Title: "Twenty Questions"

Author: Little Red

Rating: PG-13

Category: fireman!verse Sheppard/Weir. Sort of... angstifluff.

Summary: They are the same people, they're just in the wrong place.


***


It's three in the morning at the end of July when Elizabeth finally asks a question that has nagged at her, on and off, since she first really started to get to know John Sheppard.

"Why are you a bike messenger?"

He shifts at the question, but he doesn't answer right away, and she allows the silence. It's sweltering out, the sixth day of a heat wave that has set the whole city on edge, and she was starting to feel too caged up by her climate-controlled bedroom to sleep. The fourth time she woke John up by tossing and turning, she asked him to come out to the back deck with her for some air. He agreed.

The first time Elizabeth saw the carved wood fence around the edge of her second-floor back deck, she thought about lying out here naked with someone. She has had a few lovers in the two years since she bought the place, but somehow, this is the first time she has done it.

It's too hot to have too much physical contact between them, so they're stretched out almost perpendicular with his head resting on her belly, stray hairs tickling her when the breeze passes over them. John turns the question back on her:

"Why are you a PR executive?"

"The money?" She offers, poking him in the shoulder for deflecting her question. "The opportunity. The youthful, possibly misguided notion that I could make a difference." There isn't bitterness or resentment in her voice at that last one, only a quiet fact. She grew up a green warrior, determined to save the world for children and trees. She doesn't remember that very often anymore.

"Good reasons," John notes, and sighs.

A siren wails in the distance, and, as she always does, Lizzie off-handedly wonders if it's Sam. Even at three in the morning, the sound of traffic never completely stops. When she closes her eyes, sometimes it sounds like the ocean.

She asks, "Are you going to tell me?" At first, she never wondered. She slept with him six days after they first met because he was the office courier boy, and because he was gorgeous, and because he looked at her like she was an 18-year-old cover model and like he couldn't get enough. He had the body for a bike courier, was all she had thought before setting herself on him like a bitch in heat, ten times in the first week alone. The sexual fervor had both been almost embarrassing -- almost, as Elizabeth Weir didn't get embarrassed anymore as a rule -- and completely, totally satisfying in a way that made her feel like she'd never be completely, totally satisfied so long as she had to do anything in her life besides have sex with this man.

But, in spite of both of their best intentions, she got to know him. John Sheppard is bright, very bright. He's capable and personable and inventive, and she's stuck on the fact that he could do so much more. She's a little adoring of him these days, she admits, such that she might secretly believe that he could fly to the moon if he set his mind to it, but even without her current infatuation, the truth remains. He works just enough to afford the crappy apartment where he refuses to let her sleep over and spends the rest of his time lazing about her place, reading through her library, cooking gourmet frozen pizzas for her, and evading personal questions with highly athletic sex.

But it's far too hot for sex, and she wants an answer.

"I enjoy it," he finally says with a shrug.

"Not good enough," is her response.

He tilts his face up to look at hers. In the near-darkness, she can't tell if he's curious or concerned. "Not good enough for me, or for you?"

"Not a good enough answer," she clarifies with a huff, refusing to answer his question. She has thought about that, mostly when she's invited "and guest" to some fancy charity affair or other. Her job is very much about appearances, but she's ashamed of any part of herself that would be embarrassed by dating outside of her class. She has enough of the youthful crusader left in her to date his blue-collared ass her whole life just out of spite. No, this has very little to do with her, and everything to do with him.

"I'm good at it," he continues, picking his words slowly. "I don't have to sit at a desk all day. I work decent hours," he finishes, poking her in the rib at that last one.

"I envy you a little," she admits.

"Why?" The genuine surprise in his voice makes her even more curious about why he stays in a summer job well into adulthood. "Because I get home before 8:30?"

They're not officially in the sort of relationship where he's entitled to complain about how much time she spends at work, but he does anyway. She lets him, even appreciates it in her own way, because it has been a very long time since anyone has paid that kind of close attention to her, or cared enough about her to object.

"Because you know exactly what you're doing," she frowns. She has discretionary power over what jobs she will and won't accept, of course, but lately she's growing steadily more uncomfortable with some of the environmental and human resources practices of her biggest client. The company is owned by Sam's twin sister Rebecca, so she can't exactly extricate herself without endangering one of her best friendships, and she has the futures of her employees to worry about, keeping her from recklessly tossing clients. It just worries her.

"You could quit," John suggests. "We've got an opening at the company for a receptionist."

For a fantastical moment, she considers it, but doesn't tell him that.

"I'm a bit of a screwup," John suddenly announces.

"What?"

"You asked why I don't do something more important."

"I didn't ask-"

He shoots her a quick look, reminding her of just how smart he is, and just how well he reads her and her way of couching questions inside other questions. "That's the answer. I'm a bit of a screwup."

"You are not," she insists with an unusual conviction, given that she really doesn't know all that much about him beyond what she can touch. She feels like she does, though. She always has. "Just because you happen to like your job?"

"I do," he half-heartedly agrees. "I tried to break into other stuff, Lizzie. More than once. It never worked out."

"Because you're too smart and intimidated your bosses," she fills in confidently.

She knows he's smirking. "And I'm crap at taking direction."

Elizabeth has had great fun corralling his independent streak in the bedroom. "So you are."

She wants to tell him he's not a screwup, difinitively shove any remnants of low self-esteem out of this man she so shamelessly adores, but doesn't. Her mind goes back to Rebecca's company, and how she packs her own schedule as tight as she can manage it to choke down the weird, persistent fantasy about leaving it all and running away to the ocean, and says, "I'm a screwup, too."

John reaches up to rub a knuckle gently over her ribs for a moment, but doesn't say anything, only stares up at the stars. Haze and light pollution block out all but the brightest ones, and that feels fundamentally wrong.

"Do you ever..." John trails off, and then starts again, voice full of a strange magnitude, "do you ever feel like you should be... somewhere else?"

No, she thinks, why would I?, but the words that come out of her mouth are, "All the time."

"I feel like that a lot," he admits, kicking a toe against the deck railing. "Like this is just... waiting for something bigger. Like we took a wrong turn somewhere and just have to... wait."

He meets her eyes and she has the strongest feeling, irrationally, that she trusts him with her life.

"You could start your own company," she suggests. It's in no way what he meant, but she finds herself saying it anyway, needing to back off from the sharp sensation that these are not the stars she should be looking at.

"Doing what?"

"Anything. Bike messaging."

"Bike repair," he counter-suggests. "And model airplanes." He then nuzzles her stomach. "I'd need a really great PR consultant."

"You've got her."

Her bedroom feels freezing when they go inside. With her windows closed and the central air on, Elizabeth can barely hear the distant traffic outside, but she still imagines it, rushing in and out like water. John pulls her as close as he ever has, burying his face in her neck.

"You shouldn't complain," he points out.

"Oh?"

"If I wasn't a bike courier, how would we have ever met?"

It's a rhetorical question, but somehow Elizabeth suspects there's an answer. "Maybe we would have found a way," she murmurs, and kisses him. It's unlikely they would have, really. There are a lot of people in this city, and there's nothing to say that either of them would even have ended up here had their career paths been different. Nothing is impossible, though.

"I'd like that," John whispers.

She falls asleep to his breath in her ear, as calm and rhythmic as waves, and feels okay.


*end*


Author's Note: This kinda lacks the zest of all the other fireman!verse fics but, er, I was inspired. Someone, I now forget who, sparked the idea that we're not quite sure if fireman!verse is actually a proper AU or some kind of group hallucination, and I think that possibility floating around is very, very cool.


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