"I am sorry, my son," King Halling said softly, resting a hand on Prince Radek's shoulder. "But it is what must be done for the good of our people."
Prince Radek lifted his head and met his father's gaze. "I understand, father. I will do my duty for our people."
King Halling cupped Radek's face in his hands, leaning forward to touch their foreheads together. "Thank you, my son. Thank you."
Prince Radek closed his eyes, his forehead resting against his father's and his hands cupping his father's face in return. He had been waiting for this day his whole life, dreading the moment when his father had no choice but to marry him off to secure their nation's borders.
Now that the time had come, Radek knew it was everything he had feared.
Radek stared at himself in the vanity mirror, slowing dragging a brush through his unruly hair. He would leave tomorrow to travel over the mountains and through the Great Woods to get to the land of Atlantis where he would marry Princess Elizabeth. It was a dangerous journey, fraught with wild beasts of all kinds, as well as robbers and thieves just waiting for a royal caravan to venture into the cover of woods.
"Do not look so glum, my brother," Prince Rodney said with a smirk. He was lying across the bed, playing with an abacus. "Perhaps this princess is more to your liking than you think."
"I doubt that greatly," Radek said softly, setting his brush down on the table. He turned to look at Rodney. "I wish I was not being sent away to live in Atlantis. How is it you managed to get to stay here with our father?"
"I am the first son," Rodney said, sitting up to face his brother. "My Samantha is to become the Queen of Athos when our father dies. We must stay here."
"What if I do not like Atlantis?" asked Radek. "It is a land surrounded by water and ruled by the seas. I cannot even swim, Rodney!"
Rodney walked over to his brother, kneeling before him and taking Radek's hands in his own. "You are strong, Radek. And remember, just because you are married to the princess of Atlantis does not mean you are not a child of Athos. Your home will always be here."
Radek squeezed his brother's hands tightly. "She will not be to my liking. You and I both know that."
Rodney tipped his head slightly, averting his eyes. "Perhaps it is time you stopped listening to your heart and started listening to your head. You are a prince. You must marry a princess. No longer may you indulge in dalliances with other men."
Radek closed his eyes. "I will do what must be done for our people, Rodney. But I cannot ignore the desires of my heart for the rest of my life."
"Then," Rodney said softly, touching Radek's chin lightly, "Do it carefully, my brother."
Radek stared despondently out the small carriage window, his fingers clutching the folds of the blankets draped over his legs. He would much rather be riding alongside his guards or at least sitting up front with the driver. Sitting in this carriage with Lord Sumner was enough to drive him out of his mind.
"We should arrive in Atlantis in four days, my Lord," Sumner said after a long silence. "Perhaps you should practice pretending that you are happy to be married to the princess."
"You are not here to give me advice," Radek snapped at him. "I wish to stop and get out of the carriage to walk about. Inform the driver and guards."
"This is not a safe area," Sumner said sharply. "It is my job to get you to Atlantis safely and stopping for a walk in Wraith-infested woods is not an option."
Radek drew himself up to stare imperiously at Sumner. "I am the Prince of Athos. You have no choice but to obey my orders, Sumner. Do as I say or I shall have to inform my father that you are insubordinate."
Sumner's nostrils flared. "Very well, my Lord."
Radek sat back against the uncomfortable carriage seat and looked out the window as Sumner informed the driver and guards that they were stopping against his better judgment. A smile crossed Radek's face, a small victory in the grand scheme of things, but a necessary one nonetheless.
The carriage stopped and Sumner opened the door, stepping out onto the wooded ground. "Secure the area before the prince exits the carriage."
"That is not necessary, Lord Sumner," Radek said as he climbed out of the carriage. He inhaled deeply, his eyes closed in pleasure. "Allow your men the chance to climb off their horses and walk a bit as well."
Sumner's men waited until Sumner jerked his head slightly before climbing off their horses. The horses whinnied loudly in the quiet forest, stamping their legs and tossing their heads in the breeze. The driver had already started to care for the horses pulling the carriage, not even waiting for Sumner's reluctant orders.
Radek gathered his cloak around himself, his scabbard strapped to his hip. The forest was thick and green, smelling fresh and alive to Radek after so much time trapped in a small carriage with Sumner who had an unmistakable odor of fish about his person.
"I wish to go explore briefly," Radek said. He shifted his scabbard. "There is no need to follow me, Sumner. I won't be long."
Sumner motioned for Bates to follow him despite Radek's orders. Radek ignored the guard following him not-so-discreetly as Radek pushed aside branches and stepped over fallen logs. There were no birds in the trees, no sounds other than Radek's own footsteps and the echoing steps Bates made. It was paradise to Radek.
"Prince Radek," Bates said warningly. "The woods are too still. We must go back to the others. I fear for your safety."
Radek turned to answer him, but his reply was cut off when he heard the frightening cry of the Wraith, shrill and piercing in the silent woods. He had never seen a Wraith, but the stories his people told of the vampiric creatures that would suck your soul out through your chest were legend.
"Hurry!" Bates shouted at him, jumping forward to grab Radek's arm. "Draw your sword. We must find a way back to the caravan."
"That's where the cries are coming from," Radek said, his voice panicked. He managed to draw his sword from his scabbard, holding it as steady as possible. "We must help them!"
Bates looked at him seriously. "You have not fought in battle before, my lord. Are you truly prepared to fight the Wraith?"
"We have no choice," Radek said, clutching his sword a little tighter. He lifted his chin and met Bates's gaze. "I will follow your lead."
Bates nodded and let go of Radek's arm. "Then we must hurry."
Radek took a deep breath and followed Bates through the woods, their footsteps light and quick as they made their way back to the clearing where they had left the carriage. Bates held up his hand and Radek stopped, his breathing heavy in the quiet.
Another shrill cry from the Wraith and then Radek heard the sounds of his countrymen screaming and begging for their lives. The horses were crying out loudly, thrashing and fighting against the leads attached to their bridles. Radek closed his eyes tightly as one of the Wraith grabbed Sumner, pressing him again a tree not far from where he and Bates were hiding.
There was a crash from the other side of the carriage and an arrow whizzed across the clearing, hitting the Wraith that was feeding off Sumner in the back. Radek jumped, his breath catching in his throat as the Wraith shrieked again, letting Sumner go.
Bates charged out of the woods and ran the Wraith through with his sword, a cry of victory emerging from his throat. Another arrow hit the Wraith feeding off of Markham, but Markham was already a dead husk, falling to the ground with his eyes wide open.
Radek jumped forward and attacked the Wraith that had dropped Markham. He stared at the pale face, the pointed teeth and wild eyes. The Wraith made a grab for him but he danced out of the way and plunged his sword into the Wraith's stomach, pushing in as deep as he could without putting himself within reach of the Wraith.
Bates had fallen to another Wraith and Radek found himself surrounded by three Wraith and no guards left to protect him. His sword was bloodied and heavy in his hands. Sumner was staring at him from the ground, his eyes barely open and his face withered and dying.
Radek swung his sword in an arc, just trying to keep the three Wraith at bay as long as possible. He lunged forward at one of them just as another grabbed him from behind. He cried out loudly in fear as the Wraith pressed its clammy hand against his chest.
Radek felt the swish of a blade and the Wraith that was holding him released his grasp, sending Radek sprawling onto the ground. There was a thump as the Wraith's body minus its head landed next to him.
Radek looked up and saw a man moving swiftly, his sword cutting a brilliant arc through the air as he fought the last two Wraith. It seemed to take forever to Radek who lay frightened on the ground, unable to move as the man killed the last two Wraith.
The man lowered his sword when the last Wraith fell. He looked briefly at Radek before going over to check on Bates first. Radek let out a moan and grey skirted his vision as he passed out.
"Come on now. Wake up."
Radek could feel someone lightly patting his cheek, the voice unfamiliar. He opened his eyes slowly and saw the man who had saved him from the Wraith. Radek blinked once, twice as he tried to focus on him, his chest tightening with fear and completely inappropriate arousal.
"There we go," the man said quietly. "Are you hurt?"
Radek shook his head slowly, licking his lips to wet his mouth. "I don't believe so."
"We must go then." The man wrapped his hand around Radek's arm and hauled him to his feet. "It is not safe to stay here. More will come."
"My men," Radek said weakly, looking around at the wreckage of his carriage, the dead horses, the fallen men. "We must bury them."
"If we stop to bury them, we will die alongside of them."
The man checked over one of the horses who was still alive for injuries. He handed the reins to Radek. "Do you ride?"
Radek took the reins from him. "I do."
The man grunted and motioned for Radek to mount the horse. "Follow me."
Radek swung himself onto the horse's back, settling into the saddle. The man freed the other two horses before taking off into the woods, his steps quick and light. Radek kicked the horse lightly and they followed through the woods to where another horse was tethered to a tree.
"Who are you?" asked Radek as the man untied the horse and swung onto his back.
"My name is John. And you are the younger prince of Athos."
Radek stared at John. "How do you know who I am?"
"There are many in the woods who wish to cause you harm," John said as he spurred his horse on. "Follow me if you wish to live."
"How do I know you don't wish to cause me harm?" Radek called after him.
John turned in the saddle, his eyes dark and a smile touching his lips. "I just saved your life, didn't I?"
Radek swallowed thickly and kicked his own horse to follow John. "Well there is that."
John was, as Radek found out, a mercenary for hire. Beyond that, John was very close-mouthed about who he was and why he was living in the woods. Radek found himself staring at the stubbled jaw as they rode side-by-side through the woods.
John looked over at him, his expression calm. "Do you wish to go back to Athos or continue on to Atlantis?"
"What I wish does not matter," Radek said quietly. "I must continue on to Atlantis. I am to be married."
"To the Princess Elizabeth," John said to him. "Yes, I know."
"Then you know that we have been promised to one another by our fathers," Radek said. "I cannot break my father's word."
"Then I shall take you to Atlantis." John nudged his horse into a trot. "Come now, Prince Radek. We have no time to lose."
John poked the fire with a stick, sending sparks hissing into the air. Radek chuckled a little, reaching for a stick himself. The forest was quiet again, but not eerily quiet like it had been before the Wraith attack. John seemed at ease and the horses were sleeping nestled together not far from the rudimentary camp they had made. That was enough for Radek to relax as well.
"You don't act like a prince," John said after awhile.
"You've met a lot of princes, then?" asked Radek.
"A fair amount."
Radek looked at him oddly. "How would a mercenary such as yourself have contact with a lot of princes?"
"You should get some sleep," John said, pointing at the nest of leaves they had created earlier. "We have a long day ahead of us."
"I am not tired," Radek said to him. He moved so he was sitting next to John. "Who are you?"
"I told you my name and my profession," John said, tilting his head to the side to look at Radek. "Why does it matter to you?"
"You saved my life," Radek said quietly. "Do you not wish to be rewarded when we get to Atlantis? I am quite sure my future father-in-law will reward you."
"You don't know the good king very well, do you?" John said dryly. "He'd sooner kill me than give me a reward."
"Why is that?" asked Radek, moving a little closer.
"That's none of your business," John said as he pushed himself to his feet. "I'm going to patrol the area. You should really try to get some sleep."
Radek sat back slightly, looking disappointed. "Very well. I wish you to get some sleep as well tonight. I can patrol as well."
John smiled at him softly. "Don't worry about me."
Radek watched John walk away, disappearing into the forest and leaving Radek alone for the first time since he had left Athos. In the carriage with Sumner, Radek had longed for this kind of solitude. Now that John had rescued him, the last thing Radek wanted was to be alone.
Radek made his way over to the makeshift bed, covering the leaves with his cloak before lying down. He closed his eyes and tried not to think about the ache in his chest. He could never have anyone like John in his life. He was a prince after all.
Leaves crackled under Radek's body as he shifted drowsily in the makeshift bed. He snuggled closer to the warm body that was wrapped around his own. John responded by pulling him closer and nuzzling the back of Radek's neck before stiffening slightly.
Radek didn't respond as he reached for John's hand, bringing it up to his mouth to kiss the knuckles. He felt John exhale against his neck, pressing closer. John's hand slid to Radek's stomach, stroking lightly at the soft fabric of his overshirt.
"Please," Radek whispered. "Touch me, John."
John moaned softly against Radek's neck, his hands working on the ties of Radek's placket. Radek felt himself harden and he arched his hips towards John's hands. John held him carefully, barely stroking as Radek squirmed against him, tipping his head back on John's shoulder.
"Kiss me," Radek murmured before pressing his lips to John's, his eyes drifting shut. John tasted a bit sour but his mouth opened to Radek's and his hand tightened around Radek's cock, his strokes becoming surer as they kissed.
Radek whimpered against John's mouth, his body tensing and his orgasm spilling over. He panted against John's shoulder as John pressed against him from behind, the hot brand of John's cock against his back.
"Radek," John whispered against his cheek. Radek turned in his arms and kissed John again, lazily making out with him as John rocked against his hip.
"Let me," Radek said softly, pushing John onto his back. He rested a hand lightly on John's cock, squeezing. John moaned, pushing his hips up. Radek fumbled with the placket of John's trousers, managing to get them open. He stroked his hand slowly up John's cock. "May I?"
John looked at him, his eyes hazy with lust. "May you what?"
"May..." Radek licked his lips. "May I take you in my mouth?"
John's hips surged up at the request and he rested a hand lightly on Radek's neck, urging him down. Radek lowered his head, his lips pressing gently against the tip of John's cock, tasting the salt there. He opened his mouth and took him in, sucking lightly.
John ran his hand through Radek's hair, urging him on with gentle hands and soft moans. John was heavy and thick in Radek's mouth, the taste of him both welcome and overwhelming at the same time. Radek slid his hands up the front of John's worn tunic, touching warm skin and coarse hair.
John groaned deeply and his hips pushed deep into Radek's mouth as he came, quick pulses of fluid that Radek spat onto the ground, looking a little sheepish as he did so. He leaned over and pressed a kiss to the soft skin on John's stomach before moving away to rest on the leaves next to him.
"Well," John said, panting a little. "That was a very pleasant way to wake up."
Radek smiled softly and worked on fixing his pants, tying the laces shut again. "I agree."
John touched Radek's face lightly. "You are definitely not like the princes I've met before."
"Considering the princes I know," Radek said softly. "I'll take that as a compliment."
"It is," John murmured. He sat up and stretched his arms above his head. "As much as I would prefer to laze about all day, we must keep moving. There is a settlement where we can rest tonight, have a decent meal perhaps."
"That sounds marvelous," Radek admitted. He brushed a leaf out of John's hair.
John rose to his feet and reached his hand out to Radek. "Come, my prince."
Radek took his hand and let John haul him to his feet. He stepped forward and pressed another kiss to John's mouth, his eyes fluttering shut. John's hand held his tightly before he stepped back.
"You are a being an unwelcome distraction," John teased. "Go see to your horse. The sooner we are on our way, the sooner we can stop again."
Radek laughed and lifted his cloak from the ground, shaking the leaves off and refastening it around his neck. His horse snuffled against his side as Radek settled the saddle on his back. John watched him briefly before he began to break down camp. Radek could feel John's gaze on him and he wondered if this was all some kind of wonderful dream.
"Tell me of Athos," John said after awhile. The path they were riding down was sunny and strewn with leaves, the air fresh and crisp. "I've never been."
Radek urged his horse on slightly so he was by John's side again. "It is lovely in the spring and fall. I'm not overly fond of snow though I have spent many a winter burying my brother in snow caves. He always complained loudly to our mother, but she never listened. And our father spoiled us greatly. Neither of us are warriors like he. My brother is fascinated by mathematics and science, neither of which are professions fitting a prince."
"And you?" asked John. "What do you fancy?"
"Science as well. And the stable boys," Radek said dryly. "Something my father always turned a blind eye to."
"Yet your father is marrying you to Princess Elizabeth."
"It is a political move," Radek said, looking at the path and not at John. "Our borders are not what they used to be due to the Wraith attacks. My brother's marriage to the daughter of the King of the Genii secured our Southern borders. My marriage to Princess Elizabeth will secure our Eastern borders. It is better this way."
"What about your wishes?" John asked, his voice low.
Radek finally looked at him again. "Why would my wishes matter? This is how it is done in the royal courts."
"Do you ever want to just leave it all behind and take control of your life?" asked John. "You could find someone who you want to spend your life with, not who your father chooses for you."
"I love my father," Radek said calmly. "And I love my country. If my life is to be decided for me, I am happy it is by him. And I am happy that is all for the good of my country."
"I feel sorry for you," John said seriously. "And, selfishly, I am sorry that I will be forced to hand you over to Elizabeth."
"You were not forced to save me in the first place," Radek said. "That was your choice and continuing onto Atlantis is mine."
John reached across the path to wrap his fingers around Radek's wrist. "And if I asked you to stay with me?"
"Do not ask," Radek said softly, covering John's hand with his own. "You would not like my answer."
"Then I suppose I won't ask."
"Good idea," Radek squeezed John's hand. "Besides, you are not turning me over to the Atlanteans yet."
"True," John said with a smile. "Perhaps I will be able to change your mind."
"You are welcome to try."
The settlement was far smaller than Radek had expected, just a few tents grouped together with a long hut next to a fire pit. John smiled widely though, winking at Radek before cupping his hands over his mouth.
"Teyla! Ronon!" John shouted loudly. "Call off your man. You've got visitors."
Radek startled as a young boy dropped out of the tree next to him, bow in his hands. The boy barely spared him a glance before hurrying over to John, a huge smile on his face.
"Mum and Dad are hunting," the boy said as he patted the neck of John's horse. "Are you passing through or staying?"
"Just for the evening, Aiden," John said with a smile. He pointed over at Radek. "Aiden, this is Radek."
Radek tilted his head slightly and gave the boy a smile. "Hello?"
Aiden looked at him suspiciously. "His clothing is too fine to be from the forest. Is he from the city?"
"He is a traveler," John explained, giving Radek a quick shake of his head. "He is traveling to Atlantis."
Aiden still looked suspicious, but he returned his attention to John. "Bring the horses to the fields then. You know the land. I will lay out some food and get the tents ready."
John swung off his horse, Radek following suit. "We only need one tent, Aiden. Don't go to so much trouble just for me."
Aiden looked at him and then back at Radek. "If you see my brothers in the fields, tell them to come home to help with the meal." Aiden's face broke into another smile as he darted forward to grab John's hand. "Do you have tales to tell us before my parents return?"
John smiled at him, ruffling Aiden's short curls. "Don't I always?"
Aiden looked excited by that and swung his bow back over his shoulder before heading over to the tents. Radek followed John through a glen of fruit trees to an open field with a makeshift paddock where two horses and three cows grazed in comfort.
"How do these people live so close to the Wraith and survive?" asked Radek as he took the tack off his horse.
John's horse whinnied a greeting before galloping into the paddock, Radek's horse following at a much slower pace. John picked up the tack, setting it on a sheltered bench.
"The Wraith rarely come out into the open areas like this," John said. "But Teyla and Ronon are accomplished hunters - as are their children. They have been killing Wraith for years."
"Is that what they are hunting?" asked Radek, feeling chilled at the thought of actively hunting Wraith.
"Most likely so if the boys have been left behind," John said. "The boys can fight, but Ronon prefers they don't actively pursue the Wraith." John looked at Radek seriously. "They are good people. They have taken me in and taught me all I have needed to know about the Wraith."
Radek rested his hands on John's hips, leaning in to kiss him lightly. "Will it matter who I am?"
"Yes," John said softly. "Teyla is an Athosian. Her father was killed by the Wraith while serving in your father's corps. Do not tell them who you are."
Radek nodded, resting his head on John's shoulder. "I wish to lie with you again tonight. Will we be able to?"
John tipped his head against Radek's. "We will. First we must eat and talk with our hosts. The boys like to hear tales of my adventures as a mercenary and Ronon likes to keep abreast of what is happening in the other areas of the forest."
"Sir John! Over here!"
Radek turned away from John, seeing two older boys running across the fields. He stepped away as John raised a hand in greeting.
"Hello! I was wondering where you boys were," John said as the boys stopped in front of him, smiling widely. "Radek, meet Jinto and Wex. They are Aiden's older brothers."
"Hello," Radek said with an awkward wave. The boys looked at him a little oddly. "Nice to meet the both of you."
"Where is he from?" asked Jinto.
"He is a traveler on his way to Atlantis," John said simply. "Come. Aiden said you have to help with the evening meal."
Radek sat closest to the fire, sitting at the low table with John, Teyla, and Ronon. Strong mead had been poured by Teyla after the boys had been sent to their tent and Radek was feeling warm and safe in the woods with these people.
John chuckled a little, putting a hand on Radek's thigh as Teyla told him about Aiden's first attempt at shaping his own bow. Radek covered his hand with his own, smiling softly.
Across the table, Ronon stared at Radek, his gaze shadowed by the fire. "There is word," he said, breaking into Teyla's story. "Of a royal caravan coming from Athos that was attacked by the Wraith."
John's expression didn't change as he picked up his mug of mead. "You don't say."
Ronon's eyes flickered to John briefly before looking back at Radek. He picked up his own cup of mead and took a drink. "You should be more careful."
"Ronon," Teyla said firmly. "I will not have you talking like this in front of a guest."
Ronon sighed heavily, but tipped his head in her direction. "My wife does not believe in false accusations."
"Nor do I," said John seriously. "If you have something to say, just say it."
"He has nothing to say." Teyla's voice broached no disagreement and Radek was thankful for that. "I see no reason for any secrets to come to light this evening."
Ronon grumbled a little into his cup before setting it back on the table. "Where are you headed?"
"To Atlantis," Radek said. "I have business with a guild there."
"A guild. What type of guild?"
"I am a metalworker." Radek felt the lies slip from his tongue without thought. "Mostly swords and shields."
"Yet you come into the forest armed only with a single blade," Teyla said quietly. "Is that not poor preparation to trade with a guild in Atlantis?"
"I am not looking to trade, only to work for them," Radek answered.
"John," Ronon said, getting to his feet. "May I speak with you in private?"
John looked at Radek before getting to his feet as well. "Perhaps we should check on the livestock before we bed down for the night."
"An excellent idea," Ronon said before disappearing into the woods with John following close behind.
Teyla poured Radek some more mead. "John is a good man."
"I have come to see that," Radek said to her. "I am lucky to have crossed his path."
"My boys are quite fond of him. He took some getting used to on my part though," said Teyla. "He had ridiculous ideas of what a woman's place should be when he first met me."
"What changed his mind?"
Teyla smiled enigmatically. "I broke three of his fingers and gave him two black eyes the first time we sparred."
"I will have to remember not to spar with you," Radek said with a smile. He yawned, covering his mouth. "Pardon."
"Go take your leave," Teyla said, rising to her feet. "I will inform John that you have gone to bed when he gets back. I expect they will be back shortly."
"Thank you," Radek said softly. "I greatly appreciate the kindness you have shown me this evening."
Teyla touched his face lightly. "You are welcome."
Radek nodded a little before walking over to the small tent that had been set up for himself and John by Aiden earlier in the evening. There was a bed of soft furs and a warm quilt off to the side and a small lantern in the middle of the tent.
Slowly Radek took off the stiff, dirty clothes that he'd been wearing for entirely too many days down, folding them carefully. He touched well-worn fabric, homespun but soft with repeated use, shaking it out before slipping it over his head.
The furs were comfortable and he was so very tired as he watched the flickering lantern make patterns on the sides of the tent. He could hear murmured voices, Teyla, Ronon, and John, as he drifted off to sleep.
Radek's horse trotted easily next to John's, rested after a night sleeping in a field with the other horses. Radek was not as rested, but didn't mind all that much. John had come to bed late, waking Radek with soft kisses, pushing the nightshirt over his head and pressing their bodies together, bare skin touching without any barriers. They had awoken the same way, bodies tangled together and nothing in between.
They had bid farewell to Teyla after breakfast, Ronon and the boys joining them as they went out to work in the fields. John and Ronon had talked quietly as Radek played tag with the three boys, laughing more than he had in a long time.
"Ronon said that word has reached Atlantis of your caravan being attacked by the Wraith. They are sending men into the forest to find you," John said after awhile.
"When should we cross paths with them?"
John looked over at him. "That depends on you."
"You cannot be seen with me," Radek said quietly, remembering John's comment about how the Atlantean king would rather kill him than reward him. "Am I right?"
John nodded. "They'll kill me on sight."
"Is there any other path we can take to get to Atlantis?" asked Radek. "So we don't meet up with them?"
"There is one," John said to him, his eyes haunted. "It is not a very safe path. It is strewn with hidden dangers."
"Will we be alone?"
"Very much so."
Radek turned his horse slightly so he was facing John. Carefully he leaned over and kissed him softly, his hand resting on John's side. "Then we shall take that path."
Radek smoothed his hand over John's unruly hair, the other man sleeping soundly. The woods were dark and eerily quiet, making it hard for Radek to sleep. He was afraid the Wraith would come again despite John's assertions that they were safe.
He thought of Rodney, safe at home with his beautiful wife and his experiments. God how he wished to tell John to take him back to Athos and not to Atlantis.
If he returned to Athos, war would break out between the two countries and he would have shamed his family beyond belief. He would not be able to spend evenings with Rodney any longer. His brother's comfort would be a faint memory.
Ronon had told John that the Atlantis guards weren't sure if he was dead or alive. Part of him wanted to let them believe he was dead so he could stay in the forest with John forever.
It would be so easy to just stay here. He could learn how to hunt and fish and kill Wraith. He could help Teyla and Ronon with their cattle and during the fall harvest. He could spend every day with John and never hide that he loved him.
Radek laid back down, resting his head against John's shoulder. He felt sick to his stomach for wanting so much. John shifted in his sleep, pulling Radek closer.
Radek knew that he couldn't have this forever. He closed his eyes and listened to John snore softly, wondering what sleeping with Princess Elizabeth would be like.
"You're quiet today," John remarked as they crossed over a small stream, the horses hooves splashing loudly.
"I have nothing to say at the moment," Radek said as he leaned back a little as the horse stepped over a rock. "My brother was always the one who wished to fill the air with sound."
"You're the quiet prince then?"
Radek smiled a little. "Everyone is quieter than Rodney."
John's horse surged onto dry land, stomping his hooves before going back onto a well-worn path. Radek followed, his hand light on the reins.
"Tonight we will stay at my camp. We will reach Atlantis tomorrow mid-morning," John said, his hand trailing over branches. "I will have to leave you at the bridge."
"So soon." Radek felt his chest tighten and the choice he made the night before battling with his desire to stay with John. "What do I do when I get to the bridge?"
"You ride across to the main gates. Tell the guards your name," John said in an emotionless voice. "They will believe you enough to let you into the city. Once inside, you will be interrogated and given over to the doctor. He is a good man and will believe you. Then." John turned a little to look at him. "You'll be taken to meet King Jack and the beautiful Princess. Do not touch anything until you have been presented to the King."
Radek met his gaze, blinking slowly. "You sound like you know the city well."
John turned around again, ducking slightly under a low-hanging branch. "The doctor's name is Carson Beckett. Should you have any need to contact me, he is the only person who knows how to find me."
"John," Radek said softly. "Who *are* you?"
"Carson is a good man. We were." John's voice trailed off and Radek spurred his horse slightly, catching up to John. "We were friends a long time ago."
"Just as we are friends?"
"Much the same," John said softly. "Do be careful, Radek."
"You sound like my brother."
"Then your brother is a smart man to warn you. What we are," John said sharply. "Is not allowed in the city. Not in the royal courts of Atlantis."
"Then I suppose I shall have no reason to contact you," Radek said just as sharply. "Are we going this way?"
John's jaw tightened and he nodded. "I am not saying this to upset you."
"Then let us not say it at all!" Radek cried out, feeling horribly broken by John's words. He stopped his horse, turning to look at John. "We are not stupid men, John. Neither of us can have what we truly want in life."
"And what do you truly want?" asked John, his face a dull red.
"I want you," Radek said, waving his hand a little. "I want this. I want the forest and dinners with Teyla and Ronon. I want to wake up every morning next to you. I want that forever, but I cannot have it. My happiness is not worth the ruin of my people."
John dismounted quickly, moving to press his face to Radek's chest, his arms holding him tightly. Radek cradled him close, his cheek pressed against John's hair.
"You are right," John said softly. "We are not stupid men." He lifted his head to look at Radek. "Tonight then."
Radek nodded and kissed him, his lips lingering against John's. "Tonight."
Radek brushed his hands over the low table in the center of John's small hut, clearing off the crumbs from the bread they had eaten with the rabbit meat. The hut was crowded with weapons and food, looking disheveled and lived in.
John ducked back inside, smiling at Radek. "The horses are fine. I moved them a little closer just in case."
"Do you expect trouble?"
"Look around," John said, gesturing at the weapons. "I always expect trouble."
Radek took in the room again and realized the sum total of John's possessions were weapons and food. But John certainly seemed to be content with that.
"There's a river not far," John said after a moment. "We could bathe before we rest if you wish."
Radek shook his head and walked over to John, cupping his face in his hands and kissing him slowly. John's hands fell to Radek's waist, his eyes shutting.
"We can bathe afterwards," Radek said softly. "Take me to bed, John."
John's hands tightened and he kissed Radek again, slowly walking them to the corner of the hut where a low mattress was pressed against the wall. Radek let John guide him down onto his back, John still kissing him as they settled against each other.
Radek made quick work of John's tunic, pulling it over his head and tossing it onto the floor. He ran his hands through crisp hair before pulling John's head back down to press their mouths together.
Radek had lain with men before, quick, furtive couplings that left both satisfied physically, but meant little in his heart. It was fun and easy. His body knew the bodies of other men better than it could ever know a woman.
That was before John. As John pressed slowly inside of him and his lips pressed against the curve of Radek's shoulder, Radek knew that his heart was forever lost to his mysterious John.
John's horse stopped at the edge of the forest and John looked ahead at the bridge stretching across the waters to the great city of Atlantis, floating safely away from the mainland. Radek stopped next to him, looking as well.
"You must leave me here?" asked Radek softly, sliding a hand over John's.
John looked at him sadly, tangling their fingers together. "I cannot go back."
John lifted their hands and pressed his lips to Radek's knuckles. "It does not matter any longer, my prince."
"This doctor," Radek's said, his voice breaking slightly. "He will be able to find you?"
John nodded quickly, his head bowed and his lips still against Radek's fingers. Radek let out a shuddery sigh and slowly pulled his hand away. He straightened his robes and ran shaky fingers through his mussed hair.
"How do I look?"
"Presentable enough considering the circumstances," John murmured, his eyes bright in the low light. "You must go?"
"Yes," Radek said, looking back out at the city of Atlantis. "It is beautiful."
Radek turned to him once more, his chest clenched into a knot of pain. "Goodbye, my love."
John ran quick fingers through Radek's hair before tugging lightly on the reins and turning his horse away. Radek twisted in his saddle to watch as John disappeared into the forest, waiting for a goodbye that never came.
Radek hummed a little to himself, pushing his glasses up his nose as he jotted down another calculation before going back to his experiments. He was allowed as much time to experiment as he wished, surprised by the leniency of the king.
"Darling," Elizabeth said as she knocked lightly on the door frame. "The boys are asking for you."
"I shall be along in a minute," Radek replied, turning a bit to smile at his wife. She was lovely and kind and everything he could ever want in a wife. Her knowledge was vast and she challenged him intellectually. It was more than he had expected when he had first met her.
"Do not be too long," Elizabeth admonished. "I know how easy it is for you to forget yourself when you are in here."
Radek chuckled a little and wrote down a few more numbers before shutting the notebook. "There. I am finished for the day."
Elizabeth tucked her hand in the crook of his arm. "Have you heard the news?"
"I have not heard much of anything," Radek admitted as they walked back towards their quarters. "I've been bent over my experiments all day."
"You work too hard, darling," Elizabeth said, a smile playing on her lips. "My father has lifted the price on my brother's head and offered a pardon. He will be allowed back into Atlantis again."
"Your brother?" Radek looked puzzled. "I was not aware you had a brother."
"We have been forbidden to speak of him for years," Elizabeth said softly. "I barely remember what he looks like after all this time."
"Elizabeth," Radek said gently, touching her face. "You are pale. Please, sit."
Elizabeth let him guide her over to a bench, his hand resting against her swelled stomach. "I am fine. Just the idea of seeing John again. I always thought he would be forever lost to me in the forest."
"John?" Radek's voice wavered. "Your brother's name is John?"
"Yes," Elizabeth said, covering Radek's hand with her own. "I have not seen him since he was barely 20. He must have changed so much over the years."
Radek's heart thumped loudly in his chest as he looked at his wife in shock. He had not seen hide nor hair of John since that day in the forest. Carson had refused, gently, to contact John, saying it was best for all involved that they never see each other again.
"And he was banished to the forest?"
Elizabeth nodded. "I have always feared the Wraith would kill him and there would never be a chance for reconciliation."
"The Wraith could not kill him," Radek said softly. "He is too strong a fighter for that."
Elizabeth's fingers tightened on his hand. "What are you saying?"
"It was him, Elizabeth," Radek said, looking at her eyes – John's eyes. "He was the one who saved me. He brought me safely to you."
Elizabeth touched his face lightly. "And he stole your heart forever."
Radek looked away, ashamed but unable to lie. Elizabeth knew him entirely too well, knew all of his secrets, everything but the name of the man who had saved his life so many years ago.
Elizabeth pulled him close, his head resting against her soft breasts. Radek clung to her and wondered if John still remembered his name.
Summary: When Prince Radek's caravan is attacked by the Wraith, he's rescued by a mysterious mercenary who makes him rethink his future.