DISCLAIMER – Stargate: Atlantis is the intellectual property of MGM/UA and associates. I am making no money from the writing of this story. It is a work of fan fiction and no copyright infringement is intended.
Shadow and Dr. Itzhak Perlman are my original characters. If you'd like to use them, just ask. I nearly always say yes.
RATING – This story is rated T
ARCHIVE – If you want to archive this story, go right ahead! Please let me know where it's going, though. Thanks
A/N – Once again, I'd like to say thank you to everyone who left me some feedback for the previous chapter. I appreciate it very much, as I always do. Chapter 31 is a bit shorter than some of the previous ones, but I'm pretty sure it turned out okay. I hope you all like it. Enjoy!
Anything in «double-angle quotation marks» represents something written in Ancient.
Any blocks of text written in present tense and italicized are flashback scenes.
I have no beta. All mistakes are mine.
The Song Of Silent Rivers
31. Lost And Found
If Shadow had not been awake, she would have said she was in the midst of a dream.
She could scarcely believe the evidence of her own eyes when she saw River Man standing near her bed. She'd watched him converse with the Leader for a few minutes, anxiously wondering what the Leader might be saying to him. She calmed a little when she saw the Leader beckoning to him. Then, blessedly, the Leader had released her hold on Shadow's hand and had gotten up from her place on Shadow's bed. The two had spoken for a little longer, and finally the Leader had gone away.
Shadow reached toward River Man with trembling fingers. She wanted to touch him, to make sure he was real and that she truly wasn't dreaming after all.
When his hand curled around hers, she clung tightly to it for a moment before easing her grip and turning his hand over. She made the sign for writing, drawing her forefinger gently over his palm. He smiled fondly at her as if he had known she wanted to speak with him. She pointed to the little table where the black-haired healer had left writing instrument and paper.
The two healers had written messages for her, but she hadn't wanted to communicate with the men. She had developed a healthy apprehension of the healers, because they always seemed to be poking her and doing odd things to her and moving her from place to place. Still, if she had to choose between the two healers and the Leader, she would have chosen the healers.
Shadow did not doubt that the Leader was a strong and wise woman, but that did not make her presence a comforting one. When the Leader held her hand, it was akin in Shadow's mind to being consoled by one of the village Elders. The Elders would not keep watch over a sick person because they loved her or because they were particularly trained to ease the suffering of the sick, but only because they felt it would be the appropriate thing to do.
The Leader's hands were cold, and Shadow had wanted nothing more than to pull her fingers from the other woman's grasp. She hadn't done so, and had simply allowed the Leader to imprison her hand.
Now, however, the lack of warmth in the Leader's touch mattered little, for the Leader had gone away just like the healers. River Man was here with her. Shadow's joy eclipsed her fear and confusion and all the lingering aches and discomfort from her illness. She wanted to weep and smile at the same time. She wanted to be held and to feel the resonance of a living voice. She also wanted to talk with River Man, for she had many things to say.
She watched him as he gathered the writing instrument and the paper from the place where the black-haired healer had placed it. His slender hand moved deftly as he composed words on the page.
«I am glad you are getting well again,» he wrote. «I was afraid.»
«As was I,» Shadow confessed. «I was afraid I would join the spirits of the Ancestors. When I was alone on my world, sometimes I wished to join the Ancestors. Since I came to this place, I do not.»
«I am glad you wish to live.»
«Yes. I wish to live because I would be sad if I were parted from you and the others,» Shadow told him. «I knew you would return.»
«I never left you, Shadow. It was only that I could not reach you where you were.»
«You can reach me now.»
Shadow reflected on that. Time had lost all meaning for her when she'd been in the room with the glass wall. Unable to see the sun or the sky, she had not been able to tell when it had been morning or evening. She might have spent days in there, weeks, or months. She had resented the clear wall that separated her from the outside world and she disliked that she did not know how long she'd been in there, but it all seemed irrelevant, now. There was no more barrier. River Man could reach her, and she could reach him.
She gazed at River Man for several moments, feeling as if her view of the universe had finally righted itself after a seeming eternity of disorder. Though she was assured by that, things remained of which she needed to be certain.
She grasped the writing instrument and inscribed carefully, «What will happen to me when I am well?»
«You may stay in Atlantis with me if that is your wish,» River Man told her. «You do not have to leave this place.»
«I wish to stay with you.» Shadow wrote. «If this is your home, it is my home also.»
«My home is far away.»
«I wish to stay with you. Where does not matter.»
River Man's response to that was something Shadow did not anticipate. He wrote, «Where matters very much to me.»
«Why?» Shadow wanted to know.
«My family is on my world.»
«Am I not here on this world with you?»
«Yes,» he acknowledged. «Yes, Shadow, you are.»
«Do not be sad. Some day we will go to your world together, as you promised me before.»
«You did not forget.»
«I could not forget your promises,» she assured him. «I wish to rest now. I am tired.»
«I will stay with you.»
Shadow smiled, for she had expected nothing less. She wrote one last request before relinquishing her writing instrument.
«Please sing to me, River Man.»
He nodded his understanding as she gave the paper and writing instrument to him. He placed them carefully on the small table beside her bed. Then, just as he had done before, many days ago, he gathered her in his arms and held her as close as her father would have done. She let herself relax against him. When she felt the beginning of the song, she closed her eyes. For the first time in many days, she was not afraid to sleep.
Singing Dušana's lullaby again made Radek think of home.
He'd contemplated Earth often since he'd come to Atlantis, sometimes with a nebulous sense of wanting to return, but lately his desire to go home had become sharper, more well-defined. Now, cloaked in semidarkness with the last notes of his cousin's song echoing in his head, the feeling sharpened into a point that felt tangible enough to pierce his heart. He drew Shadow a little closer and lowered his head so that his cheek rested against her hair. She sighed, and so did he, though hers was a sound of deep contentment he could only wish for.
He'd never felt so homesick in his entire life; so inexplicably lonely. The feeling did not make sense, especially considering Shadow's nearness and the glimmer of promise his short conversation with Elizabeth had given him. He told himself he should have been happy, or at the very least, hopeful.
Elizabeth had stayed long enough to hear him sing. He hadn't been able to summon the will to sing Dušana's lullaby in front of her. It had felt too personal, too closely tied to his dearest memories to share with someone who was not family, so he'd sung something else for her instead. The Czech nursery rhyme he'd shared with her was about a mother mouse who cooked porridge for all her babies. Elizabeth had laughed when Radek translated it for her. She'd said it was cute. Radek told her it made him think of Babička, who'd used to recite it for him and Milena when they'd visited her each summer.
Elizabeth had smiled when he told her about staying at his grandmother's house. She'd said she'd like to hear about his childhood summers in the country. He would tell her about it, he'd assured her, but not tonight. He wasn't in the mood for storytelling. Elizabeth had said she understood.
They would talk later tonight, if Elizabeth was still awake when Radek left the Infirmary. Radek had the distinct impression Elizabeth would wait up for him, even if she was tired. We can go to our usual spot, she'd said. Their 'usual spot' was a balcony near the far western end of the city. It was an out-of-the-way place, and offered an excellent view of the sunset if one went there at the proper time. They'd watched many sunsets there during the past two years.
Radek had always felt at ease there, or at least as comfortable as he ever felt in this city surrounded by water. Tonight, however, he knew the 'usual spot' would take on new qualities for him. The measure of peace he often found there would be absent.
Talking to Elizabeth would be hard, not only because he'd been avoiding her for the last several days, but because the nature of what they needed to discuss was difficult in itself. Radek remembered Colonel Sheppard's advice about how he couldn't ignore problems. He had to remind himself that important conversations were rarely easy, but that a person often gained valuable insight by seeing them through to the end.
"What is so important that you couldn't tell me until Mir left the house?"
Radek watches his sister lean forward a little as she asks him this question. They are in Milena and Mirek's den. Milena sits in her husband's chair, the worn leather one that used to belong to Mirek's father. Radek can't stop his mind from wandering back in time to when he and Mirek were little boys and the chair had occupied a corner of the Dvoraks' living room. Radek and Mirek had climbed all over it, pretending it was a rocket ship and that they were cosmonauts flying to the moon. Four-year-old Zdeněk is the one who jumps on the old chair these days. Radek wonders who his nephew pretends to be when he plays.
"Do you know what 'classified' means?" Radek says.
"Radek, my husband is in the military. Of course I know what it means," says Milena. "Now, really, what is this about? First you ask me to sign some sort of legal paper and now you're asking me whether I understand 'classified'. Are you involved with the military?"
"United States government," he tells her.
"America?" She narrows her eyes at him, giving him the look that makes him think she can see directly into his brain and glean it for information. "That last trip you took wasn't to Antarctica, was it?"
"Yes, I was really in Antarctica, but I'm not going back there. This time, I'm going somewhere much farther away than that."
Milena laughs. "Radek, if this is one of your jokes—"
"It's not a joke, Milena. It's real, I promise," Radek says. "You signed the non-disclosure agreement and you said you wanted me to tell you everything. Now, I'm telling you."
"I know it's hard to believe. Maybe I'd better start from the beginning."
"Yes, maybe you should," Milena says.
She settles into the chair and folds her hands on her lap. Now, it is Radek's turn to lean forward in his spot on the sofa. He knows how outrageous his explanation is going to sound to his sister but he begins to talk anyway, eagerly, because the prospect of this new job he's been offered is the opportunity of a lifetime. Uncle Jaromir's clever string-pulling to help him get a position at the university pales in comparison to exploring the Lost City. He tells Milena all that he's allowed to say about Antarctica, the Stargate, the Pegasus galaxy and Atlantis.
He watches his sister's face for her reaction. She started out wearing an expression of frank incredulity, but as he has continued to speak, her scepticism has transformed into amazement. He can see curiosity and wonder shining in the blue-green eyes that are so much like his own.
"Have you told Mother about this?" Milena asks when Radek has finally finished his narrative. "Have you told Dušana?"
"I've told Mother," Radek answers.
"What did she say?"
"I'm not sure she believed me," Radek says. He smiles, rueful. "I don't blame her. It is a bit fantastic, isn't it?"
"I believe you," says Milena.
She gets up from her seat and comes to him. She sits next to him on the couch, takes his hands and looks directly into his eyes. "Really," she says. "It's amazing. I never dreamed anything like this could be possible, but it is, and you know what? I'm not the least bit surprised they chose you to go."
"Because you understand things, Radek. You look past the obvious and you see what other people don't see. You know how to use your imagination and you're not afraid to dream," Milena says. She smiles. "I always believed you'd get to the stars some day. I just never thought they'd be stars in a different galaxy."
Radek has never heard his sister speak like this to him before. He and Milena have always had a good relationship, but he's never considered it a particularly close one. To hear her say she believes in him and what he's doing amazes him. In the past, she hadn't seemed the least bit interested in his career or his projects or his many travels.
Now, he sees that he had misjudged her. She'd been watching him all along, interested, but perhaps unable to find a way to express it. This revelation makes him look at her in a new way. He'd started out telling her about the Pegasus galaxy simply because she is his next-of-kin and he'd felt informing her was the appropriate thing to do. Now, he's glad to have shared some of the details of the expedition with her. More than likely, she would not have believed the cover story created by Stargate Command, anyway, and she would worry if she knew she hadn't heard the truth.
Radek tries not to think about how many people will have to hear the clever explanation the SGC has fabricated; Uncle Jaromir and Dušana, his friends, his neighbour Alžbéta who'd finally worked up the nerve to ask him out for coffee.
"Sometimes I feel like pinching myself to make sure I'm not dreaming," he says to Milena.
"I can understand that," she says. "When do you leave?"
"I'll be going to America in a few weeks. Colorado Springs," he says. " I'm not exactly certain when we'll be going…away."
"Do you know when you'll be coming back?" Milena asks.
"I don't know."
"But, you will be coming back, won't you?"
Radek doesn't know the answer to that question, either, but he can't bring himself to tell his sister the journey to the Pegasus galaxy might be a one-way trip. He's not entirely comfortable letting himself imagine this new adventure might take him away from Earth forever. He holds out his arms to his sister and Milena comes willingly into his embrace. Milena clings to him fiercely, protectively, and Radek holds on just as tight.
"This is my home," he says. "As long as the people I love are here, I'll always want to come back."
Elizabeth had taken her time getting to the westernmost balcony. She could have used some of the convenient Atlantean technology to get her there faster, but she preferred walking. It was a long walk, but that didn't matter. She needed the time to think, and besides, if she got there too soon, she might have been waiting a long time for Radek to arrive.
When she reached the doorway that led to the balcony she wanted, it occurred to her that perhaps she'd taken more time than she thought. As the door slid open, Elizabeth saw that she would not be waiting for Radek after all. He was already there, a slender silhouette framed by black ocean and blacker sky, with his face turned toward the sea.
She watched him for a moment. He was staring at the water, keeping perfectly still as he stood with his palms on the balcony rail. Elizabeth was amazed that even his normally restless hands were motionless, now. The only movement around him came from the gentle fingers of sea wind that lifted and teased his shaggy hair. Elizabeth thought whimsically that she might have envied the wind if it were an entity instead of an element.
She stepped outside and joined him at the railing. He didn't seem the least bit startled at her approach, for which she was grateful.
He didn't look at her, but acknowledged her with a simple, "Hello."
"Hi," she said. "Have you been out here very long?"
"No, not long."
"I thought I'd be here before you. I guess you didn't stay in the Infirmary very long. How's Shadow doing?"
"She will be fine," Radek said. "She's sleeping."
"What about you? Are you okay?"
"I don't know," Radek said. His attention never left the dark ocean. "Maybe this is strange thing, but even after two years I cannot get used to the idea of being surrounded by water. It still frightens me. Sometimes I wake up in the night because I dream I'm drowning."
"I didn't know that."
"Of course not. I don't tell about it, so how could you know?"
"Do you want to tell me about it now?"
"I miss being surrounded by land," Radek said.
'I think the ocean is beautiful."
"It is beautiful, but it's also powerful. Ocean is like God and deep space. We only make theories about it and we think we understand. No one really knows the ocean."
"Isn't that part of what makes living here an adventure?"
"I suppose so, yes, but maybe I'm tired of adventures now." He bowed his head. When he continued speaking, his voice was quiet. "I want to go home, Elizabeth."
"You've been thinking about home a lot lately, haven't you?"
"Yes," he said. "I've been thinking about my family, too. My father, particularly."
"You miss him."
"I think he would have loved Atlantis," Radek said. "In his whole life, he never saw the ocean. My uncle told me that he'd always wanted to. I didn't know about that until after he died. There were so many things I didn't know about him that I learned only after his death. That is something I regret."
"I'm sorry," Elizabeth said.
She held her breath, remembering the last time she'd told him she was sorry, and how he had reacted to it. This time, however, he didn't shrink away or give her that tight-lipped, sardonic smile. He turned toward her. Even in the dim light she could see the marks of weariness on him. She wanted nothing more than to be able to soothe away the tiredness and the worry, though she had no idea how – or even if – she could.
He looked sad, but he still smiled at her and uttered a very soft, "Thank you."
Elizabeth exhaled slowly. "If you really want to go back to Earth, we can arrange it, but—"
"I won't lecture you," she said. "You asked me not to, and I promised myself I wouldn't. You're intelligent enough to know your own mind. It's only…if you go, what will happen to Shadow?"
"She will come with me. That wouldn't be impossible, would it?"
"I don't think it would be impossible, but it'll take a lot more time and effort to arrange than if you were going by yourself."
"Oh," he said, crestfallen.
"Bureaucracies don't move at the speed of light," Elizabeth said. "I think it's a universal law. Let me speak with the people at Stargate Command, and I'll see what can be done, okay?"
"Staying in Atlantis for a little longer won't be so terrible, will it? I seem to remember you being very excited about this expedition in the beginning."
"That was the beginning. Things aren't the same as they were."
"Nothing ever stays the same," Elizabeth said. "Think of today as another beginning."
"The beginning of what?"
"Your life with Shadow, for one thing. You're responsible for somebody other than yourself, now."
"Maybe it's the start of something else as well."
The now-or-never feeling had overtaken Elizabeth more often since she'd arrived in Atlantis than she cared to admit, and each time it did, she worried about the consequences of the choice she made. She knew she was taking a risk with what she wanted to say now, but she resolved she would do it anyway. There were only so many ways the encounter could end, and she might never have another moment like this one in which to find out.
"Us," she said.
Radek watched her in silence for a moment, looking as if he were trying to interpret the single word she'd just pronounced. It was impossible to guess what he might be thinking. He gave nothing away. Elizabeth waited, doing her best to be patient.
"No," he said at length. "We are friends, Elizabeth, but there is no 'us'. Not in the way everyone talks about us when they think we are not around to hear."
"What do they say?"
"You know what they say."
"Isn't it possible that we might be able to make some of those rumours into facts?"
Again, he was quiet for several seconds. He must be choosing his words very carefully, she decided. Elizabeth caught herself holding her breath once more. She released it slowly when she felt Radek's hand come to rest on top of hers.
"Elizabeth." He said her name softly, as if he meant to caress her ear with his voice. "Please understand. I care about you very much, but I…I'm not ready to say I love you, yet. I thought I was, but perhaps it will take a bit more time."
She realized that she'd somehow expected to hear him tell her something like that. In a beautiful moment of clarity, she also realized that was exactly what she'd wanted him to say, because she felt the same. She needed to go slowly this time around, needed to be sure there were no assumptions and that nothing got taken for granted.
"It's all right," she said.
"Is it?" he said. "I don't want to hurt you, but I had to tell you the truth. I couldn't—"
"Shh…it's all right…really it is." The fingertips of her free hand swept lightly over his forehead as she brushed the hair away from his eyes. "I thought I wanted to say I love you, too, but maybe I'm not ready either. I think you're right, and we have some things to work out before we get to that point."
His gaze did not stray from her face. "Are we going to be okay?"
"Yes," Elizabeth said. She gave him her first genuine smile in days. "Yes, I think we really are going to be okay."
A/N #2 – The Czech nursery rhyme mentioned in this chapter is a real song. I found it in a collection of Czech children's songs and rhymes. If anyone's interested, I could post the Czech text of the song, but for now, here is what it says in English:
mouse cooked porridge
In a little green pan;
She gave porridge to this baby mouse,
To this baby mouse,
To this baby mouse
And to this baby mouse,
But there was no porridge left
for this smallest baby mouse!
So he ran and ran and ran
To the pantry,
Found some sugar cones,
And ate as much as he could.