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Author's Chapter Notes: AN: Jumped forward a bit; this chapter's set while McKay's back on Earth for 'McKay and Mrs Miller' (Let's just say I have plans for 'Common Ground' that necessitated it being skipped on this occasion, even without the fact that Sumner would be less open to the idea of an alliance with Todd…)

Standing on her balcony, Elizabeth wondered why she should expect this particular attempt at a meeting to work out any better than her other recent efforts.

Ever since she had woken up from her nanite-induced coma, she had spent two or three 'sessions', each a few minutes long, out on 'their' balcony each day, waiting for some sign that John would come back to see her, but he'd been maintaining the distance that seemed to have settled over them since that whole mess with Lucius.

Was this how it was going to be between them now? John remaining distant because he felt… something… about that time that he hadn't shared with anyone else, only showing up when they needed help, and otherwise ignoring her attempts to reach out to him?

It wasn't that she didn't respect John's wishes; she just wished that she could understand what had driven him to make that kind of decision. She had initially wondered if it was something that she'd said under Lucius's influence, but dismissed that idea almost as soon as it had occurred to her- John had to know that she didn't really feel that he couldn't be trusted because he wore a mask, right?-, and she was left wondering if the explanation lay in something else.

"Is all well?" a voice asked, ending Elizabeth's thoughts as she turned to look in relief at their subject.

"John," she said, smiling at him in relief. "You're all right?"

"You mean the nanites?" John said with a smile. "I'm fine, thanks; I think that the nanites were both too focused on you to spread to me and I had too much control to let them access me."

"Control?" Elizabeth repeated in surprise. "You could control them?"

"They were Ancient technology, Elizabeth; they may not have been designed to respond to ATA-gene control, but that's only an obstacle rather than a handicap to someone as experienced with the stuff as I am," John explained with a smile. "I was able to make a degree of contact with you by remote, but you only experienced me as me when I made physical contact and completed the circuit; you were already fighting their attempts to reprogram you, but I just… gave you something to focus on."

"That was you?" Elizabeth said, recalling the impression she'd sometimes received that something was watching her in the illusion. For a moment, she thought about hugging John, but considering what he must have been through here she decided against it- she'd met too many battle-trained soldiers who had spent so long in the field that they reacted to every moment of physical contact like it was an attack-, settling for smiling warmly at him. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," John said, before he looked at her with his more traditional neutral expression. "So, is this current meeting about Doctor McKay's latest experiment?"

Elizabeth tried not to let her disappointment show at his last comment; had he only come here to discuss their latest potential danger?

It might be weird to think about something like that when so much was riding on the knowledge that they could acquire from Atlantis, but the fact that he'd come here just because of what they were about to do…

"Well… partly," she said, looking at him uncomfortably. "I mean, if you have any input to offer, we'd appreciate it, of course, but really, I just… ever since that whole thing the Replicators and Niam's nanites, I've needed to talk about it, and…"

"And you haven't found anyone to talk to here?" John asked, looking at her in confusion. "You have a trained counsellor on staff-"

"Who's obliged to report back to Earth with her results; I just…" Elizabeth began, before she sighed in uncertain resignation as she looked at him. "With the way things have been recently, I just feel like… some people are waiting for an excuse to get me out of the city…"

"And you're not going to give them that excuse, huh?" John asked, with a slight smile on his face as he looked at her; only a slight tension in his fists hinted at the part of himself he had shown so often in defence of this city. "And you think I'm a good alternative?"

"Whatever else you are, I know I can trust you," Elizabeth said, looking firmly at him, already psychologically committing herself to take advantage of the opportunity to unburden herself in face of the one person she always felt inexplicably safe around, despite the mysteries surrounding him.

"All right," John said, looking at her with a warm, soft smile. "What do you want to talk about?"

For a few moments, Elizabeth simply stood and stared out at the ocean before her, all thoughts of what she would say to John when they next spoke suddenly inadequate when faced with the chance to actually say them, until she finally found something to say that didn't feel quite as awkward as the alternatives.

"I still can't quite get over it," she said at last, stuck for a better way to start the ball rolling. "We find a surviving Ancient colony, and it's populated by machines that are perfectly willing to destroy us because they resent the fact that the Ancients chose us over them, stop the destruction of Atlantis by the skin of our teeth…"

"Let's just take it as a win right now," John said, smiling reassuringly at her. "After all, from what I heard, you kicked those nanites' asses when you got the chance…"

"Which I only had thanks to you," Elizabeth said, smiling over at him. "I know I was only in there for a few hours, but…"

"Felt like longer?" John asked, looking at her with a slight sense of anxiety.

"A lifetime," Elizabeth admitted, lowering her head for a moment before she looked back at him with a smile. "And I never would have managed to escape it without you."

"Eh, I didn't do that much; Doctor Beckett dealt with the worst of them-" John said with an awkward smile; it was as though discussing what he'd done was a lot easier than thinking about how it made her feel.

"But you worked out what they were doing to me," Elizabeth said, looking at him with a reassuring smile, slightly amused at his apparent discomfort

"Hey, that was just a theory that turned out to be right; don't praise me for being lucky," John said, the smile faltering slightly as he looked at her. "I would have tried to help out earlier, but it was only really a theory until Doctor Beckett confirmed what the nanites were doing and how your body was responding to it…"

"You saved me in the end; that's what counts," Elizabeth said, smiling reassuringly at him, before her expression became more pensive.

She couldn't believe that she was feeling awkward about this; she'd negotiated treaties that could have resulted in war if something had gone wrong, and she was still awkward when asking a guy a personal question?

Then again, it wasn't like this was any guy… she was talking to the Phantom of Atlantis

"It's just…" she said, briefly wondering if it wouldn't be easier to just not bring this particular topic up in the first place before she took a deep breath and metaphorically dived in to the real question. "Why me?"

"Pardon?" John asked, looking at her in confusion.

"Why do you… spend time with me?" Elizabeth asked, looking uncertainly at him; now that she was actually talking about it, her confusion seemed slightly pathetic, but she'd made her choice and would have to go along with it. "I mean, Teyla seems like she's… more your type, when you get down to it; she's the warrior who's been raised on your legend, she'd believe you if you went to her for help, I would have listened to any suggestions she had to make even if she had revealed that they came from you…"

"Hold it right there," John said, looking at her with a slight smile that she couldn't quite place the nature of. "Yeah, Teyla's a warrior who knows details of my history, and she's… well, I'll concede that she's not bad on the eyes…"

"But?" Elizabeth asked, ignoring the stab of what had almost felt like- but was definitely not-jealousy that she had felt at the reference to Teyla's… physical attributes; this wasn't high school and she wasn't the book-club girl jealous of the head cheerleader…

"But," John said, looking at her with a warmth that she rarely saw him express, reaching over to place a comforting hand on her arm, "in the two decades I've been in this galaxy, doing my duty to protect the Wraith, you gave me something I've never had before."

"I… I have?" Elizabeth said, uncertain if she should feel unnerved or flattered at the implications of John's statement; she'd only been here for a couple of years, and had spent so comparatively little time with him during that time, she didn't really get how she could have had that kind of impact on someone who'd been her for ten times that…

"You gave me a purpose, Elizabeth," John said, looking at her with a warmth that she couldn't recall anyone ever directing at her before, a tenderness about John that she had previously never thought to associate with the Phantom. "I spent years stopping Wraith from feeding because I didn't like them… but you gave me someone to do it for."

There wasn't really anything that Elizabeth could say to that statement; she just stood and stared at John for a few moments, moved by his words while lost for how to respond to them, barely even registering the anomaly of her being lost for the words that were usually the way she made a living…

A sudden shift in John's manner was the only clue she had about what he was about to do before he jumped over the balcony in his usual more extravagant manner of departure, leaving Elizabeth looking awkwardly after him.

What had he just admitted to?

Why was he so apparently reluctant to tell her any more about the reasons for his interest in her?

Could he…


That would have been…

It was just Doctor Fletcher's words making her think too much about it; she wasn't interested in John that way…

But how much of that was because she thought he couldn't be interested in her?

No matter what John had said about her giving him purpose, she didn't understand how she'd done something like that…

Chapter End Notes: AN: Not my longest, but I can assure you that Elizabeth will encounter a much more significant clue in the next chapter…

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