By Taylor Dancinghands

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.)


Once again, a perfectly pleasant mission had gone terribly wrong, terribly suddenly, with the unexpected appearance in the sky of a single Wraith dart. Rodney had taken Radek along on the trip because as soon as he'd described the ingenious, steam powered, mechanical computer network that the Beldosians had developed, it had become obvious that the little Czech was dying to see it for himself. Rodney, of course, had been foolish enough to indulge him and say yes.

So now they were both running, as fast as their unaccustomed-to-much-physical-activity legs could carry them (though, Rodney admitted to himself, he *had* become, perforce, a bit more fit over the last year or so), headed towards the Stargate, without a hope in hell of reaching it before the Wraith culling beam caught them both up. Rodney had, of course, been here before, but he found the fact the Radek Zelenka was now at risk as well added a new, deeper terror to the fear already injecting massive amounts of adrenaline into his system. It wouldn't be nearly enough though, Rodney knew, to make a difference.

Still, they both tried, with all their hearts, until the awful, awful moment came when Rodney saw the beam coming at them, and coming too fast for them to avoid it. Then, just as it was about to take him, something *really* horrible happened. At the very moment he was certain he was about to stumble into the field, he felt a hard shove, propelling him out of the beam's sweep. He had only the briefest glimpse of the hand that pushed him -Radek's hand- and then he and the beam were gone. Radek had saved him, but had not saved himself.

"No!!" Rodney screamed as he realized what had happened, and then collected himself enough to radio Sheppard.

"It's got Radek!" he cried when he heard the man answer, knowing he would understand the import of his words, but when he heard Sheppard shout, "Dammit!" in reply Rodney understood the import as well. With a forlorn cry of disbelief, Rodney watched the missile one of Sheppard's men had fired moments before clear the tree line, home in unerringly on the fleeing dart, and blow it out of the sky.

Rodney began running again, still without hope, but now he ran towards where he had seen the stricken dart crash. He had no hope of finding the ship intact enough to still retain Radek Zelenka's pattern but at least he could witness with certainty the demise of the best friend he'd probably ever had ... or probably ever *would* have.

Chapter 1

Rodney arrived at the crash sight gasping for breath with aching lungs, his heart pounding so loudly that he could hear little else. When he stumbled to a stop and blinked hard to focus on the state of the wreckage, he felt his heart falter. The smoking ruin of the dart was so thoroughly destroyed that not even the pilot had survived. Rodney could see large pieces of it scattered everywhere in the clearing and if any of them were the matter transportation and storage apparatus then Radek was dead. Sick with dread, he stepped cautiously into the debris field and tried to see if he could identify any part of the wreckage that lay around him.

Moments later Sheppard, with Teyla and Ronin at his heels, came pelting into the crash site. Rodney saw him stagger to a stop and cast his eyes over the debris, and his expression darkened with worry.

"Dammit!" he said again, and then, "Rodney, is there any chance he's still retrievable?"

"Why don't you shut up and let me work and then I'll let you know!" Rodney snapped, hoping he hadn't sounded as panicked as he felt. He'd extracted an Ancient diagnostic device from his pack and was moving among the larger pieces of debris looking for any kind of coherent energy signature, but so far he'd found none. He felt no obligation to restrain his temper and didn't care who's feelings got hurt, but Sheppard seemed to take it in stride, standing back to give him room to work.

Rodney had begun taking his readings with the largest pieces of the wrecked dart, and was now examining, with very little hope, a chunk which was approximately the size of a large desk. He gave it the most cursory scan and was about to move on to the next piece when he realized that he'd gotten a positive reading. Heart hammering and mouth gone dry with terror and hope, Rodney turned back to examine the bit of debris more closely. There *was* an energy pattern being stored there, a coherent one, consistent with their past experience of human energy patterns, but it was faint and the chunk of wreckage it emanated from was no where near large enough to hold the rematerialization mechanism.

Still, it was something. God, it *was* something, Rodney thought, clutching at the Ancient scanner to hide how his hands shook.

"We need to get this back to Atlantis, ASAP!" Rodney barked without preamble. He paused in his work long enough to hear Sheppard call for a jumper, then returned to scanning the rest of the wreckage, terrified lest he overlook something important -the one thing that might make a difference between Radek Zelenka living or dying.


Two hours later, Rodney, the energy emitting chunk of dart, a number of other bits of wreckage he thought might be important and the better part of the engineering staff were all assembled in one of Atlantis' larger labs. In addition, he'd called for a number of larger and far more sophisticated scanners and a handful of technicians was just finishing setting up the largest of them. This would allow Rodney to analyze the energy pattern he'd identified, possibly to confirm that it was Radek's, and to avoid the kind of mistake that Radek had made with him.

Truth be told (though he swore he never would), this whole business was making Rodney feel far more sympathetic about Radek's behavior on that occasion. He'd accused the man of haste, but he knew now that if he'd had any hasty course of action open to him today he'd have taken it. Instead, he had Radek's engineering team pouring over the blueprints they'd made of the Wraith dart culling apparatus which they'd rescued Rodney and Lt. Cadman from some months ago, trying to confirm that they really did have the culling beam's data storage unit. It wasn't easy to tell, but the parts that they had and the blue prints they'd made did seem to be more or less matching up. Unfortunately, they had also discovered that better part of the rematerialization systems seemed to be damaged or just plain missing. This was bad, very bad, but he'd find a way around it. That's what he was supposed to be good at, after all, yes? Of course he'd give his right arm to have Zelenka's expertise about now, and every time he caught himself thinking of things that he wanted to ask the man (which happened with depressing frequency), he found himself subject to a fresh wave of anxiety.

He *needed* Radek Zelenka. Certainly now, but really, nearly all the time. Atlantis couldn't afford to lose him. He couldn't either, and especially not like this. He could *not* allow Radek to join the legions who had already given their all for the cause of keeping his own hide intact. Rodney really, *really* didn't want to see any more bodies added to that list, but the idea of Radek's joining them filled Rodney with a special dread. He didn't understand it, and he didn't much like thinking about it either.

He could make much better use of his time applying himself to the scanner that was now on line and connected to his laptop. He very shortly had an in-depth analysis of the energy pattern being maintained in the fragment of dart and the first thing he noticed was that it wasn't exactly where he had expected it to be. It wasn't actually in the memory bank of the culling apparatus, as he now saw that this portion of the system was also damaged beyond utility. Instead, Rodney discovered to his dismay, it was somehow being maintained in what might best be described as a sort of buffer area, between the damaged storage unit and the ruined rematerialization systems.

He passed this information on to Radek's engineering team, who were working on a way to supply external power to the system and thus increase the amount of time they had to rescue their colleague. They were, Rodney noted, singularly motivated to that end and he could not but wonder at the loyalty Radek had inspired in his team. Rodney doubted that when he had been in such straights that many of the science staff here had shown such devotion. Though Radek almost certainly had, he thought with a pang.

Returning to the scanner's findings on his lap top, Rodney focused now on the nature of the pattern they hoped was Radek's. Naturally, he'd spent many hours examining the recordings of his own pattern, made when he'd been caught in the culling beam -Cadman's too- but what they had here looked a bit different. It did look familiar, though, for some reason, and Rodney racked his brain for several whole seconds before he realized why. "Oh no," he said, and turned immediately to his radio and called for Dr. Beckett.

He kept his peace until Beckett showed up, though everyone in the lab was obviously terribly curious as to why he'd called for a medical doctor. Rodney took Beckett to his laptop as soon as he arrived, and pointed out the wave form profile he'd been looking at.

"Does that look like what I think it looks like?" he asked as Carson sat to examine the screen more closely.

"If you're thinking it looks like an EEG," said Carson after a moment, "then, yes, it does."

"Is it Radek's?" Rodney asked.

Carson shrugged. "That I couldn't say," he answered, "Not without comparing this to what we've got on record."

"Is he conscious?" Rodney tried not to let the dread he was feeling show in his question.

"Well," Carson began thoughtfully, "I can't be sure, but if I had to guess ..." Rodney gestured impatiently, "then I'd say yes."

"What does that mean?" asked Hedwig Freiherr, the head of Radek's engineering team.

"It means," said Rodney harshly, "that Radek Zelenka has been conscious, without any idea of what's happened to him, and in complete sensory deprivation, for over two hours. And the last thing he remembers, if he remembers anything at all, is being picked up by a Wraith culling beam."


A sobered silence fell over the already fairly sober lab. There'd always been some question as to whether Radek was retrievable at all, and now there was an additional question as to whether he would be sane when they did. Rodney closed his eyes and stifled the shudder he felt move within him. Before he'd come to Atlantis he might well have argued against the possibility of there actually being a fate worse than death, but he knew now, to his dismay, of several such.

There had to be *some* way, Rodney resolved, to mitigate what was happening to Radek; it was the only way to preserve Radek's mind and body, and keep his own despair at bay.

"If he is conscious," speculated Dr. Freiherr, "could there be some way for us to communicate with him? If we patch some kind of signal exchange into the buffer ...?"

"Yes, yes!" answered David Chen, another one of the technicians, "Would be easy to attach audio channel, sending and receiving."

"Good, that's good," Rodney replied, feeling a glimmer of hope. "You two," he indicated Freiherr and Chen, "get to work on that. The rest of you, keep working on the power systems." Rodney studiously avoided thinking how it would feel to be able to speak to Radek, only to tell him that his data was moments way from degrading past the point of coherence.

To their credit, however, the power systems team had made good progress half an hour later, and Freiherr and Chen were all but ready to try hooking up a two way audio channel to where Radek's consciousness was being stored. Rodney himself had begun tackling the job of figuring out how Radek might be rematerialized, but had made much less progress. For now, he was happy to stand back for a moment and let the technicians wire up the wrecked chunk of dart to a comm system.

They were only a minute or so at this task and when they were done Dr. Freiherr looked over to Rodney to let him know.

"A two way channel will be established as soon as we activate this system," she explained. "Our end is voice activated, but we left both channels open permanently on the other. We do not, however, have any idea if Radek will be able to send any kind of audio signal at all, or if he will understand the incoming signal in any way."

"No, of course not," Rodney muttered, "so let's see what we get, here."

Dr. Freiherr sent a command on her laptop and a moment later there was a burst of static on the speakers they'd set up next to the chunk of dart, and then there was a voice. It did seem to be Radek's voice, but Rodney had never heard Radek's voice raised to such a hysterical pitch. He was shouting, presumably in Czech, mostly the same phrase, over and over again and the naked terror in his voice was awful to hear.

"Radek?" Rodney hazarded, hoping with all his heart that this setup worked as well on Radek's end as it seemed to on theirs. The stream of terrified Czech continued unabated, and Rodney's heart faltered.

"Radek?" Rodney gathered his unsteady resolve in the otherwise silent lab and called still louder. "Radek! Can you hear me?"

Radek's voice stuttered to a stop, and then said, more than a little unsteadily "Rodney? ... Is that you?"

"None other than," answered Rodney with a thin attempt at his usual bravado to disguise his relief.

"Where ... where am I? What has happened?" Radek's voice was hardly devoid of fear, but it was still nothing like it had been earlier, for which Rodney was profoundly grateful.

"You're in lab seventeen, on Atlantis," Rodney replied carefully, " ... after a fashion."

"Rodney ... " frightened though he surely was, Radek's voice was warning. Rodney did know better than to cloak the truth with Radek, so he pursed his lips and forged ahead.

"You're still inside the dart," he said, "... or rather, what's left of it, after one of Sheppard's goons shot it with a missile. I did try to stop them, but ah ..." Rodney shrugged and then realized with a pang that Radek couldn't see the gesture.

"How much is left?" Radek, understandably, was hungry for data, and Rodney resolved right then that anything he knew he'd make sure Radek knew, as quickly as possible.

"Not ... much at all." Rodney answered him, resolve notwithstanding, finding it difficult to keep handing the man bad news. "Both the culling unit memory and the rematerialization systems are pretty badly trashed, and you're stuck in some sort of ... buffer."

"How ... how is that possible?" Rodney could hear the renewed fear in Radek's voice and hated himself for being the cause of it.

"We're working on that," he said, "but we do think that it's why you're, ah, conscious."

There was a pause after that, and then "How long ... have I really been in here?"

God knew how long the interval had seemed to Radek, Rodney thought unhappily, and knowing the truth wouldn't make him feel any better, but Rodney had resolved to tell him the truth and if he were in Radek's place he'd want the same.

"I, ah, didn't exactly look at my watch when they shot the dart down," Rodney answered, "but I figure it's been between two and a half and three hours."

"That ... that is all?" Radek said weakly after some interval. "It seemed like ... eternity."

"As soon as we figured out what was going on we, ah, ... we did what we could," Rodney assured him, "but of course, we had no idea at first."

"Believe me, I am very grateful that you figured it out at all," said Radek. "I was in ... very bad place."

No doubt, Rodney thought. He wondered what it was that Radek had been shouting over and over in Czech when they first connected, but he hadn't the heart to ask him.

"It was mainly Dr. Freiherr's idea," he said instead, "and it was Chen who put the system together."

"Hedwig? David? Are you there as well?" Radek called. The two mentioned answered in the affirmative.

"We are all here, Dr. Zelenka," said Freiherr. "and we will not rest until we have recovered you properly."

"This I am encouraged to hear," said Radek, sounding encouraged, Rodney noted with pleasure. "Tell me what progress you have made so far."

Chapter 2

Rodney was himself encouraged when he realized that all of the questions he'd wanted to ask Radek earlier could now be asked, and answered. Before long the two of them were 'thick as thieves', deep into various technical analyses of the particular challenges they faced. Things were just as they should be between the two of them, Rodney thought, but he found, to his surprise, that he was missing things that had nothing to do with the exchange of ideas he generally enjoyed when working with Radek.

He found himself looking for Radek's frustrated scowl, the straying and ill behaved hair, the graceful, animated hands which were never still when Radek was thinking. The intellectual content was there, and rationally, Rodney told himself, that ought to have been enough, but it wasn't. Of course, Rodney thought, it was much better being able to speak to Radek than not. His expertise was indispensable, and naturally the goal was to get Radek back into his body because the current arrangement was untenable, and because he would definitely function better that way, but that wasn't what was plaguing Rodney.

He had no idea that he'd been aware in the least of Radek's physical presence, but evidently he must have been because now he found himself missing it profoundly. What the hell was up with that?

As puzzling as this discovery was, however, they had far bigger and more important fish to fry at the moment, and Rodney had no trouble focusing on those instead. Happily, the team working on stabilizing Radek's pattern and supplying the dart components with the energy to do that, had met with considerable success. Now they had five days to get Radek out of the dart, instead of five hours, which left Rodney feeling a bit less desperate.

He and Radek had made less progress in finding way to rematerialize him, but they had arrived at an approach that they thought might work. They both agreed that they should once again use the rematerialization function from the gate, but here the challenge was that the portion of the dart's systems they'd used to move the data from the dart to the gate last time, was missing.

Rodney was pretty sure that he'd brought up the missing part along with the other bits of wreckage that he'd salvaged, -a team of technicians was working on confirming that now- but even if they had the right part, extensive repairs would naturally still be required. This would be the most difficult bit, and this, naturally, would be the job best suited to Radek Zelenka's hands-on expertise.

Well, Rodney would have to be his hands, and eyes too, and it wasn't like *he* was an idiot or anything. Radek had expressed doubts about his own ability to do such extensive repairs on the organic Wraith technology, even under the best of circumstances, but Rodney had dismissed them. They could not afford doubts. This had to work.

At the end of the second day of Radek's internment in the dart, his team confirmed that they did have all the parts that they needed to reconstruct the rematerialization system's data compiler, but that, unfortunately, was the first and last thing that went as planned. Late on the third day they came to the conclusion that there was no way to avoid having to use such techniques as tissue culture and suturing in order to patch the fractured circuits and systems and so Dr. Beckett came to join them again.

Rodney had never imagined that he would ever have found himself working *beside* Dr. Carson Beckett, or any medical doctor for that matter. While Rodney certainly had his prejudices, however, he could never have been the superlative scientist that he was had he not been able to put any of them aside at a moment's notice for the sake of good science, or, as in this case, for the sake of a friend's life. If the Wraith used voodoo to build their circuits then, by God, he'd learn voodoo too.

But it just wasn't going to be that simple.

"Rodney, I appreciate what's at stake, but putting all this together the way you want would essentially constitute hundreds of hours of highly meticulous reconstructive surgery," Carson told Rodney at the end of the fourth day. "There's only two people on Atlantis capable o' that kind of work, one of them bein' me, and I'm telling you that's how long it's goin' ta take."

"Carson, we don't have that kind of time," Rodney explained with frustration, standing to pace across the equipment cluttered lab.

"I do know that Rodney," the doctor answered sympathetically, "but I don't know what else ta tell you. It's clear that the Wraith grow a great deal of their organic technology and I've no idea how they'd effect repairs of this magnitude. It may be that they don't."

"Oh, of course," Rodney snapped. "A defeatist attitude is just what will help us figure this out."

"No, I wouldn't say that," said Carson, absolutely not rising to the bait, "but I'm fairly certain that your getting a bit o' rest would. I'm not even going to bother ta ask you when the last time was that you slept, Rodney, but you know as well as I that y'need to take a break."

He and Carson were the only ones in the lab at the moment, as everyone else had gone home for the night some time ago. Rodney, however, hadn't actually left the lab since coming here with the Radek four days ago, and as such he hadn't had any real sleep since then either. He was damned, though, if he was going to waste any of what might be Radek's last thirty hours of existence in sleep.

"I'm fine," he said to Carson.

"Rodney, that's utter nonsense," replied Carson with exasperation, "and y'can't help him if your intellectual capacity is suffering from sleep deprivation."

"Dammit Carson," Rodney burst out, "I can't leave him!"

Carson glanced over to the pickups which allowed Radek to hear everything in the lab, and then back at Rodney. His expression was surprisingly understanding as well as sorrowful as he laid a sympathetic hand on Rodney's shoulder.

"Aye, I suppose y'can't," he said gently, "but do try and get some kind of rest, won't you?" Carson turned and departed then leaving Rodney and Radek alone in the lab.


"He is right, you know," Radek's voice offered after a long, awkward pause.

"About what?" Rodney replied miserably.

"You need to rest," said Radek. "You cannot work effectively if you are sleep deprived."

"But," Rodney countered, confused, "I can't .. you ..."

"I do not wish for you to leave, Rodney," said Radek gently, "but you could at least try to get a little rest here, for now. If you put some music on I will be all right."

Rodney had fallen asleep here, alone in the lab but for Radek, a couple of nights ago and the silence had panicked Radek, reminding him too much of the endless hours he'd spent trapped and conscious in the dart before Rodney had discovered him. He'd waked Rodney with his terrified cries and Rodney had made yet another vow to himself that Radek would not find himself in such straights again.

Dr. Freiherr had brought Radek's personal laptop into the lab the next day and set it up so that the music files he kept on it could be played into Radek's pickup. Rodney'd had no idea of what music Radek liked and so was a bit bemused to discover the odd assortment of Sondheim musicals, several lengthy pieces by Philip Glass, a handful of Bjork songs and the soundtrack to "Tron", taking up memory space on Radek's computer. Who knew?

When Radek told him that it was the Glass he'd like to listen to now, Rodney suspected strongly that it was Radek's intention that the repetitive music send Rodney to sleep, though Radek naturally insisted that he merely found the music meditative and good for thinking to. At any rate, Rodney could hardly refuse his selection and it only took about twelve minutes of "One Thousand Airplanes on the Roof" to send Rodney into a deep sleep, head pillowed in his arms on the lab bench.


He was standing on a pile of corpses. He didn't realize it until he felt what he was standing on shift under his feet and he looked down into the dead face of Peter Grodin. Next to him was Brendan Gaul, prematurely aged and his head half shot away, and sprawled beneath them was the water logged corpse of the jumper pilot, Griffin, pale and bloated. Others, countless others lay beneath them.

As horrific as all this was, it was no shock to Rodney. There was not a day that went by lately that the knowledge of how many had given up their lives to preserve his did not haunt him. What came next did shock him, though, for it was the vision of Radek Zelenka, approaching him over the mountain of bodies, and Rodney knew a foreboding that terrified him right down to his bones. He shouted at Radek to get away, that it wasn't safe to come near him, but Radek either did not hear or would not listen.

Still crying out his warning, Rodney watched helplessly as Radek stumbled in his progress, not from clumsiness, but because hands were reaching up from the pile of bodies to grab at him and pull him down. Radek continued to stagger forward, heedless of Rodney's warnings or the grasping corpses, until he was caught again, and this time he did not break free. Rodney cried out Radek's name again, anguish and tears coloring his voice, but he knew it was too late.

They'd caught Radek for good and were now pulling him down into the pile. He had sunk to above his knees already and though Rodney struggled to reach out to him, to catch his hand and hold him, he never could. Now Radek was buried up to his waist and he wasn't even struggling. He seemed to know his fate and accept it, though Rodney was anything but accepting. Desperately, he continued to try to reach his friend as he sank deeper and deeper into the pile of hungry corpses, but no matter how hard he tried, he wasn't able to reach him. Rodney sank to his knees in despair as he watched Radek's shoulders disappear beneath the pile, and then, before his horrified eyes, the bodies closed over his head, so that all that remained was his right arm and hand, reaching out to Rodney. The hand moved, grasping out at nothing as Rodney made one last futile try to reach him, and then even that was gone.

"*No!!*" The cry, more like a scream, was torn from the depths of his soul. "Oh God, no!! You can't ... Radek, I can't lose you ... I can't do this without you!!!"

Rodney awoke with a start, not because the dream had released him, but because someone had called his name.

"Rodney!! Please, wake up!" It was Radek's voice.

"Oh God," Rodney whimpered quietly. He had no idea how much he'd said aloud, but it was bound to have been too much.

"Rodney, ... are you all right?"

And because he'd gotten into the habit lately of speaking only the truth to Radek he said, "No," and surprised himself at how broken his voice sounded.

"Rodney ...?" The naked concern in Radek's voice was even more painful to Rodney's ears than how pathetic his own had sounded.

"I ... I'm the one who should be stuck in that fucking wreck, not you," Rodney finally blurted out. "Because if I was, I'd be out of there by now and instead ... instead ... all I've done here is waste time ... your time," Rodney was just babbling now, the horror of the dream still lodged in his throat and he realized to his dismay that he was still weeping as well, but he could not stop himself.

"I've got nothing to show for the last four days. *Nothing.* And if I can't ... Radek, I can't ... We can't afford to lose ... to lose ..."

"Rodney ..."

"I don't ... I don't know what to do ..."


"If I can't ... Oh, God Radek ... what if I can't ..." Rodney's voice caught in his throat and he fell silent at last, only belatedly realizing that Radek had been attempting to speak.

"Rodney," he said, having gotten a space at last, "I love you too, you know."

The words were spoken softly but they rang in Rodney's ears like a bell. Love? Was that what it was that had come between them? Was that the meaning of the soul deep melding that happened when the two of them were deep in problem solving mode? Was that the cause of his dream? The reason for the shadow of despair that lurked within him, growing with each passing second of what was left of Radek's life?

Rodney sniffled loudly, realizing belatedly that any hope he'd had of preventing Radek from discovering that he was crying had just been thrown it out the window.

"Well that's just great," he said at last, his voice still broken with weeping but unable to deny the truth of the matter. "The one and probably only time in my life that someone I care about actually cares back, and he's probably going to cease to exist some time in the next thirty hours!"

"I do not find this fact any more comforting than you, Rodney," Radek answered, "but it is truth, and I have not failed to notice, my friend, what pains you have taken to assure that I have learned only truth with nothing withheld. That means very much to me, Rodney, and I think it cannot be easy thing for you."

"Not so hard as you might think," Rodney replied quietly, with a shrug. "It's what I'd want if I were in your place. Of course if I were in your place you'd be in mine and I'd probably be out by now. As it is ... all I've done is throw away the last three days on a total dead end and I haven't come up with any better way to spend your last one. You're completely screwed, Radek and so am I. ... I ... God, I'm sorry."

"Do not speak as if you have given up, Rodney," Radek retorted sternly, "for I know that you have not. Instead, you will listen to new idea I have."

Chapter 3

"Capture a Wraith dart." Rodney tried not to sound incredulous. He knew full well that desperate times called for desperate measures, but still ...

"We cannot repair damaged components; we need undamaged ones," Radek clarified. "Is only one source of undamaged dart components, yes?"

"Yes, yes, all brilliant logic until it gets to the part about the insanely dangerous mission necessary to acquire one," answered Rodney who, snarks notwithstanding, was very happy to be back in problem solving mode.

"I have not overlooked this fact, Rodney," said Radek, "which is why I have waited until now to suggest this plan, and further, I insist that you discuss it with Dr. Weir before you mention it to anyone else, especially Colonel Sheppard."

Indeed, Rodney had to agree that the Colonel would not hesitate to leap into such a mission, especially if someone else's life was at stake. Radek wasn't exactly a member of Sheppard's team, but he had come to be seen as Rodney's de-facto number two man, and nearly as indispensable as Rodney himself. All of this would make him practically a member of his team in Sheppard's eyes.

"Okay," said Rodney, "okay, that's fair enough. What time is it now?" he asked himself.

He glanced at his laptop. "Six forty-five," he answered his question aloud, "and Elizabeth is usually in her office by six thirty. Excellent, she'll have finished her first cup of coffee by the time I get there. Perfect timing!"

"Rodney, you must promise me that you will not pressure her into allowing this mission," Radek insisted as Rodney prepared to leave, "and if she decides against it then you will try nothing foolish."

Rodney paused before he answered. "Radek, ... you know I've been straight with you through all this, and I haven't left anything out ..."

"Yes ..." Radek replied aloud in lieu of a nod.

"Well, I'm not going to hold back with her either," he said. "She deserves to hear the whole truth from me before she makes her decision, and that includes hearing just how useful to her or Atlantis or anyone else her head scientist is likely to be if we ... if we lose you. That's the truth too Radek, and you know it as well as I do now."

Radek remained silent and Rodney took that silence for a reluctant acquiescence. He left the lab with "Into the Woods" playing for Radek on his laptop, knowing that Dr. Freiherr and her team would be in long before the music ended, and set off to see Dr. Weir


"Capture a Wraith dart?" Rodney hoped that he had done a better job of not sounding incredulous than Dr. Weir, but he feared that this was not the case.

"Believe me, I do know how insane that sounds," Rodney tried to sound rational but had a sneaking suspicion that he did not exactly look rational just now, this having much to do with the fact that he had not showered or slept in a bed in over four days.

"But I want you to know that Radek held off even suggesting it to me until a few minutes ago," Rodney continued. "We're neither one of us taking this lightly Elizabeth, but the fact is that we're running out of time."

Dr. Weir nodded, steepling her fingers. "Rodney, I want *you* to understand that I hold no less a value on Dr. Zelenka's life than anyone else's but, that being the case, how can I allow four people -four of my most critical personnel, in point of fact- to undertake an extreme risk to their lives to save his?"

Rodney drew a long breath, searching in his mind for the right way to say what he needed to say and have it not sound like emotional blackmail or like he was looking for her pity.

"Elizabeth," he began with genuine trepidation, "I'm not going to claim that I've never asked you for anything, or that I'm never going to ask you for anything in the future ... but I swear to you that I'm never going to ask you for anything as important as this."

"Rodney, can you explain to me what makes Radek Zelenka's life so important that it's worth risking four others?"

"You've never asked that question about *me*, have you?" Rodney retorted.

To her credit, Rodney could see Dr, Weir thinking hard about this. "No," she said at last, "I haven't. But I would say that you, in particular, have proven your value to this city and the people in it, many times over."

"Exactly," said Rodney, seeing a way to make his point, "In fact it's been pretty clearly established that you need me functioning at something like one hundred and ten percent, twenty-four/seven, three hundred sixty five days a year, yes?"

"Well, ..." began Elizabeth.

"It's the truth and you know it," Rodney imposed. "And that being the case, what I'm telling you is that in order to keep that up I *need* Radek Zelenka, in a technical and professional capacity as well as a ... ah, well, a ... personal ... one. That's what I mean by important." Rodney realized he was blushing and looked down, embarrassed and frustrated at his lack of control.

Dr. Weir looked down at her interlaced fingers, as though giving him a private moment to recover, and then looked up and to the left to gaze out her office windows at the sea. Rodney sat quietly, trying not to fidget and holding back with much effort, his desire to blurt out further reasons why Radek Zelenka's life was worth any risk.

"Is this a recent development?" Dr. Weir asked at last.

"Is what a recent development?" Rodney asked, caught off guard.

"The ... personal dynamic with Radek you just mentioned," Dr. Weir answered. "It's nothing to do with my decision, I just, ... as Director I pride myself on knowing these things and, ... well, I didn't." Elizabeth's half smile was self effacing, putting Rodney at ease just a bit.

"I'd say not," Rodney answered after several moments consideration, "Not recent, I mean ... in some respects. In others, ... well let's just say that current crisis has fostered some new ... insights." Rodney tried not to sound wretched as he said this -he really didn't want her pity- but he didn't think he'd quite succeeded.

By way of response, it seemed, Elizabeth raised her eyes to meet his and held him in a very, very long, searching look. If there had been anything he'd omitted, whether by intent or no, Rodney had the unmistakable sense that she'd have it from him with that gaze. Eventually she dropped her eyes, giving her head the tiniest shake, and reached out to touch Rodney, ever so briefly, on the arm.

"Alright," she said "I'm authorizing you to take this proposal to Colonel Sheppard and the rest of your team, but it's going to have to be absolutely voluntary."

Rodney nodded his willing assent even as she spoke.

"Not," she finished with a sigh, "that we don't both know what he'll say."


"I'd say it's risky but doable," assessed Colonel Sheppard, sitting in the conference room with Rodney, Dr. Weir, Ronin and Teyla ten minutes later, "and I'd say it was well worth the risk."

So far, Rodney thought, with an odd blend of nervousness and encouragement, things had gone pretty much as expected, but then, naturally, Sheppard had to throw him a curve ball.

"There is one condition I'd like to make, though," he continued, to Rodney's unease.

"And what would that be?" asked Dr. Weir.

"That would be that he," and Sheppard pointed squarely at Rodney, "doesn't come."

"What?" Rodney stood in shock.

"Just think about it for a minute, Rodney." Sheppard drawled, "This is the kind of mission which can easily result in the loss of some or all personnel, even if successful. But if one of those lost personnel is *you*, then the whole mission becomes rather pointless, doesn't it?"

Rodney swallowed hard and sat again, bowing his head before Sheppard's irrefutable logic. "Point taken," he said wretchedly.

Both Elizabeth and Teyla, who happened to be flanking Rodney at the table, reached out to touch him. Dr. Weir's touch was fleeting, as before, but Teyla gripped Rodney's shoulder with warrior strength, turning him to face her.

"Dr. McKay," she said, letting her fierce loyalty show in her voice, "you know as well as any of us that the strength of this team comes from the combined efforts of warriors, diplomats and men of science, but still there will always be occasions when we must work along separate paths to best reach a common goal. This is most definitely one of those times, but it does not mean your value to us or this city is in any way reduced, and it certainly does not mean that any of us will ever think any less of you because you are not a warrior."

"I know," he said quietly, head still bowed and eyes closed.

Teyla's grip softened some, but remained firm and supportive at the back of his neck. "Do not despair, Rodney," she admonished. "We will fight our battles while you fight yours, and I predict that, even separated, we will all emerge victorious."

The four teammates, with Dr. Weir a mostly silent observer, arrived at a target and a good, if risky, plan in less than an hour. Only a few minutes later Sheppard, Teyla, Ronin and a small but formidable compliment of volunteer Marines set out through the gate in a puddle jumper. Rodney watched them go with an ache in his heart and felt Dr. Weir's hand come to rest on his shoulder as the jumper disappeared through the gate. This time it stayed there till the gate disengaged and Rodney finally turned to go.

Meeting her eyes at that moment Rodney came to realize that the contact had been as much for her benefit as his, and that, having given her assent to the mission, she felt she bore as much or more responsibility for its outcome as Rodney or Radek did.

"You know we've pulled off crazier stunts than this," Rodney said.

"You telling me you're not worried?" she asked, eyebrows raised.

"Well, ... no," answered Rodney with a self effacing smirk, "but I'm a natural worrier. Works out quite well here."

"Well, as it happens," Elizabeth answered with a crooked smile of her own, "so am I, I'm afraid."


Radek, along with the rest of the engineering staff, listened, in silence for the most part, as Rodney recounted the events of the last hour.

"Assuming that they return with a dart, in time for us to do what we need to," Rodney concluded, "and there's no point in assuming anything else- we'll want to have Radek and everything else we need, reassembled here," and Rodney indicated a room on a city map, adjacent to the landing pad occasionally occupied by the Daedalus, "which is the only place near enough to anywhere we can park a whole dart." Glancing around the room, Rodney saw heads nodding in concordance.

"Simpson," Rodney instructed, "I want you and Dr. Singh to figure out how we're going to move Radek, his power supply and his audio relay without disrupting anything. Any personnel or equipment that you need, I'll see to it that you get it. Freiherr and Chen, I want you to go on working with Radek on how to keep him stable for as much longer as you can. I have a feeling we're going to need it."

The next four hours passed in a whirl of organized chaos. Rodney had, intelligently, given himself no other job save that of coordinator and of keeping tabs on Radek's morale. Though he found himself with plenty to coordinate, naturally it was Radek's state of mind that worried Rodney more. In part this was because Radek had become increasingly taciturn since Rodney had delivered the news that the mission to capture a dart on his behalf had gone ahead.

He remained voluble and engaged with Drs. Freiherr and Chen on their project, but on the odd occasions when the two of them left his presence on some errand or other and Rodney came to gauge his mood, he clammed right up. Rodney was pretty sure that Radek felt responsible for the lives being risked in this endeavor, and while he knew better than to imagine that he could dissuade Radek of that sense of culpability, he did hope for the chance to convince Radek that he didn't carry that responsibility alone.

Radek wouldn't let him bring the subject up when they were alone, however, and when he wasn't, he clearly had more important things to think about. Rodney fretted to himself, instead, and listened and tried his best to read between Radek's lines as he worked with the other scientists.

Simpson and her team had come to the conclusion that the best way to move Radek and his various support systems intact was with the help of the Daedalus and Hermiod's matter transportation system. While Rodney could see the sense in this, he remained a little uneasy about it and was certain that Radek felt far more than a little unease, but naturally, he couldn't get Radek to talk about this either. Not, at least, until Dr. Weir appeared.

Chapter 4

"I thought I ought to see how you were doing myself," Dr. Weir said as she stepped into the lab, doing her best to keep the dismay from her expression as she saw, for the first time, the condition of the components in which Radek was trapped.

"Have you heard anything from Colonel Sheppard's team?" Radek asked, this being the first time he had mentioned them since Rodney had returned to the lab.

Dr. Weir shook her head and then recollected herself. "No, I'm sorry," she answered aloud, "but then we don't really expect to hear from them until they're back or on their way back."

"I see." Now Radek's voice betrayed him, and Rodney could too easily hear the worry there. So, it seemed, did Elizabeth.

"Dr. Zelenka," she demanded his attention.

"Yes Dr. Weir."

"This mission was my call," she said. "I'm the one who authorized it and I'm the one who gets to take responsibility if things go badly."

"But there would have never been a need for you to authorize such a mission if I hadn't needed it!" Radek argued.

"For God's sake Radek!" Rodney snapped in frustration, "There wouldn't even *be* a fucking Rodney McKay, trying in my own limited way, to make those goddamned dart components work, if you hadn't pushed my ass out of the path of that culling beam and saved my life, so maybe *I'm* the one who ought to take responsibility for what happens to Sheppard's team!"

"Rodney!" Radek and Dr. Weir objected, almost in unison.

"Look," Rodney sighed in exasperation, "I'm just trying to make a point here, and that point is, Radek, that you can't just chase things back to first principles in order to assign responsibility."

"More to the point," Dr. Weir picked up before Radek could answer, "While there is not a military command of Atlantis, there is most certainly a chain of authority, and at the top of that chain, without dispute, is me. You may feel personally culpable for what happens to the away team ­and there isn't a thing I can do about that- but I want you to understand, Radek, that the official responsibility for sending Colonel Sheppard and his team out to capture a Wrath dart belongs to me and me alone."

"Yes, yes of course," muttered Radek.

"All right then," said Dr. Weir, turning to go.

"No, wait!" Rodney called to the Director, and then turned back to Radek's pickup. "You're not actually buying one bit of that are you," he accused.

"Excuse me?" replied Radek.

"That's not what I heard Dr. Zelenka say," remarked Dr. Weir, "and it sounded like pretty plain English to me."

Rodney shook his head. "Not plain English," he said. "Radek Zelenka English, which I happen to speak fluently. In this case, I believe a rough translation of 'yes, yes, course' might be ... 'I don't agree with one word you're saying and I wish you'd shut up and go away.' Yeah, I've heard that 'yes, yes, of course' lots of times."

"Radek?" Dr. Weir inquired pointedly.

It was a long moment before Zelenka answered. "I ... I find myself wishing that I had not even suggested mission. Chances are too great that all will be lost, no dart will be gained and that I will ... I will die anyway, ... and die knowing that I sent half dozen people to their deaths for no good reason."

"Radek, you had to let us try," Rodney rejoined.

"And it wouldn't be for no good reason, Dr," Elizabeth added, "That's what you have to understand. Do you think I didn't conceive of the possibility of the outcome you've just described? Do you think Sheppard didn't? The fact that *you* have to face is that by risking half a dozen lives apparently on your behalf today, we may be saving hundreds of lives -possibly even every life in this city.- in the future."

There was another long pause. "I ... I am afraid I may understand, Dr. Weir," Radek said at last, dejectedly.

"Welcome to my world," Rodney said, trying not to sound too bitter, but, he was afraid, only ending up sounding miserable instead.


Dr. Weir left a little later, and the next two hours were spent getting Radek's chunk of dart and all the other necessary associated stuff over to the new 'lab' site, adjacent to the landing deck. A third hour was spent reassembling, tweaking and puttering, but soon the rest of the engineers and technicians began to run out of things to do. One by one Rodney sent them home, telling them to get good and rested so they'd be at their best when (not if) the captured dart arrived. By twenty-two hundred hours Rodney was alone in the new lab but for Radek and, having run out of both things to do and things to say, found himself staring silently out the windows at the spot just out side, where the dart was supposed to land.

"Rodney," Radek's voice was the tiniest bit panicky, "talk to me?"

Rodney shook himself. "Sorry," he said, "trying a little quantum reality experiment."

"And the parameters of this experiment?" God, Rodney thought, Radek must be desperate to bite on that one, but then, he reflected, he probably was.

"I'm determining whether, if I stare at the landing pad outside hard enough, I can make that dart appear," he answered.

"It would seem to me," Radek played along, "that, aside from the current circumstances, it might be more worthwhile learning to make darts *disappear*.

"It might," Rodney agreed, "except that I don't have a dart to practice on." That killed that topic dead and the lab fell silent again.

"I think ... ," Radek's voice came, hesitantly a few moments later, "I think I may be coming to appreciate your position, Rodney."

"Which, ah ... position would that be?" he asked.

"The one ... the one about people ... dying, to save your life."

"Oh," said Rodney, "That." The misery was back in his voice and there was nothing he could do to prevent it.

"I'm sorry about that," he said. "No one should have to know what that's like. I really wish I didn't."

"I take back what I said earlier," Radek spoke after another silent moment. "I'm glad I told you to try to capture dart and I'm glad Dr. Weir authorized mission. I find that I wish very much that I had something to give you, and this appears to be the only thing I have."

Rodney sighed silently and rested his head in his hands. "Thanks," he said, but he really did mean it.

Eventually Radek insisted on listening to more Philip Glass, which he claimed allowed him to enter a sort of meditative state that was the closest thing to sleep he got in his current condition. Rodney was still convinced that the whole thing was an elaborate ruse to get *him* to sleep, but short of refusing Radek's music selection, which he couldn't, really, he was stuck.

Thus it was that Rodney found himself lulled to sleep again, to the endlessly repeating arpeggios of "Koyaanisqatsi", and then startled awake, some time later, by some shrieky female vocalist singing about missing someone she hadn't met.

"Wha?" mumbled Rodney, unsticking his cheek from his laptop's keyboard.

"Pardon," said Radek, "but the Bjork was next on play list and I was, of course, unable to stop it."

"S'all right," Rodney replied, blinking to focus on the time display on his laptop. Five forty-eight. Sheppard and his team had been gone for close to ten hours, and Radek had around eighteen left. He ran his had over his cheek and felt the regular impressions of the keys he had slept on.

"Missing a great visual here, Radek," he said with a wry smile.

"How is that?"

"Got keyboard face," Rodney told him, wondering why, until he heard Radek laugh. Not much of a laugh, just a chuckle really, but Rodney was fairly certain Radek had not laughed once since he'd been swept up by the dart, and hearing him made Rodney's heart lift. God, it *was* love, Rodney thought with dismay. It couldn't possibly be anything else. He was so screwed.

Chapter 5

He was spared further depressing reflections on this subject, however, by a call from the duty officer in the control room.

"Dr. McKay?" Rodney walked over and adjusted Radek's pickup so the he too could hear the radio conversation.

"McKay here," Rodney responded, trying his best, against considerable odds, to sound calm, cool and collected.

"Dr., we've got an incoming wormhole and an IDC from Ronin Dex," the desk officer reported. "Dr. Weir said to notify you?"

"Yes, yes," McKay answered. "I can't quite get away from the lab just now. Can you put the gate room on open comms so we can hear it up here?"

"Yes, sir," the man responded, and moments later Rodney and Radek could both hear the gate activation klaxons, blaring over the sounds of shouting voices and running feet.

"Says he's coming in hot, and has called for a medical team in the gate room!" cried one voice. Nothing unexpected about that, Rodney thought, but the question of who was hurt and how badly remained unanswered for the time being.

Next came the sound of gunfire, or some kind of small impacts or explosions in the gate room, then Ronin's voice crying "Shut it down! Shut it down now!" Rodney could hear the distinctive sound of the Gate closing down, and as the gun fire and klaxons ceased a sudden silence fell over the place.

Into that silence Rodney could now hear Dr. Biro's voice intrude, leading her medical team into the gate room and conducting a quick triage, but then a few moments later, to Rodney's surprise, he heard Dr. Weir, sounding a bit sleepy perhaps, but definitely present and in charge.

"Ronin, what happened?" Rodney heard her ask.

"Grenades set off something bigger than we expected," came his answer. Rodney tried to guess how badly the stoic Satedan was injured by the sound of his voice, but soon gave up.

"And the rest of the team?" Dr. Weir finally asked, to Rodney's relief.

"Sheppard and Teyla should be coming in with the dart," Ronin reported, to which Rodney could not help responding with a "Yes!!"

"But they're going to need a medic when they arrive as well," Ronin continued, "and we lost Tyler."

"Oh, no," Rodney heard Radek say.

"Radek, they *got* the dart!" Rodney countered.

"And a man was killed getting it!" Radek answered back, clearly distressed.

"That's not on you, dammit!" Rodney cried with frustration. "I thought we'd gotten that through you're thick skull."

"How can it not be on me?" Radek asked with determination equal to Rodney's frustration.

Rodney heaved a put-upon sigh. "Shall we go over it again?" he said, patience fraying. "Number one: the military guys are here for the *purpose* of putting their lives on the line to protect Atlantis and everyone here."

"But this man was not protecting Atlantis," Radek interrupted, "he was sent to capture Wraith dart for purpose of protecting *me*!"

"Number *two*:" Rodney continued as though Radek had not spoken, "I think it's become abundantly clear by now that *Atlantis* definitely needs me to survive and frankly I'd say it needs both of us. In any case *I* certainly need you, and *you*, at the moment, definitely need a Wraith dart. Therefore," and Rodney waited for more interruptions from Radek, but there were none. "Therefore, any marines sent out on a mission to capture the Wraith dart we need to get you out of this one, were doing so in an effort to protect *Atlantis*, and not just you. Get it?"

There was a brief pause, the space which should have been filled with a resigned sigh, and then Radek asked, "Rodney, do you really believe that?"

"Are you kidding?" Rodney replied. "If I didn't I'd be a *complete* basket case ... instead of the partial one you work with every day," he finished with chagrin.

"There is no comfort to be had in knowing that one's own life has become so very important to so many others," Radek finally said, trying, Rodney thought, not to sound desolate.

"I don't find the fact any more comforting than you do," answered Rodney sadly, echoing Radek's earlier words, "but it is the truth."

The two of them considered this in silence for a moment, until that silence was broken by another call from the control room.

"We've got a lone dart coming in on the scanners," said the officer on watch, "It's got to be Colonel Sheppard."

Sheppard and Teyla had both managed to exit the dart on their own, but that was as far as they could manage and they both ended up leaving the landing deck on stretchers. Sheppard, his pant leg soaked and dripping with blood, had tried to smile reassuringly at Rodney as he was wheeled away, but it had come off as more of a grimace of pain, which was understandable, really. Teyla had been concussed, badly burned, had sustained two broken ribs and she'd still managed to do the lion's share of flying the dart. She'd simply collapsed the moment her feet touched the Atlantis landing deck but luckily Rodney had been there in time to catch her and ease her to the ground. Sheppard had tried to help but only ended up collapsing onto the deck himself.

Still, Carson had declared that they'd both mend as he carted them off and this, along with all the other events of the morning were faithfully reported to Radek by Rodney as the other scientists, engineers and technicians arrived for the morning and began to swarm around the dart. Even as he answered Radek's questions, though, Rodney could tell that his friend was holding back, not saying something that he wanted to say.

It took a moment, but as Rodney watched the other members of the science staff clamber excitedly all over the alien ship it dawned on him that no one would have been more excited about exploring such a find than Radek Zelenka himself. Instead he would be stuck here and most likely turn to brooding over his alleged responsibility for Sheppard's and Teyla's injuries as well. That, Rodney quickly became determined to prevent.

"Alright," Rodney said at last, "let's you and me go and have a look at that dart."

"And," Radek puzzled, "... how am *I* to achieve this?"

"Simple," declared Rodney magnanimously, "I'll patch you into my radio and be your eyes and hands. You tell me what you want to see or do and I'll go there and do that."

"Don't you need to be doing something else?" Radek asked, confused.

"What else would I be doing?" Rodney replied. "You know what needs to be done next as well as I do, probably better, and we've always worked best as a team, right?"

"Well," said Radek thoughtfully, the gratitude Rodney was looking for coming to color his voice at last, "If you are putting it that way ... I suppose we might as well. But you will want gloves."

"Got 'em right here," said Rodney, audibly snapping the latex gloves as he donned them.

Joining the other scientists studying the dart, Radek directed Rodney right to a particular circuit juncture which Radek had been puzzling over for months, and while it was clear that he truly wished to be digging into the dart's components himself, Rodney gave Radek no cause to complain in his dedication to Radek's quest for knowledge. Demonstrating once again that when set on a task together, Rodney McKay and Radek Zelenka became two men sharing one astonishing brain, the two of them set about making discovery after discovery in the dart's slimy, organic guts.

Unfortunately, none of those discoveries was one which would allow the new dart's rematerialization unit to be grafted onto Radek's ruined one, nor for Radek's barely functional buffer to be grafted onto the captured dart. As the hours passed, one after another, the euphoria of collaboration and discovery began to fade in Rodney, and gradually, the old dread of failure began to rear it's head again.

As Rodney came to realize that Radek had less than eight hours left before the buffer holding his pattern finally gave out altogether, he struggled to stave off despair, and to prevent Radek from sensing his declining mood. Either task might have taken up all of Rodney's attention, and both together were taxing his ability to maintain well beyond his ability to do so. Things had gotten to the point that the only thing preventing Rodney from losing it completely was the fact that there remained a half dozen other scientists in the lab whom Rodney could not bear to let see him fall apart, when Carson showed up.

He began by parking Rodney in front of the dinner he'd brought with him and insisting that he eat it, and as Radek whole heartedly supported him in this effort Rodney found it impossible not to comply. As it often did, Rodney found that the food took the edge off his despair, and cleared the hypoglycemic fog from his mind, but it did nothing to improve the situation in any real sense. Radek still had less than seven hours of existence left and Rodney still had no answers.

This was the gist of what he said when Carson asked him if having a spot of dinner hadn't improved his outlook.

"Well, even if you've no answers now," Carson countered reasonably, "Ye're far more likely to find 'em with your blood sugar back up where it's supposed to be."

"You're missing my point here, Carson," Rodney snapped, knowing that Radek would hear and unable to stop himself. "There *are* no answers to find here. We can't use any of the components from this new dart any more than we could fix the old ones. *I* can't, anyway, and I'm all he's got."

"Now I know ye haven't given up, man," Carson admonished gently, "and I've seen ye work fair wonders in much less than seven hours."

Though he knew it was meant to encourage, Carson's invocation of Rodney's many eleventh hour saves only served to bring all the urgency and pressures of the moment right down on Rodney's head, and he finally broke.

"I wish I *could* just fucking give up," he spat. "I wish I could just crawl into a corner and wait for the fucking world to end like everyone else, but no, no. Rodney never gives up. Rodney will go on working till he's starved and sleep deprived and his brains are melting out his fucking ears, but he never fucking well *gives up*! So I guess that means that *no one* has to worry about anything, ever, except for poor fucking Rodney, who never gets to *quit* worrying because *he* never fucking gives up!"

To his horror, Rodney could feel tears threatening at the back of his throat, and could hear that the lab had fallen silent as everyone had stopped in their work to listen to his tantrum. Carson looked stricken and Rodney felt terrible because he knew that the man had really meant to offer comfort and it had blown up in his face through no fault of his own. And Radek ... Radek was utterly silent and as much as Rodney wanted to offer the man an apology he knew that if he so much as spoke his name he'd break out in sobs.

Never in his life, Rodney moaned silently to himself, had it ever sucked more to be him.

Chapter 6

Eventually, Rodney noticed David Chen, standing well outside Rodney's personal space but clearly, and very uncomfortably, needing to speak to him.

"What?" he managed to bark without his voice breaking.

"Dr. McKay ...," the scientist began nervously, little more than whispering and proffering a work pad, "we, ah, we've been monitoring Radek's data integrity ..."

"And?" Rodney responded loudly and impatiently.

Chen glanced furtively over to Radek's pickup and then back to Rodney. "His data degradation is up by approximately twelve percent, sir, and while self-correcting functions are still managing to keep up for now ... well, they won't be able to for much longer." Speaking so quietly Rodney was hard pressed to understand him, it was clear that Chen didn't want Radek to hear, but Rodney had no intention of accommodating him.

"Speak up, man, I can barely hear you," he snapped, "and Dr. Zelenka has as much right to know as I do. How much time does he have?"

The young Chinese scientist straightened and blushed slightly, then turned to address the pickup and the rest of the room clearly.

"Data degradation rates will overtake buffer's regeneration function in approximately five and a half hours," he said. "After that point degradation will become irreversible."

Rodney heard these words like the tolling of a bell of doom. Radek's hours were numbered for sure now, and he'd failed him utterly. Radek, however, had apparently heard the words differently.

"Wait just a minute ..." he said, in a thoughtful tone that Rodney ought to have recognized immediately. Caught up in his despair, however, he did not.

"Sure," he said instead, "why not waste a few more minutes of the tiny amount of time left to you. It's all *I've* done."

"Will you shut up for a moment, you great idiot," Radek snapped, though not unkindly, " I think I may have idea."

"What?" Rodney knew that tone, knew the sound of Radek's voice when he was on to something, but hope was so far out of his reach that all he knew was confusion.

"At the moment I am just data, yes?" Radek speculated aloud.

"Well, ..." Rodney struggled to keep up, "not *just* data ...I mean ..."

"Yes, yes," Radek dismissed, "point is, we are looking at this all wrong. Rodney, when you have good data on bad equipment, and you also have good equipment, you do not try to fix bad equipment, and you do not cannibalize good equipment in order to fix bad equipment either. What you do, if you are smart, is you move good data ..."

"To the good equipment!" Rodney finished for him. "God I *am* an idiot. It's not a hardware problem at all ..."

"Is software problem!" Radek finished in turn.

"Okay, okay," Rodney stood and began to pace the room. "We need the best coders in the city, right here, five minutes ago, starting with Miko Kusangi, and that guy from botany, the one with the FBI record. What's his name? Hendershot?"

"Henderson, Gamil Henderson," answered Simpson, "I'll see to it."

"Excellent," said Rodney, standing and rubbing his hands together, the sound of which, Radek would tell him later, had lifted his heart more than any words ever could have. "In the meantime, Radek, you and I are going to make sure that the coders have as much time as they need by squeezing another hour or two out of that damned buffer."

"I think we will want David and Hedwig on that as well," suggested Radek.

"Yes, yes, of course," said Rodney, "Freiherr, Chen," he called, "show us what you've got and we'll go from there."

Within a matter minutes the lab took on the attitude of an anthill which someone had poked with a stick. Technicians who had previously been apathetically fiddling with various components scattered about the lab now moved with alacrity and purpose on various missions of vital importance. Drs. Kusangi and Henderson arrived, and after a brief confab had appointed various other personnel to various tasks and set to work themselves.

Dr. Weir turned up at one point, alerted by Carson that the scientists had found a new and more hopeful avenue of approach to Radek's rescue, but Rodney hardly noticed her. He was aware, as he and his team worked to secure even a few more minutes out of Radek's over taxed buffer, that the programming team remained focused and upbeat. Even as the hours passed and Radek's deadline approached, Rodney began to feel, for the first time in days, a hazardous shred of hope growing in his heart.

Precisely five hours after he had set them to their task, the programmers reported to Rodney that they had positively cracked the dart's data systems, and would have a rerouting and data transfer protocol within a half hour.

"Will that be soon enough?" Miko Kusangi, all professionalism as she'd reported their progress now clutched her hands together in anxiety and blinked owlishly behind her oversized spectacles.

Rodney, Freiherr, and Chen glanced around at one another, and at Radek's pickup and then Freiherr answered, looking down at the data pad she held.

"At the present moment we believe that the buffer will be maintain Radek's data integrity for another forty-seven minutes," she said.

Miko grinned, just for a second, declaring, "Then we will succeed, Dr. Zelenka!" and then returned promptly to where the programmers clustered in one corner of the lab.

Watching her go, Rodney felt the shred of hope ­a compound of many hopes, in point of fact- move painfully within his heart. He didn't dare let it loose yet, because if things went wrong (and there were still ample opportunities for that to happen) it would kill him, as surely as a bullet to the head.

But if things didn't go wrong, if this all worked and he actually got Radek back, ... oh god, what wasn't there to hope for?


It took every bit of Rodney and Radek's attentions to work out the energy variances powering the buffer, with the aim of adding still more minutes to its functional operating time. They did this in case it ended up taking the programmers more than thirty minutes to create the protocols they needed, but mostly they did it because if they stopped working they would start thinking about the approaching deadline and the risks of what they were about to try. Even as he remained focused on his work Rodney could feel his mouth going dry and could hear his heart pounding in his ears, more loudly with each passing minute.

Then, only twenty minutes after Dr. Kusangi's briefing, Rodney heard a cry of triumph issue from the huddle of coders. A moment later Miko scurried over.

"We have protocol!" she announced enthusiastically.

"Are you sure it's safe?" Rodney asked warily.

"We have tested three times," Miko answered earnestly, "and we will make five tests altogether before we send Doctor Zelenka."

"Thank you, Miko," Radek said though Rodney heard a quiet admonishment for himself in his tone, "I have full confidence in your work."

"Of course, of course," Rodney agreed uneasily, "we both do."


Now the lab broke into a fresh flurry of activity as final preparations for Radek's transfer and rematerialization were made. Technicians, at the direction of the programmers, had already begun running cables between Radek's damaged dart fragment and the new dart, and others were at work attaching them to the various appropriate circuits. The door between their makeshift lab and the landing deck outside had been lodged open, so that the mass of cables and personnel could pass easily from one to the other. The area on the deck were Radek was expected to appear was cleared and a medical team, with Carson at the head, arrived to stand by in case they were needed.

Carson had taken Rodney aside, shortly after he arrived, To remind him that both he and Lt. Cadman had lost consciousness moments after rematerializing.

"And ye'll recall that there wasn't a thing to worry about in the end," He pointed out. "Not that I think ye're inclined to panic or anything like that now."

"Carson, the circumstances here are completely different," Rodney grumped, "rendering your feeble attempt to offer comfort completely pointless."

Instead of punching him in the nose, or even stalking off, as he had every right to do, Carson only smiled indulgently (making Rodney wonder if he mightn't have preferred the punch in the nose).

"Aye, well its the thought that counts," Carson only said, laying an infuriatingly supportive hand on Rodney's shoulder.

Rodney soon made his escape and returned to reviewing with Radek the procedure for activating the dart's rematerialization function, something he had actually done once before. Radek was nervous though, and kept repeating himself, and Rodney was nervous as well and struggling to keep his sarcasm and snarks in check.

"Okay, Radek," Rodney interrupted carefully as Radek started to go over the procedure for the third time, "I think I've got it. And you showed me on the dart too. I'm not going to screw this up, believe me."

"I know," Radek said, uneasy, "I know."

"Not that I still don't wish that you were doing this and I was in there," Rodney said, "because if our positions *were* reversed, you'd have figured this out days ago, *and* no one would have had to tell you how to trigger the dart's rematerialization beam."

"That may be so," Radek conceded, "but I do not think I would have truly done any better than you, Rodney. You give me too much credit."

"Too much?" Rodney cried, "You've practically had to rescue yourself here. The most useful thing I've done all week is to tell people to do what you said they should."

"No, Rodney, you must not think so." Radek chided him gently, "In truth, I could not have endured this week without you ... and in addition you have also made a handful of relatively useful technical contributions."

Rodney could hear the smile in Radek's voice and it both lifted his heart and filled him with anxiety. Radek's every word was reminding Rodney how much he cared for the man and in just a few minutes Rodney might have him back ... or -if the programmers did not understand the systems they'd hacked as well as they thought they did- he might just disappear. Rodney might never hear that voice, the smile hidden in it, or the gentle but ever-so-devastating put-downs ever again. His heart constricted painfully at the thought.

"Dr. Zelenka," called Dr. Simpson, "I think we're ready for you."

"Think?" Rodney retorted, "You'd better be sure!"

"Rodney!" Radek admonished.

"Sorry," Rodney cringed, "I ... I just ..."

"Everything will be fine, Rodney," said Radek, sounding much too calm.

"Okay," said Rodney, faintly aware that he was on the edge of hyperventilating, "Alright, ... I just, ... I want to tell you ..."

"Rodney, it is alright," said Radek patiently, "we have both said all that is necessary to say for now. Later, we will speak again, yes?"

"Yes," Rodney replied, wrapping his arms around himself and struggling to pull himself together, "Yes we will."

"Good," said Radek, "That is good," and then more loudly, "Alright, I am ready."

Chapter 7

As Miko entered the last few keystrokes which would transmit Radek's data pattern to the captured dart, Rodney looked up to note that there were now a great number of people present in the lab, far more than were necessary for the current task. Dr. Weir was there, standing just inside the doorway, and standing behind her, probably trying to stay out of sight of Dr. Beckett, who Rodney was fairly sure, hadn't cleared him to leave the infirmary yet, was Colonel Sheppard, leaning heavily on a crutch.

Since when, Rodney wondered, had so many people become interested in Radek Zelenka's well being? Or had they all come, his darker imaginings suggested, to see him fall apart when Radek did not rematerialize? Unable to answer either question, Rodney put both out of his mind to focus on the task at hand,

"Data is transferring ..." Miko's voice called out, and Rodney worked his way through the crowd of well- (or perhaps ill-) wishers, through the door to the landing deck, where a second group of technicians stood clustered about the port side of the dart, close by the exposed rematerialization circuits. Glancing over the critical components, Rodney reviewed in his mind the procedures for rematerializing his friend, feeling his short nails cut slightly into the palms of his hands where his fists were clenched with anxiety.

"We've got him!" That was Simpson, shouting with triumph and pointing at the indicator on her laptop. There was indeed an energy signature in the dart's culling storage unit where there had been none before. It *should* be Radek's, but now they would see. The moment of truth had arrived and it was all Rodney's show now.

"Right, okay ... I'm on it," he muttered to himself, seeking out the right set of circuits in the dart's exposed innards. First make this setting here, then force that connection there, and finally, trigger this sequence and ...

"He's on the move!" Simpson called.

"He's in the buffer ..." that was Hender ... what's-his-name. So far, so good. Rodney stepped across to the spot where the rematerialization beam was aimed, his heart just about beating it's way out of his ribcage and his knees barely able to hold him up. Mouth gone desert dry with hope and terror, Rodney waited.

"Beam activating ..." another one of the technicians called, and then, with miraculous suddenness, Radek was there.

Materializing in the attitude of someone who'd been running forward at full tilt while pushing his best friend out of harm's way, Radek was headed for the deck with some force as he appeared, but Rodney was there to catch him and instead Radek simply fell into his arms.

Rodney remained speechless with astonishment as the two of them pulled each other up off the deck to kneel together there, still gripping each other tightly. Radek was not so mute, however. Staring at his own hands where they grasped Rodney's arms he stammered, "I'm real ... I'm real again ...my god, I am real again."

The next thing Rodney knew, though he had made no conscious decision to do so and neither, he imagined, had Radek, the two of them had pulled each other into a crushing embrace and Rodney finally found his voice.

Whispering brokenly, "Thank god, oh thank god," over and over, Rodney reveled in the solid truth of Radek's compact body held firmly next to his, in the astonishing strength Radek's arms wrapped around his own, pulling Rodney as close as he could.

It did eventually dawn on Rodney, eyes tight shut as he held his friend, that everyone in the lab, which was at this point probably every single member of the science staffs and then some, was watching them hold each other, but he found that he just didn't care. He didn't care about the endless grief and ribbing he was going to get, didn't care about the importance of the dignity of his position as division head, didn't care about anything except for the fact that Radek was here, alive and well and real, because after that nothing, just nothing mattered. It was only then that Rodney heard the sound, all around him on the landing deck and in the lab, coming from the people who'd presumably come to watch him either succeed or fail. But perhaps they had not really come to see him fail at all, for the sound that Rodney and Radek heard, as they held each other in joy and relief, was the sound of heartfelt cheering and applause.

He let it fall around him, like the sound of falling rain, washing away the awful dread and anxiety of the last week. Maybe, Rodney thought hopefully at last, just maybe the ribbing wouldn't be so bad after all.


[End of 'G' Rated story]


Chapter 8

They pulled back a bit when they became aware of Carson, hovering diplomatically in the background, though they did not quite let loose of one another. He came to kneel on the deck beside Radek when he saw he'd been noticed, and ran through the basics like checking his pulse and blood pressure. Then there were a handful of questions, such as, what's the last thing you remember, ("saying, I am ready.") the last thing you remember before the beam caught you, ("pushing Rodney out of way.") and what did you have for breakfast that morning (breakfast?).

Dr. Beckett, and therefore Rodney, seemed reassured by what he learned, but asked if Radek wouldn't come to the infirmary for a more intensive examination, just to be sure. Radek agreed, just to be sure, and Rodney determined to accompany him, if for no other reason than the fact that neither of them had let go of the other yet and it didn't look to be happening any time soon. Carson made not one comment on this, and but smiled quietly to himself as he lead the way to the infirmary.

Once in the infirmary Radek answered more questions, was asked to read certain things into a recording device, submitted to a number of scans, including an EEG, and read an eye chart. Far from neglected, Rodney, while he waited, was made to eat an energy bar. To their credit, however, the doctor and his assistants worked as quickly as possible and before long Radek was released with a clean bill of health and a suggestion that he might want to make an appointment with Dr. Heightmeyer at some point. Rodney was privately, fairly sure he wouldn't need to.

They had finally had to relinquish their grip on one another while in the infirmary, but they'd gotten back ahold of each other the minute they were free of the place. They were now actually walking down the corridor to Radek's quarters holding hands, and to his astonishment, Rodney found that he didn't care. In part that was because he figured he'd already thrown away whatever tiny scraps of dignity he'd possessed when he'd embraced Radek in public, but mostly it was because he couldn't bear the idea of letting go yet and he had a feeling that Radek felt the same.

They paused at Radek's door to look down at their conjoined hands and it became clear that still, neither one of them was ready to let go. Radek swallowed and then smiled a little nervously before opening his door and leading Rodney inside. Radek, it would soon become apparent, was no kind of housekeeper, and his quarters hadn't been occupied in days, but Rodney noticed none of this.

Instead, only moments after the door had closed, Rodney swung around to seize Radek by the shoulders, drew him close, and kissed him with desperate passion. Radek kissed him back almost immediately, with equal desperation and passion and Rodney almost wept at the sensations. Radek's strong, graceful fingers clutched at his face, drawing him in, closer and deeper while Rodney drank in the hot, moist, gift of Radek's mouth and lips and tongue. His hands caressed their way down his Radek's lithe and compact body, pressing it against his own and cupping his hands over Radek's deliciously perfect ass.

Radek sighed with pleasure but when he pulled away from the kiss to hold Rodney's face in his hands and gaze into his eyes, his look was solemn.

"You," he said, his voice dark with feeling, "You made me real again. You found me in ... in Hell and you rescued me, and you made me real again. Do you understand what that means?"

"Radek, ... I didn't do shit," said Rodney, shaking his head even as Radek held it between his hands, "Freiherr and Chen, they put together that audio relay, and you were the one who figured how to get yourself out of that fucking buffer. I didn't do anything but chase after bad ideas and occasionally freak out."

"No, you do not understand," Radek said, all earnestness. "You *saved* me ... you found me, first of all, and if you had not, then Hedwig and David would not have thought to design audio relay ... but there is more ..."

Radek pursed his lips in thought and then glanced around the dimly lit room to spot the sofa. He lead Rodney there, all unresisting, turning away for a moment to sweep every manner of debris from it's cushions onto the floor. Then he pulled Rodney down to sit beside him there and began again to explain what he meant.

"Rodney, ... it is *miracle* that I am still sane," he said at last, "I do not think any man could exist as I did for so many days and stay sane ... unless they had you. You are what kept me sane, Rodney. You helped me to remember that I *was* real. You never let me forget. That is what I mean."

"Oh," said Rodney softly, moved as he'd never been moved in all his life. "Though, you know," he continued after a moment, "most people maintain that I have rather the opposite effect on them."

"Most people are idiots," replied Radek with a quiet smile, "You say so yourself."

Rodney found Radek's smile so sweet that he couldn't stop himself (not that he tried in the least) from leaning forward to kiss it off his lips, and as he did he felt Radek smile even wider into the kiss. Kissing a smiling Radek was like drinking champagne, really good champagne, though Rodney couldn't say exactly why he thought so, only that it was light and sweet and made his head spin, in the very best sort of way.

Radek was still smiling when they drew apart some time later, and shaking his head ever so slightly.

"What?" Rodney asked.

"When I told you that ... that I loved you," Radek said after a moment, "I did not know quite how you would take it ... what you would take it to mean. I was certain that you did care for me ... but I had no idea as to whether you would be ... inclined ... in this manner at all."

"That's okay isn't it?" asked Rodney, suddenly terrified that he had imposed.

Radek's smile finally broke into a laugh. "Rodney, you great idiot," he said with the deepest affection, "is more than okay. Is much, much more than I ever hoped."

"Oh good," said Rodney weakly.

"Now you will kiss me again, yes?" requested Radek.

"Yeah," said Rodney with quiet reverence as he leaned across to take Radek's face in his hands, "Oh yeah."

Rodney moaned with pleasure to feel Radek's fingers moving through his hair, to feel his tongue moving forcefully in his own mouth, tasting him. Rodney pushed his own tongue further into the warm, wet depths of Radek's mouth, and invoked a shiver thinking what other warm wet, depths of Radek's he might come to know soon, and what warm wet, depths of his own Radek might come to experience before too long.

These thoughts and images sparked a surge of desire and feeling within Rodney and he found himself concluding the kiss to pull all of Radek's body into his arms, pressing as much of his body in Radek's as possible. Eventually Radek drew back a bit to take Rodney's head in his hands, and with his lips began to place little benedictions on Rodney's eyes, cheeks and temples and then lower, on his throat and collar bone. He had to open Rodney's shirt to do this latter and it dawned on Rodney then that the shirt was going to have to go, and the sooner the better.

The catch here, however, Rodney hummed with delight at the feel of Radek's lips moving along edge of his jaw, was that pulling either one of their shirts off meant the momentary cessation of the wonderful contact between Radek's lips and his skin. Still, the presence of all this clothing was rapidly becoming intolerable.

In addition, Rodney thought between gasps of pleasure, Radek was likely to be coming to the same conclusion, as he had now worked his hands under Rodney's shirt and was caressing his bare torso with those incredible fingers.

"Okay, okay," Rodney panted "Wait just ....wait," Radek seemed reluctant to stop, and Rodney was reluctant to have him stop. Time for the application of discipline.

"Okay, ... just one second!" Rodney seized Radek's shoulders to pull him away. Radek made a not quite coherent questioning noise (though it might have been Czech).

"Shirts," Rodney struggled, in the absence of Radek's touch, to express himself sensibly. "Make ... shirts ... gone, now," he finally gasped and he saw Radek grin in comprehension.

"Good, good," Radek concurred, setting to his task with Rodney's shirt without delay. "Brilliant thinking."

Chapter 9

"Genius, here." Rodney grinned, lifting his lover's shirt away, careful not to tangle his glasses in it. His grin faded as he took in the vision of Radek's naked torso, however, and he felt his hands compelled to reach out and touch, combing their way through the forest of dark hair on Radek's chest, and lingering to gently caress his nipples.

Radek hissed with pleasure, eyes shut tight as he whispered, "Ano, ano, prosim ... please, more ..."

Rodney leaned in to kiss Radek's face as Radek had done to him, and then began to work his way lower, all the while letting his hands busy themselves over Radek's skin.

"Ano, ... yes." Radek groaned. "Touch me, Rodney, oh god, touch me, make me real again ..."

Rodney felt his breath hitch, hearing Radek's words. "God yes, ... love touching you," he muttered against Radek's skin, moving his lips and the very tip of his tongue over Radek's nipples. Radek cried aloud at that touch, arching his back and reaching forward to grasp Rodney's face and pull him forward into a fierce kiss. The kiss seemed timeless, and left them both gasping when they finally drew apart. Radek's glasses were askew and his hair ... there was something about Radek's wildly disordered hair that made Rodney's heart constrict almost painfully. God, I love you," he whispered, his lips caressing Radek's ear, "Scares the shit out of me, how much I love you."

"Hush milacku," Radek whispered in turn, caressing Rodney's back with his hand and Rodney realized that he was trembling.

"Can't ever happen again. Can't ever let you die for me." Rodney could not stop the words, "Would so lose it. Completely lose it. Like, rubber room lose it. Got it?"

"Shh ..." Radek comforted him, pulling him close with surprising strength. "We will make sure that it does not happen then," he said gently, "I think that the two of us must not ever go off world together again, yes?"

Rodney nodded mutely into Radek's shoulder as Radek continued to caress him tenderly. After a bit, Rodney reached up to tenderly run his fingers through the fine strands of Radek's straying hair, shaking his head.

"Beautiful, ... so beautiful," he whispered, wondering where the words had come from, but not at all disagreeing.

Radek sighed contentedly, slipping his glasses off to lay them aside somewhere, and than drew himself in to lean against Rodney's broad chest, wrapping one arm around him and pulling him close. Looking down, fingers still playing idly in his lover's hair, Rodney wondered at how vulnerable Radek looked without his glasses. It made him seem even more naked than removing his shirt had.

Perhaps, Rodney reflected, simply enjoying the feeling of Radek's warm body pressed close to his, this was because removing a shirt meant only a willingness to share, but for Radek, removing his glasses had to mean a willingness to trust, implicitly. Trapped in the dart, Radek had been forced to trust him, but this, ... this small but significant gesture was a deliberate act, and a free choice. Touched beyond words, Rodney pulled Radek closer still and leaned over to kiss the top of his head.

In response, Radek tuned his head just a little so that he could lick and nibble at Rodney's nipples.

Rodney gasped loudly as he felt Radek's teeth worry ever so gently at the sensitive nubs of flesh, and suddenly his whole body was taught with desire. Certainly his remaining clothing now seemed much too constricting.

"Hmmm ..." Radek purred as he rubbed his stubbled cheek, cat like, over Rodney's chest. This tore a strangled cry of pure desire from Rodney, which in turn seemed only to encourage Radek in his torments, as he moved his free hand, presently caressing Rodney's belly, down further still, to linger at his waistband and then to firmly grasp the by now very hard flesh lying beneath the cloth of his trousers.

"Holy fucking shit, Radek!" Rodney wailed, helplessly arching his back and pushing himself into Radek's hand. "Kill me now! .... Either that or help me get my fucking pants off!"

"I believe I will chose the latter course," Radek said with a diabolical grin, "but I think that you will know 'little death', many times perhaps, before night is over."

"Oh, how very literate of you," Rodney panted as he reached over to unfasten Radek's slacks. Radek already had Rodney's over his hips, boxers and all, and his rigid flesh stood free and erect at last.. Radek paused in his pants removing endeavors to reach over and gently brush his fingers down its length.

Rodney gave a gasping sob, eyes shut tight, fingers still grasping at the waistband of Radek's trousers, but not quite coherent enough any more to continue removing them. Radek took pity on him then by standing to make the business considerably easier and Rodney opened his eyes to find Radek thus revealed before him, his erect flesh rising out of a thicket of dark curls.

Rodney's mouth worked, but he could not seem to make any words come out of it. His brain had crashed. After some moments, however, and considerable effort of concentration he did finally find just enough functioning brain cells to put together the words he needed.

"Bed," Rodney said, "Now."

Radek nodded in agreement. "Yes, yes. Much less crap in bed. More room. I concur entirely."

There were some preliminaries which needed to be attended to, however, before this could take place. Radek's pants were still around his ankles and Rodney's were still around his knees. In addition they were both still wearing shoes and socks. Rodney was still a bit 'impaired' and had done little towards removing his remaining apparel by the time Radek had finished with his.

"Here, here, let me," Radek said as he lifted Rodney's uncoordinated fingers from his shoes. " I have no one to blame but myself, after all."

Finally divested of the last of his garments, Rodney let Radek pull him up out of the sofa and lead him to the corner of Radek's quarters where he kept his bed. It wasn't made, but it was free of clutter, and both of them collapsed into it with delight.

The pleasure of holding the length of Radek's body to his, skin to skin, from his shoulders to his toes, nearly overwhelmed Rodney. His hands wanted to be everywhere, stroking Radek's sides, caressing his thighs, grasping his firm buttocks. Radek seemed to be similarly motivated himself, and his hands, graceful, nimble fingered, inquisitive, caressing; those hands seemed to actually *be* everywhere. Here was one running fingers through Rodney's hair while the other played with a nipple, but then there was one caressing the inside of his thigh, even as he felt slender finger tips trailing over his ribs, almost but not quite tickling.

Rodney caught one, finally, to hold it, still fluttering like a butterfly, to his lips. He kissed every digit, then sucked each into his mouth to taste it, one by one. By the time he'd finished with all five, Radek's other attentions had slowed to a stop and he had fallen to staring raptly at the vision of Rodney slowly drawing Radek's thumb out of his mouth.

Now Rodney had the pleasure of taking the vision of Radek's face, lips parted softly, eyes, revealed from behind the ever present specs, half lidded and not quite glazed with fascination and pleasure. Rodney brushed the tip of Radek' thumb over his lips and asked a question with his eyes, only glancing slightly downwards. Radek understood as clearly as if he'd spoken aloud and his breath hitched slightly as he replied.

"Prosim ... please, yes," he breathed, and Rodney happily obliged.

Taking hold of Radek's shoulders to push him back to lie flat on the bed, Rodney trailed his hands downwards, caressing Radek from his chest to his groin (with many enjoyable detours). Now, as his hands stroked along the inside of his thigh and played among the dark curls of hair at the base of Radek's cock, Rodney leaned forward to breath over Radek's erect flesh. The little Czech made a faint keening noise, writhing deliciously on the bed, and then Rodney brought his lips closer, to brush the tip of Radek's cock where it protruded past the foreskin.

"Oh god please," Radek gasped, "Touch me, please ... oh god, Rodney you miserable bastard, touch me!"

In response, Rodney licked the length of Radek's cock, from root to head and Radek wailed with desire. Rodney gathered Radek's balls in his hands, warm and heavy, and then licked them as well and Radek bit his lip and sobbed aloud. Rodney was delaying his own gratification as much as he was tormenting Radek, however, and now he decided he'd had enough of both. Pinning Radek at the hips with both his hands, Rodney slowly drew all of Radek's cock into his mouth.

Erupting in a stream of probably profane Czech, Radek thrust his hips upward with great force, but Rodney was prepared and held him in place. Instead Radek dug his heels into the mattress and gripped at the strewn covers beneath him, tossing his head from side to side as he swore in his native tongue. With the small portion of his (very powerful) brain still able to accomplish long term thinking, Rodney suspected that it had been as long for Radek as it had been for him, and that caution and pacing were advised if he wanted this experience to last at all.

For the moment, however, Rodney was having much too much fun. Radek's cock was thick and very warm and filled Rodney's mouth and throat in a way that nothing else ever would. Being filled in this way made him long, however, for another sort of penetration, and thinking about that, as he moved his lips and mouth slowly up and down the length of Radek's quivering cock, made his own sex quiver and the first few beads of precum appeared at the head.

Now utterly distracted, Rodney forgot all about his intention to leave off with Radek before things went too far, but fortunately Radek (who's brain was nothing to scoff at either) somehow retained just enough presence of mind to know that he needed a break. Now. He reached out to take hold of Rodney's shoulders and push him back, speaking his request twice before he remembered to say it in English.

"Wait," he said at last, panting slightly, "Just for moment, wait."

"Right, right," said Rodney, relinquishing Radek's cock to sit back, and smiling lopsidedly as he remembered himself.

"Sorry," he said, not sounding very. "Got a little carried away."

Chapter 10

Laughing, Radek rolled himself onto his side and propped his head up on his hand, regarding Rodney as he knelt before him on the bed. It was not long before he noticed the state of Rodney's weeping cock, and reached across with his free hand to dabble a finger in the moisture there. Rodney drew a long gasping breath, whimpering, "Oh god," as he let it out. Radek smiled wickedly as he massaged the fluid of Rodney's precum over the end of his cock with those so very talented fingers.

Rodney leaned back to prop himself up with his arms and watched with rapt attention as Radek's fingers stretched out to caress the length of his cock. Rodney loved watching Radek's hands. He couldn't seem to talk without them, and when he was really on to something they all but danced. Watching them dance over his cock now, Rodney knew he'd have to work hard not to think of this moment when next he came to see Radek's hands in motion again. Radek's fingers moved, with gentle and exacting strength, sending pulses with his fingertips along the length of Rodney's rigid flesh. He moaned loudly, hoping, belatedly, that the Ancients valued sound insulation in their living quarters as much as he did right now.

Now Radek shifted himself closer so that he could lean over and brush the tip of Rodney's cock with his lips and tongue. Dropping himself onto one side before his arms gave way, Rodney felt Radek's hands shift to his hips, holding them in place with surprising strength. Radek seemed to be murmuring softly in Czech again as he kissed and caressed the length of Rodney's cock with his lips and every contact between Radek's lips and Rodney's cock seemed to leap like a spark straight to the pleasure centers in his brain.

When Radek's mouth finally came to cover Rodney's cock, drawing it in to the root, Rodney shuddered all over, on the verge of coming until Radek's skilled fingers tightened around the base of his cock, holding him back. Rodney panted, helpless with pleasure, straining his hips against Radek's strength to no avail. Radek sucked him with gusto, until Rodney felt sure he was about to come and was prepared to not mind one bit, and then Radek drew himself away.

Rodney made a disappointed sound and then collapsed to lie supine on the bed, waiting for some portion of his intellectual capacity, or his major motor controls to return. Sighing contentedly, Radek stretched out to lie beside him, caressing Rodney with the length of his body. Feeling Radek's hard flesh pressing against his buttocks, several critical systems in Rodney came abruptly back on line and he moaned and pressed his ass up against Radek's cock.

"Oh god, ... Radek," Rodney hardly recognized his own voice. "D'you really want to feel real?"

"Yes, Rodney, milacku ... oh yes ..." Radek murmured.

"Then fuck me," panted Rodney, "Fuck me, Radek. I promise it doesn't get any realer than that."

"Yes!" Radek laughed as reached around to kiss Rodney most thoroughly, "Yes, yes, yes! ... Let me go get lotion, ... yes?"

"Oh yeah!" Rodney sighed loudly, smiling broadly in anticipation, "Definitely quality thinking!"

"Perhaps," Radek suggested as he retuned to the bed moments later with the bottle of lotion, "there may be more than one genius in the room?"

"Bastard," Rodney complained half heartedly, "You know you can make me say anything now."

"Ano, that is likely true," Radek remarked, as though considering this for the first time.

"God, I *am* an idiot," Rodney groaned, realizing what he'd just given away.

"Good beginning," said Radek, grinning as he stood beside the bed, tossing the bottle of lotion from hand to hand, "now keep going."

"Oh, alright," Rodney said with ill grace, "you're probably just as smart as me." Radek, 'ahemmed' loudly.

Rodney heaved a very put-upon sigh. "Okay, fine, you're smarter than me, ... and nicer, ... and everybody likes you, and ..." His tone began to change as he went along, though, "and you are ... the most gorgeous thing I've ever laid eyes on ... maybe outside of a fully charged ZedPM ...?"

Radek laughed and sat next to Rodney on the bed. "I suppose you must be forgiven for that," he said with a smile, laying his hand on Rodney's shoulder and slowly stroking his way across his flesh to rest his hip, "for I have myself never known anything so beautiful to my eyes as you, ... except perhaps for fully charged ZedPM."

Rodney smiled with pleasure, both from Radek's words and his touch. Seeing Radek open the little bottle of lotion to spread it liberally on his hands, however, Rodney's whole body began to thrum with anticipation and he rolled onto his stomach, legs spread and waiting.

Radek's hand returned to his hip to pushed him back, though, and he saw Radek shaking his head with a smile.

"Oh no, milacku," he said, "I will see your face when I fuck you, yes?"

"Okay," said Rodney in a small voice, already half helpless with anticipation and altogether compliant.

"And I will see you come, yes?" Rodney nodded, swallowing hard.

"And you will see me come as well, yes?"

"Oh yeah," Rodney squeaked, and let Radek roll him onto his back.

Radek leaned over to push Rodney's knees apart and then up, and settled himself between them, tracing his fingers along the inside of Rodney's thighs. Naked, open and exposed completely, Rodney had never in his life let himself be so vulnerable before another. Not only was it incredible to feel as safe with Radek as he did, but he found himself amazed at how freeing such a surrender was.

Rodney really did like being fucked, but his most recent experiences of same, for the most part, had involved dark back rooms and strangers and loud, muffled disco music, which he hated. There was a certain amount of surrender involved in such encounters, but nothing like this. He'd never imagined being capable of giving himself over so completely, never imagined that he'd want to, and never, ever imagined how good it would be, and Radek wasn't even fucking him yet.

He was, at last, stroking his lotion slicked fingers along the crack of Rodney's ass, just brushing past the puckered entrance and Rodney began to pant with desire, his whole body wanting.

"Oh, god ... oh god Radek," he moaned as Radek's other hand, also slick with lotion, wrapped gently around his cock, stroking it ever so slowly. That was when Radek slipped the first finger in and Rodney felt himself begin to tremble all over. He was more than ready for Radek's second finger, only a few moments later and the sensation of the two of them moving in and out of him, stretching and massaging his opening, almost undid him again.

Reading this, Radek moved his hand away from Rodney's cock and instead caressed his own as he bent down to place a flurry of little kisses along the insides of Rodney's thighs. Then he slipped a third finger in and Rodney's pants became panting moans.

"Fuck," Rodney gasped between pants, "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck me you bastard!" he finally gasped out.

"Yes, yes," Radek breathed, working more lotion into his rock hard flesh, "Yes, I think we are both ready."

Grasping Rodney's thighs just above the knees, Radek lifted Rodney slightly so that his own rigid and eager member pressed at Rodney's entrance. He thrust and Rodney pushed back ... and then gave way as Radek entered him. Both groaned aloud and Rodney could feel Radek's fingers grip his thighs with bruising strength as he slowly pushed his hard flesh more and more deeply into Rodney's body. God, oh, god this was good. Rodney's pleasure centers all but overloaded to feel Radek entering him. It had been so very long and never, really, never like this. Never with someone he cared for so much, or with someone who cared so much for him, so really this was, in many vital respects, something completely new, and incredibly, incredibly hot and he was *not* going to last a whole lot longer, that was for sure.

Neither, it seemed likely, was Radek, who was trembling all over and sobbing out little words and phrases in something other than English as he moved, ever so slowly in and out of Rodney's tight flesh. Rodney knew he had to be tight because it really *had* been a while and besides he could feel every centimeter of Radek's cock as it passed the constricting ring of muscle at Rodney's entrance, thrusting slowly in and slowly pulling out.

Rodney had ached to be filled and now he ached with fullness and it was the most pleasant sort of ache in the world. That it was Radek that filled him and possessed him, that was the icing on the cake, ... except, no, Radek *was* the cake, and the icing and everything ... everything wonderful. Rodney's voice lifted with pleasure and desire as he pushed back against his lover to feel him buried to the root inside him.

He looked up now to see Radek's face sheened with sweat, his eyes shut tight in concentration, and reached up to stroke his cheek.

"Real now," Rodney murmured, "yes?"

"Yes," Radek sobbed as he thrust again, "oh yes."

"All real," Rodney whispered again, feeling Radek's hardness move deep inside him. "Real inside me. Hard inside me. So good."

"Oh god, yes!" Radek wailed.

"Don't hold back," Rodney begged, sensing that he was, "Just don't ... don't try, ... just let go, go, go, oh god ..." and Radek did let go, thrusting harder, deeper, faster ...

"Yes!" Rodney shouted, "Oh god yes you are so real, so hard, so good ..." And then there were Radek's fingers, beautiful, strong, supple fingers on his cock stroking him, coaxing him, bringing him over the edge, and over he went.

Shouting, thrusting, coming magnificently, Rodney yelled himself hoarse, feeling his body shudder and tighten, pulsing around Radek's cock and bringing his lover over as well. He watched Radek come, because he could, and because Radek had said he should. His lover's eyes shut tight and then opened wide as he opened his throat wide to cry out in his climax, mouth agape and panting, skin beaded with sweat. Rodney didn't think he'd ever seen anything so hot in all his life.

Radek lowered himself slowly, as the last tremors of his climax passed through him, to lie bonelessly on top of Rodney, who did not mind in the least. There was something, he thought, that he wanted to say, but the language centers of his brain were completely off-line (what a novel sensation, he thought), and so he contented himself with wrapping an arm around Radek where he lay sprawled on his chest, sighing happily.

Eventually it came to him that what he'd wanted to say was that this was the coolest thing that had happened to him since the day he had learned that the job that the Air Force really wanted him to do was studying and reverse engineering *real* alien technology, but he couldn't think of any way to say it that wouldn't break the mood, so he let it pass.

Chapter 11

Lying in perfect contentedness with Radek's warm and not so very heavy body covering his, Rodney began to doze, the sleep deprivation of the past five days finally catching up with him. Radek waked him from one of those dozes with a kiss at the hollow of his throat and then slipped off of him to curl himself at Rodney's side.

"You will be staying the night," Radek asked, a little uncertainly, "yes?"

Rodney turned to face him, and take up the hand that had touched his face questioningly in his own. "Unless you're planning on throwing me out," he answered, "What did you think?"

Radek's smile was a bit abashed. "Was only wanting to be sure," he explained, "I am ... I do not wish to be alone just yet."

"Well of course not," said Rodney, considerately not rolling his eyes. "Seriously, Radek, I am not going anywhere until you tell me to fuck off."

Radek replied with a kiss, filled with gratitude and love and happiness, and Rodney returned all of those feelings to the best of his abilities. When they parted, though, Radek had another question.

"Would you prefer it if we went to your quarters to sleep?" he asked.

"You mean, would I prefer to sleep in my doctor perscribed, custom fitted, specially ordered orthopedic mattress?" Rodney asked.

"Since you put it that way ..." Radek said, preparing to get up and move.

"Not built for two people," Rodney said, having not moved a muscle. "Prob'ly wreck it, putting both of us on it."

"Ah, well," said Radek collapsing happily beside Rodney again.

"Anyhow," Rodney shrugged, snuggling up to Radek. "My bed's not any bigger," he explained, "nor any more made, and this one is warm. Besides, I've got some pretty fond memories of this bed."

"Do you?" Radek commented with a smile.

"Honestly," Rodney carried on, "if there's any justice in the world, this bed will become historic. I mean, think about it, the two finest minds in two galaxies 'did it' for the first time in this bed. I bet the combined IQ of that fuck set world records ... interplanetary records even."

Radek was laughing out loud now. "I hope that this bed is not now too historic for you to get any sleep in it," he said.

"Given that there are always other things I'd like to do in any bed other than sleep," Rodney answered, "I'm still currently dealing with some, ah, sleep deprivation issues so, sleep, ... not a problem anywhere just now."

"Good, good," said Radek, snuggling back down next to Rodney. "Then would you make the lights go off, please?"

Rodney did so, smiling to himself as he often did whenever he was able to use the abilities granted to him by his new ATA gene, and no sooner was the room dark than Rodney dropped into a deep, long awaited sleep, Radek wrapped safely in his arms.

Rodney was dreaming words, a phrase repeated again and again, that he couldn't understand. Eventually it dawned on him that he'd heard that phrase before, though it had been spoken differently, by a voice filled with panic and despair. Now the words seemed muffled, indistinct, though they also seemed insistent and were slowly growing louder. And then Rodney woke up, and realized that he wasn't dreaming them.

Radek still lay curled at his side, unmoving, but he was speaking the words Rodney had heard him crying out when they had fist connected him to the audio channel.

"Radek?" Rodney lifted his head and called softly to his lover.

Radek, however, remained deeply asleep, though he continued to speak, crying the same phrase over and over again with increasing insistence.

"Radek!" Rodney tried more loudly, but whatever had Radek in it's grip was not yet ready to release him. Instead Radek's voice grew louder still, nearing the awful hysterical edge Rodney had heard from the speakers that day.

"Radek, wake up!" Rodney called, shaking him slightly, and then something did change. Radek began speaking English.

"No," he cried, "I am not dead! I'm not dead! Oh god, don't leave me here, Rodney, *I'm not dead!!*"

Desperately, Rodney grabbed both Radek's shoulders, turning him in the bed to face Rodney as he cried, "For god's sake Radek, wake up, you're dreaming!"

Radek came suddenly awake with a terrible gasp, then gave a heart wrenching sob and fell into Rodney's arms. Rodney pulled Radek close and tight as he wept, feeling a painful lump in his own throat as he did.

"It's all right now," he said, his own voice none too steady, "You're all right. We found you; you're real again, Radek; you're real again."

It took a while for the storm to pass and by the time it did Rodney's own face was wet with tears as well. He held Radek's shaking body until the sobs abated somewhat and then he heard Radek sniffle loudly and stir in his arms. Rodney felt rather than saw, in the darkened room, Radek lift his face away from Rodney's shoulder, then felt Radek's fingers on his face, touching the moisture there.

"Rodney?" Radek's voice was still rough from crying, but Rodney could hear the concern in it and it all but broke his heart.

"God, I'm sorry," he confessed, "I should have found you earlier, should have known to look ..."

Radek's fingers on his lips silenced him. "Rodney, it is a miracle you found me at all, don't you see that?"

"I just keep hearing your voice, the way it was when we first put that audio access in," Rodney said, trying not to hear it again in his memory and failing, "And you were there again just now, weren't you?"

Rodney felt Radek shake his head in the dark. "I thought I was, but I was not, Rodney," he said. "I was, in truth, here in your arms, and if I find myself waking from my nightmares in such a place often enough I think that perhaps my nightmares will not return too many times."

Rodney let that sink in and it warmed his heart.

"Think so, do you?" Rodney eventually asked idly as he felt Radek nuzzle under his ear in a manner that was not calculated to induce further sleep.

"I am certain of it," said Radek, moving to lick at the hollow of Rodney's throat, "and, of course, there are also other means by which we might banish our disquieting memories."

There was, by now, no question at all in Rodney's mind where Radek was going with this.

"What, ... ah," he asked anyway, to play along, "what means did you have in mind?"

In answer, Radek rolled over to press his back against Rodney's chest, pulling Rodney's arms around him and very intentionally pushing his ass up against Rodney's groin.

"I want," Radek began, his voice so low that Rodney could barely hear it, though he hardly needed Radek's words to tell him what he wanted, "I want to feel you ... inside me. If ... if you think you are able?"

"I am *now*," Rodney answered, swallowing in response to the wave of desire that suddenly flooded though him.

"Good," he thought he heard Radek say as he passed Rodney the bottle of lotion.

Rodney took the lotion with one hand and with the other, currently trapped beneath Radek's body, he pulled his love closer, reaching around to brush his fingers against Radek's sensitive nipples. Radek sighed happily and caught hold of Rodney's trapped hand to bring it to his lips and kiss it.

With his free hand, Rodney anointed the cleft between Radek's cheeks with generous quantities of lotion and then thrust his hips against Radek's buttocks so that his cock slid between them. The object of this exercise really was to get the lotion onto Rodney's cock, but there was no reason, Rodney thought, that he couldn't have fun while doing it. Radek hummed with pleasure and thrust back, the shifting of his hips allowing Rodney's trapped arm to reach lower and capture Radek's cock in his hand. Never, Rodney mused, had he ever imagined that it would give him such great pleasure to make another man moan like that.

Now was definitely the time to take one lotion slicked finger of his free hand and probe gently at Radek's opening, and Rodney was pleased to feel it relax some at his touch and admit him entrance. Interestingly, the pitch of Radek's moans dropped quite suddenly, by an octave or more, at the introduction of Rodney's finger. This was an indicator, Rodney suspected, that he would come to know well in the future.

Radek was ready for another finger in practically no time and Rodney could not but help imagining how this hot, tight flesh would feel enclosing his cock very soon. Happy to show off his own skilled fingers, Rodney stroked Radek's sweet spot, causing Radek's voice to deepen further still, and slipped in a third finger. It soon became apparent, however, that Radek was as impatient as he was, as he lifted his knee to open himself to Rodney only a moment or two later.

"Now," said Radek, "I am ready, Rodney, now."

Rodney did not have to be told twice.

Withdrawing his fingers, Rodney applied another dab of lotion to his very ready cock, set it against Radek's opening and then with both his hands grasping Radek's hips, Rodney slowly pulled him back and onto his own cock.

"Ohgod, ohgod, ohgod, ..." It took Rodney several moments to realize that he was the one saying that, but the sensation of Radek's tight flesh enclosing his was sending him right out of his head.

"Ano, ... prosim, prosim, ..." Radek's voice suggested that Rodney was not the only one out of his head at the moment. "Fuck me, Rodney, please fuck me."

If he believed in heaven, Rodney thought, he didn't think it could top this, to be buried to the balls in Radek Zelenka's very warm, very real body, but his love's request had not fallen on deaf ears, and there was no way that Rodney was going to stop himself from thrusting vigorously into that delicious ass real soon, anyhow. He started slowly, while he still had the ability to control himself at all, and reveled in the sensations of Radek's flesh squeezing and enclosing the length of his cock.

These sensations, and the sound of Radek's voice crying out in Czech soon had Rodney's self control in shreds and he began thrusting into Radek's ass in earnest, shouting aloud in rhythm with his thrusts. Rodney knew he wouldn't be able to keep it up for long, but it was sure going to be fun while it lasted.

By what instinct Rodney knew that it was time to reach around and grasp Radek's cock with his lotion slicked hand, he could never say, but know he did. It was not possible to do anything but stroke it in rhythm with his own thrusts, breath with Radek's shouts, shout with Radek's gasping breaths and the same driving rhythm that had claimed them both, seized them both with climax in the same moment.

Rodney felt the warm whiteout of orgasm pulsing though him even as he felt Radek's cock pulse in his hand, felt their two bodies shudder together in release and finally felt them both relax together, slipping apart to lie on their backs, side by side.

After a while Radek's hand found Rodney's in the space between them, and covered it, lacing their fingers together. Rodney lifted it to his lips and then laid it over his heart.

"Now, no more nightmares tonight," said Radek drowsily, rolling on his side to lay his arm over Rodney's chest.

"I would imagine not," said Rodney, yawning. Sleep was coming to claim him already, and he was not in the least opposed.

Still, in the timeless moments that immediately precede sleep, when the mind is often freest to roam, Rodney wondered how this 'therapy' would work on his own occasionally troubled sleep. Nightmares weren't anything that had ever particularly troubled Rodney before coming to Atlantis, but between the never ending crises they faced and the frightening load of responsibilities Rodney found himself carrying, they were a not-infrequent occurrence in his life now. How much of their horror might be blunted if he were to waken from them in Radek's arms?

There were other, more troubling questions waiting to be asked as well, such as how many residents of Atlantis would not take kindly to the news that the two senior science staff were sharing a bed, and what would their reaction be, but Rodney's drifting thoughts passed on those questions ­for now. It was more inclined to wonder, how much less might Rodney's life suck, now that the grinding loneliness he'd assumed would be his lot in life forever, was looking to be a thing of the past. He wondered if Radek had made the same assumption, and if he too was struggling (if he wasn't asleep already) with the realization that nearly everything about his life would be different now, and for the most part, much better.

These were the gardens in which Rodney's thoughts drifted, as he drifted to sleep. These landscapes were all new to him, the lands unknown, and although he had the feeling that he'd traveled farther in the last few days than he had when he first stepped into the Gate that took him to the Pegasus Galaxy, Rodney did not worry. He was no stranger to fear, by any means, but he knew himself to be a skilled and able traveler now, and exploring strange, new lands such as these, well that was his life now, wasn't it? And honestly, he couldn't have been happier.

(c) Taylor Dancinghands, 2006

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