Not Prince Charming.

John S. Elizabeth W.

General/Drama. Sparky.

Disclaimer: All characters belong to MGM/Gecko. I own nothing.

Timeline: After "EatG"

Spoilers: none.

Summary: Someone is lost. Someone is found.

Rating: K+

Author's notes: This story is a direct continuation of my earlier fic "When leaves fall". But reading it first is not required. Also a thousand thanks to wonderful Sherry, who beta'ed this piece.

He fell in love with Elizabeth Weir because of her bright, brilliant smile. It never failed to light up her eyes, even when she was tired. Or sad. Or scared. Even better – it never failed to lift his spirit up, regardless of how lousy he felt at the time.

He noticed her immediately after that funky chair came alive under his butt, and the throng of wide-eyed people surrounded him. How could he not? She was pretty, classy, and the way she treated geeks and a goddamned General, screamed she was obviously someone important. She made his Spidey sense tingle, in a way it hadn't done since he met Nancy for the first time. She was dangerous.

Up until this point Major John Sheppard considered himself to be in a fairly good place...considering. Thanks to various science things going on around Antarctica, he could fly all he wanted, and then some. He was far away from everyone wanting to pull his strings – starting with his father, and ending with a couple of high-ranking douchebags trying to clip his wings. Even disdainful glances and whispers behind his back finally ceased to bother him. It took months, but he managed to freeze his face into a carefree mask, and build thick walls of icy indifference around his heart. Maybe he was a slow learner, but finally he'd gotten his lesson: there would be no more Nancys, Hollands, Mitches and Dexes. The sky would be his only love and friend – it could kill him, but it would never break his heart.

And now, thanks to the chair accident he had a beautiful, smart, strong willed and unbearably persuasive diplomat following him around, badgering him and acting like he was the best thing since sliced bread.

Sure, she wanted him for his super-strong ATA gene first and foremost. She also thought her Expedition could use at least one real pilot. He listened to her ramblings when she was pointing this out, and knowing the inner workings of the Air Force he was able to fill in the blanks: highly qualified pilots didn't come a dime a dozen. And when the USAF invested money and time into one, they weren't exactly willing to send him on a possibly one way trip – unless it was someone literally scraped from the bottom of the barrel. Someone just like Major Sheppard. It really did wonders to whatever was left of his self-esteem. Not!

But, on the other hand...She wantedhim. That was...different – using O'Neill's words. "Major, could you please...", "Major Sheppard, what do you think about...", "Major, I want to show you..." He couldn't really remember when the last time was his presence, skills or opinions were desired. Or valued. And she always thanked him for whatever little thing he did at her request. Every damn time. One day he caught himself humming the old classic "She's a lady" after leaving Weir's temporary office, and cursed loudly. She was really dangerous.

Then there was his first wormhole trip. Atlantis coming to life around them...around him. Mission to Athos. Wraiths. His first screw-up ina new Galaxy, when he allowed his CO to be captured by the enemy. They went to the balcony, he delivered his "No one gets left behind" speech, and with a bitter taste in his mouth waited for the unavoidable scathing response, announcing that the story of his life was about to repeat itself. But it didn't come.

Instead Elizabeth looked at him. Really looked at him. Not Major Screw-up. Not "Black mark" Sheppard. Not Mr. Walking Light Switch. Him. That was a new one. Even Nancy had never looked at him like that. It was disturbing. And scary. Disturbing because he got what she felt: fear, doubts, weight of responsibility. And a chilling awareness that regardless of what her decision would be...someone would suffer. And scary because she understood him, his feelings and motives just as well. Here he met a superior that was able to look at things from his point of view. Think like him. And, ohGodstill have enough faith to let him do what he had to do. He could feel his armor cracking.

It was not a walk in the park from this moment either, oh no. For both of them. Elizabeth could be stubborn, pushy and downright mean when she wanted. They clashed. They argued. They drove each other crazy. He annoyed her. She made him feel like a fool. They danced around each other - always on the verge of the truth, always only words away. Always backing away from acknowledging their feelings – because then nothing would be the same anymore. They would lose control of things - and losing control was one risk they couldn't afford. So she would work to the point of exhaustion. And he would flirt with other women – wasting time on empty words and smiles without real meaning. They had time – he thought, like a true fool forgetting that despite wonders and miracles happening around them on a daily basis, their lives were not a fairy tale. True love could not conquer all. And there was no Happily Ever After guaranteed.

He realized it much, much later. It was a very bad night for him – spent aimlessly wandering on empty piers, ghosts as his only company. He could still feel the chill of the open space lingering in gray metal, and desperately wanted to soak this cold inside him – to freeze his heart and rebuild icy armor she had managed to thaw only with a smile, trust and understanding. But it was no longer possible. He could try, but he knew he could never be like that again. He became a better person trying to be worthy of her. He loved her, she loved him – and this knowledge was the only thing he had left. Acting against it, breaking her confidence in him...it would be like spitting on her memory. So he would live, and keep fighting for their family and home. He would carry on Elizabeth's legacy.

...

He was cold and uncomfortable. And covered head to toe in slimy, viscous, yellow stuff smelling like a pharmacy trampled by a herd of drunk elephants. And there was a naked, sticky woman in his lap. A woman that had just emptied her lungs and stomach of truly impressive amounts of nasty goo. Oh, and she did it all over him. At least she was breathing without difficulty now, and coughed only a little from time to time. Which was a really, really good thing because he had seriously freaked out earlier watching her lips go blue, when she fought to catch a bit of oxygen between endless coughing fits. The last ten minutes had been a nerve wracking blur of helplessness and frantic efforts to free her from the tank and get her breathing. All in all – just another typical, insane day of his life in the Pegasus Galaxy. A place where everything could happen at any given moment – and after today he was not going to complain about the craziness of his world. Never. Ever. Again...Period.

The woman he had just rescued was shivering now, curling into a tight ball of misery – still maintaining a death grip on his jacket though, so he couldn't even peel it off and cover her a bit. With a sigh the Colonel pulled the slim body closer to his chest, wrapping her tighter in his arms. His body heat would have to be enough until his team found them. She moaned softly at the movement, so he started gently rubbing her back and shoulders. Obviously it had the desired effect, because her thin frame relaxed again.

"Shhhh, its OK. I got you." - His whisper elicited another quiet moan, and a small nuzzling movement of her head. Sheppard's face broke into big, goofy grin – his spirit soaring on a sudden rush of relief. Maybe it was irrational, but somehow he was sure she would be okay. Of course he fully intended to get her under Carson's care as fast as humanly possible...but nonetheless she was getting stronger and more aware with every passing minute.

As if on cue he felt one hand release the fabric of his BDU's sleeve and travel slowly up his arm, shoulder and neck, finally coming to rest on his cheek. Her hand was cold, dirty and trembling - but it was living flesh and blood. Silently he covered it with his own hand and felt...something vital coming alive in his chest. Something slipped back into the empty gaping hole in his soul, making him whole again. If he had any doubts about her being a real thing, and not just another nanite-created copy earlier...they disappeared then. Because no copy could make him feel like that. This moment of connection between them returning in full strength just couldn't be faked.

"John." - Her voice – weak, raspy and barely recognizable caught him by surprise. He looked down blinking away tears that at some point had welled under the eyelids – straight into the emerald lakes of her eyes. Real eyes, in a real face – with freckles, small creases and the sharp, clean lines of her cheekbones. Nothing like the inhuman, plastic perfection of Fran's face. Breathtaking even under a layer of dirt and drying ooze.

"Hey there." - He whispered thickly, trying to smile back – but his face wouldn't cooperate for some reason.

"Knew you'd...come." - Obviously she had no such troubles, because her smile cut into his being like a laser beam, igniting all his regrets, guilt and grief at once. She must've seen this explosion of emotions reflected in his eyes, because her fingers slipped to his lips, silencing him before the first word managed to form. In her eyes though, he found everything his soul had craved for the last three hellish years: understanding, acceptance... and finally forgiveness for callousnes, and silence in the Gate Room when she was about to step into the void.

"God...Lizbeth..." - It was all he managed to choke out before Elizabeth pulled his head closer, allowing him to bury his burning face into her neck. It was okay, he thought hazily – he had been strong and selfless for the last three years. He deserved a moment of relief – to enjoy the steady thrum of her pulse, her fingers tangled in his hair. A tornado of thoughts and emotions in his head slowly calmed down. Questions remained, of course: How it was possible? What had happened to her? How come she was fully human again, and in her own body too? What had happened to the dozens of Replicators he and his team had found as piles of dead dust lying everywhere?

Was she really his Elizabeth?

"John?" Her voice was barely audible, thin...and so sad, he instinctively tightened his hold on her. "Please tell me you are real... Please...tell me it's not another projecton or simulation...or...dream..."

Scratch the last question - he thought, feeling a wave of cold, black fury rising in his chest. What she had been put through to made the strongest woman he had ever met sound so weak...so resigned? And it was all his fault she had had to fight her battles alone. Suffer alone because of his stupidity and shortsighteness. Never again.

"Hey." He raised his head and gently lifted her chin so their eyes could meet again. And he put his whole soul, strength and convinction into the stare. "Look at me. Look at us." Her eyes brightened a bit under his stare, and he allowed himself to relax enough to let a small smile form on his face.

"We are sitting in the middle of a puddle. We stink. You puked all over me. This stuff is drying, and beginning to itch in places I'd rather not mention. Have you ever meet a Replicator able to come up with something so stupid and insane?" She blinked once, then twice - obviously thinking hard over his words. To push his point forward he reached to her face, and gently peeled a large flake of dried slime off her cheek. That seemed to do the trick, because with a strangled sound being half sob, and half laughter Elizabeth threw herself at him, enveloping him in a hug. And this time there was no hesitation or awkwardness when he returned it just as fiercely.

"Did I really do that? Uh...puking, I mean?" She asked meekly after a moment, still showing no intentions of letting go of him. Which suited the Colonel just fine.

"Oh, yeah. I'm not going to hold a grudge, but seriously – nothing like that ever happened to any knight or prince rescuing a princess from the evil wizard's tower."

"Evil wizard?" Elizabeth pulled back from him slightly, and raised amused eyebrow at him. "Since when do you fancy yourself as Prince Charming, Colonel?"

Sheppard cleared his throat in embarassment. "Um... you know – we had to babysit Torren when Teyla was busy, and we found that nothing kept the little guy still like reading fairy tales to him. But Rodney always got sidetracked trying to explain to him why magic wouldn't work, and why it's impossible for dragons to breathe fire from a scientific point of view. And we had to ban Ronon from reading because he delved into gory details too much. So, uh – it was mostly me doing the reading...and it rubbed off on me too much, I guess." Elizabeth was watching him with a strange smile, so he scrunched his eyebrows at her. "What?"

With a contented sigh she rested her head on his shoulder. "Nothing. Damsels in distress can keep their knights, white stallions, shiny armor and everything else. Im happy with Air Force Colonels, wrinkled BDU's and puddle jumpers."

"Yeah." He agreed fighting to keep a straight face. "Modern stuff certainly beats medieval when it comes to fighting forces of evil. But some traditions are worth keeping in my opinion."

"Oh? Such as...?" A pair of emerald eyes sparkled at him, and Sheppard found it a bit hard to breathe when he looked into them for too long.

"Mmm...dunno. That part with the princess kissing her savior sounds kinda nice?" He asked hopefully, trying for the puppy dog look.

Her smile turned mishievous. "No can do, Colonel. At least until you find me a toothbrush...and a canister of mouthwash." She said making a face, and he had to chuckle at her expression. God, he missed this woman.

"Sheppard!" - Ronon's voice rang loudly from down of the hallway, followed by Teyla's: "John? Can you hear us?" With a weary sigh Sheppard lifted his eyes heavenwards, torn between relief and exasperation. Sometimes his team's timing sucked.

"Yeah! In here, guys!" - He shouted, which resulted in the pounding of several feet running in their direction. Suddenly Elizabeth made a small yelp, and squirmed frantically in his lap. After a moment of confusion he realized she was trying to cover herself as much as possible, and started laughing. That earned him a punch to the chest, so still chuckling he brought his knees up to allow her more protection. Not a moment to soon, because just then Ronon and Teyla burst into the doorway, and stopped short at the sight of their friend and team leader sitting in the middle of a large puddle - with a naked woman in his arms. Grinning broadly Sheppard gave them a small wave.

"Come on, move you overgrown Wookie! Is he in there? Is he okay? Let me through, you two..." - preceded by a string of high pitched complaints Rodney finally managed to push his way between the two Pegasus natives, and stopped in his tracks too, his eyes going wide.

"Hey McKay – what took you so long?" Sheppard redirected his grin at the scientist, and with glee watched Rodney's eyes narrow into slits and his mouth move silently for couple of seconds, until...

"What took us so long!" McKay's voice exploded like a block of C-4. "We run here like crazies, worried you were being tortured by Replicators...or...or even killed! And what do we find? Captain bloody Kirk, spending quality time cuddling with yet another space bimbo! And she's naked! What the hell, Sheppard? Don't you have any standards anymore?"

John was biting his lips hard at this moment. And he could feel Elizabeth shaking with barely controlled laughter while she kept her head low, and out of the irate scientist's sight. Yup – sometimes his life really sucked, but priceless moments like this made up for all the shitty things that happened to him.

"Rodney!" He shouted sharply, using all his willpower to delay the explosion of laughter for a couple of moments more. "Don't you dare call the love of my life a bimbo!"

That shut McKay up instantly, leaving him slack-jawed. Both Ronon and Teyla looked dumbstruck too. And Elizabeth's body stiffened for a moment in his arms, relaxing when he squeezed her fingers firmly. With a deep breath she shifted around and raised her head to skewer the hapless Canadian with an indignant glare.

"Hello Rodney. It's good to know you still hold me in such a high regard." She said sweetly.

Rodney turned from red to pale, then slightly green, then scarlet again. Teyla covered her mouth staring at them in mute amazement. Ronon's eyes grew saucer-wide. And Colonel John Sheppard finally lost it, laughing out loud for the first time in years.

"I found her, guys."