Chapter 1: Carson
Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.
- Rainer Maria Rilke
Debriefing. Science briefings. More debriefings. Military briefings. Even more debriefings. Political briefings. Just one last debriefing, Dr. Beckett…
Carson was just about briefed out. He and his colleagues from Atlantis had been trapped under Cheyenne Mountain for two weeks now, giving what appeared to be everyone and his brother the run-down on the past year in the Pegasus galaxy.
In his spare moments, he'd been surfing the net, ordering things to take back with them to the city of the Ancients. Medical equipment mostly - though he'd taken a few moments to find a web site based in the Czech Republic that shipped becherovka anywhere in the world and ordered a few bottles as a surprise for Radek, who'd been left to hold the fort in Atlantis. His special instructions included labeling the package as "rubbing alcohol," which would take care of the damned snoopy Air Force comptrollers.
The more mundane things on his shopping list he left until he could get to a real brick-and-mortar store, because really, who wanted to order their underwear on the Internet? Then he went back to his personnel applications and choosing the new members of his medical team.
When they were finally let out of the mountain, the Atlantis team spread out across Colorado Springs, shopping lists from left-behind team members in hand. Most of his fellow Atlanteans headed for the Cheyenne Mountain Center, but Carson stopped at Target. A store named Target so close to one of the most important military installations in North America tickled his funny bone. Of course, there was no sense wasting money on designer skivvies when he could get perfectly serviceable ones here.
He stood at the front of the store, credit cards in one hand and shopping list in the other. The noise level was incredible, especially after a year living with only 200 people in a city meant to hold tens of thousands. Bickering couples of all shapes, sizes, and colors, milled back and forth, and towed screaming children behind them. The PA system announced special prices and played unrecognizable muzak. It was just his luck that the only day he had available to shop for Radek was a Saturday. He closed his eyes and summoned the concentration of a surgeon. Get in, get what you came for, and get out. Yes. He could do this.
First on the list - underwear, boxer briefs, size medium, twelve pair. Carson spotted the sign that said "Men's Wear" and plunged into the seething mass of humanity. Reaching his first goal, he skimmed over the color choices available. Almost none of the items on the shelf were white, the color Radek usually wore. Carson shrugged and grinned a bit. If he'd wanted plain white, he should have said plain white. Grabbing brightly colored packages and inspecting them for size, he tossed a half-dozen of them in the cart. The green and red stripes would look very fetching indeed, and the penguins would likely make Radek blush. Choosing a batch of boxer shorts for himself took no time at all.
On the next aisle were athletic socks and t-shirts. Two dozen pairs of socks and an equal number of undershirts, half in his size and half in Radek's, flew into the cart. Thinking for a moment, Carson threw in another six pairs of socks each. Military issue footwear was hard on socks.
Next - Radek wanted jeans, and Carson wanted him to have them. Waist 28, inseam 28, three pair, pre-washed. Moving in that direction, Carson spotted the ones he wanted immediately - low-riders, boot cut, that would show off the small but firm ass to advantage. Yes, indeed. Three pair of the dream-inducing denims hit the cart. Hesitating, Carson grabbed a fourth pair, on the principle that there was no such thing as too much of a good thing. The Daedalus had an entire empty cargo hold reserved for the Atlantis expedition personnel, and who knew when any of them would see a department store again?
The shopping list took a sudden turn into Electronics, with a request for several boxed DVD sets (who knew Radek was a "Wormhole Extreme" fan?), a new iPod (Radek's had been damaged when the then-Major Sheppard set Jumper Two down directly on top of it), and a copy of Halo 2. Recalling the condition of the one PlayStation on Atlantis, Carson wedged a new one into the cart. He snagged an empty cart abandoned in the aisle and deposited another Playstation in it. What the hell - it wasn't like they had anywhere to spend all of the danger pay they were getting. And in Atlantis' "grey market", the extra game box would be worth its weight in naquadah. With that firmly in mind, he picked out a handful of other games he'd heard people talk favorably about. If the Air Force objected, he'd pack them in refrigerated medical cases and label them "vaccines - do not open at room temperature." Straight-laced old biddies. Tell him what he could do in his off hours, would they? Not bloody likely.
After a quick trip into the Sundries section for toothpaste, new toothbrushes, mouthwash, deodorant, two battery-operated razors, and Dove soap (Lord, how he'd missed it!), Carson looked at the bottom of the list. Last but not least, a down comforter. This one was as much for him as for Radek. Atlantis could get downright cold at night. The climate controls were fairly reliable in the occupied areas of the city, but the city did float on the ocean and one open window was enough to make a Scottish lad feel right at home in the cold damp. The military issue wool blankets that they'd all been sleeping under kept you warm enough, but there was nothing like sleeping under a down comforter to convince a body that it was really warm. He found a king-sized one in dark green and stuffed it into the cart.
Pushing one cart and trailing the other, Carson headed for the cash register. The woman smiled happily at him as she started scanning items and bagging them up, laughing a bit and babbling something about Christmas being early. He handed over his credit card and blanched at the announced total. Not that it put much of a dent in his bank account, but the last time he'd spent that much money in one place he'd redecorated his entire apartment in Glasgow. Pasting a sickly grin on his face, he asked the cashier where the nearest grocer's was, and if there was a bookstore in the neighborhood.
Armed with directions to Albertsons and Barnes & Noble, he transferred his purchases into the trunk of the Air Force motor pool sedan. Many of the things he'd bought were small vices in their own way. The military would supply him with toothpaste, and soap, and even underwear. But the government issue soap made his skin itch, the underwear was always too large, and the toothpaste tasted like the back of a refrigerator. When the only luxuries you had were the ones you brought along, they became absolute necessities.
He persuaded an amazed grocer's clerk to part with an entire case of Oreo cookies for Radek, who didn't eat Oreos so much as make love to them. Carson then indulged himself for a while by soaking up the atmosphere in Barnes and Noble. He might be living in the most fantastic place ever discovered by man, but as near as they could tell the Ancients didn't have books. Databases and holograms, yes - these appeared to be quite efficient at transmitting information and entertainment. But Carson loved books, and missed the feel and smell of one in his hand.
He wondered what the company's board of directors would say if he asked them to open a store in the Pegasus galaxy - with the accompanying Starbucks, of course. Laughing silently at himself, he grabbed the last copy in the store of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, then browsed through the fiction section until he had a dozen more books ranging from Eric Flint to Elmore Leonard. This time he didn't so much as bat an eyelash when the clerk announced the total. Books were worth it.
Delightedly laden down with his purchases, Carson walked down the sidewalk, past the other shops in the strip mall, heading back to where he'd parked the car. He dodged a customer exiting from one shop and caught an amazing smell - well-cured leather. Stopping, he saw a leather jacket on a mannequin framed in the window. Immediately, he imagined it on Radek, and his mouth went dry and his cock stirred with interest. Oh yes - Radek in that jacket, with the jeans that he'd just bought and Oh My Yes.
Dyed Air Force blue with sky-blue stripes running down the front and sleeves, the jacket screamed decadence, style, and sex even from the other side of the glass. Entering the shop, the call wailed louder as he inspected the tailoring (solid), size (perfect for his lover), and the price tag (astronomical). But for once, Carson didn't care about the cost. This jacket was heading for the Pegasus Galaxy. Between the jeans and the jacket, Radek in civvies would be a walking invitation to debauchery. Fortunately for his peace of mind, Radek seemed to be a monogamist.
Heading for the car with his books under one arm and a box containing the jacket under the other, he contemplated the next few weeks. He had three days in Glasgow with his mum, and then straight back to Colorado Springs. After that, a frenzy of packing and orientating new personnel would soon give way to the nervous boredom that was travel on the Daedalus. Eighteen days later he would be back in Atlantis - back with Radek, back to the bed he'd become used to sleeping in, back… home?
Was Atlantis home?
His first instinct was no, it's not home. Home was Glasgow - his apartment, his lab, his friends, and his mum. No one trying to kill him. No one hounding him day and night to "just turn this on for us Dr. Beckett." No patching up friends and acquaintances with knife wounds, stunner blasts, bullet holes, or strange diseases. No Wraith.
No one to share the joy of discovery. No one to share the fear of disaster. No one to share that big down comforter with on a chilly night. No one to rub his feet, or his back, or anything else. No one to fill his heart and spirit the way Radek did.
Someday, if they managed to live through it all, perhaps they would come back to Earth and make a home together somewhere - Glasgow, Prague, or wherever they could find work. Maybe fate would take a hand and they would find some small idyllic world that had never heard of the Wraith, or the Goa'uld, or the Tau'ri, and disappear where the SGC and the rest of the military-industrial complex would never find them. He could do country doctoring and Radek could make startling inventions and cunning toys. Neither future seemed more likely than the other, given the fantastic nature of his present.
No, Atlantis might not be home, but it was the closest thing they had together. And together was all that mattered.
Chapter 2: Radek
Radek unpacks the haul. Gratuitous comforter fondling.
Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.
- Rainer Maria Rilke
Radek stumbled down the hallway, nearly asleep on his feet, determined to make it to his quarters before he fell flat on his face. For all the cheerful attitude he'd showed Elizabeth during the debriefing, he'd not had an easy time of it while the senior staff were all away on Earth.
His regular duties aside, he'd been left in charge of the city. It was a tough time - people were still a touch giddy about their success against the Wraith, but also nervous as a feral cat. They hadn't beaten the Wraith with strength, but with guile; they'd won through deception. It was all smoke and mirrors, and it would only take one recon dart to blow their cover and bring the full might of the horrors down on them again. So even as his fellows had celebrated, they were doing it with one eye over their shoulders and another on the sky, waiting…
Celebration was not an option for him. Elizabeth had trusted him with the essential parts of her job, and keeping the day-to-day functions of Atlantis running took a great deal of skill and time. He was an engineer, not a diplomat, and manning the operations center was probably the toughest thing he'd ever done. His research lay neglected, his temper was frayed, and his insomnia was ever-present. But insomnia didn't stand a chance this night. He was going to bed and if he was lucky, Carson would already be in it and would have it all nice and toasty warm.
Luck being the bitch she was, Carson wasn't in bed - he wasn't even in the room. Instead there was a large packing case - one of those he'd seen being unloaded from the Daedalus' hold. From the size of it, Carson's shopping trip must have been quite fruitful. Surely this enormous thing must hold more than socks, underwear, and an iPod.
He hesitated. He wanted to see the inside of his eyelids very badly, but now he was curious as to what might be in the case. As he reached for the latches, a knock on the apartment door interrupted him. Answering it, he found an airman with a dolly bearing another, smaller, packing case and a cardboard box. He didn't recognize the woman - she must be one of the new arrivals on the Daedalus.
"Good evening, Sir. Dr. Zelenka, I assume?" When Radek nodded, the airman tilted the dolly and rolled it in through the door. "Dr. Beckett asked me to deliver these here, Sir. They were delivered to the infirmary by accident."
"Thank you, airman. Though is easy to see how mistake was made when this is labeled 'rubbing alcohol' and other is labeled 'live vaccine - do not open at room temperature.'"
"Yeah, I imagine that was it. Oh, and Dr. Beckett asked me to give you this." She held out a folded piece of paper. Radek took it and unfolded it.
Don't wait - open the small one first. Apply internally until pain is relieved. Save some for me.
He grinned. "Tell Dr. Beckett I shall follow his prescription to the letter. And thank you, Airman…" - he peered at her tag - "Vayser."
"Sure thing, Doc. Have fun unpacking." Pushing the empty dolly in front of her, Airman Vayser exited and went down the hall. After he closed the door, Radek turned back to the boxes. Fishing his Swiss Army knife out of his pocket, he opened the blade and slit the packing tape on the box.
Ah, Carson, light of my life, keeper of my liver - you got me becherovka. Saint Wenceslaus bless you. Two familiar green bottles gleamed at him, along with two of the traditional short glasses. He opened one immediately and poured out just enough for a few sips. As he tasted the herbal liqueur, he felt his whole body relax, even as his nose wrinkled. It tasted like home, but it would taste a lot better chilled. He poured just a touch more, then stowed both bottles in the suite's small refrigerator and went back to the crates.
The smaller crate was indeed labeled "live vaccine - do not open at room temperature". He felt fairly certain that whatever was in the crate, it wasn't live vaccine. Just in case, he decided to leave that one alone until Carson came home. He turned to the larger crate and flipped open the securing latches.
Removing the top of the crate, Radek closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He imagined that the atmosphere in the air-tight case smelled just a touch different from the air around him - the smell of Earth, of home. Mixed with that were a multitude of other odors - plastic, chocolate, paper and glue, soap, and… leather? He reached in to begin unpacking.
On top of the load were several dozen pairs of socks, briefs, and t-shirts. Removing them, he sorted them into two piles according to size on a nearby table. Looking at the underwear Carson had picked out for him, he shook his head and laughed. His lover had an odd sense of humor sometimes. Really - penguins? And the colors were absolutely garish - the green and red ones looked like something an American Santa Claus ought to be wearing, not a proper Czech. Of course, he was not exactly a proper Czech. Well, it was unlikely anyone but Carson was going to see them. Even if he had an accident, his doctor would have already seen his underwear.
Turning back to the crate, he hauled out a huge clear plastic slip case containing something in dark green. Looking at the label, he was delighted to see it was a king-sized down comforter. Unzipping the case, he took the blanket into the bedroom and shook it out over their bed. He straightened it and smoothed it down, delighting in the loft and feel of the cozy addition to their comfort. This might even help with Carson's icicle feet. Radek shivered as he recalled the last time he'd had those fleshy blocks of ice pressed against his legs. He'd yelped in shock and nearly jumped out of bed. Cuddling was one thing, being used as a hot water bottle was another. Resisting the temptation to give the comforter a trial run, he gave it a last welcoming pat, and went back out into the living room and resumed his unpacking.
A large white and red plastic shopping bag caught his eye next. Lifting it out he found the jeans he asked Carson to get for him. Checking the size, he laid them on the table with the other clothes. Since he had the next few days off duty, those would come in handy. He didn't want to try them on now though. He was too tired to change clothes. It was not like they could return them if they didn't fit, anyway. He wasn't scheduled for a trip Earthside any time soon, and what would he tell the clerk? "Sorry it took so long to exchange these. I was out of the galaxy for a while." Americans were extremely tolerant of some forms of craziness, though - the small settlements near Area 51 in Nevada were proof of that. The sales clerk probably wouldn't bat an eye - just smile sweetly at him and disappear on her lunch break.
A quick peek into the next box revealed new razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and Dove soap. Oh, good - the military-issue soap made Carson itch, and while their toothpaste did the job, it tasted like it had been strained through old socks. He carried the box into their bathroom and put the toiletries away.
Ah, there it was - his new iPod. He would have to be more careful with this one. He'd left his old one on the jumper bay floor when he finished repairing one of the little craft and invited Sheppard to take it out for a test flight. Sheppard had, in turn, invited him along on the ride, knowing that Radek loved flying in the jumpers. Sheppard put the barrel-shaped ship through its paces, then landed it back in the bay - one foot to the left of where he'd taken off from. The poor little iPod was no match for the weight of the jumper. Colonel Sheppard had been all apologies, but it really was his own fault. He made a mental note to rig a small pouch for the new one and strap it around his upper arm, to keep it out of harm's way.
Reaching back into the packing case, Radek crowed as he saw the boxed DVD set of "Wormhole Extreme" that he'd asked for, along with the second season of "Smallville", and the extended editions of all three Lord of the Rings movies. Between the DVDs and the becherovka, he'd barely know the difference between Atlantis and Earth. Well, except for the different architecture. And the whole Wraith trying to kill everyone thing. Hopefully someone else remembered to bring back popcorn, because it looked like both he and Carson forgot to put it on their shopping list.
Next Radek pulled out a canvas bag with a cartoon of Mark Twain printed on side, and the words "Barnes & Noble" on the other. Inside were a dozen or so books, including a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Finally! He would devour this tomorrow, after he'd had enough sleep to be able to read without the print turning into unreadable squiggles. He glanced at the other books and noted a few he might be interested in once Carson was done with them. He set the books aside with the underwear.
When he came up with the video games, he had a sudden flash what was in the other packing crate. They'd been allowed to bring one Playstation and a few games with them through the gate, at the insistence of Dr. Heightmeyer. As with many other things, it was not the years, but the mileage - the game box was a tightly rationed resource. The psychologist had set up a reservation system so that expedition members could relax and play a few rounds of Doom 3 or Halo. In practice, time on the box was a tradable commodity. If there was a Playstation in that box…he undid the latches on the case and smiled broadly as two boxes with the familiar logo gleamed at him. He and Carson were about to become very popular people, indeed.
Finally, he let the smell of chocolate draw him back to the larger crate. The contents of the larger box were obvious, as the Nabisco company logo and the word OREO stenciled across the side at several locations were a dead giveaway. Radek laughed and lifted the box out of the packing container, sniffing at it like a tiger scenting fresh meat. A gift from his Milácku, steeped in thoughtfulness, not unlike the becherovka. Of course, it was a gift that kept on giving. Radek loved to show his partner exactly how an Oreo should be eaten, and Carson liked the lessons so much he kept insisting on more demonstrations. He thought about opening the case and nibbling a few. Maybe later, when Carson got loose from the infirmary...
One final package left, and this one had him mystified. The scent of leather breathed out of the box as he opened it and lifted out the most incredible jacket he'd ever seen. Dark blue, with a single sky blue stripe down the zipper front and down the outside of each shoulder, the leather felt butter-smooth in his hands. Radek shook it out and slipped it on. The dark lining felt like silk against his skin, and shifted soothingly as he smoothed his hands along the sleeves and zipped up the front. It was warm and comforting, fitting like a second skin.
Radek was a scientist, and not normally a sentimental man. Yet somehow Carson had a sixth sense about what would move him, and exploited it shamelessly. This gift made him feel like Carson stood behind him, cradling him in his arms and whispering sweet words in his delicate accent even as silk whispered across his skin. It murmured words of caring, of devotion, and of certainty that nearly made him weep with joy. It was silly, it was over-reaction. He knew he was tired and stressed out and one simple item of clothing shouldn't mean this much.
He reached out and picked up the small glass and swallowed the last of the straw-colored liqueur, letting it burn its way down his throat. Sleep - he needed sleep. Reluctantly he removed the jacket and draped it over the nearest Ancient equivalent of a coat hanger. Then he shoved the now-empty crate out into the hallway, where a crewman from the Daedalus would collect it later. Stripping out of his uniform, he threw it into the bathroom for the launderette to take care of. Lowering the lights, he climbed into bed and slipped under the comforter.
When Carson came home, he would try to tell him how much the things he'd brought back from Earth meant to him. He suspected, however, that the words did not exist in the English language, and possibly not even in Czech. The language they held in common, their love for each other, would have to suffice.