Summary: Elizabeth knows only that it is a relationship — as in, two people relating to each other in some fashion over a period of time.
Bingo Prompt: "Interval"
Author's Note: SPARKTOBER!!!! Man I hope this fic will make coherent sense in the morning.
She can’t find the rhythm to their relationship, the logical pattern of ebb and flow that will explain what this is (what they are, when they’re lovers and when they aren’t). Elizabeth knows only that it is a relationship — as in, two people relating to each other in some fashion over a period of time.
What shape it takes varies day to day, sometimes hour to hour. John might be in her office ranting about supply problems, or across the briefing table talking political consequences, or avoiding her altogether when a review is due (or when she has questions about why he started a war when she sent him out on a milk run). At other times, he joins her in the mess hall and asks about her day, or shares some inconsequential detail that doesn’t fit in a mission report — Did you know the leaves on Pau’pau look gold? Not like fall-colors-in-Vermont gold, but… you know, pirate booty gold. She laughs, and they chat like they’re old friends who’ve never come closer than arm’s length.
He appears at her bedroom door without warning, as though summoned by the restless churn of ancient energy humming through the city. His eyes are dark like he’s angry, but his mouth quirks up to one side like he’s a boy bringing mischief. He’s nervous, too; the palms that don’t sweat gripping a P-90 are damp on her skin when he breaches the hem of her t-shirt and run his hands over her back.
She likes life much better when she’s having regular sex with someone she cares for, but except for the occasional Athosian-ale-laden evening she never missed that since coming to Atlantis. Only their first (ale-laden) time together was her suggestion, and she expected it would be only once — to slake her curiosity or because she needed a few hours off from being responsible. A release of tension between friends.
He’s the one who comes back. She hasn’t refused him yet, though she would if she weren’t in the mood. Maybe she’s tied into the same invisible current that brings him to her door, because he only knocks on evenings when she wants him.
Her intuition tells her these encounters are about need — his. There’s a thirst in him when he arrives that’s still there when he leaves, and she can’t figure out what he’s still craving when it’s all available to him: affection, approval, companionship, love. (And not just from her — she’s the one who offers her bed, but their people love him.) Every time John pulls pants on in the dark with his head down, she sees a starving man turning away from a feast.
When that starts to frustrate her, she focuses on the practical: the sex is good. She feels warmer, even after he leaves. His job performance improves when he’s happy, and she seems to make him happier. It wasn’t until she saw him smiling on her pillow in the ambient starlight of her bedroom at night that she realized she’d never seen him smile before, not even when he was smiling. John Sheppard is a man of contradictions.
Like how he loves her, and she’s pretty sure he does. (She’s sure he does, but she can’t justify that certainty with logical evidence, so she calms her restless need for evidence with an adjective. Pretty sure.) He’s guarded in everything he does, even — especially — this. When he holds her in the moments after sex (an interval that seems to get longer the more months they spend doing this), he relaxes against her like water, like he’s let go and counting on her presence to maintain his shape.
She resists the transition away from that every time, when John becomes solid bones and muscle and thick skin. He doesn’t stay overnight, and he pretends that’s her idea. “I know you want me to sneak out of here.” “I know you think I shouldn’t be here when the control room calls.” When they began this, she thought she’d have to lay down strict boundaries to keep their discrete work roles and sanities intact, but she hasn’t had to say a word. She’d have given him far more leeway than he takes.
That stands out for her because in every other respect, every other man he is (the soldier, the leader, the friend), he takes leeways all over the place and never asks for permission until afterward, when she’s already mad at him (or happy with him, as the case may be — most of his blind impulses are good, except for the really big ones).
So she wonders what happened to him, what made kindness so much scarier than war, scarier than death. She waits, because she won’t get the full story unless he starts the conversation. Questions for him are like target locks — if he’s asking, he’s committed until he gets his answer; if someone’s sight is fixed on him, his primary objective is to get out of the way. He’s made a career out of not getting killed.
And Elizabeth: her career is honesty and dishonesty in perpetual balance. There’s never one answer. Questions don’t exist in a vacuum. It depends on the weather, on who’s asking, on which countries (or planets) will rise and fall based on what she says next. Maybe he’s learned her habits from watching her work and that’s why he doesn’t ask her anything at all: in case the wind is blowing the wrong way.
But he’s predictable, in his way. She’s no longer surprised when he shows up or doesn’t, though she can’t describe the pattern out loud. Her own internal weather has figured him out. And she thinks that’s what’s changing him, letting him stay longer cocooned against her back, breathing deep like he has no ribs to constrain him. He’s changing her just as much; she’s safe to wait and see what he’ll do without arming herself against potential arguments. She lies next to him until he goes, studying the face he wears when he wears nothing, breathing in time with him. They talk everywhere but here.
(There’s a denouement coming, she thinks. He looks back now, when he shuffles into his clothes. She doesn’t say anything, doesn’t invite him to stay or encourage him to leave, because he’s looking for something to be afraid of.)
He asks the question first (and his pants are already on, in case things go south). He’s ready for the answer; he only targets when he’s willing to fire.
“Why are you doing this?”
She turns over in bed to face him. Weather-dependent answers fill her chest, but she keeps her peace. He’s holding the gun in this metaphor; only she knows he’s at his most vulnerable on that side of the trigger.
He sits on the edge of the bed and looks everywhere but at her. She breathes, deep and even, to show she’s not afraid and her storm is calm.
“I love you,” he says. This bravery looks different on him than the boldness that carries him to the enemy with uncertain odds. His mouth twists and when he touches her arm, his hand is damp on her skin.
If she answers in kind, he won’t believe her. (In this moment, she knows him, knows that it wasn’t taking love that was scaring him away.)
She draws back the covers, and after a moment he crawls back in, still half-dressed. She rolls into his chest like the tide, and breathes until he falls into her rhythm. They’re like the city, rising up and down on the surface with unknown currents beneath.
When his tension relaxes, it’s all at once. Energy drains out of his pores, into her and the bedsheets, and she thinks he might fall asleep just like this.
He seems content with her silence, but she has something to say:
He presses a kiss to her hair, and they both rest. In the morning, they begin again.