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DVD Commentary for wordplay's "A More Personal Spring"

Dear water_vole recently wrote wondering where I've been since I haven't posted in a while. I'm here! Hello, darling! I've been doing a lot of traveling for work, but I'm writing lots, too, including a DVD commentary for one of my favorite stories. seperis suggested a multifandom DVD commentary challenge (you can read about it here), and then created a community in which to post links to the commentaries.

The author of the story I wanted to write about, wordplay, graciously agreed to let me share my thoughts about her wonderful story "A More Personal Spring." It's Weir/Zelenka, and I found it because she and I both participated in alyse's Weir/Zelenka Thing-a-thon. I just fell in love with wordplay's characterization and dialog. As I wrote her, it's a sophisticated, intelligent story about grown-ups. I love it.

You can read wordplay's story here, or with my annotations here.

PS: Should anyone want to comment on one of my stories, whether SGA or LOTR RPS, I'd be delighted.

PART I
The mess in Atlantis was an interesting mix of egalitarian and segregated. Within the groups no rank was preserved, but the ranks themselves stayed quite closed. The military sprawled along the back closest to the kitchen, lingering over large, protein-filled meals sometimes until the next shift change simply because for once, they could. The softer sciences, command teams and medical groups huddled in the middle, orderly and efficient, and groups tended not to linger but to return to quarters if they weren't required back at work. They usually didn't discuss their work, seeming to need some personal space from the constant requirements of it. The science and engineering teams clustered toward the door and were oddly the most frenetic of the groups. They flitted in and out and always brought their work with them and usually carried it right back out with them. They argued on their way in and on their way out, covering several major topics in the course of a meal, and that was only if they actually stayed in the mess rather than gathering supplies to eat over their work. The sociologists on the team had noted this seating dynamic in Atlantis in the early weeks of the expedition and had sent a brief memo to Elizabeth describing the emergent New Atlantean culture, but it was easy enough for her to observe it herself. It was made all the more obvious by the two major exceptions to the rule: the heads of department, obviously, but more and more their main exploration team was also seen together when off duty, sharing meals and space and downtime.

I'd never read wordplay's fanfiction or LJ, so this story was a complete surprise to me. The first paragraph caught my attention instantly for several reasons: first, it's insightful about something I'm interested in -- how groups self-select into subgroupings. I work at a university and see that all the time, and not just among the students, but among faculty, staff, and the administrators. I'm not saying there's an impermeable divide among these subgroups, though; it's situational. For example, in the weight room at my university, you'll find me on the elliptical trainer, a school dean lifting free weights, an emeritus faculty on the treadmill, someone from plant ops doing sit-ups on the slant board . . . There's no budget for the weight room, either, so we all take care of it, and you will find the dean and the painter wiping down the equipment, and the environmental studies professor cleaning the mirror.

wordplay captures that social dynamic for me in her opening paragraph. Some subgroups bring their work to their meals, many do not; where the military choose to sit, as opposed to the medical people; who lingers and who leaves promptly. No idea if it would be true, but the specificity convinces me these groups would behave as she describes.

And of course, it's a perfect introduction to Elizabeth, a social scientist.


It made Elizabeth jealous to watch them together: to see Rodney and John begin to take on each other's mannerisms, to see Rodney learn to tease Ford and Teyla learn to gently mock all of them. She'd worked as a member of close-knit teams for almost all of her career. Even when she'd been finishing her dissertation or teaching full-time she'd served on committees and within research collaborations, and her diplomatic work at the UN had always been as part of a team. She was glad to see her offworld team closing ranks because she knew what it meant -- they functioned well together. But it rankled, too, because they closed ranks against her and even though she had her own team members, she was still the leader of this expedition and couldn't afford to take her own staff in that close an acquaintance. Her relationship with Peter was critically important to her, possibly too important. She worried that he'd perceive her as too vulnerable, because their working relationship was so close; she never wanted to disappoint him. But she needed some other set of ideas, some other perspective, just another voice.

This observation -- that Elizabeth would be a bit jealous of the team's camaraderie -- really rings true to me. I think TH actually plays it that way.

So when Elizabeth saw Radek Zelenka sitting alone, poring over a datapad as he spooned reconstituted potatoes into his mouth, she joined him. They spoke briefly of a project Radek had proposed a few days earlier, talked about the last few missions and about the kitchen's increasingly experimental use of military rations and Pegasus staples, which led to Radek telling a story about the first time he made potato soup for his younger sisters.

"So you had sisters?"

He nodded. "Two -- twins, actually. Three children was uncommon, quite unusual then. They were conceived in great joy during the Prague Spring, you see, but born after the invasion and my family was always grateful for them. But yes, much work, much responsibility. I often cooked for the family while my mother was working."

I'm old enough that I remember the Prague Spring. It was in 1968, and I was fifteen years old. That was a tumultuous year; if you enter "1968" into Wikipedia, you'll see that the US was in both North Korea and Vietnam, that the Tet Offensive was taking place, that both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, that riots in Paris nearly brought down the French government, that civil rights workers were being killed, and much more throughout the world. Those events made me who I am even today.

Perhaps that's why this story resonated to profoundly with me -- I don't mean to trivialize any of the events, but if the SGA universe were real, fighting the Wraith would be a kind of resistance movement, necessitating guerilla warfare, what is now called asymmetrical warfare -- and I think the tensions between Atlantis and the SGC and IOA are another kind of resistance.

The title of this story plays on the name Prague Spring -- this is another kind of revolution, a more personal one, and one I hope will be significantly more successful than its namesake.

Also: I long for more of Radek's backstory. We know he has one sister, and that she has at least one child -- are there others? Good on wordplay for the image of a little Radek cooking for his family.


Elizabeth thought back to what she understood about the Prague Spring -- a brief few months of liberalizations and democratizations were brought to a rather abrupt ending when the Soviets invaded. "It must have been difficult to have such hopes crushed so quickly, and by such a completely unopposable outside power."

Radek looked at her for a moment, then returned his attention to his tray. "Yes, well, it is nothing compared to the experiences of the Athosians and other peoples here. The Russians only sucked us dry metaphorically."

Elizabeth sat stunned for a moment; of course she'd tried to understand the relationship of the Wraith in light of her considerable political experience. She'd negotiated any number of understandings between unevenly matched nations, and she'd brought those understandings with her when she approached life in the Pegasus Galaxy. How exactly had she missed this one, and what else had she missed?

"I'll admit that this is one Earth parallel I hadn't completely considered. You think the situations are comparable?" she asked.

I like it that Elizabeth hadn't thought of this parallel, but that of course, Radek, who lived through the crushing of political liberalization, had. I like the character of Radek Zelenka very, very much. It's mostly the actor and what he brings -- I think it was thefourthvine who pointed out that any "crush" we see exists only because of David Nykl's performance, and I agree. Though he can be as silly and overwrought as Rodney/David Hewlett, Zelenka has a gravity that I can believe was born out of a difficult life.

He blinked at her and she saw a perfect image of one of the overhead lights reflected in the left lens of his glasses.

Little touches like this -- that she can see a reflection in his glasses -- make the two characters so immediate to me, so present. I feel as though I can see them sitting there in the glare of the mess hall, sharing a moment.

"I think that to compare them makes a mockery of both situations, actually. But I do have some understanding of life on the wrong end of a serious power imbalance." He paused for a moment. "I think that yes, it would be more helpful to you if you understood that experience more fully, but you should be grateful that you have never had to."

"How so?" she asked.

Radek studied her for a moment. "You have seen many things and you understand situations that are beyond almost everyone on our planet. And you have done so with the sanction and sponsorship of the United Nations and the United States government, which has allowed you access and experiences very few people will share." He paused, pushing his potatoes around on his plate before dropping his fork. "It must be difficult for you to look at a collection of distrustful, wartorn peoples and not be able to call on the resources you have become accustomed to. We are working very hard to recover Ancient technology, but without ZPM we are -- well. With ZPM we are America; without it, we are just another small state trying not to be noticed. That is a difficult adjustment for you, yes." She gave him a grim smile. "But it is also an asset; you have a confidence and a surety that serve you well. Very American of you, actually." He smiled back, teasing this time. "It is who you are and why we are lucky to have you, but we cannot all be part of the cavalry all of the time."

As an American, I find this passage bittersweet to read. I hate that my government acts as if it were the global police; sometimes it seems as though Bush thinks everyone in every country should simply do what he says, no argument. Elizabeth is supposed to be a negotiator (though, frankly, the writers of the show don't offer us a lot of evidence that she's very good at negotiation). Radek is right: Elizabeth is both an American and an agent of the United Nations and as such she is able to bring enormous power to situations. She is accustomed to having people listen to her in a way most of us are not.

I find Radek's observations very politically and emotionally astute. I really love wordplay's version of him. I know it's hard to write people as smart as they're supposed to be on SGA, and certainly the show's writers are not that smart, but I think wordplay is. Bless her for letting both Radek and Elizabeth be as smart as they should be, and as honest.


Elizabeth sighed. "It's just like every other kind of travel, you know. You go because you hope it will teach you something new about the world and your place in it, but the first thing you learn is that wherever you go, you can't escape yourself."

See what I mean about how smart this Elizabeth is?

Radek was watching her thoughtfully and she gave him a rueful smile. She had opened her mouth to reassure him when Simpson drew up to the table with a datapad in hand. "Dr. Zelenka, I have those readings about the, uh, exhaust systems you were worried about." She shifted her weight between her feet, waving the data pad at him.

Radek looked up at Simpson, holding her gaze for a moment, then smiled remorsefully at Elizabeth. "I am sorry, Dr. Weir -- this is something we've been meaning to do for some days now," he said as he stood.

Elizabeth smiled and shook her head. "Yes, of course. You've given me something to think about, and thank you for sharing your meal with me. The exhaust systems are important, and I know Rodney's been complaining about that. Get to it!" They walked away, leaving her to push her mashed potatoes around her plate, thinking a little differently about what she hadn't left behind on Earth.

Neither she nor Radek seemed to like those potatoes very much; I wonder if they were from Earth or faux-potatoes from somewhere else?

*

She was frowning in the corridors again, and she knew that wasn't a good idea, that it made people edgier than they needed to be, but she was deep in her own thoughts and couldn't be bothered to hide them. Radek had piqued her interest that afternoon, made her see her job here in a way she hadn't before, and she needed to finish what they'd started before it slipped away again. Simpson walked past, jaunty and happy, a data pad in her hand, and it was good to see Rodney's people obviously thriving under his unique brand of leadership. Surprising, yes, but good. She stopped at Radek's door and entered when his "yes" greeted her chime -- and she stopped short as the door slid closed behind her.

Radek's quarters were dark, clutter piled high on a desk lost mostly to shadow. Sultry jazz was playing low, the sheets and his hair were mussed, and Radek stood in black trousers with his back to the door, smiling over a wiry shoulder before realizing that it was the head of the expedition standing in his room. His blush was instantaneous and, she had to admit, quite charming. He pulled on a shirt, tugged the blankets into neatness, and brought up the light level. The change was jarring -- the jazz wasn't seductive but suddenly music to work by, and the bedroom hair made him just another unkempt scientist. A rather nervous scientist, judging by the way he kept twisting his hands, but at least she was amused.

Okay, I love this. I was completely surprised by this; it wasn't at all where I thought the story was going, and that made me happy. How often are we surprised by a story? If I never read another "too many clothes" or "naked, now" again, it will be too soon. But wordplay goes in another direction entirely.

Also, I love this Radek! I find him sexy and am glad others do, too. That he listens to jazz and has assignations charms me. He's a grown-up, and there aren't enough grown-ups in fanfiction.


"Exhaust systems, hmmm? That's a euphemism I wasn't aware of, I have to admit. Throws a number of your department discussions into a whole new light." It was unfair for her to tease him, she knew it, but he was cute, pinked up and muttering in Czech.

Elizabeth is right: Radek is cute, especially when muttering in Czech. What a sexy language that is.

She was staring at him, watching for it, so the moment he became aware of his own double entendre she was able to trace the deepening flush -- his arms and hands first, then his neck. She couldn't hold back the smile any longer.

"Relax, Radek. Your relationship with Fiona is your business, although -- does Rodney know?"

Radek snorted, shoving up his glasses and running a hand through his hair. "Rodney doesn't know other people are there unless they make his life more difficult." He paused. "Also, you mistake the relationship. Fiona is American woman in physics -- this is not serious."

Elizabeth quirked a brow. "More about Americans today? Are you saying something about American women?"

Radek waved her objections away. "No, no. Simply that there are few of them in laboratory filled with men. They are -- much in demand and need not restrict themselves to one man unless that is their sincere wish. Fiona has expressed no such wish, and afternoon spent with her is better than one passed by myself, yes?"

Elizabeth paused. "How is that unique to American women, though?"

"It is more that they are used to being one among many. European physics is more, well, more enlightened, I suppose. Not so much disparity among numbers." He paused for a moment.

I really really like this insight into the gender politics of physics among different nationalities. I have no idea if it's true, but it sure sounds true, and verisimilitude is all I ask.

"Not that I am not happy to see you, Dr. Weir, but is there something I can help you with?"

She smiled. "I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed our conversation this afternoon; it was -- oddly helpful."

His face relaxed, just a little. "I am glad you feel that way. I do not mean to be critical of your performance, you realize," he began, but Elizabeth stopped him short.

"No, Radek -- really, it's fine. I appreciated it, and would look forward to continuing the conversation sometime. For now, though -- well, Rodney really was interested in those reports about the exhaust systems, and it's still early. I think we both have plenty to keep us busy." And with another smile and polite words from both of them, she let herself out.

I'm not actually sure I know why Elizabeth went to Radek's quarters or whether her passing by just as Simpson left was only a coincidence, but it doesn't matter to me. Just curious.

*

One of the many things Elizabeth learned about herself during her first year of college is that once she knew someone as a sexual being, once that aspect of a person came to her attention in a real way, she was never able to unknow it -- it was a looping cycle of omigod, she has sex or holy shit, he's naked under all those clothes from that point on. She blushed for what felt like a solid week the first time her roommate had woken her up moaning her girlfriend's name; she'd had to stop babysitting for a favorite lit professor of hers once she'd stumbled across his porn stash. She'd spent most of her upper division years trying to get over it, thinking that it made her a terrible prude, but she never could completely shake the habit. By grad school she had a more robust understanding of her own conditioning as they related to American cultural standards regarding public sexual identity and she'd found a way to transcend it and to turn it into an advantage -- after all, it forced her to keep most people at a distance but bound her almost as close as a lover to others. And those people she knew in that way, whose sexuality she could appreciate as a full component of the person, well that was a much larger group than she might have been comfortable actually taking as lovers, giving her a greater chance for intimacy than she might otherwise have allowed herself.

More stuff I love! I love the insight into Elizabeth, and I bet a lot of people have passed through a stage like that. I know I still have moments when I look around and think: hey, So-and-so has sex. In fact, where I work there's a lot of gossip about the relationship between an administrator and a young man he's been mentoring -- giving "mentoring" an ugly connotation.

I also like how casually we learn that one of Elizabeth's roommates was lesbian, and that that isn't a big deal to Elizabeth. Does everyone agree that Elizabeth went to a women's university and minored in women and gender studies?


And now she'd seen Radek as a lover might, and so after that it happened sometimes that their conversation would turn at odd moments and so for a little while they were no longer colleagues, they were friends. There's a thing Elizabeth must do sometimes, because Radek always knows when their conversation is about to turn personal. She guesses the change must be in her face, some kind of unconscious tell, because that's where she sees it with him. One minute his glasses are a rational extension of his precise, rational self; the next, something softens around his mouth and his glasses instantly become more awkward, like a prop, like they're hiding who he really is. The first few times it happened she'd thought he'd turned his head so the light would bounce and glare -- she'd thought she recognized a protective mechanism there. And then one night they'd been sorting out power fluctuations on one of the lower levels with only emergency lighting to illuminate the control panels she'd been called down to see, and when she and Radek were walking back he'd made a comment about a CD she'd just uploaded to the city's file share server and there it was, even in this dim light where glare was a physical impossibility. She'd been confused enough that she'd abruptly asked, "Have you ever thought about wearing contacts?"

Ha! Elizabeth's puzzlement and her question makes me laugh. It seems very real, and wonderful.

INTERLUDE

That first breath of recycled air beneath Cheyenne Mountain was sweet, but they'd been on Earth for nine days before Elizabeth finally made it home. The SGC had kept her busy with restocking and restaffing and although she'd welcomed the opportunities a flood of new supplies and recruits would give Atlantis, days filled with mundane decisions had left her grey and exhausted. Every time she was tempted to throw up her hands and pass a decision on to someone more junior, someone at the SGC with some sort of standard requisition list, she had a momentary panic. Their successes so far could all be attributed to the rare chemistry they had as a staff, and they didn't have space for sloppiness and accidents. As grueling as it was, she forced herself to consider every CV and requisition list put before her.

By the second day she became aware of how different the people she was looking for now were from the command staff she'd assembled just a few months previous. They had a much better sense of their situation in the Pegasus Galaxy now, that was true, but she also felt like she had a much better sense of her own limitations, her own command weaknesses, than she had when she'd first assembled her staff.

I really love this. At one point in my career, I managed a large staff and it's vital to know your own weakness in order to do a good job. In my case, I loathe micromanaging, but I also recognize there are situations and staff who require micromanagement, so I had to learn how to do it, and do it gracefully. Showing Elizabeth figure out how to build a staff who will survive -- and perhaps even thrive -- in another galaxy adds a dimension to her that we don't get to see on the show.

She was looking now for people who grew up in Africa, parts of Asia and Eastern Europe. She chose an advisor from the Balkans; someone who might have a better understand of what it takes to grow up in a contentious area, to know war and perceive it as a normal state of being, and yet consistently actively choose peaceful negotiation. She was also looking for the ability to work alone for long periods of time, a certain resilient independence of mind. Buddhists, rock climbers, people who sailed or worked long hours in a lab -- she needed people who didn't need the push and pull of a community of colleagues. Because she knew now that she DID; she understood that the most difficult thing about loving and leading Atlantis was that she did it largely alone and she wasn't particularly gifted at working alone. She missed having true colleagues, craved the back and forth and easy exchanges of ideas that characterized her time in DC.

She learned something from her interactions with Radek, and she's putting it to good use. Also: brilliant stuff. wordplay would put together a good crew for Atlantis, I think.

But she'd done it - she'd put together a command staff that she felt could serve her well, and she's held Carson's hand till he'd made most of his own choices, and she made damn sure that John was free to make his own, and then she had eight days on the east coast to reunite with Simon, straighten out his paperwork, brief the Joint Chiefs about the Wraith, meet with old colleagues at the UN, and fit in some personal time: appletinis, maybe even a band, some shopping. Eight days, two cities, one lovely man, and yes, she had work to do, but she was determined to give herself some time to just relax and breathe for a few days.

Appletinis! Why does that delight me?

The only problem was that she seemed to take Atlantis everywhere she went. In the Apple store, she thought of the problems and practicalities of setting up Atlantis's own crossplatform Genius Bar to keep personal electronics running smoothly. While purchasing cosmetics, she ended up buying lipstick and lip gloss for every woman in Atlantis and the Athosians too, and she'd never know if the staff of the expansive Soho MAC store bought her story about supplying a women's shelter. A quick lunch to catch up with old friends from the UN left Elizabeth scribbling down notes about crop introduction and grilling an old friend about antiterrorist security measures and when her friends had left to go back to work, part of her envied the ease with which they split the bill, all old debts and IOUs, but mostly she was left licking the last bit of cheesecake from her lips and trying to decide if the risks were worth the benefits of introducing sugar cane to the Athosian ecology. In DC she drove out to a coffee shop to hear a small band, an earnest trio of the type she'd have especially appreciated as a serious and political undergraduate, and when they sang the words, "Let's dive to Atlantis; let's hear what they'd tell us. From the bottom of the ocean, I really want to know them," tears sprang to her eyes and she could barely breathe because oh oh YES.

Wonderful details of her days on Earth, so specific, and so specific to Elizabeth. She's a good leader in this story.

Also, I liked the lyrics so much I googled and discovered they're from "Amaze Me," by Girlyman. wordplay, have you heard them? I can see Elizabeth getting a bit teary-eyed listening to the group. You can listen to a snippet of this song here.

ETA: wordplay put up a copy of the entire song at YSI; you can pick it up from her LJ or directly from here or here. Thank you, wordplay! It's a beautiful song, with gorgeous harmonies, and perfect for Elizabeth and this story.


And maybe that was ultimately why the news that Simon was leaving her (although that language was misleading, wasn't it, because Simon wasn't going anywhere, and that was exactly the point) came as such a surprise, because she was so busy thinking of him in the context of Atlantis, so busy managing him as an obligation that she forgot to think of him as a person. He thought the dissolution of their relationship began when she left him to go to Atlantis, and maybe he was right, but she would have given anything to take him along. If she was lonely, it wasn't because she couldn't convince him to come with her; she needed someone who didn't require convincing.

Better to let it go, then, and focus on what she did well. A personal life could wait, but her commitment to Atlantis and its people really couldn't, and so maybe it was of use that she saw her life as part of her service rather than her service as part of her life. And that didn't mean she couldn't have something for herself -- appletinis were still really good, for example. When she stopped in the duty free on the way back to Colorado, on the way back home, she picked up an extra couple of bottles of apple twist vodka, purely out of spite.

PART II

She hadn't noticed the city's scent since their early days here, when must and ozone had gradually given way to sea spray, Athosian spices and what she thought of as the scent of the military -- clean sweat, gun oil, and the spicy cinnamon gum that had become the tobacco replacement of choice. Today's growth wasn't signified by smell but the chatter of new personnel and the rumbling clatter of trunks and carts moved, dragged, dropped. The scents and sounds melded into a synesthetic brew that quickened her pulse and hardened her resolve -- there was so much to do but my god, so much could be done!

Teyla met them immediately and even her placid reserve was broken by the activity of the day -- she was glad to see her friends returned home, eager to find out what they'd learned. Radek fairly bounced in moments later, so genuinely excited by new findings about the city that she couldn't bear to wait one moment longer to get to work.

I remember that moment on the show, when Teyla and then Radek were reunited with Elizabeth. Both seemed genuinely pleased to see her, Radek especially. That David Nykl conveyed so much in so few words: just the look of delight on his face as he spoke with Elizabeth.

*

And she did work, but she kept getting caught up in her thoughts of how it was supposed to have been upon her return. She felt her loneliness more acutely than ever, but she had to admit even to herself that it wasn't really Simon that she missed.

One night she and Radek ended up lingering late in the mess; an impromptu discussion of engineering supplies had led to a discussion of Daedalus schedules which in turn became a discussion of leave policies and from there it was a quick progression to Radek's plans for his own leave and Elizabeth's surprisingly forceful argument that she was in no hurry to return to Earth.

"Radek, you've been so excited to see your family and your friends. I don't think it's a bad choice for everyone. But the last time I was there, all I could think about was being back here. This is where I belong right now," she insisted.

He watched her for a moment before leaning back and focusing just over her shoulder. "What happened, then? I expected Simon to accompany you upon your return."

She was very still. Somehow saying this out loud hadn't become any easier. "He met someone else."

Radek covered her hand with his. "I am sorry, Elizabeth."

She looked at him, patting the hand that still rested over hers. "Thank you but really, I left him first; it's only fair. And, you know, I miss having him here, but I don't particularly miss him. I might have, once, but it'd been so long since we'd been in the same place." Her voice drifted off because, really, there was nothing more to say.

Radek's face changed; he pulled back his hand and turned away slightly as he leaned back in his chair. His gaze focused just over her left shoulder. "You are lonely, then? Have you -- rather, are you -- you must know that you need not be lonely."

She watched him, waiting for his eyes to venture back to her own. When he did she smiled at him, and he colored. "Ohhh, Radek. Of course I've considered it, but I can't be cavalier about it. This is not you and Fiona we're talking about here -- don't look at me like that! -- everyone I see on a daily basis is either Athosian or under my command."

"First of all, there is no 'me and Fiona' that -- well. We cannot all do so well as you alone but while she is a lovely woman and very good company, that arrangement -- it was ultimately satisfactory to neither of us." He was fidgeting, polishing his glasses, shoving his hands through his hair. She'd never seen him quite so obviously anxious when they weren't immediately facing death.

"Radek. Radek, that's completely your business; you needn't defend your decision. You have no idea how jealous I am that it's an option for you, but it just isn't for me. I cannot be hopping in and out of beds and while I do think that a longer term, stable relationship is possible for me, beginning one is so fraught with complications that I can't see how I could. It's hardly worth considering, really," and the wave of her hand dismissed the possibility altogether.

Elizabeth is in a difficult situation (as are Rodney and John), as wordplay has her articulate here. Although I loved a story (title and author forgotten alas) in which Elizabeth was indeed hopping in and out of beds, it was comedy, but wordplay is writing something else. And I found Radek's confession that a casual relationship wasn't right for him sweet.

*

The chime to her door rang through the dark, silent room. It was late, and they'd talked for a long time, and she'd had an appletini since returning to her room, and she was deeply, profoundly sad.

Alcohol does that to me, too.

Radek stood at her door. Without a word she stepped back just a little to let him through and she remembered that evening in his room so many months previous. The light was the same as it had been then, soft across his face, and he wore that same apprehensive look, as if he'd been caught feeling too much.

When the door closed behind them it was dark, with just the Atlantean moon and the screensaver on her laptop lighting the room. It shouldn't have been romantic and the moment wasn't, really, except that he was so nervous, and she was oddly glad to have him there, and whatever else this moment was and could be, it was certainly liminal. There they hung on the edge, neither in a hurry to draw away from it or plunge over it, and the moment held until he whispered her name.

What a special moment that is: they're adults, and they know what Radek's presence in Elizabeth's quarters could mean. Whether they've admitted anything to themselves or not, they're intelligent enough to be aware of the possibility that's been hovering between them.

"Elizabeth. Elizabeth, you must know -- this cannot still be hidden from you. I feel so much for you. It is not right that you should be alone when I have so much I want to give you," he whispered, his eyes genuine, and when he reached up and across to her his fingers were so gentle along her face and she just couldn't help herself -- she leaned into the caress, taking whatever he was willing to offer.

"I'm not sure I have much to give in return; it hardly seems like a fair trade." Her voice was weaker, more broken than she'd expected.

He smiled and my god, it was almost wolfish as he whispered and leaned in to her. "Please allow me to decide if I'm satisfied with the terms of these negotiations."

Oh, I love their dialog!

His mouth was soft on hers and his lips were thin but strong. Stubble scraped at her chin, and long fingers framed her face as his lips pulled at hers, gently sucking at her mouth. His teeth were the last part of his mouth to touch hers as he pulled away, sucking and pulling at her bottom lip till her mouth fell closed with a gentle 'plop'.

He smiled at her and removed his glasses, whispering her name into her hair as he buried his hands and face in its curls. So many lovers had whispered her name and its variants; Liz, Lizzie, 'Lizabeth, which was always Simon's favorite. When she was an undergraduate, three different literature students had trotted out "dearest, loveliest Elizabeth" in all apparent earnestness. 'Eliska' came out differently, a soft, drawn out hiss that she felt as a gentle breath in her hair in place of the usual buzz; when she wrapped her lips around his adam's apple she felt only soft skin, prickly stubble, and no vibrations against her mouth, just a soft catch in his breath before the whisper, again and again. "Eliska."

And isn't that a lovely version of her name? This is ridiculous, but I love the name Elizabeth because there are so many possible nicknames for it (there's no way to shorten my name so, although my husband calls me Sparky, I've always envied people with nicknames).

She left one last kiss on his throat and lifted her mouth to his. His hands dropped to wrap her in his arms so he could spread his hands wide and low across her back. He angled his head to kiss her more deeply, to tease her tongue with his. One hand slipped below the edge of her shirt, his fingers bracing her waist and slipping down over the curve of her bottom, pushing her hips more tightly against him. It was a close embrace, and she broke the kiss to pull back and look at him.

It wasn't the first time she'd seen him without his glasses, but it was the first time that he'd removed them just for her and so it was the first time she'd really seen his face. The lines around his eyes were softened with humor and that mouth that struck her as thin was already a bit swollen, his lips reddened and glossy and gaping slightly open. He gave her a soft, generous smile as he ran his open hands along her sides and when she slipped her own hands into that unruly hair it was soft between her fingers. He whispered, "Yes, Elizabeth? I want to give this to you," and watched her face carefully as one hand slid up to cup her breast while the other pulled her more firmly against him. She nodded and then kissed him in answer, suddenly desperate for his hands on her skin and his mouth against hers. Her nipples tightened and his thumb traced a soft circle around one, flicking over the tip just at the end. She made a noise low in her throat and went pliant in his arms, flinging her arms around his neck and taking his mouth again. So good -- it felt so good to touch somebody, somebody who didn't want to take a thing from her.

And he did have so much to give -- his touch was experienced, gentle, sure. His long, careful fingers made quick work of her clothes, parting fabric with soft touches and kisses until she lay naked and there was somehow not even a moment of awkwardness or anxiety. She thought quickly of where he'd learned to make love like this, wondering if it was something he'd shown Simpson, and she let herself leave that to wonder if maybe that's why this was so easy, because she'd already seen him postcoital and so this should be easier -- of course, yes, that must be it -- and she continued on that train of thought until she felt his breath against her inner thigh, scenting her, and then she let herself stop thinking.

Ah-ha, Elizabeth! Don't be thinking about Radek's other lovers right now! Silly woman. He is a handsome man, or at least the actor is which means that Radek could be if the producers let him. Elizabeth truly sees him.

And here's some TMI: reading het, I find nothing sexier than a man eating a woman's pussy. Lord, lord. Very sexy stuff here.


*

She woke the next morning to light filtering in and the smell of strong Czech coffee and she knew instantly where she was. Through a haze she remembered an aborted attempt to ship him to his own quarters the night before and a laughing Radek drawing her down into his arms and drowning her responsibilities in the sweetness of his mouth. She opened her eyes to see him working at a data pad, sipping from a mug of kava, completely oblivious to her presence. She'd thought she knew him almost as a lover before, but she'd really had no idea -- there was a looseness to his posture and his movements here that she'd never noticed before but she certainly recognized it now. And oddly, his glasses no longer seemed such a prop -- they were just an extension of him. Finally, she was seeing a Radek comfortable in his own skin, and she let out a breath that turned into a stretch and a sigh.

Wonderful how the glasses come to symbolize more to Elizabeth than Radek's myopia -- that at first they were a way for him to hide from her, but now they're part of him, an important part of her Radek.

And then his eyes met hers and that ease never faltered -- it wasn't that he'd thought he was alone, it was that he'd allowed her to see him like that. He trusted her to see who he was behind doors, behind the constructed public face he'd been learning to show the world since all those years ago after the Soviet invasion, back when he'd learned that nothing would last forever and that love can make anything bearable.

Maybe he could teach her.

Oh, I do love the penultimate sentence, especially the notion that love can make anything bearable. I believe this, I do, and I love that Elizabeth has embraced it -- because of the difficult situation she's in: a woman leading an isolated and politically-contested expedition far from any assistance.

I don't know how to close other than to say that I love the structure of this story, I love the characters, I love the changes we watch them make, but most of all I love, as I said earlier, that they are intelligent, sophisticated adults behaving as such under difficult circumstances, finding humor and solace and ultimately love.

Thank you, wordplay!



PS: water_vole! Did you see these?

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
general_jinjur
Aug. 10th, 2006 03:38 am (UTC)
thank you for doing this story - it was lovely, and your commentary was very nicely done. i doubt i would have come across this one otherwise, and i enjoyed it very much.


as a sidenote - i have a name that breaks into several diminutives, and i hate every one of them with a burning passion. so when i see elizabeth shortened, it tends to get my back up. i think this is what they call transference. heh. that said, imagining zelenka saying 'eliska'? i'm almost converted - that's incredibly sexy.

mirabile_dictu
Aug. 10th, 2006 02:53 pm (UTC)
One of the reasons I chose this story (besides the fact that I just love it) was in the hope others would discover it with as much pleasure as I did. So you've made me happy!

i think this is what they call transference

Like having curling hair but wishing for straight, yeah. And isn't Eliska a lovely variation?

Thank you!
wordplay
Aug. 10th, 2006 06:05 am (UTC)
I'm still ridiculously flattered that you wanted to do this, and you did such a lovely job with it. Thank you for that, and for liking it enough to want to talk about it. It's been a really fun experience for me, and I appreciate it.

And yes, that IS Girlyman. They're wonderful and just the kind of earnest little band this Elizabeth would have liked as an undergrad and so yes, this is her unbending a bit and attending one of their semi-quarterly shows at a coffee shop just outside of DC. I'd actually meant to put the cite in the A/N, and then forgot in the frenzy of making sure it got posted on time, and you're the first person who's mentioned it. There's a YSI link for a full version of the song currently posted on my LJ.
mirabile_dictu
Aug. 10th, 2006 03:06 pm (UTC)
Hey, your icon is Girlyman! Very cool.

I'm so happy to share my love for this story! And I'm glad that you thought I got it right.

I edited this post to include the YSI link to "Amaze Me," and uploaded the song at megaupload as well; it's here. Thank you for the song! It really is lovely.
druidspell
Aug. 22nd, 2006 05:19 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed reading this commentary--it gave me a new story to read, for one, and for two, it's an adult, well-written, and thoughtfully analyzed commentary.
I'm kind of absently fascinated with Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic/Slovakia. In grade school, I did a report on Christmas traditions on what was then Czechoslovakia (and was the only person assigned that country who bothered to learn how to pronounce the country's name), and the grandfather of a girl in my class was Slovakian, and taught me how to curse in his mother tongue.
Since then, I've been vaguely intrigued by the history, and this commentary and story were great additions to my collection of random stuff about Czech/Slovakian history. :D

That really long bit of rambling was mostly to say, I think you did a great job, and I'm really glad you did it. (I'm only awake through sheer bloody-mindedness at this point, so I hope you understood what I was trying to say) :)
mirabile_dictu
Aug. 22nd, 2006 03:55 pm (UTC)
it gave me a new story to read

Yay! That's an important reason why I chose this story: I just love it, but (I suppose because of the pairing?) it didn't get as much attention as I thought it deserved. I'm so pleased to learn that you enjoyed it, too.

And part of the attraction for me was also the tie-in to the Czech Republic's history; I'm fascinated by that and have been since I was a kid. Plus as an adult, I met a wonderful poet who, though American, has a strong Czech background: speaks the language and translates Czech poetry, and that she increased my interest in that region. So wordplay's story worked for me in a lot of ways.

Thank you so much! I'm really pleased to learn that you enjoyed the story.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )