Sam had intended to take her coffee and blue jello back to her lab, but when she spotted Dr. Weir drawn in on herself like an island in the middle of the mess, she reassessed her immediate plans and diverted her trajectory.
"Hey, Dr. Weir," she said, pausing behind a chair across from the one Elizabeth had taken. "Fancy meeting you here."
The other woman glanced up briefly, summoning a quick, superficial smile, and nodded in return. "Colonel," she said, then looked down again, picking desultorily at the day's special.
"Do you mind if I...?" Sam spoke again, then decided not to wait for an answer and eased the chair away from the table. Elizabeth raised startled eyes to Sam's face as she sat; it took her a second to come up with a reply, and Sam felt a twinge of sympathy.
"I'm afraid I'm not very good company at the moment," Elizabeth said briefly, her gaze skittering away from Sam's face.
"I know," Sam said, calmly, spooning up a cube of blue jello. "Believe me, I understand."
Elizabeth's expression contorted a little, but she kept her tone civil. "Forgive me if I'm having difficulty seeing the similarity in our present situations," she said, her voice low.
Sam took a deep breath. "The loneliness is the worst part," she said, as though the other woman hadn't spoken. "Going from being a leader, and one of a team of people you work with and give your life for on a regular basis, to living and working without them is difficult enough; being separated from the place that brought you all together, the focus of your blood and sweat and dreams for so many years, just makes it worse."
She chased another pair of wriggling blue cubes around the serving dish and popped them into her mouth, waiting for Elizabeth's reaction. Sure enough, she glanced up at Sam's pause, one eyebrow raised and her shoulders squared, more in a listening posture rather than their earlier self-protective pose.
Sam continued. "I could tell you that it won't last, that the forces that broke your team apart will draw them back together soon enough. I could tell you that you'll find the time off to be a valuable experience, that you'll establish ties outside of the program for the first time in years and be the better for it."
"But you won't, because...?" Elizabeth said cautiously.
"Because I can't guarantee that it will happen that way," Sam said. "If it hadn't been for yet another alien woman with a crush on Daniel, and the disintegration of the Free Jaffa Nation, I'd probably still be out there at Area 51, doing the job that Rodney's doing now."
"But I thought you chose that job yourself?" Elizabeth asked, a slight frown drawing her eyebrows together.
Good, Sam thought; she was interested despite herself, looking outward instead of in. Sam had only worked with Dr. Weir for the few months between General Hammond's forced reassignment and Colonel O'Neill's promotion, not long enough to know her the way she knew her own team, but she remembered her as a forceful, dynamic personality, not the reactive, dispirited woman Sam was seeing now.
"You're right, I did," Sam admitted. "I could have stayed on SG-1, under some else's command, starting over with a whole new team. I could have taken a more direct supervisory position in the SGC's scientific department and watched other teams keep going through the gate without me. Exile to Nevada, where I would at least have Cassie with me, seemed like the least of the available evils."
Elizabeth's expression twisted again, but there was a little more amusement in it this time. "You know, if you're trying to cheer me up, you're not doing a very good job of it," she said, wryly.
Sam put down her spoon and smiled crookedly back. "I just wanted to remind you that you're not alone," she said. "Look, no matter what anyone says, no one expects you to get past this right away. You've lost your home, to a bunch of people who really don't care how much of your heart you put into it while you were there, and most of the people you shared those experiences with are out of your immediate reach for the first time in years. You need time to grieve. Just don't cut ties entirely, all right? I'll be here, if you ever need anyone to talk to who's not caught up in it."
A more genuine smile curved Elizabeth's lips, and she reached out briefly, laying a hand over Sam's. "Thank you, Colonel, I appreciate the offer. But I'm sure I'll be fine."
Sam knew she'd made her point; any more would be too much. She sat there a moment longer, sharing a commiserating glance, then gathered up spoon, dish, and mug and stood. "Besides," she said brightly, by way of farewell. "If your team's doctor and colonel are anywhere near as adept at ending up in the thick of things as mine were, you'll probably be on your way back to Atlantis before you know it."
"I won't hold my breath," Elizabeth said, but there was a spark in her eyes that hadn't been there when Sam sat down.
Sam left the mess feeling both lighter and rawer than she had when she'd entered, and found herself wondering whether Jack still felt that disconnected in DC. In many ways, he had been cut off from the SGC as abruptly as Elizabeth had been from Atlantis-- but at least he could still visit from time to time, like he had for Mitchell's "200" party and in passing on his way to and from negotiating with the Ancients. Though he probably wouldn't tell her even if he did feel that way, stubborn man that he was. She made a mental note to call him again that evening, then made her way back to her lab, humming quietly under her breath as she walked.