Summary: "The pain of making the necessary sacrifices always hurts more than you think it's going to" – Hugh McLeod
Season/Sequel: season 4 AU, Sunday and First Strike never happened.
Warning: Minor characters death
Archives: my website, others ask please, I never refuse
Disclaimer: I own neither the show nor the characters. I don't earn any money; I just do it for fun.
Author's Note: This fic was written for the first Sparky Secret Santa on LJ, for speckleberry. The prompt was "I would like an angsty story, laced with some hope and a little bit of sacrifice thrown in. Fluff is nice, but not necessary. Subtle moments are a must! (As in, sweet little gestures.) So in other words, I would like Elizabeth to go offworld and also, bonus points for having her negotiating." This is more angsty that I intended at first, darker in a way, but my Muse wouldn't let me do what I wanted!
John was beside Chuck as soon as the Gate came to life. Elizabeth was off-world with Captain Lodel's team, negotiating for an alliance with a new people they had met. While usually John or Lorne's teams would accompany her, this time, she had asked them to stay on Atlantis, wanting to go with the team who had made first contact with the Varani. John hadn't liked that, but she had dismissed his concern.
John had waited in her office, partly because he was now the only one in charge, and because he wanted to be there when they came back.
"Do we have an IDC?"
"Yes, sir, it's Doctor Weir's."
"Lower the shield."
Chuck did as he said, as John went down the steps to meet with the team. But instead of the whole team, only Elizabeth came through the Gate before it closed behind her. She went on her knees before he could say anything, a ZPM in her arms.
"Elizabeth," he said, kneeling before her, carefully taking the ZPM from her arms. "Where's the team?"
"Dead," she answered, with a shaky voice.
When she finally looked up towards him, he could see the tears running down her cheeks. Without one more thought, he took her in his arms, bringing her as close as possible to him. He didn't know what happened yet, but whatever it was, she had seen it happen. He had often seen the look she had in her eyes during his years in the military, he had seen it in his own eyes more than once.
"Elizabeth, I'm going to take you to the infirmary, ok?" He felt her shake her head no, and sighed; it would be harder than he thought. Helping her to her feet, he took her in his arms, while her own went around his neck, clutching him tightly. Raising his head towards the control room, he nodded at Chuck. "Radio McKay and tell him to take care of the ZPM. And tell Carson that we're coming."
"Let's go," he whispered in her ear.
Walking through the corridors with Elizabeth in his arms, John passed by some people who were probably wondering what was happening to their leader. He didn't stop, didn't even look at them, his mind focused on getting her to the infirmary. Right now, even what happened to the team was secondary. All that counted was making sure Elizabeth was all right. She didn't seem to be physically hurt, but emotionally was another matter. If he was right and she had seen them die, then she would need time to process that, and probably to forgive herself too. Though she didn't say anything, he was pretty sure that she was blaming herself for what happened, whatever it was. He knew that feeling, and if he could help her to understand that it wasn't her fault, that she couldn't have prevented what happened, then he would make sure he would be there for her.
As he entered the infirmary, he spotted the Scottish doctor, who motioned towards a bed in a secluded area of the infirmary. John was grateful for that; enough people had seen her in this state already. He placed Elizabeth carefully on the bed, and she released the painfully tight hold she had on his neck.
"I'm going to examine you, now, Elizabeth," Carson said in a soft voice as John drew the curtain around the bed, standing on the other side.
He wanted to stay close to her, but he knew it wasn't his place to be. He wasn't part of the medical staff, and he had no other reason to be with her.
It seemed like he had been waiting for hours when Carson finally walked towards him. He had a reassuring smile on his face, but John could see through his facade; he was worried.
"How is she?"
"Physically, there's nothing wrong with her," he said, confirming what John had been thinking. "Whatever happened, she hadn't been hurt in any way. Mentally though, that's a different matter. She has refused to answer my questions, telling me that she'd rather say it once, and only once. I'll recommend that she sees Kate. She could help her more than I can. I actually already radioed her, and she's coming in a few."
"Can I go see her?"
"Of course. She didn't want me to give her a sedative, and I think that she'd want to see you. I'll join you with Kate as soon as she's here."
He made his way through the curtains, and stopped as he saw Elizabeth curled up on her side. She wasn't crying, she wasn't even shaking anymore; she was just staring into space, seeming oblivious to the outside world.
He sat in the chair beside the bed, and took her hand in his. He didn't speak, didn't try to make her talk; there would be plenty of time for that once Kate got here. He just wanted to be there for her the best way he could. And right now, that was the way. He could see that she was closing on herself, and though he knew that wasn't the best way for her to deal with whatever happened, he couldn't bring himself to stop her.
"Colonel, Elizabeth," Kate's soft voice said as she walked towards them, Carson on her heels. She sat on the other side of Elizabeth, facing her back. "Carson told me to come so you can tell us what happened." She paused, hoping for Elizabeth to start talking, but when she didn't, she continued. "I understand it is difficult but..."
"You weren't there, you can't know," Elizabeth said, in a voice barely louder than a whisper.
"That is true. But we want you to tell us so we can help you."
"'Lizbeth, you know you can talk to us," John tried under Kate's encouraging look.
When she finally met his eyes, he could see that she wanted to trust him. Giving a squeeze to her hand, he encouraged her to talk with a nod.
"Everything went well at first," she finally started speaking. "Even more than well."
The talks were going better than Elizabeth had thought, and soon they agreed on an alliance between Atlantis and the Varani.
"I am sure our two people will be friends for decades," Galvin said, a smile on his face.
"I am sure of that too. Please, accept this GDO," Elizabeth replied, nodding to Lieutenant Petersen to give the device to Galvin. "If you are in any need for help, just dial the coordinates, and press this button. This will send a signal to tell us that it's one of your people who is calling. I'll be sure to send a team right away to check on you."
"Thank you, Doctor Weir." He paused, and turned to the other three members to the Council, and they nodded. "You trusted us with the knowledge that the Great City of the Ancestors is still fighting the Wraith, and we will never betray this trust. Nobody else but us four will ever know that for your security, as well as ours. We want to show you the same kind of trust. It is of our knowledge that Atlantis needs a power source."
"Yes, you're right," Elizabeth confirmed, surprised that they knew about the ZPM. "How do you know that?"
"The Ancestors came to our planet generations ago, and left one of their power sources behind. We've found out about it in some texts about this time. We will be willing to give it to you."
"Really? I mean, that would be great for the City. We currently have a ZPM, that's the name we give the power source," she added, "but another one would help us greatly."
"Like I said, we want to give it to you. But..."
"But...?" Elizabeth prompted when it was clear that he didn't want to continue.
"The Ancestors have protected the ZPM. Throughout the centuries, our people tried to get it, but they stopped when they understood what it meant."
"What does it mean?" she wanted to know, needed to know. Having a second ZPM wasn't vital, but like she said, it could be useful.
"To get it, you'll have to accept sacrifices."
"What kind of sacrifices?" Lieutenant Petersen asked.
"Those you will be willing to make to get something you value."
"That's cryptic," the young lieutenant said, and Elizabeth couldn't agree more. "That's your call, Ma'am."
Elizabeth didn't know what to do. In any other circumstances, she would have jumped to the opportunity of getting a ZPM, but with the warning that sacrifices are to be made in order to get it, she wasn't sure of what she should do.
"You can turn back any time," Galvin seemed to want to reassure her.
"Ma'am, whatever you decide, we're behind you."
She knew that. John had asked them personally to keep a close eye on Elizabeth, and she knew that they would listen to him. She was facing two choices: either they went to get the ZPM now, or they could go back to Atlantis, and talk about it with John, and ask Caldwell to stay in orbit of the planet, just in case.
"If I may," the only woman from the Council said, jerking Elizabeth from her thoughts.
"If you decide to come back another time, your sacrifices might be greater."
"What do you mean?"
"I need to talk to my team," Elizabeth said. "If you excuse us."
Galvin nodded, and gestured for the rest of the Council to leave the room.
As soon as the door closed behind them, Elizabeth sighed. She was sick and tired of all this. They told them that they were willing to give them a ZPM, but then they said they didn't have it. They warned them that they would have to make sacrifices, but then didn't want to tell them more about it. She could feel the headache starting, and rubbed her temples.
"I'm fine, lieutenant. So, any thoughts about it?" she asked; she didn't want to make that decision alone.
"We should go," Sergeant Hawthorn said. "We're here already. What's the point in coming back later?"
The other members of the team nodded in agreement, and Elizabeth had to agree too. But still, she was worried about what those sacrifices might be. She didn't want to endanger the team.
End of flashback
Elizabeth made a pause in her story. Carson, Kate and John were giving her all the time she needed. They understood that it had to be difficult for her to tell them what happened, but short of them going to the planet, she was the only one who could.
Carson handed her a glass of water, and she smiled a little at the gesture. Neither of them liked to see her like that, so vulnerable. Elizabeth was anything but vulnerable usually, but since she came back, she didn't seem to be like her strong self anymore. They wanted to help her, but could do nothing until they knew the truth. They knew that, and it seemed like she knew that too, as she resumed talking.
After much talking, Elizabeth had finally agreed with the team to go get the ZPM themselves. They were led to the caves by Galvin, and three other members of the Council, one being Illyra.
"You have to follow the path," she said as they stopped before the entrance. There's only one path, so don't worry about getting lost. The texts say ZPM is at the end of the path. You'll have to follow a different path to come back. You will find it once you've completed your task."
"Is there anything else we should know?" Petersen asked. "Like, I don't know, what those sacrifices are?"
"I'm sorry, but we really can't tell you," Galvin said once more.
"Ok, I see. Hawthorn you take point, I'll cover our six, and Drester and Collins, you'll flank Dr Weir."
"Yes, sir," the three men answered.
"Whenever you're ready, Ma'am."
The caves were dark. They only had the flashlights from their P90, and one Elizabeth carried with her to see where they were going. They were progressing slowly, careful of any traps they could come across. After one left turn, they found themselves facing a wall.
"What the hell?" Hawthorn said, pointing his flashlight to the other walls. "There is no other way!"
"There might be."
Elizabeth pointed her flashlight to one of the walls, revealing a text written in Ancient. Immediately, the rest of team pointed their own on the wall too, giving her more light. She started deciphering the text, and though it missed a few words here and there, the meaning was still pretty clear.
"We have to find two buttons in the surrounding walls, and push them."
As soon as she said that, the men started exploring the walls with their flashlights, leaving Elizabeth alone before the text. There was something nagging her; this seemed too easy, but at the same time, there were some parts of the text that she couldn't read. Maybe there was a whole different meaning to the text, one she wasn't able to identify because part of the text was missing.
"Found one," Hawthorn said, soon followed by Drester.
"I've found the other."
"Ok, so we just push them, right Ma'am?"
Both men nodded at the other, and pushed the buttons. Nothing happened at first, then the wall parted in two, just before Drester started to scream. They all turned towards him to find that a gas had come out of the wall. But as they realised that, it was over. Drester had collapsed on the floor, unconscious. Collins crouched besides him, and checked his pulse.
"He's dead," he announced to the others.
Elizabeth gasped and fell to her knees; that was the kind of sacrifices Galvin was talking about. In order to get the ZPM, someone had to die. There was no wonder why no one had gotten it before; they had stopped after the first death.
Elizabeth knew that she was showing her weakness to the team, but right now, she didn't care. They were all shocked by Drester's sudden death. They hadn't thought that the Ancients would resort to such things to protect a ZPM. Until now.
"We should go back," she said, rising to her feet. "His death isn't worth a ZPM."
"He would want us to continue," Petersen said, and she turned towards him with a shocked look on her face. "He wouldn't want us to give up because he's dead. We need this ZPM, Ma'am."
"No, we don't need it. The City has already one, that's enough..."
"No, Ma'am, we need it now more than ever. For Drester. So that his death wasn't useless."
As much as she wanted to argue with him, Elizabeth knew that he was right. She turned towards the other two members of the team, who nodded in answer. They were all willing to continue. She nodded in turn. They resumed their walk, taking the path that had been hidden behind the wall.
End of flashback
"After that, they all died one by one. Hawthorn, Collins, and finally Petersen. I didn't want to continue, but each time, Petersen told me that it was the best thing to do. That they would have wanted that. And I trusted him. After his death, I continued alone, resolved to die too, but then, I was there, the ZPM was right in front of me. I grabbed it, waiting for something to happen to me, but nothing did. Another wall opened, and a few minutes later, I was out. Galvin was waiting for me on the other side. I said nothing. I just walked past them, and I didn't stop till I got to the Gate." She paused, relieved to be done with her retelling of what happened on the planet. "Their bodies are still out there..."
"I'll send a team to go get them," John replied.
"No!" she nearly shouted. "Don't. The traps are still there, I don't want anyone else to die." She didn't want to leave the bodies of the team behind either, but she'd rather not risk someone else's life.
"Ok, Elizabeth, nobody will go."
"What about the ZPM?" she asked, finally realising that she didn't have it anymore.
"I've asked McKay to take care of that. Do you want me to go and see what he has?" When she nodded in answer, he squeezed her hand one last time before letting go and standing up. He turned towards Carson, who nodded in reassurance; he would take care of her.
"I'd like to give you a sedative," the doctor said, after John left.
"I know that sleeping is probably the last thing you want to do, but you need rest. Trust me, Elizabeth."
After more hesitations, she finally nodded, though she was still unsure of what good it could do.
"I'd like to see you tomorrow, Elizabeth," Kate said as Carson left to find a sedative.
"I'll be fine...," Elizabeth tried.
"I'm not asking you to talk, just to come. If you feel the need to talk, then you will, if you don't, there's no problem with me. Come at ten, tomorrow morning. And no, you don't have to work," she added, knowing that she would try and use that as an excuse.
Before Elizabeth could answer, Carson had come back, and Kate said her goodbyes.
"Carson?" she said, as he injected her with the sedative.
"It's going to be ok, lass. You're going to be ok. Rest now," he replied, squeezing her hand.
Soon after, she was closing her eyes, and drifted off to a dreamless sleep.
John stepped onto the balcony, not surprised for a second to see Elizabeth standing by the railing, though it was way past midnight. He hadn't seen her since the previous day, when he went to see her while she was sleeping. He had wanted to stay with her, but had known better; she had needed her space, and he was willing to give her that. But tonight, he felt that he should be there for her.
Without saying a word, he went to stand beside her, putting his hand over hers where it was resting on the railing.
"Thank you," she whispered, barely loud enough for him to hear.
He didn't answer, he didn't need to, didn't feel the need to. Instead, he wrapped an arm around her waist, bringing her closer to him. She rested her head against his shoulder, needing to feel that he was close to her, that he was alive.
She now understood what Illyra had meant when she said that if she came back later, the sacrifices would have been greater. If she and the team had gone back to Atlantis, there was no doubt that John and his team would have wanted to go back with her instead. And they would have died. She knew that she couldn't put one life over another, especially since she was the leader of this expedition, but she couldn't help it. She was close to John, Rodney, Teyla and Ronon; she would have taken their deaths harder. But what she didn't know was how Illyra could have known.
"You should go to sleep..." John's voice interrupted her thoughts.
"I don't want to. Whenever I close my eyes, their faces are all I can see. I can't go to sleep.
"Want me to say with you?" he asked, boldly.
She knew she should say no, she had to say no. But still, there was some part of her, a part that she usually refused to listen to, that told her that she needed it. And for once, she didn't want to ignore that part of her. So she nodded, just slightly, against his shoulder.
Removing his arm from around her waist, he instead took her hand, leading her towards the door. Just before he opened it, he released her hand, neither of them wanting to add more fuel to the rumour mill. Saying their goodnights to the nightshift crew, they left the gateroom for the transporters.
Once in front of the door of Elizabeth's quarters, John questioned her with a look, leaving her a way out if she wanted to. But she didn't; she wanted him to stay with her tonight. She opened the door, and entered, trusting him to close the door behind them.
A few minutes later, she had changed into her nightclothes, while John simply took off his boots and pants, leaving him in only his t-shirt and boxers. The bed was narrow, made for one person only, but that didn't bother them. They lay on their sides, facing each other, John's arm finding its way back around her waist.
Their faces were just inches apart, and it was Elizabeth who first closed the distance to press her lips against his. It was brief, nothing like the one and only kiss they had shared when they were possessed by Phoebus and Thalan. They shared a smile, before they kissed once more, and again, each kiss just as brief as the first.
"We should sleep," he murmured, before blushing. "That's not what I meant. I mean, we should sleep, as in sleep, not as in..."
"I know," she said, putting him out of his misery. "Let's sleep then." She kissed his lips once more, before snuggling closer to him and closing her eyes.
"Sleep tight," he whispered against her forehead.
He closed his eyes, thinking again that he would help her through the ordeal, and that the sacrifice of Petersen and his men hadn't been in vain.