ShaViva's Stargate Fan ... Stuff

Inconceivable!

Forlorn Hope: Part Five

Chapter 26: Intimate Inferno

After a long and now familiar walk through the forest Lorne and his team arrived at the Ancient site. It was large enough that for a moment it looked deserted, but then Lorne heard the sounds of talking off towards the edge of the ruins.

"Kennedy?" he called out, his team following behind him.

"Sir?" The Captain sounded surprised. "Is something wrong?" he asked, moving out into the open.

"At ease Captain," Lorne said reassuringly. "We're not here for you ... I do need to speak with Doctor Darnell though."

"Evan?" Prue walked from behind a column, frowning. "What are you doing here? Why aren't you in the infirmary?"

"Carson released me so I could follow up on what happened on P88-013," Lorne said matter-of-factly. "Since you're here already maybe you could help me out."

"Maybe," Prue moved forward, a small smile now playing over her face. "What are you looking for exactly?"

"Coughlin, Reed, set up camp," Evan ordered. His team occupied, he urged Prue to walk with him. "I'm not sure what I'm looking for," he admitted. "Have you translated enough of these to know what they represent?" he nodded towards the nearest columns.

"They talk of significant events, much like the ones on P88-013," Prue said. "We don't have evidence like we did from King Arkon to prove their authenticity but some of them tell of pretty key events that post date when the columns were carved."

"Like what?"

"Here," Prue took his hand and led him through the trees to a column at the very edge of the outer circle. "At the beginning of the eleventh millennia," she translated, "the great city will return from its hidden depths, and awaken will the scourge of the galaxy."

"Colonel Sheppard waking the Wraith is mentioned?" Evan narrowed his eyes at the stone.

"I believe so, yes," Prue agreed simply.

"Is there some kind of order to these, like a time line or something?" Lorne glanced around at what looked to him like a random arrangement of stones.

"No, and there are a lot of words carved on each stone, some in very early dialects I still don't have a reliable translation for," Prue sighed. "It's going to take us a long time to make sense of this, let alone work out how we can use the information to our advantage."

"What about self fulfilling prophesies?" Evan stopped, leaning against a tree and folding his arms over his chest.

"You mean knowledge of a coming event influencing how you behave, so much that you make that event happen?" Prue looked thoughtful. "You think that if we read of events that haven't happened yet we'll be so convinced they're going to come true that we'll change the way we react?"

"Something like that," Evan agreed.

"The statements I've translated so far are all big events, some of them acts of nature," Prue revealed. "I don't see how mere human behaviour could have ever influenced them. Knowledge that they were going to happen could have been used to evacuate people sooner - it would have saved lives." She watched him thinking it over for a moment and then moved closer, putting her hands over his folded forearms. "So, what did the column say?"

"What column?" Lorne asked innocently.

"The one that has you worried you're going to make something happen simply because you heard it," Prue said pointedly. "You might as well tell me because I won't let up until you do."

Evan met her eyes, his suddenly lacking that sparkle they usually had. "Look, I'm not sure I even believe all this, but from what Daniel translated, at some point my death is going to save the ascended Ancients."

"What?" Prue let go abruptly, stepping back, her expression stony shock and fear in equal parts. "Tell me exactly what it said!"

"I can't remember it word for word Prue," Evan protested. "And getting thrown into next week kind of put what I might have been able to recall out of my head."

"Can you just try?" Prue asked, her voice low.

"Okay," Evan watched her as he thought. "Ah ... at the end of some cycle, can't remember the number, the one from a distant world will return ... ah ... signalling the end for the enlightened. Only with the ultimate sacrifice will the good guys win. Daniel said the enlightened are the ascended ancients, and the sacrifice means death."

"And he thinks you're the one from a distant world?" Prue concluded, her expression troubled.

"Ah, yeah, because of what happened the first time I was there," Lorne shrugged. "This was before I knew I had the ATA gene. I went with Daniel because Colonel Maybourne had something he wanted to show General O'Neill. Turned out to be some kind of pyramid thing which I accidentally turned on and then had to switch off again before it blew up the entire village. After Daniel grilled Maybourne, he admitted to setting things up because of something he read on one of those columns."

"Can you remember what that one said?"

"Same reference to a cycle, then one from a distant world will come and with some guys pyramid claim the power of the Ancestors," Lorne shrugged again. "As far as they've mapped out their timeline there, it was about right and the pyramid did kind of announce to everyone that I had the gene."

"I don't understand," Prue muttered, turning away and wrapping her arms around her middle. "Why would they have foreseen your death? It makes no sense!" She paced back and forth, her expression telling Evan that her brain was going a mile a minute.

"Who are they?" he demanded.

"What?" Prue looked startled, blinking repeatedly.

"You said why would they have foreseen my death," Lorne repeated. "Who are they?"

"The people who carved these columns," Prue said. "I've never seen the death of an individual referenced specifically. These are history shaping events Evan."

"Maybe Daniel has it wrong," Evan suggested. He grimaced suddenly, remembering some additional words from the first prophesy. Fate of galaxies ... that did have a history shaping sound to it. Shaking of that thought Evan continued. "Just in case he doesn't, have you seen any reference to 'one from a distant world' on the columns you have looked at?"

"Not so far, but we've barely scratched the surface," Prue admitted.

"Well, keep an eye out for it," Lorne requested. "Specifically anything about a test being able to confirm who it's referring to."

"Is that what happened?" Prue's gaze sharpened. "They tested you?"

"There's that 'they' again," Lorne protested. "Look, I'm guessing that yes, some kind of test was attached to that column. I want to know what, why and who. I'm hoping something you find here will tell me."

"I'll keep looking," Prue promised earnestly. "Can you tell me what happened ... when they tested you I mean?"

"Ah," Evan took her hand, urging her to walk with him again. "It was all a little 'out of this world' – out of any world," he began. "The column with the prophesy Daniel says is about me had a note at the bottom about proving who it was talking about. General O'Neill came, put his hand on it, nothing happened."

"But when you touched the column?" Prue asked.

"I got slammed into the dirt," Evan replied. "Felt like something was trying to rip me apart from the inside." He shook his head. "I have no idea what it wanted but it felt like something real to me. Doctor Lam thinks it was trying to rewrite my DNA – specifically the ATA gene. If it had succeeded there'd be no more Puddle Jumper flying for me."

Prue looked pale and troubled ... and angry, although not at him. "This is unacceptable," she muttered, turning to pace away from him.

"Something carved by a bunch of people long dead is apparently predicting my death and you label it 'unacceptable'?" Lorne queried incredulously, folding his arms over his chest. "Gee thanks ... honey." His sarcastic tone and disgruntled expression made it clear he didn't mean that title as an endearment.

Prue turned abruptly, her eyes shooting to his. "Oh God, I'm sorry," she rushed forward, grabbing one of his arms and tugging insistently. Evan resisted for a moment but then, with a sigh, relented, letting her shift him until she could retake his hand. When she tugged again he let her urge him into continuing their walk through the trees. "You're right," she said, walking close enough to hug his arm to her side. "I'm not being very girlfriendy, am I?"

"Girlfriendy?" Evan smirked. "You're a linguist and that's the best you can do?"

"Shut up," she slapped his shoulder impatiently. "You know what I mean. I'm just ... this scares me Evan. I can't ... I won't stand by and watch something happen to you. I want to understand, but I feel like half the puzzle has been erased and we're trying to solve it with what's left, with no big picture to guide us."

"I know how that is," Evan said pointedly, refusing to feel guilty when she shot him a pained look, her face paling. Just because he'd decided to give her time and space didn't mean he had to keep quiet about not liking the deal she'd forced him into. Although, really, she hadn't forced him into anything. He'd gone there willingly all by himself just for the chance to be with her ... because clearly he enjoyed frustrating himself with what he couldn't have and denying himself what he could. "You are one messed up soldier," he told himself ruefully.

"We need to translate everything here as soon as possible," Prue announced decisively, her mind still on the threat to Evan posed by the prophesies. "Once we have everything, maybe an alternative interpretation or a way to stop these events from happening will emerge."

"My team is here overnight," Lorne revealed. "Anything we can do to help?"

"You guys are good at directions, right?"

"If by guys you mean men in general then yes, we are good at directions," Evan smirked, amused when she shook her head at him. "Right, you mean my guys specifically. Okay, forget Reed - the directions gene passed him up big time. Nate is passable, Jimmy's pretty good. I, of course, always know exactly where I am."

"Of course," Prue smiled up at him. "If what you say is accurate and not just grandstanding meant to impress me, then yes you can help me. I need a complete map of this entire site to document where all the columns are located. We couldn't do anything GPS related because of the tree cover and it's been tough going with all these trunks interspersing the stones. Once I have that, constructing a time line will be that much easier."

"We can help you with that," Lorne promised. "I'll radio Atlantis, check in, and then we're all yours."

Prue smiled. "I like the sound of that."

oOo

Both teams worked well in tandem, getting lots of work done before the light fell too much and Lorne called it done for the day. The weather had shifted and it was cold under the trees, leading to the unanimous decision to make the hour walk to the village rather than stay at the site.

Teneo and his granddaughter welcomed them like family, insisting they all stay with them. Kara quickly added places to the table, urging them to sit down for the evening meal. After eating, Reed and Cheung took first watch, leaving the others off duty. Coughlin went one further, insisting that Evan wouldn't need to take a watch that night, especially since he'd just returned from weeks spent in the infirmary. Lorne had reluctantly agreed – with Kennedy's team there as well there were plenty of people to cover all watch periods.

He should have gone inside, tried to get some sleep, but his mind was too active for that. Pleading the need to stretch his legs he took a torch and walked through the village, continuing towards a small rise he'd noticed the first time they'd been there.

It was further away than he remembered but when he got there and looked up at the clear view of the sky above, well worth the trip. Lying down in the grass Evan looked up, letting his mind wonder where it willed as he looked for recognisable shapes amongst the stars. He was half drifting to the sound of blades of grass rustling in the wind, his mind on everything but the changing landscape of cloud rushing in to shut out the starlight, when the first drop hit him square in the forehead, followed quickly by several more.

Rain.

While he'd been daydreaming a storm had come in on that wind. Cursing, Evan jumped up and ran back down towards the village.

The rain was heavy, soaking him through before he'd gotten half way. It was getting dangerous too, the ground quickly turning to mud that he slipped and slid through. When he got back to the village he was panting, dripping water and looking like something the cat wouldn't bother to drag in.

Not wanting to cop flack from Reed or Cheung, Lorne skirted the outermost dwellings, heading for Teneo's back porch.

"Evan?" Prue's voice froze him in place.

"Hey," he said, turning and slicking his hair back from his face, water running down one cheek and dripping from his eyelashes. "Nice weather we're having huh?" he added nonchalantly.

"You went out in that?" Prue asked pointedly. She was sitting on a bench against the wall, watching the rain.

"Of course not," Evan shot back, moving closer. "I went out before it started raining."

"Well, you can't go inside like that," Prue said insistently, gesturing to where he was creating a muddy puddle on the floor, his boots caked in dirt.

"Is that an invitation for me to strip?" Lorne raised a brow suggestively.

"Not in the way you mean!" Prue glared up at him impatiently.

"That's a pity," Evan said in a low tone. She was right though - he couldn't go inside the way he was. Turning away he slowly unbuttoning his shirt to reveal the t-shirt he wore underneath, also mostly saturated. Pealing the shirt from his arms he dropped it to the porch with a wet splat and then pulled the bottom of his t-shirt from his pants. Looking for a relatively dry patch he bent low, wiping at his wet face.

Prue made a small sound, a kind of gasp that caught Evan's attention.

When he looked back to her he caught her with a look on her face that went straight to his groin ... desire. Her eyes were wide and she'd leaned forward from her seat, watching him silently. She was taking in his body, sculpted by wet fabric to reveal every muscle, her gaze fixed on the hints of stomach and abdomen he'd exposed. The invisible connection between them drew him closer until he was kneeling in front of her, raising a hand to stroke her hair.

"Do you have any idea how much I want to muss you up right now Prue?" he asked, threading a hand behind her head and cupping it gently.

The rain pounded outside, thick enough to veil them on the porch. The sound of it created an intimacy too, drowning out the noises that might have reminded them of others still awake inside. In the sudden cold their breath misted into the air, mingling as it rose and then faded.

Without a word Prue reached behind her, quickly pulling hair pins and dropping them carelessly to the floor. She watched as Evan responded to the gesture, his eyes on her hair as he drew it between his fingers, caressing away the curls left over from her usual style until it fell low on her back.

"It's a start," Evan murmured, using his clasp on her head to draw her to him.

When he kissed her something inside both of them snapped. She leapt into his arms as he caught her, staggering to his feet, both of them already spinning until they slammed into the wall. Prue wrapped her legs around him, her hands in his hair, oblivious to the chill from his wet clothes or the fact that he was making her clothes damp too. Evan devoured her mouth as he wanted to possess her body, branding her as his with teeth and tongue and the fire of his passion. She was with him all the way, equally intent on wiping every rational thought from his head.

When she tugged at his t-shirt he made room for her to peel it off him, raising his arms when she ran her hands over him. The shirt hit the deck with another wet splat, forgotten when Evan pulled Prue back to him, shivering as her hands clutched at his bare back. They should have been cold but Lorne was flushed with the internal heat of desire for Prue.

"Your pants," she muttered between kisses. "Wet," she gave the one word explanation distractedly, surging up against him enough that there was no way he could hide how much he wanted her.

"Right," Evan set her to her feet, dropped to untie his boots, ripping them off and tossing them aside. When he moved his hands to the fastening on his pants hers were already there, unbuttoning and then sliding her hands under the waistband to cup his ass. The heat from her hands seared him and shot his pulse sky high. "You're killing me here," he ground out, trying to keep enough control to make it memorable for both of them.

"Don't care," she muttered, jerking him closer in a gesture that screamed of need.

It got a little blurry after that - his pants falling to the ground beneath him, cool breezes gusting over his bare legs coupled with her fingers ghosting over his skin, his decision that he needed to equal his lack of clothing by stripping her down to her underwear too. He had just enough presence of mind to utter in one word the need to protect her, everything in him relieved beyond measure when she reassured him that she had it covered already.

"Prue," he whispered her name, lifting her and supporting her weight against the wall wth his own strength, gentle this time.

"Evan," she whispered, pulling back to smile at him. "Are you finally going to give in and do the deed?" she teased, her eyes shining up at him.

"We're going to make love until we can't see straight," Evan promised in return.

"Love?" she asked wistfully.

"Oh, hell yes," Evan grinned, raining kisses across her lips and down her neck.

It wasn't how he'd imagined it because never would he have envisaged them off world getting intimate together on a rain shrouded porch ... his fantasies had all run to a more conventional setting that included a comfortable bed and a long slow seduction. Far from that, the two of them, up against a wall, fast and furious, was about as perfect as it got.

oOo

They spent the night on the porch, listening to the storm rage itself across the landscape until finally all was quiet again. His clothes dry enough that he could ignore any discomfort, Lorne sat on the bench with his back to the wall, Prue resting against his chest. He had his arms around her, both of them needed a physical connection to go along with the continuation of intimacy created by just talking. The focus was on the simple things, what they liked about Atlantis, the easy staff and the ones who were a challenge to work with. Movies, music ... his passion for art and hers for books ... the sun was close to rising before the conversation turned to family.

Evan started out slow, telling Prue about his visit to his sister.

"I don't know how Elaine does it," he said after describing his first day there. "Seriously, I don't remember being that tired even after the most gruelling mission. Jon could give Ronon a run for his money on energy levels and talk McKay into the ground at the same time."

"You love them," Prue said softly, turning so her cheek rested over his heart.

"Yeah," Evan smiled. "From a kid's point of view life is just so straight forward, you know? No pretence - if they love you there's no way you won't know it, but they let you know pretty quick if you mess it up too. You know where you stand. I like that."

"You would," Prue leaned up and kissed him firmly.

"What was that for?" Evan asked, bemused.

"You're just so ... nice ... so honourable," she replied.

"Oh," Evan hoped he wasn't a red as he felt. Silly to be embarrassed by her compliment but he was. He let the silence build for a few minutes and then took things where he'd wanted them to go from the moment he first mentioned his family. "What about you Prue? Do you have family back home?"

"This is home to me Evan," she said.

"Yeah, okay, I get that," Evan replied. "Doesn't mean you don't have things - people - back on Earth to miss."

Prue remained silent for long enough that he was about to press her for some kind of response. "Tell me about your Mom," she requested softly.

"My Mom?" Evan's brow rose in surprise. "Ah, okay, sure," he thought for a moment. What could he say about his Mom? "She's strong ... had to be, raising two children by herself." He sighed. "My Dad was killed in an accident when I was ten."

"Oh Evan," Prue's arms tightened over his, her tone an expression of sadness on his behalf.

"It was tough, for all of us," Evan continued. "She kept us together as a family, taught art at a local college ... taught Elaine and me the values I still live by."

"She sounds amazing," Prue said, her voice low, sad.

"She is," Evan agreed. "She has that Mom way of making everything seem a little easier to bear ... still has the power to make me feel like a naughty kid too."

"It's been a long time since I had that. Where I came from is nothing like your family," Prue turned her head so Evan couldn't see her expression. "There's expectation I guess you'd call it, that you'll do what you're told, be what they want you to be, nothing more, nothing less."

"And if you're not?" Evan asked gently.

Prue stiffened and pulled away. He let her go because he had to, watching as she got up, folding her arms over her chest. "There is no choice," she said roughly.

"There's always a choice Prue," Evan countered, getting to his feet and taking her arms. He felt close to finally understanding a key element of her and it drove him to persist despite his earlier resolve to give her space. "Aren't you here in the Pegasus galaxy right now because you made a choice?"

"You make it sound simple Evan, but it isn't," Prue looked at him, her expression pained.

"Then tell me how it is," he demanded abruptly.

"I can't," Prue cried, pulling her arms free and turning away.

"No, Prue," Evan said forcefully. "That isn't the way it works anymore, not after last night. I'm not just some guy anymore."

"I knew this would happen!" Prue glared up at him. "We had sex Evan, end of story."

"It was more than that and you know it," he shot back, echoes from the past driving his anger up rapidly. "I love you Prue. Those aren't just words to me."

"You don't even know me Evan!" That was pain, not unfeeling carelessness, and it had his anger dropping away abruptly.

"I do," Evan insisted, leaning down to let her see the certainty in his eyes. "I do know you Prue. You're opinionated and stubborn and mysterious to the point it's driving me crazy not being able to understand all of you. And you're smart ... more than I want to think about most of the time." He lifted a hand and trailed the back of his fingers down her cheek, smiling. "You're strong and dedicated and willing to work every hour of the day to do what you say you'll do. You're a beautiful person Prue, inside and out, even with that prickly, stubborn shell you've built around yourself." He took a composing breath and then finished it. "Every thought I have about the future has you in it now ... and I want nothing more than to take away the pain I can see inside you right now." He cupped her face in his hands. "I can help you Prue, if you'll let me."

"Oh God, why did you have to be so damned ... perfect?" Prue almost spat the word out, making it clear it wasn't a compliment. Stepping off the porch she looked up at the sky, stretching out her arms imploringly. "I can't do this anymore," she shouted. "I can't!" Looking straight at Evan she shuddered. "I love you Evan Lorne, enough to know that I'm no good for you. Run now, before I hurt you."

With that she spun away, breaking into a run.

"Prue, wait!" Evan shot after her, rounding the house and almost crashing into Teneo. Grabbing the old man's arms he just barely managed to stop both of them from tumbling into the dirt. "Teneo! Sorry. I was just ...,"

"Giving your friend some space?" Teneo suggested quietly.

"I ah ...," Evan's shoulders dropped as he mentally acknowledged the other man's message. There was no point in pushing Prue. "You're right," he said on a sigh.

"Sometimes the course of love isn't as smooth as we would like it to be," Teneo offered that piece of wisdom with a hand to Lorne's shoulder.

"In this case I have to agree," Lorne frowned. "Prue's not ... she's not what I expected at all." "And wasn't that the understatement of the year," he thought ruefully.

"But she's what you want," Teneo finished with a fond smile.

"Yeah," Evan laughed. "Most days I feel like its one step forward and about a hundred steps back."

"An apt description," Teneo agreed. "Perhaps you would care to join me for breakfast Evan?"

"Sure, thanks," Lorne agreed. He knew Teneo would claim old age as an excuse and then ask too many questions about Prue but for once Evan didn't think he'd even mind. As far as distractions went, the old man had a way of keeping you on your toes!

oOo

Leaving Teneo straight after breakfast Lorne had the guys guarding the gate dial Atlantis for the morning check-in, expecting things on Atlantis to be as he'd left them the day before.

"Major Lorne, I need you to return to Atlantis as soon as possible," Doctor Weir told him the instance the signal was established.

"Yes Ma'am. Is there a problem I need to be aware of before I get there?"

"There are no current threats to the city Major," Weir replied. "We received a distress call from Taranis just after you left yesterday. The details aren't important save for the fact that their settlement is under threat from an active volcano."

Warning bells went off in Evan's head and he stiffened, waiting for what he knew was coming next.

"The volcano is in the process of erupting – I only just made it back with some of the Taranans," Elizabeth continued. "The wormhole shut down unexpectedly and we've been unable to re-establish a connection."

"Let me guess Ma'am," Lorne spoke up. "Colonel Sheppard and his team are still on the planet."

"Yes," Weir confirmed. "And Doctor Beckett. The Daedalus has already been diverted to Taranis to continue the evacuation. I have Chancellor Lycus of Taranis here ... we haven't received word from Colonel Caldwell as yet. In any case, in Colonel Sheppard's absence you're in command of the military."

"Yes Ma'am. I'm on my way but it'll take me at least a couple of hours to get to the gate."

"Understood Major," Elizabeth replied. "We'll see you when you get here."

Closing the channel, Evan quickly radioed his team to meet him at Teneo's, before trying to contact Prue.

"I'm busy Major," she said quickly.

"Don't do that Prue," Evan protested. "Look, I'm not trying to start up our conversation from before, okay. Doctor Weir has requested my team return immediately."

"What happened?" Prue's voice shifted into concern.

"Colonel Sheppard's team and half a population of locals are on the wrong side of a volcano with no Stargate," Evan summarised grimly. "Where are you anyway?"

"I decided to get an early start at the site," Prue admitted. "Captain Kennedy's with me and Kara too."

"Right," Evan sighed. "Listen, there's no reason for you to cut short your time here. Just do what the Captain tells you, okay?"

"Of course." Lorne was sure she was rolling her eyes at his caution.

"Of course," he repeated, drawing it out. "We'll talk when you get back."

There was silence and he shook his head ... how had something that had been going pretty damn fantastic nose dived into the silent treatment? "Prue?" he queried insistently.

"Fine," she said ungraciously.

"Be careful," he ordered, all set to end the transmission.

"Evan! Wait!" Prue said, her voice shifting from all business to filled with remorse. "I'm sorry I ran off like that. Just ... be careful too."

Before he could reply she'd ended the call herself, leaving him standing there, frown firmly in place.

"Major?" Coughlin called him back to himself with a start.

"Sergeant, sorry," he ran a hand through his hair, agitated. "Doctor Weir needs us back in Atlantis."

"We're all set to go," Nate confirmed.

Nodding, Evan led the way through the village, stopping to ask someone to let Teneo know they'd been called back but that Doctor Darnell and her team were staying.

"Trouble in paradise Sir?" Coughlin asked, something in the way Lorne said Prue's name suggesting there was.

Lorne shot him a narrow eyed gaze and remained silent, neither confirming nor denying his 2ICs conclusion. He was tired after a night of no sleep, something he was noticing now that the rush of energy he'd felt in finally being with Prue had faded.

"It'll be worth it in the end Sir," Nate offered that positive perspective, having rightly made up his own mind on the most likely answer to his question.

"It had better be," Evan murmured grimly. With the threat to Colonel Sheppard, Evan was no longer in the mood to be contemplating the various ways he'd screwed up with Prue since arriving on the planet. There'd be time enough for those thoughts once the current crisis was over.

 

Chapter 27: Banking the fire.

With Colonel Sheppard absent it was Lorne's job to stand in his place and he did so with a firm focus that didn't allow room for personal concerns. Part of him was stewing on the fact that Prue was back on three two two and that she'd been unwilling to open up to him, but it was all under the surface, subconscious stuff.

He'd gotten so good at taking care of things on Atlantis that it hardly crossed his mind to wish he could be on the Daedalus helping with the evacuation. What he did was important, more so this time because those who'd made it through the gate needed to be settled, and many of them were understandably upset. When the Daedalus returned from the first trip and beamed down more people, things got a little crazy – they just didn't have one place to put so many and had to separate them between two locations.

"Excuse me, Maj-or?"

Lorne looked up from the list of refugees compiled by one of the other teams to see an older woman standing in front of him.

"Major Lorne, Ma'am. Is there something I can help you with?" he queried, his expression receptive.

"A young man spoke to us a while ago," the woman explained. "He was making a record of who was here?"

"That's right," Evan turned the screen so she could see. "Are you looking for someone in particular Ma'am?"

"My son," the woman said in a rush, meeting Evan's eyes with a hopeful look.

"What's his name?"

"Mica," she watched as Evan scanned his list. "Mica Tarpen?"

Lorne looked at each name carefully and then shook his head regretfully. "I'm sorry Ma'am. He's not listed here right now, but don't worry okay. This is just the first group our ship has evacuated. More people will be coming back on its next trip."

The woman nodded but stayed where she was, seemingly unable to decide what to do next.

"Ma'am, can I ask your name?" Lorne queried, knowing he couldn't just leave her standing there.

"Hestel – Hes – Tarpen," she replied, eyes tracking the people around her anxiously.

"Is there anyone else you could wait with Hes?" Evan kept his tone gentle and open.

"Josta?"

Lorne felt relief when he found a Josta Pol only a few names from the top of the newly added names. "He's here," Evan held out his arm, patting the woman's when she clutched his elbow tightly. "We'll go and find him right now, okay. And you have my word that as soon as I get the list for the next group I'll look for your son."

"Thank you," Hes smiled. "You're a nice boy Major."

Lorne chuckled. "It's been a long time since anyone called me a boy Ma'am."

"It depends on where you stand Major," Hes said sagely. "You appear to be younger than my own son," she let out a rushed breath at the reminder of her uncertainty over his safety, before making an effort to smile up at Evan.

"Well then, I'll just say thank you for the compliment," Lorne replied, leading Hes into the second room where refugees were ranged out waiting for word of what would happen next. "Can you see Josta anywhere?"

Hes looked and then nodded eagerly. "Over there Major, in the corner."

"Okay, I'll escort you over there," Evan gently urged Hes to walk through the crowd.

"You have people on Taranis too?" Hes asked as they walked.

"Yeah, my commanding officer and his team, and our chief medical officer," Lorne admitted. "It's hard not to worry, isn't it?" he said with empathy.

"Yes," Hes replied. "Yes it is."

"Hes!" the man who must be Josta rushed forward and gathered the older woman into his arms. "I am so happy to see you already safe. We were so worried!"

"I'll leave you to catch up Ma'am," Lorne put a hand to the woman's shoulder to get her attention.

"Thank you Major," she gave Evan a small smile, her worry for her son still clearly evident.

"Don't worry – I'm sure I'll be coming back to talk to you soon about your son," Lorne promised. He couldn't guarantee it of course but there was no point in reminding Hes of what she already knew. Being positive was never a bad thing ... there was always time enough to begin handling it if the news didn't turn out well.

oOo

The following hours, passing too slowly, were more of the same – reassuring people who couldn't sleep for fear of what bad news they'd hear when they awoke, or worse what they'd dream while asleep. And who could blame them? If MacKay was right, (and how likely was it that he wasn't?) then these people had lost their home, their entire planet. When the volcano blew it would make Taranis unliveable for a very long time to come.

It had been about six hours since the Daedalus headed back to Taranis for a second group of refugees when Doctor Weir came to see Evan with a man she introduced as Chancellor Lycus, leader of the Taranan people.

"Major Lorne has been assisting in settling and reassuring your people Chancellor," Elizabeth explained.

"Then I thank you Major," Lycus said simply.

"It's been a tough day for everyone Chancellor," Lorne offered. "I don't envy you the task ahead but you have a great group of people here. Resilient, positive ... the kind of spirit you'll need to rebuild."

"We are a strong community," Lycus gave Evan a half smile of gratitude.

"It's rebuilding that I wanted to talk to you about Major," Doctor Weir began. "If Doctor McKay's predictions prove accurate then the Chancellor and his people will be unable to return to their homes for a significant period. Regardless of the outcome it makes sense for us to plan with that contingency in mind. I'd like you to confer with Doctor Zelenka on a suitable planet for relocation and then take your team to confirm it will suffice."

"Yes Ma'am," Lorne acknowledged. "I'll have someone work out resource requirements and check our available stores and what was due in on the Daedalus as well – we can prepare a plan for when Colonel Caldwell gets here."

"Very good Major," Elizabeth smiled appreciatively. "The Chancellor and I will leave you to it – come and see me when you have a list of possibilities."

Nodding, Lorne watched them walk away, the Chancellor stopping frequently to talk to his people as Elizabeth escorted him back towards the entrance.

"Radek, its Lorne. You got a minute?" he radioed the scientist briskly.

"Of course Major," Radek replied. "You require something?"

"Yeah, help with finding our refugees a new place to live," Evan summarised. "Meet me in the control room."

"On my way," Radek agreed.

oOo

"What about this one?" Evan pointed to one of the planets on their list.

"The average temperature is listed as sixty degrees Fahrenheit," Radek pushed his glassed up on his nose as he squinted at the screen. "Taranis average was closer to one hundred."

"So they'll get a little cold," Lorne shrugged. "We're kind of scrapping the barrel here Radek."

"We can expand beyond planets within the same region Major ... or there is M5O-812."

"Okay, tell me about that one," Evan requested.

"Average temperature is lower than their home planet but within acceptable range, yes?" Radek began. "Terrain has similarities. Best of all it is some distance from the route's Wraith ships most often take."

"So it won't be a stopping point for mid trip culling," Lorne concluded.

"No, although Wraith behaviour has been less predictable of late," Radek glanced around the control room and then shifted to speak confidentially. "This lone hive ship on approach is puzzling, no?"

"What lone ... we have a Wraith ship heading for the city?" Evan demanded in a low tone.

"Yes, three weeks out," Radek looked surprised. "Doctor Weir did not tell you?"

"Briefing the senior staff wouldn't have been on the top of her list of priorities," Lorne pointed out. "Especially since half her senior staff are still stuck on a doomed planet."

"Yes, this is a good point," Radek nodded.

"One hive ship," Lorne mused. "A scout maybe? If we're right and they have spies enough to have heard rumours about our movements throughout the galaxy, then they'd send someone to see if Atlantis is still here."

"It makes sense to take that approach, yes," Radek agreed. "The Wraith are not known for good sense though."

"No, so it's really anyone's guess what they want," Lorne shook his head. "That's a danger that's still three weeks away though. Getting these people a place to stay is something we need to do right now."

"M5O-812?" Radek suggested again.

Lorne looked at the summary on the screen and the small image included from the database. It looked idyllic in many respects, a nice forest of trees, twin mountains in the distance, large field of grassland in between. "Seismic activity?"

"Nothing mentioned," Radek shifted in his seat, looking at Lorne. "Well?"

"It'll do," Lorne decided. "Go tell Doctor Weir – I'll get my team moving on bringing in some supplies. You wanna come along when we head out Radek, help us check it out?"

"No thank you Major," Radek gave an exaggerated shudder. "I prefer to stay here where it is safe and free from zły dzieci – naughty children," he added when Evan looked puzzled. "After M7G-677 I decided Atlantis is the place for me."

"Fair enough," Lorne stood. "Thanks for your help Doctor," he said.

"Good luck Major," Radek replied.

oOo

Lorne's team cruised the area around the gate in a Puddle Jumper, going out as far as half a day's travel by foot, looking for obvious signs of trouble. All they found were plenty of trees and that wide field of grass leading up to the mountains. Evan accessed the scanners, looking for anything less obvious.

"There's something down there, in that field," he narrowed his eyes. "A large space below the ground. No life signs though. I'm taking us down there for a closer look."

"Ex Genii maybe?" Coughlin suggested as Lorne landed the Jumper in the open grassland. Grabbing the handheld scanner Evan led the way outside, consulting the instrument reading before choosing a direction to walk in.

"It's not Ancient," he said decisively ... even without any kind of energy reading it was something that Evan just knew. "Could be left over from another race though, like those people Doctor Beckett helped with that vaccine."

"The Hoffans Sir?" Reed asked.

"Yeah, them," Evan agreed. "If one civilisation can develop enough to build the kind of city they had, no reason why others couldn't as well."

"True," Nate agreed.

The soil and grass had overgrown whatever was underneath but with the aid of ancient technology Evan was able to locate a trapdoor still mostly accessible. A bit of ad hoc 'gardening' and they'd made an opening and were peering down into a dark corridor. Again Lorne took the lead, climbing down the ladder and moving aside to allow room for the rest of the team.

It was cold and dark and the dust was heavy in the air. Switching the light on his P-90 on, Lorne shone it forwards, the beam reflecting off the walls of a long corridor. They were on an open balcony of sorts – one of what looked like at least three similar levels. It put him in mind of a prison – a large multi-level central area and then the open walkways with closed doors at regular intervals. Each had a small window located high up ... the kind that could be used to check on the occupants without having to open the door.

"Whatever this place is, whoever built this, they're long gone," he observed.

"Do we need to check out the whole facility, Sir?" Coughlin asked.

"Just to be sure, yeah," Evan replied, unwilling to risk the safety of the Taranans given the loss they'd already suffered on their own world. The team continued along the walkway, checking inside rooms at every door they came to, until they'd reached the stairs at the end. "Reed, you're with me. Nate, take Jimmy and see what's on the next level up. Radio me before you go up another level. Dan and I will take the lower ones."

The team split into two pairs, Coughlin and Cheung jogging up the stairs while Lorne and Reed ran down them. The sound of the other team's movements could be clearly heard, their torches bouncing light off the grey concrete walls.

"It's a shame, isn't it Sir," Reed commented.

"That this place is abandoned?" Lorne queried. "Given it probably means whoever built this is no longer around, yeah it is a shame. Makes you wonder what these people could have achieved if the Wraith weren't continually culling everyone back to pre industrial status."

It took a while but eventually they'd completed a quick inspection of the entire structure, enough to satisfy Lorne that it was safe to send the Taranans there to live.

"Okay, let's head back and give Chancellor Lycus the good news," Lorne advised.

oOo

There was good news for Evan on their return to Atlantis. Rodney McKay had come through again, fixing the Ancient ship, Hippaforalkus, and bringing with him the remaining Taranans. They were still a long way from being reunited with their people on Atlantis though ... and still had a large amount of work to do to create anything approaching what Taranis had been.

"Major Lorne," Doctor Weir greeted him with an expectant look.

"M5O-812 checks out Ma'am," Lorne reported, falling into step with Elizabeth as they walked up the steps to the Control Room. "There's evidence of a prior civilisation but no signs of any human activity for a long time."

"Well done Major," Elizabeth smiled, relieved. "I'll just inform Chancellor Lycus."

Nodding she quickly moved off to do just that, leaving Lorne at a loose end. Given the news though there was one thing he could do.

"Hes?" he approached the older woman, not wanting to interrupt her conversation.

"Major," Hes smiled hopefully. "You have news?"

"I do," Evan smiled back. "One of our scientists managed to get your Ancient ship working enough to launch it into space. Our team and all the remaining people on the surface have been evacuated successfully."

"My son," Hes slumped in relief, glancing at her companion with a sigh. "We were so worried Major."

"I understand." Lorne didn't think he'd be speaking out of school to give them further news. "It's not confirmed yet but given the damage Doctor McKay has estimated from their observations of the volcanic eruption, the damage will be too severe for you to return there for a long time," he said regretfully. "I'm really sorry Hes ... but we have found your people another planet so that you can relocate and start building again."

"It is what we are used to," Hes said complacently. "We are hard working – we will recreate what has been recreated many times in the past."

"The Wraith?"

"They come periodically, force us back into darker times, but we always manage to prevail," Hes nodded. "We will do so again."

"I'm sure you will," Lorne took the hand she offered and shook it, wishing her well before taking his leave.

"Major," Doctor Weir greeted him just as he was leaving the Tanaran's room.

"Yes Ma'am?"

"Have you had a chance to rest Major?" Elizabeth looked at him carefully.

"Not exactly Ma'am," Lorne admitted, deliberately not mentioning he was loading up another really late night on top of his sleepless one off world with Prue. "If you need me for something else I'm good to go."

"Since it was your team who assessed M5O-812 I thought it would be beneficial for you to escort Chancellor Lycus and a selection of his senior staff to the planet," Weir admitted. "They will select a site so that we can begin bringing in supplies."

"Happy to assist Ma'am," Evan agreed. He was tired – after about eight hours with the Taranans and then another four on their new planet it had been a long day.

"Thank you Major," Elizabeth hesitated before continuing. "Captain Kennedy is due to check in soon Evan. I'd be happy to pass on any messages you might have."

"Ah," Lorne just stopped himself from groaning aloud. The city leader knew about his relationship with Prue too? Could he possibly be any more embarrassed? "That's ah ... that's generous of you Ma'am but I'm sure the standard update on what's been happening in the city will suffice."

"Not that you need it Major, but you have my approval," Elizabeth said quietly. "We need more examples that life should be lived here as it is anywhere, despite the seriousness of the threats we face." She smiled. "And I can see I've embarrassed you so I'll stop talking now. Perhaps you could pass on my regards to Doctor Darnell. I'd enjoy the chance to get to know her better – beyond the very detailed progress reports she provides me with."

"I'll mention it to her Ma'am," Lorne said, hoping like hell she was done, before he embarrassed himself further by flushing visibly.

Smiling, Doctor Weir nodded and then left him to it.

"Well, that was embarrassing," Lorne muttered, turning in the opposite direction and almost crashing into Nate Coughlin.

"What was embarrassing Sir?" Nate asked curiously.

"Nothing I'm going to share with you Sergeant," Evan retorted. "You're just the man I want to see though. Round up the team, we're going back to eight one two – got a group of Taranan higher-ups to show around and a settlement site to select."

"Yes Sir," Coughlin straightened, shifting back into business mode with ease.

oOo

Finally the really long day was over ... Colonel Sheppard and his team were back in the city and the Taranan's had been relocated. There was more to be done for them but it wouldn't be his team's job to assist. Evan would still want to check in with them on a regular basis, offer manpower at the very least, but for now he could call it a day.

When he got back to his quarters he swiped open the doors absentmindedly, already shrugging off his jacket.

"You're back."

Prue's voice from the darkness had him stopping abruptly.

"So are you I see," he recovered quickly, thinking the lights on low and looking at where she was sitting on his bed.

"I need to write some translation algorithms," Prue said. She hesitated and then shifted, getting up from the bed and approaching him. "And I wanted to talk to you more than I wanted to spend another night on three two two."

"Why's that?" Evan folded his arms over his chest. He wasn't trying to make it difficult, but he couldn't make it easy either. That wouldn't help either of them.

"Because even though I know I'm no good for you, I can't stay away," Prue put her hands over his forearm, gripping tightly. "Please ... don't shut me out."

"I'm not shutting you out," Lorne relented, uncrossing his arms and reaching down to take her hands. "But you have to see Prue ... we can't have a proper relationship if you're not honest with me."

"I know," Prue pressed her trembling lips together, her eyes glistening with tears. "I have been honest Evan ... I just ... I need more time. I don't expect you to understand why," she looked away, pulling a hand from his so she could wipe at her eyes. "Part of me is just waiting for you to tell me to leave you the hell alone. But the rest," she looked up at him earnestly, "is begging you to give me a chance."

Lorne said nothing at first, his eyes locked on hers as he considered what she'd said. Because Prue was right - he didn't understand. That much was clear, as was the fact that she wasn't going to do anything to take away the lack of clarity any time soon. And abruptly Evan realised that he was at crunch time. Either he accepted Prue for who she was right then, and trusted that eventually she would be ready to tell him about a past that still troubled her, or he stepped away, right then and there. Because there was no middle ground. He couldn't be the guy who said one thing while going behind Prue's back to find the answers himself – that wasn't him. So, did he want to put his questions aside? Was he patient enough to wait for her to reveal herself to him in time? Or looking at it from the other side, was he strong enough to stay away from Prue, knowing his feelings were mirrored by her, whether she'd admit it openly or not?

"It's just time?" he queried intently. "There's nothing more threatening at play here?" Giving her space to learn to trust him was one thing – staying back while she was potentially in danger was altogether different.

Prue shook her head wordlessly, looking up at him with a pleading, hopeful expression.

"What am I going to do with you?" Evan murmured abruptly. There was no real choice to be made – when you cared about someone you had to take the good with the bad, the understanding alongside the mysteries. With a sigh he gathered her close, hugging her tightly. She burrowed into him, shifting until she had her head over his heart. And then she let out a long, slow breath and just relaxed, letting him take her weight.

"Did you mean it?" Her words were muffled but he knew immediately what she was referring to. Did he really love her?

"Yeah, I meant it," he confirmed easily. "It would have been better if I hadn't almost yelled it at you but I guess sappy declarations of love aren't really us, huh?"

"I guess not," he felt Prue smile against him. "Doesn't make how we feel any less real though, does it?"

"No, it's pretty damn real," Lorne agreed. He held her for a while, the two of them swaying gently. "Just promise me something okay?"

"Anything," Prue returned, looking up at him.

"Someday ... soon ... you'll tell me everything," Evan said. "Because it doesn't matter what happened to you in the past Prue – it won't change how I feel about you now."

"I ...," Prue frowned, her expression doubtful. Evan didn't take it personally – she just had to see that he wasn't going anywhere, then she'd believe him. "One day soon I will put you – us - ahead of everything else Evan," Prue agreed, laying her head back against his chest. "I promise."

"Okay then," Lorne smiled. "Then I won't mention it again until you're ready."

Prue's lips trembled as she smiled up at him, her eyes glistening. "You're a good man Evan Lorne," she said softly. "Even when you were annoying me no end, I knew the truth of that."

"Me, annoying?" Evan looked at her, brow raised disbelievingly. "Never."

Prue laughed before returning to settle into his arms, seemingly content to hug him for as long as he was willing to stand with her. Evan sighed, resting his chin against her head and hoping like hell he hadn't just made a colossal mistake in not pushing her.

Authors Note:

I used information from the episode Vengeance to flesh out the planet they relocated the Taranans to ... as well as the details from Inferno to guess at how much time passed to make Lorne's very long day.

 

Chapter 28: Slow alliance

Prue left Evan's quarters a short time later, both of them needing a little personal space to get used to the change in their relationship. Ordinarily Lorne would have pushed for Prue to stay the night but he could see she was tired, physically and emotionally. If he were honest, he was feeling the effects of a sleepless night and a long day himself, and hardly the best candidate for keeping company.

As he lay alone on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, Evan couldn't help but wonder why 'hooking up', as his Mom had so eloquently put it, with someone couldn't be a lot simpler than it was turning out to be. With a sigh he rolled over, burying his head in his pillow and willing his overactive brain to switch off and let him sleep.

oOo

"They come." The voices were many and sounded familiar, like Atlantis usually did, only there were words instead of static harmony and the sound was outside him.

"Who's coming?" Evan queried. Struggling to get a sense of where he was only heightened his confusion. The best way he could describe it was to say that he was nowhere ... he didn't exist beyond what he could hear. His sense of everything else was absent and it was disorientating the hell out of him.

"Us ... but not us," came the reply. "Our future and our folly. A false step on the path."

"You know, if you stopped talking in riddles, us mere humans would stand a better chance of understanding you," Lorne complained.

"Then let us speak plainly," the harmony sharpened suddenly until its purposefulness pounded into his head. "It all rests on you, Evan Lorne."

"On me?" Evan asked incredulously. "Then I guess you never read that old saying about never putting your eggs all in one basket!"

"It MUST be you," the voices jarred painfully, reminding Lorne all at once of the mental torture he'd suffered back on Earth. "Do you understand?"

"No!" Lorne was angry now ... and as the tone ramped up on the pain scale, scared as well. "Don't do this again. Don't ..."

oOo

 

Lorne shot up in bed, his harshly enunciated "Stop!" still echoing in the room.

Heart racing and breath coming in harsh bursts, Evan had the lights on full almost instantly, his eyes darting everywhere all at once. He was looking for a threat he knew wouldn't be there but it still took a few minutes for his heart rate to slow and his breathing to return to normal. Slowly lowering himself down again, Lorne thought the lights down to low, not off - and wasn't that an admission for a grown man, being afraid of what he couldn't see in the darkness.

His mind was racing - as far as nightmares went that one had been pretty far up on the bizarre scale, although not wholly unexpected. He was still troubled by what had happened back on Earth, enough for some of his fears to come through in dreams. Did what he'd dreamed mean that deep down he believed the prophesy as Daniel had interpreted it? Was it denial or plausible scepticism for him to cling to the negative on that, to still be wondering how in the hell those predictions could relate to him? Because Evan really did think it was ludicrous - the very idea that someone could predict the future and then would take the time to carve it on a bunch of stone columns.

Rubbing his hands over his eyes, Evan almost growled at the frustration rising inside. Too many unanswered questions – both his and Prue's. And God, did that make him as bad as her? So far he'd been all about her revealing her secrets - her past hurts and how they were still affecting her - all the while holding his own concerns carefully close to his chest.

One thing was clear - Prue was right to insist they take the whole trust thing slowly – because Evan was realising that he needed that breathing room just as much as she did. He'd never had someone to share the 'inner' Evan Lorne with ... until Prue. Maybe he would have got there with Tanya but they'd never had the chance, and in hindsight he was glad of that fact. His emotions from that time paled in comparison to what he felt for Prue ... but even with that it would take time for him to get used to including her when he'd always dealt with everything and determined his path alone. At least the nightmare had served a purpose, because Evan resolved there and then to take a new approach with Prue the next time the opportunity arose. Little did he know how soon he'd get the chance to act on that.

oOo

The next day Lorne found out what his part was going to be in preparing for the Wraith ship arrival.

"Doctor McKay and his team are continuing to rush through repairs on the Orion but we're at the point where we can plan on having it available when the Wraith arrive," Doctor Weir told him, having called him to her office soon after breakfast. "We'll have Orion cloaked and ready over Atlantis while the Daedalus remains outside sensor range."

"Going for the element of surprise," Lorne deduced.

"If we need it," Elizabeth agreed. "The optimal result will be for the city's cloak to fool the Wraith into confirming Atlantis was destroyed. They'll leave and we can go back to business as usual, until the next hive ship comes along."

"So, what is it you need me to do Ma'am?" Evan asked.

"They need someone on the Orion with a strong enough gene to help them repair and then operate the ship," Weir explained. "We can't afford for Colonel Sheppard to be stuck out there for the next three weeks."

"Understandable," Evan agreed. "I'd be happy to help out."

"That's good of you Major, but you know Doctor McKay," Elizabeth smiled blandly. "A willing volunteer isn't good enough. He wants you to be tested in the Command Chair here before he'll agree that he doesn't need John there every minute of the day. As you can imagine, Colonel Sheppard is more than a little impatient to return to the city."

"Right, of course," Lorne smirked. "And if I don't pass his test, what then?"

"Then I'll have to force Doctor Beckett to do something he never enjoys," Elizabeth admitted. "So make sure you pass that test Major. Doctor Zelenka is waiting for you down in the Chair room right now – you'll fly him to the Orion and either just yourself or Carson as well depending on the outcome."

"Yes Ma'am," Lorne nodded respectfully and then retreated, jogging down the stairs and across the Gateroom floor. A few minutes later he was walking into the Chair room where Zelenka was checking systems.

"Ah, Major Lorne," Radek greeted Evan with an absent smile. "I am sorry for the inconvenience, but you know Rodney, yes? If we could have located your results from the last time you sat in the chair this would not be necessary."

"I've never sat in the chair Doc," Lorne admitted, looking around the room curiously. There were a bank of control consoles against the wall but the room was dominated by the throne like chair that sat smack dab in the middle. Evan felt a rush of static inside as he looked at it - it was fanciful but the city itself seemed to be urging him to take a seat.

"Oh," Zelenka looked astounded for a moment. "I see. Yes, yes ... when you arrived we were somewhat disorganised, no?" He smiled over at Evan. "It is very simple Major. You sit down and place your hands over the gel pads. When you lean back the chair will activate." Radek hesitated and then rushed into speech. "Well, in truth it probably won't. Only Colonel Sheppard and General O'Neill have been able to get it working just by sitting down. Doctor Beckett can also activate the chair with some degree of strength, but he requires time to focus and some effort to make it work. So ... just do your best ..."

"... but don't expect anything," Lorne summarised blandly.

Internally his mind was rushing through the options. He could just sit down and take his chances, but the way the city was chorusing in his head Evan thought that could end up being a bad idea. Accidentally setting off something with a random thought was an event that had already taken place, as Carson could attest to, and Lorne wasn't confident enough that he could control a more than usually enthusiastic city after he'd popped the cork from the bottle. Better to hold a tight control and only switch the chair on if it seemed prudent to do so.

"I'm ready," he announced, moving forward. "Don't activate the chair yet," he ordered the systems firmly. "I'll say when – and do it gradual okay. No flashy show required." Holding back a smile at the way the city static sounded almost grudging in its agreement, Evan stopped in front of the chair. Sitting down gingerly, he lightly dug his fingers into the blue gel at each hand rest. It felt as squishy as it looked but was hot, not the cold he'd been expecting. Nothing happened but Evan could feel how much the city wanted to change that. "Wait!" he thought sternly. "Just let me ...,"

"Ah," Radek sounded a little disappointed but rallied. "That's fine Major. Just concentrate and see if you can turn it on."

"Right Doc," Evan agreed. Closing his eyes he thought "okay, go," as he leaned back and rode the chair's stretching and flattening until he was contemplating the ceiling. As soon as he'd relaxed his mental hold there was a flash of blue light. "Slowly!" he thought urgently. The light quickly subsided until the chair was lit up as it should be.

"Excellent!" Zelenka sounded excited now but Evan ignored him in favour of exploring the sensation. It was ... odd ... he always felt connected to the city, always had that mental energy firing at the back of his mind, but this was something else. This was like sitting in the middle of all that static as if it were a physical thing he could touch and feel all over.

"Think about the solar system Major," Radek requested, using the first standard question they always asked everyone.

Lorne wasn't paying attention but the chair responded immediately, the ceiling lighting up with a star map of Pegasus lazily revolving above them. One point pulsed, brighter than the others, calling out for them to look at it.

"Interesting," Zelenka muttered. "This isn't Atlantis or Earth. Were you thinking of anywhere in particular? Major?" he repeated when Evan didn't answer immediately.

"Ah," It was an effort for Lorne to pull back enough to be able to answer. "No Doc. Not that I can recall."

"Can you hold it there Major? I just need my laptop to ...," Radek's voice trailed off as he hurried away.

Alone, Lorne was quickly drawn back into his connection with the city. "Let go," the static seemed to say and without thinking he did, dropping the tight hold he had on himself.

The chair flashed brightly again, the blue lights settling into a brighter version of their usual configuration, bathing the walls with a soft glow.

That's when Evan lost touch with reality. He wasn't sitting in the chair anymore ... he wasn't sure he was even in the city, at least not any part of it he'd ever seen before. He was standing in a darkened room. Walking forward slowly his mind catalogued the details. High ceiling, Ancient stained glass letting the moonlight in – it was night outside. That wasn't right because it was early morning on Atlantis. The walls had the carved decorations the Ancients preferred adorning them but nothing to indicate what the room was for or where the hell he was. Passing the centre of the room, a shaft of moonlight hit the far wall, drawing his attention. There was a cavity there and something glowed, beyond the moonlight.

A flash of excitement hit Evan as he approached and realised what he was seeing ... a ZeePM ... no, actually there were three ZPM's, slotted into a triangle configuration power relay like the one they used to power Atlantis's shields and cloak. Could the city be trying to show him the location of a charged ZPM? He needed to find out where he was. Moving forward purposefully Lorne realised the cavity had a transparent barrier in front of it that closed it off, like a wall safe. There was an access point he could swipe his hand over, if he could get to it. The fact that it was behind the barrier was a little confusing. He'd need to -

With a wrench that had him groaning in pain the chair shut off, dropping Evan back to himself. When he opened his eyes the command chair was upright again and powerless, and Doctor Weir and Carson Beckett were standing in front of him with worry plastered all over their faces. Radek came into view from behind the chair, his glasses askew.

"There he is," Carson commented with an easy smile. "Are ye hurt Major?"

"Ah ... no, no I'm fine Doc," Evan said, more than a little confused. "What happened?"

"I am sorry Major," Radek shifted awkwardly, the picture of guilt. "There was a power surge just after you activated the chair that affected it's operation. I couldn't wake you and was reluctant to just shut down the systems so ... I called Doctor Beckett."

"After a bit of deliberation we judged it safer to switch off the power than leave you connected lad," Carson announced. Evan put a hand to his head, noticing the headache for the first time, pounding away at the inside of his skull. "I'd like to do a brain scan, just to make sure," the doctor added. "We can get you something for that headache too."

"I'm okay Doc," Lorne repeated.

"Let me be the judge of that," Carson said good naturedly.

"What happened from your perspective Major?" Weir asked curiously as Carson and Radek both moved forward to help Evan up.

For a split second Lorne considered telling her what he'd experienced - but running the explanation through his head when he wasn't sure himself what he'd really seen sounded crazy, even to him. He needed to think first, decide if it was more than just a weird moment caused by the malfunctioning chair. "Nothing exciting Ma'am," he offered vaguely. Standing, Evan staggered ... his legs felt weak and his head hurt more now that he was upright. "How long was I out?"

"Two hours Major," Zelenka replied.

"What?" Lorne frowned, stopping. "Two hours?"

"I take it that it didn't feel that long to you," Carson commented.

"Minutes at most," Evan shook his head, wincing when the movement made the pounding increase.

"Let's get you to the infirmary, get you checked out," Beckett put a hand on Lorne's shoulder, urging him forward again.

"Sure, okay," Lorne was distracted, his thoughts back in that room. Was there any chance at all that it had been real or had he just fallen asleep and had a crazy dream? "Radek?" Evan turned back to the scientist. "Did you work out where that star was?"

"Not yet," Zelenka replied. "I saved the configuration but there was not enough to distinguish the region - I was planning to run the pattern through the database to see if a match emerged." He looked guilty again as he added "I should have realised straight away that something was wrong Major. When I couldn't rouse you I checked the chair log, saw the power surge, yes?"

"Not your fault Doc," Lorne said easily. "And apart from the headache I feel fine."

Nodding, Radek turned away.

"Hey Doc, let me know if you work out what planet that was, okay?" Lorne requested.

"Of course Major," Radek replied, attention already back on the chair.

Lorne walked from the room, Carson at one side and Doctor Weir at the other.

"Once Carson clears you, take a few hours Major," Weir said. "Rodney can wait and I'd prefer you not be pressed into gene service immediately after what happened."

"Thank you Ma'am," Evan acknowledged. "I appreciate the caution but I don't really think it's necessary - I'm fine."

"Let's have Carson do the diagnosing Major," Elizabeth said with a small smile.

"Yes Ma'am."

Doctor Beckett did just that, had him under the scanner with its warm light tracking up and down Lorne's body only moments later.

"Everything looks fine Major," he said once the scans were done. "Hop down and I'll get you that medication."

Lorne nodded, watching the doctor until the man returned with a blister pack and a glass of water, obviously remembering that Evan didn't like dry swallowing his meds.

"Take these Major," Carson instructed insistently, watching in turn as Evan complied. "They should kick in soon. I think the headache is your body's way of telling you you've done enough with the Ancient technology for now, so don't push using your gene until it's gone."

"No problem Doc," Lorne agreed easily.

"Right then," Carson smiled. "Off with you lad."

Glad to be off the hook Evan grinned, throwing Beckett a half salute as he strode out the door.

Once clear his face shifted back into serious again. What the hell had that been about? A dream? Or was it a message? A new way of tapping into information from the database? Because subconsciously he was always thinking about the imminent Wraith attack – something another ZPM would help with. He wanted to try the chair again, see if he could work it out, but he knew that was out of the question. Lucky for him he did have access to an expert on the Ancient database ... and a sounding board to help him think it out. Time to try out the new, 'trying to be more open' Lorne.

oOo

"The whole thing was a little strange even by my standards." Evan was pacing back and forth in Prue's lab while she watched him. He'd given her the rundown on his first 'chair' experience, including what he could recall of the dream itself, and was now trying to rationalise it.

"Strange how?" Prue queried.

"I spaced out in the chair Prue," he shot back. "You ever hear of anyone who did that?"

"No, but we hardly have a vast sample of people who've tried out the command chair to compare you with," Prue pointed out reasonably.

"It wasn't just that," Evan said impatiently. "I might have looked like I was unconscious but I wasn't – and you have to admit having some kind of waking dream like that isn't normal. You've researched the Ancient database. Have you ever seen anything about what the Ancient's used the chair for?"

"I was more focussed on the language itself," Prue admitted. "But I think what you're implying could be right – such an impressive piece of technology has to be more than just firing drones and flying the city."

"Big difference between those and dreaming about ZPM's Prue," Evan pointed out.

"But like you said, things that might seem strange on the surface happen all the time here," Prue was clearly trying to reassure him now, but he wasn't in the mood to be placated.

"I don't think random bunches of flowers on my doorstep or the city curing a headache are quite in the same league Prue!"

"Flowers?" Prue's face went blank.

"Yeah, purple ones, every time I got injured or you know, had a really crappy day." Evan grimaced ... the whole 'reveal the inner Lorne' thing wasn't going well, if the expression on Prue's face was any indicator. "It stopped a while back, before I went to Earth," he tried to explain. "I'd kind of forgotten about them to tell you the truth."

Without a word Prue moved to the console and quickly accessed what looked to Evan like the botanical information section of the ancient database. Flower after flower flashed on the screen and then was whisked away as Prue continued to search.

Until his little star-like flower appeared abruptly on screen.

"That's it!" Lorne exclaimed.

"Astrum vegrandis," Prue said, her voice sounding strange. "It means tiny star."

"What does the database say about them?" Evan persisted, Prue's whole manner troubling him. She looked a little shell shocked and a lot confused, neither of which was like her at all. That he'd gotten flowers from someone before he'd really even gotten to know her shouldn't worry her as much as it clearly did - and given the lack of importance he now placed on those events maybe he should have kept the details to himself. "Nice going Evan," he thought grimly.

Prue shook her head, moving to stand in front of the window, looking out across the ocean. Watching her for a moment, Lorne then read the information on the screen himself. As soon as he did he realised why Prue was troubled. "It says here this flower only grows on Occulus."

Prue nodded without looking at him.

"But according to the database Occulus was destroyed by the Wraith millennia ago," Evan frowned, reassessing the picture of the tiny star like flower. He wasn't mistaken - that was definitely his little anonymous floral tribute. "Maybe the database has it wrong," Lorne suggested with a shrug. "At the very least it's pretty clear that the 'extinct' status is incorrect."

"There's no mistake," Prue said in a low tone.

Eyes on her now, Evan considered the information and her reaction and came to one conclusion. Walking to her he put his hands on her shoulders, squeezing lightly. "You recognise that flower, don't you?"

Prue stiffened but didn't pull away.

"No point in denying it now," he said firmly.

"I know the flower," Prue said simply. "Just another sad story of a race that didn't make it in this galaxy. Sometimes it's difficult seeing the evidence of what's been lost because of the Wraith." Turning to face him she shook her head. "I don't understand Evan - it makes no sense that anyone could give those flowers to you. Doesn't that worry you?"

"Not really. The how is simple enough," Lorne shrugged. "Either enough time has gone by for the vegetation to return on Occulus, or the flower was transplanted to another planet we have teams going to. Parrish would know - I'll ask him, okay."

"You're right - I'm reading too much into this," Prue rallied, looking up at him with a smile. "What I should be worried about is that someone in the city has a crush on you – Mr Natural Charm!"

"But you're not worried because you know I only have eyes for you," Evan grinned when she rolled her eyes at his teasingly romantic tone. "That and despite how it might seem, those flowers always felt more like a gesture of support to me - not a romantic declaration. "

"Then why did the person who left them hide away?" Prue asked pointedly.

"I don't know," Lorne replied, "and it doesn't matter anymore because they've stopped." Leaning down he kissed her lightly. "I'm still on duty," he said even as he kissed her again before making himself step back. "If you get a chance, can you check out that command chair thing again? I'd like to understand how it works a little better before I have to sit in it again."

"Of course," Prue closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around him. She hugged him tightly, like she needed the contact and Evan instinctively gave it to her, enfolding her in an embrace that was more comfort than anything else. She held on to him for longer than he expected before with a sigh she released him. "Go," she said.

Evan smoothed a thumb over her cheek, leaning down and kissing her tenderly. "Later," he promised, before turning and leaving her there, watching him go.

oOo

His conversation with Prue had been distracting enough that Evan forgot he even had a headache, only realising it was gone when Zelenka radioed him for an estimated departure time to the Orion.

"Based on how you did in the chair Doctor McKay agreed on your assisting us," Radek revealed. "He is ... keen to begin."

"Translation, he's so impatient that he contacted you over subspace and demanded you get there immediately," Lorne replied.

"Something like that," Radek chuckled. "You are recovered Major?"

"I'm good to go," Lorne agreed. "How long are you planning on staying out there Doc?"

"Orion is in bad shape, yes?" the scientist said. "Rodney is not optimistic we can repair her before the Wraith ship arrives."

"So, three weeks then, give or take," Evan held back a sigh. That much time away from the city right now wasn't ideal - things were still new with Prue and ... "and there you go, getting all mushy again. Suck it up soldier," he told himself ruefully.

"Yes Major," Radek confirmed.

"Okay, give me an hour to get my gear together," Lorne said, already changing direction and heading for his quarters. "I'll meet you in the Jumper Bay."

Closing the channel, Lorne radioed Doctor Weir to report his intentions, in the absence of being able to report directly to Colonel Sheppard. Lorne presumed that they would swap places until the Wraith were close, at which time John would take command of the Ancient ship again.

Throwing enough of the practical stuff to cover him for three weeks into a pack, Lorne shouldered it and headed for the Jumper Bay, detouring via Prue's lab.

"Back so soon?" she smiled as she greeted him, until her eyes locked on the bag he had and she put the pieces together. "You're going somewhere."

"Yeah, the Orion," Evan admitted. "Even though I fell asleep in the command chair apparently my gene is still good enough for McKay. They want me out there to help with repairs so Colonel Sheppard can return here."

"Of course," Prue got up and took his hands. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you to be careful."

"The only thing you have to worry about is McKay annoying me to the point where I end up ejecting him out the nearest airlock," Evan joked.

"One of you has to be the adult Evan," Prue said sternly, earning a laugh.

"McKay's got an irritating edge but he's okay with me," Evan conceded. "It'll be fine Prue."

"Just ... don't overdo it," she urged softly.

"This'll be easy duty compared to some of the stuff I regularly get roped into," Lorne smiled down at her. "I gotta go though, so give me a hug."

Prue pulled him down to her and kissed him instead – hot and purposeful enough that he forgot where he was for a few moments, lifting her off the ground and depositing her on the nearest workbench at the right height. He kissed her until he really, really wanted to do more, before his sense of duty kicked in to remind him that he was going to be late and that explaining to Radek why was a conversation he wasn't having.

With a groan Evan pulled away, resting his forehead against Prue's as they both regained their composure.

"Okay, well, that was ... interesting," he said, still a little breathless.

"I just wanted to give you something to miss," Prue said with a small smile.

"Mission accomplished," Evan drawled. Leaning down he pressed a final, firm kiss to her lips and then broke away. "Now I really have to go ... I'll talk to you from the Orion if I can." Touching a hand to her cheek his smiled. "Stay out of trouble."

"You too," Prue said, once again the one to stand and watch him leave.

 

Chapter 29: Allies at a distance

The Orion was the biggest space going vessel Lorne had ever been in, discounting Atlantis itself. As soon as he landed the Jumper in the bay he felt the feedback from what systems they did have up and running. Not as strong or multilayered as Atlantis but enough for him to instantly feel at home on the Ancient ship.

"Major," McKay greeted him with blunt efficiency as soon as he and Zelenka strode into the main engineering section of the ship, his attention on the data pad in his hand.

"Where are we at?" Lorne queried briskly.

"Still dead in space," Rodney returned irritably. "As in nothing works. Nor is it likely to in the next three weeks."

"Priorities?" Evan ignored the standard McKay 'we are doomed' speech.

"Oh let's see ... not dying is pretty high up on my priorities," McKay said sarcastically. "You?"

"I'm not planning on it," Lorne drawled, sharing an amused glance with Radek. "Since we're sitting ducks out here focus on the shields first."

"Already got a team on it," Rodney let some of the bluster drop as he got down to business. "Hyperdrive and weapons too."

"Right - so where do you need me first?" Lorne asked.

"Um ... shields," McKay decided. "Zelenka can get up to speed and start testing. Once you're done with that I'll need you on the weapons."

"Okay. Keep me updated in the meantime," Lorne ordered, getting an absentminded agreement from Rodney, who's attention was already back on his data pad.

Evan motioned to Zelenka. "Get started. I'll be with you in a few minutes." Radek nodded, hurrying away.

Lorne radioed the ranking military officer on board, Captain Harvey, to get an update, and then officially took command of Orion. Inside he felt an almost gleeful buzz at the thought that he, Evan Lorne, was actually in command of a starship. For the boy who'd dreamed of being an astronaut it was quite the moment to saviour.

oOo

The rest of that afternoon was the very definition of what Lorne liked to call military boredom. When you had to be fully alert - on duty - but all you were doing was standing around watching someone else do the work. Luckily in his career Evan hadn't done a lot of that kind of duty - he came to appreciate what a godsend that really was as he watched Radek muttering over the shield controls for hours.

"To jest zawód!" Zelenka cursed, hands buried inside the wall up to his elbows as he attempted to reach something.

"Need a little help there Doc?" Lorne asked mildly.

Zelenka's head popped out of the wall, his eyes narrowed as he considered his companion, Evan was sure doing an estimate of the length of his arms. "Yes Major," motioning Lorne forward he pointed into the wall. "At the back there is a broken control crystal, yes? If you can reach, please pull out and replace with this," he held out a pristine square that looked more like a piece of plastic than anything useful.

Evan peered into the opening. It was a maze of control boards with slots, some filled, some not, most having power conduits leading away inside the wall. Looking closer he saw the crystal Radek wanted replaced. Kneeling, he leaned in and carefully reached around everything that was in the way, his fingers just making the distance.

"I am glad to see you suffer no ill effects from what happened in the command chair this morning," Zelenka commented.

"No damage done Doc," Evan's voice was muffled and a little strained as he struggled to get the crystal out. "This thing is jammed in pretty tight."

"Most likely it was fused into the slot when the power overload rendered the shields useless," Zelenka explained. "You can apply as much force as necessary Major - the surrounding components are sufficiently sturdy."

"Right," inside the wall Lorne smiled. With the accent and the formal choice of words, at times his friend sounded just a little pompous. Gripping the crystal tightly, Evan yanked up hard, the crystal breaking free with enough force that his hand slammed into the board above. "Damn it!" he muttered, wincing as drops of blood appeared from under the broken skin.

"Is everything okay Major?" Radek shifted closer, leaning a little to peer into the wall over Lorne's shoulder.

"Yeah, it's fine Doc," Evan said, irritated with himself. "Here," he gave Radek the damaged crystal and took the new one in its place, reaching into the wall again.

"I have tested everyone with the gene in the chair Major," Zelenka returned to his prior topic. "Even with the power surge, what happened to you was outside all the experiences I have documented."

"I don't know what to tell you," Lorne peered at the crystal in his hand quizzically. "Does this have an up and down Doc?"

"It is unidirectional," Radek replied. "I mention the chair Major because I would like to conduct further tests, if you would be a willing to assist?"

"Ah - don't we have restrictions on that because of the power requirements?" Inside the wall Lorne frowned. There was a dilemma - part of him wanted to say yes so that he could do a little research of his own. But Radek was no one's pawn - Evan knew the other man was already puzzled by some of the things Lorne had done in the past - the Wraith materialiser information just one example. If Evan went along with the idea he'd have to keep very tight control of himself, and judging on last time that might be a tall order. He wasn't opposed to discussing how the gene worked with Radek, up to a point, as long as it didn't garner him undue attention.

"That's correct Major - Doctor Weir would have to approve, and the tests would need to be carefully controlled," Radek confirmed. "In all honesty I was surprised the chair didn't activate as soon as you sat down,"

"Really?" Inside the wall Lorne paused, waiting for more.

"Strength in the ATA gene is difficult to measure, yes? But through observation I would have put your ability higher than Doctor Beckett's," Radek admitted. "Perhaps the chair isn't as conclusive an indicator as we'd previously believed."

"How much do we know about what the chair can do?" Evan snapped the crystal into place with an audible click. "After what happened Prue offered to look into it but since you're the one who's tested everyone, you might already have an answer."

"The power requirements make it difficult to experiment beyond the set tasks we usually perform," Zelenka explained. "You had only completed the first - raising a map of the solar system - before the power surge negated the test."

"What about the gene itself?" Finished with the task, Lorne got up, dusting off his knees. "Some of the research I came across suggested maybe it's more than just the one gene, and that practice can improve what an individual can achieve."

"That is very interesting Major," Radek looked intrigued by the idea. Accessing his data pad he tapped a few keys, eyes on the section he'd been trying to repair.

Lorne grinned, close enough to both see and feel the return of power right in front of him. "I guess that worked."

"How did you ... ?" Radek turned to look at Lorne, bemused.

"The glow Doc," Lorne nodded to the still open wall section where the light from Ancient systems in operation was clearly visible. "Doesn't that mean you fixed the shields?"

"Not necessarily, but in this case yes it does," Radek confirmed, pushing his glasses up his nose with a pleased grin. "Of course they will need to be fully tested before we put them under battle conditions but this is a promising result."

"Great job Doc!" Lorne congratulated. "Where next?"

"Yes, yes, it is on to the next problem before the satisfaction of the last has time to fade," Radek muttered, unplugging his data pad and closing the access door. "This way Major."

oOo

That one event became the blueprint for Evan's days from then on. He'd never worked so long or so intently with Ancient systems and it was a constant battle not to get overwhelmed as subsystem after subsystem was repaired enough for the power to flow freely through the ship. As they all came on line there was an initial 'rejoicing' - like the full harmony a complete set of Ancient tech could create in Lorne's head. Glad that he'd spent so much time practising with Prue, Evan was able to control things so that stuff didn't just switch on because he was in the room. And as his work on Orion continued he realised that was the biggest achievement of all. Their prior experience, particularly with Colonel Sheppard, was that things just switched on as soon as the gene was detected - John didn't get to decide one way or the other. Lorne was different - he had been from the start. Control was a natural part of his personality and it manifested in how his gene worked – something that practice had heightened. He wouldn't be responsible for activating anything dangerous and that fact was reassuring on a number of levels.

Of course, the power flowing freely didn't mean Orion was ready to rock; anything but. Just because something had power to utilise didn't mean it could - and apparently that was a much harder problem to fix. Evan was in demand, because he was the only natural gene holder on board with any kind of demonstrated strength, which meant he was the only person who could consistently turn on anything, no matter how 'broken' it was. When you were trying to decide if you'd fixed something, getting a negative and not knowing if that was because you hadn't fixed a problem or because your operator had failed to get a true 'on' was a major concern. Lorne walked the ship from back to front and side to side more times than he could count, responding to calls for assistance or just checking in with the teams he had on guard duty. Not that he expected something to happen, but Orion was a huge vessel hanging in space, and they still didn't have external sensors or a shield that would stay on at full strength for more than a few minutes. A small craft could potentially sneak up on them, enter through the storage bays, and gain access to the ship. There might not be anything they could do to deter an attack - drone control was also non operational - but at least with teams at all the potential external access points, they'd know they were in trouble before it jumped out and scared the crap out of them.

McKay had repaired the ships subspace communications as the first priority and contacted Atlantis regularly, usually to complain to Colonel Sheppard that he needed more resources or more time. John would appear to be listening intently but would then finish with a statement like "so the ship will be ready before the Wraith get here then." It was kind of amusing to see Rodney's blood pressure rising almost visibly, but being in on the 'action' Lorne had a new appreciation of just how hard Rodney worked as well as how much was involved in the 'miracles' he often performed. Evan worked just as hard - there was nothing else to do on the ship and it was in all their best interests to deliver Orion as the latest miracle. Besides, keeping busy kept his mind off of everything he was missing back on Atlantis ... some of the time.

Drone control was McKay's constant thorn in the side - everything they tried to fix it resulted in more, rather than less problems. And in that Rodney way, the scientist quickly claimed Lorne and his gene as his own exclusive 'tool', on the premise that anything he was working on had to be the highest priority. Evan played along but also made sure in that quiet way of his to share personnel resources evenly throughout the ship. Fixing drone control was turning out to be their biggest challenge, and a week in to Lorne's stay he could see how frustrated Rodney was getting.

"Try it now," Rodney had the tray that housed the launch system out, a mess of leads connecting various controls to each other and then to his laptop in a way probably only he understood.

"Drones," Lorne thought firmly, focussed on trying to read the result. There was a surge of power that kind of zinged around uselessly and then died away. "There's a blockage McKay, between that last power relay you fixed and these controls."

"Yes, there is," Rodney agreed, turning an interested gaze on Lorne. "When exactly did you get so good at the gene thing Major?"

"Who says I'm any better than anyone else McKay?" Lorne countered. "Did I miss the big, mass exam?"

"Har har," Rodney retorted. "Since I've tried working with every ATA gene holder we have in the city, grunts and scientists alike, my observations are much more valuable than Radek's 'chair' test. Sheppard is notoriously reticent about helping out - with his super gene he's been the preferred choice for switching things on, but I don't think even he could be as controlled as you are Major."

"The Colonel didn't mention I've been practising that kind of thing?" Lorne asked curiously.

"No he didn't," Rodney looked at at Evan, eyes narrowed with interest. "What kind of practice?"

"Nothing profound," Evan admitted self deprecatingly. "Usually it's trying to open doors that Doctor Darnell locks out of the system."

"You're saying trying to open a bunch of doors has actually helped?" Rodney asked incredulously. "Wait - you broke through some of the Atlantis protocols?"

"Kind of, although mostly by what Prue calls cheating." When Rodney's brow rose in surprise, Lorne chuckled. "You know, stuff like turning off the oxygen so the environmental protocols will override the door locks and open the door."

"Sounds more like making use of what we know about the city than cheating," Rodney said dismissively.

"That's what I said!" Evan grinned, the two men sharing a rare moment of mutual understanding.

"Maybe I should practice more," Rodney murmured, adding quickly, "for scientific purposes, you know, to see if it is a viable means of increasing the gene's usefulness."

"Maybe you should," Lorne agreed. "It can't hurt," he echoed Doctor Weirs words from months before.

"Right, So, any idea what's causing this blockage?" McKay queried.

"Hell no," Lorne laughed. "That's your job McKay - I just switch things off and on."

"I'm sure it's more than that," Rodney muttered, turning his frustrated gaze back to the drone system. "I guess we dismantle the entire thing again."

"I guess so," Lorne agreed with a sigh, settling in for another long afternoon of military boredom.

oOo

"Major Lorne, Sir," Chuck's face wavered on screen over the subspace transmission. It was late evening in Atlantis and a skeleton crew manned the control room.

"How's it going there?" Evan asked. They'd had progress reports on a regular basis so the question was more in the order of small talk than a genuine need for information.

"Hive ship is still two weeks out Sir," Chuck replied. "We just heard today that the Daedalus is due in next week, ahead of schedule."

"That's good to hear," Lorne commented. "The way it's going out here we're looking at having just enough repaired to get to Atlantis, but not much beyond that." He paused for a moment and then got to the point. "Listen, can you patch me through to Doctor Darnell – she'd probably still in her lab."

"I'll try Sir," Chuck said, nothing in his manner suggesting anything in particular.

Having someone in the city he'd want to talk to during a long away mission was still new enough that a part of Evan felt a little uncomfortable using military resources for personal purposes. A computer with a camera and an internet connection was nothing compared to systems that took big dollars to keep in operation. Talking to someone at a station set up for that purpose felt a lot more private than talking over a subspace connection that was monitored 24/7.

The screen in the communications room on the Orion blinked and then resettled, Chuck's visage replaced by Prue's.

"You look tired," Evan said, something inside doing a little 'there she is' leap.

"Hello to you too," Prue shot back with a smile. Her eyes narrowed as she peered closer to the screen. "You're not looking that fresh and well rested yourself you know."

"I know," he shrugged. "Turns out the more broken a system is, the more likely it is it'll only switch on for a natural gene. At the moment out here that means it's me or ... it's me."

"Have you made any more progress?" Prue asked, the concern obvious on her face even with so much distance between them.

"If you talk to Rodney, not enough," Lorne replied. "Radek's a little more confident. On current estimates we'll get the Orion into position but it's going to be touch and go on being able to do anything with her."

"Even that's amazing really," Prue commented. "That ship was abandoned for thousands of years and yet Doctor McKay and his team might just get it running again, in less than a month."

"When you put it that way it is pretty impressive," Evan agreed.

"How are you otherwise?" Prue asked.

"Fine," Evan responded automatically.

"Evan," Prue looked at him pointedly.

"What?" He shot back innocently. "The marines are all getting cabin fever being on a big ship that isn't going anywhere. You'd love it here though – all the geeks seem to, despite the pressure to get everything fixed yesterday."

"I'm not a geek," Prue looked like she was stamping her foot at his teasing.

"You are, just a little bit," Lorne continued to tease. "Lucky I have a soft spot for some geeks ... well, just you really."

"And you're lucky I'm overlooking your military jock status," Prue teased back.

"Sounds like we're both lucky," Evan returned with smooth charm.

"It does," Prue smiled but then let it drop from her face. "Still another two weeks?"

"Looks like," Evan agreed. "It'll go quickly and I'll be back there annoying you in person before you know it."

"I wish you were here right now," Prue admitted, "which is selfish and counterproductive because I don't need you for any specific reason. You're getting plenty of gene practice out there too so I can't even involve myself in that small part of your life right now."

"You can give me homework if it'll make you feel better," Lorne offered gallantly.

"It just might," Prue returned smartly before sighing. "You know what I mean."

"You're a part of my life Prue," Evan said seriously. "Doesn't matter whether you're here or there and it doesn't have anything to do with working on something together."

"You always know exactly the right thing to say," Prue smiled, her eyes shining.

"I'm not trying to say the right thing ... it's just the way it is now, okay?"

"Okay," Prue agreed softly.

"I want to talk more but ...," Evan trailed off.

"But you can't because this is a subspace channel, not our personal communications device," Prue finished easily. 'It's okay – I really didn't think you'd be able to contact me at all."

"If you don't hear from me before we head back to Atlantis don't worry," Lorne began finishing off their conversation. "Things are probably going to be even more intense here before it's done."

"All right," Prue smiled for him. "Get some rest. I'll see you soon."

"You will," Evan promised. He looked at her for a moment more before reluctantly cutting the signal, returning his screen to darkness. Instead of heading to bed like he should Lorne just sat there, unseeing eyes still on the empty screen.

"The rumours are true I see," McKay's voice startled Lorne back to the present.

"Depends on what rumours you're talking about," he said evasively.

"The ones about you and Doctor Darnell," Rodney didn't have a sensitive or sociable bone in his body, skipping etiquette in any form and going straight to blunt. Evan didn't actually mind – he preferred that to having someone tiptoe around him.

"Are we going to share a moment here McKay?" he queried blandly.

"God no," Rodney looked horrified for a moment. "I couldn't help overhearing the end of your transmission, that's all."

"And you listen to gossip too," Evan added. "I didn't realised you were so interested in your fellow man McKay."

"Hey, I can be as nosy as the next person," Rodney protested. "And everyone talks when the base second in command starts having regular meals with one of the scientists."

"Well then, remember nosiness is a two way street," Lorne lifted a brow expectantly. "How are things going with you and Katie Brown? Ready to take her home to meet the family yet?"

"You're right, nobody should listen to gossip and what people do in their own time really isn't interesting at all," Rodney quickly dismissed the topic. "You should be proud." Obviously he couldn't resist one more comment.

"How so?" Lorne asked, curious to see where Rodney was going with that.

"I ah ... I was curious so I looked at Doctor Darnell's translation software ... she's a programming genius," Rodney replied. "It's organised like nothing I've seen before - complex too. Well ahead of our current thinking on software engineering. I was doubtful a translation program was even possible - it wouldn't be, not without her. So ... you should be proud."

"I am," Lorne replied, knowing it was a vague answer since there was no way he could have known just how good Prue was at her work. He just didn't know what else to say in the face of Rodney's uncharacteristic generosity. "What are you doing up so late anyway?" he asked more seriously. "We've still got another two weeks Rodney – if you don't pace yourself you won't make the distance."

"I was sleeping but then I had a thought about how to keep the shields at full strength," McKay didn't point out that if he was up too late then so was Evan. "Since you're up anyway you can help me test my latest theory."

"Sure, why not," Lorne shook his head at himself. Working all the time wasn't going to make the time go any faster, but it might feel like it was. That was the theory anyway.

oOo

Those two weeks did rush by - because every hour that passed was one less hour for repairs, and it became clear before the deadline that they wouldn't get it all done in time. They persevered though, even during the last week when they utilised sublight engines to fly Orion to Atlantis the long way. Once in position Colonel Sheppard flew up in a Puddle Jumper, taking back command of the Ancient ship.

"Well done Major," Sheppard said when Lorne greeted him after the Colonel landed Jumper One in the Orion Jumper Bay. When Evan looked confused at the comment, John smirked. "Typical McKay - his reports were full of how cooperative you were Lorne- and I quote 'much more than a certain scruffy haired Colonel I can't mention because he'll make me go to every backwater planet in the galaxy.' You made me look bad."

"In my defence Sir there wasn't a hell of a lot else to do out here," Lorne commented with a faint smile. "Being the 'gene guy' was more interesting than standing around watching the scientists work."

"I can understand that," Sheppard replied. "Daedalus is in position out of sensor range and you've parked Orion where we need her too. The hive is still a few hours away - head back to the city, get some rest if you can, but otherwise be ready to implement the contingency plan if our ruse doesn't fool the Wraith."

"Yes Sir," Lorne straightened. "You have command Colonel Sheppard," he said formally.

John grinned. "Thank you Major."

"Good luck Sir," Evan added.

"You too."

Striding through the Jumper Lorne threw himself in the pilot chair and quickly powered it up, flying the little ship out into space. As he watched the view of Orion shrinking in the distance there was a sense of wonder - both that they had such a vessel at their command and that he'd actually been 'captain' of it for a few weeks.

"Major Lorne, we have you on sensors," the on duty control room tech announced. "You're clear to land. Doctor Weir would like to brief you as soon as possible Sir."

"Acknowledged," Evan replied. Technically he was off duty but he'd rather talk with Elizabeth sooner rather than later.

Lorne guided the Jumper down the access shaft and landed her lightly beside Jumper Two. Shutting everything off, he moved to the back section, hitting the hatch release. Atlantis greeted his return with a hum of feedback ... where that had been just noise before, after three weeks solid working actively with Ancient systems Evan heard additional complexity in the static – he could actually tell that all the systems were operational to full capacity.

Distracted by that Lorne exited the Jumper and had just enough time to catch the body that launched into his arms.

"You're back!" Prue wrapped her arms around him, holding on tight.

He'd missed her of course but in a way he only realised how much once he had Prue back in his arms. Burying his face against her neck he lifted her off the ground, reconnecting and reassuring them both that being back together was a good thing ... the best thing.

"Missed you," he muttered before kissing her. Maybe he intended it to be a light gesture - he wasn't thinking about where they were or that Doctor Weir was waiting for him but he should have known better - no kiss between them had ever really been that simple. Prue threw herself into the moment and drew him down into passion with her. He staggered, righting himself by leaning them both against the Jumper as he continued kissing her. She wrapped her legs around him and that was enough to have him backing her into the Jumper purposefully. It wasn't a conscious thought - he needed privacy and the Jumper responded, powering up and raising the hatch for him, closing them both inside.

"Evan," Prue murmured as he broke away to redirect his attentions to her neck.

The need in her voice went straight to his heart and from there to the most expedient way of expressing himself - pounding the demand to hurry that was mirrored by her actions. She wanted him and seemed determined to have him, even if it turned out to be a mostly clothed, heated exchange in the back of a Puddle Jumper. At the back of his mind there was a moment where sanity tried to reassert itself but he didn't listen – couldn't when the drive to reunite them in every way he could had his senses on overdrive and his pulse hammering.

"Now," Prue surged against him when he paused, demanding that he take them both where they needed to be without delay. It was carnal and hot as hell - the release so intense that he lost touch with reality for a few moments, recovering to look down and see Prue under him.

They locked eyes - she was the one to smile first and then they were both laughing, happy to be together and amused to have greeted each other so intimately, and in the Puddle Jumper, of all places. Cleaning up as best they could and straightening their clothes only went so far. The look in his eyes and the flush on her face told their own story as to what they'd been up to but Lorne wasn't sure he actually cared that much.

Looking around Evan smirked again. "This wasn't quite how I intended to say hello."

"It was perfect," Prue declared. Looking around herself she frowned. "God, you must have fried my brain - I don't remember you closing the hatch, although, thank God you did!"

Evan glanced over her shoulder and shrugged. "Yeah, I was thinking we needed privacy. I guess the Jumper responded accordingly."

"You're gaining more control," Prue shifted into seriousness abruptly.

"After three solid weeks on Orion I guess so," Evan agreed. "Speaking of that, I'm off duty but I still have to report to Doctor Weir. Want to walk me up there?"

"Of course," Prue smiled, taking his hand when he offered it and letting him lead her from the Jumper.

oOo

"Ma'am," Evan greeted Doctor Weir minutes later, having parted ways with Prue at the bottom of the stairs leading down from the Jumper Bay. She continued down a level and disappeared across the Gateroom floor while he detoured to Elizabeth's office.

"Major, welcome back," Weir replied. "How did things end up on Orion."

"It's in position Ma'am but Doctor McKay is going to need every minute between now and when the Wraith arrive to make that count for something," Evan admitted. "We have communications and shields - hyperdrive is hit and miss and drone control was still unresponsive."

"We have the Daedalus if we need her," Elizabeth reminded him. "And if the situation escalates we also have Atlantis's drones, although I'm loathe to use them and reveal that capability to the Wraith.

"If we get that far we won't be letting them get away, or giving them time to tell their friends," Lorne pointed out.

"You look tired Major," Elizabeth noted, concern crossing her face. "Given you'll be operating the command chair when the Wraith get here perhaps you should get some rest now."

"Thank you Ma'am, but I don't think I could sleep," Lorne admitted.

"You're off duty - at least take a couple of hours off Evan," Weir insisted. Smiling she added "I'm sure after three weeks away you have people you'd like to reacquaint yourself with."

Lorne struggled not to flush, flashes of just how reacquainted he already was with Prue rising in his mind's eye. "Yes Ma'am."

"Stay in contact Evan," Elizabeth said quietly.

"I'll be ready Ma'am," Evan promised resolutely.

oOo

And then suddenly time had run out and the Wraith ship was entering orbit. It felt like the city itself held its breath as the Hive burst from hyperspace and slammed to a halt just outside of the atmosphere.

Lorne was in the chair room, already reclined with the chair activated, ready to respond with force if the order was given. Thankfully this time nothing untoward happened when he sat down, everything purposeful and on mission.

In its usual way the galaxy delivered another surprise when the Hive contacted the city instead of attacking it, and the Wraith known as Michael announced their intentions. Standing down with a Hive ship still hovering over the city was bad enough, but entering into an agreement that would see Wraith willingly allowed into Atlantis left everyone feeling like the world had suddenly been turned upside down.

"I don't trust them," Prue said grimly that night at dinner, the Wraith due to arrive the next day after the city had been 'secured', key areas locked down, and all personnel briefed on what to do.

"Hey, me either," Evan returned. "It is what it is Prue. Doctor Weir and Colonel Sheppard made a deal they think they can trust, up to a point. If the end result is less Wraith to content with then it suits our ultimate goals too."

"I know, but it insults the Ancestors that we'll just let them inside the city like this," Prue insisted, her eyes flashing with anger.

"Gotta admit, that part gives me the creeps too," Evan reached over and touched her hand reassuringly. "Fill me in on what you've been doing the past couple of weeks."

It was an obvious effort to distract her but it worked none the less. "I'm close," she said, some excitement entering her voice. "I have a translation matrix and algorithms working for every dialect all the teams have come across the past two years - except one."

"Got a source for that?" Evan asked.

"Maybe," Prue seemed to hesitate, a look appearing on her face he would have interpreted as conflict.

"But?" he urged her to explain further.

"M54-011," Prue rushed out. "No teams have been there before and the database is sketchy at best - I know it's too big a risk right now with the Wraith in the city. Maybe Captain Kennedy could take me there after the deal with the Wraith is complete?"

"So I'm not your preferred escort anymore?" Evan teased.

"You are," Prue hesitated. "I just ...," she shook her head. "I'm just being silly again. Ignore me."

"Not possible," Lorne declared. Getting serious he continued. "My team will take you, when this Wraith thing is done."

"Okay," Prue agreed quietly.

Authors Note:

Translation 'To jest zawód!' = 'This is frustrating'.

 

Chapter 30: No Woman's Land

Evan and Prue were done with dinner and about to take a walk around the city when Colonel Sheppard approached. "Doctor," Sheppard greeted Prue easily.

"Prue, please Colonel," Prudence invited with a smile.

"Problem Sir?" Lorne asked, knowing John wouldn't interrupt during his off duty hours without a good reason.

"What, apart from the fact that we'll have Wraith in the city tomorrow?" Sheppard quipped. Nodding towards one of the empty seats the Colonel waited until Lorne waved a hand in invitation to take a seat. "That's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about. I know you've just returned but -,"

"But you want me back on the Orion," Lorne concluded. He wasn't surprised – John wouldn't want to leave anyone else in command while Wraith walked the halls of Atlantis but at the same time they couldn't afford for any hint of their new Ancient ship to reach Wraith ears – either via direct detection or through accessing anything on Atlantis that would give their secret away.

"That's right," Sheppard agreed. "We've made an agreement with this particular Queen but as Teyla reminded me today, they are Wraith."

"We'd be foolish to trust them," Evan agreed, seeing Prue nod, that flash of anger still there in her eyes.

"Orion could be the difference between winning and losing, should this all go pear shaped down the track," John looked at both Prue and Evan as he explained.

"I understand Sir," Lorne said easily.

"First thing tomorrow, before the Wraith get here, take a Jumper and assume command of the Orion Major," Sheppard summarised his orders succinctly. "Zelenka came back with me but most of McKay's staff are still there – they'll continue repairs."

"Yes Sir." Evan shot Prue a quick glance as he acknowledged his orders, before focussing on his CO again.

"We'll have to maintain radio silence," John pointed out. "I have no idea how long it'll take Carson and Zelenka to perfect the delivery method for the retrovirus – it could get a little lonely up there."

"Right, of course," this time Lorne didn't want to look at Prue, knowing she'd be upset at the separation, more so because she was already troubled that the Wraith would be in the city. Making a snap decision Prue would probably slam him for as soon as they were along, Evan spoke. "Do we have time to send a team off world Sir?"

John looked surprised at the request but gave it proper consideration. "Sure. You need something?"

"Ah, not exactly Sir," Lorne ploughed on.

"No," Prue said bluntly, having already worked out where he was going with his question.

Ignoring her protest, Evan continued. "There's still plenty that needs to be done on three two two Sir," he explained. "Captain Kennedy could escort Prue there with enough supplies to last them until the Wraith have what they want from us. I know Teneo would welcome an extended stay." With a sigh, Evan met his CO's eyes. "To be honest Sir I'd feel better knowing Prue was out of all of this, particularly with the communications black out between the Orion and Atlantis." Lorne didn't think he needed to point out that communication between three two two and Orion on the other hand wouldn't be restricted. Not that Prue was likely to want to talk to him after he'd made decisions for her without consulting her first.

John nodded, considering his second's request.

"With respect Colonel, I'd prefer to stay in the city," Prue deliberately kept her gaze away from Evan.

"Can you continue your work on three two two?" John spoke directly to Prue.

"Well ... yes, in part, but that doesn't mean I should be shipped out," Prue insisted. "In all honesty witnessing the Wraith being given access to Atlantis makes me feel ... angry. But I'm sure there are others who feel the same way, who'd like to avoid the Wraith as well. Wouldn't sending me instead of them be an example of that favouritism you were worried about before Evan and I were even involved?"

"Lorne and I will consider all requests by non essential personal to leave the city," Sheppard shrugged. "The Major's request makes sense Prue – for you and anyone else we consider valuable enough to keep away from Wraith knowledge. My primary concern is not leaving anyone we do evacuate vulnerable to other threats." He looked at Lorne with a faint hint of amusement on his face. "I'm not sure whether you're gonna like this Major but the better solution is to ship as many non essential crew as we can to Orion. You'll have teams there already to protect the ship and our purpose is to hide her from everyone – which means better security than we could offer off world."

"I can go to the Orion?" Prue looked at John hopefully.

"No -," Lorne began, annoyed that she'd derailed his plans.

"Are you requesting placement on the Orion Doctor Darnell?" Sheppard asked formally, ignoring Evan's protest.

"Yes Colonel," Prue smiled. "I am humbly requesting a transfer to the Orion for the duration of the Wraith visit."

"Granted," John said, getting up and slapping Lorne's shoulder. "From the look on your face Major I don't think anyone will interpret this as favouritism."

"No Sir," Lorne struggled to keep his irritation in check.

"I'll have Elizabeth review the crew lists for others who should be evacuated - we'll review her recommendations first thing," Sheppard added. "Have your team ready to transport a small contingent to the Orion in the morning. If we need more than one Jumper, Reed can fly the other one."

"Yes Sir," Lorne acknowledged blandly.

"Enjoy your evening Major, Prue," John waited until they'd both acknowledged his farewell before taking his leave.

"That did not go how I intended," Lorne muttered grimly.

"Serves you right!" Prue glared at him. "I can't believe you tried to send me away!"

"I wasn't sending you away," Evan protested. "Those Wraith could be here for weeks Prue – did you really want to be stuck here where we can't even talk to each other?"

"Oh," Prue stopped short, giving him a suddenly meek look.

"Yeah, oh," Evan returned sarcastically. "Now you'll be stuck out in space on a ship that doesn't work properly, when you could have been with Kara documenting more of those columns."

"I don't care," Prue decided stubbornly. "I'd rather be with you. Maybe I can help."

"How? You don't have the gene," Evan reminded her bluntly.

"You don't want me with you?" Prue looked down at the table, her voice small.

"It's not about that," Evan grabbed her hands, squeezing them lightly until she looked up. "It's about this being a military situation Prue, and you taking my lead instead of doing everything your own way. I'll be in charge of everything up there, including you, a fact I'm not sure Colonel Sheppard considered when he came up with the idea."

"Does that mean it'd be against the regulations for us to continue our relationship?" Prue frowned, pulling her hands away from his and looking around the Mess hall as though worried they might already be breaking the rules.

"I have no idea," Evan shook his head. "Look, I'll talk to Colonel Sheppard again."

"I'm sorry," Prue said in a low tone.

Evan sighed, taking her hands again. "It's not your fault ... I should have talked to you before requesting anything from Colonel Sheppard."

"Yes you should have," Prue smiled while agreeing that he'd been in the wrong.

"We'll sort it out," Evan promised. "So, do you still want to take that walk?"

"Of course," Prue jumped up, urging him to get up too.

oOo

Lorne did talk to Sheppard again, blandly explained his dilemma in blunt terms ... "is it a breach of regulations for me to be giving Prue orders while engaged in a non professional relationship with her Sir?"

John had actually chuckled and then cavalierly given Lorne permission to 'break the rules' while Prue was stationed on the Orion. "Nice try though Major," he'd complimented.

So Evan was stuck with the situation. It wasn't even that he didn't want Prue with him – he knew she'd probably enjoy the chance to work on Orion – but to his mind she was that much more vulnerable out in space than she would have been with Teneo. One thing was for sure - there'd be no way he'd relax until the whole crazy situation was done and they were all back on Atlantis.

oOo

Doctor Weir reviewed the civilian list as Colonel Sheppard had promised, and the following morning Lorne found himself flying a crowded Jumper up to the Orion. Prue sat amongst the twenty five civilians they'd crammed in like sardines, not drawing attention to herself. When Evan met her eyes from time to time on the trip from the planet he had to hold in a grin - there was a twinkle of amusement there over the comments of her fellow geeks as well as excitement and anticipation. He might not be happy about the turn of events but Prue certainly was.

Landing the little ship inside the huge hangar, he turned to address his passengers.

"Welcome to the Orion. Some rules before I assign someone to find you quarters and a place to work," he began. "Orion is a warship that could be called to assist Atlantis with very little notice. With that in mind you will all follow my orders or the orders of the ranking officer in any and every situation. You will stay inside the zones designated as safe. We'll work out an evacuation plan that everyone will memorise and practice when called on to do so." He smiled politely. "We could be here for an extended stay so be frugal with your personal supplies and obey all mandates on rationing of essentials. Any questions?"

"Can we help fix the ship?" It was Prue's voice, heads turning and others nodding their agreement.

"Doctor McKay has left a large team here to effect the necessary repairs," Lorne announced. Meeting Prue's eyes he nodded approvingly. "I'm sure they'll welcome any help you can provide. The faster we get this bird fully operational, the better."

More nodding, undertone comments to colleagues about what specifically they wanted to do followed. "Okay - move out people. Let's get you all settled."

The mass exodus that followed raised the noise level beyond what the Jumpers were designed for. Rather than force his way through, Evan sat back and let Reed and Cheung insist on an ordered exit. Captain Harvey was waiting with a team of marines and in quick time they had the group moving forward in an organised fashion for an orientation of the Ancient ship.

Quiet returned and Lorne decided a few more moments to enjoy it wouldn't go astray. Glancing over at Coughlin, Evan shook his head. "This is going to be ... interesting."

"You say that like it's a bad thing Major," Prue moved forward from the rear where she'd held back as everyone else left.

"You should be listening to that orientation Prue," Evan pointed out even as he took her hand and drew her closer. Aware that Nate was observing him with amusement he grinned. "Maybe I should assign you and the Sergeant here to whatever the least popular duty is ... teach you a little respect."

"And here I thought respect had to be earned," Prue said to Nate conspiratorially.

Nate laughed. "I think she has you there Boss," he said.

A number of responses crossed Lorne's mind, from the comic to the bordering on crude – as his eyes met Prue's Evan let her see some of that mischief in what he might say next, until he had her watching him with narrowed eyes. "There's always next time Sergeant," he finally said. Hauling himself up from the pilot's chair, he nodded towards the exit. "Duty calls."

Nate straightened, back to seriousness. "Yes Sir. I can escort Doctor Darnell to catch up with the others?"

"Thank you Sergeant," Lorne said. Prue had stepped back when he'd gotten up and now waited for him to lead the way. "Stay out of trouble – do what Coughlin tells you to," he told her as he passed.

"Yes Sir," Prue replied smartly, a smile playing over her face.

"She'll pay for that later," Evan thought, amused at her sassiness. Exiting the Jumper he stopped beside Captain Harvey while Coughlin and Prue continued on into the ship. Harvey had waited with emotionless patience for his superior officer to take over command of the Orion so Lorne did just that and then requested an update.

"Doctor Kusanagi has been in charge since Doctor McKay and Doctor Zelenka returned to the city," Harvey began. "She'll update you every evening like clockwork Sir. Yesterday's update, she said the hyperdrive repairs are progressing on schedule and that we'll be ready for a test within a couple of days. Drone control is still a problem but Doctor K has a team concentrating just on that."

"We have an additional twenty five bodies eager to help Captain," Lorne announced. "Liaise with Doctor Kusanagi to find the best places to put them."

"Yes Sir," Harvey nodded, a faint smirk appearing as he looked at his CO. "She'll be pretty excited having you here Sir. We have at least half the natural gene holders up here, including hers, but that's not good enough, according to Miko anyway." He looked momentarily embarrassed as he added "She ah ... Doctor Kusanagi asked me to call her by her first name Sir."

"At ease Captain," Lorne said, amused. He knew Miko Kusanagi from prior experience – she was dedicated, efficient, and given to outbursts of rapid fire Japanese that only a native speaker would be able to keep up with. Miko was also Rodney and Carson's first choice if Colonel Sheppard wasn't around – which meant she had a pretty strong gene herself. Still, using it while trying to fix things had always represented a problem Rodney had complained about on more than one occasion. "Since it looks like I'll be spending a lot of time helping the scientists, you're nominally in charge of our civilian guests Captain."

"Yes Sir," Harvey said smartly.

"Carry on," Lorne nodded to the younger man, getting the straightening of posture that usually served as an Atlantis non-salute before Harvey moved off.

Evan stood for a moment in the Jumper Bay, alone but for the sounds of Orion humming in his head. They'd made progress since he'd left – he could hear it in the complexity of the feedback he was getting from the systems. There were still what felt like gaps in the harmony – gaps they'd hopefully be able to fill before the ship was needed.

oOo

Prue wasn't a hardware engineer but she knew a lot about the Ancients and in particular about their approach to things, and was quickly an integral part of Miko's team. That meant that Evan saw a lot of her during duty hours, something that took a little getting used to. He had the blank facade down pat so that wasn't a problem ... and he was comfortable enough with his decisions to not feel any need to hide his personal relationship with Prue during their off duty time. Routine wise it wasn't dissimilar to Atlantis – they'd work, meet up in the Mess for dinner together, and then retire to spend some time in either of their two quarters, before one of them left for much needed sleep. It was like a vacation of sorts, one with an underlying tension and the threat of being called to battle at the drop of a hat.

Two days into their stay, after spending long hours working exclusively on the hyperdrive system, Miko announced that they were ready for a test run.

"Please Major Lorne, if you could activate the hyperdrive?" she asked in the quite voice she habitually used.

"Activating hyperdrive," Lorne confirmed. They were on the bridge and he was sitting in the 'captains' chair - it all had a Star Trek feel that was actually pretty cool, an impression Evan kept very firmly to himself.

Resting his hand on the arm panel Lorne accessed the hyperdrive system with every intention of sending Orion into hyperspace. But something wasn't right – the feedback he was getting – it didn't sound right. "Great description Evan," he thought to himself. "They'll really believe you know what you're talking about if you describe it like that!"

"Are you sure the system is ready for testing?" he swivelled in the chair to where Miko was standing, ready to monitor the system in operation.

"We have run many simulations Major," the scientist reminded him with understated confidence.

"Yeah, in isolation," Evan pointed out. "Look, I'm not trying to tell you how to do your job Doctor Kusanagi," he gave Miko a half smile, "but I'm tapped into the entire ship here." He took a moment, trying to narrow it down, aware that Miko wasn't the only one regarding him with curiosity. "Navigation," he said abruptly. "Have we checked that one in the past couple of days?"

Miko's eyes narrowed and without a word she turned back to her work station, fingers flying over the console. It didn't take long. When she turned back to Evan she looked both shocked and impressed.

"You were right Major Lorne. We had repaired the navigation systems but the link the hyperdrive uses is off line. If you had activated hyperdrive we would have ended up in the middle of the Atlantian sun."

"Oh," Lorne blinked. That was a little more serious than he'd been expecting. "So I guess you'll be fixing that before we try this again?" he quipped.

"Yes Sir," Miko straightened, giving him a respectful nod, her expression hinting that she was full of questions and just looking for an in to ask them.

"Okay, let me know when you're ready to go again," Lorne ordered, jumping up from the captain's chair. He'd prefer just about anything to getting a grilling from an over enthusiastic scientist.

Striding quickly from the bridge he made his way to the nearest external window, needing to ground himself. It had been almost a year since he'd come to Atlantis, since he'd had that first rush of awareness of the city with no one present to witness it. He'd made the decision then to keep a low profile – it had seemed like the right thing at the time and selfishly, it had made his life much easier than it could have been if he'd been completely up front.

He still felt it had been the right approach but that initial action had in some respects locked in all of his following behaviour. Admit to something now and he had to admit to what had been there all along. Evan was comfortable that he'd never lied about what the gene gave him – if anyone asked specific questions he always gave an honest answer. He'd mentioned the work he and Prue were doing to Doctor Weir too, the city leader aware from reports Prue made that they'd made some progress on that front.

But there was no denying that he'd kept things to himself ... lied by omission if you wanted to look at it as purely black and white. Not because he was deliberately trying to hide anything, but because there were things he just didn't understand, conversations he just couldn't imagine instigating because he wouldn't even know where to start. It wasn't like there was a base description of what his interactions with the city should be like so he could highlight where his own experiences differed. But in the past few weeks, since his first trip to Orion after he'd sat in the command chair on Atlantis, Evan had begun to feel bad about those omissions. Because he's gained in skill to the point that what he could do now was potentially a tactical advantage – one only he was aware they had.

Prue had been with him for all those practice sessions – she knew more of his capabilities than anyone but even from her he'd kept the full story of his connection to the Ancient systems a secret. But, judging from the look on her face when he'd left the bridge, that wasn't going to be the easy option anymore.

"Evan?" Her voice was hesitant as she greeted him.

"You followed me," he half smiled. "Should have expected that."

"So you know what I want then?" Prue approached, not stopping until she was standing beside him, both of them casting their attention to the view of space outside.

"You want to know how I picked up that problem with the navigation system," Evan said simply.

"I know how strong you are Evan," Prue said, turning to him and resting a hand on his forearm. "But I've never seen you do anything like what just happened. I know you can push the systems, create links so they talk to each other when really they shouldn't. And I've seen you override some of the standard protocols too. But I can't see how you could have known about the navigation system."

Lorne looked at her for a moment and then nodded. "I ah ... I'm not sure where to start," he admitted with a rueful chuckle.

"At the beginning," Prue instructed, watching him carefully.

"The beginning huh?" Evan shook his head. "Okay, sure, ... so the Daedalus transports me down to the city that first day and I get hit with this mental noise – like static or feedback or something. It was so loud I couldn't concentrate and I was yelling, in my head, for everything to shut up before I thought about it. And then it did ... it just stopped ... because I asked."

"You were hearing the city?" Prue asked, nothing in her manner judging him or accusing him.

"Yeah," he admitted. "All the systems give off this kind of energy I guess, and for some reason I hear it, in my head. To be honest I didn't think it was much of an advantage at first – more a hindrance. But over time, and I guess with all the practice and working on Orion all those weeks straight, it's more than just mental noise to me now. It's like every system has its own unique feedback note and together the entire city creates a harmony. If any one of them is out of whack I hear it – the city sounds different to me."

"And the same is true here as well?" Prue still wasn't blasting him for keeping what was a pretty big secret and that was starting to bother him. He'd have pegged her at storming out angry and instead she was calmly gathering facts like it was of no consequence to her.

"Orion sounds different but yes, the principle is the same," Evan agreed. "I can tell when we've fixed things and I can still hear the gaps where we have more work to do. So when I sat down and accessed the hyperdrive controls something about the feedback didn't sound right. I had to listen to pick up that it was navigation that was clashing. I couldn't have told you what the problem was though – that was all Miko."

Prue nodded, her expression thoughtful.

"Okay, that's it," Lorne folded his arms over his chest. "Get rid of this calm, level headed Prue and bring back my hot headed, irritated girl."

"You expected me to be angry?" Prue asked, her expression now shifting to unreadable.

"Hell yes," Evan shot back. "If you want to look at this in a particular way, I've been lying to you since the day we met Prue. Doesn't that bother you?"

"It should, but who am I to judge?" she sighed, looking saddened. "Forgetting about my reaction for a minute, why didn't you tell Doctor Weir or Colonel Sheppard?"

"I don't know," Evan held up a hand to forestall her reaction. "No one was there that first day but after that? Honestly, I don't know why I kept it to myself. If I was feeling fanciful I'd say the city itself urged me to keep the connection to myself. But at the end of the day it was a conscious choice and once I'd made it I'd created a framework I felt compelled to live inside."

"It would have been harder to explain why you kept it to yourself than it would have to just mention it up front," Prue summarised.

"Exactly," Evan admitted. "I liked who I was on Atlantis, I liked my job, having a team, all of it. If it turned out my gene was a lot stronger than everyone assumed that would all have changed. Colonel Sheppard's in charge and he still gets roped in to be the gene guy."

"And you didn't want to be the gene guy," Prue smiled at his description. Looking at him fondly, she patted his arm. "You really are the most unassuming and just plain modest man I've ever met."

"I just want to do what I can Prue," Lorne shrugged off what didn't exactly sound like the most inspiring compliment. "Too much attention ... being under the spotlight ... sometimes that's just a barrier to being able to do your job, you know?" He looked at her closely, eyes narrowed. "So, you're really not angry? Even with all the hours we've spent on gene practice?"

"That's right!" She smacked his arm, hard, unexpectedly enough that he stumbled a little.

"Hey!" He looked at her challengingly, brow raised.

"That's for making me get up at five am – five! – every day to practice something you already knew how to do!"

"I didn't know what I could do Prue," Evan defended. "None of that time we spent was wasted – before that it was just shifting static I'd be guessing an interpretation for. You've helped me get well beyond that to the point that -," he stopped, sighing.

"That you're thinking you really should tell Doctor Weir all of it, despite the consequences?" Prue asked.

"Yeah, pretty much," Evan agreed. "What if having my gene is the difference between winning and losing?"

"Then you'll be there and you'll make that difference," Prue said with utter conviction.

"So you don't think I should give Doctor Weir and Colonel Sheppard all of it?" Evan was surprised – he'd been sure she'd encourage him, or more insist that he come clean with everyone.

"Eventually yes," Prue replied. "Doctor Weir knows what we've been doing and I don't think how you engage with your gene is important – it's what you can do with it that counts."

"And I'm still learning that," Evan finished.

"Precisely," Pure agreed, smiling. "So, Major ... is there anything else you haven't told me?"

"Ah ... nothing concrete." Conversations with a hologram, soothing static, warnings not to go through the gate, dreaming about the city talking to him in words anyone could understand. It all passed through his head, none of it making sense enough for him to articulate any kind of meaning. "Nothing as big as what I've just told you," he added.

"Thank you," Prue stepped closer, smoothing her hands over his chest.

"For what?" Evan frowned, confused.

"For telling me one of your secrets," she said simply.

"You're welcome," he smiled. "Does this mean you have to tell me one of your secrets in return?"

Prue considered him for a few moments and then spoke. "I had a friend once. A best friend ... a kindred spirit. Her name was Fee. She was the only other person I ever felt so instantly connected to ... before you. I said it was different because Fee and I were instant friends and from the beginning I knew you and I would be more than that. Fee would have laughed and pointed out how crazy it was to try to change fate."

"What happened to her?" Evan asked gently.

"She's ... gone," Prue sighed wistfully. "A long time before I came to Atlantis. After I met you ... when it all became ... confusing between us, I wanted her to be there so much, to help me work out what to do. But she wasn't and instead I had to muddle through on my own. I wasn't used to that."

"I'm sorry," Evan pulled her into his arms, resting his chin against her head. "Losing a friend is something you never completely get over." There was enough conviction and empathy and knowledge in his voice for her to draw the right conclusion.

"Who did ...?" she looked up with a hesitant frown.

"Who did I lose?" Evan finished. "John Jones. Great guy – fun, adventurous, but solid, insightful." Evan smiled. "He'd have done great on Atlantis – would have got on with Colonel Sheppard like gang busters."

"He sounds wonderful," Prue smiled.

"He was," Evan agreed. "Lucky for me I had other, close friends who knew him too – we helped each other and eventually it got easier. But you don't forget."

"No," Prue agreed with a soft, sad, sigh. "You don't forget."

"And now you have me to help you deal with stuff like that," Evan said simply.

She smiled, her lips trembling, and her eyes shiny. "I do," she said it like that fact was still miraculous to her. Rising up on her toes she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

He was on duty but there was no way he couldn't kiss her back ... more than once ... if took more than a few minutes of soft kisses, gentle meetings of lips, barely there touches, before Evan made himself stop.

"Thanks for telling me about Fee," he said, breaking away reluctantly, caressing her cheek.

"I wish I'd mentioned her sooner," Prue replied. She smiled. "You have to get back to work."

"I do," Lorne agreed. "Come for a walk with me later. I'll grab something from the Mess."

"I'd like that," Prue leaned up to kiss his cheek sweetly, before pushing him away teasingly. "Work," she reminded him.

Lorne went, pausing at the door to look back at her, before walking away.

Prue stood at the windows for a long time, thinking about the life that was no longer hers, and the one she'd found to take its place.

 

Chapter 31: No Wraith's land either!

Since they couldn't keep in regular touch with Atlantis because of the communications black-out Lorne had to run Orion on the premise that everything down on the planet was fine, unless he heard otherwise. It took another two weeks before a cloaked Jumper approached Orion with news.

It was Colonel Sheppard, sneaking away to brief Lorne on the state of play – which meant something big was about to happen.

"You're letting them take McKay Sir?" Lorne asked once the entire plan for testing the delivery system for the retrovirus had been explained to him.

"He volunteered," John excused the idea, "said the plan wouldn't work unless he was over there." Spotting Lorne's sceptical expression he continued. "I don't like it either Major ... but Rodney and Carson assure me it's the only way."

"How can I help Sir?" Lorne asked purposefully.

Sheppard shot him an assessing look and then sighed. "By staying out here, out of sight."

"Orion is almost up to full speed Sir," Lorne argued persuasively. "She could be good back-up if anything goes wrong."

"Almost isn't good enough Evan," Sheppard shook his head. "And if this goes wrong, it'll go wrong big. We'll have a dozen hive ships camped out on our doorstep before you can say 'set-up'. If that happens, we'll need whatever Orion can give us."

Lorne took in a deep breath and then let it out, knowing his CO was right. "You're right Sir," he acknowledged, only a hint of reluctance showing.

"I know how you feel Major," John offered. "Sitting on the sidelines watching the game is sometimes more difficult than just getting in there and seeing what falls out."

"Maybe we'll get lucky this time Sir," Lorne offered, a faint twinkle of amusement in his eyes. "Finish the game without needing to made a substitute play."

Sheppard laughed. "Maybe," he agreed. "So, how are things really going up here?"

"To be honest, better than I expected when you ordered the inclusion of civilians Sir," Evan said easily. "They all volunteered to help with repairs and some of them are pretty handy. We're making good progress and no one's been ejected out of any airlocks in the process."

"Good to know Major," Sheppard smiled. "I brought you some supplies – should help sweeten the geeks until this is done."

"Excellent news Sir," Lorne kept a straight face, already deciding Coughlin could be the one to police the most sought after items – coffee, chocolate, or anything else without any redeeming nutritional value.

"Well, since you've got everything under control up here I'll head back," Sheppard said. Lorne nodded, escorting his CO back to the Jumper Bay. As they walked John cast Evan a curious glance. "You didn't mention anything so I assume Prue's also adjusted well to living up here."

"I think she'd happily commandeer the ship to take her around the galaxy Sir," Lorne replied. "All those places the gates don't go. She's sure some of them have Ancient or Wraith ruins she could add to her research."

"Her skills have been missed," Sheppard commented. "McKay almost bit the head off of one of the linguists the other day for getting one of the Wraith schematic translations wrong. It wasn't pretty ... he complained about gross incompetence later and demanded I get Prue back."

"Her skills have been pretty valuable up here too Sir," Lorne commented. "But I'll make sure to pass that one on."

"You do that Major," Sheppard grinned. "It doesn't hurt to take Rodney down a peg, even with the Wraith hanging around. Count yourself lucky avoiding that one – seeing them walking around Atlantis is just creepy."

They'd arrived at the Jumper and Lorne stood back for John to open the hatch. There were stacks of boxes inside; tapping his earpiece Lorne contacted Captain Kennedy and asked him to assign a team to unpack Colonel Sheppard's Jumper so the leader could return to the planet.

"I guess things have felt a little off in the city since the Wraith arrived," Lorne commented as he and John began the unpacking. "In the city I mean."

"In what way?" Sheppard asked, frowning slightly.

"Maybe its just wishful thinking Sir," Evan shrugged. "Part of me was kind of hoping things wouldn't work as smoothly as they usually do."

"You mean like doors that don't open, lights not coming on, that kind of thing," John chuckled. "We've had a bit of that – I had been blaming Radek and McKay but maybe you're right Lorne. Maybe Atlantis herself is expressing her opinion on having Wraith on board."

Captain Kennedy's team arrived and the conversation dropped off as the work flow increased. Within a few minutes they had a stack of boxes in the bay and Sheppard was ready to leave.

"Good luck Sir," Lorne said simply.

"Thank you Major," Sheppard replied. "Keep at getting Orion fully functional ... and be ready."

"Yes Sir."

It was a typical kind of conversation between Lorne and his commanding officer ... if he'd realised then that it might be the last one he'd have with Sheppard, Evan would have tried to make it more memorable. But he hadn't. When Doctor Weir broke the radio silence to contact him a day or so later he assumed it was to tell him the test was successful.

"Major Lorne," Weir began. There was something in her face, her body language that had Evan's internal radar pinging. Something was wrong. "I'm recalling you back to Atlantis."

"What happened Ma'am?" Lorne asked.

"The Wraith double crossed us," Elizabeth's eyes glittered. "The Daedalus sustained heavy damage and we lost some key personnel."

"Who?" Lorne's tone was abrupt ... he almost tensed waiting for the news he just knew was coming.

"Doctor McKay and Ronon were captive on the hive ship when it went into hyperspace," Weir revealed. "Daedalus sent a team of F302's to intercept their Darts, led by Colonel Sheppard. We lost good men in the battle Major," she took a deep breath as though steeling herself, "including John."

It was a blow – there was no denying it. Colonel Sheppard was Lorne's most respected commanding officer ... he'd genuinely liked him, genuinely admired his courage and focus. Even though John had cheated death a number of times in the past there was always that question at the back of Lorne's mind ... would his luck ever run out? It was painful to have the answer that yes, it would.

"I ah ... I'm sorry Ma'am," Evan said, clearing his throat. If he felt the loss as badly as he did, Doctor Weir felt it many times worse. She and John had been close ... Lorne had never asked how close because it hadn't mattered.

"We all are Major," Weir replied. "But we don't have time now to mourn our losses. The Wraith database wasn't what it seemed – before it crashed our systems they stole vital information from the Ancient database, including the location of Earth and our techniques for faster than light travel."

"The Wraith are on their way to Earth?" Lorne felt the news like a wash of cold water over his mind.

"We believe so, yes," Weir replied, grim faced. "We can't let that happen Major."

"No we can't," Lorne agreed, understanding the unspoken subtext. There was no line he couldn't cross, nothing they wouldn't sacrifice to keep Earth safe. "Orion is ready and able to do whatever it takes to stop them Ma'am. Hyperdrive is spotty and we don't have drone control," he felt compelled to add, "but we will, before it's needed."

"You'll retain command Major Lorne," Elizabeth said briskly. "The Daedalus will lead our primary attack. We'll know the extent of their damage once Colonel Caldwell arrives back in the city within the hour."

"We'll leave immediately Ma'am," Lorne advised. "Should be there just after Daedalus." He paused for a moment and then continued. "I assume there'll be time to disembark our civilian passengers?"

"Yes there will," Weir replied. "Doctor Zelenka will transfer to the Orion to assist you with last minute repairs."

"Very good Ma'am," Lorne nodded. "We'll see you soon."

oOo

He informed his team and Captain Kennedy first, gave the order to engage sublight engines and set a course for Atlantis, and then went in search of Prue. She was with Doctor Kusanagi, acting as a second set of hands as Miko disassembled the drone control interface for the third time.

"I was sure that last simulation was going to be the one," Prue was saying.

"We still do not have sufficient knowledge of the Aurora class ships," Miko replied, handing Prue another crystal which she carefully placed on the floor so they'd be able to reconstruct afterwards. "It is not an ideal situation to create solutions as we investigate."

"Ladies," Lorne announced his presence as he strode into the room.

"Evan," Prue smiled over at him. As soon as she saw his expression though, her smile dropped and she moved towards him. "What happened?"

"Orion is being recalled to Atlantis," Lorne replied. Miko stood too, watching him closely. "Turns out the Wraith weren't exactly honest about their motives. They double crossed the Daedalus and are currently on their way to Earth. Doctor Zelenka thinks he can calculate where they'll stop along the way – that's where Orion intercepts them." Evan met Miko's worried eyes. "Keep at the drone system Doctor ... we'll be picking up Doctor Zelenka to help you." And then he looked at Prue. "I need you to help Coughlin gather up all non essential civilians ... when we get to Atlantis, he and Reed will take you back there." He'd feel better knowing his team was back on Atlantis – for Prue, and to help Doctor Weir if she needed it.

"I can do that," Prue agreed easily. Evan was relieved he wouldn't have to argue with her, relieved that he'd have her safety reassuring him when they met the Hive ship in battle.

"Great, thank you," he said. Hesitating a moment he turned to Miko. "Try checking the release system Doctor. If there's a problem there it wouldn't necessarily show up as an error in the simulations." Miko nodded, a faint smile playing over her face. It wasn't the first time Evan had felt compelled to 'offer advice' – that is, translate the feedback he was getting from the systems into some kind of indicator of where they should focus their attentions. Since he hadn't been wrong yet but was just as obviously uncomfortable with any attention about it Miko had learned to quietly follow his suggestions without discussion.

"We'll let you know when Doctor Zelenka is on his way," Lorne concluded.

"Evan, wait. I'll walk with you," Prue threw Miko an apologetic look which the other woman shrugged off with an understanding smile as Prue hurried after Lorne.

They walked from the room and down the deserted corridor without speaking. Once in the transporter unit Lorne moved to select the bridge but Prue turned, putting a hand over his wrist to stop him.

"There's more, isn't there?" she asked quietly.

Evan let out a slow breath and then nodded. "Colonel Sheppard didn't make it," he admitted.

"Oh Evan, I'm so sorry," Prue's hand tightened on his arm. When he looked into her eyes he saw an answering grief there – she hadn't know Sheppard as well as he did but since they'd been together and John had been handling Prue's requests for various things to do with her work, she'd gotten to know him enough to be genuinely upset that he was gone.

"Yeah, me too," Evan ground out. Rubbing his hands over his face he grimaced. Prue put her hand on his back, offering silent support. "To tell you the truth I can hardly credit it as believable. He's come back from the brink so many times a part of me is sitting back waiting to react, expecting him to do the same again."

"I know," Prue said gently.

Lorne sighed, turning and taking her into his arms. He hugged her for as long as it took to feel a little steadier, to put aside the emotions and reconnect with what they had to do next. Pressing a kiss to her hair he stepped back. "Thanks," he said gratefully.

"You're welcome," Prue replied. "I wish ...," she trailed off.

"I know," Evan returned. "I have to get to the Bridge. Radio me when you've got everyone ready to head out."

He pressed the spot on the map for the Bridge and the doors whooshed open a moment later. He'd taken a step when Prue grasped his arm and pulled him back.

Her lips met his with a hint of desperation ... it was a declaration of love, a good bye, and a demand that he do what had to be done and then make sure he came back hime. Lorne didn't hesitate – he kissed her back, making it thorough enough that she was a little unsteady on her feet when he stepped back.

"Good luck," she managed, trying for a brave smile.

Lorne touched a hand to her cheek. "I'll see you soon," he promised.

oOo

Doctor Zelenka came on board and immediately tackled their intermittent problems with the hyperdrive. They had shields which were useless unless Orion could actually get somewhere. Miko kept up her work with the drone release system, radioing Lorne an hour after they'd left Atlantis again to tell him there had been a problem there that she was attempting to fix.

As Lorne held command from the Captain's chair he realised it was going to be close ... everyone was working quickly and diligently, the hive of activity going on around him as busy as it had ever been on the ship.

"Major Lorne," Colonel Caldwell contacted him when they got close to the coordinates they'd designated for hyperdrive. "We're approaching our T-Zero."

"Zelenka says she'll fly, Sir, but - as of right now - that's about all she can do," Lorne admitted.

"You'll have thirteen hours en route to get your weapons online, but we need to leave right now to make this window," Caldwell reminded him. "Are you go or no go?"

Lorne looked around the Bridge, seeing Radek there, watching him expectantly. He raised an eyebrow and the scientist nodded. "Thirteen hours ... piece of cake," Evan thought confidently. "We're go, Sir," he said firmly.

"Very well," Caldwell acknowledged, his tone purposeful as he closed the channel.

"Okay people, this is it," Lorne announced. Putting his hand on the arm controls he called up the navigation system – checking that the required coordinates in space were locked in. Concentrating, Evan gave the command for the hyperdrive to engage.

Everything froze for a second and he thought for a moment that it wasn't going to work. Then slivers of light appeared in space in front of them ... the hyperspace window opened and Orion shot through. They were on their way.

oOo

"We need to be able to fire those drones Radek," Lorne repeated again. They were half way into their journey to rendezvous with the Hive ships and they still didn't have the ability to utilise weapons.

"I know that Major but I cannot make magic out of the air," Radek returned impatiently. Pushing up his glasses he glared at the console. "There is problem with the power, yes."

"I know!" Lorne shot back. Once Miko had fixed the release system the emergence of another problem with the weapons systems had been obvious to him – nothing sounded right to his mind, the frustration factor rising because Evan couldn't work out why. "Fix it."

"Do you know how much conduit there is between here and drone storage Major?" Zelenka shook his head. "To jest niemożliwy!" he muttered. "Pewien igła w pewien stóg siana!"

"Sorry?" Lorne looked at Radek expectantly.

"Ah – is like looking for a needle in a haystack, yes?" Zelenka explained. "A systematic process would be required Major, to ensure all sections are checked, and there is insufficient time to complete even a tenth of the investigation we'd need to conduct."

"Is there another way then?" Lorne persisted. "Could we transfer additional power from somewhere else?"

Radek's eyes narrowed as he considered the idea. "Yes! Yes!" He exclaimed. "Hyperdrive would still be drawing power so, not an option but ... shields," he said decisively. "We can take power from the shields and feed it to the drone system."

"Isn't that a little risky Doc?" Lorne queried. "As soon as we start firing, the Wraith will make our position."

"You said we needed drones Major," Radek pointed out, not looking happy about the prospect of how vulnerable they'd be. "Transferring power from shields to weapons might do it – but even if we can do so, I cannot guarantee it will work."

Lorne stood for a moment, thinking. "Do it," he ordered.

oOo

"We're approaching the coordinates," the technician at navigation reported. "Ten seconds until we exit hyperspace."

"Are we ready Doc?" Lorne asked.

"Almost," Radek replied distractedly, fingers flying over his keyboard.

"Almost," Lorne muttered, shaking his head. They had to be ready to fire as soon as the ship came out of hyperspace ... accessing weapons Lorne knew immediately that they weren't. "We have a problem Radek," he announced grimly as the Orion broke into normal space. Two hive ships slammed into view with the Daedalus already firing. Darts buzzed here and there, most of the missiles Caldwell had fired being intercepted before they could reach one of the bigger ships. One made it through, damaging one Hive ship enough to stop its forward movement. The second shifted course, heading for Orion.

"They've seen us," the navigator announced, voice shaking.

"Drones," Lorne thought forcefully. Discordant mental feedback had him wincing. "Yeah, I didn't think that would work."

Multiple shots struck the Orion's shield, shaking the crew a little but not doing any real damage.

"Major Lorne, now would be a good time to open fire," Caldwell's voice over the radio wasn't unexpected.

"Yes, sir, I was just thinking the same thing," Lorne returned. "I gave the order but nothing happened." He turned to look at Radek. "Radek?" he queried grimly. There was nothing Lorne could do – all the pressure had to be on the scientist to get them what they needed.

"I'm trying, do prdele!" Radek shot back. Evan winced again, recognising Radek's curse for what it was, even though he didn't know the actual meaning.

"We're having a little difficulty transferring power from shields to weapons," Lorne told Caldwell calmly.

"There's a hive bearing down on your position," Caldwell stated.

"Yes, sir, I see that," Lorne replied calmly. "Stand by." Lorne stood and walked to where Radek was working. "Doc – I hate to state the obvious but either you get me that power or we're dead."

Zelenka ignored him, working furiously. "OK. I have it. I have it. I have it."

Lorne reacted immediately. "Firing drones!" he declared, thinking the command at the systems as he moved to sit back in the Captain's chair. The weapons system responded this time and scores of drones burst from the ship. They were like buzzing bees in Evan's head – hot, purposeful bees intent on finding somewhere to bury their stingers. Lorne became more aware of what was going on outside the ship than he was inside it, each individual drone his to control. They swerved to avoid the Darts, glided around enemy weapons fire from multiple directions, and headed inexorably towards the remaining Hive. Lorne felt the impact as each found its mark, slamming into the Hive. He felt them explode, felt the damage they inflicted on the Wraith ship.

Then his attention was returned abruptly to Orion. The drones had been quick but the Hive ship was just as responsive – while the shields had been down the other Hive had fired, bursts of energy hitting the top of the Ancient ship.

"Get us out of here!" Lorne ordered, sitting forward in his seat. The ship was damaged and responded sluggishly. The Hive he'd attacked with the drones exploded but it wasn't enough. Although damaged, the other Hive still had weapons and it trained them exclusively on Orion.

"Radek - can you get us shields?" Lorne demanded.

"Not in time to make a difference," Zelenka replied grimly. His eyes were stuck on the front window where their fate was clear to see. Turning back to his console he worked at it anyway, trying to get them something.

Weapons fire was slamming into Orion now, shaking the ship and overloading the conduits. Consoles were discharging smoke and sparks, frying systems that had been working and further damaging the ones that had been a problem. Shields were down and although Radek continued working, Lorne knew they weren't coming back up. He needed more drones.

"What about drones?" he demanded. "One more shot, Radek, that's all I'm asking!"

"I just cannot give you what I don't have!" Zelenka darted to another console, dismayed at what he saw. "There's too much damage! We need to abandon ship!" He turned to run from the Bridge but Lorne grabbed him, pulled him back. Zelenka might not have seen it in the damage assessment but Lorne knew – the ship was too far gone to make the escape pods a viable option. He could feel it ... what little power they had left was now working against them. The feedback was so discordant it was making him feel nauseous – they needed to get off the ship, immediately.

"Hey! Doc! Listen to me!" he half yelled.

Thinking Lorne was persisting with trying to attack further Radek burst into speech. "We sacrificed our shield capability for our first salvo! This ship is going to blow any moment, Major!"

"I know! But we don't have time to make it off under our own steam," he yelled, activating the comm. "Colonel Caldwell. I'm afraid we've done everything we can on our end. Request immediate beam-out to Daedalus."

Again time seemed frozen, for long enough that everyone would have wondered if the beam-out was ever going to happen. Then bright light swamped their eyes, warmth flooded their bodies, and the small crew of the Orion was swept away to safety. Leaving everyone in the infirmary, Lorne headed straight for the Daedalus Bridge, to report to Colonel Caldwell.

When Orion exploded less than a minute after they beamed onto the Daedalus Evan stopped cold – only noticing just how much the Ancient vessel had been roaring in his head when it was cut suddenly short. He staggered, put a hand to the wall to steady himself, and tried to reign his reactions back inside.

It was jarring – going from Orion where he instinctively knew the general state of play to the Daedalus, a silent vessel he couldn't have begun to understand. Lorne felt the loss of the Ancient ship like she'd been something more than just an inanimate object – to him he guessed she had. He hated that he'd been the one in command when one of the last carryovers of the people who'd spawned an entire galaxy had been destroyed. He'd miss the thrill of being in control of something that impressive, even at less than full capacity.

As the Daedalus shook in reaction to the Hive ship now concentrating all its efforts on destroying them, Evan felt the guilt too. They were all still in danger because he hadn't managed to fire more drones and take out that second ship. Staggering into an unstable Bridge, Lorne made his way straight to Colonel Caldwell.

"Sorry, sir. We did our best," he said, regret written all over him.

"Nothing to apologise for, Major," Caldwell excused briskly. Turning to his weapons man he gave orders. "Bring all rail guns to bear on the main Dart bays. Hold fire until I give the order. Channel every ounce of power to the forward shield until then."

The action was furious – things exploding, the ship shaking, weapons firing. When the smoke cleared the Hive ship had stopped cold ... and the Daedalus was dead in the water.

oOo

Their situation shifted from immediate, getting blown out of space danger to the more insidious but no less ominous threat of suffocation. Oxygen levels were low and were only going to get lower as they all did what came naturally and breathed, talked, rested, and contemplated just how screwed they were.

The only bright spot from Lorne's point of view was the miraculous return of Colonel Sheppard. He waited until after the Colonel had spoken to Caldwell to express his own relief at seeing his CO alive.

"So, you really thought I was dead?" Sheppard echoed a question Lorne had asked what felt like a lifetime ago.

"Colonel Caldwell seemed to be pretty convinced Sir," Lorne replied.

"Was ah ...," he stopped, frowning.

"Atlantis was informed Sir," Lorne offered quietly. "It was Doctor Weir who told me." Before John had to ask Evan continued. "She was pretty upset Sir. Teyla too. But they had it under control – it was Doctor Weir who ordered us to pursue and destroy the hive ships at all costs."

"Looks like we followed that order a little too closely," Sheppard quipped.

"I'm sorry about the Orion Sir," Lorne said regretfully.

"She was really more your ship than mine Major," Sheppard pointed out kindly. "And from what Colonel Caldwell told me you gave her a fitting send off."

"I'd have preferred to give that Wraith Hive the send off Sir," Lorne retorted. "Then I could have taken everybody back home in my ship."

Sheppard laughed. "Maybe you can do that with the next Ancient ship we find."

"Yes Sir," Lorne grinned.

oOo

Lorne took charge of the teams assessing the internal aspects of the ship for damage while Colonel Sheppard did the same for the outside from an F302. It was bad – there wasn't going to be a Rodney McKay patch over job for this one.

In the end, the solution of actually finishing the mission and setting off the retrovirus came from an unlikely source ... Michael. They had no choice though – it was either turn those Wraith into humans and therefore no longer a threat or they would all die. The math on this one was a killer though – ten hours for the retrovirus to complete its course versus 9 hours of oxygen left on the Daedalus. Lorne stuck it out with Sheppard's team, rotating through the F302s for a few moments of clarity before it was back to oxygen deprivation hell. They all knew the progression ... increased blood flow to start, to get more oxygen to the brain. Since the oxygen was dwindling without replacement, symptoms of cerebral hypoxia were quick to follow. Tasks that had been easy before, like powering up an F302, suddenly became difficult. And the F302 was easy compared to an F-18 or an F-16 ... Evan would have struggled to remember even a quarter of the hundreds of checks needed before powering up one of those jets. Coupled with that was short term memory loss - that feeling where you found yourself in front of a console but couldn't remember what you were going to do on it. Everyone's heart was beating just that little bit faster ... Lorne was okay but he could see some of the crew suffering from dizziness, a few fainting as the hours wore on.

"How long has it been?" Evan queried, looking to McKay as their official time keeper for the answer.

"Not long enough," Rodney immediately replied.

"Colonel?" Lorne looked at John, his message clear. If they didn't do this soon then they'd forget why the hell they were geared up and ready to rock ... and a short time later they'd all lapse into comas and then die.

"You're right," Sheppard got up, moving to Colonel Caldwell to get their mission underway.

The first breaths of air on the Hive ship were satisfying, not the reaction Lorne would have expected of himself on his first Hive ship. Impressions wise he decided up front that the less time he spent on a Wraith space ship the better ... the walls were creepy, there was nowhere to sit, (not that he wanted to get comfortable!) it smelled weird ... and in all honesty it gave a whole new meaning to the word ugly. The artist in him cringed at the lack of anything redeeming about the place, the soldier taking note of anything that would be tactically significant in the future.

Moving cautiously through the ship, it didn't take long to find their first victim. Long white hair, youthful male face, barely conscious and very much human. They found the same thing further down the corridor – more humans, confused. Some hadn't survived the conversion process or had been taken down by their fellow Wraith. Lorne could imagine that scenario – some Wraith quicker to react to the retrovirus than others turning into the face of the enemy right before their brethren's eyes. That would have been a shoot first ask questions later situation if ever there was one!

Colonel Sheppard began the practical process needed to marshal a crowd of confused new humans somewhere inside the ship where they could be guarded easily. While some of the men broke off to do that, Sheppard's team and Lorne continued on to the Queen's Chamber.

In the Queens Chamber they found her, slumped on the floor, not moving – much as all the other Wraith had been. They all moved cautiously forward, looking for trouble.

"Hello?" Sheppard called out, approaching the Queen. Lorne followed, frowning as the woman moved weakly.

"You alright?" Sheppard asked, moving closer.

"It's OK," Lorne added reassuringly. "You're gonna be alright now."

Closer still, Evan reached out to help her, only realising his mistake when she lifted her head and he saw that she was still fully Wraith.

"Carson really should have told us about the failure rate!," he thought as she grabbed him by the throat and literally hauled him into the air. That was painful enough but then she raised her feeding hand high and he knew it was about to get a whole lot worse.

"Oh crap," he thought, struggling to get free. No way was it ending like this ... no way was he not coming back to Prue like he promised. Digging his fingers into the Wraith hand still clutched at his throat, Evan tried to grab for his knife with the other hand. His fingers slipped on the hilt and he tried again, just managing to hold on. He didn't need to rescue himself though – weapons fire from three separate directions struck the Queen repeatedly.

Unable to hold him up anymore, the Queen let go and Lorne dropped to the floor with a harsh thud.

"Aow," he mumbled, rolling over to his back with a pained groan, struggling to get his breath back. "It didn't work on her," he commented weakly.

"Oh," Rodney looked a little wide eyed. "Beckett wondered if the females would be immune."

McKay had known there was a chance the Wraith Queen wouldn't get converted? Typical! "Yeah. Something you might have mentioned before she almost killed me, Rodney," Lorne said, irritated and incredulous.

"I only thought of it now," Rodney said defensively. Moving closer he reached down a hand and helped Evan to his feet. Lorne rubbed at his throat – the Queen had clutched at him hard enough to leave a mark. After his run in with a possessed Weir not that long ago Lorne was beginning to wonder if there was some kind of 'x marks the spot' on his neck.

"Colonel Sheppard," the team leader they'd sent out to round up the survivors reported in, saving Rodney from further remarks. "So far we haven't run into a single Wraith, sir."

"Understood," Sheppard acknowledged, switching channels. "Sheppard to Daedalus."

"Go ahead," Caldwell's voice was thready and weak but he was still lucid.

"You can start sending people over, sir," Sheppard advised. "They're all human and the air is good. I think we're out of the woods."

Saved by a Hive ship and a retrovirus they'd meant as a weapon. Lorne wondered anew at the surprises the Pegasus galaxy could serve up, sure that this one would take the prize for a long time to come.

Authors Note:

'to jest niemożliwy' – it's impossible; 'pewien igła w pewien stóg siana' – a needle in a haystack