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Spoilers: Surprisingly none. All the events mentioned in here are from my own imagination, just in case anyone was wondering.
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and its wonderful characters aren’t mine…but I could always do with a set myself…
Note: Well I just wanted to try my hand at a Sheppard POV… a little on the sappy side, but once again, criticism on the characterizations and the story are always welcome. On that note, I hope you enjoy it!

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When Night Falls
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He likes to watch her sleep.

He doesn’t really know why. Maybe it’s because of this whole turning over a new leaf thing, or maybe it’s a part of the white knight complex he can’t seem to shake. Whatever the case, it certainly hasn’t been something he’s done before. Actually, it’s never really occurred to him to do it before—not in any of the past relationships he can remember at least. Not that there are too many he can’t recall, but he reasons that if the relationship had been important enough to him then, he certainly would’ve retained something related to it.

But this relationship is different in many ways, so very different in comparison to his old flings. This is the first relationship he’s ever had where he is actually content to lie by her side and watch her drift off into a world where he can’t go. It used to be that he would always fall asleep first—back when the women were beautiful and lacking in that special something he was always searching for—but that urge has only ever cropped up a handful of times with Elizabeth. And when that happens, it is usually because he is too exhausted to keep his eyes open for more than a second before his head hits the pillow.

Even in those moments though, he always keeps one eye open until he can stand it no longer, just to make sure she isn’t going anywhere. At the beginning, when they had tentatively taken the leap into the unknowns of their relationship, they had both agreed never to spend the entire night in whoever’s room they had chosen to use. It had suited them both at first—she didn’t want to the city to find out she was sleeping with her second-in-command, and he didn’t want to commit to anything meaningful while the threat of death loomed over them.

Yet as the days began passing by, the novelty of falling asleep and waking up completely alone started to grate on his nerves. He hated the warmth she left behind, hated that lingering scent on his pillow because it meant that she was no longer there. It meant there was no one he could turn to in the night when he needed more than just the comfort of a pillow, when the darkness edged his vision, when the nightmares came.

He hated that empty feeling she left whenever she got up to go, hated knowing that she was going to a cold room where there were no reminders of his presence, nothing to stir her memories too. Nothing to taunt and tease her senses until she couldn’t take his absence any longer.

So one night, when she got up to leave, he merely grabbed her gently by the waist and pulled her down once again next to him. Her eyes had widened—even in the dark he could see them grow—but she hadn’t said anything. As their relationship had always worked, even in the beginning, he needed only one word to help her understand the wealth of insight behind his single action.

Stay.

She had of course, curling around his warmth with a sweet smile playing across her delicate lips as she clung to him in the dark. He had held her just as tightly, burrowing his nose into her hair, reassuring himself that she really wasn’t going to leave him. She wasn’t going to leave a trace of a scent, a teasing pocket of warmth to torment him into a fitful sleep. If he awoke, he would wake in her embrace, not in the cold chill of an empty bed.

That had been the first night he could ever remember where he had drifted off feeling truly content with the way the world was around him. He remembered too, that fateful night, her whispered word as they both drifted off to sleep—another word that held so much more meaning than it truly said.

Always.

Yet his habit of watching her hadn’t started then, nor did it even begin to develop until a few months later when she was taken from him—taken captive by a village that had promised trade. A village that served under the rule of a cold-blooded tyrant with dreams of domination. A tyrant who had believed a certain Dr. Elizabeth Weir held all the secrets, all the knowledge of how to access the ancient technology that had been found on their planet.

Eventually, his team had rescued her, but not before she had been “talked to”. Bruised and bleeding, she had spent a week under Carson’s strict unwavering care before being given leave with the promise she would take another week to recover mentally.

On the first night of her release, she had come to his door, a slight shake in her hands the only sign of what trauma her mind must have faced. He, being no stranger to abuse, understood the unspoken pleas in her eyes and immediately let her in.

They had lain on his bed, cocooned in his blanket as she first whispered then spoke brokenly about some of the pain she had been forced to face. She hadn’t told him everything—he suspects she may never reveal it all—but he had seen enough in her eyes to recognize hints of the secrets she would keep. Hints that spoke of hurt and anger and a fear that he hadn’t realized the woman who had faced down the Wraith numerous times could experience.

That night he had cuddled her close, his hands gently stroking her back, her arms, her stomach—any part of her he could comfortably reach that would reassure him she was still alive, still his. Never before had he felt such all-consuming panic at the thought of losing someone, never had he felt his heart twist so hard as when, after days of searching, he had finally seen the familiar green of her eyes gleam amidst the blackened hues of her battered face.

Never before, until that night, had he ever watched a woman fall asleep in his embrace.

Slowly but surely it has become somewhat of a nighttime ritual for him. Sometimes she will question why he always seems to be wide awake when her eyes can barely stay open, even though they have both gone through one hell of a day. Sometimes she will simply smile at him, then let her eyelids fall, and he recognizes the complete trust she has placed in him. He is humbled by it and empowered by it all at the same time—a confusing mixture that he figures he’ll never really be able to comprehend.

He puzzles over things as he watches over her, puts the pieces he has of Dr. Weir and the pieces of Elizabeth together to form a more complete picture of who she is. She has told him so much when she sleeps, more than she will ever know.

More than he will ever let on to her.

He can always tell when she’s had a long day. Those are the nights where she’ll sprawl out across the tiny mattress and he’ll be forced to reclaim some of the padding for his own purposes with pushes and shoves. She becomes a blanket hog during those times too, stealing the covers inch by inch, so slowly that he doesn’t realize what’s happening until he feels the cold air hit his suddenly exposed skin. Sometimes they’ll play a game of tug of war, and she usually always concedes a little extra covering to him with a sleepy smile on her face. He wonders if she might be awake during those moments, but when he murmurs her name—in an effort to coax just a little more of the blanket from her grasp—she barely stirs at all. So he can only logically conclude that she has nodded off, and normally ends up wrapped around her so that he can at least get some sort of heat to his chilled skin.

It’s even easier to tell when she’s stressed or worried or conflicted over some troubling event. Then she will relinquish her blanket- and mattress-rights, choosing to coil up on her side, and turn her body from him. Always facing away from him, as if she cannot bear to let him even glimpse a tiny portion of her burden. But as soon as her mind drifts away into oblivion, her body will always turn in his direction and he gets his first look at the frown on her sleeping face, the crease on her forehead a sure sign of her frustration. He had never thought someone could be so frustrated in their sleep, never thought that such worry could transcend even the barriers of slumber. But he is learning and he has a patient teacher.

Elizabeth has truly taught him many things, even if it is in her sleep.

She has taught him that forgiveness doesn’t need to be in the form of words. When something has happened to cause a rift between them—either his hotheaded stunts or her stubbornness on an issue that neither can see reason in—she has taught him that the most important thing is to let the anger go. Her lessons are not verbal, nor are they even from her conscious mind.

No, it is when they have both gone to opposite sides of the bed in a huff, when she has lost her anger to the abyss of dreams, that the lesson arises. And when he feels her gently, almost hesitantly reach out to him in her sleep, he knows that the healing process has begun. It may take him a moment or two before he is ready to reach right back, but it always happens without fail. Usually it is when he realizes that letting go of his anger is a far better solution than losing the only woman who has ever brought meaning back into his life.

He likes those mornings best, when they wake up twined about each other in an intimate embrace, their bodies having said their apologies before the words have even reached their mouths. He will smirk, a sign that he is perfectly all right with the result of their feud. In return she will smile, a sure sign that he certainly won’t be sleeping on the opposite side of the bed when the night falls once more.

Yet it is always after their love-making that he finds it most satisfying to watch her nod off. When her body is completely at ease, her arm draped casually over his chest, her leg thrown over his in a careless gesture, that is when he feels as though a slice of serenity has been granted to him. In those moments he feels as if the whole world could come crashing down around them and he wouldn’t bat an eyelash. Her soft skin rubbing against his, the silky curls of brown hair tickling his chest—those are sensations that excite him to no end. They are sensations that she cannot be blamed for inciting as she dozes, and he knows that it won’t be too long before he may have to take dire actions, before she leaves him in a state that can hardly allow for comfortable sleep.

She doesn’t seem to mind the nighttime wake-up calls though, particularly when his skilled fingers and mouth find all of their favourite places. Her complaints about the lack of sleep that he is causing are always half-hearted, and no matter how few hours she manages to rest, she is always glowing the next day—a glow that everyone seems to notice. A glow that he is always overly pleased to see, especially when he knows that he was the one who caused it.

It is in those quiet moments between their bouts of passion that three little words—three words that have more meaning than any other combination of words in the English language—drift through his mind. They are words he hasn’t really considered before, words he had thought were lost to him years ago.

Words he can’t seem to say during those waking moments, no matter how much he wants to get them out.

Sometimes, when they are both finally sated in their needs, the urge to say what is burning in his mind is almost intolerable. He knows that she feels the same way—he sees it in the way she looks at him when no one else is looking. He feels it in her caress, in her kisses, in her tender embraces. On a few occasions, he even swears he has heard her mumble it sleepily under her breath but he knows she will not say it out loud either. She is too cautious, too careful to give him words that might not be given back.

He knows that she will need to hear them first, before she is able to say them to him. He wants nothing more to hear them fall from her lips, and he has accepted that he will have to be the one to break that particular barrier. Yet something has stopped him so far. Maybe it is his own fears of letting the words leave his heart, of finally letting Elizabeth all the way into his very being. He wonders if it might become a weakness, those words, but then he realizes that she is already his weakness and that those words will only verbalize that fact.

Still, despite his solid reasoning, he has yet to bring himself to say it to her while she is looking him straight in the eye.

When she is sleeping next to him though, when the strange new galaxy they live in has delivered them another blow and they turn to the only other person who can ease the fear, the worry, and the pain. When their bodies are facing each, when she is safely tucked under his chin, her face buried in his chest. When his arms wrap securely around her and hers go possessively about him.

When her eyes have drifted shut and her breathing evens out, he whispers those very three words to her. They may be no more than a stirring of the air around her ears, but still he sees the faint traces of a smile on her face and he knows that somehow he has been heard. He cannot seem to stop sometimes, whispering them into her hair, on to her forehead, into the familiar crook of her neck.

He had thought he could only say it then, when she needs such unconscious comforts, but lately those words have been spilling from his lips more often. Not only have they been said when solace is the only thing they desire, but now they seem tumble from his heart to his mouth all the time.

They are mumbled when she is hogging his blanket and taking up his bed space with complete and utter disregard for his comfort.

They are murmured when she finally turns to him in the night, when her heart turns her to where she can find comfort, when the worry mars her features and he can do no more than worry for her.

They are spoken quietly when her hand reaches out to his back, grasping at the skin and cloth apologetically as her touch tells him more than her spoken words ever will.

They are groaned when her body involuntarily stirs his own into full wakefulness, when she unknowingly entices him with her skin and smell until he can hardly control his actions.

And they are whispered tenderly as she lays in his arms, when she finally decides that sleep is preferable over reassuring herself that he has come back from his last mission, a little bruised but all in one piece.

She stirs in her sleep, her clutch tightens, and he knows her mind has heard his words. He has finally come to believe that she would say them back if she could, knows that she will not take his words and crudely toss them aside.

So as he holds her, tucked under his chin once more, he thinks that maybe in the morning he can finally say those three simple words to her laughing lips and wakeful, blinking eyes.

No, he knows he can. And he decides he will too.

But at this moment in time, as the dark shadows her slumbering face, he is simply content to lie in his bed and watch her sleep.

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