Radek first met John and Rodney when they were eleven
Radek first met John and Rodney when they were eleven. The three of them had been sent to the Spruce Summit Mensa Nature Camp in Big Bear, California, ostensibly to learn something and how to get along with people, but Rodney had said it was really so that their parents could have a break from their budding, sometime accident prone-'geez, it was an accident, dad', geniuses.
Their meeting went something like this.
"Get out of my way, you freak!"
Radek had looked up from where he'd been pushed onto the pine needle covered dirt and was about to say something rude in Czech when a husky boy with piercing blue eyes stepped in between them and said imperiously, "I wonder who's the freak here? I don't see anyone else pushing down people."
The little jerk, (they never did remember the little jerk's name) had tried to move around the boy to kick Radek, when a tall skinny kid, stepped up and kicked the jerk in the leg with what looked like a fancy karate move, causing him to scream dramatically and burst into tears.
His two rescuers had looked scornfully at the blubbering jerk, then the taller one said, "C'mon, you guys can be in my teepee," and held out his hand.
Radek gratefully took his hand and let himself be pulled up, brushing off the pine needles. "Thank you. I am Radek."
The blue eyed boy smiled. "I'm Rodney and I'm probably smarter than both of you put together."
The skinny kid with the wild hair grinned, showing gaps where he was missing teeth. "I'm John and you wish. Is this your first time at camp?"
Picking up his dark blue dufflebag and his sleeping bag, Rodney shrugged. "Yeah. My parent's couldn't wait to get rid of me."
John snorted. "I totally get that. You set one science experiment on fire and its all 'you need expand your horizons. We're making you go to camp!'"
They rounded a corner and there was a group of about 15 teepees, all decorated with 'Indian' symbols. "Wow, how kitschy," Rodney said, gazing up at the teepees.
"So, that is teepee," Radek said with a thoughtful frown.
"Yeah, my grandfather is half Cherokee. He'd have a cow," John agreed, with a 'what can you do?' shrug.
They ducked inside the teepee and a teenaged counselor scowled at John. "You know we have a list!"
John grinned angelically. "C'mon, Todd. They're my new friends."
The blond teenager sighed. "Fine, I'll get it straightened out. I'm Todd. Welcome to Mensa Nature Camp, blah blah blah. Put your sleeping bag and stuff over there," he pointed and Rodney and Radek saw more sleeping bags and luggage.
"That's Radek," John said. "And this is Rodney."
" 'lo," Radek said in quietly accented English, giving him a quick look as he unpacked his things .
Todd nodded. "Nice to meet you both, I'll be right back," and he ducked out of the teepee.
Rodney began dumping his things down. "Where are you from, Radek. Yugoslavia?"
Radek glanced over at him. "Czechoslovakia. You?"
"Canada," Rodney said. "I was sent here for building a nuke. What about you?"
Both John's and Radek's eyes went wide, but Radek snickered. "Father say I need to be comrades with boys who will understand me," he shrugged.
"You get beat up too," Rodney nodded in understanding.
John scowled. "Nobody's getting beat up while I'm around."
Todd heard this as he ducked back in. "You're all going to be way too tired to beat up on anyone."
Radek rolled his eyes at the two boys. He knew better, there were always bullies, even among smart kids.
Rodney snorted. He'd learned early on to bludgeon with his brain, now his body had to catch up because it was a good possibility that these kids were going to be his colleagues when they grew up, and he wanted them to remember that he was smarter than all of them. It would make it easier on them in the long run.
And John smirked. He'd meant it when he said no one was getting bullied while he was around. If there was anything he hated more, it was a bully.
Radek still remembered that first meeting with fondness. John with his bravado, and Rodney with his brash certainty that he would set the world ablaze with his genius. Somehow, he knew that these boys would be his friends for a lifetime.
The camp had all of the traditional camp things, but with an Indian twist. The first thing that the boys did (girls had their camp two weeks later, much to Rodney's sister Jeannie's disgust) was make leather head bands with their 'Indian name'.
Todd the counselor ixnayed John's 'Full of Bull' and Rodney's 'Chief Big Brain', so they decided on 'Tall Horse' for John and 'Crazy Buffalo' for Rodney. Radek wrote his in Czech, so Rodney and John called him 'Little Czech', and the name caught on.
They were kept busy for the rest of the day with orientation, learning where everything was and meals that by the time of the evening sing-a-long, the kids were all exhausted, like Todd the counselor had predicted.
The teepees were cool to look at, but even with being the height of summer, the cold mountain air of Big Bear turned them into iceboxes at night. The first night, after the camp sing-a-long, (cheerfully scorned as lame, especially after singing 'Three Little Ducks' and doing the wiggle waggle with it), the boys had gone to bed, and froze for the first hour or so, before Rodney pulled out a flashlight, rousted the other boys and arranged their sleeping pads they'd been assigned into a thermal barrier, placed John's thinner down sleeping bag unzipped on top of that, then zipped his and Radek's sleeping bag together and the three boys slept inside, creating a warm and comfortable arrangement. They were about the only boys who'd gotten a full night sleep, thanks to a smug Rodney.
That first year John, Rodney and Radek became inseparable, so much so that the camp counselors called them the Three Musketeers because if you saw one, then the others weren't far behind.
This had the effect of Rodney and Radek having to learn how to swim, since John was the quintessential California beach bum. It was a miracle since Rodney hated all water not frozen solid, while Radek viewed water as something to be forced to bathe in, and that was it. John also dragged them along for canoeing, much to both boy's disgust, but eventual enjoyment once they realized they'd stay in the canoe.
All three boys excelled at archery (geeks to the core), and Rodney and Radek excelled at the mandatory craft time, which John cordially despised when they wouldn't let him build weapons with the popsicle sticks. They also were unstoppable at the team problem solving, wiping the camp floor with all of the other teams during every challenge.
The next to the last morning of camp, the boys were abruptly awakened by excited camp counselors. "C'mon, we need your help! Animals escaped from the local zoo…" Todd said and the boys could hear the loud noises of what sounded like monkeys.
"What can we do about it?" Rodney demanded as he yanked on his blue jeans.
"They've stolen all of our breakfast food," Todd said, and that got a reaction out of Rodney, a curse word that made Radek and John snicker.
They followed the rest of the excited campers as they picked up boxes of cereal and oranges and bananas that were tossed around willy-nilly. John kept them to the back, ignoring Rodney's impatience, until he finally pulling them to the side. "This is bullshit," he said. "The Moonridge Zoo in Big Bear doesn't have monkeys; they take care of orphaned and injured animals like bears and foxes and stuff."
Radek huffed out a laugh as they came upon another box of cereal. "Ah well, all is not lost. I smell cinnamon rolls, yes?"
Immediately on alert, Rodney sniffed deeply, and grinned. "And they're fresh! Let's head to the tables before everyone gets back!" he said, galloping off while John and Radek laughed aloud.
By the end of that first camp, the boys were fast friends. Radek and John knew that Rodney was deathly allergic to citrus and actually was as smart as he claimed. Rodney and John found out that while Radek and his dad had barely made it out of the communist scientist community of Russia, his mother had been killed in the escape and that he wanted to be an engineer like her. And Radek and Rodney knew that while John was smart and enjoyed math, he really wanted to fly and that meant the military.
They continued to stay friends, meeting at camp every summer and writing letters and sending pictures of their various academic and scientific achievements in between to each other until they were fifteen when Radek's father moved his family back to Europe. That was the same summer that John and Rodney trained to be camp counselors.
"This sucks," John pouted as they listened to the older counselors tell how to help homesick campers, and sick campers and what to do in case they lost a camper.
"Shhh," Rodney said, flapping his hand at his friend. He really didn't want to lose any of the little brats they had to watch over.
"It's not gonna be the same without Radek," John hissed back irritably.
John's mood finally got through to Rodney, and he looked at his friend closely then yanked him away from the group and down the path.
"Rodney!" John protested, but Rodney held up his hand.
"No, no. You wanted to talk, let's go to the campfire. I can do a lot of things but nurture your exceedingly girly 'missing our friend' crap and listening to stuff we already know at the same time is making even my brain hurt," Rodney said as he towed John behind him.
John reluctantly let himself be lead to the large circular stone fireplace, surround by plank seats. He flopped down on one of them and rubbed a hand through his hair, making it stand up even more. He glanced at Rodney who was placidly staring at him with his sharp blue eyes; his short brown hair waving slightly in the humidity with his sweat-stained camp t-shirt covering his sturdy body, and couldn't help but smile. He would recognize the other boy no matter how many years passed.
"Fine. I'm going to miss him, alright?"
Rodney snorted. "So am I, but we'll keep writing him, okay? And he'll still try to get better grades and more awards than us, and lose. We won't let him forget us, okay? So stop being such a pussy."
This tart synopsis made John smile and he leaned forward and thump Rodney in the shoulder. "Thanks, Rodney. I feel so much better."
"Ow!" Rodney complained. "I need that arm to keep the demon spawn inline, you know!"
"Stop whining," John said as he got to his feet. "You're fine, and we need to get back," John pointed out, slinging an arm over Rodney's shoulder.
"Yeah, yeah. And thanks to you we've probably missed how we're supposed to be able to make the midgets smarter or something."
Back at camp, John was practically yanked out of his brooding by Rodney's sarcastic comments during training, fighting to contain hysterical laughter as his friend non-subtly pointed out what a fuckwitted morons their fellow counselors were, including the one that wanted to suck and spit the venom out of a camper, when they had anti-venom in the nurses' office.
Later in their teepee, they'd opted to have one by themselves for training camp, John looked over at his friend. "I'm glad that you're here."
Surprised, Rodney looked at John, then rolled his eyes and leaned over to smack him on the head. "Idiot," he said fondly. "It's not like camp is the end of the world. We'll see Radek again."
More relieved than he knew what to do with, John flopped back onto his sleeping bag. "Maybe."
Rodney sighed and rolled onto his side to look at John in the gathering darkness of their teepee. "No maybe about it. We're all brilliant, me more than you two of course, but I have no doubt we'll see each other again."
John made a face. "Gee, if your ego hasn't taken over the world by then."
"Ha ha," Rodney said. "Now go to sleep. I want to get up early and get the cinnamon rolls first before the marauding hordes get any."
"You're all heart, Rodney," John yawned, rolling over and falling asleep.
The next year the camp integrated the boys and girls, and John and Rodney found themselves face to face with the new girl counselors and told that they had to work together.
At first John and Rodney were in complete accord, let the girl counselors and their hordes of crybabies do their thing while the boys did theirs, but then Rodney had discovered that the blonde with the pixie hair cut, Sam Carter, was brilliant. And John had to watch as Rodney chased after her.
It wasn't like Sam wanted Rodney, she made disparaging remarks to him every chance she got, but Rodney was persistent and tried to get through her defenses by talking science. Which, from John's green-tinged point of view, seemed to thaw her out somewhat.
At lunch, an oblivious Rodney finally figured out that something was wrong. "You look like someone ran over your cat. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," John said shortly, viciously stabbing his hot dog.
Rodney stared at him. "If you're sure," he said, then brightened. "Hey, don't forget your bunch of morons and mine are going to go on that canoe trip at two."
"Are you sure you don't want to go with Sam the Perfect?"
"Sam the…what are you blithering about?" Rodney asked in confusion.
"Nevermind," John bitterly said and jumped to his feet, leaving his tray with Rodney staring open-mouthed after him.
At the lake, Rodney was doing his fourth headcount, (never can be too careful because parents actually like to see their spawn come home from camp), when there came an almighty splash and screams from the next pier over. His head snapped around and he could see a frozen Sam, two girls in the water and three more screaming their heads off.
Without even thinking, he raced up to the end of his pier and dove in, swimming strongly over to the flailing girls. He reached the closest one and pushed her to the pier, "Sam, for God's sake, snap out of it!" he shouted at her and she jolted from her horror and grabbed the girl by the hands and pulled her out.
Satisfied, Rodney turned and discovered the other girl had gone under. Adrenaline racing, he ducked under the brown water to where he'd seen her last and began to sweep his hands back and forth in front of him. He felt like his lungs were going to explode and was about to give up and push to the surface and breath when he felt another splash and at the same time felt a cold arm. He grabbed at the arm, and felt himself grabbed in familiar arms and then they were all on the surface and into the sunlight.
"Rodney?" John asked, his face pale and his eyes frantic.
"I don't think she's breathing!" Rodney gasped to him and he and John managed to slog through the muck at the edge of the lake and get the unconscious girl to land. He checked her pulse and her breathing and looked at John. "CPR."
John nodded, settling his hands over her heart as he watched Rodney give her four quick breaths. "Beginning compressions," he said and they began their count, Rodney breathing and John giving compressions.
They ignored the commotion on the piers, working steadily on the dead white little girl until the camp nurse and one of the staff pounded up. At the same moment the little girl choked and Rodney rolled her on her side as she began to throw up copious amounts of the lake.
"Good job, boys," the nurse said briskly as she and the other man took over. A backboard appeared out of nowhere and they quickly got her on and suddenly it was as if sound and feeling came rushing back, and Rodney swayed on his feet only to have John wrap a quick arm around him.
John started shaking as he realized how close it could've been. "Are you okay, Rodney?"
And suddenly, Rodney understood and was astounded. John had been jealous of Sam. The same Sam who was so smart but who'd frozen and been useless in an emergency, while John had appeared like a miracle.
"I'm fine, I stink like the bottom of the lake and I think she might've puked on me, but I'm fine," he said, patting John on the back and despite everything, he was. "C'mon, we've got campers to settle," he said prosaically.
John shuddered and stepped back, checking out the milling campers with a practiced eye. It seemed like the whole ordeal had taken forever but in reality it had only been a few minutes. "Yeah," he said and he and Rodney rounded up all of their kids and took them for a swim instead, using the experience to teach them what to do, and not to do in an emergency.
It was after the campfire songs when John saw Sam corner Rodney. He kept back, his stomach rolling nervously.
Rodney stopped and glanced around with a frown. Where had John disappeared to?
He turned to see Sam, her face looking pale in the flickering firelight. "Hey Sam, how are you?" he asked, wondering what she wanted after all of the rebuffs she'd given him.
She shuffled her tennis shoes for a minute, then looked at him frankly. "I know I haven't been very nice to you, but I didn't come to camp looking for a boyfriend."
Rodney blinked. "Huh? Boyfriend?"
John blinked too. Rodney hadn't wanted to be her boyfriend?
"You kept chasing me," Sam pointed out, a little confused.
Oh. OH. Rodney rubbed his face roughly, understanding even more why John had wigged out. "I wanted to talk science with you! I saw your counselor application and we're studying the same thing. God, is that all guys want from you?"
Embarrassed, Sam shrugged a shoulder, feeling stupid that her pride was hurt. "Well, yeah. I didn't know you wanted to talk about science. I'm sorry I was rude."
"Pfft," Rodney said, waving his hand.
"And thanks for saving Mandy," she said, coming up to briefly kiss him on the cheek before following the other counselors and kids.
"Huh," Rodney said after a minute. He shook his head and moved to follow when John stepped in front of him. "Eeep!" he squeaked. "Don't do that. You scared a thousand years off of my life!"
John smirked. "Got a high opinion of your lifespan there, Rodney."
"By the time I've got my doctorates I'll figure out something," Rodney replied staunchly. "By the way," he added, cocking his head and smirking, making John suppress a wince. "You don't need to be jealous."
John sighed and placed his arm around Rodney's shoulders. "Mea Culpa and all that crap. I thought I was losing my best friend to some blonde bimbo with boobs," he said, making Rodney choke on his laughter.
That would be the last year they were at camp together. There had been a forest fire the next spring that took out part of the camp and they were still rebuilding, plus Rodney was testing out of courses in between trying to figure out what university he wanted to attend. John's life was full of its own problems, he'd been accepted into the Air Force Academy and he'd been writing both Radek and Rodney, pouring out his excitement and ambivalence, since they probably won't see other for years.
Radek would think, looking back, that Rodney had a touch of precognition along with his enormous ego, because it truly was years before the three of them met again, in that place under the ice that lit up when John touched it.
He remembered sputtering when Rodney whirled into the lab and grabbed him, dragging him through the tiny corridors and into the chair room, face to face with a wild haired man with familiar hazel eyes.
And he remembered saying, "Why do I have sudden urge to sing 'Three Little Ducks'?"