She is asleep on your shoulder and you feel that this is quite possibly the most relieved and the most confident you have ever felt in your whole life. She has had pitiful amounts of sleep for days, another one of those periods of hovering on the brink of disaster, and now that it is finally over, now that the city and its people are safe, you found her wandering the hallways, bleary-eyed but unable to sleep. You ended up on the floor of some lab or another, keeping each other company but both lost so deep in your thoughts that you barely spoke.
You gingerly slip your fingers to her nape and lift her head from your shoulder, placing it on your lap instead. You tell yourself it's because she's more comfortable that way, but really it's so that you could look at her. She almost doesn't stir. She must be exhausted out of her mind. You're not that far behind yourself, there's that familiar heaviness in your limbs and thoughts and feelings are stumbling through your mind at a jerky pace. Still, sleep will have to stay at bay for a bit longer, for you need to savor this moment.
She is headstrong and smart and at times you lose patience with her because it seems that she just doesn't care that she keeps putting herself smack middle of danger, making your job damn near impossible and, when you give yourself a chance to contemplate the possibilities, your heart constrict in your chest. You tell her that, even at a time of crises, she doesn't really need to be in the most volatile spot, that she can just as well do her leading and decision-making from somewhere a bit safer. She looks at you, not even bothering to justify herself and ruthlessly points out that neither do you. And of course she is right, under normal circumstances the place of the military leader would not be on the front lines. Except this is Atlantis, and if you weren't on the front lines, there'd be a gaping hole in your spot, making the front lines rather sieve-like. She will never be making these decisions for you and, as much as it pains you, you will never be making them for her, either.
She is asleep on your lap and you feel relief because this might quite possibly be the only state in which you can really protect her. She doesn't disappear in slumber like some people do, doesn't become lax and shapeless, the stubborn streak in her somehow manages to persist, but there's a mellowness in her that she doesn't let people see when she's awake and alert. You'd like to tell her that it wouldn't be seen as a weakness, but the truth of the matter is that you don't really know. You don't know what it's like to be her, a woman in her position, so you forgive her for her independence and stubbornness, every time. But the burden of responsibility that sometimes weighs you down, the task of keeping her safe because you wouldn't know what to do with yourself if something were to happen to her, feels light right now. It's all right here, solid and relaxed, within the reach of your arms, not wandering off to danger, not questioning the restrictions you deem necessary.
You rake your fingers through her hair that is spread out on your thigh. Sometimes it seems that this kind of status quo is all you need.
The fact of her sleeping on your lap is what gives your confidence a sweet tingling boost. You have measured these hallways enough nights to know why sleep had eluded her. They say it's the rush of survival, but you know it's the guilt and self-doubt of it. It's the thought of everything that slipped through your fingers, everything that could have so easily gone from bad to worse that keeps you awake and on your feet. You don't trust yourself to fall asleep with these images. She has trusted you with guarding her sleep.
There is serenity in you that escapes you most of the time. You know that she is the bringer of that serenity and you are okay with that. It takes a lot to trust your peace of mind in the hands of another, but before she came along there wasn't much peace at all, so this tiny subtle thread that binds you to her is a world of improvement. You are aware that the dark side of this is that now you have something to lose. You look up and down her sleeping form again – she's here now, you have won this moment from the grabby hands of time, and the next one, and for the moment that's enough.
You have relinquished a lot in your life, given up on more dreams, one by one, than you care to remember ever having had. You've convinced yourself that this is what life is about, that this is the inevitable part of growing up – an even slow drudge through the days; survival, and not the glamorous kind; getting up in the morning and spending the day just clinging to the semblance of normalcy, lest it all fall apart and take you with it.
And yet you feel that maybe you really hadn't grown up until now; that maybe you've been adrift somewhere in between, afraid to take responsibility for your own destiny. Or at least you've maybe found something better to make out of life's lemons, for there is only so much lemonade one can find use for.
With all the shit and the failed fairy-tales, people stumbling out of your life and things getting lost in the scramble, you'd have to have a mean self-destructive streak if you don't find a way to find contentment out of the small things. It might not quite be happiness that you feel, but every now and then, in quiet moments like these, you find yourself reassured about the possibility of it.
She stirs slightly on your lap and your chest is suddenly full of promises you know you might not be able to keep and are really not even in the position to make. You are aware that in order to lay any claim to her you have to actually choose her and you haven't quite managed to do that yet. Life is a series of small, mundane decisions that nevertheless need to be made; whose mere existence and, indeed, mundaneness , have a way of wearing you out so thoroughly, chiseling away at what alertness and creativity you ever had in these matters that when, occasionally, a big one comes along, you balk. All these little choices about footwear and breakfast cereals, the side of street to walk on and articles to read in a newspaper that seem inevitable at the moment but are ever so inconsequential in the long run and then you are suddenly faced with something that really matters, that really changes everything, even if it is for the better and you get spooked by the glamour and grandness and what seem like terminal implications of it.
You glance at her lips and eyelashes, take in your own hand tangled in her soft hair and realize that you have really made your decision a long time ago. You don't know whether this is love, you're not sure you know what love is, but with it comes a rush of emotions to your throat, making your chest heave in the breaths you suddenly struggle to take; wanting to be a better man for her, to show her that her faith and trust in you have been justified.
You'd like to think that you are a man of simple dreams. You imagine her opening her eyes, taking in the situation and asking you whether you've been watching her sleep. You'd confess, though you really wouldn't have to. Without a word, she'd push herself up on her arms and her mouth would reach for yours.
It would be just a kiss, but you know that there are no such things here. You know her enough to recognize that she'd never do something like that under normal circumstances. But the world is upside down and this now is normal; as normal, as human as it gets – this quiet connection between two people.
Shaking yourself out of this somnolent daze, you have to concede that you are a man alright, but your dreams are far from simple. Your body aches with fatigue and desire and there are at least two tracks of thought running down your mind, sometimes coming together and colliding uncomfortably – you want to guard and support her, take the load from her shoulders and smooth the complications out of her way; and then you just want her, and that is nothing if not complicated.
But for the moment she sleeps, unaware of the light and the heavy struggling in you, unaware of your gratitude for this moment of peace and your dread of less peaceful moments to come. Your life is measured by the even slow breaths she takes and all the big decisions, life-altering leaps of faith or cowering back from them must wait – the dawn is hours away.
You want to reassure her of the basics – that you'll always be there for her, that she can trust you with anything, but, judging by her unwavering slumber, she already knows that.