Summary: They rescue her, but by accident.
Category: Sheppard/Weir, angst, torture mentions.
“Are you okay?” he asks, a whole year of lost time on his face.
“I’ll be fine, John.”
The quarantine starts on another planet, then on Atlantis in a sealed room with Doctors Keller and McKay visiting her in hazmat suits.
She’d like to tell them that their measures are meaningless. Her nanites could merge right through the hermetically seals, could join together into robots the size of ants and infect someone across the room if she wanted them to. She spent a year coexisting with these nanites, often with nothing to do but explore her reach, and the only command she has ever wanted to give them is be still.
“It’s not that we think you’re a threat,” Rodney tells her, in the moments he remembers he’s treating a patient as well as a problem. “I mean, not... you you. You know.”
She knows that’s not personal, it’s just Rodney. Jennifer’s better at remembering that she’s there, that she’s conscious and listening, that she spent a year being tortured by the enemy and by all rights should be terrified and far less cooperative than she is.
She might be terrified, if she weren’t so tired of it.
She’d like to remind them that they reactivated the nanites, not her, but she stays quiet.
John hovers a lot, but doesn’t come close to her. Except for that moment on the Alpha Site, when Lorne delivered her in the back of a jumper with a blanket around her shoulders and armed soldiers watching her from all directions, she hasn’t seen John straight on. He dropped his gun to his side like he had no bones in his arm—the trained soldier who’d seen so much, unable to keep a target lock when he saw her.
“Are you okay?”
“I’ll be fine, John.”
There’s a windowed viewing gallery above the diagnostic lab where they’re keeping her, and she sees John’s silhouette in the window, especially during the late shift when the ambient light is dimmer. She wonders how long he’ll stay there, how many hours he’ll spend looking at her when he hasn’t been able to face her, but the sedatives put her to sleep before he leaves.
Woolsey is there, of all people. The quarantine’s still in place, so he talks to her via monitor. Behind him, she sees what used to be her office, her city, her purpose when she had a job other than surviving.
She should be grateful Atlantis is still afloat.
On the third day they get her up on her feet, using a walker. John watches from above as she hobbles three steps forward, turns, hobbles back.
“I’m really surprised the nanites didn’t keep you in better shape,” Rodney says, because of the readings he’s taking, or maybe from just looking at what’s left of her, skin and bones.
“They did enough,” Keller says, and Elizabeth is glad neither of them knows what it’s like to starve, or to go months without water unable to die from thirst.
When she next looks up, John is gone.
They move her to the infirmary’s diagnostic lab, exchange the hazmat suits for smocks and thick gloves. She explains what she can about the nanites, but none of her unscientific language makes sense to Rodney and dammit, she’s tired of scanners and metal and plastic and confinement and machines and longs for human touch. For the ocean outside. For one minute, ever, to be just Elizabeth Weir again.
She’s aware of the presence of the nanites in her nervous system like a secret web of steel. There’s power in her, too, as well as pain.
Lorne comes to see her. He even makes her laugh.
“Thank you,” she says, and it’s inadequate, when she never thought she’d see a friendly face again and he got her out.
He looks down, suddenly serious. “You know... it was an accident, ma’am. My team was at the Asuran outpost on recon. We didn’t know you were there.”
She wonders why he thinks that’s important for her to know, and guesses it must be guilt. “You gave up. Atlantis, I mean.”
There’s no energy behind the statement. She has always been practical. They’d never look for her forever.
Some romantic part of her, though, thought that John would.
“The search was put on hold,” Lorne says. “We never gave up on you.”
She feels tears bite behind her eyelids and she lets one fall. She has been through too much to care about appearances.
She wakes up in the middle of the night, and John is there. He’s sitting a safe distance away, head in his hands. After a while he gets up and paces, moves his chair a few inches, sits again.
She pretends she’s still asleep, because she doesn’t know where to start. She barely remembers who she was when she told him to leave Asuras without her, and they were never able to talk to each other before about how they felt.
She thought they didn’t need to. A dozen times over their last year together in Atlantis, he’d look at her, and it was like there were no other people in the universe.
When the puddle-jumper hatch opened, when she saw the circle of armed guards and John dropping his weapon, she was blind to everything except relief that after a year without her in this dangerous galaxy, he was still alive. There was only one reason she could think of, when Lorne appeared at her cage door, for why John wasn’t the one to deliver her.
Her responsibility extends past any one person on her expedition team, but it makes a sort of sense that both her last free thought and her first were about him.
Jennifer’s amazed at her rapid progress toward health. Elizabeth’s not sure she’s ready to be declared fit anytime soon, especially not with an uncertain future outside this room.
Not that she could fight an order to be packed up to Area 51, or deported to a lonely Pegasus world, or any other worst-case scenario she can think of. She can’t fight much, these days. She swears up and down that she can control the nanites, that their default programming won’t make them spread to anyone else even if she couldn’t control them, but the gloves stay on.
She feels saner than she should, for all she has been through. Not anxious. Not especially depressed. Her mind is picking back up, now that she has access to food and water and an absence of pain. She feels almost like herself.
Maybe, ironically, the nanites help with that as much as healing tissue and bone.
She asks for a movie, a comedy, and Jennifer invites Teyla and the three of them watch it together in the infirmary. Afterwards they look at baby pictures, tell Elizabeth the good parts of what she missed.
She wants it to feel the same as it used to, but it doesn’t.
By the second week she gets bored of the entertainment they provide her, books and movies from Earth. It’s all fiction. She understands why they haven’t restored her security clearance or given her access to the city logs, but for God’s sake, they were all her people once; the least they could do is let her read a casualty list so she can mourn those who died.
She no longer sleeps well, even with the sedatives. She plays games with the vitals readouts, subtly adjusting her blood pressure and heart rate and percentage oxygen to numbers she likes. If she focuses, she can hear halfway down the next hallway, can feel the electrical fields around every powered device in the room.
She feels almost like herself, but she doesn’t feel human.
He comes to her in daylight. She suspects Teyla’s influence.
She can almost hear him begging her to break the silence in the way he shifts his weight from one foot to the other, but she doesn’t. She can’t.
He didn’t come for her. Not for want of trying, she’s sure. She knew in the Asuran cell and she knows now that he would have moved heaven and earth if it would have helped. He couldn’t come for her, and this—making him speak first—is all the punishment she can fairly give him.
“Elizabeth,” he says, and she’s never heard as much in his voice before. “I don’t know what to say.”
Somehow, that’s what she needed to hear, because she doesn’t even know what she is and she might have dreamed about it when she was exhausted and desperate, but she never wanted him to rescue her as a helpless victim; she wanted them to walk out of there together.
His breathing is heavy, like he’s running a marathon just standing there. She loosens her artificial control over her heart rate, lets her pulse climb as she watches him fight to meet her eyes.
“I didn’t come back for you,” he says, like it’s the only thought he’s had all year.
He doesn’t sound like he’s asking for forgiveness. Explaining, perhaps, why she shouldn’t forgive him.
The compassion and connection and love that wells in her chest is hers, unmistakably. There are some things that haven’t changed.
“There’s still time, John.”