Chapter two

AN: I earnestly recommend reading Chapter 1 rolls eyes at self promotion , I make frequent and mysterious reference to it - I've read books where every reference to a past event in the story is explained over, and over, and over.. and it drives me nuts.. so I'm not doing it.
AN2: I apologize for how long this has taken. this chapter has been, and remains troublesome. it still doesn't feel right.. but I can't see how to improve right now, so... Many gracious thanks to finnstardust for her patient betaing!
AN3: irregardless -yes, I know the word is wrong, especially the way I use it, I happen to like the word. and I am having my revenge on annoying coworkers by using it here :) so there
AN4: eye candy to whoever can spot SG1 references

It was finally John's own body that forced him back to the world, in the form of his stomach growling loudly. Demanding to be fed.

Elizabeth started laughing, her shoulders shaking with mirth at the intrusion of something so incongruously mundane. She tried to control herself, but made the mistake of looking at him, watching her with a wide smirk, and she started again, finally pulling herself up to give him a proper hug, the blanket that had covered them falling by the wayside.

It was so good to be home. Even the smell of the infirmary was suddenly so right and normal. It didn't matter that he'd had to help her move enough for the hug. She felt human again.

A hungry human. She was about to call for Carson when he appeared next to them, his questioning look automatically checking them over.

Before she could say a word, John moved, lifting her first to his arms then to her feet as he got up, still supporting her. "Can we go to the cafeteria for that food, doc?" He wanted to take her somewhere more comfortable to sit in than the bed, and with a better choice of food than they were likely to get here.

Carson hesitated, trying to think if there was any risk that would be made worse with her walking the halls. All his tests had been negative; there really weren't any signs of her being anything other than the woman they'd lost two months past. As he saw her let the colonel support her, he decided she couldn't be more closely watched over.

"Aye, colonel. But she's no' to be left alone." Carson looked Elizabeth in the eye, "Ye're still too weak. If a hear o' ye overdoin' it, it's back here wi' ye. Understood?"

Elizabeth smiled her agreement, not needing to be reminded she wasn't up to her usual self: she was only standing because John had an arm around her waist holding her tight to his side. "I promise, Carson. I'll let Colonel Sheppard command." She patiently ignored the disbelieving snort of the man holding her up as Carson handed him an earpiece.

She tried to ignore a twinge of angry sadness at the events that had led her not to have her own. As much as she frequently hated the things interrupting at all hours... now they were a symbol of a lost life.

It took only a five-minute walk for her to decide pride was 'goeth'ing now; otherwise she would fall. She looked John in the eye and admitted: "I don't think I can take another step. I..."

Before she could finish, he'd lifted her in his arms and was walking down the halls at a much more normal clip than they'd managed so far, his expression neutral, as though this were their usual mode of travel through the corridors of Atlantis.

John waited for a demand that he let her down, or return her to the infirmary; ready to argue either way. But instead she just shook her head and mumbled something he was just as glad he couldn't decipher. Since she was relaxing into his hold, one arm snaking around his neck, he went with it, smirking happily. He knew his Elizabeth. She'd let him know when she'd had enough rest. In the meantime, he was getting addicted to having her in is arms.

Right on schedule, when they were in sight of the cafeteria, she tapped his shoulder. He let her slide down to her feet, glad they'd somehow had the corridors to themselves; he knew she would have been uncomfortable at people watching her be carried, no matter how necessary. Instead she arrived at their destination calm and went back to leaning on him as though she'd done so for years. He wondered if she realized they probably looked like a loving couple when they walked through the doors. Wondered if the look on his face was as transparently infatuated as he felt.

Thankfully, the thunderous silence that broke out when they were spotted didn't seem to faze her. She smiled and looked like she was thoroughly enjoying seeing everyone again, slipping back into the role of gracious leader without hesitation.

Elizabeth did guess that they were providing a picture, all aside from her sudden reappearance in their lives. But even if she'd been able to go without his support, at some point while they held onto each other, fighting off the demons of the last few months, they'd both forgotten how not to have physical contact. The idea of denying or dismissing the intimacy they'd slipped into, after so long thinking everything she cherished lost to her. The idea of letting John go again, let along forcing him to let her go. It all sounded like the stupidest notion she'd ever heard, she didn't want to slip back to their old status quo; she had no idea where they were going, but she didn't want to go back. And the touch they kept on each other provided reassurance that they were taking this new road together, however rocky it was likely to be.

As though called by her thoughts of relationships, she saw Teyla and Ronon standing together off to the side, and she deliberately set aside her own worries as she remembered the roll call Colonel Carter had given her, back when she still thought this was all fake.

"Teyla!" She was smiling widely, feeling belated elation for her friends, hurrying over to them, trusting John to read her intentions and react. Not surprised when he was right with her, only letting her go at the last possible instant so she could hug the mother-to-be.

John stepped back, no further than a step, feeling everyone starting to crowd near now that her moving had broken the spell, the sound of scientists and soldiers greeting their friend filling the room with chaos. They must have managed to arrive right at the lunch hour. He caught Ronon's eye with concern, saw the understanding in the man's eyes and saw him immediately position himself opposite Sheppard to shield the women, ready to lend physical support or crowd control at need to keep their weak leader and his pregnant mate from being overwhelmed.

They were in the cafeteria for an hour before John, giving in to the growing itch to touch her again, decided the strain of too many people too fast was getting to her and broke into the conversation by the simple expedient of walking to her chair and putting his hands firmly on her shoulders. Her eyes whipped to him with a surprised glare, but miraculously enough, it changed to understanding and even gratitude.

Elizabeth turned back to his smirking teammates sitting at the table, refusing to be embarrassed. Oddly enough, no one had yet to comment on either hers or John's much more tactile behaviour toward each other, much to her grateful surprise. She shrugged, lips quirking, "Looks like the doctor's guard is ordering me back to bed."

As she got up, John slipped his arm back around her waist and they got away from the last few lunch stragglers with a few waves and calls of 'See you later!'. Once out of the room, Elizabeth finally got tired of the half-smiling look he had fixed on her. "What?"

He shrugged the shoulder between them. "Trying to decide if you're more tired than you look and need to be taken to the infirmary, or if you just had enough of the crowd."

She smiled, relaxing. "I think it would be in my advantage to go with the second option." John's arms tightened around her, finding his own reaction to the crowd, and having to share her, easier to admit to himself. "Though the truth… is a bit of both. And a good meal making me drowsy."

Elizabeth turned her eyes to his, widening them and fluttering her lashes, making a game of trying his own puppy-dog look on him. "And... I was hoping you could be persuaded to show me some of the other places in Atlantis that I've missed."

She watched appreciatively as he threw back his head and laughed.

Having Elizabeth make him do her bidding was so normal, the sudden release from the tension, pain, regret... left him exhilarated. He wrapped his arms around her and spun them in place, making her squeak in protest and grab onto him, her laughter joining his. Not seeing his head bend, the touch of his lips on hers making her breath catch in surprise and pleasure.

He was still laughing and the kiss was hardly more than lips touching and bouncing. Just enough to make her long-starved senses want more. She finally shifted her hand to his nape to hold him in place, his laughter dying quickly as their lips met firmly for the first time, shifted and met again. Not trying to get serious, just getting to know each other. Allowing themselves to confirm that there was attraction between them for other than friendship and the lure of the forbidden.

John wasn't really sure when the change had happened. He'd gone from laughter being driven through him. To now doing something guaranteed to shift the foundations of his life, again.

Even waking up besides her. Even hearing her admit, in her own way, that she was as attracted to him as he to her. He hadn't allowed himself to truly believe any of that would change how they would carry on their lives. He had never expected to be standing in a public hallway, kissing Elizabeth Weir... at any time. A smile quirked his lips at the thought and they both opened their eyes, slowly separating.

When her lips parted on a breath, he swooped back for another quick taste before forcing himself away, still smiling. He was deliberately controlling his breathing, his heartbeat faster than it should have been considering what they'd been doing was the most innocent form of kissing. What this woman could do to him...

"You… ahh, feel like visiting the balcony?" His voice was embarrassingly husky, but if he didn't say something, the look she was still giving him was going to destroy his good intentions. Eventually these corridors would go back to their usual busy level, and neither of them would enjoy having an audience.

Elizabeth took a moment more to savour the fact that she could get to him so easily. Hiding a gleeful grin, ignoring the fact that she could feel her own blood coursing, her cheeks flushed. "The balcony would be very nice." But for a moment more, neither of them moved to release the other.

When he heard footsteps coming toward them, John silently let her go, only keeping a light touch on her back. Letting her take the lead, he found himself relaxing into his old familiar position, beside and behind Elizabeth. It was hard to imagine that all his life, right up to just a few years ago, he had made do without this. Without... a home. He'd had no concept that he could be made content just by finding one person.

Without his realizing it, his whole body had gotten stiff and tight the last few weeks, but now he felt the tension release, felt himself standing straighter, walking more loosely, relearning what he'd felt like as Elizabeth's second in command. Someone watching would have been hard pressed to realize the man swaggering down the hall now was any other than the colonel from two months ago; the quiet, hunched man who'd haunted Atlantis during that time was gone without a trace.

By the time they got to a section of balcony away from public areas, he could see her self-confidence, that sense of who Elizabeth Weir is, slowly coming back. And his own confidence seemed to strengthen with it. He supposed he ought to be disturbed that his sense of identity seemed to have gotten tangled in her... but compared to being loose, buffeted by the winds of life, she wasn't a bad root to have gotten attached to.

As they stepped out and walked to the edge of the deck, the fresh salt air hit Elizabeth's lungs and she took a long breath, holding it before breathing out. Feeling the last stale replicator air cleansed from her and life breathing back in in its wake. The steel cobwebs in her mind disintegrating without a whimper, her natural optimism and curiosity snapping back into focus.

He saw her whole posture change. In moments, there was the woman who had mediated quibbling scientist, stood up to a knife to her throat and both allowed him to go to his death and teased him for defending her. She was back to gazing at the world with eyes shining like they used to.

When she turned to John, the last piece of her life drop into place. Her grinning lieutenant, equally ready to flirt or defend at a moment's notice. She smirked, she'd have to find a way to sneak that expression for subordinate into a conversation one day; maybe when he got his eagle and got over-cocky again. She took another breath of air to keep her grin from getting too wicked; she wondered what the military punishment was for calling a colonel 'lieutenant'. Allowed herself briefly to consider a life where he might take a more intimate revenge.

John watched her take another deep breath of ocean air, faint grin on his lips, reminded of their conversation just a few hours ago. She caught the teasing glint in his eyes and raised her brows, happy to play. "What?"

He closed the gap between them and rested both hands on her hips, leaning toward her. Refusing to let his doubts about how she could possibly want him stop him from making her laugh. Her eyes closed as he slowly trailed a line of gentle kisses from her eyelids to her ear, enjoying the freedom to touch and taste. "Smell better than me?"

She could feel his smirk on the curve of her ear and it took her a few seconds to make sense of the strange question. When she did, she would have growled at him except that his breath on her neck was making her shiver through the heated blush the memory of her own admission had brought. Teasing pest.

Instead of trying to deny the truth, she took the offencive, putting her recently acquired knowledge to good use, sneaking a hand up to his nape. Waiting for his attention to be on her fingers toying with the short hairs there before turning her head to deliberately sniff at his neck, delighted with the full body shiver she felt race through him.

It was her turn to smirk. "Nope. Still better." Not letting herself get caught up in him again, she deliberately exhaled on his skin to make him shiver again. The only way to keep someone as playful as John Sheppard in line; use every trick. And the attraction between them definitely gave her some enjoyable ammunition.

He huffed laughter, pulling back enough to enjoy the sight of her having fun at his expense, their gazes locking, a world of affection passing between them. He was glad that they were managing both to slip into this new relationship so calmly and to keep their old rapport intact. Aware suddenly of all the little steps they'd been taking in this direction through the years.

She realized that once, standing like this would have made her mildly nervous, definitely self-conscious, their closeness a reminder of all the things between them that they never discussed, never acted on. Now... Now when he stepped further into her personal space, she leaned back on the railing, inviting him closer, her pulse jumping as he took the invitation and shifted his hands to either side of her on the rail, their legs slotting together.

"Colonel." Her voice still has a teasing lilt through the new huskiness.

"Doctor." He waited a beat, continuing their visual discussion, then grinned and descended as though to kiss her lips, instead pecking the tip of her nose. She laughed, reached up and grabbed a tuft of hair on either side of his head, careful of his earpiece, then pulled him in for a proper kiss. She took advantage of his parted lips to slip her tongue inside, feeling his immediate response, not sure which of them groaned as she felt one of his hands slip to the back of her neck. She let herself drown in the sea of feelings suddenly lapping at her mind, tingling awareness of the body so close to her spreading warmth through her.

It was a chilly breeze that finally hit them, forcing shivers that had to do with cold skin rather than hot blood. They both pulled away, staring at each other as they caught their breaths, his hands on her hips, one of hers on his neck and the other under his shirt, resting on his bare back. The way their legs were entwined left no doubt as to his reaction to their activities, and her grinding herself into him was just as obvious.

John leaned his forehead to hers, trying to catch his breath. "So. Where do we go from here, doctor?" He pressed a kiss to her cheek, senses still drowning in her, unable to let go quite yet. "We're in the wrong place to continue this. Where does that leave us?"

Her hand under his shirt caressed, touch of warm bare skin a reassurance in an uncertain life. "I want you."

She felt this muscles contract under her fingers. He kissed her ear, smiling. "I want you too."

"In my 'life', Sheppard."

He could hear her trying to be stern, failing to hide the laughter underneath, and the nails scratching down his back were more arousing than punishment. After another kiss to her cheek he pulled back, getting serious, trying to read exactly what she meant, seeing a steadiness and commitment in her expression reminiscent of their former lives. But with their current position, with her hand still stroking him, they had a new meaning.

The 'life' she was offering him access to wasn't just that of friends and professionals. It was intimate and permanent. "So." He felt feelings rising through his chest and blurted out in a rush, "Whither thou goest." For whither thou goest, I will go.

She felt tears smart at her eyes; tried to smile through wobbly lips. She would never have expected John Sheppard, her US Air Force boyish colonel, of all the many people she had met in her life, to be the one to say something so romantic as to bring her to tears. Perhaps she should have, he did have a habit of going from teasing flyboy to intelligent, intuitive, even sensitive man.

A stranger listening might have been forgiven for wondering why such inconclusive, unrelated statements could be treated as the end of a conversation. But for the two, after years communicating whole command arguments with a 2-second glance, they knew the words were promises. And they stood now, confirming their words with the even more reassuring statement of touch and eyes.

She slipped her hand into his hair, cradling the back of his head as he tilted his head into her palm, his eyes closing with a sigh of contentment. "Whither thou goest." her voice was so soft that the rising ocean breeze almost took it before he could hear, but the small grin when he opened his eyes said he'd heard. The unaccustomed quiet happiness in his eyes said he believed her.

She wished they could stay in this moment forever. But wither, 'where', was indeed the thing. Nothing would change their commitment to have a relationship, but... could they really become intimate without regret if she had to leave right after? For who knew how long, or who knew where. "Maybe... Maybe I can convince them to let me stay here to help translate the Ancient database."

It seemed a faint hope, both of them all too aware of the attitudes of their superiors toward replicators and compromised personnel, not to mention intimate relationships within the command. They were both quiet, holding each other's eyes, holding each other. Feeling their way slowly through the scarce options. And what they wanted, and what their responsibilities were.

"With Carter here... She's a good commander. Atlantis is taken care of. I can get a post on earth." He grinned crookedly. "For once in my life my file actually has good words in it! I could ask for something stateside." Leaving unsaid that he would be in a better position to fight anyone who tried to take her away for medical or military reasons.

Elizabeth blinked, again trying to keep quick tears at bay. She slid her hands up to cup his face. She knew how much his work here really meant to him, knew the memories he carried of Earth. Knew even more how much he would hate a stateside, in other words inactive, role. No one needed to tell Elizabeth Weir that he'd just offered her all he was.

She hated the very thought of his leaving Atlantis for her, but she was a skilled enough reader of people to recognize his set mind. And she refused to deny her awareness of the fact that he cared enough for her to be just as miserable as she would be if they were separated again. She tightened her chin, holding back the tremble, raising herself to kiss him gently.

Then, needing to move, she pushed him gently away by the shoulders with a last squeeze. Knowing it was a subconscious attempt to escape the problems; but then again, she could tell herself that moving would help her think. Hoping he would understand what she needed, as he had so many times before.

John acceded to her silent request and put an arm around her shoulders, tugging her to walk with him. The part of him that had never felt attachment to anyone was glad for the break in intensity to have a chance to get used to the new order they'd blithely talked themselves into. But mostly, John Sheppard had given the woman beside him the reins and rights to his life so long ago now... Making a verbal commitment had almost been a relief. Figuring out how to make their way into a life together was just a formality. Details he had every faith they could work through. Eventually.

But the knowledge, the very notion that she felt the same for him made him feel like leaping a few of Atlantis' spires and he tried to keep the triumphant grin off his face. He didn't want to be called on it and have to admit out loud that he felt like Superman... It would be nice to use superpowers to keep them here together, but he had no hesitation to returning to the Milky Way if that was what it took to be with Elizabeth. His conscience was content everyone would be just fine without him here.

Elizabeth, for her part, allowed herself to be distracted by the alien, though now familiar, beauty of Atlantis, shining in the bright sunlight. Trying to imagine the people who built it. Taking it in as the cultural accomplishment it was, rather than the engineering wonder they were determinedly, even desperately, mining.

It seemed only a few minutes passed before Elizabeth started to slow down, the burst of energy she'd gotten from lunch giving out. The weakness was both annoying and embarrassing. For pity's sake, she used to work 14-hour days without problems and now she couldn't take a gentle stroll after being up a measly three hours.

John's arm lowered to her waist, pulling her close and she looked up in surprise to see him watching her with teasing concern. "You're out of shape." He grinned and kissed her forehead. "What you need is exercise... want to come to my quarters?"

"John!" Elizabeth allowed herself to be teased out of her self-pitying mood, paying him back for the unsubtle invitation by sliding the hand between them onto his buttocks and pinching, snorting in laughter when he jumped and squawked a protest.

"What?" There was laughter in his voice. "I was just offering a game of Scrabble!" He even threw in kicked-puppy-eyes, just to see if he could get her indulgent look in return.

She blinked severely, refusing to let him get off so easily.

All the while considering his offer. He looked back, dropping the humour, watching her reaction, more than ready to offer her reassurance it would be platonic if she needed it.

"Scrabble, huh?" She smiled slowly. "Can I use Ancient?"

"What? No! No fair! How 'bout chess?" He tried to look innocent, not sure she knew his skill level or not. Her sudden belly laugh told him the answer well enough. "Fine. Scrabble in English."

"Old English?"

"No!" They were walking as they played at fighting, their destination never really in question.

Into their second game, John had just ducked to avoid a tile thrown at him by a growling Elizabeth when Carson's voice sounded in his ear.

"And where is me patient, colonel?"

He made himself control his laughter enough to speak as she leaned over the board, pushing him into the bed to take revenge for his trying to cheat. "In my quarters, Carson. We're just playing Scrabble."

Carson snorted to himself, taking the rare chance to tease the colonel. "Oh aaaye. Is that what you call it these days? Well enough, but no strenuous activity fer Dr. Weir!"

Elizabeth, nose to nose with John, heard and sputtered, "Carson!", followed with John's, "Beckett!"

"Aye, that's me name. Ye both know exactly what a mean. Just make sure a see ye first thing in the mornin' Elizabeth. Carson out."

Elizabeth so thoroughly enjoyed seeing the usually glib John Sheppard blushing, she decided to forgive Carson and found herself smiling.

John saw her laughing eyes and threw his weight up to land himself on top her, enjoying her laughing squeak. Using the gruffest voice he could fake, he leaned into her ear, holding her hands above her head. "Want to play Scrabble, Doctor Weir?" As she dissolved into giggles, he kept her from recovering by tickling her, merciless in his search of her most sensitive spot, completely ignoring her howls for mercy.

After they'd tracked down all the tiles mislaid in their horseplay, John could see her eyes fogging with tiredness, the tickle session obviously wearing out the last of her resources. He was rather hoping she would let herself catch a nap if he was subtle enough. When he went to put away the Scrabble game, leaving her sitting on the bed trying not to slouch, he grabbed his small travel chess set and came back to her, sitting up against the wall and pulling her unresisting body between his open legs.

It took wheedling and a few soft kisses along her neck, but he ended up convincing her to play with him, the addition of a three move handicap closing the deal along with the promise of unbiased advice on each move. He figured the game would distract/bore her enough that her body would pass out and sleep. And he could hold her while she slept. Not a bad plan if he did say so himself.

Elizabeth woke slowly, feeling warm and rested, somehow not particularly worried that she didn't know where she was.

She lifted her head from its hard but heated pillow, blinked her eyes a few times to focus, hand rising to rub some of the sleep away. With the movement she felt something jabbing her thigh and finally paid attention to where she was, eyes meeting John's as her moving woke him up. She smiled, wondering how she could have slept laying on his right half, wondering if she'd cut circulation to his leg, considering her weight had been right on it.

Then she grinned, becoming awake enough to tease. "Is that your sidearm or are you glad to see me?"

He snorted, tilting his hips to pull out the chess piece stuck between them. "Nope, just my king getting familiar."

Elizabeth laughed, playfully slapping his chest before trying to get up, only to have him pull her down for a quick kiss. "Sleep good?"

She considered his self-satisfied grin and remembered how oddly monotone his voice had gotten when he was 'helping' her chess game... She had a sudden vision of evenings getting tricked into actually getting the rest he and Carson were so convinced she needed. Being teased and slow-danced into not even regretting the work left undone. She couldn't believe she was actually yearning for it, actually curious to see what else he would come up with to distract her, given the chance. Had her priorities changed that much? Was she OK with that?

John's fingers brushing her cheek made her realize she'd zoned out on him and he was giving her a concerned look. She shook her head gently, turning to kiss his fingertips and would have said something to reassure him, except her stomach chose that moment to declaim the time.

Elizabeth snorted a laugh and got up, balancing on his chest, taking an extra second just to imagine she could feel his heartbeat under her hand. Eventually letting him up and getting cleaned up for dinner.

Sam grabbed a tray, getting in line behind McKay and watching Sheppard and Weir, sitting at a table, for the moment alone as the dinner hour just ended. "I'm surprised Beckett let her out"

"Probably had something to do with the heavy-handed fellow guarding her"

"Clawed."

"Uh? Oh! Yes, I suppose he was rather dragonish when he swooped and all but grabbed her away at lunch. I expected her to take a strip off him."

Sam smirked. "Did she?"

"No," McKay sounded disgruntled, "she put her arms around his waist." He brightened, "He looked like he was expecting a hit though."

"Well, whatever they have just started. It takes a while to find out when a woman will hit you."

"Really?" Sam grinned at the intrigued tone in McKay's voice, she'd have to get Jack to throw some digs...

Unaware of being the topic of conversation, the couple continued to eat and talk, looking for all the world as though they were discussing some conundrum they were facing with the city or its inhabitants. With a few smirks and gestures thrown in, more obviously denoting teasing in progress.

As much as she was enjoying the real food, the taste of coffee and the pleasure of catching up on everything she had missed. And even as much as she enjoyed watching her colonel being his old animated self, she finally had to face the issue that they were both so carefully avoiding with their long dinner.

She straightened from where she'd been leaning on her elbows, putting her third cup of coffee down. By then, John had caught the change and was watching her quietly. Hopefully. "So." And there she stalled, not sure what to say. She was grateful when he beat her to it.

"So. Do you want me to walk you back to the infirmary? Or," he swallowed quickly, eyes never leaving hers, "do you want to go back to my quarters?"

He was stuck, trying not to push her where she wasn't ready to go, yet not wanting her to doubt for a moment his willingness to go there. He knew he must be looking like an uncertain teenage boy, but couldn't really find a safe enough path out of the morass at this instant.

Elizabeth wasn't sure why she was even hesitating. This was where they'd been moving all day, all their acquaintance for that matter. She had no doubts about desiring the next step, nor about his equal commitment. Finally, using her years of professional experience, she shook herself firmly out of her atypical pussyfooting and slid her hand across the table to reach for his, determinedly smiling.

John released the breath he realized he'd been holding, not regretting the obviousness of his reaction when her smile got a little more genuine. His wide grin was sure to have elation in it, irregardless of the fact that he could still sense her hesitation.

Elizabeth read the intent in his expression too late to stop his raising the sensitive inside of her wrist to his lips, laying the slowest of kisses on her lifeline. Her wide eyes locked to his rapidly sobering ones, sensual delight whispering away at least some of her indecision.

Neither noticed the small but riveted audience they had collected as they got up and made their way out. Among them, Ronon sat silently near the door, having watched his friends mince their way together. If he'd thought Sheppard would see or appreciate it, he would have given him a 'thumbs up' for his wooing skills. As it was he grinned at the hubbub rising from the rest of the dinner crowd and wondered who would get the big payoff from the betting pool.

John slipped his arm around Elizabeth's waist, knowing it was very obviously not to support her, not caring what the people they were passing thought of their strolling the corridors like lovers. They'd both spent the last two months in Hell. They deserved whatever peace they could find. And anyway, she was a civilian now, and he was off duty. He kept his hold firm, glad she was returning it, and glared at anyone who stared too much.

When they got to his room, an Ipod stereo system caught her eye and she remembered her earlier thought that she could imagine him slow-dancing her into resting. She walked over to it as he locked the door, looking for some dance music; not shocked to find a few mellow, romantic songs. Finally turning to find him watching her with a smile, leaning back on the door. As the music started, she swayed toward him, giving him her best come-hither look, rewarded with his heavy lidded once-over and a hand pulling her close as he joined her in a space clear enough to shuffle in.

"And we danced,
Out there on that empty hardwood floor
The chairs up and the lights turned way down low
The music played, we held each other close
And we danced"

The few songs she had selected eventually gave way to a rock tune and she raised her head from his chest, blinking her eyes open. His slow stroking of her back and quiet crooning of the lyrics in one ear had all but put her to sleep. Elizabeth went to turn the player off, stifling a yawn, as John rummaged in his dresser.

When he turned and offered her a t-shirt with a raised brow, she gave him a small questioning smile, taking it slowly. He stepped up to her, lifting her free wrist to his lips again. "When we're ready. Not before."

She nodded slowly, feeling hidden nerves settle. The day had been eventful enough. She realized she wanted to remember their coming together for itself. So with a teasing smirk, she grabbed a handful of shirt at his collar and pulled him down for a fast but deep kiss, then took the improvised nightdress into the bathroom to get ready for bed.

Catching his breath as he watched her sway away from him, John found himself a pair of loose sweatpants and changed into them, sitting against the wall, on the bed, to wait for his turn at the facilities, slipping his earpiece off. He closed his eyes so he could listen to her moving in his bathroom rather than face the same room he had lain in alone for so long.

He got up when she came out, dropping a kiss on the crown of her head as he passed her. Elizabeth watched him bemusedly. The idea of sharing nightly rituals with a man again - let along her oh-so attractive former second-in-command - would take getting used to.

When John switched off the light and returned to the bed, he found her already asleep, curled on her side, facing him. She'd left the blanket only over her legs and it had already slipped, presenting him with a seductive vision he took the time to appreciate. He finally breathed through the fist of emotion seeing her laying on his bed had jammed in his throat. She looked as innocent as a child; yet still the seductress of his dreams.

He slipped into bed, pulling the covers up and tugging her into spooning into his body so they could more easily share the small bed. Nuzzling her softly as he contently dozed off; the roller-coaster day taking its toll on him too.

Not sure what woke her, Elizabeth became aware of the body stretched tight with tension next to her, shocked for a moment to hear a whimper. She reached up and shook his shoulder. "John!"

He snapped awake, grabbing her hand off him before he caught up with reality. The lights came on suddenly from his scrambled thoughts. His wide eyes letting her see the pain there. He finally caught his breath, eyes focusing on her, slowly reaching for her, more than half afraid she would vanish again. "This is real... right?" His voice sounded hoarse with pain.

She cupped his cheeks, moving slowly so as to not startle him, then reached up and kissed his eyes closed again as she pulled him to her heart, feeling his arms wrap tight around her as he took a hiccoughing breath, obviously trying to get control of himself, for the moment as lost as a child. "Its alright. I'm right here. Everything is going to be OK." She murmured into his hair, rubbing her cheek on his head, letting touch get through the remnants of his nightmare.

When he tried to pull back while still breathing unsteadily, she wrapped her legs around him to keep him in place, switching to massaging his head to soothe him, glad to feel him start to relax and eventually give a shuddery sigh, sliding his head to a more comfortable position as Elizabeth eased the hold she had on him. Slowing but not stopping the massage, half-hoping he'd fall back asleep. Glad when he turned the lights back off.

After the third time he made a funny snuffle-purr sound and nuzzled into her, Elizabeth had to ask. "What does it feel like?" She kept her voice soft and low so as not to distract him.

It took a few moments for him to react, and even then he sounded half-asleep. "Like... a bubble of protection keeping the world at bay." He nuzzled her again. "Like... love. Like I'm not alone and there's someone caring for me. Like my brain just rolls over, shuts down and enjoys it."

Elizabeth trailed a hand down to stroke her thumb on his lips, bending her head to kiss the top of his head as she whispered, "You are loved, John Sheppard. You most definitely are."

She wasn't sure if she imagined his arms tightening momentarily around her, but he was sleeping now and she was just as glad. There would be a better time to tell him.

AN5: 'Pride goes before a fall' is a paraphrase of an ancient Hebrew proverb, designed to warn that excessive pride will often cause one to fall or fail. Source: wikipedia
AN6: 'For whither thou goest, I will go' though apparently from the bible (now that I googled it), to me it's just a line, a romantic one to my mind, used in the wedding ceremony.
AN7: the little couplet of lyrics are the refrain from 'We danced' by Brad Paisley
AN8: this is not likely to get another chapter. maybe epilogue'ish scenelets, but that's it, so I hope you enjoyed and didn't find it too soppy