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This isn't quite what I want to read, because what I want to read is a 40,000+ word novelization of "The Shrine" that explores everything we didn't see of every day, and all we missed afterwards, too. But I don't have the time or energy to do that myself, so here's a few missing moments, because we didn't get as much Zelenka as we were supposed to, and that's tragic.
It's not that Radek is afraid of the infirmary, but he doesn't usually have much reason to come: the four-month mandatory check-ups, occasional refills on his migraine medication, and to visit a sick or injured colleague, now and again. Most commonly it's to confer with Atlantis's Head of Science, since McKay is there on a semi-weekly basis, and not always because of his hypochondria. Sometimes he's in one of the beds and sometimes he's sitting beside one, and Radek's mostly gotten used to arguing over the noises of medical instruments, has become practiced at lowering his voice as to not disturb the patients, even if Rodney neglects that caution.
There's nothing common about this, though, nothing usual about being here, and Radek pauses in the entryway, indecisive. The overhead lights are dimmed for the evening; there is a light on in Dr. Keller's office, but the door is closed. The night-shift nurse in the far corner is working on his laptop, typing busily and oblivious, the whispered clack of keys in counterpoint to the periodic beeps of medical monitors.
Radek came here once in the last three weeks; he did not think he would come again for this, but four years on Atlantis should have taught him differently. So here he is, because sometimes hearing is not enough. It's not enough to be told; he has to see for himself.
Now, however, he pauses. The chair beside McKay's bed is occupied, of course; Radek would have been astonished otherwise. But it's not Colonel Sheppard's bristle-haired silhouette, or Jeannie Miller watching over her brother, or Teyla with her serene beauty, but Ronon Dex. He's sitting hunched over his crossed arms, his dreadlocks draped down his broad back, in a plastic chair that's too short; his knees are awkwardly crooked up, like a man in a kindergartener's seat.
Radek has always been intimidated by Ronon; what sane man wouldn't be? But he knows Ronon, too, trusts and likes him even if he is not as at ease with him as he is with Sheppard's agreeable camaraderie. And he expected one of Rodney's teammates to be present, if not all three, so he has no reason to hesitate now.
And yet he stops, standing in the doorway, studying Ronon's back, remembering.
Twenty-one days ago, it was, that Ronon came to the lab where Radek was working, loomed over his shoulder until Radek's nerves frayed and he turned around, snapped, "Yes, what is it? How may I help you?"
"McKay," Ronon said, unoffended; to someone used to Rodney, Radek cannot help but seem courteous. "There anything weird about him now?"
"What do you mean by weird?" Radek asked. "With McKay, is the more pertinent question not, is ever he not strange?"
He expected Ronon to smirk at that; the one point of common interest Radek shares with the Satedan man is entertaining observation of McKay's foibles. To new and ignorant scientists on Atlantis, Radek will defend McKay's genius and experience and conscience; but Ronon is Rodney's teammate, and there's affection in every prick to McKay's ego, never genuine censure.
But this time, Ronon didn't smile, and Radek flinched from his grim stare, answered more seriously, "He has been in a good mood, these last couple days; he's approved as many research proposals as he's shot down. So either the city's science staff has become more intelligent, or perhaps less eager to prove their unintelligence; or Rodney's disposition is slightly atypical." He had noted as much already, without surprise; there had been a spring in McKay's step when he was released from the infirmary, and Radek thought of Dr. Keller with her sweet smile and blonde hair, and thought he understood. But looking up at Ronon's frown, Radek asked, tentatively, "He has seemed strange to you, somehow?"
Ronon's brow was furrowed and dark. He said only, "Has he been wrong?"
"McKay is not, however he may imply otherwise, infallible," Radek said; but then he remembered that morning, with Dr. Chavan's formula. He recalled the strange way Rodney had hesitated, marker in hand, felt tip poised above the obvious mistake to strike it out; and yet he hadn't, had instead handed the marker to the plasma physicist and told him he had no business in Pegasus if he couldn't work out his own elementary errors. Which was not so very unusual, except for the look in Rodney's eyes—or the lack of look: no look at all, blank for that split second, like he was suddenly blind to the error himself, for all he'd been the first to spot it.
Still, Radek would have thought nothing of it, except the night before, shortly before they both had retired, he had seen Rodney frowning at his tablet with that same blank look. At the time he had thought it only fatigue; now... "This morning," Radek began to tell Ronon, "there was...no, forget it, likely it was nothing; he's still a little ill."
"No, what?" Ronon said, not asking but demanding, and Radek might have mistaken the look in his eyes for anger, or hostility; except after this long in Pegasus he had become acquainted with all the myriad faces of fear.
And Radek had understood then, even if not consciously. Aloud he'd said, "Why do you ask?" but in his heart, he'd already realized something was terribly wrong; he'd lived in Pegasus long enough to develop that instinct, too. This was Ronon Dex, who hated the Wraith enough to die fighting them, but was too strong to fear anything, Radek had thought; but Ronon was afraid.
That evening, Colonel Sheppard came and suggested to McKay, so cool it might have only been a joke, "Hey, buddy, how about we stop on by the infirmary? You know how Keller enjoys a good scan," and Rodney argued the importance of his work, how a checkup could wait until the morning.
But Radek thought of the blank lost look in McKay's eyes, four times more today that he had counted; he looked over at Ronon, standing silent and dark over Sheppard's shoulder, and said, "We can perhaps, with luck, prevent the city from exploding for one hour without your oppressive supervision, Rodney; go, bother the pretty doctor." Rodney's answering glare was ordinary enough, but Radek yet felt like something cold and hard was lodged in his belly.
Radek didn't see Rodney until the next evening, when McKay contacted him by radio and asked for him to come to his quarters, that something had come up that Zelenka would need to know about. And McKay's tone was so flatly calm that Radek's hand was shaking when he touched the transporter icon.
Now, three weeks later, Radek takes a breath and marches into the infirmary. He forces himself to walk up to the side of the bed, next to Ronon in his too-small chair. Ronon doesn't say anything, doesn't turn his head, but he knows Radek is there. No human being could walk too quietly for Ronon to hear them coming, even asleep, and Ronon isn't now; his eyes are open, though he doesn't look at Radek.
It's not that I didn't believe in your shrine, Radek wants to tell him, belated. He doesn't know if Ronon is angry with him; doesn't know why he would be. They never asked Radek to accompany them, didn't imply that they expected him to volunteer. He was Rodney's friend, not his doctor, nor his family. And the mission was a dangerous one, such that Woolsey likely would've prevented him from going anyway, when they were already losing their first Head of Science. And yet Radek feels guilty to be here, like he has no right, like he must make excuses.
Radek makes himself look down at the bed. Rodney's eyes are closed, his pale face half-turned into his pillow as he exhales raspy breaths on the cusp of snores, and Radek isn't sure if the twisting in his chest is disappointment or relief, that Rodney isn't awake.
Fifteen hours ago Radek had been standing in the back of the jumper, saying a goodbye that had gone uncomprehended and unanswered. He had not expected then to be standing here now; he'd barely started to feel the weight of grief, and now its sudden absence leaves him staggered, off-balanced and confused. The steadily blinking lights on the equipment by the bed tell him nothing; medicine is as opaque a subject to him as astrophysics is to Ronon.
"So he is asleep?" Radek asks at last, then winces at himself; this is what the bafflement of medical science reduces him to, mindlessly self-evident observations. He is glad Rodney is not awake to laugh at his inanities.
But Ronon nods, still not looking at him. "He was awake before," he answers the question Radek should have asked. "Couple times. Answered questions and stuff. Doc said he'll wake up okay tomorrow, he's sleeping off the surgery now."
Radek heard about the operation, Mr. Woolsey relaying Dr. Keller's report, more details than he wanted; he cringes to think of it. He's always had a mild aversion to invasive medical procedures, but brain surgery is so terrifying it makes his stomach churn. He swallows the sour taste in his mouth, begins, "Is he..."
The procedure had worked, Woolsey had told him. Less than six hours after Radek had seen Rodney off in the jumper, they all returned to Atlantis. The parasite had been successfully removed and McKay was expected to make a complete recovery, with no impairment, even temporary, from what Dr. Keller had determined.
"That is wonderful," Radek had said, meaning it. His astounded relief was such that when he returned to the labs, Dr. Coleman took one look at his face, and before he could say a word, grinned and said, "So Dr. McKay's really okay?"
"He is expected to be resuming his regular duties by tomorrow afternoon," Radek reported, and it was as if the entire city heaved a great sigh and let it go; he could feel every one of his colleagues relax, a moment of silence before they all exploded into babbling chatter, loud and bright with laughter and high-fives. A few bills exchanged hands (because making Pegasus a game is one way to survive sane) and a few beers were passed around; and if any real work got done in the next hours Radek didn't see it, but he didn't call anyone on it. He was only the acting Head of Science and Research, after all; he could leave the annoyance of discipline to their official supervisor.
Later, though, when Radek finally left the labs for the night, his wandering feet took him not to the transporter, but meandering through the corridors and down the stairs to the infirmary.
It's not that he mistrusts Mr. Woolsey's report, or Dr. Keller's diagnosis; she is the medical doctor, not he. And Radek has lived in Atlantis for too long not to believe in miracles.
But Rodney's face against the pillow is slack and empty, a little drool leaking from the corner of his half-open mouth. No one looks brilliant when asleep, Radek reminds himself, but he looks at Rodney, and all he can see that has changed is the white square of bandage on his forehead.
A week ago Radek stood here—close to here, one bed over, where Rodney was sitting with an IV in his arm and electrodes taped to his forehead, monitoring the effects of the newest chemical combination Keller was trying. Radek has seen Rodney high on prescribed pharmaceuticals before, but that time it was not the drugs that emptied Rodney's face, that made his eyes dull and confused.
McKay had been the one to request that Radek bring him the tablet, but he scrolled through page after page of the translated indices of the Ancient database, turning his head back and forth, muttering, "What is this, I don't know this, don't know this, I don't—damn it!" and Radek was grateful for that flash of fury, even as he ducked to grab the dropped tablet before it cracked on the floor; grateful for the familiar temper, grateful for how it momentarily brightened Rodney's eyes.
When he straightened up, Rodney was staring at him, anger gone, eyes wide and blank. "I don't," he said, and shook his head again, like he was trying to unclog water in his ears. "I'm sorry, I don't...I know I should know your name, I'm sorry, I just don't..."
"It is Dr. Zelenka," Radek told him. "Radek Zelenka. And you ought not to apologize, when you never did for forgetting it before. It took you six months to learn it originally; I wouldn't expect you to retain it now."
Just two days before, working together in the lab, he had told Rodney much the same, and Rodney had snapped his fingers, said, "Zelenka, yes, right, sorry, Radek."
But this time, Rodney only continued to stare. "I'm sorry," he said again, helplessly. "I can't help you with this stuff," and he waved at the tablet, "I don't know any of it, it's too hard. I'm sorry, Dr. Zil—Zellek—"
"It is all right," Radek said, making himself smile, though it hurt to draw his cheeks taut. "It's all right, Rodney, it's not important. And you may call me Radek," and he patted Rodney's arm, gingerly, trying not to shudder.
When he left the infirmary after that, he knew he would not be called back—knew Rodney would not remember to call him back, and would not be coming to the labs again. And Radek hated himself then, was sick with revulsion for the relief he felt, that he had no obligation to stay, unlike Dr. Keller, or Rodney's teammates.
The relief he felt today was cleaner, gratifyingly sweet instead of bitter; but now he can't feel it. Now, standing over Rodney's bed, he cannot bring himself to believe it. He cannot believe it could have been this simple, cannot believe that McKay and his team could have beaten the odds yet again.
They are fooling themselves, Radek fears—they saved Rodney's life and some of his mind, but so much was lost, how could they get it all back? How would they even know what was missing? There's no adequate tests for IQs as high as Rodney's or Radek's own, and there's perhaps half a dozen people in two galaxies with the expertise to verify Rodney's knowledge. Radek isn't sure he would number himself among them; in the privacy of his own fears he can admit what he never would aloud, that McKay's mind surpasses his own. Rodney could lose much of himself and there would be no way to know; he would be too proud, too afraid and ashamed, to ever tell. As Radek would be himself.
Radek doesn't know why he's here, when he doesn't have any way to determine the truth, when he doesn't know if he even wants the truth. Better to believe unquestioning that McKay is fully recovered, to be happily relieved and thankful, and not consider how few successes are absolute, in medicine or in any science.
He doesn't want Rodney to be awake, he realizes, and the honesty hurts. He doesn't want to wonder if Rodney's lying, or worse, to be able to tell.
Less than a day ago, he looked into the eyes of a man he had once thought of as a colleague, as a superior, as a friend; and had seen nothing, no recognition, nothing left of that man. He said goodbye to the shell, but the words had been meaningless, had made no more sense to Radek than to Rodney.
Ronon swore that there at the shrine, Rodney would understand again, but Radek hadn't wanted to go with them. It's not that he didn't believe in the shrine's possibilities, for he's seen enough to know that blind doubt can be stupider than faith. But he hadn't wanted his farewells to be understood. He knows himself a coward for this, but that knowledge was less painful than facing Rodney himself again, and being reminded of all that he had lost, so quickly and so completely.
All that he has regained now, they say, impossibly.
Radek swallows again, glances at Ronon. "When Rodney was awake before, he..."
"He's better," Ronon says, and suddenly he smiles. It's not his amused, closed smirk; it's not the bloodthirsty grin Radek's imagined he gets when he's killing Wraith, either. It's wider than that, broader and brighter; his teeth show, but not dangerously, and his cheeks are full with it. It's a smile as glad as an unheard laugh and it makes Ronon look young—not a warrior or a killer, but a boy, and happy.
"Oh." Radek doesn't know why, but he feels himself smiling back at Ronon, not a tight forced smile but a real one. His legs are rubbery, and Ronon stands up from the chair, shoves Radek down into it before he can fall over. "Thank you," Radek tells him. It's been a long few days with little time to sleep, with all those urgent projects that Rodney was leaving him, that are no longer his; with all those nightmares haunting his sleep, that he'll no longer have.
Seated, Radek looks across Rodney to notice for the first time that the adjacent bed is also taken; Jeannie Miller lies on top of the sheets, fully dressed, one arm bent under her blonde curls to pillow her head, contentedly asleep next to her brother. She, too, has probably not slept soundly for these too long days.
Maybe it is Radek's thanks, or the scrape of the chair legs on the floor, that Rodney's eyelids flutter open a crack. "Hmm?" he mumbles sleepily.
"McKay," Ronon says, leaning over the bed. He doesn't stop smiling, doesn't try.
Rodney blinks up at him a couple more times. "Your turn, huh?" he says, slurred but aware, and the corners of his mouths quirk up in response to Ronon's grin.
"Just making sure you're still there," Ronon tells him.
"Still here," Rodney says, unhesitating. "You can tell John, too."
"Yeah, I will," Ronon says.
Radek shifts in the chair, uncomfortable. The vigils of McKay's team are expected, but he's not part of that; he wasn't here before, whether or not Rodney remembers, and has earned no place here now. But Rodney blinks again, peers past Ronon, and Ronon steps out of the way to let Rodney to focus, blearily. "Radek?" he asks.
"Yes, Rodney," Radek says.
"Good," Rodney says, and his voice firms a little as he tries to raise his head. "Wanted to tell you...I...I've got a workaround. To the signal coherence problem with the long-range sensors. We should be able to boost the range that ten percent after all, so make sure the east pier array is offline by tomorrow noon for recalibration, got it?"
"Ah." Radek closes his mouth, opens it again. "Yes, Rodney."
"Good," Rodney says, and lets his head drop back on the pillow. "Figuring that out s'been buggin' me for 'while..." The last words trail off into nothing as his eyes slide close again.
Radek blinks hard. There's moisture on his glasses; he takes them off, wipes them on the corner of his jacket. When he puts them back on, Ronon is watching him. His teeth gleam white in the infirmary's dimness.
"Told you," Ronon says, like he's eight years old, all but sticking out his tongue. But there's nothing jeering in his smile; the triumph and joy leave no room for that.
"Yes," Radek says.
He's a man of science, but it's not Mr. Woolsey's authority he believes, nor Dr. Keller's medicine; it's Ronon's smile that tells him Rodney is well again, is himself again. Ronon, who first saw when something was wrong McKay, who knew the shrine would make him right again and who knows now that it was a success. It's Rodney's teammates, and Dr. Keller, and his sister, who stayed beside him all these weeks without leaving; who witnessed everything being lost, piece by painful piece, so now can recognize everything returned.
Radek almost asks if Ronon feared it, if it was hard for Ronon, if Ronon ever wanted to turn away. If Ronon ever looked at McKay and imagined himself there in his friend's place, helpless and lost and gone, and couldn't bear to look anymore. But he doesn't know if he wants the answers, so he decides not to ask.
"Rodney needs rest; I should go," Radek says, and starts to stand. But Ronon's big hand on his shoulder stops him.
"Nah," Ronon tells him, "don't. It's better here."
"Better?" Radek asks, adjusting his glasses as he sits back down. Ronon's hand is heavy, without gripping; his strength is comforting, not a threat.
"Yeah," Ronon says. "Here, we can make sure he's okay," and Radek glances up at his face, at the smile Ronon hasn't let go of yet, and realizes he doesn't have to ask after all.
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