Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o'er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O, how shall summer's honey breath hold out
Against the wreckful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time's best jewel from Time's chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea (Sonnet 65) --William Shakespeare
The corridors are gray, featureless metal. When they aren't trying to impress - trick - human visitors, Replicators have no use for decoration. They can create worlds in their minds; they don't feel the need humans do to make their environment aesthetically pleasing.
The Replicators also have no need for clocks, and Elizabeth's internal sense of time isn't fine-tuned by millions of nanites. It can be, if she chooses to listen to them. She's spent what has to be at least six months learning to block their voices.
It's hard to know what's real. One of Oberoth's favorite activities has been proving that he doesn't need nanites to exert control over Elizabeth's environment and her body. Not her mind. Not any more. It's hard won and she doesn't know how long she can last. That's why she needs to escape.
She thinks she knows the way to a ship. She might even have figured out how to disable the systems that allowed remote access. Elizabeth's smile is bitter. Who knew that Rodney's reports, bursting with technical detail, would end up being so useful?
The ship is at the end of the corridor, and Elizabeth is halfway there. It's possible that the tenth - eleventh - time will be the charm and she'll get away. Even if she can't find her people, can't learn what happened to her city, at least she can be free. Atlantis has allies throughout the galaxy; she can find one of the people that they'd signed a treaty with and settle down to live out however many years she has left in peaceful obscurity.
Alarms scream through the hallway and Elizabeth's lips tighten. She runs. Maybe this time she can get to a ship. If she can just get on one, she'll be able to fly it. Replicator technology was designed to be easy to access - for Replicators. It's almost identical to Ancient tech. The Replicators are machines; creativity wasn't programmed into them. Nothing has changed in ten thousand years.
Oberoth emerges from the wall behind her, giving her a stern, angry look. He could have emerged in front of her, blocking her exit, but he likes to hunt her down.
Elizabeth despises Oberoth almost as much as he hates the Ancients. He tries blaming everything on them, ranting at Elizabeth for hours about how they had created the Replicators as an experiment, bastard children doomed to failure and condemned to death. The humans of Pegasus are a stand-in for the Ancients, especially their descendants from Earth, and Oberoth vents all his fury on Elizabeth, even as he slaughters Pegasus' most inhabited planets.
If there's anyone Elizabeth wishes would swoop in and save the day, it's the Ancients. No one else would have half a chance defeating the Replicators, not with the nanites' near invulnerability and their access to Ancient technology and the knowledge of how it was constructed. She understands why they won't, why Ascended beings can't interfere with this plane, but hopes and dreams never have anything to do with real life.
She bursts into the room, her footsteps echoing in the high ceiling of the cavern. The only thing Elizabeth can see is a puddlejumper, tiny and green, and not enough to carry her between distant worlds. Her heart sinks. There's a skylight far above, so she can fly out through there.
A quick glance over her shoulder shows her that the Replicators are catching up. There's nothing else she can do, and dying in space is better than this. Elizabeth sprints for the jumper. She doesn't need the ATA gene to fly it, not now. Not with nanites spread throughout her body. She swipes her hand through the door circuitry and shudders as it opens.
The machines talk to her sometimes, she thinks, and she wonders if Atlantis is alive too. If it's always been watching over them like some of the more superstitious of this galaxy - Atlantis expedition and native alike - suggest.
Elizabeth leans over the console and it lights up at her touch. If there's one thing that makes the nanites tolerable, it's the way Ancient technology now responds to her.
The jumper soars into the air and bursts out of the hold into the sky. She reaches into its circuits for the cloaking switches and the jumper fades into the background. The Ancients built technology to last.
It's only then that Elizabeth breathes a sigh of relief. The feeling lasts until the first Replicator missile hits her jumper.
Caia settles on the woven blanket and stares up at the blue sky. If she were asked to choose a place in this galaxy to call her home, it would be Athos. Lantea is the home of almost every Ancient in this galaxy. The ties to Earth are too strong for most of them to deny. Athos, though, calls to her. She's watched these people evolve from hunter-gatherers into a complex society of traders that roam the galaxy, and she keeps watch over them to this day.
There is an Alteran city on Athos, smaller than the one on Lantea, but almost identical. She lives among the Athosians and shares in their daily work, but visits every now and again to upload her research.
Caia jumps to her feet and starts running for the shuttle that streaks through Athos' sky, dark smoke billowing behind it. Another malfunction? The only way to find out is to ask the pilot.
She taps at her communications, cursing that she's slower than the Alterans who are far enough along the path to speak mind to mind. They need a medical team. If the pilot is even alive, they can only hope to find one of the few pilots who are able to put themselves into a healing trance.
"Bring her out of it." Elizabeth hears a familiar voice, though it's distant through the gray fog the nanites put her in as they heal her. She's home. She's home, and Kate is here, giving orders in the infirmary like she's not supposed to. She must be out of her mind with worry.
"But we haven't figured out what--" Whoever this is, they must be new to Atlantis. Elizabeth has been gone for too long; she wouldn't know anyone.
As soon as she musters up the strength to open her eyes, she can meet the new doctor and reassure Kate. All she has to do is open her eyes. She should be able to; she's healed the damage from the crash. The nanites made sure of it.
"Whatever created the nanites, keeping her in stasis won't stop them from being active," says Kate. "We may as well talk to her."
Kate knows who created the nanites. They all do, even though it's classified - she sealed those records herself - but the command structure of Atlantis knows, and Kate treats all of them. At least half the expedition knows, she's sure of it, just from the infirmary's staff. There's no way Kate would let what happened to the woman she loves slide, not without finding out as much as she can. That's the thing about Kate. She's stronger than any of them. She has to be, to take their troubles and not be weighed down by them.
Elizabeth tries to fight her way through the haze. She needs to see Kate. She needs to be able to move, to talk to Kate and to hold her. When it vanishes, she opens her eyes. Kate is standing next to her, with a doctor that Elizabeth doesn't recognize.
"Kate, what's going on?" Elizabeth pushes herself up and looks around. She's shaky. Not from her injuries. She's in white, because Carson insists - insisted on it for their scrubs. Grief stabs through her, still fresh. There aren't any guards. She expects at least two Marines stationed around her at all times, with two more outside each exit. "Where's the security detail? Where is Dr. Keller? How did I get back to Atlantis?"
"I think you may be confused," says Kate, her voice gentle. She tries to lay one hand on Elizabeth's arm, at least until Elizabeth flinches away. Doesn't Kate know she's dangerous? "My name is Caia. Your shuttle crashed on Athos, not on Atlantis. I'm afraid you couldn't have gotten to Atlantis from here, not with the damage your shuttle sustained."
That's when Elizabeth realizes Kate is wearing white Ancient robes, not the expedition uniform. Kate always wears soft pastel shirts with khakis and sneakers. It's comfortable, and she says her patients find the colors reassuring. She's dyed her hair blonde again. It's a good look on her, but it looks wrong.
"Something's wrong," says Elizabeth. "Kate, why don't you recognize me?"
"I'm going to radio Atlantis," says the doctor. He gives Kate - whoever she says she is, she can't be Caia, just Kate - a sidelong look. "You know Moros' protocols for unknown technology."
Moros? Elizabeth knows that name. He's the leader of the counsel of Ancients that rule Atlantis. He's Merlin. He's everything to the Ancients that she tries - tried, rather - to be to her people.
"She's not unknown technology," says Caia. She moves to put herself between Elizabeth and the Ancient doctor, whoever he is. "She's a person."
Elizabeth doesn't know which is worse: that he sees her as a threat, or as a thing. Or that she sees herself that way.
"She's mostly comprised of unknown technology," says the doctor. "You know Moros will want to study her."
"I'm the one who's heading up the anthropological project on Athos," says Caia. "If there's anyone who's going to be in charge of a new person, it will be me. Not Moros."
She sounds almost like Kate. Not quite, but close enough that it breaks Elizabeth's heart. She'd thought, for just a brief moment, that she was home.
"Moros is the Chancellor," begins the doctor, not stopping as Caia gives him a warning look. "He approves all of the projects, including yours."
"I already know how Moros studies technology he doesn't understand," says Caia. She's fiercer than Kate, angrier than Elizabeth has ever seen her. "He's not going to break down her tech and rebuild it.
What if she'd traveled backward in time? There were time traveling puddlejumpers strewn throughout two galaxies. More Ancients than Janus had experimented with time travel as the plague hit the Milky Way.
Elizabeth had been thinking about Atlantis and the Ancients when she'd been hit by that drone during her escape. She knows that Ancient technology responds to the nanites inside her. It's possible the Replicators had a time traveling puddlejumper without knowing it. They may not have known about them. Maybe Caia, whoever she is and however much she looks like Kate, is an Ancient.
"We'll see what the Council of Elders has to say," says Caia. "Athos respects the Alterans, but the Council insists on self-determination. You know we agreed to let the people of this galaxy come of age without overruling their decisions."
Athos has been scorched by the Wraith as the price of Atlantis' defiance. It's the first great sin against this galaxy that's on Elizabeth's conscience. She can't be on Athos if she's escaped; it's uninhabitable. She wants to tell them she's not from this planet. She's not even from this time. She stays silent, because she remembers her ancient self, the one who stayed behind on Atlantis to save the entire expedition. She's heard enough about Moros and that council that she doesn't want to go to Atlantis. It's not her city yet, and they'd never give her the chance to find her way back to her Atlantis.
Kate knows some of what happens. Happened. She knows Elizabeth spends time with the Replicators, and she knows that Elizabeth will - or has - become mostly nanite. But she doesn't know when all of that happens, or if Elizabeth will be able to find her way back to them. The best thing to do, other than sitting and waiting, is to go to Teyla for answers.
"I want to know what you're doing to find Elizabeth." Kate stands in the door of Elizabeth's office. Teyla is working at the desk, going through reports and checking off approvals on Elizabeth's tablet.
"We are doing everything we can," says Teyla. She looks exasperated, which is understandable. Kate's sure she's not the first person to demand answers today. Though Kate's probably the first to ask about Elizabeth. Almost everyone wants Teyla's approval on items Elizabeth had previously denied.
"Do I have to be madder than I already am?" Kate slides into the chair in front of Elizabeth's desk with a sigh.
"Need you ask?" Teyla looks as frustrated as Kate feels.
"Sometimes I don't know why I bother." After all, Kate can just go back to her office and work on overdue reports. She can wait for Earth to find them and send a bunch of decrees through. This is Atlantis, though, and none of them are good at waiting for Earth.
"Hope springs eternal, is that not a saying of your people?" Teyla sets Elizabeth's computer aside and walked around the desk. She sits next to Kate and reaches out, her hands covering Kate's. "We will find Elizabeth. However, if we do so, and regain contact with your planet, the IOA will wish us to return Elizabeth to Earth. They will wish to study her. None of us wish for that happen."
"No," agrees Kate. "None of us will."
"Then we must work with care, both in our efforts to find Earth and our efforts to find Elizabeth," says Teyla.
Kate nods, but the look she and Teyla share is sad. Teyla doesn't know there are ways to find out where Elizabeth is. Kate doesn't want to interfere in the timeline and with the expedition any more than she already has, but for the woman she loves, Kate will do anything. She's already broken the most important rule there is.
"I'm worried about her," says Kate. She tries to smile. "She was never just a patient."
"That's true," says Teyla. "She was a friend to you as well. As she was to me."
"Moros won't listen to reason," says Caia. She's changed out of the Alteran clothing expected of her in the cities and back into the clothing of the Athosian people. If she wants to treat them like equals, she told Elizabeth, it's best to dress the part. "That's why we're leaving. He won't look hard if he has to go into the Athosian settlements. He doesn't study people, only systems. He's not very good with people."
"But you do? Study people, I mean." Elizabeth has a pair of leggings and a hip length tunic on. She emerged from the changing room a few moments ago to find a few more Athosian basics waiting for her. She tugs up a pair of soft leather boots, then shrugs a vest on over the tunic. Like Caia, she would prefer to dress in Athosian garb, not in Ancient robes.
Caia is trying to puzzle out who Elizabeth is and what to do with her. That much, Elizabeth can figure out. She has no idea what Caia thinks, who she thinks Kate might be.
"I've spent a very long time studying them." Caia shrugs and doesn't look at Elizabeth, focusing on the computer terminal she's brought up from the floor. "Athosian, Alteran and otherwise. Which means I know that you're not like any of the people of this galaxy. You're too comfortable with our technology."
She can't tell Caia anything about the future, not the Wraith or the Ori, not anything. She can't risk influencing the future any more than she already has - again - just by coming back in time. She's already let too much slip, just by assuming that Caia was Kate. It's a reasonable error, of course, as Caia looks just like Kate, with her blonde hair and green eyes, and even the same pattern of freckles on her neck that Kate has.
"I'm not from this galaxy," says Elizabeth.
"What galaxy are you from, then?" Her eyes are wide and her expression is interested. Curious. Caia looks just like Kate, reacts like Kate does when she can't believe what she's hearing. The similarities are too much for Elizabeth to take. She looks away.
"We have to look for Elizabeth." John barges into Kate's office, checks for patients after the fact, and then collapses into one of her chairs.
He's upset and he needs to calm down. She needs time to pull herself together. Kate spends a few moments sends an email to Rodney rescheduling him for after lunch. If he works through it again and shows up to her appointment hungry, she'll send him off to eat and use the time to collate her research.
"I know." Kate's voice is tight. "I talked to Teyla."
"I know about--" John looks more awkward than he usually would in her office.
Kate says nothing. There's a value to silence that she learned many years before Atlantis.
John shifts in his chair, looking everywhere but at Kate.
Patience is Kate's chief virtue. She's spent many long years cultivating it. She gives John an encouraging look.
He groans and sinks down in his chair, then scrubs his hand across the back of his neck. "I know about you and Elizabeth," blurts John.
"I see." That surprises Kate. It's not easy to do. "I wasn't aware of that."
"I was looking for Elizabeth late one night and I used the life sign detector." He looks sheepish.
"Does Elizabeth know?" asks Kate. There's not much else she can say.
"You're not asking that like she's dead," says John. "Half the city talks like she is."
He sounds as relieved as Kate is to find a kindred spirit. Most of the city is ready to let go of Elizabeth. They send emails to Teyla and none of them mention what they'll do if Elizabeth comes back and disagrees any of the decisions Teyla made. Not that Elizabeth would change much, if anything, but it's still the principle of it.
"No," says Kate, and John relaxes just a fraction when he hears her say it. "Elizabeth isn't dead. We just need to find her."
Elizabeth has gone back in time. She's met the person that Kate used to be, back when she was an Ancient. Kate can help bring Elizabeth home to them; she just needs John and Teyla to help her do it. Still, telling them all the things she's kept hidden; that's not going to be easy.
"I'm not good at talking about this kind of thing," says John, his gaze darting to the door and then over to the windows. "I mean, you talk to Teyla, right? That works for you?"
"Of course." Kate smiles. It's a good look on her: serene, approachable, and it doesn't give away that she spends most of her time sick with worry. It's a look that will fool anyone who doesn't know about her relationship with Elizabeth - and who came here to see how she was doing because Elizabeth is a prisoner of war.
That would be why John is looking at her with narrowed eyes. "You're not telling me everything." John is always suspicious. It's a natural reaction to the way he's regarded by most of the non-Atlantis military.
"Does it matter if I'm not?" It's pointless to deny it, and Kate is against lying anyway.
"I don't know. Are you okay?" John blurts it out, like he's determined to say it before he has second thoughts. "What is it you're not telling me?"
"Far too many things." It's not just doctor-patient confidentiality that Kate is talking about. She's known for far too long that this day would come, though she's never known how it would happen. She always wondered what form it would take.
Kate has to trust someone. John and Teyla are the two people on this city who know her best now that Elizabeth's not here.
"Anything I have to worry about?" asks John. His awkward slouch is gone and replaced by alert caution.
"Probably," admits Kate. She doesn't so much gesture as she reaches with her mind, re-activating the dormant ATA gene inside her and connecting to the technology in her office. It causes at least half a dozen previously unknown control panels to whir to life. "But I think I know where Elizabeth is. Or, rather, where she was."
It's been about twelve thousand years since then, but that's the beauty of the past. It doesn't change. Often.
"What the hell?" asks John. He stares down at the control panel next to his chair. It hadn't been there half a minute ago. "We need to talk to Teyla."
"You don't live in the city?" Elizabeth wonders how much Athos has changed - will change, she supposes - in ten thousand years. Teyla sometimes spoke of her planet, and the Athosian Council of Elders has tapestries that show pivotal points in their history. It's only a small glimpse of what Athos was like before it was scorched. They're invaluable, so the elders have them bundled away in some of the stasis pods that they've found in Atlantis' storerooms.
"If I want to be welcomed by the Athosians, I can't live like I'm above them," says Caia.
"The Athosians aren't a backward culture," says Elizabeth. She's speaking of the future, of course, but also because of her loyalty to Teyla and the Athosians. They were her first allies in her galaxy; she owes them so much. Any culture that can build a network of relationships on a hundred different planets can't be backward.
"Of course they're not," says Caia. She stops and turns to watch Elizabeth, giving her a thoughtful look. "I wouldn't have expected you to say that. You're very dependent on technology."
Elizabeth flinches. "It wasn't my choice."
Caia frowns. "What do you mean?"
"The nanites weren't my choice," says Elizabeth. She hates them. "They were placed there."
"They're fascinating technology." Caia wants to understand. She moves closer to Elizabeth, still studying her. "You have more to offer than that, though, if you understand that technology isn't the only sign of sophistication in a culture."
"I enjoy learning about other cultures," says Elizabeth. She smiles, enigmatic the way she might be at the negotiating table, and they start walking again, silent for a while.
The sun is shining and Elizabeth recognizes at least a few of the plants from Teyla's descriptions. She lets herself gets distracted, watching the trees and staring up as birds dart through the sky. That's why Elizabeth doesn't see the exposed tree root.
Before she realizes what's happening, she's flinging her hands out as the ground rushes up at her. She can't stop herself, even knowing all the while that's the worst way to fall. All those drills with Teyla, and it's still not in her muscle memory.
There's no pain when Elizabeth brushes her hands off, but a bright red smear of blood catches her attention. She must have gashed her hand open on a rock. The cut is deep enough that it must have severed a nerve. Either that, or she's not human enough to feel pain. Not any more.
Caia kneels beside her and helps Elizabeth to stand. "Are you all right?" She tries to take Elizabeth's hand and looks surprised when Elizabeth yanks it away.
"That's not safe," snaps Elizabeth. As she studies it, the edges of the wound knit together. Within half a minute, her hand is unmarked.
"That's remarkable," breathes Caia. "They told me you were uninjured after the crash, but self-healing is one of the rarest gifts. I wasn't sure you could do it."
"It's not me," says Elizabeth, grimacing.
"The nanites?" asks Caia. She gives Elizabeth a confused look. "We don't have anything like them. I wasn't sure what all their functions were."
"That's a long story." Elizabeth shakes her head and takes a step back from Caia.
Caia smiles, and Elizabeth wonders how she can avoid seeing the nanites for the threat they are. "You're lucky to have them."
"No, I'm not." Elizabeth's mouth tightens.
"They saved your life." Caia stares into Elizabeth's harsh expression and doesn't flinch. "You wouldn't have survived that shuttle crash if it weren't for them."
"They put my life in danger in the first place," says Elizabeth. She starts walking again, maybe in the direction of the nearest Athosian settlement. Maybe she's going in the opposite direction. She doesn't care.
Caia steps in front of Elizabeth and places her hands on Elizabeth's shoulders. "Whatever else has been done to you, they're a gift. Technology isn't good or evil. Those that use it are responsible for their action."
Elizabeth expected to have this fight with Kate. It's the one she never got to have. It hits Elizabeth - again - that she never got to say goodbye to Kate. That she avoided it. She never wanted to see the hurt expression when Elizabeth had to go to the Replicator homeworld. She never wanted Kate to try and stop her.
Kate would have known Elizabeth hadn't planned to come back from it. She would have known Elizabeth would sacrifice herself rather than put her city at risk. That she'd rather die than put Kate at risk.
If she had to break Kate's heart, Elizabeth hadn't wanted to look her in the eyes while she did it.
"What do you want from me?" asks Elizabeth.
"What do you want from yourself?" asks Caia. She's so like Kate, with her quiet voice and her eyes full of whatever they teach psychologists that lets them deal with people like Elizabeth and her command staff.
The echoes of Kate's presence are so strong that Elizabeth can't think of any answer but the truth.
"I don't know."
"You're one of the Ancients?" Teyla is in Kate's office, standing next to John, who gave up on sitting and is slouched against the wall now, his arms crossed. She ignores him and continues. "You cannot be. They departed from the worlds ten thousand years ago."
"Not to mention Carson tested you for the ATA gene and didn't find anything," drawls John. Every muscle in his body is tense. "The shot didn't work on you."
Rodney has a list of everyone in the city that has the ATA gene from birth and those who have it activated by Carson's gene therapy. Kate's on neither list, which she heard about for at least three months after the gene therapy was initiated. Sometime around three months in, Radek had threatened to reprogram the water reclamation system to spew orange juice.
At the time, Kate and Elizabeth pretended not to have heard that story, though Elizabeth sent Radek an entire carton of oranges - jokingly, of course - when they'd made contact with Earth once again.
"I can suppress the ATA gene," says Kate. It's like losing half of herself, but without Elizabeth she's not a whole person either. It's just a matter of which part of herself she's willing to give up. "Some of us learned how to after the Wraith started targeting us with it."
"Handy," says John. He bares his teeth in a grin. "We could've used that ATA gene a couple times on this city."
"Why did you do it?" asks Teyla. She sits across from Kate. It's almost like one of their talks, except this time Kate is the one in need of reassurance.
"Because of Elizabeth." Kate glances at John, who gives her enough of a curious look to know she's hooked him. He's not quite as angry. He's got a soft streak he doesn't let many people see, where he wants to protect his people. Elizabeth is one of them, of course. It seems Kate might have been let into that circle by virtue of her relationship with Elizabeth.
"Elizabeth?" asks Teyla. She's puzzled.
"She didn't want to tell anyone that we were in a relationship," says Kate. "She thought it would impede her effectiveness as a leader." To be fair, Kate had agreed with her. Even in the few years she's been working with the expedition, she's seen how much they struggle when dealing with anything out of the ordinary.
"You lied to me." Teyla looks, all of a sudden, weary. Burdened. "About many things."
Two things, but, of course, they were the two biggest things to have lied about.
"Teyla, I've seen how much your people venerate the Ancestors," says Kate. She leans forward, trying to find a way to connect with the two of them. "We're just people with advanced technology. That doesn't make us anything more than any of the rest of this galaxy."
"If you're an Ancient, why can't you just Ascend and get Elizabeth back?" asks John. "Use your super powers."
"The others would stop me," says Kate. She's been talking her way out of trouble with her people since she the first day this expedition came to Atlantis. "They always stop the Ascended from interfering."
"They have some pretty stupid rules," says John, his mouth twisting. He's probably thinking of Athar. Kate had avoided her when John brought her to the city. It's been more than ten thousand years, and Athar has been alone so long. Kate hadn't been sure Athar would recognize her, but Kate can't risk breaking Athar's exile. Not even during her own self-imposed exile.
"You have no idea," says Kate. She takes a deep breath. " I know you're mad at me, both of you. The way that people idolize us, though, I didn't want anyone looking at me that way. I wanted to be part of this expedition."
"You could have helped us find a ZPM years ago," says John. A spark of anger flares in him, and he leans forward, every inch of his posture aggressive. "We could have avoided all of this, everything that happened to Elizabeth, if you'd just told us."
Guilt stabs through her. It isn't that simple, and she wants to explain that to John. Of course, condescension would be the exact thing to drive him off. John's too used to people assuming he's an idiot, too status-conscious when it's used against him. Flying helicopters instead of planes during his Air Force stint on Earth was the perfect excuse for one of the Marines here to call him a glorified courier during their first year. The extra PT that John had assigned anyone who'd even looked like they were laughing had been the talk of the armed forces for months.
Not to mention she respects John. Everyone does, because he helped get them through that first year, stupid suicidal stunts at the end notwithstanding. That's why Kate understands his anger. If there had been any way to avoid that first year, all of the hunger and fear and uncertainty, and especially the terror of the Wraith invasion, and Kate had found out about it after the fact, she'd have been furious too.
"What makes you think every single one of us knows where we hid the ZPMs?" asks Kate. She doesn't move, though she's irritated. She's got to stand her ground, or someone like John will stop respecting her. She's on the edge with him as it is. "We used this galaxy as a scientific outpost, John, but that doesn't mean that everyone who lived in this galaxy was an engineer or a theoretical astrophysicist. That would be like assuming everyone on this expedition is a politician just because that's what Elizabeth is."
"What do you mean?" asks Teyla, and she's looking between John and Kate. She's worried, though Kate can't say for whom. She hopes it's for both of them.
It's good that Teyla is a skilled negotiator. She's upset; Kate knows all the little signs. But Teyla's role in life has prepared her for this moment, because there's no way in hell that Teyla will act on that anger. Not now. Later, when the crisis is over, she's going to put Kate through hell. Unless, of course, Kate says something that breaks through Teyla's reserve. Then she'll give Kate hell right away. The only thing Kate can do is hope that Teyla doesn't ask the critical questions.
"Moros was a theoretical astrophysicist," said Kate. At John's blank look, she elaborates. "You probably read about him in Dr. Jackson's reports under the name he took later. Merlin."
"Atlantis was where the astrophysicists and the engineers gathered before the war, because it was the remotest place in the galaxy," continues Kate. She gestures around herself, and means the entire planet and its place in the galaxy. "Their experiments weren't going to hurt any of the developing native life, not all the way out here. I lived elsewhere."
"Where did you live?" asks Teyla. She's curious, and it's an honest curiosity, but Kate this was just the question that Kate dreaded.
"There were a few planets that were reserved for those of us that studied the human cultures that were springing up throughout this galaxy," says Kate. She's not going to be able to dodge it. She'll try, because she has to, but she doesn't think Teyla will let her get away with it. "Many of us lived on those planets, or primarily on one, but we traveled between them as the cultures moved around through the gates."
"Which planet did you live on primarily, then?" asks Teyla. Her voice is hard. The problem with knowing all of Teyla's nonverbal signs is that Teyla also knows all of hers. Teyla knows that Kate is hiding something.
The silence draws out. It's Kate's turn to look uncomfortable - more so - and for John to stare at her with that penetrating look of his.
"Kate, do not make this any harder on any of us than it already is," says Teyla, and the note of pleading in her voice is what breaks Kate's silence.
"I lived in the ruins on Athos and among its people," said Kate. Her mouth twists into what might be a smile. It probably is. She's so practiced with her expressions that sometimes they're on autopilot. She can't stop them from forming, not even when she wants to. "Before they were ruins. I spent most of my time on Athos."
"Do you mean to tell me that you are not just one of the Ancients, but one of the Ancestors as well?" Teyla's eyes are wide as she draws back from Kate.
"Hold on a sec," says John, taking in Teyla's stunned expression. "Teyla, when you talk about the Ancestors, I thought you were talking about the Ancients."
"No," breathes Teyla. She turns to John. "The Ancients may have seeded the life on this galaxy; we have always known that. But there were those among the Ancients that walked with the people of Athos. They are, in a very literal sense, our ancestors. Why do you think we venerate them so?"
"Hold on," says John. He glances over at Kate, who tries not to make her smile look too awkward and probably fails. "You mean to tell me that Kate might be your great-grandmother from ten thousand years ago?"
"When you say that, you make it sound like I'm old," says Kate. Sometimes she wishes she were still twelve thousand years in the past. This would be the time for one of Janus' perfected time travel machines, if any of them were left. Or if they hadn't been scattered across the galaxy, where they would apparently be used to cause trouble at least as many times as they had during her people's heyday.
"You're old," says John. His mouth twists into what's almost a smile. "That's why we call you an Ancient. But are you Teyla's great-grandmother times a thousand?"
"We keep genealogical records going back to the times of the Ancestors," says Teyla. "We are all taught them so that none of the information is lost."
"My daughter was named Amara," says Kate. She looks over to Teyla. "Your eyes are the wrong color, but the right shape. "It's possible."
"It is more than just possible," says Teyla. She's sitting back in her chair, stunned. "My family line begins with Amara. It has been many, many generations since she founded the Council of Elders."
The Athosians' encampment is less fragile than Elizabeth would have thought. It's a grouping of more or less permanent structures, tents with heavy poles at each of the corners and sturdy woven cloth draped around it and tied with rope. It's a lot like what the Athosians built on the mainland, except that those structures were lighter. The Athosians packed them up and stowed them on Atlantis during the storm and when the Wraith invaded at the end of that first year.
"Why do you live on Athos?" asks Elizabeth. She's sitting on a stool near a pile of cushions and blankets. They're tucked away in one of the tents near the center of the encampment. She'd thought they'd have gone to the one large common building, the only one build out of wood and stone, but Caia had shuffled them off to a tent instead. "I'd have thought you'd prefer the city here, or maybe Atlantis."
"Our civilization is old," says Caia. She grabs a metal pot and fills it with water from a pitcher, then sets it over the fire to heat. "Sometimes we think we know everything there is about the universe. But sometimes we can learn from younger people. They move in different directions than we do. The Athosians make friends with everyone, for example, but Alterans prefer to isolate ourselves in our cities."
Oh. Elizabeth hadn't thought about why Atlantis was so isolated, but she supposes running from the war with the Ori would have instilled a bone-deep fear in them. It's never gone away, Elizabeth can see that.
"That doesn't cause problems for you?" asks Elizabeth.
"Sometimes," says Caia, reaching for a stoneware pot on a low table. "Moros would prefer it if we stayed away and observed everyone from a distance. Preferably planetary orbit. Ganos Lal and Melia back him, of course, and the three of them are the most influential people in the galaxy."
When she pulls the lid off the pot, the scent of Athosian morning tea fills the room.
Out of everything that's changed, out of everything that she's been through, it's the scent of something so familiar and so associated with Atlantis that hits Elizabeth so hard. It's Kate's favorite drink. She folds over like she's been punched in the gut. There's nothing nanites can do to heal grief.
"Elizabeth?" Caia sets down the pot and moves next to her. She touches Elizabeth, brushes her hair back and Elizabeth can't look at her. She's too much like Kate - like home - for Elizabeth to want anything to do with her. "Elizabeth, what's wrong?"
It takes a long moment, but Elizabeth pulls herself together. She sits up and shakes her head. "I don't want to talk about it," she tells Caia.
She can't tell Caia about Kate. About the future, or how the Ancient city on the lake is going to be a sunken wreck. About how the planet is going to be scorched and lifeless for generations. The botanists and zoologists don't know if Athos will ever recover from the Wraith firebombing.
It hurts, but Elizabeth knows how to be strong. She knows how to avoid contaminating the timeline.
"Sometimes sharing a trouble makes it easier to bear," says Caia. She brushes her palm along Elizabeth's forearm before standing up.
Caia's been touching Elizabeth this whole time, and Elizabeth hasn't flinched. Hasn't even noticed, not since she fell hours ago. Caia is too much like Kate. Even the look in Caia's eyes, the half-hidden curiosity and longing as she moves away to throw leaves into the water pot, even that's just like Kate.
"You're back from the city." A girl stands in the entrance. She can't be more than fifteen or sixteen, with long, nut brown hair and a tan, presumably from hours spent rambling in the sun. She's wearing Athosian clothing: leather leggings and a woven green tunic, with a belt of some kind of some kind of wrought metal with strips of leather woven through it. She holds the fabric aside for just long enough to come in and slouch against the table. "And you brought a stray. I didn't think you could get another Alteran to step outside the city. Not enough air filters."
"I'm not an Alteran," says Elizabeth. The smell of tea fills the tent.
"You're not Athosian either," says the girl. She gives Elizabeth a once-over, then frowns. She's not satisfied by what she sees, but she loses the contemptuous look once she sees that Elizabeth isn't an Ancient. "Or you'd never be drinking tea this time of night."
"I'm not Athosian either," agrees Elizabeth. She takes a mug from Caia, then pauses. They have the same color eyes. "Are you related?"
"You noticed," says the girl dryly.
"Amara is my daughter," says Caia, with her voice an echo of the dryness in Amara's. She sits across from Elizabeth. "Her brother, Soven, is off-planet with a trade envoy, learning what's expected of a merchant. Their father was one of the people of Athos."
Elizabeth hasn't ever thought of any of the Ancients having children. The ones they've run into have been the last remnants of a dying people. They must have had children. They know the Ancients didn't clone themselves, that they even warned the Asgard against it. She's just never thought what any of the Ancients must have been like as children, or with them. How can you ground children with psychic abilities?
"You look surprised," says Amara, taking down a third mug and pouring herself some tea. "Didn't think Caia would align herself with someone not as advanced as she is?"
"You already know Elizabeth isn't from the city," says Caia. She's calmer with Amara than Elizabeth's mother ever was with her. "Why would you think she believes that?"
"It's all right." Elizabeth holds her mug in both hands. She's read some of Dr. Jackson's monographs of pottery of the Milky Way. She can't remember a word of them, but she thinks he'd love to analyze the designs of this era of Athosian pottery and compare it to what they brought with them to Atlantis, ten thousand years later.
"Amara and her brother are two of the children born to us in this galaxy," says Caia. She nods at a pile of nearby cushions and Amara shrugs and goes to sit on them, right next to Caia and across from Elizabeth. "Some of us feel that the Alteran birth rate is so low that we shouldn't intermingle with the younger cultures of this galaxy."
"Lesser cultures, that's what they say," scoffs Amara. "Know-it-alls."
"Where's your father?" asks Elizabeth. She sips at her tea. For everything else that has changed, it still tastes as harsh as always.
"He vanished," says Amara, her voice thick. She swallows and blinks away tears. "He went to Tellas. He never came back."
"Everyone on Tellas vanished," says Caia. Amara settles back and leans against Caia's legs. She closes her eyes as Caia brushes her fingers through Amara's hair. "Life hadn't arisen on that planet. It was a trading planet, used as neutral ground, but it's been abandoned for ten years."
"I'm sorry." Elizabeth looks away, giving Caia and Amara privacy for their grief. She's more than ten thousand years in the past, with no idea how the war started. Starts. An entire planet vanishing, though, makes it sound like the war has already started - and that the Wraith are already winning.
"What am I supposed to tell the Council of Elders?" asks Teyla. She is pacing. "We have searched for any sign the Ancestors left to us."
"You're not supposed to tell them anything," says John harshly. He punches Kate's wall hard enough that she can see where bruises are going to form on his knuckles. "Is she, Kate?"
"The only reason I told you is because we want Elizabeth back." Kate walks over to the window and stares out. The ocean is as blue as she remembers, and the sky is as clear. The salt in the air is thick and the waves are high. Lantea has always reflected the mood of her inhabitants. "If it weren't for her--"
"You'd never have told us, I get it," says John. He flexes his hand.
"If it weren't for Elizabeth, I'd never have come back to Atlantis," says Kate. She smiles at Teyla, gives her a wry look that doesn't get returned.
"You said you know where Elizabeth will be." John stalks over to Kate and stands in her personal space, looming over her. "Explain it."
"John." Teyla lays one hand on his forearm, not gently, like she would have with Kate. Her grip is forceful. "I am sure Kate can explain better if you are not attempting to intimidate her."
"Just be patient a few more minutes," says Kate. She's close, so close, to finding Elizabeth. She just needs John and Teyla to listen to her. "I think I can get in touch with her."
Teyla and John share a look, and Kate doesn't need to be telepathic to know what they're thinking.
"I can't just explain it," says Kate. She really can't. It's one of those things that's too unbelievable, even with all of the things that they've seen. "Just let me show you."
Amara is sitting in front of a few stones glowing in a fire pit as Caia brushes her hair. She leans forward, her eyes closed. Elizabeth is drinking her tea. It's a domestic scene. The only thing Elizabeth could wish for is Kate in Caia's place.
"I'm leaving again tomorrow," Amara tells them. "Tenna is going to Proculus to help bring the harvest in. I'm going to gather some fevrit. We need to get it dried and powdered before the wet season."
Caia's voice catches her attention, but Elizabeth doesn't look up from her mug. She's been staring into it, hoping against hope to find the way home. Not that she could find it in tea leaves. Though it would be funny if she did; she'd never let Rodney hear the end of it. Not after all the hours she'd let him rant about fake psychics.
"Elizabeth." Caia's firmer now, and there's a hint of fond exasperation in her tone that reminds Elizabeth of--
Elizabeth barely notices as her mug tumbles to the ground, splashing her boots and at least three rugs with tea.
This is Kate. She's wearing khakis and a pink t-shirt. Her hair is dark red, which is terrible for her complexion, but Elizabeth loves the way it looks on her anyway. She loves Kate. She wishes she'd said that. She stands up and takes two steps forward before she stops. It's impossible.
"Kate." Elizabeth laughs. It's a hysterical sound. "I'm hallucinating, aren't I? I have to be. There's no way you can be here."
"I'm not precisely here," says Kate. "But I'm not a hallucination." She's staring at Elizabeth. Neither of them can take their eyes off each other.
"Mother, she looks like you." Amara sounds belligerent, just like any teenager confronted with what she doesn't understand. Her wide eyes and the way she's backing up tells another story, though. "Why does she look like you? Is she from the city?"
"Amara." Kate smiles. "It's been so long. I'd forgotten you were here."
"You know her?" Elizabeth frowns.
"Neither of us do," says Caia. She reaches out and brushes her fingers through Kate's hair - and it goes through Kate's shoulder. She pauses, something going through her eyes that Elizabeth can't read. "You're a projection. One programmed with a hair color I can't stand."
"I'm not a hologram," says Kate. She steps back with a little shake of her head. "You'll get to like our hair this color."
"You're me?" asks Caia. Her eyes are wide, and Elizabeth knows that shocked look. She doesn't try to fool herself. This isn't someone who looks like Kate. This is Kate.
"You're an Ancient?" asks Elizabeth. It strikes her that Kate has lied to her, lied since the moment they'd met. "But Carson hired you. He interviewed you on Earth."
"Carson thought that you interviewed me on Earth." Kate is smiling still, but it's soft and a little sad. "I haven't been back to Earth since we brought Atlantis to Pegasus."
She remembers the first day she met Kate. It hadn't been long after they'd come to Atlantis. Elizabeth had chosen her office and gotten set up with what was, she hoped, the least uncomfortable chair. After all, it had been ten thousand years before ergonomic design had been invented.
As it had turned out, the chair was comfortable enough, and Elizabeth had been working late. Kate had walked in, sat down, and given Elizabeth a wide-eyed, innocent look that was supposed to fool everyone. It probably worked on most of the expedition. Elizabeth, though, had always prided herself on being able to read everyone around her like a book.
Kate had introduced herself as the expedition's therapist, part of the medical team, and Elizabeth had just assumed Carson had interviewed her. After all, Carson had interviewed the rest of the medical staff - and gone through dozens of other C.V.s looking for just the right mix for the Atlantis expedition.
Kate had taken to coming to Elizabeth's office late, bringing two mugs of Athosian morning tea - which the expedition had taken to drinking any time of day, Teyla's protestations of ritual notwithstanding - and a tablet full of files to go over. They'd spent most of the time feeling each other out, looking for vulnerabilities and trying to assess each other's strengths. Elizabeth had wanted to know she could trust the woman Carson had hired. Kate had, she'd thought at the time, wanted to know she could trust the woman tasked with guiding them through all this.
She'd thought Kate had been looking for psychological weak spots in Elizabeth, things she could help out with therapy. She hadn't been. Elizabeth remembers the first time Kate showed up at Elizabeth's quarters. It had been just after the nanites had killed Dumais and Peterson. She'd been white and shaking, and Elizabeth had still been furious with John.
Elizabeth had thought it was Kate's fear of dying. Fear that the nanite plague would infect the entire city. After all, Elizabeth had been hit with a healthy dose of that fear on behalf of the entire expedition. She'd let her defenses down, and had kissed Kate in the doorway to her quarters. They'd stumbled inside and to Elizabeth's bed before anyone had seen them.
"You thought it was happening then," says Elizabeth. "Within the first few weeks. You knew what was going to happen to me and you thought that was it."
If Caia is Kate - oh, God, if she's been with Kate this whole time without knowing - then she doesn't know what to do. She loves someone who knows nothing about her. Nothing about the Replicators or the Wraith. Nothing about the Ancient plague in the Milky Way. Nothing at all. Except that Kate already knows, even if Caia doesn't. Has known for a very long time, apparently, and didn't do anything to stop the Replicators from getting their hands on Elizabeth.
"I'm sorry, but I couldn't tell you. I wanted to change everything, but I couldn't. We have to finish the loop or we can't break out of it." Kate doesn't apologize often. "The only advanced ability that I have is to project my consciousness throughout my timeline. I can't alter my own timeline on purpose. It's too shaky as it is."
"My mother can't do that," says Amara. She stands in front Caia, arms crossed as she faces Kate. "If she could, she'd have stopped my father from leaving. He'd never have vanished."
Caia is white-faced. "Amara--"
Amara whirls. "You could have saved him?"
"It's not that simple," says Kate.
Caia is shocked, glancing between Kate and Elizabeth and Amara. "I changed things once, and it made it worse."
"We swore we'd never do it again," says Kate. Elizabeth can't imagine how the Ancients would react to someone who was able to alter time. She remembers what her older self, the one that went back to the last days of the Ancient-Wraith war, told them about Janus' inventions. "I was able to keep that promise for a very long time."
"Until she arrived," says Amara, giving Elizabeth a dark look.
"She's out of her proper timeline already. Elizabeth has never been very well fixed in time." Kate shrugs when Amara turns her glare toward her. "The timeline is muddled already. I'm coming back to affect the timeline now because I remember this happening on Athos."
"We've created a time loop," says Caia, and Kate nods at her. "You're doing this because I'm talking to you now."
"I don't want you here," says Amara. She rests her hand on a knife in her belt. "I have a mother. I don't need you coming from the future and trying to tell me what's best for me. I get that enough from the Alterans in the city."
"It's good to see you, Amara," says Kate, smiling despite the glare. "I've missed you."
Elizabeth has no way of knowing if a half-Athosian, half-Ancient child can Ascend. She doesn't even know if she can Ascend. She started out human, and being comprised of almost pure nanites now means that she doesn't have a body to shed any longer. She doesn't think. She knows next to nothing about Ascension, after all. It may have been thousands of years since Kate has seen her daughter.
"What do we do now?" asks Elizabeth. She and Kate have to have a very long talk, about trust and the future, and how you should probably try to warn your lover if you know she's going to be taken prisoner by Replicators and tortured for months.
Still, this is Kate. She trusts Kate. She trusts Caia, whom she's just met, but who is so very, very like Kate. If Kate is an Ancient, she has to have some idea of what's about to happen. This is before any history Elizabeth has read in Pegasus.
"We're going to be interrupted soon," says Kate. She steps closer to Elizabeth and flattens her palm against Elizabeth's cheek. There's no touch; Kate's like a ghost. "We're looking for you. Your nanites, they're going to protect you from aging if you go into suspended animation, like the other Elizabeth did. You have to find a place to hide from everyone."
"There's something outside." Amara goes to the tent flap and peers out. 'There's fog. I see people. No one I recognize."
Someone screams. A faded shape, twisted and snarling with anger, lunges at them out of the mist.
"It's the Wraith," says Kate. She swallows, fearful. No one is complacent. Not about the Wraith. "Get everyone down to the caves."
"Oh, God." Elizabeth whirls and grabs Amara, dragging her away from the flap as Kate fades away. "We have to go."
Kate comes back to herself with a gasp. The ocean thunders in her office, the waves lapping high enough against the city that Kate wonders if they have another storm coming. On the plus side, this time the city has enough power to weather it.
"Did you know you were talking out loud that whole time?" asks John. His arms are crossed and he's sitting on the edge of her desk. It's almost like Elizabeth is there and he's flirting with her again.
"I was never sure about that," says Kate. She smiles, but it's wan. She looks sickly, she knows. "I've only done that a few times."
"Sent your mind off time traveling?" asks John. "Gosh, I can't imagine how that could be a bad idea."
"We're known for our bad ideas in this city, aren't we?" asks Kate.
"So it's we," says John, and it's clear he's not asking.
Teyla raises one eyebrow at her. "The more spectacular the better," she concedes. "But the Ancestors were less known for their foolishness than for their wisdom."
"I have no idea how we got that reputation." Kate comes away from the window and sits down at her desk. She needs something to lean on. Teyla and John watch her expectantly. Time to stop avoiding the subject. "That was the Wraith. With Elizabeth and Amara."
"We got that idea when you said 'It's the Wraith,'" says John. "You want to tell us what happens?"
"Is Elizabeth all right?" asks Teyla. "It is the first of the Wraith cullings, is it not?"
"It is," says Kate. "It's the opening salvo in the war."
"What happens to Elizabeth?" asks Teyla. She's different from John. Kate can hear the fear in Teyla's voice.
"What caves?" asks Caia. She moves toward the tent's entrance, but Elizabeth lets go of Amara and grabs Caia's hand.
"In the forest," says Elizabeth. She's holding Kate's hand. She's holding Kate's hand, and she's not letting go. They don't know what the Wraith are, or what they're here for. She can't leave the Athosians defenseless. She owes it to them to pay back all the favors they've done for her. Will do for her.
"You spend too much time in the city," says Amara. "Where the archives are kept? You remember those?"
"Out the back," says Elizabeth. The Wraith will be expecting them to use the front door. Even this early, they're too clever. She knows that much, at least.
Amara uses her knife to slice open the fabric in the back. When they slip out, they're in the middle of a grouping of tents, all set back to back. A child is running through the opening between two tents and Elizabeth lets go of Caia's hand to sweep the child up.
"Shh," says Elizabeth, when the girl opens her mouth. "Where are your parents?"
Caia comes back from where she'd been looking through to the central gathering area and she shakes her head. "Let's find everyone we can," she says. "Everyone that's left."
It's a surprise attack. They run through the forest, along with everyone they've managed to gather. The entire group of them sounds like a herd of elephants gasping for breath.
The Wraith soldier is in front of them in a flash of light and a dart whines off in the night sky. He shoots with his stunner, and two older men along the edge of the crowd fall.
Elizabeth has never been to Athos. By the time she's aware of it, it's been scorched. Amara knows where the caves are; she's leading everyone there.
Amara's a target. The Wraith aims his stunner at her. Elizabeth barrels into him, knocking him to the ground. She rips off his mask and he's pale, green-skinned and looking almost amphibious, just like the other Wraith she's encountered. He bares his teeth at her and raises his hand.
He wants to feed.
"No." Without thinking, Elizabeth shoves her hand into the Wraith's forehead. She rifles through his thoughts - she learned from the best, damn him - and sees the city on Athos' lake blasted by a cruiser. It's the first salvo in the war. It has to be.
A Wraith Queen leers at her. Elizabeth has forgotten that they're telepathic, that the Wraith Queen can see through her drones' eyes. The queen wants them. She's going to send more ships, more soldiers, until she has the entire planet lined up to feed her endless hunger.
Elizabeth knows what she has to do to keep them safe. She wrenches her fingers out of the Wraith's brain, and, before he can recover, grabs his head and twists it around.
"We have to go," she says, flinching back when Caia comes up to her. "We have to get underground where their sensors can't detect us."
Caia grabs her hand and doesn't let go when Elizabeth tugs away. Kate's stronger than she thought. "You can't," snaps Elizabeth. "I'm dangerous, don't you understand?"
"I understand what you did for us," says Caia. She tugs Elizabeth's hand, a gentle movement, and Elizabeth steps forward. Everyone is moving around them. "Come on, Elizabeth. We're almost safe."
No one is safe around her. That's only a delusion.
"Elizabeth survives it, but she's going to vanish. It's the last time I see her until the expedition comes to Atlantis." She spent so long waiting for Elizabeth, gambling on the hope that they could both survive twelve thousand years and be reunited on Atlantis. That they could be together in the same timeline, each knowing everything about the other, and without any lies or secrets.
"So you do not know where she is," says Teyla.
"How many places can she be in suspended animation for ten thousand years?" asks John. The answer, of course, is two, but they've already found the other Elizabeth, the one who died an old woman before she ever got a chance to live in Atlantis.
There are too many places to look. Pegasus is full of dangers. There are hundreds of planets that developed inimical life when Atlantis was first on the surface of Lantea, and hundreds more that developed inimical life after they abandoned the galaxy to its fate.
Elizabeth knows what planets those are, though. She has to have figured out that the warning sign that the Alterans use is a big fat nothing in the database. It's the Ancient equivalent of 'here be dragons.' She's seen all the reports, translated a good portion of the database herself, without the linguists' algorithm doing the work for her.
Kate can't go back and talk to Elizabeth again. If she'd done so, she'd remember it. She's been so patient. It's been twelve thousand years, and all she's had is three years with Elizabeth.
"There are some planets," says Kate. "We just need to go through the database and eliminate the ones that are impossible."
"And the ones we've been to already," says John. "Or we'd have found her."
"Elizabeth knows that we should not find her before it is time," says Teyla. She goes to Kate's desk and starts tapping on Kate's computer. "We cannot eliminate all of the planets that we have been to. She knows we're familiar with them. She may be waiting there for us."
"Thank you," says Kate.
"Kate?" Teyla pauses and gives her a questioning look.
"I lied to all of you. For three years," says Kate. It's awkward now, when it hadn't been before, to talk about this. "About my relationship with Elizabeth. About being an Ancient."
"Being one of the Ancestors," says Teyla, her mouth twisting as she and John glance between each other. "Have you said anything truthful about yourself?"
"I was born with blonde hair and green eyes," says Kate. Her mouth twitches and she almost smiles. "I never worked as a couples therapist. I never trained in psychology, so it's a miracle I've been able to do this job without being found out. You're still my closest friend."
"I am comforted," says Teyla, sardonic, as she bends back over Kate's computer. "Come. We will make our list, and then see if we cannot eliminate some few of these planets from it. Then we will discuss getting to know each other better. Revered Grandmother."
John's laughter is loud and Teyla's eyes gleam with mischief. Kate rolls her eyes, actually lets herself have an imperfect expression in front of patients and friends and so-called lesser peoples. They're her family.
There's nothing down here but scrolls and parchments, with woven tapestries at the entrance to serve as a door. The lights are dim, maybe to keep the ink on the scrolls from fading. Two of the Athosians are standing watch, one at the door and one at the cave's entrance. Amara's friends have pooled together pens and colorful inks and are sketching on the walls. No one's stopping them. The Athosians are bored, hungry, and exhausted, but they're alive.
Hopefully there are more people on the surface. The Wraith probably came for the Ancients. Maybe the city will still be safe. Maybe the Ancients will have been surprised, and it will be underneath the lake in ruins when they walk out of the caves.
"You're part of my future," says Caia. It's not a question. She's still holding Elizabeth's hand, so of course it's not a question. "Even though you're not Alteran. Or Athosian. What are you?"
"You know I can't tell you," says Elizabeth. She should make Caia let go of her. It's just that it's been so long, and she's missed Kate so much. "Besides, I don't even know what I am. Not any more."
She killed a Wraith. She'd never thought she'd take a life. She'd never thought she'd have to make a choice like that, because she'd always believed she'd stay in her ivory tower, surrounded by academics. Of course, along came the Stargate program, luring her back into the world of diplomacy. The stakes weren't one country, they were her entire planet. Her galaxy. How could she refuse?
Elizabeth still thinks of herself as a woman of peace, one who works toward it no matter what. The realities of this galaxy have changed her. She proved it by how she's ended someone's life. Even a Wraith's life still means something. Even though she'd done it to save the lives of the small band of Athosians they've shepherded down into the caves, where they're huddling together for warmth.
"You saved us." Caia is next to her. Their thighs are pressed together even though Elizabeth isn't cold and Caia hasn't shivered once. "It doesn't matter what you are."
"I wish it didn't," says Elizabeth. She holds out her palm, showing Caia where the rock had gashed it open. It was still perfect. Had it only been half a day ago? "But it does. In ten thousand years, you and I are going to meet. I'm going to fall in love with you."
"Elizabeth--" begins Caia.
Elizabeth puts her palm over Caia's mouth, even though it might be dangerous. She doesn't want to stop. Not any more. She has to tell Kate this. She has to tell her all of this before she has to leave again.
Caia nods once, and Elizabeth knows her well enough to know that, this time, Caia won't interrupt.
"I won't tell you, not then. You're the only person I've ever loved - ever will love - and I won't tell you that until now. Haven't told you until now, when you don't even know me." Elizabeth's eyes fill with tears and she scrubs them away with one hand. Damn it.
"I know you well enough," says Caia. She takes Elizabeth's other hand in hers and their grip is so tight that Elizabeth's knuckles turn white. "Elizabeth, it'll be okay. We'll figure out what's going to happen and we'll work with it."
"I can't tell you what's going to happen," says Elizabeth. "I just know I have to leave you again. I'm sorry."
She braces herself and then lets go of Caia's hands. She has to go away to keep the timeline uncontaminated. Why is it always her? She sacrificed herself to keep Atlantis safe until it could rise above the waves. She was ready to sacrifice herself during the Wraith siege, walking into Genii territory so she could bring weapons back to Atlantis. She gave herself up to the Replicators so her people could get back to Atlantis and save the city.
If there's anything - anyone - that Elizabeth doesn't want to give up, it's Kate. She only had three years with her. She'd spent seven with Simon, trying to make herself feel something that she didn't, and she left him to go to Atlantis. She didn't look back once. But she fell in love with Kate in an instant, and never told her.
Why can't she have Kate? Why can't she just give up and do this, be the person that can be with Caia instead?
"Elizabeth, no," says Caia. "You don't have to be alone. I'll go with you."
"If I don't leave you, then how will you find me later?" asks Elizabeth. It hurts to stand up and take a step back. "It's my turn, Caia. You need to go back to Atlantis and stay safe. In ten thousand years, you'll find me. Maybe, after all of this, we can find each other again."
"Where will you be?" asks Caia. She stands up too and Elizabeth doesn't move. "How am I going to find you if you don't tell me where to look?"
"You're smart," says Elizabeth. She quirks one eyebrow at Caia. She's smarter than Elizabeth had realized. "You'll figure it out."
"I will," promises Caia.
Elizabeth starts to turn, but Caia grabs Elizabeth's hand again and pulls Elizabeth into her arms. Caia's mouth is on hers. It's their first kiss - Caia's first kiss with her, at least - but Elizabeth threads her fingers through Caia's hair and Caia holds onto Elizabeth's arms so tight that she thinks they might break.
It only lasts for a moment before Elizabeth breaks away and steps back again. "I'm sorry," she tells Caia. "If I don't leave now, I never will."
She walks out of the cave and into the Athosian night.
"What was that?" Amara sidles up. She's been watching the whole time, one hand on her hip. "What is she?"
"That's a lot more complicated than you'd think," says Caia. She blinks her eyes, trying to clear the tears out of them. "I don't know if I understand all of it yet."
"Please," says Amara, looking over at Caia and rolling her eyes. "Complicated ancestry is my specialty."
"My timeline seems to be mixed up with hers," says Caia. She glances up and meets her daughter's eyes. "I think I'm going to Ascend."
"What, now?" asks Amara, startled. "You can't."
Caia shakes her head, staring after where Elizabeth walked out. "Not yet," she says. She reaches up and catches Amara's hand. "Some day, you're not going to need me, and Athos is going to need you. I'll go looking for Elizabeth then."
"Mother, no," says Amara. She slides down the cave wall to sit next to Caia. "That's not going to happen."
"It's all right." Caia smiles. She has no idea what they're going to find when they feel safe enough to leave. "You'll never come into your own if I'm here. I'll leave when it's my time to."
"That makes no sense," says Amara. She gives a sardonic laugh. "You sound just like the rest of them."
"You'll understand," says Caia. She puts her arm around Amara and wonders how many more years she'll have with her daughter. "When it's time."
"Someday I'm going to outlaw mysterious Alteran sayings," grumbles Amara. "You've known her for all of a day. What makes you think you're going to Ascend and find her? It's not like any of you know how to do it."
"Have you ever met someone and you've known them forever?" asks Caia. "All you were waiting to do is meet them?"
"That makes even less sense than the last thing you said." Amara is scowling at her. Her daughter is a child of Athos, through and through, with little interest in the metaphysical side of being Alteran. Of course, how many Alterans meet people like Elizabeth? "You never say anything like that about my father."
"That's because our relationship started in a more prosaic fashion," says Caia. She smiles, because Damusz had courted her in such an Athosian fashion, though he had to come to the city to do so.
"Tell me about it," says Amara, as if Caia had never done so.
"My quarters at the city were filled with tapestries he'd woven me," says Caia. She glances over at Amara, whose frown is smoothing out. "Your aunts are hunters, but Tennar can track game that moves on the wind. He would come to the city every week with fresh game from her and every month with a new tapestry or a blanket. His textiles were famed on at least a dozen planets."
"Why didn't you save him?" asks Amara. Her voice is small, like it was when she was a child and afraid of night whispers. "If you can change time, why didn't you save my father? Why didn't you tell him not to go?"
"If you let your uncle take you to Atlantis for schooling, you'd learn why we don't alter the timeline," says Caia.
"They all look at me like I'm a savage," says Amara. She shakes her head. "I hate them. I won't go."
"They're not all bad," says Caia. Though she and Moros are going to have words when he tracks her down, once this crisis is done. Breaking sentient creatures like Elizabeth down to their component parts, even if those sentient creatures are mostly not organic, is less about scientific curiosity and more about fear of the unknown.
"They'll try to make me less Athosian." Amara's mulish. Angry, not afraid. "I won't be one of you; I'll never be Alteran."
"Whatever happens," says Caia, looking at Amara with all the solemnity she can muster. "Inside, where it counts, you will always be Amara of Athos. But your Alteran heritage is part of you as well. Without it, your path will be half in shadows."
"If I let my uncle take me to Atlantis for schooling, will I understand what you mean when you say things like that?" asks Amara.
Caia chuckles. "Maybe."
She changes time for Elizabeth. She Ascends, at least in part for Elizabeth's sake. When she's satisfied that Amara is ready, that's when she'll go. She just has to figure out how.
"You are certain?" The monks stand a respectful five feet back. They look at Elizabeth, but when she tries to meet their eyes, they stare down at the ground. "This is what you wish?"
"This is how it has to be." She has a ZPM in her hands. There's one in the machine already. They're intended to power the stasis chamber for at least ten thousand years. "I can't do this without your help."
It's taken her more than a decade of dodging the Wraith and the Ancients to get these ZPMs. Caia has been looking for her. She's heard rumors of the blonde Alteran going from planet to planet and asking after her.
All Elizabeth wants to do is rest. To protect Caia and the rest of the galaxy from the nanites - and from her knowledge.
"What is to happen?" Selvim, their leader, is the only one who'll talk to her. They think she's one of the Ancients. She hasn't disabused them of that notion. "We will guard you for the ten thousand years that you require, but what is to happen to our children's children that many generations away?"
"I wish I had an answer for you," says Elizabeth. She sets the second ZPM into place. "The truth is, none of us know what the future is going to be."
Sometimes Elizabeth hates herself for being so good at lying. But only a little.
"Not even the Ancestors are so wise and so all-seeing as that," says Selvim. He bows to her as Elizabeth slips her fingers inside the stasis chamber, merging them with the machine long enough to activate the locking code and to starts it on a five minute countdown.
"Thank you," says Elizabeth. She disentangles her mind from the machine. "For everything you've done."
She steps into the stasis chamber as Selvim and his fellow monks step away. As the world dims about her, Elizabeth wonders if she'll feel those ten thousand years as they pass. If the other Elizabeth did.
She wonders what happened to Kate in that timeline, if she didn't have an Elizabeth to descend for. She wonders what will happen to Kate if she can't find Elizabeth.
The stasis chamber hums to life, and, as Elizabeth's eyes close, the only thing she can think of is how far away ten thousand years seems.
"Elizabeth has to be here," says Kate. She walks down the steps from the gate platform and shades her eyes. The sun is high overhead, the few clouds strewn across the sky doing nothing to block the light bearing down on them. "It's the only place we've encountered where they called us Lanteans, and they were convinced we were coming back."
"McKay is still losing his shit," drawls John, stepping out of the gate and strolling down the steps. "He thinks he can talk the Quindosim into giving him the ZPM if we just let him come along."
"He is also upset that I did not leave Atlantis in his hands," says Teyla as she moves down quickly to join them.
"I'm sure we'll deal with it in therapy next week," says Kate. She's cleared her calendar, but Rodney works best when he has someone to vent to. He keeps his appointment.
"You need to train up an assistant or two," says John. He rests his hands against his P-90 as they start strolling along the path. "Probably be easier if you were, I don't know, a real therapist."
"Are you ever going to let that go?" asks Kate.
"I'll tell you what," says John, smirking at her. "I'll Ascend and give you grief for the next ten thousand years. Then you'll never live it down."
Teyla laughs at them. "It would be the least you would deserve."
Halfway to the Sudarian monastery, the Brotherhood swarms out of the forest. All fifteen of them. They aim their guns at the three of them. Allina's in front, and she doesn't have a gun. Not this time.
"Colonel Sheppard? Teyla Emmagan?" Allina looks at them both. "Why did you return? Who is your friend?"
"Thought you'd never see us again?" asks John. His grin is easygoing, but all surface. There's a threat under it Allina doesn't see. "It's a small galaxy."
"You have been waiting for the Ancestors to return," says Teyla.
"Let's not draw this out," says Kate. She steps forward. "I've come back. I want the Potentia, and I want the other artifacts you hadn't yet found when my friends came to Sudaria last."
"This planet is named Dagan," says Allina. She's wary. Kate doesn't blame her. All the Ancients leave, and then Kate comes back with the same people who tried to take the ZPM just three years ago? "And there are no other artifacts. The Ancestors only left us the Potentia. You cannot be an Ancestor."
"Allina," says Kate. She's not wearing a backpack, and she refuses to carry a weapon. She shouldn't need one. She looks non-threatening, and that's the entire point. She can be gentle this way. "I know how we cached our artifacts. Potentia are never left by themselves. Have you found the entire trove?"
It's not as if Kate doesn't understand scientists and their motivation.
"How did you find out about it?" asks Allina. She frowns. "We never told you about that."
"Just take me to the monastery," says Kate. She's so close to Elizabeth. It's hard to sound serene. "I'll prove to you that I am what I say I am."
"Almost there," murmurs Teyla. Allina and the Quindosim are leading them through the forest. Everyone is able to be quiet; it's a skill that's needed by even the average Pegasus denizen, what with the Wraith.
"Here." Allina takes them to a level that, judging by their expressions, Teyla and John haven't been to before. Their guards sheathe their guns, but they take up a place at the door. They won't get out until Kate passes their test. "The Potentia was kept above, because it was removed from its place for festivals. This room was for the most sacrosanct belongings of the Ancestors. We have no idea how to open it."
She hopes that Elizabeth is here. Kate has waited twelve thousand years for them to be together. She's waited twelve thousand and three years for them to be together when they both know everything about each other.
"Unless you're one of the Ancestors, you can't," says Kate. Whatever is there, she can guarantee it's been locked away with the ATA gene. "Unless you're one of our children?"
Most of their children have been killed by the Wraith. During her time Ascended, she wept to see it, but she'd bided her time, waiting until she could slip into Atlantis, find Elizabeth, and do something, anything to help.
"We are all children of the Ancestors," says Allina. She sounds so confident. She's right, in her way.
"That's true, to an extent," says Kate. She smiles, to take the sting from her words. "This galaxy was empty of life before we came here. But we spent a very long time among the people that developed. Some of us began families that spread throughout the galaxy."
"Some of those children can use Ancient technology," adds Teyla. "We have encountered some few planets with descendants of the Ancestors."
Some place in this room, there's a panel that hides a suspended animation chamber. Kate tunes out the rest of the conversation. She's not interested in the Quindosim Brotherhood's tests. They're not important. Finding Elizabeth, that's important.
Though she wouldn't turn her nose up at a ZPM too.
The room is cavernous. The only thing in it is a wooden table blackened with age. Kate glances around the edges of the room. The stonework is older than the table. There's something at the other end of the room, the farthest corner from the door. It's a hum under her skin that turns into electricity shooting through her veins as she gets closer.
"Whatever's hidden, it's here," says Kate. She flicks her fingers and the walls and ceiling light up with a star map of the galaxy. She glances down. A comet passes under her feet. Even the floor is covered in stars, and it's all reflecting the galaxy's movements. It's beautiful, but Alterans have always valued that, so much that they worked to make their cities art, not just functional living areas.
"My God," says Teyla.
"It's powered by the ZPM," says Kate. The stars reflect in her eyes, but there's still something missing. None of their cities are on the map. Deliberate omission? By this point, the war had been going so badly that most of their cities had been lost anyway.
"Atlantis isn't on there," says John. He looks up at the ceiling. "Not on Lantea or the new planet."
"It's the next step of the puzzle," says Kate. She smiles. If there's anything an anthropologist is suited for, it's identifying her cities. If this where Elizabeth is, then she knows what Alteran cities that Kate is familiar with. "Find our cities."
"I love how she says our," says John, glancing over at Teyla. "Does that make her an honorary Earth girl or are we honorary Ancients?"
"Does it have to be one or the other?" asks Kate. She climbs onto the table, disregarding Allina's shocked gasp.
"That is an artifact," says Allina sternly. "It is a thing of the Ancestors."
"It's not as if anyone is going to eat off it," says Kate. She stamps her foot and dust rises off it, then stops as Teyla coughs and gives Kate a look.
"It's still a sacred artifact," says Allina. It's supposed to be stern. It probably does warn off the Quindosim's junior members, but Kate ignores her.
"What are you looking for?" asks Teyla.
"Sudaria is here." Kate touches the planet where it floats along the ceiling, and a blue glow flickers to life. "Teyla, can you help me find Athos in the star map? We had a city there. Doranda is gone; we won't find anything for it."
"What about that place with the Lord Protector?" asks John. "Their ZPM was drained."
"But the city is still there," says Teyla. "Tarania's outpost is no longer in existence, but the planet was not destroyed."
Kate touches the wall where Teyla is pointing, and the Lord Protector's city lights up. "Let's try Tarania anyway. It'll test our hypothesis."
It takes a few moments to find Tarania. It's halfway across the galaxy from the Lord Protector's city, and the planet stays dark when Kate touches the wall. Athos is nearby, though. It doesn't take Teyla long to find it, and it lights up when Kate touches it. She misses Athos. It was her home for so long.
"Here's Atlantis." John bends down and sweeps his palm over a spot on the floor. Blue light sparkles. "See, you're not the only one who can do that."
"I wonder if Moros ever realized his children would come back to Atlantis," says Kate. She combs over the map. What other cities are left?
"Wait, you know which Ancient I'm descended from?" asks John, straightening.
"It only makes sense," says Kate. She shrugs at John's curious look. "He spent some time on Earth when he descended. He's the Alteran who spent time on Earth the most recently, and your gene is the strongest of anyone we've found on Earth other than General O'Neill. All the stories of Merlin and Nimue, they had to come from somewhere."
"I heard from that guy was basically a dick," says John. He's wary. She doesn't blame him. Kate knows things and has kept them from everyone. She'd be wary too. "From multiple sources."
"He was," says Kate. She ignores Allina, who looks desperate for a notepad, and taps a small planet near the center of the galaxy. It's an outpost that Kate spent time at, but she doesn't think Elizabeth ever knew of. It doesn't light up.
"You and he didn't get along?" asks John. "How come?"
"Sibling rivalry," says Kate. Moros insisted that she follow in their parents' footsteps, of course. Astrophysics and engineering for the whole family. He was never satisfied when Kate followed her own path, neither in her vocation nor when she Ascended.
Of course, he was the one who descended and started building machines to kill the Ori, so what did he know about the non-interventionist, pacifist after all?
"You mean to tell me you're my great-aunt a billion times removed?" asks John. He shares a startled look with Teyla. "And Teyla is my cousin?"
"It's been generations," says Kate. She knows she sounds apologetic. They do deserve an apology, but she doesn't know what to say as Teyla stares at her.
"My family tree just opened up a lot," says John shakily. He scrubs one hand over his hair, mussing it up even more. "If we ever get back to Earth, what do I tell my family?"
"Can we focus on finding Elizabeth before we talk about what to do if we can find Earth again?" asks Kate.
"The Temple of Laros?" asks Teyla, getting back to the business of finding Elizabeth. She walks across the room and gestures at a small solar system near the table leg.
"Elizabeth wasn't here for that," says John, straightening up. "She wouldn't know we found any Ancient settlements there."
"There's one city left," says Kate. She swallows. "We didn't build it, though."
"The Replicators' city," says Teyla. It's the kind of thing Elizabeth would do. She'd never want them to forget about the nanites.
"It's here." John gestures at a spot on the wall back where Kate started. Of course. "Kate, you want to do the honors?"
She doesn't bother touching the wall. Kate raises her hand and reaches out with her gene, sparks pooling under her skin and connecting to the circuits buried within the stone until the Replicators' homeworld glows a brilliant blue and the wall starts to rumble. A panel creaks and the entire wall pulls back.
Elizabeth is sleeping in a stasis chamber powered by a single ZPM. She looks as beautiful as the last time Kate saw her, young and vital. Full of nanites, and Kate still doesn't care, not even now that she knows what those nanites are. Not even with the history of all the Replicators have done and have had done to them.
"Elizabeth." Kate abandons all reserve and runs to her.
The room is full of equipment, computers and artifacts Rodney will have a field day with. There are even books, and Kate doesn't want to look. She might recognize some of the handwriting. For all she knows, some of them are her daughter's parchments.
"A second Potentia," gasps Allina, trying to push past them.
"Not this time," says John, grabbing her by the wrist. "Kate's an Ancient. They belong to her."
"We owe the Quindosim," says Kate. She stares at the control panel. Can she think of the sequence to release the stasis? Is there one?
"We don't owe them a ZPM," says John, seething. "Not after all the people who died in the siege because they wouldn't give us the last one. "
"We should take them to Atlantis with us," says Kate, distracted. She walks up to the control panel. It begins to glow with a soft white light. "They spent generations guarding Elizabeth from the Wraith and keeping the ZPMs safe. They were promised a reward. They can bring both ZPMs."
"There are no archaeologists on Atlantis with more knowledge of this galaxy's Ancient structures," says Teyla. My people have traded with Dagan for centuries. They are trustworthy."
"I need to figure this out," says Kate. Elizabeth hasn't left anything to guide her. It's just a keypad with numbers in Alteran and nothing else to go on. She inputs a few numbers from a children's rhyme game, but nothing happens. Of course not. Elizabeth doesn't know the games that Alteran children grow up with.
"If this were Elizabeth, and she were waiting for you, would it not be something you would easily remember?" asks Teyla.
Kate has a passcode into Elizabeth's quarters. Elizabeth has one into hers. They've had them programmed since just after the storms hit Atlantis. The numbers are almost the same in Alteran, though Elizabeth doesn't use all five dimensions of integers.
She enters the passcode, translated from Arabic numbers into Alteran. Her heart is beating too fast. Kate breathes a sigh of relief as the glass slides back and Elizabeth's eyelids flutter open.
"Finally," breathes Kate, helping Elizabeth out of the stasis chamber. She doesn't let go of Elizabeth's hand. She can't. "You're back."
Atlantis hasn't changed much in the past ten thousand years and ten months. They had her for ten months, not six. Things are almost the same. Everyone is tense, though Elizabeth is examined by Jennifer and Carson and cleared as non-infectious.
God help her, Carson is alive, and the instant she came into the infirmary he'd thrown his arms around her, held on tight, and said, "Lass, welcome home."
She thinks that maybe they wanted to clear her. Elizabeth will go back in a day and ask for a second - third - opinion from Dr. Biro once the shock of being back home wears off.
No one has packed Elizabeth's quarters up and shipped her belongings off to her mother on Earth. Her bed is still unmade, and Kate is lounging on it, just like always. Before all of this, at least half Kate's clothes were in Elizabeth's dressers. She wonders if they still are.
"You're thinking I shouldn't be here," says Kate. She looks calm and reserved. She always does. "I just can't tell if it's because you think you're still dangerous, or because you're upset that I lied to you."
Elizabeth stays just inside the door. "I am still dangerous. And you did lie to me."
"Only to keep the timeline as intact as I could manage," points out Kate. "I'm sorry I lied to you."
"I'm still dangerous." Elizabeth raises one eyebrow at Kate. How can she be so nonchalant about it?
"You only say that because you doubt yourself more than you trust Jennifer and Carson," says Kate. Damn it, she's right. "You had ten months of being held prisoner, then all that time in stasis. You learned to control the nanites. They're yours, not Oberoth's."
"You waited ten thousand years to find me," says Elizabeth. Ten thousand years is a long time to be alive. She doesn't know how Kate did it. "If you'd given up, that might have kept you safer."
"Twelve thousand years, as a matter of fact," says Kate. "I was Ascended for most of it. Did you know there's only so long you can spend contemplating the mysteries of the universe? Safe is very boring."
"I spent thousands of years in stasis and you want to talk to me about boredom?" Something breaks in the air between them, and Elizabeth walks over to sit next to Kate instead of staring at her from across the room. "I'm not human any more. I have a very hard time sleeping. I did too much of it."
"I was never the same kind of human as you were. I still sleep. I still eat. I still love you." The corner of Kate's mouth moves. It's how she smiles most of the time, when she's not putting on her therapist face. "I still don't care about the nanites."
"Why do you love me?" asks Elizabeth. "You only knew me for a day." She doesn't look at Kate, but stares across her room at the door. She can see Kate out of the corner of her eye, and it's that same concerned look she always has.
"Have you ever met someone and felt a connection with them that goes deeper than words?" asks Kate. Her voice is soft and caring, but Elizabeth feels the underlying strength in it. "You woke up in the wreckage of that shuttle and that was how I felt."
"What if you were just seeing how I felt about you?" asks Elizabeth. She glances over, just a quick look with her eyes, and Kate is still watching her.
"What if, when I came to your office that first time, you were just seeing how I felt about you?" asks Kate. It's an honest question, and Kate's face is clear when she asks it.
"That's what I keep asking myself." Elizabeth doesn't know if that's it. Kate acts like she knows, but Kate always seems to have the answers.
"You've never been very good at staying in your own timeline," says Kate. Out of the corner of her eye, Elizabeth sees Kate shrug. "Neither am I. The emotions we feel are very real, no matter where the connection comes from."
"I'm not sure why everyone thinks I'm going to take control of Atlantis again." Elizabeth looks down at her hands and forces herself to stop wringing them. It's such an obvious move. "You know the IOA won't allow that. I've become mostly nanite."
"John didn't tell you that we've lost contact with them again?" asks Kate. She remembers that Elizabeth talked with Kate and Teyla on the way back to Atlantis. She knows that Teyla took Elizabeth to her office and went over the last ten months with her. Maybe Kate didn't pay attention to any of the details. "If you don't want to take over full time, share the duties with Teyla. She took over when you were gone. You can give Laura training in negotiation and put her on John's team."
That's what prompts Elizabeth to look over at Kate. "We've lost Earth?"
"We can focus on the details later," says Kate. She reaches over and takes Elizabeth's hand. "You're avoiding the subject, which is what we mean to each other. Not what we are. I'm an Ancient. You're at least half Replicator. Our relationship is because of those things, not in spite of them."
"I want to know how you're not good at staying in your own timeline," says Elizabeth. Ten months - give or take twelve thousand years - should not have seen this many changes.
"We'll have time for that later," says Kate. She turns to face Elizabeth, cups Elizabeth's cheeks in her hands, and leans down. Their lips meet, and Elizabeth's mouth parts for Kate.
Kate is solid and warm in her hands, real, not ethereal. Elizabeth's hands rest on Kate's arms. Her skin feels alive. Electric.
There's so much to do and to learn. But at least she's home. She's got the time to figure it out.
Elizabeth dreamt during her time in suspended animation. She'd spent hours with Kate. Days. Centuries, millennia, as a matter of fact, dreaming of Kate and Atlantis and the war, of Earth and her life before Atlantis. Of Kate's life before Atlantis, even. Things she never should have known and places she never should have been.
Her eyes fly open and she draws back to stare at Kate. "When I was asleep, were you there? While you were Ascended?"
This time, Kate's smile is wide and genuine, open in a way that no one ever sees, not even Elizabeth. Except in her dreams. "I've been waiting for you to remember," Kate says, and then she kisses Elizabeth again.