She sweeps a look around his room when they enter, but if she’s disgusted by the way he’s living, it doesn’t show in her face.
“Want a beer?” he asks, suddenly not sure where to put his hands, or if he should offer to take her jacket. Fuck, he’s out of practice.
“Yeah.” She puts her purse on the TV stand – the one place clear of bottles and boxes. “I think I do.”
“It’s cheap,” he warns before popping the cap off and handing her the drink.
She clinks her glass bottle with his.
His mouth dries as he looks at her face. He tries to swallow, tries to calm his arousal before this gets out of hand, but she’s looking at him the exact same way.
He takes her beer bottle back to put it aside, and then he touches the collar of her jacket. He hesitates like he’s frozen, watching to see if he’s allowed, if they’re thinking the same thing... and then she smiles.
Her jacket slides off easily and then she takes it from his fingers, throwing it over the side chair that’s already covered with his spare clothes. She’s in that silky red top again that he so wanted to touch that first night, but his hands fall on her bare arms first and he can’t bring himself away from her warm skin. He can see just a peek of erect nipples through her shirt, and God if that doesn’t turn him on so fast he groans.
Elizabeth touches her palm to his chest, gently, right over where the Wraith bullet just missed his heart.
She meets him halfway, and he kisses her.
He’s kissed a few women in his day, but it’s never felt like this, like Elizabeth is filling in some part of himself he didn’t know was missing. It feels like he belongs here, his hands in her soft hair, thumbs tracing her jaw. Her tongue brushes his, drawing him in deeper.
His hands slide down to her shoulders, to her back and her ribs and her hips, and she’s tracing him the same way, exploring. She feels good, better than anything has felt in far too long. Her hand slips under his shirt to touch bare skin at his back, and he pulls her closer, right against him.
Elizabeth breathes out a staggered sigh, like she’s just as relieved as he is that they made it here.
Her hands on his back are driving him crazy, and he needs to find that same sensitive skin on her. Every inch of her is softer than the last, and when he rests the palm in the dip of her lower back she hums something needy that makes his blood race south. He’s hard in his jeans already, and he doesn’t want to rush this, isn’t going to just grind against her like he’s some teenage kid, but he’s been wound up on her since they met.
Her hands brush over a still-raw scar, and he jerks in response. “Don’t stop,” he groans, then kisses her again, head buzzing. She can hurt him all she wants as long as she keeps doing this.
Her muscles jump where his knuckles rub her stomach, just under the hem of her shirt, and lust shoots through him so hard he shivers. “God. Elizabeth.”
He sucks in a deep breath, trying to clear his head, and wishes he hadn’t been drinking. This experience – this woman - deserves better than him half-drunk. He doesn’t want any of this blurred away.
He needs to feel her, all of her, with nothing numb.
She says, “You can take it off.”
He doesn’t have to be told twice. Pulling her shirt over her head breaks their kiss apart, and then he’s gaping at her, dizzy on whiskey and the promise of sex and her, here.
She smiles. “Are you all right?”
Christ, yes. “Never better.” He doesn’t want it to sound flippant, doesn’t want her to think this is a thing he says, but he can’t concentrate with her breasts in front of him in nothing but a plain gray bra, right there, just waiting to be touched. “I’m really good. Really-”
She laughs and grabs the bottom of his shirt, then waits for his okay before undressing him.
He nods. “Really good.”
It’s ugly, he knows. His stitches are out, though he’s got internal sutures still dissolving in his vital organs. The latest scars are still bright red and sore, layered over old swaths of cut and burned flesh from his last Afghanistan mission gone wrong. Two of the Wraith’s bullets went clean through him, leaving exit wounds on his back that make it hard to sleep, and the third bullet is somewhere in medical disposal in a surgical bay.
Elizabeth takes it all in with an expression he can’t decipher. She guides him backward until his knees hit the bed and when he sits down, she leans over and kisses each scar.
She started it, so he pulls her bra strap down over her shoulder and kisses the tangled mess of skin where one of her own soldiers shot her in a failed attempt to keep her from harm.
She’s got more, less gnarled than the one on her shoulder but just as violent. Someone did this to her. He’s almost shaking with how much he wishes he could go back in time and take her place, could have been there to protect her with everything he has.
They strip each other naked, mapping each other’s scars. He wants to kiss her senseless, wants to stretch her out underneath him and show her all the wild fantasies he’s been building up about her, but this feels important.
He always rushes past this with other women. They either ask too many questions, pry too deeply about something that’s none of their business, or they don’t even care.
His scars are personal, but he wants Elizabeth to see them.
She’s letting him do the same to her, letting him see and feel and learn her history from the evidence left on her body. He runs his finger along a raised line that crosses her entire stomach and wonders how long it took to heal.
“You’re beautiful,” he says, spreading his hands on her ribs.
She’s above him, looking down with those eyes that seem to read right into whatever soul he has, and then he can’t stay still.
Her body curves into his hands like she’s made for him, and he has to keep touching her. Her breasts are perfect, her face, her hips and legs and her hands, and when he sucks one breast into his mouth she breathes his name and yes together like it’s all one word. Her fingers trail up the inside of his thigh, making his erection jump with need, and he groans and drags his kiss back up to her mouth and God, he’ll beg her, but she doesn’t make him.
Her hand is soft and hot, her fingers slimmer and nimbler than his, and the feeling of someone else handling him is too good too fast, and he has to stop kissing her to warn: “Jesus, don’t do that, or-”
He rolls her over and she spreads her legs, and for a second, he feels nothing at all but joy. “You’re so hot.”
She laughs. “I’m pretty pleased myself.”
He slips one hand between her legs, watching anticipation rise in her face. When he slips one finger inside her, she rolls her eyes back, and God, she moans.
He kisses her, rough and full of everything he needs. He’s thinking mostly with his dick by now, urgently pulsing against her thigh, and he pushes a second finger inside her too soon. She tenses, and he stops, pulling back to look at her.
“Gently,” she says, and there’s a whole world in just that word. “Gently. Go slow.”
“Okay.” He smiles, touches her face. It’s going to kill him, just kissing her, just moving one finger inside her as her muscles relax. It’s going to kill him, slowly, and he can’t think of any way he’d rather go. “I’ve got you,” he breathes against the soft skin of her face, imagining himself sliding tight inside her with every flutter of her muscles on his hand.
He jerks toward her as her hands brush down his sides. He wants to do slow, wants to feel every quiver in her body as she rises to orgasm, but fuck, when she wraps her hand around his erection and guides him to her, he has no idea how he’ll hold out.
Elizabeth rocks her pelvis back and forth, letting him just barely slip in and out.
“God,” he breathes, need shuddering all the way through him as he fights to breathe. The whole planet could come crashing down around them and there’s no way he’d stop.
“Oh shit,” she says, pulling back so far that he has to stop. “I don’t really carry condoms.”
He smirks, ducking his head, and reaches for the nightstand, because he bought them five days ago when he couldn’t get her out of his head. He thought it was wishful thinking, cursed himself for even pretending the world would give him something this good, but here she is.
“Got to be prepared for anything,” he quips.
“Thank God for that.” Her hand’s between her legs as he messes with the packaging. She’s touching herself with two fingers, then three, and he groans at the sight. Her knees spread farther apart, creating a space. “I’m ready.”
Somehow, somehow, he goes slow, settling between her legs, kissing her, letting her lead. He grabs her hand up by her head. He stops moving when she squeezes her fingers, lets her adjust, and then pushes in farther when she relaxes her grip and smiles up at him. He waits, not even half inside her, going out of his mind with how this feels, and this slow torture is everything he wants.
Her death grip on his fingers relaxes again and her hips tilt, and then he slides in all the way, filling her until he can’t any more.
“Fuck,” he breathes, “Elizabeth.” Her muscles tense and relax around him, building a rhythm without him even moving, and he desperately wants to move but he also wants to stay right here, as close to her as he can get. He presses his face into the curve of her neck and groans when she runs the fingernails of her free hand down his spine.
She pinches him and he jerks inside her, making her laugh and him shiver.
“You feel good.” She’s looking right into him, like she’s planting the words right in his heart.
He smiles, trying to calm his breathing. Slow. He can do this. He touches the tip of his nose to hers. “So do you.”
Then she shifts under him, and he moves.
He’s still holding her hand as he rocks them gently, barely moving, sensation washing over him. He’s harder than he can remember, every part of his body straining for her, and when she starts to push back against him he groans, sliding in and out, feeling everything.
“Oh God,” she’s saying, and every word thrums through him like it’s alive. “Yes-”
She’s incredible, he thinks with whatever part of his brain isn’t exploding into pieces. It’s achingly slow, this gentle rhythm, and he usually only likes it fast and hard, but Christ, maybe he was just saving slow for her. It feels like his heart is moving in and out of her with each thrust, and he doesn’t know how to feel this much.
He can barely recognize his name, can only move inside her while she moves and breathes and raises her hips to pull him in even deeper. His arms are trembling with the effort of keeping it together and he lets go of her hand to twist his fingers into the sheets. She’s saying, “Yes, yes, that feels good,” babbling in his ear in a choppy voice that’s only driving him faster to the point of no return. He wants to do this forever, wants to be tangled up with her getting higher and higher but-
“Please.” His gut tightens on every thrust. “I want to watch you come.” He gasps, pulling himself back from the brink with painful effort, biting down on her shoulder.
Elizabeth hugs him and then wraps her legs around his hips. “It’s okay. I’ve got you.” She’s rocking with him, and he’s losing his grip on words and English and his body and every fucking thing except this. “Come on. I’ve got you, John.”
God, he wants her to come first, but he can’t think, can’t do anything except feel, except sink into her as deep as he’ll go, and when she tightens around him one more time he can’t stop. His hips jerk helplessly as he comes, and it feels like he’s turning inside out.
He loses whole minutes to lingering after sensations prickling along his skin. He knows he kisses her, knows he does something with the condom, and then for a minute or two after that he doesn’t even know who he is.
What brings him back is her, shaking.
“Elizabeth?” His throat is dry, with exertion or with the desperate feeling clawing its way up his chest.
“I’m okay,” she says, and that’s when his brain figures out she’s crying. He can see her hand near her throat, fisting her necklace charm.
He has never known how to deal with a woman crying, but something tells him not to break contact. He rubs his hand up and down her bare back, trying to absorb the edges of her grief.
She turns toward him and lays her hand on his ribs. “I’m sorry, John.” Her tears drop silently onto the pillow under her head. “This isn’t fair to you.”
He hopes she doesn’t really think that, or she’s more screwed up than he is. “Hey,” he says. “We’re here together.”
She nods. He brushes her jaw with his hand. His heart is pounding, feeling more than he has in ages.
She jerks in a breath. “I’m so glad it’s you.”
Elizabeth curls into his side, avoiding his raw scars.
He cups his hand on the back of her neck, offering her as much strength as he has. “Are you okay?”
She laughs, at his stupid question or at herself, and touches her forehead to his shoulder. “No.” She presses a shaky kiss to his arm.
He pulls her half on top of him, ignoring the twinge of objection from one of his healing wounds. He presses his face to the top of her head and buries his hand in her hair. “You will be.”
She wraps her arms around him, and he holds her. It’s almost an hour of silence, of breathing and shared warmth and her occasional tear sliding down his neck, and then she relaxes into sleep.
For the first time in a long while, John feels like a good man.
For breakfast, they share a pack of saltines and a Snickers he digs out of his most recent 7-11 grocery bag because neither of them want to leave.
He needs this way more than coffee, needs her undressed and messy and beating the hell out of him at chess on her phone.
“I’m usually really good at this,” he tells her.
“Sure you are.” She arches her back, showing off the breasts that are keeping his mind leagues away from chess strategy. It’s not like he’s going to tell her to put her clothes on. The A/C in this place, for all its sound and fury, is pretty lackluster at actually cooling the room down once the Colorado sun comes up. All excuses aside, he’s fine sucking at chess for the rest of his life if she feels like staying naked.
The rest of his life.
He doesn’t want to know how long they have. He considers putting off the question, but if he doesn’t ask it eventually, she’ll just disappear one day and he won’t even have the chance to brace himself. He needs to know. “When do you go back to Atlantis?”
He watches her fingers tighten around her phone, then put it down between them. “Tuesday.”
It’s Saturday now. That’s not even three full days.
“And Monday I’m in D.C. to debrief the President.”
His lover holds meetings with the President.
His response is easy: He’s ignored a lot of painful things in his life, and right now, he’s going to ignore this. John moves her phone to the nightstand.
“Are you forfeiting?” she asks, in a voice like she already knows this has nothing to do with chess. He can see the muscles of her bare stomach twitch, and he can’t resist touching them.
She breathes in his ear and he feels like he hears in her breath a thousand impossible promises. Or just one: that he can, somehow, find happiness in the scarred mess of his life.
She brushes her fingers over his ribs, tickling. He grins. “I’m going to make you scream.”
She throws one leg over his thighs. “I certainly hope so.”
She doesn’t scream. He takes his time, kissing her, learning every inch of her skin, spreading her over the bed. He eats her out until she can’t speak, and when she comes, it’s with a choppy sigh that shakes all through her body, that makes her muscles tighten so hard on his tongue that he almost comes himself just imagining, and he keeps going, keeps kissing her between her legs until she’s all the way back down.
God, he has got to feel that for himself, inside her the next time. For now, he tries to cool his breathing, tries to keep back the urge to fuck her now before she’s ready, but she smells so wet and perfect-
He wants to make her come like that someday saying his name, and just the thought makes him groan. He’s touching himself before he realizes it, but it’s only for a moment before she replaces his hand with hers. She slides along his body, every point of contact making him tremble.
“You don’t-” he starts to say, because this was about her, because he wanted to, not because he expects the same in return, and then she raises an eyebrow at him like he’s being crazy and she blows cool air over his straining erection and then her mouth is on him and God. Damn.
He can’t say a single word.
Elizabeth has to go back to the base to report in, and while she’s gone, John checks out and finds a nicer hotel. He leaves the cheap beer and the casino shuttle information in his old motel room, like maybe he’s changed.
“You didn’t have to do this,” Elizabeth says. “I’m not here for the accommodations.”
John points the tip of his knife at her dinner, in the hotel restaurant. “Steak’s better than crackers from a vending machine, though, right?”
Her eyes roll back into a blissful expression. “You have no idea how long I’ve been craving this.”
“You’ve been back for a while now – you haven’t been able to sneak away for a steak?”
She shrugs. “It’s hard to remember to take care of myself. Maybe you can relate.”
He usually treats himself like shit, that’s true, but her reasons are probably less selfish. She’s got a whole expedition full of people to care for. John hasn’t let anyone close enough in years.
Except her. He doesn’t think it’s just that he’s rebounding from a near-death experience or that he’s suddenly able to get his hands around his demons. It’s Elizabeth.
She’s something special. From what she told him, there’s at least one other John Sheppard out there who agrees with him. He wonders, if he’d met her sooner, if he were somehow out there with her... maybe he’d be more of a hero after all.
“I’ve been thinking about alternate realities,” he says.
She glances around them to make sure they’re still alone, though really, if John overheard this conversation in a restaurant, he’d never assume they were being serious. “Theoretical or specific?”
“Theoretical, I guess.”
She swirls the wine in her glass. “We’ve only encountered the one, but from what Rodney tells me, the permutations are endless. It’s a romantic idea: somewhere, you’re living out all the roads not taken.”
Elizabeth’s husband could have survived. Lydia could be alive – maybe they’d even still be together. John could have died with the others when his chopper crashed behind the lines in Afghanistan. The Wraith could have destroyed the world.
He could be going back to Atlantis with her on Tuesday, or he might not know her at all.
There’s no way she can know the answer, but he asks: “How often do you think we meet?”
In Las Vegas. In Colorado. In another galaxy. John can’t imagine a version of events where he meets her and it doesn’t profoundly change him.
Elizabeth reaches across the table for his hand. “Often, I hope.”
She wants to see the hotel’s rooftop garden, so they go there after dinner.
Twenty stories didn’t used to be high enough to even give him a buzz of excitement, compared to altitudes where he used to fly, but it’s been a long time since he’s left solid ground without the harsh glare of neon lights all around him.
It’s her, too, holding his hand in the elevator, standing right at the railing as she takes in the sea of city lights and black mountains beyond. It almost feels like he’s in the cockpit, moments from taking off.
“It’s strange not hearing the ocean,” she says.
He’s keeping his hand on her hip, like he’s protecting her from falling over the well-railed edge. “You miss it, when you’re here.”
She glances back at him with a sad smile. “I wish you could see it.”
“It’s hard to imagine that much water.” A whole planet, she said, except for a single continent of lush, forested land. “I’ve been in the desert for a long time.” He brushes his thumb over the bare skin at her waist. For however good he feels now, all the bleak temptations of his life are camped just outside, waiting to sweep him under again.
She steps back against his chest and he draws his arms around her. The cityscape is pretty, but it can’t hold his attention away when her neck is right there, just under her hair, waiting to be kissed.
“John,” she breathes when he kisses her. There’s something compelling in the way she says his name, like it really matters that he’s the one here with her right now, that he’s him. She relaxes her head back on his shoulder and lets him hold the weight.
She doesn’t say anything else, but he fills her silence in his head with everything he’s needed to hear from someone just like her in all the years he’s been alone.
I love you swells in his throat. It’s been only days, though, and she’s leaving on Monday. It’s too soon for him to feel like she’s holding the other half of his heart in her hands and she’s going to take it away with her when she goes.
He supposes he’s never done anything the way most people do.
“Is there anything you want to do tomorrow before you go back?” He rubs his hands up and down her arms against the night breeze. Thinking that she’s almost gone makes it hard to stand still.
She catches one of his hands and brings it to her mouth. He can feel her soft smile. “Just be with you.”
Earth stretches out below them, and there’s nothing she wants in it more than him for as long as she’s here. He kisses her ear, and then whispers, “I think that can be arranged.”
This mattress is better, the sheets softer, and the bed doesn’t squeak. John doesn’t care – she can ride him like this on hard gravel if she wants to and it’ll still be the best feeling in his life.
“You,” he chokes out, in between moans and gasps and the feel of her breasts fitting perfectly in his hands, “you’re amazing.”
She’s moving at his speed this time, fast, and it feels so much better than it ever has that it’s blowing his mind. He’s been on the edge for so long he’s seeing stars, and he’s desperate to hang on because God, she’s just as close. Her muscles are iron when she wants them to be, compressing him, and he’s helpless underneath her. She could take anything she wants from him, do anything she wants to him, and if it feels anything like this, he’s hers.
Elizabeth leans forward, changing the angle, and he pushes into her as hard as he can when he’s flat on his back. His balls are tight and quivering, and the only thing holding him here is her and the promise of how it’ll feel when she comes all around him.
Her mouth is slack, but she manages to form words: “Kiss me.”
He’ll do more than that. John pushes into her again, grabs her shoulders, and flips her over into the bed before kissing her with all the need he feels. Come on, he thinks, because he has no breath to spare for speaking aloud when he’s kissing and thrusting faster and faster in time with the shivers rolling across her muscles. Come on, Elizabeth, come on-
He can’t hold his rhythm and she can’t hold hers, and then, thank God, she comes, and she drags him right along with her.
It’s a few minutes before he can speak at all, and then all he can get out is, “Holy shit.” His nerves are still tingling all over.
Elizabeth laughs against his cheek. “I couldn’t say it better.”
He presses his forearms to the bed around her to take some of his weight. He doesn’t want to move off her completely just yet. He rests his chin on her chest. “Did you pick up some new tricks in another galaxy?”
She giggles and wrinkles up her nose. It’s adorable, and he’d kiss her, but he’s still languishing in afterglow too much to move even that far. “I prefer men from Earth.”
“No complaints here.”
“I should hope not.” She brings her hand up to thread through his hair, sending a whole new cascade of shivers through his body.
He rolls to his side so he can relax and just enjoy her, the way she smells, her fingers in his hair, the dip of the mattress from another body in bed with his.
He doesn’t want to think of his bed, of the Vegas apartment that hasn’t felt like home for seven straight years. He could get a better place, he thinks before he can stop himself. Closer to his new job. He could handle the desert and the casinos and the O’Neills who think he’ll never amount to anything if he just had her there to share his pot of coffee every morning.
“Come with me.”
He’s an asshole to even ask – this is her career, her life. He can’t compete with another galaxy. He doesn’t think any man could.
He already knows she’s going to say no, knew before he even asked the question, but God bless her, she hesitates.
Then, of course: “I can’t.”
It still stings, not with rejection but with inevitability. She was always leaving. “I know.”
“Don’t give up.” She moves her hand to his chest. “Think of it like a probationary period. Rodney will still want you in the city. The Generals will come around.”
There are twelve names somewhere in his file that say they never will. “I doubt it.”
“Hey.” She grabs his chin in her hand and waits until he looks at her. “I’m not going to forget about you.”
He believes her, and the intensity of that makes it hard to breathe.
It might be easier if she forgot him, if she left him now before he falls in any deeper, but he’s been living in a dry and lonely hell for far too long now, and she matters to him. He doesn’t see how it can, but he wants this to work.
It can’t be any crazier than aliens, can it?
Her fingers are tracing patterns on his chest, too deliberate to be random but nothing he recognizes. “What language is that?”
She smiles. “It’s my address.”
He closes his eyes and pictures the Stargate, spinning. He tries to imagine what it would feel like to step through, to be blown apart into pieces and emerge somewhere a galaxy away.
He wonders if it feels like being reborn.
They run a few errands in the morning, mostly to buy things she wants to bring back for her team that Stargate Command might not deem essential mission supplies. He helps her pick out movies and video games and laughs when she cleans out all the gum and candy in the checkout line.
“A piece of home,” Elizabeth explains as they walk back to the car, though it’s not necessary. Afghanistan is next door compared to the Pegasus galaxy, but John remembers the feeling. “We were out of contact almost the whole first year we were there. Don’t tell anyone, but I may have shed a tear over the last box of Milk Duds.”
“Doctor Weir, the returning hero,” he teases, “bringing gifts of Snickers and Airheads to the starving masses.”
She elbows him, grinning.
He asks it as they’re arranging bags in the trunk of her car. “What do you miss most about...?” He waves a hand, trying to encompass all of Earth.
A handful of expressions chase themselves across her face as she considers it. “I’m not sure. I don’t have a lot of time to think about it. Maybe that’s a blessing.”
He points to the bags of candy. “These will melt in the car.”
It’s true, which means it’s not just an excuse to get her back to the hotel. He’s enjoying being out with her, joking around about movies neither of them have ever seen and hunting for the elusive best coffee shop in the city the hotel clerk mentioned, but he’d enjoy being alone with her even more. In bed, preferably.
They do actually find the coffee shop on their way back. She spends ten minutes staring at all the trendy new drinks before ordering a simple espresso.
“I think this is what I miss most,” she says, sipping her drink in a corner booth.
“Coffee?” He amends: “Good coffee?”
Elizabeth shakes her head. “This,” she says, lifting her cup, “is the most important decision I’ve made today.”
It’s a new way of looking at it. He’s hated feeling useless all these years, but he can see the appeal when she’s had a galaxy riding on her shoulders. “Well, I’m an expert at wasting time on unimportant things.”
She settles back in her chair and smirks at him. “All right, then, Grand Master. What’s next?”
He has a few suggestions.
John isn’t sure if War and Peace is getting good yet or not, but it’s definitely getting heavy, so he puts it aside. Elizabeth’s still reading hers, occasionally reaching over to borrow his translated edition for a passage or two.
He’s not going to complain about book theft when she’s wearing nothing but his shirt. If he owned anything of value, she could rob him blind.
John lays his hand over her ribs and lets himself drift in and out to her heartbeat and turning pages. He’s tired – from sex, from his still-healing injuries, from all the years he never slept as well as this – but he tries to stay awake. Their time is limited, and even if they’re not doing anything except reading, he’d rather be aware of as much of it as he can.
His split-second dreams are all about her and a city he’s never seen.
Then he must have drifted off for longer, because when he next opens his eyes, the light from the window is waning and she’s lying next to him. Her eyes are open, like she’s been watching him sleep.
He clears his throat. “How long was I out?”
She lays her palm on his cheek. “Not long.”
“You could’ve woke me.” He turns his head to kiss her wrist.
She rolls her eyes and snuggles closer. “I think we both deserve a little rest.”
He can’t keep a smug grin from his face. She doesn’t seem to mind. “Do you want to go downstairs for dinner?” Gotta refuel, he thinks, already imagining how they’ll burn off that energy afterwards.
“Yes, but-” Elizabeth sits up and fusses with her hair for a moment. “I need to be back at the SGC tomorrow by 0500.”
He nods. His hands feel cold, and he crosses them over his chest. “So I should let you sleep tonight?”
“Believe me, any sleep is more than what I’m used to.”
His brain calculates the time they have left down to the minute. He’s never been able to leave a math problem unsolved, even when he’d rather not know the answer. “Will I see you again?” It’s too much to leave that question hanging out there open-ended, in case she says no, so he specifies, “Before you go back?”
She looks down at her hands. “I don’t know. There’s a lot... I’ve let some things slip. I need to make sure everything’s ready.”
John sits up. It’s too much to face lying down. She’s right, of course, her people have to come first. He’s always had a hard time separating his personal feelings from duty – it’s a deadly trait he’d never wish on anyone else.
“Maybe an hour, time for coffee after I get back from Washington...”
“I’ll take it.”
She takes his hand and squeezes it. “When are you going back to Vegas?”
He told Woolsey he could start next Monday. He should probably find a car first, and if he’s been evicted from his apartment, he’ll have to find somewhere new to live. “After coffee, I guess.”
She kisses him. There’s an urgency in her mouth, in her arms when they wind around his shoulders. Her whole body is tense. He’s still mentally ticking away the minutes, thinking how in two days she’ll be so far away it’ll be like she never existed, and he reconsiders their dinner plans.
He breaks the kiss long enough to suggest, “Room service?”
She hums approval. “Later.”
She gets some sleep that night. John doesn’t.
He straightens the covers over her and tidies up their room service trays. The hotel left the Colorado Springs Gazette when they changed out the sheets, and John reads through the used car classifieds. He memorizes the way she looks when she’s asleep, expression relaxed in a dreamy smile, fingers curled around the edge of the pillow.
He loves her. Even though she’s leaving, even though 0500 might be the last time he ever sees her, the emotion surging thick in his chest feels good more than it hurts.
He’s been wasting time for seven years, losing at poker, losing at police investigation, losing at life. He always felt like he was just killing time, waiting for something.
He thought he was waiting for death, honestly.
But this – McKay, Woolsey, the Stargate, Elizabeth...
In retrospect, he thinks he was waiting for them.
He wakes her before 4 a.m. and helps her wash her hair.
She comes around two of his fingers, hot water pouring over them and his name on her lips.
He holds her until she gets her legs back under her.
“I’m going to miss this,” she says, leaning back against him.
He sucks water from her neck where it meets her jaw and then gently bites her ear. “More than Milk Duds?”
“More than a lot of things.”
He trails his hands down over her stomach and pushes her against the tile wall.
They’ve got time.
She goes to Washington.
He buys a car.
It could use a hell of a lot of work and looks beat – for $800, he can’t expect anything otherwise – but it’s a Cadillac and it’ll get him to Nevada and it’s an old enough model that he can upgrade most of it himself. It’ll give him a project. He might be better at staying off the strip if he has something else to do.
He has to fight to get the top down and isn’t sure he’ll ever get it back up, but it’s worth it to feel the wind when he drives.
She calls when he’s in an auto parts store, looking at wrench sets.
“The President sends his regards.”
“Really?” He assumes she’s joking, but as weird as it is, he did help save the planet.
“He hopes you’re recovering well. I told him you seemed to be getting your strength back.”
John laughs. For a minute, he lets himself pretend it’ll always be like this and she’ll be no farther away than his cell phone can reach. He could live with that. He’s always had a thing for phone sex, and to be honest, it’s always been easier to talk about feelings with a woman if he can’t see her reaction.
He’d get over that with Elizabeth, he thinks. She’s already bringing something out in him, something good and strong he thought he lost in Afghanistan, and he wants to know where this will take him. What he’ll become.
Not that it matters. She’s in a rush and can’t say any more about her meetings on an unsecured line, so he lets her go. Tomorrow, he’ll let her go all the way to Atlantis.
His habits feel like they’re under his skin, the slide of cards in his hand, the sick pleasure of a fistfight in a dark bar, a stiff drink drowning out the thoughts in his head.
He buys the wrenches, gets in his car, and drives like he can leave himself behind. The Cripple Creek casinos are west of Colorado Springs, and John drives north, all the way to Boulder before it feels safe to turn around.
Coffee is a waste of her last free hour on Earth, but it’s what they have. They’re too far from the hotel to get her back in time, and while John might have briefly considered the Starbucks bathroom as an alternate venue, he eventually decided against it.
He’s not desperate for sex, he’s desperate for her, for something that can hold him on this course while she’s out of reach.
So, coffee. Holding her hand. Talking. That has never been one of his strengths, which is probably why they’ve been circling around in small talk since they sat down.
“Did you put in a good word for me with Woolsey?”
“Well, we mostly talked business while we were in D.C.,” Elizabeth says, “but he’s looking forward to have you on board. He thinks you can help them solve a lot of problems.”
John smirks. That’ll be an interesting change. “I usually create the problems.”
“Don’t say that. You’re too hard on yourself.”
He’s going to try and remember her faith in him. Maybe it will help.
He doesn’t really care about Woolsey or his new job right now anyway. John has no experience with this. In the past, before deployments, he was always the one leaving.
He pinches a sugar packet between his fingers, trying to compress the granules together into one corner while he figures out how the hell to say goodbye. “Elizabeth,” he finally starts. “Where does this leave us?”
Her breathing sounds loud among the bustle of other people around them. They all disappear at the edges of his senses, until it feels like she’s the only person in the world.
Elizabeth folds her hands in front of her. “It’s been, what, a week? I’m not going to ask for your fidelity.”
Ask, he wants to say. Hell, people can get married in Vegas faster than this.
“Besides,” she continues, clearing her throat, “it’s probably harder to be out there, in danger, if you know someone’s waiting for you.”
He drops the sugar packet on the table and then covers her hands with his. He’s reaching for words that can explain how he feels, but all he comes up with is, “Too bad.”
Elizabeth swallows, then nods.
When he hugs her goodbye, he prays it’s not the last time.
He’s just over the border into Utah when she calls.
“I’m leaving. Ten minutes. I wanted-” she sighs, and something aches in him at the sound. “It’s silly to call when we already said goodbye, but I wanted to.”
He pulls over on the shoulder of the freeway. His cell reception’s been going in and out, and he doesn’t want to risk losing her.
“Hey, you gave me the phone,” he reminds as cars whiz past him. He puts on his hazards. “You can call me whenever you want.”
It feels overwhelming when he pictures her in the middle of the SGC, stepping away from the chaos around the Stargate to talk to him moments before traveling to another galaxy. She must have other things to do. People expecting her to be somewhere else, dealing with more pressing things.
“Take care of yourself,” she says, like she knows how hard it will be.
His heart’s pounding and he can barely breathe. A truck rolls past, rattling his car, and he tightens his hand around the phone so he doesn’t drop it. It feels like he’s ripping the words from his chest. “I love you.”
He wishes she were here. It’s terrifying, but he wants to see her face.
He can imagine it, though, when she says: “Oh, thank God.”
He laughs, and he can’t stop, like it’s seven years of pent-up emotion bursting at the seams. She’s laughing too, on the other end of the line, though she probably has no idea why.
“Call me when you’re back in the country,” John tells her, when he can speak. There are other things he wants to say, promises he could make or threats to her military officers that they do a better job keeping her safe from harm, but he goes with, “Be safe.”
She promises, “I’ll be careful,” and that’s really all that matters.
He waits until dark to finish his drive back to the desert, because the AC in his new ride broke around noon and dying of heatstroke isn’t the welcome home he’s hoping for. The first priority for his car repair project is clear.
Most of the sprawling residential areas of Las Vegas are dark by the time he gets there, but the strip is always bright, pouring light pollution into the sky above.
It’s different this time, arriving in Vegas. He lost everything he had in Afghanistan – his purpose, his career, Lydia – and Vegas was the end of the road, purgatory with showgirls. Now...
He’s part of something again.
There are eviction notices on his apartment door, but his key still works and all his stuff is still inside. He almost hoped there’d be nothing to come back to so he could start fresh without even trying, but maybe, in the long run, it’s better for him to have to deal with it.
It’s his life, after all. He should figure out how to live on this planet before he tries to move to another one.
It’s hotter outside than in, but he opens the windows to air the place out from whiskey and beer and being too long sealed up. He can hear the expressway from here when it’s not drowned out by the AC, and it makes him think of Elizabeth, out there with the ocean all around her.
When he cleans up the bottles, he throws out the full ones along with the empties. He’ll miss it out of habit, probably miss it too much, but not because it ever gave him real peace.
Elizabeth did, and he thinks that will make this easier.
He dreams about the Stargate.
It’s a year from now, maybe two. He’s worked hard, saved the world again, and there’s General O’Neill at his back telling him, Nice work, Sheppard. Good luck.
The stone ring spins, locking on to each symbol Elizabeth once drew on his chest in a hotel bed, the address she left for him to follow.
It bursts to life, just as wondrous as it was the day he met her. She’s on the other side, ready to welcome him to a city he’s never seen.
John steps through the event horizon and finally, he’s home.
He wakes up in Las Vegas, skin still prickling from an imaginary wormhole.
He takes a minute to get his bearings, and then he calls Woolsey.
It’s a few days early, and he’ll have to drive there with an icepack on his neck to keep from overheating in 110 degrees and a car without AC, but, “I’m ready to start.”
He had to come back to know for sure: Vegas isn’t his city.
For now, maybe, but...
There’s somewhere else he belongs.