edit: p.s. This all came about because on sheppard_n_weir there was a totally minor kerfuffle about internet forwards. Yeah. When I said I would write fic involving internet forwards, this wasn't what I had in mind, either. :)
Title: Atmospheric Composition
Rating: PG-13 for sexual innuendo, yay
Summary: The air is heavier on Earth.
Spoilers: Er... none. Set in the future.
Category: Sheppard/Weir, established relationship. One part angst, three parts fluff, one part sap. No added plot.
The air is heavier on Earth -- John's blaming that for why he's so tired. It's thick with pollution and people and restaurant smells and a thousand land-based plants and perfumes that he doesn't have to contend with in the crisp ocean air of Atlantis. It's not heavy in an altitude sense -- Colorado Springs is considerably higher than sea level, after all -- but it still feels thicker than he remembers, like breathing in day-old coffee.
Or gate-lag, he thinks as cool toes crawl suggestively up his calf. There are twenty-eight hours in an Atlantis day and only twenty-four on Earth, and that's a time difference no amount of water and old wives' remedies can cure.
"Hey," the female voice in bed with him whispers, the voice that's usually laying down commands or offering thoughtful advice and that has been using all her vast negotiation experience on him all night.
John mumbles something sleepy into his pillow, keeping his eyes tight shut. If he looks at Elizabeth, she'll have him, and he really is too tired for that. Because he's gate-lagged. Or oxygen-deprived.
His ego is refusing to entertain the notion that she wiped him out in just one night.
They've been "sleeping together" for almost three months now, but there has rarely been any actual sleep involved, and if they make it to a bed at all, they're invariably paged over the intercom before they can get to the really interesting parts. Their otherwise quite grown-up relationship reminds him, in that one regard, of his high-school ones with girlfriends who used to let him accompany them on their baby-sitting adventures. He and Elizabeth are baby-sitting an entire galaxy, and it hasn't left them much in the way of quality time together.
It took a trip back to Earth and four solid days of debriefing before he managed to sequester them in a hotel room together and let her have her wicked way with him. With the exception of two instances of captivity and one damaged puddle-jumper, he doesn't think he's ever spent this much uninterrupted time with Elizabeth before, certainly not without something more pressing than each other's company weighing on their minds.
He loves it.
And he's exhausted.
Her fingers brush gently along the stubble on his cheek, and he can't help humming contentedly, giving up the illusion of sleep. "Morning," he says.
"Afternoon," she corrects, slipping a delicate foot between his legs.
He groans, peeking at her with one eye. "Elizabeth..."
She's pouting, just a little, and the cute vulnerability makes him think about a thousand sappily romantic thoughts that don't involve him actually moving.
Her leg between his slides a little higher. He deliberates with his ego for a moment and finally decides that she's in fact just insatiable, and it's completely reasonable for him to request a reprieve after the night before. And later that night. And that morning. And the other time between showers when he didn't get the chance to look at the clock.
"Still sleeping," he tells her, gently rubbing the nearest patch of Elizabeth-skin. "Gimme an hour."
She sighs, waits a moment to see if he'll change his mind, and then kisses his forehead and makes to get out of bed.
"Could keep me company," he suggests, snaking an arm around her waist.
She extricates herself. "I'll go find some breakfast. Lunch."
He wants to say something in return, preferrably something witty, but dozes off before she even leaves the bed.
When he wakes up two hours later, Elizabeth is sitting in bed with her laptop, eating a muffin and wearing only underwear and the wrinkled shirt from his dress uniform that ended up tossed in a corner the night before. He wonders if she wore that downstairs to the hotel breakfast room.
He knows she didn't -- even on vacation, she's careful about appearances -- but he's keeping the fantasy. It's a nice fantasy -- her wearing his clothes in public, advertising to all the denizens of Earth that she's taken, that their affair that makes so much sense on Atlantis doesn't embarrass her now that she's back in the company of academics and politicians and the social elite.
She's here, isn't she? That's what matters.
The sound of her fingers on the laptop keys derails his reverie a little. As much as he likes waking up to her like this, enjoys how they're comfortable enough together to ignore each other... they promised themselves twenty-four hours. He accuses gently, "Working?"
She looks a little sheepish and closes a few document windows. "Checking email," she admits. "Only a few work-related, though. I'm going through my Earth accounts."
He shifts position to better see the screen. "Anything interesting?"
"Newsletters, forwards, offers to reduce my credit card payments..." she shrugs. "Sixty heartwarming stories about the saving power of Christ from my Aunt Linda."
"Who?" They don't have much time to talk about their lives back home, about the people and events that made them who they were when they arrived in the Pegasus Galaxy. It's not quite as much of a luxury as four rolls in the sack without interruption, but it's still pretty unprecedented.
"My father's sister. She used to take my brothers and I to church whenever she was baby-sitting. Also taught me to make pie."
"It's nice she still keeps in touch," he offers.
He thought he managed to keep his own family out of his voice -- the family he has no plans to visit, even after a year away -- but she frowns and puts her laptop on the nightstand. "You okay?"
He brushes her off. "I think I had about four thousand new emails when I checked mine at the base."
She smirks. "Any of them for you?"
"Hey, it's not my fault I'm being solicited by all the hot barely-legals with webcams... though I'm pretty sure all those ones about Viagra are misdirected."
She snuggles against his arm, and he can feel her smile on his skin. "That's what you get for being flyboystud at hotmail..."
He swats her. She's wrong about his email address, of course, but he likes seeing her this relaxed, so he encourages it. "You know me too well."
"I have read your psychological profile."
"That seems a little unfair."
She looks up at him. "Oh?"
Actually, it seems a little remarkable that she's read that, knows his history and his problems and all the Air Force's numerous complaints about him, and she not only chose him for her mission, for her replacement military commander, but chose him for her. He doesn't know a lot about her life before, or her men before -- not only do they lack free time, Elizabeth is remarkably private as a rule -- but John has a feeling. He's pretty sure the archives of her Earth email accounts are populated with offers of high-level social engagements, requests to speak at universities and publishing notifications for her papers, but those aren't the only emails he's thinking about.
He's wondering what Simon used to say to her. John knows his name, knows he's a doctor of the most impressive kind, knows from a handful of pictures that he has a house and a car that John could never afford on a Colonel's salary, but he doesn't know very much else about their relationship. He isn't in the business of comparing himself to her last boyfriend, certainly not out loud, but now that they're on Earth, he wonders.
Elizabeth, who always has a sixth sense about when he's about to beat up on himself, kisses him. It's slow and gentle, without the urgency of teams off-world or an upcoming debriefing, and John likes this new kind of kiss.
"I haven't gotten to read your profile," he complains in a convenient kissing break.
She smiles impishly. "All good things, I assure you."
He yawns. "I'll bet."
Her cute smile turns worried. "Are you still tired?"
She doesn't pretend to understand. "Understandable," she says. "After so long with uninterrupted stress... some people just need to crash."
It's a reasonable explanation -- and a whole year of doing what he's been doing is just as good an excuse as gate-lag -- but that doesn't explain her. She might do a little less running and jumping, but she's under just as much stress. By all accounts, Elizabeth should need to sleep solidly for a week. "What about you?"
She shrugs, and smiles a cute smile that's a little embarrassed. "I just tend to unwind with... other things."
"Like sex," he accuses.
The cute smile widens into a real, hopeful grin. "Interested?"
"Wait, so all those times after the death-defying missions and the captivity on alien planets..."
She kisses him. "Hey, I'm very particular about who I unwind with."
Huh. His ego always assumed that her almost frightening passion on those particular nights was entirely because she was so relieved to see him. He's a little disappointed.
Not so disappointed that he doesn't shiver at her fingers trailing down his side, though.
"Awake yet?" she asks, voice low and sultry.
He is so. damned. lucky. "I could be persuaded..."
And then her hand disappears underneath the bed sheets, and he runs out of things to say.
They end up in a really nice restaurant for dinner, the kind where the waiter insists on putting the condiments on his baked potato for him and the wine list is six pages long. Elizabeth chooses the wine and speaks French with the waiter, and John feels a little ridiculous for having initially suggested Pizza Hut when they were deciding where to go for dinner.
She's in her element. He's not used to seeing her out of boots and cargo pants, and though she looks stunning in tailored business-wear, she looks like somebody else. After four days of debriefing with six different generals, John is getting used to his dress blues, but he can't imagine ever getting used to this.
"Are you okay?" Elizabeth asks, frowning down at the steak in front of him.
It's undoubtedly one of the best steaks he's ever had, and really, he should put whatever nagging feelings are creeping up his spine aside and just enjoy it. Enjoy her. Elizabeth has never made any indication that she thinks he's not good enough for her -- but then, they've never been together on Earth before.
"Beats rations," he tells her about the meal and tries to smile.
She still looks worried. "If you really wanted to go for pizza, you should have insisted."
"It's not that." It's that this is their last night together before she goes off to visit her family -- he made up some plans about skiing that hopefully makes it seem less apparent that he's avoiding his family in upstate New York for all he's worth -- and he really doesn't know what three more days on Earth will do to her. If her family will say something discouraging about how much she's changed. If she'll see Simon. If she'll come to her senses.
She reaches for his hand across the table, but he finds something all-important to be doing with his hands and extra butter on his pre-spiced baked potato.
He wasn't supposed to fall for her. On Atlantis, he needs her for a lot of reasons outside of personal ones, needs her professional support and her diplomatic experience and her reassuring strength. Their affair is definitely not one of convenience -- it was a lot easier to throw himself in the line of death before he had to think about what it would do to her -- but it often feels like it's a necessity, a sanity-saving diversion that allows them to keep going.
Here, on Earth, it's not about the Wraith or about those under their command, and he doesn't quite know how to feel this way about her without an excuse.
"John, if you don't like it-"
"I do. I'm just not hungry." Gate-lag again, he's sure. It should be 2430, or thereabouts.
Elizabeth has also been mostly poking at her gourmet food. "Let's go," she says.
She waves to the French waiter and asks him to box it up, then turns back to John. "We'll eat when we're hungry. There's a fairground on the outside of town... let's just... get out of here."
She fits in so well with the backdrop of wealth and culture that he never considered she might be feeling uncomfortable, too.
The fair is closed.
Elizabeth rolls her eyes at herself. "I'm sorry, John. I forgot about seasons." It's October, and the weather -- while on the warm side for Colorado in autumn -- is chillier than anything they have to deal with on the Atlantis equator.
Despite the cold, they got out of the car to walk along the perimeter of the fairground. John slips an arm over her shoulder, and she leans against him. His stomach jumps just a little at the gesture. They've done so much together, but they've never done this.
It feels a little silly, actually. Indulgent. He's so well-conditioned to be on alert for alarms of impending attack, to having reams of paperwork to organize and hours of training to schedule, that it's almost ridiculous to have actually taken a whole twenty-four hours for nothing but them.
"Now who's thinking about work?" Elizabeth accuses out of nowhere.
"It's freaky when you do that, you know."
She shrugs. "It's a gift. Actually, you get a line right there," she runs one finger between her eyebrows in demonstration.
"I'm not really thinking about work."
She looks over at him, but doesn't ask. Their walking slows to a stop and Elizabeth looks up at the looming Ferris wheel. He looks at the pale skin of her exposed throat and feels that same crushing need to protect her that he always feels, only it's so much less necessary here.
The likelihood that either of them will survive their tours on Atlantis is negligible, so there's really no reason for him to be thinking about whether their relationship could survive a return to Earth.
She asks, "Why do you like Ferris wheels so much?"
He doesn't think it's that hard to guess. Ferris wheels were his first real taste of heights, an obsession that ended up unexpectedly bringing him into space and all the way into another galaxy. "It doesn't say in my psychological profile?"
She shoots him a raised eyebrow. "No, it doesn't. Apparently, the Air Force thinks other things are more important to mention."
He actually shudders again at the thought of what she's read and heard about him. He's glad she didn't, of course, but he can't help thinking sometimes that she'd be better off if she took the advice of the Air Force shrinks and commanders who weighed in on his service record in the first place. He's sure their verdict was that he isn't good for much except ferrying soldiers and scientists back and forth from McMurdo. He knows she doesn't think that -- in fact, she thinks more highly of him than just about anyone he's ever met -- but there are times he thinks she should reconsider her opinion. Times like when he woke the Wraith up, or when he puts that look on her face by disobeying her orders, or when he doesn't quite know how to comfort her or says the wrong thing, or...
"Well?" she asks, pointing up at the top basket of the Ferris wheel. "Did you used to take your girlfriends up there?"
He shoves his upsetting train of thought aside. "It does make girls a captive audience," he notes with an affected leer.
"Too bad the fair's closed," she chirps.
They start walking again. He doesn't notice that he's kicking pebbles out of his way until Elizabeth asks him again to tell her what's wrong.
He drops his arm from around her shoulders. "I can't just be thinking?"
Her voice is less confident than it sounds in the control room. "Tired of me already?"
For a brief instant, John hates Earth. "No," he promises. "I'm just..."
"Tired," she finishes. "It's okay." Then, before he can start in kicking himself for the resigned tone of her voice, she continues, "John, come home with me tomorrow."
That's not usually the reaction he gets when he's being difficult and pissing women off. "What? Why?"
She gives him a funny look.
He ignores it. "Don't you want to spend time with your family?"
She rolls her eyes, squeezing his hand. "Of course I do. But I want you to come with me. I'll introduce you to my Aunt Linda."
His mouth feels a little dry. If he doesn't feel quite up to display for Elizabeth-on-Earth, he certainly doesn't feel good enough to show off to her family. "I should stay close to the Stargate," he argues, "in case..."
He doesn't even have to finish. Elizabeth looks away, fingers slipping free of his, and this is a different hurt look than the one he gets when he ignores her orders or says the wrong thing after they lose an important foothold to the Wraith. It kicks right to his gut, and he grabs her shoulder before he can lose her completely.
"Elizabeth, I'm sorry. I didn't mean-" he sighs. "Just, you don't have to invite me. I've got other things-"
"You don't have to go, John. It's okay."
"It's not-" He stuffs his hands in his coat pockets. Things aren't this hard on Atlantis, when she's dressed normally and they always have the pressures of command between them.
Not even that. It's not the shared responsibilities or briefings, really. He's someone else on Atlantis than he is here -- was here -- and he likes that person better.
He's sure Elizabeth does, too.
She's the one who has the courage to speak next. "John, what's going on?" A gentle hand brushes his cheek.
He kisses her. It's not an answer, and he knows Elizabeth won't give up this easily, but it gives him a moment to think.
"I don't want to talk about it," is the best he can do when the kiss ends, but he grips her hand tightly to keep her from thinking he doesn't want her.
The rest of the walk is spent in awkward semi-silence, and then they go back to the hotel.
Elizabeth's silence has gone from hurt to angry over the course of the evening, and John hates that he's a little relieved. He can deal with anger better. He's had more practice with that, after years of serving as her military commander.
However, he doesn't expect what comes out of her mouth as she locates pajamas and slams her suitcase closed. "I think I hate your family," she says.
John's head snaps up. "What?"
She isn't finished. "Or... or whoever it is that did a number on you."
He's too confused to make a crack about his psychological profile.
"I want you to go home with me," she says. "You don't have to go -- I know it's a little awkward and that you have other things you want to do -- but you should at least believe me."
He doesn't say anything as she storms around the room getting ready for bed, until he finally comes up with, "I don't have other things I want to do."
It's about as much as he's willing to give away.
He's not actually sure if anyone really did that number on him, or if he just came this way. As a rule, he tries not to think about it too much. He always did his best to dodge the issues of his father and his family and anything else that might have screwed him up whenever the Air Force shrinks tried to analyze him, but Elizabeth is different.
He wants her to know... at least, sort of, if he can see in advance what her response will be. He just doesn't know what to say.
"Sure you don't just want to stay here with me?" he asks.
She sighs, cracking half a smile. "I'll think about it," she offers. "Good night, John."
Oxygen deprivation or no, he can't fall asleep. It's strangely lonely in their hotel room with her happily unconscious, and he wishes she were still caught up in her stress-unwinding sex frenzy of the night before. He takes a long shower and reads for a bit, and then curls up against her and just feels her breathing.
She snuffles half-awake after a while as she turns over, burying herself in his chest. She sighs aloud something that sounds like his name, and then mumbles, "You sleeping?"
"Almost," he promises, stroking her hair.
He's pretty sure she's asleep again before he tries out saying it. "I love you," he whispers, and even though she can't hear him, his heart almost stops.
When nothing happens, he squeezes her tighter and tries to fall asleep.
He drives her to the SGC the next morning, and then to the airport. It has been a long time since he's been behind the wheel -- strangely, since it's a reversal of their usual roles, she's been doing the driving since they arrived on Earth -- but he hasn't forgotten how.
"Sorry," he says a few times, though, when forced to brake. The rented Taurus handles much rougher under his hands than a puddle-jumper.
Elizabeth shakes her head and laughs. "At least we don't have traffic in the Pegasus Galaxy."
"A fair trade," he agrees, and casts a few glances over at her as he maneuvers his way toward the airport.
Maybe he could get used to this. She's still in a business suit -- probably not wanting to shock her parents' expectations too much by arriving in anything else -- but he notices that she's still sitting the same way she normally does, and she doesn't look that different.
He'll feel out of place next to her, a little, once they get back in public, but alone in the car, it feels almost normal.
She asks, "Know yet what you're going to do for the next few days?"
There's always the chance it's an innocent question, but he feels like he has to explain himself anyway. "It's not that I don't want to go with you," he starts, especially because, during his long sleepless night, he realized how much part of him really does want to go with her.
She touches his arm. "I know. I sprung it on you. Next time?"
She has always been an incurable optimist, seeing hope in the worst situations they encounter, and expecting so casually that they will still be just as close a year from now. He feels warm at that, at the easy way she trusts him not to screw up.
"I could take the flight with you," he offers, surprising himself. "If there's room. You're not too far from New York state, and..."
He doesn't want to drop in and see his mother, he's sure of that, and doesn't even know if his dad's still in New York City. He'd kind of like to see his old stomping grounds, though, armed with the new way Elizabeth and his teammates see him in the face of how he actually was when he still lived there.
Elizabeth smiles. "You can come over for dinner, if you want. For what it's worth, I think you'll really get along with my brothers." He must still look a little like he's trapped in headlights, because she takes pity on him and adds, "I can also recommend some decent pizza joints, if you prefer."
"I'll think about it," he promises.
He scores himself standby tickets on Elizabeth's flight, and she manages to even sweet-talk him into the seat next to hers.
As they're getting settled in, she pulls a folder out of her carry-on briefcase and hands it to him.
"Some reading for the flight," she says. Then, "It's my official file."
He leafs through it, glancing between her and the pages in his hands. Despite being a civilian, the critical posts she's held for Homeworld Security have apparently required that she be analyzed just as thoroughly as any officer under his command, if with perhaps a few more pages about published papers and international treaties brokered than he's used to seeing.
And a rap sheet.
"You were arrested?" he demands.
"Held for questioning," she corrects. "And for a good cause. Fighting the military, as I recall." She leans over the armrest to kiss him, looking more than a little pleased with herself. After all, her record didn't become lasting trouble like his.
"You didn't have to get this for me, you know." He knows how private she is, how it took him a year of knowing her and a number of shared near-death experiences just to get her then-boyfriend's name. He's not used to other people being just as closed-lipped as he is about personal matters. It's strange that he can be this close to her and feel this much for her, feel like he knows her inside and out because of what they've been through, when really, they know very little about each other.
"Seems only fair that you should get to read mine," Elizabeth tells him, reading over his shoulder. "You can pay special attention to the psychological profile, if you like. There's a Doctor Mackenzie at the SGC who doesn't think too highly of me."
He closes the file. "Or you could just tell me about it."
She looks almost shocked, and he doesn't blame her. He didn't expect to be the one to push for an exchange of personal truths, either.
"Okay," she says, slowly. "What do you want to know?"
He asks her the first question that comes to his mind, couched in language that won't tip off eavesdroppers in neighboring rows. "Do you miss living here? Your life... here?"
To his relief, she doesn't have to think about it. "No," she says. "Not anymore. It isn't me."
And with that, he feels that maybe John-Sheppard-on-Earth doesn't have to be him anymore, either, even if he's physically on Earth again.
Elizabeth pushes up the airplane armrest between them so she can lean against him. "It's a nice place to visit, though," she allows.
He kisses her head, breathing in the scent of hotel shampoo on her hair. She tilts her face up and smiles, studying him with the look that says she's deciding whether or not to tell him something.
Usually, that look is used when she's deliberating whether to give him one last bit of information about a mission that might make him act rashly. He's unused to seeing it in this context.
She lays her hand over his chest. "I love you too, you know," she says, that simply, like it shouldn't surprise him that she heard him the night before, or that she means it.
He kisses her, and she lets him, even in public where everyone gets to see that she's his no matter what's in their various personnel files.
They break apart when the plane takes off. She looks a little sheepish, but he doesn't let her pull too far away from him. "You started it," he accuses lightly.
"Flying like this feels kind of... inefficient, doesn't it?" she asks in a low voice.
"I don't know," he shrugs. He doesn't really mind it.
She leans her head on his shoulder again, smelling like commercial rose scent and the Colorado Springs Hampton Inn, and he thinks the air on Earth isn't so bad after all.
- end -