The curtain lifts; Dorothy steps into Technicolor; Elizabeth walks through the wormhole; Mrs. Rochester goes mad; the audience holds its breath. All stories start the same way, which in essence is this: There's a door.
The mess hall is as dark as a mouth, lights dimmed on John's request, air thick with shifting. Someone coughs, and is promptly shushed. Elizabeth sits with Grodin on her left, Rodney on her right, flanked by her attendants, surrounded by her court. Grodin's leg is bouncing impatiently. John is probably thinking about holding Rodney's hand in the dark. On the far wall, flickering hordes of Winkies wrestle their heroes into line; the Wicked Witch brandishes fire at the Scarecrow, and Rodney winces, hand going protectively to his right arm, to the thin river of scar-tissue underneath. To his organic badge of courage, and regret.
It's movie night on Atlantis. By mutual agreement she and Rodney had decided to introduce Teyla and Ronon to the wonderful world of Oz.
John, of course, had protested. Elizabeth had overruled him. Explained, very carefully, that their people needed something bright, and cheerful, and lacking in explosions. She made the right call; even the Marines made a showing, though they've been shunted into their own section and put under the watchful eye of Colonel Caldwell, ever since they started trash-talking the flying monkeys.
Speak of the devil, as her mother used to say. Don't go to crossroads at midnight; don't borrow trouble; don't glance over at him in the middle of The Wizard of Oz. Caldwell has noticed her looking, and tips his head. It's been barely a week since his last play for John's job.
On the screen, the Witch is writhing in brief agony. Rain starts at the windows outside; a storm is probably coming. Elizabeth tilts her head to the side. Like this, the Witch looks a little like a Wraith. It's a good feeling, to hear it scream.
When Elizabeth was a child, she dreamed of a kind world where justice reigned supreme, and Queen Elizabeth oversaw it all in her emerald castle. Never, though, in these fantasies did she have green skin; always the wizard, never the witch. When Elphaba melted into a screaming, steaming puddle, Elizabeth cheered. All of the psychologists that have ever examined her have said something to the effect of, she has a remarkably strong moral compass, which is not to say she can always recognize the heroes.
Elizabeth has just always been very clear on who the villains were.
Teyla sits very politely and quietly through the entire thing, but afterwards, she frowns and says, "I do not understand the significance of the red shoes. Are they Ancestor technology?"
"Not exactly," John says.
"I thought your people did not believe in magic," she retorts, and John turns to Ronon and asks, somewhat desperately, "What about you, big guy?"
Ronon shrugs. "The monkeys were cool," he says.
"That's it?" Elizabeth teases.
"That's it," he says, all trace of lightness gone. Not blinking. Serious as a shutting door.
In the day, away from John and storm and night, Atlantis is blue. Empty, too, no matter how they fill it up. Empty, and echoing, and opening, all like a bloodless heart, like mechanical guts. It's beautiful, in times of happiness. It's hideous, in times of loss. All the time, it's not quite right.
It should be green, Elizabeth decides. It should be emerald, and sparkle in the sun.
"Did you like the movie, Dr. Weir?" Zelenka asks her, anxiously. She smiles.
"It's one of my favorites," she says.
It's movie night at McMurdo. The chairs are uncomfortable and the turn-out minimal, but Elizabeth sits the whole way through, entranced as always, the paperwork she's supposed to be doing limp in her lap. She doesn't understand how people can find this boring, not worthy, not beautiful. She's never been very good at empathizing.
Various SGC members drift in and out. Jackson watches the first half, but wanders off sometime after Emerald City; O'Neill stays only for the Ding-Dong song. Dr. McKay drops in for the Witch's death. There's probably someone he's wishing he could throw a bucket of water on, only it's McKay they're talking about - it would be acid, corrosive where his personality wasn't enough. She wishes him luck, and hopes when it comes to murder he sticks to committing it vicariously.
Outside, it's snowing. Always snowing. She'll be happy if she never sees another snowflake in her life. She wants to go walking in it with someone she loves, trade eskimo kisses, wrap her gawky, skinny body up in hugeness. What she doesn't want is Simon there with her, but then chides herself, because of course she does. Of course she wants him.
Still. For the first time in a long time, she is afraid.
Sometimes, she likes to think that Atlantis was her destiny. She's been on-board from the moment she spotted the strange spending, from the moment they called her up and said, Dr. Weir, are you currently employed? They didn't know it at the time, of course, but that's alright. Most of them - the enlisted men, and the scientists, as she and Rodney became friends - caught up quickly.
The IOA was probably the worst of them all, though: predominately male, openly contemptuous. Bureaucrats, and she's one too - was one, anyway - but never as bad as this. Never as cold. She wouldn't be surprised if they bled formaldehyde. Mutual dislike quickly escalates into open contempt, until the conference tables turn into DMZs, volleys of words being tossed back and forth, with both sides suffering wounds, kills, explosions.
She's female. She knows how to play the game. But they want one thing, and she wants another. They're wrong, and she's so very, very right.
After all, appointing her expedition head is just the natural progression of events. She's surprised they can't see that - at least not at first - but she talks them around, into circles and hexagons and ancient glyphs, and goes back for more every time they refuse her people something. After a while, they stop refusing everything but the most exorbitant requests.
"It's a goddamn suicide mission," Sumner says when he sees the manifest.
"Colonel," she says sharply, and he jerks up; she wasn't supposed to have heard. If this is what he's saying, in barracks and dark conference rooms, places she can't keep an eye on him, it has to stop immediately. She can't have this much friction with her subordinates. No dissent in the ranks.
"Begging your pardon, ma'am," he says. "Maybe it's not. But they certainly think it is."
"Ah, the IOA," Rodney mutters to her during a particularly boring briefing. "A thorn in scientific progress since the early 90s. How I wish they'd stayed there."
"Do you ever wonder when the SGC found time to dig them out of their coffins?" she whispers back. She's feeling reckless, irritable, childish. He goes a little bug-eyed, and sputters a little into his coffee-cup.
This is the first time they've done anything but ignore each other, other than that one horrifying pass Rodney made at her, which they've since mutually agreed to never speak of again. It's an important moment; possibly monumental. It's the stuff parallel universes are made of.
It probably won't go in the history books.
The first time she saw The Wizard of Oz, it was 1984, and she couldn't stand the Cowardly Lion. He was weak, weaker than Dorothy, even; he was uncomfortable. He reminded her of herself when she fell off her bike and skinned her knee, spilling blood and excess. For hours afterward she was still careening down that hill, out of control, every sniffle a wobble and every sob a swerve. It felt as if her body had become like the Witch's soldiers, possessed and alien, violated by the intrusion of emotions she clearly hadn't asked for and so, she reasoned, she shouldn't have received.
By the end of the movie, Elizabeth was a little warmer towards him, though she felt that the Wizard was clearly wrong when he said the Lion had been brave all along. She watched him, she knew - he wasn't brave, he made himself brave, just as her teachers said she could make herself into anything she wanted, if she wanted it hard enough.
From then on, he became her favorite character. Each time she saw the movie, she waited for his transformation, breathless, on the edge of her seat from excitement. She knew it was coming, of course - she knew movies weren't real, that they were recorded, she wasn't a baby - but even still, she had to see it for herself. When the carnival came to town, she talked one of the carnies into giving her a stuffed lion, and slept with it every night. It was soft, in the way that memories of childhood things are whether they were in life or not, and it might have been orange.
As far as she knows, Elizabeth never harbored any sexual feelings for her stuffed lion, so it puzzles her when she finds herself watching Rodney's hands as he works on the chair; Rodney's mouth when he snaps off at General O'Neill; Rodney's bulky, broad shoulders. Not in any serious way, of course. She has Simon waiting back home for her, and Rodney - well, Rodney is Rodney. All it is is just a passing, idle contemplation. One of those logic puzzles he likes so much. A what if. The grown-up, erotic version of the multicolored horse. Still, she has a few fantasies that don't seem too implausible. After all, she has Simon and Rodney has no one, but they're out on the ice, lonely, far from civilization.
The point is, it could happen.
But it won't.
"Look," Rodney says. "Low power means short range. Short range means we need to get closer."
"How much closer?" Teyla asks.
"Much," Rodney says.
"With no cloak?" Ronon asks.
"No cloak," Rodney replies grimly.
"Good to be back home, huh?" Sheppard asks her, eyes sparkling with the thrill of the chase, the hunt, the kill. Elizabeth grins.
"No place like it," she says, and clicks her magic shoes.
"Look, Elizabeth," her mother prompted, pointing towards the televisions in the window. "That's the president."
"Sure is, ma'am," the store owner said, leaning hipshot against the counter. He was a big-belied man, and he frightened Elizabeth a little, though she pretended he didn't. "He's gonna bring our people home, out of the hands of those filthy Afghans."
"What's an Afghan?" Elizabeth asked.
"It's a rug," her mother replied absently.
"It's a dirty rotten terrorist," the store owner said.
The man onscreen was toothy and smiling. He didn't look at all like the snake-oil salesman her father said he was, though this could be because she had no idea what a snake-oil salesman looked like. Elizabeth watched and listened as he made promises on promises, unfolding a world as strange and fanciful to her as Oz, where enemies were vanquished and parents got along. He didn't look like a Wizard, either, but he spat out seemingly random combinations of words, and by the serious way they said them she knew they had to be very powerful spells. Instead of alacazam, grown-ups said UN security council, and gross national product opened a thousand Ali Baba's caves, all welcome, welcome, welcome. Isn't it wonderful, she thought, that he can make all those things come true!
"Mummy," she said, pulling on her mother's skirt. "Mummy. I've decided what I want to be when I grow up."
"Oh yeah, little girl?" the store owner asked.
"Yes," she said, her round face drawn and serious. "I'm going to be president."
It took her the longest time to figure out why he laughed.
So, Rodney's the Cowardly Lion, she decides. The Athosians are the unusually tall munchkins, and Atlantis, obviously, is the Emerald City.
John, though? She knows him, understands him; she's sure of it. Even so -
She can't quite figure out who John would be.
There was a surplus of alcohol on McMurdo, and a deficit of people Rodney deemed intelligent enough to drink with. In fact, it was only Elizabeth and Dr. Zelenka, and Zelenka was because he was the one who supplied Rodney with the alcohol in the first place. By the time they left the snow and cold and ice, they had a shared high tolerance for vodka, he had the story of her disastrous time with the NSA -
"Tell me again," he murmurs, "about the time you kicked Dr. Ma in the face,"
- and she can recite Rodney's brief and painful history of relationships by rote. She knows, for example, that he was gay before he was straight; he managed to net his first boyfriend when he was sixteen, through hook, crook, or mutual overabundance of hormones, and the man was eight years older than him, a law student. It's something that, without four travel bottles of Absolut and a propensity for being a maudlin drunk, she's sure he wouldn't have volunteered too readily.
According to Rodney, their first time was a slapstick affair, more comedy than sex: they sort of sat and stared at each other for a while, and then started making out with such intensity and passion that they rolled right off the couch, which - of course - was when Rodney cracked his head on the coffeetable.
"Technically," he says, "our first date was in the E.R," and she smiles sadly, pityingly, thinking, Poor Rodney.
(What he doesn't tell her is what happened afterwards, sitting in Danny's car in the quiet, rushing snow. Pressing their hands against the radiator. Hissing as he poked at the four stitches marching across his forehead like borders on a map. "I look like Frankenstein," he had complained. "You know, most guys give flowers, not concussions."
"You want flowers, Mer?" Danny asked.
"Not particularly, no," Mer said, and Danny kissed him again - gently this time, hand on his neck - as if he were something precious, needing protection, as if they were in love.)
Picture the audience in their underwear, her first debate teacher had said. Instead of imagining the erstwhile Dr. McKay in his underwear, she can now imagine: Dr. McKay, in his underwear, with boyfriend, similarly clad! It's too ridiculous to be threatening. He's too ridiculous to be a threat.
(This, perhaps, is her first mistake.)
The thing she forgets is, the Cowardly Lion was never much of a threat on his own. But he finds friends, and they change him. He makes himself brave. He makes himself the King of the Jungle, blood on his claws, cruelty in his eyes, and most of all, he has backup.
"You destroyed two-thirds of a solar system, Rodney!" Elizabeth yells. Breathing through her nose, trying to calm herself down; it doesn't work. She's furious.
"It was more like five-sixths," Rodney says.
"And that's supposed to make me feel better?" she asks, incredulous. Beside her, John glares, arms folded in tight, posture clearly conveying: not listening. Not listening. Not listening to your bullshit.
For once, it's not aimed at her.
Rodney's about as subtle as a bulldozer, but when he promises things he means them, one way or another. Do or die. Feast or famine. Death till us part, and Elizabeth knows he's never been the one to leave, but always being left, always chasing after. No such thing as a clean break with Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay.
By now, she's lost her fascination with the Cowardly Lion. Elizabeth's sure that she knows all about Rodney's short, sour list, like a clown's run-and-tumble routine.
She has no inclination to become another move on it.
Perhaps it's the quality of light or sound, or the way he fits, but John is beautiful here, in a way he never was on Earth. He was attractive there, yes, but not beautiful. Not gorgeous. Not covered in blood and sweat and glowing down to his bones.
For the first year on Atlantis, Elizabeth fantasizes. She thinks of John inside her, her legs around his slim waist, hands at her hips - always under her, always senseless, powerless with pleasure. She never imagines kissing him, because she has a sneaking suspicion that would be something he would try to control, and she's right; every woman he's ever kissed he's done with spacers, his hands on their face, telling them exactly where he wants to go. She's not interested in that. She's the Good Witch, not a Munchkin; she doesn't need to be saved in bed, when he saves them all so often already.
Unlike Rodney, though, John never makes promises. He won't hesitate to go. She may not trust him, but her body can swing loose around him.
It's wonderful to have an outlet for all these feelings; to be able to flirt with someone who will flirt back, consciously or unconsciously, and not mean a single word, like drinking with a married man. That first year, though, she thinks: maybe. Maybe they could make it work. Because there's chemistry there. She's sure of it.
John's hands ruffling his hair; Rodney tucked tight against his body. The soft, wet sounds they're making. The details of their faces, hazy in the darkness of the niche they've shoved themselves into. The fine tremor that runs through them like lightning coming to ground.
Elizabeth sees these things but can't make herself add up to the sum - that John is kissing Rodney, Rodney is kissing John, they are in a position to kiss and with such familiarity, too, like people comfortable in someone else's skin. By the time she gets back to her room, she's not sure if she imagined it or not. It seems ridiculous. After all, the Tin Woodsman making out with the Lion? Silly. She forgets the passion she saw, the fright. The next morning John smiles at her in the mess: off-limits, and as radiant as the sun.
Yes, she thinks. Definite chemistry.
(She certainly doesn't remember the law of her high school chemistry class, which was: sooner or later, things will explode.)
When she was eight, there was a game she played with her neighbor, except it was The Game, of utmost importance and secrecy. Just thinking about it sent a delicious little thrill into the pit of her stomach. "Let's play The Game," Elizabeth would whisper in Mary-Ann's ear, and they would quietly put away their dolls and troop upstairs.
"We're going to play house," Elizabeth had explained the one time her mother asked, and her mother had said:
"That's nice, dear," and turned the pages of her magazine. "Have fun."
They tip-toed up the stairs, into Elizabeth's room, and locked the door.
"Honey," Elizabeth would say, "I'm home."
"Hello, dahling," Mary-Ann said, and waited patiently for Elizabeth to take ahold of her face and kiss her, making a little sound like mwah every time their lips touched. Mwah, mwah, mwah. Then they would step back and take each other's clothes off, little fingers clumsy on buttons, catches, snaps. Elizabeth especially liked the straps on Mary-Ann's jumpers. They were fun to play with. Sometimes she would snap one on purpose, and Mary-Ann would bite her, and they would roll around until Mary-Ann forgot why they were doing it, though Elizabeth never did.
Clothes finally off, they stood and faced each other for a moment, suddenly ashamed of their nakedness, as they had been taught to be. This was the point that The Game was at its most fragile, Elizabeth felt - where it would be possible that the world would crack and she would lose control of it. To compensate she was at her most rough, pushing Mary-Ann onto her pink bed and rutting against her, like she had seen her father do once to mother, through a crack in the bedroom wall. This was what grown-ups did, after all, and it was obviously very important, or else they wouldn't be doing it.
One day, though, Elizabeth snaps Mary-Ann's jumper strap, gleefully, waiting for the bite. It doesn't come. When she tries to hug Mary-Ann, the girl pushed her away and said: "The girls at St. Mary's said there's a word for what you are."
"What am I, honey?" Elizabeth asks, in her best big booming-man voice.
Mary-Ann sneers. "A girl who likes kissing girls," she says with great relish, and Elizabeth's cheeks burn. She's humiliated. Mary-Ann has broken The Game, and she could see what a silly thing it was, now; how childish.
"Stop it," Elizabeth says, dropping all pretense of pretend.
"You're a lesbian," Mary-Ann says, trembling.
"Stop it," Elizabeth shouts. "Stop it, you baby! You - you bitch!"
"You're a queer," Mary-Ann says, and then suddenly her tiny face crumples as she wails, "You made me a queer."
"No, we're not," Elizabeth says, and suddenly she's weak-kneed with relief; she knows the answer, the perfect rational argument to Mary-Ann's accusation. "You're the mommy and I'm the daddy. That's how it's supposed to be."
"Are you sure?" Mary-Ann asks, sniffling.
"Yes," Elizabeth says. "I'm sure," and kisses Mary-Ann softly, carefully, on the mouth.
Late at night, exhausted but unable to sleep, Elizabeth thinks about pushing John onto her bed, riding him, rutting against him. Kissing him, finally, something daring and sexy, because she would do it as if she were the one with the penis, the one penetrating, and he the one penetrated. She'll kiss him like he kisses other women. She'll kiss him like a command.
But no, that's not right either.
She'll kiss him like a command, but to this one, he'll listen.
"Rodney, you know as well as I do," she says, wearily. "I understand why John's doing this, but but he's out of control."
"They took Ronon," Rodney says stubbornly. "They hurt him."
"I know," she says.
"No you don't," he mutters.
That's not fair, she wants to say, even though he's mostly right.
Atlantis is all teams and groups, semper fi and pi-r-squared, nuclear families and circles of unrelated relatives. Elizabeth alone has no people, except occasionally, when all of it goes to shit. If she's anyone's family, she's the tolerated spinster aunt. Sometimes she feels more of an alien than Teyla. She does not consider the fact that technically - as a Tau'ri in Atlantis, on a Pegasus planet in the Pegasus Galaxy - this is true. She is the alien here.
"The Wizard of Oz is a parable of the 1890s Money Reform movement," her literature professor informs her. "After vanquishing the Wicked Witch of the East - who, as you clearly see, represents the Eastern bankers - Dorothy frees the Munchkins, the little people, the farmers. She follows the gold road to Emerald City, which could be Washington, but also a metaphor for prosperity, as green is equated with money." He surveys the class, which is in varying stages of awake, asleep, nearly asleep, possibly dead. He would be just as happy lecturing to an empty room, as long as the walls clapped when he finished his speech. "Does anyone know what color the magic slippers were in the original book?"
"Silver," someone says.
"That's right," he says. "They were silver," and implies: a-ha!
Elizabeth thinks about this for a moment, and then raises her hand.
"I refuse to believe that," she says.
Red has always been more of her color anyway.
"Weird Weir," they yell at her on the playground. "Lizzy Weird."
"That's Queen Elizabeth to you," she snaps. She doesn't cry, even though she wants to.
In her fantasies, in her nanite coma, John is who she hears, whispering over and over: Elizabeth. Elizabeth. Nasal voice making footsteps in her dreams, a bridge to build them closer, something she could cut down, something she could burn.
After the siege she hugs him. She's spun up in dreams, in visions of his dead, radiated body. She doesn't notice the grimace on his face, and worries that the stiffness in her arms is imagined rigor mortis, her mind's sick idea of a joke. She's disgusted with herself. She holds on tighter, and he fights harder not to get away.
In kindergarden, she writes, over and over: Elizabeth Weir. Elizabeth Weir. Elizabeth Weir. The penmanship of young ladies is supposed to be perfect, and Elizabeth has never been one to stray away from perfection; she welcomes it. Once she finds some of her mother's old papers, sneering at the shaky handwriting, and asks who Rachel Kabitschke is.
"That's me, darling," her mother says, carding through her daughter's dark curls. It hurts. Elizabeth scowls and pulls away.
"You're Rachel Weir," she says accusingly. Who is this stranger with hands as stiff as wooden combs? Up until now, she has believed that her mother came into existence with her birth, and would disappear when Elizabeth no longer needed her.
"I took your Daddy's name," her mother says. "Mommies get new names when they marry. Just like you will. Hopefully a long, long time from now," she teases.
"I'm never, ever going to marry," Elizabeth declares.
She keeps her promise.
By the time she is thirty-eight, she's distinguished as ever, with numerous treaties and bills to her name. People like her - usually as far away from them as possible - and she gets things done, in a fashion. "For a politician, Dr. Weir, you're not bad," O'Neill says the first time they meet. She's not bad. In fact, she's pretty good. Her life has long since stopped being sepia-tone.
But the chance of Atlantis? The Emerald City? She'll take it. The thought of not going is grotesque.
Sinful, in every sense of the word.
For Elizabeth, the road to Atlantis isn't made of wormholes or yellow bricks but stacks upon stacks of forms. Confidentiality agreements, requisitions, personnel forms, medical waivers, this and that from the scientists, this and that from the marines. She has nightmares where she walks the paper-road bloody.
Once she's actually on Atlantis, of course, they don't use paper. It's in far too short a supply, in some instances more valuable than food. She's seen two scientists trade slaps over post-it notes. Instead of copier-warm paper, then, she has a laptop, and every morning when she wakes up at 0600 hours the email count in her inbox rises faster than the sun - spinning into the hundreds with relative ease.
Everyone wants something from her. Or, well, no. Maybe not. Correction: everyone wants something, and her signature is the only way to get it.
Beating the sleep out of her brain, she picks up her electronic pen and writes, over and over: Elizabeth Weir. Elizabeth Weir. Elizabeth Weir.
Movie night ended hours ago, but Elizabeth's still walking the Mess Hall balcony as if it were a Widow's Walk, back and forth, narrow and narrower. Action imitating life. She can't recall why she came out here, instead of just wandering safe inside the halls, and then she remembers - she wanted to see the stars.
"Hey," John says, coming up from behind her. She's much too tired to startle, but waves him over.
It's been a week since she fell out of her nanite coma, and things are going pretty well. She's stopped being afraid to sleep for fear her return to Atlantis was all a dream, and by tomorrow she'll probably stop flinching at the sight of white coats and frosted windows. Rodney, for once, has been a blessing; she can't imagine any robots replicating that level of scorn and obliviousness.
"Hey," she says.
"Sleeping well?" John asks. He's painfully bad at small talk, especially with those he likes, mostly because he can't amuse himself by insulting them.
"Most of the time," she admits.
Obviously, not tonight, but they won't talk about that. If they did John might be expected to volunteer the reason for his insomnia.
"That's good," he says.
"You?" she asks.
"Why wouldn't I?" he asks, turning on the charm, and then a moment later says: "Don't answer that."
She laughs. They fall silent, elbows on the railing; unconsciously mirroring each others' posture. There doesn't seem to be anything more to say.
Miles out to sea, the storm is picking up, clouds spinning over the horizon, and from this distance, it looks a little bit like a tornado.