The Boy Who Didn't Need Stories (G), for [livejournal.com profile] roaringmice

Aug. 25th, 2007 02:20 am
[identity profile] wojelah.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] atlantisbasics
Recipient: [personal profile] roaringmice 
Title: The Boy Who Didn't Need Stories
Author: [personal profile] wojelah 
Rating: G
Category: gen, or mild pre-ship (Radek/Teyla)
Spoilers: None in particular.
Summary: Once upon a time, there lived a small boy who had no use for fairy tales. Many years later, his head pounding and blood on his shirt, opening his eyes and finding that he is sitting against a sealed bulkhead, with a ton of debris cutting three of his friends off from their only chance at safety, Radek Zelenka thinks about his grandmother, and the story of the golden bird, and realizes that he might, finally, have started to understand.
Recipient requested: a) Ronon observing the Sheppard/McKay dynamic; b) Adventure story where Radek gets hurt but saves the day; c) Teyla and Radek exchanging cultural tokens. This hits two of three?


Once upon a time, there lived a small boy who had no use for fairy tales.

"Pah!" said his father, who had gone to university but now worked in a factory tightening screws and testing bolts and came home tired every day. "What good are stories, anyway. Study hard and toe the line." The boy said nothing, just fiddled with
the casing on the rusty old telescope he'd scrounged from old Pani Svobodová when her husband died and her children divided up his things.

"Pah!" said his mother, who had met his father before he worked in a factory, "What good are stories, anyway? There is too much to do for there to be time for stories. Watch your sister while I talk to Pani Novotná, now." Still, the boy said nothing, but wrapped his hand around the collection of nuts and bolts in his pocket and thought about whether the one he just found on the street would fit on the old bicycle he had at home.

"Pah!" said his mother's father, who had been a writer before the Soviets came. "What good are stories, anyway? The world is how it is, and all the stories ever written will not change it." Still, the boy said nothing, just hunched over an ancient radio and fiddled with the tubes.

"Ah," said his mother's mother, who had been born in Leningrad, far away and long ago, when it had a different name. "I see. But I am an old woman, and so you must be patient with me, because I have news to tell you, news of a country on the borders of the world." The boy looked at her, as she sat braiding up her long white hair while he swung his feet against the legs of his chair, and started to interrupt. His grandmother's eyes were sad, and her mouth sort-of smiled in a way that reminded him of tears, and in the end, the boy said nothing, only listened, as she spoke.

She told him of a foolish king, and a strange magician, and a golden bird. She told him how the king wished for peace and how the magician gave him the bird, which warned the king of every danger, and how the king promised the magician anything he desired as a reward. She told him how, for two years, the country lived in peace, until the golden bird gave a terrible cry, and how two great armies were sent out, one following the other, led by the king's two sons, and how still no word came of the battle, and the bird cried out again.

He held his breath, the small boy who didn't care for stories, as his mother's mother told him how the king himself went to investigate, and found all of his armies and both of his sons dead on the field. She told him how the king forgot his grief when he found there a tent, and inside the tent a beautiful queen, and how she entranced him so that he took her home. She told him how the magician asked for the queen as his promised reward, and how the king flew into a rage, killing the magician with a single blow. She told him, then, how the golden bird flew from its perch and pecked the foolish king to death, and how the beautiful queen disappeared as if she had never been, and then his mother's mother kissed the small boy on his forehead and sent him off to bed.

"But babička," the boy said, wide-eyed, standing at the door, "I don't understand. What does it mean?"

She smiled. "My Radeček, always wanting to take things apart and put them back together. A story cannot always be unscrewed like a nut from a bolt. Sometimes you must come to understand things from the heart. If, when you are older, it is still a mystery, you may ask me again, and I will try to answer."

His mother's mother died that winter, from a creeping cough that sapped her strength until she simply faded away on a breath, and the boy never had his chance to ask a second time.

He grew up, as boys do, and his story went on, taking him far, far from home, beyond even the country on the borders of the world, where he found things even stranger than magicians and knowledgeable birds, although the queens, he found, were still dangerous. Time passed, as it does, and he lost soldiers and men as dear as brothers, if never a son, and he learned why it was that some men wish so desperately for peace that they would do anything, promise anything, to attain it.

So it was that many years later, his head pounding and blood on his shirt, opening his eyes and finding that he is sitting against a sealed bulkhead, with a ton of debris cutting three of his friends off from their only chance at safety, Radek Zelenka thinks about his grandmother, and the story of the golden bird, and realizes that he might, finally, have started to understand.

"Doctor Zelenka," Teyla's face is streaked with grime and she is holding herself carefully, but Radek can still feel the pressure of her arms around his waist, dragging him away from the satellite's database console just before the dart swept past. His tablet is next to him, apparently functional, and he marvels at her presence of mind. His face still burns with the heat of the explosion and the cold of space, but he cannot remember what he knows must have happened next, as the shield failed and the blasts shattered the observation window. "Doctor Zelenka," she says again, and her voice is sharp with concern, "are you all right?"

Radek starts to shake his head and immediately regrets it. His thoughts are wandering, and there isn't time for that. "I have been better." He manages a smile, and it matches the almost-grimace on Teyla's face. "You?"

"The same." She slides down the wall next to him, not close enough to touch. He doesn't know Teyla all that well; she spends more time with the social scientists and the marines than the engineering department, but he has always liked her, and more, respected her. Now, separated from McKay, Ronon, and the Colonel, her presence is a comfort.

He taps his radio. "McKay?" Static. He tries again. "McKay, come in." More static, but he thinks there's a pattern under the noise. "Pah," he mutters, and tugs off the earpiece. His vision is blurring along the periphery, which he thinks is probably a sign of concussion, but so far his hands are steady and his head does not hurt so much, really. He twists the connection and puts the earpiece back in, fiddles with the volume, and closes his eyes in relief when he tunes in to a stream of unrestrained, unhappy Rodney McKay. "Here," he says to Teyla, "give me your radio." She complies, and he starts to fiddle.

Rodney is in full cry: " - blew the transporter console apart - the entire structure's gone." Someone else mutters something; from the tone, Zelenka thinks it may be Ronon, which leaves only Colonel Sheppard unaccounted for. "It means," McKay snaps, "that it won't work, and I cannot make it work, because it is broken, and I cannot work miracles. Which means, in case it is not yet clear to you, that we are stuck here, because, oh yes, there is a ton of debris between us and the remainder of the satellite." He hands Teyla her headset back, attempting to ignore the surge of nausea as he turns his head. As she slips it on, he joins the conversation.

"But Teyla and I have a working console," he interjects, and is gratified by the speed with which McKay shuts up, "although our beam has been destroyed. So perhaps you will not have to turn water into wine today."

"Radek!" Rodney exclaims, and he winces at the volume. "You're alive!"

"We are," Teyla answers. "Are Ronon and John with you as well?"

"We're all here," Sheppard chimes in, although his voice is tight with pain. Radek sympathizes: his
head is aching again. He closes his eyes. "Everyone in one piece?" the Colonel says. 

Teyla looks at Radek; Radek
nods, not quite curtly, but he knows Teyla will make her own assessment. "Doctor Zelenka has a head injury, I believe. I cannot tell how serious it may be, but for now he seems functional."

"Zelenka?" The Colonel's tone says he's not messing around. "That accurate?"

"It is." He considers. "It is."

"Right." Sheppard is not going to push the issue, apparently. "Teyla? How're you?"

"My ribs are sore," she says, "but I am relatively fine. You and Ronon?"

"Ronon's fine, but his radio's toast. Got a nice gash down my leg, but I'll survive."

"Yes, yes, yes," Rodney says. "We're all relatively unscathed, but also, if I might remind you? Stranded."

"I think not," Radek answers. "Before the dart fired, I managed to read through the satellite's specifications, looking for information on the energy source that Rodney found on the radar. I did not find that - " Rodney starts to interject, but Radek presses on, "- but I did, in passing, uncover the specifications for the transporter system. If your beam is active, I should be able to operate it remotely."

McKay's followed his train of thought; Radek's content to let him explain while he heaves himself to his feet. There's a bad moment where his head spins and his vision greys; when he reaches out to steady himself, a strong arm materializes beneath his hand. Rodney's still spouting information and it's more than he can stand. "McKay," he snaps, "I know. Now, stop talking, please." Rodney squawks. Radek turns the radio off and opens the console.

"Doctor Zelenka has started working," she says, and flashes him a sympathetic look. "Yes," she responds, "he has his computer." The headset twitters, and she sighs. "Rodney. I will let you know as we progress. Until then, please, be patient." She taps her earpiece.

"Right," Zelenka says. "Now to begin."

He works in silence at first, connecting the tablet to the console and lowering himself to the floor. The dart is gone, yes, but the weapon McKay used to destroy it has drained the satellite's power resources to the nub. Still, he hopes, there may be enough left to move the threesome to the jumper. Maybe. If they are very, very lucky. They have not, he thinks, been particularly lucky so far. Nor, he is forced to admit, has he been particularly intelligent. Radek admires McKay, but he grows impatient with the other man - impatient, and occasionally, when McKay's casual asides wear him down too thinly, angry. Nor does he like off-world expeditions - he never has, and he is not the only person alive to make poor decisions when nervous. Splitting up from the other three was the result of a quarrel over whether research or exploration would the best - and fastest - way to find the energy source. In hindsight, Radek knows, it was a poor choice - powering up the entire satellite is likely what brought the Wraith to investigate, and the jumper attached to the satellite likely provoked the attack. His head throbs and he closes his eyes.

When he opens them, it's because Teyla is shaking his shoulder. "Apologies," he manages.

Her face is grave. "You are getting worse." It's not a question.

"I am well enough." He shifts his glasses and rubs his eyes.

"Doctor," she says. Her hand is still on his shoulder, warm where he is cold. "What can I do to help?"

He considers. There isn't much, not really, unless she can complete a university course in engineering in the next twenty minutes. Still. "To start," he offers, "you can call me Radek."

"Very well, then." She smiles. "Radek. How can I help?"

"Talk to me," he says, and she arches an eyebrow. "I know," he answers her unspoken question. "It is an odd request, from me, but I... am finding it hard to focus. Something to help my concentration would be best."

Teyla nods, and shifts away, settling herself across from him and watching his face closely. "I understand. Is there a topic with which I should begin?"

Radek looks at her, considering. How little he knows of her, and how private she chooses to be. He hardly knows her well enough to request private confidences, and it would make her uncomfortable, he is sure, to offer them. And yet, he realizes, he would like to understand her better. He thinks of his grandmother. "No. No topic. Just... tell me a story. Any story. A fairy tale, a fable. A story from when you were young."

She pauses, clearly surprised. He knows it's a strange request. When she starts to speak, however, there's a new, considering look in her eyes. "A story." Her voice changes, takes on cadences that take him back to his family's home, long ago and so very far away. "I remember something that our father told me and that is this. Once, in another time, there was a young man...." Radek sets to work.

Forty-five minutes later, Teyla has told him four stories, which Radek may never recall unless he has the chance to ask again. He also thinks he has a plan that means they'll have that chance, even if he never had it with his grandmother. It's not a guarantee, and much of it depends on Teyla's ability to follow instructions, because his eyes won't focus and his hands have grown too clumsy to manage the fine connections. "Dost dobrý," he sighs, and Teyla trails off, almost gratefully, he thinks. "I have an idea," he says, and clears his throat, so that his voice is not so thin, "but you will need to be the one to carry it through." That admission costs him, but it is not the time for pride. He is grateful that the only response Teyla offers is a nod.

Radek taps his radio. "McKay." He still sounds tired, but he cannot fix that.

"Radek! Yes, what? Tell me you have a plan."

"I have a plan." He doesn't mention the fact that Rodney won't like it. McKay won't have enough time to complain once he sets it into practice.

"Nice job, Zelenka." The Colonel sounds like Radek feels.

"Yes, well. We have little time left, so I will give you the short version, and then begin. I can reroute the transporter, as we agreed, but there is not power enough for me to find a functional receiver. The system is wired so that I can send you to the main control room, where the jumper is docked, which appears intact." Radek pauses.

The expected question is nearly immediate. "And what's the bad news," McKay demands.

"Which part would you like first?" he answers dryly, and doesn't wait for a reply. "One, it will not be a pleasant trip for you, although you should arrive intact." He doesn't respond to Rodney's strangled "Should?", just continues. "Two, using the beam so will drain the very last of the satellite's power; once you arrive, you will have only thirty minutes to retract the bulkheads preventing Teyla and me from joining you and to get the jumper away. Three, redirecting the transporter signal will disrupt your radios, so we will not be able to tell if you arrive safely or encounter further problems."

"Is there a four?" Sheppard drawls. Radek is familiar with that tone; the Colonel is planning, and focused on not panicking. McKay is ominously quiet.

"No." Radek leans his head back against the wall. "There is no four."

Right on cue, Rodney ramps up for what will likely be a tremendous rant. "This is a terrible idea."

"I know," Radek answers. "But it is what we have. Teyla and I go now to rewire the system. Give us ten minutes." He signs off.

Teyla is on her feet, staring at the crystals. "What do I do?" she asks. He walks her through it, and she is an able assistant, despite the fact that she has to speak sharply to him twice to recapture his attention. He's cold, and his eyes no longer focus on anything than the most general shapes; he is fighting to keep his attention focused on the task at hand, but the blankness nibbling at the edges is remarkably seductive.

When Teyla finishes, he holds it together long enough to ensure that the beam is locked on the three life signs blinking at him from the laptop screen. A terse instruction over the radio forbids the three men from moving from their position. Then it only remains to wish them luck, push the button, and trust to luck. Radek's grandmother, he thinks, would have called it hope.

Teyla hasn't moved from her position in front of the console. When he looks to her, he can tell she is worried, but all she says is "And now, we wait."

"Ano." He wants to sleep. He knows he shouldn't. He's too tired to care.

"Radek." He hears her move, feels the warmth of her body near his, feels her hands on his temple, looking at the dark bruise there. He hears her sigh, feels her slide down the wall next to him, propping him up where he has begun to list to the side.

Radek likes Teyla; dimly, he realizes he wishes he could reassure her. "Do not worry," he murmurs. "K čemu to?" He corrects himself; English is harder when he is so tired, but he does not know if it translates for her. "What's the use of it? They will come, or they won't. I think that they will. They do not give up so easily, those three."

"Yes," she says quietly. For awhile, they say nothing, and he drifts, eyes closed, farther and farther away. "Radek," Teyla says again, and bumps his shoulder, then bumps him harder when he does not answer. "Radek."

"
Co se děje? What?" He is in no mood to chat.

"Tell me a story." He cracks an eye, and turns his head just enough to look at her; it takes more effort than it rightly should. He thinks, in part, that she means to keep him awake, but there is in her face something that suggests she is looking for something like comfort, something like home. "Please," she says. "A story."

He closes his eyes. "Where I come from, we call them
pohádky. Fairy stories. I only know one," he admits, and it is another shame. "But I will tell you what my mother's mother told me. Bylo nebylo, it begins - 'There was, there was not, a king with two sons and a country he loved, who longed for peace beyond all things,'" and he tells her the story of the golden bird and the foolish king. He thinks he finishes. He thinks she says something to him; he thinks he hears banging through the doors, but like the satellite, he lacks the energy to do anything but let the blackness suck him down.

When he wakes, later, in the infirmary, it is a pleasant surprise, even if the light is painful. There is an IV in his wrist, and a blanket over him, and more surprising still, Teyla is there, her hand over his. When she realizes he is looking at her, she smiles. "You need to know," she says gently, "that the foolish king, he is in all of us. Him, and the magician, and the queen, and the bird. But in some worlds, the king is not his own worst enemy, and the magician gets the queen, and the golden bird remains. We are human, but it is not always a failing." Her hand brushes against his temple, and again over his hand, and then she is gone. As Radek falls back asleep, in a corner of his mind, he sees his mother's mother, and she is smiling.
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