"… and that goes for you too, Rodney," they heard Teyla say when they entered the control room.
There was a deep frown on Rodney's face when he turned his head, readying himself to snap his gaze back on Teyla for a counterattack, but then he noticed John and Elizabeth instead.
"Great, you're here!" he charged immediately. "Elizabeth, would you please tell them…"
"Oh, shut up, Rodney!" the completely uncharacteristic sigh escaped Carson's lips, a clear sign of his overflowing exasperation. Elizabeth looked from Carson to Rodney to Teyla (quietly giving bonus points to Ford for wisely steering clear from this debate), eyebrows raised.
It was Teyla that finally decided to elaborate as to the causes of this disagreement. "We were discussing how to proceed. There is not much point in starting to bring people back while the storm is still raging out there."
"At least on this we agree," McKay hissed. "The lightning conductors are still disengaged so we can restore power only to a fraction of the operational part of the city. According to my estimates, the storm should start to dissipate in seven to eight hours."
"So," Teyla continued when it was clear that McKay had finished, "we thought that the wisest course of action would be to take turns keeping watch until then. It does not seem to be necessary for all of us to stay here." She looked at the leaders of Atlantis for confirmation, obviously not wanting to overstep her competencies.
"You're right," John sighed, regret filling the look he gave Elizabeth. "I'll take the…"
"No," now it was Carson who stepped up. "Both of you," his lips were pursed as he pointedly looked from John to Elizabeth, "will now go and get some rest. You have done quite enough. And that also applies to Dr McKay."
Rodney's shoulders tensed and he let out a frustrated puff of air. "As I already explained," he pointedly swung his gaze between members of his audience, batting his eyelids dramatically, "I have to monitor the…" Indignation and exhaustion were making his voice gratingly whiny and Elizabeth decided to spare her tired ears and quickly waning patience.
"Rodney, what are the odds of another Apocalypse descending on us within the next hours?"
"It is not a matter of life or death, if that's what you're asking, but…" McKay shot, readying himself for a lengthy self-justification that nobody was really in the mood to hear.
"Yes, that was exactly what I was asking," Elizabeth nodded. "You can take the second shift, Rodney." John had to marvel at her ability to convey such authority even when her legs were obviously about to give in from exhaustion. He made a mental note to get her out of there as fast as possible. Right then, all he could do was take advantage of their usual physical proximity to each other (there was nothing more usual than him standing right behind her) and place his palm at the small of her back for support without the others noticing it.
"Fine," Rodney conceded and the fact that the bitter undertone was now barely noticeable in his voice was as clear a sign as any that he, too, was actually about to keel over from exhaustion. "I'll be back in an hour," he still managed to hold on to his independence.
"Two," Carson stated.
"Right," Teyla concluded, having closely followed the whole exchange. "Then it is settled – Dr Beckett and I will take the first shift. Lt Ford and Rodney will come to relieve us in two hours and Dr Weir and Major Sheppard will take the third shift. After which we should soon be able to start getting people home."
"Great," John sighed, took firm hold of Elizabeth's elbow and turned to leave. "Let us know if something fun comes up."
"I have restored life support at the area where your quarters are situated, Elizabeth, so that should mean heating and water," Rodney proudly announced to their retreating backs.
"Excellent!" John shouted without bothering to turn around.
Ford's demand to be explained why he was automatically excluded from the first shift and Teyla's subsequent quip about the urgent need to send him and Carson to their separate corners allowed John and Elizabeth to leave without hearing Carson muse, "But the Major's quarters aren't anywhere near Elizabeth's…" to which Rodney simply noted, "After tonight, I wouldn't be so sure about that."
Having made it out of the control room, John slipped his fingers through hers, pulled her hand up quickly and automatically to touch it against his lips and admonished, "And you were afraid there'd be no one left to take care of the city – they didn't seem to need us at all back there…" Noticing her half-amused wince he asked, "What? Too soon?" getting a full smile out of her in response.
She took a shower first, keeping it short despite the overwhelming desire to stay under the hot cascade of water forever, not only because of the looming danger to just fall asleep there on her feet but also because John was waiting for his turn outside. Just the mere thought of him suddenly had the odd and slightly disconcerting effect of making her breath hitch and though she most likely knew exactly why that was she was way too tired to start to give a name to that feeling just yet.
He had stripped down to his boxers while he waited, laying his clothes (that he, if Elizabeth's feelings towards her own rain soaked uniform were any indication, most likely wanted to burn instead) into a neat stack on her desk chair and suddenly she felt unexpectedly possessive towards that wiry strong man with a wild mess of hair, a shadow of a stubble and the unmistakable mist of sleep in his eyes. Just when he started to move past her towards the bathroom, she reached out her hand, hooked her fingers behind his jaw and drew him into a brief hot kiss.
The only thought he had when he saw her exiting the bathroom was that he was the luckiest bastard in the universe just to be standing there. Her hair was in combed dark wet curls and she was wearing an old oversized t-shirt that fell just under her buttocks, making her legs seem to last forever and then she looked at him with that glint in her eyes that seemed to be saying that he was the only thing in the world that mattered and then he was lost.
He heard her sharp intake of breath just before her lips landed on his and, the next minute, bunching the fabric on the back of her shirt tightly into his fists, he had the fleeting thought of how much he loved the way she had of kissing with her whole body, leaning into him with her breasts and her pelvis… And then she briefly touched her forehead against his and let go, pushing him in the direction of the shower. And he noted how his body was all restless and tingly from the contact but way too drained to do anything about it.
When he came out again she was already asleep. He took in the dark hair spread out on the pillow and her milky white shoulders poking out from under the covers and then made his way to the bed himself, climbing between the sheets as if it was the most natural thing to do. She had taken off the t-shirt, he realized when his chest made contact with her bare back, belatedly realizing that this obviously also accounted for the milky shoulders. Scooting closer to her and laying his arm across her waist to draw her tightly up against him, he knew why she had done it – her warm skin against his was the firmest, most soothing reminder of the life that was still within their grasp, still coursing through their bodies and humming in their ears. The last thing he registered before heavy sleep consumed him was the deep sated breath she let out in her slumber.
He had no idea how long he had been sleeping when he suddenly jolted awake, at first only aware that something had startled him back to consciousness, then slowly also taking note of his budding hard-on and the fact that his palms had found their way to cupping Elizabeth's breasts. Which was probably what had prompted his wife to arch into him, pressing her butt against his groin and her head into his shoulder. Which, he realized, must have been what woke him.
A quick glance at the numbers glowing green on the screen of her bedside clock confirmed that he had slept for only a little more than an hour, but the unquestionable stirring in his body was an obvious sign that it had been enough. Where he had previously been forced to admit that the rough night had taken the man out of him, leaving behind only the fleeting helpless desires and emotions, it seemed that now the man in him was sufficiently restored to eagerly want to prove himself and that realization left him feeling both slightly embarrassed and perceivably proud. A still sleepy grin dragged its way across his face as he laid a soft kiss to the point where her shoulder became her neck and whispered a raspy, "Morning…"
"Mmmm," was the response he got, along with an agonizing squirm and then Elizabeth turned her head and reached out her hand, slipping her fingers into the soft hair at the back of his head and pulling his mouth to hers. Her eyes were still closed but he could feel her lashes fluttering against his cheekbone, a sensation which caused him to sharply inhale through his nose and deepen the kiss. He wrapped his arms all the way around her and Elizabeth slowly turned her whole body in his embrace, never breaking the kiss. She finally opened her eyes when she was lying half on top of him, carefully placing her knee in between his legs so as to not crush his obvious erection.
"Morning," she grinned, leaning up slightly to look at his face. The room was still dark, darker than it should have been according to the clock, probably due to the storm that had started to dissipate a little, but still seemed to be going strong outside. His palms were making slow circles on her bare back and she raked her fingers through his hair that seemed to be springing out in all directions. The soft touch sent a shiver down his spine and he had to close his eyes for a second.
"How are you feeling?" he asked when he opened them again.
"Better," answering in whisper, she pressed a quick kiss to his lips. "Alive," she added, after a short pause.
"Good," he smirked up at her in his familiar lopsided way which made Elizabeth throw back her head in silent laughter. The pendant on the string around her neck swung dangerously in front of his face. He lifted his hand and caught it.
"You're going to put my eye out with that thing," he snorted, biting his lip. "How am I supposed to explain that to my subordinates?"
She stilled for a second, looking him pointedly in the eye. "I think there are other places where we might be able to store that thing," she arched her brows and yanked her head so that suddenly he was holding the ring in his hand and the string was hanging limp from his wrist. Elizabeth shifted, supporting her body on her right elbow and raised her left hand up, fingers spread. A slight suggestive tilt of her head was enough to dispel any ambiguities he might have had. Willing his hands to be steady, he dragged the ring out of the knot that tied it to the string and slipped it to her finger and then, unable to think of any other way to express the emotions of the moment (unable to think of much anything at all, really) pulled her mouth to a long sloppy kiss.
The issue of possession didn't really bother her anymore. She wasn't going anywhere any more than John was – if there really was one person out there for everyone, this man was hers. Continuing to wear his ring hidden under her clothes would have indicated that she was somehow ashamed of this, ashamed of her feelings and the man she was feeling them for when she really couldn't have been more proud. She saw it now – everything that was just between her and John, in these quiet private moments when there was only the two of them, was incredibly clear and simple. And at that moment, when they were pretty much the only people on the whole planet, that was all that mattered.
John shifted their bodies so that she was suddenly pinned under him and, arching up again as she felt his mouth latch onto her nipple, her last almost coherent thought was about the advantages of accepting a man's wedding ring while almost naked and in bed with said man and how logistically convenient this made sealing the deal.
"I suppose if we don't show up on time, McKay will hold it over us forever?" John sighed, pressing a regret-filled kiss on Elizabeth's shoulder blade.
"Plus, seeing as they have allowed us the longest time to recuperate, it would just be a nasty thing to do." She sat up in bed and threw him a smirk over her shoulder. Of course getting up wasn't even debatable, the slight whininess was just their way of paying tribute to the moment. Mustering the necessary amount of determination, John stood up, yanking his boxers off the floor and up his legs in the process. He threw a disgusted glance at his clothes on the chair.
"I would give anything not to have to put those on again. Ever," he indicated with his chin. "You think it would be too obvious if I just borrowed some of yours?"
"Considering how unflattering my uniform is, I doubt anyone would even notice…," she replied, fishing her own discarded panties out from under the bed. "Anyway, I think the dead givaway will be the fact that you smelling of my soap."
John took a long sniff of his arm and grinned. "Mmmm, yeah, the potent combination of rose petals and sex."
"Well, at least it's the proper marital kind, none of that pesky bitter aftertaste of sin," she snorted, pattering over to him and giving him a peck on the lips. John quickly slipped a hand to the back of her head and drew her in for a proper kiss.
"No, certainly nothing bitter here, Mrs. Sheppard," he murmured against her mouth.
"That's Doctor Sheppard to you," placing her palms against her chest she pushed herself off him, smirking. "The time, John." she tilted her head towards the clock to hurry him along. John sighed and started to get dressed.
He was done long before Elizabeth, who had to search for a clean set of clothing first. Glancing around, he saw the tree he had given her for their anniversary perched on a ledge near the window. It seemed to be doing well, the leaves a deep rich shade of green. The surprising touch was how Elizabeth had chosen to add to it – there were several white ribbons tied to the branches.
"What is up with the tree decorations?" he asked, walking up to the plant and fingering one of the ribbons. Elizabeth looked at the tree thoughtfully for a moment and then gave a wistful smile to John.
"I tied one on every time you made it back," she explained, biting her lower lip. The missing "alive" and "to me" were loud and explicit in her demeanor. John quickly counted the ribbons. Four. Not many, but definitely too many. Now that he knew exactly how she felt all those times when she had no way of knowing whether he was alive or dead, whether she would ever see him again, he also knew how pointless the excuse of this being part of his job was. Dying wasn't any more part of his job than it was part of hers and in any other circumstances, finding out that she had worried this much even when she fought against her feelings for him might have been flattering. But here the danger was real and imminent and the thought of being the source of such heartache for her was gut-wrenching.
"Hey," she stepped up to him, placing her hands on his hips. "It's ok. We're here now. And it's not like you were keeping me in suspense on purpose."
"I'll be more careful," he promised.
"No, you won't," and her smile was both encouraging and pensive. "This is our life, John. It's dangerous and it's unpredictable and sometimes damn unfair but it's also more and better than we could have ever hoped for." She quickly swiped her palm over his cheek. "Right now, right here, I cannot think of a thing I would change about all this." He gave her a small smile, stroking his hand through her hair. "And don't you dare worry about me when you are out there," she finished. "If you get distracted I'll be even more concerned. Now, it's time we got going."
Looking up at the door, John sighed and asked, "Do you want me to go first so we wouldn't arrive together?"
"Nah," nose wrinkled, Elizabeth shook her head. "No stupid games today. We can go back to all that tomorrow."
There was suddenly a mischievous glint in John's eyes. "Yeah, I am with you on that one," his voice was colored with held-back laughter, "except there is one thing that I neglected to do yesterday and it is imperative that it gets done as fast as possible…"
"Oh, now what?" She sounded at once amused and wary.
"Come," he simply instructed, turning her around and pushing her towards the door. Once they had both made it out, he stopped and suddenly picked her up. Elizabeth's arms flew automatically around his neck, even as she raised a sarcastic brow and asked,
"John, are you sure we are not taking this doing things backwards thing a bit too far? I mean, you push me out the door so you could carry me back into my own quarters after we have made love?"
"I'll have you know, my love," he heaved her back into the room and set her down, "that I have always considered doing things in their so-called proper order for pussies!"
Elizabeth wiped her palms down across his chest, looking up at him in mock admonition. "Yes, the words one really wants to hear from one's second-in-command." John's lower lip pushed out in a pout. Unable to resist, Elizabeth stretched up and kissed it lightly, and suddenly she was looking him in the eye, serious and tender.
"John, I want you to know," she said, cupping his cheek, "no matter how this all pans out – I do love you. Never forget that."