Let It Snow (part 17)
The infirmary grew silent for several minutes as all eyes remained focused on Radek. In turn, the scientist appeared to withdraw, keeping the teammates separated from himself, continuing to use Rodney's bed as a barrier. When he finally shifted, his shoulders drooping slightly in resignation, his eyes looked to meet theirs. They didn't know it, or at least hadn't said anything, but he'd been in the shadows, never far away from the two sick men, ever since the jumper had made its way back to Atlantis. The bits and pieces he'd gleaned of what had happened during the off-world ordeal brought back an unwanted pain that he'd carefully chosen to forget for close to three years.
Removing his small wire-framed glasses and clenching them tightly to dig into the palm of his hand, the other gripping the edge of the mattress for support, he took a deep breath. "What do you want to know?"
"I think you know the answer to that one already," Sheppard said quietly, leaning his weight forward on his crutches. "Both of them have gotten pretty worked up over Carson falling through the ice, and from as near as I can figure, it has something to do with you. I," he stopped, his hand motioning between all present, "we, want to know what happened."
Radek merely nodded, taking another step away when Teyla chose to move closer to his side of the bed. "Do you know why I joined program?"
Sheppard nodded but the other two said 'no'.
"I worked for joint European Union science team, located in Czech Republic, as Chief Astrophysicist for space engineering committee. For several years we had heard rumors of top secret activities in United States and Russia concerning space programs. Because of my advanced degrees, and ability to speak English and Russian, I was put in charge of team searching for any evidence that they were having contact with other worlds."
Sighing deeply, he shook his head before unconsciously rubbing the ridge of his nose. "One day I received invite to America to guest lecture at prestigious university on European space program. But when I got to New York, I was informed that my credentials were in question and I was to accompany officers from the airport."
"I was put on another flight and sent to Washington, D.C. where I was introduced to a General Hammond. He spoke of National Security and danger to the world from space creatures." Radek paused to shrug, "I thought he was crazy American like from television programs."
"He then showed me Top Secret documents about Stargate Program. Told me that Russia and United States both had gates and used them. When I asked him why he was telling me such things, he said that the program wanted to recruit me."
Sheppard shifted uncomfortably on his crutches, realizing he needed to sit and take some of the weight off his leg and arms. When Ronon dragged a chair over, he gratefully sank onto the padded seat. "Z, I've read your file and I know you accepted. What does this have to do with Beckett falling through the ice?"
"I'm getting to that point, Colonel." He rubbed the lenses of his glasses with the bottom of his shirt before slipping them back on. "I was first sent to work on Russian gate."
"Where you met Rodney," Teyla supposed.
He snorted and then shook his head, his one hand continuing to tightly grip the edge of Rodney's mattress. "I thought he was most arrogant scientist I had ever met. But after working alongside him for several weeks, I figured him out. As he taught me about gate, I taught him to speak Russian. Before we know it, we both got transfer notice to go to Antarctica, but first we had to take military survival training because the outpost was located far from any base of operation. Rodney called it Boy Scouts without cookies."
Teyla's mouth opened to comment before she decided to remain quiet until the end of the story.
"We were sent to secret military training facility in middle of nowhere. Much snow." The small scientist shuddered, remembering the cold. "Others were there also to train, and we were placed into teams of four along with two trainers. Carson was placed on our team, as well as Dr. Bradley Kelnick."
Sheppard glanced at the others around him, trying to recall who Kelnick was, "I'm not familiar with that name."
Radek stared off at the opposite wall beside Carson's bed, temporarily lost in his memories. "He did not make team."
Ronon, who had been silently following the story, scowled, "Why not?"
Instead of answering, the bespectacled scientist shifted his gaze back to stare at the newest member of the team and raised a brow, stopping the runner from further interruptions. "I was paired with Bradley, Rodney was paired with Carson." This time he was interrupted by Sheppard's laughter.
"I imagine that wasn't very pretty, those two rookies on a survival team. How'd you make it through?" the colonel teased.
Radek rolled his eyes; a heavy sigh was exaggerated for their benefit. "Was not easy, they fight all the time. Rodney despised walking in snow, always talking about having cold feet. And Carson was always complaining of cold tea for breakfast. They were like children. But, we were told if we did not finish training, we could not see new technology. Rodney became very good student and our leader put him in charge of one last test to pass before we would be allowed to leave camp for Antarctica base. It was a ten kilometer survival trek without any support."
It was quiet enough to hear a pin drop amidst the soft hum of the surrounding machinery. Each person was leaning forward, knowing the end of the mystery had to be near, and they gave Radek time to continue.
"Rodney was on point, Bradley and I in center, and Carson brought up the rear as we crossed frozen lake over half way through test."
"The ice, it cracked?" Sheppard's gaze hit the floor as he rubbed his hands over his stubble covered cheeks, imagining what they must have gone through. Whose idiotic idea was it to send a rookie team out by themselves on a survival training mission?
Radek cleared his throat, taking his glasses back off and using his shirt sleeve to wipe at the corners of his eyes. "Yes. We had been talking, not listening to surroundings. We wanted to leave awful place and get real food, sleep in real bed. Rodney noticed it first and tried to get us to shut up, but Kelnick wouldn't listen. When he realized what was happening, he tried to run, but slipped and knocked me down."
"We were to be spread out, disperse our weight evenly, but now we put too much pressure on ice and it broke." He no longer tried to hide the tears in his eyes, the memories still painful. "I fell in first. It was so cold and all I wanted to do was get out of water, but ice broke under Kelnick next," he paused, his voice cracking with emotion before he continued, "and he fell in on top of me, pushing back under again."
"When I surfaced, I thought I was going to die. I was so cold. Kelnick yelled at me to swim but I did not have strength, so he got me to edge of ice where Rodney was laying, ready to pull me out. They did it together. Next thing I know, Carson is dragging me away from break and Rodney keeps yelling, but I don't remember what happened after that."
"He didn't come back up." The anguish in Rodney's broken whisper was heartbreaking as the team discovered him to be awake and listening. "When Carson fell…" he swallowed painfully, his own eyes betraying his emotions, "All I could see was his floating body."
Radek let go of his hold on the mattress and grabbed his friend's hand, stopping him from saying the rest, "He is alive. You saved him."
"I should have remembered," the scientist wheezed, the tightness in his chest returning to steal his breath away.
"McKay, take it easy and calm down," Sheppard ordered, worried about the increase in monitor activity.
Teyla stepped forward to take Rodney's free hand, untangling it from his blankets. Her face close to his, she blocked his view of the machines and smiled softly, her brown eyes filled with warmth and reassurance. "You must rest," she said softly as his eyes shifted back and forth in an attempt to see Radek, finally coming to stop and meet her gaze.
He tugged his hand free from hers, before hesitantly reaching up to touch her cheekbone, close to one of the small red welts. "You were hurt…"
She caught his hand in hers again, holding it close to her shoulder and setting her chin to rest on his fingers. "Shhhh…" she whispered, "I am fine. You kept me safe." Her free hand began the rhythmic stroking of the side of his face that had helped calm him back on the planet. When his eyes drooped, she hummed softly, between reassurances that she and Carson were safe.
He fought the calming effects several times, blinking back the weight of sleep, only to find his friends standing around his side. A gap was left open for him to glance over and see Carson's sleeping figure buried beneath several blankets. Teyla's continued humming, Radek's warm grip still entangled in his other hand, Ronon standing guard at his feet, and Sheppard's face was a mask of worry that disappeared when caught. Rolling his head to the side for one last look at Carson, he turned back to find Radek, before his eyes closed, his agitated breaths calmed in slumber.
"I'm sorry, Z. I wish I could have been there for you."
The scientist nodded to Sheppard in understanding. "So do I."
Sliding back down to sit in the chair again, the colonel glanced between the three remaining members of that fateful team. "Any other secrets I should know about?"
There was a hint of a smile in Radek's voice, "None that I share with you today."
"Maybe later, when these two are back to bickering?"
Radek tucked Rodney's hand under the covers, before giving the quiet man a pat to the shoulder and then walking over towards Carson. Not looking back at the others, he stared down at the physician. "Perhaps, when they are awake, yes?"
Sheppard didn't get the chance to answer because Elizabeth entered the room and made her way over to his side. "Colonel."
"Elizabeth." Her smile didn't quite reach her eyes and he could tell she wasn't in the mood for games. "What can I do for you?"
"I'd like to have a word with you in Carson's office."
The hour was late and he was surprised that whatever it was that she needed him for couldn't wait until morning. "Now?"
"Do you have something better to do?" The tone of her voice left no room for argument.
He glanced at the others as they each found something else to focus on. With a quiet sigh of resignation, he got up and tucked his crutches under his arms. Time to go pay the piper.
After he disappeared inside the office, Weir stepped back out briefly. "Ronon, don't go anywhere." And then she closed the door.
The dressing down didn't come as a shocker and Sheppard remained quiet as he was read the riot act. Did he honestly think that she believed Ronon's flying tackle, that mimicked his favorite move from the famed sports DVD he'd brought from home, would go unrecognized? Well, no, but they sure as hell gave it a shot. Smiling to himself at the thought, he realized the room had gone silent and suddenly felt several degrees cooler. His eyes shifted back to the figure seated behind Carson's desk glaring at him. "I'm sorry, kind of tired, what did you just say?"
Elizabeth steepled her long fingers before sliding them down to lock together, her elbows on the desktop. "You were worried, and I understand that. It's your team and you felt the need to go after them. But I can't have you taking matters into your own hands every time you disagree with my decisions. There was a reason you weren't placed in charge of Atlantis. Because every time a crisis arises, you go off half cocked, thinking you have all the answers…"
"You were taking too long. Some things require faster movement!"
The snap in Sheppard's voice took Weir by surprise.
"You weren't there to find them huddled under a tree, practically buried in that storm. You didn't see Rodney fighting to breathe, Carson was exhausted and practically dying. My god, Teyla was at the end of her rope with limited supplies trying to treat those two by herself, with injuries of her own. There was no time to wait!" He was back on his feet, his sore leg forgotten.
"John, sit down."
"No. Not this time." He paced the small confines of the room, his limp growing progressively worse with each step, his crutches still propped against the wall. Finally getting his anger under control, he stopped to lean down on the desk and meet her gaze, "There was no time to wait. We could have lost all three. Sometimes you need put away the playbook and go with your gut."
"Then come to me and tell me. That's why you are second-in-command, to give me advice when you have other opinions or options that need to be brought up."
He sank wearily back down into his chair, his head resting in his hands as he stared at the floor. "This isn't a debating team, Elizabeth, this is life and death out here." Running his hand through his dark mussed hair, he sat back. "This time I was right and you were wrong, and we were out of time."
She blinked. "Even so, you should have come to me first before taking matters into your own hands. I can't blindly overlook your actions."
"Fine, write me up." Tired and in pain, he was finished with this conversation and stood up to leave. His hand on the panel to open the door, he turned back to look at her. "Just to let you know, if another situation similar to this should happen, I wouldn't hesitate to do it all again." And with that he stepped through the entranceway to return to his waiting friends.
Elizabeth remained seated after he left, her own thoughts a galaxy away, until the door slid back open and Ronon filled the doorway. His face was a dark mask of little emotion. There hadn't been enough time for Sheppard to divulge their conversation, but still the runner was on the defensive, just waiting for her to make a slip. She closed her eyes momentarily, her own chest still tight with fear over all of the 'what might have beens'.
"You wanted to see me," the large man rumbled.
She hated her job. Pointing to the empty seat, she nodded. "Have a seat, Ronon."
The meeting didn't last long and Ronon returned to join the others as Elizabeth slipped out of the infirmary, not sure if her presence would be welcome.
"What'd she say?" Sheppard asked, watching the hallway door slide shut.
Ronon shrugged as he once again took up his position at the foot of Rodney's bed. "Nothing I haven't heard before." That earned him a few chuckles from around the room.
When the room returned to silence, each lost in their own thoughts, it was Teyla who spoke softly to break the somber mood. "It is late, colonel."
Sheppard jerked to look up and discover her standing at his side, a nurse on the other.
"Bedtime, Colonel," the petite nurse in scrubs said, while helping to lift him to his feet while Teyla stood back to watch.
"I'm not really tired. Thought I'd just sit with the team for awhile."
She smiled up at him, steering over to the empty bed he'd vacated hours before. "That's why you were snoring."
He frowned. "Hey, I wasn't snoring. Was I?" he asked to the others scattered around the room.
"Louder than bear," Radek cracked off under his breath, while sitting comfortably at Rodney's side. The ever present laptop was open on a tray beside him as he got ready to spend the night hours working.
Teyla merely smiled over her shoulder at him as she rolled a chair across the room and stopped beside Carson's bed. Adjusting the physician's blankets, she then draped one over her own shoulder and got comfortable to spend the night at his side… just in case he needed anything.
And Ronon prowled the darkened room, eventually stopping behind Zelenka.
When the scientist glanced up uneasily at the looming figure, the realization that Dex was there to keep him safe gave him an odd sense warmth. He had become part of the elite team of friends.
While Carson and Rodney slept through the night and continued to heal throughout the next week, there was always one of them present. No questions, no comments at them being there. That was just the way it was going to be until they were all whole again.
Ronon and Lorne strolled into the jumper bay, both carrying sets of skis made by the engineering team, on their shoulders. The casual effect was ruined by the sidearms strapped to their thighs.
"Where do you want them?" Dex asked to anyone milling about the open back hatch of the ship.
Sheppard absently pointed to the newly assembled rack on the side, above the back bench, that was already sporting several other pairs of skis. He was busy stuffing bags of gear into the other side compartments so that there'd be enough room for everyone to sit. Finished, he looked up in triumph. "Everybody ready?" he called out over the group.
A few whoops, someone whistled, and a wadded piece of paper pegging the colonel in the head let him know that it was a 'Go'. "All aboard," he called out, stepping back to make way as Beckett, McKay, and Radek passed him, the trio deep in some conversation. "Fellas, is there a problem?"
The three stopped momentarily to stare at him, share a smile, and then continue to their seats, already back in La La Land, or wherever it was that scientists go when they are having fun.
Teyla, Ronon, and Lorne were next, each bundled in warm gear. Lorne was trying to explain ski wax application to his clueless audience as they took up their seats.
Standing in the almost empty bay, Sheppard walked back over to the silent figure standing near the doorway. "Sure you don't want to come? Fresh powder. Good food." He stretched out his arms. "Big, big fireplace."
Elizabeth shook her head 'no', her familiar half smile making her cheeks rise. "I'll take a raincheck. Someone needs to stay home and keep the rest of the kids in line."
Sheppard quirked a grin back at her, his eyes sparkling in anticipation of the trip. Stepping closer, he whispered under his breath, "I hear there's going to be a party down in the science labs later. Try to keep it down to a dull roar."
She feigned innocence, trying to look surprised. "I'll see what I can do."
"Hey, any chance we can get this show on the road?" Rodney called out from the back of the jumper before being yanked back inside to his seat by Dex. A pained "What?" could be heard moments later.
"Kids are getting restless," the dark haired man grinned, thumbing over his shoulder.
"You should go," she said. "Don't let me hold you up."
Walking backwards, he gave a short wave, before ducking inside. The hatch closed soon after.
The hum of the small ship firing up brought the noisy chatter inside to momentary silence.
"Chal did say fresh powder, right doc?" Sheppard called out from the pilot seat.
Three heads looked to one another before deciding that it was Beckett that was being addressed.
"When I spoke with him earlier today, he told me that it has snowed non stop for two days."
"Good. McKay, you pack extra socks?"
Rodney glanced up towards the front seats in mild irritation. "Yes," he huffed. Sheppard had been deliberately hounding him for days about socks and he still wasn't sure why.
Radek cleared his throat after Carson gave him a short elbow to the ribs.
"What?" Rodney snapped impatiently.
"Well, I'd hate for you to get cold feet," Shepard teased from the front, his eyes fixed on the looming open gate before them.
"Jumper 2, you have a go," called the gate tech over the comm. system.
"Roger that. Talk to you tomorrow, Atlantis. Jumper 2 out." The ship slid smoothly through the puddle, emerging seconds later to a white winter wonderland. They reached the lodge within minutes to see Chal and Mathis waving their arms in greeting as the jumper settled before them.
The back hatch slid open but before they could leave, Sheppard called them to stop. "Okay this is supposed to be fun. R and R stands for Rest and Recreation, so let's keep that in mind. Let's not forget the Boy Scout motto. What is it?" he sang out.
"Be prepared," the entire team chimed in together except for McKay who was shooting Teyla a dirty look. She merely glanced to Radek, who nodded to Beckett, who nudged Lorne, who gave Dex a shrug, who rolled his eyes and sighed heavily, before staring at Sheppard.
Grabbing his gear, Rodney stomped out. "Children. I'm trapped for three days with children."
Mathis and Chal stood back as the scientist brushed past them.
"Everything alright?" Mathis asked with a grin to the silent group still inside the ship.
Beckett lost it first and the others soon followed. God it was good to have things back to normal.
A/N: Hats off to Gaffer for her awesome beta help. As I said in the very beginning, the original idea for the story came from TJ, so thanks sharing it with me. And finally, thanks again for all the reviews and notes. They really do help. Jen.