Recipient: cassievalentine, who requested John/Elizabeth, friendship, romance, gen, hot lovin's.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's Notes: So many thanks to tenacious_err for being an absolute saint, and anuna_81 for the constant encouragement and hand-holding. ♥ you both. Title from Cars and History by Strays Don't Sleep.
Summary: The symbolism isn't lost on him, that the first thing he sees (when he finally can) is her smile.
December 31st, 2008
'Make a wish,' she murmurs.
He holds his breath and-
Atlantis is gone.
He finds her an hour later on the balcony.
She glances over her shoulder. 'Hey.'
'Aren't you cold?'
She shrugs just as a shiver curls up her spine, and he quickly removes his coat, draping it over her shoulders. 'John-'
She glares, but it's half-hearted and grateful as she slides her arms through the sleeves and pulls the collar tight around her neck. 'I guess I forgot,' she says absently.
He leans against the railing. 'Forgot what?'
Her voice is wistful. 'Snow.'
He wakes up in a grey-walled infirmary and panics.
The lights are bright and the machines beep steadily and there are flashes - one, two threefour - that all merge together and he's gasping, choking under water and rushing air and,
His head whips to the side and his vision blurs and there's a hand on his arm, soft and cool. He shudders, tries to focus, tries to place the reassurance with a face but everything's too much, too bright, and he can't see.
'You're okay,' the voice says again.
He reaches out desperately.
'I can't see.'
She is beautiful.
Her hair is long. Her skin is pale. Too thin, he thinks, but god-
She catches his gaze suddenly, and her smile freezes. The songs fade. Someone bumps his arm, maybe. A door opens. He tries to wave.
She waves back.
The symbolism isn't lost on him, that the first thing he sees (when he finally can) is her smile.
She excuses herself and crosses the room.
He swallows; stares. 'Hi,' he offers.
She blinks (as if he were a ghost). 'Hi.'
Rodney calls about a 4th of July party; a Halloween party; a Christmas party.
'Isn't there anything you still celebrate?' he snaps.
(Her birthday is in three days. He sent a card so he won't have to call.)
'Kwanzaa,' he says.
The silence aches.
'How are you?' she asks finally.
'Good,' he says, too quickly. 'You?'
She nods. 'Good.'
Landry shakes his head. 'I'm sorry, Colonel,' he says, 'but with these results, we can't put you back in the field.'
He shifts. 'So.'
She huffs out a laugh. 'This is ridiculous,' she says, and wraps her arms around his shoulders. 'It's good to see you,' she breathes.
Like she means it. Like it's true.
His hands hesitate at her back.
(She smells like gardenias.)
'Yeah,' he echoes.
When she pulls away, she's smiling.
He smiles back.
'I'm so sorry, John.'
'Yeah,' he agrees, but it's all numb and white and blue and bright.
He doesn't notice that she can't think of anything else to say.
'Oh,' she says, in the middle of her own sentence. 'Thank you for the cards.' She touches his arm. 'They mean a lot to me.'
He can't fly.
She can't lead.
'I saw you on TV, once,' he says.
'Paris?' she asks.
She cringes. 'That went about as well as an IOA interrogation,' she says wryly.
He remembers too well.
She leaves before they can fire her.
'I was offered a job at the UN,' she says.
She hesitates. Then: 'Come with me.'
But Elizabeth just waves her hand and smirks. 'Don't get me started. The words I have for that particular political quagmire are not new-year's-party appropriate.'
He breathes a little easier.
It's a bad idea, but there's no one to stop them. Her breath is hot against his ear and her skin is smooth and her thighs are firm and she smells like the city and the ocean and the rain. He runs his hands over every curve and every hollow and every bone and kisses her with his hands tangled in her hair, like she'll vanish from above him if he doesn't hold on tight enough; slip through his fingers like everything else, everyone else. Time.
It's a bad idea, but she breathes his name and it's better than coming undone.
He scratches his head. 'So, are you, uh...seeing anybody?'
Her lips twitch in amusement, but she shakes her head. 'No, not right now. There was someone a while ago, for a bit.' She shrugs, then adds dryly, 'Most men don't appreciate it when you dump them for a summit conference.'
'Most men are idiots.'
He knows she waits, because he watches. From across the street, around the corner, hidden. She waits. Her suitcase gets damp in the rain.
He waits until she goes.
She starts at the seriousness in his tone.
'John,' she begins; pauses.
He looks away.
'Good luck with everything,' he writes, and tucks it in her purse with a CD and a photograph. 'Don't be a stranger.'
Finally, she sighs. 'We both made mistakes,' she murmurs. 'And you were right, in some respects - to stay.' She shakes her head. 'It wouldn't have worked, then. It was just too much.'
John swallows painfully against the dry ache in his throat. 'And now?'
Elizabeth doesn't tell him.
It takes two weeks, a few overheard comments, and nightmare to remind him, and it propels him to her doorstep at four in the morning.
She's wide awake.
'You came back for me.'
Someone calls her name.
The spell breaks.
She glances at him apologetically, and he slips away; watches her from behind a glass of something far too sweet. Someone turns the radio on - hark the herald angels sing! - and Rodney yells a complaint, he's sure.
Voices join in: glory to the newborn king!
Absently, he thinks of Chanukah.
He remembers light and vacuum and blue. He remembers cold and dark and wet and metal. He remembers the war - crystallized images of falling heroes; the pounding bass of drummed-out orders, his orders, his failures; burning flesh; hissing; pouring; blue; wet; rain; white; brightbrightbright-
The ball drops.
He inhales: 'Elizabeth-'
(Inside, there is cheering. A soft echoing of songs and joy.)
He swallows tightly and forces a smile. 'Nevermi-'
He remembers waking up to her.
January 1st, 2009
She places two fingers against his lips. 'It's a new year, John,' she murmurs, the faintest hesitation stitched between the words. 'Want to try that again?'
He finds her in the bathroom at two in the morning, her hands cracked and raw from the heat. There's steam in the basin of the sink and her eyes are blood-shot and he grabs her wrists in panic.
'It won't come off,' she says.
He turns the water to cold and grabs a washcloth and tries to sooth the burns.
She closes her eyes. 'It won't come off.'
'What won't?' he asks, gently.
She almost breaks. 'The ash.'
Her hand drops to her side.
She waits. He stares.
The radio is playing Auld Lang Syne.
One thousand, two hundred and thirty-three days go by.
Her face falls.
He stares. 'Elizabeth-' he tries, but she's already turning away on the tail-end of a sad smile.
'Happy New Year, John,' she says.
She's gone before he registers the empty space.
He wonders what would have happened if he'd said yes.
He pounds on the door.
An elevator dings; a light flicks on; a curtain moves.
'John?' she asks, stares; and then: 'Oh. Your coat.'
(There's a gentle crease between her eyes; he wants to kiss it away.)
'Are you alright?' she asks; all forgiven. All misunderstood. 'John?'
'You know the Chinese New Year isn't for almost a month.'
He swallows. 'I said the Chinese New Year isn't-'
'I heard what you said.' There's a brief pause; hesitation and impatience blend. 'John, it's late,' she says. She looks tired. 'What are you-'
'I never keep my New Year's resolutions.'
'Not many people do.'
He stares at the ground; mutters, 'Yeah.'
'I don't want you to be something I can't keep.'
I miss you, is what he means to say, but never does; I'm sorry.
He waits. She stares. A door down the hall opens and shuts; someone laughs; a curtain closes.
'Elizabeth,' he pleads.
She shakes her head. 'Shut up, John.'
Somehow he knows, all it would take is a breath, and he could have her back.
Slow and sweet and long.
Her hand curls around his neck and he shudders at the chill, but her lips are soft and warm and she tastes like toothpaste and sun and breeze and stars and salt and quiet and he can't quite breathe; can't think. Fingertips against her jaw. Skin: smooth - almost; he traces the scar along her neck with his thumb. Her nose bumps his as they break away.
With foreheads pressed together: 'I should have done that two hours ago.'
She almost laughs; he can feel the vibrations, gentle and coaxing against his chest. 'Try two years.'
'John-' she starts.
'I've missed you.'
She smiles. 'I know.'
A dream, he thinks.
Then his hand is being lifted and placed against her arm. His fingers brush against the Atlantis patch on her sleeve, and she doesn't stop him when he ventures higher, bringing shaky palms up to touch her face. He traces the lines around her mouth, her chin; gently brushes his thumbs over her eyelids and lets his fingers tangle in her hair, dragging her down.
''Lizabeth,' he chokes. 'Thought-'
'I know,' she murmurs.
One hand cups her cheek, and she covers it with her own. 'Okay?' he asks, and feels her nod.
'We're all okay.'