Summary: Set afte rthe series finale. Elizabeth Weir is floating in space. She is visited by an old friend who gives her the chance to change the fate she has chosen. John Sheppard is back on Earth with Atlantis, contemplating how he can continue without the woman he loves. He then makes a decision that could change the lives of those around him forever.
This story is something that has been running through my mind for three or four years now, since the show finished. It pretty much follows canon but I will warn you now that there will be spoilers throughout.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Spoilers for Rising, Adrift, Lifeline, Ghost in the Machine
Christmas. It was her favourite day of the year when she was a girl. The anticipation, the inability to sleep, the urge to sneak downstairs to see if Santa had eaten the cookies she had made for him. Even as she got older and internally questioned the logistics - how a team of flying reindeer could take one sleigh with one rather rotund man and a sack full of gifts and deliver presents to all the children in all the world in one night - she lay in her bed looking up at the ceiling, too excited to sleep.
Every Christmas, her mother and father would take her and her brother to the cabin by the lake, just a few miles outside of Vancouver. Being in Canada always guaranteed a white Christmas. Christmas morning was spent opening presents by a roaring fireplace, followed by wrapping up snugly in big coats, woolly hats and gloves and venturing out into the winter wonderland to build a snow family and get into vigorous snowball fights with her brother. They would then run inside for the extraordinarily warm hot chocolate that Mom made for them, drinking and talking with Mom and Dad whilst sitting on the rug in front of the fireplace.
Christmas dinner was always an illustrious affair. Mom and Dad worked together to make sure everything came together perfectly. She ate and ate until she was sure she would burst. But she was always tinged with regret that she couldn't eat just a little bit more.
The evening was spent relaxing by the fire. Mom and Dad fell asleep on the sofa while she played with her new toys. The exception was the year she had received a telescope. Dad set it up for her on the cabin porch and she studied the constellations for hours, imagining stars surrounded by planets and visiting each one. She was so sure when she was nine that she was going to be an astronaut.
She cringed as she recalled going to the cabin when she was fifteen. She had argued with Mom that she wanted to stay home in Washington D.C. She wanted to see her friends and she couldn't imagine spending days away from Jordan, the love of her life. Of course, nothing had ever happened between them - she had been too afraid to tell him how she felt. But being without him would have been like being without oxygen. So she had used all her highly honed skills to negotiate staying behind. Her arguments had seemed logical and rational. When Mom had still said no, reason went out the window and she shouted, begged and cried. She had sulked the entire way there and spent most of her time lying on her bed or sitting out on the porch, allowing the cold air to chill her to the bone.
Thinking back, she much preferred to remember Christmas when she was a child. They were the best Christmases, her favourite one of course being the year she spent the night stargazing.
Until now. She had been led to this destination by the hand, unable to see where she was being taken thanks to the blindfold. The hand that led her was warm and she felt the tingles up her spine that always came when he touched her. She wondered when that would stop. Her stomach was filled with the anticipatory butterflies she had not felt since those Christmas days in Canada. How was it that he could make her feel this way again?
She nearly collided into him, so lost in her thoughts that she had not realised he had stopped. She felt her cheeks heat up in a blush. "Sorry," she said.
He moved around behind her and she felt his fingers in her hair as he untied the blindfold. Just before removing it though, he leaned forward and whispered in her ear, "Ready?"
She shivered slightly and nodded. The blindfold came away from her eyes and she gasped. The Gate Room and Control Room had been beautifully decorated. The control consoles were covered with white sheets and two large snowman figures (wearing the uniform jackets of the Atlantis staff - one in dark grey and blue, the other in dark grey and red) sitting behind them. White confetti covered the floor and the stairs leading down to the Gate Room, perhaps to emulate snow. In front of the Stargate, on the raised platform was a table. The centrepiece of the table was a small, colourfully lit Christmas tree. Surrounding the tree was dinner with all the traditional trappings she remembered: a roast turkey, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, a myriad of different vegetables, cranberry sauce and gravy. A glass of wine was at each table setting.
Sitting around the table were the people she would want to spend her time with in a galaxy far from her family. Teyla looked beautiful in her blue Athosian dress, finished off with gold tinsel around her neck like a scarf. Ronon was obviously grumpy, given that he must have been made to wear the red and white Santa Claus hat that was all askew. Rodney McKay was smiling at her then looking hungrily at the spread on the table and then back to her when the person next to him dug a quick elbow into his ribs. Carson Beckett smiled apologetically and shook his head.
She was speechless. The effort that must have gone into all of this. Someone had even managed to line the upper arch of the Stargate with tinsel and a handmade 'Merry Christmas' banner. That could not have been easy.
She knew something was up when she had been cornered in the mess hall by Major Lorne. He had told her that there had been a problem in one of the laboratories and Zelenka needed her help. In the lab, she had been made to sit and translate pages of Ancient text whilst pretending not to notice Lorne and Zelenka looking at each other and nodding every now and again. It was only when she felt the hand on her shoulder and turned to look straight into a pair of twinkling eyes that her suspicions were confirmed. His other hand held the blindfold and he winked. She raised her eyebrow in question but nodded. It seemed a shame for Zelenka and Lorne not to be here considering their key role in his scheme.
Her eyes misted with tears as she looked wondrously around the room. He moved from behind her and stood in front of her, concern visible on his face. Then he saw her joy and smiled. " Hey, Rodney!" he called. "Get the video camera, I think she's speechless!"
Everyone laughed and she laughed with them. She wanted to hug him, to throw her arms around him and never let go. But with an audience anticipating her next action she gazed into the eyes of the man in front of her and did her best to silently convey her gratitude. He gazed back and nodded, understanding what she was trying to say.
He reached forward with his right hand and took her left one again. Then he winked once more and led her to the empty seat at the head of the table. The perfect gentleman, he pulled the chair out and allowed her to sit before gently moving the chair towards the table. He then moved around and sat down to her left.
Finally, she found her voice. "This is amazing!" she breathed. "You didn't have to do all this for me."
Rodney, sitting to her right, spoke first. "It was Sheppard's idea."
She turned to her left. Lt. Colonel John Sheppard shrugged. He was formally dressed (well, as formal as Atlantis could get) in a pair of black trousers and a light blue shirt. His dark hair, as ever, spiked up in several directions - but less than usual so perhaps he had even made an effort with that. He had also shaved and his skin looked smooth enough to touch. His eyes were aglow and the internal argument in which she tried to decide what colour they were reignited - Green? Brown? Both? She had Googled it the last time she was on Earth - the definition that most entries appeared to agree with was hazel. But John's eyes seemed to be in a state of flux, constantly changing colour. It was another feature that added to his overall attractiveness and mystery. Five years they had worked side by side now, he was her closest friend and yet he still managed to surprise her. "John?"
John grinned yet again. "You work so hard everyday. You were even going to work today, weren't you?" She was about to protest but stopped, realising that he was right. Lorne had caught her in the mess hall as she was getting coffee to take to her office. She had allowed herself a lie-in, considering that her celebration of the occasion.
John continued. "I know you wanted to go back to Earth and see your Mom, but, as usual, you put this place first." He shrugged again. "I just thought that, for once, someone should put you first."
As John had been talking, Lorne and Zelenka had entered the Gate Room and taken the two empty seats at the opposite end of the table.
Rodney then spoke up. "Speech! Speech!" Carson, to his right, joined in the chant.
"All right, all right!" she cried over them. Both Rodney and Carson quietened down. She cleared her throat and looked around the table at each person. "I'm not really sure what to say. Thank you all for this. It truly is wonderful and the best Christmas present I have had since I was nine. Everything looks great and well done to whoever decorated the Stargate but never tell me how as I'm sure it would be a health and safety nightmare." There was a quiet ripple of laughter. She picked up her wine glass. "I would also like to congratulate Major Lorne and Doctor Zelenka on their extremely successful task of keeping me occupied in the lab. That was quite a show." Applause broke out and Lorne, followed timidly by Zelenka, got up and bowed. John put his fingers to his lips and wolf whistled. They both sat down and she continued. "Christmas was my favourite time of year. It's strange how you forget things like that when you grow up. Life gets in the way. But when I was a little girl I would be so happy because I would be with my family. Thank you for reminding me what it's like to be with family at Christmas." She raised her glass. Everyone else did the same.
"Hear, hear," said Carson. The group drank collectively from their glasses.
"Great speech, Elizabeth," said Rodney. "Can we eat now?"
Elizabeth Weir laughed. "By all means!"
Dinner was wonderful. In fact, if she didn't know better she would have sworn it had been cooked by her mother and father. But quite apart from the meal was the conversation, the joking and laughter that brought Elizabeth a kind of contentment she was unsure she had ever felt.
As she finished her meal, John leaned over to her, stopping mere inches from her. "So, you like?" he asked, almost seductively.
"I love," she answered, mirroring his tone. "Thank you."
He grabbed her left hand and pulled her put of her chair. Elizabeth apologised for her unceremonious exit through her giggles, allowing her friend to drag her around the table and up the stairs towards the balcony off the Gate Room.
The door slid open to allow them outside. It was a breezy afternoon and the sun was still high in the sky. The waves of the ocean lapped lazily against the city far below their position at the top of the control tower. Elizabeth leaned her right hand on the railing, her left hand still in in John's.
"So," she said as she looked at their joined hands. She exhaled nervously. Why was she nervous? Stupid question. She was well aware of why. Had been for years now. She had tried to stop herself of course. Although there were no strict regulations against it, per se, she was certain the IOA would not approve of a relationship between Atlantis' civilian and military leaders. Also, John was her second-in-command and she had always adhered to her personal rule of never getting involved with anyone working under her.
John Sheppard, however, was different. She had known it the day she laid eyes on the handsome pilot as he sat frozen in the Ancient chair in the Antarctica outpost all those years ago.
"Who is this?" she demanded to know as she ran into the chair room with Carson Beckett, Rodney McKay and General Jack O'Neill.
Jack stopped beside the chair and looked down at him. "I said don't touch anything!"
His voice shook as he explained. "I-I just sat down."
"Major," ordered McKay, "think about where we are in the solar system." Immediately the space above their heads glowed as a holographic display of the solar system appeared.
"Did I do that?" Major Sheppard asked, puzzled.
His kind face, his sexy gravely voice, the way he held himself, all served to form an immediate attraction. Of course, Elizabeth had not seen it as anymore than that, happy as she was with her partner, Simon Wallace. Anyway, he was so far removed from the kind of man she could be involved with that she immediately dismissed it as a superficial crush.
She brought him all the way to Atlantis. And, although it hadn't been part of the plan, he had become the military commander. As they worked together in the running of the expedition, she had felt the attraction towards him slowly grow. She spent nights in bed listing the reasons she could not fall for him; he was a military man and she had spent her career fighting against the need for the military, he was cocky and arrogant and ready to argue with her over just about anything. She had someone waiting for her. But even as she listed his bad points in her head, her heart immediately countered with good points; he had a strong moral compass and despite being in the military he had been known to disobey orders to satisfy that sense of morality. He was intelligent, so intelligent that he could give some of the scientists on Atlantis a run for their money. He challenged her in so many ways. When he believed in something he would fight and argue for it all the way. He was strong and he was passionate.
It was a conscious decision on Elizabeth's part to ignore the growing feelings. War with the Wraith, the daily running of the expedition and dealing with the various crises that occurred made it easier. So it was a big surprise to her when, two years after they met, she realised it was too late. Doctor Elizabeth Weir had fallen in love with Colonel John Sheppard.
She looked up to see John watching her quizzically. "Mm?" was all she could respond with.
"You faded out there for a minute," John said. "Where were you?"
Elizabeth smiled self-consciously. "Antarctica, actually."
"Oh," she sighed, "I was just thinking how different my life would have been had a certain Major not sat in that chair."
"Different, good or different, bad?" he asked, leaning in as if eager for her reply.
"Well...let's put it this way," Elizabeth said, wishing to prolong the length of time he was this close to her. "It certainly hasn't been dull."
"That's true." They both laughed tentatively. He didn't pull away.
"So, why did you bring me out here?" Elizabeth asked.
"I wanted to give you to your present," he answered quietly. "Close your eyes."
Elizabeth did as she was told. The butterflies started fluttering in her stomach again. She felt her left hand being opened, palm up and something cool being placed in it. Her hand was then closed around the mystery object.
"Open your eyes now," he whispered.
She did and looked down at her fist. She slowly opened it. Her breath caught. There in her hand was a gold chain, thin and delicate. She picked it up carefully. An exquisite princess cut emerald set in a gold pendant hung from the chain. "John, it's beautiful."
"Glad you like it," John said, grinning from ear to ear.
She handed the pendant to him. "Could you help me put it on?" She turned around, lifting her hair from the back of her neck.
John weaved the chain around the front of her neck. Elizabeth could feel his breath in her hair. She closed her eyes at the sensation. She felt him latch the chain on the back of her neck. He then ever-so-gently stroked the area, just below her hair. She shuddered at his touch. She felt his hand move to her shoulder and he slowly turned her to face him. She dropped her hair back down.
"I knew it," he said, his voice just above a whisper.
"What?" Elizabeth asked, keeping her voice low as well.
"It matches your eyes," he said.
Elizabeth blushed and looked down at the floor. "I'm sorry I didn't get you anything."
John took a step towards her and put his fingers under her chin, lifting her head until she met his eyes. She wanted to look away again, the intensity in his eyes almost too much to bear. But she didn't.
"There's just one thing I want from you, 'Lizabeth," he said.
Before she could ask him what that one thing was, John leaned in and placed his lips gently on hers. It was only for a few seconds but in that moment Elizabeth Weir had never felt more alive. She didn't want it to stop. She looked into his eyes and could see the nervousness growing. He wasn't sure she had wanted it.
Elizabeth briefly toyed with the idea of pulling away and feigning upset. She decided, however, to put him out of his misery and put her hands on each cheek and kissed him. John's arms quickly moved around her and pulled her to him, passionately responding.
When they finally stopped, Elizabeth, still in John's arms, laughed softly.
"What?" John asked.
Elizabeth put her arms around John's neck and said simply, "Best Christmas ever."
John pulled his arms down from behind his neck. "Let's get back inside. Rodney planned party games!"
Elizabeth shook her head. "You're kidding!"
John turned her to face the door, hands on both of her shoulders, lightly pushing her ahead of him.
The door opened and Elizabeth stepped inside. The Gate Room was dark. The confetti was gone, as were the giant snowmen in the Control Room. She looked down to the Stargate. It was bare and there was nothing in front of it. Ronon, Teyla, Rodney, Carson, Lorne and Zelenka were nowhere to be seen. It was cold and silent.
"John?" She turned to him but he wasn't there. "John!" she called out. Her voice echoed around the Gate Room. She called out the name again but this time her voice sounded different. It was higher, softer, wrong. It was not her voice.
Elizabeth ran down the stairs to the Stargate. She looked down the corridors that led out of the Gate Room. They were dark. She ran up the stairs to the Control Room. She looked at the various consoles and bashed a couple of the buttons on the Dial Home Device. It was all dead.
She sprinted across the bridge into her office. Her laptop was on her desk and there was a light coming from the screen which faced away from her. Elizabeth rounded the desk and leaned towards the screen. But all she could see was a face looking back at her. She was a young woman in her late twenties or early thirties. She had a kind face and a pale complexion. Her eyes were brown and her brown hair was longer than her own - and very straight.
As she stared, Elizabeth realised that the face seemed to be matching her movements. Slowly, she put her left hand up and touched her eyebrow, watching in horror as the same thing happened on the laptop screen. She moved her hand to the top of her head. The movement was mirrored.
Mirrored. Her actions were not being copied but seemed to be reflected, as if this was her face. She stared at the face, not knowing what to do. If only John was here. He would know what to do, what to say. How she missed him.
Before her very eyes, something started happening to the face in the reflection. It was turning paler and she could see tiny icicles building around the eyes and nose. The lips turned blue. As it happened, Elizabeth could feel her own body growing colder and colder. She moved her hand from her hair feeling how difficult the action was. Numbness was setting in and she was so, so cold but she couldn't shiver. She closed her eyes, a vision of John Sheppard in her mind.
Everything went black. Then she could see small pin pricks of light against a pitch black blanket sky. Something floated nearby her line of vision. It took her a moment to register it was the body of a man.
It all came flooding back. Her near death, the reactivation of the inert nanites in her system, her capture by the Replicators. The torture, the pain. The loss of her body as she attempted to ascend. Her return to Atlantis and the creation of a new body for her to inhabit. The look in John's eyes when he told her, "You may still think you're Elizabeth, but you're not."
She had stepped through the Stargate, knowing it was a trap. And she had floated in space ever since.
Christmas. It was Elizabeth Weir's favourite day of the year. And it was gone. The Christmases of the past, the Christmases of the future. All of it gone. He was gone.
A Replicator, one that once knew itself to be Doctor Elizabeth Weir, screamed silently.