Summary: Rewriting the end of 4x02:Lifeline (read AN)
Disclaimer: I ain't got no money, and nobody'd be daft enough to pay me for this.

AN: sigh, I am made of fail, I'm afraid.. my mind has been, and is still, so focused elsewhere.. I am terribly short and terribly late and very draftilly rough.. but still.. hope it was a happy birthday leave_me_light

I came up with this thought before I saw Lifelines and choose to go with it anyway. So, this is an AU Lifelines. They found a replicator ship to steal ZPMs from instead of going to the planet.

yes I'm melodramatic. yes I like black and white emotions. Life is a bitch of compromising and never really finding anything to make up for those compromises; I *live* that, same as everyone else.. I just damn well have no interest in facing it all over again in my head. so I write a simpler world (I do *read* the others... but I don't want to write it). duty and honour may come first, but they should not be allowed to spiderweb you into the fraction-of-a-life that is reality. die for those you love if you have to. die with them if you can.

'We'll find her.' Ronon's words were reverberating in his mind, hope and hopelessness at the same time. When they turned the corridor corner and he saw Elizabeth straining to hold Oberoth in thrall, John had two seconds to choose the path to take. She didn't look as though she could hold him much longer, and obviously, if she let go, they would all die. And Atlantis would die. But if she didn't..

"Go!" he shoved Ronon down the corridor, "Tell Rodney to hit the gas and get you both to Atlantis asap!" When the man opened his mouth to protest, John shook his head, turning to run toward Elizabeth as he yelled, "We'll find another way off! Get the hell out of here!"

Suddenly aware of John's presence, Elizabeth stiffened, the agony in his eyes when she'd forced him to acknowledge her likely demise coming back to her with with a premonitory terror even as she struggled to keep him and the others safe, "Get *OUT* of here Jo-" Her furious shout stopped as he put his free hand on her bare neck and the defences she was using to hold Oberoth left her unable to stop her nanites from connecting to him.

The distant reality of the danger he was putting himself in was irrelevant; Atlantis was now in Rodney's hands. The path he'd reconfirmed within himself in those two seconds was to keep Elizabeth safe; whatever the cost to *him*. He had to trust that their friends would protect Atlantis; and he would kill himself -kill Elizabeth- before allowing either of them to be a danger. But until that danger became real, he'd spend his last breath keeping her alive; whether she wanted him to or not.

Without knowing or caring how, he found himself in a featureless, hazy, dark room, standing next to Elizabeth as she fought to keep Oberoth from driving his hand into her forehead. He knew this wasn't real; he hadn't expected to be dragged into her mind, but there was no time to wonder at the whys. He wrapped his hand around her wrist, instinctively adding his strength to pushing away the Asuran.

"Ah. The self-sacrificing one."

"Not this time," he growled at the sneering machine, concentrating on trying to give Elizabeth his strength through their skins' contact, knowing that the physical struggle in this metaphorical vision wasn't the real danger. He could feel Elizabeth's annoyance at the edge of his mind now and tried to reach for her, the years working with Atlantis and the chair coming in handy suddenly.

And then they were connected, unruly emotions -nothing like Ancient software programs!- mixing with his own pain, terror, anger and sadness; mixing, amplifying and struggling to both merge and stay apart. They were both too angry about the situation, too focused on their duty to the end of all else, to suddenly be able to communicate easily. Had been hiding from themselves so firmly that being exposed to another was twice the shock.

Still and all, the deadly danger was too real and the adrenaline pumping too fiercely for basic clarity not to override their instincts to protect, both each other and their people.

Oberoth's eyes went blank, unable to hold out against their automatically combined strength, and John wrenched himself out of the vision with a gasp, able to see the way to get in and out now, through his connection with Elizabeth.

"That's it," he had to catch his breath, between the dislocation and the actual physical weakness he felt as Elizabeth drew from him, however unwillingly, "Let's go." He struggled to ignore as much as he could of the emotions and thoughts boiling next to and within his mind, his years as a soldier clawing a desperate need for action at him, and, shifting his grip to her hand, he tried to tug her to move. They had to go; now now now!

Elizabeth's eyes opened, resisting his pull with strength that wasn't hers, glaring hard at him even as her anguish at his choice writhed at the edge of his need to save them, "No. I can't hold him-" {Save yourself, for God's sake!}

But John only tightened his grip, glaring back just as stubbornly, denying the terror that he wouldn't be able to convince her, "*We* can. I am not leaving you behind but I don't really want to die here," his glare faded into a silent plea, "Use my strength," {Use *me*.}, "Together we can hold him long enough for the others to get away, now lets *go*!" {I am NOT leaving you, no matter what you decide!}

{John-}

He shook his head at the pain and regret; hers or his, he was starting to lose track. All their feelings -{God I love you.}- swirling and mixing and taking far too much of his attention away from their danger. He pulled sharply on her hand, gripping onto anger to keep himself focused, {No! We *BOTH* live. You are not goddamn expendable. Not to me. Let's GO!}

When she tripped at his sharp tug, he caught her against him to keep her upright and whispered desperately, "I want to *live*. Please 'Lizabeth." {Just *found* you! Want to feel more of this..} He had to convince her.. Swallowing thickly, John let the longing he felt, the years-old loneliness and the half-denied, slowly-rising joy at their mental closeness all free. Letting her *see* him, even along with the terrible urgency to *move*, to get away, that made his pulse pound.

Elizabeth didn't want to agree, he could feel that. But he wasn't going to be budged. They could stand here together and die.. or they could run together and at least try to survive. And she couldn't fool herself into thinking he had any doubts, or that she could change his mind. She *knew* his mind.

"What can we do?"

John's hands clenched on her shoulders, relief washing through him {Oh thank god, Elizabeth!}. He pulled her into a tight hug, scrambling for a plan, "Shuttle bay. These things have shuttle bays, right?"

He stood quietly holding her the five seconds he felt her hunting for the data, rebuilding his awareness of their danger and trying to understand enough of their connection to actively help her hold off the bad guys.

He felt the victory before she even spoke, "Yes! This way." When Elizabeth started pulling him, he didn't say a word, letting her guide them and keeping his attention on giving her strength to continue holding Oberoth as they ran further and further, down a dizzying maze of corridors.

They were only halfway there when they lost control and the Asurans woke, immediately converging on them. Elizabeth shifted their path every chance she had, both of them running full tilt, even under the growing mutual awareness that they wouldn't make it.

Then she stopped, "It's too late. They're all around us." Her voice was resigned, though she couldn't keep John from knowing that she was still terribly angry that he was throwing his life away.

Ignoring the silent accusation that he should have lived, should be watching their city, John continued looking around for a way -there would be time enough for recriminations if they survived- and his eyes were caught by the star field outside the window next to them, "Not *all* around..."

Elizabeth didn't bother looking out, instead staring at him as though he'd gone mad. {John?}

Turning to her, knowing that in less than a minute they were going to be captured, he shrugged carelessly, "At least we won't be prisoners." {We won't betray Atlantis.} A part of him wanted to grin manically, feeling like a wicked child cheating fate... but he felt too much grief over the lost future to be able to; was too aware of the responsibilities he'd advocated on the slim chance of their making it out of here.

"We'll die."

He shrugged again, clipping his gun to his vest and taking her hands in each of his, "You won't. You'll go to sleep..." he hesitated, knowing she could read why and knowing that hesitation lost its meaning when you could read each other's thoughts, but needing that instant to gather his courage. "And if you give some of your nanites..." his jaw clenched, wondering briefly which of them was more terrified of the thought, "Then I'll live a little longer too." {Just a few more seconds together..}

He felt the enemy getting too close and couldn't wait any longer. He pulled explosives out of his pack and stuck them to the material keeping space at bay, hoping that it would be enough to blow it. Hoping that there wasn't some damned shield out there. He pulled Elizabeth around the nearest corner to blow the charge, mentally counting down the number of steps the nearest Asuran needed to get to them.

He didn't notice Elizabeth's final acceptance of reality and he didn't feel the nanites passing through his skin. But about the time he triggered the detonator, the disjointed connection between them solidified.

{I'm controlling them. They won't control you as long as I live.}

Ignoring the fleeting terror that crawled through him at the realization that he now had nanites in his body, John let her pull them in line with the gap he'd created into airless space, feeling his lungs briefly shut down before something made him stop struggling to try to use them. When the air differential sucked at them too much even for her increased strength, Elizabeth let go the wall protrusion she'd used and let them get blown out into the frozen emptiness.

Knowing they were free of the replicators and feeling the overwhelming cold start to sear his soft tissues, John watched his hand merge with Elizabeth's, wishing he could have avoided comparing it to those mind probes.

{You don't have enough nanites to survive. This is the fastest way to transfer mine.}

In the unmoving space, their bodies locked -froze- with their eyes focused on each other in that last serious moment. But her thoughts were lighter, the Elizabeth he knew and loved having given up on anger as they finally let themselves speak to each other rather than clash and fight and strike out in anger as they'd been doing.

{You love me?}

John laughed mentally at the almost coy tone of the words, aware that his body was dying, one cell at a time... Aware that hers was too, enough human flesh left for the damage to happen. {Yes. Didn't want you to die alone. Surrounded and slowly destroyed by those...}

{Machines?}

Except that they were both machines too, now; by their own human standards. Dying flesh and blood.. and robots. If John had still believed in God and heaven, he'd have worried whether there were still souls present here too. But the future didn't matter as much as the last chance to make peace with the woman who had given his life a better path than lost wandering for the last three years.

{I am so sorry I didn't stand by you.} He neither hid nor tried to force on her the anguish he'd felt as he saw her position endangered and forced himself to play Judas; that he might retain just enough access and power to help her somehow. He wasn't made for double-dealing and knew now that in trying, he'd messed it up from both ends.

{Is that why-}

The question was utterly gentle, searching for confirmation rather than accusing; a tender care he'd only imagined he was reading in her eyes and smile now sliding into his thoughts. Nothing could make him forgive the existence of the nanites. But having this knowledge, even here at the end, had a sweetness he'd be hard-pressed to refuse. As much as he wanted to be able to make love to her all night.. at least *neither* of them died alone and abandoned. {No. I faced losing you when I had to; when it was the better alternative that I knew you would demand. I wasn't going to allow it to happen when I had a choice!} Even if the choice was to die together.

{I wanted to be angry with you.}

{Weren't you?} He thought he'd burned that bridge back then...

{No. Not really. I felt foolish for thinking you should stand by me even though you didn't agree-}

{I *would* have!}

{That's not the point anymore. I didn't blame you. I accepted that it was the end of my time on Atlantis. And when I tried to sleep... for once I didn't let myself feel guilty for dreaming...}

The ghostly images that he saw then made John mentally grin foolishly, faintly aware that his life was fading but unwilling to let that matter.

They floated peacefully, both weakening; choosing to spend their last moments exchanging quiet, almost-innocent fantasies rather than continuing to struggle through the deep dark secrets of their soon-to-end troubled lives... {John?}

His mind jerked, {I.. think I'm dying..} He refused to be sad in his last moment of life, instead focusing on the love he felt, on the feeling she was sending him; clinging to every last instant and praying that, when he was no longer there, she wouldn't begin to regret what had been his choice...

Their eyes had stopped focusing so neither saw the Apollo drop out of warp, all they knew, was that suddenly they were laying on the floor of a warm cargo hold; surrounded with cocked P-90s.

John was just barely aware of Elizabeth's hand un-merging from his, and then of the guns shifting ever so slightly, their aim suddenly more on her and more menacing, un-reasoning fear flashing in the soldiers' eyes. He threw his barely responsive body over to cover hers, yelling, "I asked her to! Don't shoot, damn it!" It wasn't that he didn't understand the fear of replicators, but he was damned if he was going to watch her die at the hands of their own people.

With his lips at her ear, he scrabbled for her hand with one of his and whispered, soto voice, "Merge them again, that way they can't just beam you away from me." He hoped, anyway.

As she did, he heard a new set of footsteps enter the room and Colonel Carter ordering the marines to stand down. The adrenaline (and the bloody nanites probably) was doing quick work of the frost damage to his body and he managed to get to his feet, keeping their hands connected and shifting slowly until Elizabeth's back was to a bulkhead as he stood in front of her, only their hands showing. {They won't shoot me so easily. And don't even think of letting me go. You *know* I won't let them hurt you. If you let them separate us they'll just kill me as I try to get to you.}

"Colonel Carter."

"Colonel Sheppard, I need you to step away-"

"No. Sorry ma'am, we don't mean anyone any harm but I'm not letting anyone separate us."

"Dr. Weir?"

"He means what he says. I'd just be making things worse to try to be the heroine."

{Think you can make one of those shields around us like the Asurans use?}

"Look colonel, just-" he stopped as he felt Elizabeth's satisfaction and saw a shield shimmer to life around them, "Just let us off at the first planet with a stargate.. we won't hurt anyone.. you have our word."

"Colonel-"

John shook his head, "I resign, by the way. And it's no use negotiating. You can't get to us... may as well let us off.. or do you really want to hand us to your scientists to take apart?"

He'd heard enough stories of the various members of SG1 being threatened to be treated like guinea pigs... he doubted she'd do it.. even more so as Elizabeth correlated his estimation.

{Do you really want to go on the run, John?}

{It's not my first choice, but compared to the alternatives? Yeah. Exile is better.} They'd *both* be treated like prisoners and dissected for their nanites if the government got a hold of them.

Colonel Carter left without another word, though the marines refrained from re-cocking their weapons at least. When she came back, less than an hour later, John and Elizabeth were sitting on the floor, within their shield but otherwise at ease, discussing what they could do, what they *had* to do for safety, what-

"Okay."

They both stood, facing her side by side, hands still merged -though more out of automatic wish for connection than anything else-. Wish that had already resulted in John hesitantly refusing Elizabeth's offer to pull her nanites back out. {I'd rather we kept in contact... and we'll need every advantage to survive...} He hadn't tried to hide that he'd have preferred to know he was free of the critters.. but then he'd far rather Elizabeth was free too. Life wasn't being kind this week.

"We'll be at a planet in two hours."

{Well.. Maybe not kind.. But not without hope either, John.}

AN: ..exile, for no other motive than ease - that would be to give up all hope of honour. The last defeat, with no seed of future victory in it.- Lois McMasters Bujold, Shards of honour