A/N #1 If you see any mistakes, please let me know
A/N #2 I’m done. I am gonna do some edits—after Nanowrimo is over… Sob. Now I must find other ways to procrastinate. If anyone is interested in beta’ing the sequel, let me know.
Willow had walked through the infirmary doors and taken her seat at the center aluminum table. The infirmary had been empty of all but a single nurse. Dr. Beckett’s usual coffee cup was missing and his desk lamp had not yet been turned on. Willow decided to take that as a sign that she could get started on her plant classifications at the expected hour—nine a.m., and spend the minutes until Dr. Beckett at least walked in reading. She sat on the hard metal round stool and began to skim through the spell book Giles had given her as a graduation present. Opening it, she didn’t feel reminded of how she missed him or her friends she just felt calm in the knowledge that Giles had enough faith in her abilities that he had given her a book so that she could guide herself through Wiccan practices and spells.
He did kind of want her to clear each spell with him before she performing them—but that wouldn’t ever happen—even if she were still in Sunnydale. She knew she had an intuitive grasp of magic and while she didn’t like the idea of being reckless she also knew that the only way to grow and develop was to simply practice. Her time in Atlantis thus far and at breakfast with Aiden, McKay and Major Sheppard had reinforced in her mind the fact that she needed to figure out a way to best help their group. She wasn’t quite at the point where she considered everyone as family or even friends but it was obvious they were doing their part to keep their world safe. She had to respect that and help if she could. If—helping was even possible… if—they would welcome her assistance… if—there were any spells she could do…. There were surely more ifs but she knew it would be foolish to continue to name them. It was a question of action versus inaction or of doing something versus doing nothing. She knew she couldn’t just do—zilch.
There was a spell she had always wanted to try on Xander but had never really had the power and opportunity. The basic idea behind the spell was that a person’s spirit would be present on the surface of their skin and it touched by anyone that had a desire to harm the person then the essence of the person would produce a protective fire or flame. After Buffy had killed Angel, and escaped into Los Angeles, she had stumbled on a text in Giles’ books referencing the spell. Back then she hadn’t more than an ounce of training and the power to actually perform the spell so she had filed it away in her head and went on with life. She didn’t have complete information about the spell until she had received the book from Giles. According to the codex, where she had first seen mention of the spell, it had a pretty good track record—success and no side effects. If she were able to perform the spell on Aiden then she could ensure his safety. The spell itself was quite safe. It only lasted a few hours and it wasn’t as if the spirit of a person was like a battery that would burn out. Willow believed according to Wiccan beliefs, and accepted that the inner being was eternal.
Having found the spell, she stopped turning the pages. The spell called for dried musk, jasmine and rose… she had the musk and jasmine in her herbal pouch in her room and just yesterday she had catalogued and classified rose. For the spell, she had to blend together the specified amounts with yarrow and a bit of crushed crystal. The witch performing the spell, well she-- would have to rub the substance on their hands, without regard to the fact that the crushed crystal would break the skin. There were words she had to say over the one she loved and if the goddess deemed the love worthy a flame would emanate from the combination of the mixture, the blood sacrifice, the witches power and love and the strength of the receivers love.
The good thing about this spell was the simple fact that if it didn’t work then there were no consequences—except for those related to a broken heart. So if she tried the spell then she would know if her love for Aiden were truly love--- and she would also know if he loved her in return. If he did—then he would be protected. Hopefully the result of the spell would be any wraith that tried to feed off of Aiden would be instantly immolated—or at least would receive burnt feeding hands. Immolation was the aim… complete annihilation… utter destruction… total wraith obliteration… yep. Dr. Beckett still hadn’t arrived and Willow decided this was her opportunity to gather her supplies and set up.
When she returned to the infirmary after returning from her room, she found Dr. Beckett still absent. The only difference was that a fresh pot of coffee had been brewed and his coffee cup sat half empty on the table. He would surely return soon and she would be expected to start classifying the plants. It was a little after nine and Aiden had surely begun his briefing. Willow read through the spell once again and organized the crushed bits of crystal and plants on a Petri dish. It did seem beyond ridiculous that she would mix ingredients for a Wiccan spell in a Petri dish, in a medical facility, on a planet other than the planet Earth and in another galaxy.
She read through her the spell again and wondered if she were truly ready. It was unfair to put Aiden to the test so soon and frankly at all. Would he pass? Would she? Lost in her thoughts she stiffened when she felt hands touch and knead at her shoulders. Aiden. She hadn’t heard or noticed his approach at all. This was definitely not an indication of an undying love connection.
“Hello, beautiful.” Willow swiveled and turned one full rotation on the stool. She leaned the muscles of her back against Aiden’s chest. She smiled even though she knew he wouldn’t be able to see her lips. She didn’t trust herself to speak. He’d surely meant his words, but did he really, truly believe that he love her? Did she love him? Would they pass the test? What was the right now- what were those beliefs—were they truth?
She felt Aiden lower his chin to her head. He wrapped his arms around her upper body, loosely clasping his hands at the front of her body. His voice was lower than usual yet completely calm. “I have a go on the mission to capture a wraith. We leave at eleven thirty.”
Willow wanted to be able to instantly process the words. She wanted to be able to classify his statement into distinct categories. List of people going on the mission, plausible difficulties—in order of danger levels, odds of success versus failure, etc. She was quiet, thinking. Was she ready to say goodbye to him again? Would she ever really be ready?
“Close your eyes.” Willow instructed Aiden. She knew she just needed to do the spell. She knew what her heart felt but she didn’t trust her heart any longer. How could she? She lifted the Petri dish into one hand and dumped all of the substance into the other hand. She rubbed both hands together wincing as the broken crystal cut into her skin. The pain would be as if nothing if it meant Aiden would return from the mission, whole and healthy. Her palms began to burn. She didn’t know if this happened because of the cuts, the crushed herbs, or the spell. Willow was afraid to look at her hands. She felt small beads of blood begin to escape the open cuts but she still didn’t look. Her hands continued to warm.
“Close your eyes.” Willow repeated her request through tightly pursed lips.
She wanted to seal her lips shut with her teeth, but more blood, more sacrifice was not needed. She was terrified to look down at her hands. She squeezed her eyes shut. She raised her palms to Aiden’s head. She was silent—murmuring softly inside her head. She couldn’t make out her own words—but she knew them by memory. The spell had no words, she was to speak the truth to the goddess, and she was to speak the truth in her heart, to her head, and to her spirit. She murmured. She prayed. She felt her hands burn, but she still could not open her eyes. A delicate breeze swept through the infirmary, her hands chilled. She felt the blood on her hands disappear and the dust from the herbs and the broken crystal slipped into the wind gust. Willow felt it circle them both and then suddenly stop. Willow knew the spell was complete. She opened her eyes. Aiden still had his closed. Her hand was healed and clean. Willow gathered him in a hug. “Come back to me.”
“If it were my choice, I would never leave.” Willow stepped back and looked into his deep brown eyes for a long minute. He was telling her the truth. He must love her as she did.
“I know.” She stepped again close to him and gave him one more hug. She arched her back a little to give him the clue that she wanted a pre-mission kiss.
“Oh Ford… I was just looking for you…” Dr. Beckett was a little sheepish at having interrupted the hug between his new assistant and Lieutenant Ford. He had spoken too soon. He had been sure they were finishing off their goodbyes and then he had seen a blush tint Willow’s entire face.
Aiden disentangled himself from Willow and turned to acknowledge Dr. Beckett. It was time to return to work.
”Yes, Doctor.” He kept his face completely neutral. It wasn’t that simple to do. His mind was racing. Why had Willow asked him to close his eyes and what was that warm feeling he had sensed coming from her hand? And did his grandmother tell him a kiss from the woman you loved before going off to war was good luck or was it bad luck? Well, he really wasn’t going off to war… and he didn’t believe in luck anyway.
“Ah—well, I just returned from the brig on the lower levels… just wanted to inform you that our future prisoners’ quarters are perfectly adequate.”
Aiden nodded. This was good news. “Great.” Now he needed to get back to work. He raised his hand to drop on Willow’s shoulder in a platonic goodbye but instead found her slipping beneath his arm and onto his chest. She gathered her arms around his neck and kissed him.
“For luck.” He returned her smile and turned and left the infirmary.
Willow watched Aiden exit. If she didn’t feel one hundred percent confident that he would return she at least felt completely sure that he would try his best to come back to her. This action, this desire to return was one more thing that love surely was. Love was homecoming—finding home in each others arms.
“Lass? Are you okay?” Carson was concerned. Young love, actually love in general, was a tricky thing. Did Willow have the personal mettle to put aside her feelings and her worry to actually live? If she didn’t, her life would quickly fall to the wayside. She could spend two or three days a week worrying about Ford and doing absolutely nothing.
“Yep. I am just fine. Let me close this book and get back to work.” Willow shut her spell book and went over to the cabinet. Work beckoned.
“Let me set up.” She removed the containers of herbs and booted up the Atlantis laptop. She felt Dr. Beckett’s concerned eyes boring into her back.
“Really Dr. Beckett—not an act—I really am fine.” Willow knew she was okay. Aiden would go on the mission—she had done all she could to keep him safe. She would have to trust he and the rest of his team had the ability to keep each other safe. She hadn’t observed him in close combat or in anything of the sort but she was sure he would be fine. He had to be an expert, how else had he gotten posted to a top secret expedition in another galaxy. She had a suspicion they only gave such a job to the best of the best.
“Oh, alright.” Carson decided to let it go. So far she did seem completely fine. She wasn’t as chipper as she had been in previous days but that was to be expected.
“Oh—at eleven thirty—can I wave goodbye to the Stargate teams—and I will bring you back lunch so I can be even more efficient.”
“Of course.” She really was just fine. Carson mentally exhaled a sigh of relief. He kept sneaking glances at Willow. She was steadily working on the classifications but he was only somewhat convinced she was okay.
Eleven thirty came and went. Willow had went off to the gate room and waved goodbye. She’d stood from the top balcony and smiled as she waved to Aiden. Sergeant Stackhouse had elbowed him in the side and mimicked her wave with a stiff queenly hand twist. The last sound she’d heard from Aiden had been a low snort of amusement at Stackhouse’s antics. She quickly moved towards the mess hall to keep busy. She gathered a tray and loaded it up with sandwiches, salad and drinks. When she made her way back to the infirmary she found Dr. Beckett standing with Dr. Weir and speaking in hushed tones. She was very curious as to what they spoke about even though a whispered conversation was not any of her business.
She was feeling a little paranoid. For the first time she felt as if everyone in the mess hall had been staring at her and she was curious as to if she was an object of concern or of simple human interest. She was sure if Dr. Z had been in the mess hall then she wouldn’t have noticed a thing because then she would have been occupied in conversation. She placed the tray on the table and watched as Dr. Weir and Dr. Beckett raised equally concerned glances to her face. Both stopped speaking when they visually identified the person providing the interruption. One day someone would have to give a seminar on how to be sneaky. The thought floated through her mind—it was always obvious that people had to speaking about you when immediately stopped speaking when they noticed you. There had to be rules for clandestine behavior, Dr. Weir and Dr. Beckett had obviously not been informed.
Willow decided to ignore the weird vibes she’d gotten and nodded a welcome to Dr. Weir. She busied herself setting the tray on the table, ignoring everything else.
Dr. Weir tried to shift the conversation with Carson to another topic since the subject they had been discussing had walked in and was in listening range. She couldn’t think of anything worthy of discussion. She gave Carson a wry smile and tapped him on the shoulder. Elizabeth stood and walked towards the enigmatic Willow Rosenberg.
She smiled in opening and decided to just be upfront. “How are you holding up?”
She wanted to be able to offer support if it were needed. From what she could tell it wasn’t so much needed or even expected. Willow was more self-contained than she would have expected from a young woman of her age. She had assumed Willow would have made quite a few requests of her by now. Surely something had to be wrong with her room or perhaps the food was not to her liking or even the clothing choices. So far, from what Elizabeth could see, Willow had integrated herself into the Atlantis landscape much better than could be expected. She was simply dressed in the Atlantis uniform pants and a black t-shirt. She had kept her own shoes. When Willow had walked into the room she had appeared calm, but the closer Elizabeth got to her she could clearly read hints of confusion in her face and eyes.
Willow wasn’t sure what Dr. Weir meant. Everything was fine. She had just left the Stargate and the mess hall… unless Dr. Weir had heard something from the mission… Willow felt the color drain from her face. What had happened?
“Has something happened?”
“No.” Elizabeth felt her customary wrinkle form between her eyes. She watched as Willow’s face relaxed and regained color.
“I just meant – generally. How are things?” Elizabeth sheepishly followed up her singular response.
“Um…” Willow knew she really didn’t have much to say. Aiden was lovely, Dr. Beckett was great, McKay was amusing… blah blah. “Everything is fine.” Simple answers were probably for the best.
“Okay.” Elizabeth knew she really was getting nowhere with this conversation. Obviously Willow wasn’t just going to ‘share’ and she frankly had no clue as how to get her to. What did she really want to know anyway? Details about her speedily progressing relationship with Ford? Her developing snarky bond with McKay or her fast friendships with Chef Jonathan and Dr. Zelenka? The Atlantis rumor mill—in this specific case Major John Sheppard had already given her the details. Elizabeth wanted to make sure Willow felt that she had a place in Atlantis. From what they knew so far—they really had no way back to Earth. She wanted Willow to feel at home here—all things considering. Though it seemed she had already found her place in her new world.
“Oh. There is one thing…” Willow had to ask. “My first day here you mentioned the ancient database—I was wondering if I could see it—if that is okay?”
Elizabeth was happy to find that there was something she could offer. “If Carson doesn’t mind… I have spare moments…” Elizabeth looked down at the tray of food on the table. She was free right then but didn’t want to interrupt their lunch... “…this afternoon.”
“That would be fine.” Carson was satisfied that Willow would get the opportunity to add some variety to her work. He was sure she would enjoy the reading opportunity—she had already half completed his task and he wasn’t quite ready to check her work.
Elizabeth smiled at both Carson and Willow in turn and left the infirmary.
Willow wanted to ask Dr. Beckett exactly what he had been speaking to Dr. Weir about when she had interrupted but didn’t. She just couldn’t figure out the most polite way to be nosy. They settled down to lunch.
“So what’s going to happen when they return with the wraith?” Willow half didn’t really expect Dr. Beckett to give her full details but she was curious.
Carson turned his head to give Willow a careful look. He wasn’t sure why she was concerned about the future wraith prisoner but he didn’t think there would be any harm giving her a little information. “I am actually not so sure. I helped set up, well I helped open up a brig on one of the lower levels.”
Willow scrunched up her face. There was something unnerving about being in a place with a built in jail. “Is it gene activated?”
“Yes it is.” A cloud passed over Carson’s face. He really wasn’t too comfortable being able to control opening and closing a wraith prison cell.
Willow noticed the sudden haze on Dr. Beckett’s face. “What’s wrong?”
”Nothing.” Carson hated the fact that he was so uncomfortable, on so many levels with Atlantis and ancient technology. He didn’t regret coming on the expedition exactly—he mostly just regretted having the ancient gene. There was nothing he could do about his genetic material and just no point in cursing nameless ancestors. “Since I have the ancient gene… I can open the brig… and since the wraith have superior mental/psychic capabilities…” Carson didn’t finish his statement. He didn’t want to say it.
“You are worried that when the wraith arrives they will somehow be able to influence you?” This actually sounded like a valid worry. She wondered just how far away the brig was from the infirmary and Dr. Beckett’s quarters.
“Couldn’t the wraith influence others as well? How do you even know they have this power?”
Carson grimaced. “Major Sheppard’s report stated that the wraith forced Colonel Sumner to kneel as she fed—that’s what Dr. Weir and I were discussing when you walked in.”
“Maybe it is too dangerous to allow the wraith back on Atlantis…” If the wraith could control a person then it wasn’t a good idea for them to be in the presence of people.
“Maybe it is… but we really have no other choice.” Carson felt foolish. Here he was discussing a sensitive topic with a college student. Okay, well she was a magically inclined college student that just happened to find herself in another galaxy and had so far, successfully destroyed two wraith, fixed a broken test tube and god only knew what else. Elizabeth had encouraged him to try out the conversation on Willow and see if she had any suggestions. From what he could fathom science didn’t have the answer in dampening a wraith’s psychic power. If the wraith they would capture were especially skilled and strong there was just no telling as to how far their influence could possibly spread. If the wraith were not so powerful then there was nothing to worry about. Both he and Dr. Weir had half formed ideas and assumptions that Willow possibly had some specialized power and ability that could possibly shield people from the wraith—or maybe not.
Dr. Weir got her ideas from the mission report both Major Sheppard and Lieutenant Ford had submitted. Both had described Willow as having the ability to hide herself and a young girl, Marta from ancient technology. She had been able to do this same thing—while firing—fire or an energy weapon or propelling flame from the palms of her hands. Dr. Weir had complete confidence in the veracity of the reports but had wanted his opinion. Carson didn’t feel comfortable asking Willow to actually do anything—neither did Dr. Weir. Both wanted to lay the facts on her and see if she had anything she could add.
Willow was pleased that Dr. Beckett had thought to tell her about the potential problem. So far, in Atlantis, she had been enjoying just doing day to day activities but since learning about the Hellmouth she had practically been doing major research and whatnot every day. She had begun to miss this aspect of her life almost as much as she missed her friends. Being given the opportunity to help on this level could only lessen the ache. “First the team has to get the wraith back here and see if it has any real power and if there is any range to the power.”
Willow made her suggestion and then watched Dr. Beckett’s eyes. So far so good... he seemed to want to hear what she had to say. He nodded in approval at her statement. She felt encouraged to continue.
“I know how to shield one or a few people from another person—I have even been working on a spell to shield an enemy from others—well, a blocking spell. Basically the enemy won’t be able to sense their enemy. I haven’t tried it—so it might have some kinks.”
Carson looked downward. How would this help their possible predicament? “Maybe you could modify the spell to block the wraith from being able to influence the minds of folks on the base… is that possible?”
“Yeah—sounds possible…not sure though.” Willow bit her lip. She wanted to help but she had no real ideas.
“Ooh! I have it!” Carson watched Willow raise her hand and her index finger in triumph.
“In order to block another person from being able to influence others then you have to implant a shadow over their ability. I know I can do that.” She shrugged. “Well, I haven’t tried—but how hard can it be?”
Carson gave her a hesitant smile— how hard indeed? In his mind everything she had just said was completely impossible and here she was speaking as if such things were as right as rain or as normal as a sheep going baaa. “What do you mean about a shadow?” He watched as Willow walked over to the trays of herbs she’d been working on. She brought her old book to the table and began flipping the pages. “How will a shadow help? Willow?”
“Hmm… sorry, I didn’t catch that?” She was back in research mode. Willow knew it would probably be best that she figure this out before Aiden and crew returned with the captured wraith. It was always better to be safe than to be sorry.
It was entirely possible that she would be able to modify the modified spell that Charin had given her as homework on this wraith.
Carson stood beside the table. He wasn’t so sure if he Willow needed him for anything. It quickly occurred to him that he really wasn’t doing a single thing—just standing like a dolt. “Willow, I’ll be over there if you need me.” He indicated his corner of the infirmary by moving his hand in its direction. She didn’t respond. She wasn’t listening. Carson went back to work. Willow had given him a little hope. Just maybe he wouldn’t be compelled to bring the walls of Atlantis down around their ears by the wraith, just maybe.
He spent the rest of the afternoon working in silence and sneaking glances at her. She spent the better part of an hour carefully reviewing pages in her book and then she would take a few notes on the Atlantis laptop. Whatever she was looking for she didn’t find until quite late in the afternoon. He knew she had come across something significant because she had made excited noises and clapped her hands.
“Things okay over there…” Carson made the statement. He wanted to keep the excitement out of his voice. Whatever she’d found or created that could cause her to shriek had to be good for Atlantis. The fact was this was an infirmary and he had a reputation as a dour Scot to uphold.
“I believe I have it—I just need some orris root. I modified this spell…” Willow tilted the open book to tilt on its side. She pointed at a page that from where Carson stood looked a bit like a recipe. He walked forward to get a closer look. The spell called for four ingredients: comfrey, yarrow, hawthorn, and orris root.
“What is it?” Dr. Beckett looked thoughtful.
“Well, I suspect I have some dried orris root somewhere.”
“You suspect? Why?” Willow carefully observed Dr. Beckett. He seemed a little embarrassed. She raised an eyebrow and waited for the explanation.
“It is an ingredient in gin…”
Willow gave Dr. Beckett a wide grin. “Dr. Carson Beckett is a bootlegger?”
“Shush, lass. I have a reputation to uphold.” Carson raised a finger to his lips. Willow didn’t need to say those words any louder. It would be kind of difficult for him to reign down judgment on his other research assistants when he came across their bootlegging projects if everyone knew he was steadily perfecting the recipe for Bombay Sapphire Gin.
“Quiet now.” Carson paused a moment and tried to stare Willow down. It didn’t work. She kept her grin in place.
”Okay. I will go to the other lab and gather the root.” He intuitively knew she wouldn’t blab to the world about his project but he was also quite sure that she would be laughing at him for days, even weeks. He was also reasonably sure that she would slip and tell someone—most likely Ford, of course.
“The other herbs are in storage here.” Willow moved off the table and began her preparations. She wanted to whistle to herself but held it in. Dr. Carson Beckett was a bootlegger! Dr. Carson Beckett was a bootlegger. She would have thought he would make Scottish Whiskey—but she guessed he was a man to buck stereotypes. Dr. Carson Beckett was a bootlegger! She mixed the ingredients in a large Petri dish—glad the spell called for only trace amounts of each herb. Dr. Beckett returned with the root and she added the necessary amount.
She stood over the dish and mixed in the prescribed order: clockwise and then counterclockwise.
“It doesn’t look like a spell.” Willow looked over her shoulder at Dr. Beckett. She couldn’t tell if he more doubted the spell would work or if he just wondered if he had just wasted a bit of his precious stash of orris root.
“Oh, well there are words and a candle involved, as well. First, it has to lay untouched for twelve hours.” In twelve hours she would be able to drizzle the mixture around the perimeter of the wraith cell. She would say the spell and the area would become charged with a force field. Every time the wraith would attempt to enter or control the mind of any human then a haze would rise from the ground and cloud his mind. It was definitely a nifty spell.
“We wait?” Carson made the statement in to a question.
"You need to make a sign or something for that—Nurse Chadwick does like to neaten up the last few minutes of her shift…”
“Okay.” Willow made a sign and placed it near the dish. She needed a hot beverage. She was tempted to get a cup of coffee but she knew if she drank any she would end up entirely too jumpy to get anything done. The day had been busy—not long. She felt ready to relax in front of some brain numbing TV, just sprawled across Aiden’s body. It was funny how he had drifted into her consciousness—she thought of relaxing, she thought of him.
Willow called out to Dr. Beckett. “Do you have an extra coffee cup?”
“Yes. Check in the cabinet.”
Willow busied herself with getting the cup and making a new pot of coffee. She stopped the moment she heard Dr. Beckett’s radio activate. She couldn’t make out anything the person on the radio said but from observing Dr. Beckett she could tell that something had either just happened or would happen soon. Dr. Beckett nodded as if the person could clearly see that he agreed with whatever they had requested. She couldn’t help herself so she approached Dr. Beckett.
“It looks like we need to bring a stretcher and two body bags.” Carson grimaced, more wraith to dissect. “The mission was a success and the teams will be returning through the Stargate shortly.”
Carson expected that Willow would be happy. He didn’t expect the quick hug. He never knew where to put his hands when women gave him platonic hugs. He did his best to return the sentiment by patting her shoulder. He knew his action was a little awkward but there really was nothing else he could do.
“Where are the bags? Where is the stretcher? Do we need chains or shackles? Maybe a whip… oh, never mind...” Willow felt blood rush up to her face. Dr. Beckett was giving her the strangest look. In Atlantis they probably had special handcuffs, no need for chains and manacles. Now Dr. Beckett surely thought she was some sort of freak. There was just nothing to be done for his perception. The mission was over. Aiden would be returning shortly and Dr. Beckett still hadn’t told her where the bags and the stretcher were. She stepped a few feet back from him and gave him an impatient look. “The odds are they are in a cabinet or closet—which one?”
“Woah, Willow. Hold your horses. We can get a stretcher from the medical closet near the gate room. There are also bags there as well.” It was a little funny to watch Willow try to speed him up. She speed spoke as if he had wasted hours. Surely not even a minute had passed.
“Okay—let’s go then.” Dr. Beckett stifled his laugh as Willow turned and walked right out of the infirmary. She didn’t even turn to see if he had followed. She had her mission. He could only jog and try to catch up.
They turned the corner to enter the gate room. Both went completely silent as they began to hear the dull clamor of the gate alarm. There was no panic in the room, just efficient attitudes. The Stargate was still active and they could hear the gentle plopping sound of the soldiers exiting the wormhole. The camouflage wearing marines had brought through the prone bodies of two wraith and dirt and grass covered bags of supplies. Willow wanted to see Aiden immediately. She counted the marines, one, two, three, four, five and so on. She stopped. It seemed a waste of time to count when she was only looking for one man. Well, she did want to see Teyla, Sheppard, McKay, and Stackhouse.
Finally she saw Teyla step through the wormhole. Teyla held a wraith weapon against her left arm. She had it pointed towards the ground. Teyla’s eyes were tired and drained. What had happened on the planet? Willow looked around? Everyone was virtually dead on their feet. After Teyla, Aiden stepped through the wormhole dragging the wraith along with the help of Major Sheppard. The wraith was small and honestly seemed like someone dressed in a Halloween costume or an under stuffed scarecrow. Definitely designed to instill fear but harmless. This was far from the case. Aiden had lowered the wraith to the ground and turned to help the other marines organize the bags of wasted munitions.
Willow felt a chill. Something was not quite right. From what she cold see there was little danger. The gate was still active and marines were steadily stepping through the Stargate. The wraith was handcuffed, unconscious, and lying face down on the ground. There couldn’t be any danger. Dr. McKay had just stepped through the event horizon.
“Yoo hoo, firebug!”
Willow wanted to giggle. McKay was so different from the others in the gate room. He stepped jauntily through the event horizon. Everyone else was efficient. They were so economical. Aiden had dropped the wraith body and three marines had immediately aimed their P-90’s on it. Sheppard was standing off to the side beside Teyla—just standing. They both looked competent and as if they had no desire to waste movement. They were surely trying to cover up the fact that they were dead tired. Both Teyla and Sheppard had patches of dirt and grass on their uniforms and Teyla had a thin scratch on one temple. This capture had definitely not been an easy venture. Successful, but far from simple. The fact that McKay had the energy to yell out her name and to strut about was rather remarkable.
Aiden was hunched over a large bag. He was about to lift it onto a cart so that it could be taken back to storage. He wanted to make sure Willow didn’t step too close but he didn’t want to have to call this out over the sound of everyone. It would be embarrassing to yell and so he didn’t. Two wraith dead, one wraith down—unconscious—it still was far from an ideal place to have the woman he loved. It was as if she were visiting an inmate on death row in a recreation room. Aiden looked up. He caught Willows’ glance and smiled. He expected a slight smile and didn’t get it.
All the color had drained out of Willow’s face. For a second Aiden thought that Willow was distinctly unhappy with him and then he realized something was wrong. Aiden reached under the bag and swiftly turned it over. The bag had P-90’s strapped inside under Velcro fastenings. He reached for a P-90 and hoped he had chosen one that even a half filled clip of bullets. He lifted the P-90 to his chest and swiftly turned around as he got to his feet. Something—probably the wraith had frightened Willow.
Willow’s attention was completely divided, in her ear she heard McKay telling her the highlights of the wraith capture mission. According to him,
“…every single shot landed in the center of the wraith’s chest… every shot.”
She could swear that the wraith was awake… something about being so close to this demon unnerved her. She felt her entire body chill. She was right near death, standing next to it. The wraith sucked years out of a person, ate their spirit, consumed their life. The wraith was a creator and master of ruin and of defeat. The feeling of hopelessness and devastation washed over her again and again. The wraith had the power to reduce human life, familial existence and history to rubble. It was a demon of wreckage of defeat—its only desire was to feed its compulsion and to destroy.
“…I even threatened this one for Ford… shot a taser at him!” McKay felt so proud of himself. He had proven he could hang with the boys—with the marines. Feeling giddy he lightly kicked at the black leather boot of the wraith. They had won. They were still standing.
There was no warning, no hint. The Stargate was still open and pulsing in the background.
Willow watched in horror as the wraith stood up in one quick movement and leaned back on his heels. The three marines immediately opened fire. It didn’t matter just how vigilant or on the ball they were, it wasn’t enough. The wraith took a few bullets straight to the chest and was still able to stand. He backhanded two of the marines, shoving them into opposite directions. The last marine he grabbed by the head and twisted his neck sharply to the right. The sound of the skull disconnecting from the spinal cord echoed throughout the gate room. The wraith let go of the body and it fell slowly to the ground in direct mockery of the speed in which the wraith had brutally committed the murder. Neither the sound of the wraith dealing out death nor the sound of the bodies dropping to the ground had the ability to compel McKay into getting out of the way.
Willow didn’t know how to respond. Her first instinct was to run towards the wraith and just—do something. There were expedition members all around and the wraith was able to tear through them one after one. She saw Aiden standing holding his P-90. He had obviously switched it to single shot to ensure no one would be caught in friendly fire. He was steadily firing off round after round into the wraith. The wraith was not facing him and he fired his ammo into its’ back again and again. Teyla was on the ground nursing a twisted shoulder and Sheppard only had his nine millimeter pistol. He had stood, taken aim, and fired. He was out of ammo. Only moments had passed and the situation had degenerated into hell. The only thing she could do would be to take her aim and fire. Willow knew she would be able to generate fire and blast the wraith.
She had no herbs to take the strain off of executing the spell. She had no earth—no land to draw from. When she did this, it was likely she would only be able to take one shot. And if she failed she would likely be unconscious. If she missed, she would likely hurt someone. She wouldn’t miss. Willow gathered her power around her and whispered, “Goddess, Araida goddess of light let me borrow your might…. Make me fire… grant me your power.” She felt the power surge up through her and form in the palm of her hand. It had worked, and she wasn’t out of the game—yet.
The wraith hunched its shoulders and turned to face her. She heard it make a low guttural grunt. It was looking right at her, still standing, still fierce. The marines were continuing to fire and it had not faltered or fallen. Why hadn’t it fallen? It should be dead. The wraith looked her right in the eye and his grin widened. He tilted his head to one side in challenge. She would not be tempted to take a hasty action and make a mistake. She had one chance. The wraith swiftly turned to the side and grabbed for a person.
There was a final whizzing sound of a bullet flying through the gate room and into the body of the wraith and then no more. It didn’t matter what state of pain or discomfort any of the marines were in, when the situation changed, when the wraith grabbed his hostage they stopped attempting to stand and they stopped struggling to fight. The gate continued to gurgle in the background and Willow watched as the wraith tightened his hand around Rodney McKay’s neck. Nothing had really changed—she still had one shot, the difference was the wraith just raised the odds. She needed another spell.
Aiden picked himself off the concrete floor. He knew when this was well over he and Stackhouse would sit and map out exactly what they had done wrong in order for the situation to escalate to this level. At the moment, he was just that, stuck in the moment. The wraith would die, he was sure of this. The real tragedy would be if another person lost their life. He turned his head to take in Willow. In all the madness he had not seen if she had somehow fallen into the thick of things. He’d been confident that she had stayed on the sidelines; it had been her blanched face that had tipped him off in the first place that something was far from right. Only a fool or a hero would step onto such a bloody playing field and he was under the impression that she was some sort of genius. He saw her advancing towards the wraith. One hand held a circle of fire. She was a hero. She was a fool. He could tell that she was murmuring something under her breath. She had to be trying to keep the flame alive and burning in her hand.
What was she going to do? She could not throw the flame—she would surely set McKay on fire. She could not continue to walk towards the wraith—this would likely force his hand and then the wraith would instinctually react.
There was no way out for the wraith. He could not leave—he could not take too many more bullets, surely he could not. All he could do was get in a last meal and there was truly no way anyone would allow this to happen.
Willow whispered her words. She knew exactly what to do. As quietly as she could she spoke the words to the spell in an undertone. “I will bind you by your stolen spirits. Ring of fire, circle of flame. Burn from the inside, rope you in pain.” Willow repeated the words. She prepared to let loose the fireball. The spell only needed a spark to work and she had a blazing palm.
“Do it, my queen. Do it.” The wraith spoke those words with reverence and menace. Willow felt her hand shake and falter. What did he mean? What did he mean?
“Drop him.” Willow knew he would obey her. She uttered the words with every ounce of steel she could muster. Her words were a command that any man would dare not disobey. McKay crumbled to the ground, gasping for air. She spoke the words to the spell in a clear and loud voice. Formless white clouds circled the wraith and Willow threw the fireball at the wraith’s chest. The pale clouds reddened to the color of dried blood. The threads hardened before Willow’s very eyes and became as rope, creating a virtual cocoon around the wraith’s chest and shoulders. He could not move. He was bound.
The wraith fell to his knees and tilted over to the side, unconscious.
Willow dropped to her knees and sat back on her heels. She looked down at her knees, ashamed of her actions. The Atlantis expedition members were either scientists or military… what was she--a witch? They would only label her a monster—she knew it. Could she blame them? What she had just done was the most natural thing in her world but what no one else could do. She could not move. She looked around at the gate room. It seemed each person was shocked into silence and stillness. In that moment, the gate shutdown, it sounded like a massive flame being extinguished. Willow waited, for what seemed like the longest moment in her life. Would Aiden walk anywhere near her—would he speak? Was he ashamed? Was he horrified? Was he afraid of her? She felt a shadow fall over her body and heard the creek of boots moving directly in front of her. Someone squatted down directly in front of her. She had the guts to raise her head and open her eyes but little physical ability. She was running on complete empty.
“Willow, baby. Don’t scare me like that again.” Aiden wanted to gather her in his arms and prove to himself that she was alive and well. He could tell she was alive but she seemed far from healthy. Her face was pale and a fevered flush had appeared in horizontal swatches at the top of her cheekbones.
”I’m sorry.” Aiden heard her whispered words. What did she mean?
“Why? I am proud of you. If you hadn’t…” Aiden didn’t finish his sentence. He couldn’t. The reality was still on the surface, in the open, all around them. She didn’t need reality, she needed a safe harbor. They both needed a haven. He gathered her into a hug and just held her. They would find that refuge together.
Major John Sheppard walked through the lower levels of Atlantis until he reached the brig. The brig was just a large barred cage in the center of the room. It wasn’t particularly advanced or even interesting. Now, it was effective. Anyone attempting to escape would get an unspecified amount of electricity flowing through their body. What was even less impressive was the thin line of crumbled herbs that created a magical barrier around the cage. It hadn’t even been a month and John knew if he hadn’t already been entangled he would be deeply in love with Willow. You had to respect a woman who could take a few dried herbs and mumble an incantation and snap--no more wraith psychic influence. You also had to respect a woman who could make her own chains and fire. As long as the wraith was encircled by the herbs he could no longer make people see what was not there in any feeble attempt to escape or instill terror.
John stood outside the cage facing the wraith’s back. He watched as the wraith did not turn. Child’s games, child’s play. He could play bully just as well as the wraith could play harassed child. He strolled nonchalantly around the cage until he was facing the wraith.
“Again? Your kind is persistent. I would have thought you’d given up by now.” The wraith stood with his arms spread akimbo.
“Aw, hell, I’ve got all the time in the world.” The wraith walked from the middle of the cage towards him. Sheppard felt a frisson of fear rush through his frame. Ten thousand year old brig, stinky herbal squares… not exactly confidence boosting.
The wraith rapidly made a grab for Sheppard’s neck but the force field around the cage stopped his hand from going through the bars. John was ashamed of the fact that he couldn’t help but flinch, slightly.
“The Ancients were pretty good at shields and stuff like that, weren’t they?” Sheppard watched as the wraith snorted.
“Our witch—oh sorry, your QUEEN… she is pretty good at stuff like that, too.” Sheppard watched as the wraith balled up his fist and hit the cage bars in three quick punches. This time he didn’t flinch. He had already re-accustomed himself to the game. Sheppard moved to the left and watched in satisfaction as the wraith moved along with him.
”I give you a week more, maybe two tops.”
”You waste your time. I’ll provide you with no information.”
“Hmph.” John hadn’t thought the wraith would but it was worth a try. And he dearly loved to procrastinate. “Even for your queen?” Sheppard smirked to himself as the wraith lowered his body and squatted on his heels and growled.
“I wonder what hurts more: the gunshot wounds or the hunger? Because I’d love to help out but how did McKay put it?” Sheppard turned to face the wraith. “We can’t meet your dietary requirements.”
“When I am free, you will be the first that I feed upon.”
Sheppard smiled at the wraith, he knew it would infuriate the enemy to be polite and irreverent in this situation. “Okie dokie. I'm gonna go make myself a sandwich.” He nodded to the wraith and turned away. He was glad his face was out of view of the wraith. He knew he had been hiding his fear poorly and even worse, the wraith knew. Interrogation was definitely not his strongpoint.
”Human.” The wraith waited until Sheppard had turned to face him before he finished his words. “You think you've won a victory by my capture, but by bringing me here, you've only hastened your own doom. It's only a matter of time before the others of my kind come to rescue me, and when they do, there'll be nowhere in this world you can hide.”
Sheppard looked at the wraith for a moment and then stepped forward and leaned towards it. He suspected the wraith was finally telling the truth. Of course it was a truth that really didn’t matter. The wraith were coming… the wraith were coming. This really wasn’t a news flash. He took refuge in sarcasm.
“Stay positive now.”