“Do you really think the universe is going to leave us alone for a whole thirteen days?”
Elizabeth slants a wry smile across to Cadman. “Not at all.”
“At least if anyone sets foot in the city, they’ll know we knew how to celebrate in style.”
“Know. Know, I mean.” Cadman attempts to swallow down a ridiculous grin and is just unsuccessful enough for Elizabeth’s liking. “If this all goes wrong, I lay it at your feet, oh great Queen,” she teases, manner droll.
Elizabeth allows herself to aim a nudge at the lieutenant’s side. And to smile again.
“We have popcorn, hot chocolate, and the promise we will destroy all the evidence if everything goes south.”
After Cadman has explained their plan, it doesn’t take long for Teyla to point out: “They will know that we are doing something the moment that we begin.”
“I don’t know... We’ll say we’re having combat practice. Sheppard still can’t look us in the eye when we mention his sparring with you.”
Rumour has it that the first of said sparring sessions began with the Colonel believing he was doing Teyla a favour by not shielding... At least she had been kind enough to respond with her Purple Dusk and not the Sapphire.
Elizabeth tends to pretend that she doesn’t remember that incident.
It’s only thanks to a collective instinct to shield that their first attempt doesn’t earn them a mass of bruises. Having Elizabeth ground the illusion that Teyla instructs her in with her Grey strength turns out to be a mistake that backfires only two steps into the spell. She isn’t sure exactly what does it, still unused to the extra power at her fingertips, but both her Jewel and the city answer her when she draws on her strength, the surge one that she feels too late.
Between them, they manage to keep each other and the rec room in one piece. Elizabeth instinctively throws Red shields around each of them, Heightmeyer tries to hold the place together with the green, while Teyla makes sure they don’t slam into the ground and Cadman envelops the room with an aural shield.
It’s no good. Half the city’s on the comm seconds later and half an hour is lost to placating the rest of the court.
On their second attempt, Kate and Teyla work together, carefully knitting strands of Green and Sapphire power with the rest of the ingredients until they reach a point where the spell needs a lighter touch and Cadman steps in.
Elizabeth somewhat sheepishly observes the process until the three of them look to her at once and she adds a last few drops of Red to secure the whole thing, too uncertain to try reaching for the Grey for even something so heavy.
After those few seconds have passed and they’ve stepped back to watch the spell take effect, Kate tilts her head and asks: “...Why do we have a real pot for a pretend tree?”
Cadman shrugs cheerfully. “We had a pot. We didn’t have a tree.”
No-one dares to point out that they could have collected one from the mainland.
Over the rim of her mug, Elizabeth watches Laura and Kate circle the tree like a pair of predators, their bickering over what colour the lights should be kept to low-key murmurs.
Teyla folds herself down to the floor and sits beside her, reaching to pour what is her third mug of hot chocolate. “Will it last for the thirteen days, do you think?” she asks, voice soft.
Elizabeth glances at her, and though she wishes that the question were about the illusion cast and the finishing touches they’re soon to add, she cannot pretend that she doesn’t hear the real enquiry, for it’s of the same nature as Cadman’s, if less flippant. And so her answer is less flippant in return, if no less true. “It will if I have anything to do with it.”
The Black Widow hums a single, soft, contemplative note over the rim of her own mug. “Then I think it stands a good chance.”
The ‘discussion’ about the colour for the lights is never resolved, and by the time that Laura and Kate have added their elements to the base illusion, it’s decided that each of them might as well contribute their own. The soft blue of Teyla’s lights offsets the harsher sparkle of Laura’s silver creations, while Kate’s pastel pink pulses faintly, as if lending the tree a heartbeat of its own.
Elizabeth wonders whether the pink lights are ebbing and brightening in time with Heightmeyer’s heartbeat and decides that she likes the thought that they are. When it’s her turn and she’s finished the basics, she reaches out as though to brush fingers over branches that aren’t really there and the very tip of each pine needle takes on a golden glow.
“It’s beautiful,” Kate pronounces, taking a step back to admire their work.
Atlantis’ Queen lets her gaze rest on Teyla, who looks up at the tree with an odd mixture of pride and disquiet. She knows that she’s never used this spell for something decorative, but to fool the enemy and hide her people. Elizabeth wouldn’t be surprised if she’s created entire forests.
“...It is,” Teyla whispers.
They’ll likely need to return more than once to refresh the spell as the days pass, and though it might not look like exactly the same tree, with exactly the same colours and sequences of lights rippling through it, it will remain a bright symbol of Winsol to cheer the court. And if the four of them have to get together again and have to drink more hot chocolate and must eat more popcorn, then so be it.
As night falls, Elizabeth stops in the heart of the city, sets down the small bundle of necessities she’s brought from her quarters and gets to work. Whether she should experiment with the Grey so soon after the afternoon’s debacle, she isn’t certain, yet she manages each step but the last without feeling the hum of the city’s response to her.
Eventually, she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, trying to centre herself before she reaches out to the chips of Grey that call to her so. Little by little, she tentatively pulls power from the network and uses it to amplify her spell until she feels the pulse of it course throughout the city and dim as it takes effect.
She cracks open one eye and peers up at the ceiling. Above her, tiny balls of light dance like so many fireflies, trails leading through the corridor in both directions.
John first, then Rodney and Carson. Ronon. They so rarely use psychic communication that she knows she must have scared them enough for one day.
She hears a burble of delighted laughter from Cadman before she opens the comms and simply says: “Happy Winsol, everybody.”
For thirteen days, the city is lit by the candlelight warmth of its Queen’s devotion, and the court need only look up to remember it.