I have never questioned my relationship to Elizabeth. I was content, as was she. We hiked together, dined together, spent downtime together - provided companionship at night and comforted each other in a place so far from home. We were happy, at peace, content. Were.
Neither of us fared well in what happened recently. Even my love did not handle Michael well. All her actions were considered and understandable, borne from the realities of our war against the Wraith. From all the files I've read, I am confident that even General Hammond and Colonel O'Neill would have made the same call, authorizing the same measures. And it would have ended just as unpleasantly for them.
But that should neither reassure me. 'They did it too' is one of the few excuses worse than 'I was following orders.'
So what do I do now?
Time apart may be my best bet. Or the only option. There is little else I could do – Atlantis may be sizeable, but it's not big enough to take a suitably long hike without bumping into any of the ones who took part in what we did to Michael.
But I'm not the important one in this place, far from it. I have a job to do, and I kept at it, for a while longer, before I ask for leave.
I'm sitting in our quarters, facing the door, when Elizabeth returns after her shift's end. I'm as glad as she is, that there were no emergencies today.
"Kate?" Elizabeth asks as the door slides closed behind her. "I know that look."
"And you know why I wear it," I say as she steps towards me.
"Rare as it is," she agrees. "I wish you wouldn't hold it in like you do."
I stand up so that we're eye to eye. "I had to. No, not entirely - I wanted to," I say. Even before I swore an oath, I'd learned how to smile through the pain. Experience and practice are how I can sound cheerful and look bright-eyed, even when my nerves are being worn down to the metaphorical and figurative bones. Few people in Atlantis have seen me break down or angry, really devastatingly angry. And that's good, in my opinion.
"Long walks always did help." Elizabeth knows where I go. She always has. "And you helped keep the rest of us from falling apart or rushing off in anger after Michael left."
Left; that's an understatement for anyone. And yes, I know - and I know you know - about the rumor circulating that Sheppard was stopped because he was threatened with having to take orders from Dr. Kavanagh for a week.
"You've more than earned it, not that you needed to."
"Thank you," I say, and I step forward, placing my hands on her shoulders. A hug might be too much, but a leaning-in...worse? Normally, I'd be less unsure, more letting Elizabeth guide me. But right now, I don't know how much contact would be welcome, how much would be awkward given that I'm leaving even for a little while; and my brain isn't letting me read cues from her body language.
She nods, understanding. "Come back when you can," she asks of me.
I nod. "I will. You're the thread that holds me together."
"You may've mentioned that before - and I always love to hear it."
The first time I said it, that 'you're the thread', I couldn't think of anything to say, but wanted to say something - so I blurted out that you're the thread...and we gave meaning and currency to that phrase. It has life because of our life together.
"Which is why I'm coming back to remind you of it more," I say. I should go, but I don't want to - I never want to - I have to. I want to bring you along with me... and apparently I said that last part out loud.
"I want you well," Elizabeth says fondly. "If I could go with you, I would. Let Carson and Rodney run Atlantis for a week." We share the same expression at the thought of what those two could get up to if left in charge; it wouldn't be the Wraith who turn Atlantis into a smouldering crater. "If you'll do better without me for a time, I can wait for you."
I don't like waiting for people or things that I want. I'm fine with long waits where danger is breathing down my or our collective necks, but I get impatient if it's good for me. And you're good for me, Elizabeth.
"The part of my brain that wants you with me is not the part of my brain that needs to unwind and vent." A system purge, my cousin called it. "The former can bide my time; the latter will be done shortly." On an impulse - please not a poor one, please - I pull her forward into a hug. Not a kiss this time - I do need to go, and go alone, and we both know it. And a kiss could break our dams of restraint and end with me not going, with Elizabeth going with me.
So, just a hug for now.
"See you soon," she wishes me, returning the hug, so now it's an embrace, I believe. I don't think about these things very well when my own internal doomsday clock - fuse box - is about to go up in flames. My nerves are in the eleventh hour, though this conversation and its contents are soothing and welcome and helping...but nothing stops the clock entirely, so I've long since learned.
"I'll be back," I say, and I just know what movie will be replayed in the Mess Hall when I return - rank hath privileges, and can overrule anyone who says we've all seen every Earth movie too many times since initial contact with Stargate Command was lost.
Elizabeth smiles at me and says, "Good."
"Good." Once more into the breach, I go. Hell may be other people, but one person is my way out of hell.