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Old Friends and New Enemies

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John slung a haphazardly packed bag over his shoulder and moved forward to his door. Slowly he peaked outside the doorway, looking both ways twice. When no one appeared to be paying attention he made a quick dash forward towards the control room.

"Colonel Sheppard!"

John's feet faltered as his shoulders slouched forward at the familiar shrill voice of IOA representative Shen Xiaoyi. He began to walk forward again but was unsurprised when she kept right in stride with him. The woman reminded him of a Wraith; she seemed able to suck the life out of everyone in a room, and as of late he'd caught himself thinking he'd rather face a Wraith than her constant barrage of questions.

"I heard your team intends to accompany Colonel Caldwell to the Pegasus galaxy," Shen said, somehow managing to scold him even as she pretended she wasn't.

"Yes," John replied as he rounded a corner and watched as the crew of Atlantis practically fled out of the hallway at the sight of Shen. "Teyla Emmagan is looking forward to seeing her people again."

"Uh-huh," Shen clucked her tongue as she took out the notebook that seemed to be attached to her and furiously wrote something down. "So you'd lead your entire team based on one member's personal preferences?"

"It isn't a personal preference," John practically growled at her. Shen raised an eyebrow and continued to write. John let out a heavy sigh, resisting the urge to just throw a tantrum. Again. "Look, we're checking in with our allies."

"Uh-huh," Shen replied. "These 'allies' are the same ones who are essentially farmers with nothing to offer us?"

"They offer Atlantis allies," John said, his teeth gritting together.

"Yes, but that was when Atlantis was cut off from Earth. Now that it's on Earth there's no need for these so-called 'allies.'"

John had never been so grateful to reach the gateroom as he was in that moment. Teyla and Ronon were standing together at the top of the stairs as Rodney barreled in mid-rant, another representative of the IOA following in behind him. John smirked when he saw that Rodney had gotten the IOA representative to carry six of the seven heavily packed bags he was bringing.

"You can't be serious!" Rodney exclaimed. "All I do all day is stay in this city and make everything better and save the day! I've put in more than enough hours; I'm allowed to leave!"

"He's also ordered to leave," John called out as he moved to stand beside Teyla. Rodney rolled his eyes and joined them.

"I never thought I'd actually follow one of your orders," Rodney muttered.

"You always follow my orders." John's eyes narrowed at him.

"Well, yeah, but that's because I wanted to." Rodney shrugged. John rolled his eyes.

Woolsey, looking incredibly weary, moved out of his office to greet them.

"Remember when the IOA only sent one person to drive us crazy?" John asked with a wide grin.

"Days of nostalgia," Woolsey muttered. Shen wrote in her notebook again. "Oh, really! What could you possibly be writing that can't be recorded later?" Woolsey demanded as his head jerked towards her. She frowned at him and then kept on writing.

"Well, Colonel Sheppard," Woolsey said as he faced him, "enjoy your trip."

"Yes sir." John nodded. In the next second he found himself aboard the Daedalus with Colonel Caldwell standing in front of him.

"Colonel Sheppard, welcome aboard. Ready to get the hell out of here?"

"Don't suppose we could teleport them into the ocean?"

"My scientists tell me that isn't feasible," Caldwell replied dryly; a smirk twitched at the corner of his mouth.

"Too bad," John replied. "In that case, I'm all for leaving."

Caldwell nodded and sat back down into his chair before he began issuing orders to his people. John had never been so grateful to be confined to a ship for such an extended period of time in his life.

*

"You can't seriously be playing video games," Rodney said. He sat down in the seat opposite John.

John glanced up from his Gameboy. He raised an eyebrow at the tray stacked with food that McKay was currently shoveling (eating would have been too kind an adjective,) from. "We all handle boredom different ways," he muttered, looking back to his Gameboy and ignoring the blue vortex going by the window.

"Hey! I have a very sensitive metabolism – it needs to be constantly maintained."

John snorted. "No problem there."

"Oh, shut up. I'm tired of you not understanding my need to eat. It's a very serious condition that-"

John thought back to Atlantis, and all the political entanglements it was currently finding itself in. Woolsey was fighting to return Atlantis to Pegasus, but the new word was that even if they could get it flying again the IOA was against it. They wanted to keep Atlantis in their backyard in case another threat like the Ori or Wraith showed up.

Which was exceedingly selfish, with how many allies they'd left in the Pegasus galaxy to fight the Wraith on their own. But then again, the IOA was pretty much the epitome of selfish. Woolsey was doing all he could, and the man was being persistent, but at the moment it just didn't seem to be enough.

"-and I'm tired of being stuck on this ship! Do you know Novak actually kicked me out of the engine room? Kicked me out! Me!"

"Rodney, I told you not to bother Caldwell's staff."

"I'm not bothering them, I was offering a valuable upgrade! Honestly, you'd think I was a
janitor from the way they shuffled me out – or one of their scientists. They're all completely useless."

"Who was shuffling janitors?" Teyla asked as she took a seat beside John. Ronon slid in beside Rodney.

"No one, Rodney was bothering Novak. Again."

Teyla raised an eyebrow at Rodney. "Did she not tell you that she would make you ride on the outside of the Daedalus if you continued to bother her?"

"Oh, please," Rodney rolled his eyes, "she was hiccuping with fear the whole time, you could barely understand it."

"Fear?" Ronon asked skeptically. "Of what?"

"Maybe she saw a bug," John suggested.

"Or perhaps Colonel Caldwell was nearby. He can be very intimidating to his crew," Teyla added.

"No, me!" Rodney sputtered. "She was afraid of me!"

Everyone at the table stared at him. He continued to sputter indignantly.

"I'm very intimidating! I'm a genius, you know! It's intimidating that no one will ever know as much as I do!" Rodney whined.

"And he's humble too," John muttered to Teyla. She smiled back at him. "You know what scares me? Shen. She's everywhere."

"I do not disagree," Teyla inclined her head towards him. "She cornered me in the ladies room after my sparring practice to ask me why I had accompanied Atlantis on the trip back to Earth with the knowledge that it may not return."

"What'd you say?" Ronon asked.

"I told her that I felt an allegiance with the people of Earth and was merely repaying the generosity that had been shown to me and my people."

"And what did she say?" John asked.

"She... did not seem to believe me," Teyla shrugged.

"She tried to talk to me," Ronon said. "I didn't talk back."

"Now why didn't I think of that?" John said, imagining the woman's face if he just didn't respond.

"I think we should just fight her to see who gets to make the decisions," Ronon said. "And all the IOA."

"Oh, please," Rodney said, "I could fight the IOA and win in a physical fight."

"All the more reason to do it," John smirked. "Can you imagine their faces when McKay beat them at something that wasn't science?"

"Hey-" Rodney began in annoyance.

Suddenly a call went out across the ship. It was an alert. John stood up and quickly made his way to the front of the ship with his team following him. Caldwell was sitting in his chair as John came to stand beside him.

"What is it?"

"Colonel Sheppard," Caldwell nodded to him. "We've just entered Pegasus – we were heading to the Athosian settlement when we picked up a distress call on this planet. It's projecting incredibly far, so we're wondering-"

"Who in this galaxy would have the ability to send a distress call like that," John filled-in knowingly. Caldwell nodded affirmatively. John stared at the planet's information, and then froze when he got to its address.

"Colonel Sheppard?" Caldwell asked. "Do you know something?"

"No, nothing," John shook him off. "I'd like permission to send my team down to check out this distress call."

"And if it's a trap?"

"Then we're encountering a technologically advanced race that we're probably going to run across eventually anyway. We can cover the ground in an hour or so and send word back if we need back up. It should only slightly delay our trip."

"Okay then, permission granted. I'll expect to hear from your team in an hour about the situation. We'll place you a mile away from the beacon."

*

John led his team forward, with Ronon covering the back and Teyla and Rodney in the middle as they approached the area the distress call had come from. He was surprised to feel a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Teyla walking by his side, studying him.

"John," she said quietly, "you lied to Colonel Caldwell."

"What are you talking about?" John asked, turning his head to survey the area.

"This planet. We have been on it before – the layout is familiar to many planets but I recognized the address. This is where we found our clones... including Elizabeth."

"It's not important," John muttered, still not looking at her and speeding up his walk. She kept in stride with him.

"What if this distress beacon has to do with Elizabeth?" Teyla stopped him by holding onto his elbow. She stared at him curiously.

John turned towards her. "First of all, those clones all died. Second of all, Elizabeth is dead. Whatever this is has nothing to do with her, period."

He roughly pulled his arm from her grasp and turned, making a brisk walk forward so that Teyla was forced to fall back in line. Of course he had recognized the planet's address. It wasn't everyday your dead leader came back – only for it to turn out she was a clone – and then died. Sacrificing herself. Again. John shoved away the thoughts; Elizabeth was dead and that was all there was to it.

John halted as they neared a cave, raising his fist to indicate his team should stop as well. "It's coming from in there," Rodney said as he stared down at the device he'd brought that was tracking the signal. John nodded towards Ronon and together they each took a side of the small cave opening; it was barely larger than a door.

Together they scanned the area then moved forward slowly. Inside they found only one room in the cave, lined with rock walls.

"Well," John said as he lowered his gun, "that was anti-climatic."

Rodney frowned as he looked over the device in his hand. "The signal should be coming from close by."

"You mean inside the walls?" John asked.

"Well yes," Rodney shrugged. "There's definitely a signal coming from close by."

"That's great, but none of us can walk through walls. Ronon could probably break a few, but-"

Ronon raised an eyebrow at him.

"Okay," John sighed, "let's look at the walls. See if we can find anything."

They all moved forward to different sections of the cave wall. John reached out to touch the wall – and yelled out in surprise. His hands both sunk forward as if the wall wasn't even there. "Hey, uh, guys?" he called. The wall was pulling him forward. He tried to pull back, with no luck. He heard Rodney call out in surprise and heard Ronon and Teyla moving towards him – but in seconds he was pulled forward completely.

He faltered, turning where he had gone through the wall to see not a cave wall but a regular white wall. When he turned forward he found himself standing in a very Ancient looking corridor. It was lined with blue lights and various doorways. What was really surprising, though, was the man at the other end of the hallway now approaching him. He froze at the sight.

"John Sheppard," the man said, "I knew our paths would cross again."

"Niam." John replied, staring at the Replicator. "Gotta say I didn't quite feel the same way. What, with us killing you and then destroying Asuras and all the Replicators."

Niam smiled. It was something John was sure was probably superfluous to him, and entirely creepy in its inhumanity. "There are some gaps in your story, Colonel. Follow me."

John turned to the wall behind him, pushing a hand against it to see if he could escape. It was completely solid, and by the looks of it his team either couldn't or wasn't coming through. "And if I were to refuse?"

Niam turned towards him, whatever kindness had been in the Replicator the first time they had met seemed to be completely erased. "Then I will forcefully move you."

"Well," John's eyes narrowed, "in that case..."

He followed Niam down the hallway, and into the room at the end of it. The room was completely white, with a single table in the middle and a device on the table that looked Ancient or Replicator in origin.

"You see, Colonel Sheppard, you did not destroy the Replicators as you think you did. You merely destroyed Oberoth, which was quite convenient for me."

"It was convenient to kill your leader?"

"Oberoth was short-sighted," Niam said, his words filled with a harshness that was surprisingly human. "He could see nothing but his own vengeance. He recreated me. 'Each of us exists within the collective and can be replicated many times,'" Niam said, a line that John remembered Oberoth saying just before he'd attacked them. Just before everything had gone to hell. "What Oberoth thought was that he could reprogram me to be more like him, aggressive without a care for ascension. Well, he got the aggression right, but the ascension part so very wrong. So I had him destroyed."

"You had him..." John began slowly, uncertainly.

"All who have been taken into the collective can be duplicated, Colonel Sheppard," Niam said. "We can also create Replicator clones. These clones can even be made to believe that they are, say, 'escaping' from Asuras to get information to Atlantis."

"You planted the information with the doubles," John said, swallowing at the information.

"Exactly. Revenge is a strong emotion among humans, I knew you would destroy the planet. So I moved those who believed in my goals away from Asuras, to an outpost on this very planet. We were here the entire time, Colonel Sheppard. Right under your noses."

"That's impossible-"

"Is it? We have no life signs, and what signs we do emit we choose to mask. Your precious Dr. Weir was here the entire-"

John's jaw clenched. "Elizabeth is dead. She stepped through the gate-"

"That was a failed copy," Niam said. "Implanted with memories but not a body – we're running low on materials in this galaxy."

"You expect me to believe-"

"I don't expect you to believe anything. I'm merely telling you what has occurred."

"Why am I here?" John demanded, his fists clenching at his side as he held back the very rash impulse of just attacking Niam.

"I knew your people would come back eventually. Now I need you to touch this device."

"Like hell," John replied roughly. "You can't just tell me your top secret evil plan and expect me to actually go along with it."

Niam stepped forward, and for a moment John stared at him. Then, with lightning quick speed he grabbed John's arms and pulled him forward. John tried to resist, but it was hopeless. One of his hands was quickly placed against the round device in front of him. It immediately lit up in reaction to his touch and he felt that familiar communication he had with all Ancient devices. But this time he shoved it back, tried to get it not to work – but it didn't seem to be possible. He could feel the device tugging at him but it wasn't at all like usual; it was in a way that he couldn't control.

"Dr. Weir is alive, Colonel," Niam said beside him, still pinning him down even as he tried to pull back. John felt a familiar rage boiling in his gut.

"No, she's not, I swear to god-" there was a flash in front of him. John stopped struggling as he stared at the person who had just appeared and was looking at her surroundings warily.

Her hair was longer and pulled back into a loose ponytail. A few errant strands clung to her sweat-covered face which had more lines than John remembered. Her clothes looked tribal, similar to something an Athosian would wear but with more covering, and she was carrying a gun that looked very similar to Ronon's at her side. There was no denying who she was. John faltered as she turned her head and stared at him.

"John? You're... my John," she whispered as she stared at him and he stared back. "Oh god, I'm actually back... finally back..."

"That's right, Elizabeth," Niam said. "It took me quite a while to retrieve you."

Elizabeth turned towards Niam and looked almost murderous in how angry her features became. John could do nothing but stare at her. It stuck him that he'd never seen Elizabeth that angry.

"Niam," Elizabeth spat. "I was hoping you would have been destroyed by now."

"Is that any way to speak to your savior?"

"You're not my savior," she said, rage filling her voice. "I wish Oberoth had killed me when he had the chance, instead of handing the job off to you."

"I appreciated your human influence where he could not."

"Is that why you boxed me up? Probed my mind?"

"Exactly so. It was something to be understood. Which is what I intend to continue doing. Now, say goodbye to-"

Elizabeth lurched forward so quickly John could hardly comprehend it (could hardly comprehend her,) as she jumped over the table and right into him. He managed to raise his gun as she pushed into him, but was shocked to hear the sound of an energy blast. Elizabeth fell into him limply and he saw that Niam had some sort of device, one that he had been aiming right at John.

"I'm so sorry," Elizabeth murmured, one hand latching onto the back of his neck. He froze at the apology, completely at a loss, and then white energy surrounded them. It blinded John and clouded his senses until all he could feel was her hand still pressing against the back of his neck.

When he opened his eyes again it was to entirely different surroundings. He blinked in surprise, recognizing that he was in an Atlantian corridor. Elizabeth stepped away from him and he felt her touch burning into the back of his neck.

She suddenly collapsed backwards and, without thinking, John moved to her aid. He sat her up and pulled up the back of her shirt where she had been shot. Her skin was burned and torn. He watched in horror as it patched itself up. His hands immediately flew away from her as he raised his gun to her. She had her eyes closed and her jaw clenched.

"John, the nanites are still active in my body."

"Uh-huh. I noticed," he replied, keeping the gun raised. Elizabeth ignored him, opening her eyes and looking past him to the hallway.

"Good, I'm still attached to Atlantis," Elizabeth said. She stood and unlatched her own gun. John's hand tensed on his gun, but she kept her gun pointed away from him and more towards the hallway in front of them.

John swallowed. He'd never seen Elizabeth carry a gun – it was something she had been idealistically opposed to. Seeing Elizabeth in front of him was unsettling enough, but seeing her holding a gun was an entirely different type of unsettling.

"So," John dragged out the word as he looked around him and then back at her. "I notice we're in Atlantis. And that you're, y'know, not dead. Or in Fran's body."

Elizabeth raised a hand to him and pulled a life signs detector out of her side pocket. She looked at it carefully and then turned to him. "This looks like it's an empty Atlantis. They're fairly popular – I've come across a good amount of them. We can talk."

She lowered her gun and put it back in the holder on the side of her pants. She turned her head to stare at him as he kept his gun raised at her. "I said we can talk. Or do you just want to shoot me?"

John kept the gun pointed at her.

She stared at his gun for a minute before sitting down on the opposite side of the hallway. She pulled her legs up to her chest and rested her chin on her knees as she just sat and watched him.

"Give me that gun," he demanded, nodding to the gun that rested at her side.

"That's not going to happen," she replied, her voice monotone to the point of almost sounding bored. "We could jump at any time, we both need to be armed and ready."

"Jump? What are you talking about?"

"One of Niam's followers betrayed him by giving me an Ancient device that would 'free' me. I touched it and then poof, I was in a different reality. I've been stuck jumping from alternate universe to alternate universe ever since. The jumps activate randomly or when I'm severely injured, and once I eventually made my way to Atlantis I became anchored here where all my jumps bring me to different versions of Atlantis." Elizabeth shrugged. She looked entirely defeated, and even as John kept his gun aimed at her – and didn't believe she was who she was claiming to be – he felt his gut clench at the unfamiliar sight of Elizabeth giving up.

"I see that Niam managed to create those doubles he was so fond of," Elizabeth added, her eyes moving down to look at the floor.

John tensed, quite a feat considering how tense he already was. "How would you know that?"

"Well, I doubt that your first reaction to me would be quite so hostile if this was the first time you were seeing me since Asuras."

John swallowed as the memories of leaving her which had just been reburied started to rise again. "Yeah, well, last time I saw you was on Atlantis-"

Elizabeth's head jerked up suddenly and John immediately stopped speaking as she stared at him with wide eyes. "W-what? A clone got on Atlantis? You can't be serious- Niam said he could but I never thought you'd actually allow me, or someone you thought was me, onto Atlantis-"

"Yeah, well, you were a consciousness who shoved your way into Atlantis and downloaded into FRAN with your new Replicator friends."

"Oh god," Elizabeth said quietly as she rested her head against her hand and closed her eyes as if she'd just been shot. "That's brilliant. And then I suppose you were left wondering if this FRAN version of me was or wasn't who she said she was? Emotions were stirred and you were distracted."

"We weren't distracted," John argued defensively.

"And did this FRAN version of me get out into Atlantis on her own at any point?"

"No, of course no-" John began, stopped. When the Replicator had escaped on Atlantis Elizabeth had run after him, killed him after John had found her in the hallway. But she had been in the hallway alone for a decent amount of time.

"Oh god," Elizabeth repeated. She got to her feet and John immediately raised the gun to keep it pointed towards her, but in that second she looked exactly like the Elizabeth he had known just a few years before. Sometimes it felt like a lifetime to him. "John, Atlantis is in danger."

"What?" John's eyes, narrowed, his hand tensing on his gun as she faced him.

"Niam had a plan he used to enjoy sharing with me. I never thought it would work. He wanted to send an altered double of me to Atlantis, to plant a device that would destroy Atlantis and allow Niam's Replicators to salvage the materials for their own experiments."

Elizabeth shook her head, rubbing her forehead with her palm. "Did you do any checks when she got out?" John frowned but didn't say anything, not particularly interested in sharing information with this so-called Elizabeth. But Elizabeth glanced at him and then just shook her head again. "No? I don't think regular sweeps of Atlantis would detect the device-"

"And how was the device built?" John argued, feeling suddenly defensive.

"I don't know, you tell me," Elizabeth said.

John thought back. They'd allowed Elizabeth and the other Replicators a work area to create their bodies. John had no idea what sort of materials that meant they had been given, or if the scientists had even looked over all the possible combinations of the materials. Could the Replicators have been creating the device Elizabeth was talking about all along?

John's hands clenched at the thought. Elizabeth was dead. His gun, which had been lowering, rose again to point right at her as he moved into a defensive stance.

"How do you know any of that's true? Whether you know it or not you could just be another copy implanted with memories from the real Elizabeth."

Elizabeth's lips moved into a smile was completely devoid of humor or warmth. She placed one of her palms up and John took a step back in surprise as a silver liquid he'd come to recognize as nanites pressed up from her skin. It sunk back down again as she lowered the palm. "For the same reason I know you're the John from my reality and not some reality close by," she said. "The nanites make me see things differently – precisely and in a way that can't be altered by any Replicator probe. Ironically the thing that took my humanity away from me is the same thing that proves to me I'm human."

John swallowed, his throat felt rough at her words and he chose his words carefully. "Elizabeth was no less human because of the nanites."

"No," she replied, dryly, staring at the gun he still had aimed at her, "I'm feeling very human right now."

John opened his mouth to say something else, to argue that she couldn't be Elizabeth, when the same whiteness from before began to surround him. He just barely made out Elizabeth reaching for her gun before he was completely enveloped.

*

When everything settled around them John found himself in a practically pitch-dark hallway with just a few dim lights haphazardly strewn around it. From what he could see of the hallway it looked to be in bad condition, like a war had erupted in it.

"Keep your gun up," Elizabeth's voice rang out from beside him. It startled him and he quickly whipped his gun towards her, the light at the end illuminating her. "Not at me – if you want you can keep pointing it at me after we figure out what's happening here."

She pulled the life signs detector out again, frowning as she studied it.

"Yeah, right," John replied, "I always listen to people who tell me not to point guns at them."

She raised an eyebrow at that but said nothing as she put the life signs detector away. "There are large clusters of life signs on each side of the city. I'd say we should just wait it out here but-" there was a sound of inhuman hissing, "I'm not sure it'd be safe," Elizabeth finished.

Suddenly the corridor echoed with the same sound of hissing and something scratching rapidly against the floor. John took a step back with his gun raised. Elizabeth remained by his side with her own gun. In front of them a single figure moved towards them with lighting quick speed.

John froze. Even in the dim light he recognized what it was. It was the very same creature he'd begun to turn into. The blue scales and almost-Wraith complexion of it were undeniable. John raised his gun as it approached closer. Elizabeth wasn't so cautious, her gun fired off and the Iratus creature crashed forward with a surprised yelp.

It got up on its knees and let out a harsh call. "I think you pissed it off," John muttered as he took a few steps back.

"I don't think it was overjoyed to see us to start with," she replied. He couldn't really argue with that logic.

The call got louder – others were joining in on it, John realized. Down the hallway behind the first creature John saw movement. A lot of movement. The other creatures shuffled forward as John and Elizabeth took steps back.

"Run?" John asked.

"Run," Elizabeth agreed. It was then that he felt a hand on his shoulder and turned in surprise to see Teyla staring at him.

"Teyla," he said, relieved, "we could use some-" Teyla's fist collided with his face and John let out a cry of surprise as his hands cupped his face.

"Teyla?" Elizabeth asked, her voice full of caution. Behind Teyla John noticed Lorne. The man looked rough, with a scar on his face running from the corner of his eye down to his jaw. They both wore tattered clothes, and behind them was a crew of men who looked worse for the wear.

"Take them," Lorne commanded and before John knew what was happening two men had grabbed his arms and were holding him back. A brief turn of his head showed that Elizabeth was in a similar position.

"Hey, uh, now's not the really the time for this. Besides, we aren't who you think we are."

"That much is clear," Teyla replied with a bitterness John didn't understand. "Evan," she turned towards Lorne. He nodded back at her and motioned for his men to moved forward. They threw off flares that illuminated the hallway and instantly most of the creatures let out yells and quickly ran the opposite way. One, though, jumped forward through the flares.

John heard a few surprised calls at the action. He could feel the tension in the group. "Fall back," Lorne commanded, his voice full of as much harshness as John had heard in any general.

The men began to move back but the creature was much quicker – and it was moving right for him. "John," he heard Elizabeth's panicked voice and it threw him for more of a loop than the fact that a prehistoric Wraith creature was running towards him.

The men holding his arms let go and he watched as they ran back. Teyla looked at him for just a moment before her feet began to move back. "I do not know what you are, but I suggest you run."

"John!" Elizabeth screamed. Before he could even comprehend how fast it had moved the creature swung an arm at him and he was shoved back into a wall. He collapsed to the ground with a heavy release of air. He vaguely made out Lorne and everyone else running fast down the hallway before he saw another pair of shoes running towards him. Elizabeth. Or whatever she was.

He felt the creature's hand grab him and begin to haul him backwards down the hallway. He struggled, trying to get his gun or a grip on the creature but both failed. It was like he was a rag-doll with the way he was being pulled.

He watched in surprise as Elizabeth leapt forward after him, her hand colliding with the creature's face. It let out a yell of surprise and staggered backwards. That was when all the creatures from before re-emerged. The sound of hissing around him was deafening.

He felt the creature's hand latch around his neck and grimaced as his vision began to black out around the edges. Elizabeth's panicked face came into vision and was the last thing he saw before he blacked out.

*

"Let me in!" Elizabeth screamed, demanded. She was standing in front of a poorly-constructed force shield and inside she could see rundown people moving around, not even paying attention to her.

After John had passed out the other creatures had surrounded him as the one holding him had pulled him back and out of her line of sight. Even with her gun and the strength the nanites gave her she had just barely made it out alive. Afterward she made a dead-run away from the direction the creatures had gone and back to where Teyla had gone. She suspected the large mass of life signs on the other side of the city were the other humans, and she had been right. Now she stood outside with nothing but a scream to try and get someone, anyone, to listen to her.

No one was paying her any attention at all. John was this those things. The ones he had been so close to converting to himself. The second she'd seen them a fierce possessiveness had overcome her. She remembered what the conversion had done to John, how he'd hated it, and knew what seeing those things must be doing to him.

Above that, though, she was still panicked by the thought that right now her Atlantis was in danger and she was stuck in yet another fucked-up alternate reality with no way to get where she wanted to go.

She thought John might be able to control the jumps with his gene. Of course what she thought didn't really matter when he didn't believe she was who she said she was. He thought she was a Replicator. Which, she supposed, wasn't entirely false given her current... predicament. You're not one of them. They only come for their own kind. Oberoth's words rang in her head. (He'd taken his rage out on her before he'd decided to reintegrate her into the collective. Even now, years later, his words were still what woke her up in a cold sweat most nights.)

"Oh," she huffed, grabbing her gun out of its holder. She closed her eyes and pointed it towards her own arm. The shot would jump them to another reality, and right now she'd rather roll the dice with that than risk John with those things.

The gun fired and Elizabeth felt searing pain followed by the nanites in her skin repairing her. She didn't jump.

She had always jumped that way. What if John joining her had changed the rules? She didn't understand much about it. Samantha Carter (as Atlantis' head scientist under an Atlantis led by Daniel Jackson,) had tested her once and explained that her body chemistry was different now, that it was somehow latching onto other realities, but even Colonel Carter hadn't fully understood it.

"What are you?"

She turned to see Teyla staring at her from the other side of the force-field.

"Teyla," she pleaded, hoping this woman bore some resemblance to the Teyla she had known. "They took John. We have to get them."

Teyla seem unconcerned with this as her eyes moved to Elizabeth's arm, which was now practically healed. "What are you?" she repeated.

"I'm not from this reality," Elizabeth explained quickly, a spiel she'd gone on what felt like a billion times by now. "I've been stuck jumping from different universe to different universe. I have nanites; they heal me but aren't contagious. Teyla, they took John."

"I do not know what nanites are," Teyla said, still looking at her arm before her eyes moved up to meet hers. It struck her immediately how dead-tired Teyla looked. "But my Elizabeth told me of alternate realities. You may come in for now."

A small area in the shield opened. Elizabeth stepped through it warily, not missing that suddenly everyone in the small area was staring at her or that Lorne was standing in one corner with his gun at the ready.

"She is not one of them," Teyla said as she continued to stare at Elizabeth. "I do not feel any connection to them."

"Teyla," Elizabeth repeated, "they have John."

Teyla nodded, closing her eyes briefly before she looked at Elizabeth again. "Then he is dead."

"What?" she looked around the camp, the people still staring at her and Lorne who look liked he wanted to shoot her. She realized Teyla was holding back the tidal wave of what these people would like to do to her. They seemed frightened to the point of anger.

"Teyla, what's going on?"

Teyla continued to study her. "You truly are not our Elizabeth."

"No, I'm not. What happened?"

"Come, we will speak." Elizabeth followed Teyla forward, watching as Teyla looked to Lorne and immediately the man fell in-step behind them.

They entered what looked like it had been a small bedroom but now was clearly an office. Teyla stood behind a ratty desk and continued to stare at Elizabeth. "Forgive me," Teyla said, "I just have not seen you in a very long time, not as you were."

"What happened, Teyla?"

"Colonel Sheppard was infected, first by an Iratus bug and then a retrovirus-" Elizabeth nodded to show that she understood what Teyla was talking about. "Soon afterward he infected Dr. Weir. He bit her when she went to his quarters."

Elizabeth felt a chill run down her spine at the news. She had gone into John's room as he had changed. It had been because he wasn't supposed to be contagious, and because she had wanted to show that, to her, he was still human. What would have happened if he'd bitten her?

"They changed. One by one they took the crew members of Atlantis with them. We've lost many."

"But surely you've been able to contact Earth-" Elizabeth began.

"Earth?" Teyla asked quizzically. "Your home planet? We have no contact with them."

Elizabeth looked down. She should have known as much. Seeing John again was messing with her head. She knew these weren't her people. She'd seen enough variations to know how different things could be, but John... he was the same and now she expected everyone else to be.

"I'm sorry, of course. Can you not dial out?"

"Zelenka disabled the gate," Lorne grunted from behind her.

"Radek?"

"He was one of the first turned."

"I'm sorry," Elizabeth replied.

"Don't be," Lorne muttered harshly. "He died the second he was changed."

"I'm still sorry for the loss," Elizabeth replied, getting to her feet. She noticed how Lorne tensed behind her. "So, the John and Elizabeth of your reality-"

"Elizabeth is the queen," Teyla said quietly. "John appears to be her second-in-command. They control the nest on the other side of the city."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Elizabeth said, pressing her hands into the wood of the desk. "But I am not her. The John I'm with is not the John who was changed. He is, however, trapped on the other side of the city. We need to get him back."

"He is lost," Teyla said. "They will convert him."

"You can't possible know that. If that's what they were going to do, why didn't they do it right away? They dragged him away."

"Maybe he was just food," Lorne grunted.

Elizabeth felt her back go rigid at the suggestion. "Look, you can't just leave him there. You might as well shoot him yourself."

"It is not so simple-" Teyla began.

"We don't leave people behind."

Teyla closed her eyes briefly. "We've already lost so many. Rodney was taken recently as well. There are thirty-eight of us left. We started with thousands."

"Fine," Elizabeth took a few steps back as Teyla shot a look over her shoulder, no doubt one intended to quell Lorne's anger. "I'm going after him, with or without you. But let's face it, if you have thirty-eight people left and you're only on the defensive it's just a matter of time before you all fall."

Teyla's eyes moved to the gun at Elizabeth's side. "Our Elizabeth did not carry a gun."

"Yeah, well, things change."

"They do indeed," Teyla agreed quietly. Lorne stepped out from behind Elizabeth to move right in front of Teyla.

"Teyla, you can't really be considering this. It would be suicide to try a rescue mission." There was a harshness in his voice still, but he seemed immensely softer talking to Teyla.

"Dying slowly is no better," Teyla argued; her voice held a quiet power to it that Elizabeth remembered in her own Teyla. "If we can save John where we failed him, even if he is not our John, that is worth something."

"You can't be serious-"

"We will send only a few people out," Teyla said, cutting off his growing anger. "I will go as well."

"What? Then I'm-"

"No, you are staying."

"Teyla-"

"Evan, we will need someone to lead those who remain behind." She smiled gently, sadly, at him. "Perhaps our plan to try a run for the mainland may be implemented."

"Teyla-"

"It is decided."

Lorne stared at her, but Teyla just held his gaze. Elizabeth felt as if she was intruding on a particularly intimate moment.

"Elizabeth, come," Teyla said, breaking her gaze with Lorne and moving out of the room. Elizabeth followed her, glancing back briefly at Lorne who remained in the office. She just caught him punching the wall as the door closed.

*

John woke in darkness. His eyes refocused slowly to find that he was in a room on Atlantis. Except the furniture in it was torn apart and in the corner of the room was what appeared to be a large, gooey nest of some kind. Fantastic.

He heard a hiss and quickly got to his feet only to be shoved back down to his knees. He looked over his shoulder cautiously to see the same creature that had dragged him away starting at him. He swallowed hard when he saw its face.

He hadn't noticed it before, had been too preoccupied, but its face, while clearly not human, was distinguishable. Rodney McKay, or, what had once been Rodney McKay, made a slow circle around him.

McKay stopped in front of him and slowly reached out a hand, claw, towards him. John shifted back slightly, only for McKay the let out a yell of a disapproval and slash him in the arm. John froze. "Alright, no moving, I get it."

McKay leaned forward and began to sniff him, from the side of his face to his shoulder and down his arm, his nose just inches from John's skin. John swallowed. "You know, I used to call my McKay a dog, but-" another hiss erupted as McKay pulled back and cut John, leaving a deep indention in his arm that began to bleed almost immediately.

"No talking either," John muttered, "noted."

*

The word went around the camp fast that there was a John, another John, and that Teyla was leading a mission to rescue him. At first no one moved and Elizabeth thought that no one was going to volunteer themselves. Then, slowly, one man stepped forward. He seemed infinitely older but she instantly recognized Aiden Ford. He nodded to Teyla who smiled briefly at him. "I'm in."

Beside him Ronon Dex stepped up. Teyla raised an eyebrow at him, apparently in surprise, but he just shrugged back. "Rather die fighting than sitting around here," he explained.

Slowly a handful of people, some she knew and some she didn't, stepped forward. All-in-all nine of the thirty-eight people in the camp volunteered to go. "I will get some supplies," Teyla said as she nodded to others. She glanced at Elizabeth again, "meet me in my room in a few moments. I wish to speak with you before we leave."

Elizabeth nodded. She watched Teyla leave and felt the eyes of everyone in the camp on her. She tensed, wondering if these people would attack her without Teyla holding them back. "Dr. Weir." She turned to see Ford approaching her.

He watched her carefully for a moment, just as Teyla had. His face was grave, as if it were permanently indented into a frown, and he seemed to have the weight of the world on his shoulders. "It's nice to see you again," he said finally.

"You too, Lt. Ford," she replied, John's influence sinking in again as she imagined his reaction to seeing Ford. As if she didn't have enough weight on her conscious without imagining what John's would be too.

"Captain, actually," he smiled briefly, but it came off more as a grimace.

"Oh, of course. Congratulations on whenever that happened," she replied.

"It happened after Colonel Sheppard found me hyped up on Wraith enzyme and brought me back home," he explained, and she once again thought of John and his reaction to that possibility. "Right before this all happened, actually."

"I'm sure it's well-deserved," Elizabeth smiled at him.

Ronon came up from behind him and looked her up and down. "You're not Dr. Weir."

"No," she agreed, "I'm not your Dr. Weir."

Ronon grunted at that before he moved back away.

Elizabeth sought out Teyla after speaking with a few more people, most of whom seemed happy to see her but wary of her presence. When she opened the door she found Lorne pressing Teyla against a wall. One hand was splayed possessively on her stomach, the other cupping her cheek as he kissed her.

Elizabeth turned away quickly, hearing their lips disengage with a loud pop. "I'm sorry," she apologized.

"Elizabeth," Teyla said, "it is okay. Come, I wish to speak with you."

Elizabeth turned back to see Lorne standing almost shyly by Teyla's side. Her first instinct was to offer to come back later, but John was still stuck out with those things and time was of the essence. She nodded to Teyla as she entered the room and watched as Lorne left, his eyes gazing at Elizabeth and then Teyla before he completely exited.

"Dr. Weir, our Dr. Weir, was one of my closest friends," Teyla said quietly. Her eyes moved down the desk in front of her as she seemed to become lost in thought. She snapped out of it a moment later as she looked back up to Elizabeth. "I- I wanted to thank you, Elizabeth."

That startled Elizabeth more than finding out that those creatures had overrun this version of Atlantis. "Thank me?"

"Yes. I have become hardened overtime. It was necessary, but you remind me so much of my Elizabeth. Your words, they are exactly what she would have spoken. They are also what Colonel Sheppard would have thought. We do not leave our people behind."

"No, we don't." The words left a bitter taste in Elizabeth's mouth. She, after all, had been left behind. She knew it wasn't logical, John couldn't have come for her, but some nights, when she had been curled up in the cell on Asuras as Oberoth had taken his vengeance out on her, the only thing that had kept her going was the thought of him and his team barging into the room and getting her back to Atlantis.

It was a hope Oberoth had been particularly fond of crushing. In the end he hadn't really needed to. John not coming to her rescue hurt more than any false scenario in her head could have. And even though she knew that it absolutely wasn't logical, that it was best they left her, on a completely illogical, emotional level, it hurt like hell.

"We will retrieve your John," Teyla inclined her head. "Because it is as my Colonel Sheppard would have said, the right thing to do."

"Yes," Elizabeth agreed, "it is."

*

John sat in the corner of the dark room. McKay, or the creature who had once been McKay, was keeping him there but got violent when he tried to get up and leave. That left John sitting in a dark corner just watching as the creature walked around and sniffed and occasionally ate things in the room. So really, not that different from his McKay.

Suddenly the creature raised his head and let out a call. He ran out and John took the opportunity to stand up. He watched the door to the now empty room carefully, and then slowly took a step forward – only for the door to open up. The creature came back in, this time followed by two other creatures. John took a step back as he took in the two figures. One was regal and looked different than the other two, feminine, and the way she moved clearly showed that she was in charge of the other two. The other creature looked at him and John froze.

It was him. He'd never forget that face, thought it was more advanced and completely covered in scales now, he would never forget how he'd looked as he had changed and lost himself. The other him stepped forward and sniffed him, never breaking eye contact as he stepped closer and closer, squaring off with John.

McKay let out a cry and the creature version of John turned around sharply. They both moved towards each other menacingly until the female let out a call and stepped forward, easing her way towards John. He swallowed as she stepped closer and one claw slowly poked into his skin but didn't cut it. Oh, god, it was- "Elizabeth?"

She hissed at him and took a step back. The other John jumped forward and blocked her off as he hissed roughly at John.

John wished he was still just dealing with the IOA.

*

Elizabeth lie crouched in a dark corner of the city. Teyla was by one side, Ford on the other. They skimmed the area, using a life signs detector to find where the largest collection of creatures were and avoid them. As they rounded a corner, though, Teyla suddenly froze. "Behind us," she whispered roughly. "They're-"

A scream erupted from the back of the group and Elizabeth turned to see one of the crew members she didn't know being trampled by a creature. Teyla grabbed her wrist roughly and pulled her forward and deeper into the area.

"He's dead," she said, "we will be too if we stay here."

The screams continued, more voices joining in. Elizabeth felt her stomach drop at the noise but kept up with Teyla's lead. They finally entered an empty room with only one other entrance, making it easy to secure, and as Elizabeth whirled around she found that of those who had come only Ronon, Teyla and Ford remained.

Teyla frowned and bowed her head for a second before she raised her head back. "It is time to retrieve John. Shall we?"

*

McKay suddenly and swiftly moved, jumping in-between both Johns. Elizabeth made a noise of protest before she took a step back. McKay had his back to John, blocking him from his inhuman counterpoint. McKay let out a howl but the other John lurched forward, forcefully shoving McKay back and against the wall. John just barely managed to duck out of the way of being crushed along with them.

The door to the room opened suddenly and the creature version of Elizabeth hissed in surprise. John and McKay kept up their battle.

John's jaw dropped when he saw Teyla with Elizabeth by her side and Ford and Ronon behind them. Teyla froze when she entered the door way. "The queen," she hissed to Ford and Ronon. "Look – it appears they are dueling for the position of her mate."

John sputtered. "What- seriously?" Teyla shot him a look and he let out another cough before recovering.

"It's about time you got here," John muttered, though honestly he was surprised they'd come at all. "I was starting to think getting punched in the face meant you didn't like me."

"Your Elizabeth is as insistent as ours was," Teyla replied with a light smirk and head nod towards Elizabeth.

Elizabeth had...

She'd made them come after him?

John's vision began to go white again and he cursed. He couldn't leave these people now – not when they had come for him.

*

When his vision came back he found himself in the middle of another fight. They were on an Atlantis that looked to be intact, except for the Wraith that was currently in front of them. John realized he was in the control room, with guards all pointing guns at the Wraith and now shocked at their presence.

Elizabeth stepped forward, closer to the Wraith, and John's stomach dropped. "Eli-" he started, but it was too late. The Wraith turned with a hiss and its hand jutted out to her chest. John screamed.

The Wraith's eyes widened as it sunk to its knees. Its hands hit the floor and it began to writhe while Elizabeth stood over it. John watched all of this in shock, and the shock only continued when the people around them – instead of thanking Elizabeth – aimed their guns right at her.

"Hey, hey," he started, "what the hell is going on here?"

"I could you ask the same thing," John turned to see Steven Caldwell stepping forward. "Test them, now."

Laura Cadman stepped forward with a device in hand. She scanned it over John and it did nothing, but when she moved to scan it over Elizabeth it started beeping. Everyone in the room took a step back. "Lock her up," Caldwell demanded.

Elizabeth didn't even seem surprised by this order. John was infuriated.

"What? What are you doing?"

"She's a Replicator," Caldwell said. He nodded to his men and reordered, "lock her up. We need a new Replicator to test anyway."

One guard timidly moved to take Elizabeth's gun away. She didn't move at all, just let it be taken along with her life signs detector and raised her arms in a nonthreatening way. "Elizabeth?" John asked.

"The Wraith can't process Replicator cells," Elizabeth told him softly. "And don't argue with them – it never makes it better. Just explain."

With that she was shoved forward at the end of a gun and walked out of his vision. John turned, furious. Caldwell stared at him while he still had a few guards with guns pointed towards him.

"Who are you?" Caldwell demanded, arms crossed over his chest.

"John Sheppard."

"No, you're not. Our John Sheppard died years ago."

"Well I'm not your John Sheppard." He glanced back to where Elizabeth had walked out of sight before he looked back to Caldwell. "Look, it's a long story."

"Convenient for you then that I've got time," Caldwell replied.

*

Elizabeth's office (he'd never been able to think of it as anything else, even years later,) as decorated by Caldwell was minimalist. There were no masks, no decorations, no pictures. It was just the desk in the room with Caldwell behind it.

"You're from another reality?" Caldwell asked before John had even spoken.

"Yeah," he replied, a little surprised.

"I've read all of the files from the SGC," Caldwell explained. "If you don't have nanites you're not a nanite clone, and I doubt anyone else in this galaxy has the ability to creature human clones. Not that there are many people left in the galaxy." This thought seemed to make Caldwell particularly angry. "I suppose in your reality people just converse with Replicators?"

"What? No, of course-"

"How do you explain your Dr. Weir, then? We already lost ours to the nanites," Caldwell paused, his eyes meeting John's and his voice utterly disgusted, "because of our Sheppard's complete idiocy."

That startled John. "What?"

"Our Dr. Weir was infected by a Replicator and put in quarantine. Our Sheppard broke it. It was idiotic, they were both taken over by the nanites. After that we decided to make a first strike against Asuras, which didn't quite go our way. Now there are more Replicators in this galaxy than Wraith. They've decided to take out their rage on the 'children of humanity' leaving very few cultures intact."

John looked down at the floor. Could that have happened when he'd broken Elizabeth's quarantine? He hadn't been able to help it, hadn't really been thinking when he'd done it, he just hadn't wanted to be helpless anymore. Caldwell would have been right in line to lead Atlantis with both of them out of the picture, too.

Plus, he didn't even know if this Elizabeth was his Elizabeth or a double or an imposter... again. He was really getting sick of that. Niam had said she was the true Elizabeth, but then again could he really trust that? Niam had tried to shoot him but then again, maybe Elizabeth jumping in the way had been part of that. But would Niam have made her so obviously nanite-infested if he was trying to deceive John? And these jumps were pointless. Or maybe if Elizabeth was a fake she was trying to build trust with him.

Then again, according to Teyla, she had saved him.

"Protocol with the Replicators is to kill them, or keep them and study them." John understood that 'study' meant 'use any means necessary to understand', much as they had kept the Wraith on Atlantis for such purposes.

"Wait," he said, "that Wraith-"

"Was also captured for study. We're trying to come up with a way to alter them slightly so that they can feed on Replicators without what you saw happen in the control room occurring."

"But the Wraith... there were guns..."

Caldwell shrugged. "Yes, he escaped. We had it under control."

"But she stopped him," John argued, surprised by how heated he was suddenly feeling. "It's possibly you could have lost men, but she stopped that from happening."

"Only because she knew she'd be safe."

"But she didn't!" John exclaimed. The pieces fell in quickly as he spoke. "We're- we're from an alternate universe. That means that in some universe the nanites wouldn't stop the Wraith! She's been jumping for years; she has to know she was taking a risk, an assumption that could have seriously hurt her."

Caldwell frowned as he studied him. "She's a Replicator."

"She says she is, was, human. The nanite cells just infected her. But she's not a Replicator, she just has the cells."

"You don't sound particularly convinced," Caldwell replied dryly.

"But she-" John faltered. Then his voice grew louder, "She deserves to be heard. She should have a trial."

"A trial? We're in the middle of a war, we don't have the time-"

"If your Elizabeth was anything like mine she would have done the same," John argued hotly, cutting across Caldwell's words. He frowned slightly and observed John before nodding very slowly.

"Fine. A simple hearing but I make the final decision."

"She should get a jury, unbiased-"

"There isn't a single person on this city who would be unbiased, Sheppard. We've lost a lot of good people to the Replicators. If they even hear she's not just being ripped apart in study they'll be furious."

John's mind went back to earlier, and the reactions Elizabeth had gotten when it had been discovered she had Replicator cells. All of the men holding guns had looked ready to kill her. He frowned, not at all fond of this situation. "Fine."

"She'll need someone to speak for her as well."

Caldwell was looking at him pointedly and John reluctantly nodded back. If what Caldwell said was true no one in the city would give her any sort of chance.

*

Elizabeth sat in the corner of the cell, scuffing her shoe against the floor. It wasn't out of anxiety, but rather restlessness. Being on trial with death looming in the air as a heavy possibility should have caused her anxiety, would have just a few years ago. But those years formed a lifetime in what she'd learned in-between.

There was a common trait found among those who served the Stargate program, a seeming reckless disregard for one's own life. John showed it time and time again. Even Rodney, egotistical and self serving as he could be, had shown the trait. It was misunderstood. It wasn't that anyone in the program wanted to die, of course they didn't, it was that they were serving something more. Something more than themselves, more than a single existence, something so far reaching with its implications so strong and righteous that one life wasn't something that mattered in the face of preserving the greater good.

There had been a time in her life when, naively, she would have argued no life should have to be sacrificed for the greater good. She wondered, sometimes, what she would have thought in college if she had known she'd be the one sacrificing herself and that, fear aside, she'd be completely willing to do so.

Of course that Elizabeth who sacrificed herself would have argued against guns and right now she felt naked without her gun at her side. She'd thought she'd learned a lifetime worth of knowledge when she had first traveled to the SGC and then led Atlantis, but after being on her own she realized how foolish that thought was. In Atlantis she had faced death, destruction, made life or death decisions, but she had done it for her people. With her people. Without them it was like her legs had been kicked out from under her and she had just had to do what was necessary.

There was still a part of her that was opposed to having the gun, but overall it made her feel safe when nothing else did. That, more than anything else, showed her exactly how much she had changed over the past two years. She'd thought of Ronon often on her travels, of how he'd spent seven years on his own against the Wraith. It had, in fact, been an alternate version of Ronon who had given her the gun.

So of course she was scared about the possibilities looming over her head, but all she really wanted was for Atlantis to be safe. John didn't believe she was the same Elizabeth Weir she had been when they had split apart on Asuras. She knew she wasn't. Seeing him again, though, she almost thought she could be. That this hardness could be softened again, that she could be who she had been and not who she had become. After all, if she had enough naivety to even entertain a thought like that there had to be hope, right?

The sound of the door sliding open resonated in the room and she looked up to see John looking around the room before his eyes settled on her. She remained sitting but kept her gaze on him. "What's the news?"

"I'm your lawyer," John replied. She let out a heavy sigh at the news.

"That's fantastic," she murmured.

John shrugged and put his hands into his pockets. He stared at her for a moment before moving to sit down on the outside of the cell right beside her. "Well, it was me or a city who thinks you're guilty."

"So both my possible lawyers think I'm guilty or probably guilty?"

John frowned at that, his eyes locked firmly on the floor in front of him. She looked away from him and to the floor on her side of the cell, not exactly expecting strong words of reassurance from the man who thought she was a Replicator clone.

"Teyla had a baby."

Elizabeth's head jerked up in surprise as she stared at him. He held her gaze with that same defiance she had seen so many times in their first year on Atlantis across the conference room table. She swallowed. "Really?"

"Yeah. Torren John Emmagan," a small, proud smile twitched on his lips at the mention of his own name.

"Torren for her father and John... oh," Elizabeth paused, staring at him but not saying a word. Another thing that had been intimately familiar between them a lifetime ago.

"Oh, uh, no, no," John stuttered quickly, "she's with Kanaan. He's the father."

"Ah," Elizabeth nodded, rubbing a hand over her neck and ignoring the sinking in her stomach that had accompanied the possibility of John being the father. "That's good for her. I'm sure he's adorable." There was a pause before Elizabeth added, "How's everyone else doing?"

"We lost Dr. Heightmeyer." John said quietly.

"Kate," Elizabeth said, lowering her head for a moment as the news sank in. "I-I once crossed a universe where she was married to Zelenka. They had a baby girl."

They both remained quiet for a long moment. Elizabeth added another to her list of dead while John continued to stare at her in silence. It was John who broke the silence.

"Rodney and Keller are dating."

"What," Elizabeth asked incredulously, "seriously?"

"That was my first reaction," John smirked, "but they're actually kind of suited to each other. I mean, as well as Rodney can be 'suited' to anyone. Actually, Ronon and Keller had a thing for a while right before that, I think. The gossip was insane."

"Ronon and Keller? You mean Jennifer picked Rodney overRonon?"

John coughed in clear surprise. "What are you saying?"

"I'm just saying..."

"That you'd pick Ronon."

"...That Ronon is very, very muscular," Elizabeth corrected. The edges of her lips quirked into a grin. John chuckled softly. It was brief, only a few seconds worth of a gut reaction, but it felt as if part of the world had been taken off her shoulders in those seconds.

"Yeah, well, Ronon and Banks apparently are an item now anyway."

"Huh," Elizabeth replied thoughtfully. "I suppose after all the stress and time together it was only a matter of time before people started pairing off. What about you?"

"Eh," he waved her off. "I'm too busy saving the universe. Last year I went millions of years into the future and saved the past."

"So, same old same old?" Elizabeth asked with a raised eyebrow. John smiled back at her. It was rare for him to smile without any hint of sardonic humor, and it made him look younger – like the man she had first met in Antarctica who wanted nothing more than to pilot choppers and be left alone.

She had seen a lot of versions of Atlantis in the last few years, and there was one thing she knew for certain. Excluding extreme conditions Atlantis was better with John Sheppard than without. The other versions of herself she'd met all seemed to be better off with him, too. There were always exceptions, but it was impossible to ignore the general trend of her happiness versus how much John was in her life.

Not that she couldn't be happy without him, but he certainly helped. There was even one universe where they'd constantly clung together like teenagers and, god help her, had pet names for each other. It had been truly horrifying. She smirked, imagining John's reaction to that particular universe. (Or to the one where he and Rodney had been together.)

"Hey, uh," John began, stopped. He looked down to his boots as if they had just become the most fascinating things in the world. The awkwardness was endearing and she didn't want to admit how much the familiarity of it comforted her. "I'm... we're... going to get out of this."

She felt her eyes start to water at the declaration and swallowed hard, pushing down the emotions. "You don't even believe I am who I say I am, John."

"I don't... I just... I don't know," he said quietly.

"Well," she said, moving on because the subject was far too strong for either of them, "I'd say you should just shoot me, but apparently that doesn't work."

"What do you mean?"

"It didn't work before. I tried to shoot myself." John's eyes widened but she just shrugged. "I always figured it was a safety mechanism of some sort, whenever I got shot or something like entropic cascade failure set in I was always moved."

"Entropic cascade failure? Isn't that what happens when a person is in an alternate universe and their alternate version is alive too?"

"Sometimes. I think whether it sets in or not has to do with the distance of the alternate universe. I'm sure it's something Rodney could explain."

"I could, but I doubt you'd understand it."

Elizabeth quickly scrambled to her feet, followed by John as they both stared at Rodney McKay who was moving from the doorway and closer to them. He looked over them both for a moment, a small, sad smiling forming on his lips.

"Well, I never thought I'd see either of you again. I suppose I should have accounted for the alternate universes, though, and how often SG-1 encountered them."

"Yeah, that's great. What are you doing here?"

Rodney smirked. "My Sheppard was less annoying. I'm here because I want to test her."

John moved subtly, so that he was blocking Elizabeth from Rodney. She felt her gut clench, it was something he'd done whenever she'd been threatened – either by an alien or by the IOA – and it was something she was pretty sure he didn't even know he was doing half the time.

"Test me?" she asked.

"Yes. I imagine your entire argument is that you are Elizabeth Weir with nanites, not a nanite-formed Elizabeth Weir. I can test you to prove that."

"You can test to see if she's a double or not," John repeated. Elizabeth heard the hint of hope in his voice.

Rodney rolled his eyes and let out a heavy sigh. "Did I not just say that? The medical tests will show that you're not quite our Elizabeth, of course, but they should show that you're a Elizabeth."

"Okay," Elizabeth nodded, not missing how John tensed at her consent.

He turned his head slightly towards her, still keeping an eye on Rodney. "What if we can't trust them?"

"With what these people have been through with the nanites I'm going to be burned at the stake either way, John. This at least will give us a chance if it works."

John frowned at her, probably because of her witch analogy and that, despite the fact he wasn't outwardly trusting this universe, John was still thinking like they were his people. They weren't.

It was something she had learned the hard way. She'd jumped to a universe very similar to hers, everyone had acted the same and seemed the same – until they had tried to kill her. She was having a friendly chat one minute and Teyla thrust a spear through her chest the next. Even with the nanites it had taken her weeks to fully heal and she still had no idea what had happened in that universe.

"Okay Rodney," Elizabeth snapped out of her thoughts and nodded towards him. "Do you need heavily armed guards to move me? Or do you just need my blood?"

"Yeah," Rodney rolled his eyes, "like I'm touching your blood. Nurse Keller is going to come by with big guards to take what she needs."

"Nurse Keller?" John asked.

"Did I not just say that?" Rodney asked, eyes narrowing in the same annoyed tick their own Rodney had. "Honestly, are you the stupid, deaf version of Sheppard?"

"You know I never thought McKay could be more arrogant, but-"

"John," Elizabeth hissed from behind him.

"He started it!" John whined.

"I so did not!" McKay replied. It seemed to be an automatic response that startled Rodney right after he said it. "Yes-well-" he spoke quickly, "she'll be here soon."

He turned and left before Elizabeth even had a chance to thank him. John kept facing away from her as he spoke. "That'll make this easier," he said, his voice far too low.

"Hopefully," she replied as she moved to sit back down in the cell. John turned towards her and she realized that she could still read him just as well as she'd been able to years ago. It was something that had been necessary between them on Atlantis, the ability to understand each other in a briefing without actually speaking. Now, though, she could see the mix of hope and fear on his face.

She wanted to reach out to him. To joke with him, to divert him, but unlike on Atlantis her very presence made everything worse. She rested her chin on her knees and stared vacantly at a spot on the floor.

They sat in silence.

*

A while later Keller came in with four very big marines and a cart of equipment.

John stood up, his back rigid as he glared at the men before he slowly stepped away and shot Elizabeth a glance. She kept her gaze focused on Keller, who looked positively horrified to be doing this. She stood back as the cell opened and watched as the men entered first and, with gloved hands, held her against the wall.

"Hey, that's not necessary-" John began, his voice rough.

"It's fine John," she offered a small smile. That only made him frown. She nodded to the guards and then Keller, allowing them to hold her as Keller leaned forward and timidly rolled Elizabeth's sleeves up with gloved hands.

Elizabeth knew, undoubtedly, that she could have the guards off her and on the floor unconscious in fifteen seconds. She watched Keller as the woman got her blood into a few vials and quickly pulled back, nodding to the guards. She scanned Elizabeth with another device and then quickly exited with the guards releasing Elizabeth and following. The cell door closed and Elizabeth watched as John moved back to stand in front of the cell.

"You don't have to stay here, you know," she said.

John glanced at her then looked away. "There's not much else to do. I don't really want to walk around for people to just glare at me."

"Glare at you?"

"Stare, whatever. It's weird."

She smirked lightly. "It's not so bad. In one universe I was worshiped."

John snorted. "Seriously?"

"Apparently it was a world where women were rare and worshiped like goddesses. Creepiness aside it was a rather comfortable weekend."

"I can imagine," he smirked back at her. The minute their eyes met and they were both smiling, though, he looked back to the ground. Elizabeth frowned.

"John," she began quietly, determinedly, "you know what happened to me-"

John got to his feet with surprisingly quick speed. "I'm going to go get glared at," he said. "Check this universe out, see if anyone can tell us about the reality traveling."

"I've never found an Atlantis advanced enough to help," Elizabeth said, but John had already left by the time she finished.

*

John looked down as he walked around Atlantis and to where he hoped Rodney's lab still was. He was feeling overwhelmed and opted to deal with it as he always did, by completely ignoring it. Because he was preoccupied it took him a few minutes to even notice how everyone on the city spaced out and gave him far too much room to walk.

When he did look up he found that everyone was staring at him, though he had been wrong about the glaring. It was more like everyone on Atlantis was seeing a ghost. He supposed they were, since their John had died. When John did round the corner to McKay's lab and entered he was more than a little surprised to find a bedroom.

He was really starting to hate alternate realities. "Sheppard, what are you doing?" John turned to see Rodney staring at him.

"Looking for you," John muttered.

"...in an empty bedroom?"

"No, I was-" John started, and then stopped the argument with a huff. "I got lost. I wanted to talk to you."

"Wow, you don't even know your way around Atlantis? Must be some reality you come from."

John let out a low growl at that. "McKay."

"Well, I was going to my lab. Come on then."

It turned out McKay's lab on this Atlantis was just around the corner and looked about identical to his McKay's. Rodney went behind a stack of items and began to work on them as if John wasn't even with him. Apparently this Rodney was pretty much the same as his.

John cleared his throat and stared at him. Rodney raised his head. "Oh. You wanted something? Those tests wont' be done-"

"Yeah, look, our Atlantis might be in danger-"

"Might?"

"Well, my Elizabeth says it is."

"You don't believe her?"

"Well, no, I just don't know-"

"Huh," Rodney said, his eyebrows raised. "You really are different. My John always backed Elizabeth."

John tensed at that accusation. Of course he always backed Elizabeth, but he couldn't very well explain to this Rodney that he was just as eager to find out about those tests as everyone else. Though, if he was honest with himself, he didn't even know what result he was looking for. He wasn't really feeling up to dealing with yet another clone of Elizabeth. But if she was his Elizabeth? Well, he wasn't sure he was up to dealing with that either.

After he'd left her on Asuras John had really thought he was going to get her back. He'd clung to the idealistic hope that he could find her against all odds and that she wasn't dead. His thoughts about her, his mourning, had all been funneled forward into one pure, determined thought of I'll find her.

But he hadn't. Months later he'd seen her face and his stomach had dropped and he'd hoped. That hope had been crushed. Then the hope he thought had been gone completely had sprung up again when she'd come back as FRAN, only to be crushed again. A guy could only take so much.

He didn't even want to think about the instinctual loyalty he was giving her right now. Nanites were the main enemy in this reality; all his training told him to let Caldwell know what was going on. But he couldn't. He could write off his defensiveness of her as merely being payback for her going back to save him in the last reality. It didn't really matter though, because his thought process that she deserved a chance, deserved to be heard and put on trial, that was something he'd learned from Elizabeth. Either way she was there, influencing him.

Which was just another thing that he tried not to think about. Even when Elizabeth had been captured she'd always been there with him, in his decision making and his choices and his thought process. When the nightmares on Atlantis had occurred after he'd touched a crystal creature off-world he had walked into Elizabeth's office and vocalized that maybe they should talk to it. He hadn't realized what he was doing until Colonel Carter had smiled at him and asked if being in Dr. Weir's office made him think of that. After that he had realized exactly what he was doing. He would always see a situation from his perspective and hers. Half the time he didn't agree with her perspective but it was always there.

She was always there.

"So what'd you want, Sheppard?" Rodney asked, seemingly annoyed to be having his time taken up. John blinked as he realized he'd gotten distracted and quickly shoved his thoughts away.

"Right, so we're stuck traveling between realities but our Atlantis might be in trouble so I want to go back to my reality."

"Okay, well, how are these jumps happening?"

John glared at him. "If I knew that I wouldn't be asking you for help!"

Rodney rolled his eyes and spoke as if he was speaking to a five-year-old. "How did the jumps start?"

"I don't know, Elizabeth held onto me when she was jumping and I got pulled along."

"Do either have you have whatever device started this?"

"I don't think so," John replied, realizing he hadn't even thought to ask her.

"Well that sucks," Rodney replied. John let out a huff and narrowed his eyes at him. "What? What can I possibly do without a device? I'm not a doctor; it's probably something in your blood. Look, I'll go examine the blood Keller took from Elizabeth to see if I find any traces of anything but without something to actually work on I don't know how I'd command your blood to take you somewhere specific."

"What about other devices to travel realities?" John asked.

Rodney shrugged. "I know Area 51 had a mirror that could do that, but even if you found something like that could you stay in your reality?"

"No, we can't control the jumps."

"That's pointless then," Rodney muttered.

"McKay," John hissed. He was starting to get pissed off and in a way that was much easier than dealing with everything else.

"Okay, okay. I'll go look at the blood."

*

Elizabeth sat in the cell. The door opened and she turned to see John reenter. She didn't even want to think about how happy it made her to see him. Years and a lifetime of experience later and she was still considering John Sheppard, who didn't even believe she was who she said she was, her closest friend. But she couldn't. She wasn't naïve and this was nothing more than a delusion of what had been.

"Hey," she offered as he moved stand beside the cell.

"Hey." He crossed his arms over his chest in a clearly defensive movement. "I was talking to McKay about the jumps. Do you have the device that causes the jumping?"

"No," she replied. She opted against telling him how many times she had tried to figure out how the jumps occurred and how to stop them. John needed something to do right now and he bothered giving it any thought he'd know she had done everything she could to get home. "I touched the device, jumped, and then had nothing but the clothes on my back."

"But you knew if you held onto me I'd jump with you," John pointed out.

Elizabeth's stomach dropped. "Yeah," she agreed. "I had to do it once before."

John glanced at her, no doubt wondering what she was talking about. But she wasn't about to open up to him, not here and now, and he wasn't going to ask. There was a familiarity in carrying burdens but being too stubborn to share them. Elizabeth turned her head away from him while he kept on standing, no doubt thinking of how to get back to Atlantis.

A few moments later the door opened and Elizabeth turned to see Rodney enter. She stood quickly and John took a few steps closer to him. "McKay?"

"The tests came back," Rodney explained. "It's like you said, she's a legitimate Elizabeth Weir with the nanites in her system, not a clone. Now, as for your reality traveling dilemma I've found-"

Elizabeth didn't miss the fact that John drew in a sharp breath of air at the news. She felt the same white haziness she'd been feeling for years and heard Rodney yell out in surprise.

They jumped.

*

When John's vision cleared he found himself in a containment room on Atlantis. He blinked in surprise as Rodney McKay, wearing a suit, appeared in front of the glass. "Hello there," he greeted them. Elizabeth looked just as surprised at the circumstances they were in. "I assume you're here from another reality? We'll just need a few minutes to test your body signatures before we can come down there and talk to you."

John, baffled, looked to Elizabeth. She shrugged back at him. He couldn't help but keep staring at her, though. She was Elizabeth. His Elizabeth. They very same one he'd left on Asuras.

"John?" she asked, probably because all he was doing was staring at her.

He coughed, clearing his throat. "Yeah, uh. Have you seen anything like this happen before?"

"No," she replied, looking up to where Rodney was talking to someone else that was out of their line of vision. "Guns pointed at me and questions asked I'm used to. This is new."

He nodded. There was a pause between them. "Elizabeth, uh, I-" he began, but he had no idea what he was even going to say. That he was sorry he'd doubted her? Sorry he left her? Sorry she'd spent two years traveling to probably unsafe realities – and had to start carrying a gun, all because he'd failed her? There wasn't really anything to say, nothing he'd ever verbalize but he wanted to say something.

"Well, you're never going to believe this," Rodney announced as he entered the room. Elizabeth stared at John for a moment more, no doubt picking up on everything he hadn't said. Then she turned to Rodney. "We've met before."

"Well, technically-" John started.

"No, no. We matched your bio-signatures to two that I've encountered before. I mean, I suppose it's possible that more than one Rodney McKay created more than one matter stream and that different people interacted- although the repercussions of that would be phenomenal-"

"Rod?" Elizabeth asked, apparently catching on to this Rodney's ramble before John could.

"Yep, that's me," he grinned at her. "What are the chances? Did you guys come here on purpose?"

"No, we're stuck jumping between realities because of an Ancient device," Elizabeth explained.

"Ah, you've got to love those Ancients – brilliant but always producing malfunctioning devices."

"It is a little annoying," John agreed. "So, uh, Rod. How's everything?"

Rod turned to look at Elizabeth, apparently sad. "It's good to see you again. We lost our Dr. Weir a few years ago. I've been running Atlantis ever since."

John choked a little as the idea of Rodney McKay running Atlantis sunk in. "Seriously?"

"Well, originally I was just holding the desk during the crisis that was occurring when we lost our Elizabeth, but the IOA eventually decided to promote me to the position. Now, you said you're stuck jumping between realities? Maybe we can help with that."

"I've had very intelligent people look at the problem," Elizabeth replied. "We don't have a device, just something in our blood that sets off the jumps. No one has been able to help yet."

"Ah, yes, but they didn't have my John Sheppard," Rodney replied with a wide grin.

John remembered exactly how Rod had described his John. He exchanged a brief glance with Elizabeth. This would be interesting.

*

When they entered the science lab (the one that on his Atlantis was Rodney's lab,) there was no one inside.

"Sheppard?" Rod called out. There was a loud huff from a corner of the room that appeared to be empty.

Suddenly, Sheppard appeared from thin air as he hit a few buttons on a large watch he was wearing. John stared. He looked exactly and nothing like him. This Sheppard's hair was flat, laying parted on his head and he was wearing a white lab coat. "Invisibility?" Rod asked, "I thought you said it wasn't possible."

"It was improbable. The light refractions are hard to calculate precisely," Sheppard replied, not even looking at the group that had entered his lab as he moved to his table and put down the watch before typing out a few notes on one of his laptops. "But that's why I didn't have one of the moron underlings do it."

"Well, that will be useful in the field."

"Useful? We won't even need squadrons anymore, just send in one man to investigate. It's brilliant. Not that that's anything new."

Rod cleared his throat and Sheppard looked up, his eyes widening as he recognized for the first time that Rod wasn't alone. "I-" Sheppard began, his eyes tracing over John before they stayed on Elizabeth. "The- the relocation worked?"

"Like a charm," Rod nodded. John noticed how he was now studying his Sheppard more closely. "As soon as they entered the City they were relocated to a holding room."

"Well, I knew the device would work," Sheppard waved him off, though he was still staring at Elizabeth before he quickly looked back down to his desk. "Though it seems pointless if the people from other realities just get a tour after they pop in."

"I've met them before," Rod replied, "when I crossed realities."

"Really?" Sheppard asked. "Huh. Those odds are astronomical. Are you sure one of your idiots didn't get their readings wrong?"

"No, I looked over them myself."

"Like I said-" Sheppard began, reminding John of his own Rodney only worse. That was saying something.

"They are who we think they are. They also need help, they're stuck jumping through realities. Can you help them?"

"Help them?" Sheppard repeated, his eyes moving back up to look at Elizabeth. "Look, I'm busy. I don't have time to help every straggler in the universes."

Rod frowned at that. "Excuse me, Dr. Weir, Colonel Sheppard? Would you give us a moment and just wait for me outside?"

"Uh, sure," John nodded. Elizabeth nodded her own agreement and they exited the room.

A few minutes later Rod joined them outside and motioned for them to follow him as they moved forward. "I'm sorry about that – I should have told Sheppard what was going on before I introduced you."

"So he could put on his happy pants?" John asked dryly as they walked through Atlantis and to where Rod was inhabiting Elizabeth's office. It had pictures of Jeannie and her kids as well as pictures of the staff of Atlantis.

"Sheppard was particularly affected by Elizabeth's passing," Rod explained, not elaborating any more on it. "But he's agreed to help you. If you wouldn't mind just giving Dr. Fraiser some samples of your blood we can examine it and see what we can figure out for you."

"Dr. Fraiser?" John asked.

"Janet Fraiser, our CMO. She transferred here a few years ago when Carson was injured."

*

Elizabeth had met Janet Fraiser before. In the same alternate universe where Daniel Jackson had run Atlantis, Janet Fraiser had been his wife. She'd shown up in a few other versions of Atlantis too. Meeting the dead was probably the most bizarre part of being stuck traveling to other realities for years.

Being stared at by Janet like she was the ghost was coming up as a close second. It was the same way this realities' John had stared at her and the way that her John had stared at her after they'd jumped. Which was right after she was declared to be herself. John had tried to say something. She knew what but she didn't know that it was something that could even be vocalized.

Even if John had believed her right off the bat it wasn't like they were going to suddenly hug and reunite. It wasn't as if she could run up to him and just be who she had been. He wasn't even who he had been when she'd known him. He was heavier, darker. Atlantis had done that to all of them, it was inevitable, but she'd missed two years worth of his burdens just as he'd missed hers.

She didn't know if that meant they'd headed down two different paths or not, and she didn't have the time to care. Atlantis, her Atlantis, was in danger. Niam was threatening it and she was stuck completely helpless against that threat. She would not let Niam win. If any deity anywhere had any sort of mercy on them maybe this Sheppard could help them.

"So, what's Niam planning?" Elizabeth was pulled roughly from her thoughts by John who was sitting in a bed beside her as Janet took his blood.

"I'm not entirely sure," she explained, realizing this was the first time he'd asked her for any actual logistics on the situation. "He wanted to create a device that would destroy Atlantis by imploding it, making it all suck back in to energy and bare building blocks so that Niam and his followers could create their own Atlantis like the one you destroyed on Asuras."

"When Fran was on Atlantis she did run off. It was brief, but-"

"Nothing is brief with the Replicators," Elizabeth replied, more bitterly than she'd intended to. John glanced at her but said nothing. "If she got out for a second it was long enough to plant something. We have to get back."

"I'm sure John, our John, can figure it out," Janet offered as she moved to take Elizabeth's blood. "He's very good about figuring things out. He always-" Janet stopped, bit her lip as if she was debating saying something before she looked back up at Elizabeth. "He and our Dr. Weir used to get into some quite bad situations," she said. "He always got them out."

"I hope so," Elizabeth replied.

Janet smiled sadly at her. "It's good to see you again, Dr. Weir."

Elizabeth smiled back at her. "You too, Dr. Fraiser."

*

Elizabeth wandered the city aimlessly for a while after that. People stared at her but it wasn't anything she hadn't seen before. It would have fazed her a year ago to walk into a room and have everyone turn to face her and a few people inevitably whisper about her as if she weren't there, but now she barely even thought about it. It was still unsettling, but she could function with it just fine.

Admittedly she had expected John to stay at her side. As soon as they'd gotten checked out he'd muttered something about going to check in on the "McKay version of Sheppard" and left her on her own.

Then again, the was absolutely the John Sheppard she'd always known. The man could face down a Wraith without so much as batting an eyelash, but when it came to anything even remotely emotional he was horrified. Not that she was any better.

She wandered Atlantis, not realizing where she was going until she stopped in front of this reality's John's lab. She turned quickly when she realized where she was, but stopped when she heard the voices inside.

"I'm not doing this for you," Sheppard (the alternate reality's version, she assumed,) "I'm doing it because McKay told me to. ...And for Elizabeth."

"Yeah, well, I don't care why you're doing it," John muttered. "I just want to get home."

"You're such a-" Sheppard started, stopped. He let out a huff so loud that Elizabeth head it clearly. "You don't get it."

"Don't get it?" John asked.

"You should be with her," Sheppard said. "She-" his voice cracked and Elizabeth felt her gut tighten. She wondered what had prompted this conversation in the first place. "She was the only one in this whole damn city who ever bothered listening to me. The only one who didn't get ridiculously offended when I made a valid point. She was my best friend."

"I know," John said and her gut clenched even tighter.

"How could you?" Sheppard yelled. "How could you possibly understand? When that goddamn window-"

"I hate windows," John said. "Believe me, I know. Elizabeth... my Elizabeth... I, uh, I lost her for a while. Just got her back recently, actually."

"And you're here?" Sheppard asked incredulously.

"I'm-"

"Yeah, you understand," Sheppard muttered sarcastically.

"Dr. Weir." Elizabeth jumped at the voice beside her and turned in shock to see Rod. It was a rare thing for her to be caught off guard anymore. She couldn't believe she'd gotten so distracted.

"Yes?" she asked, keeping her voice low so the two Johns couldn't hear her.

"I wanted to speak with you, if you have a moment."

"Of course," she smiled, following Rod as he led her to his office, her old office. He paused for a moment and glanced at her before moving to sit behind the desk and motioning for Elizabeth to take the seat in front of it.

"Dr. Weir, I know this must seem odd, but I hope that we'll be able to solve your reality jumping problems soon. If Sheppard's previous track record is anything to go by he'll have you back in your reality in time for dinner."

He smiled at her and she forced herself to smile back. "I must say, out of the Johns that I've seen since this all started this one seems to be the most sure of his knowledge."

Rod grinned at her choice of words. "Yes, Sheppard is very confident. I told your Sheppard once that my John makes his McKay look humble by comparison. I wasn't exaggerating. But he knows his stuff better than anyone else. He's really not so bad, just a little caustic, at times. It got worse after our Elizabeth-" Rod stopped.

Elizabeth let out a sigh. "Look, Dr. McKay," Elizabeth paused at the title, and when she wasn't corrected she continued, "I understand that your Elizabeth passed away. I've seen this before, and I'm sorry for your loss, but you can talk to me about it."

He nodded. "Our Elizabeth was struck by a window during an attack. John... he stayed by her side but she didn't pull through the night."

"He didn't reactivate the nanites?" Elizabeth asked. Rod's eyes widened at the suggestion.

"I wanted to," Rod admitted. "Sheppard overruled me. He said Elizabeth would never have wanted that."

Elizabeth's eyes focused on one of the picture frame's in Rod's office. She'd always suspected that her John and Rodney had a similar debate. John, she was pretty sure, would know exactly how much she hated the nanites. Rodney wouldn't be able to see beyond saving her.

"Dr. Weir?" Elizabeth realized that she had her hands tightly clenched in her lap and quickly released them. She mustered up a smile.

"Sorry," she apologized. Rod smiled at her and waved off her apology.

"So, you said you've seen a lot of realities? That must be interesting."

"Sometimes," Elizabeth agreed. "But without any ability to control the jumps it's fairly hectic. You can never tell if a reality is a good one or if the people you think you know are going to turn on you. That's probably the hardest part, seeing people that you think you know but not knowing them at all."

"I can only imagine," he said. There was a pause between while Elizabeth studied the office and Rod continued to stare at her, no doubt thinking of his own Elizabeth.

"Well, Dr. Weir, would you like a tour of this Atlantis? Perhaps there will be some interesting differences."

"I would love that," she agreed easily. "But first, I'd like to talk my John if you don't mind."

"No, of course. Feel free. We've set aside rooms for you if you wish to be alone while you speak." Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at that. It wasn't often that she was given free reign in Atlantis. "I have absolute faith in our scientists and Sheppard's device that have identified you," Rod explained. "You're welcome to go wherever you please."

"Thank you," she replied, feeling genuinely touched by Rod's acceptance of who she was. She turned to leave the office.

"Elizabeth," Rod started. She turned back to him. "We did see the active nanites in your body. Is that..." he swallowed and she understood what he was asking.

"It's complicated," she said quietly. "The nanites saved me... but it wasn't that easy. A lot happened after that."

"But you're here," Rod said quietly. "That has to count for something."

"You'd think," she agreed, her voice low. She considered saying more but instead just turned around and left his office.

*

Elizabeth made her way down Atlantis and after asking a few people she found John sitting out on a pier. She watched him for a long moment before moving to sit beside him.

"Me and Rodney come out here a lot," he said, not looking at her. "We almost lost him a while ago."

She leaned back slightly, looking to the endless expanse of water in front of her. She thought of Rod's words. "But you didn't."

"No," he agreed. He glanced back at her briefly before hunching forward and looking down at the water. "This universe's Sheppard is going to let me know as soon as he figures anything out. He kicked me out of his lab. Said I was distracting him. I'm not sure I can get used to seeing anyone be more annoying than McKay, let alone me."

"There are weirder things out there," she offered with a light smirk. He turned to look at her, one skeptical eyebrow raised.

"I once stumbled on a reality where the society in Atlantis was amazonian. Another Elizabeth led with Teyla as her second-in-command. The men were kept in a settlement on the mainland for reproductive purposes." John let out a cough as his cheeks reddened at that bit of information. She grinned at him. "Trust me, there are bizarre realities out there."

"There are a probably a lot of bad ones too, right?" John asked. He turned his head, not looking at her anymore and she knew what he wasn't asking.

"John..." she began. She wanted to lie to him, to pad it, but she'd never done that before. Their relationship had been one of honesty right from the very beginning and she wasn't going to change that now. "Yes. There are some very bad ones. Like the Iratus bug one we were just in."

He shook his head, looking away from her. "Atlantis is on Earth."

"What?" she asked, startled.

"A Hive ship went to Earth and we had to go back. Now we don't have any way to get back and even if we did, the IOA doesn't want us leaving."

"That's insane. What about our allies? We can't just abandon-"

"I know. I know that, Elizabeth. They don't. Woolsey's trying, but he's not just not quite getting it."

"Woolsey?" she asked.

"He's in command now," John replied. Her eyes widened. "He's actually not as bad as you might think, but he's not you."

She swallowed as he kept his gaze away from her. "John," she said, "I came here because you need to sleep."

John turned to her in surprise. "What?"

"It's been a full day since we started to jump. You should sleep."

"What about you?" he asked, brows knitting together.

"I don't sleep. The nanites replenish me constantly so there's no need. But you need to."

He frowned, clearly not happy with this order. "But this reality's Sheppard-"

"I'll go get in touch with him," Elizabeth offered. "I'll let you know if anything comes up. But you need to sleep while we're in a safe reality. Okay?"

He looked like he was ready to protest. So, she hit the final nail in the coffin. "John, if we're going to figure out how to get Atlantis back I'll need your help. I need you to be fully functional."

John swallowed. For a moment she thought he was going to protest, but he just nodded and got to his feet. "What happens if we jump?"

She got to her feet with him. "It should wake you up. If it doesn't, I will."

"Okay," he nodded. He looked at her and she froze completely. He was staring at her, his eyes dark in a way that she'd never forget. It was the same way he'd looked at her when he had left her on Asuras after screaming her name in protest. It was the look he'd tried to cover up with lighthearted smiles and optimism after the nanites had been reactivated in her. "Elizabeth," he said, his voice low. She felt her throat tighten in response as she wondered if he was really going to say something. But then he just shook his head, looking away from her. "Thanks."

"No problem," she replied, voice still tight. "You want me to wake you up in eight hours or so?"

He snorted. "I can't even remember the last time I slept for eight hours straight."

"Right," she smiled softly, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. He was looking at her, the emotions from before clouded but not gone. "Well, then, I'm going to go deal with the McKay version of Sheppard."

He smirked. "Good luck with that."

He pushed past her, glancing back only briefly before he exited. She remained on the pier in silence, looking back to the water.

*

She stopped by Sheppard's office after parting with John. When she entered she found Sheppard typing away on several different computers. He would type on one and then turn and type on another. As she approached him he let out a huff. "Look, not-smart Sheppard, I told you-"

He stopped as soon as his eyes went up and saw her. "Oh, Eli- Dr. Weir. Sorry. Your John is rather persistent."

"A trait which seems to be shared by many Johns," Elizabeth agreed as her eyes moved slowly from one laptop to another and back to him.

Sheppard rolled his eyes. "I'm just a hard worker. Your Sheppard just talked. And he didn't even know the physics of the tests I'm performing."

"He's not really into physics, more of a closet math geek." Sheppard snorted at this and Elizabeth rolled her eyes and continued. "But anyway he's sleeping while he has the chance, so I'll be the one you give information to now."

She didn't really think he was going to find anything. She'd been through all of this before with very smart people and here she was, still jumping after years. Sheppard studied her for a moment before nodding.

"Your nanites mean you don't have to sleep, right?"

"Right."

"Constant replenishment."

"Right." He looked away from her as he spoke. He suddenly seemed as if a burden had fallen on him. She'd just dealt with her own John's emotions, was still frayed by the sight of them; she wasn't sure she could see this one's too without cracking. "So... the nanites saved you?"

"No," she said, her voice a low whisper. "I... look, I'm not your Elizabeth, but I would never have given permission for the nanites to be reactivated."

"I know," he said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "But you're alive."

"You did the right thing, John."

His shoulders slouched as one hand covered his face. His back was shaking and she knew that he was either crying or repressing tears. She didn't realize she'd moved closer to him until they were practically touching. "Yeah," he muttered, "I really feel like I did the right thing."

She placed a hand on his shoulder and was surprised when he turned and pulled her down into a hug. "I know, logically, you're not her," he said, his lips right by her ear, "I know that. But, I just, I miss her."

"I know," she said quietly, resting her chin on his shoulder as her hands moved to clutch his back. He wasn't her John, she reminded herself, over and over. He wasn't hers and she wasn't his. This wasn't her John accepting her. "It's okay," she murmured quietly. "She wouldn't have wanted you to mourn her."

He sniffled and pulled back with a nod, looking back to his laptops as if nothing had happened. Maybe he was more like her John than she'd thought.

"Right," he said, still not looking at her. "I'll let you know if I come up with anything."

"Thank you," she said. He swallowed and kept looking at his laptop. A moment later the door opened and Rod walked in, smiling at her.

"Ah, Elizabeth. I was just looking for you. Would you like that tour now?"

"Yes, thank you," she nodded, glancing at Sheppard one last time before exiting.

*

John tried to sleep. Really, he did. But he was used to going longer periods of time without sleep and everything going on now was just too weird. As soon as his head hit the pillow he began to think about everything, about Elizabeth.

Quickly he got back to his feet and went to the gym. He was grateful when it was in the same spot. What he wasn't grateful for was entering to find Teyla picking up bantos sticks and staring at him. "You're the other John."

"Uh, yeah," he offered a smile, "that's me. Just came to punch some things."

She didn't say anything, just went back to working on poses with the sticks. He blinked at her in surprise, thinking he would have at least been asked about his reality. Instead he went to a punching bag and began to punch it.

He grunted as he swung. And swung, and swung and swung.

"John."

It wasn't until Teyla's voice cut in and she steadied the bag from the other side the he realized exactly how hard he'd been hitting the bag. He looked down at his now reddened hands and let out a grunt of air. "Sorry," he muttered to Teyla who was staring at him. "Got a little carried away."

"Would you like someone to steady it?" Teyla asked. John frowned.

"You're not going to ask me to talk about what's bothering me if you hold it?"

This Teyla seemed particularly annoyed by that idea. "Of course not." She turned away from him, clearly getting ready to leave. "I was merely offering."

"No, no, hey, my bad, my Teyla just-" Teyla turned to stare at him with an inquisitive eyebrow raised. "Never mind. Steady it?"

Teyla nodded and moved behind the bag. John began to punch it again, this time more conscious of what his body was doing.

*

"And this is the infirmary, which I know you've already seen," Rod said with a sweeping wave of his hand.

So far this Atlantis was pretty much the same as her Atlantis. The tour was mundane at best, but it had been a long time since she'd been in an Atlantis that had been so open with her. Distrust she was used to; being treated like a long-lost family member was new. So while the tour was nothing new, not really, it was also incredibly comforting. She didn't really want to think about it.

"Yes, and I believe that concludes our tour?"

Rod nodded. She smiled at him. "Well, in that case I suppose-" she stopped speaking when she noticed the three people stalking into the infirmary. Her heart sank. "John?"

Rod's head turned to see what she was staring at and his eyes widened as he approached the three and Elizabeth stayed close behind him.

"What happened here exactly?"

Teyla Emmagan, John Sheppard and Ronon Dex all looked at the floor guiltily. Ronon and Teyla had their fair share of cuts, but Elizabeth's eyes were studying John. It was clear to her that he was going to have quite a few bruises, not to mention a black eye, but what her attention was drawn to was the large gash over his eye.

"We sparred," Ronon informed Rod who snorted at the information as he took in the three.

"I noticed that. This is your way of introducing yourself to new people?"

Ronon opened his mouth and Rod cut him off, "Well, okay, it probably is the Satedan way. But come on-"

"It was my idea," John said before he could continue. He glanced up at Elizabeth. She frowned back at him. "We were just blowing off some steam and got a little carried away. It's no big deal."

Elizabeth let out a small huff at that as Dr. Fraiser took in the three before muttering under her breath about the immaturity of hitting people with sticks and separated them to different beds. Rod went with Teyla while Elizabeth moved over to John.

He glanced over at her before looking back down to the floor, which was apparently fascinating. Elizabeth frowned at him and crossed her arms. "This is how you sleep now? By getting the crap kicked out of you?"

"I didn't get the crap kicked-" John began to argue. When he glanced at her again he stopped speaking at let out a sigh. "Okay, maybe a little, but the Teyla from this world is like Ronon squared! How was I supposed to know?"

Dr. Fraiser came over, still muttering under her breath as she pressed an alcohol pad to John's gash. He grimaced and let out a grunt of pain at the sudden contact. "That's what you get," Janet muttered back before poking at the cut with a gloved hand. John grimaced.

"Is that how you treat patients? By torturing them?"

Janet smirked at him. "Trust me, we haven't even started in on torture. You'll be fine." With that she moved over to Teyla. Elizabeth glanced over at them to see Teyla and Rod softly conversing, and Teyla looking overly apologetic though she didn't seem to be saying much.

Elizabeth looked back at John.

"Elizabeth?" She must have been staring at the gash on his forehead for too long because he was frowning at her as he waved a hand in front of her face. "You there?"

"Yes," she cleared her throat. Without thinking her fingers went up to brush just above the cut. John tensed and she pulled back quickly. He looked away from her just as she did the same.

"Dr. Weir?" She turned to look at Rod who was once again smiling. "Sheppard says he has something for you."

*

"You've found something out?" John asked. Elizabeth, who still couldn't believe it, followed him into the lab.

"Yeah," Sheppard agreed. He didn't look happy. Elizabeth slowly placed herself beside his work area.

"Well?" John prompted.

"It's subtle but your nanites have been reprogrammed, probably by Niam," Sheppard said, his eyes only on her. "They've been collecting a negative charge for every jump you've ever made. Those charges are building up and building up. You see, each universe has its own unique signature, which is how we got you in the containment field and figured out who you were. Your nanites have been programmed to collect until they read a specific signature – which is when the energy will be loosed."

"Okay," John dragged out the word. "We kind of wanted something useful to get home, not-"

"You don't understand," Sheppard said as John stared at him.

"I do," Elizabeth said quietly. "I was wrong, it wasn't the Elizabeth they sent in FRAN. John, I'm what's supposed to ruin Atlantis. I'm a ticking time bomb."

"Yes," Sheppard nodded. "Your cells can be set off once you jump back to your reality but once they are everything within a very large radius will be imploded and turned into raw energy which will then be harvested by your body and you'll become nothing more than a machine to be used. Whoever gets their hands on you will be able to create Atlantis five-times over."

"All this time," she said, a quiet rage building.

"Eliz-" John started. But she wasn't listening, she was blinded completely as she let out a scream and slammed her fist forward against the counter.

"All this time I was toyed with," she yelled. All these years she'd thought one of Niam's follower's had idiotically set her free, but he must have known about it all along. He couldn't have known he wouldn't be able to bring her back, or maybe he did. Replicators had nothing but time, after all. Maybe Niam had been willing to wait around until he could capture someone who had the gene and could call her back. Until he could capture John.

John, who she had wound up dragging into this without even realizing it. Niam must have thought he'd have more time before she would jump, time enough to dispose of John and to plant her.

The last few years had been hell, but she'd always in the back of her mind thought it was better than being stuck with the Replicators. That, if she had nothing else, at least she had her freedom. All this time and she hadn't even had that.

Without thinking Elizabeth stormed out of the room, leaving the two Johns alone.

*

John found her on the east balcony. She stood with her elbows resting against the railing and leaning forward slightly, looking down at the city. "He's been using us all along," she said quietly, glancing back at him. John wondered if it was just the innate sense of knowing him well enough to know he'd come after her or if she knew he was there because she'd had to learn to watch her back.

"Yeah, well, now that we know how hard can it be to stop him?"

"Niam isn't easily stopped," she replied quietly, almost resigned. He hated that more than anything else about this situation.

"Oh, come on. We'll stop him. A few ARGs, a lot of explosives, big bang..."

"Yeah," she nodded, but it wasn't an agreement. "Except for the part where I've been made into the ultimate weapon for him."

"Elizabeth..." John began as he stared at her. She glanced at him but didn't say anything and he fell silent for a moment.

"He outsmarted me again. All along, John. I've been working for him all along."

"But we figured it out," John argued. He wanted, more than anything right now, to make her see that they could win. He wanted that ridiculous sense of optimism he'd known her for.

"So now we know," she shrugged.

"And we'll figure out how to reverse it," John argued heatedly.

"I've already tried-" Elizabeth began.

John cut her off with an angry huff. "You think you've seen everything, but you haven't. Look, I know you've been doing this a lot longer than I have, but you said they'd never been able to figure out anything about your nanites – but look, we found out about the energy building up! You've gotta have faith."

She smiled sadly at him and something in his gut ached at the sight. His eyes moved down to the gun that was still holstered at her side.

"When did you get it?"

She followed his line of sight to the gun and let out a sigh. "I... I jumped into a world once that was ending. Atlantis was... John was standing in the city with his eyes closed and the self destruct had only a few seconds left on it. I grabbed him without thinking, which is when I found out that I could pull people along with me."

"Elizabeth?" John prompted. She nodded, swallowing as she looked down at the city and kept speaking.

"He... we jumped together for months. He always insisted I should be armed with the things we faced but I refused. I wasn't going to let the Replicators take that from me. But then..." Elizabeth turned away from him and John's stomach dropped when she moved one of her hands to wipe her face. Her silently shaking back was a clear indication she was crying. "We came across a universe that was evil, the Goa'uld had overtaken Atlantis... John... he jumped in front of me. It was so stupid, the nanites would have saved me but he... he jumped in front of me and he was dead before we jumped again. Ronon gave me a gun in the next universe and I wasn't going to do something stupid like not be able to defend myself again."

John moved to stand next to her. He awkwardly patted her hand with his. He then left his hand on top of hers, only to think better of it a second later and put it so that it was resting on the railing and their hands were just barely brushing against each other. "He wouldn't have..." John began, his voice faltered and then he continued on more strongly. "He wouldn't have wanted you to blame yourself for that, Elizabeth."

"He was just like you," she said. She glanced at him with misty eyes and John could tell she was categorizing whatever facial differences there had been. "So much like you."

"So then I'd know," John said firmly. "He did what he... what he wanted to, Elizabeth. He saved you. He wouldn't have it any other way."

"It was still stu-"

"Completely stupid," John agreed. "It wasn't about thinking, though."

Elizabeth looked away and remained silent, her demeanor not changing in the slightest. "Hey," John said, drawing her attention back to him.

"We're going to get Niam," John promised. "We'll save Atlantis, together. I promise."

"Yeah," her voice suddenly turned bitter. "Like you saved me?"

John felt like someone had just shot him in the gut as he stared at her. Her eyes widened, seemingly realizing exactly what she'd just said. "I-" she began, but then shook her head as one hand covered her face. She didn't even look at him again as she left the balcony.

John was left alone with thoughts and memories he thought he'd long ago buried.

*

Idiot, she was an absolute and complete idiot. She had no idea why she'd just lashed out at John. His reassurance of saving Atlantis had only been making her angrier and angrier. She didn't know why that was, either. She was taking the John Sheppard route of emotional connection by not connecting at all.

She had to apologize to John. He deserved an apology. But apologizing would involve actually talking to him.

She grimaced as she felt the familiar white haze surround her. Great, just when they'd landed in a universe that actually was helping them solve things. She thought of the John who'd lost his Elizabeth, and how she was just leaving him before she jumped.

When her vision came back she was surprised to find herself shaking. There was the sound of a loud explosion and Elizabeth was thrown into the side of a wall. She let out a grunt of surprise. "Elizabeth?" John... squeaked?

She looked up to see John standing in a suit and shifting from one from one foot to the other. "I thought you were on the Daedalus trying to-" there was another shake and John stumbled forward. Elizabeth pushed herself to her feet, watching as John took in her appearance. "When did you get those clothes?"

"Dr. Sheppard?" a voice cut in across his radio. One Elizabeth was intimately familiar with. She stared at him as his eyes widened at her.

"Colonel Weir?"

"John, we think we can get the hive ship to retreat. How are things down there?"

"Oh, you know," John said, staring at Elizabeth. "They're interesting. I think we have a security breach."

"A security breach? Can you handle it? I'm a little busy."

"Well, I'm standing in front of someone who looks exactly like you."

There was a pause. "Excuse me?"

"Yeah, I thought it was you. Unless this isn't you, in which case-"

"John," Colonel Weir cut through.

"Right. So you're you. Who are you?"

"I'm Dr. Elizabeth Weir," Elizabeth said. "I'm stuck jumping from alternate universe to alternate universe-"

"Elizabeth!" she turned to see a panicked looking John composing himself as he stepped closer to him and stared at his double.

"This is Colonel John Sheppard," Elizabeth introduced him.

"Seriously?" Colonel Weir's voice cut in. "We'll deal with them later. Right now we're taking down the hive ship. We'll check back in a few minutes, hopefully with significantly less explosions."

"Good luck, Elizabeth."

Her John cleared his throat as he glanced at her but quickly looked to a point ahead of him as he spoke. "You okay?"

"Yeah," she tried to smile at him but he wasn't looking at her. Not that she blamed him. "You?"

"Fine," he said, though he sounded anything but.

Dr. Sheppard cleared his throat. "I have questions for you two, assuming Atlantis is still standing in a minute."

"You're just going to let us stand here until then?" John asked skeptically.

"My guess is that if you meant any harm I'd be unconscious by now," Dr. Sheppard replied. He smiled at them in a way that reminded Elizabeth a lot more of Daniel Jackson than of John Sheppard. "God knows that happens enough," he added in a mutter that definitely reminded her of Daniel.

"Look, Colonel Weir will attend to you as soon as she destroys that nasty hive ship above us," Dr. Sheppard continued. "Until then staying away from the glass is probably a good idea."

The city shook again and a familiar voice yelled out in annoyance. Elizabeth turned her head to see Rodney McKay – in Air Force attire – come running down the hall. "Dr. Sheppard, I told you to stay put!"

"Yes, Captain McKay, but I just wanted to-"

"Colonel Weir gave specific instructions!"

"Oh, this is too weird," John muttered from beside her.

McKay stopped, staring at John and then Elizabeth. "I don't even wanna know," he said.

The city shook again and Elizabeth grimaced as she bumped into John. He bumped right back into her. Instinctively she reached out to grab his arm steady herself against him. She fisted a hand in his shirt while he placed a hand on her lower back to help even them out. She pulled back slowly when the ground under her was steady, feeling his hand pull away. He still wasn't looking at her.

"We did it!" Colonel Weir's voice called over the radio. "The Hive ship has been destroyed."

Dr. Sheppard let out a sigh of relief. "I'm glad to hear it. I expect to see you down here in one piece soon."

"I wouldn't want to be in any other kind of piece," Colonel Weir replied. "I'll deal with those two people now."

As soon as she said it there was a light, the indication of someone being beamed down, and there she stood. Colonel Weir had shorter hair and Air Force fatigues on. She looked them over and let out a huff of annoyance as she rolled her eyes. "McKay, you didn't even take away their weapons? Really?"

"I was getting to that," Rodney muttered defensively.

Colonel Weir glanced to Dr. Sheppard. "Well, you're still conscious. That's probably a sign in our favor."

"I said as much," he grinned at her.

"Alright," Colonel Weir nodded to them, "if you come in peace and all that I'd like you to hand over your weapons."

Elizabeth nodded and slowly set down her gun. She glanced over at John who reluctantly followed her lead. "We mean you no harm."

"Yeah, because I always believe people who say they mean me no harm," Colonel Weir said in amusement. Elizabeth exchanged a glance with John. Now that sounded a lot like John.

Colonel Weir nodded to McKay who picked up the guns.

"Alright then, who are you and what are you doing here?"

"We're from an alternate reality," Elizabeth repeated. "We've been stuck jumping from alternate reality to alternate reality."

"Of course you have," Colonel Weir sighed heavily. "Well, let's get you tested by Dr. Ford-"

Elizabeth felt the white haze and let out a grunt of surprise. She moved forward, grabbing her gun and tossing John back his. Just as Colonel Weir raised her own gun toward them, they jumped.

*

John staggered forward in surprise. "Are the jumps supposed to be that fast?"

From beside him a disoriented-looking Elizabeth shook her head. "I've never seen any jump happen that fast."

"Oh, for crying out loud!" Elizabeth blinked in surprise to see General O'Neill standing on top of the staircase in Atlantis. "Carter, do we just let anyone pop into the gateroom now?"

Samantha Carter squeaked in surprise as she leaned over the computers in the control room. "We didn't let them in, sir, their body signatures are very strange, it appears that-"

"Carter," Jack said firmly. Sam nodded back at him.

"They don't appear to be from this reality, sir."

They jumped.

*

John stared at the sight in front of him. Ronon Dex... in a loincloth. From beside him he heard Elizabeth make an squeak of surprise and looked up to see both of them also in loincloths. They began to speak but it was a language John didn't recognize.

"I think that's-" Elizabeth started, but suddenly she stopped speaking and John looked to see what she had noticed. He wished he hadn't.

It was Rodney McKay, clearly grumbling in whatever language they were speaking with a computer in his hand and a loin cloth.

They jumped.

*

And they jumped.

*

And they jumped.

Each universe seemed to be more bizarre than the next. Some they didn't even see anything of it before they jumped again.

*

Elizabeth grimaced as she stumbled forward. "This isn't good," she said, glancing over at John. "Especially if I'm absorbing energy from all the realities. John, we have to stop."

He let out a frustrated grunt. "What do you expect me to do?"

She shook her head. She was aware that they had both already been overly frustrated and now it was inevitably bubbling up into an argument.

"Try to use your gene," she said, trying to keep her voice calm. "Maybe you can control-"

"You don't think I'd be controlling this if I could?" John accused, clearly not matching her own calm tone. "Or do you think I'm controlling all these ridiculous jumps?"

"No, John, I just-"

"Because I'm not!" He muttered. "You think I wouldn't go back to Atlantis if I could?"

"We're in Atlantis," she pointed out dryly. As she looked around she realized it didn't appear anyone else was in the city.

"You know what I mean," John replied.

"I do," she agreed. She glanced away before looking back at him. "And no, I don't think you'd want to go back to Atlantis since I'm a bomb."

"That's-"

"Common sense," she filled in over him. "Of course you don't want me going back. I know you're not comfortable with the nanites, let alone the fact that they're super-charged nanites."

"Don't be stupid," he muttered, so harshly she found herself caught off-guard. She stared at him and his eyes widened. "Elizabeth, I didn't mean-"

They jumped.

*

John blinked in disorientation. At first he thought he was losing his balance because of how many jumps they'd made, but then he realized that the ground under him was shaking. There were people around him. Elizabeth screamed and suddenly nothing else mattered even a little.

He turned to see her writhing on the floor. "Elizabeth?" he yelled. It sounded like the city was falling apart.

"Nanites," she breathed, and he watched in horror as her skin tore as if by an invisible blade and then healed only to tear at different points. "Something-something isn't right."

That much was clear.

Her skin kept tearing and repairing and tearing again. She let out a scream and John looked around helplessly as if that would stop it.

"Nanites," a voice said, and he looked up in surprise to see the face of Teyla Emmagan. "We have safe guards against them now."

"You're killing her," John screamed, bellowed. "Stop it!" he begged. "Please, you have to-"

He turned back to Elizabeth to see that she had stopped moving all together, a pool of blood forming under her. "Elizabeth!" he screamed, anguished.

They jumped.

*

They were still in the gateroom but everything was different. People wearing white surrounded them but John ignored all of them. He fell onto his knees next to Elizabeth. She was too pale and wasn't moving and he didn't even know if she had a pulse anymore and all this training with the nanites told him not to touch her. His hand went to pulse point in her neck as another one brushed the hair off her face.

"Please," he breathed only when he found a weak pulse. "Please, Elizabeth."

He felt a hand on his shoulder and was pulled backwards and away from her. "Hey," he protested, trying to get back to her. But a man was holding him back. The man placed a hand on each of his shoulders and held him in place with surprising strength.

The man was speaking but John had no idea what language. "I'm with her!" he yelled, watching as another man leaned over her with a device John didn't recognize. To John's surprise Elizabeth began to hover. The man hit a few buttons on the device and she moved away from him. John panicked.

He pulled back and swung a fist hard against the man who had been holding him back. The man let out a cry of surprise and John quickly pushed other men away that tried to get him.

All he could think was Elizabeth, over and over. He pushed through person after person to get to her, hitting more than one on his way. To his alarm more than one person grabbed his arms, pinning him to the floor just as Elizabeth moved out of his sight.

"Get off me," he screamed, pounded, flailed. It was to no avail. He felt a sharp prick in his arm and looked over at what appeared to be a vial. "Elizabeth," he murmured, grogginess overtaking him until he was practically asleep.

"Elizabeth," he breathed just before lost consciousness completely.

*

Elizabeth felt pain. It was searing and she couldn't feel or comprehend anything beyond it. She opened her eyes briefly to see blurry figures in white over her. Her eyes closed again, more from an inability to keep them open than a want to have them closed.

She heard a voice. It pricked her senses, barely seemed there at first, but then she heard it again. She could feel her consciousness fading out, knew that her body temperature was lower than it was suppose to be and the nanites weren't helping. Her body was decaying, on the verge of giving out completely.

Elizabeth.

The voice echoed in her head. It sound familiar somehow, familiar in a way she thought she should know.

Elizabeth. You've come too far to give in now.

Her eyes shot open at that, fighting back the urge to sink into the darkness that was tugging at her. She started to make out the faces that were hovering over her, and she noticed what they were wearing. More importantly, though, she recognized the language they were speaking.

Ancient.

*

John woke sometime later. He felt surprisingly awake whereas usually after getting drugged he'd feel... well, drugged. He tried to shift only to find that he couldn't and panic set in.

He was in a bed, with restraints on his feet and hands. He grimaced as he tried futilely to shift and free himself. A few minutes later all he had managed to succeed in was chaffing his wrists and ankles. He grimaced and let out a heavy huff of air as his head collapsed back to the bed.

A hand rested against his shoulder and suddenly he jerked up. The man in front of him frowned at him. "Who are you?" John demanded. "What do you want?"

The man said something but John didn't even begin to understand what. That didn't stop him from being annoyed by it. "Where's Elizabeth?"

That, the man seemed to understand. He motioned to his left and John looked over to see Elizabeth in the far corner of the room (a hospital area, by the looks of it,) she was lying in a bed motionless. A cold sense of dread shot through his stomach at the sight.

"Is she okay?" he demanded, trying to fight his restraints again. The man in front of him frowned and slowly, unhooked on of his ankle restraints. "Alright, you're freeing me. That's good."

He removed the second restraint and studied John carefully, probably seeing if John was going to try to punch him out again. He moved up to remove the wrist restraints too, and as soon as the second one was far enough off that he could get his hand free he made a dead run towards Elizabeth. The man made a noise of protest but John wasn't paying attention to him anymore.

He halted by her bedside, looking at all the machines attached to her. Some he recognized, most he didn't. He moved one shaking hand forward slowly, wondering if her skin was going to be cold to the touch. His fingers wrapped around her wrist and he'd never been so glad to feel a pulse point in his life. He let out a heavy breath of air, practically collapsing into the chair next to her as he rested his forehead against the edge of the bed.

"She's doing well." John turned in shock to look at the man who had spoken, the same one who had untied his restraints.

"Seriously? You've been able to talk this whole time?"

"No. I picked it up while you were speaking."

John's eyes narrowed. "You picked up English in five minutes?"

The man shrugged, obviously not seeing what the big deal was. "It's very similar to our language but with a much simpler syntax. I'm Orlin."

"John Sheppard," he said, still not particularly fond of this stranger. All the same he glanced back at Elizabeth. "She's okay?"

"Yes," the man nodded with a small smile. "It's very strange, the nanites in her system. It appears some of them were literally torn from her body, but we set them back."

"You reset them?" John asked, an unfortunate twinge of hope coming forward.

"No, they are still quite destructive, but they are no longer killing her."

"Oh," John said, trying to pretend that he wasn't disappointed the nanites were still there. Not that he wasn't overly grateful that she was okay, he just wished she was okay and nanite-less. "Wait..." it hit him, "you're an Ancient?"

"An Ancient? I do not understand that word."

"You're... you built this city? Your people, I mean. You all wear white robes and talk about ascension all the time and-"

Orlin seemed surprised by that. "Ascension? We did consider that, many years ago, but instead of seeking a path not all of us could follow yet we chose to hide this city and preserve ourselves until the Wraith inevitably had to hibernate most of their kind because of a low food supply. But yes, we created this city."

"That's some impressive freezing," John said, remembering the Elizabeth they'd found on Atlantis and how aged she had become even using the Ancient chamber. These Ancients must have had much better technology. "And yeah, where we're from we call you Ancients."

"In your reality," Orlin nodded.

"You know about that?"

"Of course. We found the agent in your bloodstream and hers as well, it was one we considered but didn't put into production. It is pulling you from realities based on your lead."

John froze. "Excuse me?"

"The gene you possess, one that clearly was passed down from our kind to yours, it's controlling the jumps."

"That's impossible," John argued heatedly, "I have nothing to do with the jumps we make."

"Well your gene is weaker than ours," Orlin said considerately. "It's possible that it isn't working on a conscious level."

John felt himself getting defensive. This man had no idea what realities they'd jumped to, had no idea what he was suggesting, but, "You're saying I wanted to go to all those fucked up realities? Because I'm telling you I really don't like bug people or nanite witch hunters or-"

"No," Orlin cut in, his soft voice surprisingly commanding. "I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. What I'm suggesting is that on a level you can't control, an emotional level, perhaps, you've been guiding the changes in reality."

"That's what I just said," John growled. He thought back to their jumps. He certainly wasn't one to want to go to an Iratus universe or any of the other ones they'd visited. But he thought back to when they had jumped. After he'd seen Elizabeth. When he'd found out Elizabeth had come back for him. When he'd found out Elizabeth was Elizabeth. After she'd accused him of not saving her and they'd kept jumping. Was that his fault?

Orlin frowned at him and opened his mouth, clearly to protest this. "Orlin," a woman entered the room. Orlin turned to her and the two began to talk in Ancient as John looked on in confusion. The woman waved a hand at John and Orlin shook his head and continued to speak.

"John Sheppard," Orlin said, nodding to the woman, "this is Ganos Lal."

The name sounded familiar and John wished Elizabeth was awake so that she could no doubt fill him in on who these people were. She was going to be like a kid in a candy store when she did finally wake up. The thought made John smile slightly. Which made the woman frown at him.

"John Sheppard," she greeted. "The council wishes to speak with you about your current situation."

He glanced at Elizabeth, not particularly wanting to leave her. "She will be fine. I will watch over her," Orlin offered. John hated that the man had picked up on his anxiety. He hated even more that he hadn't realized his hand was still resting over her wrist, his fingers still connected to her pulse point. Slowly, reluctantly, he pulled his hand away from her.

"Okay then. Talking to Ancients. That always goes well for me. When?"

"The council is in session now," Ganos said. "Come with me."

"No please?" John asked. Ganos narrowed her eyes at him. "'Alright then," he murmured, getting to his feet after one last glance at Elizabeth. "Let's go to the council."

"This way," Ganos said, walking forward and through the door. John followed her with the gut feeling that this was not going to go well for him.

*

Once they reached the council room (the briefing room from his Atlantis,) everyone stopped speaking and stared at him. Yep, this definitely was not the thing he should be doing. Elizabeth was the one who was a master of words, he just shot things. Which was probably not the proper response to this situation.

"Moros," Ganos greeted the man who sat at the head of the table with a slight bow. The two began to talk in Ancient as John just stared blankly ahead of him, trying to ignore the curiosity of all the people in the room.

That was until Ganos and Moros stopped speaking and Moros turned his gaze to John. "John Sheppard. Why are you here?"

John was pretty sure Moros would have been filled in on why he was here. He looked at Ganos for some sort of help but she just stared blankly black at him. Right, so much for that. "I was forced to touch an Ancient device which left Elizabeth and I jumping through different realities."

"Ancient?" Moros asked.

"That's what we call you guys," John said with a shrug, his hands going into his pockets. "The builders of the stargates and of Atlantis."

"We are Alterrans," Moros said, clearly scolding John for the misnomer. "And we are not the ones who created the device that you touched, although we did have a similar item in production at one point."

"I'm not saying you did," John said, feeling defensive at the scolding, "I'm just saying that's how we got here."

"Your companion has nanites in her system. They took energy from this reality as soon as she entered it."

"She can't help that," John practically growled. Moros raised his eyebrows, obviously annoyed at the tone John had chosen. John took in a deep breath. "Elizabeth never wanted the nanites in her body, they're something that... well, they just happened. She can't help what they do. A Replicator called Niam, he's the one who altered the cells. He imprisoned her and used her."

There was chatter from the people in the room after he spoke. Ganos and Moros started to speak in Ancient to each other again. John couldn't understand a word of what they were saying, but whatever the specific words, it was clear they were arguing.

Moros suddenly said something calmly but commandingly that made the entire room fall into silence. John imagined it was something along the lines of "stop" or "shut the hell up." Either way it worked. Moros stared at Ganos for a moment more before turning his head to John.

"John Sheppard. We must speak of your situation. We will deliberate and call you back in when we are ready. Until then, we will keep you tied to this reality."

"What?" John sputtered. "You-you can do that? Keep us here? Can you send us home?" Moros said nothing, just turned his head away from John. "You can, can't you!? Send us home, then."

"The council must discuss this," Moros repeated. It was obvious he was getting annoyed but John didn't care.

"What the hell is there to think about? We're away from home and we want to go back. Send us there!" He felt Ganos' hand on his arm as she guided him back away from the council and towards the doors they had come through. He resisted. "Look, you all have the ability to get us home. We're lost. We just need a little help."

The table stared at him blankly as he let Ganos guide him out of the room. When they exited the doors behind them closed. "The council does not take to pleas," Ganos told him. He couldn't tell if she was scolding him or just informing him.

"Yeah, I noticed," he muttered. "They don't take to just doing the right thing either, apparently."

"We know how her nanites have been altered," Ganos said as she led him back to the infirmary. He was well-aware of where it was so he assumed the Ancients were just keeping an eye on him wherever he went. "We know what will happen if we place her back into your reality."

"And you're telling me you can't alter the nanites back?" John asked. Ganos said nothing. "Yeah, that's what I thought."

"You see things too plainly," Ganos replied.

"That's what I'm here for," John agreed wryly. Ganos, to his surprise, actually rolled her eyes at him.

"Obviously."

They reached the infirmary, where Ganos nodded to Orlin before leaving John. Orlin waved to him and motioned over to Elizabeth. "She has not waken yet, but should do so soon. You may sit by her side, if you would like."

John didn't see what other choice he had.

Elizabeth would understand this universe. Without her he was just making a poor attempt at wading through it.

That wasn't anything new.

*

Elizabeth grimaced when she woke up, feeling like she'd been run over by a car. Soreness wasn't something she was used to anymore with the nanites and it felt bizarre to suddenly feel this way again. She closed her eyes briefly, allowing herself to feel the nanites inside her. In the previous reality they had been aggravated, attacking her from inside as they were pulled out. It seemed that they were slowly going back to where they had been before.

She tried not to think of them often. Even though they tainted everything she did, made her see things like a computer, she tried sometimes to just pretend they weren't there. It rarely worked.

She opened her eyes again and turned her head to see John's face crack into a wide smile. She blinked at him, clearing her throat as she remembered what she'd accused him of earlier. "Hey."

"Hey," he greeted back. "Guess where we are."

"An Ancient reality?" she asked. John made an exaggerated frowned.

"You're no fun, how could you possibly have known that?"

She grinned lightly. "Sorry. I heard them talking."

"Of course. You know things would have been a lot easier if you'd just stayed conscious and talked to them with your linguistic language skills."

He meant it jokingly, but it didn't come off right. She stared at him and noticed the stress line creased in his forehead and how his hand was on her arm and hadn't moved from there since she woke up.

"Right," she murmured dryly, "because it's my fault my nanites got attacked somehow."

He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck and she thought she'd accidentally said the wrong thing somehow. "Actually, that was mine. Apparently."

"What?" she asked. "What do you mean?"

"Um, Orlin, the doctor here, told me that my gene was subconsciously controlling the jumps."

"Then you couldn't control it," she said lightly. It made sense, really. He'd been distressed and they had been jumping to versions of Atlantis that had been in distress. One where their John had turned into a monster (and taken their Elizabeth with him,) one where the nanites had taken over, and one where the John there could actually help them. Then she'd accused him of something she shouldn't have and they'd kept jumping. But now, after her nanites had been attacked (another thing that made sense,) she was in the one universe that could clearly help her as if fixing the nanites was like applying a band-aid. John opened his mouth, and she knew he was going to take the blame for this. She didn't want that, and couldn't deal with it right now.

"Orlin?" she asked. "That names sounds familiar... I think Samantha Carter encountered him on SG1... but how could he possibly be here? Surely he would be ascended or-"

"Oh, the Ancients decided not to ascend but they froze themselves and hid the city. Or something."

"Really? That's fascinating," she said, considering the implications of what he had said.

"Yeah," John said, not sounding at all enthused.

"Ah, Elizabeth." She looked up in surprise to see a blonde man. "I am Orlin. I trust you are feeling better?"

"You speak English?" she asked.

John rolled his eyes. "He picked it up in, like, a minute."

"Really?" she asked. She saw John roll his eyes at her enthusiasm and shot him a quick glare before moving back to look at Orlin who was smiling at her.

"Yes, I was explaining to John that it is very similar to our language."

"But simpler," John added dryly. She shot him another look, hoping that he would behave. He frowned at her but said nothing else.

"It's nice to meet you Orlin. Thank you for helping me. We're honored to be in an Atlantis with the Ancients, you all are a bit of a legend where I come from."

Orlin seemed to actually blush at this. "Well, thank you. I hope that the council acts amiably towards your situation."

Elizabeth glanced at John at that, wondering what their situation was. "Oh, yeah. They've stopped us from jumping but Moros and Ganos and whatever else-os have to talk about what they're going to do with us."

Elizabeth's eyes widened. "Moros and Ganos? Ganos Lal?"

John stared at her like she'd just gone crazy. "Yes?"

"John... that's, they're... Moros you'd know as Merlin and Ganos as Morgan Le Fay." Elizabeth knew that she sounded like she was fawning over them now but she didn't care. Never had she met such powerful people in her jumps, usually it was just alternate versions of people she knew – not Ancients she had spent years studying. John was still staring at her like she was crazy.

"Seriously?"

"Yes, John. Seriously. So we're waiting on their word?"

"Yeah, but they didn't really seem like quick decision makers. I think we're just hanging out here until they do decide."

"There are worse places to be," she pointed out. "Though I do wonder if I couldn't get a word in with the council about our situation."

"That would probably be good," John agreed. "I tried. Or, they forced me to talk to them. I think I just pissed them off."

"What happened?"

"Oh, you know, I might have said they should just send us back and that it was no big deal."

She frowned at him. "John, it's more complicated-"

He laid his head back in the chair and let out a loud huff of air. "I keep hearing that! But how complicated is it? We're stuck jumping through realities because of an ancient device and now they can send us home! Where's the complication?"

He couldn't be serious. She found herself completely at a loss of words, her mouth moving with nothing coming out before she steadied herself. "John- you can't be serious. First of all, they had nothing to do with the device, and second, you must know I can't go back with you."

John's eyes widened at the declaration. "Elizabeth-"

"No, John. You heard the Sheppard from the other reality. I'm a bomb. I will destroy pretty much everything around me the second I get back into that reality." She had known that the minute Sheppard had told her how the nanites had been altered. It'd never occurred to her that John wouldn't have come to the same conclusion.

"There has to be another way," he argued. "Look- we're with the Ancients. They have to be able to undo whatever it is Niam did."

He held her gaze and she swallowed under the intensity of it. She turned her head away from him, closing her eyes for a moment as she composed herself.

She wanted to scream. It was all so unfair. One minute she was back in her reality, looking at her John, and the next she was back to jumping realities and with John, who didn't believe she was who she said she was. Now he believed her, he supported her, he wasn't bringing up the harsh words she'd thrown unfairly at him, and he wanted to save her.

But she'd learned long ago that want didn't go very far.

"I believe I can help with that."

Her head jerked around in surprise and she could tell John was just as surprised at the entrance as she was. "And you are?" John asked as he stood and leaned against Elizabeth's bed, the conversation they'd been having temporarily on hold.

"My name is Janus," he smiled. Elizabeth sucked in a breath of surprise and John glanced at her, familiar with this particular Ancient too.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Janus," Elizabeth smiled. "I've heard a lot about you."

"Not me, technically," he pointed out as he smiled back at her. "Though I suppose it is nice to be famous in another reality. But I heard your problem and I would like to offer my assistance."

"What kind of assistance?" John asked. He crossed him arms over his chest and Elizabeth resisted the urge to roll her eyes at him.

"Well, the nanites were a bit of a problem for us for a while, I believe I could alter yours at least back to what they used to be – I heard about the mutation they've taken on where they take matter from universes, but I would need your cooperation."

"Of course," Elizabeth agreed. John made a noise in the back of his throat as he turned to her.

"Elizabeth," he said, clearly voicing his displeasure with her choice. "Are you sure about this? I mean we don't know-"

"No," she agreed, "we don't know much about this reality, but we do know they saved me and we know the council doesn't appear to want to act in our favor. So we'll take what we can get."

"Ah, yes," Janus cleared his throat. "Actually, I wouldn't be able to work without the council's permission, just look around and see what I could do. But I could help speak to the council on your behalf – and get you time to speak as well," he added, still smiling at Elizabeth, "I could explain the general etiquette of council meetings."

"Thank you," Elizabeth found herself unable to do anything but smile back at the man. "I'd appreciate that."

She heard John make another noise in the back of his throat and ignored him.

"Well, if you don't mind, I've spoken with Orlin and he said it would be okay if I broke you out of the infirmary and took you with me to my lab."

Elizabeth felt her smile widen at the news. Ever since she'd first gotten to Atlantis she'd formed a natural aversion to the infirmary, and all the memories it inevitably brought up (most of them focusing on her people, on John, and what ifs.)

"That would be the best thing that's happened to me all day," she smiled. He grinned back at her and offered her his hand, helping her out of the bed. She was still in her regular clothing, which was odd but she supposed the Ancients didn't need hospital robes. She even had her gun at her side, but she guessed they didn't feel threatened by it, or had disarmed it in some way.

Janus nodded to her and guided her to the door. "Oh, John Sheppard," he said to John who was just watching them, "you may come as well, of course."

John didn't need to be told twice. He pushed in to her side and followed them down the halls of an Atlantis that was clearly flourishing.

*

John wasn't really a fan of the Ancients. At least, he wasn't a fan of the Ancients in his universe and these ones didn't seem very different. He followed Elizabeth and Janus until they reached a lab. Elizabeth let out a small squeal and really, he was happy that she was happy – the conversation they didn't have aside – but he didn't see the big deal.

Sure, the lab was clearly more hi-tech than anything he'd ever seen. It was still just another lab in Atlantis, but filled with blinking lights and machines he didn't recognize. "This is my lab," Janus announced. John thought it was an obvious thing to say.

"It's amazing," Elizabeth smiled, looking around. Janus blushed.

"Thank you. Now I'll just need a sample of your blood."

Elizabeth gave it willingly and Janus moved to put the vial of blood into a machine. "This will separate the nanites and then we can examine them and see how they have been altered," he explained.

"Is that safe?" Elizabeth asked.

"Perfectly," Janus nodded back. "As for its legality..."

"It's illegal?" John asked, skeptical.

Janus shrugged. "The council... if I were to tell them that I wanted to do an experiment they would deny me but if I give them fact I have a much greater chance of being able to help you in the long-term. I've never been one to function well under bureaucracy."

John liked him a little more. After all, that was something he could definitely relate to. The door opened and John turned to see Ganos enter. She frowned at all of them, though John was starting to wonder if that was just her natural disposition.

"Ganos," Janus greeted, stepping forward so that he was in front of both of them. "How are you?"

Ganos spoke in Ancient to him, and John realized Janus was the first person to speak in English to another Ancient in front of them. Janus' shoulders slouched as he nodded and spoke back in Ancient. He waved a hand at Elizabeth and continued to speak.

Elizabeth's eyes were narrowed and John knew she was listening in to the conversation. "Excuse me," she said in English, "I'm Elizabeth Weir. I don't think we've been introduced."

Ganos glanced at her, looking as annoyed as she always did. "Yes, I am Ganos Lal. Welcome to our Atlantis." She then turned back to Janus and the two fell into a long conversation. John moved to Elizabeth's side, making sure they were far enough away that the other two couldn't hear them and weren't paying attention to them.

"What're you doing?" he asked quietly.

"Keeping a card," she replied simply. "No reason not to." John couldn't argue with that so he just nodded. He glanced at her, thinking back the conversation that had been cut-off by Janus' entrance. That Elizabeth thought she wasn't coming with him was idiotic. After all, they'd wound up (or, he'd taken them to,) a reality where the people in it could do pretty much whatever they wanted, including fixing her.

When he looked back to Janus he found that the conversation seemed to be ending, so he stepped forward. "I don't suppose you're here because the council decided to send us home?" John asked Ganos.

Ganos looked like she wanted to roll her eyes at him. "No, I am not. The council has ended for the day but will return tomorrow to further discuss your situation. I am told that Elizabeth and Janus will be speaking on your behalf as well. That is probably for the best," she added, looking pointedly at John. He didn't resist the urge to roll his eyes at her.

"We will keep you tied to our reality until a decision has been made." With that Ganos exited and as soon as the door closed Elizabeth turned to Janus.

"So I will be speaking?" she asked.

"Yes," Janus nodded. "We will go to the council together tomorrow, if that is okay with you of course."

"That sounds lovely. And you'll fill me in on the etiquette of the council?"

"Of course," Janus agreed. "I will need a little while to run this test and then we can talk. If you'd like, you and John could go and get some food. I imagine you don't have to eat, but John-"

John didn't like being talked about like that. He also didn't like that it'd never occurred to him that Elizabeth wouldn't need to eat anymore.

"That sounds lovely," Elizabeth agreed before John could protest. He shot her a look to let her know he was annoyed but she just subtly shook her head and he understood. Janus was going out of his way for them, the least they could do was get out when he suggested it. Still.

"Will we be allowed to travel Atlantis on our own?" Elizabeth asked.

"Oh, yes," Janus said, seemingly surprised there would have been any other option. "Your guns have been disabled. I see no reason why you would need a guard."

That annoyed John too. That these people were so arrogant they thought he and Elizabeth couldn't possibly be a threat. Not that they were a threat, but they definitely could have been. He felt like grumbling as much but kept quiet.

He looked at Elizabeth, who was looking at him and frowning slightly. Even though he hadn't said a word he had no doubt that she was picking up on his annoyance and wondering why he was so annoyed. She'd always had the eery ability to read him and he wasn't surprised that hadn't changed.

What did surprise him was when her hand lightly moved to rest on his shoulder. She squeezed it once reassuringly before walking past him. He swallowed and caught up with her.

*

"This isn't food," John whined for what felt like the billionth time. Elizabeth let out a huff that was half-frustration and half-amusement.

"John, someone's going to hear you."

"Hear what? It's a fact."

She couldn't really argue with him. As it turned out 'food' for the Ancients, at least these Ancients, was colorful cubes. Their texture reminded her of Tofu, but they all had individual tastes. He poked at one of his cubes and made a face when it jiggled back and forth.

"John," she scolded, "you're acting like Rodney."

He made a face at her that really did remind her of Rodney. "That's low, Elizabeth."

"If the food poking fits," she replied with a crooked grin. He grinned back at her. His smile faded as his head lowered and he stared at the food tray. Elizabeth felt the mood change and looked away from him, not really sure she could deal with this conversation continuing right now. But, if it was going to change...

"John, I shouldn't have said what I did. I'm sorry."

She didn't need to clarify what she was talking about. He didn't look at her when he spoke. "You were right, though-"

"No," she cut him off fiercely. They probably shouldn't have been having this conversation here, but the cafeteria was practically empty and whoever was around them was speaking Ancient and paying them no attention. "You did what I ordered you to, John."

"Right," he muttered. "You ordered me to leave you in enemy hands."

"I did," she argued hotly. At her tone John met her gaze and she hated what she saw there. "John, I would have kicked your ass if you'd come back for me."

She wouldn't have. She probably would have collapsed into his arms. She thought John probably knew as much, but he let out a small laugh at her declaration. He won't stop blaming himself, she knew that absolutely, but he said nothing else on the subject.

"You know..." he started, staring at the table again, "I'm not leaving you behind."

Which was the other subject she didn't want to talk about.

"Okay John," she agreed quietly, more to move on than because she actually agreed with him.

He frowned at her and she looked away from him as that would somehow prevent him from reading her. He'd always been able to read her.

"Excuse me." They both startled at the woman who had apparently been approaching them. She was a redhead in Ancient clothing, and Elizabeth recognized her from the files she'd read at the SGC. It was hard to forget that SG-1 had come across an Ancient buried in Antarctica and who had sacrificed herself to cure the team when she unknowingly infected them. They'd called her Ayiana.

"I overheard," the woman smiled, "you do not like the food?"

"The food is lovely," Elizabeth replied diplomatically before John could put his two cents in.

"But you do not like it," the woman grinned.

"We prefer orange cubes," John said.

The woman didn't seem to get the joke, but nodded. "If you'd like, I have some other food."

John looked eager to try anything else, but Elizabeth hesitated. "Only if it isn't too much trouble."

"Not at all," she smiled. "My name is Amara. You are Elizabeth and John. Talk spreads quickly," she added at their looks. "If you would come with me I have some natural food."

"Natural food sounds good," John agreed, looking to Elizabeth for a decision on the matter. She nodded and they both quickly left their trays to follow Amara through the city.

*

John had never been so happy to see a room as he was to see Amara's. She had what looked like an entire cooking area with what looked like actual, real food. "Food! Real food."

Elizabeth shot him a look and he rolled his eyes. "Not that the cubes of food weren't... cube-ular. But wow, food on a plate."

Amara smiled at him. "I enjoy cooking. I learned it from a local culture before we hid ourselves away It's easy enough to synthesize the food components but the actual act of cooking is considered to be a bit... backwards."

"Maybe everyone else is backwards," John suggested. She smiled at him.

"This used to be a favorite dish among the people I learned from," she added, handing each of them a plate. John was a little weary, because even it wasn't cubed food it was still alien food. He'd learned to down a lot of flavors and textures in his time on Atlantis, but he still wouldn't mind an actual good meal.

He tasted the food slowly. A wide grin broke out across his face. "Hey," he nudged Elizabeth, "it's actually food."

"Not that the cubes weren't," Elizabeth added, more to Amara than him. She nodded at them both. When Elizabeth tried the food he didn't miss the agreeable sigh she released. He raised an eyebrow pointedly at her and her diplomatic attitude and she rolled her eyes at him. "Okay, this is more similar to our style of food."

"I am glad," Amara smiled, getting a plate herself before motioning them to what John assumed was a dining table. The three sat and began to eat together. "It is not often I get to eat with guests. Janus will occasionally join me but I think he's humoring me more than anything else. He told me he was helping you," she added, "I am glad to hear it. Most of us in the city are aware of your plight now, with mixed reactions."

"Mixed reactions?" John asked. He really didn't get it. He and Elizabeth were stuck in this reality because of an Ancient device. This universe had the Ancients, who could both stop Elizabeth's nanites and send them home. What could there possibly be to think about?

"We have a strict non-interference policy," Amara said with a light frown. "It is how we've always been."

There was a sadness to her voice as she fell into silence. John glanced at Elizabeth who had clearly also picked up on the sudden mood shift.

"Well, Amara we can't thank you enough for this food," Elizabeth offered. Amara smiled weakly at her.

"No, I cannot thank you enough for eating with me. It's been too long. You see, I have a strong interest in local cultures. Something that I'm sure the others thought would go away once we hoarded ourselves away."

"The others don't like your interest?" John asked.

"I see other cultures as equals. They think that makes me insane," she replied with a wry smile.

John was pretty sure that just made them as arrogant as he'd always known the Ancients were, but said nothing. He was pretty close to throwing in his feelings on the matter when he saw how sad Amara looked, though.

The door opened and Amara turned in surprise, her face lighting up when she saw Janus. He smiled back at her. "You were serving a meal and you didn't tell me?"

"I thought I would spare you," she smiled. John didn't miss the fact that this was the first time Ancients had spoken English plainly in front of them.

"Spare me? Hardly. It is I who have spared you my endless chatter."

"Please," she waved a hand at him, "I love speaking with you."

The two stood grinning at each other and John cleared his throat, thinking maybe they'd forgotten about Elizabeth and him. Janus turned his head towards him, his eyes wide in a way that made John think his original assumption was right. "Oh, yes. John, Elizabeth, I did not mean to interrupt but I've finished studying Elizabeth's nanites and I believe I can be of help if you'd like to come with me."

"Okay, good, let's go," John said, standing. Elizabeth cleared her throat and he rolled his eyes. "The dinner was lovely Amara, thank you."

"Of course," Amara bowed her head slightly, "I hope you will return soon."

"Oh, you can believe it," John replied, thinking of the colorful squares. He thought Elizabeth probably wanted to roll her eyes at him but he pushed over to Janus and quickly followed him out of the room. Elizabeth walked by his side.

When they reached Janus' lab, though, Janus paused thoughtfully. "John, would you like to sleep? We have set aside a room for you both-"

Elizabeth's face turned beet red at the realization that they'd set aside one room for both of them. John was pretty sure his face was matching her as he cleared his throat. "Actually, um, we'd need two rooms..."

Janus' eyes widened. "Oh, of course. We just assumed... well, yes. We will get you one as well. Although the reason I brought it up is because it's getting quite late and I assume Elizabeth does not need sleep."

John wanted to protest, but he'd already skipped sleep once and had no idea how long he'd been down when he'd been drugged. He was feeling pretty tired, but he didn't want to go. He wanted to stay with Elizabeth. Elizabeth stepped closer to him and he watched as Janus discreetly entered the lab and left them on their own in the mostly empty corridor.

"You should sleep, John," she said, but it wasn't a command.

"You'll be okay?" It was a stupid question. They were surrounded by Ancients; of course she'd be okay. But he had to make sure.

Her features softened at the question. "Yes. I'll be fine. I'll wake you up in the morning for the hearing?"

That took him by surprise. "You want me at the hearing?"

"Well, of course I do," she agreed. He felt his heart start to swell until it felt like it was about to burst. She grinned at him. "I'm not saying you should speak, necessarily..."

He laughed at that. "You know I'm not good at that."

"True," she agreed, smiling widely at him. "I remember that well. Like the time you married that entire village-"

"Oh come on," he groaned. "That was years ago, Elizabeth! It only happened once."

"How many times can one really marry an entire village?" she asked, laughing in amusement at the memory. Really, when she was smiling that widely and laughing that loudly he couldn't find it in him to be offended. There was color in her cheeks and her eyes seemed to almost be shining. He couldn't really remember seeing her like this since he'd first seen her looking so ragged. Now she looked like she had after a long day on Atlantis when he'd come to her office to cheer her up about whatever dreary paperwork she was going over.

It was such a familiar sight. It was one that had haunted him after everything.

Before he even knew what he was doing his hand was cupping her face.

Her eyes fluttered shut as she leaned into his touch and he was completely captivated when one of her hands moved up to cover his. She opened her eyes to gaze at him and he thought she understood what he was doing more than he did. "John," she murmured quietly.

He swallowed, his face leaning closer and closer to hers until he could feel her breath against his face. Her eyes widened and he froze. Slowly, so slowly, she breached the distance left between them and pressed her lips against his cheek. He closed his eyes as he just took in the feel of her lips against his skin and her body pressed into his.

She pulled back but rested her forehead against his cheek. He wanted to breach the distance again, seriously kiss her, pull her to him and never let her go – but she took steps backwards from him and towards the door.

"Goodnight, John," she murmured quietly. He stared at her as she waved her hand over the sensor to the door and watched until she turned and the door closed behind her.

Idiot, he thought.

*

Idiot, she thought. She wasn't entirely sure what had just happened, or what could have happened. No, that wasn't true. She knew exactly what had just happened, the line they'd just danced on, but she just hadn't... she hadn't thought...

She'd always been close to John. They had their differences, which led to more than one argument, but after that first year she'd known undoubtedly that he had her back and that she had his. Their relationship had gone beyond coworkers or even simple friendship. She'd known that early on, knew that John made her smile when she didn't want to, knew that despite her protests she looked forward to him dragging her out of her office on occasion.

She knew all of that, but after all that had happened she'd never thought...

"Elizabeth?"

She blinked in surprise at Janus' voice. "Sorry," she apologized. "I was distracted."

"That's okay," he smiled. "I fall asleep to the sound of my own voice sometimes."

"Oh, no, Janus," she protested, "honestly, I appreciate what you're doing for me."

His smile widened. "Now, as I was saying, stopping your jumps will be no problem. There's an agent in your bloodstream now that links to the agent in John's. It appears that over time it has gone down in your body, meaning that you'd eventually stop being forced between realities and stuck in whatever reality you jumped to."

Elizabeth sighed as she took in the information. "How many travels do we have left?"

"Not many. I'd say ten to fifteen at the most."

Elizabeth's hand went over her forehead. "And my nanites?"

"I'm sorry," Janus said quietly. "They've been altered on a level that I don't understand. No doubt the Replicators have access to them in a way that I do not."

Elizabeth let out a heavy breath as she took a seat at the table Janus was already sitting at. "But," Janus added, "there do appear to be two different nanites in your system. Some appear to have essentially shut-down. They're in your body holding together spots that appear to have at one time been critically injured, but they serve no other purpose and aren't altered."

The nanites that had originally been activated to save her life, she knew. "The other nanites are holding a charge and just need to read the signature of a single reality-"

"I know," Elizabeth said quietly. "They've been set to go into action once I get into my reality, probably by some control Niam has."

"Oh," Janus said, clearly understanding the full implication of this. "Maybe I could figure it out if I studied it more, but right now all I could do is stall the nanites. Stop them from immediately going off and leaving you in a catatonic state that the nanites would set you in."

"How long?" she asked.

Janus looked away from her. "Not long. But the trigger to the nanites wouldn't affect you in that time either."

"But as soon as that wore off..." Elizabeth didn't finish the thought but Janus nodded to confirm her unfinished sentence. A silence fell between them as Elizabeth took in all the information. They were running out of jumps and even the Ancients couldn't help her.

"Elizabeth," Janus began, his voice filled with far too much pity.

"Okay," she cut him off. "You said you were going to tell me about the etiquette in the council?"

He seemed taken aback but nodded. "Yes. The council is run by Moros, and has various Atlantians on it. The one with the most power and sway is Ganos. She and Moros rarely agree and tend to split the council on quite a few issues, but when that occurs it is Moros who has the final word. You and I will both go before the council, I will present what I've learned about your situation and you will explain your case. We'll each be given a few minutes to state what we need to and then we'll leave and the council will continue deliberations."

Elizabeth nodded. "That's helpful. Thank you, Janus."

"You're welcome," he smiled at her. "I only hope we can get a good outcome for you at the meeting."

Elizabeth said nothing to that.

*

John woke to light streaming over him. He muttered a protest and rolled over in bed, although years of training had him already practically fully-awake.

"Morning, sleeping beauty," an amused voice said. He cracked opened an eye to see Elizabeth standing by the window, the light haloing around her. It occurred to him that he could get used to waking up like this every morning. He shoved the thought aside and closed his eyes, letting out an exaggerated groan.

"I don't wanna go to school today," he protested, tugging the sheet up and around him. Her laugh filled the room and he grinned a little against his pillow (or, what the Ancient's considered a pillow – it was surprisingly comfortable.)

"I'm afraid that boat has sailed long ago," she said.

"Hey!" he exclaimed. "Not that long ago."

She cocked an eyebrow at him but said nothing as he sat up in the bed and lazily stretched out. He'd slept in his pants, years on Atlantis teaching him to wear something you could function in during a sudden alien attack.

"It wasn't!" he continued. "I mean, c'mon, a man's age is a very personal thing, Elizabeth. Besides, I'm pretty sure I'm younger than yo-"

His shirt collided with his face and muffled the rest of his words. He smirked as he pulled it on. "That's not nice."

"You're not younger than me," she replied.

"Actually, when that Wraith un-Wraith-sucked me Carson said I seemed to be younger than I'd been before. So, really-"

"But you also spent six months in that Ancient cluster," she pointed out.

"Yeah, but-" he started to argue. Her look made him stop speaking.

"John?"

"Yes?"

"Shut up."

He grinned at her and she smirked back. "Yes, ma'am."

He got up and holstered his gun back, moving to his door as Elizabeth moved forward too. "But, really, with the Wraith-"

Elizabeth let out an exaggerated sigh. "Maybe you shouldn't come to the meeting," she muttered under her breath.

He laughed.

*

"He cannot go inside," Ganos said

Elizabeth glanced at John to see that he looked ready to fight over this declaration. "I'm sorry, I wasn't aware," Elizabeth apologized.

"That's my fault," Janus added from her side. "I forgot to mention that once someone has spoken they are not allowed back in."

"Elizabeth-" John started, clearly ready to argue this point.

"It's okay, John," she said over him, keeping his eyes locked to hers as she urged him to do let it go. She already had the council against her, she didn't need him making this even more complicated. After keeping her gaze for a moment he sighed and his shoulders slouched forward.

"Okay," he agreed. She knew he wasn't happy with the choice but was relieved he was acquiescing to her. "You'll let me know?"

"Yes," she agreed. "As soon as I know anything. Your room?"

He nodded, giving Ganos one last glare before he turned around and left. The doors to the briefing room opened and Elizabeth looked at John leaving one more time before she took in a deep breath and stepped through the doors. They closed behind her. She and Janus were left standing in front of the council as Ganos moved to sit beside Moros.

Janus smiled at her, and she was grateful to have him on her side. He stepped forward and inclined his head towards Moros who nodded back to him. "Janus, the council recognizes you. What do you have to say?"

"I would like to vouch for these two," he said, to a general murmur of surprise from the group. Elizabeth turned to stare at him with equal surprise. He had explained yesterday to her that vouching for someone on the council essentially meant you were tying your reputation to theirs. Janus choosing to do that for them meant they would be treated as Ancients, not as lost travelers.

"You are sure?" Moros asked.

"Yes," Janus nodded. "I also believe I can stall Elizabeth's nanites and stop them both from traveling permanently."

"Do you have anything else to say?" Janus shook his head and took a step back, gently urging Elizabeth forward with a light push. She stepped forward, watching as Moros stared her down. She knew what she had to do.

"Elizabeth Weir. What do you wish to say?"

"Our Atlantis is in trouble," she began. It wasn't in as much trouble as they'd originally thought since she appeared to be the main threat against it, but Niam was still plotting against it and she couldn't very well stand-by as he did so. "I request help for it."

"That has nothing to do with us," Ganos pointed out.

"No," Elizabeth agreed, "but Atlantis is Atlantis. No matter the choices we've made or the reality it's from, the city deserves to be saved."

"Perhaps," Moros interjected, studying her carefully. "But we could not send you to it without causing its destruction. Tell us more of your journey."

So, she did. She filled them in loosely on the jumps she had made before John and then in greater detail talked about what she and John had done together. At the end of her speech Moros was just staring at her.

"We cannot send you back."

Her heart sank. She'd known as much for a while now, but to actually hear the words spoken caused a great sense of sadness and dread.

"Not just because of your nanites," Moros added, "but also because of what you have altered. You've become an inter-reality anomaly with all the events that you've directly effected."

"But you could allow me to stay in this reality," she pointed out.

Moros nodded. "We could do that. But we could not send you home."

She shoved back the emotions she was feeling. She knew what she had to do.

"But John hasn't altered anything, not really. Why can't you send him back?"

Moros frowned at her. "You would separate?"

"My Atlantis is in danger," she repeated. "We inherited it from the Alterrans from our reality and we would do anything to protect it."

"There will be a vote," Moros said, to Elizabeth's surprise. Ganos looked surprised next to him as well.

"Moros?"

"We have discussed this enough," Moros said. "We will vote on the issue."

Ganos frowned, but said nothing as she turned back to look at Elizabeth. She thought she knew what the vote was going to be.

"Janus," she whispered. "If this goes how I think it's going to, I'll need your help."

*

John paced back-and-forth in the room. He really, really hated the Ancients. They were a bunch of pompous jerks. The council this, repercussions that, they were no better than the IOA. Then there was Elizabeth who was everything the IOA was not but somehow managed to be diplomatic and put up with the highest amounts of bullshit. This was her world, her turf, John had no doubt that if they had any chance Elizabeth would latch onto it and make it work.

But there were very few things he hated more than standing around completely helpless. He was already planning what they were going to have to do if this didn't work out. Elizabeth had filled him in that eventually they would jump and end up stuck in an alternate universe. Hopefully it would be one that wasn't deserted or evil, and then they'd just have to figure out how to get home. Atlantis was still in danger but this was something they just had to wait out together.

The door opened and John turned quickly as Elizabeth walked inside. She was looking at the floor and when she raised her head to look right at him, John froze. "Elizabeth?"

"The council has made their decision."

"Yeah, and?" John prompted, not realizing he was moving closer to her until there was hardly any space between them. Elizabeth didn't say anything but he could her face just fine. "Idiots," he muttered. "Fine, we'll just keep jumping-"

"No, John," she said quietly and he stopped as he stared at her uncertainly. "The council is going to send you back."

"Me? What about you?"

Elizabeth shook her head and John's stomach dropped. "According the council I've altered too much-"

"I was right there with you," John argued hotly.

"No, you weren't. After you joined me I convinced Teyla to rescue you, I killed the Wraith, not to mention my nanites have been sucking in all that energy. They believe that I've changed too much and become an anomaly. I can't go back, but you can." She didn't look at him as she spoke.

"Well to hell with that," he yelled. She flinched in surprise. "Elizabeth, you're a part of the reality I'm from. You're... you're important to it and you deserve to go back just as much as I do."

When Elizabeth looked back up at him her eyes were wide and she looked like she was on the verge of tears.

"Hey, you know what," he said, wanting to ease her stress, "it's gonna be okay. We'll just jump together to the next universe. With any luck we'll find some less snobby geniuses and figure this out. And if we stop jumping... well, we'll figure out a way to get back home from the universe we wind up in."

"That's like playing Russian roulette," she said quietly.

"I can control the jumps," he argued.

"Not well enough."

"It isn't like we've got another choice," he shrugged. She smiled sadly at him.

"John," she whispered, taking a step closer to him until their faces were just inches apart. He swallowed, hard. She closed the distance and pressed her lips against his slowly. John reacted purely on instinct, on imagining doing just this so many times. He moved his lips against hers and his hands moved to cup her face. She smiled against him, her tongue stroking against the roof of his mouth and eliciting a shudder from him as he moved one hand down to pull her body closer to him. He wanted there to be no space between them. She didn't resist at all, just melted into him and that gesture made his heart swell until he was sure it was going to burst.

He felt a sharp jab in his arm and froze. John stumbled back from her to see that she was holding a Ancient medical shot. "Elizabeth?" he asked, his vision blurring.

She smiled weakly at him. "I'm so sorry, John."

"Elizabeth," he slurred, feeling the drug kicking in. "What-"

"Tell everyone I say hello," she said, moving forward as he began to lose his balance. She caught him in her arms and lowered him to the floor as he began to black out. "I lo-" she started, stopped. "I'll miss you, John. But I can't risk Atlantis. You have to let them know what's happened before Niam gets his way. I'm sorry. I couldn't have come anyway."

Her lips pressed softly to his cheek was the last thing he registered before he lost complete consciousness.

*

Elizabeth let out a shaky breath after she lowered John to the floor. She gathered herself before moving to the doorway, where Janus was waiting. Janus glanced uncertainly at John's form before looking back at her. "You're sure about this, Elizabeth?"

She nodded. "I'm sure."

"He won't forgive you for this," Janus pointed out even as he moved forward and injected John with the serum that would stop him from jumping through realities.

"I know," she breathed heavily. She crouched beside him, running her hand through his unruly hair. "This isn't about forgiveness, though."

"Ready?" Janus asked, holding an Ancient device Elizabeth didn't recognize in his hand. She nodded, taking a step back from John. The device was activated and she watched as John vanished, sent back to their Atlantis.

"Are you okay?" Janus asked, gently placing one hand on her shoulder.

She took in a deep breath, letting it calm her nerves as she stared at where John had been. Then, with new-found determination, she whirled on her heels to face Janus. "I want to speak to the council again."

Janus raised his eyebrows at her. "That could be arranged, I suppose..."

"And I want to talk with you too," she said.

She glanced back to where John had just been. She'd be damned if she was just going to sacrifice herself again or take this lying down. John had reminded her just how hopelessly optimistic and persistent she'd used to be.

She was tired of doing the right thing and getting utterly screwed in the meantime. This time, she was going to have her way and do the right thing.

*

John woke up to the familiar beeping sound of beeping monitors around him. He shot up in the infirmary bed, which prompted a, "Colonel Sheppard! It's okay, you're in Atlantis."

He turned his head to see Dr. Keller staring at him. "Of course we're not entirely sure how you got here. The Daedalus called in a day ago to say that you were missing. We were going to send people to the cave-"

"No!" John shook his head as he got out of the bed and onto his feet. "They need to know what they're going into. Where's my team?"

"They're still on the planet-"

"I need to talk to Woolsey."

He headed out of the room without another word, ignoring Keller's protests. By the time he reached Woolsey's office he was into his rant as soon as he'd crossed into the office. "We need to get everyone out of here and we need-"

Woolsey's eyes widened at his sudden appearance. "Colonel Sheppard, I thought you were in the infirmary after your sudden appearance."

"I was, now I'm here," he replied. "Now, listen, I ran into Elizabeth-"

Woolsey's eyes widened even more at that. "Dr. Weir?"

"Yes, I-"

Keller flew into the office behind him. "I'm sorry, Mr. Woolsey. He just left."

"That's okay," Woolsey waved her off. "Are you feeling alright, Colonel?"

John let out a heavy huff of frustration. Then it came to him. An idea that felt like it was just out of reach and he was talking without thinking.

"Dr. Weir is coming," he said.

Woolsey stared at him. He explained everything he'd been through and learned, including how Elizabeth's nanites had been altered.

"And now she's coming here?"

"She could," he said, not quite a lie. If she jumped again... "And if she does, it'll be catastrophic for the city. We have to evacuate and move it."

Woolsey stared at him like he'd become an idiot. "Dr. Keller, excuse us, please." Keller nodded and excited the room after staring at John another moment.

"Colonel Sheppard, that's quite a story."

"Yeah, that's my life. Now, we need-"

"I think you're lying to me."

John froze at the accusation as Woolsey crossed his arms and stood behind his desk. "Excuse me?"

"If Dr. Weir is out there, and that's a big if, why isn't she with you?"

"We got separated," he said, his back going ramrod straight.

"Even though you were jumping through realities together," Woolsey replied skeptically.

"Yes," he defended. "Listen, Elizabeth could come here and if she does we need everyone that isn't essential out of the city-"

"And I don't suppose that, if you were to find Dr. Weir in an alternate reality, you'd want to get your team together to get her back?"

John grimaced as he turned to look away from Woolsey. He'd been shot down before, when Carter had taken lead of Atlantis. He hadn't had much a of a plan then either, but he'd be damned if he was going to leave her-

"Just making sure we're on the same page," Woolsey said. John stared at him.

"E-excuse me?" he stuttered.

"Look, I've always respected Dr. Weir. More-so now that I know the tremendous amount of utter and complete crap that she had to go through in command. If we have a chance of saving her, I'm all for it. There's no use in lying to me about it. But if what you say is true, I don't see how we're going to get the okay to move Atlantis, much less the means."

"I think I know just the man for the first part of that job," John said.

*

"...So. You want to move the city so Dr. Weir can explode in it?" General O'Neill asked, his eyes narrowed skeptically at them as his image was shown on the monitor in front of them.

"Well, it's a little more complicated than that," John said. "Hopefully, Dr. McKay can find a way to-"

"Where is McKay? Isn't he usually shoving his head in and interrupting you with a ramble about how smart he is?"

"He's in the Pegasus galaxy right now, but we'll be getting in contact with him..."

"Carter said the city couldn't be moved."

"Well, he'd probably have to figure that out too-"

"That's a lot of figuring out," Jack pointed out.

"Sir," John said, his hands clenching into fists at his side. "Dr. Weir is alive. We do not leave people behind."

Jack's eyes darkened at that. Woolsey stepped forward.

"General O'Neill, this is a step we must take to insure the safety of the city."

"Have you spoken to the IOA about this?" Jack asked.

"No," Woolsey replied. "The defense of this city is a military matter."

"I expect the nanites to be destroyed if there's even the hint they still pose the threat Sheppard laid out," Jack said. John made a noise of protest and started to open his mouth but Jack continued to speak. "Listen, I'd like Elizabeth back too. It'd be refreshing to see someone chew up the IOA, but I'm not going to risk all of you for her."

John's jaw clenched but he nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Good. If you can figure out all the ifs in your situation, you have a go-ahead. I'm ordering Atlantis to go at skeleton crew. All the unnecessary members are to beam to the SGC ASAP."

"Thank you, sir," John said. Jack smirked at him and shook his head.

"Don't thank me. If I remember right I owe you and Elizabeth one for saving my ass."

"Yes, sir," he nodded back.

Jack fiddled with the camera in front of him. "How do you turn this thing off? Honestly, I come here to visit and I end up using another contraption – Daniel if you'd stop staring and start helping that would be nice-" the feed turned off.

"Okay," Woolsey nodded to him, "let's see what we can do."

*

John stood in the control room, watching as the last group of people were beamed off the city. And he couldn't explain it, but... "I have a plan."

With that he walked through the city and towards the chair. A bewildered Woolsey kept by his side. "What would that be? We haven't heard back from the Daedalus; they're probably still out of range... Colonel Sheppard? What's your plan?"

They entered the chair room and John shrugged. "I don't know."

He moved past Woolsey and to the chair, pushing in one of the handles as he had years ago before he'd even known what an Ancient was. "Colonel Sheppard?" Woolsey asked, his voice full of alarm. John sat down in the chair, leaning back into it as it activated.

"What are you doing!?"

"I told you, I don't know."

He didn't. What he was doing felt right but he didn't really understand why he was doing it. Which, granted, was strange but on Atlantis he had gotten used to some pretty bizarre things.

He felt the city responding to him under his touch, and, to his surprise, felt it lifting up and into the air. "Colonel Sheppard!?"

Lorne's voice cut in over Woolsey's radio. "Mr. Woolsey? We, uh, appear to be flying..."

"Yes, Major Lorne, I noticed." He cut off the radio and went back to staring at John. "I thought this wasn't possible! What are you doing!?"

"Uh, still don't know," he replied, feeling his destination sink in and knowing instinctively that somehow Atlantis was going to get there. "But I know where we're going."

"Where?" Woolsey asked, exasperated.

"Lantea."

*

Elizabeth grimaced as she entered the empty room, letting her shoulders slouch for the first time in the day. She, Janus, Amara and Orlin had spent all day brainstorming her situation. Orlin had helped look over her nanites with the same result as Janus. He could stall them from activating for a few hours, but eventually she would be a threat to Atlantis.

That was unacceptable. Already Janus and Orlin had worked around the clock to try to figure out her problem, to no avail. But there had to be a way. She refused to believe otherwise.

This room was the same one John had been in. She looked at where the bed was still rumpled and moved to sit on the edge of it with a sigh. It was at least comforting to know that John was safely home.

"Elizabeth."

She startled at the voice, getting to her feet as she looked around the room. "Hello?"

Suddenly in front her Fran appeared, a transparent spirit. She stared at her. "You're..." she remembered when she'd been operated on. The voice that had tugged at her. "You came here before. You're a double."

"Yes," she agreed. "Your double."

Elizabeth took in Fran's appearance. "You ascended?"

"Yes," Fran agreed, a slight smile on her lips. "Just because I'm not the original doesn't mean I wasn't conscious enough to ascend. I started to figure it out, early on, that I wasn't who I was supposed to be, but I wanted so badly..." she shook her head. "I'm sorry. That's not why I'm here."

"Your appearance..." Elizabeth pointed out.

"Well, I'm not you. Not really. I thought this face was as good as any."

"You weren't evil."

"No. Niam tried, but it turns out even cloned we're incredibly stubborn."

She nodded at that, still on guard. "It's okay," Fran said. "I... here."

Fran glowed white, wrapping Elizabeth in her essence. It was bizarre to feel Fran share herself with Elizabeth, when they really were just about the same person. But then she saw Fran stepping forward towards the gate. She saw John's face before she stepped out into the emptiness of space.

She wasn't sure if it was her heart or Fran's that broke at the sight.

Then she was in space, shutting down forever only for a bright flare of light to encase her.

Elizabeth gasped as she pulled back from the intense feelings. "Okay, I believe you. But why are you here? How are you here?"

"Ascension is timeless and boundless. It doesn't hold me to any single plane." She smirked slightly, "Sorry. Too much time with Oma. I'm here because I can be and because you need my help."

"Help?"

"Niam is planning an attack on Atlantis."

Elizabeth took in a sharp breath. That wasn't surprising, not really, but to know that he was actually going to attack... "How? What about John and the others?"

"They don't know. John feels me on an intuitive level but I can't show myself to him. There are too many eyes in that universe."

"Okay, so what's Niam doing?"

Fran looked down, shame flickering across her features. "The Replicators I brought with me to Atlantis, they planted a device in the city. With it Niam can transport inside the city walls. He's planning a raid."

Elizabeth put a hand over her face. "If they aren't ready for that..."

"It would end badly, yes. And on top of that John's gotten the city emptied and is moving it as we speak."

"He's what? Why?"

"You know why," Fran replied. She sighed heavily.

"He's trying to get me back." Fran nodded in confirmation. "That's idiotic."

"It's John," Fran replied with with a smirk. "Anyway, moving the city to the Pegasus galaxy will at least get him back in touch with his team. They stand the greatest chance of stopping Niam together."

"How could he possibly get Atlantis to the Pegasus galaxy?"

"Ah, well, he might have a little help there," Fran replied with a wink. She paused before adding, "I'm taking you with me too, when things here are settled."

Elizabeth stared at her. "Excuse me?"

"I have a plan, Elizabeth."

*

"We're going to Lantea!?" Woolsey exclaimed for what felt like the hundredth time. "How is that even possible?"

John closed his eyes, tuning Woolsey out. With the stardrive on they could travel much faster than usual, so fast that it'd only taken an hour or so to reach the planet his team was on. He halted over it, keeping the ship on.

"Atlantis!?" Caldwell's voice cut in across the comm.

"Trust me, we're as surprised as you," Woolsey greeted him.

"We need to beam our people aboard," Sheppard said. "Niam's in that complex you probably haven't been able to get into – but we need my team to retrieve Elizabeth."

"Elizabeth? Dr. Weir? Niam the Replicator? What the hell is going on?" Caldwell demanded.

"I will be happy to fill you in as soon as I know," Woolsey muttered, staring at John.

"I need my team," John said. "I'd prefer Caldwell stopped the raid of the complex, too. We don't know what's in there yet. We need to regroup first."

Woolsey let out a heavy sigh. "Beam up all Atlantis personnel – and beam Sheppard's team to the chair room, thank you."

Caldwell grumbled something that John was sure was less than pleasant but he ignored it. In the next second his entire team appeared in the room and he closed his eyes again, heading towards Lantea. Towards home.

"Sheppard!?"

"John?" Teyla and Rodney's voices mixed together.

"It is good to see you, John," Teyla offered.

"You're not dead?" McKay asked.

John rolled his eyes. "Thanks, McKay."

"Well, I mean, I'm glad you're not dead but – wait, how are we flying the city?"

"We're not flying the city, I am, and if you'd just shut up for a minute I could land this thing."

The stardrive stopped right about Lantea. John began to land the ship onto the planet.

"What- what are you doing? We don't have a shield! We'll burn up and die!" Rodney yelled. A shield rose to block them from the heat of entering the planet's atmosphere.

"...Or a shield could pop up out of nowhere," Rodney muttered. "I guess that's an option too."

"Rodney, just shut up-" John started, stopped. There was something wrong...

"There's an unknown presence on Atlantis!" a voice yelled over the comm. "Unknown figures appear to be-" the voice cut off forcefully.

But John already knew, could tell what the new signs in the city were because he was connected to it.

Replicators.

"Colonel Sheppard," Niam's voice suddenly invaded all of his senses. "I believe you have something I want."

To his complete alarm John felt the chair give way, felt his connection to it die. He let out a loud warning before he completely disconnected from it – and Atlantis crashed into the ocean below.

*

"Here you go," Janus said, handing her two vials. She nodded, examining them before looking back at him.

"You're sure this is okay? I don't want to get you in trouble-"

"Please," Janus waved her off. "This is the most exciting thing I've done since being frozen for thousands of years."

She smiled slightly at him. "The others don't know?"

"Orlin and Amara suspect, I think-" he stopped suddenly as the door opened. Elizabeth moved to hide the vials. At the doorway Ganos stood, watching them both very carefully. Elizabeth tried to compose herself.

Ganos stepped forward, watching them both as she walked around them. Elizabeth tried to keep blocking the vials, but it was useless as Ganos walked right to them. "I think I know what these are," she said, poking the vials but not picking them up.

"I wouldn't have thought you such a traitor, Janus."

"Not a traitor," Janus argued hotly. "I'm doing what is right, Ganos."

Ganos stared them both down and Elizabeth stared back at her, refusing to look away. In Ancient, Ganos told Janus that he was an idiot for sticking with Elizabeth. Janus opened his mouth to argue but Elizabeth stepped forward.

"It has nothing to do with him," she said, not allowing Janus to take the blame for this. "It was all me."

Ganos raised an eyebrow at her. "You understand us?"

"Yes, I studied your language."

Ganos considered her for another moment before a small, barely noticeable smile quirked on the edge of her lips. "I like you. Janus, I still think you're an idiot for signing up to sink with her, but..." Ganos shrugged, "this will surely annoy Moros and that's reason enough for me to approve. I saw nothing."

To Elizabeth's great surprise Ganos turned and left. After the door closed Janus and Elizabeth both looked to each other.

"She's interesting," Elizabeth said.

"Apparently," Janus agreed. He cleared his throat. "Now that we're passed me almost getting thrown into prison, shall we?"

She nodded, taking each vial into her hand. She handed them to Janus who injected one into her, followed by the other. She took in a deep breath and he rested a hand on her shoulder. "You're absolutely sure about this? You could stay here, you know. I'm sure you'd contribute greatly."

She smiled softly at him. "I'm sure. Janus, thank you."

He nodded, "I knew you would say that. Very well. Goodbye Elizabeth."

With that, she was gone.

*

John woke to the smell of burning all around him and someone dragging him. As his eyes fluttered opened he was unceremoniously dropped to the floor. He grunted and saw Ronon staring down at him. "He's awake."

"John?" Teyla leaned over him, carefully pressing a bandage against his forehead. He reached up to feel what she was touching and grimaced when his hand came back caked in blood. "The Replicators are attempting to take over the city," she explained.

"No, really?" Rodney muttered. "The question is how they got here."

"Could you be quiet!?" Woolsey muttered. "Honestly, with how loud you talk you'd think your plan is to get all the Replicators to come to you!"

"Hello," Rodney waved a hand in front of Woolsey. "They're Replicators. They probably have twenty different gadgets to find us. Now, how did Replicators get aboard Atlantis!?"

"Niam," John coughed as Teyla helped him to his feet.

"Yes, well, I got that," Rodney was close to yelling hysterically. "I thought we destroyed Niam!"

"Oberoth recreated him. Look, if we can I'd rather capture Niam than destroy him."

"What?" Rodney dragged out the word, staring at him like he was crazy.

"Niam might be able to help us get Elizabeth back-"

"Elizabeth Weir?" Rodney exclaimed. "She's dead."

"No, actually. That wasn't her. Look, it's a long story-"

"Obviously," Rodney muttered. "You're gone for a couple of days and you come back to crash Atlantis and get it invaded by Replicators!"

"Hey, I didn't-"

"Okay, gentlemen, that's enough," Woolsey cut-in. "I believe now is the point in the situation when you begin to make plans to take the city back from the Replicators."

John and Rodney both glanced at each other.

"He has a point," John said.

"Yeah, I guess. Okay, the radios of course got cut off so we're on our own. Again."

That wasn't surprising. If there was anything the Replicators could change to their will it was technology, which Atlantis was full of. It would be most logical for the Replicators to take over the control room first, and branch out from there. Niam would be in the control room.

Niam had also said John had something he wanted. He assumed that was Elizabeth. All of which meant Niam knew that John knew where he was – and wanted him to come to him. It was a trap. Fantastic.

"Okay, so Niam is probably in the control room. He'll be waiting for us; that's where we need to go."

"Oh, of course," Rodney rolled his eyes. "Let's run towards the mastermind Replicator. Brilliant."

"We'll pick up ARGs on the way," John said. "There should be some in storage."

"Great," Rodney sighed, "four of us against an entire Replicator armada. If only this didn't happen all the time."

"Five, actually," Woolsey pointed out. That only made Rodney sigh louder.

"Right, because you shoot things so often."

"Probably about as good as you do," Ronon grunted. John smirked as Rodney sputtered.

"Hey, I've gotten really good at shooting stuff!"

"Still, I am sure Mr. Woolsey will be an asset," Teyla said, inclining her head towards him.

"Thank you Teyla," he replied. "Now, shall we?"

*

They picked up the ARGs from a storage closet and moved through the city unseen. John thought it was entirely possible that this was all part of Niam toying with them, that he was actually letting them walk through the city.

Replicators tended to be as arrogant as the Ancients they so loathed, after all.

When they reached the outside of the gateroom without a single interruption John had no doubt that they were being messed with. "Okay," Woolsey said, his voice a ridiculous stage whisper. "We're here."

"Yes," John agreed with one raised eyebrow, "we are."

"Do we burst in there and shoot everything that moves?" Woolsey asked.

"Sounds like a plan to me," Ronon said.

"No," John sighed, "that is not the plan. The Replicators adjust to the ARGs too fast. We need to take them out in as few shots as possible. So don't fire unless you absolutely have to."

Both Woolsey and Ronon looked a little disappointed at that. "Okay, let's go. And remember – capture Niam if you can."

They burst into the gateroom – only to find Niam standing calmly at the top of the stairs with six Replicators around him.

"Colonel Sheppard. How good of you to join me."

He nodded to his Replicators, who all made a walk down the stairs at the same time. Immediately shots from the ARGs went off. It was to no avail, though, the Replicators didn't even halt at the shots. "Did you think I wouldn't have programmed them against those?" Niam scoffed. "Please."

John watched as the Replicators disarmed and held each member of his team. The two Replicators left stood at each of his sides, just watching him. "Well, this plan sucked," Rodney muttered. John ignored him as he stepped closer to Niam.

"Niam," he greeted, moving to stand right in front of him. "Nice to see you again. How've you been? Not blowing up Atlantis? That's too bad."

"Blowing up is a crude term," Niam replied, his voice completely calm in a way that John hated. "I wasn't going to destroy Atlantis. I was going to recreate it as it was meant to be."

"With you in charge?" John asked.

"With a people who know how to fully operate the city," Niam replied. "Atlantis was not meant to be filled with people who had no idea what kind of power it could hold."

"Yeah, well, we're stubborn like that," John replied.

"Where is Elizabeth?" Niam demanded.

"Gone," John replied. "She's not going to be a part of your demented plans anymore."

"Where is she?" Niam repeated, stepping closer to him.

"Aw," John said with mock-pity. "Are you getting angry? That's awfully human of you."

Niam let out a growl that was anything but human and his had jutted out and wrapped around John's neck. John let out a gasp of air as he was raised until his feet weren't touching the floor. His vision began to black out in the corners and he heard his team protest and someone – Ronon, he imagined – must have attacked a Replicator because the sounds of guns going off sounded.

Then there was a burst of white in the gateroom. He heard a yell of anger as Niam threw him and he slammed hard against a control panel. He collapsed on to his stomach, grimacing at the pain. He was pretty sure he'd broken at least one rib.

He heard crashing in the gateroom and quickly got to his feet – only to freeze when he saw the sight below him.

It was Replicators that were slamming into walls. A whirl of curly brown hair spun until another Replicator collided with a wall. Elizabeth looked up to him with wide grin as the Replicators she had thrown all disintegrated.

John turned to see Niam with a device in his hands, and John knew instantly that it was the device that would set her off. "Elizabeth," he screamed in warning, using what strength he had left to collide with Niam.

It didn't do him any good. Niam barely budged before he hit the switch.

Nothing happened. Elizabeth jogged up the stairs towards him, a wicked smile on her face. "Hey Niam, is something not working?"

"What have you done?" Niam growled.

"You really thought that no one in all the realities I traveled to could stop you, didn't you?" she asked, shaking her head. "You'd think you would have at least learned from Oberoth's arrogance. You only increased it ten-fold."

Niam let out a frustrated cry and turned. Before John realized what was happening Niam had grabbed him roughly. "Come any closer and he'll die."

Elizabeth stopped moving. She looked at Niam and then her eyes locked with John's. He hated being in this position, hated being helpless and not even knowing how Elizabeth was standing in front of him right now and not being overrun by the nanites.

Then, to his shock, he felt Niam's hand slip into the side of his head. Elizabeth screamed.

It occurred to him, vaguely, that he'd never heard her scream like that before. Then he let out a gasp as the gateroom disappeared around him. He was surrounded by a blue light, and Niam was standing in front of him. The man's lips twisted inhumanly up. "She cares too much for you, Colonel. Oberoth used to enjoy exploiting that."

John's stomach dropped as he felt a righteous rage boiling in his gut.

"Niam." Elizabeth appeared at his side. "You will release him, now."

The strength and resolve in her voice was familiar. It was the very same tone she'd used when she'd ordered him to leave her on Asuras. Niam let out a chuckle.

"Will I? Or should I just infect him-"

"You son of a-" John felt a sharp pain and cried out. He fell to his knees. Then he felt Elizabeth's hand on his shoulder, and to his surprise he felt the pain easing.

"John," she smiled down at him before moving her hand and stepping in front of him.

"Elizabeth?" he croaked, still feeling the remnants of the pain. He could see her grimacing, no doubt taking on the pain that had just sent him to his knees.

"I've felt worse," she said. John got to his feet, watching the two of them helplessly. "Niam, you've ruined so much. You won't touch him." She had her feet spread apart, and John realized she was blocking him.

He wondered if she was familiar with this from her time on Asuras. When she had been stuck with the Replicators, alone. He hadn't been able to help her, not even a little, and here she was protecting him.

"I've already invaded his mind," Niam pointed out, with an arrogance that reminded John of Oberoth. "I admit, I enjoy the idea of making him suffer before I've made use of you."

"Here I thought Oberoth was the arrogant one," Elizabeth said. "You've always underestimated me, just like he did."

She moved her hands so swiftly John barely registered it, her fingers slipping into the side of Niam's head. He let out a cry.

John gasped as he collapsed to the floor of the control room, his head pounding as he looked up to see Elizabeth holding Niam. She was behind him, her fingertips pressed into the sides of his head.

"Rodney-" she yelled, and John realized belatedly that this was the first time any of them had seen her. "Dial the space gate, now."

"Uh, yeah, okay," Rodney agreed, scampering up the stairs and to the control panel. "I mean, okay, right?" he asked, glancing at John who nodded his approval. Quickly Rodney began to dial the gate.

John got to his feet, clutching his chest and searing pain there as he watched Elizabeth. She had her eyes closed, whereas Niam had his open and looked to be in a daze. "Elizabeth," he said, "what... what are you doing?"

She opened her eyes to gaze at him and John realized exactly how pale she looked. "Elizabeth?"

"I deactivated their resistance to the ARGs," she said, her voice just barely more than a whisper. "You should be able to take out the rest of them."

"Elizabeth?" he asked, his voice getting more panicked.

After the gate had fully dialed she backed away from him and Niam moved with her, as if he was just an extension of her. The sight was eerie. John followed her down the stairs, not paying attention to anyone else in that moment. She closed her eyes and then shoved Niam through the gate. As soon as he left her hands she swayed back and forth on her feet and then, to his horror, collapsed onto the gateroom floor.

He landed on his knees beside her as the gate cut-off. "Elizabeth?" he pled, demanded. "What did you do?"

"Nanites..." she murmured. "Gave him back the altered ones."

"You what?" John asked. Hadn't those nanites been what was keeping her alive?

She reached out for him, her hand clasping his. "Niam didn't win."

"No," he agreed quietly, "he didn't. You got him, Elizabeth."

She sucked in a breath of air and then, to his utter alarm, her eyes closed. "Elizabeth? Elizabeth!"

"The radios are back up," Rodney yelled down to him. John hit his comm device hard.

"I need medics in the gateroom, now!"

*

John wasn't sure he was breathing. The Replicators in the city were being taken out easily, they didn't seem to be able to adjust to the ARGs anymore, but all he could see was the woman in front of him. Elizabeth lay motionless on a stretcher in the infirmary.

"She's going into cardiac arrest!" Keller said.

He stood helplessly a few feet away, just watching as Keller grabbed a set of medical paddles. "Clear!" she yelled. She connected the paddles to Elizabeth's chest and John watched as her body jerked up before collapsing back to the bed.

*

Elizabeth stood alone in the gateroom, looking at the active wormhole in front of her. Fran appeared at her side.

"Am I dead?" she asked, glancing over her shoulder at the other woman.

Fran didn't say anything to her, just moved forward and lightly laid a hand on her shoulder. Their surroundings changed and Elizabeth found herself watching Keller working on her own body. John was pacing restlessly by the foot of her bed.

She knew he didn't belong there, but none of the medical personnel had told him to leave. Or, if they had, John had refused. She thought it was more likely the latter.

*

John watched, feeling his emotions overcome him as Elizabeth didn't react to the paddles at all. "Again," Keller bellowed.

The paddles hit her chest and Elizabeth jerked upwards but collapsed back down lifelessly. Keller's shoulders slouched and John felt like all the air had been taken out of his body. She shook her head, putting up the paddles.

*

Elizabeth felt herself fading, listened to the sound of the machine she was attached to flat lining. She watched as the doctors moved away from her body while John slowly took steps towards it. "Elizabeth," he breathed quietly. "I'm so sorry." He lowered his head to her shoulder and let out a sob Elizabeth never thought she'd hear from him. It made her gut clench.

She felt Fran's hand on her shoulder as she began to fade completely. "Trust yourself, Elizabeth. All that matters is right now," she quoted, words that she'd spoken to herself before.

Elizabeth closed her eyes and felt bliss overtake her.

The sound of the machine going from flat-lining to a steady pulse and John's cry of surprise were the last things to fill her ears.

*

Elizabeth's eyes fluttered open slowly. Atlantis, she remembered. The familiar smells and sounds of the infirmary assaulted her senses. She took in a deep breath.

She couldn't sense anything, she realized. The nanites were dulled inside of her, her senses no longer reflected the precision of a machine. She let out a small laugh at the realization. Her laugh made a figure next to her shift in surprise and she turned to her head to see John.

He looked like he hadn't shaved in at least a week and had red bags under his eyes. His entire face lit up when he saw her, though. "Elizabeth. Hey."

He looked close to crying and without thinking she moved her hand to cup the side of his face. He leaned into the touch, the hair on his face bristling and tickling her palm. He didn't close his eyes once, just stared at her as if she was about to disappear.

"John," she croaked, her throat dry. He quickly broke away from her and handed her a cup of water which she sipped on gratefully as he continued to stare at her. "How'd everything go?"

He smirked. "You saved Atlantis. Again. Show-off."

She grinned back at him. "Can't let you have all the death defying moves, now can I?"

"We got rid of the rest of the Replicators pretty quickly," he filled her in. "We destroyed Niam's body, too. No use in risking that, right? Now, maybe the Replicators are gone for good."

She doubted it. All they needed was one of them left to rebuild and entire empire, but she didn't say as much. "Maybe," she agreed. She glanced down and realized she was in a hospital robe.

"Where are my clothes?"

"Well, I uh, kind of had them thrown out?" She raised an eyebrow at him and he smiled sheepishly. "Your old clothes should be here soon. We got your possessions sent back on the Daedalus. I thought maybe you'd rather have them than the others."

She understood what John was giving her. Her old clothes meant her old life, whereas the other clothes were a reminder of what she'd been through.

Clothes certainly wouldn't make her the person she had been, but there was no reason to carry extra baggage. "Thank you, John."

He smiled, seemingly pleased that he'd done the right thing. "I get to stay here?" she added, imagining the SGC and IOA's response to her returning to life after two years.

John's eyes darkened. "I'll be damned if anything else happens."

"The IOA's going to want to see me," she pointed out.

"The IOA can shove it," John replied.

"Actually, the IOA can see you by video conference." She looked up in surprise to see Richard Woolsey. "I arranged it so you don't have to go back to Earth if you don't want to," he smiled at her.

"Thank you, Mr. Woolsey," she inclined her head towards him.

"It's good to see you again, Dr. Weir."

"You too. I've heard you're taken good care of the city." He blushed at little at that and she smiled at him. Richard Woolsey leading Atlantis and doing it competently. Who would have thought.

"Well, I'll leave you two on your own. Whenever you're ready just see me and we'll talk about reintegrating you into Atlantis." She nodded gratefully at him, watching as he left before her eyes moved back to John.

It wasn't until Woolsey was gone that she realized how secluded the corner of the infirmary they were in was.

John cleared his throat and she sucked in a breath as she looked at him. "We almost lost you," he said. "It looks likes your nanites... well, the ones that are left... sort of restarted you and then went dormant like they used to be?"

"Yeah. Janus thought that's what would happen," she agreed. He nodded but she could practically feel the almost-grief on him. "Hey, I'm fine."

"Yeah," he agreed gruffly, obviously trying to suppress whatever he was feeling and failing. He swallowed as he kept looking at her. "You also drugged me."

She glanced away from him at that, unwilling to meet his eyes. "I did." She willed herself to look back at him and the hurt she found on his face nearly took her breath away. "John," she murmured, "I had to. You had to be in Atlantis, to protect it, you couldn't-"

"You didn't even talk to me about it," he argued. He was angry, she knew, and she knew he deserved to be.

"You wanted to jump realities, it wouldn't have been safe-"

"It wasn't your choice," he cut her off. She took in a deep breath, staring him down.

"Maybe not, but whether I'm the leader of this city or not, Atlantis' safety is still my top priority. Believe me, when I sent you back I wasn't going down without a fight, but you had to go back. I'd do it again," she said defiantly. Her eyes met his and she expected an argument. She expected John to tell her that it was stupid, that it was his choice.

What she didn't expect was John's lips on hers so fast she barely processed it until he was actively kissing her. His hand cupped the back of her head and she moved her lips against his, following his lead.

She pulled back first for air and he rested his forehead against hers. He moved his hand to rest against the back of her neck.

"You're back," he said, like that solved everything between them. She felt emotion overwhelm her at the words.

"I'm back," she agreed. He kissed her softly on the forehead. Of course, she had initiated this with their first kiss. But this kiss meant so much more. Her kiss to him had been a goodbye, even if he hadn't known it at the time. This kiss was a greeting. They just sat there in silence for a few moments, resting against each other.

"Damn," John finally broke the silence. "Why weren't we doing that before?"

She laughed. A more hearty laugh that she thought she'd released in years. She moved one of her hands
to hold onto the back of his neck before her finger moved up and began to massage into his scalp. He let out a shudder of approval and she grinned as she mentally marked down the weak spot.

She knew, of course, why they hadn't done this before. Propriety, their roles on Atlantis, fear, there were a lot of reasons.

But she wasn't feeling any of them right now. All she was feeling was John, warm under her fingertips and smiling against her hair. She was feeling a swelling pride in the fact that she was the one who could make John smile. All that matters is right now.

She'd spent a lot of time living from reality-to-reality, just barely making her way by. Now it was finally time for her to breathe and she'd be damned if she was going to let anything get in the way of what she wanted.

She leaned forward again, capturing his lips with hers. He grunted against her when she moved her fingers back through his hair. "'Lizabeth," he murmured. She smiled against him.

A throat cleared. They both broke apart suddenly and Elizabeth felt heat flooding her cheeks as she looked at the end of bed to see Teyla, Ronon and Rodney all staring at her.

"Seriously?" Rodney asked, looking at her and not John. "You're picking Captain Kirk? Has reality traveling lowered your standards that far?"

She laughed just as John got in a, "Shut up, McKay."

"Elizabeth," Teyla smiled warmly at her, a mischievous glint in her eye, "we did not mean to interrupt."

"No, no," Elizabeth shook her head. "It's so good to see you. All of you."

"It's good to see you too," Teyla said, stepping up to her other bed side. She leaned forward to Elizabeth, pressing their foreheads together. "Welcome home, Elizabeth."

She took in a shaky breath, but before she could respond to Teyla, Rodney had moved forward and was hugging her incredibly awkwardly. She patted his back a few time before he pulled back and realized everyone was staring at him.

"Woolsey sucks at replying to my emails," he said, in way of explanation. "I, uh, missed your administrative skills."

She let out another laugh. "Thank you, Rodney."

Ronon moved up and slapped her a little roughly on the shoulder. "Welcome back, Dr. Weir."

"Thank you, Ronon. Teyla, Rodney, all of you, thank you."

"We are very glad to have you back," Teyla said. Tears collected in the corners of her eyes and Elizabeth swallowed back her own tears.

"Oh, come on," John said from beside them. "Don't you two go all girly and start crying now!"

"I was not crying!" Rodney exclaimed, wiping at his eyes. He seemed to realize, a second later, that John hadn't been talking to him at all. "I-I wasn't! I was just stating a fact! Anyway, Sheppard cried off-world-"

"That doesn't count, I was drugged and they had those onion things..."

"Uh-huh," Ronon grunted.

"They did!" John exclaimed.

The conversation continued around her. Elizabeth realized that John's hand had been in hers ever since they'd separated from the kiss. It didn't even make her bat an eyelash. She rubbed her thumb over the back of his hand and he smiled at her before jumping back into the argument about who had cried more in their time on Atlantis, John or Rodney.

She let out a heavy sigh as she listened to all of it and traded an amused smirk with Teyla as John and Rodney's argument got more heated.

Home.

*

Epilogue:

John made his way to the balcony purely on instinct. It was a trip he'd made more than once in the time she'd been gone. He wouldn't think about it, just wind up at the opening doors of the balcony and realize that she would never be there again before he turned around and went to beat things up in the gym instead.

But there she was, leaning against the railing that overlooked the city. She turned her head when she heard the doors open and smiled at him as he moved to her side.

"How go the negotiations?"

"You know they actually have a form nicknamed the Daniel Jackson? It's for people who have come back to life."

"Long form?"

"You have no idea," she groaned. "I have to debrief the IOA and SGC on everything I did in the time I was gone."

"Well, it's been a day. Where are you at now?"

"My first month," she muttered.

"Ouch," John replied sympathetically.

"I shouldn't complain," she said. "I have a lot to be grateful for. Woolsey has been incredibly supportive. He even diplomatically told Shen off for me today. Landry and the SGC I think just want me to fill out the forms and move on. It's just about pleasing the IOA now."

John moved his hands to her shoulders, feeling the tension she was carrying in them. He began to knead her muscles, to which she let out a groan of approval and sunk her body back into him. It was still a novelty that he could touch her whenever he wanted.

"John," she murmured as her head sank back against his chest. He felt entirely different parts of his anatomy begin to react at the sound.

Not that they'd done anything yet. The IOA had been insistent that Elizabeth have guards, even though her tests had come back showing she was who she said she was. Woolsey had at least given her guards she knew (Cadman and Lorne,) but whenever anything got heated they were always right there, like now when they were just outside the door. Or last night when they were just outside her door.

He didn't really give a damn who heard them, but Elizabeth had actual propriety. She said she wouldn't be able to look either of them in the eye again.

John's lips moved down to her neck where he bit her pulse point lightly. She shuddered under him. "John," she said, but this time it was a protest as she pulled away from him. She glanced at the doorway before pushing up on her toes and pecking him lightly on the lips.

"Did you eat already?"

"Yeah. But we got an ice cream shipment in today, so..."

"Isn't the ice cream still rationed? One container per person?"

"Well, yeah," John agreed, "which is why you're going to get one and I'm going to eat it."

"What if I want it?" she asked, cocking one eyebrow in amusement.

"It's vanilla," John shrugged.

"I like vanilla," she pouted.

"You prefer chocolate," he pointed out.

"So I get your chocolate when we get that in?"

"I suppose," he said with an exaggerated sigh. "Isn't my company enough of a trade-off?"

"I have to trade for your company?" she asked skeptically. "Isn't my company enough to get you to come to dinner?"

"Your company is great," he agreed. He glanced over at her with a smirk. "But real Earth ice cream..."

She pushed him in the shoulder and let out a laugh that echoed across the balcony.

*

Elizabeth felt heavier when she stepped out of Heightmeyer's office (not her office anymore, she reminded herself.)

"Elizabeth?" she turned to see Teyla smiling at her. "Are you ready?"

She forced a smile and nodded, following Teyla to her room for tea. It was a habit they'd fallen into before she had left Atlantis. (One that was often thrown aside in light of work and crisis.) The familiarity of walking into Teyla's room and seeing her tea set was comforting.

"How did your appointment go?" Teyla asked.

"Fine," she said, too quickly. Teyla studied her for a moment but said nothing as she poured the tea.

She'd known, of course, that the IOA would insist she get a psychological evaluation but she hadn't quite realized how not ready for it she was. She wished she could say it was John's influence, but Elizabeth had never been a fan of sharing her feelings with another person. She especially wasn't a fan of digging into her past, from Oberoth to Niam to the reality traveling.

Oberoth had been inhuman; hating him was easy.

Niam had been as human as most of the people she knew. She hated him, completely, but somehow it made her feel less human.

The psychologist had a field day with her.

"How is John?" Teyla asked, her voice innocent enough but her light smirk giving away her full meaning.

From the door she heard Lorne, still on her guard duty, cough. A moment later he let out a strangled grunt and she had no doubt that Cadman had hit him.

"He's fine," she replied.

The first few days on Atlantis John hadn't left her side. She'd catch him looking at her with dark eyes, a thousand emotions flickering across his features.

They hadn't talked about any of it. Not about Asuras, Oberoth, Niam, reality traveling, his time away from her, or the fact that now whenever they were alone they inevitably wound up making out like a pair of hormonal teenagers.

"He appears very happy," Teyla said. There was an undercurrent in her words, a suggestion that he hadn't been happy before. "His neck also appears to have gained a few raised red spots."

Elizabeth blushed furiously, ducking her head as Teyla offered her the cup of hot tea. She wrapped her fingers around it, letting the heat sink into her skin. "I'm happy for you both," Teyla offered when Elizabeth finally met her eyes.

She knew, undoubtedly, that she and John were in the honeymoon phase, so to speak. It was inevitable with how much baggage they each carried that they were going to fight and scream. But she'd weathered a lot with John. Sure, they had more burdens than most people could imagine, but they also had seen more than most people could imagine, fighting in life or death situations with another person left a bond that wasn't broken.

Elizabeth generally believed that people came and went in life. With Atlantis and John in particular, though, the feeling was different. She couldn't imagine her life without John Sheppard in it.

The sound of crying filled the room and Teyla was on her feet and in the next room quickly. She returned with Torren. "I believe he found out you were here," Teyla accused. She rocked Torren as Elizabeth moved to smile down at the baby, moving one finger forward that was quickly latched onto by his small hand.

"He's just restless," she smiled, making cooing noises down at the baby who laughed in delight.

"You know," Teyla said carefully, "when Torren was born I was told of the Earth tradition of godparents. John is Torren's godfather, but I was not close to enough to any women on Atlantis to give him a godmother."

"Teyla..." Elizabeth said quietly, looking down at the baby that was still grinning at her and holding onto her finger.

"I'd be honored to have you as Torren's protector, should anything happen to Kanaan and me," Teyla said.

Elizabeth nodded slowly, overwhelmed. "I... I would love to, Teyla."

Teyla beamed at her. She took Torren and rested him against her before moving back to sit on one side of the tea set. "Do not think this has made me forget about you and John," she smirked.

Elizabeth let out an exaggerated sigh before grinning at the other woman.

*

Elizabeth was actually nervous when she entered Woolsey's office.

It wasn't that anxiety wasn't something she felt when she was stuck traveling to other realities, it was that after a while that anxiety had turned into apathy. She hadn't been this nervous in quite a while. She squared her shoulders back as he looked up from his computer and smiled at her. "Elizabeth, welcome."

"Thank you, Richard," she nodded back to him. It wasn't something she ever would have expected, but she actually liked Richard Woolsey. He'd become a quick ally to her when she had nothing to offer him, and where John was less than polite in his opinion of her staying on Atlantis, Richard knew exactly how to talk to the IOA.

"I've called you here because the IOA and SGC have made their final decision."

"And?" Elizabeth prompted. Woolsey stared sternly at her for a moment before he broke out into a wide smile. She smiled back, a breath of relief escaping her lips.

"You're staying here," he confirmed. "Not that you belong anywhere else. Eventually, the IOA saw that." She knew, undoubtedly, that Woolsey had used all of his influence on them. She was pretty sure the SGC had been on her side too, making that particular conclusion after Jack had sent her a bottle of champagne with a note about the IOA and places they could shove things.

"Thank you," she murmured, gratefulness flooding her.

"It's us who should be thanking you," Woolsey replied. "You saved the city, Elizabeth." He paused, frowning slightly as he added, "They wouldn't give you command back."

Her eyes widened at the implication that Woolsey had tried to get her the job he was currently holding. "You-you tried to get me full command?"

Woolsey shrugged. "I did get you a position I think you'll like, though."

"What's that, exactly?" she asked.

Woolsey smiled.

*

Elizabeth stood on the pier, truly alone for the first time now that Lorne and Cadman were no longer assigned to keep watch over her. The sun was beginning to lower, just barely still flickering against the vast expanse of water in front of her.

She held her gun in her hand. It had already been disabled by Rodney at her request, but she'd kept it by her side out of habit. She actually felt incomplete without it... the fact that not having a gun felt worse than having one wasn't something she'd ever imagine would happen to her.

"Elizabeth, what are you doing?"

She turned in surprise to see Rodney staring at her like she was an idiot. "I was just thinking," she replied. "Did you need something, Rodney?"

"Ah, no, I was just, uh. I heard about your IOA stuff. I'm glad they weren't complete morons."

"Thank you," she smiled softly at him. Rodney, whether he intended it or not, had provided her with an entirely different level of comfort. He was the exact same as he had always been. John was heavier, Teyla was a mother, and even Ronon had a girlfriend and seemed more open than when she'd known him. But Rodney? He wasn't any different.

"What're you doing with that?" Rodney asked, looking pointedly to the gun.

Elizabeth frowned slightly, looking back at the gun as her fingers moved over it before one settled on the now useless trigger. "I don't know," she admitted.

"It doesn't work," Rodney pointed out.

"I know, I just..." she shrugged. "I don't know."

Rodney was still staring at her like she was insane. She looked back to the gun. It, more than anything else, represented what she had become. She knew she couldn't go back, couldn't revert to two years ago, but that didn't mean she had to hold on to everything she'd become. "I don't want it," she said, realizing she'd said it out loud when Rodney raised a quizzical eyebrow at her. "I just don't know what to do with it."

"Throw it out."

She was startled by the suggestion. So much so that she turned to look at Rodney who just shrugged back at her. "I can't do that," she said, "this gun... there's nothing like it here. It would be a waste."

She frowned down at the gun, imagining it just staying around the city with her forever. Rodney grabbed onto the handle and took it from her. She looked at him, watching in surprise as he threw the gun hard. She watched it fly forward until it sunk underneath the surface of the ocean, sending waves and ripples through the water.

She turned to stare at Rodney. He shrugged back at her. "It slipped."

"I..." she began, just staring at him.

"Oh, uh," he faltered when she just continued to stare at him. "That might not have been the right thing to do. We can probably, you know, get it back-"

She moved forward and wrapped her arms around him. He let out a grunt of surprise before moving his hands in reciprocation.

She pulled back, smiling widely at him. "Thank you, Rodney."

He smiled back, obviously pleased with himself. "Well, you're welcome. Now, there's still ice cream in the mess hall..."

"John already took my portion," she smirked in amusement. Rodney let out a huff and rolled his eyes.

"That's so not fair, Elizabeth. What'd he do to get your ice cream? No, no wait – I don't wanna know."

"Rodney," Elizabeth said, going for a stern reprimand but sounding more surprised than anything else. He let out an exaggerated sigh.

"Okay, okay, well food anyway?"

"Food anyway," she agreed with a smile, following him off the pier.

*

Elizabeth Weir was naked and in bed with him. He was pretty sure he'd never been happier. She was curled up, lying half on his chest and half on the bed. In the darkness of her room he could still make out the boxes of her possessions sent back from Earth.

She'd been dead-set against unpacking them until she was sure she was staying. John thought he would have shot anyone who had decided differently.

He'd come over tonight with the intention of helping her put all her stuff away. He might have gotten a little distracted when he realized Elizabeth's news meant she didn't have guards with her anymore. He'd then proceeded to distract Elizabeth, which had worked out strongly in his favor.

His fingers lightly moved over the muscles on her arm. She wasn't necessarily built, but she was more muscular than he imagined she would have been years ago. (And, he was willing to admit, he had imagined. After awhile he hadn't been able to look her in the eye so he'd stopped... or done it less, at least.) There had been a time when he would have done anything to give her the ability to protect herself. Now he'd do anything to go back and stop it.

Her hand clenched against his chest so suddenly John looked over at her and expected her to be awake, only to find her eyes still closed. "No..." she murmured, her voice anguished.

"Hey, hey," he whispered soothingly, his hand rubbing up and down her spine. She let out a cry and startled awake, her head jerking up as he watched the fact that she was in Atlantis and not where she'd thought she was settle in. He could feel her heart beating rapidly in her chest against his own skin.

"Sorry," she muttered, looking away from him.

"Sorry?" he questioned, one hand still slowly rubbing against her skin. "That's usually what I hear before I get to this part in a night."

She let out a small laugh at that as she rested her forehead against his shoulder and he felt her breathing begin to steady. He wondered if she'd been having nightmares since Asuras, and inevitably guilt kicked in. His arm tightened around her possessively.

She moved one of her hands to rest on his chest, her fingers tangling in the hair there. "What time is it?" she murmured.

"Still a few hours before we have to get up," he promised. "Ready for tomorrow?"

It was her first day back working on Atlantis. John thought they were idiots for not putting her back in-charge, but then again he wouldn't be able to do this with her if she was in charge. He was pretty sure he'd just die if that happened.

"Yes," she said. "It's going to be strange, being back."

"You'll get used to it all."

She nodded against him but didn't say anything, and he knew her well enough to know that she was nervous. "Hey," he said. She raised her head to look at him, resting her chin against his chest. "You know..." he paused, trying to find the right words to say.

"You belong here, Elizabeth." Her eyes widened at the declaration and he continued on, not breaking their eye contact. "It's not the same without you."

He'd said similar words to her years ago, but now they were different. Now he knew, undoubtedly, that nothing was the same without her.

Before he could think about it anymore she leaned forward and captured his lips with hers. He groaned in surprise, cupping the back of her head.

"Elizabeth," he breathed as he pulled back from the kiss. He knew that about now would be the time to shut the hell up and enjoy naked Elizabeth, but he spoke without thinking. "I really missed you."

She moved her head back to look at him. The moonlight lit her wide eyes and the tears that were collecting in the corners of them. "I'm here, John," she promised her voice wavering in a way he'd never heard from her. "I missed you, too."

Then, just before they both broke, she added, "I thought of doing this a lot, y'know." Her lips moved to his neck and he adopted a lazy smirk as he moved his head to give her more access to his skin.

"Yeah?" he asked, dragging her hips over so that she was straddling him. "Wanna tell me about that? In extreme detail?"

She laughed, and doing so caused their bodies to rock together in a way that left both of them groaning.

He'd definitely never been happier.

*

Elizabeth walked into the office, her office. It didn't have glass walls, although it did have a large window looking down on the city and was just down the hall from the gateroom. In the middle of it all was a single desk, with a plaque on it. She moved forward and picked the plaque up, moving her fingers over the raised letters. Elizabeth Weir – Head of Diplomatic Affairs.

Her college degrees rested on the wall beside her. The door chimed open and she turned to see Richard Woolsey smiling at her and carrying a stack of papers in his hands. "Elizabeth, I thought I'd welcome you by making you remember the ridiculous number of forms Atlantis has."

She smiled at him as he placed the stack of papers on her desk "I thought you said this job was going to be more off-world intensive."

"Oh, it is. But first you have to fill out pages and pages about going off-world. Then you get to actually step through the 'Gate and interact with other cultures."

She had control over most diplomatic meetings, which meant she also had control of all the diplomats on the city. Unlike before when she led Atlantis, now Elizabeth was free to actually go off-world and do what she'd trained for years to do. She knew she'd miss leading the city, and would probably speak out of her place when they fell into crisis, but she was actually relieved to not be completely tied to a desk anymore.

"I also brought some paperwork you can fill out if, say, you were in a relationship with someone else in the city."

Elizabeth let out a cough of surprise, staring at Woolsey as he kept just smiling back at her. "Not that I'm suggesting you are in a relationship, I'm just suggesting that, when you're ready, you fill out the proper paperwork with HR so that we can have your backs and I don't have to find out about these things from the guy who serves me the Pegasus equivalent of sloppy joes."

"I-" Elizabeth fumbled. Woolsey's radio went off and Elizabeth had never been so grateful for the sound.

"Mr. Woolsey," Chuck said, "Dr. McKay is here and-"

"We have a problem. I need you in the control room now, and bring Elizabeth."

Elizabeth frowned. "Rodney? What's wrong?"

"Control room," Rodney repeated. She kept frowning as she and Woolsey exchanged a glance before moving into the gateroom, where the gate was active, and up the stares to where Rodney was awkwardly pacing. He stopped when he saw both of them. "Okay, so, um, we went to the planet." He was fumbling with his hands and, Elizabeth noticed, not looking at her.

"Dr. McKay?" Woolsey prompted.

"Yeah, well, um-"

"Get to the point, McKay."

Elizabeth was startled to hear John's voice. Rodney jumped at the noise. With a slight smirk Chuck said, "Colonel Sheppard has radioed in."

"John?" Elizabeth asked. "What's going on?"

"Um," he started, sounding exactly how Rodney had. "You know that time you asked how many times I could get married to an entire village?"

"Colonel Sheppard?" Woolsey prompted.

"Yeah, the answer is at least twice," John muttered. "But this time they're putting me on trial for denying them... marriage rights."

Woolsey turned to her. "Well, Elizabeth, it seems to me you have your first mission."

A half-hour later she had a pack and Rodney at her side as she stepped through the 'Gate. John was sitting in the grass, with shackles on his ankles. A woman stood by his side looking rather annoyed.

"You are Dr. Weir?" the woman asked. "You claim this man?"

"Yes," she replied, resisting the urge to smirk. "I will speak on his behalf."

The woman nodded, letting out a harumph as she unlocked the shackles. "Your people are in town. You will be given a half day to get together your case and then you will present it to the council."

The woman turned abruptly and left, walking to the town that was nearby. John slowly made his way by Elizabeth's side. "I didn't do anything, I swear," he said, his words rushed together.

"I leave you alone for one minute," she smirked.

"Actually," McKay spoke up, "he wasn't even ogling the girls this time. The alien princess was ogling him. Which is so unfair. I mean, he gets you and then he still gets ogled by-"

"See!" John said, snapping his fingers as he pointed at McKay and stopped his ramble in the meantime. "This so isn't my fault."

Strangely enough, it was in that moment that Elizabeth felt a confidence that had eluded her before. She felt like this was where she was supposed to be, navigating the politics of another culture to get the best result for both sides.

All-the-same, John had managed to get tangled up in yet another culture and Elizabeth just cocked an eyebrow at him in response to his declaration of innocence. "Come on!" he exclaimed. She didn't budge from her position for a moment, but he started to look genuinely worried and her features softened in response.

"I think you're just trying to give me an interesting first day," she smiled at him. He grinned back and shrugged sheepishly.

"Oh god, you guys aren't to make goo-goo eyes at each other are you?" Rodney whined.

"Shut up, McKay," John grunted. Elizabeth rolled her eyes.

"Okay then boys," she said, nodding to each of them. "Let's head into town and get your case ready."

She had no doubt that Teyla had already immersed herself in the culture while she was in the village, and would be able to give Elizabeth the information she needed to make this quick and simple. And, if worse came to worse, Ronon would have sized up everyone by now.

"So," John said from beside her as they walked through the field leading to the village, "how's your first day?"

"Oh, you know," she smirked, "this fly boy who can't seem to stay out of trouble needs my help. Again."

"Yeah? He seems annoying."

"Sometimes," she agreed. John smirked at her.

"I bet he's worth it, though." There was just a hint of uncertainty in his voice, something Elizabeth was pretty sure only she would have picked up on.

"I doubt that very much," McKay muttered from her other side.

"Hey!" John said indignantly.

"He has his moments," Elizabeth smirked. John grinned at her.

"Okay, seriously," Rodney said from beside them, "have you guys always been like this? Stop looking at each other like that!"

Elizabeth blushed while John rolled his eyes. "Hey, McKay, how's Keller?"

That led to Rodney blushing and muttering something under his breath. John smirked at him before meeting her eyes and smiling softly. It was the same smile that made her heart skip a beat.

She looked forward to where the village was, and then glanced at Rodney who was fumbling with a computer device as he walked and then to John who was whistling as he walked.

Elizabeth had been to a lot realities. She'd met a lot of people, different versions of all her friends. She had even felt at home in a few of the realities she'd been lucky enough to come across.

But this? This was exactly where she wanted to be. Where she needed to be.

Now she truly was home.