- stargate: atlantis
- mike/elizabeth, john/elizabeth
- spoilers for season three, the real world (3.06) through season four lifeline (4.02), and this mortal coil (4.10).
- infinite thanks and love to antiqueskies. without her, this would be unreadable. ...well. actually it wouldn't exist in the first place, but it would also be unreadable.
He doesn't let himself hesitate, just steps into the room and knocks lightly on the door frame.
She looks up, a polite smile already in place.
'Hi,' she says, stares at him. Her eyes are bloodshot.
He waits for recognition. There's a long pause, then she blinks; her expression falters - but barely - and she gives him a nod. 'Dr. Branton. Sorry,' she says, sincere but distracted. 'I've had a lot of people through here today.' She ducks her head for a moment, eyes scanning over the document in front of her.
He frowns, tries not to shift. 'Mike,' he says finally.
She looks up. 'Excuse me?'
'Are you okay?'
She smiles again and tilts her head, but doesn't put down her pen. 'Fine, thank you. Yourself?'
He doesn't understand - her fake smile, her calm demeanor, her red eyes. 'I'm good,' he says carefully.
'Good,' she says, then goes back to her work.
He waits. Considers. He's about to leave when she looks up again and meets his gaze. 'Is there something I can do for you?'
He shakes his head. 'No, I was just - I wanted to offer my condolences.'
There are two lines of confusion on her face. He thinks - suddenly and irrationally - about kissing them away. 'Condolences?'
He immediately regrets it. What little color was left in her face drains away and she looks so, so tired.
'Of course,' she says, and he can tell she's about to say "thank you", about to wave off his concern - pin it as a loss to the team and to the expedition, not to her. He waits, but she just stares at him, lips slightly parted. He takes a step forward just as the technician appears in the doorway.
'Dr. Weir, Dr. McKay needs to speak with you - he says it's urgent.'
She's on her feet before he finishes the sentance, relief settling in momentarily. 'Thank you, Chuck.'
He nods and disappears.
She turns back to Mike. 'Can this wait until later?' she asks - not unkindly, but he knows it isn't really a question.
'Thank you. Excuse me.' As she slips passed him he thinks about grabbing her arm, about holding her just for a few seconds. But he knows it isn't what she wants, so he puts his hands on his hips instead and watches her until she disappears.
The first time he meets her she's sitting across the table asking him questions about his experiences with Ancient technology. She's wearing a steel-blue shirt and a black jacket and he tries not to think about how the contrast brings out her eyes.
It's the last round of interviews - he's been through half a dozen already, several screening processes and confidentiality seminars and an extensive physical fitness program designed by the military. He's smart, qualified, and he looks good, so when she tells him she'll be in touch - doesn't offer him the job - he's more than surprised.
She folds her hands over his file. 'It's a formality, Dr. Branton,' she says when he starts to protest.
He flashes her a grin. 'So I'm in, then?'
She tilts her head to the side, gives nothing away. 'We'll be in touch.'
'City never sleeps, huh?'
When she looks up he's standing in front of her desk with two large mugs and a smile on his face. There's a stack of papers tucked under his arm and he smirks as she eyes them suspiciously.
'Mike,' he says firmly. He gives her a look.
'Mike,' she concedes.
He sets one cup down on the desk. 'Coffee.'
'Thank you,' she nods, but doesn't reach for it. He sits in the chair across from her, places the papers on the edge of the desk. 'Is there something-'
'Nope,' he says and takes a drink from his cup. 'Just thought I'd keep you company.'
'That's very nice, but I have-'
He holds up his hands in surrender. 'I won't distract you. Brought my own work and everything.'
He gestures to the papers and grins.
She stares at him for a long moment, then reaches for her coffee. 'Shouldn't you be getting some sleep?'
He gives a one-shoulder shrug. 'I'm a night owl.'
Her eyebrow goes up and he laughs, then taps the top of her computer. 'Back to work, Dr. Weir.'
The second time they meet she's standing in the conference room at SGC, flanked by two stoic marines. General O'Neill is on her left and General Landry is off in the corner, talking quietly to a man in fatigues.
'Dr. Branton,' she acknowledges.
'Dr. Weir,' he returns.
She smiles, amused and teasing. 'Since you seemed so confident during our last meeting, I'll dispense with the speech.' She holds out her hand. 'Welcome to the Atlantis Expedition, Doctor.'
He thinks about being cheeky - about asking what makes her so sure he'll accept, about taunting her just a little. He's met other applicants excited about the mission; thrilled at the idea of going off-world, of discovering a new place and new people and the chance to maybe, just maybe, live in the City of the Ancients. But there's something about her - her eyes, her stance, the way she speaks - and he knows this isn't just a project she's been put in charge of, isn't just an opportunity. He doesn't know what it means to her, but he decides he'd like to find out.
He takes her hand. 'Glad to be on board.'
He corners her in the hallway three days later.
'You barely eat, you don't sleep - I'm worried,' he says.
'It's not really your concern-'
'I'm making it my concern.'
'I don't need a babysitter,' she snaps.
'You need somebody,' he returns. She glares, opens her mouth to protest and he sighs, makes a gesture as if to take it back. 'Look, don't...don't take this the wrong way, but...you look like you could use a friend right now.'
She folds her arms across her chest and gives him a disbelieving stare. 'A friend,' she says flatly.
'I know you're all 'When Harry Met Sally' about men and women being friends, but-'
She steals a glance up and down the corridor and lowers her voice. 'The last time we had this conversation I was under the impression that you wanted more than that.'
Her directness throws him for a second, then he shrugs.
'How about we forget that conversation. Clean slate.'
'I'm serious. None of this 'is lunch really lunch' business. In fact, we don't even have to have lunch. We can have breakfast. It's a much less controversial meal, don't you think?'
He knows the charm doesn't really work on her, isn't what she's after, but it makes her smile and that's good enough for him. It fades after a moment and she looks away, stares absently over his shoulder. There's a long pause before she meets his gaze.
'I... appreciate what you're trying to do,' she says slowly, and he knows she's parsing her words. 'But I'm really not in a good place to-'
'I know,' he interrupts, gentle but firm. 'That's why you need a friend.'
The first two years he's so distracted with work and not getting killed that he barely thinks about the woman who got him into this mess. He sees her in the halls sometimes, in meetings his boss forces him to go to. Sometimes he catches sight of her on the balcony near the 'Gate room, usually alone or with the Colonel; he wonders when it became an unspoken rule that no one else goes out there, then decides it doesn't matter - she probably deserves the refuge.
The silence is thick. He's been trying not to ask, not to pry, but she isn't volunteering anything, not even a glance.
He clears his throat hesitantly. 'I heard there was a Wraith aboard the drilling station.' Her eyes snap to him so sharply that it makes him wince. 'Is everyone okay?'
'Where did you hear that?'
'Small city,' he offers. 'Word travels fast.'
She nods slowly, her initial suspicion giving way to something heavier. There's a long pause.
'We lost two men,' she murmurs, and he imagines she knows everything: name, rank, who they left behind.
'I'm sorry,' he says, because there's nothing else.
Her voice is too quiet: 'So am I.'
Mike's fingers twitch against her desk and it's everything he can do to keep from lurching to his feet. He's so uncomfortable, so awkward not knowing what to say or do. He doubts she notices. Her eyes are downcast, focused on the chain of an old, silver pocket watch.
He waits until he can't take it anymore, then stands abruptly. The scrape of his chair seems to jostle her out of her thoughts, and she looks up at him with just a hint of surprise.
'What d'you say we get out of here for a bit? Grab a snack, take a walk - whatever.'
She flashes him that ever-polite smile and shakes her head, places her hand over the watch and pushes it behind a strange, brown pot she's had for years. 'No, thank you,' she replies. 'I'd like to finish these reports before-'
'C'mon,' he urges. 'Ten minutes.'
'Mike-' It's a warning and a plea all at once.
Her voice turns firm. 'Some other time, maybe.'
'You know, even the boss needs a break every now and then.'
Something snaps. 'The last time I took a break I lost eight civilians and my chief of medicine, so you'll have to forgive me if I'm not inclined to take any more breaks for a while.'
Mike freezes, stares down at her. 'You can't possibly believe that what happened was your fault.' The look she gives him says otherwise. 'You were nowhere near-'
'Exactly. An explosion happened, in my city, and I didn't even hear the damned thing go off.'
'And if you had?' he counters, tries not to sound angry or frustrated and fails. 'If you'd been there when it happened you think something would have been different? Dr. Beckett still would have performed that surgery, you know that-'
'It doesn't matter-'
'Of course it matters!'
'I chose him!' she says suddenly, her voice high and hard and he wonders if people are listening in, if they know. Her voice is so bitter, so angry. 'I begged him to come on this expedition and now he's dead.'
Mike sighs, deflates. 'You didn't force him, Elizabeth. You didn't hold a gun to his head and make him come. He wanted to.' He shakes his head. 'We all knew the risks. We all knew there'd be a price.'
'Maybe that price is too high,' she murmurs, and it's the first time he's ever heard her regret. 'Maybe I...' Her voice catches and she looks away.
Before he knows what he's doing he's beside her, crouched on the balls of his feet, his hand resting on top of hers.
'Hey.' He squeezes her hand until she looks at him. 'It's gonna be okay.'
Her breath is harsh, but steady. 'Yeah,' she agrees, but he wonders if she means it. He steps back when she pulls away. 'I'm gonna finish these reports,' she says, already half-buried in her work.
Mike nods and gathers his things. She doesn't look up when he leaves.
When the Wraith lay siege to the City, he's pretty sure they're all gonna die.
When they don't - when they win, sort of - he decides that drinking himself into a celebratory stupor with the other 95% of the population isn't a bad idea at all.
Which is how he finds himself stumbling through the hallways at two a.m., passing others who are in just the same condition or worse, looking for his quarters. He finds the command room instead, decides that fresh air is good and balance is good and that looking down over the edge is bad. He turns around a bit too quickly and finally notices the outline of a person sitting against the wall, out of sight of the windows.
It takes him several long blinks to realize what he's seeing. It's his boss - his boss's boss - practically in the lap of the leading military commander. At least, that's who he thinks it is. It's dark and his head is fuzzy and he's still ridiculously happy for no reason other than the fact that they're all not dead.
The Colonel looks slightly stunned and slightly embarrassed, but he doesn't move. What looks like his jacket is draped over Elizabeth's shoulders and he has his hand in her hair, fingers running gently through her curls. Her head is on his thigh and she has one arm thrown over his legs, her hand on his knee.
Even in her sleep she looks exhausted. They both do.
In a moment of sobriety, Mike nods. Despite his drunken state, he knows this isn't gossip for the rumor mill, isn't easy conversation. It probably won't even be something he remembers the next morning. Sheppard returns the gesture and Mike heads for the door, trying not to trip over his own feet.
He's halfway down the hall when one of his co-workers stumbles into him, and they're both easily convinced that more Athosian beer is an excellent plan.
When he wakes up the next morning he almost wishes the Wraith had won.
He doesn't bother to mask his surprise when she shows up at his door.
'Hi,' she says. He barely recognizes her with all the nervous energy.
She inhales sharply. 'Are you busy?'
He leans against the doorjam, smirks. 'If I say 'no' will I get in trouble with the boss?'
She offers a slight smile in return. 'She's off-duty for the evening, so I think you're probably safe.'
Mike blinks in surprise, but he's already grinning. 'Off-duty, huh?'
'Well. Barring any unforeseen disasters.'
He pretends to consider it. 'I can't say I like my odds, but I'll take 'em.' He steps back into the room, grabs a jacket off the hook and steps outside. 'Besides,' he says, leaning in closer than necessary. 'I've heard there's this crazy lady here who doesn't like Annie Hall.' He raises his eyebrows. 'Think we should convert her?'
She almost laughs. 'I think you can try.'
He's in the 'Gate room when there's a shout, commotion coming from her office. He looks up - one of the technicians leaves his post and runs toward her office and he can hear Dr. McKay yelling frantically. Colonel Sheppard comes tearing around the corner and a few moments later Dr. Beckett and a medical crew are kicking everyone out into the hallway.
They rush her away on a stretcher, and after that no one hears a word.
She's sick - that much they know - and the Colonel gives a perfunctory speech over the intercom about having nothing to worry about; but security is tighter than usual around the infirmary, no one allowed in or out except for the doctors and Colonel Sheppard's team.
'Maybe she was poisoned,' someone says.
'I heard she was in isolation.'
'Do you think it's contagious?'
'What other reason would they have to quarantine her? And why all the secrecy?'
One of the scientists sighs dramatically. 'This better not be permanent. If the military takes over, you know they'll never-'
Mike slams his hand down on the consol. 'Shut up, Derrek. And show some goddamned respect.'
She falls asleep in the middle of the film, curled into the sofa with her head against the arm. Mike lowers the volume, carefully rises and retrieves the blanket from the back of the room. She stirs when he drapes it over her shoulders.
'John?' she mumbles, eyes still closed.
Mike freezes and stares down at her dumbly. He waits, but she says nothing else - just wraps her fingers around the edge of the blanket and settles further into the corner. He smiles sadly.
He runs into her at a grocery store a few miles from Cheyenne Mountain. He admits, only to himself, that she looks terrible - pale skin and sunken eyes and he wonders if she's been eating anything at all. She returns his small talk politely but he can tell she doesn't want to be there, doesn't want to be seen. She looks lost.
When he sees her again a few weeks later, frowning at the menu in a Chinese restaurant, she's more recognizable. She smiles at him, brighter this time; she asks how he's doing, where he's working, if he's spent any time with his brother. He has no idea how she remembers all that - names and dates and histories of every member of the expedition. He's halfway through answering her when someone appears at her side.
'Got us a table,' the man says with a child-like pride. She gives him a look for interrupting, but doesn't ask Mike to continue.
'John, this is Dr. Branton. He was one of our research scientists working with Dr. Enesto's team.'
John holds out his hand. 'Good to meet you,' he says. Mike nods.
Elizabeth gracefully backs her way out of the conversation, tells him to say hello to his family and to call if he needs a reference. He accepts the dismissal, heads back to his table of friends. When he looks after them, Mike tries not to notice how close she and the Colonel are standing, or his hand at the base of her spine.
She holds him back after a meeting, arranges and rearranges papers until everyone has filed out. He wonders if he should be angry, if he should feel like she's leading him on, lying to him. The thought all but vanishes when she looks up at him and takes a deep breath.
'Thank you,' she says quietly. 'For yesterday.'
He wants to ask her, wants to know if this is going anywhere - if she's in love with someone else. But she looks a little better, he notices. Less tired. Less worn. So he nods. 'No problem.'
She gives him an awkward smile, stares at him like she's run out of things to say. He wonders if she remembers, was even aware; he feels his chest tighten.
'Mike,' she calls just before he can escape. He turns back and realizes too late that there must be something on his face, something she can read he wasn't aware he was projecting. Her face falls and her spine straightens as she slips back into her role as the City's leader, as his boss. 'Good job on those reports.'
He wonders if he's just unwittingly rebuilt every defense he'd been trying to deconstruct.
He knows it's a bad idea. Knows from the start all the humiliating ways this could end and decides he doesn't care. Armed with a warm smile and a bad excuse - he realizes, belatedly, that he left his "research" in his room anyway - he steps into her office.
The next time he sees her they're both in the infirmary. He's impatiently waiting for a nurse to stitch up his arm and she's surrounded by machines and doctors and gauze. He watches out of the corner of his eye, watches Dr. McKay converse almost fanatically with Dr. Keller, watches Colonel Sheppard's reaction as he sees her face on the monitor.
Then the nurse comes back and there are tests and bandages and he's distracted for a while. He's waiting for the Tylenol to kick in when he hears shouting.
'What did you do?' He doesn't hear the answer, only the Colonel's angry response. The next is muffled, then,
'She'd sure as hell do the same for you!'
He's barely to the door when a nurse steps in his path. 'I'm sorry, sir, you can't go in there.'
'Is that Elizabeth? What happened?'
She tries to usher him back to the bed. 'I'm sorry, sir, you need to step back.' He looks over her shoulder, looks at the Colonel and the scientist stop suddenly and head for the room; he sees Sheppard put his hand on his gun.
'Sir,' the nurse stresses. 'You need to sit down.'
Mike nods reluctantly, goes back to the bed. He sits on the edge and waits. He watches the Athosian woman return with a stack of clothes, watches her leave, watches the Colonel and his team strap on tak-vests and check their guns. He watches the Satedan - Dex, he thinks - pace along the wall with a scowl on his face. Then the door opens and she's standing there in all black with her chin held high and he doesn't understand.
He doesn't realize he's called her name until she looks up, startled.
'Mike.' She doesn't move, but he can see the concern, the way her eyes dart to his arm. 'Are you alright?'
He nods, steps forward. 'The wall won this time, but otherwise I'm fine.'
'Elizabeth.' Sheppard. He's waiting. She looks at him and nods, holds up her hand and turns back to Mike.
'You're sure you're alright?'
'Weren't you just in surgery?' he asks in a rush. 'And I don't mean that like, you had surgery a week ago; I mean you were just in surgery.'
She swallows tightly. 'I-' But there is no explanation she can give him.
'What the hell-'
'It's complicated,' she says, glancing between him and the team. The Colonel looks frustrated, impatient, and scared. 'I don't have time to explain.'
Sheppard calls her name again, louder and more forceful. Mike glares at him, but Elizabeth just looks tense.
'I have to go.'
'Go where?' he demands. 'What's going on? Elizabeth-' When he reaches for her arm, she pulls back so violently she nearly collides with the wall behind her.
'Don't touch me.' She takes a deep, shaky breath. 'I'm sorry. It's not - you can't touch me.'
'What are you-'
But she shakes her head and starts moving toward the door. 'I don't have time. I have to go.'
'Elizabeth-' He doesn't care if he sounds like he's begging.
When he kisses her, he realizes she's shaking - so imperceptibly he hadn't noticed it before, but under his hands her skin is cold and her lips are quivering and he runs the pads of his thumbs across her cheeks, wishes he could do more. She steps back, looks up at him with wide eyes. 'You shouldn't have done that,' she whispers.
He shakes his head firmly. 'I'm not sorry.'
Mike looks from her to the Colonel and back. 'We'll talk later?'
Distracted: 'Sure. Yes.'
He tries to kiss her again, but she steps away. He settles for a sad smile. 'Be safe.'
She nods. Sheppard's gone and she's halfway out the door when she stops.
'Mike.' He turns, waits. 'Annie Hall,' she says.
He frowns. 'What about it?'
'Vastly superior to When Harry Met Sally.'
'Told you I could change your mind,' he says, then quickly adds, 'So men and women can be friends?'
She tries to smile, but he can tell it's forced. 'Not a chance.'
Their non-date goes better than he'd hoped, up until the end. She's fun and fiery and doesn't seem to mind his blatant flirting.
He doesn't plan on kissing her. It's not part of his "agenda" - not that he had much of one to begin with - and he's almost as surprised as she is. He's not surprised she tastes like coffee and chapstick and he nearly has to sit on his hands to avoid running them through her hair, across her cheek.
The look on her face when she pulls away makes his breath catch. 'I can't do this,' she murmurs, and even though he protests, he knows it's over.
He's trying to fix a generator in the biolab when the intercom beeps. There's static, silence, then a deep, dull voice.
'This is Colonel Sheppard. Landing was successful. We'll figure out where we are, then work on contacting Earth. We should be safe here for a while.' There's a long pause. The speakers crackle and Mike catches another scientist's eye over the table. 'Dr. Weir is no longer with us,' the Colonel says suddenly. The air goes out of the room. 'She-' he starts, then there's a pause. His voice is flat and harsh: 'I'll be in charge for the time being. There'll be a city-wide briefing available by tomorrow. Take five, then get back to work.'
The speakers click. The silence is deafening.
'Dr. Weir?' he asks.
The technician nods to the balcony.
'Thanks,' Mike says, and starts toward the doors.
'She's with Colonel Sheppard.'
Mike stops and looks back at the tech. Chuck just shrugs, gives him a 'what do you expect' look and goes back to his computer.
Mike sighs and rubs a hand over the back of his neck. He wants to apologize - for what exactly he isn't sure, but he feels like he owes her, feels like her guilt is in some way his fault. He wants to make it up to her, but he can't seem to get near her.
'Are they-' he starts. Chuck looks up, follows Mike's wave toward the balcony. It's late - graveyard shift - and the dim lights aren't enough to see through the thick windows to the outside.
Chuck shrugs. 'See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,' he says, then his gaze softens. 'Besides,' he murmurs, too low for any of the other technicians to hear. 'She could use a friend.'
Mike catches up to him in the hall on the way to the control room. 'Colonel Sheppard!'
'I don't have time,' he snaps.
Mike steps in front of him suddenly. 'Where's Elizabeth?'
'Get out of my way.'
'Not until you tell me what happened.'
Sheppard's eyes narrow dangerously and Mike wonders whether it has less to do with the interruption and more to do with the kiss. 'Who the hell are you?'
'I'm Mike Branton. I'm a friend of Elizabeth's.'
There's a brief flash of recognition in his eyes, then the Colonel shoves passed him. 'You'll read all about it in the next city-wide briefing.'
There must be something in his voice, some kind of tremor or terror or desperation because Sheppard stops, turns around. His shoulders are tight and his eyes are dark, and Mike has no doubt how much damage he could do if he wanted.
'What happened?' he asks - pleads.
Sheppard's voice softens, but his eyes don't change. 'She was captured by Replicators during the mission.'
Mike tries to inhale but there's no air. 'What? How-'
'She sacrificed herself so the rest of us could get away. So Atlantis could be saved.'
Shock and anger: 'You left her there?'
'We had no choice,' he says, and though his jaw is set and his tone is firm he looks like he's about to fall apart.
'Colonel-' Mike starts.
Sheppard's tone is flat: 'You'll read all about it in the city-wide briefing.'
'Are you leaving Atlantis?'
Her head shoots up and she fixes him with a stern glare.
'Where did you hear that?'
'Is it true?'
She exhales sharply and leans back in her chair. 'No,' she says after a moment.
' "No" it's not true?'
'If our leader is about to jump ship, I think we have a right to know.'
'I'm not about to 'jump' anything,' she says sharply.
Mike raises his eyebrows and doesn't even bother keeping the smirk off his face. Elizabeth rolls her eyes, gives an exasperated sigh. His smirk turns into a grin and her sigh into a quiet laugh, and she shakes her head; smiles at him ruefully. 'You know what I meant.'
'I think I like the double entendre better.'
'Cheeky,' she returns, but her smile is fading and the worry lines return. She's quiet a moment, then says, 'I can't stay here if I'm not doing any good.'
'You've done more for this expedition than anyone.'
'Maybe,' she murmurs. 'Or maybe I've done all I can.'
He doesn't mean to sound so resentful: 'Then you are leaving.'
'I'm...considering it. No decisions have been made.' She holds his gaze firmly. 'Trust me. If I do decide to leave, Atlantis will be the first to know. Besides,' she smirks, 'I'm sure the scientists will want to interrogate all the potential replacements and that's a week's worth of paperwork at least.'
Mike nods slowly, waits in the silence. Eventually she sits straight, picks up her pen. 'I should get back to work.' She hesitates, then adds, 'Don't tell anyone about this conversation. Please.'
It's not an order - it's a request, and he's quickly finding it difficult to deny her much of anything. So he nods, turns to leave. At the door he stops and looks back over his shoulder.
'You do more for this City than file paperwork, Elizabeth,' he says, catching her eyes when she looks up. 'I hope you know that.'
He hears rumors of the doppelgänger-Elizabeth, but decides he won't believe it unless he sees it. A few days later the Colonel makes another painfully awkward speech over the intercom.
He doesn't say how. Or when or why or who. Just dead.
Mike tries to concentrate on his work but all he can hear is the crackle of the speakers; echoes of the Colonel's speech.
He starts; looks up. The Athosian woman is standing in front of him calmly. 'Hi,' he mutters and tries to remember what it is he's supposed to be doing.
She nods back in greeting. 'I am Teyla-'
'I know,' he says, a bit too sharply.
'Am I bothering you?'
He takes a deep breath, settles. 'Nope. What can I do for you?'
'I wanted to offer my sympathies,' she says softly. 'I know you were a good friend of Elizabeth's as well.'
He blinks; remembers the afternoon in her office after Beckett's death.
'Yeah,' he says finally. Doesn't know what else to add.
Teyla steps closer and stands near the edge of the desk. 'Colonel Sheppard has authorized the return of Dr. Weir's personal items to Earth,' she begins. Her voice is low and soothing. 'Several of us have decided to keep small reminders of Elizabeth's presence in our lives. Her importance.' Teyla holds out a large book. 'I believe she would want you to have something as well.'
Mike frowns and takes the book. "Love, Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life. The Films of Woody Allen,' he reads quietly. He flips through the pages and finds some marked, some dog-eared. 'She lied to me,' he murmurs. Teyla shifts, tilts her head in question. 'The first time we had lunch she told me she liked When Harry Met Sally better than Annie Hall. Let me think I convinced her otherwise.' He smiles, barely. 'I should have known.'
He's pretty sure she still doesn't understand, but to her credit she doesn't ask - simply touches his arm briefly.
'You were a good friend to Elizabeth, and for that you are a good friend of mine. Should you need anything...'
She nods again, starts to leave.
She stops near the door. 'Yes, Dr. Branton?'
He traces the title of the book, the creased and cracked spine. He can't bring himself to look at her. 'Did she really die to save this City?'
Teyla's voice is soft and honest. 'Do you have any doubt?'
He takes a deep breath. 'No,' he murmurs.
'Then why ask the question?' she asks gently.
Cafeteria sandwiches and the few nights he spent in her office and black coffee and a blanket and Mike swallows tightly.
'I never really got to know her.' He sighs, flashes Teyla a helpless look. 'I really wanted to get to know her.'
There's a pause, a long moment where he can feel the grief, hers and his and the room seems so small. He imagines her in a cell, battered and bruised and he slams his eyes shut, quickly replaces the unwanted image with her smile - nervous and warm.
Teyla breaks the silence. 'Perhaps,' she starts, then hesitates.
He looks up. 'What?'
She steps closer to him again. 'Knowing the time and place of death is a rare thing among my people,' she says, her tone almost reverent. 'Because of that, we often assign days in which to mourn our lost. Next week will mark the six month anniversary of Elizabeth's capture by the Replicators.'
'You chose that day to mark her death?'
He can see the pain on her face, the guilt. 'I prefer to believe that she did not suffer at their hands.' She stalls, then adds gravely, 'It is a lie. I know that, but I...' she trails off, struggles for words just out of reach.
'It's comforting,' he finishes softly.
'Yes, it is.' She waits a moment then looks up, catches his gaze. 'There is a ritual - candles, tea, a few prayers. I would be honored if you would join me.'
She smiles. 'Good.'
He stops her again just before she leaves, then hesitates. It's a line he said he wouldn't cross. He knows he shouldn't, but he has to know. 'Did she love him?'
'Who?' He can hear the false innocence in her voice. Teyla sighs and looks away. 'Does it matter anymore?' she asks, and he wonders suddenly if she's grieving for two people, not just one.
'No. I guess it doesn't.'
He's quiet for a moment. Lost opportunities and too many unknowns come to mind as he stares at the cover of the book. But there's something else, some kind of cold comfort he draws from the weight in his hands, and he almost smiles. 'On the other hand,' he murmurs, 'maybe the poets are right.'
Standing near a window on a lower level, he watches with fear and awe as the City rises from the ocean. He watches the shield surround them, wonders how something so beautiful could be so dangerous. It's the last full thought he has before the City jolts - people screaming and alarms blaring and he's thrown against the nearest consol. The lights are red and his arm hurts like hell and there are people and equipment sprawled across the floor. Without knowing why, he has a gut feeling it can only get worse from here.