Half the pieces were missing, but Radek didn't care. The jigsaw puzzle was the one personal effect he had brought with him when he first arrived on Atlantis, and many a time it had been the only thing that kept him sane. It was a calming activity, to put each piece in it's place where it belonged. The sheer repetitiveness of the movement enough to soothe his frayed nerves.
He'd been using jigsaw puzzles in this manner ever since he was a child, and them having all of their pieces was never really important. In fact, only a handful of the times he'd ever bought one had he ever bothered to buy it new. Instead, he made a habit of picking one up at a thrift store if it had an image on it that intrigued him.
After all, it was more of a challenge to put together a thrift store puzzle. More exciting as well. Would all the pieces be there? Would they not? Would he come upon a maverick piece that had wound up in the wrong box by mistake?
He kept a small collection of those pieces that didn't belong, maybe six or seven of them, and he'd often ponder what greater whole they were a part of. He could sit for half an hour just staring at one of them, his mind constructing an entire picture around the small piece.
On closer inspection, the jigsaw puzzle was a fair metaphor for his life since he'd arrived on Atlantis. He was always putting things back together when they fell apart, regardless of whether or not all the pieces were there. If one was missing, he improvised, like any good engineer should. He was never the man who said "It can't be done", he was always the man who said "Give me enough time and it can be done".
And such is the solution to any puzzle, regardless of whether it's made from a hundred pieces or five thousand. Given enough time, anything can be solved.
He poured all of his anxieties and fear into those pieces, put all of his uncertainty and desperation away in the worn out box with them. In the way that a small child keeps a security blanket, Radek kept the puzzle. It was more than the sum of it's parts, more than a child's plaything: it was his sanity wrapped in printed paper and pressed cardboard.
His hobby didn't go unnoticed by his colleagues, and neither did his despondence when the puzzle was found blasted to pieces after the Genii laid siege to the city.
The one thing of value that he had was destroyed, leaving him without the comfort of his puzzle.
Of course when the Daedelus arrived to bring supplies, he had the option of requisitioning a new one, but he figured that with all of the more important things that the inhabitants of the city needed, like food and medical supplies, it was a small and petty thing to ask for a new puzzle.
He let it go.
He thought that he would be looked down on for his frailty and need for something so childish when there were so many other things that were more important, so he went without it and didn't ask for a new one.
And so he went without. In times of stress he would sometimes catch himself moving his hands across the surface of whatever table he was in front of, reassembling the pieces to a puzzle that wasn't there, finding comfort in the movement itself, regardless of whether or not he was accomplishing his goal.
He went on like this for weeks, until one night after a long and tedious day in the lab when he returned to his quarters, ready to put his bed to use for the first time in three days.
There, on the makeshift coffee table in his quarters wrapped in a dilapidated red velvet bow, was a cardboard box. When he picked it up, he saw that while one side was plain brown cardboard, the other was covered in slick paper emblazoned with a photograph of the countless spires of Prague.
A puzzle. A brand new puzzle.
And not just any puzzle, either. One that reminded him of his home, a place that up until a few weeks ago, he had resigned himself to never seeing again.
There was no card attached to the box, no note left on the table, no indication at all of who sent it to him, but he didn't care.
No matter who it was, he blessed them for their kindness.
Someone, somewhere, had decided to give him back his sanity in a box.
A/N: I finally did something without Rodney even getting a mention! -feels accomplished- I had to actually fight to keep the little bugger out of this story, he tried to sneak in there at the end, but I kicked him out.
Now then, on a more technical note: Forming an attachment to an item or type of item is a common occurrence in instances of post traumatic stress. After I almost died when I was fifteen, I carried around a photograph in my pocket for almost a year. The connection between the photo and the near death experience is nonexistent, other than the fact I happened to have it with me at the time, and carrying it afterwards made me feel safer. I still take it out whenever I'm uber stressed out and just hold it because it makes me feel more at ease. Stuff like that doesn't have to make sense to anyone else, hence Radek's attachment to his puzzle.
Who gave Radek the puzzle? Well, that's up to you. I can attribute the act to any number of people for a variety of reasons. Who do you think did it and why? I'd love to hear your opinion on it.
Written in response to the one hundred first sentences challenge over on the When Plot Bunnies Attack forum 'Half the pieces were missing...'