There were no mirrors in Elizabeth Weir’s quarters – at least to the naked eye. Perhaps some suspected, Heightmeyer included, that she carried a small one in the pocket of her standard issue pants. When the wasted hours of reflection became too much, Elizabeth would walk out to the one of the piers and imagine that the warped image of her face in the water was only an effect of the rippling waves. Idle hands were said to be the devil’s workshop and, distastefully, she realised that she could find out if this was true, given the empty length of time she had to herself.
Maybe the next day, the next week, not long, they would finally ship her back to Earth. Staying on as the expedition leader in a limited capacity was a mere curtesy, not an encouragement. The military was winning their argument at last, it seemed. Elizabeth couldn’t begrudge Colonel Sheppard for the duty suddenly thrown on his shoulders, but neither could she stand the sympathy in his expression when the city was faced with a decision that once she would have made.
Dr Heightmeyer had probed if she was afraid of glass. Leaders could be afraid, the psychiatrist reasoned, even if they couldn’t show it – no one would think any less of her. But they already did. Elizabeth heard their whispered questions and saw how their eyes quickly averted from her face. So she learnt not to fear the glass that had exploded in front of her and marred her face, learnt to forget how the Asuran’s beam had been so bright to blind her for days.
They needed to think she was strong. No one follows a weak leader. If everyone else thought she was strong, Elizabeth supposed it didn’t matter if she was the only one who knew her strength had been sapped by her own reflection.
Her brave mask came at a price, pushing away Mike’s efforts to pry past her tough exterior. She didn’t want him to see how weak she really was and kept him away from the truth. Nice guys like him didn’t appear often, but like so many others in her life, he left without ever fully understanding her unspoken need for support without the pity that she hated.
The moody sunsets and cloud scarred sky was her quiet relief. Displays of light and colour…they didn’t care for her mangled features. Enough days in aimless wanderings along the piers revealed that she shared her solace with another. The first few times she saw him, Rodney McKay gave no sign of noticing her. He came at sunsets and stared into the horizon with a set brow. Sometimes he spoke aloud, as if addressing the waves as an old friend.
“Are you going to just stand there, Elizabeth,” he asked one evening, “or do you want to say something?”
Taken back by his sudden recognition, she considered the flight option offered to her by tensed muscles, but the open stare directed out to sea made no judgements. A breath passed her lips in relief. “I was wondering why you keep coming here.”
“I come here to talk to Carson sometimes,” Rodney explained patiently.
The tightening around his eyes was the only indication of how much the admission cost him. Elizabeth shifted uncomfortably at the vulnerability in her head scientist’s – no, John’s head scientist – hunched shoulders. She was intruding his solace, but she had no desire to return to her own dark reflections. Through lips numb with indecision, she found herself admitting, “I come here to stop thinking.”
“How’s that working for you?”
“It could work better.”
“Takes practice,” Rodney advised dryly, “and time. Lots…and lots of time.”
She glanced at the watch fastened to her wrist, sluggishly ticking just to spite her. “I always seem to have more than enough of that.”
His staunch expression softened, but not enough to make her uncomfortable. The sunset was forgotten as Rodney turned to gaze directly at her face, tapping his hands against the pockets of his pants. He suggested, deadpan, “You could do better things with your time than spy on me. Perhaps giving up a life of diplomacy and trading it in for something more useful…I hear the botany department has a spot open.”
Elizabeth shook her head, lips twitching into a smile. “Rodney.”
Three years ago, in the throes of optimistic diplomacy, she would never have spoken so bluntly, but it hardly seemed important anymore. She thought she imagined a slight widening of his blue eyes, although it could have been a reflection from the water even if the sun was sinking…Rodney shrugged. “But we both know you love me anyway.”
“Rodney, you know I said ‘we love you’…” she began the usual response, but caught herself in time, asking with exasperation, “You don’t let something like that go, do you?”
Rodney’s eyes glinted. “Why give up the opportunity, Lizbeth?”
“You haven’t said my name like that for a long time.”
Another shrug, but this one slid down hunched shoulders. “Times change, you know?”
“I never wanted them to,” Elizabeth pressed, inwardly appalled at how petulant she sounded, “We used to be closer. You once stood in front of a gun for me, but now…you didn’t see me at all when I was the infirmary.”
His forehead creased, but he recovered with some disdain, “Oh, well, with all my spare time between trying to find a place to land Atlantis and making sure we can still breathe…”
“You’re always doing that.”
“Doing what?” Rodney snapped irritably.
“Avoiding what really matters.”
“What would you prefer I say?”
“Anything,” she answered firmly, clenching the hem of her jacket in her fists. “An explanation.”
Rodney resumed scanning the horizon, nervously wandering hands finding comfort in being shoved into worn pockets. “I failed you.”
“I couldn’t stop you being hurt.”
Elizabeth forced an indignant cough to cover her surprise. “I can take care of myself, Rodney.”
“You don’t sound convincing.”
“Do I need to?”
“I guess not…”
After a few moments of silence, she stepped up beside him and tried to see what he was seeing in the colour streak clouds hovering in the heavens. But as always, whatever captivated his attention was a complete mystery to her. The waves began to lull in their already gentle assault against the pier. Elizabeth conceded, “Sometimes I think I should just accept that I can never go back to before.”
The scientist shuffled his feet to accommodate a poorly hooded glance in her direction. “You’ve always been the same to me.”
“How can you say that now?” she demanded, facing him with all the horror of her marred features.
Rodney met her eyes squarely and stated sincerely, “You could just accept that you still look lovely to me.”
Something scratched its way viciously down Elizabeth’s throat, allowing only a dismissive croak. “You have been known to be wrong in the past.”
“Oh, and what have those extremely rare circumstances...” Rodney smirked. “…got to do with this situation?”
“This situation?” she repeated, frowning.
“You don’t need my pity, Lizbeth. Stop asking me to give it you.”
The words stung her face as surely as the wind that billowed from the distance. Elizabeth opened her mouth to apologise, but he was already retreating swiftly into the oncoming shadows, using one of many exits to conceal his frame, anger exuding from the tightly clenched arms by his sides.
Duly chastened, Elizabeth kept an eye on Rodney for a few days at a distance, still too sore to invade his presence and keeping more peace of mind by avoiding him. The rational part of her said she was sulking and, pressing her forehead to the glass of her office window to view the command centre for any sign of him, she had to admit there was a pout in her faint reflection. She repeated the lie to herself – the frigid surface stubbornly pushing back at her was only causing shivers to slam down her spine for its temperature.
Not glass, not a reflection, her teeth failed to chant past their clattering.
Elizabeth pressed her lips together and retreated from the glass. For the next few days, she avoided the glass panels of her office, until Rodney’s voice glided in from the command centre as he hunched over some hitch in the systems, a reminder of their jaunt in space, a reminder which ached in every twisted line of Elizabeth’s face. But her faint reflection slipped away as Rodney turned towards her with the full power of his faze. The glass vanished and a new set of more pleasant shivers forced Elizabeth to cross her arms.
Rodney disappeared under the front control desk, giving her the chance to escape. Treading quietly from there, she touched every panel of glass to the lengthening shadows of the pier, seeing only twin pools of blue, more comforting than the thrum of the ocean that nursed the city. The sunset was beginning to fade into the deep hues of night when Rodney appeared beside her. She eyed him cautiously, but his expression was slack, disinterested. His shoulders pinched rigidly, the only sign betraying anything.
“I think I’ve always loved you,” Elizabeth confessed quietly. “Before the accident. Since Antarctica.”
Rodney’s eyes hardened. “What about that Mike guy?”
“Mike and I are finished.”
“Or Sheppard?” the scientist continued coolly.
Elizabeth glanced at him in surprise, seeing the derision and defeat cementing over his shoulders. She said firmly, “John and I never happened. He was a friend, there when I needed him. You pulled away after the siege.”
“You hugged him, made your choice.”
There was a distinct jealous bite in his tone, and Elizabeth remembered vividly how he’d avoided her the few days after the Wraith had first attacked the city. He’d even left the room if John came to talk to her. Inwardly, she cursed for not noticing sooner. Unable to stop the small smile creeping onto her face, she pointed out tartly, “You wouldn’t have wanted a hug, Rodney. Two years avoiding me is hardly fair for that. I love you – isn’t this what you wanted to hear?”
He reached over gently to touch her cheek, until she flinched at the contact. Rodney shook his head. “You can’t love me until you love yourself.”
“That’s not something I’d expect you say,” Elizabeth mused.
“Maybe only to you.”
Rodney turned to her, palms facing her as he relaxed his arms. Taken back by this side of him, a side that she had forgotten for too long, she slid the mirror from her pocket and took one long look at it. Scarred, beaten, it was still there but now it was the reflection of someone that Rodney McKay thought was lovely. The mirror dropped into the ocean. They watched it sink beneath the gentle waves until Elizabeth informed him in a pained whisper, “They’re sending me back to Earth.”
“I’ll go with you,” Rodney said quickly.
“And miss out on all the new technology here? I don’t think so, Rodney.”
“No, no, I mean it.”
“I need to believe it.”
Rodney carefully touched her cheek again, this time she warmed to his touch. “Lizbeth, we’re a packaged deal. I’ll even lower myself to working at the SGC for you.”
“Lower yourself to the level of working with Dr Carter?” someone laughed lightly, and Elizabeth realised it was her own voice.
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Yes, even that.”
The kiss surprised Elizabeth even as she delivered it, and his lips responded eagerly. Pulling back to smile broadly at her, Rodney conceded, “I suppose it’s my turn now. I…erm…”
“You can say it,” she coaxed, smirking.
“I love you, Lizbeth.”
“You love me?”
“You love me!”
“Don’t you start,” he muttered.
Elizabeth laughed again, because she could, and steered him back indoors.