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Soft the Drowsy Hours

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It was late. Darkness pressed close against Atlantis’s large windows. Lorne's steps echoed in the empty hallway as he made his way towards the residential area. The corridors were conspicuously empty. The unlucky gate tech on duty had been slouched over his console, glumly watching the guards play poker on the steps in the dimmed gate room when Lorne had passed through on his last round. Besides the three of them, he’d only seen a lone maintenance technician chasing down a malfunction in corridor G4. 

Atlantis was like NYC in a way; a city that never slept, and seeing it this deserted usually made him nervous, but he knew where people were tonight. Most of them, anyway. If he listened hard enough, he could almost hear the bass beat from the sound system bleed through three floors of steel and composite materials. 

He turned the final corner and glanced casually over his shoulder, before letting his hand brush over the control panel outside the second door. He ducked inside before it was fully open.  

Allowing his eyes a moment to adjust to the lack of light, he rolled his stiff shoulders as the door slid shut behind him. The past couple of weeks had been unusually calm, but the tension - muscle memory and the bitter knowledge that sooner or later things were going to go to hell again – was still there. It was a little like the rush and hum of forced ventilation at the shooting range. You got used to it to the point where you didn't even noticed it was there until you closed the door behind you.

Music - a wistful voice singing softly about starry, starry nights - wound its way around him as he scanned the dark room. The only light came from the display of the tiny, old mp3 player that lay on the cluttered desk. In the faint light he could see the small speakers peeking out from behind precarious stacks of botanical reference literature.

David’s bed was empty and untouched. A quick glance verified that the bathroom was as dark as the bedroom.

"David?" he called cautiously as he rounded the bed. He stopped in mid-stride at the sight of the dark shape on the floor.  

David’s head rested between two waist-high plants that stood beneath the windows. One arm was flung out. Lorne was already reaching for the radio, his other hand wrapping around the grip of his sidearm, when he registered the blanket and the pillow that peeked out from under the botanist.

David shifted in his sleep.

Lorne exhaled slowly. He shook his head and wiped his suddenly sweaty fingers on his shirt. He should be used to this by now. It wasn't the first time he'd found David asleep in weird places.

He kneeled down stiffly next to David and took a better look at the two plants that towered above him. Waist-high and willowy, they looked nothing like Christmas trees with their narrow leaves and silvery bark, but their branches were heavy with decorations. Skewed, handmade little straw-angels twirled serenely from their strings. Flimsy, uneven stars were cut out from silvery, anti-ESD bags. Rustic Athosian good-luck-charms made the branches bow down in silent reverie.

He smiled and rubbed a velvety leaf between his fingers, careful not to bruise it. Every year on Christmas Eve, his mother would unwrap her four glass angels (one each for Lorne and his sisters) carefully from their silk paper nests, dusting them off before making room for them on the tree in the living room. Then she'd tune the radio to a station that played Christmas songs and smile at him and tell him that now, now it was Christmas.

The last time he'd been home for Christmas had been four years ago. All of his sisters had been there, with their kids and significant others, as well as a few cousins and Lorne's uncle who didn't have any family of his own.

Later that night, his mother had found him on the swing under the old, gnarly oak tree. The snow had crunched under her feet as she approached. She'd stopped in front of him, pulling her coat closer around her. You always liked that swing, she'd said, smiling. He'd smiled back and given the swing a slight push with his feet. The chains had squeaked a little in protest under his weight. Seven years old was a long, long time ago

She'd glanced back over her shoulder at the lit up house, and when she'd looked back, her face had been serious. She'd rubbed her hands together before crossing her arms tightly in front of her to ward off the cold. You okay? she'd asked.

Lorne had started to repeat what he'd said so many times already in the past few days (I'm fine, a little tired, that's all) and she'd frowned at him. Don't lie to me, she'd interrupted sharply. I taught you better than that.

He'd looked away. Shamed. Angry, suddenly, because he'd been at the SGC at that point, going off-world regularly and yeah, nothing changed your outlook on life, death, and everything in between like finding out that not only are you not alone in the universe, but there are some seriously bad guys out there who want to enslave your entire race. How the hell do you tell someone that? But then, that hadn’t even been an issue, because there was the little detail of security clearances and non-disclosure agreements and the fact that he didn't really want his mother to know a lot of things that made him feel like a stranger in the midst of his own family these days.

He'd been about to get up when she'd stepped in, nestled her smaller shoes between his boots on the snowy ground. Don't lie to me, she'd repeated. Softer this time. She'd wrapped her arms around his shoulders and pulled him close. Her voice had been uneven when she said, 'I know you can't really tell me anything, baby, but don't lie.'

He'd squeezed his eyes shut against the sudden sting there and pressed his face against the cold fabric of her jacket. He'd desperately wanted to be able to explain to her that him feeling untethered and distant wasn't her fault. Wasn't anyone's fault.

When Krista a few minutes later had opened the kitchen window and shouted that if they wanted any eggnog that they probably should get back inside, his mother had pulled away with a shaky laugh, her eyes glossy. She'd brushed the snow from his shoulders and hair and they had walked back to the house.

Two and a half years later, he'd found himself living in another galaxy, in a floating city, playing 2IC to a lieutenant colonel that he couldn't really figure out (easy-going and smooth, yet inherently difficult to get a grip on). And perhaps most surprisingly, he'd found something he hadn't known he was looking for.

Lorne looked down at David and shook his shoulder gently. Blue eyes fluttered open, confusion sparking for a moment before recognition settled in. David squinted up at him, at the tree above him, then back.

"What time is it?" he asked, his voice hoarse with sleep.

Lorne didn't have to check. His watch had ended with ten minutes to go of December 24th, Colorado time. He didn’t usually keep track of the time back home, but someone in one of the labs had calculated it down to the second and made a digital countdown and hung the display in the mess hall. Homesickness written in red LEDs.  

“It’s Christmas,” he said. 

Not all members of the expedition observed Christmas, but to most the party that was in full swing was as good an excuse as any to celebrate their continued survival and to kick back, relax and get shit-faced. The punch had been alcohol-free at the beginning of the evening. Within the hour, it had been spiked enough to give you a contact buzz just sniffing it.

Lorne's guys – the ones who weren't on duty, of course – were all behaving pretty well (he'd checked in a few times earlier in the evening), but the civilians, God, the civilians were insane. It wasn't the first time Lorne had come to that particular conclusion, and it probably wouldn't be the last, but damn, a number of them were well on their way to memory gaps. And from what he'd seen going on in a few dark corners, others would probably wish they had memory gaps come morning.

David scrubbed at his eyes. "Must have fallen asleep."

"Evidence points that way, yes," Lorne smiled.

David smiled back at him, his eyes soft with lingering sleep. Squirming a few inches to the side, he patted the blanket next to him. Lorne gave the comfortable (and perfectly accessible) bed a pointed look.

"Come on," David coaxed. "You know you want to."

Lorne rolled his eyes, but he'd seen Atlantis from every other possible angle, so sure, why not this one?

He laid down. The blanket was soft. Handmade, no doubt. Some of the older Athosian women on the mainland had taken an immediate shine to David and pushed things at him every time he went there. Urns for his plants, glazed brown or green or a deep speckled blue in the large kilns Lorne and his men had helped build last summer. Sturdy gardening tools. Little honey sweetened pastries for the jumper ride home. Lorne was nice to them, too. Just as nice as David was. But they never gave him pastries.

"So," David pushed up on his elbow. "Tell me, have you been good this year, Major?"

"Baby, I'm always good," Lorne drawled. He canted his head towards David. "Why? You think Santa's got something for me?"

"Well, I don't know about Santa..." David said and glanced up at the hand he was holding over their heads.  

Lorne looked up. He laughed and wrapped his fingers around David's wrist, pulling it closer. "That's not mistletoe."

"I'll have you know it's the Pegasus version of it, distantly related to what you find on Earth," David answered breezily.

Lorne squinted in the darkness. The twig smelled fresh. A little minty. "It doesn't look very much like it," he said.  

"Wow." David sounded amused.

"What?"

"You're really going to argue with me on this, aren't you?"

Lorne opened his mouth, then thought about it for about two tenths of a second. He took a second look at the wannabe-mistletoe. "Wait. I see it now. Yes. Yes, you're right, of course."

David grinned. "Of course."

Lorne leaned in for the kiss.

They kissed, slow and sweet in the darkness, and for once, things remained unrushed, different from the usual urgency. Lorne closed his eyes as David's hand came up to stroke his hair, a light caress that continued down the nape of his neck and in under the collar of his jacket. Short, blunt nails slid under the chain to his dog tags and warm knuckles settled against his skin.

Lorne sighed contentedly. An almost-Christmas tree above him. David, warm and solid next to him. Nowhere he needed to be in the next twenty hours. It felt nice. A little silly, but nice. He kissed the tip of David's nose. Then his mouth again. He hiked him a fraction closer.

"How come you're not at the party?" he asked.

"I left when Katie started to bug Zelenka about setting up the karaoke machine. That's really not my thing."

"Wise move," Lorne nodded. "No one should have to suffer through Dex's rendition of Smokey." He winced at the memory. "Cruel and unusual punishment."

David chuckled. "So, what's your excuse?"

"After sixteen hours of patrols and paperwork and babysitting people who shouldn't need babysitting, I really didn't feel like watching the particular train wreck that was Kellerman and Kerry getting frisky under the table. Besides," Lorne rearranged his arm around David, "there was somewhere else I'd rather be."

David's small, happy smile made Lorne ridiculously warm.

He felt David nuzzle closer. "Did you ever imagine this?"

Lorne reached up to the branch above them and flicked a low-hanging foil star with his finger. He watched it glimmer it as it spun slowly. "What? A six foot five alien in dreads singing 'Oh, Carol'?"

It drew a quiet laugh from David. "No. Yes. I don't know. Everything?"

In the darkness, the music gave way to silence, then to a plaintive harmonica. An acoustic guitar joined in. I come from down in the valley, Springsteen sang quietly, where mister when you're young, they bring you up to do like your daddy done."

"I don't think anyone could have imagined all of this." Lorne let his hand drop.

Lifting his head, David looked up at him. "Would you have stepped through the gate that first time if you'd known what was waiting?"

Lorne shrugged. "I go where they send me."

It was the easy answer, but this time it wasn't strictly true. The Atlantis mission was still one hundred percent voluntary, even on the military side of things. "I think so," he amended when he sensed that David was still waiting for something more. "I think I still would've come."

David's fingers plucked at Lorne's shirt for a moment, before he smoothed the fabric down. He laid his head back against Lorne's shoulder. "I'm not exactly vital to the survival of the expedition," he said quietly, "but for what it's worth, me too,"

Lorne smiled into the dark. "I'm glad." He ran his fingers through David's short hair. "It wouldn't be the same without you."

He closed his eyes again when his hand found the patch of warm, exposed skin at David's lower back, between the rucked up t-shirt and his pants. David yawned. A few seconds later, Lorne mirrored him. He was unwinding, relaxing after ten days of long shifts and things going wrong in every possible way.

The dark bedroom was warm. Tracy Chapman's odd, plaintive vibrato took over when Springsteen fell silent. Then someone Lorne didn't recognize.

He was on the verge of sleep when David shifted against his side. "Hey?" His breath was warm against the side of Lorne's face.  

"Mmm?"

Knuckles brushed softly over Lorne's cheek. "Merry Christmas.”

Lorne turned his face into the touch without opening his eyes. He kissed David's palm as the fingers uncurled.

It wasn't perfect, Christmas in Atlantis. It was nothing like what Lorne had been missing for years before even coming to the Pegasus galaxy, but right there and then he decided it was precious in its own right.

It was extra bandwidth for personal messages in one of the scheduled data bursts, Athosian-style cider served in small, plastic cups in the mess hall (spicy and sweet and ruby red). It was ten thousand year-old dead plants decorated with spent bullet casings from the firing range, strung up on red and green AWG-20 wires. Familiar melodies hummed in a multitude of languages in labs and deserted corridors when people thought no one was around to hear. ('Ave Maria' and 'Silent Night' and 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus'.) It was stress. Bad tempers. Four strings of gaudy Christmas lights showing up on the Daedalus' cargo manifest. Bonfire celebrations on the mainland. Heightmeier booked beyond solid.

It was taking what you had and being damn grateful for it.

Lorne tightened his arm around David a little. He slid his other hand further up under David's t-shirt, rested it between the shoulders where the skin was soft and sleep-warm.

"Merry Christmas," he mumbled.

They slept on the floor that night, under the silent vigil of the tiny straw-angels and heavily armed guards. Much later, when the procession of songs had ceased and dawn was reaching cold and pale over the horizon, they woke and moved to the bed. Crawling in under the warm covers, they sorted out arms and legs and went right back to sleep.

 

~ The End ~