John follows Elizabeth into her quarters and stands awkwardly as the door swishes closed behind them. His orders from Dr. Keller are now technically fulfilled – he's seen her safely back to her room – and he's not sure what to do next. Probably he should leave, let her rest, but John's not ready to let her out of his sight just yet; after visiting her in the infirmary every day for more than a month, he relishes the sight of her moving under her own power.
"Stop looking at me like that." There's a faint note of annoyance lacing her tone, but the words lack any real rancour. "I'm not going to keel over, you know."
"I know." His response is automatic and not entirely truthful. Keller wouldn't have released her if she thought Elizabeth wasn't ready, but the memory of her lying so still and so pale is still too recent. If the incident with the nanites is any indication, it'll be months before he stops seeing that image of her every time he closes his eyes.
"Come here." Elizabeth pulls him out of memories he doesn't want to think about anyway. He obeys her, taking slow steps across the room until he's standing in front of her. "Give me your hand."
Confused, he holds out his right hand. She takes it, running light fingers over the back before pressing his palm to her chest, just below her left breast.
Eyes wide, he stares at her face before moving his gaze to where his hand rests against her.
"I'm okay," she tells him quietly, and with the steady thumpthump of her heartbeat beneath his fingers John thinks he might finally believe it.
The relief washes through him all at once and he pulls Elizabeth to him roughly, his face buried in her neck so that he can feel her pulse against his lips. He can sense her surprise, but after a moment her arms come up and she's holding him too.
They stand there silently. Without permission from his brain, his hand slides up to cup her breast. Her breath hitches, a little, but she doesn't pull away.
John pulls back just far enough to see her face. "Elizabeth—" She tilts her face up to him, her eyes still closed. He has to pause to clear his throat. "Elizabeth, I want— I need to—" He can't get the words out.
She opens her eyes, holding his gaze, then nods her consent. John touches his fingers to the hollow of her throat, stroking gently for a moment before moving his hands to the hem of her shirt. Carefully, slowly, he undresses her, afraid of hurting her; she may have been released from the infirmary, but it will be a while yet before her body is fully healed.
Only when she's completely nude does John allow himself to look at her. She's always been thin but her ribs are too prominent now. Her pale skin is marred by unfaded scars he knows are healed cuts from flying debris. On her side, just above her pelvic bone, there is an angry red line of a still-healing incision from where she needed surgery to stop internal bleeding. He traces his fingers around it, remembering the hours he and his team waited to hear about her condition.
John sheds his own clothing much more quickly than he did Elizabeth's as she pulls back the covers of her bed. She lies on her back and he curls himself into her side, his head just above her breasts so he can listen to her heart beat. One hand rests on her stomach, feeling it rise and fall with each quiet breath. Her fingers run through his hair, scratching lightly. He falls asleep before she does.
For the first time in more than a month, John Sheppard sleeps without nightmares.