Timeline / Spoilers: Directly follows
Thank you: Murron and Auburn, without whom I'd be lost.
The way from Zelenka’s quarters to the
mess-hall is long and Elizabeth passes many windows on her way
down there. Sometimes, she believes she can still see a fire
burning in a remote section of her city, hear people trapped
and screaming. It’s a chimera and she knows it, but it
doesn’t stop the pictures from rising unbidden. She squares
her shoulders and walks faster, ignoring the windows.
Upon the opening swish of the mess-hall doors,
she is greeted by a smell that has haunted her dreams for months
and has caused cravings and homesickness of the worst possible
kind. She loves the Daedalus's arrival even more now.
The mess-hall appears empty when she walks in,
swift despite her exhaustion, the lure of coffee impossible
She sips at the steaming liquid carefully, religiously,
with closed eyes and forgets everything around her for a few
glorious moments before she feels a prickle in her neck, accompanied
by the distinct feeling of being watched.
When she opens her eyes again, she sees Sheppard
sitting on a table near one of the big windows. From where she's
standing, she can't even see all of him, the second half of
the table is hidden behind a corner. There's an almost undetectable
smile on his face. He waves a hand at her in a silent greeting.
And that alone, the small hand wave and the
memory of him doing the same after he first stepped through
the Atlantis gate is enough to bring everything crashing down
on her. The window behind him shows nothing but darkness, no
ghost fires, but she feels an almost desperate need to be near
him, to spend more time in his company, assuring her that he
really is alive and well.
When she rounds the corner, a greeting already
on her lips, Sheppard moves sharply, places a silencing finger
over his lips. Then his gaze returns to the table.
Elizabeth's heart twists, unable to decide between
amusement and pain.
Rodney lies, face resting on the table; his
left hand still cradling a coffee mug like his most prized possession.
He's so dead to the world that he doesn't even snore.
Sheppard doesn't take his eyes off the sleeping
scientist. "Fell asleep half an hour ago, in the middle
of a sentence. Hasn't moved since." There's an amused concern
in his low voice.
"Why are you here, John?"
He doesn't answer, just lets his gaze travel
over Rodney's sleeping face, his jaw set. Sheppard's expression
appears calm and at peace with himself, but for once, Elizabeth
believes she can see what's going on behind the mask of smiles
"He's not Ford," she says, quietly.
A long, uncomfortable pause in which Sheppard
looks as if he wants to take the mug from Rodney's tight grasp.
"He could be. If Teyla hadn't --"
"But she did."
"He's my responsibility."
Elizabeth isn't quite sure anymore whom Sheppard
is talking about.
"You can't blame yourself for everything.
You can't be everywhere at the same time, no matter how much
you want to be."
He's not believing a word she says, and she
knows that she doesn't, either. Every phrase is hollow, every
word too much and yet she needs to say them, for her sake as
much as for his.
"You can't save them all, John," she
repeats, willing him to believe.
"Does that stop you from thinking
about it?" It comes out hurt and angry; narrowed green
gaze drilling into her.
Damned if she doesn't know exactly how he feels.
She had liked Ford and his easy smiles, his sense of humour
and his ability to see the best in every situation. She had
liked many people they had lost.
"No," she admits. "And it doesn't
stop me from thinking about how I almost lost you two as well."
Her voice sinks down to a whisper and she inclines her head
toward Rodney. "I could hear the both of you. Your eerie
calm. Rodney's bright panic. You weren't calling for help but
he was, and there wasn't a thing I could have done to help him
or you. And if the Daedalus hadn't come, you …"
"Yeah." He closes his eyes briefly,
suppressing a sigh, that painfully tight control slipping for
microseconds before it's restored and his walls are up strong
again. "We really gotta stop that."
She reaches out, impulsively, closes her hand
around his deceptively slim wrist. "Don't." She tightens
the grip of her fingers, feels warm skin and bones where her
fingertips bypass the black wristband. "Just remember what
you have. Not what you lost." She reaches her other hand
toward Rodney and slides the coffee-mug free; takes his limp,
sleep-curled hand in hers. "What's worth fighting for.
And more, what's worth living for."
Her thumbs caress their skin and for one precious
moment, when she feels both hands tighten around hers, she thinks
that everything will be possible, maybe even defeating the Wraith,
as long as she has this well of strength she can draw from.
When her eyes slip closed from exhaustion, she
feels a hand on her head; heavy, slim and warm; fingers moving
through her hair in small protective strokes.
"What are we doing?" she thinks she
hears him say. It doesn't matter. The circle is still broken,
but she can feel it mend before she falls asleep.
When she wakes up hours later, John's asleep
with his head on the table as well, his right hand still in
hers, his left on Rodney's elbow; closing the circle she began.