Elizabeth woke feeling incredibly well rested, warm and very content – nothing short of blissful. Light was filtering in through the windows, dancing in concert with the ocean that it reflected off of – reminiscent of the Stargate event horizon. It was just sunrise and everything was golden. Elizabeth closed her eyes for a few minutes more, relishing the moment. Ever so carefully, she rolled on to one side, anxious to not disturb her source of warmth, still sleeping next to her.
This was all new to her. Not sleeping with a man – but certainly sleeping with this one. John Sheppard was lying on his stomach, his head buried in the crook of one arm, the other splayed out, the long, lean muscle of his back bare where the sheets had slid down. In the golden light, Elizabeth’s eyes sought out the four long, healing wounds that ran in perfect alignment from his left shoulder to the middle of his back. They looked better – just scabbed over now, but the skin around them still looked a bit tight. She considered how she hated to see him hurt, but if it weren’t for those wounds, that she wouldn’t be there with him, in his bed.
Two weeks prior, she had accompanied John and his team off-world to a village in the middle of a dense forest – the people there were of technology that would have matched Earth’s in the late 1950s, and they were interested in trade. What they weren’t interested in was trading with a man. It turned out to be a heavily matriarchal society, and when John had proposed trade for ore that Rodney said could be quite useful, the town elders had considered it inappropriate to do business with a male – even Teyla had no luck as it had been made clear that John was in charge of the team, and that she answered to him. John had finally made some headway when he’d explained that their expedition leader was a woman - so back through the gate they had gone to return with Elizabeth.
Elizabeth didn’t get to go off world as much as she might have liked – so she’d been really enjoying herself. John and his team had spent time in the town while she brokered a deal. They were planning to return home that evening when disaster struck – one of the local hunting parties had gone missing – and John and Ronan had been quick to volunteer to assist in the search. As a show of good will, Elizabeth had decided they should all go – despite John’s protests.
Out in the dense trees, things had deteriorated quickly. Some type of wild animals, moving in packs, had made quick work of their organized efforts, and the villagers and the SGA team had been scattered. Elizabeth found John stuck to her like glue, efficient and worried, and every bit the Military Leader of the expedition – a fact that he mentioned often enough to her. They had been ambushed by a pair of the wolf-like creatures, that were easily twice as large as their cousins on Earth. John had killed one, but the other had nearly taken Elizabeth’s head off with it’s claws – would have done so if John hadn’t jumped in the way instead, turning so that his back took the blow, shielding her with his body. That had been unfortunate in all sorts of ways as the massive creature knocked them both off balance and they tumbled over the edge of an incline they’d been too distracted to notice.
Elizabeth had awoken first. Staring straight up into the trees, she had been confused for some long minutes, trying to figure out how she found herself wedged against a rock at the bottom of an incredibly steep drop off. It was John’s shallow breathing, directly under her, that had gotten her brain moving. She realized belatedly that his arm was wrapped around her mid-section and that she was half on top of him – he’d clearly tried to protect her when they had fallen. Scrambling in haste to get off of the Colonel, she’d realized her ankle was throbbing with pain and her head ached. Thoughts of her own well being had evaporated when she had managed to squeeze past the rock she’d been wedged against and got a good look at John.
Somehow, she and John had become stuck between the rock and a tree. John didn’t look particularly good – he had a head wound that was still bleeding sluggishly and dried blood down the right side of his face. He was lying on his back, and his skin was pale – his breathing soft and sluggish.
“John! Colonel!” she demanded, worried and shaking, reaching out to grab his hand. When she got no response, she looked around, suddenly very worried about the animals that had attacked them, but the woods were quiet. Instinctively, she had reached for her radio, finding it gone – no doubt lost in the fall. John’s was still attached to his TAC vest, but was badly damaged. There was no way to call for help and she realized belatedly that her pack was gone as well.
Forcing herself to focus, Elizabeth had checked herself over for injuries – her ankle was not broken, but probably sprained, and she had a lump on her forehead – but no blood – so that was a good thing. Next, she moved on to her unconscious military commander. It was hard to get to him, wedged in as he was, but she managed to wipe some of the blood away with the hem of her t-shirt, and finally, he groaned in protest, one hand coming up to try to push away the cause of discomfort.
“John?” she asked, pausing in her limited ministrations.
Very slowly, he opened his hazel eyes. He stared up at her for a long minute before blinking. “You ok?” he asked, his voice quiet and rough, eyes a bit glassy.
She would have laughed if the situation didn’t seem so dire. “I’m alright – nothing that won’t mend,” she told him honestly. “But you hit your head…”
“…yeah,” he said after another long minute. “And my back is on fire…” he grunted, face scrunching up in a way she would have found endearing if it didn’t prompt her to remember the cause of their tumble down the precipice.
“That thing – that wolf creature – did it…?” she trailed off, hands hovering a bit uselessly. John didn’t reply immediately, his hand coming up to touch his radio. Finding it broken, he looked to her.
“Were you able to radio for help?” he asked hopefully. She shook her head.
“I lost my pack and my radio it appears.”
John offered a sharp oath at that, then looked apologetic. “Alright…need to get up so we can hike out of here,” he told her, but she could tell he was giving himself a pep talk.
“Let me help,” she said, coming around to lean over the rock and offer her hand. He gripped her arm and started to leverage himself up, but stopped short, hissing in pain, color draining from his already pale skin. It made her stomach churn. He stayed perfectly still, part way into a sitting position, his eyes squeezing shut. “John?” she asked, surprised at how weak and anxious her voice sounded.
“One…minute…” he wheezed out. Elizabeth stayed perfectly still; his hand still tightly gripped around her forearm. She’d studied his features before and took the chance to do so again. Hair still wild, the threatening stubble that never seemed to leave his face making his skin look paler, remnants of dried blood still streaking down to his jawline. She’d found herself wanting to cradle his face in her hands, to sooth away the pain lines, to kiss his forehead gently. Her eyes widened and she shook her head and scolded herself mentally. It was definitely not the time or place to be fantasizing about John Sheppard.
“Elizabeth? You ok?” he asked, startling her. His eyes were open again, and he was searching her face.
“Oh, yes, sorry,” she stuttered, trying to hide her embarrassment. Thank the stars he couldn’t read her mind. The trouble was, ever since their encounter with Phoebus and Phalen, she’d been unable to think straight about John. Although someone else had been in control of her body, and she’d been screaming and fighting to be let out, that kiss was seared in her memory. Rationally, she knew it had not been John kissing her back – it had not been her kissing John – but it had been their bodies. Thinking about the kiss had led to thinking about a lot of other things – including the deep sense of grief and terror she’d felt when Kolya had kidnapped John. Every moment of the broadcast and watching John tortured by the Wraith stayed with her like a nightmare, and recently she’d begun to realize that her feelings about it – about John – had strayed past the professional.
After Simon, and being on Atlantis, she’d never considered finding a personal relationship again. At least not anytime soon. She’d never considered that the time she spent there, in Pegasus, was changing her so much – that the experiences, both terrifying and astounding – were creating a new way of looking at life. Sure, she’d always thought of John Sheppard as a friend, a valuable asset to her expedition and a confidant. They’d had their share of troubles with each other – gone toe to toe. She’d certainly wanted to kill him a few times. But he’d become a constant in her life – and she’d found herself realizing he was one of the few people to be there, steady in conviction and more honest in the way he lived than she was used to – especially coming from a world of politics. So it was with some self-awareness that she realized she’d become attached to John – and then the dawning realization of what it would be to lose him, that led to other thoughts like realizing physical attraction. Which led to realizing she might have feelings for a man that she definitely should not have feelings for.
“…ok, if you’re sure,” he drawled, like it was her and not him that was holding them up at that moment. It had his intended result – she’d rolled her eyes at him.
“What’s wrong?” she asked him, a serious tone in her voice.
John had hesitated a moment before responding. “I think I might have a few cracked ribs.” Worry had coursed through her like a lightning bolt – she hadn’t been sure if it was the injury or the fact that he’d been so honest with her that had her more worried. She was significantly more used to him telling everyone he was fine. “Just give me some support,” he told her quickly.
It felt like it had taken forever, and for a moment or two, she’d thought he was going to pass out again, but eventually he was standing, leaning heavily on the tree, breathing in short, raspy, tortured breaths. From there, Elizabeth could see deep rents in his TAC vest over his back, and the edges were dark with blood – evidence of long, wicked claws that had made quick work of the vest and whatever they had shredded underneath. She limped over to him, and he watched her through hooded, glassy eyes. “That’s your definition of ok?” he snarked at her, but his voice was so rough that it lost its intended mirth.
“I think it’s just twisted,” she told him. “You can wrap it for me after I’ve taken a look at your back,” she said. He looked like he had been about to argue. “You’re bleeding – we won’t get far if you get an infection or bleed to death,” she told him, appealing to his rational soldier’s mind – not that he was well known for regard for his own health and safety. “Deal?” she asked challengingly. After a long, thoughtful pause, he nodded.
“Alright,” he agreed, and had leveraged himself down on the rock, hissing in pain as he jostled his ribs, one hand still tight on his P90, the other pressed tightly against his middle in an attempt to stave off the pain.
He’d sat remarkably still, like a carved stone statue, holding himself against the pain as she’d helped him out of the TAC vest, her fingers brushing his collar bone accidentally. Turning away to hide her blush, she rummaged through the vest on the ground, pulling out pressure bandages, tape and antiseptic gel, as well as some pain killers. She handed those over to him, but he’d insisted she take some as well before he took any himself. She knew it would maybe only take the edge off, but she’d agreed. Then she went to work getting his jacket off. It was painful and slow, but he’d endured without a sound. Underneath that, his black t-shirt did little to hide the gashes that ran down his back – one paw’s worth of claw marks. Remarkably, the TAC vest had taken the brunt of it, and though there was blood, the wounds weren’t all that deep – which was a relief. They both mutually agreed that trying to take the t-shirt off was unwise, so Elizabeth had lifted it carefully, bunching it up under his arms to try and clean the wounds and bandage them. Noticing the smooth, muscular lines of his back in a way she probably shouldn’t have, she was glad he couldn’t see her face.
After she’d bandaged the wounds on John’s back, which he had sat through stoically, she then moved around to check on his ribs. She studiously refused to make eye contact with him while trying not to inappropriately observe that he was in excellent shape. She wasn’t sure if it was a blessing or a curse that the dark bruises and angry red spots over his rib cage were distracting enough to sober her thoughts.
“Your ribs don’t look good,” she agreed. “But Carson would know better than me.” Very gently, she guided his shirt back down, refusing to think about how close she was to him or how intimate this seemed. Then she focused on his head wound again. She had a sneaking suspicion that he might have a concussion, considering how glassy his eyes were and how patient he was being.
It was then that she’d realized he had been very carefully observing her the whole time, a far off look on his face that was both present and not at the same time that had her wondering just what he was thinking about.
“Well, that’s the best I can do,” she murmured, drawing back suddenly.
“Thanks,” he said seriously. Taking a deep breath, he held his hand out for the bandage wrap she’d also found in a pocket of his vest. “Can you balance on one foot?” he asked, gesturing for her to put her injured limb up on the rock next to him.
The next few minutes were spent with him carefully and tenderly checking Elizabeth’s ankle. He’d unlaced her boot and his fingers were careful and confident, but incredibly gentle. Finally, he looked up at her. “I want to re-lace your boot – but pretty tightly. It’s going to hurt,” he warned her, and she could hear the regret in his voice. He didn’t want to hurt her.
“It’s alright John. I can handle it,” she’d assured him. After all, she was more concerned for him. She sucked in her breath when he did as he said he would, but when she put her foot back down, it did feel more stable, and the pain bearable.
With their injuries as handled as was possible, John took a moment to consult his compass. “It’ll be dark in less than a few hours,” he had told her, looking at his watch which hadn’t been broken in the fall. “We were out for at least an hour. We should try to find a way to get back up this…embankment,” he said ruefully, glancing up at where they had fallen down. “Ronon, Teyla and Rodney will be looking for us – along with the Marines,” he said, not saying what they were both thinking – that they would be looking as long as they were alright. “So, hopefully we won’t have to go too far,” he added optimistically, then got up ever so slowly, testing his tender ribs. “Ready?” he asked, somewhat breathlessly.
“We could wait here for them to find us…” Elizabeth had suggested, seeing the discomfort on his face, but John shook his head.
“Remember what Rodney said about that ore we were hoping to trade for? It interrupts certain types of signals – like our subcutaneous tracking devices. They won’t be able to ping our location. Ronon can certainly track us,” John said, eyes lingering on the carnage of snapped branches and the small rockslide that had been left behind as a result of their tumble. “But we shouldn’t rely on the timeliness of that.”
“Alright,” she agreed reluctantly, crossing her arms over her chest. “But you have to promise to be honest with me John – if either of us needs to rest, we’ll do so.”
John looked hesitant. “Elizabeth, we don’t want to be out here in the dark with those…wolf things.” That had given her pause and she’d shuddered.
“No, but I don’t need you passing out on me either,” she said firmly, using her best Dr. Weir voice. He’d grinned cheekily, and her heart had given an unexpected flutter.
Then he’d started off, trying to look as easy going and confident as ever. He turned to look at her, flashing her another grin. “Do try to keep up, Dr. Weir.”
Elizabeth had closed her eyes briefly, chiding herself. Get it together, Elizabeth, this is neither the time nor place to be suddenly losing your mind like a teenage girl over Colonel Self Confidence. Focus. It was then that she began to wonder how hard she’d hit her head because she thought she sounded like a cross between Rodney and like a sixteen-year-old version of herself that had a crush on a hot guy. It wasn’t exactly normal. She bit her tongue and raised her head a little, determined to get it together, especially in such a difficult situation.