A/N: For my Sparkies…

Elizabeth closed her eyes, allowing the lapping of the ocean against Atlantis's great pier to soothe her back into calm.

She hadn't thought much about the ocean during her time in Immaria, but it was only when she returned to the balcony, listening to the waves for the first time in days, that she realized how much she'd missed the sound and the smell of the salt water. There was such serenity on the balcony; something primordial and peaceful that couldn't be found anywhere else.

She loved it up here—it had been a favorite spot since they first came to Atlantis; a haven at times when nothing seemed to be going right or something bothered her. The balcony both soothed her nerves and reminded her why she had come to Pegasus in the first place.

The door behind her slid open with its signature whoosh and she lifted her head, though she didn't open her eyes. The footsteps were so wonderfully familiar she had no need to look to know who was coming.

"How's it going?" she murmured.

"Woolsey's agreed," John's pleasant voice broke through the silence, his tone tinged with amusement. "The IOA wasn't thrilled about having him gone for so long, but the trade-off of an Ancient who might actually give us some good intel, plus all the technology in that beaming platform, was too good to pass up."

"He'll be a good representative."

"I'd like to see how he handles that kid. I might even go back there, just for the chance to see them go at it."

She opened her eyes, turning her head towards him. "I don't think that's a good idea."

He smiled good-naturedly. "Maybe not."

"Richard will do well working within the context of their 'legal' system. And as he's a man, he'll automatically have a leg up in negotiations."

"Are you sure?" John's expression turned mischievous. "Because truthfully I've got some doubts on that front."

She tried to fix him with a chastising look, but it was no use. He was too amusing for his own good. She turned to her face to the sky instead, breathing in more of the salt air as he leaned forward, placing both his hands on the rail. "Nice night."

"It is." She caught a glimpse of his face out of her periphery, enjoying the sparkle that now lit his eyes. The stubble was gone, too, as was weariness. It had taken a few days to straighten out all their nerves, but he looked no different now than when she'd last seen him here, dressed in what Teyla referred to as 'the shirt in which he feels most comfortable', a standard military button down with the sleeves rolled up.

It was good to see.

"Nice outfit," he remarked, startling her. She wondered when he'd started being able to read her thoughts.

"Thanks." The black zip-up tracksuit, along with a new red top, had been a gift from SGC to replace the regulation uniform she'd lost on Immaria. Funny to think regulation wear could be a gift, but she'd been touched they'd even thought of so small a detail.

"So, has Carson cleared you for active duty yet?"

"You mean has he allowed me to get back to work? No. I'm banned from reading anything 'without illustrations,' as he puts it, until tomorrow. Thankfully, Colonel Caldwell has been keeping me up to date through oral reports as far as the progress within the city, as well as general details about the search, which cuts down on the amount I'll have to catch up on. Mostly it'll be going over the specifics of what happened during my capture."

He cleared his throat and flashed a small smile at her, the sparkle in his eyes fading. "Well, I'm sure you'll manage it. It's just paperwork, right?"

"Some. Though apparently I have to make a few off-world visits as well."

John's head snapped towards her, all trace of good humor gone in a flash. "Off-world? Don't you think you've had enough off-world for one week?"

"Yes, well, these particular visits appear necessary. Considering the circumstances."

"What circumstances?"

"Well, let's see—according to one report a local governor was threatened with bodily harm; in another a jumper flyby complete destroyed a few acres of cropland; in another, one of our less-than-trustworthy allies was pretty much told Atlantis was completely severing all ties with his people…"

"Ah…"

"And then, of course, there's the Genii…"

John shifted uncomfortably. "Look, as far as Ladon is concerned…"

"I think I need to speak with him face to face, don't you? All things considered?"

"All things considered?" John frowned, twisting towards her and resting one hand on his hip. "All things 'considered', he had it coming to him. He was sketchy the first time we met him, and no matter how many bloodless coups he succeeds at or how many times he claims the Genii have turned over a new leaf, as far as I'm concerned he's always going to be sketchy. I only wish I could have laid him out sooner."

"Laid him out?" Elizabeth's eyebrow rose sharply. "You laid out Ladon Radim? When did this happen?"

He paused mid-breath, eyes widening. "I…uh…what were you talking about?"

"About the fact that it was the Genii who connected the Neronians to the Immarians. I figure for as much manpower as they put into the search, I deserved to thank them personally. Apparently, I need to do a little more than that! What happened?"

"Nothing drastic…it was more like a…misunderstanding…"

He was entering the John Sheppard roundabout way of explaining things, which could take all night. She decided to try a different approach. "Does Caldwell know about this?"

John's eyes shifted to the post above him and he made a face. "Maybe."

"Then you might as well tell me now, because I'm going to read about it anyway and I promise it's going to be quite detailed. What happened?"

His fingers tapped the rail. "I guess you could say he acted like a Genii."

"Like a Genii."

"You know, deceitful, subversive…sketchy…"

"Did he lie to you?"

"Not exactly."

"John…"

"Look, he acted like they had intel on where you were and at first glance it seemed like he was playing a game with it. I might have overreacted. A little."

"How much is 'a little'?"

He met her gaze for the first time. "I pinned him to a desk."

Her hand automatically went up to the bridge of her nose. "John…"

"It was no less than he deserved—than he's deserved for a while."

"John, I know I don't have to explain to you the importance of maintaining diplomatic relations with the Genii…"

"No, you don't."

"And I'm not saying that it doesn't hurt every once in a while to remind them what we bring to the table…"

"I agree."

"But engaging Ladon in a wrestling match is probably not the best way to go about that."

"Hey," he bent his head a little, stepping closer to her. "I was very diplomatic up until the part where he somehow managed to figure out exactly why we were there without us telling them anything. Considering the Genii, that seemed pretty suspicious."

"And did you ever stop to consider he knows us pretty well by now? If it wasn't me who initially contacted him and you didn't tell him why I didn't call him first, what else would he have thought?"

John's face twisted into a frown. "That's what he said."

"Imagine that." She widened her eyes suggestively and moved to turn away, but he grabbed her, turning her to face him.

"We didn't know where you were." The grip on her shoulders tightened. "Everything we were coming up with was a dead end. Nobody could find anything. Nobody knew anything. Nobody could figure anything out. We just…didn't know. Anything. By the time we went to Ladon…" He paused, releasing her, and turned his gaze to the sky. "Okay, it was a stupid move. But…I…we…"

"You were worried."

"Something like that," he stuttered.

"Well, I can't say I blame you. I was, too."

He looked at her sharply, the saddest expression in his eyes she'd ever seen. She felt an unfamiliar ache flutter through her chest and turned away so she didn't have to see his face.

"Not about me," she continued hurriedly. "Just a fear that you would never know what really happened. Why it had happened."

"None of that mattered," he answered a moment later, through gritted teeth.

"No. But I would have wanted you to know just the same."

"Were you ever…did you ever think…"

"That you wouldn't come for me?" She paused for a moment, her heartbeat quickening at the memory of those last few hours hiding in the circle, slinking through the shadows and wondering why he hadn't come. "There was a moment when I thought something had stopped you. I thought maybe…"

"We'd given up?"

"No." Elizabeth turned back to him with a serious expression. "No. I would never think that, John. If you didn't come for me it was because you couldn't, not because you'd given up. Three years of knowing you made that the one thing I was certain of throughout that whole ordeal."

He watched her, his eyes stilled pained, unable to offer her anything beyond his support at her side. It was enough, and yet it wasn't.

A strange feeling; an emptiness, or loneliness, filled her chest, and she thought of Sita, spending her entire life loving someone from afar but never truly trusting him. Fearing him and fearing for him without being able to really know him.

Dying with regret.

Karon had been right, in one regard. Elizabeth did not know what it was like to live a lie. She trusted John—trusted all of them—beyond the shadow of a doubt. Almost more than she trusted herself.

She looked back up at him as he studied her in concern, hesitated, and then pushed forward into his arms.

He stiffened almost immediately, which made her smile. John Sheppard was incredibly predictable about certain things, and his awkward reaction to displays of human emotion definitely qualified. She wasn't very good at them either, but this felt right and he seemed to understand. After a moment he relaxed a little bit, one hand patting her shoulder softly, the other cradling the back of her head. And he surprised her, too; for a brief second she felt him pull her closer, the side of his head just touching hers.

When she drew away a few moments later he couldn't quite meet her eyes, at least not initially; but she expected that. She was having a hard time trying to figure out exactly what to do with her hands. Clearing her throat, she stepped to the side. "Sorry."

That drew his attention. "You don't have to…"

"I know. But if I crossed a line…"

"You didn't," he said, his expression softening. "Not any that matter to me, anyway."

"Good." She cleared her throat again and linked her fingers together. "So, do you any plans for tonight, Colonel?"

"No…" he eyed her warily. "Why?"

"Well…I was wondering…"

"What?" The sparkle slowly returned to his eyes. "You thinking of taking Teyla up on those additional sparring lessons?"

"Huh? No, I…you're really going to insist on those, aren't you?"

"Hey, they're worth it. I can radio her now, I think she's with Ronon in the mess."

"No! No, that's all right. For one thing, Carson would probably have a heart attack and for a second…I was kinda hoping we could do an impromptu movie night."

"Movie night?" He grinned saucily. "I thought you were too 'busy' for those. I seem to recall that being the excuse for missing the last few."

She raised an eyebrow. "Well, I happen to have some free time at the moment."

"Beckett's not going to have a problem with you staring at flashing lights and listening to surround sound for a couple of hours?"

"What he doesn't know…"

"So you can break the rules!"

"Very funny."

"I think a movie night can be arranged. What are you in the mood for?"

"I don't know. Any suggestions? Which don't involve spears of any kind."

His smile disappeared for half a second as she moved past him into the gateroom. "Right. Well—the new pirate movie is in."

"Pirates?"

"We also have some classics on hand. Bullitt, best car chase in the history of cinema. Or The Searchers, with John Wayne, can't beat that. Or The Abyss, a personal favorite."

"Any and or all of those seem fine."

"When Harry met Sally."

She paused on one of the steps of the staircase, frowning down at him. "You like that movie?"

He shrugged awkwardly. "It's a classic."

"Okay…well, I haven't seen any of those and I trust you. Pick what you will."

"You sure about that? You might regret it."

"With your taste? Never." They passed by the gate, nodding at the marines on duty.

"You really trust me that much?"

She smiled. "Always."

"Weeeeeell," he grinned back. "Let's go for Alien then. Great directing, awesome special effects and a kickass heroine. Plus, you'll get the added benefit of hearing Rodney scream like a little girl."

"And that's always enjoyable," she returned sarcastically, eyeing him with a smirk.

"Anything to make the boss happy."

They'd reached the transporter. She strode inside, raising a hand to the flash panel and tapping the region for the recreational room. "I like the sound of that."

He stepped in beside her, hands on hips and a smile on his face, leaning over until he was close enough to bump her shoulder. "You know what? Me, too."

--FIN--