Title: A Matter of Time
Categories: Sheppard/Weir ship, with Weir/everyone friendship. Angst.
Warnings: Character death
Spoilers: None, really. General season two stuff (like Ronon is there.)
Disclaimer: SGA is not mine . . . No, really. I'm serious here.
Summary: Faced with the horrific death of one of her best friends, Elizabeth is given the opportunity to weave through time in order to stop it. Problems abound when she realizes that time isn't as straightforward as she would like it to be, and this gift isn't as genuine as it would seem.
A/N: Beta'd by the wonderful trialia! Love you and your fabulous work!
Nominated for the Best Sheppard/Weir Angst Fic in the 2007 Stargate Fan Awards
Twenty seconds after Elizabeth touches the Ancient device, she jumps forward in time.
She doesn't realize it at first. She's still standing in the Temple of M3X-675. Rodney's still crouched down next to her reading the Ancient writings. John's still leaning casually against the opposing wall with an air of boredom. But there are other differences that are immediately palpable and confusing, such as it being nighttime instead of day, and that the others - Teyla and Ronon - have magically disappeared from the room.
She can vaguely hear the guys asking questions and debating and acting as if nothing is wrong at all, but she has a sudden pounding headache and everything turns blurry to her eyes as colors dance across the field of her vision. It leaves Elizabeth feeling dazed and confused, and she lingers in disoriented ignorance for several moments more.
It is at this point, she hears a voice in her head that whispers in an unknown foreign language that she still somehow understands. "It has begun," the voice says, decidedly male and unrecognizable to her. "You have been given the Gift of Time; four days' time. Use it wisely."
She suddenly passes out; questions and confusion turning into ash before they even have the chance to be uttered.
She wakes, not in the infirmary, but in the comfort of her own bed during the first minutes of a red sunrise in Atlantis. She blinks, disoriented, but the pain is gone and idly Elizabeth wonders if she imagined it all. Her throat is dry and she feels like a heavy blanket of concrete has been coated over her body - so weary is she to move - but the panic of her previous thoughts and recollections compel her into action. She moves, slowly throwing the comforter out of the way, bare feet hitting the cool tile floors of her city.
It was a horrible dream, Elizabeth decides slowly as she shakes off the coils of discomfort.
She moves after that, instantly restless, and decides to get an early start on the day since sleep at this point is unlikely. She grabs her clothes from a drawer and steps into the bathroom as the lighting slowly flickers on, and as Elizabeth stares at the pale reflection in the mirror, she finally starts questioning things.
Was M3X-675 entirely a dream? Had she imagined it all? As she struggles to remember the specifics of the world, the entire thing remains shrouded in a dazed amalgamation of different events and actions. An Ancient temple, with writing and artwork. Rodney and John arguing. A small ornate device. Light. Teyla handing her a thermos. Ronon standing guard. All of it mixes and blends together to form nothing more than what one would expect from the remnants of a dream, but Elizabeth feels the cold feeling of alarm still lingering inside of her. It had all been so real.
So incredibly real.
She showers and changes, and manages to put on a face of a woman who has it all together before stepping out into the hallways of Atlantis. She chooses not to use the transporters for once, needing the extra time in walking to clear her head of things indistinct and blurry.
She arrives in the 'Gate room, and climbs the grand staircase to greet the staff still on night duty. Chuck smiles at her from behind one of the consoles, but Elizabeth is too distracted to notice the tightness in the expression. She walks past him, nods at two other technicians, and enters her office. She closes the door, for once not wanting uninvited visitors, and drops down into her chair with a heavy and graceless thud.
Something is wrong, she instinctively knows, and done with trying to convince herself otherwise, Elizabeth snaps out of her denial and immediately goes to reach for her earpiece to contact either John or Rodney. Her breath quickens irrationally before she does, however, wondering and phrasing her words in her head before she says them.
Something is wrong, she wants to say. Something is just wrong.
Chuck knocks on her door and pops his head in before she can formulate anything more rational to say. "Ma'am?"
Elizabeth's head snaps up. "Yes?"
His eyes cloud with sympathy, and then he says, "The final funeral arrangements have been made."
She leaps in time again, except this time she's lucid and aware enough to finally realize what's happening. One moment she's sitting in her office, staring in disbelief as the unexpected words of "funeral arrangements" hang in the air, and then the next she's standing back on M3X-675 again. This time, the sun is still out, and Elizabeth stares with apprehension at the Ancient temple that glistens in the golden hue.
She needs to find Rodney and John. She needs to figure out what's going on.
"Doctor Weir?" Teyla says from behind, and when Elizabeth looks at her, she knows her face must betray her emotions. "Is everything alright?"
"No," Elizabeth breaths in horror.
This is the afternoon of the day before.
It wasn't a dream, although her recollection is so fuzzy and jumbled that it may as well have been one. It's not, though, and she freakishly entertains the possibility that she may be jumping back and forth in time for some yet incomprehensible reason. Desperately eager for answers that make sense, she urges Teyla to follow her as she marches into the temple in search of more of her people.
She finds Rodney and John just where she left them, arguing over nothing along the corners of one of the Ancient walls, bickering back and forth like children. She interrupts them without preamble or apology, and her demeanor instantly demands undivided attention.
John rises from his crouched position. "What's up, Elizabeth?"
She opens her mouth, no doubt about to say things that will make no sense to anyone - including herself - but she spots the Ancient device in the corner first. It sits, much like it always has, in one of the inlets carved into the wall - small, broken, and dirty with faded Ancient writing on its side. It's not much to look at, and Elizabeth dismissed it much like everyone else had when she first saw it.
Now, though, she remembers enough of the fuzzy recollection to realize that it all began when she touched it. She walks closer to it, and takes the effort to read the obscure writing on the side. "The Gift of Time," it says, and Elizabeth feels cold recognition swallow her tongue as she remembers the foreign voice now that had whispered those exact words inside her head. In another language.
Elizabeth had not remembered enough - had not been smart enough - to figure it out before now, but she's finally beginning to see beyond the confusion.
"That," she says, pointing to the device. "I need you to figure out what that does."
McKay snorts. "What was once an aesthetically pleasing ashtray?"
"I'm serious, Rodney," Elizabeth replies. "Check it out."
And then, unexpectedly, she jumps again.
She's being roughly pushed down onto a bed, as two orderlies wearing white bind her hands with restraints and strap in her legs. She starts panicking from the pure horror of the situation. She demands to know what's going on, but they continue to disregard her demands (and eventual pleas), singly determined to secure her as the struggle becomes chaotic when Elizabeth starts to actively fight the restraints out of pure panic.
She spots Carson making his way over, and positive that she can at least get answers out of him, she starts to speak. He surprises her by injecting her with something before the words can even leave her mouth, and as her vision turns blurry and faint, she pastes an expression of utter betrayal onto her face.
Everything turns to black, and she sleeps.
She leaps into awareness, instant and jarring, fighting the urge to let a scream pierce through her throat. She's sitting upright in her own bed again, breathing hard and covered in a cold sweat that soaks her pajamas. It's nighttime and she does not know what to do or think, but she can't let go of the pure terror that has gripped her from the inside. She runs a hand through her tousled hair, trying futilely to calm down.
She spots the figure slumped over awkwardly in the chair nearby before she's even leveled off her breathing. There's time enough for a moment's more worth of panic before she instantly recognizes the figure, even bathed in darkness and face half-covered by a jacket thrown haphazardly over his shoulder for warmth.
Elizabeth looks for a rationalization that would explain him slumbering in a chair near her bed in the middle of the night. Nothing makes any type of sense. She just wants to know what's going on, but as she reaches out to wake him, her hand pauses in midair and she instinctively feels the odd need to let him sleep.
She watches him rest for some time, too wired to sleep yet too hesitant to wake him. He looks thoroughly tired - even in his slumber - like he's fighting off the vestiges of a hard day unsuccessfully and has resigned himself to a fitful night's sleep. Elizabeth isn't sure if she wants to know the reason behind this, so she just stares, heart caught in her throat as she remembers the feeling of restraints and buckles being placed over her hands and feet to secure her... as though she were a threat to herself and others.
Maybe she was going insane, she thinks, in a poor attempt at humor.
It would certainly explain a lot.
She leaps into the exact moment that Rodney dies, pain etched onto his face as he clutches the ancient device in his hands. She watches in horror as his body jerks as bolts of electricity discharge from it and electrocute him alive.
They drown out her own.
She jumps again, into the quiet solitude of the balcony with nothing but a serene breeze and the shining stars above as her company. She isn't even aware of them. The horrific image of Rodney is still searing into her vision and she fights the revulsion she feels when she still smells the odor of burning flesh through her nose.
She doesn't even realize that she's hyperventilating until the breathing becomes such a problem that she has to put her head between her legs and force herself to calm down. It's at this point, in this undignified position, that she realizes she's not alone. She slowly stands up and turns around, and sees Ronon standing just on the other side of the entrance doors, hesitant yet intimidating all in one stance. Her eyes water over, and the image of him becomes nothing but a blurry outline.
"Is it true?" she breathes. "Did it really happen?"
Ronon looks confused. "What?"
"Rodney," she exclaims, like she could mean anything else at this moment. "Did he really die?"
The confusion still lingers on his face, but hints of concern mar it. "Yeah," he replies, voice carefully neutral. "You were there when it happened... remember?"
A sob breaks out, and slowly she settles down on the ground, too overwhelmed by the fresh memory of Rodney's death to think or act like her normal self. She's vaguely aware that Ronon pauses awkwardly near her, standing so tall that from her vantage point, she can't even see his face. Still, she can tell he seems unsure and awkward of what to do in this situation, and Elizabeth takes pity on him.
As silent tears stream down her face, she tells him she just wants to be left alone. Her voice sounds hollow and distant even to her own ears, but she doesn't have the energy to feel surprise or any sense of abandonment when Ronon actually heeds her words and leaves. He retreats back into the city, casting her a unique look of undisguised concern that she's too numb to care about. She's left alone, huddled on the floor in a disgraceful pile and too much in pain to care. Her sobs break out with more ferocity, and her breath hitches with pain as she accepts the unfathomable.
She doesn't know how long she stays in this position, but minutes pass by and just when her sobs begin to contain themselves, she feels the warmth of arms encircle her around the shoulders loosely. She looks up, stricken, to see John watching her with sympathy - no, empathy, understanding, of course John would understand! - in his eyes. His hold tightens, and Elizabeth thankfully leans into his warmth and support and holds on for dear life.
She jumps in time just as she begins to feel whole again.
She's sitting alone in Dr. Heightmeyer's office, and only because the computer sits directly in front of her on Kate's table does she notice the date that's displayed in the small right-hand corner of the monitor - it's four days from the last day she truly remembers and lived. Four days from the one in which she had touched the Ancient device, and she recalls the alien voice inside her head and remembers the significance of this.
"You have been given the Gift of Time," it had said. "Four days' time. Use it wisely."
The Gift of Time, Elizabeth thinks, and desperately wonders what it means. So far if she's right, she's done nothing but jump forward (and once back) in time in a jumbled mess that all circles around the death of one of her best friends.
What gift is that?
Then her eyes widen as she realizes the epiphany that any rational person should have reached long before now, had they not been grieving.
"I can change it," she whispers. "I can stop Rodney from dying."
"What was that, Elizabeth?" Kate asks, announcing her presence from the doorway.
Elizabeth turns her head, and spots the blonde psychologist entering the room. The fact that Elizabeth is in this location tells her more than she wants to know, and this coupled with the memory of restraints; she instinctively knows to play her cards close to her chest.
"Kate," she greets, trying to sound casual. Her attempt could have been better.
"How are you doing today, Elizabeth?" Kate questions, the picture of concern.
Elizabeth suddenly spies her own clearly marked personnel file amidst the paperwork Kate has in her hands, and feels paranoia grab hold. "I'm fine."
Kate nods. "Did you get any sleep last night?"
Elizabeth hesitates for a moment, because honestly, she doesn't really know. She actually hasn't experienced last night, yet. Or has she?
"Elizabeth?" Kate coaxes. "Did you hear me?"
"Yes," Elizabeth answers too quickly. "And yes to the other question, too. I slept well last night."
Kate nods. "Carson actually thought you spent most of the time tossing and turning. I just came over from talking with him."
Elizabeth stiffens in her chair, for two reasons. First - because Kate and Carson are apparently in cohorts with each other regarding her welfare, and that did nothing to make Elizabeth feel better about the current situation. And second - because the only way Carson would be aware of her sleeping habits of the previous night was if she had spent it over in the infirmary.
Did it really happen? Was she restrained like some wild animal?
Kate covers for Elizabeth's silence. "Elizabeth, I understand that with Rodney's death, this has been a difficult time for you, but I hope you realize that you have plenty of people here that care a great deal about your welfare. We're all only looking out for you."
She nods. "I know."
"So," Kate continues, trying to coax Elizabeth into saying more than just one syllable words. "Do you want to talk about what happened yesterday during Rodney's funeral?"
Elizabeth raises an eyebrow, and then decides she doesn't have to put up with this if she doesn't want to. She rises from her chair, ignoring the fact that this is going to look out of character for her, and attempts to look composed. "Kate, I understand that you're just trying to help, but I don't think this is going to work. I don't think talking it over is going to solve anything at this point, and I really need to get back to work."
"Work?" Kate repeats, in an odd tone. "Elizabeth, are you having memory problems again?"
She freezes in her place. "What?"
Kate replies somewhat cautiously, "After yesterday's... incident, the SGC decided to place Colonel Sheppard temporarily in charge. You've been relieved of duty."
Elizabeth stares, open-mouthed. "What?"
"You don't remember? Are you having blackouts again?"
"There are no blackouts!" Elizabeth responds incredulously, and suddenly feels the need to defend herself. "I've been exposed to an alien device, Kate, and I think it's–"
"–'Causing you to jump back and forth in time," Kate finishes, knowingly. "Yes, you've told us this before, but just this morning, you finally conceded that this wasn't really the case. Have you changed your mind since then?"
"What's going on?" Elizabeth demands, feeling all types of lost. "What's happened in the last couple of days?"
"So you don't remember?"
"Just tell me!" Elizabeth exclaims harsly, losing her patience.
Kate recoils in her chair. She clears her throat and tries again, "You've been acting... unlike your usual self, Elizabeth. Several people have remarked that you've been talking to yourself, and you've shown signs of memory impairment and irrational behavior ever since Rodney died. You've been desperately clinging to this notion that you've been affected by an alien device that allows you to travel through time, and that you'll be able to save his life."
"It's true," Elizabeth says, firmly.
Kate responds calmly, "Alright, then why haven't the scientists discovered anything to corroborate your claims about the device?... Because it was a torture device, Elizabeth, simply designed to inflict as much damage as possible to its victim. You never touched it, but you've been feeling a lot of guilt over the fact that you ordered Rodney to touch it, haven't you?"
Elizabeth swallows through her dry throat, realizing that parts of Kate's words are accurate. She had ordered him to inspect the device, but it was some sort of time machine, not a torture device! She doesn't understand why it electrocuted Rodney and chose instead to transport her across time, but she knows she can't afford to let Kate's words sting more than necessary.
She forces any guilt she has into righteous indignation. "So what? I've created this little time-traveling scenario in my head to help cope with the guilt?"
"People have remarkable coping devices," Kate informs, softly. "The mind can be very convincing when it wants to be."
She's praying in that moment to jump in the time-line again, just to prove Kate wrong.
The rest of the day convinces Elizabeth that everybody on Atlantis thinks she's gone 'round the bend, too consumed by guilt to function rationally. The technicians and scientists all eye her warily and awkwardly when she goes to visit them, asking for information regarding the Ancient device so she can hear the analysis first-hand. They tell her what Kate did - it's a torture device, probably placed there to punish any violators who trespass onto the sacred grounds of the Temple.
She refuses to believe any of this, but she can tell by the looks in their eyes that whatever actions she's taken in the last four days has diminished her pull with them. Whatever she's done, it's severely compromised her standing as the competent leader for this expedition, and people regard her with barely concealed pity now.
Even her friends act this way towards her. Carson's too gentle with her, Radek avoids eye contact, and Teyla just listens with a sympathy and pity in her eyes that she cannot bear to look at for more than five minutes. She leaves them all, desperately frustrated, and goes to find the location of the one man she hopes above everyone else will believe her.
She finds John Sheppard in her office, temporarily occupying her chair. She feels like slamming the door shut behind her in frustration, but the last thing she needs is to give the people of this city more reasons to think little of her. She closes the door behind her - softly - and turns back to regard John with resolute eyes.
"Okay," she says, winding up the pitch she's formulated in her head. "I've been patronized, belittled, and pitied in the last several hours. My words have not been given any weight whatsoever, despite the fact that until yesterday I remained the competent leader of Atlantis. An alien device has killed the leading scientist of this expedition - not to mention one of our closest friends - and the only one asking questions is me. Am I the only one who sees how wrong that is?!"
John attempts to open his mouth, but Elizabeth silences him with nothing but a glare.
"There is something wrong about the way Rodney died," she states, unwavering, "but whether you believe me on the whole time-traveling issue or not, you owe it to Rodney to give it the benefit of the doubt. Stranger things have happened, especially in the Pegasus Galaxy, and I don't care if I've been dancing around naked with a lampshade over my head the last couple of days! Rodney deserves to have every option and avenue available to us exhausted several times over before you decide to lock me up in the loony bin! I can save Rodney, John. You just have to trust me!"
John blinks, then looks up lazily at her. "I do."
"Yeah, well..." she starts again, and then trails off. "You do?"
John smirks, hints of wry amusement peeking through. "Let me guess, you're still new to the whole time-jumping thing right now, aren't you?"
Elizabeth pauses. "Yeah."
"Thought so," he says. "If you were from later in the time-jumps, you'd already know I believe you when you say you've been - what's a good way of putting this? Playing hopscotch with time."
"Oh," Elizabeth responds, meekly. "I just thought... since everybody else thought... that you would also..." She clears her throat, and then just spits it out, "Why don't you think I'm crazy like everyone else?"
"Long story," John replies, turning annoyingly smug about it for some reason.
She stares, waiting for the explanation, but he doesn't continue. She sighs, giving up, and goes to flop down in one of the visitors' chairs in her own office with her head in her hands. She is so confused and disoriented and in such an entirely screwed up situation that she doesn't even know where to begin.
Honestly, a part of her realizes that if John hadn't stated his complete trust in her sanity, she might have seriously started to question it herself. He comes around the corner of her desk and leans on it for support, nudging her to pull her out of her funk.
"It's going to be alright, you know," he says, and she wants nothing more in that moment than to let herself believe him.
She pulls away, and stares at him. "What the hell is going on with me, John?"
John's face scrunches up in confusion. "Honestly, I haven't got a clue. I only know what you know. You've been jumping back and forth in time since the moment you touched that Ancient device four days ago. Sometimes your jumps last seconds, sometimes hours, but you are never given any warning beforehand and you never repeat the same time period twice."
"Why?" Elizabeth asks, desperately.
"Don't know that either," John answers, sounding sympathetic. "The scientists haven't come up with anything about that damn device. They still think it's a torture device."
"And they think I'm insane for saying otherwise," Elizabeth finishes.
He looks slightly abashed. "When you kept going on and on about the time-jumping with no proof to back it up, the brass back home got a little nervous. And... well, after the thing at Rodney's funeral yesterday, they placed me in charge, and the only reason I haven't publicly backed you up yet is because you asked me not to."
Elizabeth nods, seeing the rationale. "We need at least one of us in charge here."
John smiles cheekily. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I think we both agree that we'd rather have you in charge any day of the week. And twice on Sunday."
"Anything else I need to know?"
"Yeah," John says, voice turning somber. "You need to listen to what I have to say, Elizabeth. Very carefully. You've been jumping back and forth through time, but the only thing that really matters is that you change the events of what happens when you jump back to the Temple four days ago. Make sure Rodney never touches the device. If you change that, you will change everything else. That's the only thing you need to concern yourself with. The rest is just gravy."
"Yeah," Elizabeth breathes, nodding.
"And for God's sakes, whatever you do, just don't–"
Which is, of course, when she jumps.
"You planning on finishing that?" Ronon asks.
Elizabeth jumps because his rough voice is directly near her ear. She turns to find Ronon sitting next to her in the Mess hall, somewhere around lunchtime if the amount of people and the amount of sun streaming into the room means anything. He points over to the blue Jell-O disregarded on her own tray, and repeats the question.
"Uh," Elizabeth replies, ever so eloquently - what is it about this man that makes all her linguistic skills go right out the window? "Sure, take it."
He snatches the food up without hesitation, and goes to work on it with such a singular devotion in the task that Elizabeth has to force herself not to openly stare at him. She clears her throat, and rises from her seat just in time to spot Teyla coming over to join her table.
"You are leaving, Doctor Weir?" Teyla asks, with more concern than the question should warrant.
"Yeah," she replies, quickly. "I've just... I've got things to take care of."
Teyla nods, setting her tray down on the tabletop. "Of course. If there is anything that I can help with, please do not hesitate to ask."
Ronon interrupts before Elizabeth can answer. "She still needs help with the eulogy."
Elizabeth turns to stare at him. "What?"
"You just got done telling me you couldn't finish writing the eulogy," Ronon says, matter-of-factly. "Teyla's good with words."
When she glances back up at Teyla, she sees the vestiges of grief flicker across Teyla's face for a split second before it's smoothed over with a carefully controlled expression. For that reason alone, Elizabeth has trouble finding the words to immediately backtrack from Ronon's suggestion.
"I am sure," Teyla begins, voice uncharacteristically unsteady, "that Doctor Weir will be able to handle the details of Rodney's eulogy by herself. I am sure she does not need my help."
"Actually," Elizabeth finds herself saying, surprising both Teyla and herself. "I... I could use some help."
They make it back to her office in record time, only because for once Elizabeth is not pulled aside for a quick word by every passing technician or scientist en route. They all nod at the two women casually, but she sees the flicker of sympathy in their collective stares. It's not contaminated with the same dose of pity and avoidance she had seen from people in her last jump. The masses weren't weary of her and her sanity at this point; they were just respectfully distant of all the mourners.
Teyla, of course, is taking Rodney's death equally as hard as anybody else, if the dark circles and the tired eyes are any indicators to go by. It may be morbid, but Elizabeth actually feels closer to the Athosian because of this. She never understood people who could sweep past death and destruction and carry on as if nothing had happened. She's felt every death in her life with a deep sense of personal loss - including the long list of men and women who had served and died under her command - but this one was more stinging than usual.
It was Rodney, after all.
"How much have you written?" Teyla asks, as they walk into Elizabeth's office.
Elizabeth pauses, because yet again, she doesn't know the answer. "I was actually hoping to start fresh," she replies, thinking quickly. "I don't particularly like what I've written so far."
She spends the next couple of hours working out Rodney's eulogy with Teyla, and together, they write a speech that Elizabeth thinks is oddly appropriate for a man like Rodney. It's long-winded, but thoroughly insightful. It begins with his accomplishments and his sacrifice - and she highly doubts Rodney would have wanted it any other way - but in addition to the long lists of merits and achievements Rodney had accomplished in his life, they end up talking about the man behind the scientist.
They talk about the man whose depth and complexities were limitless and treasured among the few who were honored enough to call him their friend. They fill the speech with clever anecdotes and humorous stories, and talk about a man that everybody knew, but only few understood.
By the end of it, Teyla excuses herself and retreats into the sanctuary of her own private room, and Elizabeth has the feeling that tonight, she won't be the only one who's going to be able to think of Rodney and perhaps smile through the grief.
Rodney, Elizabeth thinks, this time I promise I'll get to save you.
The next jump turns out to be much like the last, with Elizabeth biding time until the only jump of significance approaches. She feels restless as she walks through the hallways on the day when Rodney dies, seeing the ashen faces of her colleagues and friends around her. They suffer from a grief that she's forcefully putting behind her, determined to change the past and prevent the future, but it's difficult to manage when she's constantly reminded of the fact that no other person here has been afforded the same hope that she has.
She runs into Radek in one of the transporters, hair disheveled and eyes conspicuously red. He looks surprised to see her out of the infirmary so soon after the disastrous mission, and Elizabeth awkwardly deflects the question by shrugging and picking her destination on the transporter map. Everybody else seems slow to move on this day, and she knows what it must look like for her to be moving at regular pace by comparison.
"Have you discovered anything about the device?" she asks, more to cover up the strangling silence between them than anything else. She's already well aware of the conclusions his research will turn up. Honestly, she idly thinks, the only person that could have truly figured out the device was probably Rodney.
Irony was just plain cruel sometimes.
Radek fumbles for words, "It a-appears as if the Ancient device was, uh, designed to impose massive amounts of electricity through physical contact with its . . . subject. For what purpose, I do not yet know. I cannot figure out any other function for it yet, but I'm continuing my work. Rest assured, Dr. Weir, I have the entire team working on this. We'll figure out the device."
Elizabeth nods, wishing that were true. "Radek... can I ask you an odd question?"
Radek nods, waving one of his hands around slightly. "Of course, Dr. Weir. Anything."
She wants to ask him about the specifics of time travel, because astrophysics and the theories that Rodney specialized in always went completely over her head. She wants someone to break it down for her. She hesitates, though, because she knows now that talking about this may lead to problems in the future that she can't afford to have.
"Never mind," she says, waving off the question. "It doesn't matter."
As she steps off the transporter, she decides then and there that the only person she'll dare to utter the words "time travel" to... is John.
She leaps before she can find him.
"–willing to put last night behind us if you are," John says, licking his lips.
"What?" Elizabeth asks confused, and then looks around the place and realizes that for some reason they're standing in an empty mid-size storage closet filled with cleaning supplies and large storage bins. She looks back at John with utter bewilderment. "John, why are we in a closet?"
John pauses, mouth opening and closing. "You just jumped into this moment, didn't you?"
She nods, glad that at least she doesn't have to explain herself for once. Although, if he would offer some explanation, that would certainly be nice. She raises an eyebrow, waiting expectantly for John to continue, but for some reason he becomes interested in staring at everything in the small confined space except her. He eyes a bottle of detergent with more intensity than it deserves and mumbles something she can't quite make out.
"I needed to talk to you in private," he repeats, this time more audibly, "a-about your jumping. I didn't think it would be a conversation that we'd want to have in public."
She nods. "Alright, but... a storage closet?"
"Seemed like a good idea at the time," John says, shrugging. He finally looks her in the eye, and asks a little too cautiously, "How are things going on your end?"
She plasters on a smile. "I think I need a vacation after this."
"Yeah," John replies, licking his lips again in a nervousness that has Elizabeth immediately suspicious. "Crazy couple of days, huh?"
She pauses, and then point-blank asks, "What happened last night, John?"
John visibly sputters, "Who said anything happened last night?"
She raises an eyebrow again, not amused. "You did. When I leaped in here, you were saying something about putting last night behind us. What did you mean by that?" When he hesitates to answer, sudden realization dawns on her. "Oh, you were talking about falling asleep on my chair, weren't you? Was that last night?"
He nods quickly. "Yeah. I just, um, wanted to make sure you were all right. With me sleeping on your chair. Last night."
Elizabeth's shoulders sag, and she feels like a complete jackass. "God, John, of course I am. It meant a lot to me that you were there. I must have been in a really bad place for you to sleep over like that."
His eyes stop avoiding her entirely at this point, and he regards her with a hint of concern. "It wasn't pretty, I'll admit that."
She sighs. "I'm better now." She pauses, eyeing their surroundings. "Although the last thing either one of us needs at this point is to fuel outrageous rumors. The two of us emerging from a storage closet?"
John has the audacity to smirk. "Yeah, those rumors would be... interesting."
She jumps in the middle of sending him her best glare.
"--undifferentiated type of schizophrenia," Kate says, from somewhere nearby.
"So, what Doc?" John replies, incredulous. "She's lost all touch with reality?"
Kate hesitates. "That may very well be the case, Colonel."
She jumps again, onto M3X-675, but this isn't the moment of opportunity she's been waiting on.
Rodney's body is being placed into a body bag by one of Carson's men, and the sight of his slightly charred body instantly brings about a gag reflex that she has to brutally fight down. She turns around to find John, Teyla, and Ronon standing in the distance. They eye the body bag as it makes its journey through the already established wormhole, and Elizabeth desperately wants to go over and say something comforting to them, but she realizes that this is a moment for the team, and as much as she is part of Atlantis, she knows that there is a special connection that she will never be a part of between team members.
Ronon stands to his full height, hands futilely clutched around his weapon. He looks merely angry to a pedestrian observer passing by, but she's observed him enough times to distinguish between this anger and his other ones.
Teyla stands between the two men, and Elizabeth can't help but notice how small she looks in comparison to them. One wouldn't be able to predict that of the three, she was probably the most apt warrior. The effect is probably augmented by the fact that her eyes are already slightly red and puffy from recent abuse.
John looks the most contained of the three, with not a flicker of emotion betraying him in any way as he watches the body bag being carried away. Yellow-tinted sunglasses cover his eyes, though, and because of this, Elizabeth knows the entire thing is a façade.
She steps into her allotted role then, and deals with the post-mission red tape as best as she can. She tells Carson to perform the autopsy, and orders Radek to begin his study on the Ancient device. When questions are asked of the events, she steps forward and answers them all even though she's limited as to the actual details of what happened.
She just doesn't want anyone to bother John's team at the moment, and it's only fair that since she's had so much time to deal with the situation, that they be allowed the time to grieve. She orders them to immediately rest after the post-mission check up. John doesn't offer one protest or comment the entire time.
That, more than anything, makes her concerned.
She leaps into the infirmary again, but thankfully this time, she's not strapped down to the bed. The white screen has been drawn to give her some privacy, and she absentmindedly wonders exactly when she is in the timeline. As far as she can tell, she's experienced several events during every day of the last four days.
Day one centered round Rodney's death and the aftermath of it. She remembers briefly talking with Radek in the transporter, and she also figures this day included the night on the balcony, when she'd broken down over the horrific memory of Rodney's death and John had to comfort her. Probably it was also the same night he had spent in her room curled up uncomfortably in her chair. After her breakdown on the balcony, she could see why he'd feel compelled to watch over her during the night. She winces when she remembers how completely distraught she had been, and she quickly moves on to other thoughts to avoid lingering on those unsettling memories.
The second day included that odd conversation with John in the storage closet, lunch with Ronon, and writing out Rodney's eulogy with Teyla. She tries to think of what else happened on this day, but she doesn't think she's experienced much of it yet.
Most of the third day remains a complete mystery to her as well, although she's gathered enough intelligence on it that she's realized she must have done something insanely out of character for her, because it immediately gets her relieved of command and spending a night in the infirmary hopped up on sedatives. Something happened during Rodney's funeral, although she has no idea about the specific details of what.
Then, there was the fourth and final day. It included her disturbing talk with Kate, and the crystal clear epiphany that everyone in Atlantis thought she was thoroughly unhinged.
Elizabeth quickly moves away from that memory, though, and chooses to focus instead on the fact that by that point in time, John was already convinced of her theory of time-travel and still behind her. Although why he continued to believe her when everyone else thought she was insane was still a mystery. She doesn't care, though. At least someone believes in her.
Yet there are too many other blank spaces in between. Too many things that she doesn't know about yet. Too much time left unaccounted for. How was she supposed to act normal under these conditions? She can't afford to be labeled unstable again, but as the numerous question marks that surrounded her keep adding up, she fears she might eventually slip up again in some way obvious to everybody but her.
Carson pulls aside the curtain, and enters her private little area. "How you feeling today, Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth shifts in her seat. "I'm better."
"Are you still having headaches?"
Elizabeth shakes her head. "No, um, I'm better today, Carson. Really."
"Well, that's good to hear," Carson says cheerfully, but she knows him well enough to realize it's an act. "I just want to check over some things."
"Alright," Elizabeth says, and tries to stop her fidgeting in nervousness. She knows her demeanor isn't helping her any.
"I suppose I'll start with the obvious questions. Have you heard anymore voices?"
"Voices?" Elizabeth repeats.
"In your head," Carson clarifies, "Have they come back?"
Elizabeth pauses, trying to formulate an answer. The only voice she's heard in her head happened during the first day, when she initially time-jumped. That alien voice had yet to return. "No," Elizabeth says, fumbling for quick words. "N-no more voices in my head."
"Good," Carson says with forced cheer optimism. "You were also going on a wee bit last night about different things. Do you remember what happened? What you said?"
Elizabeth reluctantly answers, "Not much, really."
Carson doesn't do anything as mundane as write "memory loss" onto her chart, but Elizabeth feels herself sink into her bed just a little bit more at the tight expression on his face. "You were talking about time-travel, Elizabeth," Carson says after a moment. "You were... almost rambling on and on about the Ancient device. You said it was a time-machine, love."
Elizabeth opens her mouth, and decides now was the time to take command. "I was obviously under a lot of pressure before, Carson. You know, with..."
"With Rodney's funeral," Carson finishes, and Elizabeth reiterates the fact to herself that whatever happened there must have truly been disastrous on an epic scale.
"Right," she continues, awkwardly, "Rodney's funeral just... put a lot of pressure on me. I just need some time to decompress, Carson. Most of what I said and did before was... the grief talking."
Carson raises an eyebrow, disbelieving. "Those were strange things to say, for grief."
Elizabeth licks her lips. "I know. I know that there's no excuse for it, and I probably need to be given some time off," especially since she already knew for a fact that the SGC were going to place John in charge. "But I'm willing to take responsibility for my actions now. Rodney's death... it was just a complete shock to me. I just need some time to deal with it."
All of this is a complete pack of poorly formulated assurances, but Elizabeth doesn't particularly concern herself with the appearance too much. She's probably going to time-jump out of this situation within moments or hours, and it's easier dealing with Carson's concerned looks when she knows all of this will probably be null and void after she saves Rodney's life.
She just has to bide her time, play her role, until she leaps into the next time-jump, and the one after that, and the one after, until she makes it to the point where she can save his life and prevent any of this from ever happening.
"Alright," Carson concedes, sounding appropriately cautious about her sudden turnabout. "I'd like you to talk with Kate, though."
Elizabeth nods, remembering that technically, she's already done that. Carson moves away to open up the white curtain and ask one of his nurses for something. Elizabeth takes the moment to breathe in and out deeply, calming herself.
She has a goal, she tells herself, and she just has to stick with that goal without letting anything else distract her.
She jumps into bed with John, both literally and figuratively.
He lands on top of her - hands pinning down hers on either side of her body as the heat between them is instantly overwhelming. His lips are chasing hers when she pulls away, abruptly alarmed, but she can't find enough time to breathe, much less break the contact between them to utter words. He instantly recaptures her lips in a fierce brush, tongue forcefully invading her mouth and tinged with a desperation in him that she can't help but respond to - if only on an instinctual level.
She finds herself moaning against his mouth, instantly attuned to his body and her own desires set kindling long before she jumped into this moment. She feels the tension of a body worked up and brought to the edge of heat, and she can't stop this from continuing and expanding beyond the scopes of rationale. Protests and cognitive thinking abandon her entirely when his touch turns more demanding, wanting more skin on skin, more contact, and God help her, she's immediately submitting to him without resistance.
When his legs intertwine hers across the expanse of her bed, and he roughly pulls his own shirt over his head and exposes a lean and muscled chest underneath that's too tempting not to touch, she realizes that disentangling them might prove more difficult than she imagines. She needs to stop this. Now.
Or it might not stop at all.
"Wait," Elizabeth protests, forcefully starting to pull free from under him. She can feel his desire and need pressed against her thigh, and it spreads a warmth through her that is not entirely based on embarrassment. John's fingers are fumbling with his own zipper, pants dangerously exposed in areas she forces herself not to focus on. She really has to stop this. "John," she protests further. "Stop!"
She wiggles out from under him, slithering across the bed desperately in an attempt to put some distance between them. She's thankful, relieved, and even slightly disappointed when he doesn't chase her. Her breathing is quick and frantic, and she fights down the aroused feelings betrayed in her own body. When she looks back at him, John's eyes are clouded with a carnal desire - for her - that's so naked and intense that the immediate protests she has on her lips die and she fumbles for words again.
His breathing is thick and audible in the silent wake, but his fingers thankfully ease off from dispatching more of his clothing. She sees comprehension flicker in his eyes, although it does nothing to diminish the intensity of them. "You... you just jumped, didn't you?"
Elizabeth nods, wide-eyed and mute.
He sighs, and she can feel the utter frustration ebbing off him in waves when realization fully sets in and he has to force himself back from wherever he was headed. His fingers curl into fists, and he forces his breathing to even out.
She just stares, unable to add anything productive to the moments of suffocating silence that follow, and idly she realizes that she's clad in nothing but her red shirt, bra, and panties. She edges off the bed when she spots her robe, and goes and quickly slips it on. She's acutely aware that his eyes follow her every move. Her face is red, but her body is shivering - not from the cool temperature of the room, but because she's not completely surrounded by his warmth anymore.
For a moment, she wonders exactly why it was necessary she had to pull away from him like that?
She can't force herself to turn around, though, too overwhelmed and flustered to risk looking into his eyes again. She continues to feel the weight of his stare upon her, but eventually the rustle of movement notifies her to the fact that he's gathering up his clothes. She doesn't protest when he passes her by moments later, shoulder lightly brushing against hers on his way out.
He stops before the doorway, shadows outlining the curve and tension of his body as he slips his shirt back on and tries to visibly recover his composure. He half-turns back, says a quick apology that's barely audible, and then quickly leaves the room as soon as the door swishes open with command.
She's left standing alone in the dark, in the middle of her room, with her robe drawn closed by a small bundle of gatherings held together by her tightly fisted knuckles. She feels exposed, and vulnerable, and cold, and so many other things too primal to put to name.
Most of all she feels so incredibly alone.
It takes her a while for her body to unclench from the coiled anxiety and pent up frustration, but when it does, she's left to aimlessly pace back and forth in her room. She's too restless to sit still for a moment, and too overwhelmed by the sense of his smell covering the bed sheets to risk lying down. She's stalked by the memory of him no matter which way she turns or what object she focuses on.
She can still taste him on her lips, and the memory of his hands exploring her body, her curves and dips, in such a way that every time she thinks she's under control, a slight tactile memory of the sensation resurfaces and she's forced to fight down her body's reactions to it all over again.
It's wrong. It's stupid. This is John she is thinking about - her second-in-command, her friend, and nothing more. John Sheppard, the flyboy whose track-record with women included a long list of one-night stands that she did not want to become a part of. No matter how good - how frustratingly right - it felt to have his hands pinning her down to the bed, she was not going to become another notch on his belt.
She values their friendship too much for that, and the thought that irreparable damage has already been done manages to freak Elizabeth out more than anything.
She saw the way he had looked at her, though - saw the desire that she had never seen from any other man. The intensity and demand of his lips had been too vivid to dismiss, and while she always entertained a slight girlish crush on him, so very un-immune to his charms and boyish good looks, she always kept strict separation between reality and fantasy. She was a mature woman, after all, and John was an attractive man whose charm and devil-may-care attitude made him appealing to many women. So honestly, there was nothing really wrong with entertaining the idle speculations of "what if" between them.
But Lt. Colonel John Sheppard was her friend and second-in-command, and any idle daydreams about him were to be kept in the strict confines of her thoughts. She never should have allowed their relationships to step beyond the line of impropriety in real life. She couldn't afford to disregard the consequences of such an action, even for an instant.
What could we have possibly been thinking?
Suddenly, though, Elizabeth spots the outline of a letter abandoned on her nightstand. The handwriting on it is as familiar as her writing, although it's not hers. It's John's. She comes to inspect it closer and finds that the letter is addressed to Jeannie McKay, Rodney's sister. For the first time, since this whole mess began, she's managed to go an entire leap without thinking about Rodney's death.
Leave it to John Sheppard to provide her with such a... creative distraction.
As she reads through the letter that John has written, her eyes begin to sting and an epiphany sparkles with clarity.
Oh God, Elizabeth thinks, realizing that not only had she abruptly pulled away from John at a cruelly inopportune time, but she had done it to a man who was still grieving the loss of his best friend. She might as well have kicked him in the stomach for good measure.
She finds herself thinking about the moment on the balcony days ago, when she'd been so crushed by heartache and grief. John had been there for her. John had been there for her whenever she had needed him, even when others had abandoned her or disregarded her words. He was always the person she turned to, and the one time he may have needed comfort, she throws him out of her room? Instantly ashamed, she rethinks everything through and sees it in new light.
She jumps before she has the opportunity to put her fresh thoughts into action.
Ronon is walking beside her down the hallways of Atlantis, and since she doesn't know where she's going, she makes the quick decision to simply follow his lead. He walks through the crowds, people dispensing and stepping out of the way to give the Runner a wide breach to walk through. Elizabeth immediately notices the abundance of black clothing and the garlands of flowers that several of the scientists carry.
It's the day of Rodney's funeral.
The knowledge that something disastrous is looming makes Elizabeth fidget with the buttons on her black blazer. Ronon glances down at her, and although he must be accustomed to seeing her flustered around him, something about her demeanor must seem even more out of place today, because he comments on it.
"You've been acting strange lately," he says, and turns his eyes back on the pathway in front of him.
"It's been a troubling couple of days," Elizabeth replies, wondering how many times she can use some variation of that line before people begin to suspect and realize that it's a ploy to deflect. Under normal circumstances, she would have figured people would call her on it long before now, but she's been surprised at how easily this line has placated the masses regarding her odd behavior during the last couple of days.
It doesn't work on Ronon, and honestly, she shouldn't have been surprised. "It's more than that," Ronon argues, without actually taking an argumentative tone. He mostly sounds bored. "People are starting to talk."
"They are, are they?" Elizabeth asks. "I never took you as one to listen to gossip, Ronon."
He looks her over, and says simply, "Sometimes it's good to know what everybody else thinks."
She jumps right when they reach the 'Gate room, with the coffin within sight.
"So," John is saying, slightly incredulous. "You've been jumping back and forth through time since yesterday, when you touched the Ancient device?"
They're sitting in her office during the midday rush, and Elizabeth opens her mouth and then closes it. She drops her head into her hands and breathes deeply in frustration. "Would you believe that I just jumped into this conversation this second?"
"Um," John stammers, looking hesitant. "Well, that would be really... interesting. And also confusing. Why haven't you mentioned any of this before?"
She looks him in the eye, pleading. "Because people will look at me like you're looking at me right now. Like I've lost my mind."
John tosses her a smirk. "I don't think you're crazy, Elizabeth. A little bit stressed, maybe–"
"Don't joke about this," Elizabeth snaps, nerves strained. "You may find this incredibly amusing right now, but I assure it's entirely real and I've never felt less amused about anything in my entire life."
John's smile quickly ebbs away. "Alright, so you've been to the future," he says, forcefully light and with an air of contemplation. "That's really not a claim you make everyday, even if you're us, so I'm willing to hear you out."
Elizabeth nods. "Okay, but John, you can't tell anyone else about this. Everybody else won't have such a charitable reaction to my story as you. Trust me, I know. I've been at the end of this road and it leads to me getting classified as "unstable" by the powers that be."
John raises an eyebrow. "Alright, that's... disconcerting. Elizabeth, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to respond to this... Can I ask for some proof here or is that somehow considered in poor taste?"
"Of course you can ask," Elizabeth replies, "but I'm not sure there's any proof to be had. What do you want to know?"
John shrugs. "Tell me something about the future. Something that happens that I wouldn't see coming."
Instantly, the fact that they almost slept together leaps to mind, but Elizabeth tries to push down this thought immediately. She blushes, though, and she hates herself a little when her voice turns slightly more high-pitched than necessary, "Something you wouldn't see coming?"
He nods, catching onto her shift in behavior with interest. "Yes," he says, drawing out the word with emphasis. "Something I wouldn't see coming."
She fumbles for words, irrationally paranoid that he can somehow see into her mind and pick out details of the intimate events that have yet to transpire. "Uh, I'll be d-drugged," she says, tripping over her words. "The night of Rodney's funeral, something will happen - I don't know what - and I'm going to be forced into the observation room in the infirmary. Carson will inject me with sedatives, apparently for my own well being."
The expression on John's face turns angry and incredulous. "They're going to drug you?"
Elizabeth shrugs awkwardly. "Yeah."
"Alright," John replies, expression quickly closing off. "Rodney's funeral is tomorrow. I'll see what I can do to stop it."
"You don't have to stop it," Elizabeth replies instantly, then backtracks, "Well, yes, if you can stop it, then that's really fantastic. But honestly at this point I'm beyond caring. The only thing that matters is that I change the events that happen in the Temple. You said Rodney died yesterday? I can prevent that from ever happening, John. I just have to wait for the right time-jump."
For the first time in the entire discussion, she sees true life breathe into his eyes. "You can save Rodney?"
"I can save Rodney," Elizabeth repeats, adamantly hopeful.
They spend the rest of the hour talking, going over the details of her jumps and the time-line of events that she's gathered information about. She leaves out only the personal events that occurred between them, too embarrassed and flustered about them to even think of telling him.
It's perhaps wrong that she's trying to prevent him from learning this information. He has equal rights to this knowledge as she does - after all, it involves them both - but she can't bring herself to even look him in the eye when she recalls the events of that night.
She feels even more flustered when she remembers that just before she leaped away that night, she had come to the solid decision to track John down and apologize. In retrospect, Elizabeth acknowledges that this action would have probably led to more than just an apology, and her ears turn red as she realizes that the thought of them sleeping together isn't such a bad idea anymore. She catches herself when she realizes that she's almost hopeful to jump back into that night, so that she could finish what they never really had the chance to before.
As she stares at him across the glass table of her office, she's overcome with the knowledge that she wants to taste John's lips again, and feel his comforting presence surround her in every way imaginable. The flustered awkwardness of her actions immediately disappears as the intensity of this knowledge solidifies, and when she catches John's eye in the middle of his words, she knows there's not an ounce of embarrassment marring her face.
He stops talking instantly, and they just stare at each other across the table.
A knock at the door shatters the moment, and Radek enters, oblivious to the sudden tension-filled air between them. He immediately starts mumbling and fidgeting, reporting his conclusions on the Ancient device. It's all the information that Elizabeth already knows, and has told John about, so when Radek mentions the previously unannounced conclusion that the device was in fact a "torture device," John trades a look with her and Elizabeth feels absolutely secure in the fact that he's sold on her time-jumping theory.
Elizabeth and John walk Radek out of her office after the informal meeting is over, and while Radek separates from them near the 'Gate room, John decides to join her for a quick lunch over at the mess. They enter an empty transporter in unison, and when the door closes, she notices that John hasn't picked the destination yet.
"John, is something wrong?"
He turns to her, and says in a light tone, "You tell me. Why do I get the feeling that you're not telling me everything?"
She pauses, and then somehow musters the resolve to look him in the eye again. "Actually, there is something."
She leans forward and kisses him before she can think too much about it. It's brief and light, but the intention behind it could not be more obvious and apparent. It doesn't offer any opportunity for John to respond, however, so when she pulls back and looks up at him, she feels six different kinds of exposed and vulnerable.
"That," she whispers, lips still incredibly close to his.
He looks stunned more than anything, but that's not the emotion she was hoping to see reflected in his eyes. She has no idea what reaction she was expecting - maybe one that mirrored the desire she had seen in him that night? - but the severity of her actions quickly catches up with her and she feels like crawling into a dark hole.
She should have known allowing herself even one moment of selfishness in the midst of all this chaos would only result in more chaos. She should have realized that kissing John was just a bad idea even under the best of circumstances, and these obviously weren't the best of circumstances.
Then he leans forward and captures her lips with a kiss of his own, more eagerly and actively than her first one, and all thoughts predictably abandon her. It's slow and methodical, with only a fraction of the unrestrained passion she knows he can unleash when he really lets go. Yet, as it deepens and draws her in, for a moment she feels like there's nothing wrong with the world at all.
Perfection, she thinks numbly.
"She's going into cardiac arrest! We're losing her!"
"Elizabeth, hold on!"
"Get the med-kit!"
Elizabeth leaps again, with an instant headache pounding away and alarm flashing through her at the memory from her previous time-jump.
"Elizabeth," John says, in a slightly teasing voice. "You really shouldn't touch that. McKay always gets annoyed when we touch the Ancient thingies."
Elizabeth looks up to find John standing in the Temple with her, with her own finger curled loosely around the edge of the Ancient device that had begun this entire mess. She stares at John, excited and disbelieving and ever-hopeful all instantly in the same second as she realizes that she's back to the precise moment when she originally touched the Ancient device - before Rodney's death!
She swallows, slightly frenzied before she even stops to think clearly and realizes that she needs to take immediate action before - God help her - she jumps.
She needs to destroy the device. She needs to make sure that Rodney never touches it, and if anyone else does, that it won't electrocute him or her to death. She spots a shovel nearby, and completely ignoring John's presence in the room, she rushes past him to get it. She brings it over to the device, and crashes the shovel down on top of it without hesitation. It ricochets violently off the device and while Elizabeth clearly feels the solid reverberations work their way up her arm, the device remains entirely unscathed.
She turns so viciously frustrated in that moment that she curses out loud with words she hasn't used since working in Washington.
"Elizabeth?" John says cautiously, looking at her like she's lost her mind and if he moves too suddenly she might attack him with the shovel. "Has the device been a bad boy?"
She glares at him, finding his attempt at humor completely annoying under the circumstances. "I need to destroy this device," she says.
And then jumps.
She's at the funeral again, and Elizabeth feels her stomach drop with the realization that she didn't change anything at all. Her opportunity was there, and she utterly failed when the moment finally came. Frustrated and weary, and with a headache that has not left her since the last time-jump, she can't bear to look at the coffin that lines the wall before her. She steps out of the line of mourners who are waiting to pay their respects, and exits through the side entrance of the Gate Room.
She passes by several people on her way to find the first secluded area nearby, but Teyla bumps into her first and spots the look of utter devastation on her face.
"Dr. Weir," she begins, and then changes her tone entirely. "Elizabeth, are you alright?"
"I can't deal with this," Elizabeth mutters, desperately in a whisper. "I'm just not strong enough. I can't deal with this. Somebody else should have been chosen. Not me. I'm not strong enough for this!"
"You have been chosen," The alien voice suddenly says, in her head, coming out of nowhere and with such surprise that she clutches the sides of her head out of pure instinctual reaction. "You have been chosen and no other can complete the task. You have been given the Gift of Time. You must decide. You must carry on."
"Why?" Elizabeth demands, suddenly forgetting the presence of Teyla and anyone else in the hallway with her. "Why me? What did I do to deserve this?"
"You have been chosen."
"Choose someone else!" Elizabeth replies stubbornly, raising her voice. "Are you doing this for you own entertainment? Is this a game to you? My friend is dead! My friend is dead because of that device!"
"You have the opportunity to save him."
"I know," she yells, "I've tried. I've failed!"
"Try again. There is still time. Try again... or we will make you suffer."
Elizabeth stops abruptly, eyes hardening. "Make me suffer?" she whispers, harshly. "What do you think I'm doing now?"
"Do not defy us. We are not beings that will tolerate it."
Elizabeth pauses as cold realization sets in, and she feels a sense of understanding work its way through her bones. "This is a game to you, isn't it? Who are you? You can't be the Ancients. The Ancients wouldn't do this! They wouldn't torture someone for their own amusement."
"Do not question us or our methods."
"Give me a reason not to!" Elizabeth yells, defiantly.
Bolts of electricity suddenly pump through her veins and Elizabeth screams in agony. She's not aware of Teyla and the others as they continue their futile attempts to calm her and bring her back to reality.
All that matters in that moment is the pain, a punishment apparently doled out by the alien voice for questioning him. When the electricity finally ebbs away, leaving Elizabeth almost paralyzed with the residue of anguish left behind, she has a moment to realize that many people have surrounded her, each with varying degrees of horror and bewilderment etched across their faces.
So this is what gets them to believe she's crazy, Elizabeth thinks, vision blurring.
Then, something impossible happens. Something truly impossible. She spots Rodney approaching her amidst those in the crowd. Elizabeth blinks, head swimming, and continues to stare at him as he approaches her with quick, frantic strides. He pushes past the crowd, and calls for Carson at the same time, and then he's there, physically touching her face and taking her pulse. He's there, within grasping distance.
The last obscure thought she has before she passes out is the bloodcurdling feeling that maybe everybody else is right.
Maybe she is insane.
She jumps into awareness again, and Radek's in the middle of talking, "--cleverly disguised as an Ancient Temple, but further investigation has proven otherwise. The Ancients never built the Temple - it was just made to look like they had! The carbon-dating puts the device at only four thousand years old, far too young in this galaxy to be the Ancients."
Elizabeth blinks, seeing Rodney standing next to Radek with a matching white lab coat and a laptop in his hand. She stares at him for a moment more, convinced he's an illusion or an apparition of some kind, but she can't stop herself from dimly voicing her bewilderment. "Rodney?"
Both Radek and Rodney stop what they're doing, and Rodney casts her a distracted look. "Yes?"
"You're alive?" she asks, incredibly confused.
Carson's suddenly beside her within an instant, seemingly coming out of nowhere. "Elizabeth, are you alright? Did you just jump again, love?"
She can't stare at anything but Rodney. "You're alive?"
Rodney's shoulders tense up, and he shifts awkwardly. "Um, yes, Elizabeth. I'm alive," he turns to Carson, lowering his voice as he says in an accusing tone, "I thought you said you could counteract the disorientation with the drugs!"
Carson sounds weary, "I don't think this is the disorientation due to the device, Rodney. I think she's just still under the impression that you're dead."
"Oh," Rodney replies, meekly. "Um, well, I'm not."
"How?" Elizabeth breathes.
"You changed the original time-line," Rodney answers, sounding uncomfortable. "I never touched the Ancient... well not Ancient device, because as I was about to get to, it was just made to look like–"
"Rodney!" Carson interrupts. "She's fighting about six different drugs right now in her system. Keep it simple."
He sighs, and then blurts, "In your original time-line, I died. You changed that when you jumped back to one of your... what did you call it? Oh, yes, time-leaps. When you jumped back to the time-leap in the Temple, you told John that you needed to destroy the device. Therefore, I never touched the device. Therefore, I never died. Therefore, I have managed to single-handedly figure out more about this device and its function in the last three days than the entire scientific team did in your original timeline! I've been telling you for years - without me, you people would be lost!"
Elizabeth laughs. Not because of Rodney's words, but more because she's finally coming to accept the possibility that Rodney is indeed alive. She feels like getting up and throwing her arms around him in celebration, but she's too tired and dizzy for some reason. Staying focused proves to be a task almost too much for her to handle, but it doesn't stop her from sending Rodney a dazzling smile.
"Elizabeth," Carson says, drawing her attention. "You're medicated right now. The effects of the "time jumping" are having physical and mental repercussions. The body wasn't designed for this. You need to hold on. You need to fight the effects. I've loaded you up with enough drugs to stun a horse, but I think this fight is something only you can win."
"You believe me now?" Elizabeth asks, surprised and slow to play catch-up. "About the time traveling?"
Carson sighs. "I've always believed you. The other nitwit from your original time-line didn't."
"Ah, yes," Rodney intercedes, smugly, pointing a finger upwards in the air. "That would be thanks to me. Now that there's an actual competent scientist on the case, I was able to back up your claims of time-travel with hard scientific proof. Obviously, in your original time-line, you didn't have the benefit of my presence."
Elizabeth nods, noticing that Radek seems almost like he wants to sink into the floor and disappear in that moment, for once not able to counteract Rodney's arrogance with a dose of his more down-to-earth intellectualism. Elizabeth wants to say something to make him feel better, but honestly, she can't think of anything in that moment to comfort him. The fuzziness of her thought processes isn't helping the matter, either.
"Okay," she says, getting back on topic. "Why am I still time-jumping? I saved Rodney's life. I completed the task they set out for me, right? Why am I still time-jumping, then?"
Carson trades a look with Rodney, hesitating to answer for some reason. Rodney eventually clears his throat, and fidgets with agitation, "Because," he begins, awkwardly avoiding eye-contact. "While you saved my life..."
Carson finishes solemnly, "...John died in Rodney's place."
The shock of the revelation prevents Elizabeth from immediately noticing or caring about her surroundings. She's numb and cold all at the same time, and the time-jump is nearly an incidental afterthought in comparison to the weighty words tumbling around in her head as she sits there on some bench situated in one of the southeast piers of the City.
John died in Rodney's place.
She thinks this over and over again for a long time, just letting the words wash over her like ocean water without truly absorbing it. She doesn't cry at this revelation the way she did for Rodney, but she doesn't go through denial either. Instead, there's a numb acceptance in her that goes "oh, of course" to the news of John's death, like the only thing worse than battling to save Rodney's life would be to battle to save John's, so of course the device had to go for the latter option.
She recalls the mental image of Rodney's moment of death, and suddenly superimposes John's face onto the visual without even consciously choosing to conjure up the image.
For once, she's almost grateful to the time-jumps. Almost, because it never makes her relive the same time-period twice. She's seen Rodney's death, and if John truly took his place, she should be grateful that at least she won't jump back into that moment to see his death as well.
She slowly turns to find Ronon standing in the entranceway nearby, and she can't help but seize upon the distraction. "Ronon, what are you doing here?"
"Following you," he replies, bluntly. "We've been taking shifts."
Elizabeth raises an eyebrow, but she can't muster up the energy to feel indignation at the moment. "Why?"
He shrugs. "Gotta figure playing with time has to be tiring. We didn't want you to... do anything."
If she wasn't so bone-weary and numb from abuse, she might have laughed. "You have no need to worry, Ronon. Apparently, I'm completely incapable of doing anything at all."
He walks over and surprises Elizabeth by sitting down beside her. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Exactly what I said," Elizabeth replies. "I've done nothing but make matters more complicated since this entire mess began."
He looks at her like she's a child he needs to explain the most elementary things to. "Did you think time-traveling would be simple?"
"No, but not this... complex," she says, sighing, knowing it's a lame response. She blames it on the headache that has followed her everywhere for the last few time-jumps.
"You still feeling sick?"
Elizabeth pauses. "Yeah, how did you know?"
"The Doc," Ronon answers. "He said something about all the time traveling, or whatever it is, is starting to make you sick. Headaches, nausea, brain damage. That type of stuff."
"Headaches, nausea, and brain damage?" Elizabeth repeats incredulous. "Anything else that I need to know?"
He shrugs, looking away. "Nothing vital."
They sit in silence for a long time after that, and although Elizabeth would never admit it out loud (mainly because she's sure the admission would probably make Ronon feel more uncomfortable than anything else), his mere presence manages to soothe her in ways she can't define. She still finds herself incredibly numb when she thinks of John, though, but she allows herself the luxury of starring aimlessly into the ocean without a single complex thought entering her head.
She falls asleep at some point, entirely unaware that she uses Ronon's shoulder as a pillow.
She wakes, not entirely sure if consciousness has so suddenly returned to her because she's jumped or not.
Her vision is blurry at first, and she realizes that her mind is clouded up with the thick veneer of heavy medication. She's resting in an infirmary bed, but she's not tied down to it like a deranged woman, thank God. Secure under the knowledge that everybody believes her now, she notices that the nurses treat her as a patient with a serious illness and nothing more. Nobody entertains the notion that she may be suffering from a mental breakdown any longer, but funny how she would trade all that for the faith of just one man.
John had been the only one to believe when there hadn't been any proof to show for it. Now, with Rodney alternatively alive, Elizabeth's claims of time-travel hold scientific evidence to back them up and suddenly everybody believes her. The distinction is clear, and Elizabeth doesn't under-appreciate its significance.
After a short time of drifting in and out of slumber, Rodney and Carson eventually stop by, each with their own reason for the visitation. While Carson's checkup comes first (his work taking seniority over Rodney's, much to the scientist's consternation), they attempt to ignore Rodney's blatant impatience as he hovers in the background.
Carson purposely takes his time on filling her in on more of the details regarding her condition, and she has to say, it's worse than the impression Ronon's words had left. Apparently the "time jumping" has already culminated in small pockets of brain damage, and while this is alarming in and of itself, Carson continues to list the risks and dangers of continued exposure to "time jumping," culminating in death.
This explains her trouble in focusing during the last few jumps. She's been feeling too tired to speak sometimes, but she thinks the drugs that Carson has been giving her - although buying her time - are actually worse.
Instead of feeling only slightly tired, Elizabeth now has trouble keeping her eyes open and focused under the avalanche of medication she's under. When she asks if she can be taken off of a few of them, Carson nearly sputters with horror. He adamantly refuses, because according to him, these medications are the only things preventing her from eventually slipping into a coma.
"You're going to jump into another time-jump anyway," Rodney interrupts, absentmindedly overriding Carson's words of caution. "The drugs will be out of your system then - or shall I say, they might never have been in your system in the first place."
"Oh," Carson replies, agitated. "Thank you very much for that pleasant thought, Rodney! Why not just tell the poor woman that she may have to crawl through broken glass in the future, too!"
"It's alright, Carson," Elizabeth interrupts, secretly looking forward to the next time-jump. The headaches were actually more manageable than her current medicated condition, although she doubts Carson would agree to that statement. She turns back to Rodney. "Tell me more about the device."
"Finally!" Rodney mutters, impatiently standing up and coming closer. "Well, the other scientists, as ineffectual and incomplete in their analysis as they were, were actually right about something in your original timeline. It is a torture device, it just wasn't specifically meant for the person it electrocuted. The "torture" apparently, is to punish the first person who touches the device - you."
"Me?" Elizabeth responds. "But it electrocuted you!"
Or John, she thinks now.
Rodney overrides the thought before it has time to fester. "Yeah. That was actually part of your torture treatment. Um, you know, the emotional and psychological type? It was designed to simply electrocute whichever person touches it second, and the "time jumping" would revolve around that action. The first person, the one that the device was truly testing, is then apparently charged with the responsibility of finding a way to circumvent the events."
"This entire thing was designed just to test me?"
Rodney nods. "Yeah, you and your resilience. Have to say, personally, Elizabeth, I'd find your performance above average, especially considering you managed to save my life... Uh, thank you for that, by the way."
Elizabeth gives him a small smile. "You're welcome, Rodney. Just help me save John's life and we'll call it even–"
The headache is back, and Elizabeth groans even as she's thankful to be off the medication now. She stops being thankful for anything at all the moment she sees John's body being lowered into his coffin. He looks pale and deceptively peaceful, and as Elizabeth stares at him with instantly watery eyes, she makes a silent promise to him that she'll save him.
... Or die trying.
She jumps again, and it's nighttime. She crawls into her own bed, insanely exhausted and too weary to think, and forces her eyes to remain open until the moment her head hits the pillow. She's out like a light for the next few hours, and the headache thankfully ebbs away during her slumber.
Unfortunately, she wakes up feeling ten times as bad as she did going to sleep. She feels tired, pained, and her mind is constantly clouded up with thoughts coated over with spider-webs and cotton candy. It's difficult to think straight now, and Elizabeth realizes that functioning with this type of disablement is going to be more difficult than she imagined.
She crawls through the rest of her time in this jump, barely aware and too unfocused to notice much of what's going on around her. The others show concern, and while she tries to wave off their worry and reassure them of her well being, it fails to be effective every time she nods off or drifts in her attention. Even when Carson finally starts medicating her again, the effects continue to scare the hell out of her.
How is she supposed to save John's life if she can't even focus?
None of them qualify as the one jump she's looking for.
"She can't last much more of this. If the time-jumps continue, she'll die."
"Don't you think I know that?! You have to just keep her alive, Carson. As soon as she saves John's life–"
"Do you really think she's in any condition to save anyone right now? She could have already missed the opportunity and not even known!"
John is looking at her like she's crazy. "Why do you have to destroy the device?"
Elizabeth blinks, and redirects her energy to focus on her surroundings. It takes a lot of effort, but when she finally manages it, she finds herself standing in the Temple again, with John to one side and the alien device to the other. Her throat goes dry with anticipation, but she doesn't make the same mistake as last time by ignoring John's presence.
"Don't let anyone touch that device," she says, pointing. "It's deadly. Go and get Rodney. We need to figure out how to destroy it."
John hesitates, and Elizabeth doesn't know if she wants to kick him for that, or pull him closer to kiss him senseless for simply being alive! Either action will make him think she's gone insane, though, so she resists the temptation to do either, and simply repeats her order. He does, leaving Elizabeth behind to fight off the effects of an incapacitating headache all on her own.
She needs to focus, though, and adamantly determined to finally end this, she approaches the device with caution.
The device was designed to electrocute whatever person touches it second. That's what Rodney had said earlier. He also said that its purpose was to test Elizabeth and her resilience.
She didn't realize it then, but looking back, her plan of action had been formulated in that second. There was only one way to truly end this. Only one way to definitively circumvent the torture she's been through the last four days from repeating ever again, in whatever form. She is not going to stand idly by and risk this device choosing Teyla or Ronon or whatever innocent bystander that stops by next as its victim for electrocution.
She needs to end this. Right here. Right now.
She grabs the device before she can think another thought, and just as the electricity begins to discharge from it with excruciating pain, she's vaguely aware that John and Rodney are calling out her name in horror. The electricity builds, blindingly painful, and Elizabeth screams.
When everything fades away and turns black, Elizabeth thinks only one thing through the haze of pain...
Four days later, Elizabeth does something she's never done before on Atlantis.
She takes a vacation.
It's to the mainland, over at a secluded area on the shoreline that the personnel often use for their private recreational purposes. The moment she's released from the infirmary with a clean bill of health, Elizabeth agrees to a one-day vacation for some much needed rest.
Carson gives her a long list of do's and don'ts to follow in her time off, and Elizabeth humors him despite the fact that she's never felt physically better in her entire life. This does little to comfort Carson, who still sputters in alarm every time Elizabeth mentions the fact that she had suffered minor brain damage during her previous timelines.
Her current tests have come back all clean, though. Whatever physical and mental ailments she suffered from before touching the alien device that second time, her body is now the picture of perfect health. Not even the ten thousand volts of electricity that pumped through her body have left any side effects whatsoever.
She spent nearly four days under observation anyway, with Carson running tests on her, John asking questions about her "time jumping", and Rodney studying the now broken alien device with much more interest than Elizabeth was fully comfortable with.
She passed the test - whatever it was for. Whether it was a test of resiliency, or one of pure torture, whatever game those aliens had been playing with that device, the answer they were looking for was apparently self-sacrifice. Why? She doesn't know, and quite frankly with the entire incident behind her, she doesn't care either.
She hasn't told any of the others the full truth, yet. She's not sure she ever will, having been incredibly sparse with the details of her experiences. She tells them enough to give them an idea of what happened to her and to satiate their official needs of debriefing.
She tells Rodney that he died in the first timeline, and John that he died in the second, but she doesn't go into the details too much and she purposely holds a tight rein on her emotions as she tells them so. Personally, while Elizabeth wants nothing more than to forget this entire incident ever happened, she still has nightmares about it every night. She dreams of dying. She dreams of others dying. She dreams of repeating the time-jumps over and over and over again and each new time someone else dies, and she's left to futilely try to save them. The last one is the worst nightmare of them all.
So this vacation is the perfect mode of therapy.
John's team adopt the roles of her chaperones, and together, the five of them make their way to the shoreline in a puddle-jumper and make camp on the beach just as the midday sun rises to the spot directly above their heads.
Ronon starts breaking out the food as soon as they've situated themselves into an ideal position, and Teyla and John share a look with each other before reluctantly helping to spread out the picnic supplies before Ronon eats everything in sight. Rodney makes it no more than two minutes before he asks the others if anyone has been foolish enough to bring along anything with citrus in it. He gets three simultaneous glares turned on him at once, and Elizabeth looks on and holds back undignified giggles.
They eat, and talk, and enjoy themselves in the midday sun.
A couple of hours later, everybody changes into their swimsuits and trunks, and gets forced into the water by John for optional (but not really, if the look on John's face meant anything) surfing lessons.
Elizabeth begs off, pardoning herself with the excuse of Carson's order of mandated rest. John narrows his eyes at her, knowing full well that the order was an overreaction, but he's not willing to risk the wrath of the Scottish doctor if news ever got back that he forced Elizabeth to exert herself on this vacation. So he nods his head at her, eyes still narrowed, and Elizabeth gets to lie under the sun in a red bikini and shorts, with a book in one hand and a cold drink in the other, while the others splash around silly in the water. She relaxes, and falls asleep.
She awakens when John plops down next to her, dripping water all over her from his wet hair and body, and has the gall to look entirely unabashed at doing so. She glares at him, but shifts over to allow him some room on her towel even as she hits him in the shoulders for getting her wet.
Ronon and Teyla look about a quarter of a mile down the beach, still enjoying the water (although they've abandoned the apparently futile surfing lessons), and Rodney's plopped down not far from them, a nearby laptop forgotten since he's fallen asleep.
John catches her attention. "Are you going to sit here all day?"
"I'm supposed to relax," Elizabeth replies, impishly. "Doctor's orders."
He nods, looking pensive, and then suddenly stands up in a decisive move. A moment before Elizabeth even has a chance to feel alarm at the mischievous look that dawns on his face, he grabs her around the waist and hoists her over his shoulders like a fireman. She screams and protests and even laughs a little, but when they start approaching the water, her protests become a little bit alarmed.
He dumps her into waist-high water, and she comes up sputtering liquid from her mouth. She curses him in three different languages before she starts in on the one she didn't even realize she knew. It's the same foreign language that the alien voice had muttered inside her head, talking about the Gift of Time and being chosen and whatnot. So shocked to find the alien words slipping from her own mouth so naturally, Elizabeth isn't even aware that John has circled around her and begun swimming lazy laps behind her.
She recovers, barely, and manages to turn around and send him a half-hearted glare for dumping her in the water.
"What really happened, Elizabeth?" he says, surprising her with a semi-serious tone. "You've been holding out on us, haven't you?"
She swims over to him, trying to sound casual. "Nothing too bad."
He gives her a look like he doesn't believe her, but Elizabeth's become remarkably good during the last couple of days at ignoring looks such as these. They continue to drift beside each other, lazily and silently, letting their body weight keep them afloat.
She thinks about this level of comfort around him, and instinctively knows that she's never felt this way about another man in her entire life. She probably never will. There's just something about him that makes her relax and feel instantly safe, and - especially considering her unique life - this is something even more special than usual.
And there lay the rub, she thinks idly, covertly glancing over at him. She can choose to lie to him about the time-jumps. She can choose to omit certain information regarding the one night they nearly made love, and the kisses afterwards. When he's around, she can pretend as if nothing's happened.
Yet while she can lie to him all she wants, she can't lie to herself. Not now. Not after what she's been through. The fact remains that John Sheppard has an effect on her that no other man is capable of.
"Tell you what, though," she says, in a light voice as she swims around him. "One day, I promise to tell you more about my time-jumps."
Whenever they start a romantic relationship for real, she silently adds, uncharacteristically confident and comfortable in the knowledge that they will.
"Yeah?" John says, surprised. "Any day soon?"
She smiles. "Don't know. I guess we'll play it by ear," she says, and splashes him.
It's just a matter of time.