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Author's Chapter Notes: ‘I trust this,’ he replied, ‘I feel this,’ he added, kissing her again.

Elizabeth wore red. It wasn’t like her wardrobe was very varied, and she’d chosen a few particular items outside of her work uniform that she particularly loved. Red and blue were amongst them. But it was less like a uniform, with the cut of the arms and the hem. She pulled on a pair of jeans, the only pair she had on Atlantis opened her desk drawer for the few items of jewellery she’d managed to jam into her rucksack before leaving her quarters back on Earth.

She hadn’t really thought they’d come in handy but she was loathe to leave them behind, just in case they never saw Earth again. She sighed, glancing in the mirror at the borrowed eyeshadow dusted across her lids. Heightmeyer had make-up as part of her uniform, she tended to colour co-ordinate depending on who she was talking to on any particular day. She told Elizabeth it had a subconscious effect as she handed over a small bag of essentials. ‘You can keep them,’ the therapist had added, ‘the next time we have a base-wide celebration you should dress up a little. It’s good for morale to see you out of uniform and you’ll be surprised what you learn when people dissociate the word Commander from Elizabeth at a party.’

Weir had nodded, thanking her and making a mental note to give it a try next time. The way things were going, the next celebration would be Christmas before they heard from Earth again.

A chime indicated a presence at her door. ‘Come in,’ she called, closing the clasp on her necklace. It wouldn’t do anyone any good, least of all herself, to be melancholy right now. Everyone here had known the score and taken the same chance.

The door slid open and Sheppard stood there, blue shirt and black trousers. She resisted the temptation to kill the smile that tried to creep across her face and let it bloom instead. They were supposed to be socialising. Teambuilding. Relaxing. Good for morale. Good for her. Good for everyone. John tucked his hands into his pockets, rolled slightly on the balls of his feet and grinned, ‘so, ready?’

Nope, Elizabeth finally admitted to herself. Not good for her. But good for McKay, and her working relationship with John. Sheppard. Major Sheppard.

He hadn’t expected her to dress up, if anything he almost expected her usual black and red uniform, worn to prove a point to the rest of the base; including herself probably. Instead she wore a silky material that draped gracefully over her hips and led to a pair of very long denim clad legs.

Oh, if McKay screwed this evening up, Sheppard was going to kill him just for the pure torture he was going to have to endure sitting across from Elizabeth. Smacking his brain into gear, he grinned laconically and shoved his hands in his pockets to distract himself from lifting a single finger in her direction and asked her the obvious.

‘Yes,’ she replied. He’d shoot someone for that smile alone. Instead he lifted his chin in the direction of the corridor, back the way he’d come and they fell into step. She might not have worn the uniform but her mindset hadn’t changed, and they were discussing business within earshot of anyone who happened by as they entered the cafeteria and out onto the terrace that lay beyond.

Tables had been set up, cloths bartered from other worlds laid over them and real glasses laid out; it had fast become a custom, once a week as long as nothing went wrong, and the crew had appreciated the efforts of the catering crew to expand the social side of life in the city. Several people were already seated around them and McKay was fiddling with a napkin, glancing around as if he felt like the elephant in the room. She saw the relief wash over his face when he saw them, and she walked straight over, pulling out her own chair and sitting down before either McKay or Sheppard could pull the gentlemanly trick and make the situation even harder for her to explain away.

‘Rodney,’ she greeted him, ‘where’s Katie?’ she asked, looking around with a careless air.

‘She’s hiding under the tablecloth,’ Rodney responded sarcastically before catching himself. ‘Sorry, I-‘

Elizabeth waved the apology away, McKay had enough on his mind right now, and sarcasm was his defense mode anyway. Sheppard took the seat between them, ‘where’s the menu?’ he asked innocently, which levered a smile from Elizabeth but not from McKay.

‘There’s only one set meal,’ Rodney replied, not getting the joke. His eyes were anxiously on the glass door to the main cafeteria. A shadowy figure appeared before the door slid open and Dr Katie Brown from hydroponics stepped through the door. Rodney almost shot to his feet, but Elizabeth shook her head quickly and he only rose when Katie reached the table.

‘Dr Brown, uh, Katie. You know Major Sheppard and-‘

‘Dr Weir. Of course,’ the biologist finished for him as she shook Weir’s hand. ‘I haven’t had a chance to speak with you personally Dr Weir, or you, Major, except when the Expedition was assembled of course.’

‘I’ve been very impressed with your work,’ Weir responded as she took a seat. You seem to have gained substantive knowledge of the plant life in this galaxy.’

‘A great deal of it is similar to what you’d find on Earth, and other Terran planets,’ Katie replied. ‘Please do call me Katie, Dr Weir.’

‘And it’s Elizabeth, at least for tonight,’ Weir said.

‘John,’ Sheppard leant over and shook her hand, ‘pretty much all the time,’ he added, with a sideways glance and a grin at Elizabeth.

She took the needling with good grace, he was glad to see. Katie smiled. ‘It’s perfectly alright Dr- Elizabeth; the command structure needs to be maintained. I do understand, really.’

Weir nodded, relieved there would be no misunderstanding. Now their table was complete, one of the staff came over and delivered a trolley. Although there was little time for the formalities of serving, with the base commander at the table, some effort was made rather than leaving them to get up and go serve themselves. A pitcher of Athosian wine was added, and the crew member saluted smartly to both Major and Commander before disappearing back inside.

‘Well, at least there’s some perks to command,’ Rodney muttered, leaning over to the trolley and eyeing the food. ‘Hey, this looks pretty good!’ He broke off as a sharp elbow in his ribs reminded him to use his good manners. He coughed, stood and served the ladies first; clumsily, but with some attempt at grace. Weir bit the inside of her lip in an effort to keep her expression straight but Katie practically glowed that Rodney was making such an obvious effort.

The glow was due to wear off in short order.

Some of the conversation flowed, but Rodney was keen on bragging and his prose in that area tended to be more fluid, like his explanations of scientific concepts or problems. The trouble was that both his superiors were seated at the same table and he couldn’t quite get away with as much as he would have if he and Katie had been alone. Timely reminders from Sheppard or a raised eyebrow from Elizabeth kept him focussed and by the time food was nearly finished, he was feeling quite pleased with himself.

Katie didn’t look as enamoured as she had been when she arrived, but she was still smiling, especially when McKay raised his glass. ‘A toast,’ he announced. Elizabeth and John exchanged quick glances, the kind normally reserved for potentially dangerous situations, usually involving life-or-death and quite a few guns.

‘To you,’ he smiled at Katie, who had lifted her glass and looked slightly bemused although quite happy, by the turn of events. ‘We’ve been working together for... some time now,’ he paused, ‘what I mean to say is, uh-‘ he strangled on his own words.

‘To your success in leading the botanical department,’ Elizabeth broke in, ‘I know Rodney is very grateful to have that department in such good hands,’ she turned her gaze on Rodney. They clinked glasses together, John giving Katie an encouraging smile and McKay nodded.

‘Yes, that’s it. Exactly. Thank you, uh, Elizabeth, for being so, so eloquent.’

Katie smiled again, but it was awkward and she’d obviously chosen the stay-silent-til-its-over route. ‘Shall I, uh, go get dessert?’ Rodney asked, trying to appear at ease.

‘Let me,’ Katie almost shot up from her seat in her haste. ‘You’ve been so nice, arranging all this. I’d love to.’

‘Oh, okay then,’ Rodney smiled at her and Katie returned the favour, albeit slightly limpidly. She turned and headed for the cafeteria and, no doubt, a breath of fresh air, Elizabeth thought.

Rodney grinned to himself smugly, sitting back and draping his napkin over his lap. ‘Well, I think its going very well,’ he said, leaning outwards to look through the glass. A frown appeared on his face. ‘I wonder if she knows I’m allergic to citrus,’ he murmured. ‘Scuse me,’ he said, vaguely in their direction before dropping his napkin on the table and scooting off in the direction of the cafeteria.

Elizabeth let go of the breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding and looked over at John. Sheppard grinned, pushing his chair out. ‘Let’s get outta here,’ he said and she nodded, practically whirling out of her seat. Together they walked to the cafeteria, through the door and straight past Rodney and Katie.

‘Something’s, uh, come up,’ Sheppard said casually, ‘sorry. It was great to meet you Katie.’

‘Yes,’ Elizabeth added,’ I’ll come down for a tour of the new facilities you’ve moved into soon.’

‘Please do,’ Katie replied, obviously unshaken and unsuprised by their departure. It was likely the only time she’d talk one to one to Dr Weir again and she had some ideas to put to her. Her plans for the hydroponics bay, as well as creating a greenhouse for more traditional growing methods were rapidly occupying more of her mind than her date, and it was becoming clear that doing this again would be a colossal mistake. ‘in fact, Rodney, do you mind...’

Her voice trailed off as they made their escape. The whole evening had had a sense of the bizarre an slightly surreal about it, so that Elizabeth cared less about the appearance of the two highest ranks in Atlantis walking together through a twilit city. By the time they were well away from the centre of the city, Sheppard was laughing and Elizabeth was doing her best to try and contain her rising hysteria. He caught her hand finally and pulled her out onto a quiet balcony in an unoccupied sector not far from the living quarters.

Outside in the fresh air, she finally let go, with the crashing waves of a rapidly cooling night covering the noise. Sheppard let go and stood, grinning as she leaned weakly against the rail. ‘Don’t ever do that to me again, Sheppard!’ she laughed, once she could speak again. ‘Poor Katie, I can’t believe McKay tried to toast her. I think I might have to talk to Heightmeyer.’

‘About his social skills?’

‘No, my trauma,’ Elizabeth responded, pushing herself away from the rail. ‘Think we’re in danger of post-traumatic stress?’ she asked.

Sheppared didn’t answer immediately. Elizabeth was standing a bit too close for his brain to work properly and a couple of glasses of Athosian wine hadn’t helped. He wasn’t a lightweight but the Athosians had never heard of percentages, and they left their alcohol to mature for as long as they felt like.

‘How about imminent stress?’ he asked, the words out before he could edit them under things-not-to-say-to-Elizabeth. He dropped his hands to his sides, tucking them in his pockets and barely stopping himself from gritting his teeth. ‘Dammit, Lis’beth!’

‘John?’ His name whispered across skin in her voice, and he stopped thinking all together. His hands rose, sliding along her jaw and tilting her head back as he kissed her. She leaned into him, fitting against him in all the right places and the moment couldn’t have been better if he’d planned it. Her arms wound round his neck, her fingers burying themselves in his hair as she pressed herself closer, deepening the kiss.

She short-circuited his brain, filling his senses until all he was aware of her was her, in his arms. The sound of waves, the city, the moonlight, it all disappeared, or could have, without him noticing. Reluctantly they drew apart, Elizabeth looking more than a little startled. ‘John? I, er, that, that wasn’t a very good idea,’ she whispered, although her proximity was telling him otherwise. She pushed herself away, stepping back and wrapping her arms around herself as if suddenly cold. ‘I mean-‘ ‘I know what you mean,’ he replied. Her brain obviously sprang back quicker than his from that kiss, he reflected bitterly. ‘C’mon. We’d better get back,’ he added. Before I pin you against the wall and kiss you senseless, he thought, turning on his heel before he could do just that.

They walked back in silence, an awkward space between them and all memory of humour lost. By the time they reached her quarters, bitterness had receded to regret and he sighed as she hit the button for her door and lingered.

‘I could practically hear the gears whirring in your head all the way back here,’ he said, ‘don’t worry, Lis’beth. I can control myself, same as you. I’m not going to blow this out of proportion.’

She looked up at that, her eyes angry even if her voice was even. ‘I wasn’t going to throw myself at you John,’ she returned smartly. ‘Nor was I going to accuse you of turning into a Neanderthal; I’m well aware that you have self-control. I wanted to ease the transition back into our working relationship. You may not have a great deal of respect for diplomacy, John, but it does help the situation!’

‘Diplomacy, diplomacy? Diplomacy isn’t going to help us here, Lis’beth. Cold showers and a sparring session with Teyla, yes, but there’s no words even you can come up with to help the situation!’

‘Then go ‘spar’ with Teyla,’ she bit off, trying like hell to keep the jealousy that had sprung up at his words from her tone before marching into her quarters.

‘It isn’t bloody Teyla I want, Lis’beth,’ his voice was right behidn her, his tone seething with barely controlled anger. She spun on him.

‘Really? You could have fooled me!’

‘Apparently, I did,’ he muttered, dipping his head and pulling her closer. The moment his lips touched hers, she forgot her next words and responded. The argument tried to fly out of the window, but she caught it by the tail end and barely managed to pull herself away after what felt like eternal moments. ‘John, we can’t,’ she whispered desperately.

Why,’ he demanded in utter frustration. ‘Jesus Elizabeth, watching you all evening was like torture, how the hell do you expect us to work together when all I can feel is you.’

She nearly laughed, ‘you’re always saying you can’t feel it. When the Athosians were settling in, when Maur was actually being above board with the treaty on ZX490, you always telling me you can’t feel it and you don’t trust it...’

‘I trust this,’ he replied, ‘I feel this,’ he added, kissing her again.

So did she, and right at that moment she wanted to do nothing else but feel. With a low moan she slid her arms around his neck, letting the argument, and all reasonable objections, melt away. Together they moved away from the door, letting it slide shut on the empty corridor, tumbling onto the bed and letting duty and regulations disappear as the moments in each other’s arms stretched out into eternity.

Chapter End Notes: Video: The date and related scenes (0:52/2:45 to 1:05/2:45)

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