A/N: A bday gift!fic for wanderingsmith. She wanted "Tao with John doing the touching", I attempted to give that to her...

"What is he doing?"

Rodney and Elizabeth were standing on the bridge leading to her office, eyes fixed on John, who was standing on the balcony. He had been there for a few hours now, almost unmoving except for his hair that was flying about in the breeze. Both onlookers were undeniably worried, but it had been Rodney that asked the question.

"What do you mean?" Elizabeth slowly turned her whole upper body to look at the man standing beside her.

"I mean," Rodney tried to scoff, but a certain helpless kind of sadness permeated his indignation, "he knows that he is dying, soon, and he is just standing there. I would think he'd want to say goodbye to people, make amends…" He shrugged, "You know, teach me to cheat at poker, marry y…" Rodney caught himself. "That kind of stuff."

"You're projecting, Rodney," was all Elizabeth said in reply.

"What on Earth do you mean by that?!"

"It's something you would do." Her explanation caused Rodney to raise a dismissive eyebrow. "Okay, it's quite possibly something that I would do as well," she conceded, "but you have to admit, we'd do it for selfish reasons. So that people would remember us kindly, grieve for us, miss us… So that our conscience would be clear. But John," sighing, Elizabeth turned his gaze back to the man on the balcony, "he would want his death to mean something, to help us in some way…"

"… and now that it won't, he just wants to get out of our way…" McKay slowly realized.

"Yes," Elizabeth's reply was quiet and contemplative. "He wants his death to mean as little as possible."

X

At first it had been just another inconvenience caused by a series of ill-devised events.

"Colonel?"

Damn, he thought, slowly turning around to face the psychologist whose face, he noted, didn't convey as much confusion as it should have. It took him just a fraction of a moment to realize the circumstances Dr Heightmeyer was working in – situations where someone knocked on her office door, but had managed to change their minds about coming to talk to her by the time she shouted for them to enter were probably I bit more commonplace than she would have liked for them to be.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "I just…"

"Do you want to come in?" the doctor smiled encouragingly.

"I guess I might as well," John shrugged and, rubbing his neck bashfully, gave her a smirk that managed to convey both defeat and embarrassment.

She made no attempt to ease him into the situation and he was grateful to her about that. There was no need for her to say anything, really. This was a mess, disproportionately big even by Pegasus standards and even if John had been in any denial about that before, the fact that his quarters looked like a nuclear testing site, that service had come to a complete halt at the mess hall for a few hours while they fixed the place and the second degree burns on Teyla's arm would have been more than ample evidence to snap him out of it.

"A seat?" Heightmeyer suggested, as if there was now any choice in the matter.

"Yeah," John started, seating himself carefully on the edge of the shrink's couch, "again, sorry about the... you know...," he indicated towards the hallway with his hand. As the doctor seemed to be in no mood to make this easier for him, he just continued. "I'm sure you have already heard about the latest Atlantis has had to offer me in way of...," again he found himself at a bit of a loss for words. Not to mention dangerously tense. He glanced around the office quickly, just to make sure that none of the equipment had started to levitate.

"Mindfuck?" Dr Heightmeyer offered helpfully. And though John did recognize with a considerable amount of surprise that this must have been somewhat of a detour from professionalism for the good doctor, it did ease the tension in the room notably.

"Exactly," he conceded with a wry grin. "And you have probably also heard, possibly even seen, that I have not been doing so well in, uh... handling the... consequences?..."

"Oh, so you mean that the jell-o raining down from the mess hall ceiling wasn't just somebody's statement about the lack of variety in the dessert menu?" Heightmeyer raised a sarcastic eyebrow and, again, John was left wondering whether unbridled sarcasm was really the best possible approach for a shrink to adopt. It was working, though. He sat himself deeper into the couch, the instinct to flee now considerably suppressed.

"No, that was just me testing the possible applications for airborne jell-o," he shot back. Growing more serious again, he went to explain the real reason for his presence, "I know I have not been the most cooperative of subjects on our previous encounters, but... I just feel that I need to talk this… situation out with someone who... wouldn't take it personally." Looking aside in a moment of confusion, he considered his wording. "No, that did not come out right..."

Heightmeyer smiled, "It's alright, colonel, I know what you mean. You think that your friends are too worried about you to just listen."

"And I'm afraid that if they hear what a mess it is in my own head, they'll be even more worried," John nodded thoughtfully.

"Well, I'm here to listen," Heightmeyer leaned back in her chair and tilted her head. John eyed her for a moment, as if looking for a logical starting point, and then took a determined breath.

"I guess I just don't know if it's supposed to be a good thing. If I'm supposed to be doing something useful with these... abilities. Technically, I presume, I'm not the one who was meant to get zapped anyway. It was just a snap decision, a kind of an automatic reaction type of thing -- I see Rodney going into nutty professor mode, tinkering with some never before seen Ancient device without giving the first thought to consequences and I go to yank him out of there. I'm pretty sure that this time I was meant to leave him be, though. By now the city would already be powered by seawater, instead of jell-o dripping down from the mess hall ceiling..." He looked at the doctor helplessly.

Shifting in her chair, she asked, "What exactly are your abilities?"

"Well, the stupid telekinesis thing seems to be the first to pop up, at the most inconvenient of times. My hearing is out of this world. And I also seem to be able to somehow conduct electricity – as Teyla found out the hard way... Rodney tried to get me to make some crystals glow and something went wrong, again, and all I could do was watch as a bolt of lightning zapped straight from my fingers into her arm...," John closed his eyes for a second and shook his head at the memory.

"And the jell-o?"

"No, that's just…," John's hand moved to his nape again, "… it freaks me out. I mean, stuff starts to move around me and then I realize that it's me who is doing it and the next thing I know I've completely lost any control over the situation and people are running for their lives and it's raining food…"

Heightmeyer thought about it for a second and then tilted her head, "Have you tried to control it?"

"Well, eventually it stops," John raised an eyebrow.

"No, I mean, have you tried to control the start of it?"

John nodded, "Yeah, and if I do it on purpose it's alright. It doesn't get out of hand and I can end it anytime I want to." As if to illustrate his point, a pen rose from the office desk and flew straight into his outstretched hand. He placed it carefully on the doctor's notepad.

"And why do you suppose that is?" Heightmeyer took the pen and rolled it absentmindedly between her fingers.

Confused, John turned is palms upwards and frowned. "Because I know I'm doing it?"

"Or maybe it's because you know why you're doing it…," the doctor said but it didn't seem to be targeted at John; it was more as if she was thinking out loud. Noticing the questioning look on his face, she continued, "Look, can you foresee any useful applications for these new abilities of yours?"

Contemplating this for a second, he answered, "Probably. If I can get them under control." Trying to find words to explain what was going on in his head, he looked aside again and then started speaking slowly, as if carefully listening to hear if what he said made any sense. "I mean, it's not the powers themselves that freak me out – making things dance around is kind of cool, if you know what I mean…," he threw a rare grin at the woman sitting opposite him, "it's the fact that they have a way of ambushing me. So, instead of getting any use out of them, most of the time I feel totally useless. Carson says that it's my brain, working more and more efficiently, but if that's the case then any kind of efficiency seems to be completely wasted on my brain. Not only am I not able to do any good with this stuff, I am not even able to do what I did before – I can't trust myself to do my job." He drew his jaw back, his voice descending into a sarcastic growl, "Putting me in charge of other people's security right now would be kind of a cruel joke…"

"Colonel," the doctor finally offered, when it had become clear that John had run out of things to say or ways to express himself, "I don't know enough about the physiological aspects of all this to give any definitive advice to you. But it seems to me that you might benefit from trying to figure out what it is that you really want to do with your abilities, where you want to concentrate them. And even more important, you should try to figure out why." John eyed her in confusion and Heightmeyer realized that once again she had to adjust her methods to the exceptionality of the situation. "Obviously it would be better if you came to this yourself," she continued, "but under the circumstances, I am not sure we have enough time for that. So, this is what I am going to say to you – in order to find the necessary focus and control, you need to figure out what your underlying and overarching reason for doing things is. And you need to try to be as specific as possible here, cause I have the feeling that right now you would say that it's the welfare of Atlantis and considering how insecure and distracted you still are, I'd say that this is not quite correct. It might be one of the reasons, but I think you need to dig deeper than that."

X

And then things inevitably deteriorated.

Because obviously this wasn't about making inanimate objects to fly. Obviously it had to be about the Ancients and their undeterred obsession with ascending… And all John could think about when they told him that he was facing almost certain death was that his stupid pedigree catching up to him was apparently unavoidable, that ascension was apparently one of those things you can run from but you can't hide. Looking at the worried faces of his friends, he of course realized how ridiculous his reaction to the news of his imminent demise was.

Looking at Elizabeth as all color drained from her face, the sudden feeling of personal failure and inadequacy to be there for her that gripped him, proved to be sort of an epiphany, however. It was only now that he understood what Dr Heightmeyer had meant by "underlying and overarching reason."

The most ironic thing was that he really should have been prepared to deal with this. That he had spent six months avoiding this precise thing in order to make it back to Atlantis, make it back to her. And now he was supposed to do the exact opposite, very fast, just to have any chance of staying. No pressure.

X

Elizabeth witnessed John grasping at his hair in desperation and realized that in his struggles with himself he hadn't even heard her knock or the door sliding open. Suddenly he spun his whole body around, snapping his head down.

"Fucking hell!" a roar escaped from him.

There was an eardrum-splitting bang and subsequently she was left staring at a distinctly fist-shaped hole in the metal wall six feet away from him. Hearing her gasp, John turned abruptly, worry clouding his expression.

"Oh, God!" he took a few tentative steps in her direction, "Elizabeth, are you alright?"

Her gaze slowly shifted from the hole to John. "Yeah," she drawled out. "I'm fine. I don't think the city is covered for telekinesis damage, though..."

"Right," John's smirk managed to be somehow both relieved and bitter. "Sorry about that." He directed a pointed glare at the damaged wall and suddenly the hole disappeared. Elizabeth raised an eyebrow, not quite knowing how to react to this.

"That's certainly something new..."

"Yeah, well, figured I could at least try to minimize the mess I leave behind in my wake," he shrugged, stuffing his hands deep in his pockets as if afraid that he might somehow inadvertently turn them into weapons otherwise.

"So," she glanced around, and, suddenly not quite knowing what to do with her own hands, subconsciously mirrored his stance, "I gather the whole mindsetting thing is not going so well?"

John sighed, "You know, there is a damn good reason I went out of my way not to pay any attention to all the chanting that was going on around me for six months – I really, really don't want to ascend."

"You don't? I thought that you of all people would appreciate gaining some Jedi mind tricks."

"Flying a spaceship with my mind is Jedi enough for me, thank you. Besides, being able to eavesdrop on my female colleagues discussing in whisper at the other end of the control room how a five o'clock shadow makes me look hot is one thing. Turning into pixie dust is another…," and again the smirk that he flashed at her was somehow bitter and self-deprecating. "Ascending," he continued, "is one of the most selfish processes I can think of..."

"How's that?" Elizabeth asked, narrowing her eyes in concern and suppressing her sudden desire to wrap her arms around him.

"Release your burden, my ass!" John's hands flew out of his pockets and up in exasperation. "They don't want you to release your burden, they want you to renounce everything you care about. Nothing that you leave behind can matter to you anymore... Obviously, the damn burden they had in mind was humanity." He looked at her, furrowing his brow. "I just can't get over the feeling that letting go of…," he swallowed, readjusting his track of mind, "those things is something I could never forgive myself for. Which, ironically, is the kind of attitude that will end up killing me…" His eyes were still firmly on her, as if there was something more he wanted to say but didn't know how and suddenly it seemed like the air between them was crackling and she couldn't help but ask, almost in a gasp,

"You'll still do it, though, won't you?"

Now he had to avert his eyes, not wanting to witness himself letting her down again. He was just in the process of trying to find an answer that wouldn't be an empty promise but at the same time would ensure her that he wasn't giving up quite yet, when the sudden hum of "dontleavemedontleavemedontleaveme…" coming from her direction prompted him to look up at her. She wasn't saying anything, just looking at him with hazel eyes so big and clear and desolate that he could physically feel his heart breaking. And all the while the hum continued reverberating towards him.

All he could do was nod, silently wondering whether this new ability was something he should tell Carson about.

X

It wasn't going well.

In fact, it got even worse. He had to tell Rodney to stop blaming himself for this and strictly forbid him to go and get zapped as well, just so that his brain would get big enough a boost to figure out how to reverse the effects of the machine. He had to apologize to Teyla for snapping at her when all she was trying to do was to introduce him different ways to relax and clear his mind. He had to apologize to Ronon for the unintentional Matrix-moves he pulled during sparring, just because he was too distracted to notice.

He had to… refrain from looking Elizabeth in the eye. He wasn't quite sure what the dominating emotion was that hit him if he did (there was a whole rainbow of them in there, that was obvious), but he was certain that none of them would get him any closer to "releasing his burden".

On top of it all, he found himself constantly trying to shake the feeling that everything was going wrong in a completely wrong way. Of course he wasn't ready to die, nobody ever really was, but this was by far not the first opportunity for him to come face to face with the possibility. Usually death would just be an unfortunate side effect of some necessary action, though. Usually it was looming because he was fighting for something or defending something. Now he was just dying, and it was completely stupid and pointless, it was a result of a random accident. Usually he was the most suitable person to be thrust in death's pathway, now he couldn't help thinking that he was among the ones most ill-equipped to deal with the situation.

Hence the afternoon of playing a statue on the balcony.

It was a good thing that Rodney and Elizabeth were paying such close attention to him. When his body suddenly went limp and disappeared from their view they were able to immediately call for the medical team.

X

They were all lining the infirmary walls, hands folded and eyes darting around the room, trying not to move and hardly even breathe as they watched the numbers slowly and unevenly dropping on the screen. The man lying on the bed, pads attached to his forehead, cords snaking up from them, was unusually pale and unusually still. John was never that still, never that unattached, even when he was unconscious or seriously injured. It was disconcerting, trying to figure out how to feel about this – on one hand, seeing him slip away from them like this was a helpless, paralyzing experience; on the other hand, out of several bad scenarios, this one, at least the way things stood now, was the best. He seemed to have caught hold of something that would help him clear his mind, at least enough to give everybody some hope that in the end he might be able to pull this ascension thing off.

The numbers indicating his brain activity kept dropping, still far away from what was necessary to reach the higher plane, but a lot better than any of them dared to expect just a little while ago. Elizabeth had positioned herself at the foot of his bed, grasping at its frame, motionless except for her eyes darting between John's face and the quietly beeping screen. Someone shifted their body weight to a different shoulder to the right of her, someone else slipped their hand through their hair almost soundlessly, but to her strained senses even these irrelevant movements were too much.

The numbers kept dropping, slower now. Was this it? Would he suddenly just… vanish into glimmering dust like the people on that field? Was it all over?

And then the man in front of her suddenly gasped and opened his eyes and the numbers on the screen shot up again and it felt like a tunnel had been created between his eyes and hers and just when the intensity was getting to be too much, when she felt like the tunnel was swallowing her (and she couldn't even remember why that would have been a bad thing), he hoarsely whispered, "You were there…" and she turned and ran, almost blindly, almost not registering the footsteps that followed her down the hallway and into a random lab where she finally came to a halt, leaning against a console the purpose of which was still unclear and breathing heavily, not even attempting to make sense of what had just happened.

Just ensconcing herself in the feeling that no matter how this ended for John, she would be on the losing side.

X

The nervous twitch of the person rounding the console to face her indicated that in all likelihood it was Rodney. Elizabeth didn't feel like looking up. This somehow had to have been about her and she really didn't matter right now. Rodney shouldn't have been here. Rodney should have been somewhere trying to figure this thing out, trying to find a way to help John. She had to get over herself and go back to the infirmary. Falling apart was not an option.

McKay didn't move. Instead he let out a few self-conscious puffs of air and exclaimed, "It's you, Elizabeth!"

Now she slowly looked up, mostly because Rodney's words sounded like complete gibberish to her. "Me what?"

"You're the one who gets him so close," Elizabeth heard a familiar deep voice from somewhere behind her, and, turning towards it, saw Ronon leaning against the doorframe, raised eyebrows indicating that he considered what he was saying to be obvious. "And you're the one that keeps him from taking that final step."

"How…?" she stuttered, leaning back against the console, folding her hands for a moment and, subconsciously registering the inappropriate aggressiveness of the pose, letting them then fall limply to her sides.

"I might not be an expert on your culture," Ronon hoisted himself upright and took a few steps closer to her, "or emotions, for that matter, but there's a certain code we soldiers seem to live by, no matter what the galaxy." He raised his eyebrows and gave Elizabeth a reassuring half-smirk. "We don't like to start things we might not be around to finish. And we don't leave things hanging because the next morning is never a sure thing. And we know to pick our battles." He paused, wanting to make sure that she followed him. Trying to emphasize his next point, Ronon leaned closer to Elizabeth and the emotion behind his words dragged two sharp creases into his forehead. "John doesn't have any unsolved issues with any of us – not me, not McKay, not Teyla – he doesn't leave things to pester. The only people he is still struggling with are himself… and you. And I am willing to bet that those two battles have quite a lot to do with each other."

"You have to know that it was you he thought of when he was told to imagine something that brings him peace!" Rodney intersected before Elizabeth could gather herself enough to somehow respond to Ronon's unprecedented insight. Instinctively she spun around to stare speechlessly at the scientist.

"And you were the one that dragged him back from the brink," Ronon's low voice charged from outside her field of vision, "You're the one he couldn't leave behind like this. "You were there…," remember?"

"Do you have any suggestions as to what next?" she finally asked, turning to look from one man to the other, almost certain that she meant her question to be rhetorical.

Whether that was the case or not, Rodney didn't let himself be deterred. "Elizabeth, you two have skirted around this issue for more than two years already, we all know that. And it has been the choice both of you have made and we have all respected that, though, and I am sure I am speaking for the whole expedition here, plus the populations of a few friendly planets and certain particularly manipulative sadistic group of Genii, we might have sometimes had trouble understanding quite the reason behind it." Catching Ronon's eye, he sighed and gave a self-deprecating smirk, indicating that he was aware of digressing into a ramble. "Things have changed now, I'm sure you understand," he went on, fixing his gaze on Elizabeth again. "You have to solve this, you have to give each other a chance. Or at least one of you will be regretting it forever." Obviously embarrassed about breaking his own rules and intruding on his friends' personal lives, he hung his head and frowned.

"Rodney, I…," and again Elizabeth didn't get any further, suddenly completely confused about which sentiment to express first, or at all, for that matter. Gratitude? Disbelief? Desperation?

"I'm sorry," McKay mumbled, "I know I'm out of line, it's just… I'm trying to find a way to fix this, but… I don't think there's much time left, Elizabeth." He was now looking her straight in the eye again and it seemed unbearably unfair to Elizabeth that this was the part of this whole mess that Rodney felt he was most certain about. "One way or the other," he finished with a sigh.

There seemed to be nothing left to say. She knew they were right, had probably known even before any of this, but right now the image of John's dark, knowing eyes was like a wall in front of her, not allowing her to think, not even allowing her to breathe properly.

"Khm, excuse me…"

They all turned to see Teyla on the doorway.

"John fell asleep again. But Dr Beckett said that the exercise, slowing his body down like that, seems to have bought him some time. He will probably be fit to move around after he wakes up. The doctor does not know how long the effects will last," she ended by answering everybody's silent question.

X

Elizabeth met Rodney on the doorway of the laboratory, both somewhat breathless from running. When the alarm went off, she just knew it was John and it seemed that Rodney was following the same intuition.

"He's in there," McKay nodded towards the closed door, not bothering to elaborate who he meant. "The energy readings are abnormally high and climbing," he added, after scrutinizing the screen of his scanner. "Should we try to break down the door?"

"How about we try the conventional way first?" Elizabeth asked with a small grin. She saw that Rodney was slightly taken aback by her calmness and she couldn't help but note herself that the closer she came to John, the more certain she was of things having a way of working out.

McKay waved his hand in front of the lock mechanism, adding a bit more drama to the whole movement than absolutely necessary and was genuinely surprised when the door actually did obey and slide open. Nudging the scientist in, Elizabeth was already on the verge of making an "I told you so" type of comment, but then her eyes caught John.

It was almost painfully understated. No bolts of electricity bouncing off the walls, no equipment flying about. The overhead went out with a tempered crack and a few appropriately placed sparks.

"What...?" she heard Rodney's puzzlement from somewhere behind her and then, "Alright, alright, I'll go! No need to get physical about it!" And she might have been surprised about who he could have been talking to, seeing as John, the only other person in the room, had been standing a few good meters away from them just before the room went pitch dark, but now it felt as if he was everywhere around her, filling every morsel of space, and even though this could have seemed scary or suffocating, all she could think now was that she had never felt this safe in her entire life.

As the barely glowing emergency lights flickered on along the floor, she could feel Rodney shifting himself out of the room. Elizabeth's eyes slowly adjusted to the near darkness. She could now see the silhouette of John, moving closer to her. It was happening as if in a dream -- small dim lights switched on in his wake, and it took her a moment to realize that they were pieces of crystal.

Still not saying anything, he stopped, about a feet from her. Their gazes locked into each other and suddenly she could make out a sharp whisper, insistent and echoing, and, concentrating a bit, she realized it was repeating "Itsyouitsyouitsyouitsyou..." over and over again.

"Do you hear that?" she asked, turning her head to determine the source of the voice.

"The sound?" he reached for her hand.

"Yes," she looked back at him. "What is it?"

John smiled, touching her temple with his other hand. "It's you."

"Funny," Elizabeth narrowed her eyes at him, absentmindedly reaching up and pressing his hand to her cheek.

"No, it really is," now he was outright laughing (God, she had missed that laughter...). "I took it from your mind and made it bounce on the walls. I thought it was beautiful..."

"You can read my mind?" she suddenly felt a bolt of self-consciousness at the thought of such exposure.

John bit his lower lip. "No, not really," he shook his head. "Just those underlying vibrations... You know, the moods?" He realized, as he was saying this, that, having never been in his position, it was quite possible that Elizabeth had no idea what he was talking about. It did sound like gibberish, now that he thought about it. But he had forgotten – it was Elizabeth's mood (itsyouitsyouitsyou shimmering all around them) that he had captured, Elizabeth's vibration.

She closed her eyes (itsyouitsyouitsyou and the smell of him and his warm hands...) and leaned into him, touching her forehead to his chin. "What are we going to do...?" came out of her as a long deep sigh.

He shook his head slightly, rubbing his stubble gently against her face. "I can't go, Elizabeth... I tried and... I just can't."

"Because of me..." The acceptance of guilt was heavy in her tone.

Drawing his face slightly back, John lifted her chin with a finger and made her look him in the eye. "Because of me. You can't blame yourself for my love for you." His fingers now slipped into her hair on both sides of her head and then she suddenly smiled at him, openly and honestly and without holding back.

"Love, huh?" Elizabeth mused while her eyes wandered on his face, taking in all the details. "Do you have any idea how long I have been avoiding giving a name to this tension between us? Do you know how long I have been policing even my own thoughts so that the word would not end up stuck in my head?"

"Yes," John did not even have to consider it.

Elizabeth shifted her jaw quirkily, face still framed by his palms, "Well, I guess it's out of the bag now…" John's imperceptible nod was emphasized by his eyes blinking and his lips curving into a quivering grin. All of the sudden he glanced up quickly and the words of the ambient whisper changed.

"Me again?" Elizabeth asked, automatically turning her head to catch the direction of the voice.

"Or me," John quipped. "There'd be no difference this time." And he leaned into her, turning her face upwards to meet him. The kiss tasted like coming home, like the only thing in the world that mattered.

"Iloveyouiloveyouiloveyouiloveyou…" was shimmering and dancing in the air.

X

"Will you come after me?" he asked quietly combing his fingers through her hair that was spread out on the pillow. "If I do this. Will you try and ascend as well?"

"John, I…," Elizabeth turned herself on the bed to face him, not knowing how to respond to this. It was all new, this overpowering need to put themselves first, this certainty that it was the best thing to do. The right thing to do.

"I know you think you need to be here for Atlantis," John continued, refusing to look her in the eye but still toying with her hair distractedly, "but we could still help Atlantis after we... I just can't end up being without you for eternity. It wouldn't be worth it." He paused for a moment, swallowing hard. "It would be too much."

Elizabeth picked his hand up and held it in both of hers, already feeling like she was fighting to keep him next to her. "I have always hated the way people have of avoiding reality," she mused, "but right now I just wish there was some way for me not to hear you say these things…"

"I don't know if I'm going to be able to pull this off," John charged on and Elizabeth realized that every second had started to weigh down on him like a ton of bricks. "I am certainly in a better position to manage it than ever before." His eyes drifted to her lips and rather than wait for him to lean in, she kissed him herself – the time he had left was the time she had left. "But without you there are too many ghosts in my life already – I can't become another one myself."

"I love you," Elizabeth simply said.

"And that is the only reason I have options, Elizabeth," there was a sad smile on John's face. "But, and just a little while ago I would have asked someone to shoot me in the head if anything like this ever came across my lips, it's not enough…"

"John," Elizabeth now shifted to her stomach and propped herself up on her elbows, "even if I agreed to this, there would be absolutely no guarantees that I'd actually be able to do it…"

"I know… But I don't have the time to find out…," he sighed. Exhaling sharply, he quickly added with slight exasperation, "God, when did I become so greedy? A few days ago I didn't even dare to want it all and now I feel like I deserve it all…"

"It all?"

"You." And he brushed his thumb tenderly down her cheek.

Elizabeth closed her eyes, realizing how "all" was really the only thing they could get out of this. He wouldn't go without her and she would lose him if he didn't go. "If you can do it," she whispered, "I'll find a way to come…"

X

He blinked twice, three times, to bring his surroundings into focus. Glaring light… Grating beeping…

Hazel eyes, huge and worried, looking down at him…

"I'm not dead," he contended hoarsely.

"No, you're not," said the mouth accompanying the eyes.

"Or ascended…," he went on.

The mouth laughed, bringing along the cheeks and the forehead, "Now that would be a letdown, wouldn't it? Feeling like a truck had just run over you for all eternity."

"Thanks," he scoffed, but the lightness that started to consume him seemed to have a side effect of making him giddy. So to avoid bursting out in completely unmasculine giggles (which, all things considered, might have turned out to be excruciatingly painful) he made the inhuman effort to reach up his arm and hook his fingers at her nape, pulling her down into a momentary kiss.

"Welcome back," she breathed, stroking her fingers along his forehead.

"What happened?"

"I was pretty sure this would be it, the last time you dropped off…," her fingers stilled on his temple. "Rodney managed to figure out how to reverse the effects of the machine. Not a moment too soon, I might add. You'll be fine, Carson says you'll probably be up and running in a few days."

"Damn," he chuckled, "and I was hoping this would teach McKay a lesson about activating random Ancient devices without any precautions… Now it's all wasted, he'll just go on believing he's almighty…"

"No, I think Rodney was shocked and guilt ridden enough to actually start to refrain from inviting trouble…," she laughed.

"Yeah, I'd give it a week. Tops," he grinned back at her. Then something occurred to him, wiping the grin off his face. "So, everything is back to normal again?"

"Wha…?" it took her a moment to understand. "Oh, no, haven't you heard? We've readjusted the definition of "normal" around here. To bring it more in line with its actual meaning."

He groaned, "Elizabeth, I just came back from the other side. Have some mercy…"

"I still love you even if you can't rearrange furniture with your mind," she deadpanned.

Almost automatically he laid his hand on her hip, slipping his fingers under the hem of her shirt. "And why would you want to constantly rearrange your furniture anyway?"

"I wouldn't," she agreed and lifted the blankets up to climb on the infirmary bed and scoot down next to him.

END