Title: Beauty in the Breakdown

 

Author: Christi (daisycm83@gmail.com)

 

Rating: Uh, let’s say somewhere between a hard R and a soft NC-17.

 

Pairing: Weir/Lorne, potential Weir/Caldwell, very brief and barely mentioned Weir/Jack (*falls over in shock*) and despite the fact that Sheppard isn’t even IN this fic, I kind of think that at its heart, it’s Weir/Sheppard, if you squint and sort of read between the lines. Oh, plus Weir/Cadman friendship.

 

Spoilers: Scattered through Season Two and the front of Season Three. Specifically, The Lost Boys, Condemned, The Real World, The Long Goodbye, and Common Ground. In that precise order.

 

Disclaimer: Sadly, no, they’re really not mine.

 

Summary: Four Ways Elizabeth Weir Never Fell Apart and One Way She Might Have

 

Author’s Note: Just an idea that my brain’s been toying with for awhile. I needed a break from some of my other projects, so control_freak80 insisted I try sitting down and writing something completely different. I don’t think you can get much different in tone and subject than this, so I feel accomplished. Thanks as always to control_freak80 and kate98 for the betas.

 

--

 

She knows that she shouldn’t be here. But somehow, with his strong fingers digging into her hips and his hot mouth working its way up her shoulder, it’s hard to care about shoulds and shouldn’ts.

 

The black of the storage closet is almost oppressive, her only points of reference tactile – the rasp of his BDUs against the too sensitive skin of her inner thighs and the wash of his gasping breath across her skin. But as overload is half the point of this little exercise, Elizabeth just pulls him closer, hooking a leg around his hips in silent supplication.

 

She is always silent when they do this. And no matter how hard she tries to convince herself, she can never really believe that it’s because they are less than fifty feet from the control room.

 

After all is said and done, Elizabeth has perfected the art of lying to everyone except herself.

 

Still, she never regrets the moment he slides inside, because at that moment there can’t be overwhelming responsibility or oppressive worry – there’s just this, and it’s needy and real and so good that her head falls back against the wall.

 

When he moves, she finds it easy to pull him closer, as though wrapping herself around him as much as she can will make this something other than what she’s forced it to be. Absently, it occurs to her that she had thought her sex-against-the-wall days were behind her – she and Simon had always had a perfectly polite kind of sex.

 

But then he hits just the right spot and Elizabeth bites her bottom lip a little harder, reminding herself that Simon was a lifetime ago and polite is generally overrated.

 

Finally, thankfully, she stops thinking entirely. After all, that was why she dragged him in here in the first place.

 

As cliché as it is, it’s the aftermath that always proves problematic with their little scenario. Because when everything else has finished, the only fact that remains constant is that she really shouldn’t be here.

 

Now the darkness isn’t oppressive anymore. It’s her one ally. As long as she can’t see him, then she can fish her underwear out from behind a crate and begin trying to convince herself to never, ever do this again.

 

Unfortunately, it seems that today, he’s had enough of the status quo.

 

His voice is joking, but there’s a crack just under the surface as he begins to speak. “Not that I’m complaining,” he starts, “Because really, I’m not. But you do realize that this is the fourth time, right?”

 

Of course she knows. Elizabeth is always sure to be painfully aware of her own shortcomings – it’s just safer for everyone if they don’t catch her off guard.

 

His voice gets stronger, more determined. “And while again, definitely not complaining, if you’re going to continue to pull me into this closet every time Sheppard’s team has gone missing off world, I’m thinking we should make an effort to keep this hallway clear.”

 

She can’t reply, because that would mean speaking and that’s a level of acknowledgement she can’t quite handle yet. So he just continues talking, and somehow, his hand ends up entwined in her hair, stroking her cheek softly. “I mean, imagine if you grabbed Zelenka by accident.”

 

In spite of herself, she laughs, because the image is just a little too mortifying not to. And he laughs with her and brushes a quick kiss against her cheek before pulling away.

 

“I’m just saying,” he reiterates before she’s blinded by the light of the door swinging open. Major Lorne’s silhouette almost seems to glow before the door swings shut and she’s alone – in the dark – again.

 

--

 

When she feels the weight of it in her hand, cold and final, Elizabeth is once again reminded that she hates guns.

 

It is a dislike fueled not by some blindly liberal, anti-military stance, but rather because guns remind her that she knew too much about evil long before she knew about interstellar travel. In a career meant to create understanding and build bridges, she had too often seen her attempts fail. Guns were somehow never far behind.

 

Holding a gun now forces her to realize that there are problems much more immediate than the Wraith – the cold realities of what one human could do to another are somehow more haunting than even the ever-present specter of alien destruction.

 

But then, what they had seen on Olesia had already reminded her of all these things.

 

Lieutenant Cadman is watching her silently, and the aura of concern she gives off is disconcerting. “Are you sure you want to do this, ma’am?”

 

She considers the question carefully, because to be honest, she’s not sure at all. There are some things she had rather never learn. But then she remembers that one tense moment on Olesia, when her fate might have been decidedly different had Lorne and his team not been standing behind her. And while she’d rather not have to do this, she’s also never been comfortable with the idea of herself starring in the role of damsel in distress.

 

So she nods and lifts the gun. “Show me.”

 

Cadman takes the request like the order it really was, launching into a lecture about stance and aim and bracing for impact. Still, the first time Elizabeth pulls the trigger, she flinches. The bullet embeds itself into the wall somewhere behind the target and she has the feeling that Cadman would be smiling if she hadn’t already noticed that Elizabeth was on the edge.

 

So instead, Laura patiently corrects all of the many things that were wrong, shifting Elizabeth’s feet and rearranging her grip and trying desperately to sooth her already frayed nerves.

 

It doesn’t really help, Elizabeth reflects as she shoots again. But it’s nice of Laura to try.

 

Minutes turn into hours and Elizabeth’s arms ache and her ears are ringing despite the ear protection and Laura keeps stifling yawns. When she asks if they can pick this up tomorrow, Elizabeth fully intends to respond in a polite affirmative.

 

Which is why the pleading, almost desperate tone that she vocalizes comes as such a surprise. Even Cadman looks a bit astounded by it, although she tries to hide her shock.

 

“It’s just…I’m still missing the target more often than not,” Elizabeth hears herself saying, because for some reason, this seems unacceptable.

 

“Sure, but you’re getting better,” Cadman assures her. “Maybe starting tomorrow, Colonel Sheppard could….”

 

She doesn’t finished her sentence because something immediately sits wrong with asking John for this, and Elizabeth suspects that it’s painfully clear.

 

Without another word passing between them, Cadman nods slightly and turns back to the gun. With little more than a relieved sigh, Elizabeth follows suit.

 

By dawn, she is hitting the target more often than she misses. She still hates the gun, but somehow, she doesn’t fear it quite so much.

 

As they gather their things and leave the training room, Elizabeth turns to Laura, a hand on her shoulder. Because she can’t find any words, she just squeezes gently.

 

Laura smiles back.

 

--

 

The image of her face – or rather, lack thereof – stays focused in Elizabeth’s mind long after she blinks and everything turns right once again.

 

It’s frightening – downright terrifying, actually – but more than that, it’s disappointing. She had somehow managed to convince herself that she was moving past this.

 

When she thinks too hard, Elizabeth knows that Atlantis is still the clearest memory she has. If she allows herself to dwell on it, she can remember the sound of Dr. McKay yelling at his science team, not to mention the exact tone of Dr. Zelenka as he curses out Rodney in Czech under his breath. She still sometimes expects Ronon’s barely restrained wrath or Teyla’s staunch support to be standing just behind her.

 

She can still picture every detail of John’s charming, self-deprecating smile.

 

But they’re not here, and as she stares at her face, too drawn and pale for a woman her age, Elizabeth knows that she’s honestly beginning to believe that they never really were.

 

So after one more moment of hesitation, she picks her pills back up and puts them back in the bottle. In the morning, she’ll go to see Dr. Wallace about changing her doses. They’ll get the problem fixed and she’ll start teaching her class at Georgetown again. She’ll work on the nuclear rearmament treaty. If she’s feeling particularly adventurous, she might even ask General O’Neill on a date.

 

She goes to bed, resolved.

 

Back in Atlantis, the real Elizabeth Weir never wakes up.

 

But Niam does.

 

--

 

When Caldwell opens his door on the Daedalus, the first words Elizabeth manages by way of a greeting are, “Do you have any bourbon?”

 

His face is understandably blank for a moment, and she feels fleetingly bad about that. But if there was ever a time that she needed a drink, it was right now. She knows John has the remnants of a six-pack stashed under his bed, but the image of trying desperately to kill him is still a little too fresh to face him.

 

So she had come to the one other person who might understand what the last few hours had been like, because she couldn’t handle the questioning looks and the tentative questions. Coincidentally, he also happened to be one of the few other people who might actually have their own stash of liquor.

 

“I don’t drink bourbon,” he answered finally. “I drink scotch.”

 

This surprises her, though she’s not really certain why. But no matter. She just stays standing there, and she imagines that she looks more than a little pathetic and knows something’s really wrong when she can’t find it in herself to care. “Would you like some of my scotch?” Caldwell finally asks, and she nods in relief, darting into his quarters before she can remind herself that this is undoubtedly a very bad idea.

 

Two and a half generous glasses later, she’s still upset. The only difference is that now she’s drunk and upset, which has never been a good combination. Eyeing the glass, she wonders what in the world possessed her to do this.

 

Then she remembers holding her city hostage and takes another sip.

 

Sitting across from her, Caldwell is still on his first modest glass and watching her. Probably taking a detailed mental note of this, some cynical part of her insists. Which is uncharitable, because he’s been nothing but a gentleman since she so rudely interrupted his evening. Unfortunately, Phebus has exhausted her ready supply of goodwill.

 

“It wasn’t your fault,” he finally says.

 

She wants to believe him. Rationally, Elizabeth knows that the second she leaned over that pod, she lost control. But the fact remains that she was naďve enough to lean over the pod in the first place. As a result, she’ll always have that memory of desperation to deal with – the bloodthirsty demand for someone else’s gory end.

 

Not just anyone else. John. Thalen. The lines blur along with her sobriety.

 

She says nothing, taking another sip. Caldwell lets it drop and sits with her in patient silence. When Elizabeth wakes up the next morning, she’s firmly tucked into his bunk, a pail next to the mattress – just in case, she assumes. Across the room, Caldwell is huddled on his too small sofa, using his bunched up BDU jacket as a pillow.

 

Her head is pounding and she’s still a little too raw to absorb all of this. So she leaves – quietly, because it seems like the least she can do.

 

Caldwell never mentions it again.

 

--

 

When John walks back into Atlantis looking better than ever, she doesn’t question it. She greets him warmly and there’s a debriefing. Getting through it all is long and hard, but looking at Elizabeth’s face, you would never guess any of that.

 

She is calm. More than that, she is relieved. Grateful. Amazed. Everything that she is supposed to be.

 

And somehow, Elizabeth manages to pretend that every time she looks at John, she doesn’t see the life slowly draining from him.

 

It’s late before she gets back to her quarters, but she can feel it all catching up to her and this needs to be dealt with before it gets any worse. Everyone else had been allowed their grief, their pain, their anger.

 

As their leader, she routinely allows herself only what she cannot possibly hide. Which is never, ever enough.

 

She has to struggle out of her clothes, because by now the door is locked and her hands are shaking and in reality, her breaking point had been reached about twelve hours ago. But somehow, she makes it to the bathroom, where the shower is turned on as hard and as hot as it will go.

 

The water hurts as it pelts her skin and she knows she should adjust it, that this is really quite bad for you. But Elizabeth is too busy falling apart to care.

 

Now finally, finally, she lets it all go. With great, heaving sobs, she slides down the walls of the shower, pulling her legs close and being as loud as she likes – she knows from experience that the sound of the water will shield her from discovery.

 

It’s self-indulgent and silly and sentimental because he’s fine now – back where he belongs. But she can still hear the echo of his screams as she watched him die, one horrible piece at a time, all the while knowing that she could save her friend, her right hand – but that really, she couldn’t do anything at all.

 

She’ll stop in a minute. Really, she will.

 

In just a minute.