They come back through the Stargate in silence.
John takes off practically at a run as soon as he materializes behind her, and Elizabeth has a pang of fear in her chest that she might never see him again. “Infirmary,” she calls after him, because no matter what else happened on the Vsel planet, he had alien technology probing his mind.
He pauses. Doesn’t look back at her. Changes direction.
“I’ll go with him,” Ronon volunteers, jogging after him.
Teyla touches Elizabeth’s shoulder. “Do you wish to tell me what happened?”
Just the thought of repeating it makes her cringe. John has been exposed enough for one day.
She paces, at first in her office and then in her quarters when the glass walls start to feel too revealing. When Carson calls her to the infirmary, her heart starts pounding and she nearly runs there, expecting bad news.
“There’s no sign of any injury or brain damage as a result of the Vsel probe,” Carson tells her. “He didn’t tell me what happened.”
Elizabeth winces. “Not surprising.” Things she shouldn’t know about John Sheppard flood her mind.
“I recommended he speak with Doctor Heightmeyer.”
She can’t imagine that went well. “What did he say?”
“He told me the last thing he needed was someone else looking into his head.”
Elizabeth falls asleep about forty times in a row, only to jerk awake. Her dreams are split-second lifetimes: John and his father. John killing Colonel Sumner. John and Ford’s cousin, apologizing, promising. John and an angry Air Force Colonel, if it were up to me, you wouldn’t even be wearing this uniform. John and his ex-wife, you’re such a disappointment. John in the storm, Kolya on the radio, Weir’s dead. John at the hands of Kolya and a Wraith, about to die, thinking about regrets and how he’d never get a chance with—
She gets up and splashes freezing water on her face. Her eyes sting, and she has no right to cry about this, but the immensity of everything she saw and heard and felt in the alien Circle of Truth is too much for her to handle. Ever, probably, but definitely alone in her quarters when it’s too fresh for her to compartmentalize it away as just another insane experience in the Pegasus Galaxy.
It’s not her pain, but it breaks her heart. She always knew John was walking around with far too much guilt, too much self-doubt, too many voices telling him that he wasn’t enough, even as the years in Atlantis seemed to relax some of that away from him.
And the rest—
She especially shouldn’t think about that.
But she does, she does, and desire coils inside her right along with shame. His—that he shouldn’t feel this way about her. Hers—that she shouldn’t know that he does, shouldn’t know the dreams he has about her, the way anxiety trips him up when they’re alone and he wants so badly to touch her that it feels like a hand squeezing his chest, how it sounds when he whispers her name in the shower as he makes himself come.
And she watched. Even knowing how brutally unfair it was to him, even embarrassed and ashamed and a little afraid, she couldn’t look away, couldn’t leave him to the privacy of the feelings he has obviously kept hidden for a reason.
The reasons are good, she reminds herself a little hysterically. They’re not just coworkers; they’re holding off an entire hostile galaxy together. She’s always known he’s attracted to her, and she to him, but this, this depth of need like some days she’s the only thing in the universe that keeps him going back into the fight—
She shouldn’t know this, shouldn’t have felt it in her bones in the Circle of Truth while his every hope and dream and nightmare and guilty memory was ripped open for her to see.
She presses her forehead to the cool wall of her bathroom and wishes she could reach through the city itself to apologize to him.
She tries to talk to him the next day, to make a surely inadequate effort to clear the air, but he walks away stiffly and doesn’t once look her in the eye.
The others were waiting outside on Vsel, Ronon and Teyla and McKay, so he talks to them, but she can see the emotional exhaustion in his hunched posture and the dark circles under his eyes.
Kate sees her in the lunchroom and mentions that John isn’t returning her calls.
“Carson’s worried,” she says. “Are you?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth admits, “but he always manages to pull through. I’m not sure there’s much either one of us can do.”
“Are you sure?” Kate’s look is one of the leading ones she usually reserves for inside her office, like Elizabeth is missing something obvious.
“I’ll only make it worse,” Elizabeth tells her.
Kate nods like she doesn’t believe her.
That night, Elizabeth dreams of sex, dreams of the time John saw her in the outdoor steam pool with a bathing suit and a glass of wine, one of the few times she remembers relaxing their first year here. At the time, she didn’t know he was there, or that he stopped in the shadows to stare at her, full of guilt and lust and surprise.
He went back to his quarters to jerk off (and she remembers the pulses of shame in him along with arousal, that he was thinking of his boss, that he was imagining her there with him, under him, naked and beautiful and his). In her dream, she stops him from leaving, calls him to her. She lifts herself out of the water, watches his eyes go to her breasts and back to her face while he gets visibly hard through his pants, and she invites him in.
He joins her with his clothes on, all except his boots, the wet fabric sticking to her skin as she kisses him. She pulls his shirt off first, letting it float away, and when she slips her hand into his pants to grab his erection, he groans and makes a face she shouldn’t know so intimately. His eyes are naked with want, the same desire she felt in the Circle of Truth, and she strips him bare and somehow she’s out of her swimsuit and she doesn’t want to make him wait even one more minute.
She feels like she’s watching it instead of participating, the way she was on Vsel. She sees him throw his head back when her dream Elizabeth sinks down on him, hears him gasp for air and strength, somehow feels from his point of view how much he wants this.
And then she’s there with him, moving with him, the water slapping against her skin and John hot and hard and intense against her and she thinks God, I love you, as he thrusts into her, his arms strong around her back, and she never wants it to stop.
When she wakes up, when she goes to her 8 a.m. staff meeting, he has emailed her a one-sentence excuse for why he won’t be there.
She tries to imagine it from his point of view. She initially insisted on being the one to have her integrity verified, and John nearly literally jumped in the way.
She and John are two of a kind, private people, secretive about their pasts even with people they trust. She can’t imagine how she’d feel if John knew everything about her all at once, if he knew all about her history with Simon and Jack and Maksim, if he knew how often commanding Atlantis terrifies her, if he knew that she also imagines him late at night when she’s lonely. She cares about him deeply, so much it scares her sometimes when he comes back from missions delayed and injured, but she has never felt it necessary to do something about it.
She lacks John’s ability to see things in black and white. Alien races aren’t strictly ‘bad guys’ and ‘good guys.’ Decisions are never 100% right or wrong. She ruined her relationship with Simon long before she traveled to another galaxy because he wanted a wife, and she couldn’t commit to saying she’d always love him no matter what.
In love, John is fragile. And she knows herself—she’s more careless than she should be.
She knows now, deep in her bones, the hurts he carries, how hard he takes it when life disappoints him. She always had a sense of how dark he got, but she never knew before, and it makes her want to pull him to her and give him everything she can.
It’s the middle of the night, but she knows he’s not asleep, and she goes to his quarters.
John looks so exhausted and messy and wrung out that if she didn’t know better, didn’t know the stock had been dry for a month, she would’ve thought he was drinking.
He takes a step back from the door defensively as soon as he sees her, and her heart sinks.
“Elizabeth.” His gaze snaps to the floor.
“We need to talk.”
His mouth tightens. “I don’t think...” He clears his throat. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
She laughs in surprise, because as much as she knew him before this week and knows him even more now, she didn’t expect that level of denial. “Really?”
He glares at the floor. “What the hell do you want me to say?”
He’s said enough, she thinks, painfully. “Let me come in. Please.”
He looks up at her at that, and she sees far too much emotion in his eyes. He walks over to brace his back against the far wall, letting her enter behind him while putting the whole room between them.
“Yeah, so,” he says as soon as the door closes, crossing his arms. “I’m sorry.”
She gapes at him. “God, John. You’re the last person who has anything to apologize for.”
He winces, and she can’t stay all the way across the room from him, so she crosses halfway and perches on the edge of his bed.
“I can’t even imagine what you’re going through,” she starts, but realizes that’s a lie. She can imagine it, because she spent two hours on an alien planet experiencing the edges of what it was like to live his whole life. “I’m so sorry. If I could change what happened—”
“I’m sure it doesn’t need to be said, but I don’t expect anything from you,” he tells her flatly, and she feels like he’s gearing up to bolt, not necessarily out of this room right now, but away from her in general. “Just because you know... yeah.”
“John,” she gets up, her heart pounding. “I don’t blame you. For any of it.” She can see his body jerk with tension. “Honestly, knowing you feel that way about me...”
She takes a step forward. He’s watching her, eyes wide, and she’s terrified because she knows what this means, but she has to say it. She owes him honesty, after everything he didn’t mean to share with her.
“It’s incredibly hot,” she finishes.
A surprised smirk reaches his face, the first thing besides a scowl she’s seen from him in days. She’s out of words, so she crosses the space between them, pauses only a second to see if he’s going to resist, and kisses him.
He moans in her mouth, and with a shock through her body she can feel what he feels because she’s been inside his head and she remembers. She kisses him deeply, slides her hands into his hair, and this feels nothing like the time they did this when they were possessed by aliens. This is real. Raw. He’s kissing her back like his life depends on it, pulling her close, and she thinks she’d be alarmed at the intensity if she didn’t already know.
“Elizabeth,” he whispers after a minute, and it’s almost pleading. “I can’t just—” He pulls away from her lips with what seems like a painful effort, and he looks at her, everything she learned on Vsel all over his face. She’s never seen him like this, unguarded, and it stuns her momentarily into silence.
He loves her.
And he has no idea how she feels.
The words catch in her throat. She can’t promise him. She doesn’t know if she can live up to his expectations. But she knows with every frantic nerve in her body,
“I want you.”
Something snaps, and he grabs her, hesitation gone. He kisses her like he wants to crawl inside her and she has known for years that his body his impressive, attractive, and yet she has never known how it feels pressed against her.
And she knows, knows the spot on his neck that makes his knees weak, knows how he wants to be kissed, knows that he wants more than anything to make her come saying his name. She unbuckles his pants without him noticing, and his hips buck against her when she palms him through his underwear. The sound he makes tears right through her, makes her remember everything she saw and felt, how he dreams about laying her across her desk and eating her out until she screams, about taking her in a puddle jumper and making love with the stars all around them (and yes, he wants to fuck her until they’re both senseless, but he wants to make love to her too). He dreams about coming home to her, about curling up into her chest when the war gets hard, about waking up every morning and having her there in bed with him, wanting him.
She gasps because it’s too much, knowing all of this about him, and yet she doesn’t think it’ll ever be enough.
The more exotic locales can wait, she decides, and wraps her fingers in his belt loops to pull him back toward the bed, loving the grin on his face almost as much as the way his hand feels on the small of her back. He pulls away to whip his clothes off, probably in record time, and for a second she’s speechless as she takes him in, naked and beautiful.
He stops her before she can follow his lead, grabbing her hands. “I want to,” he says like he’s asking permission before lifting her shirt up and leaning down to kiss her ribs. As he strips her naked, not letting her help, she can’t help but remember the thousand times he’s wondered about doing exactly this.
It’s driving her crazy, the contrast between the light touches he’s giving her as he peels off her clothes and the desperate need she remembers from the Circle of Truth, and by the time he makes his way to her groin, by the time he finds her clit, she’s so wound up she almost jumps off the bed.
“Faster,” she orders, and he refuses with a wicked grin, pressing his body against hers as his fingers rock back and forth just barely fast enough to amp her up before sliding a finger inside her, slowly.
She moans at the sensation—calluses, rough skin, warmth, John—and the look on his face is priceless.
“Wow,” he says, eyes intense with desire. “You feel amazing.” There’s something precious and sweet and honest in his voice, something she so rarely gets to see behind his wall of sarcasm that her heart melts.
She rolls him over onto his back and kisses him, trailing a hand down to stroke his erection, and he groans Elizabeth and God and please into her mouth as she works him up, trailing her thumb around the head, playing him with her fingers, learning what he likes, what he needs by his shaky breathing.
He hisses, breaking the kiss to throw his head back into the pillow, and she tightens her grip, holding him back from the edge until he gathers himself.
She readjusts above him, aligning their bodies, and then pauses, catches his eye. It feels important to make him tell her, after everything she learned against his will. “John. Do you want me?”
His whole body shudders. “I want you,” he says, voice rough. His eyes slide closed like it’s too much, even as his hands squeeze her hips. “Wanted you for so long.”
She sinks down onto him, her muscles stretching and moving around him, and it’s been too long since she was with a man like this and even then, it wasn’t John, and it didn’t feel like this.
He pushes up against her, gasping for breath, guiding her with his hands on her hips, and it’s ridiculous to think about how well they work together professionally at a time like this, but they find a rhythm without even trying. He feels good inside her, God, and the way he’s looking up at her like she’s everything he ever wanted, the way he’s mouthing, yes, come on without making any sound—
“Touch me,” she begs, and usually she does it herself when she’s on top, like this, but she wants him, wants him fumbling for the right spot, wants him exploring her and learning her because even if she can’t promise him anything (yet, yet), there is no way she can walk out on him, on everything they’ve been through, on this.
She needs him in deeper and slams down on him, grinding their hips together, guides his fingers where he’s rubbing her clit with one hand and he’s palming her breast with the other and he’s saying, come on, Elizabeth and so fucking hot and yes, and she absurdly doesn’t want to come before him, doesn’t want to do any part of this without him, so she leans forward until she finds the angle that makes him groan and rides him and says John, John until she sees that look on his face, and she lets go with a scream as everything boils away.
When she comes back to herself, his hands are on her ribs, holding her up, and he’s smiling.
“You’re incredible,” he tells her, still with that open honesty, and she leans forward to lie on top of him. His arms wrap a little too tightly around her back and he buries his face in the crook of her shoulder and she can almost hear his thoughts. Don’t go.
“I want to sleep here,” she says, because suddenly she shares his dream of waking up together.
He laughs. “God, yes,” and she can feel some of the tension ebbing out of him.
She kisses him for a minute, lazy, feeling every millimeter of his mouth with her tongue. Somehow, there are still things she doesn’t know about him.
“You’re going to be okay,” she tells him when they separate.
He looks at her with something like fear, and she rubs her hand over his chest. He doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t have to. She was there.
Slowly, he kisses her forehead, her cheeks, her lips.
He doesn’t say I love you, but she knows.
Instead, he says, “Thanks.”
She wraps him in a hug, settling down against his chest. “I’m not going anywhere,” she assures him.
It’s a promise.