Disclaimer: According Intellectual Proprty Laws, someone owns these ideas, characters, scenarios, etc. and whoever that is it's not me. I'm playing with 'em anyway. So sue me. (Actually, no, please don't.)
1. Too Much Information
Radek Zelenka knew that these words, when uttered by Dr. Rodney McKay, might herald something as trivial as a paper cut, or as ominous as imminent city or galaxy wide cataclysm. What ever it was though, it likely bore further investigation, and so Radek turned away from the open access panel he'd been studying to see what Rodney was on about.
The two of them, along with Drs. Simpson and Chen, had come to this curious little vestibule at the far end of the North Pier after some of the Marines had discovered it a few days ago and recommended as being worthy of attention. It was the large plaque or panel in the center of the south wall that attracted the most attention, but there were several less obvious features of the space which Radek found quite curious as well. The fundamental design of the room seemed slightly different from that of the rest of Atlantis, and Radek was convinced that understanding the reason for this difference was critical to understanding the purpose of the plaque. Radek was also sure that there was some significance to the fact that the largest doors in the room, opposite the plaque, opened out onto a wide open deck at the tip of the city's northern arm. The large, clear paneled double doors had the look of a formal entryway to him, but no one else seemed to find this of significance.
At the moment, Radek and the other three scientists were applying themselves to what they'd all come to refer to as the 'greeting plaque', as it bore the recessed imprint of a human seeming hand in the center, thumb and fingers spread out, as if in greeting. Markings on either side of the hand print appeared to be some kind of binary code, which Simpson and Chen were working on, while he and Rodney were working on figuring out the reason for the odd power readings emanating from behind the plaque.
Radek really hadn't thought it would actually be necessary to tell anyone not to place their hand into the depression at the center of the plaque, but he had not accounted for Rodney McKay's insatiable and occasionally less than sensible curiosity. Looking over to discern the reason for Rodney's outburst, Radek saw the man examining the palm of his open hand with a pained expression, and knew with dismay just what he'd done. Seeing the bright droplet of blood seeping from the small wound in the center of Rodney's hand had the hairs on the back of Radek's neck lifting with dread. This could not be good.
Radek was radioing Dr. Beckett and the infirmary even before he reached Rodney's side, leading him away from the panel and over to where the light shone in through the transparent doors to get a better look at his injury.
"It bit me!" Rodney exclaimed with outrage, as Radek daubed at what appeared to be a small puncture wound in the center of Rodney's palm with the handkerchief he always kept in his pocket.
"And you are surprised about this why?" Radek masked his concerned with the plentiful annoyance he also felt.
"This isn't some unknown alien base; this is Atlantis!" Rodney complained stridently. "We've never found booby traps here before. Never!"
"Yes," said Radek crossly, rolling his eyes as he pressed his hanky into Rodney's hand, "in fourteen percent of the city we have thoroughly explored we have found no booby-traps. How anyone could imagine that remaining eighty-six percent might hold surprises, I do not know." Radek waited for Rodney's doubtless biting rejoinder but was answered instead with silence. Glancing back at Rodney with growing concern, Radek saw that the man's eyes were opened wide as they darted about the room with alarm.
"Radek, why are there six of you?" Rodney asked with growing alarm.
"I promise you that I am and an entirely unique phenomenon," Radek answered, feeling his heart in his throat and trying not to let it show.
"Not six of you..." Rodney answered, "six... views. I'm seeing it six views... of the whole room. I can see me. Why can I see me?"
"Rodney?!" It was becoming increasingly difficult for Radek to keep the distress from showing in his voice. Rodney was not even trying.
"Oh my god, it's in my head!" he cried.
"What is? Rodney, tell me what is going on!" Radek implored
"Of course power levels are low!" Rodney yelled suddenly. "We're short about four ZedPMs and... Wait, why are you telling me about the inertial dampeners?"
"What?" Radek struggled to hold panic at bay. "Rodney, you're not making sense. Who is speaking of inertial dampeners?"
"The thing in my head!" Rodney was panicking, grabbing at Radek as he tried to steady him. Simpson and Chen had, by now, stopped what they were doing to look over at the commotion. "It won't shut up!" Rodney cried desperately. "Get it out!"
"Carson is coming," Radek attempted to assure him, leading Rodney over to one of the benches set against the wall near the front door. "He will be here soon. You must try to stay calm."
"I know Carson is coming!" Rodney resisted being sat for a moment, then collapsed next to Radek on the bench. "I can see him! He's just stepping out of the eighth floor transporter, in section 'F' of the north pier. I can see every single fucking transporter in the whole fucking city... except the three in the south east pier that are off line... and the two in the far tower on the south pierŠ oh god, it won't stop! God help me, Radek, I can't make it stop!!!"
Radek did not know when he had seen Rodney so frightened, and he was plenty frightened himself. Part of him was furious with his lover for taking such foolish risks as well, but even so, it was impossible not to take the terrified man beside him into his arms and hold him close until Dr. Beckett arrived. His and Rodney's relationship had been more or less an open secret among the science staffs from the very beginning, and a number of the 'old-timers' among the military knew as well. The unique bonding experience of that first year of life on Atlantis had left the survivors much less likely to pass judgment on how and with whom their fellow survivors took their comfort. Certainly the better portion of the science personnel had never cared.
By the time Dr. Beckett appeared on the scene, Rodney was twitching and muttering in Radek's arms, his face buried in the engineer's shoulder, the fist of his uninjured hand clutching at his lab coat. Radek did his best to explain what had happened, as Carson looked at Rodney's hand and checked his pulse and blood pressure.
"Well, there seems little doubt that we're looking at some kind of intentional infection," Carson said, as he and Radek and a couple of Carson's assistants got Rodney unlatched from Radek and loaded onto a gurney. "We'll have a look at his blood and whatnot when we get him to the infirmary. And since we are looking at the possibility of contagion, even though it's almost certainly blood born, I'll want the lot of you to come with me straight to the infirmary to be tested as well."
Radek had no objections to this, being determined to follow Rodney in any event, and none of the other scientists raised any objection either. "Go with him," Simpson instructed Radek as Carson and his lover headed out. "The two of us can pack up. There's not much."
Radek thanked her, taking her hand briefly in gratitude, before following after his heart to the infirmary.
"The contagion must be technological in nature," Radek was saying, probably not for the first time, as he restlessly paced the confines of Carson Beckett's personal lab. "He appeared to be interfacing in real time with monitors and other city systems... I cannot think of any other explanation."
"Aye, it may be you're right," said Carson, also probably not for the first time, "and we'll know for sure in a few minutes, but not if you don't bloody settle down and stop interrupting me!"
"Sorry, sorry," Radek stopped himself, combing his fingers through his already disordered hair in anxiety. "I just... I worry..."
"I do understand, man," Carson spoke gently, "and it's likely true that Rodney'll need you to play a part in getting him out of this, but now you need to let me do my part, and I need some peace and quiet to do it in."
Radek sighed, removing his glasses for a moment to rub at his eyes. "Perhaps I will go sit with him for a while," he said.
"There you go," Carson approved. "There's no harm in that. I'll be done here in only a few minutes and if you're right then I'll be out to tell you first thing."
Rodney was sedated, dressed in scrubs and ensconced in a bed in a semi secluded corner of the infirmary, a single IV keeping his blood sugars where they ought to be. Radek sat in the chair beside Rodney's bed and took one of the restless, twitching hands into his own. Even under heavy sedation, Rodney McKay stirred and muttered, head moving from side to side as he spoke.
"Power levels... " Radek thought he heard Rodney say as he stroked his hand tenderly, "Ventilation systems... south east pier, zone twelve, obstructed duct... Desalinization tank number two, diode failure..."
"What have you gotten yourself into now, miláčku?" Radek asked with quiet despair.
Radek Zelenka had reflected many times before on how foolish it was to fall in love someplace as patently dangerous as this Ancient city in an alien galaxy, and yet how could one endure such a place, such astonishing and terrifying circumstances without love? How, without love, could he have endured his accidental, conscious incarceration in a wraith dart? How, without love, could he have dared descending into the ocean in a puddle jumper, or rescued Rodney from torturers or himself from the traumas of that rescue? And how, without this city, her mysteries and her terrors, would Radek have found such a love as he had in Rodney McKay? Most days there was no question in Radek's mind as to whether it had all been worth it, but there were moments -moments like this- when he found himself watching his love suffering and frightened, when he knew doubts and wondered if he might come, some day, to have regrets.
2. Learning Curve
As good as his word, Carson soon emerged from his lab to find Radek where he sat at Rodney's bedside and beckoned him in.
"Well, you were right enough about it being technological," Carson said, "though it doesn't seem to be anything like the one that attacked you lot after the storm that one time, which I suppose is a mercy."
The engineer reserved his comments until he could get a look at what Carson had found, and made his way quickly to the scanner. Radek Zelenka knew that he was one of a handful of humans who had ever laid eyes on the kind of technology visible in Beckett's micro-scanner, and it daunted him occasionally to know that his brief exposure to such things made him an 'expert' in most peoples' estimation. With Rodney out of the picture, he and Carson currently stood as the foremost experts on infectious nano-agents on Atlantis, and there was a good chance that no one in all of the SGC knew more. On another day, Radek mused, he might have felt flattered at that realization, but today it just made him feel lonely and useless. There simply wasn't anyone else he could call on for help, nor was there expert advice he might acquire from any source.
Still, Radek knew he had overcome similar handicaps in the past, and that he was far from helpless in such matters. In some ways Radek Zelenka knew that he'd been born and existed for the sole purpose of solving such mysteries, and wresting the secrets from devices such as the ones now visible in Carson's scanner and currently playing havoc with Rodney's brain. Carson Beckett was by no means useless in such endeavors himself, Radek knew, and this was also a source of consolation. If he and Carson Beckett were all that stood between Rodney and disaster, well, he could be far worse off.
Radek and Carson worked through that evening and well into the night, laboring with all their mights to get the nanocites inhabiting Rodney to surrender their secrets, and they met with some limited success. They made each other stop long enough to catch an hour or two of sleep on cots in the infirmary, as the gray light of predawn came to show through the windows. When they woke it was just in time to make it to a meeting with Dr. Weir, with time for a brief stop at the dining hall to grab coffee and pastries.
"Please tell me you have something, gentlemen," she said as they sat, along with Colonel Sheppard, and Teyla at the round conference table. Radek and Carson exchanged glances and then Carson went first.
"We've been able to determine with certainty that the nanocites in Rodney's brain are no relation to the lethal ones that we encountered before," he began.
"That's good, right?" asked Col. Sheppard.
"It is good that Rodney has not been infected with an agent clearly intended to harm humans," Radek answered him, "but what is not good is that we have no idea what purpose they were intended to serve, or who made them."
"They're not of Ancient origin, then?" Dr. Weir asked.
"Not as far as we can tell, at this point," Carson said. "We don't have enough examples of ancient nano technology to know for sure, but it seems unlikely that they would design something to deliver these obviously harmful agents into a person without any kind of warning."
"Whatever it was intended for, can't we get rid of it the same way we got rid of the last nano-virus we dealt with?" Sheppard asked.
Radek shook his head vehemently. "This we have explored, naturally, and unfortunately we have discovered that there is a most serious side effect to using such an approach."
"What side effect?" Teyla asked.
It was Carson that stepped in to answer her. "Unlike the last nano agents we dealt with, these don't remain loose in the bloodstream, but attach themselves to the neural fibers in the brain. Once attached, they form interlocking chains along those filaments and they don't shift when rendered inert by an EMP."
"But an EMP does kill them?" John asked.
"Aye, it does, but the inert remains of the nanocites stay quite firmly fixed to the neurons where they act much like the plaque that forms in the brains of Alzheimer's patients."
"Oh my God..." said Elizabeth quietly.
"Okay, so that's a bad plan," said Sheppard.
"I am glad you agree," Radek snapped impatiently, which was so unlike him that several heads looked in his direction.
"Forgive me," Teyla intruded, "but I do not know the implications of this disease you have mentioned. What are it's effects?"
No, of course Teyla wouldn't know what Alzheimer's was, Radek realized with chagrin. Thinking of Rodney being afflicted in such a manner though made his throat tighten and he was glad to let Carson explain.
"It's an illness that usually effects older people on our world, lass, and a very cruel one, "he said, "for it robs the mind first of memory and then of all intellectual capability, while leaving the body mainly sound. We've no cure for it and no good idea of what causes it, really. These nanocites in Rodney's brain, though, would do a fair job of imitating it's effects."
"A cruel affliction indeed, particularly for one such as Dr. McKay," Teyla said, shaking her head. "I have heard of such an illness among some of the people we have traded with, though my own people seldom live long enough to succumb to any such disease."
"All of this aside," Dr. Weir brought the discussion back on track, much to Radek's relief, "besides knowing what not to do, what options do we have for getting these things out of Rodney's brain without causing permanent brain damage?"
"At the moment," said Carson with an unhappy sigh, "we don't. We've been keeping him sedated, which we can do for a while anyhow, without causing him any harm, but you don't need me to tell you that we need to do better, and soon. The nanocites don't seem to be actually harming his brain, physiologically, they're just creating a sort of information overload in his mind. Psychologically it's bound to be damaging eventually, and it's clearly caused him some trauma already. Hopefully the sedatives will keep that in check for now."
"Any idea where this 'information overload' is coming from?" Dr. Weir asked. Carson glanced over at Radek, who already knew that he was fielding this one.
"We have not been able to verify anything yet, but I do have a theory," he told her, as he had been telling Carson for the last day or so. "From what we have been able to hear Rodney saying, it would appear that he has live uplink with Atlantis -the city itself. He has been speaking about maintenance logs, seeing things from various video monitors all around the city, about power and other critical systems, as though this data was being downloaded directly into his mind in real time." Radek paused to make sure he still had his audience and then forged ahead.
"I believe that the nanocites in Rodney's brain must be interfacing with city systems," he declared, "and I believe that this is what they were intended to do. This effect could not have come about by accident."
"But all it's doing is making Rodney crazy," Sheppard objected. "What's the point of that?"
Radek shook his head. "For some reason they must not be working as intended," Radek insisted. "That is all I can think for now. To learn why they are not working as intended we must first learn who built them and how they were intended to be used, and to do that we must return to the 'greeting plaque' room. It is the only other lead we have."
"Alright," replied Dr. Weir, "what have we learned about that? You said that there was some sort of message written in code on the plaque; has that told you anything?"
"In a way," Radek answered her. "Drs. Simpson and Chen and their team have figured most of it out, and they're both basic mathematical messages. On the left the code was broken into two blocks, the first of which lists perfect squares and the second of which shows the Fibonacci series. The right hand block is divided into three groups, and they all appear to be locational coordinates, the first indicating the location of Atlantis on this planet, the second describing the location of this planet within it's own solar system and the third describing the location of the Lantian system in the Pegasus Galaxy."
"You know what this all reminds me of?" Elizabeth mused. There were a lot of blank looks around the conference table but Radek knew what she was onto and felt a moment of encouragement. "Those... well, plaques that we put on some of our deep space exploratory satellites back in the seventies."
"Oh yeah," said Sheppard, "I know the ones you're talking about. 'Send more Chuck Berry,' and that kind of thing."
"I beg your pardon?" Sheppard's last remark had, of course, made no sense at all to Teyla.
"Some decades ago," Dr. Weir explained, "our people launched a handful of small exploratory satellites out into our solar system, and since most of us on earth had no idea that extra terrestrial life existed, much less where it was to be found, plaques with symbolic and pictorial messages were attached to the satellites -some even included sound recordings- supposedly in order to tell any aliens that stumbled across them who and where we were, and that we were a peaceful people who wished to make new friends."
"That does not quite seem wise to me," Teyla commented thoughtfully.
"Believe me, we were shockingly naive about the nature of our extra solar neighbors back then," Elizabeth answered. "But what I'd like to know is, does anybody else think that this 'greeting plaque' here on the north pier reminds them of that kind of message?"
"That is precisely what I think it is," said Radek with relief.
"But why would Atlantis need something like that?" asked Col. Sheppard, and everyone looked at Radek again.
"That," said the engineer, "I am not yet certain."
"But you do have a theory," Sheppard insisted.
Radek pressed his lips together, assessing the number of sheer speculative assumptions in his logic chains, and finding too many still to go public. He shook his head. "This theory is... a little on unusual side, even for Pegasus Galaxy," he said at last. "I need a great deal more data before I can discuss anything."
"I trust this theory includes a way to get these things out of McKay?" Sheppard pressed. Again, Radek shook his head.
"Far too many unknowns at this point to say, one way or the other, Colonel," Radek answered, standing his ground. "But believe me, no one is more anxious to see Rodney free of these nanocites than I."
"Right, of course," said Sheppard, grimacing, "Sorry. Anything I can do to help?"
Glancing at Dr. Weir to let her know that his request was contingent upon her permission, Radek nodded. "I believe that there is," Radek replied to the Colonel. "If you and your team would be so kind as to escort myself and other members of science team back to room with greeting plaque, much of the data I require will be found there."
By the end of the day, Radek was all but certain that at least one critical bit of his theory was proving out. Dr. Enid Patel, the architectural engineer definitely agreed; the greeting plaque room really did seem to be a retrofit, and furthermore, it seemed to have been built at least some two millennia after the Ancients had supposedly abandoned the city. To most of the expedition that afternoon this raised an even greater mystery, but Radek had an answer to it. It was not an answer he was ready to share with them yet, however.
An unexpected and equally important discovery was made late that afternoon as well when, for a brief moment, Radek had thought himself trapped on the open deck of the north pier, outside the plaque room. He'd come out there with Sheppard, who's ATA gene, Radek had presumed, had opened the doors. Even though the lack of any barrier between himself and the wide, white capped sea below was a bit disquieting, Radek had found the open air a relief from the close space of the vestibule they'd been studying, and he was glad of the quiet outside as well. He'd not noticed, at first, when Sheppard had returned inside on some errand or other, but when Radek had eventually turned back to face the city he'd discovered that he was alone on the pier, the doors to the vestibule firmly closed with no obvious opening mechanism in sight.
Thinking, with aggravation, that he would now probably have to radio Sheppard to come back and let him in, Radek had stomped back to the doors to see if he couldn't attract anyone's attention visually instead. To his surprise, however, Radek had found the doors opening for him automatically as he approached, just as they had for Sheppard. Here, Radek thought with astonishment much later that night, was a clear doorway into Atlantis that opened for humans without the ATA gene. Considering this as he lay, unsleeping, in the bed he usually shared with Rodney, Radek tried applying this new discovery to the theory he had in place and found that it fit very well indeed. He was still not yet ready to offer his theory to Carson or Elizabeth, but he did have a new question now, one who's answer might indeed point to a solution for Rodney, and he needed Carson's help to solve it.
"Aye," Carson told Radek in answer to his preliminary question, "I'm afraid these nanocites are just as devastating to the gene enhanced mice as they are to Rodney. They just start tearing around their cages wi'out stoppin' till their wee hearts give out. It only takes about thirty hours." Carson hated making the creatures suffer, Radek could see that, but he also knew that Dr. Beckett would fill the seas with dead mice if that's what it would take to save Rodney.
"Yes, but now, have you given any to mice without the gene?" Radek asked.
"Why would I do that?" Carson asked.
"So that you may know whether nanocites behave differently in those without gene, yes?"
"I take it you believe that I'll find this to be so?"
"Is part of my theory, yes." Radek answered, pacing again in the confines of Carson's lab.
"Do you believe that this was meant to be a trap for Ancients and not humans then?" Carson asked as he gathered what he would need to answer Radek's question.
"I would rather not speculate yet, but I do not think it was meant to be any kind of trap at all," Radek answered, re-evaluating what he knew and did not know once again as he paced, fingers combing his hair back out of his eyes for the umpteenth time.
Carson set what was probably an unlucky mouse in a small enclosure down on the counter top and paused to peer suspiciously at Radek.
"You haven't been getting any sleep at all, have you, son?" he asked, concern and disapproval mixed in his voice.
"Of course I have not been getting sleep," Radek snapped. "How am I supposed to sleep knowing he is in here... like this... " He raised his hand angrily, waving towards the bed where his lover lay in a drugged and yet fitful sleep.
"Steady now," Carson admonished, laying a kindly hand on his shoulder. "You've been doing fine work here, in spite of everything, but you mustn't forget to take care of yourself or you'll never be able to keep that up."
Radek gave a weak laugh, collapsing to sit in a chair by the door. "Usually it is I who am telling Rodney the very same thing, whenever we are faced with some crisis," he said, voice not altogether steady. "Without him, I forget even myself."
Carson pulled his desk chair over to sit by Radek, placing a firm and supportive hand on his knee. "You're managing much better than Rodney does on his own, I promise you that," Carson said encouragingly. "If it was you over there in that bed and Rodney in here, he'd be biting my head off every second sentence, and hysterically beratin' himself for being stupid and useless in the others. Ye know I'd never wish the man any harm, but honestly, luv, you're almost easier to work with at your worst than poor Rodney is as his best."
"I am afraid you are right," Radek said with a sigh, removing his glasses to massage the bridge of his nose with his thumb. He started to clean the lenses with the hem of his shirt until Carson reached across to hand him a kleenex from the box on his desk to use instead. Radek smiled a sheepish thanks as he finished, replacing his glasses when he was done, with a resolved breath.
"Radek, if you like I can give ye something to help you sleep," Carson offered as they both stood, but Radek shook his head wearily.
"Ne, thank you," he said. "It may come to that before this is all over, but I would like to hold off for now."
"Fair enough," replied Carson as he returned to the unfortunate rodent on his lab table. "Just don't hold off too long."
His words might or might not have reached Radek, though, for the scientist was already out the door.
Ten hours later, it was beginning to look as if the nanocite afflicted, non ATA gene enhanced mouse might not be so unlucky after all. It could not be said that it was completely unaffected, for the creature appeared frequently distracted, interrupting its mousy activities every few minutes to look about, as though it had heard something. Still, it seemed measurably happier and generally better off than its gene enhanced fellows, and Radek felt that this part of his theory had been proven. Carson didn't entirely disagree, but wasn't sure what to do with the information. Radek, however, was quite certain.
"D'ye know what it is you're asking?" Carson had exclaimed when Radek had made his request. "D'ye realize what a bloody miracle it is that I got the gene to manifest in anybody, much less Rodney? I barely know how I turned the damn thing on; I've no idea how to turn it off!"
Radek knew that the doctor had plenty to be outraged about, but he found himself barely able to contain the smirk that formed on his lips. "You have, I think, been taking lessons from Rodney?" he suggested in response to Carson's glare.
"Dear god, you're right," said Carson, dropping back into his desk chair. "I've actually let the man rub off on me, haven't I?"
"It happens to the best of us," Radek consoled. "And I appreciate that what I have asked you to do is surely much more difficult that it might sound. Still, it is currently our only lead."
"Has none of your people found any way to shift the little buggers?" Carson asked, his tone almost pleading.
Radek shook his head, fingers twisting together in his lap where Carson could not see them on the other side of the desk. "These nanocites areŠ remarkably well designed," he said with a sigh. "The only hopeful approach we have at the moment is to use the fact that they are interfacing and communicating with the city to access their command codes and reprogram them, but we have not yet even determined which frequency they use to communicate. Clearly we are a long way from any solution for Rodney, and I am beginning to worry... Carson, how long can we keep him like this?"
Rodney had been under heavy sedation for over four days now, but he was never restful. One of the many things that kept Radek awake at night lately was the thought that the nanocites in Rodney's brain were continuing to work at him, destroying his mind even as he lay under the influence of Carson's most powerful sedatives.
Carson sighed, staring down at his hands where they lay on his desk. "Honestly, I've no way of knowing," he said, worry showing plainly in his voice even as he hid his face from Radek. "Without sedation, it's a good guess that Rodney would suffer irreversible emotional and psychological trauma within hours. That's why I'm keeping him sedated, but I've no guarantee that the damage hasn't occurred anyway. I've considered putting him into a medically induced coma if we don't make some real progress in a day or two, but that may not do any good eitherŠ or it may already be too late. The hell of it is that there's no way of knowing."
The two men sat in silence for a moment and then Radek raised his own hands to the desk top, placing them over Carson's. "Find a way to suppress Rodney's ATA gene," he urged. "It is his best hope for now." Radek felt more than a little guilt, leaning on Carson in this manner, but he had confidence in Carson, just as he had confidence in Rodney, that when it really was all up to him, he would come through. Indeed, as he watched, Radek saw the dejected slope of Carson's shoulders lift, and the expression on the doctor's face shift from anxious dismay to resolve.
"Fair enough then," Carson said, rising from his desk, "I suppose I've an idea or two of where to start."
Radek left him to it.
He'd felt properly hopeful leaving Carson's office that day, but by the conclusion of the next Radek was courting despair again. He'd heard nothing from the doctor, and his own team had merely handed him disappointment after disappointment. They couldn't find the exact frequency that the nanocites used to communicate with the city because they used multiple frequencies. Even if they *could* isolate the critical frequencies, the code was all but impenetrable, like no computer language any of Atlantis' best experts had ever seen, and even if they could crack this code, Radek himself had discovered that it interfaced with all of Atlantis' base systems, which meant that a mistake on their part as they tried to reprogram the nanocites could crash the entire city.
Given how his day had gone, then, Radek expected nothing but the worst when Carson called him down to the infirmary that evening. He expected worse still when he saw Dr. Weir waiting with Carson in his office, but the look on Carson's face was hopeful so he swallowed down his dread and entered.
"How are you doing Radek?" Elizabeth asked as he sat beside her, the worry in her eyes telling Radek that she saw the evidence of his sleepless nights as easily as Carson had.
"Clearly, I have had better weeks," Radek said, combing his hair back with his fingers again. "But I am yet hopeful that things may improve." He looked up at Carson as he said this, and was answered with a thin smile.
"Aye, I've found a way to do what you suggested," Carson confirmed, coming around from behind his desk to lean heavily against the front edge. "Don't ask me how, but I've managed to develop a gene suppression treatment which does seem to work with the mice. That's no guarantee that it will work on Rodney, but I'd say that the chances are good. Certainly good enough to try given the circumstances. It's not all good news though," he cautioned.
"So, what is the not good news?" Radek asked.
"Some of the substances I've had to use aren't the kinds of medicines you'd normally give to anyone but a chemotherapy patient," Carson said with a troubled sigh. "They're downright toxic, and if I give Rodney this treatment he'll be running the risk of anemia, immune system decline and renal failure, among other things. It won't make him feel very good either."
"Better than he is feeling now, I think," commented Radek dryly.
"Aye, well there is that," replied Carson, "but the point I'm still trying to get to is that I can't administer such a dangerous treatment to Rodney without his permission or, since he's unable to give it, permission from the two people he's designated to make those decisions in cases such as this."
"Which would be why I'm here," said Elizabeth, comprehending.
"Precisely," said Carson tiredly.
Radek had not forgotten that he and Rodney had designated each other to make medical decisions for one another in case one of them became incapacitated, but he had not recalled until now that they had both made Dr. Weir their second. It was the first time either of them had needed to act in this capacity.
"Radek?" Elizabeth turned to him now, "I'll certainly defer to your wishes. You know more about the situation and... he's your... you're the one he's closest to, who knows best what he'd want."
Radek knew without question what Rodney would want, but he was not entirely certain what was wise. He had fully expected that Carson would accomplished what he needed to, but Radek had not imagined this complication -that they would be able to suppress the gene only by placing Rodney at yet further risk. Still, there really was no question after all. Carson had labored the night through, if the dark circles under his eyes were any indication, for this one chance of gaining Rodney any relief. There was no point in turning down that chance now.
"Go ahead," Radek said quietly. "That is what he would want."
Carson administered Rodney's treatment and then Radek and Elizabeth, rather forcefully, sent him to bed. Dr. Biro, having been briefed on Rodney's condition and the gene suppression treatment, took charge of the infirmary and Elizabeth returned to her office and the rest of the city's business. Radek stayed at Rodney's side, watching over him to see if there was any sign that the gene suppression treatment was working, and after about twenty minutes Radek was relieved beyond words to see Rodney's twitching and muttering subside for the first time since he'd been infected. Still under the influence of sedatives (as he would be for another couple of hours), Rodney fell into a deep, quiescent slumber under Radek's watchful gaze, and for the first time in a week Radek felt a little hope in his heart.
3. Uneasy Equilibrium
Stardrive, hyperdrive engines -offline; conventional intra-system drive -offline; maneuvering thrusters -offline; inertial dampeners -offline... Stardrive power systems -negligible; conventional drive power systems -negligible; thruster power systems -eighteen percent... Eighteen percent? Where the hell were the navigational thrusters getting any power from and why...?
By the time he'd received his second doctorate, Rodney McKay had thought he had a pretty clear idea of where his career would lead him. Never would he ever have imagined, in those days, that in his not-so-distant future he would actually become so familiar with the experience of waking up after having been deeply sedated that he would recognize the sensations easily. It always took him a moment or two to recall what had happened to him and why he'd been sedated, but presently everything came back to him in a rush.
Power fluctuations in sector twelve, fourth floor, east pier... Critical diode failure in desalinization tank number two, level one fire hazard...
Crap. It was still there. And yet... Rodney focused away from the litany of technical data for a moment and found that he actually could. This was better, much better. He could actually string a thought or two together. What, he wondered, had changed? Perhaps if he opened his eyes he would find out.
He was laying on his side on an infirmary cot and in the soft light he could see that there was a bed next to his, only a meter or two away. On the upper end of that bed, sitting cross legged -the way they always showed tailors in fairy tales- was Radek, a laptop balanced over his knees rather than a garment in need of mending, head bent over his work in deep concentration. It was a sight that filled Rodney with comfort, imparting a sense that if all was not right with the whole world, then at least it was with the most important parts of it.
He meant to speak Radek's name, but his mouth was dust dry and his voice hopelessly rusty and all that came out was a quiet croak. Radek heard him though, glasses glinting briefly as he lifted his head with a start, and then Rodney was blinking into Radek's hopeful and anxious gaze.
"Rodney?" Even distracted by mysterious data and half groggy from sedatives, Rodney could not miss the mountain of worry and care in Radek's voice as he spoke his name. Rodney opened his mouth to answer him, wanted with all his heart to ease his worries, but hesitated, remembering his voice. Radek was already at his side though, holding a cup of water with a straw to his lips, and Rodney drank gratefully.
"How... how are you doing?" Radek asked when he'd finished, setting the cup aside.
"Better," Rodney answered, reaching out to lay his hand on Radek's, wanting to give him whatever reassurance he could. "It's still there, but if I don't... " ... powering up sector seventeen, north east pier -there were images of a small party of marines entering a stretch of corridor in a previously unexplored portion of the city. "...If I don't think about it it's not so bad. You did good Radek. What did you do, anyway?"
With relief, Rodney saw much of the mountain of care lift itself away from Radek's countenance as his love hazarded a faint smile. Probably, Rodney reflected, the first one he'd had since he'd done The Stupid Thing. God, what an apology he owed Radek for that.
"I am happy to fill you in on the events of last five days," Radek answered his earlier request and a question he hadn't asked but was appalled to learn the answer to. "But first I must tell doctor that you are awake."
Radek squeezed Rodney's hand as he stepped away, and was back a moment later with Dr. Biro. Rodney wondered where Carson was, but held his questions, knowing that they'd best be answered in a chronological order when Radek filled him in on the last few days... all five of them. Rodney's last memories were of shrieking in panic at Radek, and then Carson, to get the damn voices... and pictures out of his head. Carson must have sedated him, though Rodney couldn't remember that, and thinking that five days had gone by since then was downright unsettling. He shuddered a bit under Radek's hand as Biro took his blood pressure and removed his IV.
"You are alright?" Radek asked, his slender fingers warm and supportive on Rodney's shoulder.
"Well no," he said, "but... I just... five days? That's a little hard... I mean... ah, I trust that there was some reason you couldn't work with the EMP again?"
"Ah, yes," said Radek, who, Rodney noted, looked very troubled indeed, and then Radek told him why.
Rodney's mouth went completely dry again when he heard the word 'plaques' and he actually felt the blood drain out of his face as Radek finished his explanation, so much so that Dr. Biro, standing at the foot of the bed making notes in his chart, looked up at him sharply. Radek quickly assured him that no EMPs would be generated by anyone on Atlantis until the nanocites were out of Rodney's brain, and Rodney felt his heart rate color gradually return to normal.
Biro informed them both then that Carson wanted Rodney to stay in the infirmary for now, so that his reactions to the treatment could be monitored closely. She then ran Rodney through a lengthy checklist of symptoms, an appalling number of which, when he stopped to consider, he actually had, including dizziness and nausea. In spite of the latter, she encouraged Rodney to try and eat a bit of solid food if he could, and so someone was sent to the kitchens to see if any blue Jell-O could be procured. She left them alone after that, reminding them that she'd be back in an hour to check on Rodney and that she was to be called if he had the least bit of trouble.
A quiet fell over the late night infirmary in Dr. Biro's absence and Rodney looked back at Radek to find his gaze still distant and troubled. Rodney beckoned him close, laying a hand next to him on the bed and Radek complied, allowing Rodney to slip an arm around him and snug him in. It only seemed natural then to bend his head to kiss the top of Radek's shoulder, then his neck and face, but when he lifted his lips to find Radek's he was held away.
"We cannot," Radek explained with an unhappy sigh. "You have nanocites in your saliva."
"Aw, crap," said Rodney. "And I suppose that means they're in my... " he waved in the general direction of his lower body, "too?"
"We have not actually checked," Radek answered with a mild smirk, "but it seems quite likely, yes."
Rodney fell heavily back against his pillows with an aggrieved sigh. "Right," he said, pushing himself upright again as he scooted to one side of the cot. "You need to tell me what the hell I've gotten myself into, but you're going to sit here and let me hold you while you do. That okay?"
Radek answered by swinging his legs up onto the bed along side Rodney's and letting Rodney pull him over so that his head and shoulders rested against Rodney's chest. He could feel the tension wracking his lover's body as he wrapped his arms about him, but he soon felt it dissipate as Radek began to relax against him.
"God, I have missed this," he confessed, so quietly that Rodney nearly missed it.
"I am so, so sorry," Rodney answered him, nearly as softly. "I have no fucking idea what possessed me to do such moronic thing."
"Later," Radek consoled, lifting one of Rodney's hands to his lips to kiss it, "I will think of appropriate act of contrition. For now, it will suffice for you to listen and learn just how deep the shit is that you have gotten yourself into."
Rodney let Radek's graceful fingers caress his as he dropped little kisses onto Radek's head and listened to the man give a clear and concise account of their labors over the last five days.
"You suppressed my ATA gene?" Rodney asked as he came to the end of his narrative, trying not to sound ungrateful, for he did understand that it was necessary. Still, his ATA gene...
"Is only way we have found to improve your condition at all, Rodney," Radek said tiredly, "and it is temporary, never fear."
Rodney didn't think he'd heard Radek sound this exhausted since... well he couldn't think when. "Sorry," he said, "you did do the right thing and I'm a wretched ingrate. It's just..."
"I know," Radek relied, taking hold of Rodney's hands where they reached around in front of him. "I know gene is important to you, but now at least you are able to help find solution which is permanent and allows you to keep gene, yes?"
"And while we're at it," Rodney commented, "how about one that doesn't leave me feeling like crap. You're saying that's because of the drugs Carson gave me to suppress my gene and not the nanocites?"
"Yes, yes," Radek muttered. "Is reason you are staying in infirmary for first trial. Carson is worried about possibility of more serious side effects as well."
Part of Rodney wanted to know about these possible serious side effects this very second, but another part had become painfully aware of Radek's profound fatigue, as evidenced by his diminishing grasp of grammatical English. When he thought about it, Rodney realized that he didn't have to ask Radek when the last time he'd slept was, because Rodney knew already. With tender affection, he reached up to stroke Radek's cheek with his fingertips, then gently lifted his glasses away to set them on his night-stand. Already drowsing as he lay against his lover's body, Radek made a semi coherent questioning noise as his specs were removed, but Rodney shushed him, kissing his temple.
"I can talk to Carson about all that in the morning," Rodney said quietly. "You need to sleep now; anyone can see that."
Radek made a vague move to rise, likely thinking that Rodney meant for him to go to his own bed but Rodney restrained him. "No, no, no," he said. "Right here. Where you can sleep and I can hold you and make sure you do. 'Kay?"
Radek mumbled blearily, and Rodney thought he made out the syllable, "sure?" amidst the mumble.
"Very sure," Rodney spoke softly, lips brushing against Radek's ear. Even as he spoke Radek was nodding, his head falling slightly to one side as sleep claimed him. Rodney drew him closer still and closed his eyes to immerse himself in the sound of Radek's slow, even breaths, the warmth and weight of his body against his own, the soft feel of his hair under Rodney's chin and against his cheek.
When he focused on these things, he found that the non-stop barrage of messages from the city dwindled to next to nothing, and for a while he reveled in the much longed for quiet of his mind. Rodney McKay's brain was incapable of remaining inactive for long, however, even battered and traumatized as it was. Seeing as he was able to nearly shut out the interface with Atlantis, he wondered if he could learn to control it. Thinking about it threatened to invite the barrage back in, so Rodney tried focusing on a single specific piece of information. Eyes still closed, Rodney thought about the infirmary monitors and three images instantly presented themselves. Concentrating, he chose the one closest to where he lay and found himself viewing himself and Radek where they lay on his cot, from above. The look on his own face was a little troubling, as it revealed for him a depth of feeling he hadn't quite been ready to admit to yet, and he was glad that no one else was there to see them. It was always pleasant to gaze at Radek's face as he slept though, and while he hadn't really been able to see it well as they lay now, the overhead monitor gave him a perfect view.
Personally, Rodney found Radek's glasses charming, and maybe just a bit sexy, but seeing him without them always undid him a little. It wasn't just how naked Radek's face seemed without them, but how much of what he loved about Radek that was revealed. It almost seemed like too much sometimes, because it made him aware of just how precious Radek was to him. He thought about this as he watched Radek's sleeping face through the monitor for some time, amazed at how easy it was.
After a bit he decided to try for some data, seeking to know what time it was. The first answer came in a format he didn't recognize at first, and then realized was in the decimal based time system that the Ancients had used. He sent the request back; he wanted the time as used by the earth based data systems. It actually took a moment, which, considering the size and complexity of the system he was interfacing with was a little surprising... or maybe not, considering that he was possibly asking for Atlantis to teach itself earth based time systems. He got his answer though, and all his time inquiries from then on came in earth standard form.
He kept himself busy in this fashion, scarcely acknowledging the kitchen orderly who came by with a dish of blue Jell-O for him a while later. Rodney had him leave it on his night-stand and when Dr. Biro returned later to check on him she glanced at it inquiringly, wordlessly asking why Rodney hadn't eaten it. Rodney, in turn, gestured towards the sleeping scientist in his arms and the doctor nodded her understanding, finishing her brief examination quickly and quietly so as not to wake him.
Rodney continued to work with the interface in his mind as Radek slept, dozing himself from time to time, until he heard Carson's voice in the next room, greeting Dr. Biro and sending her off shift, and silently inquired of the time again. He smiled when it came to him instantly and effortlessly and opened his eyes as the monitor showed him that Carson was entering the room. The doctor smiled widely to see him awake and apparently lucid.
"Good morning, Rodney," he greeted him cheerfully, but subsided quickly when Rodney made a shushing gesture, pointing to the sleeping Radek. "Sorry," he murmured softly to Rodney as he looked over his chart and took his pulse. "It's good to see he's finally getting a bit of rest, anyhow. I'll talk to you when he's up, but I can't tell you how glad I am to see you awake and aware."
It wasn't long, though, before Rodney finally felt Radek stir in his arms and checked the time again, noting that Radek had slept for close to five hours. It would do for now, he thought to himself and turned his head to gently kiss Radek's cheek. "I'm betting that Carson's got fresh coffee brewing in his office," Rodney said as Radek gradually hummed and stretched himself awake, "and I'd ask you to get a cup for me too, but I've got a feeling that Carson's not likely to let me have any."
Radek blinked owlishly and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "Good morning, Rodney," he said sleepily and turned to kiss his lover on the lips. He caught himself only centimeters away and shifted up to press his lips to Rodney's forehead, frowning as they both sighed.
"Yeah," said Rodney discontentedly, "this is going to get old real quick. Let's get that coffee into you and some breakfast into both of us so we can get this fixed."
Radek nodded, yawning as he swung his legs down from the bed and reached out a hand for his glasses. He caught at Rodney's hand as he took them, slipping them on to look back at Rodney with more focus. "Thank you for last night, miláčku," he said softly, holding Rodney's hand in both of his. "So many things I needed so very badly."
"Well, I got a bit accomplished myself last night," said Rodney, "so go fuel up and I'll you tell you about it."
Not only would Dr. Beckett not let Rodney have any coffee, he wouldn't let Radek have any either until he had some breakfast, so Radek made his way to the mess hall and Carson came and answered Rodney's questions about his gene suppression treatments while watching him eat his blue Jell-o. The blue Jell-o went down well and when Radek showed up a little while later with some buttered toast with local fruit preserves and hot chocolate for Rodney, as well as his own breakfast and coffee, he tucked into it with little complaint. Carson left them to it after that and the two scientists quickly set to analyzing the various challenges that lay before them in their goal of ridding Rodney of the nanocites. He quickly came to agree with Radek that a software approach seemed the most likely to bear fruit, though he also saw the profound hurdles that they'd have to overcome in order to make this approach work.
Rodney's fledgling ability to interface with Atlantis quickly proved to be a useful asset in their efforts, mostly by way of showing which programming approaches would absolutely result in city-wide disaster, which was all of the ones they tried that day, but, as Rodney noted, at least they were making progress via a process of elimination. They kept at it all day, occasionally conferencing by radio with the other scientists Radek had assigned to this project. The day passed relatively productively in this manner then, until about dinner time.
It was while he was arguing with Carson about whether he needed to eat more for dinner than half a cup of soup that Rodney began to realize that random Atlantis data was beginning to intrude upon him again.
"Aw, crap," he said, interrupting Carson's threat to put him on an IV if he didn't eat.
"I beg your pardon?" said Carson.
Grounding station four off line -electrical safety hazard level one... "I fucking well know about grounding station four, god dammit!" he snapped, then caught himself, looking up at Carson to ask for a sedative and saw that the doctor had already guessed what was happening.
"Damn," Carson said, disappointed, "it's wearing off isn't it?"
Power fluctuations in sector twelve, fourth floor, east pier... powering down sector twenty three, south west pier ... "Yes," said Rodney, teeth clenched in concentration as he tried to stay focused enough to speak. "Sedative. Now... please..."
Carson moved with professional swiftness, strapping Rodney's wrist to the bed frame before he inserted the IV that stood ready. Radek took hold of his right hand in and lifted it to his lips with one hand while the other stroked Rodney's head with gentle fingers. Rodney focused on these things with all the power of his not insignificant concentration while Carson told him that he wanted to give his systems at least twenty four hours before he administered the gene suppression treatment again. Relentlessly, the information overload from Atlantis finally crowded everything else out until the last fragment of Rodney's rational awareness could only cling desperately to the sensation of Radek's fingers moving though his hair, and then the sedatives finally kicked in and it all went away.
4. Diminishing Returns
Rodney recalled his circumstances quite quickly when he woke again, but it was the splitting headache he had this time around that took up most of his attention as awareness returned to him. The pain was so intense that Rodney actually had to think past it to get any data from Atlantis at all, which might have been a relief but wasn't. Thinking that Carson might be amenable to giving Rodney something for the pain, he started to open his eyes with the intention of asking whoever was there to call for him. The light in the infirmary seemed impossibly bright, though, and even opening his eyes a sliver invited fresh stabbing pains into his skull and he heard himself moan faintly.
"Rodney?" It was Radek's voice, gently and worried. "What is wrong?"
"Lights... too bright. Head hurts." Rodney felt Radek's warm hand, fingers firmly gripping his, and heard Carson's voice, speaking in response to Rodney's complaint.
"I've got it," he said. "Try now, luv." Atlantis knew that it was Carson whose ATA gene had cause to lights to be lowered in the infirmary, Rodney realized, and now so did he. With this realization came an unexpected flood of data about every gene carrier on Atlantis, much of which, Rodney was certain, Carson would find quite fascinating, but it was nothing Rodney could deal with at the moment and it was making his headache worse.
He hazarded opening his eyes at last, to find the infirmary comfortably dim, but the sudden switch of awareness from Atlantis' data to what Rodney could see with his eyes brought on a sudden bout of queasiness. The nausea exacerbated the headache, which in turn ratcheted the queasiness up another notch and suddenly Rodney was squeezing Radek's hand tightly, managing to get out the words, "Crap... sick..." before he lost it.
It had, thankfully, been just enough warning for Carson, who may have suspected such an eventuality, and had a basin ready to catch the little he'd actually had in his stomach. Radek's hands were gentle and comforting, holding his head and wiping the sweat from his brow as he retched again and again, until the illness passed. He fell back into Radek's arms when he was done, breathing harshly and trembling with the sudden and unexpected exertion. Soothed by a soft litany of Czech endearments and a warm cloth wiping his face, Rodney eventually tried opening his eyes once again, this time to much better result.
"Well this sucks," he said weakly, feeling Radek's arms tighten around him. His lover was sitting on the bed, beside and behind him and the warmth of his body against his back was most welcome. He found himself shivering a bit just the same.
"Are you cold, miláčku?" Radek asked.
"Yeah," Rodney said miserably, "and my head feels like it's about to explode. I don't suppose you can give me anything for that, can you?"
"Aye, I was afraid of this," said Carson, coming back into the room with a couple of extra blankets. "The gene suppression treatment is going to take a more serious toll on your systems each time we give it to you, Rodney. At the moment I'm only inclined to let you do this one more time after this."
Rodney nodded, gratefully huddling under the added blankets. "I'm beginning to see your point," he said unhappily. "And if I'm going to be feeling this crappy I'm not going to be of any use to anybody either."
"Well, I do hope to improve that before too long," Carson consoled. "I'm putting a little something for that headache in your IV now, so you won't mind leaving it in for a bit. It'll help keep your blood sugars steady as well, for now."
"Oh good," said Rodney with relief, watching Carson adjust his IV. It did not take much time for the drugs to take effect either, and before too long his headache had faded enough for him to concentrate on work again. He was a bit disappointed to learn that Radek and the rest of his team had discovered no new approach to ridding Rodney of the nanocites and were still trying to tinker with their programming idea, but he tried not to let Radek see his disappointment.
It wasn't Radek or the scientists he was disappointed in anyway; for he knew that if they had not discovered any new way to defeat these nanocites then, in all likelihood, there wasn't one. It was the circumstances he was disappointed in, and himself for getting into such a mess. Still, reprogramming the nanocites did at least seem to be one approach remaining open to them and it was here where all their efforts were focused. Together, the two scientists in the infirmary worked to create a strategy to guide and direct the ever growing corps of coders working in the lab.
As the day wore on, Rodney's discomforts diminished considerably and by mid day he was even able to eat a small meal, so Carson took him off the IV. Unfortunately, their efforts towards reprogramming the nanocites did not look to be bearing much fruit at all. Like any good researcher, Rodney knew that you can tell when you're approaching a solution to a problem not when your experimental efforts begin to succeed, but when you find yourself learning more and more from every failure. It was a very bad sign indeed that they'd learned absolutely nothing from their last three failed attempts to get even a tiny sample of code to be accepted by the nanocites. Keenly aware of the limited time left to him, Rodney began to reassess his priorities.
"Okay, you know what?" Rodney intruded in the middle of Radek unloading an unwholesome sounding litany of Czech swears on the mostly undeserving Gamil Henderson. "We need to take a break, and I'd like to get out of here for a little bit. What do you say?"
"Rodney, we cannot possibly afford to take break now," Radek objected. "You of all people know how limited time is, and nothing we have tried is working."
"You're right," Rodney agreed. "It's not, so we need to step back, take a few deep breaths, get a couple of hours of private time and come back with a fresh perspective. Continuing to beat your head against this till your brains leak out your ears, on the other hand, is not going to end up being very a very productive use of our remaining time, now is it?"
Radek's gaze was assessing, and Rodney found himself recalling the fact that even if Radek wasn't quite a smart as he was, he was still smarter than anyone else he'd ever had the pleasure to know (except perhaps for Samantha Carter). Radek would be just as aware of their lack of progress as he was, and would know that Rodney's suggestion of a break was more than that. He would think that Rodney had given up. This was the awful worry he saw Radek try to hide behind his eyes as he faced Rodney.
"Rodney," he said softly, an imploring note in his voice.
Rodney shook his head. "We both need a break, Radek, and I know I could do with some 'quality' down time." Neither of them was willing to speak openly about their real worries, and as long as they didn't Rodney knew he would have his way. Victory had never tasted so bitter.
"Well," said Radek, acquiescing with a sigh, "I suppose you may have a point." He did not meet Rodney's eyes at all as he said this, gazing down at his hands where they rested on his lap. "I will go tell Carson."
Carson was agreeable to letting them go only after a brief but highly explicit lecture on safe sex for nanocites and pressing a double fistful of condoms into Radek's hand. Radek hadn't himself laid eyes on a condom since coming to Atlantis, though he knew that Carson or one of the other med staff made regular rounds dispensing condoms (men's and wimmin's) on the Daedalus whenever she came into port, and occasionally made similar good will visits to the Marines' quarters on Atlantis. The last thing they wanted to do was to unleash a new STD in the Pegasus Galaxy, or bring a new one back to earth.
Having both been given a clean bill of health upon joining the Atlantis mission the two scientists had never seen the need for protection as long as they'd remained monogamous. Having one of them infected with nanocites was an eventuality that neither of them had anticipated, though. Radek found the whole business to be deeply troubling and no inducement to amorous feelings at all.
To add to his worries, there was no doubt in Radek's mind as to why Rodney had taken this sudden whim for a roll in the hay. Rodney had given up. Well, truthfully, Rodney was far too stubborn to ever really give up, but he had clearly come to certain conclusions. Radek knew that because he had come to those same incontrovertible conclusions himself. This wasn't just a 'break'; this was probably their very last chance to be together, and this fact weighed on Radek terribly.
Rodney pulled Radek into his arms and held him with almost crushing strength as the door to Rodney's quarters had closed behind them. It had to weigh on Rodney too, Radek knew, and so he returned Rodney's embrace measure for measure, longing, even as he did, for the taste of Rodney's lips. As ever, Rodney appeared to be thinking along the same lines.
"Dammit, I want to kiss you," Rodney muttered, voice rough with feeling. It came to Radek then that he might never kiss Rodney again and the thought was like a kick in the guts. He shuddered and clung to his lover, trying to recall the last time they had kissed and all he could remember was the perfunctory buss they had shared as they'd left Rodney's quarters on the morning before they'd first encountered the 'greeting plaque'. This seemed so very wrong to Radek, and he could not bear the thought that this was the last kiss they would ever know. Suddenly Radek felt himself holding tears at bay, his hands fisted desperately in Rodney's shirt.
"No, no, no..." Rodney's voice was gentle and pleading. "We'll take what we can get, and that's plenty, right?" Rodney drew back, lifting Radek's face to meet his eyes. "We both need this, so lets just focus on the moment, okay?"
Radek swallowed back his tears and nodded silently, letting Rodney take his hand and lead him to bed. They removed each others' clothing carefully, almost reverently, both desperately trying not to think about why it was so important to savor every single moment, every touch, smell and sound they made in response to the others' touch. Radek was committing every sensation to memory, knowing his memory to be considerably above average and yet in the end, not really sufficient to the task. Ah well, he would, as Rodney had suggested, take what he could get.
Rodney seemed to be trying to make up for not being able to kiss Radek on the mouth by nibbling and licking and tasting every other part of Radek's body. Radek was happy to let him, sighing with pleasure as he knelt upon the bed while Rodney moved all around him. If Rodney was an oral creature then Radek was for sure a tactile one and now he let his hands roam over Rodney's body as Rodney's mouth was roaming over his. He let his fingers feather through the short, soft hair on the back of Rodney's head and stroke over the contours of his broad chest. Rodney sighed and moaned as Radek's fingers found his nipples and Radek cherished the sound as much as feeling the hard and sensitive nubs of flesh between his fingers. He pinched gently and Rodney cried out against his neck, the sound reverberating in Radek's heart and he could not perceive any of these things as separate events, but rather a complex of sensations and responses that made up a thing unto itself that was loving Rodney.
Rodney's mouth was moving again, lower, to taste the hollow of his throat and then to discover his own nipples, teasing them between lips and teeth. Now it was Radek who cried out, feeling Rodney chuckle in turn as he continued to tongue his nipples playfully. Radek's hands seemed to move of their own accord, inspired perhaps by Rodney's latest attentions, and reached down to caress and cup Rodney's delicious ass. He dug his fingers into the soft flesh, kneading with slender finger tips till Rodney moaned again, and then pulled him forward, bringing their hips up and together.
It was an unstable configuration from the get-go and they let themselves fall, stretched out on the bed and laughing. Radek's glasses had gone askew in the fall and Rodney reached over to gently pluck them away, setting them on the night stand. Rodney's face fell into soft focus then as he drew back, regarding Radek thoughtfully as he often did upon removing Radek's glasses.
"So beautiful," Rodney said softly, caressing Radek's cheek gently with blunt, callused fingertips. Radek drank in the sensation of Rodney's fingers on his face, of his voice, so unlike how it was with anyone else, at any other time. Radek's hands remained at Rodney's waist though, and they had not abandoned their earlier impulse. He pulled Rodney back in, pulled their two bodies together, chest to chest, belly to belly, thigh to thigh.
Two rigid and heated cocks came together as well, sliding and thrusting against one another and then there were Rodney's hands on Radek's ass, pulling him in with reciprocal force and they both cried out. It was a harsh cry, desperate and hungry and not quite intelligent. Radek struggled to hold to his awareness of the moment, to maintain some control, and so willed himself to stillness, in spite of what some part of him wanted very much.
Radek slowly moved his arms up, sliding his fingers over the small of Rodney's back to wrap around his upper body, drawing him close again and nuzzling the hollow of Rodney's throat. He felt Rodney fall still as well, listened to him breathing deeply and reveled in the sensations of the length of his solid body tight against his, heart to heart.
"Yes, oh god, yes," Rodney moaned softly. "Where the fuck are the condoms?"
"Pants pocket," Radek said, lips moving against Rodney's throat as he spoke. Someone would have to get up to get them, which he wasn't looking forward to, but it was time for the condoms, for sure.
It was Rodney who finally seized the initiative and rolled off the bed to root through their strewn and discarded garments. "Whose pants pocket?" he said after a moment.
"Both of ours, idiot," Radek muttered as he rolled over onto his stomach to watch Rodney bend over and pick up a pair of someone's pants (the dim light and his blurry vision made it impossible to tell whose). Even without his glasses, though, the contours of Rodney's body -the perfectly rounded ass, the graceful, jutting cock- were visible enough for Radek to appreciate them nicely from where he lay.
"Enjoying the show?" Rodney remarked as he turned back to see the lecherous grin on Radek's face.
"Very much," said Radek, smiling even more widely, "but now I wish to touch again. Have you found what we seek?"
"A ZedPM?" Rodney snarked, "No. The condoms? Yes."
Radek laughed aloud as Rodney returned to the bed, pelting him with condoms as he came. He gave a little throaty growl as he lowered himself to lay beside Radek, seizing up the nearest condom packet and ripping it open with his teeth. Radek lay back and happily let Rodney have his way, smiling as he licked and sniffed and nipped his way up Radek's left thigh, humming contentedly. He felt Rodney's cheek on the inside of his thigh, then felt and heard him bury his face in the crease between Radek's hip and leg, and inhale deeply. Radek thrilled to hear Rodney's wanton sigh as he drew in Radek's scent. A moment later he was nuzzling the thicket of coarse hair at the base of Radek's upright cock, then he raised his head to regard the rigid column of flesh hungrily.
He felt Rodney's blunt but clever fingers unrolling the condom over the length of his slender cock, pushing it down to the base and then there was Rodney's mouth, chasing after them, engulfing Radek's cock in one smooth motion. Radek cried out, thrusting his hips upwards mindlessly, but Rodney's hands were already on his hips, pinning him to the bed. Rodney worked his mouth up and down Radek's cock, relishing his task with the same tender intensity as always, and although the sensations of Rodney's mouth on his cock through the condom were different from what Radek was used to, it was the besotted, yet incredibly focused look on Rodney's face that fired Radek's ardor, and it always had been.
Even Carson had agreed that the chances of Rodney transferring nanocites to Radek by way of this type of oral/genital contact was fairly slim, but none of them had wanted to take even the tiniest chance. At the moment Radek would have happily agreed to use a condom with Rodney for the rest of his life if only he could kiss him one more time. These were thoughts he did not wish to be entertaining at the moment, however, and fortunately, Rodney's mouth on his cock was plenty distracting... maybe too distracting.
Now Rodney had reached a hand up to pinch gently at Radek's nipples again and this behavior was going to send him right over the edge sooner than later. There was something else Radek wanted, though, and he was going to have to speak up and stop Rodney now or it would quickly be too late.
"Wait," Radek gasped, "wait... " His hands held Rodney's head between them, stilling him even as his traitorous hips thrust his cock into Rodney's mouth again. "I want... " This would get Rodney's attention, even if it took Radek a minute or two to find the words for what he wanted.
Rodney did lift his mouth away from Radek's cock at last, though Radek could not stop the forlorn whine from escaping his throat at its absence. "What..." Rodney's voice was rough and needy. "What is it that you want?"
"I want..." Radek drew a deep breath, struggling to match English words with the wordless impulses in his head. "...to feel you... inside me, when I finish..."
"Yes," Rodney hissed against his belly. "Yes, yes, yes, oh god yes... " He took the lube Radek handed him when he had disposed of Radek's condom, lifting Radek's thighs to grant him access to his opening.
"Mmm... " said Radek thoughtfully before Rodney could quite get started, pulling his legs back and then rolling onto his stomach. "May be easier this way, yes?"
Yes, because they both loved to kiss each other as they fucked and it would be less of a temptation this way. Radek could see Rodney working this out, glad that he would not have to say more, to explain and remind them both of what they could not do.
"Good thought," said Rodney after a beat, reaching for another condom packet from the ones scattered on the bed. Radek had already gotten one open, however, and beckoned Rodney over.
"Now you must let me dress you," he insisted and Rodney gladly complied, moving up the bed to kneel by where Radek had raised himself up onto his elbows. Lovingly, savoring the moment once again, Radek unrolled the condom over Rodney's proud cock, lowering his head to rest his cheek on the top of Rodney's thigh as he worked. Rodney's sigh tapered off into a whimper as Radek's slender fingers smoothed the latex over his hard flesh while his own fingers tangled and caught in Radek's disordered hair.
"Right, okay..." Rodney breathed, gently lifting Radek's head away. "That'll do fine thanks." Radek smiled and relaxed onto the bed, head pillowed on his arms as Rodney moved back to address his nether parts. As much as he like watching Rodney's face as they made love, there was something delicious about not knowing exactly what Rodney was up to back there. He gasped and raised his ass up like an animal in heat when he felt Rodney's lube slicked fingers at his entrance, eagerly seeking penetration.
"God, you're such a slut," Rodney murmured, admiration coloring his voice as much as anything else.
"Ano," begged Radek. "Ano, please just fuck me now..." He heard Rodney chuckle as he felt the first finger push its way in, thrusting deep and repeatedly. Radek clenched his fists in the jumbled bedclothes beneath him and moaned loudly, parting his legs further to give Rodney more access.
"Such a slut..." Rodney whispered again, pushing another finger in to join the first.
"Please... " Radek almost sobbed, wanting Rodney's cock in him at that moment more than he could remember wanting anything in his life.
"Soon now, very soon," Rodney soothed, working Radek's tight opening with his two fingers to loosen it as much as possible, and then adding a third.
Radek bit his lip, burying his face in the crook of his elbow as he held himself still, knowing Rodney's promise to be true. It would be soon, very soon. Rodney's three fingers were pressed into him as deeply as they would go and Radek felt himself accommodating them comfortably.
"You ready?" Rodney asked, surely just to tease for he had to know just how very ready Radek was. Radek called him something nasty in Czech.
"So it would seem," remarked Rodney conversationally, slowly drawing his fingers out of Radek at last.
Radek moaned helplessly, fisting the bedclothes again as he waited to be filled once more. He did not have to wait long. Moments later, there were Rodney's hands on his cheeks, parting them and making room and then the hard flesh of Rodney's substantial cock, pressing, demanding entrance, and then pushing past his opening to fill him.
"Bože!" Radek cried. "Ano, ano..." Nothing was better than this, nothing. To feel Rodney's flesh moving inside him was an exquisite pleasure, unparalleled by anything in Radek's experience. He pushed back against Rodney, pressing the rigid flesh deeper into his own body and signaling to Rodney that he was ready for him to move. Rodney did not need to be told twice, and began thrusting, ever so slowly. What delightful torture it was to feel every centimeter or Rodney's iron hard cock slowly sliding nearly all the way out of him and then, equally slowly, plunging deep into Radek's body again.
When he had buried himself balls deep once again, rather than carrying on as he had been, Rodney wrapped his arms around Radek's body and rolled them both onto their sides, still joined, flesh to flesh. Now the pleasure of Rodney's hard cock deep in his ass was joined by thrill of feeling Rodney's strong arms containing him and drawing him close. Radek lifted one knee to allow Rodney continued ease of access and heard Rodney's moan of approval.
That was all it took, and Rodney was thrusting into him powerfully, desperately, and Radek was thrusting back, breathing, gasping and crying out in rhythm with Rodney's thrusts. Hearing Rodney's cries and gasps synchronized with his own made Radek crazed with desire, wanting Rodney's thrusts harder, deeper, faster. Rodney's hand gripping his cock drove the last vestiges of rational thought from Radek's mind then, and after that all he was was fucking and being fucked, driving and being driven into, body convulsing mindlessly with pleasure and desire.
Radek was altogether in this moment as the pressure of climax gradually grew in him, building and building... and then bursting. Rodney's name was on his lips, even if his lips could not be, and Radek felt the climax course through him, forcing desperate, less than human sounds from his own throat. Radek's come was pulsing between Rodney's fingers even as Radek's body was pulsing and throbbing around Rodney's cock and then Rodney was thrusting into him, powerfully, one last time.
"Oh god, Radek... " he cried in a strangled voice and then Radek felt another warm pulsing within him as Rodney filled him with his own spending. Slowly, still drawing deep, heavy breaths, Radek felt his body begin to relax as he lay in Rodney's embrace, even as he felt Rodney's body, enclosing his and still enclosed in it, begin to relax as well.
In a moment of ethereal, post-coital clarity, Radek thought he might be able to capture and hold a record of this moment in his mind: the sounds of his and Rodney's long harsh breaths, the animal smells of come and sweat, the sensations of Rodney's strong arms around him, his hands on Rodney's arms where they crossed over his chest, Rodney's softening cock still within him, Rodney's hand still gently grasping his own spent cock.
Radek let his eyes drift closed and imagined that he had stopped time for this moment, so that he could put off the unpleasant but inevitable future until he was ready to face it. He knew he would have to at some point, and soon, but all he could think was, not now, please, just a little more time in this perfect place. It was Rodney who finally shattered his timeless moment, lifting his hand away from Radek's flaccid cock to gently stroke Radek's cheek and brush the hair out of his eyes.
"You want to sleep for a bit?" he asked, "I'm pretty sure I've still got a few hours left before I turn into a pumpkin."
Drawing a reluctant breath, Radek felt his brain shift roughly into gear, considering Rodney's offer and whether his guess was right. "Your gene suppression lasted for eighteen hours before," he said, "but Carson seemed fairly sure that it would not last so long this time. It is twenty-two hundred hours already..."
"Then assuming I'm only getting, say, sixteen hours out of this treatment, I've still got another three and a half hours left," Rodney figured. "I can't think of any particularly better way to spend it, can you?"
An hour ago, Radek might have said yes, that they would have been much better served to apply themselves to the problem of finding a way to rid Rodney of nanocites with every second remaining to them, but he saw the wisdom of Rodney's way now, and shook his head silently. He'd need hope to carry on in that quest and it was moments like this that fed his hope and gave him the strength he needed to continue while Rodney was out of the picture. He'd needed the warmth and strength of Rodney's body around him and within him to nurture the guttering flame of his conviction, of his belief in himself, and that flame burned brightly in him now. It would burn more brightly still in an hour or two if Radek let himself sleep here in Rodney's arms again, and so he did.
He woke a little while later, no more than an hour or so, he thought, with Rodney shaking him gently but urgently.
"Sorry," he said, "really sorry but I've got to... got to go now..."
The distress in Rodney's voice had Radek awake in a flash. "The gene suppression is wearing off already?" Not that he needed to ask. Rodney nodded curtly and Radek was up and moving, finding his own clothes and then Rodney's, dressing him as quickly as he could. Rodney tried to help in a distracted sort of way, but mostly he was concentrating on keeping the torrent of unwanted data from Atlantis from flooding him completely until he could make it to sick bay where the sedatives were.
Rodney was barely able to walk by the time they made it to the infirmary and Carson had his bed and IV full of sedatives ready for him. It took less than a minute for Rodney's nearly crushing grip on Radek's hand to loosen and go slack as the drugs took effect and when Radek finally slipped his hand away to sit disconsolately on the adjacent bed, he saw that it was shaking.
"Are y'all right, lad?" Carson asked gently, sitting beside him on the bed. Radek shook his head, hands now anxiously clasping each other in his lap, and thought it better not to try to speak lest he burst into tears. Having checked the time, Radek had figured that Rodney's gene suppression treatment had lasted no more than fourteen hours this time. The next time, which would not happen for two days, the doctor had insisted, it might not even endure for ten. Carson's arm around his shoulders as he sat was a comfort, but only a small one. Radek knew that he was Rodney's one and only hope now, and that he had forty eight hours to find a way to make Rodney's next ten hours (or less) of lucidity count. He had no idea how he was going to do that, but one thing he did know was that the last hour he'd spent with Rodney was the last sleep he was going to get for at least two days, and probably longer.
Forty-eight sleepless hours later, Radek and the best minds Atlantis had at her disposal had made little if any progress. Though he was disappointed, Radek was hardly surprised. He'd been increasingly convinced as the hours had passed, that the software approach, while still seeming promising was, in fact, a dead end. Unfortunately, no other approaches, promising or otherwise, had presented themselves. Gamil Henderson, by trade a paleo-botanist, but in fact one of the most talented coders Radek had ever met, insisted that all was not lost and Dr. Zintares Auseklis, their Latvian head software engineer, agreed, but neither of them could explain why they'd been unable to make any progress. Radek had finally sent them to bed after they'd both been up for thirty six hours straight.
Dr. Beckett was, naturally, still pursuing a medical solution, but only because he refused to give up, not because he had any real hopes. He'd taken a real dent out of his resident mouse population, trying a wide and, by the end, unlikely selection of compounds in the hopes that one of them might cause the nanocites to loosen their grip on mouse brain cells, but to no avail. Most of the mice died quickly, though some went into convulsions or became catatonic and had to be euthanized. Carson dutifully performed the euthanizations and autopsied every one himself. He'd also analyzed contents of Rodney's condom to find that it had, naturally, been swimming with nanocites, but this was no surprise at all, and told them nothing new.
Radek dreaded having to tell Rodney all this when the time finally came for his next, and last, gene suppression treatment, but Rodney was so ill when he first woke that Radek was spared having to discuss it. As before, Rodney was racked with a vicious headache and vomited shortly after he woke, but this time it took over an hour for the nausea and dry heaves to pass. Even afterwards, it was all Rodney could do to clutch at his blankets and shiver wretchedly in bed while Radek held his hand and tried his best to soothe him. Rodney was so miserable that he hardly had the energy to complain, which alarmed Radek more than anything else, and he could see the same alarm reflected in Carson's eyes when he thought Rodney wasn't looking.
Even wretched and ill, however, Rodney was still too damn smart for his own good and after a while Radek realized that Rodney had not asked about what progress had been made on his behalf, because he'd already seen the answer in Radek's eyes. While he did not have the heart to try to engage Rodney in the task of figuring out why the programming approach wasn't working, Radek did have the idea that might make some constructive use of Rodney's time. It had dawned on him at some point that while Rodney was able to access Atlantis' vast library of technical data in a controlled manner, questions might be asked that could throw more light on his situation.
They'd made use of this facility in a limited manner before, but now Radek realized that they'd been too specific in their inquiries, and that a wider field of investigation might yet reveal a new and more effective approach. Rodney agreed when Radek proposed this, with as much enthusiasm as he was able to muster at the moment, and Radek passed this on to the technical teams in the labs. They were taking questions, any questions that Atlantis might be able to answer and that might shed a new light on Rodney's predicament.
From the labs came questions about how Atlantis' basic programming language worked and what fail-safes and backups existed in the city's systems. From Dr. Beckett came questions about what the nanocites were composed of and what mechanisms caused them to attach to the neural fibers. Now at least, Radek told himself, they were learning new things, lots of new things, but he could not rid himself of the feeling that they were really grasping at straws.
Adding to Radek's unease were the visits from friends which came with much more frequency today because, as much as everyone tried to make it seem otherwise, it was clear that expectations were that Rodney might never be able to interact lucidly with them again. They were deathbed visitations, pure and simple, and every quietly spoken sentimental word, every brief and comforting touch, from Teyla, Dr. Weir, even Ronon, twisted an invisible knife somewhere in Radek's guts. He could not deny them, or Rodney, these moments, but a part of him wanted to scream at them, to throw them out of the infirmary until they would admit that Rodney was not either dying. He couldn't, though. He couldn't deny the truth, and he couldn't deny Rodney's friends what would be, in all probability, their last chance to speak with him.
Colonel Sheppard was the worst, in part because he wouldn't leave, and in part because his presence was a constant reminder to Rodney, and to Radek, that things were very bad indeed. He was at least up beat, however, and kept the sentimentality to a minimum, which was a mercy, Radek had to admit. In addition, Sheppard took an active interest in the questions being posed to Atlantis via Rodney, and after a bit began to ask a few himself.
His first questions were along the 'because I always wanted to know' lines, like 'how much does Atlantis weigh', and 'how long did it take to build?' Radek thought these questions an annoying waste of time at first, but then saw how they distracted Rodney, evoking the childlike curiosity that both he and Sheppard shared at times, and he found himself chafing less. Radek knew that John Sheppard was considerably smarter than he like to let on, and caught himself being fooled more often than he liked, but he felt like kicking himself when he began to realize that, rather than being driven by idle curiosity, Sheppard had strategically planned his questions from the beginning. He'd begun on a general vein, as any good researcher ought, but had become gradually more specific, until he asked a question that Radek realized they all should have thought of asking much sooner.
"So," Sheppard asked, in that laconic manner that suggested nothing more important than a query about the weather or a sports team, "who did build the room with the greeting plaque?"
Rodney blinked in surprise as the answer came to him. "Atlantis did," he said with astonishment. Radek wanted to smack himself, and would have if he hadn't been holding Rodney's hand. Here was the most direct and simple way to prove his own theory, not that he thought that it held any answers for Rodney, but at least they would know.
"Who built the nanocites?" Radek now asked, before Sheppard could formulate another question.
Again, Rodney's face registered shock and surprise as he delivered his answer. "Atlantis did," he said again. There was a pause as the three of them took in the import of this and then both Rodney and John asked, at the same time, "But why?"
They weren't asking Atlantis because they'd already learned that Atlantis didn't do so well with 'why' questions, but Radek had an answer. "Because she was lonely," he said.
"Oh for heaven's sake, Radek," Rodney snapped, "you know better than anthropomorphizing machinery and circuits. You going to start calling the ZedPM 'ma poor bairns' next?"
Radek just shook his head. He had his own line of questions now and he wasn't going to let Rodney's doubts derail him. "Rodney," he said, "ask Atlantis if nanocites were intended for persons without ATA gene."
Rodney frowned, but Radek could tell that he was making the inquiry, and a moment later he could tell that he had an answer. "Yes," Rodney said, puzzled. "They were never supposed to be given to anyone with an ATA gene. Radek, where are you going with this?"
Radek drew a breath, seeing that Carson had caught the tail end of the most recent line of questions and, apparently intrigued, stepped over to join them. "Very well," said Radek at last. "This is my theory."
"Atlantis was not built to be entirely self sustaining. Ancients did what they could to leave city as stable as possible when they left but, as we saw when we arrived, there were limits to the length of time Atlantis could exist without human caretakers, if for no other reason than to supply new power source from time to time, or recharge existing ones. Even you, Rodney, will have to admit that Atlantis comprises massively extensive and interactive information and maintenance systems, yes?"
Rodney nodded, his expression dubious but willing to go on listening.
"These systems are able to plan, to make forecasts," Radek continued, "with the goal of maintaining city for as long as possible. Some thousands of years after the Ancients left, Atlantis must have determined that, in all probability, they were not coming back. Knowing that Ancients, with their gene which enabled all of them to interact with city systems, were critical to city's long term survival, Atlantis set out to arrange for a way that humans other than Ancients could interact with city systems. Atlantis built the 'greeting plaque' at the end of the North Pier, knowing that inevitable power failure would cause fail-safes (as suggested by alternate Dr. Weir) to engage, causing city to rise to surface, and that any non-Ancient newcomers would as likely come to Atlantis over water as through the Stargate. Anyone approaching Atlantis from the sea would discover 'front door' on the North Pier -which, by the way, opens automatically for those of us without ATA gene- and would find 'greeting plaque' inside."
"Sure," said Sheppard, sounding impressed. "They'd come in, probably do just what Rodney did, and presto, they'd have better access to Atlantis, in some respects, than I do. I bet they could probably even operate the chair."
"Is possible, yes," agreed Radek, glancing at Rodney to see his reaction.
Rodney sighed, frowning as he considered Radek's theory. "Well it makes more sense than saying the city was 'lonely'," he said at last, "and I have been able to verify some of your speculations with Atlantis, but I'm not seeing how it helps me get rid of the damn things."
Radek shook his head. "Unfortunately, I have not been able to apply this theory to that end either," he said, "but I do have another question for Atlantis."
"Ask away," said Rodney.
"Ask Atlantis, what, exactly happens to the nanocites when they are placed in the body of someone who has ATA gene?"
"I think we have a pretty good idea of what happens when the nanocites get into someone with the ATA gene already," Rodney crabbed. "Why bother to ask that?"
"Because you only know what happens to you," Radek answered. "Atlantis will know what happens to nanocites."
"Huh," said Rodney thoughtfully. "Okay." He was silent for a moment as he made his inquiry, and then Radek saw his face fall. "Aw crap," he said, disappointment showing too clearly on his face.
"What?" asked Radek, filled with unease.
"They go completely out of the city's control," he said. "The nanocites become totally over-stimulated by the ATA gene's activation signal and don't respond to the city's instructions at all."
"Oh dear," said Radek. "That will be why our programming approach doesn't work."
"And never will," said Rodney, sounding defeated. "I'm completely screwed, and I have no one to blame but myself."
"Now don't be giving up yet man," Carson admonished. "You've learned so much in the last couple of hours, surely you can put some of it to good use."
"Have you even been listening, Carson?" Rodney snapped. "All we've learned is that the one shot we had at getting rid of these nanocites can never work. And unless something you've learned during the last hour or two has helped you figured out some magical compound that will dissolve the nanocites without dissolving my brain, then my prior assessment stands. I am completely, irrevocably screwed."
"Well I'm not giving up," said Carson with a sigh, trudging determinedly back to his lab. Now Sheppard was standing as well, glancing down at Rodney with an unsettled frown.
"I guess I'll go tell Dr. Weir," he said. "She'll want to know what you've figured out about where the nanocites came from."
"Thank you for your help, Colonel," Radek called after him, meaning it with all his heart.
"Yeah, well..." he said with an unhappy shrug of his shoulders. "You're welcome, I guess."
Radek watched him go, feeling a little heartsick. He knew that John Sheppard cared for Rodney almost as much as he did, in his own way, but strove most of the time not to show it. He'd come here today to lend Rodney his own special brand of comfort and assistance, and had ended up helping him discover that he had even less to hope for than he thought. Radek wondered whether it would be Teyla or Ronon that would end up sparring with John late into the night tonight.
Turning his gaze back to Rodney, he found the man staring down at his hands disconsolately, misery and despair written large over all the features of his face. Radek's heart ached, but he was not yet ready to give up either, and knew he must cajole Rodney out of his despondency if anything was to be accomplished with the time left to him.
"I have another question for Atlantis," he said.
"What," Rodney complained, "haven't we dashed enough of my hopes for one day?"
"In fact, I thought we had dashed all of them already," Radek replied with practiced Slavic pessimism.
"Your point being?" Rodney snapped.
"Ask Atlantis if she could command nanocites to leave you if they were under control," said Radek.
"What's the point of that?" It was never an easy task to cajole Rodney out of his worst moods, Radek knew too well.
"Just ask," Radek said, letting his exasperation show because he knew it would get Rodney's dander up.
"Fine," said Rodney with all the ill grace he could muster (which was quite a lot, really). Once again it took only a moment to get his answer. "Yes," he said when he had it. "If Atlantis had any control at all over any of the nanocites, which it obviously doesn't, they could be instructed to leave. How this helps me in the least I have no idea, but there's the answer to your question."
Radek nodded thoughtfully. Rodney's reply had told him more than Rodney realized, he suspected, and he filed this information away quietly. The time had not yet come to use it, but it might well come soon. "I do not think that Atlantis wants this any more than we do," he said instead. "It was never what she intended."
"Oh please," Rodney said bitterly, "do not start with that again. It's bad enough that one of us is completely losing our marbles."
Radek shook his head, not to be dissuaded. "You know the truth, Rodney, even if you will not admit it. Atlantis' data systems are definitely dynamic and self sustaining. She learns and adapts, and has been doing so for over ten thousand years. How can she not be sentient?"
"Because I'd know if she... if it was!" Rodney snapped. "For pity's sake Radek, this is sheer romantic clap-trap, and for me to hear this kind of nonsense coming out of your mouth... Well, if I'd thought that the prospect of losing me would make you go so spectacularly off the deep end, I'd have never let this go as for as it has."
Radek sighed expressively, letting Rodney know that he wasn't buying a word of it, and that he thought Rodney was wasting valuable time and energy denying something he knew to be true. There wasn't much time left to waste, either. It had been nine hours since Rodney's last gene suppression treatment and both of them knew that it could begin to wear off at any time now, though neither of them were inclined to discuss it. When Dr. Weir appeared in the infirmary a few moments later however, Colonel Sheppard in tow, they both knew that their inclinations were irrelevant.
"How are you doing, Rodney?" she asked, not because she didn't know, but because she wanted Rodney to know that she cared. Sheppard stood behind her, silent as a ghost, mouth holding an uneasy line, hiding his feelings and hands clasped hard behind his back, revealing them.
"About like you'd expect," Rodney said, his gaze passing over Sheppard, not meeting anyone's eyes. "Since you're here, though, we might as well say what needs to be said."
She nodded, letting Rodney do things his way. That's why, Radek thought with a pang, she was a diplomat. She knew when to speak and when to stay silent.
"I know you're not going to give up on me," Rodney went on, "not right away anyhow, but you'll eventually have to deal with more pressing matters at some point. I know that, and I want you to know that it's okay. I knew the job was dangerous when I took it, as they say."
Elizabeth laid her hand gently on his arm, nodding her understanding.
"Everything else you might need to know," he continued, "well, it's all in my files, but you know that." They'd all had to fill out living wills along with the various other legal forms and releases they'd been required to submit before joining the Atlantis mission. Neither Radek nor Rodney wanted to be kept alive in a vegetative state, if it ever came to that. It might be years before Rodney's condition deteriorated to that point, though, Radek knew, and no one had thought to write a living will contingency for having one's brain overloaded with data carried by alien nanocites.
"We won't give up on you, Rodney, you're right about that," Elizabeth said gently, "and neither should you. You know as well as anyone the quality and dedication of the people working to find a solution for you. You know what they're capable of. Don't write them off yet."
"Yeah, well," he replied, "you'll understand, I'm sure, that the moment doesn't exactly find me in the most optimistic mood."
Radek could see Elizabeth's grasp on Rodney's arm tighten for a moment before she released it. "That's alright, Rodney," she said softly. "You don't have to be."
Rodney nodded, glancing back at Radek for a moment where he sat at Rodney's side, still holding his hand, and then swallowed. "Listen," he said quietly, as though Radek wasn't to hear, "you'll... look out for him, okay?"
Radek bowed his head, wishing he hadn't, but Elizabeth nodded understandingly. "Of course," she said, just as quietly.
Sheppard's face was a storm of suppressed emotions and the two of them shared a look, communicating a complex of things that neither man was willing to speak aloud. "Rodney... " he began abortively, but Rodney's glance stopped him.
"Just..." he began, and then, "I need... can you give us a few moments?" He was glancing a Radek again and Elizabeth understood immediately. She reached over to touch his face briefly, almost tenderly, and then took John with her as she departed, leaving the two scientists alone.
"Rodney," Radek began, not sure what he wanted to say and struggling to keep his voice steady. Rodney shook his head and slipped his hand from Radek's, reaching up to grasp his shoulder firmly, demanding his attention.
"I need you to listen to me now, Radek," he said. "I can already tell that the gene suppression is starting to break down and there's something I need you to know."
Radek nodded, knowing better than to guess what it might be that Rodney wanted to say, and gave him his full attention.
"The thing is," he said, drawing a breath before he continued. "What you need to understand is that there's nothing I can do that you can't. There isn't." He derailed Radek's objection before he even had time to consider it.
"Sure, I might be a little quicker off the mark that you are, and I'm bound to make a bigger deal about it," Rodney continued, "but at the end of the day you'll have figured out anything I would have, and you'll have done it without making anybody in the lab cry or threaten to quit. I don't ever want you to think that you're screwed just because I'm not there to pull some brilliant solution out of my ass. You're every bit as capable of saving the day as I ever was Radek, you have to believe that."
"I... I am not sure..." Radek had an idea why Rodney wanted him to hear this, but he wasn't sure he really believed it.
"No, listen to me," Rodney was adamant, bordering on desperate, his grip on Radek's shoulder almost painful. "You can't ever think that you're not capable of doing what needs to be done. Atlantis can't afford it and... and neither can I."
Now it became clear and Radek nodded his understanding, seeing at last the multitude of things Rodney was trying to say all at once. Take care of my city for me, was one of the things; Radek heard that loud and clear, but what Rodney couldn't say aloud but desperately needed Radek to understand at last was how terrified he was. It was for Atlantis and the people who'd made her their home that he feared for the worst, knowing how many times -ego entirely aside- that his presence had made the difference between survival and catastrophe over the last few years. He was terrified for himself too, naturally, and knew that Radek, who'd never wanted the responsibility he was about to have foist upon him, was his only real hope, and Atlantis' best hope too.
If Rodney could have shoe-horned a piece of his own brain into Radek's skull at that moment he would have, and Radek would have let him, but since that wasn't possible Rodney was trying to do the only thing he could do, to convince Radek that he didn't need any more brain than he had. Alas, the truth, as they both knew, was that Atlantis needed both their brains, working in that amazing synergy they'd discovered together, creating a whole that was decidedly greater than the sum of its parts. Radek would not speak of this now, there was no point. Instead he pulled Rodney close, wrapping his arms around him to still his trembling.
Rodney clung to him with desperate strength, much as he had that first day in the room with the 'greeting plaque'. Not knowing what had afflicted his lover then, Radek'd had no words of comfort for him on that occasion, and knowing at last the answer to this question there were no comforts he could offer now, either. Only, "I love you, miláčku," as Radek finally came to whisper softly into Rodney's ear.
He held his dread at bay as he felt Rodney shudder in his arms, but his heart faltered when he heard Rodney mutter "dammit!" his voice muffled in Radek's shoulder. Atlantis was breaking through again, and they were finally out of time.
"Should I call Carson?" Radek asked, but Rodney shook his head adamantly, not looking up.
"Not yet," he whispered, voice all but broken. "Not yet, please, oh god, just hold me..."
Radek pulled him closer still, grasping his lover with all his strength and feeling Rodney's terror and sorrow shuddering though his body. Radek found himself wishing that he could absorb all the unhappiness emanating from Rodney into his own and draw it away, and felt helpless that he could not. "I won't ever leave you, miláčku," Radek murmured at last, "I won't ever give up."
He felt Rodney shudder violently in response to this and heard a muffled and despairing "No!" against his shoulder. Rodney raised his head then, and Radek could see in Rodney's eyes the struggle to hold on to his own thoughts.
"No... please, Radek..." and then he was lost, eyes losing focus, growing distracted, hearing other voices that he could not shut out.
"Rodney?" Radek asked, knowing that he really should call Carson to administer the sedatives now, but desperate to know what it was that Rodney had wanted to say to him at the last.
Rodney was looking away, his body twitching with random impulses from the extraneous data pouring into his head. Then he drew a sudden breath, gathering himself once again, with such effort that it broke Radek's heart. "Radek," he gasped, "please..." Rodney's voice was pleading, but he could get no more out, and Radek knew he was gone.
"Carson!" he called, hearing the break in his own voice and trying to swallow it down. The doctor was there in a flash, sedatives at the ready. Together, the two of them pried Rodney loose from Radek and laid him back on the bed where he promptly curled onto his side in misery, his free hand moving restlessly over the covers. The sedatives soon caused his movement to become sluggish, but not to cease. Radek reached out to take Rodney's hand almost unconsciously, holding it still between his two.
He felt Carson's hand on his shoulder, warm and solidly comforting and the doctor stood with him silently for a spell. "Radek, luv," he said after a time, voice gentle and not too steady either, "if there's anything you need, anything at all..."
"Thank you, Carson," Radek said, able to manage little more than a whisper. "I am grateful, but for now I think I would like... to be alone for little bit."
Carson slipped his hand away, his face sorrowful and his eyes a little too bright. "Aye, alright," he said reluctantly, "but ye know ye needn't be alone if ye don't wish."
"I know," said Radek, releasing Rodney's hand with one of his to touch Carson on the arm as he left, and the doctor stole sadly away.
6 - Practice
Radek turned his attention back to Rodney then, gazing at the tormented figure of his lover twitching and muttering silently on the infirmary bed, and contemplated the decision before him. It was no easy task to coolly asses the pro's and cons, the possible risks and gains of what he was considering, with his heart so sore, and Rodney's palpable fear so fresh in his memory. He'd made little progress towards this end when he noticed Rodney becoming a bit more restless, in spite of the powerful sedatives he'd been given, and then he thought he heard Rodney murmur his name.
"Rodney?" Radek leaned close to listen, and there was his name again, not clearly, but unmistakably. "Rodney, what is it?"
"Radek... please..." Whatever it was Rodney had been trying to tell him earlier, he had not, apparently given up. "Please... you have to..."
"I am here, Rodney," Radek whispered. "What is it I must do?"
"Have to... forgive... forgive yourself... please, Radek..." It had taken the last full measure of Rodney's strength and will power to get those words out and having done this he subsided, body relaxing somewhat, though not altogether.
Rodney's words struck like a dagger in Radek's already battered heart. He released Rodney's hand, stumbling back to the adjacent bed to sit heavily. Shaken to the core, bereft of his last particle of hope and self possession, Radek lowered his face into his hands and gave way, at last, to tears. The sobs that wracked him came not from sorrow or even fear, but from the knowledge that he would never be able to fulfill what was, for all intents and purposes, Rodney's last and most urgent request of his him. Radek knew he was the one person Rodney trusted most in the world, but he also knew that he could not promise Rodney that he would forgive himself, even as he knew that some part of Rodney waited for that promise, and would hear it still if he gave it. He could not lie to Rodney, or give him false comforts even now, especially now.
So Radek wept, alone and inconsolable, knowing that he had failed his lover in the end, the sound of his own broken voice, sobbing wretchedly in the nearly silent infirmary, echoing in his ears. How long he remained so Radek did not know, but the question of his decision came to him again, after a time, and it dawned on him then that he had rather less to lose than he'd previously thought. If, as it seemed to him now, he'd already failed Rodney as a scientist, and as a friend, then the fact that Rodney would be furious with him if things went badly didn't matter nearly so much.
The realization brought resolve; the resolve brought with it some sense of peace, and stilled the sobs in Radek's chest. He lifted his head and removed his glasses, wiping the tears from the lenses, and then folded them, laying them on the night stand with care. He stood unsteadily next, to take the few steps to stand at the foot of Rodney's bed, clutching nervously at the rail there.
He lingered here some while, gathering his nerve and contending with the hope and terror warring in his heart, but finally he spoke, softly, addressing someone present, yet not present.
"I know that this is not what you wish," he said at last. "I know that it does not serve your purposes, and that you need him to be well, but that you also need someone to take the nanocites. This I believe I understand." Radek paused then, not because he expected a reply, but because he needed to think very carefully about what he was going to say next, and whether he really wanted to say it at all.
"I know what you need," he said, more quietly still, and very afraid, because although he had taken no irrevocable steps yet, he knew he was set on his course. "I know what you need and I know I can provide it," he continued, "and so I offer... I offer myself, freely. No conditions. I know I can demand none. I only ask... I beg of you, once you have me, if you can, to release him. That is all... all I ask."
The infirmary was silent, save for Rodney's quiet, unsteady breathing. Radek had expected no reply, had not asked for a sign, for he knew better. He would have to take this on faith, a very foolish thing for a scientist to do, he knew, and he knew it would only add to Rodney's anger when he found out. It was not blind faith, though. Radek had reasons, many good reasons, to believe that this could work, but he had no assurances. It was a risk, an insanely huge one, but the alternative was no risk, and lead to an inevitable future that Radek dreaded worse than what might happen if his faith now turned out to be ill founded. Rodney would likely feel differently, but Rodney had no say for the moment.
Keeping a hand on the bed rail as he walked to hold himself steady, Radek came to stand at Rodney's side, to reach across and gently caress Rodney's face. There was, Radek thought to himself as prepared to take the plunge, one small but certain consolation in this course of action. He would, at least, get to kiss Rodney one last time. It might end up being the last action he ever took with a clear mind, and if it was, well, there were worse last acts, weren't there?
Cradling Rodney's face in both his hands, Radek bent to press his lips against Rodney's, then opened his mouth to kiss his lover deeply. Radek was gratified to feel Rodney unconsciously respond to the kiss, in an unfocused, dazed sort of way, and for a brief moment Radek could imagine that this was one of the sweet, sleepy 'good morning' kisses that they'd shared countless times. The illusion was shattered quickly as Radek felt an unexpected, sharp tingling on his lips and tongue. He'd not expected to actually feel anything, but there was little doubt in Radek's mind now that he accomplished the first part of his goal. He held the kiss till the tingling sensation faded, hoping that this meant that another part of his goal was also being accomplished, then drew away, moving one hand from Rodney's face back to hold to the bed rail. He had a feeling he'd want it soon.
He was not wrong, for the first wave of vertigo struck him before he'd taken two steps toward the adjacent, empty bed. He shut his eyes but instead of darkness Radek now had the view of this end of the infirmary as seen from the nearest room monitor. He saw himself stumbling blindly towards the one bed, as Rodney lay still on the other. Still? A closer view, which came almost without thinking, showed Rodney's chest rising and falling evenly, but the restless, unrestrained hand was no longer so, and now lay quiescent over Rodney's hip.
Tumbling into the bed, eyes still tight shut, Radek had a half a moment to feel the first flush of a cautions, triumphant joy, before Atlantis fell on him. The rush of data was so terrifyingly overwhelming at first that he was vaguely aware of giving a little cry of distress. Curled tightly into a fetal position, arms wrapped around his head as though they could block out the data flooding his mind, Radek trembled and shuddered where he lay. Then, finally, some part of him, rising from sheer survival instinct cried out within him, Too much! Too much!! I can't... and miraculously, she relented.
Not altogether, by any means, but now Radek could begin to mange the information coming at him, to order it in his mind and see the pattern and logic to what he was being shown. It seemed to be an introductory data dump, showing every one of Atlantis interactive systems from the ground (or ocean) up, beginning with her basic blueprints and construction orders. It was with astonished relief that Radek realized that this was not the sort of random and disordered data inundation that Rodney had been subjected to, but an ordered interchange with an intelligent being. His theory would, indeed, appear to have proven out. Now all that remained to be seen was whether he could live with this for the rest of his life, and whether Rodney would ever forgive him.
It would not be correct to say that Radek had lost track of the time as he contended with his 'introduction' to Atlantis. Radek Zelenka knew that he would never lose track of the time again, but he was utterly absorbed in the data Atlantis was feeding him and had no attention for anything else as nearly an hour passed, and he became aware that Dr. Beckett was at his side, calling his name.
"Radek?" he was saying. "Radek, what have ye done, man?"
Here was the first test. Could he shift his focus, and get her to hold the data for a moment (she was far from done with the initial data dump) while he spoke to Carson? It took an effort of will, but he felt his overview of the water recycling system come to a pause, allowing him to direct the better part of his attention towards Carson, who would want something of an explanation and might be a little put out himself, as Radek had conducted a fairly risky experiment on his premises without consulting or even warning him.
Radek drew a deep breath, uncurling himself to look up at Carson. "I may," he said, pleased with how relatively steady his voice sounded, "have done something very foolish."
"Dear god, you didn't?" cried Carson, aghast.
Radek sat up slowly, feeling the city shift and reorient itself around him. This was clearly going to take some getting used to. "I only wanted to kiss him one more time?" Radek joked weakly.
"Are ye daft, man?" Carson asked, outraged. "You, of all people, knew just what could happen. How could you justify such a risk?"
Radek looked down at his hands. "Because we had good reason to believe that without ATA gene I would be able to manage data from nanocites," he said. "And because we both know that we had no hope for Rodney. Knowing that, what else was I to do?"
"Well you might have discussed it with me, for starters," Carson replied unhappily.
"I know... I must ask you to forgive me Carson," Radek said sincerely, because he could see that the doctor's feelings had been hurt, thinking that Radek had not trusted him with this. "But we both know that you would have tried to talk me out of it."
"Aye, I would've!" he said. "Anything else would have been bloody irresponsible."
"Just so," said Radek, "and when you failed to talk me out of it you would have taken steps to prevent me, and this I could not allow. It is your job to stop people from doing irresponsible things, Carson. I know that. I know that what I did *was* irresponsible, but I could not let you stop me. I am sorry that I could not trust you with this, but you must see that I had no choice."
Carson shook his head. "I'll not say that I agree," he said, "but it's a moot point now, that I'll give you. Will you at least tell me how it is with you now?"
"Anything you wish to know," Radek said, eager to make amends. "You need only ask."
Carson had quite a few questions, naturally, and Radek did his best to answer them until Atlantis let him know that she was tired of waiting for Radek to continue with his introductory 'briefing' by intruding into his thoughts more aggressively. Carson saw his distraction and gave Radek a concerned look.
"I thought you said that you had better control than Rodney had," Carson worried.
"I do," Radek insisted, "but Atlantis had no control either. Now that she does she seems a littleŠ jealous of my time?"
Carson's look went from concerned to a little dismayed. "Tell me you're joking, man?"
"Rodney did not believe Atlantis could be sentient either," said Radek, "but he had no way of really knowing."
"And you do?" Carson was deeply skeptical.
Radek shrugged. "In truth, it will be a while yet before I can say for sure," he admitted, "but I cannot think of any other reason for her to have removed nanocites from Rodney."
"Has she, then?" Carson asked, glancing over at the sleeping scientist.
Radek checked. "She says she has," Radek answered, "but it seems to me that you might easily confirm that independently."
"Aye, I believe I'll do that," said Carson, "but don't think I'm though with you, sir. You're to consider yourself officially a patient of mine as of now and you'll not leave the infirmary unless I say."
"That is fair," said Radek agreeably, since he wasn't likely to go anywhere as long as Rodney was here. He returned to his tutorial on Atlantis' water systems as Dr. Beckett took fresh samples of Rodney's blood, tears and saliva. A little while later Carson returned, interrupting Radek's briefing again to take similar samples from him. Carson remained terse in his dealings with Radek, his manner brusk and disapproving, but Radek had hopes that he'd get past it eventually. Carson was too kind a man to hold a grudge.
Rodney, he worried, would be a different matter. The worry persisted as Radek returned to Atlantis' introductory digest, even as the better part of his mind was entirely taken up with the technical data and schematics the city was showing him. It seemed to him that perhaps Atlantis noticed, and worried with him, for without his volition Radek kept seeing the infirmary monitor focusing on Rodney's tranquil face as he slept. Radek and Atlantis waited together for Rodney to wake, and to learn if he would forgive either of them.
Coming out of sedation again? Rodney wondered what he had gotten into now as awareness slowly returned to him. There were, he came to realize, slender fingers moving gently through his hair, and a warm hand clasping one of his. Radek, he thought, and knew then that everything must be alright if Radek was with him. Everything important, anyway.
He didn't think he could get his voice to work yet, but he could move his hand in Radek's and squeeze it a bit, so he did. He heard Radek draw a breath in response, and then speak his name.
"Rodney? Are you with us?"
Radek, it was coming back to him, had been with him before, but there was something different now, something very different and very important.
There were no voices in his head, none at all! Rodney gasped in astonishment and opened his eyes.
"Rodney?" Radek's voice and the expression on his face was worried but hopeful.
"Oh my god..." said Rodney, as the rest of it came back to him in a rush. "Oh my god, they're gone!"
It was lovely to see Radek's face come alive with joyous relief, and Rodney felt his heart ease at the sight, but he could also see that all was not entirely well with Radek. People had frequently accused Rodney of having a hopelessly open face, but he'd learned to read Radek like a book in the time they'd been together and now he could see a shadow in his lover's look that his glasses could not hide. Rodney's too quick mind had its suspicions even before his spoke, and the chill that struck him when he realized Radek's probable answer colored his voice as he asked the question.
"Radek, what did you do?"
The man's face fell instantly, guilt and worry wiping away his relieved smile. "I, ah..." Radek withdrew his hands from Rodney and now they clutched at one another, wringing in anxiety. "I... cut a deal?"
Radek's answer was at once less than informative and revealing of too much. Rodney felt a terror fed fury rise up in him, damped only by his desperate need to know far more specifics. "You what?!" was all he was able to get out in reply.
Radek swallowed and his expression firmed with a sort of fatalistic pride. "You said," he began, swallowing nervously again, "you said that there was nothing you could do that I could not. You did seem to be managing Atlantis well enough when your ATA gene was suppressed, and I knew that there would be no need to suppress mine. Managing data from Atlantis has proved to be something of a challenge, but I have only had a few hours with her and, as you see, I am able to do well enough at the moment."
As the inevitable truth of what Radek had done became clear to him, Rodney felt something very much like panic sweep over him, feeding his sense of terrified betrayal. "Are you insane?" he cried, barely able to restrain himself.
The heat in Rodney's words brought Radek's stubborn out, and his expression hardened further. "It worked didn't it?" he countered forcefully.
"You do realize that those things will be with you for the rest of your life?" Rodney said, wanting to rub Radek's nose in the sheer idiocy of what he'd done.
"Yes," said Radek, refusing to show remorse.
"And that you can never leave Atlantis now, ever."
"That you'll never set foot on earth again?"
"Yes!" Radek bit the syllable off, angrily.
"And you realize that I can never trust you again?"
There, that struck home. Radek deflated, lowering his head before he spoke, and Rodney did not think that he had ever imagined that such a short word could sound so broken.
"Yes," said Radek again.
Rodney averted his own gaze, not liking how unhappy he felt about hurting Radek, even when he knew how justified his anger was. Radek was the one person he trusted not to fall on his sword for Rodney's mistakes, not to step in front of a bullet for him, and that had been the deal from the start. Rodney would never have let himself get so close to Radek, never let the little Czech scientist into his heart without that deal and Radek was perfectly aware of that. He knew what he'd done when he did it. He had to have. That was why Rodney couldn't trust him any more. He didn't dare.
When Rodney looked up again he saw that Radek had gone to lie on the adjacent bed, curled on his side facing away from Rodney. Dammit all, Rodney thought, he should not be struggling so hard with the desire to go to the man and comfort him. If Radek was miserable then he had no one to blame but himself. He'd made his bed and now he could lie in it. By himself. Rodney ought not to need any more proof that he was better off without him.
Still, there was one more thing Rodney was curious about and needed to ask Radek. It wasn't necessarily important in the greater scheme of things, but it was bugging him, and would continue to do so until he found out.
"Mind telling me," he began, carefully keeping his voice empty of his very mixed feelings, "how it was that you managed to intentionally infect yourself with my nanocites?" Rodney congratulated himself on finding a way to reiterate his accusation in the course of the question, despite how small it made him feel.
"I kissed you," said Radek, just barely loudly enough to be heard from where he lay, facing away from Rodney. "One last time, I kissed you. You kissed me back, but I doubt you would remember."
"No," said Rodney, though now that Radek had mentioned it, he thought he might. "No I wouldn't."
Once again Rodney fought down waves of disgust over the intentional cruelty of his words, but was spared further recriminations and rationalizations by the arrival of Dr. Beckett.
"Awake at last, are ye?" he beamed. "There's no doubt you needed the rest, but I am glad to see you finally up and clear headed."
"Tell me you didn't condone this?" Rodney greeted the doctor with ill humor.
Carson's gaze moved back and forth between the two scientists on their respective beds, his unhappy expression telling Rodney the nature and extent of the conclusions he was drawing from what he saw. "Now ye know better than that, Rodney," Carson chastised gently. "What Radek did, he did without consultin' me, make no mistake, but I'd have to say that so far his gamble seems to have paid off."
"Paid off?" Rodney objected. "In what way?"
"Well for starters," Carson said reasonably, "your body appears, by every test I'm able to conduct, to be one hundred percent free of nanocites."
"Yes, and instead, now Radek has them," said Rodney, adamantly refuting Carson's reasonableness. "How is that an improvement?"
"I don't necessarily know that it is," Carson remained intractably reasonable, which Rodney found positively maddening, "although so far Radek's reaction to the nanocites in his body has been considerably different from yours. He's been lucid, if a bit distracted, and what's really curious is that there are almost no nanocites in his body fluids, the ones I've tested, anyway."
"What?" It wasn't often that Rodney McKay found himself so confounded by a new bit of data, and ordinarily he'd take it as a warning sign of bias in his research, but he was much too distraught to catch this now. "How can that be?"
"Radek seems to think that Atlantis has much finer control of the nanocites when they aren't being bombarded by random signals from someone's ATA gene," Carson answered, glancing over at the man laying silently in the next bed. "It's how he says they were made to leave you."
Against his better judgment, Rodney found his gaze drawn to the same place as Carson's. "It was still an insanely stupid thing to do," he said stubbornly.
"Aye, well," said Carson, rolling his eyes just a bit, "it's not like he learned that kind of behavior from anyone here."
"Dammit Carson," Rodney couldn't let himself listen to Carson's apparent good sense any longer. He knew what was best, period. "I've got enough trouble trying to convince Sheppard that he's not expendable. I can't have people close to me if they're going to pull crazy shit like this. I can't deal with it. Too many people rely on this," he tapped his forehead, "for me to take that kind of emotional risk. It's what's best for everyone, him included." It was easier, Rodney noted, to keep his tone cool if he did not say Radek's name.
"Oh for god's sake, Rodney," Carson clearly wasn't buying a word of what he'd just said. "The man saved your life."
"My life," Rodney countered angrily, "as you well know, was never in danger. My sanity is all he saved, and at an unconscionable risk."
"Well I suppose you may have a point, Rodney," said Carson darkly, "because if this is what you're calling sanity then I've got to wonder what Radek thought there was to be worth saving." And with that, Carson stood and left them both alone.
7. Unnatural Consequences
Dr. Beckett had to let them both go two days later, though Rodney took issue with his decision to release Radek as well as himself.
"He's not free of the nanocites, you said so yourself," Rodney insisted. "He's fully capable of infecting other members of the expedition with demonstrably dangerous nano agents. How can you allow him wander loose? There's no telling what he might do."
"Rodney, I'm right here," he heard Radek sigh with exasperation, but Rodney continued to ignore him, as he had for the last two days. Carson gave him a black look, which Rodney knew came for many reasons.
"Rodney," Carson gave his own exasperated sigh. "I've discussed this with Dr. Weir, and the decision is hers. She and I both agree that, whether the city is truly sentient or not, Atlantis clearly only needs one person to carry the nanocites, and as long as Radek continues to cooperate, which he's said he's willing to do," Rodney did not fail to miss the apologetic look Carson threw Radek's way as he said this, "then the danger that the nanocites will be passed to anyone or anything else are acceptably minimal."
Rodney had tried to make the case, during the meeting with Dr. Weir, that Radek be should banned from most of the labs, as he constituted a contamination risk. Not even after the Project Arcturus fiasco had Elizabeth looked at him so darkly, and with such angry disappointment. He had dropped the idea. Even Rodney had to admit that the purpose of his request was to keep Radek away from him, not because he really thought that Radek would carry the nanocites into someplace they didn't belong. It was low, even for him, but he continued to think of it in terms of 'doing what he had to', no matter how low he had to stoop.
He told himself he wouldn't feel quite so miserable if he didn't have to actually see Radek on a regular basis, and since sending Radek away wasn't an option, he cooked up an excuse for himself to spend a few weeks (which might be stretched almost indefinitely) at the Alpha Site and took it to Dr. Weir. He did not find her receptive.
"Rodney Mckay," she said bitterly, "I have defended your character more times than you would like to think, and at the moment I am this far away from taking it all back. It certainly isn't my place to tell you how to manage your personal life, and I have no idea what the hell goes on inside that genius brain of yours, but never in my wildest nightmares did I ever imagine that you had it in you to be so cruel."
The wave of dismay Rodney felt took him by surprise, freezing him on the spot where he stood on the director's office. How could he have forgotten how much Elizabeth Weir saw, and how well she knew him? For one foolish moment he thought he might be able to explain himself to her, but by the time he got his throat to unfreeze his intelligence had caught up with him again and he realized that he could only dig himself deeper. Besides, she wasn't through making him feel like crap yet.
"I have absolutely no business telling you how to manage your relationship with Dr. Zelenka, but I do have every right to tell you that you need to find a way to work with him, share the labs with him and collaborate with him, for the good of this city and its inhabitants, if nothing else. Find a way, Rodney, and I don't want to see you, or hear a word from you until you do. Now I have work to do, and so do you. Get to it."
Rodney was disgusted and annoyed to find himself blinking away tears as he headed to his quarters, but he managed to make it back without embarrassing himself. He left the lights off upon entering , dropping his laptop carelessly on the desk and making his way to the counter where he kept a supply of energy bars. He grabbed one and opened it mindlessly, not feeling the least bit hungry but feeling the tell-tale signs that he needed to eat, now.
He bit and chewed the food automatically, staring disconsolately out his window at the city, cloaked in clouds and windblown drizzle. Never in his life had he felt so torn. No matter how hard he tried, he could not silence the part of him that desperately wanted to run back to Radek and beg his forgiveness, forgetting every principle of self preservation Rodney McKay lived by. It had been dismaying beyond words to learn how adamantly Dr. Weir agreed with this emotionally crippled, heartsick part of himself.
He simply couldn't allow that self to call the shots here, though. He needed to rely on his good old, dependable and intellectually gifted rational half now. It would not allow him to forget how bad it hurt when he let people in and then lost them. It knew that he could not afford to care about people who wouldn't stay safe. This was a rock solid risk assessment and he was sticking by it... even if it meant losing friends, or the respect of someone whose respect was awfully important to him.
It wasn't fair. It sucked, and he had a dreadful certainty that it was going to suck worse before it got better. As if to prove this, there now came a knock at Rodney's door.
"Rodney?!" Rodney felt his stomach clench with further dismay. It was Sheppard. Maybe, Rodney thought with gallows humor, I can piss him off enough that he'll just shoot me and put me and everyone else out of my misery.
He let Sheppard in without a word, standing with all the resigned dignity he could muster when the door closed, and waited for the Colonel to heap more shit on the pile. Sheppard didn't say anything, however, but looked Rodney up and down with a puzzled expression on his face.
"Well?" Rodney asked at last, much too rattled for patience.
"Well what?" answered Sheppard, still seeming only perplexed, not angry.
"Aren't you going to rip me a new asshole too? I'm sure I deserve it." Rodney braced himself.
"Well, I'm not, actually," said Sheppard, "I'm just here to see if I can't figure out what's going on, 'cause I gotta tell you Rodney, I'm completely baffled here."
"Sure you are, Colonel," Rodney wasn't ready for this approach, and fell back on old defense mechanisms. "I mean, what's to explain? McKay's just being an insufferable bastard again. Call the papers."
Sheppard shook his head, moving to sit on Rodney's bed without asking permission. "Knock it off, Rodney," he said, much too gently. "I really do want to understand what's going on. I know you well enough to know that you don't do things without good reasons, damned good ones, even if some people have forgotten that." With a shock, Rodney realized that Sheppard was talking about Dr. Weir.
"What's your reasoning here, Rodney? Can you at least try and explain it to me?" The unaccustomed pleading note in the Colonel's voice made it heard to refuse him, plus, Rodney considered, John Sheppard was in a unique position to appreciate Rodney's concerns. Maybe he'd actually understand.
"It's just..." Rodney drew a deep breath. Too uneasy to sit, he paced back and forth in front of the bed. "I can't have any more Brendan Gauls on my hands. I can't... especially not ones I... I sleep with." Sheppard nodded his understanding and so Rodney continued.
"Radek knows that," he said. "He knows that I can't let myself be close to anyone who would do that. It's a matter of simple self preservation. Too many other lives depend on me now for me to run the risk of falling apart because someone I've let too close throws their life away to save mine."
"So what you're doing then is trying to put some distance between you and Radek?" Sheppard clarified.
"Yes, exactly," Rodney answered, hopeful that maybe Sheppard might understand.
"Trying to make yourself care less about Radek, and trying to get him to care less for you?"
"Trying to, yes" Rodney confessed. Sheppard nodded thoughtfully.
"Well I'd have to say, FYI, that as far as getting Radek to care less about you, that part's not working at all," Sheppard imparted matter-of-factly. "The man's positively tied up in knots of guilt, but he doesn't seem to love you any less."
Rodney brought his pacing to a halt, hands clenched in fists at his side. "Well what the fuck am I supposed to do about that?" he said. "He damn well knew how it would go down if he ever took any risks like that, why is that my problem?"
"Not sayin' it is," remarked Sheppard, cool as a cucumber, "just pointing out that your plan seems to have feasibility issues. You're not having any luck getting Radek to give up on you, no matter how badly you treat him, and it doesn't look like you're having any luck changing the way you feel about him either."
"We'll get there eventually," Rodney said, gritting his teeth.
"It's possible, I suppose," said Sheppard, his tone dangerously close to being patronizing, but not quite. "Feasibility issues aside, though, I also happen to think you've got some bad logic going here."
"How's that?" Rodney bristled.
"Well," the Colonel shifted to make himself more comfortable, sitting cross legged on Rodney's bed, "you can imagine that I've spent some time thinking about when it is that I can and can't ask one of my people to leave me behind when a mission goes south."
Rodney nodded, pulling his desk chair over besides the bed to sit at last. He could not refute that this was something Colonel Sheppard would know a thing or two about and so gave him his full attention.
"With the marines it's pretty simple," he explained. "I give an order and they follow it, whatever it is, as long as it's a legal order. That includes an order that may result in my own death. It's a different deal with civilians, though. Strictly speaking, we're supposed to treat all civilians as equal to or greater in rank, and they don't have to follow orders, so I need a different policy for them."
"Naturally," said Rodney, growing impatient again.
"Now most good commanders have another, less formal policy for issues like this, and it's one I personally hold to. That policy is that you don't order anyone to do something that you wouldn't do yourself. If I expect my people to leave me in the field when I tell them to, then I also have to trust that if someone under my command says it's not safe to come back for them, then I have to leave them. That's the way these things have to work. It's a little more complicated with the civilians, but I've found that I can still apply that standard."
"But how do you do that?" Rodney asked, honestly wanting to know with all his heart.
"Granted, a lot of the civilian science staff here would never tell me to leave them behind, and hopefully they'll never have to make that decision, but if they did, I know I could. Likewise, I'd expect them to leave me if I told them to, and most of them would. There are certain exceptions though." Sheppard paused to draw a breath, shifting uneasily on Rodney's bed.
"A while back I got to wondering what you'd do if we got into a sticky situation and I ever had to tell you to leave me behind. I figured out pretty quick that the odds weren't very good that you'd obey."
"Well, of course not..." Rodney responded.
Sheppard gave a wry smile. "Exactly," he said, "but then I had to ask myself what would happen if our positions were reversed, if you ever told me to leave you behind on a mission -which isn't out of the question, I know- and well... I realized I'd never be able to do it either."
"Yeah... well," Rodney didn't really know what to say, didn't want to admit to the warm feeling that this confession engendered.
"What it comes down to in the end, Rodney," Sheppard explained, "is that there are some things I'm never going to ask you to do, as much as I might want to, because it wouldn't be fair or right. If I can't do something myself then I have no business asking you. This all making sense?"
"Sure," said Rodney uncertainly, not because he had any trouble following Sheppard's logic, but because he was beginning to have an idea of where it was going.
"Now what it looks like from where I'm sitting," Sheppard carried on,"is that you've given Radek standing orders to leave you behind if things get sticky, which is all well and good, and he's been perfectly agreeable until the shit hit the fan last week. Then he folded, and disregarded his orders, in spite of knowing there'd be hell to pay with you."
Rodney nodded, eyes downcast, knowing what was coming next.
"The thing is, Rodney," Sheppard continued relentlessly, "have you ever considered what you would have done if your places were reversed? If Radek had the ATA gene and you didn't, and he'd gotten himself infected with these nanocites? If you had to sit and watch him suffer, and knew what those things were doing to his mind, right in front of your eyes?" Sheppard's voice went a trifle unsteady for a moment. "Rodney, if Radek had made you promise to walk away and get on with your life, could you really have done that?"
With dismay, Rodney felt the battering ram of Sheppard's irrefutable logic utterly destroy his flimsy palace of rationalizations and the ruins came tumbling down all around him. "Oh god," he whispered brokenly, lowering his face into his hands. "Oh god, I've been an unforgivable bastard."
He was vaguely aware of Sheppard moving off the bed but was still surprised to feel his arm lay gently over his shoulders.
"Oh, I wouldn't say 'unforgivable' exactly," he said gently. "You do still have some friends here Rodney, and even I'd say the problem was still fixable at this point."
"Carson hates me," Rodney sighed miserably. "He has every right to, and I've lost Elizabeth's respect, too. This has got to be my worst screw up ever."
"Carson doesn't hate you," Sheppard said, his kindness tinted with exasperation, which Rodney actually found more comforting than the kindness. "It only seems that way because he's been Radek's shoulder to cry on for the past couple of days. And I just had a little talk with Elizabeth, set her straight about a few things. She gets you, Rodney, but there's some issues that I tend to get a little closer to than she does. You get things sorted out with Radek and I guarantee you, you won't have lost a thing with her, maybe even gained a little."
Rodney raised his head to look over at Sheppard. "Really?" he asked, cringing at how pathetic he sounded. "Thanks... a lot," he said a moment later, feeling a tiny bit of the despair that lay over him lifting.
"No problem, Rodney," Sheppard said, hand squeezing his shoulder for a brief moment. "I'm happy to help you get things straightened out with Radek, too, if you'll let me."
The thought of facing Radek suddenly had Rodney close to tears. "Oh god, if Radek hasn't figured out by now that he's better off without me than he's nowhere near as smart as I though he was," he confessed, despairing.
Sheppard stepped away at last, his expression growing exasperated again. "Rodney, like I told you, the man still cares for you -can't seem to stop, in fact- but if I hear any more of you being all noble and 'not good enough' I am so going to go up-side your head."
"How did I guess that your idea of 'helping' would constitute threats of physical violence?" Rodney said, rolling his eyes.
"Listen," said Sheppard, patience clearly fraying, "Carson's been hearing nothing but 'I'm not good enough for Rodney' from Radek for the last two days and if we have to listen to the same song from the both of you then I'm going to go with my first impulse and have Ronon pick the two of you up and smack your fool heads together."
"Again with the threats of violence!" Rodney objected. "But may I take if from your mention of a first impulse that there have been subsequent ones?"
"As it happens," Sheppard relied, "I've taken Carson's advice on this and am joining him in proposing a meeting, on neutral territory, between you and Radek, with the two of us serving as chaperones. We won't be listening in, we'll just be there to make sure you're not interrupted, and to be on hand in case you need a... referee. Also to make sure no one makes a break for it till everything's all sorted out."
"Great," said Rodney, in his best 'I'm doomed' voice.
"You got a better idea, I'm all ears," Sheppard prompted unhelpfully.
"No, of course not," answered Rodney, resigned to his fate. "Just promise me that if Radek really wants to shoot me that you'll give him your gun and let him."
The meeting was arranged for the next day, after breakfast. Rodney met the Colonel in his office as Radek would meet Carson in his, and both parties would make their way to the secluded balcony they'd chosen for the meeting. The previous day's rain had let up, thankfully, but it was still gray and foggy out, and a bit chill. Rodney had made up a thermos of hot coffee to take with him, as much to keep the chill off himself, and to have something to do with his hands as a peace offering. Still, he'd brought two cups with him and he'd fixed it the way Radek liked it, with no cream or sugar, though Rodney generally took both.
His first glance from Carson, one hand resting protectively over Radek's shoulder as they stepped out onto the balcony, was cold enough to freeze the blood in Rodney's veins, but the doctor held his gaze for another moment, evidently reading the honest remorse and humility on Rodney's face, and his look softened. Rodney swallowed and cast his eyes down. He had so much to lose here, and so much to regain.
There was a small table with two chairs at the middle of the balcony, and the two scientists made their way to it reluctantly as Carson and the Colonel slipped back to stand at the doorway. Radek sat first, not meeting Rodney's eyes, and Rodney quickly followed, awkwardly pushing the thermos and mugs to the center of the table as he did so. Neither of them could find anything to say at first and so Rodney poured himself a cup, offering the other to Radek as he did.
He saw Radek start to shake his head automatically, but then he must have seen that there was no cream in the coffee for he paused.
"Sugar?" he asked, seeming a bit perplexed. Rodney shook his head and Radek accepted the cup. "Thank you," Radek said, holding it between his hands as if to warm them, just as Rodney was doing. The two of them spent some time over their respective cups, though Radek drank a bit more of his than Rodney did, and then, as though he had drawn some portion of courage from it, Radek lifted his head and spoke, though he still did not meet Rodney's eyes directly.
"Very well," he said, his voice barely steady, "I shall try to make this as simple as possible. I know it would be most convenient if I could leave Atlantis, and I would if I were able, but I am not. That being case, I will try to stay out of your way as much as I can. Is a big city; should not be too difficult to make myself scarce. Perhaps Atlantis can help me find some very time consuming project on far end of one of the piers."
Rodney found himself clutching at his coffee cup tighter and tighter as he listened to Radek's words. He couldn't not meet the man's eyes and when he finally did he saw how deep the wounds lay, saw the dark circles left by too many sleepless nights behind the glasses, and the lines of worry etched around his mouth. Rodney felt his face flush with shame and felt an unaccustomed heat behind his eyes, coupled with a painful knot obstructing his throat.
He made only the feeblest attempt to hold his tears back. Dignity, Rodney reflected, is for people with self respect, and at the moment he didn't really have any at all.
"Stop it, dammit," he muttered brokenly past the lump in his throat. "Just... just stop it. You're not the one who screwed up here, Radek, I am."
"What?" Rodney did not think he had ever seen Radek look so utterly lost.
"What did I just say?" Rodney snapped, frustration showing even through the tears in his voice. "Look," he went on when he realized that there was no avoiding having to spell it out, step by excruciating step. "I know you think that what I asked you agree to was reasonable. I thought it was too, but I... I've been confronted with certain... realities recently, had certain... insights, and ah... it turns out that I've... I've made a really bad, bad mistake." Rodney lost control of his voice for a moment here and, blinking through his tears, he saw the glaze of exhausted resignation slip away from Radek's eyes.
"Rodney?" he asked, brows drawn together in a troubled frown. "What are you talking about?"
"Radek," he confessed with a sniffle, "I never had the right to ask you not to do anything... with regard to me. Never had any business demanding that you promise... to walk away if there's nothing you can do to save me without putting yourself at risk. Trying to hold you to that promise was... unbelievably cruel and unrealistic."
"Rodney," Radek said tiredly. If Rodney hadn't already been crying, the stubbornly resigned look on Radek's face as he spoke now would have started him. "You have every right to demand that I respect your fears. That is what I promised, and that is the promise I broke when I allowed myself to be infected with nanocites. I knew what the cost of breaking that promise would be."
"And where's the part where I respect your fears?" Rodney countered vehemently. "I know perfectly well how terrified you are of ending up in charge of the Science Division here. Shouldn't I have promised that I wouldn't ever let that happen?"
"You can't make that promise, Rodney," Radek answered, too reasonably. "No one could."
"But you don't find anything unreasonable about the promise you made?" Rodney tried, starting to feel a little desperate.
"I am accountable for my own actions," Radek answered, intractably. "That is all I promised."
Rodney rubbed at his eyes, struggling to hold an awful sense of futility at bay. Sorrow and guilt were playing havoc with his intellectual faculties, Radek's as well, he imagined. He just had to keep at it, Rodney resolved, bolstered by the thought that Carson and Sheppard, waiting just inside, would not let them give up easily.
"Okay," he said, starting on a new tack, "we've both been operating on the assumption that there was a logical reason, a... rational basis for the... recent unpleasantness between us, yes?"
"I understand that there are certain... emotional risks," Radek said after a moment, staring intently into his coffee cup, "which you deem too dangerous, given your importance to this mission. I... I do not disagree with this assessment."
"So you'd say that my recent behavior," Rodney had to work some to keep his voice steady here, "is justified, on the basis that it serves to put some emotional distance between us, in order to reduce the chances of those kinds of... emotional risks, and that it's not just me being a vindictive bastard because you scared the crap out of me."
"I understand why things need to be the way they are now, Rodney," Radek said with a sigh. "You do not need to explain this to me."
Rodney wanted to pull his hair out, appalled at how Radek's ordinarily quick mind was just not catching on.
"Can you forget about why, for just a minute, Radek," he said, "and just tell me this: does it seem to be working?"
"I... I don't know what you mean." It was so wrong to see Radek looking so lost. Rodney wanted to reach across the table, take him by the shoulders and shake him, but took hold of himself instead to explain it as simply as possible.
"All of these recent measures, me being a bastard, not talking to you..." he enumerated acidly. "Has it actually made you care any less about me? Because it hasn't done jack shit for me. Oh, except for making me feel like the lowest form of life in two galaxies."
Radek shook his head slowly, beginning at last, Rodney hoped, to see the stupidity of it all. "I... it is hard to say," Radek answered eventually.
"Well, let's look at a hypothetical situation, shall we," Rodney forged ahead relentlessly, his voice steadying as he got into meat of his argument, even as he carefully chose the unpleasant words necessary to frame it. "Lets say we both walk out of here and agree never to speak to each other again. Now imagine six months or a year go by and the Wraith or the Genii or some new horror attack Atlantis and I end up stepping in front of a bullet, or better still, a Wraith, to save you. Radek, would that really be any easier to take because we decided to split up here?"
Radek still would not meet his eyes when he looked up for an answer, but instead turned his gaze out to sea to stare intently into the distance, his mouth set in a fierce frown, and said nothing.
"And since this whole logical house of cards is supposed to be about me maintaining my sanity for the good of all Atlantis," Rodney continued after a moment, working to keep his voice firm and hard as he spoke, "let's try the alternative scenario. Say you take a bullet for me. You'd be perfectly free to, not being bound by any further promises. But see, the thing is, I'm just not seeing how me being a total bastard to you during the last few months we had together would make me any less likely to lose it completely if that ever happened. In fact... I'm seeing it have more like the opposite effect, when you come right down to it. And if that's the case," Rodney paused to drive home his point. "If that's the case, then why the hell are we putting each other through this?"
Blinking away the fresh tears that had come unbidden with his last words, Rodney looked over at Radek again, to find the man still staring fixedly at the horizon, but he was blinking a little too much, and his hand on the table had curled into a frustrated fist. Rodney waited, feeling the chill ocean breeze dry the new tears on his face, one part of him understanding exactly how and why the evaporation of the moisture on his face drew away yet more of the negligible warmth there, another part of him exalting, irrationally, in the justness of his discomfort.
After an interminable spell, Radek slowly redirected his gaze towards Rodney, though it seemed as if a battle had been waged in order to achieve this result. There was a battle being waged still, behind the wire bound lenses masking Radek's eyes, but now, at last, Radek was letting him see, meeting Rodney's gaze directly for the first time since he'd woken free of the nanocites. There was such a muddle of things to be seen in Radek's expression, Rodney hardly knew what to make of it, but amidst the storm of emotions visible in Radek's face Rodney could swear that he saw one thing at least that he could identify.
Mixed in with the fear, despair, hurt and the tumult of other feelings revealed in Radek's pale blue eyes, Rodney was certain that he was seeing, at last, a faint glimmer of hope.
8. Taken on Faith
Mercifully, Atlantis was perfectly content to remain quietly in the background during all his dealings with Rodney. She'd finally finished with her introductory download yesterday, and since then Radek had been wrangling with her over what kinds of things he needed to be updated on and when, but overall she'd been much less of a constant presence. She seemed... put off, perhaps, by the occasional intrusion of his unhappiness with Rodney. Any strong emotions on his part, Radek was discovering, seemed to cause her to retreat, as though they made her uncomfortable. Radek, therefore, had his mind practically to himself as he had made his way to the balcony to meet with his former lover.
He had come to this meeting determined to remain steadfast. He had argued with Carson against the meeting, certain that things would be more easily worked out if the two of them didn't have to face each other. It was no secret that both Carson and the Colonel wanted the two of them to come back together, but Radek was resolved that this not happen, even if, as he suspected might occur, Rodney began to waver when brought to meet with him in person.
Facing Rodney was no easy thing for him either, but of the two of them, Radek knew that he had the strength to make sure that they both did the right thing. He'd already failed Rodney once, possibly twice, but he would not do so again.
The reason he needed to stay strong had been revealed to him during the events which had first brought them together. He had seen then how deeply terrified Rodney was of seeing another friend sacrifice their lives on his behalf, as Radek had nearly done on that occasion. He had promised Rodney and himself then that he would not let that happen, would not succumb to the temptation if it presented itself again.
He'd known that it would not be easy, but Radek had vowed to himself that upon the day that he discovered he was not strong enough to keep Rodney safe from this eventuality, then he would absent himself, for Rodney's own good. He'd known that there was a fair chance that Rodney would want to forgive him, would tell him to forget the promise he'd made because being apart hurt too much. Radek was positive, however, that it was much better to stick to the decisions he'd made long ago, in the cold, sober light of day, than to change his mind now, when his feelings were so raw, and it was so hard to think clearly at all. He would not listen to logic he could not parse clearly. He would not listen at all.
It was very difficult indeed to hold to his resolve as he watched Rodney give way to tears, though it was not too hard to ignore Rodney's ill stated and rambling logic. It was when Rodney began to speak of realities, though, that Radek finally began to feel his own resolve weaken. His logical faculties might be a basket case, but Radek could not help but see the truth in the awful scenarios Rodney laid out. All of Radek's logic and resolve could not command his heart, it seemed, any more than Rodney, with all his vast intellect, could command his.
Frowning as he stared out to sea, Radek contended unhappily with the truth that his promise had been foolish, his resolve futile, and found himself wishing petulantly for a world that made sense, and that could be managed as neatly as he'd hoped to manage it. It was when he realized how wretchedly stupid that last wish had been that the tireless voice, which Radek had been telling repeatedly to shut up for the last few days, piped up once more, and Radek was too undone to tell it to shut up again.
You idiot, the voice said, this means you can have him back; you can go to him now and hold him like you want to, because he's crying again, like his heart is broken into a million little pieces, and you know you're the only one who can make it right, and he's the only one who can make you right too.
Still angry at his intellect for its spectacular failings, Radek felt his fist clench where it lay on the table top, but the battle was already lost. Helpless, in the end, to resist the voice -the voice of his heart, it would seem- Radek looked up at last to meet Rodney's eyes, awash in tears once again, and let them work their way with him.
Never had he been able to ignore Rodney's suffering, and never had he seen Rodney suffering as he did now. It was nothing new to him, or to anyone else who knew Rodney, that he was, more often than not, his own worst enemy, but never had Radek seen that enmity amplified to such a level vile self loathing. It was with horror that Radek realized that the man sitting across from him was perhaps only a few steps away from doing himself real harm.
He was up and moving before he knew it, stepping around the table to take Rodney in his arms and pull him close, murmuring, "Ne, ne, miláčku. Is all right now. Will be all right."
Rodney sobbed aloud, grasping at Radek's shirt with terrified strength as he returned Radek's embrace, and Radek wrapped his arms around his lover with all his own strength, feeling Rodney shuddering as he wept. It was a measure of just how hard Rodney was crying that it took several minutes before he found his voice, but when he did Radek saw how much he needed it. It was with his words that Rodney could finally release the poisonous reservoir of disgust and self loathing that had been eating at his soul for the past few days, and even Radek astonished to hear how deep it went.
"Oh, god..." Rodney choked out at last. "Oh, god, Radek..."
Radek tried to hush him, rocking the man in his arms to comfort him, but Rodney was nowhere near ready to be comforted.
"I hurt you," he wailed. "I hurt you and I kept hurting you and I knew..." Rodney's words dissolved into hiccuping sobs for a moment and Radek moved his hand to massage Rodney's back between his shoulder blades in an attempt to still them.
"I knew it was wrong," he cried at last. "I knew and I didn't stop. I didn't... I kept telling myself it was for the best but I knew... Oh god Radek, I knew it was wrong. Why didn't I stop it? Why couldn't I stop?"
Now Radek felt hot tears on his own face, though he was aware of some small part of him that was content to know that for every slight Rodney had dealt Radek he had wounded himself more deeply still. It was enough to know that Rodney would never make this particular mistake again.
"Hush, miláčku," he said again, his own voice now rough with weeping. "We both thought it was for best. We have both been very foolish."
"But you..." Rodney sobbed, "you were never... so awful, so hateful..."
"No," Radek soothed gently, his voice full of sorrow and regret. "No, but I let you be. I let you, and that was no better."
They fell silent for a while after that, content to hold each other and let their tears fall on each other's shoulders. After a time, however, the ocean breeze shifted, bringing a chill drizzle with it, and compelling them, at last, to abandon the balcony.
Carson and Sheppard had slipped away by the time the two scientists, still holding tight to one another, stepped back inside. Rodney's quarters, the ones they tended to share more often, were closest, and so they made their way there without the need for discussion. If they passed anyone in the corridors as they went, neither of them noticed.
The weather had rendered them both cold and moist before they'd managed to remove themselves from its reach and Radek could feel Rodney shivering against him as they entered his quarters. He guided them into the bathroom and proceeded to gently remove Rodney's clothing, dropping the wet garments carelessly onto the floor.
"We want a shower," Radek said in response to Rodney's questioning noise, "a hot one, yes?"
"Okay," Rodney murmured, too compliant still, and much too vulnerable. He did begin to remove Radek's clothing in turn, however, which Radek thought a good sign. He made the water very hot and pulled them both under the spray where it instantly swept away the chill on their skins and went to work erasing their deeper chills with great effectiveness.
At first they merely leaned against each other and let the water pour over their heads, letting the principles of thermodynamics move the heat from the water into their chilled and tired bodies. Enclosed in his arms, Rodney begin to relax at last, in increments, and Radek could feel him shudder every so often as another muscle group or joint finally let go. Radek sighed in pleasure and relief as Rodney's hands finally began to move, slowly caressing his back and shoulders.
Rodney drew back a little then, to take Radek's face between his hands and gazed at him, eyes full of love and fear and desire and sorrow.
"So precious," he murmured as his fingers stroked Radek's cheeks and jaw. "God I love you so much, Radek."
Rodney's voice was broken, desperate and brought back to Radek's memory words he had spoken long ago, in the same frightened voice.
"Can't ever let you die for me." Rodney had confessed then, "Would so lose it... Like, rubber room lose it.
The words had frightened Radek then, as Rodney had been frightened speaking them, and Radek understood too well now what it was that Rodney feared, having twice done terrifyingly stupid and dangerous things to save himself from losing Rodney. The way Radek Zelenka had always dealt with fear was to think of a way to do what he could to prevent what he feared, but it had been very, very foolish indeed to have ever thought that simply walking away would ever mitigate the feelings Rodney had for him.
It was much too late now, had been too late the day Rodney rescued him from the Wraith dart, and had probably been too late long before then. They were too perfect for each other. Radek had never imagined that he would love anyone the way he loved Rodney McKay, much less that anyone might love him back with equal measure. Having so much meant that losing it would be bad though, and today they had both learned that there wasn't anything they could do to make it less bad, as much as they wanted there to be. This misadventure with Atlantis' nanocites had given them both a bad scare, and the specter of that awfulness, the possibility of loss, and the inevitability of the pain that would accompany it, still haunted them both.
Now, though, Radek thought to himself, eyes closed as Rodney's fingers traced the contours of his face, now they had each other and the extraordinary passion that they shared. Now was the time to remember that what they'd found, when they'd found each other, was a treasure that only the most fortunate are accorded.
"Ah, miláčku," Radek sighed, "never did I think I would love anyone as I do you. Never in all my life did I hope to find such a love."
Rodney pulled him close again, nuzzling his neck and shoulder, his hands moving lovingly over Radek's body. Radek let his own hands wander low to feel Rodney's perfectly rounded ass under his fingers, then reached up to run those fingers through his short, soft hair.
Radek loved washing Rodney's hair, and Rodney, he'd noted (though he'd never said this aloud), loved it when he did. It was not too far, in the close space of the shower stall, for Radek to reach the shampoo, and in moments he was massaging the lather into Rodney's scalp and Rodney was humming contentedly into his shoulder.
There was a sort of a routine to their more amorous showers that began with Radek washing Rodney's hair and, as he had hoped, Rodney soon began to follow along. They soaped and washed each other with pleasure, touching and tasting as they went, and continued to do so as they left the shower and toweled each other dry. They were, perhaps, a bit less exuberant than they'd been on past occasions, and both continued to seek reassurance as they touched one another, each still haunted and too recently in pain.
Rodney, in particular, seemed hesitant as the two of them sat on the edge of his bed, damp, naked and half hard. He reached across to lift Radek's face to his with one hand, running his thumb over Radek's lips and then paused, uncertainty mixed with the desire in his eyes.
"I want... " he began and then swallowed, almost painfully. "Is it safe... to kiss you?"
Radek could not give him a simple answer, and he knew that Rodney would not want one, though he would not like the answer Radek would give him either.
"You will have to trust her," he said. "My saliva is only ninety nine point nine eight percent free of nanocites, Carson has confirmed. You must trust that she will not take you, because she does not need anyone else, and because she knows that it will serve neither you nor her, but I can not give you any guarantees."
"I trust you," Rodney said, trying to work it through.
"I am not the one who controls the nanocites, Rodney," Radek clarified.
"No, but you trust Atlantis," answered Rodney.
"I do not really have much of a choice," Radek pointed out.
"Yes you do," Rodney replied with conviction. "You might not be able to get rid of the nanocites, but you wouldn't trust... uh, her... if it wasn't safe, and you wouldn't let me trust her either."
Radek thought about this for a moment. "You may have a point," he said at last.
"Look," Rodney explained, "you know how hard the whole trust thing is for me. I need to get to know... her... a little better, but it'll take time."
"You know her better than you think," said Radek with a smile.
"Yeah, but I didn't know I knew her," Rodney insisted, "know what I mean?"
"She knows you quite well," Radek added, his smile growing more mischievous.
"Okay, you know what?" Rodney decided, "I'm just going to kiss you and to hell with it."
Radek was grinning widely when Rodney's lips met his, and then he was falling in love all over again because it had been way too long since the last time they'd kissed for real and he'd forgotten, as unbelievable as that seemed. He'd forgotten how much he loved Rodney's mouth, not just when he was imparting brilliance with it, and not just for that crooked, brave half smile, but for the way it was hungry for Radek's mouth and for how it made him hungry for it in turn. After so long they were both ravenous.
Radek was not sure just who had pushed whom back onto the bed, though it was possibly also a joint effort, but now they were both prone on the bed, legs hanging over the edge, Rodney bent over Radek, kissing the breath out of him, and Radek was running his hands down Rodney's chest. He smiled into the kiss as he found Rodney's nipples and then pinched them both at the same time without warning.
Rodney gasped and yelped, lifting his head and allowing Radek to pull them both all the way up onto the bed. Now, Radek wrapped his arms around the wide, solid body of his lover, pressing him close, hooking one leg around Rodney's to pull him closer still.
They both cried aloud as their two hard cocks were pressed between them and their two bodies thrust and moved against one another. Radek struggled, for a moment, with the temptation of immediate gratification versus the more fulfilling possibility of the far greater pleasure to be had by waiting, but was spared having to make the decision himself as Rodney had made his own decision.
"Want to taste you," he growled, disentangling himself from Radek's limbs and shifting his body lower. Rodney tasted and nuzzled and sniffed his way down Radek's furry torso until he came to his erect and eager cock and paused there for an anticipatory moment.
"This is me, trusting, see?" he said softly, whether to Radek or to Atlantis it was not clear, but a moment later the question was driven right out of Radek's mind as Rodney licked the length of his rigid flesh, from root to crown, and then engulfed it in the hungry, wet heat of his multi talented mouth.
Radek swore in Czech and arched into his lover, and Rodney took him in, sucking and tonguing him with relish. Within moments Radek was writhing helplessly on the bed, rejoicing in body, mind and soul to be rendered thus by his lover once again. How he could ever have thought that any good would be served by putting an end to this Radek did not know, but he did know now that he'd never make such a mistake again.
Rodney seemed to be harboring similar thoughts. "God I love doing this to you," he murmured, lifting his mouth away from Radek's cock for a moment to regard him, moaning and wantonly begging for more in a language Rodney did not need to know the vocabulary of to understand.
"Want more do you?" he asked now, voice breathy with anticipation. Radek could not say how Rodney's vague gestures, as he rose onto his knees, communicated that he wanted Radek to sit up and scoot back to where he could rest his back on the bed's headboard, but Radek knew this unquestionably and complied. When he had, Rodney came up to kneel, straddling Radek's thighs, reaching out to run his hands through Radek's hair. Rodney's cock, full and dark and succulent to Radek's eye, now offered itself, within easy reach of Radek's lips.
"Ano, yes, prosím, prosím..." Radek took pride in never getting his languages muddled, save for moments like this, when he just didn't care. There was no purer language than the one he and Rodney shared, without speaking, in these moments. Rodney's throaty, "Yes..." was no command, but a cry of exaltation and anticipation as Radek lowered his head to press his lips to the head of Rodney's cock.
Eyes closed with pleasure, Radek passed the tip of his tongue along the slit, tasting Rodney's precum and feeling his lover shiver in response, not only to the sensations, but to the knowledge that Radek was tasting him -a forbidden pleasure only a few days ago. Now he drew the head only into his mouth, swirling his tongue around the edge, smiling around the flesh in his mouth as Rodney cried, "Yes, fuck yes, oh fuck yes!"
Radek let himself enjoy tonguing and sucking at Rodney's cockhead until he felt Rodney's hands both come to hold his head, one of them starting to clutch at his hair. Then he knew it was time to move on, gradually taking more and more of the rigid column of flesh into his mouth, and eventually opening his throat to take it all. Rodney, Radek knew, would eventually lose his words altogether (as would he, truth be told), but before that happened, the number of words at his command would be reduced to around four, which was about where they were now.
"Oh god, oh fuck, ohfuck, Radek!" Rodney wailed as Radek enveloped the full length of Rodney's cock with his mouth, then began to fuck it, slowly and intently. It was too easy for Radek to get lost in moments like this, feeling Rodney's hard flesh moving back and forth over his lips and tongue, moving in and out of his throat, sucking it and caressing it as it passed.
Desperately, Radek felt one of Rodney's hands let go of its fistful of his hair, trembling as it took one of Radek's from where it rested on his hip, and guided it back beneath him, between his legs, toward his opening. Message received, loud and clear, Radek moaned in pleasant anticipation around Rodney's cock, reaching with his other hand to the night stand, where they kept the lube.
"Fuck. Me!" Rodney sobbed aloud as Radek's lube slicked finger circled Rodney's opening tantalizingly. Sometimes, Radek had learned over the years, this was a command, sometimes merely an exclamation. In this case he suspected, it was both.
Obligingly, Radek pressed the first finger in, needing to caress the tight ring of muscle there for a moment only before it was ready for a second finger, then a third. Rodney was whimpering with need as he slowly pulled Radek's head away from where he continued to pleasure Rodney's cock. Radek knew what was coming next and so complied without hesitation.
With his hands at Rodney's hip and his own cock, Radek helped guide Rodney up and onto his ready flesh, steadying them both as Rodney sank down to impale himself on Radek's hard shaft.
"Still... oh god!... still trusting here, Radek," Rodney moaned, eyes shut tight as he felt Radek move inside him.
"Ano, miláčku, ano, ano..." Radek murmured, breaths coming shallow and rapid as he felt Rodney's tight passage caressing his own rigid cock, felt himself enclosed in Rodney's heat. One had grasping Rodney's hip with bruising strength, the other fisting the bedcloths, Radek held himself still for as long as he could, the sounds of his and Rodney's panting breaths the only thing marring that moment of stillness.
They both broke at the same moment, Rodney lifting his hips ever so slightly, Radek pushing his down into the mattress. With these two small motions a sort of harmonic loop was established, a rhythm of lifting and pushing, thrusting and impaling, that propelled their two bodies in a seemingly unbreakable cycle. Hips lifting brought about flesh penetrating, which in turn resulted in other hips lifting, flesh drawing out, and then plunging back in, hips being pressed once again down into the bed and then lifting, thrusting, and the whole cycle began again, and again, and again...
Self contained, self fulfilling, they'd become a perpetual motion machine and there was no stopping it -not that anyone wanted to. Admittedly, grasping Rodney's saliva slick cock with his own still lube smeared hand was tantamount to throwing a spanner in the works, but Radek was an engineer and knew perfectly well that there was no such thing as real perpetual motion, and that therefore the thing was doomed to go off the rails at some point anyway. Rodney certainly didn't complain.
He did make a very loud and incoherent sound, but it didn't seem like any kind of complaint to Radek. Rodney's increasingly falsetto yelps came in rhythm with Radek's hand stroking his cock, which, in turn, worked with the rhythm of their thrusting, which was the engine behind Radek's harsh and panting breaths.
They moved through the cycle two, three, four more times before Rodney broke the sound barrier (as he was wont to do) and Radek felt his pulsing release between his fingers. He felt that pulsing too as Rodney's body convulsed around his enclosed flesh, seizing it, caressing it and then Radek was off, crying out wordlessly in his ecstasy.
He was only vaguely aware of Rodney slipping off of him to collapse bonelessly at his side, inattentive of the long minutes that passed as the two of them lay in post coital languor, but Radek did begin to take note when he thought he felt Rodney trembling. He was curled at Radek's side, eyes shut tight as he clutched at Radek's arm where it lay over his body.
"Rodney?" he called softy, "miláčku?"
"So many ways we could lose this as it is," he heard Rodney all but whisper, "and we almost threw it away."
"Is one of the many reasons we need to keep our friends, you know," Radek said with a gentle smile. "I do not think that John or Carson, or even Dr. Weir would ever let us be so foolish."
"Yeah," said Rodney thoughtfully, tremors subsiding as he rolled to lie with his head resting on Radek's chest. "John threatened to send Ronon after us."
"Did he," remarked Radek with a smile. They rested in a pleasant, sated silence for a moment longer and then Rodney spoke again.
"If I told you," he began, sounding a little reluctant, "how incredibly grateful I am that you managed to get those things out of my head, that wouldn't... encourage you to... do anything else crazy like that, would it?"
"Ordinarily," Radek answered after a thoughtful moment, "I would say that nothing in the world would encourage me to do anything of the sort, but as we have seen, there is one thing that may induce me to behave in a most irresponsible and unaccountable manner. There is nothing, I think, that could possibly make me less likely to act as I have done on some few occasion, but then I do not think that there is anything that would make me any more likely to behave like an irresponsible idiot, either."
"Fair enough, I guess," said Rodney. "I am, though, really, really grateful, Radek. Because... going crazy... was always scared I'd end up like that... too smart, not sane enough... not strong enough..."
"Rodney," Radek said quietly, holding his lover close, "I have never met anyone so strong as you."
"Really?" Rodney was strong, Radek was certain of that, but there was a vulnerability to Rodney too that he heard at such moments and Radek wanted nothing more than to hold him and protect him when he heard Rodney's voice the way it was now.
"Truth, miláčku," answered Radek, "and there is something else that I also wish you to know. It was a very great risk to take Atlantis' nanocites, and I would have done it so save you alone, but there was something else I hoped for that I wanted very much, and this I have achieved as well."
Radek saw now that he had succeeded in drawing Rodney away from the contemplation of his fears and towards his curiosity, which was where the man belonged, without a doubt. He pulled himself up to lie next to Radek, then moved over to lean against him as they had done in the infirmary. "Yeah?" he asked, eyes alight with interest and affection.
"I will confess now," Radek began, "that I have not always been so... philosophical about not having ATA gene, as I might have seemed." He felt Rodney's smile against his cheek and smiled in return.
"I have always loved Atlantis," he continued wistfully, "even when I did not know that there was a... being there, and not just wonderfully complex network of interactive systems. I wanted so much to be able to know her better, and I knew gene would let me... but then it did not work. Imagine, Rodney, if gene therapy had not worked for you, but had worked for me. How would you have felt?"
Rodney wrapped his arms around him, drawing him closer still. "I did wonder," Rodney commented. "You seemed awfully sanguine about it."
"Benefits of Slavic character," Radek explained with a sigh. "When one always expects worst, disappointments come with less sting."
"Still," Rodney said, "you hid it well."
"You were so very pleased with yourself, when you got gene," Radek said, "I did not wish to... rain on your parade? Also, it was real pleasure to see how much you enjoyed your new abilities."
"Radek," Rodney asked, real puzzlement showing in his voice, "how did anyone as incorrigibly nice as you fall in love with an ass like me?"
"Am a sucker for a pretty face? Especially ones that come with genius brain," Radek chuckled. "And just because I hide feelings better does not mean that I do not have them. Many times I have been frustrated, angry, even jealous... but then I finally learn about Atlantis' nanocites. At last I see a way for me to access city, to know so many of the things I wish to know, and best of all I am able to have these things because I do not have ATA gene. You can, I hope, see the attraction?"
"Sure," said Rodney. "So... how is that working out now? You don't seem distracted like you did before."
Radek could not hold in the joyous grin that Rodney's question evoked. "You will not be jealous, I hope?" he began.
"Not if there's no reason to be," Rodney answered cautiously. "Is there?"
"Even if there were not many things that you can give me that she cannot," said Radek kindly, "there would always be special place for you in my heart. I will always love you, Rodney. I think we have just finished proving that there is nothing we can do to change that, even when we thought we wanted to."
"Good point," said Rodney, mollified, "so, okay. Not jealous."
"Rodney, I am in love again," Radek said with a happy sigh. "She is everything I have ever wished for... in an incredibly complex network of technological systems. I am able to access systems that Colonel Sheppard does not even know about."
"Wow..." Rodney mused, proving to Radek that he too, in spite of his protestations, was just as capable of taking joy in someone else's good fortune as Radek was. "I bet you could even use the chair."
"Is possible," Radek said thoughtfully. "Will have to investigate. There are so many things to investigate, Rodney." There was an almost voracious note to his voice as he said this, and he heard Rodney chuckle.
"Glad to know that something good came out of this disaster," he said.
"In truth," Radek said cautiously, "I am glad, in a way, that you were as foolish as you were. I do not think that you or Carson would ever have let me take Atlantis' nanocites under any other circumstances, and I never would have had this."
"Carson wouldn't have let you infect yourself with those nanocites even then," Rodney pointed out. "He told me you did it without his permission."
"Is true," Radek admitted, "and still I was very much afraid."
"But you did the right thing," Rodney reassured him, "which is more than I can say for myself."
"You did the right thing too," Radek countered, "at the end. Carson tried to convince me that we were being foolish, but you were only one who could have, and you did."
"God we were stupid," Rodney murmured. "How can we be as smart as we're supposed to be and still be that stupid?"
"Is not so much of a surprise, when you think about it," Radek mused after a moment. "You and I, Rodney, all our lives we are trained to listen to head and not heart. Always we are told, emotions make one stupid, make for foolish decisions which, in physics and engineering is very good advice."
"Not so good for dealing with people... especially people you love, though, is it?" said Rodney.
"But did you really think that you would ever need to worry about that?" Radek asked. "I think of this. If someone had told me, twenty years ago, here are four things that will happen to you in future: you will become expert in reverse engineering advanced alien technology; you will travel to another galaxy to live and work; you will live in ten thousand year old city built by aliens so advanced that they evolved into higher life form; you will fall madly in love with your boss, who may actually be a little smarter than you, but will love you as much as you love him. I might accept first three, but the last one... I would hurt myself laughing, you know?"
"Okay, you may have a point," said Rodney a little sheepishly. "But where does that leave us? It's like we're conducting experiments with fissionable materials using a 1959 high school science text."
"Nothing which is beyond either of us, I may point out," Radek commented smugly.
Radek could actually feel Rodney rolling his eyes behind him. "Yes, but this isn't nuclear physics, is it?"
"No," Radek agreed, "but my point, Rodney, is that we are both very smart men and that there is nothing that we do not know which we cannot quickly learn. All that prevents us from learning is thinking that there is nothing for us to know."
Rodney nodded thoughtfully. "All valid points," he said after a moment, "but how and where do we learn how to do this. It's not like we can run experiments or anything."
"Rodney," Radek laughed, "our lives are one big experiment, and for how -when do we learn most in science? When we make mistakes, miláčku; when we make mistakes."
"Huh," Rodney snorted, "on that basis we ought to write a book and go on the road with Dr. Phil."
Radek resisted the urge to hit Rodney with a pillow, mostly because he was lying on it. "Idiot," he said, "is not enough to make mistakes only. If that were the case then Dr. Kavenaugh would be running science section now. What is necessary is to examine mistakes honestly, and learn from this. Is not the easiest thing, but is not beyond us at all."
"God, Radek," Rodney said a moment later, his voice quietly hopeful, "do you really think we can pull this off?"
"So far, so good," Radek answered encouragingly, and then yawned widely. It was not long before Rodney was similarly afflicted.
"Oh now see what you've done," he commented, unsuccessfully attempting to stifle another yawn.
"I do not see difficulty," Radek replied. "We do have rest of the week off, you know." Already he was settling further down on the bed, reaching for covers.
"You want to go to sleep now?" Rodney complained. "It's lunch time."
"Is after lunch time," Radek replied, "and I am sleepy, not hungry." He tugged Rodney down into the bed with him and although he protested, he did not protest much.
"I'm going to wake up starving," he muttered even as he spooned up behind Radek on the bed.
"I believe I am going to wake up with something else on my mind," suggested Radek with a smirk.
"Ah, well," said Rodney, reaching around his lover to hold him securely, "that might prove something of a distraction. Want me to get the lights?"
"I believe I can get them," said Radek, smiling broadly. "Atlantis, please lower lights in Dr. McKay's room." To Radek's profound satisfaction, the lights dimmed almost immediately.
"You don't really need to talk out loud to her, do you?" Rodney asked as Radek felt himself start to relax into sleep, "Because some people are going to think you're nuts, no matter what we tell them."
"Is not necessary," Radek said sleepily, "but sometimes is easier. Also, I am teaching her Czech. Will make it simpler to differentiate who I am speaking to."
"Oh you are so not teaching this city Czech," he heard Rodney's outraged protest, but Radek was already drifting. His lover held close and his city keeping watch, Radek Zelenka knew at last that all was right with his world.
(c) 2007 T. Dancinghands