Elizabeth heard the knock at the door but wasn't at all sure she could be bothered to answer it. It was unlikely to be anyone from the SGC - they'd have called her, not come round to her apartment. Anyone else wasn't important enough to get off the couch for. She hadn't all day so far.
Except that whoever was out there knocked again. Since they apparently weren't going to go away - they could probably hear that she had the TV on - she sighed and got up. A peep through the spyhole told her it was Jack O'Neill. Who was both the last person she'd expected to see and the last person she wanted to see right now.
She ran her fingers through her hair, which hopefully made it look like she had bothered to brush it that morning. Then she opened the door.
"General O'Neill. What a surprise." She put on a smile and did her best to sound happy. It came out better than she hoped.
He grinned back. "Nice pajamas."
She blushed at being caught in them in the afternoon. But she was sure he hadn't come to comment on her choice of dress, or undress, so she took a step back and said, "Come in."
He took his cap off and looked around as he stepped over the threshold. Elizabeth wished he'd called ahead; she'd have tidied and made an effort on her appearance. Not to mention turned the TV off before answering the door.
"Judge Judy?" He raised his eyebrows as she lunged for the remote control and punched the off button more savagely than it deserved.
"It was just..." she began. She trailed off because she didn't have a good excuse, except that it was on and it had felt like too much effort to change the channel at the time. "I wasn't really watching it."
He nodded, seeming to take her explanation at face value. "Nice place."
"Thank you." She smiled at the compliment, although she knew he was lying. It was a nice enough apartment in itself, apart from being in the wrong galaxy, but it would look a heck of a lot better if she'd cleared away a few nights worth of take-out boxes. Too late for that now; he'd seen how much she didn't care already.
"Please sit." She sat on one end of the couch. He chose the other end. "So, is this just a social call or did you have something important to tell me?" She guessed the latter given the uniform, but you never could tell, especially with Jack.
"The Ancients called. They're finding Woolsey 'trying'." He mimed the quotes. "They want someone to mediate."
Finally! She smiled properly this time. She was going back to Atlantis, to talk to the Ancients. She'd be able to tell them all that had happened while they'd been away and learn from them. Except - her smile faltered - Jack didn't say any more than that and his expression was sympathetic. "It's not going to be me, is it?"
"Sorry." He sounded it too, but that didn't make her feel any better.
"Why not?" She leaned towards him. "You know there's no one more qualified."
"And if it was up to me...." He didn't bother to finish the sentence because they'd already had this conversation before they left Atlantis.
She sighed. "What do the IOA have against me?"
"Would you like the list?" His tone had the note of sarcasm that she'd heard from him often.
She shook her head. "I think I can guess." It wasn't even as if she'd annoyed them deliberately. There hadn't been anything she could have done differently to make sure they didn't punish her now by sending other people to Atlantis in her place. "So who do they want?"
She nodded slowly. "I suppose... if it can't be me, I'm glad it's you."
"I wish it was you. Sitting around being talked at by Ancients isn't my idea of a good time."
She smiled at that. He was probably just saying it to make her feel better about him going, but she believed him anyway. He was a man of action. He'd likely be bored there and start making a fuss after a few days.
"I'll be checking in with the SGC regularly," he added. "If I have any questions I'll get them to call you."
"Thank you." He didn't have to do that; she was grateful there might be something for her to do after all.
He leaned back, looking more at home on her couch than she would have expected. "So, what have you been up to since you got back to Earth?"
"Oh, you know." She shrugged. "Just getting used to being on Earth again."
"Earth has better things that Judge Judy, you know."
She shook her head. "It doesn't have Ancients."
"Can't have everything," he conceded.
She heaved another sigh. Why couldn't the Ancients see that they could learn from each other? As much as she was glad Atlantis was still around and there were still people to protect the inhabitants of the Pegasus Galaxy from the Wraith, it was torture to be on Earth when there was somewhere better she could be.
"Elizabeth, what are you doing with your time?" Jack asked softly. "Other than watching daytime TV?"
"Oh, I watch it in the evenings too." She tried the smile again, but it didn't reach her eyes. "There's a lot to catch up on."
"But I bet you didn't miss it at all on Atlantis."
She shook her head "No. There was too much else to do." She often hadn't had enough time to sleep, never mind think about watching TV.
"So, anything I should know?" He leaned forward, watching her closely. "I mean, since I'm going to be living there it'd be nice to know the quirks."
She thought about it, but most of the things she could think of were only relevant when there were significant numbers of humans living there. And most of that was do with getting hold of decent coffee, how to get short explanations out of Rodney and how to get Ronon to file mission reports. She smiled - a proper one this time - remembering, but then her breath caught in her throat.
She swallowed and managed to hold back the tears. "You should go," she said. Somehow she kept her voice from breaking, mostly by not looking at Jack. "They'll be waiting for you."
He shifted into her line of vision, shaking his head. His expression was worried and that didn't help at all.
"Why would you want to spend time here on Earth when you can be on Atlantis? Some people would give their right arm to be in your position." It came out a little more forcefully than she'd intended.
"Even if it means spending time with Woolsey?" he joked.
She wasn't in the mood. "What do you know about Atlantis? What can you tell them about the Pegasus galaxy and what's happened since they've been away? You've barely set foot in the place."
"Elizabeth...." He reached a hand out towards her shoulder and she jerked back from it, standing up.
"That's my home, my life you're taking from me."
He stood to face her. "I'm sorry."
He looked so apologetic. She reminded herself that this was Jack O'Neill, here. He knew how much Atlantis meant to her; she knew he wouldn't do this on purpose.
She shook her head. "I'm sorry." But she couldn't say any more because a sob escaped her. She put a hand to her mouth.
A second later, Jack's arms were around her. She rested her head on his shoulder, allowing a few tears to escape.
"You know I'll do what I can," he murmured.
"You should do something," he said when he let her go. "Get dressed, stop watching TV and maybe write all this stuff down. One day someone might need your perspective on Atlantis."
That wasn't a bad idea, actually. He was right that she needed something to do. Doing nothing was making her more tired than the constant pressure of running Atlantis. "Perhaps I will." She hesitated a moment and then added, "Thank you."
"My pleasure." He picked up his hat, nodded at her and left.
Elizabeth turned back to her couch, hoping that Jack going to Atlantis was just the first step. Hoping that the next time she saw him they'd be asking for her too.
Summary: Jack visits Elizabeth while she's on Earth. Spoilers for The Return.