Spoilers: For Rising only.
Summary: Simpson fic with a healthy side dish of Simpson/Kavanagh. Science is her career, not her life. Some things she's had to compromise on for her career, other things perhaps she shouldn't.
A/N: Another fic to add to my fanfic100 for Simpson. I tried to write it gen, but sadly I couldn't escape the evil bunnies that make me ship Simpson/Kavanagh. Betaed by fififolle and Fanwoman.
She's a scientist, a rational person by all accounts, but as strange as it sounds for someone so logical and pragmatic, she also loves – no, wait, adores - her shoes.
The thrill of travelling to another galaxy had been somewhat dampened by the news that each member was allowed only a single personal item, and only one further allowance for a dress outfit, should it ever be necessary on the other side. So she chose to go semi-sensible, not taking her favourites, deciding the black, kitten-heeled suede shoes would have to do. They were least likely to offend, fairly practical, as far as any heels could be, and had some sense of style to them, with fine ribbon around the edges. It was a compromise, something she could live with, if she did live through the journey.
They had been her one pair, her one indulgence, and on the first occasion she’d deigned to wear them, she broke the heel off the left one. She hadn't even thought it would be possible, kitten heels being a lot harder to abuse than, say, stilettos, but she'd unfortunately managed to on the Lantean stairs. She should have used the transporter, but she'd been too worried about being seen on her way to her date. Most people were lazy and didn't like taking the stairs, not when Ancient technology provided an easier way to get around. So she'd taken the long route to the balcony - the one including a particularly steep spiral staircase - not wanting to give the gossip mill anything to run with.
Of course, that had backfired when she'd appeared at the infirmary all dressed up, or as best as anyone could manage to out here. That had set the chatterboxes of Atlantis off, as if the misery of spraining her ankle and breaking her best shoes weren’t enough. Anything and everything seemed plausible to the greedy gossips. Ideas ranged from the rumour she'd been hoping to attract the attention of Dr. Beckett, who'd been on duty in the infirmary that evening, treating a once more ailing McKay, to the same except with her infatuated with McKay instead. Their imaginations even stretched to the extremely absurd idea she was wooing an Athosian, and had dressed in her best, planning to get secretly married to him in the middle of the night. Plus, she hadn't been able to find the offending heel, making repair pretty much impossible – the shoes were a write-off until they found a way back to Earth.
To top it all off, her date had thought she'd stood him up or chickened out, despite her blatant injury. She'd dragged herself into the labs the next day, trying to catch his eye to indicate the need to rendezvous as usual, away from the prying eyes of others, but the one time that morning he'd actually acknowledged her, he'd given her such a disappointed look it had nearly broken her heart. He seemed angry or hurt, probably both knowing him. It was like he thought she'd done it on purpose, to be able to back out of this thing they were involved in. Perhaps he believed one of the first two rumours, she wasn't sure, but it had royally screwed up her week, with the only highlight being her light duty visit to the mainland.
Hobbling as she'd exited the jumper, she felt dumb. How could they put their faith in her when she looked like she couldn't handle herself? The Athosians had been as welcoming as always, though, not asking questions, which was a refreshing change of pace - nearly everyone in the city had grilled her on what she'd been doing running around stairwells in her little black dress.
Without the distractions life on Atlantis had presented recently, she managed to focus easily on her task of helping with structural planning beyond their usual scope. The only thing that bothered her was how she'd left the situation with her date. He hadn't exactly let her explain, but she couldn't help feeling she ought to have done something more, tried a little harder to get through to him. Then again, she didn't see why he was that mad at her, and she'd been having an awful enough time without him adding to it. He was the one being a jerk, ignoring her. About all she could do would be apologise, and it wasn't even really her fault! If he was serious, he'd have to suck it up and realise how childish he was being over what amounted to nothing. With no feedback from him, she’d resolved to return the favour and ignore him, which seemed to be what he wanted.
In the meantime, she’d put that whole issue in the back of mind and settled down at the table in the work area to go over the beautifully hand drawn prints with a couple of the Athosians who were responsible for the construction. Rather than the white and blue contrast used on Earth blueprints, the ink, produced by a native berry they had discovered on the mainland, showed up a deep purple on the beige of the home-made paper, and the script flowed across the pages, a mix of their native language and basic English. The only problem she had was understanding some points on the plans, due to her mediocre grasp of Athosian. They'd slowly been teaching her, just as a number of key Athosians, like Teyla and Halling, were learning English. However, she still needed the main planners, Javen and Neeris, to interpret a number of details.
Even with the challenge of cross cultural boundaries, the task soothed her nerves, and she found herself smiling more as she relaxed with her two fellow engineers. They might not have been educated to Earth standards, no degrees in sight, but she knew they had the spirit for it. The things they and those before them had achieved without much advanced technology were astounding. It was a shame most of their permanent structures had been destroyed in cullings, which had led to phasing them out of their traditions. The Athosians had the know how, and their resources could have allowed for it, perhaps, from time to time, but with the frequent damage to settlements, they no longer went for anything that couldn't be mobilised or repaired easily. She could only dream of seeing the grand temples of Athos that Javen described to her, but it was comforting to know certain elements survived in the modern principles of Athosian building, despite the changes in medium and the move towards flexible structures.
Work progressed quickly between the three of them, nearly everything checking out fine on the plans for the larger meeting tent that was designed for occasions involving both populations of this new world. Not all the Athosians were keen on such a level of social integration, despite being generally welcoming to the strangers who'd saved them, but enough had thought it a good idea that they’d sought the approval of the elders residing over the tribe in Teyla's absence. Still, she was wary as she accepted the offer of lunch outside, wondering just how happy the rest of the Athosians near the cooking fires would be to see the person assisting on such a controversial project. Expecting at least a little eyeballing, she was surprised to be left alone, life going on around her as if she was part of the scenery. No one was ignoring her, exactly - they offered her generous amounts of both food and tea - but neither was she approached. At least, she was alone until an older teenager she recognised as Neeris' cousin, Marta, stood quietly at the end of her table.
“Don't let me stop you sitting here; I'm nearly finished. I'll be gone in a minute, back to work.”
At this Marta seemed alarmed but nevertheless sat down, as if all she had been awaiting was prompting to join Simpson. They'd met on only a few occasions, Marta having been painfully shy at first, as she seemed to be today.
“No, no, do not go,” she said in a rush, apparently fearing she had scared the woman off. “ I came to see you, to give you these.”
It was only then that she noticed the package Marta had, now pushed tentatively across the wooden surface. The small bundle lay in front of her, fine string tied around carefully wrapped cloth. Reaching out, she pulled on the bow, unravelling the mysterious gift slowly, no clue as to what might lie within. Upon opening it, she was speechless, but Marta filled in the silence, explaining herself.
“Neeris overheard others from Atlantis talking of your accident, and not very kindly. She asked Teyla about it, and she told us a little more, about how you had ruined your prized possession. None here are particularly skilled at making them; we tend to trade for them. There have been no opportunities lately, but we tried our best - Neeris, my friends and I.”
Picking them up and turning over each to examine them, Julie Simpson didn't think she had seen a more hideous pair of shoes. Although they were made from quality leather, with soft fur lining the inside and a flexible-feeling sole, they were let down by the surrounding, clunky, wooden bottoms that made an impression of Pegasus galaxy clogs in her mind, even if they were far from it. On top of that, none of the component parts complimented each other, the colours and textures clashing. Marta continued in earnest, unaware of any disillusion with the present.
“Most of the other scientists who visit cannot wait to be back in the city, searching for the treasures of the Ancestors. They do not want to waste time on us, but you, and a few others like Dr. Dumais and Dr. Corrigan, are different. It is all we could do after you have been patient and generous with your time, that we try to aid you as you have done for us.”
Julie honestly didn't know how to break it to the girl. Intelligent as she was, Marta did not have an eye for design, judging from this unfashionable concoction. In fact, most Athosians – Neeris, too, she'd have said, unless restricted to architecture - had a better sense of style than Marta displayed. Yet, upon consideration, she decided it would be best not to say a thing about how much she “liked” the shoes; that really wasn't the point here.
“They're...unique,” she said diplomatically, “So special that I think I'll have to save them for a very special event.
Marta was unfazed by this response, but her next words were unexpected.
“Like how you saved your others for your courting meal? That is very wise, though it is a shame you did not get to your evening with the other doctor. He must have been very upset to hear you had hurt yourself, as well as having to postpone the date,” Marta said, testing out the new Earth phrase she'd picked up.
“Doctor? What doctor do you mean?” she innocently asked, wondering exactly how much of that gossip had made it to the mainland.
“Why Dr. Kavanagh, of course.”
Shocked that Marta -and presumably other Athosians, too - knew what the rest of Atlantis hadn't managed to guess, she choked out a reply. “I...I...well, he'll get over it.”
Marta seemed unaware of her companion's disturbed awe at her revelation, for she continued with more confidence.
“My aunts say he could be quite a favourable match for the right woman, if he was not so sour a man,” and there she stammered, feeling out of her depth, “...but I expect they can not make sense of Earth cultural differences, and it hardly concerns us,” Marta apologised before changing the focus back to the relative safety of the gift. “You could wear them when we use the new gathering place, when we all come together for the next festival.”
All of a sudden, Julie felt overwhelmed at the efforts they'd gone to, attempting to replace her broken shoes. She held the awful looking things in her hands and tried desperately not to cry, failing miserably. Marta looked concerned and furthermore baffled as Julie broke into sobs. It was all rather silly, caring about fashion out here, where they faced life and death on a regular basis. That she felt so strongly for something she couldn’t use ninety-nine percent of the time made it even more ridiculous, but these abominations brought her to tears. They were, quite possibly, the loveliest gesture and the only gift she’d ever received in this galaxy.
“You could always invite him to the festival, as well. It is a great honour among our people to be invited to another tribe’s celebration, and only the most trusted guests are allowed to bring a partner. Surely he would be impressed by such an achievement?”
Julie wiped away her tears and smiled at Marta, finding it terribly endearing how she was trying to comfort her, though she had no way of knowing such a proposition would be doomed to failure. But she had to laugh a little at the image of bringing him to a festival. He probably would get a kick out of it, if only because it would mean them going public. Now the dancing…that he probably wouldn't like the sound of one bit. Which would win out - recognition of them as a couple or fear?
“You know, he might just like that. You might have guessed, but no one on Atlantis knows we're...”
“Courting?” Marta provided.
“Yeah, something like that,” she said smiling sadly at her own inability to admit it, even to herself. Trying to be braver, she forced a brighter smile, realising she owed the Athosian girl an explanation. Besides, Marta was probably the best person to share this with, and boy, had she bottled it up for too long. “I'm not sure if we should be, since we work together, but that excuse isn't all that good any more. On Earth, there aren't many reasons for keeping relationships secret, and since we're not having an affair, he thinks it's because I'm ashamed of him, embarrassed to be involved with him. Letting people know about us would be a significant personal step.”
The girl laughed a little at the confession, which confused Julie at first, that was until Marta shared her own experience with her. “Yes, so it is with us. Once the village knows of a relationship, it is subject to the elders’ approval, but even before requesting consent, the elders are likely to know, as it was with Neeris and her husband. They thought they were discreet in their affections, but when they both finally plucked up the courage to address Charin on the matter, she said it was about time. I will never forget their faces at that moment, not in all my years.”
Julie chuckled at the anecdote along with Marta, though she was mildly perturbed at the parallel to her and Will. What if it wasn't as low-key as she'd tried to keep it? Just because she hadn't heard anyone whispering about it behind her back didn't mean there weren't people who suspected. Miko, for one, wouldn't spread it around, but if anyone had noticed...and Miko did have quite the crush on McKay. It might merely be a matter of time before she said something that would tip him off, despite his lack of social perceptiveness. If so, she could wave bye-bye to any privacy because McKay wasn't likely to be a man of discretion when it came to Will's affairs – nope, her “boyfriend” burned bridges faster than they could be built. McKay was a prime example of someone who both had it in for him and had the power to make his life hell, should he wish to. She wouldn't blame the man, but it wasn't a pleasant prospect to contemplate.
She must have been silent for rather longer than intended because, as she looked up, she saw Marta's concerned face searching her own for an answer. Although she said nothing in response to the girl's question, a moment later, Marta spoke up once more, with soberingly wise words.
“It is difficult to keep a secret from those you live with, and it is a burden hard to bear. It must be worth the pain to keep it inside, and not everything meaningful is best served by hiding it away. The Ancestors gave us a precious few moments in which to enjoy life; it is a shame to waste them on futile endeavours. One day, your people will find out about your relationship. By then, if much time has passed, will you remember what it was you sought to protect or will you remember only the sacrifice of doing so?”
It was the kind of advice that took time to consider, so she had no ready reply, though she appreciated it as much as the gift.
“Thank you Marta – for the shoes, and for the advice.”
“On the contrary, I'm grateful to you, Dr. Simpson, for listening, humouring me where others would not.”
“Please, call me Julie. ”
Together, they chatted in amiable, quiet tones about issues that seemed to be universal to women everywhere, no matter their galaxy of origin. By the time the team was ready to head back to Atlantis, she felt better than she had in months, despite her still-aching ankle. Upon returning to her quarters, she placed the hideous shoes on the shelf she thought of as her mantle, where all her treasured items were displayed. Every morning, and every night, she’d see them and smile.
The Athosians had taught her surviving for someone or something was not enough. To truly live life, you can’t let fear of risk keep you from enjoying what makes you happy. One day, she'd wear those shoes, her fear of embarrassment be damned. But first, she was going to start off with a smaller, though no less significant, step...one that was much kinder on her still stiff ankle.
The soft sound of the door chime signalled her visitor had arrived, on time and in full view of anyone who happened to be passing her quarters. She took her time, putting out the last of the cutlery on the small table set for two, before going to open the door. On the way, she mentally prepared herself, ready to defend her shoes from the mockery that would surely ensue when they were spotted in their place of honor.
“It's about time! I thought you were going to make me stand outside all night like a fool,” he exclaimed as he pushed past her, making to place the wine on the table.
As she ushered her date in, she bit her tongue, trying desperately not to comment on the fact he had seemed secretly pleased by being made to wait - all the better for someone to get the point that, yes, they were openly dating each other. That would have made for great teasing - as she loved to do with him because he was way too easy to provoke - stirring up a passionate defence, until he caught wind of her game and called her on it. But she resisted for once, despite the devilish temptation to push his buttons, not wanting to risk ruining a perfectly good evening since occasionally he'd fail to see the funny side. It had taken her long enough to get him to believe she was serious about them...and that had been after she'd gotten over her own issues.
“What the hell are those?! It looks like someone skinned a rabbit and attached a pair of clogs to its carcass!” he said as he examined her prize possession with a mix of disbelief and disgust.
She was about to bite back with a quick-witted reply about how at least someone had gotten her a get well gift. Instead, she held her tongue, choosing to open the wine he'd brought and officially start their first date. Pouring, she noted it was Athosian wine and wondered what he'd had to do to acquire it. Perhaps he’d even received some subtle hinting and help from a certain few friends of hers on the mainland.
“Shame you don't like them, now that my ankle's nearly better I was going to wear them at the next Athosian celebration. But I suppose you won't want to be seen dead near shoes that abhorrent, even if they are on me.”
That caused him to turn round to face her abruptly, obviously trying to gage how serious she was. He must've gotten wise to her tricks by now if he automatically presumed she was winding him up.
“Hang on one minute, I didn't say that! You can't just put words in my mouth...wait, was that an invitation?” he asked, solemnly. When he got no immediate answer, he stepped forward uncertainly towards her, speechless after the realisation. In fact, he stepped forward without thought and walked straight into the table between them, sloshing his glass of wine over his pants because of the collision.
She couldn't help but laugh a little at his flustering as he cleaned himself up, it looked sort of sweet on him and was a nice change from his usual confident – read, mostly arrogant – self. Suddenly she saw how he was strangely vulnerable at this moment, waiting for confirmation from her that this wasn't some cruel joke she was playing on him. For a man who disliked taking risks he'd risked a lot, emotionally, to be standing here tonight. 'Yes,' she thought wryly, 'sometimes, you do have to swallow your pride to find happiness.'
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