DISCLAIMER: Stargate Atlantis and its characters are the property of MGM, Showtime, Gekko etc. no infringement intended.
SERIES/SEQUEL: This story is the fourth in a series following The Luxury of Time, Oblivion and Time to Learn.
SPOILERS: Takes place post-Return I, so everything up to and including that episode.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Options and Obligations
By Manda


Laura can't help but smile when Elizabeth opens the door looking completely at odds, her hair mussed and a dishtowel thrown over her shoulder.

"You're early," Elizabeth accuses.

Laura feigns a hurt look then points at her watch. "1900 hours on the dot."

"Your watch is wrong."

"My watch is set by the U.S. Navy. It's not wrong," Laura smiles. "You gonna let me in?"

With a roll of her eyes, Elizabeth backs up from the door so that Laura can come in. She leans over to brush a hurried kiss across Laura's lips, but Laura turns the tables on her, deepening the kiss until Elizabeth has to pull away, sucking in air. "Nice to see you too," she mumbles, half-dazed.

"I've been thinking about doing that since I got back through the Gate."

"Long mission?"

"Boring mission," Laura answers. "Except for the part where Sergeant Morris slipped and fell into a mud hole. He was pretty pissed I pulled rank on him and took a shower first. The SGC really needs to invest in separate shower areas for female personnel." Laura lets her eyes wander Elizabeth's body, taking in the dark green shirt, well-worn jeans and bare feet. It is utterly casual and sexy as hell. A quick flush of arousal goes through her as she stares at Elizabeth's ass while the other woman shuts the door. When Elizabeth turns around, still slightly flustered from their kiss, Laura is smiling wickedly at her. "You have anything on the stove?"

"Garlic bread in the oven," she answers slowly, not sure whether to appreciate or be worried by the glint in the younger woman's eyes. Laura waggles her eyebrows and steps closer, letting the length of her body press into Elizabeth's. "You just got here," she says, half-laughing.

"I haven't seen you in six days," Laura says, all faux-innocence, advancing on Elizabeth until the brunette's shoulders are pressed into the door. "Did you miss me?"

"Not at all," Elizabeth deadpans. The stone cold sober look on her face melts in an instant and before Laura even has time to be offended Elizabeth's arms slip around her neck, pulling her close. "Of course I missed you," she says, her breath hot against Laura's lips, a precursor to the heat of her lips and tongue as they claim Laura's mouth.

A part of Laura wonders how she managed to get out done and completely turned around so quickly. The rest focuses on the taste of Elizabeth's tongue, already flavored by the taste of red wine. "How much time do we have?" Laura asks between kisses.

"Not enough to do this properly," Elizabeth answers, nipping at her bottom lip before kissing her again.

"Guess we'll just have to stick with the foreplay then." Laura slides her hands down Elizabeth's back to her ass squeezing lightly. Elizabeth moans, low and throaty, and kisses her harder in response.

"You keep doing that and I'm gonna let dinner burn, and then you'll have rushed over here for nothing," she mutters, moving lower to lave at the expanse of Laura's throat barred by the low cut t-shirt she is wearing.

"Not for nothing… mmm, yeah… for this," Laura mumbles, one hand moving under Elizabeth's shirt to roam the skin of her back. She's about three seconds away from popping the clasp on the brunette's bra – one handed no less – when the oven timer starts blaring from the kitchen.

"Shit! The bread." Elizabeth rushes away, so quickly in fact, it takes Laura a moment to recognize the gust of cool air on her face and the empty space where she was just holding onto Elizabeth's hip. With a lopsided smile, she heads into the kitchen to find Elizabeth yanking a pan of garlic bread out of the oven before it can burn. "That was close."

Laughing, Laura looks around the kitchen, taking in the small table decorated with candles and wine and place settings she knows couldn't have come from Target. It is elegant in its simplicity, and for a moment she feels terribly underdressed in her jeans and t-shirt, even though Elizabeth is in exactly the same attire. "Wow, you really, uh, went all out."

Elizabeth smiles brightly, setting the bread aside to walk over and sling her arms around Laura's waist. "I thought it would be nice considering the last time we went to dinner was a little…"


"I was going to say strained." Elizabeth kisses her softly before pulling away with purpose. "Now, why don't you pour a glass of wine and go wait in the living room while I finish this up? I want you to get the full effect."

"That I can do." Laura moves to the table, pouring herself a glass before freshening up Elizabeth's sitting on the counter. She walks into the living room, glancing around at the shelves and walls, noting the new additions that have been added in the few weeks they have been together. The other woman has had more time to decorate than Laura, which accounts for the carefully selected art now decorating the apartment in contrast to the stark white walls of Laura's tiny apartment not too far away from the base.

She sits down on the couch, relaxing into the cushions with her wine. A stack of mail piled to the side of the coffee table catches her attention, and she leans over to read the letterhead from the United Nations. Curious, and unable to help herself, Laura picks up the letter and flips to the next one, noting the White House header. A dozen more follow, some from the government and some from private organizations and corporations. Most of them are varying degrees of the same offer: six figure salary, the trifecta of insurance coverage (health, dental, and vision) plus six week vacations and perks like company jets and unlimited expense accounts. There's a separate bundle for the academic offers, including one position as Dean of the Global Affairs School at Stanford.

"Hey, dinner's ready if you are," Elizabeth says happily as she walks into the living room.

Laura looks up at her and then back down at the offer letters. "When did these come in?"

Elizabeth gives a half-hearted shrug. "Since we came back. Word kind of got around I was back on the job market."

"All of these... you don't even have to apply. All you have to do is say yes," Laura mumbles mostly to herself.

She has always known, and mostly ignored, the fact Elizabeth's pedigree is far superior to her own. The best schools, the best jobs, first name relationships with world leaders... intellectually she knew and recognized the distinctions that separated them. But it is not until this moment, seeing the options, the sheer volume and variety of choice, the Laura fully understands just how different they are.

"It's not a big deal."

"You have a personal letter in here from the Prince of Monaco. That's a pretty big deal. Which one are you going to take?"

"I don't know."

"You must have thought about it."

"Not really..."

"Elizabeth, people are offering you hundreds of thousands of dollars and you haven't thought about it?"

"No." It is the truth, even if Laura doesn't believe it.

"What have you been waiting for?"

Elizabeth wants to tell her that she's been waiting to wake up. To find out this has all been a bad dream (yet again) and that she's still on Atlantis, leading the expedition. She wants to tell Laura than she's been stockpiling those letters in her desk drawer for over a month now, but today was the first day she even bothered to open them and that was only because they no longer fit in the desk. Even more, she wants to tell Laura that none of the positions are anywhere near Colorado, and the thought of moving, of leaving her, brings on a wave of nausea she doesn't want to try and explain.

"I'm not in a rush to find a new position," Elizabeth finally answers.

Laura takes a sip of wine and then another. She sets the letters on the table next to her glass before standing to look Elizabeth in the eyes. "We're not going back."

"I know," Elizabeth replies testily, not wanting to get into this conversation.

"Do you? Because you aren't acting like you're ready to move on."

"It's easy for you," Elizabeth snaps. "One Stargate is just as good as another right? You get to go out and fight the enemy and make a difference while I'm supposed to go back to the life I used to lead behind a desk."

"You think it's fun what I'm doing? Almost dying on a regular basis? Seeing the hell the Ori have inflicted? You want to trade lives be my guest."

"I didn't mean- I'm just not ready to-" Elizabeth stumbles, sighing.

"To what?" Laura presses.

"To be forgotten!" They stand in silence as the weight of what Elizabeth has admitted settles around them. "John gets his own team, and Rodney gets his own lab, and Carson gets all the patients he could ever want. They're still relevant. You're still relevant. I'm not."

"How can you think you're not relevant?" Laura asks softly. "Look at those letters and they will tell you exactly how relevant you are. There are people willing to pay any price to have you work for them."

"Which is ironic, since I'd pay any price to have my old job back."

There are tears in Elizabeth's eyes making Laura realize just how far she's pushed. She softens her tone as she asks, "How long before you have to decide?"

"Most of them are open-ended."

"Promise me you'll at least think about looking through them?" Elizabeth nods, taking in a deep breath. "I'm sorry… I didn't mean to start something with you."

"It's okay," Elizabeth sighs, feeling a little more under control. "You're right. It's about time I started to think about my options." Even if those options don't include you.

"Dinner's probably cold."

Elizabeth shrugs, indifferent. "It's pasta. It can re-heat."

"C'm'ere." Laura tugs Elizabeth toward her, pulling her into a tight hug. She doesn't make promises or reassurances. Elizabeth wouldn't believe them anyway, even if she did. She just holds her, remembering a line out of a musical her mother made her watch once: What do you do with a General, when he stops being a General?

In a way it has been easier for the rest of them, moving from one project immediately into another, but for Elizabeth, the virtual governor of a (mostly) independent colony, nothing on Earth quite translates to the position she held on Atlantis. Everything she has been offered seems so obsolete, so petty compared with what she has seen, what she has accomplished the last few years. She has experienced more wonders in a few short years than most the world will ever know. From that viewpoint, it isn't hard to see why she's been reticent to try her hand at anything else. Compared to Atlantis, Earth is just plain ordinary. Laura doesn't let herself think about how plain or ordinary she may be compared to the other lovers Elizabeth has had.

Elizabeth pulls away, letting out a deep breath. "I must seem very silly to you."

Laura reaches up, cupping her cheek as she kisses her tenderly. "It's not silly at all and it's okay to be scared."

"I'm not scared, not really, it's just... I've always had a plan. I've always known my next move." Elizabeth hesitates as their eyes meet. "I'm not sure what I want anymore. Lately, I've started thinking that maybe I should slow down... live a little bit... maybe settle down with-"

The Marine Corps band playing Stars and Stripes Forever cuts off Elizabeth's next words. With a guilty look, Laura pulls her cell phone from her back pocket, eyeing the screen warily. "Damn it. It's the SGC." She flips it open to answer even as she takes three steps away from Elizabeth. "This is Cadman. Uh huh. Yes, sir. Yes, sir, I understand. I'll be right there." She flips the phone shut with an audible growl, taking a moment to glare at the innocuous device before shoving it back into her pocket. "SG-11 went missing. They've recalled my team to help look for them. I'm sorry, I've got to go."

Laura sucks in a breath, expecting to be besieged by plaintive eyes and a guilt trip to last a month, typical responses from her last lover whenever Laura had to cut an evening short, but all Elizabeth does is nod resolutely, her eyes full of understanding. "Go. They need you."

"You were about to say something-"

"Nothing important," Elizabeth lies with a smile. "Go on," she urges.

"I'll make it up to you, I promise," Laura says, pulling Elizabeth to her.

"Just... be safe."

"Always am."

They kiss one last time, both of them ignoring the taunting thought that this could be the last time they see each other. The last time they do this. Intellectually, Elizabeth knows that every time either one of them leaves it could be the last time, but something about actively sending Laura out into a war zone brings that possibility resoundingly home. She pulls the younger woman a little tighter, kisses her a little harder, until they are both breathing heavy and dazed when they pull away.

"I'll call you when I get back."

"You better."

The door snicks shut.

Alone, once again, she turns around, dispassionately looking at the letters on the coffee table, Laura's wine glass. She knows she should pick it up, put the pasta into Tupperware, close up the wine. She leaves it all. She moves into the kitchen and blows out the candles before grabbing the bottle of wine and her half-drunken glass and moving back into the living room. She scoots the stack of offer letters aside to make room for her plate of pasta and the wine, and taking Laura's advice from the week before, turns on the television. It is mind numbing, which is what she wants, because she came perilously close tonight to admitting just how seriously she is beginning to feel for Laura, and the realization of that is more than disconcerting. She laughs as she flips past the bowling channel and pours herself more wine.

There is time, she thinks, to make decisions. There is no rush, no hurry to go bury herself in work like she has always done. For now, she will finish off the bottle of wine and watch television shows she cares nothing about, and pretend that she is a normal woman leading an average life. For tonight, she will try to ignore the fact she has spent two years living in another galaxy and that her lover is about to travel instantaneously to another planet any moment. Maybe, she thinks, if she lies to herself long enough, pretends hard enough, she can forget what it was like to live in Atlantis. Maybe, eventually, she'll forget the way Laura smiles and smells and tastes. And maybe, one day, she'll forget that for the past five weeks she's felt more relaxed, more comfortable in her own bed and her own body than she ever has before.

She sips her wine and flips to the next channel.

The End

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