The first time someone in Atlantis died as a direct result of her orders, Elizabeth Weir made a promise. She promised herself that this death would mean something. She would help the expedition survive - flourish - in honor of this lost life. The need to defeat the Wraith, to keep the expedition alive and successful long enough to make a difference, grew stronger with each death. She owed the fallen that much, if nothing else. They'd given their lives for the cost of her idealized dream; she would damn well make good on that trade off.
Then Earth came back. While their help was gratefully accepted, their input was not. She fought long and hard to keep the expedition the way it had been, to retain her staff that knew the ways of Pegasus so well. She spent sleepless nights forming and discarding arguments that would achieve her goals, until suddenly it was over - she had won. John and Carson and even Rodney all returned to Atlantis with her.
But if Pegasus had taught her anything, it was that no victory came without a price. She hadn't realized that the cost of protecting Atlantis would be her soul.
Before the arrival of the Daedalus, there had been the occasional sleepless night during the crisis of the week.
After the arrival, and all it entailed, insomnia became a regular feature of her life.
It never ended.
Even when the seemingly endless minutia that came with running an Earth Base while under a microscope was done, it still didn't end. Every decision she wanted to make had to be weighed against what Earth wanted, what Earth would condone. Every decision that she had to make had to be justified within systems that held no bearing on her current world. No bearing, save one.
Elizabeth had made a promise, in the early months of the expedition, to make all of this worth the price they paid. It didn't matter if they weighed the price in innocence, in blood, in sweat, or in tears. The value stayed the same. In addition, the debt wasn't owed just to the dead men and women from Earth - not anymore. Now, she owed it to those who had lost their lives to the Wraith that woke too early. Those who suffered by their associations with Atlantis. Those who stood to lose their last glimmer of hope if Atlantis vanished into the abyss.
To honor that promise, that debt, she had to be in Atlantis. If they removed her, put in someone who didn't know the situation - didn't know who to trust and who to threaten and who to simply ignore - her people would die. Needlessly. Those were deaths she could prevent, and the cost of her self-respect was so minor as to be inconsequential compared to all those lives. It was a simple decision.
She lied. She postured. She made every effort to walk that line between career suicide and mass casualties. She started meeting regularly with Kate, and that helped some, but it never kept the nightmares away. Dreams that she wasn't convincing enough. That they pulled her back to Earth and she never learned that her city had been destroyed. That she was too conservative and SGA-1 didn't come home one day because of politik. Dreams where the dead came to remind her of her failures - in judgment, in tactics, and in trust.
She knew the others worried, both about her competence and her loyalty. That Halling doubted her promises to do whatever she could to preserve his people's legacy. That John's friendly teasing about being chained to her desk had a note of concern beneath it, and Rodney's possessive inclinations toward the coffee in staff meetings had become more pronounced once Carson had mentioned that she was working on an ulcer. Even Ronon's casual questions when he dragged her out for an occasional jog (torture session) were a surprisingly subtle inquisition regarding what information she was giving the IOA, and how it would affect Atlantis.
She also knew that they understood. For all of his teasing, John never said a word about the times he found her asleep at her desk in the middle of the night. When Rodney stopped by for early morning science department briefings, he always offered her a cup of his secret stash of Blue Hawaiian (or sent it via Radek if it was a really early morning). On the first day of every month, Teyla stopped by her office and asked if Elizabeth had enough time in her schedule for those meditation sessions they'd discussed (she never did, but she appreciated the thought). And after the first three visits, Doctor Windmeir didn't even bother commenting when Elizabeth showed up at 0300; she just handed her a pack of sedatives and a roll of tums and told her to cut back on the coffee.
The day the Ancients reclaimed Atlantis, it was almost a relief. The city was safe now, even if it wasn't hers anymore. The ancients would protect the city, and make sure it was used to the fullest extent of its potential. She could stop talking through a three-layered speech filter and be herself again.
There was something liberating about telling Earth to go screw itself.
It was also profoundly terrifying. For all that her hopes and dreams resided within the city of Atlantis, Elizabeth knew that she was still a stranger to Pegasus. Three years was nothing when it came to understanding the political currents that flew between the thousand worlds the ancients had 'seeded'. Once she decided to attempt the Alliance of Atlantis, she learned precisely how much she didn't know.
Paranoia was a necessary survival trait in the Pegasus Galaxy, and it was one she understood the need for all too well. However, it was a serious hurdle in attempting to build a long-term joint venture. The Genii and Athosians (and even the Taranians) might be known quantities, but only just. She learned new things every hour that she spent dealing with the logistical nightmare that came from trying to merge sometimes blatantly antagonistic parties into a single umbrella organization. The first days (weeks, months) of her life after the Daedalus left were dedicated to making sure that her hard fought alliance didn't un-form - there were several instances where she was sure that she would never succeed in this critical step toward a brighter future. Hell, any future, if the Wraith kept on as they were.
Inventories, negotiations, planning committees and judicial hearings - all merged into a long bureaucratic nightmare that she thought she'd left behind. She was running on coffee and adrenaline again, but apparently the tea the Genii had offered up really did work wonders on the stomach, because her ulcer subsided. Her nights were long, but when she did manage to fall into bed she slept the sleep of the dead instead of waking every half hour in a cold sweat. She might be nominally responsible for thousands of people, but deep within her something had eased.
The night before they broke ground on the new settlement, Elizabeth couldn't sleep. Instead, she curled up next to the window and stared out over what was once again her city. It had been exactly one Atlantis solar year since she had sworn away her homeworld in exchange for a chance to repay her debts. The decision had seemed painful at the time, even though there had no option but the road she had chosen. 313 days had eased the voices of the dead, and given her things she had long since deemed inaccessible. She had founded an alliance that would (hopefully) provide the chance to build a brighter future. She had gained a lover who understood her, and allowed her to make the decisions she felt necessary; someone who knew the burdens she carried intimately. Most importantly, she had chosen the master she would serve, binding herself to her conscience with solid threads of action and resolve.
The next morning, Elizabeth did something new. Something she hadn't done since first stepping through the Stargate to Atlantis. She looked in the mirror, and didn't flinch at the woman she saw looking back.