DISCLAIMER: Stargate Atlantis and its characters are the property of MGM, Showtime, Gekko etc. no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is just my take on how Cadman ended up on Atlantis and what she found when she got there. Enjoy!
CHALLENGE: Written for the first International Day of Femslash.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Traveling Soldier
By Manda


Laura Cadman had been in Afghanistan less than a week when she saw her first firefight. Fresh out of the Naval Academy and explosive ordinance training, she'd been shipped off to help deal with the increasingly dangerous use of I.E.D.s that had begun to plague the countryside, harming just as many civilians as military personnel. She was pretty sure she killed somebody in that first fight, but after her third, she had a confirmed body count of five and had seen just as many of her own men killed.

The first time she disarmed an I.E.D. her hands trembled. After it was done, she ducked behind a humvee and emptied her stomach contents into a ditch. Three months later and it had stopped fazing her. They gave her a medal for valor after disarming a roadside bomb in the middle of an attack, thereby freeing up the road for her unit's escape. After six more months she had another two medals.

She wrote e-mails home to her mother, always bright and happy so that she didn't worry too much. Downplaying the violence. Downplaying the death – on both sides of the battle. At night, in the sweltering heat, she tried to picture the ocean and the feel of a cool breeze. She tried to picture clean streets and home cooked meals. In the winter, she imagined down comforters and crackling fireplaces. For Christmas, her unit found a small tree that put Charlie Brown's to shame and strung it up with glow sticks and wrappers from candy bars sent from home. They shared a bottle of vodka one of them had traded from a Romanian soldier. It tasted like jet fuel, but they drank it anyway and sang carols, slurred and off-key, well into the night.

They extended her tour once, and then again, always with the same excuse: she was just too valuable to let go. Deaths had dropped because they finally had someone who knew what they were doing.

After a year she spoke passable Dari and learned that goat wasn't a half-bad meal if you were hungry enough. She saw what was left of the Bamyan Buddha's and wondered what movies she'd missed out on back in America.

She was covered in dirt and sand and sweat, gritty from a weeklong stint on patrol, when she got called into her C.O.'s tent one day. She came to attention, tugging off her helmet and sand goggles, her face caked with mud and exhaust fumes, her hair matted with sweat, and saluted Major Benson. She noticed the man standing in the corner, a colonel, and nodded at him belatedly.

Benson stood up, gave her a weary, sad smile, and patted her on the shoulder. "I knew you were too good to keep around here for long Cadman. Good luck."

He left without another word. Laura waited silently, just as she'd been trained to do, as the unnamed colonel looked her over. Her back was aching from the pack she'd carried all day and the body armor, but she kept her eyes straight ahead and resisted the urge to ask him to hurry it up.

Finally he perched himself on the corner of the metal table that served as Benson's desk. Standard Marine issue brush-cut gone gray, he had the hard-worn look of a man you would willingly follow into hell and back.

"I'm Colonel Everett. I served with a man named Lawrence Cadman back in '89. That was your father, wasn't it?"

"Yes, sir."

"He was a good man." Everett gave her another look, appraising, then stood up. "You've caught the attention of some interesting people lieutenant. They think you show great potential… and so do I. How'd you like to get out of this rat hole?"

Cadman sighed and forced the lump in her throat back down. "Yes, sir. I'd like that very much."

The SGC wasn't anything like she'd thought it would be. Oh, she'd read the reports, and gotten the basic overview during orientation training at Nellis, but being on base, being there was something completely different.

The first time the klaxons started blaring she'd nearly knocked over three people rushing to the armory to get suited up only to have the sergeant on duty laugh at her and mutter, "rookie" with enough disdain to have her slinking back out of the room. She was assigned to SG-13, which oddly enough, had better luck than SG-1. Words she'd rarely used before became commonplace in her vocabulary: artificial wormholes, event horizons, quantum physics. She took advanced computer science courses, got infected and then cured of an alien plague, and managed to catch up on a year's worth of movies and music and celebrity gossip in a shockingly small amount of time. That Christmas was spent with her family in Seattle. She stayed up late beside the fire, wrapped in blankets, watching the lights twinkling on the tree and tried desperately not to think of sand and bombs and aliens.

They promoted her to first lieutenant two months later, and gave her another medal a month after that for taking a staff blast to the shoulder intended for the team scientist, Dr. Katzenberg.

At night, under the mountain, she dreamt of the ocean, and cool breezes, and soft hands.

The mayday call from Atlantis came a month later.

Everett found her in the training room, sparring against a much bigger marine. He waited until they'd finished – after Laura had knocked the bigger man on his ass, then helped him up – and approached her with a weary smile.

"Seems the folks in the Pegasus Galaxy have themselves a bit of trouble. I've been ordered to put together a force unit capable of holding Atlantis until the Daedalus arrives with reinforcements. Volunteer only. Plenty of action and a good chance of death. You up for it?"

She wiped her face on a towel. "When do we leave?"

Laura had been through the Stargate at least a hundred times, but there was something different about this time. It might have been going from galaxy to galaxy, instead of planet to planet. Or it might have been that the first person she saw when she stepped out was Elizabeth Weir. And if that wasn't enough to steal a person's breath away, then she didn't know what would.

It was obvious the Atlantean leader had been stretched to the point of breaking. There were dark circles under her eyes and an air of exhaustion that couldn't be hidden. But she'd stood there, toe to toe with Everett, ready to challenge him for control of the city. Her city.

It didn't matter that Everett won that battle – under the circumstances, there was no way he wouldn't – what mattered was the fact Elizabeth had challenged him. She hadn't quietly slunk off, and she hadn't really backed down. She'd simply stepped aside and made the smart choice. It was better to work with Everett than against him. Laura understood that, respected it.

The first night of fighting was hell.

Afghanistan had been short bursts of fighting, never more than ten or twenty enemy soldiers coming at them at a time. This was a symphony of chaos. Even with earplugs, the noise from the rail gun was deafening. The sky burst white at intervals as flares exploded, and then red and orange as darts crashed.

She shot down one, and then another. A third snuck by when they re-loaded and the magazine jammed. Two men went missing in the swath of a Wraith beam. Laura yanked the magazine out by hand and shoved it back in, giving it a kick for good measures. It fired perfectly the rest of the night, right up to the last dart she took down that exploded barely ten feet in front of the balcony, intent on a suicide run.

In the aftermath of the explosion she found one man dead, four others burned severely, and a giant chunk of metal sticking out of her left arm from where she'd shielded her face. She called for a medic and slid to the ground, blood pooling around her.

She didn't remember being taken to the infirmary, but she remembered a sweet accented voice assuring her she would be fine. When she woke up her arm was numb and bandaged. Everett stood at the end of her bed.

"You keep this up, they're gonna give you another damn medal."

An hour later, despite Carson's protests, she was suited up and back in the gate room just in time to learn there were Wraith in the city. She walked with the Athosians to the armory to gather weapons.

"You are injured. Are you sure you are up for this?"

"I've had worse." She picked up a P-90 and handed it to the woman. "I'm Lieutenant Cadman by the way."

"Teyla Emmagan." Teyla smiled briefly. So did Laura.

"So these Wraith are pretty tough bastards to kill huh?"

"Tough enough," Teyla answered. "Attack them from a distance. You won't survive a hand to hand encounter."

Laura grunted. "Thanks for the tip."

She went out with two marines and an airman who had a hand-held scanner. By the end only she and the airman were left standing, but they'd managed to kill three Wraiths. She knew the memory of watching the monsters suck the very life from her fallen comrades would haunt her for the rest of her days.

She'd just gotten her arm re-bandaged when she saw Elizabeth for the second time. Side by side she walked with Everett through the infirmary, but whereas the colonel's eyes were only on Cadman, Elizabeth's shifted from side to side, taking in the wounded. The dead. Laura wondered how many of those people had been Elizabeth's friends.

"Cadman, did you hurt yourself again?" There was a light tease in Everett's voice. It made her smile.

"Just popped a couple of stitches, sir. Doc here fixed me right up."

"You should be in bed resting-" Carson argued. A look from Laura had him spluttering to a halt. He gave them all a curt nod and went to check on other patients.

"Well then, as promised Dr. Weir, I present Lieutenant Laura Cadman. The best energetic materials and weapons expert the Marine Corps has to offer."

Elizabeth gave her a tight smile. Laura tried to ignore the hitch in her chest. "Nice to meet you ma'am."

"You as well, Lieutenant. Do you have any expertise in working with nuclear materials?"

"It was part of my training, yes."

Elizabeth sighed, her shoulders relaxing just a fraction from the rigid line they held. "In that case, there are a couple of gentlemen I'd like to introduce you to."

Everett had left Laura to Elizabeth's capable hands as the expedition leader made brief introductions to Dr. Zelenka and Dr. McKay. Zelenka turned, smiled, and went back to work. McKay didn't even bother looking up.

"Why's she here?"

"She has experience dealing with nuclear weapons."

"Has she ever built one?"

Elizabeth looked at Laura. Cadman shrugged. "Nope. But I've been trained to disarm them, so… same difference really."

That made McKay turn. The look on his face would have been hilarious if the entire situation hadn't been insanely surreal.

Elizabeth cleared her throat and received his undivided attention. "Rodney, you haven't slept in over three days. Let Lieutenant Cadman help you, if only to give you a fresh pair of eyes. We can't afford any mistakes on this."

"Fine, but if she blows us up, I'm blaming you."

To Laura's amazement, Elizabeth smiled. "Rodney, if she blows us up, I might be inclined to consider it a favor."

In the end, she didn't do much – some calculations here, some welding and assembling there. McKay didn't trust anyone he didn't know, but she watched and made sure he didn't make any mistakes. They finished just as Everett gave the order for defense teams to man their positions.

"I gotta go," she said, strapping on her helmet. McKay didn't look up. "In case, well, this doesn't work out, it was a pleasure."

He waved her away. "Yes, yes, fine."

Zelenka offered her another smile. She returned it. Under other circumstances she would have been amazed by how much she'd learned just by watching them work, but that was pushed to the back of her mind as she ran across the city to her position, a new squad of marines and airmen stationed on the balcony as she manned the rail gun.

The wait, the dread filled anticipation, chewed a hole in her stomach, but at least this time they were fighting in the daylight.

It didn't make it any easier. For as many as she shot down, more would take their place. She could see the Wraith beaming into the city, could hear the screams of men taken by explosion, or killed by their hand. And then, like a beacon of hope, there was a flash in the sky, followed by another.

Someone shouted a warning about incoming darts and suicide runs. Laura shoved a fresh magazine into the rail gun and positioned the gun toward the sky, waiting. Second after second, her heart pounding in her ears, she watched for them to come into range. When they finally appeared, she knew no matter how much fire power they had, they weren't going to survive. She aimed the gun anyway.

"Defensive positions! We have to create a firewall! You shoot until you are out of bullets! We can't let those darts hit the city!"

She was a half-second from giving the order to open fire when the shield went up and she got to see the best fireworks display of her entire life as hundreds of Wraith darts crashed into an invisible wall like flies on a windshield. With a sigh, she put the safety on the rail gun and turned to the remaining men of her team.

"Okay boys. What do you say we go clean up what's left?"

She found Everett in the infirmary. Elizabeth was at his bedside.

"We're shipping him out with the next batch of wounded."

Laura nodded and watched as he fought for each breath. Even aged beyond his years she was still ready to follow him into hell. His eyes fluttered open, caught on hers. "Lieutenant. Report."

"Heavy casualties, sir, but we held our ground. Looks like we won this round."

He nodded. "Do me a favor Cadman?"

"Name it."

Everett looked at Elizabeth and tried to smile. "Buy this pretty lady a drink for me." He closed his eyes and drifted off.

They walked with him to the gate room in silence, watching as one by one the injured were ushered through the event horizon.

"You should go with him, Lieutenant. You're injured."

"It's just a scratch."

Elizabeth turned, meeting Laura's eyes in a sidelong glance. "You've got nothing to prove."

"Neither do you."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that."

The gate disengaged. Elizabeth turned, and walked away.

After it was done – finally done – they gated back to Earth.

Elizabeth went to debrief with the IOA.

Laura went to the infirmary.

Everett was already dead – passed away a few hours after returning to Earth. Laura knew he'd managed to fight and hold on just long enough to get back on American soil. He was that kind of man.

She spent two hours under a blistering hot shower. Only then did she let herself cry.

The next day she requested a transfer to Atlantis.

Laura still had ringing in her ears from the constant barrage from the rail gun, but Dr. Lam had assured her it would fade. The silence of the mountains was a welcome relief. She spent every moment she could outside in the fresh air, soaking up what peace and quiet she could find to store away for a later time. She called her mother, assured her she was safe, and explained she would be out of touch for some time. She broke a handful of federal laws burning every dvd and cd she could get her hands on, stockpiled her favorite candy, and arranged for her bills to be paid automatically through her checking account.

On the last night before the Daedalus was set to leave she bought a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Elizabeth opened up on her second knock. Laura held up the bottle and was let in without question.

They toasted Everett and the friends they'd lost.

"I hear they're giving you another medal."

"Yeah, I wish they'd stop that."

Sitting on the floor, backs braced against the bed, they took another shot.

"Why are you coming back?"

Laura considered the question and took another drink. "I've fought to defend the country, and I've fought to defend the planet… But this? This is bigger than anything I could have imagined before. This is something you don't walk away from." The way Laura said it, Elizabeth knew she was talking about more than Atlantis. "What about you?"

Elizabeth smiled. "Same reason."

"Guess we have that in common then."

"I guess so."

Laura considered it, but it was Elizabeth that leaned in for the kiss. A soft press of lips, the taste of whiskey, and Laura didn't have to think about her response. Didn't have to think at all. She set her glass aside and kissed Elizabeth back.

They didn't talk much. Too many words had the potential to spoil the moment. Laura fisted her hands in Elizabeth's hair, then dragged her nails down her back. Elizabeth bit Laura's shoulder and pushed two fingers deep inside her body. A sigh, a choked moan, was all the communication either of them need as they kissed and tasted and touched all night long. And in the darkness, they held onto each other until the nightmares came and went.

In the morning, Laura zipped her flight suit all the way up, trying to hide the hickey on her collarbone. She fought a smile when Elizabeth walked into the gate room looking flushed and thrown together – her flight suit, also, zipped up all the way.

They didn't avoid each other on the Daedalus, but they were never alone.

Meals in the mess hall were absolute torture as they sat near each other but never next to each other – just close enough so that Laura could smell Elizabeth's perfume and hear her soft laugh. For three weeks Laura shared a room with Dr. Novak and laid awake thinking of Elizabeth and oceans and cool breezes.

It took two days to unpack her boxes and settle into her room in Atlantis. The windows didn't open but it didn't matter. The view was gorgeous.

Late on the second night Laura went looking for Elizabeth.

She was still new, and she had never gotten much a chance to hang around the personnel living quarters when she was here the last time, so she was fairly confident if anyone asked questions about her roaming the halls she could cover with incompetence. It didn't matter that she knew exactly which room was Elizabeth's and how to get there.

She knocked once, then again, but no one answered. She gave up on the third try and turned to go only to run into McKay.

"You looking for Elizabeth?"


"Uh, yeah… I had a question."

Thankfully McKay, always in his own world, didn't bother pressing the issue. He punched something into his ever present data pad. "She's on the balcony."

"How did you… I thought you couldn't tell one life sign from another?"

He flipped the pad around to show the solitary dot standing on the balcony. "It's her." He shrugged, as if this is the only plausible answer, and walked off without another thought.

Laura made her way to the gate room, keeping her steps even and light despite the urge to run. The control room was mostly empty, no more than a few techs and marines on skeleton duty. She bypassed Elizabeth's empty office and stepped onto the balcony.

The doors slid shut quietly behind her. Elizabeth turned and for a long moment Laura couldn't breathe. The wind teased Elizabeth's hair, blowing it across her face even as she pushed it away. The ocean was luminous under the light of a full moon.

Elizabeth smiled as Laura took an unsteady, heavy step toward her, bringing them face to face. She reached up, brushing a lock of blonde hair away from Laura's face and tucked it behind her ear. Elizabeth didn't dare kiss her, here, but she knew she would. Soon. And for a very long time. "You found me."

Laura smiled and leaned into the touch. "You don't want to know how long I've been looking."

The End

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