Been working on this for a while…it's still rougher than I'd like, but it's decent. Certainly more satisfying than trying to prove that a photon cannot give all of its energy to a stationary electron. Curse you and your relativistic homework problems, Professor! Curse you!
Anyway, this is a bit angsty, but I hope you enjoy it.
She wakes up and she doesn't know where she is. Fighting a bubble of panic, Elizabeth props herself up on her hands, but her vision is blurry, slow to focus, and she can't see. She feels something warm and heavy against her leg and looks down. By this time her eyes have focused, and the first thing she sees is John.
He's sitting in a chair beside her bed, but he's fallen asleep with his head and shoulders on the mattress, pressing against her thigh. She looks up and around, recognizes the Atlantis infirmary, and lowers herself back onto her pillows, arms shaking slightly. She's weak, faint, and breathing harder than she's used to. Her throat feels swollen.
Dr Keller appears beside her bed, sees John, and twists her mouth in a wry grin. "I told him he could sit with you, not fall asleep on top of you."
Elizabeth opens her mouth to ask what's going on, but no words come out. Her eyes widen and her hand flies to your throat.
"It's a lingering effect of the venom," Keller says, hasty to reassure her. "The muscles of your throat are swollen, and that's why you can't speak.
What venom? Elizabeth wants to ask, but she can't think of a way to communicate it with her hands.
Dr Keller is reaching for John's shoulder to wake him up, but Elizabeth catches her hand and shakes her head. I don't mind, she mouths. Keller looks surprised, but pulls her hand back and doesn't wake him. "I'll come back in a little to see how you're doing."
Alone, Elizabeth shifts so she can look down at John. His resting expression is stern, but his face is usually so expressive that she didn't notice until recently. His mouth is open slightly, which softens the expression, but not much. He doesn't look innocent or open the way some men do in sleep; he just looks exhausted, which is as close to vulnerable as John Sheppard lets himself be.
She reaches out to touch him, running her fingers through his hair and tracing the curve of his ear. It's an indulgence to be able to touch him like this, just to feel his skin beneath her fingers. She's always been careful not to touch him, and he her, in case the other got the wrong impression—or perhaps the right one. This gentle caress is a liberty she shouldn't be taking, but it's so reassuring to feel him, warm and alive.
His eyes open and she pulls her hand away from his cheek, trying not to jerk guiltily. John shakes his head slightly as he sits up and she hopes he was still too asleep to notice.
"Hey, you're awake."
Elizabeth smiles. It's only the most obvious statement of the century, but it's nice to hear his voice.
"How do you feel?" he asks, shifting from the chair to sit on the bed beside her.
She shrugs and gestures at her throat. I can't talk, she mouths, and he frowns at her for a second before he gets it. "Oh. Right. The venom."
Elizabeth makes a face. What venom?
"What was that? I can't read lips."
She flails her arms a little, trying to indicate what or at least confusion, then mouths venom as slowly and as clearly as she can. It takes several repetitions, but John figures it out eventually.
"Don't you remember?" he asks. "I guess you went out as soon as it bit you. Well, you remember being on Pelar? You were trying to negotiate with their leader to get Rodney out of jail."
She nods; she remembers sitting down opposite a round-faced man in a red robe in a room full of lizards and frogs.
"Well, apparently one of their sacred pets—you remember them?"
She vaguely recalls something about the animals holding some religious importance for their culture, but beyond that…
"They usually keep the poisonous ones locked up, but apparently one of the snakes escaped and thought your leg would be a good snack. You fainted and there was a lot of flailing and panicking on the part of the Pelarites, but Teyla managed to calm them down while I took care of Ronon. He was waving his gun a little too close to their leader's head," John explains as she frowns at him. "We figured killing their leader was only going to make things worse."
She cocks an eyebrow and inclines her head. Sensible of you.
"Yeah, I thought so. Anyway, they were very apologetic about the whole thing, gave us the antidote and let Rodney go, so we brought you back here. You weren't doing so well," he says, and the shadow that passes over his face catches at her heart. "You've been unconscious for almost eighteen hours."
She smiles reassuringly. I'm better now.
"What's that? You're giving me a raise?"
Suppressing a smile, she lowers her eyebrows and glares at him. You know that's not what I said.
"You are? Great!" She swats his leg with her fingers and he catches her hand. "That wasn't very nice."
Elizabeth raises her eyebrows.
"Why is it you manage to say more when you can't talk than when you can?" he asks, reading her expression.
She shrugs and bats her eyes.
"Don't play innocent with me. You know it won't work. And you'll never be as good at that as I am," he says when she gives him her best puppy-dog look.
She sneers elegantly and reaches up to push her hair out of her face, but the IV catches in her arm and she winces.
"Let me," John says, brushing her hair back behind her ear. He's still got her other hand.
She sees the instant he realizes he's too close, feels the slight stiffening of his fingers. They both look away, releasing each other's hands, and John clears his throat.
"You should probably try to go back to sleep."
Agreeing would be the responsible thing to do; if she goes back to sleep, he can leave, and they can both pretend they've forgotten this happened. But she isn't tired, she doesn't want him to leave, and she's suddenly grumpy enough to push it.
I'm not tired, she says, shaking her head so he'll look at her.
His face flickers through confusion, exasperation, and what could be fear before he settles on amusement. "C'mon, Elizabeth. Dr Keller said the best thing for you to do was rest."
She didn't tell me that.
John smirks and leans across her to grab the chart Keller left beside her bed. "It says 'bed rest until further notice' right here," he says, dropping the chart back on the bedside table. "So there."
Elizabeth raises an eyebrow. I outrank Dr Keller.
"Not in here you don't."
That never stops you.
She gives him a Look. He plants his hand on the other side of her hip and leans in, stretching so he's looking down at her. "Go to sleep, Elizabeth."
She sits up straighter so they're eye-to-eye. No.
"Elizabeth," he says warningly, but he's grinning.
They're forehead-to-forehead, nose-to-nose, so instead of mouthing she just shakes her head.
Dr Keller's voice has them jerking apart like guilty teenagers. Keller has the grace to pretend she hasn't seen anything. "Dr Weir, it really would be best if you would get try to go back to sleep."
"I was just leaving," John lies, and beats a hasty retreat. After eliciting a nonverbal promise that Elizabeth will try to sleep, Dr Keller leaves as well.
Alone again, Elizabeth lowers herself back down onto the pillows. She can feel depression looming at the edges of her consciousness and shoves it firmly away. She is not going to miss a man who probably hasn't even made it twenty feet down the hallway.
It's the nonphysical distance that worries her more, the huge, hulking, ugly concrete wall of rules and regulations and responsibility that looms between them, the wall they could easily, eagerly crumble if they didn't both recognize its necessity. In many ways it's a wall of their own creation, which she supposes is why it's so strong—and so weak.
After all, if it were working, she wouldn't be so reassured by the fact that she can still smell his aftershave.