Title: "Finishing School"

Author: Little Red

Rating: PG

Category: Sheppard/Weir UST

Spoilers: Set between "Siege III" and "Intruder."

Summary: In any other situation, seeing Elizabeth Weir in jeopardy, John Sheppard would spring into action in the usual way and rescue her.

Author's Note: For Isabelle, who was complaining about how intelligent women seem to be magnets for academic men with superior egos at parties...


***


She's being harassed.

In any other situation (in any other galaxy), upon seeing Elizabeth Weir in jeopardy, John Sheppard would spring into action in the usual way and rescue her. Unfortunately, this happens to be the Milky Way, and while he would still call her being backed into a corner by three attention-hungry academics "jeopardy," the rest of the world seems to call it a cocktail reception.

He tugs at the sleeve of his dress uniform and then takes another drink instead. There's no reason for a reception at the SGC to feel more alien than any number of actually alien receptions he's been to in the past year, but... well, it does. The uniform feels horribly restrictive after all this time. Elizabeth looks startlingly at home in nylons and designer pumps, and seeing that somehow feels restrictive to him, too.

"What the hell's wrong with you? You look like you're about to kill something."

John turns his glare at McKay, who's reaching behind him to get at the drinks table, having momentarily broken away from his adoring public (a collection of SGC scientists who look even more nerdy out of their lab coats, if that's possible). "Nothing," John snaps back. And then, "Uniform itches."

McKay looks out at the room, beaming out at the crowd of people all there to congratulate them, and then continues to criticize. "You're not going to make any friends glaring at everyone like that. I, on the other hand..." he nods in a totally-more-than-obvious way at an hourglass figure of a blonde who is chewing nervously on a strand of long hair across the room.

"You and-?" Huh. John has met the legendary Lieutenant Colonel Carter, and so knows this one isn't that blonde, but it still weirds him out a bit that McKay might be considered a Real Catch to any woman actually born on Earth.

"She wants my input for a paper she's working on -- it's fairly derivative, really... I'm thinking she might have gotten her job here for, you know, other reasons..." Rodney doesn't actually mime breasts with his hands, but the gesture is understood. "However, with some help from me, she might be able to come up with some interesting points..."

John sighs, and glances back at Elizabeth, who is in the midst of laughing politely at a joke someone has made. Her gaze darts over to him and she gives a tight smile, one he interprets as help me, and then she follows it up with a shrug that suggests there's really nothing to be done.

"How do you guys put up with this stuff?"

McKay fusses with the drinks some more, probably scrutinizing it for stealth infiltrations of citrus. "Us? Stuff?"

"You and Elizabeth. These... functions."

"Ah, well, you see..." McKay extricates a glass, finally, and takes a sip. "The beauty of being a scientist at my level is that you really only have to attend these things when you're the one being congratulated. Then you can pretty much walk away if people start talking about themselves."

"And Elizabeth?"

McKay shrugs. "She's got practice. I don't know; this is what she does. Why're you so worried about her? She seems to be having a good time."

She doesn't at all, actually, but John wouldn't expect McKay to notice that any more than he would the now five middle-aged men in suits and uniforms competing for airtime in the conversation.

"Unlike you, Mr. Doom and Gloom over here guarding the punch bowl." McKay's blonde date has disappeared for the moment, probably off to fetch her paper for the galaxy-hopping genius' approval, leaving McKay time to toss off a few more insults. "What's wrong, get tired of being congratulated by Generals?"

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, he doesn't think he'll ever get sick of being patted on the back and congratulated for bringing home his team -- he's spent most of his adult life being slapped down by the Air Force, and this is a welcome change. On the other hand... he doesn't entirely believe them. None of them seem to actually like him. Some of that might just be his own lingering issues, he doesn't deny that, but he also doesn't trust their political motivations.

Congratulations and thanks from Elizabeth back on Atlantis matter much more. Even if he's got his share of trouble believing her, as well, at least he knows her and knows where she's coming from.

The blonde reappears, waving a three-ring binder, and McKay takes off. John returns to glowering at everyone, until he hears Elizabeth laugh her fake, strained laugh again, and decides he may as well put himself to some use while he's here being otherwise antisocial.

"Doctor Weir!" He manages to shove through the suits rather easily. "There's, uh..." he blanks. He can't exactly say there's a communique for her, not while they're on Earth. "That thing, you said you could help with... we, uh, need your help with that. Now."

Her companions shoot him a confused look, like he's speaking a foreign language. Apparently he has fallen too far below their level of acceptable eloquence to even be considered a speaker of English.

Elizabeth looks him over with concern until he raises a telling eyebrow. She breaks into a wide, mostly false smile. "Oh, right! Thank you, Major. Gentlemen..." the smile widens even further. "I'm sure you can spare me for just a moment -- this shouldn't take long."

John grabs her elbow to steer her through the crowd with exaggerated purpose, lest anyone try to waylay her again.

Outside, she pulls her arm away and takes a deep breath. "Thank you."

He grins. "That bad?"

"I had forgotten what these functions are really like," she says. They strike off down the hallway together, ending up in the deserted briefing room. She flops into a seat -- well, as much flopping as she can do in a tailored business suit, which isn't much -- and he sits down across from her out of habit.

He downs the last of his drink. "We should've brought supplies," he notes, raising the glass in a mock toast.

She raises her own half-empty martini glass and then sips on it thoughtfully. "Are you enjoying the adoration of the masses?"

Not really, he thinks. "Sure. What's not to like?"

She swivels her chair around so she can see the Stargate through the observation window. "I hope they're all right out there."

The uneasiness in his stomach he has felt since leaving the city in the temporary care of others increases. "I'm sure they're fine. Teyla might be redecorating your office, though."

Elizabeth smiles wistfully. "It could use a little color."

They're quiet for a few minutes, her nursing her martini, him watching her. She looks elegant in manicured nails, a low collar and earrings. Not that she isn't well-put-together on Atlantis, more so than pretty much anyone else, but right now she seems to have moved above the class of people who normally even talk to him.

"It's strange, not hearing the ocean," she suddenly observes, and he realizes she's right.

"Still not very quiet," he points out. Even through the concrete, they can hear the party down the hall.

Elizabeth crosses her arms and shrugs her shoulders, suddenly looking as out of place as he feels. "I haven't had to deal with that many new people in a long time," she says, like it's a confession. "You'd think this would be easier than facing down Wraith ships."

"Well, it is," he notes.

"True." Her smile is genuine this time, and warms him right through his body. That feels just as much like home as the ever-present sound of water.

She reaches a hand across the table, and he takes it. Her fingers are cool from holding onto her drink, but her skin warms fast in his. He can feel his own temperature rising, and it's strangely hard to breathe.

He tries to smile but is sure it comes out weak. This is different than an unexpected hug in the middle of a crowded control tower, but the same, and his heart is flailing helplessly in his chest, unsure whether to beat faster or not at all.

"Thanks," she says, with a deep honesty that floors him. Thanks for pulling her free from a crowded room of pompous inquisitors. Thanks for keeping them alive long enough to get them home. Thanks for not dying. Thanks for saving her life.

"It's nothing," he dismisses it, squeezing her hand.

She shakes her head. "It's not nothing, John. You should learn to take compliments."

"I can take compliments." It's criticism he usually has the most trouble with, actually, but then, he has more experience with that.

She shrugs and slips her hand free. He restrains the urge to grab it back, instead picking up his glass and swirling the ice cubes around.

"We should probably go back." She doesn't sound particularly enthusiastic about that idea.

It shouldn't annoy him, since it didn't actually take that much effort to extricate her from the party, but he still feels like he rescued her for nothing if she's going to go right back in there and fake laughter some more. "Make them wait a few more minutes."

She actually rolls her eyes, which tells him how tired she must be. He's growing convinced that she always has a biting remark on the tip of her tongue, but she's usually more careful to keep it to herself. "They do seem rather capable of carrying on their conversations without me."

John leans back in the chair, propping his feet on the polished briefing table, letting the alcohol and the company work through his bloodstream. This is nice. It's not Atlantis, not as strangely comfortable as their alien city has become, but it's really good to know that the feeling of camaraderie they have doesn't require that they be in the city itself.

When he looks up again, Elizabeth has mimicked his position, delicate heels on the table and a shared-secret smile on her face. She's holding the edge of her knee-length skirt in place with one hand, and he pretends he isn't specifically looking to check how much pantyhose-clad skin is visible.

"Thanks," she says again, maybe for enabling her to take a break from her obligations and relax, maybe just because.

This time he answers properly. "You're welcome."

He still can't quite wait to get back to Atlantis, but this isn't so bad.

*end*

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