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Elizabeth Weir stepped out of the brig and took her first breath of freedom after the whole messed-up disaster with Holland, and an airman presented her with two documents: the finalization of her divorce from Simon, and her new posting.

She was a single woman, and she'd be guarding a damn door for NORAD in Colorado.

It was a joke posting, but at least she was still in the Air Force, even if she'd probably never lay eyes on the controls of a helicopter again.

She slept through most of the transport back Stateside and to Colorado Springs. To celebrate her newfound singleness and the complete disaster that was her life, she put on tight jeans and a low-cut shirt and went to get a drink at the bar closest to the shabby little apartment the Air Force had procured for her.

She must have been radiating the misery she was feeling, because the bartender looked sympathetic, and most of the men stayed away from her. If she wanted some company, she'd have to be more aggressive. Fine. She'd made major when most of her CO's had been surprised to see her make it to captain. If she wanted something, she'd get it.

There was a man at a pool table in the back, playing against himself. He had wild dark hair and bright eyes of some indescribable color between blue and and green and grey, and he was lean, handsome. Definitely not military, with that hair. So Elizabeth challenged him to a game. She was in no mood to play vulnerable and stupid, so she made shots he thought were impossible, and when the shots were impossible for her, she made sure the next one would be impossible for him.

After three games, he looked her up and down and smiled, said, "I'm impressed."

"Impressed enough to want to get out of here?"

"If you want to," he said.

"I do."

There was irony. He said his name was John; she wasn't sure if she believed him, told him her name was Liz, which she'd never let anyone call her, ever. His apartment was in an expensive building downtown, complete with a uniformed doorman who called him Sir. Elizabeth didn't bother to do much more than check for exits once they were inside the apartment, and then she had John pinned up against the door, kissing him and tackling his belt (she was a pilot, she old multitask).

"Easy," he said, "it's not a race."

"I kicked your ass at pool, and I can kick your ass in the bedroom."

"Ass-kicking's not really my style in the bedroom," he said.

She stepped back and peeled off her shirt, let him see what he was in for, and his grin took on a distinctly dirty edge.

"But you naked, that's totally my style." And then he was kissing her, and she was peeling him out of his shirt, and when they made it to the bedroom, skin on skin, she finally felt what she'd been searching for since her cell door had opened thirty-six hours before.

Relief.

The second round was slower, more sensual, as they took the time to learn each other's bodies. John was sensitive right behind his jaw on the left side, and when she nibbled there, he moaned and arched into her. He found that spot on the backs of her knees and had her gasping his name in no time.

They fell asleep before the third round, and then dozed again some more before the fourth.

Elizabeth couldn't let herself fall asleep, because she had to report for duty early the next day. She waited till John fell asleep, then crept out of his bed, pulled on her clothes, and went downstairs to catch a cab back to her new apartment.

So it was just her luck that the nervous little airman who'd been assigned to train her for guard duty disappeared right when John showed up.

Dressed in a suit and tie, clean-shaven, he looked sharp, professional. His ID tag read Dr. John Sheppard.

He was fumbling with a coffee mug and a briefcase and a cell phone and didn't recognize her, so she said, "Good morning, Doctor," in the most professional voice she could manage and stepped aside to let him through.

He was almost to the elevator before he came up short, turned around, and came back.

"Liz?" He stared at her, incredulous.

She kept her gaze neutral and professional. "Dr. Sheppard."

His gaze drifted down to the name on her uniform, the oak leaves denoting her rank. "Major Weir."

"Yes, sir."

He looked baffled by her coldness, but then he shrugged. "I get it. No hard feelings." He added, lower, "I had fun, though." And he went on his way.

Dr. John Sheppard, expertise unknown, arrived on base every morning at 7:47 AM and departed every evening at 5:13 PM. He was gently persistent, greeting her cheerfully in the morning, asking how her day was as he left. He never mentioned their encounter again, and Elizabeth went looking for a bar that never had servicemen when she wanted to get out of her blank little living space she refused to call home.

He didn't look like some of the awkward scientists who kept strange hours and came through the mountain distracted and disheveled on a daily basis, like Dr. Rodney McKay or Dr. Radek Zelenka. He wasn't an government law enforcement agent either, like Malcolm Barrett, whose badge read NID, an agency Elizabeth had never heard of (and she suspected few people outside this base had).

About three months into the stupid posting, when Elizabeth was just waiting for the other shoe to drop (they hadn't even let her go to Holland's funeral, dammit), John's hours changed. He started arriving earlier and leaving later, and every day he looked a little more exhausted.

One day he came shambling toward the checkpoint in jeans and a soft grey sweater, and he was carrying a massive box into which was stuffed his briefcase, his travel coffee mug, his cell phone, and his laptop. He only looked half awake.

"Morning, Major," he mumbled, fumbling for his wallet and ID.

Even though they knew each other, she had to check his ID. It was protocol. She knew better than to disregard protocol.

"Good morning, Dr. Sheppard," she said. "Do you need a little help?"

"If you don't mind." He thrust the box at her with one hand, checking his own pockets with the other.

She went to reach for it, and it tipped. She cried out a warning, and he lunged toward her to try to save the box. He caught part of it, but not enough of it, and its contents started to spill. He caught his laptop, and she reached for his cellphone, but then something else tumbled out, small and glass-like and blue, fragile, and she reached for it instinctively.

It landed on her palm and lit up.

"Oh, no." Elizabeth's heart crawled into her throat. She'd screwed up again. "I'm so sorry, Dr. Sheppard. I hope I didn't break it –"

His travel coffee mug hit the floor and coffee exploded over both of their shoes, but he was gazing at the little glowing device, entranced.

"Major," he said, "put the device down for a second."

She levered it onto the table, and it went out. "I did break it, didn't I?"

"No," John said slowly. "Touch it again."

He was talking crazy, but she didn't dare say no. She touched it with one finger. It lit up.

"Don't move, Elizabeth," he said, and she was jolted by his use of her full name. He set down the box and fished his cellphone out of it, and he hit speed dial.

"Yeah, Walter, get me O'Neill. There's a major up here at the checkpoint. That's right, Elizabeth Weir. We need her. Because that thing McKay can't figure out? She just turned it on." John caught Elizabeth's gaze and grinned.

She was confused. She wasn't in trouble? Because she really couldn't handle any more trouble.

"Excellent. Once her relief arrives, we'll be right down." John turned off his cell phone and pocketed it. "So, Elizabeth Weir," he said, "hypothetically speaking, how would you like to help save the world?"

"I don't know, John Sheppard. Do you have a quarter? We can flip for it."

John threw his head back and laughed. "You know, I could really get used to you."