A/N: built on wanderingsmith's first sentence prompt (the prompt in italics at the beginning).
"When a man's brain is on the fritz, it'd take a bigger fool than me to stand between him and his woman". In response to her mildly insulted look, Ronon continued, "Sorry doc, but as far as he's concerned you are." And he moved away to the wall, out of the line of sight of the camera lens.
Elizabeth took another sideways glance at the man on the screen. It was the fifth version of John she had seen within a space of an hour and she still couldn't quite get over the fact of them all being so familiar yet somehow complete strangers to her. This one here, staring into the screen with his hair long and messy, dark circles around his eyes and wearing a haphazard stubble, wasn't anything like the John she knew, yet there was something disturbingly similar in those green eyes.
He had lost her. Well, not her exactly, but the version of Elizabeth he used to know. Used to love. And now, seeing her through this Pegasus version of a quantum mirror, he wanted her back. He didn't even care that she wasn't the Elizabeth and she couldn't help but wonder whether that kind of abandoning desperation was hidden somewhere in her John as well. Again, not exactly "her" (not in a way this John had been that Elizabeth's). She couldn't imagine the John Sheppard she knew breaking down this way, giving up on everything and himself. The John Sheppard she knew would get angry, dangerously hyperactive, maybe even destructive, but he'd never surrender. Still, maybe this John Sheppard just hadn't had anything as important to lose…
She hated to leave this man just like that, alone with his grief and desperation, but there was nothing she could do for him.
John, the original version as far as she was concerned, walked in just as Rodney was setting the digital dial of the mirror for the next reality to check out.
"What have I missed?"
"Well, the last one was another whiny you," Rodney quipped, keeping his eyes on the dial.
"That's a bit harsh, Rodney." It had been a bit disturbing, but Elizabeth couldn't let McKay just dismiss another person's pain like that.
"Well, that's what it was," he turned his head to look up at John over his shoulder. "Not a pretty sight, man, but at least this one wasn't suicidal. Yet." Elizabeth coughed in warning. McKay snapped his eyes on her, "What? It's not like you were so willing to hold his proverbial hand." Rodney's gaze returned to John, along with a wicked smirk. "She tried to make him think that in this reality she was hitched to a wildly jealous Ronon." Ronon, still leaning against the wall, tried to hide his chuckle behind his palm.
"That bad, huh?" John threw a conspiratorial grin at Elizabeth, getting a grateful tilted nod in response. An exchange that did not go unnoticed by Rodney.
"Oh, come on, stop that!" he all but screeched, setting the dial down. "I have gotten an unhealthy dose of that from over there already, thank you," he pointed towards the "mirror" screen.
Elizabeth folded her arms, eyes narrowed, "A dose of what, exactly, Rodney?"
"That," McKay threw his arm at the general direction of John and Elizabeth. "You guys making googly-eyes at each other. If I am lucky!"
"Rodney!" Elizabeth let out a shocked yelp, but her horrified look was directed at John.
"No, I am absolutely serious," self-justification shot McKay's pitch skywards. "We've been through, what? More than half of the scale already. And in easily two thirds of the realities we've checked into, you've been more or less together. A couple of those have been enough to cause me permanent brain damage. I hope you at least locked the doors of the storage unit so that the Rodney of that reality was spared."
Both John and Elizabeth stared speechlessly at the scientist, not daring to look at each other.
"Again – what?" Rodney threw his hands up in the air. "As my hairy friend over there is a witness! It doesn't even make any difference what is going on around you. In one of those things Atlantis was stuck in the middle of a desert, sand flying everywhere and you guys were going at it like rabbits!"
"Oh, God!" Elizabeth groaned, wiping her palms across her face.
"Indeed," McKay frowned, picking the dial up again, fidgeted with it for a few moments, then set it back down. "In fact," he straightened up in the chair, a determined scowl on his face, "I think my brain is too valuable to be subjected to this kind of abuse. Not even locating a new ZedPM is worth it!"
That had, undeniably, been the initial idea when they found the quantum mirror-like device in the course of exploring the city. In fact, it had been McKay's idea and he had happily volunteered himself to search through the spectrum to find a reality relatively close to their own that had managed to procure ZPMs from the Pegasus galaxy. John had suspected that his eagerness had more to do with his desire to shamelessly snoop, but then again, knowing McKay's ZPM-fetish, it was possible that was really what he was after. Six hours later it was clear that he was ready to throw in the towel.
"I think it's time you two took over. It's not fair to make anyone else suffer from you people resolving your sexual tension all over the fifth dimension." He got up from the chair with determination, fully aware that his boss was in too much of a shock to stop him. "The coordinates for the dial are in the data pad. The popcorn is in the bowl on the counter. Should you get something useful, you'll find me on Heightmeyer's couch, trying to salvage what little of my sanity is left." John and Elizabeth watched him march to the door, stopping only to ask Ronon if he was coming. The Satedan peeled himself slowly off the wall and, shooting a farewell smirk at those staying behind, sauntered out as well. The two leaders of Atlantis were left staring at each other uncomfortably.
"So…," John looked around sheepishly after the door had swished shut, pursing his lips.
Stuffing her hands in the back pockets of her BDU pants, Elizabeth sighed, "Yeah…" Her eyes darted desperately from one point to another, trying to gain some traction. Finally settling on the "mirror" screen, she pointed with her chin, "How about we…?"
"Right," all determination, John settled down in one of the chairs in front of the screen and grabbed the dial. Elizabeth slipped into the other one and, for the sake of having anything to do, picked up the popcorn bowl and started fidgeting with it.
"Let's see, now…," furrowing his brow in concentration, John leaned over the data pad and began to set the coordinates on the dial. "And…," he muttered, giving the knob on the dial one last nudge to the left, "that should be it…" Both looked up at the screen in anticipation.
"Do you, um… see anything?" he asked after a few seconds of attentive silence.
Elizabeth shook her head slowly, still keeping her eyes on the screen, just in case. "I am guessing that the connection must be lost on that end. That happened a few times before. Atlantis is destroyed or all the ZPMs over there are depleted or something. At least that was Rodney's theory. Try the next one."
Again John went through the whole process. After the last set of data was fixed, the screen flickered for a moment and then focused on what looked like a room made of gold, with Rodney sitting on a throne, wearing a cape, a crown and… well, what seemed to be extremely heavy make-up. Both Elizabeth and John sat back in their chairs in unison, not quite sure what to make of the sight in front of them.
"So… the next one?" Elizabeth asked hesitantly.
John grabbed the dial once more, nodding furiously. "Yeah, that's what I was thinking as well…"
The next set of coordinates took them to a room quite similar to the one where they were now sitting. The light was turned on, but the screen didn't show any persons in the room. The overall signs were encouraging, there was just no way to confirm anything until someone showed up at the other end. The general consensus had been to not actually try and travel through the "mirror" yet. As the device was not quite the same as the one SG1 had found in Milky Way, a full set of tests were necessary to determine all of its capabilities, including making sure that the trip through the "mirror" didn't end up being one way.
"What do you think?" John turned to Elizabeth. "We wait a bit?"
"Yes, that seems to be sensible. Popcorn?" she offered, the thought of this slightly absurd version of movie night making her smile. Grinning back, John reached out a hand and grabbed a bunch from the bowl in her lap.
They chewed in silence. Still no developments on the screen. Suddenly there was a wicked smirk on John's face.
"Two thirds, huh?"
She looked at him, or his profile, really, because, even though the wily grin was still plastered on his face, his eyes were steadfastly fixed on the screen. She couldn't quite believe that he was taking this up now, seeing as she certainly wasn't the only one embarrassed out of her skin by Rodney's comments. But if he was cocky enough to address this then she was certainly not going to be the coy and modest one.
"That was Rodney's description, I am sure he took some usual dramatic liberties with the truth," she announced. "Besides, we are talking about only a tiny fraction of the scale here – the alternative realities where we actually make it to Atlantis. When you consider the amount of parallel universes there are where we weren't even born, where our parents weren't born and so on, the spectrum we are clicking through is really, really tiny."
"Still, once we make it to Atlantis, in two scenarios out of three, no matter what happens – the Wraith, ZPMs getting depleted, storms, earthquakes, trigger-happy neighbors… desertification, apparently," and now he was grinning straight to her face, "we end up… What was the expression McKay used?"
"John…," there was now an explicit warning in her voice. Flirty banter was one thing, but…
"Oh, that's right, we end up going at it like rabbits…," and he lifted a playfully daring eyebrow at her, indicating that there was no stopping him and all she could do was live up to the challenge. "Now, of course…," he leaned in closer to her, "there's just one open question," and he came even closer, his breath already dancing on her cheek. She instinctively pulled back a bit and swallowed hard. "Did they leave us anything to drink?" and his head moved past her, to look over her shoulder. "Cause this popcorn is really making my mouth dry," he finished, pulling back to his own seat.
A part of her wanted to call him on his completely inappropriate behavior, but, and this came as a surprise to herself, another part seemed to be winning out. This one wanted to see how far he was willing to take this situation. She had good reason to believe that he would crack pretty soon – usually the moment she took the flirting from the vague to the explicit, he blushed, muttered and escaped. For all his flyboy bravado, this was definitely John Sheppard's Achilles heel.
So she put on her most angelic smile and said, "If you should ever wonder why this reality is not among those two thirds…" She thought she noticed some slight chokage on popcorn, but overall he took it surprisingly well.
"And why do you suppose that is, exactly?" he asked, again not looking at her even though there was nothing on the screen that could have engaged him so deeply.
"Well," she had no choice but to continue, "as the previous example clearly indicated, you have no follow-through. For a self-proclaimed man of action, there is surprisingly little…um, action."
That got his undivided attention. "Do you want there to be more action?" he asked, staring at her through narrowed eyes.
"I didn't say that," she shrugged lightly, doing a pretty good job of hiding the sudden jolt of heat somewhere in her gut.
"Elizabeth, what are you doing?" John now tilted his head and closed one eye, the other one clearly full of suspicion.
"Whatever it is, it seems to be working, doesn't it?" she now laughed and flicked a popcorn at him. "My, John, are you blushing?"
He huffed and straightened in his chair. "I don't blush!"
"Of course not, forgive me. I forgot – lieutenant colonels don't blush. Majors, maybe, but colonels – never." He was still a bit shocked, staring at her with his mouth open, but then she jerked her eyebrows at him and he cracked, looking away from her and chuckling quietly, shoulders shaking.
"Still nothing," John contended, looking at the screen again. "Do you think we should…?"
"Let's give it a few more moments."
"You're also a bit afraid of what we might see at the next one, aren't you?" John glanced at her, grinning bashfully. She hesitated for a moment but then gave in and just nodded. "Yeah," John shrugged, "what's the rush?"
"John, do you think that these other Johns and Elizabeths are us?" she asked after a few moments of quiet. "Do you think that these qualities that they are displaying are somewhere inside us and just waiting for the right set of circumstances to manifest themselves?"
"Lots of fancy words. What are you asking?" he turned to fully face her again. "Whether two thirds of me wants to resolve our sexual tension?" Elizabeth coughed, blinking, to which John smiled and shook his head, "Not my words, quoting leading scientists here."
She could have replied. Said that that was not what she had meant at all, that she had just wanted to know whether there was any connection between that whiny, clingy, defeatist John she had seen before and this man here in front of her. This was the moment to do that. But she didn't. Instead she just looked at him, with eyes that smiled and a mouth that didn't and suddenly he swallowed and let his smile fade as well.
"I guess there's only one way to know…," he said carefully, gaze locked into hers. Slowly, he got up and walked behind her chair. She didn't move, almost didn't breathe. "Like," he near-whispered, voice heavy and raw, "does two thirds of me want to do this?" and he bent down over her shoulder, brushed her hair aside and laid an open-mouthed kiss behind her ear, just below her hairline. She could hear and feel his shuddering breath and let out one of her own, lifting her palm and twining her fingers into his hair.
"Nah," he whispered in her ear, "definitely at least four fifths, nine tenths if what you are doing with your fingers is guaranteed to come with it." She could feel his smile on her skin. "The remaining tenth, I think, refuses to believe that this is happening. Finally." He kissed her ear lightly and her fingers sneaked along his scalp in response. "You?" he sighed.
"Something like that," she muttered, too preoccupied to do the math. Using her hand as leverage, she swung the chair around to face him, glancing into his eyes with a clouded gaze for a fraction of a moment and, taking a deep breath in simultaneously, their lips landed together, mouths open and hungry. Her arms snaked around his neck while his hands grabbed her sides and lifted her up from the chair, closer to him. Never breaking the kiss, she hooked her legs around him for better balance and he clumsily walked their intertwined bodies towards the counter by the wall. Setting her down on the ledge,
he started trailing kisses down her jaw line and neck, slipping his palms under her shirt and stroking circles on the warm and soft skin on the small of her back. Eyes closed, she threw her head back and leaned it against the wall, at the same time reaching blindly for more contact, tugging his t-shirt from his pants and crumpling it up is torso. The moan her wandering hands elicited from him vibrated against her skin.
"Oh, for God's sake!" they suddenly heard a slightly metallic, but certainly very familiar-sounding screech. "What is this!? Some kind of inter-dimensional exhibitionism?" Both snapped their eyes at the screen where the picture had suddenly come to life – a Rodney, very similar to the one they knew and had learned to love, leaning irritably into the lens of the quantum mirror on his side, making his head, and especially his forehead, seem huge in comparison to his body that jutted out somewhere in the background. "It's bad enough that we can't open any doors here without the fear of catching you people going at it like rabbits," at which point John and Elizabeth looked at each other and snorted, "now you have to broadcast it in from parallel universes? That's just sick!" And with that the screen went black.
"He seemed…," Elizabeth started, hands still absentmindedly raking up and down John's sides.
"Traumatized?" he offered, just as distractedly planting a kiss under her ear.
"Yeah," she murmured, instinctively closing her eyes again, "probably not the best moment to ask him about the ZPMs…"
"No," he contended, lips against her neck. "Probably not. Now, about that sexual tension…"
"Think we should try and resolve it?" she chuckled, bringing her hands into his hair again.
"Try, yes…," he muttered. "Might I suggest…"
"Going at it like…?" she lifted his face up and captured his lips with hers again.