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Author's Chapter Notes: AN: This part of the storyline ended up being shorter than I'd expected it would, but I hope everyone liked the result anyway

"Out of the question."

"No offence intended, because you've accomplished a great deal with comparatively few resources up until now, but this isn't exactly a matter of debate," John countered as he sat opposite Larrin, once again wishing that he had Elizabeth with him right now to deal with the diplomacy side of things. "From what your analysis has revealed, that ship out there needs a great deal of work done on it to be in any kind of useful state; right now it's on the verge of falling apart if it takes one good hit, and it's contaminated with so much radiation that you can only operate and supervise a few key systems at a time."

"We are aware of that, but to suggest that we hand it over to your people is-!"

"Not what I'm proposing," John cut her off again; it might not be diplomatic, but he got the impression that Larrin would prefer a man who stood by his position to someone who used polite words without explicitly picking a side. "As I said, we already have a cruiser of the same design as the one you've found in our fleet, so we don't actually need this ship-"

"Which is another way of saying that you would have taken it-"

"Hey, anyone would want a ship like that, but we're a mature enough civilisation to respect the fact that you got to it first!" John cut that argument off before it could get started. "Look, I appreciate that you've survived this long because you stayed on the go and isolated from the rest of the universe, but I think we can all agree that this isn't going to work for much longer-"

"It won't?" Larrin looked at him with a new intensity. "You suggest that the way we've lived is wrong?"

"Not wrong, but it isn't sustainable," John clarified. "There are only a certain amount of Wraith hives out there, and I can confirm that there are less of them now than there would have been when you started this, but at the same time you can only stay out of the way for so long before the Hives conclude that the effort it would take to find you is worth the amount of sustenance you'd provide for them."

"A grim assessment," Larrin noted, even as John noted that she didn't deny it.

"I'm not saying that it would happen any time soon, but that's not the same as saying it would never happen," he continued. "I appreciate that this would involve a great deal of change to the way you do things, and I'm not expecting you to change everything on short notice; I'm just asking you to let us help you bring this ship back up to full working order, and then… well, I'll need to run it by my superiors, but I should be able to sell this to them."

"Your… superiors?" Larrin repeated, raising a curious eyebrow at him. "I understood that the Phantom was independent?"

"It's a complicated system," John noted, inwardly cursing his slip-up; that just made it all the more important that he sold the Travellers on the idea of this alliance. "I was independent for a while, but I've recently… well, I've taken on a role as part of the Tau'ri expedition that settled into the city a few years ago."

"You gave up your freedom?"

"I traded a degree of freedom for superior authority," John clarified. "I'm not denying there are times when I would have preferred greater freedom, but this way of doing things does allow me access to greater resources than I would have ever possessed on my own."

It was awkward to defend a situation that he wasn't entirely happy about himself, but the important thing right now was to sell them on the benefits of an alliance with Atlantis rather than complain about the issues of his own situation.

"Look," he said, looking at the woman as reassuringly as he could considering the disadvantage of his mask, "I'm not saying that everyone in Atlantis is easy to work with, but everyone who'd be available and involved in helping to you get this ship working is a good person, and I can say for a fact that the woman in control of the city will fight tooth and nail to ensure that you get to keep this ship if I argue in favour of it."

Larrin stared at him in silence for a few moments before she finally sighed with a grim acknowledgement.

"A… fair point," she said, staring at him in a petulant manner. "You just… you have to understand; the idea of relying on anything more than our own expertise to solve a problem is practically anathema to the way we've lived for so long…"

"Just because you've always done things a certain way doesn't mean you always have to do them that way," John noted with a solemn half-smile. "Trust me, I know whereof I speak."

"You are a fascinating man, Phantom," Larrin noted, looking at him with a smile that was becoming intrigued rather than the earlier hostility.

"And one very committed to my primary goal of the protection of Atlantis," John said, shifting his tone; the mask had attracted a few people with the air of mystery, but he'd turned them down before and he wasn't going to let that change now. "Once we're back at Altantis, I'll do what I can to offer you our help in repairing this ship, and then you can do what you want with it; the only condition we might have for you is that you give us a way to get in touch with you if we need your help, but I'll do my part to make sure we only do that when we're really desperate."

"I… cannot speak for all of my people, but under the terms and conditions you dictate, I believe that will be acceptable," Larrin said, nodding finally at him. "Where shall we go?"

"The nearest planet with a Stargate," John said. "I can pass on a message to Atlantis without leaving anyone committed to anything or at a potential disadvantage before I've established terms."

"And you do not wish us to have the coordinates of your city yet?" Larrin observed, her expression returning to its more normal semi-flirtatious grin.

"You said it; not me," John said, as he stood up from the table. "I take this thing's star charts are still reasonably accurate?"

"You promised your kidnappers that they could have an Ancient cruiser?" McKay looked incredulously at John.

"Are they technically kidnappers when they couldn't keep me in custody where they wanted me to stay for longer than a few minutes?" John asked, smiling politely around the table at the rest of Atlantis's senior staff. It had taken a couple of hours for the damaged cruiser to get to the nearest planet with a Stargate, but once John had taken the jumper down to the planet, actually getting in touch with the city had been the easiest part of his current plan. He'd brought Larrin down with a couple of her men to prove his story and explain the situation to Elizabeth, but once she'd heard Larrin and her people out in her office, Elizabeth had immediately called a staff meeting to discuss the issue.

"I appreciate that their methods of introducing themselves are… unconventional… but they have made it clear that they oppose the Wraith-" Teyla began.

"Which we have already learned does not automatically mean that they are our allies," Elizabeth put in, even as she looked apologetically at Teyla. "Believe me, I wish that it could be that simple, but John, no matter your own opinions about these people, you have to keep in mind that you are part of a command structure that requires you to consider a bigger picture when making these kind of promises-"

"And I thought about them before I made this call," John cut Elizabeth off, even as the two exchanged a brief head-tilt that acknowledged that Elizabeth could see his point even if she had to officially argue for the IOA. "We have one fairly functional ancient cruiser available to us already, but at the same time we only have a limited full-time, large-scale presence in this galaxy beyond our planet-bound allies in other parts of the galaxy. If we can secure this alliance, we get access to a ready-made fleet that will help us against the Wraith and help us get around in situations where the Stargate isn't an option while our current ships are otherwise occupied. We gain a great deal of potential resources in one go, and the only thing we sacrifice is permanent access to a ship we already have one of anyway."

"And you think Earth will accept this trade?" Elizabeth asked.

"I appreciate that asking them to accept the comparative loss of another Ancient ship is an issue, but when we already have one available to us, we're not sacrificing that much when you think about it," John explained. "I'm asking them to accept the sacrifice of immediate access to one ship in exchange for the ability to call on a fleet of ships that nobody out here was even aware existed before; as far as the IOA are concerned, we can basically establish contact with a whole fleet, trading permanent access to one ship for irregular access to several."

"I take your point, John," Elizabeth nodded at him. "Obviously I can't offer any guarantees right now, but I'll do my best to sell that to the IOA when I get back in touch with them."

"You know, there's one thing I don't get right now," McKay said, looking at John in a particularly pointed manner. "If this comes across like I'm being superficial or something, I apologise, but I have to ask; given how that commander woman was standing next to you when she showed up, how is it that a guy who looks like he got mauled can still pull a Kirk?"

"McKay," John looked at the scientist with what he hoped came across as a joking smile, "I'm fairly sure Kirk at least kissed the women he was involved with; I did not and have no interest in doing anything with Larrin."

"Oh… point," McKay said, his eyes briefly flicking in the direction of Elizabeth's current table before he turned back to John. "Seriously, though, are you saying that you really convinced them to go along with this without… well, doing anything?"

"I would hardly think they were worthwhile allies if I won the over that easily," John observed, briefly frowning at McKay before he turned back to Elizabeth. "Anyway, while Larrin told me that her people have adapted to the way they're living their lives, there has to be a limit to how long you can put yourself through something like that before you can't take it any more. I will admit that their technology isn't as advanced as some of the races we've encountered, but Larrin and her senior staff appreciated my points about how we could help them put the cruiser back together, and I even suggested that they might be able to adapt what they see of the final result to improve their own resources."

"We help them once and they can help themselves?" Elizabeth smiled at John in approval. "You're really getting the hang of this, aren't you?"

"I spent twenty years preparing for the day when you'd be in charge of this city; it's a shift of focus, but I can do more than shoot Wraith."

It was a simple statement, but when John said those words, he realised that it was the first time he'd actually admitted to himself that he could do more than kill monsters.

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