A.N.1: Well hello everybody! It's been quite a while since I've posted anything, for which I am deeply sorry. However, I've managed to come up with a little belated Christmas present for you all. Enjoy!
'A dream is a wish your heart makes...'
Elizabeth felt her eyelids growing heavier and heavier as the time grew later and later. The gate room was almost completely dark; everyone except the one technician on night duty had gone to bed long ago. Everyone, that is, except her. She tiredly rubbed at her eyes and reached for the cup of coffee on her desk. She made a face when she tasted it - the drink was long cold and not even the promise of a caffeine boost could make it appetizing anymore. Elizabeth momentarily entertained the idea of going and making herself some more - at least enough to last her through this final batch of reports - but she couldn't gather up enough motivation to stir out of her chair.
She scrolled through the list of files yet to be read on her computer and selected the first one her eyes focused on. Ideas for holiday celebrations submitted by the staff, that covered all the different denominations that came with such an international expedition: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa... requests for menorahs and lights and Christmas trees and fruitcake... and stockings hung by the chimney with... tinsel... and... jingle bells... dashing...
Ow! Elizabeth returned to consciousness reluctantly, hissing and scrunching up her face at the throbbing ache in her neck as she slowly twisted it back into its normal position. She hadn't even realized that she'd fallen asleep. She was bent forward in her chair, half sprawled over the surface of her desk, face buried in her arms as they served as a makeshift pillow. Without opening her eyes, she painfully pried herself upright, several vertebrae popping back in place with a satisfying click. Propping herself up on one elbow, she sighed and kneaded at her forehead, unwilling to open her eyes and see just how late it had become. Or how early was probably more like it; John wasn't going to be very happy with her if he found...
Something cold and wet nudged at Elizabeth's hand in her lap and she froze, eyelids snapping open. The cold thing nudged at her again and this time she felt short damp fur rubbing up against her palm as well. Just like a... She looked down and found a pair of soulful brown eyes looking pitifully up at her. Sedgewick gave a small whine and put a white paw in Elizabeth's lap.
Elizabeth smiled disbelievingly and bent down to rub behind the dog's ears. "Hey, Sedge," she murmured softly. "Hey, sweetheart, what are you doing here?" She glanced up to see how she had gotten there and suddenly felt like someone had poured a bucket of ice water through her veins. She wasn't in her office. She wasn't in Atlantis.
The room she was in was a study, very similar in layout to the one her father had had when she was a little girl. Dark mahogany bookshelves crammed with books lined a portion of each pale green wall. In two of the walls, a set of double windows hung with intricately patterned green and white curtains looked out on a dusky twilight countryside. The wooden desk was in the center of the large room facing the door, with a small stone fireplace crackling merrily to her right; the hardwood floors were scattered here and there with colorful exotically woven rugs.
Confusion and no small amount of fear clutched at her. Where the hell was she and how...? There was a noise from the other side of the door. Sedge lifted her head from her mistress's lap and let out a small bark before trotting eagerly towards the doorway. The handle turned with a soft click and a boy and a girl came bursting through, chattering loudly.
"Who...?" began Elizabeth, head spinning at the sudden rush of noise.
The boy skidded to a stop. "Oh! Right," he said in remembrance, wheeling around and scurrying back out the door, towing the girl behind him. The door slammed shut and silence fell again in the room. Elizabeth stared at the door in bewilderment, her brain having just enough time to begin struggling for an explanation when there was a small rap on the door.
"Come in," she called uncertainly.
The boy peeked his head around the edge of the door for a quick moment and he and the girl dashed inside, albeit much more sedately than they had before. They were both adorable children, around the ages of six and eight respectively, with the kind of charming smiles that could most likely get them anything they wanted. Familiar smiles actually, but ones that Elizabeth couldn't quite place.
The girl stopped to scratch Sedge along her neck, making the dog's tail beat happily against the floorboards, while the boy - Elizabeth guessed he was her brother - came to stand behind the desk in the spot Sedgewick had just vacated. He studied her for a moment and then folded his arms across his chest with a small frown.
"Mom!" he scolded. "You fell asleep at your desk again didn't you?"
It took a moment for the form of address to register. Wait... what? This had to be some kind of dream or very detailed hallucination or... Elizabeth swallowed, mouth suddenly going dry... or something worse. The last time she had woken up in a strange place with no memory of how she'd gotten there, it had turned out to be nanites invading her mind. Oh God... if that was what was happening now, how was she...?
The little girl came to join her brother and crossed her arms as well. "Mommy, it's Christmas Eve!" She hopped up and down impatiently. "You can't go to sleep yet!"
Elizabeth stared wide-eyed at the children standing in front of her and, very slowly, her fears settled into a warm feeling of ease, even if her bewilderment didn't. No, this wasn't the nanites. She didn't know how she knew that, but she did. She almost smiled. With this entire place seeming to be made up of nothing but questions, it was nice to be certain of something.
The boy waved a small hand in front of her face. "Hello? Earth to Mom!"
She shook her head to clear it and for the first time really looked into the two pairs of green eyes that were looking back at her. Green eyes... her eyes, except the boy's were flecked with a golden hazel color. His hair was the same color as hers too - a messy mass of waves, and the girl... her hair was much darker and wilder, but the curls that fell to the tops of her shoulders were the same. And there, the shape of the girl's face was a mirror of hers as well, only softened somewhat.
There was no escaping the fact. These were her children. Her stomach fluttered with surprisingly pleasant warmth at the realization. In whatever world she was in right now, she was a mother. The idea was strange, and it normally would have been unsettling, but... Until she could find a way out of here there couldn't be much harm in playing along, now could there? Elizabeth smiled at them, still a little bit awed by their presence.
"Sorry. I guess I haven't quite woken up yet."
"Ha!" said the boy triumphantly. "I knew you'd fallen asleep."
"Yep. You caught me."
The girl caught Elizabeth's hand and tugged on it. "And as a reward, you have to come help me wrap Grandma's present."
"Punishment, Emily," corrected the boy with all the superiority that came with being an all-knowing eight year old. "It's a punishment, not a reward."
"She knows what I mean," the girl glared, then looked up at Elizabeth pleadingly. "You knew what I meant, didn't you?"
Elizabeth smiled again. "Sure I did." She levered herself out of the comfortable desk chair and stood up, the little girl Emily's hand in hers. "Now come on, let's go see about this present."
Emily led her out of the study and through a dark hallway filled with the warm spicy smell of cinnamon. The little boy skipped ahead of them, singing 'Frosty the Snowman' at the top of his lungs. There was a bend in the hall and then Elizabeth was standing inside a bright and inviting living room; a fire was roaring away in the large fireplace, the mantel decked with pine garland and Christmas cards; the furniture had been cleared away from a spot in the corner where a tree stand waited, and the floor was strewn with rolls of paper, ribbon, and all the other implements needed for gift wrapping. All in all a very comfortable, lived-in room.
Elizabeth's daughter released her hand and plopped down on the carpet, pulling a roll of snowflake patterned wrapping paper towards her and placing an uneven bead necklace that she had obviously strung herself on top of it. At the girl's expectant look, Elizabeth smiled and lowered herself to the floor to join her.
"There," she said several minutes later, "how's that?" She held up the newly wrapped package for inspection.
Emily made a face and pulled at a jet curl, pondering for a moment. Then she nodded. "Perfect!"
"Now we just need a tree to put it under."
"Dad should be back soon with it," said the boy, looking up from the box of decorations he was rummaging through. "He said he was going to get one as big as the house!"
"Connor, don't be silly!" said Emily. "Then it wouldn't fit!"
"We could make it work."
"No we couldn't."
A loud noise issued from the direction of the front door, several pairs of footsteps stomping on wooden floor boards. Connor and Emily looked at each other with mouths hanging open, their disagreement forgotten as the door opened and the footsteps marched down the hall towards the living room.
"The tree!" they gasped, scrambling to their feet and shoving all the wrapping supplies out of the way under the sofa. Elizabeth stood up and nervously brushed imaginary dust off the sleeve of her red cardigan, suddenly aware for the first time of the pair of rings circling the ring finger of her left hand. The kids' dad... for some reason the thought of him hadn't even crossed her mind.
She turned around in time to see the hall door fill up with the bottom of a very large freshly cut Christmas tree. "Come on, give it another shove," called a muffled voice. The other person must have complied with the order, because the next minute the tree was free and John Sheppard walked through the door, wearing a black fleece pullover and jeans with a dark blue scarf looped around his neck, bearing the trunk on his shoulder.
"Gang way, everybody!"
Elizabeth stepped back and blinked in confusion. John? What was he...? Ronon Dex followed close behind, carrying the other end of the tree; the two men set it in the stand and fixed it firmly in place. The top of the tree was barely a foot away from brushing the ceiling.
John straightened up and dusted off his gloved hands. "There!"
"Alright... I need to get going," said Ronon, readjusting his long coat.
"Okay, buddy, thanks for your help. You sure you won't stay?"
Ronon again offered his excuses and with a wave and a 'Merry Christmas' disappeared out into the darkening evening.
John looked around the room and smiled as his eyes rested on Elizabeth. He walked over to her, kissing her swiftly on the lips and slipping an arm casually around her waist, the gesture easy and relaxed, as if he'd been doing it for years.
Elizabeth was too shocked to say anything, but before any response was required of her Connor had flung himself on John's legs, jabbering excitedly. John laughed and bent to scoop the boy up, spinning him around and taking him over to show him the tree.
Elizabeth stood gaping, watching the two of them laugh. The photographs that had lined the desk in the study, which she had noticed but never really seen, burst into full color in her mind. They had been of her and John... At the beach, John buried up to his neck in sand while she knelt laughing beside him, shovel in hand; standing in front of the Grand Canyon with the kids; a candid shot of them together on a Ferris wheel; the two of them gazing intently at each other at their wedding, completely unaware of the camera...
Elizabeth gave a soft laugh of disbelief. It was him. John Sheppard... her closest friend, most trusted advisor, protector, rock... Of all the men this world could have picked to be her husband, he was one of the most unexpected, but also the one that felt the most... right.
"So!" he exclaimed as he turned to Elizabeth, hazel eyes shining with his son's contagious excitement. "It's Christmas Eve. How about we get this thing decorated?"
Emily ran up, grabbed her hand, and started swinging it back and forth as she begged to be allowed to put the star on top of the tree. Elizabeth just grinned and locked eyes with John. "I think that sounds like a fabulous idea."
Several hours later, after some intensive decorating, supper, and readings of 'The Night Before Christmas' and the Grinch, Connor and Emily were tucked snug in their beds upstairs, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus.
John threw himself down on the sofa next to Elizabeth with a sigh. She smiled, wrapping her hands around her mug of hot chocolate. "Tired?"
He just shot her a look and shook his head, leaning back against the pillows and closing his eyes. "Over the river and through the woods, and down the hill and over the ditch..."
She laughed. "And right into Santa's workshop." He chuckled and she smiled into her cocoa as she watched him. So relaxed, happy... more so than she had ever really seen him. This side of him was fascinating and endearing and Elizabeth realized that she never wanted to stop seeing it. "It was nice of Ronon to help though."
"Yeah, without him we'd have ended up with half a tree. Although I'm not really sure which half it would have been."
More soft laughter, and then a comfortable silence fell. The room was dim and deliciously warm, the only light coming from the twinkling strand of bulbs wrapped around the tree and the orange glow of the fire. Elizabeth sipped her drink, marveling at how at ease she was. There was something about this place that seemed to smooth away any misgivings or discomfort that might normally tug at her mind, but this even went beyond that.
Without thinking about it, she leaned to the side and rested her head on John's shoulder. "Here," he muttered, making her sit up for a second as he moved to wrap his arm around her. She leaned in again and rested her face against his chest. Elizabeth closed her eyes and tried to memorize the feeling: the weight of his arm lying across her shoulders, his warm breath lightly stirring her hair, the gentle steady thump of his heartbeat.
"So," he murmured into her hair a minute later, "what do you think of the tree?"
Elizabeth opened her eyes and looked at the glittering, ornament-bedecked tree, then angled her head up to look at John. He was gazing at her, handsome face serene, hazel eyes brimming with love. "It's perfect," she smiled.
A brief grin twitched at the corners of his mouth and then he tilted his head down, slowly moving in to kiss her. She lifted her face from his chest to meet the kiss, eyes sliding shut...
" 'Lizabeth," he whispered.
" 'Lizabeth." His voice became more insistent.
Someone started shaking her shoulder. "Elizabeth, wake up." No! She didn't want to leave; it was so warm! "Hey! Wake up."
Her eyes slowly came open and she winced. Bright. She started to move. Sore. Ow. She lifted her head. She was in her office in Atlantis, and there was a dark figure standing over her. 'Perfect timing,' her sleep fogged brain thought sarcastically. Elizabeth blinked several times in rapid succession, trying to recover some measure of her eyesight. When she could see better, she realized that the dark figure was Colonel John Sheppard; he was wearing a black t-shirt and pajama bottoms and looked only marginally more awake than she felt.
Elizabeth groaned and sat back in her chair, covering her face with her hands. "What time is it?" she asked, the sound muffled.
John sighed. "You probably don't want to know."
She shook her head, trying unsuccessfully to clear it.
"But it's way past time for you to be asleep, now come on." He held out a hand to help her out of her chair and they began walking towards her quarters.
"I was asleep," she said in self defense.
"Asleep in a bed."
He narrowed his eyes at her and she couldn't help a small smile. "You should speak for yourself. Why are you still up?"
He suddenly looked nervous and refused to meet her eyes. "I um... the night technicians have standing orders to call me if they see you working past a certain hour," he said awkwardly.
She raised both eyebrows at him. "Oh they do?"
"Yeah... and come on, it's Christmas soon! You shouldn't be working yourself to the bone anyway."
Elizabeth gave a half smile and looked at her hands as she walked. "No, I guess I shouldn't."
They didn't say anything for a little while, but as they approached the hallway that held her quarters, Elizabeth snuck a look at John out of the corner of her eye. He had been looking at her, and he quickly turned his head away when she glanced up. Elizabeth felt her stomach give a twist of surprise. She had caught the tail end of that look, and it had held an echo of the same expression that Dream John had been wearing as he had watched her on the couch. Of course she must have been imagining it; it was just some lingering effect of the dream on her consciousness. She surprised herself by how much that rationalization hurt. By how much she wanted that look to have been real. Fragments of the psychology classes she had taken in college floated into her mind, spouting bits of lectures about how dreams can often be a reflection of our deepest desires, in essence our subconsciousness trying to tell us what we really want, but she pushed them away and ignored them.
John came to a stop in front of her door. "So..."
"So." They stood there for a minute in silence. Elizabeth glanced around the hall, trying to come up with something to say, and grimaced when she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the metallic surface of one of the wall ornaments. "Ugh."
"Sleeping at your desk obviously doesn't do much for your appearance. It's a good thing no one's awake to see me; I look awful."
"No," said John quietly, "never awful." He looked at his feet, lips drawing into a thin line, like he hadn't meant to say that out loud. "Well, I better let you get some sleep. Some real sleep."
Elizabeth nodded and turned to swipe her hand over the door control crystal. The door opened with a barely audible hiss.
"Hey," he began, as if he had just remembered to ask, "I'm curious. What were you talking about when you said 'perfect timing'?"
She frowned. "When did I…?"
"When I woke you up; you kinda mumbled something sarcastic about perfect timing."
Elizabeth suddenly remembered and was grateful for the dim light when she felt her face go slightly red. She only remembered thinking it; had she really said that out loud? She looked up at him, the ghost of a dark blue scarf flashing momentarily into existence around his neck. A smile crept slowly across her face. "It was nothing," she said lightly. "Just the dream I was having; it was just getting to the best part."
"Ah. Well…g'night," said John. "Or morning, depending on what kind of mood you're in."
"Good night," she smiled. He dipped his head at her, swinging his arms as he turned to go. Her hand was on the door frame to go inside her room when an impulse suddenly seized her and she turned to face the hall again. "Hey, John," she called softly. He stopped walking and spun around on his heels.
He smiled. "Any time." Their eyes met for a few moments. "Good night," he said again.
"Good night." This time she let him go, watching him with his bare feet padding along the hallway until he disappeared from sight. She entered her room and kicked off her shoes before throwing herself across the bed in exhaustion; she didn't have the motivation to change into pajamas. As she began to drift off to sleep she smiled into her pillow. Maybe if she was lucky she'd get to finish that dream.
A.N.2: Well, thanks for reading! I hope you all liked it. Please please, I'd greatly appreciate it if you took the time to leave me a review and tell me what you thought. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! :)