Mirrored In The Visible
Big Bang 2009.   Anything goes.
On a mission gone wrong, Lorne and Zelenka have a bonding experience. Back on Atlantis, they have to decide if what they're feeling is just a surface attraction or a hint of something deeper that's mirrored in the visible.
Word Count
40566 words
This story has warnings; they are listed at the end of the story.
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Evan surveyed his team from the cockpit of jumper four, his favorite. Saunders was making a last adjustment to his tac vest, and Harris was ready and waiting, quietly muttering over the navigation console. Evan had asked once what he was saying, since it didn't seem to be a prayer, and the lieutenant had flushed as he admitted he liked to recite lines from Die Hard to himself before going through the gate.

They seemed to be in order except for their missing scientist. Doc Z was usually pretty punctual, but he was probably arguing with McKay again about why he had to go on this mission. He hated going off world so much, but at least that made him easier to keep track of than some of the other scientists, who had the unfortunate tendency to get caught up in new discoveries and wander away from their escorts.

A moment later, before the door even opened to the jumper bay, Evan heard raised voices that had to be McKay and Zelenka. Nobody else around the city managed quite that volume on an average day, although Evan had heard a couple of people come close when yelling at Doc Kavanaugh. Evan walked down to the back of the jumper.

"—deliberately planned your mission so you would not have to go on this one!"

"Excuse me, it is of vital importance that I accompany my team on this mission to…" McKay snapped his fingers at Sheppard, who was trailing behind them.

"Veth Ker," Sheppard supplied.

Zelenka made a noise of disgust. "You cannot even remember where you are going."

"I remember it's not back to Sedii, because that's where you're going, and that's that."

Zelenka threw his hands up in frustration and started yelling in Czech while McKay talked over him.

"Major," Sheppard said from beside the ramp with a 'Scientists. What're ya gonna do?' eye roll.

"Sir." Evan nodded. "We're ready as soon as Dr Zelenka's on board."

Sheppard thumped the side of the jumper. "Radek, let's go. Shake a tail feather."

Scowling at McKay, Zelenka stomped into the jumper and took the seat behind Evan's. Saunders and Harris followed him in and settled into the other two seats.

"Right," Sheppard said. "This should be a simple in-and-out. The Tirin are pretty laid-back, and they know you're coming to examine that control panel. We'll be waiting for your check-in at 1300 if you're not home by then, so don't scratch the car, and if the lady says no, she means no. Have fun, kids."

Evan snorted. "Right, sir." He waited until Sheppard stepped away from the jumper, then he closed the hatched and made his way up front. He clapped Zelenka on the shoulder as he passed. "Good to have you, Doc."

Zelenka grumbled something at him in Czech.

"I know what you mean, Doc," he replied cheerfully as he ran through the last few steps of pre-flight and radioed the gate room. "Jumper seven is ready to go."

"Have a safe trip, gentlemen," Dr. Weir replied.

Evan brought them up in front of the gate, and a moment later, the puddle was rippling in front of them. Zelenka started muttering to himself, and Saunders was discreetly crossing himself when Evan glanced to his right. He might have imagined hearing Harris saying, "Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker."

Upon setting the jumper down on Sedii, Evan's team was almost immediately greeted with a small party of delegates. They wore light, loose clothes, and Evan could understand why when he stepped out. The air was heavy with humidity that made him feel weighed down in his uniform within moments. It reminded him of visiting his mother's side of the family down South.

"Welcome, Lanteans," a tall, red-headed woman said, stepping forward. "We are greatly pleased to meet you. I am Gela lin Shur, Cultural Envoy for the city of Elis Tirin."

"Major Evan Lorne. I'm Col. Sheppard's second in command," he said. He bowed to her slightly with his hands over his heart, a deferential greeting Teyla had instructed him to use.

Gela smiled broadly. "Come. We will continue our introductions at the Pavilion, and you may break your fast with us before you begin your work."

"Sounds very nice, ma'am."

Sheppard's team had been here a couple of weeks ago for the annual sun festival. Gela was an old acquaintance of Teyla's, and the potential for trade was promising. During the celebrations, McKay had noticed a power signature coming from nearby and tracked it to a cave in the mountains near the city. Inside, he'd found an Ancient console in a half-collapsed room and was excited until it seemingly turned out to be just a database of technical details they'd seen before and cultural information that he'd found uninteresting. That meant someone else got to come back to study it, and that someone turned out to be Zelenka, which in turn meant that Evan was on escort.

He still wasn't sure why McKay had sent Doc Z instead of an anthropologist. It might have just been that Zelenka had beaten him at chess again the day before and McKay had felt like being petty about losing.

Elis Tirin was a fairly large city in comparison to the places they usually made contact with. It was far enough from the gate that the Wraith couldn't stop by for a dine and dash the way they preferred, so it hadn't been culled very often. That had allowed them to grow and progress to a level about on par with what Evan had read about Hoff.

The simple but elegant structures reminded Evan of Tuscan architecture. Most of them appeared to sport something like stucco and wrought iron, with lots of wide archways and plenty of shaded patios to provide respite from the heat. The most common building material seemed to be a pale green stone, and the streets and footpaths were a whitish cobblestone. The people wore loose, lightweight clothing mostly in the same pastels as the buildings, giving even the busy streets an idyllic quality.

The Pavilion was bustling when they arrived, the bottom level packed with citizens and travelers eating at long rows of tables and benches along the side walls or lounging in the square at the center. Stalls along the back wall served different foods.

"I hope you don't mind, but for the sake of time, I asked that a private buffet be prepared for us this morning," Gela told them. "You'll still get a chance to try several of the unique dishes that the city offers."

She led them to the second floor, to a table on a balcony that overlooked the square. From there, the square's elaborate mosaic floor was fully visible, showing a design of what Gela said was a series of defining moments from Tirin historical eras. She took the head of their table, and her party sat at her left, leaving the better view for Evan's team. At Gela's prompting, they went around the table with introductions.

The two men were Dyas and Gela's brother Ged, and they would guide the team up to the cave where McKay had found the control panel. The women, Hel and Nora, were apparently something like a cross between a P.A. and a bodyguard, and they attended Gela day and night.

After Evan introduced Saunders, Harris, and Zelenka, Gela gave them a quick explanation of the dishes on the table. Water fowl with a tart fruit sauce, hot rolls filled with sweet cream, an egg dish similar to an omelet, and plenty of fruit. Motioning to the plates in front of them, square on one end and rounded on the other, she said, "Please, feel free to serve yourselves as you like."

"Thank you for having us," Evan said as the group began to serve themselves. "I'd love to paint this view someday."

"You're an artist? How wonderful. My grandmother was a painter and my grandfather a sculptor." Gela reached toward him, and for a second Evan was afraid she was going to grab his hand, but she only picked up a bowl of fruit sauce. "I would like to see your work some time, Major. Perhaps if you have the time one day, you'd like return to Elis Tirin to visit our galleries?"

"Yeah, that would be really great," Evan said as he dug in to his breakfast. He hadn't gotten many chances to see art in Pegasus. So many worlds here were hostile to them, and their cultures were closed to the Lanteans. Besides that, many of the peoples whose planets had been devastated by the Wraith lived with so much focus on survival that their art was often muted and expressed in functional items. While Evan had an appreciation for the beauty of a painted serving bowl or embroidered cuff on a jacket, he sometimes missed going to the galleries and museums back on Earth.

The conversation moved on to his marines discussing security with Hel and Nora, and Evan listened with half an ear while he ate. After a few minutes, Zelenka nudged his foot slightly, and Evan glanced up.

"I would like to apologize for my attitude earlier," he said. "I have not had good experiences in leaving the city."

"Don't worry about it, Doc. It gets hard to go, sometimes, when you're expecting to be shot at, ambushed, kidnapped…" He waved his free hand in an 'et cetera, et cetera' gesture.

Zelenka nodded. "Your lack of self-preservation is appreciated," he said dryly.

Evan grinned. "As is your tireless struggle against the forces of McKay."

"It is a difficult job, but someone must do it."

Once they were finished eating, Gela asked Dyas and Ged to brief Evan's team on the caves they were going to. It was low on the mountain, clearly made by the Ancients' hands, but connected to the natural cave system. The room had had a partial cave-in at some point during the millennia since it was built, and the console had been excavated a few years ago. No one had done anything with it, though, Dyas said, because they couldn't operate it.

When McKay and Sheppard had started fiddling with it, of course, it had miraculously begun working. Gela had been thrilled, and she was pleased to allow them to examine it further as long as they shared their findings.

Evan was a little nervous about the apparent lack of ATA users here—he'd been kidnapped for his gene more than enough, thanks—but Gela appeared to be genuinely interested only in the purpose of the console and the information it contained. The people of Elis Tirin didn't appear to obsessively worship the Ancients like so many other Pegasus cultures did.

They also didn't have a leader who needed the gene passed down, thank God. Evan did not want to go through that mess like Sheppard had.

"If you're ready, Major, it should be a favorable time of day to make your way to the caves. Dyas and Ged will make sure you have everything you need before you depart."

"That sounds good," Evan agreed, and he gestured to Zelenka. "Ready, Doc?"

"As I will ever be, I suppose," Zelenka said, standing. Turning to Gela, he added, "Thank you for a lovely meal, Envoy lin Shur."

She tipped her head to him slightly. "You're very welcome, Doctor Zelenka. I hope you find your journey well worth your time."

With that, the team departed behind their guides. Dyas stopped by the locker where they'd stowed their gear and redistributed their belongings to them, and Ged picked up Zelenka's tools. They led Evan's team back out of the city and along a footpath into the mountains.

The weather was still muggy and oppressive, but a swathe of fluffy, pinkish clouds blocked most of the direct sunlight from them. Evan was glad for the extra water they'd brought on Sheppard's recommendation. They'd need all of it, as much as they were likely to be sweating by the time they were done.

Aside from the heat and humidity, the walk was surprisingly pleasant. The plants were in bloom around them, heavy with flowers and big, glossy leaves. McKay had hated it, claiming it all overwhelmed his sensitive immune system and left him sniffling and sneezing everywhere. Granted, he had looked pretty miserable when the team came back through the gate, but McKay always looked miserable about something. Personally, Evan thought it was beautiful. He hoped to get the opportunity to come back and at least take some pictures to work from.

When they reached the cave, the temperature dropped almost immediately at the entrance. Evan resisted the urge to tug his collar out and let some of the cooler air in.

"The console is just inside the first room," Dyas said. "We have determined the rock to be stable, but please be careful."

"I will accompany you inside to observe, if you don't mind answering some questions as you go," Ged said. "Gela and I will be curating an exhibit of the Ancestors' artifacts soon, and she wishes to include as much information from this site as is possible."

Zelenka nodded. "Yes, that is fine. I will tell you what you wish to know as long as you do not interfere with my process."


He and Ged proceeded into the cave, and Evan kept one eye on them as he instructed Harris and Saunders to stand guard outside and patrol the area. Dyas elected to stay with them.

The corridor to the console room was lit every few meters by dim, purplish lights attached to the walls. Beneath them grew thick patches of moss, which Ged informed them was actually quite delicious. It was cultivated in caves and made into salads and desserts.

"Of course," Ged said, "I much prefer it blended with ice milk, the way my mother made it when I was a child. There is something to be said for the flavors of our youth."

Zelenka nodded. "My mother's kolače. It's a, um, it's a type of filled pastry. Sometimes savory, but usually with sweet fillings."

"My mom's banana pudding," Evan offered. "Never lasted more than a day, we'd eat it so fast."

They fell silent again, and a slightly brighter light appeared ahead, indicating the entrance to the console room. As soon as they stepped into the room, the familiar buzz of Ancient technology settled under Evan's skin. Zelenka motioned him forward.

"If you will initialize the console, Major?"

Ged looked between them. "You can't turn it on, Doctor Zelenka?"

"No, unfortunately. I do not have the Ancient gene and therefore do not have the ability to operate certain pieces of technology without assistance." He smiled briefly at Evan. "The Major has been subjected to 'light switch duty,' as they call it, rather often."

He returned his attention to the display that lit up above the console, and he made a pleased noise.

"See anything interesting, Doc?" Evan asked as he walked the perimeter of the room.

"Rodney was correct that this database seems mainly to be centered on ancient Sediin culture. Much of what I am seeing so far is about the original Elis Tirin settlement, specifically," he said as he flicked quickly through pages and menus.

Zelenka continued browsing for a while, answering Ged's occasional questions or talking quietly to himself as he made notes on his tablet. Evan heard things like 'animal taxonomy' and 'bi-lunar calendar' when he tuned in to the conversation. After a long stretch of silence, there was a sudden exclamation in rapid-fire Czech, followed by English.

"I cannot believe that Rodney did not dig deep enough to find this. He will be very angry with himself when I tell him." He sounded rather smug.

"What'd you find, Zelenka?" Evan asked, coming up behind him.

"Rodney went through most of the top levels of the database's menus, but he did not bother investigating the sub menus of anything that did not interest him or seem promising. He does this, you know?" He waved a hand dismissively. "Thinks that much of the cultural information is soft science, unworthy of his time."

Yeah, that sounded just like McKay. "So what did he miss?"

"It is a schematic for what seems to be a drive that would create large-scale wormholes for travel without gates." Zelenka shoved his glasses up absently. "It was buried in the information about the Ancients' mining operations here, as they originally used it to transport large loads to the surface, but that was only the testing period."

"Did they get it out of testing? And how large a scale are we talking, here?" Evan asked.

"They were hoping to use it to transport ships. Even cities," he said meaningfully. "They abandoned their tests because at the larger scale, the power requirements were too great and the system was often unstable. But the potential applications of this…" He gestured wildly. "It is amazing what we could do with this information if we could get it to work."

Evan clapped him on the back and said, "That's great, Doc," but Zelenka's attention was already back on the console. He was hooking his laptop up to it and attaching an external hard drive to download the relevant sections of the database so they could study them back on Atlantis. McKay would probably have a stroke when he saw it, if Evan understood Zelenka's train of thought right.

"May I ask what you're so excited about, Doctor Zelenka?" Ged inquired.

Evan had almost forgotten the man was there. He seemed to fade into the background like some of the less excitable scientists did in Atlantis, overshadowed by their colleagues' more… vivid personalities.

"Please, call me Radek," Zelenka told Ged as his fingers flew over the keyboard.

"All right. Radek," he repeated, testing the sound. "If it's not too bold to say, your name and your speech are quite different from the other Lanteans'."

"I am from a different country on our world, very far away from theirs," Zelenka said.

Ged angled himself a little closer into Zelenka's space. "Perhaps you could tell me about it later? I'm fascinated by foreign cultures," he said in a way that made his interest in 'foreign cultures' sound depraved. It reminded Evan of a few guys he'd known who had looked at Asian girls like they were walking, breathing sex toys or something, like they were possessed of some quality that made them more desirable but less real than other women.

When Zelenka looked up in surprise and edged back, Evan found himself stepping between them. He shot Ged a tight smile and made a show of checking his watch.

"Why don't we break for lunch, Doc?" he suggested. "You've been at it quite a while, and we'll need to check in with Atlantis soon."

"Ah, thank you, Major," Zelenka said, shooting Evan a grateful look. "I had lost track of the time."

From the corner of his eye, Evan saw Ged deflate. "Hey, you're making fascinating new discoveries. It happens."

Zelenka disconnected his equipment and let Evan shut down the console while he packed up. As they turned to leave the room, Evan stuck close to him, leaving Ged to trail behind in the narrow corridor.

Outside, Dyas greeted them and opened up one of the supply boxes they'd brought along to set out a lunch spread for them. "Gela insisted," he said by way of explanation.

Ged nodded. "She is very proud of our culture and enjoys sharing it with guests in whatever ways she can."

He still kept eying Zelenka, who wasn't at all casual about taking a seat next to Evan on a short section of log. The food was as good as what they'd had at breakfast, and everyone focused in on their meals with little chatter. Evan pretended like he didn't notice Ged's frequent looks or that he kept staring at where Evan's thigh was flush with Zelenka's from hip to knee so they could both fit on the log. He caught a couple of glances from Harris and Saunders, too, but they were too well trained to say anything about it.

Not here, anyway. It still didn't rule out the possibility of gossip spreading around Atlantis the second they got back.

After they finished and everyone was clearing up, Ged pulled Evan aside.

"I would like to apologize to you, Major," he said with a sort of stiff formality in his tone and posture. "I would never have pressed my advances on Doctor Zelenka if I had realized that you and he were… together."

Well. "You didn't really have any way of knowing," Evan said. He wasn't at all enthusiastic about going down this path, but he couldn't really back out of it without leaving Zelenka in the lurch or causing an unfortunate diplomatic incident. "It's not really a good idea in my military to put relationships out in the open, especially on missions."

"I understand." He definitely didn't.

"Apology accepted. No hard feelings, right?"

Ged shot a longing look at Zelenka. "You are a very lucky man, Major."

Evan looked over at Zelenka, too, and for a second he saw what Ged must be seeing: an attractive, driven man with a sharp mind and a charismatic personality. Evan had heard a lot of gossip, wondering why Zelenka didn't date or even have a fuck-buddy, and he'd wondered once or twice, himself. He was a good man, and whoever got him would be pretty lucky. Which, at the moment, seemed to be Evan. "Yeah, I am."

And that was when the shooting started.

Before any of them knew what was happening, Harris was on the ground in a growing pool of blood. Something not unlike a crossbow bolt protruded from his neck. Evan had his P-90 in hand immediately, and he grabbed for Zelenka when Saunders fired into the tree line to the west.

"Get down, Doc!" Evan shoved Zelenka toward a large hunk of rock by the cave's mouth that would provide some cover. He threw himself behind a smaller rock and wedged himself as far back as he could. He caught a glimpse of movement to the east and fired at it as a bolt landed in Ged's thigh. To Dyas he yelled, "What the hell's going on here?"

"Ket Sediin," he said, color draining from his face.

"I'm gonna need a little more explanation than that, Dyas."

"They're a fanatic cult," Ged said from the ground, gasping in pain. "From far on the other side of the mountains." He snatched up his sidearm, a telescoping staff that fired energy blasts not unlike Ronon's gun, and fired at what must have been the one who shot him.

Dyas aimed his own staff at the trees and fired haphazardly. "They're not supposed to be this far east. They never leave their side of the mountains."

Evan caught a good shot at one of their assailants and took him down. He managed to get a shot of his own off before he fell, and the bolt came uncomfortably close to Evan's boot. "Why are they attacking us?"

"No women," Ged said. "They don't approve of groups of men that travel without any women. They worship their females and believe that feminine energy is necessary to keep males in balance."

"Or what?"

"Or imbalance becomes impurity and offends their gods."

A fresh wave of fire came from several directions at once, taking out Ged and Saunders. Dyas dropped his staff and fell to his knees, hands in the air.

"Please, spare us!" he called. A single bolt shot out of the foliage and pierced his forehead. Evan's stomach heaved as a thin trickle of blood slid down Dyas's face for several long seconds before he slumped over.

"Come out, outsiders," a voice shouted from somewhere to the right. "Leave your weapons on the ground."

Evan gritted his teeth and tried to figure their odds of escape.

"Now, outsider!" the voice demanded. "If you do not come out immediately, we will not make your punishment a quick one."

Evan punched the rock and unclipped his P-90, setting it out where the men could see it. Next to it, he set his Beretta and, reluctantly, his survival knife, then he stood. "You okay, Zelenka?" he asked, finally taking a look at him.

"I am unharmed, Major," Zelenka confirmed, a slight waver in his voice betraying his composure. He rose carefully, keeping his hands in view. He stepped out next to Evan, and they waited.

After a few moments, seven Ket Sediin stepped out of the trees. Six males and one female, all wearing leathers in dark shades of brown and green to blend with the plant life. They formed a semi-circle in front of Evan and Zelenka. They all had cross bow-like weapons, and they had all the potential escape routes neatly blocked off. Evan was going to have to go along with them and hope they would give him an opportunity to at least get Zelenka away.

One of the men on the right stepped forward. "You have committed a grave offense against Jokok and Xebet, Outsider. You travel without the balance of a female in your party. For this sin, you must be punished." He gestured at two of the others. "Take them."

They had barely started forward when a burst of gunfire came from beside them and took out the woman and two of the men. Everyone else turned in shock, and Evan saw Saunders propped up on his elbows, grinning with blood-stained teeth.

"Better get going, sir," he rasped just before he fired on the Ket Sediin again. Two more crumpled to the ground as Evan grabbed Zelenka's arm.

"Go, go, go, go!" he shouted, shoving Zelenka in front of him.

No more gunfire came as they pelted down the path, and when Evan risked a look back, the two remaining Ket Sediin were hot on their heels. Both seemed to have lost their weapons, at least, which gave him and Zelenka that much more of a chance. Evan spared a second to thank God that Zelenka was in good shape.

There was a section of rock coming up that Evan remembered from the trip up. Dyas had told him it had a narrow channel all the way through it that led to a lower leg of the path about a hundred meters away, and those small enough to squeeze through sometimes used it as a shortcut. If he could get Zelenka through…

The opening of the channel was around a corner, and as soon as they rounded it, Evan called out, "Doc, over here!" and pulled Zelenka toward it. "Can you get through here?" he asked breathlessly.

"I think so." He eyed the space. "But you—"

"Don't worry about me. Just get out of here and back to the jumper. Radio Atlantis. Move it!"

Zelenka looked sick to do it, but he slid between the slabs of rock just as their pursuers rounded the bend. Evan took off down the path again, but his legs had gone to rubber as soon as he'd stopped. The next thing he knew, he was face first in the dirt with two hundred pounds of pissed off cultist on his back. Then the guy slammed something into the back of Evan's head, and everything went black.

When he came around, the first thing Evan registered was the throbbing at the base of his skull.

The second thing he noticed was that he was mostly naked, and whatever he was wearing definitely was not part of his uniform, unless he'd somehow forgotten that the Atlantis uniform had changed to include a kilt and handcuffs.

After a few minutes, he managed to crack an eye open just enough to get a sense of his surroundings. He couldn't see much, but what he could see was illuminated in pale purple. Another cave, then. He looked around as much as he could without moving his head, to make sure there wasn't anyone standing immediately around him. Once he was sure there wasn't, he opened both eyes and took a better look.

The room he was in seemed fairly spacious, and the entrance was hidden in shadow, no light coming through anywhere but from the moss lights on the walls. This was one of the natural caves, as well, featuring the delicate stalactites and stalagmites formed by natural erosion rather than the calculated smoothness of constructed walls that the Ancients had preferred.

Evan himself was lying on a slab of stone, hands shackled above his head and his ankles strapped down. He looked down at himself and saw that he wasn't really wearing much of anything, just a long piece of cloth that appeared to be red draped over his hips. His skin was covered in painted designs, tribal markings in sharp angles and sprawling curls.

Footsteps echoed into the room from somewhere behind his head. Quickly, Evan closed his eyes and focused on keeping his breath steady and body relaxed. He was still alive, and as long as he was, there was still a chance he could get out of this.

"Wake up, outsider," a new voice said just before what felt like a bucket full of water came down in Evan's face.

He coughed and gasped. It was almost like drowning, for a second, water trickling into his nose and mouth. When he opened his eyes again, two men stood over him. One was unfamiliar, but the other had been one of the ones chasing him down the mountain.

This was the one who spoke next. "Not only have you spit in the face of our most holy of gods, Jokok, and his consort, Xebet, but you have murdered in cold blood five of their most devoted priests. For this, you must be purified and sacrificed to restore the reputation of the Ket Sediin, most holy of Sedii's children." He drew back a hand and dealt Evan a clean blow to the jaw.

Evan's head snapped to the side, and he tasted blood. "You punish people who have no idea they're doing anything wrong?" he asked.

"Ignorance is no excuse for sin," he replied. "It is Jokok's will that all those who oppose him be eliminated, that his glory may engulf the land."

"Doesn't sound very glorious when the opponents don't get a rulebook and a fighting chance."

"Silence!" The man hit Evan again, in the mouth, this time. "Your fighting chance will come when it is Xebet's turn to judge your soul." He made a sharp gesture to his companion. "Make sure the outsider remains quiet, Kagra."

Evan tensed at the cruel smile that crossed Kagra's face.

"It will be my honor, Jeket," he said, leering down at Evan. "I'll shut the sinner's mouth."

Jeket seized Kagra's wrist before he could touch Evan. "He is to be purified tonight. Do not defile him further with your sickness."

Kagra growled at him and yanked his arm away.

"After all," Jeket added, eying Evan appraisingly, "the gods will be as pleased with this one sacrifice as with two. You can have the other one when we find him."

Evan snarled, straining against his bonds, but he kept his mouth shut. Zelenka should've had plenty of time to get back to the jumper and call for help. Elis Tirin was right at the foot of the mountain, and the jumper was close to the city. He must have made it by now.

Kagra came toward him again, this time with a length of cloth in hand that had been tucked in his belt. He dug his fingers into Evan's face until he opened his mouth and the gag slid into place. He made sure to pull it tight when he tied it off.

Evan could hear Jeket moving around somewhere behind him. There was a series of completely uncomforting clanks and thumps, then the priest reappeared on Evan's left. He had another length of red cloth over one arm, and both hands were full with what looked like ritual tools.

Jeket had Kagra spread the cloth on the ground next to the stone slab, then he laid out all of his tools. A mortar and pestle, a wicked-looking knife, a few small cloth sacks, and a flask passed by Evan's line of sight one by one. Jeket knelt on the ground to begin work. He began mumbling under his breath as he raised each sack over his head in turn, opening them and dumping them into the mortar. After the last one was emptied, he poured in a measure of whatever liquid was in the vial, then he set to grinding it all together. The smell coming from it was sickly sweet and made Evan gag when he caught it.

The grinding seemed to go on for a long time before Jeket was satisfied with his concoction. Evan tried to stare up at the blackness above him instead of watching the preparations, knowing that it wouldn't be any better to see what they planned to do to him beforehand. He couldn't help looking back down, though, when Jeket raised the knife. He poured more of the liquid over it, making it gleam a little brighter in the pale moss light.

That must have been all he needed to do, because he picked up the mortar and knife again and stood. Evan was sort of perversely disappointed that he wasn't even going to get a long, complicated ritual out of the Ket Sediin. Not that he wanted to drag things out any longer than necessary, but it was a let-down in a way when all the preparation consisted of was a couple of muttered chants and a no-bake recipe.

Jeket set the mortar on the slab between Evan's feet. The knife, he handed to Kagra. "Jokok and Xebet," he intoned, "I seek your forgiveness for the transgressions of this heathen scum. Grant me the clarity and grace to purify his flesh in your names, and take this sacrifice as a humble offering of your most devoted servants."

Evan almost rolled his eyes at the speech. Would have if he hadn't been watching Kagra fondling the knife like he couldn't wait to get started.

"Kagra, you may begin the ritual."

It was only thanks to the gag that Evan didn't scream the room down a moment later. Kagra dug the knife into his side and dragged it up and around in a swirl. He did it again, branching off the first loop, and again off that one. The pattern grew outward, up Evan's ribs, down his chest and stomach, over his thighs. It was only Jeket's intervention that made the process the least bit bearable. After the first few cuts, he stayed Kagra's hand and made him cut less deeply. If Evan bled too much this early, it would ruin the ritual.

The wounds burned like nothing Evan could name, worse than the time he'd accidentally set his arm against the edge of his mother's still-hot iron as a child, worse than catching barehanded a pan he dropped as he took it out of the oven. He thought through the haze of pain that it must be because of whatever was in the flask. No ordinary knife felt like this.

Jeket began muttering again as Kagra finished the cutting. There was no overly dramatic speech before the next portion of the process, only a gruff order for Kagra to give him back the knife and step away. Jeket dipped the fingers of his right hand into the mixture in the mortar, and he stepped up to the other end of the slab. His hand traced new lines over Evan's face, straight here and swirling there, dots pressed along his temple.

This pattern took longer to grow. Moving steadily down along Evan's body, Jeket carefully painted over and between the lines that Kagra had carved into him, expanding the images in some places, highlighting in others. Evan lost track of time. The adrenaline rush from the pain had faded entirely too long ago, and he was floating now in a trance-like state of agony.

It wasn't until Jeket's muttering got louder that he roused from his stupor. The priest had made his way down to Evan's feet, and the painting was over. Kagra stepped forward again by Evan's head, knife in hand. The sight made Evan's heart lurch in fear. This was going to be how he died, strapped down to a rock and carved up by a religious nut from another galaxy? But Kagra only held the knife up like an offering as Jeket lifted the mortar at the other end.

Together, they said, "Jokok, we submit this creature of flesh and sin to your divine assessment. Xebet, we ferry this weak human soul to your judgment, to be found guilty or innocent of wrongdoing."

Kagra sheathed the knife at his belt, and Jeket poured the remains of the paint concoction on the stone. Evan could hear it drip onto the floor.

"Gather the supplies and find Zedrig. We will need him for the final component of the ritual," Jeket ordered Kagra.

"We don't need Zedrig. I can finish this myself, Jeket." Kagra threw the materials together and wrapped the altar cloth around them haphazardly. "You are not the Ket Drem of the sect, and we have both been trained for this. You know that it can be done just as well with two as it can with three."

Jeket glared. "And with Breged gone, I have seniority over you. You were only ranked my equal because you were relation to her, but now my word is your law until we return to the enclave. Go find Zedrig."

Kagra stalked across the room and spat on the ground at Jeket's feet before he turned and left. Jeket gritted his teeth, seething. It was enough to give Evan a glimmer of hope that he might be able to turn them against each other as a distraction. He probably couldn't get far, but if he could get away at all, there was a chance he could find a hiding place to wait it out in.

A few minutes later, Kagra returned with a third man. Evan wasn't able to see his face under the hood of his robe, and it unnerved him.

"Jokok and Xebet will be pleased with this one," he said to Jeket and Kagra. He traced light fingers over the swirls of paint and blood drying on Evan's stomach. "He has been made very pure."

"Thank you, Zedrig," Jeket said, bowing low. Kagra reluctantly mimicked the gesture. "He is ready for the final stage."

"Kagra, you will bring him to the altar," Zedrig said. "Jeket, you will stand witness to the sacrificial fire."

Jeket bowed again. "I will bear the honor proudly."

"As proudly as I will bear the burden," Kagra said, unfastening Evan's restraints. When they were all undone except the gag, he unceremoniously scooped Evan into his arms and headed toward the door.

Evan almost vomited on himself both from the fresh bursts of pain and from the unsteady motion of Kagra's gait. His stomach roiled, and he dry-heaved once, tongue pushing against the fabric in his mouth. He fought back the worst of the nausea only by a hair, desperately trying to keep it down until he could get the gag out. Asphyxiation on his stomach's contents was actually sounding worse than whatever the Ket Sediin had planned.

They took a long, twisting path through a series of cave corridors. Some were lit better than others, but there were still no identifying features that Evan could use to get himself back out if he got away. He finally closed his eyes and tried to focus on breathing slow and steady. He had to stay as calm as he could, had to keep a clear head just in case. Well, for whatever value of 'clear' he could have at the moment.

A subtle change in the quality of the light made him open his eyes again, and he saw that they were coming to an opening to the outside. That boded better for him than staying inside the cave system.

Zedrig gestured toward a path through the brush. "The altar has been prepared. Kagra, you will bear the sacrifice at the head of the procession."

Kagra dipped his head in acknowledgement and started forward again. He went more slowly now, and Evan tried to get a solid idea of their surroundings in his head. There weren't very many landmarks that he could make out, and what was there was difficult to analyze in the weak moonlight. He thought he saw one or two promising avenues of escape branching from the path as they went further down, though, so he built a mental map to the best of his ability.

They reached the altar site several minutes later. It was in a slight dip in the side of the mountain, a bowl of rock carved out where perhaps it had once been struck by a meteor or a crashed ship.

At the center of the site was a tall, wooden post ringed by rocks. It looked new but sturdy, and Evan wondered if the Ket Sediin had been planning to make a sacrifice all along, or if maybe they had been doing this more often than Gela's people thought.

"Set him there and lash him to the post," Zedrig ordered.

Kagra propped Evan up against the post and bound his hands behind it with a wide strip of leather. He removed the gag before he stepped away, handing the damp cloth to Zedrig. He took it but made no other moves. He only stared at Kagra until he scuttled away.

"Witness, come forward."

Jeket hurried toward them. "The witness takes his honor with pride and gravity."

"Take your seat before the sacrifice." Zedrig pointed at a flat rock slightly to the side of the post. He took a vial from his belt and approached Evan. The liquid inside was a sickly yellow. "You will find a great release in giving yourself to the greatest of gods," he said as he unstoppered it.

Evan clenched his jaw. He couldn't reach the knot on his bonds, and he wouldn't be able to force his way out of the leather. Whatever they had planned, Evan would have to endure.

For the second time that night, his mouth was forced open. Zedrig poured the contents of the vial in, then held his mouth and nose shut until he was forced to swallow. The liquid was flavorless, but it burned on the way down and scorched the lining of his stomach. Within a couple of minutes, Evan could feel it weighing down his limbs and disconnecting his mind from his body. A wave of dizziness made him clutch at the post for balance.

"Jokok and Xebet," Zedrig said, sounding far away, "your humble servants offer you this holy sacrifice." He pulled some sort of leather glove over his right hand. When he held up his palm, a disturbingly familiar oval of metal teeth gleamed up from it.

Wraith worshippers. The bastards were Wraith worshippers.

Jeket and Kagra both let out quiet moans when Zedrig reached toward Evan with the glove.

"You will take him down. Now."

The four of them looked up in surprise. No one had heard him coming down into the crater, but there Zelenka stood at the edge of the circle, a Beretta trained on Zedrig. Evan didn't think it was a drug-induced hallucination, which filled him with both relief and fear. He wasn't exactly looking forward to seeing how the sacrifice ended, but Zelenka should've been safely back in Atlantis, not charging in to try to save him.

He'd never known Zelenka to participate in any but the mandatory gun training courses, receiving passable but by no means remarkable scores, and both Jeket and Kagra were skilled with their cross bows. Not to mention that they had a marginal home field advantage. But Zelenka held steady, face grim and determined.

"Take him down," he repeated slowly when no one moved.

Jeket stood and started forward, and Zelenka calmly swung the gun around to him.

"I would not recommend that. I possess more than enough ammunition to incapacitate all of you, and I am a very good shot."

Kagra took up one of the Tirin's staves, let out a yell, and ran at Zelenka. He crumpled abruptly when Zelenka shot him in the knee. Zedrig stripped off his Wraith glove and took the cross bow from his belt, aiming at Zelenka while Jeket went for the staff that Kagra had dropped. Zelenka shot each of them in the shoulder, first Zedrig, then Jeket. Evan had had no idea that Zelenka could deliver such clean, calm shooting.

"You were warned," Zelenka said curtly. "Now perhaps you will listen. You." He gestured at Zedrig, "Release the Major. And you—" Jeket, this time "—retrieve his belongings and bring them to me."

Neither moved.

"Do you wish to have two useless arms? Move!"

Evan caught Zelenka's eye and nodded slightly in thanks while Zedrig grudgingly worked his bonds free with pain-clumsy fingers. A fresh wave of vertigo hit Evan right as the strip of leather gave way, and he wasn't able to stop a stumble when he stepped away from the post. Zelenka watched Jeket set down Evan's pile of gear on one of the altar stones, then motioned him away.

"Leave now," Zelenka told them.

"The gods will not take this offense lightly," Zedrig said to Evan through gritted teeth. "Your people will be enemies of the Ket Sediin, and your companion shall rank first on the list to die while you watch."

"I'll take that risk," Evan said as he braced himself against the post to wait out the dizziness. "Now, you guys might want to listen up and get yourselves to a doctor pretty quick. Otherwise, my buddy might not be as nice next time he shoots you."

Zedrig whirled and advanced on Evan, but he only made it a few steps before another shot rang out. He dropped like a stone and didn't move again. Jeket, still standing, awkwardly looped his good arm beneath a groaning Kagra and hauled him up. He half-dragged Kagra away, back into the caves they'd brought Evan through.

"Do you need help, Major?" Zelenka asked, eyes and aim never leaving the two injured men as they retreated from the circle.

"I think I can manage," Evan said, stifling a hiss of pain when he bent to pick up his briefs. He carefully slid them on and unwound the red sash from his waist, then stepped into his BDUs.

Once he was sure they were alone, Zelenka holstered the gun and knelt to sort through the rest of Evan's gear. He handed up the shirt, then helped Evan put on his boots and get everything adjusted. Just getting dressed left Evan so tired, he had to sit down. He gratefully accepted the canteen and power bar from his vest that Zelenka passed to him. He hated to leave off the vest, but he hurt too much to add that friction on his wounds.

"Do you think you will be able to pilot the jumper when we return?" Zelenka asked. "It isn't retrofitted for non-ATA personnel, so I will be useless."

"You're never useless, Doc," Evan said with a tired smile. "They drugged me, though. Don't know how long it'll take to wear off. I'm feeling pretty fuzzy, got a headache and some dizziness. Among other things." He glanced up at the sky and estimated they had a couple of hours of moonlight left. "We need to get moving, try to find some shelter for the night before it's full dark out here."

Zelenka cleared his throat as he picked up Evan's vest and shrugged into it. "I collected Harris and Saunders's tags," he said quietly as he fumbled with the straps. "There was little else left by the time I got back to them. Because of human scavengers or animal, I couldn't tell."

Evan bowed his head briefly. Saunders and Harris had been good soldiers, and good men. It made him a little sick that he wouldn't have anything to send to their families but dog tags and empty coffins.

When he made to get up, Zelenka jumped to his feet and helped him stand. Evan balked when Zelenka slid under his arm and settled it over his shoulders, sliding one of his own arms around Evan's waist.

"I can still walk, Doc."

"You said yourself that you're dizzy. The terrain here is rough and the path steep, and I do not relish the idea of you rolling your way back to the jumper, Major," Zelenka said sternly. "Either you accept my help, or we wait for help from Atlantis."

Right. Sometimes Evan sort of forgot that Doc Z was one of the only people on Atlantis who could consistently hold his own going toe to toe with McKay, which didn't leave a lot of hope for regular people in an argument. Not that Evan was really looking to push the issue, under the circumstances.

"All right. Let's get moving, then," Evan conceded. "We're burning moonlight."

Within minutes, he saw that Zelenka was right about the terrain. Coming up through the caves and down the mild slope from the cave mouth to the crater in the dark, Evan hadn't really gotten a chance to look around. From the top of the bowl, though, it was a pretty serious trek back down. There didn't seem to be a real path through the brush and boulders.

"You part mountain goat, Doc? Looks like a pretty serious climb to get up here."

Zelenka shrugged. "I enjoyed hiking and mountain climbing with my wife when I was younger."

Well. The good doctor was just full of surprises today. "You're married?" Evan asked as they started down.

"Was. Alojzia and I were young, both busy chasing careers. We simply grew apart after several years, and she left." He paused to navigate them around a stretch of loose rocks. "It was an amicable parting, and we spoke once or twice a month afterward, until I came here."

Evan hummed in acknowledgement, and they both fell silent, concentrating on the descent. It was a little rougher on Evan than he had anticipated, the remnants of the drug in his system still wreaking havoc on his balance and his ability to focus. The dizziness seemed to swamp him at the worst possible moments, like while passing between two of the goral bushes that botany had gotten so excited about. They looked soft and delicate, but the fuzz covering the leaves stung worse than fire ants and could only be removed from the skin with a soap made from hagat, the ground vines that grew beneath the goral.

They'd been walking for maybe an hour when the grade of the decline became significantly gentler. When he looked back over his shoulder, Evan was surprised to see how far they'd come. With all his attention on getting one foot in front of the other and not tipping them over, he hadn't been paying much mind to distance.

"Would you like to rest yet?" Zelenka asked. He'd been asking for a while, now, but Evan wanted to keep going.

"Not until we find some shelter or we can't see where we're going." He flexed the hand draped over Zelenka's shoulder and grimaced. "Might want to switch sides, though. My hand's kind of going to sleep."

Zelenka nodded. "Mine, as well," he agreed, uncurling his fingers from Evan's wrist. He stepped forward and shuffled them around, trying to avoid the goral near their feet as he slid under Evan's other arm. "Are you ready?"

"As I'll ever—" Evan started to say, but he swayed hard as a new wave of dizziness overcame him. The bouts of vertigo had been getting closer together, probably because of the physical exertion. "Okay," he said with a gasp, "maybe not."

"Sit," Zelenka ordered, holding tight to him and guiding him to a flattish boulder.

Once he was sitting, Evan put his head between his knees and tried not to let the roiling in his stomach get to him. It felt like he was going to tip over any second, even with Zelenka's hands solid on his shoulders. When he felt like he could lift his head again, Zelenka handed him the almost empty canteen. The water sat uneasily in his stomach.

"We should wait here," Zelenka said. "You can't continue like this."

"I'll be fine in a minute, Doc," Evan snapped.

"You will not be fine. You're getting worse." He shook his head sharply. "I wish you wouldn't try to hide the severity of your condition."

Evan rubbed at his forehead. "Look, it's my job to protect you. I can't handle a gun right now, and I'm useless if we're attacked. All I can do is try to get us as far away from danger as possible, and I'm not doing very good at it."

"Be that as it may, all you are going to do right now is sit."

The look on Zelenka's face brooked no argument, and Evan bit back a frustrated protest. He was getting worse. He just wanted to get Zelenka to safety before worrying about himself.

"You are too much like the Colonel," Zelenka said with a long-suffering sigh. "I've begun to suspect at this point that it is a requirement of your Air Force, to be so needlessly self-sacrificing."

"It's not needless, Doc." Evan set his hand on Zelenka's knee. "We're here to keep you safe so you can keep the whole galaxy safe, okay? Bullets and F-302s can only do so much against the Wraith, but if you and McKay can come up with a real way to hit 'em where it hurts…"

Zelenka nodded, and his fingers brushed over the back of Evan's hand. "I know. It doesn't change the fact that you are pushing yourself more than you should in your condition. If we don't stop, you'll be more hindrance than help. Please, Major."

Evan grudgingly relented. "Did you notice anywhere around here that'd give us some cover during the night? I'm not crazy about camping in the open."

"I didn't see anything, but it is quite dark." He squinted into the darkness around them, muttering to himself in Czech. "I still see nothing. This trail doesn't have any caves or large rock formations this far down. The best we can do is to find a place in the tree line, I think."

"Okay. Help me up, Doc."

"Radek," he corrected. "I believe this is a time when we can do away with formalities for a while, yes?"

Evan nodded. "Yeah, probably so. You can call me Evan." Zelenka—Radek—helped him stand again, taking care not to put too much pressure on his injuries. He spotted a likely-looking tree not too far into the tree line, broad and thick with leaves. "Can we get over there?" he asked, pointing it out.

"I believe so. The brush through here is less dangerous than what we have already come through." Radek turned them in the right direction and started toward the tree, going slow and easy.

If Evan hadn't been so flat exhausted, he would've complained. As it was, he only tried to pick up the pace twice before Radek's firm insistence kept him in line. The tree was better up close than Evan had expected, when they got to it. It had a flattish patch of moss between two roots that would make a good seat, and it didn't appear to have any nests or dens hidden in its hollows.

"I will take watch," Radek said. "You should lie down and try to rest." He shucked off his jacket and the tac vest. He folded the jacket up and handed it to Evan. "It's not the best of pillows, but perhaps it will provide at least a little more comfort."

Evan only took the jacket when Radek shoved it into his hands.

"Rest, Evan. I will make it an order if I must."

That made Evan's mouth tip up at the corner just a bit. "I'm pretty sure you're supposed to follow my orders," he said as he lowered himself to the ground.

"Not when you are unfit for duty," Radek returned, tucking himself in against one of the roots. He suddenly made a noise of disgust and scrubbed his palm against his pant leg. "I am too old for this."

"You're not that old." Evan lay down on his back with Radek's jacket tucked under his head.

"Old enough. It is difficult not to feel all of my age and then some, here."

"I know what you mean."

He meant to say something else, but he yawned widely before he could start it. When he was finished, the moment had passed and it seemed a shame to break the silence. The back of his head started to ache after a few minutes, and he tried to shift into a more comfortable position as quietly as he could. He had to shift again a few minutes later when the cuts on his thigh pulled. And again a few minutes after that, when his back started to twinge.

"Sit up," Radek said quietly.

Evan pushed himself up and waited while Radek scooted over behind him. He sat sideways between the two roots, then placed the jacket on his leg.

"Perhaps you will be more comfortable now," he suggested, urging Evan to lie back again.

It did feel better to get his head elevated, even if it was a little bit weird to be lying on a scientist. "Thanks, Doc. Radek."

"It is no trouble. You should probably try to sleep a while."

"You should, too. Wake me up for second watch in a couple of hours," he said, already feeling himself drifting.

Radek just hummed vaguely. Evan was probably only imagining the soft stroke of fingers through his hair.

Evan woke on his own a few hours later, his internal clock rousing him at 0500 like always. He didn't open his eyes immediately, and for a moment he couldn't remember where he was. A warm hand curved around his left shoulder from a strange angle. He was sure he would remember having gone to bed with someone, and he was fully clothed, so it wasn't that. A soft sigh came from above him, oddly familiar. Right, the cult, the sacrifice, and Doc Z going badass. How could he have forgotten that?

When he opened his eyes, he found Radek watching him with a serious, fond expression.

"Did you sleep well?" Radek asked, voice rough.

"Not too bad, considering." Very slowly and very carefully, Evan pushed himself upright. Even so, he hissed at the pull on his wounds, a couple of which he was sure had come open again. "Might even be able to walk on my own again."

"Good," Radek said as he moved out from behind Evan. "We travelled farther west than I had realized, so we have a longer walk today. If we can get to that rock formation, I can get us back to the city more quickly than we'll reach the jumper."

Evan looked at the formation Radek had pointed at. It shouldn't take them long to reach it, a couple of hours at most as long as he could keep his feet. "We should probably get a move on. But not," he added, reaching into one of his vest pockets, "before breakfast."

The power bar was a little worse for the wear, but it was better than nothing after so long with no food. He broke it in two and passed larger piece to Radek, receiving a tired and grateful smile. It only took a couple of minutes to eat their little bit of breakfast and share the last of the water. It took almost as long to get to his feet without further injuring himself, even with Radek's help. He could only hope that the paint had some antibiotic properties, because his risk of infection was running high, if it hadn't begun to set in already.

Once he managed to stay up for a minute, he went around to one side of the massive tree to take a piss while Radek did the same at the other side. They met back at the front when they finished, and Evan nodded toward their goal.

"Let's go, Doc."

"So where'd you learn to handle a gun like that?" Evan asked after they'd been walking a while. "You've never spent much time on the range in Atlantis."

"I served my turn in the army. It is in my file," Radek replied with a slight shrug. "My experiences with being off world have done nothing to shake my preference for my lab, but I am not incompetent in the field."

"That was a little more than 'not incompetent.' You're a real crack shot. Must've gotten a lot of practice."

Radek shrugged and stepped over an upthrust root. "It is not necessary to enjoy something in order to do well at it, just as one needn't do well at something to enjoy it. Shooting simply came easily to me, no matter that I desired to follow a different path." He eyed Evan. "You've learned quite a bit about me today, Evan. May I ask you a question in return?"

"Fire away, Doc."

"I didn't know that you were an artist. Where did you learn to paint?"

"My mom," Evan said, pushing aside a low-hanging branch. "Her mom taught her, and it really stuck. She's been teaching art since before she and my dad met. I learned by painting with her and my sister on the weekends."

Radek nodded. "I have a sister, as well, and a brother. Magdaléna and Petr. Both younger than me, but very bossy. And now Magdaléna has a devil child."

Evan laughed. "Lisa's got a couple, too. They're good kids."

"Lukáš is an unholy terror. I visited them when we were forced from Atlantis, and within two days, he had broken my glasses, destroyed half of my clothing, and ruined my luggage." He batted at a limb in his way. "When I left, I had never been so glad that Alojzia didn't want children."

"They're not all like that, honestly."

Radek sighed and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "I know, but it is hard to remember when there is suddenly chocolate sauce on your last clean shirt and you're scrubbing jam out of your pants to look presentable for a job interview."

Evan was about to ask about that, wondering what might have happened to Radek if they hadn't come back to Pegasus, but he heard the faint sound of another voice. Radek lifted a hand to his ear.

"Yes, this is Zelenka," he said urgently. "Can you hear me, Atlantis?"

Another faint buzz of speech. Evan had lost his own radio yesterday, most likely somewhere in the caves.

"I am fine, Colonel. But Major Lorne is with me, and he requires medical attention." He grabbed hold of Evan's sleeve like he was afraid it was an illusion. "Yes. To the west, on the mountain."

Evan squeezed Radek's arm. "Sounds like good news."

"Col. Sheppard's team is on the way. He asked that we wait where we are."

"I could go for a break about now," Evan agreed, looking for a place to sit. He was getting a little light-headed again, anyway.

There was a shady patch of dirt calling his name from a few feet away, under a scrubby pair of trees. Radek followed him to it, still clutching his sleeve for a moment before he realized what he was doing.

Once he got himself to the ground, Evan leaned into his knees and closed his eyes. He concentrated on keeping his breathing deep and steady. He had fallen into a tranquil, blank state when he heard a familiar thrum in the distance and Radek said, "Major, look."

Opening his eyes, Evan saw a jumper closing in on their position fast. A deep pool of tension drained out of him all at once at the sight. Unfortunately, the pain he had been ignoring for the better part of a day flooded back in, leaving him shaking and cold in the heat. He registered Radek standing up a minute or two later.

"Colonel, over here!" he called, flagging down Sheppard's team.

Evan knew he should get to his feet, but he couldn't uncurl enough to try it. It was Sheppard, though, so he probably wouldn't mind too much that Evan was on the ground instead of at attention.

Several sets of footsteps filtered into his consciousness. One was definitely McKay stomping through the brush and grass. He could pick out Teyla and Ronon's lighter steps, and Sheppard's medium-urgency rush. There was another person with them, too, he thought.

"Radek, you okay?" Sheppard asked as they got closer.

"I am fine, nothing that rest and a great deal of water won't cure."

He stepped back, and someone crouched next to Evan. "Major Lorne? Are you all right, son?"

Beckett. Okay. Evan managed to lift his head without feeling like he was going to tip over. "Little worse for the wear, actually. Got cut up and drugged by a few Wraith-worshippers." He looked at his hands, then held them up to display the smears of paint to Beckett. "Painted me up real pretty, too."

"Oh, Lord," Beckett murmured, shining a penlight in Evan's eyes. "Ronon, could you take the Major, please? I need to get him to the infirmary immediately."

"Sure. Come on, Lorne." Ronon crouched on Evan's other side, sliding one arm behind Evan and the other under his knees. "Ready?"

Evan nodded, and Ronon lifted as carefully as he could. Coming up from the ground, it still wasn't all that gentle, and Evan hissed in pain.

"Sorry about the method of transportation, Major," Beckett said. "Just bear with us until we can get back to the jumper."

"'S okay, Doc," Evan replied distractedly, craning his head until he could see Radek.

Radek was walking between Sheppard and McKay, one hand holding a canteen and the other flicking through the air as he gave them the fast version of what had happened the day before. Evan kept an eye on him all the way to the jumper.

After they got back to Atlantis, things started moving faster than Evan was up to processing. Beckett had him on a gurney straight off the jumper ramp, and he was in the infirmary before he knew it. He definitely heard Beckett swear at length when he and Marie cut away Evan's blood-crusted shirt.

They took a swab of the paint to study, then stripped off the rest of his clothes. He spent the next indeterminate block of time—hours, maybe days—in agony. Having those wounds cleaned hurt. Beckett talked to him on and off through it, but he couldn't concentrate on the words. He wasn't allowed to have any painkillers until they knew what was in the drug Zedrig had given him and how it would react to internal analgesics.

Floating on a haze of pain, Evan dozed fitfully here and there, feeling worse each time he woke up than he'd felt when he drifted off. The only good thing was that he could have plenty of ice water. It wasn't an impressive perk, but the cold water was the best thing he'd tasted in maybe years.

At some point, he thought he heard Radek talking to Beckett. He wanted to ask after him, at least, since he wasn't being allowed visitors yet, but that was when Marie finally brought in the painkillers and got him relaxed enough to really sleep for a while.

When Evan woke up again, his head was clearer and the pain was down to a mostly tolerable level.

"Good to see you awake, Major," Marie said with a tired smile when she noticed him. "You've been out for the better part of a day."

Evan nodded, hoping it came across as polite. He didn't feel up to talking at the moment, just wanted to take a few minutes to catalogue how his body was feeling compared to before.

"I'll get Doctor Beckett down to see you," she continued. "He'll want to talk with you about everything."

"Thanks," Evan managed.

Marie smiled again and disappeared to page Beckett. Evan stared up at the infirmary's bland grey ceiling while he waited. His head didn't have the sharp pounding anymore, and he felt like he could process his surroundings again. He probably wouldn't be up for any foods more exciting than Jell-o and oatmeal for a while, both from the drug and from the pain medication, which always nauseated him. The worst of it was still where Kagra had carved him up. He could feel the layers of dressings from his shoulders down to his knees, and his eyes stung a little. It fucking hurt.

Beckett arrived in a fluster a couple of minutes later, looking like he'd just rolled out of bed. If Evan had slept as long as Marie said, it was probably well past Beckett's shift, and Evan felt a twinge of guilt about making him give up some of his precious little sleep.

"I'm glad you're awake, lad," Beckett said as he scrubbed his hands in the nearby sink. "I've been in contact with Gela about the drug that the Ket Sediin gave you."

Evan tried not to wince as Beckett quickly checked him over and noted his vitals. "Bad news?"

"Worse than I'd hoped, better than I'd feared. One of the main ingredients in the drug is a plant toxin that affects the central nervous system. Gela said it could be completely counteracted if the patient was reached in a short period of time, but it's much more difficult to treat the effects the longer it's in the system. Considering how long you were under its influence, Major, we don't really know how to expect it to pan out. Quite frankly, I'm a wee bit surprised you were still conscious when we found you and Doctor Zelenka."

"I had a job to do," Evan said simply.

Beckett shook his head. "You're a remarkably stubborn man, Major, do you know that?"

"I might've been told once or twice."

"Well, as long as you don't get stubborn about following your course of treatment, I'll let it slide." He made a few notations on Evan's chart, put it away, and pulled up a seat beside the bed. "All levity aside, Evan, I want you to take your condition seriously. For one thing, the majority of your wounds are infected to some degree, and I don't think they'll heal very nicely. I've got you on antibiotics for it, but we'll need to check you over pretty often for that.

"It may also take a while for the drug to work its way completely out of your system, even with the antidote we administered. We'll have to run blood tests frequently to make sure it's breaking down properly and you aren't experiencing any systematic damage. And there is always a chance that you'll have on-going residual symptoms because of the length of your exposure."

That was the risk of living here, Evan knew. Every day in Pegasus could be your last, or it could be the most amazing time you'd ever experienced. This time, he'd rolled snake eyes, and his body was paying the price. "I get it, Doc."

"I don't doubt that you do," Beckett said with a sigh. "I should leave you to get some more sleep. When I'm back on duty in the morning, we'll see how you're feeling and make sure you're not having any unusual symptoms." He stood and patted Evan's leg just below the knee.

"'Night, Doc. And thanks."

"Thank me by getting better, lad. Now get yourself back to sleep."

Evan sank back into his pillow when Beckett left the room and the lights dimmed. The phrases 'central nervous system' and 'on-going residual symptoms' circled through his head ominously. They didn't know exactly what this stuff was going to do to him. If it was very bad, he could lose his job, his home, even his body. The thought made his stomach turn over, and he reached for the water by the bed with an unsteady hand.

Sleep only came when Marie came by and gave him a new dose of medication.

The next time Evan woke up, he was itchy, starving, and about to piss himself. He waved over one of the nurses and got help with the last thing first, it being the most urgent one. Once he was done, he had time to concentrate on how much he needed to wash up. Beckett had cleaned him up pretty thoroughly yesterday when getting the paint off and dressing his wounds, but his skin and scalp still prickled with the feeling of not having taken a proper shower in a couple of days. He wouldn't be able to take a good shower for a while, either, with all the bandages.

The nurse who'd helped him came back with a smile and a scant breakfast tray. She left it with a strict admonishment to eat slowly and stop when he was almost full. She'd bring more if he was still hungry, but they didn't want him to overtax his stomach.

Evan did want the whole bowl of oatmeal when he started it, but he felt an unpleasant turning when he was about half through, and he pushed it aside in favor of a piece of toast and a glass of water. Something about the oatmeal's texture, he guessed when the toast went down okay.

When another nurse popped in to take Evans tray, he was accompanied by Beckett.

"Good morning, Evan. How are you feeling?" Beckett asked, picking up his chart.

"Right now, mostly itchy," Evan said, pressing his fingers into the bed so he wouldn't get the urge to scratch at his bandages.

"I'm sure you are. We'll have your dressings changed shortly, and that should take care of part of it." Beckett scribbled something down. "It looks like you're doing well so far. Let's hope it stays that way."

Evan nodded. "Any idea when I can get out of here?"

"Well, based on what I'm seeing at this point, you should be all right to go in a few days. You'll still have to make sure to stop by every day for a bit for blood tests and to let us check on how your wounds are healing up." He paused and gave Evan a stern look. "And you won't be cleared for anything more than light paperwork until I'm certain the drug is out of your system. I'll tell Col. Sheppard that he can expect to be filing his own reports for a while."

That startled a laugh out of Evan. "Thanks, Doc."

"You're welcome. Now, I believe you've got a couple of visitors." When Beckett stepped back, Teyla and Dr. Weir were waiting by the curtains.

"How are you feeling, Major?" Weir asked as they came up to his bed.

"Much better, ma'am. Beckett thinks I'll be up and around in a few days."

She nodded, gripping the bed's foot rail briefly like she wanted to reach out to him. "That's good to hear."

Teyla nodded. "We were very worried about your condition, Evan. It is a relief to know that Dr. Beckett feels so optimistic about your recovery." She did reach out, resting a hand just below his knee for a short moment. "I was also asked to pass a message to you. Gela wishes you to know that she feels very badly about what happened, and she apologizes deeply for failing to warn you that she had heard rumors of Ket Sediin near the city."

Evan shook his head. "I should be apologizing to her for letting her brother get killed."

"By Dr. Zelenka's account, you were at no fault in Ged's death," Teyla said kindly. "But perhaps you may express your sympathy to Gela when you are well. She indicated a desire to make a more formal apology in person, if you were open to returning to Elis Tirin."

"I'd like to go back if I have the chance," he said.

"I'll make sure it happens," Weir said in the tone Evan privately called her 'gold star' voice. It always came out when she felt like someone was being properly diplomatic with their allies.

"Thank you, ma'am."

Teyla squeezed his leg gently. "We should leave you to your rest. Is there anything you require?"

"Actually, if someone could bring me the book from my nightstand, that'd be great. My sketchbook and pencils, too, if it's all right. Not much to do in here but stare at the walls."

"We'll make sure someone stops by with them soon," Weir said.

Teyla tipped her head slightly. "Is there anything else you wish to ask, Evan?"

He blinked. Her perceptiveness was pretty spooky sometimes. "Ah. I was just wondering if Doc Z's doing all right," he said, and the smile she gave him made him a little bit nervous.

"He is doing very well. His… discussions with Rodney are as spirited as ever."

"That's, ah. That's good."

"Yes, and it is thanks to you," she said softly. In a lighter tone, she added, "Now, we really must leave before Dr. Beckett escorts us out for overstaying our welcome."

Evan's body chose that moment to let out a deep yawn.

"Get some rest, Major," Weir chided as they stepped out.

"Yes, ma'am," he replied with a small salute. When they were out of sight, he slid down a little in the bed and thought about having a nap.

Unfortunately, when he closed his eyes, his mind kept going. He hated when his body was tired but his brain was wired. It rarely led anywhere good. All his recent worries seemed to line up for attention when he got like this, and the only ways to shut them down were to either fall asleep or get back up and do something to distract himself. Neither one was really an option at the moment.

His mind drifted back over the events of the past couple of days, and Evan realized with a jolt of guilt that he hadn't asked anyone about Saunders and Harris. If they'd had the funeral yet, if he needed to contact the families. He needed to file his report on the mission so someone would at least know that they died bravely in the line of duty.

He was composing the report in his head when someone cleared their throat by his screen. He looked up to see Radek holding the things he'd asked Teyla for, looking somewhat awkward and uncomfortable.

"Good morning, Major. Evan," he corrected himself with a faint question mark to it.

"Hey, Radek." He pushed himself up in the bed carefully.

"Dr. Weir asked me to bring you these." Radek handed him his book, sketchpad, and pencil box. He had a package tucked under his arm that Evan hadn't noticed at first, and he passed that to Evan, as well. "I asked around and made a few trades. I thought you might like something else to keep you occupied."

Inside the plain cloth wrapping was an ultrathin laptop that he thought belonged to Dr. Partha, his own headphones, and a couple of flash drives.

"Some movies, and the last season of Deadwood. Dr. Parrish mentioned that you hadn't seen it." Radek pushed his glasses up nervously and added, "I cleared it with Carson."

Evan wrapped his fingers around one of the drives, and he smiled at Radek, feeling some of his earlier tension ease a bit. "Thanks, Radek. Really."

"You're welcome." Radek looked less tense now, too. Just a hair. "Carson said you're doing well. I am glad to hear it."

"You and me both," Evan agreed.

It looked like Radek wanted to say something else, but he shook his head and took a step back. "I should go. Rodney will be apoplectic if I do not return from lunch with a cup of coffee for him."

Evan frowned. "Don't work too hard, Doc."

Radek gave him a quick nod and slipped out around the nurse who was bringing Evan's lunch.

The next few days dragged by. Beckett kept running tests on him and on the second day decided that Evan was all right to take a short walk a couple of times a day. His muscles felt watery in minutes when he did, which Beckett assured him was a temporary side effect of the drug's antidote and being confined to the bed for so long. The daily massages helped some, but not as much as Evan would have liked.

He tried watching a couple of the movies that Radek had brought him, but even when he dimmed the laptop's monitor, it made his head hurt. He didn't get much reading done, either, because it seemed like every time he got a few pages in, visitors would drop by to chat for a minute or two on their way here or there. A handful of rough sketches made their way into his sketchbook, though. It was a good way to unwind before bed, which seemed to be the only time that no one popped in to interrupt him.

On the sixth day, Evan was walking fine again, and after one more blood test, Beckett gave him the okay to return to light duty.

"And I do mean 'light,' Major. Nothing more strenuous than paperwork and meetings. If you're tired, take a break." He paused to shoot Evan his sternest look. "And if you have any unusual symptoms, any at all, I want to see you back here immediately."

"Gotcha, Doc," Evan said as he hopped off the bed. Teyla had stopped by to pick up his belongings earlier and deliver a fresh uniform so he could change out of his scrubs.

"All right now, off with you," Beckett said with a jerk of his head and a smile.

Evan's first destination in his new freedom was the mess hall. He'd been craving an egg salad sandwich all morning. It was also Wednesday, which was Sorensen's day on KP, and Evan definitely wouldn't say no to a bowl of his stew. It took him twice as long as it should have to make it there, as at least half the people he passed in the corridors stopped to say hello and congratulate him on his recovery. When he got to the mess, several people in the hot food line tried to let him skip ahead of them, but he politely declined the offers. Most of them were just on break, and he didn't have anywhere to be.

Sorensen grinned when Evan came through. "Good to see you up and around, sir," he said, ladling a bowl of stew out.

"Good to be up and around," Evan said. As he took the bowl, he added, "I've been looking forward to this." It made Sorensen's smile even bigger, and Evan couldn't help smiling back.

After grabbing a sandwich and a bottle of water from the side table, Evan scanned the room for a place to sit. There were a few empty tables near the back, and there were a couple of empty seats with Parrish's botanist group. By the windows, he saw Zelenka eating and playing a game of chess with Sheppard. That looked like his safest bet, so he headed over before anyone else could flag him down.

"Mind an audience?" he asked, setting his tray next to Sheppard's.

"Go ahead," Sheppard said, casually moving a rook and taking one of Radek's pawns. "I'm actually about to get back to work anyway."

"Lies. He just doesn't want witnesses to his imminent defeat," Radek said, taking the rook with his knight. "Although I must say, John, you're the first person here in Atlantis who's provided any challenge for me."

Sheppard snorted. "Yeah, I heard some talk after the chess club's last trades day. You really cleaned them out." He made another move.

"And yet they come back for more," Radek said. He slid a bishop over. "Checkmate."

"Damn. Nice end game, Radek. You'll have to teach me that one sometime."

Radek grinned. "Perhaps."

"So how's it going, Lorne?" Sheppard asked as he packed his pieces back into the board.

"Pretty well, considering, sir." He polished off his stew and opened up his sandwich.

"I, uh, I contacted Saunders's and Harris's families after Radek filed his mission report. The SGC promised to take care of them." He cleared his throat. "If there's anything you want to add after you read over the letters, we'll make sure it gets to them."

"Thank you, sir," Evan said. His stomach turned over, and the sandwich lost its appeal. He wasn't entirely sure for a few seconds if the stew was going to stay down, either.

Sheppard pushed back his chair and stood. "Take it easy, Lorne. I'll stop by your office at 0800 to get you up to speed on the past few days."

"I'll be there bright and early, sir."

Across the table, Radek watched Evan with a shadowed expression. They held each other's gazes for a minute before Radek looked down at the remainder of his lunch. He pushed it away.

Neither of them spoke for several minutes, then Radek said, "Perhaps if you tire of paperwork, you would like to play light switch in the lab? I have it on the authority of Col. Sheppard that it is sufficiently boring enough to qualify as light duty."

The corner of Evan's mouth quirked up. "Yeah, I could do that. Believe me, it's not as boring as filling out SGC Form 5X39-G over and over for equipment lost or damaged in the field."

"I would imagine not." Radek paused and tapped a stray knight against the table a few times. "Evan, if you would like to talk… I am willing to listen, any time."

"Thanks for the offer, but I'll be fine. It's not easy to lose men, but it's part of the job."

Radek frowned but nodded. That apparently hadn't been the part he'd meant Evan needed to talk about. Instead of pushing the issue, he put away the last of the chess pieces and got up from the table. "I should get back to the lab before Rodney has terrified my engineers too much for them to be of any use the rest of the day."

"Let me get that," Evan said, reaching for Radek's tray. "You've got your hands full."

"Ah. That is very kind of you," he said, picking up his board.

"No problem."

They headed across the room together, and Radek stopped before he went toward the door and Evan went toward the dish window. "I did mean it, the invitation to the lab."

Evan nodded. "I'll drop by in a couple of days. I'm sure I'll be sick of inventory and requisitions pretty fast if that's all I'm doing."

"I will see you later, then."

"Have a nice afternoon, Doc."

At loose ends for the rest of the day, Evan went back to his quarters and changed into a pair of sweatpants. He wanted to work out after being cooped up in bed for the better part of a week, but even if he could manage it without reopening any of his wounds, Beckett would have his head for overdoing it.

His quarters didn't really need cleaning, but he ran a dust cloth around and refolded some clothes that had gotten shuffled around in the dresser. He even did some cleaning in the bathroom. There wasn't much else he could do unless he wanted to remake the bed or scrub the ten thousand year old grout.

He had returned Dr. Partha's laptop, but Radek had instructed him to keep the flash drives. The movies were still good trading material for a few weeks, until the Daedalus returned, and there were a couple of guys who would love to get their hands on the episodes of Deadwood. Evan grabbed one of the drives, switched his laptop on, and queued up a mindless shoot-'em-up flick.

It was actually sort of interesting, to his surprise, but the quick cuts and dramatic lighting were giving him a headache. He turned it off before he'd even made it halfway through and switched to some quiet music. A glance at his watch told him it was still too early for dinner, so he got up and grabbed his sketch pad from the desk. Flipping through to the newest drawings, he curled up on one side of the couch to review them.

Most of them were mindless things he'd drawn to help himself relax. Architectural and interior details from around Atlantis, various planes he'd flown, jumpers. There was one of a little red-faced cartoon McKay, from the afternoon Evan had had to listen to him complaining to Beckett for twenty minutes about his last post-mission physical.

He'd also drawn a few of the medical staff, and a couple of the other patients. He liked one that he had done of Marie and one of the new doctors, Keller, enough that he might clean it up and finish it.

At the back, he had also filled a couple of pages with sketches of the mission. He had started with the intention of drawing Radek at the console in the cave, face set in concentration and lit only by the pale glow of the screen and the cave lights. Then Ged had crept in at his side, looking awed and curious at the information Radek was pulling up. From there, Evan had drawn Saunders and Harris at the breakfast table, talking with Hel and Nora. On the facing page was a different view of the table, capturing Gela, Dyas, and Ged.

He was thinking of doing a portrait of Ged as a present for Gela, to apologize and to honor her loss. He'd have to talk to Teyla about it, make sure it would be an acceptable gesture.

The music on his laptop switched to a moody instrumental piece. Evan propped his head on one hand and pulled out the pencil he'd tucked into the spirals of the sketchbook. He gently tapped it against the edge of the page in time with the beat. He let his mind wander as he stared down at the page. The cuts over his ribs on the right side itched and ached under the bandages, and he set his jaw against the memory of the knife digging into his flesh. He should've been able to—

Evan cut himself off right there. Nothing good lay down the path of 'would've, should've, could've'. His mother had drilled that lesson into him from a young age. She didn't believe in dwelling on things that couldn't be changed, and she'd taught Evan and Lisa to focus on making the best of the present instead of draining themselves over the past for no good purpose.

Make the best of it. Right. First thing would be talking to Teyla, maybe tonight, if he could catch her in the mess.

He let his pencil drift over the page, and it brought out a close-up of the metal-toothed gauntlet Zedrig had nearly jammed into Evan's chest. His heart beat a little faster at the fuzzy memory of it, and he flipped the page. The faux feeding hand hadn't touched him. Radek had stopped them. Evan sketched out Radek's solid stance, gun steady in his hands, face grim and determined.

That much, at least, he remembered clearly. He'd been so shocked when Radek had shown up, he didn't think he'd ever forget the sight of him come to the rescue. And he'd never even thanked Radek for it, not really. He'd said thanks in the infirmary, but that had mostly been about the gifts.

Evan's stomach rumbled, then, and he looked at the clock. The mess should've started serving dinner a few minutes ago. Looked like a change of plans was in order. First, dinner. Second, figure out a way to thank Radek. Third, talk with Teyla. And tomorrow, back to work.

He got up and set his sketch pad back on the desk, and he changed back into his BDUs from earlier. He'd go pick something up to bring back here so he could think in peace. It felt good to have a goal other than 'get well enough to leave the infirmary.'

Evan found Teyla before he thought of anything he could do for Radek. She was having tea on the balcony down the hall from the gym when he passed by the next morning.

"Good morning, Major," she said with a smile. "Would you like to join me? The morning sun over the water is lovely today."

"It sure is," he agreed, stepping up to lean on the railing next to her. "I actually wanted to talk to you about something."

She tilted her head slightly in a 'go on' gesture, all her attention now focused on him.

"I was thinking about the offer to go back to Elis Tirin, and I thought it would be… I feel like I should do something for Gela." He flexed his hands on the railing. "She told me that she likes art. So I was wondering if you could tell me, would it be all right if I paint a portrait of her brother as a gift? I don't want to be disrespectful or commit some kind of Sediin taboo by accident."

"Evan, I think she would appreciate the gesture very much," Teyla said, laying a hand on top of his. "As I told you before, Gela truly does not feel ill will toward anyone but the Ket Sediin over what occurred. She will, I am sure, be more than pleased that you have chosen to honor her family in such a way."

He nodded. "I'll start working on it soon, then. Thanks, Teyla."

"You are most welcome, Evan." She set her tea down and turned to rest her hands on his arms.

Evan mirrored the position and leaned down to touch foreheads with her. She didn't do this with him often, so the gesture felt particularly meaningful this time.

"Please, let me know when you decide to return to Elis Tirin," Teyla said when she stepped back. "I would like to accompany you, if I may."

"I will," he promised.

"Now, do not let me keep you. I am sure you are ready to get back to work." She picked her tea up again. "Have a good day."

"You, too," he said with a wave.

He was ready to get back to work, but work was not very ready for him. It wasn't that Sheppard was bad at doing paperwork, but he had a tendency to skip organizing certain things. The list of what needed to be done always seemed to be typed up in whatever order they came up, for one, whereas Evan preferred to sort it so he could assess priority at a glance. Sheppard probably knew perfectly well what everything on the list meant and how important it was, just relying on his memory to make sure it all got taken care of in a timely manner. That meant the first thing Evan had to do was sort out the list so he could tackle the high priority issues next.

Several hours later, Evan scowled down at his computer. He'd just finalized his last batch of inventory reports for the day, and botany and zoology had just sent him amended records. He was already in a lousy mood, frustrated by the deluge of paperwork that had flooded his inbox from the moment he came in that morning, as well as working through a splitting headache that his pills hadn't even made a dent in. Now this. Not to mention he'd nearly missed lunch without realizing it while his head was buried in acquisitions forms.

A knock sounded on the doorframe.

"How's it going, Lorne?" Sheppard asked, slouching against the doorframe.

"Fine, sir," Evan replied automatically. "Just have a lot of catching up to do."

"Why don't you go ahead and knock off for the day. I'm betting there isn't anything that can't wait until tomorrow, and you're looking a little worn out." His lips quirked a fraction. "I don't want them breaking you right when I got you back."

Evan couldn't help his own slight smile. "It'll take more than a barrage of supply requests to do me in, sir."

"Good. Now get out of here and take it easy," Sheppard said with a jerk of his head toward the door.

He stayed long enough to watch Evan shut down the computer and straighten up the desk before heading out. A glance at the clock showed that Evan had some spare time now, since he normally wouldn't have quit for another hour or so. It sounded like a perfect time for a nap, which would make his headache go away, with any luck.

It felt good to get back to his quarters and lie down in the dark. As much as he had wanted to get back to his usual routine during his stay in the infirmary, the actual experience had been more exhausting than fulfilling. He rolled onto his side to face the darkest part of the room and pulled an extra pillow over his head for good measure. Several long minutes passed as he tried to breathe slow and deep, but the pressure in his head kept him from relaxing.

He shifted positions and tried to clear his head, but if anything, the throbbing got worse. Evan knew he should probably go see Beckett about it, because this was not a normal headache, but just the idea of going out in all that light and noise made him want to burrow down for the rest of the week. It sounded like a perfectly good plan for the time being, at least, so he rolled over again and watched the abstract swirls of pain behind his eyelids until he fell asleep.

The rest of the week continued in a similar fashion. He went to the infirmary three days in a row with headaches, but nothing Beckett gave him could touch them. Even another one of Dr. Ambrose's coveted massages had only made it slightly less debilitating. After some scans and a new blood test, Beckett had no good news. He was apologetic when he finally told Evan the headaches were the kind of side effect of the poison that he'd been worried about and there was nothing else they could do but try to wait it out.

Well, there had also been a highly awkward moment when Beckett had, with much throat-clearing and aversion of eye contact, suggested that Evan might try masturbating to alleviate the pain. When he was off duty, of course. There had been studies, he said, that suggested orgasm could help some headache sufferers, so it was worth a try.

Evan had hightailed it out of there after that conversation, promising that he would keep his hours short and monitor his symptoms so he could report if the headaches started to get better or worse.

He did try it, though, and it did help a little, when he could manage. It also helped if he stopped his paperwork and went to do something away from computer screens as soon as he noticed the first signs. At this rate, he would have the entire contents of the city inventoried by the end of the month. He was on his way to check the kitchen's storeroom and freezers when Radek stopped him in the corridor.

"Ah, Major, excellent. I was hoping I would run into you." He smiled and shoved his glasses up. "I have been sorting through the information I brought back from the database, and I believe I have something that could help with your headaches. When you mentioned the other morning that Carson had been unable to do anything, I found an entry for a device that may be able to provide you relief."

Evan raised an eyebrow. "Yeah? Thanks, Doc."

"If you have time, I could show you now." Radek gestured back the way he had come.

"Sure. That sounds a lot more interesting than doing inventory in the mess." They set off back toward Radek's lab.

"There is also a box of mysterious but probably harmless objects that need to be identified if you do not mind the tedium of thinking 'on and 'off' at them," Radek added.

Evan snorted. "Well, if you insist. I could be spending my valuable time counting boxes of salt and checking for damaged cookware, you know," he said with mock gravity.

"Ah, yes. I apologize for taking you away from such important duties."

"I'll think about forgiving you." He couldn't keep a straight face any longer, and his eyebrow quirked up, making Radek laugh.

"I'm sure we will both come to a mutually satisfactory conclusion, Major."

The lab was just a couple of doors down, now, and Evan could hear McKay ranting at someone already. He caught something about power distribution, utter incompetency, and a threat to put the offender on sewage detail for the rest of their stay in Atlantis. So a standard Thursday, then. When Evan glanced over, Radek rolled his eyes.

"He has been a bear all day. I was afraid I might start yelling back if I didn't find another project with which to occupy myself. It is not a situation worth yelling back. Dr. Hewston did make a rather stupid mistake for a rather stupid reason."

Evan nodded. It happened sometimes, especially with people who were used to being great at their jobs back on Earth and hadn't had the arrogance knocked out of them yet by life in Pegasus. He'd had more than a few Marines learn that the hard way. Being one of the SGC's best and brightest didn't always mean you were suited for the city.

He and Radek slipped into the lab mostly unnoticed. Dr. Kusanagi glanced up at their entrance and gave them a tiny smile before returning to her work, and Dr. Müller tossed Evan a little wave behind McKay's back.

Radek took him back to a deserted corner, snagging his laptop on the way by. Evan took a seat at the small work bench while Radek set up. He set his laptop across from Evan, then went to a shelf against the far wall and came back with a box filled nearly to the top with random pieces of Ancient technology. The box was always almost full, since figuring out the functions of knick-knacks was low on their priority list most of the time. They rarely turned out to be anything useful or important, after all.

Radek tapped at his computer for a moment, then hooked his foot around the leg of his stool and pulled it in so he could sit. "Are you ready, Major?"

"As I'll ever be," he said. "Even remembered to bring my gene with me."

Radek smiled and shook his head, reaching into the box. He pulled out a black octagon covered in narrow ridges. "Think 'on,' please."

Evan took the object and felt a low tingle of potential in it. When he thought it on, nothing much happened. He probed at it a little and frowned. "I don't think this one's very helpful. It feels like there's another part to it, maybe a post?" He gestured to a little slot at one edge. "I actually think it might be part of a meat thermometer."

"Lovely," Radek said dryly, entering the information into his spreadsheet.

The next piece was a silver orb that shot a jet of scented air past Evan's right ear. "Aromatherapy?" he suggested. "Air Wick prototype? Urinal cake?"

That startled a laugh out of Radek, and McKay called from across the room, "I'm not paying you to pass notes in study hall, Radek."

"You're not paying me at all, Rodney," Radek said pleasantly as he took the orb back and handed Evan a black and grey box.

Evan turned it on and felt a shift on the side against his palm. He flipped it over, showing Radek where it had slid open to reveal a series of unlabeled buttons. It went into the pile of things that would need more study. They went through a couple dozen pieces in all before Radek looked at the clock on his screen and declared them done for the day.

"I also do not want to forget why I asked you here in the first place," he said, motioning for Evan to stay where he was. He went back to his usual work bench and grabbed a small box. He handed it to Evan. "I had to make do with the materials at hand, but its operation is very similar to a device I found in the database. If I am right, it will do much to alleviate your headaches, perhaps even get rid of them entirely."

When Evan opened it, he found a paper-thin band inside, shiny black almost like the tape from a video cassette but broader.

Radek reached in and picked it up. "May I?" he asked, touching Evan's wrist.

"Yeah." Evan unfastened his watch and set it aside, then held out his hand for Radek.

The band didn't look like it had any give to it, but it stretched easily and sprung back to fit snugly around his wrist. There had been a lingering ache behind his eyes all afternoon, dragging at his attention with occasional flares of pain, but it faded out completely after the band was on. He examined it closely, and when he looked up, Radek wore a pleased smile.

"It's working?" he asked Evan.

"Like a dream, Doc. What is it?"

Radek pulled up a stool beside him and grabbed the laptop, turning it around. He brought up a database interface and scrolled through several menus in rapid succession. A moment later, he had the page he wanted, and he pointed at an image in the file.

"This was in the information on Sedii's homeopathic medical practices. Their people have a long tradition of relying on natural cures that continue to be effective. This," he said, "was a method of biofeedback on an almost indiscernible level." He tapped the band. "I spoke with Carson about it already and had him run some tests, to make sure it was safe."

Evan nodded. "So, biofeedback?"

"Ah, yes. The band uses a pressure point in the wrist to send signals to the brain when there is pain, in your case a headache, for an extended time. It reads that you have gone tense and tells your body to relax. Carson says that it could prove a very valuable discovery. He suggested that you try wearing it for half an hour every time you feel the first signs of a headache, and he would like to talk with you about the results. I'll be interested as well, of course."

Of course. Radek had nearly invented the thing, after all. The original one in the database file was large and bulky where Radek's design was sleek and compact. This one could be worn around without drawing much attention to itself, and if it worked half this well on his bad headaches, it was worth ten times its weight in pure naquadah.

"Thank you, Radek," he said seriously. "I don't know how to pay you back for this."

Radek waved it off. "I will consider it payment enough if it does its job."

"Let me at least…" Evan flailed about for a suitable trade. There weren't a lot of things in the city that Radek couldn't get his hands on, with the complex network of favors and trades he maintained. "Look, why don't I make you dinner some night? I'm pretty handy with a self-heating MRE, but you should taste my stuffed potatoes."

"I'm also not paying you to flirt with the military," McKay remarked as he passed them to search for something on the shelf.

Radek said, "And you're still not paying me," at the same time as Evan said, "Bite me, McKay."

"I can still fire you, though," McKay shot back. "And not even with my great-grandmother's spare set of false teeth, Major."

Evan rolled his eyes and Radek shrugged.

"What can you do?" Radek said. "We must have his brilliant mind, but we have not yet found a way to disconnect it from his smart mouth."

It was a testament to how much McKay actually liked Radek that he let the remark slide with a sarcastic, "Ha. Ha." as he left with whatever it was that he had been looking for. Evan had heard rumors of certain members of the science staff having been fired and their careers demolished for less than that. They were exaggerated stories, but probably not by much.

"So, dinner?" Evan prodded.

Radek huffed out a little laugh. "All right," he said with an overdramatic sigh. "I will magnanimously allow you to ply me with a delicious home cooked meal. But do not go thinking that Rodney's aspersions on my morals hold any truth—I do not put out before the third date." He paused, then added in a low voice, "Well, not without a promise of breakfast the next morning."

Evan smothered a laugh that threatened to disrupt the entire lab. His offer had come out a lot like flirting that he hadn't intended, but Radek didn't seem to have taken it the wrong way.

"Why don't you come over Sunday night?" he offered. It was a good time for it, he thought. Sundays usually weren't too busy, and it wasn't a 'date' night.

"All right," Radek agreed. "Should I bring anything?"

"Just your appetite." Which was when Evan's stomach decided to rumble audibly. He and Radek both looked down at their watches. "Speak of the devil," Evan said as he strapped his watch back on.

Radek shut his laptop down and stood to stretch. His back gave two loud pops that made him grimace. "Ách. I hate that sound." He rolled his shoulders once more and looked at Evan expectantly. "Shall we, Major?"

Evan blinked, and Radek made an apologetic gesture.

"Ah, I presumed that you did not already have dinner plans for tonight. Sorry."

"No, it's fine," Evan said, standing up, himself. "It actually sounds great right about now. Call it a practice run."

Dinner was pretty good. The line was short, and there was nearly-chicken casserole with the mashed pink almost-potatoes that Evan had started to love almost as much as his mother's banana pudding. Radek was an entertaining companion in a relaxed setting, sharing gossip about the science staff and explaining the origin of the weird rivalry between the linguists and the zoologists. Evan would never think of PX7-293's sort of-lemurs the same way again.

They were in the middle of eating when Radek glanced at his watch.

"I believe it has been half an hour," he said.

"In a rush, Doc?"

Radek leaned over and tapped Evan's wrist, his fingers lingering an extra second, or maybe that was Evan's imagination. Either way, it left a little tingle behind, and Evan had no idea what the touch meant. He stared blankly at his arm, then glanced back up at Radek.

"The band, Evan," Radek clarified. "You should be able to take it off, now."

"Oh, right." Evan didn't flush, but it was a near thing. He'd forgotten about the band entirely, and the headache it had gotten rid of. When he slipped the band off, he braced himself, but the pain didn't flare up like he had feared.

"Did it work?" Radek's expression had shifted from friendly interest into scientific curiosity.

Evan nodded. "So far, so good. I didn't feel any pain while I was wearing it, even in the background, and it's not creeping up on me now, so…"

Radek smiled broadly and nodded. "Good, good. I admit, at first I was afraid the particular pressure point the design utilizes would turn out to be unique to Sediin physiology. But when I spoke to Carson about it, he assured me that it exists in Terran physiology as well, it has just not been used commonly because it is difficult to access." He plucked at the band, still in Evan's hand. "This reaches it by a finely tuned electrical pulse that mimics the body's own processes."

"That's pretty cool, Doc." Evan stretched the band between two fingers. "I meant to ask you earlier what it's made from. The original design in the database was huge, and this is practically nothing."

"I repurposed some of the insulation from a broken Ancient machine. Flexible, durable, and lightweight. We are also privy to developments in micro circuitry that the people of Sedii could not have begun to imagine at the time that the database was created." He pushed his glasses up and leaned back in his chair. "The bulkiness of the design and the limited ability of the biofeedback apparently made the device unappealing to the Sediin, and it was relegated to nothing more than a historical curiosity. I feel that I have improved on it significantly in both areas."

Radek looked pretty pleased with himself, and for good reason. Evan was impressed with the design as much as with the results, especially after seeing the original schematic.

"Have you thought about seeing if it could be modified for relieving pain from more serious conditions?" Evan asked. He stared down at the table, remembering friends and colleagues who'd been sent home from combat to face a lifetime of chronic pain after injury. "It could really do a lot of good out in the world."

"Yes, it could." Radek's hand twitched forward like he wanted to touch Evan, but he held back. "I had considered the idea," he said instead, "and in time, with Carson's help, I hope to expand its usefulness."

Evan managed a small smile. "That's good, Doc. That's really good." He put the band in his pocket, then looked down at his plate and picked his fork back up. "Probably shouldn't let this get cold."

"No, probably not," Radek agreed quietly.

They finished eating mostly in silence. Evan felt kind of lousy for bringing the mood down so hard, and he said as much to Radek after they'd left their trays at the wash station.

"Think nothing of it, Evan. It is no light task, your job, and it is bound to catch up with you sometimes," Radek said as they headed for the transporter.

They would split off when it let them out, Evan going east to his quarters and Radek going south to his own. Evan hesitated for a second before he hit their level on the panel. Part of him wanted to ask Radek to come watch a movie with him, but he didn't want to impose on any plans for the evening. He hated to give up the company, though. Radek was easy to be with, amiable and interesting, and possessed of better social skills than many of the scientists in the city.

Evan pressed the panel without saying anything, in the end. They were there in a flash, which was still a little amazing to him, and they stepped around a waiting pair of marines when they exited.

Radek looked like he wanted to say something when Evan turned to say goodbye, but he shook his head and said, "I'll see you Sunday, then, yes? Unless you would like to sort through more Ancient knick-knacks before then."

"Sunday, seven-ish," Evan agreed with a nod. He pulled the band out. "If this keeps working right, I'll probably be too busy catching up on paperwork to stop by the lab. Unless you need me to, that is." He cringed as soon as he said it, feeling the space between them turn awkward all of a sudden.

"I don't want to impose. I'm sure Rodney will keep me busy as it is. Ever the taskmaster." They shared a small smile. "Well, I should let you get on with your evening. Thank you for your time this afternoon, Evan."

"No problem. And thank you for this," he said, holding the band up. "You've really been a lifesaver."

Radek reached out and squeezed Evan's shoulder. "You are more than welcome. I only wish I could have done more."

And they were talking about way more than the band, now. "Believe me, you've gone above and beyond. I couldn't ask anything more from one of my men, and you keep giving me more." He grasped Radek's arm, mirroring the hand still on his shoulder. "I really owe you, Radek."

Neither of them said anything else, just stood there, holding on to each other. Evan had never really noticed that they were the same height, or that Radek's eyes were blue with green and gold flecks. He had, in fact, spent a lot of time deliberately not noticing that sort of thing about any of the men he worked with since he joined the military. Especially the ones like Radek. The brilliant, funny, attractive, straight ones that he would drop to his knees for in a hot second.

He wasn't sure how long they stood there like that, but when they heard voices coming from around the corner, they broke apart in an awkward shuffle. The two women passed by without seeming to take any notice of them.

"I should…" Evan gestured down the corridor.

"Yes." Radek crossed his arms and rocked up on his toes a little. "Have a good evening, Evan."

"You, too."

They stared at each other for another couple of seconds before turning to go their separate ways. Evan spent the rest of his night working on a portrait of Ged and keeping his mind off the idea of himself on his knees in front of Radek.

The next couple of days felt to Evan like nothing but paperwork and sleep. He plowed through a good chunk of the paperwork that had built up during his recovery, working longer hours than he should have. But the band kept his headaches away, for the most part, and he liked feeling productive again. Beckett clucked at him when he saw how many hours Evan had put in. The band was doing exactly what it should, though, and Evan's other injuries had healed up just fine, so there wasn't much he could do since Evan was healthy.

"Just don't go overboard, lad," Beckett had admonished during a check-up to see how the band was working. "I know you're feeling spry and ready to take on the world again, but I won't hesitate to take you off duty again if I see you pushing yourself any harder."

"Got it, Doc. I'll be careful."

Evan tried not to work as late that evening, but he lost track of the time when he had to redo a set of forms to correct a pair of transposed numbers on the quantities of double boilers and dry erase markers on order for the next Daedalus run. He could only imagine the death matches that would ensue over a mere twenty markers, and they wouldn't go through two hundred double boilers for years.

Catching that error, of course, meant that he had to go back over everything else he had done over the past couple of hours. The next thing he knew, it was past time for the mess to quit serving a hot dinner, and his back cracked three times when he stood and stretched. He stopped by the mess long enough to grab a couple of cold sandwiches before he went back to his quarters. He ate without any particular interest in the food, then headed for the shower.

As he undressed, he examined the scars left by Kagra's knife. They weren't coming out as badly as he and Becket had been worried they would. The worst of it right now was that they were still a dark pinkish color as the new skin grew in, but the scars themselves were thin and healing well. According to Beckett, they would be so faint when all was said and done that they would basically disappear. Only a couple of places would leave visible marks.

One was over his ribs, where Kagra had started cutting too deeply. He'd have a thick arabesque curl there. The other was a place on his left leg. While he and Radek were walking down the mountain, the top of his boot had kept rubbing against it, leaving it aggravated and infected. That would leave a crescent along his calf.

All told, it wasn't that bad. Just unsettling if he looked at them for too long. He shifted his attention to his clothes, folding them and setting everything in a pile beside the sink.

The water in the shower stall came on with a thought, temperature perfect almost right off the bat. Evan stepped under the waterfall fixture and tipped his face up into it, scrubbing his hands through his hair. Most days, he didn't bother lingering, just scrubbed up, rinsed off, and got out again. Sometimes he used the tub instead, soaking the ache out of whatever part of him had gotten banged up on the latest mission.

Tonight he was plain old tired, so he took his time. He lathered up with the strong herbal soap they got from PX3-M91, and when the suds washed away, it felt like they took all the chaos in his head along for the ride. Stress he hadn't realized was building out drained out of his shoulders and neck. Everything distilled down to this exact moment.

Evan braced himself against the wall as a surge of arousal chased down his spine. It was less of an urgent need than it was a sigh of relief from his body. He wrapped a hand loosely around his half-hard dick and started an easy rhythm, a slow slide of his hand with a twist at the end. It felt good to do this just for the sake of it.

With no particular fantasy in mind, he found himself drifting back to yesterday in the corridor with Radek. Evan licked his lips and firmed up his grip as the memory of that look that passed between them brought him fully hard. He replayed the sensation of Radek's hand on his arm, overlaid it on the feel of his own hand.

A little different grip, light and exploratory. Radek would be thorough, search out all his sensitive spots, find a pressure and a rhythm that would get him off and leave him weak in the knees. Evan pressed his face into the arm bracing him. He could have Radek right here behind him, mouth hot on the back of Evan's neck, stubble a sharp contrast to the softness of his lips. Evan's hips snapped forward, and he worked himself faster.

Radek wouldn't speed up, though. He would slow down, teasing, would make Evan shake with wanting. And, God, he'd be hard. His dick would slide between Evan's thighs, hot and thick, and the head would leave sticky trails of precome on Evan's skin. He'd put his mouth next to Evan's ear and start talking, telling Evan all the things he wanted to do after this. His dick would be so close to where Evan wanted it, close enough he might break down and beg for it.

That—oh, fuck, that was it. Evan thrust into his hand faster, felt his balls draw up tight, and he came hard to the image of Radek sliding inside him.

He sagged against the wall and rinsed off, then shut the water off. That was one of the best orgasms he'd had in months.

He was screwed.

Sunday dawned rainy and grey. The controlled climate of the city kept it from being too miserable with humidity, but the dark clouds did little to improve Evan's mood. He'd gone to bed right after his shower the night before, then slept through his alarm and missed his morning run.

When he got to his office, he'd barely got started for the day when Sheppard escorted three marines in for a lecture on Why You Do Not Fuck Around With Unlabeled Ancient Devices, Which You Should Already Know. Sheppard loomed in the doorway while the marines, all new shipments from the last Daedalus run, stood at attention and glanced at each other nervously.

The first time this had happened, Evan had asked Sheppard afterward why he hadn't given the lecture himself.

"You're good with words, Lorne. And you have that freaky calm thing. They're used to being yelled at; the calm scares the shit out of them."

So their system was that Evan handed troublemakers their asses, and Sheppard loomed authoritatively and sometimes let Ronon deal with the really stubborn ones. Evan was on a roll, today, and he watched as the kids blanched, one by one. Behind them, Sheppard's eyebrow climbed steadily higher while Evan explained exactly how badly they could have fucked up if the machine they'd been messing with hadn't been broken and disconnected from a power source. When he finished and Sheppard turned them loose, the three of them fell all over each other in the effort to get out of the room first.

"Been hanging around McKay lately, Major?" Sheppard asked. "I'm pretty sure I've heard a few of those lines down in the labs."

"Not particularly, sir." Okay, he might have been overdoing it a little with the 'obviously too stupid to live' part, but if these were the people the SGC expected to survive in Pegasus for more than two seconds, somebody needed to rein in the stupid. "Sorry, sir."

Sheppard shrugged. "They needed to hear it. You, on the other hand, look like you should still be in bed."

"I'm fine, sir. Just had a rough start this morning." Evan fought the urge to cross his arms when Sheppard gave him the eye. Instead, he matched gazes with him and tried to exude that 'freaky calm thing.'

"Right." Sheppard didn't—quite—roll his eyes. "Nervous about your date, Lorne?"

Evan froze. "Date?" he repeated faintly.

"Heard Simpson teasing Zelenka about it yesterday," Sheppard said in the faux casual way that he had raised to an art form.

"Ah, I. I just wanted to thank him for this." Evan pulled the band out of his pocket. "He adapted it from something in the Sediin database to help with my headaches. And I didn't get a chance to stop by the nearest Hallmark, but I don't figure there's a card for 'thanks for saving my ass and inventing something to make my life easier,' really."

That got him a slow nod. "Probably not." He seemed to have decided that was settled, and he turned to leave. "Have a better day, Lorne, and don't go breaking any of McKay's scientists."

"I'll try to restrain myself, sir."

Evan spent the rest of the day in a blur. He slogged through the reports from SGA-5's latest mission, warded off a headache, updated the inventory reports, and wrote up the three marines from that morning after Sheppard sent in his official statement, all on autopilot. He was out of the office as soon as his shift ended, and after a quick stop by his quarters to change into jeans and a plain white button-down shirt, he went by to pick up the ingredients he'd requisitioned from the kitchens a few days earlier.

During the second year of the expedition, once the Daedalus had started being able to ship the occasional non-essential item to the city, someone had had the brilliant idea of turning some of the common rooms in the living quarters sections into kitchenettes. They couldn't have full-sized appliances, of course, but between several groups working together, they had managed to bring in a few smaller things. Microwaves, toaster ovens, and mini-fridges had made their way into corners and crannies.

In the kitchenette in Evan's section, someone had stuck a small dry erase board to the front of the fridge so that anyone who needed to use the room for longer than it took to zap a bag of popcorn could let the others know. They tended to be respectful of usage.

His name was on the board right now, and the room was empty when he came in. He didn't think too much about what he was doing while he was preparing everything, but once the salad was chilling and the main dish—his grandmother's chicken-stuffed potatoes, the first thing he'd ever cooked by himself—was in the toaster oven, there wasn't much left for him to do but think.

He hadn't intended to give anyone the wrong impression about this, least of all Radek. Especially now that the wrong impression was maybe half right. He cringed at the thought of having to not quite answer any more questions that Sheppard might not quite ask, even if there was nothing he had to not quite say. And on top of that, he had probably made things just as awkward on Radek.

The toaster oven beeped at him a little before 1900.

He slid the tray out and took it back to his quarters, then went back for the salad and dessert in the fridge. Lt. Michaelson had been on duty when he went to pick up his ingredients, and she had saved him two slices of the chocolate fudge cake that always disappeared as soon as it went out in the mess.

"Feel free to tell Dr. Zelenka that's from me, sir," she'd said with a wink. "I've been trying to butter him up for some private chess lessons."

Evan had managed a smile for her and a promise to pass on her regards. It definitely didn't hurt his cause to have a dessert that Radek liked. Not that there was a cause. Just a thank you, was all. But cake beat out pudding cups and Jell-o by a country mile.

He set everything out, potatoes and salad on plates at the small table he'd borrowed, cake on the desk, a couple of the beers he'd been saving laid out to chill in a dish of ice. He was actually thinking about rearranging the books on the nightstand a little more casually when his door chime sounded. Swiping his palms over his pants, he ducked into the bathroom for half a second to make sure he didn't look like he'd been stressing out over the way his books were stacked, and he thought the door open as he stepped back out.

The smile that he was aiming for turned into something more like a once-over. Radek was wearing civvies, jeans and a pale blue button-down that brought out his eyes. His sleeves were rolled up, and Evan's gaze was drawn to the delineation of the muscle in his forearm. It also made him glad that he'd changed into civvies, himself.

"I'm sorry, I think I'm a bit late," Radek said as he stepped into the room, and Evan could have kicked himself for standing there and staring like an idiot.

"Don't worry about it," he said. "I actually just got everything finished a second ago, so you're right on time by my account."

"Ah, good. I did not want to keep you waiting."

Evan tipped his head toward the table. "Shall we?" He cracked open their drinks while Radek took a seat, and he lifted his bottle in a toast once he sat. "To good teammates," he said.

"And to better friends. Na zdraví," Radek added, tilting his bottle.

They drank to the toast and dug in to the food. Evan was relieved that everything tasted all right since he had had to substitute several ingredients with Pegasus equivalents.

"Prima," Radek said when he tasted it. "This is very good, Evan."

"Thanks. It's my grandmother's recipe. She taught me to cook, and this is the first thing I ever got to make without help."

He nodded. "My mother and my sister tried to teach me, but I was not very good. Following a recipe, that is easy. Simply instructions and chemistry, yes? But I wasn't invested in it." He gestured with his fork. "It had no heart. This has heart."

Evan flushed with the praise. "If you, uh, if you ever want to try learning again, I'm willing to be experimented on. I never say no to a free meal from a good friend."

"I will keep that in mind."

They both turned their attention to eating, then, and Radek gradually got the conversation going again like he had during their dinner in the mess a few days ago. Evan relaxed by degrees as they found a good rhythm of give and take, and before he knew it, Radek had him rolling with laughter over a story about a failed prank one of his lab mates had tried to pull on their thesis advisor in grad school. He did not pity the poor bastard having to scrape dried entrails off of everything in the man's trophy case. Which of course made a fine lead-in for dessert, but neither of them was the squeamish type.

"Courtesy of Lt. Michaelson," Evan said as he brought the cake to the table. "Sounds like she has a little crush on you, Radek."

"Michaelson…" Radek took a bite of cake and furrowed his brow in thought. "She is… blonde, with the beauty mark here?" he asked, pointing to a spot below his left eye.

"That's the one," Evan confirmed.

Radek made a dismissive noise, but his eyes danced with amusement when he said, "She only wants me for my endgame."

That almost made Evan choke on his beer for laughing. "She's a sweet kid," he said, "but I think she'd be in over her head with you." He paused with his fork halfway to his mouth, then lowered it and shook his head. "I think I just channeled my mother there for a second. I'm pretty sure she told my cousin that exact same thing about a girl once."

"And oddly enough, my own mother said much the same to me several times in my youth."

"I think a lot of people are in over their heads with you," Evan said after the last bite of his cake.

"I do not think that you are one of them," Radek replied. He reached across the table, his thumb swiping over the corner of Evan's mouth. "You had a little…"

His hand didn't move, and neither did Evan. They stared at each other for a long moment before Radek stood and leaned in to kiss him. Evan was stock still. It was a good kiss, but he couldn't make himself move to return it. Too many conflicting signals were crowding his head.

Radek pulled back with a sigh, his face full of regret. "Promiňte—I am sorry. I am afraid I have greatly misread the situation."

"No." Evan grabbed for Radek's wrist before he could go too far. "No, you didn't—I was just. Surprised." That didn't do much to take that look off of Radek's face, so he fumbled through his thoughts. "I didn't realize you were attracted to men. I've seen the way you look at Dr. Weir, and then you told me that you'd been married… It didn't cross my mind."

"I'm bisexual," he confirmed. "And you, Evan?"

He couldn't remember the last time he'd said it out loud after having to hide it for so long for the sake of his career. "I'm gay." He stood up, keeping hold of Radek's wrist and stepping around the table so that they were separated only by a breath. "You definitely did not misread my interest."

Evan brought his other hand up to cup the back of Radek's neck and draw him in for another kiss. It was small, slow. Just a brush of lips, then another, then Radek caught Evan's bottom lip and sucked on it gently. He tugged his hand out of Evan's grasp to pull him closer. They were pressed together shoulder to hip, and Radek slotted his leg between Evan's as he deepened the kiss.

Being touched like this was better than the first time he'd flown a jumper and felt Atlantis's power hum through him. It was good to want and be wanted and to know each other. Evan had tried the clubs and bars when he was younger, had cruised and been cruised. He had never lacked for opportunities when he'd gone out, and most of the encounters had been mutually satisfying, but very few of them had had any connection with him beyond physical attraction.

Radek gave him connection to spare. And right now, the exact right amount of tongue. He licked at Evan's bottom lip, then into his mouth a bit. Evan closed his teeth on it just enough to hold it for a second, and Radek moaned into it. He pulled away a fraction, letting his mouth slide along Evan's jaw and down his neck, biting a path from Evan's ear to his collar bone, as far as the collar of his shirt allowed.

"Jsi sexy," he rumbled by Evan's ear.

He didn't need a translation for that one. It sent a shiver down his back.

"I think…" Radek began, trailing off when Evan rocked against his hardening dick. "Perhaps it is best to wait, yes?" he said, although it wasn't all that convincing when he pressed his leg forward to give Evan a better place to thrust.

"I think," Evan countered, "we should strike while the iron is hot. And it is plenty hot."

Radek eased back and stared at Evan's mouth for a moment before clearing his throat. "I should go. It is late already, and I do not like to do things by halves."

It took Evan a minute to figure out what he meant by that. When it hit, he felt himself sway closer, pulling Radek back in by his hips. "Sorry, Doc, but I'm from America. We're real big on the instant gratification thing there," he said, and he caught one of Radek's ankles with his foot. A quick jerk threw Radek off balance enough for Evan to take them to the floor. Radek didn't seem to mind it much once Evan got back to kissing him.

Evan shifted so that he was half on top of Radek, enough to pin him but not squash him. His thigh slid back between Radek's, and he pressed up so it came snug against Radek's groin. His dick was hard already. Evan's went harder when he felt it, digging into his thigh with all the enthusiasm of ending a long dry spell. He rocked against Radek's hip and ducked his head to bite at Radek's neck, and when Radek bucked up into him and started encouraging him in Czech, Evan realized he needed to blow him right that second.

He slid a hand down Radek's chest, then back up with the hem of his shirt in tow. Evan briefly savored the feel of Radek's skin, soft and warm under his fingers. After that, it took only a couple of seconds to pop the button of Radek's jeans and tug the zipper down, and Radek dragged Evan's mouth back to his when Evan palmed him. His dick twitched under Evan's hand, and Evan gave it a couple of strokes through his briefs.

Radek's fingers tangled with his as they both tugged at the waistband of his briefs to free his dick. Together, they got it worked out, and Radek moaned into Evan's mouth at the first slow stroke. He fit nicely in Evan's hand, thick and heavy and warm. Radek seemed reluctant to let the kiss end when Evan made to pull away, but Evan sat back on his heels and nudged Radek's legs further apart.

"Okay?" he asked as he slipped down between Radek's thighs.

"Ano, yes, yes. Just—" Radek clutched at his shoulders. "I do not think I will last very long. I have wanted you for a very long time."

Evan swallowed reflexively, eyes falling shut as he thought about what that wanting implied. He was really going to have to ask Radek to jerk off for him sometime. God. As he tugged Radek's foreskin back, he dropped his head to inhale Radek's scent, musky and sharp, and he licked a line up the shaft from base to tip. Radek pushed his hips up and groaned.

This was something Evan had always enjoyed, using his mouth to make another man fall apart under him. He liked the weight of a cock on his tongue, the feeling of big hands cupping his head or his shoulders, the sound of a low voice choking out his name in pleasure. He flicked his tongue over the sensitive spot under the head just to make Radek curse and spread his legs a little more.

"Do prdele. Evan, please."

Evan slid his mouth down over Radek until the head nudged at the back of his throat, then he sucked his way back up. His tongue wrapped around the wet head at the top of the stroke, and his hand worked over the shaft. He pulled off long enough to lick his palm and regret for a second that he hadn't moved them to the bed first. His spit-slick hand moved more easily over Radek when he wrapped it around him again.

He set up a fast rhythm with his hand and sucked hard at the head, shifting his hips restlessly. His own dick pressed against the fly of his jeans, aching, and in his position, he couldn't get enough friction to do him any good. Above him, Radek was breathing heavily and mumbling encouragement in a mix of Czech and English, hips hitching up to push into Evan's fist. It was a distinct possibility that after this, Evan wouldn't be able to hear Czech without getting hard.

Their eyes met when Evan glanced up through his lashes. He held Radek's gaze as he put a twist into his strokes and dipped his tongue into the slit. Radek cried out, curling in on himself a little, and he shot into Evan's mouth. Evan choked for a second, then swallowed until Radek finished. He licked gently at the head for a moment afterward, coaxing out the last few drops, loving the way Radek shivered through the aftershocks.

Evan sat up with care, and Radek smiled at him wryly.

"If I had known you would show so much enthusiasm, I would have kissed you much sooner." He pushed himself up and grimaced when his back popped. "I told you before I am too old for this business of being on the ground." Still, Radek pulled him in for another kiss right where they were, licking his own taste from Evan's mouth. "I would like to return the favor," he said when he broke it off, and he palmed Evan through his jeans. "Shall we move to the bed?"

"God, yes," Evan breathed, arching into the touch.

He stood slowly and pulled Radek up with him, waiting while Radek paused to adjust his clothes. The bed was on the other side of the table from them, too many steps away for the urgency of before, and now too many steps away for comfort. He led Radek to it as quickly as he dared.

They stopped beside it, and Radek's hands were unbuttoning Evan's shirt in a flash. He pushed it off, then went for Evan's fly.

"I will take the time to explore later, yes?" Radek said as he pushed Evan's jeans and briefs down. "For now…" He shoved Evan down on the bed and dropped to his knees between Evan's splayed thighs.

He sucked Evan down with no warning, mouth a hot, wet sheath. Evan knew it wasn't going to take very long for him, either, not when Radek's tongue was as agile with cock as it was at all that verbal sparring with McKay. He choked out a noise that was half laugh, half moan when the phrase 'cunning linguist' popped into his mind. Radek pulled off with a dirty, wet noise and arched one eyebrow at Evan as he took his glasses off.

"Sorry," Evan apologized. "It wasn't you, just a weird stray thought."

"I suppose I will forgive you, then," Radek said with exaggerated gravity. "If you have enough attention to spare for stray thoughts, however, I am not doing my job."

Radek folded his glasses and reached over to set them on the night stand, then planted his hands on Evan's thighs and stroked his thumbs over the soft skin high up on the inside. He leaned in again, but instead of going for Evan's dick, he cupped Evan's balls in one hand. He rolled them carefully as his other hand slid up to circle the base of his dick.

This shift to a slower pace was driving Evan a little crazy already. He didn't know if he would even make it to the good part if Radek didn't get a move on, because he was ready to just grab himself and go for it. Radek, though—brilliant, talented, amazing Radek—went back down on him. He sucked hard, cheeks hollowing and eyes fluttering shut.

It made Evan's stomach clench, and his dick jerked, shooting a little precome. Radek licked it up and kept going this time, thank God. Evan was fixated on the quick bob of his head and the obscene noises he made. He wanted to memorize everything about it, but he couldn't keep his head up, could only sink back and concentrate on the sensations and the sounds.

Radek took him in deep on the next down stroke and moaned, and the vibrations rippled out from Evan's dick and along his nerve endings. He ached to come even as he wanted Radek to just keep going for the next ten years or so. He was running hot and cold in waves, synapses firing conflicting signals with his nerves on overload. His hips jerked up, and Radek shifted to pin him down when he choked a little on the thrust.

The restraint dragged a shiver and a whimper out of Evan, made him push up against it helplessly. He liked being held down, liked knowing that he was being pinned and taken by someone just as strong as he was and who wanted to make him feel this good. Evan thrust as much as he could, Radek sucked harder, and a moment later, Evan convulsed and came.

He slumped into the mattress, staring blankly at the ceiling. Radek rested his forehead on Evan's thigh, and Evan came back to awareness by degrees. He felt the sweat cooling on his skin, the tenderness of his swollen mouth, the tiny muscle twitches as he relaxed. Hell, he was still wearing his shoes, he realized, and his pants were around his ankles.

Radek's breath gusted softly over his skin in a sigh. Evan was pretty sure he knew what Radek was about to say, so he sat up and beat him to the punch.


"Kolik je hodin?"

Evan lifted his head and stared muzzily at Radek in the bare hint of light in his room. "Huh?"

"Time," Radek tried again. "What time is it?"

Grabbing his watch off of the night stand, Evan thanked science for light-up watch faces. He really hated turning a light on in the middle of the night and going back to bed with spots dancing behind his eyelids. This wasn't quite as bad. "It's a little after 0430," he said once he figured out the meaning of the numbers on the display.

Radek swore and buried his face against Evan's shoulder, stubble scraping rough over Evan's skin. "I should go."

"Yeah," Evan agreed, almost asleep again already. It was just so comfortable, lying here with another warm body that now had all kinds of good associations with it in his head.

"If I am seen coming out of your room in the morning, gossip will be around the entire city before breakfast is over." Radek made no move to get up. "I shouldn't do that to you."

"Fuck 'em," Evan mumbled. "Let 'em talk. They'll just be jealous."

Radek huffed a laugh. "You do not mean that. I'm going, now."

This time he actually did sit up and start feeling around for his clothes. Evan switched the lamp on before rolling over into the warm spot that Radek had left. He slid his arms up under the pillow and watched over his shoulder while Radek got dressed. His dick stirred slightly, making him wish they could've stayed together until a less muddled time of morning and had another round before starting the day.

"I see that look," Radek said as he buttoned his shirt. "There is no time, but save the thought for later."

"Which thought?"

"We will get around to all of them, eventually. Now, go back to sleep," he said, leaning down to lay a gentle kiss on Evan's cheek. "I will see you later."

Radek walked around to the other side of the bed to grab his glasses and switch the lamp off, and Evan was asleep again before he made it out the door.

Monday morning, contrary to what Evan was pretty sure was a universal law of physics, was great. He woke up well rested, his body heavy and lazy with satisfaction. He shut off his alarm, got through his run early, and took a long, hot shower. He lingered over the memory of the night before, hand moving slow and steady, and he couldn't keep the smile off of his face.

He had another check-up with Beckett before his shift started. Beckett made lots of pleased noises at the results of Evan's scans, and he confirmed that the band was still working like it should.

"I'm very happy with the speed of your recovery, Major," he said. "I'll be able to clear you for full duty again soon. I just want to give your deeper cuts a wee bit more time to heal before they send you off world again."

"That's good to hear, Doc," Evan said as he slid down off the exam table. "To tell the truth, I was starting to get a little antsy just sitting in an office every day."

"Aye, I'm sure you were. Have a good day, lad." He waved Evan out of the room with a smile.

After that good news, sitting in the office actually wasn't too bad. The paperwork went smoothly, he didn't have any more disciplinary lectures to give, and no one even sent in any amended reports. He thought about going down to the labs when he finished, but he finally decided it was too much gossip fodder for Radek's nosier lab mates, and maybe a little tiny bit desperate. The engineers had probably badgered Radek about the dinner all day, anyway.

Instead, Evan went back to his quarters and worked on his painting for a while. His small balcony was the perfect size to accommodate himself, his easel, and his tools, and the view was inspiring. He had done the underpainting and gotten the guidelines laid down the other night, so he was ready to start working on the first layer. The familiar process of mixing his colors and laying down the first brush strokes absorbed his attention.

He got in a couple of hours' work before his stomach rumbled. He really should've stopped sooner, when he'd come in to turn a light on as the daylight faded, but it was always hard to stop himself when he fell into a groove.

Cleaning the paint off of his hands, he resigned himself to another night of sandwich and fruit for dinner. There were plenty of empty tables when he got to the mess, so he grabbed a turkey on wheat and a couple of the small, tart blue apples that had been part of the trade deal with Sedii, and he took a seat by the windows. He found that he was actually sort of expecting Radek to show up and eat with him, as much as they had been in the same place at the same time lately, but no one bothered him while he ate.

He ended up not seeing Radek outside of work for the next several days. With Beckett clearing him for full duty again soon, he had to put together a new team. It kept him busy going over the files of the military personnel who weren't already on gate teams, then with interviewing the ones who made his short list, then seeing how his favorites worked together. He and Radek were in a meeting together for a while one morning, and they traded a couple of looks that would have been more than enough to reassure Evan that they were still on good terms even if he hadn't thought so already.

Radek really didn't seem the type to avoid or ignore someone after sex, anyway. Really, really good sex. Sex that was easily in Evan's top five, and should therefore be attempted again at the soonest available opportunity. They both had places to be after the meeting was over, though, so Evan didn't have a chance to do more than look.

A couple of days after that, he had a new team put together, a milk run mission scheduled for the following week, and a recurring fantasy of shoving Radek into a supply closet for a quickie. Luckily, Radek seemed to be having similar thoughts. On Friday afternoon, their paths crossed in a corridor and Radek abruptly dragged him into an empty lab. He crowded Evan up against a work bench and attacked his mouth in a wet, dirty kiss.

"I have a day off tomorrow," Radek said as he backed off by a fraction of an inch. "I believe that you do, as well."

"Yeah. Got any plans?" Evan asked, nipping at Radek's jaw.

He tilted his head to give Evan better access. "Mm, I was hoping that I would have the chance to spend the day in bed. There is a very handsome man who had me over for dinner the other night, and I thought I might invite him over for drinks tonight."

"I think he'd like that a lot." Evan nuzzled the soft spot behind Radek's ear. "You gonna make him breakfast, too?"

"I have my own coffee maker."

"Good enough."

They traded a few more kisses like horny teenagers sneaking in a makeout session between classes until they really did have to go, and Radek said, "I will see you tonight."

"I'll be there at 1900," Evan agreed.

The rest of the day was a blur of anticipation. His shift was already over, so Evan was at loose ends until he went to meet Radek. He made some more progress on the portrait of Ged, read a couple of chapters in the novel he'd been reading, grabbed a quick dinner, and changed his mind three times about what he wanted to wear. Lisa would think that was hysterical, because he'd never been very fussy about his wardrobe. He used to tease her all the time when they were kids about the way she would claim she had nothing to wear even though her closet and her chest of drawers were crammed full. She would enjoy a chance to turn the tables on him for once.

He finally settled on a soft grey t-shirt and a threadbare pair of jeans. When he checked himself over in the mirror, he added a white button-down over the tee. The fading scars on his forearms made him a little self-conscious in public, as accustomed as he was to wearing his long-sleeved uniform shirts. Some of the personnel around the city had a bad habit of simply staring at things that caught their attention, including people. He wasn't in the mood to draw that kind of attention to himself tonight, even if everyone already knew where the scars had come from.

At five to seven, Evan gave himself one last glance in the mirror, ran his tongue over his teeth to double check that he had brushed them already, and took a deep breath before heading out the door. His watch was just ticking over to 1900 when he arrived at Radek's quarters. The door slid open almost immediately after he ran his hand over the chime.

Radek was still wearing his science blues when he pulled Evan inside. There wasn't really any reason for him to change out of them, after all, since whatever he had on was just going to come off soon. The door whispered shut behind Evan, and he asked Atlantis to lock it six ways to Sunday. He didn't want any interruptions tonight that weren't critical.

"You look good," Radek said, giving him a once-over and a smile with a dangerous edge. "Would you like something to drink?"

"Just a beer if you've got it," he said.

Radek pulled two bottles of Sam Adams out of the mini-fridge tucked in the corner by his desk. He handed one to Evan and gestured to the couch. "Have a seat."

Evan took the right side of the small sofa and sat sideways to face Radek, his left leg up on the cushion, foot hooked behind his other knee. Radek mirrored the position on the other side. After taking a sip of his beer, he rested the bottle on his knee and looked squarely at Evan.

"I must admit that I do not often begin my sexual relationships without first talking about expectations," he said. "That is the other reason that I wished to see you. I would like to move forward, but I would also like to know what it is that we both believe that to mean."

That… was not quite where Evan had expected the conversation to begin after that look Radek had given him, but it was a really good start, actually. While Evan hadn't been worried about whether they were still okay with each other, he had started to think about what it was that they were going to do now. There were things that he couldn't give in a relationship right now, and he wanted to be sure that Radek wasn't expecting anything that was unrealistic while Evan was restricted under the rules of the U.S. military. He was pretty sure that Radek would have already taken into consideration everything that that entailed, but sometimes it was the smart ones who really surprised you on these things.

"I want to see where we're going with this, too," Evan said. "I'm definitely interested in more than just sex."

"Yes, that part was very—" he paused to look Evan over again "—very good, but I have also enjoyed getting to know you as a friend since you arrived in the city. I do not wish to give that up or to see it pushed to the wayside by physical desire."

"Neither do I."

Radek stretched his arm out along the back of the couch to tangle his fingers with Evan's. "I have also had a long time to consider what it would mean for us to be lovers here. I am familiar with the difficulties of conducting a relationship in secrecy."

"That a familiarity of experience?"

"Yes. An older, married man, when I was young and foolish," Radek said matter-of-factly. "He was a teacher at my school, far too brilliant for our impoverished district. I never knew why he worked there, though I have always assumed it was a matter of politics."

Evan stroked the side of Radek's hand with his thumb. "Pissed off the wrong guy and got shipped off?"

"That is the most likely scenario I extrapolated, yes."

"You mind me asking how it started between you two?"

"No, it is long past, and I would not have mentioned it if I minded." Radek took a drink and thought for a minute. "It is difficult to say who seduced whom. He was very handsome, and I was only just beginning to acknowledge my attraction to other boys in any meaningful way. I started asking him for extra lessons after school, and one afternoon…" Radek shrugged. "He was leaning very close and touching my back, so I kissed him.

"After that, we spent as much time on physics as we did on lovemaking—he was terribly brilliant. We would hide in the labs or under his desk, and during the days, he took particular care to pay no more attention to me than to anyone else in the class. It lasted three months, and I spent them all wishing for more of everything I was given. More of his time, more of his attention, more of his heart." His fingers tightened around Evan's reflexively. "It ended one weekend when his wife was supposed to be gone to visit her sister and he took me to his house. She came back early and nearly found us together.

"He broke it off immediately, and I nursed a broken heart for the rest of the school year. As with most young loves, I soon moved on."

"Did you ever regret it?" Evan asked.

"Only that I may have played a part in hurting his wife. She was very kind, and in my selfishness, I had not stopped to think of how what we were doing would affect her."

When Radek fell silent, Evan squeezed his hand. "I thought I'd met the love of my life when I was in college," he said. "We dated pretty seriously through my junior year, and he was everything I thought I wanted. I was planning on taking him home with me over spring break to meet my parents, but he said he had already made plans to go on a road trip with his brother. He wasn't out with his family yet, and he told me he was going to tell his brother on the trip.

"After he got back, he started acting weird. He didn't want to be seen with me in certain places, and he would say it was because he'd heard that a couple of gay guys had been roughed up there or because he saw someone his parents knew and he didn't want them to say anything before he got a chance to tell his parents himself. I knew something was wrong, but I kept ignoring it. I kept telling myself all of his excuses made sense. Then he started getting calls from a girl, but he wouldn't take them when I was around. The one time I answered, she hung up when she realized it wasn't him.

"I confronted him about it, and it turned out that he'd hooked up with her on his trip, and his family still didn't know about us. I broke up with him during a pretty ugly fight that night. Broke his nose, too. Nothing else has ever made me lose my temper that bad."

Radek shook his head. "It is understandable that you did at the time. He had thoroughly betrayed your trust."

Evan sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. "I put everything I had into that relationship for months. That was sort of where I was going with this. I didn't mean it to come off like a warning or anything, but I had to tell the whole story. I just… I want to give you whatever I can, and I hope that it will be enough."

"It is enough already, to know that you feel that way." Radek tugged Evan's hand closer and kissed his knuckles. "I trust your intentions."

"I also wanted to make sure you're okay with… being kind of like that. There's a lot that we can't do. I mean, it feels so much different from Earth here, sometimes, but we still—"

"I promise you, I am prepared for that," Radek interrupted quietly. "I believe that you are worth enough to take what I am able, and I will give all I can and be content."

"Okay. Okay." Evan closed his eyes and dropped his forehead to rest against their entwined hands.

Radek scooted closer and slid his free hand over Evan's jaw, around to the back of his neck. He kissed Evan's temple. "Would you like to go to bed, now? To sleep. You look tired."

He felt tired. Letting out all the thoughts that had been ricocheting around his head for the past week had worn him out, and a nap sounded like the best thing on the planet right about now. He nodded. "Yeah, that sounds good."

"Come on," Radek prompted as he stood. He pulled Evan up with him and led him to the bed.

They both began undressing, but Evan paused with his hand on his fly. He wasn't wearing underwear. He didn't know if that might be weird right now, since they weren't going to bed for sex. Then Radek stripped down to his skin, and Evan smiled wryly at himself for being so shy. He'd never had a problem with his body before, so why start now, with someone who had already seen it all?

Radek slid in under the covers on the right, and Evan took the left again. There were a few moments of awkward shuffling as they tried to figure out where arms and legs should go. It was a little harder starting out with the cuddling than ending with it. Evan ended up on his side with Radek spooned up behind him. He felt a tiny twitch of arousal at having so much skin pressed against skin, but it was a slow burn rather than anything urgent. Mostly, he was sleepy and warm and content. It only took a few minutes before he went out like a light.

When Evan woke up again, he almost didn't remember where he was. He had a moment of 'oh, shit, did I get drugged off world again?' before Radek mumbled nonsense against Evan's shoulder blade and tightened the arm slung over his waist.

Evan fumbled for the corner of the desk where he'd left his watch. He managed to smack his hand on the edge and had to stifle a curse, but he found his watch on the next try. When he checked the time, it was a little after one. They'd slept longer than he had expected, and he had the sudden knowledge that now that he had woken up, he would be awake for a long time.

"Mm. What time is it?" Radek asked quietly, then he chuckled. "If this conversation happens like this once more, I believe we will have developed a routine already."

Evan gave a soft laugh and turned over in Radek's arms. "It's just after one. I'm pretty wide-awake, though."

"As am I."

"You know any good ways to pass the time this early in the morning?" Evan asked as he ran a hand down from Radek's hip to his knee and back up.

"I can think of a few," Radek replied. "We have made a very good start already." He pressed closer to Evan, his half-hard dick fitting nicely against the groove of Evan's hip.

Evan's own dick twitched and stirred to life, and he shifted so that it was lined up with Radek's. They were close enough to share breath, but they didn't kiss yet, just touched. Radek traced a path of arcs and swirls over Evan's chest, following the scars that were barely visible in the ambient light. He stopped to rub a thumb over one of Evan's nipples, which made Evan sigh and rock his hips forward. Evan stroked a hand down Radek's back, liking the way his palm fit into the dip of it before he palmed Radek's ass. Radek hummed softly and pushed Evan onto his back, then his touch disappeared.

"Close your eyes," Radek said.

"Okay." There was a burst of light right after he said it, and when Evan opened them again, the lamp was on.

Radek was looking through the drawer of the night table. "I did not want to blind you," he explained.

He made a satisfied noise and took something out of the drawer. When he turned back around, Evan saw that it was a bottle of lube. Radek tucked it under his pillow and leaned down with his arms braced on either side of Evan's head.

Evan stretched up for a kiss. "Hope you were planning on putting that to good use."

"Most definitely," Radek said. "But first, I seem to recall that I made a promise last time to explore you."

The tone in his voice made Evan shiver. "I think I remember that, too."

Radek gave him a predatory smile and shifted down to lick the nipple he had been toying with earlier. Evan arched up into it, inhaling sharply. Radek looked at him curiously for several seconds, then he smiled and nodded.

"What?" Evan asked warily.

"I should have known that you were a quiet one. I was too… preoccupied to notice before."

That made Evan a little self-conscious. He'd had several guys complain that they couldn't tell what he wanted because he was so quiet. Radek, on the other hand, seemed to have decided to take the lack of noise as a challenge. He watched Evan intently as he dipped his head and licked at the other nipple. Evan flushed and had to look away.

Radek seemed encouraged by the reaction. He closed his teeth around the nub as it hardened, tugging until Evan's hips bucked up. That absorbed his attention for several minutes, varying the pressure, testing the reactions of teeth versus lips versus tongue, gauging whether one nipple was more sensitive than the other. Evan squirmed beneath him. If this was what the whole night was going to be like, he wasn't sure he would survive it, but he would damn sure die happy.

"I wonder what it will take to make you scream for me?"

Really damn happy.

Some time later, Evan woke up slumped back against the pillows, feeling loose and rested. Radek had been serious when he'd said he wanted to explore. He had kept Evan on edge for nearly an hour as he experimented, trying new things, laying Evan's wants out like puzzle pieces to be put together in the most pleasurable configuration. The way Evan figured, he was better catalogued now than the Library of Congress. Once he got some more rest, he planned to pay Radek back for every minute of it.

At the moment, however, he was enjoying the weight and warmth of Radek next to him. Long fingers rested on the crest of his hip, and they were sharing a pillow. Radek made a soft noise.

"I have a doctorate," Evan said suddenly.

"Mm?" Radek stirred beside him and cracked an eye open.

"Doctorate," Evan repeated lamely. "I, uh, I got it at AFIT. Sorry, did I wake you up? I thought you were awake already."

Radek shrugged and scooted closer. "Not entirely, but I would have been soon, I think. What was your field?"


And okay, that must have been the magic word. Radek loomed up over him with a frown. "You are an engineer."

"Uh… yes?"

"You have a PhD in engineering, and you only now saw fit to inform me of this?" He said something sharp in Czech and thumped Evan on the shoulder. "I could have been picking your brain all this time, and instead you play light switch when you come to my lab."

Evan grinned sheepishly. "It's in my file," he offered.

Radek paused for a moment, then laughed as recollection dawned on him. "Touché. I suspect there will be quite a lot for us to learn about one another."

"Yeah, probably so."

"Well, then," Radek said, reaching under the pillow and pulling out the bottle of lube he'd stashed there earlier. "I didn't get a chance to use this before you fell asleep on me."

The look in Radek's eye made Evan swallow hard, and his morning erection jumped at the thought of what Radek might have planned.

"I think you're interested, yes?"

"Yes. Definitely yes," Evan said, kicking back the covers. He pulled one of his knees up and stretched his arms up over his head, feeling a little shameless. He smiled at Radek's sharp intake of breath.

Radek climbed over him, stretching out on top of him, and he slid his hands up along the tender skin on the insides of Evan's arms as he reached up to take his hands. He rocked down against Evan and dropped his head so that their mouths were only a hair's breadth apart. They stayed right there, just breathing, for several seconds as Evan waited for whatever it was Radek had to say.

"It is," he finally said, "a very good thing that I am not working today. I would get nothing done if I was expected to concentrate after seeing you like this." He caught Evan's mouth, then, and licked his way in with a pleased sound.

Evan sank into it. Kissing Radek was good, familiar but still new, and a bolt of heat shot through him when Radek sucked on his tongue.

Radek pulled back with a wet sound. "I would like to fuck you."

"I'd like you to," Evan replied, reflexively testing Radek's grip on his hands. "I've thought about it." The hold was nothing excessive, just enough strength in it to make Evan push if he wanted to put his hands somewhere else. So Radek had noticed that, too.

The grip loosened but didn't move, and Evan took the cue to keep his hands where they were. Radek sat back on his heels and flicked open the lid of the bottle. He slicked up his fingers, hitched Evan's leg up higher and spread him open so he could drizzle some of the lube over Evan's balls and down further. Evan fought the urge to squirm at the sensation.

Radek rubbed one finger around the edge of Evan's hole, pressing just enough to open him up a little but not going any further. Evan closed his eyes and breathed. He tried to rock his hips down into the touch, but Radek wasn't putting much pressure into it, so his hand shifted with the motion. It drew a frustrated huff of air out of Evan and a soft laugh from Radek.

"Impatient," he chastised.

But he pushed a little harder, and his fingertip sank in slick and easy. There was a tiny burn, reminding Evan it had been a very long time since he'd been fucked. It hadn't been worth the risk in so long that he had almost forgotten this feeling, the way the sting of it made him want more, made him want to take as much as he could get. He rocked his hips down again, and this time he was rewarded with Radek's finger sliding in all the way. His dick gave a throb of approval.

With excruciating slowness, Radek pulled his finger out and thrust back in. This time, he twisted his hand, screwing into Evan. The motion brought him up against Evan's prostate and sent a bright, sharp jolt skittering across Evan's nerve endings. It left a hollow sort of ache in its wake, a sensation of simultaneously wanting to be touched more and not wanting to be touched again if that was all it would be.

Radek's other hand, which had been resting on Evan's knee, made a slow slide down the back of Evan's thigh, down to cup his ass and spread him open a little more. When he pulled his finger out this time, he pushed back in with two and continued working Evan in that slow rhythm. Radek added a third finger almost too soon, but Evan tilted his hips encouragingly as his hands clenched around the edge of the mattress. He was rewarded with a firm stroke over his prostate that dragged a ragged moan out of him.

"I think you are ready. Are you ready, Evan?" Radek asked, repeating the stroke.

"Y-yes," Evan choked out.

He clenched down around Radek's fingers as he withdrew them and had to squirm against the emptiness when they were gone. He watched as Radek slicked up his dick, thrusting a little into his own touch. Radek shifted in closer, shoved Evan's legs up, and pushed into him in one long, slow thrust. Evan's breath caught when he bottomed out. Fuck, he felt huge.

Radek gave him—gave them—a moment. His eyes were closed and he was breathing hard but slow and even. He rocked against Evan with tiny jerks of his hips. Evan licked his lips and took deep breaths until the initial strangeness passed. Gradually, the small thrusts Radek was making lengthened into long, unhurried strokes. Press in, grind, ease back out. It had Evan pushing down into it, trying to speed Radek up.

"Mějte strpení. Be patient," Radek said, stopping entirely and withdrawing. "I never would have believed that you would be so impetuous about anything."

"Enthusiastic," Evan corrected. He tried to push onto Radek again, but Radek shoved his legs back further, far enough that his knees were almost at his shoulders.

"If you will not restrain yourself, I will do it for you."

Radek's tone made Evan swallow hard. It was just the right mix of sternness and sex, filtering through him in a wave of heat. When Radek sank back into him, the change in position had the advantages both of letting Radek's dick press in a little deeper, a little harder, and of leaving Evan pinned. His dick rubbed over Evan's prostate at an even better angle than before.

"Radek—" His dick twitched hard.

"Evan," Radek breathed, and his hips snapped forward.

That set a new, faster rhythm, and all Evan could do was take it. Under the broken litany of yes and more and harder looping through his head, he had vague thoughts of wanting to ride Radek next time, to be able to set his own pace and watch Radek under him while he got himself off.

A knot of tension gathered in Evan's gut as Radek worked him over. He was going to come pretty soon at this rate, but he needed a little more. Evan reached for his dick and got in a couple of strokes, but Radek slowed his pace when he noticed. He drew Evan's hands back up over his head and held them there with one hand. Evan could get out of it easily enough, but. But.

"I think you can come like this, Evan," Radek said, voice gone down to that low octave that always hit Evan right in the gut. "I think you don't even need to be touched, because you are going to come on my cock. Just like this." He punctuated the last with two quick, hard thrusts before settling back into his rhythm.

Evan choked out a moan. He didn't feel as sure as Radek that he could come without having his dick touched, but he used what little leverage he could get to rock up into it anyway, meeting Radek's thrusts as best he could. Radek picked up his pace, and the knot in Evan's gut tightened.

Radek muttered something in Czech, or maybe English—it was hard for Evan to tell right now—and his hips stuttered. "Now," he said breathlessly. "Come for me, Evan."

The command hit him low, making him clench hard around Radek's dick. His balls drew up tight, and God, he needed to touch himself. Radek still had his hands, though, and he found that the part of him that wasn't begging for a good, firm grip actually wanted it just like this. He wanted to give this to Radek.

"Come for me," he said again. "Ano, Evan, come now."

Evan opened his mouth to say that yes, okay, now was good, but all that came out was a deep groan as the tension broke. He shot so hard that the first pulse caught his chin, the rest striping his chest and stomach. Radek let go of his hands to brace himself, and Evan reached down to stroke himself through the aftershocks, coaxing out the last few sparks of pleasure. He was limp and loose and a little bit dazed when Radek came a minute later with a shout, burying himself deep and riding it out with those same tiny thrusts from before as Evan lowered his legs back to the bed.

Radek stretched out beside him with a groan. "That. That was…"

"Yeah," Evan agreed. "That really was."

They looked at each other at the same time, grinning, and burst into laughter. It was almost as good as the sex. When the laughing fit passed, Evan turned on his side and tucked an arm under his head. His other hand, he laid on Radek's chest.

"I'm glad you kissed me," he said.

Radek laid a hand over Evan's. "I am glad I did, as well."

After a few minutes, Radek got up and went in the bathroom. He brought back a warm wash cloth and cleaned Evan up. His thumb traced over the tender flesh of Evan's hole, making him twitch reflexively.

"Later, I will have to see what other kinds of touches here will make you do," Radek mused.

"Jesus," Evan said when a tiny spark of want flared in him at that. It was entirely too soon to do anything about it, but his dick seemed willing to give it a good try. "It's a good thing we have all day."

As soon as he said it, Evan mentally knocked on wood that nothing crazy would happen, but for once, neither of them was radioed for anything more than a quick question. By the time Evan left that evening, he was sore all over, covered in bite marks and bruises, and Radek didn't look much better. Evan felt better than he had in possibly his entire life. It took a concerted effort not to let the looseness in his hips show in his stride as he returned to his quarters.

After that, it seemed like his entire week went well, and the one after. He took his new team on two missions, neither of which involved gunfire, kidnapping, or disgruntled trading partners, and Dr. Parrish got along well with both of the new marines. Nguyen and Battles had both been with the SGC for quite a while before taking their rotation on Atlantis, and Nguyen had been on a gate team for a while, so they were used to dealing with the peculiarities often encountered with off world travel.

Evan also finished his painting of Ged and had it drying in a corner. He let Dr. Weir and Teyla know that he would be ready to go back to Sedii to present it to Gela in a couple more weeks. Weir scheduled a visit three weeks out and smiled at Evan in that gold star way again. He smiled back like he wasn't imagining her sticking a little gold foil sticker next to his name on a wall chart like an elementary school teacher.

"Perhaps Dr. Zelenka would like to return with us, as well?" Teyla suggested when he told her. "He did not have enough time to thoroughly explore the database on the previous mission."

It took a considerable effort for Evan not to shift uncomfortably at the way she said it, but she probably knew that he wanted to, anyway. She didn't miss much. He wondered if she had also caught on to the change in his and Radek's relationship.

"I was just headed down his direction, actually," Evan told her. He had been planning to go down to the lab for a little while to spend some time with Radek by playing light switch. "I'll swing by to ask him about it, and I'll get back to you."

She nodded and didn't—quite—smirk like she knew exactly what he had really meant. "Let him know that I would be pleased to have him accompany us."

"I will," Evan promised.

When he got down to the lab, Radek was busy, so he waved Evan over to the corner. "I will be with you soon, Major."

One of Radek's whiteboards over by the wall was covered with calculations and notes, both in his handwriting and McKay's, about the wormhole drive schematics. There was a hastily scribbled sketch on one side of a potential design. Evan tapped his fingers on his thigh as he studied the drawing. If they were going where he thought they were on this, the design on the board was a good start, but even in its rough state, Evan could see places they could make improvements.

He grabbed a marker and started sketching in a clear spot. The original design they were working from out of the database was too small to contain even the power needed for a version big enough to move Atlantis. Evan had a slowly forming idea of what it might look like if it had been built into the city. His hand swept through lines and curves and angles, the connection between his hand and the image in his mind flowing smoothly onto the white board.

McKay stomped over. "Excuse you, Major, but this is my lab, not the Bob Ross show."

"He was in the Air Force, too, you know," Evan replied calmly, making notes on some proportions. "And I'm not exactly painting stunning Alaskan mountain scenery, here, but I can add a couple of happy little trees in, if you want."

He saw McKay open his mouth to let loose another barb, then shut it abruptly as he caught sight of what Evan was really working on.

"That. That is this," he said, gesturing between Evan's drawing and the original. "That has actually improved on this. My God, another one of you has proven not to be completely useless. The Apocalypse is nigh."

Coming from McKay, that was about the equivalent of a ticker tape parade for his achievement.

"Radek, get over here," McKay yelled.

"Yes, yes, what is it, Rodney?" Radek asked, mouth turned down in annoyance at the interruption to his work.

"He," McKay said, jabbing a finger in Evan's direction accusingly, "has just waltzed in here and given us a design for the wormhole drive that would allow us to possibly triple the power usage efficiency."

Radek raised an eyebrow at Evan. "Really?"

"Yes," McKay said. "Look, here, where he moved the—"

"Ah, yes. That would allow us to—"

"No, not unless—"

"But look here. It is already—"

Evan tuned them out. It was impossible to follow them when they started talking over the ends of each other's sentences like that. They carried on for several minutes before someone on the other side of the room called, "Dr. McKay!"

McKay looked up in irritation, then turned to Evan. "Well. I'm sure that we would have gotten to this design eventually if we didn't have to keep putting the project on the back burner, but that was. Good work, Major," he said stiffly.

"Thanks. I'll let my folks know my degrees aren't going to waste."

McKay's chin came up. "If you'll excuse me, I have to go prevent these idiots from destroying the city again," he said, voice rising with the last so that it carried over to the one who had called for him.

Radek shook his head at McKay and took a seat at the bench. "He really is impressed," he said quietly. "It's not a priority project, so we haven't had the time to work on design beyond a few simple ideas. Your design has saved us quite a bit of time, actually. The construction is quite ingenious. Very efficient."

"Thanks," Evan said, flushing a little. "I was just going off of what you already had."

"You underestimate yourself. Ah, but I do not wish to argue over it." Radek waved a hand dismissively. "I will thank you, and you will be proud of your contribution, and that is that."

Evan huffed out a laugh. "Okay, then. Glad that's settled."

"Yes. Now, you are here to play with the magical mystery box again?"

"Yep." He lowered his voice. "Figured it would be a good way to spend the afternoon since my shift's over. I haven't seen you in a few days."

Radek quickly glanced around the lab, but they were out of anyone's line of sight at the moment. He hooked a foot around Evan's ankle. "My shift will be over in an hour or so. Come to dinner with me after, and we can… discuss chess strategy in my quarters later."

"You do not play fair," Evan said as a low pulse of heat settled at the base of his spine.

"I play to win," Radek said. "If my victory also benefits my opponent, well. 'Them's the breaks,' as it is said."

Evan smothered a laugh in his hand. "McKay's never going to let me come in here again if you keep doing that," he said, kicking Radek's foot lightly.

"Mm, and then who would come unearth the mysteries of Ancient kitchen appliances with me?"


"I will behave, then. But I make no promises outside of the lab," Radek said as he stood and went to get the box of mystery devices.

"Oh, hey," Evan said as he picked up a rod with square studs at one end. "I meant to say, I talked to Dr. Weir a little while ago. Now that my portrait is done, I wanted to go back to Sedii to give it to Gela. Dr. Weir scheduled a mission in three weeks, and… I was wondering if you wanted to go back. Teyla's going, and she asked me to tell you that she'd like for you to come with us."

Radek looked uncertain.

"Just think about it, okay?" Evan asked.

"I will think about it," Radek conceded. "Now, please think 'on.'"

Evan turned his attention to the cheerily humming device in his hand and wondered why the Ancients would have needed to turn their tables puce.

Three weeks, two missions, one city-wide disaster, and several nights with Radek later, Evan was ready for his return trip to Elis Tirin. His team would be accompanying him and Teyla, but Radek had declined coming back. He had suggested Dr. Lee from anthropology go with them to do further study on the database. Evan was disappointed but didn't want to push it for now. He knew that Radek always seemed to have poor off world experiences, and he would continue to avoid them when possible. He just hoped that eventually he would be able to change Radek's mind.

Evan had the portrait of Ged packed up carefully in a box. He was pretty happy with it, and he had had both Radek and Teyla look at it while it was in progress to confirm that it was accurate. They had both been supportive of his effort, and genuinely interested in the process. Teyla had requested oil lessons after watching him work one afternoon, and Evan had agreed to teach her in exchange for some lessons with the bantos rods.

Radek liked watching him for entirely different reasons. More than one work session had ended with Evan on his back, paint on his hands and jeans around his knees while Radek went down on him. He said that the creative process was sexy, and when Evan watched him puzzling out a chess move or mulling over some issue in the labs, he understood exactly what Radek meant. There was something really attractive about someone in deep concentration over something they enjoyed.

Battles came up to him and gestured to the rest of the team, gathered at the ramp of the jumper. "We're all ready, sir."

"All right. We've got dial-out in ten minutes, so let's get settled, people."

Teyla took shotgun, Dr. Lee behind her, Nguyen behind Evan, and Battles in the back. Evan ran through the pre-flight routine as Lee babbled excitedly to Teyla about getting the chance to go off world for once.

"I've only gotten to go one time before," she said. "It was so fascinating to see how the Varatans lived, almost like going back five hundred years in Eastern European history. I spoke with Dr. Zelenka about this database, and he assured me there is much information about the history of the Sediin people, particularly around Elis Tirin. I've been through what he and Dr. McKay brought back already, and if that is representative of the rest of the archives, we could be sifting through a gold mine of ancient culture."

"I am sure that Envoy lin Shur will greatly appreciate your enthusiasm over the task, Dr. Lee," Teyla said. "The history of her people is very dear to her heart, and any new information will be a welcome gift."

Chuck calling in the dial-out saved them from another ramble, and Evan eased the jumper out into the gate room.

"We'll be waiting for your first check-in in three hours," Dr. Weir said. "Have a safe trip, people."

"Yes, ma'am," Evan replied. "Leave a light on for us."

Once they were through the gate, Evan set the jumper down in the same small field as last time. And like last time, Gela and her guards were waiting for them.

"Major Lorne, it is very good to see you again," Gela said, coming forward to take Evan's hands in hers. "I wish to offer you my deepest apologies for what occurred before."

"You don't have to apologize for that, Envoy," he said. "It was no fault of yours, and I'm happy to be here again."

Gela dipped her head in acceptance. "Then we will consider the matter settled, and continue from now as friends." She turned to Teyla. "It is very good to see you, as well, Teyla Emmagan."

"I am happy to return," Teyla replied, touching foreheads with Gela. "Shall we carry on to the Pavilion?"

"Yes, please let me act the proper host," Gela said, losing the formality of her greetings. "I am slipping if I'm making you all stand around in this heat while I go on."

They walked up the path to the Pavilion, and Gela got Evan's team set up with a couple of guides—a man and a woman this time, to be safe—so they could escort Dr. Lee to the caves. Teyla and Evan would stay in the city, Teyla for trading in the market and Evan to explore the museums with Gela.

"Before we head out, I have something for you," Evan told Gela. He laid the box with the portrait on their table and realized his hands were shaking a little as he opened it. "I, ah, I wasn't sure about it at first, but I do hope that you like it."

Gela put a hand to her mouth and gasped when she saw the painting. "Oh, this is… You painted this yourself?" she asked, eyes shining with tears.

"I started it as soon as I got out of the infirmary."

She stared down at the image of her brother and traced his outline in the air above it just a bit. "It is beautiful, Major. I don't have the words to thank you for this gesture."

"It was the least I could do," Evan said, shifting anxiously.

"It is a great honor to me and my family, and to my brother's memory," Gela corrected. "Thank you." She laid her hands on his shoulders and kissed him on the cheek.

Evan flushed. "I'm glad you like it."

"I will hang it as soon as I get home tonight." She gestured to a man standing by the entrance to the terrace they were on, and he came to take the painting. "Now, I promised you a tour of our art exhibitions. I'm quite interested in comparing the common techniques here to those found in your home."

They talked all the way to the Sediin Historical Society Archival Hall. Gela already had a list of questions about his painting, having never seen a finish quite like the one Earth-origin oil paints had. Evan explained the paints and his technique, and she told him about the way her grandmother had done similar portraits when she was alive.

The hall was the same pale green stone as the rest of the city, but around the entrance, there was a beautiful, gleaming mosaic of blue and white tiles. Evan could make out several gate symbols in the patterning, intertwined with simple pictographs and characters from the Sediin writing system. When he got up close, he saw that the blue tiles were polished chips of a stone like lapis lazuli, but veined with silver, and the white tiles were laced with gold flecks.

"I apologize if this isn't quite what you were expecting, Major—"

"Forgive me for interrupting," he said, holding up a hand, "but please, call me Evan."

"Evan," she corrected with a nod. "But I had thought that perhaps it would be to your benefit to explore our culture in facts before you explore it in abstract."

He looked back at the mosaic. "It's actually a great idea, so thank you. There's something to be said for viewing art on its own merit, but to really get it, you've got to understand who it came from."

Gela nodded. "Very true. And may I ask, if I'm to call you by your name, that you do the same? I would like to be friends with you, Evan, and I think it somewhat defeats the purpose if you still call me Envoy."

"All right, Gela," he said, emphasizing her name. "I'd like to be friends, too."

She took a step toward the building. "Well, then, let's get moving, shall we? I have a great deal to show you and not nearly enough time to fit it in."

Evan followed her into the archive hall, and they spent a good hour wandering displays of fossils, tools, clothing, and even reproductions of parts of an ancient Sediin village. Some of it was familiar from when his parents used to take him and his sister to historical sites on their family vacations. He had always liked ghost towns the most, but they usually ended up going to various culture fairs. The UFO festival in Roswell had been a blast, though.

Gela explained anything he couldn't understand by context, sometimes by reading to him from the small cards and placards next to the items, but mostly from her own knowledge. She obviously did value her heritage a lot and had spent a significant portion of her life dedicated to its study.

"I think we ought to head back to the Pavilion when we're finished here, don't you?" she asked, glancing at the clock-like orb on a wall near them. "You said you had an appointment to check in with your superiors soon, and I believe that Teyla intended to meet back with us for mid meal."

"Yeah, that's fine," Evan said, head bent over a case full of delicate clay beads. They were primitive, but some were finely detailed with painted or carved-in patterns, suggesting that the selection covered several periods of Tirin art. On one, he could make out a design of a hunter stalking a large animal of some kind. On another, the hunter stood victorious over his kill.

"These are fine pieces, aren't they?" Gela asked, leaning in beside him. "I remember when they were found. I was very young, and my parents brought me and my brother here to see them. Ged wasn't very interested, but mother promised him a cup of iced milk for good behavior. Father picked me up right here so I could see into the case, and I very nearly fell out of his arms in my excitement. I wanted to get as close as I could so I could see all the little details." She laughed softly at the memory. "I begged and begged for clay and paints when we left, because I wanted to make my own beads and bury them so that they could be found by later generations, who I imagined would put them right here next to these."

Evan grinned. "My parents took me and my little sister on a trip to a region where a lot of the art and techniques of the native peoples have been preserved. I must have been five or six at the time, and I came home in love with pottery. We had watched some traditional pot-making demonstrations, but then I saw this woman with her wheel, throwing a vase, and I was so sure that was exactly what I wanted to do. I talked about it for weeks, and I kept begging for a pottery wheel." Gela looked puzzled at the terminology, so Evan paused to give her a quick explanation before returning to his story.

She nodded thoughtfully. "We have nothing like that, here. I'd like to see one, someday."

"I'll see if I can get clearance to bring you some more information sometime," Evan said. "Anyway, one of my mom's friends had a wheel, so he let me come over to take a few lessons. It went okay for, oh, the first ten minutes or so, but I got pretty bent out of shape when the bowl I was trying to make was turning out crooked. When I tried to fix it, I let up too much, and it flew right off the wheel.

"My mom made me apologize and help clean up the mess. I'm pretty sure when we got home from the lesson, I told her I never wanted to see another stupid lump of clay again. I definitely remember throwing my modeling clay out in the hall because I was so upset. We never did get the dye stains out of the carpet." He shook his head at himself ruefully. "It's a good thing my parents were so laid-back, or I'd have been grounded until high school."

Gela smiled and nodded. "It sometimes seems, as a child, that all of our efforts must be rewarded with the same results a master produces, doesn't it?"

"I know what you mean," Evan agreed. "When everything is still possible, you just don't know that there's such a thing as failing."

They moved on to the last few displays, all of famous figures in Tirin and Sediin history, then they headed back to the Pavilion. Teyla arrived a few minutes after them, and Hel and Nora materialized. Evan realized the guards must have been discreetly following him and Gela all morning. He was impressed but slightly unnerved by their skill.

The five of them ate from the booths at the back of the Pavilion, and it made Evan miss the street vendors back home. He had some kind of smoked meat on a skewer, a bowl of sugared fruit, and a couple of pieces of herbed flatbread. Gela had a pot of strong tea brought to them to wash it all down.

Nguyen radioed in while they were eating to let Evan know that everything was going fine at the cave.

"Dr. Lee is downloading as much as she can of the database, sir, but the data compression is taking a while. She thinks it'll take her a few more hours to get it all transferred and compressed."

"All right. We're just about to head back to check in with Dr. Weir, so we'll let her know." Evan wiped his hands and finished off his tea before he turned to Teyla. "You ready to head back?" he asked.

"Of course, Major." To the other women, she said, "If you all will excuse us, we will be back as soon as we are able."

The trip back to the jumper was quite a bit faster than the trip up, since it was just him and Teyla. Evan dialed in, gave a brief update to Dr. Weir, and made note to check in after another few hours if they weren't back. As the two of them started back toward the city, they took a slightly slower pace.

"Did you enjoy your morning, Major?" Teyla asked. "I had meant to ask over lunch, but Gela can be very distracting in her enthusiasm over a subject." They had spent their lunch discussing the upcoming market day on Veth Ker, where vendors from several of the nearby planets congregated.

"Yeah, it was good," Evan said. "She took me by the historical museum first to give me an idea of what the culture was like during the different art periods here."

"I am glad that you liked it, then. I may join you at the gallery later, as it has been many years since my last visit. I would like to see what new exhibits have been brought in."

Evan scrubbed a hand over his forehead, wiping away the sweat. The heat was the worst part of the trip so far, and he hoped that it stayed that way. "You should come with us," he agreed. "Nothing better on a hot day than walking around a cool building."

They reached the edge of the city, and a young man rushed by them going the other way, his shoulder knocking into Evan's hard enough to rock Evan back a step.

"Hey, watch where you're going next time," he called after the boy.

"Are you all right, Major?"

"I'm fine." He rubbed the abused spot. "Might bruise a little, but it's no biggie."

She turned and frowned after the retreating figure. Her expression had a disapproving school teacher quality to it that made Evan wonder if she'd learned it from Dr. Weir, or if it had already been in her repertoire before she came to Atlantis.

When they returned to their table in the Pavilion, Gela, Hel, and Nora were sharing a cup of something that looked like a purple slushie. They looked like sorority girls crowded around a tub of Chunky Monkey. Gela pointed to a second cup on the table.

"We thought perhaps you'd like some dessert to cool you down after your walk," she said.

"Thank you," Teyla said, picking up the cup and taking a spoon. She offered a second spoon to Evan.

"Thanks." He nodded to Teyla and to Gela as he took the spoon and dug in.

He wasn't sure what to compare the taste to, especially since his brain equated that shade of purple with artificial grape flavor. It confused his taste buds for a minute, and he hesitated before he took another bite, trying to figure out what it reminded him of.

"Is there a problem, Evan?" Gela asked.

He shook his head. "No, just thinking. I don't think I've ever tasted anything like this, but it looks like a drink we have back home."

"It's hasshal, a blend of ice and milk with the luminescent moss you saw in the caves," she said. "It's a specialty of the city."

"It has been too long since I have had hasshal. I am afraid I did not get the chance the last time I was here," Teyla said.

If he weren't seeing it for himself, Evan wouldn't ever have believed that Teyla had a sweet tooth, but she was putting away the hasshal like this was the last cup of it on Sedii. It was kind of cute, actually. Lisa used to do the same thing when their grandmother would make them share a bowl of ice cream or pudding, and Evan learned to pretend he didn't notice her getting the lion's share.

Once all of them were finished, Teyla went back to the market to finish some trades, and Evan and Gela headed to the art museum. He assumed that Hel and Nora were behind them, but when he looked, he didn't see them. Not even a trace that they were there. He shook his head and decided to ask them about it later. Gela led him into a broad, two-story building with the name Elis Tirin Museum for the Preservation of Art History above the door. It looked more elegant in Sediin script than it would have in Roman characters, and Evan chose to believe it sounded nicer in their native tongue than it did in English, too.

Inside, a uniformed man nodded deferentially to Gela as they passed. She nodded back and accepted a pair of small blue discs from him.

"These are our admittance badges," she said, clipping one onto her collar and one onto Evan's. "They'll let the staff know that you're with me and that you're allowed to visit any room that you wish, as my guest."

"Thanks. You didn't have to do that," Evan said, tilting the badge to get a better look. It was made of the same blue stone that he'd seen in the mosaic at the historical archives.

Gela waved his remark off. "What use is it for me to be the cultural envoy if I don't get to really show off our culture once in a while? I only regret that we won't have time to linger here if you also want to visit the gallery to see some of our modern artists' works."

"I'd like to see both. Would it be all right if I took some photographs of the art?" he asked, pulling a digital camera out of his vest.

"Photographs?" Gela looked at the camera curiously.

"Yeah. This is a camera," he said, switching it on. "It records an image of whatever this side is pointing toward when you push this button." He mimed shooting a picture of the bench against the wall. "It won't do any damage to anything, I promise. I just don't want to accidentally take back an image of something your people don't want being seen away from here."

She reached out to touch the black casing. "I'm not familiar with this sort of device. It… copies what you see?"

"Like this." He made sure he had it on the museum setting so he wouldn't surprise anyone with the flash, then took a picture of the bench. He made sure all of his actions were slightly exaggerated so that Gela would be able to tell what he was doing. He pulled the picture up on the screen and showed it to her. "See? It's just a reproduction of what I was looking at in the field of the lens."

"How fascinating." She looked back and forth between the camera screen and the original bench a couple of times, as if to make sure that everything was where it was supposed to be in the real world. "Yes, I believe that it will be permissible for you to use your camera here. We've had news artists come in before for their articles and sketch scenes inside, and this doesn't seem to be much different."

"Great. Thank you," he said again. "It won't be the same as standing in front of the real thing and feeling it, but I can study the pictures after we leave, and I'll be able to see more while I'm here."

"Shall we proceed, then?" Gela asked, gesturing to an archway on their left.

Evan gave a sort of half bow. "Lead the way."

Gela took him into the first room, and Evan started taking pictures immediately. The room was dominated by a triptych that took up one entire long wall, so he got a couple of quick shots of that in, almost on autopilot. There were a few pedestals through the center of the room that displayed sculptures matched to the battle theme of the triptych. He felt a little unsettled by the piece, but he couldn't quite pin down why. It wasn't that scenes of battle bothered him like that; he'd been in enough of them himself that it held a horror of experience, not of imagination.

He pondered over it while he snapped a few more shots of the other paintings around the room, and through the next room. The third was almost enough to make him forget about it, though, when he saw the enormous stained glass panel suspended from the ceiling at the back.

"That used to be the window to the Great Temple many generations ago," Gela said quietly. "It was the only piece of the building that was preserved when the Ket Sediin and the Tirin rift split our peoples. The Tirin did not worship in the same way as the Ket Sediin, and they tore down the Temple when they drove the enemies from the land. It stood where the Pavilion is now."

Evan studied the geometrical symmetry of the design, the vivid colors, the seamless way each section of the panel joined to the next. He took a couple of shots of it absentmindedly. It was a truly inspiring piece of craftsmanship.

He was so absorbed by it that he almost didn't hear the soft footstep from behind them. He turned to see if it was Hel and Nora, but a hard hand clamped onto his shoulder, and another covered his mouth. Beside him, Gela let out a muffled cry.

"Move, and we will kill her," a low voice said before Evan could do more than twitch. "I did not appreciate your last visit to this place, outsider. You have made a very grave mistake in returning."

Evan cut his gaze to Gela and saw a man he didn't recognize holding her with an arm across her throat and a hand over her mouth. He thought the one holding him was Jeket. Not daring to move otherwise, Evan took as deep a breath as he could manage and tried to keep an eye on Gela without getting distracted by the fear in her eyes. He couldn't hear any footsteps from the adjoining rooms, and the four of them wouldn't be seen unless someone came right to one of the doorways.

He might be able to go for his sidearm, but it would be risky. He'd have to take out Jeket and get his gun up fast enough to go for the other man before he hurt Gela. The chance of him being able to get off a clear shot at him without hitting Gela was even slimmer.

As if knowing what Evan was thinking, Jeket reached down and popped the snap on Evan's thigh holster. "I don't think you need this now, outsider," he said, sliding the gun out. "I wouldn't want anyone to get… hurt."

Evan gritted his teeth against a curse. Don't provoke the hostile nutjobs when they outnumber you.

"Now, you and I are going to take a little walk, and you're going to come along quietly. Cooperate, and the woman goes unharmed."

Evan nodded once, slowly. At least Jeket hadn't lied and said she'd go free. He had something of a sense of honor, however warped it might be from Evan's perspective. And honor could be appealed to, negotiated with.

"Walk," Jeket commanded, starting Evan forward with a kick to his ankle and a shove to his shoulder.

Gela made a startled noise, and Evan tried to catch her eye to tell her he would get them out of this. He stumbled forward as Jeket tried to set a faster pace than he did. Another shove, and they set off at almost the same pace on the second try. They were walking toward the back wall where there was nothing besides the glass panel, the lights, and a bench. He heard the awkward shuffle of Gela and her captor behind them.

Jeket walked Evan right up to the wall and turned them sideways. He kicked at the baseboards twice. A moment later, there was a faint sound of stone grating against stone, and a doorway to a hidden passage opened to reveal a third man. When he leaned out of the shadows, Evan saw that it was Kagra, now sporting an ugly pink scar on a diagonal from his temple, across his cheek and mouth, and down under his jaw. It was from nothing that Evan or Radek had done, and Evan wondered if it had been punishment for letting them escape.

Kagra, now with a distinct limp, led them along the passageway, which was thankfully clear of debris since there was almost no lighting. Evan did feel the occasional cobweb brush by his face, but nothing obstructed the path. No loose footing or damp spots made him falter, either. So the passage was kept up, if not cleaned particularly often. That could mean that they might encounter someone else along the way—there were a few other passages branching off and intersecting with this one—or it could mean that the Ket Sediin had bribed their way in with someone who would make sure that no one meddled.

Evan wasn't sure how long or how far they had gone on. Fifteen minutes, maybe twenty, but no way to tell where they might be now. The path had curved and sloped down subtly before, and now it climbed back up. Probably into a completely different building, with no way for Evan to know what direction it was in. Gela would be able to figure it out, but he doubted she would be allowed to say anything to him about it.

In the quiet, her shaky breathing was something between unsettling and reassuring. He hated having civilians involved in conflict, but at least as long as he could hear her, he knew she was all right. If they got split up, Evan would likely have an even tougher time getting her out and away safely.

When the group finally emerged from another hidden doorway, they were in a small, dim storage room with a bare wooden floor. Shelves of goods lined three of the walls, and crates were stacked in a haphazard-seeming fashion against the one bare wall across the room. In the center of the floor were two chairs and two coils of rope.

Great, tied to a chair again. Evan was starting to wonder if there was a Basic Bad Guys' Manual To Taking Captives or something, because they all seemed to go for the same methods.

Jeket shoved him down onto one of the chairs and held him in place while Kagra tied him to it. Gela was roped to the other with considerably fewer knots. That could definitely work in Evan's favor if the Ket Sediin would leave the room long enough for him to work Gela free. Even if she didn't get out, he might be able to have her fake still being tied up long enough to sneak attack one of the men. She was scared but not panicking, and a scared woman with the right motivation would fight like hell. He'd seen some pretty big guys go down under a woman's hands.

Jeket tested Evan's bonds, then Gela's, and nodded to himself. "This will do. You may go," he said, waving off Kagra and the other man. "Leave me with the prisoners but don't go far. I don't trust the outsider."

"Yes, sir," Kagra said stiffly. He bowed like his joints didn't move so well anymore, and he led the other man out of the room.

"Now, where were we?" Jeket asked Evan.

Predictable. Take hostages, tie them up, and send your backup out of the room so you can gloat. If the bad guys were going to work out of the cliché manual, so could Evan. He'd always been good at following the rules and going by the book. Time to take a page from the Book of Sheppard.

"Oh, right. We're about at the part where I want to kick your ass. Again," Evan spat.

It wasn't exactly a great page, but 'snark and wait for help or a stroke of luck' seemed to work for Sheppard often enough that it was worth a try.

Jeket backhanded him with an affected casual disdain. "So disrespectful, outsider. Do you greet your mother with that tongue?"

Evan felt his lip curl at the image that conjured up. Language differences made for creepy idioms sometimes.

"I think that you should be shown your place before we sacrifice you." Jeket fisted a hand in Evan's hair. "I supposed you'll need to be purified again, as well. You've probably done all manner of things to undo the original ceremony, haven't you?"

"Looking for some cheap thrills?" Evan asked with a smirk. "Wanna hear all about what I've been up to with my male lover?"

Gela made a tiny sobbing sound. "Please, Evan, do not provoke him."

"Too late," Jeket spat, slapping Gela. "And you would do well to keep your pretty mouth shut. I do not like to kill so precious a resource as women, but I know where my duty stands."

"Beating on women? Yeah, you're real tough," Evan sneered, drawing Jeket's attention back to himself.

Jeket growled, and Evan pushed harder.

"Come on, I bet the real reason you guys watch your women so close is because you're afraid of them. Right? If they're such a precious commodity, I bet they can pick and choose which ones of you get lucky. They don't pick you, you're stuck with a bad case of—"

"Silence!" Jeket snarled, grabbing Evan by the throat. "You know nothing of our ways."

"Enlighten me," Evan choked out. "You've got a captive audience, here."

Out of the corner of his eye, Evan saw Gela's shoulders shifting. If he had any luck at all, she was going to work her hands free any minute now.

"We are not slave to the whims of our women," Jeket said, still in Evan's face, eyes narrowed. "They guide us by channeling the wisdom of Queen Xebet, and we bring the word of their law to the people with the strength and blessing of her most trusted servant, Jokok. That is all you need to know."

"Oh, come on. I'm thinking I might want to convert." Evan gave him a fake smile that Sheppard would've been proud of. "The gods on my planet are over that whole 'oracles and human sacrifices' thing, and it's a shame, you know? I just don't feel like my week is complete until I've drugged a stranger and tried to kill him for not following my rules that he didn't know about."

Jeket rammed a fist into Evan's gut, knocking the breath out of him and making him gag. Gela gasped, then made a little noise of surprise. Evan managed to spit on Jeket's boots.

"You're just common Wraith worshippers," Evan rasped.

There was a sound of ropes hitting the floor just before Jeket's fist connected with Evan's temple. The impact made Evan's vision grey out and his ears ring. He grinned anyway. Jeket hit him again, and Evan rocked his chair back enough that he could twist it to the side a little. It would force Jeket to turn so that Gela was out of his peripheral vision, and maybe she could manage to slip away while he was preoccupied.

Evan was reeling and dribbling blood from a third hit when Jeket tensed and crumpled with a grunt. It took Evan a minute to realize that Gela had hit Jeket in the head with her chair.

"Are you all right, Evan?" Her hands shook as she knelt and tore at the knots in the ropes holding him.

"Been better," he slurred. His mouth hurt like hell where it had gotten cut against his teeth, and his lip was split. "Tie him up before you worry about me."

Gela fumbled for her length of rope and wrapped it tight around Jeket's wrists, knotting it several times along the way. When she finished that, she fished Evan's gun out of Jeket's pocket and slid it back into Evan's thigh holster.

"I would rather he not have that when he comes around," she said, starting to work on Evan's bonds again.

"Good thinking." Evan's vision was still cloudy on one side, but his head was starting to clear. "How's it going, there?"

"Not as quickly as I would like."

"It's okay, you're doing good," he said as he felt a knot give way. His hands were free and his arms weren't strapped down, now. He shoved the rope around his chest up and off of him while Gela untied his legs.

Jeket stirred, and Gela flinched so hard she almost smacked her head on Evan's knee. "I have to admit, I'm not used to this sort of excitement," she said. "How do you do it?"

"I think about all the people whose lives are depending on me," he said as the last knot loosened. "We've got a whole planet out there, counting on us to keep the Wraith away."

"That is a great responsibility."

Evan bit back a remark about having great power. Spiderman didn't really translate without a lot of explanation. Instead, he grabbed a rope and knelt beside Jeket.

"Can you open the door to go back the way we came?" he asked Gela. He tied Jeket's ankles together and secured that rope to the one around his wrists, completing the hog-tie.

"I think so. There are similar doors in the older buildings in the city," she said, feeling around the baseboards where they had come out. "I had no idea there was one in the museum. It's very new compared to the rest of the buildings in the network."

The panel finally slid open. Being an older door than the first and probably having gone unused for years before now, the noise it made was louder than the one in the museum had.

"I'll see to it that this is investigated," Gela added.

Evan nodded and pulled out his gun. If Kagra and the other man had stayed nearby, they might have heard the hidden door opening. He kept his eye on the door they'd left through as he backed toward the passageway and waved Gela ahead of him.

"Just head straight back the way we came, all right?"

"Yes—oh!" Gela stopped, and Evan saw that her dress had snagged on a wooden slat on the inside of the door frame. She tugged at it, but it held.

Just then, the door at the other end of the room swung open, and the man Evan didn't know yelled for Kagra.

"Ah, to hell with it," Gela swore, and to Evan's surprise, she yanked hard enough on her dress to rip the bottom tier of the skirt. Another good yank, and the entire section came free. She stumbled out of it, now bare legged to the knee.

"Go, go, go!" he shouted, bringing his gun up and squeezing off a couple of rounds as Kagra charged through the door. "I'll be right behind you."

Kagra yelled at his companion, "Tegrik, release Jeket. The outsider is mine."

Evan stepped back into the passageway and shouldered the door closed before taking off at a dead run. He caught up with Gela a ways down, and they could hear the door opening again as Kagra followed them.

"Do you know where any of these other paths lead?" Evan asked Gela.

"I think that one near the museum entrance goes to the archives," she said, "and one closer this way leads to one of the old ale houses, but I've only ever seen the original network on a map. This is the first time I've been more than a few meters along any of the corridors."

"Damn. Okay, scratch that plan," Evan muttered. They wouldn't be able to break off and confuse Kagra by taking a branch of the tunnels. Maybe he could split off and lead the Ket Sediin away from Gela, at least. Then she could find her guards and Teyla and get him some backup.

A muffled curse and thudding footsteps told him that Kagra was gaining on them.

"Gela, listen. I still want you to go straight back to the museum, okay? I'm going to need you to find help."

"What are you planning, Evan?" she asked sharply. "Do not run off on a fool's mission just to spare me. You don't know your way around here."

"It's my job to protect people like you." He nearly ran into a wall where the path curved right, and he swore. "Look, you asked me earlier how I could do this. You're seeing it right now. You're my friend, and I'm going to make sure that you get out of danger."

Gela stumbled into the side of another branch's archway that protruded slightly from the wall, and Evan caught her by the elbow, urging her forward again. This had been a damn sight easier when they were being frog marched nice and slow by someone who knew where the hell he was going.

"I still don't like it," she huffed.

"Outsider," Kagra roared, voice echoing on the stone. "Face me, you coward. Or are you so weak that you would rather run away like the woman than fight me?"

Evan gave Gela one more push. "Go!"

She continued down the passage as Evan swung around and fired at Kagra as he came around a bend. Kagra's left shoulder swung back slightly, and he stumbled to a halt. Evan didn't think he'd done more than wing him, but it was enough to keep him back while Evan darted into the nearest branch of the path.

This pathway wasn't as neatly kept as the one they'd been in, Evan quickly found out. He ran through a large cobweb and almost fell over what he thought was a crate. That was going to leave one hell of a mark on his shins. He stumbled a few more feet inward and found a few moldering crates stacked up high enough that he could duck behind them in shadow.

Kagra came into the side passage a moment later and banged into the same crate Evan had. In the dim, purple moss light, Evan saw him pause and place a hand on the wall to brace himself. He stood still for a minute, probably listening for Evan's footsteps or his breathing.

"You run and then you hide?" he said contemptuously. "If I hadn't seen for myself otherwise, I would think you were a woman, outsider."

Evan bit his tongue against a reply. Teyla would kick this guy's ass six ways from Sunday for the implication that women were nothing but weak and frightened. Hell, Jeket would probably be offended by it, too, from the way he'd talked earlier. He definitely had more reverence for the Ket Sediin women than Kagra did.

"Come out and at least die with a shred of dignity," Kagra taunted.

Feeling around on the ground carefully, Evan found a small rock. It was an old trick that was probably on page one in that cliché manual, but it was worth a shot. He shifted silently and chucked the rock a ways down the corridor, praying that it had a clear path and didn't do something stupid like bounce off the wall. It sounded like it hit the ground cleanly, though, bouncing once and skittering a little.

Kagra's head jerked, and his silhouette came forward. If he would just make it past Evan a foot or two without noticing him there, that would give him a clean shot. He walked quietly toward the sound, hand still on the wall. When he got to the crates, he skirted around them and squinted into the shadow. Evan held his breath and pressed back as far as he could.

No luck.

"Deceiver," Kagra spat, diving for him.

Evan threw himself forward, shoulder connecting with Kagra's gut and driving him back. They landed in a sprawl on the hard dirt path, and Evan lost his grip on his gun. It spun away a couple of feet, coming to rest against the wall. Kagra shoved at Evan and tried to flip them over, but he didn't have enough leverage. If Evan went for his gun, he would lose his advantage, which was only enough right now to bring them to a stalemate, straining against each other.

"You will be made sacrifice to Jokok and Xebet," Kagra said with a growl, hands in a bruising grip on Evan's shoulders. "Your impurities will not be left to run unchecked."

Evan didn't bother with a reply. He leaned his weight into holding Kagra down and waited for an opening that would let him get the upper hand. After a couple of minutes, both of them were shaking with the continued effort, and Evan heard running footsteps in the main passage.

"Jeket, here!" Kagra shouted.

His grip slackened up just a fraction when he turned his head to say it, and Evan pressed the advantage. He reared back, pulling Kagra with him, and slammed down again, bashing Kagra's head into the ground. The force of it made Evan's teeth click together, and Kagra was stunned into letting go of him.

Evan dove toward his gun and got hold of it after a moment of groping around. He twisted back, but Kagra grabbed his ankle.

"Not so fast." He dragged himself back toward Evan by inches. "I want to see your—"

That was close enough. Evan fired into Kagra's chest when he lunged upward. Kagra gurgled and slumped forward, pinning Evan's legs. The shot brought the footsteps down the passage, and Evan hoped his aim was good enough as Jeket loomed up out of the blackness. He scored a hit to the gut, and got Tegrik in the head when Jeket stumbled out of the way.

"Outsider," Jeket said weakly. "You bring shame upon your people."

"Really?" Evan asked as he shoved Kagra's dead weight to the side. "The way I see it, I'm protecting my people from a Wraith worshipping cult bent on making everyone else follow their rules on penalty of death."

"Semantics." Jeket gave a wet cough and staggered toward Evan. "I see that I was protecting my people from the evil influence of the impure."

Evan shoved to his feet, aiming at Jeket's chest. It was a bluff. He was pretty sure his clip was empty. "Yeah, semantics. Funny how that black and white world view is white and black from the other side."

"Ha. Ha," Jeket wheezed. With a last roar, he launched himself at Evan, knife in hand.

There was nowhere for Evan to go at this angle, and the blade left a gash on Evan's arm only by chance. Jeket dropped it and slid to the floor. Evan waited, but he only heard a few laboring breaths, then nothing.


Teyla. Someone else was with her, by the sound of things. Too many sets of feet to count in the echoing passages.

"Down here," he called, sagging against the wall, hand clamped over his bleeding arm. "I'm down one of the side passages."

The footsteps drew closer, and Evan slipped his gun back into its holster. He headed back toward the mouth of the path, feeling his way carefully to avoid stepping on the bodies. Light flooded the entrance way suddenly, almost blinding him after so long in the dimness.

"Here," he called again, waving an arm at them.

"Major, are you all right?" Teyla asked, coming forward with a hand out for him. The light was her P-90.

"I got a little banged up, but the worst of it is this," he said, pulling his hand away so she could see the cut. "I'll be okay until we get out of here."

She visibly relaxed. "I am glad. It was very troubling when Gela found me in the museum and explained what was happening."

Evan stepped aside so that the light fell on the bodies of the three Ket Sediin. "It's not going to be a problem, now. At least, not as long as their buddies don't come looking for them."

"Come, we will have this taken care of." Teyla guided him out to where Hel and Nora waited with two museum guards.

They listened with grim expressions as he gave them a run-down of what had gone on after he'd sent Gela ahead.

"We'll take care of the bodies," one of the guards said. "This group has been hiding from the authorities for weeks. Must have been getting around in these tunnels and bribing their way into the buildings."

Evan nodded and let Teyla lead him back into the museum and away. She stopped on a side street to put a temporary bandage on his arm, then they returned to the Pavilion. Gela was up on the patio from before, a shawl over her shoulders and a cup of tea in her hands. Hel and Nora stood behind her, both showing signs of having been in a struggle. Someone must have taken them out back at the museum in order to get to him and Gela.

"Evan!" Gela stood abruptly when she saw him. "Thank Tir you're all right."

"A little roughed up, but I've had worse," Evan said, accepting the hug she gave him. "You did good in there. I bet if you had some fighting lessons, you'd hold your own pretty well if that kind of thing ever happens to you again."

"Tir forefend," she murmured.

"Yeah." Evan felt a little wobbly when she stepped away. "You think you guys will have a problem with the rest of their group?"

She shook her head. "Now that the authorities are aware of the situation, they'll flush the rest out."

"This isn't going to turn into an international incident with the Ket Sediin across the mountains, is it?"

"It's unlikely." She sat back down, and Evan took a chair across from her. Teyla stayed standing. "The Ket Sediin so rarely cross into Elis Tirin, I'm not particularly worried. I think this group was a fringe sect, and not likely to be sought out by their peers."

Evan nodded and took the tea that Hel handed him, trading it for the museum badge he'd forgotten he was wearing. He sank back into his seat with it and rested until his team arrived. Teyla must have radioed them while he wasn't paying attention.

"Sir, are you all right?" Dr. Lee asked, sounding shocked when she caught sight of him, dirty and bloody.

"I'm okay, Doc. Just ready to get home."

Lee nodded dumbly, eyes huge and knuckles white where she was gripping the straps of her bag tightly.

Nguyen stepped forward. "Do you need me to pilot the jumper, sir?"

"If you don't mind, Lieutenant."

"I will stay behind with Gela," Teyla said. "I will return to Atlantis after the situation has been settled with the authorities."

"Be careful," Evan said.

Battles helped Evan up and handed him his gear. The four of them made their way back to the jumper, and Nguyen took them back in to Atlantis. Through the jumper's windshield, Evan caught a glimpse of Radek in the control room before the jumper ascended into the bay. Beckett had him whisked off to the infirmary as soon as he was off the jumper's ramp. He clucked over Evan's injuries, but it was nothing bad enough to keep him. He got liquid stitches on his arm and his lip, an admonition to be more careful, and a pat on the back.

"I'm glad you're in one piece this time, lad."

"So am I," Evan said.

"I don't want to see you in here again for a good long time, now." Beckett quirked an eyebrow at him.

Evan shrugged. "I'll do what I can."

"See that you do."

After the infirmary, Evan headed to the debrief. It went quickly, for a debrief, and Dr. Weir gave him almost the same speech before she turned him loose as Beckett had. He headed down to his office to write up his report once that was over, then finally made his way back to his quarters. He was more than ready to just crash for the night.

When his door opened, he was less surprised than he would have expected to find Radek waiting for him on the couch.

"I heard Lt. Nguyen call in," he said once the door had shut behind Evan. "I take it that you're all right. For whatever value may apply."

"Yeah. Bruised and a little banged up," he said with a slight shrug. "Definitely been worse."

Radek shook his head and stood, crossing the room to Evan. "I worry," he said as he laid his hands on Evan's shoulders. "More than before. I should have gone with you."

Evan rested his forehead against Radek's. "I'm glad you didn't," he said. "If you'd been there… At least here, I knew you were safe. For whatever value may apply."

"I know." Radek sighed. "This is the difficult part, no? The fear and the worry. And here, it is inescapable."

"I know. We'll… deal, or we won't. I hope that we will."

They stayed like that a moment, just breathing, then Radek slid a hand up to squeeze the back of Evan's neck. "We will." He kissed Evan softly, careful of his lip, then stepped back. "I will go. I am sure you need your rest."

"See you for dinner tomorrow, then?"

"Mm, and dessert in my quarters afterward," Radek agreed. One more kiss, and he went to the door, pausing before it opened. "Sleep well, Evan."

"You, too."

When Radek was gone, Evan flopped down on the bed and closed his eyes. He needed to clean up, but it was nice to lie down for a few minutes. He was just on the edge of sleep when the door slid open again, and Radek strode back into the room. He planted a knee between Evan's and his hands on either side of Evan's head.

"Forget something?" Evan asked.

"I changed my mind. Dessert first."

"You'll spoil your appetite."

Radek looked down at him for a long moment, and his smile made Evan's heart stutter. "No, I don't think I will. Suddenly, I am ravenous."

Evan just grinned and hauled him down for another kiss.

The End
Contains violence and graphic sex. The two, however, do not coincide. Very mild spoilers for s3 and the series finale.
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Many thanks to my awesome beta team, lady_krysis, sweetnlow, and lunesque. Among other things, they helped with plotting, reined in my em-dash abuse, and kept me going when I felt overwhelmed. Any failage that remains is mine alone.

Czech translations:

ách - oh
na zdraví - cheers!
promiňte - I'm sorry
jsi sexy - you're sexy
ano - yes
do prdele - fuck
kolik je hodin - what time is it?
mějte strpení - be patient