TITLE: "Company"

AUTHOR: Little Red

RATING: PG-13 for alcohol and mention of sex

CATEGORY: John/Elizabeth friendship and UST if you feel like it. Mention of Elizabeth/Simon.

SPOILERS: Nothing beyond the pilot. This is not based on any spoilers about future episodes.

SUMMARY: Coming home is hard to do.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: A.j. is responsible for psyching me up about these two daily, and beta'ing.


Apparently the Ancients hadn't perfected soundproofing, because the retching sounds coming from beyond the stall divider in the Atlantis public bathroom were unmistakable.

Great, Sheppard thought uncharitably, flicking the sensor-activated sanitizers on and off with one finger. What a waste of their rationed Earth alcohol.

They hadn't been rationing it all that strictly that night, but it was a special occasion. A welcome back to the Pegasus galaxy party, and a bad one. It felt more like a wake, and he'd been to better ones of those in his time. He wasn't even drunk.

A few minutes after the disgusting noises stopped, McKay staggered toward the Ancient version of a water fountain, shooting bleary-eyed daggers at Sheppard on the way. "I'm FINE," the scientist declared after rinsing out his mouth.

"You sure?" The sanitizers glowed green, and running his hand back and forth over the sensor fast enough gave the room a strobe-like effect. Heh.

McKay watched him for a moment before shielding his eyes and pointing vaguely at the door. "I'm going to bed."

He was speaking in complete sentences and seemed lucid enough, so Sheppard figured he was probably all right to pass out unattended without inviting death. "Drink something first."

"Yes, thank you, Major. I have been drunk before in my life, you know." He activated the door release with a great deal of focus, and stormed out as well as he could on shaky legs.

The door release blinked too -- that one in blue. It was only when he realized he was standing in a bathroom trying to make blinky Ancient lights flash in syncopation that Sheppard conceded that he might be a little drunk.

Alcohol really had been the only logical thing.

After sanitizing his hands for real, he returned to the straggly tail-end of their communal pity party. Not everyone had been in attendance, of course -- liquor wasn't a universal vice among the Atlantis crew -- but he was pretty sure that even those who had bowed out to do other things, or spend time alone, were engaging in their personal equivalents of drowning their sorrows. It wasn't that they were depressed to be back, not really. Or, not entirely.

After eight months in the Pegasus galaxy, the trip back to Earth had been all anyone could talk about for the two weeks between the time that they scored themselves a ZPM and their planned departure date. The mood in the 'gate-room of the SGC as they arrived was a mix of a number of things -- everyone had things to be nervous about after so long away -- but the energy was high and the excitement and relief was tangible.

One week later found most of them in the same room facing the other way. As a group they were so completely morose that General O'Neill had been eager to send them and their black cloud of doom out of the galaxy as quickly as possible.

He and Weir had been the first to step back through. "Let's go home," she'd said, and the sadness and resolve in her eyes had thrown him so badly, he hadn't been able to come up with a rejoinder until they were already in Atlantis.

He'd wanted to say something to her to let her know that he got it. He shared the feeling he saw in her face of being trapped between galaxies, between an Earth they no longer felt a part of and an Atlantis that was still strange and new and not quite theirs. Instead, he'd stepped out of the way of the incoming foot traffic behind him, tugged her elbow, and suggested that they could all use a drink after they got their new supplies put away.

There weren't too many people left in the control tower, which was serving as their temporary bar. It wasn't until he'd walked around the perimeter of the 'gate-room a few times that he realized two things: first, Elizabeth wasn't there, and second, he was looking for her. He'd ended up with two drinks in his hands, somehow. The captain and coke was for him, and the vodka tonic Dr. Grodin had mixed and handed to him must have been intended for Dr. Weir. He was pretty sure she didn't need another drink -- he sure didn't, now that he was admitting he was drunk -- but letting it go to waste completely would be even more of a crime than wasting alcohol on McKay.

By this time he'd circled around the room again and came back to Grodin. "You seen Doctor Weir around?"

Grodin looked either confused or plastered for a moment before shaking his head. "I haven't seen her in a while. I think she went to bed."

He looked down at the drink in his left hand. Since basic training -- and a night that he was sure would be even more mortifying if he could remember all of it -- he'd never been able to stomach vodka. "Do you want to drink this, then?"

Anna Zukhova, the Russian botanist who usually wasn't far from Grodin at social functions, spoke up in an accent much thicker than the one she sported when sober. "I saw her go out on the balcony. She probably wants to be alone."

Nah. Elizabeth was smarter than to try and be alone in a public space. "I bring alcohol," he pointed out, toasting Zukhova with Weir's drink and splashing only a little before heading off to find her.

He should have checked out here first. She liked the ocean. Even if she hadn't told him that he would have guessed it by the way she got distracted by the ocean swells whenever they were outside. He expected that she'd be leaning against one corner of the balcony or the other, hypnotized. Instead, she was flat on her back with her feet dangling over the edge.

She turned her head in his direction when the balcony doors opened, so he knew she was conscious. She didn't say anything.

"Are you all right?" He set her drink down near her and, even though it did kind of look like Zukhova was right and she didn't want company, was suddenly way too drunk or tired or bored to walk back into the room. He sat down with his back against the balcony railings and watched the silhouette of her chest rise and fall.

He didn't mean to be checking her out, or anything, but with the way the light fell, it was pretty much the only part of her he could see until his eyes adjusted.

"I'm not really good company tonight," she warned in a voice that was unusually soft.

Maybe not, but if he wasn't out here, he'd feel obliged to go check on McKay. "I guess it's all relative."

She didn't tell him outright to go away, and he was pretty sure she would if she really wanted him to, so he stayed. The heavy, salty air felt good in his lungs and on his skin. After a moment he followed her gaze up to the sky. Teyla and the Ethosian kids had made a game out of trying to pick new constellations out of the unfamiliar starscape, but he still didn't really notice any patterns. It had startled him, back on Earth, to see anything in the sky he recognized.

"I'm all right," Weir said, apparently out of the blue until he remembered that he'd asked her if she was almost five minutes earlier. "How's McKay?"

"Fine. Went to bed." He didn't know why he felt the need to make conversation, especially when she seemed so unusually reluctant to speak. He toyed with his drink for a minute, trying to think of something to say, and ended up going with the obvious. "It was pretty weird to go back."

She nodded, still not talking. He'd seen her tipsy enough times to come to believe that she would be a loud, flirtatious drunk, but apparently he was wrong. Not that any of them were really at their best. She had picked up her drink and had lifted her head enough to study the glass, but there was no way she'd be able to drink it like that without pouring it all over herself.

"I was surprised it was winter," he admitted. It had been early summer when they'd set out, and though he rationally knew that time was passing just as quickly back home as it was out here, the first icy blast of Colorado air had still come as a shock.

The vacation had pretty much gone downhill from there. It had been a bad week to descend on his baby sister unannounced and he hadn't stayed long. He had looked up a few friends, had fun visiting some old haunts, but felt strangely out of place.

He hadn't had a girlfriend when he shipped out to Atlantis -- being posted to Antarctica had really cut into his social calendar -- but there were a few women he'd kept in sporadic touch with, at least on leave. Of the three he'd tried to track down, one was married, one engaged, and the third didn't even answer his calls. He'd shacked up with a blonde in a bar who had been impressed that he was a real Air Force officer, but the whole thing felt even cheaper than the situation dictated. He hadn't really been looking for sex -- he could get that on any number of the Pegasus planets he frequented. He wanted a connection, a feeling of having come home, and it pissed him off that casual sex in a motel 6 really was the closest he could come to that.

But then, Weir had someone to go home to, and she didn't look any happier for it.

"Are you sure you're okay?"

"Just thinking," she assured him, setting her drink down and focusing back on the stars. "I broke up with Simon."

He never really knew what to say to something like that, especially in a case like this. They had been gone for eight months, after all. The longest he'd ever had a woman back home wait for him while he was off on deployment was a month and a half, and even then, he had a feeling it was only because she had been too busy with a new job to have entertained any other offers. "I'm sorry."

"He actually argued with me," she continued as though he hadn't said anything. "Even after I told him I couldn't stay on Earth. Even knowing how likely it is that we won't see each other again for years."

Sheppard was categorically bad at girl talk, and this conversation was getting dangerously close. "I'm sure you did the right thing," seemed like a pretty safe thing to say.

"I didn't want him to have to make the choice." Apparently changing her mind about the drink, Weir crawled up off the ground until she was sitting next to him, back to the ocean. "He's too patient for his own good. I didn't want him to have to decide when it became too long to wait. Or... maybe I didn't want to have to decide. I don't know." She took a gulp of her tonic and started in surprise. "This is strong."

"I didn't mix it. Grodin did."

She nodded, sniffed it, and took another sip. There was something strange about the way the light from tower reflected on her face, like she'd been crying. Maybe she still was. She didn't sound like it, but then, he'd never seen her cry before for any reason except physical pain.

She must have realized he was staring, because she looked right at him for the first time since he'd come out here.

"I love him." Her tired eyes seemed to look right into him, and his chest and throat felt unreasonably tight for an unexpected moment. "And I didn't even think twice."

"You did the right thing," he said, and though the words were the same, this time it didn't feel like a pat response. "You can't be worrying about him all the time while we're out here."

"I know. It's pretty lonely, though."

That was funny, really, since he was coming to realize that he was less lonely on Atlantis than he had been in years. Of the two of them, he'd been the more reluctant to leave Earth in the first place, but she had left a lot more behind.

"You wanna go watch a movie?" He asked, trying to remember where those had ended up in the big festival of unpacking that had taken place that afternoon. "General O'Neill sent a whole box."

She chuckled and rubbed her drink-free hand over her face. "Think there's something suitably depressing?"

"I'm sure we can find something." He got himself to standing without incident and extended a hand to help her up. Her fingers were cold in his from too long outside, and he held on to them a moment longer than it took for her to completely find her balance. "I'm not sure I trust General O'Neill's taste in movies, though."

"Well, it can be depressing in quality, then," she conceded seriously.

It was selfish, maybe, but he was glad her boyfriend hadn't been able to convince her to stay on Earth. She was too much a part of Atlantis to be able to successfully picture it without her.

Weir paused just outside the range of the door sensor and thoughtfully looked up at the outline of the control tower.

"It's not a bad place to call home," he pointed out.

"No, it isn't." She smiled. She still looked sad, and he had a feeling she was still thinking about Simon, but a smile was a smile.

"Movie?" His hand ended up on her shoulder, for his balance or hers, and he led her through the door as it opened. "I'll bet Grodin and Zukhova are still up. They love a bad movie."

"You collect the audience, I'll nuke the popcorn."

It wasn't really taking that long to settle back in, after all. It was good to be back.

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