John glances discreetly at his watch, wondering how much longer it will be before he can leave without offending anyone. If asked, he's pretty sure most people would describe him as outgoing, and it's true that he's never been one to turn down an invitation to a party. Many would be surprised, however, that he sees himself as more of a loner; nine times out of ten, he prefers spending a quiet afternoon with a friend or two than with a roomful of acquaintances.
Another look at the time reveals that only a few minutes have passed, and John decides that if it's too early to actually leave then at least he can disappear for a bit. He stands and stretches, then unobtrusively heads for the path that leads to the beach.
"Sneaking off, are you?"
John pauses just a few steps past the trailhead, turning to face the owner of the more than familiar voice. It's Elizabeth watching him with a teasing smile, of course; far be it for her to not know what everyone is up to at all times.
"Needed a break," he tells her honestly. "Thought I'd go down to the beach."
He watches as she looks back towards the laughing and noisy group gathered in the center of the Athosians' settlement, then back at him. When she speaks, the lighthearted tone has disappeared and she sounds almost hesitant. "Mind some company?"
In response, John tips his head in the direction of the beach. Elizabeth smiles in return and the two of them make their way companionably along a path lined with trees, bushes, and wildflowers. Feeling impulsive, John leans down and picks a light pink flower. He tucks it in Elizabeth's hair, liking the way she ducks her head at the gesture.
The sun is setting by the time they reach the beach, dipping behind the calm ocean waves. The water is awash in colour.
They step to the edge of the water, and Elizabeth closes her eyes and inhales deeply before staring out at the view. Though they can't see it, John knows that Atlantis is just over the horizon. "It's beautiful, isn't it," she asks rhetorically, her attention wholly on the multi-coloured spectre before them.
John takes in the wash of reds and oranges and purples against her face, the flower still tucked in her hair. "Beautiful," he echoes.
He must give something away because Elizabeth freezes for the tiniest of moments before turning to face him. He manages to shift his gaze to the sunset before she catches him staring. For several heart-pounding seconds he's terrified of what she's going to say but ultimately, she says nothing.
They meander along the beach until the sun nearly disappears and they have to head back before it's too dark to see the path. Partway there, John offers his arm. She accepts without hesitation.
When Elizabeth enters the infirmary, she finds John and Rodney sitting on gurneys and attached to monitors. Carson is standing nearby, making notes. No one looks injured or even concerned, and Elizabeth instantly feels less tense. "What's going on?" she asks, coming to a stop at the end of John's bed.
"There was a party," Rodney volunteers.
She blinks at him. "I'm sorry?"
"There was a party," he repeats. "It was a holiday or a wedding or something, with lots of food and drink and music and decorations. The music wasn't bad. Neither were the decorations. Bad, I mean. Not like on Earth – no balloons or streamers or anything that gives me bad flashbacks to my high school prom or anything – but they were nice. The food was fantastic, though. There were these things that were like brownies, but weren't brownies. They were like— like—"
"Like cheesecake brownies!" John supplies – loudly – and Rodney snaps his fingers and points at him.
"Yes! Exactly! Like cheesecake brownies!" His finger swivels to point at Elizabeth. "We really need to trade with these people."
"For their brownie recipe," John clarifies, nodding enthusiastically.
Elizabeth is pretty sure that her mouth is hanging open. That Rodney is rambling is nothing new, but this is unprecedented. She's also trying to figure out how he managed to say all that without taking a single breath.
Her eyes flick to Carson, who looks more amused than anything. "According to Ronon and Teyla, they arrived on the last day of a three-day celebration and were invited to join. From what we've been able to gather, Colonel Sheppard and Rodney consumed a punch-like drink from the wrong pitcher, one that was reserved for their 'Seers'. It seems to have something of an... inebriating effect."
"They're drunk," Elizabeth summarizes, and Teyla nods.
"It would appear so. I apologize for not preventing this situation, Dr. Weir."
She sighs. "That's okay, Teyla. This isn't anyone's fault."
"Can we go back to the party?" John asks.
"Yes!" Rodney seconds. "There was this really hot woman there who—"
"Not as beautiful as you," John interrupts, and Elizabeth's startled when she realizes he's looking at her. "I told Rodney that, but he didn't agree. Of course, the woman was blonde, and you know how Rodney feels about blondes."
"And that's any less legitimate than your obvious preference for brunettes?"
"They argued about it the whole way home," Ronon puts in, and Elizabeth thinks he's getting just a little too much enjoyment out of this. She makes a mental note to find some way of punishing him – in the morning, when she's had a chance to process everything.
"Are they in any danger?" she asks Carson.
He shakes his head. "I don't believe so. I'll keep them both in the infirmary overnight just to be sure, and you might want to give them the morning off. It wouldn't surprise me if they wake up with severe hangovers."
She's tempted to have them both report to their stations first thing, but for once this isn't their fault. "Keep me updated," she orders.
When she turns back, Rodney is already passed out. John is staring at her with a puzzled expression, head tilted slightly to the side. She pats him on the leg. "Drink lots of water and get some sleep," she suggests, feeling somewhat sympathetic.
Elizabeth turns to leave but is stopped by John's exited exclamation. "I know what it is!"
"What what is?" she asks indulgently.
"What looks different! You've got bed hair."
She lifts a self-conscious hand to her hair. "I was sleeping while you gentlemen were out partying. I didn't exactly have time to—"
"It looks good, Lizabeth," he says, tugging gently on a lock of her hair, and when did she move that close to him? "'S sexy."
She gapes at him for a moment, then carefully takes the hand still playing with her hair and places it back on his leg. "Get some sleep," she repeats, backing away slowly. Once out of the infirmary she flees to her quarters, but she knows there's no way she's getting any sleep tonight.
"Promise me I'll never have to go back to that planet." John groans theatrically as he drops into a chair across from her, setting his pack carefully on the floor at his side, and Elizabeth can't help but smile at the expression on his face.
"Long mission, Colonel?" she asks mildly, lowering the lid of her laptop and sitting back in her seat.
He heaves an exaggerated sigh. "These people take forever just to say hello, let alone updating us on their situation. Next to them, Rodney seems concise."
She manages to bite back the grin this time, though it's likely that John recognizes her mirth anyway. "Other than the lengthy conversations, I trust it went well?"
He nods. "Their crops are doing better than expected. If we provide labour to help with the harvest a few weeks from now like we promised, then they'll give us the supplies we agreed on."
Her mouth waters; she can almost taste the hannu fruit. "I'll let you assign the personnel to send over. Remember to check with the Athosians – Halling mentioned that some of his people would like to help."
"You got it." John starts to stand, then snaps his fingers and sits back down on the edge of his chair. "I almost forgot," he says, reaching for his pack. "I've got something for you. Orville sent it."
"Oril," she corrects automatically, watching in curiosity as he pulls something out of his bag. It's tall and cylindrical, wrapped in a rough brown cloth. John pulls the cover away, revealing an iridescent vase in shimmering blues and greens that remind her of the ocean. "It's incredible," she breathes.
"A beautiful gift for a beautiful woman, or something like that." John waves a dismissive hand. "You know what Orville's like."
She does know; when she'd gone to Akrol to broker the initial deal, Oril spent a great deal of time and energy expounding on her apparent beauty. She was embarrassed, at first, but it soon reached the point where she had to hold back her laughter at his over-the-top attentions. John teased her for weeks afterward. She suspects she's in for more.
Elizabeth tears her attention away from her gift when John grabs his pack and heads for the door. "See you at lunch?" he calls on his way out, barely waiting for her affirmative before disappearing into the control room. She's rearranging the items on her desk to make room for her newest acquisition when Rodney arrives, face buried in a data pad.
"Elizabeth, Radek and I have been going over the numbers and I think we figured out what went wrong." He finally looks up, and she sees his eyes land on the vase. "Oh, so that's what Sheppard did with it."
Her forehead wrinkles. "Excuse me?"
Rodney gestures to her gift. "We passed through some market when we were on Akrol, and Sheppard was talking to one of the merchants about that thing. I didn't know he brought it back, though." He returns his attention to his data. "Anyway, as I was saying...."
He keeps talking, but Elizabeth's no longer listening. Instead, she's staring at the vase and remembering John's words, and that is not a blush making its way up her cheeks. Absolutely not.
A beautiful gift for a beautiful woman.
"Stop right there!"
When the knife at her throat bites harder into her skin, Elizabeth forces the instinctive panic away; any sudden moves on her part will only serve to aggravate the situation. Instead, she keeps her breaths even and shallow, trying to relax her body so that she is not quite so rigid in her captor's arms. She thinks she feels his arm slacken the tiniest bit, but it's probably just wishful thinking.
Her eyes lock on John, whose weapon is aimed at Winsloe's head. Neither his arm nor his gaze wavers. "Let her go, Lieutenant."
The man holding her laughs, and there's nothing pleasant about the sound. "Or what?"
"Knife versus gun, Winsloe. Three guesses which one will win, and the first two don't count."
"So, what, I release her and then spend the rest of my life locked up in a tiny prison cell? I don't think so."
John's eyes narrow the slightest bit. "If I were you, I'd be a lot more worried about what will happen if you don't let her go. Now."
The lieutenant readjusts his grip on his knife, and Elizabeth is afraid to swallow. "But we both know you wouldn't risk hitting Dr Weir. All of Atlantis knows you're sleeping with her." He glances down at her and Elizabeth's automatic protest dies at the look in his eyes. "Not that anyone really blames you. She's quite attractive, isn't she?"
"She's beautiful." John's voice is quiet, certain, and Elizabeth's eyes snap to his. "And challenging and argumentative and stubborn as hell." For just a second, Elizabeth forgets that there's a knife at her throat. There's just him and her and the way he's looking at her like she's the only thing in his universe and, god, she can't breathe. Then his eyes flick back to Winsloe and his finger tightens on the trigger. "And if you force me to fire, I guarantee you that the bullet won't hit her. It ends here, Winsloe. How, is up to you."
She feels the lieutenant's hesitation and makes a split-second decision. She closes her eyes and throws out a quick prayer to whoever might be listening before elbowing Winsloe as hard as she can, then throws her weight down and to the side. Above her, Winsloe swears as he scrambles to keep hold of her. She lets out a cry that's more surprise than pain as the knife slices her forearm. The sound of a gunshot rings out half a second later.
She looks up at John, who's reaching for his radio even as he strides quickly in her direction. "Security and medical teams to the jumper bay!" he orders, then he's kneeling at her side. "Are you okay?" he demands, hands hovering over her but not touching. Then he sees the blood on her arm. "Shit. Elizabeth, are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she tries to reassure him. "It's just a scratch." She's had paper cuts that bled more. The other stuff, she can set aside to deal with later.
John's having none of it, though, so she sits quietly and lets him fuss over her. He pilfers some disinfectant and bandages from one of the jumpers' first aid kits, and only when her cut has been taken care of does he stop moving. He slumps on the ground, facing her, not quite touching; Elizabeth's having a hard time meeting his eyes. She needs to feel him, however, so she shifts closer until their bodies are lightly brushing.
The contact seems to break whatever was holding him back because all of a sudden he lunges forward and wraps his arms around her. She latches on, hugging him for all she's worth. It's only now that she notices he's trembling, or maybe she is; Elizabeth's not quite sure.
They hold each other wordlessly until the medical team arrives.
John tracks her down in her quarters.
She's been back on Atlantis for barely more than an hour, and John hates that he isn't the one who found her. He knows that with the situation in the city he couldn't have left, but he still hates that he had to send Lorne's team to track down the bastards who abducted her.
When Elizabeth answers the door she is dirt-covered and looks exhausted. Her eyes widen as they lock on him and before John knows what's happening, her arms are wrapped around his shoulders. She's hugging him in the middle of the hallway.
He returns the embrace hesitantly. Not that he ever minds holding her, of course, but that she would do so in such a public place surprises him. The Elizabeth of their first year stranded here might have responded this way, but – for better or worse – she's not that person anymore.
"I thought you were dead," she whispers in the crook of his neck, and his arms tighten instinctively. He knows that feeling, too well. "I saw them shoot you just before they dragged me through the gate."
"Just a stunner," he reassures her. "I wasn't hurt." Which makes his failure to protect her sting all the more.
From the corner of his eye John catches movement and backs them into Elizabeth's quarters before rumours start to spread. Her lips are on his even before the door closes behind them, and there is nothing gentle about this kiss.
He responds to her desperation with equal fervor, four days of suppressed worry and fear coming to the forefront. He twists them around, trapping her between him and the wall, his body flush against hers. Her hands clench in his shirt. "I thought you were dead," she repeats against his lips, just before his tongue invades her mouth.
Elizabeth runs her hands down his back, her nails sharp even through the material of his t-shirt, before cupping his ass and pulling him even closer, and John starts to harden against her when she circles her hips. In retaliation he slides his leg between her thighs, pressing up. She arches into him and breaks the kiss on a gasp, fumbling between them for his belt buckle and brushing against his erection as she lowers his zipper.
John swears at the sensation, grinding against her, scraping his teeth down her neck. "Bed," he demands roughly. They stumble slowly across the room, shedding clothing as they go even though he doesn't see how they're parted long enough for that to happen. Somehow, though, they're both nearly naked by the time they fall to the mattress, and John makes short work of ridding Elizabeth of her remaining clothes before quickly losing what's left of his. Then he's on top of and inside her, and Elizabeth cries out beneath him.
He forces himself to stop, breathing harshly by her ear, hands clenched so hard he wouldn't be surprised if he draws blood. When he thinks he has enough control he lifts his head, using his forearms to brace himself so he can see Elizabeth's face.
She's staring up at him, eyes wide in a face still streaked with four days' worth of dirt and grime and experiences he doesn't want to think about. "You're beautiful," he whispers, and it amazes him that they're naked and as physically close as any two people can be and she still blushes at his words. He falls for her just a little more in that moment, and finally realizes – admits – that this is where he wants to be for the rest of his life, if she'll let him.
Elizabeth leans up and kisses him, and this time there is none of the desperation that brought them to this moment. His lips play over hers as he withdraws slowly, and John's eyes squeeze shut at her breathy moan when he slides back in.
He doesn't last long, but neither does she. After, she curls up on her side, facing him, and John wraps himself around her. Elizabeth's exhaustion catches up to her quickly and it isn't long before she's asleep, her soft, even breaths warm against his chest. As tired as he is, John remains awake for a while longer, trailing his fingers over her skin and letting the feel of her drive out the images that have been haunting him ever since she was taken. She's home now, and here with him. That's all that matters.