“So, it’s true then?” he said as she stepped out of her room, bag in hand.
She jumped, unaware that he was standing in the corridor. “John?… You scared me,” she said, her hand over her heart.
“Sorry,” he replied, pushing himself away from the wall with the foot he had been resting against it.
Then he just stood there looking at her; his eyes holding hers and silently asking if she was going to respond to his question; his expression asking ‘why?’.
She shifted a little out of the discomfort of being under his gaze, but disguised it by moving her bag, as if to blame the weight.
Expression softening, he reached forward and took it from her. “That better?” he asked, and she knew he wasn’t just talking about losing the weight of the bag.
She looked away, her resolve wavering now that he didn’t seem angry. If he’d shouted; if he’d demanded explanations, she could have turned her stubborn streak on him. When he had been watching her impatiently she was built up for that. Now… Now he was wearing an expression of a concerned and hurt friend, and she couldn’t look at that.
“News travels fast – ” she remarked, trying to keep it light.
He cut her off. “People assumed I would know.”
The pain in his words felt like a blow to her heart, and she looked up at him. “I told one person.”
“You should have told me.”
“John, it’s not a big deal. My brother mentioned in his last letter that my Dad had been unwell. Now everything’s quiet around here I thought I’d go home for a couple of months…. I’m sure you can cope without me for a little while.”
“As long as it’s not forever,” he stated, eyes boring into her, as if willing her to tell the lie she had been dreading having to tell.
She plastered on a smile. “Of course it isn’t.”
That was it. Over with.
The knock at the door was expected. The person who had executed it, however, was not.
“Colonel?” she questioned with a small frown.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you,” he said.
She shook her head. “No, not at all. Please come in.”
She moved back to allow him to step into the small room – well, small compared to her quarters on Atlantis.
“What can I do for you?” she asked, knowing she could easily guess the reason for his visit.
He took a deep breath and then, frowning, said: “I’ve just come from a meeting with General Landry…”
She raised her eyebrows as if surprised to hear this and intentionally offered no comment.
“He asked me if I was still interested in a post on Atlantis.”
She nodded, but still made no remark.
“Naturally I asked what post he had in mind. Expecting it to be an addition to your team… Not a replacement… for you.”
She forced her true emotions from her face and voice and with a smile said: “You’ll do a good job.”
“No I won’t,” he responded, definitively. “I told him I didn’t want it.”
Now the raising of the eyebrows was automatic. “What?”
“I refused to believe you had resigned…”
She didn’t know what to say so she chose silence; accompanied by a forced look of determination. She was going to stand her ground.
“… So he showed me the letter,” Colonel Caldwell continued, producing the mentioned item from behind his back.
Her eyes widened; and her brow furrowed, but this time he didn’t give her time to speak.
“… And told me he refused to believe it also.”
“You don’t want to leave Atlantis.”
“That is my decision.”
“Not if you’re not thinking straight.”
“You told General Landry I’m not thinking straight?” she snapped.
“He suggested it… I agreed.”
This left her speechless. What did he expect her to say? She hadn’t been prepared for this.
“I find it hard to believe that you want to leave the city; the people…”
She knew what was coming next but didn’t think he would have the nerve to actually broach the subject.
“… John Sheppard.”
She narrowed her eyes at him – he knew exactly how to get to her and he was taking full advantage of that knowledge. “Just because you refuse to believe it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t what I need to do.”
“‘Need to do’? Why?”
“I don’t have to explain myself to you,” she stated stubbornly, glare firmly in place; a veil over her actual desire to cry.
“No you don’t,” he said, both tone and expression soft. “But something tells me you haven’t talked this through with anyone.”
She knew her lack of reaction spoke volumes but for a second after he spoke she allowed herself to feel what she was actually feeling, and that one moment in time was enough to force a door open and she couldn’t close it again.
“I’m here as a friend… Elizabeth,” he spoke her name tentatively, as if afraid of what her response might be. “Talk to me?”
She considering fighting; considered continuing the lies; considered throwing him out of her room and locking herself away ’til they all forgot about it. Instead she looked down at her feet and said:
“I’m not the right person for the job.”
And she said it so softly that he barely could hear her.
“Says who?” he asked quietly, showing that he had managed to make it out.
She looked up, frowning as if she expected him to know the answer to that. “I’m not cut out for the kind of decisions that post requires… It was bad enough in the beginning having to get used to sending people into deadly situations; but now… Kavanaugh and Michael… and the alliance with the Wraith…” She emphasised ‘Wraith’ as if the insanity of that situation proved that she wasn’t fit to be in charge. “I can’t make those decisions!”
“Yes you can. You have done.”
“And I’ve cried myself to sleep about it every night since!” she yelled, freezing afterwards in shock that she had told him that.
She remained frozen, eyes wide and staring at him, just waiting for the gloating to start.
“And what’s wrong with that? Do you think it shouldn’t affect you? That you should be able to go through all of that without shedding one tear; without screaming at whatever might be listening that you’re having to make those decisions in order to save the lives of your people?… Do you honestly think that anyone could have endured what you have and not have reached this point?”
She was taken even further aback by this response; and was once again rendered speechless.
“Your situation is unprecedented, Elizabeth. You’ve done an outstanding job under extraordinary circumstances. You have created a community; a family out there. Not one of your expedition members thinks you’ve failed them. Not one of them would change any decision you have made… Not one of them would be pleased to know you’ve quit on them.”
“You can’t know that – ” she argued quietly.
“If you find someone, let me know… My point is – ”
“I know what your point is. I’ve quit on them. It’s not my actions in the past that have let them down, it’s my decision to leave… Emotional blackmail, Colonel… Do they teach that in the military?”
He gave a small smile. “You are doing a wonderful job… If you weren’t, I’d have snatched the assignment out of General Landry’s hand and you wouldn’t see me for dust…”
This managed to get a smile out of her. Albeit a small one, mostly hidden from his view by the dipped angle of her head.
“… I’d say you’ve got one of the toughest jobs in two galaxies… But you bring to it a grace and compassion that no one else I know could have done… And the expedition needs that. No matter what decisions you’ve made that seemed to go against your moral compass, you still have it… And you’re still you… And Atlantis needs you.”
Keeping her head down, she raised her eyes and met his. “That’s something I never thought I’d hear you say.”
He smirked. “Me neither… I guess being host to a Goa’uld has its benefits.”
She hoisted her pack onto her back and stepped off the Daedalus into the familiar gentle breeze and sound of the ocean. She stood for a moment, eyes closed and inhaled the familiarity. She had missed it.
“Welcome back,” a voice said, startling her from her meditation.
She smiled, genuinely this time. “John… Hi. I see you did cope without me.”
He nodded. “Just about. A couple of close calls, but we muddled through.”
He moved towards her as he spoke, and removed the pack from her back, shifting it into his right hand before draping his left arm across her shoulders as he started to lead her into the building.
Her eyes flickered wider and glanced around the pier before looking at his hand on her shoulder and then at the side of his smiling face.
He turned to meet her questioning look and shrugged. “I’ve missed you.”
He turned back to face ahead and a smile crept across her face as she walked with him back to Atlantis.
Later that night, as they sat in the mess hall, cups of coffee in hand, enjoying the peace and quiet, John suddenly became very serious and said:
“I actually thought you wouldn’t come back.”
She had been wondering how to broach the subject all day, but every time she was about to he would speak first about something entirely unrelated. Eventually she got the feeling he didn’t want to talk about it. Clearly he did now.
“So did I.”
“For the record I would have caught the next boat back to Earth and dragged you back here. Kicking and screaming if necessary,” he stated with a bittersweet smile.
She matched his smile. “If you’d have followed me all the way back to Earth, I wouldn’t have resisted.”
His eyes widened a little, before a proud smirk settled on his lips. “I’m glad to hear it… But we know that’s not the way the story ended. What made you change your mind?”
What looked like jealousy swept his features. “Colonel Caldwell?”
“What did he say?”
“He just told me a few home truths; told me what a great job I’m doing; reminded me how much the people here mean to me; reminded me that Atlantis is home…”
John nodded all the way through the list, but still looked a little angry that he hadn’t been the reason she came back.
She smiled. “… Reminded me that I’m not alone.”
He perked up at this. “No you’re not.”
She nodded again. “He said I can contact him whenever possible if I need to talk…”
John’s face fell again.
“… Providing I’ve already discussed it all with you.”
This time John raised an eyebrow.
“He said that?”
“He said that.”
“I always liked that guy.”
Elizabeth laughed, shaking her head, and then straightened her features again. “I’ve got a lot I need to talk about… Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
He smiled and reached across the table, placing his hand over hers. “Elizabeth, I’ve always been ready for this… I was just waiting for you to be ready to let me help you.”
She smiled her thanks and turned her hand round to hold his. “Thank you,” she whispered past the lump in her throat.
He nodded once.
“… I just need to finish this cup of coffee, then I’ll be ready” she continued.
“No problem,” he said, sitting back again in his chair – leaving his hand with hers when she didn’t let go.
They both turned to look out of the window beside them and settled into a comfortable silence.
As she watched the stars of the Pegasus Galaxy twinkle over the city; heard the gentle sound of the waves through a nearby window; and felt John drawing gentle random patterns on her hand; Elizabeth finally relaxed a little.
She could do this.
Because this was home.
And it always would be… she’d make sure of that.