Summary: A tragedy off-world results in a lost limb and drastic changes in Atlantis.
Elizabeth Weir stood framed by the window. Sand blew through the glass-free square and she squinted against the gritty wave as it pelted her face. The only sight in the barren landscape was the Puddle Jumper parked a few yards away beside a sand dune. The negotiations had been brutally one-sided; the people of this world had denied their request to search for a ZPM in one of their many mines. Despite Elizabeth's negotiations, the natives were unflinching.
On the third day, Sheppard's team was ready to throw in the towel. Elizabeth declared the negotiations were at an impasse and they might as well pack up shop and call it a day. McKay and Sheppard left the temporary barracks with bags thrown over their shoulders. "--odds that there actually is a Zed-PM down there just rotting makes me sick."
"It wouldn't even need to be a long excavation. I'm sure once we got in there and looked around, we'd..."
"Rodney?" Sheppard said. He stepped forward and blocked McKay's path. "I know. We went over all this on the way back from the negotiating table and all the time we were packing. I get it."
McKay closed his mouth and pouted quietly.
Sheppard turned and saw Elizabeth at the window. "Ronon and Teyla are on their way up."
"Thank you, Colonel."
They headed on down the corridor and another shape darkened the door they'd left. She straightened when she recognized the pale man. "Commissioner Alward," she said.
"Dr. Weir." He clasped his hands behind his back and glanced out the window. "I am sorry you and your people must leave under these circumstances. I hope you understand it is as much for your benefit as it is ours."
"On that we have only your word."
"Our nation is in turmoil, Dr. Weir. Just because there has been no violence during your visit..." He sighed and turned his eyes to the ceiling. "You wish to search our world for an energy device which you claim will be used for defense. On that, we have only your word."
She smiled and bowed her head at his point. "I hope you'll allow us to revisit this at some point in the future."
"It would be my honor."
Ronon and Teyla appeared from the barracks wing and Elizabeth motioned towards the exit. She walked alongside Alward. "The lines of communication must therefore remain open."
Alward nodded. "We would be most happy to continue our friendship with your people."
"Funny way to treat friends," Ronon said. He and Teyla brushed by them and continued on through the door.
Alward coughed into his hand. "Your people, however..."
Elizabeth smiled. "You have to understand their frustration, Commissioner. We put a lot of effort into this for things to end in a stalemate. I think they feel our time would have been better spent elsewhere."
"I understand. Please, convey my apologies and those of my people. Perhaps when tensions have calmed..."
Elizabeth nodded and glanced towards the Puddle Jumper. The engines were already humming and she said, "Until next time, Commissioner."
He nodded and she started towards the Puddle Jumper at a jog. Her feet dug into the sand, kicking up small tornados behind her.
"Waste of time," Ronon said. He slammed himself into his chair and dropped his satchel on the ground.
"Diplomacy," Sheppard said. "Latin for 'waste of time.'" He activated the ship and stared at the dunes beyond the front glass.
McKay said, "Well, it would've been worth it if we could have at least looked for the Zed-PM."
"Could'a, would'a, should'a," Sheppard said. "Where's Elizabeth?"
Teyla stood and looked through the back access. "She is on her way."
"Well, tell her to..."
His next words were cut off by an explosion. The shields on the jumper immediately went up before the wave hit, but the men were still rocked violently in their seats. Teyla grabbed one of the cargo containers to keep her balance and stared in wide-eyed shock as Elizabeth was lifted off the ground by the force of the explosion.
"Lower the shield!"
"What happened?!" Sheppard yelled.
"Elizabeth has been injured!" Teyla said. "Lower the shield now!"
Teyla ran through just as the force field went down and felt a tickle of static on her face. Ronon followed her out and pulled his weapon as soon as he spotted Alward on the sand. The commissioner held his hands out in surrender. "It was not us! You must believe me!"
Teyla dropped next to Elizabeth's body and gingerly lifted her. As she retreated, Ronon backed up with his gun steady on Alward's chest. He lowered the weapon only when the cargo door was closed and the shields were up. McKay joined Teyla and Ronon in the back as Sheppard lifted off.
"Oh, no," McKay said. "Oh, no, no, no."
Elizabeth's face was a bloody ruin, her lip split and her nose pouring blood. Her hips had been twisted in an unnatural angle and blood was darkening her pant legs. "We will need a medical team," Teyla called. She wrapped her hand around Elizabeth's and squeezed her fingers. She tried not to be alarmed at how cold her friend's skin was.
Medical emergency, medical team report immediately to the Gate Room... Carson tried not to panic. He had worked for Janet Fraiser for a year before her death and had been Interim Chief Medical Officer at the SGC for a handful of months. Then, a random blood test and he'd been told he won a lottery he didn't remember buying a ticket for. He'd been thrust from his plans to return to private practice and virtually hog-tied into joining the newly-formed Atlantis expedition.
The one thing he truly remembered from his time working with Fraiser was this; a lot of times, the SG teams came in hot and it turned out to be much ado about nothing. But the klaxon and announcement was just like a siren's song. No matter how relaxed Fraiser claimed to be, she never took it for granted and treated each 'medical team to the Gate Room' announcement like a call to battle.
He had taken his cue from Janet and ran into the Gate Room despite his belief whatever problem they had would either be minor or would resolve itself quickly enough. The few times they'd had an actual emergency, though, was enough to get his heart racing.
The cargo door of the puddle jumper lifted and he led his team inside. He was horrified by the sight before him; at first, he was certain Elizabeth was dead and the team had brought back a corpse. He knelt next to her and silently went about his work. "Give him room," Sheppard said. He ushered his team out the door, practically shouldering Rodney the entire way.
As Carson gently probed her torso, Elizabeth's right eye opened. It was milky-crimson with blood and focused on him. "Car--"
"Don't try ta speak, Elizabeth," he said. "You'll need your energy."
Dear God, will you need it, he thought.
Like the bats in his grandmother's kitchen, he knew they were there. He knew just as well that he'd never be able to get rid of them. So he ignored them. Ignored the flapping noises they made, ignored the way they hovered and seemed intent on keeping him from concentrating. Sheppard never left. He had found a spot in the corner and was, to his credit, trying hard to stay inconspicuous. McKay was a little less concerned with making his presence known.
Ronon came by and stared at Elizabeth for hours at a time. Arms crossed, frozen, a statue in the middle of the infirmary. He never said anything, never took a seat, never wavered from his stance. If a nurse entered, he would move to one side and resume his posture. It took Carson a while to realize he was standing guard. No one else would hurt Elizabeth so long as Ronon could help it.
If Teyla ever came by, she was silent and careful enough to only come when Carson wasn't looking. He never spied her standing vigil at her friend's bedside.
Sheppard finally left on doctor's orders. He was starting to get scruffy and he was more than a little ripe. Carson sent him away and promised to report the first sign of change in her condition.
Alone at last, Carson went to the X-ray light box and slowly ran his eyes over the map of Elizabeth's leg. Most of her injuries were negligible and would heal with time and patience. But the most troubling thing was her leg. After the explosion, she had come down hard on it. The impact had shattered both her tibia and fibula. He counted at least ten clean breaks, none of which would heal neatly, and several bone shards dotting the surrounding muscle like shrapnel.
Looking at the X-ray, he knew what the next logical course would likely be. It sickened him to consider. He closed his eyes and tried to think of the best way to tell everyone what had to be done.
Colonel Caldwell intercepted Teyla on her way to the infirmary. "Any idea what this is in reference to?"
"You were not told?"
"Told what?" Coldwell asked. He twisted his lips and glared down the hall. He had just arrived on the Daedalus and despised that the first thing he learned was there had been yet another development and he had been left out of the loop. If he'd known taking command of the Daedalus would lead to an effective demotion to taxi driver, he never would have agreed.
"There was a terrorist incident off-world," Teyla said. "Doctor Weir was seriously injured."
"How seriously?" Caldwell asked. His pouting was momentarily overridden by true concern.
"I believe that is what we're being called to find out."
They found Ronon, McKay and Sheppard already present in the infirmary. Sheppard looked like he'd been awake since the incident, his chin sporting several days-worth of growth. Ronon was standing off to one side and staring blankly at the wall.
Dr. Beckett stood center stage in his lab jacket. He looked apologetic, which automatically sent shivers down Teyla's spine. "Well, I suppose we're all here now," he said. He coughed into his fist and straightened his jacket. "Most of Elizabeth's wounds were minor. Abrasions, contusions and fractures and the like. But her right leg fared far worse. Her tibia and fibula exploded, for lack of a better term, upon impact. She was lifted off the ground by the concussion of the blast and came down with all her weight on one foot. The resulting damage was incredibly severe."
"Look a toothpick snapping in half," Sheppard whispered.
"Exactly, Colonel," Beckett said. He clasped his hands and bowed his head. "The pressure from these broken bones cut off the blood flow to her lower leg. I attempted to perform a fasciotomy to relieve the pressure, but the damage was too severe. There's only one alternative."
"What option is there besides amputation?" McKay said.
Beckett sighed. "Rodney..."
"Whoa, Doc," Sheppard said. "Let's think about this."
"There's no time to think about it, Colonel. It won't get better with time and there won't be another way out. This is the way it has to be."
Caldwell said, "We're in the middle of the most advanced outpost humanity has ever had a chance to study. You're telling me there are no alternatives in the database?"
"There may very well be," Beckett relented. "You're welcome to search the millions of pages worth of information to find another option. But you only have six hours to find it. That's the time it will take for me to perform the surgery."
McKay scoffed. "Surgery. Lop off a limb, he calls it surgery"
"Sometimes it is the only way," Teyla said.
Everyone looked at her. Ronon didn't move, but he snorted and looked at Beckett. Sheppard watched Teyla and Ronon, then nodded to Beckett. "It couldn't have been an easy decision for you to make."
Beckett exhaled and shook his head. "If there was another option, believe me."
Slowly, everyone nodded. McKay said, "Six hours to perform the surgery right? Six hours?"
"With the preparation necessary... yeah. Give or take."
He turned and rushed from the room.
Caldwell frowned. "Where is he going?"
Sheppard pushed away from the desk and started out as well. "Beckett just gave him six hours to find an alternative. He's not going to waste it." One by one, they filtered out of the room. Teyla and Ronon were the only ones remaining when Beckett left to prepare for surgery.
"It's not right," Ronon said.
Teyla looked at him. "You agreed that..."
"No," he said. "Dr. Weir shouldn't be the one on the table. It should be me." He stood and lurched out of the room.
Teyla, alone and speechless, soon followed.
Elizabeth closed her eyes and tried again. Her right eye still wouldn't open. She searched with the left for a moment and spotted Carson making his way quickly to her bedside. "Elizabeth. How are you?"
"Water?" she said. She was surprised at the weakness of her own voice.
He handed her a small glass and helped her tip it against her lips. She took a sip and leaned back. The water felt like ice on her throat and tongue. She touched her right eye and felt the gauze that blocked it. "You had a scratch on your cornea and a bit of bleeding. It'll resolve itself quick enough."
"What happened?" she asked.
"Near's we can figure, you stepped on a land mine. Commissioner Alward contacted us and they've found several booby traps in the vicinity of the embassy."
Elizabeth frowned. "Commissioner Alward contacted us? How long was I unconscious?"
"I need to get out of here..."
"Elizabeth, there's something else."
She took one look at Carson's face and immediately didn't want to know whatever they'd found. Cancer, a tumor, something equally horrific and life-changing. "It can wait," she said.
"No, it can't. Colonel Sheppard and Teyla are taking care of things in the control room for now. You were very badly injured by the explosion." He closed his eyes and said, "I'm so sorry, Elizabeth."
"What happened?" she asked. She didn't feel anywhere that shrapnel might be digging into her flesh. She glanced at her hands and saw all ten fingers bruised and bandaged but present. "Will I be able to walk?"
"Yes," he nodded. "Eventually."
Terror gripped her and wouldn't let go. She looked down, expecting only to see lifeless legs draped with the infirmary blanket. What she saw made no sense whatsoever. Why were her feet only making one mountain? The other... the other... the other... She began to cry.
Carson was speaking softly. "...on a land mine. Most of your injuries are already healing nicely, but... there was far too much damage to your lower right leg. We were forced to amputate just below your knee."
Elizabeth opened her eyes and focused again on the foot of the bed. One lump, one stump. She brushed the tears out of her eyes, the bandage on her hand brushing like sandpaper across her cheek. "But I'll survive," she said.
"Aye," Beckett nodded. "You survived."
Teyla closed her bedroom door and knelt beside her bed and withdrew the cloth satchel. It had been hiding under the foot of her bed since her arrival in Atlantis. She only pulled it out in times of danger, when there was a chance they'd have to evacuate. She undid the rope tie and dug deep into the bag. The paper was rolled tightly and held in shape by a string. She released the string and unrolled the paper.
She had done the charcoal drawing herself, a long five years ago. So much had changed, so much of her had been redrawn in that time. The woman in the drawing was named Lishaa. Her eyes were dark and she was smiling towards the artist, her bright red hair flashing in the sunshine. Teyla had never been able to get her just right, had never captured that spark that made her so memorable.
Lishaa died during a Wraith culling. She had run off the trail at the last possible second and both legs were caught in the ship's beam. Teyla had heard the screaming for miles. By the time she found Lishaa, the beautiful redheaded girl with the bright smile was dead. She had died alone in excruciating pain.
Elizabeth Weir was now having the same thing done to her. Carson Beckett, she knew, was a far sight better than a hatchet job with a Wraith beam, but Teyla still felt the pain and fear that Elizabeth would suffer the same fate as her friend.
"You will not be alone," Teyla whispered to the air.
Sheppard stopped in the doorway of McKay's lab and knocked on the wall. "You busy?"
Sheppard walked in. "You still looking for alternatives? It's after the buzzer, you know."
"Yes, I've been able to tell time since I was four months old."
"I'm just saying it's too little, too late." He frowned. "Four months?"
McKay rolled his eyes. "I was a quick learner. What, you're surprised?"
"At four months, there's no way you could identify a clock, let alone tell time."
"Well, of course not, not the way I do now. But I could tell it was being wasted. It felt remarkably like it does... now."
"You're looking for alternatives to amputation two hours after Beckett's finished the surgery. You wanna talk about wasted time..."
McKay said, "I am looking for alternatives to a prosthetic." He turned back to the monitor and continued scanning. "I figure the Ancients might have run up against something like this in the past. They could probably do better than a rubber leg."
"Well, we've done better than a rubber leg," Sheppard said. He leaned on the corner of the desk and watched the screen refresh. "I'm sure Elizabeth will appreciate it."
"Mm." He paused and looked askance at Sheppard. "You have a plan or are you just going to hover?"
"Wonderful," McKay said. He went back to his search.
Ronon stepped back and scratched his cheek with one finger. He picked up a towel and slung it over his shoulder as he walked to the door. "It's all yours," he told Major Lorne. He'd disrupted Lorne's workout, as well as that of three Marines. When he left, they slowly moved from the sidelines and examined the carnage.
The punching bag was broken in half, its stuffing flung to the far corners of the room. The protective mats had been torn from the walls and three basketballs sat deflated under the hoop.
Lorne glanced at his teammates and said, "Wanna call it a draw?"
The basketball hoop fell from the backboard and landed with an echoing clang.
Elizabeth sat up with difficulty and looked at the wheelchair like an admission of weakness. She refused to look down at herself, at the gauze-wrapped stump that ended about a foot and a half too high. There was no way her leg ended there, so she refused to acknowledge it. Beckett and an orderly helped her get from the bed and into the chair. Her back ached and the ankle she assumed was in a medical waste bag somewhere was itching.
Phantom pains. She'd heard about them, but never imagined they could be quite so... insistent. She reached down to scratch it twice and withdrew her hand before she could embarrass herself. She turned in the bed and looked at the impossible distance to her chair. A nurse hurried over and said, "Let me give you a hand, Dr. Weir."
Elizabeth put her left leg - the leg that was left, she thought, and grinned grimly - on the ground and let the nurse lift her off the bed. She had clear memory then of being lifted by her mother, carried to the crib or a high chair. She closed her eyes and let herself be lowered into the wheelchair. "Dr. Beckett will be with you in a moment," the nurse assured her.
Elizabeth folded her hands in her lap and waited patiently, trying to rein in her humiliation. Beckett approached quickly and forced a tight smile. "Are we ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be, I suppose."
Beckett wheeled her out of the infirmary and into the corridor. "I understand your reluctance, Elizabeth, but it is best to get started early."
"Right," she said. "When will I be fitted for a prosthetic?"
"To be honest, we weren't prepared for that. Bringing an expert in prosthetics is like..."
"Bringing along an undertaker," she said. "It would be like admitting we expected to lose people."
"Aye," Beckett said. He sighed and said, "You need time to heal first, which you can take while the expert is coming on the Daedalus. If ya like, we can attach a tube to the end of the cast to help you learn how to walk again."
"Like a peg leg," Elizabeth said. She spoke it like a joke, but there was a grim undercurrent to her voice that Beckett didn't want to encourage.
"No tube, then... In the meantime, your physical therapy will help you adjust to your... new situation. Exercises, learning to get in and out of bed on your own, learning to get into your wheelchair and the like."
"My new situation," Elizabeth repeated.
"Aye," Beckett said again.
He wheeled her into the physical therapy room and reached down to push the brake into place. Elizabeth gripped his arm and said, "No one else will be here, right? Just me and the therapist?"
"If that's what you'd like."
"It is," she said. "Thank you."
The door slid open behind them and Beckett said, "Ah, Teyla. I'll leave you two to work, then."
Elizabeth tensed and turned in her chair.
Teyla was standing in the middle of the gym, hands clasped in front of her. She raised her eyebrows and stepped forward expectantly. "Hello, Elizabeth."
"Teyla. You're... the physical therapist?"
"I requested the position in this case," she said. "I hope you do not mind."
She hesitated and then shook her head. "No. I think it would actually be worse with a stranger."
Teyla smiled. "Good. Let's begin with transferring to the wheelchair."
Two weeks after the accident, Sheppard returned to McKay's lab.
"Rodney?" Sheppard asked. "Are you still..." He stopped and looked at the blueprints that spilled from McKay's desk and onto the floor. McKay was hunched over one of the pages, a plate of donuts to the side. He broke one in half and shoved it into his mouth as he made a note on the page. "What the hell are you doing?"
McKay didn't look up from his work and spoke around his mouthful of donut. "I got about halfway through the database for information on prosthetics when I realized that they didn't have any information about wheelchairs, which is what Elizabeth will be relegated to. At least for a while, until Caldwell brings back an expert to design her prosthetic or until I find an alternative in the database."
"Right. Wheelchairs have to do with blueprints...?"
"Well, have you looked at this place lately? The Ancients circumvented the need for Stairmasters by putting everything atop a flight of stairs. It's not exactly handicap-ready."
Sheppard picked up a blueprint of the control room. "I never noticed how many stairs there were."
"Because last time I checked, you had two legs."
"So you're making Atlantis handicap accessible."
"It's not a permanent solution, but Elizabeth should at least be able to get to her office."
Sheppard glanced at the computer screen. "So you're giving up your search for...?"
"No, no, no, no, no, it's still running," McKay said. "I'm keeping one eye on it."
"And one eye on the blueprints."
"And one eye on your food."
"That's three eyes."
"And I need another one if you're going to keep standing there, so..." He shooed Sheppard away.
"I came in here for a reason. Elizabeth is going back to the control room for the first time since..."
McKay finally looked up. "What? Why? I mean... no, I know why. Make an appearance. But... how? She's still in the wheelchair, isn't she?"
"Ronon offered to carry the chair up the stairs."
"Oh. Well, uh, I'll definitely be there. How's the..." He tapped under his right eye.
"Beckett took the bandage off today. Looks like a black eye. She's still got some scratches that need healing, but the biggest thing..."
"Right," McKay said. "I'll be there. When?"
"Now. I came to get you."
"Oh." McKay looked at his station and said, "I'll, uh... I'll... pick up where I left off." He stood and groaned. "Oh, God. How long have I been sitting?"
"Maybe you should've kept one of your six eyes on the clock."
McKay groaned and walked stiff-legged after Sheppard.
Elizabeth rolled herself as far as she could and stopped at the base of the stairs. She looked over her shoulder and nodded.
Ronon crouched and gripped the armrests of her seat. He lifted with only a quiet grunt of exertion and stood straight up. "You good?"
He walked up the stairs with her and placed her on the landing. She rolled to the next flight and Ronon, flexing his arms as he lifted her again. Sheppard, Beckett and Teyla trailed behind her while McKay and Caldwell stood waiting at the control room entrance. Ronon finally set her down and she straightened her aim so she could face the familiar room.
The technicians were all at their posts and all staring at her. More than half of them seemed to be averting their gaze but were really focused on the stump of her leg. She felt like a museum exhibit, the infamous crippled leader of their expedition. She pressed her lips together and nodded to them all. "It's good to see you all again. I've been away too long. I suspect before long I'll be receiving a prosthetic. Barring that, I will be present from here on. My position has not changed; merely my perspective."
Ronon gripped the handles of her chair and she looked over her shoulder at him. "No." He released the chair and she rolled forward. People scrambled out of her way, moving to get wires out from underneath the wheels before she moved over them. She patiently waited as each roadblock was moved and continued on to her office.
"Elizabeth," Sheppard said just as she was about to turn the corner.
She laboriously turned the chair to face the room again. Sheppard smiled. "Welcome back."
She nodded, tightened her hands on the wheels of her chair and continued on into the office.
"Dr. Weir," the technician said. "I thought you'd want to know the Daedalus has returned."
"Thank you," she said. "Would you ask Teyla to come in here, please?"
The technician nodded and slipped away. Elizabeth pushed away from the desk and pulled her wheelchair close. When Teyla arrived, she remained on the other side of the desk and watched. Elizabeth gestured at the chair. "Are you going to help me?"
"No," Teyla said. "It's been a week, Elizabeth. You should be able to transfer yourself by now."
Elizabeth looked at Teyla to see if she was joking and scoffed. "I'm getting there. I'm not sure..."
"Should I be on a mission, you'll need to be able to get from one room to the other without awaiting assistance."
Elizabeth sighed. "Okay. Fine." She pushed herself up on her left leg and grabbed the arm of her wheelchair for balance. As she lifted from her seat and began to pivot, the chair rolled and she wobbled. "Shit," she gasped. She dropped to her knee as the chair rolled away from her. "Damn it," she hissed.
She slapped the seat of the chair as Teyla came around the desk to help her. "You forgot to lock the wheels down."
"I know!" Elizabeth said. She sighed and allowed herself to be put in the seat. She straightened and said, "Do you think I like being carried from one chair to another?"
"With any luck, it won't be for much longer."
"Yes," Elizabeth said. She took a breath and tried to put the embarrassment of her failure behind her. "Let's hope Colonel Caldwell brings good news."
Caldwell was waiting in the briefing room when Elizabeth, Teyla and Sheppard arrived. "It took you less time to get here from the docking bay than it did for me to get from my office," she said with a smirk. "There's a shot to my ego."
"If it helps, I walked fast."
She bowed her head slightly. "I appreciate it. Please tell me you were walking quickly because you had good news."
He glanced at Sheppard and the room immediately cooled ten degrees. "What?" Elizabeth asked.
"I didn't come back alone."
Teyla nodded. "You were to bring an expert in the field of prosthetics."
"I did. He brought along an artificial leg that fit your body type. He just needs a few measurements to custom-fit it, which he can do here. But there was a development while I was on Earth."
Sheppard groaned. "Oh, don't tell me."
"Well, Colonel, if you have a way to request a prosthetic expert without revealing someone lost a limb, I'd be more than happy to hear it."
"So who had the hissy fit?" Elizabeth asked. "The Pentagon? The White House?"
"Not those bastards," Sheppard said.
Richard Woolsey brushed past the Colonels and set his briefcase on the table. "Watch your language. You may hurt my feelings."
"I'll hurt more than that if you try to pull Elizabeth out of here."
"If you recall, I was recently an advocate for keeping Dr. Weir in this job. However, we cannot ignore the fact that she has gone through a traumatic experience. We must address whether that will affect the job she was put here to do."
"Fine. I'll answer it right now. It won't. Have a nice trip back to Earth."
"Physical therapy. Counseling sessions. The period of adjustment could be surprisingly long. Not to mention that she is essentially handicapped, even if she acclimates to the prosthetic immediately. Until we are certain she is fit to continue to lead this expedition, we would prefer to put an interim leader in place."
"Let me guess," Sheppard said. He glared at Caldwell. "You?"
Caldwell sighed, "As a matter of fact, Colonel, I think he was suggesting you."
Sheppard blinked. "Really?"
"Actually," Woolsey said, "the IOA agreed to assign the interim leader on Dr. Weir's recommendation."
"Does that mean we'll start acknowledging Dr. Weir is actually in the damn room?" Elizabeth said.
Everyone looked at her.
"I may not be eye level, but I can still hear pretty darn well. Now that the ringing has stopped, that is." She gripped her wheels and turned the chair around. "I'll have a list of potential candidates for you as soon as possible, Mr. Woolsey."
"Thank you," Woolsey said. He cleared his throat and adjusted his glasses. "That probably could have gone better..."
Teyla rolled her eyes and followed Elizabeth from the room.
The prosthetist was a hunchbacked man with nicotine stains on his fingers and an obnoxious twitch to his lips. He examined her, took measurements and marked them on a small notebook. The examination didn't take long and he snapped his notebook shut with a flourish. "This will just be the... preparatory prosthesis...," he said as he examined her stump. "You'll wear it until the stump stabilizes, at which time you'll be fitted for the definitive prosthesis."
She nodded. "Do you have to call it a stump?"
He looked over his glasses at her. "Residual limb?"
She shuddered. "Stump is fine."
He adjusted his glasses. "I understand you're working with a physical therapist?"
"Yes. Teyla Emmagan."
He frowned. "I don't recall the name from the list of expedition doctors, but..."
"She's Athosian. We met her here."
He scratched his nose. "I can't say I'm entirely comfortable with that, Dr. Weir. I'd prefer a licensed medical expert to..."
"I know what you're comfortable with. And I know what I'm comfortable with. Teyla gets me through my physical therapy. I won't start over with a stranger. I won't do it with a stranger."
He nodded slowly. "I... understand." He stood and picked up his medical bag. "If you'll pardon me, I should get to work on these adjustments. We'll get to work on the molds and then you and I will meet up again until we're both satisfied. All right?"
"Sounds good," she said.
The prosthetist left the room, allowing Teyla back in. She smiled and gestured at Elizabeth's leg. "Is everything all right?"
"Fine," Elizabeth said. "I think I'd like to start our therapy a little early today, is that all right?"
"Of course," Teyla said. She took the handles of Elizabeth's wheelchair and guided her from the room.
Elizabeth tightened her jaw and fought to keep her arms steady. She had changed into the lycra top and shorts that had been her uniform during the recuperation, both of them now drenched with sweat. Teyla stood directly behind her, her hands lightly on Elizabeth's hips should she fall. Elizabeth slid her foot forward and adjusted her grip on the bars. "Okay," she said. "I should be able to do this by now."
"There is no time table for recovery. Athosians who have lost limbs would still be on their backs in a delirium. You are doing remarkably well."
Elizabeth gasped and shook her head. "Teyla, I can't."
"Okay," Teyla said. She tightened her grip on Elizabeth's waist and let her fall. She caught her and backpedaled until she could deposit her back in her wheelchair.
Elizabeth took the towel from the arm rest of her chair and said, "How far did I make it?"
"Six inches farther than yesterday."
"Is that good?"
Teyla smiled. "It is six inches farther."
Elizabeth returned the smile before covering her face with the towel. "Six years ago, I was in Afghanistan. I was in fatigues and I was wearing this gigantic helmet and goggles to keep the sand out of my face. I was supposed to be negotiating a peace agreement between tribes. A pair of Marines escorted me. I went through the back door of this little... pagoda where we were meeting and one of the Marines was walking a perimeter. He stepped on a land mine."
She dropped the towel and stared at the far wall. "They... didn't find him. Not all of him."
Teyla looked away. Softly, she said, "You were very fortunate, Elizabeth."
"I know," Elizabeth breathed. "But goddamn it, every time I start to feel sorry for myself, I think of that Marine and his family and I try to see myself as fortunate. But all I end up with is another plea to have my goddamn leg back."
Teyla touched Elizabeth's elbow and bowed her head. Elizabeth had so much on her plate right now, Teyla didn't want the tears in her eyes to show. When her eyes were clear again, she said, "Should we remove the prosthetic for the day?"
"Do we have to?"
"Until you're acclimated..."
"Right," Elizabeth sighed. She leaned back and let Teyla remove her false leg.
A pile of blueprints covered the computer keyboard, aglow with the light from the still-tracking screen. McKay had turned his chair around to another desk and was furiously scribbling equations into a notebook. Sheppard looked at the page upside down, gave up and said, "Rodney..."
He reached up and tapped his earpiece. "McKay," he muttered. "Make it fast, please?"
Sheppard pulled the receiver from McKay's ear. "Now what are you doing?"
"You don't know who was calling me."
"I have a good idea. What are you doing?"
McKay looked down at the notebook. "Oh. Uh, I have a team working on constructing the temporary ramps for the Gate room and the control room and other necessary areas like the mess hall. But then I got an idea. Colonel Carter has done some intriguing research on the human-form Replicators after she acquired one of their arms. I was thinking, if we correctly utilize what she learned, we could be able to fabricate an artificial limb that is full functioning and appears like a normal, everyday human leg."
"Yeah," McKay said. He shrugged. "Well, I mean, it's only in the brainstorming phase, but the RepliCarter..."
"Replicated form of Colonel Carter. It severed its own arm to escape. Theoretically, we could manufacture replaceable and removable body parts."
"That's... creepy. What makes you think Elizabeth will even agree to it after what she went through with the nanites?"
McKay shrugged and said, "She'll go for it, trust me, if I get it figured out... she'll go for it." He bent down over his notebooks again.
Sheppard walked to the door and paused before stepping out. He turned and said, "Control Room to McKay."
Rodney groaned and tapped his ear. "McKay here." He paused and rolled his eyes. "This is McKay. Hello...? This is McKay, is anyone there?"
Sheppard walked out with a smirk.
The therapy room was deserted at four in the morning. Teyla was fast asleep, as was most of the city. The skeletal night crew was still moving about, but she managed to avoid them all.
Elizabeth wheeled herself over to the parallel bars and parked herself at one end. She locked down the wheels of her chair and reached up. The bars were padded and warm against her hands. She pulled herself up and hesitated, finding her feet beneath her before she straightened her spine.
The prosthetic still felt like she was kneeling on a post rather than standing on her leg. She adjusted her stance and reached down to adjust it. She felt a shock as her hand went from flesh to fake and she closed her eyes until the urge to pull her hand back faded. She took a breath, straightened her spine and took a step.
She slid her foot forward and followed it with the prosthetic. One... slow... step at a time, she moved towards the opposite end of the bars. By the time she reached the other end, she was out of breath and her arms were shaking. Her shirt collar was ringed with sweat and she felt like she was about to fall forward.
She tightened her right hand and pushed her left hand off the bar. She pivoted and grabbed the opposite bar just before she started to fall over. She exhaled, looked back the way she'd come and turned completely around.
Teyla woke to the insistent buzzing at her door. She wrapped a gown around herself and said, "I am awake." She walked to the door and pushed the button to open it.
At first, she thought she was still dreaming. Then, she saw the wheelchair pushed to the side and realized Elizabeth Weir was standing in front of her. "Elizabeth...?"
She grinned and said, "My arms and leg are killing me. I've been pacing back and forth between those bars all damn night."
"Walking?" Teyla said.
Teyla reluctantly grinned. "You should not be walking on it more than necessary... however... you have accomplished much. And I believe that deserves a reward."
The training center's tub was utilitarian, no frills. Teyla's bathroom, on the other hand, had a wide tub, several bottles of exotic fragrances and - a gift from Laura Cadman - a bottle of scented bubble bath. Teyla drew Elizabeth a flesh-pinkening hot bath and helped her slide into the water when it was ready. Teyla had accidentally seen her naked during one bath and, after that, it seemed silly to restrict her from the room, especially when she could be helpful in the mechanics of getting in and out of the tub.
Despite the fact she only used one foot to brace against the end of the tub now, slipping into the water still felt like a normal activity. It was something she'd always been able to do and something she would still be able to do now.
Teyla sat on a stool next to the tub and Elizabeth glanced over at her. "Thank you for helping me with this," she said.
"It is my pleasure," Teyla said. "I felt... as if my hands were tied on the return journey from the Stargate. I couldn't help you. I was impotent and frightened and..." She smiled. "I am making up for it now."
"In spades," Elizabeth said. She reached up and covered Teyla's hand with her own. Teyla looked at the wet fingers for a moment before she squeezed Elizabeth's hand.
"Have you given any thought to your temporary replacement?"
Elizabeth nodded. "There's one person. It's a long shot, but... I think it would be the best choice." She closed her eyes and sank lower in the tub. "I want to go to Earth."
"Soldiers overseas, when they're injured, get to come home for recuperation. I want to go to Earth. And there's someone I need to talk to."
Three in the morning found Rodney writing on a table top. He was writing a formula and, wouldn't you know it, the darn paper was too narrow. He hated that. All those notebooks, all that wasted space, why? He wanted a tablet, wanted something where he didn't have to pause his thoughts and start a next line. A computer with word wrap was a godsend. Just type. Let the machine put it into neat and tidy rows. He didn't have time to be obsessive-compulsive, he was too busy being a genius.
He sighed and shook his head as he tried to refocus his thoughts. He leaned back and tapped the pen against the desktop. Nanoramplimbs. What? Wait. He looked down at the notebook and frowned. What was he making notes on again?
He rolled back to the computer and lifted a handful of blueprints off the keyboard. He dumped them to the side and hit the Escape key.
As the screen blanked, he looked down at the spilled papers. "No!" he gasped. Who had done that?! He dropped to his knees and gathered them all up. "Oh, great," he said. The blueprints had been laid out due to their position from Elizabeth's quarters to the control room. Now it was all a mess. He'd have to reorganize it all, put it back together like a jigsaw puzzle.
He put the blueprints back on the desk and looked in horror at the blank computer screen. Had the scan of the Ancient's database finished? He clicked a key and nothing happened. "No!" he said. "NO! Oh, come on!" He swept his hand across the desk and growled in frustration.
He closed his eyes and he was back in the Puddle Jumper. He was panicking, sweating under his jacket. Sheppard was facing forward, of course, in charge, calm and cool and collected, but goddamnit, Elizabeth Weir was crumbled in the cargo hold, for God's sake. Look at all of that blood, look at how her hips were twisted, look at all that blood!
He could feel his heart beating in his throat and watched Teyla test Elizabeth's pulse. The look on her face did not imply good news. He felt a prickly sensation in his face and knew he had paled.
Elizabeth was dying. Already dead?
Nothing he did mattered. Nothing he knew mattered. He didn't matter. Nothing he could do could save Elizabeth.
He opened his eyes and looked at the destruction of his lab. He dropped to the floor and covered his eyes with both hands.
"Good morning, Doctor Weir," the technician said. He hoped he didn't look as dumbfounded as he felt.
Elizabeth stopped one step below the control room entrance and smiled up at him. She took a breath and stepped up. She reached down and massaged her thigh. It still felt bizarre, but she was standing and walking, albeit with a cane. "Is Mr. Woolsey here?"
"Behind you," Woolsey said. He was halfway up the steps and offered her a smile. "Good afternoon, Dr. Weir. It's wonderful to see you up and around."
"It's good to be up and around," she said. "You're here to catch a ride back to Earth. Unless, of course, you were looking forward to another three-week trip on the Daedalus..."
He blanched at the thought. "Of course not. But you're not going to dial Earth merely to..."
"No," Elizabeth said. "You, Teyla and I are all going to Earth together. You're going home, I'm going to recuperate and Teyla is going to continue my physical therapy. I'll get a psychiatrist there, I'll... get into fighting shape and come back when I'm a hundred percent."
"You've chosen a replacement, then?"
"I have. Colonel Sheppard will take care of my duties until the full-time replacement arrives by Daedalus."
Woolsey nodded. "Very well. I'll be ready to go in one hour."
"More than enough time," Elizabeth assured him. "We're leaving at 1500."
He nodded and excused himself. Elizabeth turned to the control center and took a look around. She was leaving Atlantis behind for at least three months, possibly longer. She was going through the Gate to Earth, so why did she feel like she was being kicked out of her home?
She realized she was blocking a technician's path and limped to one side.
"Is there anything I can help you with, ma'am?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No. I'm just going to go into my office and... pack a few things." She pivoted on her leg, tested putting pressure on the prosthetic, and lurched towards her office door.
McKay and Sheppard came down the stairs as Elizabeth dropped her pack at her feet. McKay looked down at the pack and inadvertently caught a glimpse of the bare prosthetic between her shoe and pants leg. He swallowed and ran a finger across his eyebrow before clearing his throat. "Elizabeth."
"How long you planning to be gone?" Sheppard asked. He kicked the bag and raised an eyebrow. "What, are you taking more than you came with?"
"Did you see the pack she came with?" McKay asked.
"Point taken," Sheppard said. He hugged Elizabeth and said, "Don't leave me in charge too long, all right? We don't want to just hand this place over to the Wraith."
Elizabeth smiled. "I'll do what I can."
McKay stepped up and pushed his chin out. He tried to look unshaken, and nodded to her. "Well. A speedy recovery and all that. Enjoy being home. See if they've released The Outer Limits on DVD yet..." He finally looked her in the eye. "I'm sorry I couldn't find another way."
Elizabeth looked down to hide the moisture in her eyes and stepped forward. She hugged him and whispered, "It's okay, Rodney."
He pressed his face into her shoulder and quickly pulled back. "If there are DVDs, I'd be... happy to reimburse you."
Elizabeth laughed and brushed at her face.
Beckett and Ronon arrived as the Stargate began to dial. "Ronon," she said.
"Dr. Weir. Hurry back."
"Man of few words," she said. He extended his hand and, after a moment to get past the shock, she took it. "I don't think you've ever shaken my hand," she said.
"I don't shake hands," Ronon said as he squeezed hers. "Implies a promise. I don't like to make promises often."
She nodded and squeezed his hand once more before releasing it.
Carson was looking at the floor and shuffling his feet. Elizabeth put her hand on his shoulder and said, "Carson."
He exhaled and lifted his head. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth."
"You saved my life. I wouldn't even be offended if you made a habit of it." She leaned in and kissed his cheek. "I'll see you in a few months."
The Stargate opened and she turned to look at the event horizon. "It still never fails to amaze me."
"Best part of the job," Sheppard said.
"Yes," Elizabeth nodded. She took one last look around the Gate Room and waved to her friends. She led Teyla and Woolsey into the event horizon.
To be continued in "From an Inconvenient Thing"