Rating: R for section 2, the rest PG
Dedication: hihoplastic! Whom we all love and cherish!
Summary: 5 times John and Elizabeth reunited.
Spoilers: Episode-related for "The Return" and "Lifeline."
Warnings: Old-age character death.
Author's Note: This all started because once upon a time hihoplastic left me a prompt with the word translucent, which somehow made me think of the last section, which really needed to be Thing 5 in a 5 Things fic (havocthecat gets enabling credit on this one.) There's definitely bittersweet in this, so it may not be appropriate for the happy_hiho comm... but I wrote it for hiho so HERE YOU GO, WITH LOVE. (Title is from Khalil Gibran. Thanks, Google!)
Note: I'm in nano-mode, so this may be rough around the edges.
So far, John thinks, this day is not going well.
By some accounts, this week isn't going well. They've only been in the Pegasus Galaxy for a matter of days, and while most of them are still alive (which is, technically, a rousing success), he's also managed to shoot his commanding officer, watch an entire culture turn into refugees, and wake a nightmarish race of aliens who will almost certainly destroy every human being in the galaxy. In the galaxy.
As a reward - or a punishment - Doctor Elizabeth Weir saw fit to promote him. He was too distracted at the time to object with the very valid argument that he has no idea what he's doing.
On the face of it, so far, aside from Colonel Sumner and waking the Wraith, he hasn't done a terrible job so far. The Wraith destroying Athos wasn't his fault, and he did help get Teyla's people to safety. And, like he said, most of his expedition is still alive and breathing in a remarkable alien city floating on top of the ocean. They even survived their first major incident when they tricked the giant sentient energy-eating creature out of the city.
Of course, the very next day, he had to go and lose Doctor Weir.
Or she had to go and lose herself - one or the other.
"Who designs a city this way?" Lieutenant Ford asks behind him. "I mean, are we even sure this is possible?"
"The Ancients, that's who," John answers, and lets McKay field the rest:
"Well, since it's actually happening, deductive reasoning tells me that yes, Ford, this is possible."
"It makes no sense. Why would anybody build rooms and hallways that move around on their own?"
"Defense? Entertainment? Actually, none of my doctorates are in Ancient thinking processes. Why am I even talking to you?"
"Guys," John interrupts. "This isn't the time. We just have to find her."
"If only the radios were working," Ford sulks.
Nervousness wraps itself around John's chest. All their radios are out, so it's not necessarily a sign of anything dire, but a straightforward collection of hallways has turned into a maze and Doctor Weir isn't answering her radio, and he tries not to think of the worst possible scenario, but the vision of her knocked out by a moving wall or otherwise injured is still loud in his mind.
Even the lifesigns detector isn't working.
"Why'd you even take her out here in the first place?" McKay asks.
John tries not to visibly wince because, yes, leaving her alone out here was his fault. "She wanted to see more of the city." And he found the gallery the night before and thought she'd enjoy it. He likes her, and they're all in this together, and it gave him an excuse to say he found something she'd enjoy far more than the football game he'd neglected to invite her to. And he was right. Her face lit up like Christmas at the sight of the Ancient artwork, carvings built right into the wall (he pointed out that they didn't know it was artwork, and it could just as easily have a practical purpose, but that didn't even make a dent in her delight). It was charming, and it made him feel a little better about this whole adventure.
He stepped outside into the hallway when he had to talk to Bates over his headset, and when he turned around, the door he came out of led to a completely different room, and his radio was dead. It took him almost twenty minutes to find his way to an elevator and get to a level where he could radio for backup.
"Maybe we should get the Athosians on this," Ford comments. "They're hunters, aren't they?"
"I'd rather not lose any more people in here," John replies.
"Except us? I'm probably the least expendable person in this entire expedition."
"McKay, we're kind of on a timetable here."
McKay mumbles something, and then says, "There!" and holds out the lifesigns detector.
"I don't see anything," Ford says. "We should be three dots on there, right? For the three of us?"
"Yes, yes, we all applaud your ability to count, and no, I haven't managed to get the lifesigns function turned back on, but we can see the walls now. And from your description of the gallery, it's large enough to be pretty distinctive."
John snatches the device away from McKay. "This way."
McKay doesn't move. "I manage to reprogram an alien device I only heard about three days ago while walking, and I don't even get a 'nice job'?"
"Nice job." John grits out. He can only hope Elizabeth hasn't wandered too far from the gallery in search of escape, or this won't have helped much.
When they get to the large room on the map - their route only shifts twice on the way - he's still a little bit expecting that she might be unconscious, or at least bleeding a little. He tries not to show it, but this galaxy's making him a little paranoid.
Doctor Weir is crouching down studying a wall next to the door, and she jumps nearly a foot in the air when they walk in. "Hi! My God, you scared me."
John gives her a look. "What have you been doing for the past two hours?"
"Has it been two hours?" She flushes a little. "I guess I got a little carried away. But you wouldn't believe it - the writing in here suggests that this used to be the center of some kind of moving art piece. I think it might be some kind of maze. Daniel Jackson would love this. Where have you been?"
McKay starts chattering, "The application of this technology could be useful, actually - not as art, of course, that's stupid, but... where did you see that writing?"
Weir blinks, like she's just realizing that John isn't alone. "So... what are you all doing here?"
"The walls are actually changing shape," John tells her. "Maybe we turned it on when we walked in here last time."
"You do seem to do that a lot around here," Weir says, beaming, and John is a little taken aback by how nice her smile is. "So you brought the team along to explore?"
"Major Sheppard reported you lost," Ford says. "He was concerned for you, ma'am."
Her grin turns into a teasing smirk. "I guess Major Sheppard just doesn't appreciate Ancient art."
He rolls his eyes. "Next time, I'm leaving you lost."
Next time, he'll be more careful.
The first time he has sex with Elizabeth Weir, they're on Earth.
It's late at night and neither of them are quite themselves. John still doesn't know whose idea it was to go out and paint Colorado Springs red the day after they were unceremoniously booted out of Atlantis by the returning Ancients. He goes less to have fun than to put on a brave face for the others, and when Elizabeth shows up half an hour later, he knows she's here for the same reason.
He feels grief looming over his shoulder over everything he's just lost – the city, his team, Teyla, Ronon, the man he became as Elizabeth's chief military officer. It's a dark well, and John thinks if he indulges it that it'll take years for him to crawl back out. He's lost things before – a career, a wife – but it never felt like this.
He's been fighting it off with anger, mostly, at the Ancients, at the IOA, at himself.
Normally, he doesn't like to lose control, but with everything already fallen apart around him, getting blind drunk is the most logical course of action.
He remembers the evening in waves of sensation – whiskey burning his throat, Elizabeth's hand on his shoulder while she's gritting out a joke, the everpresent noise of Earth, the way everything seems wrong because he can't smell the ocean. He remembers whispering something in Elizabeth's ear, remembers sharing her drink when she complains that it just doesn't taste right, remembers watching her with panic in his throat because it looks somehow like she's disappearing before his very eyes.
When she goes to leave, ducking out of the evening early with a blank expression that's nothing like her, John follows her.
They don't go back to the SGC. They go to a different bar, and then another, and he's squeezed in a back booth between her and a wall getting drunker than hell and feeling his whole body tighten with need when she reaches past him for a napkin.
He doesn't really know what happens next, or why this is the night, the moment after two years of suggestive smiles and deep connection and thinking this thing between them is inevitable when he or she or both of them finally snap.
He knows only that she kisses him, that he follows her when she goes to get some air, that she grabs him or he grabs her and he fucks her outside behind the bar. The bass is pounding through the brick behind her, vibrating through them as he pushes into her, and he gasps with relief and thinks finally, finally and it's at once the best feeling in the world and the last thing he wants.
Elizabeth comes sobbing, her fingers digging sharp points in his scalp, and his arms and legs are trembling with the effort of holding her up and he fights a hand under her shirt to feel the breasts he still hasn't seen and comes hard while she breathes his name.
He doesn't tell her how much he cares about her, how important she's become to him, how badly he fears he'll fall apart if he can't see her anymore. Even with his blood still pounding in his ears, his skin slick, their bodies pulling apart in the cool night air – it doesn't feel right.
She pulls away from him, stumbling as she fixes her clothes, and it hurts.
He doesn't remember a thing after that, but when he wakes up in the morning in his quarters at the SGC, Elizabeth isn't there.
He doesn't have a clue what to say, but he needs to say something, and ends up leaving her a hoarse-voiced message asking if she's okay.
It's an hour before she answers him, by text: I'm sorry.
He's hungover for a day and a half, and then he goes off-world. One of his teammates tells him, I'm sorry for your loss, and John has to remind himself that the guy means Atlantis.
No one hears from her. She rents an apartment in town and lets her phone ring to voicemail. John falls into a routine – missions, Ori briefings, the gym, phone calls from Rodney and lunch with whichever Atlantis alumni he can find. He tries not to think about her. He's most vulnerable to that at night, and first thing in the morning, when he wakes up surrounded by concrete, a thousand miles from the ocean.
He goes on like that for over a month. It's not that he hates the SGC, hates being back on Earth, it's just dry. Lonely. The food is better here, in theory, but everything tastes like sand.
The dinner is Carson's idea, and John is surprised – pleasantly – that he convinces Elizabeth to come along. It should probably be awkward, given what happened the last time he saw her, but she smiles at him and he rolls his eyes and it's not back to normal, but it's nice. She squeezes his hand under the table and for a few long moments, he can't let go.
Miraculously, they all survive their mission to retake Atlantis (and perhaps more miraculously, as Elizabeth points out, none of them get fired). It's a little creepy knowing the control tower was rebuilt by Replicators, but John accepts it without complaint when he sees Elizabeth sit down at her desk again with the wide, genuine grin he missed so much on Earth.
He hovers longer than he needs to, watching her evaluate her rebuilt desk, because now that the emergency is over and the adrenaline has faded, he wonders.
He wonders what she'd feel like sober. How she'd look next to him first thing in the morning, just waking up.
"So," he says, and hopes she can read him well enough to fill in the rest.
She looks at him for a long time. "It's nice to be back to normal," she says.
He smiles, and is even a little relieved. "Yes," he agrees. "It just wasn't the same."
Atlantis is the most important thing. She's still here. They have time.
"Do I have to count the ways this plan is completely insane?"
John grabs Rodney's shoulder and shoves him down behind their makeshift barricade, maybe a little harder than necessary. "Will you just download the information?"
"This is crazy!" Rodney says again, but goes back to working on the alien computer system. The explosions continue on the other side of the barricade from lobbed grenades, and the gunfire is still going outside. He recognizes the sound of Ronon and Teyla's weapons amid the chaos, so at least they're still in the fight.
John grips his own gun more tightly and wishes that Rodney weren't right. The fact that this was the only plan any of them could come up with doesn't make it sane, and trying to hold the dilapidated ruins of a Replicator outpost from armed aliens so Rodney can look for a technological achilles heel isn't even close to the worst of it.
If he's lucky enough to make it out of here, he'll be court-martialed. Elizabeth might have let him get away with a few ill-advised stunts in their time in Atlantis, but despite Rodney's fawning praise and her impressive record, Colonel Carter is a whole other animal, and John's fairly sure she won't take kindly to her flagship team disappearing on her less than a month into her command.
John doesn't know if she was surprised, though. They brought this plan to her before they left, and she said no, that it was a suicide mission, and there had to be another way. When John gave her answer to the team, Ronon said, "We're wasting time," and that was all the impetus John needed to start a private war.
No one's saying out loud that Elizabeth might be dead. He can't accept that, even though the other option is that she's spent the month being tortured by Replicators. He should hope she died quickly, as painlessly as possible, but he couldn't do this if he thought they were only going to recover a body.
And he doesn't know what he'll do if they fail, if they don't reach her, or reach her too late.
His hands are shaking, and he forces himself not to think about that. "McKay!"
"Almost! You can't rush this kind of thing!"
Teyla's on John's radio. "We can't hold the stargate much longer! The aliens have reinforcements coming in from other villages."
Rodney triumphantly rips something free of the broken Replicator equipment. "Got it!"
They make it to the gate.
Teyla passes a message to Lorne through Halling, and that's how they get a jumper. "They could be tracking it," Ronon says.
Teyla looks horrified, turns to John. "Do you believe your own people would work so hard to prevent us from attempting to rescue Doctor Weir?"
John doesn't know what to think, but ultimately, it doesn't matter. "We have to try anyway, don't we?"
He remembers the last seconds, the last moment he saw her, determined but weakening and ordering him to leave her behind, to save the team. To save himself.
When he closes his eyes, he dreams of the explosion in the control tower, of getting Keller's call, of watching her through a monitor and feeling like he was drowning when they said they lost her. He doesn't dream about the moment when he left her behind, because every time he starts to, when he sees the Asuran hallway, nausea jerks him awake.
Rodney doesn't sleep at all, forcing useful information out of the Replicator data module.
"Their language is close to Ancient, but not close enough," he declares.
"Try harder," Ronon says.
"I need Elizabeth," Rodney mutters, going back to work, and John gets out of the jumper, walks the perimeter for the twelfth time, and feels useless.
Colonel Carter's right: it's a suicide mission.
"We can find her with this," McKay says, holding up a modified life signs detector. "I'm sure they've disabled her locator beacon. No matter how many nanites are in her, she'll still read as human."
John feels imaginary nanites crawling under his skin. "Then how do we get to her?"
"With this," Ronon says predictably, activating his gun.
John ignores him. "I thought you said we could freeze the replicators, like Elizabeth did."
Rodney has another piece of equipment in front of him, part of the computer they took from the ancient Replicator outpost. "If it works, and I must stress the if here, because they've probably bolstered their defenses against that particular trick, we'll have to upload this directly into their network. There are only two ways to do that – either we talk one of the replicators into merging with it-"
"Unlikely," John comments.
"-or we have to install it directly into their mainframe... here."
Rodney points on their map of the complex. They've been cloaked in low orbit for an hour, taking readings.
"How can we we get that deep into their facility undetected?" Teyla asks.
Rodney crosses his arms over his chest. "Yes, Colonel Sheppard, how are we going to accomplish that?"
Ronon unholsters his gun again for dramatic emphasis, but even he looks dubious.
John feels hope escaping faster than he can contain it. "We need something else. A diversion. Maybe she'll be easier to get to than the central core and we can grab her and get out."
Rodney shakes his head. "You don't understand. Without this program, we won't be able to take her off the planet. We have to assume they've pumped her full of enough nanites to be able to remotely control her – or shut her down, not to mention using her to find Atlantis once we take her back there. I can break her connection to the larger network, but I'll need time to work without them interfering."
"Can't we just jam them somehow?"
"We're not talking about a two-way radio here-" Rodney pauses. "Give me your radios."
"This is a terrible plan, Rodney," John tells him.
"I told you it was! You're the one who wants to do it anyway."
"You didn't have to come along for this, you know."
"Shhh," Teyla hisses, moving up front to take point as they walk through the deserted outer hallways of the Replicator city.
"I can't see farther than a hundred meters on here," John says, shaking the lifesigns detector. He can see a host of replicators ahead, moving around, but no Elizabeth yet.
Rodney frowns. "I didn't mention that?"
"Maybe the radio thing will work!"
"Well, I could tell you if they're going for it if this thing had a range to see that far!"
Ordinarily, the last thing John would want to do when infiltrating an alien city would be to set their radios to continually broadcast. He likes the plan slightly better when their radios are on the other side of the city and taped to C-4 on a pressure trigger – but not much. Even if they take the bait and think the humans are coming from the other direction, there are far too many of them for a diversion tactic to work.
Hail Mary, he thinks, and remembers the last time Elizabeth found him watching that game in the lounge, how she promised that yes, someday, she'd find the time to watch the whole thing and how if he'd known what was coming he would have turned off the game and pulled her to him and told her that this couldn't wait.
"Ronon, you and Rodney head for the core," John orders when they come to a fork in the hallway. "Teyla and I will look for Elizabeth. Get back to the jumper as soon as you're done and use the scanners to look for us – we might need backup."
"You might need backup?" Rodney asks.
They haven't gone more than four steps when there's an explosion in the distance, and alarms start blaring. The Replicators' dots on his lifesigns detector start moving quickly and in all directions, including theirs.
Ronon nods his head toward an alternate route and they move toward it until-
"I see her!" Rodney says, holding up his own lifesigns detector.
Her dot is red and moving, heading East, directly away from the explosion. She's barely on the edge of their scanning radius and moving out of it fast, and he's not about to lose her now, not when they're this close.
He stares at the readout in front of him, trying to think of a solution that doesn't involve running headlong through the replicators between them and her, when he notices something else.
The Replicators are still moving, but the pattern is odd, like they're all pacing in tight circles, or walking into walls.
Elizabeth, he thinks, and starts to run.
He sees her before she sees them, a flash of dark hair through a wall of disorganized replicators bumping into each other, with no more intelligence in their movements than wind-up toys. He calls her name while Ronon disappears down a hallway to cut her off, and after a few more minutes of pushing through aimless bodies, he reaches her.
She's holding her hand up, toward Ronon, and she lifts her other one toward him.
"I can't hold them if you touch me," she says. Elizabeth's face is lined with tension, like she's fighting through a headache, and John has never seen anything more incredible in his life. "We need to leave. Now."
McKay argues, "We have a program that will jam the Replicators' communications with each other and render them unconscious. We need to upload it in the control room before we can take you out of here."
John says, "I don't think we have time." Elizabeth's body looks like it might snap with the pressure of whatever force of will she's exerting.
"Give it to me," she orders.
"There's no interface," Rodney says, but is fumbling with his bag anyway. "There's nothing to let you upload it directly, you'd have to be more Replicator than human-"
Elizabeth looks over at John, eyes locking with his, and he can't breathe. There's something inhuman about her, and he almost steps back before he realizes that whatever she is, he can't reject her. There's a sparkle of recognition when she looks at him, that same intensity that used to make him feel completely exposed in front of her, and he moves toward her.
"Rodney, give it to her," he orders.
Rodney sets it on the ground. "This will affect you, too," he says. "It shouldn't be permanent, but you'll be knocked out, and I don't know if there will be any lasting effects on the nanites in your brain-"
She looks back at John, and the determined look she gives him is Elizabeth, no matter what has happened to her. "I won't infect you if you touch me while I'm unconscious," she says. "They won't travel through my skin unless I order them to."
He'd carry her out of here anyway.
She pushes her fingers into the computer terminal. She throws her head back, her whole body tensing. "I'm transmitting it now," she grits out. "Thirty seconds..."
"Nice rescue," John tells her, because he should have known that even under alien mind control, she'd have some kind of plan.
"Took you long enough," she replies.
She collapses, and he catches her.
Carter's pissed, but less so than he would have expected.
"The Generals are going to have some hard questions for you," she tells him. "A formal court-martial doesn't work when the details are too classified to reveal to the JAG office, but they've scheduled a hearing within the SGC. You'll have to travel back to Earth."
"Yes, ma'am." He tries to look contrite, but it's hard.
"And should they decide that you will be allowed to return to this post, you and I need to have a long conversation about the chain of command in this city."
"Yes, ma'am." He does feel a little guilty about that.
"I understand why you did it," she says, softening a little. "And I'm sure everyone in this city, including me, is glad you succeeded. I hope you realize you're very, very lucky to have survived this mission."
He grins. "Yes, ma'am."
Carter rolls her eyes. "Now get out of my office."
Keller has kicked everyone out of the infirmary except Rodney, but John gives the guard an official look and sneaks past.
"How is she?" he asks. There's a live scan image up on the monitor of the inside of Elizabeth's torso, nanites clustering around her spine. "How are they?"
"Active," Keller says, making a frustrated face. "We haven't found a way to shut them off. But they aren't replicating or transmitting, so they're effectively dormant. I have no idea what sort of health effects they will pose for the rest of her life."
"But she'll have a rest of her life."
Keller nods, and lets out a breath. "Miraculously, yes. Rodney has removed the commands you uploaded into the Replicator network. She's just sleeping now. I've got her on IV fluids, but physically she should be fine." Keller purses her lips. "I think it may be a while before we can really gauge her mental state, though."
"She's strong," John says, shaking his head. "She'll be fine."
"I know." He feels sick when he thinks about it. He can't even imagine what it must have been like, and when he starts to try, he feels the urge to put his fist through a wall, to hurt until he comes to terms with leaving her in the hands of the enemy. It's possible he's due for some sessions with Kate Heightmeyer as well. "I know, Doc, I just... this needs to be a win right now."
Keller squeezes his arm. "It is. I'll let you know when she's awake."
John gets the call after he's already in bed, but getting up and throwing on clothes at all hours is the least he can do for her.
The infirmary's quiet except for Keller, who gives up her chair at Elizabeth's bedside for him.
Of all the things he's been wanting to say for a month, wishing he'd said before that, he comes up with, "Hey."
Elizabeth blinks up at him. "I hear you're in trouble for coming after me."
"It should have been sooner," he tells her. "I did... we did the best we could, but it should have been sooner."
Elizabeth shakes her head against the pillow, and he eyes are watery. His whole body hurts with guilt.
"You did the right thing, leaving," she says.
"No," he argues. "It may have been the only thing, but it wasn't the right thing."
She wriggles a hand above the covers and he meets it, interlacing their fingers. She's warm, thank God, and he wants to crawl into bed beside her, to rest for the first time since he left her behind. He remembers Earth, a brick wall behind a dive bar and the feel of her skin like coming home.
He walked away after that. Told himself they had time. He's not sure he can anymore.
"It's really good to see you," is what he says out loud.
Elizabeth smiles, then grins, and squeezes his hand.
He starts to relax.
He has been imagining his reunion with Elizabeth for nearly five months now, and his fantasies have gotten pretty wild. On his more sentimental days, he imagines surprising her with wine and chocolate, even (somehow) covering their Atlantis quarters with rose petals. When he's feeling particularly desperate, he imagines taking her the second she walks through the stargate, right there in the control tower in front of everyone (it's been five months; he's pretty sure they'd understand).
Never once did he picture it would involve Sam Carter, a 27-hour drive, and a lockpicking set.
"You realize we're breaking and entering," John says as Sam fusses with the lock.
Sam glares over her shoulder. "Now you're worried about breaking the law? Hold the flashlight steady."
"But that's important," he points out. "And we could just wait for her to get home."
The lock clicks and the door slides open. Sam shoots him a haughty look. There's something about crime tha makes her twenty years younger, John thinks. "I don't know about you," she declares, "but I need a shower."
While Sam uses the shower, John explores Elizabeth's apartment. It came furnished, she told him by intergalactic email, but he can see the tiny touches of her personality in the little statue on the coffee table, the warm blanket bundled on the couch, the heavy books overrunning the desk – all reference, he's sure, for the treaty she was negotiating. The bedroom is tidy and spartan except for his copy of War and Peace on the nightstand, an Athosian woven bracelet keeping her place.
He's exhausted from the drive – he's not supposed to be on Earth at all, so flying to D.C. was out of the question – and he wants to curl up in Elizabeth-scented sheets and sleep until the universe starts to make sense again.
He hears a key in the lock, and heads back to the front door in time to see Elizabeth drop her purse in shock.
"John! Jesus! What are you doing here? I thought I'd just left the light on!"
He's going to tell her everything, but first, he can't just stand there while she's here in front of him and it's been five damn months. He doesn't even close the door, just grabs her and kisses her. He can feel the questions on her lips, but after a moment her arms wind around his shoulders and she opens her mouth, letting him in.
God, he's missed her.
"Hello," he says into the curve of her cheek. He's not satisfied, not even a little, but they really are on a tight schedule.
"Hello," she replies, and she sounds amused. "Dare I ask what you're doing on this side of the universe?"
He pulls back, but can't quite bring himself to let go of her hand. "We have problems. Earth is pulling out of the Pegasus Galaxy."
Elizabeth's jaw drops open. "What? Why? How is this the first time I'm hearing about this?"
John doesn't want to get into the whole story, full of conspiracy theories over why the US government suddenly needed Elizabeth to negotiate a disarmament treaty so badly. John has done well enough with handling the city and the Wraith, but he lacks Elizabeth's ability to deal with the IOA without ranting obscenities at them. "You're coming with me to Atlantis," he says instead. "As soon as Colonel Carter gets out of the shower."
Elizabeth blinks, glances back toward her bathroom door, and shakes her head. "John, I can't just go. I'm still cleaning up the end of the treaty, I have a meeting with the President on Tuesday, I..." she shrugs helplessly. "I left laundry in the washing machine."
He squeezes her hand. "I'll explain everything on the way, but we're running out of time."
"Okay..." she says, glancing back toward the bathroom door again. "What's the short version?"
John gives her a wry smile. "We're declaring independence."
Sam jokes about being a cab driver when Elizabeth crawls into the back seat next to John, but lets it go. John appreciates the chance to wrap his arm around her. He's been going insane, not being able to touch her or even talk to her without the SGC vetting his emails.
"It's political," Sam says from the front seat. "I'm not surprised they kept you out of it, Elizabeth. It's only a matter of time before the Stargate Program goes public, and everyone is positioning themselves for the fallout. The revenue going to the Atlantis mission to fight aliens terrorizing a whole different galaxy isn't something they want to explain."
"Have you been recalled?" Elizabeth asks, looking at John.
"Not exactly. Officially... I'm not on Earth."
"I owed him a favor," Sam says. "For some reason, the IOA didn't want him coming back to Earth before the end. They probably figured he would cause trouble."
"I wonder why," Elizabeth deadpans. "So, they're shutting down the Pegasus mission. They're not worried about the Wraith taking control of Atlantis?"
John winces. "They're going to destroy it."
Her expression turns venomous. He's always known Elizabeth has a special connection to the city itself, and he suspected this would be the worst part of the story for her to hear.
"Destroy it? It's the best chance the humans in the Pegasus galaxy have to defeat the Wraith!"
"I fought them as much as I could," Sam says, "So did Jack. So did everyone."
John rubs a hand over Elizabeth's back as he talks. "In a way, their solution helps us. The last of the Atlantis crew is supposed to detonate the self-destruct and travel home on the Dauntless."
"That's Caldwell's new ship," Elizabeth identifies it.
"We'll make sure everyone except those who want to stay goes back to Earth through the stargate first as 'nonessential personnel.' Then, instead of destroying the city... we launch it. Land on a different planet, so when Earth dials Atlantis to check if we've been destroyed, they won't reach anything."
Sam adds, "Steven will come back to Earth and say there was an accident. The self-destruct went off prematurely, before the crew was evacuated. I'm sending the sensor data back through with you two. Assuming... I guess we never actually asked if you wanted to leave Earth forever."
Elizabeth's eyes are wide. "Oh, I wouldn't miss this for the world."
They only get a few moments alone together. Sam goes into a rest stop for coffee, and he nudges Elizabeth's shoulder until she wakes up.
"Hey," he says. "Are you okay with all of this?"
She wraps her hand over his. "I'm not letting you do this without me."
He kisses her.
"It'll be okay," he promises, although he really has no idea.
"I hope so," she says, "because your plan's kind of insane."
He smirks. "Well, that's what happens when you leave me to mind the store."
Her smile falls away. "I missed you. I really..."
"Shh," he whispers, his heart slamming against his ribs, and kisses her again.
Jack O'Neill is the only one in the control room when Sam successfully smuggles them into the SGC.
He shakes John's hand, and hugs Elizabeth. "I'm sorry," he says, and, "Good luck."
"I think we'll need it," she whispers into the General's shoulder, and John wonders what the hell he's getting them into. He only knows that they can't leave, not when all the people they've met are still at risk. He doesn't belong on Earth anymore. Elizabeth doesn't either.
"I really hope I'll see you again someday," Sam says.
"You could come with us," John offers, though he knows she'll say no.
At the foot of the ramp, while the stargate is dialing, he whispers to Elizabeth, "Last time on Earth."
A whole host of emotions are on her face, and he feels a little guilty, knowing she handwrote letters to her brothers on the last leg of their car trip and gave them to Sam to mail. She's leaving people on Earth. For John, everything, everyone he loves is on Atlantis.
"It's a nice planet to be from," Elizabeth says, grabbing his hand.
They walk through the stargate together.
Most of her last day is spent laughing.
Though her body is failing her, she gets down on the floor with Lon and Arina to play with toys. John watches as she holds each of them, kissing their hands and faces, and tries not to think how she's saying goodbye.
Her decline has been quick – a month ago she was working in the hydroponic gardens – and it's too fast for him to process. She laughs, squeezes his hand, tells him, "Eighty-five is a good run, John." As she has for years, she spends a lot of her time meditating with the spiritual seekers from the various cultures who have emigrated to Atlantis over the years. She's found peace.
His body isn't holding up all that well either, but he pushes it as much as he can. He takes long walks along the piers and stares out at the ocean, practicing what it will be like to be alone.
The last week, though, he doesn't leave their quarters. He stays with her, even meditates with her. Elizabeth seems happier, lighter, as the days progress, and he can't help fearing that she's loosening her grip on the world.
Even Brianna has swallowed the rhetoric of the elders. "I don't want her to be in pain," she says. She smiles, the expression so similar to her mother's. "She wants to be with the Ancestors."
John doesn't want her to be in pain, of course, but he wants her to be here, with him.
After the day she spends playing with her grandchildren, Elizabeth calls them all together. Teyla is there, and other friends of theirs from Earth and Athos and at least two other worlds, and they all end up standing around the bed.
"I love you," Elizabeth tells Brianna.
When it's his turn to say goodbye, John can only stare at her. Her eyes are milky with age and growing blindness, but in them, he sees the same person she has always been. His lover. His partner. Elizabeth.
He wants to say Don't go, but can't bring himself to speak at all.
She smiles at him, a ghost of an expression, and says, "See you soon."
There's a brilliant light all around them, coming from her body, and it's over.
For the second time, he doesn't have a body to bury.
When Elizabeth was captured by Replicators, nearly everyone thought she was dead. They mourned while John retreated into himself, unwilling to accept that she might not still be alive to be rescued.
Now, the city around him is celebrating, dancing and feasting and chanting. Ascension is the ultimate goal, the Pegasus natives tell him, the pinnacle of spiritual life, a sign Elizabeth lived well and was blessed by the Ancestors. He should be happy, should be dancing with his daughter and all their friends, thanking the city's Ancestors for taking Elizabeth from them.
John misses his wife. The notion that she's alive somewhere, in the nebulous existance of ascension, is comforting, but not enough.
But he sees the concern in Brianna's face, so he tries.
There are good things, still. He can spend a whole day listening to his grandson's stories. Arina dances around his quarters, radiant with delight, and chatters to both him and Elizabeth like they're equally present (Teyla calls her gifted, John just figures his granddaughter has an overactive imagination). He has taken to watching sunsets with Brianna at night, sharing tea while she tells him about the day's work in the gardens.
"I still don't know where you got your green thumb," he tells her, for the thousandth time in her life.
"There was that one plant that Mom didn't kill," she says, giggling into her mug. "That thing was so ugly. Where did she even get it?"
"The Idrin ambassador." John remembers it clearly; it wasn't nearly as funny at the time. "He was pretty determined to steal her away from me. I think Elizabeth kept that plant alive to keep me on my toes."
Brianna reaches over to touch his hand. "It's good to see you smile. I've missed that."
The winter is cold, and he gets a cough deep in his chest that doesn't go away.
He tries meditating, to see if it will make him feel closer to Elizabeth, but all it does is make his back stiff.
Teyla tells him to keep trying. He remembers the six months (or four hours) he spent learning about ascension with people who had studied it for generations, and doubts that he has enough time left.
He talks to her, sometimes. He doesn't think he's actually crazy – unlike little Arina, he knows she's not there and listening – but he's spent the better part of his life debriefing his day to her, and it's a hard habit to break.
"I'm really sick of meditating," he complains aloud as he gets into bed. "You told me it was fun. It's not."
He imagines her laughing, can picture the lift of her eyebrow and the shake of her head.
He wonders if she's watching him, if she's there. Sometimes he thinks he feels her when he's just waking up.
Or he's crazy.
In case he's not crazy, he says, "You'll have to help me, Elizabeth. I can't get this alone."
John gets good news and bad news back to back.
The bad news is that the endless cough is pneumonia.
The good news is that Brianna is pregnant again. She comes to tell him in the infirmary, her husband behind her. Pai towers over her; he rests his head on top of hers like a totem pole of grins and John laughs himself into a coughing fit and smiles all the while.
Brianna sits up with him that night while he can't sleep, as the nurses come by to up his flow of oxygen.
"You should be taking care of my grandbaby," John points out. "Get some sleep."
She waves him off. Spending her entire life in the Pegasus galaxy has given her a different attitude towards both birth and death.
John remembers the first time he saw her, a screaming, nameless baby in the burning ashes of a Wraith-torn world, less than a year old. She stopped howling when he picked her up, just for a moment, and he was hers.
It took Elizabeth a little longer. She was always the cautious one, practical. Brianna takes after her in so many ways.
It's almost morning when Brianna tells him, "I'll be okay, you know. Really."
He smiles. She always is.
When it ends, it doesn't hurt.
The pain stops a few minutes before everything else. On Earth, they hide death away and struggle to explain it to children; here, Arina sits on his bed with him, kissing his face just before he goes.
He still doesn't know what will happen. He didn't put in the years attempting to unravel the mysteries of Ancient spirituality that Elizabeth did. He doesn't even know if, on its own, he would want to ascend – he turned it down once before, when he was young.
The last thing he hears is Brianna's voice, and then everything goes quiet.
He's not in the infirmary anymore.
He's on the balcony, not the one where he drinks tea with Brianna, but the one outside the control tower. It's been years since he's even been here.
Elizabeth steps through the doorway from the control room, wearing white. "You have a decision to make," she says, her voice full of youth and kindness and joy as she reaches for his hand.
And she smiles.