Disclaimer: I don't own Stargate Atlantis or its characters…
Author's Note: Just a short little Sheppard/Weir friendship or whatnot moment. It concerns the events of The Storm and The Eye, so takes place after that but before any significant contact with Earth is made. I'm not sure how I feel about its quality or entertainment value…but enjoy! (maybe)
A Sleepless Night
Thunder cracked, echoing around the ancient city. It picked up a strange hollow tone as it reverberated down the hallways. A flash of lightening immediately followed, its own thunderclap instantaneously accompanying it, announcing the storm's arrival to the city upon the ocean. Rain poured down, raising the din to an uproarious racket that drowned out all other noise created within the city's walls.
Lightning again cut through the sky and connected with an elegant spire that rose from the city towards the heavens. From miles away it looked as if a god had reached down to touch Atlantis, an attempt to endow it with life. Or perhaps the deity was in awe of the glorious city, reaching down an ethereal finger in order to test its tangibility, confirm its existence. For those living within the wonder of Atlantis itself, the lightening strike was a blinding flash of light that brought forth a booming barrage of sound that threatened the normal functioning of their eardrums.
Elizabeth Weir sat up in bed, finally giving in to the futile struggle against sleeplessness. She tried to slow her breathing, but her heart was racing, racing like it had been during that storm, that one horrific storm that she couldn't seem to forget. Every storm that washed over Atlantis since the hurricane that had threatened to destroy everything, including the city, the community they had built, even her life, kept her awake at night. Memories of the fear were dredged up with every crack of thunder. Every flash of lightening reminded her of that flash of gunfire as Major Sheppard took a shot, a single shot, a shot that came so close to her, but missed her, saved her. He saved her from Kolya, from the Genii and whatever horrible fate had been awaiting her with them.
But despite all of this, the memory of the fear persisted, kept her from the sound sleep she felt that she had earned after all the paperwork she had filled out and the extremely long days she had labored. She managed to slow her breathing, but she knew sleep would not come easily to her, especially while the storm continued to rage upon the city.
So instead of resigning herself to a night of tossing and turning, Elizabeth threw back the covers and got out of bed. She pulled her pajama pants on before she left her room and quietly made her way through a currently serene Atlantis despite the storm that racked the outside of the city. It was quite late, or early, depending on one's perspective. But in either case, the city was asleep, for even the scientists needed to take a break from their bordering-on-obsessive work ethic. Still, Elizabeth made her way gingerly through the city, as to not disturb anyone, towards the one place where she hoped to find peace.
Light, pitter-patting footfalls echoed gently through the hallway. They sounded deliberately light, like they were meant to go unheard, and perhaps they would have if John Sheppard hadn't been walking with his acutely trained ears down an adjoining hall. He had found it difficult to sleep, and as he often did, he would go for a walk on such occasions when sleep would not come. It seemed to work, to ease whatever elusive tension plagued his mind. It was as if he needed to see the city, to stand guard over it just a little longer, or his mind would not be at ease.
No one was ever up when he went on his guard-dog like excursions through the quiet city, besides the random scientist drooling over some new project, or onto it as they dozed, their brilliant mind exhausted. But there wasn't ever anyone in the hallways. The delicate footfalls made him nervous. He shook his head. He was probably freaking out over nothing. Besides, could he really be sure of what he was hearing? There was a thunderstorm roaring at the city, its thunderclaps snarling at the delicate structure, the sound of pouring rain bellowing down the halls.
John couldn't risk it. In all likelihood, it wasn't the sound of an invader moving surreptitiously through the city. But his mind would not be able to rest now; sleep was no longer a possibility. At least not while those footfalls continued to make their way through Atlantis. He followed a deliberately significant distance behind their source in order to ensure that he was not heard or seen by the potential intruder.
He caught a glimpse of it-no-her as she made her way into the heart of the city. Frustratingly, John could not make out who it was, but determined her to be one of the expedition members by her adornment of characteristic earth clothing. Thus she proved not to be a threat. He considered turning back towards his room, perhaps he could rest now. Then again, curiosity was beginning to work its way into his mind, and although it was probably in bad etiquette, he decided to continue to follow her. And as he silently pursued her down the stygian halls, John soon found himself compelled to learn her identity.
A strategically timed flash of lightening illuminated her features just as she gingerly turned her head to survey her surroundings. Elizabeth! John barely caught himself before he said her name aloud. It surprised him, although he knew it shouldn't. She had every right to wander around the city at night, but he couldn't help feeling concerned. His protective streak seemed to encompass her as well as the city. He scolded himself harshly, but it did nothing to prevent him from continuing to follow her. He followed her all the way to…
…the balcony. Elizabeth sighed. She could see the storm in all its grandeur, and it was intimidating. Her heart began to race again; it had slowed during her quiet walk from her room. She had hoped that the safety and the security that the balcony seemed to provide would be enough for her to confront the feelings. The memories washed over her with the cool breeze; Kolya, his face harsh and unfeeling, a gun pointed at her; the same gruff man, his arm restraining her roughly, pulling her away from Atlantis; and John, his gun pointed at Kolya, but at her as well. She shivered and rubbed her bare arms. Stubbornness kept her from turning back, compelled her forward. She made her way farther out onto the balcony and sat, hugging her knees to her chest, trying to think of a way to tackle her fears.
Why wasn't the balcony working? It was the one place where she always had felt safe. It should work. It should be the one place where she could fight the memories, the anxiety. What was different? What was missing?
"John!" she exclaimed, startled by the figure that had appeared and sat down beside her. He simply smiled at her. He seemed slightly uncomfortable, but Elizabeth felt the knot in her stomach loosen. Could it really be John that made the balcony her comfort zone? He constantly seemed to contradict her. Every conversation with the man felt like a battle. But they had their quiet, reflective moments, too. And for some odd reason-she couldn't deny the truth-she did feel more at ease with him around. Simply put, John made her feel safe.
"What are you doing up here at this hour?" He asked quietly, finally giving up on her. Her unresponsive and melancholic manner was so out of character as to begin to disturb him. Feeling uncomfortable, he looked down, fast becoming self-conscious over the ratty pair of sweats he was sporting. He checked himself. At least he had put on a shirt before he had left his room. Looking Elizabeth over didn't make him feel any more relaxed. She sported a camisole that fit her snuggly as well as a pair of pajama pants. He wasn't sure that he should be witness to the female leader of Atlantis in this state. In fact the word "Inappropriate!" screamed in his head. But the poor woman looked distraught, and considering how much stress he had caused her over the months, he owed her big time. "Shouldn't you be in bed, Elizabeth?"
"What are you, John?" She turned to face him, whispering. She smiled coyly. "My mother?"
"You keep an eye on everyone else," he supplied, relieved that she had finally acknowledged his presence. "Someone has to keep an eye on you."
If all color hadn't been turned into muted blues and grays by the now quieting storm, John might have noticed her cheeks flush ever so slightly.
"You know. Make sure you eat your vegetables, brush your teeth…," John continued on. "I just didn't think I needed to tuck you in at night, too."
It wasn't so much what he had said as the boyish grin he had given her that sustained the blush upon her cheeks. She had to look away to shake it off. She still couldn't believe that it was John that made her feel safe, comfortable even, despite the awkward moments where he made her feel like a schoolgirl.
"That's not necessary, John," she said, having regained her composure. "You should go and get some rest."
"So should you," he returned, giving her that concerned look that said 'I can force you to, if I want, but I'm not that mean.' And he didn't really want the conversation to end there. He wanted to know what was bothering her. Sleep was starting creep into his head right behind his eyes, Atlantis' temporary security a soporific he couldn't resist. John decided that getting to the point was the best recourse. "Why are you out here, really?"
Elizabeth sighed. Should she bother him with her own personal demons? He already had so much to bear. Unfortunately, she had a feeling that she could not lie to him, even though the storm served to mask her features from him. She knew he would be able to tell. He seemed so adept at reading her. She decided that it was one of those times that she needed to be candid, a trait she was known and respected for.
"The storms," she said lightly. "They always remind me…"
"Of the hurricane," John finished for her. He looked out over the city shadowed by clouds, to the ocean beyond it, riled by the storm. "Me too."
He didn't like to think about it. But it wasn't the memories that bothered him. It hadn't been like he was making rational choices at the time, choices that could haunt him. He really had been acting on instinct, letting his training and anger take over. What he did had to be done. There was no regret about it. Thinking about it disturbed him only because of how close he had come to losing his friends, to failing to protect them and the city.
"I don't know why it bothers me," Elizabeth whispered, self-loathing lining her voice. "I lived, thanks to you. You were fine, Rodney and the others, too. The city was saved."
"Vulnerability," John whispered, barely audible under the rumbling of the now distant storm.
Elizabeth nodded. For all his goofing around and childish behavior, John Sheppard could be a very perceptive and insightful man.
"It was worse than other situations," he continued, still staring off into the distance. "It was like someone had broken into my home, taken my family hostage, and tried to burn the house to the ground."
"Not to mention, kill you," Elizabeth said, making an attempt to lighten the mood, as John so often did. It seemed to work. He smiled at her, but she couldn't verify its sincerity in the poor light.
"That wasn't so different from other situations," He responded, charming crooked smile still adorning his lips. She smiled back at him. Then they both turned awkwardly to look out upon the storm-swept sea.
"You really feel like Atlantis is home?" Elizabeth asked after awhile, curiosity brimming within her.
"Yeah. I guess I do," he responded. It was embarrassing, but she was being honest with him so he might as well return the favor. He studied what he could of her features carefully as she stared up at the sky, voluminous clouds obscuring the stars normally found there. The sadness seemed to have returned. Or more likely, John corrected himself, it had never left. She sighed heavily, confirming his suspicions on the subject. He was beginning to have an inkling as to what was bothering the dedicated leader of Atlantis.
"You miss Earth, don't you?" John asked in what he hoped was an unoffending manner. She nodded her head, unable to answer as she fought back tears. A moment of silent understanding passed between them before she replied. "Sometimes more than others."
"What exactly do you miss about it?" John voiced a question he wanted to ask so many of their people on numerous occasions. He felt that Elizabeth would understand that he didn't mean to sound harsh by following this thought through, so he continued with it. "I mean, Earth is great. I love it, really. But why is it so different than here? Besides the lack of Ferris Wheels and popcorn that the Pegasus Galaxy has to offer…"
"I don't know, John," Elizabeth responded, now giving him her undivided attention. She hadn't expected such a deep conversation to ensue, not that she didn't think the major capable of it. They had had meaningful conversations on many occasions. She just hadn't expected him to be that at ease around her when she was in such an emotional state. However, he seemed both willing and capable of attempting to comfort her. "I guess it's the little things…"
She trailed off in thought for a moment, and John patiently waited for further explication, intently studying her face with his deep eyes. He could tell that she had a thought but seemed hesitant to voice it, so he tried to put forth his best sympathetic look. It seemed to do the trick.
"I miss…driving to the store for milk," she whispered, feeling silly over the notion. "I miss using a key to unlock the door. And fixing my own meals. I miss laundry fresh off the line and my own bed linens. I miss walking the dog…" The words flowed easier as she went. It felt good to give voice to the little nagging homesickness she had buried deep down inside. "I miss singing in church on Sundays. I even miss mowing the lawn and fast food. I miss fruit roll-ups."
John laughed at the last one. Out of all the revealing things she had just listed, that was one he had never expected to hear. He tried picturing Elizabeth eating a fruit roll-up at her desk, her brow furrowed in concentration as she read over some complicated report. Maybe it would stick to the corners of her mouth as well as brightening her lips an intense syrupy red. He laughed a little harder. She gave him a hurt look.
"What?" she asked, slightly offended.
"I'm sorry, Elizabeth," he apologized. "I just never figured you for a sugary kid's snack kind of person."
"Oh," she said, returning his catching jovial smile. Then she raised her eyebrows at him and gave him a mock scrutinizing look. "You're telling me that you never enjoy the occasional corn-syrup-in-solid-form treat?"
"Okay. I admit it," he conceded. "But I'm not going to say that I miss the diabetes-inducing stuff."
After their smiles faded, they both grew quiet as they again looked out upon the alien planet. Storm-swept ocean stretched for as far as the eye could see. Elizabeth felt as though its turbulence reflected her own inner emotional state.
"I miss the big dipper and the North Star," John admitted. He really didn't feel that he suffered homesickness as much as the other expedition members. But the familiar star constellations were one thing he did miss. He wasn't sure why the absence of other "Earth" things failed to invoke feelings of isolation and alienation in him. Atlantis was a comfortable place for him to reside, more comfortable than any home he had had on Earth. And maybe that was why he didn't really desire to return to earth as much as even Elizabeth seemed to.
"Me, too," Elizabeth whispered. "That's one of the little things that are just different enough, that you're exposed to everyday. And after a while they all accumulate in the back of your mind until it affects you and you don't know what it is that's bothering you…"
She trailed off, once again having to try and stave off the tears that threatened in her eyes. But John could see her struggle with emotion, with the sadness and desire for her home on Earth. He slowly, hesitantly reached out his arm to wrap around her shoulders. The contact was a foreign but not undesirable sensation for John. The concern over whether it was taboo to touch the woman leader of Atlantis perished from his thoughts as he pulled her closer to him and she rested her head against his shoulder.
Thus, two explorers from Earth stared off into the distant landscape of an alien planet and to the strange often dangerous galaxy beyond. And two friends shared a comfortable moment of quiet understanding on a balcony perched above the city they called home, the city of Atlantis.