Title: "Six Degrees"

Author: Little Red

Rating: PG-13

Category: Sheppard/Weir, Sheppard/other, icon challenge fic

Spoilers: None. Season 1 cast.

Summary: They begin seeing each other in the spring.

Author's Note: For my darling medie, who made the following icon and hit me up with it in the icon challenge. I'm not sure how I feel about this one. I really like parts of it, but part of me feels like it needs a major rewrite.

1. They begin seeing each other in the spring.

It's never actually bitterly cold on Atlantis, but the increase in warm breezes and sunny days makes Elizabeth stir-crazy, and she begins to seek out alternate, preferably outdoor venues for her work.

Though his own cabin fever is more than assuaged by his weekly trips to other planets, John takes it upon himself to accompany her.

For safety reasons, at least initially. With a quiet reluctance that makes him deeply curious about what latent explorer tendencies she might possess, she agreed to limit her excursions to areas that have been previously surveyed. However, it is still an ancient, alien city, and mysterious dangers have been known to arise out of literal thin air.

So he goes along. He brings his own work or a book or cards to keep himself occupied while she's focusing. When he brings food along on their more distant adventures -- she'll happily tote her laptop on an hour-long walk just to check out the latest brilliant view he's scouted for her -- he doesn't consider it a picnic.

Sometimes, he forgets to bring work, and if she's in a good mood, she'll indulge his restlessness by putting her own reports aside. He teaches her his repertoire of card games, and she fills him in on the gossip he misses while he's off-world.

"I'm pretty sure Peter and Mary are dating," she reports with a smirk. "They keep finding excuses to be alone together."

She never completely forgets her laptop, but once or twice, on particularly nice days, she has neglected to open it.

It's after one of those days, when he's grinning stupidly to himself in the mess hall over a late dinner, that Teyla observes,

"You appear much happier since you began dating Doctor Weir."

He actually laughs. "What? We're not dating."

Teyla tilts her head the way she does when she doesn't understand one of his haphazard explanations of Earth culture and thinks he might, perhaps, be joking. "What would you call it, then?"

"We're just..." he fumbles for words. 'Friends' is the right answer, and technically all their excursions have been as coworkers, but he isn't sure he can accurately declare that there is no romantic intent just because there has been no sexual activity. He's not blind -- he notices the way Elizabeth's breath quickens when he moves too close to read over her shoulder, and he knows himself too well to deny that there is something there.

"We're just... seeing each other," he finishes.

Teyla accepts this with a nod, but he suspects she is no clearer about what he means than when she began this conversation. "I still believe it is good for you."

2. In late summer, they host a diplomatic gala to celebrate the conclusion of months of sporadic negotiation with a race called the Metaris. Elizabeth is dressed to the nines in a low-cut, fitted black pantsuit he hasn't seen since shortly after they arrived in Atlantis and she started wearing duty uniforms and boots every day.

One of the things they traded for is alcohol. Not a priority, of course, but after nearly a year and a half in the Pegasus galaxy, they are all ready for something to take the edge off once in a while.

"Your kalchak is a skilled negotiator," the lead Metaris delegate tells John with a manly swipe to the shoulder that makes it seem like the congratulations are meant for John himself. "She must give you trouble at home."

"She is a fair leader," John replies. Through his tipsy haze, he muses on the word kalchak and how the Pegasus humans speak mostly variations of English -- and, occasionally, more direct derivatives of Ancient or even Wraith -- but there are always one or two incomprehensible words that seem to spring from nowhere. He'll have to ask Elizabeth her opinion on that.

Teyla nudges him. "Delegate Prodan," she names the Metaris man, "believes that Doctor Weir is your partner."

John blinks at her.

"Wife," she clarifies.

He shakes his head. "Oh, no," he starts, but Prodan has already wandered away.

John shrugs it off. It is hardly the first time that he and Elizabeth have been mistaken for lovers by people they encounter.

But the mistaken alien stirs up a bug in his brain that Teyla planted months before, and even as he small-talks his way through the party, he can't stop thinking about it.

When he encounters Elizabeth on the balcony in what will hopefully seem like an accidental meeting, they're both drunk. He didn't plan to be, and he's almost certain she wouldn't intentionally allow herself to be so, either, but the Metaris wine packs a hell of a punch and they have both been almost totally sober for a year and a half.

They talk for a minute, congratulating each other, but the subject is unimportant. Either she doesn't notice that she's being backed into the nearest wall or she doesn't mind, because suddenly he's less than an inch away from her skin and the smell of wine and Elizabeth is driving him completely insane.

Or he's already insane, and this is just an excuse.

She sighs into his ear when his hand finds her hip, and that does it.

When he kisses her, it's so warm and perfect that it seems ridiculous that they haven't done this before, that they don't do this all the time, that they don't give up exploring and negotiating and fighting the Wraith and just lie naked in a bed somewhere for the rest of their lives.

He pulls away and runs his fingers down the side of her face, into the soft hair behind her neck. Her skin is flushed and warm, and for long minutes, they don't break eye contact.

In a moment of clarity, he makes a decision -- he wants to do this, to stop dancing around the way they have been for months and months and maybe even since they met, to take her back to his quarters tonight and make her his, once and for all.

Her eyes are wide and drunk, lips parted in invitation, and she doesn't look like she would mind.

There's a crash inside, and shouting, and Elizabeth stiffens sharply next to him in response.

It's only a broken punch bowl, but by the time the shards are cleared away, John feels more sober and Elizabeth is nowhere to be seen.

In the morning, over breakfast -- they have breakfast together now, nearly every day -- she doesn't mention it.

3. The girl is blonde, wide-eyed, barely over eighteen and without the faintest clue what it means to be in love.

"Do you really fly this ship into outer space?" she asks in the same tone of voice that women in bars used to ask 'Are you a real Air Force officer?'

Most of his former relationships began that way.

Most of them ended within a month, too, so he has his doubts about how long a fascination with his uniform or, in this case, his puddle-jumper, can hold out.

Her name is thirteen syllables long -- something her people whip through but John can only stumble over -- and so he has truncated it to a nickname that he can remember. She finds this wonderful, but he has a feeling that he could read her the endless ammunition inventory reports that Elizabeth hates so much and she would be delighted. "Maya," he says, settling a hand on her shoulder that is more paternal than sexual. "I don't think you really want to... do this... with me."

Maya gives him a languid, seductive smile, like she thinks this is all part of his alien mating ritual. "Do you not find me attractive, Major John Sheppard?" She, on the other hand, has given his name as many syllables as possible.

She kisses him, forcibly enough to clearly show her intent, and John feels nothing but awkward.

She's beautiful, he notes. Beautiful and easy, and this isn't about breakfasts or afternoons exploring the city or soft brown hair that tickles his cheek when Elizabeth curls up against his shoulder as he teaches her about football.

"Are all your men so difficult to please?" Maya asks when she finally notices that he's not kissing back out of anything other than habit.

His ego is what responds, more than anything else.

John keeps his eyes open while he has sex with her, focusing on her blonde hair and youthful features to remind himself of where he is and what he's doing, but it isn't easy.

4. He stays two days with Maya, but only to keep it from being a one-night stand.

On his return he showers, changes, and storms Elizabeth's quarters even though it's past 11:30 at night, Atlantis time.

He spends a lot of time here, and a lot of time with her. He knows that it's odd that she's not asleep yet, and he wonders if she was waiting for him. He doesn't allow himself any further thoughts, because one of them might make him stop.

"I had an affair on the planet," he announces. It isn't until the statement is already out of his mouth that he questions the wording. He hasn't wronged Elizabeth in any way, except in his head.

They're not dating. They're not together. They kissed, once, and several times again since then, but that does not a kalchak make.

Her body evidently stiffens, but her voice is even. "I suspected." She offers him a chair with a wave of her hand. "Rodney told me you had 'unfinished business to attend to' when he returned home yesterday."

He paces a bit instead of taking the seat. "I wanted you to know."

John recognizes her expression -- it's the one she uses in negotiations and dressings-down when every word has to be precisely chosen. She doesn't openly deny that they have something together, and that, at least, is a relief. "You are allowed to see other people," she reminds him, and if there's anything other than honesty in her voice, it's apology.

Except that isn't what he wants. He thinks he would have adored Maya two years ago -- she's funny and adventurous in bed, if not overly bright, and she didn't try to dig uncomfortably deeply beneath his skin.

But two years ago he hadn't met Elizabeth.

His question is almost as innocent in tone as Maya's excited inquiry about the puddle-jumper and whether or not it could really fly. "Why can't I have that with you?"

Elizabeth closes her eyes and looks so genuinely pained that he wants to take it back almost as much as he wants an answer.

"It's an impossible situation," she replies, and though that answer doesn't really mean anything, it sounds like she has put thought into it.

"This entire expedition is an impossible situation!"

He has been exposed by everything he's said here, and that makes him feel angry and defensive and reckless. He wants to grab her where she's sitting cross-legged on her bed and force her into a kiss, just like the first one that nearly fried his inebriated brain at the Metaris party, but his better judgment stops him. Elizabeth doesn't respond well to his recklessness.


He puts his pent-up energy into his tone of voice, almost shouting, "Explain it to me!"

Her entire demeanor is suddenly infinitely calmer, and that is almost always a bad sign. "Not now," she says, in the immobile tone of voice that will entertain no arguments. "Get some sleep."

Having no other obvious course of action, John storms out. He turns around just as the door closes, and Elizabeth already has her head in her hands. It almost scares him because he has never, ever seen her cry.

5. It takes ten days for him to calm down. In that time he has a lingering alien taste in his mouth, Rodney frowning at him for his assumed infidelity, and a guilty conscience.

Elizabeth makes it easy to avoid her by becoming almost reclusive, walling herself behind back-to-back meetings in her office and early disappearances to her quarters to sleep. To the best of his knowledge, she has stopped eating breakfast all together.

On the eleventh day, she comes to his quarters to deliver her explanation.

"I can't be in a relationship with you," she says, and the words probably would've hurt more if he hadn't been bracing himself for them all week.

"I figured that."

He doesn't care that he sounds bitter, but it makes her give him a disapproving look. "You know it has nothing to do with you."

"Elizabeth..." for a moment he's tempted to call her Doctor, but he hasn't called her that in months and it seems almost cruel. He doesn't want to alienate her, not really. "It's kind of difficult to accept that it has nothing to do with me."

She winces, and he knows he's right. "I'm the leader of Atlantis, first and foremost," she explains, slowly, like he doesn't speak her language.

The statement sounds incorrect, and he realizes it's because he has long started thinking of her first as his friend and second as an authority figure. "Lots of people are pairing off."

Elizabeth holds up a hand. "But they aren't in charge. We are. I am. And my ability to function in this role is contingent on your having complete faith in what I say and do."

"I do," he says, and for all the times he's challenged her authority, that's true. It took a while, took trial and error in their ways of communication, but he respects her more than he's ever respected anyone. "I know you. I trust you."

"But you don't really know me." The quiet words feel like a slap in the face, a challenge to everything that has been most important to him in this past year. "You haven't seen me deal with bad days and challenging decisions, because I haven't let you. Ultimately, you are the one who decides whether or not to follow my orders based on your confidence in my command. The rest of Atlantis will take your lead."

Her words make it sound like she's afraid of him. It has been a long time since he has directly defied her, and it seems irrational that she hasn't yet forgiven him when they're as close as they are.

"If we had a relationship..." she falters emotionally for the first time since walking in. "I can't open up to you that much while still having to stay in control."

They're silent for a few minutes, and her eyes drift to the door, like that is that and she's just going to walk away.

He wants to tell her he loves her, but thinks that might be the worst possible thing for him to say.

"If you don't want a relationship," he finally says, "what the hell are we in right now?"

She opens her hands in a sort of full-body shrug, and though she isn't, actually, he thinks he can see her shaking. "I don't know. Something... close."

6. They don't quite fall back into their regular routine of breakfasts and evenings and afternoon outings spent together, and the pull to see her more often is so strong that John really feels like he's breaking a habit. They're still close, still see each other in the most platonic of senses, but her words weigh heavy on his mind.

She's right, in at least some ways, about everything. About them, about him, about their roles on Atlantis.

He still thinks they could make it work.

As the weeks pass, John worries less that they won't get over their attraction to each other than that they will. He has been infatuated before, but never like this, so slowly and deeply that it feels like part of him, and it's changing him in a way he doesn't want to give up.

The cool, drafty winter gives him a lot of time to think.

On the first really warm day of spring, he accosts her in her office and drags her to the end of the most recently explored pier. She complains about leaving her work behind, but he insists that this be a laptop-free excursion, and her attempt to persuade him to let her go back for it is half-hearted. She's smiling, evidently delighted by the returning sun, and that alone makes him feel better than he has in a long time.

"This is nice," Elizabeth says, after their long walk to the edge of the city. Her expression falters sadly, and she admits, "I missed this. I'm sorry."

"You don't have to be."

Her fingers slip between his, tentatively, and he squeezes her hand. The desire to back her up into the nearest barrier, to kiss her again, to overpower her doubts even for a moment is still there, but he knows better than that. He knows her better than that. One kiss isn't going to do it, not for this.

His heart thuds once, and he braces himself for what she might say.

"I want to take this slow," he says.

Her eyes are wary, but curious, and she hasn't shot him down yet.

"Just... try it. See what happens. I mean, it can't be that bad if we're not just... rushing into something, right?" He clears his throat, and curses his own lack of eloquence. "You don't have to tell me now. I've been thinking about this for a while."

"So have I," she answers immediately. "I've been thinking about this a lot." She doesn't tell him what conclusion she came to. Her eyes are wide and honest, searching his face until he has to look away.

He's not exactly good at these conversations, even though he's had a long time to prepare, and he has a fleeting thought that he should have written his talking points down somewhere. She once advised him to do that, after his first few briefings on Atlantis. He'd resented it at the time, still unsteady with the rigors of command and hating that she could see right through him, but he took her advice.

She was right, as usual. It takes him a while to learn, sometimes, but he does learn eventually.

She's just not right about this.

"I don't want to undermine you, Elizabeth. That's not what this is about."

He wants this. She wants this. It can't be that hard.

"I know."

John can feel his palm sweating against hers as he stares out at the ocean. He finds himself counting in his head the seconds of her silence. One, two, three...

Next to him, she takes a deep breath like she's about to dive underwater. Her fingers tighten against his. "Okay."

His heart jumps. "What?"

She laughs, a nervous sound that sends a grin to his face, the same stupid expression he always got around her before things got weird and distant. "I want to try this, John. But slowly. This... could take a while to figure out."

"I can do that," he promises. "We can handle it." He really has no idea if he can keep himself to slowly after an entire year already, but he trusts that she'll keep him in line.

With nothing more than a smile as a warning, Elizabeth kisses him. It feels even better than he remembers. As her tongue sneaks into his mouth, he thinks that slow might have its advantages.

They begin seeing each other in the spring.


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