Somewhere in the crowns of the whispering trees a bird cried out as two people passed through; the mossy ground swallowed the sound of their steps but their voices echoed through the small valley anyway.
"Coming here was the worst idea I ever had," John lamented, incensed with himself.
"No, John, letting the replicators and me live was the worst idea you ever had," Fran corrected him sweetly.
"Don't remind me." He shifted carefully on the home-made stretcher to mind his broken leg. Fran had splinted the fracture pretty well, but he was still in pain, a sort of furious pain, because she had disarmed him as well. The gun he had carried was in her possession.
Fran adjusted the gun on her shoulder. It was heavy and she was not used to carrying it, even less along with the weight of a man. "Why did you do it?"
"At the time it seemed like a good idea," he replied sourly. The radio was broken. No way to call for help.
"Ah." His walloping lie made her heart jump like a rubber ball. She knew why he had saved the replicators. She knew why he had saved her. She knew it the second he had ordered to keep her from going into death to keep Atlantis safe. "But why?"
"I thought we could use the replicator's expertise in the future." Lame, John, pretty lame. His anger evolved mainly because he felt helpless on this stretcher, and at her mercy.
"You already said so in Atlantis. Nobody believed you."
"They listened anyway."
"Only because they trust you, John."
"Whatever." He looked around. "This is a jungle. Do you know where we are?"
"Don't worry. I know exactly where we are."
"Meaning you intend to stick to your ridiculous plan?"
She turned around so he could see her eyes. "Yes, I do." She turned back and continued to drag the stretcher with him along. Since she had become a replicator she had possessed a lot of time to rethink her life, especially her time in Atlantis, her time with him, all the precious moments that had seemed lost to her, but were branded into her memory like an eternal drawing.
Her eyes frightened him. The color was green, not the same green as Elizabeth's eyes, but still... "Where are you dragging me?"
"A safe place."
"Safe for whom?" He knew she wouldn't back down. Her eyes had told him. Her eyes were able to tell him everything like they always had. No matter in what shade of green they spoke. "Do you intend to meet your replicator friends? Are they hiding behind those trees?"
"Don't be foolish."
"That's the wrong way to win my trust. Elizabeth would have never..."
"I am Elizabeth!" she snapped. "I thought you believed me."
"I did - until now." He knew that would hurt her but he couldn't help it. He had to hurt her to protect himself. She got under his skin but he wasn't allowed to let her. She wasn't who she once had been. She wasn't the Elizabeth he had admired and...
She stopped in her tracks, breathing heavily. He was a burden in every sense, a burden to test her strength and faith. "I killed Koracen for you. Don't you remember?"
"That didn't prove anything."
"Didn't it prove I chose Atlantis - and you?"
"Prove your loyalty by taking me back to the base camp."
"My team will come looking for us."
"I know. That's why I'll take us into hiding."
"Why? If you want to kill me you missed your chance."
"I would never kill you, John. I need you."
"For what?" He snorted. "My leg is broken. Stupid hole!"
"Hole? It was so big it could have been your grave. You were lucky, you know."
"Sure. That's why I'm being kidnapped."
She laughed. It was a laugh that frightened him more than her eyes. It was her laugh and at the same time it was not. ...no...she isn't Elizabeth...don't fall for her... don't do this... it's a trick...
"Oh, John. I missed your sense of humor." She stopped to fight a fit of laughter.
"Did you?" ...it's not her... not her...
"Yes, definitely." She went along, followed the bumpy, uneven path without effort.
"Where are we going anyway?"
"Mmh." Unable to change her mind, he closed his eyes and tried to get some rest. "Try keeping to a straight line."
"Sure." She bit another bubble of laughter back.
"I don't mind being featherbedded. I hate walking." His leg was bothering him despite the pain killers she had given him.
He forced himself to focus on her, listening to the sound of her steps, to every breath she took, drifting into a state of trance. Since the day, he had held her back from sacrificing herself, he was constantly watching her. Her existence had become what he was living for. He was watching for every sign that could expose her as a fraud. He had found none so far. Their trip to this planet to find a home for the replicators, a home where they would be no threat to anyone, had pushed them into a new situation. For the first time in ages they were alone. Alone with their fears and desires. Alone with their hearts and souls. John and Fran. John and Elizabeth. Elizabeth? Is it you? Is it really you? Is it possible I got another chance?
He blinked, confused and irritated. I slept! I truly fell asleep. Am I out of my mind... "We are where?" he croaked, and noticed they were surrounded by walls of stone, earth and roots. A small circle of orange light showed the way to the outside. Sundown. "How did you know about this cave?"
"I visited this planet before."
"As a replicator," he realized, sulking. A new thought came to him. "Did you lead me on purpose into this hole to eliminate me? Did you lead me into a trap?"
She shook her head. "Never. It was an accident."
He grimaced and stared into the small fire, she had lit, recovering his strength. Surprisingly, in no time, the warmth and brightness began to make him feel unexpectedly comfortable. Or was it her company? Stop thinking like this. Stop reminding yourself how much you have missed her. How much you have mourned her loss.
"Are you in pain?"
"It's not that bad. I can take it."
"I think you should take a second pill..."
"No. No way."
"Don't be stubborn."
"Better in pain than being drugged up by my enemy."
"I'm not your enemy."
"Take me the base camp then."
"Not yet." She smiled mysteriously and opened her bag to get out a blanket.
Secretly, John looked for his gun and discovered it leaning against a wall. Not far but too far for him. His leg hurt by every breath he took.
She laid the blanket next to the stretcher and joined him on the ground. "Luckily, there are other ways to make you forget about the pain."
"What?" he startled. His heart raced. This is Fran. It's not her. Not the woman I cared about. Not the woman I fell in love with. Not Elizabeth.
She stroked over his tricky hair. "Relax. Don't think so much. Don't try to have everything under control." She put her head on the stretcher.
He flinched. "What do you have in mind?"
"Only putting you to sleep." Again and again, she stroked over his hair, messed it up thoroughly. "I missed this."
"You missed what? We... she... never touched me... in this way." Fluent talking was out of question by having her this close. Control yourself. You are in no state for... for... for what?
"I missed the look of your charming haircut." She touched the soft spot by his ear, massaging, caressing, and loving the small circle of him more than anything else in this moment. "I missed the look of those pointy ears." One of her fingers went to follow up the rim, giving it the same sweet attention.
John shivered to the bone. He had always dreamed of Elizabeth touching him like this. He had always dreamed of her loving him like a woman loves a man. But he had never dared to take a chance and show her his desire. But this is Fran. Not Elizabeth. This is wrong. Don't let her enchant you... and trick you...
"Are you cold?"
He shook his head, not able to speak, not able to hold her back. When this is wrong why does it feel so good then? When it's not her why do I feel with every beat of my heart it is? Why do I want her as much as I ever did? Why for heaven's sake?
"Do you like it then?" She caressed his prickly cheek now. The scratchiness made him all manly. It was turning her on in the most sensual way, making her wish she could go on faster. Don't push it. He's still unsure. He's not ready yet.
Still not able to speak, he nodded, returning her gaze. She was so close, too close. Her touch stirred his hunger for love, his hunger for her, a hunger he had held back for a long time. Don't go there. Elizabeth is gone. You lost her.
"Fine. Close your eyes and try to go to sleep."
Sleep! She was kidding, right? "I'm not tired." Her enduring tenderness excited him more than he could allow himself to admit. She got to him. He was close to forget every reason and... and... Get a grip! Your leg is broken!
"Good." Her hands went further down, finding the buttons of his uniform, opening them one by one. "We have a lot of exploring to do."
"Huh?" He had lied. He was tired. He was tired of fighting.
"How about a story?" His chest hair welcomed her like a cozy place.
He was tired of fighting her.
"Once upon a time, in a galaxy, far, far away, there lived a woman, called Elizabeth..."
"Oh. Come on!" he cried out, exasperated.
"...who fell in love with a brave and handsome fighter..."
Well then! John stilled, and listened, neither complaining about her story, nor her hands, stroking constantly, but never touching the one favored spot, he was craving for.
In the end her plan worked out. He finally fell asleep. His face lost the grim expression he had worn the whole day, since he had figured that she wouldn't call for help or bring him back to the base camp. His stunning face. She sighed. He couldn't imagine just how much she had missed the bare sight of him. He couldn't imagine how much she hated to be not with him but with them. The replicators. She hated to have a different body and face. She hated to look at herself in the mirror, sometimes, she even hated herself. But at the same time, she loved the fact that she was still alive. She loved that she had been able to return to him. Her feelings for him were still the same. Friendship. Desire. Love. The idea to kidnap him had come to her in a split second. The fracture of his leg was not that bad or even complicated. She would never put him at any risk. She had taken the chance to convince him that she was still the same Elizabeth. The slightest doubt would ruin every chance to be happy after all. The slightest doubt would ruin their future for good. A future, she was ready to fight for, whatever the cost would be.
A few hours later, she was startled by hearing distant voices. The team was out there, calling their names, calling her name. She hated to be called by this name. She wasn't Fran. She was Elizabeth. Rodney's voice was the loudest, sounding slightly hysterical, giving away his tremendous concern. They came closer, but they didn't find the cave, bit by bit the voices softened and died away in the end. Good. Relieved, she put her head back on his shoulder, inhaled his scent, treasuring it for the times to come she wouldn't be with him. Not that she wished for that but you never knew, did you? Oh, how she had missed him. The time without him couldn't be measured to... to... anything she had ever been through. It had been bad. It had been unbearable. It had been hell.
In the middle of the night, John tore his eyes open, for seconds in fear he was trapped like a caged animal. The light glimmer of the fire showed him that the only restraint was still his adjusted leg. A second later, he remembered the gun and noticed it was closer now. She had put it on the ground. He could have reached it, but hesitated anyway.
His anger and fear were gone. Her story had changed his mind. It was their story. Every little detail, every moment, she had remembered, had proved how much she cared for him, leaving him unarmed, with or without a weapon. He couldn't do it. He couldn't betray her. He loved her. More than ever. Sighing, he put his head back on the stretcher, allowing himself to observe her lovely face, different and yet familiar, until he fell back to sleep.
Bright morning light shone through the small circle of their sanctuary, marking the start of a new day. She yawned. For the first time since she had become a replicator, she had slept like a baby, not missing the sound of the ocean at all. Hearing him tossing around, panting fearful, she realized his night hadn't been as peaceful as hers. She nudged him to wake him up from his nightmare.
He jerked awake, eyes blazing, ready to fight, ready to kill.
"Calm down," she soothed him, putting his body back to the stretcher. "There is not the tiniest bug around."
"I didn't dream about... bugs. I dreamt about... clowns."
"Clowns with terrible faces. I tried to rip their masks off... but I..."
He's still fighting me. He doesn't see me. Only her. "I'm not betraying you, John. The only reason I brought you here was to win you over." She turned back his blanket. "How is your leg?"
"No pain at all?" Carefully, she felt it, beginning with the shin, going over to knee and thigh, going up, adjusting the bandage.
"Don't be. It doesn't hurt..." His ears turned crimson. "...only..."
She noticed the reason for his discomfort. "Oh." She chuckled, and blushed, matching his embarrassment.
He was surprised. Neither his Elizabeth nor the copy Fran had ever appeared as shy to him or in danger to be easily embarrassed. He seized her chin and made her look into his eyes. "We are too familiar with each other to be shy about human nature."
A smirk touched her lips. "Am I human?"
"Yes." He pulled her into a kiss.
Oh, John. She melted into his embrace, melted into his kiss, claiming his lips belonging to her. He groaned and tightened his grip, exploring her tender flesh further. Kiss by kiss, they were satisfying their senses, turning hot and thoughtless. He pulled her onto him, crushing her weight on his leg. A shot of pain made him scream. "Damn!"
She jumped off him. "Sorry!"
"It's my own fault." He grinned like an idiot. "Get back here."
"You are... pretty capable for a... one-legged man," she quipped, breathless.
The way she looked at him made him want to kiss her again. The way she looked at him made him feel utterly vulnerable. "Come here and I show you how capable."
"Do you know who you want to kiss?"
It was the way she had always looked at him, no matter she had a different face or body. It was her look. It was her. "Elizabeth." No doubt about it. "I know it's you." He gulped. "I see your soul in your eyes." He grabbed her hand. "I see you."
"J-John." Tears sprang from her eyes and she leaned forward.
He pulled her into his arms. The pain in his leg was forgotten, just didn't matter anymore. Seeing her suffer troubled him much more. "Don't." He kissed her forehead. "It's alright now." He kissed her eyes. "You found me."
"Did I?" She couldn't help sobbing. "Did I?"
"Yes, for sure." He kissed her lips, until she stopped crying, until she wasn't trembling anymore, whispering silly things, soothing her heart and soul. At last, when his strength was used up, they rested, their fingers entwined, comforting each other, making up for the long separation.
He sighed. "Sorry it took me so long."
"No, it's me who is sorry, because I wasted so much time."
"Do you know what I thought the first time I saw you?"
She laughed. "Exactly. I always feared for you. I always prayed for you to come back to me. I never imagined it would be me who get lost one day."
"Me neither." His lips found hers once more, brushing against them, making her feel at home, making her feel complete. "It wasn't the same without you, Elizabeth. I wasn't the same without you. I need you as much as Atlantis needs you. Maybe more."
"Oh John... John... I missed you..."
Once more, the kiss got out of control, and his leg in the way, causing a strange yell.
"It's about time to get you back," Elizabeth declared, concerned.
"Uh... no... I'm not that eager to get rescued... just yet."
They entered the base camp two days and a few hours after they had gone missing.
Their friends rushed together, were talking all at the same time, raising a major tumult.
"What the hell happened?" Rodney drowned them, orbiting the survivors like a flushed chicken.
"I broke my leg and she couldn't get me back any sooner," John lied without the slightest scruple.
"Some trip, huh?" Rodney goggled Fran like an interesting science project. She repaid his frankness with a friendly smile.
John laughed. "You don't say."
"It was worth it," she said, stars in her eyes. "See you later, John." She squeezed his shoulder and strolled away to greet the other replicators.
Rodney gaped. "She looks... different. Did something happen? Did she... try anything?"
"Like what?" John said, tempted by Rodney's hilarious innuendos to spill it all.
"Uh... uh... did she... did she..."
"...try to seduce me? My leg is broken."
"I know she did not try to... seduce you," Rodney replied, flustered. "I meant... was it her... who hurt you in any way?"
"Unfortunately... not that much." John smirked.
Dr. Keller pushed Rodney aside and bent over John. "Who made this bandage?"
"Elizabeth." Her name was only a whisper on his lips.
She turned around anyway as if she had not only heard him but sensed his longing. "Yes, John?"
"Don't go too far."
"Of course not. I'll be with you always."