Chapter four:: Epilogue

Elizabeth woke feeling warm and safe and very, very lazy, making her glad the clock said it was still early.

When John had come out of the bathroom last night, all clean-smelling male, wet, spiked hair and happy grin, Elizabeth had been highly tempted to drag him straight to bed and prove to him just how 'ready' she was this time. But she'd reminded herself that he was almost certainly hungry and had settled for the balcony where they sat, leaned together on cushions, ate and stared at the stars for an hour. She'd taken the chance to quiz him for more specifics on missions that had happened since she'd left; now that she was going to be back in charge of Atlantis, she'd spent the day reading the full reports, but there were always bits that didn't make it anywhere they could be found. And she didn't need any of those to come back and bite her.

When he'd started answering drowsily, she'd gently nudged him into bed and out of his clothe, seeing his eyes half-close as he lay down. By the time she'd put the room to rights, he'd barely been awake enough to wrap himself around her. As utterly heart-warming as it was to have John home in and snuffle into her neck as though he was programmed for her coordinates, Elizabeth wondered if she was going to have to make plans to seduce him deliberately. Their schedules were only going to get worse once she was officially in charge.. she'd have to see what tomorrow brought.

She'd fallen asleep stroking the wrists crossed over her belly and fantasizing about what the body breathing tight to her back would feel like under her fingertips, drowsing in mild arousal and glad enough for the very human sensation.

But then, as all good things do, her run of good luck avoiding nightmares had ended and she'd woken up in the middle of the night, chilled, screaming and thrashing, certain she was back in Asuran hands. She remembered pain and she knew that any reality was a lie waiting to be turned against her, the arms trying to grab her, the voice trying to fool her into not resisting; all lies! But she refused to give in easily this time; there were thoughts too close to the surface today that she refused to give them, she had to protect! Had to!

And the reality they'd thrown her in this time was terrifying in what it showed she'd let through already, making her fight tooth and nail to get free. It was easier to empty her mind if she could run; that she knew it was all false sensation was irrelevant, her mind fell for it and she had to take the chance that that offered.

"Elizabeth! No! This is real! Remember? Atlantis.. warmth!"

It hurt so much to hear his voice, if she could have closed her ears she would have, but she was too busy fighting his desperate hold on her.

"'Lizabeth. Warmth. Please give me a chance. Feel how warm you are. You're safe, I swear to you, Elizabeth, I swear I'm real and you're safe and home and I love you, please listen to me, please, feel how warm you are. Warm warm warm-"

She was weakening, running out of energy to fight, and the litany started burrowing through her panic. Just for one second she allowed herself to wonder.. and then she felt it, the blazing heat from John's body, wrapped around her like steel shackles. Keeping her prisoner, yes, but keeping her safe. Warmth.. therefor.. real?

When she relaxed, he stopped repeating himself and she felt some of his tension vanish, though he still held her as he muttered into her hair, "Thank god. Elizabeth?"

She turned her head, trying to see through the tears clouding her eyes, "John?" She was warm. Those thoughts.. they were memories. She was home, she and John were together. This was the real John, releasing her so she could turn in his arms, reaching for the blankets she'd lost in the night, wiping the tears from her cheeks gently. Trying to smile through his worry as he pulled her body close to his with a hand in her mid-back until the shirt he'd given her the other night was crinkled up tightly between them. With her pulse calming and his warmth back around her, Elizabeth lay very still, staring into his eyes, not quite sure where to lay her hands as her body stayed hyper-aware, still reacting to fight-or-flight.

"You okay?"

She smiled at the quiet words; as the last few days settled back in her thoughts, she couldn't help but notice again that they were taking care of *each other*. She didn't feel like the weak woman he had to watch out for, but neither was she the leader who had to always have the upper hand, always have her public face on. It was beyond pleasure to simply be *Elizabeth*, for good or ill; during Scrabble and during nightmares.

"Yes." Suddenly an instant of the last few minutes came back to her and she grinned, the last of the fear swamped under delight, laying her hands on his bare, warm pecs and sliding them up to his shoulders, then his neck, feeling him shiver as she watched his uncertain expression. Yes, she knew he probably would rather their first time not be started by a nightmare. As her palms finished their trip and molded to his jaw, Elizabeth leaned in, whispering against his lips, her eyes wide open to watch his reaction, "I love you too John."

Their lips brushed as his mouth dropped open and she grinned, feeling them slide past each other again, feeling the adrenaline of her struggle still lighting her senses. Tingling awareness arching down her body that she wanted this man, that with just her hands stroking him, she could feel his body stiffening against her. His breath started to pant lightly on her lips, heightening the sensation, heightening the pleasure of seeing his eyes dilate, "And I wanted to seduce you earlier, except you fell asleep on me... you aren't going to play hard to get now.. are you John?"

Slow and tender loving had been followed by holding each other tightly and chatting idly until sleep drugged its way in and captured them. And now a new morning was just barely breaking over Atlantis and Elizabeth stretched slowly, not wanting to dislodge the man still holding her loosely. Nonetheless, John grunted in complaint, pulling her close before he was even awake. This time the snuffling into her neck made Elizabeth grin happily, her skin shivering in memory and even happier with the hands that explored her naked body now.

"Why are you trying to escape me?"

She shuddered at the gravely tease, listening to him clear his throat self-consciously as she wriggled until he let her turn around so she could smirk at him properly, ignoring the hands dropping to massage her ass, "John Sheppard, you are very possessive in your sleep," she kissed the very scratchy corner of his mouth, "I *was* simply stretching," this time she got the side of his nose, aware that he was smiling widely, "Now, however, I *do* need to get up. A little thing called work. And.. so do you. 0800, wasn't it?"

When she pulled back, he still watched her, relaxed and happy. She didn't doubt he'd be perfectly content to lay there all day, but they did need to get to work, even if that included his watching her like this over the briefing table. And, well, *she* wasn't exactly moving quickly either. Her fingers had somehow ended up stroking back and forth over the bristles covering his neck, a part of her fascinated with the touch of something so male. She saw the clock turn to the hour out the corner of her eye and made herself get going, sliding the hand onto his scalp to tunnel through his hair, as soothed herself watching his eyes slam shut and his body slump as she knew he was. She only allowed them a couple minutes of it before she gave him a last kiss on the tip of his nose and gently pulled her hand away. Pulled her whole body away, petting his calf as he grumbled again.

It was strange to walk around her old bedroom, feeling sore and muggy from midnight lovemaking, with John snoozing in her chaotic bed covers. Strange.. but made of a heavy dose of heaven.

####

John stopped on his way to running some recruits through their paces when he saw his second in command down a cross-corridor, wondering when he'd gotten back for Elizabeth not to have had time to let him know, "Lorne!"

The major hardly had time to turn before getting bear-hugged by his usually restrained colonel. Evan wondered for a second if he'd made it back just in time to have to deal with some strange new alien infection, but then the man's rushed words clarified the behaviour.

"I owe you. Anything in my power, you just say the word, man."

The major just grinned back bashfully, quickly putting in a hint to help his hastily revived betting pool, "An invitation to the wedding'll do fine, sir."

Sheppard huffed, the wide grin shifting to a half-shy, half-hopeful; wholly happy smile, "I'll see what I can do, major."

Evan, watching him run to get to wherever he'd been going, was damned glad he'd come across that stray piece of intel just over a week ago; and had had the faith left to follow it up. His boss looked like he was a lot more fun to be around these days... Too bad Evan'd had to head out on another mission right after dropping the doc off, he bet this had been an interesting period to be a spectator to... Damn he needed to get his hands on Radek and get the low-down!

####

"Teyla, you ever see anything like this?"

Teyla looked up from her terminal with a jerk as her agitated friend thrust a pad with the picture of some unfamiliar flowering bush under her nose. Taking a few moments to give it due consideration, she couldn't find anything at all to recognize, looking up at John with a quizzical look for the interruption, "No. Why?"

"Damn. Nothing."

She tilted her head in curiosity as he mumbled, walking away with a dispirited droop to his shoulders. Now whatever had that been about? After nearly two weeks, he and Dr. Weir seemed to have settled into a positive relationship. There were still moments when she had to bite her lip to avoid laughing at their 'newlywed' behaviour, but at least meetings were mostly back to normal. She certainly hoped they hadn't now found a way to have their first argument... All of Atlantis was wary, waiting for *that* to happen. Teyla and the rest of the command team were reasonably confident the two leaders would be wise about it, however, there was always a chance that their friends would have to intercede; and so they were all watching for any warning signs.

####

"Damned McKay insists that this eclipse is going to trigger something in the ancient device that he just *has* to see, and of course he wants me along to make sure the gene makes the device cooperate-"

"*Yes* John. I am aware of this. But why did you come to see me?" Teyla had *tried* to keep her patience, but not only was John being particularly childish today, but her own child was making her feel both ill and far too discontented to remain even-tempered any longer.

The colonel stepped back in a very satisfactory manner, giving her a wary look she'd also caught from Ronon a few times lately, "Err, these things.." he flashed his tablet under her nose again, "You're sure they don't smell bad? Or have some evil devil-bugs or-"

"John! It is what our boys use during courting!" Which she'd *told* him-

Apparently finally convinced, he brightened up and started to trot out before throwing her a smirk, "And what do your men use?"

Getting a cheering picture of her recent courtship, she yelled back, beginning to grin as her mood passed, "They lay their fighting sticks at our feet!"

####

"Delivery for Dr. Weir."

Elizabeth looked up as one of the marines, dressed in civilian clothe, stopped in her doorway. Her brows rose in surprise, "Corporal?"

He handed over the bouquet he carried and a letter, then threw her a snappy salute, backing away with a smile, "Happy Valentine's day, doctor."

"Valentine's day?" She stopped and did the math, finally shaking her head with a smile of her own, studiously ignoring the attention she could feel through the glass walls from everyone in the control room. She grabbed the vase he'd given her years before -and she had no doubt as to the identity of her valentine- and put the lovely red flowers into it, sitting back and looking at them affectionately as she opened the note. All it said was,

Signed, Sealed, Delivered
I'm yours
John Sheppard

She pulled one of the obviously native flowers to her nose, idly wondering who went out and picked them.

####

"-*Last* time Rodney!" She could hear him grumping at the scientist as they walked through the event horizon.

John looked up to Elizabeth's lookout the moment he was through, recognizing the flower she was tucking behind her ear with a wide grin, "I'm home."

"Yes. You are colonel." Elizabeth didn't go down to meet him, though she wanted to; badly. But they were walking a thin line with their positions and their superiors. He was home and he was safe. "Debrief in 20." She could wait 20 minutes for him to lose his gear.

And Rodney could turn his head if he didn't want to see them hug a little tighter and longer than a boss should hug a subordinate.

####

"Damn it John, we are *not* getting married." Elizabeth's arms were suspiciously still though, and her tone more anguished and angry. Or even convinced for that matter.

John shook his head, refusing to be hurt by the illogical reaction and wishing they were home so he could simply grab her and hold her and kiss her until she started making sense again, in the meantime though, "Oh yes, we are!"

McKay was the first to get his voice back, "Did she say 'married'?"

Teyla grinned, looking forward to seeing her friends' ceremony, "Yes, she did."

Ronon contented himself with smirking with his arm around her waist, listening to the couple continuing to argue down the hallway.

"Look, we already *live* together! What-" They were just in sight of their quarters and John was eagerly watching that door open -as he'd asked Atlantis to do for him- when Elizabeth really threw him off the loop.

"I can't have children!"

Freezing for a second, he finally responded with a raw whisper, "Elizabeth." The anguish in her voice and the instant of grief he felt at the words were sharp, but that she thought it could affect how he felt about her, *or* his wish to marry her-

She looked away from him sadly, "If you ever want kids-"

It took precious seconds to make the strategic decision to bypass any attempt to argue *why*, a luxury which he only allowed himself because he was guiding her into the privacy of their home.

It wasn't often that Elizabeth behaved as maddeningly as the stereotypical 'woman', but this time around, he was actually learning to deal with it. On bad days, he blamed that on the Pegasus galaxy forcing him to learn a simile of diplomacy; the rest of the time, he figured Elizabeth had been training him to be a better husband since they'd met. Either way, it didn't matter why she thought she couldn't have kids, it mattered that she thought such a fact somehow related to their getting married. And it mattered that he not be silent more than a single movement if he wanted to avoid exponentially worse illogic until he either spat out a surprise verbal diamond or managed to sneak in some seductive moves and brought them back in sync *that* way.

But it was safest to just avoid silent responses, so, "Kids? What would we do with a kid on Atlantis, anyway? *You* are what I want. We'll probably find some abandoned pack of Pegasus youngsters someday, in need of a home, and if you want, we'll adopt the lot, for chriss' sake!" With the door safely closed behind them, he raised his hands to cup her cheeks before she could move away from him, kissing her forehead, nose and lips as he whispered, "I just, want, *you*."

####

"I have every intention of loving you for every day that I have left."

Teyla watched Elizabeth respond to the huskily-spoken words and remembered her own bonding day. Saw the Atlantean leader's eyes, wide and shinning, her lips biting back a tremble, smiling as she pulled her new husband into a deep kiss, ignoring the cheering audience of soldiers and scientists.

As she pulled away from him enough to speak, leaning her forehead to his, John felt her breath catching as though she'd been crying, the stutter only adding to the effect her heartfelt whisper had on him, "I love you; so much, John Sheppard. I will never let you doubt that."