Title: Still Breathing
Rating: PG, because most of the heavy stuff is only alluded to.
Warnings: angst, character death, allusions to rape.
Characters/Pairings: Sheridan, Ethan, mentions of Beth, Sam, Gwen, Lopez-Fitzgeralds, Kay, original characters, Luis.
Summary: prompt: veneer. "It won't ever be okay, Sheridan."





~*~




A child's plaintive wail pierced the somber shroud cast by the gray winter afternoon, and the cold, icy fingers of the wind propelled Sheridan forward, the dirty, trodden snow crunching beneath her boots as she held on to Ethan's arm and carefully navigated the stone garden.


The ring of mourners was huddled around the freshly dug gravesite, Luis standing tall above his mother and sisters. Miguel's hand curled around Kay's, and the teens were the first to spot them, murmuring quietly to themselves as Sheridan and Ethan joined their ranks.


Sheridan rest her gloved hands over the tight swell of her belly as she listened to the clear, reverent intonation of Father Lonagin's voice laying Beth Wallace to rest, and she traced wistful blue eyes over Luis's looming figure, the width and the breadth of him, the strength, the deceptive calm. She lost herself in her thoughts as she studied him without his knowledge, and when Ethan rest a supportive hand against the small of her back, she startled.


"I didn't mean to scare you," Ethan apologized, concern in his kind blue eyes. "But the service is over. Everybody's leaving."


Sheridan looked around, recognized that what he said was true. Only a few figures remained around the gravesite, Luis and Sam most notably. "You go ahead," she encouraged her nephew. "I just want to pay my respects."


"I'll have a hot chocolate waiting for you at the Book Café," Ethan promised. Then, realizing what he'd said, he frowned. "I'll call Gwen, have her have Cook make it just like you like it."


"She has a name, Ethan, and I'm fairly certain it's not Cook," Sheridan gently teased. She smiled as she pressed a kiss to his cool cheek. "What would I do without you?"


"Starve?" Ethan teased back lightly as he kneaded the sore muscles of her back, causing Sheridan to groan in appreciation. "Don't take too long, okay? It's freezing out here."


"Luckily," Sheridan quipped as she absently rubbed her swollen abdomen. "I have some insulation." The smile on her face didn't quite reach her eyes, but Ethan rewarded her silly comment with a small laugh.


"I'll go warm up the car."


"You do that," Sheridan said. "I won't be long." She watched him as he caught up with Pilar and her daughters, exchanged pleasantries with them, and went his own way. When she turned around again, Luis was before her, and she was staring into the heartbroken eyes of Beth's orphaned young daughter as she lifted her rumpled brown head from the solid shelter of Luis's chest. Sheridan thumbed away a crystal tear from the child's soft, flushed cheek, and murmured the little girl's name. "Hi, Maddie."


The toddler scrabbled for the gaping edges of Luis's jacket and burrowed herself beneath the worn leather away from Sheridan's sympathetic blue eyes.


"She's tired," Luis rationalized, the emotion in his dark eyes veiled but fortified against prying eyes, against her eyes.


Sheridan sighed and nodded, wincing as her son lodged his tiny foot in the curl of her ribs and pushed.


"You okay?"


The concern that leaked through Luis's voice, dripped from the softly murmured syllables warmed Sheridan, gave her hope, and she grasped onto the hand hovering uncertainly in the heavy air between them, pressed it to her thickened middle, smiled. "Yeah. He's very strong. Feel."


Luis slowly withdrew his hand, adjusted Maddie in his arms when she squirmed. "He?"


Sheridan pushed back at the disappointment she felt when Luis recoiled as if burned, taking an additional step or two back for good measure. Pasting a brave smile on her face, she acted as if she hadn't noticed his efforts to distance himself. "Pilar didn't tell you? It's a boy."


"Mama tells me a lot of things," Luis's breath fogged between them. "I've been a little distracted," he murmured into the fine strands of Maddie's hair as the toddler tightened her short arms around his neck and whimpered. "With Beth getting sick, and helping take care of Maddie, the station, I just haven't had time…"


To deal with it? Sheridan wanted to ask but didn't. Her body might have been violated that night, but Luis's trust in his ability to keep her safe had also been compromised, and he had yet to come to terms with his own human infallibility, with the baby that was the unasked for reminder of his ultimate failure. She couldn't explain to him why she'd made the choices she'd made in the days since, she still didn't completely understand her reasons herself, but she had, and here they were, and the distance between them was something she wasn't sure could be breached, at least not yet, not today. So, she let him off the hook, soft and gracious in her allowances. "I know."


"Sheridan."


"It's okay, Luis. It really is." Tightening her scarf about her neck, she pulled the edges of her jacket closed against her straining flesh and turned to go. "You should get her inside," she said of the small, forlorn-looking little girl with her face buried in the crook of his neck, and her tiny fingers bloodless and fierce against the natural swarthiness of his skin. "It looks like snow."


"It won't ever be okay, Sheridan." The pain and guilt in Luis's simple statement was a living, breathing thing, and Sheridan stilled, her eyes clenched shut at the sheer rawness of the regret between the lines.


"Maybe you're right," Sheridan mused, turning tear-filled blue eyes on him as she soothed the restless child in her womb. "I have to believe you're wrong."





~*~





So...I hope you guys are still with me.

T'is angsty, I know.

But sometimes angst hurts so good (wow...I sound a
little masochistic, lol; I'm not, not really).

The opposite of darkness is light, though, and both Sheridan and Luis are still searching for it.

Will they find it?

Keep reading to find out.

Feedback is love and (almost) better than chocolate.



Thanks so much for reading!