Miko Kusanagi, despite several large pieces of evidence to the contrary, had been born in America; she wore the American flag patch on her shoulder, and not the staring red dot of her Japanese heritage

Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis belongs to it's creators and the studios therein, not the non-profit author or this non-profit work

Warnings: Violence, intense situations, some bad language

Authors Notes: I know, I know, 'Bolt Out of the Blue'! I'm sorry it's taken so long, but I started writing a different story and got twenty pages into it before realising it was just distracting me. I've gotten back to it – hopefully by this weekend, people!

In the meantime, here's shorty from my newest obsession. The first story I've written where the main character doesn't have a single line!

Please, enjoy, read & review

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A Candle Against The Ocean – by Ryuuza Kochou

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Miko Kusanagi, despite several large pieces of evidence to the contrary, had been born in America; she wore the American flag patch on her shoulder, and not the staring red dot of her Japanese heritage. She had spent her grade school years in her ethnic homeland, however. The schools were better, her emigrant parents had told her. They had family there still who would take her in. They didn't have the money, not in America, not yet. So off Miko had gone, away from the English grade school that was filled with colour and noise, and into the cleaner lines of a small Japanese private school. From letters to kanji. From casual greetings to bows. From hamburgers to seafood, and chopsticks, and those notorious sailor suit uniforms. And Keiko Hiratoma.

They hadn't been friends. Not friends. Not like that. Keiko had been atypical for a Japanese girl at the time, tall and physical and demanding and tough. She wore her hair with red streaks, a bold statement. She walked as if she owned the whole continent. She had a clique of girls fawning over her, envying her, adoring her.

Se had simply walked up to Miko one day and said. "You're my friend aren't you, Kusanagi-chan?" And that was that. What Keiko wanted, Keiko got.

Miko had been lost in her alien homeland, cast out and spurned for not knowing her kanji, not remembering to take her shoes off outside a room. Surely she was Japanese, wasn't she? She could feel the weight of eyes on her, judging her.

She had taken the offer of friendship, such as it was. Keiko was a bonfire of light and strength, and she owned a surety that was as rock solid as laws of gravity. Miko considered herself lucky, fortunate, to be able to make use of the shadow it cast. If that meant answering to things like 'Miko-chan, you can get us the test answers, can't you?' and 'Jiro-kun can have your bentou, right? You don't mind, you need to lose weight' and, to her eternal horror 'hey, everyone, Miko-chan likes Kenji-kun, look, she wrote it in her maths book', then, well, it was better than the days when she was tripped up into the mud with all those perfect girls tittering around her, or when they'd laid a funeral shroud on her desk, or when they'd all pointed at her when the last of the broken glass had fallen out of the window. Being Keiko's friend was a far better prospect than being her enemy. So Miko had adored her with all of her timid heart, and followed her like a lost puppy, made a mess of her hair trying to streak it bright red like Keiko's; she had obeyed her every capricious whim right up until that last day, when Keiko had dragged her towards a group of older boys across a busy street, seeing how much they would pay for Miko's first kiss. In a tiny moment of disobedience, Miko had snatched her hand away, and mutely shook her head, trying to convey how much she hated the idea of some stranger kissing her.

Keiko had cocked a perfect eyebrow and flipped her blood red stripes and gave her a soft, sardonic smile. 'Come on, Miko-Miko, it'll be fun. Got to get it over with – you're too old not to have been kissed' and spreading her arms wide as if she wanted Miko to hug her. She'd bent closer. 'You're my friend, right?'

Her smile hadn't faltered, hadn't had time to falter, before the car swerved too wide at the turn and climbed the sidewalk. The fire that was Keiko was whisked out, as easily and as thoughtlessly as a candle flame.

"Miko! Forget packing the gear, just leave it and meet us at the hatch!"

Miko dropped everything except her laptop, and scrambled across the tree roots and through branches, striving to obey and needing no incentive. Not with the whine of darts overhead.

The small cruiser type ship had settled here in the time of the Ancients, on a nondescript planet that had been abandoned and forgotten in a wide universe, just like the ship. The forest had spent the last thousand or so centuries reclaiming it, and had halfway succeeded; trees and leafy ferns and birds nests filled every niche and crevice where light could reach, mould and rust claimed whatever was left. SGA-1 had scouted it several times, and deemed it safe for a small engineering team to see if they could squeeze the last sparks of information from it's time-corroded systems.

At least, that was the plan. The whine of incoming darts had changed all that; though from the muffled ka-thump-boom of heavy ordinance outside, it was hardly a one-sided fight. P-90's barked in counterpoint to Miko's terrified scramble towards the open hatch of the ship, frozen open and festooned in vines. There, a shadow puppet in the square opening, was Rodney McKay, her summoner, who was hunched over and tense as he barked orders into his radio headset. "Colonel, there's still two darts overhead, the life signs detector has the third one heading west from the Stargate." He tugged Dr Radek Zelenka's laptop from him and keyed in something. "Look into it," he nodded to the Czech, and Radek nodded back as he viewed what McKay had done. Around him, cables hung from the ceiling like a bead curtain, connecting him to the Ancient vehicle.

"Copy that, Rodney. Any ground troops?" Lt Colonel Sheppard's voice came through clearly.

"Not so far, but wouldn't that just make our day? I assume the third dart is chasing some of ours?"

"Genius, McKay. The squad securing the stargate is trying to lead them off before they hit them with ground-to-airs." Sheppard sounded almost eerily calm, and Rodney just rolled his eyes.

"Well, you'd better think of something else freaking fast, Colonel, because I've got people here and most of them are unarmed," Rodney's eyes flickered to her, and she dropped her eyes in shame. But it hadn't been personal, she knew. Radek gave her a brief, tight smile, his face lined with sweat and his hands shaky in the air but sure on the equipment. He was muttering under his breath in Czech as he yanked wires and switched leads and tapped keys like they were red hot. Miko bent closer, and recognised the Ancient word for defence system.

Ancient was easier to learn than kanji.

"Colonel, are you at the jumper yet?' Rodney demanded, his voice half a squawk, because the hunting darts were slicing across the sky near the clearing, scenting, scanning, hunting. Miko coiled her hands around her laptop and pressed it into her stomach in terror. "Jones! Cavetta! Sun!" Rodney yelled off the names of the other scientists like a drill sergeant. "What the hell are you doing, having afternoon tea? Get to the damn hatch! I do believe it was an order when I said it the first time!"

"What makes you think we're heading to the jumper, Rodney?" Sheppard's voice came back pleasant and casual, playful. In the background, P-90's drummed a deadly beat.

Rodney threw up his hands in complete despair in the face of idiocy. "Gee, let's head straight for the only reliable weapon we have in this melee and calmly pass it by. Genius, Colonel, I'll bet the Wraith never saw that one coming. What is it with military guys and cracking jokes at worst possible time? Do they offer classes for it at the academy? I can see it, Laughing At Death While Your Civilian Charges Die Of Terror, 101. I bet you aced every test, I bet you even got a gold…"

"We are almost there, Dr McKay," Teyla's calm voice deflated Rodney's inflating panic attack. "We will be joining you momentarily."

"Fine," Rodney bit out, half bent over. "Copy that. Jones and Co, are you three idiots planning to escape with your lives, or are you planning on mummification as a death rite? Let me know now, and we might have room in the jumper for more valuable equipment than you. Corporal, do you…!" Rodney's face was red with anger.

"Got 'em, doc," Young Corporal Higgs emerged, leaf mould in his hair, towing three terrified geeks.

Rodney unstrapped his gun as the sound of a dart scythed over nearby and made Miko tremble. Radek looked up briefly, pale, and looked back down at his work hurriedly. "I want to make this perfectly clear, gentlemen," Rodney hissed out each word, livid. "When I say 'drop everything and escape' I'm not inviting a debate session. You just. Damn well. DO IT."

The three luckless engineers cowered at the sight of a McKay in full wrath, gripping his barreta. At least in the labs McKay wasn't packing.

"We...had just downloaded the database fragments…" Cavetti quavered.

"Oh, wonderful, a few corrupted lines of code are well worth keeping everyone here while the Wraith descend. Do you think they'll be able to fit that on the tombstone, you absolute moron? Never mind, I don't want to hear another word. Not. One. Word." He shook a finger at them.

"Company," Higgs hissed from his guard at the door.

"Back, all of you, back," Rodney shooed the three late engineers with one hand and gently pushed her back with the other. Bereft of any purpose, Miko crouched down by Radek, and watched him wrestle with the corpse of a system. "Colonel, we've definitely got company and they're not carrying champagne. Any time you're ready would be good. No rush. We're only about to die here," Rodney crouched down, gripped the gun properly and sighting like a veteran marksman, which, by now, he almost was. Miko had watched him from her shadow from the first day and was amazed and horrified at how fast and how much he'd changed, how many new levels he had attained, how much more he had accomplished. She would never be able to match it, not ever, even if called to.

"Waaait for it," Shappard's drawl was calm

A line of light flashed, and through the square viewing window of the hatch, the sky became an orange flower in full bloom of death, pieces of dart scattered like thistle seeds.

Miko and her computer curled up next to Radek, the shockwave rattling the ship structure and breaking the bird's fragile nests. Bits and pieces showered down over them, the three other engineers screaming like children, Radek and the Corporal matching swear for swear. Miko didn't make a sound. There was too much fear to scream around.

"Uh, you missed one, Sheppard," Rodney said anxiously, as the second dart swung and circled to avoid shrapnel; occupied, but not for long.

"Little busy now," was the terse response, the first tension to be heard from the Colonel since this started.

"What? What is it?" Rodney's voice as tight as a piano wire.

"Other dart is coming after us," Ronan's voice broke in. "And there's a bigger ship here. Cruiser." The words were flat, but fearless.

Rodney began to swear. "Radek, I hope for all our sakes you've got good news!"

Radek pushed his mould speckled glasses up his nose. "Yes, I believe I have. There should be enough power for maybe one assault, if we drain everything. But controls are in bridge," he peered at Rodney over the top of his glasses.

Rodney waved a hand, the other still steady on the gun. "Come on, we must be able to work it from here! You accessed the system!"

"Yes, I work it from here, but system requires person with ATA gene with hand on control panel to launch. Security protocol. We could rewrite but…"

"No time," Rodney cursed. He turned to Higgs. "Watch them."

"Wait, you're not leaving us alone here!" Jones protested.

"They didn't cover bringing down a Wraith cruiser with a P-90 and a sidearm in physics class, moron. So lucky for you, Uncle Rodney's got a plan that will actually work!" With that blistering retort, he'd snatched Sun's laptop and made to head inwards. "Stay here, all of you. No heroics. Do what the Corporal says. Corporal?"

"Go for it doc, I got it covered."

Rodney nodded, and disappeared. Miko grimaced. With the brightest flame gone, the shadows she could hide in were significantly less.

The other dart, Miko suddenly saw with dry-mouthed terror, had landed, apparently not willing to risk a drone hit. Not one, but two Wraith emerged – one no-faced warrior and a shorter, slimmer one, which stayed near the dart.

Higgs opened fire. Miko cowered around her laptop from the sound, she hated loud sounds.

The no-faced Wraith jerked and jazzed with bullet strikes but kept coming, firing wild, kamikaze stunner shots at the hatchway, catching Sun in the leg, Jones in the shoulder and Higgs full in the chest before falling. Miko stared at the three victims, the silence worse than the din.

"Rodney, we could use some suggestions about now," Colonel Sheppard's sudden interruption made Miko jump. "The dart's taken care of, but the drones aren't doing much against the cruiser."

"Head our way, I'm working on it," Rodney snapped back from wherever in the ship he was. It wasn't a big ship, but getting through the forest now growing in it slowed him.

But Miko barely heard them. She was watching the Wraith unhurriedly surveying the clearing, surrounded by the wreckage of a comrade. Higgs and Sun and Jones lay as still as death. Cavetti cowered in one corner, the white of his eyes like glowing beacons.

Radek's cursing broke through the icy panic. His tablet was flickering. "We cannot do without power. Cavetti, come here!" Radek gesticulated wildly at the cables in the ceiling. "Keep them in place if you want to live!" The tall engineer staggered into place, whimpering, his hands trembling as he held the cables.

The Wraith was heading toward them.

When it got here, it would all be over. Radek's desiccated hands couldn't possibly make the weapon in the ship fire, Cavetti would probably keel over in fright before they ever reached him, Higgs and Sun and Jones could only stare and wait for death to come, and Rodney would fire every last bullet he had but it wouldn't be enough, not enough…

It was all over as soon as the Wraith reached them.

Miko dove out of the hatchway. Maybe it was just terror, taking the flight option in the most stupid way possible. Maybe it was just because she was the only one with nothing to do.

Radek's yelling followed her into the clearing, terror narrowing her world to the slim figure heading slowly towards her. She could hear nothing, see nothing, know nothing, except that sparse, harmless figure, no bigger than her.

The arguments in her ear sounded a world away.

"Radek, what's going on?"

"Dr Kusanagi – she has gone out to distract Wraith on ground. Everyone except Cavetti is stunned."

"What? Jesus H Christ, stop her!"

"Rodney, the guns…"

"Damn, stay there! Colonel! Get your fly boy ass here now! My Japanese scientist is doing a kamikaze run!"

No, American, not Japanese. Never Japanese. Not after Keiko had died, an alien event in an alien land.

"I heard. We're coming in hot, ETA one minute! Miko, if you can hear me, run! Don't fight, just run! Run!"

Miko had stopped, frozen like a deer, like a rabbit, like any harmless furry creature faced with a poisonous predator.

It had taken off it's helmet, revealing a head of neon red hair, cascading down to it's slender waist.

"Shit! Sheppard! It's no ordinary Wraith! It's a Queen! It's a damn Queen!" Rodney must be able to see her from the bridge – it had a wide viewing window. "Don't just stand there, Kusanagi, run!"

The Wraith smiled at her almost prettily. "Well, what is this? A great warrior? A soldier? No," it leaned forward, it's alien eyes fixed on hers, making her sob in panic. Shadowy figures leapt and danced in the corner of Miko's eyes, making her shy this way and that like a panicky horse. There was a constant whining roar in her ears, her blood rushed. "A scared little child."

A shadow crossed them. The whine in her ears was the cruiser, newly arrived, blocking out sun, sound and hope. Miko could feel a tickle in her mind, like ants had marched into her ear. They prickled and creepy-crawled across her grey matter as the Queen lifted her hand and gently, almost kindly, touched her cheek.

"Show me the others. I will let you live, you have my word. You're mind is so full of fear. There is no need. I am not a threat to you, child." Those awful, bottomless eyes seemed to suck away Miko's soul, leaving almost nothing. "You cannot be a threat to me, so why should I attack?" The splendid red of the young Wraith Queen's hair shone under the lights of the cruiser, billowing like a cloud in the down draft. "I am not an unthinking animal." The Queen's sharp teeth revealed themselves in a smile.

Miko was nearly on her knees, the pressure of that gaze was so terrible. Still, mutely, she shook her head. Disobedience. The pressure increased, until it seemed to fill her skull, fit to burst.

"Shit! Shit! Colonel!" Miko could barely make out Rodney's words through the awful mental static. She wanted to give in. She could feel herself thinking, better a friend than an enemy. She wanted open her mouth, to speak, but she was as quiet in obedience as she was in disobedience.

"Coming!"

"Radek!"

"Almost! Ten seconds, and your hand!"

"Got it!"

The Wraith Queen leaned in close to her, it's eyes affecting an empty, pitying compassion. "Do not be afraid. Speak. I can be your friend."

You're my friend aren't you, Kusanagi-chan?

Miko looked up, and without ever engaging her brain, bunched a hand and brought it around in one smooth arc, hitting the Queen dead across the jaw.

There was a moment of utter bewilderment. Then the creature staggered.

"Holy Crap!"

Miko lunged, her brain still frozen but the rest of her in motion, using her whole body as a battering ram, downing the ugly, beautiful creature before the shock wore off, forcing it to the ground, straddling it. Her other hand came around, still clutching her laptop. She had run out of the ship not even aware she was still carrying it. It cracked into the Queen's face, crack, crack, crack, as Miko pounded heedlessly at it's head again and again. If the Queen had gotten in a decent blow, then it would all be over, but Miko fought wildly, not giving her the chance, striking with a speed only known to the truly cornered. She blocked hand strikes with her battered laptop, punched the alien in the chest, face, stomach with a bloodied fist, and when the thing had gotten her around the throat with one claw, she reached down and yanked hard on that glowing crimson halo, in a cat fight move that would make a pre-teen proud. The stiff, almost bristle-like strands came off in a clump, and the Queen screamed and screamed her outrage and terror, getting a fist straight in her razor teeth for her trouble.

The Queen finally managed to buck her off, throwing her off and several feet on sheer shoving power. Miko landed hard, winded, still clutching the remains of her computer. Trembling she half rose to face the Queen…

…Who was battered and bleeding, her hair no longer straight and perfect, but frazzled and bloody, her face deformed and swollen. The alien stared back, and as Miko moved, flinched – actually flinched – just a tiny bit.

"...iko! Miko! Run! Head back to the ship!"

Whimpering as she realised warrior Wraith were beaming in from the cruiser overhead and, still being whipped by it's downdraft, Miko turned and flew towards the dilapidated vessel, expecting any moment for that numbing light to hit her, and then oblivion.

It would have, too, if a hail of drones hadn't suddenly fallen like rain on anyone who took aim.

"That's it, keep going!" The Colonel's voice shouted in her ear. "Go! Go! We got your back, go!"

The hatchway was a black mouth that opened to swallow her. Small Czech hands grabbed hers and swung her around, turning her headlong flight into a turn, and suddenly Radek's body was blocking hers from the open sky. "Rodney, now!" Radek yelled in her ear.

"Colonel, move out of the way!"

There was a high pitching whistling, and then sound filled the whole universe. It certainly did for anything on the cruiser as it was swallowed by the nuclear light.

When Miko looked up again, she realised she was curled up against a wall, and Radek was no longer there. He was hurriedly unhooking cables and pieces from the wall, stepping over the body of Cavetti, who was in a dead faint. Several minutes had simply vanished from the world.

"Okay, Radek, we all set?" Rodney's voice came from down the corridor, accompanied by the sound of his running footsteps.

"Yes," Radek said softly. "I wish to leave now, please."

"Don't we all," Rodney huffed, coming into view. And spotted her. "You! You…you….!" Rodney advanced on her, at a spluttering loss for words. "What were you thinking? Are you trying to die? That's what we pay soldiers for! I thought you were smarter than that! Damn it, I at least expect you to follow orders, Kusanagi!" He was shaking with anger and gesticulating so wildly that he seemed blurred. "Wraith! Bad! Safe place! Good! It doesn't take a genius!"

"Rodney," Radek interrupted softly, nodding at her.

Miko realised she had started to cry. The last ten minutes – eternity – had finally caught up with her.

Rodney huffed and sighed and awkwardly bent down to pat her shoulder. "Well, I guess it worked, anyway. So long as you don't do it again, you know." He stuttered, at a complete loss at how to deal with the crying woman.

"Rodney, Rodney, are you making your minions cry again?" Sheppard's rakish head appeared at the hatch followed by his body and the rest of his team.

Teyla, the Sensitive One, immediately sat down next to Miko, and wrapped an arm around her shaking shoulders. Miko made a pathetic sight there, sobbing and clutching pieces of a lap top in one hand and a clump of bloody red strands in the other.

"It is alright, it is alright," Teyla's soft voice was warm in her ear. "You did well."

Sheppard was keeping his distance with Ronan and Rodney, the other emotionally stunted members of the team. Radek was fishing for a first aid kit in his pack.

"We'll just hang here while the others circle back. Then we're out of here, I don't care if you've found a ZPM factory," Sheppard said firmly.

"Not arguing, Sheppard," Rodney sighed.

The Colonel patted his best friend on the shoulder "Thanks for coming through again, answer man."

Ronan grunted. "Wasn't just him." He jerked a chin at Miko.

"No, it wasn't," Rodney's crooked mouth turned into a slight smile. "Though if I can learn to get used to this suicidal lifestyle, why not the rest of them? It's just such an incredibly stupid thing to do."

Miko flushed from where she sat, and she felt Teyla shoot Rodney a look.

"Cut her some slack, McKay," the Colonel bestowed a smile on her, one used among equals. "She just fought a Wraith Queen."

Rodney waved a hand. "She did not fight a Wraith Queen, Colonel…"

Miko had a terrible moment. A flashback to the Keiko days, when she would say things like 'don't bother signing up for cheerleading like us, you can never do it.' But it passed because…

"…she kicked a Wraith Queen's ass. It was so cool. She went down like a tree – bam, bitch hits the floor."

They laughed. Teyla's laugh bounced through the chest Miko leaned on. Miko managed a smile.

Keiko would never have said that, not even to make her feel better. Rodney never said anything to make anyone feel better. He only ever spoke the truth.

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That night, with bandaged hands and feeling the stunned eyes following her wherever she went on Atlantis, Miko slipped down to the north pier. She lit a candle, placed on her hand-made paper raft, and gently pushed it out into the currents, watching as it swirled away. There had been dozens of candles on the water the day of Keiko's funeral, and hers had been one of many. But every year since then, even if it had been a birthday candle in a sink, there had been one more light lit for Keiko. They hadn't been friends. But Miko had known that day that she had possessed a terrible strength, to be able to pull her hand away. Miko sat there, fingering the red-braided bracelet that Ronan Dex had made for her.

She watched the candle drift into the darkness, lighting it, making it slightly less suffocating. It would wink out eventually. But it still fought against the waves and the damp and the wind, one tiny defiant warmth against impossible odds.

Next year, there would be another. In a way, it was always the same flame burning.
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The End