Title: One Equal Temper
Author: Dr. Dredd
Spoilers: Siege I and Siege II, speculation for Siege III
Genre: Angst (Hey, it's what I do.)
Season: Season 1-2
Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis, characters, concept, etc, aren't mine. Bloody heck.
Summary: Everyone grieves in his or her own way. Written for the Zelenka ficathon on LJ
Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
- "Ulysses", Alfred Lord Tennyson
Peter Grodin's quarters looked like no one had ever lived there. All of his personal belongings had been packed away in boxes, to be returned to Earth and his family. The Atlantean furnishings that remained made the room look generic and spare. If Peter himself were here, he would no doubt laugh and say that it was still better than his first flat in London.
But that was the whole point, thought Radek Zelenka. Peter would never return to these rooms. After his heroic actions aboard the crippled satellite, there wasn't even a body to bring back. Once the Daedalus had arrived and taken care of the Wraith, they had held a simple memorial service for all of their dead. But Peter had been a good friend, and Radek thought that he deserved more. In the small town where he had grown up, funerals were intense things that combined sorrow and mourning with celebration of the deceased's life.
Radek could feel his eyes beginning to water. Damn. He needed to get this done before he lost it. He was looking through the boxes to find a few of the possessions Peter had valued the most. Then he, Rodney McKay, and a few of the others were going to the mainland to hold their own private memorial. Seeing how distraught Rodney had been over leaving Peter behind, Radek had suggested this as a way of demonstrating that they had not abandoned him in the end. They would bury Peter's favorite items, say a few words, and drink to his memory.
People like John Sheppard were no doubt surprised that Radek was displaying so much sentiment. He supposed they just saw him as the little Czech guy who was always arguing with Rodney. But the science staff shared a unique bond, rather like the one he supposed members of a military unit shared. Kavanaugh, of course, was the exception that proved the rule.
Sighing, Radek stood up with the items he had selected. He had chosen a picture of Peter and his family, a fancy teapot, and a soccer ball signed by David Beckham. He then took a final look around the room and headed to the jumper bay. He was the last to arrive. Rodney, John, and Carson Beckett were already there waiting for him.
The other three men looked worn and haggard. John, now Colonel Sheppard, had barely avoided blowing himself to hell during a suicide bombing run against a hive ship. The arriving Daedalus had saved him at the last minute. With the aid of stimulants, Rodney had stayed awake for nearly 72 hours building nuclear bombs and fixing one of the Mark 2 naquadah generators to power a control chair. Bearded and with large dark circles under his eyes, he had finally collapsed as the last of the Wraith darts was destroyed. Carson, fueled by grief and rage after thinking that they'd lost John, had overcome his fear of the newly-repowered chair and used it to activate defenses that lay long dormant within the city. He had sustained a nasty burn on his right forearm and several cracked ribs when the power coupling from the generator blew up and sent him flying across the room.
Radek himself had not escaped unscathed. While Rodney was doing his thing, Radek constructed homemade grenades out of commonly used lab equipment. If it wasn't so insane, he would have laughed at how the situation resembled an episode of MacGyver, one of the few American TV shows he had watched as a child. When the grenades ran out, Radek had simply grabbed the gun from the body of a dead Marine and started shooting. For his troubles, he received a gunshot wound to his lower leg and a broken collarbone.
The four men just looked at each other for a minute. Then John spoke. "We're a sorry looking bunch, aren't we. If we looked any worse, people would think we're something out of a George Romero flick."
Rodney snorted. "Speak for yourself, Mr. I-saw-Night-of-the-Living-Dead-thirty-seven-times. I'm feeling much better now that I've slept."
"You mean 'fainted', right?" John smirked.
"Oh, would you give it a rest already! By the way, Carson, you lied. I looked it up in a medical dictionary. The proper term is 'syncope', not faint! You just like making fun of me."
"Can we at least try to be a little more respectful?" Carson snapped back. He was still in a good deal of pain from his injuries, but did not want to dull his awareness with painkillers. Consequently, he was irritable, to say the least.
John became serious. "I don't think we're being disrespectful. If Peter were here, he'd be the first one to try a verbal smackdown on Rodney."
Radek nodded solemnly. "Peter would never miss an opportunity like that."
Carson sighed. "Sorry, lads. It just seems so... so..."
"Aye. And Rodney, 'faint' is an acceptable substitute."
"To you, maybe," Rodney muttered.
The four men boarded the puddlejumper. Radek was both amused and relieved to see Carson make a beeline for one of the passenger seats. The physician really wasn't such a good pilot, though not nearly as bad as Rodney and John complained.
"Are you sure Dr. Weir could not come?" Radek asked a bit wistfully.
Rodney gave him a strange look, but said only, "I think she wanted to. But Caldwell has her dealing with all the little things that pop up. Things that would ordinarily be taken care of by someone other than the highest ranking civilian in the city."
"Highest ranking civilian," repeated John slowly.
"Whatever. You know exactly what I mean."
Radek suspected that Colonel Caldwell was only part of the story. One night, unable to sleep, Radek had been wandering the hallways. His meanderings had led him to the control room where he found Elizabeth at Peter's station, one hand placed gently on the console. For a minute her face had held such an expression of grief that Radek had to look away. But it only lasted a minute, and then the calm leader's mask was back in place. So yes, Colonel Caldwell was overloading her with busywork. But Radek suspected that she also couldn't bear to face Peter's death all over again.
The jumper soundlessly lifted off the ground and headed out of the city. This time it would be a peaceful flight. No Wraith darts scanning the city. No killer storms on the way. Just a quick, easy trip to the mainland to say goodbye to a friend.
Radek almost wished the Wraith darts were here instead.
He stole a glance at Rodney, who was sitting in the co-pilot's seat. Rodney was staring straight ahead, unconsciously clenching his jaw. Radek had heard through the rumor mill that Colonel Caldwell had not wanted them to take the jumper out for this purpose. Supposedly Rodney had let loose with a string of invective strong enough to make even that seasoned veteran turn red. Radek laughed softly to himself.
Not softly enough, apparently. Rodney turned around to ask, "What?"
"I was just wondering where you learned some of the more colorful terms you used on the new colonel."
"After two years at a military base in Siberia, you'd be surprised what you pick up over a glass of vodka," replied Rodney wryly.
"Colonel Caldwell was definitely not happy about that," said John, glaring at Rodney. "And half the new troop contingent is terrified of you."
"If they have half a brain in their heads and know how to use it, they're in no danger from me. Otherwise I make no promises." Then Rodney turned around to stare out the forward screen again.
The jumper finally put down in a secluded cover that John had located on one of his flyovers. It was long enough to hold three parked jumpers and was isolated from the rest of the mainland by a dense growth of new forest. Trees surrounded the grove on three sides and the fourth opened up onto a beach. As they walked outside, Radek took a deep breath and let it out appreciatively. The warm breeze and salty air felt wonderful after being stuck in Atlantis for months.
They stood there awkwardly for a few minutes. Radek was carrying the soccer ball, Carson held the teapot, and Rodney had Peter's photo. Suddenly Radek laughed again. At the others' inquisitive glances, he explained. "I just remembered the time that Peter almost ran Dr. Weir down in the hall while demonstrating soccer to Athosian children. He was so mortified! Dr. Weir was just surprised that staid colleague had lightened up enough to do that!"
John grinned. "Yeah, I remember that. Remember when he tried to organize a game of 'football'? Most of the guys were really excited until they realized that when he said football, he meant soccer!"
"Bloody Americans," Carson muttered.
"Peter was pretty good," said Radek. "He played at university, and his team supposedly did well."
One by one the four men sat on large rocks scattered along the edge of the beach. John pointed at the teapot Carson was holding. "How was that significant to Peter?"
Carson smiled wistfully. "Peter was a civilized lad who knew the value of a good cup of tea," he began. Predictably, Rodney interrupted.
Three pairs of eyes stared at him. "Christ, Rodney, now what are ye blatherin' about?" Carson demanded.
"The teapot and the soccer ball. That's two personal items. How did he manage that?"
The men considered it. "Peter was in charge of supplies transfer," Radek offered. "It should not have been difficult to stash second item."
"Good for him!" said John admiringly.
Carson cleared his throat. "Like I was saying, Peter was a dedicated tea drinker. He ran out of his own stash pretty quickly, then tried to mooch off mine! Had to threaten him with sharp, pointy objects..."
"He often made teabags the stake for his wagers," Radek pointed out.
"What wagers are we talking about here?" asked John, suddenly suspicious.
"Och, people will bet on just about anything, lad. Who will be the first to punch Kavanaugh, who will spend the most time in the infirmary during any given month."
"When John and Elizabeth are going to shack up."
"Don't look at me like that, Carson. You know people are betting on it."
"Aye. And you're the favorite for breaking your bloody arse on the next mission!"
John interrupted, trying not to turn red. "First, Dr. Weir and I are not 'shacking up.' Second, who's running these bets?"
There was silence. Everyone suddenly found something more interesting to look at. Rodney in particular avoided looking at Radek.
"Dr. Z.?" asked John incredulously.
"You have no poker face," whispered Carson to Rodney in disgust.
"Terribly sorry. I mean, my work depends on it oh so much."
Carson snorted. "We could always try Botox, Rodney."
John wasn't going to be distracted so easily. "Zelenka's a bookie?" Radek shrugged.
John thought for a minute, then shook his head. "Somehow, 'Jimmy the Czech' just doesn't have the right ring to it."
Rodney, who was seated closest to John, leaned over and gave him a smack on the back of the head. Radek just grinned. He liked the image of himself as a Vegas bookie.
After continuing the banter for awhile, they eventually finished what they came to do. They created a makeshift memorial and left the soccer ball, the picture, and the teapot. "Goodbye, Peter," whispered Rodney when they finished.
As they turned to walk away, John whispered to Radek, "Just what kind of odds are they putting on me and Elizabeth?"
The sun had fallen low in the sky and the first stars were beginning to emerge. No one had wanted to leave right away, so they had settled on the beach with flasks of Radek's home brew. A small driftwood fire burned in an impromptu fire pit they built.
As he was finishing the last of the brew, John nudged Radek good-naturedly. "So you're a bookie and a whisky runner? You're a regular one-man black market!"
An amused burr came from across the fire. "Say what you will, John, this is the longest I've seen any of you relax since I can't even remember. So that makes this stuff," he held up his flask, "medicinal."
"Same goes for you, doc. When was the last time you took a break?"
"I think it was right after Teyla beat the crap out of me," Carson said dryly.
In other words, thought Radek, right before Peter died. That was really the beginning of everything going to pieces. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Rodney staring up into the night sky. As if sensing his gaze, Rodney suddenly asked, "What the hell are we doing out here?"
"Rodney?" asked Carson gently, used to his mercurial shifts of mood.
"I mean it. How did we have the audacity to think that we could waltz into the lost city of Atlantis, plant a flag for Planet Earth, and boldly go where no one in their right minds had gone before? One small step for a man, and all that. I sometimes I think we never should have used the Stargate."
Radek and John shared a glance. This wasn't like their friend. The self-proclaimed genius (and, to be fair, actual genius), shouldn't have even been able to sit still with all the new possibilities coming from charged ZPM's.
"Would you have really wanted to miss this, Rodney?" asked Radek. "The chance to make discovery that could change the course of human history? The chance to impress Samantha Carter?" he teased.
"Of course not!" Rodney snapped, more like his usual self. "But it was the height of insanity not to have a defined plan to get home. Peter's family will never know of his sacrifice. They'll get a nice, tidy "we regret to inform you" letter and that will be it."
"Every single one of us volunteered -- hell, fought for the chance -- to come on this expedition," John pointed out.
"Is that supposed to make it better?"
"No, Rodney, nothing will. But I can guarantee, because I came to the same conclusion myself, that every person who died decided to take that chance rather than simply growing old at home."
"Only the good die young, eh, Colonel?" Rodney said sarcastically.
"For my purpose holds to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths of all the western stars," Carson said thoughtfully.
"Tennyson?" Radek asked.
"Aye," came the surprised reply. "I didn't know you read poetry."
"It sounds a little different when translated into Czech," said Radek, "But yes, I've read a lot of his work."
"What does it mean?" John asked quietly.
"Experts have disagreed on that for years, son. Most think that it represents death." Carson's professorial tendencies quickly surfaced. "Tennyson's Ulysses was an old man who saw many adventures during his wanderings. In this poem he's dying, but he views it as the greatest adventure of all, traveling into realms unknown."
Radek was impressed. He'd idly read some of Tennyson's works. Carson had obviously thought a great deal about them. Who knew that under the blustering Scottish exterior lay the soul of a poet? He finished Carson's thought. "I think that's exactly what John meant."
John was quiet, no doubt thinking of some of the others they'd lost or would soon lose. Lieutenant Ford; God alone knew what was happening with him. Colonel Everett, who was an aged husk lying in the infirmary. Markham. Smith. Even Bates, now in a deep coma. Explorers, all of them.
Rodney looked at the other men in disbelief. "Okay, Carson reading poetry I can understand. He's a voodoo practitioner and not a real scientist. But you, Radek! Do you really buy that crap?" Carson rolled his eyes, obviously having heard this line of insults before. In a lower voice, Rodney finished, "Dead is dead."
Radek sighed to himself. It was clear that Rodney was still torturing himself over Peter's death. He knew that Rodney blamed himself for having rerouted the power away from the airlock. Maybe he even blamed himself for drawing the short straw. Even after two weeks had gone by, his guilt did not seem to be easing.
As if reading his mind, John said, "It wasn't your fault, Rodney. You and Peter were both rerouting the power together. Neither of you could have anticipated what happened."
Rodney spoke like he hadn't even heard John. "We got so caught up in the excitement of fixing this incredible piece of technology that we didn't think about what else we might be doing."
John reached out and put a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "Rodney, listen to me." He waited until Rodney looked back at him. "You had to. It's the only reason any of us survived to greet the Daedalus, and you know it."
Rodney looked back down. "I know," he whispered. "And maybe someday I'll be able to make myself really believe it. But until then..." His voice trailed off, and he simply looked up at the countless stars with an expression of longing. Only Radek heard him echo Peter's last words, "I'm sorry."
Shortly after that, the four men doused the fire and headed towards the puddlejumper to return to Atlantis. Rodney looked a little better than before, but was still pensive. John decided to try to lighten the mood before they left. Grinning, he turned to Carson and Radek. "So, were you guys literary types in college? Did you wear all black, hang out in coffeehouses, and say profound things?"
The corners of Rodney's mouth twitched, but he didn't say anything as he climbed aboard their craft. As Carson was boarding, he whispered to John, "I think he'll be okay, lad."
John took a last look around. "I know he will. We'll make sure of it. Ulysses had his faithful crew, and we have our own."
That which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
- "Ulysses", Alfred Lord Tennyson