Title: Dolce Vita
Notes: This sort of started itself by going "How evil could I actually be to Liz? Hrm..." Then I wussed out a bit, but everyone who's read it has been fine with that. Yay? Huge love on Mitai, Little Red, Lyssie, and Val for hitting this with a shovel until it wasn't crap anymore. –loves-
Edit 11/28/04: Fix the formatting so it's not as insane. Yay!
Summary: She is broken. But that doesn't really matter.
"Who told you life was fair?"
She remembers hearing that phrase said mockingly across a crowded square in Germany. It had been spring. Warm and bright, the day had wrapped its arms around her and Jean-Paul.
They'd been there for a convention. He as a speaker, she as an intern for an attending senator. They'd met in the hotel bar two days previous. She, attracted to his accent and the dynamic way he handled being hit on. He, apparently a sucker for an American redhead with legs up to her armpits. At least, that's what he'd whispered into her neck while his hands stroked her sides and breasts and thighs.
He had tasted of cloves and oranges, his fingers had been soft on her face, and his wit sharp against her stretching mind. Everyone should have a European lover at some point in their life. Jean-Paul had been hers.
It had been their last day together, both wasting time before heading to the airport and the dreariness of everyday life. They'd both known the relationship would go no further than that place or that time. But she'd tried because she'd been young and felt she should.
He'd just smiled and shaken his head. Laughed as her injured pride had gotten the better of her.
"Who told you life was fair?" he'd yelled across the square. Knowing that she wasn't really mad. Knowing that they'd move on. Do different things. Be different people.
She is a very different person now.
There in a searing spotlight of the Wraith breeding pens birthing room, struggling to push an unwanted child into a very cold, desperate world, Elizabeth thinks back on that day, and screams.
"I don't care!"
Throwing on an extra burst of speed, Elizabeth dashed into the transporter a few feet in front of her pursuer. She dove for the map, slamming her destination in before spinning to watch the doors close.
Unfortunately, John had very long arms.
"Elizabeth. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to avoid me." John sidled in next to her, smirking.
He'd been hounding her since exiting their quarters two hallways ago. Damn.
"John, we can't divert that power right now. Zelenka needs the extra feed for the food storage converters, Gomez has been having problems with the desalinizers, and Carson's been begging me for months about forwarding him enough power to do some rendered sims on-"
"So what you're saying..." John shifted a bit closer to her, bumping her hip with his own. "Is 'no'?"
The hand suddenly on the small of her back was warm and solid. Fifteen different uses for said hand and its fingers tap-danced across Liz's mind, shortening her breath and flushing her cheeks. "That is correct, Major."
The hand swept up her spine and little prickles of awareness and pleasure spiked along her nerve-endings even through her loose jacket. He was evil. So incredibly EVIL.
His lips brushed her ear, teeth catching on the cartilage with a quick nip, and then he was in front of her, mouth on hers. And she completely forgot to wonder why the transporter was taking so freaking long. Ooo.
Several brain-fogging seconds later, he drew away, happy smirk firmly in place. "Just wanted you to keep in mind that those towers could be one of our main sources of defense. It'd be a good idea to allocate some power to see what they can do."
"You are a sneaky bastard."
"But you love me anyway."
She leaned back and smiled. "On that, you are correct. I'll tell you what. As soon as Carson's project is done I'll sign the proper paperwork to let you power up those new toys and keep them on stand by. Happy?"
John grinned at her before sliding a hand back up to the nape of her neck and pulling her close again. "I love sleeping with the boss."
This is the third child she's borne in as many years. Three years since Atlantis – beautiful, graceful, safe Atlantis – had sunk slowly back onto the seabed below.
In pieces this time.
Elizabeth breathes through the contraction and tries to stare up at the ceiling. Focus on Milla's hand in her own. Anything but look down between her legs and see the stretched tight skin of the Wraith midwife.
Think of Mary.
Mary had been the first. Elizabeth'd already been pregnant – barely - when she'd arrived, terrified and clinging to the only other surviving member of Atlantis. She and Lise had been lucky like that.
The pain lessens just a bit. It's been hours since active labor started. She is exhausted and sore and scared and desperate to keep this child inside her just a bit longer. Protect it.
Her son had been taken at birth. She knows he was a boy because Milla, the eldest of their traumatized little knot of women, had told her. Apparently, they always took the boys away. To be cocooned with the other men. Probably. More likely taken as a delicacy for one of the higher castes.
In the way that all prisoners learn these things, it is known that the young have a very specific and acquired taste. Adults and late adolescents have more experience. Better 'flavor'. In some cases, even resistance.
And flair is favored above all else.
But children – newborns – were still interesting and special.
She hadn't even been able to see his face before he was whisked away by the Wraith midwife. Taken, so Milla said, to the hives. If there was such a thing.
She hadn't been prepared that time. Had pushed and pushed until her baby was out, and then was gone. Leaving her a sobbing pain-ridden wreck.
She doesn't know if it makes her a horrible person or not, but she prays that he was taken to one of the higher caste members. Offered to them and sucked dry until his crying was ended. Wishes he had a quick death. Hopes even.
Her daughter, Mary, is on the far side of the room. Women, it seemed, were left to care for their daughters. Girls were useful. Strong girls were preferred.
If she thought she could get away with it – she is panting heavily as she bears down, feels the stretching and contracting – Elizabeth knows she would take Mary away from this. Keep the edge of her shirt held over a little mouth a bit too long. Pour water down her throat until the gurgling stopped. Snap her neck during a nap.
Save her in the only way she can.
But even now, even here, she can't do that. Not to her child. Not to John's child. Because it's all she has left of him.
Mary is all she has left, period.
Another contraction starts, and there's nothing but the screaming again.
"John?" It was dark in their quarters. She could hear his heart under her ear and his t-shirt, thumping away. It was steady and calming; just a bit of comfort at the end of the day. They'd gone to bed early. She'd been tired lately. Not herself, smelling different than she remembered. She was probably coming down with something. He'd smelled the same though. Male and clean and perfect.
"Hrm?" He was half asleep. The mission earlier had been good. They'd found an orchard of sorts. Trees bearing bushels of fruit deemed non-toxic, surrounded by ruins and no indications of nearby civilization. John's team – along with more than a few others – had spent most of the day schlepping boxes of the stuff.
He, Teyla, Aiden and Rodney had tumbled through the gate with the last load, happy but tired. So much so, he'd showered alone and hadn't protested turning in early, even without benefits.
His fingers ran along her palms where they were tucked in close to her chest. She feels warm and rumpled and safe.
She shuddered a bit as his breath stirred the tiny little hairs on her neck. "How do you feel about kids?"
He smiled into her hair, not so asleep now. "Do you have something you want to tell me?"
His hands were moving then. Gliding slowly higher on her bare arms, tracing circles here and there. "But you want it."
She nodded, feeling his chin rub the crown of her head. She loved being here. John was warm and right. He surrounded her, which was strange. She wasn't a short woman by any means, so feeling completely enveloped was a novelty. Even more strange was the fact that it didn't grate or annoy her. She wasn't smothered. Just... loved. "Yeah. I mean, I think about it. I want us to think about it. As a maybe."
"That's a big step." His hands were lower. Pushing the fabric of her shirt higher so he could access the skin of her stomach and breasts. "A commitment even."
"I thought we were committed?"
"I just like to hear you say it," his voice burned in her ear.
"I'm guessing from your response that you like the idea? And might want to," she wiggled her lower body against his, thinking that maybe she wasn't all that tired... "Discuss it in the morning? Or after my trip?"
"Mmm." How he managed to flip her over and pin her to the bed just like that... But it didn't matter because he was smiling down at her, eyes half-lidded. "Good call."
Pressure. Incredible, incredible pressure. BuildingpushingtearingPRESSURE.
Then it's gone.
And there's crying. She is slumped now. Back against the birthing table pillows and panting. The stuffing and stitching on them is new, a product of idle hands. The women are treated well in this place. As well as can be expected. The rooms are clean, the medical assistance is first rate.
This is the elite of the elite. It makes no sense to torture the breeders. There is no point. Keeping them clean and physically healthy makes better sense. Facilitates more children of stronger stock.
None of them are fooled by their surroundings. None of them are stupid. They are a living larder, alive because it's amusing, nothing else.
Elizabeth can hear Milla by her feet now. She can feel the rustling and movement, and does her best to ignore the crying, just in case. She is sore and empty and open on this birthing table, residual cramping pulling up and down her stomach and back.
She never saw her son.
Can't look, can't know, can't feel.
She seals her eyes, turning away from her feet and the child and Milla and the Wraith midwife. She knows ignoring reality will only go so far. But that blindness is something. And it's better than nothing.
"This one is strong." Elizabeth starts a bit and winces hard at the hand suddenly on her stomach. She forgets how snake-like Wraith speech is. All long hissing and strangely high. She shuts down the part of her brain that whispers about biblical and religious parallels, knowing that if there was a snake in any garden, the Wraith certainly qualify. "It will bring many more that are pleasing."
So that's it, then.
She hears scuffling footsteps and the door slide closed across the way and takes a deep breath, but doesn't open her eyes. Milla is there then, all careful and quiet in the way they've all learned to be. The older woman runs a hand across her forehead, a benediction of sorts. Neither Elizabeth nor her baby have been chosen.
Elizabeth tries to block out what that means but her daughter is a sudden weight on her chest, and she can't keep her eyes closed forever.
"It went well, child." She can feel Milla's hand on her hair, ghosting a gesture that should have been. Never was.
Elizabeth looks down into her brand new daughter's blue eyes and ignores the pain in her chest that has nothing to do with the aches in the rest of her body. "Apparently so."
"It CAN'T be right!" Somewhere in the background, a console was popping and fizzling, jettisoning smoke and the smell of burnt synthetics.
"Rodney!" The deck beneath her shifted, jerking up and down and another of the missiles impacted the water just outside the smoldering hole that had once been the balcony. Luckily, she'd had her forearms up to brace, or she'd have gone face first into the floor.
"They shouldn't know where we are!"
"Well, they obviously do!" Grodin was working frantically at one of the only remaining workstations, doing what he could to keep the ever-changing escape routes flashing on all floating screens updated. Even from here, Elizabeth could see the grid shift and change, the blue open areas disappearing. "Now get working on that power relay!"
"They're... they're here..."
Doing her best to avoid the broken and sizzling pieces of metal, Elizabeth hauled herself to her feet and stumbled towards the shocked scientist. She avoided Chin's outstretched leg. The Medbay had been one of the first places hit, so there wasn't anyone to call.
Skidding slightly, she almost knocked Rodney over as the floor shook again. He jerked to face her. His eyes were wide and unfocused. They didn't have time for this.
"RODNEY!" The slap was muffled slightly by another explosion. It did the job though because he was focusing on her. A loud wrenching creak echoed across the smoky room and they turned as the balcony where she'd just been standing crumpled and fell to the gate room floor. Screams echoed up, but none continued.
"Rodney..." she gripped his forearms. "You NEED to get that relay working so we can dial out. We have people that need to get off this station and you are the ONLY one left who can do this."
"Okay, okay..." he tore his eyes away from the twisted metal next to them and looked around. His gaze stopped at the panel and seemed to harden. "Okay. But I need your help."
"Anything." It took both of them to haul the twisted metal off so he could access the crystal matrices. Two more missile strikes – they were toying with the city, had to be toying because there were no defenses, none at all – had them on the floor, the second frying Peter's workstation and throwing him a good distance into the hall.
The screaming was becoming constant, people trying to avoid falling architecture with no real means of escape. Elizabeth kept her mind closed, focused on holding this or moving that. Following Rodney's directions, not thinking about anything but what exactly was going on. Her stomach rolled, fingers cramped, and her back nearly seized, but she stayed where she was.
She couldn't go looking. She didn't have time. Didn't have the strength.
She'd found Carson, broken and bloody. She'd been near the med lab when the first missiles had hit. Had gone skidding towards the smoking area, tripping over struts and random blocks of stone.
He'd been staring up at her, eyes glassy and dark. His leg had been a few feet off, sheared away by one of the doors.
She'd turned and run towards the gateroom, not bothering to look into the infirmary.
Their quarters had been in that wing. John had been going for a nap after a quick check in the infirmary from the earlier mission.
"Okay, okay! Let go now!"
Rodney's voice startled her, and it was only then she realized how tightly she'd been gripping the stylus. She dropped it, and had to hug the wall as Rodney brushed by her and headed towards the now partially-lit DHD.
She almost sobbed when she heard the loud whoosh of the gate opening. Carefully, she picked her way over and yelled down, "Everyone through the gate!"
She shouldn't have bothered. Zelenka was already ushering people through. Not many, but some.
"ELIZABETH!" And John was suddenly edging along the hallway leading into the gateroom from the northeast wing. There was soot on his face, and he was bleeding from a shallow slash to his shoulder, but he was alive and whole and just below her.
"John!" She couldn't keep the tears back then. He was alive. He was alive. "John, head towards the gate! I'll be down soon!"
And then the sky fell down. Or, more accurately, the roof.
"Run for the stairs! NOW!"
They were too far away from the gate. Too high up, with too many burning panels and too much rubble between here and there. But they tried anyway. McKay and Grodin were most of the way down the stairs, her behind to catch if either of them fell, when the next volley of bombs hit the city. Alarms that had been shut off screamed back into reality along with more human voices. Peter and Rodney fell forwards, tumbling down the last few stairs.
Elizabeth made it to the bottom and was reaching for Rodney, whose arm was bent at an odd angle, when he was suddenly there.
"Elizabeth!" She jerked and swung around, but before she could say or do anything, John was hugging the life out of her.
She clung momentarily to his sweater. He was there and alive. "Oh god, John, I thought... I saw the med bay... Should have let you explore the weapons systems!"
"I know, I know. I'll gloat later. Come on, we have to get gone-"
They should have expected the Wraith transport beams. They were stupid not to.
The first beam hit a bundled and injured group of people right near the open gate.
She'd never seen a transporter in person before. The rippled air closed over them and they were just gone.
"Oh, SHIT. Everyone hit the gate now! NOW, NOW, NOW!" John shoved her forward and reached down to haul Rodney to his shaking feet. Peter was already dashing across the pitted and debris-strewn floor, pausing only to pull a prone Lise up and get her moving.
It was only sixty feet from the stairs to the event horizon. They could make it. They could make it...
Except they didn't.
The bomb hit the stairs, blowing anyone still left on the floor up and away.
She heard him scream. She felt it all the way down her spine, and tried turn around.
Elizabeth saw him slide down the column. Face suddenly blank, a not-John collapsing, a large piece of metal gone most of the way through his neck. She knew she was screaming. Didn't stop until hours later when she was still clinging to Lise, and her voice just ended.
Her last image of John was blood and broken bone dissolving. Atlantis burning around his corpse, and carrying with her the knowledge that it was all. Her. Fault.
Elizabeth hates dreaming now. Good, bad, they make no difference.
For some reason, she tends to dream of Ligatha a lot. The last mission before everything went to hell.
The green hills and the dinner she had with the council leaders before the short trip back to the gate. Dinner had tasted like chicken, and had in fact been some type of bird.
The councilors had smiled and accepted their terms. It had been a good mission. Lexington and Warren and Lise and her.
Always, always, she dreams of walking between the stone walls built around the fields. Miles and miles she seems to go, without ever reaching her destination. Without getting home. It's beautiful and green, but she knows something is wrong. Can never remember what.
She hates dreaming because when she wakes up, she's here. There are still dark corridors and the women and the babies and the warm, almost tropical, dark room that she doesn't let herself remember. She's conceived two children in that room.
She has two months before she goes back and does it again.
But that's later, not now. Right now she is half-awake, incredibly sore, and trying to quiet a tired new baby.
Next to her, Mary tosses and turns on her pallet, unused to the noise. Despite the fact that these rooms are, for all intents and purposes, a nursery, children are taught early to be quiet and draw no attention. But this child is new, has a period of grace as she's already been left to grow.
Her body is exhausted and she can't move her legs without wanting to cry. She wants nothing more than to curl up on her own bedding and sleep for a week. But this part of the afterbirth is important. The child must learn to stay quiet. Must learn to eat.
So many things a mother needs to teach a daughter, all starting now.
Even here, even now, there is a ritual. A way of life that must be passed on and preserved. Because they don't have a choice.
She tells Mary and the other girls stories sometimes. Three semesters of folklore during her undergraduate studies have left her repertoire wide and varied. Lise can listen to them now. It's been long enough. Atlantis and Earth have been mourned enough for the stories not to hurt.
No, that's not right. They still hurt, but it's better than forgetting.
The baby has settled into a high reedy wail, punctuated by the occasional sob. Her arms and legs shift and flail. It's strange, Elizabeth thinks, that this child is so active. Mary hadn't been. But she doesn't want to think about that time, so she looks up, hoping for a distraction in the sleeping room.
And is suddenly staring at Lieutenant Aiden Ford through the spindly bars of the door.
They blink at each other for a minute before Ford drops the nozzle of his gun and attempts to close his mouth.
She really hopes this isn't post-partum dementia.
"D-doctor Weir?" He's older than she remembers. A trick of the mind, probably. Her inner desire manifesting itself. Although why it'd drag up Aiden with scars all over his face, she wasn't entirely sure.
He fumbles with the door catch, glancing around at the pallets. There are fourteen women and twenty-one children stretched out in the greater room. Ford seems stunned.
Elizabeth merely stares at him.
"Oh, my god." He is only a few feet away now. Strange. It doesn't feel like a dream. But it is.
"You're not real. You're a dream."
"You're alive!" Eyes wide and calm military persona officially blown, Ford steps forward, almost tripping over another of the sleeping pallets. "Oh god, you're alive..."
She shrugs, her chest tightening unexpectedly. Her eyes blur. It's not fair. This isn't fair. It isn't real, so it shouldn't affect her like this. It's just the Wraith and their mind games again. Why they're bothering with her...
But they'd done it before. Made her see things.
Her third month here, they'd taken her. She doesn't recall much of it. Just pain and fuzziness and a strong desire never to be taken again. And crying. She remembers crying.
"You're a dream," she says and closes her eyes.
Mary whimpering is her only warning at the two hands suddenly cradling her face. The wool of the gloves is scratchy and rough against her cheeks and she can smell sweat and gun oil.
"You have to be."
The hands tighten slightly, and then stroke. The hallucinations have never felt this real before. Maybe the Wraith have learned a new trick. Because this can't be real.
"How long have you been here, Doctor Weir? How long?" His voice is shaky, sad.
"Then it's time to go."
Something twists, raw and hard in her stomach. Her eyes open and he's still there. Behind him, she can see the women pulling tight to the walls, holding their daughters close. They're terrified.
Ford is smiling at her; his cheeks are wet. "It's time to go home."
She jerks, pulling her face out of his cupped hands. "There is no home..."
He blinks, honestly confused. "Sure there is. And there are lots of people who are going to pass out when you walk out of the jumper."
She is shaking. Because this is too good to be true. It isn't real because it can't be and she remembers –remembers – watching Atlantis burn. Remembers Carson and Chin and Lewis and John and everyone dead, bodies ripped and bleeding. She can smell their burning flesh, and hear the screaming...
But Ford is right there. And introducing himself to her daughter. Who's staring right at him, green eyes wide in the dim light of the room.
In one of the darker corners, Elizabeth can see Lise. She's crying too. Shaking her head and rocking. Lise can see Ford. Milla, who is sidling slowly over between sleep rolls, can see him.
They can all see him, and he smells like gun oil and feels warm.
Ford is there.
He says there's a way home.
"We're coming," she says.
He nods, stands, and holds a hand out for her. "You better be. The charges are set to go off in under twenty minutes."
For the first time in what seems like years, Elizabeth feels like smiling.
They leave everything. Stitching, bedding, clothing. Even the little doll Kia made Mary.
There are over forty people in their little train. God knows how they're going to fit everyone in the jumper, but they're determined to try.
"You were taken on Ligatha. We came through the gate and found nothing but a few kids huddled down by the river. They said they'd seen you lost along with their parents." Ford is all business, his body tight and alert, gun high.
They've seen no one since they'd left gated rooms. It's interesting, she thinks as they scuttle down the latest hall. Interesting that there's no one here, but they'd stayed in those rooms, in that place, anyway.
"...Atlantis is okay?" She keeps her voice low, cautious.
"It's fine. Why do you keep asking that? We've got the gate up and running to home, so there are going to be a lot of new faces when we get there." He stops, ducks his head around a corner and continues. She can see the brief smile on his face. "I know one person who's going to be really happy to see you. And your girls."
She stumbles a bit. Doesn't want to think about what that means. Doesn't want to know, in case this really is a huge Wraith-caused bad dream. Ford catches her and loops an arm around her shoulders. "And we didn't even know you were alive."
"I don't understand this, Ford. I saw Atlantis die..."
He pauses and looks down at her. "Atlantis is alive, Dr. Weir. Major Sheppard is alive. Maybe the Wraith made you think-"
And then she's hugging his side, trying to breathe, but practical enough to keep one eye on the hallway. Her daughters are strapped to her body as tightly as possible. Clinging to this familiar stranger in Kevlar, her body still hurting from the birth, she does her best to carry herself and her children out of this place, these rooms. He needs her to be strong enough to do this so he can protect them.
Get them out.
To get them home.
"Down this way."
And they can do nothing but follow. Lise is the first, scooping up Sheyt's daughter – Sheyt had been taken some time during Elizabeth's recent pregnancy – and moving quickly behind Elizabeth.
She can hear the slight shuffle of robes that let her know the women are following, but that's only marginally important. Even if this is one huge hallucination, there's enough of Doctor Weir left to try.
Mary deserves nothing less.
She doesn't think about the other person who might not be dead. It's too much to hope and ask for, so she just slides her body down next to Ford and keeps going.
Her daughters are heavy in her arms, dead weight that she can't afford to move or shift. Her daughters.
And suddenly her world seems much more narrow.
"Ford..." The name feels strange on her tongue. Sacrilegious - FordisdeadthisisnotFordheisdead... - but it does not matter. Nothing matters. Even if this is a Wraith mind trick, it's too far gone, too attractive not to bear through. "What about the men?"
He holds up a hand, shushing her. She passes the gesture down the line - is thankful that most of the women deduce the meaning – and immediately crouches as close to the wall as possible. Mary is awake and alert, her hands wound tightly onto Elizabeth's robe.
Tense, silent seconds pass before he waves his hand for them to go. Quietly – always quietly – the women scramble across the open hallway and back into smaller ones. Ford is moving silently, herds them all into an enclosed area.
"Take this until the third left. Wait for me there." He pushes the older woman forward first, but grabs Elizabeth's arm as she edges past.
"They're too deep, Doctor Weir. We don't have the time to search. I didn't even know you were there, but I heard a baby cry on my way back from setting the charges."
She nods, her chest aching. "It's okay, Aiden. Thank you."
And that's all there is to say, really.
The ragtag group made good time through the corridors and soon drop, one by one, through something that smelled and felt like a waste disposal chute. Elizabeth goes down near the end, handing Mary down to Milla, and tucking the new one close to her body before jumping through.
Muscles tired and weak from labor fail her, and she ends up on her back, trying to keep from blacking out. No time, no TIME.
"What are you DOING?" The hissed whisper was familiar. The voice gravelly, and hushed. "Ford, who the fuck are all these women?"
"Bates?" Her head is still spinning. There, in full catburglar black is Sergeant Emil Bates. The expression on his face when he looks down would be comical, if not for their current situation. She is fairly certain hers mirrors his.
Another face, back from the dead.
"Doctor Weir?" The large man's face is pale underneath his normally dusky skin. He snaps immediately back to Ford, who's managed to hand down the last two women and was shimmying through the too-narrow space.
"Sorry, Sergeant." Combat boots thud onto the grating not three feet from Elizabeth's head. Then strong hands are helping her up, shooing away a concerned, if wary Milla. "I couldn't leave them behind."
"Understood..." The larger man is next to her then, his hand resting on her shoulder. She is pleased when she manages not to flinch. "It's good to see you, Dr. Weir."
"You too, Sergeant." Her smile is wan, but present. No minor victory.
"Mommy..." the plaintive and soft cry echoes from further up the corridor. With the dim light, she can make out Mary clutching Dee's robe, stock still in all of the confusion.
And the men beside her are all business again. Bates disappearing behind her, presumably to lock their escape route, Ford handing her off to Milla and moving towards the front of the group. The corridor is tighter and smaller than the ones in the pens or those that lead them to the access tube. They're darker, closer.
Mary's legs are too short to keep up, and her evening sleep interrupted, so when Elizabeth swung her onto a hip again, she did nothing but settle her head on a shoulder and hold on.
Seeing the jumper sitting plain in the access bay is jarring. Too much in an already crowded night, and Elizabeth stumbles a bit before moving towards the back door. She stops before she stepping onto the ramp. It can't be real. This can't be real.
But Ford's hand on her shoulder feels real.
"Is this real?" Her voice is lower than she'd planned. More strained.
His eyes soften and his hand squeezes, just a little. "Yeah. It really is."
And she almost starts to believe it.
One day, her daughter will not go quiet at the sound of scuffled footsteps. She will demand a sweet treat and stamp her foot and scream.
Mary will laugh at will. She'll dance in the rain of the yearly storms, and run yelling into an adult while chasing a friend down one of Atlantis' corridors.
Or she will yell into the wind of the Grand Canyon and run to her parents' parents for hugs and kisses.
Life is not always fair.
But it can be.
The jumper settles awkwardly into its docking bay. Distantly, Elizabeth wonders if someone will be able to fix it. The small shuttle had taken more than a few blasts in the final escape. She's knows they took a lot of shrapnel when the Wraith ship blew. Heard the tight radio chatter, and the harsh whispered conversation between Ford and someone who sounded like Peter.
She leans back against the bulkhead and tries to wrap her mind around this. Around her she can her the quiet sniffles and sobs of terrified and injured women and children. It was gone. The ship was gone.
They were gone.
And then the hatch in the back of the jumper is opening, letting in light and sound.
A medical team - led by Doctor Beckett, with both legs still attached - is the first person to storm in, taking temperatures and coaxing everyone gently out into the larger hangar bay.
Carson's eyes go wide when he spots her. A smile bursts onto his face, and slowly disappears as he takes in the two little girls curled into her side.
"Oh, Elizabeth." She tries to smile. Fails. "They are lovely."
But then Carson is backing away at the heavy thudding bootsteps clanging on the decking. He blends into the bulkhead and then disappears entirely as he skids to a halt at the bottom of the busy ramp.
Elizabeth can't stand. Three years of knowing knowing that he's gone, and he's there. Watching her like he doesn't quite know what to make of her. Elizabeth feels that's fair.
She doesn't quite know what to make of him.
He steps forward, ignoring the chaos around him until he stops just a few feet away.
"Lizzie?" His voice is shaking, and she thinks he may be crying. Sees something that might be a tear, but then Mary was whimpering, unsure in her lap.
A hand on Mary's hair settles the girl a bit, and when Elizabeth looks up again, he's there. Staring at her. Staring at Mary. Staring at the baby girl she hasn't had time to name but who's snuffling at her breast.
"Lizzie..." His hand is suddenly there, fingers brushing her forehead. She is a soap bubble and will disappear if he holds her.
He is sad and incredulous and alive and there. And she thinks, maybe, just maybe, this is real.
Elizabeth Weir opens her mouth and says, "John."