She followed the path out of the village, in the direction of the flickering light that their host had assured would be John. She had not noticed him slipping out and away after dinner and the fact that he had not bothered to notify her of his exit could, she had to admit, be read as a sign that he did not require her company. But she was curious enough to go after him and, for reasons she did not quite wish to admit even to herself, confident that he wouldn't mind.

She found him standing in a small rotunda on the edge of a big open field, the lantern he had been given by the village elder placed on a small table in the middle of the floor. John himself was standing and rigidly looking at the field, hands supported on the banister and even though she hadn't meant to sneak up on him, nothing in his posture indicated that he had noticed her presence.

"You disappeared on me," was what she chose to introduce herself with. He turned slowly and gave her a heartbreakingly lazy smile.

"Sorry about that," he shrugged. "You seemed deep in a conversation, I didn't want to disrupt you."

And that was it. He kept looking at her, kept smiling, but didn't offer any explanation to why he had escaped or what he was doing there. To a casual onlooker it might have seemed that he wasn't doing anything, just standing in the cold night, staring into emptiness, but Elizabeth knew better – John was always doing something, always had an end to his means.

"Am I?" she inquired, raising a challenging eyebrow. A hint of confusion flickered across John's face, so she went on to elaborate. "Disrupting you?"

He shook his head, returning to his slightly secretive smile. "No. I'm just waiting. You're welcome to join me."

"Waiting for what?" Even when she was asking this she knew that this was exactly what she had been set up to do. And then when he answered, making her none the wiser, really, she began to doubt her decision to just humor him. Because he did nothing to hide the allusions in his reply and that fact alone was enough to set a flurry of butterflies in her stomach to a state of high alert.

"For the inevitable." It wasn't even a challenge, rather a statement of the obvious, but then again, everything seemed to be a challenge between them as of late, every remotely private encounter seemed to inadvertently feed into this tension that was building between them. She decided to stay. Purposely ignoring the fact that nothing contributed to the tension more than their refusal to accept that there was any tension in the first place.

"You certainly seemed to be enjoying yourself," he said, a curious half-smirk on his lips, when she had settled down next to him at the ledge of the rotunda. It was her turn to be somewhat confused as to what he meant. "Janvin? The guy who was blatantly hitting on you at the dinner?" John clarified, still smirking. "Though I am sure that he was doing it in a very deep and meaningful way…," he ended with a sarcastic comment.

Elizabeth just shook her head, holding back laughter. It wasn't even John's obvious possessiveness that got to her, rather what it said about their overall condition. They, the whole Atlantis mission, lived so closely together, depended so clearly and unavoidably on each other that sometimes it was hard to even remember that there were other people out there who could, in one way or another, contribute to their dynamics. It was particularly obvious with members who didn't get to go off-world all that often, such as herself, but it seemed to include the off-world teams as well. She could only guess that this was due to the unusual situation regarding Atlantis – a city that was part of this galaxy, in a way at a helm of this galaxy, and at the same time an undeniable intruder. It was damn near impossible for outsiders to get accepted into the Atlantis fold and she had to commend both Teyla and Ronon for having pulled it off, though, in both cases the mitigating circumstance was probably the fact that they had nowhere else to go. In any case, she had wondered more than once how much her limited conditions were influencing her most personal feelings for particular people. John's borderline jealous comments had suddenly made her realize that, at least in some cases, her feelings weren't due to the circumstances, but rather regardless of them.

"Janvin was just buttering up a potential future trading partner. He's good at it," she noted, biting her lower lip and eyeing John. He nodded, in a crooked way that let her know he wasn't convinced. "Janvin is also very good at being a husband and a proud father to his three daughters," she went on to placate him. "Which you would have known, had you not sneaked out before dessert."

"That might all very well be," John contended, "but he clearly had more than chocolate and antibiotics in mind."

Elizabeth let out a puff of air that formed a cloud of vapor in the cold. "Oh, and so what if he did?" she quickly rolled her eyes at him and looked away. "He wasn't trying to seduce me, just admire me. It's nice to be appreciated from time to time." Hearing John's frustrated grunt next to her, she added, "As a woman." She could feel John turning his head to look at her but refused to acknowledge it, instead focusing on the vapor clouds she was producing with every exhale.

"You're cold," he finally announced.

"I'm fine." To emphasize her ability to take care of herself, she had to look at him again. "Besides, what could you do to improve the matter? Give me your jacket and be my knight in a frost-tinted armor?"

"Oh, I know of ways to keep warm," he winked at her suggestively.

"Oh, please!" she snorted and he graced her with a momentary mock pout before walking to the bench on the other side of the rotunda and lifting up a folded checkered blanket.

"We Air Force guys always like to come prepared," he announced, let the blanked drop open in his hand and lay it gently across her shoulders. Elizabeth instinctively hugged the cover closer to her, only now realizing how cold she had actually been.

"Thanks," she muttered. John gave her a small smile and a gallant bow of his head.

"So, what exactly are we waiting for?" she asked after a moment of silence.

"You'll see." John didn't even bother to look at her, but somehow he must have sensed that her silence next to him wasn't exactly a satisfied one because he continued, "I would have thought that the not knowing part would have been half the fun for you?"

Hmm, at some point, so would I, she thought and frowned at another realization, "Yeah, I guess these past years have made me surprisingly wary of surprises… You're not going to tell me, are you?" she asked with a sigh, not really needing him to answer. He pressed his lips together and shook his head. "Fine. As long as you promise me that it is not going to try and eat me or explode in my face." As if she had any bargaining power here. He hadn't even invited her along.

"I promise that my sneaking out without telling you was not a clever ploy to get you to sit on a flesh-eating time bomb," he announced, mockingly raising two fingers boy-scout style. It was her turn not to dignify his comments with an answer, prompting him to snort. "Keep doing that thing with your eyebrow, Dr. Weir," he raised his hand and wiggled his index finger in the direction of her forehead, "and I'm going to think that you are flirting with me." Lips quivering with held-back laughter, she raised and lowered her right eyebrow a few more times. "You are flirting with me!" he exclaimed.

Slowly, she turned away from him again and announced, "Or maybe I'm just messing with you…"

He laughed, sending puffs of vapor into the air again and almost absentmindedly pulled her forehead to his lips. She didn't even have the time to get self-conscious about it before his attention suddenly shifted. He seemed to be staring intently into the nothingness above the empty field again, muttering, "I think we're on…" and the next moment he had athletically hoisted his legs over the ledge of the rotunda and taken a few quick steps away from it. "Yeah," he whispered, turning his gaze to the dark skies and then she saw what it was they had been waiting for. First one, then another and suddenly a whole flurry of snowflakes came fluttering down slowly and elegantly.

John threw her a triumphant grin and then turned his face to the sky again, squinting at the approaching flakes. "Beautiful!" he exclaimed in a wistful sigh.

Yes, you are, she thought, looking at that lean taut body, strong stubbly jaw pointing skywards, overwhelmingly boyish smirk on his lips, long lashes fluttering above his half-closed eyes, and thinking that way about a man, her friend, her second-in-command, was more than slightly disconcerting to her. She had never considered herself a beautiful woman. She knew that she had some dominant features that quite possibly were – more than one man had said that about her eyes, for instance, but the overall package was more of a promise of an intellectual challenge to the opposite sex, appealed more to the instincts than the sense of beauty in them. She didn't remember ever considering a man beautiful before (she had met several she had considered quite handsome, though) and she knew that she had not always thought that about John either. And now that she did, she was not all that sure she wanted to find out what that meant for her. For them. It could have just been an aesthetical thing, but even she wasn't fool enough to think they'd get away that easy.

So instead, she contended, "Yes, it is," quietly, shifting in the blanket so that she could keep it together with one hand and reached the other out over the banister to catch a few flakes. He yanked his head to turn his gaze at her.

"You don't think so?" he prodded, tilting his head in suspicion.

"No, of course it is," her smile was quick and hesitant. To distract him she asked, "How did you know?"

"I heard a couple of the farmers speaking about there being a snowfall tonight. God knows how they knew, but they assured me that it was a dead certainty. Even gave me the approximate time." It seemed that her diversion had worked. Glancing up again, John continued, "I can't remember when I last saw this… It might be all snow and ice over at Antarctica, but there's surprisingly little turnover…"

Dragging her hand back under the blanket, Elizabeth supported both her elbows on the banister and turned to look towards the source of the snow as well. Except for their quiet breathing, there wasn't a sound around. "It's almost odd how peaceful this feels," she finally contended. "Usually, when something falls is this galaxy, it is time to shut the windows and crank up the shield…"

"Yeah," John chuckled in agreement. "But…"

"What?"

"You know what I think makes it so beautiful?" He turned to fix his gaze on her again and even in the dim light of the lantern she could see that there was an unfamiliar wistfulness to his eyes. She tilted her head, prompting him to answer his own question.

"The complete lack of order."

"You really are the most unlikely soldier, aren't you?" Elizabeth muttered. "Usually you guys are all about the order and the protocol… Besides," she scoffed, narrowing her eyes, "John, have you ever actually looked at a snowflake? It's the most incredible specimen of order out there – it's impeccable in its symmetry."

"I was talking about the snowfall. Look at this marvelous anarchy!" John reached out his arms, not letting himself be deterred. The snow was coming down heavier now, covering his hair and shoulders with white flakes and she could see what he meant, but didn't quite realize why it was affecting him so much. But he was ready and willing to explain. "I don't understand people who have an aversion to chaos; who want to organize everything into neat little clusters. Beating the odds is what makes life worth living."

"There is such a thing as calculated risk, John."

"Yes, of course. But sometimes you can calculate your ass off, measure all the pros and cons and then get crushed under a falling piano on your way to work," John made a whistling sound and dropped the fist of his right hand into his left palm. "And sometimes," he looked up at her with a goofy grin, "you support your butt on a piece of recliner-shaped rock and the next thing you know you're off to another galaxy."

It was all Elizabeth could do not to laugh out loud at his glee. "Yes, sometimes there's that," she just contended and the laughter lines made her eyes shine.

"Everything's possible, 'Lizabeth," he sighed, shaking snow out of his hair and the pointed look in his eyes almost made her believe it. Almost made her think that it might be a good thing. That sometimes a man lights up an old chair with his touch and suddenly everything is illuminated. That after all that they had been through, all the innocence they had lost during the last years, they were still here and they were still able to laugh and enjoy the things that were beautiful in life. And the dynamic was constantly changing between them, their relationship was still constantly in flux, but somehow, no matter where it turned, it only seemed to be getting… better, closer, more accepting…

She inhaled deeply through her nose, feeling the cold air singe her nose hairs. "I remember connecting so easily with people when I was young – a loaded look from across the room and suddenly you were soul mates," she mused, deliberately avoiding John's eyes in order to not get distracted. "These days it seems to be so much more of an effort to make room for other people in my life, to find something that is worth changing the accustomed status quo for. So when it does click… Well, it appears that I have forgotten how to react to something that overwhelming…"

From the corner of her eye she saw that John had frozen in place, staring at her. "Why are you telling me this?" he finally asked, tilting his head in a concentrated effort to understand. Now she looked at him and suddenly she wasn't quite sure why they hadn't been here before.

"I think I am in love with you." She didn't even know how she had expected John to react to a statement like that, but the complete lack of shock on his face, or even surprise, was not it. Instead, all that she could see was… hope?

"You think?" He frowned and took a step closer to her.

"It's a theory I have, yes." It wasn't the fact that all her cards were on the table that made her self-conscious, it was that he was so eager to follow her. She yanked her chin up defensively without even realizing it.

"And what would it take to get you from thinking to knowing?" Another step, and still that disconcerting calmness. No going back now, she had to see where he wanted to take this.

"Putting the theory to practice, I suppose..." These were the kind of words that made it easy to pretend that this wasn't the conversation they were having. She had committed herself enough and all he had done was smile and look pretty…

"So…," and this was the first time that a hint of bashfulness crept into John's performance, "what are you waiting for?"

"I'm just...," Elizabeth started, but then shook her head and supported her elbows firmly to the banister. There were several ways to play this, the negotiator in her knew without giving it much thought. She could keep pushing it, but that would just drive them both into a corner they would find it impossible to dig their way out of. This was serious, no doubt, but on the other hand – it wasn't real, now was it? No matter what she felt. No matter what she said she felt. "Well, I'm not convinced that the theory proving to be accurate would do me any favors…"

"What do you mean? Why?" The uncertain smile on John's lips indicated that he had noticed the change in her tone, but his own tone sent a clear and alarming message that, having made it this far, he wasn't about to let go this easily.

Her grin was borderline evil, "There are people who claim that you are somewhat promiscuous..."

"No," he deadpanned.

"No?"

John's gambler-smirk matched hers. "I'm pretty sure that the short, short list of people who, for some reason, would wish to express their opinion on this matter would call me slutty." He paused for effect. Elizabeth threw her head back and laughed out loud. "They'd be wrong," he continued, now looking almost angelically innocent. "But you don't have to take my word on this. I have irrefutable evidence."

"Such as?" she tilted her head and leaned a bit more forward.

"Well, consider this -- if I had you, why would I ever want to be with anyone else?"

"Wow," Elizabeth pushed herself up as if recoiling, "that was…"

John wrinkled his nose, clearly holding back laughter. "Bad," he nodded, showing an impressive array of white teeth glaring back in the lantern-light, "I know…" And in that fraction of motionless silence that ensued between them Elizabeth knew that, despite everything, despite her worry about the possible skewed perceptions and reactions and repercussions, what she had said had been the truth. And then time unfroze and John had taken the few steps separating them and hoisted himself up against the banister, his face now only a few inches from hers, eyes darting to her lips.

"I feel like I am 15," he whispered and smiled a lazy smile, glancing up at her eyes and then at her lips again, swallowing.

She smiled back, "What, eating snow?" but when his tongue darted out to quickly wet his lips, the grin froze on her face.

"No," he shook his head imperceptibly, eyes never leaving her mouth, "willing to dangle in air just to get to do this…" and he pulled himself up another inch, grabbing her lips between his and kissing her, quickly but deeply. When she opened her eyes (the ones she didn't remember closing) he had withdrawn again slightly and the vapor coming out of their mouths was exiting in shaky and uneven clouds.

Elizabeth pulled back, hugging the blanket closer to her body and narrowed her eyes, trying to gauge the meaning of what had just happened. "You are, of course, irresistible," she finally said, brow still furrowed, "what with your hero complex and your obvious commitment issues and that perpetually tousled mane," and, as if to illustrate, but maybe quite unconsciously, a hand snaked out from under the blanket to touch a lock of hair hanging above his forehead, "but I am a bit too old, not to mention there's too much at stake for me to cry over being dumped by the prom king and I can't, for the life of me, figure out what would be the price of keeping you."

"Really?" he raised a playful eyebrow, but couldn't really hide the rigid alertness building up in him. "I would have thought that my being shot at, stabbed, stung, bitten and poisoned on a daily basis would have been more of a factor in your reasoning…"

"You really know how to sweet-talk a girl, don't you?" she commented and somewhere in the back of her mind wondered how something that sweet could turn this bitter in an instant. John simply shook his head.

"You started it, remember…," he mumbled under his breath and heaved himself up over the banister to stand next to her again. "Being serious now," he went on, rapping the snow off his shoulders and hair, avoiding her eyes, "I hope that you are not really questioning my integrity. I would like to think that you know me better than that by now," and suddenly she could feel his eyes burrowing into her, the intensity of his stare almost burning. "If anything, I would think that I have proven myself to be faithful…"

This is not fair, she thought. It's not fair to either of us. It wasn't fair to John that they didn't have the time or the space to find these things out about each other properly and in due course, that she was making these kinds of judgments about him based on evidence that was circumstantial and downright irrelevant. It wasn't fair to her that even though they were so close, even though they knew each other so well, knew how they would react in difficult situations, how far they were willing to go for the people they cared for, knew how they took their coffee, she still didn't know him enough to be sure about these kinds of things and she wouldn't, couldn't unless she took the risk she might not afford to take.

"Of course I don't question your integrity, John," she reached out her hand again to touch his arm, "but you're also only human and it doesn't mean that you're not…"

"So, what are you saying?" It looked like he was going to shake her hand away, but in the end he didn't, covering it with his own palm instead. "That you don't have time for humans? That you won't have me because I'm not perfect?"

"No, John, I'm…," she wanted to recoil, but John's hand on hers was keeping her firmly in place. He wouldn't let go, of her, of the argument, the subject matter. And at the same time he wasn't giving her anything, not even any boundaries, leaving her to flail around and try to determine how much she could afford to concede.

"I'm just trying to figure out how we got here," he quietly mused and laced his fingers through hers, bringing her hand up and softly rubbing it against his stubble. "For some reason you have decided to doubt me, but believe me when I tell you this -- I have no commitment issues." At that he let her hand drop and suddenly the bitterness was gone as well.

"Then what?" The change of tone and pace was confusing.

Now he was actually smiling. "I've just been biting my time."

"Until?"

"You know what."

And she had actually thought that he was finally starting to come along… "Humor me."

"Until the woman I am committed to is ready for me."

The simplicity of that statement was overwhelming. So were the implications. That all this, the denial and postponing and holding back, that it wasn't about him at all. That it was about her and her shortcomings. It would be easy to argue and dismiss, to accuse him of blaming her for the distractions he found, but then again – was that really what had kept her from pursuing a relationship with him? Was staying at home pining for her really what she had expected from him? Had she ever wanted him to be different from what he was? Had she ever loved him thinking that he was someone else?

"Then why...?" The time they had been in each others' lives was suddenly a merry-go-round in her head. Which event had followed which? What feeling had been first and who had been feeling it? Had she waited for him to change? For the universe? For herself?

John's expression was a question mark.

"Why haven't you pushed me?" she asked, suspicion and confusion clouding her tone. "Why haven't you said anything?"

"Because I know you," he shrugged.

Given her uncertainty about him, the claim seemed downright arrogant. Her chin shot up in defiance, "You mean, you know women like me."

"No, I have definitely never met anyone like you before," his smile was completely unjustly affectionate. "But I do know you."

"What do you mean you've never met anyone like me?" It could have been a compliment, admittedly quite a romantic one, the kind of compliment she'd actually imagined John would make, but something in his demeanor told her that there was more to it. John raised his hand and combed his fingers through his hair.

"That's exactly what I mean, Elizabeth." There was something a bit tired and sad about the way he said it. "I have never met anyone who is so determined to know and understand every little thing around her, mainly so that she could put them in these neat little clusters in her head. I have never met anyone who is so damn appropriate all the time, it's as if you have already pre-weighed every decision you make, counted and evaluated and balanced them out."

"You make me sound cold and calculating, John…," she muttered, eyes wide with something resembling horror.

"And yet," John sighed and leaned in to press a quick kiss to her forehead, "you're not. I witness the way guilt and responsibility sometimes weigh you down, I know how much you hate even the idea of sacrificing anybody to the so-called greater good, I see how you hide your heartache, but I only see it because I am watching… I have never met anyone as complicated as you, as rounded," he paused for a moment, shrugging helplessly, "as alive…"

Elizabeth wanted to say something to that, for some reason she wanted to thank him, but found herself speechless. Only a moment ago she hadn't known. She hadn't known how important it was to her that somebody was watching, that somebody did see how her different goals and ideals and principles were tearing her apart after the storms had quieted down; after the decisions were made; after the dead were buried. How important it was that there was someone out there who could reassure the world and herself that she was more than this, more than a leader, a judge, a calculator – that she was human. Maybe this was the reason she loved him. Maybe this was what made him beautiful.

"So," John continued, "why haven't I pushed you? Why would I want to force you into something that you don't want or are not ready for? If I pushed you into a relationship, blackmailed or seduced you into it, I would just end up being another one of those things for you to feel guilty about and why would I want that? What kind of a man would I be if I was willing to do that to you?" With every question he seemed to gain purpose and certainty, it seemed to be building up in him, and when it finally surfaced, it did so with hard determination. "I want you to come to me. I want you to do that because that is what you want and not because it's what I want. I want to be the center of your universe, the start and end of everything. And I know that's a lot, but I also know that it's not impossible. You know that woman I am committed to? That's what she is to me."

Elizabeth breathed out a big misty cloud, trying to reign in all the bouncing thoughts and feelings that John's words had brought up. All these centuries of slow and hard-fought emancipation, she mused, and still, the thing that makes you feel more than a human, the thing that makes you feel like a woman, is when a man gets all possessive and domineering on you… And that was by far not the only thing that was unfair about all this…

"So, what?" she charged. "Until I just crack under your natural charm and charisma, you sit around and do nothing? Oh, wait, not nothing, you use that time to traipse around and help yourself to the smorgasbord that is the Pegasus galaxy…"

John snorted, "I can't believe that you just used the word smorgasbord. Or traipse, for that matter…"

"I can't believe that you pick this moment to become word-police," her leer was enough to melt the snow in the immediate vicinity. But John just raised his eyebrows as if to ask her if that was really the road she wanted to take and, along with a healthy dose of oxygen, she could feel sensibility charging back into her brain. "I know," she sighed. "That's not what this is about, anyway."

"Elizabeth, I wanted to punch that smooth grin right off Janvin's face tonight," John conceded. "The world out there," he made a sweeping gesture towards the stars that had started to peek through the clouds, "it's not irrelevant…"

"It's not," she looked at him and shrugged, "but in the end, it doesn't matter as much as the roles we carry…"

"You know, I've given that theory of yours quite a lot of thought lately," he turned, folded his arms and leaned against the banister, "and… You're wrong."

She heaved a sigh. "Come on, John. We've been here already…" He seemed ready to launch a protest, but then changed his mind, taking a long glance over his shoulder to give himself the time to get it right.

"Look," he turned to her again, concentration dragging his brow into a deep furrow, "I know that you think that you can't afford these feelings for me, to be with me, but I think you can't afford not to be... None of us can afford to waste things like this."

All this time that she had spent assuring herself that it didn't make any difference that there wasn't an outlet for how she felt about him, that even if she could have had him, he wouldn't be able to give her what she needed in return… That he already filled so many roles in her life that it would have been extremely ungrateful of her to expect him to take up another one… Damn him, if he actually did turn out to be even more than what she had fallen in love with…

"'These feelings'... See, you can't even say the word, John." There wasn't much fight left in her. She was starting to lose sight of her reason for fighting.

"Love me, Elizabeth." And it was as much a plea as it was a clarification.

Yes, damn him, she thought, and me alongside it. "I think we've already established that I do, but…"She willed herself not to flinch away from his gaze. "I hope you realize that love is all I might be able to give you," her voice was quiet, but steady. "I can't even promise you the future…"

"God…, you must be kidding," John pinched the bridge of his nose and suddenly it was as if all the air went out of him, making him collapse on the narrow bench circling the rotunda alongside the banister. "Love is all…?"

Reaching out, he placed his palms on her hips, tugging her to stand in front of him, between his knees. For a few moments they seemed frozen in the silence again, his forehead leaning against her stomach. Then he moved, brushing aside the blanket, yanking her jacket and sweater up slightly. He pressed his lips against her skin, just under her navel and above the waistline of her pants. And the consecutive conflicting sensations of the cold air and his burning hot breath on the soft sensitive skin were enough to make the universe disappear.

With a sharp intake of breath, her head fell back slightly and, completely on instinct, she wound her fingers into his hair, inadvertently fixing him in place. At the sudden movement, the blanket tumbled from her shoulders, gathering into a heap on the ground behind her. Moving his head slightly John raked her clothing back in place with his stubble and then wrapped his hand around her knees, leaning his chin against her and looking up until she recovered and caught his eye.

"Everything is possible," he whispered and then winked at her. Reaching down, he caught hold of the discarded blanket and heaved himself up. He took a step to stand behind her and then, in one swift move threw the blanket around his own shoulders and wrapped his arms around Elizabeth, thus ensconcing them both in a pocket of warmth. Inside it, she wove her arms in between his and laid her head on his shoulder. Some silent rhythm gently swayed their connected bodies. This was truce, coming to terms with what had been won and what had been absconded. But how do you fill the silence? And how do you say the words?

"I can keep it under control most of the time," John's lips moved in her hair above her left ear when he finally spoke, "but then there are those days when everything is just going to hell and I lay there at night, unable to sleep and this longing for you is just ripping my heart out. And I get so god damn jealous of those people who get to be next to you at that moment. Or even in the same room, the same planet." She could feel his lips curve into a small smile against her skin, but his tone was a bottomless blue. "And then I get even more jealous, of all the guys in your life who have gotten to hold you, to kiss you, even to touch you. Of all the guys to whom you've given even a glimmer of hope..."

She thought about those nights when the universe had dropped its weight on her, seemed to have single-handedly designated her the last line of defense between tomorrow and certain doom and yet, when she closed her eyes, all she could see was his face, his hands, his body, lean and strong and now she could only wonder when this bond between them had become so strong that every movement they didn't make together hurt like that. She couldn't disbelieve him, every word of what he had described had been so vividly familiar. And yet…

"Then why would you…?" she shifted in his arms, turning slightly so that she could see his face from the corner of her eye.

"That's what I keep telling you," John chortled, "I wouldn't. Not like that." She waited for him to continue, counting his heartbeats. "As you pointed out, I am fatally human, so sometimes I gave up, mostly on myself. Sometimes I thought that I'd never deserve the things that I wanted. Sometimes I thought that you'd given up on me." It all seemed to come out in a quick succession. "But then time passed and we were still there. And now we're here... The fact of you keeps me focused." He paused again, rubbing his stubble against the side of her forehead. "I'm just waiting for you to realize that…"

"What?"

"That we complete each other. That I am not some kind of a compromise, a concession you have to make..."

Now she made a full turn in his arms to face him. To keep the balance inside their cocoon, she wrapped her arms around his waist, and that kind of entwining was enough to confuse even herself when she'd actually wanted to be contrite. If they really embarked on this, he had to learn to see both sides of the story. "Well, neither am I. If you feel like you're giving up something, anything, to do this, it will never work and between us we are bound to find a way to sink Atlantis along with our relationship." His lips were too close and too distracting for her to even to attempt to put up any kind of a leer.

"Look, I love you because I know you, not because I am blinded by some kind of an infatuation." He grazed the tip of her nose with his lips. "I know that this will not be the last time that you will doubt me or your decision to be with me and, strangely enough, that is part of why I love you." And she wondered if she was now destined to helplessly forgive all his cocky grins. "And you have to admit that as bases go, that one is pretty solid."

With a resigned sigh, she touched her forehead against his chest to give herself one last moment of respite. "You're going to regret that comment you made about beating the odds…," she retorted when she looked back up and faced the rollercoaster ride she had just undertaken. It had calm green eyes and its beauty took her breath away.

"No, I won't," he replied confidently and leaned down to finally properly kiss her.

The lantern flickered in a gust of breeze. It had started to snow again.