rushingwind: Elizabeth Overlooking Atlantis (Default)
rushingwind ([personal profile] rushingwind) wrote on July 27th, 2009 at 01:52 am
Fic: Before and After (Part 2/2) (for the [ profile] swficathon)
Title: Before and After
Author: [ profile] rushingwind
Pairing: John Sheppard/Elizabeth Weir
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 11,970
Archive: No. You may link here, but don't archive elsewhere.
Disclaimer: Not mine, don't sue.
Spoilers: Up to Season 5's "Ghost in the Machine"
Recipient: [ profile] hihoplastic, who prompted me with a quote: "Love hinders death. Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand because I love." - Tolstoy, War and Peace.
Comments: For the [ profile] swficathon. This is loosely based on a Star Trek episode of the same name (Leave it to my cracked brain to mix "War and Peace" with Star Trek). And thanks to the awesome [ profile] anuna_81 for beta duty.

Summary: Elizabeth finds herself traveling backwards through her life with no memory of how she started and no idea how to stop.

She arrives in the mess hall with a fork halfway to her mouth.

Dropping the fork back to her plate, she searches for John and find him sitting right next to her. His fork is still midair, and his eyes are slowly looking around before settling on her.



He puts his fork down. “Uh...” He glances at her uncertainly. “Did you... just jump here?”

Her heart is still thundering with anger, but her eyes soften. “Yes.”

His relieved expression is answer enough. “Good.”

“What’s wrong with you two?”

She snaps her head to see Rodney sitting across the table from them, stuffing a sandwich in his mouth.

“Rodney,” she says urgently, “what is the date?”

He drops his sandwich, his eyes wide. “Elizabeth, you’re...! I didn’t know you had-—.”

Rodney,” she intones in a voice that makes him flinch. “The date, please.”

“Well, uh... it’s August 10.”

“The year,” she presses. “What is the year?”

He looks puzzled, turning his attention towards John. “Colonel, is she-—.”

“Answer the damn question, Rodney!” he hisses.


She looks back to John, sees him blinking several times. “August 10. It worked! Rodney, you’re a genius!”

He looks confused. “Uh, thank you, I already knew that.” He moves to clean up the mess he’s made with his food. “So would you care to explain what is going on here?”

John ignores him, turns to Elizabeth and grabs her hand. “It’s about to happen.” He grasps around in his vest, and pulls out something white and square. “Come with me!”

She lets him pull her to her feet and follows willingly as he runs out of the mess hall. Rodney is shouting after them, but she can’t hear what he’s saying.

“The accident’s about to happen,” he shouts as he pulls her down the hallway. “If we head to the control room, we’ll be able to get a clear reading on the radiation from the balcony outside using the life signs detector.”

She’s upset, angrier than she can ever remember. She wrenches her hand from his, her eyes burning as he halts and turns to face her, confusion in his eyes.

“Why did you do that?” she shouts, uncaring of the stares she’s just attracted. “Why did you take the damn plueridia?!”

The confusion drops, his expression heartbreaking. “I wasn’t going to leave you again.”

“Damn it, John! I don’t even remember you, and you weren’t obligated to follow me out of guilt—-!”

“I did it because I love you!” he screams, screams, at her.

The words strike her anger like cold water, and she takes an unconscious step back. “John, this is your life—-.”

”I know,” he interrupts, his voice still raised but not shouting. He looks down at the floor, a heaving breath escaping his lungs, his voice softer. “I’ve lived every day of the last five years with the knowledge that you slipped right between my fingers—-and I didn’t go back for you, I didn’t speak up for you, and I gave you up for dead the first time a Replicator mentioned your ‘demise.’ And I didn’t have the guts to tell you how I really felt until you were too brain damaged to understand me.”

She closes her eyes, shakes her head. She wants to be angry at him, but she can’t summon the strength anymore.

“And I don’t care if I un-age into a baby or if I ‘jump’ straight into hell,” he declares with a dark voice, his breathing suddenly labored, “but I will not give you up to the goddamn whims of fate anymore, not without fighting!” He takes a step towards her, his eyes burning with conviction.

When she opens her eyes and looks into his, she cannot describe the emotion that overwhelms her. She blinks, and a single tear snakes its way down her cheek. Somehow, she knows it’s something she normally wouldn’t do, but she can’t remember the woman she used to be, and refuses to be ashamed of what’s standing before her now-—won’t be ashamed because damn it, she has nothing to be ashamed of.

She can’t imagine what she did to inspire such loyalty, such compassion, such... love. She closes the distance between them and throws her arms around him, burying her face in his chest. His arms slowly close around her, and he presses his face into her hair.

They’ve drawn quite an audience, but Elizabeth doesn’t care. “Damn you,” she breathes into his chest. “But I’m glad you’re here.”

“I won’t leave you,” he whispers into her hair, and his voice is raw, choked with emotion. “Never again.”

She hears loud footsteps, and Rodney’s high-pitched voice. “What the hell is going on?” And then suddenly, he’s distracted, touching his earpiece. “Yes, what? I’m in the middle of something!”

Just then, alarm klaxons blare over the speakers, loud and shocking. Rodney’s face blanches.

“Shit,” John hisses, staring up in the air. “We’ve got to go now!” He grabs her hand and pulls her along behind him and into a transporter.

As they exit and make a break for the control room, Elizabeth struggles to keep up. “Isn’t it dangerous to be so close to the radiation?”

“Even those directly exposed survived,” he replies breathlessly. “But the initial energy discharge disabled half of Atlantis, including the city’s sensors. We’ll be just outside of the discharge, but close enough to get a reading with the life signs detector.”

They fly through the gate room, ignoring at least three people as they make their way through the chaos and outside.

Suddenly, she feels cold, freezing cold, and begins to shiver. This is not the time, not yet, she thinks, and begins to panic.

“Damn, I don’t remember it being so cold last August,” he says absently, his eyes fixed on the life signs detector.

“No, John, we’re about to—-!”

Bright light flashes around them.

She arrives in a darkened corridor, the emergency backup lights flickering unsteadily.

“Fuck,” she hears him curse behind her, “Of all the times we could have jumped into.”

She spins, sees him covered in dirt and grime. “Did you get the reading?”

He has a P90 in his hands, his hand hovering near the trigger. “Right before we jumped... three point forty-six microseconds.”

“It’s what we need?”

He nods. “Burn that number into your memory, in case we get separated.”

“I will,” she breathes, looking around uncertainly. “Do you know when and where we are?”

“Not exactly,” he answers, “but I can give you a ball park estimate-—probably sometime in December of 2010. I can’t recall Atlantis looking this messed up except when the Wraith invaded.”

“Wraith?” she asks, and then pauses, because it definitely stirs a memory within her. A vision of a tall, slick-skinned creature resembling a man, stealing a victim’s life with his hands flashes through her mind unbidden. “Yes, of course, the Wraith.”

He squints. “You remember?”

”I think so.”

He fumbles with a life signs detector, his eyes scanning around them quickly. “We seem to be alone for the moment. We should probably hide until we jump again.”

She nods, understands there’s no help for them here and now.

He leads them deep within the city, into abandoned and partially-flooded areas, into cold water that makes her knees hurt. Finally, he maneuvers a door open, and locks it behind them, ducking on the floor with the life signs detector in his hand.

“We should be all right here,” he says, but there is no relief in his voice.

She sits beside him, wet and cold, and leans her head on his shoulder. He threads an arm around her, almost instinctually, but his eyes don’t leave the detector’s screen.

“All right, so the next jump could separate us,” he says, his voice tight. “We found you March of this year, and you were in stasis before that, so... I don’t know how that will affect things.”

“What about you?” she asks. “Were you in Atlantis?”

He nods. “Yeah.”

“So you’ll be able to get Rodney to help you.”

He shakes his head. “No, not yet. I’ll wait for you.”

“John,” she hisses, her fingers digging into his shirt, “we don’t know how long these jumps will last or how far they’ll take us. If you wait too long, you could jump to a point beyond help.”

He shakes his head again. “I won’t be able to reach you. If I get Rodney to stop me from jumping, we won’t have any way of helping you.”

“John, you—-.” She stops, cut off by a shiver that spreads through her body.

He hisses suddenly, shivering himself, before looking over at her. “We get cold before we jump?”

She nods, wrapping her arms around her.

Bright light surrounds them.

“—-and she’d be able to stay... here.”

Elizabeth blinks, looks up, and sees a disoriented John stopping mid-sentence. The others in the room continue on, oblivious to their arrival.

“I’m all for keeping Doctor Weir here, in Atlantis, but is this really the only way?” a man asks, one she’s never seen before.

Woolsey stands with his arms crossed, looking particularly troubled. “Not only that, Major Lorne, but is it moral? Doctor Keller, you said so yourself, she’s not lucid enough to consent.”

“Uh,” John grunts, trying to break in, but the heated conversation continues on.

“But her best hope of treatment is here, in Atlantis,” Jennifer answers. “Anywhere else but here she is nearly catatonic, but here she is partially lucid. She recognizes us and the things around her, and she even speaks from time to time.”

“Look,” Rodney breaks in, staring pointedly at Woolsey, “when we find a way to fix her, she can get the marriage annulled. You said so yourself, Richard, the IOA is looking into creating a colony here. Military regulations notwithstanding, if she marries John, they’d be forced to uphold their own rules and let her stay.”

The words nearly bowl her over, her eyes flitting from person to person as realization sets in. So this is how she came to be married to John. No declarations of love, no happy life together, just necessity, pure and simple.

“Excuse me,” John tries again, but is cut off.

“Besides, he wants to take care of her!” Rodney interrupts. “We all do!”

Elizabeth’s eyes settle on Woolsey, his face hidden behind his hands.

“I want to help her,” Woolsey finally says, “but how can I morally officiate over this? How can I sign off on a document that marries her to him, knowing she can’t honestly consent?”

He stops, his gaze turning to curiosity as she looks between John and Richard. Everyone else in the room suddenly turns to her, wondering what’s just happened. And she looks up at John, sees the embarrassment on his face and knows it’s because of this conversation, something he either couldn’t say before or didn’t get the opportunity to.

She has no doubt that he loves her; he’s already said so, and the fact he’s even here with her is a testament to his strong desire to stay by her side and help her. But, all those years, he’s been taking care of her? He really wanted it that way? As she stares in his eyes, warmth blossoms throughout her heart as she realizes just how much he must have sacrificed for her sake, all without knowing if she ever loved him in return.

Most of all, she knows now more than ever, he’d married her because he loved her. Loves her.

There are a hundred things she could say right now, many of which were practical, even necessary: I’m traveling backwards through time, and if you wouldn’t mind giving me a hand, I’d like to stop now. Yes, there are a hundred things she could say, but only one seems important. She looks back to Woolsey, her expression anything but blank.

“I understand. I consent.”

Several astonished stares greet her unexpected declaration, and when she looks back at John, his expression is tight and carefully controlled. She wonders if he’s on the verge of tears, but a part of her mind laughs, because no, she knows she’s never seen him cry before.

“Well,” Jennifer finally says, her voice uneven with shock, “that sounded pretty lucid to me.”

There’s a pause of a few seconds. “I’ll draw up the paperwork,” Woolsey concedes.

“That won’t be necessary just yet,” John says, finally tearing his eyes away from Elizabeth. “Elizabeth and I have gotten ourselves into a bit of trouble, actually....”

”We’re traveling backwards through time—-,” she moves to finish, but stops short, a sudden cold enveloping her. “God, they’re getting faster!”

“Elizabeth!” he shouts, and she sees him reaching for her.

Bright light flashes around her.

This time, something is not right.

She opens her eyes to see Teyla sitting before her, and armed guards surrounding her.

“Elizabeth?” Teyla asks carefully, her eyes narrowed and a palatable tension hanging in the air.

“Teyla, I’ve—-,” but she stops, startled at the sound of her own voice. It sounds wrong.

She looks around the room, her eyes taking in all the details, and she sees a mirror some distance away-—though her eyes see it as clearly as if it were beside her. She almost falls over, because the woman looking back is not her, and that is not her face.

In fact, everything feels wrong. She doesn’t feel so much as sense, doesn’t breathe, doesn’t feel warmth or cold, and her eyes and ears are too sharp. The realization dawns upon her cruelly, fear settling low in her belly.

“Oh my god, I’m a Replicator.”

The door opens, and John comes through, his eyes frantic but his expression carefully guarded. “Elizabeth?”

She stands, staring at him with what must be a heartbreaking expression. Tears cloud her vision, and she isn’t even sure how she can cry if she’s a machine. “I’m so sorry, John.”

“You just jumped here?” he asks, his expression quickly becoming more pained. When she nods, he takes a step back, shaking his head.

She takes several deep breaths, even though she doesn’t need to breathe. “I must not be the real Elizabeth, then. All this time, I was a copy...”

He doesn’t look at her immediately, but shakes his head fiercely. “No, no, we must have been wrong. We didn’t have all the details, all the info, we must have been wrong! You have to be the real Elizabeth-—.”

She cuts him off. “We must have made human bodies after the ship plucked us out of deep space, and I took on my old form.” She shakes her head, the weight of her words crushing. Is she truly not the real Elizabeth? Is she merely a ghost of a woman who once was?

“No,” John hisses, stepping past Teyla and grabbing her by the shoulders. “It’s you, it has to be. I know.”

“John, what is happening?” Teyla asks, her eyes nervously flitting between them.

“Oh god,” he groaned, looking back to Elizabeth. “I don’t even know where to start anymore.”

- - - - -

Their previous jumps had lasted minutes. As it was, this jump had lasted over a day.

Elizabeth spends her solitude in thought. If she is the real Elizabeth, which she has always assumed from the start she is, then she’ll keep jumping backwards. If she is not the real Elizabeth, and is only a ghost of the real Elizabeth’s presence in the Asuran collective, then the very next jump may mean her death. If she only came into existence months before, and she jumps to a point beyond her ‘birth,’ then....

The door opens, and Rodney and John step through.

Rodney seems at a loss for what to say. “John told us about your situation. I’m sorry there’s nothing we can do to stop it.”

She frowns, and looks at John, who looks away. “Yeah, well,” he murmurs absently, “we couldn’t get a reading on the temporal variance of that radiation. So there’s no way to stop us from jumping again.”

She realizes what he’s doing, and all but jumps to her feet. “He’s lying,” she says to Rodney, who looks at her with wide eyes. “It was three point forty-six microseconds!”

“You’re mistaken, Elizabeth,” John all but growls, his eyes silently pleading for her to be quiet. She won’t comply, can’t, not this time.

“You want us to jump again,” she accuses. “You want to go back before this,” and she motions to herself, “happens!”

John says nothing, and Rodney glances between them with his mouth agape.

“John, you have to save yourself!”

He shakes his head, taking a step towards her. “Haven’t you learned anything about me, yet?”

“I don’t want you to die!”

”And you think I’ll stand by and let you do the same? That I’ll let you suffer needlessly?” His eyes burn with desperation. “I can prevent this from ever happening!”

“Enough!” she shouts in that voice that is not hers. “This is a dangerous game you’re playing, and we could lose! I may not even be the real Elizabeth, and a fake is not worth risking your life for!”

He hisses suddenly, his breath coming out in pained huffs. She senses it too, detecting a drop in her body temperature of three point two degrees.

Light engulfs them.

Relief floods her when she opens her eyes and sees a table of confused technicians eyeing her.

“Doctor Weir?” one asks.

She blinks, remembers ‘Weir’ is her maiden name, and smiles diplomatically. “This is going to sound strange, but would someone please tell me the date?”

“April 15, 2007, ma’am,” one answers. “Is everything all right?” Then, after a moment, “Should I call Doctor Beckett?”

She has never been so relieved—-she is the real Elizabeth, after all. “No. This meeting is dismissed.”

The doors to the conference room hiss open, and John all but bolts through, his face desperate. “Elizabeth!”

She takes a shaking breath, and nods. “I’m glad to report that I am the real me.”

He drops his head, and she hears a sigh of relief escape him. “Come on, let’s go talk to Rodney. We don’t know how much time we have!”

- - - - -

”Do you understand the cause of these jumps?” Teyla asks, her face a mask of astonishment.

“Yes,” Carson answers, stepping out of the way as Rodney moves between stasis chambers. “According to Doctor Weir and Colonel Sheppard, in about four years Atlantis will be exposed to an exotic and temporally-volatile form of radiation. Everyone will be treated, and the effects will diminish over time. However, a year after that, I will use an experimental treatment to save their lives, using a modified stasis chamber to expose them to an anti-temporal field to reverse synaptic damage in Elizabeth’s brain, and later the lethal effects of an unknown chemical. What I’ll fail to foresee is that the anti-temporal field I expose them to will reactivate the dormant bridge radiation particles, taking Elizabeth and John out of temporal sync and throwing them progressively backwards through time.”

Rodney scoffs, his attention focused on a stasis chamber. “Carson, again I’d like to point out your profession is along the lines of voodoo. Please leave science to the scientists from now on, eh?”

“I’ll be trying to save their bloody lives,” he retorts, his accent heavy, “and I’ll probably be in a wee bit of a hurry!”

“Well, luckily, I’m here, and with the precise knowledge they’ve brought us about the radiation, I should be able to bring their time-skipping to a halt very soon.” Rodney crosses his arms, looking extraordinarily pleased with himself. “Though I wonder, why didn’t I do this in one of your last jumps?”

“Our jumps didn’t last long enough for you to help us,” John says, his voice cold as ice. “Rodney, they’ve lasted as long as a day and as short as a minute, so if you’d shut up and get it working, we’d really appreciate it.”

He falters, surprised. “Right, yes then...”

Elizabeth watches as Rodney transfers wires, then chips, then other devices she doesn’t recognize between two stasis chambers, shouting out commands ever so often to those around him. It looks scrappy and doesn’t instill her with the greatest of confidence, but soon she begins to recognize two anti-temporal chambers developing out of the sterile stasis chambers, despite the chaos of Rodney’s work.

“So you have seen the years of our future?” Teyla asks her, eyes curious.

“It’s not as if I’ve seen everything that happens,” Elizabeth tells her, an apologetic smile on her face. “You’ll have to ask John for those details.”

He smiles, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “And if this works, I’m not telling.” Sticking his hands in his pockets, he shrugs. “Except for a few things, of course.” He hesitates, then shakes his head. “Hey, Doc!”

“I’m a little busy right now, Colonel.”

John frowns, scrunching his eyebrows. “You’re gonna die next month, Carson, and I’d like to tell you how not to die, if you’ll give me your ear for a second.”

Whatever he is doing, he halts and turns slowly in John’s direction, his face as white as a sheet. “...what was that, now?” he asks slowly.

Elizabeth gasps, snapping her head in John’s direction. “John, how is that possible? He’s there in the future!”

“Right, what she said!” he adds, his voice panicky. “You said I came up with this treatment!”

John frowns. “Well, it is you, sorta. It’s... Carson 2.0, a clone. And that’s an even longer story, and if this works I promise you I’ll sit you down and fill you in on every detail.”

He hesitates a moment, before breathing a shaky, “Right,” and turning back to the chamber, visibly shaken. “So, what happens?”

”You know the mandatory day-off that’s coming up next month?” John pulls his hands out of pockets, and crosses his arms.

“Right. Rodney and I are going fishing!” The faint edges of a smile warm his lips. “I’ve been looking forward to it.” He suddenly freezes, snapping his head toward John. “Why?”

“You’re going to be killed by an exploding tumor.” There is a moment’s pause as everyone turns to stare at John. “I’m not kidding.”


“Look, sometime the day before, Doctors Hewston and Watson are going to accidentally activate an Ancient device somewhere in a laboratory out on the southwest pier. It will emit radiation, but they will appear to be fine. Unfortunately, a few hours later, there will be a massive explosion at the base of the command tower, and it will be Doctor Hewston that explodes. The device they found causes people to quickly grow very dangerous, explosive tumors. In your attempt to remove said tumor from Doctor Watson, you get blown up.”

The room is deathly silent.

Rodney shakes his head, mouth agape. “Oh, that’s it. Hewston and Watson are so removed from exploratory duty after today.” He turns back to his work. “I knew they were idiots, but that is seriously way too screwed up.”

Carson is shaken, but nods somewhat appreciatively. “Well, uh, thank you, John.”

Elizabeth grabs his arm in the silence that follows, and narrows her eyes. “You didn’t tell me that wasn’t really Carson, then,” she says, her voice suddenly dry.

He looks down at the floor. “There wasn’t any time,” he meets her stare with haunted eyes. “There’s so many we’ve lost over the years. So many died, many who didn’t have to.”

Her heart twists, and she wonders if she’d been friends with any of them, people she no longer remembered. “John, you can’t protect everyone in Atlantis, not all the time.”

His eyes turn dark. “I have to live with it.”

She looks away, doesn’t know what to say. She squeezes his arm instead, rubbing her thumb in soothing circles. She’s just about to say something when Rodney breaks in.

“We’re in business!” he shouts, clapping his hands and rubbing them together. He turns, face triumphant. “The two of you could jump at any time, so we should start now.” He pauses a moment, staring expectantly. “That means get in.”

Elizabeth doesn’t need to be told twice, and quickly steps inside the first chamber, leaning back against the wall. She watches John as he gives her one last look before stepping into the chamber beside hers and out of sight. The doors slide shut with a hiss, and she absently crosses her arms.

“All right, let’s give this a go,” she hears Rodney’s voice over some sort of radio link inside the chamber. “The temporal field is active and emitting anti-bridge particles at ten GeVs a second. And... oh, no.”

“What?” she asks agitatedly, grasping her arms around her as the air grows cold. No, she can’t jump, not now!

“Colonel Sheppard has a radiation count of sixty roentgens, but you have ninety-eight roentgens!”

“I was exposed to the field more than once,” she said hurriedly, shivering. “Rodney, I’m about to jump again!”

She can hear Carson in the background. “Their body temperatures have dropped two degrees each!”

“I’m working on it!” he shouts back. “Radiation count at ninety-two roentgens... eighty-nine... eighty-one... seventy-five roentgens... seventy-one...”

“Rodney, you have to hurry!” she shouts. She squeezes her eyes shut, tries to hold back the cold encroaching her body, icy tendrils wrapping around every limb. “No!”

There is a bright flash of light.

She is sitting in her office, alone.

Damn. It didn’t work.

She touches her earpiece, tries to contact John on her radio with no luck. Tries to reach Rodney, and hears nothing. She stands quickly and makes her way out to the gate technician.

“Where are Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay?” she asks politely, trying her best not to sound as if she has no idea what’s going on. Which she doesn’t.

He frowns, his eyes narrowing. “They’re on the Aurora, ma’am. Remember? Colonel Sheppard is trying to contact the Ancients in stasis.”

So they were on an off-world mission. So much for fixing the problem this time around.

“Did you want to speak to Doctor Zelenka about the warship, ma’am?” the technician asked.

Her memory shifts, and she recalls a mousy man with a heavy accent; a scientist, just like Rodney.

She smiles. “I’ll contact him. Thank you.” She stops suddenly, looking back over her shoulder. “What’s the date? I’m a little off track.”

He smiles back. “I do that all the time. It’s September 23, ma’am.”

She narrows her eyes, trying to draw out the rest. “September 23...?”

“2005,” he finishes, drawing out the syllables.

“Thank you.” She walks away, represses a shiver at the knowledge that she’s jumped just over a year and a half into the past. She touches her earpiece. “Doctor Zelenka? This is Doctor Weir.”

”Yes, Doctor Weir?”

Relief floods through her. “Radek, I need to speak with you immediately. It’s an emergency.”

Something metal and solid clatters across the connection, causing her to wince. “Is Colonel Sheppard and team okay?”

“Yes. Now I need you to listen to me very careful-— No!”

She halts dead in the corridor, shivering, and is engulfed by light.

She’s blinded by sunlight and the shimmer of water sluicing down windowpanes.

She looks around, and sees John beside her, a small boy in dirty clothes tucked under his arm.

A man in uniform, yet another she doesn’t know, smiles. “We’re on the surface.”

John’s eyes meets hers, and she sees a more youthful face, the stress of so many terrible years gone.

”Crap,” he mutters, closing his eyes. “I was this close to convincing the Ancients on the Aurora that I wasn’t crazy, and then....” He stops, shakes his head.

“Major?” the man in uniform asks. “Are you okay?”

John turns, his face a mask of shock. “Ford... Ford! Yes, Lieutenant, but... did this City just rise out of the water?”

The man’s face lights up, baring a wide grin. “Yes, sir. I’ve never seen anything like it!”

“Crap,” John reiterates, and turns to Elizabeth. “We are out of time. We just arrived on Atlantis... today.”

She understands. “The next jump will probably separate us.”

“And put us beyond all help.”

They both turn at the same time, and shout, “Rodney!”

He jumps, his eyes narrowing as he sees them. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?!”

She steps forward, her voice steely. “Rodney, I need you to listen to every word I am about to say. Colonel Sheppard and I are—-.”

”Colonel?” he sputters, his eyes wide. “I thought he was a Major!”

John scratches the back of his head absently. “Yep, this is before I was promoted.”

She opens her mouth to speak, but is seized by the freezing cold again, and bright light envelops everything.

She’s staring up at a diagram of stars and planets, drifting across the air above them.

When she looks down, she sees John sit straight up, the glowing chair beneath him shutting off. His eyes are wide as he looks up at her.

“Fuck,” he hisses, loud enough that everyone standing around hears. “This is when we first met!”

“Major, is everything... all right?” a man asks, another face she doesn’t know.

She ignores him and turns to her right to face Rodney. “Doctor McKay, I need you to listen to what I’m about to say and not interrupt me.”

He looks confused, but nods.

She begins to speak so fast that she’s sure her words are slurring together. “Major Sheppard and I are traveling backwards through time, making jumps that take us progressively backwards to earlier points in our lives. This is being caused by a temporally-volatile form of radiation we will be exposed to several years from now, and set in motion by exposure to an anti-temporal field a year after that. The only way to reverse the process is to use another anti-temporal field to eradicate the offending radiation from our systems and return us to temporal sync with normal space-time.”

There’s an awkward pause, and one of the unfamiliar faces breathes a soft, “whoa.”

Rodney’s face is unreadable for a moment, before it softens. “That... actually makes sense.”

John stands, takes a step towards him. “Well, she’s had to say it a lot of times. And each time, you’ve been trying to modify a stasis chamber to help us, but it takes too much time and we end up jumping to an earlier point before any treatment can help.”

He regards John suspiciously. “And what year did all this start…?”

“2012,” he answers.

He frowns. “That’s eight years from now!”

“Rodney,” Elizabeth pleads. “Please. One more jump, and there won’t be any help for us.”

John starts to move, and then halts, grabbing his arms and shivering. “Damn it, not again!”

But she’s not cold this time, doesn’t feel the jump coming on. “John? John!”


And he vanishes right before her eyes.

“Oh my god, was that what you were talking about?” Rodney squeaks.

She stares at the spot where he’d been standing, her heart pounding. They’d been jumping together, all this time, at the same time, so she honestly isn’t sure-—but she settles on the answer that’s most likely to get her help: “Yes.”

“So you’re next?”

She turns to him. “Yes! Please, you-—ah!” She nearly falls, the cold overcoming her now, worse than before though she tries to fight it back. “No, please, not now! Please!”

Light engulfs her.

She is standing before a man, his smile bright and earthy.

”Elizabeth?” he asks, his smile fading. “What’s wrong?”

She stares at him a moment, wondering whether or not she should even bother. And then, just seconds after arriving, cold and light overtake her.

She jumps.

“Professor, can you tell us more about the trade agreement you brokered in South Africa?”

She finds herself standing in front of a room of young adults, all staring at her expectantly.

Light and cold are everywhere, and she jumps.

“I’m so sorry, Elizabeth. Your father loved you, so very much.”

She stares blankly at a gravestone, the cold already winding up her arms and into her chest.

“I know,” is all she says. And then she jumps.

She jumps a dozen more times, each one so brief that she barely has time to take in her surroundings before she’s jumping again. She is a child, playing in the dirt. She is a toddler in the midst of a temper tantrum. And then she is a baby, watching her mother smile joyously.

Many more flashes follow, and there is no more self, and a mind that no longer understands what she’s experiencing, but only warmth and the sound of a strong, steady thumping nearby to soothe her, and the knowledge that she is getting smaller death to greet her at conception and smaller....

And finally, one flash of light, brighter than all the rest, envelops her, and she is born.

When she opens her eyes, she’s back in Atlantis, staring out at Rodney from the inside of the anti-temporal chamber.

“Radiation count at twenty-two roentgens... fifteen... six...” His voice trails off, and he bows over, relief etched on his features as he drops into a chair. “Radiation at zero roentgens,” he finishes.

The door hisses open, and she has to blink several times to accustom herself to the light. “I thought I was done for,” she admits, looking over at Rodney.

“So did we,” John’s voice says, and she turns to see him standing nearby. “My last jump was in Antarctica, but I knew something was wrong when you didn’t jump with me. I was pulled back here.”

She nods. “I had a few more jumps after that.”

“Sorry about that,” Rodney’s loud voice cuts in. “You had a considerably larger amount of active radiation in your body than Colonel Sheppard. We cut it pretty close, but we did it! We’ll do some more tests to be sure, but you both should be back in temporal sync with the rest of us. I think we’re in the clear.”

She smiles tiredly, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Just one question, Rodney. What is the date?”

“Same as it was a few minutes—-ah yes, never mind. Well, the two of you have arrived on April 15, 2007. Looks like you’ll have to live out the next five years over again.”

She catches a glimpse of a smile on John’s face as he turns away. “That’s all right, Rodney. I’m sure this time around things will be much smoother.”

- - - - -

Five days pass without any further jumps, and they breathe a deep sigh of relief.

“This has all been quite an experience,” John tells her, leaning back in his chair. “I could make serious money if I bet on the superbowl this year, you know.”

She grins. “So you can remember who won the superbowl, but not the location of the ZPM manuals in the Ancient Database?”

”No, I can’t.” He squirms a bit in his chair, and she knows this conversation is about to turn serious. “So, Doctor Beckett tells me your memory is coming back?”

She nods. “Yes. It’s nice to be able to remember all of these people.”

He leans forward, his eyes curious. “What do you remember, exactly?”

She sets down the tablet in her hand. “It’s strange, really. I remember what happened on my jumps, and the details of my life up to this point in time.” She looks down. “I don’t remember being taken by the Replicators, or anything that happened after that.” She shakes her head. “What about you? What do you remember?”

“Everything.” He shrugs. “Guess it’s a good thing. Everything feels like déjà vu right now, unfolding just like before.”

She understands the hidden meaning in his words. “You’ll save who you can,” she reassures him. “Things will be different.”

“Rodney tells me the timeline you and I came from is just one possibility, and we changed things as we went along on our jumps--not to mention that what we do now changes the future. I think I like change.”

"Change is good," she agrees, smiling.

He stands, and stretches his hands out in front of him. “Well, Doctor Sheppard,” he teases, “it’s getting late, so I’ll say good night.”

She moves quickly, stopping him. “John, wait. About that....”

He freezes, slowly turns back around. “Oh, sorry. Bad joke, I guess.”

Her heart thunders in her chest, and she nearly loses her nerve. “All that time you took care of me, did you wonder if I loved you? Before Oberoth took me, when my mind was still capable of understanding?”

A million emotions flitter across his face. “More than I care to admit.”

She closes the distance between them to stand before him. “You said before that you never told me how you felt until I couldn’t understand you anymore.”

His eyes darken, and he nods.

She leans forward an inch, so close she can feel his breath. “I’m right here, right now. And I can understand every word.”

His mouth parts, hesitates, then moves. “I love you.”

She smiles, and presses her lips to his gently, softly. Splaying a hand across his chest, she brings her other hand up to cup his cheek. “I loved you then, love you now.”

- - - - -

They watch the sunrise through the window of her room, warm under the blankets of the bed they share.

“I finished War and Peace,” he says, muffled in her hair.

She turns to face him, her eyes groggy with tiredness. “Really? When?”

“Two years ago,” he says, and then stops. “I mean, uh, that would have been near the end of 2010.”

“Good book,” she murmurs, nuzzling into his side, the haze of sleep settling.

He exhales, his eyes staring at the ceiling. “You asked me why I followed you through time.”

She blinks herself awake, sensing he has something important to say. “Yes.”

“Love hinders death,” he quotes. “Love is life. All, everything I understand, I understand because I love.”

She has to think on the words a moment. “From War and Peace?” she asks even as she recalls the answer.

“You were blank most of the time, distant. And then you weren’t--you were alive, you were talking, and you could understand us. I... I knew I couldn’t let you face it alone. I had abandoned you once, and sworn I’d never do it again.” He is silent a moment. “In the end, you didn’t really need my help. You would have made it just fine without me. But, I wanted...” He looks away, his voice trailing off.

She smiles against his skin, her thumb moving in small circles on his chest. “It’s easier to convince people you’re not a raving lunatic when there’s another suddenly crazy person nearby who is corroborating your story.”

He chuckles. “I guess so.”

He says nothing, but his arms tighten around her. "I wanted to remember."

“It’ll be different this time,” she tells him. “The future is unknown, and life is not promised to us, but... it’ll be different this time.”

He sighs, his eyes drifting shut.

“I know,” he breathes.

Author's Note: I thought about the title of this story for over a month, but in the end I simply couldn't find a more fitting title than "Before and After." I wanted to use a different title than the Star Trek episode's name, but the title fits in every way and every aspect. In the end, I couldn't bring myself to part with it.

GeV = Giga electron Volt, a measurement of electron charges used in particle physics.
Roentgens = a measurement of ionizing radiation.

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