Author's Notes: This was posted in response to a challenge on the Yahoo SGAHC group: "whump Radek Zelenka badly, and include some stoic bravery in the face of danger." Feedback welcomed and appreciated.


"What do you mean, you lost him?"

Lieutenant Henshaw takes a step back, and I swear, he looks so terrified I'd swear he was facing down an entire army of Wraith, not one enraged physicist. "I'm sorry, Doctor McKay. I only looked away for a second. A fight broke out in the market and –"

"I don't care if the entire female population of the planet suddenly sprouted a third breast!" McKay snaps, and I pause for a second to enjoy the image. "You screwed up and now god knows what they're doing to him! Zelenka was your charge, your responsibility!"

And now McKay is jabbing the poor Lieutenant in the chest with one finger and Henshaw, poor guy, looks ready to drop into cardiac arrest, right here in the control room. "Alright, McKay," I interrupt, stepping between the two men before Rodney can bite the Lieutenant's head clean off. "This isn't helping."

"It's helping me," he growls, but he takes a step back and turns away.

Good boy, I think, and turn my back on Henshaw to consider McKay. "So what do we do?"

McKay glares at me, but I know him better than he thinks, and can see the fear behind his anger. "We find him, and we get him back."


This is McKay's fault, Zelenka thinks with a twinge of childish bitterness. He wraps his arms around his aching ribs and shivers against the cold. It was McKay's enthusiasm that had the man carelessly throwing himself under the workings of an Ancient console, regardless of its power output or state of disrepair. It was McKay's foolishness that left the man with burns on his arm and an order from Beckett to remain in Atlantis whilst his team went off-world without him. It was McKay who decided that in his absence, Sheppard needed a scientific mind as back-up, and it was McKay who volunteered a replacement.

Another shudder wracks his body; from pain, exhaustion, or the cold, Zelenka can no longer tell. He curls around himself, hugging his knees and ignoring the protest from his ribs. It is better, he decides, to move away from the damp stone wall behind him and instead concentrate on maintaining body heat.

He must, he realises, if he is to see through another night.


I always knew Radek was a small guy, but dressed up in the baggy uniform and bulky vest he resembles a Wookie someone surprised from behind. He stares at the 'gate with enormously wide eyes and swallows convulsively.

"Relax," says Ford, slapping the Czech on the back. It's a friendly gesture but Zelenka looks ready to leap out of his skin. "Nothing to worry about it."

"Hah. Yes. Nothing." Zelenka looks at the 'gate, then turns back to glare at the man responsible, stood in a cocky stance at the top of the stairs. If looks could kill, I think. "This is all your fault."

McKay shrugs, the effort marred by the sling over his left shoulder. "You said you wanted excitement, adventure, really wild things."

"I have changed my mind," Radek declares.

"You can't." McKay cradles his injured arm to his chest. "I'm wounded in the line of duty, and someone needs to take my place."

"In the line of duty?" the Czech scoffs, "that is not the way I remember it. The dvd player –"

"Was broken and I –"

"The connection was broken, Rodney, and would have been easy to fix had you not –"

"I'll have you know connecting that damn cheap piece of Japanese fluff to the extremely detailed, complex and subtle systems of Atlantis was far from –"

"You panicked –"

"We'd reached a good bit –"

"It was a good bit," Ford agrees quietly, stood beside me, and I agree. Diana Rigg as the Queen of Sin? I should really talk to Sergeant Folds about his extra-curricular activities.

"Gentlemen," Elizabeth breaks in firmly, stood beside McKay on the stairs. "I don't think the Sliverns will be pleased if you are late for the meeting."

McKay huffs, but I see the grin he tries to hide. The arm must be hurting like a bitch, I figure, but he's achieved his goal. Zelenka looks relaxed, the tension has fled his shoulders, and he steps up to the 'gate with an air of confidence.

"Have fun," McKay calls out, and I give him a wave, and step up behind Zelenka.

"See you soon."

"I shall bring you back souvenir," Zelenka calls out, and then we step through the Stargate.


Zelenka sleeps lightly and his dreams are fevered, muddled imaginations. Twisted dark figures hobble across parched ground, barbed wire cuts his fingers, bleached bones crumble into dust and he thinks of shadows his own eyes have not seen, a memory of a country passed down through his genes.

When he wakes it is a relief, until he remembers.

It is taking him longer and longer to remember.

Someone is lying across his legs, still but warm, so he thinks they cannot be dead. He considers moving, but the woman seems so peaceful, and truth be told, he is grateful for the contact. He watches her sleep, limp blonde hair falling across her eyes, her cheeks hollow, long fingers curling around his knee. He thinks of skeletons again, and without thinking reaches down to brush the hair from her face.

If she is lucky, he thinks, they will kill her. But he's not stupid. She was pretty, once, and he wonders at her presence, then thinks of the phrase, 'damaged goods,' and shudders.

She stirs slightly under his touch and his fingers still their ministrations, the other ruined hand resting against his thigh, momentarily numb.

They threatened to take it from him. He stopped fighting, after that.

He stopped everything. Obeyed obediently, and lost a part of himself.

He wonders if this loss will make him a good slave.


Shival looks Teyla up and down, grins widely, then embraces her in a hug so encompassing she seems lost in the man's great body.

He's a nice guy, Shival. Very friendly. I shouldn't complain, since he's so eager to help, a nice contrast to the usual shoot first, ask questions later approach a lot of our first encounters take. He's allowing our scientists to potter about his museum of archaeological mysteries while he hammers out a trade agreement with Teyla and myself that's more than generous. And despite the niggling voice in the back of my head, the logical part of myself which says I should be wary, I can't help thinking that this guy is genuinely on the level.

Henshaw described him as starstruck, and I think that's as good a term as any, because I sure feel like a celebrity. I guess I should have known that news of our arrival in the galaxy would have eventually travelled through the Stargate gossip network, but I expected hostility – and most of the time, I'm not surprised.

Seems Shival is ready to overlook that whole, waking up the Wraith thing, because short of a red carpet he's given us the best treatment.

"This is different," Zelenka says, nervously, stood next to Sergeant Elliott.

"According to Teyla he's got a reputation for being like this. Travels around the Pegasus galaxy meeting new people, new cultures, and brings new items back with him to enjoy at home."

"He's a tourist," Ford sums up, succinctly.

I consider the phrase. "Yeah. That fits."

"And he was like this, before?" Zelenka asks, eyeing our host nervously. Shival has us all lined up to greet him, and he's making his way down the list, hugging the women and giving great, sweaty hand shakes to the men.

I shrug. "He likes visitors."

I should stop teasing him, but it's too easy. Radek's a good guy, but he needs to start picking up some of McKay's traits – there's no way Rodney would let me get away with this amount of needling. He'd have seen through me in a shot – because yeah, I may not be as rough and ready as the military likes to breed them, but I'm not Mr Queer Eye either. I don't do touchy-feely, but Shival seems to use it as his main form of communication. It's awkward.

"Major Sheppard."

Oh god, he's reached me. I stick out my hand to have it pumped by a sweaty, strong grasp. First time I met him, Shival almost broke my fingers. He's a giant of a guy, nearly seven foot tall and with huge shoulders and a barrel of a chest, but I get the impression he forgets how huge he is. Even being near him makes me feel puny.

"You have brought friends." His voice is booming, and the echoes bounce around in my head for several long seconds. "They also wish to visit my lands?"

"If that's okay."

He beams. "Of course. My people will be most pleased and will greet you warmly."

Stood next to me Ford visibly winces, and I silently agree. An entire planet full of Shivals is a pretty scary thought.

"And then food? And a visit to my library, yes? After a fine meal, knowledge." He lays both hands over his belly and gives Zelenka a wide grin.

There's not much meat there, I think, then mentally kick myself.

"That would be nice," Zelenka replies, meekly. Definitely needs to take some lessons from McKay – although, on second thoughts, I think even Rodney would be intimidated by this guy.

"Then come!" Shival claps his hands together and several miles away, there's an avalanche. "We will take a cart. Two, I think, for there are many of you. It is good. I like meeting new visitors."

Teyla inclines her head delicately. "As do we."

Damn, but she's subtle. Back on Atlantis Teyla lectured me on the importance of returning Shival's warmth, that as much good as there is in the man, he is insecure and offends easily.

I sigh inwardly and give in, slapping Shival on the back. It's like hitting a rock. "It's good to see you again. Let's get this show on the road, huh?"


"Up. Get up."

Zelenka swats at the voice with his uninjured hand, until a heavy grip grabs his wrist with intense power and tugs on his arm. His eyes open widely and he gasps at the pain the rough jerking causes to his ribs.

"I am up. I –"

A hand cuffs him about the mouth, knocking him back against the wall. He spits blood out onto the straw.

"No speaking." The guard turns away to address the inhabitants of the room: a dozen, shambling figures, some mere bones bound in skin and clothed in rags, others new, fresh, confused meat like Zelenka. There is a strong smell of urine and faeces in the air but after several nights spent in the dark, Radek barely notices.

With sharp hands the guard picks people out from the group, shoving them towards the door. Others are ignored, including the blonde who shared Zelenka's floor a few hours earlier. Radek catches her eye but she looks away.

He is pushed out into the narrow corridor, into a stream of prisoners just like himself. His injured leg, stiff and unwieldy from a night spent on the hard ground, threatens to give under him and he grabs onto the nearest support – a dark skinned man whose hands are bound, and who spits at him and pushes him away.

"Move," comes an order, barked down from above. He lifts his head and squints up into a grilled ceiling. Blurred faces peer down at him. His glasses are long since gone – he thinks they are back in the market, perhaps lost beneath a stall, or crushed to shards under a careless foot.

The crowd moves slowly towards an end he cannot see. Zelenka drops his head, cradling his injured hand protectively to his chest, and looks down to his leg, where thick blood is staining the loose bandage around his thigh. He licks parched lips, and thinks of breakfast at Atlantis, of fresh fruit juice from the mainland, of the smell of baking bread and the taste of the small, jam pastries that were an Athosian speciality.

The pain in his ribs threaten to ground him, and his thoughts are lost. His concentration is wandering, consumed by the movement of the crowd and the shadows over his head. He cannot think of Atlantis, or imagine the taste of the pastries, or the sound of the waves lapping against his bedroom wall.

He wonders if he will ever be able to again, and then thinks of the cell two nights previously, and waking to see the feet of a fellow inmate, swinging gently in the air. He thinks of the strength of his uniform, and the knot he would make if his fingers could move.

"Quickly," says another voice.

There is a phrase he thought he had forgotten, part of Atlantis and the home he cannot remember. Not to leave a man behind.

But, he thinks, he has no team, and he is replaceable, and if he cannot remember their faces he should not expect them to remember his.

And he knows he would rather die than become a slave.


I split the teams up. Henshaw and Patel go with Zelenka and the other scientist, a chemist called Ashcroft. I give strict instructions to Henshaw about how he isn't to let the geeks wander off, and threaten to give Zelenka a child harness if he breaks a direct order.

He rolls his eyes at me. Maybe he has been learning from McKay.

Teyla, Ford and myself follow Shival as he leads us through the market. He didn't lie when he said his people would give us a warm welcome. One guy's beard is almost dusting the floor, he's bowing so low.

"I feel like royalty," Ford grins.

I smile, but I don't agree. It's less adoration, and more awe, like we're just another of Shival's artefacts on display. His museum was impressive, an array of technology and art taken from other worlds, even Ancient and Wraith, some useful, some ruined beyond repair. Shival seems to have no clue as to most of them, but he cares for them like they're part of the family.

Shival gestures at a building beside us, a low roofed, concrete affair.

"A school," he says, jovially. "Education is most important. The people here could not read before I arrived, but I shared my language, and now both children and adults attend my classes."

"You are most generous," Teyla says, and I have to agree. First a hospital, then a factory, now a school, all contributing to the growth of the village Shival has taken as his home.

"It is the people," he says, gesturing with his large hands, "who inspired me to want to stay here. When I arrived they were so friendly, so eager to make me feel at home." He laughs – no, he guffaws, that's the best word for it. "It worked, for here I am, ten years older, though none the wiser, I suspect."

Teyla smiles, and silently encourages me to laugh. "That goes for all of us," I offer.

"How did you manage it?" Ford asks, looking around at the townspeople.

Good question.

"I trade," Shival replies. "I pick up things, here and there, some big, some little. I offer planets what they need, and I sell what they don't. One person's waste is another man's jewel.

I really hope he doesn't mean that literally.

"And you make a profit?" Teyla asked.

"A substantial one, I admit. There are others at my trade but I am one of the best, and also, one of the oldest." His small eyes, deep set into his face, twinkle. "But it goes back to the place which shelters me. For example, the irrigation system which waters the town's crops, I learnt from the planet Nirval. The reed, which grows so abundantly in our fields, and which the people use for both housing and food – it is the offspring of a plant I picked up from the people of Jikatu."

I look at the faces of the crowd around us. They seem clean, well fed, and healthy. I can't pick out anything and yet –

Given all Shival says he does, there should be love in the eyes of his people. But it's missing. Instead – I think –

"They are afraid."

Teyla speaks low, and in a whisper. Ford and Shival are some distance ahead – I guess my subconscious slowed me down, because I don't even remember stopping.

I look at the woman nearest to us, a dark haired girl standing beside her stall of fruit. She ducks her head when I catch her eye, pretending to be concentrating on something by her feet.

"Of what?" I whisper back.

"I do not know." Teyla glances at the woman, then towards Shival's large, departing back. "He seems honest and yet –"

"I don't like the 'yet,' Teyla. Keep an eye out. Tell Ford the same, when you get the chance. I don't want –"

A crackle from my radio interrupts me, and I flip the switch to hear the frantic Yorkshire tones of Ashcroft.

"Major Sheppard, please come in."

"I'm here," I thumb. "What is it?"

"There's been an – an incident. Dr Zelenka – he's disappeared."


They spill out of the corridor and up a ramp into the wagon, giving Zelenka few precious seconds of fresh air and blue sky before being forced into another confined space.

He is no longer claustrophobic – that passed after the first night – but he is afraid, remembering stories from his home, tales his uncle refused to speak of.

People cram into the space after him, shuffling, stumbling, and just as exhausted as he. He finds a space beside a wall and turns towards it, bowing his back to shelter his hand. Craning his neck back he looks towards the exit, and catches a glimpse of his prison before the cart door slams shut – a low stone bunker, roofed with iron and surrounded by sand.

Then it is gone, and the only light comes from thin slits in the walls of the wagon a few inches above his head. The only light, and the only air, he realises, with a growing sense of despair.

He is not the only one to have noticed. The strongest force their way to the sides, clambering over each other to claw at the slits, reaching up and filling the air with ragged cries. Bodies press against him, hot and sweaty, jostling his injured leg and putting pressure on his ribs. He gasps, and spots dance before his eyes.

Then the wagon starts to move. The occupants fall silent, and all he can hear is the rumble of wheels against the ground, and the calls of the guards outside as they order the horses to action.

The floor beneath Zelenka suddenly shifts and he falls heavily against the wall, crushing his broken hand. He almost faints, the world turning black around him, but he clings to consciousness, knowing failure will mean his death.

For a moment, he thinks, that wouldn't be so bad.


"Major Sheppard, are you saying that Shival –"

"He's a slave trader." I spit the words out, shaking with rage. "That's how he makes his money. He scoops people off one world and dumps them in another for a price."

Elizabeth looks sick, and I can't blame her. We trusted this guy, we were so close to agreeing an alliance, to trading food and medicine and knowledge with his people. If it wasn't for a chance mistake we would have.

"What happened to Doctor Zelenka?"

"Shival is running out of resources, so he has started looking to the local people," Teyla says, looking pained with guilt. Later, I'll tell her that she shouldn't, that she couldn't have known the truth, that we have to trust our allies' reputation, and this guy had a good one. I'll tell her that it can't be her fault, because it's mine, because I should never have let Zelenka out of my sight.

"He said he loved the place," Ford says, his face a mix of anger and horror. "But all the time he's kidnapping people off the street to sell to the highest bidder."

"Zelenka was an accident," Ashcroft says, his top lip curling in disgust.

"There was a scuffle in the market," Lieutenant Patel explains. "It looks like one of these kidnappings was taking place while we were there. Zelenka must have tried to interfere, or he got too close, or something – but it looks like he was taken as well."

"Shival says it was an accident," I say, and the words taste like bile. "He's most apologetic and is promising to do all he can to get Zelenka back."

"He says it may take some time," Teyla continues, "because he works with many different groups, and the masters often operate without speaking to him."

"Masters?" Elizabeth asks.

"Slave masters." I grimace, and look past her to McKay, who has just arrived into the control room. He must have been running, because his face is flushed and he's panting.

"What's happened?" he demands, then looks around the room, and I can see him doing a name check through his head. Then he looks at me. "Where is he?"


Zelenka thinks he is going to die.

There is not enough air, and the people in the wagon are slowly suffocating. He can barely draw enough breath to keep conscious, and the sounds of his own wheezing rattle in his ear. His tongue lies thick and swollen in his mouth, and his clothes drip in sweat and blood, both his own and others. He would have fallen, but the pressure from the bodies around him hold him upright.

The cart rumbles, a deep thud rocking its passengers in a regular rhythm. Radek counts the beats in his head, though he keeps losing count at thirty, and starts again.


And his left shoulder knocks against the wagon wall.


And he sways the other way, his right hip bumping against a younger man, his pretty face marred by a deep scar running from his hairline to his jaw.


And he takes another stuttered breath, and closes his eyes, and turns his face towards the dim light from above. He thinks that at some time, there was more than this, that he belongs to a place far from here where there is air and water and space to move, but he can't remember, and in this moment all that exists, all that has ever existed, is the movement of the wagon beneath him.

Which suddenly stops.

Many in the cart fall silent, waiting with fear and dread. Others are oblivious, lost to their own worlds, gasping and crying and reaching out to the sky.

Then the door to the wagon swings away. The sudden burst of light almost blinds him, and he looks away.

"Come on," says a voice, hard and cold, all edges and violence. "Move."

Zelenka follows the crowd, pushed and pulled by their movements. Cattle, he thinks, and slaughter.

Those who can no longer move are left underfoot to die.


"He has been found."

Teyla looks exhausted. We've been searching for four days with no success. Shival made gestures, and apologetic noises, then offered us a number of items from his museum as payment for Zelenka's loss.

It took both Ford and Henshaw to hold me back from hitting the guy.

"Where?" I demand, running down the steps to greet her.

Ford looks grim but determined. "A planet a couple of systems over from Slivern. Some dust bowl."

"It is used as a trading spot," Teyla explains, "a neutral place for exchanges between races. I have not been there for several years. I do not remember," and she stops, and I catch a glimpse of a deep rage within her, "events such as this."

"Shival won't help," Patel says. "Says the goods have already changed hands once and he has no control anymore."

"So we go get him," McKay says. I swear, he's been in full gear for the entire time since Zelenka first disappeared, ready to leap through the 'gate at the first news.

"We have to do this right," Elizabeth interrupts. Her face is drawn and shadowed, and I wonder how much sleep she's had since the first search party stepped through the 'gate.

Ford took one, I took another, and Bates provided a third. With three teams out looking, I realised how big the Pegasus galaxy suddenly is, and how little of it we've been to.

"Elizabeth –"

"We'll get him back," she says, interrupting McKay, and it's not a promise, but a statement of fact. "But you can't rush in there without planning, Rodney. You'll put Radek in greater danger by your actions."

She's right, of course, but I share in McKay's disappointment. "What do we know?" I ask.

"The market is popular," Teyla explains, "many people will come to buy and sell goods."

"A big crowd." Bates nods. "That's good. It will be easier to avoid being noticed."

"But there will be guards," I say, thinking this through out loud. "If the goods," and I hate the word, "are so valuable they'll need to be protected."

"We've got the firepower," Ford says confidently.

"No," Elizabeth says firmly. "Innocent people could get in the way. We can't just use force."

"There's another way," McKay says, and he's wearing this grim little smile.


He shrugs. "This is a market, and Zelenka's for sale. I say we just buy him back."


There are voices, hundreds of them, overlapping, rising and falling, a cacophony in his ears, growing louder as he is pushed up the wooden steps. Zelenka stumbles, but a guard grabs his arm and hauls him upright, dragging him the rest of the way.

He is pushed out into a wide space, but there are walls of faces and eyes and he looks away, down to his feet. The guard jerks his elbow sharply and then lets go, leaving him standing freely, wavering on the stage. Voices buffet him, but he could not make out the words if he tried.

Hands. Hands in the crowd, gesturing. He follows them, a blur of movement in front of his eyes, mesmerised. Zelenka wonders where he is, and then he wonders at who he is, and he tries to think of a name.

There is a sudden swell of volume, a cheer from the crowd, and the force threatens to knock him from his feet. He is in freefall, and wonders at the ground, before a grip around his wrist stops him, forces him forward. One foot after the other, a shambling gait. The faces part as he moves through them, and he can hear whispers and shadows.

"Are you going to stand around all day, or are you going to give me what I paid for?"

There is a tone to the voice, a certain note he cannot place. He tries to think of a name, but is interrupted. A sharp push between his shoulder blades makes him totter, almost fall but a stranger grabs his arm. A sudden swell of desperate adrenaline fills him: I will not do this, I will not be overcome… and he cries out, forcing words through parched lips:

"You cannot do this. You cannot buy me, I will not –"

Something smacks him hard across the back of his knees and he drops to all fours. He cries out, and hates his weakness.

"Stop it," says the voice, sharply, and there is a warmth on his shoulder. He studies it, abstractly, and finds it anchors him.

"He must learn."

"But I'll be the one to teach him." He imagines the hand is gently squeezing his shoulder, and at the touch he almost weeps. "You've done enough damage. I should ask for a discount."

Hard edges again. "No refunds."

"Relax. We'll take him." The hand shakes his shoulder. "Get up."

For a moment, the part of him that was still Radek Zelenka considers refusing. He thinks of the body in the cell, and hanging in freefall, and knots and strength and how much it would cost him to have them beat him death, right here.

But then there is the warmth again, now beneath his elbow, taking his weight. He leans into the support, pulling himself upright.

"Let's go," the stranger snaps, and Zelenka thinks, how can a voice so sharp belong to a touch so gentle?

He takes steps, one after the other, and he isn't sure whether the ground is shaking or whether his body is doing it of its own accord. The sounds of the market dim beneath a buzzing in his ears and he stumbles into the stranger. The movement sends shockwaves of pain through his ribs and he pulls back against the hands which try to catch him, cursing in a language familiar to his ears.

"You kiss your mother with your mouth?"

A quiet, familiar voice. He turned his head to the right to see the stranger's bodyguard look up from under his heavy hood. And then with a rush he remembers.

Atlantis. Jam filled pastries and fresh fruit juice. The sound of the waves against his bedroom. The pretty scent of flowers Miko uses as perfume, the taste of the tea Dave Ashcroft drinks every morning, the intense concentration of Peter Grodin as he works on rebuilding an alien device…

And the face and eyes looking down on him with a look of such guilt and he wants to sob, he remembers -

"Major Sheppard…"

"Easy, Radek. Don't blow our cover."

"Here." A bottle is waved under his nose, a flash of something wet, that splashes against the metal container. He tries to grasp it, and fails, and a warm hand presses it into his own and holds it there as he shudders. The bottle is lifted to his lips and water spills against his tongue.

Zelenka thinks, now he must be weeping.

The bottle is pulled away, but for the moment it is enough. His gaze slips back to the stranger, following the hand against his, up a robed arm and to the face half hidden by shadows. He blinked against the sand in his eyes, and sees blue eyes and a bandage around the man's palm.

"Rodney." The word is familiar, and he sways. He feels an arm slip around his waist, holding him up.

"I was ready to throw Kavanagh overboard. Needed you back. I figured four days was a long enough vacation." The arm jostles him very slightly. "Can you pick up the pace a little? Carson has a jumper waiting."

He nods, and tries to move in time with McKay's feet, but looks down to his own and sees four of them. The buzzing is louder, the colour saturating from his vision. Beside him, he hears Sheppard say something but can't make out the words. Feels McKay tug him forward and the ground slip from under his feet.

Zelenka falls forward into darkness.


Elizabeth asked me to check on McKay. My unofficial second job, rounding up errant scientists and forcing them to sleep and eat. Just call me Mister Sandman.

In this case she needn't have worried. I found him in the infirmary, slumped in a chair with an open laptop balanced on one knee, his head back and his mouth open in a soft snore. Quietly, I cross the floor and take the computer from him, thinking I'm being stealthy, but his eyes flash open and his uninjured hand is reaching out to grab at the machine.

"Snf – what – Kavanagh, hands off."

"Hey," I say, affronted, "that's a low insult, McKay."

He wakes up and glares at me, but allows me to prise the laptop from his grip and place it on the floor. "What do you want?"

I shrug, pulling up a seat beside him. "Same as you."

"Oh." He relaxes, his gaze drifting beyond me to the bed.

Zelenka is pale and grey against the sheets, his arm hooked up to bags I recognise – glucose, fluids. The bruises and shadows stand out in sharp relief against his face, but he's clean shaven, his leg stitched, his hand splinted and wrapped in neat white bandages – and he looks relaxed, and pain free.

"He's looking better."

"Not hard." McKay pulls a face, a mix of anger and guilt. I think of the figure on the stage, his uniform barely recognisable beneath the blood and dirt, a twisted, purple wreckage of a hand held tight to his chest, his eyes cast downwards and empty.

"Carson says he'll release him in a couple of days," McKay continues, and I know it's as much for his own benefit as mine. "Its mostly exhaustion, dehydration, cuts and bruises. And his hand –"

He stops, and there's the look of revulsion again.

"Shival keeps trying to contact us," I say, watching closely for a reaction. "He's very apologetic. Wants to rebuild our friendship."

I'm not sure if Rodney's going to throw up or hit something. I think of the session I finished with Teyla, of the power travelling through my arm as she parried, of the sound of stick against stick as we traded blows. With one foot, I casually push the laptop beneath my seat, out of McKay's reach.

"Elizabeth's not –"


"Good." He grimaces. "I should have known. We've not met an ally yet who has been honest with us, and Shival was just too good."

"There's no way we could have known," I say, because they're the same words Elizabeth has repeated to me several times since Zelenka disappeared.

"We should have."

I look across at Zelenka, and see his uninjured hand twitch. His lips part and I hear a soft mumble of Czech.

McKay is leaning forward, his hand on Zelenka's wrist. "Radek?"

Dim hazel eyes open a crack and look towards us. "Co – kde …"


His eyes open a little wider. "Rodney."

I wince at the scratched sound of his throat because crap, that must hurt. Carson's thoughtfully left a beaker of water next to the bed, and I pick it up and bend the straw to Zelenka's lips. He drinks eagerly, but before I think it's a good idea to stop, he swallows, and pulls back.

"Thank you."

"No problem." I pat his shoulder awkwardly, then sit back. "How are you feeling?"

Radek appears to consider this for a moment, his forehead creasing in a frown. "Better," he decides, then looks down to his injured hand, lying across his chest.

"Carson says it'll heal," Rodney assures him, quickly.

"I fought…" He pauses, a shadow passing across his face. "But it will be fine."

"Well," and McKay looks towards his own bandage, and lifts it above the bed into Zelenka's line of sight. "You'd better make sure of that, because typing with one hand is too hard, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let Kavanagh become head of the department."

"Default," Radek reminds him.

Rodney rolls his eyes. "The worst word in the English language."

Zelenka nods, but he still seems troubled. "How?"

"Simple. We bought you back."

He looks confused.

"It was a desert planet," McKay explains, looking smug. "What does a desert planet need most of, and what are we surrounded by?"

I decide to rescue Zelenka. "We sold them a couple of tanks of water. Turns out it's gold dust to the right people. Of course," I add, honestly, "they weren't too happy when they realised it was sea water –"

"They'll get over it," McKay finishes.

Zelenka takes a deep, slow breath, turns his head and looks at the both of us. "Thank you."

I shrug. "For what?"

"For coming."

I look at him closely, and realise that damn, he's genuinely surprised that he's here. "No one in the team gets left behind."

His lips part in protest. "But –"

"Nobody," I repeat, firmly, "in the team."

"Oh." He stares at me for a moment, then settles back into the bed.

"Oh!" Beside me McKay is fumbling at his pocket, pulling out an empty powerbar wrapper and a crumpled scrap of paper. "I nearly forgot."

Zelenka and I stare at him, waiting impatiently as McKay pats down his pockets. Finally he grins triumphantly, his fingers delve into a fold of his jacket, and he pulls something out and holds it up into the light.

"Lieutenant Patel found them in the market when they were looking for you. God knows how they survived, but there's not a scratch on them – good thing too, because I have no idea where we'd get you another pair –"

"I have spares," Zelenka says softly, but his fingers close around the glasses tightly.

"Right. Of course." McKay flushes, then nods. "Well, I guess we should tell Carson you're awake."

"And let you get some rest," I add.

"I'll be back tomorrow," McKay says, retrieving his laptop from the floor. "One of those damn fool engineers has been fiddling with the settings of the air purifiers and has managed to hook the pipes from the waste disposal system into the mess hall. I need your help figuring it out. If you're up to it," he adds, as an afterthought.

Zelenka raises an eyebrow. "You said –"

I grin. "You need him."

McKay huffs, and rolls his eyes. "Given the unusually high standard of idiocy displayed by the morons under me, it's hardly a compliment. Besides," and he grins, "I believe I own you now."

Radek's eyes widen in horror. "Oh, no."

"Oh, yes." Rodney's grin widens. "Fair and square."

"But I was not – the water was never yours to own, Rodney, and you cannot hold me to –" He struggles to sit up, then hisses in pain.

McKay and I step forward at the same time. "Stay still," I tell Radek, "before Carson comes over here and chews us all out. I'll take care of Machiavelli here."

Rodney glares at me, folding his arms in the classic McKay sulking pose, but I know it's meaningless. "And how, pray?"

"Ways and means, Rodney, ways and means." I tap the bedrails gently. "Glad to have you back, doc. Someone needs to keep an eye on McKay."

McKay shoots me another dirty look, then pats the mattress. "Get some sleep."

Radek nods sleepily. "I think, yes, that might be … yes." He trails off, and his eyes fall close, the lines of tension easing from his face.

We stand there for another minute, before McKay takes a deep breath and gently extricates the glasses from under Zelenka's hand. He lays them on the bedside table, then steps away.

"It's good to have him back."

"Yes it is," I say, fervently. "Yes it is."


Zelenka drifts.

Sometimes he thinks of prison cells, and skeletons, and dust. Men with hard words, and the crack of bone as his hands break.

Sometimes he thinks of hollow faces and blonde hair, and brittle fingers against his knee, and the smell of fear. He thinks of weapons and explosives and rescue and hate, and flames tearing down hell.

Mostly he thinks of fruit juice, and waves against a silver city, and jam pastries, and perfume that smells of flowers.

He thinks of the different meanings of family, and teamwork, and what it means to be home.