Chapter 1: Rising
Some days, Radek counted his connection with one Meredith Rodney McKay, double PhD, as one of the best things in his life. Certainly, when he compared it to the alternative, he knew how lucky he was.
Growing up as a guide in communist Czechoslovakia was a dangerous business. Guides were a commodity to be utilised for the masses, going where the state put them, forcibly if necessary. Radek’s mother, Ruza, had recognised the signs in her son before the mandatory testing age of three which was the only thing that saved him. She taught him how to control his empathic abilities, how to hide them, how to keep himself safe.
Others were not so lucky.
Radek had used his intellect to escape, first to the United Kingdom where he studied at Cambridge, and then later to America for his postgraduate work. There were many differences between these countries and his homeland but the one that was hardest for Radek to comprehend was the treatment of Guides and Sentinels.
Radek had spent so long hiding that part of him, thinking of it as something dangerous to be kept secret. Seeing Guides and Sentinels working out in the open without any fear of being used against their wills, seeing them choose who to bond with and who to work with; it should have felt freeing but, instead, it had felt vulgar and crass.
Old habits die hard and Radek had spent twelve years outside Czechoslovakia, still masking his Guide abilities, when Rodney McKay walked into his life.
It had been 1997. Radek was working at CERN and the ALICE experiment had just been officially approved by the research board which, of course, resulted in some celebration. One minute Radek had been snagging a glass of champagne from a passing tray and the next he was faced with a zoned out Sentinel in the middle of the canapés.
Citrus always had been one of Rodney's triggers and the lemon-infused prawns were just a zone-out waiting to happen.
Sentinels and Guides were rare in the scientific community, the stereotype of the action/adventure Sentinel and spiritual Guide existed for a good reason, neither lending itself naturally to the pursuit of scientific knowledge, so Radek was as unsurprised to realise that there were no Guides who could help the man as he was surprised to find a Sentinel there in the first place.
He had only hesitated for a moment before moving from his place on the periphery of the crowd, pushing his way through to the zoned out Sentinel. It had been surprisingly easy, too easy really, to bring the Sentinel - Rodney - from his zone out and Radek knew before the tests confirmed it that this was his Sentinel. Bonded in the space of one zone-out. It was typical really.
A textbook bonding in all but the most minuscule of ways.
The latest research from the Sentinel Guide Foundation showed that less than 0.01% of all Sentinel-Guide bonds were platonic, representing only around 100 pairings in the United States. It was an exclusive club to belong to and one that most people had a hard time believing really existed.
The media's portrayal of the Sentinel-Guide bond always leaned towards the romantic, it was what sold. Even actual Sentinels and Guides weren't always aware of those that bonded platonically. Some of the more extreme even considered it an abomination. Not Radek though. Radek was grateful for it.
He had nothing against men who sought the company of other men but he had never been that way inclined, preferring the more rounded curves of women. When he had allowed himself to imagine his bonded Sentinel - something he had only ever done in the dead of night with no one around - he had always imagined a woman because, statistically, he knew that almost all bonds resulted in a romantic or sexual relationship. Even at the age of six he had gravitated towars facts and science, a sign that he wasn't the usual sort of Guide. He should have realised he wouldn't end up with the usual kind of Sentinel. Still, Rodney was intelligent - impressively so - and their partnership had opened doors that Radek would never have even known to look for had he been on his own.
Even now, seven years later, walking the corridors of a lost city in another galaxy, he struggles to believe it.
So, yes; some days, Radek counted his bond with Rodney as one of the best things in his life.
Other days, days like the one where Rodney's terrible social skills got them sent to Siberia for two years, or days like this one, Radek counted it as a punishment for something terrible he must have done in a previous life.
“Rodney, if you do not stop and get some sleep I will be forced to take drastic action.”
“Oh please, drastic action? What are you going to do? Carry me out of here? I'd like to see you try.” Rodney didn't even deign to look up, tapping away intently at the keyboard in front of him, frowning when he didn't get the results he wanted. Merging the Earth made technology with the Ancient devices was a tricky balancing act and Rodney, it seemed, was unwilling to sleep until everything was working correctly.
Radek reached over and closed the laptop Rodney was working on, forcing his Sentinel to move his fingers or have them trapped.
“Hey! I was almost finished. This is important work you - -“
“It is always important work! And once you had finished that you would move on to next console. I am not fooled.” Radek snapped. “But we are floating on the ocean now, the city is not sinking, we have enough power to keep the essentials working and there are no emergencies. Now is time for sleep, Rodney.”
“Nobody is forcing you to stay here,” Rodney argued. “You want to sleep, sleep.”
Radek muttered a curse in Czech under his breath. Rodney had learned Czech within three months of their unexpected bonding so he knew exactly what Radek was calling him but it still felt better to curse in his own language.
“I want you to sleep,” Radek said. “You are running on fumes, Rodney. You are putting yourself at risk for a zone-out and I don't want to be called out of my nice warm bed to come and pet you into awareness again. I do not think you want that either.”
Rodney's lips thinned as his mouth tilted downwards in distaste. Radek knew that look. It was the one that meant Rodney realised that Radek was right but didn't want to admit it. Radek sensed the wavering resolve like a shark sensing blood in the water and went in for the kill.
“You know how Colonel Sumner felt about having a Sentinel as Head of Sciences. You heard the arguments he and Dr Weir had about your appointment. Do you really want to prove him right?”
Sumner was a traditionalist. Sentinels were supposed to be soldiers or cops, not physicists. A sentinel’s abilities were considered a benefit in the field, the risk of an inopportune zone-out only outweighed by the intel they could gather. He had argued vehemently against Rodney's appointment as CSO. Sumner had worked with the SGC long enough to know just how often the scientists were the ones who saved the day and the risk that the man in charge could zone-out during the stress of an emergency situation was too great. Especially when Sumner couldn't see the benefits. It didn't matter to him that Rodney excelled in these kinds of situations, or that Rodney came with a fully bonded Guide - something none of the three military Sentinels on the mission could boast. No; Rodney hadn't fit into Sumner’s narrowly defined idea of what a Sentinel was and was therefore an unknown, a risk. The military didn't like risks. Elizabeth, thankfully, was more open.
“Sumner’s dead,” Rodney said. “It doesn't really matter what he thinks.”
“What about new military commander?”
“Sheppard?” Rodney sounded surprised. “He wouldn't think that.”
Radek raised his eyebrow in surprise. It had taken Rodney a week to learn his name and they had been bonded at the time. He hadn't realised that Rodney and Major Sheppard had interacted that much already. It was…interesting. Willing to use this to his advantage just this one, Radek ran with it.
“Let's not give him any reason to start thinking it then, ano? Sleep. Just for a few hours, let your big brain refresh and then we can begin work again in the morning. I will even let you yell at the staff who don't make it in before 8.”
Rodney’s shoulders slumped in defeat and Radek smiled, pleased at the easy victory. His back up plan had involved Carson and a needle full of sedatives so this was definitely the easier win.
“Fine,” Rodney growled. “But only because they're past due for a yelling. Not for the other reason. I don't care what Sheppard thinks of me.”
Radek managed to bite down on his scoff. Rodney really was too transparent at times. Radek decided he would let him believe his lies for now and guided him out of the lab with a warm hand on Rodney's back. Rodney leaned into the touch and Radek could almost feel the exhaustion rolling off him like a physical presence. He'd let his Sentinel sleep before tackling the minefield that was his feelings toward Major Sheppard. If Rodney even knew what they were. Honestly, Radek wasn't sure what his feelings on the matter were either. In all the years they'd been platonically bonded, neither of them had ever been involved in a serious relationship. Science had always come first. That and the fact still remained that most people who learned that they had a bond assumed that the two of them were together.
Whatever feelings Rodney was having for the Major, Radek knew one thing. It would be interesting.
Chapter 2: Hide and Seek
John wants Rodney on his team.
“John.” Elizabeth greeted him warmly as he walked into her office, gesturing to one of the empty seats in front of her desk. “Have you decided who you want on your team yet?”
“Well, that's kinda what I wanted to talk about,” he admitted. “What can you tell me about McKay?”
Elizabeth's lips pressed together in a thin line and John got the feeling that she was disappointed in him for some reason. He had no idea what that reason could be. At least he didn't until she started talking.
“I stand by my decision to include him in this mission, Major. Rodney is - his mind is brilliant. We need that mind. Colonel Sumner had a lot to say about the risks associate with his Sentinel status but I would have thought his actions yesterday with the energy creature would have proven to you that he is capable of functioning in an emergency without - -“
“Whoa, whoa,” John held his hands up in surrender. “I think you might have misunderstood me. When I asked you to tell me about McKay, I meant that I was considering having him as a member of my team.”
John got the impression that Elizabeth wasn't surprised by people often. She managed to hide it well but he could tell that she hadn't expected him to want McKay on the expedition, much less his team. It was a stark reminder that, for all they'd been through already, they didn't know each other very well.
“He impressed me yesterday,” John continued. “There was no way he could know if that personal shield had enough juice left to keep him safe but he did it anyway. That's the kind of person I want on my team. The fact that he's the smartest person here is just a bonus.”
Elizabeth had gained back her equilibrium during John's speech and folded her arms, tapping one manicured nail against her skin.
“It sounds an awfully lot like you've made up your mind already. What did you want me to tell you?”
John shifted, leaning forward in the chair. “The, uh, the Sentinel thing,” he began. Seeing Elizabeth's defences starting to rise he rushed to clarify. “I’ve not got anything against it. I've worked with Sentinels in the field before and I know what they can bring to the table. But McKay, well, he's bonded, right? To the little guy with the uh,” John waved his hands around his head in approximation of the scientist's wild tufts of hair, “and the glasses.”
Elizabeth looked faintly amused at John's description. “Dr Radek Zelenka,” she said. “Yes. They've been bonded for just over seven years.”
“Right.” John had read that already in Rodney's - Dr McKay’s - file. Until he'd read the file last night - after he'd been sure that Rodney - Dr McKay - was all right after his run in with the energy being - John hadn't even had any clue that McKay was a Sentinel. The faint disappointment he'd felt when he realised that not only was McKay a Sentinel, he was a bonded Sentinel, had surprised him. He hadn't even realised that he was interested in Rodney until those words settled in his stomach like lead. It had been a long time since anyone had triggered anything close to resembling feelings in John and it was just typical that when it did happen, it was a bonded Sentinel that was the source of them. Not that he knew much about bonded Sentinels outside of the sappy romantic movies Nancy used to drag him to. Which was one of the reasons why he was here.
“What does that mean exactly?” he asked Elizabeth. “I mean, could McKay even be on a team without his Guide or are they a package deal?”
Elizabeth seemed more relaxed now that she was assured he didn't have a problem with Rodney's status and her smile was more natural now as she leaned back in her chair. “When I chose Rodney for this expedition, I knew it meant bringing Radek along too. Thankfully, Radek is brilliant in his own right and would have been on my list regardless of his connection with Rodney.”
John's shoulders slumped in disappointment. “Right. So, if I want McKay, I have to take Zelenka too. Which means I have to bump Teyla or Ford.” John didn't want to lose either of them. But he wanted McKay too. Damnit.
“Not necessarily. There's a big difference between permanently separating a bonded pair across two different galaxies and temporary separations. They aren't attached at the hip, John. I know for a fact that Rodney has been off-world multiple times while Radek hadn't ever stepped through the Gate until we came here.”
“So, I can - -“
“I think he would be a wonderful addition to your team, John.” She pushed up from her seat signalling the end of the conversation. “Now, good luck convincing him of the same.
Still faintly wondering why Elizabeth thought he needed to be wished luck, John found Rodney and Radek in the area they had designated as the mess hall, the two scientists bent over a tablet as they sat next to each other, close enough for their legs to be pressed together.
Swallowing his impulse to turn around and drown his sorrows in the sweat of the punchbag, John pushed forward, weaving through the tables until he was standing in front of them. He plastered a smile on his face, hoping it looked closer to charming than constipated.
“Mind if I sit?”
“Major Sheppard, please, sit, sit.”
Radek’s eyes twinkled as he waved for John to join them. John waited for Rodney's much less enthusiastic nod before taking the seat. Picking up his knife and fork, John started to tuck into the beef stroganoff.
“How you feeling after yesterday?" he asked Rodney. "Any more passing out?”
Rodney smiled faintly as John's choice of words before frowning. "Carson says I'm fine and I'm left with no choice but to take his word for it. Not that anyone had studied the long term effects of almost being killed by a black cloud of energy. I'm monitoring the situation and keeping them appraised hourly.”
Radek snorted dismissively. “And for this they are thrilled. Ignore him, Major. He is fine and will continue to be fine. How are you settling in with your command? There is a lot to set up, ano?”
“Ano means yes,” Rodney said through a mouthful of stroganoff. “It's one of the irritating Czech mannerisms you'll have to get used to.”
Radek elbowed Rodney in the ribs at that, causing Rodney to squawk in outrage. It was obvious to John that the two men were close but their interaction confused him. It seemed more fraternal than anything else. Weren't they supposed to be soulmates lovingly staring into each other's eyes?
John set his confusion aside and decided to focus on the reason he was here. Radek had given him as good an opening as any.
“Actually that was what I wanted to talk to you about. Weir has asked me to set up an off-world team and I’d like you to be a part of it.”
Rodney’s fork clattered against his plate as he dropped it. “Zelenka? You want to include Zelenka on the Pegaus equivalent of SG-1? He's never even been off-world!”
John exchanged an amused glance with Zelenka who had been observant enough to realise exactly who John had been looking at when he made his offer. “He's off-world right now, isn't he?” John drawled.
“Well if you're going to be technical about it, yes, but that doesn't count. He's never been on a mission, he'd be useless to you. No offence.”
The last two words were thrown so half heartedly in Radek's direction that John couldn't help but laugh.
“I was actually making the offer to you, McKay. I want the best on my team and you've told me multiple times that that's you.” John grinned as he turned to Radek. “No offence.”
Radek laughed. “None taken, Major. Rodney is right, I am unsuited to this task. I much prefer the comfort of my computers and my lab. Rodney on the other hand - -“
“You know I'm a Sentinel, right?” Rodney interrupted Radek, his eyes boring into John's.
“Seeing as how I read your file and can comprehend the written word, yes, I realise that.”
“Colonel Sumner had a problem with that fact.”
Radek sighed. “As you yourself told me, Rodney: the Major is not Colonel Sumner.”
John felt strangely touched at the thought that Rodney had obviously defended him to Radek already. “Sumner had a problem with a lot of things, me included. I don't have a problem with you being a Sentinel, Rodney. Hell, it’ll be useful to have one on the team.”
Rodney's mouth thinned. “Of course. You just want to use me for my senses.”
John rolled his eyes. “No, I want to use you for your big brain. The senses are a bonus. If that was all I wanted, I'd ask Stackhouse or Sanchez to be on my team.”
“You're not worried about zone-outs?”
“Should I be?”
“Well then, what do you say? Wanna be my geek?” John blushed and looked at Radek guiltily. “I mean, not my geek. He's your geek but - -“
“I am nobody’s geek, and certainly not Zelenka’s,” Rodney sputtered at the same time as Radek choked on his coffee.
“You do know that we are not romantically involved?” Radek asked after he was finished wiping the coffee from his chin. “We have a platonic bond.” John must have looked as confused as he felt because Radek clarified. “We’re just friends.”
“But, you're bonded?”
“Yes,” Rodney spoke to him like he was a very slow child. “Bonded does not equal fucking, Major. Do some damn reading and educate yourself. And if you can't wrap your pretty little head around the idea of a platonic Sentinel-Guide bond or you're one of those small minded apes that find it unnatural then you shouldn't even be on this mission and I wouldn't want to be on your team anyway.”
John was still stuck somewhere between the knowledge that Rodney was single and the knowledge that Rodney thought his head was pretty but he shook himself into action, pushing Rodney back into his seat after the scientist had leapt up in defensive outrage.
“Jesus, McKay, jump to conclusions much? You could be fucking half the marines and I wouldn't care.” He very carefully ignored Radek's short of disbelief at that. The little Czech was going to be trouble, he could tell. “You, me, Teyla, and Ford. A team. Yes or no?”
Rodney's answer was a long time coming and the “yes” when it came was so quiet that John almost missed it.
“Did I stutter?” Rodney snarked. “Yes. Now, if you'll excuse me I have very important things to do.”
John watched, baffled, as Rodney strode through the mess hall and out the door. Tearing his eyes from Rodney's ass, he blushed as he caught Radek watching him.
“He, uh,” John cleared his throat. “He always like that?”
Radek stood, picking up both his and Rodney's trays. “Always. But I think this team will be good for him. You will be good for him. Good luck. You will need it.”
John understood now why he would need it.
Chapter 3: Thirty Eight Minutes
Worst first mission ever.
Rodney left the infirmary in a daze that was far too close to a zone-out for his liking. He walked the halls that were only just starting to become familiar until he reached the two bedroomed suite that he had claimed for his (and Radek’s) own. The far too small single occupancy rooms that the military clearing team had first started assigning to the expedition members had been met with a resounding “Hell, No” by Rodney and he'd spent thirteen hours combing through the mess that was the Atlantis database until he could come up with a more acceptable alternative.
The door of his and Radek’s suite slid open as he approached, silent and smooth enough that even with his hearing dialed up to eleven, he could barely hear it. Rodney walked through the communal living area, ignoring the three open laptops that he really should look at, and headed straight for the bathroom. The Atlantean showers were almost enough to forgive the Ancients their uncatalogued disaster of a database, the pressure and temperature responding effortlessly to his thoughts in a way that had ruined him for Earth showers forever.
Rodney stripped his off-world uniform off, leaving the clothes where they fell and stepped into the steam of the pounding shower. He washed thoroughly, the Sentinel friendly formula of shower-gel that he created himself turning the water sudsy as it disappeared down the drain. Once he was done, he stepped out onto the cool tile, icy to his feet, and dried himself off with a soft, warm towel, dressing in a long-sleeved top and cotton sleep-pants that felt soothing against his heat-red skin. He padded barefoot into his bedroom, not bothering to close the door behind him and curled up on the firm mattress. Through it all, everything, he could hear the comforting thump of John's heartbeat, three levels down. He hadn't realized just how attuned to John's heartbeat he'd become until that awful silence had permeated the jumper.
It had been a hell of a first mission.
Radek found him an hour later; still curled up on his bed, still listening to the steady thump of John's heart from three levels down. His Guide took one look at him and sighed heavily.
“You could have radioed me, you know?” Radek shook his head irately as he bent awkwardly at the waist to start unlacing his boots. “I finished putting the jumper I was working on back together before I came to find you. At your insistence, I might add.” He kicked his boots off, stripped off his socks and flopped down to lie on the bed next to Rodney. Close but not too close. Radek's bare foot lay against Rodney's own, the only part of them touching. It was a well-honed dance with them, this. They were very practiced at walking the edge between what was necessary and what was too much.
Rodney felt something in him settle as Radek's sounds and smell settled around him. He smelled like soldering guns and mint juleps. Rodney had come to associate that smell with home and safety.
John smelled like math proofs and lightning. Rodney wasn't sure what he associated that smell with but he knew that he was intoxicated by it, that he couldn't get enough. It scared him.
“I looked for you in the infirmary,” Radek said quietly. “They said you did not stay long.”
Rodney hummed, non-committal.
“They also said that Major Sheppard will be fine. As will Lieutenant Ford. The Major’s heart is - -“
“62.3 beats per minute,” Rodney interrupted. “His blood pressure is 110 over 70. Carson is fussing over him like an old woman.”
Rodney heard the slow inhale of Radek's breath, the exhale in a rush of air that he could feel against the back of his neck. “You can hear him,” Radek said. It was a statement of fact, not a question. That was one of Rodney's favorite things about Radek; his belief in facts and the surety of the conclusions he drew from them. “All the way from here, můj bože, Rodney. That is incredible.”
“S’loud,” Rodney allowed himself to move his feet until they were more fully tangled up with Radek’s. He needed the comfort and he knew Radek wouldn't grudge it. “It's too loud but I don’t want it to stop. I can't stop listening.”
Radek’s fingers drifted hesitantly across the wispy hair at the nape of Rodney's neck. “Will you let me help you, my friend?”
Radek started to hum softly, a surprisingly rich, deep baritone, perfectly pitched so that Rodney could feel it vibrate through every inch him. The combination of the low hum and the feel of nimble fingers skating over his back soothed him into a light sleep. Behind it all though was the faint thump of John Sheppard’s heart.
“Fuck, I'm sorry. The door was open. I should have - “
Rodney jerked awake to the twin sounds of John apologizing and Radek flailing awake, obviously having fallen asleep not long after Rodney himself had passed out. Radek’s hair was even wilder than usual as he pushed himself off of Rodney's bed, sticking out at odd angles as he fumbled for the alarm clock.
Rodney looked between his Guide and John and couldn't help but think that it was his destiny to be surrounded by people with hair that defied the laws of physics.
“No, no, it is..I am late,” Radek muttered to himself in Czech as he pulled his socks on, stuffing his feet into his boots, not even bothering to tie them. “You are feeling better, ano?” he called over his shoulder at Rodney. “S dovolením, Major. Excuse me.” Radek squeezed past John, who was standing in the doorway between Rodney's room and the small living area.
“I'm fine,” Rodney called. “You can go.”
Radek paused in his escape, turning to look at Rodney, obviously conflicted.
“You are sure? I can stay. I have an in with the boss, he will not mind if I reschedule the engineering - -“
“Go, Radek,” Rodney waved him off. “The boss insists.”
Radek nodded tightly, his face pinched with worry. “Remember, I am a radio call away if you need me,” he said pointedly.
“Yes, yes, genius, remember? I do know how radios work.”
John watched Radek stomp out the room with a look on his face that was somewhere between horror and amusement.
“Geez,” he said, “it’s worse than having a wife.”
Rodney attempted a laugh, trying to act naturally when all he could think of was the awful silence in the jumper and how wonderful the slow and steady thump he could hear now was.
“I’d watch what you say there, Major. If he hears you talk like that you won't ever have hot water again.”
John chuckled, it sounded as fake as Rodney's own attempt must have.
“I, ah,” John slouched, leaning against the doorframe, hands in his pocket. “I didn't, I mean, you two seemed pretty close there. On the bed.”
“I thought you two were….”
“We are,” Rodney said. “Friends that is. It wasn't…it's comfort. Closeness. Nothing, ah, untoward.”
John nodded, looking strangely relieved. “I get that. A mission like that, I could do with some closeness myself,” he half-joked. Rodney could hear the truth of that statement in the thump of John's heart though.
“Is that why you're here?”
“What? No! I mean, what? I, ah, I wanted to see you to tell you that you did good today. It's not how I would have chosen our first mission to go but you kept your head, didn't zone-out and, well, you did good. That's all.”
John’s heart was beating a mile a minute, a stark contrast to the stupidly healthy 62.3 beats per minute it was doing earlier, a wonderful contrast to the silence before that.
Rodney swung his feet off the bed, stood and started to walk slowly towards John. John shifted slightly like he was contemplating running, but he stood his ground, drawing in a sharp breath as Rodney got closer.
“You were dead,” Rodney said when he was close enough to see all the colors of John's eyes. “It was quiet. I..I didn't like it.” He drew in a deep breath, sighing happily as lightning and math proof assaulted his senses. “Worst first mission ever. I took a poll.”
John smiled faintly, the smell of lightning growing more intense. “Let me guess, a sample size of one?”
“It's the quality, not the quantity,” Rodney replied.
“Can't argue with that,” John breathed. He shifted purposefully, lifting his chin and exposing the long length of his neck, eyes darkening when Rodney breathed deep. “Tell me you want this,” he said, voice cracking. “Tell me that I'm not stepping on anybody’s toes.”
Rodney kissed him instead.
John's mouth opened up to him and Rodney groaned at the taste. It was better than the best coffee, richer than the darkest chocolate and it surrounded him completely. The length of John's body pressed up against him was a searing heat, the fabric of the BDUs rough and harsh through the soft cotton of his pants. John's palms were like brands of iron as they reached up to grip the back of his head, pulling him closer until Rodney started to forget where he ended and John began.
It wasn’t enough and wasn't enough until suddenly it was too much. Suddenly Rodney felt himself start to spiral, his senses expanding until all that filled him was John. The last thing he heard before the beating of John's heart drowned everything out was John, panicked and calling for Radek over the radio.
Rodney had time for just one last thought before he zoned-out completely.
Worst first make-out session ever.
Chapter 4: Suspicion
Rodney gets hit by a Wraith stunner and Radek struggled to keep his anger at John in check.
Yeah, so I can't leave this alone. I have at least a few more chapters planned but I'm leaving this marked as complete in case I never get round to them. Each chapter is stand alone in its own right though so hopefully no one will have an issue with that!
Radek hummed appreciatively around his mouthful of coffee. Fresh coffee; the first cup from the machine, the one normally guarded viciously by his Sentinel and kept for himself.
It was ridiculous how much Radek looked forward to those days when Rodney was off-world.
The enjoyment came with a lot of provisos attached. He and Rodney had found out during an unfortunate incident back in the Milky Way that they couldn't go more than eleven point four days apart without the bond starting to deteriorate. It had felt a little like a part of himself was being sawed off with a rusty table knife. Needless to say it was not a feeling that Radek ever wanted to live through again but he couldn't escape the fact that it was a very real risk now that Rodney was a member of a gate team. He tried very hard not to fear the worst every time Rodney stepped through the gate. Sometimes he felt a lot like the worrying wife that half the science department accused him of being.
Still, there were benefits to having Rodney off-world too. First go at the coffee was part of it but a bigger part of it was the peace and quiet. Especially lately.
Radek had hoped that Rodney and John’s relationship would make his Sentinel happy but the constant zone-outs whenever the two of them got remotely physical was unfortunate to the extreme. Talking a very obviously aroused Rodney down from a zone-out while a certain Air Force major hastily took care of himself in the bathroom was not Radek’s idea of a good time.
Despite numerous experiments and dozens of grounding exercises, the only thing that had worked so far was for Radek to remain in the room, humming quietly while keeping some form of physical contact between himself and Rodney.
He wasn't sure who was more uncomfortable during that particular makeout session. Possibly it was a three way tie (which was absolutely the only three way that Radek was interested in).
Mission days meant, at the very least, he didn't have to put up with Rodney's blue-balled moping.
Finishing off his coffee, Radek turned back to his computer screen, ready to make sense of the electrical conduit repairs that were needed on level 36 of the control tower.
The beeping of his radio had other ideas.
Radek had always feared that call, the one that told him Rodney had been injured.
It was just as terrifying as he had always imagined it to be.
Radek sat beside Rodney's sleeping - no, he thought bitterly, not sleeping; stunned unconscious by an alien weapon - form and watched as Carson fussed over him. The fussing, which didn't amount to much more than fluffing Rodney's pillows and checking that his monitors were attached correctly, was accompanied by a steady stream of babble, almost as if he felt the need to fill the silence that Rodney would normally have filled himself with complaints and disparaging remarks.
It was annoying.
“Will you please just sit, Carson,” Radek eventually said. “If Teyla’s tales are to be believed there is nothing you can do except wait for him to wake up.”
Carson pulled his hand back from Rodney's pillows and sighed before stuffing his hands in his pocket. “Aye, lad, you're right. From as near as we can tell the stunner temporarily overloaded his sensory and motor nervous system.” The hands were out of the pocket already and fretting again. “Teyla said that she has never seen any ill effects from anyone once they regained consciousness but…”
“But none of them were Sentinels,” Radek finished bluntly. He knew exactly why Carson was worried. It was the same reason he was feeling sick to his stomach. Sensory overload in a Sentinel was bad news. They had absolutely no idea how Rodney would react to this and absolutely no guarantee that he would be unharmed.
Major Sheppard chose that moment to enter the infirmary, evidently done with his debriefing that had kept him away. Radek was surprised by the sudden anger that rose in him at the sight of the soldier. He had changed out of his off-world gear and Radek wasn't sure why that enraged him so much. Maybe it was that he couldn't imagine taking the time to change clothes or debrief or fix his hair gel while Rodney was lying in the infirmary. Maybe it was that he couldn't conceive of being anywhere but here. Radek knew he was being unfair to John, knew that no matter how close John and Rodney had become it could not compare to the bond that he and Rodney shared. Not yet. Still, seeing his Sentinel so still and unmoving, with nothing he could do to fix it, Radek felt entitled to a little anger.
“Any change yet?” John asked, sounding as worried as Radek felt which only made Radek angrier.
“Nothing,” Radek gave the simple answer, the pertinent answer, before Carson got a chance to say the same thing with much more words.
John's shoulders slumped. “Teyla said it would last, what, twenty minutes, thirty tops?”
“Aye, that what's she said.”
John nodded. “And it's been, what, an hour?”
“Sixty-eight minutes,” Radek corrected coldly, letting his anger bubble out. “It has been sixty-eight minutes since you allowed him to be - -“ he stopped himself before he said something he would regret.
John's face was white with hurt, and more than a little bit of guilt. He nodded minutely at Radek, looking so closed off that Radek wanted to take everything back, and turned on his heel with a mumbled parting to Carson asking to be kept up to date with any change.
Radek could feel Carson’s disapproval like a physical presence in the room.
“I know,” he said quietly. “I was wrong to say what I said. I just - - I cannot fix it now. Not until he wakes up, not until I know that - -“
Carson’s warm hand squeezed his shoulder in understanding before he busied himself with Rodney's pillows yet again.
Radek left him to it this time, hunching over in his chair, eyes locked on Rodney's too still form and went back to the torture that was waiting.
Rodney woke up after three hours, whole and unharmed if a little disconcerted by his limited ability to move. The nearest Carson could tell was that Rodney's enhanced senses had needed more time to shake off the overload than the average human would have but that the shock would cause no permanent harm. Radek had eschewed his normal hesitance surrounding public displays of their bond and spent the entire time it took Rodney to shake off the after effects of the stunner with his hands touching Rodney's skin - any skin, whichever part he could reach.
Rodney asked only once why John was not there and Radek hesitated, not wanting to lie but not ready to admit to the truth yet either. He told a half truth instead, said that Major Sheppard was helping Elizabeth with a security matter. Rodney had frowned at that, tuned into Radek’s physical responses enough to know that he was hiding something, but hadn't pushed for more.
Radek knew it was only a temporary reprieve but he was grateful for it nonetheless.
Rodney was almost straight back into the field once he was released and not even the first crack at freshly brewed coffee could keep the worry from Radek’s mind.
On top of the worry for Rodney, ha had yet to find the time to talk to Major Sheppard and the shame of that was hanging over his head. Then, of course, there was the way that Elizabeth and Seargent Bates were questioning the Athosians.
While he could understand the suspicion, the way the investigations were focused so exclusively on the Athosians could not help but remind him of his own government and his own childhood.
No, not even coffee could help alleviate this mood.
The Athosian’s innocence was proven soon enough although the bulk of the damage had been done. Radek watched them leave Atlantis for the mainland with a heavy heart. To give up living in a city as wonderful as Atlantis…Radek could not fathom it.
The memories of being pushed out his own country, coupled with his continued worry over Rodney and his guilt over John left Radek in a dark mood for long after the events that caused them.
“This is ridiculous. I’ve had enough of both of you moping.” Rodney came blustering into their shared quarters one evening a week after the Athosians had departed, dragging John with him.
Radek started to rise from the low uncomfortable couch that he had been sitting on but Rodney levelled him with a glare that he'd had thirty plus years to refine. Radek sat back down and shifted uncomfortably as Rodney pushed John down next to him.
“Radek is my Guide,” Rodney stressed to John. “There are literally thousands of books out there that explain what that means and all of them should tell you that it's a forever kind of thing.” Turning to Radek, he continued, “And John is my..well, we haven't exactly put a label on it yet but he is important to me and I don't plan on getting rid of him any time soon so…” he sighed, shoulders slumping in defeat, “whatever the hell is going on between you two? Fix it. Fix it now.”
With that demand, Rodney turned on his heels and stalked towards the door. Before he walked through it, before it slid closed behind him, he paused and spoke quietly, so quietly that Radek almost didn't hear him.
“Please. I need you both.”
Rodney left after that, leaving the two men alone.
Radek had heard the pain in Rodney's voice and hated the thought that he was partially to blame for it. Looking at John, he saw the same shame in his eyes.
It turned out, that it was surprisingly easy to apologise. “I am sorry for what I said to you that day.” Radek could see John’s guilt about to wave the apology off but after seven years he was more than adept at cutting someone off before they could start talking. Sometimes it even worked. “It was uncalled for and unfair. The risks that we take every day, we are aware of them. We even signed up for them. I am not used to having someone else care about him as much as I do but you are becoming that person. It is surprisingly convenient to put the blame for things that were no-one's fault on to that person. On to you.” Radek smiled sadly. “He has a tendency to stop people from getting close. We both do. It is the nature of what we share. I had made peace with the thought of never having something more with anyone. Or I thought I had. I thought Rodney had too.” He made sure to look John in the eyes as he continued. “You are important to him. Which makes you important to me. So….friends?”
John took a deep breath and nodded. “Friends,” he agreed. “And Radek, I give you my word that I will do everything in my power not to let him get hurt again. I - I’m not sure I could stand it myself.”
“Do not promise what you can't control, Major. You Americans have a saying, do you not? Shit happens?
John breathed a snort of laughter through his nose. “That it does.”
“Is a good saying,” Radek said. “Now, am I speaking to Major Sheppard, the military commander of Atlantis or am I speaking to John, my Sentinel’s partner and my friend.”
John grinned. “Which answer will get me a sample from that vodka still you have set up in the labs?”
Radek laughed aloud, feeling his dark mood lift for the first time in days.“John it is.” He disappeared into his room and came back with a bottle of his own distilled vodka which he poured into two glasses. “Now, John, let us discuss how we are to go about making sure that I never had to be a third wheel in your bedroom ever again, ano?”
That was definitely something John could drink to.
Chapter 5: Childhood's End
A little bit of jealousy breeds a solution to John and Rodney's little zone out problem.
I didn't mean to leave it so long before adding to this. This 'verse is still very close to my heart and I still have a lot more additions planned. No Radek in this chapter but he will be back in the next one.
John still couldn't quite get his head around it. The kids of M7G-677 - and that's what they were, even if they believed otherwise; kids - had been dealing with an impossible situation for generations and their blind acceptance of it - Keras’s blind acceptance of it wouldn't stop picking at him.
Keras was a good kid, seeming to John- somehow at the same time - both far too young and old beyond his years. John saw a lot of himself in Keras. Hell, if he'd been in the same position, if he'd really believed that there was no alternative and his actions would keep everyone safe, he'd probably have done the same thing.
Maybe that was why John was having a hard time letting the mission go.
John couldn't imagine that being the end. He'd experienced so much since then. Sure, not all of it had been good but it had all meant something. It had all led him here, to the SGC, to Atlantis.
To not have that, to have missed out on all that for the mistaken belief of the greater good - -John sighed heavily before kicking his boots off and slumping on to the bed. He had to push Keras and the planet out of his mind.
The door to John's quarters slid open, a quiet hissing noise that made him smile. Access to his quarters was keyed to just one other person. Rodney had been in a strangely quiet mood on the way back from M7G-677. John had been too lost in his own thoughts to really pry into it but he was glad that Rodney was here now.
Without moving from his prone position on the bed, John called out a greeting.
When no answer was forthcoming, John pushed himself up on his elbows only to be pushed flat again with a large hand to the chest.
“What the hell? Rodney?”
Rodney didn't answer, just kept his hand on the centre of John's chest for a moment before moving it slowly southward. John swallowed hard as Rodney's fingers teased between the buttons of his shirt, skimming his skin.
Thumping his head against the mattress, John moaned in pleasure as lust started to pool in his belly.
Rodney's hand disappeared from his torso and John was about to complain when he felt insistent hands start to tug at his belt. The warmth in his belly filtered straight down to his groin, his cock going from semi-interested to full-on wanting in the span of a second.
“Uh, are you sure this is a good idea?” he managed to ask, even as his hips lifted off the bed enough to let Rodney pull his trousers off. He wanted this - God, did he want this - but every other time they'd tried, Rodney had ended up zoned out, slack and unresponsive in a way that terrified John right down to his core.
Radek had always managed to snap Rodney out of it but John couldn't help but imagine the worst. He'd heard the stories, of Sentinels who never came back from a zone out. Funny how they hadn't seemed as horrifying until he met Rodney.
Just the thought of it made John shudder.
“Hey, Rodney,” John tried again. “Come on, you know - -“
Rodney started to mouth the cotton of John's boxers, suckling gently on the wet spot John's cock was creating and John whined, high and needy. God, he knew Rodney would be good at this but - Jesus Christ - that felt incredible.
John's concern over a zone out warred with his aching need for more and he was pretty sure he qualified for sainthood when his concern won out. Slowly, shakily, he pushed up to his elbows again, about to gently push Rodney off, when he saw it.
Suddenly, Rodney's silence made sense. Well, sort of. John frowned, confused, at the sight of earbuds in Rodney's ear, the white cable from what looked like apple branded earphones trailing down to plug into a small dictaphone style tape player that was clipped onto Rodney’s trousers.
Rodney looked up at him, his blue eyes blown almost black with want. “Let me try this,” he said, his voice a little louder than usual, as if he couldn't hear himself to regulate his own volume. John realised he must be concentrating his hearing on whatever was playing through those earphones and - - oh, Jesus, he was listening to Radek’s voice. He had to be. So far, Radek’s presence - a hand on Rodney’s back, a gentle humming to ground him - had been the only thing that stopped the zone outs.
John’s eyes widened in understanding and he nodded dumbly, gasping for breath when Rodney started to push down the waistband of John's boxers. John's cock sprang out, slapping against his stomach. Rodney moaned at the sight of it, loud and unrestrained, before taking the head into his mouth.
John arched off the bed, his control shot by weeks and weeks of interrupted makeout sessions and blue balls. He was going to be embarrassingly trigger happy, he just knew it. It was too much, Rodney's hot, wet mouth and his - Jesus, the things he was doing with his tongue. Rodney's hand, palm slightly dry and calloused but strong and sure, gripped tightly around the remaining length. John wanted more, he wanted it all.
Rodney's other hand disappeared from view and John shouted a yell of “fuck, yes” when he felt fingers ghosting between his cheeks, teasing at his hole, a pressure that sent tingling shots of pleasure all the way to his toes.
He could feel his balls start to tighten and Rodney moaned louder around his cock, like he knew what was coming and - Jesus Christ, he could probably smell it in the air, feel it in the line of John's muscles and if that wasn't that the hottest thing ever then John didn't know what the hell was.
He came, screaming, his release pulsing down Rodney's throat. Rodney drank every drop, his hand milking John's cock as if he needed to wring every ounce of it out.
Rodney's senses were so attuned to John that he let go just before the stimulation became too much and John keened at the loss, pulling on Rodney's shoulders and arms to get him up here, now, to return the favour and - - his hand came away wet as he shifted Rodney up enough to grope his way into Rodney's trousers.
“Oh my God, you came just from - -“
If John were twenty-five he could have gotten hard again just from the thought of that, of Rodney coming untouched just from the feel of John's cock in his mouth, in his throat.
He reached for Rodney's earbuds but Rodney shifted back, shaking his head. Looking at him, noticing the way Rodney was breathing, heavy and focused, John nodded, understanding. Taking the buds out now might crash what focus Rodney had, might make him lose it. John contented himself with pulling Rodney closer and holding him tight.
They lay there together for a long time before Rodney’s breathing evened out. Cautiously, John reached out and touched the earbuds again, a questioning look s face. Rodney nodded softly and John pulled them out, throwing them to the side where they hit the floor, taking the dictaphone with them.
“So, uh, that worked then,” Rodney said shakily, his voice hoarse and broken sounding. “I wasn't sure it would.”
“Jesus, Rodney,” John pulled him in for a wet kiss. “I'd say so,” he laughed. “Where the hell did that come from?”
Rodney shifted in John's arms, and John realised that Rodney was still fully clothed and he was still wearing his black uniform shirt. He started to pull at his shirt but Rodney stopped him, batting John's hand away until John stopped and let Rodney strip him naked. Once he was satisfied with John's state of undress he started at his own and it wasn't until Rodney started to wriggle out of his blue science shirt that John realised it was too tight on him.
Fuck. He'd been wearing Radek’s shirt too. Jesus, John should be disturbed by that but instead, he found it insanely hot.
“He wanted you,” Rodney said quietly, once they were both naked and under John's Sentinel-friendly sheets.
John had been halfway to dozing. “What?” he asked.
“Keras,” Rodney said tightly. “He wanted you.”
“Keras?” John repeated. “He was a kid.”
“You didn't smell him,” Rodney said, sounding for all the world like a toddler pouting over having to share his toys. John should probably be offended by being the toy in that analogy but, god help him, he found it cute.
“What about me?” John asked, propping himself on his elbow to look into Rodney's eyes. “Was there anything coming off of me?”
Rodney looked at him, reaching out to touch John's jaw. “Not want,” Rodney said.
John wanted to ask what Rodney had gotten from him during that mission but he could probably guess. Sadness, confusion, anger. It had been a fucked up mission, even if it had ended relatively well.
Pushing all those feelings aside, John grinned. “Who knew all it would take to find a solution to our little problem was some jealousy,” he teased.
“Little?” Rodney teased back. “I'll show you little.”
John laughed, reaching down to the floor and feeling about for the dictaphone and earbuds. Finding them, he placed them on Rodney's chest, a smirk on his face.
“Go on then,” he dared. “Show me.”
Rodney slowly placed the earbuds in his ears and John's cock started to twitch in anticipation. He just knew that he wouldn't be able to see Rodney with earphones in public without thinking of this forever more. He was ruined for life now.
As Rodney proceeded to show John just how not little their problem was, John decided it was a small price to pay.
Chapter 6: Poisoning The Well
Rodney's choice is easy. Too easy.
Rodney stepped through the gate and immediately felt something brittle in his chest relax. Two days on Hoff had passed easily enough - the people there more advanced than any they had met in the Pegasus Galaxy so far, even if that wasn't saying much. It had been diverting enough that Rodney hadn't really noticed the growing brittleness; not until its absence threatened to bring him to his knees on the floor of the gate room.
John looked over at him, frowning in concern, but Rodney waved him off as Elizabeth approached.
“Your two hour trip ended up lasting two days, Major,” Elizabeth said, eyebrow raised. “I trust you have something worthwhile?”
“We just might,” John said diplomatically, ruining his cool by rocking excitedly on his heels. “Why don't we talk in your office?”
“Of course,” Elizabeth gestured with her hand, indicating that they should make their way up the stairs. Before Rodney could remind her of SGC policy, she turned to smile at him. “I can get your report later, Rodney. Assuming that's OK with Major Sheppard?”
John looked between them, confused. “Why can't he come now and - -“
Rodney didn't hear the rest of his words, his senses wandering abruptly to focus on Radek who had just ran into the gate room. Radek barrelled into him, talking a mile a minute, all of it in Czech, all of it variations on ‘good for nothing Sentinels who say they are leaving for two hours and don't come back for two days’. Rodney grinned widely as the sight, sound and smell of Radek settled his nerves. Of course, they could go much longer than two days apart - had, multiple times - but they usually had time to prepare for it.
John's voice pricked at the edge of his awareness and Rodney turned to look at him, pulling Radek with him. He hadn't even realised that he had grabbed on to Radek, he was normally much more reticent about any public displays of their bond but it had been two days when it should have been two hours and - - John looked pained.
“It's SGC policy that bonded pairs are afforded some time to reconnect after more than twelve hours apart,” Elizabeth was explaining. “Things like debriefs fall second to - -“
“Of course.” John seemed to shake himself, forcing a smile on his face that looked as brittle as Rodney's chest had felt earlier. “Go,” he said to Rodney and Radek, “reconnect or whatever. We can - - I’ll see you later.”
With that, John turned to walk up the stairs to Elizabeth’s office, Teyla and Ford falling in line behind him, Teyla smiling at him as she nodded goodbye. Rodney watched them go, feeling a sense of unease that he couldn't quite place, until Radek tugged at his sleeve. Focusing back on his Guide, Rodney's unease disappeared and he grabbed the tablet out of Radek’s hand and started grilling him on what he had missed while the two of them made their way to their quarters, walking close enough together that their shoulders touched.
It was good to be home.
Rodney and his team went back and forth to Hoff multiple times over the next few days with Carson helping them get closer and closer to a breakthrough on the drug that would - as inconceivable as it sounded - make humans immune to Wraith feeding.
“This could quite possibly change everything,” he said to Radek, home again after their latest trip. He stripped off his off-world gear and let it lie on the floor where it landed as he expounded on the many possibilities that the drug could bring.
Radek pointedly glared at the items on the floor and Rodney sighed, bending down with a groan to pick them up.
“I mean, of course, it’s all voodoo but if this test works - imagine the possibilities Radek! No more Wraith, we could - we could do what we came her to do. Science, discovery. Everything I promised when you agreed to sign up for this.” Plenty more time for blow jobs with John, he thought but didn't say.
“What test?” Radek asked, his voice tight. Rodney frowned, sensing the distress that was rolling off his Guide, tainting the air. Radek's normal smell of soldering guns and mint juleps was harsh and burning in his nose.
Rodney blinked, unsure of what was causing the reaction. That was the thing about enhanced senses, he could tell something was wrong but that didn't mean that he had any idea what it was. Being a Sentinel and being bad with people were not mutually exclusive.
“The, ah, the Hoffans want to test the drug on the Wraith prisoner,” Rodney said. The sour burning smell intensified and Rodney wrinkled his nose. He may not be good with people but he was scientist enough to understand causation and effect.
“We are experimenting on prisoners now,” Radek said, soft and small. The sadness in his voice was at such stark odds with the angry, sour smell that Rodney had trouble focusing, his senses being pulled in two different directions. Radek noticed and reached out, wrapping his hand around Rodney's wrist. The wrist was far less intimate than the hand, another of the compromises they had made over the years in finding the delicate balance of a platonic bond.
“I cannot be a part of this,” Radek said softly. His voice was so soft that Rodney thought anyone other than him wouldn't be able to hear it. “I had thought that this sort of - - I had left that behind me.”
Rodney moved his hand until he could clasp Radek’s wrist in return, squeezing tightly in understanding. Rodney had gleaned enough about Radek’s upbringing in communist Czechoslovakia to know that it had been bad, had read more than enough to understand why. He felt a burst of shame that they were even considering this, despite the fact that he'd been on board only moments before. It was impossible to still agree with their course of action when he was surrounded by Radek’s anguish.
“You cannot do this,” Radek pleaded. “Please, Rodney, have no part in this.”
Rodney nodded, still holding Radek’s wrist tightly. Radek had asked so little of him during their time together, it had always been Rodney asking him to make sacrifices. First, being stupid enough to zone out and force Radek into bonding with him, sticking him with a Sentinel that he never wanted. Getting them both sent to Siberia, persuading Radek to take the chance on Atlantis…he couldn't - wouldn't - refuse this.
“I'm not coming,” Rodney repeated himself for the second time.
“I heard you the first time,” John said, not looking up. He sat on his bed, head bowed. “Mind telling me why? Because last time I checked, you were on board with this.”
Rodney steeled himself as his senses were bombarded by whatever John was trying to keep hidden. He hadn't known John long enough, wasn't attuned to him enough, to fully understand what it was but it smelled harsh and bitter and Rodney didn't understand it was coming from.
“Rad-“ Rodney took a step back as the harsh, bitter smell spiked at just that first syllable.
John's face was implacable, if Rodney didn't have his Sentinel abilities he would be hard pressed to know that anything was wrong.
“John,” he began, only to be cut off by John standing up and heading for the door.
“You've made your choice, McKay.”
Rodney flinched at the use of his surname. He was never McKay when they were alone, always Rodney.
“I have a mission to go to. Some of us - -“ John didn't finish whatever he was going to say, just pushed past him and left, leaving Rodney alone in John’s room. It was much smaller than Rodney and Radek’s shared quarters. Which, of course, was part of the problem. Rodney and Radek.
He should have known that he couldn't have this.
Radek found him in the labs an hour later, took one look at him and ordered everyone else out.
“Rodney,” he began.
Rodney shook his head, held his hand up in a plea for Radek to just - to not. To stop.
Radek nodded, a flash of pain on his face that underscored the warm gratitude Rodney could almost touch.
“Thank you.” Radek said quietly. “For making that decision. I know that it must not have been easy.”
Rodney didn't say anything.
A difficult decision; If only that were true.
After everything went to hell on Hoff, the people there making a decision that Rodney didn't understand, John turned up at his door looking pale and tired.
“You were right,” he said when Rodney answered. “Radek was right. You and Radek.” He ran his hands through his hair, making the cowlicks stand up even more. “I keep thinking I get it, I do, and then I just - -“
Rodney moved to the side and smiled, tired but hopeful. They could fix this. God, he wanted to fix this. “You wanna come in?”
John nodded, swallowed hard. “Yeah. I do.”
Come on, navigating this dynamic can't be that easy, there are bound to be pitfalls along the way...
(Aka the author defends their love of angst)
Chapter 7: Underground
Rodney had put himself in danger again and Radek isn't happy.
Radek watched, arms folded across his chest, as Rodney ripped into a third MRE, devouring the contents like he'd been without food for days.
“You have no idea how hungry I am,” Rodney said around a mouthful of dehydrated potato. “God, this is good.”
Radek refrained from wrinkling his nose in disagreement. The military’s supply of MREs were Sentinel friendly and, for a Sentinel with as many food triggers as Rodney, a necessary evil. Really, it was for the best that Rodney liked them. He'd be unbearable to live with if he didn't.
“The Genii did not feed you while you were there?” Radek asked.
“No, no, they did,” Rodney's head bobbed up and down as he scraped his fork along the sides of the metal MRE container, trying to get every morsel of food that he could. “The whole farmer thing may have turned out to be a ruse but there was definitely some truth to it. It looked a nice spread actually. I mean, of course it could have been riddled with contaminants that would set off the whole,” Rodney waved his arm in a way that Radek imagined was supposed to encompass Rodney’s enhanced senses. “But the, ah, well, all of the radiation in the air. It didn't make for the most appetising environment.”
Radek gritted his teeth at the reminder. In the eight years that he'd known Rodney, his Sentinel had avoided almost all contact with radiation, something that was unfortunately far too prevalent in their line of work. He'd asked Rodney once what radiation felt like; the way he had turned green just thinking about it was answer enough.
There had been a study once, back in the 1960s before the US outlawed experimenting on Sentinels, and Radek knew just how devastating even a relatively small amount of exposure could be. To think that Rodney had willingly subjected himself to that…
“You should have come back to Atlantis immediately,” Radek said before he could stop himself.
“And what then?” Rodney said, scraping his chair back. “Without me the others wouldn't have realised that the Genii were hiding something.”
“And maybe we would not now have another enemy in this place!” Radek shouted. “It is not enough that the Wraith want to drain us dead, now we have someone else who - -“ Radek cut himself off as he took in Rodney's wide eyed shock. He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. As a Guide, he was blessed with the ability to calm and centre his Sentinel, it was always so much harder to control himself. “I do not blame you,” he said quietly. “I am sure that if you were not there, Major Sheppard would just as likely have stumbled across the entrance to their secret underground bunker on his own with his sense of direction the way it is.” Radek hoped the attempt at a joke would wipe the upset look off of Rodney's face but it didn't.
“Rodney, I - -,” he reached for Rodney's shoulder, his face falling as Rodney stepped out of his reach.
“You encouraged me to join Sheppard’s team,” Rodney said slowly.
“I did,” Radek admitted. “I thought that it would be good for you but - “
Radek sighed. This conversation had been a long time coming, since right around the first time being on Sheppard’s team had landed him in the infirmary. Now seemed as good a time to have it as any. “But you are supposed to be the Head of Science,” he said. “Working in the labs with me and making discoveries, not…” Not running around Wraith ships with a P-90 he didn't even know how to shoot, not crawling into underground bunkers and exposing himself to unknown levels of radiation.
Radek didn't need to say the rest. Rodney could read it in his face. Sometimes Radek thought that Rodney knew him better than he knew himself. Sometimes he hated it.
The chiming of the door interrupted their heavy silence.
“John,” Rodney said. “We had plans to - -“
“Go,” Radek picked a blue science shirt out of the storage bin they were using as a laundry basket and tossed it at Rodney, trying hard not to think about what they would do with it. “I will be in lab 5 if you need me.”
Walking out the door of their quarters, shouldering by a frowning Major Sheppard, Radek couldn't help the bitter thought that crossed his mind.
But you won't.
A short update. I'm trying to stick to quite a rigid structure of POV chapters (Radek, John, Rodney, Radek, John, Rodney etc..) and some are more challenging to work with than others!
Last chapter showed the problems Rodney is having being torn between Radek and John, I wanted to give Radek a chance to air his own issues. John will get his turn next chapter and then the boys will come to an epiphany (with a little help from the Genii)
Chapter 8: Home
Back on Atlantis, the team reflect on their fake time on Earth.
News of the missed opportunity to reconnect with Earth had spread its way around Atlantis and John was conscious of the eyes on them as they sat, crowded, around a too-small table in the mess hall.
For his part, John wasn’t as upset about losing the chance as he should have been. In just a few short months Atlantis had become more of a home to him than anything that was waiting back on Earth. The construct that the beings on M5S-224 had created for him out of his own mind was proof enough of that.
He knew that not everyone felt the same though, the sour notes of regret almost tangible in the mess hall, even to him. He wondered what it felt like for Rodney. Not for the first time, John was struck by just how little he knew about Sentinels. Carson had given him some reading materials when he had asked. John had made a half-hearted attempt to make an excuse about being a good team leader and being prepared to deal with any Sentinel-specific issues that arose but he knew Carson hadn’t bought it for a second. As CMO, John figured that Carson knew more about the members of the expedition than anyone else on Atlantis. He wasn’t entirely sure he was comfortable with that knowledge. The material had taught him some things (including how harmful exposure to radiation could be for Sentinels, something John only read about after the shit storm on the Genii homeworld) but for everything he knew, there were a million things he didn’t.
“I should have guessed that something was up before I did.”
Ford’s angry tone knocked John out of his thoughts and he looked at his Lieutenant with a frown. “They used our own memories to try and blind us, Lieutenant. It’s not exactly something that’s covered in basic training, quit beating yourself up.”
“Yeah, but you managed to figure it out,” Ford said morosely, chasing his food idly around his tray.
John didn’t answer that, didn’t want to talk about just what had pushed him to grab that gun and start demanding answers.
Elizabeth inadvertently rescued him.
“I was just so happy to be back there,” she said, smiling sadly. “It was easy to blame any strangeness on the culture shock of being back on Earth. Until it wasn’t.”
“When did you realise?” Rodney asked around a mouthful of mashed potatoes. John smirked and opened his mouth to remind Rodney to swallow first but Radek beat him to it, levelling Rodney with a long-suffering look that made Rodney grimace and swallow, dabbing his mouth with a napkin before asking again. “What made you stop finding excuses for the strangeness?”
“Funny you should ask,” Elizabeth smiled. “It was you.”
“Me?” Rodney squeaked.
“The 'you' that they created anyway,” Elizabeth clarified. “In my construct, you and Radek had been the ones to come through the gate with me. I left to see -- an old friend while you two locked yourself in the SGC labs. Revelling in your chance to lord it over the scientists there and dazzle them with what you had discovered.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t the real them?” Ford teased, causing everyone to laugh.
John laughed along with them but it sounded fake even to his own ears. It was irrational to be hurt by the fact that Rodney and Radek had been the ones to join Elizabeth instead of Rodney and him. Hell, that was why Radek had been on M5S-224 in the first place. Rodney didn’t function without Radek, not for long anyway. Elizabeth hadn’t been any happier than John at sending her top two scientists to the planet to jerry-rig the DHD with the Atlantis control crystal but the chance - as minuscule as it was - that Rodney would be stuck there meant that Radek had to go. It had thrown John, seeing Radek on a mission. Missions were one of the few activities where John got Rodney to himself. Jesus, he sounded like a jealous wife.
“The real Rodney and Radek would never have accepted the militarisation of Atlantis,” Elizabeth said, her voice still angry with the remembrance of the ruse.
John saw the way Rodney’s eyes darted to Radek, the way the two men shifted closer together. He closed his eyes.
“No, we would not,” Radek said quietly. “It was much the same in my construct. My Rodney had been offered a contract designing weapons for an incredible amount of money.”
“Oh, what? That's so unbelievable? That could happen. That has happened. Multiple times.” Rodney snapped.
“Ano,” Radek said. “But in the construct, you accepted. You turned your back on the science, the discovery and dragged me with you.”
“Oh.” Rodney pushed his plate away, looking a little green. “I would’t - - “
“No,” Radek said, defiant and sure. “You wouldn’t.”
Ford, oblivious to the moment between Radek and Rodney, grinned widely, his upset from earlier forgotten. “You know it was McKay who first made me think something wasn’t right too. The Prometheus was damaged, we had no way back and they were transferring me to Antarctica. I went to see you, sure you’d be working on a way back but you weren’t. You’d given up. Didn’t seem right.”
Rodney visibly preened at the implied compliment. “Hmm, well, for me it was the fact that the laws of physics seemed to be non-existent. Evidently, the fog people weren’t smart enough to interpret all of the scientific knowledge in my mind correctly. So, I suppose you could say that it was me who tipped me off as well.” He smiled happily. “What about you, Major? Did I tip you off too?”
John froze, the smile that had appeared at Rodney’s self-congratulations slipping off his face to be replaced with a tighter, faker smile.
“Nah,” he said, silently willing Teyla to keep quiet. “I knew something was wrong from the start. In my experience, a briefing with the brass where you explain that not only did you kill your commanding officer while he was in enemy hands but then woke an army of aliens that want to find Earth and eat us all, well, I’m guessing it would last longer than a half hour.” He shrugged, feigning nonchalance. “That and the dead people.”
Teyla’s eyes narrowed slightly but she remained silent and John decided to leave before anyone pressed for more details.
“I’m turning in,” he said, standing up. “You should all do the same.”
Rodney half rose, obviously intending to leave with him. That was the last thing John wanted right now. Not while the guilt was still rolling around his head. He turned to Radek.
“Radek, see that he gets a full nights sleep.”
Rodney looked as if he had been slapped and John swallowed another lump of guilt. Radek’s eyes were curious and assessing as he nodded, gently pushing Rodney back in his seat with a hand to his elbow. “I will,” he answered.
John turned and left, hating himself just a tiny bit more which he hadn't even realised was possible.
John couldn’t sleep that night. His guilt was like a living, breathing person lying next to him, in the space that Rodney would normally occupy.
He hadn’t lied. He had known something was wrong from the start. He’d figured out fairly early that he could manipulate his surroundings easily. He just had to think it and it was real. The bachelor pad of his dreams, two best friends who were miraculously alive...Rodney.
John screwed his eyes closed shut, pressing the heels of his hand into them, trying to block out the memory of Rodney turning up with a tower of pizza; of Rodney wrapping his hand around John’s neck and kissing him in plain view of everyone at the party.
A Rodney, who when asked where Radek was, had replied with the words that John hadn’t even known he had longed to hear until they were said.
John punched the mattress with his fist and cursed loudly.
The Storm and The Eye are next....I have plans. ::cackles::
Chapter 9: The Storm
Rodney has always hated being a Sentinel
If Rodney concentrated hard enough he could hear Radek’s heartbeat from anywhere in Atlantis. John’s too, which wasn’t supposed to be possible if he believed all the books but Rodney had lost his blind faith in the printed word when he’d discovered his first inaccuracy in a science textbook when he was just five years old.
John may not have been his Guide but he was important to Rodney just the same, his heartbeat just as familiar to Rodney’s ears as Radek’s was. The only problem Rodney had with this fact was that it was impossible for him to listen to them both at the same time.
He badly needed to hear them both right then.
“I’m impressed, Dr McKay. I thought you’d be easier to crack.”
Rodney ignored Kolya’s taunt and focused on Radek’s heartbeat, beating much too fast, faster than Rodney had ever heard it before. It was dangerous, focusing his hearing like that, without Radek there to stabilise him but Rodney had to do something to escape the pain in his arm.
When the fast tattoo of Radek’s heartbeat became too much to bear, Rodney switched his focus to John. The difference between the two was like night and day. If Rodney hadn’t known that they were together, hadn’t heard them talking before John had ordered Radek into silence, he’d have no way of knowing that they were both in the same situation. John’s heartbeat was elevated but steady. He was in control in a way that neither Rodney or Radek could ever have been. They weren’t soldiers, they weren’t trained for this. God, Rodney hoped that John would keep Radek safe.
He’d tried to give them a heads up earlier, leaning on the button that activated Altlantis’ city wide intercom while he repeated what Kolya and his squad of Genii soldiers wanted. Things would have been so much easier if Radek or John had the enhanced senses that he did.
Growing up, Rodney had often wondered why he’d been born a Sentinel. All the Sentinel’s he saw on TV were soldiers or cops, hardened action heroes that used their abilities to save the day and get the girl.
Rodney had hated it.. He’d hated them, the action star Sentinels, for letting themselves be boiled down to nothing more than their abilities and he’d hated himself for not living up to that. Even at a young age, Rodney had known his interests lay somewhere more intellectual.
He’d had to fight for his right to an education beyond that of a high school diploma. Sentinel’s hadn’t been forced into service since the 1950s in Canada but even almost three decades later, an eleven year old Sentinel going to college to study physics was far beyond a lot of people’s understanding of what a Sentinel was.
John, Rodney thought, would have made an excellent Sentinel.
Kolya’s knife hit a nerve and Rodney’s focus on John was ripped away, the pain sharp and clanging and threatening to overwhelm.
Kolya’s eyes were furious and Rodney could smell the stench of anger on him. He knew in that moment, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if he didn’t give Kolya what he wanted, Kolya was going to kill him. As it was, he wasn’t sure if Kolya’s knife hadn’t already done debilitating damage.
When Elizabeth had been dragged away to show Kolya’s people where the Wraith device that had been taken from them was kept, Kolya had stank of surety. He’d been so sure that Rodney would crack at the first flinch of pain and he’d been very sure in his ability to provide that pain.
Rodney had sent up a prayer of thanks that he’d sent Radek and John to the farthest grounding stations so that they weren’t here to see this and had distanced himself from the pain, knowing that Kolya was right. Rodney wasn’t like those Sentinels that he watched on TV as a kid. He was weak. He would crack.
Looking at the mess that Kolya had made of his arm, Rodney wondered if it wouldn’t have been better for everyone if he had cracked.
Rodney couldn’t let Kolya kill him. Even the Sentinels Rodney had saw on TV had agreed on that. A Sentinel had more than just their self to look out for, after all. Everyone knew that when a Sentinel died, their Guide almost always followed. Like the fact that Rodney shouldn’t be able to hear John’s heartbeat from this far, the truth of that matter was more complicated than it was in books but the chance was there and Rodney couldn’t take it, not when all he had to do was talk.
Maybe, looking back on it, it had been that facet more than any other that had made Rodney hate what he was for so many years. He’d never wanted a Guide and had coped better than most without one, a testament to his completely correct decision to pursue science over other, more typically Sentinel, pursuits. One zone out at CERN and his wants hadn’t mattered anymore. Radek hadn’t wanted a Sentinel any more than Rodney had wanted a Guide but they’d both made do with the new direction life had thrown them down and, after seven years, he couldn’t even regret it.
He certainly couldn’t let Kolya take Radek’s life as well as his own, no matter how slim that chance was.
Rodney cracked. He told Kolya everything, all about the storm and the grounding stations and the fact that if they didn’t get grounding station four - the one Radek hadn’t had time to reach before the Genii gated in - uncoupled, they would all die and no one would get Atlantis.
The anger in John’s voice over the radio when he heard that Rodney had broken hit Rodney like a punch to the chest. John had made no mention of Radek when he spoke to Kolya and for that Rodney was grateful. Even if John hated him forever for breaking, he would never give Radek up like that. Another reason why John would have made a much better Sentinel than Rodney could ever hope to.
Then, Kolya was pointing a gun at Elizabeth and telling John to say goodbye to Dr Weir and all Rodney wanted was to hear Radek’s voice one last time before he died, Kolya be damned.
If Radek or John had been Sentinel’s they would have heard the whispered apology that Rodney muttered.
Maybe it was better that they weren’t.
Rodney hoped Radek would forgive him. He hoped John would. He hoped Radek would survive, that the stubborn Czech would cling on to life and finally tell Elizabeth how he felt about her. He hoped John would be proud.
It was the most Sentinel move he’d ever made.
Rodney stepped in front of the gun.
Not much of a cliffie because we all know what happens next.
Next up, Radek starts to understand just what John is willing to do to save Rodney.
Chapter 10: The Eye
The storm is over and John and Radek share a drink.
The storm was over.
Radek sat in the small lounge area of his and Rodney’s suite wishing fervently that he had some alcohol to hand. It would be easy enough to engineer a distillery from the various odds and ends that the Ancients had left behind, he mused. The tuber-like roots that AR-4 had traded for last month might even make good vodka. Not as good as the bottle of Beluga he had stashed away in lab five but it would be something to put the day behind him and that bottle was being saved for the day they finally found a fully-charged ZPM.
The gentle hiss of the door opening pulled Radek from his thoughts. Major Sheppard looked as tired as Radek felt but he wasn’t surprised that the Major wasn’t yet in bed. After the day they’d had, not much about Major Sheppard would surprise Radek again.
“He is asleep,” Radek said.
John cast a glance at the closed door of Rodney’s room but obviously thought better of going in. He diverted towards the small living area instead and sat down in the armchair opposite Radek. A bottle of Absolut was gently placed on the low table that separated them but neither of them made a move to open it.
“Is it real sleep or..?”
“Drugs,” Radek said. “Good ones.”
John nodded, his mouth thin with displeasure. “Did the docs say if his arm was gonna be OK or…?”
Radek shifted on the couch, irritated by Major Sheppard’s inability to finish a sentence. He reached for the bottle and twisted it around to look at the label, noting absently that it was a cut above the usual swill the Americans drank. The fact that Rodney’s arm would be OK was nothing but luck. Rodney had been so disassociated from the pain that he kept drifting off, his mind chasing whatever he chose to focus on as an escape. How he had managed to fix the broken grounding station in that state Radek didn’t know but he had been near useless when it came to monitoring the power to the shield. Not even Radek’s presence had been able to keep Rodney from blanking out for minutes at a time and watching his Sentinel’s face pull white with pain whenever Radek brought him back was not unlike a punch to the gut every time.
“It will heal,” Radek put the bottle back on the table and blew out a breath of air. “He was lucky. Two weeks ago, three of our scientists found instructions on the Ancient database on how to work a nerve regenerator. Four days ago, the nerve regenerators themselves were discovered in a cupboard in a disused room in tower six. They saved Rodney a lifetime of debilitating pain.”
John let out a harsh breath and reached for the bottle, unscrewing the cap and taking a large drink. He didn’t even grimace as the vodka went down and Radek found himself somewhat impressed. It had been a long time since Radek had someone to drink with. Rodney was a lightweight; two beers and he could barely stand on his own two feet. Most Sentinel’s were unaffected by alcohol but food and drink had always been a trigger for Rodney. The one time that Rodney had tried to drown his sorrows in something harder than low alcohol beer was a night that Radek wouldn’t forget in a hurry.
“He knows I wasn’t angry at him, right?” John looked at him, his eyes dark with an emotion that Radek couldn’t place. “About telling Kolya the plan. It wasn’t him I was angry at.”
“You told him this,” Radek said. He had told Radek it too, back when it had happened, when Radek had rallied at him for the anger in his voice when Kolya told them over the radio. Radek believed him but he wasn’t sure the same could be said for Rodney. “You should tell him again when he is more present.”
John nodded and took another drink before placing the bottle back on the table.
“What about you?” he asked, surprising Radek. “How are you holding up after - - I mean, today was - -” John sighed and rubbed at his jawline, the stubble there thick enough that Radek could hear the rasp of his hand against it.
It was another unfinished sentence but Radek couldn’t guess what the Major would have ended that one with. Today had been a lot of things. It had been terrifying; it had been long; it had been exhausting; it had been bloody; it had been filled with more death than Radek had seen in - -
“Give me some of that.” Radek reached for the bottle again, with intent this time, and swallowed a long pull of vodka. Funny how it didn’t make everything better.
“I wrote my report,” John said quietly, taking the bottle from him and drinking again. “I thought you might want to see it first.”
Radek rose to his feet and walked over to the unit where his laptop lay closed and charging. He brought the computer back with him and placed it on the table, leaning over to tap his password into the login screen and call up his emails.
John sat back in his chair, his hands circling the neck of the vodka bottle as Radek read the account of one of the worst days of his life.
The report detailed their plan to save the city and the fact that Radek and John had been sent to the farthest away grounding stations, keeping them far from the gate room when the Genii strike team gated in. Major Sheppard detailed the fact that he had located Radek and ascertained his safety before heading to the armoury. He’d given Radek more credit than he felt he was due for the modifying of the Atlantis sensors to show their dual life signs as one. Radek sucked in a breath at the casual way Major Sheppard had described the fatal shooting of multiple Genii soldiers. It had felt anything but casual at the time, John’s anger had been like a living, breathing person in the room and Radek hadn’t understood exactly what lengths John would go to in order to keep his people safe until that moment. That it was Rodney who was in trouble had only made it worse.
Radek came to the part of the report where the Genii tried to gate reinforcements in and Major Sheppard detailed how he had raised the shield, causing the death of fifty-five Genii soldiers. He closed his eyes, shutting the laptop tight.
“You did not need to…” It was him not finishing sentences now but Major Sheppard knew what he meant.
“I did what I needed to do,” he said firmly. “What I had to do.” He leaned forward, eyes locked intently on Radek’s own, his elbows resting on his knees. “I know that we’ve had our differences and I know that this, this thing between me and Rodney is as difficult as the you and him thing is for me but...he’s it for me. And you’re it for him. So…” John nodded as if the matter were settled.
Maybe it was.
Radek knew exactly what John was willing to do for Rodney and John knew in turn exactly what Radek was willing to do.
“Thank you,” he said.
John nodded again. He jerked his head in the direction of Rodney’s room. “I think you should sleep there tonight. In case the pain..when he wakes, in case he’s still disconnected.”
Radek blanched in surprise. He’d thought that John was here to stay with Rodney.
“I’m taking the couch,” John said, looking at it dubiously. Radek didn’t blame him, the Ancient couches were not built for comfort.
“Take my bed,” he said, surprising himself. “You will thank me in the morning.”
John nodded, accepting the offer without hesitation. He gestured to the bottle, still two-thirds full. “You want to keep this?”
Radek shook his head. “No, I should not. It would be too easy to...you keep it. Maybe we can drink it together some time.”
John looked pleased by the offer. Surprised but pleased. “You’re on. Goodnight Radek. Keep him safe.”
“You trust me to do that?”
John looked at him, serious. “Yes,” he said simply before heading to Radek’s bedroom, the door sliding closed behind him.
Radek stood for a moment before moving to Rodney’s darkened room and crawling in beside his Sentinel. Rodney was sleeping the sleep of the drugged so he barely moved, shifting just enough to make room for Radek to fit.
If someone had told him only yesterday that Major Sheppard would have been OK with Radek and Rodney sleeping like this, never mind that there was nothing even remotely sexual about it, Radek would have cursed loudly at them in his mother tongue.
Who knew all it would take is closing the gate on fifty-five Genii to prove that he cared as much about Rodney as John did.
Sleep took a long time to come that night.
Chapter 11: The Defiant One
Radek invites John to participate in his and Rodney's post-mission ritual
John waved his arm over the crystals that controlled access to Rodney and Radek’s quarters, only wincing slightly as the stitched-together bullet graze in his arm and his cracked ribs twinged. Carson had insisted on keeping him in the infirmary for longer than John thought was really necessary and he’d not even had the decency to be free and easy with the painkillers. Not that John would have taken them if they were offered but the offer would have been nice.
The crystals chimed a greeting and John shifted his weight and flexed the fingers of his injured arm as he waited for Rodney or Radek to let him in.
He hadn’t seen Rodney since they’d landed back on Atlantis after the fifteen-hour jumper ride from hell. Gall and Abrams - what remained of them anyway - had been shut in the cargo hold, the closed doors making the jumper seem so much smaller than it was. Rodney had spent the bulk of those fifteen hours a few thin breaths away from hyperventilating and John had been in too much pain to push. Radek had been waiting for Rodney and Carson had been waiting for John. Biro had been waiting for the bodies but both John and Rodney were gone before they were unloaded, John to the infirmary and Rodney to God knows where.
John hadn’t even seen him at Elizabeth’s post-mission briefing, the usual excuse of protected Sentinel-Guide bonding time explaining his absence. John had been planning on hunting him down when Radek’s voice had sounded in his radio, inviting John around to their quarters that night.
John waved his arm over the crystals again and winced again. Radek chose that moment to answer and John quickly waved off the concern he saw furrowed in Radek’s forehead.
“It’s nothing, I’m fine. You gonna invite me in?”
“Yes, yes, please come in.” Radek backed up a step to let John enter, the door sliding closed behind him with a quiet hiss. “Rodney is picking up dinner from the commissary, he will be back soon.”
“Dinner, huh?” John’s belly liked that plan if the gurgle of his stomach was anything to go by. “That why I’m here?”
Radek paused, his hands halfway to wringing, but was spared from answering when the door hissed open and Rodney walked into the room, his arms laden with three covered trays filled with food.
“What are you doing here?” he blurted out as he noticed John. “You’re hurt. Carson said he was going to keep you in for at least a day.”
“And not a minute less,” John agreed. “I got sprung four hours ago. Had a meeting with Elizabeth and then Radek invited me here.”
“He did, did he?”
John couldn’t quite decipher the look that Rodney was throwing Radek’s way but he’d already seen enough to know that he was needed here so whatever duplicitous routes Radek had taken to get him here, John agreed with him.
Rodney looked haggard, like he hadn’t slept a wink since they got back, the skin under his eyes a purple-black. John knew that Rodney hadn’t got any sleep on the jumper - there or back - so he had to be going at least - Jesus - three days without sleep. Sentinels, he knew, could last up to a week without sleep but Rodney looked far too close to a breaking point.
Damn it, he knew he should have pushed more on that ride back.
“I did,” Radek said, taking the trays out of Rodney’s arms and laying them on the low table. “Now sit down before you fall down and eat. You too, Major.”
Radek could fit a surprising amount of command into his voice and John was amused to see Rodney follow orders without further complaint, sinking down on to the couch. John let Radek take his seat next and was surprised to see him choose the chair opposite. John took the only available space left on the couch next to Rodney.
All three of them dug into their meals without much conversation beyond Radek’s wistful wish for vegetables that were less neon coloured. Once they were finished, Radek gathered up the trays and set them down on the cabinet next to the door, ready to be taken back to the commissary.
“I thought we were doing that thing tonight,” Rodney hissed at Radek when he sank back into the chair.
John's ears pricked. “What thing? Can I do the thing?”
“That is precisely why I invited you,” Radek smiled. He cut Rodney’s attempt at a sputter off before it started. “It is time for new traditions, Rodney. We are no longer the only two people that matter, ano? Besides, you always brag about the Major’s big, big brain. It is time for him to put it use.”
Rodney’s defensive sputter had died away completely, leaving a soft, surprised look in its place. He looked between Radek and John for a moment before nodding. Chin tilted up, he rummaged around the back of the couch and came up with a data pad that he thrust towards John. “You can check the math on Gall’s calculations. He has - had - a tendency to write ps instead of pc to denote parsecs.”
John took the tablet and watched as Rodney and Radek pulled out two more. “I’m sorry,” he said, “explain exactly what it is we’re doing.”
“When one of our scientists...when they die, we review all of their work and select the best and most promising of it for publication.” Radek smiled weakly. “So much of what we do must be kept secret, there is little glory for those of us who choose to do this.”
“Our people, all of them, are the best of the best,” Rodney added. “But no one outside of the confidentiality agreements gets to see that. For most of the science community, the names Dr Brendan Gall and Dr Thomas Abrams mean nothing except for the failed promise of a stellar PhD paper. We, Radek and I, we started doing this in Area 51 after - - well, it’s the least we can do for those of us that give their lives to the cause.”
Rodney looked like he was waiting for John to disagree. John smiled softly and leaned over, placing a gentle kiss just to the side of Rodney’s mouth.
“This is a good thing,” he said. “Thank you for letting me be a part of it.”
Rodney ducked his head and pretended to look busy, tapping away at his tablet. “Yes, well, get to it.”
John exchanged a grin with Radek, mouthed the words ‘thank you’ to the Czech and lost himself in math.
He hadn’t had a chance to do that in a long time; sudoku puzzles at McMurdo didn’t count, and he was surprised by how rewarding it was. Gall had been good, his occasional lazy notation aside. John hated that it had taken his death for him to find that out, hated that Radek and Rodney had a ritual to deal with losing people, hated that they had to have one, but he couldn’t deny that it was nice to be a part of it.
Rodney fell asleep after an hour but John and Radek kept at it, Rodney’s heavy, warm weight leaning against John as he snored gently against the skin of John’s neck.
It felt nice.
It felt like belonging.
Chapter 12: Hot Zone
Rodney thinks himself lucky.
It felt wrong to feel so lucky. Four of his people were dead, their bodies soon to join Gall and Abram’s on the mainland. Rodney felt awful about that, felt the crushing weight of guilt over not figuring out a way to stop the nanite virus sooner, of leading those four scientists - some of the smartest people on Earth, not that he ever told them that - to their death.
But he also felt lucky.
He had come so close to losing everything today. Of losing Radek to the virus and John to his harebrained plan to stop the virus. Just the thought of how much worse things could have been had the panic rising in Rodney’s throat and he must have made a sound because John shifted closer, his lean frame bracketing Rodney’s left side so close that their bodies pressed together from shoulder to foot. Radek, on his right side, wasn’t as close, the only place their bodies touched was from the knee down, their lower legs tangled together to give them both the connection they so sorely needed.
“Sssh, go back to sleep,” John murmured, his lips grazing softly against Rodney’s neck.
“We are both safe,” Radek chipped in quietly, his leg shifting until their toes brushed. Radek’s poor circulation meant his feet were always freezing but seeing as it meant that Radek was here, alive, to annoy him with his icy toes, Rodney couldn’t find it in himself to care.
Instead, he let himself drift back to sleep surrounded by the comforting sounds of the two people he loved most.
Like he said, he was lucky.
Ok, I’ve been blocked on this chapter for weeks and I’m not entirely happy with this but it’s done and the rest of the series will hopefully flow a bit better. Writing is hard, yo.
Chapter 13: Sanctuary
Rodney McKay lived his life out loud.
Rodney McKay lived his life out loud. He was the kind of man who complained loudly over every perceived slight and could hold court for days on the subject of how much better and smarter he was than anybody else. It was, after all this very facet of his personality that got him and Radek sent to Siberia all those years ago, his mouth running off in front of the wrong person one time too many.
Radek had grown accustomed to people, often strangers, offering their condolences when they found out he was Rodney’s Guide. “It must be unbearable,” they would say, “living with that lack of emotional filter day in and day out.” Well, the nice ones said that. Most people didn’t put it so politely. Radek didn’t usually respond to these kinds of comments, it was none of their business after all, but if he did, it would be to tell them that they were idiots.
Rodney didn’t live his life out loud. Rodney distracted people with volume and kept everything that really mattered locked up tight. The first time Rodney had lowered his shields to let Radek in, Radek had almost collapsed under the barrage of feelings and emotions that washed over him.
Even now, after seven years, Rodney still rarely let his shields down all the way. Through a lot of trial and error as their bond had grown and developed over the years, Rodney had reached a level of openness that both he and Radek could live with. It hadn’t been easy. Radek, who had hid his abilities for years, was unaccustomed to the constant barrage of emotions that flooded through the bond but the bonded part of him craved it, felt lost and alone without any awareness of his Sentinel’s mood in the back of his mind. Rodney had much the same problem, a lifetime of shielding warring with the need to open up to his Guide and let him in.
They really were a good match, even if it was just in their utter hopelessness. A Guide who didn’t want to be a Guide and a Sentinel who didn’t want to be a Sentinel.
Still, they’d got there in the end and on any given day, provided they were both in the city, Radek went about his day to day with a low level awareness of Rodney’s mood. Just enough to know when he was working too hard, in need of a break, or about to blow a gasket.
The wave of utter despair that flooded through the bond into Radek’s awareness was so unexpected that Radek cried out, his elbow slipping off the desk where he was leaning on it in the labs.
“Dr Zelenka? Radek? Are you all right? Should I call the infirmary?”
Radek waved off Miko’s concern with one hand, the other pressed against his forehead in an effort to push away the wave of emotion.
“No, no,” he said. “It is nothing, it is - -“
And just like that Rodney’s emotions disappeared. Radek cried out again as Rodney’s shields snapped into place, hiding everything from him and leaving him with nothing. He was off his stool and weaving towards the nearest transporter before he even knew what was happening, all in a desperate attempt to find Rodney. He knew logically that Rodney was unharmed. If his Sentinel had been injured in the city, Radek would have been notified immediately but Radek knew that there were sometimes worse things than physical pain and, if the blast Radek had gotten before Rodney closed it down was anything to go by, his Sentinel was hurting terribly.
Miko must have followed him as he raced out the lab, he felt her guiding hand on his elbow as he crashed out the transporter and into the gate room.
Rodney was there, with Teyla and Elizabeth, all three of them staring at the gate as a jumper disappeared through it.
It was Miko who caught Radek as he fell to his knees and Miko who called for Rodney’s attention. Rodney was there in an instant, guilt on his face as he realised what his shields had done to their bond. Rodney’s shields started to raise immediately and Radek could tell that Rodney was trying to hold some of it back but the pain that Rodney was radiating was so intense that Radek passed out, the panicked blue of Rodney’s eyes the last thing he saw before the world went black.
He got the full story later. About John and Chaya, about the picnic on the balcony, John’s kiss bruised lips as he told Rodney to mind his own business. John leaving Rodney behind as he chased after a woman who had lied to them all.
Later still, after Carson had discharged him into the care of his Sentinel and Rodney had fallen asleep in the middle of his seventieth apology, the door to their quarters chimed. Slipping out of the bed quietly, being careful not to wake him, Radek steeled himself as he walked towards the door.
He knew who it was and he knew what they wanted.
Opening the door just to close it again in John’s face was surprisingly satisfying.
Radek would be damned if he let John hurt Rodney again.
Chapter 14: Before I Sleep
“Yeah.” John swallowed the lump in his throat. “I’m sorry too.”
“Perhaps we should end it there, Major?”
John picked himself off the mat, shaking the buzzing sound out of his ear. He fumbled for the fallen bantos rods and got back into position, facing Teyla.
“I’m good,” he insisted. “Let’s go again.”
Teyla raised an eyebrow. “If you will not choose to end it here then I will,” she said, bending gracefully to lower her own bantos rods to the floor. “You fought well John but we are both tired and I do not wish for either of us to come to harm when it could be avoided.”
John shook his head, whipping his rods through the air in a complicated twirl that Teyla made look easy. “You didn’t hurt me,” he said. “I’m fine.”
“You are bleeding.”
“I bit my tongue on that last fall is all. I’m good.”
Teyla cast a disbelieving look at him as she continued to gather her things. John blew out a frustrated breath and dropped his rods, kicking out at the one that landed too close to his feet, causing it to roll off the mat.
“I can see that,” Teyla replied.
John huffed a laugh, stretching his limbs out. “You know, whoever said that the Athosians didn’t understand sarcasm was an idiot.”
“I was taught by the best,” she said, smiling. “Speaking of Dr McKay - -“
“Don’t,” John warned, his voice low.
“I do not like to see the two of you at odds like this,” Teyla said, ignoring John’s words. “You were not yourself around Chaya, John. In retrospect it was clear that she was influencing you somehow. Did Carson’s readings not confirm this?”
John’s face twisted into a grimace, the way it always did when someone mentioned the name Chaya to him. And, yes, the readings that Carson had taken of him when he arrived back on Atlantis after flying a jumper through the gate to Proculus did detect some weird kind of pheromone in his blood stream but - -
“You cannot be held responsible for your actions in this matter, Major.”
“Yeah, I’m not so sure about that.” John sighed, walking towards his own things and grabbing a towel to start drying the worst of his sweat off with,
“John,” Teyla’s hand on his arm stopped him, forcing him to look at her. “Have you told Rodney of Carson’s readings?”
“No. And I’m not going to. And neither are you. Look, Carson’s readings could have been a result of the whole weird glowy sharing thing that happened on Proculus. It doesn’t prove that there was anything in my system before that.”
Teyla withdrew her hand but remained close, her eyes pinning him in place. John was sometimes stunned by how tiny Teyla was because at times like these she seemed to take up the whole room. “What other explanation do you believe?” she asked.
John shrugged, his shoulder twinging from his last fall. “I don’t know.”
“You do not know or you do not want to tell me?”
John hated how insightful Teyla was sometimes. It was great on missions but as soon as her insight was turned on him it became his least favourite thing about her. Because, the thing was, John knew what other explanation there was. It would be so easy to just claim that Chaya had influenced him, that she had clouded his mind and forced him to act like an ass. And it might even have been true to some extent. Actually, he knew it was true. Every time his mind had drifted toward Rodney, there had been this weird sensation that derailed his thoughts and forced them back to her. It had seemed like the most natural thing in the world at the time but he could see it for what it was now.
The problem was that he had given Chaya all the ammunition she needed to do it.
Every time he started to think about his feelings for Rodney and wondering what the hell he was doing flirting with Chaya, packing a picnic for Chaya, kissing Chaya - - it was like every single doubt or selfish though he’d had about his and Rodney’s situation was magnified a thousand times until his mind snapped back to her.
Chaya wasn’t complicated, his mind had screamed. She’s not a bonded Sentinel. There would be no having to share Chaya with anyone. He would be the most important person in Chaya’s life and didn’t he deserve that?
Teyla was looking at him with pity and John swallowed the revulsion he felt. He didn’t deserve her pity.
“We should go,” John said, changing the subject. “Gear up for the exploring we have planned this afternoon. Atlantis is a big city, who knows what we’ll find.”
Teyla sighed, her disappointment in him much easier to take than her pity.
“Will Dr McKay be joining us?” she asked. “I am certain that he would be of great use should we find anything interesting.”
“No,” John replied. “He won’t. He’s busy in the labs.”
At least that was what Radek had told him. It had been eight days since the whole Chaya thing and John hadn’t spoken to Rodney that whole time. Radek was seemingly with him every second, stepping in John’s way and blocking any attempt John made to talk. Not that he’d made many attempts.
It hurt to see Rodney so quiet and upset but maybe in the long run it would be for the best.
After all, Rodney deserved better than John. He deserved someone who accepted every aspect of him, someone who didn’t get jealous of the time he spent with Radek, someone who wouldn’t have let themselves be manipulated by the likes of Chaya.
“I am sorry to hear that,” Teyla said, dragging John from his thoughts.
“Yeah.” John swallowed the lump in his throat. “I’m sorry too.”
Hello. Yes, so I have I mentioned I like angst?
I wonder if Dagan and the reappearance of Kolya will make things better?
Chapter 15: The Brotherhood
“He hurt you,” Radek said, as if Rodney didn’t already know that. “But you do not care. You will go to him anyway.”
Rodney couldn’t sleep.
Blowing out a breath, he shifted on the mattress, kicking at the sheet that was tangled in his legs. Manoeuvring so that the sheet lay flat again, covering him from shoulders to toes, he lay back down and closed his eyes tight, as if the sheer force with which he held his eyelids shut would make him fall asleep faster. When it didn’t work, he moved on to fighting with his pillow, fluffing it up and then flattening it back down in an effort to find the perfect balance.
When his pillow was perfectly fluffed, Rodney lay back again, closing his eyes once more. He didn’t even last five seconds before he opened them again, staring up at the shadows that the ambient light filtering through his window made on the ceiling.
All he wanted was to get some sleep.
And whose bed would that be?
In his own bed. His mind wouldn’t let him. It wouldn’t shut off; choosing to replay the tragedy of errors that was the past few days.
Rodney had dreaded the mission to Dagan. It was their first mission since Proculus, since John had....since they had met Chaya. Gearing up and stepping through the gate was the first time he’d even spoke to John since the whole thing had happened. It was awkward enough that Rodney had started to give real consideration to removing himself from the team. But then the hope of finding a ZPM had started to feel more like a promise and Rodney got lost in the work, the discovery, the science. He’d been so focused on finding the ZPM that he’d almost forgotten about his broken heart.
At least until John started being an ass.
And whose bed would that be?
Rodney punched the mattress, his fist clenched tightly at the memory of John’s jealousy. Where the hell did he get off being jealous? He was the one who - - Rodney blew out another breath, trying to calm himself. If he kept at this he would wake Radek. It was a miracle his Guide wasn’t awake already, Rodney knew he had to be leaking out emotion all over the place and he wasn’t making the mistake of shutting the bond all the way down again, not after Radek had collapsed the last time.
If John’s petty jealousy was all that had gone wrong with that mission Rodney wouldn’t be struggling to sleep. No, when AR-1 had a bad mission, they really went all out although, in retrospect, it was pretty foolish of them to have assumed that Kolya was dead from a bullet to the shoulder.
When he closed his eyes Rodney could still see the look on John’s face as Kolya’s men had lifted him out of the hole. It had almost seemed like John was worried for him. Rodney knew that John would worry about any of his people in that kind of situation but the anguish - and that really was the only word for it - on John’s face seemed deeper than the situation warranted. It seemed personal.
Or maybe Rodney was just seeing what he wanted to see.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
Then there was the whole Indiana Jones puzzle thing which Rodney would have enjoyed more if it hadn’t been John’s life on the line.
His stomach still felt knotted over that. If John hadn’t come up with the answer at the last second then he would have had to watch as John’s palms were cut open and then watch him slump to the ground like Pranos had. In that moment it hadn’t mattered that John had chosen Chaya over him, it didn’t matter that John had broken his heart. All that mattered was that Rodney was going to lose someone he loved and he knew, could almost taste it, that he wouldn’t survive that loss.
Of course, John had survived and a ZPM had popped out of the wall and then - well, Rodney didn’t know what happened after that because someone had thought letting off a couple of flash bang grenades while a Sentinel was in the room was a good idea.
The next thing Rodney knew he was back in Atlantis, Radek guiding him out of a zone-out. A bad one if the pounding headache he still had was any indication. He’d barely had a chance to restabilise his senses when he found out that not only had Alina stabbed them in the back and taken the ZPM from them at gunpoint, but also that three Hive ships were on their way to Atlantis and would arrive in two weeks.
Rodney screwed his eyes shut again and tried to stave off the panic. Two weeks. He had two weeks to come up with a plan to save them all and - -
“Will you please go to sleep?”
Rodney sighed heavily as the door of his bedroom slid open to reveal a disheveled Czech.
“I was trying not to wake you,” he said, as close to an apology as Radek was going to get given the circumstances.
“Of course,” Radek replied. “Because sleeping while you project your unhappiness is not a hard thing to do.”
“Are you telling me that you could sleep otherwise?” Rodney scoffed. “After seeing those ships?”
“I would like the chance to try,” Radek answered, leaning against the door. “So, I ask, what will it take to get you to sleep? I have chocolate hidden away. If I promise it to you maybe you could sleep.”
Rodney huffed a laugh. “Hello? Sentinel here? If you’re talking about the Godiva that you hid in the lab, it’s long gone. I smelled it out weeks ago.”
“I have other stashes. Some not even you could find. Major Sheppard helped me - -“ Radek broke off.
“You can say his name you know.”
“Do you want me to?”
Rodney shrugged. A few days ago he would have said no but that was before almost losing John on Dagan, before John had looked at him in anguish as he left with Kolya, before they only had two weeks left before they were outgunned by an enemy that would drain them of everything.
Two weeks. Possibly their last two weeks. It put things in perspective.
“He hurt you,” Radek said, as if Rodney didn’t already know that. “But you do not care. You will go to him anyway.”
Rodney smiled sadly. “Yeah.”
John answered his door only a few seconds after Rodney waved his hand over the door chime. Looking past him into the room, Rodney could see the faint glow of a laptop screen on the bed and knew that John must have been having as much trouble sleeping as Rodney had.
“Rodney? What are you -“
“Two weeks,” Rodney interrupted, stepping forward into John’s room, making John take a step back. The door slid closed behind him. “Two weeks, John. I know how I want to spend them. I know who I want to spend them with. Do you?”
John didn’t answer, just kept staring at Rodney with that same look of anguish on his face that he had on Dagan.
Rodney took another step forward, and another, until he was standing right in front of John, close enough to touch, to kiss.
He asked again. “Do you?”