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Author's Chapter Notes: AN: The events of this chapter take place just after the events of “Trinity”; the episodes themselves happened in pretty much the same manner as they did in the show- with the obvious exception of Sumner replacing Sheppard-, so there wasn’t much point in rewriting them


Mystery of the Phantom


As she stood on her balcony once again, staring silently out at the sea before her, a part of Elizabeth’s mind chided her for what she was doing; here she was, a full-grown woman, and she was waiting on her balcony like a little girl hoping for Santa Claus to come down the chimney…

Then again, that analogy wasn’t exactly the same; for one thing, children were always taught that Santa wouldn’t come if they were awake and waiting for him, while Elizabeth had learned from prior experience that the Phantom would only come for her if she was alone somewhere that nobody could reach her…

Of course, that wasn’t to say that she wasn’t grateful for the chance to spend these few moments alone; things had definitely been rather stressful over the last month or so. Not only were Sumner’s team still trying to adapt to Ronon’s presence after he’d decided to stay around- he was unquestionably a good person to have in a fight situation, and he’d definitely proven willing to teach the marines some of his methods of killing Wraith, but there was still a certain tension between him and Sumner given Ronon’s only grudging acceptance of Sumner’s authority-, but their last few missions certainly hadn’t resulted in much in the way of positive discoveries for their war against the Wraith.

The time McKay had spent with Lieutenant Laura Cadman stuck in his head wasn’t much more than an idle joke around the base now, but it still had the potential to get on McKay’s nerves when it came up, and their failure to form any kind of trade agreement with the Olesians hadn’t won them any points back home either.

And as for that nightmarish mess with Project Arcturus…

She sometimes wasn’t sure what had left her more frustrated about that whole situation; the fact that it hadn’t worked, or the fact that Sumner had overruled her doubts about the project and gone back with McKay to carry it out anyway, too focused on the possibility of perfecting a new weapon to listen to Zelenka’s doubts about the technology. It was primarily only luck- Sumner’s piloting skills in the gateships were still fairly limited; he hadn’t even bothered to take another man along because he’d assumed that the mission would be a straightforward trip to the planet before leaving- and the timely arrival of the Daedalus that had allowed the two men to make it out alive; virtually the entire solar system where they’d carried out the tests had been destroyed in the resulting explosion as the weapon detonated…

And she had to stop doing that; as eventful as the past few weeks had been, distracting her thoughts to stop herself over-analysing the reasons for her presence on the balcony would only work for so long.

No matter how much she might prefer to think of her interest in the Phantom as professional, ever since her last meeting with Simon-

“You’re slipping,” a voice suddenly said from behind her. “Time was you knew I was here without me needing to speak.”

Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile at the sound of the object of her thoughts appearing behind her; stopping yourself from thinking about someone by talking to them might not exactly be a logical way of doing things, but it worked for her, and that was what mattered.

“Well, you know, it’s been a while since we’ve had these little chats; I guess that my ‘Phantom sense’ is a bit rusty,” she replied, allowing a brief, teasing grin to cross her face as she turned around to look at Atlantis’s mysterious masked protector, apparently unchanged from the last time she’d seen him, clad in his familiar black clothing and silver mask.

Phantom sense? she reflected to herself as she looked him over- he seemed slightly thinner than the last time she’d seen him, but she couldn’t be certain; it wasn’t like his clothing made it easy to get an accurate picture of what he looked like underneath, what with that cloak covering so much of his body when he was standing still-, unable to stop herself from smiling slightly at the thought; it was such a… casual… term, it was nice to know that she could still be somewhat nonchalant after everything that had happened to her since coming here…

“So… how were things back on Earth?” John asked, drawing her attention back to him (A fact that she was grateful for; her thoughts had been about to go to an area she really wasn’t sure she was ready to explore yet).

“About what I’d expected, really,” she replied, shaking her head as she looked out at the ocean before her, knowing without needing to look that John was taking up position alongside her, the windows and doors leading from the balcony back into the main part of Atlantis now inaccessible and opaque from the inside to give them further privacy. “The usual collection of SGC soldiers willing to sign up for their next great mission now that so much of our galaxy has been explored,” (She wouldn’t allow herself to think about the recent news regarding those ‘Ori’ who’d apparently begun a new religious crusade; there was nothing she could do about that right now so there was no point in worrying, particularly when she still had to deal with the Wraith in this galaxy), “along with the usual issues with diplomats arguing about the way things have been run here…”

She shook her head in frustration at the memory of those particular meetings. “I know I need their approval to keep this expedition going, but that’s one part I definitely wish I could do without; they’re always so focused on what they want that they never seem to think about what the people out here could use.”

She knew that it was a strange thing for her to say after her long diplomatic career, during which she’d relied so often on her belief in others seeking the same goal as her to dictate her strategy, but after her dealings with ex-Vice-President Robert Kinsey during her brief stint in command of the SGC, she’d had to develop a certain scepticism about others’ motives in order to cope in this new world she’d found herself in.

Kinsey…

Quite frankly, just thinking about that man left her feeling sick at the thought of how he’d tried to use her as part of his selfish schemes to control the Stargate program. In a way, he was one of the main reasons she’d stopped dying her hair; she’d started doing it in college because she found that people took her less seriously with blonde hair than they did with her natural chestnut-red, and thus tended to underestimate her in negotiations until it was too late, but after Kinsey’s attempts to use her she’d resolved to start projecting a more assertive image to stop anyone trying something similar in the future.

“Still,” she said, shaking those thoughts aside as she looked back at John, “we made it home in the end; that’s what matters.”

“‘Home’?” John repeated, smiling slightly at her- Elizabeth could almost swear she saw a gleam of joy in his eyes as he looked at her, but the shadows caused by his mask combined with the night lighting out on the balcony made it hard to be sure and it rapidly faded to leave only his usual expression if it had ever been there in the first place- before a more uncertain expression crossed his face. “But…well, I apologise in advance if this is too personal-”

“You’ve saved my life at least three times, John; I think that gives you the right to ask me some personal questions,” Elizabeth replied, smiling back at him reassuringly, ignoring the part of her mind that tried to point out to her that it wasn’t like her to be this casual with someone when she didn’t even know his full name.

“Thanks,” John replied, before his expression became slightly more solemn. “It’s just… well, I thought I heard somewhere that you had a… boyfriend… back on Earth; I just wondered why he isn’t… well, why you didn’t decide- why he isn’t here?”

“Oh, that,” Elizabeth said, briefly wondering how John could have heard about her relationship with Simon before she shrugged that thought aside; given the general lack of news materials from Earth in the first year, it wasn’t impossible to assume that someone had brought it up in a casual conversation about the lives everyone had left behind on Earth (The issue of what John had been about to say before he corrected himself was something she decided not to look at in particularly great depth; she didn’t know where she expected that line of interrogation to go and wasn’t particularly eager to make herself look stupid trying to find out when the reasons he might have changed tracks didn’t really matter anyway). “He… well, we broke up, to put it simply; I just…”

She sighed slightly at the memory, inwardly sparing a moment to come up with a decent explanation for her actions that didn’t include the central reason for her decision- the last thing she wanted was to discuss feelings even she wasn’t sure about with the cause of those feelings- before she continued speaking. “I… he wasn’t what I was looking for any more; I’ve… what I’ve seen here…”

“It changes you,” John said, his tone a more solemn one than his initial manner; it reminded Elizabeth more of what she considered his ‘Phantom tone’- the tone he had used when talking with Sumner and Everett about coordinating the city’s defences during the siege- than what she had come to regard as his ‘John tone’ that he used when talking with her. “What you see here… what you witness people do here… what you have to do yourself…”

For a moment Elizabeth thought she saw John shudder slightly under his cloak, but his clothing made it hard to be certain of anything and so she avoided mentioning it; judging by the fact that he stopped doing it almost as soon as she first noticed it, she somehow doubted John would be interested in her offering support…

Elizabeth couldn’t help but be surprised at her thoughts; she’d actually considered offering John support?

It wasn’t that she was uncomfortable bonding with others, of course- one of her main strengths as a diplomat had always been her ability to see all sides of the argument and come up with something acceptable for all concerned parties (She sometimes wondered if Kinsey’s warped mind had twisted that aspect of her personality to assume that she’d take more action that benefited Earth rather than continue General Hammond’s ‘tradition’ of making too many decisions that favoured other worlds while leaving them with practically nothing)-, but she’d always tried to maintain a certain emotional distance to prevent herself becoming too attached to one side over another; to feel this… comfortable… about expressing herself to someone when she knew so little about him…

Elizabeth wasn’t sure how she should feel about that. Accepting that she might have… feelings… for John was one thing, but the implication of her feelings being that strong based on so little information about him…

“Sorry about that mess with the Olesians, by the way,” John’s voice said, bringing her back to the present; evidently he was unaware of the direction her thoughts had just taken, and she wasn’t that inclined to be particularly concerned about it. “I visited them once a while back, and it definitely wasn’t one of the funnest places I’ve ever been-”

“You’ve been there?” Elizabeth said, looking over at the man in the mask in surprise, grateful for a topic that might- however indirectly- help her tackle her own issues about her feelings; maybe once she knew more about John, she’d- she knew it sounded petty, but she couldn’t help it; what she was starting to feel was approaching the point where it scared her- get over her feelings for him…

She almost hated to think it- it sounded so childish when she actually thought about it, like a small boy asking for help from Superman when he felt sad-, but she’d grown so used to thinking of John as a selfless hero, who always did everything he could for others, that the idea that he’d gone to Olesia and left the planet in that state was…

In some ways, no matter how slightly disheartening it might be, it was refreshing to know that even he could screw up like that; maybe she was more interested in the image of him as an ‘infallible’ hero than being interested in him as a person (No matter how pathetic that might sound to her, it at least made a certain sense; she had entered this city under a great deal of stress…)

“I am only one man, Elizabeth; there wasn’t really much I could do about the situation at the time, regardless of how immoral I found it,” John said, his voice drawing her attention back to him as he stared out at the sea surrounding Atlantis, evident regret and self-frustration in his voice that completely undid any impact his initial statement might have had on her; the fact that he felt that strongly about his failure said more to Elizabeth than any words could. “I hardly had the resources available to make them change their way of life, and they didn’t have anything I particularly needed; it was… easier… to leave them for a time when I had a viable alternative to their current way of doing things.”

Elizabeth simply nodded at his statement, recognising the inadequacy of any words she might offer at this time; clearly the issue of the Olesians was a topic John was far from comfortable with…

Inwardly, however, she couldn’t help but allow herself a brief curse at this latest news; her initial thoughts about how it might have… done something about the way she thought about John hadn’t helped.

If anything, she now felt more sympathy for him, looking at him as he stared out at the ocean before him, his shoulders hunched under his cloak in a classic defensive manner that made it clear that the current topic was something that he took very personally…

It was hard not to admire his dedication to do what he could, even when faced with a situation where taking action couldn’t really have accomplished anything.

“So,” she said at last, trying to draw the conversation onto a less difficult topic, “talking of recent events… did you know about Project Arcturus?”

As soon as she’d spoken those words, she realised that she already knew the answer; who else would have dug those basic graves they’d discovered around the outpost for the five people whom they’d soon determined had been the outpost staff.

“Well, I read a bit about what was being developed there in the files, but I never really spent much time there after my first visit,” John replied with a brief shrug; evidently he didn’t want to discuss the graves and Elizabeth saw no point in bringing it up if he didn’t want to do so himself. “My knowledge of Ancient is relatively limited- I can translate enough to get by in most situations; I know how to understand warning signs telling me not to go somewhere, for example-, so I didn’t exactly know what was going on there, but when I’m faced with something capable of destroying an entire Wraith fleet in a facility where it seemed that everyone who last visited there had left the building by dying…”

He looked over at her with a solemn expression. “Well, I wasn’t exactly inclined to try anything with what I found there, know what I mean?”

“Trust me, I do,” Elizabeth said, shaking her head slightly in recollection at the images Daedalus had taken of what was left of that solar system after Arcturus had exploded; even with McKay’s protests that the system was uninhabited, the sheer scale of destruction that the weapon had caused was terrifying.

“Not much else I can tell you about the Ancients’ old experiments, really,” John said after a moment’s pause, standing back and flexing his shoulders as though working out some stiffness as he looked over at her. “After the first couple of ‘abandoned’ facilities I visited turned out to be pretty much dead ends- they always required a greater knowledge of the language than I actually possessed to understand what they were up to-, I decided it was better just to stop wasting time checking them out, since most of the time I wouldn’t be able to understand enough of what they were trying to do to work out what might have gone wrong.”

“Right…” Elizabeth said, nodding in understanding at John’s pre-emptive apology; if they found any other Ancient research facilities out here in Pegasus, John wouldn’t be able to give them any advice about what they might find there.

“Well, best be off; any longer out here and someone might get suspicious,” John said, looking apologetically over at Elizabeth as he smiled briefly under his mask. “Stay safe, Doctor Weir; it’s good to have you back.”

“Good to be back,” Elizabeth replied, smiling slightly at John as he turned around and leapt off the edge of the balcony, vanishing into the shadows of the city below her.

As she looked down towards the buildings below her, even as a part of her wondered where John actually landed when he did something like that, she allowed herself a slight smile.

It was still only a minor clue, but she now knew something else about the man known as the Phantom; John knew enough about the Ancients’ written language to get by, but he didn’t know the entire language.

On the one hand, it further ruled out the possibility that John was an Ancient who’d awoken from stasis or something like that- coupled with the fact that he’d claimed a weapon from the wreck where Ronon had taken his own gun; a team sent to that planet had discovered a hollowed-out ship that had apparently been cleared of all its contents, but what little technology remained in the ship was enough for the science team to determine that it was significantly less advanced than the Ancients-, but it didn’t leave her any closer to finding out where he’d come from originally.

And- on a more personal level- it still didn’t explain why she was interested in him, or why he had gone to the trouble of giving her of all people an Ancient shield device…


Chapter End Notes: AN 2: Hope you enjoyed that chapter; the next one moves into my new take on “Conversion”- “Instinct” was basically the same plot as before-, with Sumner’s transformation having a SLIGHTLY different effect on his mentality than it did on Sheppard’s…

AN 3: To anyone wondering about the reasons for the reference to Sumner and Ronon having a difficult relationship due to Ronon rejecting Sumner’s authority, my reasoning is that Sumner basically expects Ronon to ‘work’ for him, while John only ever expected Ronon to work with him; Ronon might have appreciated John’s ability to lead after seeing it in action over time, but he resents the fact- even if he won’t voice it as he prefers being out in the field where he can continue to fight the Wraith- that Sumner automatically expects to be in charge whatever happens, while Sheppard was more willing to allow others to take the lead if the situation required it

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