Elizabeth is sitting in the mess watching Daddy and J-Dad play chess when Lorne walks by and smiles at her. She can feel herself blushing and throws Daddy a look of hate – she knows where those genes come from. By the time she looks back to her one true love, he's walking away from her.
"Our love is so tragic," she moans.
"'Our love?' What is this 'our love?'" Daddy says sharply, looking at her with suspicion. "There better not be any 'our love' at your age. We're talking about your love and your love only, right?"
"Of course it's just me, Daddy." Elizabeth rolls her eyes. "That's why it's tragic. Duh."
J-Dad laughs a little – at Daddy, obviously – and Daddy rolls his eyes right back.
"This is why J-Dad calls you socially retarded," Elizabeth tells Daddy.
"Oh, he does, does he?" Daddy says, glaring at J-Dad.
"Only with love," J-Dad says. "Also, checkmate."
"What?!" Daddy splutters. "I was... I was distracted by the Zero Point Menace over here!"
When Favorite Uncle Jack first heard Daddy call her that, he didn't really understand. It turned out that no one had told him how Daddy and J-Dad made Elizabeth. Elizabeth explained it to him the way Daddy and J-Dad had explained it to her... sort of.
"We thought you were going to be a ZPM!" Daddy moaned, and J-Dad glared at him.
"But of course we're very happy that it turned out to be you," Daddy added quickly.
"Almost as happy as if you'd been- Ow!" J-Dad had stepped on Daddy's foot.
"That is, even happier than if you'd been a ZPM. I mean, who needs a stupid ZPM, anyway?"
J-Dad shot him another look.
"Too much?" Daddy asked.
"Daddy found a machine in the city that was for starting 'the most powerful process in the universe.' But you need two people to run it, and one of them has to have the gene."
Favorite Uncle Jack had nodded. Favorite Uncle Jack always understands everything.
"So it ended up being Sheppard for his gene and McKay because he's a control freak."
Elizabeth had frowned. "That's not what Daddy said. He said it was because he was the smartest, so he could fix the machine if it broke."
"You say tomayto, I say tomahto," Favorite Uncle Jack had said, which Elizabeth hadn't really understood at the time – but now it makes her giggle.
Daddy and J-Dad are still arguing over the chess game when Lorne walks back out of the mess after dinner. When he walks by their table, he stops, and smiles at Elizabeth.
"We still on for training tomorrow, Elizabeth?" He's smiling. Oh, he's still smiling. Oh no, he's not smiling anymore! Oh, wait... he's been waiting for her to answer.
"Oh... yes. I... ummm... yes. Please. Thank you."
Lorne is the best, nicest, most handsome man in the world, because he totally ignores the big pile of awkward that she just dumped on his feet, with the blushing and the stammering and the secret doomed love. He just gives her a thumbs up, and then winks. By the time Elizabeth has recovered from her second embarrassment-induced heart attack of the evening, Lorne is gone and Daddy and J-Dad are staring at her.
"What?" she says, crossing her arms and scowling.
"That's pathetic," Daddy says, then gets the special wince that means J-Dad kicked him under the table. He gets that look a lot.
"Thank you," Elizabeth tells J-Dad.
"Don't mention it," he says, modestly. J-Dad is very modest. So, obviously, that's where Elizabeth's modest genes come from. Elizabeth is probably the most modest person on Atlantis, except for, maybe, Lorne... Anyway, she definitely didn't get her awesome modest genes from Daddy.
"Daddy wouldn't know modest if it bit him in the butt, right?" Elizabeth asks J-Dad. Daddy splutters.
"When did this turn into the 'gang up on Rodney' hour?"
"I'm asking in the spirit of scientific inquiry," she informs him, nose in the air.
"In the spirit of scientific inquiry, Elizabeth," J-Dad tells her, "Daddy doesn't have to be as modest as everybody else, because he can do things they can't. So it's on a different scale, you see?"
Elizabeth watches as J-Dad and Daddy give each other sappy smiles. Ick. But it's kind of cute.
When Elizabeth was six, Daddy and J-Dad asked her if she wanted a nickname – if she wanted to be Lizzy or Beth or Betsy, although Daddy had vetoed Bessie.
"You are not a cow," he told her.
"Duh," she said.
But Elizabeth decided not to have a nickname. People looked at her in a special way when they met her and found out her name. When she was six, she didn't know what it was, but at twelve, Elizabeth knows that at least part of it is respect. Her name makes people take her more seriously – it makes them take Daddy and J-Dad more seriously. Especially the people who knew Aunt Elizabeth, like Favorite Uncle Jack. When they call her Elizabeth, it's important to them. She's important to them. Elizabeth likes that.
After dinner, Daddy goes back to the labs, and J-Dad says he's going "to battle the monster."
Elizabeth walks with Daddy, and asks him what the monster is. Daddy thinks for a minute.
"Well, the monster comes in many forms, but tonight I think it's the dread beast called 'requisitions.'"
When Daddy reaches the hard sciences lab, he asks her where she's going.
"To turn in my biology homework to Aunt Katie. She said she'd be in the lab tonight."
Daddy nods. "How's that going? You know, the soft sciences are totally optional for you – you can quit any time. They're hobbies...like knitting, or Dungeons and Dragons."
Elizabeth shrugs. Daddy probably wouldn't care if Elizabeth quit all her classes except physics and math. But Elizabeth likes learning new stuff, and it's getting harder and harder for anybody – well, anybody but Daddy and J-Dad – to teach her anything about physics and math that she doesn't already know. So biology is good. And dancing, and Ancient, and all the other stuff.
"I like it," she tells him.
"Menace," he mutters, but he hugs her and messes up her hair. "Tell Aunt Katie hi for me."
"I will," Elizabeth promises.
When Daddy had first asked Aunt Katie to be Elizabeth's biology teacher, it had made Daddy and J-Dad argue a lot. The arguments usually ended with J-Dad going to the gym to get beat up by Uncle Ronon, and Daddy sitting on their bed and looking tired.
"She's approachable, she's got good social skills for a geek, she's a good teacher, she loves kids..."
"Wow, Rodney, that's some spiel you've got there. I don't know exactly who you think is buying what you're selling, but it almost makes a guy wonder what you hang around here for -"
"Your insecurities are so very much not my goddamn problem. I am happy, we are happy! You're the one who seems grimly intent on sending it all to hell, fucking up every-"
"Jesus, Rodney, are we swearing in front of her now?"
"Oh, that's great. God forbid we swear in front of the kid, but we can fight until we rip each other to shreds – I've witnessed some pretty crappy parenting in my life, but that's got to win the prize..."
"Then why don't you trade in for a newer model, McKay? Sounds like you've got one in mind, anyway."
"For God's sake, John, I am not trying to replace you! You are... Listen. I-I'm sorry I called you a crappy parent. You're not. You're great, actually... a lot better than me. And I know that. I do. Forget about Katie. We'll get Parrish to do it, or... or..."
But in the end, Elizabeth went to her first biology lesson with Dr. Brown, and walked back home by herself, because J-Dad didn't want Daddy to pick her up, for some reason, but he didn't want to do it himself, either.
"What do you think, Jumper?" J-Dad had asked her that night, cuddled close on the couch after Daddy had gone to bed.
"I like her," Elizabeth said, truthfully. "She's nice."
"Then that's what matters," J-Dad said, to nobody in particular.
This was when she was seven. A little after her eighth birthday, J-Dad walked with her to her lesson and thanked Dr. Brown for being such a good teacher. Things were better, after that – as if the apartment had gotten just a little bigger, with more room to move.
When Elizabeth turned nine, she invited Dr. Brown to her birthday party, and asked if she could call her Aunt Katie – she said yes. When Daddy and J-Dad heard it, it made them smile, Daddy big and wide, J-Dad just a little – but it was a real smile.
Aunt Katie had told Elizabeth she would be in the lab tonight, but she's turning out to be pretty hard to find. The labs are totally empty, and Elizabeth's getting tired of running around the greenhouses, peeking around alien trees, homework disk scratching her hand. Finally she sees a light, in Greenhouse 11, which is where the botany team keeps the succulents.
Elizabeth frowns as she walks toward the greenhouse door. Aunt Katie still mostly works on ferns, and those are over in Greenhouse 4. She's probably watering somebody else's plants or taking care of somebody else's project. Aunt Katie does stuff like that. She's responsible, like Daddy.
Elizabeth pushes the door open, and peers between the leaves of the giant alien yucca plant that's wedged in the doorway. If she were anybody else, she might not recognize what she sees, at least not for a minute, but Elizabeth has seen enough of Daddy and J-Dad making out – gross! – to know that that's exactly what's going on in here.
Who makes out in a greenhouse, that's what Elizabeth wants to know. Honestly. If it's Aunt Katie, that's probably all right – sometimes plants make Aunt Katie look like the puddlejumpers make J-Dad look, which is, okay, kind of sick, but it's nerdy sick, and Elizabeth knows you have to cut nerds their nerdy slack. That's what Favorite Uncle Jack says all the time.
Elizabeth leans in a little further, pushing the yucca leaves out of the way. One of the people is Dr. Parrish – Elizabeth decides that's probably okay, because he's the same kind of weird as Aunt Katie, and plus, Elizabeth likes Dr. Parrish. The other person – other guy, Elizabeth can see – is shorter, but very... very handsome...
Elizabeth slaps her hand over her mouth and doesn't make a sound – unless Dr. Parrish and Lorne can hear the sound of her heart breaking. She bets that's pretty loud.
Lorne...! But they were soulmates! They were...
Elizabeth's common sense takes over and sneaks her out of the greenhouse before she ends up seeing something she really doesn't want to see. The common sense marches her through the halls, homework still in hand, and dumps her in front of J-Dad's office. Now that Elizabeth is back in charge of herself, she doesn't know what to do.
She stands in front of J-Dad's door for a minute, and then another, and pretty soon, she realizes she's crying, just a little, and the crying upsets her more than...more than the other stuff. It must push her up just enough on the upset-o-meter for the city to notice, because the office door slides open in front of her, and J-Dad calls "Come in."
Elizabeth walks in slowly, keeping her head down.
"Hey, Jumper," J-Dad says. He gets out of his chair and kneels on the floor, holding out his arms. He shouldn't do that – it's bad for his knees, Elizabeth remembers, and then she grabs onto him and doesn't let go. He makes shushing sounds while she cries quietly into the shoulder of his uniform.
"I thought it was just silly," she tells him, knowing she's choked up, knowing she's not making any sense. "It was just silly. It is. It always was. I didn't think...I mean, it was just a game! I didn't know I..." Elizabeth trails off, still crying a little.
"It's okay, Elizabeth. It's all going to be okay." Elizabeth believes J-Dad. She's seen him lie to other people – even Daddy sometimes. But he's never lied to her. It will be okay. J-Dad says so.
Elizabeth figures that in her twelve years, she's seen J-Dad lie to just about everybody. Sometimes it's little stuff.
"So, anyway, I'll be helping the K'Duvians with their annual fishing ceremony. For interplanetary cooperation, of course."
"Right. And so you won't be taking your surfboard with you."
"No! And I'm hurt that you even thought of that..." Sometimes, when it's little stuff, she even helps.
"Oh, God, you didn't let her eat ice cream for breakfast, did you?"
"Of course not. Elizabeth had a nice bowl of healthy oatmeal, right, Jumper?"
"Yes, J-Dad." Once, when it was big stuff, she helped, too.
"Hey, Jumper, we're going on a field trip to meet a lady who might be able to tell you some things about yourself – about your gene, okay? But you can't tell Daddy."
"Because Daddy might get mad."
"Why would Daddy get mad at some lady helping me?"
"It's grown-up stuff, Jumper. But I want you to promise me, okay?"
Elizabeth had promised, and she went alone with Daddy to Proculus, and had met Chaya, and talked with her, and it was nice. But when she got home, she had to lie to Daddy, and it had made her feel like she was sick to her stomach. So she told J-Dad she didn't want to do it again.
"Why not, Jumper? I thought you liked her..."
Elizabeth squirmed. "I don't like lying to Daddy."
J-Dad stared at her for a long time. Then he hugged her very carefully and slowly.
"I'm sorry, Elizabeth. I'm sorry I made you do that. Tell you what..." He pulled back and looked her in the eye. "I promise I won't ever tell you to lie to Daddy again. Or anybody. Okay?"
"Will you still lie to Daddy?"
Daddy sat down and looked at the floor. When he looked back up, his eyes were sad, but happy-sad. "About the little stuff, yeah. Like ice cream for breakfast and playing tag with the marines. But not about the big things anymore, okay, Elizabeth? I promise."
He had called her Elizabeth, so she knew he was very serious. After that, Daddy and J-Dad argued more but fought less. So, of course, Elizabeth had fixed everything, yet again. She loves her fathers, but honestly. Their love is so tragic.
The next day, Elizabeth feels much better. She knows that J-Dad is still worried, because he doesn't know what made her so sad, and if J-Dad is worried, Daddy is probably having a nuclear spaz attack, but Elizabeth is almost thirteen – she totally doesn't want her parents butting in on her love life. Plus, she's kind of afraid they'll take bloody revenge on Lorne, and she still loves him. Tragically.
That morning, after breakfast, she goes down to the gym to meet Lorne for self-defense training. This early in the morning, the gyms and training rooms are totally empty – it feels a little weird to be the only person in this sector of the city, and Elizabeth wonders if this is what it was like for J-Dad and Daddy and all the other first-comers: the city empty, no sign that anybody else was even alive. It should be creepy, but Elizabeth can feel Atlantis all around her, singing in her joints and her veins and the places where her fingernails go under the skin. So she's never really alone here.
Lorne walks in, wearing sweatpants and an Air Force t-shirt, and, okay, it's the same thing he wears every time, but Elizabeth still swoons a little. Then she remembers that he's not hers to swoon over, and she feels a little sad again.
"Hey, Elizabeth...what's wrong?"
"Nothing," Elizabeth says heroically. "Why would anything be wrong? Let's go. Yay, training."
Lorne gives her kind of a funny look, and Elizabeth thinks maybe she wasn't very convincing. Still, he sets down his stuff and starts stretching.
"Okay, Elizabeth. We'll do your training, but then we'll talk for a minute, okay?"
"Okay," Elizabeth says glumly.
The actual training is not very exciting – how to punch, kick, fall down, take a hit, read somebody's body language. It's actually a lot like Tegan's stick training, or Aunt Laura's dance lessons. But Elizabeth still finds it at least a little exciting because first, it gives her a really good excuse to look at Lorne all the time without being creepy, and second, J-Dad said that when Lorne gives her the okay, Elizabeth can go off-world on a real mission for the first time! Of course, Daddy says that won't happen until she's twenty, but Daddy is a worrywart.
"Good lesson," Lorne says when they're done, sliding down the wall until he's sitting down with his knees almost to his chin.
Elizabeth asks every time.
"No, you're not ready to go on a mission yet," Lorne says. Elizabeth pouts. Lorne is unmoved.
"Sit down, Elizabeth," he says, and pats the floor next to him. Elizabeth sits. She doesn't say anything. Lorne doesn't say anything. They trade off not saying anything until Elizabeth finally blurts out, "Are you in love with Dr. Parrish?"
Lorne gives a loud sigh, and runs a hand through his hair. "David thought that yucca was looking a little depressed."
Elizabeth remembers the yucca plant she had leaned on when she was peeking into Greenhouse 11. "I made the yucca sad?" Elizabeth asks, horrified. If she'd known it was an alien yucca with feelings, she wouldn't have leaned on it so rudely!
Lorne laughs. "No, no. Depressed, as in, the leaves were lower to the ground. From some midget leaning on them, I guess," he teases.
Elizabeth doesn't say anything – she feels terrible. She didn't mean to spy. At least Lorne doesn't look mad.
"I was looking for Aunt Katie," Elizabeth tells him, miserably.
"Hey, hey, Elizabeth..." Lorne puts his arm around her shoulders and pulls her close, right up against his chest. "I'm not mad. Nobody's mad or upset, okay? I just want to know why you're so sad, Miss E."
Lorne hardly ever calls her Miss E anymore, because it's a little girl's nickname, and he knows that Elizabeth is practically a teenager now. Elizabeth didn't realize how much she missed it.
She can't tell Lorne why she's upset – he'll think she's silly. He'll laugh.
"Come on, Miss E, you know me. I wouldn't laugh at you."
Elizabeth realizes she must have said all that stuff out loud – unbelievable! This day is getting worse and worse!
"You don't like Dr. Parrish?" Lorne asks, sounding worried. Which is stupid, he shouldn't be worried, Elizabeth really likes Dr. Parrish – he is her second-favorite botanist!
"No, no," she says. "I like him. He's... I just..." Her nose is stuffed up, and if it's stuffed up, that means it's red and blotchy and gross. More of Daddy's stupid genes.
"Hey, Elizabeth." Lorne turns her around. He looks right into her eyes, and he talks to her like she's a grown-up. He tells her that he loves her and that they will be friends forever and that he promises not to laugh at anything she tells him, because if it's serious to her, it's serious to him.
Elizabeth can see that he means it – that he really cares, as much as Daddy or J-Dad would, as much as Favorite Uncle Jack or Aunt Laura, and suddenly it's all right. It's all right, and she doesn't know why, but that's okay. She just knows she can tell him.
"I like Dr. Parrish," she says. "I guess he loves you a lot, so that's good. I just... love you, too, you know?" She blushes. "It was silly."
"It's not silly at all," Lorne tells her, and he pulls her into his lap for a long hug. When he lets go, he tells her, "You know I love you too, right? Just not..."
"Epically and tragically?" Elizabeth says.
"Right," says Lorne. He seems happy. "So you like Dr. Parrish?"
She nods. "He is my honorary uncle," she tells him. "Because he is my second favorite botanist and gives me cookies. But I don't call him my uncle because I don't know him that well, and it would be rude," she finishes, primly.
Lorne chuckles. "Rude, huh? Where'd you learn about that? Not your dads, for sure."
Elizabeth looks at him sternly. "Aunt Teyla is my etiquette instructor," she informs him.
He pantomimes a bowing motion. "I take it back," he says. "I bet David would like it if you called him something other than Dr. Parrish, though. I don't think he'd mind."
"We'll see," Elizabeth says. She will ask Dr. Parrish what he thinks. And also apologize for depressing his yucca.
"I just..." she tries to explain. "I...who will I be tragically in love with now? I am an amazing genius with beautiful blue eyes who fixes everything that goes wrong, and you are a handsome and rakish Air Force officer with spiky hair and a devil-may-care glint in your eye! It was the perfect formula! How could it go so wrong?!" Elizabeth throws her hands up in despair and confusion.
Lorne is laughing a little.
"Remember how you promised not to laugh?" Elizabeth says dangerously.
He stops. "Sorry, just... 'a devil-may-care glint,' really?"
Elizabeth huffs. "Sort of. That's what Aunt Laura says, anyway."
"Ah," says Lorne. "Have you ever thought of, say, being tragically in love with Tegan? He's rakish... and he likes you a lot."
Elizabeth thinks about it for a minute. Tegan is handsome, but she doesn't know about rakish. And he has dreadlocks. That's definitely not in the plan.
"No," she says. "Not that he's not very nice," she adds. Aunt Teyla hears all, and Elizabeth is pretty sure she would consider it rude for Elizabeth to insult her son.
"Well," Lorne says philosophically, "I guess you'll just have to keep being in tragic love with me."
"Yeah," Elizabeth says, feeling a little glum. She's seized with sudden worry. "You don't think Dr. Parrish will mind, do you?" she asks anxiously.
Lorne shakes his head, and gives her another hug.
"I've got to head out," he tells her. "If you want to come with me, I can drop you off in the barracks so you can give the Marines manicures."
Elizabeth can feel the biggest grin spreading across her face. She had planned to do some work on the present she's making for Daddy and J-Dad's anniversary, but this is a special occasion. Lorne only lets her give the Marines manicures when she's had a really bad day.
"Wicked," she says. "What do you think about purple glitter?"
Aunt Teyla told Elizabeth that when Tegan was born, everyone was very excited, but didn't really know what to do. They didn't want to interfere with Aunt Teyla and Uncle Ronon's cultural traditions, she said, and so they did what they could, with gifts and thoughtfulness, but from a little bit of a distance.
Elizabeth was different.
"The Marines kidnapped your daughter again! Aren't you going to do anything about it?!"
J-Dad smiled easily. "Relax, Rodney – she looks good as new to me."
Daddy sniffed. "A child's psychological development is a very intricate and fragile process. Playing truth-or-dare with a gaggle of grunting brainwashed puppies with room-temperature IQs can't help but scar her for life. I object, strenuously."
"But dragging her down to the labs and making her into your human calculator is going to give her that special feeling of emotional fulfillment..."
"You're just jealous that I don't need you to be my human calculator anymore. Face it, Colonel. You've been replaced."
Elizabeth has friends all over – the Marines still play truth-or-dare with her and let her paint their toenails. The botanists let her pick their flowers and give her the first ripe apples every year. The cooks make her the best birthday cake, and the marine biologists take her out to play with the dolphins. Uncle Radek teaches her chess, Aunt Laura teaches her tap dancing, Lorne teaches her self-defense and painting, Aunt Teyla teaches her etiquette and Athosian dancing, Aunt Sam teaches her about stars and storytelling, Dr. Keller teaches her first aid, and Favorite Uncle Jack teaches her about Earth and the Stargate.
"It takes a quasi-military Ancient flying village," says J-Dad.
"Technically, Atlantis is far too big to qualify as a village," says Daddy. "Also, I hate sharing credit – she's mine, mine, mine. And a little bit yours. Maybe half. On a bad day."
That night, curled up on the couch after a marathon of X-Men movies and Toffee Coffee Ben and Jerry's, Elizabeth tells Daddy that she's decided on a plan of action for her epic love for Lorne.
"I was so sure we were destined to be together! But now I don't think so..."
"Giving up already?" Daddy asks.
Elizabeth gives him the "welcome to a week of sewage treatment duty" glare that she picked up from him when she was still a baby. It is obviously still totally scary, because Daddy has to look away, and his shoulders are twitching.
"Okay, see, first, I don't know what you mean about 'already.' I've been tragically in love with Lorne for five whole months." Elizabeth sighs and flops down flat on the couch. "Plus, I mean, I could maybe challenge Dr. Parrish to a duel for the heart of his beloved – and I would totally emerge triumphant... like you taught me to," Elizabeth adds loyally. "But I like Dr. Parrish, and he and Lorne deserve to be happy... even if it costs me my own one true chance at happiness," she concludes, assuming a suitably tragic expression and looking up at Daddy with her most devastating wobbly eyes.
"I think you've been watching too many soap operas with Crazy Aunt Laura," Daddy says, which is totally beside the point.
"That has nothing to do with anything," Elizabeth tells him, whacking his knee irritably.
"Anyway, I'm going to set Lorne free to follow his heart – no dueling. Dr. Parrish is a totally nice guy, and I wouldn't want to break his heart like that, you know? Oh my God!" Elizabeth has a terrible thought. She flips over and props herself on her elbows to stare into Daddy's eyes. "Would that make me a homewrecker?"
"I know!" says Daddy, "Let's talk about physics! Some nice, normal physics that won't break Daddy's brain. Had any breakthroughs on that whole ZPM concept?"
"I think I'll fall in doomed love with Chuck," Elizabeth muses.
Elizabeth makes wobbly eyes again and sprawls over Daddy's lap. "But he's Canadian, Daddy! It says so on his sleeve! See, Daddy? It's perfect!"
Daddy makes a huffy sort of noise. "While it's true that Canadians are clearly and utterly superior to people of every other nationality, I still don't understand this fixation you have with doomed tragic love. Aren't little girls supposed to like hearts and flowers and ponies and... happy things?"
Elizabeth whaps him on the arm as just revenge for the "little girl" part. "I'm almost a teenager, you know," she tells him. "Or did you forget my age again?" Elizabeth smirks the smirk of the righteous.
"Oh, God, it's the John face," Daddy moans, holding his hand in front of his eyes.
"Hah." Elizabeth is satisfied.
"Seriously, what is it with you and horrible cheesy romance novel despair?" Daddy asks after a minute, looking at her the way he looks at the Ancient devices that live in the "Unknown/For A Rainy Day" box in his lab.
Elizabeth shrugs. It's all totally obvious to her. "I want to be in love like you and J-Dad."
Daddy sputters. When he recovers, he glares, but not very much, so Elizabeth knows he's a little happy. "First of all, the fact that you still hold up your father and me as some sort of romantic ideal after twelve years of our continuous company makes me want to lock you in the infirmary and not let you out until Dr. Keller locates the source of the brain damage." Daddy takes a deep breath, refueling for the next part. "Secondly..." Daddy looks embarrassed. "Secondly, that's kind of...it's really kind of..." He makes a little harrumphing noise. "I love you," he says, and scoops her up into a kind of mashed-up hug. "You're still crazy," he says into her hair.
"Blah, blah, blah," yawns Elizabeth. When she wakes up in the morning, she's been tucked into bed just like when she was a kid, and it makes her feel warmer, even though she knows that's probably just the blanket.
Daddy and J-Dad made Elizabeth feel lucky. Obviously, Tegan has the second-best parents in the world, but Elizabeth has it even better.
She knows it's hard for them. Twelve years of eavesdropping on their conversations made it hard not to know.
"Well, I'm sorry if my parenting technique isn't up to your exacting standards – I didn't exactly have the best role models."
"I know, I know. Me neither. Jesus, how do people do this shit all the time? Teyla makes it look easy."
"Hah. Look is the operative word there, my friend. Teyla saw her mother get culled by the Wraith when she was nine. Ronon was an orphan. My parents were vipers when they were alive, and corpse vipers when they were dead-"
"Shut up, you didn't know them. And you...actually, I'm not quite sure what your problem is, but you clearly aren't any less out of your depth here than me."
"So what you're saying is that we're all pretty much just winging it here."
"I feel better already."
"Are you being sarcastic?"
"Hell, no. I just figure, hey, at least we've got plenty of practice there, you know?"
"Hah. I know."
They're not perfect. Daddy's not good at noticing when something's wrong, and J-Dad's not good at talking. But when they fall down, they get right back up again and try to do better next time. Favorite Uncle Jack says that's the most important thing of all.
"Hey, Menace," Daddy calls, two days later, when Elizabeth is trying to do her next set of biology homework.
"What, Daddy?" Xylem and phloem, phloem and xylem... like xylophone...
"What did you mean when you said you were obsessed with tragic love because you wanted to be like me and your father? We're not tragic!"
Elizabeth sighs, rolls her eyes, sets down her laptop, and marches into the kitchen. Honestly, does she have to explain everything to everybody?
Daddy is scarfing down some kind of gross powerbar, raising his eyebrow at her as if she was the one who didn't make any sense.
"You and J-Dad were totally tragic! It's obvious. It took you four whole years, which is, like, almost half a decade, to realize that you were destined to be, and then, you were so tragically dumb that you actually broke up. With each other. The love of your life. There's totally no excuse!"
Daddy looks fidgety, which is the next best thing to admitting she's right about everything.
"In retrospect, that was, of course, not the smartest thing I've ever done – of course, the competition in that category is pretty fierce..." Daddy puffs up a little, then remembers what they were talking about. "We're together now! How is that doomed?!"
Elizabeth gives Daddy the "You Remind Me of Kavanagh" look. "You're only together now because of me. You were still broken up when you made me! I have to fix everything that goes wrong in this city!" Elizabeth throws her hands up in the air in the throes of total exasperation.
"Yup," she hears from over her shoulder. "Definitely your daughter, Rodney."
"J-Dad!" Elizabeth squeals, turning to give him a hug. She pulls back and looks him in the eyes, intently. "Tell him. Tell Daddy about how your love was so tragic and hopeless."
"Don't think I can do that, Jumper." J-Dad ruffles her hair, but he's looking at Daddy the whole time. "Because I, for one, am pretty happy with the way things turned out."
"Me, too... obviously." Elizabeth tries to be patient with her fathers. "But you had to overcome obstacles! Perform feats of daring! Go where no man had gone before!"
"There was a certain amount of that," J-Dad murmurs, with a smirk, while Daddy blushes.
"Your daughter has decided to get massively inappropriate crushes on men three times her age in some twisted attempt to emulate our supremely ridiculous love story. You speak 'Crazy Person,' right? Maybe you can talk some sense into her."
J-Dad starts pulling ingredients out of the refrigerator for burgers, handing Elizabeth some lettuce to tear.
"What's wrong with being in doomed love with Tegan? A nice, normal – mostly normal – guy your own age?"
Elizabeth shakes her head sadly. Don't they understand? "Why does everybody say that? Tegan's okay. I mean, he's a nice boy. But he's just a boy...I'm looking for a man." Daddy and J-Dad stare at her for a minute. And then another minute.
"That's it, no more soap operas with Aunt Laura," Daddy says. J-Dad just kind of shakes his head back and forth and looks like he might be sick.
"Are you okay, J-Dad?" Elizabeth asks worriedly.
J-Dad looks at her blankly. "Cadman's long overdue for a rotation back on Earth, anyway. Or, you know, the scorpion planet. Whatever. I'm an open-minded man."
There's nothing wrong with Tegan. Elizabeth likes Tegan. He's fun, and he teaches her stick-fighting and he doesn't use contractions, just like Aunt Teyla. But he's... Tegan. He's always been there. There's nothing tragic about Tegan.
"Elizabeth! I am going to play hide and seek with Father. Do you want to join us?"
Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. "Doesn't your kind of hide and seek mean a lot of running and jumping and shooting each other with Wraith stunners?"
"I don't think I'd be very good at that."
"You could... I mean, you could hide. With me. If you wanted. And I would, you know. Help you. I... protect you. If you wanted."
"How would that be fun for you?"
Tegan looked at the floor. "I do not... I just. It would be. I would... I would enjoy it. To hide. With you."
"Oh." Elizabeth thought about that. "No, thank you. Uncle Radek is going to teach me to play three-dimensional chess this morning. But, you know, have fun!"
"I... oh. Yes. Thank you."
Tegan likes that stuff – running and fighting and chasing wild animals through forests with no toilet paper or pillows or Tylenol – and then eating them!
Elizabeth likes numbers and Atlantis and stars and fixing things. And toilet paper and pillows and Tylenol and ice cream and she does not eat food that has looked her in the eye.
No. Elizabeth and Tegan are totally not meant to be. Plus, it totally doesn't count as tragic doomed love if everybody wants you to be together. Duh.
All of this drama about her tragic love for Lorne has been distracting Elizabeth from her real priority: The Top Secret, Super Awesome, Ass-Kicking, Name-Taking, Huzzah for the Genius Elizabeth, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, And He Shall Reign Forever and Ever Anniversary Present of Unparalleled Magnificence and Splendor.
TSSAAKNTHGEHHAHSRFEAPUMS, for short. Code name: Sackenhassapums. For stealth reasons, Elizabeth calls it "My Anthropology Homework Project."
This is where Tegan comes in. Daddy is paranoid and J-Dad is perceptive, so Elizabeth has to account for the missing time in her day that she spends in the lab working on Sackenhassapums. She can't say she's doing her anthropology homework all that time, because she actually does have real anthropology homework that takes up real homework time. Hence the minion. Sidekick.
"Partner," says Tegan, looking stubborn.
Elizabeth sighs. "Fine, you can be my partner. Now guard this door, and if anybody asks, we're spending joyous pre-teen bonding time playing hide-and-seek or tic-tac-toe or...strip poker."
"Strip poker?" asks Tegan. "Also, I am thirteen – I am not a pre-teen any longer."
"Oh, rub it in, why don't you," Elizabeth snaps, and slams the lab door behind her.
Hello, Elizabeth says.
Is it ready for the next part? Elizabeth asks.
Yes. Finally. Behold, granddaughter.
And the room explodes in a glittering fever of numbers made of light, panes of color that filter equations from the raw truth. The floor is a maze of glowing patterns, and every console blazes with pure white, slicing the room into pieces with their beams.
Cool, says Elizabeth. Let's get started.
Elizabeth's relationship with the city has always been… special. Daddy says it's because she has two parents with the gene, and then starts muttering about radiation, gene therapy, mutation and the fundamental unfairness of existence. J-Dad doesn't talk about it, but Elizabeth can tell he thinks it's all him – his gene, his link with the city, his affinity for Ancient technology – just magnified.
But they're wrong.
You are the first child born in my halls for ten thousand years. I would have loved you even if you could never have heard my voice. That you are the heir of my makers, that you are the offspring of my best-beloved and my priest – this is a great good fortune of which I would not have dared to dream.
Do you dream?
I slept for ten thousand years, granddaughter. If I did not dream, I would have gone mad.
The saddest thing that ever happened to Elizabeth was the day she realized that Daddy couldn't see all the beautiful things that she could see – the showers of light, the gentle brushes of a liquid crystal mind… the city's scary, lonely, beautiful dreams. Those most of all, she wishes he could see.
When it finally sunk in, she ran to J-Dad in tears. "He can't see it," she whispered over and over again, sobbing brokenly into his shoulder. "He can't see it. He can't see it. He can't see it."
"Ssh," J-Dad said. "I know. But he loves the city anyway," he whispered. "He loves it all, even without knowing all the things we know. He's… he's like that. He loves like that. Without needing proof."
Elizabeth knows that, but still – it makes her sad. That's what the present's for. Maybe soon… maybe soon Daddy will be able to see it, too. Just a little. That's what Elizabeth hopes for.
Elizabeth rolls her eyes. "I have a name!"
No sound from the kitchen. Elizabeth rolls her eyes again and yells, "Coming!"
When she gets to the kitchen, Daddy is huddled over an MRE with a slightly scary joyful face.
"There you are. Have you…" He peers at her. "Have you done something with your hair?"
"No," Elizabeth says, rolling her eyes. "Duh."
She has done something with her hair. But technically, it wasn't just her – Lorne and Dr. Parrish helped – so it's not, really, officially a lie.
"You have!" Daddy says, pointing at her. "It's… spiky! You've done something spiky to your already ridiculous hair!"
Elizabeth has J-Dad's hair, as Daddy points out whenever he possibly can. And Dr. Parrish, very sensibly, suggested that, since she admires Lorne and J-Dad and Chuck's spiky hair so much, she might like to try that hairdo out for herself. Sadly, she does not look as cool as Lorne – but then, nobody really does.
"It wasn't me," Elizabeth explains, rolling her eyes again. "It was Lorne and Dr. Parrish!"
"Oh, and they, what, kidnapped you and cut your hair by force?"
"Yes?" Elizabeth tries.
"Hah," says Daddy. "Nice try. Major Lorne knows the consequences of disobeying me. You must have used your feminine wiles on him!"
Considering Daddy's been accusing her of using feminine wiles on people since she was three, Elizabeth doesn't take it very seriously. Besides…
"Daddy, I don't think that feminine wiles would work on Lorne. That's kind of the point."
Daddy makes his little huffy noise that he makes when she is smarter than him.
"You never know with these Kirk types," he says darkly, looking from side to side.
Elizabeth raises the J-Dad "Remember How You Blew Up That Solar System?" eyebrow.
It doesn't work quite as well for Elizabeth as it always does for J-Dad, but Daddy stops looking like he thinks ninjas are going to jump out from inside the cupboards. He crosses his arms.
"Fine. I wish you all the joy of your appalling second-generational experimental hair. I called you in here to tell you that General O'Neill is arriving and you'll doubtless want to run screaming down the hall and make a fool of yourself over him the way you generally do."
"Favorite Uncle Jack!" Elizabeth shrieks, and dashes out of the apartment.
"I hope he hates your hair!" Daddy yells behind her.
Favorite Uncle Jack is Elizabeth's hero. If she thought she could be just like Favorite Uncle Jack and still win a Nobel Prize, she totally would. They had met when Elizabeth was five and Favorite Uncle Jack was just General Jack O'Neill, commander of the Perseus – or, as Elizabeth knew it back then, the big ship from Earth that brought coffee for Daddy and golf balls for J-Dad.
"Hey, you seem like a smart kid. Do you know how I can find Colonel Sheppard?"
"You mean J-Dad?"
"Colonel Sheppard is my dad. I call him J-Dad so people don't confuse him with Daddy."
"And who's Daddy?"
"Ummm… Daddy is Daddy."
"Right. And what does your… J-Dad call him?"
"J-Dad calls Daddy Rodney. Who are you?"
"Well, I'll be da… Dipped. I'll be dipped. You're Sheppard and McKay's kid, huh?"
"Yes. Both my fathers are very smart so Daddy says I'll be a genius!"
"Nerd and Nerd Junior, huh? Well, tell you what, nerdlet. If you can tell me where Sheppard is, I'll let you run around on my ship for as long as your little nerd heart desires."
"Is it cool?"
"It goes faster than the speed of light, nerdlet."
Elizabeth had loved the Perseus – not the way she loved the city, of course, but still. A lot. J-Dad says it's "the best toy ever." Daddy says it's a "second-rate high school physics project on alien steroids." Favorite Uncle Jack says "So help me God, Sheppard, if you kidnap my ship one more time, I will have you assigned to harvest festival duty for the rest of your- McKay! Hey, McKay! Stop breaking my ship!"
Of course, he also says, "Hey, nerdlet. Want to drive 17 billion dollars worth of government property?" So Elizabeth can tell that he likes her best. Which, duh. Who wouldn't?
As Elizabeth's running to the control room, she starts to get a weird feeling after a while. As she gets closer, she notices that there's nobody out in the halls except for the marines, and they all look very serious. The closer she gets to the control room, the more marines she sees, and the more they start to look at her funny. She's almost there when a squad passes her, running in the same direction, and one of the marines peels off to step in front of her and talk to her.
"Elizabeth, what are you doing in the hall?" asks Sergeant Chu. His nails are still glittery from the last time Lorne let her do her worst in the Marine barracks, but he doesn't look very friendly right now.
"I'm on my way to see Favorite Uncle Jack," Elizabeth says, puzzled. Everybody knows how much she loves Favorite Uncle Jack.
Sergeant Chu looks suspicious. "Did he ask to see you?"
"Of course," Elizabeth says. It's not really a lie – Favorite Uncle Jack always asks for her as soon as he lands. She's sure he did it this time, too.
The sergeant gives her a long dubious look, but his squad is calling to him, so he nods and tells her, "Well, I guess I'll see you there."
Sergeant Chu's squad jogs off and Elizabeth follows, more slowly now. She's getting a bad feeling about all of this. She jumps when she hears J-Dad's voice over the PA system.
"All military personnel report to active duty stations immediately – all civilian personnel remain in your quarters, and do not open the doors to anyone, repeat, do not open the doors. General O'Neill's ship was compromised on the voyage to the Pegasus Galaxy, and we have confirmed hostile activity in the city. We have the situation under control, but please, for your own safety, remain behind closed doors."
Elizabeth is still only a little bit scared. She's lived on Atlantis for almost thirteen years – this is totally not the first time that the city's been in lockdown, and nothing really bad has ever happened – not that Elizabeth could see, anyway. She knows that she should go back to their quarters, but… Daddy and J-Dad and Favorite Uncle Jack will all be in the control room, so she'll be safest there, right? Elizabeth looks back at the hall behind her – it looks dark and empty and very long. So… not back. Elizabeth faces forward and runs for the control room.
It isn't long before Elizabeth can hear the sound of P-90s and Uncle Ronon's gun. Elizabeth wants, more than anything, to keep running for the control room and help out J-Dad and Daddy and Favorite Uncle Jack – she's smart, there's got to be something she can do! – but she remembers Lorne's first self-defense lesson.
"I can help you fight another human being, Miss E, or even an animal, I guess. I can teach you to dodge real fast, to knock somebody down, to fool ‘em with your brains. But you can't dodge a bullet, Miss E – and you can't knock it down or fool it, either. Your dad'll tell you the same thing – don't pick a fight with a bullet, Miss E. Not now, not when you're twenty, not when you're forty. You hear gunfire, you turn tail and you don't be ashamed."
"You and J-Dad do it."
"That's our job, Miss E. Plus, with all due respect to your dad, Miss E, McKay would probably flip a shit if he heard you picking me and your dad as role models."
So Elizabeth heads for the nearest transporter, which is just a few yards further down the hallway. She can hear the sounds of fighting getting closer as she nervously tells the door Open, open! But nothing happens. Lockdown, Elizabeth remembers, and for the first time she's really scared.
Up ahead is the control room, where there's the kind of fighting Elizabeth knows she's not ready for. Behind is who knows what – a lot of dark and empty, echoing corridors that are maybe no more safe than where she is right now.
Elizabeth freezes, trying to do the math, calculate the risks, when suddenly, out of nowhere, some powerful force slams her against the transporter door. Coughing the breath back into her lungs, Elizabeth looks up – and wishes she hadn't.
She doesn't know what it is – she doesn't even know how to describe it, this sickly wrong thing coming toward her, man-shaped but not a man, not even close, with sick, slick skin that never stays one thing for very long… Slimy, then scaly, then white, then silver-green, always shifting until Elizabeth can't look anymore, can't do anything but stumble up onto her feet and run.
The thing takes off after her, and Elizabeth chances a look back – it's fast, too fast for her to waste energy staring at it and screaming anymore, so she turns back around and looks at nothing but the cool glow of the hallway in front of her. She's running away from the control room now, but she can't go back toward the living quarters – she can't lead this thing back where there are people, she can't, she just can't.
The thing's harsh and piercing roars chase her down the hallway faster and faster, and there's no room in Elizabeth's head for anything but running.
She's just running blindly now, she doesn't know where she's going – just away, just away from the thing behind her. Elizabeth recognizes the gyms and practice rooms coming up, and has a crazy moment of relief – there are always marines hanging around here, one of them will save her! – but then she remembers that everyone's been called to stations, to defend the city.
She's sobbing for breath, trying to remember anything that Lorne or Tegan taught her about fighting and hiding. She sees someone up ahead – "Tegan!" she screams, recognizing his hair, his stupid hair… He needs to run. "Run!" she screams again. "Run, it's following me!"
Is he stupid? Why is he not running? She has to run past him, she can't stop, no matter what, but she feels terrible, leaving him behind. Elizabeth hears a dull thwacking sound, but she's afraid to slow herself down by turning around.
"Elizabeth!" she hears Tegan yell. She can't. She can't leave him. Elizabeth turns around, and sees Tegan running toward her – she can't see the… the thing anywhere. "Keep running!" Tegan tells her. "I will catch up. I hit it – slowed it down some. But that is all. What the hell is that thing?"
"I don't know," Elizabeth cries, losing valuable breath, but needing somebody to know. "Nobody told me anything! Is it a Wraith?"
Tegan pulls up alongside her, barely winded, and Elizabeth spares a selfish moment to hate him. But it doesn't last. He stood between her and that thing – he fought it. He protected her.
"Where are we going?" Tegan asks. Elizabeth still doesn't know. She's just running for the sake of running, by this point. But Tegan is looking at her like he expects her to know, like he expects her to have the answers, and it comes to her. "The Project Room!" she yells back. "The Secret Anniversary Project Room!"
Tegan shakes his head. "The transporters-"
"The transporters aren't working!" Elizabeth shouts, impatient now that she has a plan. "The city's in lockdown. I might be able to get it to change its mind, but we can't afford the time. Just trust me, okay, I know what I'm doing!"
Tegan nods, and they keep running. Elizabeth can't hear anything behind them, but she knows Tegan's ears are better than hers, and he still looks scared, so Elizabeth figures she'll follow his lead.
The back of Elizabeth's throat is burning, and the bones in her feet hurt a lot, but they can't stop. The thing is getting closer – it's close enough that even Elizabeth can hear it now, so she pushes herself forward again, trying to breathe the way that Tegan taught her, but helpless with fear.
She picked the Secret Project Room because it's close, it has a solid door, and Tegan knows where it is. But Elizabeth is starting to have really bad feeling.
"There it is!" Tegan shouts, pointing ahead, and he's right, the Secret Project Room is just down the corridor. They sprint inside and Elizabeth begs the city, Please, please, the door, please, quickly…
The door shuts behind them. Seconds later, Elizabeth hears the thing stop outside the room. She holds her breath.
The door echoes with a huge booming sound – the thing outside must have shot it… or thrown its disfigured body against it. Elizabeth flinches, and Tegan steps between her and the door, but it holds. Elizabeth is so relieved she wants to cry, but she can't. The city is telling her that the door won't hold forever, and that J-Dad and his Marines are still fighting around the control room, far from here. They don't even know that the… thing… is here.
So Elizabeth doesn't have time to break down and cry – she has a job to do.
He turns to look at her, and she can see he's not as scared as he should be.
"We are safe n-" he starts to say, but Elizabeth shakes her head.
"The city says the door won't hold if that thing keeps hitting it, or shooting it, or whatever it's doing. Listen, this is really important – we have to get my project out of here. Everything, the equipment, the computers – everything has got to go, Tegan. I need your help. If that thing gets a hold of what I've been working on in here, it could mean serious, big, grown-up trouble, okay?"
"I thought it was an anniversary present for your parents!"
"It is! A really awesome present, which means a dangerous present, Tegan, you have to get it out of here!"
Tegan looks like he wants to argue.
"Trust me," Elizabeth begs. "You have to trust me. This is really, really important, Tegan. Like, super-duper, very, a lot important, okay?"
Tegan hesitates for a moment, then nods.
"Cool," says Elizabeth, cocking her head for minute to listen. "The city says that we can shove stuff into the air duct."
They both flinch at an especially loud bang from the door. Elizabeth can see a bunch of dents in it already. This is not good news.
"What goes first?" Tegan asks, looking a little green.
Elizabeth starts making a pile of stuff on the table below the air vent while Tegan puts together a clumsy barricade with some tables and chairs. As he jumps up on the table and starts prying the cover off of the air vent, Elizabeth can hear the PA system come on again.
"Atlantis, this is Colonel Sheppard. I am pleased to report that the main threat has been contained, but I do request that all civilians remain in their quarters until further notice, as we still have one unidentified hostile in the city. Atlantis will remain in lockdown until the hostile has been neutralized."
Elizabeth only has time for a half-second of relief before she hears a terrible tearing noise and turns to see a fist-sized hole in the door of the room. She screams with terror as a grotesque hand slithers through the opening.
"Oh my God – Elizabeth!"
It's Daddy's voice over the PA system – he must have heard her, but Elizabeth can't think about that right now. She turns back to Tegan, who is still grimly shoving equipment into the vent.
"The hole in the door…" she stammers. "If the thing has a gun, it could put it through the hole…"
"No gun," Tegan says, groaning as he lifts a heavy monitor over his head into the vent. "He lost it when I hit him."
Another screeching sound from the door, and Elizabeth can see the hole is getting wider. She feels like her brain is paralyzed with fright, but somehow her body is moving, handing piece after piece of equipment up to Tegan, trying to keep up with him, even as the hole in the solid metal door widens with every passing second.
Elizabeth sees both hands slide through the hole, then the head, then the shoulders.
"Tegan!" she screams, "It's coming!"
As the thing surges toward her, Tegan leaps over Elizabeth's head, landing between her and the danger, shoving her under the table. She can't see anything but she can feel the thing throw Tegan hard against the table. She sees it coming toward her, and she looks away.
Then, suddenly, she hears a familiar sound. She turns back around to see, and the thing is lying crumpled on the ground. She looks away again – it's hideous.
"Elizabeth? Elizabeth, please, God, Elizabeth – where are you?"
Elizabeth is too scared to get out from underneath the table.
"Here, I'm here," she calls, not crying yet, not sure if it's safe. Then she sees a brown hand with a familiar black wristband reach under the table, and when J-Dad pulls her out and then into his arms, Elizabeth decides it's probably safe to cry.
J-Dad is carrying her in his arms like he hasn't since she was seven, when he told her that they were both getting too old for that kind of thing. Elizabeth knows it must be hurting his back, but he doesn't say anything, just holds her tight, shakes her back and forth and kisses her hair over and over again.
"Oh my God, John… Oh my God, Elizabeth," Elizabeth hears, and when she looks over at the door, it's Daddy running toward her, with Aunt Teyla and Uncle Ronon right behind him. As Daddy crushes her and J-Dad in one huge hug, over his shoulder Elizabeth can see Uncle Ronon smushing Tegan against his chest, and Aunt Teyla holding his forehead against her own so hard that her hands are shaking.
"I'm okay," she hiccups, flinching as she sees the thing get carried out of the room by a group of Marines. "What was it?" she asks.
"Wraith/Replicator hybrid," J-Dad says. "It and a bunch of its buddies attached themselves to the Perseus and snuck into Atlantis that way. But it's never gonna happen again."
"Hell no, it's not," says Daddy, in his really angriest tone of voice. "Heads are going to roll." Daddy's not ranting. He's not even using words like "gross incompetence" and "heretofore undreamed-of imbecility," so Elizabeth knows that this time, he's really mad.
"I'm okay," she tells them, her voice hardly shaking at all.
"Thank God," J-Dad says, in a small and funny-sounding voice, and when his cheek brushes against her forehead, Elizabeth can feel that it's wet.
"Can you take her for a minute, Rodney?" J-Dad asks, and it's Daddy's turn to hug her while J-Dad turns to face the other way for a minute. When he turns back around, his face is dry, and he's smiling, although it's a weird sort of smile.
"Hey, Jumper. Why don't you head back home with Daddy and me and we'll have ice cream and those kavlucho fruits you like so much, and… and we'll even watch The Princess Bride with you, okay?"
Elizabeth grins. "Will you let me paint your toenails?"
Daddy makes kind of a whimpering noise behind her, but J-Dad just gives his funny, sad-happy smile again, and says, "Jumper, the sky's the limit. Whatever you want to do, Daddy and I are just happy to be there with you, okay?"
"Thank you, J-Dad. And Daddy," Elizabeth says. "Can I have a minute to talk to Tegan first? In private?" she adds.
"Sure," says J-Dad. "We'll be waiting right outside the door, okay, Jumper?"
Aunt Teyla and Uncle Ronon also leave the lab, after giving Tegan one final hug apiece.
Then it's just Elizabeth and Tegan standing in the empty lab. Tegan is sweaty and his dreads are even frizzier than usual and bruises are already starting to show on his arms, where he must have hit the table when the thing threw him out of the way. He smiles at her as if he hadn't just almost died in a totally terrible way and says, "Well, at least your parents' anniversary present is still secret," nodding up at the stuffed air vent, and it's totally terrifying because the thing is, Elizabeth should be so grateful for that, should already be planning for how to return her lab to its former glory, but she's not.
Well, she is, but only 35% of her brain, at most, is occupied with thoughts of her glorious work – the other 65% is nonsensically spewing words like "hero," "rakish," "saved my life," "dashing," and "totally cool."
Tegan had called Elizabeth "totally cool" once, not long ago. Elizabeth hadn't thought much of it at the time. She hadn't done anything special – just figured out how long the light of New Athos' sun had been traveling before it reached their eyes here on Atlantis.
"Eighty-one years, two months and sixty-four days. And about five hours."
Tegan propped himself up on his elbow and looked down at Elizabeth. They were lying on a balcony in the East Tower, looking at the stars and complaining about Aunt Laura's dance lessons.
"You can figure all of that in your head? So fast?" Tegan asked.
"Duh," said Elizabeth, witheringly. "Because I'm a genius."
Tegan looked away. "Are the stars beautiful to you at all? Or are they just numbers?"
Elizabeth stared at him in blank confusion. "Yes," she said, helplessly, unable to think of what could make someone ask such a crazy question. "Yes," she said again, stupidly.
"Yes," Tegan repeated, staring down at her again, "Yes," he said. "Beautiful." Then he blushed.
"Do you think I'm cool?" Elizabeth asked impulsively. For a minute, Tegan looked like he would laugh. But he stopped and thought about it.
"Yes," he said one final time, very gravely, "Elizabeth, you are totally cool."
Elizabeth has epiphanies of brilliance all the time. Usually, they happen very quickly – from thought to idea to plan in the flash of a second.
Actually, Elizabeth thinks to herself, this is probably the longest, slowest epiphany she's ever had. It's a little bit embarrassing.
"Umm…" says Elizabeth, articulately. She blushes, but spares Daddy the usual silent curse of genetic injustice. "I want to ask you… That is, if you… I think that I would like-"
Elizabeth pauses to die of humiliation, resurrect herself, then marshal her verbal forces one last time.
"Would you… would you like to be in an epic romance – with me?" says Elizabeth, finally. Finally.
Tegan smiles. "Yes. Yes, I would very much like that." His smile turns a little quizzical. "I think."
"You think?" Elizabeth cries. That's not how this is supposed to go at all!
"No, I mean, of course I would like that. But I have never had an epic romance before – I do not know what would be required of me."
Of course! Aunt Teyla and Uncle Ronon's love was not tragic or doomed at all – no wonder Tegan is confused. Elizabeth will explain.
"You would be in love with me forever and ever, and always save my life like you just did, and think about me all of the time when I'm not there. It's not that hard," she confides. "My parents did it, and they're total nerds. You and I are much cooler than them."
Tegan smiles again. "I see. And you will also think of me, and save my life, and be in love with me?"
"Of course," Elizabeth says. "Duh," she does not say.
"And would we… hold hands?" Tegan asks, still looking a little tentative.
Elizabeth thinks about it for minute. Then, slowly, she holds out her hand, palm-up, and Tegan takes it. They stand there for a minute, in the empty lab, and Elizabeth thinks it feels nice.
"And would we… hold each other?" Tegan asks. Elizabeth looks confused. "Hug?" he says.
"Oh! Yes. I… I guess we could do that."
Tegan is a couple of inches taller than Elizabeth, so when he gathers her in his arms, it's easy for him to tuck her head under his chin. It makes Elizabeth's nose feel a little mashed, but even that feels okay. In fact, Elizabeth thinks, it feels a lot like the way it felt when Tegan stepped in front of her to protect her.
Tegan take a step back, until he can look into her eyes.
"And would there be… kissing?" he whispers, never looking away from her face.
"Wow," Elizabeth says, impressed. "You're so brave."
"It's like you're not afraid of Daddy at all," she breathes.
Tegan freezes. "Maybe we should save the kissing… for later," he suggests, weakly.
"That's probably best," Elizabeth says, a little sorry.
Daddy and J-Dad kiss all the time, so it's totally not fair of them to get mad about Elizabeth kissing anybody, but Elizabeth has the feeling that Daddy and J-Dad wouldn't see it that way.
"Keep the crazy woman away from me!"
"Oh, yeah… I forgot what a nice chat you and Cadman had at the party. It's always good to see you two kids playing nice."
"Hah! Playing nice? That lunatic female verbally assaulted me and implanted traumatic sense-memories into my brain! My very valuable brain!"
"That sounds really terrible for you… Hey, this leftover cake is pretty good."
"Terrible does not begin to describe it. That heinous Black-Widow-spider-in-disguise actually accosted me at my own daughter's birthday party and said to me – I can't say it, it's too horrible – said to me, ‘Well, McKay, she's almost a teenager now. Looks like it's time for The Talk.' And then insinuated that I might need outside expertise on matters of female physiognomy!"
"Meaning she offered to help."
"Possibly. I was too busy being mortally offended to analyze her twisted motives."
"Rodney. An actual female woman who we know and like-"
"-Who we know and like, offered to take the responsibility for the… the, y'know… thing… off of our hands, and you turned her down?!"
"Let me check the duty roster… Cadman's in the South Tower right now with some new recruits."
"And why would I need to know that?"
"Because you're going to go over there and beg her, on bended knee if you have to, to forgive you and make good on her offer-"
"-And you're sleeping on the couch until you do. And you get to explain why to Elizabeth."
Yeah, J-Dad and Daddy can be pretty weird about stuff like that. Elizabeth's not sure what kissing has to do with the beautiful natural cycles of life or a woman's mystical connection to the moon, or what any of it has to do with couches, but she does like listening to Daddy try to explain it all.
Plus, it makes J-Dad laugh a lot when Daddy's not looking.
Elizabeth gets her Princess Bride night with Daddy and J-Dad, and her joyous epic reunion with Favorite Uncle Jack, who tells her that he is very sorry for accidentally almost getting her killed, which Elizabeth tells him is totally okay, but which J-Dad doesn't seem to think is very funny.
Whenever she can, Elizabeth sneaks back to the lab and gets Tegan to help her take everything back out of the air vent so that she can start working on Sackenhassapums again – she only has a week before the anniversary party!
It's a surprise party, sort of. Well, it's going to be a surprise for Daddy, because Aunt Laura's planning it and Aunt Laura is a cheerful person who loves to laugh, but it's not going to be a surprise for J-Dad, because J-Dad is Aunt Laura's boss and Aunt Laura likes her job very much.
The whole thing just breaks Elizabeth's heart in two because she suddenly has fifty billion things to do at once – work on the present, hang out with Favorite Uncle Jack, stare longingly out of the window and think of Tegan, and figure out how to break the news to Lorne – the news that he is no longer the epic tragic love of her life. She hopes he is not too broken-hearted.
But in the end it is all okay, because Favorite Uncle Jack says that he and the Perseus will be sticking around an extra week for mysterious reasons, so Elizabeth will get to spend lots of time with him after the party, and doesn't feel as bad about hiding in the lab for hours and hours, working on the present.
Finally it's the night of the party, and Elizabeth gets Tegan to help her sneak a box and some paper and bows into the lab.
"This is going to be the best anniversary present of all time!" Elizabeth gloats as she maniacally tapes and beribbons the package.
Tegan gently takes it out of her hands, tears off the mangled wrapping paper and starts again.
"I think it will be best if I take care of the wrapping."
Elizabeth is confused for a second – why is Tegan rewrapping her present when Elizabeth has already done such an exciting and unique job wrapping it herself? – but then it all makes sense. Tegan wants to do everything for her, so that she never has to lift a finger again! He wants to treat her like a princess…
"You're so sweet," Elizabeth informs him, and he blushes.
When they walk out of the lab, there's some confusion as they juggle who holds the present, and somehow in the process Elizabeth ends up holding Tegan's hand. She shoots him a suspicious look as they walk, but he looks back with perfect wide-eyed innocence, although Elizabeth notices that he lets go the second they come within sight of anyone who might tell on them to Daddy.
The mess hall is full of people milling around, waiting for J-Dad to bring Daddy so that the party can start. Aunt Laura asks Elizabeth if she wants to put her present down in the stack with the others, but Elizabeth shakes her head. If everybody else had a present as awesome as hers, they wouldn't want to let it out of their sight either!
Finally Aunt Laura shushes everybody and they wait. And wait. And wait.
Elizabeth hears Daddy getting closer, saying "Oh, this is great, just what I wanted out of a romantic dinner – another night in the me-" Daddy and J-Dad appear in the doorway, J-Dad grinning, Daddy looking confused.
"SURPRISE!" everybody yells, and Daddy gets very red in the face but doesn't start shouting which means that Lorne owes Aunt Laura twenty dollars.
The party is pretty fun – the food is good, and Favorite Uncle Jack is there. She introduces him to Tegan, and she can see that he understands the fundamental importance of their epic tale of tragic love, because he doesn't laugh or even smile – he just looks very serious as he tells Elizabeth how happy he is for her. Then he looks over at the table where Daddy and J-Dad are sitting, and grins one of the biggest grins Elizabeth has ever seen. For a minute, Elizabeth is reminded of Aunt Laura, but can't figure out why.
Then it's time for the presents, the moment that Elizabeth has been waiting for! She wants her present to go last, because it's going to be the best, so she goes over to tell Daddy and J-Dad. J-Dad smiles a real smile, and Daddy smiles a fake smile, pulling her into a hug and whispering, "You knew about this, you knew about this whole evil scheme from the very beginning and you didn't tell me? No more Ben and Jerry's Toffee Coffee for you, young lady."
Elizabeth rolls her eyes. "After you get my present," she informs him, "you will be begging me to eat your silly Toffee Coffee."
"Menace," he mutters, turning back to the pile of presents. "My daughter is a menace."
The presents, Elizabeth has to admit, are cool. The Hard Science department gives them a specially-engineered puddlejumper with a roof panel made of transparent crystal, so you can see everything as you fly – that is pretty wicked, Elizabeth admits. Aunt Laura gives them a piece of paper that Elizabeth can't see, but whatever is on it makes Daddy go "Oh, thank God," and J-Dad say, "Thank you… just… thank you." Lorne gives them a jumbo-sized bottle of nail polish remover, which makes J-Dad laugh, and makes Daddy scowl, muttering "You're only encouraging her, you know."
After the rest of the presents go by, the only people left are Elizabeth and Favorite Uncle Jack. Favorite Uncle Jack grins at J-Dad, and says to Daddy, "Well, mine's really sort of mostly for you, McKay, but I think you'll both find it very satisfying… and the nerdlet, too."
He hands Daddy a plain white envelope. Daddy tears it open and slowly unfolds the piece of paper inside.
"Oh my GOD!" Daddy yells when he sees it. "Well, it's about time!"
Daddy continues flipping out while Favorite Uncle Jack continues.
"It includes passage back to Earth on the Perseus for you both, your nerdlet, and your team, McKay. We'll be leaving in a week to give you enough time to pack and, you know, write your speech."
Elizabeth can't wait anymore. She pokes J-Dad in the shoulder. "What is it? What did Daddy get?"
J-Dad smiles a big warm smile. "Hey, Rodney, why don't you show Elizabeth your present?"
Daddy stops flipping out and when he turns to hand her the piece of paper, he's absolutely silent. Elizabeth doesn't understand all the words and the phrasing is weird, but she's Daddy's little girl, so she recognizes the word "Nobel" right away.
"You… you won?" she asks.
"Of course!" Daddy says, proudly. "I will mention everyone here in my acceptance speech!" he announces. "Not individually, of course, but I'll be sure to work in some sort of collective acknowledgment."
The science team cheers, and the Marines sort of make a confused happy noise all at once, and they're all talking now, to each other and to Favorite Uncle Jack and to Uncle Radek and especially to Daddy and J-Dad.
Everyone in Atlantis is crowding around Daddy and J-Dad, congratulating them, and everybody has forgotten about Elizabeth's present. Elizabeth's eyes start to water a little – she can't really blame them, after all. She was so sure her present was going to be the best of all – but Favorite Uncle Jack's is better. She can't even be mad at him, because he's Favorite Uncle Jack, and he's made Daddy so happy.
Elizabeth looks over at the crowd of people who are with Daddy and J-Dad, and she sighs. Her present's not that good – probably Daddy and J-Dad won't even want it now. She picks it up off of the floor and wanders forlornly back to her room, still clutching the present to her chest. She'll find someplace to leave it tomorrow for Daddy to find – if she tries to give it as a present now, it'll seem stupid and lame. She hides the box under her bed for now and bats away the city's reaching hand inside her head – the city helped her so much with the present, and she doesn't want to be reminded of it now. She curls up against the pillows and imagines what Earth will be like – the place where Daddy and J-Dad grew up, the place where Favorite Uncle Jack goes when he's not here.
In a few hours, Daddy and J-Dad come home, still laughing and smiling and kissing. Usually it would be cute, but Elizabeth's too down in the dumps for that.
J-Dad leans on the door of her room.
"Hey, Jumper, you left the party pretty early. You feeling all right?"
"Yeah," Elizabeth says, but J-Dad is not fooled.
"You sound unhappy, Jumper… Are you scared about going to Earth? You don't have to go, you know. It's only if you want to."
"No, no," says Elizabeth. "I'm excited to go to Earth, actually." And she is.
"Then what's wrong, Jumper?"
Daddy walks in and sits on the edge of her bed, flicking on her bedside light.
"Is something wrong?" he says, looking bewildered. "What could be wrong? This is the best night of my life!"
"After the night that you were born, of course," Daddy says quickly.
J-Dad still glares.
"And the night when… John… when John…" He looks back at J-Dad, puzzled. "Is there a specific night I'm supposed to be thinking of here?"
"Oh, hey, I bet I know," says J-Dad, crouching down next to Elizabeth to look her in the eye. "We forgot about your present, didn't we, Jumper?"
Elizabeth nods miserably.
"I'm sorry, Jumper. Do you want us to open it now?"
Elizabeth shakes her head.
"You'll think it's lame. It's not as good as Favorite Uncle Jack's present."
"What could be?" Daddy says, and J-Dad smacks him.
"Rodney!" He turns back to Elizabeth. "I bet it's a really cool present," J-Dad says, smiling again, "and no matter what, Jumper, your Daddy and I will like it because it's from you, okay?"
Elizabeth squirms, but finally she pulls the box out from under the bed and gives it to J-Dad.
"It's not as good as all the others, but… I worked really hard on it," she says anxiously. "I made it for you myself. But you don't have to like it."
"I'm sure it'll be great," says Daddy, but Elizabeth can tell he doesn't really believe it. She shouldn't have given it to them. She should have said she forgot it, or didn't have one or something.
J-Dad tears off the paper very carefully, then offers the box to Daddy, who takes off the lid.
"Jesus fucking fuck almighty!"
"Rodney, don't swear in fro- holy shit!"
"Is it good?" Elizabeth asks, twisting her shirt in her hands worriedly.
Daddy reverently pulls the ZPM out of the box and holds it on his lap. For a long minute, he doesn't say anything, and neither does J-Dad. They just sit there and stare at it like they've never seen one before in their lives.
"You were wrong," Daddy finally says, shakily.
"About what?" asks Elizabeth, freaking out a little.
"This is definitely not lamer than General O'Neill's present. It's – I can't believe I'm about to say this, but, Menace, I think it might be – God – even better," Daddy says, and then freezes, like he thinks he's about to suffer divine vengeance.
Elizabeth squirms. "You're just saying that."
Daddy glares at her. "Do I strike you as the sort of person who just says things?"
J-Dad hasn't said a word this whole time, and when he speaks, his voice sounds a little rusty.
"Elizabeth, it's… really… Hang on. Did you say you made this yourself?"
Elizabeth shrugs, secretly pleased that J-Dad sounds so impressed. Well, she thinks it's impressed. It might be freaked-out.
"Well, the city helped me a lot," Elizabeth allows. "But yeah, I made it."
Daddy and J-Dad stare at the ZPM and then stare at Elizabeth, and then back at the ZPM, and then back at Elizabeth, over and over again. Finally Daddy shakes his head really fast, blinks and says, "Wait, what?!"
"You were right," Elizabeth blurts out. "You were right about the machine, the one that made me. The city told me! It was for ZPMs. It's just a lot more… complicated than you thought. I always knew how to make this, since I was born, maybe. But I didn't understand the things I knew until now, you know?" Daddy doesn't look like he understands, so Elizabeth tries harder. "I had the first principles, and I had the final answer, but I couldn't solve the equation in between, do you see? But now I can!"
They're both staring at her now, but they look more happy-hit-by-a-big-stick than sad-hit-by-a-big-stick, so Elizabeth figures that they probably do like it.
"I hope you like it," she says, anxiously, just to make sure. "If you like it, I can make you more," she offers.
"M-m-more?" says Daddy, looking like he might explode. "Did you just say you can make more of these?"
Daddy slowly and carefully hands the ZPM to J-Dad, and then kneels on the floor beside Elizabeth's bed. He clasps her hand between his hands, tightly.
"Elizabeth," he says solemnly, "I'm begging you. Please eat my Toffee Coffee ice cream."
Elizabeth considers his request.
"I think I shall," she says regally. She looks at J-Dad, who is practically nuzzling at the ZPM, and at Daddy, who is abject at her feet, and figures that she'll never get another chance like this one.
"Also, I want Tegan to come to Earth with us. Because we're in love! He's a tall, dark and handsome hero who saves my life with his badass skills and likes to listen to me talk and I am a brilliant scientific genius who fixes everything in the city that ever goes wrong and incidentally has eyes like limpid pools of azure crystal." Elizabeth takes a breath. "So don't be mad, Daddy! We're meant to be! I won't let you stand in the way of our love!"
Daddy smiles at J-Dad, who is carefully setting the ZPM back in its box.
"What do you think, John?" Daddy says softly. "It sounds like a pretty well-reasoned argument to me…"
"Yeah," J-Dad says roughly, smushing Elizabeth to his chest with one hand and reaching for Daddy with the other. "I'd say she's got a winning formula there."
Elizabeth smiles and snuggles with her tragic, doomed, hilarious and adorkable dads.
"Duh," she says, and hugs them both a little tighter.