RATING: T for language and adult themes and violence.

SEASON: Second season sometime after Coup D'etat.

MAJOR CHARACTERS: The entire team with Carson and a smidge of Weir.

CATEGORY: a little of this, a little of that but primarily hurt and comfort.

SUMMARY: What's the frequency Kenn..er, Rodney? The team finds that on a hostile planet, the radio can be your best friend, especially when that's the only way you can talk to each other.

SPOILERS: A few things are hinted at, but not much is spoiled. Anything up to and including Coup D'etat is fair game, though.

FEEDBACK: Yes, please. I thrive on it and so do the bunnies.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own them, but I do have some pretty nifty walkie-talkies.

NOTES: This story is part of the Dictionary series and all that that entails. You don't have to read the others to follow this story but a few refs might make a little more sense if you did. The list is on my profile page if you're interested.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Special thanks, as always to Koschka for the final once over.And thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed my other stories…it really is very much appreciated!

Frequency

by liketheriver

fre·quen·cy (frikwEnsi) noun, 1. the rate at which something occurs over a particular period or in a given sample. 2. the fact or state of being frequent. 3. the rate per second of a vibration constituting a wave, e.g. sound, light, or radio waves. 4. the particular waveband at which radio signals are broadcast or transmitted.

XXXXXXX

"Colonel, can you read me?"

It wasn't the first time I had asked, but the answer was the same as the previous times… silence and the stutter of P-90 fire in the distance. The far-off distance. And given the way the sound was echoing off the rocks of the canyon, I couldn't even tell which direction that far-off distance was. Of course, I couldn't just blame the geology surrounding me. Limestone cliffs framing the remnants of a small ephemeral stream formed by the last rain could only be held responsible once I had ended up sloshing through the rivulet of water in the first place. And even that wasn't all my fault. Granted, I should have paid closer attention to my surroundings, but the blur of rocks and trees had just grown progressively blurrier as I'd continued to run. And when the weasels started chasing me… started hunting me… my priorities changed from making it to the gate to making it out alive.

Long and sleek and the size of fucking Great Danes with brown tufted fur that thickened over short stocky legs, they appeared to be blind but their sense of smell more than made up for that. And I had plenty to smell. Fear, sweat, and blood evidently make for a heady combo for these creatures and I could literally see the saliva dripping from the oversized incisors that protruded out below the long whiskers and twitching noses. They flowed over the rocks like dark fetid water in pursuit of my stumbling form, stopping occasionally to lick at the trail of dripping red I was leaving in my wake. So when I saw the water below me, I had removed the blood soaked bandage I had over my wound and tossed it at the creatures. As I had expected, they fought over the gory treat, allowing me to skid down the natural bedrock steps, stagger into the stream up to my ankles, and hope like hell it would be enough to cover my scent as I trudged downstream.

And so far, so good. But I wasn't completely convinced that the fifteen minutes I had spent in the water was enough to throw them off my trail completely.

"Sheppard, come in." The water was icy cold but I raised a hand to wipe at the sweat running down my temple, leaving the area wetter than it had been with another more vital bodily fluid.

"Rodney, do you copy?" Not Sheppard, but Teyla and I fought to keep my footing as the soft sand of the streambed shifted under my feet when I heard her soft voice through the radio.

"Teyla," I breathed in relief, "where are you guys?" A rock clattered down the cliff face and I turned my own anxiously up to see if any weasels were still after me.

"Ronon and I are almost at the gate. Where are you?"

I let out a snort as the canyon walls spun around me, thankfully, weasel free. "Honestly? No fucking clue."

"But you are not with Colonel Sheppard?" Her voice was a combination of worry and confusion and at her question, my own just increased.

"The Ardamons showed up. Sheppard stayed behind to hold them off and sent me on to the gate. But I ran into some of the local wildlife that decided they wanted to eat me, and seeing as I'm not too fond of being eaten, I ran… and sort of got lost in the process." Before me, I could see the canyon finally opening up and the dark green and brown of trees a little further out past the rocks and sand.

"Can you find your way to the gate?"

I pressed my hand harder onto the bandana that was now serving as my only bandaging for the knife wound in my side, felt the blood saturating the cloth ooze over the back of my hand, saw the red droplets land in the water to vanish and be washed away downstream. I couldn't help but wonder if the same would happen to me. "Even if I could find it, I don't think I could make it."

"Find a place to hole up, McKay," Ronon instructed me. "Someplace safe, then call me when you do. I'm coming to get you."

Another burst of gunfire reverberated around me. "Sheppard's in trouble," I told him. "He must be pinned down or he would be answering me on the radio."

"I will go back and assist Colonel Sheppard," Teyla assured me.

"I can still hear him firing his gun. That's a good sign, right?" I stepped out of the cool shadows of the canyon and into the dappled sunlight of the plateau beyond. "It means he's still alive, right?" Swaying where I stood, I looked up to see an alien bird circling against the billowing clouds that had been building against the mountains and were now spreading out with the promise of rain to come. Don't worry, I thought darkly at the carrion-seeker above, you won't have long to wait for a meal now.

"Yeah, that's a good sign," Ronon confirmed. "Pick that hiding place, McKay. I'm going to find you."

"Hope you were good at Hide and Seek as a kid." Staggering up the sandy bank of the stream, I slid in the soft substrate and dropped to my knees. Hissing at the fiery pain in my side, I clutched it even harder as the world went hazy around the edges and the light gray limestone cliffs momentarily darkened to black.

"I spent seven years playing with the Wraith," he justified. "That has to count for something."

"Okay, those are some pretty respectable qualifications," I groaned as I pushed myself with shaking arms to stand hunched over wobbling legs. "Do you have any references I can check?"

"Sorry, most of them are no longer available to question." When I didn't answer immediately, concentrating instead on not ending up right back down on the ground, he called anxiously, "McKay?"

"Here," I answered, shaking my head against the growing fog. Any slowing of bleeding I had accomplished had been counteracted by the climbing and running I had been doing and my wooziness seemed to grow with each drop I lost on the trail. It would be so damn easy just to lie back down in the soft sand and never get up again, but the sound of a P-90 in the distance chased away that thought. Sheppard would never let me live it down if I died. There would be no resting in peace with him still alive. If it was possible to pull off the reverse of a haunting, that's what he would do to me… drunken parties with Johnny Cash blaring on my grave, using my tombstone as a screen to watch 'Top Gun" repeatedly. It just wasn't worth the easy way out to deal with that sort of irritation following me to the afterlife.

"Tell me where you are now," Ronon instructed and I'm sure he was as concerned with me not making it to a hiding place as I was starting to become.

"I'm just coming out of a canyon with a stream and heading into the trees now…Oh, Christ," I croaked out when the pain flared as I straightened. "I'll see if I can find someplace there."

"I'll see you in a few minutes," the Satedan told me confidently.

"Yeah, see you in a few." Forcing myself to take that first step toward the tree line, I listened for the sound of gunfire again. Now that I wasn't in the canyon anymore, the sound was fainter. Or maybe my hearing was fading with the blood loss, just like the rest of me. But it was still there, which meant so was Sheppard. Satisfied with that determination, I took the next step, and the next, ignoring the fact that I actually took a step backwards in between in order to keep my balance. Progress was being made despite the rounding errors involved. Absently, I wiped my hand on my pants, ridding it of the sand that was adhered to the blood there, focusing my attention instead on the trees and a potential refuge in front of me.

XXXXXXXXX

I checked my gun before holstering it back into its familiar position. That and the sword on my back were the only things that had felt familiar for seven years. That was until I met Sheppard and came to Atlantis. And now I was part of a team and I was amazed at how quickly I'd fallen back into the familiarity of that. Beside me, Teyla checked her P-90 before nodding to me that she was ready.

"You should go to the gate and call for backup," I told her as she fell in step beside me when I turned back to the trail we had just traveled.

"Ronon, we are still at least ten minutes from the gate, the gate with guards," she pointed out meaningfully. "And then the time to call and return..." She shook her head. "Do you truly believe either man has that much time to spare without assistance?"

"Sheppard's a good fighter with better weapons than the Ardamons," I argued. "He can hold his own for that long if he needs to."

"Colonel Sheppard is but one man. He is outnumbered and even though his guns are superior, he only has so much ammunition. The Ardamons only need wait him out and they will have what they want."

Given the fact that the Ardamons had already tried to take him and McKay once today, I knew she was right. And my silent frown said as much. We had been invited to a meal with Chancellor Terrog and a few of his supposed advisors to discuss the potential for trade with Atlantis. Politics. Even before the culling of Sateda, I had little use for it. But the Earth people seemed to enjoy it. Stay low, avoid detection, stay alive had been my motto for a long time now, and strolling into a village and immediately asking to talk to the person in charge went against every fiber of that belief. But Weir believed that making friends throughout different worlds was the best way to fight the Wraith and so did the others. We traded for food, which they no longer needed thanks to the Daedalus, we traded for technology, which was almost always less than what they already possessed, and we traded for allies, which usually ended up stabbing us in the backs.

And that's exactly what the Ardamons tried to do to Sheppard and actually succeeded in doing to McKay. Why those two? My theory was it had to do with wanted posters that the Genii had spread across the worlds. Sure, the rebel Genii had successfully overthrown their own government, but Ardama wasn't a major trading world. The only reason they had the technology they did was because they managed to trade it for livestock they kept and a grain alcohol they distilled that, I had to admit, wasn't half-bad. But news was slow to travel to these less advanced planets, so the fact that the Genii were no longer looking for people with the blood of the Ancients may not have reached them yet.

Whatever the reason, I'd seen the man across the table from me pull his knife and attempt to stab Sheppard and my own blade had taken him in the throat before his could reach its intended destination. My elbow to his face took out the man between me and McKay before he could attempt anything. Sheppard had recovered quickly from the shock of seeing the man next to him topple to the floor with blood spewing from his neck and Teyla subdued the man between them while Sheppard went for the Chancellor. McKay, however, was another story.

"McKay, look out!" Sheppard had shouted it since that was the only thing he could do. Our weapons, at least the visible ones, were stacked by the door, an act of good faith gone bad.

Wide eyes went even wider as the man beside him plunged a knife toward McKay. At Sheppard's warning, he pushed back from his seat at the table, stood and twisted, shifting his body away from his assailant. It was enough to keep the knife from settling home between his ribs, but not enough to keep it from slicing the ties of his vest and the flesh beneath, before finally sinking into his side above his hipbone.

Leaping over the body between us, I grabbed the man with the knife pulling him off McKay and twisted his neck with a satisfying snap. Looking up, I saw Terrog slump either lifeless or unconscious in his chair as Sheppard made his way to the side of our injured teammate. McKay's knees wobbled as one hand clamped down over the wound and the other reached blindly for support. Sheppard was there, sinking to his knees beside him when his legs finally gave out seconds later.

"Holy fuck," McKay gasped when he sucked in a breath. "He stabbed me."

"Yeah," Sheppard agreed tensely, pulling a bandage from his vest and tearing open the packaging, "I saw."

Blue eyes glazed in shock searched his friend's face as Sheppard slapped the dressing on the wound. "Why would he do something like that?"

"I really have no idea, Rodney, but I don't think we should hang around and find out. Teyla, grab our guns. Ronon, check the door." Taking McKay's hand, he placed it over the bandage. "Here, hold this in place. Try to keep pressure on it to slow the bleeding."

Taking my pistol from Teyla, I cracked the heavy wooden doors enough to peek out and saw a regiment of men standing down the hall. On a day with a full, uninjured team, I might have suggested the direct way out, but behind me I could hear McKay's voice slurring. "Wow, I'm really bleeding, huh?" Looking back, I watched his eyes lose all their focus and his head roll and bob until it landed on Sheppard's shoulder.

Sheppard cursed under his breath before turning hopeful eyes my direction. I shook my head. "Not this way, not with McKay down."

"The window," Teyla suggested. "There is a garden backed by a block wall around the estate. We can circle around to the Jumper from there."

"I can pretty much guarantee the Jumper's under armed guard right now." Sheppard provided. "We need to get to the gate and worry about getting the Jumper back later. We'll take the back way out. Teyla has point, Ronon our sixes, and I have McKay. Once we're clear of the city, you two hightail it back to the gate for backup. McKay and I will keep up as best we can." Teyla and I nodded our understanding if not our agreement with the plan. "Ronon, secure the door. Teyla, get one of those window open."

I dragged one of the heavy chairs from the table over and jammed it under the latch of the door. Behind me I could hear Sheppard calling to McKay, "Rodney! Come on, time to go."

The pale face shot up dazed in confusion, "Wha'?"

"I need you to stay with me here, McKay. We have to move fast and you need to keep up."

At Sheppard's orders, his head started to sink again. "Jogged yesterday," he mumbled.

Sheppard jarred him roughly. "No more napping. You need to wake up or we're not getting out of here, understand?"

At the painful movement, he blinked repeatedly and his eyes cleared in outrage. "Christ, Sheppard, are you in cahoots with these guys? Because it sure as hell feels like it."

"That's better," Sheppard smiled. "Just stay pissed and we'll get out of this no problem."

"If only that's all it took," McKay lamented in a strained voice as he wiped sweat from his forehead on his shirtsleeve. "We'd never run into trouble ever again."

"Just what I thought, you'd defy death just because there wouldn't be enough to bitch about on the other side." Slinging McKay's arm on his good side over his own shoulder, Sheppard asked, "We're going to stand up now. You ready?"

"Absolutely not," McKay told him as he gripped the other man's shoulder in a white-knuckle desperation.

"Good." And Sheppard pushed them up into a stand, staggering under the additional weight when McKay teeter precariously and threatened to pass out again. "Goddammit, Rodney, a little help here would be nice." But there was much more worry than anger behind the words.

"Screw you, Colonel," McKay told him as he struggled to hold on to consciousness. "I have a hole in me for God's sake."

"Any excuse to slack off," he drawled as McKay managed to stand a little straighter. "We're walking now, try not to disappoint me." After a few steps, McKay seemed to get his legs under him and they made it up behind Teyla who was standing beside an open window.

"The way appears clear. I will go first and make certain." She dropped the few feet down to the ground and crouched silently forward. When she reached the far wall, she signaled for us to follow.

Sheppard climbed down and I stayed to help McKay out the window. With my hand stabilizing him where he sat on the sill, he looked back at me. "Thanks for pulling that guy off of me back there."

I shook my head. "I should've been faster."

"Well, yes, obviously that's the case. But I'd be dead now instead of in a few minutes if you hadn't."

"We're getting you back to Atlantis, McKay, and Beckett'll patch you up."

"Oh, dear God. Words of encouragement from Mr. Stoic. I really am screwed, aren't I?"

I planned to live up to that promise. McKay was coming to back to Atlantis and if I had to carry him over my shoulder to do it then so be it. And when I reached the point in the bedrock trail where I saw a smear of blood on the rocks, fresh animal droppings nearby and a scatter of pebbles suggesting someone had skidded off and away in a hurry, I knew it was time for Teyla and me to split up.

"He went this way," I informed her as I stood from my squat of studying the streak of red on the ground. "And so did the animals after him."

Teyla's lips tightened into a thin line at the news. "Go, stay in radio contact. That is all we will have from here on out." Although Sheppard still wasn't responding to the calls we had made to his.

"McKay, I've found your trail," I called across the communications device. "You found a hiding spot yet?"

"A tree," came the winded and weakening voice back. "Rotting and hollowed out." There was a groan of pain and a whimpering, "Christ," before he continued. "I can see their life signs on the detector, all five of them. They're hunting me."

Teyla's eyes widened in alarm and I clenched my jaw against the thought of whatever these things were, and they were big by the look of what they left behind, finding him before I did. "I'm on my way, McKay," I reassured him firmly.

"Can you hear gunfire?" he asked anxiously. "I can't hear it anymore and I don't know if it's because I'm in the tree or Sheppard's…" He choked on a grunt of pain or concern or a combination of both. "Can you guys hear anything?"

Without another word, Teyla trotted off in the direction of where we had heard the guns firing before, because he was right, the guns had gone silent. "Don't worry about Sheppard, he can take care of himself," I evaded answering his question directly. "And I'm coming to help you."

I took off on the trail of his blood, and tried not to think about how easy a trail it was to follow.

XXXXXXXX

"Colonel Sheppard, respond, please." I did not slow my jog as I called to him once more. I considered calling again when I received no answer, then thought better of it. If he had been overrun and taken… I refused to consider the alternative… then they may have had his radio. And knowing I was on my way to help would ruin any element of surprise I might have been able to use to my advantage. It was a dark prospect to consider, but given the circumstances, I had to consider it nonetheless.

Vaulting over a boulder in my path, I fought for balance when I landed on loose gravel on the opposite side. The Earth gear that I wore offered much more protection than standard Athosian wear, but it was bulkier, clumsier, made for a man's larger frame more than that of a woman. Still, I had danced the sticks since I was a girl, the fluid exercises and training stances providing my muscles a control that was practically instinctual at this point and they easily compensated for the awkward landing.

Through the radio I could hear Ronon speaking with Rodney, garnering clues as to his exact location. If the Ardamons had access to a radio, they would be able to hear the same information, and although Ronon had the advantage of time on his side, the locals had the advantage of familiarity with the countryside on theirs. Still, given the gravity of Dr. McKay's injuries, it was a risk worth taking and I had to cling to the hope that Ronon would reach our injured comrade first.

I tried to clear my head of any negative thoughts; they would do nothing but distract me from my task at hand. But with one of my team injured, the other out of contact, it was a difficult undertaking to say the least. However, we Athosians had learned to balance hope and fear in an emotional dance almost as intricate as those of the fight. You cannot live for generations untold under the fear of the Wraith and not accept that death could come in a moment's notice yet still strive for survival if you could not find the equilibrium in such an existence. And that is why we have survived, my people, our culture, our way of life. You must accept the inevitability of death while cherishing every moment of life. And you must fight honorably for both.

But the Ardamons had no honor I had decided. Once again, we had been misled and betrayed and the frequency with which that happened was almost enough to shake the core of my belief system. It was also enough to incite me into running even faster to where Colonel Sheppard no longer fired his gun.

When the three men on my team met me by the wall behind the estate, we had crept along against the stacked stones until we found a gate out. Colonel Sheppard and Ronon had slipped through the exit to dispatch the two guards at opposite ends of the lane. I stayed with Rodney as he leaned back heavily against the wall, breathing raggedly through the pain in his side. The blood soaked bandage that he held slipped from his trembling hands and he barely even noticed.

"Here," I offered reaching into my own vest pocket to retrieve another bandage.

But before I could, the Colonel's voice called to us quietly through the radio. "All clear, for now. Let's move out before anyone else shows up."

Not having time to open the packaging of the military-issued dressing, I simply pulled out the kerchief I carried in another pocket and pressed it against the wound. Dr. McKay flinched at the touch and I smiled sympathetically. "This will do until we can treat it properly."

He took the cloth and wordlessly held it to his side then nodded that he was ready to join the others. I helped him through the gate, struggling under his weight until Colonel Sheppard met us and took up his self-appointed position as Rodney's human crutch. Ronon met us from where he had left one limp body on the ground and the Colonel indicated the direction from which he had come and the body of the second guard.

"There's an alley up that way. Looks like it leads behind these storage facilities and the distillery. I figure if we stay back behind them, we can skirt the town, make our way out of the valley, up the cliffs, over the mesa and back down to where the gate sits."

Rodney grimaced at the prospect. "That's not exactly the most direct path to the gate."

"No, which hopefully means there won't be anyone to add a gunshot wound to your already impressive knife gash."

"Yeah, okay, I could go for that," the scientist conceded wearily although the dread of the trip was obvious.

"Sheppard, company's coming," Ronon warned, and in the distance I could hear booted feet running then stop when they found the downed guard.

"Move," the Colonel ordered in a hiss, all but dragging Rodney and ignoring his cry of pain when his feet tangled beneath him.

I led the way, keeping a look out for anyone ahead of us while Ronon followed behind. After we had passed about ten of the large warehouses, Rodney gasped, "I can't… I need to catch my breath or puke or pass out or a little of all three."

Behind us, the sound of running feet was gaining. Ronon peeled off and ducked behind a stack of wooden crates. "Go on and turn in after the next building, I'll take care of the guards behind us."

"You sure?" the Colonel asked even as he hoisted Rodney's slumping form up a little more.

"I've got it covered, just go."

With little more than a quick nod of his head, Colonel Sheppard turned his attention back to his injured charge. "Come on, Rodney, just a little more and you can take a breather."

I led the men around the corner of the next building, the Colonel releasing Rodney to sag against stacked bins of grain before joining me as I peeked around the corner. In a whisper he told me, "As soon as we reach the cliffs, you and Ronon make for the gate."

I glanced back at how Dr. McKay panted heavily, his head resting on his folded arm and a shudder ran through him. "You will need our assistance to reach the gate, as well."

Keeping his voice low so our friend could not hear he confessed. "You and Ronon will be through the gate and back with a Jumper before Rodney and I ever make it there. That's the only way the two of us are going to make it back to Atlantis alive."

I furrowed my brow in worry and shock that he would say such a thing. "Then one of us should stay with you…"

He shook his head. "They'll have guards at the gate. Probably already do. It'll take both of you to secure it, get back to Atlantis and bring Lorne and a fucking platoon of Marines and get us out of this."

"John," I started but he cut me off.

"That's an order, Teyla. You and Ronon go to the gate and don't look back until you're on the other side. Do I make myself clear?"

I met determined hazel eyes with my own… determined, worried, resigned… and I told him simply, "Yes, Colonel, very clear."

As if one anxiety had been lifted from his shoulders he sighed. "Good." Then looking out of the alleyway where we were waiting, he straightened. "Here they come."

A handful of running men slowed cautiously as they approached the turnoff we had taken. Guns drawn, they passed Ronon's hiding spot, not seeing the warrior where he blended into the shadows. I gripped my P90 tighter as they approached, steadying my breathing so that my aim would be true. A spray of bullets would easily take them; however, the noise would draw more soldiers and could possible catch Ronon in the crossfire. If we had to shoot them, then a series of single shots would be best. Colonel Sheppard had evidently come to the same conclusion as he drew his handgun and let his P90 hang loose in front of him. Not daring to look back at our pursuers, we leaned back against the wall of the warehouse, waiting for Ronon to act so that we could in kind. The John's gaze flicked between Rodney clutching the bandana I had given him to his side and me, a small reassuring smirk curved his lips when my eyes met his but the expression lost some of its surety when he swallowed and closed his eyes as if to better hear what was happening in the street behind us. I took a deep breath and held it, hoping for the same, but even their footfalls were being drowned out by the pounding of my heart.

At the sound of Ronon's pistol firing, Colonel Sheppard's eyes flew open and we both stepped around the corner and took in the scene. One man was on the ground and a second on his way when we opened fire on the remaining four. I hit one in the shoulder, the force knocking him back and into the crates behind him. The Colonel shot one in the chest and another at the junction of neck and shoulder before the first had even crumpled to the ground. Ronon's pistol took out the fourth and we assessed the scene before us.

"Make sure no one's going to be following us or calling for help," our team leader instructed Ronon then turned quickly on his heels and headed back into the alley. When I heard him call an alarmed, "Rodney!" I followed, as well, hearing Ronon's weapon fire again when I turned my back and I knew he was completing the job I had not.

Dr. McKay was no longer standing, having slid down to the floor of the alley. I felt a moment of panic myself when I saw him slumping against the bins. The Colonel squatted before him, fingers going to the unresponsive man's neck when he didn't answer the hail. At the touch, Rodney's eyes bolted open and he jumped back before realizing who was before him. "Oh, hey. We going home now?"

With an exhalation of relief, John hung his head before running hands through unruly hair. "Yeah, McKay, we're going home." Studying the wound with a grimace he held out a hand. "Teyla, give me your field bandage, all this running isn't helping slow the bleeding any."

Complying with his request, he put the bandage over the cloth I had already given Rodney and tied it securely in place. With my help, we got Rodney to his feet again just as Ronon joined us. "We need to move. It won't be long before the others catch up."

"Right," the Colonel agreed, "Let's get going." And we headed out of the city and into the cliffs beyond.

Skittering down a slope of rock, I thought about what I had promised… that we would go to the gate and bring back help. But as I had told Ronon once before, sometimes you have to decide which orders to follow and which to ignore. And I had no doubt that if either man we had left behind to reach the gate had any chance of survival now, the only way would be for us to abandon that order and return to help them. I was confident in my decision, and even more so when I heard the explosion not far from where I currently ran.

It was close enough that is actually knocked me from my feet and the rumble of rocks seconds after suggested I was not he only thing that had fallen down. Quickly gaining my feet I sprinted down and then up the opposite side of the rock embankment. There on a cliff I looked down into a small valley, little more than a ravine much like the one Dr. McKay had described. Opposite from where I stood, a mass of rock was coming into view as a cloud of dirt and debris cleared. Bodies, by the scraps of clothing I could make out they were Ardamons, shown amongst the rubble. I scanned the valley for the one person I was looking for. The one I had come to help in the first place.

Unfortunately, he was nowhere to be seen.

XXXXXXXX

C-4, ya' gotta love the stuff. Not nearly as impressive as Rodney's C-5, but it sure as hell packed a lot bigger wallop. And when strategically placed in the fissures of a cliff face, it could take out an entire posse of bad guys hot on your heels. It had taken a while to lure them back into the trap, working my way up and over the various rock walls until I found the perfect ravine, planted the charge and continued to lure them down below it. But it was worth it since I was also luring them away from McKay so he had a snowball's chance in hell of making it a little closer to the gate.

Satisfied that the charge had done its job, I had started making my way back toward the trail we had been on before the now buried men had caught up with us without even waiting for the dust to clear. Putting my earpiece back in place I tried to contact Rodney, only to be answered by a high-pitched feedback. It was the reason I had taken it out in the first place. One too-close-for-comfort shot from our pursuers had hit the stone wall behind me, sending a ricochet of stinging rock shards back at me. My flack vest had taken most of the brunt of the tiny missiles, but one had sliced into my cheek and another evidently hit the radio causing it to short out.

Pausing long enough to study the com, I tapped it against my hand in the universal quick fix solution for anything malfunctioning and tried again. Still nothing. Shit. This whole day just sucked to high heaven. My only hope was that Teyla and Ronon should have reached the gate by now and help should be on the way. And if I was really lucky, McKay had made it a little further down the trail without adding any other injuries to turn my stomach further.

I'd seen his fucking rib, a flash of white that caused me to pale almost the same color as Rodney's pasty complexion when I had stopped to recheck his dressing. It was almost as sickening as watching that damn knife skip across his rib cage and sink into unresisting flesh in the first place. Swallowing thickly around the threatening bile I had forced a grin. "Guess that thick skin of yours came in handy after all, McKay. The cut's not that bad and the bleeding has definitely slowed."

Lying. Rodney claimed he was no good at it, but in comparison to me, he looked like a goddamn pro. Leaning his head back against the wall of the shaded rock overhang I had chosen for our rest stop he rolled glassy blue eyes. "The hole in me is so deep you could probably reach in and pull out a steaming bowl of chow mien, Colonel."

Sitting beside him, I offered a sip of water from my canteen. He was dripping sweat almost as heavily as he had been dripping blood before. "China's in an entirely different galaxy, Rodney, and I have no idea what sort of civilization has sprung up on the opposite side of this planet."

"Maybe it's the one run by scantly-clad big-breasted women, whose national pastime is pillow fighting and open-minded, sexually-experimental slumber parties. Why don't we ever run across that civilization when we come through the gate?" He took a small sip from the canteen and coughed on the water.

Fighting the frown that was threatening to override the smirk on my face, I bumped his shoulder. "Because 'Penthouse' is in a completely different galaxy, as well."

"Maybe that's what we should be trading with people here in Pegasus. Forget all those damn antibiotics and food, a good dose of porn might help to alleviate some of the testosterone-driven aggression that seems to run rampant through the vast majority of solar systems we visit."

I took back the canteen and promptly ignored the bloody fingerprints he had left behind. "'Debbie Saves Atlantis', I'm sure Zelenka would be happy to film that as a service to the expedition."

"God, Eastern European totalitarianism meets the sex industry. 'You will maintain wood, now!'" He tried to laugh and winced at the effort, clutching his side and drawing up his knees in pain. I patted his back conciliatorily until he regained his composure. "Guess it's a good thing he'll be too busy running the science division to have time for diversions such as that. I don't think any world is ready for a Radek Zelenka production."

I moved my hand up to squeeze firmly on the nape of his neck. "No one's running the science division but you. I've helped dispose of too many bodies of potential usurpers to accept anyone else in that position."

"Well, aren't you Little Colonel Optimism today."

"Nope, just expect to see a Jumper full of Marines flying over any minute now. Then we'll take you back and let Carson slap a band aid on that scratch you keep going on about and you'll be back to spreading terror and dread throughout the entire science staff on Atlantis."

He smiled smugly, closing his eyes at the thought of getting home. "I am good at that, aren't I?"

"They scatter like frightened rabbits at the crinkle of your powerbar wrapper. Speaking of which, you hungry?" I reached into my vest pocket then froze when I heard rocks falling followed by the creak of gear. Tapping McKay's chest, I placed a finger to my lips when he opened his eyes to give me a questioning look. With a hitch of my head indicating we should go, I helped him stand, hoping they didn't hear the groan he swallowed and moved us over the next rise.

The first gunshot hit just below our feet as we climbed up and we quickly ducked behind a large boulder before the second. "Shit," Rodney exclaimed as another sent rock shards flying. "Shit, shit, shit."

"Yeah, that about sums it up," I agreed as I bent around our cover and returned fire with my P90. Studying our surroundings, I saw another boulder about five feet away, then another a couple feet beyond that with even more in the distance. And that gave me an idea. I could hold them. I could draw them off, draw their attention away from Rodney and hold them off until help arrived or I found a way to evade them all together. Meanwhile, he could make it a little closer to the gate without a fucking army breathing down his neck.

Turning back to McKay, I told him succinctly, "Give me until the third boulder, then take off for the gate."

"What?" he demanded right on cue. "What about you?"

"I'll be fine," I assured lightly, "catch up with you in a few minutes."

"Sheppard, I am not leaving you here with a regiment of armed men shooting at you. This is like the goddamn ending of 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'. And by my recollection, Butch didn't just take off and leave Sundance to face the entire Bolivian army by himself."

No, they went down in a blaze of glory, or more precisely, a shower of bullets and blood and that was one experience I had no intention of sharing with McKay, best friend of not. I fired off another spray of ammo at the men below us and deflected the resistance as easily as the boulder deflected the return fire. "Why the hell do you get to be Butch? I'm the oldest after all, and I doubt you could even ride a bicycle."

The offended chin rose a little higher at the question. "Because I have the blue eyes."

I rolled my darker ones at his justification. "Yeah, I'm sure you get asked for Paul Newman's autograph all the time. The resemblance is uncanny." Another burst of gunfire and I was rewarded with the satisfying cry of downed man.

"Look, that is not the point. The point is, I'm not leaving you to fend for yourself while I run away."

"Rodney, do me a favor here and head for the gate. Whip me up some salad dressing when you get there and I promise I'll be right behind you."

"Sheppard, you cannot hold them off by yourself."

"I can't hold them off with you! On my own, I can make it to the gate. With you, I can't." Completely ignoring the hurt look in his eyes I also ignored the sickening feeling in my gut and continued. "The only chance I have of making it out of this is if you have a head start and let me get there on my own. Got it?"

And evidently I didn't give myself enough credit earlier when I said I couldn't lie, because he actually bought it. Hook, line, and motherfucking sinker. So that a few minutes later, I was drawing fire about twenty feet away from Rodney, and he was creeping back to the trail and to the gate.

Now that I was done with the lying, I needed to keep my promise and catch up to him. I made my way up to the highest rise of rocks and surveyed the lay of the land before me. Off in the distance I could just make out the gleam of the gate when the sun peeked out from behind the growing clouds. Studying the radio in my hand a little closer, I saw the break in the wiring that was probably causing the problem. Pressing the wires together, I could hear voices cutting in and out through the receiver.

"…no sign…search…but he is not…be alive." I could hear Teyla's frantic voice over the radio.

Digging in one of the pockets in my vest I fished out my penlight that had a couple of wraps of duct tape around it for just such an occasion. Ripping off a strip of the silver material, I bound the wires tightly together until the voices stabilized.

"McKay, come in," Ronon called impatiently, then he told Teyla, "I can't get him to answer."

"Teyla, Ronon, do you copy?"

"John," Teyla breathed in relief. "You are unharmed?"

"I'm fine. Did you make it to the gate yet?"

"No," she told me hesitantly. "Rodney ran into trouble and Ronon went to help him. When you did not respond to calls on the radio, I came to assist you. Only, after the explosion I could not find you."

"I had a problem with my radio. I just now managed to fix it," I explained before asking the question that I dreaded hearing the answer to. "What sort of trouble did McKay run into?"

"He's being hunted by some local predators," Ronon told me. "They must have picked up the scent of his blood. He's hiding out here somewhere but he's stopped responding to my calls on the radio. I think he may have passed out again."

Jesus H. Christ, could we not catch a goddamn break? "Ronon," I asked in frustration, even as I scanned the terrain before me, as if I would be able to see a damn astrophysicist scurrying for cover somewhere in the landscape. "Do you think you can find him?"

"I've been tracking him pretty easily," and I knew there was no bravado in that statement, only fact. "But I've just run into a little problem of my own, namely the animals."

"Ronon, are you in danger?" Teyla's question came seconds before my own.

"It could get a little… unpredictable here," he admitted, which for Ronon meant he was in a whole heap of shit.

"I am on my way," Teyla told him. "Where are you?"

"I found the stream McKay told us about. Pretty much straight down from the turnoff." From through his open link I could here a low growl joined by several others.

"Stream? What stream?" When he didn't answer I called a strained, "Ronon?"

"Can't talk right now," came the equally strained response.

"Rodney said he had found a stream in a small canyon, which he followed until it opened onto a wooded area." Teyla's voice was slightly winded so I knew she was running as she spoke. "He is hiding in a rotten tree trunk there."

Surveying the landscape, I could make out a cut in the rocks that I followed with my eyes until I saw the bedrock give way to trees and grass. "I think I see the trees," I told her. "It's probably about a mile from where I am right now."

"Then go, and I'll help Ronon."

I started down from my perch even as I cautioned her, "Be careful."

"You as well. Rodney told us there were five of the creatures hunting for him where he was hiding."

"Oh, good. I always enjoy squeezing in a little wildlife viewing while running for my life from armed assailants." Keeping my sites on the woodlands below, I mumbled to myself, "Well, McKay, I doubt Butch and Sundance ever had to deal with voracious animal in their escapades."

I could only hope that this time they weren't damn frogs.

XXXXXXXX

"Rodney, where the hell are you?"

That was a good question. A very good question. Wherever it was, it was dark. And as I cracked open my eyes to find even more darkness, I had to wonder the answer to that question myself. I also had to wonder who was asking the question.

"Come on, McKay, answer me."

"Here," I croaked out, then cleared my throat and tried again, "I'm here." But even though I could hear whoever it was that was calling me, they apparently couldn't hear me because the request kept coming.

"Rodney, I swear to God, if you don't answer your radio hails and let me know you're alive, I'll kick your ass all the way back to the gate."

I snorted drowsily as my eyes slid shut again. Leave it to Sheppard to threaten more bodily harm in order to alleviate his fears about my well-being. And something about that was tickling at the back of mind that the reason whoever it was that was calling me couldn't hear me had to do with Sheppard and the radio.

Sheppard. Radio. Sheppard was calling me on the radio. My eyes flew open. Sheppard was calling me on the radio!

Raising a heavy hand to my earpiece, I activated it and said weakly, "Colonel?"

"Rodney, thank God. Where are you?" Looking around my dim surroundings I wasn't sure and I told him so. "Teyla said you were hiding in a tree. Can you tell me which tree?"

A tree. That's right, I had found a tree, crawled in, curled up and was waiting for Ronon to come save me from the weasels. I had talked to him for a while, fighting to stay awake, fighting to hear any gunfire that would indicated Sheppard was still alive, hell, fighting to open the bandage from my own vest and stop the bleeding that was slowly taking the fight out of me. But eventually, I couldn't hold me eyes open anymore and Ronon's voice drifted in the dark and I couldn't answer him anymore. I still heard it though, at least for a while. And Teyla's voice calling to Sheppard and I heard the silence that answered her and I hoped that he had been right. I hoped that without me to burden him, he would make it back to the gate. The three of them could go and say some nice things about me at my memorial and maybe seek revenge on the assholes that had done this to me by loosing rabid weasels on them in their sleep.

Sundance would have done that for Butch, at the very least. That is if Sundance had survived the Bolivians while Butch bled to death in a tree. And the last thing I remembered before even the voices of my teammates faded away was the sound of an explosion blowing the vault on the train.

"Rodney, which tree?"

I shook my head trying to clear the fuzziness and gave a noncommittal, "Uhm…" At my feet I could see faint sunlight creeping into my little hole. Reaching out a probing hand, I found the life signs detector on the ground beside me. The screen lit up at my thoughts and I could see five life signs circling in the immediate vicinity. "The one with the giant, man-eating weasels stalking it," I informed him.

"Aww hell, Rodney, do you have your sidearm? Shoot them."

I licked dry lips and shook my head before I realized he couldn't see me. "Can't see them, just their signals on the detector."

"Can you see me on the detector?"

Adjusting my thoughts I expanded the range on the device which also expanded the number of forest creatures milling around that I was picking up. "Stop moving so I can tell which one is you." I waited for a few second to see which blips kept moving and which one stopped. Of course a good half dozen remained still. "Okay, move again," I told him and when one of the six blips moved at my direction I smiled. "Got you."

"Where I am in relation to you?"

I watched his blip move across the screen. "Relative north."

"Relative north? What do you mean relative north? And none of your 'everything is relative' crap, either."

With a sigh I told him, "I have no idea where magnetic north is on this planet, but given a planar coordinate system, you are north of my position."

"Okay" he asked impatiently, "then what direction am I heading now?"

"East."

The Sheppard blip modified its course and asked again, "How about now?"

"Warmer," I informed him as his signal moved encouragingly in the right direction. Unfortunately, so did one of the weasels until its signal was sitting right on top of mine and a snuffling nose bumped against my boot. "Fuck!" I pulled my foot back as my hand scrabbled over my holster for my nine millimeter.

"Rodney?" His blip moved faster at my outburst and unfortunately off course.

"Colder!" I managed to snap as I unsnapped my holster guard and the weasel let out a throaty growl.

"Need more help than that, McKay."

"West, you need to head southwest!" One of the other weasel blips evidently picked up his scent because it was moving quickly in his direction. "Behind you, John, look behind you!" Pulling my own weapon I flicked the safety off as I let the life signs detector fall so I could brace my wrist and fired just as the creature scrambled forward and forced its head into my hiding place. I think it was probably dead after the first three shots, but I fired another burst of four just for good measure.

Somewhere in the not too far off distance I heard a stutter of P90 fire and Sheppard exclaiming a surprised, "Holy shit!"

The dead animal completely blocked any light coming into the tree and I patted anxiously around me trying to find the detector. Outside I could hear the other animals tearing at the one in the hole. Whether to eat it or get at me, I wasn't sure but I had a feeling it was a little of both.

"Sheppard?" By the sounds outside, the nine shots I had left were never going to be enough to handle all the critters that would require handling.

"Coming," he promised and seconds later I jumped when more gunfire and animal yelps sounded just outside the tree. Then there was silence and I felt the dead vermin moving against my foot once again as Sheppard pulled it out of the way and stuck his head in in its place. "I thought I told you to go to the gate."

I covered my utter relief at seeing him alive with a grumpy frown of my own. "I thought you said you couldn't make it with me holding you back," I countered.

"I'd never say something like that, McKay." He reached in an arm to help ease me out. "You must be hearing things as a result of your blood loss."

Gripping the offered assistance with one hand and my sidearm in the other, I shook my head in realization. "Altruistic son of a bitch."

He just grinned widely. "Come on, Butch, the Pinkertons are still on our trail."

Crawling out, I closed my eyes against the nauseating way the trees spun above me, suddenly finding myself face down in the mulch. Lifting my head, I looked up into a face straining to maintain the grin. For the first time I notice the smear of blood on his cheek. Reaching out a hand, I clasped onto his forearm and started hauling myself up with his help. "Pinkertons, Bolivians, Ardamons , attack weasels, why the hell don't we get the good stuff, like the money raining down on us? That's what I want to know."

I made it to my feet just as the first drops of another all too familiar and much more common rain started to fall on us. We both looked up into the cloudy sky and the drizzle quickly turned into a steady downpour. "Not a word," I warned the man all but holding me up as he blinked against the water already running into his eyes. "Not a goddamn word."

"There are no words, McKay." He shook his head before surveying the dead animals at our feet. "At least they weren't frogs."

I shuddered at the memory. "Yeah, big plus there." And then something dawned on me. "Why are you here?"

He sighed. "Alright, I'm sorry; I didn't mean what I said back there…"

I cut him off before he could complete the unnecessary apology. "No, I don't mean that, I mean, why are you here instead of Ronon?"

"Oh, he was attacked by big ass weasels, too. Teyla went to help him."

"Oh," I nodded in understanding. "You know, I shouldn't just accept a statement like that so easily.

"I guess that just goes to show what ravenous-frog, big-ass-attack-weasel sort of folks we've become over the years." Retrieving the life signs detector, he hitched his head in what I assumed was the direction of the gate. "Come on, let's go home."

Leaning into him thankfully, I let him lead me through the thicket of animal carcasses. One weasel reached out a paw and pulled itself away from the others, pathetically dragging its backend behind it. We both watched it warily, John keeping his gun trained on it the entire time. In fact, we were watching it so closely that we didn't notice the other supposedly dead creature behind us until it pounced forward and bit into Sheppard's boot.

Sheppard swung his gun around and fired the same time I fired my own. His shots hit home, dropping the animal permanently. One of mine hit his foot, dropping us to the ground with synchronized outraged curses.

"God fucking dammit, McKay! I cannot fucking believe you just did that!" He clasped his booted foot, scrunching his eyes tight as he continued to rant.

"Shit." New pain erupted in my side as I landed on it. Rolling to my back and willing the block spots dancing before my eyes to go the hell away, I gulped air and listened to Sheppard as he sat cussing beside. When I was finally able make out what he was yelling I turned my head and managed to pant out. "Oh, Jesus… I didn't mean… I'm sorry!"

Sheppard lay back in the dirt and ran his hands over his rain-soaked face before hammering his fist into the ground. "Fuck!"

"I'm sorry," I repeated. "Really, really sorry." Pushing myself up on my elbow, I looked more closely at his boot. "It… uh, it looks like the bullet passed straight through."

"Well, lucky damn me."

"It's not like I did it on purpose. I'm sorry, but I was just trying to save your life." I twirled my hand that still held the gun. "A little gratitude would be appreciated."

Sheppard raised his head high enough to give me a disbelieving look. "Put that damn thing away before you put a hole through more than my goddamn vibram sole."

Reholstering my gun I put my hand on his boot. "Do NOT touch my foot!" he ground out between gritted teeth.

"Well, then what do you want me to do?"

Raising an index finger he closed his eyes and clenched his jaw. "Just…" He took a deep breath fighting for control. "Just give me a minute." Leaning back on the ground, he covered his eyes with one arm while pounding his fist repeatedly into the dead leaves with the other.

With a frown, I asked him, "Do you think you can walk?"

The index finger went up in the air again in silent warning. So I sat waiting, my side throbbing, as the rain drenched us and the deceased weasels around us. Finally, after a few minutes he raised his head up to look at me. "Now, what were you saying?"

"Do you think you can walk?" I asked again morosely.

"I can probably walk. You, however, probably can't, at least not without falling flat on your face. The fifty thousand dollar question is, can I help you walk? That, I'm not so sure about."

Hanging my head, I mumbled, "Maybe you should just go on without me. Maybe you were right with what you said before."

"Oh, don't you dare start with the sanctimonious bullshit, McKay. There is no way in hell I'm not getting you back to the goddamn gate now, because you are never going to live down this fuck up. I'm holding this over your head for months… years from now you will still be owing me for this one."

Grimacing at the prospect, I asked, "Are you sure you don't want to leave me behind?"

With a sigh he pushed himself up to a sit then with a face contorted with pain, to his feet. "Son of a bitch, that hurts," he grumbled as he hobbled around to test his ability to walk.

"Shouldn't we bandage it up?" I asked worriedly.

"If I take this boot off, it's not going back on. Carson can cut it off when we get back, otherwise it stays where it is… with no more holes than it already has," he growled. Ignoring my roll of eyes, he helped me to stand and hopped to retain his balance. We could hear gunfire, the echo muted by the falling rain and we both turned in the direction of the already swelling steam in the distance. "Does that feed out of the canyon you came down?"

I nodded in affirmation. "Is that Teyla and Ronon?"

"God I hope so. Teyla, Ronon, you guys copy?" When there was no answer he reasoned, "They might be a little busy right now." He stepped gingerly, helping me to walk as best he could. "But I'm betting they'll be coming down the canyon and we can meet them there."

"The stream isn't far," I assured him when he hissed with the next step. "I walked it by myself before. I can do it again."

With a sigh, the angry set of his jaw soften minutely and he patted the arm I had slung over his shoulder. "We'll make it, McKay. And then when we meet up with Teyla and Ronon, they'll be able to help us get to the gate."

"Yeah, okay," I said but I was silently breathing a sigh of relief because walking on my own just wasn't going to happen anytime soon. "Sounds like a plan."

Of course, I should have known by then that nothing on this mission was going as planned.

XXXXXXXX

I had tracked McKay down to the stream. Even over bedrock it was easy. A drop of blood here, a smeared red handprint there, the trail told a story and I could almost see the ghostly image of McKay staggering, falling, rising again, only to repeat the actions as the animals pursued him. They were pack hunters; working together to drive him on, run him down in an almost systematic manner. Then I had found the shredded remnants of his bandage above the five-foot drop to the rocky streambed below. That alone was probably what had saved him from the attack. They had him where they wanted him, weakening quickly with nowhere to go but into the narrow streambed, but the blood had evidently been enough to stimulate their hunger and the blood-soaked bandage enough of an enticement to have them fighting among themselves and giving him the chance to slip away during the infighting. No, the tattered and stained pieces of gauze weren't the first signs I had seen of the animals that were also tracking him and, unfortunately, they weren't the last.

Halfway down the trail I had heard the rumble of an explosion and then Teyla telling me about the avalanche of rock and bodies but so far no Sheppard. I had thought of turning back then, McKay wasn't responding on the radio and the practical soldier in me said there may be no one left to help at the end of this trail. But there was more to being a soldier than being practical. I had made a promise and I intended to keep it. Then finally, Sheppard himself had responded and all thoughts of giving up vanished.

I had just finished reporting back about what I had found at the stream when Sheppard asked, "Ronon, do you think you can find him?" I would have laughed at the question is something hadn't had the hackles rising on the back of my neck.

I could smell them before I ever saw them. Even over the scent of impending rain hanging heavy in the air, a pungent musk came carried on the wind. Without rising from my crouch, I slid my eyes to either side and could just make out the dark forms slithering into view.

"I've been tracking him pretty easily," I told him, hearing the scrape of claws on rock behind me as I did. "But I've just run into a little problem of my own, namely the animals."

"Ronon, are you in danger?" Teyla asked and I could just picture the crinkle of worry on her forehead. Out of my peripheral vision I saw another animal join the ones already there.

"It could get a little… unpredictable here," I confessed. Four. There were at least four, but I had a feeling there were at least two behind me and maybe another behind the rock steps to my left.

"I am on my way," Teyla told me. "Where are you?"

"I found the stream McKay told us about. Pretty much straight down from the turnoff." Yeah, there were definitely two behind me by the sound of the menacing growls back there. And those were my first concern. I stood, spun, and drew my gun the same moment that one pounced from behind. It died in midair but still hit me with enough force to knock my pistol from my hand and me to the ground. Scrambling up to my feet again, I drew my sword.

"Stream? What stream?" I ignored Sheppard's question as I swung and caught another on the shoulder. "Ronon?"

"Can't talk right now," I grunted out as a set of sharp claws sliced into my back.

Spinning I executed a slice of my own with a vicious upswing of my sword and successfully removed the offending paw along with a chunk of nose. The scrape of talons on rock warned me of another attack coming behind me and I shifted my weight and my body so that I only took a glancing blow from the animal's mass. Still, it was enough to have me staggering to stand and the creature in front of me with the bloody stump used his remaining paw to swat at my chest and leave parallel trails of crimson oozing through my shirt.

I stumbled back and out of reach, noting a movement to my right and swung my sword at the dark fur. That one went down and stayed there but another came in from my left and I felt thin razors slice into my calf. I kept up like that for what seemed a small eternity… hack into a hind quarter with my blade, take a cut on my shoulder; plunge my sword into the neck of one, feel the claws of another on my leg. And these weren't normal scratches; they burned from the second they opened, the fire spreading into the surrounding tissue like touching an open flame. Venom, I decided as I felt my muscles quiver, and that was the deadliest member of the pack, the one that was going to take me down.

If I could get to my gun… but that was a big if I couldn't seem to accomplish. That was until Teyla arrived and fired her P90. The animals cowered at the sound, flinching and lowering their heads at the burst. It was enough of a distraction for me to locate my gun and, with a final upswing of my blade that took off the head of the creature standing nearest to it, I dove and retrieved the weapon. Between the two of us, we finished off the animals, both of us panting… Teyla where she stood with P90 still at the ready and me from where I had reclaimed my pistol from the ground.

With an alarmed frown, she closed the distance between us. "Ronon, you are injured."

I shrugged lightly. "Just a few scratches." But my casualness floundered when I shivered then flinched away from her touch.

She shook her head disapprovingly. "More than a few and definitely more than scratches."

"I've had worse."

"That does not mean these are not serious in their own right," The exasperated tone remained as she pulled the fabric of my shirt away to study them more closely. "We must get you back to Atlantis."

I shook my head. "I told McKay I was coming for him." I had no intention of not living up to that promise.

"Colonel Sheppard was going to find him."

"But he hasn't yet," I told her simply. Through the radio I had heard Sheppard calling to McKay but so far there had been no answer.

With a sigh indicating that she had come to the same conclusion she frowned harder at my wounds. "We should clean these; they are much too swollen and discolored for being so fresh."

"The animals have some sort of poison on their claws," I admitted as I shuddered from an unnatural chill once again.

"All the more reason to return to the gate and Atlantis as quickly as possible." Pulling her canteen, she poured water over the cuts and I gritted my teeth against the way the burning escalated at the contact. However, the more she flushed them, the better they felt. She had made two trips into the stream to refill her canteen when we heard McKay finally respond through the radio followed by a frantic exchange between our two teammates and Sheppard firing his P90. She paused and looked down the canyon before shaking her head and returning to cleaning my wounds.

Seeing her torn reaction, I suggested, "This is where McKay entered the stream. If we follow his same trail, we could probably find Sheppard and McKay. And it's as quick a way as any back to the gate."

"That is what I was thinking," she admitted reluctantly as she poured water over the last of my lacerations. "Then come." She helped me to stand and started toward the edge of the ravine and I gave my sword a cursory cleaning on the fur of a dead animal before resheathing it.

And that's when I saw it.

"Teyla!" It was the only warning I had time to get out before the predator that had been lurking behind one of the rock steps pounced.

She turned at my shout, eyes wide and gun firing as the beast, easily as large as her, impacted her and the two of them went tumbling over the ledge. Sprinting sloppily to the edge I could see the animal, unmoving on top of my equally unmoving teammate.

"Teyla?" I yelled again, leaping down into the water and pushing the dead weight off of her. Lifting her head gently out of the water I called her name yet again.

Brown eyes fluttered open, blinking curiously at me before she turned her head and saw the carcass beside her. She relaxed slightly before saying, "I am beginning to think that perhaps we should have followed Colonel Sheppard's original orders to go to the gate after all."

I smiled in relief, "Are you hurt?"

She returned my grin with a flick of eyebrow. "I have had worse."

If she could throw my own words back in my face, I could do the same with her. "Doesn't make these any less serious."

"No," she agreed with an expression of pain as she pulled herself up, "it does not." I helped her to stand and she gripped my arm tightly to steady herself, the other arm wrapping around sore ribs. With a wince and indrawn breath she informed me, "I do not believe you and Dr. McKay will be the only one's visiting Dr. Beckett when we return."

"Can you walk?" She leaned into me and I found that I had to put out a hand to the rock wall to keep from toppling over myself.

Her snort indicated she hadn't missed the action. "Can you?" At my insulted expression she amended her question. "Perhaps a better question would be can we walk."

"Yeah, I think we can." And we started down the stream using each other along with the canyon walls for support.

About halfway down, the rain started to fall and the stream quickly started to rise. Unfortunately, there was no way to climb out of the sheer walls on either side so we just moved a little faster. But I kept looking for a way out anyway and at one point I thought I had found it. If I could boost Teyla up, she could climb over the top then help me. Cupping my hands, I heaved her so she could reach a few handholds and pull herself up. She was almost to the top when she suddenly dropped back down. Landing hard on her butt in the water, she trained her P90 up and blinked furiously against the falling rain. I followed her line of sight, my own gun drawn, and a few seconds later a whiskered nose peered over the canyon edge. We both fired simultaneously and the animal skittered back from the edge.

Hauling Teyla up to her feet, she told me, "Perhaps the stream is not so bad after all."

"Yeah, I think you might be right."

And actually it wasn't too bad since the canyon opened up a few minutes later and we staggered out about the same time that Sheppard and McKay staggered to the edge of the stream. Between the four of us, I couldn't tell who was supporting who. We all stood there in the steady rain, already soaked to the bone and looked at each other… bloody, battered, bruised, and in all around bad shape. I realized it was the first time we had all been together since we had split up at the edge of the city. The first time we could actually talk to each other without having to rely on a radio frequency.

"What the hell happened to you two?" McKay demanded.

Noting the hole in Sheppard's boot, I refrained from asking the same thing. I tried to stand straighter but decided the pain from the claw slashes across my chest was justification for the hunch. Besides, when I shifted, Teyla nearly lost her balance and toppled over. "Things got… unpredictable," I evaded, trying not to grimace at the sting of the cuts on my back.

"Well," Sheppard drawled taking in his team, "if nothing else, it looks like Elizabeth should get some interesting reading in this mission report."

XXXXXXXX

The walk to the gate was best described by Rodney.

"This sucks."

That had been stated during the first half mile as I helped to haul him and Colonel Sheppard up from the mud. Ignoring the way every muscle in my body ached and the sharp flair in my ribs from my fall, I managed to get them back on their feet and return to Ronon. The Satedan stood swaying where he stood, eyes trying to focus in the steadily falling rain. But I knew it was more than the weather that had his eyes glazed and his body warmer than the walk should have accounted for. A fever had set in and I feared it would not release its grasp on him until Dr. Beckett could treat him with the Earth medicines.

Colonel Sheppard, the least injured of us all, tightened his hold on his teammate, fearing an immediate repeat of their trip into the mire at our feet. "Is that just a theory, McKay, or do you have the evidence to back it up?"

"Look at us; I think that's all the evidence you need. We qualify as the walking wounded by a mere technicality that limping, staggering, and teetering all fall under the umbrella of walking. Which, by the way, I would give my left leg for an umbrella right about now."

"If you did that, Rodney, you'd have to be the hopping wounded instead."

"At least I'd be dry," Dr. McKay mumbled and I could not help but concur with him.

"Being dry would be most pleasant. Do you not agree, Ronon?"

At my question, he seemed to come out of his daze and shivered. "I could go for a towel."

"I could go for a hot meal," the Colonel piped in. "Why is it that we always get attacked before we get to eat? They invite us to dinner, we sit down, exchange a few pleasantries and before we're through the salad course they're going for our throats. They could at least give us the common courtesy of a last meal before trying to kill us. Is that really too much to ask?"

"It's lasagna night tonight in the cafeteria," Rodney volunteered.

"Garlic bread." Ronon spoke the words as if he were savoring the food while we walked.

"With extra butter," I added wishfully.

"And brownies for dessert."

With John's contribution to the fantasy meal, Rodney embellished, "Oh, and soft serve ice cream on top."

"With those little sprinkle things," Ronon put in.

I smiled at the thought of all of us sitting around the table in the cafeteria, eating, arguing, laughing, and for just a moment, the rain, the pain, the worry all disappeared. But then Ronon stumbled against me and it all came back again. Bracing myself to steady the two of us, I shook my head in disbelief. "Why you would intentionally leave a world with something as wondrous as chocolate, I will never understand."

Colonel Sheppard stretched an all-encompassing arm. "What? And miss out on all of this? Perish the thought."

And a few miles further down the trail, I wished I could. We had reached the edge of the mesa. All that was left was to climb down and make our way to the gate itself on the plateau below. But, unfortunately, it was nowhere near that simple. Rodney's complaining had tapered off even if the rain had not. In fact, he barely spoke at all. He leaned even more heavily into John, his entire body drooping in a semi-conscious state.

The Colonel jarred him firmly in an attempt to rouse him. "Rodney, have you figured out how you're going to grovel for forgiveness yet?"

Blue eyes framed by creases of pain took in his smirking friend. "You wish," he slurred. "Should be sending me a thank you note for saving you from being weasel chow."

"I can't be certain, but I think I might be a pinky toe short. That's at least worth a month of laundry duty and unlimited laptop service for a year." When Rodney did not respond, he tried again. "McKay, are you paying attention here?"

This time he didn't even raise his head. "Are we almost to the gate?" he asked wearily.

Giving up on trying to revive the man in his care, Colonel Sheppard studied the life signs detector in his hand instead. "Almost, Rodney," he promised but by the frustrated way he looked from the detector to his team, I could tell he was torn between relief that we were reaching the end of our trek and fear of what that end would hold.

"There are guards at the gate?" I asked the question even though I could already tell the answer.

"Six," he informed me, turning the device so I could see the blips. "Any other day, Ronon could take them on his own, but today…"

"I can still fight, Sheppard." Ronon stood straighter but the effect was lost when he shivered uncontrollably.

"You can still get yourself killed, is what you can do if you go in like this," Colonel Sheppard chastised.

"I'm probably dead as it is. Those things poisoned me."

"Let's let Beckett make the medical diagnoses, all right? For now, I want to do everything I can to get all of us back to Atlantis." Studying the terrain below us, the Colonel shook his head in frustration. "The problem is it's all open ground between us and the gate. Completely flat, no trees, not even any large boulders to hide behind. They'll see us before we're even in shooting range and there's no way to slip up on them."

"They have been standing in the rain as long as we have and are probably bored and not very alert," I suggested.

Colonel Sheppard tilted his head in thought. "Specialist Dex, did you ever have to do exercises in the rain back on Sateda?"

A sly grin cut across the pale face beside me. "Hated it. All I wanted to do was get back to the barracks and out of my wet clothes."

"Guess the military is the same the universe over, then." Looking off into the distance, the gate was a hazy circle through the rain. "Those sons of bitches are hating life right about now. Probably bad mouthing their CO, missing lasagna night, wanting to be anywhere but there. We could use that to our advantage."

"What did you have in mind?" Ronon inquired.

"Well, the whole sneaky bastard part of the plan hasn't come to me just yet," he admitted.

"What we need is a wounded weasel," Rodney mumbled trying his best to clear the fog from his head and the rain from his face with a scrub of his hand. "They're experts at being sneaky bastards."

A smile spread slowly over John's face. "McKay, you really are a goddamn genius."

Rodney snorted. "As if there were ever any doubt. Only problem is we don't have a wounded weasel."

"Sure we do," he assured, "and you're it."

XXXXXXXX

"Don't shoot!" I shouted across the distance between us and the men at the gate. "We're unarmed!" In demonstration, I dropped my P90 and M9 to the ground. Teyla did the same, wincing as McKay's weight she was sharing with me increased at the action. We were all but dragging Rodney at this point, his head hanging limply, rain running unnoticed down his face. "Hold on, McKay," I mumbled under my breath, "we're almost there." I was answered by nothing more than an incoherent grunt.

With a disgruntled growl, Ronon's pistol and sword joined the pile of weaponry at our feet. "You better be right about this, Sheppard."

I didn't answer as we stepped across the arms and left them a few steps behind us; I had enough doubts about this plan without him adding to them. But, desperate times and all that bullshit. And we had definitely hit desperation mode and my foot was the least of my worries. Rodney and Ronon didn't stand a chance if we didn't get back to Atlantis, plain and simple. And I refused to lose another member of my team, that was one habit I intended to break. So, I ignored Ronon's comment. Instead I kept my eyes on the men spread out at the gate with their guns trained on us.

"Come no closer," one man, obviously the highest ranking among them, yelled back.

"Look," I reasoned, "we're no danger. In fact, we're barely standing. I'm willing to go back to the city with you, but two of my men need immediate medical attention and I wouldn't turn it down."

Four of the men moved forward, pistols locked on us as the leader gave Rodney a cursory glance, dismissing him instantly, before turning his attention to Ronon and the vicious scratches he exhibited. An amused grin cut through the wariness. "I see you have run into the herimock. Medical attention will do this one no good. Their claws are death."

"I think our doctors could help him." I protested. "We have medicines, that if we had had the chance to make it through the meal, we would have offered in trade. And if you'll just let my team go back through the gate to get the attention they need, I can probably arrange for your people to still get access to them."

Walking closer to Ronon, he addressed me but studied the Satedan as he did so. "And I think you will say anything to get through that gate."

Ronon tried to square his shoulders under the scrutiny but his knees buckled and he sank to them in the mire. And with the motion, time slowed. The four guns pointed at the team all shifted to him. Teyla released her hold on Rodney and dropped to the ground beside Ronon to support him. And Rodney's hand that had been under Teyla's hair, the one that gripped his sidearm, swung and pointed at the guard nearest to him.

Take the shot, Rodney, I thought desperately, take the shot.

I had reloaded the Beretta myself, making sure it had sixteen bullets before sitting next to Rodney where he slumped back against a boulder on the top of the mesa, placing it in his hand and wrapping his fingers around it.

"Sheppard, I don't know if I can…" The pale face and glassy eyes held something besides the pain and fear that had been there since I had first squatted beside him in that dining hall and stained my hands red with his own blood. Now there was more… dread and regret.

"They won't suspect you, Rodney," I reasoned. "With the blood and being barely conscious, they'll hardly even register that you're there."

"I don't mean pulling off being at death's door. Hell, it's honestly harder pretending I'm not. I mean, I don't know if I can…" He sighed and placed his index finger over the trigger before easing it away.

I rested a hand on his leg and squeezed. "Us or them, Rodney. That's what it's going to come down to, us or them."

And as I watched Rodney's finger squeeze the trigger, rainwater dripping from the barrel of his gun, his hand fisting into the shoulder of my vest, I heard him whisper, "Us," as the bullet flew home and time sped up again.

The guns of the remaining guards that had been pointed at Ronon swung toward Rodney at the same time Ronon swung a fist into the leader's groin and slipped Teyla one of his many hidden knives. The Satedan was one of the best knife throwers I had ever seen, but no one could best our Athosian teammate when she had a blade in close quarters. The guard she set her sights on took an open-handed punch to the nose and knife in his ribs before he got off a shot, and Ronon had disarmed the ranking guard and had the man's own gun to his head before he had recovered from the punch. That left one guard still armed and I launched myself at him, forcing us both to the ground and trapping his pistol between our two bodies.

Above where I wrestled with the guard, I just managed to make out Rodney firing at the two remaining guards at the gate. I couldn't see, but I assumed they were running toward us. Teyla was diving for the gun of the man she had disarmed to return fire, as well.

And me? Well, the guard I had pinned to the ground took a chance or made a mistake or whatever the reason, he fired the gun between us. The Ardamon weapons were definitely cruder than U.S. military issue. Although handguns, the ammo they fired was closer to a shotgun shell than the ball ammo we shot in ours. The spray of buckshot against my stomach had me sucking in a breath like I had been punched. Through the ringing in my ears I could hear Rodney yelling, "Sheppard!" My own eyes widened in mirror horror when he took a shot to the chest and went flying backward to the ground.

Body armor, another concept the Ardamons had no fucking clue about and thank God for that. The SGC had developed some of the best shit around. Lightweight panels of high-density ceramics that slipped into our vests and made Kevlar look like tissue paper. And that's the thought I held onto as I rolled off the poor son of bitch below me that wasn't wearing anything more than a home weave shirt and crawled over to McKay.

"Rodney?" My hand went to the spatter of holes on his vest but nothing seemed to have passed through.

He lay panting in the rain, hand pressed tight against the bandage on his side. "Ow."

"I know the feeling," I agreed as I pulled my hand away from my stomach to see a stain of red. The panels work great; unfortunately there are gaps between the ones that run down the front of our vests. Not big gaps, but the buckshot in the Ardamon weapons didn't need a lot of space.

"Shit, you're bleeding!"

"Yeah, imagine that. I was shot and it wasn't even by you, McKay." I tried to laugh but found I was lying in the mud beside Rodney and that didn't seem too damn funny at the moment. Rodney may have managed to shoot my foot, but it was a graze at worst. Hurtlike a son of a bitch, butthere was no way in hell I could have walked as far as I did on it if he had hit anything vital. But this...

"John?" he called worriedly beside me.

"Is the gate clear?" I asked with a fire burning deep in my belly.

Ronon's face appeared above me, pale and wet and hollow-eyed with a burning all his own. "Sheppard, we're all clear."

"Then, get me up and let's get home," I ordered trying to swallow down the threatening bile because, holy shit, puking would hurt like motherfucking hell right then.

Ronon called Teyla over and her eyes widened in alarm. "Colonel, you've been shot."

I took her arm and between the two of them, she and Ronon were able to get me standing. "Yeah, I'm getting pretty tired of that happening today," I managed to grit out as the gate faded to black momentarily in front of me. "Rodney?" Was that my voice slurring like that?

"Right here." A hand gripped my arm then his body moved in close to mine, Ronon in tight on the other side.

"You did good," I assured him as we moved as a swaying mass toward the gate. "Best damn wounded weasel I've ever seen." And he had. They all had. My team, I couldn't have asked for better.

"You're doing a pretty impressive rendition of one right now," he snorted.

"It comes with being a sneaky bastard," I told him with a forced grin.

The gate whooshed to life and Teyla entered her IDC before taking her position on Ronon's opposite side. We stumbled up the steps of the gate platform shoulder-to-shoulder, arm-in-arm, but all of us on our feet.

That is until we walked through the gate and into the embarkation room on Atlantis.

The first thing I remember when we stepped foot into the familiar shade of the room was the gate tech standing and letting out a shocked, "Holy crap!"

The next thing I remember was the feel of cool metal meeting my knees and the weight of Rodney against my shoulder.

The last thing I remember was the sound of Elizabeth calling frantically through the radio, "Medical team to the control room, immediately!"

And then even that frequency went dead to my ears.

XXXXXXXX

I sat at my desk and deliberated whether or not the coffee pot across the infirmary was worth the trip or if I should just sit and melt into my desktop as I truly desire to do. As it turned out, I needn't bother with the mental debate. A soft hand landed on my shoulder and a mug of glorious liquid caffeine was placed in front of me.

"You look like you need this." One of my nurses, Jessica, God love her.

"Aye, that I do," I admitted without a bit of shame as I took a deep whiff of the coffee before sipping gingerly at the steaming drink.

"I'm going off shift now, if that's all right."

I furrowed my brow in surprise. "Is that time already, then?"

She nodded. "An hour past, actually. But seeing how things have been around here, I thought you might be able to use the extra hands."

Jessica had only been off-duty less than two hours the day before when the call came from control regarding multiple injuries for Colonel Sheppard's team. Two surgeries later, we had both the Colonel and Rodney relatively stable. Colonel Sheppard's blood pressure was still a wonky, but he had been responsive after the surgery so I took that as a good sign and resolved to monitor the situation through the night. In fact, both he and Rodney had been alert long enough to ask about their teammates and request to see them before drifting off again with the promise that soon enough they would be able to see each other. Teyla had had her cracked ribs bound, her scrapes and scratches cleaned and a muscle relaxant administered for the various strains and sprains and general battered condition she was in as a result of her fall. Besides, with her three teammates required to be my guests, I knew she wasn't going anywhere anyway, so might as well have her pain free and getting some much-needed sleep, as well.

And then there was Ronon. We had stitched up some of his deeper cuts and started him on wide spectrum antibiotics, but his fever had spiked about four hours after they returned and we had had to pack him in ice until we could find a drug that the infection would respond to. He had been convinced he had a venom wrecking havoc with his system, but blood tests revealed something even worse, a highly aggressive bacterium that was attacking his body. Based on the degradation of the tissue in the immediate area of the scratches, and some consultation with the xenobiologists, we had theorized that the bacteria possibly had a symbiotic relationship with the creatures, providing a means to weaken their prey and possibly even help to break down the flesh while getting a meal of their own. Regardless, it was a nasty bugger and it had taken some time, and Ronon had nearly gone septic on us, before we found the right drug for the job. And even though the fever was falling, I knew I was in for a long evening.

I had been correct in my assessment of the night. When Jessica had come on shift again, we took Colonel Sheppard back into surgery. His blood pressure had continued to slowly fall, and going back in we discovered we had missed a slow bleeder the first time we had been in there and he was bleeding internally. Satisfied that we had finally fixed that problem, I turned my attention back to Ronon who continued to teeter on a precarious edge. He seemed to have reached a plateau in his improvement and while the fever had fallen, it hadn't broken and his pain had steadily increased. After some consultation with my staff, we decided to try a cocktail of antibiotics, pain meds, and analgesics and finally, the tables turned and for the first time in almost twenty hours, Ronon was resting comfortably.

And now, a full Earth day after they had staggered through the gate a walking train wreck, I felt confident enough to consider them all stable and out of the proverbial woods. In fact, now I had another problem entirely.

"What color jello did they give you?" Rodney asked across the radio.

"Blue," Colonel Sheppard answered.

"Lucky bastard," the astrophysicist grumbled. "Teyla, what did you get?"

"I have soup and flat bread, but no jello."

"What?" both men demanded simultaneously.

"Why do you get real food?" Rodney demanded.

I keyed my own radio with a yawn. "Because she didn't suffer a near fatal knife wound, Rodney. And if you had paid any attention to what I told you about said wound this morning, instead of entertaining yourself by blaming my exhaustion on doing unmentionable things with an inflatable sheep, you would know that."

The sigh across the radio was aggrieved and long-suffering and pure McKay. "Carson, I lived the wound, nearly died from it; I don't need to listen to you bleating on about it in all its gory detail…literally."

"And I don't need to be accused of sleeping with a wool-covered sex toy when I spent the entire bleeding night treating all those literally gory details in the first place." I took a gulp of coffee, ignoring the fact that it was still way to hot to be guzzling down. "Now, I would ask that you kindly refrain from talking on the radio anymore so that we can free up the frequency for more important communications."

"Ronon, what did you get to eat?"

At Rodney's blatant disregard for my request I lay my head down into the crook of my arm. Why? Why did I even bother? And for a moment, I honestly couldn't decide if I was referring to asking him to stay off the radio or saving his life in the first place.

Ronon's weak voice answered back. "Ice chips."

"Oh, man," the Colonel sympathized.

"Beckett says I can try some broth later today."

"Wow," Rodney offered in mock excitement, "how can you stand the anticipation?"

"Hey, McKay, you want to play twenty questions?"

I whimpered and considered weeping uncontrollably with Colonel Sheppard's question. I was not going to get a moment's peace with the entire team in the infirmary. Granted, it had been almost refreshing to work on a patient without one or all of his or her respective teammates gathering underfoot, odd but definitely refreshing. But now, I was experiencing the flip side of knowing exactly what that lot was up to. No wondering why it was so quiet. It was like caring for toddlers that way; if they were silent they were usually up to no good. No having to take an inventory of the wheelchairs so that someone didn't take an unauthorized trip with the help of their comrades. No smuggled treats or missed sleep or worrying if the worrier was going to collapse from sheer exhaustion and malnutrition where they sat in a chair by a bed. No, none of that. But this?

I sighed as Sheppard sing songed in my ear. "I spy with my little eye, something silver."

"Is it the bedpan?"

"Dammit, Rodney, how did you guess that so quick?"

"My turn," Rodney practically beamed across the airwaves. "I spy with my little eye, something metal."

"Is it the bedpan?"

"Dr. Beckett?" Raising my head, I saw Jessica still standing above me with a questioning look. I had completely forgotten she was even there.

"Oh, love, I'm sorry. Of course you can go. We'll see you this evening, then."

She smiled a goodbye and turned to leave just as Rodney said, "Okay, Ronon, your turn."

"I don't have a little eye," the large man told him succinctly.

"Then change it. I spy with my warrior eye," Sheppard suggested.

"But I don't see a bedpan."

Teyla laughed pleasantly at Ronon's observation. "Perhaps you should explain the game a little better, Rodney."

I was doomed. Absolutely doomed.

I made my way blearily to my quarters, slipped out of my shoes, and collapsed fully dressed into bed. It wouldn't be the first time I had done such a thing, and I knew it wouldn't be the last. Rolling over, I realized I still had my com link in my ear and Ronon was taking a shot at 'I Spy'. With an irritated huff, I removed it and placed it roughly on the bedside table. But looking at the device where it sat, it suddenly dawned on me why Sheppard's team was talking nonstop on the radio. They had been separated back on that planet, hurt, scared, worried and alone with only the radio to assure them that the others were alive. It couldn't be any easier now that they were back on Atlantis. That's when I realized what I needed to do.

And that is how Dr. Weir found me and a nurse pushing Rodney's hospital bed down the hall. "Carson, you said I didn't need anymore test today."

"No, Rodney, you don't." My patience was running thin, but my patients were going to give up jabbering on the damnable radios if it was the last thing I ever did.

"Then where the hell are you taking me?"

"To dump you over the nearest balcony," I informed him cheerfully.

"Oh, ha, ha, ha," he griped sourly, then his expression changed to one of concern. "Seriously, Carson, where're you taking me?" When I didn't answer he frowned harder until he looked up and saw our expedition leader. "Ah, Elizabeth. Good, you're here. I'll have a witness for my malpractice suite."

"Malpractice, Rodney?" I tsked. "We're well beyond malpractice. 'Tis homicide charges I'll be facing at the very least."

Elizabeth's eyebrows rose in amusement. "Something I should be worried about, Carson? I'd hate to loose two senior members of my staff in one day."

"Then perhaps you should have Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay avoid having foreign objects forcibly enter their bodies in the future."

"I plan to talk them about just that topic," she promised.

Rodney's glower of disapproval vanished and was replaced with what almost appeared to be an expression of relief when I peeled back a curtain and we wheeled him into an enlarged patient area. Colonel Sheppard turned from where he was chatting with Ronon in the bed next to his to smile at his newest roommate. "Hey, McKay, what took you so long? You missed the chips and dip."

I saw the derogatory comment involving sheep dip forming on his lips and warned him, "Not a word, Rodney, or I wheel you back down to your private room and confiscate the radio."

Lips clamped shut into a tight line as we positioned him on the Colonel's other side. As the two men started talking, Ronon turned to Teyla, whose bed was on his far side. Satisfied with my work, I dismissed the nurse and moved to stand next to the door while Elizabeth greeted the team.

"For some reason I can't seem to get that childhood story of four little monkey's jumping on the bed out of my head." She continued to chat with them for a few minutes then moved to stand by me. "They definitely look much better than yesterday."

I gave her an exhausted smile. "They keep me on my toes, there's no denying that. And last night was no exception."

"Good work, Carson, as always." She turned back to study the four teammates and shook her head with a pondering, slightly amused expression.

"They were driving me mad with the chatter on the radio. I had to do something," I explained feebly.

"No, I think it's a fine idea. I was just thinking, the way you have them arranged, it's exactly how they came through the gate. Although with a lot less blood and not using each other to walk."

"Well, the way I figure it, they used each other to survive their injuries back on Ardama; they can probably use each other to recover from their injuries, as well."

"I think you're right," she agreed before adding pointedly, "I also think you could use some rest and recuperation of your own."

"Aye, that I could," I acceded wearily.

With a warm smile and a pat to my arm she told me, "Get some sleep. I'll be back to check on all of you later." After a final goodbye to everyone, she left and after a final check of my patients, so did I.

And this time when I fell into my bed it was blessedly to complete radio silence.

The End