Elizabeth Weir sat half-dressed on the couch in her living room, aimlessly flicking through TV channels. She knew she should be doing something other than watching daytime soaps, but she didn't have the energy to get herself going. Why bother? It wasn't like she had a city to run anymore. A Wraith wasn't going to burst out of her closet and suck her dry. What happened in the Pegasus galaxy was no longer her concern. The accident had taken care of that.
It had been such a stupid thing. She'd been going to one of the more distant areas of the city in order to explore a room with Ancient writing all over the ceiling. None of the anthropologists had any clue what the room had been used for, so they'd asked for her assistance. On the way there she'd stepped on an area of floor that had given way underneath her, and she'd fallen about twenty feet into a storage bin of some sort. Her radio had been damaged, so all she could do was lie there until she passed out.
She woke up days later to find Carson watching her with pity and compassion in his eyes. He'd gently explained that she had lacerated her spleen when she fell. By the time the medical team got to her, the internal bleeding was so severe that they had to remove it. The physician had explained that she was now very susceptible to infection, and the SGC had decided to recall her to Earth "for her own safety."
Elizabeth had been stunned. "But this happens to many people, and I've never heard of anyone making drastic lifestyle changes!"
"Aye, that's true," Carson had said. "on Earth." Then he'd sighed and looked down at his feet. "Truth be told, I don't agree with this, and I told Dr. Lam so in no uncertain terms. But I was overruled. I'm sorry, Elizabeth."
And so she'd found herself walking through the gate as soon as she was well enough to walk. There was no doubt in her mind that this was political. Someone at the IOA had seized on her injury and used it as an excuse to revoke her authority and put someone more tractable in her place. General Landry had offered her a position at the SGC, but she couldn't bear the thought of seeing the gate every day and knowing that Atlantis was just on the other side. Tantalizingly close, yet forever out of her reach.
The phone rang, and Elizabeth put her head in her hands. People had been calling her for days, but she didn't want to talk to anyone. Jack O'Neill had called a few times, Landry had called, and even Daniel Jackson had called. Hearing Daniel was almost enough to make her pick up the phone, but in the end she couldn't do it.
The phone stopped ringing and the answering machine clicked on. Who was it this time?
"Elizabeth, please pick up the phone." O'Neill's voice. "You've gotta come help me. Daniel's practically mind-melding with one of his new artifacts. He stays in his lab for hours and I can barely drag him out. He'll listen to you, though."
It was a boldfaced lie, but she couldn't help smiling a little anyway.
O'Neill continued. "Seriously, Elizabeth. We're really starting to get worried about you. It's not like you to avoid everyone like this." He paused for a few seconds, then sighed. "This is your last chance. If you don't answer, I'm going to have to take matters into my own hands... All right, don't say I didn't warn you." The answering machine clicked off.
That had been a week ago, but nothing had happened since. Elizabeth had to admit she was intrigued, and she found herself actually getting dressed and cooking herself a real breakfast when she got up in the mornings. She was just starting to tackle the job of cleaning her apartment when there was a knock at the door. "Package for Dr. Weir!" yelled a voice.
Elizabeth froze. That voice had sounded so familiar, almost like... No, it was impossible. John was millions of light-years away on Atlantis, and besides, why would he be delivering packages? She opened the door, and her jaw dropped. It wasn't John.
It was John, Rodney, Teyla, Ronon, and Carson.
Before she could react, John burst into the apartment and slung an arm over her shoulder. "Congratulations, Dr. Elizabeth Weir! You've just won an all-expenses paid trip to New York for Christmas, conducted by Sheppard Enterprises!"
"Courtesy of Uncle Sam. Come on! We've got a plane to catch."
John deliberately misinterpreted her protests. "Don't worry about packing. The lovely Ms. Emmagan will assist you with that. You shouldn't worry about your safety in the Big Apple, either. I have it on good authority that Dex, here, can neutralize any threat."
Ronon grinned at her.
"And on the off chance that you get sick, we've even got our own private physician! I'm told that women find his accent quite charming." Carson rolled his eyes.
"I can't," Elizabeth said. "I just... can't." She wanted to, but it would be too hard to say goodbye again afterward.
"Listen," John said. He wasn't smiling anymore. "We miss you. We also heard that you were having a tough time back here on Earth. It's the holidays, and we want to spend them with you."
"Please, Elizabeth," Carson added.
She could feel tears starting to well up. "I've missed you, too. All right. I've always wanted to see New York City at Christmas time."
"That's the spirit!" John was grinning again.
For the first time since they'd arrived, Elizabeth smiled back. "What about Rodney?" she asked.
"You've got everyone else assigned a role, what about Rodney?" Elizabeth asked sweetly.
"Uhh... how about... annoying traveling companion?" John said. Rodney smacked him. "Ow!"
Teyla smoothly interrupted before John and Rodney could settle into a serious bickering session. "Perhaps it would be best if Elizabeth and I proceeded to the packing," she said.
Elizabeth had to laugh when they got down to the street and she saw who was going to drive them to the airport. "General O'Neill!"
"I told you I was going to take matters into my own hands," Jack said smugly.
"Is the entire SGC in on this?" she asked incredulously.
"Nah. Teal'c wouldn't have fit in the car. Come on, kids, your chariot awaits."
It took five minutes for the entire crew and all of their luggage to pile into Jack's minivan, but then they were off and driving down the streets of Colorado Springs. Elizabeth found herself in the front with Jack. "Are we going to Colorado Springs Airport?" she asked.
"No way." Jack looked in the rearview mirror and observed Rodney accidentally elbowing John in the ribs as he fought Ronon for room. "Can you imagine Ronon trying to fit in a normal airline seat? Or worse, trying to get through airport security?"
Elizabeth suddenly had the image of Ronon standing at the head of a long line of travelers, slowly removing knife after knife from improbable locations on his body while people grumbled behind him.
"No," she said. "I suppose not."
"We're going to Peterson Air Force Base," Jack said. "From there you'll fly to Stewart Air Force Base, which isn't very far from New York City. Then you're on your own."
Elizabeth shook her head ruefully. "We're using military transport to go on vacation," she said. "Our poor taxpayers."
"Don't think of it as a vacation. Think of it as... an Earth/Athos/Sateda cultural exchange program," Jack said cheerfully. "You wouldn't want two alien ambassadors to have anything less than the best travel arrangements, would you?"
In the seat behind them, Ronon was munching his way through a bag of potato chips he'd found in her pantry. As Elizabeth watched, Rodney attempted to steal a chip, and Ronon growled at him. "Alien ambassadors," she muttered under her breath. "We're all in big trouble."
"What should we do first?" asked John as they walked to their rental car. "We've got five full days, so there's plenty of time."
"I don't know," Elizabeth admitted. "I've never actually played tourist in New York City before." At John's incredulous look, she continued, "I've been to the United Nations, of course, and I've attended diplomatic functions, but I've never had the opportunity to just roam around."
"Hmm..." John said. "Obviously Teyla and Ronon haven't seen any of the sights. Carson, Rodney, any thoughts on where we should start?"
Rodney shrugged. "As long as it's not a football game, I'm good."
John snorted. "Well, it won't be a hockey game, either..." His voice trailed off.
"What?" Rodney asked suspiciously.
"You'll see." John grinned.
Several hours later, they stood at Rockefeller Center, watching as people ice-skated under the giant tree. Rodney looked at John. "Talking about hockey made you think of this?"
John shrugged. "Ice hockey, ice skating... whatever!"
Ronon was looking at the skaters with horror. "Your people strap blades to their feet and move around on ice?"
Elizabeth smiled wistfully. "I used to do this all the time when I was a child. Well, not in this particular place, but at my grandparents' cabin in the mountains." She laughed suddenly. "My cousins and I used to get into so much trouble when we snuck out in the middle of the night to skate under the stars."
"I used to do something similar," Teyla admitted. "Charin was not pleased with me."
"Would you ladies like to do it again now?" John asked. "For old time's sake."
Teyla and Elizabeth looked at each other. "I don't know..." the Athosian said dubiously.
"I haven't been on skates in years," added Elizabeth.
"Neither have I," Rodney said. At John's surprised look, he huffed irritably. "Yes, I actually did skate as a kid. Growing up in Toronto, it was hard not to."
"I just thought you had your nose stuck in a book the whole time," John teased.
"I'm not even going to dignify that with a response," Rodney sniffed. Turning to Elizabeth and Teyla, he said, "Come on. I'm willing to try it if you are."
"Okay," Elizabeth said. What the heck. Hopefully it would be like riding a bicycle – you never forgot once you learned how.
Teyla looked at the other three men, and there was mischief in her eyes. "It would be a shame to leave the rest of you out of the fun. Why don't you join us?"
The look on Ronon's face was comical. "I don't think that's such a good idea. I'll just stay here and watch your back."
Teyla laughed. "Ronon, we are not fighting the Wraith!" At John's and Rodney's frantic gestures, she lowered her voice. "There's no need to keep watch. It will do us all good to forget our cares for a little while."
A pang of sorrow hit Elizabeth at Teyla's words. She desperately wanted to be back in Atlantis, even if it meant the constant worry she'd always felt whenever a team went offworld. She didn't want to forget those cares; they were the last link she had left to a place that seemed more like home than the planet of her birth.
John's jaw tightened as he watched the emotions flit across Elizabeth's face. He quickly pasted on a grin and spoke with deliberate cheer. "I think that's a great idea, big guy! Think of it as acquiring a new skill with blades."
Ronon looked like he'd rather be skewering John with his blades, but he reluctantly followed the rest of the group to the skate rental counter.
None of them were very good, but it was fun anyway. Once they coaxed Ronon into letting go of the railing, he quickly learned how to stay on his feet. Teyla was, as always, very graceful, but she wasn't used to the cold and her feet rapidly got numb, causing her to stumble. Carson caught her, but overbalanced and tripped both of them up a minute later. John laughed at them until a gust of wind caused him to take a pratfall of his own. Of all of them, Rodney was the only one whose dignity remained intact by the time they lined up to return their skates.
"The Rockettes are impressive, aren't they," John said later as they came out of Radio City Music Hall.
Ronon grinned. "They've got legs up to here..."
Teyla smacked him.
Elizabeth's curiosity finally got the better of her during dinner on the second night. They were eating in a lovely little Italian restaurant, the wine was very good, and she finally gathered up the courage to ask how things were going in Atlantis (discreetly, of course).
John grimaced, and Rodney didn't look happy, either. "Your successor... isn't quite up to speed yet," John said.
As always, Rodney was more direct. "He's a moron!" the physicist snapped.
"He reminds me a little of your Colonel Everett," Teyla said thoughtfully.
"How so?" Elizabeth asked, intrigued. The IOA had replaced her with another civilian, one with a background in business and management.
"He is very confident in his own abilities."
"Overconfident, you mean," Ronon chimed in.
Teyla fixed him with a look. "Yes, overconfident is one way of describing it. It is also that he seems to have made up his mind as to how things will be done, and he is not willing to hear any alternatives."
"Colonel Everett was like that when he first arrived," Elizabeth agreed. "But even before he was attacked by the Wraith, he looked like he was starting to listen to advice."
"Well, I hope this guy does the same," John said. "Morale isn't too good."
"He alienates the science staff by micromanaging projects," Rodney said. "That's my job!" was the unspoken gripe.
"Our allies aren't too happy, either. Ladon keeps finding excuses not to talk to us..." said John.
"Good," muttered Ronon under his breath.
"... and the Athosians resent the way he treats them like primitives."
"I hate to say it," said Rodney, "but even Colonel Caldwell would have been a better choice. At least he wouldn't be viewing the military as glorified cannon fodder. Let's face it – your successor has managed to piss off pretty much everyone."
Elizabeth sighed and shook her head. "I wish..." her voice trailed off. "Well. I obviously can't change what happened. Hopefully the transition will go more smoothly from now on."
Rodney gave the faintest of smug grins.
Elizabeth saw it. "Rodney? What did you do?"
John and Rodney looked at each other. The physicist cleared his throat carefully. "Um... well... we might have made life a little difficult for him. Lots of maintenance problems, you know."
"The cooking staff tends to run out of what he likes just before he gets to the mess hall," John added happily. "Ronon helps with that."
"We work with him, but only the bare minimum. We answer his questions, tell him what he needs to know, but that's it." Anger shone in Rodney's eyes.
Elizabeth was shocked. "But aren't you putting yourself in danger? What if the Wraith come and he's not prepared? The entire city could be jeopardized."
"No," said John. "If it looked like things were starting to go south, we'd quit the act. But while things are calm... Anyway, the three of us made sure of that before we started anything."
"The three of you?" asked Elizabeth. "You and Rodney, but who else's idea was this?"
"Mine," said Carson. Elizabeth gave him an incredulous look, and he smiled faintly. "I told you that I didn't agree with the decision to send you back."
John said, "It's perfect. No one would think the doc is capable of organizing something like this, so no one suspects him."
"Thank you, I think," Carson said reprovingly.
Tears came to Elizabeth's eyes. "I don't know what to say," she whispered.
"Don't say anything," John answered. "Just let us help you."
The next few days passed too quickly for Elizabeth. In spite of loud complaining from the men, she and Teyla spent one whole day shopping. On another day they went to some of the museums on the Upper East Side. And on the last day they went to a holiday performance at Lincoln Center. As they came out it started to rain, so they took refuge in the four-story Barnes and Noble bookstore across the street.
Carson and Rodney wandered off to the science section of the store, bickering amiably. Teyla, who had learned to read English during the expedition's first year, went to indulge her passion for romance novels. (Ronon was less enthusiastic about this type of reading material, but he followed her anyway.) That left John and Elizabeth sitting by themselves at a table in the café area. Elizabeth took a sip of her coffee and sighed with pleasure. "This is nice," she said. "It's so good to see all of you again."
John leaned back in his chair and studied her over the rim of his coffee mug. "So how have you been doing since you came home?"
"Fine, really," Elizabeth said, although she couldn't meet his eyes. "I won't deny that it's been an adjustment, but..."
John stopped her firmly. "Elizabeth. Come on, neither of us actually believes that."
"Oh, yes, because you were always so forthcoming with your feelings!" It slipped out before she could stop it. "God, when did I start sounding like Rodney?"
A pained look crossed John's face. "Point taken. But that's my hang-up; it's never been yours."
"True." She looked down at her feet for a minute. "You asked how I've been doing since I got home. The fact of the matter is that I didn't come home; I actually left it. This stopped being home when the expedition started. So how am I doing? Not too well, really."
"Yeah, that's pretty much what I thought."
"Why? Is that what O'Neill told you?" Elizabeth wondered why she was suddenly so angry.
"He said you were depressed, and with good reason. He doesn't buy the crappy excuse the IOA came up with, either. But..."
"But what?" Elizabeth demanded.
John sighed. "But you're not helping your case by withdrawing from everyone. You should be fighting, getting into the IOA's faces and letting them know you're not going to just disappear and make things easy for them."
Elizabeth considered this. "You're right. It's just that... every time I go to the SGC, I'm constantly reminded of what I lost."
"I'm not saying it'll be easy," said John. "But few battles worth fighting are."
The two sat in silence for a few minutes, looking out the window. Outside, the rain had turned to snow. John smiled. "It looks like it'll be a white Christmas."
"Going home again is the only present I want."
When Elizabeth woke, it was still dark. Sitting up, she could see through the window that the snow was continuing to fall. They were supposed to fly back to Colorado Springs later today, and she found herself childishly hoping the snow would close the area airports and delay their return. With a soft sigh, she lay back down again and stared at the ceiling. The past few days had been truly wonderful.
Elizabeth realized that, deep down, she had been afraid her friends would forget about her. Now she saw that she had done them a disservice. They'd crossed galaxies to see her because of another friend's concern. It gave her a new appreciation for John's "leave no one behind" philosophy. But she had no illusions that the next steps would be anything other than an uphill battle.
She closed her eyes and lay quietly, but sleep refused to come. Teyla, who was sleeping in the other bed, rolled over and muttered something indistinct.. Not wanting to wake her, Elizabeth quietly got to her feet and left the room.
The group was staying in a charming little bed and breakfast in Greenwich Village. They were the only occupants, so they'd taken the larger of the two suites, with three bedrooms and a cozy sitting area. Emerging from her bedroom into the sitting area, Elizabeth sat down on the couch and put her feet up. She closed her eyes and relaxed, barely noticing when someone else came into the room.
"Couldn't sleep, love?"
"Carson." Elizabeth smiled at him. "I hope I didn't wake you up."
He sat down on the couch next to her. "No, you didn't. I was awake anyway," he said. "Ronon snores like a chainsaw."
She had to stifle a laugh. "How can they stand it in the field, then?"
"Would you want to be the one to tell him?" The physician grinned.
"Not on a bet."
The two of them sat in silence for awhile. "I can't tell you how much I've missed this," Elizabeth finally said. "Seeing all of you again..."
Carson's voice was gentle. "Are you going to be all right?"
"I don't know. I'd like to think so, but..." Her voice trailed off. "I have no idea what I want to do now," she admitted. "Teaching or negotiating treaties on Earth seems so anticlimactic."
He pondered that for a minute. "What about the SGC? If even half the stories I've heard about SG-1 are true, they could use a good diplomat. And it would put you in a good position to press your case for Atlantis."
"I thought about that," Elizabeth said. "I'm not sure I could be effective after having served as head of the SGC for awhile. General Landry might think I was stepping on his toes, and SG-1... well, let's just say that I don't think I endeared myself to them during my tenure there."
"Talk to General O'Neill, then. I'm sure he can help you figure out a plan of attack. I'd be surprised if he doesn't want you home as much as we do."
She nodded. "Hopefully," she said, but with a touch of doubt in her voice.
Carson sighed. "O'Neill was the only reason we even knew to come visit you. He told me that you were ignoring everyone's phone calls. Elizabeth, you've got to learn to let people help you."
"They shouldn't have to!" Elizabeth looked surprised, then embarrassed, at her outburst.
"Why not? Neither you nor Rodney are Superman, love," Carson said in an exasperated tone.
Stung, she retorted. "I know that. I just think that showing weakness is the last thing I want to be doing right now."
"It isn't showing weakness." The physician shook his head. "You're your own harshest critic."
Elizabeth laughed humorlessly. "I don't think so. I'd still be in Atlantis if that were true."
"Your being sent away was pure political bullshite, and both of us know it. Don't let it make you start doubting yourself."
Elizabeth looked down at the floor. "How can I do anything but?" she said softly.
"Oh, Elizabeth," Carson said sadly. He reached over and pulled her into a bear hug. "I've been your doctor, and I will always be your friend. It sounds like you need someone to say this to you, so I will. You did a fine job running the Atlantis expedition under conditions no one could ever have imagined. Who got us through the first year, cut off from Earth and knowing that a Wraith invasion was inevitable?"
The physician interrupted. "You were the real backbone. I never said anything before, and I probably should have, but that damn fool stunt he pulled during the nanovirus outbreak could easily have gotten us all killed. He's matured since then – we all have – but without you we never would have had the chance."
Elizabeth took a deep, shuddering breath. "Thank you," she said. "It means a lot to hear that. But I did plenty of things I'm not proud of. I should have handled Kavanaugh much differently from the very beginning, and I never should have pressured you into continuing the experiment with Michael. I'm sorry."
"So you made your share of mistakes. You're human. It doesn't change the fact that you've done plenty of things right, too. You convinced Chancellor Lycus to trust you and saved the Tiranians. And what about securing the alliance with the Genii?"
She nodded mutely.
Carson continued. "Most importantly, though, you managed to keep a few hundred mavericks working together productively without killing each other or blowing up the city. That takes skills ranging from diplomacy to babysitting!"
That got a chuckle out of her. "And I didn't strangle anybody, either."
"You see? Talent, indeed." Carson held the embrace for another minute, then drew back slightly. "I could do with a spot of tea. Would you like some? My mum swears it will cure any ailment."
"Thank you, yes." Elizabeth said. She watched as the physician began to boil water in the hotel-provided coffee maker. "Will you get to see your mother while you're here?"
He shook his head. "I spoke to her on the phone, though. She lectured me about eating properly and looking out for myself, but she understood when I told her I had another family commitment."
They went back to Colorado Springs, and all too soon, John and the rest of them had to return to Atlantis. Elizabeth came to the SGC to see them off. She smiled to herself as she watched Teyla teasing Ronon about finding him with her new Danielle Steele book. From the looks of it, Ronon was getting ready to console himself by pilfering one of the Snickers bars poking out of Rodney's pack.
John's face lit up when he saw her. "I'm glad you came. I know it can't be easy."
"I wouldn't have missed it," Elizabeth replied. "Besides, I have to meet with General O'Neill before he goes back to Washington. It's about my new job."
A wicked grin crossed Elizabeth's face. "It seems that Homeworld Security doesn't have a formal liaison with the IOA yet. O'Neill thought it would be good to have someone in the position who'd dealt with them before."
John laughed. "Talk about getting in their faces!"
"Oh, yes. They will not get rid of me so easily! You gave me the idea – I'm going to wear them down by being a nuisance."
"That's great!" John said. "Between you in Washington and our conspiracy in Atlantis, the IOA will be begging you to leave within a month!"
An airman walked over to them. "Excuse me, sirs. We've been informed that the Daedalus is ready to beam you on board."
One by one, Elizabeth hugged all of them. "Say hello to everyone in Atlantis for me."
"We will," Rodney promised.
"Hopefully soon, you will get to do this for yourself," Teyla added.
The last thing Elizabeth saw before they vanished in a flash of light was John's wink. "Keep the faith," he said, and then they were gone.
She would. She most definitely would. And the IOA would never know what hit them.