"You're not ready," Lorne said patiently. "Try that, and you'll shoot your eye out!"
Rodney winced and turned to glare at him.
Lorne held up both hands placatingly. "Sorry, sorry – the quote was unintentional. But still – you try to use that one and the recoil will snap back into your face."
Rodney winced again, for a different reason. "Best not tempt fate, then," he said, replacing the gun and choosing a slightly smaller one.
Standing back and to the side, Lorne watched Rodney empty the clip into the target. As it came forward, he asked, "I'm curious, McKay, why are you suddenly so interested in learning to shoot?"
"It's a Christmas present," Rodney said as he let the gun dangle by the trigger guard as he checked it over before putting it back into its place.
"This is September, and you're thinking about Christmas?" Lorne gasped.
"Yes, well, it's going to take that long to put the thing together," Rodney said. "How'd you learn to shoot?"
"I shot chestnuts my brother shook from a tree," Lorne replied. "They're larger than they seem when they've got their prickly coats on."
Rodney looked at him with a strange expression, then broke into a warm smile – and Lorne realised he'd just described Rodney as well as chestnuts.
"I see," he said with a soft laugh.
"Yeah, well..." Rodney cleared his throat. "I figured the Colonel would like this better than a lump of coal in his regulation smelly socks by the chimney."
Lorne found himself laughing out loud. "Talk about a hell of a Hallmark card," he chuckled, picturing it quite vividly. "When You Care Enough – Not To Deal With Stinky USAF Socks!"
And he heard a rare thing – Rodney's full-throated laugh.
When the mirth had died down, Lorne asked, "Seriously, McKay – what is this present you're putting together?"
"Me," he admitted in a voice so soft that Lorne realised he had all barriers down. "I'm trying to get fit enough that I can pull my weight on Away Team missions without having to have John or Ronon or Teyla constantly cover me."
Lorne studied him for a very long time. Then he said – just as softly, "Once we get you certified on the range, we'll start working on your physical fitness. We'll do it till you can pass the Marine course. Then we'll work on combat. You apply yourself, do the best you can – and keep it up after the holidays – and we'll see he gets that present."
Rodney stared at him for a long moment. Then he didn't say a word – he let his eyes and slight, warm smile speak for him as he reached out and squeezed Lorne's shoulder. "Right," he said then, rubbing his hands together as he turned back toward the target. "How'd I do?"
"You're improving," Lorne said as the target came into view. "At least they're all on the paper this time."
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