“Of course. Safety first.” John’s smile wavers slightly and Radek is vividly reminded of strapping John’s arms down in the control chair as Rodney screamed in the background about what had to be done and safety be damned. “You have to tell anyone you’re leaving?”
“It is my name on the door,” Radek says, gesturing expansively at the lab. “They are here to study with me. Because of my unique experiences.”
“Rodney would be in heaven,” John says quietly. He picks up the helmet again, watching as Radek closes down his files and grabs a worn blazer from a closet. “You are just embracing the professor gig, aren’t you?”
Radek looks around at his lab, his expression conflicted. “No. Not especially.”
Radek walks next to John through the halls of the Engineering building. With a gentle hand on the small of Radek’s back, John guides him outside into the bright sunlight. Radek winces, shading his eyes with his hand. It was dark when he got to the lab that morning.
“Here,” John says, holding out a pair of sunglasses. Radek takes them, his fingers brushing against John’s. He puts his glasses in his breast pocket before slipping the sunglasses on, smiling a little at John in thanks. “I got another pair on the bike.”
“Where are we going?” asks Radek, walking down the steps next to John, the sunglasses dimming the light to a comfortable level. Without his glasses though, he is relying on John’s guidance to not fall.
“How do you feel about water these days?” asks John.
Radek involuntarily shivers a little, seeing rising water, hearing the screams of the people around him. John’s hand presses against his spine a little harder and Radek shrugs half-heartedly. “Water is water. It cannot kill me anymore.”
John tilts his head slightly, looking off in the distance. “I don’t remember that part yet.”
Radek winces and hunches his shoulders, guilt rolling over him in waves. “We are surprised you remember your own name. After what I did.”
“Elizabeth filled me in. Well,” John says with a hint of a smile. “About the big stuff at least. She said I agreed to it, so you can stop beating yourself up about it.”
“People died because of what Rodney and I chose to do. Yes, everyone agreed to sit in chair,” Radek says, his voice a hushed whisper. “But still. My hands strapping them down and connecting cables. I – ” He presses his lips together briefly. “You do not remember the screams, the look on their faces afterwards. And then Rodney. And he died.”
“He died months later,” John says quietly.
“He still died because of me. As did many others.” Radek takes off John’s sunglasses, holding them out to him, his hands shaking. “You almost did. And that was enough. I have meeting. I am busy man.”
“I remember us,” John says fiercely, his voice no more than a harsh whisper and his hand closing over Radek’s wrist to stop him from walking away. “I could hear you talk to me even though I had no clue who you were and I felt safe. So just stop. And get on the bike. Please.”
“Tell me the truth, John,” Radek says, meeting his gaze. “Do you still dream in Ancient?”
John lets go of his wrist, his voice tired. “English is my second language but you already knew that because Elizabeth told you.” He rubs his forehead and sighs. “I don’t want to talk about this here. Can we please go somewhere else?”
Radek puts John’s sunglasses back on, steeling himself. “Yes, I suppose we should.”
It has been years since Radek’s been on the back of a motorcycle. When he was fifteen, his best friend Goran had found an old beat-up German bike that they rode all over the place after Radek had tinkered with it to make the engine purr. They would laugh at the girls, show off for the guys, and hide from the police. Just thinking about that time makes Radek smile a little. Being on John's bike is entirely different though and it makes Radek long for the times he spent with Goran.
The wind is colder than he’d anticipated and he wishes he had thought to grab a warmer coat and gloves; instead he tucks his hands into John’s coat to keep warm. He keeps his eyes tightly closed, his legs pressing against the bike and his front against John’s back.
Radek’s been at Caltech for over a year now, but he has no idea how to get anywhere in Pasadena or LA proper. He knows the University, his apartment, and the grocery store. He stays away from the water and pretends the smell of the ocean doesn’t give him nightmares of a city flooding and sinking to the ground. John seems to know where he is going though and Radek wonders how much time John has spent in Pasadena before and why.
The bike slows and John covers Radek’s knee with his hand, squeezing a little. “We’re here.”
Radek opens his eyes and looks around at the fuzzy world. “Where exactly is here?”
John parks the bike before answering. “It’s a cliff. Sort of. Do you remember the cliffs by the Athosian camps down near the lakes?”
“Vaguely,” Radek says as he climbs off the bike, his legs are a bit cramped from the ride. “I mostly stayed at the camp with Halling and the stills whenever I went.”
“It reminds me of the cliffs,” John says as he gets off the bike as well, pulling off his helmet to look at Radek. He holds out his hand. “I’ll take the helmet for you.”
Radek hands it over, taking out his glasses again. It is an easy choice for him – see or have his eyes shaded. It has been entirely too long since he has seen John. Squinting is a small price to pay.
They are very much alone, surrounded by rocks and scrub trees. He can hear waves breaking close by and the smell of salt is heavy in the air. It’s nothing like Atlantis; the sea even smells different, but it’s close enough that Radek is suddenly, achingly, homesick.
“What did the Athosians call the lake?” asks Radek, shifting on his feet in an attempt to loosen up his legs and stop thinking about the place he still considers his home, billions of light-years away and buried under miles of water.
John motions for him to follow, the helmets secured to the bike now. “Teyla called it the Lake of Stars. At night, they were all reflected on the surface.”
“It must have been very pleasing to see,” Radek says as he follows John over the rocks. He slips a little, his uncomfortable dress shoes inadequate for walking on wet rocks. John’s hand wraps around his arm, steadying him. “It has been awhile since I have done more than walk in hallways.”
John’s hand tightens in response and Radek covers John’s hand briefly with his own. “I am not going to break, John.”
“Believe me,” John says quietly. “I know.” He loosens his grip, his hand sliding down to take Radek’s instead.
Radek presses his lips together, his fingers tightening around John’s. He thinks about John’s hands on his body, John’s lips against his own, and shivers. The salt air combines with the feel of John’s hand and Radek aches for Atlantis, for the freedom they had there.
John stops walking and looks out at the water. “We’re here.”
“How did we get here?” asks Radek quietly, standing too close to John. Waves crash against rocks below them and the sun barely reaches where they stand surrounded by rock. He can see John perfectly.
“The last thing I remember is waking up in your quarters, the alarms going off all over Atlantis,” John says quietly. “We ran in different directions. After that, all I remember is waking up in the SGC and not being able to speak or understand English.”
“But you know what happened,” Radek says to him, looking up at John. “You have been fully briefed at this point.”
“Yes. Elizabeth knew all of the official details. Rodney, when lucid, could remember more. Carson - ” John pauses, shifting a little. “You know that Carson has been released?”
Radek nods. “I am kept fully involved in all SGC actions in case I need to be brought in for consulting purposes. There is no one more knowledgeable about Ancient technology than myself. I will never lose my security clearance.”
“I asked about that,” John says. “I didn’t want to have to censor myself around you.”
“If they had told you I did not have clearance, would you have censored yourself?”
John chuckles a little, ducking his head. “No.”
“There is a surprise,” Radek says dryly. “Now what did Dr. Beckett tell you?”
“He said that he helped you and Rodney with the simulations once we determined that the city was not going to survive the Wraith attack and that of the three of you, he was the only one who really thought it would work,” John’s voice is quiet. “Is that true?”
“Yes. Rodney thought it would kill whomever we put in the chair immediately. I thought we would be unable to extract the information we managed to save,” Radek says honestly. “Dr. Beckett was optimistic. He thought the ATA gene would be enough to protect all of you long enough to get you back to Earth and extract the information.”
“He was right,” John reminds him, making Radek tighten his jaw and wish for this conversation to be over.
“Three people out of twenty survived in the end,” Radek says with a shake of his head. “Yes, we saved much of the information from Atlantis, but we lost people we could ill afford to lose. Like Rodney.”
“So it wasn’t worth it to you?” John says as he sits down on one of the rocks, squirming to find a comfortable position.
Radek lets out a heavy sigh and sits down next to him. “We have knowledge, yes, but we cannot do anything with that knowledge. I’d much rather be without the knowledge and have Rodney.” He looks at John, his eyes shadowed. “And to have spent the last two years with you.”
“That was your choice,” John says, his voice tinged with anger that Radek understands completely. Radek had left a letter and asked Elizabeth to explain as best she could without understanding Radek’s reasons for leaving. “I didn’t ask you to leave.”
“You were in a coma for almost eight months, John. We had no way of knowing if you would wake up. No one had yet.” Radek hunches over and wraps his arms around his knees, his voice miserable. “We hooked everyone to computers and Ancient machines and got the information we needed. I had done my part and killed seventeen people in the process. I had enough.”
“You didn’t want to watch me die,” John murmurs.
“No,” Radek says loudly, angry that John is so wrong about his reasons for leaving. “I did not want to watch you live like that any longer. What was I to say? That is my lover over there. He would not want to live like this so can we please turn off machines? Honestly, John.”
John doesn’t answer him, just puts his sunglasses back on. Radek knows that John is ignoring him now, knows the less than subtle cues John gives out when he doesn’t like what he’s being told. John looks at the water for a long time before reaching over to take Radek’s hand in his own. Radek squeezes John’s hand, wondering if the conversation is finally over.
“I heard they tracked down my father,” John says quietly. “And he relinquished all legal rights to act as my next of kin to Elizabeth.”
“Yes,” says Radek sadly. “And she was not going to take you off the machines. She is an optimist.”
“And you’re a realist?”
“My wife died of cancer almost ten years ago now and I watched it happen. I had to leave my daughter with my sister-in-law so I could go to America to work for your government so I could support her because teaching did not pay well enough in the Czech Republic,” Radek says softly. “I have not seen her in nine years and I do not expect to see her again. So you see, I have lost too much already. I couldn’t sit around and wait to lose you as well so I made a choice to walk away.”
John nods a little and exhales slowly. “You want me to go away?”
“Were you planning on staying here?” asks Radek, his expression disbelieving.
Radek presses his lips together and shakes his head. “You are the most frustrating man.”
“No, that was Rodney,” John says easily. “But I did learn from him.”
“Even Rodney would not have assumed I would take him in just because he showed up on my doorstep.” Radek sighs a little and squeezes John’s hand. “What are you going to do here?”
“I’ll figure something out,” John says simply. “Look, I’m free for the first time in my life. I’m not in the Air Force anymore and I can speak English again. I got a clean bill of health and I only very rarely see the schematics for a dead city behind my eyelids when I sleep.”
“Well, that is a good thing.” Radek gives him a tight smile. “Very well. You may stay with me.”
John grins widely and pushes his sunglasses onto his forehead. Radek knows now he is forgiven for leaving – at least superficially. “I knew you’d say yes.”
“We have a lot to talk about before I let you sleep anywhere but my spare room,” Radek says, stealing a glimpse at his watch. “I must go back. I have two doctoral candidates coming for a meeting. I can’t be late. I have been working on how to insult them as well as Rodney would have while still being supportive of their admittedly unimaginative efforts.”
John gets to his feet. “Then let’s get you back, Dr. Zelenka. I wouldn’t want to make you late for your meeting with the peons lest they rise up and overthrow the McKay-created overlord.”
Radek rolls his eyes. “I see the coma did nothing for your sense of humor.”
“I thought you liked my jokes.”
“I lied,” Radek says and takes John’s arm as they walk away from the water and back to the bike. “Thank you.”
John looks over at him, an eyebrow raised. “For what?”
“The motorcycle ride,” Radek says, reaching for the sunglasses again. He slips his glasses off and replaces them with the sunglasses, grinning at John. “It has been many years since I have been on a bike. Remind me later to tell you of my misspent youth in Prague.”