The first time Radek saw Gehæp he didn't really see her; he was looking through the people crowding through the gate, trying to find Rodney. His glance did linger on her, but her image registered only subliminally and he was never able to recall the moment. How could memory serve him so ill? Then he heard Rodney shouting imprecations and invoking the wrath of the gods and goddesses of science. Radek smiled grimly, and pushed him way through the crowd toward him.
The gateroom had filled with yet more newly homeless, people driven from their settlements by hungry Wraith. Worse than that, Rodney told Radek, scorching the people milling around them, Wraith-worshipping humans had helped; Rodney was nearly spitting in his anger, glaring at everyone who stumbled through the gate: innocent or Wraith-worshipper, he was too angry to discern. Radek put his hand on Rodney's shoulder and discovered he was trembling. "What happened?" he whispered to Rodney, who bent his head and sighed.
"Nearly lost Jo- Sheppard again," he said at last, his voice rusty.
"But the colonel is all right, yes?" Radek forced himself to ask. He knew the answer, but he also knew that Rodney needed to say it.
"I said nearly, didn't I?" Rodney straightened himself and pulled away from Radek. "Who the hell's in charge here?" he bellowed, and Chuck, Evan, and finally Mr. Woolsey began organizing the refugees.
The displaced people, as Radek had learned to call them, let themselves be organized; eventually, nearly two hundred were sorted into various sized groups, some families, some friends, and a dozen-plus singletons. Atlantis' medical staff swooped in, and the Marines deftly managed housing the crowd, and Radek thought it a sad statement about the Pegasus galaxy that they had become so good at comforting and settling the refugees.
At dinner, taken with the science team plus Rodney and Colonel Sheppard, Radek learned these people called themselves the Fid, which meant something like the People of the Wood. Now that their planet, P3X-978, had been ravaged by the Wraith, few would probably decide to return; Radek had seen that pattern before. He had decided that, in important ways, everyone in Pegasus was a perpetual displaced person -- because at any time, one's home could be taken, turned into smoking rubble, family dispersed forever. Radek had seen images of Sateda, and of Athos where Colonel Sheppard had first met Teyla: he knew what the Wraith could do.
Without thinking, he looked up, as if he could see straight through the tower above him where he sat in the mess hall, and shivered. The Wraith wanted Atlantis more than anywhere else, he knew. When he forced his gaze down, he saw Colonel Sheppard watching him. Radek tried to smile, and the colonel nodded.
"What in hell are we going to do with this batch?" Rodney asked. Fortunately they sat on a balcony, enjoying the late summer twilight as they ate, so Radek could hope that no one from the evacuated planet could overhear him.
"Teyla and Woolsey are working on that," the colonel said.
"If we had the power, they could live on the mainland," Rodney said darkly, staring into his empty place. "Goddamn SGC. Why couldn't they have left us just one more ZPM?"
"Radek!" The colonel said sharply. "So how close to making our own ZPM?"
Radek knew he was being teased by the crinkles at the edges of the colonel's eyes, so he sat up and said, "Very close, very close indeed." Looking at Rodney, he added, "Just a little side project. Forgot to mention it."
"Ha ha," Rodney said, but a corner of his mouth lifted. "You figure that out, you can have my job."
"I do not want your job," Radek said firmly. "Head of my department is more than enough paperwork, thank you." He looked around at the members of his department and found them smiling at him. He knew he was a more than adequate supervisor, but Rodney wasn't nearly as bad at it as he liked to pretend. They both took all their responsibilities seriously, and over the years, they'd learned to spot quickly who could succeed in Atlantis and who should not be permitted even to visit. He was proud of his people, and made sure they knew it.
Talk returned to work in the labs, so Radek felt compelled to participate, but he kept one ear tuned to Rodney and the colonel's quiet conversation. "I'm fine," he heard Sheppard say to Rodney, who spluttered and said, "Now you are," but then they both dropped their voices.
Miko caught Radek's eye at that moment and he knew she had heard, too. They smiled ruefully at each other, and then O'Neil ("with one el, thank you very much," she always insisted) said, "If this were the Milky Way, I'd wonder if the Goa'uld had taken some Irish away millennia ago. Fid is an old Irish word for wood."
"Here it's just a coincidence," Carolyn Simpson said, but she was frowning.
"Yes, of course, but still." O'Neil's language was melodic to Radek's ears; he liked hearing her speak, and she even called him Radku, which he appreciated.
"Yes, odd how often the same words turn up. Do you suppose it has something to do with the fact that the Ancients commuted between here and the Milky Way?" Carolyn mused. "Where's Mike Corrigan?"
Colonel Sheppard heard her. "He's on M7K-392. Lorne's team found some ruins there."
"Ruins," Rodney scoffed. "That's what happens when you have perfectly capable military personnel team up with the social sciences: they learn to spot interesting ruins."
"Rodney," about a half dozen voices said, and to Radek's pleasure he saw that Rodney had intended just that. The conversation turned to coincidences and causality and how to determine the difference.
Radek didn't really see Gehæp until two days later, when they met in the infirmary. He had followed Carolyn in, trying to contain his irritation that she'd been hurt, and in such a stupid way, really, so he hadn't been looking where he was going but rather at Carolyn's stiff back -- she was angry at herself, far more than Radek was -- and he walked straight into Gehæp, smack, his head literally knocking against hers for she had turned back to listen to one of her people and wasn't looking either.
"Do prdele," he cried, hand flying to his temple. "Ah, you are all right? Are you hurt? Am I hurt?" he wondered.
"I am fine," she said, though she was frowning as if in pain. "I have a very hard head."
"Ha! So says Rodney about me," Radek babbled, then took a deep breath. "I am sorry. I was not looking where to go." He realized she was perhaps twenty years older than he, and abruptly began worrying. "Good thing we are in infirmary. Let us call a doctor." He raised his head, hoping to catch someone's eye.
"No, no," she said. "My head is as hard as yours, probably harder." They hesitated, and then she put her hands on his forearms and bent her head in what was clearly a greeting. He bowed to her. "I am Gehæp," she said, "lately of the Fid."
"I am Radek of Atlantis," he said without thinking. He was taken aback by his phrasing, but yes, he was of Atlantis now. "Do Atlantis," he said to himself, and then focused on her. "You are new, I think."
"Yes, I came with the others." She gestured behind her; two pregnant women -- well, girls, Radek thought -- were being examined by Marie and another nurse, Alois.
"You are a doctor?"
She laughed. "Oh, no! Just a busy-body who wanted to be sure they were all right. Shock, you know," she said, bending nearer and lowering her voice. Radek saw the girls did look distressed. One was very, very pregnant; the two clung together.
"The fathers?" he asked quietly.
"Menit's was culled," Gehæp said quietly. "Darello-te chose to be alone; the father is from another world." They watched the two. The more pregnant one's face had turned ashen, an almost green tinge to her dark skin, and it was clear that Darello-te was worried about her.
Radek knew that many survivors of a culling didn't survive long; the shock and displacement could overwhelm them. He hoped that Darello-te's attention would save Menit and her baby. He rubbed his face, tired that the universe was so consistently cruel. It was a constant, a sort of background radiation never escaped.
Then he remembered Carolyn and looked around. She was already being examined. She mouthed something, probably that she was all right, and gave him a weak smile. He nodded back and sighed. New protocols might be in order, but he would have to think, discuss this with Carolyn and the others. They had to take care of themselves; God knew the universe would not.
"You look tired," Gehæp said, looking kindly at him. "Is your partner all right?"
"Not my partner," he said, glancing back at Carolyn. "She works for me. From the beginning, you know. It has made all of us close."
Gehæp nodded. "I do know. Communal ties are as strong as familial."
He turned back to her, surprised. "Yes, they have become so."
"Radek of Atlantis, would you like to share some tea with me?" she asked, and Radek thought this might be important.
"What kind of tea?"
She laughed, throwing her head back, a surprising sound in the infirmary. "Suspicious man! You are wise. I will not drug you. Just a ceremonial tea of friendship. I like it because it tastes good." She shrugged. "You are busy, I know. Forgive me. I will leave you to your friend."
"No, no," he said, lightly touching her elbow. "Carolyn is fine. And the girls, if you can leave them, yes, I would like some tea. Ceremonial tea of friendship."
"Good," she said firmly, "because I need tea. Shall we meet in the, in the mess? In a few minutes? I wish to check with the doctor."
"I would like that." He bowed again and went to Carolyn, who smiled at him despite the pain in her hand. "How is she?" he asked Horace.
"It's an interesting burn," he said in his deep voice; Radek thought he could feel Horace's voice through the soles of his feet. "Fortunately superficial, though certainly painful, hmm, Caro?"
"Ow," she said and jerked. "Stop poking."
"Do not come back to the lab," Radek told her firmly. "Do as Horace instructs. We will meet tomorrow morning."
"Somebody's in trouble," Horace sang, and winked. Carolyn rolled her eyes, and Radek felt he could leave her in good conscience. He looked for Rodney to let him know what had happened, but no one had seen him and it wasn't urgent enough to radio him when Carolyn was safe in the infirmary. He was probably with the colonel anyway. Radek left Rodney's empty office and went to the mess hall.
With a heavy sigh, he sat at a table on the smaller balcony. His back ached a bit, and his head, and though it was only mid-morning, his day had been too full. Even if Gehæp didn't come, he needed a little break.
Beyond the balcony the ocean stretched, blurring at the distant horizon into sky. Blue and blue and many blues, an infinity of blue, he thought. The sky was cloudless, the sea glittering, flashing as neat waves rolled tranquilly. The sight and smell of the ocean never failed to calm him; he had even begun to learn to swim, thanks to Ronon's persistence. "Not right, a man of your age," he'd told Radek, and that was that.
"I've never lived near an ocean," Gehæp said, surprising him a little. She slid an ornate tray made of carved wood, deep red, almost brown, onto the table in front of him. "The last world I lived, the stargate was in the mountains, so I knew snow and rain and long views of valleys. The ocean is different."
"Atlantis is a city of the water," he told her. "I am learning to love the sea."
"I can see why," she said. She took a deep breath and Radek copied her. He could smell the ocean but also the tea.
He looked at the tray and touched the edge. "This is beautiful."
She nodded. "Very old, as you see. My responsibility as philosopher."
He thought he must have misunderstood her. "As philosopher? How -- what do you mean?"
"When people are tired of life, or frightened, or sad, a family member or friend will bring them to me. We will sit and have tea, talk, perhaps walk. As the Fid's only philosopher, this tray and the teapot and cups became my responsibility. When we fled, I carried it on my back." She glared at the teapot, pushing a lock of grey hair behind an ear. "Gave me a bruise over my kidney."
"May I?" he asked. She nodded and he picked up the teapot. It was heavy and warm, full of brewing tea. Bringing it near his face, he saw it had been painted, perhaps many times, with tiny figures: human, animal, vegetable. People skipped and ran, something like dogs leapt beside them, a cat curled in someone's lap. The more he looked, the more he saw.
She put a hand on his wrist and he set down the pot. "Do not look too closely," she warned, "or we will never have our tea." She poured out two cups and handed him one. "We say: Erstwhile unknown, now present, soon loved." She shrugged. "Or hated, I supposed, but I prefer to be optimistic."
He laughed. "In my language we say Na zdraví, but it only means to your health."
"Na zdraví," she said, raising her cup. "To the health of all of us."
Radek drank. The tea at first seemed cool, not as warm as the pot, but slowly it warmed in his mouth and throat. The flavor grew, too, almost too spicy, and his nosed burned. He sneezed hugely, startling himself and nearly losing his glasses.
She laughed again, that big laugh. "That's good luck!"
He wiped his eyes and nose with a napkin, then replaced his smudgy glasses. "Very different tea than I'm used to."
"Yes, I used a special blend. I thought you could use it. I hope that is all right?"
"What do you mean? Is this part of being a philosopher?"
"A bit, yes. I try to choose an appropriate tea for the conversation ahead. Mostly, though, I like this one." She grinned at him, her dark, hooded eyes nearly disappearing in a web of wrinkles.
He liked her, he realized, grinning helplessly back. He liked her big laugh, and her quick compassion, and her honesty. He thought she would drive Rodney crazy, and that was always a good thing. He took another cautious sip of the tea, but the effect was more muted this time, and the tea seemed warmer. "I think a philosopher sounds like our psychologist," he said. "No, I mean a therapist. Someone who talks to help."
She tilted her head. "I can do that."
"What do you talk about?"
"Hmm. Depends on the person, of course. Now, after the culling, almost everyone will talk about what they left behind: people focus on things at first. One of the little girls just got a new yellow dress, and she cries for it. An old man remembers a medal for valor. Very soon they will begin to talk of the people they lost, and that will take a long time. I will listen, and ask questions, and choose tea."
"What did you lose?" Radek asked, and then nearly clapped his hands over his mouth. "I'm sorry; that is none of my business," he added quickly.
"No, it is not, but I will tell you. I lost friends. I lost the house I lived in; I loved that house, my favorite house ever. I left my cat," and at that she looked sadder than he'd ever seen her.
"Perhaps we can go back," he offered hesitantly.
She shrugged. "Perhaps. I would say not right away, but yes, to gather what we can."
"Not to stay?"
She looked at him. "Would you be able to stay? Witness every moment all you had lost?"
He looked out at sea, and bit his lip, then pushed up his glasses. "Atlantis is home now," he said at last. "I think yes, I would come back."
"The tall man with the hair, your leader? He suggested we go to another planet, one he feels is safer. It is too early to decide, of course, but perhaps. Perhaps."
"That is Colonel Sheppard," Radek told her. "He is a good man. He knows loss, too."
"I saw it in him." She nodded, and pushed the errant lock back again. They sipped their tea in silence for a while. When the silence stretched on so long that Radek wondered if he should break it, she continued. "Pain is inevitable; this is known to all but tiny children. We cannot ask for cessation of pain, nor for any fairness in how it is distributed. Suffering is as constant as the stargates. Even were the Wraith defeated, that would be true." She sighed and rolled the cup between her hands.
"But there are moments of peace," Radek said, almost hopefully. "Like now." Like arguing with Rodney. Like watching him banter with the colonel. Like meeting with his staff and prioritizing their tasks and research. Like sitting on a balcony drinking tea with a stranger who might become a friend.
She smiled at him, not her big smile but a smaller, more wistful one. "Of course," she said. "The stargate leads to many worlds, but not as many as the heart."
"Srdce brána," Radek murmured. "Stargate; heart-gate."
She stared at him across the tea. "That is what we say. The gate of the heart is wide and reaches far."
He nodded and said, "As Rodney would say: I knew that." He smiled at her, feeling almost as wistful as her own smile. "Welcome to Atlantis, Gehæp."