Disclaimer: I don't own "Stargate: Atlantis" and do not try to claim it. That belongs to the MGM/Sony franchise and the Sci-Fi channel, etc. I am writing and posting this fic for entertainment purposes only, and am making no monetary gains.
Summary: John likes to think she wasn't supposed to see him. Elizabeth likes to think she was. JohnElizabeth
Pairing: John/Elizabeth (or Sparky, if you prefer)
Timeline: Somewhere between "Hot Zone" and "Before I Sleep," I believe, in the first season.
Title: New Year's Irresolutions
Author: Mama Jo
Author's Note: First of all, many many thanks to Sparky Army for graciously allowing me to re-post my YotS fics under my own penname, since these are tied in with fyd818's "Journey to Forever"/"Shattered" universe. So these may be familiar to some, and new to others. Thank you so much for either reading, or re-reading. I hope you enjoy! --Mama Jo
New Year's Irresolutions
"Yes, thank you, Happy New Year! . . . Thank you, Happy New Year, good night! . . . Thank you, thank you. . . Happy New Year to you, too. . . Good night!"
The instant the doors to her quarters swished shut behind her, Elizabeth sagged bonelessly back against them. Every muscle in her face -- no, make that in her entire body -- ached with the relentless effort it'd cost to maintain her positive façade for the members of the expedition. But now she was safely alone, she could let it all fall away and give in to the exhaustion sweeping over her.
Exhaling deeply, she made her legs carry her over to her Spartan bed, sank down onto it. Her eyes wandered over the rest of the room, its austerity suiting her bleak mood. Too austere, she suddenly decided. Despite the decorative touches the Ancients had incorporated into its design, its bareness felt almost prison-like, the oddly-angled walls seeming ready to close in and crush her. . .
Despite her weariness, Elizabeth rocked onto her feet again. Even if she could force herself to relax enough to sleep, at this point she knew it wouldn't be quality sleep; not with her subconscious mind poised to inflict all kinds of nightmares on her. She paced a hasty circuit around the room, coming to a halt by one of the three tall, narrow windows on the eastern wall. Far, far below moonlight reflected softly from the ever-moving water surrounding the city, and laid a serene silver patina over the expanse of the eastern pier, which had become something of an outdoor rec area for the expedition's members. Or at least, the city-ward end of it had. . .
Elizabeth yielded to a sudden impulse. Turning away from the window, she crossed quickly to the doors and swiped her hand over the controls to open them. She hesitated on the threshold only long enough to dart a searching glance along the dimly lit corridor: empty, just as she'd expected. With swift, silent steps she headed for the nearest transporter; wanting, needing, to escape these intrinsically beautiful, imprisoning walls for a time, however brief.
Thanks to the ingenious technology of what they'd first taken to be only oddly-placed closets, Elizabeth very soon found herself standing in front of the great doors that would let her out onto the pier itself. A tiny voice in the back of her mind wondered if this was the smartest thing for her to do, but she ignored it. Opening this final barrier between her and the free, uncontrolled air beyond, she stepped through far enough for the doors to close behind her, and immediately paused to give her eyes a chance to adjust to the night.
A breeze ruffled her hair, cool but not unpleasantly so. She turned her face into it and drew a deep, deep breath of sea-seasoned air. Exhaling strongly, she greedily sucked in another -- so much rawer, so much better than the filtered, conditioned air inside. Finding a place to sit, she tipped her head back to gaze up at the thickly starred sky; let her eyes trace the path of the densest cascade from a point almost directly overhead to the barely perceivable horizon. The silver-flecked ocean almost seemed to be an extension of the overarching heavens, curving around to hold the city englobed in light-spangled dark. . .
For a long time that she didn't bother trying to keep track of, Elizabeth just sat and allowed the simple acts of seeing and breathing to consume her consciousness. Her inner turmoil gradually stilled as the serene quiet of the night settled deeper and deeper into her being, gently stifling all anxiety. Eventually she realized her eyelids felt heavy. A thought drifted whimsically through her mind: Wouldn't it be funny if she actually fell asleep out here on the pier?
Funny, perhaps; but definitely not comfortable or practical, the more rational part of herself countered. Even now, through the lethargy weighting her, she could feel how her muscles were beginning to stiffen as the breeze by degrees leached away her motionless body's warmth. It was, she acknowledged, beyond the time for her to go back to her quarters, and to bed. However peaceful it might be here on the pier outside the city's walls, she knew her true place lay within them, and it was time she returned to it. With a deep sigh, Elizabeth twisted her torso so she could look up at the dimly glowing towers stretching proudly up against the star-rich sky--
--And from the corner of her eye caught a hint of a shape faintly limned by moon- and starlight, standing next to the doors leading back into the city. . .
. . .A man-sized shape, standing where it didn't belong.
With a half-choked cry, Elizabeth sprang to her feet and tried to whirl to face it; in the very next instant felt herself sprawling out of control as her right leg, numb to the knee, gave under her. As she fell, she flung her arms out in a vain attempt to catch herself; landed hard more or less on her right side, her right arm fortuitously keeping her head from impacting the pier's hard surface. Stunned and breathless, she scrambled to push herself upright, panic screaming along her totally jangled nerves.
Strong hands took hold of her shoulders, easily holding her despite her struggles, their warmth burning through the thin fabric of her top into her chilled skin. A voice demanded in a slightly nasal twang, "Elizabeth, are you hurt anywhere? Just take it easy, and tell me if you broke something when you fell!"
She knew that voice. A jumble of relief, rage, and pure embarrassment swept through her, making her gasping reply sharper than it maybe should have been. "Major -- Sheppard! How long have you been standing there watching me?" She shook her hair out of her face so she could glare up at him where he crouched close to her.
What she could see of his face in the dim light took on an expression as closed and guarded as his voice when he took his hands from her shoulders and answered, "About as long as you've been sitting there. But," his tone took on a brisker note, "what made you jump up all of a sudden? You scared me out of ten years' growth when you keeled over like that!"
"I scared you!" Elizabeth gaped at him. "And I did not 'keel over.' I didn't realize my foot had fallen asleep and. . ." Her voice trailed off as she saw the major's lips twitch. All of a sudden, the memory of Rodney McKay asserting forcefully, "I did not faint! I passed out. . ." blitzed across her mind as if transferred directly from his. As if she weren't humiliated enough--! She fought the urge to grind her teeth.
At least he was smart enough not to refer to it. He only said mildly, "Sorry if I startled you. Can you stand up yet?"
Elizabeth tentatively flexed her right ankle, unable to restrain a wince at the resulting, excruciating surge of pins-and-needles pain the movement triggered. "No," she replied shortly. Trying to mask her complete discomfiture, she went on the attack. "And you still haven't answered my question, Major. What were you doing standing there watching me?"
"Actually, Dr. Weir," his drawl became slightly more pronounced, "I did answer the question you asked, which was how long had I been watching you. As for your second question, I was doing my job, while still trying to give you some privacy."
Nettled, she snapped, "I don't recall stalking me being part of your job descrip--"
"Protecting the safety of every member of this expedition is part of my job description." He sharply interrupted her, sounding almost angry. "And as leader of said expedition, your safety ranks top of the list. This may be Atlantis, the City of the Ancients and all that, but it can still be a pretty hazardous place. It's certainly nowhere to wander the fringes of alone in the middle of the night."
Elizabeth found herself staring at him again. "But," she said in a muted tone, "I only came down here on an impulse because I couldn't sleep. . . How did you know I'd be wandering the fringes? Unless you watch my door every night. . ." She let her voice trail off again, uncertain how she would feel if he were to confirm that he did.
"No, I don't do that." Now it was his turn to look and sound unsettled. He shifted his weight a little further back on his heels. As she continued to watch him, she saw his forehead furrow. "As for how I knew-- I'm not sure. I mean, I could feel the pressure building up inside you all during the party--"
Elizabeth interrupted him this time. "The party." She breathed a small, mirthless laugh. "If you want to call it that." She raked her disheveled hair back with both hands. All the earlier peace she'd gained fled into the dark, bitterness swelling up to take its place. "It felt more like a deathwatch to me." Then she gasped, realizing she'd actually said that last harsh thought aloud. Unable to snatch the words back out of the air, she clenched her hands together tightly in her lap.
"'A deathwatch,'" John repeated slowly. His tone lost the bantering note, suddenly going totally serious. She could feel him studying her as she desperately looked anywhere but at him. "Okay, so -- you want to talk about it?"
That jerked her eyes straight to his face. She studied him in turn, unsurprised to see how distinctly uncomfortable he looked; completely surprised, on the other hand, to see his absolute sincerity. True, they'd had their differences in the past, and yet-- Her shoulders slumped as she capitulated to her need to unburden herself to someone. Looking down at her hands, she said very quietly, "I'm in over my head, John. Call me foolish or naïve if you like, but when I accepted this position, I suppose I pictured something similar to the Antarctic Outpost, only grander and much warmer. I never anticipated -- losing," her voice shook slightly; she paused to swallow painfully in an attempt to control it, "anyone, let alone so many. . . Tonight, I looked around at all the very brave, very resourceful people doing their best to celebrate the New Year with the little we have at hand, and I couldn't help but wonder: Who will be next to never see another year? Will it be Rodney? Teyla? Aiden? Radek? Carson? Peter?" Her voice dropped even lower, to the merest whisper. "You?"
A long silence fell between them. John finally broke it by exhaling heavily. "Look, Elizabeth," he began, then halted as if to search for the right words. Even though he obviously found it difficult, he went on, "Losses -- happen. I don't mean to say they're ever acceptable. They aren't to me, and I know they aren't to you either. All you, or I, or any one of us can do is try our best to stop as many as we can -- and make them count for something when we can't. As for the rest," reaching out one hand, he gently but insistently tipped her face up, then gestured with his head at the incredible vista of towers behind him, "I think I'd rather call you visionary. Atlantis is way grander than that dinky Ancient outpost. We just have to keep believing that at the end, it'll be worth the cost."
Gazing up at the softly gleaming city, her city, Elizabeth felt renewed hope and confidence flow through her. "Yes," she agreed, "yes it is, and yes," she looked directly at John, "we do. Thank you, John. Thank you very much."
Releasing her chin, John grinned at her crookedly. "You're welcome. And speaking of the Antarctic," he shrugged out of his jacket as he spoke, "that's where you feel like you've been." He quickly draped its welcome warmth around her shoulders, then stood and extended a hand down to her. "Ready to go in now?" When she nodded and took his hand, he pulled her effortlessly to her feet, causing her to note yet again how there was more muscle to his thin frame than was readily apparent. She expected him to drop her hand once she was standing, but instead, he stood looking down at her with his head cocked a little to one side. "You weren't even supposed to see me, you know," he said musingly.
Feeling deeply grateful to have someone like Major John Sheppard sharing her burden, Elizabeth let a gentle smile curl the corners of her mouth as she squeezed the warm fingers still gripping hers. "Not to argue with you, John," she replied as they turned their steps back toward the city that was their joint responsibility, "I prefer to think that I was."