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Author's Chapter Notes: Reality


Sheppard had been there when she had woken up again. He'd summoned Carter and both had relayed their stories, Elizabeth with her brief moments amongst the Replicators, and Sam with her story of the aliens who saw time as distance and distance as time. She explained, as best she could, that Elizabeth herself was a copy with her original mind inside.

It made sense to everyone over the next few days. At first she had complications with her sight, with focussing, her hearing, then her co-ordination. Each problem had cleared up in a matter of hours but Keller had had a theory.

'It's like you're newborn. The body you're in is fully grown and mature but it never had to do anything. It needed to learn to focus properly, to hear a range of sounds, to co-ordinate all your limbs.... You're probably lightweight when it comes to alcohol too,' Keller had grinned. 'No trying to drink anyone under the table and I want you to attend regular physio sessions each week, we'll also test your range of motor skills. You should be in peak condition in short order, but let's make sure nothing goes wrong in the meantime.'

Elizabeth nodded. 'Thank you, Dr Keller. When can I leave here?'

'Oh, I think you can go back to your quarters today. But you're not cleared for duty yet. Take some time to catch up with everyone and everything you've missed. And I'm scheduling you a course of meetings with Heightmeyer, this is quite the culture shock, Dr Weir, don't rush yourself.'

Weir nodded, slipping off the gurney where she had been sat. Sheppard stood nearby and almost reached out when she nearly failed to catch herself in time. 'I'm okay,' she murmured, wavinghim off. She stood straight, turning to face him. 'So, Colonel, do I still have quarters aboard Atlantis, even if I don't have a duty anymore,' she added quietly.

'Hey, don't worry about that now. Carter's working on that. The Airforce would be daft not to jump at the chance of having you back, I know I did.' He froze for a moment, then skipped on rapidly. 'I mean, Rodney, Teyla... everyone really, they missed you.'

'And you, John?' she asked lightly, falling into step beside him as they left the infirmary.

'Me? Well, I need to apologise.'

'For what?' She sounded suprised.

'For leaving you behind. For always leaving you behind, every day.' He felt guilty, it wasn't a guess, it was written all over his face.

'I ordered you to go, John. Atlantis needed you, to defend her and her crew. If coming back for me meant losing this place, and these people, it was too high a price to pay. You did the right thing.'

'Then tell me something. Were you scared?' It was a direct question and althought she squirmed a little under the interrogation, she knew she couldn't lie to him.

'I was terrified,' she admitted. 'I knew what they could do to me. I knew what Oberon would do to me; he was far more vindictive, more vengeful, than any of the others. Now I'll never know what they intended, although there's a version of me, caught somwhere in time, living it. I'm a copy after all.'

'No you're not!' His reply was quick and vehement. 'They took your mind, Liz'beth, they took who you were and left the copy behind. The Elizabeth back then jumped to the here and now. That's you. Anything else is a shadow.'

She smiled, kind of and he turned their steps deliberately away from the direction of the crew quarters, leading her up the stairs, past Gate control and through Carter's office. When she tried to object, he caught her hand and pulled her through, ignoring the stares that came their way. When they stepped out on the balcony outside her old office and the morning sun blazed on the waves below, the blue waves crashing against the piers and the walls of Atlantis, Elizabeth let go and stepped towards the railing all by herself.

Staring out at the view, the colours and glittering towers of the city, Elizabeth almost laughed, catching her breath in her throat. 'It's beautiful,' she whispered. 'I think I wantd to forget how much. Knowing they had me, that I would never see this again, and then in the infirmary, I didn't want to look outside, I didn't want to remember because I didn't believe-' she paused, unwilling to voice the fear.

'You didn't believe you were real?' John came back up behind her, laying one hand over hers on the rail and grasping her fingers with his. 'This is real Elizabeth. The sun, the sky, the waves, Atlantis.... me.... and you.'

She looked up, locking her eyes on his and for a few moments they simply stared at each other, the events of the past week suspended. He broke away first, jumping straight into the safest conversation he could find. 'Uh, Carter's left a laptop and pile of papers in your quarters so you can catch up on current events. Teyla wants to get the team together for dinner in her quarters, she wants to introduce you to Torren.'

'Her son?'

He nodded, grinning, he loved that little lad. 'He's a wily bundle of trouble.' He sobered up for a moment, staring with a far away look in his eyes. 'We nearly lost them both.'

Eliabeth nodded. 'I've heard some of the highlights, John.' She turned her hand over and squeezed his fingers gently. He looked down in suprise, not even realising he was still holding her hand. 'They're safe now, you did a great job.'

'I would have done it better with you around.' It was impulsive and he shook his head, turning back towards the city, letting go of her fingers. 'I'll show you to your quarters.'

She knew the way, but it didn't matter. They walked the rest of the way with silence between them. Not that it mattered, they were stopped every few yards by another member of the expedition, wishing Weir all the best, saying how glad they were she was back and congratulating Sheppard on behalf of himself, Carter and McKay, for finding her. Sheppard managed to nod and smile, but his inner mood seemed to grow grimmer with each congratulation.

When they finally reached her door, she turned on him. 'What wrong, Colonel?'

Sheppard shrugged one shoulder, refusing to meet her eyes, the bleak look on his face disturbing.

'John!'

He looked up at that, frowning, but it was more directed at himself than her. 'I don't deserve to be thanked for rescuing you, Lis'beth. I should've come after you a long time ago.'

'Didn't we cover this?'

'It's not good enough.'

'It has to be, because it's all we've got.' She tilted her head to one side, that serious smile on her face as she looked him in the eyes. 'I'm going to trust you, John, when you say I'm real. I'm going to let the doubt go and believe you. Now the question is, do you trust me?'

He watched her for several long minutes, rocking slightly on the balls of his feet. Finally he ran a hand though already wild black hair and nodded, letting out his breath with a sigh. 'I trust you.' He nodded again, 'I trust you.'

Her smile was like the sun. 'Good. Then tell Teyla we'll be at her quarters for dinner tonight. I think we could use a little RnR after this past week. Apparently, I've got some reading to catch up on, so I'll see you later?'

'I'll come by at seven, escort you to Teyla's, she's in new quarters with her family now.'

She nodded, waving her hand over the sensors to open the door and stepped inside, he walked away, heading back to the Gateroom. Behind him he heard her call out and turned briefly.

'John?'

'Yeah?'

'Thank you, for coming after me.'

'It was Carter really-'

She shook her head, interrupting him. 'I know she contacted them, but she told me it was because of you. You never gave up, John. That means a great deal to me.'

She was always more eloquent than he was because all he could think of to do was nod and then she disappeared as the door slid shut.


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