Title: Dynamics

Author: Whistler84

Rating: PG. Spoilers: Through First season. Disclaimer: Don't own Stargate: Atlantis.

1

Summary: Elizabeth's standing in a pile of rubble, trapped in an Ancient classroom while ice-cold water slowly leaks in from a crumbled little hole in the corner. She's scared and tired and so very, very cold.

A/N - This was actually suppose to be part of "Dynamics," - five ways Elizabeth Weir and John Sheppard get together ficlet, but it took on a life of its own. This is my first Stargate: Atlantis story (my others are ficlets), so here's hoping I do well. Review if you want to see this continue.

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1

Elizabeth knows she'll never forget this day.

It begins in the middle of Atlantis's winter season, when the first snowflakes had started to fall and the vast ocean that held this great city had become so chilled that many had wondered if it would freeze completely over soon, leaving behind a city trapped in ice. Like Antarctica, she reflects. She never thought the sight of Atlantis could get more majestic, but the notion of it in a winter-wonderland appeals to the 11-year-old pigtailed girl inside of her. The adult in her isn't as captivated, because while the sight is breathtaking, it incurs a variety of technical and managerial issues, like the water pipes freezing over and the Athosians over in the mainland seeking sanctuary from the harsh climates by scrambling into the city.

Which, obviously, meant that they had to arrange for more living quarters. Exploration teams are quickly assembled, and once again venturing into the unknown regions of Atlantis, the people of Earth manage to discover a variety of new and interesting things to occupy their attention for a good several weeks. One area, discovered in the far northeast quadrant of the city, seems to have been a market place. Other areas show family quarters and nurseries, and what may have once been a school for children.

"A school?" Elizabeth questions curiously, when she first hears about it in her daily briefings with Sheppard.

He shrugs, tilting back in his chair so far that its only supported by it's hind two legs, "That's what it looks like. They've got a whole bunch of tables and chairs only big enough for little people. Either it's for kids, or Atlantis had a very large midget population, once upon a time."

She gives him a half-hearted glare, and suppresses the temptation to correct his posture, "And the only explanation for the small tables and chairs is that it's a school?"

"No," he answers, "There's some books and stuff, too. Written in Ancient."

"Really?" Elizabeth asks, her fascination increasing ten-fold, "Do you happen to have one of these books with you–"

"–Right now?" John interrupts, in a light-hearted tone, "Why, as a matter of fact I do, Dr. Weir."

He casually leans forward, landing his chair back on all fours with an audible scrape. Her eyes narrow at the offensive sound, but he's oblivious to the look because he's already grabbed a backpack from the ground and he's digging through its' contents. A moment later, he hands her a book with a self-satisfied smirk on his face, and she takes it without commenting because as soon the book is in her hands, she's focusing on it instead of him. As she flips through it, she's captivated by the beautiful covers and drawings, the Ancient symbols, the glossy paper that still hasn't lost its' shine in over ten thousands years. She marvels at the remarkable detail that went into every inch of the book.

She hears John sigh, "You were one of those weird kids, weren't you? That ones that actually liked going to school?"

She suppresses a smile, not daring to look up at him until a good five seconds have passed, "As a matter of fact, I was. What of it, Major?"

He rolls his eyes in exasperation, "Figures. I bet you were student council president in high school, too."

"Vice President, actually," she informs, as if the difference was of the utmost importance, "And I'll think I take a look at this school."

John looks surprised, "What? You mean like go down there and see it, personally? It's over a two hour trek from here."

Elizabeth raises an eyebrow, "I think I can manage that, Major. I can rearrange some my briefings this afternoon to accommodate the time . . . unless, of course, there's some reason I shouldn't go?"

"Oh, no," John answers, reassuringly, "I'm just, you know, surprised that you actually want to . . . um . . . ah . . . hmm." he quickly rethinks his statement, "This afternoon's perfect for me. Ready by five?"

It annoys Elizabeth a bit, but John's surprise is probably well deserved. She admits she doesn't get out of Command Central that often. There's actually a running joke filtering among the Atlantis personnel that she eats and sleeps in her office, venturing out only when she doesn't see her own shadow. She chooses not to read too much into the fact that her people are essentially drawing comparisons between her and a groundhog. It's only suppose to be a joke about her crazy work hours, but there's some sting to it, because Elizabeth knows there's truth in it as well. For the leader of this expedition, Elizabeth feels she often delegates the actual exploration part of it to everyone else.

John tilts his head curiously, looking all of 12-years-old for a moment. "The books, I can understand. They might give us some information about their history or science, but the classrooms are exactly that, Elizabeth. Classrooms. Seen one, you've seen 'em all. Why are you so interested?"

Elizabeth disagrees. "Major, a school is a place for learning. We're explorers. If you can't make the connection and figure out why I want to see this school, then the military may be more hopeless than I previously thought."

He takes the jest in good stride, "Oh, ha ha. Yeah, you probably think us military folk are just cavemen with guns, right? Since we have no patience for silly little things, like education and basic hygiene. Hygiene, smygene, I say. Now if you'll excuse me, I have plans to go hit Teyla over the head and mate with her."

The unexpected comment brings out a laugh before Elizabeth can contain herself, "John, never let Teyla hear you say anything like that."

John suddenly turns worried, "Yeah. That's actually some good advice . . . But mission accomplished, though."

"Mission?" she repeats.

"To get you to laugh more." John answers, smugly, "I've made it my new daily mission. You need to lighten up, Elizabeth. You'll give yourself a heart-attack at the age of thirty."

It's sweet, really, but Elizabeth finds herself focusing on only one part of that declaration, "Thirty? You think I'm thirty?"

John's eyes widen in alarm, sensing a fast approaching doom, "Uh, I was talking about the future. The distant-many-years-down-the-line future, when space monkeys rule the world or possible when artificial intelligence has overtaken humanity. Either way, it's bad for mankind, but I'm still talking about the way distant future here . . . when you turn thirty. Many years down the line."

Elizabeth stares at him, bewildered by the man's train of thought, "So help me God, John, if you start quoting in a Galaxy far, far away . . . I may just have to have you killed."

John rolls his eyes, as if she'd just said the most asinine thing he'd ever heard of, instead of the other way around. "That was in the past, Elizabeth. 'A long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away . . .' It's the first part of the quote, for Pete's sake! And even if I did, who says it has to be this galaxy? Pegasus and Milky Way aren't the only two, you know."

She briefly wonders how this conversation came to this point, and puts any resulting blame firmly on the Major. "I have work to do, John."

"You always have work to do."

Five hours after that remark is said, Elizabeth's standing in a pile of rubble, trapped in an Ancient classroom while ice-cold water slowly leaks in from a crumbled little hole in the corner. She's scared and tired and so very, very cold, and she can't help but think the Major was right. She was a workaholic, and she should have damn-well stuck to it. If she had, she would have been too busy to explore, and that would have saved her from being stuck in thishorriblemess in the first place.

The school, it seemed, had at least one major structural weak point, and when one of the team members had slipped on the icy surface on the outside, they had slammed into a support beam that eventually gave way, causing a cave in. Elizabeth had been unfortunate enough to have been investigating one level below the said cave-in. One moment, she's standing in a small and tasteful classroom with a sense of nostalgia, and the next second, everything comes piling on top of her and she feels a brief stab of pain in the back of her neck and sees nothing more.

When she comes to, it's to the shock of icy cold water seeping into her boots. The water isn't coursing in. It isn't even rising at any alarming rate. It's just beginning to pool a little on the floor. She checks for injuries, finds none that are too serious, and decides to move. She looks around, squinting until her vision adjusts to the darkened state of the room. She spots her flashlight lying somewhere in the corner, and quickly stumbles to get to it and turn it on. Slightly illuminated now, she can tell that the room is completely demolished, scraps of debris everywhere–

"Elizabeth!" John calls out, from somewhere behind the rubble that has her trapped in the room.

"Dr. Weir, are you in there? Are you okay?"

"Elizabeth, answer me!" John again. His voice is persistent and worried.

"I'm here," she calls out quickly to reassure. "I'm fine, Major. No serious injuries!"

There's a moment of silence, and then John calls out again, this time with a touch of relief in his voice. "We're going to get you out of there, Elizabeth. Just sit tight. Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yeah," Elizabeth yells, "I'm fine. Is everyone else okay?"

A moment passes in silence while John gets the information, "Siler might have a broken leg, and a couple of others have some scraps and bruises, but nothing else. I'm more worried about you."

"Don't be," Elizabeth says, in all honesty, "I told you I'm fine. I managed to come out of this mess with nothing but a bump on the head. I don't see a way out of this room, though. Do you know what happened?"

"Siler caused a cave-in," John replies, wearily, "We seemed to have overestimated the structural integrity of this section."

"Why, whatever gave you that idea?" Elizabeth mutters under her breath, then notices the water again, and thinks it's definitely worth mentioning, "Uh, Major, there's also a little water in here. I think one of the drain pipes might have ruptured in the cave-in. Or at least, I hope. We're not near the periphery of the city, right? There's no chance this is ocean water seeping in?"

There's a pregnant pause that follows.

"Hold on a second, Elizabeth."

She waits as patiently as she can, until they start talking to her again, this time through the radio she had nearly forgotten was located in her backpack. As she digs it out, the next voice she hears doesn't belong to John, and she can't quite place who it is even as she intently listens to every one of his words, " . . . but don't worry about it, Doctor Weir. We'll have you out of there before it has a chance to become any type of issue–"

"So it is ocean water!" Elizabeth asks sharply, and feels her heart rate speed up.

"There's a slim possibility–"

Whoever's voice it is get's cut off, and there's static for several seconds, and then John's voice is back.

"Like the man said, Elizabeth, don't worry about it. We're on our way in, now."

She can hear faint protests from somebody in the background, "But I just told you the structure is–"

Static, again. For a moment Elizabeth strains to hear any more voices, rattled that she keeps getting cut off with half sentences. "Mr. Andrews?" Elizabeth radios out, suddenly matching the voice to an architect from the exploration team. "Is that you?"

"Yeah," John replies for him after a moment, "That was Andrews. Stay calm, Elizabeth. We're on our way in. We're going to start removing the debris . . . "

The sentence is left unfinished. Again. Elizabeth's irritation is starting to rise. "Major? Are you still there?"

"Yeah," he quickly answers, "Uh, yeah, I'm here. Just talking with some scientists. Uh, they seem to be worried about moving the rubble without proper support. We might have to wait for an excavation team to get down here. We don't want to cause any more damage to the surrounding structures."

Elizabeth nods, seeing the rationale, "Okay, just . . . just hurry, please. And keep me informed. Last I looked, I was still functioning at normal capacity. So don't try to shield me from anything. I need to know what's going on, Major."

"Don't worry," John radios out, sounding confident, "We'll have you out of there in no time. Promise."

She wishes John hadn't said that, because something always goes wrong afterwards. She sighs, and starts looking around the devastated room, and although grateful to be alive and relatively unharmed, there's also a sense of loss at the school's destruction. The idealist in her really was hopeless, wasn't she? Here she was trapped in a demolished room, with a leak somewhere, and she feels depressed only because a classroom was destroyed.

Later, she finally manages to locate the only point of entry for the water - a hole that's smaller than half the size of her fist, located at the bottom of one the walls. She finds it on her hands and knees, and gets half drenched in ice cold water for her effort. Still, in such a large room with vaulted ceilings, Elizabeth feels confident that it won't be a major problem as long as she gets out of here quickly. She radios in the information and waits patiently for them to get her out.

She starts to worry after about an hour, when the water has had time to rise a full foot off the floor.

The exploration team has just arrived, having made the distance from Command Central to here in half the time it took her. They begin their work without pause, cautiously digging her out from the outside in the effort to avoid causing further structural damage. In the meantime, the water continues to accumulate little by little and, worse, it's barely above freezing temperature thanks to Atlantis's winter season. She's been forced to climb the furniture to escape the rising level of water, and silently curses the fact that the furniture was made for (in John's words) little people. Suddenly, the little hole in the corner seems to have become a problem. Elizabeth's voices her concern about what the added pressure and strain could do to the already weak surrounding structure, but the answer she receives back is purposefully ambiguous.

"It shouldn't be a problem?" Elizabeth radios back out, "I'm the one standing in here, and I have to say it looks like a problem to me."

Andrew's nervousness is barely veiled, "I know what it looks like, but I'm telling you what it is. It shouldn't be a problem, Dr. Weir."

A loud deafening sound suddenly echoes through the room, and Elizabeth nearly jumps out of her skin. Then she realizes it's nothing but the excavation team and their equipment. She takes a calming breath, and longingly thinks of her chair and office. The noise continues for the next 15 minutes, nearly deafening her at times, both when the excavation team is working full-blast and the brief pauses of respite in-between (although, to Elizabeth, that's more of a deafening silence).

"How you doing . . . Elizabeth?"

"Rodney?" Elizabeth replies, into the radio with surprise. "When did you get here?"

"About . . . a minute ago," he answers, sounding distinctly out of breath since she can clearly hear him gasping for air in between his words, "I just . . . made a two hour trek . . . in an hour and . . . fifteen minutes . . . carrying excavation supplies. I think . . . I'm dying."

She smiles, suddenly feeling warmth despite the ice cold water not even one feet below her. "Take a deep breath, Rodney. Just relax."

"I was about . . . to tell you . . . the same thing."

He talks to her for a minute before he's put to work by John. She has no idea if his genius abilities in physics will do much good to her in her present situation, but she feels comforted in knowing that he's up there trying his best. Both him and John have pulled off miracles before, and she jokingly starts to think that's exactly what she would need to get out of this situation - a miracle.

She's aware that a lot of time passes and more people arrive. She's fairly positive she hears Teyla's voice somewhere beyond the rubble, but it could have easily been someone else. The worst thing about this situation to her is the sense of isolation she feels. It's worse then the cold, and the dampness, and the darkness of the room. She's not much more than a dozen feet from the others, but she feels very much alone in this place. The sound of people beyond her reach slowly filters in, and it's the only comforting thing that she can hold onto right now. It seems with each passing minute, its get louder and louder. She believes they must be making good progress in digging her out of here. Either that, or there's a growing number of people out there - a bad idea for a structurally unsound area.

Elizabeth radios in to make sure John hasn't drawn in the entire Atlantis personnel here for this.

"Oh, c'mon, Elizabeth," John says, sounding mildly insulted, "Have more faith in me than that."

"Right," Elizabeth replies, immediately feeling contrite, "Sorry."

She's impatient now, and trying to quell it. The water rises until there's nothing left to climb on to avoid it, even after assembling of pile of furniture to stand upon. Her feet are the first to be submerged, and the feel of such ice cold water shocks her for a moment. It's so cold, and it oddly feels like a thousand little prickles across her skin, until her feet go completely numb. She stands on the furniture, her head nearly touching the ceiling, and constantly moves her weight from one foot to another until she's almost jumping in order to keep her circulation going in her feet. She feels like a total idiot, and is suddenly glad that no one can see her.

Time passes. Too much time.

"Major, what's the progress?"

He answers back almost immediately, "It's taking us a little longer than we expected to remove the rubble."

"I noticed," Elizabeth replies, "How much longer do you think it will be?"

"At this point, another . . . hour?" his voice isn't filled with it's usual assurances.

For the first time, Elizabeth feels true fear of the situation. "An hour? John, that's too much time . . . the water's rising."

"Don't worry, Elizabeth," John answers, "We're working on a plan B."

"What's plan B?"

There's a pause, "I can't really talk about it, yet. I have to go over some of the details first. But don't worry, I got it covered."

She suddenly realizes that he might be shielding her, dammit, after she had explicitly asked - no, ordered - him not to. A part of her is enraged at it, that he's treating her like a stereotypical damsel-in-distress. Which, she groans, she just may be. But that still doesn't give him the right to act like he has to protect her from becoming hysterical. She's a calm, rational person. She can handle bad news.

For a moment, she has the urge to set him strait, right here and now.

But the rationale part of her, the one that always wins out, tempers her anger. He's just trying to help, and there really is nothing she can do to help the situation from her position. But she still has to inform him that it's unacceptable to treat her this way, though, especially in emergency situations. She tempted to say so now, but the idea of railing out people who are trying their best to save her life seems to be a bit in poor taste. She finally decides to have words with him about this, afterwards. When this is all done and over with, she'll talk to him. She'll be firm, but not ungrateful. Later.

First, she'll kiss him senseless for getting her out of here.

She blinks, and wonders where the hell that thought came from. After a moment, she decides not to look too closely at the implications, and simply puts the blame on stress. Or temporary insanity. Either explanation will do.

"Elizabeth, are you still there?"

She refocuses on the radio, and clears her throat, "Fine, Major. But when you do get the details of Plan B figured out, inform me, please."

"'Course."

She continues to wait, as the water continues to rise. The chill of the water and the accompanying pin-prickles soon turn into a full blown anguish. Any composure and nonchalance she had in the situation quickly starts to dissipate as the pain levels rise. She never knew ice cold water could be so painful, but it is. It's constant, and horrible, and overrides almost every other sensation and thought. By the time it reaches just above her knees, her legs are in such pain that she almost feels like crying. It becomes abundantly clear that the possibility of drowning in this room (slim though it may be) was actually secondary to another devastating and progressively alarming possibility - hypothermia.

"Weir, here," she radios out, concerned and trying to hide the pain she's in, "Is Carson there?"

"Hold on, Dr. Weir." Ford answers, apparently having arrived at some point, "I'll go get him."

Carson's on the radio a moment later, "Yes, Elizabeth?"

She breathes a sigh of relief, "I was worried you hadn't reached here, yet. I need to ask you some questions . . . about hypothermia."

"Has the water risen that much, lass?" Carson questions, alarmed.

"No!" Elizabeth reassures, quickly, "But it is slowly rising. And it's cold, really cold."

"Barely above freezing, I imagine," he replies, concern still evident, "What would you like to know?"

"When I get out of here, I'm going to be cold." Elizabeth states, "Just to be informed, at what temperature is hypothermia likely to be . . . a problem?"

Carson gets into teacher mode quickly, "Well, hypothermia is simply when the body core temperature drops to less than 35 degrees Celsius, but you start to loose consciousness when it falls to around 30 degrees. In water, the major concern then is drowning while unconscious. How much water is in there right now?"

"Up to my knees," Elizabeth answers, "but the upside to that is the water's rising really slowly, and I'm in a large room."

"Aye, but it's still troubling." Carson answers, pausing to measure his words, ". . . But if it becomes an issue, Elizabeth, rest assured that hypothermia is easily treatable with the right equipment. As long as you're still breathing when we pull you out, you shouldn't have any long term affects. You'll be fine."

That's good news, Elizabeth thinks, "What does the treatment require?"

"Basically methods that are initiated to help your core temperature rise. Rewarming you with warm, humidified oxygen, and warm IV-fluids," Carson answers, simply enough, "I can have the necessary equipment ready for you as soon as you're pulled out."

"That would be greatly appreciated, Carson."

"Nonsense, it's what I get paid for . . . if we were actually getting bloody paid here, that is. Just keep me informed of your condition, Elizabeth. Keep your circulation going by walking and moving around as much as you can, but don't exhaust yourself. If the water rises too much, adapt a small body-to-surface area by huddling into a small position. I'll be sure to be checking up on you from time to time."

She thanks him once again, and puts the radio away. She's already feeling better about her situation, having informed Carson and listened to his professional advice. Wasting no time, she starts walking through the water, getting her circulation going. The pain is still there, but Elizabeth tries to focus on something else, anything else. It isn't easily mastered, but after a while, she finds herself focusing on a mental image of her house back on Earth. She pictures the fireplace clear as day, with her grandmother's rocking chair nearby. It's probably a bit masochistic to be thinking about that right now, but she focuses on it anyway, finding comfort in the visual. She fends off the pain that way.

"Elizabeth?" John radios in, almost five minutes later.

She fumbles with her radio, noticing with alarm that her fingers are turning ice blue, "What is it, Major?"

"How you doing? Carson told me that you were concerned about hypothermia?"

"Just a precautionary concern," Elizabeth answers, lying through her teeth, "What's the situation on your end?"

"We figured out our Plan B," he replies, "We use C4."

Her breathe, already starting to become weak and thready from the cold, catches for a moment, "Is that really necessary? Won't it cause too much damage to this area?"

"There's a possibility, yes. That's why it's plan B."

She thinks for a moment, and then radios in, "Let me talk to Andrews, first."

Another moment passes, and then he answers, "Yes, Doctor Weir?"

"Andrews," Elizabeth says, adopting her most authoritative voice, "What are the odds that the C4 will work without causing too much damage to this entire structure?"

There's a pregnant pause, and Andrew answers back, sounding unhappy but firm, "Unfortunately, the odds are slim."

Elizabeth closes her eyes, feeling desperation set in, "And what's the worst case scenario of using the C4?"

"It brings down the entire east wing," he answers bluntly, "In my professional opinion, I don't think we should use it. I'm sorry, Dr. Weir. I truly am. But I stand firm in this opinion. The risk is simply too much. There are others here that disagree, of course."

She can already tell one of them is John, simply because he still has it as Plan B. She's proven right when he radios in a second later, defending the idea, "It could work if we use a small amount. A very small amount."

"You don't know that," she replies, "You don't know that a small amount won't bring the entire thing down."

"And you don't know that it will," he replies, just as stubbornly. "We're running out of time."

She glances down at the water, and the agony of the chill returns full blown, "I'm well aware of that, John."

Rodney's voice crackles into the conversation for the first time, "I happen to agree with the Major, Elizabeth. While playing from a purely statistical point of view, this may not be such a good idea, but if we went by statistics all the time, we'd have died over three thousand and forty-two times by now. The plan does have it's merits."

Elizabeth thinks about it, knowing she's got all the information she's bound to need. It comes down to risk - whether she was willing to risk the lives of everybody in the East Wing of Atlantis to save herself. The answer is an automatic and resounding no.

She says so, "Negative on Plan B. You do it the old fashion way. Dig me out."

"Elizabeth–"

Elizabeth's voice is firm, "Don't, Major. No one is worth that much risk. I'll not have the deaths of everyone here hanging over my head. It's my decision, and I'm making it an order. You are not to use the C4. Understood?"

She gets no immediate reply back, and intensely worries about that. John doesn't disobey her orders lightly, but when he thinks he can save lives his way, just assume that all bets are off. She hates that she can't completely trust him in this situation. She briefly wonders if she may have to put Bate's in charge to make sure her orders are followed, and feels sickened that's even a possibility she's considering. It would feel so wrong, but she has to do what's right for Atlantis. This would just be the first time that John may not be the man to make it happen.

"Alright, we'll do this your way."

She sighs, relieved beyond limits when she hears him say those words. "Thank you, Major."

"For what exactly?" he asks, sharply bitter. She knows the emotion is directed more at himself than her, but she still mentally recoils from the tone.

She doesn't hear from him for a while after that. Rodney keeps her informed, as does Andrews. But not John. She feels hurt by that, but thinks it may be best to let him cool off. More time passes, more water rises - past her waist, in fact. The flashlight in her hands suddenly slips through her fingers at some point and starts floating away. She wants to grab it, but the movements seems to take too much energy away from her. She's just grown to be so exhausted and tired, and the idea of closing her eyes and resting is suddenly so damn appealing to her. She ends up watching as the flashlight slowly drifts to the far side of the room, leaving her area engulfed in nearly complete darkness. She's cold and miserable, and most of all, scared beyond words now.

The pain is her constant companion. And it may be her apprehension overreacting, but the water suddenly seems to be rising at a much quicker pace than before. She wonders if perhaps the small hole may have just gotten bigger somehow, and is panicked to think she may have to swim beneath the surface of the water to check it out.

She asks for Carson's opinion, not even attempting to hide the chattering of her teeth anymore.

"No, lass," his answer is firm, "Don't go drenching yourself completely now. Not if you can avoid it. Are you sure the water looks like it's rising faster?"

She pauses, hating to add bad news to an already horrible situation, "Yes, I'm sure . . . It's rising much faster now."

Carson normal composure falters for a second, and he swears a string of curse words that shock her.

"Elizabeth," Rodney's voice suddenly appears, "Ignore the irrational doctor now. I'll always said medicine was nothing more than voodoo, and that any ignoramus could do it. It seems I've been proven right, yet again."

"Right," Carson says, sounding contrite, "Sorry, Elizabeth. I just lost . . . my focus for a wee bit of a moment there. My apologies."

She wants to say he's forgiven, but she doesn't have the energy anymore to speak unless absolutely necessary.

Rodney's voice comes back on to cover the silence, "Elizabeth, I overheard your conversation. There's no need for you to check out the damage underneath the water, you know enough already. If the water's rising faster, going under to check it out won't do you any good. All it'll do is speed up your hypothermia."

She shivers, and forces herself to reply, "Okay."

Rodney pauses, then his voice turns unusually gentle, "I'll pass on the news to Sheppard. Just stay with us, Elizabeth. We're working as fast as humanly possible. Faster, even. There's not a person down here that's not doing their best to help you. Even Kavanagh."

Her breath hiccups, in a version of a laugh, "Wonders . . . never cease."

"He's just scared shitless at the idea of Sheppard in charge. We all are."

She smiles, even as her lips begin to turn ice blue.

Her condition takes a steep decline after that - a very steep decline. She's stops thinking properly at some point, and focuses only on two things - the cold wetness and the pain. The image of her fireplace has long since lost its' comfort, and Elizabeth just wants out now. She promises she won't leave Command Central for the next year if she could just get out of this cold, wet, miserably place. Her skin turns a tinge of blue, and the chill of the water has officially turned into a painful torment she can't stand. The thousand little prickles are more like swords now, and she can barely even move except for the shivering. She's having trouble breathing. When the next voice she hears from the radio is Carson, Elizabeth saves him the trouble of asking her about her condition.

"I'm cold," she tells him, teeth chattering. "Oh God, Carson, I'm so cold."

She doesn't even pay attention to his response, but just gazes at the rising level of water with a sense of utter contempt. She almost blacks out for a second, head going under until she tastes salt water in the back of her throat. Her eyes snap open and she spits out the disgusting liquid, alarmed. The water has reached chest-high, and she's shivering so much that she can barely even speak coherent sentences with her teeth chattering a mile a minute.

She suddenly finds herself facing her own mortality with a sense of calm knowledge. She is going to die. Not by the Wraith's hand. Not of old age. Not by some mystery that was unique to the Pegasus Galaxy. But by hypothermia. She knows with a certainty that she has precious few moments left.

John suddenly comes back onto the radio, worried. He's saying words, and a part of her mind is trying to pay attention, but it's too much effort. Rodney joins in, and she again tries to pay attention. But it's too much effort. She wants to comfort them, to tell them she's okay because she knows they're trying their best and working their quickest, but she's suddenly so far gone that the only thing she can say, over and over again, is that she's cold. So cold. She only snaps out of it when she hears something she wishes she hadn't.

"Elizabeth," John radios in, sounding determined, "We're going to use the C4."

Elizabeth shakes off the cobwebs that are forming around her thoughts, and tries to speak through her chattering teeth, "Don't . . . might cause . . . the entire east wing . . . to crumble."

"That's a gamble we're willing to take."

"No," Elizabeth mutters, wanting desperately to scream and angry as hell that she can barely whisper, "You could kill . . . every one out here . . . Not an option . . . Major."

"There's no other options left," John snaps back, "It'll take us another twenty minutes to get you out at this rate. You don't . . . you don't sound like you . . . have that much time left."

"I don't," she admits, tearing up. "You've done . . . everything you can."

"No, I haven't. We still have the C4."

"I'm in charge . . . it's my call."

"Bullshit!" John suddenly rages, frustrated, "You can barely even talk, Elizabeth. You not in the right mind to making life and death decisions."

"If it's . . . my life . . . I am."

"No, we're going through with the C4. Get away from the east wall, Elizabeth."

"John, listen to me." Elizabeth pleads, fearing the emotion she can hear in his voice. "I want to tell you . . . something."

"No–"

"It's important . . . I was going to listen . . . to you . . . now it's . . . your . . . turn."

She fears that may have sounded vindictive, which isn't her intention at all. But the fact is, it's his turn now to listen to her last words, and nothing anyone can do is going to change that. She fleetingly remembers the day when he was trapped in the puddle-jumper, a Wraith bug attached to his neck, in pain and dying. She remembers listening to the words of "I'd like to say something while I still can," which turned out to be one of the most painful experiences in her entire life. She's been thankful every day since that it had ended without tragedy, but it seems this time may be different. There was nothing complicated about this, like a Wraith bug. She was just freezing to death. But other than that, the situation remarkably parallels that day, just in reverse.

"Elizabeth! Are you still with me?"

This time, she was dying and he was listening.

Her head dips under again, and she's painfully aware that she only has a few moments left before she completely loses consciousness and drowns. She wants to be dignified in her last moments of life. She wants to tell Rodney to take care of himself and loosen up once in a while - be more like John, she'd joke. She also wants to tell John that it wouldn't hurt for him to be a little more like Rodney - to be a little more serious at times, and to not hesitate to take command of other people now, since he was Atlantis's only remaining commander. She wants to tell the crew of Atlantis, to those who are overhearing, to take care of themselves and, more importantly, take care of each other. She wants to tell them that it has been her greatest honor to serve with them and she wouldn't have traded this adventure for anything in the Universe.

"Elizabeth! Talk to me, dammit! Say something!"

But the fact is, she's too weak.

All of that is outside of her reach, and she knows she only has brief moments left. She can say only one thing, and she wants to say it to John. She hesitates, though, the coward in her rearing its' ugly head. She doesn't want the entire expedition to hear this. It's too personal, but the saying "now or never" has never had such stark applications to her before. She uses the last of her strength to gain the courage she needs.

"Elizabeth! Answer me!"

She wishes she could see his face, but she will save her wishing for better things . . .

"John, I . . . wanted to say . . . I–"

But she never finishes.

Suddenly, there's a growing, blinding light for a second, and then an ethereal sense courses through her entire body. In one moment, the pain and agony of the chill is relieved, and Elizabeth isn't wet or cold or dying anymore. Instead, she's strangely standing in a brightly lit room, with white tiles and windows that show a spectacular view of Atlantis's clear blue sky.

"Am I dead?" she questions, to herself in a empty room.

"No," a masculine voice answer back.

Elizabeth turns around to see a man dressed in a tan outfit that oddly matches the white gown she suddenly finds herself in. He's got dark brown hair and pair of sympathetic eyes that lend a familiarity to them, although she's positive she's never seen this man before in her entire life.

He steps forward cautiously, as if to avoid spooking her, "You're not dead. Not yet, anyway. And if you choose what I'm offering you, you won't die. Ever."

Elizabeth is too confused and disoriented to understand, "What do you mean?"

"Elizabeth, I'm here to offer you the guidance to Ascend."

TBC? . . . (Depends on your reviews!)