John comes to with his head throbbing and a stiff pain in his right leg. He groans, after a moment of dealing with the pain, he recovers enough to try and make out his surroundings. He's in a large cave of some type – it's big, dark, and as disconcerting as a cave should be, but on one side John can see he's also imprisoned by cage doors. Son of a bitch. He groans, head falling back to the rough mattress. There's light at the end of two different tunnels, but he can't explore yet. His vision fades in and out.

A figure comes to loom over his prone body. Long hair, slender hands, and a voice – feminine, familiar. "John?"

His vision blurs, hazy around the edges until it clears like a camera coming into focus. Then for the next moment, he can't breathe. He can't think. He can't focus on anything except the unexpected sight in front of him. It's so jarring and unforeseen that he entertains a list of possibilities. He's dead and this is heaven. No, check that. Hell. Or he's hallucinating? Maybe he's just dreaming or on some really trippy drugs?

Anything and everything excluding the sickening thought that this is real.

Elizabeth stands over him, her face streaked with dirt. "Lie back down, John. You need to rest."

Elizabeth is here, in Iraq, in whatever hellish situation John has landed himself in. The world tilts on its axis, his head swimming, and he murmurs protests as he blacks out again.


The next time he awakens, he can hear guards outside the cage – speaking English, instead of the expected Arabic or Kurdish. Their voices drift in one ear and out the other, and John struggles to formulate thoughts. The helicopter, the explosion, the cave – all of it is familiar but his head is thrashed and he can't focus. It feels like someone stuck a cattle prod up his nose and scrambled his brains.

But this is important. He needs to clear his head.

"Elizabeth?" he calls. He lets his confusion show. "What the hell are you doing here?"

She's at his side in an instant, helping him to sit up and the maneuver sends vertigo into effect. He collapses back onto the mattress, groaning. His head is bandaged up, but it's a shitty job and he highly doubts the Iraqis are going to waste anymore medical supplies on him.

She holds up a hand. "How many fingers am I holding up, John?"

He focuses, but his vision is so blurry that he can't determine whether there are two or three. Fuck. Concussion for sure. The grenade did a number on him, and for a moment he lets his worry wander to his men, hoping their fate was better than his.

He groans. "Elizabeth," he bites out, almost savagely. "What are you doing in Iraq?"

"Iraq?" she questions, face falling.

He knows his tone is overly callous, but he can't do nice. He can't do calm and rational when she's out here in the middle of a fucking war with no explanation. A vicious anger runs through him, all consuming and directionless, and he wishes he were here alone. It wouldn't matter as much if he were in this godforsaken mess alone.

"John, stay awake," she instructs, and John realizes his eyes are drooping shut. "I need you to focus."

"Elizabeth," John murmurs, words slurring again. "What's going on?"

"Oberoth used his special brand of interrogation on you, and for an extended time, too. The effects are harsh, but they'll pass. Atlantis will send help soon."

"What?"

Elizabeth lifts a brow, but he loses consciousness before she can answer. When he wakes again, water is splashing on his face and he discovers Elizabeth washing him under a thick stream of water that runs along one side of the cavern walls. They're alone for now; no guards to speak of. John notices his shirt is off, and Elizabeth runs palms full of water over his head and chest. He sputters, eyes unfocused.

They're in a different portion of the cave, but he realizes the gated bars are in the distance. The water pools into a small pond at the base, and underneath he can see a drain. There are waste facilities towards the end of the room, and another two tunnels leading to other corridors. The cavern is apparently huge, like a series of rooms interconnected. He knew about these places in Afghanistan, not in Iraq.

"Did they hurt you?" he asks.

She shakes her head. "They're not interested in me."

Memories trickle in – John gets a flash of some shimmering blue water, not like this stream but something else. Screaming. Gunshots. The images are chaotic, and he nearly chokes on the water that trickles down his throat.

"Shh," she sooths. "Just a little bit more. I want to get the blood off."

It was too dark to notice before, but his fingers catch on her forearm and he realizes she's wearing a leather outfit. Full black, from head to toe, the type that could feed his fantasies for months.

He's suddenly back to thinking he's hallucinating again.

"What's going on?"

"How much do you remember?" she replies.

"Clearly not enough. Where are we?"

"P3X-35S," Elizabeth rattles off, like that's supposed to mean anything to him.

"What?"

"Oberoth is using this planet as a prison."

"Planet?" he questions with a slanted look. "I know you're speaking English, but I swear to God I don't understand a single word coming out of your mouth."

She looks stricken. He knows he's a little out of it. Okay, he's a lot out of it. But he's also fairly sure that Elizabeth isn't making sense. And what was that she had said earlier?Atlantis. The name triggers more vague impressions, flashes of images, and John feels overwhelmed.

"What do you remember, John?"

Licking his lips, he can only answer, irately, "Iraq."

She stills, staring at him, face pale and exhausted. He takes in other details: her hair is longer than he expects, curling in soft waves past her shoulders and she looks different – he can't pinpoint how. His headache is returning with full force, and he looks away. Elizabeth watches him, and after a moment, her fingers brush his temple.

"Here," she says, "I can help."

Before he can ask how, there's this wave of sensation that takes over his body - a burst of warmth and peace and calm. Elizabeth pulls her hand away only after a second, but John suddenly feels a million times better.

Her voice is soft. "What year is it, John?"

Nervously, he answers, "2003. Why? What year is it for you?"

Her eyes fall shut before she answers. "2009."


It takes him a while to lay the story out, and even then he stops halfway through because Elizabeth grows stiller by the second. She tells him a tale of her own in return. Alien worlds. Ancient cities. Intergalactic exploration. She was his boss, apparently, and John nearly chokes on laughter but the situation isn't so amusing.

It takes him a while to realize it, but... but there's familiarity in her tale. His dreams – those same ones that have been haunting him for months. When he groans again, she gently pulls his head into her lap, and tells him more details – a story that should make no sense, but there's that goddamn familiarity to it. Atlantis, the Lost City. There's so much in those four words, his body practically shudders with the onslaught of distorted memories. They vie for control over his other ones.

But he knows who he is, right?

Lt. Colonel John Sheppard. He knows who she is too – Dr. Elizabeth Weir, UN diplomat and definitely not his boss. He's fairly sure the type of thoughts he thinks about her would be breaking a dozen different professional boundaries, especially in that outfit. But one look at Elizabeth's face, and he can't bring himself to voice those disparities.

She doesn't touch him like a boss, though. Her fingers are soft and gentle as she caresses his forehead, lulling him to sleep.

Boss. His boss. He keeps focusing on that.

"Y'know, I'm pretty sure this goes against sexual harassment policies in the workplace."

"Only if you don't like it," she teases.

His body is freezing cold, gladly seeking the warmth of her proximity. He's growing sturdier on his feet, but he still has a long way to go. Elizabeth assures him the affects will pass.

"I don't understand," he says again. "How do I know you so well?"

"We've known each other for nearly six years, John," she answers, pausing. "More or less."

He doesn't accept that as a full answer. "More or less?"

She squirms a little. "I was your boss once upon a time. It's a little complicated now."

"Complicated? Gee, I would never have guessed."

"If I tell you, I think it'll just confuse you more than necessary. I lived through it and I barely understand it."

"Try me. I'm a smart guy. Could have been Mensa."

The easy joke triggers a new memory, but it flutters away before John can catch hold.

She sighs. "Just rest, John. Your memories will come back on their own."


They do.

After a while, he kind of wishes they hadn't. He's starting to remember more and more about the last six years in Atlantis, but he isn't forgetting that other lifetime either. It may have been another one of Oberoth's mindfucks, but it felt so real. It feels so real. He can still remember what Elizabeth's lips taste like, and he's never kissed her before, not for real, not outside one alien possessed incident.

He focuses his attention on less wayward thoughts.

"You know, I've seen you die," he says, feeling her stiffen beside him. "A couple of times."

"That wasn't me," she explains. "I'm the real me."

"I've heard that one, too."

She turns to him, watching him intently for a moment. He doesn't know what she sees in him, but John can't tether his feelings. Confusion wars inside him; two separate sets of memories both revolve heavily around this woman, and he can't yet sort them out fully.

"I didn't want this for you," Elizabeth confesses. "I stayed away because I knew you'd been through this with me – the other versions of me. I didn't want you to go through this again."

He can't speak because his throat is closed off, and it's just so fucking typical that Elizabeth would think only of other people.

"But then I heard you'd been captured by Oberoth," Elizabeth continues. "I came looking and I..." she shakes her head a little, scoffing, "it isn't going the way I planned."

"You think?" he offers, trying to inject some humor.

It comes off lamely, but Elizabeth still rewards him with a small smile. "Oberoth wants intel, but I can't figure out what type if he's interrogating you about the Middle East. What else did you see?"

He wants to say, you. He isn't dense. The fact that his subconscious planted Elizabeth as his girlfriend in an imaginary past says more than John can ever deny. And he's gotten really good over the years at denial, especially when it comes to Elizabeth. He winces and turns away, remembering all the years of pent-up feelings he's had for this woman. Three years of longing, three years of grieving, and now here he is again, sitting next to her feeling like a schoolboy with a secret crush.

"Nothing, really," he eventually says, "I think Oberoth may just want to know about our war tactics on Earth. Iraq says a lot about our defenses. Our strengths and weaknesses."

She nods like that makes sense, but he can tell she's distracted by the scrutiny he's giving her. He snaps his gaze away, suddenly uncomfortable, and tries not to focus on memories that aren't real – have no right to feel real. She was never his, not even close.

Fuck. He's still in love with her.

He covers the abrupt thought with a cough, then a lighthearted tone. "So, uh, you got any cards? I think the wait is going to be a while."


It starts off awkward, but then there's nothing to do but talk, and soon they're swapping stories, sitting side-by-side against the wall. The atmosphere shifts after a while, into something less sober and more open. It's surprises him, but then talking to Elizabeth was always easy. Even in his fake world, that was his one constant.

"... and then after that," Elizabeth continues, smiling a little, "I was in a small village in this jungle planet on the outer edge of the galaxy. They were good people. Took me in as one of their own. I even have a goddaughter out there, a little girl named Elneh. She's the cutest thing you've ever seen."

"Teyla had a baby," he offers, unsure if she knows this bit. Her resulting look of surprise tells him she didn't. "Yep. Oh, and Rodney is dating Keller. Even Ronon's hooking up with someone."

"Wow," Elizabeth surmises, eyebrow lifted. "I don't know which part is more surprising."

"Keller actually likes Rodney," John replies because, clearly, that's the most insane point. "No accounting for taste, I suppose."

She playfully bumps shoulders with him, and John ducks his head and covers a smile. "Is everyone happy?" she asks.

He thinks of his team: how Teyla is with Kanaan and her kid; how Ronon is with Amelia; Rodney with Keller. They've all moved on and found someone, sliced out a piece of heaven for themselves. And then there was John Sheppard, and he can't help but notice that the pattern breaks. He sobers at the thought.

"Yeah," he answers. "They're happy."

He leaves himself out of the statement, and it isn't until a second later that he realizes he shouldn't have, because Elizabeth has always been able to pick up on his tells. She once told him – the fake Elizabeth, the one only in his head – that she could wipe him clean in poker, if they ever played. He doesn't doubt it, even if the memory of that particular conversation turned out to be all his imagination.

Christ. He closes his eyes. This is a head-trip.

They stay silent for a little while, and then Elizabeth sighs. The sound draws his scrutiny, and he gestures a little to her face, then wipes a smudge off her cheek. "You have... dirt. There's dirt on your face. You should wash it off."

She nods. "I-I will. I can do it later."

"The water's cold enough. You shouldn't wait until nightfall in this place; it'll just get colder."

She nods, then after a moment, looks away. "I sent Atlantis a distress signal before I came after you," she says, breaking the awkward small-talk. "They'll come looking for you, John."

He knows they will. That actually isn't what he's worried about.


He doesn't mean to fall asleep again, but at some point he must have because the sound of a noise wakes him up. Elizabeth is nowhere to be seen, and a guard is standing on the other side of the cage, dressed in pristine white clothes and as expressionless as any other Asurian he's ever seen. Panic rises, because Elizabeth hasn't left his side since he awoke, and for a beat John fears the guard has done something with her.

Instead, the guard merely deposits a tray of food inside John's cozy little cave, and starts to turn back.

"What?" John hollers, goading. "Don't get two plates?"

The Asurian tilts his head, curious and expressionless all at the same time, then leaves. A moment after the guard is gone, John can hear Elizabeth moving in one of the back room in the cavern, and his stomach unclenches.

John retrieves the tray. It's alien fruit of some kind, and he figures Oberoth has better ways to kill and torture because poison seems too dull. John's hungry enough to risk it. After experimentally poking a few of them, he takes a hesitant bite into a blue apple-like thing and mint, juicy water gushes into his mouth. He hums in approval and grabs the tray, intent on saving a piece or two for Elizabeth.

Then he remembers that he hasn't really seen her eat or sleep since he awoke, and he doesn't even know if she needs to. The Fran version of her, he remembers vividly, didn't need to. He tucks the thought away, because he doesn't want that line of questioning to turn distracting.

Chewing on the fruit, he hears Elizabeth in the room with the rushing water. He sets the fruit and tray down, because he doesn't want to take the food inside what they use as their washroom facilities. When he turns the corner and walks in, he stops short at the sight that greets him.

Elizabeth is standing under the water, half-dressed with only a modest white bra and underwear. The material clings to her body, nearly see-through because she's thoroughly drenched. The sight sends a kick of lust surging through his body. She half-turns, catching sight of him, and he's frozen, just staring, watching rivets of water drip down from her damp hair to fall onto pale skin.

The moment freezes, and John thinks that she might be the most beautiful fucking thing he's ever seen. He knows it shows on his face.

"Hey," he manages, licking his lips.

Her face flushes and her eyes dart away for a second. "Hey."

His legs slowly start moving before his head gives the command. Elizabeth visibly sucks in a shaky breath, but she doesn't budge, doesn't blink, doesn't break eye-contact as he approaches her. The stream of water rushes in the back, but suddenly the only thing John can hear is the thudding of his own heart, beating so fast he feels like it's going to burst through his chest.

He feels terrified and hesitant and, contradictorily, confident too. The feeling is unnerving because attraction has never meant this much to John before. He's never in his life been so anxious about making the first move, but he does, almost without thinking, reaching out to brush a wet curl of hair away from her eyes.

"John," she warns, because there's no denying what this is, and that's usually all they do.

His hand falls down, tracing a finger along the wet strap of her bra before hooking a finger underneath it. He realizes that she's staring at him, lips parted and pink and, suddenly, he knows from the dark hint in her green eyes that she wants this as much as he does. The silent realization snaps something inside John, and goads him into stepping forward.

He threads both hands through damp hair and tugs his lips forward to hers. She responds immediately, instantly, like she's been holding back as much as he has. Her hands come to rest against his chest, and her mouth opens under his, tongues toying, the kiss insistent and hard. He forgets about the waterfall stream behind her, and half his clothes get drenched from standing there, body aligned perfectly with her half-naked one, sharing his first real kiss with Elizabeth.

She moans against his lips, and that sound leads to the second and third kisses.

It's a little ridiculous that they've making out without a conversation to prelude it, but then again he figures they've done enough talking to last a lifetime – several, if you want to get technical. But he doesn't want to talk. He doesn't want to think. Elizabeth's skin is wet and flawless under his hands, and he thinks about taking the weight of her breasts into his mouth one at a time, tongue flickering over the nub of her nipples until she's gasping. He thinks about pushing into her body, thrusting over and over again, and his body burns with the imagery.

He feels a little delirious, losing time as he guides her back to one of the other spare rooms with a cot in it. They refuse to separate, so the distance is covered with fumbling and awkward movements but he doesn't care. He sheds her bra along the way, dizzy at the sight of her naked flesh, then lays her down, muscles jumping as he strips himself of the wet black tee before resuming his eager exploration of her body with his mouth. He's pictured this before, even lived through something like this in that imaginary little world, but this is different. This is vivid; he can taste the crisp ice-cold water on her skin, watching her stomach jump when he sucks the beads off her belly.

Her fingers bury lazily through his hair as he shifts lower on her body, his unshaven face rasping her skin into redness while his lips explore, tongue roaming and teeth biting. He slides her panties down and loses it somewhere near her feet, and she's breathing hard, her hips moving restlessly as he teases her with kisses and barely-there touches. When he holds her open with his thumbs, he can feel her breath catch, then let go in a long unsteady release.

He looks up, eyes locked with each other for a moment, and he wants this to be so good for her. She nods, licking her lips in anticipation, and John grins wolfishly.

The first lap of his tongue drags a sob from her throat, and she cries out his name as he continues to eat her out eagerly, quick swirls and twists of his tongue forcing Elizabeth into broken, little noises. He works the nub of nerves with the flat of his tongue, then clamps his mouth down and sucks hard enough to have Elizabeth screaming out, hips lifting off the mattress.

She writhes in desperation and he pins her waist down to the mattress, listening to her breathing shakily and cursing loud enough, so much better than any fantasy has ever been. She comes with a gush of wetness and, fuck, she makes this strangled little noise that puts all others to shame.

"God," she mutters afterwards, breathless, body limp.

With a self-satisfied curl of his lips, he kisses his way back up. "I don't even..." he groans, reaching to brush the side of her neck. "I just want..."

He just wants to touch her, so badly. So he does, leveling himself over her as she pushes his pants and boxers off the swell of his hips. She doesn't even get the material fully free of his body, but he can't wait anymore and pushes against her, not inside but against, and John chokes off a moan.

"Elizabeth?" he says.

In the back of his head, he worries distantly about protection. He doubts she's on birth control and there's no condom handy, but he thinks if she asks him to stop now, he mightscream. He isn't sure if pregnancy is even an issue given Elizabeth's half-nanite condition, but the sudden thought of little Johns or little Elizabeths isn't the worst thing he can think of. Not doing this – that's pretty much his definition of the worst thing ever right now.

He sees her throat work for an answer, but after a beat she merely swallows and wraps her legs around his waist, drawing him towards her. He pushes in, slides in warm and thick and heavy, and John groans or Elizabeth does. It doesn't matter because he's inside her and for a moment he silently bitches to himself that it took them six fucking years to reach this point.

But then Elizabeth reaches up to toy with his earlobe between his teeth, and he bucks into her hard, suddenly thoughtless. His hips rocking slowly and her legs tightening on either side of him, and he rests his forehead against her shoulder, hands balled up into fists beside her head as he struggles to establish a slow rhythm.

His dog tags land with small clinks against her collarbone with each push, and he's dragging in air like he can't breathe, can't think. Her fingers dig into his back, sharp pressure points that mark his body, and when he lifts his head to look, her eyes are squeezed shut in ecstasy. Her hips rise, rotate and grind against his hardness and he pushes back against her, in and out, in and out.

Unnatural white light suddenly builds, and his eyes slam shut, pushing in as her muscles spasm around him, clenching, tightening, and fuck, she's so wet. He barely notices the inexplicable rise of energy in the air, cackling like lightning. He feels in that moment that every bit of him is a part of her, and vice-versa, and he's so lost to the thick of it that he barely even notices the overwhelming, singular possessive feeling of it. The swell of lust builds and builds until he feels her coming against him, muscles trembling and a low throaty moan escaping her lips. He groans, thrusting into her a few more times before he comes in a haze of white light, body stiffening before release rips through him like something possessed.

He collapses on top of her, breathing heavy and tapering off, but when he makes like he's going to move, she wraps her arm around his broad shoulders and whispers for him to stay. He doesn't fear crushing her, not with the strength hidden in her body, so he relaxes, muscles loosening, breathing in the scent of her skin. Then he remembers the unnatural light and energy.

The memory causes him to stiffen, and he thinks over everything that's just happened between them. He compares it with the knowledge he feels like he's just gained of Elizabeth, having somehow unraveled a tapestry of emotions and years of memories from her. They're as tangible as Elizabeth's body under him, and an epiphany settles in; this is like something he's only ever experienced once before in his life – with Chaya, as she shared her being with him.

Her legs slide up and down his thigh, and he thinks – no, scratch that. He knows, because he's always known... this isn't right.

This is too right.

He lifts his head, then whispers knowingly, "You're not really here, are you? You're not really real?"

She smiles, sadly, and it looks like she might cry. "I'm real to you. That has to count for something, right?"


"I ascended a year ago," Elizabeth explains when they're dressed again and the tray of fruit rests forgotten in the corner of the room. "I've been watching over you and Atlantis ever since then."

He closes his eyes and nods, because he's not surprised by that. He's not surprised by any of this, really. Instead, he feels numb and cold, scrubbing a hand through his hair because even when he makes love to Elizabeth, it isn't real.

He fucking hates his life.

"I'm sorry," she says. "I didn't mean for any of this to happen. The other Asurians don't know I'm here. I'm only something you see and feel. I was pretending to be real so my presence wouldn't be so jarring to you. I knew you'd need company, somebody to anchor you while Oberoth tried to gain access to your memories."

He whips his head up. "Was that you? In Iraq? On Earth?"

She shakes her head. "That was all you. I wasn't here until you woke up."

He drops his gaze, and he doesn't know what to do with his hands. Despite knowing this, guessing at it earlier for reasons he doubts he can even understand, he still feels... thrown that it's come to this. That the only piece of Elizabeth he'll ever have is something as intangible as hallucinations and dreams.

"I'm here," she says, practically reading his mind. Although maybe she is? "I'm real, just not... not in the normal sense."

"I can touch you," he says, like that needs to be pointed out after what they just did. "How can I touch you when—"

"It's in your head," she says. "You see me, feel me, because I want you to. Dirt rubs off on me, and I can feel the wind. I'm real because you think I am."

"That doesn't make any sense." He squeezes his eyes shut again. "So this is as real is as what Oberoth did to me?"

She flinches. "No. No. Nothing about this is fake."

He scoffs, irritated, and turns away with his breath choked and heavy. He wants to scream, to rip things apart with his bare hands, and it takes him a second to realize it – he doesn't get why it takes that long, considering how familiar he is with the sensation. But this is grief. Angry, brutal grief. A man can only lose the woman he loves so many times before it just turns cruel.

"Why are you here?" he snaps harshly. "Why do this to me again?"

Her eyes are watery. "I didn't know what was going to happen. I just wanted to keep you company. Keep you grounded until your team arrives. They'll be here by the end of the day. I've been keeping Oberoth busy with his attention elsewhere, otherwise he'd be interrogating you right now."

He whirls away, because that's good news and he should be happy, but he can't focus on anything else. Oberoth's little fantasy world left him feeling confused, but this? This makes John just feel torn apart. Why didn't he question Elizabeth's presence? Why did he fail to suspect her for even a second as being anything other than what she claimed?

He knows better than that.

Maybe he just let himself believe the lie?

"John, I'm sorry."

He laughs because he can't help it, because if he doesn't, he might really lose it. "So the leather was an added bonus, right? How'd you know I'd get a kick out of that?"

He isn't looking at her, but he hears a noise, like a rustle of clothing, and when he turns back, she's dressed in a simple red shirt and regular black pants.

"Is this better?" she asks.

The sight slams into him like a mack truck and suddenly he can't breathe. This is Elizabeth. This is how he wants to remember her, happy and fully human, like she was during those first three years.

"Jesus Christ," he exhales, a little choked, and swipes angrily at the water escaping the corner of his eye. "Change! Change! Into anything else, just not that!"

Elizabeth stands, but he backs away and doesn't let her get close until she's in leather again. "I didn't... I'm sorry," she breathes, wringing her hands together. "I didn't know it was going to be like this."

"Elizabeth, for somebody so smart, you can be really fucking dense sometimes. How did you expect this to play out?"

"I didn't know we'd sleep together."

"The only surprising thing about that is that we didn't do it before," he snaps. "You knew. You must have known how I felt about you."

Her eyes fall away to the ground. "I... I had suspicions, but I never—"

"You knew!" he accuses, because he's angry and upset and they might as well have another gut-wrenching talk while they're at it. "You always knew how I felt about you. Don't deny it."

She shakes her head. "I only knew what I felt. I only knew that I loved you. I never—" she snaps her mouth shut, mortified at what she let slip, and John is left standing there in the wake of her accidental declaration. She loved him. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause you more pain. I'll leave. I'll go—"

"No!" he stops her, then takes a breath, calming himself. He might be angry with her, but he still isn't willing to let her go either. That's his main problem, though, right? "You don't..." he continues, steadier. "You don't have to... I never said..."

She steps forward. "Do you want me to stay?"

Wordlessly, he just nods.


Two hours later, he watches Elizabeth from across the room. She hooks her arms around her drawn up legs, and rests her chin on her knees. The look makes her seem so innocent, so small and youthful. He can't seem to stay angry with her when she looks like that, and he's not even sure she deserves any anger. It's just... he's never been able to move on from Elizabeth. Never leave a man behind, the saying goes, and he's been forced to leave her behind over and over and over again.

"Are you happy?" he suddenly asks her, out of the blue. "I mean, being Ascended?"

She looks surprised at the question, then gives it due consideration. "Yes," she answers eventually. "I get to do things that I don't think I can even describe. The knowledge out there, John, it's... it's so beautiful. I've seen a star explode and new life created, and I know what it feels like to stand in the gale of a storm and be unharmed by the wind. It feels so incredibly... god, I can't begin to describe it. It's overwhelming."

He's been told the ascension spiel before, most notably when he was trapped on a planet for six months with a bunch of scaredy-cat Ancients. Elizabeth might be the only person in the entire universe that could sell it to him, though. Not that he's looking to buy.

"Although, sometimes," she continues in a soft voice, "I wish I could start over, you know? Blank slate?"

He gets up from his spot and goes across the room. He slowly moves to settle down beside her, closing his eyes and resting his head back against the wall in a candid moment between them. One of many for the night, apparently.

He misses this proximity with her, how the normal bubble of personal space never seemed to apply to them. He misses a lot of things about her: the daily debriefs, the morning coffees, he misses the look she'd get on her face when she was trying not to zone out on a scientist. Those balcony breaks. Christ, it's been three years and he still can't force himself back onto that balcony for any extended length of time unless his purpose is to brood.

"I missed you," he simply says, instead.

She turns towards him. "I missed you, too."

He reaches forward to cup her face against his hand. She turns her face in, nuzzling his palm slightly, and then he tugs her forward to softly capture her lips with his. The kiss begins bittersweet and lingers, and in the back of John's head, he's counting down the hours he has left before his team arrives. Her body is warm and solid against him, and he quickly makes a decision in that moment, guiding Elizabeth to sit up, then straddle his legs.

"How long before my team shows up?" he asks.

She thinks about it while resting her forehead against his. "Three, roughly. Rodney's having difficulty tracking my distress signal, but he'll narrow in on it soon enough."

He nods, then pulls her in for another toe-curling kiss, one hand already working free her belt. She sweeps her hands across his shoulders, his chest, her touch searing everywhere it goes. "Off," he murmurs against her lips, fingers sliding down the zipper of her suit. Her breath catches, and she leans down, kissing his jaw, his cheek, all along the side of his face.

"Elizabeth," he breathes, drugged.

For the next three hours, he decides he's going to forget entirely about complications and the outside world.


All too soon, he can hear gunfire in the distance.

He's dressed in his black tactical gear again, because the Asurians never thought it necessary to strip him of his possessions other than the gun. It occurs to him that he hasn't seen an Asurian guard in hours, and for the most part they seem content to just leave him the hell alone. (At least, when they're not rummaging through his brain like it's a plaything.) Having been in their custody before, he knows that this has everything to do with their unshakable sense of superiority. What threat could he possibly prove? He can't blame them for thinking it, but one day their arrogance is going to come back and bite them in the ass, and John hopes he'll be there that day. Maybe even help facilitate the process if he can.

For now, he just sits and waits for his team to come and rescue him, shoulders hunched over, head tilted to the side, hands folded in his lap in front of him. He should be pacing or bouncing on his feet, excited or adrenaline rushed or something. But Elizabeth is standing near the gates, and he can't take his eyes off her because he knows any second now she's going to disappear like the wind.

"Come with me," he finds himself saying, out of the blue.

Elizabeth whips around to face him. "What?"

"Come with me back to Atlantis."

She works for a second at a response. "You know I can't, John. I'm breaking about a dozen different rules here as it is."

He tries to charm her with a flirty smirk. "I was always a bad influence on you."

"Yes," she agrees, returning a smile, sharing the moment. "Yes, you were."

He pauses, just for a second. "You can always descend."

"My, my," Elizabeth replies easily, eyebrow lifted in amusement. "You're asking a girl to descend for you? You do have a bit of an ego."

"I'm serious, Elizabeth," he says, dropping the act. He stands up and crosses the room, bringing them face-to-face. "You can Ascend anytime you want. You know how, now. Just... you said you wanted a blank slate. Then take it. Nobody's stopping you but you."

Elizabeth sidesteps around him. "And what happens if I do? The IOA just gives me back my office?"

"They let Daniel Jackson back in," he points out, irately, and in the distance the gunfire grows louder. He thinks he can hear Ronon shouting. It's a little ridiculous to be praying for a few more minutes of captivity, but he needs it. "You can work your way back to being boss. Woolsey is fine and all, but he isn't you and the entire city knows that. They'll want you back. You just... you just have to prove—"

"Prove myself?" Elizabeth interrupts with a tight smile, turning to face him. "Maybe I'm tired of proving myself, John. You ever think of that? Maybe I like where I'm at because nobody questions my purpose anymore."

"That's a lie," he says. "You're breaking a dozen rules today, and I doubt it's the first time."

"I can handle the Others and any concerns they have."

"I'm not talking about them," John counters. "Admit it, Atlantis corrupted you. You can't just sit idly by. Somebody's questioning your purpose alright, and it's you."

She shakes her head. "You think you know me so well."

"I do," he states firmly.

He thinks he's got her, for just a second, but then the sound of an explosion in the nearby distance rocks the room. She breaks eye-contact with him, and slips past the gated doors like she's just a ghost walking through walls. He isn't finished with the conversation, but he knows there's almost no time to continue it now.

"Your team is one corridor down."

"Elizabeth—"

"I can't, John," she interrupts, voice broken. "Just go without me."

He doesn't budge because she told him that once before, screamed at him to leave her behind while Oberoth's men closed in around her. That moment has haunted his dreams for so long. He knows it's different this time, but it cuts him up all the same.

"Think about it," he insists. "Just promise me you'll think about it."

She opens her mouth, but before she can answer the outside door slides apart. Rodney and Teyla rush in, with Ronon covering their retreat, and when John turns back, Elizabeth is gone.

"John, are you all right?" Teyla asks urgently.

John breathes in and out through his nose, jaw clenched. "Hand me a gun, will you? I feel like killing things."


Epilogue

He goes through the post-mission check-up with Keller and the debriefing with Woolsey on auto-mode. It's routine now, a type of second nature to John to sit through blood tests, body scans, and monotonous reports of yet another life-threatening event in his career. He cracks a joke where he's supposed to, smirks at the off-handed comments of his team, then nods and smiles for the audience like he's being scrutinized for every tick-and-tell.

He doesn't mention Elizabeth, not one word. It'd open up too many other questions, and really, he may play the unpolished soldier-boy sometimes but he's figured out more than enough about the bureaucracy of the IOA and the SGC. He considers, briefly, telling his team, but the knowledge of Elizabeth is something he feels like he has to keep tight to his chest, unusually possessive of the information.

It isn't until he's halfway through dinner in the mess hall with his team when he realizes others have picked up on his behavior. Teyla reaches across the table to squeeze his hand, and John looks up, startled, realizing after a moment that he'd been spaced out for a while. He draws back, arms folded over his chest defensively, and ignores the looks his teammates trade.

"John," Teyla voices, because she's always the one elected to do this kind of thing. Everybody else on the team is too emotionally stunted, unusually sarcastic, or... well, Ronon. "Is there something you wish to tell us? Something you left out during the earlier debrief?"

He pauses, wavering for a second, then shakes his head. "Just really hate the Asurians."

"What did they force you to see?" Teyla probes, gently.

Beside him, Rodney shudders. "It wasn't torture, was it? I mean, physical torture. That's what I saw the last time they had me. Seriously, they had me strapped to a table, and all these needles and probes were—"

"Thank you," John cuts in, face scrunched up in a distasteful look. "You can stop right there."

Ronon grins, then sobers as he stretches out a little, the easy-going gesture belied by the intensity of his eyes. "Mine, they showed me the fall of Sateda. I had to watch the whole thing happen all over again."

John grimaces.

"We've all seen horrible things," Teyla adds. "I know it must have felt real, but you must remind yourself that it was just a figment of your imagination, turned perverse by the hand of Oberoth. It wasn't real."

The vision Oberoth had shown John wasn't all that horrible, though. There are even parts of it that John wishes were real. He scoffs at the thought, scrubbing a hand through his hair and glancing away. He's showing too much in the gesture because his teammates know him too well. He doesn't want to deal with their questions, though. And he damn sure isn't ready for their solace, either. It's too soon.

He pulls back from the table, chair squeaking in protest against the tile floor. "I'm going to call it an early night," he says, rising. "Catch you guys in the morning?"

"We got a sparring session tomorrow," Ronon reminds him. "You still in?"

He nods. "Damn straight."

He turns away, feeling like he could use a good pummeling. He doesn't even care if he gets it or gives it, though with Ronon it's practically guaranteed to be the former. He just needs some type of release.

John gives consideration to the idea of a late night run, something that will tire him out before he turns in for what will assuredly be a set of spectacular nightmares. But then, it's actually not that late right now and there are too many people still using the corridors. He prefers avoiding people while everyone is still congratulating him and patting him on the shoulder for surviving yet another close-call.

He makes it back to his room in record time, barreling through his bedroom to reach his bathroom so he can scrub some of the day off of him. He knows it's just his imagination, but he can still smell Elizabeth on his skin. He needs to stop thinking of her, to stop remembering her touch, and the smell of her inherent perfume is driving him up the freakin' wall with memories and sensations. He takes a shuddering breath, spinning the tap with a generous twist so the water comes out nearly boiling.

He's just stripping off his thigh holster when something catches interest from the corner of his eye. He almost doesn't notice the blinding white light building in his bedroom, but the bathroom door swings open slightly, and the sliver of light draws John away from the shower. The glow fades before John can make it out of the bathroom to inspect, and when he scans the area, nothing seems out of the ordinary. His bed is made, his desk is clear, and the lights are still off. His guitar rests untouched near the baseboard of his bed, and the Johnny Cash poster is a little crooked, but he doesn't think anything of it.

Then he hears a groan, distinctly feminine in origin. Drawn by the noise, he circles around his bed with an eyebrow lifted, only to discover a form lying naked on the ground behind it. He recognizes it instantly because it wasn't all too long ago that that this particular naked body was pressed against his own.

"Elizabeth?" he sputters, wide-eyed.

She groans again, coming to. A second later, she seems to realize her naked state and her current company, not necessarily in that order, and she screams. She makes a desperate grab for his comforter, pulling it down across her body as she lies on the floor.

"Where am I?" she demands. "Who are you?"

For a moment, John stands frozen in disbelief before reality catches up with him. She descended – oh, dear god. She descended! For him! And probably Atlantis too, but John isn't really thinking that broadly yet.

"Eliza—"

"Who are you?" she repeats frantically. "What's going on?"

"I'm John," he says, quickly, and forces himself through sheer willpower to stay standing right where he is instead of scooping her up in his arms. The last thing he wants to do is upset or scare her, and he recalls enough of the SGC reports to remember Daniel Jackson's disorientation after he descended. "Do you know who you are? Do you know your name?"

She looks scared, then baffled, searching her memory for something he knows isn't there yet. "No," she breathes softly, choking on her confusion. "What's going on?"

He kneels down so that he's more or less eye-level with her. He keeps a good three feet distance from her, because she looks ready to bolt or scream bloody murder if he puts one foot out of line. He decides, objectively, that he really can't fault her for that.

"Your name is Elizabeth Weir. I'm John Sheppard. I'm a friend."

"Elizabeth?" she repeats.

He nods. "You, Elizabeth. Me, John." He beats his chest like he-man. "We, friends."

She narrows her eyes at his display of inappropriate humor, and John can't help it. He grins back because he knows that annoyed tick so well. He's missed it. The last few hours, he's been depressed as hell but now things are looking up. John figures this is one of those moments where he can be as insufferably arrogant and happy as he wants, because Elizabeth descended naked into his freakin' bedroom.

Talk about wish fulfillment.

"Here," he says, stretching out a hand for her to take. "I promise you, you can trust me."

She studies him for a beat, and he hopes he tingles enough of her spidey-sense that she realizes he's telling the truth. He must inspire some vestiges of trust, because after a pause, she slowly reaches out to grasp his hand. He pulls her gently to her feet and he almost doesn't let go, but he doesn't want to push his luck. John releases her hand and steps back. She stands there with his bedcovering held to her chest, face flushed and eyes filled with a heat that makes him think of that initial day, six years ago, when she first set foot on Atlantis.

He really should stop grinning.

"I presume there's a good story behind this?" she asks, nonplussed.

He feels like there's something rough caught in his throat. "Don't worry," he tries to soothe. "I hear it's got a happy ending."


fin