John sleeps, sedation being lowered in careful stages while a battle wages to restore his system to normal.
Or what is going to be normal from now on.
Sat at his bedside, Elizabeth touches a tentative hand to the bruising that mars her neck. She should have shielded with the Grey, but had been unwilling to risk anything that might provoke him into testing his new limits, and... the marks in the style of individual fingers tell their own story.
She had tried to dislodge him with a blast of the Red, only to discover that his Red of rank had to be just a touch darker than her Birthright, since he managed to hold on fast. As a last resort, she had begun a descent, ready to call in the Grey, only for the city to answer her and grant her a surge of power that had flung them to opposite ends of the room. And if there had been anyone not angry at her insistence that she step into that room alone, there certainly wasn't by that point.
For now, she tries not to think about the fact that John’s Red is darker than hers. She isn’t entirely sure if he knows, or if he remembers. If he’s been aware of it all this time, has he been pretending the whole while?
No. There are more important things to think about, such as the snake tooth that the experience has left him with. It’s not, Carson insists, owing to any of the genetics of the bug itself, but some side-effect of the changes in his DNA. The potential there, already in his bloodline, woken from its sleep.
John speaks of his family so little, she’s not even sure if he could conclusively name any of his line who are – or were – Black Widows.
He stirs and begins to lift the hand that has been deliberately settled atop the covers, and Elizabeth swears that she can pinpoint the very second that he realises that something has changed; that it’s not just the bruises and the exhaustion and the ongoing battle his system is still waging that’s making him feel so different. He dares a look at his fingertips and swallows hard, his effort not to stare for too long at that one finger something that’s far too obvious.
“Teyla and Cadman promise that they’ll help,” Elizabeth murmurs, unable to side-step the issue. “They’ll teach you as much as they can. As much as you want.
“What if I don’t want?” he asks gruffly, not much in his tone to mark the distinction between a rejection of help and the denial of what he is. What he’s become.
“This changes very little, John.” It’s a lie.
“This changes—“ He finally looks at her, his gaze going directly to the bruises at her neck. He swallows again. “...How many people want to kill me right now?”
“Remarkably few,” is not an untruth. “You can’t be held entirely responsible for your actions. Truth be told, they’re more angry with me for disregarding their concerns about my safety.”
“You shouldn’t have—“
“I’ve experienced that lecture plenty of times already and I don’t need it from you.”
“If it had been me saying so, maybe you would’ve listened.” John looks away from her the moment that the words are out of his mouth.
Elizabeth looks down into her lap. “...Don’t credit yourself with too much, Colonel,” she utters, voice low. “And our friendship with so little.”
She knows precisely which word in that sentence he’s taken against by the rising chill in the room.
“You should’ve killed me.”
“There are lots of things I ‘should’ have done, and if I’d listened to every one of them, I’d be back on Earth, surrounded by the rings of a court instructed to make sure I lose any sense of self and answer only to one perception of my caste.” She tilts her head. “And if you had only ever done that which you ‘should’, a lot more men would be dead and we would never have met.”
He almost bares his teeth, but confines himself to a single, frustrated note from the back of his throat.
“Every single one of us here in this city is someone’s definition of a rogue element,” she says slowly. “And I’m not about to unjustly punish any of us for it. I’m alive and so are you – and, if anything, you’re more now than before. Not less. What you choose to do now is up to you, but I’m not going to apologise for not eliminating you as a threat or trying to help you.” Elizabeth makes herself catch his gaze. “You’re alive,” she reiterates. “There’ve been too many losses today for you to wish yourself among them.”
“Because people care about you. You would have done the same for them. Have done. You have Teyla and Cadman asking how you are and if there’s anything they can do to make you more comfortable with... what you are now. More people have asked after you than blame you.”
“And, to be blunt, if you lie here and wallow and reject the hands offered you and choose to lodge your head up your ass, I will drag you from this bed one way or another. Are we clear?”
She almost feels herself splinter into two as she speaks, the Queen digging her heels in to pull the Warlord Prince from what could be the brink, while she hopes that the warning is enough; that she won’t have to do anything that she deems an abuse of power in the weeks that follow.
Silence, still. Then he grits out: “Yes, Lady.”
She tries not to flinch at the title and at how cutting he can make a single, so rarely used word sound, but the Queen still has enough command of her to make her, “Prince,” sound just as cold. Elizabeth pushes up from her seat and moves it carefully back into line with his bed, letting him stare up at the ceiling while he works through whatever he does or doesn’t want to tell her. It isn’t until she’s almost out of the infirmary that she hears her name.
Measured steps carry her back to his bed, to meet the hand he offers with one of her own, unshielded, despite the presence of the snake tooth that he doesn’t yet know what to do with. He can’t possibly kill her with it, but... Well, ‘can’t’ is becoming something of a rarity of late, for both of them.
“Thanks,” he murmurs, only a little begrudgingly.
She lifts her free hand to gently lie atop his, one finger ghosting over the one of his that is now so altered. “Get better, John,” she says quietly, knowing he catches each and every one of her meanings. He isn’t dense, no matter how he pretends.
Sooner or later, she will have to file a report detailing what has happened. Those already displeased with his unpredictability will no doubt voice their opinions about what this new facet of her Master of Guard means for her and for the rest of the court. Some might believe that she should fear him, her power being only one step darker than his.
But they don’t know him.
Or the city.