Carson hesitated.

Behind him, lying sprawled on the ground, was Teyla. She had done her best, attacking the Wraith with her weapon, firing until the ammunition chamber gave an audible click, and the last bullet was spent. The Athosian had tossed the weapon to the side, then launched herself at the huge monster, pummeling him with a quick succession of punches and kicks. Momentarily startled, the Wraith had backtracked, giving the illusion that Teyla was winning. Then, with a hiss, the Wraith had grabbed the woman and tossed her, smashing her against a tree. Teyla had fallen, her body obviously broken, unconscious and still. Carson had watched with wide, fearful eyes as the Wraith returned his attention to Colonel Sheppard.

The Colonel had lured the Wraith to this small grove of trees, cautioning Carson to remain hidden as he and Teyla dealt with the tracker. Carson had ducked behind a large willow, his gun clenched in one hand, his eyes closed as he tried to remain quiet. The shouts and grunts of his two friends as they fought the Wraith caused him to take a quick peek. His eyes had widened in horror as he took in the bloody form of Sheppard, on the ground and desperately trying to backpedal away from the Wraith. From the corner of his eye, he had seen Teyla attack, but she had only managed to distract the gruesome alien for a few moments . Now, as the Wraith moved quickly towards the unarmed and injured Sheppard, Carson stepped from behind his tree.

And Carson hesitated.

He could hear the quiet calls and chirps of the birds, the buzz of the insects, the rustle of the breeze in the leaves. From the corners of his eyes, he could see the rich green of the grass, the ferns clustered at the base of the willow next to him, the sparkle of sun on the creek. Yet the woods blurred, almost becoming unreal as he focused his sight on the Wraith, his gun remarkably steady in hands that should be trembling. Fear and revulsion coursed through the physician; fear that he was now responsible for protecting the two beaten warriors, revulsion at the act he was about to commit.

For Carson Beckett was a physician. In older, better times, his kind were known as healers. He had known since he was a child that he would become a doctor, that his fate was to soothe, to comfort, to heal. Throughout his years of schooling, it had been drummed into his head and his heart: First, do no harm. The sacred rule of physicians everywhere. Sheppard and the others would argue that hurting, even killing a Wraith, was not breaking the code, but Carson would disagree. He had seen his share of human monsters during his residency in Edinburgh – the rapists, the child molesters, the murderers. He had been taught to overlook the actions of the person, and focus on their injuries. And yes, it was difficult to treat a man who had taken his rage and frustration out on a defenseless child – but that was Carson's job.

So, Carson hesitated.

It was not the first time. Once before, he had a weapon aimed at a Wraith, and he had hesitated then. He had offered to help the injured alien, lowering his gun and slowly approaching, his voice low and comforting. Colonel Sheppard had suddenly appeared, shooting the Wraith without hesitation, and for a moment, Carson had been enraged. All life was precious, a gift to be cherished, even that of a Wraith. But then Sheppard had explained the Wraith's actions, how it was trying to activate the self-destruct mechanism, effectively killing Rodney and Laura, and Carson had swallowed his rage. Shaking, he had turned away. His inaction had almost cost the lives of McKay…and Cadman. At the time, he had no idea that the pretty captain would become so important to him. The thought that she had nearly been lost because of his aversion to killing made his heart race.

"Stop!" Carson was amazed that his voice remained steady as he shouted at the Wraith. The hideous alien was enormous, standing at least six inches taller than Ronon Dex. The Wraith halted, spinning around and glaring at the physician. It gave him a smirk – at least, it looked like a smirk, who knew with a Wraith – and took a step towards Beckett.

Never had his training prepared him for life as a physician on Atlantis.

Death surrounded them. It seemed that not a month went by that didn't result in a soldier or a scientist getting killed. How many times had Carson almost lost Colonel Sheppard, or Rodney McKay? Beckett had seen plenty of death in his years as a physician – that was part of the job – but it was so much more difficult here. These people were his friends, his companions, his colleagues. And the relationships he'd made were deeper, more intense, than any relationship he'd ever had on Earth.

Carson raised the gun as the Wraith took another step, hunger and hate clear on it's face. He wished Ronon or even Rodney would suddenly appear, saving him from making this decision, but he knew that they were miles away, searching another quadrant of the planet.

The subtle noises of the forest suddenly became silent as the Wraith advanced on Beckett, it's eyes burning with purpose. Carson saw his own death in the creature's malevolent stare, saw his life-force being drained away, his body becoming old and fragile and, finally, dead. He didn't want to die that way. He didn't want to die at all.

"Shoot it!" Sheppard rasped at the immobile physician. The Colonel had managed to twist his body around, his hands searching for his own weapon as he watched the Wraith step towards Beckett. Carson didn't answer, fear holding him captive. John shouted at the Wraith, trying to lure it away from Beckett, but the Wraith ignored the Colonel. Instead, a satisfied smile crossing it's face as it stopped, it's huge size looming over the smaller human. John flailed wildly for his P-90 as the Wraith's hand shot out, aiming for Beckett's chest.

Carson remained utterly still, disconnected from his surroundings, barely hearing the Colonel's hoarse cries, as he focused his frightened eyes on the Wraith. As if in a dream, he saw the creature's arm pull back, claws extended. The Wraith bared it's teeth in a gruesome smile, it's eyes gleaming black in the dappled sunlight. Life surrounded them, making it's presence known by the sounds, the smells, the slight taste of earth that permeated the air. Carson inhaled, his senses bombarded all at once by the knowledge that if he didn't take action, he would die. As would Sheppard and Teyla. Their lives were in his hands. And this, he was accustomed to. Saving lives was what he did. Only, this time, he needed to kill another to save Sheppard and Teyla…and himself.

Carson pulled the trigger. The roar of the gun filled his ears, making him wince. The Wraith took a startled step backwards, it's hands going to it's chest, where the dark blood had started to flow. Carson pulled the trigger again, the physician's face contorting as the creature grunted in pain, and another bloom of blood appeared, this time from it's stomach. The Wraith took an uncertain step back, falling as it tripped over a root, and Carson fired again. He watched as the Wraith crashed down, blood spraying from between it's fingers as the third bullet hit a major artery. A second later, the creature was dead.

Carson lowered his weapon, his entire body trembling. He barely acknowledged Sheppard's hand clasping his shoulder, the Colonels' piercing green stare boring into Carson's own glazed blue eyes. Detached, his heart cold, Carson watched as Sheppard made his way to Teyla. For a long moment, Carson remained still, listening as the sounds of the forest returned, the uncertain chirps of the birds becoming stronger and happier with each passing second. The breeze rustled his hair, and he drew in a long breath, the clean air soothing his frayed soul.

"Carson!" Sheppard's insistent voice broke through his reverie, and he took an unsteady step forward. He had just killed; now he would save. As the Colonel keyed his headset, bellowing for back-up, Carson Beckett staggered over to Teyla, and knelt down by her side. Without hesitation, he leaned forward and gently, so very gently, he began to tend to her wounds.

The End