Title: “First Snow”
Summary: Elizabeth's in a funk, and John has a plan. Well, he doesn't, but he's going to come up with one, really.
Bingo prompt: Winter
Set: Season 2
For: sunny_serenity, because my last fic made her cry. She wanted John to make it snow, and Elizabeth reminded of home. I briefly considered an AU set at a ski lodge, but... no. ;)
John can usually chart Elizabeth’s moods pretty well based on how recently his team last got into trouble – which is fair, because their version of trouble usually falls on a scale between emergency surgery and nuclear apocalypse. It’s not that they try to make enemies wherever they go or purposely attract natural disasters. The Pegasus Galaxy is a dangerous place.
She’ll sometimes say, with that tired, headache-y look on her face, that he meddles too often – but first of all, 99% of the planets where he meddles were already a mess, and second of all, Rodney is the real menace, so she should take it up with him. Strictly in terms of in-retrospect-maybe-that-was-a-bad-idea vs. number of missions, John might have the edge, but he never blew up a solar system.
That said, he and Rodney have both been – her words – on their best behavior lately. Sure, they’ve been in a few firefights, but they never started any of them, nothing overly critical exploded, no new cultures have declared war on them, and no one mutated into a bug.
It’s actually a little bit boring.
Still, while their usual schedule of disasters may have turned him into an adrenaline junkie, that doesn’t explain why Elizabeth has seemed so off lately. It’s not like she’s going around yelling at people or anything, but she’s sending out cranky emails about the proper font use in official IOA reports and she looks far too exhausted for a month with so few emergency midnight alarms.
He’s worried about her, and he’s restless from inaction and waiting for their disastrous luck to kick in again. She keeps skipping their when-he’s-in-the-city breakfasts together, and when she shows up, she’s listless. She barely smiles at his retelling of the one-act play the Athosian kids put on the last time he visited the mainland with Teyla, and him imitating Wex imitating Rodney deserves a chuckle, at least.
John stews in his concern for about a week, waiting for her to snap out of it or for someone better qualified to talk about feelings – you know, anyone – to notice her lack of pep and help her through it.
He finally decides to just ask Teyla to talk to her when Elizabeth tells him what’s wrong – sort of.
“I miss seasons.”
John has a mouthful of a breakfast bread-product that’s too alien to be called an English muffin, so he chews and swallows before he says, “What?”
She shrugs and looks down at the oatmeal she’s barely touched. “It’s not like I miss shoveling my car out every morning, but surviving the winter always felt like an accomplishment.” She shakes her head. “You know that, though. You liked living in Antarctica.”
True, though that was more about the solitude than the wind chill. “70 degrees every day is pretty nice.”
“I know. It’s just... sometimes I feel like time is standing still.”
Being at war with the Wraith can certainly feel that way. Even though they survived a full assault from Wraith hive ships by faking their own demise, John knows every victory is short-lived.
She sighs and slumps in her chair. John feels the same twinge in his chest that he gets when he thinks about Elizabeth in danger, but it’s not like he can protect her from Atlantis’s equatorial weather patterns.
He can’t think of any way to help except, “I’ll see if I can get us into some trouble on my next mission to distract you.”
Elizabeth raises an eyebrow. “You’d better not.”
“Best behavior,” he promises with a wink. Even that doesn’t get a real smile out of her.
It leaves him feeling uneasy, so he takes it as a challenge. After all, until the next time aliens try to kill him, he needs something to do.
Bringing her coffee every day doesn’t work, probably because it’s military-grade instant that tends to leave a layer of grinds at the bottom of the mug. Pestering her with bad jokes doesn’t work either – he got most of his new material from Jinto and Ronon, and Pegasus humor doesn’t translate well.
He even goes and finishes his entire backlog of reports in the IOA’s favorite font. She gives him half a smile for that, but her brow is furrowed.
“John, what’s going on with you lately?”
A little danger warning goes off in his head, like she’s about to catch him doing something wrong. He’s just being nice, though. He’s always nice. Nice is his thing. “I can’t try to cheer you up?”
Elizabeth looks to either side of him, like she’s expecting someone else to come in behind him to deliver the punch line. “Do I need cheering up?”
He could list all the ways she’s been out of sorts, but suddenly it seems a bit creepy that he’s been paying that much attention to her moods. John takes a step toward the door. “You know, preventive cheering up. For the next time you need it.”
She looks like she’s considering sending him to Heightmeyer for a psych eval. “Thank you... I guess.”
He all but flees her office, though he’d prefer to label it a strategic retreat.
Since bad coffee and fulfilling his administrative responsibilities didn’t work, he needs another plan. He’s something of a seat-of-the-pants strategist in general, since usually they’re about ninety seconds from death when he has to throw a plan together, but he is a strategist. He’s hit or miss – he wasn’t able to foresee his role in waking the Wraith, but he should at least be able to orchestrate a morale boost.
The obvious strategy would be to ask her to talk about what’s bothering her and be encouragey-supportive until she does. He doesn’t do talking. In his experience, whenever he tries to broach an emotional topic with a woman he cares about, it inevitably leads to hard feelings and slammed doors and, usually, a lonely bed in the nearest hotel. Elizabeth’s not in a position to kick him out of bed, of course – and he tries very, very hard to never think about Elizabeth’s bed or him in it – but his track record still makes it a bad plan. A bad, terrifying plan.
He mulls the problem over for a few days, until the next time he’s off-world. It’s his record seventh mission in a row without putting his team in the infirmary or starting a war, but it’s still not a cakewalk. The planet is in the middle of an ice age, and as the jumper is buffeted by frigid gale-force winds and Rodney loudly predicts their certain doom, John gets an idea.
Elizabeth pokes her head into the jumper bay a few minutes before 2100. She holds up her tablet. “You requested a meeting to discuss... a surprise?”
He nods his head toward the open jumper hatch. “It’s more of a demonstration. Don’t worry, we won’t leave the planet.” So she won’t be too disappointed later, he adds, “It’s not a ZPM.”
She might still be thinking about ordering a psych eval, but she takes two steps towards him, so he knows she’ll agree in the end. “Now? Isn’t it a little late?”
“Timezones, Elizabeth. Besides-” he points to her tablet, “-it’s the only time you’re free.” Just reading her schedule was enough to give him a headache. He tolerates most of the scientists and engineers on the expedition just fine, but he couldn’t stand to spend all day walled in meetings about water reclamation and alloy stability in the foundation of the south pier.
She glances back toward the bay doors. “What if I was planning on sleeping?”
He grins. Every time he gets fed up with tossing and turning and starts wandering Atlantis in the middle of the night, he always finds her hard at work somewhere. “I’d know you were just making excuses.”
She narrows her eyes, but it’s that playful expression he thinks about way too often when he’s trying not to think about her. She taps her earpiece. “Control room, this is Weir. Colonel Sheppard has insisted that I join him for a quick trip by puddle jumper. We’ll both be on radio.” She shoots him a pointed look at that and he nods. He knows better than to try and separate her from her radio on short notice, no matter how calm everything has been lately.
He waits until she’s settled in the co-pilot’s chair and they’re airborne before he says, “I expected you to put up more of a fight.”
She shrugs. “I guess I was curious.”
“Even if you don’t like the surprise, at least you got away from your office for a few hours, right?”
She watching him so closely that it feels like she might be reading his mind. His ears warm.
She says, “I’m surprised already.”
It doesn’t take too long to cross into daylight, and then they’re racing away from the sunset behind them. Elizabeth leans forward to watch the play of color on the ocean swells below. It’s a long trip to the northernmost area of the mainland, and she spends most of it being quiet.
It’s unusual. Elizabeth doesn’t chatter her every thought aloud the way Rodney does, but she usually strikes up some kind of conversation. There’s always something work-related to talk about.
Eventually, though, she asks: “So, why are we going on this trip?”
John focuses on the Ancient rudders in his hands. It’s easier to be honest when he’s flying. “I’m worried about you.”
“You seem... stressed.”
“Aren’t I always?”
Stressed isn’t quite the word he wanted. She seems faded, without the steadfast optimism he relies on. “Yeah, but usually there’s a big disaster on the horizon to be stressed about.”
She clears her throat and sits taller in her chair. “All those disasters leave a lot of menial work to catch up on.”
She’s right, of course, and she deals with far more of that than he does.
When the Wraith were bearing down on them, before they had the Daedalus and a ZPM and any contact with Earth, he and Elizabeth were joined at the hip out of necessity. He doesn’t miss the gut-churning fear that they were all going to die with no hope of rescue, but he misses being that close to her.
Maybe he’s just being selfish. She’s fine, she’s just busy, and he feels less singularly important to her than when he was the only thing between her and the barbarians at the gate.
Yeah, probably selfish. “I’m probably reading too much into it.”
“Well, it’s nice of you to worry, even if it’s not necessary.” She points to the horizon. “Are those mountains?”
The northern coastline of the mainland parallels a mountain range fifty miles inland. Lieutenant Parker brings a handful of diehard ski bunnies out here every month or so under the guise of adverse weather survival training, and while John has never actually joined them, he did a thorough survey of the area by jumper to make sure his people weren’t skiing into a death trap.
It still takes him a while to choose the right spot to put down – tree-lined but with enough space to land, protected from the brunt of the northern wind, hopefully bearing a passing resemblance to the Great Lakes region where Elizabeth grew up. If he’s going to drag her a quarter of the way around the planet, it should be worth it.
When he touches down, it’s just starting to snow.
“So what did I need to see so badly?”
Instead of answering her, he gets up and digs out a thermal jacket from the survival kits in the back of the jumper. She shrugs it on and zips it up, all while giving him her most suspicious look.
He feels a flutter of nerves before he hits the hatch release. Some snow blows into the jumper with the first gust of cold air.
“There,” he says, indicating the winter wonderland outside with a sweep of his arm. “Seasons.”
She looks at him for a long minute, and he can see her putting it all together. Then, for a terrifying, heart-racing moment, it looks like she might cry.
That’s the opposite of what he brought her here for – and entirely outside the realm of things he knows how to deal with gracefully – so he zips his jacket and points outside again. “After you.”
They’re pretty far north, so even though the crossed a few timezones, it’s already heading toward dusk and colder than he expected. It’s nowhere near the winter temperatures in Antarctica, but he’s spent a year and a half now spoiled by warm weather and gentle ocean breeze, so he wishes he’d thought to dig out hats and gloves from the survival packs.
He’d go back for them, but then he’d miss Elizabeth with her face turned up into the falling snow, smiling. The ground crunches under his feet as they walk and the air smells cleaner than even Antarctica. There’s not a soul for two thousand miles.
“Worth the trip?”
When she turns to him with that smile he hasn’t seen in far too long, it knocks the breath out of him. Two thousand miles. He’s never been this alone with her, and that realization makes him question his intentions in bringing her out here.
He wants to be close to her; that’s all he knows. Friends, partners –
He swallows and hopes the confusion doesn’t show on his face.
“This is...” She stops mid-sentence. Her breath clouds in swirls as she breathes. “This was really nice of you. I don’t know what to say.”
“That’s a first.”
She swats his arm, then tucks her bare fingers into the crook of his elbow. It feels right when they’re walking through ankle-deep snow, and John can almost picture that they’re somewhere in the United States, that their lives are terrestrial and ordinary, that this is a date.
“I used to love sitting outside when it was snowing,” she says. “When I was really young, I thought snowflakes were messages from God that were too small to read.”
John turns to her in surprise. They’ve been to hell and back together, and she’s never mentioned anything about faith – now or in her childhood. It seems like something he should know. “Snowflakes are pretty cool under a microscope.”
Elizabeth slows her pace. “I’m sorry if you feel like I’ve been shutting you out.”
Maybe the isolating wilderness was for him. On Atlantis, he’d be looking for the nearest exit, and he wants to learn to be there for her without a gun in his hand. “It’s okay.”
“It’s not my intention. I think the down-time...”
“Comparatively,” he fills in. Down time for them still involves living on another planet, after all.
“I haven’t had the chance to integrate everything that’s happened. Even when we went back to Earth-” She cuts herself off. She looks like she tasted something bitter.
“I wouldn’t think about it. It’ll drive you crazy.”
She chuckles. “I have to think about it. This is my life now.” She looks up again. “You can’t go home again.”
He nudges her shoulder and tries to ignore the butterflies in his stomach. “This is home now.”
He wonders what happened on Earth, what she left behind, if she thought about giving up and going back, but that still feels too personal. He’ll have to work himself up to questions like that.
Elizabeth leans her head on his shoulder. “Yes, it is.”
He has an early-morning training session that goes through breakfast, so he doesn’t see Elizabeth until he stops by the control room. He might be imagining it, but her cheeks still look rosy.
He taks a cup of coffee out to the balcony, knowing she’ll follow.
“No snow in the forecast today,” he says, gesturing with his mug toward the calm ocean and warm breeze.
“It could be. It’s a big planet.”
“Hey, now. That was a one-time surprise.”
The master negotiator, and her strategy is to pretend to pout. “What about special occasions?”
“You might be able to convince me.”
She always does. He thinks about the comforting weight of her head on his shoulder and how maybe, if he keeps trying, he’ll even figure out how to talk like that without feeling like he’s hanging off the edge of a cliff.
Elizabeth brought him to another galaxy. She got the Air Force to forgive him. She has a pretty good track record for doing the impossible.
As soon as he gets back to his laptop, he sends her another surprise meeting request.
Like she said, it’s a big planet. It’s got to be spring somewhere.