What Lies Beyond Hope

By Taylor Dancinghands

Chapter 1

"Dr. Beckett, can you please come to the Gate Control room right away?"

Though Teyla's request seemed ordinary enough when she called him in the infirmary that afternoon, there was something in her voice that had Carson worried from the moment he heard it.

"What do you need me for, lass?" he asked.  "Should I bring my kit?"

The pause that followed only raised his anxiety, for it had been a simple enough question -unless this situation was a complicated one.

"We have... lost Colonel Sheppard and Dr. Zelenka's jumper," she said at last.

"What?" Carson asked, trying in vain to hold any number of dreadful speculations at bay.  "What do you mean lost?  Have they crashed?  Do we know where they are?"  Carson tried to narrow the focus of his questions to determine the capacity in which he would be asked to function.

"They were too high above the atmosphere when the jumper lost control," Teyla finally answered him, and it felt to Carson as though the floor had opened up beneath him as the full impact of what this meant came to him, even as Teyla made it irrefutably clear.  "They are gone, Carson.  I am sorry."

"Oh dear lord," Carson murmured, steadying himself against his desk as the magnitude of the tragedy continued to unfold in his mind.  "Dear lord, Rodney..." he spoke his next thought aloud.

"He is here in the Gate Control Room," Teyla told him, just a tinge of exasperation in her force.  "It is why I have called..."

Carson had the picture now and was already on the move.  "Aye, of course," he interjected.  "I'm sorry lass.  I'm on my way."

Though their various communication technologies made it possible for news of any sort to leapfrog out to the farthest reaches of Atlantis in seconds, Carson noticed that the closer he got to the center of the Ancient city the quieter it got.  The dire news had reached here most thoroughly and there was a positively funereal mood in the gate room.  Atlantis had lost two beloved sons today and already the city mourned.

The mission that Radek Zelenka had left on a few hours ago, with Colonel Sheppard at the helm, was meant to be simple and not the least bit risky.  The engineer had recently assembled an array of Ancient sensors which he wanted to use to test for certain potential flaws in the city's cloak, and Sheppard had volunteered to take him up in a jumper to make that test.  Carson recalled hearing, about an hour ago, that they'd reached orbit and had run the city's cloak for about 15 minutes, but he'd thought little of it.  It had all seemed so routine.

The occupants of the control room appeared shell-shocked.  The gate technician stared disconsolately down at his console; Drs. Simpson and Coleman, who'd been working with Radek on his project, were quietly weeping over one another's shoulders, and Dr. Weir stood at the back, Teyla at her side, probably not having moved since she'd heard the news.  Her hand was pressed up against her mouth, as though trying to contain something, and her eyes were wide with shock and grief.

Rodney sat unmoving near the front of the room, his laptop clutched in one white-knuckled hand and his gaze fixed on a display screen upon which a bright green line crossed at a diagonal and then abruptly ended.  Carson did not have to ask the significance of what he saw there.

"Rodney?"  Carson crouched at his friend's side, laying a cautious hand on his shoulder.  "Will you come away with me now, luv?"

Rodney blinked and turned his head slowly to face him, his gaze devastated and lost.  "Carson?" he asked.

"Aye, luv," he said softly.  "I'm here for ye.  Shall we take ourselves somewhere else, then?"

Rodney blinked, and seemed to have a hard time focusing, but he did at last manage to focus on Carson's face and nodded.  "Okay," he said quietly.

Carson stood, holding out a hand to help Rodney to his feet, a hand which Rodney did not relinquish as the two of them left the Control Room.  By the time they'd reached the residential corridors it seemed everyone on Atlantis had learned what had happened, and the hallways were all but empty, which Carson thought a mercy.  He did not quite know their destination, uncertain where Rodney would prefer to be now, so he slowed as they approached the quarters Rodney had customarily shared with Radek.  He heard Rodney draw a sharp breath as he realized where they were.

"I can't, Carson," he almost whimpered.  "I can't... go in there... I can't..."

"Then we won't, luv," Carson soothed.  "D'ye mind coming to my rooms?"

Rodney shook his head, desperately trying not to have a meltdown in the corridor.  The man had very little left but his pride, and Carson would help him keep it any way he could.

"That's just around the corner then," Carson said, though he knew that Rodney was perfectly familiar with the location of his quarters.  "We'll be there in a just a bit."

He maneuvered Rodney to his sofa as soon as they stepped through the door, lowering him carefully to sit there, and carefully prying the laptop out of his hand.  He set it on a side table, then stepped away to gather the essentials: a blanket, a bottle of water and a box of kleenex.  It was as he was just returning that he saw Rodney slowly collapse, folding up as though he had no strength left in his body, and burying his face in his hands.

"Oh, luv," Carson cried softly as he hastened to his friend's side, draping the blanket over Rodney's shoulders and then quickly depositing the water and kleenex on the table.  Sitting beside Rodney on the sofa, Carson gathered the man into his arms and Rodney laid his head on Carson's shoulder, too distraught to object to the closeness.

"They're gone..." he whispered unsteadily, clutching at the fabric of Carson's shirt.  "Oh god, they can't be gone...  I can't lose him; I can't... Oh god..." and then Rodney was sobbing, his whole body wracked with the force of them as Carson held him tight.  It was not long before Carson was weeping himself, and he made no effort to hold it back.

He wept for two friends -good friends that he would never see again- and he wept for two more good friends who'd lost lovers today.  He wept for Atlantis, who had lost a wise leader and a man more indispensable to her than anyone would have ever imagined.  Not even Carson, who now (he realized with another twinge of grief) possessed the most powerful ATA gene in the city, could interact with Atlantis as Radek had. He felt the city's sorrow though, and wept for her as well.

The bitterest and deepest of his sorrows, though, were for the heartbroken creature weeping hopelessly in his arms now, who had lost both his lover and his best friend. Deep inside Carson feared that his friend might never be made unbroken again after this and if that was the case then this tragedy would reach far beyond him, and beyond Atlantis even.  If Rodney McKay could not be unbroken then the tragedy could very well extend to two galaxies.

Lost so deeply in grief, even time had no dominion, and ceased to exist in some sense, to Carson's mind.  Some part of him might have been aware of the sun leaving his windows, and the stars coming to replace it, but none of that had any meaning to him.  Sorrow was all he knew, his own and Rodney's, and tears, his falling unchecked onto Rodney's shoulder, and Rodney's dampening his.  Hours that Carson had no awareness of passed, bereft of everything but grief.

Time started again with the sound of a loud sniffle, and Carson realized that Rodney's sobs had been gradually decreasing for some time.  Hoping that Rodney had perhaps cried himself out for now, Carson came to take the amount of time passed into account, and he realized that he would need to set his own grief aside and be Dr. Beckett for just a bit.

"Rodney luv," Carson spoke softly, lifting a hand to stroke his fingers though Rodney's hair.  "I know it's nothing you want to think about now, but it's been hours since you've eaten last and you need to eat something before you make yourself sick."

Rodney slowly loosened his grip on Carson's shirt and lifted his head, sniffling again and lifting a hand to wipe his cheeks with the back of it.  "Okay," he said quietly, almost meekly, sitting back to let Carson rise from the sofa.

"There's a lad," said Carson as he pushed himself to his feet, turning quickly so that Rodney would not have to see him blinking back tears again.  Carson was glad not to have to butt heads with him over food, but this quiet, acquiescent Rodney was so very wrong.  It hurt to see him so, almost as much as it had hurt to see him broken and weeping.  Carson found a napkin in his kitchen area to dry his own eyes with as he rummaged in his cupboards to find a couple of power bars.  Behind him he could hear Rodney blowing his nose voluminously, and was sure to bring a wastebasket back with him as he returned to the sofa with the food.

Rodney deposited a handful of sodden tissues into the basket with a sheepish and grateful smile as Carson sat beside him again, obediently taking the power bar Carson proffered.  They ate in silence, and Carson was running over the possible sleeping arrangements in his mind when there came a knock at the door.

"Dr. Beckett?"  It was Teyla's voice that followed the knock, and Carson stood directly to open the door for her.   "I am sorry if we have disturbed you," she said as she and Dr. Weir entered, "but Elizabeth wished for some medication to help her sleep and had hoped to find that you had some here, rather than having to go all the way to the infirmary?"

"Aye, of course, lass," Carson said, heading into the bathroom where he kept a lock box with a few odd supplies and drugs against local emergencies.  "I've got what you need here.  Would you like one as well, Rodney?" he called back from the bathroom.

"Yeah, okay," he heard Rodney say in a resigned sort of voice. 

Elizabeth was still standing by the door, arms wrapped unhappily about her waist as Carson returned and slipped the medication into her hand.  "If you want another tomorrow ye need only ask," he said, taking her hand to hold for a moment, "but I'll not give you more than one of these at a time."

"Thank you Carson," she said in a quiet, tear roughened voice, then looked over at Rodney where he sat on the sofa, studiously flattening his power bar wrapper on his knee.

"Rodney?" she called, crossing to sit by him and lay a cautious hand on his shoulder.

"Elizabeth..." he answered, looking up to meet her own heartbroken gaze.  Their embrace was awkward for a moment only, and then they were two people joined by grief, fresh tears starting in both their eyes.

"Oh, Rodney, I'm so sorry..." Elizabeth murmured, her breath hitching.

"Yeah," said Rodney unsteadily, "me too."

"Listen, Rodney," Elizabeth spoke again after a moment, drawing back to meet the man's gaze again. "I know it's... it's going to be hard at first, but the one thing I want you to remember for the next few days, is that you're not alone."  She paused to wipe the tears from her face with her fingers and Rodney handed her a kleenex.  "You're not," she continued adamantly, "and if you need anything, from anyone, you know there's not a man or woman on Atlantis who wouldn't do anything for you."

Rodney's gaze dropped, but he still had one of Elizabeth's hands in his. "Yeah, well..." he said after a bit, "the same goes for you too, you know.  Don't you forget that either."

Teyla and Elizabeth soon took their leave and Rodney contemplated the tablet that Carson had given him and finally swallowed it, washing it down with water from the bottle on the side table.

"Before you settle down for the night, Rodney," Carson said, sitting beside him on the couch again, "I was thinking it might be a good idea if you left some instructions about who... who you wanted to take charge in the labs in the morning?"

As he feared, Carson saw Rodney's face crumple and fresh tears start in his eyes as he once again confronted who would never again be there for him to count on.  He reached for a kleenex to dry his eyes and then swallowed to bring his voice under control.

"Probably a good idea," he sniffled.

"I can send the message for you," Carson offered, reaching for Rodney's laptop, "just tell me who it is you think it should be."

Rodney frowned, struggling to think clearly for a moment through the haze of grief and the growing effects of the sleeping pill he'd taken.  "Simpson and Coleman have the seniority... they're both competent enough to keep the lid on for a while.  I don't know, Carson..."

"That's all right, luv," Carson calmed him with a hand to his shoulder.  "Do they work well together?" he suggested.  "Maybe you could have them work as a team, run the labs jointly. D'ye think that'd work?"

"You know," Rodney looked up at Carson thoughtfully, "it might at that.  Plus, it lends to the impression that no one person can do my job."

"Aye, I suppose it does, ye great sod," Carson said with a smile, giving Rodney's shoulder a squeeze as he turned to address the laptop and open Rodney's email.

"You'll need to send a message to both of them," Rodney instructed him, "and send a cc to the science department's general announcement list."

Carson nodded as he typed the addresses in.

"Say that Drs. Simpson and Coleman are appointed by me," Rodney dictated as he lay back on the sofa, "to the positions of Acting Department Co-Heads until such time as I return, quit, die or appoint someone else to do the job."

Carson wrote that Drs. Simpson and Coleman had been appointed joint Acting Department Heads until such time as Dr. McKay returned or some other arrangement was made, and sent the email.

Rodney yawned enormously as Carson set the computer aside and asked him if he'd like a clean t-shirt to sleep in, which Rodney accepted, and then went off to the bathroom to change and prepare for bed.  While Rodney was thus engaged Carson went to retrieve a second blanket, a quilt that his gran had made for him as a lad, and which was one of the first things Carson had sent for when the Daedalus had begun delivering personal materials.  Carson always swore that he could feel the care that had gone into every stitch of that quilt and he figured Rodney could use all the care he could get just now, even if he'd never admit that such a thing could come from a piece of cloth.

Shuffling out of the bathroom a moment later, clad in a t-shirt and boxers and his clothes bundled under one arm, Rodney looked like he was liable to drop at any second and Carson stepped forward to help his friend to the couch.

"Are you sure you wouldn't prefer the bed, luv?" Carson asked him.  "I truly don't mind sleeping on the sofa for a night or two myself."

Rodney shook his head, drawing his legs up to lie curled on his side on the sofa.  "Bed's too lonely," he said, his voice catching just a bit as he closed his eyes.

"Aye," said Carson sadly, blinking back fresh tears as he spread the quilt over Rodney's shoulders. "I can see how that might be."

Rodney snuggled into the soft depths of the quilt with a poignantly childlike motion, fresh moisture showing at the edges of the dark lashes lying against he cheeks.  Carson felt his heart ache anew and leaned over to lay his hand on Rodney's shoulder once more.

"I'll be going to bed myself now, luv," he murmured, "but if there's anything you need -anything at all- you mustn't hesitate to wake me.  Alright?"

"'Kay..."  Rodney was already half asleep, but Carson wasn't concerned.  The meds would likely keep Rodney down for eight hours or more, and Carson knew himself to be a light sleeper (a habit every medical intern learns).  In the mean time, sleep would be a blessed relief for both of them, and for a few hours neither of them would have to think about what they had lost today, or how they would manage to go on without them tomorrow.

Chapter 2

 Rodney woke gradually, aware at first only that he wasn't supposed to be waking.  Upon rousing further it naturally occurred to him to wonder why that should be, and why he did not seem to want to be awake at all, for it did seem increasingly as though some dreadful reality awaited him in wakefulness, though he could not recall at first what it was.  Becoming aware, at last, of his physical surroundings, it dawned on Rodney that he was not in his own bed either, or in any bed at all.  He was sleeping on a sofa, Carson's sofa...

It all came back to him then.

"No..." he moaned softly, comprehending once again the massive hole in the center of his reality.  No, he most assuredly did not want to be awake and, noting that it was still dark outside Carson's windows, he should most assuredly not be awake yet, either.  Why, he railed silently to himself, why could the universe not give him just a few more hours of innocent oblivion?  Was it too much to ask?  What in the name of a god that he would absolutely never believe in, had waked him, anyway?

Something was pinging.  Quietly, but insistently. 

Not only that, but this particular 'ping' meant something, Rodney was sure, if only he could recall...  Blinking in the dark, Rodney tried to locate the source of the sound, and noticed that his laptop was lit up.  Something had woken it as well.  The meaning of the sound came to him then.  It was coming from his laptop and it meant that someone had sent him an emergency priority email.

This realization gave Rodney some pause, however, for he had given only four people in all of Atlantis the ability to send him such an email.  One of them was sleeping in the adjacent room, one was sleeping under sedation (just as he was supposed to be) in a room down the hall, and the other two... the other two of them had gone out in a puddle jumper yesterday and would never return.

With a lurch of dread and of even more awful hope, Rodney sat abruptly to grab at his laptop and bring up his email inbox.  There was a flashing red Emergency Priority email message there, all right, but it was not from any of the people he had authorized to send such.  It was from Atlantis.

Rodney felt a surge of grief and regret that he had not thought of the sentient and self-aware city at all in the wake of Radek's loss, and he knew that she had suffered no less of a loss than he had.  "Atlantis," he whispered brokenly, looking up from the laptop screen and knowing that she would be listening and hear him.  "I'm so sorry.  God, I am so... so sorry."

The unopened mail in his inbox continued to flash red.  Atlantis had something she needed to tell him, now, he realized, and so Rodney blinked his tears away and opened the email.  The city had occasionally sent him emails in the past, but generally just pictures or schematics, for while Atlantis understood spoken and written language by necessity, she had no facility for generating it.  Radek had made several attempts to explain the reason for this to Rodney, but it had all seemed like so much 'soft science' stuff to him.  All he really remembered was that Radek had been working on remedying the situation, but that it was, for some reason, slow going.

Rodney had never gotten a text email message from Atlantis before, and this one recalled to Rodney's mind something Radek had said about Atlantis having no problem with vocabulary, but a terrible time grasping the very concept of syntax.  There were only four words in the email, and no punctuation.

It said:  **Radek  help  imperative  communicate**

Syntax or no, Atlantis' meaning seemed clear... possibly.  With a sigh of dread, Rodney set the laptop back down on the table and ran his fingers through his hair.  He would be insane to even consider doing what he thought the message was instructing him to do, particularly considering how unclear those 'instructions' were -if they were even instructions at all.

Did the message even really imply that Radek was still alive?  He was presuming that 'Radek help' signified that Radek was not yet beyond help, but wasn't that an unsupported conclusion as well?  He was definitely not in the best state of mind to be making such decisions alone, but despite Carson's offer and Elizabeth's very wise advice, Rodney knew he dared not discuss this with anyone (least of all Carson), because no one would let him take on Atlantis' nanocites again, no matter whose life was at stake.

Rodney knew that his priorities were skewed at the moment, and that they weren't likely to get any less skewed any time soon.  There was a gaping hole in his life -in his world- that was really two holes so massive that they'd merged into one huge rift in the very fabric of his existence.  There would be no patching his life together after this; that was what he feared.  There would never be enough left of him to make a whole person again.

At the present moment Rodney saw only two bleak futures for himself.  In the long one he saw how he would likely find life without Radek on Atlantis unbearable and leave here to live out his days meaninglessly on Earth, and dying inside.  The short one had him staying here and finding a way to get just plain killed -a thing far too easy to achieve.  Acting on the supposed advice of Atlantis' cryptic message would, at worst, lead to nothing more dire than the potential futures he already faced.  That was how it seemed to him now, anyway.  He knew that anyone he might discuss this with on Atlantis would try to convince him otherwise.  He knew that Radek himself would be entirely opposed to the plan, but if there was not meant to be some chance for hope in Atlantis' message, why would she have sent it?  And if there was even the tiniest chance for hope, the most miniscule shred... Rodney would take it, no matter what the risk.  The alternative was simply unbearable.

Having resolved himself to some degree, Rodney paused to listen to the soft buzz of Carson's snores, indicating that he still slept undisturbed in the next room.  This being the case, Rodney slipped into his trousers as quietly as he could manage, gathered his shoes into one hand, and stole silently out of the room.

The hallways were essentially empty in these predawn hours and Rodney made it to the first transporter without being seen at all.  He put his shoes on there and then sent himself as far out onto the North Pier as the transporter would deliver him.  Realizing that Carson would more than likely wake and notice his absence before too long -possibly before he could reach his goal- Rodney broke into a moderate jog as he headed out onto the last leg of his journey.  If he could not present Carson with a fait accompli here then Rodney knew that he stood no chance of fulfilling what he perceived to be Atlantis' instructions.

Still, the moment that Rodney found himself in that little vestibule at the far end of the North Pier, facing the hand print shaped indentation in the 'greeting plaque' Atlantis had built, Rodney hesitated.  Stark memories of his last terrifying experience with Atlantis' nanocites asserted themselves in his mind and fueled his doubts.

"Please tell me I'm doing the right thing," Rodney said aloud, knowing that Atlantis could say nothing to him until he had taken that one last, irrevocable step.  Feeling his heart race, Rodney stepped forward and raised his hand.

"You wouldn't need to give me the nanocites if he's... if there's no hope, right?"  Rodney reasoned with himself as much as with the city.  "But if he is alive..." Rodney's voice went unsteady again as he squeezed his eyes shut and placed his hand just over the indentation.  "If he's alive, there's nothing... nothing I won't do.  Nothing."  And with that, Rodney took a sharp breath and pressed his hand hard into the indentation.

"Ow, fuck!" he shouted immediately, just as he had the first time he'd encountered the device.  He yanked his hand back and pressed a kleenex from his pocket into the puncture wound on his palm, then leaned back against the wall and waited for the insanity to kick in.  Oddly, it was a wave of emotions that struck him first -a terrified loneliness now leavened with profound relief at Rodney's apparent confidence.  Next, there came a complex array of data, but not the random, maddening barrage that was shortly to come due to the presence of his ATA gene.  This was information intentionally sent by Atlantis, and there was a strong sense of urgency about it.

The data was a set of real time reports on a number of devices under Atlantis' control, but operating at a remote location.  It took Rodney McKay's genius mind a full thirty seconds to realize what the information represented.  Radek's nanocites!  The data Atlantis had sent him clearly showed a host of the devices functioning just as they should in a healthy, conscious human brain.

"He's alive!" Rodney cried aloud.  "Oh my god, he's not dead; he's not dead... Thank you má prekrásná..."  He sobbed with relief, even as he began to notice the first bursts of random data and images imposing themselves on his consciousness.

Interspersed with those unasked for data, though, Rodney could tell that Atlantis still had several things to tell him.  One was that Radek's time was limited.  Wherever it was that Radek was located now was not going to sustain him (or them, perhaps?) indefinitely.  He got the impression that it might take a while to get to wherever Radek was, but that there was still time to save him if they moved quickly.

"Oh crap," Rodney swore, thinking that he should have set out for the infirmary and called Carson minutes ago.  The act of pushing away from the wall where he'd been leaning and propelling himself down the corridor turned out, however, to be rather more challenging that he'd expected, and the vertigo nearly brought him to his knees.

"Help me, dammit," he snapped, eyes shut tight to manage the dizziness.  Atlantis did what she could, and soon Rodney found that a high proportion of the intermittent monitor views of the city being downloaded into his brain were of him, or the route he needed to take.  Propelled by Atlantis' urgency and guided by her vision, Rodney stumbled down the corridor as fast as he could manage.  Eventually he remembered to call Carson.


Worry and sorrow kept Carson awake for an hour or more after he lay down in his bed and turned out the lights, in spite of how exhausted he felt.  His dreams were laced with painful, futile hopes and sorrowful realizations, but they held him fast in thrall until the moment when Carson woke suddenly and knew, with uncanny certainty, that Rodney was no longer sleeping in the next room.

"Rodney?" he called to be sure, throwing back his covers to stumble out of bed and into his living room.  In the weak, dawn light from his windows Carson could see the quilt and blanket he'd lent Rodney, bunched at one end of the sofa, but the man himself was gone.  Swearing in frustration, Carson strode back into his bedroom to reclaim his radio, hoping against hope that Rodney was actually wearing his.  Even as he lifted it to his ear, however, he found his hopes answered.

"Carson?" the looked for voice on the radio was saying.  "C'mon, you said you were a light sleeper...  Wake up, god dammit!"

"I'm here, Rodney," Carson cut in, "and I'm awake.  Now where the bloody hell are you?"

"Oh thank god!" Rodney's relief was plain to hear, but it only served to raise Carson's anxiety.  "Listen, I need... need you to meet me... in the infirmary... as soon... soon as you can.  I... I'm on my way there now..."

"Rodney, where are you and why do you need me in the infirmary?" Carson asked with fraying patience, a dreadful suspicion growing in him.

"Coming in from... from the north pier..."  Rodney's voice sounded harsh, as though under some terrible stress, and Carson knew now just what it was.

"Rodney, you didn't..." he cried in dismay.

"Had to..." Rodney gasped.  "Carson I... I had to.  Look... at the email... my laptop..."

With an unhappy sigh Carson made his way back to the sofa to sit heavily and then lean forward to wake Rodney's laptop.  He rubbed his eyes as the screen saver dropped and Rodney's open inbox was revealed, the message from Atlantis still displayed upon the screen. 

Reading the cryptic, four word message, Carson was torn with conflicting feelings.  He could not help the rush of hope that filled his heart from the very first, but at the same time he was filled with dread.  If these hopes were only going to be dashed again he would far sooner not have them, but clearly it was too late now.  His heart ached further when he thought of what this must mean to Rodney, and how utterly destroyed he would be if this hope proved to be false.

As much as Carson had found it easy to agree with the idea of Atlantis being a sentient being, he'd never before really felt anything about her as a 'person'.  He'd never before felt the need to actually say anything to her... until now.

"Dear god in heaven," he cried, standing to address his empty, but not un-listening room.  "D'ye know what it is ye've asked him to do?"  Carson was surprised to hear the anger in his voice.  "D'ye know what it'll do to him if you can't save Radek?  If he's no alive at all?"

His words rang painfully in the silence that followed and there was, of course, no answer, save for an odd, pained twinge at the back of his mind -the place he thought of when he wanted to turn on the lights or activate some Ancient device.  She was desperate, he realized, possibly even more desperate than Rodney, and Carson found that he could not stay angry with the city.  She knew full well what she was asking of Rodney McKay, but she'd had no one else to turn to.

Carson pushed himself to his feet with a mighty effort, returning to the bedroom to put some pants on.  Rodney could probably use some help getting to the infirmary, but he was coming from the opposite end of the city and Carson wondered if there wasn't someone else he could send out who might get there sooner.  Whatever marines were on watch at this hour would probably be able to find him quickly enough, but wouldn't it be better, Carson considered, to send someone Rodney knew?  Ronon, he realized, was just the man for the job, assuming he could be waked.

Luckily, he could.  "What's he gotten into now?" Ronon grumped mildly when Carson asked for his help.  Only the most cursory explanation was required before Ronon declared that he knew just where Rodney would be found, and promised to find him.  "You want me to bring him into the infirmary?" he asked.

"Aye, that'll do fine, lad," Carson answered.  "I can't tell you how much I appreciate it."

"Not a problem," Ronon responded as he signed off.  A moment later Carson was out the door himself, headed for the infirmary as fast as he could go, hope and dread warring within him.

He'd only been there a few minutes before Ronon turned up with Rodney, pale and shaking with the effort of keeping his thoughts focused, but still on his feet.  Ronon and Carson together helped him onto a bed and Carson began right away to prep him for an IV.

"No sedatives!" Rodney insisted, looking up to focus on Carson with some effort.  "You know what... what it is I need, Carson."

With a resigned sigh, Carson crossed his arms over his chest.  Here came the donnybrook he had feared.  "I am not giving you the gene suppression treatment, Rodney.  I'd be abandoning my oath as a doctor if I did."

"Dammit, Carson!" Rodney's voice wavered, his desperation too clear.  "Radek's still alive; we have proof..." he broke off to press the heels of his hands into his eyes in an effort to maintain his fragile focus.  "She's going to upload a file onto your laptop," he continued, "but it may take a second.  The way my ATA gene is interacting with her nanocites is screwing with her almost as bad as it is with me."

This was something that Carson had not considered.  Could the harm he would be doing to Rodney by giving him the ATA gene suppression treatment be balanced against the harm to him and to the city caused by the unstable reaction of her nanocites and Rodney's ATA gene?  What if he added the possibility of saving Radek and Sheppard's lives to the equation?  Going to his office to fetch his laptop felt like acquiescing to Rodney's demands too soon, but Carson told himself that he needed information to make a proper decision.  If there really was proof that Radek was still alive he would need to see it.

"Alright, what am I looking for here?" Carson asked when he had returned to Rodney's bedside with his computer.

"File called 'Remote Devices'," said Rodney, who had drawn up his knees and was now hunched forward miserably on the bed, leaning his forehead against them.  "Should be... should be there now... I think."

Ronon had been standing silently at Rodney's bedside, a hand resting calmly on his back, but now he stepped up to look at the screen over Carson's shoulder.  Sheppard was his team leader, Carson reflected, and the man must surely be curious to know if there was any hope that he lived as well though, being Ronon, he'd be quiet about it.  Carson found the file which had mysteriously appeared on his desktop and opened it, not sure what he was seeing at first, and then, suddenly, recognizing the pattern of information displayed there.

"My god," he gasped, "are these from Radek...?"

"Time code," Rodney snapped  in response.  "Look at the time code."

Carson did, and saw that the data had been collected less than five minutes ago.  If this data was to be believed, and Carson could find no reason not to, then Radek Zelenka had definitely been alive and well five minutes ago... or at least his brain had.  The rest likely followed.

"My god he is alive," Carson exclaimed softly, "but where is he?"

"And what about Sheppard?" put in Ronon.

"Don't know about Sheppard," said Rodney, still speaking into his knees.  "I'm assuming that he's probably wherever Radek is."  Rodney shuddered and drew a deep breath.  "As for where they are... that seems to be more complicated.  Atlantis keeps trying to tell me but the... the goddamn noise from these fucking nanocites..."  Hands balled into fists, Rodney lifted his head suddenly and shouted, "Fuck!!" loud enough to be heard throughout the infirmary, which was fortunately mostly empty.

Rodney's eyes were bright with unshed tears of frustration as he looked up to meet Carson's gaze again.  "All I know is that he's somewhere in orbit and that he doesn't have all that much time left," he said, his voice pleading.  "I'm the only one who can find him, but I can only do that if you give me the gene suppression treatment, Carson.  Please...  I can't lose him again... I can't."

The tears spilled over then, but Carson was already won over, hating himself for capitulating but mostly hating that he clearly had two bad options to chose from and no good ones.

"Aye, alright," he said with a weary sigh.  "Give me a moment to find my notes."  Carson returned to his laptop, going back to find files created over a year and a half ago that he had assumed he would never need to access again. 

"Rodney, do you understand that this is likely to actually shorten your life in the long run?" he asked as he found the file he was looking for.  "And that it will probably give you even fewer hours of lucidity than it did last time?"

"Yes, I know that, Carson," Rodney said through clenched teeth.  "I may be desperate and half insane, but I am still not stupid."  He crossed his arms over his knees and laid his head back down with a sigh.

Carson winced a little at Rodney's response, but held his tongue.  He could not imagine carrying the burdens Rodney carried just now, much less doing so while keeping his temper.  He saw with gratitude that Ronon had returned to Rodney's side and now laid his hand gently on Rodney's shoulder.

"Take it easy McKay," he admonished gently.  "He's doing what you asked, so just let him do it the way he needs to."

"I know," said Rodney miserably after a moment, without raising his head.  "I know... and I'm sorry.  I don't mean to be a bastard... it just keeps happening."  He raised his head again and Carson could see relief and fear and hope and dread all in his eyes.  "And Carson," he continued, "Thanks... for doing this."

Carson could not hold that gaze for very long; it hurt too much. "Don't thank me," he said with unhappy sincerity.  "Don't ever thank me for this, Rodney."

Rodney started puking no more than ten minutes after Carson had administered the treatment and remained too ill to leave the bed for over an hour.  Worse still, as soon as Rodney's mind had become clear of the random data interference, Atlantis was able to deliver him a set of coordinates for a puddle jumper.  From that moment he was determined to leave the infirmary and head for the jumper bay in spite of how miserable he felt, or the fact that the dry heaves started back in every time he so much as sat up.

After an hour of such periodic attacks he'd finally succumbed to exhaustion, to Carson's relief, and slept now, worry still etched on his features even in repose.  They had also managed to learn that Radek had around 18 to 20 hours of life support left, according to Atlantis, and to Carson that meant that they had time for Rodney to recover a bit before they left.  Carson did not plan to let him sleep long, though; he knew as well as Rodney how little lucid time this treatment would grant him (and there was no question in Carson's mind, of a second treatment, no matter what was at stake).  He'd put in a call to Teyla a bit ago, asking her to call him as soon as Dr. Weir was awake.  He'd rouse Rodney then, and see to it that any plan they enacted would be cleared by her first.  It was the only way Carson could see to proceed.

Rodney was, naturally, furious when Carson woke him after he'd slept for an hour and a half, to tell him that Dr. Weir was on her way.  Carson bore it stoically, knowing that it would all come out in the wash, but smiled to himself to hear Ronon telling Rodney to 'quit being an asshole'.  Rodney became more subdued when Elizabeth and Teyla entered, however, and took Elizabeth's hand when she came to sit beside him.

"I'd say you'd been busy," she said to him fondly, "but when isn't that the case?"

"Did Carson tell you what I've been busy with?" Rodney asked directly.

She shook her head.  "He told me you'd infected yourself with Atlantis' nanocites again, on purpose, and that Atlantis had something important to tell you, but he didn't say what."

Rodney took a deep breath, and Carson could see him tighten his grip on Dr. Weir's hand.  "Elizabeth, we know for sure that Radek is still alive," he said.

Elizabeth went pale, lifting her free hand to her heart as she drew in a sharp breath.   "Just Radek?" she asked.

"We can't be sure," Carson stepped in, "as the Colonel hasn't any of Atlantis' nanocites in his brain, but it's more than likely he's safe wherever Radek is."

"Oh my god," she breathed, taking Rodney's hand in both of hers now. "Oh my god, they're still alive..."

To his credit, Rodney gave her a moment before he began pestering her about his plan, and even waited till she had raised her eyes to meet his and asked, "Where are they, and how do we bring them home?"

"They're in some kind of surveillance satellite -something like that weapons platform we used against the Wraith, but without weapons, and cloaked," Rodney started right in.  "Apparently it was located where Atlantis could use its on-board transporters to pick up Radek and Sheppard as their jumper passed by.  To get them, we need a puddle jumper, of course, and I need to go because I can talk to Atlantis.  Carson needs to go because I can't fly the jumper while my ATA gene is suppressed, and because we might end up needing a doctor, too."

"Why might you need a doctor?" Elizabeth asked, letting nothing get past her, Carson noted, even as stressed and distracted as she was.

"Atlantis has been adamant that there's some kind of time constraint," Rodney answered her, "I think they may have limited life support on the satellite, and also... my gene suppression treatment is going to wear off about halfway there and then I'm going to be a complete basket case until we find Radek."

"Rodney..." Elizabeth looked over at him sorrowfully.  He shrugged, doing his best to put aside the very real fear Carson knew he felt about his immediate future.

"I've no better solution myself," Carson admitted, "but I'll be there with him, at least, to do what I can."  Which wasn't much.  The last time he'd simply resorted to sedating Rodney into unconsciousness so that he wouldn't be aware of the barrage of disjoint and random data flooding his mind, but he wasn't sure that Rodney would even let him sedate him this time.

Dr. Weir heaved a sigh for all the things that just couldn't be helped, and said at last, "Of course you can go, but at the risk of throwing good personnel after bad, I want you to take someone else with you, someone who can handle themselves..."

"I'll go," Ronon interrupted, in a tone that suggested he was volunteering to do nothing more difficult than fetching Carson's spare stethoscope from his office.

"Okay," she said after a breath.  "Go.  Do what you can, and don't throw your lives away over what you can't, alright?"

Carson thanked her.  The rest merely nodded, and only twelve minutes later Rodney, Carson and Ronon were all in a puddle jumper lifting away from the city of Atlantis.  The jumper was essentially on auto pilot, headed to a set of coordinates Rodney had programmed into it, for a spot somewhere in high orbit above the planet.  It would take them close to thirteen hours to get there and Rodney's ATA gene suppression would wear off in eight hours or less.

Thinking of the world he'd come to call home dwindling away behind them as their jumper climbed into the sky above Atlantis, Carson thought a silent prayer for Rodney, for Radek and Sheppard, and for the city of Atlantis and all her inhabitants.  Thirteen hours from now, he thought with dread and hope, they would know if his prayers had been answered, or if they had lost everything.

Chapter 3

 McKay was surprising him again, and Ronon felt bad about that. First and foremost, it meant that he'd made a bad assessment, and after over two years of working with him, he ought to have had more than enough time to correct any initial misimpressions. The man had fooled him, plain and simple, and Ronon was someone who prided himself on being fooled by very little. Ronon did not cut himself any slack for the fact that McKay was also fooling himself, most of the time. Rodney was too easy to fool -about things like that, anyway- but Ronon should have known better.

It also made him feel bad because it meant that he had judged the man wrongly, and too harshly at times, he saw now. Some time ago Ronon had been surprised to discover a true warrior hidden in Rodney McKay. He fought not with weapons and strength of arms, but with his mind, and Ronon had witnessed he and Radek engaged in such battles of intellect against the Wraith and others, enough times to recognize the man's strength and tirelessness. He had won Ronon's grudging respect in this regard, but he'd still made the mistake of thinking that Rodney's heart was not as great as his intellect.

McKay seemed afraid of his own shadow, paranoid about his personal health, and outrageously conservative when it came to the security of certain situations in the field. It had been too easy to take him for a coward. Looking over at the scientist sleeping fitfully on the bench across from him, Ronon wondered what in all of creation might compel him to consciously allow countless microscopic machines to run lose in his brain, and could not think of a thing. Whether McKay had done this thing for his lover or for the city or both did not matter in the least to Ronon. The fact that he had done it at all was what blew him away.

Ronon stood, stretching carefully in the confines of the jumper's rear compartment, and then ambled forward to join Beckett in the front. The man seemed to be dozing but Ronon knew that he wasn't, and he confirmed this by turning his head and opening his eyes slightly to regard Ronon as he sat beside him.

"Couldn't sleep," Ronon explained, perceiving a question in the gaze.

"Rodney?" The doctor's thoughts had been on him as well, it seemed.

"Still sleeping," Ronon answered.

"That's a mercy, then," said the doctor with a sigh. "He'll need all his strength when the gene suppression wears off."

Which might happen any time now, Ronon knew. Again, he found himself humbled by the magnitude of what McKay had done to himself for the sake of his love and his city. "Your people keep surprising me," Ronon found himself confessing, shaking his head.

"How is that?" Beckett asked.

"No matter how hard I try," Ronon said, gazing up at the unchanging stars out the window, "I just can't imagine what it must be like to grow up and live someplace where no one worries about powerful, evil creatures attacking from the stars."

"I don't suppose I could ever imagined what life was like for you on Sateda, either," replied Beckett.

"Honestly, I thought you were all foolhardy and naïve when I first met you," Ronon said, knowing he could speak the truth with Beckett. "Your military people seemed way too cocky -and not just Sheppard," he amended at the doctor's knowing smile.

"But I've learned since then," Ronon continued. "It's like… an act, almost. Because when it's time to fight your people know what they're doing. I've seen that enough times over the last three years."

"I'm glad to know you think so," said Beckett, "but then I don't imagine you'd've stuck around if you didn't."

"True," agreed Ronon, "but that's just your military. It's taken me a lot longer to figure out the people like you and McKay."

"Really?" said Beckett.

Ronon shrugged. "Not a scientist myself, so I got that going against me, but frankly, a lot of the civilians here, when I first met 'em, seemed seriously short on survival skills."

"Oh, aye, there's no doubt about that," Beckett admitted with a smile. "And ye should've seen us when we first arrived," he chuckled. "What a useless lot we would have seemed to you then, I'm sure!"

"But you're still here," replied Ronon. "That's what counts. If you were anything like as stupid and useless as you seemed, you wouldn't have lasted here a month."

"That's a compliment, is it?" Beckett remarked wryly.

Ronon shrugged unapologetically. "It's the truth. I hear you take a lot less flattering truths from McKay all the time."

"Aye, that's so." Beckett's voice grew soft as he returned to worrying about the sleeping scientist in the back of the jumper.

"Always admired that about him," Ronon said. "I don't think he knows any other way to be, but I still admire him for it. It took me a while to get the other stuff, though."

Beckett said nothing, but his glance encouraged Ronon to continue.

"At first I thought that anyone who would leave a perfectly safe world like Earth, where no Wraith or anything like that had ever come, had to either be crazy, or stupid, or incredibly brave, but you aren't really crazy... not most of you, anyway, and you're definitely not stupid."

"Well thank you for that," the doctor quipped.

"You and the other scientists, though," Ronon shook his head, "you just didn't seem very... courageous to me."

"I don't suppose we've given you any reason to think otherwise," said Beckett, understandingly.

"I was looking at the wrong things," Ronon confessed, shaking his head again. "And I completely underestimated you. I underestimated Rodney. Again."

Beckett shrugged. "We've all made similar mistakes about you, lad, and I know Rodney has. But seeing as we come from two different galaxies, it'd be rather shocking if we didn't, don't you think?"

Ronon looked down and smiled to himself, appreciating the doctor's down-to-earth wisdom, as he often did. His appreciation was interrupted by the sound of stirring in the rear compartment, followed by a curt explicative.

"Sounds like McKay's awake," said Ronon. Further loud grousing from the rear compartment confirmed this.

"Seven and a half fucking hours? That's it?" The outrage in Rodney's voice covered his distress, Ronon knew, and he had learned to let him vent in such circumstances.

"Rodney, that's more or less what we expected," Carson pointed out.

"Yeah, more like less," Rodney whined petulantly.

Ronon pushed himself out of the copilot's seat and climbed back to check on Rodney, knowing that the doctor wanted to, but was loath to leave the pilot seat while he was in charge of the jumper, even when it was mostly piloting itself. He found McKay hunched over on the bench where he'd been sleeping, his head in his hands and muttering quietly to himself.

"Probably better eat something," said Ronon, grabbing down a power bar from among the supplies stashed in an adjacent cargo net.

"Are you kidding?" McKay looked up with distracted hostility. "The last thing I want now is food."

"Yeah, but you'll want it even less later," Ronon countered, having learned some time ago that the best way to win an argument with McKay was to begin by agreeing with him. "And then you'll just get sick. Here."

Rodney snatched the bar out of Ronon's hand with a wordless glare and proceeded to unwrap it, but his gaze grew distant a moment later and the bar remained uneaten and half unwrapped in his hand. Ronon nudged him and then sat on the bench across from him, watching to see that he followed through. Ronon's nudge had startled Rodney into awareness and he took a bit or two of the bar, chewing away dutifully, but a moment later he seemed to forget about it and paused, mid-chew, to stare into space again.

"Keep going McKay," Ronon prompted and saw Rodney start again, frowning as he returned to address the food in his hand.

"Hard to stay focused," he murmured, as though embarrassed that he had to be reminded to eat, in spite of the fact that he'd resisted at first.

"I get that," said Ronon. "Don't worry about it; I'll make sure you get it finished." In the end, Ronon had to nudge the man four more times before the power bar was entirely consumed, and even then had to remove the empty wrapper from McKay's hand. Watching him, Ronon felt his admiration rise as the nature of the torments the man was quietly enduring became increasingly clear to him. This was a different kind of courage than Ronon was used to seeing, but it was courage nonetheless; he could at least recognize that much.

When he'd eventually realized that there was no longer a power bar (or wrapper) in his hand, McKay had crossed his arms over his knees and hunched forward to rest his head there. There wasn't anything Ronon could do now but stand vigil, and so he did, sitting on the bench across from Rodney, eyes hooded, but not closed. Every so often he'd hear Beckett sigh and stir in the front cabin, and Ronon knew he was keeping his vigil for this man too.

These people were alien; Beckett had been right about that, but they were good people and they needed him -a great deal. Ronon Dex needed very much to be needed these days, and he was thankful beyond measure that the universe had seen fit to send him here.

As arranged, they got a call from Teyla, checking in on their progress, every five hours. The first one had come while Rodney was still sleeping, and when the second one came Ronon knew that their journey was more than three quarters accomplished. Ronon suspected that the remaining hours of their journey went much more slowly for his traveling companions than himself. The one-time soldier and runner had plenty of experience with waiting -for orders, for someone to come, for something to break, to arrive... He would not say that the time passed quickly for him, but he had learned not to mind it, putting the hours to their best use, resting and thinking as little as possible.

These were not skills that either Beckett or McKay would have acquired, and Ronon feared that for them the voyage must seem interminable. Beckett had even left the pilot's seat and come back to check on Rodney at one point and Ronon could see the worry etched in his features deepen as he laid his hand on Rodney's shoulder and felt him tremble.

"Rodney, are you sure you don't want a sedative?" he'd asked, almost pleading.

"I... I can't, Carson, I..." Rodney had not lifted his head, and his words came slowly, as though he were struggling for each one. "I'm... I'm all she's... all she's got..."

"Aye, I know." Beckett's sigh had been tragic and Ronon had felt for them both. There wasn't a thing anyone could do, however, and Ronon tried not to let things he couldn't do anything about bother him. He didn't always succeed, though.

They were all three startled out of an unhappy reverie when something in the front cabin suddenly began beeping.

"Bloody hell!" swore Beckett, and Rodney jumped and looked up in alarm. "What the fuck is that?" the scientist cried, his eyes wide with panic.

"It says we've arrived at the coordinates you set, Rodney," answered Beckett, sounding puzzled. The reason for the doctor's puzzlement was likely that there was nothing here. Ronon couldn't see anything out the windows, nor was there any mass or energy detected in any of the jumper's read-outs. If this was where McKay thought Zelenka and Sheppard were, this mission was in serious trouble.

"Then... then there should be a station here... someplace to dock the jumper..." McKay said, sounding uncertain and frightened. "And we need to hurry... Radek's nanocites are showing decreased blood oxygen levels."

"Rodney there's nothing here." Beckett was looking more worried than puzzled now. "No energy readings, no life signs, nothing visible..."

"No, no,nonono..." McKay was up and headed for the jumper's controls and while the doctor watched him carefully, he did not try to stop him. "He's here; I know he's here -I can almost feel him, he's so close."

Ronon and Beckett exchanged glances, but neither of them knew quite what to think. McKay seemed on the verge of panic, but that was a standard operating mode for the man. He was neither raving nor incoherent and, in fact, seemed rather more coherent than he'd been when his gene suppression had first worn off. He had the HUD up now and was going over some data displayed there, his focus seemingly all but restored.

"Let me drive for a second, will you Carson?" he asked suddenly. Beckett eyed him skeptically for a long moment before answering.

"Are you sure, Rodney?" he asked. "A few hours ago you couldn't remember to eat the power bar you were holding in your hand."

"I, ah... I do recall that," McKay admitted, "but there's nothing like panic to focus one's mind, hm? Also, I think that the distance we've traveled from Atlantis may have the effect of dampening some of the random signals from the nanocites and my ATA gene."

"Aye, that makes some sense," Beckett considered.

"Atlantis can guide me a little closer to where the satellite is," the physicist explained. "It's not far, I swear."

"But Rodney, if it's not far we should be able to detect it from here, shouldn't we?" Beckett asked.

"The station's cloak is still up," McKay said. "Radek'll be trying to get it down, but he's running out of air and the closer we are when he finally gets it down..."

"Aye, alright," said Beckett, "you'd best take her then. Just... be careful."

A less distracted McKay, Ronon was sure, would have come up with a more biting response than a mere roll of his eyes, but it was all the man apparently had attention for at the moment. There was, of course, no sensation of movement in the jumper, and no change of scenery, so the only way Ronon could tell that they'd come to where McKay intended was when he started to swear and complain in that half panicked way that had once fooled Ronon into believing that the man was craven and useless.

"It's here," he insisted. "It's right here! C'mon Radek; I know you can do this. I've come as far as I can..."

Ronon frowned. McKay was headed for a gigantic meltdown any second now -he was already hyperventilating. He moved forward to stand behind McKay, preparing to lay a heavy and hopefully calming hand on the man's shoulder when he saw it. They all saw it. Rippling into existence before all their eyes was an immense satellite, bristling with antennas and other data gathering gear.

"My word!" cried Beckett, utterly astonished.

"There," McKay stood to grab at the doctor's arm, pointing to a structure on the satellite out their front window. "There's the docking port. Go now!"

Beckett gathered himself quickly and before long they could see the structure growing closer. "Oh!" he said a moment later. "I only had to think of docking and some sort of automatic systems took over. It's all going by itself now."

"Good," said McKay, a little desperately. "That's good."

"Rodney?" Beckett had heard the same desperate edge to Rodney's voice that Ronon had, and wondered what might be behind it.

"Air's going bad fast," McKay murmured, clenching and unclenching his hands in anxiety.

"We'll get there in time, McKay," Ronon asserted. "If Radek's still breathing…" he paused to see Rodney nod his head adamantly, "then he'll make it. You did it, McKay. Your plan worked. Now take some deep breaths and calm down."

Ronon knew that McKay had intended to at least try to follow his instructions as he nodded his compliance. A moment later, though, the whole jumper shuddered as it secured itself in the docking bay and McKay was up again, headed for the hatch.

"Rodney!" Beckett called out, but Ronon was after him already, arresting him with a hand to the shoulder.

"You need to let me do this," he said, "and you need to stay here."

"But…" Ronon could see the debate between good sense and his nearly overwhelming feelings revealed in Rodney's eyes. "He's there. I have to go to him."

"He is there," Ronon agreed, "and I'm going to go get him and bring him here, where you'll be waiting for him."

"But I…" The man was tenacious, Ronon had to give him that. Even when he knew he'd lost an argument he kept at it.

"Rodney, you're only barely coherent," Beckett stepped in as Ronon grabbed a pair of breather packs and flashlight and opened the hatch. "And you're certainly not fit to go into an unknown field situation like this. Let the man go and Radek will be here soon enough."

Carson quickly showed Ronon how to set one of the packs to deliver a 'richer' mixture of air, so as to counter the effects of oxygen deprivation, and then Ronon headed out into the dimly lit station, passing the beam of his flashlight back and forth across the unfamiliar space. He could tell that the air was bad the moment he stepped past the airlock and he pressed the breather mask to his face as he advanced. He spotted Sheppard on the fourth pass of his flashlight. The man was sitting with his back against the far wall and at first Ronon could not tell if he was conscious or not, or even alive.

"Sheppard?" he called cautiously as he approached. To Ronon’s relief, he saw Sheppard move, raising an unsteady hand to shield his eyes from the flashlight's beam.

"Ronon?" he gasped. "That you?"

Three strides had Ronon across the room and kneeling at Sheppard's side, activating his spare the breather and placing the mask over Sheppard's nose and mouth. The Colonel took a handful of deep, grateful breaths before pushing the mask away and gasping, "Get Radek. He went up that way to try and get the cloak down." When Ronon shone his flashlight in the direction that Sheppard had waved his hand toward, he saw the lower end of a ladder, ascending into some unknown portion of the station.

"He got it down," said Ronon, rising as he pulled Sheppard to his feet, "otherwise we'd never have found you." He ushered the Colonel, stumbling, back to the jumper where he was received by Carson, then seized another breather and headed out to find Radek.

The ladder Sheppard had indicated ascended no more than 5 meters and lead to a small space featuring a single console, at the base of which Dr. Radek Zelenka lay slumped. The light from Ronon's flashlight, glinting briefly on the man's spectacles, showed him to be breathing, but much too rapidly and shallowly. Ronon climbed up to sit next to the engineer, laying the oxygen mask over his face, and before long his breathing had slowed and deepened. A moment later he blinked, and Ronon could see Radek Zelenka's eyes focus on his face.

"You with us, Doc?" Ronon asked.

"You have found us," Zelenka murmured, smiling under the mask.

"Once you got the cloak down," Ronon said, slipping his free hand under the scientist's shoulders. "If you can keep that mask on I can carry you back to the jumper. McKay's waiting for you there and he's in kind of a state."

Zelenka lifted a hand to hold the breather mask to his face, allowing Ronon to use both his arms to lift the man and hold him close to fit into the passage though which the ladder descended. He got about halfway down before he found that he needed his hands to stay on the ladder, and so he jumped down the rest of the way, warning the engineer in his arms first.

The open hatch of the jumper cast a bright light into the lower room and Ronon followed it like a beacon. All three of the jumper's occupants looked up sharply as Ronon entered, and McKay appeared to fear the worst, naturally, upon seeing his friend carried in Ronon's arms.

"Radek!" he cried in distress and Zelenka responded instantly, struggling to free himself from Ronon's grasp.

"Take it easy, Doc," Ronon tried to calm him, but the man resisted all the harder and lifted the breather mask away from his face.

"Put me down, damn you," he gasped, even as Ronon tried to get him to put the mask back on. "I need to go to him, now!"

"Aye, he does," said Beckett, looking as though he had just realized something. "Set him down next to Rodney."

Ronon complied with a brief shrug and the moment he had Radek sitting on the bench next to McKay, Zelenka had dropped his air mask again and was kissing the other man deeply and with fervent passion.

"It's to get the nanocites out of Rodney," Beckett remarked when he saw Ronon's raised eyebrow and quiet smirk. "He'll have known that Atlantis had given them to him the moment that she did."

"If you say so," Ronon answered mildly, though he knew that Beckett was certainly telling the truth. He did know better, but Ronon was content to let the scientists continue to think that he regarded them as love-struck twits.

There were tears on McKay's face when the kiss ended, but Ronon would not trouble the man about that. Ronon knew what it was to lose a mate and could not imagine that he would not weep if his were ever returned to him. Now that the two scientists were parted, however, Beckett stepped in to have a look at Zelenka, and began by demanding that he lie down and put the breather mask back on.

He ended up laying with his head on McKay's lap, as the man wouldn't relinquish him, but this seemed to satisfy Beckett and before long he had pronounced Radek Zelenka largely undamaged, though he insisted that he continue to rest and keep the breather on for a while longer. McKay seemed unable to stop crying and continued to weep helplessly as he laid his head on his mate's chest and held him close.

Relief, fatigue and the trauma of the last few days had all taken their toll on the man and Ronon was frankly astonished at how well he had held up. It was no sign of weakness in the least that now, when it was all over, he could finally allow himself to fall apart, and so did.

Sheppard reached over at one point to lay a supportive hand on McKay's shoulder and McKay disentangled one hand from where it was clutching at Zelenka's shirt to reached out and take Sheppard's hand, squeezing it tightly. Beckett's eyes, too, were bright with unshed tears as he stood to look over the scene before him.

"Welcome back, lads," he said.

Chapter 4

  Radek could not help but smile to hear the astonished joy in Teyla's voice, and in Dr. Weir's, when Carson radioed Atlantis to tell them the good news. Carson's voice was a little rough as he signed off too. Radek even saw the corner of Rodney's mouth turn up just a bit, though he continued to sob quietly, his tears dampening the front of Radek's shirt. Radek did not mind in the least. Though one hand still held the breather mask to his face, the fingers of Radek's other hand stroked soothingly through Rodney's hair and he very much wished his mouth was free to speak words of comfort to his lover.

"Hey, what do you say we get the hell out of here," Sheppard lowered his mask to say, clearly feeling as impatient as Radek to be away from this place and home again.

"Aye, that's an idea," he heard Carson agree from the pilot's seat. A moment later he heard the jumper's hatch close and something eased in Radek's chest. They weren't home yet, but at least they were finally on their way. Radek had known several moments recently when he was not sure that he ever would be.

"Carson, why don't you just let me fly?" Sheppard called as the jumper lurched gracelessly away from the station. "No offense, but you're not the most expert jumper pilot on your best day and, today hasn't exactly been one of those, now has it?"

Carson's sigh was loud enough for Radek to hear it. "None taken, Colonel, but as much as I'd like to take you up on your offer, you need to rest and stay on elevated oxygen levels for a while yet."

"I'm a hell of a lot more rested than you are," Sheppard pointed out, "and couldn't you just boost O2 levels for the whole jumper."

"Aye, I suppose there's that," said Carson after a pause, "and I suppose that's proof enough that I'm run ragged. She's all yours then, Colonel."

Radek was happy to be free of the mask and a moment later Carson appeared in the back of the jumper to take the breather pack and put it away. He returned then to kneel beside the bench where Radek lay, lifting his wrist to take his pulse.

"How are you feeling, lad?" he asked softly.

"Very, very happy to be alive," Radek answered with a smile. Rodney was lying, bent over him with his face buried against Radek's chest, and he heard Rodney's breath hitch at his words. Carson apparently heard it too, and reached across to lay a hand on Rodney's trembling shoulder.

"Rodney, would you like a sedative now?" he asked. Rodney nodded and sniffled, but continued to weep quietly.

"Hush milacku," Radek soothed, caressing Rodney's cheek and fingering through his badly mussed hair. "All is well now. I am safe and well, and we are going home." He felt Rodney nod against his chest and then Carson was back with a bottle of water and a tablet, coaxing Rodney upright so that he could swallow them.

Radek tried pushing himself up when Rodney finally complied, and eventually met with success. Drawing in a deep breath, he looked around the cabin to meet Ronon's gaze as he lounged on the opposite bench. The Satedan's smile was warm and not at all condescending, and Radek answered with a smile that he hoped imparted some of his immense gratitude.

"There you go lad," Carson said as Rodney had evidently gotten the sedative down. "That'll put you out in short order and you'll likely sleep for nine hours at least."

Rodney sniffled again and finally found his voice. "Thank you Carson," he said, not at all steadily. "I really mean it."

"Can't imagine what else I would have done," the doctor said as Radek scooted over to snuggle against Rodney, wrapping his arms around him. Rodney responded in kind, squeezing Radek tight, with desperate strength.

"Thought I'd really lost you," he wept. "Thought I'd never see you again... never hold you... never kiss you..."

"Hush milacku," Radek murmured again. "I am here. You have not lost me, muy drahy." He kissed Rodney then to prove his point, taking his lover's face between his hands to brace him against the force of his kiss. Rodney's kiss tasted of tears and Radek found that he now had tears of his own to answer them. Atlantis had stored Rodney's memories, just as she stored her own, and all the terror and anguish of everything he'd experienced, from the moment he had infected himself with her nanocites, still reverberated in her, and in Radek. The closer he got to Atlantis the more these memories were visited upon him -Rodney's as well as the city's.

Radek was grateful to feel Carson's arm over his shoulder a moment later, supporting him as Rodney, succumbing to the sedative at last, grew heavy against him. Ronon came then to help shift Rodney so that he was lying with his head in Radek's lap, curled on his side with his back to the wall of the jumper. Radek slipped his glasses into his pocket and dried his eyes, reaching out to return Carson's one-armed embrace.

"Thank you for coming for us," he said, not because he'd ever doubted that they would, but because he was just plain grateful and needed all of them to know it.

Carson shrugged. "For me, the worst of it was worryin' about poor Rodney, and thinkin' we'd lost the two of you," he said. "This was as bad as it could get for Rodney, but you know that." Radek nodded, swallowing unhappily.

"Now you're back he'll be right again, soon enough," Carson assured him, his smile tired but kind. "He's stronger than anyone thinks, and with you he's stronger still."

Radek looked down at his lover where he slept, tracing his fingers over his face, smearing drying tears. "It is the love that makes us strong," he said quietly, "but someday it may break us too."

Carson soon retired to the copilot's seat to sleep and Radek eventually felt himself drifting as well. He dozed on and off as Rodney slept and the jumper made its way back to the Ancient city he'd come to call home, and more. He felt her presence with increasing intensity as they drew closer, and her impatience to have him back in her keeping again. Radek had known that the city felt protective of him, possessive even, but never before had he known just how much. He would not, he realized, be leaving Atlantis again for any reason, any time soon.

A little before Dr. Weir's second five hour check-in on their return trip, Rodney began to stir, slowly and groggily. By that time Carson had waked and relieved Colonel Sheppard at the jumper's controls and now he was sleeping in the copilot's seat.

"'R we there yet?" Rodney mumbled as awareness gradually returned to him.

"We are four hours away yet, milacku," Radek answered him, bending to plant a gentle kiss on his cheek.

"Good," he said sleepily. "Almost there." He rested quietly for a moment more, and then Radek felt him stiffen with alarm, turning suddenly to open his eyes and look up at Radek.

"Not a dream," he said, blinking with uncertainty.

"No milacku," Radek said, brushing his fingers over Rodney's forehead. "You are not dreaming. I am really here."

Rodney shifted so that he could wrap both his arms around Radek and hold him tight, and Radek stroked him and soothed him until the moment passed. Then he eased his lover up and got him something to eat.

Rodney remained alert if uncharacteristically clingy for the remainder of their voyage, but no one commented on it. Only Radek could see how 'clingy' Atlantis had become and Rodney seemed positively distant by comparison. Furthermore, Atlantis' proprietary sentiments now seemed to extend to Rodney as well. She was hardly any less eager to have Rodney back under her protection than she was to have Radek and she was wracked with guilt over having made him endure the nanocites and the gene suppression therapy. The three of them, Radek could see, were going to have to have a serious talk when they all got back. Then again, he thought as he felt the full extent of Atlantis' neediness, maybe it was something other than talk that they all needed.

There were, predictably, a lot of people waiting to greet them as they all stumbled out of the puddle jumper and into Atlantis' jumper bay. A number of their welcoming committee had not known about Elizabeth and John's relationship before, for Atlantis' civilian director and her military commander had been exceedingly discreet. Today, however, neither of them cared. Radek watched them come together as if drawn by no less a force than gravity, and noted that Carson was not the only one there blinking back tears at the sight.

The next thing Radek know, he was being enveloped in a bone-crushing hug by Teyla, who murmured, "You were very much missed," as she finally released him. She moved to Rodney next, dropping a brief but tender kiss on his forehead, and seemed surprised but gratified when he pulled her into a sudden embrace.

"Thank you for taking care of Elizabeth," he said quietly, though Radek could hear it clearly enough. Teyla smiled and ducked her head the way she did when she was caught off guard by a compliment.

"I only did what was needed," she replied softly, moving away to welcome Colonel Sheppard now that he had stepped away a bit from Dr. Weir.

"Carson," Elizabeth asked in a momentary lull, "do any of these people need to be in the infirmary?"

In the bright light of the jumper bay, Radek could suddenly see how exhausted the physician looked as he shook his head. "There's no need," he said, "but the lot of you are off duty for the next 48 hours, and you're to check in with me before you go back on. But not before then as I'm takin' myself off duty as well."

Elizabeth nodded. "Sounds good to me," she said. "Teyla, do you mind holding down the fort for another couple of days?"

"Not in the least," Teyla replied with an indulgent smile.

"Since the city isn't a smoking ruin," Rodney volunteered, "I'll assume that Simpson and Coleman are doing a competent job with the science department and will continue to do so for another 48 hours as well."

"Yes, I'd call that a sound assessment," said Radek. "Now let's go home." The last bit came out as much more of a whine than he'd wanted it to, but the truth was that he was tired, emotionally wrung out and badly in need of a shower. More than anything in the world he wanted to sleep in his own bed, curled at Rodney's side. Not so long ago he'd feared he'd never have those things again, and now they were so close he could smell them.

"Yes, let's," said Rodney, and Radek saw that the very same things were written on his lover's face. He laid an arm over Radek's shoulders and pulled him close as they turned to go, and Radek let his arm circle Rodney's waist. Their own relationship was much more of an open secret, though Rodney was rarely willing to be so demonstrative in public. Still, they walked all the way to their quarters arm in arm.

A few feet inside the door Rodney came to a stop and stood there as it closed behind them, drawing a sudden breath and pulling Radek even closer.

"Rodney?" Radek asked, looking up to try and read his face.

"Haven't been in here," he said unsteadily, "since I thought..." Rodney swallowed and turned to face Radek, wrapping both his arms around him. "I... well, I just couldn't..."

"That is all in the past now," Radek soothed, leaning up to kiss him. "We are both home now and I desperately want a shower. You could use one too, I think?"

"What?" said Rodney, sniffing carefully and then making a face. "Okay, you have a point. Shower it is."

The shower quickly became all about letting Rodney touch every part of him, as though every inch of him was being welcomed back home personally. Radek submitted gracefully, moved by the intensity of Rodney's adoration. Atlantis, too, took pleasure and gratitude in Rodney's touches, as she felt them on Radek's body. She wanted, Radek was very much aware, to be doing her own touching, claiming and welcoming, and she wanted something more as well, but Radek was holding that off for now. Rodney had been through enough lately, he told her. Trust me, he insisted, and I will ask him when the moment is right.

Rodney's obsessive behavior notwithstanding, they made short enough work of the shower as they both had something else in mind. They could have begun the sex in the shower, Radek knew. They had often enough in the past, but sex in the shower, for them, was usually playful, and neither one of them was in a particularly playful mood tonight. Once out of the shower, Rodney remained uncharacteristically close, seemingly loathe to lose contact with him even for a second as they lead each other to the bed.

They lay facing one another, side by side, Rodney's hands gripping tightly to Radek's hips and looking up to meet his eyes, Radek saw too many echoes of his recent despair lurking within. Radek and Atlantis both felt the urge to kiss him, and so Radek did, taking Rodney's face between his hands, speaking, as no words could convey, of what lay in his and the city's heart. He let her in as well, to feel what he was feeling, to taste Rodney's mouth, and trace the contours of his lips as he did.

It was all they wanted for a while, but then, finally, Rodney drew back, and he had a question in his eyes.

"Atlantis?" he asked.

For his own part, Radek was touched to see how perceptive his lover was, but within him, it was Atlantis' tumultuous and troubled thoughts that took precedent, and they were what showed in his eyes as he nodded silently in answer to Rodney's question.

Rodney's hand, reaching out to tenderly stroke Radek's cheek, was reaching out to touch Atlantis as well, he knew. "Talk to me?" Rodney said, his eyes reflecting Atlantis' troubled feelings.

Radek let his eyes drift closed for a moment, taking in only the sensation of Rodney's fingers on his face and feeling Atlantis take comfort in it. He drew a breath before he began putting words to the city's conflicting feelings.

"Carson said that using the gene suppression therapy would actually shorten your life this time," he said at last, feeling both their anguish at the words.

"A little," was Rodney's response. "At the time... it was an easy tradeoff to make."

Radek nodded, understanding and wishing he didn't. He felt Rodney's arms around him then, pulling him in and holding him close.

"You suffered," Radek continued at last. "She made you to suffer terribly and she is so very sorry."

"It didn't matter," Rodney murmured, shaking his head against Radek's shoulder. "Nothing mattered. I was... I was dead inside until she found me and told me... that she needed my help. Taking on the nanocites again was terrifying... and they made me crazy, but I was alive. Atlantis... má prekrásná, you made me alive again."

The kiss that followed came from Atlantis, but Radek was happy to deliver it. It lasted until they both had to breathe and would have lasted longer had they not. Still, there was something Radek wanted very much to say before things went any further -before Rodney's suffering and the reason for it was forgotten.

"Milacku," he said, reaching up to smooth Rodney's ruffled hair, "for all that I am very glad to have been rescued, this must never happen again."

"Me thinking you were dead?" Rodney replied. "Definitely not."

"I mean you taking the nanocites," Radek said seriously. "You must never, ever do this again."

"I wasn't particularly thrilled about it this time," Rodney pointed out, "but there wasn't anything else I could do."

"That is what I mean," Radek tried to explain. "There must be some other contingency, some other arrangement we can make, so that there is something else - some one else... in case something happens to me again."

Rodney's embrace became crushing and Radek could feel him tremble. "Not happening," Rodney muttered into Radek's shoulder.

"Rodney, milacku..." Radek moved his hand soothingly over Rodney's back, knowing that what he had to say was hard, but that if he waited to say it then Rodney would only put it off. "I am only human. Even if I never leave the city again, you know as well as I that Atlantis harbors many dangers of her own. You know this."

"I know," came Rodney's muffled words after a moment. "I just... not now, okay?"

Radek kissed him briefly on the cheek. "Rodney, if we do not speak of this now then it will not be spoken of at all. We need to find a... a surrogate - someone from among science staff who does not have gene. Someone who will be compatible, who has a good feeling for the city, and we must make a trial with the nanocites, so that we know they are truly compatible and so that Atlantis will come to know them."

Rodney remained silent at first, but he offered no further objections either so Radek gave him some room to think about it, continuing to gently massage his lover's back.

"Who..." Rodney began after a bit, "who did you have in mind?"

"There are many who might serve," Radek said, having thought about this some over the last day or so, "but the one who comes to mind first is Dr. Patel. Like me, she has had two gene therapy treatments and none have taken, and I do believe she has an... understanding of the city."

"The architectural engineer?" Rodney replied after a moment, and Radek nodded. "Yeah, I could see that."

"Good," said Radek, kissing Rodney's face between words. "Now we need discuss this no further," a kiss to the bridge of his nose... "save to agree that we will both speak with her as soon as we come back to work?" A kiss to base of his throat...

"Hm... yes, okay." Rodney moved into Radek's kisses, like a cat angling for attention.

"Excellent," Radek murmured, his lips caressing Rodney's skin. "Now we will move on to more important things, yes?"

Rodney moaned softly in reply as Radek's fingers moved over his chest, brushing his nipples, and his teeth grazed the skin under his ear. Atlantis was as hungry to touch Rodney as he was, but she still wanted more and moved insistently within him. She would not be content until he made her request.

Soon, drahy, very soon it will be the right time, he reassured her. I will ask him when it is right and he will come to you, fear not. Atlantis subsided a bit, content for now to bask in the sensations Radek shared with her, but she would not give up on her insistence for more. Very shortly, he knew, he and Rodney would find their relationship tested by their unusual and remarkable lover once again.

Chapter 5

 Radek began with the goal of distracting his lover, as thoroughly and completely as possible. There were several good reasons for this, but the best one was that Radek enjoyed it immensely, and was really quite good at it. It struck Radek as being like a sort of choreography, with his hands and mouth as dancers and Rodney's body as the stage. Now, for instance, he sent his mouth and hands on parallel journeys, from Rodney's throat to his nipples, and from his nipples to the brush of thick hair at the base of his cock.

From here his fingers could easily dance their way along the inside of Rodney's thigh while his lips and teeth moved in a slow rhythm, back and forth, from one nipple to the other. Rodney, the audience as well as the stage, was sighing deeply, leaning into Radek's touch when he could, while his hands roamed over Radek's back and lower, to cup his ass. Finding this more than a little distracting himself, Radek stifled the urge to thrust his own hardening cock into Rodney's already quite firm one, and bit down, ever so slightly, on Rodney's right nipple instead.

Predictably, Rodney yelped and then gasped as Radek's tongue soothed the abused nub of flesh. Radek really should have expected retaliation at that point, but still he was taken by surprise when Rodney's hands grasped firmly at his buttocks and thrust hard against him, pressing their two rigid cocks together. Instantly, all of Radek's plans and considerations were obliterated and all he could do was thrust back, helplessly moaning into Rodney's chest.

Want to see, Atlantis' thoughts broke into Radek's lust fogged brain, still insistent and directed. The image from their room monitor came to him then, but it showed little, with the two of them pressed close together as they were, even their faces hidden.

"Ano," he murmured, able to refuse her nothing. Rodney looked up as Radek spoke, guessing at the reason for it.

"She wants..." was all Radek was able to get out at first, because she wanted so many things and he could not put words to all of them all at once.

"What do you want?" Rodney's gaze was directed upward, his voice was soft with passion and Radek felt the city's own desire flare within him.

"To see," he began again. "To watch us, and Rodney... she wants you as well."

Rodney frowned, not quite following the meaning of Radek's words, but Atlantis was clamoring within him to make her desires clear and so, drawing a deep breath, Radek acquiesced.

"To be with you, to touch... what you touch, see what you see, to feel..." Radek swallowed and trailed off, the magnitude of what he was asking weighing heavily on him.

Rodney's frown grew deeper. "Haven't we had enough of that already?" he asked.

Radek reached up to stroke his hand over Rodney's shoulder, meeting his troubled gaze directly. "She thinks that this can be different," he said, watching Rodney's expression move from troubled to puzzled. With his gaze, Radek implored Rodney to remember how much he trusted them both. "She has pointed out to me that when you are... preoccupied with strong physical sensations or... or emotions, the random data signals from the nanocites can be... blocked out?"

Rodney's gaze turned inward as his mind went to work and Radek kept his hand moving on his arm, warming the cool skin under his fingers.

"Okay," he said after a moment, "that's true. And these would be just about the perfect circumstances to... apply that idea."

Radek leaned forward to plant a gentle kiss on Rodney's cheek. It was wonderful to watch him putting that magnificent mind to work, he and Atlantis both thought so. Now, however, it was Rodney's carefully hidden heart that spoke as he reached up to brush a lock of hair away from Radek's eyes.

"You almost lost him too, didn't you?" he said. Radek swallowed and nodded, feeling Atlantis moved almost to the point of tears within him.

"Alright," Rodney said nervously, "I'll... let's give it a try."

"Tell me this is something you want," Radek said gently, laying his hands on either side of Rodney's head.

Rodney nodded after only a moment. "If I was in her place, I know what I'd want," he said and then smiled shyly, "and I like the idea of being the one who can give that to her."

Radek could not but smile in response. "If it goes wrong in any way we will end it at once," Radek said, drawing Rodney closer and feeling him nod his head between Radek's hands.

"I love how very brave you are, milacku," he said when his lips were centimeters from Rodney's. "We both do."

"Yeah, well I'm not the only brave guy lying on the bed here, you know," Rodney murmured, "and she thinks so too."

Radek chuckled, because Rodney was right, of course, and then he leaned forward and kissed his courageous lover, feeling the eerie tingle of Atlantis' nanocites passing from him into Rodney. Rodney startled at the sensation, and Radek realized that Rodney had only experienced this method of passing along the nanocites when he'd been semiconscious or deeply distracted. Radek let the kiss end but kept his hands on Rodney's face, giving him something to focus on.

Rodney lay very still with his eyes closed, waiting to feel the first effects and Radek waited with him, feeling Atlantis wait as well. They did not wait long, for after only a moment Rodney drew a sharp breath, his body going rigid with panic. "Oh shit," he whispered, clutching at Radek's shoulder.

"Shh, milacku," Radek tried to calm him, caressing his lover's face. "Focus on this, on my touch."

Rodney shook his head, frightened - the memories of his previous encounters too strong. "It won't..." Rodney gasped, "I can't..."

Thinking furiously, even as he felt Rodney's panic echoing through Atlantis in his own mind, along with the expected flood of random data, Radek lifted his hand away from Rodney's face and reach down -all the way down to take hold of Rodney's testicles and squeeze, ever so slightly. Rodney's panic was refocussed instantly, the random data forgotten utterly, as he opened his eyes wide to gaze directly into Radek's own, mouth agape with shock.

"Do I have your attention now?" Radek asked.

Rodney made a strangled, eeping noise, and nodded.

"Good," said Radek, leaning in to kiss Rodney once again and loosening his grip on Rodney's balls. He shifted his hand upwards as the kiss deepened, to trail his fingers over Rodney's cock and Rodney moaned loudly into their kiss. Now he felt something open in his mind and as he did, discovered that he could actually feel his own fingers on Rodney's cock. Atlantis, he realized, was not only experiencing Rodney's sensations, but sharing them with him as well.

"Boze!" Radek cried aloud with surprise, even as similar things were occurring to Rodney, who gasped "Oh shit!" at the very same moment.

They both might have come then and there, save that Atlantis drew both their attentions away with her previous demand. Want to see! she insisted once again.

"Right, right," Rodney murmured, releasing Radek almost without thought, so that he could turn to face the nearest monitor, set above and to the left of the bed. She sent them a glimpse of themselves lying together on the bed, Rodney behind and Radek in front, and both of them were suddenly struck with self-consciousness. Radek was a bit more used to being watched than Rodney was, but still not so used to being observed in such intimacy.

Atlantis quickly put them at ease, however. Beautiful, she told them both and Radek laughed, feeling Rodney's arms come around to hold him from behind. This was what she had been wishing for - to hold him as Rodney held him now and to feel his body under Rodney's hands, enclosed in his arms. She rejoiced at the sensations and shared her joy, leaving her two human lovers grinning like idiots.

Adrift in contented bliss, Radek lifted one of Rodney's hands to his lips, kissing his fingers and then drawing each into his mouth to suck and tongue. It was strange and also intensely arousing to feel the moist heat of his own mouth closing over Rodney's fingers, just as it was astonishing and yet exciting to feel the texture of his skin under Rodney's fingers as his other hand moved over Radek's chest and belly.

"Radek..." Rodney's voice in his ear was far from steady. "Can you... feel...?"

"Ano," Radek gasped, awash in sensations.

"Oh my god..." Rodney whimpered. "There's not going to be anything left of my brain after this, is there?"

"Possibly not," Radek replied carelessly, kissing the open palm of Rodney's hand and feeling the press of his own lips against it. It would take more than this to bring about Rodney's prediction, however, and so it was with intent that Radek arched his back, pressing his ass into Rodney's rigid cock.

"Oh god!" Rodney groaned, tightening his arm around Radek's chest and thrusting his hips back against Radek, his hard sex pressing between Radek's cheeks. This time they both groaned, loudly and wordlessly.

Ano, ano, ano... more! Atlantis, by god, was actually egging them on, Radek was astonished to realize.

"Oh, yeah..." Rodney replied, eager to indulge her. The hand resting on Radek's belly moved down a bit further now, to brush lightly over the top of Radek's own weeping erection, and then to wrap strong fingers around it.

"Bozícku!" Radek shouted, as Rodney simultaneously yelled, "Holy shit!"

The pleasure of Rodney's hand enclosing and stroking his cock was a wonderful thing all on its own, but added to that now was were the sensations of his own rigid and pulsing sex in Rodney's hand and it was almost enough to undo him right then and there. This was, Radek thought to himself, terrific fun, but it was never going to last long. It was with that in mind that he now relinquished Rodney's other hand and reached across to his night stand, grabbing up a bottle of lube.

He pressed it firmly into Rodney's hand and Rodney got the picture right away when Radek raised his leg, opening himself. Now Rodney's slick fingers were working at his opening, entering him and stretching the tight ring of muscle. Each moan and gasp Radek gave was echoed by Rodney, who paused in his work repeatedly as tremors of pleasure ran through both of them. Rodney's hand remained still on Radek's cock throughout all this, possessing him even as he worked Radek with his fingers.

Up till now, Atlantis had refrained from sending them any more images, since the last one had seemed to make them uncomfortable. Now, however, she wanted too much to share what she was seeing to keep it to herself. "Bože!" Radek murmured, taking in her view of the two of them laying together, Rodney's hand wrapped around his cock and Rodney's fingers, the knuckles just visible, moving in and out of him.

"Ted'," Radek moaned, scarcely aware that he was speaking. "Ted', Rodney, prosím."

"Mm," Rodney hummed, withdrawing his fingers with care. "Now, you say?" Then there was hard, slick flesh pressing against his opening, as well as the sensation of an opening being pressed into and giving way, and he was entered, filled, entering, filling...

"Bože, ah, bože..." Radek had never felt anything like this. He had experienced the sensations of taking and being taken before, but this was different. This was Rodney, sinking his cock into Radek's warm, tight flesh that Radek was feeling, just as Rodney knew Radek's ecstasy at being penetrated and filled with his hard and throbbing sex. Now Rodney was reaching back up to wrap his arm around him again, pulling him close and brushing a callused fingertip over one of Radek's nipples, and Radek was reaching down to slip his hand around Rodney's as it began to slowly stroke his cock. For a moment, they were poised on the brink. Even Atlantis seemed to hold her breath.

In the end though, she was the one who pushed them over, and all it took was another image. Here was Radek, wantonly displayed, his knee raised to open himself for Rodney's cock, and his head thrown back against Rodney's shoulder. Beside and behind him, Rodney licked and nibbled at Radek's ear while his left hand reached beneath and around him to torment his nipples, and his right, its fingers interlaced with Radek's, stroking Radek's cock in a slow, deliberate rhythm. Even as they watched, Rodney began to thrust rhythmically into Radek, the tempo of his thrusts matching that of their joined hands on Radek's cock.

Almost without thinking, Radek tilted his hips so that Atlantis could see more of Rodney's cock as it pushed in and out of him and he felt her appreciation and affection.

For me? Yes, for me! Her joy and delight reverberated between the three of them as Radek heard Rodney murmur in his ear, "Yes, for you, beautiful city. All for you..."

And really, Radek thought with his last shreds of logical cognition before the ecstasy overcame him entirely, how much more appropriate could it be that they make this offering of love and pleasure to the creature who had saved his life? What better gift could they give her? For you, he thought with all his heart. This joy, this great love and this magnificent, building rapture that grew in both of them with every every stroke of their hands on Radek's cock, with every thrust of Rodney's hard flesh into Radek's own. All for you.

This thrusting, pulsing, penetrating rhythm was all that was left of him now -that and the ancient city which held them together. The image was still there too -his own body arching and thrusting back against Rodney's, Rodney's cock entering him again and again and again, his own mouth agape as he gasped and shouted wordlessly in the rhythm that seized them both. Radek heard his voice make sounds he had never heard it make before, just as he heard Rodney's voice reach a pitch he'd never imagined Rodney capable of, and still it was climbing.

Together, their voices crescendoed, the pulses of pleasure coursing through them accelerated until it was more than their bodies and minds could support and they broke at last, falling, flying... Radek felt the waves of liquid bliss moving through him transform into hot liquid pulsing deep within his body and pulsing out of his own throbbing cock, spurting between his and Rodney's fingers, and it was not stopping. Spasms of ecstasy continued to wrack both their bodies as the surges of pleasure that came with their release echoed between them and the city until Radek wondered if they had not accidentally trapped all three of them in some kind of perpetual loop of pleasure and release.

In the end, of course, entropy would not be denied, but it let them down easy. Two bodies trembled out their last spasms of pleasure and relaxed; two cocks grew flaccid and still; two hands came to rest in a still warm pool of cum on Radek's belly. The room was silent save for the sounds of heavy breathing - two sets of lungs laboring mightily to reoxygenate two oxygen depleted circulatory systems.

"Oh god." The voice was Rodney's, Radek was fairly sure about that, though at the moment he was not entirely certain where one of them left off and the other began.

"Oh god, my brain."

Radek made a questioning noise, which was about as much as he was capable of at the moment.

"It's gone, isn't it?" Rodney moaned. "Completely gone. Don't try to spare me the truth. I know the score. It's all melted in a puddle on the floor, isn't it? Isn't it!?"

Radek could no more stop himself from bursting out laughing than he could cease breathing.

"My beautiful, beautiful brain," Rodney continued in a pitiful singsong. "All gone, all melted away..."

"I do not know why," Radek managed between chuckles, "you think that I am in any position to tell you anything, as my brain is most definitely in identical condition, you know?"

Rodney's sorrowful litany trailed off and he turned his head to meet Radek's gaze with his own. "It is?" he asked, then, "Ah, right... of course it is. That's it then. We're all doomed."

Radek had to kiss him then, and Atlantis knew that it was time for her and Rodney to part company. The sharp tingling in his mouth seemed to shake Rodney out of his fatalistic lassitude and when Radek drew back there was a look of wistful longing in Rodney's eyes.

"Thanks," he said, clearly speaking to Atlantis. "That was... that was incredible." He shook his head slowly in amazement and Radek knew how he felt.

"I think she fired up the stardrive again," Radek said, still lying comfortably against Rodney. "That will be the second time it has happened like that, and someone is bound to notice. We need to come up with a cover story."

"Nah," said Rodney. "If someone brings it up I'll just put it on my list of things that need looking into and then never get around to it. Or, better still, I'll assign it to you so you can take up ten minutes of meeting time griping about how overloaded your schedule is and then you can never get around to it. It's definitely an engineering issue anyhow, don't you think?"

As it happened, Rodney was correct on all counts, so Radek resisted the urge to smother him with the pillow, and instead just whacked him with it.

"And what is the use of extending already overlong science staff meeting," he asked, "by provoking me into ranting about overloaded schedule which, of course, it is, very much?"

Rodney gazed at him fondly for a moment. "Because I love watching your eyebrows jump up and down behind your glasses when you're mad." he said at last, with a slight smirk.

Radek scowled briefly, but then watched Rodney's smirk fade as they gazed at one another, and Rodney's eyes grew ever so slightly haunted -no doubt remembering how close he had come to never seeing such delights again. Radek rolled to face him then, letting Rodney gather him in his arms and hold him close. He would need this a lot for a while to come, Radek understood, and he was happy to indulge his lover. It was a bit intimidating to confront just how important he had become to these two beings (beings who were plenty important in their own right, and to the lives and well being of nearly everyone living in the Ancient city) and it was nothing he'd ever imagined for himself.

Radek had hoped, as do most men, that he would find love in his life, and that it would last. He had wished, or perhaps dreamed, that he might come to know the love of more than one, and be fortunate enough to have a lover accepting of such notions, but he had hardly expected it. Never had he imagined that he would come to actually live such an extraordinary life and that not one, but both of his lovers would be such extraordinary people. It was hard not to draw the conclusion that he, himself, must be at least somewhat extraordinary.

Though Radek had long ago become accustomed to the idea that he was smarter than the average physicist, he didn't think he was quite ready for extraordinary. He knew what both Rodney and Atlantis would say if he asked them, but there was other evidence to support this conclusion and so he didn't bother. Facts were facts, Radek knew, and he'd just have to learn to face them.

He worked on getting used to the idea over the next couple of days, which mainly consisted of sleeping and having sex with Rodney. Atlantis watched from a distance, if at all, as a little physical intimacy went a long way with the Ancient AI. Rodney certainly did his best to make Radek feel extraordinary over those two days, and when they returned to work Radek discovered that things had changed there as well, subtly.

It was not just Rodney, of course, but everyone in the science division that had had a little taste of 'what if Dr. Zelenka wasn't here anymore' and no one had cared for it in the least. The gushing relief he'd endured from some of his staff was a bit much at first, and fortunately it didn't last. What did last was that he got just a bit more deference and respect in the labs from then on, and Radek Zelenka found that he didn't mind this in the least.

Things did not so much change between himself and Rodney but, rather, deepened. It was the night they had spent making love while linked with Atlantis that prompted this as much as Radek's brush with death, and Radek knew that all three of their lives had been changed that night. What other lovers, Radek came to reflect more than once, had ever experienced the shared intimacies that they had? It was quite possible that no other human ever had.

That in of itself was shockingly extraordinary, Radek knew. There was no escaping it. Still, if he must consign himself to being extraordinary, at least there were benefits. He lived in an extraordinary city, had an extraordinary job and a truly extraordinary relationship with two decidedly extraordinary people. In the end, Radek supposed he ought to consider himself lucky that he was extraordinary enough himself, to handle them all.


(c) 2007 Taylor Dancinghands

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