Summary: Major Ashley Woodstock leads her team, accompanied by one Rodney McKay, offworld to find a wraith lab. Wraith related drama ensues. Hinted McKay/OC

Updated: 15 Jun 2016; Published: 30 Apr 2016

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Rodney repressed the urge to bounce in his chair as he reached out to grab the coffee jug. This was a pretty big opportunity for the Atlantis Expedition if they could pull it off and he wasn't about to let any rookies take away his chance to get his hands on some Wraith tech, no matter how old.

Elizabeth breezed into the room, followed closely by John, and both took their seats, completing the circle at the conference table.

"Okay, what have you got for me, Rodney?" asked Weir, watching him open his laptop eagerly.

He cleared his throat, and finished pouring his coffee before he started. "We've found what we think may be an abandoned Wraith outpost."

"May be?" John's eyes narrowed at the possibility he was wrong.

"Most definitely," responded the scientist. "M1X-47G; a fairly backwater planet as far as the human population goes, but according to the Ancient database it was the scene of some very intense Wraith activity around the time that they were last here."

"So how do you know it's going to have anything even remotely useful to us? Any intelligence that remains could be thousands of years out of date," Elizabeth pointed out.

"Not necessarily," he responded, holding up a finger. "If the Wraith are no longer there, and let's just assume that they're not--"

"Assume on what grounds?" Ashley Woodstock leaned forwards, eyeing him. "I'm all for sneaking into a Wraith den and stealing their stuff, but not if you might be wrong about nobody being home..."

"Well the MALP did detect an energy signature that coincides with our scans of Wraith tech, but it was very faint, which indicates that it may be mostly dormant or even completely abandoned," Rodney looked around at the sceptical faces. "Look, all I am asking is that we take a cloaked jumper, have a little look around and if there's no sign of the Wraith, get to work and learn as much as we can before they return."

"What's this 'we'?" John asked, pulling a face. "This is Major Woodstock's mission, not ours?"

"Well, nobody said that I was talking about you," he retorted. "One of her team, Louanna Carlisle, is busy completing much needed repairs to jumper two and since there was a vacant spot on the team, I volunteered."

"Oh, you volunteered? That's very charitable of you," the Colonel leaned back in his chair and looked at Woodstock. "You sure you can handle him?"

Ashley couldn't quite suppress her laugh. "Cakewalk, Sheppard. We'll be fine. Besides, the Doctor here is the best one to fiddle with the Wraith tech – I daresay he's more suitable than Carlisle."

"Okay, you have a go." Weir stood and John followed suit. "You depart in half an hour. Prepare your team."

"'Fiddle'?" Rodney quoted as he rose from his chair to exit the briefing room as well.

She clapped him on the shoulder firmly. "Come on, we've got a lot to get started on."

* * * * * * *

The puddle jumper soared over the treetops, emitting a low whine. The sound tapered into silence as the cloak was activated, shielding them from detection. Doctor Luxford gripped the controls firmly as she concentrated.

Lieutenant Michael Belmore leaned forwards and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, ease up a little, Willow. I'm no pilot, but I just know you'll get better response if you take it a bit gentler."

She released a heavy breath and rolled her shoulders. "You're right, Mick. My bad."

"All good, girl," he sat back in his chair and absorbed Ashley's nod of approval.

The Major swivelled in her chair to see the three of them at once, facing away from their heading. "Okay, we're going to find a nice field to put down in. I want the ship cloaked at all times – I don't want anyone stumbling onto it. We'll hit the village and see what we can find out about the area and if we can't find some way to locate this Wraith outpost. I'm guessing it won't be too far from the gate."

"Right," Rodney pulled out one of the hand held ancient devices commonly used by those with the ATA gene. "I've detected a faint energy reading, but right now there's no way to tell where it's coming from – it's just not strong enough."

"Alrighty then, mission plan over," she turned back to face the front of the ship. "Hit it, Willow."

Immediately, some kind of pop music began to play on a moderate volume. Willow started doing a move in her seat that looked like a cross between swaying and wiggling. Lieutenant Belmore started dancing with his eyes closed and Ashley just sat there with a grin on her face, amused by Rodney's stunned silence.

"I give you Bruno Mars, courtesy of my dear friend, Louanna Carlisle." She turned around to see his borderline horrified face. "Come on, McKay. You gotta say it's a genius addition."

"Yeah, I'm sure your military colleagues would approve of your professionality," he commented, affixing a stern frown upon his face. "Remind me to talk to her when we get back."

"Look," Ashley turned the music down a little. Mick pouted. "Lou works best with music playing and while I realise it's a little unorthodox, it's something that works for my team. I don't expect you to agree, but I do want you to understand that this is how we function, okay?"

He folded his arms and didn't relent in his frowning, but nodded. "All right. Fine. Don't let me distract you from your distraction."

She gave him a knowing smile and turned around again.

"All right I think I've found a good place to set down," Willow brought up a map on the HUD, indicating a flat area that was about to come into view.

The field looked as though it had been farmland at some point, but it was densely overgrown with tall weeds, grasses and various shrubs. They landed in a far corner by a broken fence and the dilapidated remains of a barn-like structure. All four filed out of the jumper and Willow hit the remote to lock the rear hatch before stuffing it into one of her vest pockets.

Ashley looked around at the messy field and the gloomy, grey sky, quickly spotting a break in the tree line where the path lay ahead. "All right, let's move, guys. I wanna make it to the village before the rain hits."

They didn't.

Cold, soaked through and shivering, the team made their way through the deserted village. Most houses were dark and silent, but golden light emanated from the windows of what seemed to be a rather busy tavern. The sound of laughter, the clinking of glassware, and the distinct, cheery folk music told them that most of the town's people were present inside.

Ashley looked over the sodden foursome before turning and pushing open the heavy door. They navigated their way through the crowd to the bar as silence fell in the warm, stuffy tavern.

She placed her weapon on the bar and took a seat, smiling up at the barkeep. "Hi. I guess you guys don't get many visitors around these parts?"

The tall, grizzled man gave her a crooked smile. "No, not really. Who are you and where are you from?"

"Right to the point, I like that." She began naming and indicating each of the team in turn. "We're peaceful travellers from far away and we've come to learn about your people."

"You come bearing weapons." He waved a hand over her P90 and eyed the others.

"Only to defend ourselves," interrupted Willow, who was easily the least armed of the group. "We do not use them without good reason."

"Ah," he stopped wiping out the glass he was holding and placed it on the bar in front of Ashley. "Then you are welcome here. I'm sure you have travelled far. You must be in need of a hot meal and perhaps even beds to take rest..."

"That will not be necessary." Ashley held up a hand with a gracious smile. "We have made camp outside the village and plan to return there for nightfall. And we brought with us all the provisions we would need for our journey. I do, however, appreciate your offer."

"It is not safe outside the village after dark." his face darkened as he picked up another glass to wipe out.

"Not safe?" Rodney's voice practically squeaked. "Not safe, because...?"

He leaned forwards with a scowl. "Just whatever you do, don't be venturing into the mountains to the East. The daemons will return and feast on our very souls if their slumber is disturbed."

The team looked at each other and, giving him an appreciative smile, Ashley stood. "Thankyou; we appreciate the advice. We'll be on our way for the time being. Please, take care."

As soon as the tavern door shut behind them, Rodney asked the obvious question.

"So, we're going into the mountains?"

Ashley grinned at him, running a hand through her unruly blonde hair. "We're going into the mountains."

* * * * * * *

"Can we, can we just stop here for a few moments," Rodney wheezed, faltering in his pace. The rain was much heavier now and he leaned against a sheltering tree, trying to catch his breath.

"We've barely been walking half an hour, Rodney," Willow pointed out, frowning at him. "How do you keep up with your regular team?"

"Well," he began, fumbling for his water canteen. "Usually we don't land so far from our destination..."

Ashley shifted her P90 to a more comfortable position.

"We're only as fast as our slowest member. We'll rest for ten here, but then we should move on. I'm not keen to be stuck in this rain storm much longer." She cleared the distance between herself and the scientist in three short strides and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Will you be able to keep pace with us, or do you need us to slow down."

"Uh, I should-should be fine, I uh," he stuttered slightly. "I just need to, uh, rest a little, that's all. I'll be ready in no time."

"Good." She released him with a warm smile. "We need you in one piece, Doctor."

Willow rolled her eyes at Michael, who grinned and looked away.

"Okay, so in the meantime," Willow began, rubbing her hands together as she found shelter under a nearby tree. "What shall we talk about?"

"Got your eye on anyone?" Willow struggled not to laugh at the end of her question.

"Ooh, right to the meaty gossip topics. I see how it is," Ashley eyed her shrewdly. "I will admit I have an interest in someone, though I'd probably never live it down, so I'm not telling."

"Hah, I knew it," Mick snickered.

"And what about you, Lieutenant?" the Major asked, grinning. "Still stalking Lorne?"

He flushed and looked away. "No. I've...He turned me down. I'm not really in the market right now."

"Oh man, I'm sorry," Willow spread her arms for a hug. "I know you were pretty into him, huh?"

Rodney screwed up his face. "Lorne? As in Major Evan Lorne?"

"What's it to you?" Mick gave him a dark look.

"I was..." he faltered. "What I mean to say is; isn't there a rule against fraternising in the military?"

The other man was taken aback, but Ashley beamed at the scientist. "Called it."

"Oh, get off your horse, Ash," Willow rolled her eyes again, but reached over to bump fists. "What about you, McKay?"

"Oh, you know," he waved his hands around, struggling for the right words. "No one, in particular, I suppose. I mean, not no one, but, well I guess I can't really...say?"

She giggled. "Right."

"Okay, conversation over," Ashley interrupted. "We should get moving. I wanna make it to this Wraith place by nightfall. Come on, guys."

Rodney moved to walk behind her, Willow behind him and Michael taking up the rear position.

They hiked another twenty minutes before his equipment could give them a better heading and their altered course took them into a narrow passageway that opened up in the side of a cliff face.

Water ran down the stone walls in a steady stream and the muddy ground was completely saturated. Moss coated everything in sight in a thick green carpet and many leaves lay scattered about.

After a few moments of walking, the cramped space closed over their heads and spread out into a sizeable cave. The group all immediately reached for their flashlights.

"Okay, this has got to be it," said Rodney, looking around as he walked a little further into the cave. "Not only are my readings consistent with this area, but this place is definitely of Wraith design."

They came to the far end of the area where the cave split into two tunnels. "Okay," said Ashley. "Luxford, Belmore, you take the one on the left. McKay, you're with me. Guns take point. So far it doesn't look like anybody's home, but let's not take a chance."

Mick nodded and shifted his P90. Willow and Rodney both drew their side arms and prepared themselves for the possibility of a fire fight.

"You really think there might be Wraith around here still?" Rodney stammered as he followed Ashley down the dark tunnel. "Call me Ash," she responded in a half whisper. "And it's not that I don't trust your hypothesis, but a little caution never hurt, right?"

"Oh. Well, I suppose not." He gripped his 9-mil tighter and fixed his eyes on her back.

"Willow, got any life signs?" she spoke into her radio.

"Nothing yet," came the disembodied voice. "I think this place is pretty deserted."

"Yeah, I've got nothing either," Rodney added, clutching the life signs detector. "But that doesn't necessarily mean anything. We know Wraith life signs don't show up when they're hibernating."

"Alright, radio silence guys, we've got something here," Ashley stopped moving so suddenly that he nearly walked into her. The way was barred by some sort of sealed doorway. "Think you can get this open?"

"Are you kidding, who do you think you're talking to?" He gave her a nervous grin and moved past her to interface his tablet with the door controls. After a few minutes of fiddling, the device gave an affirmative beep and the framed membranes slid apart to reveal some sort of lab. "Jackpot..."

Ashley surged into the room, covering all angles with her P90 before relaxing and motioning for the scientist to approach. "A lab?"

"Looks like it." He floated over to what appeared to be the main terminal and started to try and interface with it.

"Ash, we've got a slight situation here," Mick radioed in.

She looked at Rodney, who nodded. "This will take me a while to figure out, I'll be fine here if you go check on them."

"Sit tight, Lieutenant. I'm coming to you."

Ashley made her way back down the stone corridor to the main cave, turned about at headed down the other passageway towards where her two comrades were waiting.

The room was fairly dark, save for the glowing lights of the life pods that lit the dense, dusty air. The room was much the same as the area she and McKay had found.

"What have you got?" she crept closer to the duo, both whom had their backs turned to her, inspecting one of the pods.

"Wraith," Mick surmised, indicating the foggy glass on the nearest life pod.

Ashley wiped a hand over the filthy surface to reveal the somehow peaceful face of a male adult Wraith. She moved to the next one and found the same. In fact, all the pods contained male Wraith.

"No drones," she concluded. "Sooo...a science team?"

"What were they studying?" asked Willow. "And why are they all asleep?"

"That's what we aim to find out," she responded, fiddling with one of her vest pockets. Finally she pulled out two blocks of C4 and motioned for Mick to do the same. "But we won't be asking these guys. Rig it to blow on command."

"I take it your spidey sense is tingling?" he grinned at her as he moved to set up the charges.

"Yeah, I've got a funny feeling. This place was too easy to find and get into for a bunch of hibernating Wraith to be hanging out here." She finished what she was doing and put her hands on her hips. "Okay, let's go and see if McKay's found anything."

After not even five minutes of walking through the cave network, they arrived at the lab where Rodney was poring over his instruments with a deep frown creasing his brow.

"Okay," he said. "I've determined that the research that was being done here has been separated between the various control panels for security reasons. None of that information exists on this main terminal apart from a general description of the experiments that were carried out."

"Doctor, we've got Wraith hibernating here in some sort of stasis pods," Ashley interrupted him.

He was taken aback for a moment. "Well, I suppose that makes sense considering the nature of the work that went on here..."

"What are you talking about?" Willow took a step closer, eyeing him.

"I think we may have stumbled on the beginnings of the Wraith cocooning process and its links to ancient life pod technology". He announced, straightening up to look at the three of them.

"And that's...good, is it?" Mick looked perplexed. "No offense, doc, but how is that going to help in the fight against the Wraith?"

"Oh, of course, typical military-minded thinking," Rodney launched into an attack. "If it's not a giant space gun, you don't care, is that it?"

"I never said that—" began the lieutenant.

"You didn't have to—"

"Alright, guys, cool it," Ashley interrupted, spreading her hands between the two men. She looked at Rodney. "Can you, in simpler terms, explain the usefulness of this find to us?"

He sighed impatiently. "The medical applications alone are worth enough for us to study it. This could allow us to place critically ill or injured people in suspended animation until they could be treated. It's invaluable to us considering that we haven't really had much luck reverse-engineering the Lantean version."

"Okay," she lowered her hands to her sides. "Okay, so we're obviously going to need to come back with a science team and get set up for a more long-term analysis."

"I am a science team," Rodney began.

"Look," she said, offering him a warm smile. "I'm sure we can agree that your understanding of Wraith tech is probably the most advanced of all the scientists on Atlantis, but if you want to bring your team up to speed, you gotta let them get their hands on something. Aren't your abilities better suited to some of the more pressing issues we're facing at the moment?"

He opened his mouth to respond, but he couldn't seem to find the right words, so he shut it again.

"Well, for the time being I don't think we should go anywhere," commented Willow, shrugging off her sodden vest and jacket. "Regardless of the warning the villagers gave us, it's pouring rain out there. We should probably wait out the storm."

"We've still got 6 hours before we have to check in," added Mick, looking at his watch. "Hopefully it will have eased up a little by then..."

Ash looked her team over, pondering their input. "Yeah, I think you're right. At least this will give you a bit of time to learn about what exactly was going on here, Doc."

Rodney made a noise that sounded vaguely like a 'hm' and returned his attention to his tablet.

Ash started to uncouple her vest, shouldering out of it and dumping it unceremoniously on the floor. She shed her soaked jacket as Mick followed suit, and bent to start fiddling with one of her vest pockets.

Finally she straightened with a small box in hand and announced she was going to take first watch at the cave entrance.

"What's that?" Rodney was eyeing the object which seemed to be a container of some kind.

"Something I won at girls poker night last week." She smugly opened the box, showing him what appeared to be three small cigars and an Athosian lighter. "If we'd been playing strip, Lou would have been totally naked that night. "

Mick snickered and Willow whacked him on the chest with the back of her hand. Rodney's expression was of mild intrigue.

"But how anyone manage to smuggle that past Beckett?"

"Came in on the Daedalus," Ash grinned. "Lou's got a friend in engineering that helped make the process a little...easier."

He turned back to his tablet, satisfied for the moment. These people certainly were a special kind of odd.

She was just about to walk out of the room and leave the three of them alone together when Rodney looked up sharply, staring at her in horror.

"We need to get out of here, now!" he exclaimed, his voice strained with urgency

"Okay, gear back up guys, we're moving out," ignoring her jacket, Ash grabbed the vest and strapped it over her undershirt. Mick had already started probing the scientist with questions as they prepared cut their stay abruptly short.

"The minute we walked in, we set off a silent alarm – it's been broadcasting our location through subspace ever since we got here," he stuffed his tablet into his pack, which the Lieutenant grabbed from him and shouldered.

"Double time it back to the jumper, then," Ash grabbed Willow by the arm. "I'm on point. Mick, take the six."

In single file they rushed through the cave and out of the cliff face in no time. The rain wasn't so heavy now, but their pace didn't falter accordingly. After a few minutes of solid running, Ash skidded to a halt, sliding in the saturated mud.

"Darts," she hissed, staring up at the sky as the spine-tingling whine of engines could be heard approaching.

"A culling?" Mick stepped forwards, looking confused. "I thought they were after the lab?"

"No, no, no," said Rodney rapidly. "There's nowhere near here to land, they have to be sending out foot soldiers."

"Shit, we've gotta move it," Ash immediately broke into a run again.

They were halfway through the foothills when it happened. Mick slipped in a puddle of mud and fell, his right ankle twisting below him. He went down with a yelp of pain. The remainder of the group scrambled to stop and Rodney hurried back to him, swiping the heavy pack and offering his hand to get up.

A high pitched whine announced a dart approaching. Ash grabbed Willow's arm and pulled her into a sideways dive through a spiny shrub. The beam swept along the narrow pathway and swallowed up the two men.

Her cheek slashed and bleeding, Ash stood with an incomprehensible yell of frustrated rage. She pointed her P90 at the dart even though it was well out of range and, for a moment, considered pointlessly firing the weapon.

Then her senses kicked in. Firing now wouldn't only be pointless, but it would give away their position. She offered a hand to Willow and pulled her bodily out of the thorny bush.

"Willow, listen to me," she said, gripping the other woman by the forearms. "You need to get back to the jumper. Keep it cloaked, stay safe and wait out the culling. Then get back to Atlantis as soon as you can dial out."

"W-what about you?" Her hazel eyes were huge and terrified.

"I'm going after the boys," she almost snarled. "I'll be damned if I'm leaving anyone behind."

"I'll be leaving you behind," cried Willow in despair.

"Forget about it," replied the Major. "I'll run with you as far as I can, but I gotta get onto the hive or cruiser or whatever kind of ship is in orbit. I'm not leaving without Belmore and McKay."

"Oh—okay." Willow swallowed and fixed a determined look upon her face. "Okay, I can do this."

"Okay, good."

They immediately set off, running down the overgrown track as fast as their legs could carry them. In fact, their run was more like a series of barely controlled, muddy skids. The botanist flailed as she ran, trying desperately to keep her balance. Ash ran ahead, making sure to keep within her companion's sight.

Finally, they reached the settlement. People were shrieking and running through the streets as Wraith soldiers marched through, firing on anyone who got too close. Darts screamed overhead, great beams of light sweeping through the streets to capture the hopeless residents.

Ashley led Willow through a back alley on the edge of the town.

"Okay," she began. "Stay in the scrub behind the buildings, out of sight and quiet as possible. Get to the jumper and get your ass outta here as soon as possible, you got it?"

Willow nodded silently and swallowed down her fear. "What are you going to do? How are you getting onto that ship?"

Ash straightened up and winked. "The old fashioned way."

Willow watched in horror as her team leader bolted from the seclusion of the alleyway, out into the main street and directly into a Wraith abduction beam.

"Oh my god, she's lost her mind," the botanist said to herself, scrambling into the woodland behind the buildings.

She ran for what seemed like an hour through the ensnaring forest with its sharp twigs and uneven ground. The brush tore at her face, leaving her filthy and with many cuts and bruises. At long last, she reached the field where the jumper lay hidden.

The darts seemed far away, now, and she decided it was worth the risk to run out into the open to get to her destination. She circled around the field and crept through the shell of the barn, which had been mostly taken over by a massive tree.

With a final look to the sky to check that the coast was clear, she bolted out from the relative safety and tried to vault over the broken fence.

Her foot caught in the barbed wire and she was flung face first into the rocky ground. The world immediately went black.

* * * * * * *

When Willow finally came to, the sun was beginning to rise. The ground and her clothes were still sodden, but the warmth from the sunlight was definitely a help to her situation. She cracked her eyes and pushed herself up from the muddy ground.

Her leg was still tangled in the rusty barbed wire. Trousers torn, she twisted onto her back and leaned forwards, trying to free herself. After a few moments of desperate struggling, she managed to get the fence to release her leg.

Her head throbbed painfully as she got to her feet, swaying. She clutched the sides of her head, moaning slightly as she staggered forwards. She bumped into something hard and immediately fell backwards onto the ground.

"Right," she muttered to herself, fumbling with her vest pocket. "Jumper's cloaked. Gotta get back."

The events of the night rushed into her mind all at once. Rodney and Mick scooped up by a Wraith dart. Ash going crazy and deliberately following them, to who knows what kind of fate.

"This is screwed up," she spoke again, finally getting the jumper to uncloak and the hatch to open for her.

She marched inside and palmed the interface, closing it behind her, then made her way to the pilot's seat.

"Gotta focus." Her head pounded and she closed her eyes for a moment, screwing up her aching, muddy face as she brought the jumper to life.

She lifted off a moment later and headed straight towards the stargate. As soon as she was in range, she dialled out, input her IDC code, and radioed ahead.

"Atlantis, this is Luxford in jumper 3, returning to base."

"This is Weir," came the reassuring voice of the commander in chief. "We were in the process of mobilising a search team. Why haven't you checked in?"

"Doctor," Willow's voice was strained. "There was a Wraith attack, a culling. Doctor, they got McKay and Belmore. Woodstock went after them. I...I didn't know what else to do..."

"Okay, stay calm. Are you injured?"

"I...I hit my head. I guess I was unconscious for a couple of hours. It happened during the night," Willow swallowed dryly.

"Alright," Elizabeth's voice coloured with concern. "I'll have Doctor Beckett and a medical team meet you in the jumper bay."

* * * * * * *

Willow had never been too comfortable having so many doctors fussing over her, but she had to admit she was too exhausted to argue. Carson Beckett was keeping a close eye on her, stating that he considered it a near miracle she had been able to fly the puddle jumper back to the gate, let alone walk.

Her concussion was rather severe and she had plenty of cuts and bruises, a laceration on her left leg from the barbed wire that had been stitched up and a pretty painful bump on her head.

At least the doctor had been kind enough to give her something for the pain, albeit a mild relief; he had to keep her alert to monitor her progress.

John Sheppard, Teyla Emmagen and Ronon Dex all filed into the infirmary suspiciously and started looking around. Carson, hard at work in his office, didn't notice the trio arrive, and thus didn't stop them from coming over to interrogate Willow.

She shifted in the hospital bed as they approached. "Colonel, I guess you've come to have chat to me about what happened?"

"We need to talk," he stated, hand outstretched. "What exactly happened out there?"

Willow reached for her bottle and took a sip of water, straightening herself up as much as she could in the bed.

"We found a Wraith lab in a cave in the mountains east of the settlement. The townspeople warned us not to go anywhere near there, that the 'daemons' – the Wraith, would come. We figured it was exactly what we were looking for."

"Sounds like McKay's brilliant idea," muttered the Colonel. "Go on."

"Actually, it was Ash," she responded with a small frown. She went on to explain about the Wraith in stasis, the kind of research that was being undertaken in the lab, and finally about the subspace transmission that alerted the Wraith to their presence in the first place.

John opened his mouth and was about to respond when Carson came bustling out of his office. "Alrighty, the three of you – out." He made a shooing motion at them, surging around the bed towards the trio. "My patient needs her rest, she's no good to you if she doesn't make a recovery."

"Wait," insisted Willow. "They need to know what happened – we were running, trying to make it back to the jumper before the Wraith foot soldiers found us. Lieutenant Belmore slipped and Doctor McKay went to help him. They both got scooped up in a dart."

She took a few breaths and continued. "Ash and I made it to the settlement, but she told me to keep going to the jumper no matter what. Then she ran out into the street and right into one of those beam things."

"You're telling me she deliberately allowed herself to get captured?" he was incredulous. "What the hell kind of idea is that?!"

"Maybe she thought it was her only way to save her team mates," offered Ronon.

"I should have stayed with her," Willow began, almost hysterically. "I should have-"

"No," Carson cut her off, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "There's nothing you could've done, lass. Let it go and just focus on your recovery."

Suddenly, Louanna burst into the infirmary, looked around for a second before spotting the group and rushing over.

"Willow," she started. "Willow, what the hell happened out there? I heard the shit hit the fan."

"Mission went sour," surmised John, eyeing the woman. "Wraith got the drop on McKay and Belmore. Woodstock went after them."

"After them? Wha—?"

"She ran into a dart's culling beam," Teyla explained. "We don't know where they are at this point."

"Oh, god," Lou sank into a bedside chair, looking dumbfounded. "She's gone mental this time, hasn't she?"

"Alright," Carson cut the conversation short. "If the four of ye want to continue this discussion, you'd best be off. Doctor Luxford needs rest and none of you are helping any. Go on, get."

The group shuffled grudgingly out of the infirmary as the doctor came around the bed to quickly check over Willow's vitals, smiling warmly.

"They didn't mean any harm," she protested weakly.

"Aye," he replied, halting his fiddling. "That may be, and you're bouncing back nicely, but I don't want that hindered by anything – especially an interrogation."

He checked the stitches on her forehead were still holding, then pulled up the blankets to check the bandage on her sprained ankle.

"Right, I'll organise someone to bring something to eat; I can imagine you're quite hungry by now."

She perked up. "That'd be amazing, Doctor."

"Please," he said, smiling warmly. "Call me Carson."

"Oh, well I guess you can call me Willow, then," she responded, shifting in the bed to sit up a little better. She decided it was time to do some probing of her own. "Don't suppose I could get a cup of tea with my food?'

Carson chuckled. "Of course, love. I could use a cup of tea myself."

* * * * * * *

Rodney groaned. His limbs felt tingly almost to the point of pain and his back ached from laying on the hard floor for as long as he had. How long was that, exactly?

He cracked his eyes and the face of a woman slid into his vision, hovering over him. Ash Woodstock.

"Doctor McKay, how do you feel?"

He grumbled a little, allowing her to help him sit up, and scrubbed over his face with his slightly numb fingers. "Like I've been stunned...what the hell happened?"

"You and Mick got scooped up by a dart," she stood, waving her arms around the small cell. "And here we are."

"She left out the part where she deliberately ran into a culling beam to try and rescue us," Mick piped up, glaring at her. "Idiot."

"What, are you crazy?!" exclaimed Rodney. "Now you're trapped here same as us!"

"Don't worry," she held up a hand. "I sent Willow back to the jumper. She should be back in Atlantis by now

"And they will find us, how, exactly?" he snapped.

She reeled back as if stung and Mick scowled at the scientist. "Look, they know we've been taken and they'll be looking for us. We just have to sit tight," he said firmly.

Rodney deflated a little, and Ash turned away, threading her arms through the holes in the cell wall. Suddenly she took several steps backwards, hunching down into a defensive position.

The wall retracted before them, revealing a tall and heavily tattooed Wraith flanked by two drones. He hissed, looking around at the trio for a moment, then pointed directly at Mick.

The drones moved forwards and Ash surged forwards to stand in front of Mick, fear and anger lighting her eyes. "Think again," she snarled, fists up and ready to fight.

One of the drones moved to grab her, but she blocked his attack with her forearm. The other moved closer, circumventing her defences to grab her by the throat. She faltered, hands clawing at the Wraith's arm as it slowly lifted her off the ground.

Lights popped into her vision and the world swam for a moment as she struggled for breath. Then she was flying backwards through the air and crashed to the ground hard. Stunned for the moment and struggling to catch her breath, the Wraith took their moment of advantage to grab Mick and drag him from the cell.

Ash struggled to stand and staggered to the closing cell doors, arms outstretched to him. "MICK," she bellowed. "Mick..."

She slumped and before she could collapse back to the ground, Rodney was behind her, and supported her to the bench in the middle of the cell so that she could sit.

"I'm sure they just want to interrogate him," he offered. "I mean, why else would they keep us in a cell instead of just cocooning us to be fed on later?"

"Yeah, that really helps, doc," she spat in frustration.

"Well, what do you want me to say? Better luck next time?!"

She sighed and was silent for a few moments, then turned to look at him. "Look, I'm sorry, doc. I didn't mean to snap. This is just...not a good situation, right now."

* * * * * * *

Ash leaned back against the bench and gave a long sigh of boredom. What would she give for a ball to bounce off the wall over and over. She looked over at Rodney, who stared back and blinked, realising he'd been busted.

She grinned. "So I thought you were with that Katie Brown botanist woman from Willow's lab?"

He looked taken aback for a moment.


"It's just...that's what you want to talk about while we're trapped on a Wraith hive ship?" he queried, looking nonplussed.

"Well," she began, eyeing him. "We've been here alone for three hours now, might as well have a conversation and get to know each other, right?"

Rodney pulled a face.

"Okay, I'll go first," she said, folding her arms and looking up at the dark ceiling. "I'm from Seattle, Washington. I'm into music, anime and I have a thing for cats."

"Oh, cats?" his interest piqued, Rodney dove headfirst into the conversation. "I've got a cat. Oscar. Or rather I did have a cat, before I came to Atlantis, that is. Do you have...?"

"Yeah," she responded, a fond expression on her face. "Heightmeyer put in a request to the SGC that he be shipped out with me."

"What? They really did that?"

She smiled. "Its...important for me to have a companion animal. Doc says it's better for my 'wellbeing'...yeah."

"Wow, I've been trying for months to try and convince Elizabeth to let us have pets on the base," he mused for a moment. "How the hell did you manage to get that approved?"

"I'm a...well I'm a special case, apparently," she murmured. "I've worked with Sheppard before – he knows my service record and he had me recalled to active duty to get me out here. I guess I came with strings attached?"

Rodney frowned, not quite understanding what she meant. Finally, he decided it was best to let it rest. "Okay, Major?"

"Please, just call me Ash," she offered another smile.

He felt his face begin to colour a little. "Well, I suppose you can call me Rodney, then..."

"So," she began slowly. "Why'd you join up?"

"Are you kidding?" he almost laughed.

"Humour me," she requested. "I don't know you as well as I should, even as a temporary team member..."

"Oh. Uh..."

He was about to continue when the cell doors retracted and a small contingent of Wraith surged into the room. One of the drones grabbed her by the forearm and hauled her to her feet.

"Whaddaya say we have a drink when we get home," she blurted out. "On me!"

"Y-you'll be fine, I'm sure." He rose to his feet, hands outstretched as the Wraith retreated, dragging her behind them. "Just like Lieutenant Belmore. Just an interrogation!"

The Wraith escorted her down several corridors, each twisting and turning in every direction until she was most certainly lost. Finally, they came to an large chamber, empty but for a long table in the middle. A figure sat hunched in a chair, back turned to her, shaved head and dark skin obvious even in the dim light.

Her captors allowed her to break away as she approached the man who could only be Mick Belmore, however when she drew level with him, all that remained was a withered husk.

She choked on words that failed to form properly. He was well and truly dead – and on her watch.

"Unfortunately for you, we've already gleaned all the information we need from him," the cool, almost cooing voice started Ash so much she almost jerked. Her hand went to the empty holster on her right leg instinctively.

From the misty shadows emerged an ashen skinned queen with waist length silver hair and clad in a fairly simple black bodysuit. She ghosted forwards, arm outstretched and reaching for the Major's temple.

A crushing presence overwhelmed Ash's mind and she felt her legs fold of their own accord. Her knees plunged to the hard ground and she winced, trying to force back the consciousness of the queen.

"So what do you want with me, then? I'm just a grunt," she began, an idea forming in her mind. "It's McKay you want alive. He's the smartest man I know in two galaxies. You'll definitely have a use for him."

The queen grazed up to her temple with a sharpened talon, silencing her for a moment, but she pushed past the pressure in her head.

"So where we headed?" she cracked a forced grin. "Nice tropical beach? Got a hot date planned? No?"

The queen hissed and began to gloat. "We are travelling to a world your kind refer to as Kurchon to feed, although we have a short stop planned along the way which is the only thing that should concern you..."

"And why's that?" she blurted out. "You have no use for me."

"You underestimate the pleasure we will glean from hunting you to your death," she drawled, a wicked smile coming over her features. "You will be taken and implanted with a device that will broadcast your location from relay stations on many planets throughout this galaxy. We will hunt you for sport and training, and then one of my lucky soldiers will feed on your life until you are naught but a withered corpse..."

With her final words, two Wraith drones flanked her. Heavy hands came down on her shoulders and pulled her to her feet. They walked her briskly to another room where a low table stood, surrounded by various control panels and benches.

Upon their urging, she climbed onto the table and lay face down. For several moments, nothing happened. Suddenly, the back of her shirt was torn open and something razor sharp pierced the flesh on the back of her neck.

She gritted her teeth and grunted in pain, trying to force down the screams she so desperately wanted to release. It was excruciating and for a moment there she almost thought she was going to pass out.

Then, for no apparent reason, it stopped. The pain was still great, but it seemed to dull down, at least a little. Rough hands grappled with her body but she could not comply, barely conscious from the stress of the ordeal. Instead, they lifted her half off the plinth and dragged her down the winding halls of the hive.

Eventually, they arrived back at the cell. Rodney got to his feet immediately, fearing the worst. They walked her into the centre of the room and released her, allowing her to fall face-first onto the cold, hard floor.

As the Wraith left, Rodney gravitated towards her, but held back, unsure if he should touch her or not. Finally, when she didn't move, he bent and rolled her onto her side.

"Oh, god, what did they do to you?"

Ash struggled to bring his face into focus. "Implanted...some sort of...tracking..." she slurred slowly.

He looked momentarily stunned. "So, what, they're turning you into a runner like Ronon?"

She swallowed, staring up at him. "I guess..."

"Oh, wow, that is horrible," he sat back on the floor. "Hunted tirelessly by the Wraith and knowing that inevitably you're going to face a...a horrible death by life-sucking..." he trailed off, looking down at her chagrined expression. "Not helping, right."

"I'm gunna get us out of this," she somehow summoned the strength to construct some sort of sentence.

He pulled back again, looking incredulous. "Look at you, I don't think you could get out of your own clothes without help. Uh, not that I'm suggesting—"

"Rodney," she said.

"Right, not helping," he rubbed his hands together for a moment, warming them. Then he offered one to her and helped her to sit up. "Feeling any better?"

"Pain's not fun," she responded, grimacing. "But I think I'll be okay once they cut me loose..."

"And what then?" he asked, eyeing her. "I mean, it's not like you're in great condition to be gallivanting offworld and outrunning Wraith hunters."

"I think I managed to make a pretty strong case on keeping you alive. You'll just have to hold out here until a rescue team finds you," she offered.

He opened his mouth to reply but she held up a hand. "This isn't really the place to discuss it, is it?"

The words died in his throat and he nodded silently. " want to have a drink...tell me you're not the beer type?"

She almost laughed at his awkwardness. "No, Rodney. I have to say I have a thing for vodka. I hope that's acceptable to you?"

"I suppose it'll have to do," he responded, offering a smile. He took a moment to study her strained features. Blonde hair, shaved on the sides but long on top, golden brown orbs for eyes, lightly tanned skin. She certainly was beautiful.

He mentally shook himself for checking out a chick and discussing what was basically a date while they were trapped on a hive ship and lucky not to become appetisers for the next culling.

Rodney looked around for a few moments at the bleak cell with its horrid, slimy walls. His eyes finally settled on Ash's drawn features. "So, you were telling me about your cat before?"

"Ah," she said, a small smile ghosting across her face. She paused. "His name is O'Malley and he's an old codger with one eye missing. He's a longhair, ginger. Not much of a cuddler with most people, but he likes me enough. Maybe it's just for the food I give him, haha..."

She trailed off into silence once more and Rodney began to fidget, not sure what else to say.

"So, do you have family?" he finally asked, hopeful not to have pushed the wrong buttons.

She paused again, considering his question. "I had a brother - marine. He died in Afghanistan about 4 years ago."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."

"Its fine," she responded, offering a small smile. "Never knew mum. Dad's retired. We probably don't talk as much as we should. You?"

"Oh, uh. Well," he said. "I have a sister, Jeanie. I guess we don't really talk much either."

"I see," she said slowly, shifting and wincing at the pain. "Maybe you should hit her up sometime?"

"Maybe," he replied. "I doubt she'd want to hear from me. She has her own life now. It's complicated."

"You never know, Rodney," she had a knowing look on her face and he repressed the urge to writhe under her gaze.

There was a long silence as the minutes stretched by. Finally, Ash broke it.

"So, your quarters or mine?"

"Uh, what?"

"When we have this drink, do you want me to come to you or are you gunna come to me? Or shall we go someplace else entirely?" she cracked a grin. "I know a nice balcony with a good view on the East pier if you're interested?"

He considered her for a few moments. "Well, I have to say I think people would talk if either of us were spotted going into each other's rooms."

"So let 'em talk," she almost giggled. "Might make a few of the ladies on the base jealous enough to make a move on you."

Rodney looked at her, incredulous. "Oh, now I just know you're taking it out of me. Cruel joke, but you don't fool me."

"Pfft, you really are as bad with women as they say."

"Exac- wait, what? Who says that?"

"My lips are sealed," she really did giggle this time, but her face sobered rapidly. "Okay, I think I'm gunna try and get some rest; this tracking device thing has...worn me out a little. No snuggling, okay?"

He snorted in response, but said nothing. Silence fell between them as Ash slowly slid down to the floor and folded her hands over her chest, grimacing in pain as she placed pressure on the back of her neck.

For what could only have been a handful of hours, Ashley dozed on the cold floor, in and out of sleep as the pain plagued her. Rodney simply sat and watched, marvelling that she got any sleep at all, considering their situation. He briefly wondered if she was single, considering the obvious lack of rings on her hands, but his musings were cut short by unwelcome visitors.

In an instant, Ash flowed upwards like a coursing river, into a defensive stance. She shot a dark look across at Rodney. "I guess this is where we find out if the Queen took my advice."

The cell door retreated into the walls and four Wraith drones shuffled into the room in Ash's direction.

"Easy, fellas," she began, holding up her hands. "I'll come qui—"

Her words were cut short as a stunner blast erupted from one of the drones, striking her in the chest. She stiffened for a moment, then went totally limp and crumpled to the floor. Two of the drones immediately bent and lifted her by the arms before dragging her from the cell and down the hall.

And then Rodney was alone.

* * * * * * *

Tingling again. The ground was hard, cold, and slightly damp. Ash cracked her eyes and struggled to sit, looking around.

She had been lying in the middle of what seemed like some sort of street. The ground was paved unevenly with some sort of bricks and the surrounding buildings appeared to be warehouses of some sort. Everything lay in some level of ruin – buildings abandoned and damaged in varying degrees, rubble scattered about on the road, fallen street lamps and trees. This world had been decimated, and she was fairly certain she knew the source of the destruction.

Coming to the conclusion that said information was fairly useless to her, she slowly got to her feet, wincing at the pain in the back of her neck, and wondered mildly if the Wraith had tagged her properly.

She looked around again, wondering which direction the stargate would be in. After a few moments, she paused, listening.

A dart. A Wraith dart was nearby.

Immediately she began to run. She headed for a nearby warehouse, doors busted open long ago, and made her way through the rows of various crates, some intact, others crushed, their contents destroyed beyond recognition.

And the bodies. So many bodies, decimated long ago. Some had injuries, limbs missing, perhaps killed in explosions – there was no shortage of burn marks on the ground and surroundings.

Pure luck had it that she finally found a corpse with a weapon. A shotgun type that the Genii commonly used. She wondered vaguely if there was a link there, but it seemed unimportant at the time. She checked the clip – seven cartridges remained.

Unbidden, Mick's face flashed behind her eyes and she screwed up her face, fighting the tears. She'd forced herself not to speak of him upon her return and mercifully, Rodney hadn't asked. Maybe he knew.

Maybe she wouldn't find out if she didn't fucking focus.

She pushed the thoughts to the back of her mind, gritting her teeth. The Wraith would be here in moments and she had to set up some sort of defence.

She made her way deeper into the warehouse, looking around in the hope of finding ammunition to scavenge. Finally, she found a stairway that lead up to some sort of control centre built into the roof.

Looking around quickly, she mounted the staircase and climbed up to the gangway that spanned the upper part of the building. The tried the handle and was thankful when it opened with silence.

The room was a sort of office, from what she could tell. Faded, brittle papers lay scattered all about. There were only two bodies, sagged in office chairs with gaping holes in the sides of their heads. Suicide.

She checked the pistols they had used. By some miracle, they were both fully loaded save for the obvious missing bullets each owner had used. She stuffed them into the underside of her belt to hold them in place.

The room had three walls that were just plain and regular with various papers pinned to them, but the fourth was all glass. Ash leaned forwards, looking up at the bleak, grey sky.

A screaming built in the distance and she crouched down, hiding behind the corpses. She looked up in time to see a dart fly from left to right and deposit a Wraith hunter somewhere in the adjacent street below.

She let out a pent up breath and took one last look at the heavens. Finally, she knew where the dart had come from, and that miracle gave her a heading for the stargate. Things were looking up.

Knowing the Wraith could track her, she surged out of the office and across the gangway, covering the exits with her shotgun. She crept as quickly and silently as possible towards the far end of the warehouse, away from where the dart had deposited the hunter. Her plan was to circle around the building, avoid fighting if possible, and make her way to the stargate.

Finding another access staircase, she jumped down, using the rails to guide her safely to the ground. Then she ran for the exit; a great, hulking doorway that was sure to let in far too much light.

She slid across the heavy bolt and eased the door open with a spine-chilling screech. Once it was open just enough, she forced herself through the tiny gap and pushed it closed again, praying it would help hide her escape trajectory a little.

Now that she was out in the sunlight, it was abundantly clear she was going to have very little cover on her way to the gate. Rather than risk getting lost in the endless maze of buildings, she opted to stay out in the open and head for the gate in a straight line.

Probably not the best idea, but she didn't know how long she'd been unconscious out there, let alone how long before Rodney was going to be safely in orbit over Kurchon, just waiting for a rescue mission to take place. She couldn't risk taking a long, winding route. There just wasn't time.

Thinking for a moment, she decided against taking the shotgun. It was heavy and awkward and would only slow her down. The pair of pistols seemed to be enough of a deterrent against any attackers.

After running for what felt like an hour with a steady, drizzling rain setting in for the long haul, she finally rounded a corner.

And there it was.

The stargate.

Unfortunately for her, someone had also rounded the other corner of the building. A Wraith hunter.

Slowly, keeping her eyes on the Wraith, she drew the pistols and considered simply making a run for the DHD. For a second, it seemed like a good idea – until she remembered that she'd probably take a stunner and go down before she got anywhere near close.

Cursing the Wraith, she decided the best thing would be to try and take him by surprise. He was looking around, standing out in the open, and surely he knew she was nearby, but where?

She eased back around the corner and took a few deep breaths, steadying herself. After a moment or two, she gritted her teeth in a snarl and rushed into the fight for her life.

Unfortunately for her, the Wraith had almost reached the corner. She got off several shots, most of which found there intended target, before he was too close. He knocked the pistols right out of her hands and gave a flying kick to her stomach.

She reeled backwards, momentarily stunned as the air was forced from her lungs. The Wraith was already upon her. One hand went to her throat, forcing her onto her tip toes. The other was raised, palm up, ready to feed.

In a fluid movement, she grabbed the small blade from his belt, and as his hand came down to suck out her life, she brought the blade up to stab right through his palm.

The Wraith hissed in pain and rage, and in its moment of shock, released her.

Ash didn't hesitate. She rushed past him, straight for the DHD, and started dialing a planet that she knew had an IDC for Atlantis. She punched in the symbols as rapidly as she could, and then her hand came down hard on the central dome.

As the wormhole engaged, a sudden blow to her side knocked her to the ground. Winded, she felt a sudden, sharp pain in her ribs and looked down to see the blade protruding from her black tank.

She looked up to see the Wraith, sharp teeth bared in a horrible, triumphant grin. He crouched down, satisfied he'd incapacitated her, and raised his uninjured hand to feet.

Ash waited until he was too close to back off and in a single, fluid movement, drew the blade from her side and slashed it across the Wraith's exposed throat. Black blood spewed forth, splattering all over her face and chest.

The Wraith gave a drawn out, gurgling hiss and finally collapsed onto her, dead.

Revolted, she shoved the corpse to the side and struggled to her feet, gasping at the pain in her ribs. Clutching her side as blood began to flow, she hobbled to the stargate and made her way through.

* * * * * * *

John and Ronon were in Elizabeth's office, having a heated discussion regarding the new gym roster when the stargate activation alarms started blaring. The trio immediately rushed into the control room, just in time for one of the technicians to raise the gate shield.

"Receiving IDC," he stated in a monotonous voice. "It's the Liarans."

"Lower the shield," commanded John, leading the other two down to the stairs. "Wonder what they want – Lorne's team was only there yesterday."

Abruptly, a woman hobbled through the stargate and sank to one knee, clutching her side. It was Ashley Woodstock, smeared with grim, bloodied, but alive.

Elizabeth immediately called for a medical team.

John rushed forwards, trying to help her to her feet. She gave a cry that turned into a pained gasp and he almost took a step back. Her hand came up to clutch the sleeve of his shirt, smearing blood onto his arm in the process.

"They've still got McKay," she gasped.

"Where," Ronon stepped forward urgently, placing a large hand on her shoulder.

"A place called Kurchon," she almost whispered, swaying. "They're going for a culling."

Her knees buckled and John acted swiftly, pulling her arm over the back of his neck to support her weight. It was perfect timing that the medical team, lead by Carson, arrived with a stretcher.

John helped to get the near unconscious woman onto the bed while Ronon turned to look at Elizabeth. "I know where Kurchon is," he stated. "The settlement isn't far from the gate. We can take a jumper."

"Keep pressure on that wound, let's go lads," Carson barked orders and hurried to move the stretcher down the hall.

"Okay," said Elizabeth, turning to look at John. "Ready your team. Take a squad of marines as well. I want this mission to be a success."

"Thought you'd never ask," he commented, giving Ronon a light slap on the arm as he hurried past, leading the way to the armoury.

* * * * * * *

The puddle jumper arrived just on time, cloaked, and soared over the dark settlement into the heavens. The darts had already begun to hail down upon the small village and John managed to sneak aboard the dart bay undetected.

He landed in what appeared to be a remote corner and started giving out orders, then set out with his team, plus two marines, leaving the remaining two to guard the jumper.

They slowly crept down the silent halls, John studying the life signs detector diligently and Teyla doing her best to keep track of where they had been and where they were going.

Finally, they reached the level where the majority of the holding cells where contained. Each cell they passed was completely empty, until they finally came upon the seventh room.

There lay Rodney McKay, uncomfortably asleep on a bench and lightly snoring.

"McKay," said John sharply, startling the scientist into waking.

"What the--? Oh hallelujah," he began, getting up. "So I take it Ash is fine?"

John and Ronon exchanged a look that made Rodney's insides squirm with worry. John turned back to him. "As far as I know, Major Woodstock is in surgery. When she arrived on Atlantis she was bleeding pretty bad."

Rodney's face fell. "Oh."

"Don't worry," Teyla stepped forward to assure him. "I'm certain Doctor Beckett will be able to help her."

"Anyway," continued John, taking a block of C4 out of his vest pocket. "We've come to break you out, so stand back."

He knelt down and started fixing the explosive to part of the cage. After a few moments, he stood again and tapped his radio.

"Sergeant North. We're about to make some noise, be ready to cover us when we make it to the dart bay."

"Affirmative, Colonel."

He turned back to look at Rodney, who scurried away from the doorway and took shelter behind the low bench, hunkering into the floor. John waved the group around a nearby corner, pulling out the detonator.

"Fire in the hole," he announced, and flicked the switch.

Chaos erupted. Rodney got to his feet as a 9-mil was pushed into his hand. Then hands grabbed him, pulling him into a run as the alarms began to scream.

The team made their way down several winding corridors before they met resistance in the form of Wraith drones. They immediately melted into defensive positions along the walls and began a short shootout. The Wraith went down quickly enough, and the group moved on, led by Teyla.

They moved quickly and were almost to the dart bay when they were met with more Wraith. Teyla rounded a corner and took a stunner blast to the face, crumpling to the ground. John, who had been right behind her, riddled the offending Wraith with P-90 bullets and the rest of the group fell into positions around him.

Then, as if on cue, the two marines who had been guarding the jumper appeared behind the group of soldiers and began firing on them from behind. When the last Wraith fell, they began to move forwards once more.

Ronon grabbed Teyla by her vest and dragged her limp form along behind them.

They all piled into the jumper and took their seats, Teyla lying unconscious on the floor in the rear compartment.

"Buckle up, this one's gonna be close," announced John, jumping into the pilot's seat. Rodney eased down into the copilot's seat, looking sheepish.

"I don't suppose any of you brought food?" he asked, looking around. Ronon glared at him and the marines looked incredulous. "Hey, I am borderline on having a hypoglycaemic reaction here."

Finally, Seargent North pulled out a powerbar from one of his vest pockets and tossed it at the scientist, who rapidly extracted it from the wrapper and shoved the whole thing in his mouth.

John gripped the controls tensely, trying to fly without crashing into any of the darts, most of which had been recalled to the bay after they'd set off the alarms. He manoeuvred his way through the bay and, after a few tense minutes, made it out of the hive and into empty space. He immediately headed for the planet, and the stargate.

They were homeward bound at last.

* * * * * * *

When Ash finally awoke, it was to the comforting beep of a heart monitor, as well as various other equipment, in the Atlantis infirmary.

Carson, who had been checking her IV bag, looked down and gave her a warm smile. "How are you feeling, lass?"

She groaned quietly. "Like I've been hit by a freight train...what happened?"

"Well," he said slowly, checking over the monitors. "You had some sort of stab wound, but I've patched ye up nice and good again. And not to worry, we located the transmitter almost immediately and deactivated it."

"I remember...running." She frowned, trying to concentrate, despite the fogginess in her mind, no doubt from whatever drugs were in her system. "And fighting."

"Aye." He patted her shoulder. "Rodney filled us in on what he knew, but I'll wager you'll want to see him yourself?"

"Rodney's alive?" she had a moment of clarity, brown eyes brightening. "Oh, thank god."

At that moment, the said scientist walked into the infirmary, carrying a tray of food from the mess hall. He looked over to see Carson talking with her and smiled, pleasantly surprised that she was awake at last. John stood behind him, hanging back a little.

"I'll leave you to it," said Carson, stepping away as the two men approached.

Ash's stomach grumbled and she smiled appreciatively as Rodney placed the tray on her lap. "It's good to see you well," she said warmly, motioning for him to sit.

"It's good to see you...well, doing okay, I take it?"

"Yeah, doc's got me all patched up. I expect I'll be off my feet for a few weeks, though," she suppressed a laugh, deciding it would be far too painful. "So I guess I'll have to wait a little for that date?"

John raised an eyebrow, looking at Rodney expectantly.

Ash grinned. "I'm kidding. Just a friendly drink between work mates, right, Rodney?"

He chuckled nervously. "Right. Right you are."

John made a face, obviously not buying it. "So, I know this isn't really a good time, Woodstock," he began.

"You wanna talk about Lieutenant Belmore, right?"

"I'll...I'll go talk to Carson for a minute," said Rodney hurriedly, sensing the tension between the two of them. He got up and scurried away, making a beeline for the doctor's office.

John eased down into chair beside her. "I know you're going to file a report, I'm not here to question what you did, because we both know damn well you went above and beyond with this, as reckless as that may have been."

She opened her mouth, no doubt to argue with his assessment, but he held up a hand, silencing her before she could even form words.

"What I'm here to say is this." His eyes unfocussed for a second as he internalised some thought process. "I want you to be the one to tell his family. You guys haven't been working together long, but you knew him better than anyone."

Ash almost choked on a sob and a rush of tears began the long track down her cheeks. In a shaky voice, she made her response with a heavy handed salute. "Yes, sir."

"Good," he said. "Now you focus on getting better again. We need you out there, Woodstock."

He stood and adjusted his jacket slightly, preparing to leave. He looked around and grinned at her. "Plus, I think McKay might want some quality time, if you know what I mean."

Ash grinned through her tears. "Yes, sir."

Then the Colonel was gone and Rodney came back over, looking uncertain. He sat down and eyed her tear soaked face, fidgeting.

"I'm...I'll be okay, Rodney," she said quietly. "I'll get it sorted out in my head, and I'll be okay...but I don't want to talk about that right now."

"Well," he began, meeting her gaze. "Carson says you'll be ready to be discharged in a couple of days, so long as you take it easy and check in every 24 hours so he can keep an eye on your stitches."

Ash grinned. "Hah, not getting rid of me that easily, huh?"

He felt a smile form on his face. "No, I guess not. about when you get out? Your quarters?"

"Ooh, don't want to get caught inviting a lady out for an evening?" her grin broadened.

"Well," he fumbled with his words. "Well, I don't want you to be over exerting yourself coming to see me so I thought...I thought I should just come see you instead."

"I guess chivalry is not dead," she murmured, shifting slightly in the bed with a wince of pain.

"Okay, well I guess I'll leave you to rest, then?"

She nodded, smiling. "I'll see you soon, Rodney."

* * * * * * *

Carson had almost refused to release Ashley from the infirmary, but when she insisted she had reports to file and would make sure not to do much walking around, he finally relented and allowed her to be discharged with fairly strict conditions.

She had slowly made her way through the city, grateful for the existence of the transporters to get her closer the her quarters.

She didn't encounter too many people, and most seemed to know enough about what had happened to want to wish her well. Nobody stopped her, however.

Finally she reached the hall where her room was situated. She waved over the console and the doors slid open, revealing a welcoming site.

The room smelled strongly, as usual, of vanilla. Lace curtains billowed with a cool sea breeze that made her blonde hair dance. The bed was a mess of tangled sheets and blankets, just as she'd left it.

She headed immediately for the wardrobe and started to gingerly get changed out of her uniform. Off duty meant she could at least have some measure of comfort for her night with McKay.

Finally, clad in a pair of well worn jeans and a loose tank top, she turned to the rest of the room and headed out to the balcony that overlooked a large portion of the city.

The door chimed and she turned to call out to whoever it was, inviting them in. It slid open to reveal Rodney standing there awkwardly, still in his uniform. "Uh, hi. How are you doing?"

"Don't just stand there," she smiled, waving him over. "Come in."

He took a few steps into the room and the lights gradually faded into life, sensing his thoughts. He looked around at the impressive room. "Wow, how'd you end up with this place when you've only been here a few months?"

Ash grinned. "Won it in a poker game from Colonel Sheppard. And I'm ok."

"Huh, I thought that hallway looked familiar..." he trailed off, unsure what to say.

"So, that drink," she walked into the kitchen dining area, reached up to the cupboard for a pair of glasses and immediately regretted it.

Hunching over the bench, she whimpered in pain. Then a warm hand touched her shoulder. Rodney stood beside her, reaching to get the glasses himself.

"Maybe you should sit. I'll get this sorted out."

She looked at him with a strained expression. "Yeah, I think you're right. I'll go sit on the balcony..."

She hobbled away, leaving him to search her cupboards for the vodka. Finally locating it, he quarter filled the glasses, then added chilled pineapple juice and ice. Grasping them one in each hand, he followed her outside.

She sat in one of the chairs beside a small table, and offered him a small, appreciative smile as he set down the glass in front of her before sitting.

She took a sip and almost choked. "Wow, I thought I made it strong. Damn."

"Oh, sorry," he started, flustered. "I mean, I can go make another one-"

"No, Rodney, its fine," she paused. "I could probably use a strong drink after the last few days we've had...Colonel Sheppard asked me to go see Mick's family personally. Guess I'm going to be stuck on the Daedalus for a few weeks afterwards, so I suppose that's enough time to heal up good."

"Mmmh," he responded, sipping his drink and grimacing at the taste. "Then back to active duty, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess so," she gulped down the drink, astounding him. "I think I'll need another."

"I'll get it," he said, standing and reaching for the glass.

She batted away his hand. "Bring out the bottle."

He blinked at her for a second, a little unsure, but agreed all the same and retrieved the ingredients needed to pour more drinks.

"I wouldn't say I plan to get drunk," she said slowly, considering him as he poured vodka into her glass and then topped it up with the juice. "But I would like to have at least a few drinks together and you shouldn't have to keep getting up for me."

"You know I don't mind, right?" he asked, sitting. "I mean, not that vodka is my drink of choice, but that's okay."

"Coffee, huh?" she gave him a crooked smile. "I can go one better than that."


"When I got shipped in, I made sure I brought some supplies with me. I've got a couple of cans of energy drink stashed," she grinned at his incredulous face.

"How the hell did you sneak that past Beckett?"

She tapped the side of her nose. "Just gotta know the right people to bribe. So you want some?"

"Are you kidding? Of course I do!"

"Alright, I'll share my hoard so long as you keep it quiet. If I'm not careful, every member of the expedition will descend on me demanding their cut," she laughed a little but it turned into a groan of pain. "Damnit, gotta stop finding things funny."

Silence fell between them and Rodney turned to see her golden hair being rumpled by the slight breeze. She met his gaze with warmth in her eyes.

"I want to thank you, Rodney," she said quietly.

"Thank me? For what?"

"You...when I told you I was going to make sure you got off that ship, you could have argued with me, but you didn't. You trusted me, even though I failed to keep Mick alive," she faltered and he took the moment to interrupt her.

"You didn't fail anyone," he said sternly, placing his half empty glass on the table. "We would have been dead for sure if you hadn't come after us."

"But he did die, Rodney," she argued, her voice strained. "I have to live with that."

"No," he said, folding his arms defiantly. "No, he died because of the Wraith, not because of you. And I would have been a meal too, if you hadn't come back here and told everyone where I was going to be."

She looked away, struggling to keep the tears at bay, and silence fell between them once again.

After a few moments it was broken by the jingle of a bell and a ginger cat slinked out of the bedroom, twining around Rodney's legs and purring.

"Oh," he said, reaching down to pat the cat. "O'Malley, I take it?"

"Yeah," she responded hollowly. "Yeah, that's him."

He was just about to pick up the one-eyed tom cat when Ash reached for the vodka and took a swig straight from the bottle.

"That's it, I'm cutting you off." He grabbed the bottle from her and jammed the lid on, tightening it as much as possible.

"Hey!" she exclaimed, frowning at him. "Give that back!"

"No, not until you stop moping," he argued. "You need to, to look to the future instead of wallowing in sadness."

"Oh, I'm wallowing, now, am I?"

"Yes," he declared. "I don't want to see you like this, Ash."

"What do you want to see me like, Rodney?"

The question caught him off guard. "I, uhh...well, happy, I guess?"



"I was expecting you to say something else. Like 'naked' or something..."

"Naked?" he choked.

She looked away, flushing. "Forget about it, McKay."

He was silent for a long time, but finally it dawned on him. "You were talking about me."


"When Doctor Luxford asked you who you were into, you meant me," he responded, not a shred of uncertainty in his voice.

Ash took a long swig of her drink. "And what are you going to do about that, hm?"

He considered her for a few moments, unsure what to say. Finally, he broke his silence. "Well, I guess we could go for dinner before I see you naked."

Ash giggled and winced as pain shot through her side. "You really are terrible with women."

"Ah, but maybe that's my secret plan to make you feel sorry for me?"

She eyed him for a few seconds. "I don't think you're fooling me."

"Yeah, I didn't think so either," he cracked an awkward smile.

"Okay, so how about tomorrow night?" she asked smoothly. "Catch some dinner and then we come back here and watch a movie?"

"Uh, sure if you're up for it," he agreed nervously.

They watched the sun slowly set in silence, and when it was finally gone, Ash stood.

"I guess this is my cue to leave?" Rodney got to his feet and followed her back into the room.

"I guess so." She turned around and before he could argue, enveloped him in a lingering hug. As she pulled away, she stretched up and kissed his cheek, then backed off and waved her palm over the door console. "Goodnight, Rodney."

"Goodnight," he mumbled, stunned. He shuffled forwards, past her, and out the door, turning back to see her lean against the frame with a small but warm smile.

Then the door slid shut and she was gone.

Good night indeed.

Chapter End Notes:
Reviews are appreciated. This is not my first fanfic, but it has been a couple years since I last did any sort of writing, so go easy on me. :3