"Sergeant!" The jumper pilot called over the radio.

"Stackhouse here."

"We think we've found them but there's another lifesign nearby. It could be one of the cat creatures." The coordinates he gave were followed by an odd popping noise. "Damn it!"

"What's wrong?"

"We lost the sensors."

"How far away from them was the other lifesign?"

"Not nearly far enough."

Stackhouse signaled to his men and they began to run. Teyla quickly outdistanced them and the sergeant put his head down and poured on extra speed, almost running her down before he realized she had stopped. She signaled to him and moved ahead, her gun raised and ready. Breaking through the trees, they found themselves at the top of a steep hill. In front of them were their missing men, but they weren't alone. As the cat screamed and sprung, Teyla and Stackhouse raised their P90s.

oOo

The faint, far-off sound of gunfire echoed through the forest. Fredricks, who had been discussing various emergency response scenarios with his medic, halted mid-sentence and looked to Caldwell in alarm.

Caldwell clicked his radio, "Sergeant?"

A few seconds a burst of static was followed by the voice of one of the enlisted men. "Zelenka… possible coordinates… Teyla... Stackhouse… separated."

Caldwell shook his head in annoyance. "Sergeant!" he demanded into the radio. He ground his teeth in frustration for several seconds while he waited.

"We have them, Sir!" reported Stackhouse finally.

"How are they?" asked Fredricks, having overheard the transmission. He waited anxiously while Caldwell relayed the question.

"Dr. Beckett's in bad shape, Sir. He's pretty clawed up." There was a short pause as Stackhouse received the rest of the evaluations from his men. "Dr. McKay's hurt his leg, but he can still walk. Colonel Sheppard is uninjured."

"Just let me grab my bag," said Fredricks.

"Teyla recommends you not send the medical personnel in. She's sure the cat's mate is nearby."

Caldwell grabbed the sleeve of the doctor's jacket, stopping him in his tracks. "Is it just a feeling or does she have something solid to back that up?" he asked, maintaining eye contact with Fredricks.

"Sir, we haven't actually seen anything but…"

"But what, Sergeant?"

"I'd swear something's watching us."

"Very well," replied Caldwell before clicking off his radio. "Sorry, Doctor, he's going to have to make do for the time being."

oOo

They were making much better time now that both Beckett and McKay had a marine to either side supporting them. Teyla, Sheppard, and the rest of the men moved to the perimeter of the group, scanning the trees nervously. Sheppard kept rubbing the hair that was standing up on the back of his neck in irritation, all the while keeping his newly acquired P90 at the ready.

"How much further?" asked Rodney, panting. Even with the marines now assisting them, it was hard going and he was exhausted. God only knew how Carson was staying on his feet, though in truth, the marines seemed to be practically carrying the doctor.

"Not far," Teyla assured him.

They finally broke out of the forest and onto the beach, Caldwell and his men yelling in greeting, only it wasn't in greeting Sheppard realized just before he was smashed to the ground with crushing force. He heard the echoing reports as P90s fired, and various shouts, but they seemed strangely distant, probably because it was hard to hear over his brain's insistent screams for oxygen. Things went gray then black as his lungs refused to obey.

The cat gave a final dying scream and collapsed on top of Sheppard.

Rodney and several of the marines leapt forward, trying to shove the enormous cat off him. Caldwell grabbed McKay's upper arm and jerked him back forcefully to make room for a larger marine who had an infinitely better chance of moving the beast than the weakened scientist. The unexpected movement forced Rodney to put his full weight on his bad leg, causing it to collapse under him. Caldwell, still gripping his arm, managed to keep him from hitting the ground too hard. Beckett was also being half restrained, half supported by Fredricks who, in exasperation, took a page out of Caldwell's book by tugging his department head off balance and firmly sitting the injured man on the sand so that he could be examined. The marines managed to heave the huge cat off, and Beckett shoved Fredricks towards Sheppard.

The doctor and medic carefully rolled Sheppard over. "He's not breathing."

The medic did a few quick mouth-to-mouth breaths and Sheppard's lungs, reminded of how wonderful oxygen could be, took several deep, gasping inhalations. Beckett gave a relieved sigh as the medic went for a backboard and collar.

oOo

Caldwell took a seat near the rear of the jumper by Teyla so he could keep an eye on their passengers. Beckett was lying on one bench seat. McKay was sitting on the other, his back against the rear wall and his legs stretched out before him on the seat. Sheppard was on the floor between them so that both Fredricks and the medic could attend to everyone as needed.

Fredricks checked the readings on the blood pressure gage worriedly. "Your pressure sucks, Carson."

"As does your bedside manner," replied Beckett in a weak but testy voice. He watched through half-closed eyes as the doctor prepared an I.V.

"His chest wouldn't stop bleeding," Rodney volunteered, grimacing as the medic examined his leg.She was trying to peel the fabric of his pants away from the wound, but it was glued to his leg by a combination of sap and blood.

"Let's get you out of your jacket so I can see what I'm dealing with," said Fredricks, helping his colleague sit up and pull his arms out of the sleeves before easing him back down and covering him with a blanket.

Beckett's head had begun to spin alarmingly the moment he sat up and continued to do so even though he was lying down again. "S'not mine. Rodney's."

"Well the least you can do is have it cleaned before you return it," said McKay with false ire, relieved that Carson was now in professional hands.

Fredricks ran a thumb over the dried sap on Beckett's chest. "What is this stuff?" He glanced at the medic and realized she was dealing with the same thing.

"It's from a plant on the mainland. He wouldn't stop bleeding," McKay repeated shakily. His adrenaline rush was beginning to wear off. The medic noticed and pulled down another blanket from the overhead compartment, wrapping it around him.

"These are scratches from that creature, I take it?" Fredricks decided not to disturb the sap until they were back in Atlantis and had access to a full infirmary. He notice more sap on one of Carson's arms. "And is this a bite?"

Nodding, McKay repeated their earlier fears, "He thought its saliva might contain some sort of anticoagulant."

"I think the damn beastie envenomed me," slurred Beckett in agreement. "You should take a blood sample."

"You don't have any to spare at the moment so I think it can wait until we get your pressure up." He pumped the blood pressure cuff again, trying to get a vein. "We can't analyze it until we get you back to Atlantis anyway," he said as he finally managed to slide the needle in and tape it in place. A groan from Sheppard caused him to glance down. "Back with us, Colonel? How do you feel?" he asked cheerfully, though he let the medic take lead in hands-on care while he attempted to start a second I.V. on Beckett.

Sheppard opened his eyes, squinting as they adjusted to the bright lights of the jumper. "Like I got clobbered by a truck…a large-ass, pissed-off, furry Mac truck."

"With nasty, big, pointy teeth," Beckett chimed in cheerfully, still slurring his words a bit.

"And claws," agreed Rodney. "Don't forget the claws, Carson."

"As if I could, ya dobber!"

When Sheppard tried to turn his head to better see his teammates, the medic put her hand on his shoulder. "You're on a backboard and have a cervical collar on until we can clear your neck and spine." She reached over him so that she could grasp both his hands. "Can you squeeze my fingers?" She smiled at him. "That's good." She moved down to his feet. "Can you tell me if you feel anything?"

"You're pressing on my foot."

"Which foot and where," she prompted.

He blinked at the ceiling of the jumper. "My left heel. And now my right big toe."

She moved back up to his head and patted him on the shoulder, "That's a good sign."

"Can you at least unstrap one of my hands?"

She gave him a calculating look. "I don't think that's such a good idea, Colonel. Your reputation as a difficult patient proceeds you."

He heard Beckett snort off to his left and chose to ignore him. He gave her a charming smile. "Really, my face itches. I just want to scratch it, please."

She glanced at Franklin and received an affirmative nod. "Okay, just one hand and you're not to try to move anything other than your arm at the elbow. Are we clear?"

"Yeah, yeah," agreed Sheppard. The itch was becoming maddening. He sighed in relief as she freed his arm allowing him to scratch at his cheek scraping off the sand and mud stuck there.

"It amazes me, Colonel, how you always seem to attract so much trouble," said Caldwell, speaking for the first time since he entered the jumper.

Sheppard closed his eyes tiredly. "It was just supposed to be a nice day at the beach." His eyes snapped opened in a sudden thought, "Did anyone get my board?"

"I heard Sergeant Stackhouse telling one of the men that he would bring it back," volunteered Teyla.

Sheppard closed his eyes in relief. "I think I'm going to have to kiss him."

"Or you could just promote him," suggested Rodney, dryly.

Without bothering to open his eyes, Sheppard pointed his free index finger at McKay. "Even better," he agreed.

"Just where did you get a surfboard anyway?" Caldwell asked.

Rodney snickered uncharacteristically when Sheppard's eyes shot open in alarm.

Frowning, Caldwell asked, "Something funny, Doctor?"

"No," he said, struggling to keep a straight face but Beckett began chuckling and eventually even Sheppard was laughing despite the medic urging him to remain as still as possible.

Fredricks caught Teyla's and Caldwell's worried expressions and shook his head slightly. "They're okay…just a little punchy from the stress," he assured them.

oOo

Elizabeth watched worriedly as the jumper set down in the bay. Caldwell had radioed her that everyone was alive and in stable condition, but that was something she needed to see for herself. She stepped back as gurneys and medical personnel swarmed the jumper. After a brief flurry of activity, a gurney with John was rolled out. The medic accompanying him waved her over.

She looked down at the bedraggled figure. His eyes were closed. "John?"

He opened them quickly enough, even gave her a tired but genuine smile. "Hell of a way to spend a weekend, huh?"

"It's good to have you back." She smiled and rested her hand on his arm, trying to hide her concern as she saw the straps holding him to the backboard and the neck brace.

The medic noticed though. "Just a precaution," she assured Weir.

It had the ring of truth so Elizabeth let herself relax a little as John was wheeled away.

Teyla came out next, helping an orderly support a limping McKay. The forty-five minute trip from the mainland had allowed his abused muscles to stiffen considerably. They eased him into a wheelchair and he gave her a small wave as she approached.

She put a hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "How are you doing, Rodney?"

McKay wiggled one hand in a so-so gesture and gritted his teeth as the orderly eased his injured leg onto the chair's footrest. "Been better." He looked over his shoulder back towards the jumper. "Carson got the worst of it," he said, worriedly.

Elizabeth gave his shoulder another squeeze and stepped back as the orderly began rolling the chair towards the infirmary. She crossed her arms for comfort as she waited and looked to Teyla who had remained behind. "How bad is he?"

"He is very weak, but Dr. Fredricks is optimistic about his recovery."

A few seconds later, the second gurney rolled out of the jumper with Fredricks in attendance. They paused briefly so that he could make an adjustment to one of the I.V. bags and Elizabeth took the opportunity to approach them. She was shocked by Carson's appearance. The dark circles under his eyes and stubble on his face stood out starkly against his overly pale skin. She could see I.V. lines snaking out from under the blanket to either side. Fredricks folded a corner of the blanket out of his way so that he could unkink one of the lines and Elizabeth failed to suppress a surprised gasp when it revealed the bloodied chest and deep gashes. Carson's eyes fluttered open at the sound and reached out a pale hand. Elizabeth put on her best 'I'm sure everything will be alright' smile and took it in hers.

"Looks worse than it is," he assured her weakly, not fooled one bit by her expression.

Fredricks snorted. "That's good, because it looks bloody awful," he said cheerfully, pulling the blanket back up now that he had finished with the I.V.

"You're a cheeky bastard, you know that, Michael?" Beckett replied, letting his weary eyes slide closed.

"So you've informed me on more than one occasion," said Fredricks. He smiled down affectionately at his boss before glancing up at Weir. "I'll keep you informed," he said in a more subdued tone.

"Thank you." She gave Carson's hand an encouraging squeeze which the Scot weakly returned before he was whisked away.

Caldwell, who had exited the jumper after Beckett's gurney, stood behind her.

"Thank you for bringing them home," she said, watching after the retreating figures a moment longer before turning to face him.

His eyes, focused on those same figures, flicked to hers. "You're welcome."

oOo

Sheppard was lying on his stomach on an infirmary bed, cold packs at various places on his back. He'd been cleared and no longer had to wear the neck brace, but he had wrenched his back and had several deep bruises that the doctors wanted to treat. They had given him something for the discomfort, not enough to make him loopy, just enough to take the edge off. He was being held for observation though he'd been told if there were no complications and he behaved himself, he would probably be released the following day. He turned his head gingerly to the left. McKay was in a nearby bed, his body draped in a sterile sheet while the medical personnel finished cleaning his wound to prepare it for stitching. They had given him a sedative as well as local anesthetic for his leg. Once or twice Sheppard saw his face crease with pain and his eyes half opened but they slid closed again almost immediately.

On his other side, Beckett slept in a bed with a surprising array of colorful bags hanging from his I.V. stand--the medical personnel having had the opportunity to analyze the doctor's blood and find a suitable counteragent for whatever the cat had introduced into his system. They were just waiting for his latest blood test to see if he was clotting normally before they attempted to remove the plant sap that seemed to have saved his life.

It had been a long two days. Yawning widely, Sheppard closed his eyes, content in the knowledge that his teammates were in good hands.

He woke the next morning feeling stiff and sore, but happy to find out that he would be released after lunch. Assuming Rodney's leg continued to show no signs of infection, he might get out as early as the following afternoon, though Fredricks was being particularly careful and had both McKay and Beckett on I.V. antibiotics as a precaution since feline scratches were notoriously prone to infection. The antiseptic properties of the plant sap were currently being touted as the reason neither man had developed a serious infection and the botanists and medics were practically wetting themselves to get samples of the plants for further testing.

Beckett, Sheppard learned, would be a guest of his own staff for at least several days longer, but he was already looking much better, though still pale and haggard. He also kept drifting off to sleep in the middle of sentences, which Sheppard found a little amusing.

"I take it back."

"Take what back, Doc?" asked Sheppard, turning his head towards Beckett's bed to see the doctor awake again.

"What I said about you being obsessive because you brought your gun surfing."

"It's okay, Doc. Once you've been off-world a few more times, you'll develop a proper amount of paranoia," Sheppard assured him.

"Lovely. Can't wait," remarked the Scot sarcastically as his eyes slid shut.

END


Notes:

No kitties were harmed during the writing of this fic.

"With nasty, big, pointy teeth" – Beckett, a little loopy from blood-loss, is purposely quoting Monty Python. Kudos if you caught the reference!

If I haven't managed to distract you enough and you're still wondering about it, Rodney might ferret out what Carson smuggled aboard the Daedalus in a later fic.