Something was up. Doctor Elizabeth Weir stood at the balcony overlooking the Stargate, apparently deep in thought, but in reality cataloging the activity around her. The day shift staff went about their work without giving her a second look, they were used to her being there, walking amongst them, asking questions; it was her ‘style’. And after over two years of running Atlantis, she definitely knew when something was up.
Turning her back on the gate, she leaned against the railing and watched the various technicians go about their daily routine. But there was something different…an air of suppressed excitement, everyone was smiling and almost too cheerful. Not that she would complain…but…something was up.
Of course, the Daedalus had just returned the day before, bringing replacement staff…videos…books…favorite foods. But come to think of it, even Colonel Caldwell had been exceptionally cheerful—even after three long weeks in the boredom of space. Maybe she’d better do a little investigating and though she really had nothing but a suspicion, the Daedalus seemed the logical place to start.
Leaving her position at the balcony, she stopped at one of the work stations. “Clemmons?”
“I need the manifest for the Daedalus.”
It might have just been her imagination, but she was sure Clemmons blanched. “Umm…yes, ma’am,” the tech said, fumbling through a stack of papers. “Here,” he said, shoving a handful of crumpled computer print-outs at her.
“Thanks,” she said, with a smile, retreating to her office.
“We have a code pink.”
At the sound of Clemmons’ voice in his ear Colonel Sheppard keyed his radio. “Roger that,” he murmured and then turned back to his class. “Okay, that’s all for this morning,” he announced briskly, stopping the power point ‘Orientation to Atlantis’ slide show. The small group of new personnel from the Daedalus looked disappointed, but they didn’t protest. “We’ll continue this tomorrow in Classroom A.”
John nodded to Teyla, who waited patiently in the back of the room. “Right now Ms. Emmagan will take you on a tour of the city.”
Teyla smiled. “If you will follow me?”
John waited until the last person had left the room before he keyed his radio. “McKay?”
“Yes,” the irritated voice of the scientist sounded in his ear. “What is it?”
“I’m on it.”
“I’ll notify Caldwell. Sheppard out.”
Elizabeth frowned, running her yellow highlighter over several items on the manifest that bore closer examination. She certainly didn’t recall signing a requisition for two Size D helium tanks….
She looked up as Rodney barged into her office and plopped his laptop down on the pile of papers in front of her.
“Rodney,” she said, forcing her voice to remain calm. “What are you doing?”
His eyes had that rather wild and frantic look she associated with impending disaster, but since she hadn’t heard any alarms and everyone in the control room seemed to be calmly going about their duties, she merely raised an eyebrow.
“Yes…well, you said you wanted to be kept apprised—or ‘in the loop’—as you so quaintly put it on the various experiments and progress within the science department. So, here I am.”
Elizabeth did have a rather vague memory of an off-hand commented she’d made to McKay months earlier. “Does it have to be now, Rodney?”
McKay favored her with one of his more withering looks, reaching for his laptop. “Well…if you’re too busy….”
“No, no,” she said quickly, placing her hand on his arm and smiling. “Please, I want to hear your report.”
“Excellent.” McKay said, his voice just a trace smug. But Elizabeth soon forgot that when he pulled up one of the extra chairs in the room and crowded in next to her; the scientific mumbo jumbo flying out of his mouth at extraordinary speed.
It wasn’t long before Elizabeth’s head was spinning and she had a headache that was bordering on monumental proportions. McKay hadn’t stopped talking since he’d sat down, in fact Elizabeth didn’t think he’d even paused for breath. She currently knew more about the various ongoing projects than she had ever wanted—or needed. So it was with gratitude—and no small amount of relief—that ninety long minutes later, she welcomed the firm knock on the open door of her office.
“I’m sorry.” Caldwell stepped into the office. “Am I interrupting anything?”
“I can come back later.”
“No,” Elizabeth said firmly, pushing her chair back and standing up. “Actually I believe Doctor McKay was just finished, weren’t you Rodney?”
McKay frowned. “Yes…I guess the rest of the briefing can wait until later.”
“Hermiod thought before he left that you might like to see the latest Asgard modifications on the Daedalus.”
“I’d be delighted,” Elizabeth answered. Well, maybe delighted was an exaggeration, and while she normally had a fairly high threshold for Rodney, right now anything was better than more of his techno babble.
Caldwell looked faintly amused and Elizabeth didn’t care if he saw through her eager acceptance. Touching his earpiece, Caldwell said, “I’ll let him know we’re ready.”
And then her stomach growled—loudly—reminding her that it was almost lunchtime. She smiled at Caldwell apologetically. “Maybe after lunch?”
“Not to worry,” Caldwell answered smoothly. “Our cook is still onboard and I’m sure he can whip up something suitable. We have fresh asparagus….”
“How can I say no to that?” Elizabeth agreed, even though she had hoped to have lunch with John. But…she wasn’t a diplomat for nothing, so she smiled brightly and quickly crossed the room, taking a position next to Caldwell. “Thank you, Rodney,” she said as the room started to shimmer. “We’ll finish this lat—”
“Welcome aboard the Daedalus.”
Elizabeth blinked and took a deep breath, the effect of the transport beam always left her feeling a bit queasy. “Thank you, Hermiod,” she said brightly.
“Doctor Weir, it is an honor.”
Elizabeth gently shook the proffered hand. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Hermiod.”
“With Hermiod’s help, we’ve upgraded quite a number of the Daedalus’ systems,” Caldwell said. “Why don’t you start with the engine room?” He gestured to the small alien, who carefully stepped down from the elevated console. “I’ll catch up with you. I’ve promised Doctor Weir lunch, Hermiod. I’ll go speak with Spellman while you two get started.”
“I think you will find the improvements quite impressive, Doctor Weir.” He looked at her with his large, soulful eyes and blinked. “It was no simple task, I might add.” Hermiod walked off and Elizabeth followed, slowing her pace to match that of the diminutive alien and wondering absently if the alien had been taking smug lessons from Rodney McKay.
“Hand me that, will you?” John stood on the top run of the ladder, carefully reaching down to grab the ends of the brightly colored crepe paper streamers.
“You’re sure she’ll like this?” Ronon asked.
John paused, streamers in one hand and masking tape in the other, surveying the transformed dining hall. Yellow, orange and red crepe paper was strung across the ceiling from the four corners of the room. Matching bows with ribbon streamers were placed strategically about the room, brightening it up considerably. The tables were covered with coordinating table cloths each one decorated with a small cluster of brightly colored flowers from the mainland.
“Well, I’ll agree it doesn’t look like much now,” John had to admit. “But as soon as Cadman and Lorne are finished with the balloons….”
“Three hundred of them?”
John shrugged. “It seemed like a reasonable number.” Ronon grunted and John smiled. “Of course,” he said, gesturing to the center of the room where a very colorful and rather garish star-shaped piñata was suspended. “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a bunch of adults batting at a piñata and scrambling for the goodies.”
“If you say so.”
Ronon continued to look skeptical but John just grinned. “There,” he said, fixing the last of the streamers in place when McKay burst into the room.
“Where’s Elizabeth?” John snapped, if their surprise got ruined now….
“She’s with Caldwell, don’t worry,” McKay answered testily. “I don’t think she listened to a word of what I said,” he complained, plopping down at one of the tables.
“It doesn’t matter, Rodney. The whole point was to keep her occupied.” John descended the ladder. “Speaking of that, how long do you think Hermiod can keep her busy?”
McKay snorted. “Hours, I’m sure.”
“Caldwell will keep her there until 1500 when Teyla will take over,” Ronon answered. “As we decided in our ‘mission briefing’.”
John looked at Ronon, the big Satedan hadn’t actually made quotation marks with his fingers—that would have been too Earth-like—but he certainly heard them in his voice, along with the requisite amusement at their ‘mission’.
“I could use some help here, guys!”
John looked toward the doorway, which was completely obstructed by a mass of helium filled balloons perched on top of a set of black clad legs. A face finally appeared in the midst of the orange, yellow and red balloons—that of a grinning Laura Cadman.
“Here, let me help—” Ronon was across the room in three large strides and soon held a fistful of bouncing and bobbing balloons in each hand. John struggled not to laugh at the picture the normally fierce looking Satedan made holding balloons emblazoned with what John decided was an amazing number of permutations of a single sentiment.
“Those look good on you, Dex,” Cadman said, giving the man the once over. “Have you ever thought about becoming a clown?”
“Oh right, like that wouldn’t scare the kiddies!” McKay sniped.
Ronon growled something unintelligible and Cadman winked at him; and then—thank goodness—they were saved by Lorne, carrying a large, floppy brimmed sombrero and his team of marines, balloons trailing en masse. Cadman soon had everyone—including Ronon and McKay—tying bunches of balloon to chairs, tables, railings, the table decorations; basically every surface that wasn’t already decorated and even then some.
“Are you sure a Cinco de Mayo theme is appropriate?” Lorne asked, casually leaning against one of the tables.
“It is May fifth,” John pointed out.
“Yes…and her birthday was April fifth.”
“When she was on Earth.” It still grated John a bit that she’d had to face the international committee on her own, he should have been there—and he should have been there for her birthday. But, he could be philosophical about it now that life on Atlantis was as normal as it ever was. “Better surprise this way.”
Lorne looked skeptical, but didn’t say anything more, at least about the chosen theme. “I’m just impressed you managed to get two hundred cases of Corona onboard the Daedalus.”
John grinned, that had been quite a coup. “Oh, I had a little help,” was all he said though. Suffice it to say, he owed General O’Neill a huge favor—and probably his firstborn child—which he was sure the older man would no doubt collect on a sooner rather than later date.
“The beer wasn’t so hard,” he commented idly, watching as two of the marines and Ronon scrambled after half a dozen balloons that had made a bid for freedom. “It was the gross of limes.”
Elizabeth stifled a yawn—and ignored Caldwell’s wink—McKay’s briefing had nothing on the depth and detail of Hermiod’s all inclusive tour of the Daedalus’ upgrades. But it seemed Caldwell got her message.
“I think Doctor Weir has seen enough for today, Hermiod.”
“As you wish,” Hermiod said, inclining his head. Elizabeth wasn’t sure, but she sensed the little alien almost looked relieved.
“The work you’ve done here is very impressive,” Elizabeth said. “We are in your debt.”
“Our arrangement is mutually beneficial,” Hermiod replied. “Since at the present time the Asgard are unable to maintain a more visible presence in this galaxy.”
“Yes…well,” Elizabeth said, “It is beneficial to both our races.”
“Ah, here we are,” Caldwell said, when their leisurely tour brought them back to the bridge. “Hermiod, if you’ll do the honors?”
“You’re staying on board?” Elizabeth asked when Caldwell went to stand next to the small alien.
“I’ll be down later.” He smiled, “Paperwork never ends.”
“Don’t I know it.” She felt the tingling sensation that signified the start of the transport when she remembered something. “Thanks for lu—”
“—nch. Oh.” Elizabeth stopped. She was back in her office. The manifest from the Daedalus was still on her desk…she looked at her watch; maybe it wasn’t too late to have afternoon coffee with John, her investigation could wait. She keyed her radio, but before she could say his name, Teyla appeared in the doorway of her office.
“Elizabeth.” The Athosian smiled and stepped into the room. “I was becoming concerned that you would miss our session.”
Elizabeth looked blankly at Teyla for a moment…session? Oh right…it was Thursday. And from 2 to 4pm on Thursdays she worked out with Teyla. A little aerobics, some muscle strengthening, Tai Chi and then a very abbreviated version of the stick fighting at which Teyla was so adept and she was so…not. Elizabeth almost said no…but then the hopeful look in Teyla’s eyes swayed her. It had been a long time since she’d gotten to spend any time just doing something for herself—with another woman.
She smiled. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything. Just let me get my gear—”
Teyla quickly answered. “Everything you require is already at the work out room.”
“Great!” Elizabeth said, stepping past her and out into the corridor. She kept her voice cheerful; coffee with John would have to wait. “We can get started right away.”
Teyla stayed back for a brief moment and signaled John, speaking quietly into her radio. “The package has arrived.”
She wasn’t sure, but Elizabeth had the distinct feeling that Teyla was taking it easy on her. Not that she was going to object too much…it had been over a month since their last workout and she could already feel her muscles starting to fatigue. But she moved with assurance and managed to hold her own, perhaps she didn’t wield her staves as expertly as Teyla, but by the end of their session she definitely felt more comfortable.
They circled each other warily, Elizabeth barefoot and in her yoga pants and loose top, Teyla in her customary slit panel skirt and matching top. The wood was warm in her hands and as she parried Teyla’s attack, Elizabeth realized with some surprise that she had reached an almost Zen with the staves, for the first time feeling that they were an extension of her arms and not just two pieces of wood that she batted about with awkward zeal.
But of course that realization broke her concentration and she faltered, Teyla bringing her down with a gentle maneuver. Elizabeth rolled with the fall, as she had been taught and had practiced for hours on end, gracefully emerging back on her feet. Crossing her staves in front of her, she bowed low, conceding the match.
Teyla bowed as well. “You have remembered well,” she commented, as they walked over to the low bench where their gear rested.
Elizabeth grinned, reaching into her bag for a bottle of water. “Let’s just say that at the end of a many a long meeting back at the SGC, the gym was the perfect place to work off…” she tilted her head and thought a moment, “…my pent up frustration?”
Teyla laughed, wiping at her sweaty brow with a towel. “But in the end you prevailed.”
“Yes, thank goodness,” Elizabeth agreed, chuckling. “And I didn’t even have to beat up on anyone.”
“Shall we go again?” Teyla asked.
Elizabeth considered the request; her watch was in her bag but she suspected it was getting close to the two hour mark of their session. And as much as she might like to continue the work-out, she knew her muscles would not be happy with her in the morning. “No,” she said with some reluctance. “I think I’ve had enough for one afternoon. Right now I think what I need is a long, hot shower.”
Teyla accepted her refusal gracefully. “Perhaps I shall do the same,” she said, stowing the staves in her gym bag and picking it up. Elizabeth grabbed her bag as well and the two women left the gym, making their way towards the living quarters.
They reached Elizabeth’s quarters first and with the slight brush of her hand on the panel, the door silently slid open. “Thanks again, Teyla. I think that workout was just what I needed.”
Teyla smiled. “You are most welcome, Elizabeth.”
John’s radio crackled.
“Good job, Teyla. We’ll rendezvous as planned. Sheppard out.” John changed channels.
John ended the transmission, a self-satisfied smile on his face. He had exactly ninety minutes before Elizabeth was due to leave her quarters and meet him in the dining hall for dinner. And if she decided to vary her routine, Ronon would intercept her. Which left him just enough time to make one last check of the dining hall and kitchen—and make sure the Corona’s were on ice—before he needed to get ready himself.
Swinging through the control room, he stopped at the lead tech’s workstation. “Everything set, Firestone?”
“Yes, sir,” the young woman answered. “We’ve cut down to minimal staff and there’s a rotation set for the festivities.” She handed him a computer printout and he glanced briefly at it.
Excellent…it looked like she had everything covered; he didn’t want anyone to be left out. “Good job,” he said, handing her back the paper. “You’ll have the remote warning system tied into McKay’s pad?”
She gave him a pained look. “Doctor McKay has already been here modifying the system to his specs.”
John could feel her pain, but didn’t say anything. “What about the crew of the Daedalus?”
“Colonel Caldwell has a rotation schedule set up as well; Hermiod will take care of all the transport functions.”
“All right then. You know what do if she turns up here?”
“Notify you on emergency channel alpha and keep her here until you arrive.”
John nodded. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that Lieutenant.”
John left the control room and went to the dining hall next. Sergeant Whittaker, looking exceptionally fierce, stood outside the closed doors. “Everything under control, Sergeant?”
He jerked to attention. “Yes, sir!”
“You know what to do?”
He nodded vigorously. “Monitor all activity and at exactly seventeen –thirty hours, seal the entrance.”
Okay…Sergeant Whittaker was taking his assignment way too seriously, but John wasn’t going to protest. “And if Doctor Weir shows up?”
“Contact you on emergency channel alpha and hold her here until you arrive.”
“Gently, Sergeant. Hold her gently.”
Whittaker gave him a faintly abashed look. “Of course, sir.”
With a casual salute, he slipped through the doors. The dining hall had been completely transformed; he really hoped that Elizabeth would be pleased—both with the surprise and the party. Threading his way through the tables, he nodded at Price and Mahoney, the two scientist’s busy setting up the sound system. The pre-party quiet of the dining hall was a sharp contrast to the noise and hubbub in the kitchen.
“Lorenzo.” John walked over to the head cook, who was dumping an industrial size can of stewed tomatoes into the biggest blender (at least John thought it was a blender) that he had ever seen. “How’s it going?”
“It’ll all be ready,” he drawled. “Hey, Foster! I’m ready for those onions and jalapeños any day now.”
A harried looking young man wearing the requisite white apron and chef’s hat hustled over with a tub full of diced onions and green bits, the young man’s red-rimmed eyes a testament to the pungent vegetables.
“Salsa?” John asked. The chief cook grunted something that John took to be affirmative and dumped the onions and chilies into the blender, switching it on. “Where’s Brown?” John shouted over the noise of the blinder.
“Back there,” Lorenzo shouted back. “Said we’re too noisy.”
“Right.” John nodded and headed to the back of the kitchen, dodging the various personnel busy working on the evening’s dinner and smiling happily when he saw several large tubs full of ice and bottles of Corona.
John hadn’t realized the kitchen was so huge, but finally, at the far end of the kitchen there was a partially closed door. John knocked tentatively. “Katie?”
“In here,” came the slightly muffled reply.
John pushed the door open and then stopped in amazement. Doctor Katie Brown, biologist and evidently also cake decorator extraordinaire stood at a table, piping icing onto the most amazing cake he had ever seen. He didn’t know how she’d done it, couldn’t even begin to imagine, but sitting on the table was an exact cake replica of the city—spires and all. “Wow,” was all John could think to say.
Katie looked up and smiled, setting down the bag full of green frosting. “Looks good, doesn’t it?” she asked, clearly proud of her labors.
John walked around the cake, taking it in from all the various angles, amazed at the detail. “How did you do it?”
She laughed, picking up another bag of frosting and laying down an edging of blue frosting that looked like waves. “I have this computer program that translates a picture into a three-dimensional drawing and then works out the dimensions and cuts you need to make.”
“Yeah, but for a cake?” John knew he sounded skeptical, but it was just a cake after all, not the plans for the Daedalus.
“Cake making is big business back on Earth,” Katie said. “Paid my way through college and graduate school making and decorating cakes.”
“Will that be enough?” John had to ask. Granted, the cake was large, but they expected the entire complement of Atlantis and the Daedalus to make an appearance during the evening.
“Don’t worry,” she said, jerking her head to a baker’s rack that stood against one wall. “I’ve got two sheet cakes already decorated.” John walked over to the rack and checked out the two traditionally decorated cakes. One was emblazoned with Happy Birthday Doctor Weir written in elegant cursive amidst frosting roses and the second said Feliz Cumpleaños, again with the requisite frosting roses.
“Feliz what?” John asked.
Katie chuckled. “Happy birthday in Spanish.” She shrugged. “Seemed to go with the whole Cinco de Mayo theme.”
“Very nice,” he commented.
“Thanks. Now…if you don’t mind?” Katie said, returning to her decorating.
“Right, I’ll leave you to your frosting.” John left, quietly closing the door behind him, leaving the good doctor to her decorating. Satisfied that everything was under control, John headed to his quarters, it was time for him to get ready for the big event.
John took one last glance in the mirror, smoothing down a stray spike of hair that immediately sprung back to its previous position. He sighed, what was it with his hair? He grabbed the tube of styling gel, probably a pointless exercise, when Ronon’s voice rumbled in his ear.
“She’s on the move. Headed to your location.”
“I’ve got it,” he said, tossing the styling gel aside.
Grabbing his leather jacket, he hurried out of his quarters and intercepted her just as she turned the corner that led to the block of crew quarters that housed most of the military personnel.
“John!” she said, a bright smile filling her face. “I was just going to see if you wanted to join me for dinner.”
John’s returning smile was indulgent. “Well, isn’t that a coincidence. I was just on my way to find you.” He kept his eyes on Elizabeth, but out of the corner of his eye saw Ronon’s gleaming smile before he disappeared into the shadows and onto the next part of his duties in their birthday mission—to alert the party-goers gathered in the dining hall.
“You look nice tonight,” he said.
She chuckled and did a quick pirouette, her dark burgundy skirt swinging around her bare legs. “You don’t think it’s too much do you?”
“Ah…no…” he finally managed to mutter, his eyes traveling appreciatively up her trim body. The skirt was one of those gauzy kinds, shot through with gold threads and she wore a deceptively simple white gauze blouse, embroidered with matching burgundy flowers along the cuffs and the draping neckline. He always thought she looked nice, but seeing her in a skirt…well, he could get used to that.
John realized he was staring. “So what’s the occasion,” he asked lightly, holding out his arm to her. His suspicious nature made him wonder if she had somehow caught wind of the party, in spite of their care.
She linked her arm with his as they started walking down the corridor. “No reason.” He felt her shrug. “I just thought it would make a nice change.”
“Well, it is nice,” he said. “You should wear a skirt more often.”
She slanted him a quick smile, her hazel eyes gleaming. “Maybe I will.”
John hoped she wouldn’t notice how empty the corridors were. There was usually lots of activity in the early evening, but she appeared not to notice…until they reached the main hallway that led to the dining hall.
“I wonder where everyone is?”
“Hmm?” he murmured, leading her across the open foyer to the closed doors of the dining hall.
“It just seems odd….”
“Oh,” John replied easily, his hand hovering over the door handle. “They’re probably already here.” He swung the door wide open and stepped back.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” the gathered crowd cried out in unison. Colonel Caldwell, Doctor Beckett, McKay, Teyla and Ronon—all grinning madly—were in the forefront with everyone else gathered behind them.
“What!?” Elizabeth gasped, turning quickly and staring at him. “Well,” she said, “this explains the helium!” John just grinned at her and a broad smile filled her face before she was swept up in a wave of people all wishing her a happy birthday.
John watched her all evening, staying by her side, impressed and pleased as she made of point of talking to everyone who attended, thanking them personally. Lorenzo and his kitchen crew had swelled with pride over her praises of the food they’d prepared. And when the Atlantis shaped birthday cake had been rolled out on a cart and was greeted with oohs and aahs, Katie Brown hadn’t stopped smiling since. Even the piñata had been a huge hit—figuratively and literally. And John guessed he shouldn’t have been astonished when even blindfolded, Laura Cadman had managed to crack the papier mâché star open with one whack.
Around twenty-two hundred the crowd thinned out considerably, apparently leaving the hardcore party crowd, which to John’s surprise turned out to be an almost equal mix of military and scientific personnel. He noticed his team was still amongst those partying heartily; the cleared out area that had been designated as the dance floor packed with wildly gyrating people.
He wasn’t sure when he’d lost sight of Elizabeth, it must’ve happened when Price put on the Beer Barrel Polka and Zelenka pulled her out onto the dance floor, breaking into an exuberant polka. From that point on, there had been a steady stream of men—and a surprising number of the women—lining up to dance with her. Too bad they weren’t having a dollar dance, John decided, smiling with amusement. At the rate Elizabeth was being handed from partner to partner, she’d be filthy with dollar bills by the end of the evening.
John wasn’t sure he’d ever get the image of Caldwell and one of the newly assigned civilian scientists—he thought her name was Cindy, or maybe it was Mindy—doing some ‘dirty’ dancing; who would have imagined the seemingly straight-laced Colonel had those kinds of moves in him? Even McKay was out on the dance floor, if you could call what he was doing dancing, but at least it looked like he—like everyone else—was having a good time.
He’d been content though, to sit back in one of the chairs, a cold Corona in his hand and simply watch her enjoying herself. It wasn’t often that she had the opportunity to play and it was good to see her, surrounded by friends and colleagues, having a good time and free from the strain of leadership for a few hours. But when he realized she had disappeared, he went looking for her.
John found her right where he had expected, standing on one of the outside balcony’s staring out at the ocean. The sounds of the party could still be heard behind them, the music and
revelers still going strong. He stood beside, their shoulders touching, gazing out into the starry night.
“Tired already?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No…I just wanted a little fresh air.”
“I thought maybe you were worried Caldwell was going to ask you to dance again.”
Elizabeth chuckled softly. “He’s got some pretty smooth moves.” She turned around then, leaning back against the railing and looking at him, her eyes sparkling. “Actually, I don’t think I could have taken another repeat of The Chicken Dance.”
John snorted. “And here I thought you were tired of the Mexican Hat Dance.”
She laughed again and then gave him a speculative look. “How come I didn’t see you out on the dance floor?”
In the background, against the sound of the waves breaking against the pilings, he could hear the music from the party. The frenetic energy of some flashback to the age of disco had faded, replaced by a ballad John recognized from his high school days. “I was just waiting for the right moment,” he murmured.
Slipping his right arm around her waist, he grasped her right hand and pulled her into his embrace. Her eyes widened, but she didn’t pull away; instead she moved closer and rested her free hand on his shoulder. John tightened his arm, closing the rest of the distance between them. He wasn’t much of a dancer, but he could manage a reasonable two-step and his dancing ability really didn’t seem to matter when she melted into his arms.
“Good birthday?” he murmured into her hair as they moved slowly around the balcony in time to REO Speedwagon and Can’t Fight This Feeling.
“Mmmhmm,” she sighed. John shivered slightly when the hand on his shoulder moved slightly, her fingers lightly caressing his nape. “You do know my birthday was in April?”
“Yeah,” he rumbled, “but you weren’t here.”
Elizabeth pulled back slightly and looked at him, her eyes more hazel than green in the starlight. Her lips curved in a slow smile that started his heart racing. “I’m here now.”
John smiled lazily; along with the desire, an unexpected contentment filled him. “I don’t think I’ve told you this yet tonight.”
“What?” she murmured, melting back into his arms and resting her head on his shoulder.
He turned his head and nuzzled her hair. “Happy Birthday, Elizabeth.”