Little Red (mylittleredgirl) wrote in sparktober,
Little Red
mylittleredgirl
sparktober

Fic! "Love Stories" (1/2) NC-17

Title: "Love Stories"
Author: Little Red
Rating: NC-17 (part 2 only)
Category: Sheppard/Weir, [Sheppard/other, Weir/other]
Summary: Five times John doesn't tell Elizabeth he loves her.
Author's Note: Bingo prompt: "Revelation." For aj, because I started this in 2004 so it was probably her fault. rosewildeirish gave me some important canon pointers, and Over the course of writing this, it went from being a Five Times fic, to a fic in which something just happens to occur five times, and back again, so the section lengths are uneven. But fic! sparktober! Yay!


- ONE -

It's a cliché – one he's always written off as a creation of Hollywood – but John Sheppard realizes it when he's about to die.

Not in the heat of the moment – the ambush, the chase, the capture. He's too busy running and shooting to think of anything else.

But later, in the ominously named 'wasting box' where he's been locked and left out to die in the hot sun of the town square, the heat and dehydration drive him a little bit crazy. He hallucinates Elizabeth's voice among the aliens outside. He knows it's not her, it doesn't even really sound like her, and it hits him hard and sharp that he will never see her again, and that he cares about her more and differently than he has ever cared about anyone.

The next time he hears her voice it's real, on a puddle-jumper, her cool hands cradling his aching head as Carson works over him.

"John, can you hear me?"

He can, but his tongue is swollen, and he can't push words past it. She swims in and out of focus, looking worried, and he drifts in and out on her continued speech.

"John, it's going to be all right. We're going to be back in Atlantis soon."

She smiles at him tentatively, and when he smiles back, her features visibly relax.

He still can't talk, which is probably a good thing, because he's delirious enough to share his revelation out loud.

She doesn't leave his side the whole way home.


- TWO -

The next time, she's the one in danger.

Elizabeth is being held hostage on a world just technologically advanced enough to be really dangerous, and the last thing he heard before her radio went dead was her screaming stop. John hashes out a rescue plan and yells at McKay and tries to breathe, and he can't help the almost paralyzing thought: If he doesn't get her back, if he can never see her again, he won't recover.

His hands are planted on her desk – her office is his refuge as temporary leader – and he's trying desperately not to give in to his urge to smash something. All the energy in his chest needs to go somewhere, but he can't break her things. Not when she's coming back. She'll be furious.

She is coming back.

"Sir."

Lorne.

John tries to suck in a breath and realizes his lungs are already full with long-held air. He's not quite composed, but enough to speak. "Major?"

Lorne gives him half a smile, like he knows he's about to get yelled at. "I'm checking in on you, sir."

Lorne is a good soldier and a good guy, and John respects him more than he initially expected to. Elizabeth likes him.

"How're the preparations coming?"

"We'll be ready well before the next window."

"Good."

Lorne doesn't leave.

John's throat feels raw. He can't take this, take time to feel sorry for himself when Elizabeth is out there at the mercy of the enemy, when anything could be happening to her right now and he isn't there to stop it.

He hangs his head, drawing in a slow breath. He could pretend he's just worried about the mission or overwhelmed by the possibility of leading Atlantis without her, but it's clear that Lorne knows better, or the man wouldn't be here.

For a second, John wants to say it, wants to confess that he feels something for her to a willing ear, like that damnable secret alone can bring her back to them. He doesn't, coming to his senses before words can form.

The whole way there in the jumper, he imagines horror after horror. They have veiled assurances that she isn't dead yet, but she could have been tortured. Beaten. Raped. He clings to the jumper controls and prays for strength.

When he reaches her, she's fine. She looks so normal, so unharmed, that he doesn't know what to do after all those waking nightmares. He's beyond relieved to have her back and whole and safe, but he was so prepared to see and hold her broken body that he's choked by the anticlimax of it all.

To make up for it, he yells at her.

He's coherent enough to wait until they're alone, but then he takes her to task for the recklessness that got her captured in the first place, for insisting on the mission at all, for refusing to arm herself appropriately. He yells at her like she's an errant cadet and, strangely, she lets him.

Eventually, without opposition to fuel him, he runs out of steam.

"Fuck, Elizabeth," he finally says. "You scared me." He feels vulnerable in spite of his anger.

"I know," is all she says. "I'm sorry." She doesn't argue her point, for once doesn't defend her actions or clarify a lesson for him.

Instead, she reaches a hand across the space between them, hesitating an inch above his, as though checking to make sure he isn't really mad.

He takes her hand and squeezes it. She is warm, flesh and bone and very much alive.

John pulls her into a tentative hug. His heart pounds, waiting to see what will happen, whether she or he will pull closer, if he'll kiss her, if his confession will come pouring out.

But then her nose nestles against his neck, and everything is gone with the relief at still having her in his life.

It's just a hug, but it soothes him, and John doesn't want anything to change.


- THREE -

He's been looking for Elizabeth for almost half an hour, but that isn't unusual enough to get him worried. It's a big city, and currently quite populated with Earthlings, Athosians and a large group of nomadic Pegasus natives who call themselves Light Walkers. John was initially nervous about having twenty-five strangers descend on them, more because so few things in this galaxy have gone their way rather than because of anything about the Light Walkers themselves, but after three days of information and cultural exchange, he's about as relaxed as he gets.

And whenever he's feeling like this, relaxed and happy, he likes to find her and try to share a little of his mood.

When Cadman points him toward the balcony, she looks awkward. "I think she might be busy with the alien ambassador, sir."

He waves her warning off with a roll of his eyes and a smile. All work and no play – that's his Elizabeth to a T. He's sure even Ambassador Tarden, as diplomatically eager as he seems, would welcome a respite from the politely-worded wheedling of Doctor Weir in diplomat mode.

He crosses over the balcony threshold, rounds the corner toward the view of the ocean that Elizabeth has favored lately, and finds her kissing someone.

For a moment, he can't process what's happening, can't figure out who it is, even though Tarden's garish ambassadorial robes are unmistakable.

He ducks back around the corner right as they break apart, but can't make himself move any farther. The ocean is too loud for him to hear what they're saying from this distance, and his brain seems stuck on instant replay.

He doesn't even insert the man's name into his thoughts; all he can think is that Elizabeth is kissing someone. Someone else.

It didn't look passionate so much as tentative. A gentle kiss, maybe a first kiss, but still more than she has ever shared with him.

He heads back inside and pretends for an hour or so that nothing's wrong. When Teyla asks him to join her and some of the Light Walkers for an evening cup of tea, he lies and says he isn't feeling well and bails for his quarters.

He doesn't sleep. He imagines he can hear them through the walls. He doesn't think Elizabeth's the type to have sex with a man she's just met, but then, he doesn't really know anything about her.

The longer he lies there the more genuinely sick he feels. His throat burns, his stomach hurts, and he feels like an idiot.

Somewhere in the years spent between the conference room and her office and that one spot on the balcony he always thinks of as hers, as theirs, he came up with the idea that they had an unspoken agreement. A bond. Something.

But they don't. She has the right to take up with any alien she wants, and she doesn't have to tell him. He's done it himself, although not recently. He never even noticed the shift. He just... lost interest.

He had someone back home.

***

As much as John would prefer to be on another planet the next morning, he has to sit in on the joint meeting between the Atlantis senior staff and the Light Walkers ruling council. The negotiations are friendly, more setting down the timeline and procedures for trading goods and intelligence, and John does his best to show up early and smile and focus on the big picture.

Elizabeth's practically glowing. Her cheeks are rosy, and Tarden sits a little too close to her, whispering something in her ear that makes her break into a smile.

That should be me, John thinks before he can stop it, and then mutters something to Teyla about how he can't believe men in this galaxy wear so much pink.

Elizabeth interrupts before Teyla can ask him to clarify his unusual statement. "Let's get started, shall we?"

For the first time that he can remember, he can't stand Elizabeth's smile. He bitterly finds flaws with her features as she talks, mentally highlighting wrinkles he's never seen before, the few gray hairs she once accused him of giving her, how she's too skinny, too old, too... something.

The accusations hang thick in his mind and stomach. She's not any of those things. She's just not his.

And worst of all – he has absolutely no right to feel jealous about it.

***

Tarden is one of the last Light Walkers to leave the city. John spends the intervening days avoiding the control tower when he can, the balconies, the entire section that houses Elizabeth's quarters. He tries not to think about why.

He spends a lot of time conducting fighting drills, because his men could use it and because it's distracting and because it feels good to throw his fists at something.

It takes a week before Elizabeth asks him if he's angry with her. She doesn't usually let conflict sit between them, but it probably took her that long just to pin him down.

He doesn't answer her right away. He notices she's wringing her hands.

"The thing... with Tarden, with the ambassador-" She cuts herself off with an embarrassed wince, like she's not sure if she's about to go somewhere completely off-base.

She's so unexpectedly on-base, in fact, that John panics. Just as much as he wanted all this out in the open the week before, he now wants it to stay quiet and unconfirmed, where he doesn't have to admit anything and won't have to deal with the consequences.

"I'm not mad at you," he promises. She looks so genuinely concerned that it's hard for him to keep his distance. He meets her eyes for the first time in almost two weeks and thinks about how, if he can't get over this, over her, he's so, so screwed. "I just... need a break."

She doesn't understand what he means, so she sends him to the mainland for a long weekend of shore leave.


- FOUR -

Jessica Wayland is a geologist. She's twenty-eight, looks amazing in the bikini and white-blonde highlights she brought along from Earth, and she starts flirting with him about ten seconds after she steps off the Daedalus.

He catches up about five seconds after that and starts flirting right back.

He seems to find her almost everywhere he goes – the gym, the video game lounge, the heretofore little-known boardwalk along the East Pier where he likes to run. Jessica arranges outings for all the extreme sports he's been talking aimlessly about for years. She gleefully parachutes out of puddle-jumpers and surfs better than he does, though she cheekily volunteers to give him some pointers. She has boundless youthful energy.

With the notable exception of his ex-wife, most of his relationships have been with active, type-A blondes. John isn't entirely sure how he ended up in a relationship with Jessica, but he's pretty sure it was her idea. Given the messy ways all those past relationships ended, he's more than a little gun-shy of the whole idea, but her energy and body are persuasive enough that he doesn't really think about it.

She's probably too pushy for Elizabeth's tastes, too reckless with both professional adventures and the extreme sports Jessica keeps putting on the Atlantis social calendar, but Elizabeth hasn't said a word to him one way or the other. He hasn't seen too much of her for the past six weeks outside of briefings anyway – between chasing the Wraith and Jessica chasing him, he's barely had time to shower.

It's the evening of his first day off in ages – he spent the day rock climbing on the mainland with a few marines, science geeks, and his blonde social convener – and he finds himself headed to the one haunt of his on Atlantis where he's never run into Jessica.

The observation deck is the roof of one of the towers and the highest flat platform in the city – perfect for lying out and watching the stars. He collapses to the ground, body aching more after his day off than it did the night before, and tries to piece together how long it's been since he checked in with the stars above him.

It hardly matters, maybe, when his body and mind are filled with the buzzing hormonal highs of frequent sex and the first months of attraction, but beneath the rush, he feels off-balance. He has always been the type of person who needs a lot of time by himself. Jessica's the opposite – she needs perpetual stimulation and attention. His ego likes that she can't get enough of him, in theory, but the truth is: he's worn out.

"Hey," a voice greets him, a different female voice, and he turns his head to acknowledge Elizabeth. It doesn't surprise him that she's here; her view of choice is the ocean, but too many people figured out she was taking her moments of respite on the balcony outside the control center so she's been forced to find alternate places to get away.

"Hey," he answers back, a grin finding its way to his exhausted features.

"If you want to be alone-"

He shoots her a you've-got-to-be-kidding look, even though that's exactly why he came here. "Who's to say I wasn't waiting for you?"

Elizabeth raises her eyebrows at his near come-on, but lies next to him anyway. Strangely, now that he's got something like a girlfriend, he's noticed himself becoming even flirtier with everyone who crosses his path. Jessica does the same thing, but he's more amused than jealous. "Sex on the brain," Jessica waved it off when he mentioned it, tugging at his t-shirt. "The brain and... other parts of our anatomy..."

"How was the mainland?" Elizabeth asks after a moment of quietly contemplating the clear night sky.

"Good," he shrugs, and then winces at the way his shoulders seize in response. "Tiring."

"And here I thought I gave you time off for rest."

"Yeah, well." He wants to have a good comeback for that, but he doesn't. He turns his head, watching her watch the stars rather than looking at the sky directly. The stars haven't changed much in his six or so weeks without them.

Elizabeth hasn't either, he's relieved to note. She just looks... worried, a little, and he doesn't know why.

That stings him a bit. He usually knows what's bothering her, because they share the burden of command and spend so much time together. He hasn't been paying nearly enough attention to Elizabeth since Jessica disembarked from the Daedalus.

"Is everything okay?" he asks, out of guilt for ignoring her or out of worry – probably unfounded worry – that he's the reason she looks out of sorts.

She smiles, but he can't tell in the dark whether it reaches her eyes or not. "Silly things," she assures him. "Nothing important." She props herself up on her elbow. "Tell me about you."

She doesn't specify, but he knows because he knows her that she really wants him to tell her about Jessica. He shrugs again, sore shoulders be damned, and rolls up to his elbow to match her pose. "I'm doing okay," he says. "I'm having fun."

"Sounds like fun. Base jumping off the north tower?"

"You'd find that fun?"

She rolls her eyes. "Not a chance, Colonel."

He doesn't answer for a minute, reveling in the comfortable silence between them, and he's caught by a stabbing impulse to close the gap between them and kiss her as easily as he kisses Jessica. He wants Elizabeth here, under the stars, close to him. He wants to crawl inside her for a while and come back rested and sure of himself.

Elizabeth licks her lips – or the shadows let him imagine that she does – and his pulse skyrockets.

Sex on the brain, he reminds himself. Sex on the brain. He remembers how angry he was when Elizabeth's Ambassador Tarden was around, how he couldn't even speak to her, how quickly he went from needing her company to wanting her as far away from him as possible. He hasn't thought much lately about that incident or all the messy feelings it conjured up in him, not since Jessica's been keeping him busy, but the memory is reason enough for him to put himself back in his place. He doesn't particularly want to go back there. This is better, this thing with Jessica. It's easy. Familiar, because the geologist still smells of all the trappings of Earth and reminds him so much of the women he had on Earth and the way he felt about them.

But he misses her.

He hears himself ask, "Do you need any help with those weekly reports to Earth?" They don't actually contact Earth weekly, but the bureaucrats back home demand a sense of routine and normalcy from their farthest-flung expedition, and check the file dates of everything to make sure that all the papers are being pushed on time.

"I don't know. Why?"

"Thought it might be helpful, if you need anything clarified from the field reports. Might save you some time."

"Sure," she accepts gratefully, as he knew she would. "They'd love to have an opinion besides mine in the official report. How are Thursdays for you?"

"Fine, unless someone sends me off-world." His voice surprises him with how it sounds, low and flirty and suggestive.

"That's no excuse," she counters, mimicking his tone, and then lies flat on her back to stare up at the sky. "I'll email you a reminder."

Then they're quiet. He thinks of all the stars they're missing with the light pollution from the city and wants to take Elizabeth stargazing somewhere more remote.

He takes Jessica instead, to a grassy beach on the mainland. The activity is too sedentary for her and it only takes her a minute and a half to get bored and jump him.

He thinks, as she rides him into submission, and later as he groggily pilots the jumper back to Atlantis with Jessica dozing in the copilot's chair, that he really shouldn't complain.

***

It's been exactly two months since the last time he almost got himself killed off-world, and Elizabeth jokes about throwing him a party.

Lorne's team, for Elizabeth's last birthday, made an "X number of days since last on-the-job Wraith attack" sign for her office. At the time, John was a little put out that her birthday had become public knowledge – like he had some silly claim to it or something, since he was the only one to mark it their first year on Atlantis – but even he had to see the humor in the gift. Elizabeth soon discovered that keeping it updated was depressing, but it's still posted in the mess hall.

Despite not keeping score with dry-erase, she not only remembers the last time he got pinned down for eight hours by a Wraith patrol and came back with a laundry list of injuries, but has been keeping track of how long he's gone without a repeat performance.

"I figured throwing an actual party would jinx it," she says in lieu of festivities on a Thursday night, when they're camped out in one of the lounges, half-busy with the report for Earth and half staring blankly into space in an attempt to recuperate from the past week. Just because he hasn't been dangled over the gaping maw of death lately doesn't mean the rest of Atlantis has followed suit, and they've both had their hands full keeping everyone in one piece.

"What, I don't even a card?"

"It's in the mail." She shoots him a playfully raised eyebrow. "Looks like being a kept man is inspiring you to spend less time in the infirmary. I should have recommended this years ago."

He frowns. He can't help it, and she catches on immediately.

"John?"

"Nothing," he shrugs it off the way he always does when questions turn personal, but somehow he hopes that won't be the end of it this time. Elizabeth is good about respecting his need for privacy – sometimes too good – probably because she's just as closed-lipped as he is about personal things.

They don't talk about Jessica all that much, and still, it's more than he's normally really comfortable with. She'll ask how he is, how Jessica is, and he feels weird answering her with anything more than 'fine,' even if parts of him are dying for a sympathetic ear to help him sort out why this thing with a smart, sexy woman just isn't working.

Elizabeth really cares when he talks about himself – even if all he gives her is a flip response – and that makes him nervous. She unsettles him, like he's flying a jumper when the inertial dampening is the slightest bit off. She shouldn't be able to, not when he's sleeping with someone else, but she does.

He has the guilty feeling that he's being unfair to someone, and he doesn't know if it's Jessica, Elizabeth, or him.

Elizabeth sets her tablet down. "You want to talk about it?"

He feels like he really shouldn't be telling her this, like he doesn't want her to know, but the words spill out of him anyway. "Jessica wants to share quarters. She staked out one of the suites on C-level... she even drew up a furniture plan."

Elizabeth's eyes widen. "That seems fast, doesn't it?"

Relief rushes over him. "Yes!" he agrees, voice tight with the need to relate to someone over this. The only other person he's mentioned this to is Rodney, and the suggestion to get rid of any alien pornography he's collected over the course of the expedition wasn't exactly the advice he was looking for. "That's what I said!"

Actually, he didn't say much of anything, only got out of there as fast as he could before she could convince him. He's been avoiding her under the pretense of work ever since. He hasn't found a way to say that they've only been together for a few months, that most of that time he hasn't even been on Atlantis for more than three days in a row, and that it's way too big a step for him. That this thing they have isn't serious yet, even if he has no good reason why it shouldn't be.

All he said was, "We barely know each other."

"You know practically everything there is to know about me," Jessica replied with her charming, perfect, youthful grin.

He didn't say that she barely knows anything about him because then she'll ask. As it is, he has to work hard to keep pieces of himself separate from her prying eyes, and she always seems to find a way of getting what she wants. He's not always in control of his decisions around her.

Elizabeth takes a drink of water and faces him with an overly serious expression on her face, like they're talking about sending a team onto a hive ship rather than about his personal life. "You were married once, right?"

"Yeah." They've never talked about it – he never really talks about it to anyone – but she's read his file. He gives a rueful smirk. "Not for long."

"You know it's not easy, then. And that's without working together on an expedition like this and living, basically, in a tin can."

He never would have thought of the city – the size of Manhattan and all – as a tin can, but it does feel that way. He never really gets the chance to escape the expedition or Jessica for any length of time.

Suddenly he's curious. It sounds like she knows what she's talking about. "Were you ever married?"

She shakes her head. "We lived together. I knew him really well, and it was still stressful at first. I think no matter how much you love someone, it still feels like you're suddenly dating a different person."

He doesn't think he loves Jessica, not yet, but as with most things, she's not that patient.

That's not what he says, though. "Socks on the floor?"

Elizabeth grins. "No, that was his complaint about me."

"Doesn't sound so bad." He can't imagine a guy unwilling to trade a few socks for having Elizabeth Weir to come home to.

Her smile fades. "Like I said, there are a lot of good things about living together. If you think you and Jessica are ready for it-"

He clears his throat, not particularly wanting to hear the end of that sentence. "No professional objections, then?"

Two of the scientists are already pretty much married – they sent away to Earth for a license with the last batch of reports – so he knows they don't officially have Atlantis house rules about this. He can't help but wonder if it shouldn't be different with him, though. Because he's the military commander, because Jessica could fall under his direct command on a mission or in a city emergency, or because he can't imagine Elizabeth ever doing the same.

He wonders if she will, eventually.

"What do you want me to say, John?" She presses one hand to her forehead like he's giving her a headache. "I'm not going to stop you."

"I don't want it to-" he stops himself from finishing his thought, because even asking infers a kind of relationship they've never actually had. He doesn't want anything he does to change what he has with her. He knows it's unfair to pin his answer on Elizabeth like that, immature to be looking for an excuse that isn't about him, but he tries anyway. "I want you to tell me what you really think."

Her smile reminds him of the way she looks when she's recording a message for the IOA. "That's all the advice I have, I'm afraid."

"I should go talk it over with her." He gets up to make his exit. "Thanks."

"Anytime, John." It takes her a moment, but she looks right at him with those serious eyes that have caught him off-guard far too many times since they met. "You know that."

He chickens out halfway down the corridor, making up some mental excuse about how it's too late for a serious discussion. It'll be better to really rehearse his answer, to find a preemptive defense against Jessica's typical accusation of a "guy fear of commitment."

He heads back to the lounge to see if Elizabeth still needs help finishing up the report, but doesn't go past the door. She isn't working. Her eyes are closed, hand over her mouth, looking more vulnerable than he's ever seen her.

The next day, even though he still hasn't come up with a good excuse, he tells Jessica no.

***

His relationship doesn't last too long after that. He expects to be relieved when she ends it, and he is, but he's still a little hurt by her "no hard feelings, you understand" speech.

Jessica falls into the "just friends" role disturbingly easily, without even a break for the typical post-breakup bitterness. She continues to invite him along on all the surfing adventures and seems genuinely surprised when he declines. He has work to catch up with, for one thing – though Elizabeth never called him on it, he let things fall through the cracks when he stopped working 28 hours a day.

He's also not quite ready to see Jessica on the hunt for her next suitor. She calls herself a "relationship girl," proudly told him once that she's never single. "I tried it once under some theory of finding myself. It's too boring for me." John has heard through the grapevine that Sergeant Moreau is the early favorite.

In rebounding, like in everything else, Jessica moves far too fast for John.

For his part, he's spending his rebound time catching up on work and sleep and time alone. It's possible, he admits to himself, that he's a little depressed. If Jessica's a "relationship girl," this whole thing has just gone to prove to him once again that he's not a relationship guy, and that it was probably a really bad idea for him to spend three months pretending that he was.

After the third or fourth movie night that he misses, his doorbell rings.

He groans, figuring it's Rodney looking to continue their argument about whether or not he should have been allowed to reprogram the reactor on the Cataanan planet, or Teyla looking to chastise him for ducking out of another training session, or Major Lorne continuing his strange "we're not quite friends, but combat buddies sort of counts" campaign to cheer him up. Against his better judgment, John gets up and unlocks the door.

It's not Rodney, or Teyla, or Lorne. Elizabeth smiles at him from across the threshold, looking a little awkward, and holds out a bottle of Cataanan brandy. Dangling from the fingers of her other hand are two stemmed glasses.

Of all the things John could think first, his initial reaction is to worry about the messy state of his quarters, like Elizabeth is a sergeant come to do a bunk check.

"... Elizabeth-?"

"Evan says you really need to drink this," she tells him, stepping into his room. Her face softens. "I'm a little worried about you."

"I'm fine," he tells her with a smirk. "It's Major Lorne you should be worried about. I think he's a little obsessed with me."

She raises an eyebrow. "He's worried about you, too." The doors have already closed behind her, but she asks, "May I come in?"

"Actually, I-" He stops himself. Elizabeth reaching out to him is a rare thing, lately. He has some catching up to do in his friendship with her, as well. Besides, who else is he going to drink away his sorrows with? Ronon gets rowdy – and occasionally violent – when he's a few drinks in, and Rodney was always convinced that Jessica was too good for him.

John waves her in and clears off the chair near his bed. The last time he had a drink with Elizabeth, they'd lost four people and a Beta Site. This hardly seems like an equivalent cause. "You're worrying for nothing. I'm hardly the first person to get dumped."

"Okay, maybe worried is too strong a word." She sets the glasses down and wrestles with the bottle stopper for a moment before getting it free. "And I do have some experience in the arena of getting dumped. Sometimes it helps to-"

"Get wasted with a coworker?" he supplies.

"With a friend. And yes."

John toes some errant clothes underneath the bed, pulls the covers straight, and sits down across from her. He accepts the glass she hands him. The prickling scent of strong liquor makes him blink a few times, and he notices Elizabeth wrinkling her nose like she's about to sneeze.

"Should we toast?" he asks. They have standard toasts they use for the rare instances they drink together – to Atlantis, to victory, to the team. On particularly bad days, to survival.

"To Major Lorne?" she offers.

John clinks glasses with her. She looks into his eyes for a bit too long, and the sensation of his stomach dropping out distracts him from the first sharp bite of the brandy.

The alcohol warms his chest, and he thinks he'll eventually get used to the flavor.

"I'm sorry about Jessica," Elizabeth says, and he knows she means it.

"It's okay. I'm sorry, too," he adds, because apologizing to Elizabeth about her doesn't make any sense, but he still feels like he needs to.

She swirls the brandy around in her glass. "Better luck next time?"

He intends to laugh, but it comes out a bit harsh. "I think I've thrown in the towel."

"Until the next bright-eyed alien lass comes along?"

Something strong hits him in the chest, something familiar and painful when he looks at her, something that three months of another woman couldn't get out of his system. "You know me too well."

"Do I?" She gives him a contemplative look over the edge of her glass. "Sometimes I think I don't know you at all."

***

It takes a record three days to get the hangover out of his system.

He figures it's something particularly nasty in the brandy. Elizabeth didn't even try to match drinks with him – something he appreciated at the time, since at least one of them always needs to be alert enough to run the city in case of emergency – but even she looks a little bleary at the briefing the next day.

Lying around on his off-duty hours nursing his aching head and rolling stomach effectively distracts him from Jessica, if not from everything else.

The glasses Elizabeth brought are still on top of his dresser, and he finds himself working hard not to read too much into the gesture when she's usually so reserved. He's been down this road. He can't afford to fall for her again.

And yet, some traitorous part of him wants to.

She said she doesn't know him. It shouldn't bother him, not when that was the primary problem in his relationship with Jessica. If he wants to go farther back, his unwillingness to open up was probably the breaking point in most of his relationships. He doesn't like people prying too deeply. Having his secrets exposed feels like giving up all his power.

But when he's honest with himself in a way only a hangover can induce, he's tired of it.

He wants her to know. He has anger and violence in him he can't imagine Elizabeth ever understanding or forgiving, but something in him still wants her to know him someday, all of him.

If they both live that long. Remain in the same galaxy. Stay close long enough for her to figure him out. The thought that they might not, that they might be forcibly separated or drift apart on their own, makes his stomach churn in a way he can't quite blame on the brandy.

He tells himself this is something different than he felt before, before Elizabeth's brief fling with an alien and before Jessica, but he knows it's not.

***

He hears the rumor from Rodney, and he's furious.

"Don't kill the messenger," Rodney glares, chin tipped up with vague moral superiority. "But... you aren't, are you?" The superiority is replaced with something closer to disgust.

"No," John emphatically argues, "and I thought you were smarter than to listen to gossip, anyway."

Rodney shrugs. "It's not like I really care one way or another, but it's not painting Elizabeth in the best light."

The suggestion that John has turned to their civilian leader for a few comfort fucks because Doctor Wayland left him for Sergeant Moreau isn't particularly flattering to either of them. He can't believe anyone who's been on Atlantis for longer than fifteen minutes would believe that Elizabeth was that sort of woman, and he's not too happy about everyone assuming he's that sort of man, either.

He may have been, once or twice or three times in his life, but he was practically another person back on Earth and none of those comforting women were anything like Elizabeth Weir.

Rodney cites "those people whose names I don't know" as the source of the rumor, so John doesn't even have someone to threaten.

He grits his teeth and hopes that Elizabeth doesn't hear about it.

She does, of course. They're working in the lounge and when he suggests closing the door to block out the sound of the video game tournament in the lounge next door, Elizabeth advises, "You'd better not. You'll only feed the fire."

He sets his laptop down. "This? Really pisses me off."

Elizabeth shrugs and rolls her eyes. She doesn't look particularly amused. "I suppose we should be grateful that things have been quiet enough lately to give people time to make up rumors."

"It's disrespectful," he argues, "to you."

"And not to you? John, I'm old enough to handle a few streaks on my good name. I doubt it's the worst thing that has been said about me over the years."

That's true, too. Even back when he wasn't too sure about Elizabeth himself yet, he could never stand hearing her bashed behind closed doors.

"None of it's true, you know."

She makes a face. "I'm sure some things are."

"The price of leadership?"

That gets a smile out of her, at least, even if it's half-hearted. "We all have our cross to bear. Besides," she adds with a wink, "I should be flattered that you chose me for your rebound with all the nubile young scientists around."

That seems like a slam at Jessica or at him but, from the grin on her face, it's neither. He jokes back, "Hey, lucky me. You said yes."

"How could I resist?" She looks back at her computer screen, but he can tell she's only pretending to work.

"I wouldn't, you know. If I ever did, it wouldn't be because-"

She's shaking her head. "John, you don't have to-"

The thought that she really might see him that way, as cavalier and hormone-driven and disrespectful bothers the hell out of him. "That wouldn't be why."

She looks back at him, studying his face with an intensity that makes him run over the conversation a few times in his head to see what he just admitted.

"I'm not like that," he adds. His voice sounds weaker than it usually does.

She finally speaks. "I know that, John."

He feels the need to break the sudden seriousness of the conversation before he chokes. He flashes her a grin. "You'd never let me get away with it anyway."

"Oh, I've made my share of bad relationship decisions," she assures him. "I'm sure the rumor mill would love to get a hold of those."

"Since coming to Atlantis?"

She shakes her head. "Oh, no. Well... maybe with one or two exceptions."

"Ambassador Tarden?" He really didn't mean to ask it out loud. "Sorry, Elizabeth, I didn't mean-"

"No, it's fine." She sets her tablet on the table, maybe having abandoned productivity for the evening. "I asked you about Jessica. I guess we can talk about these things."

He nods.

"I don't know if Tarden was a mistake. Not keeping in character for the expedition leader, maybe. It could have thrown a wrench in our relations with an alien culture."

He hadn't even considered that. "It didn't, though."

"I know it bothered you."

He's struck still by that, with what he's sure is a weird expression frozen to his face. "It's none of my business."

She nods. "I'm still sorry."

"Yeah, well." He wakes his own tablet from sleep mode and moves some icons around on his desktop. He doesn't want to keep talking about this. He doesn't like thinking about it. He's rarely felt that out of control without it turning into disaster. "I'm sorry too."

He's not sure if he's apologizing about Jessica, about taking another lover at all, or because even with another lover he couldn't get over her.

"I'm glad that we stayed friends when you were seeing Doctor Wayland," she says. "I'd hate to think we might lose this."

He risks looking over at her. "We'll never lose this."

She grabs one of his hands. "It's important to me."

He memorizes the shape and feeling of her cool fingers and lets himself enjoy, just for a minute, the thudding in his chest. "Me too."

***

(cont'd)
Tags: !fanfic, c:elizabeth weir, c:john sheppard, g:2nd season, g:romance
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