Radek was finally coherent enough to make sense of his surroundings. He was in the infirmary, on Atlantis, in the Pegasus galaxy, feeling woozy and numb, like he'd been sleeping for too long. Twelve days, Carson had told him. It was twelve days since he'd fallen ill, and he'd been unconscious and delirious most of the time since.
Now he was lying quietly in bed, listening to Dr. Biro's excited voice. She was the doctor on duty, and somehow she found his predicament quite fascinating. "This is so very interesting," she twittered. "I mean, who has ever heard of a bacteria behaving this way before? I'm so glad we get to study it! Yes, that's right, it was the nest, by the way. The team that went back to the planet to investigate, found it, and now we have colonies of it to put under the microscope. Safely locked away, of course." She laughed nervously. "We wouldn't want those little buggers out on the loose, now would we? That was some nasty disease! Then of course, we know how to cure it now."
Yes, they did. Radek knew that. Wraith stem cells treatment. Carson had told him that too, carefully choosing each word not to scare him. Radek had just listened to him, blinking lethargically up at the physician, trying hard to grasp the fact that he allegedly had Wraith cells in his body now.
Rodney had done it, he'd been told. Rodney had given him the Wraith cells to replace the ones the bacteria had killed. He had not been allowed to, but he'd done it anyway, and Radek could only guess why. Carson had assured him that there was no evidence of any side-effects, and that it was not very likely there'd be any either. Still, as soon as he'd left, Radek had turned his hand around and studied his palm for a moment. He'd found no slits.
"This is certainly an interesting case," Dr. Biro droned on. "I hear Drs. Keller and Beckett are writing a paper on it. Oh, and they've called it Zelenka's Disease, how about that?"
Great, Radek thought. They finally name something after me, and it's a disease. But he just smiled weakly up at her, wondering if the woman was ever going to shut up. He was thirsty, and desperately waiting for a pause in her endless string of words so that he could ask her for some water. The glass was on his nightstand and he couldn't reach it. And even if he could, he would not have been able to hold it. The raging fever had left him too weak to even move, and in need of help to perform even the simplest task.
Like eating. Radek grimaced at the thought. Sweet as they were, having a nurse feed you Jell-O felt a little awkward at best. Yet that was nothing compared to the things they put him through whenever he had to… go. He didn't even want to think about it.
He was relieved when Carson suddenly appeared and politely, but firmly nudged Dr. Biro on her way. Then he rolled his eyes to Radek, and leaned in and whispered, "She's quite intense, I know."
Radek smiled at him. "Could I have some water, please?" he finally got to ask.
"Sure," Carson smiled, and picked up the glass and bent the straw to Radek's lips. "You seem to be feeling a little better today," he added while Radek drank.
Radek nodded. That was probably right.
The head nurse was suddenly at his side, pinching him with a needle to take blood. It hurt a little and he gave her a disapproving look that she either didn't see or chose to ignore. She just proceeded with taking his temperature. "38.76 Celsius," she said.
"Well, that's a better number," Carson smiled and patted Radek's hand, while the head nurse changed the IV bag. "Thank you, Marie," Carson said as she left, and then he turned back to Radek. "You up for a few visitors?"
He must have looked a little confused, because Carson laughed a little. "They've been bugging me to let them in all day."
Radek nodded. "Okay."
The next minute Colonel Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon surrounded his bed. Teyla gave him a warm smile and gently grasped his hand. "Hello, how are you feeling?" she asked.
"Better, thank you," he said and glanced at all three of them. Ronon stood by his feet, grinning. Sheppard was on his right, also smiling, but looking a little more reserved. It was the look of a military leader on the watch for any sudden danger. Radek knew why. He had already seen the SO stationed at the door.
"So," Sheppard slowly began. Apparently he was the one who had to ask the awkward question. "You feel any different?"
"No," Radek replied, carefully watching the colonel. "Just tired. Weak. A little nauseous."
Sheppard made a teasing grimace. "No sudden hunger for human life?"
Radek frowned. "No."
"Stop teasing him," Carson said. "He's not going to change in any way. If he were, he would have done so by now." He looked at Radek and patted his shoulder. "There are no changes to the brain, except that the previous infected areas actually are a little healthier than before. All the scans and tests so far confirm it."
"So Rodney was right after all," Ronon said.
"Aye," Carson replied with a little sigh.
Radek frowned again. "Rodney's in trouble, right?"
"The IOA is still deciding," Sheppard said. "You know how they're like, they're taking their time. He's out of confinement now, but not allowed to work, which of course makes him a little grumpy."
Radek nodded pensively.
Teyla smiled reassuringly. "Mr. Woolsey will put in a good word for him."
"He saved my life."
"I am sure they take that into consideration."
"They better," Ronon said and clapped both his hands to Radek's mattress. "It's good to have you back, Doc."
Teyla took Radek's hand again. "We will let you rest now," she smiled, and started to walk away. He held onto her hand. His grip wasn't very strong, but she got the picture and stopped and looked back towards him.
"Thank you," he said. He didn't really know why he said it, but something in the back of his head told him she had played some pivotal part in all this.
She looked a little surprised at first, but then she smiled again and squeezed his hand a little. "You're welcome."
Richard was glad that Mr. Coolidge was a galaxy away. It was a lot easier to look the man straight in the eyes when it was only through a screen.
"The rules are there for a reason, Mr. Woolsey," Coolidge said. "If people can't abide by them, they simply don't belong with this expedition."
"Actually, I think it's the other way around," Richard said, as he kept his gaze sternly at his superior, searching the face for any kind of reaction. "It's people who blindly follow rules that don't belong with this expedition."
Coolidge looked at him as if he had completely lost his mind. "What the hell are you saying?"
Richard took a deep breath and gathered the strength to keep staring the IOA chairman in the eye. "I have been the leader of Atlantis for about eight months now, and I am just beginning to understand how things work around here. Life here on this base is not easy. It's uncertain at best, too uncertain to be black and white. More often than not we find ourselves in situations where we have to choose whether to follow the rules or save lives. This was one such case."
"That's no excuse!" Coolidge interrupted. "People can't just stop following orders as soon as they step through the Stargate."
"I know, and mostly they do follow them. But these people are explorers, they are survivors, and they do occasionally improvise. Because they have to." Coolidge looked like he was about to interrupt once more, so Richard raised his voice and continued, "These are extraordinary people, Mr. Coolidge. They are incredibly loyal to each other. More so than they are loyal to the rules. For a man on the outside, this way of life can be hard to grasp, believe me, I understand. I used to be that man. The man who followed the rules and not his heart."
"Well, that certainly sounds very romantic, Dick," Coolidge barked sarcastically, suddenly on first-name terms. "But it doesn't matter why Dr. McKay did what he did. What matters is that he could have put his colleagues in serious danger! He had no idea what the outcome of his little experiment would be, no matter what he claims!"
"I agree it was reckless," Richard said. "And he has been reprimanded. But at end of the day he also saved a man's life. Dr. Zelenka is on a steady road to recovery. No harm done."
"So just because the treatment was a success, he should not be punished?"
"Oh, by all means, you can punish Dr. McKay. You can punish me if you find it prudent. But my point is, it will not change the way things work around here. No matter what you do, no matter who you send." He paused a little before he added, "If Atlantis can change me, she can change anyone."
"She's certainly changed you, alright," Coolidge said.
For a moment the two men remained quiet, silently studying one another. Eventually Richard said, "Whatever your decision will be, I must ask you to make one soon. I believe he's waited long enough."
Rodney stood in the infirmary doorway, silently watching the bed situated closest to him. It was late at night and Zelenka was fast asleep, curled up on his side. He hadn't moved for as long as Rodney had been there, which was closer to an hour now. The room was incredibly quiet. All that could be heard was the reassuring beeping from the heart monitor, the Czech's deep and steady breathing and the occasional shuffle of a nurse moving about the room. The silence felt good, Rodney realized. He was very seldom as relaxed as this.
He heard footsteps to his right and looked up to see Woolsey approaching him. "I thought I might find you here," the expedition leader said in a whispering voice.
Rodney wondered what Woolsey meant by that. He hadn't been anywhere near the infirmary since he'd been let out of his confinement the day before. But he just nodded and looked back at Zelenka.
Woolsey followed his gaze. "He gets under your skin, doesn't he?" he asked, clearly not expecting an answer. "Most of the time you don't even realize how much you care."
Rodney didn't reply, but thought to himself, I guess not.
Woolsey put on a serious face and met his eyes again. "The IOA has allowed you to go back to your daily business," he said. "They are still discussing whether you'll receive any further punishment, but they see no need to keep you away from your work."
"I suppose I have you to thank for that," Rodney said.
Woolsey avoided answering the question directly. "Well, seeing as the only man who could possibly replace you was the very same man you saved, it was the most logical choice."
"What are you talking about? Nobody can replace me," Rodney said, but he didn't sound as arrogant as usual.
Woolsey smiled a little, but then his face became serious again. "You took a chance," he said. "It was mere luck that the treatment worked."
Yes, he had taken a chance, Rodney silently agreed as he shifted his gaze back to Zelenka. Even though he had said so to the others, he had never been sure whether the Wraith cells would work as intended or not. Out loud all he said was, "Radek would have wanted me to take it."
"You sound quite confident about that."
"Zelenka's a scientist like me," Rodney said without taking his eyes away from the man in the bed. "Our very work consists of taking chances. That's how we progress."
"Hm," was all Woolsey said, but seemed to contemplate Rodney's reply for a minute. "Well, in the end I guess it turned out to be worth it," he eventually said, nodding towards Zelenka's bed.
Rodney smiled a little, but didn't answer. Woolsey clapped a hand to his shoulder. "You're back on duty tomorrow. Good night."
He left, leaving Rodney to watch Zelenka alone. Maybe I should turn in? he thought. There would be a lot of work waiting in the morning. Seeing as most of the people in his department were imbeciles, and with both himself and Radek incapacitated, it had been piling up for the last six days. Or maybe I should get started right away…?
He did neither. Instead he went inside the infirmary and silently sat down on the plastic chair beside the bed. He might as well just sit there in the comfortable silence for a while. The night nurse had told him that Zelenka probably wouldn't wake up until morning. He'd be gone by then of course, but right now – there was no rush.
A/N: That's it, people. My very first fan fiction and one of the most intense writing experiences of my life :-) Thanks for the lovely reviews.