Category: Atlantis, Sheppard/Weir
Summary: John would really rather not spend three hours with Elizabeth in a sardine can.
Author's Note: For grav_ity, who declared this "cuddle week." Rough, un-beta'd, but at least it's not Dancing With the Stars.
Elizabeth is the one to say "You're kidding" out loud, but John's pretty sure she can't possibly be as against this plan as he is.
"The capsule has to be small if it's going to make it through the detection grid," Zelenka is explaining in his patient voice.
Elizabeth looks dubious. "Is there even going to be enough air in there for two people?"
It belatedly occurs to John that he should be worried about the same thing. Air, CO2, whether they'll really slip past the detection grid without being shot out of the sky by automated defenses, important things, all very good reasons to not want to be crammed in a sardine can with Elizabeth for three hours. Lately, he's been thinking he should try being alone with her less in general – he's having a recurring dream about stripping her naked and taking her on top of his notes for the annual budget review, and it's making it hard to concentrate in actual budget meetings.
Spring fever, maybe. He'll blame that.
"Do you really think we hadn't thought of that?" Rodney waves his hand. "You could survive in there for weeks. I think."
"Not- not that you will have to," Zelenka promises. "Three hours, that's all. It is perfectly safe. The Ithrin assure us they use this every time they must travel to this site, and we have run as many tests as we can."
"I'd really rather not die in something smaller than a decon shower," Elizabeth complains weakly, like she has already given in to their fate. John wishes both that she'd oppose this a little harder and that she wouldn't mention anything about the decon showers, because it's possible he's had dreams about them, too. "You can't even sit down in there."
"You're in space," Rodney says. "You don't need to sit down. Look, do you want to go talk to High Priest whoever-he-is or not?"
"Maybe you should re-think this," John says. "I'm sure we can find another ZPM somewhere else?"
She glares at him. "You're the one who wanted to come along so badly."
The Ithrin capsule would be better for one person, for sure, but he's not about to let her just stroll into an alien stronghold alone (it's technically a monastery, and she was actually invited, but anything that requires traversing a network of lasers that can detect cloaked jumpers inspires caution).
He regrets it as soon as he says, "Let's just get this over with."
The most awkward part about getting into the Ithrin pod, aside from the artificial gravity in the back of the jumper that means she's compressing his ability to breathe, is everybody watching.
"I was the Sardines champion of my kindergarten," Lorne says from where he's hovering in the door to the cockpit. "That seems relevant right about now."
Elizabeth laughs, brushing air against John's throat.
He's not in a patient mood. "Are we all done staring now?"
Ronon asks, "Neither of you throw up in zero-g, right?"
If John ever fantasized about Elizabeth on top of him – and he has – it definitely didn't involve that question.
"Rodney," Elizabeth asks, "are you almost done?" At least she sounds as embarrassed as John feels.
"Yep. Yep. Closing the lid now. Everybody head back up front. You two have about a minute before we drop you – the thrusters will kick in automatically."
"You hope," John says. He feels Elizabeth tense up and wonders if he's allowed to rub her back to comfort her. Probably not. "Sorry," he says instead.
The pod is pitch black when the lid first closes, before a sensor display lights up above their heads, next to the manual controls. He still can't see much.
"Comfortable?" she asks wryly. She seems to be trying to adjust so she's not crushing his internal organs, and he focuses on the way she's pinching his arm against the pod wall to avoid thinking about anything lower.
"Sorry. I wasn't the Sardines champion of my kindergarten, it seems. Was that even a competitive game?"
Trying to remember the rules of Sardines seems like a good waste of mental energy when her hips move above his.
The drop is sharp and sudden. Before he even feels the zero-g, he feels Elizabeth's nails digging into his arms. At least she's no longer lying on his spleen.
He feels her nod in the near-darkness. "Huh," she says. "This is... different."
He smirks. "Variable gravity is fun."
She's silent for a moment, appearing to test her ability to float in the few inches available to her. Her expression is cute, and he's really trying not to notice.
"I hope we don't get shot," she says.
"Always something good to wish for."
It turns out that three hours is an awfully long time, because thirty minutes in, he's not really hoping they'll get shot, but he's definitely running out of things to distract himself with.
I Spy is definitely out, because the only thing he can see is her hair (it's better than her face, he thinks, because it's rare that he's in this kind of proximity to an attractive woman's face that doesn't end in kissing, and he's really trying not to think about kissing).
His other senses aren't doing much better. She's weightless in zero-g, and she managed to turn around so her back is to him (he wondered as she did it if she was also trying to avoid the kissing temptation), but he can still feel all their points of contact. In this tight a space, the smell of her hair or skin or whatever kind of soap product she uses overpowers even the odd tang of recycled air.
He knows – or he's hallucinating – from the smell of her skin and the hitch of her breath that she's not impervious, either. He doubts she's ready to rip his clothes off, because he doubts Elizabeth is ever that reckless. Maybe she's just not as far gone.
There's enough space to have sex, he finds himself calculating. To somehow peel off enough clothes to-
Christ, he thinks, trying to breathe before she brushes against him the wrong way and he'll have to explain. He's going to lose his mind out here.
At least she's not freaking out. Claustrophobia would be far worse than inappropriate hormonal reactions in a situation like this, although he's hoping to avoid both.
It's not just her, he thinks. It could be any woman in here and he'd be fighting the same battle. After all, it's been a while since he's had a fling with any alien women, and he's got the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders, and when he's on Atlantis he spends nearly all his time with-
He sighs, leans his head back against the pod wall. He might be having this problem with any woman in this situation, because it really has been a long time, but if he's being honest...
He'd still be thinking about her.
"What are you thinking about?" Elizabeth asks, and he'd jump out of his skin if he had the room to do so.
He says the first thing that pops into his head that isn't about sex: "What shampoo do you use?"
"Um... the same as everyone else? Why?"
"Smells different. Probably the air recycling." He wriggles his hand up between them so he can point at the air duct above their heads. "You? What are you thinking about?"
"The High Priest. I think we should have brought something from our world for their altar – they seemed to have a wide collection in the smaller monastery we visited."
"What kind of things? Precious gems?"
She shrugs – he feels the motion more than sees it. "Or flowers, or... well, we weren't going to fit animals in here."
"I have some mints in my vest." His vest is crammed at their feet, near where he secured his weapon. It gives them more space, but that also means there's just his t-shirt and hers and... whatever she's got on underneath that... between them.
"A gift from the people of Earth."
He's not thinking about her bra. He's not. "They're quality mints. Not the off-brand ones."
Elizabeth groans. "We're not having this conversation."
The fourth time he asks her how long it's been, she elbows him in the ribs. "Already tired of my company?"
"Your company is one thing," he says. The tone of his voice surprises him – he doesn't sound nearly as cranky as he feels. "But I wouldn't mind having a few inches of personal space back."
"I'd give them to you if I could." Then, because she's evil, "At least you're not stuck in here with Rodney."
That mental image is the best distraction he could have hoped for. "You're much better company."
Her hand brushes against his. "I'm glad you're here, honestly, even if it is... cramped. I haven't exactly done this before."
In spite of himself, he moves his fingers to touch her hand for a second as she pulls it away. "Hurtled blind through space in a tin can hoping we don't get shot by lasers?"
He hears the wince in her voice. "That really is more your field of expertise."
"It was pretty crazy for either of us to climb into this thing."
"That's not very reassuring, you know."
He finds himself squeezing her arm. They're already practically spooning, so he figures he's allowed. For reassuring purposes. "Rodney said it's safe," he reminds her, "although I do have some complaints about the amenities."
She half-laughs. "The Ithrin don't share our idea of a personal space bubble, that's for sure."
He realizes his hand is still on her arm. He can feel the heat of her skin through the thin fabric of her t-shirt. "It's not so bad."
She tilts her head back, maybe so she can see him, but she ends up leaning her head on his shoulder. "No. For my first time dodging lasers in a tin can, it's going quite well."
He isn't sure when his arm ended up around her waist. He thinks it just happened at some point when they were discussing alpha sites – he's blaming the lack of gravity.
Her hand comes to rest on top of his while she critiques his idea for a decoy fallback planet, and he's too caught up in arguing his position to get excited about it.
It's only after, when the conversation lulls, that he notices she still hasn't pulled away.
"It's kind of... relaxing," she says. "Like floating in salt water."
He smiles. Her hair tickles his cheek. "We've got another ninety minutes. You can sleep if you want."
"Then you'll fall asleep too, and one of us has to watch the sensor readout to make sure we aren't missing the landing bay."
"I'll be fine."
She turns her head a little, probably by reflex, because he still can't see her face. "You always fall asleep when I do."
He pokes her hip. "And who keeps insisting on movies with subtitles on movie night?"
That was probably when this all started, actually. They've been through a lot together since then, but he still remembers their first month on Atlantis, watching some Chinese film he couldn't make heads nor tails of, her drifting off on the couch next to him. They were all jet-lagged to hell from the 26-hour Atlantis days, and that's why he didn't let anyone wake her when the movie ended. He didn't really have a reason for staying behind with her while she napped on the couch – sure, there were life-sucking aliens in this galaxy, but not in the room - but the next thing he knew she was shaking his shoulders, laughing that they both fell asleep, and something in her smile made him think, I could wake up to her every morning.
Slim chance of that, really. They've got far too much on their collective plate to get distracted like that, no matter how urgent it feels when one of them nearly dies (or, for more superficial reasons, when spring fever hits and he hasn't had sex in a long damn time).
He has no reason to assume she is, but when her hand squeezes his, he wonders if she's thinking about it too.
"I'm not really tired," she says. "Just relaxed. Which I suppose is impressive enough, under the circumstances."
"Me too," he agrees, and it's a little surprising considering how tense he was when they first crawled in here, maybe how tense he should be when they're this close, her back pressed against his chest.
She's quiet for a long time, but he can tell by her breathing that she's still awake. He kisses the back of her head. It seems like the right thing to do.
"Do you think we'll make it out of here alive?" she asks.
"I thought you said you were relaxed."
She squeezes his hand again. "Not this. The..." she sighs, and he understands before she says, "this entire mission."
He feels the knot in his stomach that's probably been there since he first woke the Wraith. He kind of hoped she would never ask him this question. He doesn't think she would have, if she wasn't here, with her back to him, holding hands in the dark.
"Are you really asking?"
She leans her head on his shoulder again. "I guess not."
They both know.
"There's always a chance," he offers. He runs his free hand down her arm, and realizes that as much as he didn't want to have this conversation with her, he always wanted to talk about this with her like this.
She'll die for the city, he already knows, if it comes to it. He'll die for her, if he can. It will take a miracle for them to get out of this galaxy, for him to get the chance to ask her out to dinner and a movie and feel like getting distracted like that is absolutely the most essential thing either one of them could be doing.
"I wonder..." she says, then shakes her head, breathes out a laugh.
"What?" It's freaky, sometimes, how she seems to know exactly what he's thinking, but he'd never say any of this out loud. He brushes her jawline with the back of one finger. He wants her (maybe not here, maybe not now, but he does), and right now, he needs her to know.
She leans her face into his touch, just a little. "John, we can't." She grips his hands around her waist as she speaks. It doesn't feel like a rejection.
He leans his forehead on the back of her head. He tries to sound like he's joking. "Don't we deserve something before the end?"
She elbows him, but gently. "I thought Rodney said this pod was safe."
"I didn't mean now."
"I know what you meant."
He doesn't feel spring-fevered anymore. He's no longer wishing for awkward sex in an alien spaceship. He feels like he did that first time they fell asleep at movie night – he just wants to wake up to her in the morning. To talk to her, like this, about this massive weight they both carry. To sleep next to someone who gets it, his hand wrapped in hers. He knows it's a bad idea, the IOA would drum them out, they might lose perspective and the loyalty of their team (not the ones that know them, but they're responsible for a lot more than just their friends). It can't happen.
It feels better, though, knowing for sure that she wants it, too.
"Maybe it'll make sense later," she says. He imagines the smirk on her face when she adds, "If you're still interested, of course."
He smiles, shamelessly breathes in the smell of her hair. "I think I could be persuaded."
"Good." She lifts one of his hands to her mouth and kisses it, and he wants more than that, but maybe this is enough, until.
He'll miss being suspended like this, with only her, weightless. "How long has it been?" he asks, wishing the trip was longer.
She checks her watch, then asks, "Does it matter?"
No, he thinks, not really.
He's just become a very patient man.