Author’s Note: Written before any details of Elizabeth’s backstory were revealed, so I made up my own. Thanks again to Meg for her enthusiastic beta.
Elizabeth stays calm in a crisis. She learned that when she was sixteen and her mother collapsed from a burst aneurysm while getting ready for a Valentine’s Day dinner with her father. He was too distraught to even call 911, let alone handle the funeral arrangements after they knew she was dead. David was in medical school and Michael in grad school on the other side of the country and neither would be back in time to help. So, Elizabeth became the grown-up. And when a year later Dad finally snapped out of it and remembered it was his job to take care of her instead of the other way around, she couldn’t remember how to be a teenager anymore.
Elizabeth can negotiate anything. She learned that after Mom died, when Dad took all his grief and anger out on Michael for failing to find a job immediately upon graduation, even though there weren’t many openings for a research librarian in Pacific, Missouri. The concessions she won from Dad in that long struggle were what made it possible for Michael to take the job that was offered to him in Los Angeles and leave them all behind.
Elizabeth knows that life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. She learned that when the paramedics who worked with David made it out to their farm in five impossible minutes, but there was still nothing they could do to save her. Even though they loved Mom–who always made sure to stop by the station once a week with home-baked cookies for her son and his colleagues–almost as much as her family did.
Elizabeth never judges people based on first impressions. She learned that when the obnoxious shift leader that everyone hated was the first to break down in tears when they realized they couldn’t revive her. She learned it again when he was the first at the funeral to pull David into his arms and hold him while he cried. And it was ingrained into her in a way she’d never forget when two years later, David brought him home for Thanksgiving. It wasn’t the sort of thing you talked about back then, publicly or privately, but she knew and she silently thanked him for taking care of her brother.
Elizabeth is a firm believer in making your own destiny, through sheer force of will if you have to. She learned that from watching her father believe the worst about everything for months after her mother’s death, and usually meet his expectations. She learned it worked the other way, too, from watching Michael dig himself out of his depression every morning and go looking for a job even though neither he nor Dad believed he would find one. But he did.
Elizabeth’s trying to remember those lessons now, but her heart is thumping in her throat, all her rational, persuasive words seem to have deserted her, she feels terrified and helpless but can’t face the possibility of losing this time, and while she’s trying to look past the gun pressed against the soft underside of Rodney’s jaw and see the scared young man holding it, she’s failing miserably.
This isn’t the first time they’ve captured one of the Genii–Sora was with them for months before she finally decided to send the girl home, both as a gesture of goodwill and in hopes that she would be a voice of reason to her people. Somehow this young man doesn’t seem to know that, and has decided that taking a hostage–especially a hostage as valuable as Dr. Rodney McKay–is the only way he’s going to make it out of Atlantis alive.
She should sympathize with that, coax and reassure him and promise him he’ll be safe if he just puts the gun down. That they don’t want to hurt him.
But for once, she can’t. Can’t speak, can’t coax, can’t believe, can’t accept. She doesn’t care that he’s afraid, doesn’t want to promise him anything, she just hates him.
Elizabeth hates him for the way Rodney’s throat convulses against the barrel of the weapon as he swallows nervously. She hates him for the way one of Rodney’s arms is hanging limp at his side where the younger man dislocated it in the struggle. She hates him for the blood running down Rodney’s face from where the Geni boy broke his nose.
If John Sheppard were to ask her permission at this moment to put a bullet through the boy’s brain, she’d let him and not lose any sleep tonight.
But miraculously, before she can act or react with uncharacteristic violence…Rodney is talking. Not in the hysterical tone they’re used to hearing when he’s in danger, but calmly. Rationally. Promising the boy all the things she can’t promise him. Ignoring his own pain. Getting through to the very person who’s holding a gun to his head.
When his captor finally lets go with a sound of wordless, anguished resignation, dropping the weapon to the floor of the Gate room and sagging into the hands of Bates’ security team, Elizabeth runs to Rodney’s side. Pulls him carefully into her arms so as not to jostle the wounded shoulder.
“Oh my God…” she whispers numbly, gratefully, closing her eyes and burying her face in his neck. She’s learned something else about herself today: that this man’s life is more important to her than her own. “Rodney…that was amazing.”
He smiles weakly at her and returns the embrace with his good arm. “I learned it from you.”