In Extremis

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.)

I. Descent into Disaster

Radek sat huddled in the jumper's co pilot seat, head in his hands, struggling with anguish and despair. What had begun looking like a stroke of incredible good fortune had all gone so very wrong, so very suddenly. The last twenty four hours had been an unmitigated nightmare, spiraling from bad to worse to unspeakably awful.

Coming to a supposedly deserted world to be surprised by a highly organized, highly territorial, and lethally armed security force had been bad. Seeing every one of his military escort, including their pilot, killed by those fucking repeating crossbows the locals were armed with was definitely worse. That had left Radek stranded here, alone and unable to contact Atlantis, but as bad as that had been, all he'd needed to do at that point was sit tight in their cloaked jumper and wait. A rescue was certain to show up after they missed their scheduled check in, Radek figured, five days from now. He'd never figured, though, on things getting worse still, and he'd had no idea of how much worse it could get.

Three days ago Radek had been in engineering heaven. Bates' team had followed what seemed a fairly sketchy lead and discovered a treasure trove of ancient technology, apparently completely abandoned. Rodney had been off world on a protracted assignment and besides, what Bates had described finding was a huge cavern full of puddle jumpers. Naturally, Radek was the only person to send, and as reluctant as he often was to leave the moderate safety of Atlantis, the images Bates' team had brought back had Radek's mouth watering. They had set out with a contingent of eight Marines, one of whom, Lt. Dodekian, had the ATA gene and was serving as their pilot.

Dodekian had been the last to die, bleeding to death in Radek's arms from a crossbow wound to the thigh that Radek had been unable to stanch, though he'd tried his best. With his last breath the pilot had directed Radek to take his gun and hide, and this Radek had done, but it was not all he'd done. Before things had gone wrong, Dodekian had initialized a handful of the jumpers in the cavern. The place appeared to have been a puddle jumper 'depot' of sorts, and more than a few of the jumpers they'd looked over had been in less than perfect repair. They'd chosen some that looked to be in good shape to initialize, but had not powered them up, waiting to do so until Radek had checked them out. He had never gotten a chance to do that, but as he waited in their own cloaked jumper, Radek had decided that there was something he could do with those initialized jumpers that might aid in his rescue, when it came.

To that end, Radek had cautiously ventured forth in the small hours, and activated the passive sensors on those jumpers that Dodekian had initialized. The technologically limited natives would never be able to tell that anything about a handful of the dozens of jumpers in the cavern had been changed, but back in his own jumper, parked just outside the cavern, Radek was able to create a comm link with the other activated jumpers. Now he could monitor audio and video from a number of spots within the cavern from the safety of his cloaked jumper.

From this vantage point Radek had been able to finally discover where the native soldiers were entering and exiting the cavern, as it was not through the narrow, winding natural entrance they had used, and where they had placed their own guards. A video pickup had shown how a wall at the back of what Radek had determined to be a repair bay slid open to reveal a passage leading the further back into the hillside. Naturally, Bates and his team had checked for that kind of thing when they'd first arrived, but honestly, Radek thought with chagrin, they really shouldn't be too surprised to find that they didn't really know all the Ancients' secrets.

Eavesdropping on the soldiers as they came and went (and there really wasn't much else for Radek to do) Radek had learned that these people left the depot looking abandoned on purpose, with the aim of trapping (and killing) potential looters, and occasionally taking possession of an offworlder whose knowledge of Ancient technology was worth extracting. Hidden safely in his invisible jumper, Radek fearfully tried not to imagine what would have happened to him if he had been caught. Fortunately, not only had the natives not caught him, they apparently didn't know he was there at all. For this, Radek knew he had his deceased military escort to thank, and he felt no small measure of guilt, but before long Radek's network of jumper-mounted spy cameras and audio pickups had bought him that news that drove every other consideration out of his mind.

The soldiers had kept up fairly thorough patrols in the cavern for the first couple of days after Radek and his team had been ambushed, but after that, apparently convinced that they'd exterminated all of the latest batch of looters, they'd cleaned up the blood stains on the floor and retreated behind their secret door again. The next morning had passed in relative quiet, and Radek had found himself staving off boredom by tinkering (carefully) with the jumper's sensors until he had heard voices once again, coming through one of his pickups.

"We have been told that you will be able to make these work for us, offworlder." Radek had recognized the voice as belonging to the fellow who seemed to be the commander in charge of the soldiers here. Radek had recognized the next voice he heard as well, but it came as such a shock that he had actually dropped the small hand scanner he was holding.

"Holy crap!" said the devastatingly familiar voice. "Where did you get these?!"

"They are our people's birthright," the commander had replied, "as is the knowledge to use them. The gods have granted us these gifts, and they will grant us the knowledge as well. That is why you have been sent to us."

"Sent?!" Radek had cringed at the outrage in Rodney McKay's voice. It would only antagonize the his captors, but Radek knew that Rodney couldn't do appeasing if his life depended on it.

"Your goons grabbed me out of my bed and kidnapped me!" Rodney had objected stridently. "You're not getting jack shit out of me."

Radek had felt his heart sink. He had heard the soldiers discussing their 'extraction' methods too many times already, and he'd known, even if Rodney remained clueless, that they'd likely waste no time in getting down to them. Sure enough, it had only been a little while later that Radek had heard the screaming start.


II. Philip Glass to the Rescue

It had gone on for hours.

After the first hour Radek could hear Rodney's voice start to go. In truth, Radek had never heard Rodney McKay's voice pushed to such extremes, though it remained unmistakably Rodney's even after it had been stripped raw. Throughout all of it Radek had listened, arms wrapped tightly about himself, huddled and shaking like a coward in his invisible hiding place. It was very late when they stopped and the sudden silence was terrifying. The pickups were sensitive enough to catch Rodney's harsh sobbing breaths in that silence, so Radek knew he was alive at least, but he knew that just meant that they'd start in again at some point tomorrow. He also knew that there was no way he could endure another such episode.

He was at a complete loss as to what to do about it though. Never in his life had he felt so helpless, so torn between the hopeless options of futile action or sensible cowardice. He could not remain here and listen to Rodney endure another torture session. It would drive him mad. Neither could he take on a whole unit of highly trained soldiers all by himself, no matter how much technological superiority he had.

Radek stood, his helplessness turning to rage in the confines of the jumper. Fingers of both hands combing through his hair in desperation, he moved into the rear compartment, pacing it's insufficient length desperately until something broke loose in him and he emitted an inarticulate cry of impotent fury, bringing his hands down to thoughtlessly sweep an assortment of equipment off of one of cargo shelves and onto the deck.

He stopped then, clutching at the now empty shelf, appalled and frightened by what he'd done. There was something eating at him, gnawing at Radek's soul and insisting that Radek's inaction was not a matter of good sense but of cowardice. Relentlessly it goaded him, asking him if he really cared for Rodney why didn't he go after him. But he couldn't! It would be insane! He didn't know how to take on a military force single handedly; that was what people like Sheppard did. He'd only get himself killed or worse, get himself captured so that he could be used against the man he loved. That would absolutely destroy Rodney, and Radek swore he would never let that happen.

Radek sat heavily on the bench at the back of the jumper, removing his glasses to knuckle his eyes tiredly. He wasn't thinking clearly, that was for certain. Rodney's agonized screams still rang in his ears and drove everything out of his head but the horror he felt. He knew he could do no good for Rodney or himself this way, but he didn't know what to do about it.

Focus. He needed to focus. His mind was the only thing he had going for him and the fear and anxiety he struggled with were crippling his ability to think. He tried to analyze the situation, to take the problem apart, but the memory of Rodney's terrible cries inevitably intruded on his feeble attempts to organize his thoughts and scattered them hopelessly. He needed something else to fill his memory's soundtrack and block out those cries or he would accomplish nothing.

Almost immediately Radek thought of the perfect harmonies and ordered rhythms of the minimalist music he liked to play when he was alone in the lab (or when he wished to drive everyone else out of the lab). He focused on the music alone at first, allowing it to build up a momentum in his mind, crowding out other sounds in his memory. When he felt it to be self-sustaining, Radek turned his attention back to the challenges before him.

Thoughts ordered by the clockwork arpeggios in his mind, Radek found that he could now recast the situation as an engineering challenge. Fear, guilt and anxiety were all off the page now. It was no longer a matter of daring or cowardice but numbers, vectors, force and energy, of action and reaction. This was the safest place in Radek Zelenka's mind at the moment and it was also the place where all the answers came from.

It did not take him long to determine that rescuing Rodney was simply necessary. Rather than fretting over the risks involved, however, now Radek saw the decision as only a first step. A plan of action would need to be devised next and data would be needed to determine the best plan. Over the following hour, Radek reviewed what he'd learned about the number of soldiers stationed here, and their routines. He triangulated the data from his remote sensors to determine the locations of the soldiers guarding Rodney, and used his own jumper's passive sonar to generate a rough map of the corridors behind the main cavern.

Next, Radek cast his mind back to his last session with Sheppard out on the shooting range. He was no sharpshooter, but his accuracy was fair. Carefully reviewing the weapons he'd worked best with and the exact degree to which he tended to pull to the left, Radek chose two weapons, a handgun and a P90, and loaded extra clips into his vest. With meticulous care Radek next donned his leg holster, flak jacket and vest, and stood at the back of the jumper, P90 in his hand.

Here Radek paused, however, unable to avoid a moment of anxiety. What was he doing? Who did he think he was, playing 'Rambo' when real lives, his and Rodney's, were at stake? But lives were at stake, Radek reminded himself, which was why it was necessary for him to keep his wits about him and carry this off. He simply had to stay focused and ignore the fear that threatened to paralyze him even now.

Struggling to rein in his emotions, Radek found himself focusing on the weapon in his hands. As an engineer, Radek knew such weapons to be masterpieces of design and engineering, whatever he felt about their intended purposes. Each interlocking part was perfectly machined to function flawlessly in its role, never questioning, never doubting, never troubled by the purpose it served. Could he, Radek wondered, embrace such an attitude himself in order to do what he had to do now? Could he see the world with an engineer's eyes only? Drawing a steadying breath, Radek narrowed his focus, directing his thoughts to consider only the quantifiable.

Seen in this light, the task before him was not fraught with peril, but merely a series of challenges, none of which was insurmountable. The first consisted of stepping through the door of the jumper, and that was simple enough, so he did. Now Radek moved through the narrow passage leading into the cavern in silence and determination. He had made himself a sort of machine, like the weapon in his hand, cool, elegant, soulless and purposed. Radek's single-purpose was the rescue of Rodney McKay and he would do what ever was necessary to complete that task. Nothing else could be allowed to matter.


III. First Blood

The passage Radek traveled emptied into a shadowy area near the back of the cavern. Radek wondered if the locals even knew of it for the soldiers had never ventured near there. The opening behind which Rodney was being kept was on the cavern's far side and so Radek would have to cross without being seen. This was not so hard as it might have been because of the dozens of jumpers parked there, and Radek stepped carefully from behind one to behind another until he had crossed the whole distance. Holding the images from the jumper's on-board scanners in his mind, he knew that there would be four guards stationed at the passage's opening.

He knew he would have to shoot them, and because he could not silence or secure them quickly enough any other way, he would have to kill them. There was a moment when, considering this, Radek's newly found focus wavered, but he determinedly lifted the P90, focusing instead on the perfect, deadly machine in his hands. This would be the only time he would have the advantage of surprise, he knew, so he considered his shot carefully. From behind a jumper, Radek visualized where the four guards would be standing, a pair on either side of the opening, and determined the order in which he would shoot them. Then he raised the P90 to his shoulder, stepped around the corner of the jumper, and carried out his plan.

He took out the two men nearest the door first, left then right, and followed with the two on the outside, right then left. He took his time, aimed for the torso and when he saw that one of the guards had not dropped, but was struggling back down the passage, shot him again. Though they'd been wearing some kind of mesh armor that Radek assumed would stop a crossbow bolt, it was no match for the bullets from the P90. He did not know if anyone inside would recognize the sound of gunfire and prepare for his arrival, but he could not afford to assume that they wouldn't, so he left the men he had shot where they had fallen and moved cautiously into the passage.

The corridor came to a 'T' a few meters in, as Radek's data had suggested it would. It had also suggested that he would find Rodney to the right, along with a handful of guards. He was about to proceed in that direction when he heard a faint sound behind him and turned quickly to see that one of the guards he'd shot was up and had his weapon trained on him. Radek took aim and fired, but not before the man had fired his own weapon. Even as the guard dropped for a final time Radek felt a sharp pain in his upper left arm and flinched, much too late to avoid being hit.

Fortunately, the missile only cut a deep gash on the outside of his arm, a little ways below his shoulder, and the pain only served to sharpen Radek's focus. He paused to recollect the layout again, and his intel, remembering that there would be three or four guards down this corridor and by the sound of it some of them were headed in his direction. He considered his strategy for a moment and then faded back around the corner to wait.

The two guards seemed now to be approaching slowly and when Radek thought they might be close enough for him to be able to hit them easily, he stepped around the corner and fired the P90. He struck both his targets and they both went down, but one of the men, only gut shot, began screaming loudly. It didn't really matter, of course, if he was screaming in pain or screaming for help, as it would come to the same thing. There was at least one guard just a little way down the hall, and who knew what help might come from the other direction. Radek stepped forward, then took careful aim, and shot the man in the head.

The corridor fell silent instantly and in that silence Radek could hear hurried footsteps coming from up ahead and moving in his direction. He lowered himself to one knee next to the fallen the guards, took aim down the corridor and waited for his next target to appear. He only had to wait a few seconds before the man came, running at full tilt around the corner and into Radek's sights. He fired a burst on automatic, the first time he had done so, because his target was moving rapidly. Several slugs caught the man and he was flung back violently by the force of being struck so many times.

Radek stood slowly, noting in passing that he'd gotten blood on his calf and on the sole of his boot. He wondered if the bloody footprints he was now leaving in his wake would give him away but then, he reflected, the trail of bodies was probably a lot more noticeable. The corridor remained quiet for now as Radek stepped cautiously around the guard he'd just shot. Checking back over his shoulder first, so as to not be taken by surprise from behind, Radek next peered carefully around the corner that the last guard had come from.

It was a short passage leading to a medium sized room that Radek looked into. The room was about the same size as some of the smaller labs back on Atlantis, and there were no guards present. The smooth, silver gray walls and fixtures showed the room to be of Ancient design, but the consoles were dark and been used as shelves. Food scraps and other personal items, presumably left there by the soldiers, littered their surfaces. Most glaringly out of place in the room was a large cage or cell which looked to have been made of wrought iron, set against the far wall. Radek felt his pulse quicken, but schooled himself to discipline. He remained cautious as he approached, P90 still at the ready.

There was someone on the floor at the back of the cell. He was curled into a miserable ball on his side, shirtless, and Radek could see numerous wounds that looked to be burn marks on the exposed skin. His grip on the P90 tightened until he felt the hard metal cut into his fingers. He drew a long centering breath and swallowed to steady his voice before he spoke.

"Rodney?" he said quietly.

The figure on the floor startled awake with a small painful cry, then slowly lifted his head to peer, blinking, up at Radek.


IV. No Time for Reunion

Rodney pushed himself up slowly, his expression confused at first, and then slowly changing to one of incredulity. Radek dropped to one knee so that Rodney could see him better and as he did Rodney leaned forward to reach out to him with a trembling hand. Rodney's right hand, which he held protectively close, Radek could now see was swollen and mangled almost beyond recognition.

"Radek?" Rodney's voice was raw, still, and it made Radek's heart hurt to hear it. "Is that really you?"

Right hand still clutching the P90, Radek reached out with his left hand to take hold of Rodney's, which gripped him with desperate strength.

"It is I, milaku." Radek answered gently. "Can you stand?"

Rodney nodded, still grasping Radek's hand, and let Radek help him to his feet. Radek gestured with the P90, indicating the door of Rodney's cell, and Rodney stood back for Radek to shoot the crude lock away. Seeing Rodney stagger painfully out of the cell, seeing him so badly hurt and knowing that he had heard those hurts being done to him while sitting miserably in the jumper, wrenched awfully at the fragile tranquility Radek had so carefully engendered.

Knowing that the more difficult and perilous portion of the rescue operation remained, he struggled to retain it. Rodney's suffering would undo him if he allowed himself to think about it, or feel the least amount of empathy. He shuddered as Rodney drew him into an awkward, one armed hug. Fortunately for Radek's composure, the embrace did not last long. Rodney was clearly in a great deal of pain and Radek could not seem to relinquish his grip on the P90. As they drew apart, however, Radek could see Rodney pulling himself together as much as possible, looking around him and trying to assess the situation.

"Are you alone?" he asked at last, quite reasonably confused by the circumstances. "Jesus Radek, what the hell are you doing here by yourself?"

Radek knew that Rodney hardly meant to accuse him of such imprudence, but he realized that if he reacted as though he thought he had, he could fend off the feelings that threatened to undermine his equanimity.

"I?!" he asked, outrage coming to replace his fear him too easily. "What am I doing here?! I am exactly where I am supposed to be, whereas you, Dr. Rodney McKay, are supposed to be examining ancient parchments on PX-41893! Yes? Is not so?"

"Hey!" Rodney replied, outrage answering outrage, " Coming here was hardly *my* idea! These thugs came and grabbed me out of my tent in the dead of night. That is so not my fault!"

"No, of course not," Radek little more than muttered as he moved cautiously towards the entrance, "Is never your idea; is never you fault."

"Now you wait just a minute...!" Inciting Rodney's outrage hadn't necessarily been a bad idea, as it got him up and running well enough, but it also made him much too loud.

"Hush!" Radek admonished. "As happens, I am alone here because local 'thugs', as you call them, have killed all of military escort, including jumper pilot, and they will kill us as well if you do not shut up!" Radek hissed this last vehemently over his shoulder and Rodney subsided immediately.

"You're hurt." Rodney said quietly then, and Radek realized that there was now a fair amount of blood soaked into his sleeve below his left shoulder. That Rodney had noticed his relatively inconsequential injury in the face of his own quite dreadful ones threatened to undo him again but Radek held steadfastly to his outrage and annoyance.

"Yes, Rodney," he said, rolling his eyes. "Thugs here actually do posses dangerous weapons. Is how they killed all eight marines. Now please to be quiet and stay behind me, as I am only one presently able to shoot gun."

Thankfully, Rodney complied without further questions and the two of them made their way quietly down the short passage to the main corridor. Radek stopped when they came to it and slowly, cautiously peered around the corner towards the exit. This was the most perilous moment, Radek reminded himself, his heart racing, for if more soldiers appeared down the further corridor now then they would be trapped here, and almost certainly doomed.

To his profound relief, the corridor remained empty save for the bodies of the soldiers Radek had shot earlier. Listening in the silence for a moment, however, Radek did think he could hear the sounds of others coming.

"Quickly, quickly now," he hissed to Rodney, "As fast as you can, follow me." Rodney could walk well enough, but running jarred his mangled right hand too much, even protected carefully, his left hand covering it and holding it close to his body.

Radek matched his speed to Rodney's best, never more than two steps in front of him, glancing anxiously up and down the hall as they went. Radek did not fail to note how Rodney's eyes widened at the sight of the dead guards, glancing up at Radek with an expression he could not read. By the time they made it to the 'T' intersection they could both now clearly hear the sounds of a large number of guards approaching from down the other corridor. Radek paused, holding Rodney back before they turned the corner, to check the new passage before they strode into it, but it too remained empty.

"Now, quickly again!" Radek commanded and Rodney, to his credit, actually pushed himself into a cautious jog, wincing as he went, but moving somewhat more rapidly. Radek could not help but feel a surge of relief as they left the passage behind and entered the open space of the cavern, though he knew that they were far from safe. The danger of being trapped, at least, was behind them; now all they had to do was avoid being killed.

They'd not quite made it to the nearest jumper when the first handful of soldiers entered the cavern and Radek heard a couple of the hand length, iron crossbow bolts ping as they struck the floor behind them.

"Get down!" he cried, stepping between Rodney and the guards to fire an automatic burst from the P90. Seconds later they were hunkered behind a jumper and while Rodney rested for a moment Radek peered past the edge of the jumper to assess the damage he'd done.

A number of guards were down, he could see, but far more were pouring out of the passage even as he watched. Radek recollected painfully how overwhelming numbers of these crossbow archers had filtered into the cavern, lurking behind every other jumper, and in that manner wiped out an entire unit of marines. Clearly they would soon do the same here, and that meant that an orderly, jumper to jumper retreat was out of the question. They would simply have to make a run for it.

"Rodney," he said, turning back to find the man standing at his shoulder. "When I next tell you it is time to run, I need you to really run, no matter how it hurts, can you do that?"

When he saw Rodney's eyes widen in distress Radek knew it was not the issue of running that worried him, but the possibility that Radek planned to sacrifice himself for Rodney's sake. Radek had most solemnly promised never to do that, but saw that he would need to reassure Rodney that he had not forgotten.

"I will not leave your side, milaku, I promise," he said, and saw Rodney subside in relief.

"Yeah, I think I can run," said Rodney quietly, reaching out to lay his one good hand on Radek's one good shoulder.

"Good," said Radek, feeling Rodney's hand slip away as he took up the P90 again and stepped away from the jumper for a second to reconnoiter the area one last time. Then he turned to look back at Rodney.

"Ready?" he asked. Rodney nodded.

Taking a deep breath, Radek, raised his weapon, stepped out into the clear, and fired a long, sustained burst, sweeping across the area around the doorway twice.

"Now!!" he called to Rodney. "We are running now!"

Radek had seen Rodney run faster, but he did manage to move along at a fair clip, Radek running at his side at times, behind him at others. Any direct route straight down the long aisles of parked jumpers would be fatally stupid, so Radek lead them on a meandering route, back and forth along the rows, but gradually moving towards the back. They could not afford to stop and check each time they moved from behind one jumper to another, and far too often a spray of crossbow bolts would fall around them as they raced across. They made it more than half way to their goal before Radek was hit.

Radek had made sure that he always stood between Rodney and the main force of the soldiers whenever they ran between jumpers, which is why it was Radek that was struck, and he was struck in the left arm, just above where he'd been cut by the earlier bolt. This bolt, however, went straight in, passing through his arm and penetrating into his armpit.

Radek felt the hit as he ran, but did not stop to examine it until they'd ducked behind another jumper. His brain already buzzing with adrenaline, the sight of the last few centimeters of the bolt protruding from his upper arm pushed Radek into a shocky sort of slow motion clarity. Knowing what he must do even as he moved to do it, Radek dropped to one knee, set down the P90, reached across, grasped the end of the bolt with all the strength in his hand -quickly, before it became slippery with blood- and pulled it out.

There was a gray moment as a wave of pain washed over him and the bloody projectile slipped from Radek's nerveless fingers, but then the wave receded and he returned to himself.

"Radek?" Rodney's voice was laced with pain and worry.

"Am fine." Radek ground out, knowing this to be the most preposterous lie he had ever told. "Is nothing."


V. Running the Gauntlet

The need to push on propelled Radek to his feet, in spite of the lingering woozy feeling from his injury and his hasty extraction of the projectile in his arm. Glancing back at Rodney, he saw that his lies had not fooled the man for a moment, but that he understood the need to carry on as though they were true. Knowing that the soldiers would now all be waiting for them to appear on the other side of the jumper they'd taken refuge behind, Radek lead them straight back to the next row and back tracked, though more than a few archers had guessed at this strategy and a shower of bolts rained around them as they moved.

Running along the next row, however, Radek was dismayed to see that a handful of soldiers had already come up to the ends of this row, and were shooting at them from the sides as well as behind. There was no more time, he saw, for anything but a desperate dash, straight back to the passage out of the cavern. Stepping out into the aisle once more to open a long burst of fire into the soldiers behind them, Radek next pushed Rodney into the lead, crying, "Run, now, fast as you can!"

No doubt it was worry for his sake that inspired Rodney to pick up his speed even more, and, running behind him, Radek felt three or four more bolts strike his back. They struck hard and Radek had a feeling that they would leave bruises, but thankfully the jacket stopped them from doing any more than that. A very long handful of seconds later, Radek was relieved to see that they were clearing the last row of jumpers, when Rodney gave a surprised cry and suddenly ducked to the left.

With dismay, Radek now saw that a few soldiers had actually made it to the back of the cavern and were gathered in front of their exit, blocking the way out. Ducking behind the last jumper, next to Rodney, Radek leaned out again to fire another long burst from the P90, but only a short burst came, as he now discovered that he'd exhausted the clip.

Letting loose a stream of curses in his native tongue so vile that he doubted that even Rodney had even heard them, he dropped the empty P90 and unholstered his pistol, struggling to regain his calm so that he could aim the thing effectively. The last burst from the P90 had taken out a number of the guards standing between them and freedom, but not all of them, and more were appearing by the second. He was never going to be able, Radek felt a dread growing in him, to kill them faster than they were arriving.

He was barely aware of a tug on one of his vest pockets as he dropped one guard after another, but several moments later he saw Rodney, out of the corner of his eye, nudging him with the P90. To his astonishment, Radek saw that a new clip had been loaded in. How Rodney had done this one handed he could not imagine, but now, he knew, they might still have a chance. He swept the crowd of soldiers standing before them with a hail of bullets, passing the muzzle of the automatic weapon back and forth over them four times.

Now was their best chance, Radek concluded, looking back to signal Rodney that they were about to advance again.

"Stay close!" he called, thinking, even as he spoke the words, how superfluous they were. Sweeping the gun in a wide arc as he and Rodney advanced, Radek sprayed a continuous stream of bullets, striking assailants on their right and left as well as those before them. Most of those soldiers who had not fallen at this point had taken cover, and moments later Radek saw that their path lay clear. Rodney saw this too and, seizing the opportunity, the two of them took off running as fast as they their legs could carry them.

They were forced to slow somewhat as they attained the last segment of the passage, as it was quite narrow and the floor rocky and very uneven. It was also dark, however, and the passage was far from straight, so that there was no clear shot at them from behind any more. Rodney had never been this way before, however, and Radek ended up having to guide him, his good hand heavily gripping Rodney's good shoulder to direct him as they went. Both of them were nearly overwhelmed with relief to see the faint light at the end of the passage which signaled the near end of their ordeal.

"Is that it?" Rodney asked, his voice cracking with exhaustion and desperation.

"Yes, yes," Radek panted, thinking that he was a little more done in than he ought to have been. "Jumper is right outside, though you will not see it."

"You can lead the way," Rodney said, hearing guarded hope at last in his lover's voice. It was very good to hear.

Rodney did wait for him where the passage came to an end, amidst a dense thicket of shrubs, and Radek pushed the branches away to lead Rodney into jumper's open hatchway, where the interior of the craft suddenly became visible.

"We made it... oh god, I can't believe we made it," Rodney gasped as he stumbled into the jumper and collapsed on one of the benches in the rear compartment. Radek staggered past him to lean heavily in the doorway between the two sections of the vessel.

"You must not stop there, please," he said, feeling suddenly very unsteady on his feet. "You must fly jumper, yes? For I certainly cannot."

"Right, right," Rodney muttered, "Fly the jumper. I can do that."

Radek maneuvered himself into the copilot's chair as Rodney took his place, wincing with pain as the burns on his back came in contact with the seat. A moment later he heard the rear hatch close, then felt the jumper's engines engage. Radek did not think he had ever heard a more wonderful sound in all his life. He had to direct Rodney to the Stargate, which meant remembering himself where it was (and he had not been paying all that much attention on the way here), but fortunately it was not far.

There was a fair sized contingent of soldiers arrayed around the gate when they got there, no doubt intended to prevent the escape of their prisoner, but they were, of course, unable to see the jumper. Radek could not seem to give up the death grip his right hand had on the P90 and so started to reach out with his left hand to dial the gate when Rodney asked him to. It was the great quantity of blood dripping off his hand rather than the pain, which was seeming somewhat distant at the moment, that caused him to stop, determinedly uncurl his fingers from the P90 and use his right hand to dial the gate and send his IDC. Why should I be surprised to see how much blood is on my hands, he thought to himself, as he watched the gate open and the soldiers scatter.

Radek was only vaguely aware of the trip through the worm hole, but was startled into back awareness again by the quiet and stillness when they came to a halt and jumper's engines powered down.

"We made it, Radek," he heard Rodney say, his voice seeming a bit distant as well. "Oh my god, I can't believe we actually made it home."

Blinking to focus his increasingly unfocused vision at the world outside the jumper, Radek realized that they had indeed arrived in Atlantis, and were sitting in the gate room.

"Home?" he said, not quite certain he was speaking English any more. "Yes... yes, we are home."

That fact established, the last bit of Radek hanging on to consciousness knew that it was alright, at last, to let go, and so he did.

"Radek? Radek!?"


VI. Waking Wounded

Radek was in a pleasant, dark place. There was no pain in this place; the darkness was soft and comforting and as long as he stayed here the painful burdens which he knew awaited him beyond this peaceful place could be put off for a little while yet. Still, there was something, or rather some one, persistently pulling at him, drawing him away from the comforting dark and a back into a life filled with both physical and emotional pain.

There was pain in the voice that called to him as well, and this infiltrated the peace of his darkness. Some part of him knew that he alone had the power to soothe that distress, or some of it anyway, and there was, in the back of his mind, a notion that the owner of that voice might possibly be able to alleviate his own pain as well. All this aside, it was the relentless persistence of that voice that broke through the powerful inertia that held Radek in his velvet darkness. The man simply would not stop talking. Not even the darkness could stand as refuge from it, and it eventually disintegrated before this indomitable volubility.

"Come on Radek, you're just slacking now. You know perfectly well we can't afford that."

Rodney's words said one thing, but the uncertain pitch of his voice said another, and that was what Radek felt himself compelled to answer.

"Rodney... " Radek wanted to ask him to be quiet but couldn't bring himself to, and besides he knew it would be futile.

"Oh good, you've finally decided to join us," said Rodney, his voice belying much more relief than his words. Blinking to bring his vision into what focus he could manage without his glasses, Radek knew he must be in the infirmary. The quality of the light, the smells and the bed he lay in told him that, and clearly Rodney was well enough to be at his bedside, which eased his heart to some degree.

"You want your specs?" Rodney asked and Radek nodded slightly, acquiescing to wakefulness at last.

Rodney tried to put them on for him and naturally did a poor job of it, as usually occurs when someone who is not a glasses wearer tries to put glasses on someone who is. Radek started to lift his left hand to adjust them correctly, but stopped himself when he felt his movement restrained. The nature and circumstances of his injury came back to him then, as he felt Rodney's hand on his arm, gently restraining his movement as well.

"Not that one," he said, far too gently, as Radek used his right hand to adjust his glasses. Able now to take in the world with much improved resolution, Radek turned his gaze to Rodney first, recalling his injuries as well. Rodney's own right hand was enveloped in fairly extensive bandages, and his arm was in a sling, held close to his body as he had held it close during their escape. Much of the pain Radek had seen in his face earlier was still there too, haunting his eyes even when his lips smiled.

"You know," Rodney said, as though explaining himself to Radek's unspoken thoughts, "You really need to tell me the next time you're bleeding to death, because, well, there might be something I could do..."

That, Radek thought to himself, did explain a lot. It worried him a bit that he had failed to notice something so obvious, but then, he'd had other things on his mind.

"Did not know," he said, not up to any more of an explanation.

"How could you not..." Rodney squeaked with indignation and then suppressed himself. "Alright, at least you'll know better next time... not that I want there to be a next time. In fact, I would really, really prefer that there never be a next time for... well, for any of this..." He subsided again, wanting desperately, Radek knew, to unload, but knowing that he couldn't unload himself on Radek at the moment.

Radek, for his part, was finding himself assaulted by his returning memories of their recent misadventure, and most all of them involved killing. Dear god, he'd left an enormous, bloody trail of bodies behind him. His memories were smeared and spattered with blood, and the agonized expression on the face of the poor bastard he'd shot in the head as he'd lain on the floor, helplessly screaming in pain from the wound Radek's first bullet had given him.

"My god," he found himself speaking, "how many men did I kill?"

"How many...?" Naturally the question caught Rodney completely off guard. "What, was I supposed to count? I have no fucking idea!"

"Now Rodney," a comfortingly familiar voice intruded, "how many times have I told you not to berate my patients?"

"Not berating!" Rodney defended himself reflexively, "Just... I dunno. My meds are probably just wearing off."

Carson checked his watch and then rolled his eyes. "You've at least another two hours to wait before I'm going to even consider that, Rodney. But if you're feelin' peaky then you probably ought to go back and lie down in your bed, aye?"

Rodney retreated with a sigh, and a glance over his shoulder to let Radek know that he'd be back before long, as if Radek didn't know that. Dr. Beckett came to stand beside his bed then, to take his pulse, listen to his heart and fiddle with the IV lines running into his arm.

"And how are your meds doin' lad?" he asked.

"My brain feels as though it is full of cotton wool, so I suppose they must be working," Radek replied. "How are Rodney's injuries, Carson? Will his hand be alright?"

"Have ye no interest your own injuries, then?" Carson asked with a gentle smile.

"I was shot in the arm with an arrow," Radek answered him, "twice. It seems an uncomplicated wound."

Carson rolled his eyes. "Brilliant you may be, but the pair of ye haven't got the sense god gave geese. The bloody arrow went through your arm and nicked a major artery. Pulling it out probably made it worse, and ye did loose rather a bit more blood than is good for ye."

"Ah," said Radek uncomfortably. Naturally he'd assumed Rodney's earlier pronouncement to be an exaggeration, but perhaps it wasn't.

"Ye gave us all a bit of a bad moment there, but fortunately we've the Ancients' stasis unit for blood storage and, someone here had the foresight to make the lot of you give plenty of blood in advance, so there was more than enough of your own blood in our reserves to put back in ye."

"How very... foresightful of that person," Radek said, "I shall be certain to refill the reservoir again as soon as I am able."

Carson smiled at Radek's oblique compliment and sat in the chair Rodney had been occupying earlier. "To answer your question about Rodney, though," Carson said, "most of his injuries were superficial, though that doesn't mean they aren't quite painful, and some of the burns are actually quite deep. Fortunately, a great deal of the damage done to his fingers turned out to be dislocations, so we've been able to reset those, but there are a few more serious breaks, and I'm afraid that we'll need to do some reconstructive surgery there."

"He will be able to regain full use again, yes?" Radek asked anxiously.

"Most likely," Carson answered him, "A worst case scenario might involve his havin' to go back to earth for a spell to be worked on by a hand specialist, but I'd like to think that I can manage everything he'll need right here."

"I am certain that you can, Carson," Radek assured him, realizing that he was feeling drowsy again, already.

Perceptive to his sudden sleepiness, Carson rose, patting him gently on the arm as he did.

"Ye'll be wanting to sleep quite a bit, the both of you, for the next day or two, and that's fine," Carson said, "Sleep's a healing thing, for mind and body."

Following Carson's glance, Radek could see that Rodney, lying in the bed next to his, was also fast asleep, the vulnerable beauty of the man's face revealed in repose. Radek prayed that sleep could heal them both, but he feared, even as he slipped into Morpheus' arms again, that no amount of sleep would heal the hurt he'd done to his own soul.


VII. No Medals, Please

Dr. Weir came to see them the next day, and while Radek would rather not have had to face her yet, he could not think of any reason he could give to keep her away, and so he acquiesced. Rodney had managed to dictate and turn in a report covering his experience of recent events, and while Radek had not done his yet, he knew that Rodney's representation of events would be essentially accurate, if a bit over blown. Elizabeth had no doubt read it by now and he dreaded facing the questions she would no doubt wish to put to him, but he knew that he'd have to face her eventually, so he might as well get it over with sooner than later.

"I can see why the two of you have insisted that you never be sent off world together," she remarked as she sat on a chair between their two beds in the infirmary. "You're clearly both magnets for trouble."

"The reason I've asked that we not be sent on missions together," Rodney proclaimed, in his best patronizing and exasperated tone, "is that Atlantis clearly can't afford to loose both of us. This last... disaster was clearly a fluke."

"Actually," replied Dr. Weir, "it's beginning to look like an enormous set up, I'm afraid."

"How is that?" Radek asked. Both he and Rodney were sitting up in their respective beds, having just eaten lunch, and it was a measure of their recovery that they weren't just interested in going right back to sleep.

"Naturally, John, Teyla and Ronon were out beating the bushes for you, Rodney, minutes after you'd been taken," Dr. Weir recounted, "and Teyla worked her contacts until she found out who had been paid to kidnap you. After that it became a matter of 'following the money' as they say, or in this case, trade goods. We'd narrowed it down to Pretana or one other possible world when the two of you showed up, but we found something else too."

Dr. Weir turned to address Radek more directly now. "The trader who forwarded us the information about the jumper depot turned out to be about four transactions away from the gang that grabbed Rodney."

"I don't understand," said Radek, though he thought he might if he thought about it for a minute more.

"I can't say with certainty," said Dr. Weir, "but my guess is that they'd heard about Rodney, possibly from the Genii, and had meant for him to come to Pretana to investigate the tip we'd been fed. If they'd found Radek instead, they might have been satisfied, but when they didn't they must have assumed that we'd just sent a military unit, with no scientists. I'm guessing that they made further inquiries at that point and learned that Rodney was on Tathibia, again, probably from the Genii, and they went about acquiring him in a much less subtle way."

Radek shook his head slowly, trying to digest all this with a head still foggy with painkillers. It came to him that if Dodekian hadn't done his job so well then Rodney would never have been captured and tortured, but he would have, with no one to rescue him or even know he was in trouble for days.

"Radek, You are not to think that anything would have been better if you'd been captured instead of Rodney." Elizabeth's gaze was very direct, as though shining a spotlight on his guilty speculations. "The way I see it, given that we were absolutely lead down the garden path, and I'd like to find a way to be sure that never happens again, we've had as favorable an outcome a we could possibly could have. But that's entirely the result of your actions, Dr. Zelenka."

"Mine?" No, no, Radek thought with dread. They must not make a hero of him for this. He could not bear the thought.

"Radek, the words 'above and beyond the all of duty' don't begin to do justice to your actions." He knew that Dr. Weir only meant to compliment him, but Radek did not wish to be complimented for what he'd done. What he'd done had been horrible and he'd forget every minute of it if he could. He certainly didn't want everyone on Atlantis knowing.

"I... Dr. Weir, I only did what I had to." How could he explain how he abhorred his own actions without sounding ungrateful? Radek didn't know.

"On the contrary," Elizabeth disagreed, "You were safe in the jumper and you knew that a rescue was only a day or two away. You could even have safely bet that they would probably want to keep Rodney alive for that long at least. No one would have though the less of you if you'd stayed put."

Which really meant, Radek thought to himself, that no one would have been surprised if he'd behaved like a coward. Well, ordinarily they'd have been right.

"Naturally, I'll want to read your own account of what happened before I make any decisions," Dr. Weir continued, "but this incident has given me an idea. The circumstances we find ourselves in here on Atlantis has engendered an unprecedented number of acts of astonishing bravery, both from military and civilian personnel, and I think it needs to be acknowledged. I'm thinking that we need our own medal, or similar sort of commemoration to acknowledge those acts, and Radek I'd be altogether pleased to have you be it's first recipient."

Radek found himself swept be a sudden wave of nausea, and for a moment he thought he was actually going to be ill.

"Radek?" Rodney didn't miss a thing. "You okay?"

"Am fine," he managed at last, hearing himself tell the same lie on Pretana, having (foolishly, it would now seem) just pulled a crossbow bolt from his own arm.

"I... I only do not wish to be recognized in this way... please. Medal may be a fine thing, in fact. Certainly Rodney would deserve one for any number of reasons, but I... I do not wish to celebrate any part of what I did on Pretana."

Elizabeth's face darkened with concern. "Why not?" she asked.

"It was all... only killing." Radek struggled to retain his composure as his blood-spattered memories assaulted him. "Killing and more killing... I am very glad I was able to save Rodney... but I would rather not remember anything of what I had to do... please."

Elizabeth tipped her head thoughtfully, reaching over to lay a gentle hand on Radek's arm.

"I'll certainly respect your wishes, Radek," she said, "but I hope you change your mind. You've done nothing to be ashamed of."

She left after that, to let the two of them rest, but Radek felt far from restful. Dr. Weir's suggestion that he might be publicly recognized for his actions had left him with a lingering sense of panic. He certainly trusted Dr. Weir to keep her word, but it was becoming clearer by the hour that, in the gossip mill that was Atlantis, his exploits would be known station-wide with in the week, public recognition or no.

"Radek?" The concern had not yet left Rodney's voice, though it had recovered some from his earlier ordeal. "You know... if you need to talk..."

The fragile tentativeness in Rodney's offer ought to have undone him, ought to have moved him to open his heart and let Rodney in, but the hard knot of fear there resisted him, and answer Rodney's concern with disdain.

"Is it so hard to believe," he asked, "that I would rather be known for my scientific achievements than for my ability to massacre for dozens of men armed with crossbows and chain mail with a machine gun? I am a very much relieved that I was able to prevent you from having to endure further torture, and am very glad to be home now, but could we now possibly go back to being scientists instead of action heroes?"

Rodney did not answer, and his look, as he gazed across at Radek was, if anything, more troubled.

"What?" asked Radek, knowing that something wasn't right between them, but not sure what.

"Nothing," said Rodney eventually, shaking his head. "Just feeling tired again, I guess."

Rodney rolled over on to his side, facing away from him and Radek could not tell if he truly slept or not. He knew that he couldn't. What in god's name was wrong with him? The cold killing machine that he had invoked on Pretana still seemed to be calling the shots, and he couldn't seem to stop it. Radek rolled onto his side and stared at Rodney's broad, immobile back and felt the knot of fear in his heart pull tighter and tighter.


VIII. Intervention, Rodney McKay Style

The next couple of days passed in much the same manner. Carson kept their visitors to a minimum and kept the visits short, which Radek appreciated. Conversations with Rodney remained brief, and while Radek would have Rodney believe that his terseness and short temper were a result of his injuries and medications, he suspected that Rodney was no longer fooled, if he ever had been. Carson let Drs. Simpson and Kusanagi in to bring them their laptops to catch them both up on their various projects, and the backlog of e-mails alone gave Radek and excuse to remain unsociable, and gave Rodney enough distractions that he didn't give Radek any of those painful, searching looks for most of a day and a half.

Dr. Beckett decided to do Rodney's first hand surgery the next day and it went so well that he announced afterwards that he might not even need to do a second one. Rodney seemed very much relieved to hear this and Radek realized then that Rodney had been really worried about regaining the full use of his hand. No doubt he might have been of some comfort to Rodney in this, Radek thought, if he hadn't had his head so far up his ass, but he'd become a stranger even to himself since Pretana, and a stranger to Rodney as well, it seemed.

He wondered, in a frighteningly dispassionate way, if this was what it felt like to have your body controlled by a goa'uld symbiote. There was a part of him that continued to be utterly horrified by the behavior of the stranger living his life, but that part was not in control any more. Both Carson and Rodney knew something was amiss, and the doctor had tried to draw him out once or twice, but it had been too easy for Radek to claim fatigue and put him off. Rodney, on the other hand, was beginning to figure it out, Radek very much feared, and those searching looks were growing more and more intense.

After another couple of days passed Carson pretty much had to let them go as they were both recovering well and both making life in increasingly difficult for the nursing staff. They'd left the infirmary together, bur parting company at the door to Rodney's quarters had been almost too much. They'd paused there, both knowing that Rodney should invite him in, and that Radek should accept the invitation, but also knowing that it wasn't going to happen that way. They lingered there for a painfully awkward moment instead, and then finally went their separate ways, meaningless words and excuses mumbled in parting. Radek went back to his apartment and sat down on his bed, waiting to either fall apart or throw up, wishing he could do either, but did neither.

Dr. Beckett had cleared them for short hours in the labs, and Radek had some vain hope that losing himself in his work would improve his mood, but the awkwardness between he and Rodney quickly permeated the entire lab. Radek's emotional spectrum lately consisted of being numbly distant or downright testy, and it was this latter mood that seemed to infect him most often when he was at work. He told himself that it was only because typing two handed made the healing muscles in his upper arm ache, and that typing one handed made him crazy, but he knew there was more to it than that. He watched himself be unintentionally cruel to more than a couple of well wishing coworkers and soon found himself working alone. This at least ought to have given him some peace of mind, but it did not. After a few days Radek was working alone pretty much all day, and he was really starting to hate himself.

He knew perfectly well that his unnatural disposition was having a disastrous ripple effect on the overall atmosphere and productivity in the labs. Rodney's behavior was as bad as it had ever been, and whereas in the past the other scientists had been able to turn to Radek to either run interference on their behalf or to soothe the department head's ruffled feathers, now all Radek was capable of was exacerbating Rodney's foul mood. For the most part, the two of them didn't speak at all.

Radek Zelenka worked alone, ate alone, slept alone, and wondered how long he could carry on in this manner. He'd begun the week with the vague hope that things might somehow improve on their own once he was out of the infirmary and back at work, but that was clearly not happening. No, it was far more likely that some sort of manure was destined to impact some sort of rotary mechanism eventually, and probably sooner than later. For Radek, it was like being locked inside a car with no inside door handles, no steering wheel, and no brakes and knowing he was headed straight for a cliff. It should have been terrifying, and no doubt some part of him felt it, but that part had been lost to him since Pretana.

If he'd been thinking straight, Radek would have known that Rodney McKay was bound to put himself between Radek and that cliff, or perhaps he was the cliff. At any rate, Rodney was who he found laying in wait for him outside his lab at the end of his fifth thoroughly wretched day back at work.

"Walk with me," said Rodney, in a deadly tone of voice that every scientist on Atlantis feared, even more than his most vicious sarcasm. Radek complied with a sense of disaffected doom, but as he realized that Rodney was headed for his quarters he began to feel the fear in him wake, though he could not say why.

Entering his room, Rodney did a real double take, and truly looked as though he thought they'd entered the wrong quarters for a moment. That was because the place was spotless, not a state Rodney had ever seen Radek's quarters in before. He seemed about to say something -who are you and what have you done with Radek- perhaps, but that joke wasn't quite funny anymore. Instead he turned to look back at Radek, mouth drawing a tight straight line and eyes not quite hiding too much pain.

"Okay, I know better than to ask you to talk," he said, "so instead you're going to listen."

Radek pulled his desk chair out to sit, not wishing to make himself comfortable on the sofa. Rodney did not sit at all, but stood before him, hands working nervously at his sides.

"Just in case you didn't know how completely sucky things have gotten," Rodney began, "I actually had to agree with Kavanagh today."

"What... ?" Radek began, confused, but Rodney silenced him.

"Talking here," he said, pointing to himself. "Shutting up there." He pointed now at Radek who frowned and folded his arms across his chest, but did also fall silent.

"He said, and I quote," Rodney continued, "'I'm by no means letting you off the hook on your blatant favoritism, McKay, but if Zelenka doesn't stop phoning in his work he's going to get himself or someone else killed.' end quote."

Radek had actually heard about this little confrontation, as some well meaning carrier of tales had thought he needed to know, and had included the piece of Kavanagh's speech that Rodney had left out. "But since no one wants to work with him these days," he'd reportedly said, "he'll probably only get himself killed."

"So, here's the deal," Rodney continued, having given Radek a moment to digest this, "if things keep going on like this they're going to take it, and you totally out of my hands. Carson wants to pull you off duty right now, and hand you over to Heightmeyer. Not that she's not a perfectly nice person who, I'm sure, has all our best interests in mind, but Radek, is that really want you want?"

Now Radek felt the fear from earlier bloom in his chest, and was glad he was already sitting down, though he tried to not to let his posture reveal what he felt. Still, it only added to Radek's unease, as he watched Rodney unshoulder a large field pack, to realize that he'd had no idea that Rodney was even wearing it. Plunking it down on the floor next to Radek's desk, Rodney opened the top, revealing it to be entirely filled with energy bars and bottles of water. Radek was starting to get a really, really bad feeling.

"Now if you can tell me, in all honesty, that you'd rather spend the next month or more exiled from the lab, and letting Heightmeyer have her way with your brain, then I'm gone." Rodney spread his hands, waiting, but Radek did not rise to the bait.

"Right," said Rodney, extracting and armload of food bars and water bottles from the pack and dumping them carelessly onto Radek's desk.

"Well you better get comfortable then," he continued, reaching down into the pack again, this time to pull out a coffee maker -his own personal coffee maker, Radek did not fail to notice. "'cause neither one of us is going anywhere until we've got this all sorted out."


IX. Too Close to the Edge

"You're not serious," Radek said, in spite of the overwhelming evidence of the coffee maker, food bars, and water.

"Never been more serious," said Rodney, carrying the coffee maker over to the counter where there was a convenient power tap, and plugged it in.

"What the fuck are you doing?!" Radek demanded, standing in spite of his determination to remain impassive.

"Making coffee," said Rodney infuriatingly, doing just that, "I've got a feeling we're really going to need it."

"Alright, fine," said Radek petulantly, returning to his desk to find something to occupy himself so that he could ignore Rodney. It was only then that he noticed that his laptop was not there.

"Rodney," he asked, his voice filled with menace, "where is my laptop?"

"With mine," Rodney answered breezily, "locked up safely in my quarters."

"*You* have done this?" Radek asked, incredulous.

"Actually, I got Sheppard to do the deed," answered Rodney. "He's standing guard outside the door, by the way. He and Teyla and Ronon are planning on taking turns."

"You..." Radek struggled with his English for a moment, "you cannot do this!"

"Hello!" Rodney gestured in the general direction of the infirmary, "Carson, Heightmeyer... all waiting."

"But... but what of work in lab?"

Rodney's laugh came out as a harsh bark. "Right. They may actually get something done down there now that we're gone."

This, God help them both, Radek thought, was indisputably true. Suddenly Radek felt trapped... and well, he was, wasn't he? Trapped in his own unnaturally tidy apartment (because cleaning is what you do when you can't face your work, your friends, or yourself) with Rodney McKay until... until what? Till he broke? That's what he was facing, wasn't it? Desperately needing to escape -suddenly finding himself terribly sympathetic with Rodney's claustrophobia- Radek strode furiously across the room to the doorway opening onto his own small balcony. He didn't come out here often, as the vast expanse of ocean below made him a little nervous, but he liked leaving the door open for the fresh air, which, ordinarily, his room often needed.

Standing uncharacteristically close to the edge, gripping the railing with white knuckled hands, it dawned on Radek that here was an escape. The trap was not perfect. Freedom, true freedom lay before him in the wide open sky and boundless sea and nothing save this railing stood between him and that freedom. He pictured it for a moment, saw how easy it would be to slip over the side and leave all of the things he dreaded so behind him for good... but then the imagined scenario carried on, till his body struck the water and he all but felt the ocean's chill waters closing over his head.

The terror-shot memory of plunging beneath the surface of the sea inside of a puddle jumper with Sheppard assailed him then, and he realized just what it was that he'd been contemplating. With something close to an animal level of survival instinct, he pushed himself forcefully away from the edge of the balcony, propelling himself furiously back inside where he shut the door and stood, trembling violently as he braced himself against the door frame.

"What," he gasped out weakly, "what in god's name have I become?"

It was only then that he looked up at Rodney. The man had gone dead white, his eyes wide with terror and mouth agape in shock. Slowly he lifted his left hand to clutch at the fabric of his shirt where it lay over his heart, as though it pained him.

"Radek?" he asked, his voice little more than a broken whisper.

Radek could not find his own voice to answer, but stumbled past him to collapse bonelessly into the sofa, the closest place he could find to sit, and hunched over to lay his head in his hands. After a moment he felt Rodney come to sit next to him, and then after another moment, felt Rodney's hand, ever so carefully, lay itself on his back. He had neither the strength nor the will to shrug it away and after a bit he felt the warmth of it radiating through his shirt to heat the cool skin beneath. If only, Radek found himself longing, that warmth could penetrate further and thaw his frozen heart, but it remained an icy impenetrable block in his chest, and a leaden weight on his soul.

"Radek, whatever it is that's happened to you," Rodney began speaking softly, "it happened because you had to go and rescue my sorry ass, right? So, there's got to be something I can do to help... please?"

Never had Radek heard such a desperate pleading tone in his lover's voice, and it struck hard at the frozen lump in his chest, making him shudder, but it did not even crack. They sat in silence for a while, Rodney's hand still laying on his back, over his heart, and Radek's head still cradled in his hands, elbows propped on his knees. For a wonder, Radek actually found the silence soothing and let his mind empty itself for a little while. It was in that emptiness that Radek found a small loose thing, possibly jarred free by Rodney's last attempt to reach him. Little more than a shred or small chip, perhaps a bit of thread to pull at and unravel, Radek turned the thing over in his newly quiet thoughts for a moment before speaking at last.

"I find myself thinking," he said quietly, not yet possessed of the strength to lift his head, "of all that my mother did to keep me out of army."

"Like what?" Rodney asked very carefully after a little bit.

"There were bribes, of course," Radek answered after another little bit, "and so there were extra jobs she had to take to pay for them." He raised his head now, to be able to more easily draw the breath he needed to speak, and as he did Radek removed his glasses to scrub at his eyes and left them to lie on the table beside the sofa. Rodney's hand, he was grateful to note, remained where it was, even as he straightened.

"Also, although she will say nothing of this," he continued, "I am fairly sure that there were... confidences, delivered to the Party, in exchange for such favors."

"Confidences?" Of course, Radek reflected, Rodney, a child of the 'free world' would know nothing of such doings.

"Among her friends, there were some who were wives of important men," he explained, "men about whom the Party would know everything they could, and so when she visited with any of these friends she would go, later, to tell of their conversations. I doubt that anything she relayed was of much importance, but it cost her, I am certain."

"Why," Rodney asked, genuinely curious for all Radek could tell, "why did she do that? Was she some kind of pacifist?"

"No," Radek almost laughed at the absurdity of the question, "she only wished for her very bright and... slightly built son to avoid vile conditions, brutal hazing and being sent to many lovely places where he may be shot at or assigned to jobs like clearing minefields."

"Ah, " said Rodney, comprehending something of the depth of his ignorance.

"No," said Radek, carrying on, even as a part of him knew he was about to say too much. "I am the one who is pacifist... was pacifist... I... I do not know who or what I am anymore."


X. The Snow Queen's Spell

The look on Rodney's face was stricken, and an angry voice from Radek's frozen heart bid him to tell Rodney that he didn't want his pity, but even the icy bastard calling the shots for Radek these days knew that wasn't what was on Rodney's face or in his heart. Understanding was a big part of what was there, and love, and there was also more than a little guilt. He felt Rodney's hand move, never breaking contact, sliding up to his left shoulder and gripping it firmly, turning Radek to face him.

"Well, I know," Rodney said, quietly adamant, "who you are, I mean. I should, right? You may be the only person in the two galaxies who gets me, so the least I can do is reciprocate. Plus, genius here, eh? You, Radek Zelenka, are the second smartest man in the Pegasus Galaxy, and humanity's foremost expert on puddle jumpers and a variety of other Ancient technology; you're a quiet, decent little guy who has way more friends than I do for a multitude of good reasons; you've got a wicked sense of humor but you haven't got a mean bone in your body and I'm so not surprised to hear you say you're a pacifist," here Rodney paused briefly to draw a breath, "You're the guy I could absolutely not do my job without, or live my life without, really, and you're the person I love more than anyone, or anything in my life... and you're who I need in my life... like I need air in my lungs... That's who you are."

Radek stared down at his hands throughout this litany, frightened by the sincerity and affection in Rodney's eyes and voice. He knew that those things were true, or at least that they had been, but he could not find himself Rodney's description. Something was missing.

"How can I be that person," he asked without lifting his head, "if I cannot feel anything?"

Rodney did not relinquish his grip on Radek's shoulder and if anything, it grew firmer.

"Okay, now we know that can't really be true because you've been biting everyone's head off in the lab all week." he countered.

"No," Radek said, still staring fixedly downwards, though he suspected that if Rodney had his right hand to use he'd have used it to lift Radek's face up to meet his gaze, "you are right. There is one thing I do feel, and that is fear. I am afraid, all the time." Radek did not know why he had confessed this, save that the weight and strength of Rodney's hand on his shoulder seemed to compel him.

"What is it that you're afraid of?" Rodney asked, and in his asking somehow compelled the truth from Radek again.

"I am afraid that I will never feel anything else again." he said, naming the fear he had not even dared to name in his mind before.

"Oh, no, no, no, no..." Rodney shook his head vehemently, "so not going to let that happen. Just not. Even." Rodney scooted a little closer to Radek on the couch and carefully moved his hand from the one shoulder, across the back of his neck to the other, so that his arm surrounded Radek and drew him closer still.

"You do trust me, right?" Rodney asked as Radek found his body stiffening against Rodney's embrace. "Because you have to. You just have to trust me here, Radek."

Once again Rodney's voice, his pleas, compelled Radek to an action his ice bound heart forbade. He looked up at last to meet Rodney's eyes with his own, knew he could trust Rodney with his life and more, and said so.

"I do... I do trust you, Rodney." he said, little more than whispering the words.

"Then will you come here and let me hold you?" he asked.

Radek's initial reaction was to draw into himself, wrapping his arms around his waist in trepidation. Still, he had given his fate over to Rodney and could refuse him nothing. He let himself be drawn back against Rodney's body as they shifted to sit sideways on the sofa, Radek in front, between Rodney's legs. Radek remembered thinking how well he fit against Rodney in this manner, in times past, but could not bring back the sensation of peace and completion he had felt then.

Rodney's arms reached out to either side of him to wrap around his body and pull him close, his right hand, still encased in a cast up to his elbow, lying across his belly, and his left resting once again over Radek's heart. The fingers of that had splayed out so as to cover as much of Radek's chest as it could, and after a moment Rodney began to move his hand in little circles, as though to warm him.

It was as if he knew, Radek marveled, as though he knew that Radek's heart lay entombed in ice just below where his hand moved. At his back, where once Rodney's hand had been all there was, now the mass of Rodney's body pressed, heating not just his skin but places deeper in as well. In spite of himself, Radek felt his body start to relax into Rodney's arms.

"I know you're in there," Rodney murmured into Radek's ear. "I know you are. You have to be. But I need you to come back now. Come back to me, Radek; it's safe, I swear it is. I'll keep you safe, I promise, whatever it takes, just come back to me now."

Radek felt himself begin to tremble in Rodney's arms, as his warmth, his pleading words and the strength of his embrace battered at his heart's icy prison.

"I need you, love, need you to come back to me," Rodney's pleas were relentless, and now he began to add little kisses between each, placed on the back of his neck, his collar bone, the base of his jaw. The hand rubbing circles over his heart continued as well, the heat emanating from it almost painful.

"Can't do this without you, love. Need you, need you so much..."

'Love'? Had Rodney just called him 'love'? Rodney never did that. Oh, he'd told Radek he loved him often enough, but Rodney didn't do pet names... or at least he never had before. It took a moment for the import to sink in to Radek's shell shocked mind, but when it did shook Radek to his frozen core... and cracked it.

"I can't..." Radek listened to the words spill out of him and hardly knew what he was saying. "I can't stop seeing the blood... so many bodies, so much death... the poor bastard I shot in the head... Actually I almost certainly shot a lot of people in the head, but that one I saw... he looked into my eyes, and he was in such pain, and so afraid and he didn't want to die and... and I... I shot him in the head."

"Shhh," Rodney pulled him close, "It's all over now, right? You got us away from there and we're home now," he said, "We're safe, love; we're home and safe so you gotta let all that stuff go now."

"But I cannot forget!" Radek's voice was despairing, "I cannot undo what I did. It is done; it happened and I did it. How can I let go? It is part of me now, for rest of my life..."

"Okay, sure... maybe it is," Rodney voice held a unique blend of belligerence, passion and hope, "but now, so is this..." Radek felt Rodney's lips on his throat, kissing him with tender devotion. "And this," Rodney's lips brushed his cheek. "Oh yeah, and this..."

With his right hand, gentle in spite of being encased in gauze and plaster, Rodney tenderly reached up to tilt Radek's head so that he could kiss him full on the mouth. Such heat there was in this kiss, not carnal heat, but pure passion, selfless, devoted, worshipful even. It burned deep into Radek's soul and would not be extinguished.

Very long ago someone, perhaps his mother even, had told Radek a fairy tale about a boy, taken captive by some wintry enchantress, who'd frozen his heart by embedding in it shards of a magical mirror made of ice. The fair maid who'd eventually rescued him had drawn those slivers away to break the enchantment and thaw the boy's heart. This was what Radek thought of as he felt the heat of Rodney's kiss penetrate his own heart.

It truly felt to Radek as though shards of glass were being drawn from somewhere deep within him. It made the memory of drawing the crossbow bolt from his arm pale in comparison. He could not stop from crying out at the pain and it was an awful sort of choked wail that escaped him at first. Without conscious thought Radek reached up with both his hands to clutch with bruising strength at Rodney's left, where it still lay over his heart. The first sob escaped him then, wracking his whole body with the agony of its release. Others followed in its wake, slowly at first and then coming in a torrent and Rodney's arms held him hard and strong and close.

Rodney's voice held him too, though at first he was too undone to comprehend the meaning of the words, the naked affection and need and relief in it, as he murmured, "Oh god, oh god you're okay now, you're okay; I've got you, I've got you; I won't let you go," communicated everything Radek needed to hear.


XI. The Secrets of Grace

Radek had never wept so hard in all his life, and it frightened him a little because he couldn't seem to stop, but Rodney held him tight, rocking him ever so slightly in his arms, and he kept telling Radek he was okay. He did trust Rodney, even now when he did not know who he was, and could not seem to stop crying.

Perhaps, some part of him wondered as he clung to Rodney and felt his hot tears fall on their joined hands, perhaps these tears came from the melting iceberg in his chest and he would go on weeping until it was all melted away. He might be weeping into Rodney's arms for the next month, if Radek's estimate of the burden of the frozen anguish he'd held inside him was anything like accurate, but then it seemed pretty clear that Rodney was here for the duration, what ever that might be.

Freed of its frozen shroud, Radek felt his heart move within him at last, and it was the profoundest gratitude that moved it, first and foremost. The astonishing shock of being able to feel anything at all besides fear and despair wrung fresh sobs from him but now there were tears of joy and relief and gratitude mixed in with his tears of grief and sorrow. As he felt Rodney's arms continue to hold and rock him gently, heard his voice, unceasing in its comforting litany, it came to Radek that Rodney could not know that his pleas had reached him at last, and though he was far from being capable of speaking, he desperately wanted Rodney to know.

Radek shifted in Rodney's arms, relinquishing his grasp of Rodney's hand, to turn and reach up, to take Rodney's face in his hands and kiss him, with all the gratitude and love in his newly freed heart. When his reaching fingers discovered tears on Rodney's face as well, his heart moved again and his kiss deepened in the intensity until fresh sobs tore him away. He shifted sideways further so that he could wrap his own arms around his love and the two of them clung to each other, hanging on for dear life, as they wept on to each others' shoulders.

They continued on in this manner for a long, long spell, neither aware of, nor caring much about the passage of time, though some part of Radek was aware, in passing, of the light from outside fading away to leave his quarters in near darkness. Though his tears had not abated, Radek did feel the need to cling so desperately to Rodney eventually begin to lessen. Eventually, basking in the comfort of Rodney's arms and the gentle caresses of Rodney's fingers through his hair, Radek felt his sobs finally devolve into hiccups.

Drawing back just a little to kiss his face, Rodney asked if he wanted some water, and Radek nodded, sniffling between hiccups. Rodney wasn't able to reach any of the water bottles from where he sat, and so it became necessary for them to disentangle themselves, slowly and reluctantly. Rodney returned promptly with water and a box of Kleenex he'd dredged up from the depths of his pack, and settled himself back next to Radek again, reaching around behind him to enclose Radek in a one armed embrace as they passed the water back and forth and both blew their respective noses. Radek kept the kleenex box.

Leaning pleasantly against Rodney's shoulder as Rodney gently stroked his fingers over Radek's side, Radek heard an odd sound which he was first inclined to attribute to some technological mishap, but then realized was Rodney's stomach growling. Radek lifted his head to meet Rodney's eyes, searching them for signs of the inevitable coming sugar crash, and Rodney divined his question.

"I'm okay for now," he said quietly, but Radek knew him too well, and knew better. Shaking his head, he drew a long breath and sniffled again, ready to try his voice at last.

"Rodney, milaku," he began, a little unsteadily but clearly enough, "I love you, and you need to eat... and I do as well. I think I have finally had enough of imitating a leaky faucet."

Rodney sat back to regard Radek with red rimmed eyes. It was the searching look again, but this time it seemed that he was finding what he sought at last.

"You're really back," he said, his voice colored with relief and wonder.

"I am, yes," answered Radek, still sniffling a bit, "and it is you who have found me."

"Oh thank god..." said Rodney unsteadily as his eyes began to fill once more.

"No, please do not start again," Radek implored, "or I will never be able to stop. This is a sure sign that you need to eat, Rodney. Come," he said, reaching for his glasses, "what flavor of food bar do you want?"

"No, wait," said Rodney, wiping his eyes, "I've got something better. Hang on." Rodney rose and thought the lights on, just enough, then delved back into the pack once again to extract a pair of MREs, handing one to Radek.

"You know," said Radek, unwrapping his meal and surprised at how hungry he suddenly felt, "if we keep stealing these mac and cheeses from his hidden cache, Kavanagh will eventually find us out."

"You want to know what's really, really weird?" Rodney asked as he took his seat next to Radek and tore into his food.

"What?" asked Radek, finding himself enjoying the glutinous, overly salted food much more than he'd usually did. Perhaps, he considered, he was finally getting the American concept of 'comfort food'.

"Would you believe that Kavanagh actually *offered* these to me?" Rodney replied, "Actually came to my quarters while I was packing and gave me some guff about knowing what side his bread was buttered, which, I suppose, was his way of saying that even he knows that the whole science department works better when you do."

"Should I be touched?" Radek asked.

"Not unless you want to be" answered Rodney, "and if you do? So don't want to know about it."

Radek gave a quiet little laugh. Truth be told, he was a little touched to learn that his customary self was missed, even by such as Kavanagh, but he would confess no such thing to Rodney. Glancing across to see if Rodney might have guessed his feelings anyway, he found the man staring at him, with a strange besotted sort of expression on his face.

"What?" Radek asked.

"You laughed," Rodney said softly. "I haven't seen you laugh once since... before..."

Radek reached across to lay his hand over Rodney's, setting his nearly finished meal on the side table. "Rodney," he said, just as softly "you freed my heart. There is still much... healing needed, but now it can. And nothing is more healing to a heart than laughter, yes?"

"Dammit Radek," said Rodney, setting aside his own meal and reaching for the kleenex, "if you don't want me watering up all the time you've got to stop saying things like that."

Radek was waiting to kiss him the second Rodney had finished drying his eyes and Rodney was more than ready for it. It was a good long kiss and before it was over Radek's hands had drifted under Rodney's shirt and were heading for dangerous territory when Rodney drew back, panting a little.

"Okay, this is all very, very good," he said, gasping slightly, "but I'm pretty sure it would be a really good idea to complete our caloric intake before a, ah, major expenditure?"


XII. The *Real* Best Medicine

Radek could not fault the logic in this in the least, and it was not much of an inconvenience, as they'd both consumed the better part of their respective MREs already. In a first strike against the unnatural cleanliness of his quarters, Radek decreed that they leave their empty trays where they fell and made straight for the bed the moment they were done.

"Now, where were we?" Radek asked as they sat together on the edge of the bed.

"Right about here?" Rodney suggested, taking Radek's hand to place it where it had been when they'd stopped earlier.

"Ah, yes..." Radek reached over a few centimeters to find his earlier goal, Rodney's left nipple, and caress the hardened nub of flesh with his fingertips. "And I was just thinking that we needed to get rid of some clothing."

Rodney gave a quiet little moan and nodded, eyes closed. "Getting rid of clothes. Yes. Liking the way you think."

Ordinarily Rodney and Radek would manage this feat with little thought, but tonight this task brought with it stark reminders of their recent misadventure. Careful as he was, Radek still raised his left arm too high as Rodney pulled his shirt off, and let out a little cry of pain as the shirt came away, but more painful still, to Radek, was to see the multitude of scars and healing burns on Rodney's torso as his shirt was removed.

"Oh, milaku..." he murmured in broken voice as he leaned close to kiss each one ever so gently. The memory of Rodney's awful screams returned to him then, unbidden but irrefutable and suddenly Radek found himself choking back sobs again.

"Aw, Radek," Rodney drew him close and lay them both down on the bed, "Shh... It's okay now; it's okay."

"I heard..." Radek stammered out between sobs, needing Rodney to understand, "I heard them do this... "

"What do you mean?" Rodney asked, clumsily yet tenderly brushing the hair out of Radek's eyes with his cast bound right hand.

"Passive sensors on some of the jumpers in cavern," Radek managed, focusing on the technical aspects of what he'd done making it easier to speak of it, "networked to our jumper. Was how I knew you were there."

It took only moments for Rodney to put it all together and Radek could tell when he had, because he suddenly went very pale. "Oh no," he said, holding Radek very, very close. "Oh god Radek... everything?"

Radek nodded silently against Rodney's shoulder and felt his lover shudder with his own memories.

"Oh, god I am so sorry," Rodney murmured as he rocked Radek in his arms, leaning down to kiss the top of his head.

"That was why," Radek said, broken voiced but no longer sobbing, "That was why, you see... why I had to. Why I didn't have a choice."

Radek felt Rodney's embrace move from firm to nearly crushing, and even so he could feel how Rodney shook. "Radek, Radek," he breathed, "do you know how much I love you?"

"It is possible that I may have some idea," Radek answered with a quiet smile, sniffling a bit as Rodney's embrace loosened somewhat, and drying his tears with the back of his hand.

Rodney let him lie back on the bed and propped himself up on one elbow to address Radek. "I know I can't make those memories go away," he said, "but I can give you some better ones."

"Oh, I know you can," Radek replied, smiling up at Rodney with happy anticipation.

Rodney leaned close to caress the hollow of Radek's throat with his lips. "Will you let this just be for you, right now?" he asked.

Radek reached up to stroke Rodney's temple, fingers wrestling through his short feathered hair and lingering over his ear. "Rodney," he asked back, "is this about guilt?"

"Well, okay... maybe a little," answered Rodney honestly, "but the fact remains that you really," he punctuated his words with a kiss to Radek's chest, "really," and to his belly, "need to be indulged," a kiss to his nipple had Radek writhing on the bed, "and spoiled," now he kissed the other nipple, "till your brains are melting out of your ears."

"Um," said Radek, all his coherent thoughts completely scattered, " ...good start?"

And there it was, as rare as wintertime sunshine in Prague, a real, full smile, free of inhibition or doubts, lighting up Rodney's face. If he had to allow himself to be indulged to see that smile, well he'd just have to endure. Rodney now commenced to shower him with kisses, shifting around so that his good hand was free to began unfastening Radek's trousers as he did so. He batted Radek's hand away a couple of times as Radek tried to help but finally gave up when it became just too difficult to do the job one-handed. When Radek was entirely unclothed and stretched languorously on the bed, Rodney started back in again but Radek reached up to stop him.

"You too," he insisted, pointing at Rodney's trousers. Rodney rolled his eyes but began unfastening his belt, much too slowly for Radek.

"Am I being indulged or not?" Radek asked as Rodney resisted his assistance again. Rodney gave up then and their three hands had the rest of Rodney's clothes off in less than a minute.

"Now," said Radek, smiling wantonly and tucking his right arm back under his head, "now you may indulge me as you please."

There was a brief flash of that rare smile again and then Rodney was kissing the living daylights out of him, his hand skimming over Radek's torso to brush gently over his half hard cock. Radek moaned into the kiss, easily losing himself in the moment. He closed his eyes to let the sensations take him and felt careful fingers pluck his glasses away, felt kisses fall on his eyelids, then at his throat, then low on his belly just above the tip of his cock. He felt Rodney's warm breath there for just a moment, then Rodney's mouth moved upwards again, licking and nipping as he went.

Radek stretched and hummed happily, gasping when Rodney's mouth covered a nipple and pinched it between teeth and tongue. The gasps became a moan when Rodney's fingers took up teasing his other nipple and Radek arched his back with pleasure. Rodney had been right, Radek thought to himself as Rodney's lips returned to his own to kiss him, deep and wet and hot. He could lose himself altogether in these sensations, could completely forget all the other horrible things that had been plaguing him since Pretana. Rodney's hand was caressing its way down his body as his kiss lingered, fingers trailing along the crease at the top of his thigh, then down the length of his now rigid and sensitive cock.

"Oh god yes, Rodney, touch me," Radek cried.

"Hmm..." Rodney hummed as he toyed with Radek's nipple with his tongue. "And where would you like me to touch you?" he asked.

"Anywhere... everywhere..." Radek moaned as Rodney's fingers found their way back to his cock, dabbling in the first few drops of precum they found there.

"How about here?" Rodney breathed into Radek's ear as he moved his now moistened fingers down between his legs to gently massage his opening.

"Hnng..." Radek whined inarticulately in response.

"I'll take that as a yes," Rodney smiled, tracing the edge of Radek's ear with the tip of his tongue. Those lips and tongue now began to migrate south again, lingering at his throat, detouring past his nipples once more, and licking their way over Radek's belly. As pleasant as this journey was, however, Radek had little doubt that Rodney had a goal in mind and a Radek was growing inpatient for him to get there. At the first brush of Rodney's lips on his straining cock, Radek felt his hips thrust upward, seemingly of their own accord.

"Ano!" Radek cried, finding some words at last, just not English ones. "Prosim, prosim..."

Rodney did not let his pleas go unanswered and proceeded to cover the length of Radek's cock with his tongue, trailing its slick, wet heat from the root to the head.

"Boze, Rodney!" he shouted, feeling the heat from Rodney's mouth compounded in his sex and expand, burning through his whole body. The heat washed over his wounded heart, soothing and healing, chasing away the last few pockets of ice and warming his whole soul.

As Rodney's tongue continued to lave Radek's rigid and receptive cock, his fingers moved to cup and caress Radek's balls, straying back to occasionally stroke the ever so sensitive place just behind them. Radek writhed helplessly as he submitted to these attentions, muttering things that probably weren't English and might not have been real words in any language. The sounds took on a disappointed, yearning note as Radek felt Rodney's hand move away, and a moment later Rodney's tongue withdrew as well.

Opening his eyes to glance blurrily at Rodney, he found his lover kneeling at his side, fingers poised at his lips.

"Made you look," Rodney grinned, slipping his two fingers into his mouth and then drawing them out slowly, glistening with spit. Radek knew what came next and whined plaintively, lifting his hips in anticipation.

Rodney's slippery, moist fingers teased at his opening for a moment to and just as they came to press and demand entrance, Rodney's mouth came down over Radek's cock again, lips passing over the head and then drawing the whole of Radek's cock into the close, wet heat of Rodney's mouth. Radek let loose a long, loud moan, fisting the bed clothes beneath him. It took him a moment to realize that besides feeling his own cock plumbing the depths of Rodney's throat, Rodney's fingers were also now moving deep inside him.

"Ah, Boze!" Radek cried, all but overcome with desire and pleasure, "ano, ano!"

Inside his mouth, Rodney's tongue massaged Radek's cock, sending waves of ecstasy pulsing through him. Without thinking, Radek found his hands stroking over his own body, fingers teasing his nipples in concert with the motion of Rodney's tongue. On his left arm, Radek felt the faintest of touches and glanced over to see Rodney stroking him with the very tips of the two fingers exposed at the end of his immobilized right hand, moving gently over his skin. Rodney craved to touch what Radek was touching, Radek could see it in his eyes, and almost knew what Rodney was going to say when he briefly lifted his mouth away from Radek's cock to speak.

"Yes," he said, his voice rough with desire, "that's it. Touch yourself. Let yourself go. Completely. Fuck me... as hard as you want." Then his mouth was back, covering Radek's aching hard flesh, and of Radek was thrusting, right hand grasping a fistful of Rodney's hair at the back of his head, as the left continued to pinch and stroke first one nipple, then the other. Rodney's fingers, surely more than two by now, continued to moved inside him, thrusting in rhythm with Radek's thrusts.

Even as the pleasure built in him and he felt his climax drawing near, Radek could feel the powerful waves of ecstasy surging through him and working wonders on his wounded psyche. Where his recent memories presented sharp, jagged places in his soul, the surges of pleasure blunted the points, smoothed the jagged places, and left a healing balm everywhere in their wake.

All his attention focused on his building climax, Radek saw and knew the wave of bliss that would send him over, starting with Rodney's fingers striking that certain spot inside him, supported by the sensations of the width of Rodney's tongue moving against the shaft of his cock, and completed by the back of Rodney's throat closing around the head... and then he was gone... over the edge.

The climax seized, him threw his body into convulsions of rapture, drove shouts of joy from his throat and shone a blinding, cleansing light into his soul. Rodney stayed with him till the end, holding him, stroking him, sucking him dry, and when the moment had passed and Radek lay quivering and gasping on the bed Rodney relinquished him, drew away, and moved up to wrap his arms around him and kiss him with the taste of his own seed still on his lips.


XIII. Creature Comforts

As order gradually restored itself from the white noise of pleasure occupying the better part of Radek's brain, one of the first things he became aware of was the very hard flesh prodding his belly where Rodney lay against him. Even functioning at extremely limited capacity, Radek knew what was wanted right away.

"Now," he little more than mumbled, "now you are fucking me."

No, Rodney was kissing him, it seemed, but soon enough Rodney let the kiss trail away, moving his attention to where Radek had drawn his knees up and apart to give him access. Radek was ready for him, but then Rodney said, "Wait... lube. It's in the pack."

Radek grabbed him before he could get off the bed, however, and with his other hand groped into the drawer of his bed stand, emerging with the desired product moments later. Rodney hadn't expected to find lube here as they spent most of their nights together in Rodney's room, on Rodney's special orthopedic mattress. The bottle seemed to spark a memory in Rodney as Radek handed it to him.

"We made love for the first time on this bed, didn't we?" he asked, the nostalgic smile on his face matching his voice.

"Ano, that is true," answered Radek, finding Rodney's nostalgia contagious.

"It was you fucking me that time, though, wasn't it?" Rodney asked, still lost down memory lane, "Well now we'll have symmetry. I like that."

"Rodney I don't care whether you fuck me symmetrically or asymmetrically," Radek complained, "just fuck me!"

"All you have to do is ask," commented Rodney, applying the lube to himself at last. He wasted no time at it, either, and was pressing into Radek only a moment later.

Radek hissed at the combination of pain and pleasure of being entered. He thrilled at the combined senses of violation and completion, of surrender and conquest, and knew the exquisite joy of watching Rodney's face as he eased himself into Radek's tight passage.

"Oh, god, ohgod, Radek," Rodney moaned, sitting back a bit so that he did not have to support his weight on his one good hand. This left Radek freedom to move, however, and so he did, lifting his hips and then pushing back, impaling himself deeply onto Rodney's cock.

"Fuck, oh fuck Radek you fucking bastard, do me!" Rodney cried, grasping hard enough to bruise on Radek's thigh, and he didn't care. Then they were both moving in forceful opposition, Radek's buttocks slamming against Rodney's thighs again and again as they thrust against each other. Radek watched Rodney's face as he approached his own completion with heat and delight. So seldom were Rodney's features free of care, but now, free of everything but joy and pleasure, a delicate and heartbreaking beauty was revealed and Radek drank it in with ardor.

"So beautiful you are, milaku," he whispered, "so very beautiful."

Above him, eyes screwed tight shut with concentration, Rodney was gasping out, "Good, so very, very good, god it's so good, Radek... oh god...!" and then he was shuddering out his release, crying wordlessly and collapsing into Radek's waiting embrace.

For some time they lay thus, basking in their mutual afterglow, their heavy breaths of the only sound in the room save for the occasional dyspeptic gurgle of Rodney's coffee maker. He could, Radek mused, easily drift off to sleep just as he lay, he and Rodney folded in each others arms. The events of the day had left them both exhausted, but it had also left a bit of residue as well, of sweat, tears and grime from the lab which Radek wished to be free of. Much as he was loath to move or disturb Rodney, who seemed to be dozing as he lay on top of him, Radek decided that he wanted a shower enough to wake his love. Rodney, he noted, could likely use one as well.

He woke his lover gently with a kiss to the forehead.

"Rodney, milaku," he murmured, enjoying the vision of Rodney's sleepy faced awakening.

"Sorry," he mumbled, "m'I crushing you?"

"Only a little," Radek smiled, "but I find I am wishing a shower... You may want one yourself, as well," he suggested.

"Mmm..." said Rodney muzzily, "you may have a point." He rolled himself off Radek and sat, slowly and with some effort, on the edge of the bed. Radek managed as much himself after a bit, and pushed himself off the bed to shuffle towards the bathroom, Rodney following in his wake.

Extricating himself from the warm, soft bed and Rodney's embrace had been difficult, but the moment he felt the hot water sluicing over his body, washing away sweat and dried tears and the day's accumulation of dirt, he knew that it had been worth it. Radek's shower was small and Rodney crowded in close as he joined him, his right hand covered with a plastic bag, but Radek didn't mind in the least. Basking in the comforts of warm water and the slippery, wet body moving against his, Radek felt more than sweat and dirt being washed away. It was as if all of the horror and anguish he had let out earlier was being washed away as well, rinsing off his body with the soapy water and spiraling down the drain. Though much sorrow and regret still lay within him, Radek knew at last that the unfeeling tyrant who taken control of him on Pretana was gone for good, down the drain with the gray-water and soap scum. It was a weight lifted from Radek's soul.

He sighed contentedly and leaned back against Rodney who echoed Radek's happy sigh and leaned forward, wrapping his arms (one wrapped in plastic and the other wielding a soapy washcloth) around him, and resting his chin on Radek's shoulder. It would be too easy, Radek mused, to doze off here under the falling water, supported in Rodney's arms, but he knew he could not, and roused himself, taking the washcloth from Rodney's hand.

"Now, you know," Radek said, turning Rodney around to wash his broad back, "that if we full asleep in shower we will have to give ourselves the Limited Resources Lecture, which you and I have both given far too many times."

"Yes, yes..." Rodney mumbled sleepily, though he was not so sleepy that he didn't know what to do with the washcloth when Radek handed it back to him. Radek would have purred if he could have, at the pleasant sensations of Rodney washing his back and shoulders with the warm water pouring down over them. When he finished, Radek rinsed one last time before he shut the water off, and the two of them exited the shower and toweled each other dry, dropping their towels and Rodney's plastic bag on the carelessly puddled floor at Radek's direction.

They stumbled clumsily from the bath to the bed as a single unit, and fell onto it together in a tangle of limbs, somehow managing to trouble neither Rodney's right hand nor Radek's left shoulder. They made a hash of the bed clothes, trying to scramble under them but they eventually sorted them out so that the blankets were on top, they were underneath, and Rodney lay spooned up behind Radek, his cast bound hand draped over Radek's side. Feeling Rodney nuzzle up against the back of his neck as he was hugged close, Radek felt a sort of peace settled into his heart.

"Missed you," he heard Rodney say softly, "haven't been able to sleep without you at all."

A wave of sorrow passed through Radek's heart as he thought of what the last few days had to have been like for Rodney.

"Sorry," he said, lifting Rodney's left hand to kiss it, struggling to hold tears at bay. "I am so sorry, milaku."

"No, no," Rodney comforted, "don't be sorry. It's okay now. I've got you back and everything is going to be okay now."

And drifting off to sleep in the warmth and comfort of Rodney's all encompassing embrace, Radek knew him to be right, once again.


XIV. The World Awaits

They woke each other up with their nightmares some hours later, as the faint, gray light of predawn shone in through Radek's windows.

It was the dead, accusing eyes of the soldier he'd shot that haunted Radek's sleep, but it was Rodney's pained and terrified cry, as he'd relived his own torments, that woke Radek and freed him from the grip of his nightmare. It was the heavy sob that forced itself from Radek's throat as he woke that broke Rodney's dream, and in only moments Radek had turned to face Rodney, to bury his face in Rodney's shoulder as he wept, and Rodney had pulled Radek in to hold him tight in his trembling arms.

As he lay in the comfort of Rodney's close embrace, waiting for his tears to abate once again, it occurred to Radek to wonder who was standing guard outside his quarters tonight. What had earlier seemed like a restriction, trapping him in his own quarters, now seemed protective, making him feel safe. He knew, without having to ask, that Rodney had secured all the time off that the both of them might need, and the presence of a trusted friend keeping watch outside meant that they would most definitely not be disturbed for any reason (barring a real emergency). It was that sense of safety, and of being protected, both by Rodney's strong arms and by the watchful presence of trusted friends that permeated Radek's thoughts as he finally drifted off to sleep again, even as the full light of the new day came to filter in to his room.

The sun was high in the sky when they woke again, both feeling more well rested then they had in some time. They committed the outrageous extravagance of pouring out all the coffee that Rodney had made the day before, which they had not drunk and which had sat on the burner all night, and made a fresh pot. They breakfasted on food bars and fresh coffee and then Rodney went to have a brief chat with whoever was guarding his door (which at the moment was Teyla), just to let them know that things were going well, and that Radek was doing better.

"I must find some way to thank members of your team for keeping watch over us," Radek remarked when Rodney returned. "I am coming to appreciate very much that they are there."

"Not like they had anything else to do, what with me being laid up," Rodney shrugged, "but I'm glad you appreciate them. I thought it might have been a mistake at first."

"No," Radek reassured him, laying a hand on Rodney's shoulder, "you did the right thing, even if I did not think so to begin with."

There was a momentary flash of anxiety behind Rodney's eyes and Radek knew that he was recalling Radek's moment at the balcony yesterday. Radek wished with all his heart that there was some way to let Rodney forget that moment, but he did not know how.

Radek spent the rest of that day, and the better part of the next, dictating his report about his experiences on Pretana, to Rodney, who captured all faithfully with paper and pen (this had been Heightmeyer's idea, he explained). It was slow going and the recollections were painful and reduced him to tears again and again, but Rodney's calm and supportive presence made it bearable. As unpleasant as it was to walk through those memories, Radek could see how processing them in this manner, with Rodney's assistance, helped to order the emotional turmoil in his mind and gradually restore it to the fine thinking and problem solving machine that it had been previously.

Rodney's team surprised them both with a fairly sumptuous dinner that evening, only staying long enough to deliver the food and then depart. The number and type of delicacies that had been included gave an indication of how many of their fellow residents in the Ancient city wished to show their support and concern, and both Radek and Rodney were frankly touched. They enjoyed the meal immensely, retired to bed early and did not get around to actually sleeping for many hours.

If Radek dreamt at all that night he never knew it, but Rodney dreamt that he had watched Radek actually go over the railing that afternoon, and woke Radek, crying his name aloud with such despair and anguish that it all but broke Radek's heart. He'd held his weeping lover in his arms for hours, quietly assuring him over and over again that he would never let anything like that happen, that he wouldn't have let it happen then, and that he'd never, ever do such a thing to Rodney.

They slept late again the next day and woke with increasing respect for the healing power of sleep. The previous night's events had put in Radek's mind the idea that some reciprocity might be called for on his part and so after breakfast he asked Ronon, who was keeping watch that morning, to have someone bring them a hard copy of Rodney's report. He spent the rest of the morning working on his own report with Rodney, and since he'd gotten to the part where he and Rodney had been together it went a little easier.

Sheppard showed up with Rodney's report around lunchtime and so Radek took a break from his own report and sat down to read it after he and Rodney had finished their midday meal. Radek found himself a spot on the couch with Rodney snuggled up at his side, where he could peer up from time to time and could see what part of his narrative Radek had gotten to. Radek had to pull Rodney close and hold him tight as he read of how he'd been tortured, but Rodney had not dwelt on details here, and had moved on quickly.

It was touching to read how astonished Rodney had been when he'd appeared outside his cell, and fascinating to read Rodney's description of their final flight across the open cavern. Rodney never once referred to Radek's actions as killing, but as protecting, as preventing them from coming to harm, or clearing a path. Nowhere in his report was there a sense of the sheer carnage that Radek felt himself responsible for. Rodney's accounts of Radek's injury, and how he'd managed to reload Radek's P90 one-handed were, like Radek's own, understated and almost clinical in their detachment. Naturally Radek knew better, and wondered how easily Dr. Weir would be able to read between the lines of his own report.

Radek set the report aside when he finished, turning to Rodney to meet his gaze frankly.

"In all the time since we have returned from Pretana," he said, reaching out to take Rodney's hand, "it has been you worrying about and caring for me, and yet you are the one who has been tortured. I would not want you to think that I had forgotten that."

Rodney shrugged, squeezing the hand that held his. "Actually it's been good to have something else... someone else to focus on. Helping you means I don't have to think so much about what... what happened to me." He gave a faint, self effacing smile, then dropped his gaze.

"Can you tell me how it is going with you, Rodney?" Radek asked quietly after a moment.

Rodney gave a little sigh, looking up at Radek eventually to answer. "Well... I'm not anticipating an unbroken night's sleep anytime soon," he said apologetically," but you're helping... lots."

"I'm glad," Radek answered. "Tell me how else I can help you?"

Rodney looked down at their joined hands, trying not to let Radek see the troubled expression on his face.

"I know you wish you didn't have to kill all those people," Rodney said at last. "I know you feel really bad about the poor sap you had to shoot in the head, but here's the thing. I don't know if he was one of the guys getting a kick out of holding a piece of red hot metal to my skin until I could smell it burning, but he didn't try and stop it either. I'm really sorry you had to be one the to shoot that bastard, but I'm not sorry he's dead. I'm not sorry any of them are dead."

When Radek leaned forward to fold Rodney into his arms he could feel Rodney actually shaking, whether from the horror of his memories were from the fear of offending Radek, he could not tell. Perhaps it was both. In either case Radek could not but hold his lover close and whisper what comforts he could.

"They will never hurt you again, milaku. Never," he murmured. "Someone will always come for you, even if it must be me."

Rodney's trembling diminished after a little, and he drew back to kiss Radek lightly on the lips.

"In truth," Radek said finally," I do not feel so differently. I do not think I would feel such distress if it was Colonel Sheppard who had done the killing, even if I had been present and seen everything just as I did. Does that make me a hypocrite, I wonder?"

Rodney regarded him with the profoundest affection, reaching up to lay his good hand on Radek's cheek. "No," he said, shaking his head slowly, "no, that just makes you a gentle soul, and I'd never want that to change. Ever."

They brought their 'in-house retreat' to an end late the next day, but only went as far as Rodney's quarters to retrieve their laptops and re-transcribe Radek's report. This time it was Rodney reading his own terrifying, left handed handwriting and Radek typing the words into the document he would e-mail to Dr. Weir.

This also served as an interesting distancing exercise, and having Rodney's voice reading the words he chosen to describe what had happened helped Radek gained a new, less disturbing perspective on those events. He sent the report that evening, after dinner, and had an e-mail back from Dr. Weir before he went to bed, saying that she'd like to meet with him the next morning.

"You ready?" Rodney asked, as they settled into his orthopedic mattressed bed that night.

"I am, milaku," he said, kissing Rodney's fingertips, "and I am more than ready to return to work as well."

His resolve and confidence were still with him when Radek will the next morning, but he felt them both tested as he stood outside Dr. Weir's office, waiting for their meeting. It was when he recalled her earlier talk of medals that Radek began to feel worried, but happily she made no mention of them as they sat down to discuss Radek's report. It was Radek himself who ended up broaching the subject, after they had finished going over what he'd written, but she assured him that she'd tabled the idea.

"After I'd thought about it for a while," she told him, "I began to realize what an enormous political can of worms I'd be opening, so you're off the hook."

"I must confess that this is good to hear," said Radek with a relieved smile.

Elizabeth nodded, answering his smile with one of her own. "I rather thought you'd say something like that, but I wanted you to know that I still think that what you did was really terribly courageous. And I don't believe that I'm the only person who thinks so."

Radek stared down at his lap but more out of reticence than real discomfort. "Do you make no distinction between courage and desperation, Dr. Weir?" he asked.

"I'd say that desperation often inspires people who might not have ever thought of themselves as courageous to do very courageous things," she answered diplomatically.

Radek answered her with a wry smile. "It is my experience that desperation leads to desperate acts," he said, "If one is lucky and the desperate act succeeds, then one is called a 'hero'. If, on the other hand, one is less fortunate, then it is a 'tragedy' or 'disaster' and one may be called a fool, or one may end up dead. Is only a matter of good or bad fortune, I fear."

"And you think that the two of you were just... lucky?" Dr. Weir asked, clearly implying that she thought differently.

"Very lucky," answered Radek, "also very foolish, and very, very desperate. I do not think, really, that I would have done what I did for anyone else. That is not what I would call courage."

Radek saw in Elizabeth Weir's green eyes and piercing gaze a seldom revealed wisdom, and she reached across her desk to lay her hand over his.

"No," she said quietly, "that's what I'd call love. What I'd call courage is when I see someone who continues to live by his convictions, in spite of everything happening around him, and when I see two people willing to take the enormous risk of caring for each other in an environment that's overtly hostile to such sentiments on a variety of levels. That's what I'd call courage."

Radek was back to staring down at his lap again. "You seem quite determined," he said after a moment, "to see me as a brave man, in spite of my best efforts."

"Your secrets are safe with me, Dr. Zelenka," she said sympathetically, "all of them. Don't worry."

And Radek wasn't worried, as he left Dr. Weir's office, in part because his relationship with Rodney had been something of an open secret from its very inception, and also because he and Rodney were both civilians, arguably the most indispensable civilians on Atlantis. Truth be told, he'd have been more worried about being known as a pacifist. In some respects it was nearly as likely to raise the ire of some of the military types as his preference in bed partners, and the two together, if known, could possibly prove deadly. He hadn't mentioned this in his report, however, and Rodney was the only person on Atlantis with whom he'd discussed his feelings in this regard.

Standing on the balcony outside Dr. Weir's office, overlooking the gate room that lay at the heart of the city, his city, Radek wondered if people would think of him differently, now that his exploits on Pretana were widely known. He didn't know, and he wasn't sure if he cared, because the one person whose opinion he did care about, more than anyone else's, didn't seem to think any differently about him at all.

Rodney McKay had seen him commit horrendous acts of violence, had heard him confess to be a pacifist, and neither of these things seemed to have changed the way Rodney thought of him at all. When he himself had not understood who he was, or how he could believe as he did and yet do what he had done, Rodney remained unsurprised, somehow seeing no contradictions. Radek still didn't really understand, but had decided that he could take himself on faith for now.

After all, if he ever lost himself again, he knew now for certain that Rodney would be able to find him, however far he had wandered, and bring him home once more.


2006 Taylor Dancinghands

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