Title: Amble
Author: A.j.
Rating: Parental Guidance suggested.
For: Ms. Raven in the Swficathon on LJ, who wanted a somewhat happy ending, Liz going offworld, and light humor with light angst. Er. More angst than humor?
Spoilers: We'll assume this happens some time before the back eleven of season 2, mkay?
Note: Monkeys do not, in fact, fall from the sky during this fic. That was a concern at one point, and I demand credit for avoiding it. And OH MY GOD I rewrote this three times. THREE.

Summary: A journey home.

&

She knew whatever he was going to suggest was a bad idea the second he walked through her door. All quiet awareness and innocence, John Sheppard didn't exactly walk into the room so much as sidle. Caution and sin wrapped up in one handy package.

It's a package she had a hard time resisting. This John was the one who got her into trouble. Not that his other mental incarnations were exactly safe on her psyche, but this one... This John, this seemingly harmless and totally guileless John, was the one who'd convinced her to trust Rodney that one time. This John was partially responsible for roasting five sixths of a solar system in under half an hour.

This John slid into her visitor's chair, cocked his head, and looked totally genuine before opening his mouth and asking for something completely insane.

"You're bored out of your skull."

True.

"You've been doing nothing but paperwork for the last two weeks. You even missed movie night."

Also true. And they'd been playing 2010 too.

"I think you should lead the mission to Kitara and negotiate for the cotton seed pods. You could totally rob them blind and make them believe it was their idea!"

He followed the whole thing up by grinning at her and quirking his eyebrow. There had been a time she would have been ashamed of herself for being so gullible. Now? She started mentally calculating whether or not she was going to need a change of underwear.

&

Just in case - because she'd read too many too interesting mission reports - she shoved an extra IDC down her bra before heading to the gateroom. She may be unable to say 'no' to that John, but she wasn't stupid.

Two years of dodgy mission reports and late night trips to the infirmary are dancing in her brain as her bootsteps echoed through the hallways of command.

&

The Kitarans greeted them warmly.

This was expected.

There's a short speech at the gate and a rather lengthy ceremony involving fresh flower necklaces that began to wilt almost immediately. Elizabeth apparently chimed in on the right parts as no one tried to shoot them or chase them with sticks in the first half-hour. She took that as a win, stepping with great dignity into the Town Magistrate's brightly painted ground transport.

It is small and looks remarkably like the 1983 Impala her father still tried to occasionally fix in the garage.

Despite the familiarity, she only relaxed her shoulders when Teyla and John slipped into the back seats.

In the fifteen-minute ride to the village, she only thought about the Genaii and the musky smell of her blindfold once.

She also took this as a win.

&

Teyla sipped her tea with her left hand. Fingers cradle the mug rather than grip it. Elizabeth knew that the movement – much like all of Teyla's other physical activity – was carefully calculated. A cradled cup was easier to throw. It saved precious seconds otherwise lost when untightening fingers.

Everything about Teyla was directed. Focused. Her life was fighting and movement, much like Elizabeth's life was stillness and words.

They made odd tea buddies, but it worked. They had an understanding.

Which was why, when Rodney, Ronon, and John had been herded to a separate, honor guard portion of the meeting hall, Elizabeth had let Teyla step in front of her, slightly to the right.

Even at the briefing table, Teyla was between Elizabeth and Jodan, the magistrate.

Elizabeth could feel John and Ronon's eyes boring into their backs. It was strangely comforting.

For his part, Jodan was expounding loudly, and at great length, about alliances and friendship between their peoples. Elizabeth just smiled and nodded her head in a very vague way, noting the calculating looks Jodan kept shooting at her jacket. It was the red fleece.

Around her, the walls were covered in beautiful tapestry. Again, not much of a surprise as the Kitarans made most o their trade in textiles and textile seed. Blue and yellow and green threads melded into the perfect harmony of pattern and shape. The work was stunning.

Elizabeth snuck another glance at them, and let her smile curve up just a bit. Alan had showed her a test batch of dye made from the melena roots commonly found on the mainland of their new home. She started to calculate just how much she could ask the man to cook up.

&

They settled on two pints of dye for every half-ton of processed cotton.

&

Of course, there's a celebration on the successful signing of the trade agreement.

There was always a party.

Elizabeth marveled at the cultural similarities while sipping her cup of spiced punch. From the war-torn wilds of Lebanon to the third galaxy on the left, it appeared that treaties were just another excuse to throw a good party. Not that she was opposed. Some of her favorite moments happened at parties like this. Everyone got amusingly drunk and gave each other blackmail material.

The Kitaran had thrown one of the better ones.

There were lights and music and dancing. Towards the end of Jodan's speech on unity, several small, hardy women descended on the main lodge with gusto, and as soon as the palm bracing was done, paper lanterns were hanging from the corners, and a small band was setting up in the corner.

The food tables groaned and bent under their own weight.

Leaning happily against a pillar just to the right of what appeared to be the desert altar, Elizabeth realized that it was the first time in months she'd truly, honestly relaxed. She had nothing to do because she'd done her job, and well. Except rib John about his last set of reports.

"Did you not even run it through the spell-check?" She grinned at him, allowing herself a little flirting. It was fun and kept him on his toes.

He glared into his spiced punch, peeved, before pouting just a little. "You said ASAP!"

"Well, for future reference, when I say 'ASAP', I mean 'as soon as possible AFTER running the spell check'."

"Perfectionist."

"Brown-noser."

They sipped their punch and grinned at each other like school children.

And then Ronon roared.

Elizabeth was too far away to see what happened, but she turned quickly enough to watch him fall, a rather large knife falling from his suddenly limp hands.

She couldn't move. Couldn't breathe. Didn't think it was real.

Couldn't be real.

Of course.

Watched in stunned horror as Teyla started to pull her weapons, and, for the first time, be too slow.

Elizabeth screamed as Teyla fell under a knife to the back. She was screaming as John's arm went around her waist and hauled her back and through the nearest exit.

And the last image she has was of Rodney, arms outstretched.

"Go! GO!"

There was no time to process it. They had to move. Had to run. Had to get back home. John let her go and turned to dash down one of the side streets. "We have to get to the gate!"

He was hauling her by her arm, and Elizabeth knew there'd be bruises later. "It's too far!"

"We'll have to walk it. Stand still!"

And suddenly, she was shoved up against the nearest building, one hundred seventy pounds of aggressive male pressed from top to tip of her. "Guard patrol. Make it look good."

She wove her arms around him, clutching tight and moaned loud and long.

John, bless his rather surprised heart, went with it, and lifted her slightly against the wall, tucking them deeper into the shadow of the alley.

His face was buried in the curve of her neck, breath raking her collarbone. She wasn't moving. Couldn't move. Felt the world narrow to her and this alley and him, remaining completely and totally still.

Except for the hand stroking his back. Had to keep that moving. It made what they were pretending real.

His back muscles were taught under her palm.

Kept her lashes lowered as a few guards ducked their heads into the alley, leered, and ducked back out.

Thank god men across the galaxy were exactly the same.

She pressed a finger into his shoulder and hummed lowly. "Clear."

He stayed where he was for a few moments, waiting to be sure no one else came by, she assumed.

She told herself, the light brush of his lips on her neck was nothing. Because it wasn't. Couldn't be.

She was grateful for it just the same.

"We need to get to the gate and quickly."

Fingers still tangled in back of his jacket, Elizabeth nodded. "We'll come back for them if we make it."

"Let's go."

&

They made it two miles into the surrounding woodland, avoiding two street patrols and a raucous crowd of dancers, before it started to pour.

There was no accompanying storm, just a constant pounding rain that didn't let up at all the further they got away from the town.

They zigged and zagged their trail. Jumping over bushes and crawling through hedges and underbrush. A branch scrapped Elizabeth's arm as they edged around some kind of spiny bush.

"Are we going the right way?" She whispered the question directly into his ear, shivering body pressed tight against his as he negotiated a blind turn of trees and underbrush.

He shrugged and held up his watch. "Compass in the faceplate."

She nodded and ducked under another branch.

She didn't say a word about how they were both shaking. It was probably the cold.

&

Daylight found them freezing and wet and finally moving in something like a straight line.

They'd not heard the patrols for almost six hours, and were rounding around but running vaguely parallel to the dirt track they'd driven in on during their arrival.

Damp and cold – the rain had only ended after all their clothing and the small amount of equipment John had kept on him during the party was completely soaked – they kept moving. Had to keep moving. Had to get help.

"We have to stop for awhile. Find somewhere to rest."

She started at his voice. They hadn't spoken – just communicated with hand gestures and the occasional 'left' or 'right – for hours.

He sounded just as numb as she felt.

"Okay."

They walked a while longer.

"I have four MRE bars. I was hiding them from McKay." She nodded and clutched her arms a little tighter around her waist.

"That should keep us how long?" Tried to make this normal. Tried to make this okay.

"We can split a bar a day. Not ideal, but enough to keep us moving."

"And water?"

John shrugged. "We'll just have to chance the occasional stream. Carson can fix us up when we get back if we pick anything up."

They looked away. At trees, or the ground. Anywhere but at each other.

"Here." John stopped abruptly. "There's an overhang here."

Underneath a slight rise in the forest floor, a tree's root system poked up and out. Slightly underneath was a burrow. If they squeezed, they'd both fit.

It was a very tight fit.

"You okay?" She couldn't see his face curled up like this. Couldn't see if he actually wanted her to answer this question.

"They're gone." The fear that hadn't been there all day, suddenly was. "I'm scared."

He was wet and cold and smells of dirt and damp. But he was alive, and here.

He held her just as tightly as she clutched him.

Just before she drifted off, she heard him say, "Me too."

But probably not.

&

The second day in, they tried the radios, hoping against hope that someone would be alive to pick them up. Or a rescue party had decided to come through early. Static greeted every attempt, and the blankness on John's face made her put her hand over his radio on the fifth attempt.

"We need to get to the gate." She said it gently, and tried to stop the crack of her voice. He caught it though. It was hard not to. He reached up and squeezed her fingers and nodded.

They kept walking.

Eventually, they got tired of the quiet.

She spoke to him of her brothers while balancing on a log stretched over a stream. Arms out to her sides, she talked of wrestling matches and how Robert – her older brother – pulled her and her high school boyfriend out of the back seat of her parents car during her junior prom.

Told him about how her mother had taught her to knit one sickness-ridden summer.

He smiled occasionally, nodding and directing her what to step over.

Kept checking the radio. Kept getting static.

That night, they curled together naturally, burrowed under another soft overhang of roots and under what leaves they could find.

When John's breath evened out in her ear, Elizabeth ran a thumb over the folds of the sleeve thrown over her stomach and wondered why she hadn't cried for everyone yet.

She fell asleep with the smell of fresh earth in her lungs and John warm behind her. It would be different when they got home.

&

They find the hot springs on the third day.

Elizabeth rinsed her pants and socks and shirt in one of the smaller subpools and said nothing when John did the same.

Tired and aching, they strip everything else off and settle in the larger pool.

She closed her eyes as he settled across from her, only opening them when he poked her with a toe.

"We'll make it."

She smiled a little. Stopped when she noticed the bruises on her forearm.

The perfect shape of John's fingers.

When she looked up again, he was staring at her.

Sitting there in a hot spring, breasts bobbing slightly with the gentle current of the water, she stared at John Sheppard and suddenly - finally felt like crying.

Eventually, she closed her eyes and didn't think about Rodney's screams.

Under the water, John's leg stayed wrapped around hers.

&

Their clothes were dry when they finally left the springs. Even the socks.

Elizabeth nibbled her half of the second to last MRE watching the sun set in a riot of pinks and blues and yellows.

"We're halfway there," John said, poking at another setting on his watch. He gestured at the tall stone formation just ahead of them. It looked vaguely like a cell phone tower.

She shifted her arms, rubbing absently at the hard plastic of the IDC under the cloth of her jacket. They'd need it soon.

She bit her lip and finished her food.

They talked about music and the Johnny Cash concert that had changed John's life until they couldn't see to move.

They stopped beside a clearing, kept as tight into the underbrush as they could, but there was no root burrow tonight.

She slept curled under John's jacket, him standing watch. She almost felt safe.

&

She woke long before dawn, wrapped her hand around John's side arm, and told him to sleep.

The quiet hours of the morning passed, she was alone in her head.

Tears came then. Slow and silent, she felt them fall down her face, but she stopped as quickly as she could because the last stream they'd passed was a day ago, and she needed the water.

Put her hand on John's arm. Waited.

She smiled, and meant it, when he opened his eyes.

&

The fourth day was spent walking.

Halfway through, he took her arm. She almost wished he'd taken her hand, but it wasn't right. Felt wrong.

"We'll get home," he said, face to the horizon.

She didn't respond.

&

On the fifth day, they find the gate surrounded by Atlantis search and rescue teams.

John poked his radio. Static.

Apparently it was broken.

And that was a surprise.

Ronon was shouting at Lexington. Teyla was doing her level best to haul the tall, rather angry man away from the lieutenant, but not managing very well. Behind them all, Rodney was looking worried and sad.

The weight of grief cracked and fell off of her shoulders. Tears brightened her eyes, but the constant blinking kept them at bay. Mostly. John's hand tightened on her arm, on her bruises. But she didn't pull away. Just took a breath and looked over at him.

They stepped into the clearing together, too giddy to do anything to stop the helplessly giddy smiles that plowed onto their faces. They were tired, sore, and in need of several long, hot showers, but their people were alive. They were there. And it was suddenly, fiercely okay.

"Er, hello?"

Nearly fifteen heads snapped around, taking in their battered appearances and mud-bedecked clothing.

"Doctor Weir! Colonel Sheppard!" Major Lorne, as always, looked more than slightly amused. "I see you found us!"

"Obviously."

The drinks had been spiked. Two years of reading Sheppard's mission reports. She should have expected that. Kicked herself mentally for not expecting exactly this.

The look on Jodan's face as he explained the slightly hallucinogenic qualities of their local ale – thus explaining the shared delusion of their team's death and the subsequent brawl that had driven them from the town – had been priceless. John's even more so.

In the end, it was rather unsurprising that she cracked in the way she did.

Halfway through John's verbal beatdown of the very-cowed Jodan, Elizabeth started to snicker.

Then snort.

Then giggle.

By the time the entire rescue team had turned to stare, she was bent over laughing for all she was worth. Bent at the waist, face flushed and happy, she just laughed.

And it felt so damn good.

She was exhausted and confused and thrilled and ready to drop. But happy.

Despite the whole horrible trip. Despite having everyone look at her like she was certifiably insane. She was happy. And she didn't care in the least who knew it.

By the time she'd managed to quiet down – openly wiping her streaming eyes with the cleanest bit of shirt she could find – John was grinning. Covered in mud from head to foot, bug-knawed, exhausted, and ready for nothing but a long hot shower and eight hours of sleep, he was smiling at her in the warm sun of a planet not his own.

Probably not exactly how he'd pictured his life five years ago. But that was okay, because she'd never dreamed this up either.

Around them, people eyed each other with varying levels of befuddlement. Except Major Lorne. He just looked amused.

"You ready to go home?" John held out a hand, palm up. "You can show me your knitting skills."

Elizabeth tilted her head and gave him a full on thousand-watt smile.

Turned out, his hand fit beautifully into hers.

-fin-