The first time that she has to snap at John to attend, they have the misfortune of it being in-front of his ranking superiors. After a moment or so of resistance and evident desire to continue his tirade against the General’s questioning of her decisions, he obeys, and she hopes what she’s fighting for on his behalf will be enough to heal some of the damage she feels she does with so few words.
(She doesn’t like to think too much about the fact that General O’Neill spends the next few minutes fighting the urge to submit to her. Everyone knows he belongs to another dark jewelled witch, who has answered to him for years despite being the dominant power.)
She hates the old Protocol. It’s her last resort, when it’s some Queens’ first port of call without a storm to excuse it. It isn’t fair, and she refuses to believe, as so many insist, that it’s for everyone’s own good that she should use it frequently, rather than simply to bring dangerous and delicate situations back into line.
Of course, John doesn’t know what she says behind the scenes and what demands she makes, so Elizabeth still feels that she owes him something for what has been an abuse of his trust, and if they’re going to continue dancing the dance they began a year and more ago, she needs to give something of herself for what she took of him.
She watches him as he rounds the table and sits down opposite her, and has to ignore the pull she experiences all too frequently now. He will never be her Consort. She won’t ever have a Consort.
“What are you doing up so late?”
“Must be the burden of command,” John drawls.
“All right, John. It’s been almost a month. When are you going to stop trying to bring that up in every conversation?”
“There’s a lot of people who thought I’d never make it past Captain – or serve.”
“There are a lot of people who thought I’d never form a court, so I guess we’re defying the universe together, aren’t we?” She takes a sip from her mug. “Obviously the people whose opinions matter the most thought otherwise.”
He watches her for half a second too long, then winds his way towards a slow, “...They’re saying that if our reports about the uncut Grey in the city’s systems is true, it brings your power closer to Black.”
It’s a question – and it isn’t. So, she seizes the opportunity to let him uncover what he can and to surrender what she must.
“It’s what they want from me, so it’s what they’re choosing to see,” Elizabeth says carefully. “What need would a Black Jewelled Queen have for that which I’ve devoted my life to? If my words failed to strike the right chord, there would always have been the lingering threat...”
“That you’d take matters into your own hands.”
“That I’d be a law unto myself.”
“You could have been witch,” he teases, small smile curling at one corner of his lips.
“Everyone knows that Witch is a myth, John.” Only the subtle emphasis on the word makes the distinction between his meaning and hers. “Wearing the Black... my life wouldn’t have been my own.”
He waits a half-moment before pressing, “Are you telling me that you could’ve worn it?”
Elizabeth twitches one shoulder. “We’ll never know, will we?”
“Did I hold something back? Did I deliberately close myself to my full potential?” She hears the questions ring out a little too sharply. “I don’t feel as if I’m less than I should be,” she says more gently. “I was never disappointed with what I walked away with after making the Offering. That other people were disappointed...” Another shrug. “I don’t think that they should have been surprised. I hope that I never suggested that I wanted that kind of power.”
“So, it’s true? You never formed a court before Atlantis?”
“I had plenty of opportunity and plenty of people all but demanding it,” she admits. “If I had formed any kind of court, walking into negotiation chambers would have sent most meetings haywire. I needed to stand on my own feet, and not for my own sake.”
“Because they...” John gives a rueful grimace and amends, “Because half of us feel the need to jump down the throat of anyone who suggests--“
“Anything less than positive about me, yes.”
“Doesn’t mean we think every choice you make is the right one,” he reminds her, what he says aloud and what he means two different things, as they are so often.
She watches him and has to swallow down the urge to tell him – tell herself - that he’s hers, no matter what; that if they never see eye to eye about anything ever again, he still belongs to her. She cannot claim him beyond the bonds of the court. She won’t patronise him so, and so she won’t tell him that she’s fought for him and risk letting him doubt why he has his rank.
Instead, Elizabeth murmurs, “You don’t have to agree with someone to be insulted on their behalf by aspersions cast by others, or to understand the reasons for their decisions.”
The truth. Not the story, or the reasons, but the truth.
He has that look in his eyes, his focus fixed absolutely on her, and she knows that what he’s thinking could take them further down that path that neither of them are ready to face yet. She takes a breath to stop him, only for him to get there first.
“What’re you still doing up, anyway?”
“...I think I got used to falling asleep to the sound of the ocean.”
Not the truth. She’s become too accustomed to having the court around her, those who want to serve and those who see the circles formed as a means to an end, and sleeping without the majority of it there at the edge of her senses is already near intolerable.
...And the city sings to her, the uncut Grey - her Grey, in another lifetime – trying to drag her further into the abyss and insist that she is not just a Queen, but the Queen. Queen of Atlantis.
She’s not ready. She won’t answer. Can’t. She is its guardian, not its Queen.
John leans forward, still staring at her in his intense, quiet way. “You’ll be fine once we get back to Atlantis.”
Footsteps interrupt all that she might say. All that she could say.
“Doctor Weir, Colonel Sheppard... There’s been an accident.”
They follow immediately and break the spell just in time.
For both of them.