DISCLAIMER: Stargate Atlantis and its characters are the property of MGM, Showtime, Gekko etc. no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Havoc for the beta and general gushiness over the pretty.
SPOILERS: Minor ones for the Return Part I (and anything to do with SG1 and the Ori)
SERIES/SEQUEL: This story is the second in a series following The Luxury of Time.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Manda


She isn't expecting the knock on the door, or the visitor on the other side, but from the look on Cadman's face Elizabeth can tell the other woman wasn't expecting her day to end at Elizabeth's apartment either.

Laura leans against the doorframe heavily, waiting for Elizabeth to open. She is dirty, covered in dust, and blood (thankfully not her own), is crusted and drying on her BDU pants. When the door opens, she flashes a brilliant, if fake, smile and holds up a full bottle of Jameson's. Elizabeth leans against the door. "I know it's not wine, but I thought..."

Elizabeth nods. Laura sighs in relief and walks into the apartment. She's been here before, so she doesn't hesitate to move toward the kitchen. Once there, however, she stops, staring at the rows of cabinets, desperately trying to remember which one holds the glasses. It seems important somehow, that she should remember this piece of information, as if knowing where Elizabeth keeps her glasses and mugs means that Laura has captured a bit of the other woman no one else knows. She reaches for the left hand cabinet by the sink and smiles when a row of thick glasses present themselves.

It doesn't occur to her that she's crying, or holding onto the door of the cabinet for dear life, until Elizabeth's arms slip around her, turning her until they are face to face. Laura blinks through wet lashes to find green eyes, darkened with understanding, and in that moment she is lost. She pulls Elizabeth to her, everything forgotten but the burning need to kiss the other woman, to taste something that is real and alive and tangible. Elizabeth hesitates for less than a moment before she succumbs and lets Laura's mouth plunder her own hungrily.

"I don't want to think," Laura murmurs in between kisses. "Please... don't let me think..."

Elizabeth understands the request, better than most. She pushes Laura back, never breaking the kiss until the younger woman is trapped between the cabinet and Elizabeth's body. Laura pulls at her shirt, yanking it up and over her head in an awkward movement that sheds a layer of dried mud over both of them, but Elizabeth doesn't stop. Here, in this moment, she can give Laura something that she herself has wanted so many, many times since her first step through the Stargate: complete oblivion. Oblivion, where nothing exists but the mind numbing pleasure of hands touching, mouths tasting. Oblivion, where things like death and pain and grief don't exist.

Elizabeth moves to Laura's neck, unerringly finding the one spot she knows will urge the younger woman into immediate arousal. It was an unexpected surprise to find this zone of pleasure and the reactions it could elicit, so much so that Elizabeth couldn't help but torture it each and every time they were together, reveling in the way it drove Laura into blissful incomprehension.

She attacks it now, not caring about leaving marks, or that her teeth might be too sharp to bite as hard as she wants. Laura moans, fists her hands in Elizabeth's hair, and tugs to urge her on. They've been gentle before. This isn't going to be anything like gentle. She palms Laura's breast but doesn't stay. Staying would seem too much like foreplay.

Laura's hands are everywhere, holding on, moving, pushing at clothing until she finds the soft, warm flesh of Elizabeth's back. Her fingers dig in painfully as Elizabeth shoves open Laura's pants and buries two fingers deep inside her, the crescent shapes of her nails scored into the skin of the brunette's back.

Under other circumstances, it would bother Elizabeth that Laura, normally quite vocal during sex, is so quiet, but not today. Not now. Elizabeth understands that nothing about today is normal and that it is going to take something extraordinary to bring the other woman back to reality.

Two fingers give way to three, and she pistons her hand faster despite the awkward angle, the heel of her palm grinding against Laura's clit as her fingers fill her over and over again. Absently, she hears Laura start to whimper, from pleasure or pain, or just the right mix of both, she isn't sure. She doesn't stop.

Elizabeth presses deeper inside her body, bending Laura back against the cabinet and knocking over the bottle of Jameson's. Mercifully, it doesn't shatter, but bounces with a clunk and rolls to the side. Laura gasps as Elizabeth loses her rhythm, her fingers plunging deeper than expected, and she pulls Elizabeth closer, almost crushing her as they kiss, practically trying to consume her. They shift together, losing their balance, and slide awkwardly into the corner of the cabinet. Laura calls out hoarsely as Elizabeth finds just the right spot with her fingers and the heel of her palm presses even harder against her clit, and the world explodes around her.

Her knees buckle from exhaustion, and it takes all Elizabeth has to keep them both standing until Laura gains her footing once more. Laura opens her eyes dazedly, immediately finding Elizabeth's, and tries for a crooked smile, but it comes out more like a grimace.

Elizabeth reaches up and brushes errant strands of hair away from her face. "Come on. Let's get you cleaned up."

It is only hours later, after Elizabeth has poured them both hefty tumblers of the whiskey, and refilled them twice, that she dares to ask, "What happened?"

Laura leans back against Elizabeth's chest, sinking deeper into the steaming hot bath they are sharing, and sighs. Sex is never free. Whether it is bought with money, or fine wine and dinner, or a piece of someone's soul, it is never, ever free. This is the price she must pay now for her earlier oblivion.

"We were on a planet that used to be Goa'uld controlled. The Jaffa were kept as slaves to mine naquadah, but after the rebellion, they did it for themselves and traded with us. The Ori came three days ago." It was a simple pronouncement, but Elizabeth knew the implications. The Ori and the Asurans were remarkably similar - almost, but not quiet Ancients. At least the Asurans only wanted the downfall of the Ancients, not the entire galaxy.

"The Ori prior decided to make a demonstration of his power..." Laura says, before taking a long gulp of the whiskey. "He caved in the mine shaft leading to the surface and told the Jaffa only their faith in the Ori could save the people trapped under the surface. By the time we got there, the Prior had already left. He said the Jaffa weren't worthy of the Ori because their faith wasn't strong enough... he left the people to die." Laura swallows down the rest of the alcohol, ignoring the tears that have started to come once more.

"We tried to blast them out, but calibrating the correct charge to uncover twelve tons of rock?" she shakes her head, "It was impossible. Our search and rescue teams worked for hours, but the entire place was so unstable. By the time we got down there... they were all dead," she finishes softly.

"How many?" Elizabeth asks, knowing abstractions are too overwhelming to process. Knowing that for tragedies like this, Laura needs to know the exact toll.

"Two-hundred forty-one."

Elizabeth drapes her arm around Laura's chest, pulling her comfortingly closer. "There was nothing you could do."

"I should have tried harder. Found another way. Maybe if I'd tried to blast out one of the auxiliary tunnels it would have diverted the fall in-"

"Laura. Stop," Elizabeth orders, finding the tone of voice that has been dormant since leaving Atlantis. "If there's one thing I've learned, it's that you can only take the blame you deserve. And doing what we do, there will be plenty of it. We don't need to borrow more."

Laura nods, but it is less than convincing. Elizabeth tightens her embrace. She's felt this so many times, too many times, before and knows there is little she can say right now to ease the hurt Laura is feeling over her perceived failure. They have become so accustomed to pulling off last minute miracles that when it doesn't come through, when the odds play out as expected, it feels like a personal shortcoming instead of a natural progression of statistics.

"Water's getting cold," Elizabeth says softly after some time. "Do you want me to add some more hot water, or do you want to get out?"

It is a simple decision, but Laura hesitates, weighing the pros and cons of facing the world now or sitting in the tub just a little while longer. She sighs heavily, too unaccustomed to self-pity to let herself wallow any longer. "I'm starting to prune. Now's as good a time as any to get out I guess."

She steps out first, grabbing towels for both of them off the rack, and gasps as Elizabeth stands and turns to let the water out of the tub. "Did I do that?" It is a silly question, given their earlier activities, but Laura can't comprehend that she could have caused the rows and rows of bright red scratch marks down Elizabeth's back.

Elizabeth looks over her shoulder, catching the reflection of her back in the mirror, and eyes the wounds without concern. "I've had worse."

"Not from me," Laura defends, hesitantly reaching out to touch the welts. "Do they hurt?"

"They will tomorrow. Definitely a day to go without a bra."

"I'm so sorry-"

Elizabeth turns, catching Laura's hand, holding her gaze. "I would have stopped you if I didn't enjoy it."

"But you didn't even - you haven't even-"

"Doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it." Laura starts to argue again, but Elizabeth stops her with a shake of her head, stepping closer to take the towel resting impotently in her hands before wrapping it around Laura's body. "The marks on my back will fade a lot sooner than the memories in your head. And if this helped at all to make things a little easier... then it was worth it." Elizabeth leans in, kissing her softly. "Now come on. Let's go to bed."

The bedding is rumpled, Elizabeth having not cared enough that morning to actually feign the pretense of pulling up the covers. Laura smiles, just a flicker of movement on her lips, pleased beyond reason to see the immutably perfect Dr. Weir has her faults as well. They crawl into bed, bodies still damp. Without needing to be asked, Elizabeth curls tightly around Laura's back, her arms around her waist, spooning them together.

She wants to tell Laura that it will get better; that eventually it will start to hurt less, but the words won't come. They would be nothing more than disingenuous platitudes and Laura deserves more than that. Elizabeth pulls her closer, breathing in the scent of her shampoo and bath soap on the younger woman, smiling slightly. She shouldn't be this pleased that Laura had a terrible day, but the fact the other woman came to her looking for comfort stirs something deep inside she hadn't known was there. So many times on Atlantis they had been forced to suffer silently, never showing their damage, but tonight Laura had shown her damage and let Elizabeth be the salve. Tonight, she'd been able to offer comfort in a way they'd never shared before and there was something undeniably appealing about that.

Elizabeth knows eventually she will leave Colorado. She'll take a position teaching or working with the UN and return to her life where her friends are never in mortal peril and the most difficult decision she has to make on a daily basis is whether or not to have a bagel or toast for breakfast. For now, she wants to stay hidden away from the real world and the inane duties of Earth life. More than that, however, she wants to be here for moments like these when Laura will need her, because the younger woman has somehow stopped being a reason to hide, and started being a reason to stay.

The End

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