Sheppard is lying in the infirmary staring fixedly at the ceiling, Beckett and Elizabeth speak in low voices in the background. The effort they are taking not to glance over at the very quiet and grim-looking man lying just a short distance away is very noticeable.
"You should talk to him. He's hiding it very well, but if I was him? I'd be scared to death," Beckett tells Elizabeth who stares back at him.
"How am I doin'?" Sheppard asks bluntly, interrupting their hushed discussions.
Elizabeth shoots a rather desperate glance at Beckett who nods at her. She walks over to Sheppard's bed, gathering her thoughts. The news is not good and she wonders she is going to tell him what she needs to tell him. Sheppard looks her up and down and then frowns.
"Anything that has you speechless has me concerned," he says with a scowl.
Elizabeth tries to smile. "You're gonna be fine," she says unconvincingly.
"Wow. That's dead man talk".
"No, it isn't," Elizabeth denies.
Sheppard has irrefutable evidence that things aren't going to be all right. He turns his right arm towards her so that she can see. The damned scaly patch of alien skin has increased on his arm.
"Have you seen this?" he asks her bluntly.
"Beckett is going to figure this one out," she tells him with another pitiful attempt at reassurance, but her eyes are clearly very frightened. She finds it hard to lie to this man. It's always been this way.
"I think I already have. You know who I'm starting to feel like?" He pauses before she can answer. "Ford".
Elizabeth answers too quickly, cursing herself as she speaks,"Now, what happened to you is completely different".
"I know, I know. Still, I can feel it. I mean, I can feel it changing me inside ... like he did".
"I don't think that's even possible. Look, you're very worried ..."
"No, no. No, it's ... .uh ...," he pauses for a moment to search for the words. "One of the best weeks of my life was when I got my wisdom teeth out. I was on codeine for a full seven days. This is kinda the same. I know I should be in pain, or at the very least freaked out by this, but hey! I'm not ... and that freaks me out more than anything".
"We're gonna beat this," she says shifting uneasily on her feet, trying to convince herself as much as him.
Sheppard looks at her in disbelief. "`We're gonna beat this'? `Beckett'll figure this out'? `You're gonna be fine'? You really suck at the whole bedside manner thing," he tells her flatly.
Elizabeth looks at him miserably. "I know, I'm sorry," she tells him, her face is filled with unhappiness. She feels like she has let him down in some way even though this is no one's fault.
Sheppard takes pity on her obvious misery. "But I appreciate the effort," he tells her.
Elizabeth can't believe that he's trying to comfort her even though he's the one who should be frightened. She realises, not for the first time, how much she has come to rely on this flippantly capable man with his devil-may-care attitude and his wicked sense of humour.
Elizabeth glances through the folder, reading but not really absorbing anything. It's very hard to concentrate on anything right now except what she knows is happening to Sheppard. For everyone else, she has to be the cool, collected leader. Only John is ever allowed to see her lose her composure. The thought of losing him is more terrifying than the nightmares that trouble her sleep. Since coming to Atlantis, she has discovered that nightmares do come true. It's foolish, but sometimes she feels as though it's Sheppard who keeps the monsters at bay even more effectively than the shield of the Ancients.
Almost as if she has summoned him with her thoughts, Sheppard enters the room followed by an armed Marine.
"Look!" he exclaims loudly, pointing at the Marine with a very exaggerated grin. "I made a new friend!"
Elizabeth looks up. Sheppard's neck is even bluer now, the change to his face has become more marked but with the exception of a slight moment's hesitation, she displays no other visible reaction to his altered appearance.
"It's only protocol," she explains calmly.
"That's your answer for everything," he counters.
"You look well," she says without thinking but then her gaze drops to his right hand that has now become disturbingly claw-like. God. The sight terrifies her but she swallows her panic, for both their sakes. Sheppard tucks his hand into his pocket defensively.
"Should you be out of bed?" she asks him.
"I was goin' a little crazy down there, so they said I could walk around for a bit".
"That's good." she says softly, her eyes are filled with sympathy.
They stare at each other for a long moment and Sheppard takes a step towards her desk.
"Look, what I'm trying to say is that I want to go on this mission".
Elizabeth walks towards him. "Hey, you said it yourself. You are not fit for any off world activity".
"The inhibitor that Beckett's got me on, the one that's keeping me lucid? They keep having to up the dose," his voice is tense and urgent.
"I know. They told me".
Sheppard looks frustrated. "I don't know how much time I have, but the last thing I wanna do is sit on my ... " he pulls his hand from his pocket and lifts it to where she can see and says loudly,"....... mutating hands, while my team puts their lives on the line trying to find me a cure".
There is a long silence between them while Elizabeth's gaze rests on his hand. She meets his gaze squarely again.
"I should be with them!" he tells her flatly.
"No. I'm sorry". She really is sorry.
"What's the worst that can happen? I, I ... die?" he demands.
"You could compromise the mission. They have enough things to worry about ..."
Sheppard looks irritated. "Oh, no no ... so, what? Suddenly I'm a liability?"
"Your condition can change rapidly".
"I know, and I know I can do this!" he says loudly.
"I'm glad ... you feel that way. But it would be irresponsible of me ..."
"This is my life we're talking about!" his frustration is growing.
"I know that".
They stare at each other again. "I'm going on that mission". he tells her stubbornly as if he's still Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard and her trusted military adviser, but she knows that he's not. Whatever he is right now, she has to do the thinking for the both of them. The thought makes her panic so she resolutely pushes aside the fear to deal with later.
"No, John! You're not," she says firmly.
"DAMMIT!" he shouts, his face twisting with terrifying rage as he turns and smashes his fist through the plate glass wall of her office. At the same time the glass shatters, the Marine has pulled his sidearm out and it is aimed at Sheppard. People run into the office, there are more weapons drawn and Elizabeth hastily rushes over to put a restraining hand up to the Marine.
"It's OK! Put it down," she orders him. She's not frightened, she's more worried than anything else and she can feel the panic and disbelief emanating from John.
The Marine lowers his sidearm and the others from the control room reluctantly leave. As Elizabeth turns back to Sheppard, he looks more than a little disconcerted and sheepish.
"I'm betting that didn't sell you?" he says softly and the gentle ruefulness in his voice is all John Sheppard despite the discolouration of his skin and the increasing strangeness of his face. Selfless, brave and frustrating. That's the way it's always been.
"No. No, not really," Elizabeth says, arching her eyebrow at him.
"I should go back to the infirmary," he says, and his voice is still soft. The expression on his face makes her wish she could say something to make this better but there's nothing to be done or said.
"Yes," she whispers nodding at him.
There is a faintly hopeless expression in his eyes and he leaves quietly without saying another word. Elizabeth stares after him anxiously.
Elizabeth pauses in front of the door. An armed guard is standing before Sheppard's door, sidearm out. He nods as Elizabeth approaches and steps aside.
She opens the door and pauses in the doorway, staring into the dark room. "John?"
She turns to the guard who nods towards the wall, indicating the light switch. Elizabeth reaches out her hand but stops. "Leave `em off," a voice says abruptly.
Sheppard is sitting on his bed, his back to the door.
"The lights. Leave the lights off," he says harshly.
The door slides shut behind Elizabeth and the room becomes even darker. She tries to breathe quietly. "OK," she says, clasping her hands together.
There is silence.
"I thought I should come by and practice my bedside manner," she says with an attempt at cheerfulness.
More silence meets her words. "How are you?" she asks him softly.
She walks towards him slowly.
"My body's mutating into a bug. How are you?" he asks her evenly. Neither of them smiles. Smiles aren't possible anymore.
"Would you like an update on your team's progress?" She is proud of the calmness of her voice.
The silence is almost overwhelming. She walks around towards him but as she approaches, he turns his face away from her.
"They found an iratus cave and they've headed in".
"Good," his voice is even softer than hers.
"They should locate some eggs and be back here in no time".
Sheppard keeps turning his head away from her. His whole body is distancing her, telling her to leave.
"No time?" his voice is terse and chilly.
"Then what?" he asks her.
"Honestly? I don't know," she tells him. She knows there's no point lying to him.
The silence stretches on and his efforts not to look at her become very obvious.
"Hey? Are you all right?" she questions him urgently.
Again there is more of the interminable silence. This is something new for them. Their silences are usually comfortable and companionable, shared smiles of rueful camaraderie. Sometimes there's something more, emotion and heat that promises to one day be something more than friendship. Never before has there been this tense, almost hostile emptiness.
"Would you like me to call someone?"
"Who would you call?" Sheppard demands abruptly, interrupting her.
"If you need to see a doctor ..." she starts to speak.
"I need a bigger security detail," he tells her bluntly.
"Excuse me?" she questions him and walks up to him, standing within touching distance of him. She doesn't dare to touch him even though she wishes desperately that she can offer him some comfort however tiny.
He fixedly refuses to turn to look at her. "At least two men, stationed at my door, sooner rather than later".
"Now, what are you talking about?" Elizabeth asks him, looking very concerned.
"Just trust me, Elizabeth," he tells her tightly. "You're going to need it".
"Listen, John ... if ..."
He turns around sharply and she can see that his right eye has become very alien-looking, a yellowish colour with an unsettling slit-pupil. His neck looks mottled with blue-black colours and his skin has become almost scale-like. Tension is in his face and although Elizabeth is very unsettled, she forces herself not to flinch.
"Oh, my God," she breathes as she stares at him.
"They need to hurry," he tells her curtly. His face is cold but she knows that deep inside he has to be terrified.
"You should be in the infirmary".
"The infirmary isn't secure. The inhibitor's only keeping me lucid, it's not slowing the retrovirus," he tells her. Her heart hurts as she stares at him. Despite the way he looks, this is still John Sheppard, still concerned about the safety of others when he is fighting a battle not to be consumed by a retrovirus. He's always been like this.
"Still ..." Elizabeth says firmly, wanting to insist.
When Sheppard leaps to his feet and stares fiercely into her face, she is able to maintain her ground and keep her composure.
"Don't argue with me!" he shouts at her. "I'm not safe to be around anymore". His voice is bitter. Now that the light is on his face, she can see that his skin is turning greyish, Wraith-like, consuming even more of his face than had originally realised.
"Get some more men at my door and get the hell out of here," he tells her bitterly.
"OK. OK," she tells him, slightly shaken but realising that he has the right of it. When she leaves the room, she instructs the guard to double the watch. Turning her head slightly, she sees John sit down on the bed again, a solitary figure. Despite the fact that he doesn't move, his whole posture speaks of tension and worry. She wants to go back to him, but she knows that she is needed elsewhere.
"Without the stem cells, our plan is not promising," Beckett tells Elizabeth regretfully after the disastrous attempt to retrieve the eggs.
Elizabeth's face shows her devastation.
"OK. I'll tell him," she says quietly, her eyes sorrowful. She approaches Sheppard's room again.
"How is he?"
"I wouldn't go in there, ma'am," the guard tells her. She glances at the other guard.
"I'll be fine," she says briefly and opens the door, staring around into the darkness. There is no sign of Sheppard and the room is unsettlingly quiet. She knows he's there, though. She can't see him, can't hear him, but she can feel his presence in the darkness.
"John?" She looks around for a while, nodding at the guard who reluctantly closes the door. She stares into the darkness and speaks anyway.
"So this is when I usually ask you a stupid question, like `How are you feeling?'" She walks into the room, trying not to let the anxiety colour her voice. "John? John? Our team got back from the mission".
At a sound behind her, she turns and sees him standing right behind her. A gasp escapes her despite herself at the sight of the bluish grey ridging that has spread up his face all the way to his forehead. Both of his eyes now have reptilian pupils and there are strange mottled growths on his neck.
"The nest was too well protected. We were unable to retrieve the eggs. They tried their best ..."
"Best?" Sheppard demands. His voice is terse.
"The bugs attacked ..."
"Try again," he tells her.
"Can't do that".
"Why?" he demands and she can feel the anger rising in him
"I understand ..." she says to him.
"If you won't, then kill me now," he tells her harshly, his face is cold and very frightening.
"John," her voice is a plea.
"It's better for the both of us".
"I can't do that," she says, looking stricken as she stares at him.
Sheppard steps closer to her. "Then try again". His voice is very menacing, cold and deadly. He has never spoken like this to her before. This isn't the man who takes a wicked delight in gatecrashing her quiet, introspection time on her favourite balcony. This isn't the man who makes it his job to make her smile even in the most dire of circumstances when even his hair seems stubbornly determined to defy authority. She stares at him, the John Sheppard who jokes with her is slipping away before her eyes into darkness.
Despite her misery, her face is resolute and she shakes her head to refuse his demand. Suddenly he leaps forward with a motion faster than she can follow, seizing her by the throat with his right hand. He pushes her backwards, lifting her off her feet and pinning her against the wall. The pain is almost unbearable as she slams into the wall and his hands tighten inexorably on her throat.
Elizabeth gasps, more in shock than fright and grips his wrist with both hands, trying to hold him off.
"We lost Walker and Stevens. I won't send another team!" she tells him, trying to reason with him despite her precarious position. Breathing is almost impossible. "I won't risk more lives!" she tells him.
Sheppard glares at her for a long moment before releasing her, dropping her to the floor. She crumples to the ground. He walks away and approaches the guards. As Elizabeth lies on the floor coughing uncontrollably, she hears the sound of Sheppard overpowering the guards. Immediately scrambling to her feet, she runs to the guards and activates her radio.
"This is Weir. We have a security breach! Colonel Sheppard's quarters!"
Although she knows she has no choice, sending the soldiers to capture John Sheppard is one of the most difficult moments of her life. She is angry when Caldwell orders his men to use whatever force is necessary.
Caldwell says coldly,"That's not Sheppard any more, ma'am". She knows that John Sheppard is still in there somewhere - as does Ronon Dex. There is a brief moment of awareness as Dex turns and glances at Elizabeth. Even though she curses herself for her weakness, her eyes are pleading with him. He gives her the tiniest of nods and she is reassured as she sees the glance he gives Teyla who nods back. She prays that Ronon finds Sheppard first because she knows that if Ronon has his way, he'll bring John back to her unharmed.
Elizabeth pauses. She takes one deep breath and then another. Elizabeth is in charge of the Atlantis expedition and Sheppard is her outspoken, incorrigible military advisor. The flyboy with a conscience who isn't afraid to call it as he sees it. It's always been that way and the thought of anything different makes her sick to her stomach.
McKay and Teyla are sitting at a table in the commissary. Ronan is leaning on a balcony next to the table. None are speaking and all of them look worried.
Elizabeth still remembers the almost overwhelming feeling of relief she heard Ronon's voice over the radio. "Get the doctor down here. I have him." Stunned not dead.
She pulls herself together before she speaks. "You guys are up late". They all glance up at her. All are exhausted. Teyla's eyes are haunted. Elizabeth knows the agony the young woman must have gone through when she thought that she might need to kill Sheppard. McKay looks very anxious. Ronon is impassive but his gaze is very watchful as Elizabeth approaches.
"Can't you sleep either?" McKay asks.
"Any progress?" Teyla wants to know.
"No. He's still in a coma. At least he isn't in any pain," Elizabeth tells them, knowing that it is small comfort.
"Maybe if I went alone, maybe ..." Ronon suggests, displaying anxiety and a touching vulnerability for the first time.
"It's not open for discussion," she tells him firmly but her eyes are very gentle.
"I'm not good at sittin' still," he tells her.
"I understand. Believe me, I appreciate how you feel," she looks at him for a long moment and he stares back at her. She can see the frustration he feels at the situation and she understands it more than he can know. She turns back to the others. "Look, we have closed down that section of the Infirmary but if you feel the need to ... " she pauses for a long time before she continues. Teyla and McKay both realise what she means and look down. Ronon refuses to accept her words and stares ahead stonily. "What I mean to say is, if you would like ... to have a private goodbye, you should probably do it soon," she says quietly.
"Are we really there?" McKay asks and there is disbelief in his voice.
"I think we might be," she tells him.
Beckett's voice is heard over the comms, speaking urgently. "Doctor Weir, I need to speak to you immediately".
"What is it?"
"Meet me in your office. I think I have an idea".
Elizabeth looks at the team hopefully and then walks towards her office. The other three follow her without being asked.
Elizabeth stands by Sheppard's bed. She knows it's a long shot but at this point, she'll do almost anything to try to save him and she knows that John Sheppard would want this. She watches him awaken with a start, his eyes snap open. He looks horrified and shocked.
"John? John...." He stares at her blankly. "Hey. You're in the Infirmary," she tells him.
"Sorry about the headache. It's a side effect of the inhibitor," Beckett tells him.
"Did I hurt anyone?" Sheppard demands. She wants to cry because it's typical that his first concern is for others rather than to ask about his own condition.
"No, not seriously," Elizabeth tells him. She resists the urge to touch her throat. The bruises aren't showing yet but she knows that tomorrow morning there will be.
"Did Ronon shoot me?" he demands and then she finds that she can smile after all.
"You had it coming!" she tells him. "Look, we don't have a lot of time. This dose of the inhibitor drug will only last about an hour. How would you like to go on a mission?"
Of course he goes, this strange man who is John Sheppard but not. When she sends the team on their way, she realises that this is the first time that he doesn't turn around to give her a half smile or a jaunty salute. He never leaves without giving her some form of acknowledgment or small gesture of farewell that is intended for her alone. Never that is until today. There's a lump in her throat but then to her incredulity, she sees Ronon turn and give her a nod as if to say that he'll make sure the colonel returns.
It's a promise he keeps and it is with joy and disbelief that she sees the puddlejumper return. When she sees Ronon carrying Sheppard's unconscious body from the jumper, she panics but the Satedan man's eyes are calm and steady as he nods at her again.
When Beckett tells her that John is going to be all right, she has to leave immediately. Her composure is being retained at great cost and she's afraid that she'll that lose her failing grip on that calm and weep tears of relief in front of everyone. Accordingly, she walks out even though she hears Ronon, McKay and Teyla saying that they're going to stay behind. Caldwell follows her so she controls her tears for a little bit longer.
Late that night, when she thinks that everyone has gone to bed, she goes into the Infirmary and stands beside John's unconscious figure. He still looks pretty bad but he's alive and she trusts Beckett when he says that John Sheppard will be back, same as before. She touches the back of his hand, not flinching from the ugly, discoloured flesh and she allows the tears to slide down her cheeks as she watches over him. Even though she's alone, she cries silently and she reaches up to dash the tears away as if she's ashamed of the weakness.
She doesn't see the tall figure standing in the shadows. He has been keeping a watch at night over his commanding officer and now he remains silent as he watches Dr Elizabeth Weir crying silently over John Sheppard.
On the second night, Elizabeth waits until McKay leaves the infirmary. "You certainly gave us a scare," McKay is telling Sheppard and proceeds to describe in extreme, self-absorbed detail what it had felt like to enter the iratus cave. With great animation, he emphasises the dangers he faced and the terror he felt.
"We lost two men," Sheppard says to him.
McKay pauses in his monologue and nods soberly, self-absorption forgotten as genuine sorrow is in his eyes. "Walker and Stevens - they didn't make it out of the cave," he says soberly. "It wasn't your fault".
"They died saving my life. Of course it's my fault," Sheppard says with self-loathing in his voice. "And what's more? I hurt Elizabeth when she tried to tell me about it," he says in a tight voice. She sees McKay exchange glances with Ronon who is standing nearby, arms crossed and face impassive as always. Beckett mentioned to her that the Satedan appears to have appointed himself the colonel's sentinel. A very silent sentinel.
"Where is she? She hasn't come to see me," Sheppard says and there is another exchange of glances between McKay and Ronon. Elizabeth stays hidden, her hands travelling up to her throat. She rarely wears shirts with a collar and today she did, but the bruises are still very visible and everyone who meets at her stares at the marks and then looks away awkwardly.
"She's been busy .... paper work and all," McKay temporises. "Caldwell went a bit nuts while you were in bug mode and Elizabeth's been busy holding the fort and making sure Caldwell doesn't implement anything irreversible like give me small lodgings without a sea view".
Beckett administers a sedative to Sheppard each night. The stem cell treatment works more effectively and is less traumatic in its activity when Sheppard's body is unconscious. She waits for Sheppard to sleep and McKay to leave before she comes to stand by his side. She touches his hair, smiling at the irrepressible hair that never seems to want to lie flat.
Ronon watches from the shadows, no expression on his grim face.
On the third night, it is Teyla who sits with Sheppard but Ronon's presence makes their conversation stilted. "Have you seen Elizabeth?" Sheppard asks her and Teyla nods.
"Dr Weir is very busy but asks about you. She sends her regards".
"Well that's just great," Sheppard mutters. Elizabeth sees him staring down at his hands. Although they are no longer claw-like, they are still somewhat discoloured. "Thanks for not shooting me by the way," Sheppard tells Teyla who inclines her head slowly in acknowledgment. "And thank you to you for shooting me," he says at Ronon who also nods. "Twice. I'll bet you enjoyed it," Sheppard says with feeling and Ronon allows a small smile to curve his firm mouth.
On the fourth night, Elizabeth thinks that she's alone at Sheppard's bedside but then she notices him.
"Ronon?" she asks and he steps forward, moving silently for a man of his size. His eyes drop down immediately to the livid bruises on her pale throat. The bruises are finally fading but they are still an angry, reproachful colour.
"I take it he did that?" he asks quietly in his deep, resonant voice.
Elizabeth doesn't answer because it's not necessary to say anything.
"That why you're not visiting him while he's awake?" he asks bluntly. "You should give him a chance to apologise".
Elizabeth's hands go to the bruises. "He wasn't himself".
"I know that". A muscle moves in his jaw and to her surprise, he continues talking. This is first time he's said so much to her since he's come to Atlantis. "Are you all right?"
Elizabeth nods and stares down at the figure on the bed. "I am now," she whispers and smiles as she touches Sheppard's cheek, relieved that it is finally returning to its original colour.
They stand there for a long time, Elizabeth watching over Sheppard, and Ronan watching over them both.
The gym door opens and Sheppard walks in. He's in civilian clothing and looks relaxed.
"Colonel!" Teyla exclaims. The young Athosian girl that she has been training leaves and Teyla turns to Sheppard.
"Should you be up and about?" she asks him.
"Well, I've been cooped up in that damned Infirmary for a couple of weeks. Give me a break," he says with feeling.
He walks over and picks up a couple of fighting sticks and twirls them experimentally.
"You are looking well. Are you feeling more like yourself?"
"Well, according to my DNA, I'm a hundred percent John Sheppard again ... although, I gotta say, I'm looking forward to getting rid of this thing one day". He indicates the wound on his arm. "Doc says it'll clear up eventually".
Elizabeth who is standing outside the door, hesitates. She has decided that its time to stop avoiding John and was intending to speak with him today but now she waits outside the door of the gym, realising that now might not be the right time to interrupt.
"Ah, so listen. While I've been laying there the past few weeks, I've been remembering things. Some things I might have done that you could call out of character".
"You mean when you attacked the security detail," Teyla asks him, slanting a glance up at him.
Sheppard smiles. "Yeah, that was one of them".
"Yes". Teyla is smiling. Elizabeth can't help wondering what's going on here.
Sheppard is unable to meet Teyla's eyes. "There's another thing I should probably apologise for".
"Give it no further thought," she tells him calmly.
Sheppard looks at her. "Good! I won't".
"Nice to have you back ... " Elizabeth watches as Teyla turns away from him, then grins and turns back to look at him again. "John". Her tone is playful.
Sheppard nods at her and they both smile.
"For what it's worth, I don't normally go around kissing my sparring partners," John tells her and Teyla laughs. The awkward tension between them disappears.
John suddenly sees a movement by the door. He's sure that he saw a flash of red and his heart sinks but because Teyla is speaking to him, he can't walk away to find out if it was Elizabeth outside the door.
"How are things with you and Dr. Weir?"
Sheppard looks confused.
"She was fiercely loyal to you while you were incapacitated. She resisted all efforts of Colonel Caldwell to take control".
"Yet I notice that she didn't bother to visit me once during the whole two weeks I was trapped in the Infirmary," John says with a trace of bitterness in his voice. "You know what I did, don't you? I hurt her ... I could have killed her - I'm not sure how long she thinks that can keep avoiding me," he says. Unfortunately his memories have returned and he is fully aware of everything he has done.
Teyla shakes her head. "She knows it wasn't your fault. Moreover, you wrong her. Ronon tells me that she visited you every night as you slept".
"Well what was the damned point in visiting me while I was unconscious?" he demands in irritation.
Teyla raises her hands to her throat. "You bruised her quite badly," she says. "I believe that she was afraid that the sight of her bruises would further upset you .... so she stayed away until they healed. I am assuming that she did not want to affect your recovery".
"Crap!" Sheppard exclaims with feeling and walks out of the gym without another word.
Teyla smiles and watches him leave. "Welcome back, John Sheppard," she says to the air and twirls the sticks in her hand, feeling that all is right with the world again.
Elizabeth studies the tablet, twirling a tendril of hair around her finger, trying to concentrate on the numbers on the screen but cannot stop her thoughts returning to what she overheard in the gym. I don't normally go around kissing my sparring partners.
Looking up, she meets a pair of very cool, speaking eyes staring at her across the table and she gives a violent start of fright.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" she demands, jumping to her feet in shock.
"What the hell do you think you've been doing?" he demands, glaring at her. "Avoiding me like the plague. It's not like I was contagious - well yeah I was, but I just had a bit of a bug". he grins as she groans.
"Actually, I ..." she begins to say.
"I know why you were avoiding me. I hate it when people think that they're doing things for my own good". His eyes drop down to her throat. She has taken to wearing her collarless shirts again, the bruises are just the faintest of smudges on her pale skin but they reproach him nonetheless.
"It's fine, John," she tells him firmly.
He crosses around to her side of the desk and she resists the urge to move away. His fingers are very gentle as they touch the skin around her throat.
"It's not fine, Elizabeth. It's so not fine that I'm more damned sorry than I can ever say". He can remember how it felt to have his hands around her throat. He is sickened by how close he came to killing her and can even remember throwing her body to the ground. He is sickened by what he has done.
"There were extenuating circumstances, John," she tells him with a wry smile.
"Since when did the bug defence ever work in a court of law? I'm sorry your honour, but I was turning into an iratus bug and had lost control of my facilities?"
"I can believe six possible things before breakfast," she tells him, inclining her head slightly and he shakes his head.
"Be serious, Dr Weir. I am trying to apologise here and you're quoting Alice in Wonderland. You're madder than the Mad Hatter," he tells her, humouring her.
"Oh you can't help that, we're all mad here, I'm mad, you're mad ..."
"Yeah yeah, or else we couldn't have come here," he says, continuing her quote and smiling despite himself. "What's with avoiding me these two weeks? Visiting me when I'm unconscious doesn't count - I hope you didn't take advantage of me when I was out cold," he tells her and she shakes her head.
"I can't pretend to be flattered that when you lose control of your inhibitions you kiss Teyla and strangle me," she says, raising an eyebrow.
"Oh crap," he says with feeling. "I thought I saw you lurking outside the door. No one ever told you that it's bad manners to eavesdrop, Elizabeth?"
"I didn't mean to," she defends herself.
He catches her hand lightly in his and pulls her to her feet, smiling down at her. Elizabeth allows herself to be pulled up and stands before him, warily.
"John. When I thought that ..."
He puts a finger to her mouth. "You and me are an unbeatable and unstoppable combination. A dream team. You defended me from Caldwell when I was turning into a bug .... I'm here to keep you safe from the monsters .... that's never going to change," he tells her with his reassuring grin. "Unless of course I get taken over by a bug again," he says with a crooked smile.
She smiles at his nonsense even though her pulse is racing. His lips are only inches from hers and she can feel the heat of his body, smell the clean tang of his aftershave. Her gaze drops to his firm mouth and her eyes darken. His eyes are also dark with anticipation and his lips brush her cheek lightly as his fingers tangle lightly in her hair. There are too many reasons why this isn't right and why this can't happen so with great effort, he releases her.
He pulls away from her reluctantly and walks to the door where he pauses for a moment. "Believe me when I tell you that Bug Boy wasn't me. The real John Sheppard is standing before you right now and he doesn't go around kissing Teyla Emmagan".
"I can personally attest to the fact that he doesn't go around kissing Dr Elizabeth Weir, either," she remarks with a trace of ruefulness in her voice although her eyes are filled with laughter.
John smiles wickedly. He can't stop himself saying,"Yeah, but that's just a matter of time".
He walks off leaving Elizabeth speechless but smiling and that's the way it's always been.