Chapter 3: Fast and Loose

"Radek, what the hell are you wearing? We're going to a hostile planet, not the senior prom."

Picking at a piece of lint on my tuxedo lapel, I mumbled as best I could around cotton balls in my mouth. "You mean there was difference between the two at your school?"

"Honestly, no," he admitted before demanding, "What is in your mouth? Dear God, I meant to go as Don Corleone in attitude, not literally."

"It helps to get me in charac…" I coughed on cotton balls, readjusted them, then continued. "… in character."

"As what, my cat? Yes, that's very intimidating. Forget the horse head in their beds; you can hack up a hairball in their boots. They'll be quaking in fear as soon as they catch their breath from laughing their asses off." An insistent hand wiggled below my chin. "Spit them out. Let's go, Felix, we don't have all day."

Doing as he bid me, I watched in amusement as he dropped the wet cotton in disgust then wiped his hand on his black vest. "And where's your field gear?"

With a shrug, I reasoned, "You came back without field gear. I figured they will not let us take it to planet so why bother losing it? Besides, I am to be powerful leader, should look like powerful leader."

He frowned reluctantly at my rationale. "Well, actually, the tux isn't too bad. It will work with this." He took the small, preprogrammed autodialer with additional pieces of metal bits attached and pinned it on my jacket, like a metal corsage.

"So sorry, Rodney, but I don't like you that way. Besides, would be inappropriate to have romantic relationship with supervisor."

"Ha! You wish. I have a strict policy against dating anything fuzzy and balding faster than me." Stepping back, he regarded his work with critical eye. "Well, it's not very attractive but they have no idea that our leaders don't wear some sort of gaudy badge of station, so hopefully they won't try to take it from you."

I squinted down my nose to look at it myself. "When did you do this?"

He reached out and adjusted it slightly. "Last night."

"You were to be sleeping last night," I challenged.

"I did it when I wasn't sleeping. Now, let's go, Ronon and Teyla will be waiting."

We entered the gateroom to find that Rodney was correct. Elizabeth raised surprised eyebrows at my attire and I sucked in my gut to appear even slimmer than double-breasted jacket allowed…it is very flattering cut on my frame. Rodney simply shook his head. "Don't ask," he told her without even slowing our progress to the gate.

Ronon had a small smirk on his face and Teyla, dressed in her fighting skirts and midriff baring top inclined her head at me. "Dr. Zelenka, you look very… dignified."

"That was plan," I sniffed smugly at Rodney, who simply rolled his eyes. "And you look very… alluring."

"Well, then we have both succeeded in our ruse."

Opening my mouth to agree with her, I stopped as I realized what she said. Ruse? Did I not always look dignified? Rodney slapped me on the shoulder. "All right, people. Does everyone know what they're supposed to do? Radek, you speak only in Czech and try to look important. Teyla, you stay close to Radek and make sure no one takes the dialer and he doesn't screw anything up. Once we have Colonel Sheppard and Carson, you activate the device, but not before. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Rodney, we are all aware of the plan," Teyla granted patiently.

"Good. And Ronon, you just stick by me and… loom accordingly."

The Satedan checked his gun before reholstering it. "Yeah, McKay, I've got it. Let's go."

"Dial the gate," Rodney ordered with authority but I noticed how his hand fidgeted near his own thigh holster.

The gate burst to life and I exhaled heavily in my own anxiousness, jumping slightly in surprise as Teyla slid her hand into the crook of my elbow. "Do not worry. I will be right here."

I smiled gratefully as Elizabeth called down from the control room. "You have a go. We'll be waiting for your signal."

"Is Lorne standing by? He needs to be ready to go the very millisecond you've determined the address."

"We're already in the jumper, Rodney," Major Lorne's aggrieved voice came over the airwaves.

"Okay. Then… good. Just so you're ready." With a final, awkward wave of his hand, he motioned us forward. "Let's move out then." Approaching the gate, he stopped then signaled to Ronon. "After you."

"Good idea, McKay. Very commanding of you." The large warrior stepped through the gate followed by Rodney and a second later, Teyla and I, still arm in arm, did the same.

Rodney had been right. They confiscated most of our gear, including any weapons, as soon as we exited the stargate. But they did leave me my medallion dialer, for which I was very grateful. I had removed my jacket while they frisked me… mustn't wrinkle the fabric… and after only a cursory look at the ornament, promptly ignored it. They balked at allowing Ronon and Teyla through to their settlement, but when I ordered Rodney to dial the gate back to Atlantis in a snit, they conceded to our demands. What sort of threat were an unarmed man and pretty woman, I'm sure they reasoned. Especially when they had guns pointed at us. Let them think that, for all I cared. Stupid antagonistic aliens, kidnapping friendly Colonel's and sympathetic doctors, they deserved what they got. And if what Rodney had told me was true, Ronon could play hibachi chef with knives he had hidden in hair alone.

We were led through the settlement with little fanfare. Within makeshift dwellings I could hear the occasional baby crying or child laughing and women talking, but we saw no one; that is until we reached one of the few intact buildings in the village and were met by a blonde man about my height surrounded by several larger men with guns.

"Fornus," Rodney did very little to hide his dislike of the man, even as he went through the formalities, "may I introduce our leader, Dr. Weir. Dr. Weir, this is Fornus, tyrannical leader of the Hollorans."

He inclined his head in greeting, ignoring Rodney's comment, even as he addressed him. "I'm rather surprised to see you back, Dr. McKay."

"Due to cultural restraints, Dr. Weir speaks only the language of his birth country, although he understands others. But I can translate for him." Not waiting for a response to our farce, Rodney blustered on. "Now, where are Colonel Sheppard and Dr. Beckett?"

"Where is Chancellor Druhin?" Fornus asked in return.

"Did you honestly think we would bring so valuable a bargaining chip with us when we don't even know if our people are okay?"

"They live," he told us simply.

"Then let us see them." Fornus hesitated, seeming to measure our resolve. Adopting an irritated expression I snapped that we should just leave and head back to Atlantis as it was almost dinnertime. Rodney who only understood a few words in Czech that were similar to Russian ones translated, "If you don't, then the deal is off."

Fornus considered his options for a moment then decided perhaps he should abide by our request. Leaving several guards to watch us, he left to retrieve Colonel Sheppard and Dr. Beckett. It was only a few minutes that they were gone, but it seemed like hours as we stood waiting.

I wiped at rivulets of sweat that ran down my temple and Teyla draped an arm around my shoulder, leaning in to whisper in my ear with a provocative smile. "You are doing fine. It should not be much longer now."

Her body pressed against my shoulder, a spine-tingling combination of soft flesh and firm muscle and I felt compelled to make mental demand of 'why, God, why do you torment me so when I am just trying to do good and help friends?'

And I was still thinking same thing when I heard Rodney demand, "I thought you said they were okay."

Carson and Colonel Sheppard appeared, squinting against the light and they… well, they did not look good, either one of them. Carson was pale and haggard and Colonel, it was a wonder he was even still on his feet. Rodney had told us they had beat Sheppard, but by the livid color of red the physicist was turning, they had obviously committed more acts of violence on his friend since he had been gone.

"I said they were alive," Fornus countered.

"Well, way to get by on a technicality."

I reached instantly for the autodialer on my chest but Teyla's hand captured mine. Anyone watching would have taken it for a gesture of affection, but they could not feel the pressure she exerted and I feared that the small bones in my wrist would crumble under that grip. And I found that I was reconsidering my position on the positions I had previously been considering with the Athosian.

"Rodney!" I snapped when it appeared two guards and Ronon were on the verge of breaking into fight with McKay positioned right between them. "I am here with beautiful woman with equally beautiful breasts pressed against me and you are ruining moment with scuffle." Of course, everything I said was in Czech so no one understood, not even beautiful-breasted woman threatening to break my hand.

For the first time, the men we were here to rescue seemed to notice us and I did my best to look cool, confident and in control. Rodney, taking advantage of the order I gave him scowled, "Dr. Weir is not pleased with the condition of his men. There will be no negotiations until they've been cared for properly." Although that was nowhere near what I had said, it is probably what I should have said, and would have said if not distracted by the…distractions… both of them.

"You should consider yourself lucky that we allowed you to see them and are even entertaining negotiating with you."

"And you should consider yourself lucky we don't just blow the hell out of this settlement of yours from orbit, which is exactly what we will do if they don't live. So, you decide, giant fireball of death wiping out everything in sight or give Beckett his medical kit back and finally let him do his job."

"You don't know where this particular world is located. I do not take well to false threats." I feared Fornus would call our bluff, but Rodney, in true McKay form, ruthlessly bullied over him.

"You know we have technology well beyond your capabilities, including long-range scanning and tracking abilities. Do you really think that the leader of our expedition would come to this planet just to recover two men without some sort of security to back him up? But, hey, it's all up to you."

Fornus glared at him, but Rodney simply glared back and began humming to himself. Fighting back a snicker at the tune, I couldn't help but think, 'Alex, I'll take astrophysicists that could eat you for breakfast for one thousand'. The Hoffan looked my way and I instantly stifled a bored yawn. Finally, he relented. "We'll be back after we eat our midday meal."

When they had left all except for a contingent of men to guard us, I caught sight of Rodney and Ronon easing Colonel to the ground, but I was more interested in the dialing device. "Now?" I asked Teyla and she released my hand.

"Yes, now." At her acquiescence, I pushed the button, not knowing if it had worked or not, but figured we would know soon enough.

"So, now we wait," I sighed quietly to Teyla and we made our way over to the men on the ground.

As we walked up I could hear Colonel Sheppard request, "Lie to me and tell me Radek's in charge."

"Of course I am in charge," I offered haughtily. "Was just matter of time before true cream rose to surface and curds sank to bottom."

"Cream? You? I'd say you're more like a nondairy creamer… dry, fake and a poor substitute for the real thing. Oh, and if you weren't too busy groping Teyla, did you manage to activate the autodialer?"

Teyla's eyebrows rose in warning. "The device was activated, Rodney. And there was no groping on Dr. Zelenka's part."

"We better be ready, then," Ronon stood even as he spoke, keeping a keen eye out.

"What autodialer?" Sheppard demanded. "Rodney, what have you done?"

"We dialed back to Atlantis so they can track the transponder Carson has in his field kit. As soon as they have a lock on the address, Lorne will be sending in the cavalry."

"And how long should that take," Carson asked apprehensively.

"Approximately five minutes," I assured them. "Definitely no longer than ten."

"And how long before Fornus realizes that the gate is active?" Carson had barely finished his question when a man came running into the plaza where we were gathered.

"Fornus! Fornus! The ring of the Ancestors! It has been opened by someone other than us!" The man barely slowed, giving us the quickest of untrusting looks before continuing on.

"I'd say about a minute and a half," Rodney responded after a glance at his watch. The guards that had been left behind looked from the direction of the gate, to the building their leader had gone to take his meal, to us, hands going cautiously to their guns.

"Now what?" Colonel Sheppard's tone was somewhere between worry, curiosity and weary acceptance of the fact that he had no control over his fate.

"Now, we stall. Radek, you're on," Rodney hissed at me and eased out from behind Colonel Sheppard when we saw Fornus and his men stalking toward us.

"What is the meaning of this? Why has the ring activated?"

"How should we know? We've been sitting here the entire time."

Wholly unconvinced by Rodney's argument, Fornus pulled his own gun and placed it in the center of Rodney's forehead. "Give me one good reason why I should not kill you and everyone else here for breaking the rules of our meeting."

Rodney squeezed his eyes shut and tried to stammer an answer but nothing came to him except a mumbled chant of, "Ohshitohshitohshitohshit."

"Fornus," Carson started to speak as calmly as possible. "There is no reason…"

"Dr. Beckett, have you seen what a gunshot to the head looks like?" The Hoffan leader's question was almost conversational.

"Yes, to be honest, I have," Carson admitted quietly.

"Then unless you want to see it again up close, I suggest you remain quiet, or tell me what has happened with the circle."

"Fornus, we didn't do anything with the gate, so put the gun down."

"Colonel Sheppard, I have been more than patient with your people. But unless I get an answer right now, I will kill Dr. McKay where he stands." His finger tightened on the trigger as his lips curled in a conceited sneer as he addressed Rodney. "I knew you were lying about the ship."

To my side I could see Ronon easing his raised hands up behind his head. If he pulled a knife, he could kill Fornus, but could he do it before the man killed Rodney? Perhaps. But I am not a gambler. Oh, sure, I play cards for video games and contraband items, but never have I gambled with a person's life if I could help it. And unfortunately I didn't think I could help it now. No, I am usually not one to play fast and loose with a person's life, especially my own. But sometimes we are not given much of a choice in these matters.

With a rip, I tore the autodialer from my jacket and raised it high above my head. "I have a bomb and I'm not afraid to use it!" I bellowed in Czech.

Fornus looked anxiously at me then back at Rodney without moving the gun. "What is he saying?" When Rodney didn't answer he grit louder, "What is he saying?"

"He's saying…" Rodney's eyes darted to me in wide-eyed desperation. "He's saying…"

"Can you translate for him or not?"

At Fornus's demand, Rodney's fear transmuted into something I was much more used to seeing… annoyance. "Well, it would be a hell of a lot easier to understand the man if I didn't have yet another fucking gun pointed at my head."

"Believe me; it will be even harder when your brains are splattered across this courtyard." The Hoffan's threat had Rodney once again pleading with me with his eyes.

"A bomb! I have a bomb!" When he still didn't comprehend my meaning, I yelled, "Kaboom!" and pointed at the device in my hand.

"A bomb! He has a bomb!" I nodded my head that he finally understood, then glared menacingly when Fornus eyed me guardedly. "And… uh… it's connected to the gate and… and when he opened the gate remotely it activated the bomb. So that's what's going on with the gate. There. Now, I've answered your question and you can put the gun down and please don't shoot me."

But he did not lower the gun; instead he turned to me, "If you set off a bomb, it will kill you, as well."

I shrugged slightly. "He does make a very good point there."

Rodney, however, translated it as, "Yes, but our people would be safe from you."

"Ah, yes, good idea!" I squared my shoulders nobly. "We will save the galaxy from your tyranny and oppression."

"You will no longer be a threat," McKay interpreted.

"We will make the universe a better place to live."

"It will be a worthwhile sacrifice…" Rodney continued.

"Small children will sing the praises of Radek Zelenka, savior of Pegasus."

"One we are all willing to make…"

"Perhaps even a statue will be set up in town squares throughout the various solar systems."

"For the good of all humankind…"

"Nothing too fancy. Bronze, because it will last longer than stone, of course."

"And that is all I'm going to say on the matter." Rodney glared at me meaningfully, silently telling me to shut the hell up, and I clamped my mouth closed with a resolute expression.

Fisting into Rodney's shirt, Fornus maneuvered him over closer to me with the gun still against his skull. "Disable the bomb. Now."

I simply shook my head no.

"I will kill Dr. McKay right here if you don't."

At my soundless waggle of the autodialer, Rodney told him, "I think he means to detonate the bomb if you do that." With a nod of my head in the affirmative I smiled smugly at the madman. Dear God, what was I doing?

It was then that another guard ran into the plaza. "The circle of the Ancients… it has shut down." Bending in half, he gulped air. "A few moments after it opened… it closed down again."

"It's a failsafe on the gate," Rodney explained quickly. "If nothing goes through, it shuts down automatically."

"And the bomb?" Fornus inquired.

"It's still active. He's the only one that can disable it."

Fornus seemed to size up Rodney as he stood with a gun barrel pressed into his forehead. Finally, as if coming to a decision, he asked simply, "You're a very smart man, aren't you, Dr. McKay?"

"Well, actually, yes, I am."

"Good, then you can disable the bomb." With those words, Fornus shifted his arm from pointing at Rodney's head so that it was pointing at me. And without another word, he pulled the trigger.

I have never been shot before. It is something I would have been happy to avoid. The blast hit me in the chest hard enough to knock me onto my back into the dirt of the courtyard, hard enough to have my ears ringing from the sound of the discharge, hard enough to knock the breath from my lungs, hard enough to have sky swirling above me. It felt like the time when I was twelve and my grandfather's mule kicked me. He had a farm outside of Prague and my sister dared me to tug the mule's tail. And what twelve-year-old boy can resist a challenge put upon them by his baby sister? The kind that will avoid three cracked ribs, that is who. Children, they do stupid things. And sometimes adults do also, like pretending to be gangster when they are simple engineers.

But pain, it is part of life, no? It is what lets you know that you are still alive. Somewhere through the hazy humming, I could hear Rodney yelling my name, and cursing me…braying like that old mule on my grandfather's farm. This rather reminded me of his farm…lying on my back watching fluffy clouds float by in blue sky with buzzing of insects in my ears. Small, warm hands were turning my face away from the sky and suddenly white clouds were replaced by brown eyes creased in worry and framed by long brown hair. Then there was popping noises and screaming and someone yelling that the Circle of the Ancestors had opened again. I could see Teyla's lips moving, trying to say something comforting, I was sure. My chest hurt. That must mean I was still alive, yes?

"It worked," I mumbled as I struggled to drag in a breath, no longer sure which language I spoke and whether or not Teyla could even understand me. "It worked," I told her with a smile. But that smile had nothing to do with her reassurances she continued to give me and everything to do with the wavering shape of a jumper uncloaking into view above her.

xxxx

There is an ethical idea known as supererogation, the premise of which involves going beyond what is necessary to help or serve others. It's a rather simple premise shrouded in a great deal of philosophical controversy. The teachings of the Church states these selfless acts, if they exist, can be, in a sense, stockpiled to make up for when we don't do everything that is necessary in a situation. Others believe that there is no such thing as supererogation; that we are morally obligated to do everything possible to help others, such as in the parable of the Good Samaritan. So that the concept of doing more than what is required is counterintuitive.

I've witnessed men and women die in the service of their country, in service of their planet, in service of their people. I've seen scientists frozen by cooling agents and burned alive by radiation, service men and women shot down in the prime of their lives, physicians fall prey to the disease they were trying to stave off. I've attempted to breath life into what I knew was nothing but an empty shell because I'm obligated to try to save an injured person. It is my duty, just like the soldier, just like the scientist, to do everything necessary; therefore, I have always felt that there was nothing that could go beyond the obligations we had taken on when we traveled through the stargate and into the Pegasus Galaxy. I firmly believed I had done everything necessary since I had arrived. I just wasn't sure that everything I had done was right.

But when Radek took a bullet, not to save the lives of an entire race, but to try and save the small band of friends that were currently being held at gunpoint by Fornus and his men, I decided I had finally seen an act above and beyond the call of duty.

He's an engineer. He should have been in the lab arguing with the other scientists or in the control room chastising the gate techs not to eat near the computers. He shouldn't have been brandishing a fake bomb on an alien world trying to fast-talk his way to our freedom. And he most definitely shouldn't have been lying in the dirt after being shot point blank by a deranged despot.

"Ho-ly shit!" Colonel Sheppard declared beside me when the Czech went flying backward. Ronon already had a knife flying toward the gunman, tackling the guard nearest to him when the blade sunk home in Fornus's neck. And then the bullets started flying. "Down! Carson, stay down!" But I ignored the Colonel's orders, crawling my way toward the injured scientist instead. And evidently Rodney had the same idea because I could hear Sheppard yelling, "Goddammit, McKay, get your ass down!"

"Radek, you son of a bitch!" Rodney's own form of worry could be heard loud and clear above the gunfire… gunfire that stopped as suddenly as it started when the jumper miraculously appeared above our heads.

At the manifestation of the craft hovering protectively over us, the remaining guards scattered, but I barely noticed as I had finally reached our downed man who was smiling dazedly up at Teyla, mumbling in Czech and struggling to draw breath. "All will be well, Radek," she soothed. "Dr. Beckett is here now."

The entrance hole in his tuxedo still smoked from the weapon Fornus had fired and I yanked the jacket open to reveal… a pristine white shirt. Rodney's expression of bewilderment was a mirror of Teyla's as I ran a hand over the area where he should have been bleeding and received nothing more than a face screwed in pain and a wince.

"And I repeat: Radek, you son of a bitch!" I continued my probe despite Rodney's outburst, still unable to believe the lack of blood. "How did you manage to not get shot?"

I was rewarded with a bemused giggle between his gasping as I evidently hit a ticklish spot and Zelenka opened his jacket further to reveal homemade pockets sewn on the inside of the tuxedo. "You were not only one to partake in arts and crafts last night, Rodney." He pulled out one of the lightweight ceramic panels that normally lined the field vests. "They would take field gear, but was doubtful they would take my clothes." He sat up, scrunching his face as he rubbed at the bruised area on his rib but his breathing was already evening out. "'Godfather' was good movie, but 'The Sting' was even better. Henry Gondorf I can relate to much better… smart and handsome." He tapped his nose knowingly and I couldn't help but laugh. It had been days since I had even considered the notion of laughing and having seen Radek rise from the dead and a patrol of Marines pouring out of the back hatch of the jumper joining Ronon in the pursuit of the dispersing guards, I couldn't think of a reason not to. Teyla joined in with me and Rodney, once he had punched his fellow scientist in the shoulder for scaring him so, actually chuckled a few times himself before scampering back over to see to Colonel Sheppard who was trying to push himself to his feet

"Dr. Beckett," Major Lorne approached us with his P90 in hand, "is everyone all right here?"

"Aye," I beamed up at him happily, "we are. We really, truly are." My smile wavered when I saw Sheppard and McKay making their way slowly toward the jumper, the Colonel leaning heavily against his human crutch. "Do you have medical supplies with you?"

"Yes, sir. Dr. Biro packed them herself."

"Well, then it's too bad we don't need to cut through manacles," Rodney provided as they approached us. "Because I'm sure there's a saw in there somewhere."

Major Lorne attempted to relieve Rodney of his Commanding Officer, but Rodney refused to move. "Lorne, round up the villagers and disarm them," Colonel Sheppard ordered, doing his best to stand straighter and failing miserably.

"Yes, Sir. It's good to see that you're doing…well." The Major couldn't quite keep the questioning inflection from his last word.

"Major, I'm about as far from well as a person can be and still have a pulse. But I appreciate the attempt."

"Well?" Rodney snorted as he led his charge past the Major and into the jumper. "You look like you fell down a well maybe. Although you smell like you fell in a vat in a distillery."

"It was just a little medical improvisation," I defended in response to Rodney's crinkled nose as I followed them in. "Making due with what we had on hand."

"What did you have on hand, a frat house? Leave it to the two of you to turn a hostage crisis into a Phi Kappa Kegger."

"Rodney…" I wasn't sure if the slightly breathless tone to the Colonel's word was from exasperation with his teammate or desperation for a seat, but the way Rodney tightened his hold on him as he started to collapse had me guessing it was much more of the second.

"Whoa!" I helped to ease Colonel Sheppard so that he could lay on the bench seat as Rodney attempted to hide his growing worry with more banter. "Careful, Sheppard. You're going to ruin all my hard work on your arm if you fall on it."

"Your…hard…work?" John's words slurred as I searched through the supplies for an I.V. and the antibiotics that I needed to administer, as well as a healthy dose of painkillers… the good stuff as Rodney liked to call it. The sheer volume and choice of materials and instruments I had to dig through made me want to weep for joy just to see them.

"Well, Carson helped, I suppose." Rodney draped an emergency blanket over the Colonel then took a seat near his head. "I'm sure it was a new concept for him, setting a bone instead of having to put his patient down like he usually would have to do in the corral, but he seemed to adapt pretty well."

Ignoring the insult, I took a real honest to God sterile wipe and cleaned an area on the back of Sheppard's hand, breathing in the heady sanitary smell deeply before inserting the I.V. port. "Don't… 'member… that…way." He finally gave up trying to focus on us and closed his eyes.

"Well, I'm not surprised. Seeing as you fainted halfway through and all." Rodney fidgeted with the blanket, tugging it up under the Colonel's chin. When he received no response for his goad, he shook the other man's chest. "Sheppard!"

John roused but didn't open his eyes. "Didn't faint… passed out."

Leaving his hand resting on the Colonel's chest, he exhaled in relief. "Passed out drunk, maybe."

Satisfied with the I.V. port, I attached the bag of fluids and started the flow. "Jealous… you had to leave…McKay?"

"Not sure jealous is the right word, Sheppard." I paused in my preparation of the hypodermic needle to see a flutter of emotions play across Rodney's face… worry, regret, guilt… before he continued offhandedly. "Lucky, maybe. Fortunate that I wasn't here to witness the drunken debauchery that probably occurred in that cell."

"Not all of us are as lascivious as you, Rodney." I injected the pain meds into the tubing port and watched as the lines of tension eased on Sheppard's face and subsequently the lines of worry on Rodney's did the same as I nodded reassuringly to indicate the Colonel was going to be resting easy now. "You were the one to return with a team that looked more like they were ready for a night out in Las Vegas than a rescue mission."

"Radek." With a shake of his head he leaned it back against the bulkhead wearily. "I can't decide if I want to whack him upside the head or pat him on the back."

"Well, as ridiculous as his attire may have appeared, it ended up saving his life." I began preparing the antibiotics to administer through the I.V. line. "And his little bomb scare ended up saving us all."

"Saved my ass so I could have a heart attack right where I stood." Rodney rubbed at tired eyes with his hand that wasn't in contact with the Colonel. "I swear, between him and Sheppard and you and guns to my head, I'm surprised my aorta hasn't just bust through my chest a la 'Aliens'."

"Me?" I asked in surprise. "What do I have to do with worrying you to death?"

"Because, Carson, I know you. You felt responsible for this whole ordeal, which when you get right down to it, you were. But you take these responsibilities of yours so seriously that I was sure you would go off and do something rash. You never do anything small. When you fuck up, it's a fuck up of enormous proportions. And when you do something right…" he shrugged with a sigh as his eyes flicked to the sleeping man beside him, "people live when they probably wouldn't have."

I felt my lips curve into a genuine smile. "Well, then, I suppose we have a great deal in common, Rodney."

"I guess so," he agreed with a small grin of his own. "Except for your proclivity for sheep. I've always found wool to be too itchy to consider it a turn on."

My smile vanishing in annoyance, I opened my mouth to respond, only to be interrupted by Major Lorne and Ronon. "Colonel Sheppard, we need to know what to do with the detainees."

"I'm sorry, Major, but Colonel Sheppard won't be making any command decisions for a while, at least until the drugs I gave him wear off." Turning my attention to Ronon, I noticed a trail of blood streaming down from his shoulder. "You're injured; let me take a look at that."

"It's nothing," the Satedan dismissed. "We need to take care of the people out here first. My first instinct would be to do what McKay threatened and blow them to bits from orbit. But that would be wrong, huh?"

"I would be lying if I said that wasn't my first thought, too," I admitted, "but yes, I believe that would qualify as wrong."

"Well, they're a threat to Atlantis," Major Lorne reasoned, "we just can't leave them here. At the very least, we need to destroy the gate so they can't try the same thing again."

"No, no, no, no, no. No destroying it." Rodney interjected from his seat. "We can use it in our gate system back to Earth."

I shook my head. "But that would strand them here. Cut them off entirely. Look around, there aren't any farms here. These people came from a fairly developed society. They obviously rely on trade for all their needs."

"Then they learn to survive. They're murderers; that's more mercy than they deserve."

Letting Ronon's words settle over me, I walked out the back of the jumper to see the plaza filling with people. Men and women and children huddling together as the Marines stood guard. I saw the man that had nearly strangled Rodney to death in front of me and thought maybe Ronon was right, maybe they didn't deserve the mercy I was suggesting. But then I saw the man that had traded his bottle of klavak, saw him place an arm around a frightened woman, saw my watch on her wrist as she clutched at his shirt. "A bonnie bobble for a bonnie lass," I mumbled under my breath.

"Sir?" Major Lorne asked from beside me.

"They aren't murderers, Major. They were doing what they thought was necessary." And when, I added silently, had we not done the exact same thing? Fornus had taken it to an extreme, to be sure, and it had cost him his life. But these people were just acting to make sure no one had to suffer the same fate their people had suffered. It might not have been right, but it had been necessary in their eyes. And that had to count for something. If it didn't, all the good deeds, all the lives I had saved, were for naught in light of the mistakes I had made. And I refused to believe that.

It was a difficult path I traversed every day and good intentions only went so far. But when I eventually reached the end of the road, I hoped that the right choices I had made were going to be enough to counteract the bad. And I knew deep in my gut that stranding these people was the wrong choice and it was one I was willing to argue when we returned to Atlantis.

"We aren't the ones to make this decision anyway," I acknowledged. "We need to get back to Atlantis. Colonel Sheppard should be in the infirmary and I need to bandage Ronon's wound."

"I said it was nothing," he protested once again.

"And last I checked, I was the physician around here and treating those in my care is one decision I can make," I told him, leaving no grounds for argument.

"Fine," he relented with a roll of his eyes, "but it really is going overboard."

"All the better, then." With a satisfied smirk that I had won this round, I ushered him back into the jumper and gathered a package of bandages. He was right, the wound was small, but even the small things can add up to big one, and I'd take every point I could gain.

Tally one more mark for Dr. Carson Beckett in the good column. And hopefully they would multiply like the wee bunnies.

xxxx

Gate travel; not one of my favorite undertakings.

But seeing as Rodney had appointed me to head up the movement of the stargate from the planet we had just rescued Carson and Colonel Sheppard, I really didn't have much choice in the matter.

"Dr. Zelenka." At Elizabeth's hail I looked up to control room as I made my way up from the embarkation area. "Welcome back. How goes the gate transfer?"

"The team dispatched to planet to begin preliminary disconnections are starting work and as soon as Hollorans have been relocated to their new home, we will finish remapping of system coordinates so that it can be set up as part of gate bridge back to Earth."

"Very good. The Daedalus has been rerouted to report directly to the planet prior to returning here to Atlantis for our resupply, so we're expecting them to arrive early next week. And Major Lorne has said negotiations with the inhabitants of PX9-446 are going well and they seem receptive to allowing the Hollorans to settle with their people."

"Then, I see no reason why we cannot be ready to move stargate when Daedalus is in position."

A determination had been made to move the former Hoffans to an already populated world, but one with the stargate in orbit so that they would not be able to leave. Carson had argued strongly on the grounds that they could offer a great deal in the way of technological advancements to the less developed civilization while being allowed to integrate out of their reclusive ways with a guarantee of food and shelter. Rodney was just pleased to have one more gate for his bridge back to Earth. And I was just glad to put my action hero days behind me. I had escaped with a small bruise and a hole in my tuxedo and a return of the entire team to Atlantis, and that was good enough for me.

"That's excellent news. I have a planned check in with Major Lorne here in just a minute, so I'll let him know we're on schedule." She turned to leave then stopped. "Oh, and Radek, things have been a little hectic around here since your return two days ago, so I haven't had a chance to say it, but good job out there. From what I hear, the team probably owes their lives to you."

Feeling my face warm from the compliment, I bobbed my head with embarrassed smile and watched her walk away. "Dear diary," Rodney's teasing voice cut through my pleasure as he watched our expedition leader's retreat from over my shoulder, "today was a red letter day. I had barely recovered the ability to speak from Teyla pressing her bosom against me when Elizabeth cast her doting gaze on me and declared me the state hero of Atlantis. I'm anticipating the need for an extra long shower this evening. In other news, I didn't die when I was shot at close range by a psychopath."

"You did not die either, Rodney. Have you thought of that?" With a shove on the bridge of my glasses, I started away from the man mocking me at a quick pace.

He, however, jogged to catch up. "As a matter of fact, Radek, I have thought of that… a lot." Looking to him in surprise at his confession, he rolled his eyes. "Give me a little credit, here, would you. I'm not nearly as self-absorbed as people think I am. Besides, I can only watch Sheppard snore through a morphine induced stupor for so long before my mind starts to…wander."

"If so bored, you could have left infirmary, you know," I grumbled.

"Please. I saved the man's life, it's kind of obligatory that I stick around to make sure he wakes up."

"You saved his life?" I crossed my arms in disbelieving challenge of his assessment of the situation.

"With a little help from you," he admitted almost reluctantly then added when I simply glared. "Okay, more than a little help."

"Dear Diary," I mimicked dryly, "today Rodney conceded that I was present during rescue mission. My heart may stop beating under such lavish praise."

When I turned to walk away, he fell into step once again. "Look, Radek, the truth is, you didn't have to go on the mission, but you did. And because you did, it was a success. I'm not sure we could have said that if you hadn't gone." He grabbed my arm and stopped my progression down the hallway. "Remember what I told you before about trusting people? How I could count the people that I did trust on one hand?" He held up his hand in demonstration. "Well, they were all back there on that planet."

"Really?" I asked in surprise. "I am really one of the people you trust most?"

With a grin he wiggled his little pinky finger at me. "That's you, Radek, right there."

"I am pinky? Gee, thanks so much."

"Considering that I have more genius in my little finger than most of this expedition combined, you should consider that a compliment."

"From you, it is great compliment." Sad thing was, I was telling the truth. And even though I continued to mope, on inside I really was flattered that he would even say so much.

He hitched his head toward the infirmary. "Come on, we're going to sign Sheppard's cast. You need to, too."

"Me?"

"Well, you did save his life, didn't you?"

And with a proud spring in my step, I followed him into the Colonel's room. Ronon and Teyla were already there, along with Carson who was giving yet another check to his patient.

"I don't understand why we are doing this," the large warrior was grumbling as he watched Teyla draw an elaborate circling knot on the cast.

"It's an Earth custom," Sheppard explained propped up in his hospital bed. "So you can look at your cast and not feel so bad because you know your friends are cheering for you to get better. What did you do on Sateda when someone had a cast?"

"Taunt them for being so weak that they had to wear a cast," he shrugged.

Scowling through his bruising at the insult, the Colonel observed, "Hey, you didn't walk away from this whole thing unscathed either."

With a glance at the bandage on his arm, Ronon smirked. "This is nothing. I've had worse from you, Sheppard."

"That's true," Rodney piped in, effectively announcing our arrival. "I had two guns pointed at me and neither one of them were by you, Colonel. It felt so… unnatural."

"You two are never going to let that go, are you?"

"No," Rodney and Ronon answered simultaneously.

"Well, at least Teyla still likes me," Colonel Sheppard fixed the Athosian with as warm a smile as he could manage with his swollen lip as she finished up her drawing. "So what is it? Some sort of symbol of healing?"

"Actually, it's a symbol of protection," she explained. "Athosian mothers often give medallions with this pattern for their children to wear… their clumsy and accident prone children."

And the scowl was back on Sheppard's face, as he pulled the cast away from her in a funk. Snatching the pen from Teyla's hand, Rodney declared, "My turn," and quickly started drawing a three dimensional cylindrical shape, with several notations of values described as letters below it.

"What the hell is that?"

Rodney tapped the shape with the marker before handing it over to his confused friend. "Calculate the radius where the 0 plane intersects." With a wary expression, the Colonel started scribbling and Rodney turned to me. "So, Radek was just telling Elizabeth all about the preparations for the gate retrieval. This time next week, we'll be two gates away from a half-hour trip back to Earth." He accentuated his pleased expression with a snap pop heel rock before picking up the jello dish on Colonel's lunch tray.

"Well, then I suppose some good came of this whole ordeal after all." The smile was strained but at least present on Carson's face.

"Not that having Sheppard beaten to within an inch of his life was worth a gate, but might as well put a positive spin on things when we can." We looked to the Colonel to see his reaction to Rodney's summation but he was intently working on the math problem the physicist had assigned him.

With a triumphant grin, Sheppard held up his cast with the completed formula written on it. "Ha! The equation spells 'Rodney'. I don't know if it's more pathetic that you came up with that, McKay, or that I solved it."

Rodney returned the grin around a spoonful of red gelatin. "I'll admit that it's more complicated than writing 'boob' on a calculator…"

The Colonel's smile broadened, "I was the first kid in fourth grade to figure that one out."

"…but, I thought you might be up to the precalculus level challenge that it presented."

"Ronon, you're up." Sheppard handed the pen over to the Satedan. "I'm counting on you to come up with something to override the geekanerd badge that McKay gave me."

Ronon thought for a moment before finally scrawling in a sharp, angular, alien script. "What's it say?" Colonel Sheppard asked as he tilted his head as though that would help him read it.

"It's the unspoken code that every warrior of Sateda lived by."

"All right! Now we're talking. So, what is it?" Sheppard waggled his one unbandaged eyebrow in eager anticipation.

"I just told you; it's unspoken. That's why I wrote it down."

"But I can't read Satedan, Ronon."

At the Colonel's frustrated tone, Ronon just shrugged. "Then I guess you'll have to get by with reading geekanerd."

With a final glower, he yanked the pen from Ronon and handed it toward Dr. Beckett. "Carson?"

The physician, who was busy checking charts, glanced up from his electronic tablet. "I'll be back in just a moment, Colonel. There appears to be a discrepancy in the records as to when you last received your antibiotics. I need to straighten this out with the nurse on duty."

Rodney waved a dismissive hand to the departing Scot, "Besides, his branding iron is evidently still heating in the fire. Let Radek go next."

"Very well." Taking the marker, I wrote neatly in my native lettering in a line straight out from his pinky.

"Oh, God, you're not going to keep this a secret, too, are you?" The gripe was directed at me, but Sheppard was looking meaningfully to Ronon when he spoke it.

"No, no, I can tell. It is old Czech proverb. It says, 'do not protect yourself by a fence, but rather by your friends'."

Teyla's hand landed on my shoulder with a gentle squeeze. "I cannot think of a more appropriate sentiment for the occasion."

"Here, here," Sheppard agreed, offering his good hand for a shake.

I took his hand and ducked my head in acknowledgment. "Now if you will excuse me, I have data to download and a tuxedo to mend."

"Not going to wear the bullet hole as a badge of honor?" the Colonel asked. "You know what they say, chicks dig scars."

"Sheppard here is living proof of that," Rodney pointed out with condescending glee. "Although, I've always found a truer statement to be smart is sexy."

"Got that one covered, too." With a tap of marker against his mathematical solution, the Colonel quickly removed the smirk from Rodney's face.

"Perhaps you are correct," I conceded. "I will keep that in mind." With a final goodbye, I left for my quarters.

Behind me in Colonel Sheppard's hospital room, his teammates remained. "Radek's saying was nice, but my signature was more creative. Right?" I shook my head with a chuckle at Rodney's appeal for reassurance. "Right?"

"What I want to see," said Ronon, "is this calculator that has boobs."

The door slid closed behind me as I entered the hallway, cutting off the laughter from inside the infirmary from my own snicker. Turning toward the lab, I started mentally going through all the things I really did need to take care of before finally calling it a night. I fumbled with my tablet to make a notation then stopped when I noticed the icon for my personal files. Deciding why the hell not, I tapped the folder with my stylus until the blank page appeared.

Dear Diary, today really was a red-letter day….

The End