Title: Smile Like You Mean It
Author: A.j.
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: Not mine, not makin' money.
Recipient: Deb, who asked for 'chocolate, chess, dogs, and keyboards'. Um. They're all in here:hopes this is okay.
Notes: This was written with "Wreck of the Day" by Anna Nalick (the album) on repeat. The fact that my brain did not leak out of my ear is something of a minor miracle. Love to Lyss and Amanda and Amy who beat it with the grammar stick until it squeaked.

Summary: Elizabeth thought she'd prepared for the eventuality of never coming home from Atlantis. She's only now beginning to realize that she hadn't ever expected to have to live with the decision.

&

Elizabeth hates summer like she hates spinach. She knows it's necessary. Without the long hot days and the cool rainy nights, plants wouldn't grow. People would starve. Her people would starve. And they need to be strong.

But she likes it too. Just a little. Because the sweltering heat is distracting and uncomfortable and a reminder of home. Something tangible that can be commiserated over. Discussed. It's a way to talk about home without actually talking about Earth.

No one talks about Earth anymore.

The heat in Atlantis reminds her of the muggy closeness of DC in August, and she has to laugh at herself because no one should ever be nostalgic over humidity. Even if she's a billion or so miles away from a Baskin Robbins and the chocolate triple fudge chunk that made summer at all bearable.

But the heat is wearing after so long, and even nostalgia fades in the face of unremitting heat. Elizabeth finds her temper shorter; ironically feeling dry and brittle, like kindling.

She notices it in others too. Sitting on the cafeteria deck behind files and paperwork, she sits back and observes as conversations drop and people stare off into space. Friends argue in the halls, their voices loud and discordant in the flowing symmetry and bland color schemes of Atlantis's architecture.

She moves around and through it all, unsure of what to do or say.

This is strange for her. She's spent most of her adult life being paid to know what to say.

She wishes for the heat to break because it's hot and people are unhappy.

What she doesn't admit – even to herself really - is that she likes it, too. Because with the sun beating down, she can feel it all the way to her bones.

Standing in the sun, she feels something besides fear.

Even if it hurts.

Typically, the weather lasts too long, but not long enough. Breezes return and tempers soothe.

When she walks through the halls people smile politely and turn back to their monologues and conversations and connections. Paperwork continues and missions and meetings on meetings where politeness and courtesy wrap her tighter and tighter.

The heat is gone, but the feeling of walking through wool isn't. Because it's not really different than before. At least not for her.

It's two weeks later that she looks up from her last field-crop ratio report that she realizes she hasn't had an honest to god conversation about something other than work for almost a month. She just shrugs and goes back to her report.

Same as it ever was.

&

On the second anniversary of the day she was shipped to the SGC with barely more than her toothbrush, Liz takes a glass of water to her balcony and contemplates jumping.

She runs her hand idly over the slick metal of her railing. It's cold to the touch, despite the warm stillness of the air. It would take so little for her to set her cup down – glassware being strangely precious on their rag-tag little island – step over the side and let go.

It would be so incredibly easy.

But she has a stack of paperwork on her desk that needs looking at.

Later, she will be disturbed by how dispassionately she considered it. Will shake quietly in her bed at how close she came to letting herself fall. But looking out at the darkening horizon, she just pictures the faces of her colleagues as they'd find her body. She only goes back in when she realizes that the only people she's sure would mourn her already are mourning her. Fifty billion miles away.

It scares her that the only reason she does not jump is because it might demoralize the crew.

She thought she'd prepared for the eventuality of never coming back from Atlantis. She's only now beginning to realize that she'd never expected to have to live with the decision.

But she has to live with it. And god help her, she's not quite sure how.

She doesn't sleep that night. Or much of the next.

The next day, she asks Teyla to sit with her at lunch and asks her about her week. She thinks it might be a start.

&

Morning coffee with John has become a regular habit. They'd started the ritual back before the Daedelus had come. It had been a work thing then. Time set aside to go over the day's schedule and argue.

They're really good at arguing.

Now it's kind of all they do.

"Elizabeth, come on!"

This morning, it's about dogs. The day before, it had been the fish in the cafeteria. She knows there was a point where they'd had conversations without it devolving into a squabble, but with her head nearly falling off from a stress headache, she really can't remember when.

"John, we're not getting a dog."

"I'm not saying now. I mean, we haven't found anything like a canine. Yet. But when we do-"

"When we do, you and I will probably have this conversation again, and my answer will probably still be no." She wants to beat him with her keyboard. Just close the screen over it and go to town on his stubborn, stubborn skull.

He sighs then. Stands and collects their mugs to take back to the cafeteria. She wonders then, just how he keeps finding coffee. She knows that they'd been officially out for almost a month before the Daedelus and all her sundry supplies had splashed down into their lives. But they'd always had coffee. And he'd always been the one to bring it.

She feels a tug then. Nothing huge or encompassing, but something. So when he turns around one more time, she lets him speak.

"You know I'll wear you down." He smirks at her, eyebrow slightly raised in a dare. And in that moment, she is struck by an overwhelming pang of grief for her brother. The one who'd set her doll on fire when she was seven, and who'd beaten the crap out of her high school boyfriend for breaking her heart.

John looks nothing like him – Robert was taller and blonde – but right here, right now, he sort of does.

Elizabeth feels her smile soften to something like amusement and shakes her aching head. Sensing a battle won, John's smirk widens to a half-grin and with a little flippy wave and a "See you in an hour!" he's gone.

As the door slides shut behind him, she feels her face fall.

She misses her brother and friends who want nothing from her except a good laugh and a long hug. She misses stability and her dog. Mostly though, she just misses herself.

Because she loves dogs. And more than anything, she wants to say yes.

But this isn't home. Not really. And she has a duty.

Her headache comes back, but she's too busy with the power reports to notice.

&

There's a tiny magnetic chess set with a half-finished game in her quarters. The pieces are plastic and slightly warped with time and sun and a million and sundry other things.

Elizabeth stares at it more often than she'd like, her eyes and mind distant. It had been Peter's move before he'd left. They'd never finished their game. She'd listened to the radio broadcast of his last minutes, but the only reason she knows his death is real is the little chess set on a table in her quarters.

He's gone because the pieces haven't moved. They haven't moved because he's gone.

She misses Peter like a limb. He'd made her laugh. Known her the longest. Been closest to her. Had been her aide for six months before they'd left for Atlantis. She's rewritten her speech to his sister seventeen times. It never feels like it says enough.

Teyla asks her about it, eyes curious, two months after their first breakfast. The younger woman is lounging upsidedown on Liz's bed, the table in her direct line of sight. She has a glass of alcohol she's been trying to drink out of. Liz knows she's going to have to clean the carpet later on. Drops of red liquor are dribbled around Teyla's head.

It's a cute image, and she almost smiles before answering. Liz is flat on her back on the floor and staring at the ceiling.

"It was a thing Peter and I used to do. He'd bring something in to my office and make a move. By the time he came back, I was supposed to have moved." She shrugged. "Just a thing."

"You were friends?" Liz tries not to flinch. Is it so unreal that she could have a friend? Maybe it is. Because she doesn't.

"We were."

"You miss him." It's not a question. Idly, Liz knows that she'd have thrown Teyla over the balcony if it had been a question.

"I do."

"It's all right to say it, Elizabeth. It's natural to grieve."

She wonders why she's not crying. She should be crying. Liz just shrugs. "Maybe."

She can hear the younger woman moving around, hears the slither and slide of fabric against fabric, and then she's not alone on the floor. Teyla scoots herself over until Liz can feel the heat of her body against her arm and leg.

She thinks it's been months since she's been this close to someone.

"I miss being a friend, Teyla." Liz whispers the revelation, half-drunk, to the light fixture above her. She doesn't have the courage to look at her companion, although she's not exactly sure why. So she is startled when a soft warm hand wraps itself around her own and squeezes gently.

"I do as well, Elizabeth."

Teyla's hand tightens on hers, and Liz feels herself squeeze back. It feels real. Her chest hurts as a bubble of something burns and pushes itself up and out of her. "I miss my mother."

She hears the sadness in Teyla's voice when she responds, and tightens her hand around the younger woman's just a little more. "I do too."

"What was her name?"

They talk of nothing and everything until the pink streaks the sky and there are pauses in the conversation caused by short and unintentional naps. Liz finally trails off mid-sentence when she notices Teyla snoring into her pallet. Liz just smiles and drifts off to the realization that she's not had a girlie sleep over since her undergrad days.

Liz dreams of swimming in lakes and watching clouds.

When she wakes five hours later, Teyla is still snoring.

And it still feels real.

&

Some days later, Elizabeth wakes up at four in the morning with the realization that she is completely and utterly homesick. That she wants nothing more than to walk through the gate and home again, home again, jiggity jig.

And she knows she's not alone.

She asks Teyla about it, if indirectly. They are in Elizabeth's quarters drinking tea and talking about who was expecting when and who was courting who in the village on the mainland. It's a ritual of sorts they've started since their six-hour conversation.

She feels better after them. More connected.

"Do you miss home?" The question is strange, even as it leaves her mouth. She didn't mean to ask that. She'd meant to find more out about Wex's new crush.

Teyla just tilts her head, waiting for the rest.

"Do you miss your planet? Your home?" The mug is hard and slightly rough in her hands. It was a birthday gift from Peter. She's only just started using it again.

"Not more than you and your people, I think." Teyla shrugs and sips her own tea, composing her thoughts. It's a mannerism Elizabeth recognizes as one of her own, and she's oddly pleased to see it in the younger woman. "We had our world with us. You... did not. And I think that hurts you."

The smile that stretches across her face feels wrong. But it's an automatic reaction. She feels her spine straighten and she has to clamp her pinky down on the handle of her cup to keep it from rising to a proper angle. Thirteen years of diplomatic experience rise up and take over, so when she meets Teyla's eyes again, there is nothing. "Maybe."

Teyla smiles at her then. It is a secret smile, one filled with knowledge and just maybe, sympathy.

"What?"

"Come home with me this week, Elizabeth." Teyla tucks a piece of her growing hair behind an ear. "I think you need time away from this place."

Liz just stares for a moment before nodding her agreement. She's a bit surprised at her yes, but then again, not. She looks out at the blue gray sea through her windows. She used to love the water. Its moods. The way it was always the same, but always different.

It isn't different anymore.

She feels suddenly very old and tired.

Maybe it's time to try something else. Something more.

Teyla reaches over then, puts a hand on Liz's forearm. "There is work to be done in my home. And I think it would be good for you to visit a place that needs nothing from you but what you're willing to give."

Liz thinks Teyla knows more than she will ever let on.

She wonders if she'll ever find a balance here. Probably not, but she has to try something. And this is better than nothing.

&

"So you've finally come to visit, eh?"

Elizabeth blinks at the sudden dimness of the tent. Outside, the world is bright and warm, the mid-morning sun burning away the earlier chill. The older woman, whom she's met only in passing and for a rather uncomfortable – if funny – interview, is stirring something over a cook fire. It smells vaguely of leek soup, and Elizabeth has to blink just a bit harder for a few seconds.

Her father always made leek soup when he was feeling cranky.

"Charin." She tries to smile a greeting, but it comes out strained. "I guess you could say I have."

"Good, good! Come sit, Elizabeth Weir. I've heard stories from my Teyla about how you are pushing your mind too hard." Charin stands carefully in the way of old women. It's a movement that seems to have crossed galaxies.

With all the differences in culture and evolution, Elizabeth sometimes forgets the similarities.

"Don't stand because of me," she hurries over but stops just short of Charin. She doesn't know her well enough to judge if her help will be welcomed. "I'm sorry."

The older woman just smiles and holds out her elbow in a silly exaggeration.

"Aren't you a helpful girl... Sit, sit."

There is an extra stool on the other side of the cooking pot. Elizabeth sits, taking a good look around the tent. There are bundles of dried plants tied around the ceiling, and evidence of a recently cleaned animal of some sort. The skin is stretched wide in some type of frame. Everything looks useful. Used.

"Teyla said you wanted to talk to me?"

"Ah, that girl." Charin resettles herself on her stool and picks the wooden utensil up to continue stirring. "Something you may, or may not know, is that Teyla is a consummate meddler."

"So you didn't?"

"Oh, child. I didn't say that!" Almost absently, Charin reaches for an object on the table behind her and throws something brown and mushroom-ish in the soup. The wooden stick never changes rhythm at all. "I always want to speak to people. One of the dangers of getting old, I fear. When you finally have time to sit and chat, no one comes to see you."

Liz bites her lip. "Yeah."

Charin's eyes sharpen and take her in. "You know something about that, then?"

Liz shrugs, suddenly wishing for something to do with her hands.

The older woman smiles at her and stands again. This time, Liz is on her feet instantly, helping ease her up. Charin pats her shoulder and pushes her back down at the same time before moving towards the back of her tent. "You need something to do, Elizabeth."

"I have a lot to do."

"Maybe. But not the right things, I think." Charin is poking around some of the higher tables in the back, choosing and discarding bags and bundles at random. "When was the last time you did something just for the pleasure of doing it?"

"I... don't know." Her hands were suddenly fascinating. She needed to cut her nails.

"That is not a good, Elizabeth." The rustling stops suddenly, and Charin's footsteps are light across the hardpacked earth.

A bag drops in front of her nose. Liz cranes her head around and up.

"Bring these seeds back with you, child." The older woman's face is kind, and Liz can't help the quirk of her lips. "We weren't born to live on water. Each of us needs growing things to keep us honest. It keeps us well."

She takes the seeds, her hands shaking slightly. Her mother grew vegetables. Tied a rag around her hair and spent hours in the sun tilling soil and pulling weeds. Making things grow.

The bag is brown and tied with a leathery strap.

"Thank you," she tells the old woman.

"Thank you, little girl." Charin runs a hand down her cheek, patting it fondly. "Now don't be a stranger! We always need more women here. And more hands. Strong hands are never turned away. In fact, I know Kina needs help moving some bags from behind her tent. Come. I'll introduce you."

Elizabeth sleeps on the trip back, her body tired from chasing children and hauling peat. She holds the bag of seeds tight to her side, and when Teyla shakes her awake, she almost smiles.

&

Lexington looks at her oddly when she asks him to fly her over to the mainland with several large empty planters. She asks him because she doesn't want to ask John or McKay or Beckett. This is something she doesn't want to share with the people she's spent the most time with.

This is something for her and her alone right now.

He is leery, but chats to her about the schedule changes. They shovel soil into the planters over a discussion of his mother's inability to grow petunias and her own mother's prize winning tomatoes.

During the trip home, she finds out that he's terrible at typing and joined the marines to pay for college, but realized he liked the military better than being a poli-sci major. He laughs when she tells him he picked the lesser of two evils.

When they get back, he finds another marine to help them haul everything to the empty room next to her quarters.

They spend the time arranging pots discussing the ramifications of the Monroe Doctrine. By the time they've finished angling the planters for the best light, he knows several horror stories about her two brothers, and they are smiling at each other easily. So much so, he actually asks her if he can come help with the garden. When she says yes, she feels her smile reach her eyes for the first time in months.

&

John finds her kneeling on the floor, pulling weeds and doing a bit of minor pruning. She has dirt streaked across her face and clothing, and her hair is held back with a scrap of an old red shirt. She doesn't notice him at first. The plants are too interesting, and this is her down time. Only Teyla and Lexington and Radek come looking for her here, so when she glances up and finds him staring at her, she lets out a little shriek and lands flat on her ass.

He cracks a smile when she starts laughing. She laughs, full and with her entire self. It feels good.

John smiles brighter when she tones down to a giggle. A full grin, the likes of which she hasn't seen in months. That feels even better.

He walks over and offers her a hand up. She takes it and when she's on her feet he squeezes her hand just a little before letting go.

"I like your laugh," he says. "You should do it more."

Liz picks up her watering can and grins. Maybe she should.

"I'll try it. Now hand me that bag of manure."

"Bossy."

"Busy."

"Workaholic."

"Lazy."

In the end, she makes him go all the way to deck four to fill up her water can.

&

Elizabeth grows to love the village slowly. Organically.

Within its boundaries, she's just another person. A set of hands to be used. There are endless chores here. Earth to be turned and weeded. Nets to be mended and tied – and how much would her mother laugh if she knew her three months of intensive knitting training was serving her daughter so well – and produce to be harvested and processed.

Afternoon breaks are not laden with tension, even if the other women are never quite completely comfortable. They still laugh and smile and ask about her. They hand her children and chores. Smiles and hugs, while somewhat reserved, are present. And that reservation doesn't really bother Elizabeth, because their children have no such qualms.

To them, she is just Liz. She can smile and chase them and hug them with abandon.

And she's finally able to admit what she's been missing.

She'd been pregnant for all of ten minutes her senior year of college. The miscarriage had been more relief than an upset. She'd been twenty-one and too self-absorbed and scared to deal with anything outside of her school and rather casual relationship with Scott, the baby's father.

She'd known about her condition – and been quietly freaking out about it – for all of three days before cramps and bleeding had started.

Her doctor had said it had been nature's way of correcting a problem, and she'd never disbelieved it.

But over the years, she'd let herself occasionally wonder what would have happened if she'd carried the baby to term.

She's certain the child would have been adopted out. Not once during her three-day stint in purgatory had she ever considered keeping it. Had never felt any guilt over that knowledge either. She hadn't been ready. But she wonders about the person who might have been. The parents who didn't get a child.

The child who never was.

Staring down at Kina's six-month-old girl, Liz lets herself imagine her child again. Would it have been a boy or a girl? A brunette like her? Maybe a redhead like her father. Liz traces the curve of the baby's eyebrow with a light finger and smiles as the baby snuffles and shifts around in her sleep.

She knows that she'll never have a baby now. There is too much in her life. Too much worry and uncertainty and fear. But sitting in the afternoon sun that knowledge doesn't hurt like it used to. Because she's here now. This baby's here. This moment is just about perfect.

She has a life and a home, as distant and strange as it may feel sometimes.

And as the baby starts to fuss, Elizabeth smiles and rocks her close.

She thinks Radek has the right idea about wonder. Without it, there is no point.

&

The morning of her second anniversary in the Pegasus galaxy, she rises before the sun. It takes her almost ten minutes to find the right bloom among the riot in her little garden. The flower is broad and delicate and blue. It reminds her of an orchid, but the petals are too rough and, not for the first time, she's amazed at the sheer diversity of life.

She thinks of Peter and Simon and her mother and father and brothers and Earth as the sunrise burns around her and she drops her little bloom over the edge and down to the water below. It floats for an instant, dancing a little in the early morning breeze.

It's silly and sentimental, but it makes her happy.

That is the miracle, she thinks, and smiles before turning and going back into her quarters.

-fin-