THE LONG NIGHT
Episode Tag to Lifeline
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story was created for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s), not me. Thank you to the amazing writers, producers, actors, crew and directors who bring these shows to life.
Characters: Zelenka, Sheppard and McKay.
Status: Complete in 4 parts
A/N: Just as a side note, I'm hanging a lantern, so to speak, on an old story of mine I wrote three years ago back in the first half of Season One, called People Watching. You do not need to have read that story to understand this.
Description: Tag to "Lifeline" – it's still night on the new planet, just hours after setting down, but, despite the terrifying events and the exhausting pace of the last few days, not everyone is asleep yet. SPOILERS (obviously) FOR ADRIFT AND LIFELINE.
CHAPTER ONE: THE DARK BALCONY
Radek sighed, pulling his glasses off and wiping the grit from his dry eyes. When he popped them back on his nose again, feeling them rest into place, he looked up and studied the control room.
It was still night, only about six hours after they had landed here, but, of course, he had no idea how late it actually was on this planet. They might have arrived in early evening, or landed in this planet's northern hemisphere during the winter cycle, or this system's sun might be so far away that the nights were just longer. They just didn't really know yet. Chuck was currently sitting in front of his station, slumped over with his head in his hand, waiting for the City's chronometer to finish making its calculations to answer these questions. As Radek watched, the boy yawned spectacularly and blinked a few times. The laptop screen fluttered, then stilled, and Chuck frowned, reaching to touch it.
He jumped when he got shocked. Then swore like a sailor as he shook his hand out.
Radek smiled softly. That had been happening quite a bit. The air was still pretty highly charged from having so much of the City's power leaking everywhere. Sure, currently they were running on naquedah generator power while the conduits were being fixed more permanently, but that much energy build up would take a while to disperse. Shocks were the least of their problems.
Standing up, hobbling a little on his bum leg, he lifted his arms high to stretch and get some of the knots out of his sore muscles. He felt like one huge ball of tension, the pressure of the last few days making its presence known in his shoulders and back. He was also feeling very hot, which was a little strange considering the cool breeze from the shattered window. Mostly, though, he was just incredibly tired. Covering a yawn, he limped forward off the second level of the control room to check out the Gateroom below.
It was quiet, despite the numerous boxes of equipment wanting to be unpacked. McKay had requested the Apollo's extra supplies be sent down so that they could get started on the repairs to Stargate Control as soon as the sun came up. Or, at least, those personnel who had been resting on the Apollo for the last two days would get started on the repairs. All of McKay's staff that had been in the City had been sent to sleep hours ago. Everyone except, of course, McKay himself. And because McKay hadn't gone to sleep, neither had Radek, or Chuck, or any of other department heads. By unspoken accord, they were staying up for so long as their chief was—in case he needed them.
Radek brushed at some of the glass underfoot as he leaned over the balcony rails, his mind drifting. Bits of consoles, screens and walls still crunched under foot despite the multiple sweepings of this and the room below. They needed to go over this place with a vacuum.
He pressed a hot hand to his forehead. Damn, this planet was really warm. Maybe they had landed in this hemisphere's summertime after all—because, if this was winter, they were really going to need to up the AC.
For a few moments, he stayed there, resting against the railing, staring down at the boxes, thinking about everything that needed to be done tomorrow. Rodney had probably already worked out the roster, and Radek guessed his role would be to help oversee the conduit work.
He lifted his eyes to the Stargate and the stained glass windows beyond it. The two main moons hovering over this planet reflected a lot of light, and the windows were cascading a rainbow of blue, green and purple across the brick red floor.
It was very restful. When Atlantis wasn't in crisis, it emanated an aura of peacefulness one usually only found in places like Japanese gardens or on mountaintops. Of course, it took years to create the perfect Japanese garden, and it takes a lot of muscle, time and energy to climb up a mountain...but worth it. Oh yes, very much worth it.
Radek smiled, closing his eyes and just letting the peace wash over him.
He jerked awake when he nearly tipped forward over the railing. Man, he was tired.
Sighing softly, his eyes drifted a little further upwards, his intention to turn and head back to check again on the long range sensors, but then his eyes stopped, caught by the hint of motion in a place where there shouldn't be any. Frowning slightly, he focused more carefully on the balcony across the way, the one that was almost directly opposite this one, just above and behind the Gate, next to the window. A balcony which, honestly, had no use.
Someone was standing there.
Whoever it was, they were deep inside the shadows, but Radek could just make out a pale face and crossed arms. The figure was obviously wearing black, because the rest of him was virtually invisible.
Radek watched him for a moment, then, realizing the other person was also probably watching him, he stepped away and walked quietly past Chuck and a snoring Bill Lee (why Doctor Lee hadn't beamed up to the Apollo with Colonel Carter to get some sleep, he had no idea. But the scientist was still down here, and had fallen asleep on one of the consoles). He also smiled at a tired looking Dr. Esposito—she had been among the first to beam down after they landed, her eyes filled with grateful tears at seeing so many alive. She smiled back as he passed by, and mouthed the words "go to sleep." He just nodded and kept going, limping by a couple of marines patrolling the room, and stepped down onto the landing at the top of the stairs. By the time he was hopping up the stairs to the other side, the figure had emerged from the shadows and was waiting for him next to the conference room doors.
Colonel Sheppard was leaning against a pillar, looking exhausted but calm, a strangely distant smile on his face. Radek hesitated a moment, then, steeling himself, finished limping up the stairs so that he could stand next to the Colonel.
"Hey, Radek," the man greeted softly, almost in a whisper, probably in deference to the fact that most of the City was asleep. Greeting made, the hazel eyes drifted to look anywhere but at the engineer, surveying the grand room almost lazily. Except Radek knew, at this moment, there was nothing lazy about Colonel Sheppard. Where Radek felt tense, the colonel had to be as hard as steel. He and Rodney both.
"Hi," he replied, feeling clumsy, his hands wrapping and unwrapping around the head of his cane. Now that he was here, he wasn't sure why he had felt the need to disturb the man. Sheppard had just looked...well, like he needed someone to talk to.
"You need something?" Sheppard asked, his eyes glancing over Radek like a stone skipping across a pond, then to the still very shattered and open window. A cool, humid breeze blew in, and it tickled the man's hair. Radek frowned.
"No," he said. "I just...I saw you and.... What were you doing?"
Sheppard gave a shrug. "Just checking out the lay of the land," he said, still in a whisper. "Feeling out the City."
"From over there?" Radek nodded towards the dark balcony Sheppard had left.
"You can see everything from there." He said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Oh." Radek glanced towards the balcony, then back at the colonel.
Sheppard was still staring out the shattered window.
Radek swallowed. "Are you all right, Colonel?"
Sheppard closed his eyes, but only for a moment. When he opened them again, he was looking at Radek. He gave a quick, unconvincing smile.
Radek grimaced. Sheppard dropped the smile, and looked away again.
"Been a rough few days," the colonel said more honestly, and that was better.
"Yes." Radek rubbed at the back of his neck, feeling even more awkward now. He gave a small shrug. "Perhaps you should consider getting some sleep?" He smiled faintly. "I think you could probably use it."
"Pot," Sheppard said, smiling a little more genuinely, pointing at Radek then himself. "Kettle."
Radek snorted. "I'm waiting for Rodney to go to sleep." He shrugged. "Soon as he does, I'll go to sleep."
The colonel stared at him a moment, brow furrowed slightly. "Rodney's still awake?"
Radek's eyebrows shot up. "Are you kidding? Of course, he is."
Sheppard frowned some more. "Why, 'of course'?"
Zelenka frowned some more. "Because we're not stable yet. The City has to finish mapping the topography of the ocean floor, so it can lock itself to it and find a stable hold." He was surprised Sheppard hadn't noticed the slight, gentle rocking of the City as it moved with the ocean waves, or the flexing of the towers with the wind. "That way, if there's a storm and we get, say, hit by a massive Tsunami—"
"We don't move," the colonel finished. "Gotcha." Sheppard was staring at him now, really looking at him for the first time. "Where is he?"
"In his lab. He can access the stabilizers from there."
Sheppard nodded, as if he should have known that. "Oh."
As if on cue, the City shuddered slightly. Sheppard looked at the floor, then arched an eyebrow. He clicked his radio. "Rodney?"
"What now?" a tired voice snapped back.
"I don't know, you tell me." Sheppard grimaced, not happy with the attitude, obviously. "Everything okay? Felt a weird shudder."
Radek heard the heavy sigh on the other side of the line before Rodney answered.
"There's nothing wrong. The City's base is just releasing some tension. Like a house settling. If something goes wrong, I'll let you know. Just go to sleep, will you?" The last statement was almost a plea.
Sheppard's eyebrows lifted, and then furrowed in anger. "McKay, I'm only asking because—"
"You're in charge. I know. I get it. I'm not making any decisions without you, happy?"
"No, McKay," Sheppard snarled, "I'm not happy, and this isn't about you. This is about the fact that too much has gone wrong when we thought we were okay, too many mistakes made when we couldn't afford any, so I need to know exactly what you're doing and why the City is shuddering. And I want to know, now." Radek's eyes widened slightly, and he looked away to hide his surprise at the Colonel's hard tone.
Radek clearly wasn't alone in wondering that, because there was a long silence before Rodney answered, and when he did, it sounded like he was speaking through gritted teeth.
"Nothing is wrong, Colonel. This is just the City doing its thing. It is currently completing a geological and topographical scan of the ocean floor so it can find the optimal place to lock our location in place. The City will experience a few shudders and quakes until it does that, as it reacts to the new stresses from this ocean and this planet's weather—particularly the wind currents hitting the skyscrapers. That's all you're feeling. And before you ask, I don't know how long it will take, I don't know if it will want to stay in this location or need to move to a different part of the ocean, and I don't know if we'll have to move before the conduits are fixed, so, please, for a few hours, just leave me alone!" And the radio clicked off. Radek grimaced—he'd never heard McKay sound so completely done before.
Sheppard frowned some more, his hand lifted to his radio as if to force the other man back on, but, before he could, Radek hit his own earpiece.
"Zelenka? You're still awake?" Rodney gave a huff of annoyance. "For Christ's sake, go to sleep. Keller would kill me if I told her I let you stay up with that leg. And tell Chuck and the others to go to sleep as well, will you? Esposito can cover control until morning, and I've got Bryce watching over the power levels in the main lab. There's no need for you to stay up."
"Are you sure?" Radek asked. "I could come and—"
"Eight hours of sleep, Radek. Get eight hours. Think you've earned it—plus, you got that hole in your leg thing. I'm betting Keller told you to stay off it, so.... Look, I'll call if anything comes up. Oh, and...I forgot to tell you," he paused, then, in a low voice, "Um...thank you for, um...you know, all your hard work and stuff. Probably could've done it without you, but...glad I didn't have to."
Radek was speechless for a second, then his face lit up in a smile. "Well, uh," he scratched at his head, "it was mostly you, but...thanks."
"Of course, it was mostly me. But you helped. So," Radek could almost hear Rodney's shrug, "good job. Now go to sleep."
"Are you going to sleep, too?" Radek asked. In reply, Rodney just harrumphed and hung up. Radek sighed. "I'll take that as a no, then." He grimaced, and looked up at Colonel Sheppard. "How about you, Colonel? Sleep?"
Sheppard had apparently forgotten his annoyance with Rodney's bitchiness, because he had gone back to staring out the window, watching as the larger of the two moons nestled itself on the horizon. Radek waited a moment, then, when he realized that Sheppard wasn't going to answer, he quietly took a step back. A few more limping steps, and he was on the landing again. He turned around, heading back to the control room.
When he had hold of the railing on the other side, he glanced back. Sheppard had disappeared. He looked towards the end of the balcony on the far side, but it was empty. With any luck, the Colonel had gone to sleep.
Which, Radek knew, is where he himself should be heading.
He just needed to make a stop first.
Rodney wasn't getting rid of him that easily. He heard the edge in his friend's voice—Rodney had passed his breaking point. If he didn't get rest soon, Radek was worried that he actually would break.
CHAPTER TWO: THE RATTLE OF KEYS
He heard the clatter of keys long before he got to the lab, and he frowned. Walking inside, he saw Rodney sitting at his desk, rapidly working away on something. Stepping closer, he squinted at the screen, trying to see what it was.
His frown grew when he recognized it was nanite coding.
"Rodney," he called softly.
The rattling of the keyboard didn't stop.
"Rodney," he called more loudly.
His friend jerked, then turned in his chair, eyes wide. "Radek?" He sounded as startled as he looked. "What are you doing here?"
"I've come to make sure you get some sleep."
Rodney just stared at him, looking almost confused by that. "What?"
"Sleep? That thing we all need? What you just ordered me to get for eight hours?" Radek leaned against the desk, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Oh," Rodney frowned, still looking a little befuddled. "Right. Well, you need it. Micro-asteroid through the leg, remember? Probably shouldn't even be walking on it."
"You need it too. More than me."
Rodney frowned more. "Why would I...?" Trailing off, he gave a headshake, "Whatever. I can't go to sleep. Not yet."
"I won't be able to sleep until this is done." And he went back to typing as if Radek wasn't there.
"And what is that?" Radek asked quietly.
"You know what it is," Rodney growled through his teeth.
"Yes," he admitted, "but I do not know why you are working on the nanite programming now."
Rodney stopped typing, and stared at the screen. Finally, after too long a pause, he looked up at Radek. "It's the program I was working on before Keller interrupted me."
Radek grimaced. "You mean, the one to program Dr. Weir's nanites to repair her organic cells, rather than just replace them?"
Rodney nodded. "Figure, when we get her back, I should have this ready." He started typing again.
Radek closed his eyes. Oh.
Rodney pulled in a sharp breath. "Don't, Radek. Not now."
"Don't tell me I can't do this," Rodney pressed, his voice growing soft. "And don't tell me I won't need it." He drew in a deep breath, and stopped typing again. He turned to look at Radek, and his bruised blue eyes spoke volumes. "Look, I spent the last few days reacting to crisis after crisis, barely keeping up. And people are dead because I wasn't fast enough, wasn't ready. You heard Sheppard—things went wrong when I said they were okay. And Elizabeth is...well, who knows what they're doing to her. But I'm not giving up. So, I want something done in advance, for once. Something I can anticipate. Something I may be able to use to save her life someday." He sat up from the exhausted slouch he'd been sitting in. "So, don't tell me to stop. I can sleep later."
Radek had lowered his eyes at some point, so that he was staring at the black, marble floor. He really couldn't argue with Rodney on this.
The typing started again.
Radek shook his head. Maybe he couldn't argue—but he had to find a way to get Rodney to go get some rest.
"Rodney," Radek said quietly, "I just...you do know that...that we made it. That we're alive and the City is okay. That you got us here. You and the Colonel."
Rodney didn't answer.
Radek tried again. "The City is safe. It'll be here in the morning. You need rest."
The typing didn't abate.
It was useless—Rodney was just ignoring him now.
Radek sighed, leaning more heavily against the desk, pressing his hand to his hot head again. He was so tired now, he actually felt a little nauseous. Maybe he should go to sleep—if Rodney was still awake when he got up, he'd tell Keller.
The City shuddered softly underfoot again.
Lowering his hand, Radek sighed and looked up, his gaze automatically scanning the various screens set up around the lab. One was set to the City's ongoing topographical scan of their new home, the sensors quickly mapping out the entire planet's surface—including the ocean floor below—and integrating it into the mainframe. The City would eventually use that to lock itself into place. Another was taking in data about flora and fauna in the immediate vicinity, cataloguing everything from size to heart rate. A third was breaking down the chemicals in the water, to make sure that the desalination tanks could break it down easily and there was nothing in there that could damage the City. Finally, one was set to life signs, and he smiled a little at the healthy glow of lives gathered in the residential quarters. Sleeping people. Alive people. It was a miracle that they had lost so few. And it really was due to Rodney and Colonel Sheppard—they just couldn’t see it.
His smile fell at the sight of a solitary life sign over on the West Pier.
Damn. He'd really hoped the Colonel had gone to sleep.
"Rodney," he called. The typing stopped immediately, because Rodney knew his tone too well.
"Oh, what is it now?" he whined. He sounded worried, but not scared. Rodney was too far past the point where he could get scared now. Radek knew, because he felt the same way.
Still, Radek frowned—he hadn't meant to garner worry. "No, sorry, nothing bad. Just," he pointed to the screen, "look."
Rodney turned around in his chair, so that he was facing the life signs screen. He frowned.
Radek cleared his throat. "I think it's Colonel Sheppard."
"Really? Huh. What's he doing out there?" Rodney asked.
Radek shrugged. "He seemed a little out of sorts upstairs," he noted.
Rodney looked at him. "Out of sorts?"
"He was standing on the balcony opposite the Control Room," he explained. "You know—the one without function? I went to ask him what he was doing, and he met me before I got there." He tilted his head. "Even then, I'm not sure he even really registered I was there."
"The far balcony?" Rodney asked softly, almost too softly. "The one that's not lit?"
"That's Carson's and Elizabeth's balcony."
Radek frowned. He turned to look at Rodney. "What?"
"Carson and Elizabeth," Rodney said, scrubbing a hand down his face. "They...they used to sit there, sometimes, and just watch the comings and goings in the room. I never really understood why they did it. But I'd catch them there, sometimes. They'd eat lunch there together, just the two of them." He shook his head. "I made fun of Carson about it once, said they looked like the king and queen of Atlantis, watching over their subjects. He found that hilarious." Rodney smiled wanly. "Said he couldn't imagine me ever being anyone's subject. Or Sheppard. Or anyone in Atlantis, for that matter. Too much ego." His smile faltered, and he looked up again at the lone life sign. His jaw tensed. "You saw Sheppard standing there? Alone?"
Radek just nodded.
Rodney sighed deeply, placing his face in his hand. "Damn it."
Radek pursed his lips. "Should..." he frowned, then shook his head. "Should someone go out there? Talk to him?"
Rodney didn't answer, his head still in his hand.
"He's feeling guilty, Radek," Rodney answered. "Because of Elizabeth. Because of the men who got trapped outside the shield when it shrank. Because of everything. And hundred to one odds, he's also thinking about Carson and Ford and, hell, he's probably thinking all the way back to Sumner, if not further. He..." Rodney shook his head. "He's immersing himself in their ghosts, blaming himself for their loss." He shook his head.
Radek was staring at Rodney now, surprised to hear such insight coming from his normally oblivious friend.
McKay sighed heavily, and looked up, lowering his hand from his pale face. The tiny red scars seemed to stand out in stark relief as he grimaced at the screen.
"He'll be okay. He just needs to come to terms with it. Like we all do. Probably best to just let him alone for a bit."
Radek grimaced. "Are you sure? He..."
"Yeah. I'm sure. I'll ask Teyla to talk to him tomorrow, okay? She's good at that. I'm sure she can make him see that none of it was his fault, and that he couldn't have done anything better than he did. It's not like he was the one..." Rodney trailed off, his eyes still on the screen. Finally, he closed his eyes and swiveled around in his chair to face his laptop again. "He'll be fine."
Radek continued to grimace, staring at the lone dot. Maybe Rodney was right.
But he also knew something else—right now, there was probably only one person would be able to get Rodney to stop working. And that person was standing out on that pier alone. If he could fix one of them...maybe then he could fix them both.
"I'll see you later, Rodney," he said, standing up and wincing a little as his leg gave a twinge of burn. Grasping his cane a little tighter, he ran his free hand across his dry neck, wishing it would cool down a little. If it were cooler, this would be easier.
"Go to sleep, Radek," Rodney replied, his tone distant as his mind slid back into his work. "Rest that leg."
Radek just gave a grunted affirmative, and hobbled out of the room.
CHAPTER THREE: UNDER THE BLUE MOON
The transporter opened and Radek nearly tripped on his way out. It was atop a platform and, wouldn't you know it, some sadist had put stairs right in front of it. Growling swears under his breath, he hobbled down the three sets of steps and then rested against the stair railing. Taking in a deep breath, he looked out through a large window to the outside, to about a hundred yards distant where Colonel Sheppard was standing on the pier and staring up at the now singular moon hanging in the sky.
"Huh," Radek muttered to himself, looking up at the same moon. "The other one must have set." But there was something else strange about it, he realized.
The moon was blue. Actually blue. A real, literal, blue moon.
It was beautiful.
A second later, he was shaking his head when he almost fell backwards, nearly falling asleep again standing up. Damn it, now was not the time! "Focus, Radek, focus." He had other things to worry about than Frank Sinatra songs and old myths. He could admire the blue moon again tomorrow night.
Gamely, the engineer pushed away from the railing and over to the door, flinching a little as they opened and let in that heavy breeze. God—it was like pea soup out there. His home was no picnic in summer, landlocked and hot, but this felt oppressive. Although, it wasn't hot—just humid. In fact, he shivered a little when the wind hit his bare neck, and a chill ran down his frame. Weird.
He struggled forward, limping more now that the painkillers were obviously wearing off, and swearing some more...mostly about Colonels with no sense for being out here alone in this weather. No wonder Rodney complained about the man all the time.
Zelenka looked up, not realizing until now that he'd been staring at the metal ground as he hobbled along. He actually had crossed most of the distance without even realizing it. Had Sheppard heard his muttering? Good thing the man didn't speak Czech.
The Colonel's eyebrows were raised, his body twisted so that, while he hadn't turned fully, he was able to see Radek coming up behind him.
"Colonel," Radek greeted, looking around for some place to sit. He spotted what looked like a small transformer housing and limped over to it. By the time he was sitting down on the box, letting out a sigh of relief over being off his feet, Sheppard was standing over him, hands on his hips and his brow furrowed.
"Radek," Sheppard said, "what are you doing out here?"
Well, now or never.
"I came to find you," Radek explained, and wishing now that he'd brought a warmer coat. Despite the humidity, a cold breeze must have come along, because now he was freezing. The weather on this planet was seriously screwed up.
"Me?" Sheppard said. "Why?"
"Because you need to talk." He shivered. Sheppard frowned.
"Talk about what?"
"What's wrong with you."
The frown deepened. "There's nothing wrong with me, Radek."
Zelenka sighed, and rubbed a hand through his hair. He rested his hand on his forehead for a few moments, then looked up at the Colonel. Sheppard was still watching him, confusion clear on his face. Oh for...he wasn't feeling well enough to let the man figure it out for himself. To hell with being polite, he was just going to come right out and say it.
"You're feeling guilty about what happened to Doctor Weir. And you're feeling guilty for everything else, despite that it was not your fault, and cannot be changed. As a result, you're not going to sleep, your eyes aren't staying focused, and you're standing out here, all alone, feeling like you can't do anything correctly. Someone needed to tell you you're wrong, and so," he shrugged, "here I am."
Sheppard's brow darkened like a thundercloud. "What? What the hell are you talking about?"
"I am talking about the fact that you saved Atlantis, Colonel, but you do not seem to realize it. Whatever mistakes you think you made, whatever it is you think you failed at, you saved the City and you saved everyone in it. And, if you opened your eyes, you would see that."
Sheppard's eyes pinched at that, and he crossed his arms. He turned away from the City, looking again over the blue water. "I didn't save everyone," he said softly.
Radek sighed heavily. "Yes. I know. Not everyone. But almost everyone. And, considering what we faced, no, who we faced," he gave a headshake, "that is a miracle."
"And I didn't do it alone," Sheppard added, even more softly, looking towards the stars.
"Precisely," Radek said, feeling a little drunk now. Whoa. When had he started to feel dizzy? "Not alone. Definitely not alone. In fact, if I might say," he sighed, "you should really pay more attention to that fact."
"What do you think I've been doing?" Sheppard snapped, turning all the way around now so that his back was to Radek. "You think I'm not killing myself over her loss? Wishing I could have done something different?" He stepped away, so tightly wound now, his jacket was stretched tightly over his back. "I left her behind, Radek. How could I have done that? My job was to protect her, and I failed."
Radek swallowed, grimacing. Damn it. The Colonel was thicker than a cement wall, sometimes, wasn't he?
He sighed. "Colonel Sheppard, listen to me. I may not have been there, but I was there when you explained to Colonel Carter and Colonel Ellis what happened. It seemed clear to me that you were not given a choice—you did not fail Doctor Weir."
Sheppard gave a sharp headshake. "You're right," he said quietly. "You weren't there."
"No, perhaps not..." Zelenka licked his dry lips, and his voice grew softer. "But I knew Elizabeth Weir, Colonel. She stopped needing protecting the moment she left that Jumper and took control of the nanites in her body away from Rodney. At that moment, she was not coming back, and she knew it. And if you hadn't left—her sacrifice would have been for nothing. You did not leave her behind, Colonel. She stayed behind, by her own choice. And she did it to save you and Rodney and Ronon, so you could come back here and save all of us."
Sheppard swallowed hard, his jaw tensing.
"Fact is, Colonel," Radek dropped his head, "Doctor Weir was lost to us the moment Rodney reactivated the nanites in her brain. She would never have been allowed to go free, you know that. Rodney may have been certain that he had reprogrammed her nanites to stop the Asurans from controlling her, and..." he gave a small shrug, "I think we know now that he was right, but no one except Rodney would have been certain. Not even Elizabeth herself—though she obviously figured it out quickly enough when push came to shove, as you say." He grimaced. "But, even if you had never gone to the Asuran homeworld, she was..." He stopped suddenly, as he replayed what he just said in his head.
Radek's head tipped up, and he looked up at the Colonel. Sheppard had wrapped his arms around himself again, and his skin was stretched tightly across his face because his frown was so deep.
"Is that it?" Radek asked softly. "Is that why you are so angry with him?"
Sheppard seemed to flinch, and when he looked at Radek, he was puzzled again. "What?"
"Oh dear," Radek said weakly. "I had not thought of that. I had thought...I had thought you were just taking your guilt out on him. Oh, I am so sorry." He was muttering now, trying to find a way to solve this latest problem. Was there anything that could be said? Rodney had done something wrong when he reactivated the nanites without consulting the Colonel, but did that one mistake negate all the rest? Perhaps. The Colonel valued trust, and Rodney had violated that trust. Was there anything he could say in Rodney's defense?
Zelenka shook his head, still not looking at the Colonel. Oh, this was bad. This was very bad. He could not fix Rodney's mistake. What could he say or—
"Radek, I'm not mad at Rodney."
Radek's eyes finally lifted at that, meeting Sheppard's gaze. The Colonel looked tired, and a little bit deflated.
"You're not?" he asked, surprised. "Because I would be."
A hint of a smile lit the Colonel's face, and he turned to face the water. "No." Closing his eyes for a moment, the Colonel sighed, then moved to sit down next to Radek. Once settled, he leaned forward on his knees, his hands wrapping together, and focused on a section of pier where the moon's light was reflecting blue.
"I was mad," he admitted. "I really was. What he did—even knowing why he did it—I knew what it would mean for Elizabeth, and he didn't. All he knew was that she was dying, and he could save her life. He didn't think what kind of life he was bringing her back to. I did." He shook his head, and dragged a hand down his face.
"But?" Radek prompted.
"But," Sheppard grimaced, "once it was done, it was done. He was right—we had to move on. I accepted his apology, and..." He shook his head again. "And hoped the other shoe wouldn't drop. Which, it didn't. He was right—the nanites in Elizabeth's brain were no threat to the City, because, ultimately, Elizabeth was stronger than they were." He looked up. "I should have known that."
Radek looked down at his hands. He hadn't known it either—none of them had. He gave a shrug. "You're not mad at him, then."
"Then why are you beating up on him?"
Sheppard frowned, and he looked at Radek. "What?"
"Rodney has got skin thicker than a rhinoceros, yes, but it's gotten to the point where I think he'll crumble if you push him much further. Normally, when you yell at him, it galvanizes him—he works faster. But, when I saw him tonight..." he shook his head.
Sheppard just tilted his head, his worry clear. "What?"
"He looked beaten."
"Instead of working faster," Radek explained, "he works slower. He argues more, repeats himself, whines more..." He gave a shrug, then looked up at the Colonel, "And when you yelled at him tonight, it just made it worse."
Sheppard's eyes narrowed, still looking uncertain. "But I yell at him all the time, Radek. You know that."
"Not like that you don't. That yell...," he frowned, considering his words, "that yell was an accusation."
The Colonel stared at him a moment longer, then his eyes fell away, drifting to the pier floor. A moment later, he grimaced, turning his head away to hide his expression.
"I'm not angry at McKay, Radek," he repeated. "When I said we’d made mistakes, I wasn't talking about Rodney." He lowered his head. "I was talking about me."
For a moment, Radek said nothing. Then, slowly, he gave a nod. That made sense. It wasn't just guilt—it was anger and fear and insecurity and the unknown, all ganging up to cause the normally cool man to lash out. Thing was, although he may have been talking about himself...
"Nonetheless," Radek said softly, "you took a little of your anger out on him."
The Colonel looked at him, then turned away again, closing his eyes.
"It's been a bad day, Radek."
Radek just nodded. Yes. It had. And Rodney being Rodney hadn't made it easy.
They sat in silence for a few moments, until the Colonel finally turned around enough so Radek could see his profile.
"So what do you want me to do?" Sheppard asked quietly. "Because..." he licked his bottom lip, "I can't be nice to him, Radek. Not right now." He gave a shrug, "He'd see right through it, and it's not...," he grimaced, "it's not who either of us are. If I'm nice to him, he'll just think that I'm trying to scam him."
"Well," Zelenka gave a shrug, and shivered again in the cold air, "I think, perhaps..." he sighed, "and please do not take affront, but, I think you need to look at this from Doctor Weir's perspective."
Sheppard's expression immediately shuttered, going hard around the edges.
That reaction made Radek nervous, and the nausea he felt started to churn even more, but he pushed on—he had to, if he was going to fix them both.
"More than anything, she cared about this City, Colonel. It was her home, and we were her family. And, regardless of what happened, ultimately, all she would have cared about is that Atlantis is safe, and that we are all still alive." He gave a smile. "And, if she had been here when we landed, standing in the Control Room where she always stood, the first thing she would have done..." Radek tilted his head to see more of the Colonel's face, "was turn around and thank Rodney."
The hard edge faded, and the colonel glanced at him out of the corner of his eye.
Radek leaned forward to meet his gaze. "She always thanked him, Colonel. Every time. But no one has thanked him for what he did this time, because Doctor Weir is not here. And I know, right now, both you and he have forgotten about all the work that he did, but I haven’t. And as much as I do not like to admit how good he actually is, he was the one who got this City in the air using just one ZPM, Colonel, and he's the one who kept everything running when we fell out of hyperspace, while the rest of us scrambled to find out what had gone wrong. He was the one who organized the shut down, who reconfigured the shield, and who worked out what we needed to survive. And he did all that with a face full of glass."
Sheppard closed his eyes again.
"And," Radek continued, "I suppose I don't have to mention he also worked on the nanite program for Doctor Weir, and that he helped you with the asteroids, even though he might have done a little better at that one." He gave a rueful smile at that. "And he also designed a hyperdrive for the Puddle Jumper—which is Ancient level physics, Colonel, and he—"
"And he went on the mission," Sheppard sighed. "I know." He put his head in his hand. "I get it, Radek."
Zelenka gave a nod, and slumped slightly. That had worn him out. He rested a hand to his forehead again, and fought back a bout of nausea again. He really, really needed to get to sleep.
He sighed. "So," he asked, when it seemed the Colonel was not going to say anything more. "Will you do it?"
Sheppard looked up, staring out to sea. "Thank him?" he asked, as if in clarification.
The colonel's face pinched again. Finally, he gave a shrug. "I'll..." he gave a sad smile, "I will if I can. If you really think it will help."
Radek slumped even more. Thank goodness. If the Colonel recognized that Rodney needed thanking...then perhaps both men could stop holding themselves hostage over what had happened to Elizabeth, and see the miracle of the City still standing tall around them, bright and alive, because of them.
"Thank you," Radek said. With a smile, and feeling a little better now that the nausea had passed, he pushed his cane down and moved to stand up.
Fire pokers lanced through his bad leg, and he gasped at the spikes of pain screaming into his brain. His vision immediately blackened, and he barely felt the hands that grabbed at him.
Oh God...oh God....it hurt!
"Radek! Can you hear me? What's wrong?"
He felt himself turned over, held up by a strong grip. When had he stopped being able to move? Why couldn't he move anything? God, he was so cold.
"Radek! Oh, Jesus." He was propped up on what felt like a knee, and one hand left his arm. "This is Colonel Sheppard. I have a medical emergency on the West Pier. Doctor Zelenka has just fainted. Something to do with his leg—he's burning up and shivering. I'm bringing him to you."
The last thing Radek felt was arms slipped under his arm and under his legs, and being lifted.
After that, nothing.
CHAPTER FOUR: COMING HOME
Something was beeping.
A low, soft, constant beeping.
He felt strangely fuzzy, like he was entombed in cotton balls.
Not that he knew what it would like to be entombed in cotton balls, but, if he did, he imagined in would feel like this.
What the hell was that beeping?
Rodney was going to kill him.
Radek grunted softly, feeling a subtle headache forming inside his head as if he'd been gritting his teeth too hard while sleeping. He frowned a little, feeling the muscles on his face press down, his forehead furrowing. He wanted to open his eyes, but his eyelids were protesting the idea.
"Hey," a voice called on his right, but it didn't seem directed to him. "Hey...Hey, someone! You! Keller! I think he's waking up!"
Rodney was sitting with him? Radek actually had to smile at that.
It took a little doing, but, slowly he got his eyes open. Not that it did much—the world was fuzzy.
He saw the bulky figure of Rodney in his face for about a second, but he was quickly replaced by someone slimmer and, he guessed, prettier. She smiled.
"Hey, Radek." It was Keller. Radek squinted, and she nodded and reached over for something. The next thing he knew, she was gently slipping his glasses on. She smiled again, and he smiled dreamily back at her now clear face.
"Hi," he croaked, then tried to clear his throat. Keller quickly pressed an ice chip to his lips, and smiled again.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
"Strange," he admitted, enjoying the ice slipping down his throat. He wanted to say 'fuzzy', but he just couldn't think of the word in English. "What happened?"
"An infection in your leg," she said, smiling ruefully. "Colonel Sheppard brought you in here about eight hours ago with a pretty high fever and, unfortunately, your body wasn't well enough to fight it on its own since—"
"Like an idiot, you didn't rest it when you were told to," Rodney snapped from somewhere behind her. Keller arched an eyebrow, but gave a shrug, still smiling warmly.
Radek blinked some more, and frowned. Wasn't his fault. If certain other people had just gone to bed when they should have, he wouldn't have had to stay up and walk as far as he did. Keller, seeing his frown, patted his head, obviously taking it to mean that he was worried about his leg.
"You'll be alright," she said. "Antibiotics seem to be working. We knocked out the fever pretty quickly, and, mostly, you just need rest now. Which, I might add, you'll be doing here until I'm sure you won't kill yourself again." Her smile turned to iron. It dared him to say no, and then threatened restraints. It was not a pretty smile.
He gave a soft sigh. "Okay."
"Okay," she repeated, and the smile went back to being just a smile. "Good. Now, Rodney here is going to say a few more things," she turned and looked over her shoulder, "comforting things," she stressed, and then turned back to Radek, "and then he's going to leave, so you can sleep." She looked over her shoulder again, "And so can he." Again, iron. It was sort of impressive for someone as deceptively innocent as she was.
McKay snorted at the look she gave him, and Radek frowned again. Wait a minute—Rodney still hadn't slept?
Keller turned around and patted his shoulder, then backed away before Radek could say thank you. He attempted to reach for her, but, like an eclipse of the sun, Rodney was suddenly in his face.
"Hey." Rodney was all grins. He hated it when Rodney smiled like that, but he supposed it was probably genuine.
"Rodney," Radek greeted, frowning more now that he could see him clearly. It was pretty clear that, no, Rodney hadn't gone to sleep. He was deathly pale still, the cuts on his face still an angry red, and the circles under his eyes were so deep, it was amazing he was even still conscious.
"You sure you're okay? Keller said you would be, but," Rodney shrugged, "you really feeling all right?"
Radek sighed, and gave a headshake. "Have you spoken to Colonel Sheppard?"
"What?" Rodney blinked. "No. What has he got to do with you being in here?"
"No, no," Radek said, frowning again. "He has nothing to do with that. Has he talked to you?"
Rodney looked supremely puzzled. "No."
Rodney snorted a laugh. "I think I'd know, Radek. I haven't even seen him since he brought you in here, and he brushed past me pretty quick when I showed up. He hasn't been by the lab, either." Rodney shrugged.
Radek sighed, swearing softly in Czech.
Rodney tilted his head, puzzled again. "Why?"
"Oh, nothing, I guess." Radek looked away from the man leaning over him. Rodney pressed a hand to his arm, and lowered his voice when he spoke again.
"Radek, what's wrong?" Rodney was in earnest—he was worried. "Is something the matter with Sheppard?"
Zelenka grimaced, and tilted his head back. His eyes narrowed, and he reached over to take hold of Rodney's right wrist. "McKay, have you slept?"
Rodney actually flinched, pulling his arm up and away, and he went from being worried to being totally confused. "What?"
"Have you slept?" Radek repeated, more forcefully this time.
Rodney gave a quick headshake, taking another step back. "Why are you asking about me? I'm not that one who ended up passing out on a pier because he was too stupid to go to sleep when told. You're lucky the antibiotic cocktail Keller cooked up is working—who knows what alien microbes this planet might have! What were you thinking?"
Radek gave a shrug. That was pretty stupid. "I don't know."
"Right. Because you're an idiot." Rodney crossed his arms.
"Maybe," Radek shrugged, "but I'm not the only one. I repeat," he lifted his eyebrows, "have you slept yet?"
Rodney's eyes narrowed. "You're nuts. No. To answer you question, I haven't. I told you I had to finish that program. Now, why do you keep asking if—"
"Wait." Radek lifted his eyebrows. "You finished the program?"
"Well, yes, but—"
"Then why aren't you asleep?"
"Okay, you're starting to freak me out. Why do you keep asking—"
Radek's eyes widened slightly, and he looked to the other side of the bed. Colonel Sheppard walked into the room, looking slightly sheepish. And, annoyingly, just as pale and sleep deprived as Rodney. When he came up alongside the infirmary bed, the Colonel didn't look at Rodney opposite him, but Rodney was clearly frowning at him.
Radek frowned. "Colonel Sheppard?"
"Oh," Sheppard gave him a wry look. "That was a question. Yeah, I'm sorry I wasn't here before." He reached down with a fist and tapped the mattress by Radek's hand. "But I'm here now. So, how you feeling?"
"He's being weird," Rodney said quickly.
Sheppard finally looked across at McKay at that, his eyebrows lifted. "Weird?"
Rodney nodded. "He's not asking about himself."
Sheppard smiled crookedly. "That doesn't make him weird, McKay. It just doesn't make him you."
"Oh, ha, ha," Rodney mocked, crossing his arms again. "Well, I think it's weird."
The Colonel smiled coolly, and turned back to Radek. "Seriously, Radek, how are you feeling?"
Radek just frowned again, and made a decision. "Rodney has been working on a program to get Doctor Weir's nanites to repair her organic cells and then shut off when finished."
For a moment, no one moved. Rodney looked like he'd been pole-axed, while Sheppard just froze in place. Finally, after what felt like years, Sheppard blinked slowly and looked across the bed at Rodney.
"Is that true?"
Rodney met his gaze nervously, swallowing hard. He looked at Radek, frowning briefly at the betrayal, then steeled his chin and lifted it as he looked back at Sheppard. He crossed his arms even more tightly.
At that answer, the Colonel's face instantly softened, making him appear almost fragile. Rodney uncrossed his arms, as surprised as Radek was at that reaction. Sheppard cleared his throat.
"Will it work?" he asked quietly, his voice barely above a whisper, and so thick with hope, it was almost painful.
Rodney's brow furrowed slightly, then cleared, the expression almost mirroring the Colonel's now. He gave a single nod. "Yes," he said. "If she wants it to." He gave a small shrug, looking slightly away from Sheppard. "When I reprogrammed the nanites, I made certain that the Replicators couldn't attack her or connect to her through them, but," he shook his head, "I didn't program them to prevent Elizabeth herself from controlling them. Which you know, after the whole kill switch failure thing." He looked down then, plucking at Radek's blanket with his right hand. "Meaning, it would only work..." his right hand gripped into a fist, "if she allows us to do it."
Sheppard nodded in understanding. "But if she did...?"
"Then, yes. It would work." He looked up again, meeting the Colonel's gaze evenly. "It will work." He said it like a promise.
And Sheppard smiled back at him—a completely genuine and warm smile.
"Cool," he said, and his smile deepened as he looked down. "That's good. You did good." He looked up again, and nodded. "Thanks, Rodney."
Rodney blinked quickly, then he quickly ducked his head to hide the smile on his face. "Yeah, well..." He didn't finish the sentence, just shrugged and pretended to find Radek's blanket fascinating. Sheppard's smile grew amused.
Radek sighed softly. That wasn't the thank you he'd counseled the Colonel to give, but, if he was being honest with himself, it was probably the thank you that Rodney and Sheppard most needed.
As if on cue, Rodney suddenly yawned, covering his mouth with his hand.
"You should go to sleep, Rodney," Radek suggested quietly.
"Yes, I probably should," Rodney replied, stretching his arms up over his head. "Especially since I don't have the luxury of medically recommended bed rest for the next few days. Some of us actually have to work tomorrow. Or, I guess, today." He yawned again when he finished, covering his mouth once more.
"Today?" Radek asked.
"Yeah," Rodney looked towards a window, where bright sunshine was streaming into the room. "Sun came up." Radek turned to the window, and couldn't stop from smiling. The sun was up.
"I'm going to hit the hay as well," the Colonel said, smiling down at Radek and drawing the Czech's eyes back. Reaching down, he patted Zelenka's shoulder. "Get well soon, Radek. Rodney needs you."
"Oh, please," Rodney muttered, rolling his eyes. "I do not." He'd already stepped away from the bed. "Honestly, that's like saying Ronon needs a personal trainer. Still," he started walking away, not even saying goodbye, "I'll admit that he has his uses. He's entertaining, for one."
Sheppard grinned at Radek one more time, then, with a wave goodbye, he turned and jogged after Rodney. "Entertaining?" he asked. "How?"
Rodney put his hands behind his back as he walked, "Did I ever tell you about the crush he had on Dr. Shea?"
Radek's eyes widened. No, he wouldn't! He couldn't! That had been in confidence!
"Rodney!" he shouted, coughing a little because his throat was still sore.
The evil grin Rodney threw him as he and the Colonel left the infirmary made Radek certain of only one thing:
Rodney McKay was going to pay.
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