Angle of Refraction

by Domenika Marzione

"How's it going, Lieutenant?"

Calling down to the control room before he took himself off duty had become a routine very early on in his tenure in Atlantis. The lieutenants had almost all been new to the city, as he had been, and both sides were new to their responsibilities. Sheppard did his own nightly check in person, sauntering through the gate room at odd hours, but Lorne hadn't thought he could pull off that kind of casual, so by radio it had been and still was. Even during Sheppard's too-frequent absences because of injury or imprisonment, Lorne would keep to the radio lest the change in routine be analyzed for subtext. The only time he'd broken pattern had been after Malthusa, when it had been as important for the marines to see him up and about as it been for him to see that Atlantis was still safe.

The lieutenants were all used to the check-ins and treated them with various degrees of formality. Murray always sounded like he'd been caught goofing off (entirely possible), Paik gave him too much detail about inconsequential goings-on, Salker had his radio turned off half of the time because he was in the head, and Eriksson would give him a tally of how much coffee had been consumed by the control room staff. There was occasionally actual news -- an overdue team not yet late enough to require activating a SAR team, some problem within the city that required Engineering's expertise -- but not often enough that he didn't miss the pause before Kagan answered him.

"Everyone who's coming home is home for the night, sir," Kagan said. "Atlantis is behaving herself and, um, Doctor Weir is taking a walk."

Over in Little Tripoli, Lorne put down the folder he was compiling of work he'd planned to do in his quarters tomorrow morning before going down to PT. "Doctor Weir is still around?"

Weir, like everyone else in Atlantis, worked long hours. That she'd be working even later in the wake of what had happened three days ago was unsurprising, but it was almost midnight and even she normally retired to her quarters long before then.

"'Around' as in she hasn't closed her office for the night, yes, sir," Kagan replied, sounding a little off. "'Around' as in anywhere she should be, no."

Lorne didn't bother to pick the pile he'd assembled. "Where is she, Lieutenant?"

Gate room officers were charged with supervising the security of the entire city, not just the area around the stargate. They were the ones who dispatched marines to retrieve wandering scientists and check out anything that came up on the sensors. But while all of them were used to getting berated by McKay for interfering in the management of Atlantis's infrastructure, having to send out marines to march Doctor Weir back to civilization was an entirely different matter. Especially for Kagan, who was still their newest lieutenant and who'd lost so much time recovering from his injuries.

"She's in Golf-Four, sir."

Lorne looked at the map of the city attached to his wall. Sector G-4 was colored green with cross-hatching, which meant that it was uninhabited, had been deemed structurally sound after the city rose from the ocean, but hadn't been re-examined since the siege except by puddle jumper fly-by. It was also a four-kilometer hike from there to the nearest population point.

"Is she alone?"

"Yes, sir," Kagan answered promptly.

"I'll go bring her back," Lorne said.

"Yes, sir."

Lorne shrugged on his jacket, pocketed his PDA and a flashlight, and headed for the transporter. The offices in Little Tripoli were dark except for Radner's, since his company had overnight duties. There was the quiet sound of music coming out of Radner's suite and Lorne thought it might be the Eagles.

He tapped G-4 on the map in the transporter and the doors opened a moment later into darkness broken only by the lights coming from outside the room. They'd made sure that every sector of the city drew enough power for the emergency lights, but sectors like G-4 hadn't been tested for anything like normal function. He 'reached out' to the city, asking tentatively if she were able to overcome the murky blackness. He didn't have Sheppard's connection to the city -- nobody did -- nor did he have the sort of immediate bond that someone like Reletti 'enjoyed', but he could feel a sort of sluggish response and heard the click of lights engaging a moment before the weak overhead illumination appeared.

Thanks, he murmured.

Pulling out the PDA, he found the dot that represented Elizabeth Weir and oriented himself to the map in his hand. She hadn't gone too far -- not surprising considering the darkness -- and he put the PDA back in his pocket as he started walking toward her.

The transporter, it turned out, was on the ground floor of a small building and, once outside, Lorne found himself in a kind of courtyard. It must have been a beautiful place when the Ancients had lived here. Even lit only indirectly by the floodlights that dotted the city, it had the kind of simple gracefulness that they'd learned to associate with the older parts of Atlantis. The planters were empty now, as were the reflecting pools and what had probably been either rock gardens or flower beds, but the layout of benches and now-blank spaces still projected thoughtful planning. He didn't wonder how Doctor Weir had found the place -- without turning around, he knew that he'd be able to trace a line of sight back to the balcony behind the control room.

"I'm sorry," Weir said as he approached. She looked up at him from where she was sitting on one of the low benches, legs stretched out before her as she faced one of the empty reflecting pools. She was hunched a little, bent over her legs with her jacket pulled tight around her and the hems of her sleeves tight in her balled hands. "I know I'm not supposed to be out here alone. Certainly not this week."

This week had actually been perfectly fine until Sheppard had gotten himself kidnapped by Acastus Kolya and fed on by a Wraith live on television. Sheppard, home and looking younger than before everywhere except in his eyes, wasn't talking about it, not even to Heightmeyer (which was why he hadn't already been cleared for duty), which in turn meant that everyone else was prohibited from doing the same. Lorne didn't think Sheppard was oblivious to the tension that his reticence was causing, but Sheppard asked for so little else that nobody could bring themselves to deny him this.

"It's been a long couple of days," he said with a shrug.

Lorne knew that he was relatively lucky on that score, that he had been able to focus his frustration on the fact that he'd been fifteen hours away from the nearest stargate and in no position to do anything. Rather than, say, be home in Atlantis watching events unfold as they happened and feel as helpless and powerless as everyone else had. He didn't need the same kind of reassurance (forgiveness) from Sheppard, which in turn was probably the reason he was one of the few people Sheppard wasn't avoiding.

"It has," Weir agreed.

She didn't move and so he didn't either, letting his attention wander to the courtyard and whether he actually could hear the ocean or whether it was just the quiet hum of the city and he was imagining it. G-4 wasn't high on their priority list of places to explore within the city; none of the various departments had been clamoring for office space out here and it was too far from Little Tripoli to be considered for annexing to the military complex. But Atlantis could always use more open space, especially out of doors, and Botany was getting a touch of cabin fever if Polito's griping about their flood of requests for off-world missions was accurate. It wouldn't take very long for the marines to sweep the sector so that Engineering could come through and Zelenka always liked the relatively relaxed pace of projects that involved new areas of the city (as opposed to the more urgent fixing of things gone wrong in occupied areas). And McKay, who always got weirdly cooperative when Sheppard was recovering from something, might be pressed upon to agree without too much trouble.

"This was the second time I had to watch," Weir said suddenly. Or maybe not so suddenly from her perspective.

"Ma'am?"

She looked up at him again and he could see the beginning of tears in her eyes. "This was the second time I had to watch John Sheppard give up his life for Atlantis, both of us knowing that I had agreed to it."

The first time had come during the siege, Lorne knew. This had been a more indirect threat -- giving Ladon Radim to Kolya would have destabilized the Genii and most probably restarted their war on Atlantis, a war Atlantis couldn't afford to fight with the Wraith possibly (probably?) aware of the city's survival. It would also have been giving in to terrorism and that was why nobody in uniform had questioned whether Weir had done the right thing. Nonetheless, the cost of doing the right thing had nearly been Sheppard's life and, as hale and healthy as he now was, that wasn't a decision that sat easily with anyone.

"Historically," Weir went on quietly, "there are so many precedents for the choices I made. And all of them had the same result -- there is no victory, not even the hollow one of preserving the high moral ground."

She unballed her fists enough to lace her fingers and twist her hands. It looked uncomfortable.

"I kept thinking about when our government refused to turn the Shah over to the Ayatollah," she said, "how much the Shah was like Radim -- a man we'd put in power ourselves because we thought him a better choice than who'd been there before him. And about how that decision came back to bite Washington in the ass only months later when the embassy in Tehran was overrun. In international affairs, Iran is one of the favorite choices with which to play the second-guessing game -- everyone thinks they can do a better job than Jimmy Carter. I never thought I would be playing it for real."

He had nothing to say to that -- agreeing on the Carter front would be inappropriately flippant, no matter how true -- so he didn't say anything. She didn't, either, and there was a silence long enough that he was about ready to broach the topic of getting back to the city when she spoke instead.

"The first time, there was no time to think about it until it was too late," she said and it took Lorne a moment to realize that she'd gone back to her first words to him. "The Hive ships were on top of us, the puddle jumpers weren't launching, the Wraith were in the city and we were losing it all and we knew it. There wasn't time for any other choice but Carson and Rodney gave me this look, like I'd betrayed John somehow by letting him go -- as if I'd ask him to do that."

"You didn't have to ask," Lorne said simply, sitting down at the other end of the bench. They were going to be here a while and he didn't want to loom. "It's our job."

She shook her head. "I know. And that doesn't make it any easier."

There was another silence, this one just as heavy with unfinished thoughts. He waited it out, figuring that Kagan would know they were out there and that he was still on radio.

"When we found him in the Ancient sanctuary," Weir began again, haltingly, "it broke my heart to watch him like that, to see that he really thought we'd have left him there. As if he were a forgotten tool that we'd decided was easier to replace than to retrieve.

"As acrimonious as his relationship with the SGC can be, that he thought that I would do that... I promised myself that I would never do anything to get that reaction from him again."

"You haven't," Lorne told her. He didn't pretend to any deep insight into Sheppard's mind, but Sheppard lost most of his opaqueness the longer you knew him. You learned to listen to what Sheppard didn't say as much as what he did. And so Lorne knew without a doubt that Sheppard trusted Elizabeth Weir completely.

"When we were watching him on the screen," Weir said, going on as if she hadn't heard him, "that's what I was thinking about. That he'd die thinking that I had chosen once more to go with expediency over loyalty."

Lorne reached over to touch her hand, drawing her attention so she couldn't not pay attention his words. "He didn't think that," he promised. "He doesn't think that you did anything other than what you should have done."

They hadn't spoken much about what had happened -- hell, they'd barely spoken about it at all except in the context of trying to get the AAR written up. But in between appreciating how Gillick had managed to explain McKay's incident with the mouse without making the scientist look like a complete idiot and coming up with the best way to admit that Atlantis's cover as destroyed city was probably completely blown, Sheppard had let little things slip if you knew where to watch.

Both he and Sheppard had gotten captured enough times in the course of their Stargate Program careers that they could acknowledge, at least implicitly, that they understood the broad strokes of the other's experience, if not the whole picture. So Lorne understood how, after fear and pain, Sheppard's most dominant feeling during his Genii captivity had been relief -- losing the marines on Malthusa would haunt him forever, but losing his team... The anxiety, banked but not extinguished, resonated deeply with Lorne, but he had no way of explaining it to Weir, certainly not without feeling like he was betraying Sheppard's trust while also giving away more of himself than he'd like.

Weir's tears fell now, more from gravity than grief, Lorne suspected. She wiped them away with the back of her hand. "I know intellectually that he doesn't blame me," she said. "I know that I can't ask for him to tell me that -- it's not how either of us work, separately or together. But I really wish that this doubt would fade."

"It will eventually," Lorne offered, shrugging because it was a platitude and they both knew it. They both also knew that that doubt was necessary in its own way -- it kept Weir from becoming too cavalier with the lives of the men who would willingly sacrifice themselves for Atlantis and her people.

His watch beeped on the hour, midnight, and the moment was broken.

"Maybe you'll feel better after a good night's sleep?" he suggested, gesturing with his head in the general direction of the city's central spire.

She smiled ruefully, acknowledging both the hour and the end of their conversation. "Won't be much of a good night's sleep if it's already morning."

He stood up and held out his hand. She accepted it and let him pull her to standing, squeezing lightly before letting go.

"Thank you, Major."

Lorne nodded in return and they walked back inside in comfortable silence. He directed the transporter to bring them back to the command area and let Weir take the back entrance to her office while he went to the control room. Kagan was at the desk set aside for gate room officers, checking his email. He made to rise when he saw Lorne, but Lorne waved him off.

"Everything's quiet?" Lorne asked.

Kagan nodded. "Not even a mouse, sir," he replied, then paused. "Do we even have mice?"

Lorne shrugged. "Talk to Zoology," he said. "In the morning," he added, just in case Kagan got either very bored or very inspired during his overnight shift.

Kagan grinned, as if he'd maybe been considering the idea of waking up one of the scientists to ask about space mice, and then he got serious again. "Everything's fine with Doctor Weir, sir?"

"Yeah," he answered. "But I think maybe this is not something we want entered into the log."

Anything -- or anyone -- found in the uncleared sections of the city qualified as a security breach and went into the official log, where the event was subject to review and/or disciplinary action. He was sure Weir was willing to face the music for her own disregard for the rules of the city, but it was within his power to keep her from having to explain to Sheppard (who handled such matters personally) why she had been out there in the first place.

Kagan nodded. "I'm occasionally a little forgetful, sir."

Lorne arched an eyebrow. "I've noticed," he said dryly. Kagan excelled at the leadership and tactical aspects of his command, but he was one of the worst when it came to handling bureaucratic matters.

Kagan grinned, embarrassed and unrepentant both. His marines were usually the beneficiaries of his selective memory.

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Lorne said, shaking his head to hide his own smile. "I'm going to rack out. Have a quiet watch."

"Thank you, sir," Kagan replied. "Good night."

feed me on LJ?


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26 December, 2006