Notes: Written as a pinch hit for thelibraniniquity for the Weir/Zelenka Thing-a-Thon challenge. The words were: duty, passion, longing and the request was hope and optimism. I hope it serves.
Thank you to Pouncer for the beta read through.
There are thirty one steps between her office and the floor of the Gateroom. She should know that by now - she's counted them over and over again in her head as her feet have measured them out. Thirty one steps, one step after another.
There are twenty seven leading down the other way, away from the Gateroom, and the heart of Atlantis, into the living quarters and the rooms they're using as mess hall and infirmary. She's not sure of the reason for the difference, whether it's that the Gateroom is lower than the area around it, dipped down by those extra four steps for some defensive or aesthetic or scientific reason, or whether the steps on the other side are deeper. Maybe it's just that she can't count.
Maybe her memory is just shot all to hell like the rest of her, battered and exhausted and good for nothing. She's not walked down those steps for a while now - she's not even sure if she remembers the way to her quarters - and the last time she did it took all of her energy simply to put one foot in front of another.
There was nothing left for counting.
Now it's preying on her, that difference, and she's too damned smart not to know what that means, not to understand that it's simply serving as a distraction from other things.
Like the fact that - speaking of counting - at the last head count they were four heads down.
If she asked Radek, he might know the answer to that mystery she's clinging to, because it's easier to think of that than anything meaningful. There's the remote possibility that it's something he's already discussed with the rest of the science team, something too insignificant to bring up at their daily status meetings. There might have been explanations, theories, hypotheses. There might even have been briefings on it with PowerPoint presentations and graphs and arguments.
Radek might know if she asked him.
She can't ask Rodney. Not at the moment. Not when there's that little matter of him being stuck on the other side of the Gate with the rest of his team.
While she's fully aware that it's some weird and pointless diversion her brain is trying to distract her with, she's almost tempted to ask Radek anyway, just to pull him out for a second from underneath the console. God, to be able to ask him something he might be able to answer instead of always asking the impossible from him.
If she's honest, it's more than a temptation - it's almost a compulsion. Pull him out and ask him something stupid, make him take a moment to think of something else, something - anything - other than the control crystals that don't do what he wants them to, the connections that won't form no matter how much he wrestles with them. Just one, small stolen moment; get him to drink a cup of coffee, answer some stupid questions and stop blaming himself.
Maybe he'd even relax enough to smile at her.
And it's that thought - that longing - that stops her from doing any such thing.
Maybe it's not Radek she's really worried about. Maybe it's not Radek who needs the reassurance and she's not quite selfish enough to put more of a burden on him.
There are thirty one steps between her office and the floor of the Gateroom. She's walked it forty seven times in the last two days. The compulsive counting is a recent thing and yet she's long since lost count of the number of times she's walked the shorter distance to the control consoles.
It doesn't help. It doesn't distract her and it won't help Radek come up with another option, one that he hasn't exhausted yet. It won't help him produce a miracle and it won't make him take a break.
She can't distract him when he's shoulders deep in things she doesn't really understand, muttering and cursing to himself in Czech, because while he'd forgive her, he'd never forgive himself.
There are seventeen steps to the control console and she walks them again, selfishness be damned; if she continues to stare out through the glass wall of her office she'll go stark, raving mad and there's only so much paperwork she can fake. Most of it has been shuffled from one side of her desk to the other more times than she can... count.
The Sergeant on night duty nods to her before turning back to his station and she retains enough self-control to nod back before settling down on the floor near Radek, appearances be damned.
She won't distract him.
"How's it going?"
And there go good intentions, all shot to hell. Like everything else.
"You will be the first to know, Doctor Weir."
Even tired he manages to inject his tone with an acerbic edge that twists in her gut because it sounds so damned much like Rodney for a moment. But Rodney wouldn't pull himself out from under the console and give her an apologetic look while he reaches for something else, another tool for another attempt.
"I know. I just..."
There isn't anything else to say but 'I just...'
He sighs. She can hear it even over the hum of Ancient machinery. Sighs and then scoots out just enough so that he can peer at her from under tangled wires.
"Go, Elizabeth. Get some sleep."
She snorts, an unladylike sound that doesn't faze him. "Do I need to tell you to take your own advice?"
"Were there anyone else who understood this, I would do so..."
She waits for the penny to drop and when it finally clicks the look he gives her is rueful. He knows better than to argue.
"It will not be long now," he says instead.
She doesn't know who he's trying to reassure - her or himself - but he's not the only one too smart to say things that they shouldn't.
"And if this doesn't work...?"
She leaves it like that, an open question inviting confidences. He knows her well enough by now to share shy smiles over coffee, soft touches that stay within the bounds of propriety but promise more, if she bent the rules enough to take him up on it. He doesn't know her well enough to spot the diplomat's trick and avoid it.
She should know better than to use such tricks. Not on him.
She guesses they'll live and learn. They, at least, have that option.
"Then," he says, twisting around in a way that makes her back twinge in sympathy, "I will be back to reinventing the laws of physics."
She believes him. In his own way, he's as brilliant as Rodney if a little quieter about it. They share that passion, that all consuming love of science that powers the rush of their words, spilling out one after another, their fingers darting and jabbing as they speak in cut off sentences, interrupting and still understanding each other perfectly.
She pretends she isn't jealous.
She's a lousy goddamned liar.
"It will work."
She tries that lying thing anyway, and, judging by the tired smile he aims at her, she thinks that maybe he appreciates the effort.
"Go to sleep, Elizabeth. I will wake you when I have good news."
He probably intends for her to retreat down the twenty seven steps leading to her quarters but she has no intention of leaving, and not just because she's waiting for her people to come home.
She closes her eyes. Just for a moment.
She feels it before she sees it, the slight tremor beneath her ass startling her fully into wakefulness. When she opens her eyes, still a little disoriented, the room is awash with a brilliant blue light.
She stares up at him, up into his face, which is looking at the gate, ripples dancing across the lenses of his glasses.
"Let me guess," she says, through a mouth that is sleep gummed but curling upwards, wider and wider until her face aches. "You rewrote the laws of physics?"
His smile is even brighter than the wonderfully welcome light of the wormhole and she lets it warm her as she forces herself to her feet and turns to watch her people come home.
All of that passion of his has a purpose.
Perhaps it's time she rewrote some rules of her own.