Every Planet We Reach Is Dead: Four Ways John and Elizabeth Almost Make It
a Stargate: Atlantis story
by dirty diana
beta love to sf fan.
Lately, Elizabeth has been leaving objects in the wrong places. She finds her fountain pen in the mini fridge, a chocolate chip granola bar in her office drawer. This makeshift office on the twenty-second level of the SGC is smaller still than the one that she used to hold, and it overflows with files still unpacked, things she won't have a chance to bring when she leaves.
For another galaxy. Elizabeth retrieves her cell phone, blinking its no signal message, from her pencil cup. She rubs a hand across eyes that sting from lack of sleep.
The knock at the door startles her, and she drops the phone with a clatter on the desk.
"Dr Weir?" Major Sheppard asks cautiously.
He looks different in his street clothes, more relaxed somehow, in khakis and a leather jacket. He stops inside the doorframe, watching her.
"Come in," she tells him. "I though you didn't report until tomorrow, Major Sheppard."
"I don't." He shrugs. "Didn't have a whole lot else to do."
He nods, looking around him, taking in with one glance the barely controlled chaos. "All ready to go then?"
"Ready as I'll ever be," she answers, with a nervous laugh. "Was there something that you wanted, Major?"
He shrugs again, keeping his gaze steady. "Wanted to say hi. Seeing as how we're, you know."
"Leaving for another galaxy."
"Yeah. Gonna be spending a lot of time together." He frowns then, looking around the office. "Don't you ever get tired of being underground?"
"So tell me, Major." The diner serves deli sandwiches stacked with smoked meat. Elizabeth carefully takes hers apart, dipping the salty slices in mustard and eating them with her hands. It's dark outside, and she doesn't remember eating since breakfast.
John watches her with what she thinks is amusement, sipping his black coffee.
"Did you take Colonel Sumner for a getting to know you lunch?" she asks.
"Colonel Sumner doesn't like me." His tone is matter-of-fact, pushing the napkins towards her when she looks for one.
"Oh." She searches her memory for Colonel Sumner's file, and frowns. "I didn't know that you two had served together."
"We haven't. But most colonels don't like me. Same with Marines. And scientists." He smiles wryly. "Probably the only person who might have liked me out there is you."
The tense change doesn't sneak past her. She drops her napkin, abruptly. "You asked me here hoping that I'd release you from duty?"
Major Sheppard's frown is mild, and curious. "Would I have to talk you into it?" he asks. "Either way, no. I didn't. I just decided."
"It's a huge opportunity." Her voice is slow, with the realisation that he's told him this before, and the struggle not to court anger. Anger won't help.
"No," he says. "What it is, is a giant hole to nowhere, and I don't want to go." He lowers a voice that's been slowly rising. "And you only want me there because I won some gene pool jackpot."
"That's not why I want you there. I've read you record, Major. We could use you over there."
"You don't think that if you've read my record."
Elizabeth pick up, then replaces, the last of her pumpernickel. She shakes her head.
Major Sheppard puts a hand over hers. It's a forward gesture, but he clearly isn't conscious of it, his head tilted sympathetically.
"I'm right," he tells her softly. "You don't need me. It'll be fine. I've seen your operation. Your people know what they're doing. So do you."
Elizabeth shakes her head, and on her plate she's seeing a wormhole, a giant gaping hole to nowhere. "I must be insane," she murmurs, and he smiles.
She is drunk when he takes her home. Not falling down drunk, but smiling hard, feeling soft and warm all over, drunk on cheap white wine. A goodbye party. Or hello. Hello, Earth. Elizabeth doesn't recognise her own house.
She places her hand on John's arm, brushing the impeccable material of his dress uniform. John is quiet, and dead sober. She can't remember then if she's ever seen him drinking, ever seen him release even the slightest hint of control.
Her door keys have disappeared, into the bottom of her purse. He helps her search, taking the black evening bag from her when her fumbling fingers won't cooperate.
She laughs, and clutches his lapel. She feels slightly dazed, with a weak tilting in her spine that can't be explained solely by the government wine.
His eyes crease at the corners, looking at her. "You okay?"
She nods, as he lets her in. The house is sheathed in darkness, as neat as the day that she left for Atlantis. Quieter, though, and in a different moment she will blame herself.
His mouth is sweet when she kisses him, and she tastes the warm wine that is her, and the cool peppermint that is him. His hand tightens on the hem of her skirt, pulling gently at her, and then he lets go.
"Damn." She pulls back, wiping messy lipstick from her mouth as it curls in a rueful smile. Her back is tired, and her head is spinning. They've held on for so long already. But she doesn't say it aloud, her fingers tracing the seams of his suit, breathing easier.
"Bed," he whispers. "Okay?"
She nods dumbly, and lets him lead her there, fumbling for the light switch inside her bedroom door.
"Broken," she tells him finally, stumbling forward and sinking into the bed. "I keep meaning to fix it, but..."
"But you're never here," he finishes.
He undresses her in the dark. She would close her eyes, but there is no hint of lust in his hands. Only care, as he unbuttons her shirt and folds it carefully, placing it on top of her dresser.
"Sleep," he tells her quietly. "You're going to feel like shit in the morning."
"We did okay, though," she murmurs. "Didn't we?"
His mouth brushes the corner of hers before he goes.
He finds her on the balcony, drifting from the crowd. A strange kind of celebration, the Marines' tuneless hip hop mixed with the Athosian's patient reverence, and more than a little of their wine.
A strange kind of celebration. John can't relax. He doesn't feel lucky, not in the slightest.
"It's amazing," she says. She's watching the sea. Moved by the wind, her hair brushes her face.
"Is it?" he asks her. This galaxy is beautiful, he'll admit that. Amazing, sometimes. But mostly he just thinks that it will kill him, quickly or slowly. Sooner or later.
"Amazing we're still here," she says.
His hand brushes her hand as he moves to stand beside her. "No," he says quietly. "We earned it."
"I guess we did." Her eyes look at him, and then away. She's sad, suddenly, and John wants to apologise. "You earned it."
John shrugs. He won't say anything, not if that's what she thinks. He does what he can. What he has to.
"Fuck," he whispers quietly, before he kisses her.
She's not surprised. Only embarrassed, her head bowing as she leans into him.
"You said that you were glad to see me," he tells her. "Were you?"
"Still am," she says, and then leaves him, through the sliding doors. John watches her walk away.
Her door opens when he knocks. He realises then that he has never seen the inside of her quarters. It's neat, barely-lived in, except for a photo of a dog, no frame, resting flat on a dresser.
"It doesn't matter," she tells him, and he can't tell if she means the photograph, or the room, or the drifting sounds of the party, moving down the hall. He touches her mouth with his fingers, tracing the contours before he kisses her. He draws her closer. He can feel her, breathing unsteadily. She feels surprised, or maybe that's his own loudly beating heart, surprise at the ground underneath his feet, at the sleek warmness in his hands.
She feels good. She smells warm and full, her mouth pushed tentatively against his as he holds her, and then they tumble onto the bed.
He doesn't know this. This isn't the messy, hurried, fumbling, the relief that comes from almost dying. This is something else, just as desperate but closer to real, and John only knows that he has no choices, not here. He does what he has to.
"John," she whispers quietly, but he can't tell what the plea is for. His tongue thrusts into her mouth as his hands slide under her shirt, hooking in the clasp of her bra. He wonders idly what took them so long. He wonders how long this simple act will carry them both. He wishes for things that he can't have, but that's nothing new.
He wants to push her down, to take her now. He forces himself to slow.
His mouth touches her breasts, a trail down to her belly button. He tugs at the zipper on her waist, dragging down her panties. She tastes musky, salty, already damp when his tongue slips against her.
He is achingly hard when she reaches for him. He slides inside her, his skin shiny with sweat where they touch, and she thrusts herself against him, before surrendering control. He pushes into her, again and over, holding onto her hips and watching the movement of her mouth.
"John." She cries his name, her back arching. "Shhh," he murmurs, as she calls his name again, clinging to him and shaking.
He presses his mouth to the curve between her breasts, listening for her heartbeat. "John," she says again, one more time, and with a shudder he lets go.
He gets dressed without speaking.
"You don't have to go."
She's saying it just to say it, and he can hear that in her voice. "You know I do." He reaches out to touch her, softly stroking her hip. "Anyway, I promised Sergeant Bayliss I'd relieve him on sentry duty so that he could stop by the party."
She smiles at that. He pretends not to notice that she has pulled away from his hand. "It's a pleasure working with you, John," she says quietly. "I hope you know that."
John nods as he pulls on his shirt.
Elizabeth smells sweet, like pineapples. Her skin is slick with the scented oils, as she sinks down beside John, McKay giving up his spot on the warm side of the room. The hem of the white robe is splattered with mud, and her feet are bare. John doesn't know where she has come from, or how far they made her walk.
She wrenches her hands out of his when he tries to help her down. Gently, but firmly.
"You shouldn't have come."
"Wasn't an option," he says, dismissing her words with a lightness that he doesn't feel. "What was it like?" He doesn't want to make her talk about it, but he needs to know. The shake of Elizabeth's head is weak. Her pupils are dilated, and John presses his fingers to her neck, not caring if she minds, feeling for the thumping of her pulse. Strong. Too slow.
Rodney and Teyla hang back, as much as they can. The room is spacious by the standards they have seen here, but not meant for four. The bed is soft, and Elizabeth lies on her side, her head on her arm. They aren't prisoners, not exactly. They're not exactly prisoners, and tomorrow Elizabeth won't exactly be sent to die.
"What have they done to her?" McKay hovers worriedly, as John waves him off.
Elizabeth smiles vaguely, and tries to sit up. "It's a party," she says, her voice lilting in a way that sends shivers up his spine. "You shouldn't have come."
They tied her hair in ribbons, white to match the robe. John unties them carefully, tossing them angrily to the floor, and pushes back her hair as it falls in her eyes.
"They asked about you." She says this later. John thinks the drug may be wearing off, but he can't quite tell. Light is gone now from the room, except for the moon through the window when it emerges from behind the clouds. The night is rainy. "They can't quite understand our..." she pauses, searching for the words. "Our hierarchical structure."
John swears. "They should just let me take their damn test." He'd tried to claim that right, as the military leader. He had been met with a carefully worded no, punctuated by a short incident with two of the guards when that answer wasn't good enough. John has bruises, but he'll deny it if she asks.
A test of strength, they called it. Their own strength, Teyla translated. Elizabeth has cuts on her hands from the first test. The Marines who had been sent back to Atlantis without her had let John find that out for himself.
John shivers, and she stirs beside him. He's angry. He pulls her robe more tightly closed, in case she's cold in the coolness of the night, and he is close to shaking with a fury that won't burn.
Maybe it's nothing that she drank or ate. Maybe it's the oils that glisten on her skin. John can feel the dizziness at the back of his head as he inhales the scent of her, and he forces himself to turn away, to clear his head. He can still feel her, though, breathing deeply as she dozes.
In the dark, they're only outlines. His team. Rodney sleeps sprawled as best he can, one leg off the bed. Teyla lies on her back. Awake or asleep, John can't tell.
His fingers trace the outline of Elizabeth's jaw.
She wakes then, and stares at him. "You shouldn't have come," she whispers, and there's real worry in her voice. "If I don't make it..."
"You'll make it."
She lets his hands sketch her shape. "If I don't make it, then you're next."
John's wry smile almost meets her own mouth. "Because I said I was in charge?"
"I think so."
"That's just like you, Colonel." She's smiling too, now, and her words still slur slightly, running into each other. "Trying to take command of someone else's operation."
He shakes his head, and nothing in his hands or skin betrays his surprise. "It's not like that." He doesn't want to take anything over, he never has. But it's his job to see she gets home again.
"No?" she asks him. The moon has passed behind the clouds again, and he can't see her, can only hear her heart beating and the breathlessness in her voice.
"No." His hand passes along the v of her clothing, and he's pretty sure it's the smell of her that's doing this to him, but he can't stop, and she turns into him and sighs. He doesn't ask her if she's scared. He can feel that she's scared, in the slick warmness of her skin. John's scared, and he'll admit it if she asks.
When his hands move underneath her robe, she sighs, and clings to him, one leg thrown over his so that they fit together. He's got the words to an old country song running in his head, and if Elizabeth walks out that door, he thinks, if she walks out that door then she won't be coming back. Her mouth opens for him. John can't let her be scared alone.