Summary: S/W - When John can't sleep, he gets a little TLC
Warning: I write Carson to my phonetics. You have a problem with that, don't read this.
Rating: PG13
Disclaimer: I ain't got no money, and nobody'd be daft enough to pay me for this. As it is thought, so let it be said; you make the toys, I play with 'em.

AN: more fluff from the Puppy verse

"Unscheduled off-world activation."

Elizabeth walked over to the gate, frowning in premonition, knowing John was out there and *not* due back.

"Colonel Sheppard's IDC!"

Naturally. "Drop the shield."

Teyla was the first one through, holding Rodney's arm as though to guide him or keep him on his feet, followed by Ronon, carrying all the men's packs and holding John by the back of his vest as he stumbled along.

Elizabeth made herself wait at the bottom of the ramp, eyes running over every member of the team, looking for the injuries, "What's going on?"

Before Teyla could speak, John's head lifted from its exhausted gaze at his feet and he stumbled toward Elizabeth. She barely had time to hurriedly step up and grab his shoulders before he pitched forward, and when she did, he wrapped his arms around her, his head dropping to her shoulder, moaning "'Lizabeth" into her neck in a whining tone.

She lifted shocked eyes to Teyla, silently demanding an explanation even as she heard Chuck call for medics.

"He has not slept in 3 days," the shorter woman nodded gratefully to Ronon as he took Rodney's other arm to help keep him upright as his eyes started to close and his legs to fold, "He has told us that the first night he thought nothing of it, but after another night without rest, he finally spoke up. We then began the journey bac-"

"Tired... 'Lizabeth..." Elizabeth responded to the childlike whine automatically, wrapping an arm around John and petting the back of his neck with the other, not thinking of the image they were making for the roomful of expedition members. Extremely concerned that he was so far gone as to cling to her like this at all... She re-focused on Teyla as the other woman continued.

"That second night was the last that *Rodney* slept. Ronon and I have not yet been affected however."

"Sleep. Want sleep, 'Lizabeth." She almost stumbled when more of his weight suddenly landed on her, his arms tightening around her and his head shifting, trying to hide in her hair.

She waved Ronon away when he reached for John. "It's alright, I have him." Her hand slid into his hair unconsciously as she shifted him carefully to walk besides her toward the doors, and the infirmary beyond, "We'd better get them to Carson."

It was slow going making the exhausted men shuffle along, and so the medical team met them before they even reached the doors. Rodney collapsed on a stretcher without argument, looking and acting like a zombie. John, on the other hand, grumbled and moaned at any hint of letting go of Elizabeth.

She finally managed to get her hands around his jaw and pulled his face up from her shoulder, "John! Please *get* on the stretcher, I'll be right besides you, I promise!" It took gritted teeth for her to resist the completely genuine pitiful puppy eyes he made at her, "Stretcher!"

When he finally laid down, she had to hold his vest to keep him from rolling right off to the other side, and then he held her forearm stubbornly all the way to the infirmary, laying on his side, body curved around it, mumbling to himself.

"Carson?" Elizabeth tried to keep her tone even, aware that they'd already given far too much fodder to the gossip mill. Her fingers nonetheless stroking whatever part of John was in reach, not deciphering his words, but hearing the misery in his tone and wishing she could ease it.

The doctor turned from talking with Teyla and examining Rodney as the whole cavalcade hurried along the corridors, "A dinna know Elizabeth. Fer now, a assume it has ta do with the ATA gene," he frowned toward Rodney's blood pressure measurement, "A'll do a full workup ta see if what they have anything foreign in their blood, first."

"Can you sedate them?"

He shrugged thoughtfully, "Err, a'll try on the off chance, but it's unlikely a drug would step over whatever is stopping this exhaustion from putting them deep inta sleep."

Once in the infirmary, rather than argue with the exhausted man, Carson asked Elizabeth to get John out of his gear. "Do ye mind, lass? He seems calmer with ye."

She nodded, seeing his staff efficiently strip the silent lead-weight of Rodney without his reacting, then looking down at the stiff form of Atlantis' military commander, wrapped stubbornly around her forearm. She was thankful Carson closed the curtain around them; she had a feeling this could get a little hard on both their dignities...

Elizabeth bent over him and spoke gently, stroking his forehead in instinctive soothing, "John?" He stopped mumbling and looked up, the picture of exhaustion and misery. "Come on, let's get that equipment off so you can rest better."

The appeal to sleep seemed to get through to him; his grip on her relaxed and she was able to get him to sit up without argument. He didn't move as she undid his tac vest and slipped it off his slouched shoulders, watching her with eyes that had a dazed edge. She carefully undid his gun belt, trying not to show her sudden awareness of his body. He was so out of it he didn't even notice her fumbling to get the thigh strap undone. But when she wrapped her arms around him to get the belt off, he lost the drooping immobility and immediately laid his head on her shoulder, sighing her name as his arms wrapped around her waist.

Elizabeth closed her eyes with a growl, ignoring her body's unscrupulous urge to simply hug him back. Instead she finished getting the belt off and then tried to gently disengage him.

Which made him tighten his grip and nuzzle deeper into her neck, back to hiding in her hair, searching for respite. "No... Home. Wanna sleep..." she heard him sniff and felt his nose rub at the edge of her hair, "'Lizabeth... Safe here, wanna sleeeep.. please?" The appeal for help in the quiet whine had her stroking his hair and rubbing his shoulder without thinking.

Resisting a helpless sleepy-5-year-old John was going to take as much work as not strangling the 40 going on 12-year-old sometimes did. "We're going to get you to sleep," she rubbed her cheek on his hair, "You just have to let me help you, okay?"

Trying to wriggle her hand between them to undo his jacket only resulted in his moaning in complaint and trying to burrow into her. Which she'd enjoy rather more in different circumstances.. Elizabeth mentally slapped herself out of *that* track. "John? Be a good boy now and let me take your jacket off."

She sighed when he didn't budge, faintly remembering being a tired child herself. Maybe with a different sensation to replace it.. She stared hard at his ear a few inches away, knowing he had to be made to let go. She finally rolled her eyes at the vagaries of life and slowly pressed her lips to the only skin available, the rim of his ear, trying to shift her shoulder away at the same time as she provided the alternate sensation.. "Come on, you'll feel better without it, I promise. That's it, good puppy." she winced as the words slipped out, hoping he wouldn't remember *ANY* of this.

She finally got him down to his tee shirt and pants and called Carson back over. She wasn't fighting with him to lay down if Carson needed him up.

Carson mentally grinned when he walked in to find the colonel back to insistently snuggling around Elizabeth. The poor lad was so obviously feeling miserable that it wasn't surprising he wanted comforting... but it was just as well Rodney was out of it or Sheppard would never hear the end of this.

"Good, ye still have him up. A'd like a scan o' his brain, and then we can get him settled down and try those sedatives."


The scan had ended up being of both of them to stop John from pitching a fit, but other than emitting a constant, low whine of distress, he lay still enough for the machine; as long as he could hold her arm. Getting him to lay down in a bed was easier; again, as long as she stayed with him.

"Carson, it's not like him to be so childish," she looked down at the lack of response to her words, "Let alone to ignore what's being said around him..."

"A know lass. If his chemistry results are anythin' like Rodney's, he's so far gone into exhaustion, it's a miracle he's *this* lucid."

She watched as John hardly twitched from mumbling the word 'sleep' over and over into her hand when Carson's needle entered his elbow to get blood.

"That'll do. Now, this," the doctor showed her a filled syringe, "Is a normal dose of the strongest sedative a have. It would normally drop him asleep in two minutes at the most. A've tried two different ones on Rodney already without any effect. A canna give *him* anything else fer at least 3 hours now. An' if a give John this, a canna give him anything else fer at least *6* hours. Just so ye understand."

Elizabeth nodded, absently stroking John's forehead as he pulled her arm closer with a whimper of her name.

"There." They both stood silently, watching the man laying in a foetal position on the edge of the bed. John would be twitching and making jokes to get the attention away if he were himself. As it was, he didn't even notice as the minutes went by.

"Damn.." Elizabeth looked at the doctor when he swore softly. Carson met her look with frustration, "He should be out. It isn't working. A'd best get ta work ta see what's causin' this." With a shared grim nod, he walked away.

As though reading her mind, John tightened his grip on her. She crouched down to eye level besides him, running her free hand through his hair again. "John? I know you feel lousy, but I have to get back to work-"

"Noooo," his eyes opened, begging, "'Lizabeth stay. Please?"

Her thumb stroked the dark rings under his squinted eyes, knowing she was responding to his clinging by being far more tactile than usual, "I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do here, John," her thumb moved to cross his lips before he could speak, "I have to see about finding out what happened to you."

Looking into those pleading eyes made her realize what mothers felt leaving their children in babysitting and she opened her mouth to finish insisting she had to go.

Unfortunately, he beat her to it, mumbling through her finger, "Can make me better," when she opened her mouth to deny the claim he pressed on, "*Feel* better. Please?"

Damn. He might not be completely himself, but he had all of John Sheppard's charm and open affection. She sighed; she could give orders from the infirmary if she had to.. He'd earned the right to ask for her.

His eyes closed and he curled back into her hand again, seeming to forget the conversation as he whined softly. Considering how some people reacted to sleep deprivation, she supposed it was a blessing that whatever was hitting her men was also changing their behaviour. A cuddling military commander might be a little embarrassing, but a violent one would be dangerous.

She was trying to think what reason to give to put Teyla in charge of the investigation when the woman in question walked in and smiled when she saw John laying quietly, then looked at Elizabeth, "It is good he behaves for you. The run back to the gate was quite.. stressful with him and Rodney so grumpy and miserable."

Elizabeth winced in sympathy, "I can imagine. How did you get them to move? They must have just wanted to lay down."

"They did. Rodney was induced with ration bars," the two women grinned at each other, "And later simply seemed to fall in a daze." Teyla nodded at John, mumbling about 'sleep' and 'tired', "*He*, on the other hand, was stubborn; as usual. Ronon finally discovered by accident that mention of your name seemed to snap him into focus; and get him moving with…. *less* argument."

Elizabeth ignored the teasing smirk aimed her way, "Yes, well, he's only behaving while I stay here.. I was just going to ask you to take care of whatever Carson needs done to solve this. And to get me a tablet."

Teyla's brows had risen in surprise, but when Elizabeth demonstrated the effect of trying to shift her arm, the Athosian warrior bit her lip to swallow a grin at her team leader's childlike complaints; *and* the automatic petting that settled him again. "I see. Of course, Elizabeth. I can also explain to Chuck if you'd like?"

"Thank you," Elizabeth shook her head with a sigh, "The betting pools are going to love this."

Carson came by at the same time as Teyla dropped her computer off and reported that Rodney's chemistry seemed to be improving slightly already, which cheered everyone up; and then Elizabeth was alone. Staring at the 6 feet of stubborn male trying to pull more of her arm into his hug and giving her pitifully wounded eyes when she resisted, she realized there was no comfortable position from which to work. Unless she got on the bed herself.

She glared at the curtain around them, imagining their people behind it; and the IOA beyond. John tugged on her arm, pulling her attention, "'Lizabeth," his voice was becoming raspy from the constant whining, even at whisper level, "Wanna sleep. Sleep?" Oh to Hell with them, in all the too many times he'd been ill and injured, John had never asked for her presence before. Never asked for her care. He *had*, on the other hand, done his best to care for *her* so often that she couldn't bring herself to denying him this.

"Let me get my shoes off," he let her hand go reluctantly, then watched as she pulled her footwear off and then undid his boots. As soon as she stepped back up to the head of the bed, he snatched her hand out of the air, then made her grin with the obstinate little boy look he gave her. "Yes I'm staying; you need to move over though."

It took a sluggish minute for him to accept the concept and shift over for her to lay down on the narrow cot. With the pillow under her back, she could half-sit with a modicum of comfort, which let John rest his head on her stomach and hug her side. And let her rest her tablet either on his shoulder; or she could bend her un-hugged knee and use that. Everyone happy. He still whined and grumbled with misery, but laying still and with his eyes closed, she could hope *some* parts of his body were getting rest.

An hour later, she was deep in the new treaty with the Genii when Carson came by for a checkup. The laughter he couldn't quite choke out of his tone when he said, "Elizabeth?" made her look up in confusion. Following his shining eyes to her hand absently petting John's head; which was burrowed in her lap and mumbling her name among other things... Elizabeth couldn't stop the blush that seared her cheeks. Unfortunately, pulling her hand away from the hair it was playing with made its owner wrap tighter around her and say her name with serious reproach. "'Liz'beth..! Tired. Help?"

She saw Carson close his eyes as his shoulders jerked with laughter, teeth sternly biting his lower lip. Running her hand back in John's hair at least got him back to general mumbles about 'sleep' and 'tired', but she could feel her shirt being pulled from her pants with his continued burrowing.. dammit! "Yes Carson? I assume there was something you needed? Or better yet some good news you wanted to share?" If it was a little growled, she figured she'd earned it. And besides, her usually so-kind friend deserved it for laughing at her!

Carson grinned as he walked closer, "A'm sorry, Elizabeth, truly a am! And a do have good news. The last blood work on your sleepy friend had improved right along with Rodney's, and now *he's* almost back ta normal."

Elizabeth brightened for one second, until John whining her name lowly dashed the sudden hopes, "Then why is my 'sleepy friend' still awake?"

Carson took his blood pressure cuff off the patient and pulled out a syringe to take more blood, speaking without looking at her, "*Almost* back ta normal. And even then," he looked up seriously, "A can only hope that that will let them sleep. Fer all a know there's something *else* wrong with them."

She rolled her eyes, "Teyla's team of non-ATA scientists are due back soon, right?"

"Aye. A'll go run these tests."

Elizabeth looked down at her charge tiredly, "Well, hopefully you'll get to sleep soon, puppy."

"Puppy sleep," he nuzzled a patch of skin that had gotten exposed on her belly, making her shiver with sudden awareness -alright, yes, with arousal, but she wasn't going to do anything about *that*-, "Sleep... 'Lizabeth."

She carefully pulled her shirt back down, against his mild complaints as she pulled him away from her skin. The fact that he used the move as an excuse to crawl higher and rest squarely on her breast probably had to do with the mildness of the complaint. Feeling his jaw move in such an intimate place made her freeze, but the familiar whine didn't change. "'Lizabeth..."

A few minutes and she managed to relax and pulled her tablet back in position on her knee, trying to find her mental 'place' in the text. She couldn't ever remember trying to work with a man cuddled up to her breast and her eyes kept skipping to him, the hum in her body and some odd dissonance keeping her distracted.

When he nudged the underside of her arm, it automatically slid across his shoulders and her fingers started playing with the hair at his nape. And as he sighed and relaxed a little, Elizabeth also felt herself settle down. "Home. 'Lizabeth make better."

The tenderness that his tired, raspy voice brought out in her was too much for her own tired self-control and she bent her head to kiss the top of his head. She'd already given up on any dignity if he remembered any of this.. what was one more bit of comfort? For both of them...

It said something about how much she was getting used to -addicted to?- this closeness that she was able to concentrate better with her hand petting him. Through his continued sad whine into her chest; through her body's continued arousal.

When Carson showed up again much sooner than his hourly checkup, she looked up in surprise, "Carson? Dare I hope you have some news?"

She was glad to see that this time his grin didn't seem aimed at their position. "Aye lass. Rodney just fell soundly asleep!"

Elizabeth's eyes closed in relief, unconsciously hugging John, which made him grumble and squint with heavily bruised eyes, "'Lizabeth?"

She grinned at his bed-head, realizing just how heavy her heart *had* been as it lifted in relief, "Shhh," she pulled his cheek back down to her, "Carson says you'll be sleeping soon."

He nuzzled without complaint back into the side of breast, sighing in relief, as though he believed her implicitly, "Sleep. 'Lizabeth and sleep."

When Elizabeth looked up after watching John settle down to his slightly whiny attempt at rest, Carson had already left. She refused to let what he'd seen bother her. Of all people, Carson might tease privately, but he wouldn't gossip. She looked down at the man innocently doing indecent things to her breast and sighed, "You *do* manage to find all kinds of trouble, don't you puppy?"

It couldn't have been 10 minutes when her head jerked up at the change in sounds from John. The whining was gone suddenly, replaced by a snore. And his body was turning into a dead weight even as she watched; never so delighted with seeing someone fall asleep.

She taped her earpiece to get Carson, exhaling a long breath of final relief. Of all the things they'd faced in the last 3 years, this hadn't been remotely that bad.. but there had always been the chance it could change. Now.. now she'd be able to sleep just as peacefully as John was.

"Elizabeth?"

She looked up at the whispered question, nodding to Carson and mouthing the word 'asleep'. He came over and took another blood sample, then looked at her with an odd hesitation, whispering, "Rodney seems dead to the world.. do you want to try to get up?"

Elizabeth glared at him, slightly sullen, whispering back, "Of course I want to get up, Carson." Unfortunately, the instant she tried to shift out of John's grip, he whimpered and seemed on the verge of waking. Damn. She settled back, closing her eyes with a sigh as she petted him, hoping he'd stay asleep.

"Sorry, lass."

She looked up at the apology with a nod, feeling her own exhaustion creep to the fore; probably partially from hearing the peaceful snores of the man using her as a pillow. As Carson stepped back out, she put her tablet aside and let her head fall back against the wall.

Closing her eyes, she ran her free hand up and down the arm he had thrown around her, reluctantly thinking about how it felt to lay here like this. Thinking of how long it had been since she'd held or been held.

That holding a man while he whined -*understandably*; but still 'whined'- could make her feel... comforted: couldn't be a good sign. She couldn't afford to start needing this. And yet... she *could* be getting up right now. The chances were good that even if he woke, he'd fall right back asleep... But she wasn't moving, was drowsing along all too happily when she felt John shift down with sleep-jerky movements. She opened her eyes when he came to rest squarely in her lap, giving him a bemused look. Until he muttered with that unfamiliarly raspy tone and she caught what... she couldn't deny had to be 'love you'. And that tender ''Lizabeth' he'd been using since he gated back.

Damn. She'd managed, successfully up to now, to fool herself into ignoring what his insistent cuddling implicated. But now...


When someone knocked on her door, Elizabeth sighed in relief at the distraction, telling them to come in. Being ordered to take a day off and get some sleep had sounded fine to her when John finally released his hold on her and she was able to get up. She hadn't been able to stop hearing him mutter those fateful words; siting and staring fixedly at the curtain as she tried to think of anything but an 'L' word. Which had left her entirely too tired.

But then she'd spent two hours in her own bed doing nothing but tossing and turning and feeling chilled.

And most of all, feeling *alone*. Body-hugging her pillow and stroking it had only served to point out the pitiful state of affairs. *She* wanted to cling to...

"'Lizabeth?"

Elizabeth's head jerked up at the now too-familiar nickname. Seeing a still tired-looking John hesitate in her doorway, she sternly forced her old casual smile to appear, choking down the wistful thoughts that plagued her, "Well, you're looking a little better. Come in."

Letting the door close behind him, John nodded shallowly, embarrassed at what little he remembered of the day before, and what Carson had confirmed. A shower and some food had helped make him feel alive again, but he knew he wouldn't be able to get the sleep he still needed until he knew where they stood.

"Still tired. Sorry about yesterday. For.. you know.." His head and shoulder twitched in what might have been the direction of the infirmary; and by extension everything that had happened there.

Elizabeth nodded quickly, eyes not meeting his, "Nothing to apologize for. This is definitely one that wasn't even remotely your fault, and you didn't do anything to be sorry for. Here," She nodded for him to come sit besides her on the bed, "I was just reading the report from the scientists that went back to that planet."

Aside from avoiding his eyes, she seemed her usual friendly self and he tried to find his casualness so he could do his part to keep their footing. As he sat on the edge of the bed besides where she reclined on a couple of pillows, he couldn't help noticing the rings under her eyes and realizing that she hadn't slept yet.

"There's apparently some sort of highly modulated energy coming from an unknown location."

He glanced at the squarish lines on her tablet and asked dubiously, "And it somehow only affects people with the gene?"

She shrugged, still only giving him fleeting looks, "Once they found it, they sent over one of the marines that has the gene and they could see his brainwave being affected right away. For safety's sake they didn't stick around to figure out how; but at least we have an idea of something else to watch out for on new planets."

John rolled his eyes, responding with a tired, "Great." Picturing Rodney stopping them as soon as they got through the gate and insisting on running his tests...

As the silence stretched, the hazy bits of memory he had of clinging so stubbornly to her that, according to Carson, she'd stayed with him half the night flitted through his mind again. He could remember how impossibly miserable he'd felt in his skin, wanting so much to pass out, to escape the thick sea of tiredness that bogged up all around him.

Remembered grabbing for any comfort. And then too.. "'Lizabeth?" he saw the sudden wariness flash over her at his hesitant tone and soldiered on carefully; needing to know, regardless of the consequences, "Did you call me 'puppy'?"

The blush that covered her face answered for her and John couldn't help but start to grin, ducking his head as he realized the memories of being petted and held tenderly.. might not be hallucinations either.

Elizabeth waited for the other shoe to drop and the teasing to start, but he just sat quietly besides her, looking tiredly elated. And the memory of his voice hit her full force again; 'Love you, 'Lizabeth.'

She wondered if he was even aware of the feeling; or if, when his mind was awake, he buried the knowledge as deeply as he did his need for touch. What did more than three years alone do to someone who needed physical contact *that* instinctively? He looked up and caught her staring at him consideringly; and froze. She could almost see the moment his still not wholly awake brain realized he'd given something away.

And two roads came to ground before them. The one familiar and familiarly lonely, the other unknown and dangerous. But he'd held her with quasi-desperation, even when fast asleep. And she hadn't managed to sleep alone. How much worse could the other path be? Assuming *he* was willing to risk it, she was aware suddenly of a how very tired of fighting alone she was...

Elizabeth reached out slowly, not remotely certain of what she was doing, but interpreting the barely-hidden hunger in his eyes to mean he might be aware of the fork in the road they'd been handed; and be willing to face the unknown with her. As he had so many other challenges.

John felt adrenaline liven his tired body, taking her hand in his instinctively, even as he tried to figure out what was going on. He'd learned not to be greedy a long time ago, and the memory of her taking care of him was more than he'd ever expected to have; he didn't want to ruin it now by assuming anything.

"You look like you're about to pass out again."

Her tone was quiet and caring; but that was nothing new, so he replied just as carefully, his thumb stroking the back of her hand distractedly. "So do you."

Her lips quirked up at his bluntness, eyes fixed on his. "Tried. I couldn't sleep."

John looked down at her hand, then back at the quietly welcoming look Elizabeth was giving him. He reminded himself that nothing had forced her to *pet* him.. and she'd reached out to him just now. It was still a terrifying leap of faith to believe that she was willing to have a relationship with him, though. But then he'd taken more than a few of those in his life...

Elizabeth smiled softly when she saw his head do that upward nod of understanding she'd gotten so used to, not surprised he returned the smile, bending his head as though he were a shy boy, but then looking up at her through his lashes as the smiled turned a little more wicked. If he'd been up to his usual speed she would have expected a playful comeback. As it was, he tugged on her hand, letting her put her tablet aside before pulling her over into an undemanding hug.

This wasn't remotely how she'd imagined she and John might one day get together. No long discussion about the future, no tentative intimacy. No horrible 'date' or 'seduction'. Or suddenly jumping each other in a closet. She sighed, her eyes dropping shut as she relaxed completely onto his shoulder. The sleep that had assiduously avoided her before was suddenly draining her strength away..

"Elizabeth?"

Her eyes opened slowly, realizing she must have actually passed out for a second, turning her head to meet laughing hazel eyes as one of his hands cupped her jaw. She made herself sit up on her knees besides him, hands on his chest for balance, not commenting when he steadied her wobbly stance with hands at her waist. She looked at him seriously, "Stay?"

The upward nod was followed with regular nodding and a small grin this time, eyes searching hers continuously for reassurance and confirmation; "Yeah."

John kept a friendly hand at her waist until she'd safely shuffled herself into a sleeping position, yawning and making him do the same as she laughed; then he leaned down and took his boots off.

Nope, instead of clumsy courtship, John decided to cling to her for a night in the infirmary... and now they were going to sleep the day away in her bed. Watching the play of muscles under the fabric of his shirt, it occurred to her that she hadn't been thinking straight. *This* was them all over. Half-assedly jumping fences, but still -hopefully- landing on their feet; and side-by-side.

She didn't know what she'd been expecting, but having him lay down and pull her into his arms, much as he'd cuddled into hers, was a pleasant surprise and she sighed again in comfort, fingers playing with a loose thread of his tee shirt as they both twitched and settled, finding how to lay together and yawning some more.

Drowsily staring at his throat and wishing she, *they*, weren't too tired to do more than hold each other, she noticed a smear of blood just under his jaw, automatically touching it with a finger.

"Shaving. Was tired." She saw his lips twitch in a grin before he whispered, "Kiss make better?"

Elizabeth grinned too, tipping his jaw closer with a hand on his cheek to oblige. Murmuring teasingly as she let him go, "Puppy."

He snorted a laugh, his chest shaking under her, "I didn't lick your face when I was out of it, did I?"

Settling back down to cuddling into his shoulder, hand over his calmly beating heart, Elizabeth shook her head. When she could almost *hear* the curiosity vibrating off him, she gave up the hope that she could avoid answering and mumbled half-grumpily, "My mental nickname for you whenever you're in a playful mood."

John felt a wide grin stretch his lips at the notion that Elizabeth had a nickname for him. Thought about him. He tightened his arms around her, stroking his cheek on the top of her head as he let himself drowsily imagine what they might do when they woke up refreshed... John was half asleep when he felt her take a breath and whisper, "I love you too, John."

He stopped breathing for a second; shocked. Finally sucking in a much-needed breath, he very slowly opened his eyes and turned his head toward her, feeling his pulse pound a little too fast as she smiled at him with drowsy tenderness. He'd had a feeling he'd given something away.. but he'd never imagined he'd let *that* slip. No matter how exhausted. Damn. Wait. *She*.. He could feel a smile slowly grow on his face as realization really set in, shuffling down until they were face to face and cupping her jaw.

Laughing as she beat him to the punch and kissed him before he could move. The laughter died for the need to taste, touch, take her lip and- Yawn.

Elizabeth tried to grin at him through her own yawn, "Boring you, am I, puppy?"

He whimpered, giving her a pitiful look, "Sleep. Need sleep." And was rewarded with fingers combing the hair away from his forehead, and the same tender look he remembered from yesterday. Dropping a kiss on her forehead, he got back into cuddle position and pulled her close again, seriously ready to sleep now. "'Lizabeth?"

"Umm."

He shivered as she breathed the 'word' on his neck, "Do love you."