Author: Little Red
Category: Atlantis, romance. Challenge. Weir!fic.
Pairing: McKay/Weir. Yes, you read that right.
Spoilers: "The Eye"
Summary: And then, she remembers.
Author's Note: This divergence from your regularly scheduled programming has been brought to you by wisdomeagle, who went against her beloved McKay/Weir OTP to write me this bit of Sparky porn, and I now feel incredibly LOVED. Also brought to you by rosewildeirish who talked up a challenge idea where fic authors write The Other Pairing (being the one they don't see, or the one that's the greatest threat to their own OTP) and try to really write it and, ideally, make it believable. So... I tried! Let me know how I did. :)
There are days when Elizabeth Weir has, quite simply, had enough.
Sometimes it's because the stress of waiting for the next unscheduled wormhole has seeped physically into her body as she bounces up and down on the balls of her feet in the control room, her muscles winding tighter and tighter the longer her people are away from the city. They have more teams now that other Athosians have followed in Teyla's footsteps and volunteered to supplement their ranks, and there is almost always at least one team off-world.
Elizabeth feels like she never sleeps anymore. Carson has begun medicating her for it. The formula is primarily herbal -- gathered on the mainland -- so she isn't taking away from needed medical inventory, and the dosage is light enough that she can theoretically shake it off if a real emergency arises. She still doesn't like taking it; dependence worries her more than insomnia.
Sometimes Elizabeth burns out on Atlantis itself. The confined space gnaws at the edges of her being, as though the ocean she can hear all around her is lapping right against her skin. The city is the size of Manhattan, yes, potentially unexplorable in her lifetime even if they weren't being constantly interrupted by Wraith and Genii and all matter of demons (and no, she never believed in demons before she got here and met them), but she has never been one to be confined to a single city.
Some days it's Sheppard, who can be shortsighted and impulsive without supervision and who becomes childish and defensive if she does not bend back far enough -- over her own instincts and morals -- to prove that she trusts him. She knows he doesn't trust her -- trusts her less than he used to, even -- and there are times when she wonders if that has more to do with her choices in the bedroom than her choices in the briefing room.
Strangely enough, they talk more now, like a weight she hadn't known was there has been lifted from their friendship. She likes that. She wonders, on darker days, whether that change in him is less about any possible attraction he may once have felt and more that he now has a kind of proof about what kind of person she is. Loving someone means she must feel something for more than ideology. That she's human after all.
Elizabeth isn't sure yet what she thinks about that one.
On other days it's Teyla who pushes her to that edge because, somehow, Elizabeth owes her a planet just by bringing her team to this galaxy. She once promised a future to make up for it, and has yet to deliver. There are a number of other people on the expedition who may be quietly cursing her for letting them down -- there are enough reasons for that. Kavenagh, of course, tells her as much out loud.
More often than not, it's Rodney, by saying too much or standing too close or looking too upset when she needs to retreat to the safety of her personal space on her own, mercurial schedule. On days when she's tired and on a short mental fuse it doesn't take much -- just a look while she's refereeing a professional debate, a wide-eyed, expectant look that seems to be seeking out special favor because of their personal relationship. And then, if she's harsher than she needs to be in her replies while she's trying not to climb out of her skin, the expectant look is replaced with a hurt one that kicks her in the chest and makes her wonder if she has taken on a love that's too much for her to hold and still keep her head -- and the city -- above water.
Some days, it is all of the above.
As a rule, Elizabeth never melts down in front of an audience. In her life on Earth it was because the exposure frightened her, made her feel like she was stepping off the edge of a deep chasm into which she would never stop falling. She remembers a childhood fear -- gleaned from brothers and given credence by too many horror movies at too young an age -- that it might be possible to cry herself dry until nothing would be left but bone. Here on Atlantis her fear is less abstract and more practical, rooted in maintaining the confidence of her people and the solidity of her command.
She still melts down. She just does it on a schedule.
"I haven't been sleeping well," is her excuse at the end of the debriefing, delivered with a rueful smile and a calculated roll of her eyes. It is her favorite excuse because it is usually true. She hates any show of physical weakness, but she is a diplomat by design and training and deals well in the tactic of giving up something valuable to keep something even more valuable off the negotiating table and out of sight. "I'll keep my radio on. Page me if you need me."
Sheppard looks slightly concerned, but doesn't study her face too closely for truth. She doesn't look at Rodney because she knows he will go after her if she gives him a sign, and right now she either needs to be alone or needs to know he will act without her direction. She doesn't know which.
The door of her quarters closes behind her and she takes a deep breath, letting her guard slip a little. She doesn't know why she has done this, has added an additional burden in the form of intimacy to a schedule already packed to the minute for all 28 hours of the Atlantis day.
She feels guilty now for the way Rodney looked in the briefing room after she silenced his lengthy and jargon-filled argument in a less-than-patient way. She didn't used to be able to do that to him, to slap down his enthusiasm completely with just an insufficiently sympathetic look. Or maybe she did, and just couldn't tell -- wasn't yet close enough to him to be able to separate the kicked puppy out from the defensive front of unflappable arrogance.
She likes being the only one who can tell the difference. It makes her feel special and cherished and connected, something rare on a world so far away from home.
Rodney doesn't deserve her frustration, not when he's doing everything he can, and she's just tired and emotionally reserved by nature and being pulled in too many directions to give him the attention he is owed in return.
For ten or twenty seconds she closes her eyes as she leans against the doorframe and dreams of being completely alone. Unreachable and unneeded.
On these days, it is just too hard to be a lover and friend and companion as well as a leader.
That thought is an indulgence, and she pushes it aside for the more pressing matter of changing out of her uniform and getting herself to sleep.
Her bed is neatly made, a lifelong habit learned on her very first bed -- a wooden red race car her father had made, handed down from her older brother and decorated with girlie tassles and ribbons and unicorn stickers to make her feel better about sleeping in it at four years old. Rodney gave her a look the first time he saw her expertly mitering corners and smoothing wrinkles before she even got dressed, and she asked him,
"Didn't your mother do this?"
He stared at her. "No."
She has noticed he has started making his bed for her, or half-making it with a blanket tossed over, and it makes her feel warm and silly and appreciated. On days when she isn't tired, when she isn't paranoid that every gesture is in some way a loan that she will have to pay back with enery and attention when she has nothing to spare, she adores the little gestures that make this sweet and real.
He brings her wildflowers from other planets, wilted from being crammed into sample cases lest his teammates notice the sentimental gesture and give him endless hell for it. He even came up with something vaguely reminiscent of chocolate in an alien market and held onto it for over a month until February 14th on the Earth-adjusted calendar. He writes her little notes in the mornings if he gets a brilliant idea and has to run off to the labs before she wakes up.
She doesn't have the heart to tell him that she never actually sleeps through his hopping around into clothes to the sound of muttered theoretical equations -- but then, if she didn't pretend to be sleeping, he wouldn't write her the scattered apologetic messages she keeps hidden in her nightstand.
She's his girlfriend now, officially, and though she finds the title mostly amusing he takes it seriously enough to find ways to offer her these tokens of boyfriendly affection, even all the way out here in another galaxy. It has been a long time since she was anybody's girlfriend. She has no doubt that Simon loved her, even near the end, but they had been together and apart and together again for so many years that whatever romance remained felt mostly... habitual. He kissed her on his way out for work because that was what they did, the same way they kept their car keys on hooks next to the door, not because he so actively adored her that he couldn't help it.
It's scary to be that needed, but it's nice. Being kissed like that shoots electricity up and down her spine, even when she's tired and paranoid and scrambling at her edges to keep everything all buttoned together.
There's a knock at the door and Elizabeth starts at the intrusion into her privacy. She knows it's Rodney -- if she was needed for something professional they would have radioed first -- and she's briefly annoyed even though she has been thinking about him so much already that his actual presence shouldn't make a difference.
"Elizabeth? Are you... asleep?"
His voice through the door is an affected stage whisper, probably meant to leave her be if she is, by some miracle, actually already sleeping.
"Come in," she offers. Despite her invitation, he hovers so close to the inside of the doorway that it confuses the automated sensors. She has to smile at that. Even when she's exhausted, she has a hard time not smiling when they're alone. "Come in."
"Oh. Right." He takes a few steps closer to where she's seated on the bed and then shuffles back and forth, keeping well out of her personal space. "Are you okay?" The question sounds remarkably like 'are you mad at me?', and really, it's probably a little bit of both.
The rush of feeling through her chest surprises her, like the same thing that lets her smile at nothing when Rodney is with her has made her vulnerable to every other emotion on the spectrum as well. She's used to being in control of herself when other people are around -- even when she's tired -- and so it takes her a moment to bite back all the things she wants to say about this relationship and her and him and the weird way love and fear and desperation are curling together in her throat. She finally manages, "I'm just tired. Really."
The pat response seems suddenly unfair to him.
Rodney shifts a little from foot to foot, like he's not sure if he should step closer. The distance between them is her fault -- they are playing by her rules. He frowns at her seriously. "I... uh... didn't mean to go on in that briefing like that."
She's almost laughing, but it's more because she's overwhelmed than because it's funny. "You didn't. I'm sorry." She draws in a calming breath and tries again, making herself meet his eyes once she's reasonably sure her own won't give too much away. "I should have more patience."
That really is the root of the matter. If she had more patience, she wouldn't find herself snapping at John Sheppard when putting him on the defensive is the last thing that will help, or getting silently frustrated with the Athosian recruits who have such a fundamentally different way of doing things, or contemplating ending a relationship that makes her feel happy and human in the face of everything just because she doesn't know how much being in love will ultimately take out of her.
Rodney takes a step closer. "Is it possible... that the rest of us should have more patience with you?"
The words hit her with almost physical impact. Her eyes well up without her consent and her fingers dig into the neatly made bedsheets like she's already falling, even before the first tear slips away.
She can't speak, and even if she could, she wouldn't ask for it. Rodney looks panicked for a moment -- she sympathizes -- but just when she expects him to stammer an excuse and head for the door there are familiar arms around her.
Elizabeth has never felt anything more welcome in her life. She holds on tight to keep from thinking about letting go, and for just those few minutes lets someone else bear her weight and keep her upright, and she feels so much less alone.
And then she remembers why she can't let this go.
He brings her flowers to make her smile.
He makes his bed so she'll feel more at home in his quarters.
She knows without a doubt, though she has never quite been ready to hear it, that if she asked him point-blank to tell her why he loves her he could open his mouth and not stop talking for half an hour.
He's terrified, too, and the tentative way he holds her is the proof of that. She sees the way he braces himself daily against rejection, after every note and smuggled flower, almost like every single time he opens up to her, he's stepping in front of a gun.
He's done that for her, too.
All along she thought she was the responsible one, charged with the task of guiding and controlling their affair because she's the one experienced with long-term relationships. It hits her that maybe she should be following his lead instead.
She doesn't cry for long. Rodney pulls back while her breathing is still uneven, brushing her hair behind her ears with a gentleness that doesn't have to scare her. He looks worried, like there's a good chance she might drop dead from how tired or tear-soaked she looks, and she finds herself smiling again.
She can't bring herself to apologize for breaking down in front of him, testing out this new idea of bravery in the face of intimacy. "Thank you," she says instead.
He shrugs, and returns her smile with one that looks almost as helpless. It seems impossible that her lack of control could make his day, but maybe this is the sign he has been waiting for, the proof for his pessimistic brain that taking the risk of falling for her might not be something he'll end up regretting.
Elizabeth feels a lethargy creep over her, a genuine sleepiness after weeks and weeks of frustrated exhaustion. "I really am tired," she says, hoping her words are gentle enough to show that it isn't an excuse to shut him out. Not this time.
He nods. "Do you need anything before I go? Water for those... herb things?"
The mention of the medication stabs into her relaxed bubble with the recurring threat of dependence and addiction and dulled senses, and her throat tightens as though to physically keep out the capsules. She takes a breath. "I think I'm tired enough without them."
Rodney looks concerned. He's been present for some of her nights of stubborn insomnia, at least before she gives up and escapes to her own quarters to pace privately, and maybe he has guessed about her resistance to the sleeping aid. For all the care she's put into controlling herself, maybe she has already given away parts of herself to him without realizing it.
"Are you sure?"
She isn't sure at all, but she feels warm and relaxed with Rodney's hands still on her arms and wants to believe that will be enough. She tries for bravery again, and the effort is almost enough to push more tears to the surface. "Are you... doing anything for the next few hours?"
It takes him a second to extrapolate what she's asking. "You really want me to stay?" She has always kicked him out when the need for rest becomes desperate enough.
At some point she took his hands, and she finds herself squeezing them tighter. "Yeah."
Elizabeth thinks that she should offer to let him go to the lab and get something to read, knowing how much he can't stand wasted time, but she's afraid that if he leaves her quarters, her mind will change. This seems important.
He doesn't complain, only takes off his boots and tosses his jacket to the side -- she's managed to train him into bed-making, but not yet into putting clothes away -- and crawls into bed with her.
She cuddles into him, and the elusive feeling of sleep that tugs at her almost immediately is so rare that she almost doesn't recognize it for what it is. Rodney's fingers make patterns on her back, aimless-seeming designs that are probably complex equations, and she sighs.
Maybe this kind of dependence is a good thing.
Edit: rosewildeirish has now issued the challenge properly as well as offered up a scarily kickass John/Teyla fluff piece here. Let the madness continue!