Rating: R, for language
Summary: They have a thing.
Author's Note: 100% for aj! It's kind of like if first season Sparky fanon continued for another four years. Unbeta'd, perhaps obviously.
They have a thing.
It's not a relationship, exactly. Certainly not one that they've disclosed in any official way – Elizabeth arrived at Atlantis as an avid recordkeeper, but John knows for a fact that she has grown into one of the biggest champions for "off the record." They do their own thing out here in the Pegasus Galaxy. The rules are different because, well, the regular rules don't work here.
They have their own canon of laws. John and Elizabeth rarely ask their people to make official reports before sleep and a good meal (medical checkups, on the other hand, wait for absolutely nothing). No one bats an eye at civvies in the control tower, although they wear uniforms more often than not since casual clothes are so hard to come by. They'll send three-quarters of the expedition out at once to recover two people (Elizabeth and Lorne, last month, held hostage by an enemy who was wholly unprepared for a full frontal assault).
They look the other way every time someone is found in someone else's quarters. Indiscretions here don't lead to an official inquiry – at worst, you'll get a little aside from someone reminding you about the ample supply of birth control in the infirmary, and that Heightmeyer is available should any off-the-record type drama start up.
Everyone even looks away when John stumbles out of Elizabeth's quarters at a three a.m. alarm, disheveled and sockless. Elizabeth held an impromptu meeting with the head biologist in John's bedroom when he wasn't even there. It's something that happens here, something that Caldwell and O'Neill and the oversight committee would never understand.
It's not not a relationship, either.
"You're becoming a habit," she tells him once when he brings her a cup of coffee. She's working on her notepad in his bed, shirtless, wearing reading glasses Carson recently prescribed her. They give her a sexy librarian look that makes John smile.
Their romance is easy, most of the time, maybe to make up for how hard the rest of their lives are. He doesn't flirt with anyone else anymore and neither does she – truth is, she never did unless it was Caldwell or an alien diplomat or someone else she wanted something from.
The first time they had sex was four months into Atlantis' mission, and while others had already taken to the free love mantle of the alien galaxy with abandon (not to mention the open doors of the unattached Athosian women), it was the first time either John or Elizabeth had let the leadership role slip long enough for a little sweaty escape.
He hadn't expected it to be her, but it was late and they were punchy with a recent victory and he'd been watching her walk with far too much interest the past few weeks so he offered as a joke and she agreed, without hesitation.
Elizabeth called it a "loyalty fuck," and he might have taken offense if anyone else had said it, but she was smiling with open honesty on her face, and so he laughed, and thought that maybe he could trust her to have his back in this crazy galaxy after all.
Four years later, he's loyal enough without this. When Elizabeth and Lorne disappeared the month before, no one seemed surprised that he tore off on an overmanned rescue mission as soon as the tactical analysis was finished, or that he yanked her semi-conscious body from Lorne the second he saw her and carried her back to the jumper saying comforting things like "hold on" and "I've got you" and "we're going to fucking kill those bastards."
He's been a little more doting since then, more likely to bring her coffee or rub her shoulders or eat her out without expecting her to return the favor. He says things unbefitting of a casual affair when he's inside her and she's stretched out beneath him, the hottest woman in two galaxies. This always happens after an incident, though. They've both been in danger far too many times to count.
Elizabeth puts her notepad away to drink her coffee, taking off her glasses to be able to see him better.
They talk about work.
"The North pier -"
"Sergeant Lange's performance review -"
"- next month's debriefing on Earth."
It's easy because they're the same people inside their uniforms and out.
He finds himself wondering whether she'd spend the night in his hotel room on Earth as easily as she sleeps here.
Elizabeth is watching him, tugging the corner of her lip down with the end of her glasses frame. "Stephen came to see me today," she says. "He asked me to walk with him. Off the record."
John frowns. Caldwell spends time in the Pegasus Galaxy, but he's not truly naturalized to their Atlantis way of doing things. When he found out about it, he dressed down John's decision to leave Atlantis with a skeleton crew to find Elizabeth, because it wasn't by the book.
"What did the Colonel have to say?"
Elizabeth purses her lips. She looks about ready to launch into another you really need to bury the hatchet with him speech, but evidently decides against it. "He says that General O'Neill knows about us. So does the IOA. They're going to make an issue out of it."
He doesn't expect that revelation, because the IOA and the SGC and O'Neill are hundreds of thousands of light-years away.
He really doesn't expect it to hit him like a ton of bricks in the chest. They haven't ever discussed what they are with Earth relationship terms, and now they're going to have to defend themselves to the IOA? Or lie? Or stop doing... this?
"Did Caldwell tell them?" is what he says aloud.
Elizabeth shakes her head. "No. I think he's done his best not to notice, over the years. He didn't have to warn me at all."
Four years of casual sex, on and off, will make it hard to argue that it's truly casual, or accidental, or a series of heat-of-the-moment indiscretions brought on by extreme circumstances.
"So what do we do?" he asks, feeling the sort of anger he only feels when his back is to the wall, literally or figuratively. "It was probably Jenkins, that weasel. The IOA talked to him after you sent him packing. What do they know? Fuck."
Elizabeth touches his hand, and he pulls away without thinking. Her mouth sets in a hard line. "I know," she says, reading him like only she can. "Earth feels a lot farther away, most of the time."
"I don't want to give this up," he says, and he isn't sure if he means Atlantis or Elizabeth. The latter is strange, because he wouldn't even know what to call her – ex-girlfriend, ex-lover, ex-partner. It shouldn't feel so horrible to lose something he can't even name.
Elizabeth runs her fingers through her hair. It's longer now, past her shoulders, but not long enough to cover her bare breasts. "This started as a distraction. We both know what's most important."
She's right, but. "One hell of a distraction. That was four years ago."
She looks startled, like she never thought about it being so long, almost their whole tenure away from Earth. No wonder he's a habit for her. No wonder he leaves the bathroom door open while he brushes his teeth or showers, air dries on the bed while she's there telling him about the mission Major Lorne proposed.
"John, I care about you," she says. "I don't want... I really don't want to walk away from this, but what if it's not up to us? We did this. We need a game plan."
Something occurs to him. "What about everyone else?"
"I asked Stephen that, without suggesting any names myself. It wouldn't come up if we weren't in command. The civilian scientists not in leadership positions are off the hook, of course. Teyla and Ronon don't fall under the IOA's purview, and they're unlikely to blame Lorne for his fling with an exotic alien. Stephen recommended that Chapman and Bailey be put on separate teams as soon as possible. The others, apparently, are more discreet. Or," she rolls her eyes, "just less obvious."
"Less monogamous, you mean."
I could marry her, he thinks out of nowhere. A bit of a desperate thought. A wedding under the IOA's shotguns isn't likely to solve anything, not while they're still the highest-ranking people in a crucial outpost. It still doesn't feel like the worst idea he's ever had. It would almost certainly have a better chance of success than the first time he went down the aisle. He recalls, actually, swearing up and down that he would never do it again.
At one time, he also had a personal rule never to sleep with someone he worked with.
"If they ask me," she says, quietly, "I don't want to lie."
"You've lied before to protect the city."
She scowls. "Not about this, though."
"Then I'll lie for you. It's none of their damned business."
"You're right," Elizabeth agrees. "But they still write the checks for all of this. And we... God, we've been pretty stupid, whatever this is."
He wraps an arm around her. He reaches his hand over to tweak a nipple, earning him a reflexive glare before she snuggles into his shoulder.
It's the first time he's felt afraid of Elizabeth in years, if he doesn't count alien possessions or the time he entered a puddle-jumper in the space version of a drag race and ended up cracking the side on an asteroid.
"This matters to me, Elizabeth." He feels his stomach drop out, even though he's hardly admitted to anything she doesn't know. Their loyalty to the city has to come first, but he really can't imagine Atlantis without Elizabeth finishing her reports naked in his bed. He continues, unwilling to stop being honest. "I don't know what this is, but I won't lose you."
He keeps the last part of his thought to himself: Unless you don't want to.
Her expression crumples for just long enough to make his chest hurt, before she sighs. She looks resigned. "I wish I knew what we could do. I should probably go sleep in my quarters tonight."
She doesn't take much convincing, laughs a bit bitterly. "I guess we should probably enjoy this while we can." She presses her face into his chest.
Oh, he's not giving this up.
"I'll take care of it," he promises.
She doesn't believe him, but she will.
It's ten in the morning when he finds Caldwell in the mess hall.
It's easier to say than he expects.
"I'm about to make your day, Colonel."
Caldwell looks up from his purple Hadrashi eggs and toast. He looks just annoyed enough at being interrupted that John almost regrets his decision.
Elizabeth will be furious at him for doing this without her. In a strange way, he's looking forward to that.
"Sheppard?" Caldwell asks.
John holds out a jump drive. "I'm demoting myself."
Caldwell doesn't take the offered piece of technology, so John puts it down on his tray instead. "You're what?"
"I reccomended that you be assigned to Atlantis. They wanted you here to begin with, and it doesn't make sense not to have a full colonel in command here. You've said so yourself."
"Just keep this moment in mind at my next evaluation."
Caldwell grabs his forearm before he can make a classy exit. "You're doing this for the wrong reason," he says. "You can get out of this without hurting your career."
Career is another thing that feels very far away from the Pegasus Galaxy. Everyone here would throw him a party if he got promoted, sure, but it's not like anything else would change.
"There's more to Atlantis than command," he shrugs. "Besides, I really hate the paperwork."
John doesn't expect the look Caldwell gives him. It's more respect in one look than he's gotten from the man in three years. "I wouldn't have expected you to do this for her."
He shuffles from foot to foot. The cat's out of the bag, but he's still not used to talking about it. "Yeah. Well."
"You two run a strange place here, Sheppard."
John smirks. He wouldn't have it any other way.
"Don't worry, Colonel. You'll get used to it."