Spoilers: "Before I Sleep", but nothing else that I can see…

Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis isn't mine, though I am allowed to dream.

Note: I promised myself to try and branch away from the present tense fics, but that resolution has gotten pushed to the side for a moment to post this one. I hope Liz doesn't sound too immature at times—I wanted to make her seem adult about the situation. Anyhoo, just my first attempt at an angst fic, and I also apologize in advance for the John/Teyla thing to any one who might object…Hope you enjoy the fic and feedback always welcomed!

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She stands at the threshold of her office, her eyes fixed on the mess that litters the once tidy space. Where organization used to reign, turmoil now takes its place, and she feels as though she has lost another tiny piece of herself with it. She cannot help it—everything that had been in this office has been apart of her, every trinket has had some meaning behind it, each little ornament has been a testament to something in her life.

Mourning for those pieces only seems just.

Slowly she studies the havoc, trying hard not to linger on recognized items that are no longer in discernible condition. Prized possessions that once held honorary places on shelves and alongside the sleek walls now lie on the dirtied floor. Some are no longer in one piece but scattered about, remnants of memories shattered and littering the carpet. The window on the far wall is cracked, the yellow tape around it being the only physical glue keeping all the tiny shards together.

It is as though she is gazing across a graveyard of her life so far, the silence that has befallen the empty control room enhancing the tomblike quality that her sanctuary has suddenly taken on. She tries to envision it, without success, the way it had been only hours before when she had sat down to begin an afternoon of reports.

Before the chaos, before the destruction, before the anger that had caused all of it.

She berates herself for allowing the envoy in, but she knows that she would not have done it any differently no matter how many times she could relive it. Lorne had assured her the men had come in peace—he had even taken the liberty of disarming them before bringing them through the Stargate as an extra precaution. Her diplomatic background forbade her against refusing any meetings that may result in benefits to her city, so with trepidation and hope she had allowed the group into her office to discuss terms of trade.

Wincing inwardly, she remembers the fury that had erupted across the leader's face when she had calmly informed them that she would not allow them to see the city's power system. It had been for good reason—Rodney had been running some tests on it and had blatantly stated that he would not be forgiving if anyone intruded on his work.

She respects her people's work, even when a particular scientist can be a little more than overbearing, and feels that allowing them a moment or two of their own is the best reward she can offer them for their hard work. So when Rodney had made his demand for time on his own to study some mechanism or another, she had complied if only to keep him happy until the next grand-scale attack on the city occurred and he would be called on to help her once more.

She just hadn't expected her visitors to be quite so bitter at her refusal, nor that beneath the guise of wanting trade, they had truly desired to steal the city's power generators to supply their own warfare dealings.

The throbbing in her head is setting in again—the pills Carson had prescribed having lost their edge—and she closes her eyes, a hand briefly reaching up to touch the bandage on her forehead. She can still see her desk flying out from under her arms, still hear the sickening crack it made as it hit the window. She still feels the sharp flash of pain that erupted through her head when the statue had connected with her skin. She wishes she doesn't have to feel these things, but none of it will fade. Just like the image of the leader standing up and throwing his chair across her room when she denied his request, those feelings and sounds are burned on her mind. Eventually they will diminish, but at this very moment in time they are as vivid as if it were still happening.

So she tries to focus on the more pleasant aspects, the cheerier images—such as Lorne and his men tackling the envoy, watching the leader being forcefully escorted to the Stargate through the remaining glass of her window. Those are images that she tries to cling to so that she can deal with the situation, so that she doesn't let her own anger get too strong a hold of her emotions. She doesn't like being angry, doesn't like the sick feeling it gives her, doesn't like the person it turns her into—she hates it as much as she hates worrying, but neither emotion is ever going to leave her senses any time soon so she has found ways of coping.

Ways of hiding them both.

She knows that if she doesn't do something soon the dam that has been holding her frustration back will crumble. The last thing she wants to do is break down in a place where any one of her people can find her, so she steels herself against the sorrow and the pain and takes a tentative step forward into the devastated room.

Her face twists into a grimace as her carefully placed footsteps miss a spot and land on something fragile, something that gives way under her weight with a reverberating crack. But she pushes aside the urge to see what has now been broken into even more debris and heads forward. Nothing in here appears salvageable anyway—nothing survived the brutal attack.

She feels more than a little silly at being so heartbroken over inanimate objects, but these were her treasures. They were things that she could look upon and reflect back to better times, things that could bring her spirits up when they were low. These things kept her company during those late nights of work, watched over her when she fell asleep on her desk, had made the sterile work space into a home.

Idly she runs a hand along her desk—someone must have returned it to its rightful place while she was in the infirmary—hating to see the empty surface. The surface reminds her of something though, of a particular item and suddenly her gaze widens its search. She soon finds what she is looking for in the far corner near the shattered window, and she makes her way over to its resting place, still careful to place her feet on empty ground.

A small breath of relief escapes her lips as she lifts the picture frame off the floor, when she sees the picture of her beloved dog still in one piece, though there is no longer any glass protecting it. Lovingly she caresses the scratched edges, thankful that of all the things to have remained intact it was the photo. Losing the photo would have been akin to saying goodbye to the canine all over again, and she doubts she would've been able to handle it as well as the first time—especially now, when her life has been turned inside out once again.

As she makes to put the frame back in its rightful place on her desk, her foot brushes against a shard that glints with a familiar colour. Bending down, she rests one knee amidst the other fragments and lifts the piece of pottery closer to the light.

It is not the shape that gives it away, nor the streaks of silver in the reddened material—it is the texture that her mind remembers, conjuring a clear image of what the pot had looked like before it had gone sailing across the room.

Tucking the photo under her arm, she turns the shard over in her hands, fingers grazing the surface as she muses over the irony of finding this particular item in pieces. At one time it had represented so many things to her—it had been a symbol of age, of new beginnings, of laughing green eyes and a heart-melting smirk. It had been one of the first items to find a permanent home on her desk, and had held more memories than she could count.

It had once been a sort of a beacon to her, when things had been going wrong and the person who had given it to her in the first place was not there to ease her worries. The small pot had been as close to having a part of him there when he was, in reality, a million miles away. It had kept her steady, kept her faith in his return strong, kept her hope alive until she could have more than just a piece of him back. When he was not just a memory but a flesh and blood being, laughing at something as he sat on the edge of her desk.

Now it is the only piece of him she really has, even though he is still breathing and laughing through the hallways of Atlantis.

And it is a piece that she has been contemplating moving for some time now—moving to a location where she doesn't have to look at it and remember any more. She had felt petty with her train of thought back then, and even now she still feels it as a tiny trickle of relief pours through her system. Relief that the hostile Pegasus locals have at least done some good in their blatant destruction of her office.

It is only coincidence, she reasons, that she suddenly hears footsteps approaching her office, hears the astounded whistle and then his voice.

"Geez, those brutes really did a number on your space."

She refuses to turn towards his voice, refuses to let her eyes betray what she is feeling because she knows that even though she doesn't want him too, he can still read her thoughts through her eyes. So she focuses more readily on the fragment in her hand, focuses on ignoring the painful rip in her heart.

"It could've been worse," She says casually, keeping her voice strictly in check. "Lorne managed to tackle them before they broke all of my windows."

"Lorne's a good guy if that's all he did. You're lucky it wasn't me on that mission—I would've probably shot them all a down."

It should've been you on that mission, but you had other plans, other people to care about, she thinks but bites back the retort before it falls off the tip of her tongue. She has never once let him see how she really feels about his new situation, has played the supporting friend throughout it all. There is nothing that will stop her from her act either, no matter how shattered she may feel at the moment.

Instead, she clutches the fragment tightly in her hands, mentally willing him away. But those efforts are in vain as she feels the vibrations from his feet coming closer, nearer to where she is crouched amidst her ruined things.

"Elizabeth, if there's anything I can do to help, really…" He trails off, as if he cannot think of a way to really help at all.

She, on the other hand, can think of a hundred things he can do, things he would have done in the past, things she had hoped he might do in the future, but none of them will ever be a reality now. Hating herself for still thinking this way, even though it has been months, she shakes her head—in part an answer to his offer, in part a way of ridding the thoughts from her mind. "No, John, but thanks all the same."

But when he reaches out to her shoulder, when his fingers almost tenderly grip her shoulder, she rises from the floor and turns to face him fully, subtly dislodging the hand, the pressure, the reminder of what they once shared, and what she had once believed they could find together.

At first his eyes catch sight of the bandage on her head, but he doesn't say anything and she knows that he gets the message. If there is one message he has come to learn from her, it is the one that simply states 'stay away'. It had been a new one for him to learn, but thankfully he is quick with things like that, even though he still looks confused every time he sees it.

He soon focuses on the shard in her hands and she sees the dawning look of recognition on his face. "Isn't that the pot I gave you for your birthday?"

She shrugs. "What's left of it. I haven't really had a chance to look around for the other pieces."

A grin reaches his handsome features, lights up his entire face and she dreads what he will say next because she knows exactly what he is thinking about when he looks like that. But still she cannot stop him, for friends are meant to be there for friends no matter how sticky or how heart-breaking the situation is. Her personal feelings shouldn't matter, not when he is so happy, so at peace with his life. Yet no matter how mature she tries to be about the circumstances, there are still moments when she envies him for it and envies her for letting him have it all.

So she braces herself for the words, and knows that her face betrays nothing of the ache that is festering inside as he speaks.

"You know, I might be able to find another one when I head off to the mainland tomorrow. Teyla wanted to make sure to invite everyone to the ceremony, but we missed a few so we're heading back to tell them. I can stop in to see if the guy is still making them on the way."

"You don't have to, really—"

He stops her short with a wave of the hand. "No, no, I want to. Think of it as a thank you present for letting an entire village of people come to Atlantis to see the 'wedding of the century', as Rodney is so kindly putting it. Not many people would be so understanding, and I want to do more, but it will be a start."

Holding her head high, she looks him straight in the eye, her voice unwavering, and she forces a small smile onto her trembling lips. "I just wanted you to be happy, John."

His grin softens a little, and she knows she has said the right thing, said what a friend should say—not the words of a woman who was, and still is despite everything, in love with him. She can only hope that the burning behind her eyes will one day fade, hopes that one day all of this raw anguish will finally come to a halt. Hopes that one day she can say those words and not feel as if the whole world has come crashing down around her ears.

"Thanks, Elizabeth. It means a lot to both of us."

"You're welcome," She replies carefully, casually, then—unable to stand it any longer—she turns away from those laughing green eyes, turns back to the broken pieces of her life around her. "Now go have fun at your bachelor party, and try not to let everyone drink too much. I'd rather not have a repeat of Rodney and Carson's Christmas table dancing antics again."

"Trust me, I don't need any more nightmares thanks." He laughs, but she thinks she can hear just a little bit of bewilderment in his tone, as though he is unsure of her state of mind. "You know, if you want, Teyla's party just started and there's enough chocolate for one more. We can always get a clean-up crew in tomorrow—"

This time it is she who stops him with a brief, reassuring glance over her shoulder. "Don't worry, Teyla already asked me and I promised I'd drop by later. I just need to be alone right now, just for a minute."

She knows he is hesitant to leave, knows that he suspects there is something more than just a need to be alone behind her words, but he must shrug it off for she can feel his footsteps moving away. "Well, be careful in here. Night, Elizabeth."

She says a good night but he is already rambling down the corridor from her office. She looks at the shard in her hands, feels the sharp jagged pangs of lost love biting at her chest, carving itself into her heart and at last gives in to her petty urges.

Tomorrow she will be the proud leader, the cheering bridal party, the supportive friend. But today, just for today, she allows herself this one moment to be who she truly is—the one person stupid enough to lose her heart to a man who was never in her grasp.

She reaches over, grabs the edge of her wastebasket and puts it back upright. Then she gathers up any other pieces of pottery that resemble the shard still clutched in her grip, holding the remnants for a moment in her hands.

The first sob—the first since she had discreetly gone to her room, four months ago, after witnessing John's proposal to Teyla on the floor of the 'gate room—escapes her throat as she holds her hands steady over the edge of the wastebasket.

But she doesn't let the tears fall yet.

She waits just a moment longer, looks at the fragments in her hands and remembers the images that the pot used to represent. Remembers her secret joy when he handed over the gift to her all those years ago, remembers the way she used to finger its roughened surface when he was out on missions, remembers the hope it once represented.

Then her hands part, the pieces fall, and the first stinging tears are soon heralded by the sound of the fragments hitting the bottom of the waste basket with a resounding, resolute crash.

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