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The Grey Queen

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Elizabeth's court does not begin as a court in much of a real sense.

She has little desire to rule, and, it's rumoured, neither the strength nor the will, having descended only one rank when making the Offering. A true Queen, a proper Queen, would have done better.

She chooses her court knowing full well that many do not want to serve her, but want the adventure. It suits her well enough. She doesn't want power; she wants the adventure too. She wants colleagues.

There is, all told, irony in a dark-jewelled Queen making her name from skilful diplomacy, when she could rule so easily as a dictator.

-

When she sets eyes on John Sheppard, she feels a pull even stronger than from those men who genuinely wish to serve.

-

She feels the spells unfolding and unravelling as their party spills through the 'Gate; looks to Cadman, whose Summer-Sky Jewel blazes beneath her shirt as she tries to catch the nuances of the magic woven by her Black Widow Sisters long past. No traps.

As the city wakes up around them, something deep within it sings to her. An echo of... strength. It resonates with her Grey, the power one she can't distinguish from her own, and yet can't tap. An inviting touch lingering just out of reach.

"It's alive," Elizabeth murmurs to herself, knowing it can't possibly be true.

-

Of a triangle, she only appoints a Master of the Guard, the title one that merely reinforces the man's military rank, but when Sheppard returns and claims that Sumner has been broken, drained and burnt up, the title is somehow more in his hands, and it isn't necessarily a comforting thing.

-

When he brings back another Queen, for a moment Elizabeth thinks she's wrong about John, who she knows began as a fluctuating Opal before plummeting to the Red. His reputation is not one of exemplary, or steady, service, in any sense of the word.

Teyla is the Athosians' only Queen, the last of a bloodline dying out, her descent to a blessed darker strength all that keeps them going. It's her webs that keep them safe from the Wraith, who lie ready to break and shatter the failing power in their community; a community not large enough to form a formal court.

Elizabeth looks at her and acknowledges three things: Queen, Black Widow and, most importantly, equal.

-

They argue, and she relishes that it has nothing to do with her caste or his, or her strength and his, and feels she shouldn't like the feral grin from John that says he'll do anything for her, even stand against her.

-

She should never have let them go to that planet.

Kusanagi is brought back broken and insensible with grief, her Rose Jewel shattered and the White an empty, glassy thing. The Wraith don't need to use anything so inelegant as sex or even contact to break male or female, young or old. There are no signs of physical trauma. Nothing but dead Jewels and an aching, fractured mind.

Carson pronounces that she won't even manage Craft again.

That night, Elizabeth's regret and guilt grows to such a magnitude that she inadvertently shatters the wall of her office.

-

She notices that there are times that John can barely stand to be around her, but more often that there are others when he can't do anything to stay away.

-

There's another her in the infirmary. Another version of Elizabeth. Grey Jewelled, just like her, only she doesn't see any physical evidence of them. No pendant. No ring. Nothing.

She's kept the city alive enough to be rediscovered and reborn.

Rodney tells her of the fragments of uncut Grey throughout the city. He's afraid to move them.

The other her just smiles wearily and insists, "When she's ready, she'll understand."

Her Grey is not uncut. Maybe all they say of her is true, she decides. She doesn't care. She doesn't. There's more to being a Queen than reminding everyone of it every moment.

-

She pretends not to notice that John's efforts at diplomacy fail more spectacularly the closer he is to her, and that he's almost successful when there are entire planets between them.

-

The storm is worse than she imagined, the waves high enough to eclipse the city. She shields it - shields them all - while Teyla protects the mainland. The command centre is empty now, save for one. No. Two.

"You're going to break yourself back to the Red at best!"

She aims a blast of Red power at John's feet, matching strength for strength, just enough to warn, but not harm.

He doesn't budge.

"Lady." He never uses that title. "Take what you need."

Hesitation, then she lets his strength flow into hers, and finally feels the power in the chips of uncut Grey throughout the city's systems answer her demands.

-

They hear her voice - the other her - as the power rises and the spells unwind, congratulating her for learning to accept assistance from others, and thus only increasing her strength.

-

"You need to be more careful," he insists, later. "You don't need to sacrifice yourself for everyone else."

"Hypocrite," she accuses, deadpan. Elizabeth's smile is wry and accepting all at once. "I'm not a proper Queen."

"You're a good Queen."

"People are dying, John."

"...Fewer than if you followed the old Protocol to the letter," he murmurs. "You step in when it's necessary, but you let us think for ourselves. There're Queens that wouldn't."

She stares at him, steady, then finally began to ask, "...John-"

He stands up. "I've got reports to finish."

"Of course, Major."

He bolts. Again.

-

Late one night, after too little sleep and too much caffeine, he makes a snide remark about being assigned to the wrong side of the triangle, one she bats back with the declaration that she will never have a Consort.

-

The Wraith reach them, eventually.

Despite the command not to, Ford attempts to make the Offering and descend before they arrive, afraid and too brave and... something goes wrong.

As the enemy spill through the city, Lorne discovers Teyla, who has been futilely prowling outside the room Ford locked himself away in, unconscious and wrapped in an Opal shield. Weapons fire taints the walls, along with hints of Ford's unchanged, yet unbalanced psychic residue, and... there's no sign of him. Wherever he's gone, he thought to shield her first.

Elizabeth's rage spills out and out, and she stalks the corridors of Atlantis, burning up Wraith until she's drained the Grey and the Red and nearly all that she is.

Enough now.

Fin