Title: "Chord Progression"

Author: Little Red

Rating: PG

Category: John/Elizabeth friendship/UST.

Spoilers: post-ep for "Conversion"

Summary: "... then you can start to make it better."

Dedication: For Jen. Yes, we're at a total 180 from the rest of fandom this week, but it's nice here and we have cookies.


***


John Sheppard had his tonsils out when he was eight years old. After surgery and one night in the hospital, his father took him home for a week.

John doesn't remember the specific reasons why the responsibility fell to the father he barely saw to take care of him, but there were probably practical reasons involving his mother's work and his beloved grandparents' own fading health. The only reason he remembers actually hearing was, in his father's words, "It'll give us some time together, Johnny."

He remembers it being awkward. There were framed pictures of him on the walls, but the most recent one was still three years old. His father's apartment in the city clearly wasn't set up for children, and being physically sick made John more prone to homesickness than usual. He did his best to put on a brave face -- stubborn and independent even at eight years old -- and was both surprised and disappointed when his father fell for it so easily.

They didn't have a lot to talk about. John watched TV in the afternoons and listened to his dad's old records the rest of the time, over and over again.

Whenever he lands himself in the infirmary now, John always gets the Beatles stuck in his head.

After what they're calling the Iratus bug incident, John spends two and a half weeks in the infirmary humming Hey Jude. (It's the second Iratus bug incident, really, but John suspects he'll always be able to tell which one people are referring to by whether or not they can look him in the eye as they say it.) His team hovers around him quite a bit the first few days, but their visits become sporadic as they get involved in other projects and start going off-world with other teams.

Elizabeth comes by every night, usually just as he's falling asleep, to check on his progress and on his state of mind. They play a few games of cards as his cognitive functions return enough to handle it -- he jokes about working his way back up to chess -- but most days she arrives just as the sedatives are kicking in for the night and it's all he can do to greet her before he drops off.

It takes a few days for him to even realize that she is coming to see him, with the heavy sedatives and, well, a half-insectoid brain. "She shouldn't," he rasps at Carson, unable to coherently argue how he both doesn't need to burden her just for company and how he doesn't really want her seeing him like this any more than she already has.

Carson only says, "Good luck trying to get her to stop."

He doesn't try. He finds himself staying awake as long as possible through the sedatives, too, just to wait for her if she's running late.

He thinks of tonsillitis again when he's about to be finally discharged, briefly remembering how his father met him with a suitcase, and John is surprised as hell when Elizabeth turns up to walk him home.

"Isn't it a little early for your regular house call?"

She shrugs. "I needed a break anyway."

His eyes slide away from hers when the caring expression on her face, even couched in casual banter, starts to be too much for him. In a way, he prefers the wary expressions of most of the others, because they match so much better what he feels. He knows without Elizabeth repeating it (again) that none of what happened was his fault, but that isn't quite enough to totally absolve him. Carson claims he's back to normal, but John thinks it'll be a while before he feels completely like himself again.

Elizabeth glares down the questioning looks and slight side-steps of the people they encounter and, as much as he might deserve the cautious and doubting behavior of the other citizens of Atlantis, it feels really, really nice to know that someone has his back in this.

It shouldn't feel nice. It should worry the hell out of him, because Elizabeth put her life in danger by facing him so confidently when his DNA was being rewritten and he was totally out of control. They will have to have that conversation -- he'd be remiss as her military commander if he didn't take that step to ensure her future safety -- but he needs to sit with it for a while first.

He never thought that anyone would stand by him through something like that.

"You're quiet," Elizabeth observes. "Are you sure you're okay?"

John shrugs and quotes Carson. "100% John Sheppard."

"That's not an answer," she points out, and it scares the hell out of him that she knows that.

His quarters, when they reach them, are a total mess.

"My God-" she says, and then turns to him with a face full of guilt. "I'm sorry, John. I didn't think-"

"It's okay," he assures her, though the sight of his things thrown around is tangible proof that he really did do everything he remembers -- probably more than he remembers -- and he feels a bit sick. "Not really your responsibility to clean this up."

Elizabeth's expression molds into a determined frown. "It's not yours, either."

John surveys the damage. A few things are broken, smashed against the wall with the uncontrollable fits of rage he wishes he didn't remember, but it's mostly just messy. "It's not so bad," he says, forcing a cheerful smile to his face. "Haven't really had the chance to redecorate since we got back from Earth-"

Elizabeth cuts off his bravado by picking something up off the ground and handing it to him. "Come on. I'll help."

He takes the item -- a picture of him and his grandfather, thankfully framed in plastic instead of glass -- and sets it on his nightstand. His first instinct is to push her as far away as possible from this evidence of what a monster he was for a few weeks, to stew over it by himself, but it's not like she doesn't already know. She saw that monster up close and personal, and somehow, she's still here. And really, if he doesn't have to be, he doesn't want to be alone with this yet.

One brief moment of tactical analysis later, he decides, "Let's start with the furniture."

She helps him shove the bed back into position, but lets him take care of the more intimate action of stripping it and putting on new sheets while she reassembles his bookshelf.

She finds War and Peace behind his dresser, of all places. He vaguely remembers hurling it at the wall.

"Could've used that in the infirmary," he points out -- though, in truth, for at least half his medical incarceration he wouldn't have been able to read anyway.

"You should've asked me to get it for you," she chastises gently, paging through the hardbound copy and pausing when she reaches a certain point. He glances over at the silence and sees her fingering a handful of torn pages, her face full of the deep concern he remembers from the last few times they were alone in this room.

She shuts the book when she notices him watching. "I always thought this book was too long, anyway." It's her bedside-manner voice, artifically put-on cheerfulness that should grate, maybe, but doesn't.

"Elizabeth." He wasn't planning to say it yet, but it spills out anyway. "I have to thank you."

She purses her lips. "No, you don't, John."

"You shouldn't have put yourself in danger like that." His words come out with more force than he intends, and it makes him wince. She doesn't look scared of him, but he can't help feeling like she should be. And Teyla... he definitely has to apologize to her and hope she can still work with him. This is one hell of a mess. He really hates those bugs. He pushes on, "I could have killed you, and you know it."

Elizabeth swallows hard. "That wasn't you, John."

He can't explain it. There was less and less of him mixed in there as time went along, but he still remembers it like it was him. He picks up a handful of clothes spilling from a broken dresser drawer, and then drops them back on the floor. "That's not my point. You came in here without an escort, without a weapon-"

Elizabeth touches his arm and he jumps at the contact. Outside of medical personnel, no one has touched him since he's been... human again. She pulls her hand back, but doesn't apologize. "I couldn't let you go through that alone, John. No one should have to do that."

His heart constricts sharply at that, and he has to look away and find something else to take his attention. He doesn't know how to thank her for that.

He didn't expect it. In some way he hated that his teammates -- far more capable of defending themselves if the need arose -- didn't even try to face him as he transformed into something horrible, but he didn't expect any different.

But Elizabeth stood by him, in all possible senses. He doesn't know how to accept her surprising loyalty without becoming attached to it. He matters more to her than just a military commander, and that's waking up feelings in him that he doesn't know what to do with. If he does something in the future that makes her turn away...

"Do you play?" Elizabeth holds up his guitar and breaks his train of thought with a lighthearted question, and John is almost as grateful for that as he is for everything else she has done for him.

He can feel his ears getting warmer. "No."

She smiles, confused. "You brought it all the way out here, but you don't even play it?"

John shrugs. "My grandfather used to play." He has no idea how she can treat him like everything's normal after he transformed and threatened her and almost choked her to death inside this bedroom, but he's grateful as hell that she can. "I figured this is as good a place as any to learn."

Elizabeth strums her fingers over the strings. "Needs to be tuned."

"You play?"

"Oh, no. My brothers both play really badly -- they thought it would help them meet girls."

John snorts out a laugh. "That's exactly what my grandfather said."

She grins the rare smile that always makes him feel like everything is better. "I learned to pluck out a few Beatles songs when I was in high school, but quickly decided there was no hope for me."

John thinks of the records spinning in his father's apartment during his first major convalescence at eight years old and the songs forever associated in his mind with comfort in strange places. "Play something."

She raises an eyebrow at him and then sets his guitar down against the wall. "Not a chance. I think Major Lorne plays, though. Someone was saying that he was playing in the mess hall late last night. You should ask him for lessons."

"Maybe I will." He goes back to folding clothes, glancing behind him occasionally to watch her pick his things off the floor. He really hasn't shown anyone on Atlantis his stash of personal effects before, but after the past few weeks, he really doesn't mind that she's seeing them.

It doesn't take too long to put his quarters back in order. He'll have to requisition a new lamp and do something about the two broken drawers in his dresser, but on the whole, the damage is minimal.

"Good as new," she announces as she shelves the last wayward book.

"Yeah." He'll probably still feel a bit strange in here for a while, but it's really good to have it clean. Elizabeth placed everything back in a slightly different order, but he thinks he might prefer it that way.

"You don't have to rush back to duty, John," she says, seamlessly transitioning to business mode. "If you want time to integrate this-"

"I don't," he answers immediately. That's not something he really has to think about. He's been alone with this, with nothing to do but 'integrate,' for too long already. "Beckett says I've still got a few weeks before he'll let me back off-world, but..."

She nods. "Okay. Light duty, then?"

It's a compromise he can live with. He'll need to build his strength back up and, as forgiving as Elizabeth has been, he suspects there might be a bit more team-building necessary before the rest of Atlantis will follow him into combat.

"I really do want to thank you," he says before she can go. He's still not sure how to say what he's feeling, or even how much of it he wants to say, but she deserves something. Deserves a lot. "I know I wasn't exactly the best patient, but..."

She smiles and walks over to him to cover his hand with hers. Her fingers are warm, and his heart begins to race in his chest until he's afraid she'll hear it.

"I'm just glad you're okay," she assures him.

He tries for his usual smirk, but can feel it falter midway. "Me too." He thinks he's going to miss her nightly visits for cards and woozy conversation now that he's no longer in the infirmary.

Elizabeth heads for the door. "Come and see me in my office after you've settled in," she orders, "but take your time."

After she leaves, John does his best to settle in. His quarters don't feel like his -- his body doesn't feel like his -- and light duty will only distract him so much. This is going to take more than a little getting used to.

The next time he can't sleep, he digs out his laptop, connects to the Atlantis network of digital entertainment in search of Beatles music, and sets it to loop all night.

He drifts in and out to the familiar tunes, dreaming of Earth and Atlantis and of Elizabeth at his infirmary bedside every night, telling him that he will be okay.

He's not, not yet, but he can see how he will be.


**end**


Author's Note: This was an iTunes challenge fic (flip iTunes on random and write fic inspired by the first song or two... you get the idea). Songs: "Hey Jude" and "Help!" Also inspired by comment-spam with Jen and how I just can't take Sheppard's guitar seriously. :)


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