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Author's Chapter Notes: AN: This chapter proved tricky at times, but I hope it was worth it; we're coming up to my interpretation of one of my favourite episodes of 'Atlantis'…

Walking alongside Elizabeth as the Atlantis team were guided to the main hall, John fought down the urge to scratch at his face. The make-up used to create his 'regular appearance' was very good at feigning the appearance of regular skin, but it still felt somewhat uncomfortable against his damaged face, made worse by his inability to scratch it in case he ruined his disguise…

Still, his own discomfort was a small price to pay compared to everything else that was going on right now. The treaty signing had gone as well as could be expected, Elizabeth and the Rhean leader only needing a few moments to clarify a few of the finer details, and they were currently being escorted further into the town's main hall in order to enjoy the subsequent celebration.

"Here we are," Mayor Coralin said, smiling as he indicated the central hall before them, the walls resembling Atlantis's usual architecture apart from some slight stains and wear and tear around the corners. "Our central hall; I apologise for its relative simplicity."

"Don't worry about it," Elizabeth said, smiling at them in understanding as she glanced around the room. The decorations added to the room were relatively sparse, consisting only of a few tapestries on the walls and some basic furniture in the corners, but the stage set up at one end of the hall and the band assembled there added an extra warmth to the hall that Atlantis had never quite managed to possess even after three years (John wouldn't consider the possibility that he'd contributed to that; he'd never intended to act like an oppressive force and had no doubt that Elizabeth would have told him if he was creating a bad impression). "We've dealt with the fine print; it's time to just have some fun."

"A sentiment that I am sure my people agree with just as much, Doctor Weir," Coralin said, smiling at her once more before he waved a hand at the band at the other end of the hall. The instruments they were playing didn't immediately resemble anything John was familiar with, but as they began playing the resulting rhythm was actually rather pleasant, creating a soothing atmosphere that felt intriguing rather than confusing due to the unfamiliar notes.

As the expedition members attending the treaty signing filed into the hall, John moved over to discreetly take up a position between the door and a window, to better assess the new arrivals. The fact that the hall was so full made John more and less comfortable at the same time; on the one hand, he wasn't used to crowds after spending so long alone in Atlantis, but on the other hand, he felt less conspicuous this way, even if he was here as a high-ranking member of the Atlantis expedition.

As well as the city's senior staff and some of Atlantis's more long-term residents, Colonel Dixon and some of the other senior staff for the Orion had decided to attend the party as well, but the Orion itself was remaining in orbit; it might be capable of landing, but it was easier to leave the ship in space rather than bring it into land. Glancing over, John was pleased to see Dixon sharing a dance with Norina Pero; the Taranian scientist had proven to be a quick study once given access to more advanced resources than what the Ancients had originally left on Taranis, and even the Orion's Tau'ri crewmembers were comfortable regarding her as the ship's chief scientist, as well as the unofficial leader of the Taranian section of the crew.

Atlantis's connections in Pegasus were still fairly tentative aside from their contact with the Athosians, but with Atlantis now able to officially proclaim that they were allied with the Phantom, even the IOA had to admit that John's information was proving to be very helpful in terms of improving their relationship with their allies.

As the last of the attendees entered the hall, John allowed the music to wash over him as he turned to study the view through the nearby window. The night sky he witnessed was one of the most incredible he'd ever seen, a band of stars seemingly spreading out from the planet as the rest of the Pegasus Galaxy extended away from their current location, the stars standing out all the more brightly in the absence of other light sources in this part of space.

He enjoyed his life in Atlantis, but one thing John had missed about being able to travel through the Stargate during his time in hiding was the chance to see different stars like this…

"Shall we dance?"

John had been intending to turn the offer down when he initially turned around, but when he realised that Elizabeth was the one who had made the offer, he suddenly didn't know what to say apart from nodding politely at her and taking her hand as she led him to the dancefloor.

He didn't know the song, and his knowledge of any dance routine was limited, but as he moved across the dance floor with Elizabeth in his arms, standing slightly apart even as Elizabeth's hands met behind his neck and they swayed in time with the music, John had to fight down the urge to grin like an idiot at the sensation of her body so close to his.

Even if it never went further than this moment, even if she would never be closer to him than this for anything more than the occasion hug (And that was if he was lucky), these moments with her made all the hassle he'd endured back on Earth to 'qualify' for this position more than worth the effort. To know that she could see everything he was capable of and still trust him in such close proximity…

He'd never have the relationship he wanted, but he could accept what she was willing to give him if it led to moments like this.

"You're doing well," Elizabeth said, smiling as she stepped back to look approvingly at him.

"Just following your lead…" John said, shrugging dismissively as he resisted the urge to continue the dance; feeling her body pressed against his was more than he'd ever had a right to expect, but he couldn't afford to push his luck in case he gave away any more than he wanted to. "I'm just going to… scope this area out."

"Joh, we trust these people-"

"And I'm responsible for your security as part of my new position; I have to be sure," John said defensively. With that said, he stood back and walked over to the centre of the room, solemnly assessing his surroundings and the people dancing around as the party continued.

In truth, he was already fairly confident that the place would be secure from his earlier assessment, but if he didn't get away from Elizabeth, he wasn't sure what he'd do; being able to work with her on a regular basis was torture to his self-control…

Glancing around the hall to try and take his mind off that issue, John smiled as he saw McKay and Zelenka engaged in a heated discussion despite the best efforts of their dates ( John recognised Katie Brown from the botany department, but the identity of Zelenka's partner eluded him at the moment). They might have been working in different areas for a while when the expedition was sent back to Earth, but clearly some things didn't change no matter how much time people spent apart.

Satisfied that the two scientists were having no more trouble with each other than usual, John continued to assess the room. At one point, he noticed that Teyla was sharing a dance with a Japanese woman John didn't immediately recognise- he'd seen her working in the labs, but he couldn't place the name- but before he could start wondering what that said about either woman, the Athosian had handed the Japanese woman over to Ronan, the woman's brief appearance of panic being cut short as she and Ronan began to move across the floor. John guessed that the unfamiliar woman just needed some encouragement to open up after spending so long in the lab; the expedition weren't all workaholics, but there was only so much that they could do on Atlantis at the moment.

By contrast to the scientists, Satterfield was easily fitting in with the new environment, somehow managing to look particularly fetching despite wearing a standard dress uniform no more remarkable than those sported by the rest of the female military personnel present, having a different partner for each dance as the party unfolded. Even Elizabeth only had a couple of dances at a time, otherwise sitting off to the side discussing some of the finer details with other leaders, whether other department heads from Atlantis or some of the local leaders (And no, John was not jealous that other people were talking to her; so long as nobody tried to pull a Lucius, Elizabeth could make her own life…).

John was aware that sitting in a corner and drinking the local equivalent of beer might not be exactly sociable, but he was keeping himself available if anyone wanted to talk; he just didn't want to distract himself from his primary mission. Major Lorne, Colonel Dixon and everyone else had come a long way to be here and deserved the chance to experience what life in Pegasus had to offer; he was so familiar with some of the finer details by now that he didn't mind missing out on the simple things to ensure that others had a good time.

"Thank god…" a familiar voice said as someone slumped down in the chair beside John, clearly exhausted.

"Doctor Beckett?" John said, looking at his new companion in surprise, the man clearly sweating in his unusually formal suit. "What's wrong?"

"Just… well… the mayor's assistant," Beckett said, indicating a rather fetching young woman with dark hair wearing a form-fitting dark blue dress, standing at the hall's bar and looking at the doctor in a very seductive manner. "I mean, she was nice enough when we were talking earlier, but then we started dancing, and…"

"And it went wrong?" John asked. "What, did you step on her foot or something?"

"No, that's the thing; it was all fine, but I'm just…" Beckett said, voice trailing off as he looked awkwardly at the woman before he looked back at John. "I'm just not used to this… kind of attention…"

"Weren't you dating Laura Cadman before you went back to Earth?"

"Yeah, but it didn't really work out; probably something to do with us having our first kiss through Rodney," Beckett said, smiling briefly at the memory before he looked anxiously at the woman. "The point is, I'm just getting out of one relationship, and now-"

"Doctor Beckett, I've… not exactly been a social guy for the last few years; if you're looking for advice on what to do in this situation, I'm far from the best person to ask," John said, looking apologetically at the other man; he appreciated that the other man was trying to bond, but this was so far out of his experience that it was ridiculous to imagine anyone thinking that he could offer useful advice right now. "All I can say is that, if you like spending time with her… well, considering how hard it is to meet people here, anything's worth giving it a shot; worry about everything else later on."

"Oh," Beckett said, apparently realising that there was something deeper about that comment, but clearly recognising that this wasn't the time to press the issue. Nodding at John in understanding, he took a quick gulp of his drink and then turned back towards the woman, the two resuming their dance a few moments later. The doctor still appeared to be somewhat awkward around his partner, but at least he was giving her a chance; in a world this complicated, it was always good to find someone.

It was just too bad that his someone would never see him that way…

Wanting to avoid that thought, John turned and headed for the nearest exterior door, slipping out before anyone could see him; after spending the last two years stuck inside places, he needed to start spending more time out in the air before he started to get too used to it. Once he was sure that nobody would follow him, John settled into position as he stared upwards, the reassuring metal at his back and the vegetation spread out before him a welcome change from past trips he'd been on recently as he resumed his earlier contemplation of the night sky.

Back when he'd been training as the Phantom, he'd sometimes left Atlantis to take a break on other worlds, exploiting the fact that he was the only one who could dial Atlantis's gate at that time, but he'd always been restricted to uninhabited planets to limit the risk of being discovered- it wouldn't have done for anyone to find the legendary Phantom training-; as much as he'd appreciated the chance to relax, those trips had just reinforced how fundamentally alone he had been in this part of the galaxy. Every trip had always brought home just how alone he was on his chosen path, unable to spend too much time with anyone in case they saw what was under his mask or witnessed something that would make them question the legend he was trying to create around himself; he'd been the Phantom for so many years it was an effort to just be John Sheppard at times.

Elizabeth made it easier, of course- he'd spent so long letting down his guard when talking to her now-cremated future self that he associated her with the ability to relax- but there was only so much that she could do to help him when a whole city depended on her for leadership…

Right now, however, with the chance to rest on a world that had other people on it without worrying too much about how people would perceive him… the opportunity to see the sky and natural vegetation on a populated world… and being able to do it all when everyone else saw him as just one of the crowd from Atlantis, rather than revering him as 'the Phantom of the Ancestors' (A title that he was going to start discouraging as soon as he could after the 'Ancestors' had turned out to be complete dicks)…

He hadn't realised how much he'd missed those simple things until he'd been to Earth…

"Excuse me?" a voice said from behind him.

Turning around, John smiled politely at the young woman coming up behind him, wearing a long dark coat over her dress.

"Are you… all right?" the woman asked, looking uncertainly at him. "The party is-?"

"The party's fine; I just… wanted to catch my breath," John said, smiling reassuringly at her; he didn't think these people were easily offended, but it was better to be safe than sorry. "We haven't been to many of these things; it's a bit trickier closer to the galactic centre, you know…"

"Indeed," the woman said, smiling slightly at him. "Forgive me, but I had heard that a… Colonel Sumner was the military commander of Atlantis?"

"He moved on from the city," John said, going with the diplomatic explanation they'd come up with; Sumner's attitude at least ensured that he hadn't formed any particular bonds with any of the civilisations they'd encountered over the years, but it was better to be safe rather than sorry. "John Sheppard; I'm the expedition's new director of military operations. You are?"

"I am Ida," the woman said, before her eyes narrowed and her friendly expression vanished. "And your city's false Phantom killed my brother."

Even with his years of training as the Phantom, John was just slightly too slow to react (In hindsight, he'd blame it on the fact that he hadn't been expecting an attack here and he'd been drinking some of the planet's wine lately). Before he could get out of range, Ida had jammed something that felt like a taser into his chest, and he was falling backwards, consciousness fading, mouth open in a weak attempt to call for help…

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