Elizabeth wanders into the control room to find Chuck on the comm with John’s team.
Chuck absently waves a hand at her as she walks in, but he’s absorbed in listening to the radio. It’s Lorne. “Atlantis, we’re coming back in. Have a medical team standing by. No injuries, but we’re gonna need a detox unit.” There’s a pause, voices in the background too indistinct to make out, and he adds, “Chuck, is Dr. Weir nearby?”
Elizabeth leans closer to the speaker. “I’m here, Major. Why?”
“Can you just - be there, in the Gate room, to meet us, ma’am? It’s kind of a long story. I’ll explain when we get back.”
Elizabeth blinks, looking around, but she sees only blank stares. Apparently no one knows what Lorne’s talking about. “Uh - yes, of course.”
“Thanks, Doctor. We’ll see you in ten.”
Accordingly, ten minutes later, the Gate opens and Lorne’s IDC comes through. Elizabeth lets out a long breath. Everyone’s upright and walking, which is, itself, a relief.
But John’s a mess.
His face is sickly, almost greyish, and the look in his eyes makes her start. He looks haggard, haunted, like she’s never seen him before. His eyes are red - was he crying?
Three hours ago, he was fine. He waved at her and walked through the Gate. Now he looks like his life is over.
But then his eyes fix on her, and he freezes.
It’s just a split second, three steps toward her, and he wraps her in a crushing hug, burying his face in her hair like his life depends on it.
She stumbles at the force - he’s tall, and heavy enough that she can’t quite hold herself - but hugs him back reflexively. John’s strong, solid, and until he lets go, she’s not going anywhere. It’s not really so much a hug as it is complete and total envelopment, and she can feel every ragged breath he draws in.
“You’re alive,” he mumbles hoarsely into her hair, his voice cracking. “You’re alive, you’re alive -”
“John, I’m - I’m fine -”
She doesn’t know what’s going on, but at least she can do this, assure him that it’s fine and she’s safe and whatever horror he’s picturing is just in his mind, it’s not real, everything is going to be okay.
He pulls back, cradling her face in his hands, and she catches her breath. Despite his frantic response to seeing her, the fear in his eyes, his touch is tender. Cautious. Intimate.
He kisses her soundly on the mouth, as natural as if it’s something they do (except they don’t ) and it’s all too much. His lips are demanding, searching, and as brief as the kiss is, it makes her head spin.
He doesn’t speak, just hangs onto her so tightly she can’t get a breath in. His knees buckle, and he’s heavy enough that he drags her down with him.
At a loss for what else to do, she strokes his hair, feeling his breaths slow, calming against her.
She’s on her knees in the middle of the Gate room, with the entire tech staff watching a distraught John Sheppard holding onto her like she’s the only thing he knows.
She stares at Evan, who mouths at her, I can explain.
John finally calms down enough that she can convince him to go to the infirmary, promising that she’ll come talk to him as soon as she’s done. After a long moment, she feels the soft touch of a kiss on her cheek, and he slowly lets her go.
He walks away with Carson, not before a backward glance at her, his eyes blazing, and she lets out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.
The Gate room had gone utterly silent, and a look around confirms what she’d thought: every single technician just saw that.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Lorne says quietly. “I know that was - a lot to take in. But he needed that.”
She sucks in a shaky breath, clenching her hands to try and keep them still. “Of course.” Not like she could do any less, even if her lips are still burning. “You did say there was an explanation.”
Evan scrubs his hands over his face. “He fell into a patch of plants, ma’am. It was an accident. Turns out the locals use those plants as painkillers, but outside of whatever they do to process them, they’re basically hallucinogens. And he inhaled a pretty big dose.”
Of all the -
She lets out a mirthless laugh, as much to release the tension creeping up her body as anything else. “He was drugged?”
“Basically. I am sorry - I didn’t think he’d be quite so -” Lorne squirms - “I didn’t know he’d react quite like that to seeing you. Just thought he’d calm down.”
“It was that bad?”
Ronon grunts. “He lost his mind.”
Lorne nods. “Pretty much, ma’am. He was a wreck. I figured maybe he’d calm down a little if he saw you, at least enough to get him into the infirmary. Honestly, he had us all a little spooked. He was so sure you were dead.” Lorne shrugs. “For a minute, I was starting to worry maybe he was right.”
She shoves that aside, drawing herself up. Things to do. They got him back, and Carson will figure it out. “Go ahead and get cleaned up and checked out, Major. We’ll have a formal debriefing when you’re ready.”
He nods. “Yes, ma’am.”
The team files past her, but Teyla pauses. “He did not want to come back through. When we got to the gate, Major Lorne and Ronon had to push him through it.”
“Because he was convinced the first thing he would see was your body.”
The team is fine, John’s in the infirmary, and the control room is quiet again. The excitement having died down for the moment, Elizabeth escapes to the balcony for a few minutes.
Her hands are shaking, and she leans heavily on the railing.
She wasn’t prepared for that.
Even outside the fact that he seems to have thought she was dead - which she’s reasonably sure that she’s not - that wasn’t like him. John doesn’t break down like this. They’ve done mortal peril, he’s seen her a breath away from certain death, but he’s never -
She swallows hard, tightening her jaw against the tears threatening to well up.
She can’t remember the last time she felt so overwhelmed , so utterly wrapped up in someone she cares about. The most honest moment she’s had with him, and it only happened because he was temporarily out of his mind. That’s what it takes here. That’s the price of human connection.
The thought is a sobering one.
Her earpiece crackles. “Doctor Weir?”
It’s Lorne. She clears her throat. “Yes, Major?”
“Team checked out clean from the infirmary. Whenever you’re ready for debriefing, we’ll be in the conference room.”
She smiles wryly at the ocean.
“I’m on my way.”
Elizabeth finds Lorne, Teyla, and Ronon waiting for her in the conference room, and takes her seat. She can’t help but notice they’ve left John’s usual chair empty.
“So,” she starts out. Might as well get on with this. “I think we’ve established that Colonel Sheppard had an adverse reaction to the local plant life.”
Lorne cocks his head. “That was very diplomatic, ma’am.”
As it turns out, this recon mission was a wash. The team hadn’t really had time to do much; they’d only briefly met a few of the locals, whom they’d seen before, when John slipped off a crumbling ledge and fell into the garden. As soon as they’d gotten him up and walking, they’d started back towards the Gate.
“Ronon thought faster than we did,” Lorne adds. “He grabbed a handful of the plants and shoved them in a bag, so Carson could analyze them.”
She looks over at Ronon for confirmation. He just shrugs. “Seemed smart.”
“The effects took a moment to completely take hold,” Teyla says. “At first, he merely seemed disoriented, and asked to rest for a minute. It was not until he started weeping that we realized the full extent of the problem.”
Lorne nods slowly. “I asked him what was wrong, and he just kept saying, ‘Elizabeth is dead, she’s dead.’ Over and over again. I asked him how he knew, but he was too much of a wreck to answer. By the time we hiked back to the Gate, he was completely withdrawn. Like he was already grieving.”
Elizabeth swallows hard. “Teyla, you said he didn’t want to come back through?”
“Yes.” Teyla glances back at Ronon. “He pleaded with us. He was completely convinced that you were dead, and he said he could not bear to see it.”
“I felt bad for him,” Ronon adds. “I’ve never seen him like that.”
Elizabeth nods slowly, taking it all in. These people probably know John Sheppard better than anyone. If it startled them, then it was bad.
“For what it’s worth, ma’am,” Lorne offers, “he didn’t really seem - drugged, I guess. It was completely real to him. And for a minute, we were worried he might be right, like maybe he’d gotten a message from Atlantis.”
Teyla smiles gently. “We are very glad he was wrong.”
Elizabeth can tell they’re tired, so she dismisses them soon after. Aside from the obvious, they don’t have much to report.
The mission will be re-evaluated, and they’ll probably send either this team, or another one, back there with strict instructions not to tumble into flowerbeds.
In the infirmary, she finds Carson talking quietly to one of his nurses. She doesn’t see John, but there’s a curtain drawn around one of the far beds.
The nurse leaves, and Carson comes to join her. “I figured you’d be coming by soon.”
“How is he?”
“Sleeping, for now.” Carson scratches absently at the back of his neck. “Major Lorne was right; he essentially got a hefty dose of a hallucinogen. He was lucky; it didn’t damage anything, no permanent problems. To put it simply, he’s currently in detox. It should be flushed out of his system soon enough.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“I’m sure you are. That was quite a ‘hello’ he gave you,” Carson points out. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” It feels like a reflex more than a response.
He doesn’t say anything, just gives her that annoyingly observant look. I’ve known you a long time, Elizabeth. I’m not stupid.
To his credit, Carson’s never pushed her. He knows too much - everyone knows too much about everyone here - but he’s never tried to corner her about it.
“All in all,” he continues, “it could have been a lot worse. He should be back to normal within a day or two.”
“Good.” She folds her arms. “I’ll let his team know they’ve got some free time. Is there anything else?”
He pauses for a moment, like he’s choosing his words carefully. “He gave a natural reaction to what were essentially false memories. We’re still learning about this thing and how it affects the brain, but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t manufacture the emotion. Just changes perception.”
Whatever he’s trying to say, she’s not getting it, and she’s just about done with guessing. “What do you mean?”
“It didn’t change how he felt. About anything. Or anyone.”
Her cheeks flush hotly, but he knows better than to lean in any further. Thanks, Carson.
She’s aware that people gossip about her and John. None of it is true.
At least, she’d thought none of it was true.
“What about memory loss?”
“No indications. As far as I can tell, he’ll remember everything.”
On the bright side, at least she’s not going to have to sit him down and gently break the news that he kissed her. In public. Under alien influence.
“Let me know when he wakes up.”
She’s nearly back to her office when she hears Chuck, calling across the control room.
Elizabeth looked up to find everyone in the control room watching her. The staff that just recently watched John Sheppard kiss her. “Yes?”
“Is the Colonel - is he going to be okay?”
“Carson said he should be fine.”
Chuck nods. “Good to hear, ma’am.”
He goes back to his work without further comment, and Elizabeth spares a moment to look around. She was half-expecting knowing looks and whispers, but the responses she sees are sympathetic. Gentle. Sincere.
They’re looking at her like John kissing her is a normal thing. Like it’s just something that happens here from time to time.
Like they all know how she feels about him.
Elizabeth is a disciplined woman. Yet somehow, in the space of sixty seconds, John Sheppard managed to shatter her remarkable capacity for compartmentalization.
“I’ll be in my office.”
Carson contacts her a few hours later. “He’s up and awake. Looks like he’s going to be just fine.”
When she gets to the infirmary, she finds John awake, dressed, sitting on the edge of the bed as one of the nurses checks his blood pressure. His color is better, his eyes clear, and a knot of worry that’s been working its way up her throat starts to dissolve. Physical safety is the baseline. Everything else comes next.
The smile he offers her is subdued, and as easygoing as John always comes across, she knows better.
Normally, she’d look away, give him space. Let him keep to himself. But the memory of his desperation, the kiss that stole her breath away, is fresh in her mind. It was too real to ignore.
The nurse goes to talk to Carson, and Elizabeth folds her arms. “How are you feeling?”
She smiles gently. “I can understand that. Major Lorne filled us in on what happened.”
He shakes his head slowly, staring at the wall. “It felt so real.” She knows this look on his face. He doesn’t like it when things mess with his mind.
Elizabeth wants to ask him more, wants to know everything, but something tells her to hold back for now. He’s already been vulnerable enough for today.
She knows John well enough to know: right now, he needs a chance to put himself back together.
So she takes a roundabout approach. He uses humor to deal with things; she knows when to extend an olive branch. “On the bright side, no broken bones this time.”
He huffs out a short laugh. “Yeah.”
Carson comes to join them, glancing at the chart in his hand. “Looks like you’re doing just fine, Colonel. Everything looks clear. I think we can safely say it’s out of your system. I’d like you to stop in again in twenty-four hours, just to be sure, but for now, you’re free to go.”
John slides off the bed, grabbing the jacket he’d set beside him. He looks antsy, which she can understand. He’s not overly fond of being stuck in one place.
Of course, he might still be uncomfortable around her. She hopes he’s not, because it seems patently unfair to let a patch of leaves somewhere on an alien planet ruin the closest friendship she has here.
“You’ve had quite a day,” Carson adds. “Get some rest.”
“Thanks, Doc.” John glances at his watch. “I think I’m going to grab something to eat first.”
“I’m headed that direction myself,” she offers.
Are we still all right?
There’s only a moment of hesitation before he nods. “Lead the way.”
He falls in step beside her as naturally as ever as they wind their way through the corridors, and it’s a relief to know that some things haven’t changed, despite the whirlwind today has turned out to be.
“So what’s new around here?” His voice is a little too casual, and she sees the question for what it is. He’s checking to make sure he hasn’t damaged their friendship – as complicated as it is – too badly. “Did we miss anything fun?”
Nothing quite at the level of alien-plant-induced hallucinations, so she settles for the most interesting report that’s come across her desk today. “The botanists have found a thrilling new type of dirt on the mainland.”
He laughs out loud at that, a sudden burst that he tries, too late, to hide. “I bet that was cool.”
“They’re very excited. Don’t worry, you’ll get to hear all about it in tomorrow’s meeting.”
“I don’t know,” he drawls. “Starting to feel like I might be getting sick. I think it’s going to hit right when that meeting st-”
“Don’t even think about it,” she warns him. “I will send them right to your quarters with the slide show.”
“You wouldn’t.” She shoots him a baleful look, and he concedes. “All right. You would.”
There’s a lightness in the air between them, something she’s never been able to define, and while she knows he’s carefully sidestepping anything deeper at the moment, at least they’re talking. It’s a status quo they both know well.
Sometimes, she knows, it’s easier to deal with words than the spaces in between them.
As they reach the mess hall, he pauses, looking at the door for a moment before turning back to her. “So, see you tomorrow?”
It feels like a breath of fresh air, and she smiles. There’s clearly something still on his mind, but John works through things on his own. He’s not shutting her out; he’s just figuring out his own thoughts.
“I’m glad you’re all right.”
That makes him stop, and he gives her the little half smile of his, more rueful and honest than usual as he meets her eyes.
Elizabeth pauses outside John’s quarters, wondering if this is a good idea. It’s tempting to walk away, leave everything at the pleasant, easy, surface-level chat they’d had earlier.
But the thought of uncertainty, avoiding the discomfort that turns into a friendship drifting apart, is something she can’t abide. She’s a negotiator, and if she’s learned one thing in her career, it’s that she can talk her way into - and out of - anything.
Of course, she’s not even sure what she wants.
But at the very least, she wants to keep her best friend in the entire galaxy. Even if it means pushing down the personal life that she quietly wishes she could have here.
She shakes her head - it’s easy to get lost in her own thoughts - and waves her hand over the sensor, setting off the door chime.
She hears John call Come in, and walks in to find him sitting on his bed, sorting piles of laundry.
“Elizabeth.” He sounds surprised. “Hi.”
He finishes rolling a black t-shirt, setting it in a pile with several others. Laundry isn’t something she really pictures him doing, and the sight is so at odds with the strong, flinty military commander with his P-90 and tac vest that it almost makes her laugh.
He shrugs. “Gotta do it sometime. You need something?”
“Ah - not really,” she answers absently, watching him pick up his shirts and deposit them in a drawer. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine.” He leans back against the dresser. “But that’s not why you’re here.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You already know I’m fine,” he tells her simply. “ Besides, I know you. There’s something else on your mind.”
“You know, I happen to have an excellent poker face.”
“Not to me, you don’t.”
He says it casually, but she catches her breath. He does know her. John Sheppard can read her like no one else.
And if she wants honesty, she should lead with it herself.
“I don’t want you to - feel uncomfortable. About earlier.”
“You mean kissing you?”
“Yes.” Her face gets warm, but she pushes on. “I just - wanted to say - you didn’t do anything wrong. You don’t have to be sorry.”
His tone is clear, simple, and it takes a moment for her to realize what he’s just said.
“You - what?”
“If I - embarrassed you, then I’m sorry about that. But I’m not -” he pauses, searching for words - “I didn’t just think you were dead, Elizabeth. I knew you were dead. For an hour. And seeing you standing there, alive - it made me think about a lot of things. I kissed you because for an hour, I believed you were dead, and you would never know.”
Her heart is pounding, a hectic, thready tattoo that feels like it’s echoing through her body. “Know what?”
“I love you.”
The words ring in her ears. It’s not the kind of thing she expects to hear post-laundry, surrounded by socks and undershirts, and everything is off-balance. He says it like it’s nothing new, like it’s something as obvious and mundane as the weather. It’s raining. The breeze is kicking up. I love you.
He must take her silence as hesitation, as though it’s something she didn’t want to hear. Like he’s in love with her, but he has to convince her that it’s not a problem.
“It doesn’t have to change anything,” he says, his voice gentle. “We can still work together. We’re good at that.”
He’s negotiating with her. If she weren’t already reeling from the fact that John Sheppard just voluntarily shared his feelings on an unprecedented level, she’d laugh. That’s my trick, John.
“It wouldn’t be - an issue?”
He shrugs. “Hasn’t been yet.”
It - hasn’t -
“I don’t know. A while. By the time I realized -”
Before he can finish, she’s across the room, three steps between them gone as she cuts him off with a kiss.
She’s half-wondered before, imagined what it might be like if they finally broke down and did this, but she’s never anticipated something so sweet. His kiss is gentle, slow, unhurried, like they have all the time in the world.
She feels flushed, bright, her skin alive and aware and soft.
He steals one more kiss, two more, and finally lets her breathe, pressing his forehead to hers. “You want me to move my laundry so we can keep making out?”
Elizabeth laughs, brushing her fingers lightly through his soft hair.
“That does sound fun.”
Elizabeth wakes in a dark room that isn’t hers.
She tenses for a moment before her foggy mind clears up. Right. John’s room. He’s sprawled out beside her, fast asleep.
Everything comes flooding back as she lies still, listening to the quiet hum of electricity and the soft wash of waves outside. They’d curled up in bed after nothing more than a handful of kisses; it was late, they were both tired, and anymore, sleep is the most elusive, magical thing in her life that she always needs more of. Sleep is what she daydreams about, not wild, mid-afternoon desk sex.
So here she is, stretched out beside John Sheppard, wearing his t-shirt and shorts, breathing in the ease and coolness of nighttime. The bed isn’t really designed for two; they’re close together, and she can feel the slow, even rhythm of his breathing against her.
Elizabeth thinks maybe this is what she’s missed the most: companionship. The comforting warmth of human contact. Simple, bright affection that’s as much about softness as it is about physical pleasure.
It’s nice to feel connected to another human.
“Mmm.” He yawns, rolling over to face her. “You awake?”
John hums. He’s still drowsy. “What’s wrong?”
He runs a hand lightly over her arm, his touch casual, delicate, as easy as if he’s always done this.
John lets out a soft chuckle, propping his chin on one hand. “It’s not nothing. You’re thinking too loudly.”
“Sorry if I woke you.”
“You’re still not answering the question.”
Her legs are twisted in the covers; Elizabeth kicks them aside, turns over to face him. His face is just inches away, and despite the fact that they see each other every day, it feels like the first time she’s really seeing him.
“So?” he prompts. “What’s going on up there?”
“It seems too easy.”
He’s truly awake now, and he nods slowly, thinking. “Does it have to be difficult?”
“I guess -” she sighs. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
He runs a hand lightly over her arm, tracing faint circles on her skin. The touch is gentle, absent, like he’s not even aware he’s doing it. “We’re sleeping in the same bed, and now the world’s going to end?”
“Something like that.”
She’s being overdramatic, she knows; Elizabeth has a tendency to get lost in her own head, and it’s worst when she’s lying awake in the wee hours of the morning. Darkness and stillness give her nothing to distract her from the hundred thousand things she worries about.
It’s been a long time since she’s had someone beside her to talk to when it happens.
“Do you know why I agreed to join this expedition?”
The question catches her off-guard, soft and unassuming as it is. The closeness, the shadows, the pale, silvery gleam of moonlight streaming in makes everything feel like a whisper, and even if she could look away, right now there’s nothing else in the world. Just him.
“Because of you.”
The words hit her like an arrow, so bright and simple that she’s frozen, staring into his unblinking gaze.
“You’re the one who convinced me. You were so bound and determined that it was going to work, come hell or high water -” he smiled wryly - “and from the very beginning, right then, the one thing I trusted was you. And that’s never changed.”
Her throat feels suddenly tight, her eyes welling up despite herself. Because she’s laid awake at night, wondering if anyone trusts her. If she deserves it.
“So,” he murmurs, leaning just a fraction of an inch closer, “yeah, it’s a risk. Everything’s a risk. But you’re worth it. Because I think you’re absolutely extraordinary.”
Her heart thrums in her chest, and when he leans in to kiss her, Elizabeth shivers. There’s intent in his touch, a slow, deliberate way his hand trails over her hip, and her whole body feels hot, dizzy, out of control.
If she’d known John Sheppard could kiss like this...well. She might not have lasted this long.
He kisses her like a man in love, like he’s been nurturing it quietly for so long that it’s grown wild, and now that he’s gone for broke, opened up with terrifying honesty, he’s intent on taking his time with her.
She pushes herself up, slides her knee across his hips, straddling him before he can do much more than gasp. She can see the shock on his face, and the heat pressing up against her is unmistakable, and oh, okay, maybe she has missed this as much as sleep.
“I thought you were tired.” He’s going for teasing, but his voice is strained. Elizabeth rolls her hips against him, long and slow, relishing the deep groan that rumbles through his chest, the hitch of lean muscle as she presses into him.
She leans forward, pinning John’s hands to the pillow. His breathing is ragged, and his hips are straining against hers.
She is going to eat him alive.
“I was.” She leans down and kisses him, nipping lightly at his bottom lip. “But we’re both awake now. Might as well make the most of it.”