

"Kolya," breathed John. "I'm going to kill that bastard." Rodney was barely below the surface, almost like an echo; he could feel the visceral hate, the anger, and he wondered if they were Rodney's thoughts, or his own.

"Yep. They must have told the Bakaan they were a new set of negotiators, or something. We came through right into the arms of their welcoming committee, and they threatened to shoot us if the Bakaan interfered. Teyla and the scientists are being held hostage."

He connected the dots: the Genii wanted Rodney, didn't they, and either Rodney came to the same conclusion at the same time or he pulled it from John's thoughts, because immediately the panic started to build. Shh, shh, calm down, we can handle it, he thought. Breathe. Focus.

"And they will be released if we give them McKay?" he said. Ford looked at him oddly, and he realized how it must have sounded. As though he were talking about himself, which he was, sort of.

"McKay goes through the gate alone, they'll allow the others to return. Within an hour - then they'll start killing the hostages. We come through with a force, they kill them all."

John felt a spike of fear and knew Rodney was thinking of Kolya. We can handle it. We can handle him. "Well, they're going to see McKay go through the gate alone, aren't they." He grinned.

Elizabeth frowned. "You may both be in there, Major, but you still have only one body between you."

"I have a plan," he said. In his head Rodney made a kind of derisive mental harrumph, the meaning unmistakeable: Yeah, right, I've heard that one before. He turned to Stackhouse. "You know where Teyla keeps her fighting sticks, in the gym? Go down and get me one. I also want Rodney's mission gear, and two handguns." When Stackhouse had left, he turned to Ford. "Lieutenant, I want you to tell me everything you can. Their forces on the ground, where our people are being held - everything."

As Ford started talking, John caught just the edge of a thought from Rodney, just enough to get the gist of it, and he started to laugh.

"What is it, sir?"

"Something funny?" asked Elizabeth, looking at him oddly. She'd probably never seen Rodney laugh out loud before; come to think of it, John doubted he'd ever seen Rodney laugh, either. Maybe a quirk of the lips, once or twice.

"It's just - he's a little annoyed," he started, and then the laughter overtook him again as he felt Rodney's reaction.

Radiating pique and injured pride, Rodney slid past, and John felt him compose his face into his usual haughty sneer. "It's just that I can't believe you're sending me on a mission to rescue Kavanagh," he complained.

Even Elizabeth laughed at that.

Are you sure this is going to work?

John's reassuring vibes in return were not nearly as reassuring as Rodney would have liked. They'd had a low conversation with each other in a corner of the control room, spelling everything out so there would be no ambiguity whatsoever. Especially since they were going to have to rely on their sort-of-telepathy from here on out. It was so, so close; Rodney felt like he could almost distinguish the actual words John was thinking at him, but not quite. Not quite.

They'd agreed that Rodney would control the body at first, because it was important that the Genii not suspect anything, and John's body language was different enough from Rodney's that it might set off warning bells. Not that the Genii would have any hope of guessing the reason, but they needed to lull them into complacency. That was the only way the plan would work.

Rodney grasped the stick like a crutch and looked down at his left ankle. Carson had wrapped it with gauze, as much to remind them which side to pretend to hobble on as to help fool the Genii into underestimating him. "All right," he said, more to himself than to anyone else. "I'm ready."

"Good luck, both of you," Elizabeth said, and gave the order to dial the gate. The wormhole opened; taking a deep breath, he stepped through.

And stepped out, right in front of Kolya's ugly face.

"I'm here," said Rodney. "Let them go."

Kolya's eyes raked him slowly and deliberately, resting for a long moment on his gauze-wrapped ankle. "So that is why you were not with the team. I had thought you might be...scared."

Damn right, thought Rodney, and felt John's snort of mingled amusement and sympathy. "Believe me, if I had known you'd be here, I would have thrown myself off a balcony and broken it on purpose." He forced himself to lift his chin and look Kolya in the eye. It was easier than he thought it would be, to put on that defiant look, and he knew that John's strength was behind it. "I'm here, that was the deal, right? If you don't let the others go right now, you know we're coming after you."

Kolya looked at him for another long moment, then nodded and barked out a command to one of the men behind him, who set out at a run toward the Bakaa village. Rodney followed him with his eyes as John assessed the enemy. Kolya and two other Genii soldiers, not counting the one who had just left. One must be guarding the prisoners. Five, to match the numbers of the Atlantis team, so the Bakaan wouldn't have suspected treachery when they'd arrived. But all five of them were armed and trained.

Of course, so was he. Sort of.

"So, what did you want me for? Got some, ooh, mysterious Wraith artifact for me to look at?" Kolya's face was impassive. "Okay, it's not the artifact. Some puzzle for me to solve, maybe with a ZPM at the other end of it? That was fun. Remember that?" He was aware his voice was rising, that he was edging toward hysteria, and he almost resented John's purposefully calming thoughts. If any situation called for freaking out, this was it, right? "How about -"

"As a matter of fact," said Kolya, his voice flat, "we require your assistance with our nuclear program."

"Oh," he said. "Why didn't you say so before? Oh, right, you did say so before."

Enough, John told him. He could feel John's awareness ramping up, sliding just beneath his skin, getting ready for action. The others were within sight now, Teyla and Simpson and Kavanagh, a guard on either side of them. He could see the guns the guards carried; John noticed the guns, and that meant he did, too. He noticed that the two Genii behind Kolya had guns, but they weren't pointing them at him. They looked bored. He was a crippled scientist with no hero complex whatsoever, and he was no threat to them, right?


Teyla's eyes narrowed when she saw him, and Rodney wondered if she was already guessing what John had in mind. Simpson looked as though she had been crying, and Kavanagh had a black eye and a grim look on his face. Probably planning his litany of complaints to Elizabeth, he thought. Or thinking about how he's going to maneuver himself into my job.

Kolya nodded at him. "Step away from the gate, please. We don't want you making a run for it."

Rodney wondered why he had bothered to say 'please'. "As if I could," he said, feeling John's warning not to overplay it; he hobbled carefully a few steps forward, towards Kolya, who frowned but said nothing. Hope began to rise in Rodney's chest like a helium balloon. It might actually work.

It almost didn't. When Kavanagh saw him he called out, "Is that only you, McKay, or -?" Fortunately Teyla turned and hissed at him to be silent, as John's fingers twitched toward his hidden weapon; that would have blown everything, to have to shoot before things were in position, and Elizabeth would not approve of them shooting one of their own team. Even Kavanagh.

Kolya frowned. "What is this?"

Teyla and Simpson both glared at Kavanagh. "Well, you said you wanted McKay to come through alone," he said, sullenly. "I was only checking. Making sure we weren't going to get shot." He might be a prick, thought Rodney, but he was a quick thinker. Point to Kavanagh, although it wouldn't have been necessary if he hadn't opened his mouth in the first place.

"If I were going to shoot you, I would have done so by now," said Kolya, smiling unpleasantly. "Fortunately for you, Dr. McKay is alone, so you may go back to Atlantis." He nodded to one of the men behind him, who moved to the DHD pedestal and began pressing the buttons.

Rodney knew the address for Atlantis by heart, of course, and it was a pleasure to see the chevrons lock, one by one. As the wormhole formed he felt John surging up; it was the Major's show, now. And it was showtime.

He felt John watching, calculating, as the hostages walked cautiously toward the gate. The scientists were in the lead, which was perfect; John waited until they were almost there and Kavanagh was radioing in his IDC, then called, plaintively, "Teyla!"

Kolya swung his gun around to bear on him. "You, shut up."

"Please," said John, raising a hand toward Kolya in appeal. Pleading with his eyes. "We may not see each other for - for a long time. I just want to kiss her goodbye."

"Please," echoed Teyla. Thank God she was quick on the uptake. She darted a glance to the scientists, a quick nod, and yes, they weren't stupid, they stepped through to safety on the other side of the wormhole. Not waiting for permission, Rodney took a few steps toward her, and she toward him. Nobody shot them; so far, so good.

"Gun under my vest, on your right," John whispered as they embraced, turning so her body was blocking Kolya's view of what they were doing, and Rodney felt her hand slip around to find it. "On my signal. Watch the guy on the DHD. Kolya's mine."

They parted, and Rodney hobbled toward Kolya, leaning heavily on the stick. As he drew near, John took control again; he dropped the stick and threw himself on Kolya, whipping out his other concealed gun and holding it to Kolya's chin as they landed hard on the ground. "Drop your weapons or he's dead!" he shouted, not looking at the others, trusting Teyla to be alert, ready. Trusting the Genii soldiers not to shoot him, because he was what they were after in the first place. "Drop them!"

The wild rush of adrenaline was like nothing Rodney had felt before. Or rather, before it had always translated into knee-trembling fear; with John's consciousness guiding him, it became a source of strength. It was like being invulnerable again, except that it wasn't an Ancient device, it was John, him and John together. Invulnerable together. He heard the sound of guns falling to the ground, looked into Kolya's mocking eyes.

"You are only a scientist. Weak," he spat. "You do not have the will to shoot me." He shifted under Rodney's weight, and only John's sense of balance and fast reflexes kept him pinned.

"Got news for you," whispered John. "Let me give you a hint. Last time I saw you, you told me that the smart thing to do was to kill you. And I said that if you ever did this again, I would." He jammed the gun hard into Kolya's chin. "Ring any bells?"

"Sheppard?" Kolya said, clearly incredulous.

"You win the prize," said John. "Teyla. We're going home."

Rodney felt the cool pressure of the trigger against his fingers. Just a tiny motion would be all it would take, and suddenly he remembered Brendan Gall, holding the gun to his own chin the same way, the gun Rodney had given him, back in that crashed Wraith ship they'd found. He hadn't been able to sleep for a week after that, waking up in a sweat, remembering the blood, hearing over and over again that single shot. Kolya was right; Rodney McKay could not shoot him.

We need to.

I can't.

I will.


John pulled the trigger and Rodney jerked his hand away at the same time; the shot went into Kolya's shoulder as they scrambled up, off his body, and toward the gate. One of the Genii lunged for the DHD, and Teyla shot him, screaming, "Go!"

They dove through the gate, just ahead of the gunfire.

"I still think we should have made the effort to recover the Wraith device," said Kavanagh.

McKay glared at him. "Forget about the Wraith device. It was just bait. Be thankful you got out of there alive."

That must have been John, thought Elizabeth. Rodney would have said, "that I got you out alive," and he would have made a meaningful gesture in Teyla's direction, to her bandaged side, where she'd taken a bullet coming through the stargate. And he probably wouldn't have stopped after only three sentences. The glare, on the other hand, was definitely Rodney.

"Well, I think we're finished here," she said, getting up from the conference table. She looked over at Rodney. "Gentlemen, I believe we have a date with the consciousness-transference machine?"

"Right," said Rodney, following her out the door.

"You did a good job. Both of you," she said as they walked down the hallway.

"We didn't kill Kolya."

"No, you didn't, and I'm glad. We have enough enmity between our people; we don't need to make it any worse."

"You still believe that after what he did to you?"

"I have to, John," she said, knowing it was he who had spoken. "I have to." She keyed her radio. "Dr. Beckett, this is Weir. Meet us in the room with the transference platform. Major Sheppard is ready to be reunited with his body."

When they got there, they found Zelenka, putting the finishing touches on the booster interface. He scrambled to his feet. "It is ready, I think." Beckett came in just behind them and took up a position next to the platform. He reached his hand towards John's body but Zelenka waved him away frantically. "No, no, you have the gene. If you activate the machine I do not know what might happen."

"I was only going to check his pulse," he said, looking wounded.

Rodney walked to the platform and looked down at John's body. "Still breathing. I think we can infer a pulse." He paused, his face blank for a moment, then nodded. "Okay, let's do it."

"The booster is on," said Zelenka.

Rodney's hand darted out, hovered over John's wrist for a moment. Slowly, decisively, his hand lowered.

The platform lights flashed, blindingly bright, and Rodney screamed; half a second later, John screamed as well, their mingled voices echoing in the small chamber.

Elizabeth's eyes met Zelenka's; he looked as worried as she felt. "Can you stop it?" she asked, but he shook his head. The platform lights dimmed and flickered out, and abruptly the screams were silenced. Rodney had slid to the floor, and his eyes were closed. On the platform, John was curled in a fetal position, shaking.

Beckett was already bent over John, so she hurried over to where Rodney lay in a crumpled heap. "Are you all right?" She bent to him and his eyes opened wide.

"Don't touch me!" He pushed himself to his feet and backed away. "Elizabeth, I'm sorry...I can't...." He looked at his hands, holding them up close to his face, frowning, and she took a step closer.

"It's all right, Rodney."

"No. No, no, it isn't. I'm...okay, I'm all right," he said, darting glances around the room. "I'm all right, but I need to rest. To be...I need to be alone." He laughed bitterly. "What a change, huh?"

"It's all right," she repeated. "Go up to your room if you like. I'll send Carson -"

He shook his head. "No, no, I'm fine. I'm fine. I'll just...I'll be in my room," he said, and moved past her, to the door, not looking at the platform, not looking at John. "I'm fine," he said again, and walked rapidly down the hallway.

She watched him for a moment, torn: should she follow him, or let him go? Certainly he'd been under a lot of stress over the last few days. Maybe being alone for a while would get him back on an even keel - or at least, what passed for that with Rodney. It would be better to leave him be for now, she decided, and instead went to John, who was now sitting on the edge of the platform, staring out into space while the doctor fussed over him. "How are you doing?"

"Peachy-keen," he said, in a monotone.

Carson frowned. "Vital signs are good, but his heartrate is very rapid. How do you feel, Major?"

"How do I feel," John repeated slowly. "That's a very good question." He fell silent for a moment, and Elizabeth was about to speak, to say something bland and reassuring, when he abruptly began again. "You know, I've been in the service for a long time. Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, a lot of action. You ever see what a land mine does to a man, Doc?"

"Can't say I have," murmured Carson.

"Kennison, he was a buddy of mine. Took him down to Charikar. He got his leg blown off, both legs. Nothing but a bloody mess from the middle of his thighs on down." He turned his head and looked at Elizabeth, but his eyes were blank. As though he was focused on something inside his head, something only he could see. "I flew him out and he got fixed up, shipped back to the States with a Purple Heart and a fancy wheelchair. Never saw him again. But I thought about him a lot. What he was going through. What it would be like to live like that forever."

Her heart fell at his words; despite his controlled tone she sensed so much hurt behind it that she wanted to take him in her arms, rock him like a child. "John," she said, stepping closer and taking his hand. It felt cool, almost cold, and for a moment she worried that he'd panic at her touch like Rodney had done.

But he only looked at her with that bleak, calm, distant expression, and said: "Now I know."

Asleep, Rodney was almost okay. His dreams were the usual wild tangle of memories and inventions, some good and some bad, all fading as the no-longer-alien sun feathered its rays through his window, playing across his face, teasing him awake.

That was when his consciousness slammed into his body like he'd fallen off a balcony, like he was being thrown against a wall. Too much pressure. He'd never thought about his body much; it was just him, Rodney McKay. It was what he saw when he looked in a mirror. Now it was a cramped prison that he inhabited in solitary confinement, no space to move, nothing between himself and his skin, no way to break out.

He swung himself out of bed and forced himself to breathe. It was as though by conscious control of the autonomous reflex he could assert himself. No big deal, he could do this. He'd lived his whole life like this, right? But even getting dressed was almost painful, each whisper of cloth against skin reminding him that he was trapped alone inside his physical body.

Maybe this was why the Ancients had striven so hard for Ascension.

When he arrived for breakfast the mess hall was bustling, and he slipped uncomfortably into the crowd. All these people, all these bodies, jostling around for no apparent reason other than Brownian motion. Everywhere around him people were talking with each other, little knots of conversation, and it struck him as unbearably sad. They were all just like him, confined in their own bodies, forever separate from one another. Talking with each other as if talking were in any way an adequate substitute for understanding. Of course they didn't know what they were missing. Like he did.

While he stood in line he put his most thoughtful look on his face, as though he was solving partial differential equations in his head. It worked perfectly; most people in Atlantis knew that look, and he made it all the way through without anybody trying to talk to him. He crossed the room carrying his tray of food, skirting one group of tables so he could avoid Dr. Heightmeyer, because that would be the most dangerous conversation ever. Looking for an empty table, he rounded a support column, and came face-to-face with Major Sheppard.

Okay, he was wrong. This was going to be the most dangerous conversation ever.

"Major," he said. That wasn't too bad. He could keep his voice perfectly level and normal if he only had to say one word.

"McKay." John inclined his head briefly and stepped to the side, letting him pass.

Rodney took a step, took another. Uh-oh, he thought, this is way too close. He could smell the soap from John's morning shower, hear his faint exhale and inhale; he imagined he could even feel the air molecules compress as the space between their bodies narrowed. He was suddenly, fervently, grateful for the tray in his hands, because if it hadn't been there he would have wrapped himself around John and tried to will his consciousness through the wall of clothes and skin.

Which would have been a really stupid thing to do, of course, considering that half of Atlantis was in the room, and, publicly hugging a military man? So not a good idea. But his dick thought it was a great idea, giving a happy little leap all by itself, and that was a whole other thing he absolutely did not want to think about. Even though it wasn't too much of a stretch to go from John stroking their shared hand down his body to John stroking his own hand down - no, not thinking about it, absolutely not.

He heard a hitch in the rhythm of John's breathing and turned his head. Hazel eyes dark with emotion looked into his, and if it had been yesterday he would have known exactly what that emotion was, would have felt it in his spine, but today there was an infinite gulf between them that their thoughts could not cross. Ten inches of space, and it was bigger than the fucking Grand Canyon.

"So, how does it feel to be back in your own body?" said Rodney, more out of a desire to fill the thick, silent space than anything else.

"You know how it feels." The raw anguish in John's voice was palpable, and Rodney dropped his gaze and studied his breakfast tray. When he looked up again, he was alone. Okay, he could handle that; he was used to being alone.

Now all he had to do was get used to being lonely.

Flying had always been his escape, his way of dealing with things when life got crappy. Elizabeth had been surprised when he'd volunteered to fly the shuttle run back and forth to the mainland, but it suited his mood perfectly. He could get up in the air again, relax a little. The agriculture specialists going out to visit the Athosian farms would be too busy talking among themselves to spare much attention for him. And it would get him away from Rodney.

Just seeing Rodney in the mess that first morning after their separation had almost undone him. He'd walked away as fast as he could, keeping it under control, gone straight to the gym to work off some steam. But practicing with the sticks was a disaster; he moved as though he were still in Rodney's body, his rhythm and balance hopelessly off, and it only served to remind him of how strange his body felt to him, alien and unfamiliar and oppressive.

And that was disturbing, because it shouldn't have felt that way. He'd had over thirty years to get used to his body, and only three days in Rodney's. There was no reason for him to feel so awkward, and as he thought about it he realized that it wasn't so much being in a different body as it was that he was enclosed in a body at all. There was no way to pull back away from the controls, feel without doing; he was strapped into the command seat, and it felt like a suicide run.

John leaned against the wall of the jumper bay, watching while the passengers climbed aboard the puddle jumper. Then he loaded the last of their gear, closed up the back, and made his way up to the pilot's seat. The ceiling irised open, and he looked up at the revealed sky with anticipation. Time to fly.

No matter how many times he saw the blue Atlantian ocean spread out under him, it was always wonderful, always new. Watching patterns form out of chaos as the waves reflected and refracted off each other, amplitudes building and merging in a million different ways, the occasional breaker flashing a crest of white foam. He directed the jumper a little lower, just so he could see the ocean's surface a little better, and smiled with satisfaction as it responded quickly and smoothly to his thoughts.

Responding to his thoughts.

You get to fly the jumpers, but you don't get to fly Rodney McKay.

And that thought took all the joy out of it, right there. Because yeah, flying was great, flying was fantastic, but what he really wanted was Rodney in the jump seat of his head, right there with him. The puddle jumper was amazing, a marvel of Ancient technology, but it was a machine, just a machine. Flying Rodney McKay - that had been something else.

What he really wanted, he realized, was Rodney McKay.

He set the jumper down on the mainland and helped the scientists disembark, then spent the rest of the day as a glorified porter, carrying equipment in one direction and vegetable samples in the other. When he flew back to the city it was close to sunset; after unloading the scientists and their gear, he wandered up to the control room to check in, see what had happened in his absence.

Rodney was hunched over a terminal, Elizabeth and Sergeant Bates watching him with anxious faces, and John almost turned around at the door right there. But Elizabeth spotted him and waved him over, so he couldn't retreat gracefully.

"What's up?"

Rodney gave a visible start at the sound of his voice but did not look up. "The Bakaan alerted us that the Genii were none too pleased that their little plan failed."

"We've been checking for possible threats, just in case they have something else up their sleeves," said Elizabeth.

"Commander Kolya sure doesn't like you much, sir," said Bates. "I thought you were going to kill him."

"I was, yeah," he said, deliberately looking at Bates, not at Rodney. "But it didn't work out that way."

"Oh, so it's my fault now that Mr. Nuclear Psycho is on the loose," sputtered Rodney.

"I didn't say it was your fault."

"Just because I'm not a cold-blooded, militarily-efficient killer doesn't mean -"

"Rodney, I know," John interrupted him. "I was there. I know." Because he did know, he had felt it pouring through his veins: the guilt over Brendan Gall, the reluctance to deliberately take a life. And in some obscure way he thought that it was partially his own fault, the strength he'd provided in the face of Kolya's threats and anger, because if Rodney had thought it was either them or Kolya, he would have pulled that trigger, no question.

"We've already discussed this," said Elizabeth, but Rodney ignored her, rising to his feet to glare at John.

"Oh, right. You know. Because you were in my head, and now you know everything about me. No keeping secrets from Major Sheppard, I see." Rodney was breathing hard, agitated, and John wanted so much to step in, to take over, to soothe him down and make him relax. So much that it almost hurt, to have to watch him and not be able to do anything. "I'll just go back down to my laboratory, where I can save everybody's life without having to shoot anybody, shall I?"

John watched him stalk off. It was looking more and more like they couldn't be in the same room any more, which was sort of ironic considering that for the last few days they'd been a hell of a lot closer than that.

"That's not your fault either, John," said Elizabeth, gently.

"The man's got a problem," said Bates.

"It's not your problem," John snapped, more harshly than he'd intended. "Don't take it out on him."

Bates crossed his arms. "Seems to me that it's not me who's taking it out on anybody, sir."

John started to chew him out, reconsidered. He was right, wasn't he. Instead he turned to Elizabeth. "The last few days have been a little... rough," he told her, and of course she nodded in sympathy; she'd been there in the platform room. "I was wondering if I might take a few days off. Go to the mainland, do some hiking. I just want to be by myself for a while."

She smiled as though she'd expected his request all along. "Take all the time you need."

As usual, Rodney couldn't get to sleep. He'd been twitchy for days, hiding out in the laboratory and only venturing into the hallways at odd times, so that he wouldn't risk running into John. Or anybody else, for that matter. He was in his room working on his laptop, deciphering what looked like they might be Ancient weapons schematics, when he heard the knock. Obviously somebody who hadn't heard that Dr. McKay was only to be disturbed if there was an emergency. Like Atlantis about to explode into itty-bitty pieces, or a Wraith attack, or something equally immediately catastrophic.

He opened the door, ready to give whoever-it-was sixteen pieces of his mind, and there stood John: his hair more wild than usual, face unshaven, eyes haunted and dark. The thought flashed through his mind that it wasn't possible, that if John was standing so close to him he ought to be able to sense it, to feel him there. His skin should be tingling, and it wasn't. It didn't seem possible. It didn't seem right.

They stood there for a moment, staring at each other. John swallowed hard, shifted from one foot to another. "You going to invite me in?"

"Yes, yes. Of course." He moved away from the door. "Yes, come in. Um. Yes."

John took a few steps into the room, and the door closed behind him. "Rodney." His hands shot out, gripped Rodney's shoulders, and Rodney braced himself instinctively - but nothing happened. Nothing flowed between them, no thoughts, no emotions; they were just two separate bodies, separated by the impenetrable barrier of flesh and blood and skin. And that was just a little painful to contemplate, because as long as they hadn't actually touched each other, he could pretend in his mind that it would happen just that way.

On the other hand, John was touching him. Touching. Him.

"I can't do this," John said, almost desperately. "I can't, Rodney, I -"

"It's okay, it's okay, really, it's okay." He was babbling and he knew it, and when one of John's hands dropped from his shoulder he grabbed it with his own, put it back, because any contact at all was better than nothing. "It's okay. Do you want to sit down?"

"I want - oh, Christ, Rodney." John bent toward him, and for a moment Rodney thought he was doing the Athosian thing, the forehead touching, but then John's lips were on his, hot and urgent, and there was nothing he could do but open to them.

John Sheppard was kissing him, Rodney thought in a daze. He was kissing John Sheppard, Major Sheppard except he couldn't think of him as Major anymore, hadn't for days, not since he had been right there in his head; he was John, John Sheppard and he was kissing him, lips on lips on unshaven skin, tongue in his mouth, hands gripping so tight so tight so tight on his shoulders. He should push him away, frown and say something like Major, you're not acting normal, or Major, you seem to be a little confused.

But this was too good to push away. Not that he had a whole lot of kissing experience; there was Mike Sander's sister Madelyn, and April Bingham from the algebra club, but mostly the girls he wanted to kiss all wanted to kiss guys that looked a lot more like John, and right now he couldn't blame them at all, could he, because that stubbled chin was rubbing his cheek, that lean body was pressing against his chest, strong and hard against him, and it felt good, better than good, amazing, perfect.

He wrapped his arms around John's waist, just in case John did something stupid like trying to move away from him, and let himself be pushed back three steps to where they fell against the bed, still holding on to each other. John was kissing him as though he could transfer his consciousness through his mouth, feeding it to Rodney with his tongue. Evidently he was as single-minded about kissing as he was about everything else, focused on the goal as though nothing else existed. As though there was nothing else in the world other than Rodney's mouth.

Finally John lifted his head, looking at him with those hungry, hungry eyes. "Not that I'm gay, or anything," he said, hoarsely.

"Right, me neither," said Rodney. "Do you think you could take off some of those clothes?"

"God, yes." Except that Rodney hadn't specified whose clothes, and although he had meant, could John take off his own clothes, John apparently thought it was open season on anybody's clothes within reach, because his hands were everywhere at once, pulling off his shirt, trying to unbutton Rodney's pants, yanking at his boots. Anything to get skin next to skin. Which was clearly the best idea in the universe, Rodney decided, once they had achieved complete reciprocal nudity and were sprawled in a fractal tangle on his bed.

John's skin was warm, and his hands never stopped moving; they slid through Rodney's hair, stroked the side of his face, trailed across his collarbone and swirled around his nipples. "I wondered what this would feel like from the other side," he murmured.

"Well, from this side? Good. Really, really, good."

"Been there, done that. Although not this," he added, pressing a kiss to a nipple, sucking it into his mouth, letting just the edge of his teeth tease it before lapping it with his tongue. "Or for that matter, this." He moved back to Rodney's lips and dove in for another luxurious kiss, shifting his body so that the edge of his hip was rubbing lightly against Rodney's dick, and that made really really good really really better.

"It is totally unfair," gasped Rodney, "that you already know what I like. Because, oh. I really. Oh, fuck," he said, because while he had been distracted by the kissing - which was amazingly excellent kissing, put April Bingham in the shade - John's hand had surreptitiously meandered down to assist his hip in giving Rodney's dick the perfect amount of friction, sliding around him in a smooth, even rhythm, and whatever he was saying was suddenly far less important than coming into John's hand.

When his brain settled back down in his skull and he opened his eyes again he saw John grinning at him. "I'm sure you can figure it out."

"Figure what out?" said Rodney, still somewhat dazed.

"What I'd like. I bet it doesn't even take a rocket scientist." Apparently he didn't completely trust Rodney to get the point, because he shifted his weight again and started rocking back and forth, pressing his erection into Rodney's thigh.

"Most so-called rocket scientists couldn't figure their way out of a paper bag," Rodney muttered. "And besides, it's a misnomer to call them scientists, they're really just engineers which is not even close -"

"Rodney? I'm trying to have sex, here."

Right. He rolled against John, urging him over onto his back, and smoothed his hands across John's thighs, feeling the striations of muscle under his fingertips. No wonder he had been making all those disparaging remarks about Rodney's fitness. Maybe he should keep up with the jogging.

And wow, John was hard. Thick and hard and heavy, with a little curve to the right, and Rodney had never imagined it would feel so satisfying to take another man's dick into his hand. He had never imagined he would hear that particular noise coming from John's throat, that breathy broken moan, and most of all he'd never imagined that he would be the one causing John to make that noise, again and again and again.

He scooted the rest of his body up so he could get a few more of those amazing kisses, but that dampened out the moans, and anyway John was paying less attention to his mouth now. Instead he was thrusting his hips up into Rodney's hand, pushing and twisting, so Rodney decided that he might as well up the ante and add his mouth to the equation.

His first tentative licks earned him a few more moans, plus an explosive, "Christ, fuck, Rodney!" which definitely fell into the category of satisfactory response. And that made it worth it, enough to propel him past the last vestiges of hesitancy and take John fully into his mouth. Not that he had any clue what he was doing, but from the short anxious movements of John's hips, the hand alternately bunching and smoothing his hair, and above all the wonderfully incoherent noises John was making, he concluded that he was doing all right.

It was no hardship to improvise. He breathed in the sharp scent rising from John's groin, explored with his tongue the unfamiliar textures, the taut smooth skin. Rodney flicked his eyes up to where John was panting, gasping, throwing his head back and then leaning forward to stare greedily at him again, and with the bit of his brain that wasn't occupied with assessing his progress in turning John into a puddle of goo he concentrated hard, thinking, mirror, mirror, come on, mirror.

It must have worked, because John suddenly said, "Fuck, that's hot, that's, oh, fuck yeah," followed by a wordless but heartfelt groan and a flood of hot come into his mouth, spilling out onto his face and his hands and his bed, and despite the weird taste and the messiness Rodney was completely thrilled with the result. Yep, puddle of goo, right there, and when can we do it again, because the hallmark of a successful experiment is its repeatability, right?

Wiping his mouth, he leaned back against a mostly-clean spot on John's stomach and listened to John's heartbeat, feeling his chest move up and down as he breathed. John's hand tangled in his hair, gently stroking his head; a luminous sense of well-being suffused him, a feeling of peace and contentment and shared affection. In the oval Ancient mirror that had appeared above them Rodney saw that John's eyes had fluttered closed, and he was smiling.

After an infinite number of heartbeats John stirred underneath him, shifting his long limbs, pulling him up to where he could press a kiss against his collarbone. "That was fun."

"Yes, well, in between nearly getting kidnapped and nearly getting killed, I think we're entitled to a little fun once in a while."

"Almost as good as being there," said John, nuzzling his stubbled chin against the bare skin of Rodney's chest, a tinge of sadness in his voice. It sent shivers up Rodney's spine, because he understood exactly. He supposed most people thought of sex, really good sex with somebody you cared about, as being the most closeness you could achieve with another person. But he and John had been closer than that, inside the same skin, thinking and moving and feeling as one, and that was a whole other level that even the most mind-blowing orgasm couldn't possibly touch.

Rodney reached down and stroked John's hair. "Well, we've got the gene booster, now. We could do it again, this time in your body."

"Are you out of your mind?" John sat up, looking at him with frank disbelief. "Anyway, I told Elizabeth to destroy the platform."

Rodney stared at him. "You what? An Ancient artifact, quite possibly the only one of its kind, and you just took it upon yourself -"

"Listen to me, Rodney." John's voice was quiet but firm; he slid back down, ran his fingers gently down Rodney's chest, a touch meant not to arouse but to soothe. "Knowing what I know now? What we can do together, what we are together? I'm not sure I'd have the strength to let you go back to your own body again."

Rodney digested this for a moment. "I suppose we'll have to settle for second best."

"We could do that, yes."

"As often as we can?" asked Rodney, hopefully.

"Sounds like a good idea to me," said John. He shifted position again and pulled Rodney back against his chest, so they were nestled together on the narrow bed like spoons. "But not right now. I haven't slept in days, and I don't feel like moving."

Which was okay, really. As long as he could lie here like this, skin to skin with John. Just touching him. Just being with him.

Listening to John's breathing take on the slow, steady rhythm of sleep, Rodney decided that second best was pretty damn good, after all.