TITLE: Taking Flight
SUMMARY: Puddle jumpers and relationships have one thing in common: they all have to take off from somewhere
NOTE: This was written for a challenge on Live Journal, when I was tasked with writing Sam Carter/Radek Zelenka. Thankfully, I'd written Sam before, and Radek is one of my favourite Atlantis characters. I had to look up the Czech, by the way, and all I've done is copy and paste to make sure each word was written correctly.
All things considered, a broken leg was a small price to pay for a mission that could have ended fatally. Doctor Keller – Jennifer – figured that Sam would only have to be on crutches for a few weeks. Naturally, Sam would be confined to Atlantis for the duration of her recovery, but she had a backlog of administrative tasks and scientific projects. This would be the perfect time to catch up. In addition, if anyone – say, one John Sheppard for example – called her "Hop Along" or anything similar, she would simply remind them of who was in charge. Even if it didn't actually say 'Colonel' on her uniform.
One such project involved outfitting at least one Jumper so that any member of the expedition could fly it, even without possessing the Ancient gene. Sam had undergone gene therapy as soon as she'd arrived on Atlantis, but she'd been surprised to hear it didn't work on everyone. If approximately half of the base had no way of accessing Ancient technology naturally, then that was a serious problem. Doors in the city could be wedged open, or accessed via a key card, but what if the only person available or conscious to fly a Jumper in an emergency didn't have the gene? She'd discussed the issue with General O'Neill – now of Homeworld Security – as soon as she'd been able, and he'd agreed with her. Consequently, she'd assigned Rodney and Radek to the project. One could access the technology; the other couldn't. Between the two of them – with input from her and Sheppard – they should surely be able to figure something out.
Rodney had objected at first. He'd declared one only had to know which crystals to rearrange in order to make the flyer functional, but Sam had shut him down by appealing to his sense of self-preservation. Not everyone knew as much about the crystals as he did and, besides, time would be of the essence in an emergency. Rodney had backed down; he didn't want any time to be wasted if it was his butt on the line.
Radek had smiled nervously, pushed his glasses back up his nose, and affirmed they could get this project done.
Sam's office door slid open to reveal Radek Zelenka, looking awkward as usual. "I thought you should have an update on the Jumper," he began.
She beckoned him to take a seat. "Thanks, Radek," she said with a smile. "I was going to stop by the lab when Rodney got back. How are you doing? Did you manage to resolve the flutter with the communications?"
"Yes, yes, I think so." He set down his computer on her desk.
"I'm impressed," she said when his presentation was over. I wasn't sure how much would get done while SGA-1 was gone."
Radek shrugged. "I get more done when Rodney isn't around. There are others with the gene who can assist me."
Sam had a feeling Radek was trying to be tactful about his colleague. "I've known Doctor McKay for a long time, Radek. To be fair, he's come a long way from when I first met him."
"Yes, I too have noticed. He is more of a team player than when I met him in St. Petersburg."
"You knew him in Russia?"
"I was brought in from Prague to assist him on a replacement DHD. The original had been destroyed."
Sam nodded. "I remember that. But the Russians no longer had a Gate by the time Rodney was sent there."
Radek snorted. "That did not stop Rodney. He had some concerns about the dialling system in use at the SGC.
Sam nodded, very well aware of Rodney's concerns. "But you were brought in to assist him?"
"He has never forgotten."
She smiled sympathetically at the Czech scientist. "You work well with him, and the two of you are Atlantis's best scientists. But if there are any issues, please let me know."
Radek agreed tentatively, but Sam swore she saw something in his eyes that had nothing to do with their egotistical colleague.
One downside of crutches was the inability to carry a tray of food. Jennifer had suggested that maybe a member of the kitchen staff could bring her meals to her office, but Sam had refused to consider that option. As Commander of the city, she needed to show she was approachable and willing to mingle with other members of the expedition.
The first day she was back on her feet, Sam had hobbled down to the Mess, requested her food and then embarrassingly realised she hadn't exactly thought through the situation. There was no way she could use both crutches and carry her tray at the same time. Fortunately, Ronon had appeared from nowhere, grabbed the tray from her hands, and grunted, "Where to?"
Since then, Sam had taken to using just one crutch while carrying her tray back to a table. True, it was still tricky to manoeuvre, but at least she didn't have to rely on anyone else. All it usually took was luck and patience.
Today, luck was not on her side. Nor, it seemed, was the Marine who didn't look where he was going before backing in to her. There was no way to catch any of the tray's contents – including the tall dessert glass containing her precious Jell-O – before it all tumbled to the ground with a clatter. The young man turned, an expression of horror on his face when he realised who he'd collided with. "Ma'am! I am so sorry!"
Sam tried to hide her smile. The Marine wasn't sure if he should be standing at attention or on his knees picking up the ruined meal. He chose the latter and dropped to the ground, continuing to mutter apologies. She patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. "It was an accident, Gunny." He said something about getting her another tray and she thanked him before continuing to her table where Jennifer sat, waiting for her.
"Ouch. Are you okay?"
Sam nodded. "I'm fine. Sergeant Cole probably feels worse than I do." She grinned. "Especially since he now has to get lunch for a Flyboy. It's not exactly 'cool' for a Marine to do."
Jennifer chuckled. "Actually, I think his image might just remain intact. Someone else is headed this way with your lunch."
Sure enough, Radek was approaching Sam with a tray in his hands. The glass of blue cubes removed all doubt about the meal being for her.
"Oh, wow. Thanks, Radek." She smiled at his thoughtfulness.
"Er, yes, you're welcome."
Jennifer burst into laughter as soon as he was out of earshot. "Sam, I think you have a problem." Sam looked at her, confused. "Radek likes you."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"I'm not. Did you see how nervous he looked?"
"No more than usual."
"Trust me, it was more than usual, and he didn't have to bring you another tray. Sergeant Cole was going to do that. Oh, Sam. I'm so sorry. I know you said you had a hard time being stuck in that elevator with him during the lockdown."
"I did not say that."
"You said, 'At least you weren't stuck with Zelenka for two hours.'"
"He was so determined to do something, and he got himself injured in the process."
"He was trying to impress you, Sam. Come on, he even climbed through that maintenance shaft for you. Face it, you have an admirer."
Try as she might, Sam could not get her friend's observation out of her mind. There was absolutely no way Radek liked her like that, right? Sure, he was nice to her, respectful and attentive, but most of the people on Atlantis were. Very few of them begrudged her coming in to take Command, even if filling Elizabeth Weir's shoes was a difficult task.
She wished she had someone else in the City she could talk to, but Commanding Officer, was a lonely role and Jennifer was the only person she felt close to. On Earth, Sam had been surrounded with friends. Daniel was a wonderful confidante, as had Janet before her death. Even Vala was a useful sounding board in her own unique way.
In the absence of anyone else in whom she could confide, Sam would have to tackle this situation alone. The first thing she needed to do was assess the credibility of Jennifer's statement. If Jennifer was correct, and only if, then she'd decide how to proceed. Furthermore, until then, she would refuse to consider her own feelings. If Jennifer's theory was correct, Sam needed to observe Radek without bias.
A visit to Radek's lab was in order. It had been a week since he'd come to her office with a Jumper update. During that time, Rodney had returned from the latest SGA-1 mission so she'd hoped he'd spared time to work with Radek. The sooner Atlantis had at least one Jumper anyone could fly – Ancient gene or not – the better. Sam hoped Rodney would be in the lab; if nothing else, watching the two of them work together would be a valid excuse for being there.
The door to the science lab opened automatically at her approach. Radek had his back towards her, and Rodney was nowhere to be seen – or heard. Perhaps that was why Radek hadn't turned when the door slid open. He thought Rodney was returning from wherever.
He instantly turned, his elbow catching the computer and knocking it sideways. "Colonel Carter, this is unexpected."
She smiled, watching as he returned the computer to its original position. "Didn't I say to call me Sam?" At the time of making her suggestion, she'd been attempting to lighten the atmosphere between herself and the civilian scientists with whom she often worked. After all, Daniel still called General O'Neill by his first name when he was the SGC CO, and Sam had known some of these scientists for almost as long.
"Ah, yes, Co – Sam. How are you?"
"I'm good. Doctor Keller says I shouldn't need the crutches soon."
"That is good news." He paused and looked down at the floor, studying it intently. Sam was about to ask what was so fascinating when his head came back up. "Why are you here?"
"I thought I'd see how the Jumper was progressing, and if there was anything I could do."
Radek looked at her curiously. "Did Rodney and Colonel Sheppard not contact you? They have taken it out for a test run."
"Colonel Sheppard said he wanted to get in some flight time. I didn't realise he was taking that particular Jumper."
Radek scowled. "Rodney believes that, since he has the gene, it would be better for him to test it before I do."
"Of course he does," Sam replied with a smile. It made sense for an experienced pilot such as Sheppard to go on the test flight, but Radek could just have easily gone with him. She pointed at the computer screen, which was displaying a constant stream of data. "Is this the flight telemetry?" Radek nodded so she moved closer to read it.
He reacted by immediately jumping out of the way. His movement was hard enough for him to crash into a stool and send it skittering across the floor. A stream of Czech flew from his mouth as he dived after it.
Poor guy, Sam thought. He really was nervous around her. If not for Jennifer's observations echoing in her mind, Sam would have been really confused. After all, he'd been fine when they'd first met. She tried desperately to say something to put him at ease. "It must be fun at times to know someone doesn't understand you."
The eyes behind his glasses got wide. "Excuse me?"
"If I swear, everyone knows exactly what I'm saying," she stated wryly. "But you could have been cursing out the stool, the data, or even me. I wouldn't have a clue."
"It wasn't you."
"That's a relief. I can't tell you how old that used to get when I was on SG-1. Daniel was our language expert, but we sure as hell didn't need him or Teal'c to know when the Goa'uld were swearing. General O'Neill and I just didn't know whether it was aimed at us or something else that had pissed them off, but often the timing wasn't right for a complete translation. It's not like we were taught Goa'uld at high school or at the Academy." She watched the data for a moment. "Was that where you learned English, at school?"
Radek shrugged. "Eventually. After the reforms. But we had ways of learning English, such as watching American shows like Star Trek."
She laughed. "That must have prepared you well for this."
"Yes, except it took me a while to understand that Tribble was not the English word for guinea pig. I also wasn't sure if Klingon was an alien race or a general term for an alien who was the enemy after the design of them changed." He smiled. "At least we never needed a translation to appreciate Nurse Chappel or Counsellor Troi."
Sam blinked. Who knew that behind the pessimistic façade lay such a regular guy with a sense of humour?
In Sheppard's opinion, the Jumper was ready for its final test. Rodney was a little more sceptical, but Sheppard's view was worth more as far as Sam was concerned. It was time for her and Radek to take it out.
"Are you sure about this?" Sheppard asked as he escorted her to the Jumper bay. "I don't mind going up there with Zelenka. It's not like I haven't worked with him before in an experimental situation."
Sam shook her head. "You're not the only one who enjoys flying, John. Didn't General O'Neill warn you?" she asked, grinning wickedly. "I love this stuff."
"No, he didn't. But I'm beginning to think he should have."
Half an hour later, Sam was in the pilot's chair and waiting for clearance to leave the City. Radek sat beside her, looking serious as his gaze wandered over the console. Anyone could fly a Jumper without much training, even Rodney, if they had the right gene. If the new controls kicked in correctly when they were activated, then Radek should be able to pilot it just as well.
"A little. I'm not a pilot."
"You don't have to be. Rodney's not."
She got a slight smile for her comment.
Sheppard had previously allocated a safe area of space for the testing. Once Sam was satisfied they were at the right location, she slowed the ship down. "Okay, your turn." This first test would only involve flying. If it was successful, they'd proceed with take-off and landing.
Sam stood up and moved back just enough out of the way so Radek could slide over and take the controls. His back brushed against her chest as he moved. The brief contact sent an unexpected feeling through Sam and she struggled to keep her mental control. The last thing they needed was for the Jumper to crash before the test began. She sat down hastily in the seat that was still warm from Radek's body and confirmed that everything on the Jumper was operating within expected parameters. She risked a brief glance at Radek. "Ready?" When he nodded, she continued, "On my Mark. Three, two, Mark."
Radek hit the newly installed button that was designed to enable someone without the gene to fly the Jumper. They both breathed a sigh of relief when the data screen appeared in front of them.
"Okay, Radek. It's all yours. I'm not even going to think about this test. Just go through everything, and wake me up when it's over."
Sam watched him laugh as his fingers began flying over the holographic interface inputting commands. She took joy in watching each success and listening to his enthusiastic mutters of "Yes!" or occasionally, "Jo!" as each command was recognised. The test was going well and it looked like Radek was having fun.
In the last few weeks, Sam had had the opportunity to get to know Radek better. She'd found him to be caring, fun and enthusiastic. He'd translated some of his muttered Czech into English when she'd asked, which had given her a whole new vocabulary of profanity that she couldn't wait to try out on Daniel. Encouraged by his willingness to share his language, Sam had also begun looking up various words by herself. Love was possibly láska, relationship was vztah – however that was pronounced – and date was something like schůzka, although she wasn't sure she had that in the right context. Perhaps if she did become his milá – if that was the correct term – she could ask him.
She blinked. "Oh, Radek. I'm sorry. I was miles away."
"Then I think we can conclude the test was a success," he replied with a soft smile.
"We're still in the air, so yes," she said with a grin. "Want to practice landing?"
He looked questioningly at her. "Where?"
The doubt returned. "If you're sure."
"I am sure. You've done a fantastic job on this project, Radek. Therefore, I think you should have the honour of flying us home and landing." Before she could think herself out of it, Sam leaned over and placed a light kiss on his cheek. "Congratulations," she whispered.
He blushed and muttered, "Děkuji vám."