Title: A Conversation at Midnight
Author: Neuriel
Pairing: Sheppard/Weir
Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis and its characters belong to MGM Studios and other companies. (In other words, they're not mine.)
Categories: Angst. Character death. Future fic.
Spoilers: You've seen "Rising"? Good enough.
Author's Notes: Currently un-betaed but spell checked. I haven't written fic seriously for years, so take that note as you will.
Summary: A talk at night.

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"John?" The query was soft, tentative.

He was curled around her, her back to him, an arm around her waist, its connected hand resting against her abdomen; her head was tucked underneath his chin. He had thought she was asleep, had hoped that she was, when he heard his name and knew otherwise.

"Go to sleep." His voice was commanding, firm, but as gentle as the hand that caressed her face.

She mumbled, "Don't want to."

"You're tired."

"Am not," she insisted, though her voice slurred, her normally well-planned, articulate sentences reduced to scattered words, and he smiled in spite of himself. "Want to talk."

He leaned his cheek against her damp hair, trying to imagine it smelling like flower-scented shampoo (something subtle, he thought, something faint, just barely intoxicating). "About what?" he humored, knowing she could not carry on a serious conversation with him.

"Your life... before."

He stilled, surprised, (even now, even with her) his defenses automatic. "On Earth?" he asked, in a tone he hoped was neutral.

"Yeah."

"I thought we weren't going to bring up the past," he said carefully, softly.

Before, the past: before her, before them. Almost inconceivable now, a time when he hadn't known her. So many experiences and images and places and people and conversations and relationships... but never her. She might as well have never even existed.

'Before' was her and Simon (almost marriage, almost normalcy, the life he-not-Simon could never give her). 'The past' was him and his list of women, some of whom he could no longer remember (except in photos, random, fleeting impressions), and others he desperately wished he could forget (ones who faded from memory only when he was with her).

A sort of half-laugh, half-sigh escaped her. "Your idea."

True. She hadn't objected, and he hadn't asked, so strong was his naïveté, his conviction that she was the same as him; she was not (instead, both an opposite and a complement). He knew now why she had agreed- even then, in the beginning, she had understood him well enough to sense how much he tried to hide behind a carefree exterior and irreverent words.

He had- honestly, genuinely- planned on one day telling her. One day, he promised himself, he would share all the thoughts and dreams and horrors and pain and joy he had experienced, before them, and then everything he had known and felt since having met her (the damage upon meeting her having been done; knowing instinctively, even then, that he could never go back; she would forever exist, in some way, to him). One day, when things had moved beyond the physical, had progressed far enough, he would speak.

Admittedly, he had been rather optimistic, uncharacteristically cautious. He hadn't wanted to rush them or this newness between them. (Was it really a year ago, their first time? They- them- felt both so new and so familiar.) His feelings had wondered at his reluctance, while experience lectured a different tune- she could be the one. (He would not make the same mistakes, not with her.)

But all that seemed a lifetime ago. Now, he wondered if any of it had ever really mattered.

"I know," he said finally. And because there was nothing else to say (no possible way to tell her all the things he wanted her to hear), he said instead, "I'm sorry."

An apology- for that promise, and for everything else, too. An apology for every mistake he had ever made, for every angry, thoughtless thing he had done; for words said and for words that had passed him by; for things he should have done, for things he could never undo; for his feelings for her, for pursuing her, for wanting her; for the present, for this moment, for now; for him, for being himself, for them. Completely inadequate words, he knew, conveying absolutely nothing (though they meant everything), and yet they were all that he could offer.

"John..." There was recognition in her voice, understanding, as he knew there would be. (It was a gift she had from the start, the ability to read him so perfectly, with such clarity- almost everything about him, it seemed, except his feelings for her).

And in her voice, he heard what he feared- desperation. With one word (his name, no less), she tried to assuage his guilt, as she always did, to take on part of his burden, to share it, though it belonged to him and him alone, was solely his to carry.

He pressed his lips into her hair, willing her to listen, to hear his own desperation. "Go to sleep, Liz."

"Don't..." Frustration with him, with herself, battling exhaustion.

Careful not to move her, he pulled himself more tightly against her, ignoring the sharp stabs of pain in his chest and back from where flesh and bone had met stone and metal. "Go to sleep," he repeated, as if to a small child. "Don't worry. Everything will be okay."

"John..."

"It's okay, Liz," he soothed, ignoring her protests.

She said something- perhaps his name again- but her voice was so faint this time, he wasn't sure. His free hand stroked her face, wiping away from her face tears it encountered, ones he couldn't see and hadn't heard her shed (she always cried so silently). His other hand, against her stomach, felt sticky and damp and warm.

How desperately he wanted her to sleep, how selfishly.

"Go to sleep, Liz," he said softly. "Everything will be all right in the morning. This- now- you won't even remember. And when you wake up, they'll all be there- Ford and Teyla and Beckett. Even McKay, who'll be his usual annoying self."

She made a strange sound from the back of her throat, her body tensing, as if trying to muster one final challenge. She was a fighter, he knew, even when outnumbered, even when losing, and he felt ridiculously proud.

She fought, even when she should have no reason left to continue.

He closed his eyes, silently asking to be forgiven (by her, by whoever else was listening), knowing that he never would. "I'll be there, too," he said, lying, remembering how she had always admired his honesty.

And then (either comforted by his words, perhaps believing him, or else fiercely wanting to, or simply lacking the energy to argue any longer)- she relaxed, her body going very still. He pictured her eyes drifting shut, the stress lines on her face smoothing out, disappearing, her lips barely parting; she looked younger in sleep.

He lay wrapped around her, caressing her hair for a long time.

When he finally spoke her name again, in the darkness, he received no reply.

His free hand make its way down to her face, touching pale white, cool skin, across her cheekbones, and then to her blue-tinged lips. His hand paused there, then stopped once again over her nose. And lastly, it completed its journey, checking for a pulse against her neck that it knew it would not find.

Later, perhaps, he would grieve. But for now, there was only blessed relief.

He released a painful breath, felt himself sag against the ground as he succumbed to his own weakness. It would be okay, he told himself (many times, the only words he could think), and felt strangely happy. They couldn't hurt her anymore; they couldn't use her pain against him (though they had tried... God, how they had tried). The only screams he would hear now would be his own; the others' and hers only echoes of his memories.

"You always were the strong one, Liz," he whispered into her ear, knowing she could not hear him, brushing her lifeless lips with blood-stained fingers, and closed his eyes.

He might regret, perhaps, never telling her things she should have known (before all of this, a week ago), never speaking words he had been too afraid to say; words that, in a previous life, might have meant something (words that no longer did).

But that guilt was for later. Later, when they returned for him. Later, when they tortured him, demanding from him things he did not know, as they had to each of his friends before him, lastly her; later, while they watched him die slowly before them, when his thoughts of her and of the others would be his only bridge (burning brightly) to sanity.

For now, the present (though it still seemed so distantly unreal, a dream or a nightmare from which he would awaken, and see her next to him, gracing him with her beautiful smile), he held her, as he had so many times before, breathing in the scent of her hair, imagining the smell of lilacs, and slept.

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End