Thundering of Heartbeats

Radek closed his eyes. He was standing in the control room, half-listening to everyone. Telling each other it was over. It was done. The Wraith were gone.

Radek's head ached, and not only from the number of stimulants Carson had been giving him lately. Calibrated for his non-human metabolism which meant -- unless he changed forms soon -- his human form was going to crash extremely spectacularly. If he changed, he'd still crash, but it would be a lot easier to live through.

But he wasn't worrying about that. Atlantis was safe for now, and he could afford a week in the infirmary, sleeping.

He was worrying about whether he could bring himself to look his herd stallion in the eyes again. If he could survive whatever John Sheppard wanted to do to the person who'd let Ford grab a shuttle and escape.

Radek had run down to the control room as soon as he'd ben able to stagger to his feet. He'd arrived just in time to see the puddle jumper vanish through the stargate. He'd seen John watching Ford go with a look on his face that Radek felt only he, Carson, and Will could possibly interpret correctly.

And it was his fault, for not stopping Ford. Radek knew he could have. He'd heard the young man approaching, but he'd thought it was someone coming to offer help, or demand an update. Radek had chosen to remain focused on making sure the cloaking circuitry was working properly, watching intently for any sign of failure.

Then he'd been knocked down. Lost his balance because he was too tired to do anything but think, and he'd been too slow to rise -- if he'd just been a little less exhausted, he could have run after Ford before he'd closed the ramp.

Radek kept his eyes closed and tried not to listen for John's voice. Ford was gone, left Atlantis and very nearly betrayed them all to the Wraith in dialing the Gate. If they'd been dead, now, Radek knew whose place in the Fields would be forfeit.

He could feel the room swaying, and he wished he could stand on all fours. He heard Rodney and Elizabeth speaking, then there was Carson ordering Rodney to the infirmary.

"I don't need--" Rodney snapped, but his voice held none of its usual heat.

"A bed, food, and nothing to do but sleep?" Carson asked.

There was a pause, then, "Well, when you put it that way, yes. But can't I just go to my own room?"

"Perhaps, after I've had a look at you." Carson's tone brooked no argument, and Radek wasn't surprised to hear two sets of footsteps, moving away.

Then he smelled John coming near, and Radek forced his eyes open. He saw Elizabeth frown and she started towards him, but John ran up the stairs and beat her to his side.

"I'm sorry," Radek said.

John blinked. "For...?" He was distracted; Radek knew he was thinking about Ford.

"I didn't stop him. Taking the jumper." Radek found himself tensing. Too tired to feel fear.

"I doubt you could have," John said. "He was hopped up on that Wraith enzyme. The stunner didn't even take him down. I don't see what you could have done to stop him."

"I--" Radek wanted to apologise again, because surely he could have stopped him. If...well, if he'd been in his other form. If he'd not been so dizzy with exhaustion. If....

John was taking his arm, suddenly, and Radek tried to focus. "Come on. I'll help you down."

"Down where?" Radek found himself taking a step forward, as John led him away.

John gave him a worried look, and said, "To the infirmary. Didn't you hear Carson?"

"Yes." Radek nodded. "He took Rodney."

John frowned again, briefly, then he grinned. "That was three minutes ago. Been asleep on your feet again?"

"Oh." Radek tried to think, and found that his brain was refusing.

"Come on," John said, and Radek noticed that there was no reprimand at all in his voice. Just the soft, easy tone that always made Radek want to lean sideways onto John, and remain there.

"Maybe we should get a stretcher," he heard Elizabeth saying. Then Radek felt John nudging him back to put his weight on his own feet, and Radek realised he'd followed his thought with the action.

"Sorry. I can walk." He pried his eyes open again, not sure when he'd closed them.

"Sure you can," John said. "Hey, Foster, give me a hand driving this thing." One of the newly arrived Marines hurried over, and Radek found his other arm being draped over the young man's shoulders.

"I am..." Radek frowned.

"You're what?" John asked, as they left the control room. Radek realised he was headed for someplace to sleep, and he wondered if they could possibly move faster.

He looked at John. His feet were half-sliding along the floor, and he thought he should be able to move them. There were only two, after all. How hard could it be to maneuver them?


"Yes, John?"

John laughed, once. "Right. Infirmary, bed, and you two geniuses can sleep it off."

Radek nodded. "That is excellent idea."

He wasn't entirely sure how long it was before he opened his eyes again. He knew he'd woken up a few times, because he had vivid memories of Carson standing next to him, telling him quite sternly to shut up and go back to sleep.

Radek was fairly sure that some of those times hadn't been his fault. They'd put him in a bed next to Rodney, after all, and Rodney was the one who'd started talking about power generators. Carson said Rodney was talking in his sleep and that discussing scientific theories with him was pointless. Radek had tried to explain that it would help *him*, since he was awake to remember what they came up with, but Carson had just got John to come down and repeat all of Carson's instructions in a firm, herd stallion, tone.

The fourth time Radek had woken up, he'd discovered they'd moved Rodney to another bed. He'd closed his eyes again almost immediately, and when he'd opened them again he thought perhaps they'd been serious when they'd said he'd sleep for a week.

His body ached, and he was desperately thirsty despite the IV he could feel stuck in his wrist. He could hear Rodney, across the room, talking to someone about just exactly how many grams of mustard should be on his sandwich. Radek blinked and tried to sit up.

"Where do you think you're going?" Carson asked.

"Food?" Radek tried to sit up again, and thought maybe he was going to succeed. Then Carson put his hand on Radek's shoulder and the weight held him down. "Food," Radek repeated. "What Rodney said. Only without cheese."

"And cold pickles!" Rodney shouted, and Radek turned his head to see a nurse hurrying away from Rodney's bed. "I don't want pickles at all, if they aren't cold!" Rodney called after her.

Rodney laid back against his pillow, and Radek scowled. Why could *he* sit up, when Radek wasn't allowed to?

"No pickles," Radek told Carson. "Are there any tomatoes? Did Daedulus bring fresh supplies?"

He found Carson grinning at him, and Radek wondered if he'd said something wrong. But Carson shook his head. "The pair of you," he said, still grinning. "If I didn't know better I'd swear you were twins."

Radek frowned. "He's the evil one," he said. "If Rodney says otherwise, he is lying."

"Funny, he already said the same thing about you."

"When can I leave?" Radek asked, deciding to wait until Carson wasn't paying attention to try sitting up again.

Carson looked surprised, then glanced at his watch. "Well, you've been awake for all of four minutes. I'd say, not until you can walk without falling over." Radek opened his mouth, and Carson added quietly, "On two feet."

Radek glared. "That is not fair."

"Yes, but it's doctor's orders. I know it's not fair, wanting my patients to stay in their beds until they're recovered--" Carson stopped, and Radek saw a dark look in his eyes. He wanted to reach out for Carson's hand, but his own hand was too heavy to move properly.

"Who is going to entertain me while I am lying here?" Radek asked.

Carson blinked in surprise, then he smiled. "We'll move you and Rodney back beside one another and you can talk to him."

"That is good. Our earlier conversation about the new generators was rudely interrupted."

"And it's a good thing," John said, walking up behind Carson. "The last I heard, you two were going to reroute the power supply with baling wire. And I know I heard you say something about 'zvykaci guma'."

Radek gave John an innocent look, which John returned with one of his better 'don't even try it' expressions. Radek subsided, and sighed. "I'm hungry," he repeated. "And my body hurts. I'm still tired -- why am I still tired? And actually, you *could* use chewing gum to--"

He stopped as a thumb pressed into the sole of his left foot. John had walked to the end of his bed and stuck his hands under the edge of the sheet, but Radek hadn't realised what he was doing. Not until now, and he groaned loudly as John pressed again.

"Prosim, k sluzbam," Radek breathed. "Please, yes." He didn't have to try to lie still, despite his body's urge to writhe happily. He was too tired to move, and John was rubbing his feet -- who would *want* to move? And risk disrupting him?

"Hey!" Rodney's voice tried to interrupt Radek's bliss. "Me, too!"

Radek heard Carson chuckle, then move away -- from the lack of complaint from Rodney's side of the infirmary, Radek guessed he was being taken care of. But either way, he didn't care, because John finished with his left foot, then moved on to his right.

Dear gods, this was worth saving the city for.

It was two weeks before things began to resemble normal. Radek didn't think life on Atlantis was even remotely "normal" compared to life back on Earth, but there had been a few moments, here and there, since they'd arrived that things had been more or less not insane.

Those moments were his standard for normality and he thought that today might actually compare favorably to the baseline. He and Rodney had been released from the infirmary ten days ago, and Radek had spent the first three days tottering back and forth between his quarters and the lab. He hadn't got much work done, and he hadn't started feeling really recovered until yesterday morning.

But today felt like it was going to be a good one. The bulk of the visible damage to the city was either fixed, or covered up. Seeing new faces wasn't quite as unsettling, and the workload in the labs had settled down into projects they wanted to work on rather than trying desperately to scrape something together to save their lives.

In short, the adrenaline had finally stopped flowing, and Radek felt like he could actually walk without wincing. Granted, the footrubs had helped immensely, as had sleeping the last ten nights in his own quarters, in centaur form, propped up between John and Carson.

He hadn't slept so well since he'd been a colt.

Things weren't perfect, of course. Ford was still missing, and John wouldn't talk about him. Will was still in the infirmary, but Carson said he'd be fine in a couple more weeks. The Daedulus was still parked on the pier, but repairs were progressing. They still needed another ZPM in order to either sent the ship back to Earth, or dial the gate to Earth.

But mostly Radek thought that things were finally back to normal, and even going pretty well. He smiled easily as he saw John round the corner and begin walking towards him. John returned the grin and headed directly for Radek.

"Hey, I just talked with Elizabeth," John began. "She agreed that we could resume some of those projects we had going with the puddle jumpers." John grinned, expectantly.

Radek shook his head. There had been fourteen jumper-related projects before they'd abandoned everything to focus on the Hive Ships. Radek had been involved in thirteen of them. "That is good?"

John sighed. "Like that project where you were working on some tests on the puddle jumper? I thought I could give Carson another flying lesson, while you ran your tests." He grinned again, waggled his eyebrows suggestively -- but Radek had realised what he meant as soon as he'd said 'puddle jumper' again.

He nodded, fast. "Yes, of course. Those tests. I can be prepared to resume that 'project' by this afternoon. Earlier, if McKay is not in the lab distracting me with real work."

"Beautiful," John said, and he clapped Radek on the shoulder. "Carson said that Will can't--" He paused and watched as two of the new Marines walked by. Radek hadn't asked anyone why they were wearing red berets -- he didn't think they were Serbian Police, but with the SGC, one could never be certain of anything. "You know. He won't be joining us," John finished.

Since he was still injured, he would not be able to change forms. Radek understood, though he suspected that if Will had been released from the infirmary, he would have asked to go along regardless. But Radek knew it would be cruel to tempt him when he could not change as well.

"I should get down to the lab, if I am to get everything prepared," Radek said quickly. He was already thinking of the sunlight. The hard ground beneath his hooves, and a run so long and hard that he could feel it in every muscle.

"I'll let you know what time to meet us in the jumper bay."

Radek nodded absently, wondering how detailed his pretend-reports would need to be, to fool anyone into thinking he was actually getting any work done. He hurried down to the lab, half-formed theories already vying for his attention.

By the time he sat down at his laptop, he had an actual new project in mind, which he could do in half the amount of time it would take someone who did not have a photographic memory.

Which would leave him plenty of time for running.

Radek laid down in the back of the puddle jumper and called himself every name he had ever heard. Alphabetically, both by insult and original language. He'd already gone through anglicky, cesky, and rusky, and was now working through the original centaur-Greek.

The last time he'd flown in a jumper he'd missed the conscious awareness that they were flying because he'd been working. This time, he'd not picked up his laptop until they'd got into the air -- at which point it was too late, and he was unable to concentrate on his work.

In the cockpit of the puddle jumper, John was talking to Carson very quietly. They'd discovered very quickly that it was easier for Carson to fly if he were at the controls -- something about the motion sickness and being able to know what was coming before it came. From the sound of things, John was actually managing to give Carson some instruction, and Carson was somehow able to fly without too much discomfort.

Radek thought about sparing Carson a jealous insult or two. But it was his own fault, Radek conceded. He could easily have lost himself in his calculations before they'd even closed the rear ramp. Next time, he told himself. Next time he would get himself busy before he even got to the jumper bay, and someone could simply guide him into the jumper and into a seat.

"We're landing in five," John called back.

"Miluji te," Radek replied. "Love you both, very much. Please come shoot me."

"In a minute," John replied, and he sounded entirely too amused for Radek's taste. Just because he was a mutant centaur who *liked* being above the ground...

"We really need to find a place in Atlantis," Carson said in a tight voice. "Either that, or we can simply tell everyone we're centaurs, and run around the city whenever we like."

Radek grinned at the sincere, hopeful note in Carson's voice.

"You want to tell everyone what we are, to avoid air sickness?" Radek could hear the smirk he knew was on John's face.

"Yes?" Carson replied. Radek suspected he was giving John a very cute look.

Radek wondered how long John would be able to withstand Carson giving him cute looks, before finally just going along with whatever Carson wanted.

"I'll think about it," John said, dryly. Radek found himself smiling; he knew John would do no such thing, but it was great fun to watch Carson try to talk him into things. He was succeeding more often, lately.

Suddenly the jumper began descending, and Radek whispered a soft thank you. He stayed where he was, even when the jumper was resting on sane, solid ground. He opened his eyes as John stepped up, standing above him and looking down.

"Yes?" Radek inquired politely.

"Do you want us to come back for you?"

Radek started to nod, then he realised that John really would -- and Radek was not interested in missing a second of his chance to change forms. He held up his hand and John grabbed it, and hauled him to his feet. Radek took a deep breath and thought about what a luxury it must be to be able to throw up.


Radek nodded. "I think once I get my hooves on real dirt, I will be fine."

"Then why are we standing here?" John asked, then he walked away, down the ramp and out into the sun. Radek followed, sitting down as soon as his boots hit grass. Carson was already there, kicking off his boots and pulling off his trousers.

Radek had a sudden, horrible thought, and stared at Carson. "You did bring the brushes, didn't you?"

Carson laughed. "What sort of fool do you take me for? They're in there." He nodded towards the jumper, then he was standing, and changing. Radek watched as Carson stretched his legs with a happy smile.

"Come on, already," John said, and Radek looked over to see John had changed as well, while Radek wasn't looking. He jumped to his feet and tore off his trousers, kicking them back towards his boots. Neat enough, he thought, then he stepped away from the ramp and changed.

There was something about finally being in centaur form that was like slipping into a jacuzzi at the end of a very long day. A jacuzzi and a beer, Radek amended, but really -- those things were not at all like being able to go for a run.

"How do you feel?" Carson asked, and Radek looked over to see Carson frowning at him.

"Like I need very much to run, then be brushed, then be fucked," Radek said. Carson laughed, and Radek added, "Then I will need to run

"I think we can arrange all that," John said, sounded equally amused. He walked over to Radek, looking at him with a close, piercing gaze that Radek thought only medical doctors and nurses could have. Radek waited patiently for John to assure himself that Radek was recovered, and rested, and perfectly able to exert himself.

Then John grinned, and slapped Radek on the shoulder and jumped backwards -- and only *then* yelled 'tag' and raced away.

Radek thought he was perfectly within his rights to call John a nasty name, before he took off after John and Carson.

He knew, but didn't call them on the fact they were taking it easy. Radek caught Carson, slapping him on the flank and speeding away. John -- it seemed to Radek -- let Carson catch him entirely too easily, then John was after him again. Only John didn't run nearly as fast as Radek knew he was capable of, and whenever Radek started pushing himself, John would wheel away and chase Carson.

Radek didn't bother arguing that he was fine, fully recovered, and didn't need to be coddled. But after only half an hour he felt his lungs beginning to burn, and the first time he stopped to take a deep breath, John called the game to a halt.

"It is not--" Radek began, dredging up a brief glare for John.

"You wanna wear yourself out before we get in a decent run?" John interrupted, nodding towards the hills.

Frowning, Radek said, "I am capable of saying when I have had enough."

"Like the way you're capable of getting yourself to bed at a decent hour," John replied. "And the way you eat three full meals a day, and the way you actually go down to the infirmary for aspirin when you have a headache."

Radek glanced at Carson, guiltily. Carson laughed. "We do actually keep tabs on all the medications. I know exactly how much aspirin you and Rodney have stashed in your lab. And how much is left."

"I don't--" Radek began, then stopped. It wasn't as though he could deny anything John had said.

"You need a keeper," John said, stepping up in front of Radek. He was smiling, and his tone was easy -- not at all angry, and Radek felt himself relax, when he hadn't even noticed himself tensing up. "No one told me just how much of a handful you were going to be."

"That is because we are not mares," Radek pointed out.

But John shook his head. "No. It's because *you* are a handful. Carson, he's easy enough. Will and I have an understanding, and Elizabeth gets to pretend she's in charge because it's easier to take care of 197 humans when they don't think someone else owns them. But you -- you, Radek Zelenka -- are a handful."

Radek frowned. He waited to see if John was going to add anything, but John just stood there and watched him. Close enough that Radek could tell, quite clearly, how not-upset John was.

He wondered if he should offer to try harder to stop working before midnight -- or at the least 3 a.m. He opened his mouth to offer, then stopped. Chances were, he would utterly fail to do so within a week. He didn't want to lie to his herd stallion, even if he had good intentions.

"Yes?" John prompted.

"I... am worth it?"

He expected them both to laugh; Carson did, but John just whipped his head forward and kissed him. Hard.

When he leaned back, Radek thought he could forego the run, and get on with other things.

"You're adorable," John said, then he stepped backwards. "And right now, I want to go for a run."

"That's not all you want," Carson said, and his expression turned into one of pure innocence when John turned to glare at him.

"Later," John insisted. "I want to run while I can still think."

Before either of them could say a word, John took off. Carson and Radek fell in behind him. Radek glanced over and Carson gave him a wink.

Then Radek sped up, pulling alongside John. Carson did the same on his other side, and they ran.

Radek didn't argue when John finally headed back towards the jumper. The run hadn't been nearly long enough, but Radek had to admit that he was not in nearly as good of shape as he had been before the Wraith attacked. Carson said he still needed to catch up on his sleep, and Radek thought that he was perfectly willing to do exactly that.

He'd begun to slow as they neared the ridge they'd parked the jumper behind, and Carson slowed with him. John glanced back, circled around behind them, then came up beside Radek.

"I will be fine," Radek said, before John could say a word.

"Yeah, I know," John answered him, seriously. He placed his hand on Radek's back, running in step with him briefly. They slowed to a trot as they came around to the jumper.

Then all three of them slammed to a halt.

Beside the second puddle jumper, Rodney and Elizabeth were waiting. Privates Johanssen and Rickers were standing behind them, weapons slung at ease.

Radek fought the sudden urge to change back, and say 'what tail?' He did find himself taking a step backwards and sideways, pressing up against John's side. John took a step forward and Radek and Carson remained right where they were, effectively letting themselves hide behind John.

"So, I'm going to take a wild guess here and say you aren't finished with the jumper modifications?" Rodney asked.

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