Radek had never actually seen an Iratus bug, but he'd read the mission reports and seen the damage they could do. It was therefore completely beyond him why no one was helping Carson.

He could see its wings shifting slightly, its underside expanding with a slow, hypnotic pulse. He swallowed hard, equally repulsed and fascinated, and took a small, sliding step closer. The last thing he wanted was to go anywhere near that…thing, but his friend needed him.

Carson was unconscious, pale but for twin spots of fever high on his cheeks. If he was aware of the creature attached to the soft flesh of his neck, he gave no sign. Radek took a deep breath and reached a shaky hand towards the defibrillator.

Like everyone else on Atlantis, he'd been trained in its use but had really hoped to keep that knowledge firmly in the realm of the theoretical. He turned the dial to 400 and gingerly picked up a paddle, squirting gel on it and rubbing it against its twin.

Carson chose that moment to awake, squinting and licking his parched lips. "Radek," he muttered groggily, "what're ye doin'?"

"Don't worry," Radek soothed, holding up the paddles. "I'm going to help you."

The insect's bite must have been terribly painful, because Carson began to scream.

"NO! Radek, don't!" Sheppard tore down the corridor towards the infirmary, Beckett's hoarse pleas driving his feet.

As long as he lived, John Sheppard would never forget Zelenka's determined face, oddly child-like without its glasses, as he pressed the defib paddles against Beckett's chest. The doctor struggled helplessly against the restraints that bound him to the bed, twisting and shouting in panic.

Sheppard threw himself across the infirmary, catching Zelenka in a flying football tackle and bringing them both to the floor in a sprawled heap. The defibrillator discharged with a loud thump.

Beckett fell silent. Zelenka began to howl.


McKay and Sheppard walked into the infirmary, only to stop short when they realized Beckett's bed was empty. Rick Baker noticed their arrival and met them at the door.

"Is Carson okay?" Rodney asked, craning his neck to see around the room.

"He's much better. In fact," the nurse said, frowning with obvious disapproval, "he's in with Doctor Zelenka."

"How's Radek doing?" Sheppard couldn't help but feel guilty – in taking him down, he'd broken several small bones in the Czech's left hand. Not to mention he'd just kicked the poor guy's girlfriend through the Stargate, sans luggage.

"Not so good, actually. He's in a lot of pain, more than he should be given the meds he's on. The Chief thinks he might need surgery, but he's getting a second opinion."

At that moment the Scot's voice sounded from behind a drawn curtain. "Rick? I need you, son."

Baker grinned, reveling for a second or two in the familiar summons from his beloved Chief. "Excuse me," he said, nodding to them before ducking behind the curtain.

"Well," Rodney said, looking vaguely put out, "I guess we were wrong to worry about him being bored."

"Guess so," Sheppard agreed. "Man, I hope Radek's okay."

The curtain was flicked back. Rick was pulling Radek's bed out of its bay and steering it towards another room. Carson was seated awkwardly in a wheelchair with both his legs elevated, bent over a tablet computer. Next to him, down on one knee and pointing to various parts of the readout, was Lt. Colonel Dennis Byrd, M.D. Rodney's formidable forehead drew down in a frown.

"Thank you, Doctor Byrd. Sarah will show you where you can scrub, and she and Rick will assist you in the OR." Byrd nodded, turned on his heel and followed the nurse out of the room.

"Carson? What's going on?"

Wheeling himself in their direction, Carson yawned. "Radek's going in for surgery. Will you lads help me back into bed? I could use a wee nap."

Rodney grabbed the chair's handles and pushed Carson towards his bed at a speed entirely too fast to be comfortable. "I think I can speak for Zelenka when I say he'd rather you do the surgery than Lt. Colonel Jackboots over there. I don't think he'd mind waiting."

"On the contrary, he'd mind a great deal." Carson lowered the footrests of his chair and planted his uncasted leg on the floor. With one friend levering each elbow, he rose to a standing position and hopped until his bum made contact with the edge of the bed. Dragging himself up, he carefully swung his legs up and began the process of stuffing pillows under them. He lay back with a grateful smile when Sheppard took over. "Thank you, Colonel. I'm jeeked."

"I'm guessing that means tired, and I'd say so given that you've ceased speaking English. Do you think you can focus long enough to tell us why Colonel Klink is operating on my scientist?"

Beckett sighed, squirming a bit to get comfortable. "Radek has developed compartment syndrome. He has swelling in an enclosed part of his hand that's putting pressure on his nerves and blood vessels. It's a very serious condition that can lead to amputation if it isn't addressed quickly, so there's no time to waste. And frankly, even if I were up and about, I'd still ask Doctor Byrd to perform the surgery. He's much more experienced in neuromuscular procedures than I am."

Rodney had paled considerably. "Amputate? Oh my god—"

"You're not to panic, now, Rodney," Beckett cut in sternly. "We've caught it very early on. He should make a full recovery and have complete use of his hand in no time."

That seemed to lay McKay's fears to rest, as he uttered a soft, "huh" and went back to snarking. "If it were anyone but Byrd."

"Honestly, he's a very competent doctor. Not very imaginative, but then again, he's military." Carson grinned widely, enjoying Sheppard's double-take and offended 'hey!' "So, what's been done with Klia?"

"We sent her through the wormhole to a planet that's frequented by the Wraith. They'll pick her up before too long." Sheppard decided to spare Carson the details of the arguments that had taken place over the young woman's fate. He was still not convinced they shouldn't have killed her.

Carson's face went soft with sympathy. "Ach, poor Radek. To have feelings for the girl, and have her use him so badly. She really did a number on him."

Rodney was incredulous. "On him? Have you looked in a mirror lately? She didn't exactly shower you with good fortune, either."

The doctor shrugged. "I suppose so. You know, there's one thing I don't understand. She had plenty of opportunity to kill me herself. Why the elaborate suicide setup?"

"It wasn't enough for you to die." Sheppard had spent some very unpleasant hours interrogating Klia, so he knew the twisted logic behind the Wraith plan. "They wanted to discredit you, so your work would die with you."

Beckett pondered that, his gaze turning inward. "I'm starting to remember a bit here and there," he said softly. "My mum in the water, turning into a Wraith. Perna, Elia, so many others…"

McKay gave him a jarring shove to his shoulder. "All thanks to our friendly neighborhood space vampires and their nasty little nanites, which, by the way, I have completely disabled. From now on, any nightmares you have will solely be a product of your own haggis-muddled mind."

Grinning, Beckett shook his head and shoved back, ignoring the scientist's subvocalized 'ow!' "Carmen told me how hard you all worked to help me. Thank you both for having faith in me. You're true friends."

For a moment they shared a silent communion, simply glad that their little family was not going to be broken up. Then it got embarrassing.

"I'd say I'm more like a casual acquaintance," Sheppard pondered.

"Yes, and I'm more of a tolerant colleague, really," added McKay, nose in the air.

"Argh! Get out of here, the both of you, and let me get some sleep!" Beckett grumped, but a smile reclaimed his face as the two men left the infirmary, still arguing over whether they were benign affiliates or indifferent associates.

Carson snuggled into his pillow and closed his eyes. For the first time in a long while, he slept without dreaming.